Posts in Family
6 Lessons That Marriage Has Taught Me
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Today is a big day as my wife, Cary and I celebrate 16 years of marriage.  That was fast!  We're unique in that neither of us had been married before (unlike so many people) and amazingly, it seems that our marriage is getting stronger and stronger.  I can honestly say that I get to spend every day with my best friend.  

So what has marriage taught me in 16 years of trial and error? Here's at least six lessons that Cary and I both have learned (yes, she checked this post to give it her stamp of approval!): 

1. Have a sense of humor.   At home, I'm kind of the goofy dad, always bringing levity to tough situations or just everyday "stuff".  Sometimes when Cary is having a tough day, I'll say something off the wall as a way of reminding us both that, in the big picture, we're blessed.

2. Be fully present.   Technology makes it hard to be fully present to the one you love.  There's no substitute for sitting together, having a conversation, asking questions and really making your spouse feel heard and valued.

3. Do the little things.   We have a tradition that I always get Cary a new glass of water before bed.  I used to find this annoying.  Now, 16 years in, I find it to be something I take pride in.  After all, it's the smallest act of kindness and it means something to my wife.  Why not do it?

4. Don't compare.   Everyone's marriage is different.  Everyone's spouse is different. When we were first married, I would often play the comparison game and see how we "measured up" to other couples.  Don't do it.  Find your own way and cherish the person God has given you.  Today, we can honestly say that we have a great marriage and I could care less about how it "looks" in comparison with others.  It works for us.

5. Talk a lot.   We talk all of the time. Cary's a talker and I'm not so often it's about me listening and her talking but sometimes the roles are reversed.  We talk to start the day and sometimes will end the day having a deep conversation.  I've learned that when Cary wants to talk about something, I should listen and give my full attention to that moment.  Quite frankly, it doesn't matter if I "feel" like listening.  If it matters to her, it ought to matter to me.  

6. See the opportunity.  Imagine that God delivered to your door the most amazing package and all you had to do was open it up and appreciate what was inside?  To us, that's what marriage is like.  We have the opportunity to love one another (and our four kids) unconditionally and that's both a responsibility and privilege.

So there it is- 16 years and counting. Here's to at least another 16 years of learning, living and blessed married life.  


How Much Screen Time is Too Much for Children?

A few years ago I came home from a busy day at work at around 7pm.  Through the back door, ring the bell, wait in the kitchen, get hugs from my four kids.  I was a hero once again.

Fast forward to this past week.  Same routine except a different result.  Instead of being mobbed by my adoring children (as I like to remind them) in the kitchen, I just stood there on my own.  

The kids were busy.  One was using Cary's iPhone while another researching Legos on the laptop.  I had walked into another intense session of adolescent screen time.  

If you're like me, you occasionally wonder, "how much screen time is too much?"  You're worried that kids today will turn out to be antisocial, overweight and rude as a result of playing another round of MineCraft or watching more tweenager videos on YouTube.

I worry about those things.

New data revealed that only 1 in 4 young teens are experiencing an appropriate level of screen time per day.  (If you're wondering how 'they' come up with the screen time levels, here's an interesting article.)

So how much TV and computer time should a kid have per day?  About two hours or less as it turns out.  On face value, this makes sense until you factor in that 8 in 10 teens have cell phones, with increasing numbers of those being smartphones with internet data.  I would have a hard time telling a teen to not look at their phone or put down their iPad.  During dinner- sure no problem.  At other times?  More difficult.  

And we're not even talking about school work that is posted online.  

The recommended "adjustments" for kids who spend too much time online are common sensical:

  • Use the internet in short bursts
  • Use safe filters for kids on the internet
  • Provide group activities such that kids don't build "their secret world" online
  • Talk... alot (and then some more!) with your kids about what's appropriate and what isn't

The internet is fairly neutral- it can be a cause for great good or for dangerous activity.  Our job as adults is to help kids navigate the online world so that when they are fully immersed in it, it's not so shocking that they get sucked in to something bad.

Back to my own kids.  

Yes, I worry about their screen time.  No I do not worry about their sociability or ability to be productive citizens because I see them around people and they're amazing kids.  Part of that is because my wife and I are vigilant with what our kids do online and because our faith is always a part of dinner conversations and talks in general.

How about you?  Are you taking the time to talk with your kids about their internet use?

Work-Life (un)Balance
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So much talk about work-life balance these days and in the past five years or so.  

Friends I have struggle with this.  Colleagues at work too.  It's as if many folks can't seem to hold all of the balls in the air.  We face a few options, at least according to contemporary wisdom: 

  • drop a few balls (i.e. resign from your post as treasurer of whatever organization in town)
  • hire it out (think: pool boy) 
  • get smarter
  • get faster
  • wait for a time in life when things are easy

Ask someone who knows me and they'll tell you that I'm hardly an expert when it comes to work-life balance.  Like anyone, I occasionally drop a ball by accident or add another project to my already bursting list. 

And yet, I'm thinking of a friend, John, who said to me recently, "Mike, if you can do all that you do, with four kids and a busy job, I can do it too." 

There's a secret of course at play here- super productive people don't "do it all".  They don't have a magical 25th hour in their day or a secret iOS app that gets more done for them.

Rather, they go in spurts.  Push and pull.  Action and then rest. 

This summer I've tried to practice this- a week of rest and then two weeks of hard work.  A week of study and then a week of hard work.   

It's actually been unbalanced if we were doctrinal about things.  But maybe there's a deeper principle in play- you can only do what you can do.  Do it smart and in bursts.   

Maybe it's time we start talking about work-life (un)balance as a virtue instead of beating ourselves up for failing to meet a deadline.   What can you stop doing today that will free up time and energy?

*photo courtesy of GM 

7 Ways to Explain July 4 to Children

Today is a great day for Americans.  Parades, barbecues and flags all around.  My family will go to the Chatham parade and then have some friends over to stand around the mothership (otherwise known as my grille) for some food and fellowship.

If we're not careful, my wife and I will raise four kids who have no idea about the real meaning of July 4.  They'll simply associate it with the trimmings of the day.

Here are some simple things you can do to teach your kids by means of a holiday like July 4:

 

  • Talk about it.  Ask your kids what they know about it.
  • Watch a t.v. show or movie about American history.  This is perfect for after dinner when things are winding down.
  • Go to a parade and clap for the soldiers.  These brave men and women deserve more than others- clap for them and point them out to your kids.  
  • Explain the symbolism of the American flag.  Here is a great resource.
  • Ask one of your kids to put on a powerpoint presentation about the holiday.  I'm not even kidding with this one. My 9 year old has done powerpoints of Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas.  It's my way of teaching him powerpoint and linking tech with a national holiday.
  • Watch fireworks.  Come on, everyone likes fireworks!
  • Discuss a passage from the Bible about freedom.  Romans 6:22 is a good start, "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life."

How are you not only celebrating July 4 but teaching your kids about its meaning?

 

Give Yourself Permission to Slow Down

Parents today are under a lot of pressure.  They spend hundreds of dollars a month on gas, shuttling their kids from one activity to the next.  In the back of their mind, they fear that if they do not engage in a frenetic schedule, their son or daughter will not be formed "properly".  They fear that Johnny won't get into college and then won't have friends and then will be living at home forever.  To counter this, they shuttle him to:

Soccer

Band

Archery

Summer camp

More soccer

Forensics

Cub Scouts

Fencing

Chess club

And on and on.  It's as if it's a crime to have a Saturday when your kid just hangs out around the house and reads a book.  (That would be ok if the reading was part of a Young Mensa Literature Discovery group.)

I used to struggle with this.  I used to worry that my kids would somehow be at a disadvantage if they weren't involved in a million activities.

Until I stepped back, looked at them and marvelled at their unique personalities and God-given specialness.  It was then that my wife and I decided to stop the madness and take it slower than most families would.  Our weekends are no longer a taxi campaign to get the gas tank to zero.  Instead, we enjoy doing as little as possible together as a family.

A general rule is this: one activity at a time.  In other words, if Grace wants to do softball, she can't do softball and forensics at the same time.  You can do this while kids are young.  As they get older, multitasking activities will probably be the norm.

Don't get me wrong, we still do things.  Take this past weekend as an example.  My son, Thomas, wanted to learn how to play tennis.  We got up early, for Saturday standards, and enjoyed an hour together hitting the ball against the equivalent to The Green Monster here in Berkeley Heights.  Sunday, same thing.  Without a doubt, these two hours were the most important thing I did all weekend.  He had a blast and is now interested in a new sport.  

Was it hectic?  Not really. Important to my son? Totally.

It's ok to slow things down with your kids and your family.  You don't have to maintian a crazy schedule.  It's ok.  Your kids will be perfectly normal if they learn to hang out at home, read a book, play in the yard and love their siblings.  You don't have to attend every holiday party or end of year event.  

Sometimes you just have to give yourself permission to do this.  

What's holding you back from a more manageable schedule with your family?

Photo courtesy of PL

Why You Should Wait 24 Hours Before Your Next Decision

Like you, I've had days when I wished there were 25 or 26 hours in a  day.  You just can't seem to get it all done.  Fortunately, there's always someone you know there to remind you that those extra few hours would just be filled up with something else.

True and true.


24 hours makes sense from a length of day standpoint. It also helps when you have to make a decision. Stepping away when you're hot under the collar is advice that will never go out of style.  


What's the value of pausing when you have to make a big decision?

 
1. You calm down.
 If your decision is somewhat heated or you're feeling tense, it's always good to step back and calm down. Few good decisions get made out of anger.
2. Your thoughts get more clear.  Time creates wisdom and if you can wait 24 hours, your own thoughts will get more clear. Yesterday Cary and I were talking about our kids and their future.  Today we woke up with a better perspective on things and have clarity about how best to proceed. 24 hours will provide that for you.
3. You're more likely to make the right decision.  Unless you are facing an emergency and have to act quickly, the 24 hour rule will always available to you.
4. You have the opportunity to talk with wise people.  When you are facing a big decision, take the time to seek advice from someone you trust.

The next time you face a big decision, take 24 hours to let things settle and step back.  I'm guessing you'll be glad you did.

Question: when was the last time that you faced a big decision and took the time to wait before taking action?

 Photo courtesy of PS