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Avoiding Debt

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We live in a consumerism world. Often times we are like little Veruca Salts, demanding we want it now and don't care how. We want the same standard of living now that our parents worked 20-30 years to attain. We justify our reasons for needing to go into debt for various big purchases. We add little subscriptions and monthly commitments here and there until they all add up to one overwhelming sum. We look to the future and count incoming and projected incoming money as though it were here today, and foolishly count that same money to justify several different purchases.

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The borrower is a slave to the lender. This is not only how debt feels, but how debt is. As soon as you put yourself into debt, you no longer have a choice of what to do with that income--at least not a choice that doesn't come without harsh consequences. 

Some debt is justifiable and even necessary. Most people will go into debt to get a home. While this is common, it doesn't mean you can't still be wise in your debt. Do not purchase a home that makes your budget too tight. Many people will need to go into debt to attain an education. Again, you can be prudent and wise. Do what you can to earn scholarships. After that, be wise in where you go to get that education. Do not spend more on school than you must. Many also will go into debt to get a reliable car. Again, be wise. Be sure you are getting the basic needs met and not your wants. There is great peace in having little hanging over your head. For our family, we have only a house payment for debt. There have been times we have had more than that, and while we haven't had overwhelming debt, anything more than just the house for us has felt confining. Trust me, the peace of little debt is much stronger than any satisfaction you will get from the long wish list you have.

How Do You Avoid Debt?
The trick is to spend less than you make. Not the same--less. You want to be able to save some money so when those surprise big expenses happen, and they do happen, you have some money to use to pay for those things. This is the real world. Appliances will stop working. Tires will get flat. Cars will die. Jobs will be lost. These things can and do happen. If you are wondering how much to save, here is a link to a calculator to figure out how much save. You input your info and it tells you how much money to save.

In order to spend less than you make, you have to A) Know what you are making and B) Know what you are spending. This will take some writing or typing things down. Track what comes in and what goes out. 

Once you know what your flow is and where you stand, decide what, if anything, needs to be cut so you can manage on what is coming in. Do not add fixed expenses unless you know you can pay for them and still have some money left over. 

Another trick is to temper your wants. Do not let your wants cloud your judgement and talk yourself into turning the wants into needs. How much stuff do you own that just sits around? How much do you want to get rid of because you are surrounded by too much? Keep that in mind as you are deciding to spend your money. Some purchases are things that will be of great value long-term. Other things are just not worth it in the long run. 

A great way to avoid debt is to set financial goals. Write down a wish list of big purchases you want, from home upgrades, to vehicles, to vacations. Whatever you can think of. Write down how much each thing will cost. Prioritize them. Figure out how long it will be before you will have the money for the item (this will probably be a big shock to you). Any time you want to buy something, ask yourself if you want it more than you want the next item on your wish list. 

There is great satisfaction in saving for something and paying for it upfront. When we went to Southern California last year, it was a very expensive family vacation overall. We decided we wanted to go and saved for a couple of years. The children knew this was our main financial goal. Anytime we were out shopping and they asked for something, I would ask them if they wanted that more than a the trip. They wanted the trip. We taught them that everything adds up over time.

We went on that trip without going into debt and we loved every minute of it. There was nothing hanging over our heads like a doomsday warning that this was going to hurt later. It is harder to give things up after the vacation happened than it is before. You are more willing to sacrifice for a future event than a past event. Plus, any time you are paying for something after the fact, you add interest to the item and it becomes more expensive. You know what they say, you don't want to pay interest, you want to earn it. 
"Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.” J. Reuben Clark
What if You Are Already In Debt?
When I was in college, I took a finance class that was fabulous. One of the main things I remember from that class was how to pay down debt.

You start with your smallest debt. You do everything you can to pay that off. Then you take all of the money that was going to that debt and put it toward your next smallest debt. Once that is paid off, you take all of the money that was going toward that debt and pay the next smallest. You keep going until you are done. It really helps to have fewer loans to worry about and focus on. 

An obvious thing is to cut all unnecessary expenses. This is a time to commit to cutting back on some luxuries in order to get yourself out of debt. Once the debt is gone, you can add the luxuries that you actually can afford and want most. 

I know this stuff always makes perfect sense when you are sitting reading about it or in a classroom learning about it. It all makes logical sense. When you are in the heat of the moment and faced with some good deal or beautiful item to purchase for your home, that is when the rubber meets the road. I love the quote:

"All too often a family’s spending is governed more by their yearning than by their earning." 

I know this is all easier said than done. It is hard to turn away from things. The reality is that debt is a taskmaster. It brings great stress into your life. It prevents you from being prepared for the rainy day that is sure to come. 
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Worst Tooth Fairy Ever

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We are the worst tooth fairies. Ever. Worst ever. I think we really are the worst ones in the history of people being tooth fairies. I know some of you are thinking that YOU actually get that distinguished title, but I am pretty sure it is we who win. I see comments all the time on Facebook about my friends claiming to be terrible tooth fairies. Let me assure you. We may have successfully exchanged tooth for money on the first night ONE time in our 10 years as parents. One. And that is being generous and assuming we surely pulled that off once.

Kaitlyn recently lost a tooth. She excitedly put her tooth under her pillow. The next morning--nothing. Oops. Not the first, second, or even third time this has happened. Luckily, it was a Saturday night she had put it under the pillow.

"Oh...the tooth fairy doesn't work on Sunday. She must have run out of time before it turned midnight."

Sure, that makes sense. 

Then the next night, we forgot. Again.

"Last night was Sunday again!"

This went on for a couple more nights...except it wasn't Sunday anymore. We had no explanations that made sense. Kaitlyn started to get very sad. We eventually made it, but not without making a little girl wonder why the tooth fairy wouldn't come.

We have many-a-time slipped into the room at 6 AM in an feeble attempt to play tooth fairy then. Um, that doesn't work by the way. The child wakes up and wonders what you are doing digging around under the pillow. We have "looked first" to see if the tooth fairy came since we were "so excited."

Just last week, Kaitlyn lost a different tooth. I helped her pull it out. I went to the sink and rinsed it off and lost it DOWN THE DRAIN. But in reality, that has only made my life easier because no tooth equals no child wondering when the tooth fairy is coming.

Brayden quickly was on to us. Very quickly. We just started secretly exchanging his tooth fairy money for the tooth as soon as the tooth came out. Oh yes, it is true.

Where did this tooth fairy thing come from anyway? I have been doing some reading around the good old reliable internet and found that the history is spotty and varied. It seems the tooth fairy as traditionally used in the United States is some merger of a couple of different mythological characters from various parts of the world.

I totally get the benefit of a tooth fairy. Pulling a tooth out hurts and it is scary. The child's mouth bleeds quite a bit. Having a fun thing to look forward to like a visit from a tooth fairy can definitely boost the courage of children and make them more willing participants in the tooth-loosing process.

But, to be honest, I just really like the "Here Brayden, you get a dollar" approach we have going and I am ready to introduce Kaitlyn to that secret club. Sidenote--I have always felt we are very generous with our one dollar per tooth payment plan. I would even say overly generous since I was paid a mere .25 cents. But apparently the national average three years ago was $3.70, and that figure goes up each year so we are no doubt terrible miser tooth fairies. A recent figure puts it closer to $5.00. Which just further bolsters my claim as being the worst tooth fairy ever.

I enjoy the magic of childhood. It is fun for them to believe in make-believe characters and my husband and I have no problem with that. I don't blame anyone who does (and I certainly am with you on the tooth fairy!). Why are we doing this to ourselves? Couldn't we just say, "Hey child! Look at you pulling that tooth out. Let's have a special dessert tonight!" or even, "Here is a dollar! Don't spend it all in one place." Then we can save ourselves the sneaking into rooms and trying to remember to play tooth fairy before falling asleep at night.

Do you do the tooth fairy? Are you successful? What do you pay? Any funny tooth fairy stories?

Potty Training Regression

As if potty training itself wasn't stressful enough, when a child has a "potty training regression," you can feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. You have lived the dream of no diapers and suddenly you are left cleaning up accidents in underwear. The accident can have spilled onto the floor or couch... and this cleaning obviously is a much grosser and longer process than just changing a diaper. 

Let's be clear. A true regression is different than an accident here and there. Accidents can and most likely will happen. Your potty trained child can get so engrossed in playing that he/she forgets to go potty. You child can simply forget he/she is actually in underwear and not a diaper. Your child might have just waited a bit to long to make it to the potty in time. Just like a child who has been walking for a couple of years can trip and fall, a child who has been potty trained for a couple of months can have an accident here and there. 

We also aren't talking about a child who has never truly been potty trained continuing to refuse to move beyond diapers. 

We are talking about a child who was potty trained but is now having accidents multiple times a day. So how do you get a handle on the situation?

There are many possible reasons for a potty regression.
  • Transition: The most common reason for a true regression is a big transition. Toddlers and young preschoolers often have potty regressions when a new sibling comes home. It can be a new school, mom going back to work, moving, etc. Think through life and see if your child is facing any big changes in life right now.
  • Constipation: If your child has a hard time pooping on the potty, he/she might avoid visiting the potty because the potty starts to become associated with pain.
  • Bladder Infection: This is along the same lines as the constipation.

  • Stay positive. Scolding potty accidents is very rarely a helpful reaction. Chances are your child will feel bad about the regression, and that feeling can be expressed in a variety of ways from deciding potty training is stupid to hiding out. Be supporting and encouraging. 
  • Focus on being clean and dry. This method is discussed in Potty Wise. Success isn't just in peeing or pooping in the toilet. It is also in staying dry. If your child is not putting effort into staying dry, offer small rewards for a time for being dry. Randomly ask, "Are you clean and dry?" Check. If the answer is yes, offer a small treat or sticker and cheer your child on for staying dry. 
  • Require potty breaks. If your child is having regular accidents because he/she can't accurately predict how long it will take to get to the potty, institute a regular potty schedule and stick to it. 
  • Go back to diapers. If your child really can't handle underwear for now, just go back to diapers and return to underwear when life settles back down.
  • Healthy diet. Make sure your child is getting enough water and foods that help move along bowel movements.
  • Good hygiene. Keep things clean. Help your child stay wiped and clean to avoid infections. 
  • Just keep trying. Setbacks are common for children in all areas of learning. Your child may have had her ABCs perfect last week and this week seems to thinks she has never heard of letters. This is common for children. Just stay patient and keep on trying. 
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Feed Me Friday: Fresh Salsa

When it comes to making your own homemade fresh Salsa, you can really tweak things so they work with your own tastes. This is how I make salsa.

  • 1 Red Onion. If you don't like red onions, you can use green onions or chives. You can also use a regular yellow or white onion, but the onion flavor will be stronger and not as sweet. 
  • Peppers (your choice) as desired. You can use something more mild like a Garden Salsa pepper or spicier like a Jalapeno pepper. The number will depend on how much spice you like.
  • Garlic cloves. I use about 3-4 cloves. You will want to use what is right for your taste pallet.
  • 1 Tablespoon Vinegar. You can use a lot of different kinds. Sometimes I use Apple Cider Vinegar and sometimes I use Red Wine Vinegar.
  • 2 Tablespoons Lime Juice. This is about one lime juiced.
  • Sugar to taste. I use about 2 tsp.
  • Salt to taste. I use about 2-3 tsp Kosher salt. The amount will vary on taste and on how many tomatoes you use.
  • Cilantro if desired.
  • Tomatoes. Roma are great for salsa because they don't have as much liquid in them. If you are using Roma, you will probably want 5-10.
  1. Finely chop your onion, peppers, and garlic. I usually do a rough chop and then add to a food processor.
  2. Add in the vinegar, lime juice, sugar, and salt. Stir (or pulse). Add the minimum salt amount so you can add more if needed once the tomatoes are added. 
  3. Dice tomatoes. Add to mixture and stir (or pulse). If you are using a food processor, quarter tomatoes and then pulse so you don't over-chop your tomatoes. 
  4. Add cilantro if desired. Stir. 
  5. Taste test. Add more salt if needed.
Eat with tortilla chips!

How do you make your salsa? I love to try new ways!

How Do You Know When You Are Done Having Babies?

The decision of whether you are done having babies or not is a very heart-wrenching one for many parents. After McKenna (our third) was born, we immediately started talking about whether we were done or not. Pregnancy is hard on me to say the least and my husband didn't want to see me face another pregnancy. During the 2.5 years from when McKenna was born to when I got pregnant with Brinley, I pondered, read, prayed, and sought counsel from any person who would offer it. Here is the wisdom I gathered through the years and since.

Sort Through Your Feelings
Your first step is to sort through your feelings. Do you want more babies? Does your spouse? Does the idea of another child fill you with excitement? Does the idea of stopping make you sad?

As you think about how you feel, there is one thing I must bring to your attention. I think most if not all women go through a mourning period when they are done having babies whether they are definitely ready to be done or not. 

I don't know about you, but when I was a little girl and played house, I was playing with baby dolls. I was imagining myself being a mom to babies and toddlers. I wasn't envisioning and dreaming of parent teacher conferences and braces. In saying that, I don't mean that there aren't things to totally love and adore about being a mom to older children--there are! What I mean is we spent years and years envisioning ourselves as moms, and that usually entailed having a cuddly little baby in tow. 

So sometimes we feel sad when we are done having babies just because it is the closing of a chapter that, while difficult, was magical. That new baby smell, those newborn cuddles, the little grunts while sleeping...those are precious moments we will never get again (until we are grandparents). 

Conflict Usually Means More to Come
When we were deciding if we were done or not after McKenna, I was so conflicted. So very conflicted. I loved the idea of never facing morning sickness again, but I didn't feel at peace about being done. I literally prayed about it daily for 2.5 years. I talked to anyone who would listen to me. I would talk to people who were done, who weren't done, who thought they were done once and, surprise! I talked to people who came from families of three children to convince myself that my children would be okay if they came from a three child family (for the record, I don't think there is something wrong with a three child family. I just felt like that number wasn't right when pondering and was trying to prove myself wrong. In the end, it was a feeling that three wasn't right for us

Something I noticed over the 2.5 years can be summed up in a comment made by a friend, "Well, if you feel conflicted like that, it usually means you will have another baby." I have found that to be true as I have talked to people. Some even commented that ignoring that feeling for 10 years just leads to what is referred to as a surprise "caboose." 

Do You Feel Like Someone is Missing?
Whenever I was doing a headcount, I would say to myself, "There is Brayden. Kaitlyn is right here. There is McKenna...where is the baby?" That feeling of having a child missing is THE BEST indicator in my opinion as to whether you are done or not. 

I thought so at the time, also. My trouble, at the time, was wondering if I was feeling a child missing who was to come or my child who did come but I lost. Was I missing Braxston or another child? I didn't know. 

I can tell you now that I feel very confident that we are done (though I will say a surprise would never shock me! It happens). When I am doing headcounts, I never think, "Where is the baby?" I count and feel I have found everyone. 

Let me give this one more piece of advice. I did find that when Brinley moved to one nap, I would often think in the morning, "We need to be quiet! The baby is sleeping!" But she wasn't. She was awake. I did wonder for a time if that was me thinking of a missing baby, but in the end it was just me being in the habit of having a sleeping baby in the morning for the past 9ish years. Some thoughts are just deeply ingrained habits. 

Talk it Out
Talk out your feelings with your spouse and possibly trusted friends and family members. Often times, talking out how you feel really helps you realize how you really feel. You can also talk it out with yourself in a journal.

Pray About It
Once you really know how you feel, try praying about it. Let the Lord know how you are feeling and see what sort of response you get. 

I have noticed that people get different answers when praying. Some get a "You are done." Some get a "You are not done." Some get a "It's up to you." Some get a "Not yet." Some get basically nothing, which is what I got for 2.5 years. 

During that time, I read a talk where the speaker said to be grateful for the times you had unanswered prayers. He said it was a time the Lord was strengthening you. You all know how I like to plan. That time period was definitely a long period of time where I finally gave up and decided I would accept the Lord's timetable and accepted that I don't have to know everything right now. I definitely grew as a person during that time. 

What About When You Disagree?
It is hard when you and your spouse do not feel the same about an answer on having more kids, and this happens very, very often. At some point, someone is going to either feel differently or as a couple you will go against what one of you feels. 

My husband felt strongly that we were done having kids. As I have mentioned, I felt conflicted. Finally one day, I had a thought. I thought we should try for three months and if we didn't get pregnant in that three months, we would take that as our answer and be done with it. I proposed this idea to my husband and he thought that sounded great. The rest is history! We have our 3 year old Brinley and now we both agree it was the right thing :). 

Try Acting On It
Once you have come to a joint conclusion, try acting on it. 

About 18 months after McKenna was born, I decided since we were done having kids, I would get rid of our baby clothes. I went to the girl clothes first. I found about 5 things I was willing to part with in the 18 months worth of clothes I had to choose among. Huge sign! I thought I might not be ready.

After Brinley was born, I had no trouble giving away my maternity clothes and my baby clothes. There have been a few outfits I have kept for sentimental value, but I am keeping about 5 rather than giving away about 5. 

Not to say that there haven't been plenty of people who have given everything away just to have another baby soon thereafter. My point is to try acting on what you think is right and see how you feel as you act on it. If you feel good about it, continue on. If not, reevaluate. 

For some people. the decision is clear as to when they are done. For some, the decision is made for them. For some, it is a process that requires much pondering and much thought. Always remember the decision is personal for each couple. There is no one right number of children. There is no age when you should be done or no age you have to continue until you reach. You can know what is right for your family, and while you may mourn what you are leaving behind when the time does come to be done, you can feel a sense of peace that you are past that portion of your life. 

Today the ladies of the BFBN are all sharing posts talking about sibling dynamics. Topics include ways to help the sibling relationship, benefits of structure, why you want a strong sibling bond, and if you would even want your first born to have a sibling. 

Poll Discussion: Nursing Strikes

A nursing strike is very stressful for both mom and baby. I always like to try to do polls that can provide helpful information for people facing hard situations who want to know what those situations were like for others. 

It is very helpful for me when compiling answers if you at least number the answers you give. You can also copy the questions and answer them. If the question does not apply to you, simply put "N/A."
  1. If you breastfed, did baby ever have a nursing strike? (a time when baby refuses to eat?)
  2. Did the strike mean no eating at all, or just less eating?
  3. How long did the strike last?
  4. Did anything help baby to eat better?
  5. Any advice for moms facing a nursing strike?

Surviving Dropping Naps

The period of time when you are dropping a nap can be stressful, what with figuring out new waketime lengths, ideal nap time, and what to do to keep the baby/child happy when slightly tired. So how do people survive this time? Here are some ideas.

  • Ali said: Outings helped with both my kiddos. With my first born dropping down to 1 nap was the hardest. We adjusted his lunch to an earlier time and usually had an outing in the morning (we needed him to get a 10-15 min cat nap). My second is a mamma's girl and is in the process of dropping the 3rd nap. I can get my shopping done in the late afternoons now!! And daddy helps distract her when he gets home until bed time.
  • Ashley said: Dropping naps has been easy for me since the "most-crutched-on" nap came during the morning and the babysitter was with Jake most of the time he was transitioning. But, being an active boy, he had extended free play, reading times, and tv time (if desperate). Warm weather is fantastic as outside time = better contented = easier to fill gaps where nap used to be. 

    On the weekends we would use those free mornings for church on Sundays (he had been going to church previously, but we went to an earlier/later service to work around his naptime), and family outings on Saturdays (ie: grocery shopping, visiting family). 

    We have a dog, and sometimes that dog provides much needed entertainment/distraction factor. Sometimes I would pull out normally off-limit items to keep J going for a little bit. This can bite back when he wants to see that item next waketime and it is back to off-limit status. I don't recommend doing that...slippery slope. 

    I try to cram all of my normal "during the previous first nap time slot" activities into the gloriously long afternoon nap time period. That has been great. I will take one nice, long, solid nap over two short-medium mediocre naps. 

    Sadly, once Jake started eating fewer meals I stopped tracking things. Big mistake on my part, I know. So, I kept things easy for on-the-hour naps/feedings, and tracked everything in my brain. Looking back, I don't know how I did it, but that is what I did.

    Daddy is a GREAT resource for when I'm tired of fighting with an overly tired baby/toddler, but we just need 10 more minutes. Daddy and J usually end up doing something involving the floor, t-rexes, piggy back rides, the dog, and tickles. Hey, it's passing the time smile emoticon
  • Jess said: We aren't down to completely dropping the first nap yet but it's been the hardest to navigate. The vet things we strive for with scheduling (getting tired at the same time every day) also seems to be a hurdle for us. Fortunately with it being in the morning, we do grocery shopping or story time at the library etc. Something that is interesting enough to get over the initial hurdle
  • Laurie said: I found having a more structured routine helped with dropping naps!! For example maybe story time or music time!
  • Jana Lee said: My son loves eating so we really take a long time with feeding to fill time lol. I will give him his bottle then play, then purees then play a little and then maybe some frozen fruit in a mesh feeder to fill time.
    Walks also!
  • Joelle said: Go for a walk, to the park, pool... It helps baby stay awake, have fun and maybe forget that he's tired. Also playtime with siblings/daddy works! It takes a couple of days but at the end, you'll have a happy cooing baby!!
  • Steffi said: I'm very intentional now that we've dropped the morning nap about which part of my housework I can do with my kiddo. During her IP time I do some housework and when we are together, we fold laundry, cook (she can snack on some veggies that I cut) or run errands.
  • Kelli said: Leaving the house helped us. (But not far, so they didn't fall asleep on the way home!)
  • Katie said: Room time or ip time slightly earlier than the dropped nap's time.
  • Rachel said: Putting my baby in a carrier has helped me if they're under a year. They so close to me and can see what is going on so they are comforted if they are tired, but they don't fall asleep.
  • Lindsey said: Getting outside or out of the house to do something!!
  • Cindy said: I started cutting off the morning nap to only 1hr for several months then went cold turkey to noon nap when she didn't sleep during afternoon nap.
  • Mandy said:  My 3 year old is dropping his last nap. He's still tired, but refuses to sleep. So we have quiet time where he has to stay in his room - he can sleep (ha), read, play - but he has to stay in his room for 1-1.5 hours. It's working really well.
  • Brooke said: Quiet times! [Val's Note: This means you are having your child take a rest time or quiet time rather than the nap time--this is done typically when dropping the one nap altogether]
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What Age Should Children Start Activities?

As you cute little one grows older, you will find yourself wondering what age is appropriate to start activities like dance, sports, and/or music. Or maybe your cute little one is old enough you feel like you have ruined any chance of major success at anything because you haven't enrolled your almost five year old into anything yet.

First of all, don't panic if you fall into the latter. While organized sports are starting at younger and younger ages, that doesn't mean your child has missed out on anything that he/she can't pick up on in a couple of games. Most young players in soccer, for example, run up and down the field after the bunch without really realizing what the goal of the game is (and that is why my husband and I call it bunch ball).

There is no magic number to give you here. There is no one right age for every child and every family situation. Even in our own family, we have varied a lot. 

Brayden didn't do an activity until he was 4.5, and his first "activity" was preschool. He was close to 5 when he first played a sport (soccer) and was 5 when he took his first swimming lesson. So when I tell you not to panic, I tell you from a place of knowing what it is like to have an "older" child who hasn't done activities. 

This made sense for Brayden and our family and I don't regret it at all. Let me give you a little insight into why this happened. Reason number one is our number two child came along when Brayden was 22 months old. You know how much I value staying true to sleep for my babies, so it never crossed my mind to put him into things as a two year old. I had a newborn who needed a consistent schedule at home.

Reason number two is that our number three child came along a couple of months before Bradyen turned four. Once again, back to the newborn life. Activities were the furthest thing from my mind. Since he was my oldest, we weren't in a habit of doing outside activities and I just didn't think about it much. 

Reason number three is one I can only know looking back in retrospect. I didn't realize at the time, but Brayden is an introvert who needs his time at home. If I had put him in a bunch of activities as a toddler and preschooler, it literally would have stressed him out. We did simple activities like play at the park with friends and go on hikes and camping trips as a family. That simple life worked for him and it worked for our family situation.

Consideration number one should be "How would the activity affect my child?" Would it be good for my child? I am not against having children do things they don't want to do (I mean, how many times have I forced my children to go potty--even in the last 24 hours!!!), but be wise in the age and circumstance you require certain things. 

Consideration number two should be "How would the activity affect the family as a whole?" Would the sacrifices required by the family make sense--in other words, do the benefits for the one child outweigh the cons for the rest of the family?

Let me finish the early Brayden life narrative with some encouragement for any of you thinking starting later is a good idea. Brayden started preschool "late." He has never been behind in school because of it. He has been determined to be gifted and he does extremely well in school. On the athletic side of life, Brayden is on a competitive swim team despite only swimming for the last five years. I don't know where swimming will take him, but my point is that starting at age five hasn't ruined him. He also enjoys playing a variety of other sports year round. 

Now, starting activities at an older age worked great for Brayden. So is that what we did as a whole for every other child?


That would be ignoring my first two considerations.

Kaitlyn is about the exact opposite of Brayden when it comes to liking to be busy and liking to be surrounded by people (for birthday parties, I have to limit Kaitlyn to inviting 15 friends and Brayden never has an interest in inviting more than 5 even though I tell him he can invite more). 

Kaitlyn's first activity was at age three. She was in a dance class. She didn't start preschool until 4.5 and she has also been labeled as gifted (my actual policy on preschool is to not start until the final year before Kindergarten, so this age range has been true for all my children). 

Kaitlyn was 3 when she took her first swimming lesson. Why so much younger? Because, if you check the math, when Kaitlyn was 3, Brayden was 5. When Brayden was 5, he was taking swimming lessons. So Kaitlyn was taking swimming lessons also. We were there anyway and there is a 3 year old class. McKenna was 1 at the time, but no one year old class :). 

McKenna and Brinley also both started dance at age three. But both started swimming lessons before they turned 3. Again, this was a practical matter. We have since moved to having a private swim teacher. We pay her by the hour. She will fit all four of our kids into that hour or do just two if needed (Brayden and Kaitlyn are both graduated from official lessons--not to say things can't still be improved upon!). So, the whole family is there anyway and we are paying for it anyway, so might as well get it started. 

That leads me to the third consideration. "Does the money I will spend have value?" Does it make sense to spend the money you will spend on the activity? Will your child benefit in some way--be it physically, mentally, or socially? Could those benefits be achieved for free at home? Or at least for cheaper? If it doesn't make sense, save the money. Put it in a savings account if it is burning a hole in your pocket. You can use that money toward activities later or toward a college education. 

A fourth consideration I have hinted around is "What age makes sense for the individual activity?" You shouldn't apply a blanket age to start for all activities. All activities aren't created equal and are not appropriate at equal ages. Now, you might have an age you start things based on the other three considerations and that is great. Here are some thoughts I have on various activities:
  • Swimming: I like around age 3 for swimming. All children go through a phase of being scared when doing swimming lessons, and it is easier to get a 3 year old to do things than a 5 year old. If you have a baby at home with a three year old and it would make life stressful, I would feel fine with start at 4, also. With that said, while starting at 5 was harder for Brayden than it was for my girls to start around 3, it hasn't hurt him in the long run. It has taken him longer to get through the lessons than they have, though. If you want to start later, I would recommend you go swimming with your little one often enough that he/she feels somewhat comfortable in the water. See How Parents Can Help with Swimming Lessons for more.
  • Preschool: Like I said, I like the year before Kindergarten. My short answer reasons for this are that I like to keep my child home with me longer, I can and do preschool at home with my child before then, and it isn't free so that is $100 a month that can stay in the family budget longer. You can find my long answer to considerations for preschool here: 
  • Dance: I have liked age 3 for dance class. My girls have all been eager to go to dance and socialize, though. I wouldn't force it on a 3 year old. If your little girl is like Brayden and likes to be home, do not feel like you have to start dance at age 2 or 3 to be successful at it. Remember consideration number one--how will it affect the child. Dance class for the 3 year old is just for fun. 
  • Sports: We start sports when they are first offered around here, but I know most of our sports are offered at an older age than much of the country. Soccer is the season they turn 5. Basketball is first graders. We tried t-ball once and didn't love it, so we go for 5-6 for softball/baseball. Brayden is trying flag football for the first time now as a 10 year old, but I would be comfortable with flag football as a 5-6 year old. 
  • Music: The answer here would depend on what kind of music class. Studies have found that music classes are beneficial from a very young age. Spoiler alert--babies. My question would be can a music class you are paying for bring more into your baby's life than you can give at home? Maybe only if you have zero musical knowledge. I would guess it is just exposure to music, but I haven't done a baby music class so I don't know. We start piano lessons in Kindergarten. We have half-day Kindergarten here and thus far my children have all been overly ready for Kindergarten. I wanted to have something challenging in their lives at that time. A lot of people say to wait on piano lessons until closer to age 8, but I have loved piano starting at age 5 and I plan to do the same with Brinley. Here is an article on benefits of music lessons from 
A final consideration that must be made is "How does the activity mesh with the other activities currently going on?" This will likely be part of the thought process when considering how it affects the individual and the family, but in case it doesn't come up, I want to make sure it is there. If your child is already in dance class and you add a soccer season in there, how will the two activities work together? Will you have to choose between the two at times? How will you add in a practice and a couple of games a week? What impact will that have on the family and the child? How will you juggle the conflicts? 

I have a few posts that can help you manage things once you get going:

Summer Reflections

Summer is winding down. It is time to prep for Fall, which happens to be one of my favorite times of year. Because I love Fall so much--even more than summer in reality--I am not terribly sad to see summer go. I am not sad to see the hot temperatures go. I am definitely not sad to see the mosquitoes go. 

Despite the annoyances that can come with summer, there are great things about summer. Having children in school, summer is great fun for family time. Camping, hiking, baseball, outdoor movies, Lagoon, reunions, swimming...the list goes on. You have lots of time for doing lots of fun things with your family. 

Something I realized as summer has been coming to a close is we didn't swim nearly enough--at least outside. We have our weekly swim lessons year round in an indoor pool. Brayden is on a swim team and swam Monday-Friday. So there was a lot of pool time, but not enough outside. That is a fun thing unique to summer that we can't do at any other time of year (unless we travel out of state). We also had some bizarre weather at times this summer, and several of the times we did go swim outside, it was cold and raining in at some point and sent us heading back home. 

Despite our lack of outdoor swim time, we had a great summer full of fun and relaxation. 

Now bring on the falling leaves, pumpkins, scarves, and cider. I am ready. 

Simple Ways to Ensure Your Child Loves Books

This is how I found Kaitlyn most mornings this summer:
sitting in a spot of morning sun with her latest book.
One of my highest priority goals as a parent has always been that my children will love to read. I am passionate about reading. I have a degree in English. I set aside one day a week for myself to be my reading day--free from chores and to-do lists (which sounds more amazing than it actually ends up being--I am still a mother after all and I am not the type to neglect my children. But I do usually make it through a book on that day). I love to read and I always have.

I want my children to love to read and to turn to books. I believe the power to read and comprehend what you read opens the doors and windows of possibilities to your life. You can learn anything if you can read. 

My children are now 10, 8, 6, and 3. My three older children are all fantastic readers and above their grade level. All four of my children love books. Love. I feel like I have met one of my number one goals as a parent (don't worry--I won't stop working on it). In fact, as I have been writing this, my husband called me. As we talked about what I was doing, he asked what the post topic was. When I told him he said, "Ah, that's a good one. You are definitely an expert in that." I have become expert because I want to be expert. 

So how do you go about creating book lovers? Here is a simple list:
  • Read to your child every day.
  • Let your child see you reading regularly.
  • Surround your child with books.
  • Take your child to the library.
That really is it. Very simple. I actually come from a long line of readers. In fact, my grandfather loved to read so much that it was something that was explicitly talked about at his funeral. Even as a young child, I knew I liked to read more than most of my peers. I have always been analytical. As an elementary aged student, I determined that I loved to read because I saw my parents loving to read. This post contains affiliate links.

As you may know, I love the book The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. When I first read this book, I felt like I found someone with even more passion for reading than I have. I found validation in my theories for why people love to read. I also found even more ideas for helping develop young readers.

In chapter 7, Trelease talks about things that impact interest in books. Here are some interesting statistics based on Kindergartners:

  • Children with a high number of books in the home were 80.6% at high interest for books and 31.7% for a low interest. Conclusion? Good to have books in the home. But let's go on.
  • When the child owns a library card, there is 37.5% high interest in books and 3.4% low interest. But you don't want to just own it...
  • When the child was taken to the library, there is a 98.1% high interest in books and a low 7.1% with low interest in books.
  • When a child is read to daily, there is a 76.8% high interest in books and mere 1.8% low interest in books. 
Doing these four things are so simple. You can do these things! 

Did you notice the staggering numbers in favor of going to the library? Those are impressive numbers. If it is available to you, take your children to the library regularly! Teach your child how to use the library. I once dated a guy in college who had no clue how to use a library. I had to teach him how to look up something in the library so he could do a research paper. That didn't last long. Allow your children to become familiar with the library.

My children go to the library once each week. We do this even with the older two who read a lot of books on their Kindle Paperwhite. There is a magic in being surrounded by the books. They both read hard copy books as well as their eBooks. 

You might think you have enough books that you don't need to go to the library. I know--we have hundreds of books. As Jim Crawford noted, "People who use libraries use them not because they don't have books but because they do have them and want even more" (page 126). 

Test these simple ideas out. And if you want to build passionate readers, I cannot recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook any higher. 

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Dissonance Must Be Displaced

image source
When you live with people, you are bound to have some conflict from time to time. It is hard to be around people that much and not get annoyed with them. I mean, take a husband and wife. They love each other so much they pledge time and even eternity to each other. They can't imagine ever disliking anything about the other person, and yet find themselves some short time later feeling quite angry about something as small as a tube of toothpaste. 

The family setup is a refiners fire for learning to love others, look past their faults, and work through conflict. That conflict happens. 

But just because it arises doesn't mean we need to feed it. We do not need to stroke that little pet annoyance and nurture it to grow. 

This should be applied to your discipline methods in the home. Your children absolutely will do things they should not do. They will break rules. They will bicker with each other. They will "forget" instructions. They will drag their feet. They will get distracted. Sometimes they will even do things with the sole intention of making you mad.

All of these things bring dissonance into the home. Which brings me to this lovely quote:

"...dissonance cannot be corrected by criticism. Dissonance in the home is like darkness in a room. It does little good to scold the darkness. We must displace the darkness by introducing light." Wilford W. Andersen.

I love that thought. Displace the dissonance. Do not sit and lecture your child about the offense committed. Lecturing and scolding only breed more darkness and dissonance. Even if your child feels bad about the act, the lecturing will only make your child feel darker and worse. Instead, displace it with light. 

What might that look like?
  • Calmly and lovingly talk to your child about what she has done. Explain why it isn't okay and what she could have done instead. 
  • Wrap your arm around your child and express love for your child. Explain that you want what is best for your child and that it is your job to help her become the best person she can be. 
  • Ask your child if she thinks her choices were the right ones to make and if something should have been done differently. Brainstorm alternate reactions with her--as a team. 
  • Give her ideas of what she could be doing instead of what she shouldn't be doing. 
  • Keep your voice calm and loving when correcting your child.
I hope that gives you some ideas for how you can displace the dissonance with some light. 

With that said, please do not beat yourself up when you make a mistake and try to fight darkness with a lecture. At times, your temper will get away from you. At times, you will frankly go about things all wrong.

Keep trying.

Another caveat, reacting perfectly every time will not mean that your children will be perfect day in and day out. It will not mean that there will never be a difficulty or problem in your family dynamics again. That is life.

But keep trying. 

Let me finish with a recent example. I found one daughter one day doing something she should not be doing. I asked her to come with me to my room so we could talk about it privately. I had her sit down next to me and put my arm around here. I asked her why she was doing what she was doing. She explained her reasoning. I explained that what she was doing was not okay and explained the why behind it. We had a nice talk. 

I then found her doing it again a few days later. We again talked and I reminded her that she should not be doing that. I suggested she pray for help to make the right choices. 

My husband then spoke with her about it and reiterated what we had talked about. He was very kind and patient with her. They talked about things she could do instead in the future. 

Since then, she runs to me and proudly tells me when she has avoided doing the thing she shouldn't be. She tells me what she did instead. She is so proud of herself for making right decisions. 

Now, I could have yelled at her instead. I could have lectured her. And she could have responded by still trying to do it but be more sneaky about it in the future. Instead, we are on a team together. She knows her parents are on her side and are helping her be the best her she can be. She knows our rules are to help her achieve that. She will trust us with other problems that face her in the future. 

Do your best to fight darkness with light. Displace the dissonance. Keep trying. 

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When One Child is Harder Than the Other(s)

You know the terms. "Spirited." "Strong-willed." "Difficult." These are just a few of the common terms used to describe a child who is hard to raise. Some children just are harder than other children--for whatever reason. Even though you love your difficult child, it can be exhausting and demoralizing to have a strong-willed little one. 

Sometimes difficulties can be explained by things you are doing as a parent, but sometimes you can be doing everything "right" and still have that hard child. There are things that can contribute to why you have a child harder for you than the others.
  • Different Personalities: Sometimes a child seems hard simply because the child has a very different personality from you. My husband and I are pretty oppposite in personality types (exact opposite on the Myer-Briggs score). One of our children is basically the same personality I am. This child can be difficult for my husband. It isn't that they do not get along, it is just that my husband has a hard time communicating on that child's level and understanding motivations of that child. For me, that child is my easiest simply because I totally get that child. Different personalities can be a very good thing, but when you are in a position of authority over someone (parenting), it can make it more difficult for you.
  • Consistency: You always want to be sure you are being consistent as a parent. Do not make empty threats. Be consistent in your consequences and on how far you will let things go before you dole out those consequences. 
  • Child's Emotional Needs: Sometimes children act out because their needs are not being met. If you have a child who is high needs on physical touch for feeling loved but you only hug to say good morning, good-bye, and good-night, your child might start acting out in an effort to seek out attention. Know your child's love language, but always remember children need all forms of love, so if you don't naturally show one, make an effort to do so.
  • Basic Needs: Your child will be harder if she isn't getting enough sleep consistently or if she is hungry. She will also act out if she isn't getting enough physical exercise for her needs. Be sure your child is getting enough sleep, eating well, and given opportunities to exert energy. See  Factors That Influence Behavior for more. 
  • Just Strong-Willed: In the end, some children are just strong-willed people. Recognize that and accept it and move forward figuring out how to work with it. Do not ignore the first four things I listed if you have a child who is strong-willed. I have a strong-willed child and I know she is much worse if I ignore those four. See Disciplining The Strong-Willed Child for more.
Once you have some degree of understanding as to why your child is the way she is, make a list of the good things about that child being difficult. There ARE good things! My difficult child is often hard because she is so optimistic that no method of discipline really works to motivate her to change her behavior. She can always look on the bright side and be happy with her lot in life. While that made for some difficult times parenting her as a toddler and preschooler, as she gets older, it is such a fantastic personality trait. It is so nice to have a child who is always happy and grateful for exactly what she has. 

Another good thing about my strong-willed girl is that she is stubborn enough to stick to what she knows is right no matter what anyone else thinks or says. She will stand up for a child being made fun of. She will follow the rules even if other children are veering off the track, and she isn't afraid to tell them to get back on track themselves. I have long recognized I need to put special effort into making sure she is on the right path, but once she is there, she will be there no matter what winds come her way.

Think of your strong-willed child's traits that make it difficult for you to parent that child and then think of the ways that trait will serve your child in life. You don't want to squash the traits in your child--just direct/redirect the traits to be of most benefit to your child. 

There are things you can do to help make the dynamics of parenting your strong-willed child easier on you and your child.
  • Pray For Help: I have said it before--prayer is the best parenting tool you will ever have. Not only can you prayer for patience, you can pray for wisdom. You can pray to know what to do to help your child as best as possible. Remember, the Lord sent you this child for some reason. You can be equal to the task at hand.
  • Try to Not Compare: Comparing children never ends well. I have talked about reasons to not compare in this post: Helping Siblings Like Each Other.
  • Try to Not Label: Children absolutely live up to your expectations, so try to not label your child as a "problem" child. It may seem like semantics, but how you describe your child can have an impact on how your child behaves.

    At the same time, I think it is good to acknowledge and accept. Yes, I have a child who is much harder than my other three. She is my PhD in parenting while my others have been a nice introductory into parenting--Parenting 101. It is what it is and I won't do anyone any favors by pretending otherwise.

    So it is okay to acknowledge it so you can face it, but use your terminology wisely. 
  • Be Wise in Boundaries Set: I often see parents of strong-willed children tell the child that if they do X, Y will follow. Y is often a strong consequence. The parent is really hoping the child will respond in a way that listens to the parent. The problem is Y is often so strong the parent doesn't want to do it, so when the child does X (which these strong-willed children WILL often do), the parents don't really give in to Y. You might say, "If you touch that again, we are leaving." Then the child touches it and you say, "Okay let's leave!" and the child protests, "No!" and you reply, "Okay then don't touch it again." Instead, give your child a consequence that you will follow through on. "If you touch that again, we will go sit in the car for a five minute time out." Child touches, and you go to time out. Your child learns to respect your word instead of constantly working as a scientist to try to figure out what really makes you tic (or snap).

    Another aspect along being wise in your boundaries is to give appropriate boundaries and expectations to your child. Do not give instructions based on "wishful thinking." Give instructions and rules that you know your child is capable of following. Do not just hope your child will listen. Again, set things up so your child knows to respect you.

    This might seem like I am suggesting to lower standards. I am not really, though sometimes you might have to adjust your expectations. Not everything is realistic. A strong-willed child needs more grace than a child who is extremely obedient by nature. 
  • Give Time and Attention to Other Children: A strong-willed child can take up a lot of your focus and mental energy, as well as your actual, measurable time. Try to make sure you are not letting all attention go to the strong-willed children. Doing so can lead to your other children starting to act out in order to get more attention (or at least facing therapy as adults). You want to meet the needs of all of your children. This is one big benefit to doing consistent one-on-one dates with each child. Another thing you can do consistently is read to each child individually before bedtime. This takes a long time potentially at bedtime. Believe me, I know how much longer this makes the bedtime process. But it is consistent time each child gets alone with a parent each day and that can be invaluable. These are just two suggestions, you can definitely think of other ideas that work for your family. 
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