Families With Grace

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

Grace-filled sibling relationships

20 ways Christian moms can encourage good sibling relationships

When my husband and I talked about having kids, we talked about sibling relationships and what we wanted for our kids. Before deciding for sure to add a second child to our family, we talked about it even more. Sibling relationships can be wonderful, but they can also be complicated.

Both my husband and I have older brothers, and we have different relationships with them. From the beginning of our parenthood journey, we have worked to be intentional in encouraging grace-filled sibling relationships for our kids. We want them to be friends. Our prayer and desire is for them to be close and be able to turn to one another throughout their entire lives.

Now 9 and 12, my children do get along well. They enjoy spending time together. (And they also enjoy spending time apart!) They aren’t perfect, but all-in-all they have a good, solid relationship. They look out for each other and often, my youngest has more courage to try new things with his big sister than with anyone else, including me! My husband and I continue to be intentional about encouraging their sibling relationship and helping keep it on the right track.

20 ways to encourage good sibling relationships

So today I’m sharing 20 ways to encourage good sibling relationships based on our experiences. I even talked to my kiddos for their input for this post!

1. Remind your kids that they have each other and always will.

From the time our youngest was born, we have told our kiddos they have to stick together. Reminding your children that they have a special bod in their sibling relationship is important. Friends will come and go, but siblings will be around for most of their life. And that’s a bond to celebrate and grow. After all, as we remind our kids, nobody else in the world knows what it’s like growing up with their dad and me as parents. So they can always bond over that!

2. Don’t compare your kids to each other.

I know this can be tricky. After all, our experiences as parents rest solely on our experiences with our own children. But our kids have their own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing them to one another only serves to drive a wedge between them, and that’s not at all what we want to do. It’s difficult to not resent someone who your parents are telling you is better at something than you are. With that in mind, be careful to not compare in subtle ways either. Praise and discipline as equally and fairly as possible.

3. Speak positively about their siblings to your kiddos.

A great way to encourage good sibling relationships is by saying good things about your kids to their siblings. Of course we have grouses and gripes with our kids, but focusing on those and complaining about them to their siblings is only going to weaken that relationship. Instead, mention to your daughter how funny her brother is. Or point out to your son how kind his sister is. This helps our kids learn to look for the positive attributes in one another rather than focus on the negative ones.

4. Don’t allow negative talk between them.

When it comes to positive language, don’t allow your kids to bad-mouth each other to each other or to other people. Your kids won’t always get along (mine certainly don’t), but there’s a difference between having a disagreement and being mean to each other. We don’t tolerate name-calling and putdowns in our family, including between our children. Our kids also aren’t allowed to bad-mouth their sibling to their friends or others. Doing so only hurts that sibling relationship.

One bonus we’ve found to this rule is that our kids’ friends treat the sibling kindly also. For example, the friends of my 12-year-old daughter are kind to our 9-year-old son and even say hello to him at school whenever they see him, regardless if our daughter is around.

5. Let them have a chance to work through conflicts but step in to help resolve the conflict when necessary.

Part of teaching our kids is helping them know how to work through conflict with other people. Managing sibling conflict is a great way to start, because our family should always be our safe place. But we want to make sure conflict is resolved in a positive way. Early on, my husband and I had to help our kids with resolving conflict much more often. Nowadays, however, I hear them have a disagreement and figure out a compromise without flying off the handle. There are still times we have to step in when someone is getting frustrated, but they are learning and growing. No relationship is perfect and learning how to resolve conflict in a positive way is important.

6. Create an attitude of grace throughout your home.

One of my biggest goals as a Christian mom is to create a home filled with grace, faith and love. And that attitude of grace extends throughout the entire family. We continue to work on helping our kids learn to give grace to each other (and us as well). One of the biggest ways we have done this is practicing a small attitude shift as a family in assuming the people we love are not intentionally trying to hurt us. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt goes a long way to forging better relationships.

7. Make opportunities for family fun.

The best relationships we have are those in which we have fun together. Sibling relationships are no different. Come up with ways to have fun as a family and put your kids together in fun ways. One of my kids’ favorite things right now is planning a family yes day. We pick a day and their dad and I have to say yes to whatever they ask us (with some rules). They work together to plan a fun day, and we all giggle together. Other times, it’s small ways that we have fun like having a water balloon fight, going out for ice cream as a surprise treat and playing games together.

8. Develop your own family traditions.

We often have family traditions for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but having smaller traditions is just as important. Sometimes these traditions can look like routines. For instance, each evening before bedtime, our family gathers to pray and read. Usually we read chapter books. We’ve read through the entire Harry Potter series, part of Percy Jackson and are now nearly finished with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” from C.S. Lewis. We know that each evening, we have 15 to 20 minutes as a family that we don’t do anything else, and we love that time! These traditions and routines help our kids feel closer to each other as well as to my husband and me.

9. Pray together as a family.

That evening time we have to pray together is great for building sibling relationships as well. We don’t go for super long prayers that are highly personal and in-depth. Instead, we talk about people we know who need prayer. In joining together in prayer for someone or something, our children’s relationship only deepens and grows in ways that matter most.

10. Have dinner together at least a few nights a week.

If you can’t manage dinner together every night, then at least make it a priority a few nights a week. During the school year, we have dinner together at the table nearly every night. During the summertime, we are a little more lax and have dinner together while watching a favorite show or movie a couple of times a week. Having that time to eat and talk about what’s going on in our lives is important and helps grows our kids’ relationship. It gives them a chance to be more involved in each other’s lives and happenings. They learn more about each other and what’s important to each other.

11. Support each other’s activities and interests.

We do our best to encourage our kids to support each other’s activities and interests. If there is a school program or performance or anything else, we expect everyone to go and be supportive of the other. This past school year, for example, our daughter was a manager of the middle school track and field team. So, her dad, brother and I showed up for and even volunteered at some of the meets. While our kids go to the same school, their concerts are on different nights. We expect them to go along for their sibling’s performance and be just as excited for them. Knowing that you sibling supports you goes a long way toward bettering your sibling relationship!

12. Pray for their relationship.

We’ve got so many things to pray about for our kids, so it might be easy to overlook praying for their sibling relationships. But don’t forget that. I have prayed from the beginning that my kids have a good, strong and healthy relationship. I want them to enjoy each other and like each other, not just love each other. So I ask God for help in growing their relationship together and guiding my husband and me to raise them in a way that draws them together rather than apart.

13. Help them grow in their own relationships with God.

It’s important to help our kids grow in their own relationships with God as well. Their relationship with God impacts every part of their lives and all of their relationships. The closer they are to God and growing in Him, the more loving and caring they’ll be with everyone — including their siblings! (Don’t miss this free printable of a parents’ prayer to help you pray for yourself as you are raising your children.)

14. Watch and listen to wholesome content.

We don’t only watch and listen to Christian entertainment, but we are careful about what our kids are exposed to. Some movies and shows just aren’t appropriate for them due to bad language, inappropriate content and wrong attitudes. The more they are exposed to those things, the more normal those things seem and the more likely they are to behave differently. If we’re watching something and see siblings working against each other, we talk about it with our kids. What should the characters have done?

And I am a huge proponent of listening to Christian music. It’s hard for me to be grumpy with the kids or for them to argue with one another when praise music is playing. Sometimes if they start getting short with each other in the car, I turn up the worship songs until they can’t help but laugh and move on. It works!

20 ways to encourage good sibling relationships

15. Promote teamwork.

We’re big on family teamwork. And family teamwork includes giving our kids a chance to work together on tasks. They may grumble sometimes while cleaning their bathroom (hey, it happens!), but in the end they feel accomplished together for what they did. Having a chance to work as a team and take pride in what they do together strengthens sibling relationships.

16. Encourage playtime together.

When our children were younger, they were more inclined to play with each other because they didn’t have much choice. Nowadays, one of our kids is old enough that she’s not as into playing while the other is still at an age where he enjoys playtime. So sometimes we require them to play together. That can look like anything from pretend play to doing art together to building something together to even watching a certain series together. The goal is to make sure our kids get time to spend together in a playful way and enjoy each other’s company.

17. Protect their time together.

Speaking of spending time together enjoying one another’s company, we must protect our kids’ time together. I’m big on not over-scheduling our kids. I want my kids to have a chance to be bored and to find their own things to do. That also means we aren’t so overscheduled that they don’t have time to be with one another. Protect their time so they can have time together as well. Having time together in positive ways is an important part of building strong sibling relationships.

18. Have one-on-one time with them.

Spending time one-on-one with your kids can strengthen their bond with each other. No matter how old they are, our kids want our attention. They want to know we are listening and paying attention to them. Making sure to find ways to have one-on-one time with them helps them not be resentful of each other seeming to get more attention at different times. Our family has found a variety of ways to do this. Right now what’s working best for us is to allow each of our kids to have 20-30 minutes of one-on-one (or two-on-one) time with us after bedtime two nights a week. We read through special books or just talk during that time.

19. Travel together.

No matter how big or small the trip, traveling together is a great way to grow family bonds and strengthen sibling relationships. We have made memories on bigger trips like to Orlando, Fla., and the Grand Canyon as well as on smaller trips like camping in a nearby state park. Even day trips and staycations count. Basically any time spent out of the daily grind works!

20. Reminisce together — even the about the crazy moments!

Take time every so often to reminisce together. I love memory photos that come up on social media or through my Google Photos. I often show them to my kids as well. Showing them things we’ve done that they’ve forgotten or how they snuggled together when they were small help them feel closer. One of the fun things about family and siblings is having memories with them that nobody else in the world has. Don’t forget to help your kids remember those moments that connect them!

How to not yell at your kids

5 Proven tips to help you not yell at your kids

We’ve all seen them. The parents at the playground who yell without abandon at their kids. They’re tired, exasperated and ready to call it quits. Maybe we’ve been that parent ourselves. None of us are perfect, but most of us don’t want to yell at our kids. When we welcomed tiny bundles of joy into the world, we didn’t envision a future spent with yelling and frustration!

But the question remains, can you effectively parent and not yell at your kids? Yes. It really is possible. I’ve been a parent for just a few days shy of 12 years and very, very seldom yell at my kids. And, you know what? My kiddos are both well behaved and their teachers often compliment their behavior.

I know every family is different with different needs and personality types. Check out these tips that work for us and see if maybe they could work for you, too, as you strive to not yell at your kids.

1. Don’t make empty threats.

Empty threats are those threats we know we aren’t going to follow through on — and our kids know that as well. So they don’t take you seriously. Their behavior continues. You get frustrated. To try and get through to them, you resort to raising your voice.

But empty threats don’t work. My husband and I made a plan when our first child was born that we’d not make threats we weren’t willing to follow through on. Sometimes that’s been hard. A couple of times, we’ve gotten into a pickle. However, it’s worked. Before I threaten a consequence for a behavior, I take two seconds to make sure it’s a consequence I will follow through on.

For example, when our oldest was a toddler, we were going to meet a friend of mine for lunch. I was excited to go to lunch. My daughter decided that day she would insist on doing everything herself — as toddlers like to do. In the midst of my frustration as I was trying to make her let me just put her shoes on for her, I nearly said, “If you don’t let me help you, then we’ll just stay home.”

The truth was my friend was coming from out of town, and it was a lunch I’d been looking forward to. Not going really wasn’t an option I’d follow through on. Instead, I shifted strategies and told her I’d count slowly to 10 while she worked on her shoes. If she didn’t finished by then, I would help her. She got to be independent; I got to make sure her shoes were on. We both got to enjoy lunch out.

If I had given the consequence of staying home unless she let me help her and then gone to lunch any way, she would have learned that I don’t always mean what I say. And soon enough, she’d stop listening to my empty threats. She’d continue doing what she wanted. I’d get frustrated and resort to yelling at her. It’s a slippery slope indeed!

Decide that if you are going to threaten a consequence that it’s one you will follow through on should your child not comply. I know it doesn’t sound so much like it has to do with yelling, but I think empty threats lead to yelling more times than not!

2. Have clear and consistent rules.

Another tactic to stop yelling at your kids is to set clear and consistent rules. Just like with empty threats, make sure the rules are reasonable and something you will consistently enforce. For example, one of our rules is that we speak to each other with respect. We don’t abide by name-calling or making fun of anyone. I always enforce that rule. If one of my kids speaks disrespectfully to another family member, they hear about it and usually have a consequence for it. This is a rule with no exceptions. It is also a rule for our entire family and not just the children. My husband and I also talk to our children and each other respectfully.

Other rules are sometimes broken with permission. But those are few and far between. Usually we don’t allow food upstairs at our house. However, during virtual schooling last year, we allowed my daughter to take snacks upstairs sometimes when she was on break.

Along with making rules, be consistent with them. Nothing is more frustrating for a child than inconsistency. If you do one thing one day and it’s OK, but the next day the exact same thing gets you in big trouble, it’s stressful and confusing. This also applies between parents. Talk with your spouse so you’re both on the same page with what’s OK and what isn’t.

My husband and I are usually on the same page when it comes to rules and discipline, but that doesn’t happen by chance. We’ve had many conversations about what is OK and what isn’t. We talk about how we handled situations and see what the other person thinks. Parenting is an evolving process as our kids grow. We have to keep in touch with our spouses about how we are going to handle new phases as they pop up.

Having each other’s back is also important. A couple of times my husband has backed me up when he didn’t necessarily agree with me and vice versa. Later (not in front of the kids) we discussed the situation. But in front of the kids, we showed a united front.

3. Communicate your expectations.

Once my kids were toddlers, I started talking with them before we went places about what I expected from them. I wasn’t giving lengthy speeches, but I’d say things like, “We are going to play with our friends at the park for an hour. But when mommy says it is time to go, don’t give me a hard time. We have an appointment we have to get to.”

Oftentimes I also gave my kids an idea of what to expect in new situations. I still do this to a degree. My son and I went to a meeting last week for an organization he wants to join. I explained up front that I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we could ask questions. I reminded him that we needed to be on our best behavior.

When going over expectations with my kids, I also rarely bring up times in the past that they didn’t make the correct choice about their behavior. Every so often I will use previous bad behavior as a reminder that if it happens again then we won’t be able to continue a certain activity. But again, I only say something like that if it is completely true.

When kids know what to expect and how they are expected to behave, they usually behave better. And when your kids behave well, it’s easier to not yell at your kids!

4. Address the root of the behavior.

No matter how great your kids are, sometimes they act out or behave poorly because of underlying reasons. And when that happens, no amount of yelling at your kids is going to solve anything. It’s just going to make both of you miserable.

While kids definitely need consequences for unacceptable behavior, sometimes what they also need is for us to take time to listen to them. Recently, my son was having a bad afternoon. The day turned out differently than expected, and he was frustrated. As a result, he made some bad choices and got in trouble for them. About 10 minutes later, the two of us were alone and he mentioned he felt he was unfairly treated by having a consequence for the behavior. He was calm about it and not defiant in any way. He was just being honest.

So, I sat down with him on his level. I explained his behavior warranted consequences and then asked why he was off that afternoon. He opened up and shared his feelings and why he was so frustrated. We talked it through. I listened to him. I commiserated with him, I understood him, and then I encouraged him. Together we decided the rest of the afternoon and evening would be good. And it was!

That heart-to-heart moment with my son took no more than five minutes. I understood where he was coming from. The consequence for his behavior remained, but he also felt listened to and validated. That’s what we all need. Had we not had that conversation, I’m guessing the rest of the day would have included more poor choices, resulting in my husband or me losing our temper and raising our voices. Getting to the root of the problem kept that from happening.

Another positive of getting to the root of the problem is letting our kids know that we are their safe place when they are upset. They can talk to us about anything. My conversation with my son started because he was sincerely telling me how he felt about getting in trouble. I want him to be able to do that. I have encouraged my kids to talk to us. Of course, I’ve had times that their honesty has made me bristle and I’ve had to keep it in check. But communication is what makes for good relationships. Talking is a much better way to communicate than yelling for sure!

5. Know when yelling is OK.

So even though yelling at your kids isn’t something you want to do on a regular basis, sometimes yelling is OK. The biggest time is when your kids are doing something dangerous and you need to get their immediate attention. Because my husband and I don’t yell often, when we do, our kids pay attention.

A few weeks ago, we were in the kitchen before dinner and my son started to reach for something right over a hot baking sheet that was on the counter. I yelled at him to stop. He immediately jumped back. While it scared him, I was OK with that because I needed to get his attention right away before he got burned. If he was somewhat de-sensitized to my yelling because I yelled all the time, I’m not sure his reaction would have been quick enough to save him from getting hurt.

And then there are times when the child is just not listening and continuing the bad behavior. The usual mode of operation in our family is to give two or three warnings to stop before we raise our voice. We don’t often have to raise our voices. But every so often we need to in order to get our kids’ attention so they actually listen and stop their behavior.

However, yelling at our kids is never our first response, unless they are in danger. If we yell at them unfairly, we apologize for doing so. Apologizing gives us the opportunity to show our kids that adults mess up and need grace, too.

Want more? Don’t miss these posts!

Keeping the faith in yourself

How to maintain your confidence when life goes sideways

About three years ago, I met some friends from college for lunch. All four of us knew each other when we were young adults ready to make our mark on the world. We each went on to get post-graduate degrees in our fields.

In the time since college, we also each started families and made lives for ourselves. While we had kept in touch in various ways and levels since college, this lunch was one of the first times we had all four been together in quite a few years.

As we chatted and ate pasta, we talked about what was going on in our lives. At the time, my youngest was a preschooler who was only away from me for a couple of hours three times a week. I was also dealing with an ongoing health flare. As the conversation turned to professional endeavors, I didn’t have much to add.

The other three ladies all worked full-time outside the home. They were all making their marks in their fields. I, on the other hand, spent maybe 40 hours a YEAR working as a freelance journalist. Having babies and having health problems had made my career take a definite break.

While my friends weren’t dismissive of me in any way, shape or form and while we had plenty of other conversation that I was very engaged in, I still left the meeting feeling like a failure. I remember pulling out of the parking lot, calling my husband and talking to him about it.

He was incredibly encouraging and gave me a much needed reality check. He reminded me that often I was over-sensitive to being left out and chances are I had perceived part of our lunch conversation as me being left out. He wasn’t wrong.

And we also talked about how I was doing what was best for our family and for me. Basically, he reminded me that I’m way more than my career or lack thereof. He continued and talked me down from thinking since I was having a health flare that it would always be that way. (He is such a good and patient man!)

I’d like to say that I never had those same feelings again or even that I hadn’t had them before, but I’d be lying! I have felt insecure in my identity more times than I could ever begin to count. If I was really honest with myself, I’ve probably felt insecure with who I am more than I have felt secure with who I am!

I’m pretty great at being awkward and unsure of myself. As I’ve gotten back to work more since my son started kindergarten last year, I’ve struggled to find my mojo and confidence again. I’ve had to sit and intentionally think about how I would describe my job to other people. I’m still working on it!

Along the way, though, I’ve learned a few things when I start to get down on myself and berate myself for all the things I should be doing or should have accomplished and haven’t. And, I can promise you that I am still working on this very strongly.

1. Know where you identity truly comes from.

For a few years, I have been reminding my children when they get frustrated with themselves that God doesn’t make junk. And since He made them, they aren’t junk. While my lips have been saying that for years, my head just got the message in the last couple of years. One day it hit me that what I was saying to my children is true for them AND for me.

God doesn’t make junk. So whatever failure I perceive myself as having or whatever issue I have, I’m still not junk. I am still worthy. I have worth just for being one of God’s creations.

It sounds so simple, yet it is also so profound. You have worth simply because of Who made you. People pay huge amounts of money for artwork because it was made by a master artist. And none of those artists hold a candle to the true Master Artist. His creations are priceless, and we are His most prized creations.

The Bible tells us that before we were even in our mother’s womb God knew us and had a plan for us (Jeremiah 1:5). His plan for us has nothing to do with our worldly success. It doesn’t have anything to do with how much money we make, how many degrees we have or what profession we are in. His plan has everything to do with us and who we are.

I have also learned that when I keep my focus on Him and doing what He has called me to do then I don’t care so much about the identity I have in the world. I can get sidetracked and distracted, but when I take time to talk to God about it and focus on Him, I gain perspective. Because the little stuff really doesn’t matter so much when I remember Whose I am.

2. Grieve for what wasn’t.

The plan I had for my life when I was 18 looked different than the reality of my life now that I’m 40. Some things are as expected: I married my high school sweetheart, have two kiddos and have a job as a writer. None of those things happened how I thought they would and a whole slew of other things didn’t happen at all.

When I graduated with my master’s degree in journalism, I was ready to get a job with a magazine and work full-time for a few years until we were ready to start our family. I felt that God had led me to go into journalism, so this was the plan. I never anticipated He’d have a different plan for me.

A few months before the end of graduate school, a bladder condition I thought had gone away for good turned out to only be in remission. It hit me hard. I couldn’t have held down a full-time job even if I had gotten one. I had to let go of the dreams I had and grieve for them before I could truly embrace the new path I was on and be able to move forward.

Sometimes life goes completely different than what we though it would — whether by our choices, someone else’s choice or just randomness. It’s OK to acknowledge the hurt of lost dreams. It’s OK to grieve for what isn’t to be.

3. Accept that life isn’t like you planned.

Just like with any kind of grief, in order to move forward, you have to accept the loss. It’s not easy and it can take different amounts of time, but at some point you have to acknowledge that life didn’t turn out how you planned. You aren’t doing what you thought you’d be doing. And then be OK enough with it to move on.

One of the things we talk about in the chronic illness world is a “new normal.” When life doesn’t go like you plan, you get a new normal. What you thought was reality has shifted and you have to shift with it until it becomes your normal. Sometimes new normals are crummy. Other times, new normals end up being blessings. Either way, when life shifts, you have to also or you’ll be miserable.

Along with accepting life isn’t like you planned, you have to also let go of unrealistic expectations and adjust those as well. Chronic illness has also taught me a lot about this as well. I have expectations for what I can and should be able to do. My body doesn’t always agree, and I have learned to accept that. Because if I don’t accept it, then I get angry, frustrated and sad. And that doesn’t help anybody.

4. Acknowledge your accomplishments.

When we feel insecure about who we are (preaching to myself here!), we start focusing on where we fall short and where we are failing or not doing what we thought we would be doing or what we think we should be doing. None of those things are good for our mental health!

Of course, you should assess if you can make changes for the better, but also don’t get so focused on what you perceive as wrong that you miss the good stuff. That day I left my friends from lunch, I ran an errand and then went back home to be with my kiddos. They couldn’t have cared less what my professional career was doing. They weren’t bothered that my health made us doing things like going on family bike rides impossible. They just cared that I was there, that I was loving them and that I was meeting their needs.

Those are big accomplishments. I’ve learned that in times when I can’t do even basic things that I need to appreciate when I can. I’ve also learned that my true accomplishments have nothing to do with what I do professionally and everything to do with honoring God in whatever it is I’m doing (Colossians 3:23).

The people around you may not understand the changes going on in your life. They may not see all of your accomplishments that really matter. Yet, you need to acknowledge them. You aren’t a failure. You are doing what God made you to do, even if it looks different than what you thought you would or different than what the world defines as success.

I challenge you to sit down and think of five things you’ve accomplished each week. I’d bet you can come up with more than that. Include everything from finishing the laundry to feeding the kids to finishing a new project for work to making an overdue doctor’s appointment.

5. Give yourself grace.

Think about what you would say to a friend of yours going through the same scenario. Would you beat her up and point out her faults? Would you remind her that while everyone else was working to get ahead in their careers she was at home changing diapers? Would you point out that she is doing work that she didn’t even get a degree in and that doesn’t make sense?

No. You’d encourage her. You’d reassure her that she was doing what God was leading her to do. You’d remind her that her identity doesn’t come from her work or bank account or health or whatever she is struggling with. You’d point out the things she’s accomplished that really matter. You’d give her grace and compassion.

Do the same for yourself. You’re not going to get it right every moment of every day. You’re still going to have times you get frustrated and want to give up because everything is sideways. Don’t beat yourself up for those feelings. Feel them. Deal with them. Then move on from them.

Not a one of us is perfect. None of us get it right all the time or always have it together no matter how it may look to the outside world. Inside, every person is struggling with some kind of insecurity and some kind of shift in how they thought life would be. We all need grace for each other and for ourselves.

Living out grace

What if we treated each other with more kindness and compassion?

Recently, my kids were telling me about how someone they thought was a cranky person had done something nice, and they were shocked. We chatted a bit more and I told them to remember that you never know someone’s story. You never know what has made them like they are.

I keep thinking about that conversation. We don’t need to excuse or accept bad behavior. But, this world could use so much more grace. A few years ago, I was driving with my grandma in the car. Someone pulled out in front of me, and I had to slam on my brakes. I honked at them. My grandma admonished me telling me they may be on their way to the hospital with a loved one. I pointed out they were going the wrong direction.

However, just because they weren’t heading toward the hospital didn’t mean they weren’t having an awful day. When I think back over my life to the days that were the worst and I was heartbroken, I don’t know how much attention I paid while driving, so maybe having some grace for other drivers isn’t such a bad thing.

We’ve all heard platitudes and reminders to be kind because everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. It’s easy to gloss over that or roll our eyes or certainly not live it out. But, imagine what the world would be like if we lived that way and people extended grace to each other freely.

What if we let a frazzled mom with a crying toddler checkout in front of us at Target and waited an extra 10 minutes? What if we let another car go first at a stop sign? What if we took the time to actually listen to the older gentleman in the grocery store who just needed someone to talk to? What if we were just plain kind? What if we modeled Jesus everywhere we went? Isn’t that what loving your neighbor ultimately means? Shouldn’t we have patience for one other and give grace to those around us?

I think about how different this world would be if people just tried to understand one another instead of being so internally focused. If everyone walked around wearing a sign telling you all of their struggles, you’d be more likely to show them compassion and grace.

That older lady who knocked into you with her shopping cart and didn’t apologize may have just gotten a cancer diagnosis seven months after burying her husband. That child having a meltdown in the middle of a restaurant (or your own house!) may have had an incredibly hard day at school and is struggling to make friends. People need grace, because not one of us is perfect.

And I would be remiss to not mention that some people are just jerks for no reason. I’ve encountered them, and I’m sure you have, too. There isn’t an acceptable reason for truly bad behavior. But that doesn’t mean the majority of people aren’t good. That doesn’t mean we should stop being kind and extending grace.

You never know if your one act of kindness or grace may change someone’s life for the better. At the very least, it will brighten their day. What are some small ways you can show grace and kindness this week? Join me in seeking them out, living them out and starting to change the world for the better!

A reminder for parents: Let kids be kids!

Parenting with grace for who your kids are right now

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Last weekend, my in-laws had my kiddos over for the day. My husband and I did some work around the house. Then we went to a late-afternoon movie. My husband likes the John Wick movies. I don’t enjoy the violence in them, but I love movie popcorn, so I was convinced to go along.

As we were waiting for the movie to start, we heard parents with a toddler a couple of rows behind us. We talked about whether they had gone into the wrong theater and didn’t realize it. When they were still there through previews, which included a few for horror movies that had me looking away, we whispered to each other whether we should tell the manager. Because based on the previews alone they had to know they weren’t seeing a children’s movie.

We decided that since the movie is rated R and says you can’t go to see it without a parent’s permission, there wasn’t anything a manager could even do. The parents were clearly giving their child permission to be there even though the child wasn’t even old enough to need her own movie ticket.

Throughout the entire movie, until about 15 minutes before it ended, we heard this little girl. She wasn’t being disruptive, but she was being a typical 2- or 3-year-old who wanted to chat, play and not be in her seat. The mom finally took her out just before the movie ended.

I closed my eyes or looked away for a good portion of the movie. It bothered me all the more that a toddler was seeing these scenes and hearing some of the things being said. Part way through the movie, I whispered to my husband that I just wanted to go get the little girl and take her out to the hallway to play as I heard her parents continue to shush her and tell her to sit and be quiet. (It really couldn’t have been a good experience for any of them!)

I do my best to not judge other parents. I understand parents have different styles, personalities and parenting priorities. I do my best to give people the benefit of the doubt and even assume they are doing the best they can, but this situation bothered me immensely. I’ve thought through various scenarios and can’t come up with one good reason to take a toddler to a rated R movie.

Toddlers are old enough to understand some of the world around them. I know the little girl was seeing and hearing what was on the screen because she commented on it a few times. Her mom thought it was funny when the little girl said that the preview for the movie “Chucky” looked like a scary version of “Toy Story.”

Unfortunately that wasn’t the only bad parenting experience I encountered recently. The next day at the grocery store, a mom walked by with a baby in her cart who was maybe 8 months old. He started to put his mouth on the side of the cart. She yelled at him and told him the cart had germs on it. She loudly told him to go ahead and pout all he wanted.

While she isn’t wrong in what she said, her approach was more suited for a toddler or preschooler than a baby. Her baby wasn’t old enough to understand what she meant. He was just scared because she was yelling at him in a complete over-reaction.

I completely admit I did judge these parents and fully say they are wrong for their actions. Both situations made me want to lecture the parents. I can perhaps give the mom in the grocery store a bit of leeway, because we all have bad moments. But both sets of parents need to hear this message: kids deserve to be kids.

I don’t mean that we let our children get away with anything they want to because they are kids. Heck, no! It’s our job to mold them and teach them. It’s our job to help them understand the world around them, their role in it and how to behave.

But, we also have to understand their capacity for behavior. For example, I don’t expect my 6-year-old to have the maturity of my 9-year-old. I also don’t expect my 9-year-old to have the maturity of a 13-year-old.

And with all of that in mind, we have to also realize that our kids won’t be the ages they are now forever, so making some sacrifices of your own needs and wants isn’t forever and is exactly what you should be doing.

For instance, I remember many times when my kids were younger that I planned things around their napping schedule, which wasn’t always convenient, because I knew they needed those naps and would feel better with them.

Or now they are school aged, I keep our weekly commitments to a minimum so they have time for homework and downtime before getting ready for and being in bed by 8 p.m.

Parenthood is work. It is understanding that someone else’s needs almost always have to come before yours. It’s making sacrifices to do what’s best for your child. Maybe that means you have to wait for a movie to come out to rent. Or that you bring along a blanket or buy a cart seat cover to protect your baby from germs. (I loved having a cart seat cover for my kids; it protected them from germs and had toys attached to keep them occupied.)

Our kids are only kids for a short while. We need to do our best to let them be kids. We need to do our best to embrace the phase they’re in and not expect more of them than they are able to give. We need to remember their ages. We need to let kids be kids.

My test with my own kids is thinking (not saying out loud!), “What are you a [insert their current age]-year-old?” Chances are really good the answer is yes! If this is behavior that is to be expected of a child that age, then our children deserve some grace.

They may need instruction. They may need discipline. But they also need grace, because they are learning and deserve the best that we can give them. They deserve a chance to be their age and not be expected to do things beyond their capabilities or handle situations beyond their understanding.

We have chosen to have these children, whether they were planned or not. And as such, we must be willing to do what is best for them, even when that means inconveniencing ourselves.

The pain of being left out and the joy of being loved

Being left out hurts, but God never overlooks us

Most of my life, I’ve struggled with feeling left out. Sometimes I was intentionally left out or excluded. Other times I was just overlooked. And sometimes I just perceived it that way. It’s happened a lot.

When you’re a quiet person, it’s easy to be overlooked. You’d think that would make me more talkative or strive to include myself in things. It works almost exactly the opposite. Once I start feeling the pinprick of being left out, I tend to shut down even more. It’s a vicious cycle that continues over and over.

Growing up

As a kid, I was the youngest and quietest. My older brother was (and still is!) more vocal than I was and my older cousin, who we spent a lot of time with, was the same. The two of them were boys and closer in age than I was to them. They paired off many times while I flew solo. I didn’t always mind, but sometimes I did. I felt unheard many times, because it’s very easy for my voice to get lost in boisterous conversations.

It was outside of family that I struggled the most. Again, being quiet worked against me in being included. I also seemed to have a knack for picking friends who wouldn’t stay friends with me. There was the girl in fifth grade who told me in a catty tone about how she was having a Halloween party and inviting everyone in the class except me. (Later she was working at a retail store with which I had an issue and she had to treat me with respect and kindness. The adult me high-fived the fifth grade me over that!)

We will just skip over middle school because middle school stinks all around. I think that’s true for everyone! High school brought its own challenges. I had three really close friends turn their backs on me at different times throughout those four years of high school. It smarted a lot.

One of them went to my church and not only turned her back on me but took the rest of the youth group with her. That was hard. Fortunately, I was dating my husband by then and he was able to come to some of our youth group outings, which made them much easier. But it was difficult. I’m not a person who looks back fondly at memories of church youth group.

As an adult

As an adult, I’ve continued to struggle with this feeling for all those same reasons yet again. I am almost 40 years old, and I STILL struggle. I’ve learned to talk about it with my husband; he’s a great gauge to see if I’m really being left out or if I’m just being oversensitive. I’m thankful to have him around to help me out, because I truly need it.

And all of this is why God embracing me means so very much to me. He never leaves me out. He is never snarky. God doesn’t get his friends to all stop talking to me. He doesn’t overlook me because I’m quiet. My Father doesn’t talk over me. He opens His arms, invites me in and holds me close as we chat.

I cannot think of anything greater than that. There are innumerable songs about this very thing, but lately I have been loving Hillsong’s “Who you say I am.” I love the following part in particular:

“In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
I am chosen
Not forsaken”

Finding a place with God

I cling to that promise on the days and times when I’m feeling out of sorts. My Father has a place for me. He hasn’t forgotten me or excluded me. He’s got a place for me in His house — both on earth and in heaven. And His house on earth doesn’t mean just the church. Like most Christians, I have been hurt by the church. I have been left out by the church at all ages of my life and different churches, because churches are filled with people. People aren’t perfect.

But, God is. I can fellowship with Him on earth any time I want. He is my friend when I feel friendless. He never leaves me out when I feel forgotten. I am chosen and have never been forsaken by Him. And neither have you!

Whether you’ve struggled with feeling left out your whole life like I have or whether you’ve struggled with something else, God loves you, has a place for you and calls you His child. He hasn’t forsaken you, no matter how far you’ve fallen or how hard life has smacked you. He is right there, holding on to you and longing to fellowship with you.

I’ve got to say that as someone who continues to fight this battle of feeling left out, there is no greater reassurance than knowing that my Heavenly Father always has a place for me. Always. Not just when it’s convenient. Not just when I remind Him. And not just when He happens to look my way and notice me. Always. Always! Praise God that He loves us so very much!

How I stopped being angry at my family

Overcoming anger at doing tasks nobody cares about or notices

Mom anger is an issue we don’t talk about often enough. I’ve felt it so many times, and I’m guessing you have, too. I’m talking about anger that starts building in you when you do a task that no one notices or has a clue about.

Why are you the ONLY one who sees the bathroom trash overflowing and takes it out?

Why are you the ONLY one who empties the dishwasher when the dishes are clean?

Why are you the ONLY one who remembers to stop by the grocery store and pick up bread to make lunches for the next day?

Why are you the ONLY one who remembered to sign the kids’ permission slips and put them in their backpacks?

Why are you the ONLY one who seems to be able to remember to put dirty socks in the hamper?

Where mom anger comes from

Moms have this whole running list in their heads at all times. I’d bet you could tell me right now how much milk/bread/cereal/whatever-staple-your-family-relies-on is in your pantry or fridge.

I can tell you that I just opened our last gallon of milk this morning. We have three slices of bread, so I need to buy more today. Our granola/cereal bars (my family’s other staple) are pretty well stocked right now.

I also know the level of fullness for each trashcan in my house at pretty much any given time. I have a list in my head to know what laundry needs to be done. And I know I need to return our library books due tomorrow.

My husband doesn’t know these things. My kids don’t know these things. They don’t have to know these things, because I do and I take care of them. Will they help when I ask them to? Yes, usually. But they don’t have that running list in their heads.

And they also don’t have the anger that sometimes comes along with it. Just this morning, I was doing some household chores before coming into the home office to work. My husband went straight to the office to start work after taking the kids to school. He didn’t make a stop-off for household chores, because his job is much more demanding than mine. His paycheck is also our primary source of income. The workday starts for him promptly at 8 a.m. Mine is more flexible by far.

HOWEVER, even though my head knows these things sometimes I trip up. I get that little voice being like, “Why is it always you who thinks to change the sheets?” Or I start resenting that he can just go to work without having these chores hanging over his head. None of that is a recipe for a peaceful, loving, grace-filled marriage. It’s a recipe for building resentment and anger.

Shifting my perspective

Because when I stop to really think about it, I can flip the perspective. My husband could easily wonder why he has to take the kids to school while I’m home in my PJs. (In my defense, this is the first year that’s happened. Instead I take over all kid-care duties before school.)

Or as he heads into the office to work while I head upstairs to do some household chores, he could wonder why he has to be the one who makes the primary income. 

I thought about these things this morning as I was doing chores that no one will notice or thank me for. I realized I was feeling sorry for myself that nobody says thank you each time I do a task to keep our household running smoothly. And I was feeling angry that nobody would think to do some of these tasks, let alone thank me for them. I kept thinking (because what else is there to do when you are wiping down counters and toilets?!). I asked myself WHY I was cleaning.

Once I got past the dramatic and sarcastic responses like “Because if I don’t then nobody will and we’ll all get horrible germs and die?” or “Because I’m just living the dream over here,” I found my answer. Every household chore I do, I do because it serves the people I love. The real reason I’m cleaning bathrooms, changing sheets and doing laundry is because that’s what the people I love need me to do.

Some of them are too young to do some of these tasks themselves. Some of them are too busy earning an income for our family. And this really is what I signed up for.

Letting go of the anger

When I’m doing tasks out of love, suddenly my anger dissipates. When I’m washing lunchbox containers, meal planning, grocery shopping, bagging up trash, folding laundry or making food, I’m doing it because I have been blessed with people to love and take care of. Why in the world do I let myself harbor mom anger about that?

Yet, I do sometimes find myself getting angry about those things. I need a reminder. I need perspective. Most of all, I need to remember that it’s not about me. If I wanted thanks and accolades from my family, then I could easily feed my kids dessert for dinner and get plenty of thanks. But what I want is my family to be taken care of. If it’s in my power to do so, then I should do so without anger at them. So many times I have thanked God for my husband and my children. How dare I get angry at taking care of them?

So each time I start to feel that mom anger creep in again, I think about these things. BUT, I also want to be clear that just because I CAN do things to take care of my family doesn’t mean that I HAVE to do everything. My husband and I still talk about household chores and how we are dividing them.

My children still have responsibilities and chores they are required to do according to their age. And they each also pitch in and help me with the chores I usually do when I don’t feel well thanks to my chronic health issues. (Yes, these very same sweet, loving, compassionate folks are the ones I sometimes get angry with…) 

I also still do justifiably get irritated or angry with my family sometimes when they don’t listen to me or do what I asked them to do without a good reason. Though I try to listen and give grace, sometimes my kids are testing limits or giving me an attitude that just isn’t acceptable.

I am working, though, to make sure I don’t harbor an attitude of resentment and anger toward my husband or children simply for existing and needing things from me. Above all, I want to do everything I do for my family out of love for them and not out of an angry feeling of obligation. It’s not always easy. And I totally mess up sometimes. But many other times, I wash another load of laundry or scrub another toilet without a second thought because it’s what my loved ones need. 

Graceful or grace-filled?

How grace-filled is different from graceful

When I think of someone who is graceful, I think of a ballerina or a dancer who moves in fluid, smooth lines. I think of someone who seems to float more than walk. That person is not me. Not at all! And that’s not what this site is about. I’m talking about grace-filled lives. Grace-filled families. Grace-filled women. A grace-filled me!

A grace-filled person is someone who is so full of God’s love that they stop before they react out of anger to assess the situation and see if the person or situation is one that needs grace more than it needs anger. 

And a grace-filled parent is one who resists the temptation to yell or say mean things after her children misbehave when she realizes they are having a legitimately bad day. While she doesn’t let her children get away with bad behavior, she disciplines them with grace and addresses what the actual problem is instead.

THAT person is who I want to be. (Honestly, I wouldn’t mind being more graceful either because I am quite a clutz! But, I digress…) I know I can’t do it on my own. It goes against my human nature. My human nature wants to say mean things, raise my voice or slam a door shut. My human nature doesn’t want to extend grace, because I deserve justice. I deserve revenge.

But, I don’t. I don’t deserve justice or revenge. I deserve severe punishment, because I mess up over and over again. However, I serve a God filled with grace and mercy. I serve a God who sees the inside of me and why I’m misbehaving. I serve a God who stills loves me in spite of it all. In fact, He loves me so much that He sent His Son to die for me. Talk about grace!

So to be a grace-filled person, I’ve got to fight that human nature. The best way I know to fight it is to let more of God into me. My goal is to be more Christlike. And being more Christlike means keeping my focus on God. When I do that, I am more likely to let more of Him show through me. If I think of Jesus sitting beside me while I’m dealing with my children, I am more likely to act in a way that honors Him and helps them.

I am not saying that my children don’t need disciplined, because they do. God doesn’t give me grace and mercy and just let me have at life my way. He disciplines me. Sometimes it hurts, but every time I grow from it and learn another lesson and more about God. Every single time! That’s what I want to model for my children. I want to discipline them so they can grow up to be awesome people. I want to discipline them so they understand the right way to behave and treat others. And I want to discipline them so they are safe. But I don’t want to utterly crush them. I don’t want to respond only out of anger. I want to show them grace and discipline as God has shown me.

In the end, I want to be intentional about how I’m living my life and raising my children so that we are a Family with Grace. I don’t care if we are a family who is graceful, but I definitely want to be one who is grace-filled!

Looking for more posts about being grace-filled? Check out these posts, in particular!

A little grace in marriage goes a long way to avoid conflict

Grace in marriage improves your relationship

Last Monday, I had to pick up my daughter from school early for an orthodontist appointment. Right after her appointment, we had to go back to school to pick up her brother. It wasn’t all that hard, because the orthodontist isn’t too far from school, but it was just a bit time-consuming. I certainly didn’t expect the afternoon would remind me how importance grace in marriage is.

It all started as I was working in our office on Monday morning. My husband came in and told me that when he drove my car the evening before (which seldom happens), the check engine light came on. I sighed. We just finished making repairs to my car — two rounds of them, in fact. But, a check engine light isn’t something to mess around with. So we decided I should drive his car for shuttling the kids around, and we’d take mine to the auto parts store later to see what the light meant.

That afternoon, I climbed into my husband’s car to begin shuttling the kids around. As soon as I started the car, the low gas light blinked on. I wasn’t exactly enthused about that. I knew I had a decent amount of driving to do, and I had timed everything precisely to have just enough time to do it. Planning a stop to fill up the gas tank wasn’t part of my schedule. Sigh.

Giving grace in marriage

For a moment, I felt irritated that my husband hadn’t told me his car needed gas. Then I realized he probably totally forgotten. While I am “fill up when the tank nears 1/4 fullness” kind of person, he is more of the “I know how far I can drive with the light on” kind of person. Moreover, I also realized he wasn’t intentionally trying to make me have a more frazzled afternoon. So, I gave him some grace in marriage.

I did call him to see if he thought I could make it, because he does know his car better than I do. He thought so. I also learned I was correct; he had totally forgotten it was low on gas. He got grace from me rather than an irritated wife who was mad at him. We didn’t exchange any harsh words at all. (By the way, I did have just enough time to fill up the car on the way to school, which made me feel much better.)

A couple of hours later, I had gotten back home with the kids, feeling hot, tired, hungry and grumpy. We had to make a second trip to the orthodontist after my daughter had a wire poking her mouth. The kids were finishing their homework, and I had just finished washing their lunchbox containers. As I thought about dinner, I realized I was just done with the day. Done. With. It. Nothing was going wrong, but I was over it. I couldn’t think of what to make for dinner or how to make dinner happen.

Getting grace

So, I went into the home office to whine — I mean talk — to my husband. I told him I didn’t mind to cook, but there was no way I could deal with dishes. Just couldn’t do a darn thing about it. I told him I needed him to be in charge. It didn’t matter to me what we did, but we couldn’t order pizza because our daughter’s teeth were sore, so she needed soft food.

And then I did the very mature act of putting my head down on my desk. My husband asked for my opinion. I told him I couldn’t even manage an opinion. It was all up to him with no help from me. I was having a bad moment. You know what he did? He didn’t get mad at me. (I’m sure he was frustrated/annoyed, but he didn’t say a word about it.) He gave me grace in marriage. He dealt with it.

Instead of shutting down like I was, he talked to our daughter about what she could eat and decided we’d all go get pasta, since the kids love it and she could eat it. He did not remind me that I’m the one who decided to use the re-useable lunch containers and Thermoses in our kids’ lunch boxes that require extra work or that I have agreed to be the one who deals with most of the cooking. He just saw I was struggling, gave me some grace and took over.

We left the restaurant with me feeling so much better. He gently teased me about it and said maybe I was just hangry. (He may know me super well!)

I tell you all of this not to make you think we are perfect. We aren’t. We struggle and don’t always keep quiet when we should. But we are far enough into this marriage thing that we know each other and when the other one needs some grace in marriage. I knew he deserved grace about the low gas issue, because he certainly wasn’t trying to inconvenience me. And he knew I needed grace for feeding the family that evening or else everything was going to go really far sideways. We had two grand opportunities to argue that day, but we applied grace and let them slide. In the big picture of life, both were such teeny tiny blips on the radar.

A little bit of grace really does go a long way!

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