3 Better Ways to Connect with Your Kids

Connection is Greater than Pefection - 3 Better Ways to Connect with you Kids - #staymarriedParenting is the thing Tony and I fight about the most. We don’t fight about it because we have vastly different philosophies on parenting– for the most part, we agree on how we want to raise our girls. But the act of parenting is very different from the idea of it, and that’s where we find ourselves butting heads.

It’s been awhile since we posted here in #staymarried, but the #staymarried vision of offering hope, stories, and resources to couples who want to stay married is never far from our hearts. The simple truth of our absence is that we have been working on focusing our energy on our own marriage and family, which has desperately needed our attention.

Tony has been busy working his usual 9-5 and then coming home and spending most evenings in the office working on freelance projects. He is very talented, and I am so proud of him, but it’s meant that our time together as a family has been limited. It’s not just the work on his plate that has filled up our time.

I have been speaking regularly since January. Public speaking was never a part of my vision for my life or for #staymarried, so I am still wrapping my brain around it. Each time I get to share, speaking my own heart, using my real voice, I feel so fortunate! Fortunate that people would trust me to deliver a message. Fortunate that I get to write and process in a totally new way. Writing to speak is completely different for me than writing to post on the blog. I’m still figuring out the process, but so far, the biggest difference is that it takes me A LOT longer. So, I’m still writing, but I haven’t had the brain space to write both for #staymarried and to write for speaking.

{Here’s a podcast of my latest message: I’ll Never Be a Pinterest Parent}

Sometimes in order to say “yes” to great things, we have to say “no” to good things. Continue reading “3 Better Ways to Connect with Your Kids”

There Goes Date Night

The arrival of our third child this last December brought some expected changes for our little family. We rearranged the girls’ rooms so that our oldest two are now in bunk beds. We had to buy a new car to fit all of our family. (For those keeping score, we ended up with a Mercury Mountaineer. We all love it.) We are no longer able to each take one kid and manage them. I’m told this new arrangement is called “zone defense,” and we are getting used to it. Like I said, we were expecting to adjust with most of this.

Then, during one of our many middle-of-the-night feedings, it suddenly occurred to me. “We have THREE kids now! We are never going on a date again! What have we done!?!?”

There Goes Date Night - #staymarried

With two kids, it didn’t seem very unreasonable to send them to our good friends for the evening or even overnight. Three kids is a whole new level! Paying for a babysitter for all three – even if I could confidently leave the little one with someone other than her dad – would cost us way more than our average date. I began to panic just a little bit. I thought to myself, “How are we going to connect and de-stress with each other if we can’t go on dates!?! I already feel so disconnected now that all of my attention is consumed with kids and feeding the baby every two hours, and fitting in the laundry and a shower now and then. I miss my husband!”

I calmed myself to go back to sleep and decided to let it go for a little while. A couple of nights later, after Claire and Nora were in bed, I sat in the living room with Tony. I had our sweet baby snuggled up on my chest and was flipping through my Real Simple magazine with my free hand. In an article on finding balance within your family life called, “Nobody’s Perfect,” I came across the very thing I needed to read…

Don’t stress about date night.

You know that you need to make time for your spouse. (Focusing on the kids instead of each other is a major reason that many couples grow apart.) But babysitters cost money, and who can stay awake after 10pm? Here’s some good news: Sitting on the couch together is probably more important. You need ways to connect with each other that don’t take a lot of effort or time; try sending a loving text (not “Bring home milk”) or talking at the dinner table for 10 minutes after the kids have finished. “A grand gesture, date night included, isn’t going to work very well if you don’t have these smaller moments throughout the week,” says Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of counseling a St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. And you don’t even have to talk. “There is value in just being in the presence of another person,” says Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in New York City. “Don’t make time together contrived or you’ll resent it. There’s something healing in reading a book or surfing the internet in the same room.”

 

With a relieved sigh I looked up at my husband and decided not to stress. We believe so much in going on dates, in making that special time together to invest in each other, that it hadn’t occurred to me that our marriage could still thrive without them. Reading this advice calmed my heart. We are in a unique season with our little ones. We are tired. We are busy. We talk to each other less than we used to and instead we communicate a lot by stealing hugs in the kitchen and holding hands in the car. I was reminded that Dr. John Gottman says, “The small moments of everyday life are actually the building blocks of relationship.”

Some of the sweetest connections we’ve made lately have been when he has “asked me on a date” for later that same evening. I know he really wants to spend that winding down time with me on the couch with a snack instead of both of us going straight to bed after we put the girls down. We choose a show from our Netflix queue and sit together under the same blanket. We are never without our youngest, Alice, and that’s perfectly fine with both of us… for now.

The small moments of everyday life are actually the building blocks of relationship - #staymarried

Have you been stressing about not getting to go on dates with your spouse? Take some time to think of ways you can make a connection tonight. Can you prepare a special late evening snack? (We like Cambozola cheese with toast or hummus with cucumbers) Can you pick up a Redbox movie? Instead of putting so much effort into arranging one evening out, enjoy the simple, frequent connections. Know that even if it’s been months since you’ve been out on the town or seen a movie in the theater, your marriage can thrive on the less complicated efforts and you can absolutely #staymarried.

You are reading There Goes Date Night, a #staymarried blog. If you liked this post, you may also like to read Why I Date My Wife and 22 Ideas for Your Next Date. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.
New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

 

 

I Quit!

I Quit - Time to say "No" to good things so we can say "Yes" to great things - #staymarried blog for couplesA couple of weeks ago I quit something in favor of my marriage and family. It wasn’t smoking, gambling, or drinking – though I am on a temporary hiatus from my beloved wine and cocktails while I incubate our third child. I quit something that I loved, something that was important to me. I’d been volunteering with an organization called Strip Church Seattle, helping out behind the scenes with some of their social media needs. This is a group of women I believe in wholeheartedly and have loved supporting. I didn’t quit because they had become demanding or overbearing; they are gracious and kind. I quit because I suddenly remembered something that I had forgotten.

Sometimes you have to say “No” to good things so that you can say “Yes” to great things.

It broke my heart to quit, and somehow at the same time, I felt like I could breathe a little easier to have one less thing on my plate. As it is, the time I spend in front of the computer has become more and more limited with two little girls and one more on the way. I’m busier than I’d like to believe as a stay-at-home-mom. We all are, aren’t we? We try to fill our lives with good things and before we know it, our lives are unbalanced and lack focus.

Jim Collins says in his classic business strategy book, Good to Great, that “Good is the enemy of great.” When things are good in life we have a natural tendency to settle in. We like good. Good is comfortable and pleasing. It is usually not until things are bad that we change or look for something better. In that way, Collins is absolutely right. Instead of pursuing greatness, we settle for things that are simply good.

I want a great family, a great marriage. I want great friendships. I want to produce great and helpful things for you, the #staymarried readers. I also want great skin and great hair, but those seem to fall just a little lower on the list of greats that I’m after. So, I’m thinking if I narrow down my list to those few things I want to be great, it is much easier to take stock of where I spend my time and edit things out, good and not-so-good things, so that I can devote my energy to making the important things great.

So, I’m taking stock. I’m looking at my calendar and I’m looking at the things I spend the most time and energy on.

I’m not going to sign my kids up for a million activities this fall, as fun as they all sound, because I don’t want to spend my limited time with them as preschoolers carting them to and from things that are merely good. I want our days to have flexibility. I want them to have a mom that is not so frazzled. I want this time I have with them before they go into elementary school to be great!

I’m not going to keep telling people I have time to take on new projects because I’m “just a stay-at-home mom.” I’m really not sure where I picked up that lie, but it is a lie. As a mom and wife, I am actually much busier than I was when I was working full time in an office. I’m going to allow that to sink in and reject the guilt I normally inhale for not volunteering for more good things.

I’m not going to pretend I’m working on my marriage just because I write a blog about marriage. Instead, I’m going to ask my husband what he wants more of and how we can be more connected. I’m going to give him my undivided attention when he’s talking instead of pretending there is a deadline on the dishes in the sink.

Autumn is quickly approaching. It’s a time when even the trees slough off leaves that they once spent the energy to grow. Is this a season for editing? Is there something you need to quit? One of my favorite authors, Bob Goff, says he quits something every Thursday. I don’t know that I’m going that far. But, it was on a Thursday that I quit volunteering for something I loved and have since opened up my heart to the wonderful things I really want to focus on in my life. I quit something that became a distraction and now I’m going to put more effort into my life as a friend, as a mother, and as a wife. I quit so I can do more to #staymarried.

Sometimes you have to say "No" to good things so that you can say "Yes" to great things - quote from #staymarried blog

P.S. If you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.
Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Lost in the Fog: Guest Post by Carmen Meeks

Last week, in “If Mama Ain’t Happy,” we discussed how our moods affect everyone around us. I touched briefly on my own experience with depression, and this week we want to explore that a little bit further. According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. suffer from depression. This means that, even if you are not personally struggling through it, there is a great chance that someone you care very much about is suffering. They may even be suffering in silence because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues like depression, bipolar, and anxiety.

This has always been a blog about marriage, not mental health, so you may wonder why we are diving into these rough waters. The simple truth is that we always want to be open about things that affect marriages, and people who suffer from depression have a higher likelihood of getting divorced than people who don’t, especially when the depression is untreated. We know, however, that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

When I began to think about the devastating connection between depression and broken marriages, and my own risk for divorce, my mind went to a couple I know who has been married thirty years longer than Tony and I. This couple is full of fun and wisdom, they are generous, and living life with a purpose. They have also battled depression and are beating the odds and staying married.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Carmen Meeks and allow her to share her own story today.

 

Lost in the Fog

When Michelle asked me if I would be willing to write about my experience with depression, I immediately said yes. If I can offer a few words of hope to someone who is currently feeling hopeless, I want to do so. I am living proof that there is hope and healing available for those who struggle with the debilitating disease that is depression.

My season of depression came on slowly. It crept over me like a Seattle fog.  Slowly, steadily, almost imperceptibly. I really had no idea what was happening to me until I was in the thick of it and couldn’t see my way out. At the time, I didn’t know the symptoms of depression, I just felt them: fuzzy thinking, irritability, fatigue, extreme sadness, hopelessness. Physically, I felt heavy– like I was sinking. Mentally, I felt clouded– like I had lost the capacity to make a decision.  Emotionally, I felt nothing– I was flat-lined.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

Unfortunately, my husband became the victim of my depression. I blamed him for how I was feeling. Wasn’t he supposed to make me happy? My two dysfunctional coping mechanisms were anger and withdrawal. Attack and retreat. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must have been for him, but somehow he stuck with me. And I can’t imagine how hard this must have been on my two children. There was a period of time during their young adult years when their mom was physically present, but emotionally absent.

I came face-to-face with my illness when I was driving down a wet road on a rainy day and saw a car swerve toward me. I had already experienced times when my heartbeat would accelerate over small events, but this time it skyrocketed in reaction to the perceived danger. It was beating so fast that I could literally hear it in my ears and feel my mind shutting down. The other car corrected their trajectory and no collision occurred, but I was already a mess. I pulled over to the side of the road and burst into tears. I was afraid to try to drive home. I knew something was wrong with me, but had no idea what it was or what to do about it.

A few days later, my husband and I got into our car to head to a friend’s home for dinner. That’s when I exploded. I told him I was unhappy with our life and our marriage and something had to change. It was ugly and messy, but it was also the first step toward healing. Rather than running for the hills, my husband helped us locate a competent Christian counselor. We went there together.

My healing did not happen overnight. It did not happen in weeks. It did not happen in months. I walked out of my depression, one day at a time, over a period of two years. Though our budget was tight, we paid for professional therapy month after month. I tried several different medications until I found one that worked for me. We stayed connected with close friends who encouraged us in our journey. I not only needed physical and emotional help, we needed to reinvent our marriage— and we did. We listened to our counselor and changed bad patterns in our relationship.  It was hard, but it was good.

Almost twenty years have passed since I found myself crying on the side of the road. I still live with a tendency toward depression and always will. My dad struggled with it, as did his dad. But now I know how to recognize when the fog is creeping in and how to take action. I am vigilant and self-aware. I no longer expect my husband to be responsible for my happiness. I know how to take responsibility for my own feelings. I’m not perfect, but I am better.

The symptoms of depression are available at our fingertips. Simply Google “depression” and you will access a wealth of information. But knowing the symptoms is not enough. If you are lost in the fog, you probably need help to take your first steps toward healing.

Here are some of those steps:

Tell a wise, trusted, action-oriented friend.

In the midst of my fog, I had neither the wisdom, nor the desire, nor the capacity to take action to help myself. I thank God that my husband took my hand and joined me on my journey toward healing.

Find a wise, competent psychiatrist.

For me, it was also important that this psychiatrist was Christ-centered. I needed holistic healing– body, soul and spirit. That included a full medical workup and medication for the treatment of depression. I also needed the grace and wisdom and practical advice found in the Bible to give me hope as well as practical life skills that I continue to implement in my relationships today.

Be patient with the process, and never stop growing.

You won’t conquer your problems overnight. I am still a work in progress, but I am much more self-aware and able to own my issues rather than blame others for my struggles. I know my moods, my physical weaknesses, and my points of vulnerability. I know where to go for help. I know what makes me happy:  spending time with my family, a long walk on the beach, quiet time at home, a hike in the woods, sharing a good meal with great friends, traveling to discover new places on this amazing planet.

Most importantly, ask Jesus to help you.

I put my faith in Jesus as a teenager. I still remember the weight I felt lifted from my heart when I asked him to forgive my sins and lead my life. Later, as a twenty-something, I stood in front of my pastor and promised to love my husband “for better or for worse.” The worst time of my life was my season of depression. Even though I cried out to Jesus during this struggle, he did not heal me instantly. But he did heal me eventually– with help from skilled professionals and therapeutic medicines and with the support of my husband. I see God’s handprint in all of these details.

This psalm is a reflection of my journey.  I pray it is an encouragement to you.

Psalm 40 - Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

Carmen and her husband Mike have been married for 36 years. They pastor EastLake Church in Chula Vista, California, where everyone is welcome regardless of their stories, questions, doubts, or struggles. They have two grown children, Heather and Ryan, as well as 7 grandchildren. Mike and Carmen, along with Tony and I, have committed to living transparently, especially when it comes to the issue of depression, so that others might find the hope and healing they need to conquer this otherwise silent destroyer of lives and marriages. The odds may be against us, but there is hope for each and every one of us, no matter what we face, to #staymarried.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

P.S. We’ve shared about our experience with depression in Tony’s post, Living with My Partner’s Baggage. As we mentioned before, even if you are not personally struggling with depression, there is a 1 in 10 chance that someone you know is. Please consider sharing this post and help us fight the stigma and silent suffering of this crippling disease by bringing it out into the open for discussion.

If you’re new here, welcome! You may want to check out my first post to get a little background as well as our about page. Thanks for reading and sharing!
~ Michelle

Photo Credit: Seattle | Fog in the Morning by Stephanie Williams Photography

If Mama Ain’t Happy

If Mama Ain't Happy - 6 Tips for Being a Happy Influence In Your Household - a #staymarried blog for couplesHave you ever heard the old saying “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? Or how about the more polite version, “Happy wife. Happy life.”? Have you ever thought about how true those phrases are? Whether you can think of examples from your childhood home, or your own marriage today, there’s something powerful about these clichés. There is an assumption that a woman’s mood is influential enough to affect everything and everyone around her.

What’s been bothering me, though, is that I think most of the time when we hear these phrases, we automatically put the ownership on that woman’s husband and family to “make Mama happy,” or at least avoid making her mad. This got me to thinking. What if we, instead of blaming our foul moods on those around us, took ownership of our attitudes and responsibility for the emotional temperature of our homes? What if, knowing how influential we really are, we could become a pleasure to be around instead of someone to avoid? What if, when you called for your kids from the other room, they didn’t assume they’d done something wrong?

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, spent a year devoted to being happier. One of the by-products she found of her own attempt to keep a happier mood is that it affected the mood of her entire household. She noted that:

It’s true that “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” and it’s also true that “if Daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” and that “you’re only as happy as your least happy child.” Each member of a family picks up and reflects everyone else’s emotions– but of course, I could change no one’s actions except my own.

Tony and I know this to be true in our house. There have been many times when Tony and I have decided, using our parental secret code language, to take the girls out for frozen yogurt after dinner, only to halt all of our plans because our three year old inexplicably decides to be rude, push her sister, and then have a complete meltdown. The daydream of a family outing thwarted by a three year old! Claire wasn’t happy, so nobody else got to be happy either. But, as a mom and wife, I should have much more control over my emotions than my toddler.

So, do we choose happy and bring up the entire mood of our home? Or, do we choose to indulge our negativity and flippantly allow those around us to suffer? Choosing happy is not necessarily easy, but it is not impossible. Psychology professor David T. Lykken, author of Happiness: The Nature and Nurture of Joy and Contentment, says that “trying to be happier is like trying to be taller.” We each have a “happiness set point,” he argues, and move away from it only slightly. And yet, Lykken and other psychologist believe we can still pursue happiness. But, how? We’ve put together a few ideas for you…

6 Tips for Being a Happy Influence in your Household

# 1: Choose Happy

First we need to recognize that other people and circumstances only have so much influence over our mood. In the end, it is our choice and our perspective that determines our happiness. Will you allow an offense to seep in and be dwelled upon, or will you choose to let it roll off your back?

#2: Cultivate Gratitude

Ever have one of those days when you look at your closet full of clothes but still have “nothing” to wear? Me too. It can often send me into a downward mood-spiral and I find myself getting short with my kids or lashing out at my husband. If instead I were to look at that closet full of clothes and be grateful that I can afford a new shirt every now and then, I’d realize mine is just a “first world problem.” Thankfulness is a great antidote to a bad mood. Feeling grouchy? Take a moment to think of one thing you’re grateful for. It’s tough to be both bitter and appreciative at the same time.

#3: Foster Forgiveness

Like gratitude, real forgiveness can take the place of frustration. Though it is not easy, removing a debt from someone, whether they know they are forgiven or not, is extremely empowering. Did you know that someone doesn’t even need to be sorry in order for you to forgive them?

#4: Don’t Expect Your Stuff to Make You Happy

I’ve been wanting a new dining room table for a few years now. The one we have is so small that we have to pull out a folding table when we have company. This feels unwelcoming to me, and I can get easily irritated about it sometimes. The problem is that the table is completely inanimate, so it has no desire to either make me happy or to make me mad. Studies show that there is, in fact, an increased level of happiness achieved when a person makes a new purchase. But, that increase is incredibly temporary. What I need to do is remember that my happiness is a heart issue and not a stuff issue.

#5: Nurture Friendships

Nothing keeps you down like focusing on yourself. Bummed that you didn’t get invited out to that fun dinner your friends posted pictures of on Facebook? How about becoming the inviter? Bake some cookies and take them to your neighbor just because. Write a note to a friend that you treasure and tell them why. Doing something kind for others, investing time and energy in your friendships, is a great way to climb out of a rut.

#6: Enjoy Now!

Often what keeps us from being happy is that we aren’t ready to be happy yet. Oh, we’re sure we will be as soon as we get that promotion, start having kids, get our book published, or reach one thousand followers on Twitter. This is what is known as the Arrival Fallacy. Gretchen Rubin discusses this in her book and on her blog, too, and remarks:

The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because arriving rarely makes you as happy as you expect. Why? Because usually by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness. You quickly become adjusted to the new state of affairs. And of course, arriving at one goal usually reveals a new goal. There’s another hill to climb.

In fact, working toward a goal can be a more powerful source of happiness than hitting it – which can sometimes be a letdown. It’s important, therefore, to look for happiness in the present…

Choosing happy only works if you choose to be happy now. Looking forward into the future and saying, “I will be happy when I pay off my student loans and am debt-free,” does nothing for your current happiness. Deciding, “I know that having kids is going to make me really happy, but I choose to fully enjoy the freedom we experience now before starting a family,” can have an instantaneous effect on your current happiness.

Try it! Could you choose to incorporate just one of these tips today?

When You Can’t Choose Happy

There are times, I know, when happiness does not seem to be a choice at all. Just a few short months ago, there was nothing I wanted more than to be happy and no matter what I did, I just couldn’t muster it. My children were beautiful, happy, and healthy. My husband was caring and funny. I couldn’t find a single thing to complain about, and yet I couldn’t escape the worthlessness I felt or the hopelessness I saw in my life. I had no energy to invest in my friendships and everything I thought about doing seemed utterly pointless. I was depressed in a very real sense and if my husband and a good friend hadn’t insisted that I see a doctor, and then drive me to the appointment, I would very likely have continued down the spiral.

I share this with you because if I had read the list above during the time I was suffering, it would likely have made me feel even more hopeless. If you are in a place in your life that “choosing happy” just doesn’t seem to be an option, check out these signs and symptoms from Mayo Clinic. There are things that can help. Beginning to take antidepressant medication and seeing a therapist have been life changing for me, and a good doctor can help you figure out what is right for you. Tony shared more about our experience with depression in Living with My Partner’s Baggage a couple of months ago.

Mama Makes Mama Happy

Depression notwithstanding, as much as we are able, we should strive to set a happy tone for our families in our home. When we hear the phrase “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy,” instead of using it as a threat to our families, let’s think of it as a reminder to ourselves to keep our attitudes in check. Our children and our marriages only benefit when we take our joy into our own hands. An effort to stay happy is an effort to #staymarried.

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read To Nag and to Scold from this day forward… Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle