Monthly Archives: November 2006

The danger of having too much

Lots of people say that kids today are spoiled, unappreciative, and overly materialistic, and wonder how to help them develop a sense of gratitude for what they have. My response to this has been pretty simple, but very effective. Give them less, and they will appreciate everything more!

It sounds like I am joking or being stingy, but I’m not. I’m not advocating depriving our children of necessities, or even of luxuries. But I am suggesting strongly that they be consciously limited. It is a reality that the more a person has, the harder it is to appreciate it all. There reaches a point of diminishing returns, where it takes more and more to make you as happy as you were in the past when you got something much smaller.

So many people insist that if they just had x more dollars, then they would be content. But what actually happens in the vast majority of cases? Once they achieve their first goal, they simply raise the bar and then declare that they will truly be happy once they have x more dollars! Kids aren’t any different! When kids are given every thing they express the slightest interest in, and then some, they become jaded, unable to enjoy what they have. Many parents try harder and harder to find something their kids will really love, thinking they just need to find the right present and the kids will be thrilled. But the excitement is usually short lived and then the gift is just one more thing in their piles of stuff that they don’t pay attention to.

Kids need help becoming consciously aware of all that they have. They don’t know any other life but that which you have provided for them. I often talk with my children about how lucky we are to have a home, a vehicle, etc. Being preachy when talking about these things doesn’t work, but just naturally sharing your gratitude and happiness about your life does. When I pay bills, I tell them how happy it makes me that we have money to pay those bills, and I share with them the joy we have in being able to use what we have to help others less fortunate than ourselves. There have been times when things were financially really tight, but we still made it a priority to give 10% of our income to charity, no matter what. Giving to others helps you remember that no matter what you don’t have, or wish you have, there are so many others who have much less than you do. Even very young children can take pleasure in sharing what they have with others.

The holidays are around the corner, and lots of parents are trying to find just the right gift for their child. Enjoy your shopping, and enjoy getting your child something that they will enjoy! But remember that when it comes to material goods, sometimes less is more, and that there is always someone who is not as fortunate as you whose life you can enrich. The memory of the joy you bring to someone else is something that will stay with you and your children long after the nicest gift is just a distant memory.


Getting away as a couple

Does getting away alone with your husband sound like an impossible dream now that you have children? It sounded like one to me for years, and anytime I would hear or read marital advisors discussing the importance of time with one’s spouse, I would mentally groan and stop listening! Despite knowing deep inside (but not wanting to admit) that it would be beneficial to us to take that advice, I would instead tell myself what a great relationship my husband and I already have, how going away wasn’t necessary for us, etc, etc.

Well, about two years ago, we finally got away for the first time, after 13 years of marriage. We went for one day and one night, and making the arrangements to find places for all the kids would have been enough for me to have backed out of the entire idea. But my husband felt it was important and really was committed to the idea, so he worked out all the details to make it possible.

Warning – going away as a couple can be habit forming! We had such an amazing time, and kept asking ourselves why we it took us so many years to be able to do it. It wasn’t where we went that was so nice, but just having time to talk in a real way, without constantly being interrupted or feeling like there were loads of things around the house waiting to be done, calling to us. At the end of that trip, we committed to each other that we would make the effort to go away once a year, and not make excuses about time, money, or anything else once we got home and life got hectic again.

The next time, we went away for two days and two nights – we had an even better time than the first time. About eight months ago, a month before our baby was born, realizing it would be a long time before just the two of us would be able to go away alone, we decided to go away again. This time it was for three days and three nights, and it was done with the very active support of a wonderful friend, who paid for the hotel room and took most of my kids for most of the time! I had been insisting that it was impossible for us to go away for that long – after all, since we homeschool the kids, and their closest friends go to school, I couldn’t expect their friends’ mothers to just have my child hanging around the entire day. Asking grandparents to watch all six kids for three days straight was also not a good solution. But where there is a will, there is a way, and I’m lucky to have a husband and a friend who had a strong enough will to find the way!

The time away is sooooo important in reconnecting in terms of feelings, thoughts, and goals. We like to just spend the time relaxing together. We bring books to read, take walks, talk – it might not sound exciting, but so deeply rewarding. We also take food with us, so we don’t need to spend time shopping or bust the budget by eating out (though if that works for you, great!). It’s not where you go, but who you go with that is really important. It’s also important not to schedule lots of time running around, which can partially defeat the purpose of going away together, by distracting you from deeper levels of communication that come with uninterrupted time to focus on one another.

Why am I writing about this now? Because we are leaving for our next three day retreat tomorrow night, after we have Thanksgiving dinner at my in laws! This is the first time that we have a specific destination – usually we choose a nice hotel not more than an hour or so away from home, so we don’t have to spend lots of our time driving. We will be going to Colonial Williamsburg, and though we will spend most of our time relaxing in the apartment, are planning to spend one day enjoying some of the local sites. I am very lucky that my mom has a timeshare there that she made available to us, and am so appreciative to her.

This is also the first time that we will have a baby with us, and having a separate room where he can nap will be very useful. That way, he can keep his regular sleeping schedule, and we don’t need to worry about tiptoeing around and waking him up. Don’t think that having a young (or older infant) is a reason not to take this suggestion. Have a plan and have realistic expectations, so that you don’t end up feeling frustrated that your baby needs you, even when you are on vacation!

I encourage every couple to take time to go away from home, even just a day, and use that time to connect with their spouse in a deeper way. Thanks to online sites like and, you can find great deals and it doesn’t need to cost a lot. If cost is a concern, think about all the things you find money for because you need to. Isn’t nurturing the relationship with your spouse just as important as those things? It’s an unfortunate truth that the most deeply important things don’t press on you to be done; you need to exercise the proactivity to make them happen. And just think by using your time well, you will come home feeling more loving, happy, and centered! And what could be better than that?


Playing with our Kids

On Friday, our family went to the local gym together – my husband headed to the racquetball courts for a quick game with our oldest son, and I met him a little later in the game room for pool and ping pong with the other kids. The great thing about the game room is since we go at off hours, we have the room to ourselves, which otherwise would be filled with teenagers. There is one pool table and one ping pong table, so we alternate who plays which game. I don’t personally care for pool, and leave it for my kids to play each other, or to play with my husband. I enjoy ping pong or racquetball more, and can play it with the older kids, who are getting to be decent players, or with the younger kids, who are lucky to hit the ball at all; forget about playing with any kind of rules!

Some people are naturally good at playing with their children, but I’m not one of them. I take my kids on fun trips and do nice activities with them, but I am usually in a supervisory position, not interacting in a parallel position to them. We read together and have great discussions, but that isn’t play either. Some time ago, I heard a mother of a large family said that she consciously made time to play with the kids – not to take them to the park, not to watch them play, not to buy them games (all of which are good, and things that I did, but not what she meant) – but to get down on the floor and play with them. At first I mentally rejected the idea, since it wasn’t something that felt natural to me. As I thought about it more, I realized that I was staying in my comfort zone as a parent by not being willing to do something a little different, something that I could clearly see being positive. Knowing that growth in all areas comes from overcoming my internal weaknesses and doing what I find difficult, I started to make the conscious effort to play with my kids.

I started with card games, like Uno and Skip Bo, that are easy to learn and quick to play. Then I went on to board games. I have definite preferences and my kids know that there are some games I’m much more likely to agree to play with them – basically, I prefer to play games that I like! Rumikub is a good one, so are Othello and Battleship. We also like Set and Quiddler (both card games). The kids play Monopoly and Life often, but both games take too long to play for me to sit down to the entire game. I avoid games like Stratego – it’s a great game, but it requires intense periods of concentration to formulate strategy, and I can’t play well while keeping an eye and ear on everything else going on in the house. Some games, like Scotland Yard and Clue, are fun to play with the entire family. I also have accumulated the kiddie versions of a number of games – Mastermind Jr., Boggle Jr., Rumikub Jr. – so that the younger kids can enjoy games that are age appropriate for them. I’ve found, however, that the kiddie versions tend to be very dull (and it’s hard for me to play something that is an endurance test), and that the kids quickly learn to play the older version by watching their siblings. I have always enjoyed puzzles, so that was something that was very easy to do with them, and it’s a wonderful feeling to have everyone working together one big puzzle at one time!

Then I really expanded my comfort zone, by racing with them one day when we went to the park. They loved it! They particularly loved it since they were used to me sitting by the side, watching them play, maybe pushing a swing or two. In the summer, I took them to the pool, and gave the younger kids bouncy rides in the shallow water while the older kids swam on their own. It was energizing to do something so physical with the kids – when I finished, I felt more alive and in shape than I did before I began.

Playing with our kids adds a wonderful dimension to our relationship with them. I spend all day, every day with the kids, but when we take the time to play together, it adds more depth to our relationships. It’s time that is spent together just purely enjoying one another. It is so easy to make excuses for why we can’t do it – we’re tired, we don’t enjoy it, we just want time for ourselves. Taking the time to play doesn’t need to take long, and doesn’t have to every day – but take the time to do it! You and your kids will be glad you did.