How to Make Memories Without Even Trying

I love my family, almost to a point where if we were the only 6 left on earth, I would be totally OK with it.  I’m very protective of us and our time together, which as the kids get older and we get busier, seems to be a little bit fewer and far between. So when we are all together, either purposefully or accidentally, we are very intentional with our time.  I saw a sign today that read,

We didn’t know we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

This is my new mantra!  With that being said, let me help you create memories with your family without even trying.

1. Don’t over schedule yourself.  I can’t stress this enough.  Work, school, PTA, sports, dance, music, karate, homework, housework, yard work, … the list can go on and on.  Over scheduling yourself and your kids is easy to do.  But it’s also not necessary.  Pick one extra curricular activity for you and/or your kids. The days off are a bit more frequent when you don’t have too much going on. Believe me, I get it.  Both me and my husband work full time, both of my teenagers have jobs, my youngest daughter is involved in basketball and brand practice, so I know how easy it is to get caught up in busy.  But try to set aside one or two days per month where you and your family is 100% “off.”  Let the vacuuming wait.  The dishes are fine in the dishwasher.  And there will always be laundry to do.  Take your free day and go make a memory or two.

2. Sneak in fun things even when you have a lot going on.  As much as I would like to say the Christmas season is full of baking days and relaxation for us, it’s not.  It’s easily the busiest time of year for me.  I don’t get to drop everything and go play with my kids when they are outside making snowmen.  But I do sneak in moments with them when I can.  Whether it’s driving around looking at Christmas lights or dining out at their restaurant of choice, creating moments for them will also create memories.

3.  Document your moments so you can relive your memories. Most people have some kind of a camera on their phone.  It’s there for a reason, so use it.  You may not even realize you’re creating memories until you look back a week or two later and you are able to relive it. One of my favorite moments, which I didn’t even realize would turn into a favorite summer memory, happened two summers ago.  We took a few days to get out of town.  We stumbled upon a restaurant that we all decided looked decent enough for us to have dinner. It turned out to be one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.  The kids all got along, our food was amazing, we explored the restaurant after dinner which just happened to be full of history.  But I didn’t even realize how much I loved those moments until we were able to look back at the photos (played as a screensaver on our family Mac) and remember what an amazing memory it was!

What can you do this week or even this month to create special moments with your family?  Next week, I’m going to be sharing some of our favorite things to do as a family for every budget. I’d love to hear your ideas, so send them my way!

5 Things Dads Can Do to Make the School Year Not Suck

I dread the start of school each year because it means the end of lazy schedules, easy-going evenings, and not worrying about whether or not there’s enough lunch meat for tomorrow’s lunches.  It’s easy for most dads to default to mom to take care of things for the kids, but in our family, with four kids, two working parents, and schedules galore, it’s imperative that I do more than just say, “Hey, let your mom help you with that?”

With that in mind, here are five things that dads can do to make the school year not suck.  (Any parent can do these, of course, but these are written from my perspective as a father.)

5.  Pay Attention to What Needs to Get Done.  School is a lot more work than it was when I was a kid.  There’s homework all the time, letters and emails coming from the teachers and schools on a regular basis, and there’s a lot that needs to happen each week.  Parents have busy lives full of their own things–I had some work pop up in the evening the other day, and I got busy with answering emails and making phone calls–but even a second grader now has a ton of stuff to remember.  And guess what–that 8 year old won’t remember.  That’s my job as a parent.  It’s okay to ignore the work for awhile to help your child stay ahead of the game.

4.  Listen When Your Spouse Tells You What They Need Help With.  There’s nothing more disappointing than setting an expectation and having it not met, especially when it’s as simple as “give your son his practice spelling test–and remember to have him write the words down on this piece of paper.”  The other night, as I took my wife to work, she said this exact thing.  I gave my son his practice spelling test during dinner with the kids and did it the way we did it in first grade–which is not what she asked me to do.  So, for him to be ahead, he had to take his spelling test again, right after breakfast and before we walked out the door.  Not a win for anyone, and it could have been avoided by really listening and making sure you know what’s being asked of you.

3.  Keep Things Enjoyable.  Nobody likes homework.  As a former teacher, I can assure that teachers don’t like it.  Kids don’t like it, and when my 5th grader asks for help with her math and I look at it like she’s just asked me to read her something in Klingon, I’m reminded that I don’t like it, either.  So instead of everyone hating what needs to be done, find ways to make it fun.  Break it up into increments, move it around the room, do it while standing on your head and eating jelly beans.  Make sure you keep the focus on a particular task, but give the kids a break, give yourself a break, and then you’ll find the strength to continue with that ridiculous stuff they call “mathematics” these days.

2.  Don’t Stress Out About Grades.  Let me be honest: I don’t care if my children don’t get straight A’s.  I want them to always do their best, and if their best is a C+, I’m okay with that.  If they are trying like crazy and working with their teacher and still can’t get anything above a D, I’m okay with that, too.  Grades are not a reflection of my child’s character, it’s not a reflection on me, and it certainly isn’t a determination of their future success.  Grades are an arbitrary way of measuring progress, and while the education system places value on them and awards honor roll and scholarships, I’d rather give my kids awards for honesty, being virtuous and kind, and having a good work ethic.  Those will get you farther than an A+ in 3rd grade math.  I want my kids to succeed, yes, but I don’t want them to measure their worth by a letter on a paper.  They are much more valuable than that!

1.  Plan Vacations.  Teachers may not like it, but I find great value in taking my kids out of school during the school year for a break.  Vacations shouldn’t just be in the summer.  What’s wrong with getting out of town for a weekend in October or flying to Walt Disney World in January?  Nothing.  Your kids need a break about every 60 days or so, an escape from the regularity of schedules and assignments and all the stress of school, and frankly, so do you.  It doesn’t have to be extravagant or even long–but a healthy break, away from the everyday will do wonders for your family, for your kids, and keep them motivated through the long weeks of math assignments ahead of them.

The school year can suck.  But trying a few of these simple steps out can help make it less so–for you, and for your kids.

P.S.  I just realized I talked a lot about math in this post.  I don’t hate math, but I was an English teacher, am completely right-brained, and do not enjoy math at all.  If you like math, just read “English” or something else instead.

Incredible Books for Kids to Read This Summer

You’re all used to posts from my parents, but today, I, the oldest of the Montague kids, come to you with a post I’m very excited about – a summer reading recommendation list! A few days ago, my mom posted a blog about 8 things to do with your kids over the summer, and at the top of the list was a library summer reading program. I definitely support doing those (and you can usually even find them for teens or even adults), and this list of books should help you get going. There’s a total of five books for each age group, so if you get started today, you’ll have about one book to read every two weeks!

Young Adult Readers (Ages 13-19):

This is my age group, so I have loads of favorite books, and it was so hard to narrow it down to just five. Nevertheless, here we go:

  1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. This book follows Lara Jean Covey, a sixteen-year-old who adores anything vintage, and who has loved a total of five boys. She has a habit of writing letters to the boys that will help her get over her love, and they’re top-secret, until one day, they aren’t. Lara Jean’s life flips upside-down, but all for the better. This book is so much fun to read, and I absolutely devoured it. My rating: 5/5 stars!
  2. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Aveyard’s debut YA novel is about Mare Barrow, who lives in a fantasy universe where the world is broken down into two groups: those with red blood, Reds, and those with silver blood, Silvers. Reds are mundane, ordinary, and slaves to the extraordinary Silvers, who possess magical abilities. Eventually, Mare (a Red) finds herself working in a palace of Silvers, and before long, Mare discovers that she as an amazing power of her own, regardless of her blood status. This is an edge-of-your-seat, thrilling fantasy novel, and it’s pure magic to read. My rating: 5/5 stars! 
  3. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. Although not nearly his most famous novel, this book is essentially about two boys who find themselves on a rural road trip. One of the boys, Colin, has only ever dated Katherines, and the road trip is his best friend’s, Hassan, plan to get him over the Katherines. It’s just a blast to read, and it’s so short that it’s perfect for a lazy summer afternoon. My rating: 4/5 stars!
  4. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This may not be a book that screams, “Summer read!” However, it’s a fantastical, incredible read that follows Jacob, a boy who has grown up hearing his grandfather’s outlandish stories about World War II. He dismisses him as senile, because his stories always involve monsters that couldn’t possibly be real, until one day, he is found dead in a forest, and Jacob himself sees a monster. His journey only gets crazier from there, but I won’t spoil it for you. My rating: 4/5 stars!
  5. The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t dismiss the book as middle grade too quickly! I grew up on Percy Jackson, and this book is like being thrust back into his world – this time, from the perspective of one of the Greek gods. Zeus is mad at Apollo after the war in The Blood of Olympus, and has, therefore, banished him from Olympus to live as a human. Apollo, who is now a sixteen-year-old demigod, finds himself indebted to Meg McCaffery, a twelve-year-old demigod. They go on some adventures, there’s some crazy plot twists, and man, it’s just a blast from beginning to end! My rating: 4/5 stars!

Middle Grade Readers (Grades 4-7):

These books are all full of some sort of fantastical adventure, and they’re honestly perfect for a reader of any age.

  1. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen. This action-packed adventure follows Sage, an orphan, and two other boys, also orphans, on their competition to become the next Prince of Carthya. Personally, it reminds me of a much more fantastical, boyish version of Kiera Cass’s The Selection. A super fun read, and you’ll fall in love with all of the characters, although the plot line is a bit predictable. My rating: 3/5 stars!
  2. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. A whole novel written about extraordinary children “looking for special opportunities,” it follows Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance on their imaginative adventure to out a… well, a mysterious society. In all honesty, I have yet to finish this one, but what I’ve read has been so enjoyable and so much fun. It’s a little large, but don’t let that intimidate you, because it really is a fantastic read. My rating: 4/5 stars!
  3. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan. The first in Riordan’s trilogy about Egyptian mythology, this book follows Carter and Sadie Kane, two siblings who grew up so very differently – Sadie, with her grandmother in England, and Carter, with his father traveling all over the world. Every year on Christmas, Carter and Sadie are reunited for a day, and this particular year, their father takes them to a museum in Britain just to look at exhibits. As it happens, he accidentally releases the Egyptian god, Set, and is sucked into the Underworld. As you can imagine, adventure ensues for the siblings, and their around-the-world travels are a blast to read about. Although I would recommend many of Riordan’s books for grades younger than fourth, Carter and Sadie are the same age as many of the middle grade readers, which makes their adventures so much more relatable. My rating: 5/5 stars!
  4. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. This book is pure magic. It follows Hugo Cabret, a little French orphan who grew up learning how to tend to the clocks of a busy train station. One day, though, he meets an old man and a young girl, and his life is never quite the same. The book is over 500 pages, but so many of those are filled with gorgeous illustrations that are unforgettable. It’s a fantastical mystery that I, in the fifth grade, could not get enough of! My rating: 5/5 stars!
  5. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. My true confession: I actually read this book in third grade, but I absolutely devoured it, and I would recommend it for middle grade readers more than anything. It follows thirteen-year-old Charlotte, who is on a boat in the middle of ocean, accused of murder, and forced to join the ship’s crew through some dangerous deeds. It’s action-packed, well paced, and brilliantly written. My rating: 5/5 stars!

And, finally, Early Elementary Readers (Grades 1-3):

Now, this list was a little hard for me to come up with – I’ve been a reader since kindergarten, so in early elementary, I was reading books much more advanced than my friends were, so I tried to find a balance between the two.

  1. Matilda by Roald Dahl. I love this book, because it follows a little girl who loves her books, just like I did as a kid. Her family is horrid to her because she’s a little special, a little different, and rather extraordinary. It’s a very magical read, just like all of Dahl’s books, and it’s just so much fun (like every other book I’ve put on the list). My rating: 4/5 stars!
  2. The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. There’s not much of a summary to this adorable story – it’s a cute picture book about a little boy named Laszlo. Laszlo is afraid of the dark, but the dark wants to be his friend. The illustrations are enchanting, and I adore reading it (even as a seventeen-year-old!). My rating: 5/5 stars!
  3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Most everyone knows about this book, but nevertheless my summary: The Pevensie siblings are staying in an unusual home with an unusual man. The youngest of the four, Lucy, finds a wardrobe hidden away in a room one day, and she immediately proceeds to walk into it, stumbling upon the magical land of Narnia. Simply put, adventure ensues, and the magic that tags along with it feels almost real. Not only that, but it has some great underlying religious themes – and C.S. Lewis is a brilliant author whose works are easily enjoyed, no matter what your age. My rating: 5/5 stars!
  4. Pinkalicious by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann. Another delightful picture book, Pinkalicious is all about a girl who loves pink. When Pinkalicious’s mom makes pink cupcakes, Pinkalicious eats too many and turns pink! At first, she loves it, but before long, Pinkalicious can’t stand her pink skin. The only cure: eat all the green foods she can possibly find! My little sister grew up loving this book, and I’ve read it to her countless times. It’s just a delightful explosion of color and princesses and sparkles, and it’s an absolute blast. My rating: 4/5 stars!
  5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. This book. This book. I read Harry Potter for the first time in second or third grade, and I absolutely devoured it. It follows, of course, a boy named Harry Potter who lives with his aunt and uncle in a cupboard under the stars. His life is terribly mundane, until one day, this special boy finds out that he is a wizard, and suddenly, his life isn’t so awful. His story becomes a magical battle between good and evil, with so many themes of friendship, love, and defeating darkness – it is pure magic, and I’ll recommend Harry’s story to anyone and everyone until the day I die. My rating: 5/5 stars!

Well, ladies and gents, there you have it: Audrey Montague’s 2016 Summer Reading Recommendations! Get to your local library and get your hands on as many as possible, and as you read them, please comment and let me know how you and/or your kids are enjoying them!

3 (More) Things Every Kid Needs

As I’ve mentioned before, there are 3 Things Every Kid Needs.

A Job to Do. Something to Celebrate.  To Say Thanks.

But there are three more things every kid needs, too.  These three other things can help make the difference in how your kids turn out.  Remember, parenting isn’t just about what happens today, in the now, but parenting about what you want your kids to become, in the future.  This is parenting with the end in mind.

Those three other things?  Here they are:

Kids Need Other Adults Who Can Speak Into Their Lives.  While you might be the biggest influence on your child’s life, you aren’t (and can’t be) the only one.  Smart parents will help choose who those people are, instead of leaving it just to chance, or to your kids (who will choose celebrities, movie stars, singers, and the like).

Find some great adults who can speak into your kids lives about the stuff you can’t or aren’t able to.  These people can be coaches or directors, church leaders or mentors.  They can be the mechanic who works on your car, or the neighbor who has that amazing yard.  Find quality, well-respected, mature, good people, and help your kids connect to them.  Church, school, neighborhood, sports field, neighborhood theatre.  They can be found everywhere.  They can encourage and cheer on your kids in ways that you never can.  Your kids will have other influences–why not be intentional about who those influences are?

Kids Need Experiences More Than Things.  We place a high value on things in our culture.  Having what is new, owning what is now–it’s very important.  Trouble is, things don’t last.  That great new TV you just bought has already been made obsolete.  Your phone is out of date, and you’re still in a contract for two more years.  And don’t even talk about that computer.  Sure, you will probably hold on to your house for a long time, but the furniture in it–it’s already dated, right?

It’s not new to hear that memories are the only things you can hold on to, but it’s true.  If you have a house full of all the newest and nicest things, but never spend your money creating memories, you’re teaching your kids the wrong thing.  Possessions come and go, but memories last forever.  The National Parks I visited with my family growing up?  The road trips I’ve taken my kids on?  Those are shared experiences that we will never forget.  I don’t even remember the color of the last two couches I had.  Things are great, but they don’t last.  Doing things with your kids and creating memories together?  That lasts forever.

Kids Need Grace.  Your children hear all the time about how they’ve messed up, how they don’t measure up, where they have gone wrong.  As parents, it is our job to correct and train our children to make wise choices as they grow up.  But when they don’t, what is the response?  Parents, disappointed in their own failures, often maximize or blow out of proportion a child’s failure.  I know–the response I’ve given to my youngest son over his lack of appetite when my wife has made an amazing dinner far outweighs the actual circumstance.

But what do I want most when I screw up?  I want grace.  And yet, I can’t show grace to a kid who thinks anything with green in it is poison?  You get it–if we want to have grace-filled children, who are quick to forgive, slow to anger, and generally awesome, we need to be grace-filled parents.  When your kids gets a less than perfect report card, it’s fine to have consequences–but measure them with grace.  When your child spills that glass of wine all over the carpet, remember the grace you received for a much greater slight.  When kids see grace lived out, they will live out grace as well.


8 Fun (and Inexpensive) Things to Do With Your Kids This Summer

I’ve been thinking about what to put in this blog for a few weeks now.  Summertime rolls around and as parents we want to pack in the most memorable fun-filled summer vacation EVER!  So I went on Pinterest to gather some ideas and I was somewhat frustrated and irritated.  There were lists and lists of 100+ Things to Do With Your Kids This Summer!!!

Please.  I don’t need  a list to tell me to get out the play dough.  (In fact, any mom in their right mind probably hates play dough. Or maybe that’s just my OCD that hates those dried up pieces of play dough that seem to collect into the corners of the kitchen until you get out your vacuum hose and manage to suck them all up.)

But I digress.  I want to create a really fun summer for my kids.  Not just things to do around the house everyday.  Being a working mom, that can sometimes be a challenge, so I just need to make sure that your days off are very intentional.  Do what works for you, but just do it.

This lists actually consists of things that our family does each summer.  (And not to brag, but we do them really well.)  The most important thing to remember is to have fun!  I hope you enjoy your summers as much as we do!

  1. SUMMER READING PROGRAMS.  Each and every library around the country has a summer reading program.  And it’s a safe bet to say that most of these programs have some incentives if your kiddos complete their goals!  Even my teenagers, who usually finish their goals in the first week, love the summer reading program.  And what’s great is when they complete one goal, they can work toward a second goal and more prizes. Check out your local library to find more information.  Cost: Free
  2. GO ON A DAY DRIVE AND HAVE A PICNIC.  This is another one of our favorites, because we love hopping in the car for adventures.  And kids love picnics.   You can find most picnic supplies fairly inexpensively at garage sales or thrift stores or search your garage.  All you really need is a table cloth or picnic blanket and a cooler.  Throw in some fun food (I try to pack things we wouldn’t normally eat at home like Uncrustables and potato chips) and a first aid kit, fill up your gas tank, and you’re good to go! Cost: About $50 (gas, food, etc.)
  3. DOLLAR STORE VISIT.  Seriously!  My kids, even my teenagers, LOVE going to the dollar store.  Give them each a couple of bucks, which I can usually find in the couch cushions or seats of my car, and let them have fun!  I love watching them figure out how they’re going to spend their money.  But my caveat is, whatever they purchase, they have to use once we get home. Cost: $1-$20 (Depending on how many kids you have and how much you give them.)
  4. DOLLAR MOVIES. Every summer, Regal Cinemas holds their Summer Movie Express two days per week at 10:00 am. Kids can choose from two movies each week.  The kids even get a passport that gets stamped every time they to to a movie. The nice part is, it’s early enough that you don’t need to spend money on popcorn or candy. Cost: $1/ticket
  5. VACATION BIBLE CAMP.  This is a big one for us since my husband is a Children’s Pastor and VBC is his Super Bowl. Most churches around the country offer a school or camp, that usually lasts a week, and some are even free!  A week of fun activities, friends, and more–and less expensive than hiring a babysitter each day!  Check your local churches for more details, but if you’re in the Seattle area, click here to find out how you can be involved in our church’s Doctor Who themed adventure! Cost: $0 – $50
  6. GO TO THE BEACH.  Again, this one is free and fun!  We try to get to our local beach before noon because I like a non-sandy place to stake our claim.  The kids love being able to come and go as they please and who doesn’t enjoy a relaxing day in the sun? Make sure to pack a high SPF sunscreen, lots of water, and baby powder to get the sand out of their toes easily.  Cost: $0 – $20
  7. SET UP A POOL.  When our kids were younger, every summer we purchased an inflatable pool.  They’re usually inexpensive if you get theme early enough so we didn’t feel bad throwing them away at the end of the summer. Last year we purchased an inflatable water slide and pool for them and we have easily gotten our money’s worth.  Obviously we won’t throw this one away until it’s full of holes, but this is another activity that doesn’t cost a lot of money and is so much fun for them.  Yes, it is work to set it up and take it down, but it’s so much fun!  And the memories that your kids will make will far outweighs the inconvenience of an end-of-the-day-deflate-session. We sometimes throw in some bubble bath or water toys to add to the fun, which again, you can get at the dollar store. Cost: $20-$100
  8. SET GOALS AND GUIDELINES FOR LAZY DAYS.  Since there are days when my kiddos are home  without me, I like to set schedules for them.  And they are scheduled down to the minute. Believe it or not, kids thrive on routine, so even though it is summer, there are things that are expected of them.  They have chores.  They still eat healthy and exercise. And they get rewarded when their daily goals are met!  It’s amazing how much mileage you can get out of them by putting an Otter Pop or pool time at the end of the morning. If you want my specific schedule for my kids, please leave comment and I will send it to you!  Cost: $0

3 Rules Every Family Should Live By

Since my eldest was born 17 years ago, my wife and I have realized there are many things people say children should learn, many things parents should focus on to ensure their kids turn out great, to have a happy family.  We’ve tried a few of them.  Some of them have worked, but many of them have been real stinkers.

We’ve done our best.  We’ve had some highs, and we’ve had some lows.  We don’t focus a lot on grades, we don’t sign up for a lot of extracurricular activities.  We may have yelled more than we meant to, and I’m pretty sure we’ve frustrated our kids’ teachers more than once with those middle of the school year vacations.

Yet, in spite of our mistakes, I’m told quite often, “You have great kids,” or “Your family always seems to have so much fun.”  I like that.  I love it when someone compliments my children and says nice things about them.  It means a lot to me when someone notices the smiles on our faces.  As a parent, we know all the ways our kids screw up, so when someone stops and says something nice, it makes me stop.  When they compliment our family, it makes me pause and wonder–maybe we’re doing something right?

Recently, I think I discovered what my wife and I are doing right. In our flawed but fun way of doing things, I think we’ve hit on the right formula for having a great family, and some pretty good kids.  Here are our family’s three rules.  I’m hopeful these will work for you, too.

Rule #1: Create memories.  Wherever you can.  Whenever you can.

Whether it’s a National Park, a trip to Disneyland, or just dressing up like pirates for free donuts–memories are a lasting gift we can give our kids that will outlast us.  Do we go to Disneyland a lot?  Yep.  Have we worn out vehicles by driving on long road trips to National Parks across the West?  You bet.  You can save a lot of money, have a great plan for retirement, and have nicer things.  But I’d really rather have the memories, because these will stick with me–and them–for the rest of our lives.  Because of these memory-making adventures, we’ve created an incredible familial bond.  The bonus?  We actually like being together.

Rule #2: Serve others.  Individually. Collectively.

As a pastor, my kids are stuck at church.  A lot.  This could either be a cause of resentment, or it could be a way to help my kids discover ways they can make a difference in the life of someone else.  When we serve others, we get the focus off ourselves and start thinking about others.  All three of my oldest kids serve in some capacity at our church.  My oldest kids have acted in various Vacation Bible Camps, lead worship, run media, and lead small groups of elementary age kids.  My youngest daughter serves every week leading 2 year olds.  There’s nothing better than seeing them leading kids younger than themselves, and finding ways to use their talents for the good of someone else.  And to be honest, my favorite moments in ministry have been those days when we all get to do it together.

Rule #3: Show honor.  At home.  At school.  Everywhere.

We are all inherently selfish people, and we all naturally think of ourselves first.  When we focus on honoring others first, in our words and actions, we remember that “It’s not all about me.”  We use an honor chart to keep track of whether we are acting honorably or not (even the parents), and it really helps us put others first.  If I can teach my kids to live and act and speak honorably to others, then I will have done something good for the world.

There you have it.  Our three family rules.  If you do #2 and #3 right, go out and celebrate, which leads you back to #1.  Repeat as often as possible.

3 Things Every Kid Needs


There are three things every kid needs.

I’ll assume you know the obvious ones.  (Clothes, food, a place to sleep, the occasional bath.)  But if we want our kids to grow up to be more than just clean and groomed, there are less obvious things they need–the things they need to help them grow up to be nice, genuine, and responsible people.  Those are the ones we as parents need to spend more time focusing on.  Here are three things I think every kid needs:

Kids Need a Job to Do.  Nothing will instill a work ethic better in your child than earning money.  Allowances are not a good idea.  You don’t get paid just for existing, and neither should a child.  Just getting something because you were born creates an attitude of entitlement: “I deserve this.”  Sorry, Junior, but that’s not the way the world works, and an allowance gives your kids a false expectation of what things will be like when they grow up.  So, once you feel your kids are ready to have some pocket change, have them earn it.  Whatever the age, there is an appropriate job for them to do in your family.  Washing clothes, doing dishes, feeding pets, making beds, dusting.  Menial jobs are great for kids, not because they are your servants (even though they may say this while cleaning up dog poop in the backyard), but because it helps them realize there is value in any kind of work.  Make chore lists, have them keep track of the tasks they have completed.  At the end of the week, pay them for their work.  And if they don’t work, don’t pay them.  If they didn’t complete everything you asked them to do, don’t give them their full agreed upon amount.  If they complain, remind them that if you don’t do your job each week, you don’t get paid, either.  It’s a great way to prepare them for future employment (and their future employers will thank you).  It also helps them grow as responsible, contributing members of your family.  Really surprise them by paying them for unexpected things: a piece of artwork, climbing a tree to pick cherries, or beating you at your family’s favorite board game.  This helps them learn that they can also get paid for things they enjoy, things that are fun, or artistic–great lessons before they choose a career.

Kids Need Something to Celebrate.  One of the joys of the many random holidays we have throughout the year is that kids love them.  They love St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, and all the rest.  What has happened, though, thanks to Pinterest, is that every parent believes they have to do some kind of huge extravagant thing every holiday.  When we were kids, our moms didn’t have the internet to teach them that their kids’ birthdays or school holidays had to be super creative examples of awesomeness.  They used an article out of Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens and kind of winged it.  Were our birthdays pretty and perfectly themed?  No.  Party stores didn’t exist, and you couldn’t fill an entire house with matching plates, cups, hats, games, and the rest.  We still had a great time, we still had fun.  Because kids don’t care how much it cost or how much time you spent being creative.  That’s your thing.  That’s your attempt to prove something to the other Pinterest parents and the last birthday party your child went to.  To misquote Cindi Lauper: “Kids just want to have fun.”  The Valentines from the grocery store are perfect acceptable.  The Betty Crocker cake is fine.  Adding green food coloring to the milk on St. Patrick’s Day is a great start to the morning.  Celebrating doesn’t need to be expensive.  Don’t try to be Pinterest perfect.  Just doing something fun every once in awhile.  Celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree, Mother’s Day with flowers or homemade cards.  So don’t break the bank, don’t sweat it, but celebrate the dumb holidays, even in small ways.  It’s always “National ________ Day.”  Get the free ice cream on National Ice Cream Cone Day.  Eat Hot Dogs on National Hot Dog Day.  Go to a National Park during National Park Week.  Celebrate May the Fourth with Star Wars or the first game of whatever your family’s favorite sport is.  Create reasons to celebrate or have a party for no reason.  What your kids will appreciate and remember is that you did something to break the routine and give them a reason to celebrate!

Kids Need to Say Thank You.  Gratitude is defined as a “feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.”  But when was the last time you actually saw someone show gratitude?  Sure, we celebrate Thanksgiving every November, but how often do we pause to say thank you to those around us?  Not often, which teaches kids to think that they deserve everything.  Kids already think that, because society, television, the internet all work together to create an attitude of entitlement.  Kids think they deserve that stuff you bought them, that vacation you took them on, and maybe that’s because that’s your attitude, too.  But we don’t.  Nothing we have or get to do is something that is due us.  We are blessed to have any good thing in our lives.  Teaching your kids to say thank you, for presents, for dinner, for help, for anything helps them learn to be grateful.  I like to stop and say thank you to my children’s teachers, just for putting up with them.  At a restaurant, my kids have to look the server in the eye and say thank you when their food is delivered.  When another member of the family helps them with something, they have to stop, pause, and say thanks.  It’s good to even make lists once in awhile of all the things you are grateful for–that attitude of gratitude starts with you, after all.  When you think of all that you have to be thankful for, you’ll be more likely to say thank you–and your kids will see that in you, too.  When I say thank you, I’m making a point: what I am receiving is undeserved, I understand I don’t deserve it, and I am grateful for what I have been given.

Kids need jobs.  They need fun.  And they need to say thanks.  Help them with these three things, and not only will they grow up well-groomed and well-fed, they’ll be genuinely nice people.  And that’s something the world needs.

Next week, I’ll share three things every parent needs.