Families With Grace

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

The power of music

I grew up with a mom who loves music. She still does. As a kid, I’d hear her singing around the house all the time. She never played an instrument, but her love of music translated into my life and I learned to play three instruments. I competed with two of them throughout middle and high school and continued into college as well. While I don’t get to play instruments nearly so much these days, I still love music.

Music makes such an impact on my life that I am careful what I listen to. A few years ago, I switched to listening to a Christian radio station, and I feel it’s so important that I include that as one of my 10 ways to start living a life filled with grace. (You can get all 10 ways in a handy tip sheet by signing up for the Families with Grace email list!) I am always listening to music and the music I’m listening to influences so much of our lives, including the way we speak to one another in our family. Who can yell at someone over something small when music is blaring about how much God loves us?

Last Friday afternoon, I was reminded, yet again, of the power of music. I was driving to pick up my children from school. It had been a long week. My husband was out of town for a few days, which is very rare for us, I had a few nights in a row of minimal sleep and I was just not feeling great emotionally with some other things going on as well. Add in that I’m also still working through grief over losing my uncle a couple of weeks ago, and it was a perfect storm for melancholy. 

I was talking myself into remembering I couldn’t start crying and be a swollen, lobster-faced mom at school pick-up or I’d freak out my kids (and probably the other parents!) when the radio started playing David Crowder*Band’s “He Loves Us.” Soon I was singing along. And God gently prodded my heart with a reminder that sometimes what I need to dwell on most is who He is. I don’t need to stress and fret over things beyond my control. I don’t need to have all the answers to all the problems in my life. Sometimes I just need to bask in the fact that God loves me. He LOVES me, even when I mess up and fall short. HE loves ME! Oh, how He loves me! We must cling to God’s love and promises most when life leaves us downtrodden and feeling dismal. And so many times a song heard at just the right time can remind me of these things. That’s the power of music. It can take a dreary Friday afternoon and turn it into a time of praise and provide a balm for an aching heart.

And this example is just one of thousands I can give you from throughout my lifetime. God often speaks to me through music. Other times I have used music to be a great stress reliever. Still other times it has kept me motivated to keep working while I clean my house. I even have a specific soundtrack that I most often listen to when I’m spending an afternoon writing or working on an intense project. 

Music is powerful and strong and can make such an impact on our lives. What are some of your favorite songs from the soundtrack of your life?

You can now find Families with Grace on Spotify! I’ve put together a play list of all sorts of great contemporary Christian songs both old and new to uplift and encourage you as you create homes filled with grace, love and faith. Check it out and follow the playlist!

Never want to miss any Families with Grace content? Sign up for our mailing list and receive a FREE tip sheet on 10 ways you can start living as a family with grace right now! It’s chock-full of good, practical ideas to help bring peace to your home. Don’t miss out! Go here now!

House cleaning tips from a slob

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When my house is a mess, I feel guilty. And when I feel guilty, I get grumpy. And when I get grumpy, I’m more inclined to snap at my family for small things. The other option is that I spiral into a pit of self-pity and sadness that I’m not better at cleaning my house. I feel more pressure than my husband to keep our house clean and more embarrassment when it isn’t. I interpret our messy house as my own personal failure.

You’d think that would make me an excellent housekeeper. But it doesn’t. Instead of doing something about it, many times I just beat myself up. I have had literally years at a time where I couldn’t do better for a variety of reasons and still berated myself over it.

However, I have recently learned some things, and as a reforming slob, I’m going to share them with you in case you aren’t one of those rare folks who love to clean. I don’t offer a detailed cleaning plan. I’ve tried those, and they stress me out and make me feel worse about all that I’m NOT doing. Instead, I’m offering real-life tips that have helped my family. 

In order to get where I’m coming from right now, you need to know where I’ve been. I grew up as the youngest of two children. I have one older brother. My mom has always loved to clean. (I know. It’s weird to me, too.) She comes from a long line of women who keep immaculate homes. When my grandma was younger, she would vacuum under her furniture weekly. Weekly. I’m talking under armchairs and recliners. Growing up, I had some chores to do around the house, but my mom did most of the cleaning. She was good at it, and she liked it. When I got married at age 20 in the middle of my college years, my husband and I worked together to clean our small college apartment. It wasn’t always straightened up, but we did an OK job cleaning the bathroom and kitchen and such. In our second apartment, we continued. Our biggest cleaning strategy was to do it all at once, usually on a Saturday morning.

When we moved into our first home, though, we went doubled in square feet. Cleaning certainly took more at that point, but we still did OK with cleaning everything at once. It got a bit more challenging because my chronic bladder condition flared for a couple of years straight and kept me from being able to be on my feet for long periods of time, but we made it work.

Ten years into our marriage, we had our first child. Suddenly spending two or three hours cleaning the whole house was almost impossible. I did well to keep myself clean, let alone the house. I didn’t have a great strategy. As time went on, we had a second child and I had more health issues that left me choosing between being able to take care of the kids or clean the house well. Since I had to keep the kids alive, I chose them. Between 2011 and 2017, I had three major surgeries, a minor one, a second baby, shingles and more. Cleaning? Ha!

Then last fall, we moved in with my parents. We had sold our house and were building a new one, but we had about six months in between the two and needed somewhere to stay. I’d just had another surgery. I decided to take the time to learn from my mom, the cleaning guru, while I was living with her. And I did learn a few things that have helped me tremendously. When I last lived with my parents, I was 18 or younger or only home on college breaks. I didn’t pay a bit of attention to how my mom managed her house cleaning. This time, though, I determined I would. I felt motivated because I was getting a fresh start that not everyone gets. I was moving into a new house that was starting clean, and I was determined to keep it that way.

I noticed a few things about my mom that helped me. Since we moved into our new house in April, I have managed so far to do a decent job. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve suddenly become the best housekeeper in the world or that I’m not still a bit of a slob. We still have boxes to unpack. We haven’t decorated much. We still have clutter, though we’ve done our best to purge and eliminate.

Employ the ABC method: Always Be Cleaning
One of my best tips from my mom is ABC — Always Be Cleaning. That might sound like a nightmare to you, because it certainly would have to the me of a couple years ago. But, hear me out. My mom’s strategy is to clean as she goes so there isn’t a big mess to deal with later. It sounds simple, and it really is. Like when she finishes washing dishes, she takes an extra 60 seconds and wipes down her kitchen sink. She brings in the mail and deals with it instead of tossing it on her countertop. She wipes down her bathroom counter with a cleaning wipe after she finishes getting ready. I’ve learned a lot of these tasks take a short amount of time. Seriously in 30 seconds, I can do a quick wipe of my bathroom countertop. I can unload the dishwasher in less than 5 minutes.

Keep cleaning supplies handy
If you’re going to always be cleaning, then you need cleaning supplies where you use them. My mom stores cleaning products under each bathroom sink and her kitchen sink. Moving into a two-story house, I knew myself and knew I’d either forget to bring cleaning supplies up or down the stairs or find it easy to procrastinate if they weren’t in easy reach. So I bought enough for each location. Each bathroom has wipes and toilet bowl cleaner. I do share Windex between them. The kitchen sink has wipes and vinegar. I have a separate vinegar bottle for upstairs. I know this doesn’t sound ground-breaking to many people, perhaps. But it has made a difference for me. For example, earlier this week I realized that I hadn’t yet cleaned the half bathroom downstairs and needed to. On my stop by there before going to pick up the kids from school, I cleaned the toilet in a minute. Later I wiped down the sink. And those are the biggest areas that need weekly cleaning in there, so it worked well. If the supplies were even just around the corner in the pantry (a few steps away!), I know I wouldn’t have done that. And, quite honestly, I probably STILL wouldn’t have done it even now a couple of days later.

Cleaning isn’t all or nothing
Previously I’ve had the idea that if I can’t clean everything then I don’t even want to start. However, I have been timing myself on doing tasks and realize that in a few minutes, I can accomplish a lot. And the things that need cleaned most don’t take all that long. I can spend five minutes cleaning my bathroom and feel much better afterward. Yes, it still needs to be deep cleaned and floors mopped and such, but every little step counts. Finding hours to devote to any one task is difficult. Being able to physically spend hours cleaning my house is basically impossible nowadays. I’ve changed my mindset from doing it all or nothing to doing what I can when I can. Now I almost see it as a challenge to see how much I can get done in a set amount of time like 15 minutes. And I’ve been shocked at how much I really CAN do quickly. (I also find more motivation to clean or straighten up if I have a time limit. I can endure cleaning for 5 to 30 minutes!)

Embrace the right cleaning products 
I struggled with keeping my stainless steel sink clean at my old house. It had hard water stains no matter what I did. I tried different cleaning products to no avail. I just figured because my fibro arms don’t handle scrubbing hard that I’d not be able to maintain a sparkling clean sink. Then we stayed with my parents. My mom cleans her sink pretty much daily when she’s cooking. They went on a trip and while I cleaned it regularly, I still didn’t clean it daily. It started to get a build-up. Within a day of her being home I realized it was sparkling again. So I had to ask. Her newest secret cleaning weapon? Vinegar. I was a bit dubious. Then I tried it. Seriously, I put some vinegar on a paper towel, wiped just a bit and the spots were gone. Gone! It blew my mind. So now vinegar is one of my go-to cleaners that makes life way easier. Even better is that it’s cheap and non-toxic. Who knew?! It’s the whole work smarter, not harder concept in action.

Enlist help
This one doesn’t come from my mom but from my own experiences. In the time of our marriage, my physical health has taken a hit many times. And with chronic health conditions, there are still times it takes a beating and I can’t do things. So I have learned to ask for help and be willing to accept it. My kids now have their own bathroom. They’re required to clean it once a week. They divide the tasks. I gave them a lesson on exactly what I want them to do. I handle some things for them like cleaning the mirror, because they have trouble reaching it, cleaning the floors and cleaning the bathtub. None of those things need done weekly. But weekly they have to clean the sink and counter, clean the toilet inside and out, take out the trash and check the supply of toilet paper. No, they don’t clean as well as I do, but I do check in on their progress and have had them redo things. And it still is helping both me and them! One of these days they’ll have their own bathrooms to clean.

I also ask my husband for assistance with tasks I usually do when I need to. And even though he may fold towels differently than I do or clean in a different way, it’s still perfectly fine. In the end, everything gets done and that’s the goal. I will say I have also learned when to ask for outside help. My mom and my mother-in-law have helped with cleaning our house during times I was recovering from surgery and such. I had a friend say to me that she could never let someone else clean her bathroom and trust them to do it right. I can only say that when it’s your only choice because you physically can’t do it, then you certainly gain perspective and appreciation.

Don’t procrastinate 
I’m not usually a procrastinator by nature, but I can be very good at overlooking things that need to be taken care of or put away. Very good! I try to make sure that I’m putting things away when I’m finished with them. But in that mindset, I’m also trying to make sure that each item in our house has a home. If I get derailed from putting something away immediately, then I make a conscious effort to take care of it next time I come across it.

Along with putting things away, I try not to procrastinate when it comes to dishes and laundry. There are ALWAYS dishes and laundry. But, I’ve worked to simplify as much as I can. I have arranged my kitchen around my dishwasher. So the things I use most often are stored right above the dishwasher or within a couple of steps. I can empty the dishwasher in five minutes or less and usually make myself do it the next time I am working in the kitchen (which is quite often with kids!). I’ve also worked to be practical. My kids take their lunch to school everyday. I have enough lunch containers for two days worth of cold lunches for both kids (You can find my favorite ones here!). That gives me two days to wash the containers in the dishwasher instead of by hand, which saves me time. If I throw in a day of hot lunch in their hot Thermos, then that helps even more. Each of them have three drink Thermoses for the same reason. I don’t have to hand wash lunch supplies daily. It makes me more efficient and less grumpy, so it works.

And then there’s laundry. While I’m not as fast as my mom who folds and puts her away immediately, I definitely make an effort to deal with it in the same day. At my old house, the washer and dryer were in the garage. In this house, they are on the second story in the middle of the bedrooms, so that really helps. We have also taken advantage of the laundry room and keep two laundry baskets for dirty things at all times: one for darks and one for whites. I can easily see when a basket is full and a load of laundry need to be thrown in. It helps keep me from getting as overwhelmed with load after load of laundry all at once. Another bonus is that I have a set amount of laundry baskets and I have to make sure to keep laundry folded and put away so we can use the baskets as needed. (I do keep a spare one, though. I’m not THAT good!)

My handy husband also hung me a nice bar in the laundry room so I can hang up clothes straight from the dryer. If I hang up the pants and shirts for my husband and me, shirts for my daughter and some shirts for my son right away then I don’t have as much work to do with folding either.

Give yourself grace 
This is my final tip. No matter what systems I have in place, no matter how much progress I’ve made, I’m not perfect and I’m not going to be. Life is going to get in the way. My health will flare for a week. My kids will get sick. Things happen. I have learned to not beat myself up if I get out of routine and don’t clean my bathroom this week. It doesn’t mean I’m never going to get back on track. I will, and I do. Can I say that in the past I was just a total slob and wasn’t doing my best? No way. I really was doing my best. There are some seasons of life where it’s easier to clean than others. Having babies and toddlers make cleaning a huge challenge. Going through physical and/or mental struggles makes cleaning a huge challenge. Doing the best you can? Then it’s enough. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect or having the perfect home!

Here’s the thing: I’m never going to transform into someone who loves cleaning. (At least I will be shocked if I do!) I won’t ever keep as spotless of a house as my grandma or my mom. But, that’s OK. I try to be realistic in my goals and work for what makes my family and me the happiest. We are all happier when we have clean dishes and clothes. We are all happier when there aren’t piles of papers all over the table we have to clean off every time we want to eat a meal. We are all happier to go into a bathroom that smells fresh and doesn’t have weeks of build-up. However, my family life isn’t going to dissolve into chaos if I let clean dishes sit in the dishwasher for 24 hours or a load of towels stay in the dryer for a couple of days. I do my best, but I also remember my priorities. I don’t want to be so busy taking care of my family that I don’t remember to enjoy my family.

Take my tips and see if you can put them to work for you. What other tips do you have that make cleaning easier? I’d love to hear from you!

Never want to miss any Families with Grace content? Sign up for our mailing list and receive a FREE tip sheet on 10 ways you can start living as a family with grace right now! It’s chock-full of good, practical ideas to help bring peace to your home. Don’t miss out! Go here now!

5 cheap games for young children the whole family will love

Family game night ideas for readers and non-readers alike!

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Family game night is one of our favorite activities around my house. Sometimes, however, it can be challenging to find games that all four of us like. Since our youngest kiddo is just in kindergarten and an early reader, we have to find games that don’t require much reading. Finding those games that are also fun for my husband and me along with our 9-year-old can be a challenge. While Candyland, for example, is a fun game with a little one, it quickly grows boring for older children and adults.

But we have found a few games that work well for all four of us. These are games that require either no reading or minimal reading and are actually fun. Even better, all of them are under $20! In fact, only two are above $10 and the last two are less than $5. Go ahead, pop some popcorn and prepare for a fun family game night for all ages!

Toilet Trouble

My son received this game from a friend for his 5th birthday. We weren’t sure if it would be too messy or what we would think about it, but my kids fell in love with it. In fact, when I told them I was writing about our favorite family games, this is the first one they both named! It’s a simple game where you spin a roll of toilet paper to see how many times you have to flush a toilet that is filled with water. At random times the flush will make water squirt out of the toilet, in which case the player is eliminated. The last player standing is the winner. It’s completely random and not skill based, so age and experience really don’t matter one bit.

I suggest keeping a dish towel on hand to wipe off the spills that happen sometimes as little ones excitedly pass the toilet back and forth and wipe faces when they get sprayed, but it isn’t too messy to play inside or even at a dining room table that has carpet underneath. Our whole family has enjoyed this game, including my parents who have played it with us as well. My mom got such a kick out of it with my kids that she purchased it for my brother’s kids, too!

Rory’s Story Cubes

This one is fun and simple. It could be played almost anywhere. In fact, this is one that we tend to play in the living room. Each player gets a couple of six-sided dice that have different images on each side. At the beginning of a round, everyone rolls their dice. The first person begins a story based around one of the images they rolled. We usually start with the youngest and then rotate who starts the story from there. Each person builds on the story based on their images on the dice. 

The nice thing with this game is that it’s fun (and can get silly!) but doesn’t have a winner. It’s a cooperative effort for the whole family. It’s one of those games where you never have to try and soothe the hurt feeling of a loser, because there are no losers!

Family Feud Strikeout Card Game

This is based off of the television show. This one works better if you have a few more players, but you can play it with four players. If it’s just the four of us, we play more often cooperatively. But when we played it with my parents a few months ago, we teamed up three to a team. It does require a bit of reading, but it wasn’t an issue to my son. Since we were on teams, we helped him with the words and then he was able to come up with some good answers for the questions.

Hungry, Hungry Hippos

This one is a classic, but it really is still a hit with my family. I will say that my husband and I tire of this one before the kids do, but we get in a few good rounds with it and play some variations sometimes. There is one yellow ball for the hippos to eat and the rest are red. One version is that whoever gets the yellow ball wins, but that doesn’t go over quite so well with my kiddos. We have modified it so that the yellow ball is just worth 2 points instead of one. We also take turns on who gets to say “Go!” on this one to help keep it fair.

Go Fish

While you can play Go Fish with a regular deck of cards, there are all sorts of variations that make it more fun for little ones. Years ago, we found a version that was dinosaurs that my kids have enjoyed, but there are so many versions for whatever your family enjoys!

For example, there is a sea life version, an educational learn the alphabet version, a safari animal version that includes instructions for Old Maid as well and even a Bible version!

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!

11 ways to help kids deal with the death of a loved one

In May of 2016, our beloved family dog had to be put to sleep after a short battle with an aggressive cancer that couldn’t be treated. In May of 2017, my last remaining grandparent — my maternal grandmother — passed away after a few months battling varying issues. A couple of days ago, my uncle died after dealing with kidney cancer over the last year. While cancer makes you think we’d be prepared, we weren’t. His treatment had actually gone well overall. When complications started a couple of weeks ago, even those seemed to be resolved. Until overnight everything changed and within 12 hours, he was in heaven. 

Dealing with these loses has been difficult. Each time, in the midst of my own grief, one of my first thoughts has been, “How are we going to tell the kids?” Because grief with kiddos is hard, and they were very close to each of these loved ones. I want to protect them and shelter them from every hurt that can happen in this imperfect world. I want to make it all better for them. Yet, that isn’t one bit how it works. I know there are articles and books written on grief with kids. I know there are actual experts on the topic. I am certainly not, but I do know what dealing with grief looks like in our family. And from that experience, I offer some thoughts.

Give yourself time to process the loss.
I have found it’s important to not tell my children until I’m ready to have a conversation without sobbing. My husband and I need time to process the loss first before we can talk to them. This has happened in various amounts of time based on the situation. But usually, it has been within 12 to 24 hours. 

Use the right words.
Once we are ready to talk, then we sit down together as a family without distractions and try to be as straightforward as possible using words like “die” and “death,” so they understand what we mean. Little kids, especially, don’t understand or know euphemisms such as “passed away.”

Talk about heaven.
We talk about how our loved ones, especially in each of their situations, are no longer in pain. We talk about how they can run free. As the losses have continued to accumulate, we even talk about our loved ones interacting in heaven. We talk about how good it is for them there. We talk about how we can be happy for them but sad for us and that is OK.

Discuss different reactions and emotions.
My son is the youngest of our family. He was 3 when our dog died, 4 when my grandma died and now is 5. He processes things very matter-of-factly and doesn’t quite get all the feelings right away. My daughter was 6, 7 and 9 during these losses and understands them differently. She immediately tears up. We talk about how it’s OK to cry and it’s OK to not cry. We talk about how sometimes we feel like crying when it surprises us or sometimes we don’t cry when we think we would. There is no wrong way to have feelings during losing a loved one. Sometimes sadness comes out in tears and sometimes in other ways. My older brother, for example, was almost 4 when our paternal grandpa died and my mom said his first reaction was anger. And that’s OK, too.

Let kids see your emotions.
I don’t often cry in front of my children. I have times of getting teary or choked up, but outside of these losses, I’ve not really cried in front of them. I think it’s important for them to see my tears and be reassured that any sadness they are feeling is OK and they aren’t alone. My husband usually displays his sadness without as many tears, because that’s more his nature and that’s OK, too.

Let them ask questions. 
After we give them the information, talk about heaven and emotions, we also make sure to ask if they have questions. I have been surprised sometimes at where their minds go and the things they wonder about. We are also honest when they ask questions that we don’t know like “Why did God want them in heaven now?”

We also reassure them that if they think of questions later or just want to talk about it or whatever, they are free to come to us any time. And we keep that open. It has pierced my heart a couple of times as they have brought up things later on that brings that grief coming back fresh, but I want them to have the freedom they need to process it in whatever amount of time it takes them or in whatever way they need to.

Address their fears. 
Sometimes our kids have brought fears up, but sometimes we have brought them up first. For example, we are quick to remind them that the kind of sickness our loved ones had was more than just a regular sickness and they don’t have anything to worry about if one of us gets sick with a cold or virus. Since I’ve had a few surgeries in these last few years, we are also careful about correlating a surgical procedure to death. It’s a pretty quick and easy leap for kiddos to start thinking sickness or surgery equal death. 

Follow their lead. 
Kids are so very resilient. Each time we have dealt with a loss, I am amazed at how quickly they shift gears from being sad to wanting to do something else. While my husband and I still need to deal with our grief in different ways, we do our best to move on with them to another activity. We have learned to plan something as a distraction each time that we can offer to get everyone shifting gears, even if it’s just going out to dinner. 

Talk about ways to be proactive. 
We try to also talk about how grief is hard. We don’t diminish that, because grief is really stinking hard. But we also assure them that we will get through this and it will get easier. And we talk about something we can do. For example, when my grandma died, we talked about how my mom and aunt would be feeling sad and maybe the kids could give them extra hugs. This week we’ve talked about coloring pictures and making sweet treats for my aunt to remind her that she isn’t alone.

Don’t push; just be there. 
While I have been surprised by my kids’ resilience and ability to shift gears, I have also been surprised at various times they bring up the loss and how they are sad. It pops out at odd times sometimes, just like it does for grown-ups. While my daughter has been older and tended to cry a bit with the information, she has moved on pretty well during the day. But then bedtime comes and she tends to struggle more. Last night, she crept back downstairs and was feeling very sad. So we just sat snuggled on the couch for a while, neither one of us talking. Sometimes sitting together in silence is the best. And then I gently helped her think of some other things to help her be able to move forward into going to sleep. 

Know when they need grace. 
This one can be a bit tricky to assess sometimes, but my kids get extra grace for their behavior and words when we are dealing with a loss. I need extra grace for my behavior and words. I know I’m not at my best and that sometimes I get grumpier much more than I would usually. I don’t expect them to be any different. So sometimes when they do something that would usually merit a strict punishment, they get off lighter or get a reminder that isn’t how we are supposed to behave. If it keeps happening, especially in one day, we stop and ask them questions about how they’re feeling. They don’t get carte blanche permission to do whatever they want to without consequence, but they do definitely get some grace along the way. 

Losing a loved one hurts. Each time, I have wished I could take the hurt away from my children and told them as much. But we’ve also talked about how it hurts because we had so much love, and love is a good thing. We have talked about good memories and how we’ll always have those memories. We have mourned together and even found some laughter in the midst of mourning. I really do wish I could take the grief for them, but I also want to do my best to prepare them for loss since hurt and grief is a part of the world.

I don’t have all the answers and am not an expert at dealing with grief myself. Sometimes I’m good at distracting myself and pretending if I don’t think about it that it will go away. (That never works, by the way.) But I have learned more and more through the years that sometimes I have to just let myself feel all the feels and be broken down in order to start healing. I have shared that with my children to an extent according to their ages. I have also learned, though, that no matter how hard and painful this stuff is that God is always there. He is always ready to comfort me. He hears me when I get a phone call with news and can only pray “Jesus” over and over because my heart is broken. In the end, as always, Jesus remains the answer to grief whether it’s my own or my children’s. I pray that they realize that and see me living that out, in spite of the times when I mess up.