Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Talking to your tween

Ideas from a mom and daughter on talking to your tweens and connecting with them

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Caught somewhere between being a child and a teenager, tweens (kiddos age 10-12) are growing and evolving in ways their parents often struggle to keep up with. Talking to your tween is a bit different from when they were younger kiddos and requires sometimes being intentional — and patient!

With that in mind, Lexi from Girls with Grace and I (Stacey from Families with Grace) have put together our ideas about talking to your tween based on our own experiences. Lexi is a couple months away from turning 12. We don’t always have our stuff together and communicate like a tween dream team. But we have found ways to change and grow our relationship and communication as Lexi has gotten older.

Ideas for ways to talk to your tween from a tween

Lexi: Talking to your tween can go so many different ways depending on your tween’s personality. Therefore, the first step is to figure out exactly what that is. Starting off, decide if your tween is the open, talk-about-it type or the type that will NOT talk about it.

If he or she is the open type, then just ask your questions head on. (EX: Do you think the new kid is cute?) If that doesn’t go well, try a more indirect approach. (EX: Who is the new kid?)

If he or she is less open, try out a trade-off journal. You can find journals with prompts to write about and exchange, or just use a blank journal. Ask the questions on the page and let the other person write about it.

If that fails, try just leaving a book or something in her room about the topic you are trying to talk about (EX: boys). In order to get her input on the subject, leave three to six (depending on the length of said book) notebook pages with one question each throughout the book. Ask her to read and then answer them. Make it clear you will read the responses and write a paragraph or two on anything you want reply. For example, maybe her response to a question is “Conner is kinda cute.” Then maybe you respond “When I met him, Conner seemed very nice.” Give her the option to respond or not.

Ideas for ways to talk to your tween from a mom

Stacey: One of the things I’ve learned these past couple of years is to find time when my tween is feeling chatty to talk with her. There are certain times of day Lexi feels more like opening up about what’s going on in her life. Right now, the best time for us to talk is in the evening before bedtime. While I’m an early bird, I understand that my night owl kiddo wants to talk in the evening, so I’ve made that a priority as much as possible.

We have been intentional about having one-on-one (or two-on-one when we include my husband) time throughout the week to check in with Lexi. Reading relevant nonfiction books together has been a great way to connect and talk. American Girl (yep, the doll maker!) has a terrific selection of “A Smart Girl’s Guide” to everything from cooking to puberty to room organization to boys to clothes to friend drama. We’ve read through a few together and had some great conversations as a result.

Another way Lexi and I have connected as mom and daughter is through the shared journal she mentioned. I can more easily write about my feelings than talk about them, so it’s a natural fit for me. Lexi has inherited my love of writing and reading so it works well for us. We talk about random things and deep things in the journal with prompts. We’ve enjoyed the shared journal so much that the two of us are working to create one together.

Check out and download this sample of our journal for free to try with your own tweens!

Advice for moms of tweens from a tween

Lexi: Try to take time out of your day to make her feel special. (Especially if she has siblings.) Take her out to go get ice cream, or watch an episode of her favorite show with her. Even if it is as simple as making or ordering our favorite food, it does make us feel better. Also, we love compliments. (Check out these compliment pencils from my most recent blog post!)

Advice for moms of tweens from a mom

Stacey: Having quality one-on-one time together is often the best way for connecting with and talking to your tween. We’ve found being in the car together is a great time to chat. And we’ve had some mom and daughter dates. Neither of those things happened as often or as easily during COVID-19. But once the weather got warm again this spring, Lexi and I went to Dairy Queen and shared an order of chicken wings and each got ice cream. We sat outside in the sunshine and just enjoyed chatting together and being out of the house. I really do think usually the small stuff makes the biggest difference!

Advice for tweens from a tween

Lexi: Remember your mom is with you to the end and your one friend from class probably won’t be. Therefore, talk to her. Tell your mom about your day, give her a card (and maybe a gift) on her birthday and other special occasions. Even if you just make your mom dinner or draw a picture for her, it still counts. Maybe even start a Bible study club with each other! Just do stuff together, because it really does make all the difference.

Advice for tweens from a mom

Stacey: Be patient with your parents is my biggest advice. Just as you are figuring out how to be an older kid with more mature tastes and interests, we are figuring out how to be your parents. We still remember how tiny you started in the world. And we are doing our best to let you grow up. But sometimes we mess up. Know we are always doing our best to love you and connect with you.

After patience, I offer the reminder that your parents were once your age. We may not have lived your exact experiences, but we do have experiences to draw from. And we love having a chance to talk with you about any and all of it. Mostly, though, we just want to connect with, talk to and love on you.

Why talking to your tween is important

Lexi: Parents and tweens do need to stay connected. Whether you know it or not, this is the phase of life your tweens are deciding to keep you or not. It is possible we decide you are annoying and don’t engage with you any more than necessary for the next five years. Maybe instead we decide you are awesome and hang out often. It all depends. Staying reasonably connected can make us keep you.

Stacey: Honestly, Lexi’s comments on this floored me. When I think back to my own tweenager days, what I wanted most was to feel heard and understood. My parents weren’t perfect (and neither am I!), but they were there for me in so many ways that our relationship stayed in tact.

As a mom, I do my best to make sure my kiddos feel heard and understood. It isn’t always so easy. I want them to be able to come to their dad and me with everything they have going on. I want to be their support system as they grow and change. And none of that happens without talking and connecting on a regular basis.

How to make a better connection

Lexi: Parents can do things they don’t even realize kinda break it for us. First of all, don’t push something. If you think something is wrong, then you can ask if we are OK. But if we don’t tell you anything is wrong despite your efforts, then please realize we either honestly don’t want or need to talk about it or nothing really is not wrong! If you have done well as a parent, then we will be open with you when we want or need to be, OK?

Also, when picking something that has to do with us, ask us what we want. You want to take me somewhere to celebrate my half birthday? Yay! You took me to McDonald’s, the one place I didn’t want to go? Boo! Point is, just ask what I want instead of trying to guess, because it is very possible you will get it wrong.

Stacey: Making a connection with your tween is about more than talking to your tween. It’s also about really listening and taking an interest in them. And it’s about knowing when to back off. For me, backing off can be the most difficult, because if my kiddos are upset, I want to know what’s going on and try to help! However, I also know that for me personally someone being too pushy with me is going to result in me being even quieter. So, I do my best to give space to my kiddos when they need it.

Aside from talking, doing special things for our kids is important and helps them feel valued, but we need to do the things they enjoy. For tweens, we also have to realize that what they enjoy may not be the same as it was two years ago (or even two months ago!). My husband and I started a policy early on in our marriage that asking isn’t a bad thing. Neither of us are mind-readers, so sometimes we just have to ask what the other needs or wants to do. The same is true with our kids. Just asking what they’d like to do for a special moment together can make all the difference on whether it’s successful.

8 Ways to improve communication in your marriage

How to communicate better with your spouse

Communication is on the list of every list of marriage advice and characteristics of a good marriage. And it’s rightly so. Communication is vastly important.

In the 21 years my husband and I have been married, we’ve learned a few things about communicating effectively. We’re not perfect and still make mistakes, but we know much more about communicating now than we did on the day we said “I do.”

Married couples have so many things they need to discuss: their relationship, finances, parenting, household chores, schedules and so much more.

We’ve learned that along with being honest with each other, there are right and wrong ways to communicate well whether we’re having serious or mundane discussions.

1. Watch your tone of voice.

My husband knows me better than anyone else. So when I say the right words but with the wrong tone of voice, he is far from fooled. Being passive aggressive or sarcastic aren’t great for communicating well.

I’ve found this to be true even when I want to take care of him. Like if I ask whether I can make him something for lunch when I’m making food for the rest of us, I can easily say it frazzled or sincere. How I say it makes all the difference.

2. Be aware of your body language.

This goes right along with number one, but body language communicates a lot. I’ve often said I’m pretty good at taming my tongue, but sometimes I struggle to tame my face. That’s especially true with my husband because he knows me so well. He can tell by my face and actions whether I’m feeling grumpy or irritated.

Our spouses can also use our body language to tell whether we’re really listening to them or if we’re distracted.

3. Make sure it’s a good time to talk.

Early in our marriage, I learned that I can avoid strife by simply asking my husband if it’s a good time to talk. He does the same for me. Then we can finish a task if we need to or put down electronics or whatever we need to do to devote our attention to the other person.

This has continued to serve us well in working from home. We share an office. Throughout the day, we usually need to talk to each other about something and will ask first if it’s a good time or for the other person to let us know when they have a free minute. It sets us up for good communication from the start — even about small stuff like what the kids’ schedule is that day.

4. Remember nobody is a mind reader.

Another lesson I learned about communication early on in our marriage was that I couldn’t expect my husband to know something I didn’t tell him. Instead of just assuming he knows something is important to me, I tell him.

I also have learned that he doesn’t always know what is bothering me or what I’m stressing out about unless I tell him. He can almost always tell something is up, but he can’t be there for me sometimes unless I allow him by sharing with him what’s going on in my head.

5. Pay attention to your phrasing.

Communication ramps up into an argument pretty quickly when we pull out phrases that accuse. We all go on the defensive when we feel attacked. Instead of saying something like, “Why don’t you ever make dinner? I have to do everything around here!” Try, “I’m overwhelmed and need help. Can you make dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays?”

You’ll end up with what you were wanting but you won’t have to have an argument in order to get there. Your spouse will understand what’s going on with you and how he can help. You’ve opened the door of communication so that you can truly share with each other.

6. Don’t use words to hurt.

I know the things that bother my husband the most, just as he knows the same about me. The best thing we can do is stop ourselves from using that in the middle of a disagreement. You don’t want to break trust that is hard to get back.

The other rule that we made from the beginning of our marriage is that if either of us ever brings up divorce, we’d better mean it. I mean that in we don’t want to throw around threats that we don’t mean. We can get upset and disagree, but we don’t want to do lasting damage to our marriage and relationship.

7. Listen to understand, not just for your turn to talk.

While it’s important to be aware of what we are saying with our words and body language, communication can’t happen unless we listen. And that sounds much easier than it is!

When my husband is talking with me about something important, I do my best to actively listen and make sure I’m paying attention, not just waiting for my turn to talk or formulating my response inside my head.

8. Know when it’s time to table a discussion for the moment.

Sometimes it’s just not a good time to have or continue a conversation. Maybe you’re too upset and know if the conversation continues you’re going to say something you’ll regret. Or maybe you’re too distracted to really listen. Maybe you’re just too tired to continue talking. Tell each other and agree to come back to the topic — then do so!

Often our best time to chat about things is just before bed because the kids aren’t up and interrupting us. But, I’m not a night person. Some nights I’m literally just too tired to have a good conversation about a serious topic. When I’m tired, I get irritated and emotional much easier. (Who doesn’t?!) I opt to tell my husband that I want to have the discussion but I just can’t at the moment. And then we find a better time to talk later.

When your spouse gives you unsolicited advice

Accepting advice from the person we’re married to can be challenging!

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This post first appeared on my former blog in 2014. Its message still applies. While I continue to get better at accepting unsolicited advice from my husband, I am still a work in progress!

It happened this morning. I was in the kitchen making some homemade bread, which in and of itself sounds impressive, right? Add in that I was doing so while the toddler randomly swirled around my feet whining and while keeping track of eggs boiling on the stove for tonight’s chef salad dinner sounds even more impressive, I’m sure.

My daughter was at the table playing. My husband was on the couch in the dining room checking work e-mails and helping to keep the roaming toddler from eating things out of the trashcan. I got the bread going in my beloved stand mixer and set the timer for eight minutes to let the dough get worked around in the mixer. And that’s when it happened.

“Is the mixer supposed to jump around like that?” my husband asked.

I almost rolled my eyes. THIS was my domain. I was the one who was the expert. After all, I’d had the mixer just over a year and had read at least six bread recipes on Pinterest. I’d heard about stand mixers jumping around while kneading dough.

“Yes,” I said. “It did this last time, too.”

A minute later he piped up with, “Does it lock?  Do you have it locked?”

Another silent sigh from me. “Yes, it locks, but it’s not locked.”

“What I’m reading online says you’re supposed to lock the top down.”

Hhmmm. OK. I flipped the switch. “Now it’s locked,” I said.

And I noticed the mixer did settle down a bit. My husband went on to tell me that he had read some tips. He was right on this, even though I had not sought his advice.  

A moment later my phone dinged with new e-mail. I checked it to see if it was a source I’ve been waiting to hear from for an article. Nope. It was an e-mail from my husband with links to a couple of sites with helpful tips about my Kitchenaid mixer that I love so dearly.

“You sent me an e-mail about the mixer?” I asked, incredulously.  

I was trying to remind myself to be grateful for the accurate albeit unsolicited advice. In my head, I was thinking more along the lines of, “Back off, buddy. THIS is MY domain. Do I come into your office and tell you how to test the security of that company’s network?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I found some good information. From what I read, you could actually break your stand mixer and I know you wouldn’t be happy about that.”

I gritted my teeth. He was right. Dang it! “Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate it.”

I’ll pretend like I was gracious in that response. But the fact that he then looked at me and informed me he saw right through me to know I was bristling will tell you that my tone did not match my words.

We get all sorts of unsolicited advice from a variety of sources. If you’re a parent, it comes in from the beginning. Everybody and their brother tells you ways to get your baby to sleep better, eat better, poo better and on and on the list goes. From outside sources, it’s easy enough to be polite and then move on. But inside sources, like our spouses, offering unsolicited advice can be much tougher to handle.

This isn’t the first time my husband has given me unsolicited advice and I’m sure it won’t be the last. And while my response today wasn’t super stellar, it was at least tempered by the fact that I know his advice to be sound and I know it to be coming from a good place. Men like to fix things. He likes to help me fix things.

And he knows me quite well. I have done many tasks throughout our marriage and my life that I’ve made more difficult than I need to. He’s swooped in and saved me multiple times in the past.

I’m learning to listen. I’m learning to try and be more grateful on the outside in hopes that it will follow on the inside. I’ve also learned that I do eventually feel grateful on the inside. At the moment of the advice, I don’t. I feel criticized and annoyed. But later on, I realize that my life has been improved as a result of this advice. Because, shockingly enough, I don’t actually know everything!

I’ve learned this with parenting alongside my husband as well. He’s found tricks to help with the kids that I haven’t (and vice versa). Between our daughter’s and son’s births, I learned to listen better and not be irritated with him. After all, he was the first to figure out what was going on with our daughter’s feeding issues.  

He has good information. My husband is a smart man who thinks outside the box and is tenacious to come up with solutions and easier ways to do things. This is part of what I love about him. This is part of what makes him such a great husband and life partner.  

In fact, I’ve learned to seek his advice in areas of my life that I hadn’t thought to early on because I know he’s so good at coming up with awesome solutions. But when advice comes at me when I’m not looking for it and I think I know the best way to do something, then I get defensive. (And did I mention that I am also a bit stubborn?)

I’m working to accept unsolicited advice as graciously as if I had asked for the help. Later today, I will tell my husband that I am sincerely grateful for his tip about the mixer. It makes sense. His suggestions worked better and if it saves my beloved mixer from harm, that’s even better. I do appreciate it.  

And step by step, maybe I’ll get better at being more grateful sooner than later. Talk to me in another 20 years and we’ll see. I hope I make more progress. If not, perhaps I’ll ask my husband for his advice on how to do so!

With advice from my husband, my stand mixer is still working well five years later. I love it so much! Read more about my love for my stand mixer here:

Be sure to check out some of my favorite recipes I use my stand mixer for!

10 Ways to strengthen your marriage

Ideas make your marriage stronger

My husband and I don’t have a perfect marriage. Nobody does! However, we have learned some lessons through our 19 years of marriage that have helped strengthen our marriage along the way. And they don’t have much to do with the dramatic romantic gestures we love watching on the silver screen. Those things are nice, but just aren’t realistic in daily life. The things that really strengthen your marriage are much smaller, yet just as significant.

Treat your spouse like a stranger.

While it’s easy to snap at those we love when we are having a bad day, it’s neither fair nor productive to them. I try to remember when I’m having a bad day that my husband isn’t the cause of it (usually!). I wouldn’t be rude to a stranger for no apparent reason. I shouldn’t be to my husband either.

Say thank you.

I once read a magazine article about a celebrity who said she had a hard time thanking her husband for taking out the trash since it needed to be done. I don’t think you can say thank you enough, honestly. Our theory is that if the other one has done a chore, that’s one less thing we need to do and we appreciate it. I don’t say thank you every time he takes out the trash. He doesn’t say thank you every time I do a load of laundry. But, we do make it a priority to say thanks a few times a week for everyday chores. We all want to be appreciated. Appreciation also can help strengthen your marriage by reminding you why you fell in love in the first place.

Give each other privacy.

I don’t have anything to hide from my husband. He doesn’t have anything to hide from me. However, if he needs to get something out of my purse or I need to get something out of his wallet, we ask first. I appreciate that he asks before barging in. While we are married and we two have become one, we are also still individuals as well.

Talk to each other about problems.

We’re pretty private folks, so this comes naturally to us, but we don’t air dirty laundry, so to speak. We agreed early on that if one of us has a problem with the other, we talk directly to them. So, if I have a problem with my husband, I talk to him about it — not my mom or my friends. He does likewise. We can’t fix problems and make them better if we don’t talk about and work on them. To strengthen your marriage, you have to resolve problems.

Nobody is a mind reader.

My husband knows me better than anyone on this planet, but he can’t read my mind. We have to communicate effectively with one another. Sometimes that means being very specific about what we need without getting upset the other one didn’t know it first. That includes everything from romantic gestures to household chores. I’ve found it’s much more productive to tell him this stuff rather than be upset when he doesn’t do it.

Don’t take everything personally.

I can be a tad sensitive. OK, I can be a lot sensitive. I take things very personally sometimes and take them to heart when I shouldn’t, like when someone gets mad at me in traffic. While I’ve made improvements through the years sometimes I still struggle with this. When my husband and I are discussing an issue that revolves primarily around something I feel responsible for, my first response can tend to be defensive.

However, most of the time, I don’t need to take it so personally. I need to get over that so we can move on to the real goal: fixing whatever issue is happening. And that also means I work to not read into things. For example, my husband doesn’t always notice things that need to be done around home, like emptying the bathroom trash. Instead of feeling personally offended that he’s trying to  spite me by not doing it, I just ask him for help. To his credit, he obliges — usually saying that he didn’t notice the issue.

Know when to talk and when to wait.

While communication is important in all relationships, not all communication is created equal. Knowing your spouse and when best to talk with them about a serious issue strengthens your marriage. For example, my husband knows just before bed isn’t a time to start a serious discussion with me. I’m a morning person and by the end of the day my energy and mental capacity are not up to par. Any discussions had at that time of day don’t go well. I know the same is true for him in the morning.

And we both know when the other one is in the middle of something, whether it’s work or something fun, to ask for a chance to talk before just launching into a conversation. Usually whoever is busy can say something like, “Give me five minutes.” Then when they’re at a stopping point, they stop and give the other their attention. Conversations go much better that way.

Don’t micromanage.

We started the policy when we got married, that if one of us is doing a task, he/she can do it his/her own way. If the other person has a problem, he/she should just do it. So, if my husband is cleaning the bathroom, he gets to do it his way. If I have a problem, then I should do it myself. If I’m doing laundry and my husband has a problem with it, then he should do it himself. The nice thing about that policy is that it feeds into our lazy streaks a bit. Before I criticize or micromanage, I realize that I don’t feel like doing said task myself. I shut my mouth!

Be each other’s biggest fan.

My husband and I have each other’s backs 100 percent. While we are helpful to one another and discuss work and such, we also support one another wholeheartedly. He encourages me in my career. I encourage him in his. I’m his biggest cheerleader, and he is mine. We also remember this in front of other folks. When we are with others, I need to uplift and support my husband all the more. If I have an issue with something, it can wait until we are alone.

Approach life together — the good, the bad and the ugly.

We refer to ourselves as a team (which nowadays includes our kids, but started as just a team of two). We even high-five each other sometimes. Honestly, I think this is my best marriage tip that will strengthen your marriage most. When you approach life together with a team mentality then you stay working together for the common good of your family. We’ve faced many struggles together. Rather than start placing blame on each other, we stay focused on what we need to do to get through the situation together. We are a team whether we’re working together to get dinner prepared or making major life decisions.

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