April Parenting Thought of the Month: Do You Have a Strong-Willed Child Or a Hidden-Willed Child?

Google “strong-willed child” and you’ll find a plethora of articles and books about how to parent a stubborn, difficult, defiant and high-spirited child. Strong-willed children are defined as kids who defy, disobey and emphatically refuse—often with verbal or physical outbursts—to do what a parent wants them to do.

Lately, though, I’ve become convinced that labeling certain children as “strong-willed” isn’t in their best interest—nor is it entirely accurate because every child is strong-willed.

Let me repeat: Every child is strong-willed. How so? Because every child wants what he or she wants when she wants it. In other words, every single child is born selfish.

This is an important truth for all parents to grasp. Each one of your children is selfish in their core—they can’t help but look out for number one. Christian parents know this is because every child is born with a sinful nature.

Therefore, every child is strong-willed.

But every child exhibits that selfish nature in different ways. Some kids are loud, boisterous and in-your-face about their wanting what they want when they want it—the classic definition of a “strong-willed child,” if you please. However—and this is a big however—even kids who aren’t as vocal or physical about their selfish desires are still strong-willed. They have a hidden will that makes it difficult to see on the outside but inside, they are still exhibiting the same selfish tendencies.

Personally, I think parenting the classic strong-willed child is easier than the “hidden-willed” child because with an outwardly strong-willed child, you can see the struggle right in front of your eyes. You tell the outwardly strong-willed child to pick up his toys, and he throws a fit. You know exactly what’s going on in his heart, right? He’s refusing to put himself under your authority.

You tell the hidden-willed child to pick up her toys, and outwardly, she obeys. You’re happy, but what you might not notice or even have a glimpse of is what’s going on in her heart. She might be gritting her teeth on the inside, grumbling about the task, letting bitterness or envy or strife take root in her heart…and you won’t have a clue it’s there.

When I mention to parent groups how lucky they are to have strong-willed children, I often am met with disbelief. After all, strong-willed children give parents a workout in the toddler to preschool age with their almost constant questioning and testing of boundaries. Then I remind these parents that with a strong-willed child, you know exactly what’s going on in their hearts—it’s out there for all to see.

It can be just as difficult to parent a hidden-willed child because you can easily mistake outward compliance with inward compliance—and the two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. With a hidden-willed child, you have to look for other signs that the child’s heart isn’t growing cold with hidden defiance, such as surly attitudes, little unkindnesses and undercover disobedience.

Whether you have a strong-willed or hidden-willed child, parents should be willing to put in the time and effort to stick to boundaries, to pay attention to a child’s heart, and to realize that we’re raising adults, not children. With an eye to the future, you can help your strong-willed or hidden-willed child become an adult who’s kind, honest, hard-working, committed and resourceful.

All We Need Is Love?

Note: On the fourth Tuesdays, I’m starting a new blog series on the Fruit of the Spirit, taking us through the nine character traits and applying that to raising kids.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

The world is in love with love, and not just around Valentine’s Day either. The idea that if we just had enough love, everything would be okay isn’t a new one. People have been thinking that for centuries.

We also tend to think of love as strictly a feeling. That means, if we don’t feel in love, we’re not in love. We enjoy the feeling of being in love, but that feeling isn’t the most reliable. It can lead us astray, can cause untold trouble, and can break up marriages and families.

Jesus taught us the true meaning of love in his reply to the question of which was the greatest commandment: “Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 (ESV)

That kind of love is more than a feeling—it’s an active, living and breathing love. How can we teach our children the true meaning of love like that? Here are a few thoughts.

Show them love. Kids need to see an active love, so while telling them we love them is important, so is showing them we love them. That means fixing their favorite meals, listening with our full attention, going to see them play or perform, allowing them to invite friends over, spending one-on-one time with them on a regular basis, and giving them hugs frequently.

Correct them when they do wrong. An active love also isn’t afraid to correct the loved one. Some parents have a hard time with discipline because they think if they punish a child for misbehavior, the child will interpret that as the parents not loving them. But proper, effective discipline can’t exist without love.

Love your spouse. We can’t get so immersed in the daily tasks of raising kids to forget to love our spouse in an active, vibrant way. Our kids should see us get mushy with our husbands or wives. Our kids should know without a doubt how much mom and dad love each other. Seeing that married love played out in technicolor in their living room and around the dinner table will go a long way to showing kids what real love looks like.

Talk about what loves means. True love isn’t easy. It isn’t here today and gone tomorrow. It’s persevering through the tough times. It’s overcoming heartache and misery. It’s forgiving and letting go. It’s mercy and grace. Helping kids to understand the many facets of love will help them learn to identify the real thing from the many imitations they will encounter.

All we do need is love—true, active love.

March Parenting Thought of the Month: Should kids have credit cards?

A new survey found that the number of children between the ages of 8 and 14 with a credit card has quadrupled over the past year. A recent survey found that the number of 13 and 14 year olds carrying credit cards has jumped twofold in the past year.

“While it might be shocking to hear that so many preteens and young teenagers have credit cards, since they can’t open them on their own, in most cases parents are opening cards with them,” Kimberly Palmer, a credit card expert for NerdWallet.com, told Newsday. “If parents use that opportunity to talk about how credit cards work, how to avoid debt and how to budget, then it’s a great learning opportunity and will help them graduate to using credit cards responsibly after they leave home.”

But handing a kid a credit card isn’t the best way to teach impressionable minds about money management. For many kids, holding coins and bills in their hands, then spending those same dollars and coins for something tangible is what helps them to figure out what money means.

We need that basic connection to money—the feel and heft of it in our hands, the “pain” of handing it over to someone else for something you want, and the saving up to buy something special. With credit cards, you bypass all of that in an instant.

Want to teach your kids how to avoid debt and how to budget? Then give them an allowance and don’t let them have carte blanche access to your credit cards. We give each of our four children a weekly allowance with only one string attached: they must give at least a five cents each week in the church offering. Here’s some common scenarios and how we’ve handled them.

Scenario one: Child wants something at the store but forgot their cash at home. We grill them on how much the item costs and will occasionally buy it for them, but demand immediate payment when arriving at home.

Scenario two: Teen wants something online. We either make them pay us in cash before hitting the “buy” button or they can purchase an Amazon or iTunes gift card at a store with cash to use for online purchases. Either way, they must ask permission before hitting send—we’ve stressed that we have the right to confiscate any item ordered to return if permission wasn’t granted ahead of ordering it.

Scenario three: Child wants something but doesn’t have enough saved to buy it. We make them wait until they have cash in hand. For one of our daughters, that meant more than a year of saving.

What do these three scenarios teach your child about money? That it comes with a cost. That saving takes discipline and commitment—and you really have to want something to save for months before buying it. And that ordering online with a credit card is exactly the same thing as paying in cash.

However you teach your kids about money, using cold, hard cash is always better than plastic.

 

What’s the Secret to Family Devotions?

As Christian parents, we firmly believe that one of the most important jobs we have is teaching our four children about our faith. For centuries, parents regularly engaged in the practice of systematically teaching their children biblical truths, often from manuals of Christian doctrine called catechisms. But that formal way of educating our children fell out of favor gradually, and today, many Christian families don’t have any form of regular teaching to pass on to their children the essential elements of our faith.

Too many times, we expect the church to be the primary teachers of our faith and its scripture. Debb Hacket, a mom in Northern Virginia, has devotions with her two girls before school. “I’m not always consistent but I try. I do it so they head into school armed and reassured by the Word and in the knowledge that they are perfectly loved by Jesus, no matter what the day throws at them. It’s also a way to encourage them to make good choices and be kind to others.”

We have family devotions after dinner, as that best fits with our schedule of having different school start times and work obligations first thing. We sometimes have discussions based on topics that came up in school as well as viewing current events through the lens of Scripture.

Family devotions should be a top priority in our homes over sports, music or other lessons. What could be more important than teaching our kids about God? Here are some thoughts on how to get started or continue your own family’s devotions.

It only takes two. When we were first married, we made family devotions a priority. In addition to our own private devotions, my husband and I read through and discussed books like Henry Scudder’s The Christian’s Daily Walk as well as books of the Bible. Incorporating family devotions into the fabric of our lives together before we had kids made it so much easier to continue once we started welcoming little ones into our family. Don’t wait until you have kids to have family devotions.

Understanding grows. Another stumbling block to family devotions is young kids or babies. But you don’t wait until your kids are “old enough” to teach them about God. While you’re not going to reach for John Calvin to read to your toddler, you also don’t have to merely rely on sanitized Bible story books, either. Let your kids grow into devotions by giving them more meat than fluff.

Have a plan. If you rely on pulling together family devotions after dinner each night, you will soon find yourself floundering (and yes, I speak from experience!). Take some time to talk with your spouse about what you want to study together as a family. It might be a book on Christian living, or it might be a topic, like servanthood. But knowing what you’ll study each evening help you overcome the post-dinner (or breakfast!) lull.

Mix things up. You don’t have to do the same thing every time. We had a rotation in our home for several years, alternating memorizing Bible verses, learning catechism questions and answers (My article “Teaching Your Faith Through Catechesis” has details on how to use catechisms to impart doctrine truths to our kids), reading from the Bible, and singing a hymn together. Having different things on different days kept us on track and made the time together more fruitful. One family told me recently that they had a family brainstorming session and came up with 17 different devotion ideas or exercises. “After dinner, we have Alexa randomly select a number and we do whatever that devotion idea is.” Ideas range from praying (for leaders, missionaries, friends, etc.), reading from one of the kids’ devotionals, discussing the Sunday sermon, making a movie about a Bible story and writing a psalm.

Go for substance over flash. Make sure you don’t obliterate the message or truth you’re trying to convey by the means you’re conveying it. In other words, don’t let flashy methods obscure the essential truths. Sure, have fun with devotions but keep your eye on the what you’re trying to impart instead of the how.

Start small. Begin with one day a week. Aim for consistency on that, then add a second, then a third. Soon, you’ll be up to five, six or seven days.

Allow for life happens. Sometimes, you’ll miss a day here or there, but pick up the next night and move forward. Don’t let a particularly crazy week derail your devotions entirely.

Include prayer time. We started a practice several years ago of rotating who would pray for the family when devotions were over. We would each have a chance to give a prayer request, then the child or parent would pray out loud for the requests. This has been very precious to us as parents, hearing our children pray for one another and for us.

Above all, don’t let your own lack of knowledge or feeling of inadequacy stop you from teaching your children about your faith. You are their mom or dad—you are already well-equipped to share the Gospel and its truths with your kids.

Until next time,
Sarah

Sarah’s Favorite Family Devotional Aides

Want to have family devotions but aren’t sure what to read? Here are a few of my favorite family devotion resources.

The Life of Christ for the Young by Richard Newton. All ages. Charles Spurgeon called Richard Newton “The Prince of Preachers to the young.” You’ll see why in this three-volume work that shows children (and adults!) the work of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. Don’t let the nineteenth century language stop you from adding these volumes to your devotional library. My children were captivated by the stories and truths that shine throughout this work.

The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos. Up to 13. This retelling of the Bible doesn’t dumb down scripture. Catherine Vos uses biblical stories to show kids what’s really important—what’s going on in their own hearts—and how God used circumstances to bring about his ultimate plan of salvation through his son, Jesus Christ.

Great Bible Question & Answer Book. Up to 13. There are a lot of versions of this type of book, but this is the we used as a family to go through the Old and New Testaments in question form. Our kids loved reading the questions aloud, asking for answers, then reading the correct answer from the book.

Bible Memory Verses. All ages. My pastor put together a list of verses that represented the major theme in each book of the Bible. For the Old Testament, there’s roughly one verse for each book. For the New Testament, there’s approximately two verses for each book. We’ve found this very handy when thinking about which Scripture to have our children know by heart. Contact me for a PDF of these verses.

February Parenting Thought of the Month: The Consequence Trap

On Feb. 28, Sarah will host a webinar on “The Truth About Consequences.” Sign up today!

Today, many parents have a meh relationship with consequences—they know punishments should be doled out when a child misbehaves, but they don’t like having to carry out the sentence. The trouble lies in the fact that most parents view consequences as only punitive—that is, to punish a child for doing wrong.

That way of thinking makes it hard for moms and dads to be consistent with punishments and to actually levy strong enough consequences to make a difference in their child’s behavior. What they often forget or fail to recognize is that consequences have a purpose beyond a “sentence” for wrongdoing.

Consequences have two main objectives:

  1. To make a child feel bad about the misbehavior AND
  2. To make a child think twice about misbehaving in the future.

Most of the time, children don’t feel bad about doing the wrong thing on their own. It’s something we must teach our children. Not to shame them, but to help them recognize that there are right things to do and there are wrong things to do. Kids who don’t learn the difference usually have a more difficult time navigating life’s rough waters.

Images Copyright: Kat and Steve Smith | ks-photography.com.au

 

To achieve the first objective, parents must be willing to allow their child to feel temporary (emotional mostly) pain or discomfort when correcting the misbehavior. A child who cries when caught with a hand in the cookie jar is feeling emotional pain, but mostly because he or she was caught. Levying a consequence will reinforce that wasn’t the right thing to do—and help the child remember not to reach into the cookie jar again without permission. Consequences should also deter a child from misbehavior in the future.

Sometimes, though, moms and dads don’t carry out a sentence that will impact a child’s future. In other words, we sometimes will levy minor punishments in the hopes that will curb future “crimes.” And when it doesn’t—as will happen at times—we pile on more minor consequences in the vain hope that those “slaps on the wrist” will change a child’s wrong direction.

We also misstep by telling a child exactly what will happen when he or she does something wrong, i.e., “You leave your bike out one more time, and I’m putting it away for a week.” On occasion, this will work as a determent or an incentive to correct behavior, but more often, a child simply decides he or she can “handle” the punishment, so does the crime.

What is more effective is a parent who simply does something when a child misbehaves, but the child has no idea what that will be. We follow this practice in our home, in that, we rarely tell our kids what will happen if they misbehave. What they do know is that we are very creative in our punishments, and that we “hit them where it hurts,” i.e., we tailor consequences to have the most impact on that particular child. Not a one-size-fits-all approach.

When a child doesn’t know what will happen—but does know it will be something that impacts his/her way of life negatively—the child will be more apt to think before doing the misdeed. That’s why you don’t always tell exactly what will happen, and you make sure your punishments are designed to maximize discomfort for the child. This is to help the child’s conscious to develop and to provide an external check to misbehavior.

Here’s one example from my household. When my oldest daughter, Naomi, was 10 years old, one of her daily chores was to refill the cats’ water dish before school each morning, which was in the downstairs bathroom. She started to get sloppy about it, and I would go downstairs after they were on the bus to find the water dish empty or nearly so. Nagging her didn’t help, and neither did a week of early-to-bed nights.

Then I realized she didn’t care enough to “remember” her chore—it was up to me to make her an offer she couldn’t refuse. The next day, I put up a 30 block chart on the fridge with Naomi’s name at the top. When she noticed it after school, I told her what it meant: She was to fill the cats’ water dish every day for 30 days, telling her dad or me so we could check it. If she missed a day, the 30 days started all over from day 1. Once she had gone 30 consecutive days without reminders or misses, she would get her books back.

Silence from Naomi. Then, “What do you mean I’ll get my books back?” I had noticed that she was reading in the mornings before school Now I love it that all of my kids love to read, but in Naomi’s case, it was interfering with her morning chores. So I took them away. For a month. No reading at all at home. She threw a fit (of course), but do you think she missed filling the cats’ water dish once in the next 30 days? Nope. Suddenly, her “memory” problem was fixed! Have I had to bring out the big guns like that again with her? Nope, that’s a memory that sticks! Have I had to remind her younger sister (2 years younger) to do her chores? Nope, she’s prompt because she doesn’t want something similar to happen to her.

Consequences should be memorable, cause a child discomfort, temporary (they don’t last forever in most cases), and provide a lasting lesson to deter future infractions.

Parenting Advice That Makes You Go Hmmmm: Giving Homework to Parents?

In the fall, Fairfax County Public Schools included this little gem in its weekly email under the headline: “Tips for Parents: Let Your Elementary-Age Child Give You Homework.”

The short piece read like this: “For many parents, it’s been a long time since they had to do homework. So when their children complain about it, they aren’t always sympathetic. Parents can better understand what their children are going through if they go through it too. Once every week or so, let your child give you an assignment. Even if it’s easy for you, don’t show it. Instead, ask your child to help you. One of the best ways for children to learn something is by teaching it to someone else. It will make your child feel important and a little smarter. It’s a great ego booster.”

To which I scratched my head at the convoluted thought process: I can’t understand my child not wanting to do homework because I don’t have any homework of my own? However, I did go to school, and at that time, I did have homework. But those distant memories aren’t enough for me to emphasize or sympathize with my fourth or fifth grader today.

Furthermore, life is full of things we don’t want to do, like dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, housecleaning, bill paying, taxes, etc. All of us, no matter if we “work” outside the home or not, have busy work (aka, homework) that needs to be done that we don’t particularly like doing. Learning how to summon the internal will to do such work is part of growing up—and the more our youngsters have to deal with unpleasant but necessary tasks, the more used to them they’ll become and the more able to overcome their natural resistance to get ‘er done.

I originally posted a brief comment on Facebook after receiving the email, and I quickly found out I wasn’t the only parent wondering why this was put forth as a good idea. One local reader—who has kids in Fairfax County Public School too—said, “What cracks me up about that argument is that we have experienced it…because we went to school. And we had homework! And my parents just asked if I did it. They didn’t sit over my shoulder to make sure I did it and they certainly didn’t offer to do any assignments with me!”

Another pointed out, “The great thing about being human is that I can imagine what it’s like to have a mouthful of thumbtacks without experiencing it!!!” One poster had a good thought: “If kids can give parent’s homework, then can parents give teachers homework?”

The bottom line is that parents can empathize with our kids without resorting to dumb ideas like allowing them to assign us homework that we pretend to have trouble doing. When I read this out loud to my kids at dinner one night, my high schooler, middle schooler, fifth grader and fourth grader thought it was a pretty funny—and very strange—idea. As my fifth grader said, “Why would I want to give you homework?”

It’s ideas like this that make kids sometimes view adults as, well, not the brightest bulb in the socket.

January Parenting Thought of the Month: Kids Do Weird Things

As we start a fresh year with no mistakes (yet!), it’s good for parents to remember that their children are perfectly capable on any given day to do something totally off the wall, mean or downright illegal. Parents can do everything right and their kids can still choose to do the wrong thing.

For example, one of our kids used to walk down the hallway with tongue out, licking the wall. Another child spit at a classmate in anger during lunch (the classmate then stabbed my child in the hand with a plastic fork—yikes, good thing they were both first graders at the time, so no harm done). This is just a sampling of how strange our kids can be…and how unpredictable their behavior, even when said kids “know” the right thing to do or not to do.

Many times, a child acting in an unpredictable way can trigger a corresponding paralysis in the parent, especially the mother. The parent tries to decipher why the child did what he or she did, often wondering if the behavior was the result of some parenting misstep. More time and energy is spent on trying to figure out the why behind the behavior than addressing the behavior, and confusion often reigns in the wake of such incidents.

Since every parent will encounter something strange, weird, despicable or downright bad behavior in their child at some point along their parenting journey, what should a parent do in these situations? Here’s what I keep in mind when my kids go off the rails—or simply act according to their kid-nature.

  • Ignore the kid stuff. From licking a wall to drawing with spit on a window, we should learn to let go of the weird things kids do without overreacting. Sure, tell them to stop if it’s really annoying you, but if it’s simply that you find it strange that they want to do that (like jumping in mud puddles after a rain or only wanting to wear a princess crown instead of hair bows), you should probably let them enjoy being a kid. After all, there’s enough time for them to adhere to adult conventions.
  • Remind the child that you still love her despite her actions, but that there are consequences for what she did. Be prepared to level appropriate punishments so that there’s hopefully not a repeat of the behavior. In other words, love the child but still punish her if appropriate (or follow through if a school suggests consequences at home in addition to school).
  • Help the child take responsibility. This means the parent doesn’t step in and shield the child from his actions, but step alongside the child and, depending on the age of the kid, show him what he needs to do to make it right. This should include sincere apologies, preferably both written and verbal, and an offer of restitution.
  • Make the child assume full restitution for any damage. For a teenager, this could mean you front the money to pay for the broken window or defaced property, then he works odd jobs or a part-time job until the debt is paid. For a younger child who has little earning potential, this could mean that he pays on a sliding scale and perhaps does extra work for the person or place (such as weeding a garden at school or helping to clean up after an event) until the debt has been paid. In both cases, be clear what it will take to wipe the slate clean, such as a specific dollar amount for older kids or a certain number of extra chores that specifically benefit the person or place that was harmed (such as a school that the child defaced with graffiti, for example).

Five Parenting Hacks

I’m often asked what are some easy ways to make raising kids more enjoyable and less stressful. Here are my top five in no particular order. If you adopt even one of these in the coming year, I think you’ll find yourself more calm and confident as a parent.

  1. Develop a parental vision. How would you describe your child at age 30? How you answer that question tells about your parenting vision for your children. Think about the vision you have for your children, then think about how you are parenting. Do your decisions as a parent reflect the vision you have for your kids? Do the things you encourage your children to accomplish build toward the vision you have for them as adults?
  2. Parent with open hands by encouraging independence. Let the child solve his own problems first before stepping in immediately. Refrain from doing things the child is capable of doing for himself. Recently, I saw a parent take off his second or third grader’s shoes for no other reason than because she demanded it. That parent needed to stop doing for his daughter what she was perfectly able to do for herself. Stop being your child’s social director—let him initiate playdates, especially as the child inches into upper elementary school age. Finally, develop interests of your own apart from your kids, as it gives you perspective and, well, a life of your own.
  3. Disconnect to reconnect. The ability to be “in touch” with others 24/7 has created an environment totally different from that of a mere 20 years ago. An unintentional side effect of being so connected is that parents—and children—have become worn out. We’re warned about what we—and our children—are looking at on our screens, but rarely are we cautioned about what the mere fact that what we’re so linked is doing to our relationships. Have technology free zones (like at dinner, overnight, etc.). Get out and do things as a family without technology.
  4. Stop playing Parent Detective. Don’t spend so much effort worrying about trying to understand why your child does the things she does. It doesn’t make you a better parent if you understand everything about your child—it makes you an ineffective parent because you’re constantly assessing the why and forgetting about the what. The what is what’s most important. We should be more concerned with the what of our children’s behavior than the why. Sure, we need to point out the heart issues, but that doesn’t mean we give them a pass on the misbehaviors because we know the reasons. So many times, parents are so laser-focused on finding out the why that they forget to address the what.
  5. Use Alpha Speech. Moms especially use way too many words when communicating with our children, and this opens up the door for arguments and pushback. Instead of saying, “Mrs. Smith is coming over today and the living room is a mess. I need you to pick up your toys so Mrs. Smith doesn’t step on them, okay?” Alpha Moms say, “Pick up the toys in the living room.” This cuts down on arguments tremendously and it also allows the child to more clearly hear the directive.

What are some of your favorite child-rearing hacks?

More Tips on Staying Sane During December

I asked for advice on Facebook about how to not be overwhelmed during the holidays. Here’s what friends had to say:

Teresa Danner Kander says, “I try to do most of the stressful stuff, like the shopping, before Thanksgiving, so that the time from Thanksgiving to New Years is filled with fun stuff, family time, and occasional me time. And I don’t let myself build up unreachable expectations for get-togethers.”

Trinity Jensen cuts back on her expectations in regards to things like shopping, baking and decorating. Dianna Francis suggests treating Christmas as just another day to value.

Laura Ferratt echoes that thought by encouraging us to “stop in the middle of the craziness and ask yourself if today was my last day on earth, what would be important? Keep your focus on those few things and let the rest go, at least in your mind, if not in your schedule. I’ve been forced to think this way throughout my husband, Brion’s, illness, and it has been freeing and a blessing amidst pain and suffering.”

Carol Miller Huttar recommends doing ahead as much as possible. “I get everything done early, before Thanksgiving. Then I enjoy lots of fires in the fireplace, cups of hot cider, and carols.” Erin Unger is also a fan of shopping early. She even wraps all the presents by December 10. “That takes a huge weight off my shoulders during the holidays.”

April Six Wise says “no” to more things than she says “yes” to this time of year. “For example, if I’m stressed, I buy store bought cookies for the party instead of making them myself (this one is hard for me to be okay with!) and make easy meals for dinner the whole holiday season. I have to say ‘no’ to events if it messes with kiddo bedtime—or my bedtime. I’m also limiting the kids’ Christmas lists this year to one thing they want, one thing they need, something to wear, and something to read. And I’m going minimalist for decor and kid crafts. Clutter makes me super, super stressed!

John Chase agrees with April, adding “by ‘things,’ I mean anything that is contrary to the message of Christmas. Christmas to me is celebrating the advent of Emmanuel through all the music written over the centuries and the sacred events that occur in local churches and by spending time with family. All the rest can be chucked.”

Cheryl D. Hammond reminds us to slow down. “One of the biggest changes I made was to have Christmas Eve and Day sacred. We attend a candlelight service together as a family, then go home together and wake up the next morning to unwrap presents together. Christmas can be celebrated on any day, so extended family get-togethers are scheduled after Christmas Day. I used to wake up at my house, do Christmas there, then drive to my parents’ house to do it again with my side of the family. That was too crazy.”

Above all, keep in mind why you enjoy this season of the year: Family, friends and fellowship. Everything else isn’t as important as holding onto those things.

Making the Most of Holiday Gatherings

I love this time of year, with fall in full swing, the weather crisp and cooler, the anticipation of the coming family gatherings and holiday cheer. But that doesn’t mean the holidays are not without stress or concern or just plain tiredness from all the activities. Here’s how to get through the holiday season without being overwhelmed.

Decide now what you’ll do—and what you won’t do. Figure out how much will be too much for you and for your family. For those with small children, you might want to schedule only a few outings or events with family and friends. For those with older children, you might ask their input for what they’d like to do.

Focus on making memories over checking boxes. In other words, don’t feel you “have” to do something just because it’s expected. Think more about what your family enjoys doing as a family—that’s what this time of year is really about—and put those things on your calendar.

Think about giving, rather than receiving. How can you incorporate giving back to the community, to your family, to your neighborhood, to your friends, to strangers this season? For example, we have the opportunity to host international college and graduate students for a Thanksgiving dinner prior to the actual holiday, which all of us (including our four children) enjoy doing each November.

Don’t be afraid to come late or leave early. When the kids were young, we often arrived at holiday parties on the early side, then left well before ending time in order to accommodate their sleeping schedules. By doing that, we were able to enjoy the party and not have too cranky kids on our hands.

Take time to slow down. If you feel yourself becoming exhausted or overwhelmed with your to-do list or activities on the calendar, see what you can eliminate. There’s no sense running yourself ragged just because the list says you have to. Take ownership of your time and put the brakes on when it gets to be too much.

How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed during the holidays?