Got Kids 24/7 – 2 Tips to make life easier

by Mary Ann on July 30, 2015

large family

24/7, 365 days a year for 18 plus years!! That is a long time to parent. I know because I did it. I actually had children living in my home, full time, for 39 years, so I know how hairy that can be. There is no way around the fact that parenting is a real commitment. The upside is that it is a commitment that can pay HUGE dividends in joy and satisfaction.

That being said, we still have to deal with the day to day effort to feed, cloth, clean up after, minster to and create relationships with our children. Add to that the importance of finding time for ourselves.

I can’t resolve all the issues involved with this big job you have taken on but I can share two terrific tools that I use at my home that help to make it easier.

Snack Plates

When my oldest daughter was expecting her fourth child she needed some help.  She was having a hard time keeping up with everything. One of the big struggles was keeping  Jack, aged 4 and Mary, aged 2, fed. Because they were little, they didn’t eat much at a meal and then wanted something to eat every couple of hours in between. That is how it is with little kids. (My pediatrician said that it is about 1 tablespoon of food, per meal, per year of age, after they turn one. Many of you know that is soooo true!) My husband came up with the perfect solution.

Each morning we would cut up vegetables, fruit, meat, such as salami or pepperoni,olives, crackers, cheese, etc and store it in airtight containers. Then Don would drive them over to our daughters home and throughout the day she would make “snack plates”. Each plate would have an assortment of goodies on it and would be placed on a flat surface, at child height, in this case the TV center. Then the children could help themselves as needed. Each plate would last a couple of hours. That would get them through from breakfast to lunch and then again from lunch to dinner. It was perfect.

Jack is now 7 and Mary is 5. We have been using this little trick for a good while now and it is still working. We don’t need a plate everyday, but frequently enough, on a munchy day, either Don or I will throw one together. While I have been in Seattle with my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter I have been doing the same thing. Because this is a university married housing complex there are children here all the time and they all get hungry. If I want to get anything done then, snack plates it is. Very helpful. : ) Here are some examples of what they look like at our home. (We don’t do anything special, we use what we have on hand)

snack plate 1-horz


 Picture 1 – L to R – strawberries, apple slices with peanut butter, buttered bread,  cheese

Picture 2 – L to R – mini carrots, canned pineapple, olives, raw almonds, cucumber slices

Picture 3 – L to R – banana slices, orange slices, cheese, sliced ham lunch meat, orange and red pepper slices

Picture 4 – L to R – pretzels, blueberries, strawberry slices

Picture 5 – L to R – Gogurt, cheese, pepperoni

Picture 6 – L to R – orange slices, apple slices, grapes, cheese, pepperoni

Door Hangers

door hangerBecause we live in a basement apartment under one of our children, we have those grandchildren over all the time. As grandparents we love it! However, I am not retired and I work at home four days a week. It can get pretty noisy and I find it hard to concentrate, especially if I am writing.

And please bear in mind that even though we are older and grandparents, that doesn’t change the need for quiet time! Sometimes I want to hear silence. I want to read or crochet or watch a television program or eat an ice cream bar undisturbed and unshared.

One day we came up with the perfect solution and it works! We talked to our daughter about what we needed and she set up a family meeting. She and her husband gathered all of their children around and told them how much we loved them but that sometimes we just needed some space. They asked the kids how they thought their family could make that happen. There were lots of ideas, some good, some wild and some just plain silly.

In the end our daughter invited them to make two door hangers. One would be green for “Come on in” and one door hanger 2would be red for “Grandma is working”. The children were really excited about the idea and they got to make them.

I have often said, and have proved it for myself, that if you want a system to work, the presentation has to be exciting and inviting and the family has to “buy in”. These children were excited by the presentation and making the door hangers themselves helped them buy in.

The youngest child, Ben,  is three. Even Ben has great respect for the door hangers. Sometimes the kids will come down, crack the door open and peek in to see if I am really still working. They know that sometimes I forget to change signs. One day Ben came clattering down the stairs and barreled into the living room. I said, “Benny I can’t have company right now because I am working.” He looked at me, cocked his head and replied, “Grandma you don’t have the sign out.” So I got the door hanger for him and he hung it on the doorknob and left.

We have discovered that we just don’t need the “go” door hanger because they are welcome in our home most of the time. We focus mostly on using the “stop” door hanger when I really do need private time. That means that I often work when the house is filled with laughing, rambunctious children. But if I really do need quite, I put out the sign.

I think this could work for busy mom’s and dad’s too. You could have a family meeting and talk about people needing some quiet time and where they might need it: in the bathroom, in the bedroom, in the office. Then you could talk about ways family members can help mom and dad get the time they need and introduce the idea of the door hanger. There could be one for the bathroom, one for the parents bedroom, one for the office. Then when you just need a time out or 10 minutes to read or breathe deeply, you could try it out.

If you don’t abuse or overuse this tool it just may give you the few minutes break that you need now and then to keep going 24/7, 365 days a year for 18 plus years!!

What are your best tricks for making the job of parenting easier?

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The Screen Free Experiment

by Mary Ann on July 25, 2015

The Smith Family

The Smith Family

What if you went Screen Free, as a family, for a WHOLE MONTH!! Do you think you could do it? Would your family go nuts? Would everyone crack up? Would the fighting increase? Yikes!! A whole month!!

Remember that last week I gave you five tips to help you put your family first. Here is a recap of #3:

3. Turn off your digital devices, ditch technology – just for a while. Have technology free moments everyday. For example, maybe you have a TV, computer and no phone hour just before bed. When you are willing to let go of technology for even short amounts of time you will be surprised at how much time you can open up for family.

I suggested finding a few moments each day to turn technology off and I think that is a good idea. But after I wrote last weeks article I met a family that actually goes screen free for a whole month once a year. I got all the details from the mom, Courtney, and I want to share them with you because I think you will be so impressed that you might consider making this a tradition in your home.

So what is Screen Free you ask? No TV, no movies on TV, no computer time, no games on the phone, no screens.


Here is how the Smith’s make it work:

1. Prepare your kids ahead of time. This particular family goes screen free in June, every year. However, this year they didn’t begin talking about it early enough. They usually begin talking about it and making plans about a month in advance. So for the sake of having a successful Screen Free Month, this year they are doing it in July.

2. Presentation is everything. That is my phrase and you’ve heard me say it before, but it is what they do. They talk it up. They talk about all the great things they are going to be able to do as a family, how much fun they are going to have together, the family reward at the end of the month.

3. Get everyone to buy in. As Courtney was telling me how they get their kids to cooperate I said, “Oh you get them to buy in.” She smiled and said, “Well I didn’t have a term for it but yup that’s what we do.” They get their kids to buy in by allowing them to pick a reward they would like to have at the end of the month. It has to be a really fun family activity. It might be swimming, camping, eating out, going to the movie theater, visiting grandparents, a road trip, whatever the parents want to throw out there. When the kids pick it, plan it and talk about it – they are IN.

Here is their one caveat – They don’t use screen time as the reward. They don’t want to reward no screen time with screen time. : )

4. Parent’s have to be honest! It isn’t the kids who struggle the most, it’s the parents. They really do have to commit. Courtney told me that the hard part for her is at lunch. She usually has lunch when the big kids are at school and her little one is taking a nap. She likes to read Facebook, watch a show, catch up on the news, whatever, as she eats lunch. It is a challenge to read instead or call a friend.

It also becomes challenging for her and her husband in the evening when everyone is in bed. They usually veg out a bit in front of the TV, just the two of them but – YIKES – it’s screen free month. She told me that they have learned to play games together or read to each other. It has become really fun.

The one caveat – They do occasionally check email, pay bills on line or prepare church lessons. Just no screens for entertainment purposes.

5. Plan ahead. Get the games out. Check some great books out of the library. Stock up on pop corn. Know in your mind what you are going to say to your kids, how are you going to direct them, when they come and ask to watch a movie. Get prepared.

This family goes screen free in the summer months because they feel that in the winter you are shut in and it is more difficult to disengage from TV, videos, games etc. In the summer you can get out, walk, go swimming, go to the mountains, etc.


Courtney said that it is a bit hard the first few days because it is a serious transition, but then they settle right in. They have a lot of fun. They play together, they talk, and they laugh. She said that it is something that they really do all look forward to each year.

They feel more connected at the end of their Screen Free Month. It takes a while for screen time to become important to them again. The break feels good – after the first few days. : )

In fact Courtney shared this with me, “Last time we did it our kids wanted to continue for more than a month! And they hardly ever ask when it will be over.”

So why not consider it and give it a try. You just might find out how much your family likes to read, play games, hike or swim.

Who else out there goes screen free for a day, a week, a month. What is your experience?

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5 Tips to Put Family first

by Mary Ann on July 16, 2015


In this national commercial adults are being treated in a way that makes them feel helpless, undervalued and frustrated, that makes them feel like children. When I saw this commercial, I like all of you, could relate to how that feels!

Then I had a second thought. Why would they use children to illustrate what all of us have felt as adults – it is because this IS how children are frequently treated! I know that as loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, even neighbors, we don’t mean to do this, but we do.

Get Your Family on the List

Let me give you a really good example of what it looks like when we treat our children in a way that leaves them feeling like the adults in this commercial.

One day I was sewing and this particular project had a deadline. Now I don’t like to sew. I am pretty good at it but it would be on the bottom of my relaxing and fun things to do list. So I was feeling some pressure.

Marie 001My little 3 year old daughter, Sweet Marie, kept coming into the sewing room and interrupting me. “Mom, I need a drink.” Mom, I’m hungry.” “Mom, Barry is being mean.” Mom, Jenny won’t share.” I can tell you that this and the sewing was really wearing on my nerves. I was ready to spank her. After all she was really bugging me and she could see perfectly well that I was really busy! I decided that if she interrupted me again I was going to swat her.

Of course you know what happened. She came in again and I was ready to carry out my intention. Then I had a thought, “Why not hug her instead!” It wasn’t my thought! Remember, I had a firm intention to swat her. It took me by such surprise that I STOPPED what I was doing.

I turned my chair away from the sewing machine and I looked at my daughter. I picked her up and I hugged her really tight. I hugged her for about 15-20 seconds. I said, “Marie I LOVE you!” Then I put her down and off she went as happy as a clam.

She didn’t come back. Why! Watch that commercial again and it will be clear. The woman at the end is smiling and feeling really good because someone cares. She is on the list. She feels valued.

That is what happened for Sweet Marie and that was all that she really wanted in the first place – to be on the list, to be valued . Our children just want to be on our list, and in our busy life we sometimes erase them off. Oh, we cook the meals and clean and maintain order and manage our family, but our children and our relationship with them is not on the list. We often don’t  make time to let them know that we “see” them, “hear” them, and value them.

family first

Five Tips for Family Time

Here are  5 tips that will help you let your kids know that they have a place on your list. Here’s to happier summer days!

  1. Take a hard look at your calendar – We all have good things on our calendar. However, are there so many goods that there isn’t room for the best – time with your children? Can you pare down the classes, lessons, team activities and community and church responsibilities? Ask yourself, “What happens if I/we don’t do this?” If you’re doing a task out of guilt or habit, take it off your calendar. Figure out what your priorities are and pursue those. Something has to give.
  1. Involve the kids – I know, I know, it is simply easier, faster and more efficient to do things by yourself. But there are advantages to including your children a few times a week. Gardening together, folding laundry as a group and tidying up the yard as a unit are ways to kill two birds with one stone. If you make it fun it won’t seem like work, it will seem like a family activity.
  1. Turn off your digital devices, ditch technology – just for a while. Have technology free moments everyday. For example, maybe you have a TV, computer and no phone hour just before bed. When you are willing to let go of technology for even short amounts of time you will be surprised at how much time you can open up for family.
  1. Make a date with your family and then keep it. When things are planned they tend to happen. When they aren’t the world crowds in and they get put off. If you have a family evening once a week then consider that sacred time. If you decide to have a game night, don’t let anything else interfere. If you decide to walk one evening a week, make sure it happens. It doesn’t have to cost money, take a lot of time or preparation but you do need to be consistent. That will go a long way to saying, “You are on my list.”
  1. Realize you won’t get everything done. A to-do list is unending. It will never get done. Laundry is forever, so is cleaning and cooking. The yard always has to be mowed and snow has to be shoveled. So lighten up a bit. Let some things go, short term, and make space for your family.

What strategies do you use to make time for your family? Please share!


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Our Stories Shape Our Lives – Part 2

by Mary Ann on July 10, 2015


Do you ever feel like you do everything and everyone else in your family just sits by and watches! I know that feeling well. Last week I shared an example of how powerful our thoughts and the stories they create are in the happiness we experience in life. Today I want to share another example.

Currently there are two adults that live in my home, me and my husband, Don. Even though our children are out building their own lives, I am still taking care of most of the “family” stuff. I do most of the dishes, cook most of the meals, do most of the cleaning and all of the laundry.

Recently I decided that I needed a bit more help. I discovered that if I would put the laundry in a basket on the couch Don would get it folded. We had a conversation about meals and he determined that he would cook on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, my busiest days. He is vacuuming more often.

In the laundry room there is a clothes hanger. When outer clothes are washed they are usually taken straight out of the dryer and hung up. Saves on ironing! The challenge is getting the hung clothes from the laundry room to the bedroom closet.

After our talk about getting a bit more help around the house I noticed that Don was not only folding the laundry, if the basket was on the couch, but that he was also taking the hung clothes to the bedroom closet. That is, he was taking his clothes. I observed this phenomenon for quite a few weeks.

downloadEach time I noticed that he had hung his clothes in the closet and that mine were still in the laundry room I would feel a slight twinge of irritation. After all, when I hung the clothes in the closet I would take them all, his and mine. After a few months I began to feel something besides irritation.

It was easy to begin to allow thoughts such as these to enter my mind: “What, doesn’t he think that I matter?” “If he really cared he would put all the clothes away.” “Is he just trying to make me mad?” I recognized this place – story land – and I have learned that there is very little happiness there.

Take Control, Don’t Allow Negative thoughts and Stories

So I did what I have learned to do, I wouldn’t allow those thoughts to fester in my mind and I asked him about it. “Don, when I put the hanging clothes away I put them all away, yours and mine. I noticed that when you put the hanging clothes away, you only put yours away. Is there a reason for that?”

You would laugh if you could have seen the look of confusion on his face. It was priceless and he said, “Well, don’t you have your clothes in some kind of order?” Boy, I got it right then and I began laughing. My closet would have been a maze to my husband. All of my clothes are hung by color and item. My new story – he was doing me a BIG favor by not hanging my clothes.

We have more control over our thoughts than we realize. We can choose which thoughts we are going to hold in our change-your-thoughts-and-your-change-your-world-300x300minds and which ones we are going to get rid of. It takes some work, but you can learn to control your thoughts and the stories that they create.

Good Relationships Flourish When Stories are Positive

When you hold thoughts about what you want rather than what you don’t want you can improve your family relationships in some major ways. Want to read an amazing example of how one mother completely changed her relationship with a “problem” child by simply changing her mental story about him? It will enlighten you and I hope get you to thinking about your stories and how they are affecting you family dynamics.

8 Steps To Take Control of Your Thoughts

  • Identify – Begin by identifying your daily negative thoughts. Write them down. Have a notebook that you keep track of them in or try journaling.
  • Say NO – Don’t allow the thought to stay and turn into a story.
  • Rewrite – Immediately change the negative thought into a positive one. For example, if you wake up thinking, “I am so tired!” immediately say out loud something like “I am going to have a terrific day.” You don’t have to believe it, just say it.
  • Vocabulary Counts – Use positive language. Not “I am not going to yell” but “I am calm.”
  • Facts not Assumptions – If you are having negative thoughts about an experience or a person don’t make assumptions, get more facts. Ask!
  • Benefit of the doubt – It helps to believe that people are doing the best they can. They usually are even when it doesn’t look like it.

Do you want a tool to help you begin taking control of your daily thoughts? If you do, make a comment below and I will send you a handout that will get you going on the road to better family relationships.

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