Ideas and Strategies from a Mom with 30 years of experience

What’s the Goal?

As a goal-oriented person and a strategic planner, I automatically think about where my actions are going to take me.  What is going to be the end result of the decisions I’m making?

Unfortunately, this hasn’t always kept me from making bad decisions – I can rationalize as well as anyone else 🙂

But having a ‘picture’ in my mind of the level of responsibilities and maturity my children would need to be successful young adults really helped me decide how to nurture them along in order to reach those goals.

About 10 years into our marriage, my husband and I started sitting down at the beginning of each year to discuss our family’s goals for the next year.  It started off as a financial budgeting discussion and soon included an evaluation of our parenting process. 

I’ll never forget one of our anniversary dinners when we had 2 teenagers in our house.  We went out to a restaurant to celebrate and then spent most of the dinner trying to answer this question, ” What else do we need to be doing as parents to make sure that, when it’s time for our kids to move out of our home, they are ready to move out and be successful?”  Those of you with teenagers realize why that discussion was so important to us.  When our kids hit their mid-teens, it suddenly becomes very real that they are a few short years of needing to make a lot of important adult decisions on their own.  Also when they are mid teens, they are pushing back enough for parents to start thinking that this moving out idea is going to be a good one 🙂

I remember looking at my son when he was around 10 years-old and asking myself if his level of maturity and decision-making was halfway to where he needed to be when he was 20 years old.  (Looking back now, I think that kids should probably be even more than half-way at 10 because they take a couple of steps back during teenager-hood :)).

Fortunately for my son, the answer was yes – he was at least halfway.  My strong-willed daughter was a no at 10 but she quickly caught up as soon as she focused her extremely strong will on the right things.

As a result, when each of them decided to leave our house, they left with a bag full of great values and decision-making skills that helped them make good choices.  Neither one of them are perfect but they had a lot of experience at taking responsibility for their actions and they learned from the consequences.

Their ‘launch’  has been successful.  They met and exceeded the goals we had for them!  Now we get to see how they do at marriage and parenting!

It’s a Balancing Act!

Perfection ……. ain’t going to happen 🙂

I learned that lesson myself somewhere in early adult hood.   I left high school still trying to be perfect and have everybody like me.  As my life got more and more complicated with a husband, kids, God, careers, cars, houses, families, etc., my logical side realized the perfection idea had to take a hike.

In order to deal with it all, I gradually developed a strategy of living my life right around a B average. 

There were a couple of areas in my life where I definitely wanted to get an A .  To be successful, I felt I had to get an A in being a wife and a mother.  This wasn’t determined by what other people thought – it was about what was good for my marriage and family.  A little later I added Christ-follower onto my A list which was a great decision because God helped me out with everything else.

Then I developed a B list.  I was ok with getting a B on my career and on the appearance and cleanliness of my house.   Having fun is important to me so that was around a B+ on my list.     I gradually became more realistic about birthday parties and holiday celebrations so those hit around the B level.  Our wardrobes were in the B to B minus area – no best dressed list for us!

My C list included cooking and anything to do with food.  We ate but there was usually nothing to brag about.  

I drew boundaries in my life that made it easier to say no. I didn’t volunteer at school but I sent snacks or money or whatever they asked for.  So I was probably a C there.

 I volunteered at church primarily in places where my children were – Sunday school, VBS, camp, etc.  I didn’t volunteer for everything so that was probably a C. Except I usually took vacation to volunteer so that would bring up that grade, wouldn’t it?

 Since both my husband and I worked, we focused most of our other time on family activities which meant saying no to a lot of other things that could have been on our calendar.  That was an A+ decision.

 We made sure to take time to participate in small group Bible studies and we also managed to carve out some concentrated fun time together…’ve already read about that.  That was also an A+.

Our children were allowed to participate in one outside activity at a time along with all of their church activities.  Setting a limit of one sport or one lesson or one whatever at a time kept the mania level of our schedule down to a dull roar and it still gave our children lots of opportunities for growth and fun.  We thought that was an A.  Our children’s rating on it probably wavered between and B and an F depending on what they wanted to do. 

Children do not know what’s best for them – that’s why they have parents, right?

And parenting is a crazy balancing act of priorities versus urgencies versus expectations versus ‘want to dos’.

Deciding on boundaries and acceptable grades is very helpful.

Having God right in the center of it is the most helpful.


In the middle of the chaos of raising two children with all of their activities, 2 careers, house, cars, pets, extended families, friends and the list continues, my husband and I still carved some time out just for us.

We went on adventures!

I traveled regularly for my work and so I racked up the frequent flyer miles and free hotel nights.  When my mother was around in the winter, we took advantage of the opportunity for Dave to fly to various cities to stay the weekend.  We had adventures in Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, San Diego, Hawaii, Houston, Dallas….did I miss any, Dave?  It was concentrated ‘us’ time in a strange environment which was great for our marriage.  Actually seeing the cities was an added benefit for me, too, because I usually only got to see the airport and meeting rooms.

Even if you don’t have any frequent flyer miles, I think the formula still works – concentrated time together in a different environment.  Time to focus on each other and our relationship.  Just us.

We didn’t often have date nights because it didn’t seem to work well for us.  We found it hard to really disengage on date nights – tomorrow was coming too soon.  We discovered that going on out-of-town adventures helped us really unplug from 24-hour parenthood mode and reconnect with each other.

And now we’re back to just ‘us’.  And we still do weekend adventures just for the fun of it!

The Day of Regret

We all hope we won’t regret it.

Whatever it is.

We joke about our children needing therapy when they get older because some of our actions when they are kids.  But we’re really hoping that we don’t mess them up to0 badly, right?

Because we all know that we’re not perfect parents.   In our head, the list of our mistakes as parents is often much longer than our list of successes.  The daily trudge of taking care of our parental duties weighs on us and, sometimes, we’re just NOT Parent of the Year material.

Ok – more often than sometimes.

When our child struggles, we wonder what we did wrong.  When they fail at something, we feel like we have failed.  When they misbehave, we feel like we’re falling short.

Parenting is a daily challenge that would have been impossible for me without God.  He gave me strength and patience for my children when I had none.  I started participating in small group Bible studies while I was in my prime parenting years and I’ve never stopped.  My trust in God has grown along with my understanding of his love for me and my family.  God’s constant assurance that he was on my side became the foundation for my parenting when my children were still small.  During this time, my husband was growing in his faith as well, so God had lots of opportunities to work things out for us at our house.

Looking back I have no regrets.    My children are not now and have never been perfect.  Our house was never perfect.  Our family life has never been perfect.  But it is good.

And God is always good.

Failing Forward

Don’t you think every high school student should have to take a class on how to fail well?

This is what John Maxwell, a famous leadership guru, suggested in his book with the same title and I agree. Hopefully our high school students won’t fail high school but it’s a sure thing that they are going to fail at something. And more than one thing, And then another thing……
We all fail sometimes so why don’t we try to get good at it  🙂

John’s book is awesome and he has also made a training DVD of it if you want to get it and improve at failing.
I went through the DVD training 10 years ago and I learned some things that I still use regularly today.

The main thing that has stayed with me through every mistake and failure since then is the fact that if we learn from our mistake, it becomes a life lesson and it’s no longer a mistake. (love that one)  If a mistake kills us, it was a fatal mistake. Nothing else is fatal – we can learn from it and good things can come from it.

There is no shame in failing – we all do it. Own it , learn from it and move on.

If we’re not failing sometimes, we’re not stretching enough. We’re too comfortable.

I think the best way we can teach this to our children (since there’s not a class on it at school) is to role-model it.  Nobody knows better than our children that we sometimes make mistakes and we’re not perfect.  They have a front row seat.  They will learn how to handle their mistakes and failures by watching us handle ours.

So ask yourself, what are your children learning from you on this subject?

Help ‘Em Stretch

Likes challenges.  Willing to try new things.  Always ready to grow and learn.  These are all characteristics our children are going to need in the extremely fast-paced world they will face as adults.

As parents, we need to help them stretch.  Encourage them to try, give them opportunities to experience new things, don’t limit them by worrying too much about their safety or whether they are ‘comfortable’ doing these things.  Being comfortable is highly over-rated.  It’s not going to get your children anywhere in the culture they are growing in to.  Putting them in uncomfortable situations while they still have you as an anchor will grow their confidence and abilities to deal with new or unusual things.

And they’ll fail.  We all fail so knowing how to fail well is also an excellent skill to have.  I’ve learned a lot of great stuff about failing – through personal experience and studying it.  That’s my next blog —–stay tuned.

So check out this picture of Micah, my grandson.  He’s almost on his tippy toes on top of his stool.  And he’s showing us a great example of how to encourage our children to accept challenges and stretch.  Let them get on a stool!  Encourage them to stretch as far as they possibly can!

You’ve heard about how well my daughter, Kate, did with her undergrad degree.  So she was invited to visit a couple of different colleges to check out their masters program for her field.  I’ll never forget the day Kate called me from Maryland where she was staying with a couple of students from that masters program.  They had both been telling Kate how hard their program was – they didn’t have a personal life, they couldn’t keep up and some of the people ended up in the hospital because of all of the stress.  She had to make a decision soon and she was really struggling.  Maryland is the top school in the United States in her field so she didn’t expect it to be easy but she was really worried about what she was hearing.

I’m so glad that I went into ‘stretch ’em” mode that day instead of ‘Mom the Protector’ mode.  I reminded her how well she did in her undergraduate degree.  She is a great thinker and a great studyer.  Even if it was hard, she was up for it!

She accepted the challenge and it was an extremely difficult and stretching program.  She was on the tip-top part of her toes during the 3rd semester just trying to juggle all of the work and assignments while fitting in a couple of hours of sleep whenever she could.  It was hard and some of her classmates ended up in the hospital because of excessive stress.  But she made it!  And she did an awesome job.  It forever changed her view of what she can accomplish – especially the very difficult stuff.

Stretching is not always fun and it can be painful.  But it’s worth it!

A Teacher’s Advice: Get Help

Anne Hayes, the mother of David Hayes, my son-in-law, taught for many years and has some advice for us –

When your child is struggling at school get help immediately.  Don’t wait.

My son, David, was always good at math. He was proud of it and so was I. In 7th grade he transferred to my school and his new math teacher was using a different book so he was not in its sequence.  Learning math in sequence is extremely important so he started faltering. I saw an advertisement for a tutor in a teacher’s magazine and called. The tutor (a  school counselor in the same district) came to my house several times and tutored my son in the new math book.  David quickly came up to speed and was now happy in his new math class. He tested high at the end of the year and qualified for 8th grade advanced math.

Follow up to the story:

David’s first  Algebra 2 teacher in High school taught like a detached college professor and my son did not like her.  I realized that David was going to need a different style of instruction if he was going to continue to excel.  So I got the name of a tutor from the school counselor.  

 This started a tutoring relationship that lasted all through High School.  The tutor was perfect for David . . . smart, slightly sarcastically funny, and a little weird. Their hour together every week was very productive. My son continued with A’s in math, sciences and physics throughout high school.  In 11th grade  David’s teenager behaviors were increasingly tough to handle and my brother suggested increasing David’s tutoring to twice a week.   This helped to really embed math into his brain and it also gave him less time to slack off with his rebellious buddies.

We had our troubles through High School but my son always kept his grades up. I thank his tutor for keeping him on track and proactively keeping him afloat. 

During High School, I would pray day and night that my son would turn out ok and I searched for anyway I could help him. Tutoring was one of the things that helped David be successful.

I would recommend tutoring for all kids. I did it with my older son, Doug, as well during the summers of early grade school. He would take his books and go down the street to practice reading with a retired teacher.   It kept him sharp over the summer and he thought it was fun.”

David is getting his doctorate in Physics, so Anne’s strategy really worked!  I’m thinking that I should have had math tutoring because that was definitely my hardest and least favorite subject:)

Over Exposed

We usually apply the term of ‘over exposed’ to photographs – they look dark and muddy when they’ve been exposed to long.  I think this term also applies to children who are ‘over-exposed’ to topics, thoughts and visuals that are too mature for them.  It doesn’t go right over their head – it goes right into their head and it gets all mixed up in there because they don’t have a frame of reference for it.  I know some young adults who are still very confused about where the ‘appropriate’ line is because they were over exposed as children.  These topics are dark, muddy places in their minds.  As a result, they can easily go over the line without thinking anything is bad about what they or people around them are doing.

The reality is that there is only so much we can protect our children from – we can’t screen every comment made by every person in their presence.  We can’t be a helicopter mom who ‘hovers’ over her children constantly, not letting them grow and experience things and make their own choices – bad along with the good.

There are some pretty obvious places where we can limit their overexposure when they are with us.    What TV shows do we watch?  Or better yet, what kinds of shows do we have playing on our TV whether we’re watching them or not?  I remember watching Rosanne’s TV show when my daughter was younger and I realized that my daughter was starting to sound too much like Rosanne’s mouthy younger daughter.  So we stopped watching the show and my daughter’s attitude toned down a level. 

When the show Friends was hugely popular, we didn’t watch it.  The show should actually have been called Friends Hopping in Bed with Friends because that was the major, ongoing plot.  My kids were younger when it started so I could have said that they wouldn’t ‘get’ that from it but I knew that wasn’t true.  They were young but they weren’t stupid.

And when they got older I’m sure they saw Friends and others just like it at their other people’s houses.  I also know that, when the show came to the part I wouldn’t like, my kids would realize that this is why they shouldn’t be watching this show.  I still get that kind of movie review from my adult children when I ask them about a movie they have seen – their frequent response is, ‘Mom, you wouldn’t like it.”  We all know what that means.

I’ve talked before about the value we found in exposing our children to the culture around them so they could be savvy.  I’ve also talked about the value of exposing our children to city life so they could grow some ‘street smarts’.  Now I’m talking about drawing the line on exposure to overly mature topics and information at home so that our children had a measuring stick as they learned how to navigate successfully through the maze of their world. They knew what was right and they knew what was wrong when they ran into it.  We drew the line and it became a sort of compass.

It helped them make better choices.

Parents – Unite!

Single parents have an even bigger challenge – doing it all themselves.  One strategy Anne Hayes developed was buddying up with other parents making it easier for everyone.  Anne is the mother of my son-in-law, David and she is sharing some of the strategies that worked for her as a single parent:

“When my son was a teenager I had a difficult time keeping track of him.  He was closed mouth about his activities and resented my probing.

One way I would keep up is to talk to the parents of his friends.  He hated this but it really helped me.  Other parents also liked sharing information so we all knew a little more about what was going on.

I started doing this after a period where I was very frustrated by my son’s ‘new friend’ who was being dropped off at my house unannounced.  Other times my child would disappear without telling anyone where he was going.

In frustration, I explained my difficulties to my mother’s friend. She listened carefully and at the end of my rant said, “Sounds like the child’s Grandfather is your best friend'” I paused and was shocked. I had felt the Grandfather was not my friend – wasn’t he the one just dropping the kid off?

I rethought it and decided it would be great if he could be my friend and we could work together.  When I called the grandfather, we talked for quite a while and then we started calling each other to plan the whereabouts of our two teenagers, even carpooling at times. It was a giant help and big relief for me. I was so thankful to have someone on my side, helping me keep track of my teenager.  I was able to get these communications going with some of the other parents of my child’s friends and we all liked it”.

Great Idea, Anne!  Thanks!  Anne has sent me other ideas I’ll be sharing with you as well.

Culturally Savvy

It was clear to us that the culture our children were going to grow up in, get jobs in, marry in and have their own family in was going to be a multi-cultural environment with all kinds of personalities, different perspectives on right and wrong and lots of chances for bad decisions.

So we decided they needed to learn how to handle themselves well in their culture at an early age.  Our strategy was more of training them how to live correctly with all of these different factors rather than trying to protect them from any of these influences.  One of the reasons they attended public schools was because we saw that as their ‘ world’ – they needed to learn how to be a good influence in it.  

Both of my children learned early to stay away from the ‘bad element’ at school.  My son got detention one time in Junior High and he was mad about it because he was ‘ just standing next to’ a kid who did something wrong.  I thought that was a GREAT lesson about how just being ‘near’ trouble can cause you trouble.  It never happened again. 

They learned pretty quickly how to make good choices about the people they hung out with.  They had alot of experience at interacting with a huge variety of people before they hit teenagerhood.  As a result, they related well to their multi-cultural high school and were very successful in navigating through all kinds of issues without getting snagged by all of the bad choices available to them.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’ve both chosen careers where they are helping people.  They aren’t afraid of the realities of our culture and they want to help.  Being culturally savvy has become something they can build on for the rest of their lives.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: