Too Much Time Away From Home?

Q: How much time is too much time away from home? Is it one day a week, three times a week? What would be the guidelines for how much time we allow our kids to visit others without us?

A:It depends. I know, not the answer you wanted, right? I can’t give you a hard-and-fast rule—parenting isn’t like that because every child and every situation is different. But I can give you some guidelines or questions to think about when considering such time away from mom and dad.

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How visits in the past have gone. Is your child cranky every time she comes home from Grandma’s? Is she subdued? Does she cry a lot when you’re not around? How hard is it to re-establish routines when the child returns home?

What do you need? As parents, we’re used to putting our needs last, but sometimes, it’s important to realize that we need a break from our kids as much as they need a break from us. So if you know that by mid-summer, you really could use a long weekend by yourself (or with your spouse), then schedule something ahead of time. We all need mini-breaks, such as a night out or lunch with a friend, so make sure you hire sitters (or swap babysitting with friends) for those smaller chunks of time.

What do they need? Kids learn and grow apart from Mom and Dad. An overnight camp during the summer, weekends with grandparents or other relatives, spending the night at a friend’s house—all of these activities help kids become more independent and resourceful.

Who are they spending time with? You didn’t ask this exactly, but we should be careful with whom who we leave our children. For example, vet summer camps by asking how staff are selected and trained. For the families of your child’s friends that you might not know well, ask questions like who lives in the house, who will be home during the sleepover, what kind of supervision will be given, etc.

You take all of that information and you make a case-by-case decision on away-from-home trips, overnights, etc. Sometimes, a child isn’t ready for an overnight one year, but by the next, she’s ready to go.

Cryin’ All the Time

Three of my four kids cry. A lot. They shed tears when they’re angry. They bawl when they’re sad. They sob when they’re frustrated. In short, emotions tend to manifest themselves as water.

And I understand, because I’m the same way. I’ve cried when I was spitting mad–and hated every tear that fell. I cried when frustrated because someone wasn’t hearing me or understanding what I was saying or trying to do.

Teaching our kids how to handle tears has been an ongoing and important lesson in our home. Our criers will probably always shed tears at the most inopportune times. Knowing how to respond and what they can do to control those tears can be one of the best things they’ll ever learn.

Image courtesy of patrisyu/

With the help of a few experts, I tackled that topic in a recent Washington Post On Parenting blog entitled “How to help your child cope with tears that come too easily.” One tip that has been of enormous help in our house has been to give the child permission to take a moment to regroup, such as putting her head down on her desk at school, closing his eyes and counting to 10, etc. Those little coping mechanisms have paid huge dividends as our kids have become more confident in how they respond to their own teariness.

Until next time,

Calling All Mothers

If you’re called to motherhood, what does that mean? In the simplest terms, it means you have children, who either came to you by way of birth or adoption (both formal and informal). Chimene Shipley Dupler posits that being a mother is a high calling in her new book on the topic. Hers is the voice of encouragement, whispering in our ears that we can do this mothering thing because God has given us this work.

Written in a breezy, cheerleader tone, The High Calling of Motherhood offers guidance on what it means to be called to motherhood. The chapters flow into each other and cover a lot of ground, from social media feeding our insecurities to the power of prayer in the lives of our children. The book’s strength lies in her biblical grounding that God is sovereign over our entire lives—and the lives of our children. All too often, we let fear reign in our hearts instead of resting in the sovereignty of Almighty God.

Dupler’s sincerity and her passion for helping moms shines throughout the book. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to overcome some inherent problems with the book overall. Her prose exuded excitement—a good editor should have curbed her generous use of exclamation points (!)—as well as repeated phrases and ideas, such as informing us over and over (and over) again that motherhood is a high calling (and that’s just in the first chapter). Subsequent chapters also have the similar repetitive notes that could have been streamlined and beefed up with a more rigorous exposition.

I also had a hard time with one huge assumption Dupler asserts early on in the book: “But motherhood has always been hard, in every generation and in every culture. Mothering is hard because it comes from the heart.” I know for a fact that my mother or grandmother would never have said that being a mom is hard in general. This “mothering is hard work” is a very modern idea, one that is largely American in nature (read Bringing Up Bebe to see how different modern Frenchwomen view motherhood, for instance).

In addition, the book has more of a “you can do it!” tone than practical advice, which is thin on the ground. It’s all good and well to tell us that we are called to motherhood, but how does that fit into our other callings as wives? Or into our work or volunteer opportunities? I wished for more chapters like the one on storyboarding and visioning, which provided tangible ways to envision our children’s future that could help us through a particular season of life. While she gives us insights into her own life and shares a few stories of other women she’s met, I wanted Dupler to provide the voices of other moms in her book.

The Bottom Line
The High Calling of Motherhood is a saccharine dose of encouragement for moms who have lost their way after having children. You will find much in this book to spur you on to rediscovering your calling as a mother. However, for those who are in search of practical ways to be a mother, you might find Dupler’s work a little lacking. For that group, I recommend How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. For Christian mothers wanting a guidebook to raising kids in the faith, there is no better recommendation than The Mother at Home by John S.C. Abbott, a 19th century American pastor.

Readers can enter The High of Calling of Motherhood Blog Tour Giveaway for a chance to win either a custom made “World Changer” necklace by The Giving Keys or two tickets to attend the Passion4Moms conference being held in Washington, D.C., May 5-6, 2017.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever! is filled with dozens of stories praising mothers: happy stories, bittersweet stories, funny stories and zany stories. My story, “A Mom to Many,” is included in this new edition, just out in March 2017.

Order your copy through my website, and I’ll personalize an inscription, plus include a special Best Mom Ever! bookmark. Place your order today, and receive free shipping to an address in the United States. Order by May 5 to ensure delivery by Mother’s Day (May 14).

Only $14.99–includes shipping to a U.S. address. This item will NOT be shipped to an international address. Please enter your inscription into the text box, then click “Buy Now” to purchase your copy. Sarah will inscribe your book before shipping it.


Entertaining Adults (Even When You Have Kids)

Many parents give up on entertaining adults when their kids are still at home. My articles, “Once kids enter the picture, can parents still entertain?” in today’s Washington Post Local Living section gives some tips on how to have successful dinners, parties and informal gatherings with an adult focus without leaving out the kids.

Here’s some snippets that didn’t make it into that piece.

On why parents give up entertaining.
“There are many reasons parents give up on entertaining. A very common one I have encountered is that not all your guests have children or are comfortable with children being in adult spaces. Or from a different perspective, parents often feel that the event must be all-inclusive and haven’t figured out how to compartmentalize or blend adult entertainment with the kids present,” said Anitra Durand Allen with Experience Bliss Coaching.

“I think the stress of being interrupted and not being able to truly enjoy conversation and adult time with friends leads to many parents thinking they can’t entertain while the kids are still at home. … But, we often forget that it’s really about spending time and connecting with people we care about versus a perfect home or a gourmet meal. Don’t underestimate a surface clean and straightening up of your house paired with food ordered from your favorite restaurant or a stack of delivery pizzas – it’s about having time together versus everything being perfect,” encouraged Jamie O’Donnell with Jamie O’ & Co.

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On how to overcome fear to entertain.
“Parents know that it’s likely someone will have a meltdown, the house won’t be as clean as they’d like, or they’ll be too stressed and short on time to cook a nice meal. To overcome it, I think parents need to then match those realizations with their expectations and planning. I am an advocate for keeping things simple while entertaining. You can pull together a memorable experience for guests with a few thoughtful touches while keeping everything else simple. … I think as long as parents adjust their host and hostessing style to reflect the current environment in their home they can successfully entertain at any stage of life,” said Tori Tait, founder of

“Parenting competition exists, and keeping up with the Joneses isn’t just about a better house, car or lawn — it’s about better behaved children. Worried that their kids don’t have the goods to compete and win, they throw in the towel on entertaining to hedge against that type of competition. Overcoming this fear of not living up to community standards is about self-esteem as well as exposing yourself to the fact that other peoples’ homes and families may seem perfect, but aren’t,” said April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert.

Yet God

By Doreen Hanna

Did you feel your dreams came true the moment you held your new born for the first time? Then delighted in their first word or step? Quickly, months turned into years, and those cherished moments seemed to lessen, and now became a lesson because it was more about discipline then delightful pleasures. Did you begin to wonder, “Is this really an honor?”

You are not alone because I believe most every parent has felt that way at some point throughout their journey.

Yet God. At times in my motherhood days, just those two words would take my focus off myself and lead me to remember that he holds this role of ours in his highest esteem. When God led Moses to write the Ten Commandments, he desired to have our hard labor recognized. “Honor your Father and Mother… and your days shall be long.” This is the only commandment with a promise. I believe it comes because it is the highest calling of our lives.

Fulfilling our calling begins with God refining us. Often times that is how he equip us to raise them.

I remember when our youngest daughter, Kamy, was in high school. One day she told me about an essay she had to write on who she most admired. Secretly, I was hoping it might be me. However, she chose her youth leader, Alane. I had to agree. Often Alane’s words of wisdom resonated in Kamy’s heart where I couldn’t reach. I remember helping Kamy list the qualities in Alane that were most significant to acknowledge. She wrote the essay that earned her an A+.

A year later Kamy came home from school and said, “Hey Mom, read this. I got an A on it today.” I began reading. It was another essay, this time about me. I wept, first because I felt so undeserving of the honor that she bestowed upon in her written words. Then remembered those two words… Yet God. By his grace, he gave me one of the sweetest and most memorable gifts I could have ever imagined, discovering the loving and appreciative feelings Kamy had in her heart for her mom. After wiping my tears, I hugged Kamy tightly, then confessed that I had hoped she would have considered me when she wrote about Alane. She replied, “I know mom, but I wasn’t ready.” I recognized then that God had a work to do in my heart before such an honor as this could be bestowed.

Remember, the best way we will influence our children’s behavior is when we change our own. As Proverbs 15:33 says, “Before honor comes humility.”

About Doreen Hanna
Founder and president of Modern Day Princess (MDP), Doreen Hanna travels internationally training MDP leaders and loves to speak to audiences of parents, teen girls, and women of all ages. She is the co-author of Raising a Modern Day Princess and the newly released Raising a Young Modern Day Princess. Books are available at:

Is the Pen Mightier Than a First Grader’s Attitude?

Q: My 7-year-old first grader received notice that he did not meet district standards for penmanship/writing the past two quarters on his report card. I have printed out worksheets for him to copy what direction pencil strokes should be made, but he just throws a fit and cries rather than try to work through the worksheets. We practice spelling words 15 minutes a day, five days  a week. He seems to have a laissez fair attitude about most things and seems to just not care. He is a left-handed writer. He could put more care into how he holds his pencil. He could put more effort into it. I ask him to leave a space the size of two fingers between words and he doesn’t. How can I get him to care? BTW, his reading level is ahead of his peers.

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A: I don’t think you’ll like this, but the short answer is you can’t get him to care about something he doesn’t want to care about. This is true of the child who is 7, 10, 15 or 26. You can’t make anyone care about something, so stop trying to make him “care.” He’s not going to, and the more you pressure him to care, the more he will dig in his heels and refuse. Save yourself some angst and quit trying to make the kid care.

Now, about that not meeting district standards. Our school system also has the same “grading” system that you refer to, and I get that you’re concerned about his “failure” to improve his handwriting. But good grief, Mom, he’s seven. He’s left-handed. He’s reading well above his peers. What more do you want from a first grader???

If you want him to begin to hate school and learning, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you want him to love school and learning, I recommend implementing the following changes pronto.

  1. Stop making him practice spelling 15 minutes every day. His time after school would be much better spent playing outside, jumping on a mini trampoline inside, reading for fun, etc. In other words, doing typical boy things (but without electronics) for most of his time at home after school. Don’t think of him as “wasting time”—there have been numerous studies that show the value of free play in a child’s overall mental, social and spatial/motor skills development. This is part of his job as a kid—to decompress, to let off steam, to figure out how the world works, so don’t deny him a good healthy dose of play each day.
  2. Let go of your expectations for “grades” at this age. It sounds like he’s doing very well overall, so please, stop harping about his handwriting! Sure, leave the handwriting worksheets around, but don’t make him do them. Again, at his age, his motor skills have probably not caught up with his brain, so forming proper letters is probably frustrating and hard for him. He’ll outgrow this—but he won’t outgrow the resentment and stress of your standing over him making him do handwriting worksheets.
  3. Get some perspective. He’s not going to fail first grade because he gets consistent low marks in handwriting. My youngest son went through the same thing in first grade and he still gets the occasional low marks related to handwriting in the third grade. While he has improved, we didn’t make it the be-all, end-all of his academic career in first grade (or second grade, or third grade…). We focused instead on helping him to care about doing his work to best of his ability, to follow the teacher’s instructions, etc. In other words, we’re more focused on ensuring he becomes a good student, not that his work receives high marks.
  4. Think of the future. Some people simply don’t have good handwriting. While penmanship is important, it’s not the most important thing your son will learn or accomplish. Think more about the kind of person you want him to be at age 30 than on the fact that he got several low marks in handwriting at the age of 7.
  5. Finally, make it fun. Last summer, I bought my son a handwriting book for boys so that he could practice on his own. Writing things like “Girls are weird” and other boy-things was fun for him. I didn’t hound him about practicing in the book, and I did catch him a time or two doing it on his own. Usually, my kids all participate in a writing club during the summer, where they spend time writing stories together. Those kind of things are low-key and provide practice in a non-academic, low-stakes atmosphere.

Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent


We all say strange things to our kids! This month’s original cartoon caption is from J from Kentucky. After J and her two daughters watched a “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” episode, this happened. “Strangely enough, this incident occurred between two girls, with the younger one (age 5) wanting to take a sip,” J related.

Post your “Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent” comment below–yours might be featured as a cartoon!


A Manageable Routine for a Teen

Q: I need help regarding the evening routine for my 16-year-old daughter, after she arrives home after her sport, which is usually 5 p.m., during the week. She has ADHD and says she needs to decompress when she gets home before launching into chores/homework. That has translated into procrastination on phone/computer, getting homework done too late, or maybe not completed and getting to bed too late. She doesn’t have a bedtime—as she says, “Mom, don’t you think I want to go to sleep? I will go to bed, when all my work is done.”

I want to take electronics away for a certain amount of time at night. But then she says she needs her devices to do homework. Can I make her go to bed at a particular time? She takes rigorous courses and does have a lot of work, she just doesn’t manage her time well.

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A: I can tell by your question that this is a topic that has gone round and round between you and your daughter without any changes or resolution on either side. I do have some advice, but I’m not sure it will be what you want to hear because simply put: The only person in this equation who you can change is you. But changing how you approach this will help your relationship with your daughter and help her to take full responsibility for her time. However, if you follow my advice, you might not see any improvement in the current situation, i.e., how your daughter manages her time, but you will see improvement in your own stress about the matter.

One thing to note first: We all handle transitions differently. Some of us can move smoothly from one task or situation to another, while others need mini-breaks to transition from school to home. You might see her decompression time as wasteful, but it might be what she needs to clear her brain from the school day and focus on the afternoon/night ahead.

Those disclaimers out of the way, here’s what I would do (and do with my own middle schoolers who have homework on the computer): You have an end time when everything electronic is shut down for the night, including personal devices (phones), etc. Decide on what that time will be. For the sake of this answer, we’re going with 9 p.m.

Then tell your daughter that you’re sorry you’ve been trying to manage her time for her, that you are giving that back to her. You will not be asking her about homework or what she’s doing. After she expresses her delight in this, inform her that all electronic devices (computers, laptops, tablets, phones) will be shut down (and turned in to you in the case of the portable ones) by 9 p.m. each evening. Tell her that this is a non-negotiable time. If she hasn’t managed to finish her homework or check in with her friends by 9 p.m., that’s just too bad for her.

Now, be prepared that for the first night (or the first few weeks), she will blithely ignore this and procrastinate as usual. I’d give her a 10-minute warning (maybe set a kitchen timer) at 8:50 p.m. to finish up. Then when 9 p.m. rolls around, you enforce the shut down and confiscate the devices. She will plead, beg, cajole, throw a tantrum, etc., that she “has” to finish XYZ, to which you simply shrug and act very sorry she didn’t have enough time. Remind her she can get up early the next day to finish it before school if she likes, but that’s it for tonight.

The only thing you have to do is brace yourself for the fallout and don’t cave in. The first time will be the hardest but the sky will not fall. Her grades might slip for a short period of time, but you are giving her a lesson that’s worth a few lower grades–the ability to figure out how to manage her time by herself.

I Mix Up Your Name Because I Love You

Finally, scientific studies show that moms—like me!—who can’t seem to spit out their own child’s name have a really good reason: we love our kids.

My mom used to call me Vicki or Shawn, my two older sisters, often when I was growing up. Trouble was, because of the large age gap between them and me, Vicki and Shawn had grown and moved out of the house by the time I was in grade school. To this day, she’ll call me one of my sister’s names (thank goodness, not my brothers’!). So why did my mom constantly get my name wrong?

Of course, I thought it was simply something my mom did—drove me crazy sometimes, but hey, she’s, er, older than I am, so it makes certain sense. Then I had a daughter, then another, and all of a sudden, I’m calling “Leaomi” when I mean to say Leah or Naomi. My two boys have names that don’t roll together so easily, but I still call Micah by his brother’s name, Silas, and vice versa. Sometimes, I can’t even get any name out even though I’m staring right at the kid.

Image courtesy of Ventrilock/

What a relief to know there’s a scientific reason for this! Yep, we massacre our kids’ names because, well, we love them.

A recent Babble article looked at a 2016 review of five studies of more than 1,700 participants on the problem of misnaming (the report was published in Memory and Cognition). Most often, it was the mothers who called the respondents by the wrong name, but those naming mistakes happened in nearly all family members and friends. While sometimes the misnomers were found to be because of similar sounding names, more often, the wrong names were said because of love.

“Overall, the misnaming of familiar individuals is driven by the relationship between the misnamer, misnamed, and named,” the study stated. That means, the closer we are to someone, the more probable we’ll mix up his or her name.

Because our brain organizes material into the semantic network (like a mental filing system—think Inside Out), we group similar information together. Hence, the propensity for moms to mix-up their children’s names or run through the entire list before landing on the right one.

So kids, it’s just because I love you so much that I can’t get your names right.