Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Raising Responsible Kids

As a teacher and a mom of a large family, I am often asked how to teach kids to be responsible.  I talk to many parents who are frustrated with their child's lack of skill in keeping track of things, remembering homework, and being accountable for their actions.  I think the most important aspect to look at first is what ways are you inadvertently contributing to your child's irresponsibility.   Too often we want our child to succeed and so we rescue them from learning opportunities.  

For instance, you know your child forgot his school project or his football cleats and he is going to suffer the consequences from his teacher or coach.  We don't want our child to get in trouble so we rescue them.  We run back and forth delivering forgotten items and making sure that our child doesn't fail. We call teachers to fix grades, we call coaches and complain about lack of playing time, we complain about unfairness when our child is not choosing for a team or group.  

This last week our school hosted a traveling theatre group and held auditions.  I had one child get a part and one child who didn't.  Whose fault was that?  I heard that many parents were complaining about the unfairness of it.  Who said anything in life was going to be fair.  

I know for a fact that my child learned more from not getting a part than from getting one.  She was probably goofing around and being silly.  

How would it have benefitted her or taught her anything about if I had gone to the director or school and complained?  Instead she learned that maybe she was the reason and it was her own actions that led to the consequence. 

She also learned at 10 years old that life isn't fair and you don't always get what you want.  It is a lot less painful at 10 than it will be at 19 when they are at college and you aren't there to rescue them or help them deal with feelings.

How are they to learn to be responsible if we constantly take the responsibility for them?  How are they to learn about life if we don't let them experience it?

Parents who try to ensure their child's success by rescuing them often end up with irresponsible kids. 

Responsibility has to be taught, and sometimes it is a little painful.  For example, your child forgets his practice uniform or his homework and he is not allowed to play in the game that week or receives a lower grade.  

Here is a significant learning opportunity for your child; you forget your stuff, you suffer the consequence.  

If you bring it to them, all you have taught is that you are responsible for your child's things.  It is not fun to watch your child struggle or suffer a consequence but so much better to experience consequences for actions when they pay out is relatively small.  

If you raise an irresponsible child who is not accountable for his own actions, the size of the consequence increases.  It is so much easier on parent and child to teach accountability when they are young.

Let your child learn about navigating friendships, school, teams, commitment and responsibility at a young age.  Don't rescue them from natural consequences of their actions.  Consult them on how they could have avoided suffering that consequence, but don't take away the consequence!

They learn so much from doing things themselves than they do with you stepping in a fixing things and making decisions for them.  When they are teens the cost of not learning these lessons earlier goes up significantly.  Now they are driving your car, dating someone else's child, making decisions about alcohol and drugs.  

Ensure that they are good decision makers by giving them practice as younger children.  

Let's raise responsible kids who succeed!

Happy Birthday, Marygrace

My darling little lovebug turned 3 yesterday! She had a fun birthday at Chuck E. Cheese. She got her favorite presents, Bullseye and Toy Story figures. And had a cute caterpillar cake. It was a beautiful day for a beautiful, sweet girl. We are so blessed to have you!

5 Ways to Raise Good Teens

1. Sports and extracurricular activities. Teens who play a sport or are involved in other on campus activities do not have the time or the extra energy to hang out and get in trouble. They also have a built in peer group who also do not have time to get in trouble. Sports have been a major factor in keeping my teens busy, tired and focused on school. It is too late to try and get them involved after they are in high school, you have to get them doing things when they are little so they naturally gravitate toward those activities in high school.

2. Family dinner. Kids who sit down for dinner with the family are less likely to be involved in drugs and alcohol. They are talking and listening to parents and parents know what is going on in their lives. Dinner is really important.

3. Family vacations. A disturbing trend is the vacation where a teen brings a friend along. Vacations need to be a memory making time with just the family. It needs to be the time that you build connections, traditions and foundations with your kids, not the time that you do your thing and they do theirs. Be a family.

4. Church. Kids need to know that someone has their back all. the. time. Faith is also something that builds a connection with your kids. It is one of the things you all do together each week.

5. Tell your kids what you know. Talk to them. You can't just give your kids a talk once and have it stick, you have to repeat and repeat over the course of a childhood. If you don't tell your kids something is wrong, someone else will tell them it is right.

Book Club Reads

Recently I started a book club. Since I am new to the area, I really didn't have close friends to ask or know a book club to join, but I have been desperate for the friendship and fun a book club provides.

I asked a few of my neighbors and a couple of ladies I had met at the kid's schools and they were excited to start one, too! Our first meeting was last week. We read The Paris Wife which is the story of Ernest and Hadley Hemingway told from Hadley's point of view. Ernest already told his story in his memoir A Moveable Feast.

There was a lot to discuss in this book. It is sad and because it is true, I think that makes it even sadder. We drank wine, we ate yummy desserts and we even held a brand new baby...Our youngest member. It was a success.

I have been in many book clubs over the years and read a lot of books. Here are my top 10 bookclub reads. These books offered a lot to discuss and provided a lot to think about as well as to learn.


The Poisonwood Bible
Ahab's Wife
Sarah's Key
Those Who Save Us
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
City of Thieves
The Other Boleyn Girl
Hunger Games
The Girl With the Pearl Earring
The Devil's Teeth
The Kite Runner

I know, I know, that is 11!...I could go on and on! If you are just starting a book club, these are good books to get you started on some great discussions though. Just grab a few friends or if you don't have friends yet, like I didn't, grab a few fun neighbors and start reading!

Top 10 Book and Author List

                                                            image source

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” 
― Jorge Luis Borges

Top 10 Favorite Books of All Time

The Poisonwood Bible~Barbara Kingsolver
Sarah's Key~Tatiana de Rosnay
A Thousand Splendid Suns~Khaled Hosseini
The Other Boleyn Girl~Phillipa Gregory
The Red Tent~Anita Diamant
The Year of Wonders~Geraldine Brooks
Cold Mountain~Charles Frazier
City of Thieves~David Benioff
Those Who Save Us~Jenna Blum
Ahab's Wife~Sena Jeter Naslund

Top 10 Writers of All Time...I love everything they write...in no particular order

Anne Lamott
Elizabeth Berg
Anita Shreve
Jhumpa Lahiri
Sue Miller
Ron Rash
Tracy Chevalier
Ernest Hemingway
Jane Austen
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Another Book List

I already shared with you my top 10 list, so moving on to the next in line of the best books I have read.  This should keep you busy until the next list ;)

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood..Rebecca Wells
Eat, Pray, Love... Elizabeth Gilbert
Wild...Cheryl Strayed
The Devil's Teeth...Susan Casey
From Sea to Shining Sea...Alexander Thom
Follow the River...Alexander Thom
Olive Kitteredge...Elizabeth Strout
Mrs. Kimble...Jennifer Haigh
Lucia, Lucia...Adriana Trigiani
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan...Lisa See
The Joy Luck Club...Amy Tan (and all of her books)
The Thorn Birds...Colleen McCullough
Every Last One...Anna Quindlen
Fall on Your Knees...Ann Marie McDonald
Belong to Me...Marisa de los Santos
The Deep End of the Ocean...Jacqueline Mitchard
Anna Karenina...Leo Tolstoy
Good Grief..Lolly Winston
Drowning Ruth...Christina Schwartz
While I Was Gone...Sue Miller
She's Come Undone...Wally Lamb
A Map of the World...Jane Hamilton
White Oleander...Janet Fitch
Ethan Frome...Edith Wharton
Vinegar Hill..A. Manette Ansay
Stones from the River...Ursula Hegi
Wuthering Heights...Emily Bronte
The Copper Beach...Maeve Binchy
The Shell Seekers...Rosamund Pilcher
Colony...Ann Rivers Siddons
The Great Santini and Beach Music...Pat Conroy
The Rapture of Caanan..Sheri Reynolds
The Hunger Games...Suzanne Collins
The Age of Innocence...Edith Wharton
Dr. Zhivago...Boris Pasternak
Silas Marner...George Eliot

Where Have All The Moms Gone?

I am writing this sitting at yet another empty park.  Where have all the moms gone?  Up until about 8 or 9 years ago, I could take my kids to the park and know that there would be another lonely mom looking for some adult interaction.  Now, when I go to the park, it is me, my littles, and the lawn maintenance man.  I think I have spent more hours in the company of the lawn maintenance man than any other adult in the last few years.

My daughter just ran up to me and said, “Why are there never any kids at this park?”  That is a really good question.  I guess I am not the only one who noticed the emptiness.

I think it was the invention of the internet that ruined being a stay at home mom.  While it gave us a global community, it totally wrecked the local one.  A mom can sit inside her house and chat with other moms around the world 24 hours a day, and completely ignore the mom next door.  The percentage of U.S. moms on Facebook has grown rapidly, from 50 percent in 2010 to 72 percent in 2012. 

I saw a mom post on Facebook the other day that said “I haven’t read a book since the invention of twitter.”   I think there are a lot of us who haven’t had a meaningful conversation with another person in real life since the invention of twitter.  When I complain about the lack of companionship to my husband, he says who cares?  Why can’t you just be happy hanging out with kids?  Clearly, he is not a mom and does not know how much women need their girlfriends.

I don’t think I like this new world.  I think there are a lot of lonely women now who don’t even know why they are sad, lonely and depressed.  According to a new Gallup analysis of more than 60,000 U.S. women between the ages of 18 and 64 (before retirement age) interviewed in 2012 found that 28 percent of stay-at-home moms reported depression a lot of the day when asked how they were feeling the day before, but only 17 percent of employed moms did.  I would guess the reason is the huge lack of adult interaction in stay at home moms.

A study published in this month’s Journal of Family Psychology, found that working mothers were less depressed and reported better overall health than moms who stayed at home with their kids who were not yet in school.

I recently conducted an experiment to see the effects of cell phones on friendship.  I cancelled my cell phone contract. Coincidentally that is the same day I lost all of my friends.  I did not hear from or see any of my friends until March and that was in response to an SOS blog post about my loneliness.   I saw two friends in April and it is now the end of May with little contact.  Even though I was conducting this experiment in the name of science, I was still plunged into despair with essentially 4-5 months of no adult contact. 

I have had a few messages from people asking when I am getting a cell phone.  I have a home phone and everyone has that number, but no one really calls it unless they really need something.   Is it because people only want to tell you something via text in 140 characters or less?  They are too busy for a conversation in which you might actually talk back and take up time?

15 years ago when I had kids the same ages as my younger kids are now, my neighbors were always out when the kids were.  We had some of the best times sitting in lawn chairs chatting while the kids played.  In the last 10 years, I have been alone in my driveway…I don’t think I got suddenly despicable, I think the culture of motherhood changed. 

The kids are all still out playing in the driveway, but there is not a mom in sight.  Where have all the moms gone?

Enjoy Your Moments

Last night I had a dream about my oldest son.  I dream about him often, probably because he doesn't live nearby and I don't see him very much.  He is in Eastern Europe right now and he has been in my dreams even more.  Whenever I dream about my older kids, the are always young in my dreams.  I suppose that is what I miss, my little kids.  Although, I enjoy my big and grown kids so much, I still miss the little ones they were.

One thing I am thankful for is that I made a choice 21 years ago, to be purposeful in my parenting. I knew this was the ONE thing I did not want to screw up.  That is not to say I haven't made countless mistakes parenting, because I have made so many and I think I have learned more from my kids than I have taught them.  What I mean is that I didn't want to have any regrets.  Things I should have done with them or time I should have spent.  I feel no regrets because I have been purposeful with my time with them.  I have made the conscious effort to enjoy every moment and be present in all those moments.

I know people say this all the time, to enjoy your kids, because it goes so fast.  You can't fully appreciate that until your kids start leaving home and you realize that it did actually go way too fast and you still had more to say and more to do.

We are about to enter our 3rd graduation week here and I can honestly say it is the hardest week for me out of all 18 years.  I am a mess on graduation day.  One bad thing about having all your kids a year apart is that you only have a year to recover before another graduation!

It is the culmination of all your teachable moments with your kids in your house.  It is the moment where they start to realize all of the dreams you have had for them and the dreams they have for themselves.  It is a wonderful, beautiful, heartwrenching, bittersweet day.  Here we go again...pass the tissues, please.

How to Enjoy Your Kids

I became a parent educator a few years ago, started a moms ministry and founded Kalispell Moms for Moms because I wanted moms to be free to experience the joy that comes from being a mother. I heard from many moms who said they were completely overwhelmed with the work, their kids were making them crazy and they couldn't wait for them to grow up. That made me sad because I truly believe that being a mother is the most rewarding job you can have and with the right tools it doesn't have to be frustrating and annoying, but rather joyful and fulfilling.  I am a mom of a big family.  We have 10 children ranging in age from 21 to 3 and over the years I have learned a lot of lessons in parenting.  Here are my top tips for enjoying parenting and raising successful kids.


Plan your housework, plan your meals, plan your days, plan for time to just enjoy your kids.
~This entails having a housework schedule...you can do a little each day (I do housework from 7-10 am), or you can do one big clean a week, such as Saturday morning (this works for working mothers). Also plan your errand day...groceries and other shopping, etc.

~Planning your meals requires making a menu once a week, shopping ONCE for groceries and following your plan. Not only does it save you money, but, it really is frustrating to just wing your dinners every night. Time consuming and no fun!

~Plan your days...Make a weekly schedule of work that needs to be done and also the fun that needs to be had. For instance, when my kids were all little Tuesdays were library day, Thursdays were park day, Wednesdays were errand day, Mondays were field trip day (zoo, museums, historical sites, etc).

~Plan your downtime...this is time spent reading by the fire, doing puzzles together, painting pictures...something quiet that is just about being together. Afternoons are a good time for this, especially if little ones are napping.


It is never enjoyable to take kids anywhere or do anything with them if they won't listen to you or behave in a proper manner. So, what do you do?

~RULES. Certain rules never change and must always be followed. For instance, I NEVER let a child out of a stroller or shopping cart until they are at least 4 and longer if they can't listen when I am doing something that is a chore...i.e. grocery shopping. All kids under 4 ride in the cart. They go directly from carseat to shopping cart and are never allowed to walk in the store. You may have to do several dry runs at this if your kids are not good shoppers. Leave the store if they act up and go directly to their rooms. Errands and grocery shopping are jobs for you, not fun, so don't make the job harder by letting kids mess around. Do not feel bad for making your little ones ride it out in the cart, it shortens the task for everyone. There were times I had 4 or 5 kids in carts and had to push one cart and pull another, but it was worth it!

~Kids who don't listen. You wouldn't take a dog out that wouldn't come when called and kids are smarter than dogs. Teach your children to listen and obey the first time you say something.  If they do not, there is a consequence.  Don't be that mom at the park that tells her child 20 times that they are leaving if he throws sand at the other kids one more time.  Your children's teacher will thank you for teaching obedience.

If you are yelling all the time, your kids are not listening. Lower your voice and insist on obedience, if not, immediate consequence. Most of the time, time out or being sent to their rooms will work. You will have to physically get up and direct your child to what you are asking them to do. Make sure you follow through, every single time.  Kids are smart and they know an empty threat when they hear it.  If you say something, mean it and follow through.


Even if your child has outgrown naps, you can still insist on a quiet time each day..(ours is after lunch...even our teens have to go do something quiet, read, play a quiet game, etc.) They do not have to go to sleep, but they do have to be still and quiet. Reading, coloring, workbooks, etc. We don't have movies on during this time because the point is quiet and alone with your thoughts. We have a bin of quiet activities for each child. Quiet time is spent alone or there is no quiet if you know what I mean. I separate everyone. One on a couch, one on their bed, one in the living room. Do not feel bad about this either...even kindergartens still have naptime. Everyone needs time to be calm.


1. Get rid of toys that just make messes and no one plays with. These are closed ended toys that just get dumped every day and no one touches again. Out they go.

2. Only keep toys that use imagination...best bets~~blocks, legos, dollhouses, animal figures, dolls, cars, trains, sports equipment, art supplies, dress up, tea sets, bikes, sidewalk chalk.

3. Put each category of toy in a bin with a lid and a label or picture. At the end of playtime, all toys are placed back in their bins, BY THE KIDS!, and put away on a shelf or in a closet. Some toys like legos that scatter and breed, have to be checked out, picked up and put away before another bin is brought out.

4. As a book lover, I have a hard time with this one...kids can make huge messes with books. They like to read books over and over and are not even really looking at the ones they throw on the floor. Give them each a basket with no more than 10 books and put the rest away. You can exchange them out each week or two.

5. Some activities are only done at the kitchen table...art, playdough, and sometimes puzzles so the pieces don't get lost.

6. Keep games put away or they will be scattered all the time.

7. Limit the amount of clothing your child has...more clothing = more laundry.
My children under 10 only have 5 outfits each per season.  I do laundry every day so this works for us and limits the clutter that comes from having too much laundry and too many clothes/shoes.

8. There is nothing wrong with keeping little ones out of certain rooms. If your kids routinely make a mess in their room or the bathroom, keep the doors shut and locked. There is no rule that says your toddlers and preschoolers have to have access to every room in your house.


Teach your children to do chores. I hear people all the time say to me, "you are so lucky to have older kids to help."  Haha...only someone without teenagers would even utter those words.  I didn't always have older kids.  They were once little and had to be taught to be responsible and have a work ethic.  I had to teach the to help and now they can pretty much run the house when I am not here.   At one time I had 6 kids under 7. I have been where you are and I know how to make it easier.

Kids as young as 3 can do chores...pick up toys, push in chairs, sweep with little brooms.
Make a chore chart that includes daily and weekly chores for each child. Put stickers on for each job completed.

Make sure your kids do their jobs so that they grow into helpers, not loafers.


~You are in charge of your home, not the kids. They really don't want control, even though they fight for it. A kid who runs a household is not a happy kid, believe me. They want limits, they want to know that YOU are in charge. That makes a happy child.

It might seem like a lot of work to put all these things into practice. It will take some time and effort, but the rewards are huge. No longer will you feel like you are racing to catch up with your kids every day and always one step behind, but rather like you are directing the smooth running of a happy home.

A little effort when your kids are young, will reap great rewards when they are older. You want your kids to listen to you now, because it will be extremely difficult to get them to listen later if they never learned.  Parenting is not difficult if you do the work every single day, but if you wait until they are teens and have not learned these lessons, it will be really difficult to do.

Broken Window Theory

School is officially over and it is finally summer.  Many mothers are shaking in fear as they begin to recognize the damage that can be done to them and their homes this summer. Stores of food will be depleted, swimsuits and beach towels will wreak havoc around the laundry room and outdoor toys and shoes will be scattered about the yard and reduced to tiny bits of plastic and leather by the dog.  Last summer, there appeared a giant, kidney shaped stain on my (new?) carpet where someone (who shall remain nameless) dumped an entire Costco size salad dressing on the floor. Yes, Italian to those mindful moms who know the difference. And a broken window!

Maybe because I have 5 times the average number of children, I am going to have 5 times the average number of broken windows? Why does a stray baseball invariably go for the biggest window in the house……twice? It was broken twice last summer by two different wayward pitchers. This leads me to ask the pointless question of why we think pitching a baseball toward the house is a good idea. But, these are boys and, of course, when asked this question I am given a blank stare that tells me that there was no thinking involved at all.

After the second “incident,” I began to notice a disturbing trend. It is always disturbing when theories that apply to the POLICE department also apply to your home. There is a theory in police work called the broken window theory. This theory suggests that when a neighborhood is in disorder with rubble, graffiti and broken windows it sends the message to the criminal element that there is no one in charge. The implication is that the community is weak and not policed and it invites further criminal activity. This theory proposes that police departments can prevent crime by stopping graffiti and vandalism and cleaning it up immediately. That is the reasoning behind painting over graffiti as soon as possible. 

Soon after the big living room window is broken, I began to notice something alarming among the people in my house. By people, I am referring to children, although I use the term people loosely. Suddenly Popsicle wrappers are left on the ground, toys lay where they are dropped; shoes began to pile up at the door. That is 18 shoes at the front door on any given moment in the summer and you have to stumble over all of those to get into the house. Annoying. Then, I noticed if someone left a dish on the counter, an hour later there would be 10 dishes on the counter. If someone spilled Kool-Aid, the rest of the “children” were less likely to be careful since it was sticky when they got there. No one could pinpoint the original offender. 

The broken window theory began to happen in my house. If one kid acted in a criminal fashion, several followed. If one was committing some act of vandalism on my housekeeping, many more acts occurred. They were getting bold, too, not waiting for darkness to fall but committing their atrocious acts in broad daylight in front of preschoolers! It was time to enforce my own version of a police state. Believe me moms version can make the most hardened criminal beg for mercy, it can make a grown man cry.

A family meeting was called and the kids were introduced to my new theory. They didn’t like it. Let me amend that. They thought the theory sounded cool but did not care for the ramifications. Everyone wanted to be the criminal and no one wanted to be the police. Who raised these little anarchistic creatures? Police were what I needed!
We had to stop our family neighborhood from falling into decline. What we needed were tattle tales, finks, snitches, kids who would sing like a canary under questioning. Luckily, we have a lot of littles and what littles do best is tattle. Even the baby can say “so and so DID IT” Ha! There is nothing the police love more than a good informant! Unlike the real police however, I was not going to clean up the vandalism, the perpetrator was! It was genius! 

So, we set up some new community ordinances. No dishes on the counter, no food left out, no shoes at the front of the door, toys put away after use, no wet towels on the floor and we stationed our informants. Oh yes, these lawless children tried to commit their crimes against my housekeeping but they were stopped in their tracks and sent back to the scene of the crime. It was not easy keeping up with them, but raising children is not for sissies. They cleaned and they scrubbed. It took Mr. Salad Dressing an entire DAY to clean my carpet to its original glory. He doesn’t even eat salad dressing anymore much less throw it around with abandon.

It was exhausting keeping up my new laws. I couldn’t let down my guard for a minute. But, they learned as children are apt to do. I haven’t seen any pitches heading toward the house lately and the floor is not as sticky as it was. When one of the kids had to spend a long time cleaning something and making it right, they were very watchful over who messed it up. They began to understand how disheartening it is to watch all your work be undone by disrespect. I hope they will see that in the real world, too, and try always to respect others works and deeds. 

The police are right on about their theory. Although, I think they could learn something from me about the importance of informants, I even have a toddler they can borrow!

Surviving Summer With Kids

We were all so looking forward to summer, weren't we, mamas?  Long, uninterrupted days of nothing that we had to do!  Now a week later, there is nothing to do!  Ah summer..you are wrecking our homes with your flip flops at the front door and your wet towels on the back deck.  Summer, you also eat from morning until midnight and never put anything back in the fridge.  Why are you so messy when we were so looking forward to you coming?

What we need is just a little bit of order, in order to survive your 14 hour days with all your friends, food, bathing suits, coolers, and mess.  Moms everywhere just need a little order to go on.

How to Survive Summer 101~

*Make your kids do chores first thing in the morning.  I am so popular with kids!  I have my little lists ready for them when they emerge from their messy caves every morning.  Oh, how they love that!  But, if you wait, they will be out the door, friends will be over, the moment will be lost.  No privileges until chores are done. I love it.

*Post kitchen hours.  I can't stand the kitchen a mess all day.  It drives me batty.  I started posting kitchen hours when my oldest was 14.  They loved it.  Kids like stuff like that.  Weird.
If you post your hours with what you will be serving at that hour, you will be just as popular as me!

*Keep a bag with all the sunscreen, chapstick, water wings, mosquito repellent, etc. packed in the car.  Don't even take it out.  Have everyone check the car when they get out and make sure that the stuff is in the bag and not rolling around in your clean (haha) car.

*Even though it is summer, have a schedule for the little people.  Toddlers and preschoolers melt down in disorder and chaos.  Give them regular intervals to regroup.  Afternoon reading time is good for all ages.  Regular meal times, sleep times, and down times will help everyone stay cheerful in the midst of the other times.

*Make some fun traditions.  Monday Library Day. Tuesday Ice Cream Day. Wednesday Picnic Day.  Whatever seems fun to you.  Kids love a schedule and the love to know what is happening next.

*Eat healthy and spend time outside.  Make it a goal for your family to get outside this summer.  Endorphins are good for everyone.  Eat fresh food and get a lot of exercise. Everyone sleeps good when they have been outside.

*Do fun stuff.  Go to the lake, go hiking, do daytrips.  Get out of your comfort zone and just go.  It doesn't have to be big to be memorable.

*In between fun stuff, let your kids be bored.  They will create and imagine.  Boredom is a good thing.

*Don't sweat the small stuff.  Invite people over even when it is not perfect.  Your friends love you for you.  If they don't, they are not your friends!

I have no advice for the flip flop, swimsuit, wet towels situations.  That is just my little circle of insanity.  You are welcome to join.

5 Things To Do This Summer

                                                            Photo credit: Chuck Haney

Most of us in the Flathead Valley start dreaming about warm weather and sun as soon as the mountain closes for the season.  This is especially true when spring is just winter with wind.  Our family is so busy with sports, school and schedules during the year, that we all really look forward to freedom from commitments and some free time to savor things. 
Summer is the perfect time to devote to building the foundation of your family.  The days are longer and everyone is a little more relaxed, you might have vacation time and a couple of summer holidays to enjoy one another more.  Here is a list of 5 things you can do this summer to build a stronger family which has the great benefit of making secure, happy, successful kids.

Make a Tradition
Family traditions are what we build our memories on.  These are the things that kids remember and they don’t even have to be elaborate.  This summer have a marshmallow roast every Saturday night or a family baseball game on Sunday afternoons.   Our kids know that Tuesday night is always ice cream night.  They know that we have a unique, silly birthday song.  They can count on the fact that we always go to church at 8:00 and have biscuits and gravy afterward.   Traditions are the things that make little kids feel secure but I think they are even more important for teens.   They offer a sense of belonging to the family unit and being valuable and that, in turn, makes kids less likely to do drugs or fall to peer pressure.  Traditions tell kids what your family values and become part of their identity.  Building family traditions is one of the most important things you can do to build a strong family and successful children.

Have a Staycation
One summer we lived in the bay area and gas prices were $5 a gallon.  There was no way we could afford to take a big family trip that summer but we still wanted to have a vacation.  We had a staycation in the city and it is still one of the most memorable summers we have ever had.  There is so much to do around Glacier, but a lot of times we don’t do the tourist stuff because we live here.   Have you been horseback riding at the Bar W or on a raft trip down the North Fork?  How about staying at the Lodge one night and enjoying the pool for the afternoon and evening.  You can take daytrips to some of the sites around the state.  We have the Lewis and Clark caverns, the Smokejumper museum, the Capital, the Museum of the Rockies and two national parks.  Take a week off and spend a vacation around here, enjoying the things that people come from all over the world to see and do.

Get Outside
After the long, dark winter everyone needs some Vitamin D.  Get yourself and your family outside.  Take up hiking together and get in shape.  Glacier is full of great hikes from the easy Logan Pass Trail and the Trail of Cedars that even little ones can do to the strenuous Huckleberry Lookout or Grinnell Glacier hikes that can be a great challenge to do with your teens.  How about learning survival skills together and then making a camping trip out of it?  Fishing, camping, swimming, rafting or geocaching, it doesn’t matter what you do, just get out there with the kids and be active. 

Read Aloud
“The single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children,” stressed Becoming a Nation of Readers, a 1985 report by the Commission on Reading.   Reading aloud to your kids, not only helps them build the knowledge they need to become lifelong readers, but also becomes a family tradition.  I was given a love of reading by my 5th grade teacher who read aloud to us every day and opened the door to another world.  All kids love to be read to and summer is a great time to do it.  Longer evenings make bedtimes more relaxing and mornings with no schedules are perfect for sharing a book.  If you have older kids, take the Lord of the Rings outside and read by the lake.  Everyone loves to hear a good story.  Also use summer to foster a love of books in your kids.  Go to the library every week and build reading time into each day.  Kids who are good readers do better on standardized tests like the SAT and are better students in all subjects.

Unplug your kids and yourself from media this summer.  It is really hard to do any thinking at all when you are constantly bombarded with other people’s ideas and input.  We are interrupted all day long with people needing to tell us something.  They don’t want to have a conversation either they just want to say something in 140 characters or less.  All of that input is taking up valuable brain space and time.  Researcher and doctor Arnold Ludwig, studied 1006 eminent luminaries of the past and found that the “capacity for solitude and aloneness was one of nine major predictors of creative achievement.”  Imagine what you could do if you had a little solitude. 

Take this summer and do these things that will benefit you and your family.  By September you will have made some great memories, gotten in shape, read a lot of good books and had time to do some deep thinking without interruption and isn’t that what summer is all about?

Be Intentional

This has been a very full summer.  We still have one month to go and I am exhausted, my house is a mess, and my garden has gone to seed.  We have played very hard, hosted a family reunion and spent many days at the lake.  As you can see from the photo, my baby girl loves the lake!

One goal I had for summer was to be very intentional about making memories and spending time with my kids.  In a few short months, my oldest four children will all be over 18..I can't even believe that all happened so fast.  Last night as I was falling asleep, I was remembering laying down with those big kids for naps while the rain pounded on the roof.  I remember at the time thinking that I wanted to remember that feeling forever.

Really, in the end, all you have is your memories and the love.  So, be intentional and make the memories good ones and love too much, as my MaryGrace would say!

Book Club Reads

Here is the list of books that my book club read in California.  Most of these are so good and worth the read.


10 Things I Learned Being a Mom


1.  Babies don't stay babies very long.  The first year is exhausting, but it does get easier..or else you get used to lack of sleep!...Enjoy those first 12 months and be present.  Do not decide not to have another baby based on the first 12 months.  Give yourself time to think about it when you are not exhausted and in a hormonal haze.

2.  Kids need sleep.  No one, not even adults, act their best when they are tired.  Make sure your kids sleep enough so you don't have to fight battles you don't need to fight.  This is especially true of teens..they need as much sleep as toddlers.

3.  I am not my child's mistakes or their successes.  They come with their own personalities and just like me they are on a journey to learn.  When they mess up, it does not mean I am a failure as a mother and screwed up my kids...similarly, when they do something awesome, it is their success, not mine.

4.  Teach them to do stuff.  Don't do it for them.  Little kids can do stuff if we allow them to, instead of doing it for them.  They can do chores and take care of their things.  They are smart, we just need to let them learn instead of being in a hurry and doing it ourselves.  Your child's teacher will thank you for letting your child be responsible for his own things and for teaching him to do things himself.

5.  Don't coddle them.  Let them feel disappointment.  The more you shield them from these emotions in early childhood, the harder they will feel as a teen.  Life is hard and sometimes does not go your way, don't let it surprise them when they are 20.

6.  Teach your kids to work.  Chores are important.  Work ethic matters.  If you don't raise kids who have to lift a finger at home, they are not going to lift one for an employer.  Chores teach kids much more than work..they teach responsibility, doing something for the good of the family, and pride in a job well done. Chores and responsibilities are what give your child self esteem, not getting trophies for every little thing.

7.  Reading is one of the most important skill for kids to master.  Reading is the gateway to all learning.  You cannot learn anything in later grades if you are not a good reader in early grades.  Read at home, read aloud, listen to your kids read.  Read more than you watch.  It will pay off.

8.  The big things are the little things.  Your kids will not remember the details of the pinterest party you threw them one year What they will remember are your the traditions...ice cream on Tuesday nights, reading in bed with you every night, board games on Sunday afternoons, picnics and fishing. Similarly, they won't remember when you yelled at them either, so give yourself a break.  We all lose our cool now and then :)

9.  Teach them accountability.  Every time you rescue them from a mistake, you make them less accountable.  Have them take responsibility for the things they do.  Make them write letters of apology, don't scream at their little league coach, don't make excuses to their teachers for them.  They have to learn that they are a person of integrity and honor.  Help them learn that.  Don't let them grow up with excuses on their tongues.

10.  Self discipline is THE single most important thing a kid can learn.  If you are self disciplined, you can accomplish your goals from running a marathon to getting a scholarship to landing that big job. You have to be self disciplined enough to take every step toward your goal. There are kids who persevere and there are kids who give up.  Raise a child who perseveres.  Kids love goal charts and keeping track.  Teach them to discipline themselves and you will make the teen years so much easier on yourself and raise productive members of society.

Gretchen Knuffke is a mother of 10 children ranging in age from 4 to 22.  She is a freelance writer and a preschool teacher.  She owns Maternal Instincts, a parenting education company and is an motivational speaker for various mom ministries and the founder of Kalispell Moms for Moms.

The Books of 2015

2015 was the summer of books.  Summer is a glorious time in the Flathead Valley.  It only lasts 72 days but the days are very long at the 48th parallel with only about 3-4 hours of complete darkness.  The people here appreciate summer.  It gets you through a long winter.  This summer was different, though.

I had surgery in early June that required 8 weeks of recuperation.  I was unable to hike, swim, run, climb, do housework, lift things...nothing...boring.  So, I ordered a stack of books.  And I read and read and read.  I haven't read like that since I was home alone with little babies.  These were my favorites of the summer.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
I am not usually a fan of Kristin Hannah books.  They somehow lack a depth that will keep me interested.  This book is a departure from her typical book.  The story of the French resistance through the eyes of two sisters.  It is beautiful, heartbreaking, deep.  I love stories of World War II and this one rocketed up to one of my top 5 books of all time.  Beautiful character development.  I loved it so much I would only allow myself a chapter or two at a time so it would last longer.

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand.
I love a good beach read that takes place in Nantucket.  If you can't get to a place, go there in a book. All of her books are great Nantucket reads.  Not deep but satisfying!

Hannah Colter by Wendell Berry.
This book is a little bit slower.  Berry is a master at character development.  There is no great plot twist or climax like a traditional novel but more of a collection of scenes that highlight a typical era in American history.  Worth reading.

The Paris Wife by Alyson Richman.
Another World War II story about two lovers separated by war.  The fact that people survived such tragedy and heartbreak in their lives just really makes me feel spoiled and entitled.  I loved these characters and their spirit.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub.
I devoured this book.  It is like eating dessert.  A funny, witty story about a dysfunctional (aren't we all?) family on vacation in Mallorca.  Loved every, single sentence and hated it to end.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Sometimes you just want to visit with an old friend.  Fitzgerald is one of my favorite writers whom I love to reread now and then.  Other favorite rereads..Hemingway and Jane Austen.

Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott.
Another favorite from my childhood.  I adore the characters, I feel every single heartache.

As soon as I was released from the couch, the smoke descended from hundreds of forest fires.  Over 70,000 acres have burned in Montana so we choke and cough in our little valley where you can no longer see any mountains due to smoke.  So, we sit inside, ready to start another book :)  What are your recommendations?

The Books of 2016

The Books of Summer-2016
Here is my annual roundup of my favorite reads of the summer.  I read some beautiful, heart rending, witty, funny, enlightening, and stunning sentences this summer.  I hope you find something to read!

1)  The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel of War and Survival by Lousise Murphy.    Although I found the title kind of cheesy, I really loved this book.  It takes place in occupied Poland in winter, where two children are forced to hide their Jewishness to survive.  The characters are rich and brave and beautiful.  The events are brutal.  I love historical fiction and I especially love stories about the resistance effort.  The courage that so many people displayed to defeat evil is the greatest story told.  I loved this book.


2)  That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo.  Richard Russo is a master of dialogue.  This novel is so funny and the characters are 3 dimensional and have so much depth...even the ones who are dead!  I love how Russo writes and this novel is a quick, exceptional read.


3)  Stella Bain by Anita Shreve.  Stella Bain is a novel that takes place during World War I and follows a woman who has lost her memory while working as an ambulance driver.  Although this is not Shreve's best novel, I personally think Fortune's Rocks is her best, it is still Anita Shreve so you know it is good.  It is different from her other novels and I loved the subject matter.  It is a beautifully written novel.


4)  The Lake House by Kate Morton.  The Secret Keeper by Morton is probably in my top 10 of greatest books so I do have a love for her writing.  This book is not as good but I still really enjoyed it.  One thing I love about her books is the movement between past and present.  Like all of her novels, this one has a mystery and a twist and moves along quickly.  It was the perfect summer read.


5)  Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave.  My favorite book of the summer and now one of my top 5 favorite books of all time.  This beautiful novel broke my heart a hundred times.  I loved every second.  The characters were so true and wonderfully human.  The dialogue was sublime.  How I wish I knew these people...they are my wittiest friends.  If you love historical fiction and lovely, rich themes, characters and symbolism, you will love this novel.  My favorite book of 2016.

Leave me a comment with your favorite books of summer!

5 Ways to Find Balance

5 Ways to Find Balance

There are times when your life gets completely nuts and you just can't get it together.  Too much going on, too many commitments, little emergencies, illness, etc., can all make you feel like you are in survival mode all the time and just reacting to things as they are thrown to you.  Here are 5 ways to get your life back in balance!

1)  Spend some quiet time alone with your thoughts.  Even if you can't leave your house, close your door and just spend some time writing down your thoughts or just thinking without distraction.

2)  Make a list of your priorities.  You can't do it all.  Many of us suffer for the disease to please and we say yes to everything that is asked of us.  Is there too much on your plate?  Are you doing things that are not a priority to you?  Write it down.

3)  Cut it out.  If something is at the bottom of your priority list, but you are spending time doing it to the detriment of something at the top, then it needs to go.  Do not feel guilty about this.  Cut out the things that are causing stress and not adding to your quality of life.

4)  Get healthy.  Are you out of shape?  Are you overweight?  These things contribute to the unbalanced feeling you have.  Your health is a priority.  Better food means more energy.  Less weight means you feel better.  Get fit, get strong and feel better about your life.  Make yourself a priority!

5)  Family matters.  Move your spouse to the top of your priority list.  Put your children next.  Spend time together.  Family dinners have an enormous impact in children's future happiness and achievement.  Turn off phones, tvs, computers and spend quality time reading, hiking, playing games, cooking, laughing.  

If you do these 5 things, you will gain more time in your day to do the things you actually want to do and enjoy doing.  Move yourself and your relationships to the top of your priority list, your life will start moving to a more balanced state.  Cut out all activities that are not adding value to your life and start doing the things you really want or need to do.  It is craziness to continue doing an activity that we dread every week and that takes time away from meaningful pursuits.  Your children will still be successful if you take a season off of traveling soccer.  I promise.   Stop rushing from one thing to the next and instead have time to peacefully do the things you really want to do!  This is your only life, you owe it to yourself to at least enjoy it!


Chores are one of the best learning experiences for our kids.  Kids who do chores feel like they are contributing to the success of the family and they learn to take care of things and to be accountable.  When children are young they love to do chores.  They want to help us do dishes and sweep floors and wash windows but as they grow, their love of chores diminishes and then the fight begins.  How can we enforce chores and avoid a battle over them every day?

Love and logic is all about gaining control through choices.  The fine line is letting kids have control on our terms.  We set the limits with our kids but they choose how to operate within those limits.  This gives children a sense of responsibility and independence as well as letting them practice their decision making skills.

Choices also allow us to avoid unnecessary battles over control.  

My favorite choice is allowing a child to pay me for chores they are unwilling to do.  I always give a time-frame by which chores must be done so then my child has the choice to do it now, do it later or pay me to do it for them (with either money or consequence).

When my oldest son was in high school, he had the choice to mop the floors anytime before Sunday.  He could do it now, do it Sunday night or I could turn his phone off.  Every week would find him mopping my floors at 11:30 pm....but, my floors were done.  When he chose not to, I did not speak of it, I just logged into t-mobile and shut off his service for the week.  The consequences spoke for themselves.  No battle, no fight.  He chose his own path.

Is your child's room perpetually a mess no matter how much you nag?  Attach a choice to that.  He can do it now, do it before the appointed time or he can pay you $5.00 to do it for him.  Another tactic is to attach it to something he places value on, for instance, when he wants to do something say "sure as soon as your room is clean to my standards."  And then be quiet.  Chores will miraculously be done. 

Clean Up

Around preschool age 4-5 is when picking up a child’s own toys moves from a community project to your child’s responsibility.  I teach preschool so I spend my days playing with kids and then cleaning up with them.  I have some very good clean uppers and some not so good clean uppers.

Invariably, when I ask a child who is less than enthusiastic about cleaning up, who cleans up his toys at home, he tells me his mom does.  Well, there you go.

If you are tired of toys lying all over the bedroom or worse your living room, here is an effective way to get your child to learn to clean up after himself.

Simply say to your child that there are a lot of toys on the floor.  Would he like to clean them up or would he like you to clean them up.  When he answers that he thinks you should, say “The advantage of you picking them up is that you get to keep them.  If I pick them up, I am going to keep them.  I will let you think on it for a minute.  If by lunchtime it is all still out, I will know your decision.”

The thing with love and logic is that you have to give choices you are willing to live with yourself.  If you don’t follow through with keeping his toys, then all you did was waste your breath and your child learned nothing.  Be sure that you can stick to your word.  And then let him feel the consequence.   If you want him to earn things back then the next time say “If you pick up all your toys today, you will earn back one that you lost yesterday.”

We want to put the problem on the child.  When their problem becomes our problem, we are not teaching responsibility.

Stop the Fighting!

There is little that is more annoying than your children fighting with one another.  We end up yelling and fighting with them as well just to try and get them to stop.  How can we diffuse fighting without losing our cool?

One effective approach for dealing with fighting children is to use the energy drain method. 
When the fighting begins, first speak with empathy saying, “Oh boy, you guys must be really tired or really frustrated to be fighting with one another like this.   I am so tired myself now that you guys have drained all my energy.”

At this point, calmly let them know that they need to lie down and rest for a little while so you can have some quiet.  When they are able to come back out, follow up and have them do something to give you your energy back.  Some things that give me energy are having kids mop my floors, clean a bathroom, pay me some of their allowance, etc. 

Don’t explain your decision to them; let them figure it out how they got that consequence.  The important thing with love and logic is not to waste your time with meaningless words.  Calmly and simply state what is going to happen and most importantly, follow through!

Empty threats and lectures do not teach children, but calm consequence does!


I am sometimes surprised and shocked by what teens and young adults believe they are entitled to have.  From cell phones to cars to college degrees there are a lot of kids who have grown up thinking that the world owes them something.  It has become a big shock to a lot of them when they realize that the world, in fact, owes them nothing and they will have to work for it like the rest of us.  Or their poor parents who raised them will have them living and mooching off of them until they are 30.
How do we raise kids who work hard, have character and integrity, and who do not feel they are entitled? 

The problem starts in early childhood with a parenting style that sets no limits.  Kids need limits on things that are not good for them, tv, internet, junk food, and much more.  When parents refuse to set limits in early childhood, older kids become even more demanding and things become much more expensive.

When you give in to giving your child a cell phone at 12 years old because everyone else has one, you are giving your child the idea that they deserve one.  If you really want your child to have a phone, which I think is a mistake before high school for many reasons, at least make them earn it. 
Our oldest 6 kids have all had to earn straight A’s for a full year before they can get one.  A lot of my friends think I am over the top mean.  However, all 6 of them have achieved it.  So, it seems to me that if you want something bad enough you will really work for it.  And that is the key.  The lesson is in working for something that you want or it means nothing to you.

If you want to raise kids who are hard-working, responsible adults, then start requiring that in early childhood.

Have your child earn privileges.  You can have them do chores to earn money for things they want or to earn time on video games or tv.  If they want a car, make them get a job.  

The number of kids who have wrecked the free car they got for doing nothing is significantly higher than the kids who worked 3 years to earn the money for one.   If your child is working his way through college, you can be sure he won’t fail a class because it is his own money he will waste.

We all want our kids to have better lives than us and to be happy.  But, giving them everything they want does not achieve that.  We only wind up with young adults who see themselves as victims and who are dependent on us.

Let’s raise a generation of responsible, accountable, hardworking, happy people who feel the joy in life because what they have, they earned!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Get your "but" out of the way!

Do you have a BS story you tell yourself? You know that excuse you have that lets you off the hook and becomes the reason why you can't get your house clean, run a marathon, lose weight, write a novel, get up earlier, etc.

The difference between you and the people who actually do these things is not the reason you think it is. It is not because they are naturally thinner or more athletic; they are not morning people or neat freaks. It is because you allowed your "but" to get in the way. I would clean house, but the kids just mess it up. I would lose 10 pounds, but I have a slow metabolism. I would train for a marathon, but I am not an athlete. I would write a novel, but I don’t have time to write. These are just excuses that your mind uses; they are your “but.” If you really wanted to do these things, you would get your but out of the way and do them. That is what people who achieve do. They stop giving themselves a free pass and an excuse and they quit stopping. They start exerting self-control and discipline.

 Most of what you accomplish in life has everything to do with your mind and very little to do with your body. Recently I was watching a survival show and everyone started out positive, excited and set on winning. As soon as those people started getting down or discouraged, as soon as they let negativity take root in their minds, then their bodies started to fail them. They didn’t realize that their mind was the greatest tool they had for survival, and once they lost control of it, they might as well lie down and die. It is the same with goals. Your body never wants to anything. Your mind forces it to do whatever the mind sets as a goal. Once you get control of your thoughts and stop telling yourself that excuse story and start telling yourself positive words and affirmations, you can do anything you choose to do.

Self-discipline is THE single most important thing for achieving goals.

Anyone can run a marathon, anyone can lose 10 pounds, anyone can keep a clean, organized house, and anyone can get up an hour earlier. Control your thoughts and you will control your body.
Want to start achieving in 2017?

*Make smart goals that have steps and are measurable.

*Write your goals down.
 *Don't share your goals. Recent research has shown that telling people you are going to do something, gives your brain the same boost as doing it. Don't reward yourself until the goal is reached. Wait to tell people after you have done it.
*Get control of your mind. Remember that to achieve something; you must be willing to give something up...sleep, food, time...in order to achieve. You must be willing to accept some discomfort whether it is physical-pain, hunger or whether it is mental-fear. You must tell your body that it is okay to feel discomfort.
 *Get your but out of the way. Stop accepting that story you have been telling yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to doing.

Goal Setting With Kids
“The tragedy in life does not lie in not reaching your goal, the tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.” -Benjamin Mays

One of the most important things we did on our parenting journey with our kids was regular goal setting. Every New Year’s Day we take our children out for a nice dinner and review our year. Each person tells their favorite memories from the year and how they did on the goals they set a year ago. Then, we make our goals for the coming year. It is so fun for kids to be able to share their successes of the year so we make the dinner a big celebration of goals reached.

Kids are natural goal setters. They have hopes and dreams for the future, what they want to do and what they want to be. The also start life with a lot of self-efficacy and hope. They naturally do not put limits on their dreams. As parents, we help them take their dreams and make them smart. We help make the goals specific and measurable. We help them narrow it so it is attainable and realistic within the time frame of one year. The goals are posted on their bedroom walls so they see them every day and periodically we check in with them on how it is going.

What makes goal setting so powerful for kids is that they really see the connection between hard work and success. They see that their choices and the decisions they make affect their success. These are great lessons for kids to learn early in life and will benefit them so much as adults. As a parent of grown children I have been able to see first-hand the good that goal setting did for my kids. I can look back on their goals and see what made them become reality.

Try it with your kids and see what amazing things they can accomplish with a little hard work and perseverance.