Parenting Connected Kids: Surviving the Digital Minefield

This connected age we live in is absolutely amazing.

I love the ways I am able to connect instantly with friends and family via my iPhone.  I love the way I can share pictures and memories and what I’m eating for dinner with my friends on Facebook.  I enjoy tweeting directly to celebrities and theme parks via Twitter, find hundreds of people who want to share #disneygrams with me on Instagram.

I love Timehop for reminders of previous years’ posts, Pinterest for ideas on things I can’t possibly figure out how to do as good as the picture, and Swarm because I’m the mayor of one of my favorite Disneyland hotels. (And I confess, I do have a Snapchat, but only so my kids can take silly pictures of themselves with those infectious filters.)

I can’t imagine what entertainment would be without my Xbox One, Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu, and the ability to stream from anywhere in the world.  I’m a huge fan of nearly every digital innovation that has enabled me to bring information closer, enjoy life in a whole new way.  Even this blog is a result of that digital revolution, allowing us to share our adventures with people around the world.

But as a parent, this digital age can be rather daunting.  There are so many ways to connect online, and so many ways kids want to connect, that it can feel like a parental minefield.  What games do you let your kids play?  What ratings of TV shows do you let them watch on Netflix or Hulu–and how much binge-watching do you allow?  Do they get to play online via Xbox Live or Roblox?  What about email?  Cell phones?  Texting?  This is truly a “connected generation.”

It’s a challenge.  The digital age makes it that much harder for parents and kids to stay the course.  To not grow weary of doing good.  Because there’s just so many cool things we can do.  On my iPhone alone there are just too many awesome ways to do things and have fun with other people.

So how do we weather it?  How do we help out children stay strong, make wise choices, and do what God asks them to do when there are just so many awesome–yet potentially dangerous–ways to connect, have fun, and enjoy the digital world?

In my role as Children and Family Pastor at a church in Seattle, I interact with kids–elementary age kids–who are dealing with more stuff than I even dreamed about when I was their age.  They are being forced to grow up faster than they should, and many of them are struggling with very “adult” issues.
Kids struggling with pornography. Self-image issues. Parental abuse. Divorce, drugs, sex, stealing, lying, and stuff that I had no idea existed when I was in the 4th grade.  It breaks my heart to see them struggle.  These are good kids who need their parents to engage in the conversation, help them stay strong and follow the better way that God has created for them.  I’ve watched my own kids struggle in their own ways, and I’ve realized through a lot of trial and error what these connected kids need from us as parents.

They need us to help them find ways to enjoy this crazy new connected world without sacrificing their principles and staying true to their core values.

For my next several posts, I will be talking about just that.  From apps to texts to phone rules and how to handle those Xbox Live friends, I’ll give you our top ten tips for surviving the minefield that is our contemporary digital landscape.  Buckle your seat belts–it could get a bit bumpy.

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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!

A Battle for Life: August’s Birth

12314574_10153283054171608_6435122065943222663_oAugust turned 8 years old on Monday, which is hard to believe.  The night of his birth was definitely one Robyn and I will never forget.  After three kids, we didn’t expect that our fourth child’s birth would be the most difficult, and easily one of the scariest things we’ve ever gone through.

Luckily, I wrote the whole thing down just two days later.  Here’s the original version of what happened on September 12, 2008–the night we battled for the life of our youngest child before he was even born.

It has been a whirlwind weekend. What was supposed to be an easy delivery turned into a night of fear and worry and a battle between life and death. Sounds melodramatic, but it’s not, because life is what we are always fighting for against the Evil One. He hates life and will do anything he can to snuff it out.

Some may call it just a delivery with complications, but I will truly forever remember the birth of my son August as a day when God confirmed for me that my children are a gift of life, precious beyond words, and each to be cherished and protected against the powers of the enemy.

We went in at 1:00 pm on Thursday, September 11, to be induced. The doctor was worried that August was going to be too big. That Robyn would have a difficult time delivering him if he went all the way to term.

We made arrangements for the older kids. Got to the hospital and were placed in a room with a great view of the outside–lush green trees and beautifully, unseasonably blue, Seattle skies. The process began, and within hours, the contractions were strong and things looked good.

But an alarming pattern started as well–with every strong contraction, August’s heart rate dropped. At first, it only dropped a few degrees, from a baseline of 145 to 120. But as the evening wore on, and the contractions got stronger, the more his heart rate fell. 90. 80. It would always go back up after, but the consistency was beginning to worry our doctor and nurse.

They decided to slow down the process. Austen had had a drop in heart rate during birth, but it had rectified itself. Perhaps the umbilical cord was in the wrong place, being squeezed too tightly? I went out to the family members who had been waiting and gave them an update. It wasn’t going to happen tonight. Go home, we’ll call you.

We said goodnight. It was around 10 pm.

Our doctor came to the room and would not leave. She stayed as Robyn received her epidural, holding her hand through the process. Now the pain was less–but the contractions, and August’s reactions–were getting worse. We signed a consent for a Cesarean, just in case.

As I wrote the words above 8 years ago, I suddenly realized that the story was much more intense than my narrative made it sound.  This is why the rest of August’s birth story is written in the present tense.

At 12:23 am, August’s heart rate drops to 60, fights its way back, and drops again. In an instant, what was routine becomes a battle for the life of my son.

Robyn is moved to a gurney. There is a rush of activity, nurses coming from nowhere, the rushed conversation of “there’s someone else scheduled–no, I’ve called it–we’re going first.” Robyn is being readied to leave the delivery room and head to the OR. I have time for three thoughts, all of them involve prayer.

I call my mother, who is watching Audrey and Austen. I quickly tell her that Robyn is on the way to the OR–please pray. I call my mother-in-law and tell her the same–and to come quickly, Robyn wants her there. I quickly compose a text message and send it to a random selection of friends and family. I ask them again to pray.

By 12:34 we are in the OR, I am putting on scrubs, a mask. I am terrified. Thoughts of loss and death overwhelm me. I am going to lose either my child or my wife. Life will lose tonight.

I enter the room and see my wife on a table. She is being covered, prepped. There are three doctors, several nurses, and the team from the Infant Intensive Care Unit awaits in case they need to revive my boy. I cannot hold back the tears. I weep.

Robyn sees me. “Don’t cry. I need you to be strong.” I tell her I am not crying and I manage to stop the tears–but I am still terrified. I can’t see straight–tubes, scrubs, machines, a sterile clang of instruments. The doctors begin working in hushed tones–I focus on Robyn and try to distract her from what is going on. She is awake, only slightly uncomfortable, and getting very tired.

The noises stop. The doctors do not move.

Robyn and I fear the worst. Then suddenly, a cry. I see my boy. He is screaming, angry, scared. But alive.

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He is quickly wiped off and taken to the nurses who examine him and determine that whatever happened in the womb did not hurt him. He is beautiful, loud, and pink. A little dried blood is on his nose, but he stops crying when they hand him to me. I take him to Robyn and we both cry. Life has won.

Turns out that the umbilical cord was wrapped around one shoulder, through his legs, and over the other shoulder–almost like a harness. There was no way he was going to come out the natural way. But he is here, alive, and sleeping loudly in the room next door.

Life wins. The prayers of the faithful are answered, and a little boy whose name means “Revered and Exalted,” helps me do both to the very giver of Life. I revere Him for His power, His glory, and the fact that He reveals Himself to me. I exalt Him for His life, for His nature, and for His providence.

Sleep well, August. The battle for your life has just begun.


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I am thankful for Doctor Robertson, every nurse, every attendant, friend and family member who did their part to bring this sweet and wonderful boy into this world.  We can’t imagine our lives without our Goose, Gus-Gus, or any other name he goes by.  He’s one incredible kid.

Road Trip Packing List

I can’t believe we’re already in September!  I don’t know how the summer has flown by and now we’re in back to school mode.  I may be in the minority, but I love having my kids home!  I love the sleeping in and cuddles on the couch that last into the late morning.  I love moseying into the day with just the sun to guide us on our adventures.  And I love spending it all with my family!

13774899_1736279196596936_1336765421_nOne of our favorite things to do is road trips.  Whether it’s just spending a day to drive to nearby Portland, OR or a few weeks to tour the country, we love just getting in the car and driving.  Last month we left for a ten day southwest America trip!  We visited Arches, Mesa Verde, The Grand Canyon National Parks.  This is our fourth  major National Park trip as a family. So while I’m still learning how to pack a family of 6, I’ve done enough road tripping to know what I’m doing.  Today I’m going to share with you my how-tos on how to pack for 10 days on the open road. Let’s go!

  1.  Try to keep your luggage to a minimum.  This means sometimes sharing luggage space.  My husband and I share one giant suitcase and we leave enough room for extra shoes or jackets for the kids.  While I would love for my kids to share luggage, I know that with a teenage son and daughter, it will not happen.  So, be realistic with who can share.  If you have littles and they don’t insist on pulling their own suitcase, pack them together.
  2. Pack plenty of snacks for the whole family.  With 6 people, we all have fairly diverse preferences.  While I prefer healthy non-spill snacks, my 7 year old would love to have a banana and peanut butter in the third row.  Not gonna happen!  Pack things that are easy to clean up and high in protein (to prevent car sick kiddos) like trail mix, beef jerky, and cheese sticks.  I always throw some extra goodies in the cooler for rest stop breaks, but try to keep the in car food to a minimum. We also keep drinks to a minimum with the exception of water, just to so we don’t have to find a rest stop every 20 miles.
  3. Small balls or frisbees.  We haven’t done this in a while, but I think we may need to revisit this idea.  When our older kids were smaller, we would make our rest stop breaks a little longer by getting out a ball or tossing around a frisbee.  It helps the littler kids with wiggly legs get a good stretch and helps mom and dad get a nice break from those long highway drives.
  4. Maps.  That’s right, a good ol’ fashioned, folded backward and forward map. While Apple Maps and Google Maps are great and convenient, when you’re out in the middle of nowhere without cell service, those apps will do you no good.  On our last trip, we ran into a bit of a jam with our directions and thankfully had a map in the car.  Without it, we would’ve been in trouble and probably would’ve extended our trip a few hours longer than it needed to be. If you’re a AAA member, you can get all of your maps for free.
  5. Use Gasbuddy.  Speaking of apps, Gasbuddy was a lifesaver on our last trip.  We like to save money wherever we can and thankfully our Gasbuddy app saved us close to around $50, just by driving a few short blocks away from the convenient gas stations.
  6. First aid kit.  While we don’t always need one, it’s a good idea to have one.  I pack in mine bandages, first aid cream, tylenol, wipes, and believe it or not, barf bags because we usually have at least one barfer in the car at any given time. If you’re doing any hiking I would recommend packing a full first aid kit.

One other thing I want to mention, is that when we travel, we stay at hotels across America.  It may not be the most economical way of traveling, but it is the easiest.  If you need help with finding great hotel prices, let me know and I will tell you my secrets!  It’s not hard, just takes a little more time.  And let me know how your next road trip goes!  I love to hear (and sometimes steal) other family’s ideas!

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Healthy Fighting

It may come as a surprise when readers see the smiling faces on Instagram or Facebook, but our family doesn’t always get along.  My wife and I have been known to argue, and there have been those occasional moments when the kids get into a verbal battle.  We aren’t perfect.

Fights and arguments are part of life.  Even a family that enjoys being together (like ours does) doesn’t always like each other every moment of every day.

What makes it work is when you lay some ground rules for how you fight–or disagree, if the word fight causes you to think of a bout of fisticuffs or a street brawl.  When you agree on how to disagree, you’ll help each other and your kids deal with those moments as they come.  (Because they will come.)

After a particularly ugly fight early in our marriage, Robyn and I agreed on some rules for how we would fight from then on.  Here are a few of them.

 + Don’t Get In the Car.  This may not work if your fight starts in the car, but one thing we learned after that really ugly fight was that we should never get in the car and drive away mad.  One reason is because you may damage the car (ahem, I don’t know this from personal experience, ahem), and another is because if you drive mad you drive crazy, and you don’t want to get in a car accident while you’re angry at each other.  You don’t want your last words to be your angriest words, do you?

+ Learn Each Other’s Styles–and Respect Them.  I like to talk through an argument, Robyn likes to process.  Because of that, I have often made our fights longer than they needed to be because I wanted her to talk while she wanted to process.  This only made things worse, and it wasn’t until recently–nearly 17 years of marriage later–that I think I’ve finally respected that difference.  It makes a world of difference, and keeps the fights shorter than they used to be.

+ Don’t Fight to Win.  You don’t get a medal for winning a fight with your spouse.  What you get is hurt and resentment.  Arguments in marriage aren’t about defeating your partner, but finding a suitable compromise that is the wisest choice for you both and for your family.  You don’t win when your partner is hurt by your victory–you both win when you find ways to work together toward a good solution.

+ It’s Okay to Fight In Front of the Kids.  Some parents never argue in front of their kids.  They don’t want to let the kids see the ugly side of marriage.  But if you’re fighting with the rules, agreeing to work together, not trying to win, it’s okay if you don’t always agree in front of the kids.  They need to see you argue–because they need to see that a healthy response to a disagreement can be found.  You model for them how to respond in their own fights, and if they never see you fight ever, they won’t see how you solve it when tensions rise.

There are a few more: don’t throw things, admit you’re wrong if you are, avoid swear words, and if you are both yellers, be careful how much arguing you do with the windows open.  Yes, it’s tongue in cheek, but knowing how to fight and still go to bed loving each other and not angry is not only what God wants for your marriage, it helps your kids see how to handle it when their tension moments come along.

What are your rules for those tension moments in your marriage or family?  Share them in the comments below!

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