I’d Like to Tell You About My Dad…

I’d Like to Tell You About My Dad…

Dad’s as a whole often get a bad rap.  They are portrayed on screen as silly, incompetent, and often the butt of the joke.  But get down to an individual level and it’s a whole different story.  I’d like to tell you about my dad, Alan Naumann.

My dad is pretty amazing in his own right, but when you factor in the reality that he was raised in a single parent home by a mom who was emotionally absent and often neglectful, the fact that he is such a great father is downright miraculous.  His upbringing may have had its share of disadvantages, but it also gave him a push in the right direction as he embraced life with a desire to thrive.

My dad is…


My dad is one of the most creative thinkers I know.  When it came time to make my school supply box for 1st grade, we didn’t have the budget to buy one from the store. Instead, my dad made one.  Not only has it held up over the (ahem…many, many) years since it was crafted, but it represents a great memory from my childhood.  He took an old cigar box, covered it with leftover contact paper, added my name to the top. Voila – instant school supply box.  It now holds all my spools of thread, but it is one of those things that reminds me of my dad every time I see it.

As I have ventured into life on my own, I am often finding creative solutions to solve problems when it comes to fixing something or finding a way to use a space better.  And now I see my kids learning this as well.


What’s being built over there?  What does this store sell?  What will we discover if we take the back roads?  My dad loves to discover new things.  Sometimes, like when he wondered if we could make it a bit longer without filling up, it doesn’t work out too well. But most of the time it expands our world.  One evening as I was on a speakerphone call to my dad, he asked a question in the

 vein of “I wonder…” 

My then 4-year old son was in the background listening and shouted “Google it, Grandpa!”  We have the luxury of Google and Social Media to answer our questions, and “Google it” is often heard in our home, but it was my dad who taught me to ask the questions in the first place.

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…Optimistic & Opportunistic (in a good way)

While my dad is practical and can see problems and short-comings in situations, he is an abundant source of optimism and has taught me to look for opportunities.  One particularly huge example of this is when I was a Junior in High School and he was faced with a sudden and unexpected job change.  Rather than despair and prepare for a move and a new school, he encouraged me that we would do everything possible to stay put so I would graduate with my class.  In the meantime, he saw the power and potential of video and began to teach himself video editing skills.  Fast forward and my parents are still in that same house and my dad created a whole business centered around video.

…Flexible and Spontaneous

I like to make a plan and stick to the plan.  Changes to the plan can be a cause for anxiety.  Not for my dad!  He is uber-flexible and has taught me to look at changes as new plans or adventures.  As we experience things resulting from flexing, he is quick to point out what we gained as a result of that change.  Remember how he was curious to know if we had enough fuel in our vehicle, and we didn’t? That resulted in 2 extra days at the campground where we were staying.  Two days to play games, read books, and rest.  He didn’t focus on what we missed out on, he focused on what we gained. 

The other side of this coin was seizing opportunities to do things.  One summer night when I was about 6 years old, my mom and dad gently woke me and told me to put my shoes on and get in the car.  Once in the car they blind-folded us because we were on our way to a mystery location.  We drove around for awhile before stopping.  Once we stopped, they guided us out of the car and walked us around telling us to duck low or step high over something.  We ended by going up a staircase, sitting

down in folding chairs, and taking off our blindfolds.  As our eyes adjusted, we discovered that we were next door to our house in the church balcony where my dad had set up the movie projector with a feature length film rented from the library.  We had our own personal drive-in experience complete with popcorn and pop (a rare nighttime treat)!


My dad loves to laugh.  No visit is complete without a good belly laugh from him.  (Even better if he is on the verge of tears from laughing so hard!)  Along with laughter, he showed me to how to have fun.  In the winter he would build us snow forts and we would drink hot chocolate inside.  Or we would make an annual trek to the ball park with friends and watch the Minnesota Twins.  Many summers he was a speaker at Family Camp.  One summer he and his friend dressed up as clowns as part of a carnival being thrown.


We grew up in South Minneapolis when the elementary school served the neighborhood and everyone could walk.  In fact, I don’t even remember very many buses lining up in front of the school.  The kids I knew in school lived in the neighborhood and some even went to my church (which was next door to my house).  Most kids came from families with a stay at home mom, so school programs were held during the day rather than in the evening as it is now.  The gym would fill with moms coming to see the program, but only a handful of dads would be there.  And mine was one of them.  He would work his schedule so that being present for family was a priority.  Even now, as my kids have milestones, he makes it a priority to be there.

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…All About the Story (especially about family)

My childhood was during the era of film cameras, but despite the cost, taking pictures was very important in our family.  (Maybe it was because my dad had very few photos of his childhood?) My dad showed me that photos are a prompt to trigger a memory or elicit a story.  If there were to be a fire and we could only grab a handful of things, the photo albums would have been on the short-list of priority items.

Every summer we would take a family road trip.  Before the trip started, it was given a name, and after the trip was completed, an album or slideshow was created.  Our extended family was scattered around the world.  In order to share our stories with them, we would print the pictures, number them, and then record an audio cassette narrating what was happening in each of the pictures.  This package would be mailed to Uncle Tom who would listen to the tape and flip through the

corresponding pictures (much like my kids listen to read-along books).  When he was done, he would send it to the next family member and eventually it would come back to us.  Occasionally, even now, we listen to these tapes and it brings back a flood of memories that shaped our family.

Pictures have become the keeper of the story and even in a digital age they are a natural part of living life well. 

Bottom Line

My dad could have grown up to be a bitter and hardened man.  Instead, he chose to embrace his circumstances and experience life fully.

Thanks, Dad, for being a great example.

I love you.

Planning Summer Memories Your Kids Will Love

Planning Summer Memories Your Kids Will Love

Summer!  It’s a word filled with a deep breath of hope, fun, and adventure.  As it looms around the corner you can feel the excitement and anticipation.  It’s charged with promise, sunshine, and spontaneity.  The possibilities it holds are endless.  The potential it holds for shaping this summer into one full of memories is endless.  Planning summer is going to be great!

You find yourself saying things like “We should do that this summer” “We have all summer to do this” or “Let’s save this for the summer”.  You are lulled into a false sense that there is plenty of time to do it all.

Then suddenly, you realize that it’s already July and you haven’t done any of the things.  Planning summer becomes a bit more urgent but regular life (oh, yeah, that pesky reality that doesn’t take a vacation) gets in the way.

Before you know it, your hopes of planning summer are dashed as you find yourself switching gears to planning for school to start and Fall activities to ramp up.  Sigh.  Another summer of missed opportunities.

Once again summer is peeking it’s head around the corner, but this year, planning summer can be a successful reality.

Planning Summer Family Summit

We’ve talked in more detail about the value of choices, but one benefit is buy-in.  When your family is part of the process they’ll tend to be more willing participants.  The purpose of the Planning Summer Family Summit is to create a bucket list of ideas from everyone.  The things I think might be fun might be things that the kids didn’t think of, and the things the kids want to do might be surprisingly simple or easy to do. For example, I might be thinking that we need to plan a full-on outing to a downtown museum and all they want is to have lunch as a picnic in the park one day.

Idea Bucket List

This is as simple as it sounds. Grab piece of paper, use a poster board, start an Excel sheet – however you want to curate your summer ideas list works well.  If you have younger kids, consider using a different color pen or crayon for each person so that they see that their ideas are on the board and you can see if everyone has pitched in.  If you have older kids, after your initial brainstorm session hang up the sheet so that as new ideas come to mind they can go ahead and add them.

Tip: This is something that we do before grandparents come for a long visit so that they kids make sure they do everything they wanted to do together.  It’s less outing based and more activity based.

First Things, First

As mom, you may need to make some executive decisions and veto some of the ideas, but once you’ve approved the rest of the list, the next step is to decide what’s most important.  One of the clearest ways to do this is to individually speak with each person and have them pick their top 5 or 10 activity choices.  You keep track of the answers and tally it up.  By doing this one-on-one, it reduces the chance that someone will be swayed or influenced by someone else so you get more honest answers.  As you tally things, you will also be able to make sure that everyone’s choices are represented.

Maximizing Impact

Take a look at the list of things and see if there is a way to combine them.  Maybe ‘go to the pool’, ‘play at the park’, and ‘have a picnic’ are all separate items on the list.  But it wouldn’t take much effort to combine these into one outing.  You can do them separately and multiple times, but combining them now makes it one item to check off the list which gives you opportunity to maximize the number of experiences you have with your kids.

Planning Summer Parameters

The next thing to look at is what the activity needs to happen.

Does it need to be scheduled or can it be spontaneous?
Do you need to purchase anything in advance (like tickets)?
Is it weather dependent?
Does it involve travel?

Deciding what needs to happen can help with actually making it happen.

Finding Time

Now the important piece comes into play – planning when to do these things.  This flips the statement of “We should do this this summer” to “We’re planning to do this this summer.”  Print out a simple calendar for the summer months and mark off any of the big knowns – trips, summer camp, visits from family, etc.  Then take the list of top 10 choices and begin to plan them. 

Don’t over plan, but focus more on getting one big thing in each week and then maybe one or two smaller things.  If you have season passes to a pool, zoo, or other outdoor venue, maybe that becomes your once a week destination.  You might need to plan a rain date each week to accommodate for weather. 

Visualize What You Did

Hang up that original bucket list.  Circle the Top Ten items in green and the easy to do spontaneous items in another color.  Nearby hang the summer calendar that shows the tentative plan.  Both of these will help your kids begin to see that while you can’t do everything, you can do a lot of things.  As you do something, cross it off the list.

When summer ends and the kids begin to whine that they didn’t get to do anything, you have proof otherwise.

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Relive the Memories

I grew up in a family that took pictures.  I am so thankful for this.  I have a handful of memories that don’t have pictures to accompany them, but having the picture let’s me remember more often and more accurately.

With a phone in every pocket, it’s so easy to take pictures.  Take a family selfie at each outing and a handful of key photos.  Then at the end of the summer, make a photo book with pictures of the adventures.  All the effort of planning summer can be rewarded as the kids relive these memories when flipping through the book.  Plus, it reinforces the memory in their brain and solidifies the idea that they had a fun-filled summer.

Enjoy Your Kids

The bottom line is that you can’t do everything, but you can intentionally do many things.  These are the moments that build the memories of childhood.  Make this a summer of creating memories.

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I Blinked…and You Grew Up

I Blinked…and You Grew Up

I’m in a strange mothering season.  I can flip like a light switch from a conversation about potty training to high school graduation because they are both realities in my life.  It is the fact that they are both in my life right now that shines a spotlight on the truth of these words. 

They grow up too fast!

This week we are preparing for my firstborn baby to graduate high school.  It marks the end of her life at home and the beginning of life on her own.  She will always be part of our family, but her presence in our family is changing.

This week I have begun the walk down memory lane while gathering pictures, elementary school projects, and other things to share at a small dinner we are holding to honor her.  I hold the evidence in my hand that she did grow up too fast.  I’ve already cried my fair share of tears.  (And I know there are many more to come.)

Let me tell you about Emma.  It’s easy to focus on the resume of accomplishments, and while there are plenty, those things aren’t really her.  In fact, those things are can often drive a wedge and they become points of comparison, discouragement, or envy. Instead, let me tell you about who she is.

Emma is kind and tender-hearted.  When she walks into a room, she is drawn to the person who is alone or feeling out of place.  She has an inviting presence that draws you in.

Emma is a good conversationalist.  She asks good questions and is genuinely interested in knowing more about you.  She finds out interesting things and connects with people at a level deeper than what meets the eye.

Emma is willing to try new things.  From speaking a new language or traveling overseas by herself, to trying a new food or game, she is willing to give it a shot and try something new. Sometimes she finds that she loves it and can develop a new interest, but sometimes she realizes that it wasn’t what she thought and can stop spending energy wondering about it.

Emma is a learner.  Lots of us say we are, but I have seen her do it.  She wanted to play guitar for Wednesday night youth group, only she didn’t play the guitar.  So she learned.  She wanted to be a lifeguard at her summer camp, only she didn’t swim.  So she learned.  She wanted to paint pictures to give her grandparents, only she didn’t have any knowledge on the mediums.  So she learned. 

As she heads off to college, I am excited for the opportunities that face her and seeing where she will be 18-years from now. 

As I continue to muddle through this week of tears, I want to share something I wrote for her 18th birthday.

They Told Me…

They told me 9-months of pregnancy would go by quickly, but I was so sick I couldn’t imagine it ever ending. And then you were born. And I was in love.

They told me you would be sleeping through the night before I knew it, but I was so exhausted from your (multiple) nightly feedings that I couldn’t imagine it. And then one night you did. And I did. (And I panicked!) And we began to find our rhythm.

They told me not to worry about when you would start to walk, but I did worry. And when you were ready you did start to walk. And now you run far and strong.

They told me that no one ever went to college still in diapers, but I was convinced you would be the first. And then almost overnight you mastered the skill of using the potty. And you gained independence.

They told me to enjoy the toddler years because the school years come around quickly, but I was sure they would never end. And then one morning you were off on the bus eager to for your new adventure of school. And I began to feel the momentum of time pick up speed.

They told me the days would feel long, but the years would fly by!

They told me to revel in the moments you wanted me – needed me – and to embrace them not as interruptions, but to cherish as precious mommy moments. But I took them for granted and believed they would never end. And now you are a strong, capable young woman who doesn’t need her mommy the way you used to.

They told me that if I blinked, you would grow up.

I did.

And you are.

No matter what season of mothering you are in, enjoy today.  Look for and create those mommy moments.  They do grow up too fast, and after today, those moments will either be a memory or a lost opportunity.  What will you choose?

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7 Reasons Why Giving Kids Choices Matters

7 Reasons Why Giving Kids Choices Matters

“Do you want the blue plate or the green plate?” I asked my daughter.

“Ummm…the green one.”

My mom was visiting and observed this interchange.  “Why does it matter what color plate she gets?  Just make a decision and give her one.”

I think my response was something along the lines of “you’re right, it doesn’t really matter, so that makes this an easy decision in which to get her input because sometimes I need to make decisions without her input.  Then I can simply say, ‘You’ve been making a lot of decision today, it’s now mommy’s turn to decide.’”

And life went on. 

Until we unexpectedly adopted a sibling set and found our parenting world turned upside down.

We were now learning about trauma and secure attachment.  We were now learning the “why” behind what we did as parents, and it was causing us to not only rethink some things about how we parented these sweet babies, but it was also helping us parent our older kids in a more intentional manner.

So let’s revisit the question my mom posed to me originally.  Why does it matter?  Why give our kids choices?


Here are 7 reasons why giving kids choices matters:

Choices give our kids a feeling of control

If it doesn’t matter which color plate they have, then it shouldn’t matter that we let them make that decision.  If we feel strongly that they need to have the plate we gave them, maybe we need to stop and ask ourselves why it’s so important?  Maybe we have to think about our own need for control?

Feeling like we have control over something small begins to give a sense of say or buy-in, which in turn provides a sense of security.  According to PennState Extension, learning to engage that desire for control over what they do is simply an important aspect of growing up and something our kids need.  Giving them choices so they have control is developmentally healthy and necessary.

Giving kids choices helps outline expectations

None of my children like to be told to do something now, but my adopted son has a particular aversion to it.  I suspect it may be something subconsciously tied to how often he was moved to different homes in the 16-months before he gained permanency.  Regardless, for him, how we transition can make or break the next thing we do and it really comes down to setting expectations.

Clear choices help with this transition by laying out the expectations.  A couple weeks ago we were at a friend’s house and the time to start walking home was approaching.  I hadn’t brought a wagon, so I needed him to walk and to do it willingly.  (He’s a big kid, so carrying him was not going to be a good option.)

Here’s how it played out:

Me:  (Getting down to his eye level) Wayne, it’s almost time to go home so we need to finish playing.  Do you want to go home now or in 4-minutes?

Wayne: Can we go home in 5-minutes? (I was so surprised that he asked to compromise, but it was a great opportunity to say yes to him!)

Me:  That sounds great.  I’ll set a timer.  Do you want to hit start or shall I?

He chose to hit start, and when the timer went off, he put away the toys and walked home without incident.

True confession: When this played out, my mama pride level spiked.  This was a textbook perfect interaction (which is probably why I remember it) and we had an audience to witness it!  It was that one moment that counter-balanced the hundreds of much less than perfect interactions.

Over time as I have consistently given choices to outline expectations, smooth transitions are becoming more and more of the norm because he is prepared for and can anticipate what is coming.

Choices help with participation

As our kids begin to feel a sense of control and know what to expect, we start to see our kids begin to participate without resistance.  They eat their food without complaining about the plate choice.  They put away the toys and leave when the timer goes off.  And they do it willing.

When our kids feel like they are part of the process, they engage more readily.  Chores need to be done, so the doing of the chore isn’t a choice we will offer, but maybe we can offer our kids choice as to when they do them.  It changes the chore from being an order to a responsibility.  Choices invite their input into the process as well and begin to lay the ground work for our kids to negotiate their perspective into it.  Some of our best ‘tweaks’ to how we do chores have come as a result of our kids willing engagement in things they would rather not do.

Giving kids choices provides practice making decisions

In her book, The Next Right Thing, Emily P Freeman says that “we make better decisions by making decisions, not by thinking about making decisions. It takes practice…”

Giving our kids choices is providing them opportunities to practice making decisions.  When we begin with inconsequential decisions, like what color plate they want, then they can move on to things that are a bit more challenging.  Over time, the implications of these choices will become more significant, but with practice making decisions, the ability to make them will become more natural and easy.

Blue or red?  Now or in 5-minutes?  Today or tomorrow?  Stay home or come along?  Everyday practicing of choices continues to grow and strengthen our decision-making muscles.

Choices keep us focused

Sometimes things are just too big and choices help us focus.  Have you ever seen a flow chart?  It starts with a big either-or option and you answer yes or no.  Then you follow the arrows on the chart that corresponds with your answer until you find the next set of options.  This continues until you have an “answer”.  Choices become a verbal flow chart to help our kids process and stay focused on what they are thinking about.

For example, “what do you want to do?” or “what toy do you want to play with?” feels like we are giving a choice, but it’s really an open-ended question with endless possibilities.  That can be overwhelming.

Instead, start broadly and work down to the decision.

“Do you want to play in your room or the family room?  The family room? Great.  Do you want to build something or just play?  Build something? OK, would you prefer Legos or Lincoln Logs? Legos.  Excellent.  Let’s get that bin out for you.”

Each set of choices kept the focus on the original open-ended question in a manner that led to a decisive answer.

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Choices help us achieve our desired outcome

Sometimes giving our kids choices helps us achieve the desired outcome we are looking for.  By setting expectations and keeping the focus, we can help our kids choose things in a way that they are on board and believe they made a decision, even though it’s one that we had already determined to be the best option.

Similar to helping provide the expectation of what is about to happen, choices can guide our kids to choose what it is that we wanted in the first place.

For example, if we want them to play inside doing something quiet while we get ready for having company for dinner, then we don’t want to give them any choices that involve playing outside or messy crafts with glitter.  Using the flow chart example above, while keeping our kids focused on making a decision, we can also gently guide our kids choices toward our desired outcome of playing with a quiet toy indoors.

Giving kids choices makes us trust-worthy

This is really the bottom-line goal of giving our kids choices.  We want the trust that is found in secure, connected relationship.  As we give choices and provide follow-through, they see that we do what we say.  The more they experience this, the more they can trust that our choices and decisions are for their good.  So when there are times where choices aren’t available, we can tap into this relational trust.

Sometimes we say things like, “You have done a lot of choosing today, so now it’s my turn.”  Sometimes when safety is at risk we have to just act without explanation.  Regardless, giving choices provides the framework so that when the choice is not theirs to make, they can engage willingly.

It’s your choice…

So, are you going to choose to practice giving choices or just tell your kids what to do?

Here are some questions to help you start thinking about how you will implement giving your kids choices:

  • What are some inconsequential things where you can offer your kids choices and invite their input and involvement?
  • What transitions might improve by giving your kids choices to better prepare them?
  • What are 3 simple choices you can begin offering your kids today?
  • What is one area where giving your kids choices would improve their participation?
  • What questions can you switch from open-ended to providing your kids choices which are more specific?
  • What is one way today that you can use choices to gently guide your kids toward your desired outcome?
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5 Things Every Mom Needs

5 Things Every Mom Needs

The laundry is piling up.  You forgot to change the loads and are re-washing it.  Again.  Dinner didn’t get pulled out of the freezer so it isn’t thawing but it doesn’t matter because the dishwasher isn’t running so there aren’t clean dishes anyway!  The finger-painting keeping the kids occupied so nicely while you were talking on the phone was holding their interest because they were creating a mural on your living room wall.  It’s a swirl of chaos.

Suddenly you feel a hug on your legs and hear these words.

“I’m going to be just like you when I grow up, mommy.”

Melt my heart!  You can be in the middle of the worst day ever, and when sweet, innocent eyes look up at you and that little voice says those words time stops and everything melts away.  It makes it all worth it.

In that moment, being a mom is The. Best!

Unfortunately, those moments can be more like cameos than they are leading roles.  But what if I told you that we can lay a foundation that would make the joy of those moments become something that becomes a more regular part of being a mom?

Then, read on…

Thinking about my kids wanting to be just like me when they grew up, made me panic.  What if they did grow up to be just like me?  It struck me that I was creating a childhood for them full of the importance of cleaning and cooking but I wasn’t really building into them relationally.  I want my kids memories of their childhoods filled with doing things together and enjoying each other.  I want my kids rememberng these “mommy moments” and I knew I needed to be creating more of them than I was currently giving.

If you know my story, you know that I was deep in the depths of overwhelm.  Enjoying each other was not something that was happening.  My kiddos had a stressed out, burned out, checked out mama.

As I tried to climbing my way out of overwhelm I was assuming that I was the problem.  ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I asked myself. Often.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that nothing was wrong with me.  The problem wasn’t me or my desire to do all the things of being a mom.  The problem was that I didn’t have the right structure in place tomake doing the things moms need to do run smoothly.  The things that would let me simply be mom.  Wanting to be a mom who rocks at being a mom, I knew I was needing to make some changes.

What do moms need? Here are 5 things:

1. Relationship

Relationship is what being a mom is all about.  This includes relationships like those with our spouse, our friends, and our own moms, but when it comes to our kids, intentionally nurturing a relationship isn’t always on our radar.

When it came to parenting my kids, intentional relationship wasn’t something that I had ever consciously thought about until we adopted our youngest kids.  As we were learning about the steps that we needed to be taking to intentionally develop and nurture attachment, frankly it added to my overwhelm.  But the more I was learning, the more I began realizing that this was actually the heart of being a mom.

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It was all about the relationship.  A lot of effort during the toddler years is what would be providing the framework to better navigate the teen years.  Why? Because of a deep-rooted relationship.

I began applying this to my older kids, and the changes, though slow (have you ever tried to redirect an ocean liner?) are noticeable.  Things like focusing on what they did right rather than what they were doing wrong, learning to say yes more and saying no less, listening to understand and not just for responding, and stopping to look them in the eye when they were talking to me.

When relationship is the goal, it puts everything else into perspective.

2. Operations

When we were moving into our house almost six years ago, our move was “squeezed in” between a lot of life that couldn’t be slowed down or postponed.  The day after our move I had a fundraising gala that I was organizing.  The kids still had six more weeks of school in 2 different buildings with 3 different schedules, so my days were spent driving and in the car rather than unpacking.  

And then we left on a 2-week trip just days after school ended.  It was literally months before I was able to start to settle our family into our home.

Settling in is more than unpacking and hanging pictures.  It’s just as much about learning patterns and rhythms that work in your space and with your people.  Noticing where coats are dumped, where the mail is naturally being set down, and how convenient it is put clean dishes away in a cupboard are all part of settling in.  Settling is is about operations.

When the operations of the home are running smoothly, the things that build relationship (and memories!) begin happening without becoming major productions themselves.  Last minute invite to the beach?  No problem.  The gear is where it needs to be, and the tasks of the day can be quickly assessed.

3. Cleaning

Everyone loves a clean space.  But cleaning that space is not always very fun.

Why?  High expectations and low appreciation.

When I was in High School, I was hired to clean someone’s home. While I was learning a lot, but I didn’t enjoy it at all.  The list of things needing to be done was lengthy (who dusts their baseboards every week?) and after I was done cleaning, I was told everything I did wrong or missed.  Even though I was rewarded with cash, it was still discouraging.

Whether you hire someone to do this, delegate to your kids, or do it yourself, cleaning is simply part of life.  So why is it overwhelming?

Most likely for the same reasons I dreaded my job – high expectations and low appreciation.  (High expectations are not the same as high standards; Expectations are about quantity and standards are about quality.)  Most often it is literally expecting too much.  There are too many steps.  One job could be broken down into 3 jobs.  Then once it’s done, no one notices when it’s done right, just what was missed. And if no one is going to appreciate your effort, why try?  That’s when standards slip and the whole thing falls apart.

After battling with our kids about dinner clean-up, we finally took that one large task that was taking them 90-minutes or more to do, and broke it into 3 smaller tasks, none of which typically should take more than 15 minutes.  It cut the time in half!

And by using a simple checklist [link to checklist] to outline the expectations, when it’s done, we can focus on what is done well and work on improving specific steps.  Our kids begin to take pride in their work.  And the cleaning becomes a natural part of life.

4. Kitchen

Have you ever seen the meme that says something like “If you could choose to never do one of these things again for the rest of your life, what would you choose?” Following it is a list of things like cooking, cleaning, yard work, and other tedious chores.

I always choose cooking.

Similar to cleaning, cooking just has to happen.  Eating is something people like doing.  And while we have choices about ordering in, eating out, or cooking from scratch, whatever we choose has an impact on our time, money, and long-term health.  No pressure, right?

But similar to cleaning, there are too many things wrapped up in cooking.  It should really be called “Kitchen” because it involves planning meals, shopping for meals, managing food inventory, prepping for meals, and then the actual cooking.

It’s a lot to process at 4:00 in the afternoon.  And that’s why I always chose cooking.  It was too overwhelming to wing it.

Breaking this down into the smaller parts and learning to make those part of your family’s rhythms can flip this on its head and make the kitchen run effortlessly.  (I’ll even let you in on my secret weapon: Plan to Eat.)

5. Simplicity

This feels like a no-brainer, right?  But it’s not as simple as it seems (see what I did there?).  When something is simple, it works.  Most of the time something doesn’t work because it’s too complicated.  And, funny enough, most of the time it just requires a simple tweak to make it less complicated.

Simplicity is the key to success. And success is the desired outcome pretty much across the board. So, don’t overcomplicate things.

Want to be a mom who ROCKS?  Join me on this journey.  Start by downloading your 9 Things You Can Do To Raise a Confident Kid.



You Did What?! Our Unexpected Adoption Story

You Did What?! Our Unexpected Adoption Story

This is how most conversations go…

“We have 5 kids, the youngest two we unexpectedly adopted.”

“When you say unexpectedly adopted, do you mean you only wanted to foster?”

“No, we mean nothing about adoption was on our radar.  It was completely unexpected.”

“How?  What?  I don’t understand.”

Well, let me tell you how it happened…

“Jenn!  Hold up.”

It was a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in late October and an extremely normal day.  We had just finished a full day of classes at our homeschool co-op.  I finally had all three of my kids tracked down and we were just walking out the door to head home when I heard my friend Rachel calling me.

“I’m glad I caught you before you left.  I need to tell you something.”

I didn’t know it yet, but those words were to become the last sentence on a chapter of my life.

The next chapter started with this sentence.

“There is a little boy who needs a placement for adoption within the next seven days or he will be placed in foster care.  He is a 16-month old, black male. Don’t you have friends waiting for a placement?  Would this be a fit for them?”

Rarely do I remember the circumstances around a conversation.  Some people have memories that allow them to retain the location, time of day, who was around, and even what they were doing when a conversation took place.  I have not been gifted with a vault like memory.  But this conversation was different.

As Rachel uttered those words, I was overwhelmed.  It is hard to describe exactly what I felt, but a warm chill ran down my spine while at the same time I was completely embraced in an emotion that just held me there.  My thoughts were consumed with my friends longing for a child and my heart leapt as I distinctly remember thinking, ‘This is the moment when this little boy found his family.’

It was a holy moment.

And I couldn’t wait to call my friend.

I drove home praying for green lights and was so excited to share this great news.  I walked into the house and immediately connected with my friend.  And was stunned when I heard her tell me that this little boy did not match the profile that was on file with their adoption agency and so they would need to say no.


No!  That couldn’t be right.  I knew we had found this baby a family.  This was not right.  She was supposed to say ‘Yes’.

By this time, it was the end of the work day and my husband called to let me know he was on his way home and to see how our day had been.  He was not prepared for the answer.

I shared with him everything that had transpired.  How Rachel had told me about this little boy.  How I was positive God was going to use that conversation to find him a home.  And how he wasn’t a match for our friends’ profile.  And especially how angry I was that this little boy was in the same predicament at the end of the day as he had been when he woke up.

My husband patiently listened.  And then spoke this very simple sentence.

“What about us?”

“What do you mean, ‘what about us?’” I asked him.

“What about us?  Would we be allowed to adopt him?”

I was once again stunned as I let those words settle in.  What about us?

That was a question I couldn’t completely answer.  We were not on the path toward adoption.  We had not applied with an adoption agency.  We were not foster parent certified.  We didn’t have a home study.  We didn’t have any idea what adoption would entail.

But if those things weren’t obstacles, would we be willing?  Would we be ready to add another child to our family?

The answer was ‘Yes’.  We felt that God was telling us to step out in faith and adopt this little boy.  That holy moment hadn’t been wrong.  I just hadn’t realized that we were the family that had just been found for him.

So I called Rachel.  I told her that I had good news and bad new.  The bad news was that my friends were not going to be able to adopt the little boy.  But the good news was that we wanted to adopt him, but we didn’t know if we were eligible to do so.

“Are you serious?! Give me a little bit and I will find out.”

And so we proceeded into a Tuesday evening as a family that from all outside appearances looked normal but which was internally as far from normal as could be.  We sat in our basement family room watching TV as a family.  The family room had a sectional sofa and my husband was on one end and I was on the other with our three kids sitting between us.

As the TV droned on and our kids were engaged in the program, I was watching my phone.  Watching and waiting for news from Rachel.  And then her message popped up.

“Yes, you would be eligible to adopt him.”

And attached to the text was a picture of a smiley, dimple faced little boy with curly hair.  He was so precious.

I forwarded the picture to my husband at the other end of the couch.  He replied, “That’s not fair sending me a picture!  Now I will be heartbroken if this doesn’t work out.”

And so our Tuesday ended as it always did but nothing was the same.  As our kids bushed their teeth and got ready for bed, we pictured brushing the teeth of a toddler.  As we tucked them in and kissed them, we wondered if we would be kissing the forehead of another child soon.  And so that evening, we kept this amazing possibility secretly stored in our hearts as we wondered how long we would remain a family of five.

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Wednesday morning came quickly. 

Jim went to work as usual, and I began the task of figuring out what we needed to do to move forward on this new idea of adopting.

We homeschool, so our kids, Emma, Micah, and Sammy, were all home that day.  But until we knew more, we had decided not to say anything to them yet.  I settled them in with their assignments for the day, walked upstairs to my bedroom, and locked the door behind me.

My first call was to Rachel.  Besides being our connection to Wayne, she and her husband had adopted a little boy about 2-months prior so she was also my only resource to figure out where to even begin.

Our first conversation was brief.  It was her friend Bianca who had told her about Wayne, and Bianca had learned about Wayne’s plight during Bible Study when Nancy, who was Wayne’s Safe Family mom, had shared that his adoption had fallen through.  This real-life version of the game telephone was keeping things from moving very fast, and Rachel was trying to get in touch with Nancy.  She promised to call me as soon as she knew anything.

So I waited.

It wasn’t too long before the phone rang.

I answered and Rachel started right in.

“Before we go any further with this, I found out some more details and I need to ask you a question.  How do you feel about three children?”

“Three children!” I exclaimed.  “What are you talking about?”

“No, not three,” she chuckled, “two.  It turns out there’s a baby sister and they don’t want to separate them.”

My first thought after this divinely appointed mis-hearing was, ‘well two is better than three!’.  (I often wonder if I would have responded as positively if I had heard two correctly the first time?) Nevertheless, my head was spinning.  And I didn’t know what to say.  So I told her I would need to talk to Jim and call her back.

Jim had been anxious to hear from me.  He was having a hard time focusing at work as he waited on news from me.  But he wasn’t prepared for what I was about to tell him.

“I just spoke with Rachel, and we have more information.  It turns out that there is a baby sister and they would like to keep them together.  Before we move forward, they want to know how we feel about that.”

And without missing a beat, Jim responded, “Well, we’re not splitting them up.  We’ll just keep going until God closes a door.”

I called Rachel back with the news.  And for the second time she asked, “Are you serious?”

Once again, I was able to tell her that indeed, we were serious.  And with that, the morning began to gain momentum.

The next call I needed to make was to Nancy.  I was nervous and uncertain.  Just exactly how does one start a phone conversation with a perfect stranger asking for the child in their care?  Umm…hello, you don’t know me, but I think our family is supposed to adopt the child you have raised.  In that moment as I dialed the phone I began to feel less like we were opening our family to these children and more like we were negotiating a deal.

Nancy answered and she quickly put me to ease.  I had no way of knowing it then, but in that moment, my phone call was a miraculous answer to prayer.  And so we talked and began to formulate a plan.  Nancy would get in touch with the birth parents, and I would line up a lawyer, a home visit, and schedule background checks. 

The rest of that day I remained holed up in my bedroom making phone calls.  The longer I remained in my room, the more curious the kids were becoming, but they did what they were supposed to do and they didn’t interrupt me.  By late afternoon I had made 28 phone calls only leaving 2 voice messages, both of which were immediately returned.  It was a productive day.  I lined up a lawyer.  I spoke to both adoption agencies and social workers and quickly determined that since time was of the essence that this would be faster, easier, and less costly if we worked directly with a social worker.  I scheduled our background checks.  And I drained my phone battery – twice!  The last call I made that afternoon was to the lawyer.  I asked her what I needed to do next expressing that I felt like I still lacked a game plan and a timeline.  She told me that I accomplished in one day what usually took two weeks to get done. 

And with that, I left my room and ventured downstairs to make dinner.  My sweet children were getting pretty nervous by now.  I found them on their best behavior, ready and willing to help me with dinner prep.  I found out later that they had been conferencing throughout the day trying to figure out what was going on and the best they were able to come up with was that somehow, they were in trouble!

Earlier in the day Jim and I had spoken about when to tell the kids, and we had decided that we should tell them that evening before dinner.  While we still didn’t know much more about what the future would hold, we did know that we wanted to be on the same page as a family, particularly because of how quickly things were moving.  We never wanted our kids to believe that this was something we had chosen to do to our family, but rather this was something God has chosen for our family to do and we were simply following in obedience. 

Jim came home and we gathered the kids together. 

“We have been approached about the possibility of adopting two children. We don’t know if it will happen.  In fact, we’re assuming it won’t happen, but that is a possibility we’re pursuing.” And then he showed them the same picture I had sent him not even 24-hours earlier. 

“We’re not really telling anyone about this, so we need to keep it a secret, but we do need to be praying.  We did not pursue this, so that’s why we feel if this happens that it’s because of the Lord. We’re excited, and we’re obviously nervous.” 

Excitement was building with the kids, especially Micah and Sammy who for several years had begged for another sibling and had argued incessantly about whether it would be a brother (for Micah) or a sister (for Sammy).  They quickly realized that this “solved” their problem.  

So we asked them what they thought.  Emma piped up, “When you said you wanted to talk to us, I was going to jokingly ask if you were going to tell us that we were having another baby but I never thought that would seriously be it.”

“Does this excite you? Scare you? Make you nervous?” we asked.

“Excites me.  Yeah, it’s pretty exciting,” Emma said, with a look of reservation. “I like the idea, I’m obviously nervous and there will be lots of changes and probably lots of requirements we’ll have to fulfill.”

“I’ll have to keep my room clean all the time!” Sammy realized. But she was overwhelmed with excitement.

“What about you, Micah?  Do you like the idea?” Jim asked.

“I like the idea.  It’s gonna change stuff, but I like it.” he replied.

And then Jim, a fan of stand-up comedy, had the opportunity to use a Jim Gaffigan line that he never thought he would have opportunity to use in real life.

“I’ve been dying to tell you that ‘We won’t love any of you less, but we will have to let one of you go.’” To which both girls immediately pointed to their brother!

But Jim wrapped it up with great wisdom.  “Be praying.  We risk a lot of emotional pain which is sometimes what we are called to as Christians.  So we are pursuing this.  It’s not going to be inexpensive and it’s possible that nothing goes through.  But if it does, it’s possible that one or both of the children could be in our home before the end of the year.”

And with that, we sent our kids off to their respective youth groups and kids clubs holding secret news that could turn their worlds upside down.

And that is how it all began.  There is much more to the story, but this part ended when the adoption was finalized the Tuesday after Mother’s Day just 6-½ months after that typical Tuesday that changed everything.

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