Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Language of Connectivity: Developing a Positive Word Culture

"Reckless words pierce like a sword but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18

If you want to know where I am most likely to blow it in my relationships with others, especially my family, it's with my words.  I certainly don't set out to be reckless with my words but it sure does happen.  As I continue to share what works for our family regarding staying connected I feel it important to share how my words and the words of everyone in our family factor into our ability to connect.

Words are incredibly powerful. The Bible is replete with warnings, commands and Godly principles surrounding our tongues. From our mouths come both blessings and curses (James 3:10). No one can tame the tongue (James 3:8). Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21). These verses along with many other are ones that I believe. I've studied and struggled with them but my conclusion is that my words have the ability to build up or tear down. Connection is about building up so if I am not aware of the impact my tongue has on my relationships then I am at risk for tearing down in one word what I have diligently been trying to build up.

For instance, say we are having a family night that starts out with dinner. (Make your own pizza night is always a good one!) We've made our pizza sat down to dinner then one of the girls spills their drink. And I lose it. I come down hard on her simply because of an accident. An accident I myself have done numerous times. The contradiction between the desire to connect and the atmosphere which is actually conducive to doing so are vast.  The gap between how I reacted and the desire of my heart were hindered by one thing: my mouth.  I know I am not alone in my struggle with words.  All of us have lost it at one time or another and it is bound to happen again at some point.  It is essential though, that we are aware that the way we communicate on a regular and recurring basis matters. If we want connected families we must work at having a language of connectivity. We must develop a positive word culture in our families.

Here are some practical tips on how to develop a more positive word culture in your family. 

1. Figure out your "go-to" catch phrase or attitude.  Most of us have one or two catch phrases or attitudes that we go to when we are at our fill. We've had enough, our nerves are shot and we are running on empty.  I've heard a number of people with that catch phrase, (speaking to child:) "You are driving me crazy!" or saying the similar "They are driving me crazy!" to a friend within ear shot of the children.  Take a minute to think about what this communicates to the child.  In this moment a child hears, "You are a problem. You are the problem. I don't want to be with you. I don't love you." That may seem like over kill but truly, that is what a kid can and does take away from reckless words like that.  

I have long been aware that I have lots of issues with words I have done my best to not have any catch phrase words. For the most part I don't speak those negative words. However, I employ the use of the all inclusive sigh. If I am not on top of it, this sigh communicates just as much as actually verbalizing the negative words. A sigh (eye roll, shoulder slump, etc) can communicate to a child that what you are doing now is more important than they are. That you don't enjoy them or that, once again, you don't love them.  Becoming aware of what attitudes and words you use on a recurring basis and the way it registers with your child is the first step to developing a positive word culture.

2. Stop short and turn away from using that catch phrase or attitude.  This is NOT an easy step. It requires diligence, practice, self-control and divine help. Also important to note, you WILL FAIL from time to time.  While Christ has given us the power to walk in victory, we don't always tap into that victory and we suffer defeat.  It is in the midst of defeat however that we can learn to trust and depend more fully on the Holy Spirit.  Seeing our own weaknesses and incapability is a powerful motivation to cling to the cross of Christ even more.  Preach the gospel to yourself daily and participate with the Holy Spirit to experience lasting change. I've had the opportunity to follow two separate friends as they journeyed to do just this as they fasted negative talk.  Their awareness of the trap and their diligence to change was certainly an eye-opening experience for them and for me. Both would testify to the difficulty in breaking the habit but would say that God came through for them in their weakness. (Thanks Lorrie and Kathleen for blogging and sharing your experience!) This is a journey I am on perpetually and believe it is changing the legacy of my family.

3. Replace the negative with the positive.  Becoming aware and understanding what our words do to those we love is a huge step. Learning to stop those words and behaviors is also a big deal. However if we stop there we are stopping short of actually changing the word culture of our family.  Taking away a negative behavior still leaves a gap. That gap must be refilled with a positive action.  Empty space is easily filled with other equally destructive habits so replace that bad with the good.  

Have you ever seen the "Eat This, Not That" recipe books? The idea is that if you make small conscious choices to replace certain foods with other foods you will be healthier.  I believe we could all learn to apply this to our communication and words.  

If you're tempted to yell....sing or whisper instead. (I know my kids think I am nuts when I start singing!)
If you want to tell your children they are driving you crazy....take a few minutes to regain control of yourself. After all, YOU are the adult. Own your feelings rather than blame your children.
If you are ready to give "the sigh"....replace it with immediate, decisive and pleasant action. Don't give enough of a pause, respond appropriately.

And for those instances when you blow it, make it right.  Humbly apologize. Own rather than excuse your hurtful words and do what you can to make amends.  All of our families would be better off with more "I'm sorry"s and fewer excuses.

Developing a positive word culture is an extremely important part of connectivity.  Work towards the goal of adopting more positive forms of communication and then pass that on to the rest of your family as well. And remember, we are in this thing together. I do not write from a place of perfection, just a place of process.  I am just sharing my process with you.  Blessings!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Celebrating Accomplishments

A few years ago my mom gave me a wonderful gift though she didn't know it at that time.  She gave me a gift of connection to my past.  In her efforts to get rid of excess in her house she brought me several boxes of miscellaneous nick-knacks, pictures and cards/letters.  Among notes I had passed in 5th grade (I kid you not!) and high school award plaques I found the connection. Letters, cards and notes from my mom. Memories that had faded came rushing back. Congratulations for doing well in a try-out. Encouragement to keep trying my best.  "Way-to-go" for a first chair seat or solo.  At the time I first received the cards I am not sure I understood just how much they meant. Through my adult & mother eyes, they looked completely different.

The cards and notes my mom gave me were an avenue of connection.  A way that she showed me she loved me, cared for me and saw me.  Nothing I did, nothing I was becoming went unnoticed.  She celebrated my accomplishments and my victories. Beyond that though, she celebrated the young woman I was becoming, the woman God was shaping and molding me to be.  Even as I write this I am overcome with gratitude for her love, support and inspiration.  The legacy she placed in me and continues to pass on is a legacy of connection, of pursuit. I deeply desire that for my children as well.

Being a mom of young children often makes me laugh and shake my head at the same time.  Lessons taught over and over again.  Books, activities and games played countless times.  I regularly have to remind myself that right now I am laying the foundation for the future and it's going to be awhile before I see all the benefits and rewards of that labor.  However much or little I am seeing right now does not excuse me from doing the work of staying connected, of staying present in their lives.  That's why I am writing about connection, to remind myself that the effort, time and sacrifice are worth it.  Connection is not automatic but it is necessary.  I want to continue to pursue my kids and God's best for them.

Practically speaking, I learned from those letters and cards the importance of celebrating accomplishments. The old school "this paper deserves to be placed on the refrigerator" approach works for our family.  When the kids come home with a great paper they have written, a high grade on a test or a cool art project we celebrate that.  I encourage them to keep at it and allow them to explain how it feels when they do good work.  We don't encourage flattery and don't want to over praise our kids.  We expect they will do work hard and do their best. At the same time we will not hesitate to tell them we are proud and celebrate their accomplishments. 

Celebrating accomplishment, no matter how big or small, is something that keeps us connected as a family.  We don't do it simply because it builds self-esteem and makes them feel good, though it does.  We celebrate because we worship and serve a God who encourages celebration.  Throughout the Bible there are numerous accounts where God's people are reminded to celebrate, to enjoy one another. They celebrate as a reminder of what God has done and who He is. They celebrate as a way to draw closer to one another and to God. In our family, we want celebration to do much the same, draw us closer to each other and to God.  Celebration as connection works for us.  Blessings!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Shared Responsibility

Excitement and laundry are not two words I would ever pair together.  Lydia on the other hand was thrilled to learn such a grown-up task.  This past summer I went to Kenya for two weeks.  Knowing that Justin was going to be doing all the household duties I taught Lydia a few more difficult chores. In addition to her normal chores she learned how to sort, wash and fold the laundry.  She loved every minute of it! It was fun to see her excitement about serving her family and it was fun to connect with her during this time.

Through this series I have been sharing ways that our family stays connected throughout our busy lives and schedules.  A lot of the things we do could be considered "extra" if you don't already do them or if you tried to add all of them at the same time.  As parents though, when looking for ways to practically pursue the hearts of our children let us not forget the importance of connection through shared responsibility.  Preparing meals, doing laundry, going shopping, vacuuming and cleaning, these are all parts of our life where we have real responsibility.  What would happen if we could harness the time spent on these normal activities and build relationships at the same time?

Building relationship through shoulder to shoulder activity is a natural way to connect to our family members while still accomplishing things that need to be done. Shoulder to shoulder activities are not only great to develop relationships with our children they are great for building relationships with our spouse and our friends. Think about the best relationships you have in your life.  I am sure that those relationships have lots of great face to face time. Times when you forget about what else is going on and just spend time with one another.  I would also guess that your best relationships include lots of shoulder to shoulder time as well.  Thinking through how you can increase both of these activities (shoulder to shoulder and face to face) in your relationships with your family members will help you stay connected.  It might also help you get more done!

It works for our family to build connections through doing chores together and being able to depend on each other to help out or cover for us when we are unable to accomplish something.  Developing a sense of personal responsibility, a strong work ethic and interdependence will hopefully have long lasting effects on our family.  Connection is possible with our kids and families. It requires effort, hard word and loads of grace & instruction from our heavenly Father.  There's nothing like it though. Nothing. Blessings!


If you have any feelings of guilt when it comes to giving your kids chores check out this post from my friend Lorrie about why chores and household responsibilities are not a means of ruin for our kids but a means of teaching and training.

If you are struggling to make connections on a regular basis or if your child suffers with attachment disorders please check out my blogging friend Kathleen's blog.  She regularly speaks to issues concerning difficult connection.  I was touched by her story in this Wisdom for Wednesday post.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Adjusting Expectations

I strongly believe that parents are the most influential teachers and mentors their children have.  As parents we are responsible for their education in all things life: character training, socialization, emotional health and academic success.  Though each family makes different decisions regarding the specifics of "how" their family will approach each of these areas, it's important that parents understand the importance of their role.

As a public school mama with a huge family-centric heart, I have found the adjustment to both girls being in school all day a rather rocky one.  Having little ones at home was such a blessing and I never regretted my choice to stay home.  I had plenty of time to play, read, teach and observe how they were growing. Now? Not so much.

When the school year began I had grand ideas of how to fill the after-school time with academic enrichment, character training, engaging field trips and the like.  Imagine my shock when I discovered the girls were actually tired at the end of the day!  They didn't want mom to be their teacher.  They needed space, alone time and rest.  I can't lie, I wanted to snatch them out of school, bring them home and give extra big hugs all around.  This isn't how I pictured this going and it certainly didn't fit how I wanted to stay connected to my girls.  I longed for time together and what they seemed to need was time to unwind and relax.

Desiring that our home be a haven, a place of peace and rest, I knew I had to adjust my plans, expectations and ideas about what our new normal would be.  I don't believe in child-led families but I do believe in observing and following the cues of my children.  So I put my schedule and expectations to the side. What I didn't do though was lose sight of my desire to be connected and influential in my children's lives.  I keep that one with me at all times and continue to view things through the lens of developing a deeper relationship with my daughters.

I started (and continue) observing when the girls seem most responsive to the teaching and training I feel important.  I look for cues as to when they want to talk and when they need to be left alone.  I pray all the while that God would make me attentive to what, when and how to relate, connect and grow our relationship. Observing and following their cues has given me the ability to have more meaningful and fulfilling times together than if I had forced and demanded things go my way.

Though I have learned/am learning a lot, here are the top things.

1. Connection requires sacrifice.  I have learned that the times when the girls are ready and most eager to relate are not always the most convenient times for me. I cherish my early morning routine of getting up before the rest of my family, reading my Bible, journaling and spending time in prayer. The girls are also early risers, so I set aside time from what I want to do to relate with them.  I started having a book club with each girl 1 day a week before school.  We meet, discuss the book and then take turns with who gets to choose the book for the next week.  They are in love with the alone time they get with me, they love having the opportunity to choose books for me to read and I couldn't be happier with the one on one time to teach, train and mold their precious minds and hearts.

Reading and discussing Helen Keller

Around the World in Eighty Days

I also spend time each night at bedtime talking to them about their day.  I've been a subscriber to iMOM's daily emails for awhile now.  They have some great resources and I regularly use their pillow talk questions during my nightly conversations with the girls.  The 10-15 minutes I spend alone with each of the girls is worth it.  Sure there are nights I would rather just kiss them, say goodnight and go on my way, but this is important for our relationship.  They won't always be here and I want to make the most of our time together.

2. Connection requires flexibility.  Not one of my strong suits. In fact, I am a pretty inflexible person naturally, but if I can't learn to be flexible it's gonna make me snap.  For instance, the girls had it on their minds that we were going to go the the grand opening of the newly renovated McDonald's (opened earlier this week).  I never told them yes and it certainly wouldn't be my top way to nurture health or spend our money.  All the time though, there was not a good reason to say no.  So I became as"yes" mom.  On the day it re-opened we went there and I bought both the girls a yogurt parfait for an after school snack.  You would have thought that I was the worlds best mom.  And so it goes, I am learning to say "yes" when I would normally say "no" in order to build relationships.  Obviously no is still a hugely important word but I don't want no to stand in the way of nurturing relationship.


3. Connection is rewarding.  I love, love, love that my girls most favorite place to be is home.  I know that the future is unknown, that there may be rocky years ahead. I can get caught up in the "what if's" of the future or I can enjoy the present time of being connected.  I want to build ties now that bind our hearts together forever so that when there are troubles (and yes, they will come) I have firm foundations as anchors for my soul.

Thanks for reading.  Again, feel free to share in the comments your favorite ways to stay connected to your family.  Blessings!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Family Dinner




It's a necessary part of our daily lives.  Without regularly feeding our bodies we lack the energy and nutrition necessary to support our physical bodies. But just like our bodies need food, to be healthy our families need times of connection.  Times when we can learn to support, encourage and enjoy one another.  Family dinner provides a great opportunity for these things to occur.

Family meals were an integral part of my childhood and teenage years.  Despite busy or hectic schedules there was no doubt shared family meals were important to my parents.  Apparently this was passed on to me.  For our family it is a simple point of connection that we have everyday.  We make family meals a priority and an enjoyable experience.  There are so many things that can pull our minds, hearts and schedules away from this basic practice, but considering the benefits, it has proven to be worth whatever effort it takes to make it work for our family.

Here are a few ways we make family meals work for us:

1. Include all family members in the planning and preparing of meals.

"Ewww, yuck" may just be some of the most rude, disrespectful and disheartening words when you've spent time planning and preparing a meal.  It's kinda hard to enjoy a "nice family meal" when the room is filled with complaints, frustration and bickering over what's on everyone's plates. Including everyone in the planning and preparing of the meals just may be a ticket to overcoming that form of nasty.  Now that the girls are older I am beginning to include them even more in the planning, preparing and cooking of our meals.  Allowing everyone to have a voice on either the main dish or sides for at least one of the meals helps make everyone feel that they have a say in this area of their life.  It may not completely eliminate the difficulty that arises when a family has picky eaters, but it just might foster a better environment for enjoying the meal together.

2. Include conversation starters or other fun ways to get family members talking.

Being a very loquacious person, I am rarely at a loss for words, stories or information that I want to share.  However, in order to actually listen to my family and get them to share more than one word answers to the "How was your day?" question, I often resort to conversation starters. We have gone through these 99 family conversation starters and moved onto this huge list of conversation starters (which should last us for awhile).  We've also done the "high's and low's" on occasion, as well as just talking for the sake of talking.  Conversation during a meal helps to ensure we are not just rushing through our dinner but rather taking time to relish in the relationships that are developing therein.  

3. Eliminate outside distractions.

Phones, computers, TV....whatever else it may be, trying to eliminate these distractions is of high importance for family meals to provide the greatest reward.  Electronics are not yet a big deal for our girls but we, as parents, are setting the example now that relationships and conversations with real live people are most important.  Sometimes our girls need to be reminded of this when they happen to be caught up in a good book and are called to dinner.  Eliminating distractions helps everyone focus on what is most important, people.  

Family dinner may seem an impossible or idealistic dream for many but it is one of the ways this mama stays connected to her family.   Your family will certainly look different than ours and this idea may or may not work for you on a consistent basis.  However, consider if this simple practice just may give you insight into one another in a new way.  For more food for thought check out the book The Hour That Matters Most by Les and Leslie Parrott.  I read it this fall and it solidified much of my reasoning behind why family meals matter to me.  


Countless studies have show that if parents could take only one proactive and practical step to engender family commitment, appreciation, affection, positive communication, time together and all the rest, it would be to establish a regular dinnertime around a common table without distractions. One hour a few times a week.  That's it. ~ The Hour That Matters Most by Les and Leslie Parrott

 As a bonus for the family meal lover that I  am, I plan on making my dinning room table like this in 2013.  Love it!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Your children are like diamonds - hug them, kiss them, pursue their hearts today.
I saw this picture and read these words posted on facebook today by Courtney of Women Living Well.  How clearly they ring true of my hearts desire and how much I want them to be evident in my life. 
The past 5 months have been a huge transition in my life as a mother.  I am a stay at home mom with no kids at home.  For 7 years I shared every aspect of my life with my girls.  We ate together, played together, ran errands together, read together and even went to the bathroom together (when they were especially young!).  Now that they are in school, now that 2 very large parts of my heart are walking around outside of my body, I am having to relearn how to pursue their hearts, how to stay connected to them.
I regularly pray for God's guidance in how to minister to my family in the short time we spend together.  Some of the ideas I will share I've gleaned from others, some are ideas that just seemed to come from a place of gentle communication from God.  The most important thing I have found though, is that no two families will find diamonds in exactly the same way and no two children will respond to the same cookie cutter approach.   As with the whole of life, we are to be led by the Spirit.  We are to walk faithfully and communicate regularly with a God who cares about us as individuals and who loves our families even more than we do.  When I follow where He is leading I can be sure He knows where He is going.

I will post several different ideas and encouragements over the next few weeks and hope that you will be encouraged by something that you read.  If you would like to share about something that you have found helpful to keep you connected to your children I would love for you to comment.  It's wonderful to share ideas with others who desire to intentionally pursue the best for their families.

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