You’ve Got a Mom Friend in Me

By Robin Jones Gunn

Women need women. We know that, but lately our list of go-to friends has been dwindling. We have plenty of social media friends but fewer face-to-face friends.

Have you noticed how our culture has made it possible to go through life without the need to connect with other women the way previous generations did? If we have problems, we go to a professional counselor. If we need a new recipe, we go online. If we need someone to watch our kids, we enroll them in a childcare program.

From the beginning of time women connected naturally within their daily routines. They shared in cooking, laundry, raising children, and gathering for celebrations. Now we order groceries to be delivered to our front door. We sit in school pick up lanes with the air conditioning on while we listen to podcasts.

A dozen potential friends could be all around us at a coffee shop, but our heads are down as we scroll through the images of other women’s seemingly flawless lives. Our birthdays come and go without a single card or cupcake with a friend while all our well wishes are posted on Facebook.

To have a friend we must BE a friend. Here are three “BE’s” to encourage you to fill the face-to-face gap in your social life.

BE PRESENT

What would happen if we made eye contact at the next gathering we attended? Or started a conversation in the grocery store line? Instead of pushing the button on the automatic garage door, what if we walked across the street and said a simple hello to our neighbor as she’s standing by her mailbox?

As great as FaceTime chats, Pinterest Boards and Instagram Stories are for keeping us updated and inspired, don’t you feel something is missing at the soul level?

We were created for the intimacy of close friendships. The eternal depth of our being longs to know and be known. We thrive when we’re in a circle of emotional support and encouragement. Women know how to speak truth into a friend’s life. Women are instinctively ready to offer support and understanding in difficult times. We love how it feels when we laugh till with cry with one of our Besties.

We need friends who make us laugh! Did you know that a good belly laugh decreases stress hormones and boosts your infection-fighting antibodies at a cellular level, which releases toxins from your liver? Laughing with a good friend is practically a work-out!

So, where are they, those belly-laugh buddies? How can we find them?

BE INTENTIONAL

I always think of Ruth in the Old Testament and how she went the distance with Naomi back to Bethlehem. Ruth was intentional and didn’t turn back. You can be the one who takes the first step. Initiate a get-together. Invite a few friends to meet for coffee. Be brave. Be creative.

When you are intentional you can relax. And you’ll need to relax because the 12 year-old girl inside you will feel nervous. Essentially you are saying, “Do you want to be my friend?” You know that there’s always the risk that her answer will be “no.”

That’s OK. Ask anyway. You’re not 12 years old anymore. You know who your women are. You probably know way too much about personality types from podcasts and online tests. Take what you know, put it into motion and seek out your tribe. Adjust as you go but do something intentional to connect with other women.

Here’s a sobering statistic. You are not the only woman experiencing a shortage of friendships or finding herself in a new town starting over. A study from Duke University showed that over the past 20 years 60% more families move when their kids are school age. Most moms focus on helping their children find new friends but don’t make the same efforts to connect with their own circle of kindred spirits.

Time for some intentional nurturing of our friendships.

BE WILLING

My husband is a counselor so I’ve heard a lot about boundaries over the last few decades. As much as I love what that teaching has done for many women, I’m troubled by a pattern I’ve seen developing in modern friendships. For some women, the power that came from setting a boundary led them to automatically closing themselves off from any relationship that was unfamiliar or uncomfortable. In an effort to be safe, they’ve also become isolated and locked down.

Making new friends requires us to venture into the unfamiliar and often uncomfortable. We must be willing to circulate in new groups and enter new conversations. Yes, we still retain our super-power of being able to walk away at any moment. But we need to step into the possibility first.

Keep in mind that being willing is not the same as complete abandon or over-commitment. You might still be stinging from a friendship where you were all in but she used her super-power and walked away. That doesn’t mean every attempt will have the same outcome.

Set your internal smart gauge so that you don’t get lost in what Susan Forward, PhD calls FOG (Fear, Obligation, Guilt). FOG can get pretty thick inside an unhealthy or unbalanced friendship. We’ve all navigated through FOG in a friendship at some time. The good news is that it is possible to have FOG – free relationships. Don’t give up!

Be willing to talk to someone at church that you wouldn’t normally talk to. Be willing to leave your phone in your purse, roll down your window and say hello to another mom in the pick up line. Be willing to have a few women over for a Favorite Things Party, a Bible Study or a Book Club.

If you are willing to take a small step toward a potential new friend instead of walking away or going into isolation, your life could change.

One of my close friends is from Kenya. She taught me the following African proverb and I found that it has become true in my life as I’ve been present, intentional, and willing to seek out and nurture my friendships with women: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Robin Jones Gunn is the best-selling Christian author of nearly 100 books, including several series for teen girls, the widely popular Christy Miller series, as well as Christian fiction for adult women and several nonfiction books. She authored Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas, both of which have become popular Hallmark Christmas films. The third Father Christmas Hallmark movie was released in November 2018. Her books have sold over 5.5 million copies worldwide. She makes her home in Hawaii. For more information, visit christymillershop.com and robingunn.com.

This article first appeared in the October 2019 issue of ParentLife. For more info or to order, click here.

21 After-School Questions To Get Your Kids Talking

By Joshua Straub

A new school year not only gives our kids the chance to learn new things about the world around them, but also gives them opportunities to learn how to interact with the world around them. Whether you homeschool or your children go to public or private school, your kids’ budding brains are being stretched in so many ways — not just cognitively, but also emotionally and relationally.

As the guy who wrote a book on the importance of emotional intelligence in kids, I care more about my children’s character than I do about them getting straight A’s. I hope one day, when I’m old and frail, I can look back with fondness and pride on the legacy I’m leaving, knowing that my children love God and love all people.

But how can we know, today, what’s really going on inside the hearts and minds of our kids when all we receive in response to our heartfelt, “How was your day?” is…

“Good.”

So you probe, “Did you like it?”

Child: “Yes.”

At least it’s a start. You inquire further, “What did you like about it?”

Child: “I don’t know. Can we watch a movie when we get home?”

With this kind of exchange over time, it’s easy to cave to the movie and stop asking questions. That’s why we have to consider not just the type of question we ask but also the best time of the day to ask it. On the drive home, your child is likely tired and ready to unplug. With that in mind, consider asking the following questions at the dinner table, or when you tuck them into bed — which is often the most emotionally available time of the day for our kids.

21 After-School Questions to Get Your Kids Talking

  1. What’s one thing that really made you laugh today?
  2. What was your most favorite part of the day?
  3. What is one thing (subject, activity, etc.) you like/dislike about school? Tell me about that.
  4. What do you like about ________________ (i.e. your teacher, math, spelling, etc.)?
  5. Share one thing you know now that you didn’t know when you woke up this morning.
  6. Whom did you play with the most at school today? What did you do together?
  7. Who is someone you don’t like hanging out with? Why is that?
  8. Who is someone at school (or a friend you know) who always seems to do the right thing? Tell me about him/her.
  9. What is one thing you’re not looking forward to this week? How do you plan to make the most of it?
  10. Is there a problem you faced today that you solved? How did you solve it?
  11. When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
  12. Did anyone push your buttons today? Tell me about that. How did you react/respond?
  13. What is one thing you want God to help you with at school this week?
  14. What would you like to talk about tonight?
  15. Name one thing that happened today that you’re very thankful for.
  16. Is there a friend or classmate you have trouble getting along with? How can you be a better friend?
  17. Who is someone (a friend at school, a teacher, sibling, etc.) you saw act with integrity today? What did they do?
  18. What was the most difficult thing you had to deal with today? How did you get through it?
  19. What about school makes you happy?
  20. If you could change one thing about school, what it would be?
  21. What is one thing we can do as a family after school or on the weekend that would brighten your day?

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is a speaker, author, and marriage and leadership coach. He and his wife, Christi, cohost the In This Together podcast and are coauthors of What Am I Feeling? and Homegrown: Cultivating Kids in the Fruit of the Spirit.

 

Just Add Water!

Title Image

By Nancy Cornwell

Did you know July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded? August days tend to be hot and long, too — but a little bit of H2O can make your days cooler and more fun. Here are four ways to beat the heat by adding a little water to your day!

Old School Fun

Break out the sprinklers! My kids always love it when I just let the sprinklers run. They race back and forth across the lawn, giggling as the cold spray hits them. And, to be honest, Dad loves that the yard gets a little extra water too.

Willing to put in a little extra effort for classic fun? Set up a slip-and-slide and watch the fun ensue! When the kids are finally ready to call it a day, pass out some ice pops for them to enjoy while they cool down.

Car Wash Mania

I don’t know about your kids, but mine always complain when it’s time for chores. Make today’s chore to wash the cars! What’s more fun than a bucket full of soapy water? Just make sure to maintain control of the water hose or you are likely to be wet by the end of the day too!

And when the car washing chores are complete, pass around the sidewalk chalk and let the kids decorate the driveway. The wet driveway will make the chalk colors more vibrant and allow for the opportunity to make some beautiful art!

Buckets of Fun

Does your little one need something a little more contained? Set up a bucket, plastic tub, or even a sink full of water. Throw in a few small toys, a cup, a strainer, and some bubbles. I’m always surprised at how long a simple bucket of water can keep my kiddos entertained!

For another fun twist, include some play dishes and encourage your little one to wash them! This fun game now will encourage them to help with the real dishes when they get older.

Water Education

Allow your children to use water guns or paintbrushes to practice their letters, spell out words, solve math problems, and practice their art skills! Not only will they be keeping their brains sharp for school, they will be working on their fine motor skills as well. Who knew schoolwork could be so fun?

Consider other ways you can turn water play into educational activities. Use measuring cups to compare amounts of water. Discuss the difference in water and ice. Add food dye to cups of water and allow your kids to experiment with creating new colors.

What are your favorite ways to beat the heat?

Nancy Cornwell is an editor and writer who lives outside Nashville, Tenn., with her husband, Chris, and their three kids.

Help! My Kids Are Fighting Again!

By Penny Russ Noffsinger

Do you have days when your kids disagree about everything, want the same thing, and fight over nothing? Welcome to the club. As soon as child #2 comes into the family, the battle begins, the stage is set for competition, and the prize is Mom and Dad’s undivided attention.

My first experience with sibling rivalry began the day I brought my second son home. Family and friends dropped by with food and gifts, and by evening I was exhausted and wanted to spend some quiet time with my 3-year-old. We read a story, I snuggled him close, and without prelude or warning, my 3-year-old whispered in my ear, “I don’t like him.” And I thought, “Oh, no, what have I done?” The next morning I braced myself for the worst, but he was happy as could be, and never mentioned it again. But I knew that their Dad and I would play a major role in how they felt about each other as adults.

My husband and I now have three grown sons, and they actually turned out OK. They don’t argue, (much) they love to be together and they have a language all their own. Kids absorb their environment, and so much of what they learn from us is absorbed into their everyday lives of play-dough, LEGOs®, and fighting with his sister. Here are five things our children can “absorb” that will prepare them to get along with others. They won’t keep them from sibling rivalry, but they will help make it less painful for them and for you.

1. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Matthew 7:12

As early as possible, begin teaching them to “treat others the way they want to be treated.” When one child is rude or unkind to another, simply ask him, “How would you feel if she did that to you? Would you feel good or bad?” Making it personal and bringing it down to his level of feeling good or bad, helps him put himself into the situation and understand the feelings of others.

2. Teach kindness.

Have you heard the way kids talk to each other? Kids should learn kindness at home by listening to how we talk; to them, to the telemarketer, our friends, and also what they hear us talk about. Kindness is most often expressed in conversation. Bullying usually begins with words and escalates from there. As soon as children begin talking, we have the privilege of setting the example of speaking kindly. Speaking softly and kindly to children and  answering them with respect cultivates kindness. When sisters fight (and they will) remind them to speak kindly to each other.

3. Teach them to share.

The Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:18 to, “Be willing to share.” In Acts 2:45, the church was so in love with Jesus, so compassionate toward their Christian friends who were suffering for their faith, they sold all their possessions and gave the money to those in need. They knew what it meant to share! Sharing does not come easily for most kids (adults either). We’re by nature possessive; we like our own stuff and we don’t want to let it go. Studies show that kids who learn the spiritual principle of sharing, grow up to be adults who love to share and it does much to deter sibling rivalry.

4. Show them by your example how to love unconditionally, as Christ loves us.  

Just because you love your new baby, doesn’t mean your 2-year-old will love her. When you bring a new baby into your home, what is the first thing your toddler notices? He notices you holding, feeding, and cuddling that little bundle, and he feels left out. When he feels left out, his natural instinct is to act out; he wants your attention. Include your older child in whatever you’re doing with the younger one. Children love to help and helping to care for someone cultivates love. When kids feel included, bouts of rivalry happen less often because each child feels good about himself and his place in the family.

5. Teach them the simple truth of  2 Corinthians 2: 7-8: “Forgive those who hurt us. Your forgiveness confirms your love.”

Set the tone in your family by forgiving, not holding a grudge, not being the victim. Let your kids see you respond to hurts with a forgiving heart. They’ll be more likely to forgive those who hurt them.

I wish I could tell you that by doing these 5 things there will never be any sibling rivalry in your home, but I can’t. Brothers and sisters fight because brothers and sisters fight. However, I do believe when we teach them to treat others the way they want to be treated, expect kindness, encourage them to share and love each other, and model forgiveness, we are laying a foundation of respect that will go a long way in keeping our kids close to us and to each other.

And respect takes care of a whole lot of sibling problems.

The Word of God is the best parenting book on the market today. God promises in James 1:5-6 to give us wisdom in everything we do, including parenting. He is faithful to keep His promises, and He is faithful to you. Hang in there; it gets better!

Penny Russ Noffsinger lives with her husband, David, in Central City, Ky. They have three sons and eight grandchildren.

This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of ParentLife.

4 Family Activities for the 4th of July

July 4th is a day of fun, food, flags, and fireworks, but it’s about so much more. Here are 4 activities to reflect as a family on the significance of this day.

1. Find biographies of famous Americans in your local library or bookstore. Some influential figures from the time of the American Revolution include George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Alexander and Eliza Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Phyllis Wheatley, among many others.

2. Read aloud the Declaration of Independence and talk about it together. Ask: What freedoms do we enjoy now that Americans didn’t have when this was written? What would it be like to lose those freedoms and rights? What can we do as a family to ensure the God-given rights of people are secure? How can we live as if all people are created equal?

3. Write notes or make cards for the veterans and service members in your church or neighborhood, or bake some goodies and visit a local veteran’s home. Remember to thank them for their service to our country and their role in maintaining our freedom.

4. Make a prayer calendar. On the 4th of July, write “Pray for the United States of America.” On the remaining days, write the name of a leader or representative at any level of government. Ask God to give those leaders wisdom, boldness, and humility to govern in ways that pursue justice, promote mercy, and protect the freedoms we celebrate (Micah 6:8; 1 Tim. 2:1-2).

What are your family’s favorite ways to celebrate the 4th? Share your ideas with us!

Kelly Mikhailiuk is a freelance editor and writer who lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her husband, Taras, and their four young children.

A Christian Father’s Bucket List

By Aaron Wilson

Cheer for His Children – Fathers breed godly confidence in their kids by being their biggest supporters, not just on the playing field, but wherever God calls young hearts to bring Him glory.

Establish a repertoire of at least five character voices for story-time.

Discipline in Love – Faithful dads aren’t lazy when it comes to engaging sin in their children’s lives. Dads are prepared to stand up to the real enemy (even when it temporarily makes them out to be the “bad guy” in their children’s eyes).

Be willing to get his hands dirty (drool, runny noses, diapers … yeah, you get the idea).

Become a Spiritual Instructor – A father doesn’t delegate the principal role of teacher to Sunday School workers or YouTube channels. He takes the lead in forging a spiritual path of knowledge and wisdom for his children.

Know His Place – Men who bow low before Jesus are the ones who stand tall as leaders of their families. They kneel in humility when the world says to bask in pride and rise up for their families when the world says to shrug with indifference.

Maintain a straight face when he discovers his bag lunch for the office meeting contains a juice box and cartoon character fruit snacks.

Model God the Father – Dads have the unique privilege and responsibility of reflecting the first person of the Trinity to their kids. Often, a person’s most ingrained perception of God will come from memories of his or her own father.

Be able to turn an old cardboard box into a rocket ship or princess castle.

Characterize Love for His Kids – Children in today’s culture are hungry to know what real love looks like. By demonstrating how to put the good of others first, fathers emulate the servant nature of Jesus (and the Biblical meaning of love) to their kids.

Post with Parental Intent – Fathers leave a legacy of words for their children when they choose to post on social media. Dads can steward social networking for the good of their kids, who will grow up needing godly examples of how to navigate the digital realm.

Assemble a bike or play kitchen in the living room at 1:00am on Christmas morning.

Look Beyond the Mess – Dads who have a heavenly perspective look past broken furniture and scratched walls to see the eternal investment found in parenting.

Cherish the Church – One of the greatest blessings a dad can give his children is to demonstrate a love for Christ’s bride, the Church. Dads who lead their families to be involved in a local church are at an advantage when it comes to shepherding the home.

Rely on Jesus (Not a Checklist) for Strength – Every dad who reads this list knows he doesn’t measure up (at least, not to the serious entries). That’s actually the point! Christian fathers succeed in life, not because they knock it out of the park as parents, but because they admit they’re sinners who need forgiveness and the enabling grace of Jesus. Biblical manhood doesn’t come from a performance checklist found in a Christian magazine; it comes from confidence in the finished work of Christ.

While there are many more things a dad might do, in the words of Jesus, only “one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42). Take time this month to celebrate the fathers in your life who stand tall for their families by necessarily sitting at the feet of their Savior!

Aaron Wilson is husband to Jennifer, father to Abel and Belle (4-year-old twins), and serves as an associate editor in LifeWay Corporate Communications. He enjoys spending time with his family and writing about God’s glory. Follow him on Twitter @AaronBWilson26 or on his blog at theaaronwilson.com.

This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of ParentLife

Let Them Be Bored

By Scott James

Summer is here and my kids have that wild look in their eyes. They are ready for high adventure, ready for freedom. They fly out the door in search of excitement, attacking the day with vigor and boundless potential. Ten minutes later, they’re back inside reciting what seems to have become their summertime motto:

“I’m bored.”

Seriously. What am I supposed to do with that? I’ll tell you what I usually end up doing — I become an activities coordinator, which basically amounts to me endlessly listing things to do in the face of children who insist there’s nothing to do. But no matter what I suggest or how egregiously I bend the screen-time rules, I only seem to exasperate their boredom more.

Eventually, I quit trying and just let them be bored.

Oddly enough, on the other side of a few minutes (or hours) of moping, they always seem to break out of their funk and reengage the day in fun and creative ways. Sometimes it’s the invention of a new game; sometimes they finally settle into that book they’ve been meaning to read. Whatever it is, when left to their boredom, they find a way past it and into new adventures. I can’t say for sure whether it was wisdom or just being fed up that led me to leave them be. Whatever my motivation, I now see that by being too quick to step in with a list of possible activities I was robbing them of the chance to flex their imaginations and work it out on their own.

Beyond stunting their imaginations and problem-solving skills, I think I may have been feeding into an unhealthy frame of mind as well. Their problem isn’t a lack of things to do; their problem is discontentment. If the Apostle Paul can sit in a prison cell and write, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself” (Phil. 4:11), then I think my kids can suffer through a lazy afternoon. Sure, I may have a fun suggestion every now and then, but if I continually cater to their fear of boredom then I may simply be validating their discontentment.

Paul’s point is that, in “whatever circumstance,” our contentment speaks volumes about our relationship with God. Sometimes, my kids’ boredom (and the whining that accompanies it) is an opportunity to point them toward the grace and contentment found in Christ alone. Other times, we go play a game together. Either way, these are the low-key moments of discipleship in which I’m striving to be faithful.

Scott James is a pediatric doctor and a member of The Church at Brook Hills. He loves helping families grow together in Christ and is the author of several family worship devotionals and children’s books. He lives in Birmingham, Ala., with his wife and four children.

This article appears in the Dad’s Life column of the June 2019 issue of ParentLife.

On the Road Again

By Vanessa Dolberry

“Are we there yet?” If you have a road trip planned for the summer months, you will hear that question a time or two…or twenty. With the plethora of travel electronics these days, we don’t have to rely on playing the license plate game or I Spy to pass the time. While it may be a relief that we don’t have it as hard as our parents did, we mostly don’t want our kids glued to a screen for 8 hours at a time. With a little preparation, we can make car trips a pleasure and still keep screen time to a minimum.

Create an age-appropriate car kit for your child or children using the following guidelines.

Baby Car Kit (ages 0-3)

  • Wipes
  • Diapers
  • Bottles
  • Trash bags
  • Picture books
  • Small magnetic drawing board
  • Toy mirror
  • Rattles
  • Teething toys
  • Bib
  • Blanket
  • Extra set of clothes
  • Diaper cream
  • Formula
  • Pacifier
  • Small toys such as cars or stuffed animals

Kid Car Kit (ages 4-7)

  • Card games
  • Book
  • Magnetic drawing board
  • Small can of play-dough
  • Sticker book
  • Activity book
  • Snacks
  • Water bottle
  • Silly putty
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Markers (Avoid crayons because they melt.)
  • Puzzles
  • Dry erase board and marker
  • Travel pillow or stuffed animal
  • Window clings
  • Magnetic letters
  • Small toys (Avoid toys with lots of little pieces.)

Tween Car Kit (8-12)

  • Word search or crossword puzzle
  • New book
  • Wikki Stix®
  • Journal
  • Madlibs®
  • Headphones
  • Embroidery floss for bracelets
  • Magnetic toys or games
  • Tangram games
  • Deck of cards
  • Play foam
  • Yarn and crochet hook
  • Travel edition of your favorite game
  • Small LEGO® set
  • Travel pillow
  • Snacks
  • Water bottle
  • Map with route highlighted
  • Audiobook

It’s always a good idea to keep a small stocked first aid kit in the car for any boo-boos or mishaps. Use a small zippered pouch to hold these items.

First Aid Kit

  • Band-Aids®
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Pain reliever
  • Benadryl®
  • Childrens Tylenol®
  • Dramamine®

Here are some other items to have readily available in your vehicle at all times:

  • Garbage bag
  • Paper towels and/or wipes
  • Flashlight
  • Bottles of water
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Cell phone charger
  • Jumper cables

More pro tips:

• For kit storage, use a divided cosmetics bag , a plastic divided tote with handle or Individual bags or boxes. You could also use a notebook with pencil bags attached in the rings to hold all items for activities.

• Bring a cookie sheet. You can use it as a food tray for snack time, as a great hard surface for coloring or writing or for fun with magnets.

• Use a timer to help your child know when to expect lunch, a bathroom break, or arrival to your destination.

• For multiple children, pack a separate bag for each child with some personal belongings and toys to keep fighting to a minimum. You can keep shared items stored in another container and divvy out as needed.

• Instead of giving a child who bores easily a bag full of 10 activities, sort 1-2 activities into 5 smaller bags. Give them one bag at a time to keep their attention.

Vanessa Dolberry lives outside Nashville, Tenn., with her husband and three kids.

This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of ParentLife.

Got the Giggles? 3 Reasons to Fight Worry With Laughter

 

By Joshua Straub

Just the other night at bedtime our nearly 4-year-old son told me his favorite part of the day was when his mom threw a dirty diaper and hit me in the face. He said, “Dad, it really made me laugh.”

Getting our kids ready for bed, Christi and I got into a little battle with our daughter’s diaper. Before you judge us, it wasn’t a number two, and yes, it was wrapped. It ended in the playroom with me covering my head in fear of it actually coming unwrapped. The laughter filled our house.

To be fair, many nights are not like this. If you were to walk into our home during the bath/bedtime routine, you’d likely hear more frustrated end-of-the-day nagging than laughing. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you understand. Especially right now.

School is in session. So is soccer. Field hockey. Homework. Practices. Concerts. Performances. Church programs. More practices. Even more homework. Oh, yeah, and stress. Lots of stress.

So much stress that you may even be growing a bit angry right now — either at me for posing this irresponsible idea of having more fun, or at yourself for still reading this article. I get it.

One — if not both of you — works outside the home. If the other is home with preschool or homeschooled kids, your work is uncompromising. Once you’re all finally at home together at the end of the day…oh wait, there’s homework. And dinner. Do we have to feed the kids again?

Friends, the daily grind is real. But lying in bed with my son the other night reminded me that if we’re not laughing, we’re not living. We need to laugh more. Our kids need us to laugh more.

Here are three reasons why.

1. We’re teaching our kids how to manage stress.

Though it’s rarely discussed in parenting circles, one research study found that the second most effective parenting strategy behind love and affection was how we — parents — manage our stress. And by the way, behavior management (i.e. time-outs, etc.) was found to be a “poor predictor of good outcomes with children,” turning up seventh on that list.

In other words, the quality of our relationship with our kids, and how happy and healthy they become, begins not by how well we reward positive behaviors or use time-outs, but by how well we control ourselves.

Please don’t misunderstand me when I say this. Our child’s behavior matters. But I’m willing to guess there are more parents who, just like me, need to stop worrying so much about our child’s behavior, and start focusing on our own. Stressed parents raise stressed children.

As Landon reminded me the other night, they’re watching us.

2. We’re teaching our kids how to relate well.

As soon as Landon told me his favorite part of the day involved Christi and me chasing each other through the house with a soiled diaper, I went and got her so she could come hear it too. We sat on his bed together and legit belly-laughed.

I write often about the power of the marital relationship on our kids. Turns out, how well we get along with the other parent is the third most effective parenting practice. Yet, of the ten practices studied, it ranked eighth in parents’ list of actual abilities. How parents manage stress ranked dead last.

If how we manage stress and treat our spouse have more influence on our kids’ outcomes than even their education, behavior management, life skills, and safety, then perhaps it’s time we prioritize ourselves as parents. Prioritizing our kids over our marriage will wreak havoc on both.

Christi and I have a date every week. Sometimes, we have to be super creative to make it happen. But it’s when we don’t that we’re tempted to use the wet diaper more as a weapon than a toy.

As our mentors Dave and Claudia Arp tell us, “Your kids will wait while you grab a few moments to work on your marriage; but your marriage won’t wait until your kids grow up.”

3. We’re teaching our kids what really matters.

Picture yourself sitting around the dinner table 25-30 years from now with your kids’ families, your grandchildren begging for stories. What we won’t hear from our own kids is how well we kept the kitchen clean. How we successfully had them in bed by 7:30 pm every night. How we taught them never to splash the water out of the bathtub. In fact, I don’t even think they’re going to mention the 105 percent they got on the spelling test.

Instead, we’ll hear about the moments that brought laughter. Mom and Dad’s diaper fight through the house. The time the whole family got caught out on a walk and decided to just dance in the rain. The time we stayed up past bedtime to play games as a family. The camping trip. The pancake dates. The leaf piles in the fall.

Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about your life…which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6:25, 27).

And if I may, parents, “Which of you by being anxious can add more joy to the moments he shares with his kids?”

Let’s worry less and laugh more.

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is a speaker, author, and marriage and leadership coach. He and his wife, Christi, cohost the In This Together podcast and are coauthors of What Am I Feeling? and Homegrown: Cultivating Kids in the Fruit of the Spirit.

This article appears in the May 2019 issue of ParentLife.

Is Your Child Anxious?

By Dixie Walker

What is that all-consuming, dreaded “something” for your child? You know — the thing that starts your stomach churning and palms sweating at the first thought of it coming up on your agenda?

My number one dread in life has always been flying. I absolutely hate it! So, when I know of a trip coming up when I’m forced to fly rather than travel by ground, my symptoms of anxiety start revving up with great intensity:

  • Fearful thoughts
  • Sadness
  • Nervousness
  • Discomfort internally
  • Sweaty palms
  • No desire to discuss the upcoming trip

It’s no surprise then that apprehensions of many types are an issue for many people — including our kids!

Anxiety defined

True anxiety actually goes beyond the “normal” state of being worried. It would be typical for your child to worry about the results of an important test in school. Or having to stand in front of classmates to deliver a presentation. It’s not unusual to be afraid of frightening things like tornadoes or snakes. But when our worries and fears begin to affect our ability to function in our daily lives, it’s likely anxiety has taken over.

According to anxiety.org, some common symptoms related to anxiety include:

  • Excessive, irrational, or uncontrollable feelings of worry and dread
  • Sensations of panic and uneasiness for no apparent reason
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Ritualistic behavior
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle tension
  • Inability to remain calm
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Stomachache

If you think your child — or yourself — is struggling with anxiety, consider these coping methods to help (adapted from a list by Psychology Today):

Make a problems list

Form a list of specific problems/fears to overcome. Then break each problem down into a series of tasks, and rank the tasks in order of difficulty. Attempt the easiest task first and keep on returning to it day after day until you feel fairly comfortable with it. Give yourself as long as you need, then move on to the next task and do the same thing, and so on.

Use relaxation techniques

One common and effective strategy, called ‘deep breathing,’ involves modifying and regulating your breathing:

  1. Breathe in through your nose and hold the air in for several seconds.
  2. Then purse your lips and gradually let the air out, making sure that you let out as much air as you can.
  3. Continue doing this until you are feeling more relaxed.

A second strategy that is often used together with deep breathing involves relaxation exercises:

  1. Lying on your back, tighten the muscles in your toes for 10 seconds and then relax them completely.
  2. Do the same for your feet, ankles, and calves, gradually working your way up your body until you reach your head and neck.

Other general strategies your child can use for relaxing include listening to classical/instrumental music, taking a warm bath, reading a book, chatting with a friend, or playing sports.

Implement simple lifestyle changes

These might include:

  • Simplifying life beyond the necessary (school, church, family)
  • Having a schedule and keeping to it
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising regularly (for example, walking, swimming)
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Taking time for enjoyable activities
  • Connecting with friends to share thoughts and feelings

Seek help

If your child continues to suffer with severe anxiety despite implementing some of these measures, you may want to seek help through a Christian counseling center. You can check with doctor offices or churches in your area for local centers.

Dixie Walker is a freelance writer of Christian family ministry resources. She and her family reside in Nashville, Tenn.

This article first appeared under the title “Put Your Child’s Anxiety to Rest!” in the April 2018 issue of ParentLife magazine.