Love in Action: Listen and Look

Today is the final day of our Love in Action posts. If you have seen a positive change in yourself and a good response from your husband and children, it is motivation enough to keep at it. Permanent change is gradual, so give yourself time to make these loving actions a habit.

Love in Action Day 14

Listen and Look

I cannot begin to estimate the importance of today’s actions.

Listen and Look.

Little children want to tell their parents about everything from the smallest find to the strangest dream.  Teens may go on and on about something the parents may feel is trivial, but which, to the teen, is a huge life issue. It is easy for the busy parent to glaze over and listen only with the face. You know the face. It’s the one that looks sort of like it’s listening, with a mouth that says “uh-huh, I see, that’s fine, oh, okay, that’s nice,” even when it isn’t nice.  It’s the one with the eyes that just aren’t quite there, and the brain that’s . . . well, you know the face. Let’s kiss that fakey-fake face a long overdue adios and start truly listening to our children before they stop confiding in us.

Listen Completely.

Listen with your eyes and your face and your smile.  Listen with your hands. Listen with your whole body.

When a child wants to show you something out of your view, get up! Get up and look and listen.

Don’t let your cell phone steal precious, irretrievable moments away from you and your child. Don’t let a book, computer, or television show take priority over your precious children who will never again be the age they are at this moment.  Don’t let your blog rank higher than your babies.  You can never get this moment back.

Faithfully listening to your children will show them that you care enough to make them a priority.  This will lead to a stronger bond and greater trust, which will lead to even more open communication.  As they grow older and more independent, you will have a clear glimpse of their hearts just by listening.

When you have consistent, open conversations with your children, many opportunities will arise to guide their hearts.  Use these opportunities.  Be careful, however, to resist the temptation to constantly play critic or handy-mom.  Children of any age who confide in you don’t want to have their grammar corrected, to be scolded or lectured, or to hear “you know what you should do” from a parent eager to fix. If such responses don’t turn off the conversation entirely, they will at least slow the flow.  Just listen. And feel free to follow up with questions that show you are interested.

Give your children your undivided attention whenever they need it. If you cannot listen immediately, give them a specific time when you can, and then follow through.

You will reap the benefits of truly listening for decades.  You will never, not once, regret the time you devote to your children.

Many things we need can wait.
The child cannot.

Now is the time his bones are formed,
his mind developed.
To him we cannot say tomorrow;
his name is today.

~Gabriela Mistral

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Love in Action: Cut the Criticism

There are two posts left in our Love in Action series. I hope you are trying to make the simple actions from previous days a habit in your life.

Love in Action Day 13

I confess, this action is not simple.  There.  I said it.  Let’s do it anyway!

Cut the criticism.

I will never, ever tell you not to correct your child, guide your child, train your child in the way he should go.  That is crucial to parenting, and more parents should give it the seriousness it deserves.

What needs to be cut from our parenting are the little things that slide off our tongues.  The remarks over incidentals that don’t matter.  The words spoken rashly when tired or stressed.  The corrections that come out at the wrong time or in front of the wrong people.  The remarks that show that we doubt a child’s ability or intelligence . . . even if we do.

Let patience be your guide.

When a child spills milk or breaks a dish, it is childish behavior, not willful disobedience.  When a teen makes a cooking mistake or does poorly on a building project he worked hard on, it is a learning experience.  Too often we parents shame the child, however unintentionally, for a mistake. The incident has embarrassed the child already. There is time to teach the child to be more careful later.  Handling the immediate consequences of the incident with graciousness will help the child most.

When you come home tired from the store and notice the children did not do their chores, greet everybody lovingly first.  Then ask them to complete their jobs.  When you are not tired, assemble the team and discuss your need to be able to trust them to take on their responsibilities in your absence.

Don’t interrupt an animated story from your child to correct a grammar error or mispronunciation. Don’t criticize a new piano composition written for your birthday or a piece of artwork drawn just for you. Don’t correct spelling on a “love letter to Mama.” There will be time later to work on grammar, music theory, art, and spelling. Savor the child’s joy.

Let smiles and legitimate praise be on your lips.

Love in Action: Cut the Criticism

I am certainly not telling you to flatter your children or build them up with false praise. Rather, find some way to immediately encourage them and, later, when they are ready, help them grow.

Honest, loving corrective criticism is necessary. It’s a plain fact.  It helps children learn and grow.  It is crucial for children to learn to handle correction properly, so they don’t pout when a spouse, an employer, or a pastor “discusses” an issue with them.  Pouting past age two is not pretty, and even at two it’s questionable. There is most definitely a time for corrective criticism.

In our zeal as parents, however, and often in our frustration, we too often are too quick to criticize too harshly. Such hasty words cut our children’s hearts and extinguish a bit of their childlike joy. Can’t you almost see the joy seep out of their faces and trusting eyes when we respond critically. I’ve seen it far too often caused by my own hasty words.

As overly criticized children grow older, they come to expect your criticism.  That is hugely damaging to the openness of the communication between you.  Also, when your “not-good-enoughs” are too prominent, most children will stop valuing your opinion.  They’ve had too much parental doubting, snapping, questioning, critiquing, lecturing, and not enough honest encouragement, support, and respect.  You become a dark shadow in their lives instead of a joyful light.

Temper your words with love.

Be respectful, not reactionary. When the situation has ended and you are both calm, bring out the “life lesson.” And maybe some cookies.

A torn jacket is soon mended,
but hard words bruise the heart of a child.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Please share your thoughts below.  I have truly been enjoying your comments!

Craftsy Block of the MonthHelpful Tool: Take on a learning experience together, to better learn how your child responds to lessons, critique, and growth.  A couple of my girls and I have long been wanting to learn to quilt.  We recently signed up for the free Craftsy Block of the Month class at  It’s a simple way to fulfill a goal we’ve long had, and, because the classes are recorded, we can work it into our own often zany schedule.  Craftsy sells hugely discounted craft supplies, for this and all their classes, but we are using scraps from sewing projects gone by, making it almost entirely free! Care to join us?  Did I mention it’s free?  Of course I did.

Click here to check out the free quilting class and Craftsy’s great deals!



Love in Action: Teach Your Children

Teach Your Children
Learning how to hook up the trailer.

As parents, it is our duty to feed, clothe, and house our children.  It is our duty to wipe dirty bottoms, runny noses, messy faces, and spilled milk.  But our duties as parents go beyond merely ensuring the survival of our offspring.

Love in Action Day 12

Whether or not today’s action comes naturally to you, you can make it part of your daily life.  Eventually it will be as natural as breathing.  Well, almost.  Plus, these small actions today will make your life far simpler in the long run.  If your oldest are toddlers, you’re just going to have to trust me on this.

Teach your children.

There are two types of teaching: passive and active.

When you teach passively, your natural behavior and actions speak to the children. They will learn by example and imitation.  Here’s proof: Who among us hasn’t woken one day to the sorrow of seeing our own faults and shortcomings mirrored in our children?  Uh-huh. It is important to be the person you want your child to become, to represent the character traits and faith you would like realized in your own children.  A life of example is often the best teacher.  Nevertheless, passive teaching is not enough.

What we are dealing with today is active teaching.

In active teaching, parents intentionally take time to pass on a skill set or knowledge to their children.

Love in Action: Teach Your Kids
Learning to care selflessly for others is a priceless gift.

The rather backward trend in America today is to raise children who are active in dance, track, soccer, basketball, swimming, clubs, football, softball, and debate.  However, those same children grow up, get married, and have no idea how to run a home, form a budget, fix a drawer, cook a meal, or plan a trip.  They know nothing about gardening, child care, or home and auto maintenance.  Their idea of relationships is a popularity contest.  Basically, they are still kids who will be raising kids of their own to be overgrown kids.

When you fail to teach your children the skills they will need for life, you are placing them on a very difficult road.  Worse, you are failing them. Eventually, they will need to learn these things themselves.  If you don’t teach them, they will have to play teacher and student simultaneously.

It is extremely difficult to teach yourself how to manage a home and tend children when you are in the midst of managing a home and tending children. It is downright discouraging to try to learn how to budget when you are already thousands of dollars in debt.  It is a monumental task to figure out how to lovingly manage conflict if issues were avoided rather than dealt with in your childhood or if contrary children were sent away rather than trained.   

Teach your children how to cook, clean, budget, fix things, maintain a home, maintain a car, change a tire, do laundry properly, write letters, plant a garden, change a diaper.  Teach them how to greet a stranger, greet a friend, answer the phone, treat a lady, treat a man, deal with peer pressure, handle conflict, and ask for forgiveness.  And for heaven’s sake, teach them some table manners!

Love in Action: Teach Your Children
Fixing a drawer with a screwdriver, three hands, and a foot.

Whatever it is that you do in a day, involve and teach your children.

Don’t shoo your two-year-old out of the kitchen when you are batch cooking.  Give her a safe knife and some mushrooms to cut. By the time boys and girls are ten, they should be able to prepare an entire meal, with supervision.  Don’t leave them and your future grandchildren at the mercy of Burger King.

Don’t think girls don’t need to know how to change a tire. When you have a flat, call them all out.  Eventually, have them change it for you. Someday they will have a flat.  Do you want them at the mercy of whoever is driving by at the time?  No way!

When something needs fixing, let the three-year-old help with his plastic hammer.  Call in your teens and ask for their ideas on how it should be done.  Work together!  Raise handy men and capable women.

In the same way, practice legitimate budgeting.  Discuss relationship building.  Talk about family bonds and share stories from your childhood.  Teach manners, chivalry, and respect.  Talk over issues at work, in the neighborhood, or at church in a non-gossipy manner, so the children can learn to think and respond rationally.  Work together through family challenges so when (not if) they encounter them in their own families, they will be prepared.

Don’t expect your children to raise themselves in their thirties.

And as the potential future mother-in-law of seven, I beg you

Please don’t expect their future husbands or wives to do your parenting job.

Seriously.  I’m on my knees here, people.

Love in Action: Teach Your Kids
Give them the skills and they will make their world beautiful.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s an overheard conversation between two of my children hard at work managing the home, one of whom is still learning humility:

Child 1, needing humility training: Aren’t we awesome?!

Child 2, humility school graduate: No, our parents are awesome for training us.

Someday they will thank you.

How do you teach your children the life skills they will need?  What skills do parents often overlook?

Helpful Tools: My eldest was four when my grandmother gave me the book Life Skills for Kids: Equipping Your Child for the Real World.  It lists what skills your child should be capable of at certain ages (all children are different–we all know that, right?!), as well as a systematic approach to teaching them what they will someday need to know.

In Life Skills for Kids I read that a teenager should be able to manage a home.  I despaired, thinking my daughter would never learn to tie her shoes much less not burn down the house in 9 years.  Now she is 15 and our second is 13.  They can manage a home–cooking, cleaning, doing minor repairs, doing laundry, handling minor finances, performing business duties, managing pet care, some gardening, menu planning, some budgeting, tending younger children or the sick, correspondence, computer work, and more–learning by our sides every step of the way.  I am not bragging–I am offering a vision.  People, train them!  Please!  (Yup, I’m still begging. It’s that important,)

Buy Life Skills for Kids (the book, not the actual skills) here.


Love in Action: Read Aloud

Love in Action Day 11

Today’s loving action is a sacrifice of time and often personal preferences for the love of your children.  It’s also a real crowd-pleaser.  If they don’t already, your children will grow to love this. It’s just one more reason to refocus on the simple priorities of life.


Read aloud to your children.

It doesn’t matter how old your children are. Reading aloud to them takes you on a shared adventure, a journey of togetherness.

Baby steps.

If your children are not accustomed to listening to you read aloud, don’t start with Homer’s Iliad.  Some children will sit through two hours of straight reading.  Others are better off with five- or ten-minute sessions, such as during your morning snuggle, after lunch, and before bed.

Stop reading for the day while they are still interested. (Oh, sweet torture!)  When they’re caught up in a story, they’ll be begging you to read more.

Let them wiggle!

Allow children to build with blocks, color, knit, stand on their heads, or sketch while they’re listening.  I like to teach my crew a new skill, such as knitting, and then read while they make my birthday presents.  (I don’t peek, naturally.)  Often I will find a coloring book or paper dolls that coincide with the book, or I will make photocopies of the book’s illustrations for them to color.  (It’s legal — personal use!)

What should you read?

Give them some say in the books you choose, within your family’s guidelines, of course.  It’s quite exciting for all involved if you introduce some of your childhood favorites or hit the library to hunt down new treasures together.  Eventually you will want to seek out higher quality books and weed out some of the chaff, but for now, just read.

Read whatever good books you have on hand. As you search for great books to read in the future, check out the following:

You’re in for some great adventures!

Together you’ll travel to Narnia and Treasure Island. You’ll be shipwrecked on an island and make your home in the trees. You’ll discover a noothbrush on your toothbrush and climb to the top of a tree to party with the dogs. You’ll meet the Moffats and Pippi Longstocking and watch the five little Peppers grow. You’ll tame the mighty black stallion, cry through Black Beauty’s losses, and ride along with Marguerite Henry and the great horses of history. You’ll memorize Prayer for a Child and Dr. Seuss’ ABC. You’ll flee Egyptian priests from Bubastes and sail the seas with Odysseus.

You’ll meet the real Mary Poppins. You’ll help Charlotte save Wilbur, help Christopher unstick Pooh (again), and tag along on vet visits with Dr. Herriot. You’ll make friends with Patricia St. John and Louisa May Alcott. You’ll empathize with Beezus and root for Henry. You’ll cheer through Understood Betsy and bake through The Little House series. You’ll give a moose a muffin, a mouse a cookie, and a pig a pancake. And you’ll do all of it, together. Why, I’m almost envious!

You may have tangible wealth untold.
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be –
I had a mother who read to me.

~Strickland Gillilan

Are you curious about some of the reading adventures to which I alluded?  Click here, my curious friend, and be enlightened.

What are your family’s favorite read-alouds?

Helpful Tools: Our family is currently reading through the Little House series.  Much like other great series (Anne of Green Gables, Chronicles of Narnia), there are many add-ons available to make the experience even richer.  Check out some of the many extras that go along with the Little House books:

Read to Your Children: Little House Paper Dolls

And, of course, you can always retrace the Ingalls family’s steps, including a stop in Pepin, Wisconsin for Laura Ingalls Wilder Days.

Love in Action: Play and Laugh

Love in Action Day 10

It’s time to have some fun!  For today, the rest of the Love in Action series, and hopefully beyond, you will focus on family fun.

Play and Laugh

Happy, healthy, loved children laugh.  They laugh a lot. They laugh uninhibited and with joy.

And they play.

Your blessed privilege as the parent of these laughing, playing children is to laugh and play with them.

If you have babies and toddlers, this is easy.  Sit on the floor with them and investigate toys, set up blocks, roll a ball, let them play with your hair, your hands, your face. Share their contagious laughter.

If you have older children or teenagers, play is a bit more involved.  It may involve board games, train tracks, remote control cars, sports, even video games.  It may involve word games, jokes, riddles, or cards. Whatever you play, it should involve laughter.

Need ideas?

Love in Action: Cat's CradleTry some classics, like Monopoly, Twister, or Scrabble. Play basketball or four-square. Try Cat’s Cradle (remember the string game from when you were a kid), Simon Says, or good old-fashioned Freeze Tag.  Hey, how about marbles!

Ask your children to teach you their favorite games. Return the favor and teach them your favorite games from when you were a child.  Learn a new game together online or from a book. We like Hopscotch, Hangman, Hot Potato, & Ha Ha Ha.

Schedule a family game night, or set up an ongoing game of Chess or a perpetual game to play when in the car, such as counting cars or Shell’s Gas Stations.  How about Padiddle? (Count cars with only one headlight; it only counts if you’re the first person to hit the roof and shout “PADIDDLE!”)

Stop whatever you are doing and play, or start spontaneous word games, knock knock jokes, or 20 Questions while working together in the kitchen.

It doesn’t matter what you play.  Just play!

Don’t just play to check it off your parental to-do list.  Play because you love to be together, to play together, to laugh together.

Play together and fill your home with laughter.

What are your favorite games to play with your children?

Love in Action: Hugs and Kisses

Hugs From DaddyLove in Action Day 9

Today’s loving action is very powerful.  Am I getting repetitive?  Yes, I am, because every single loving action you ever perform has an impact whose depth cannot be measured.

Hug and Kiss Your Children

We all love to hold our babies and toddlers.  We love to kiss their soft cheeks and bury our faces in their hair.  We love to hold them in our laps and rest their heads on our shoulders.  We get our “snuggle fix” from our little ones.

But what about our older children? Our 5-year-olds, our 10-year-olds, our teens?

Where do they get their snuggle fix? At what age do they suddenly stop needing the comfort of a mother’s hug, the sitting close, the head on the shoulder?

They don’t stop needing it.

Not ever.

Intentionally focus on taking the time to connect physically with each child each day.  A hug. A kiss.  A pat on the back. A pat on the head. A playful shoulder punch, tickle, or poke.

Sit close together.  Put your arms around your children.  Pull someone onto your lap, even if she is almost as tall as you. Hold hands. Set up a Mommy toll booth — nobody can pass without paying one hug . . . or a substantial chunk of change.

Scratch your son’s back. Brush and play with your daughter’s hair. Rub their feet when you’re sitting on the couch together. I know, their feet aren’t cute and tiny and kissable like they used to be. Do it anyway! Your feet probably get pretty skanky, too, and you’d still like your hubby to massage away the day’s foot weariness.

If you need to, count how many times you’ve hugged each child until you’ve made it a habit. I told my children that a mommy needs three hugs a day per child to keep her batteries charged.  Now they do the counting. Nobody wants Mama to hit empty!

Not sure how to start?

Look around you and find the child who, at this moment, is the least lovable — cranky, dirty, scowling, bickering.  Grab that child and hug as if his life depended on it.  It would be a great time to practice yesterday’s smile as well.  Always show affection to the child who least deserves it — that’s grace.

Eventually all this crazy lovin’ will become a habit, and those terrific kids of yours will still be hugging and kissing on Mama when you’re 92!

Whatever you do, make it fun and keep it natural.  Nothing’s worse than forced affection from someone who should love you wholly and unconditionally. Well, there might be something worse, like, I don’t know, a worldwide chocolate shortage. Hmmm.  Nope. Not even that.

Always kiss your children goodnight,
even if they’re already asleep.

~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

How do you connect with your older children?

Today’s Love in Action is linked up to the Homemaking Link-up.

Love in Action: Smile Even More

Mary Cassatt 1901Today we begin the second half of Love in Action focusing on our children.

Keep up with the loving actions toward your man — they’re not that hard!  Most husbands are bumped to the back of the bus when babies come along, so let’s keep them up in the driver’s seat throughout the rest of the challenge.

Now, onto our children.

Love in Action Day 8

This is the easiest and most fun thing you can do for your children.


Every time your child walks in the room, light up your face like a Christmas tree, like a neon sign, like a . . . really big, bright thing.

Donna of Positive Parenting 3-6-5 calls it the 1000-watt smile.

Shine it!

That smile tells your children you are happy to see them, happy to have them near you.  It gives them a sense of belonging, of love, of comfort.  It lets them know you want them there.  There is little better for a child of any age than feeling wanted, loved, secure.

No matter what you’re feeling, no matter what they’re interrupting, no matter how much mud they just traipsed in the house, look at their eyes, at their hearts, and smile!

And mean it.

Every time you smile at someone,

it is an action of love, a gift to that person,

a beautiful thing.

~Mother Teresa

Have you fallen out of the habit of smiling at your children?

Artwork: Mary Cassatt, 1801