Category Archives: Family

The Ugly Truth of an Overwhelmed Mom and Resentful Wife

I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined the writing team over at Her View From Home, a lifestyle magazine that connects your view to the rest of the world; embracing everyday living through daily articles about family, kids, fashion and health, recipes and faith. Below is an excerpt from my first article.

It’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m exhausted.

The kids have been in bed for an hour, and my husband is asleep on the couch next to me. I shut down the laptop, turn off the TV, and pick up the cordless house phone to put in the charger. I am aware that if I don’t remember to do this tonight we won’t have use of our home phone the next day because someone has used the other handset, forgotten to put it back, and now it’s lost with a dead battery, somewhere in my house.

I pass by the dog’s food dish and see the child responsible for feeding her did not refill the water bowl, so I stop to fill it. I start to climb the steps to the upstairs, picking up a lost sock, a forgotten toy, and dirty dish towel along the way. With each step I climb, I feel the resentment growing inside of me.

I am the director, the scheduler, the planner, the seer, the doer, the organizer, and the manager.

Why don’t they remember to turn off the lights, and pick-up their shoes, and run the dishwasher, and sweep up the spilled cat food without being asked?

To read the full post, click here.

And while you’re at it, give them a like on Facebook.

How do we prevent sibling rivalry?

As a mom of three kids, two of whom are twins, one of my biggest challenges is keeping sibling rivalry at bay. I realize that some form of sibling rivalry is inevitable and it’s been happening since the beginning of time (thank you very much, Cain and Abel). My sister and I certainly fought and competed with one another growing up. But I always imagined — before having children – that my kids would love and support one-another, growing-up to be best friends. There were even signs that this might happen when they were very little. My eldest doted on her baby brother and sister when they came home from the hospital, bringing them her blankets and stuffed animals when they cried. When they were toddlers, my twins would waddle out to the playground hand-in-hand, or help each other up when they fell. It was so sweet and heart-warming…and lasted precisely 19 months, 16 days, 3 hours, and 27 seconds.

Now, here I am today with a teenager and two pre-teens. Mornings are torture as they snap at each other, blame each other, and try to boss one another around. Mealtime is filled with arguing over whose turn it is to talk, trying to get one another in trouble, or telling us about what the others did wrong at school that day. And car trips. Oh, don’t get me started on car trips! They are the worst! If I had a dollar for every time I said “no more talking, looking, or breathing at each other until we get home,” I would be able to afford that $30k a year private college my teen is eyeing.

Those pre-children dreams I had of raising three best friends are a distant memory now. Most days I’m just hoping nobody gets pushed down a well or sold to traveling Ishmaelite’s (thank you very much to all of Joseph’s brothers for planting that idea in my kids’ heads)!

I may not be able to completely stop the fighting and bickering that happens between my three, but one area I haven’t been willing to give up on is keeping them from the comparison trap. I never want any of my kids to feel like they aren’t as good as their sibling(s), or that they are expected to be the same. I know that this type of sibling rivalry will only create resentment and separation. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed as they get older this seems to be happening more and more, and it literally keeps me up at night worrying about the impact to their self-esteem, and their relationships.

Despite the many nights spent worrying and praying over this, and my resolve to not let it happen, I can tell you that [spoiler alert] I unequivocally have not figured out a perfect formula to prevent it. But there are a few things that seem to help more days than not, and I’m sharing these with you in hopes you will also share what is working in your family. Maybe together we can create our own play book on how to prevent a lifetime of competition and animosity between our children.

  1. Help them choose goals that are specific to their talents and abilities. This year all of my kids decided to run cross country. The three of them have varying degrees of athletic ability and experience running and if they all had the same goal of coming in first in their age group or running the same time, it would create a lot of frustration, disappointment, and comparison. So I talked to them regularly about what their individual goals were, focusing on improving on their previous times, and achieving personal bests, instead of all vying for the same goals. We do this with grades, too. My youngest daughter has really struggled with her spelling grade, so our focus this year has been on improving that. While my high-schooler has a history of late or missing homework assignments, so our focus has been eliminating those. This way we can celebrate when each child achieves a personal milestone that is meaningful to them, instead of only celebrating who got the most A’s and B’s.

 

  1. Privately encourage the older siblings to mentor the younger ones in specific areas. Now, I realize this may not work in every sibling situation. But my teen is great at making others feel included. She’s always been the kid who seeks out the loners and sits with them at lunch. Meanwhile, my younger daughter has been struggling to balance different groups of friends and the hurt feelings that can come between middle-school girls. Frankly, she doesn’t always like my advice or listen to it because, well I’m her mom – what do I know! So I’ve asked her sister to talk to her about it because my younger daughter looks up to her big sister. It lifts her up to think her big sister is taking a decided interest in her life. Meanwhile, it makes my eldest feel needed and important, instead of feeling annoyed by her little sister.

    If there is something one of your younger kids is struggling with, consider bringing in an older sibling, sharing only what is necessary and appropriate so as not to break confidences, and encourage them to help out. It inspires the older sibling, showing them what an important role they can play, while potentially opening doors to a pattern of siblings confiding in and supporting each other.

 

  1. Never, ever compare one sibling to another out loud. Notice my caveat of “out loud” here. What I really mean is don’t do it in front of your kids. The psychology magazines will tell you we, as parents, shouldn’t compare our kids at all. But just being real here, that’s not easy for me. Always in my head I look at my younger two and wonder how they are twins when they are SO different in every way. I look at my oldest and wonder how it is her sister is so organized and she struggles. I look at my son and wonder why dental hygiene seems to be so much more important to his sisters than it is to him. But I try very hard not to say these things out loud.

    If my children pick-up that I’m comparing them to their sibling and see one child doesn’t quite match another in a specific area, then they start to do this, too. Not only does it become a slippery slope to one feeling inferior to another, but it gives the other sibling a sense of superiority that I don’t want any of my kids to have (ok, well except maybe with the dental hygiene thing – if only my son cared enough about it to be shamed by his sisters!).

 

Those are three tactics I’ve been trying to employ in my house, and have found success, to varying degrees. I would love to hear what works for you and your children!

3 ways to prevent sibling rivalry

What I learned from Clark Griswold

Some of you may already know this, but my family and I just returned from a two week vacation in which we rented a 30 foot motor home and drove over 2,500 miles,  across 6 states, visiting 5 national parks including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone NP. While some people might cringe at the idea of spending two weeks in a 300 square foot box on wheels with three kids and their spouse, this was actually a vacation I’d dreamed of for a long time. I wanted to have a real-life Griswold Family Vacation (minus the dead great-aunt and dog)!

The decision to make the trip this year had a lot to do with me turning 40 and wanting to check-off a few things on the bucket list. But when my husband had a stroke less than a month before the trip, the significance and meaning of this trip took on even greater magnitude.

love at the Grand Canyon

I had begun planning for this trip months earlier. As I researched and evaluated each stop, campground, and driving route, I dreamed of the family time spent around a campfire; of my kids happily playing card games at the table while their Dad or I drove to the next destination; of the life-long memories we’d make together seeing some of the greatest sites in the country.

But as the trip got closer and closer I started to realize my ideas of the perfect family vacation spent on the road were highly optimistic, if not entirely unrealistic. I began to worry that I was building-up this vacation too much in my mind and that could only lead to disappointment when things didn’t go as planned. I jokingly referred to myself as the female Clark Griswold, but when I began to list the things that could  go wrong on our real-life Griswold Ballon Family Vacation, and calculate the chances I might have my own Clark Griswold-esque meltdown, I wondered: did I really want to try and pull this off? Wasn’t I just setting myself up for a huge, expensive disaster?

So I tell you truthfully, there was no small amount of anxiety plaguing me in the days before we left, and even the first few days of the trip. But I decided the best thing to do was try to stay flexible (completely out of character for me), and know that things might go wrong, but that didn’t mean the vacation would be ruined.

And you know what? For the most part the trip went off without a hitch. Sure, we had a few minor issues, but none of them were enough to ruin an entire vacation, or at least we didn’t let them become so important they were allowed to ruin any one day of our trip.

It was, indeed, a wonderful vacation. And while I liked to tease the kids that I was making them learn on their summer break by going to places like the Pueblo Indian cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park, or reading about the geological history of the Grand Canyon, I think I was the one who learned the most on this trip. Channeling my inner “Sparky” taught me a lot about myself and my family. Here are just a few of those things:

Be a family first.
In “National Lampoon’s Vacation” you hear Clark say over and over, “Why? because we’re the Griswolds!” I can’t say that I’ve ever said to my kids, “Why? because we’re Ballons! But I did learn from this trip that establishing  identity as a family creates unity.

Today there are so many places in which people claim an identity — even kids. We’re runners, dancers, drummers, teachers, students, etc. We belong to our employer or our school, our church and our clubs. And there is a sense of unity that comes when you claim them. Often they begin to define us. It becomes easy to forget that the first place we belonged was a family.

By spending such a concentrated amount of time together — away from our jobs, schools, and friends — we were able to just be a family. To be the Ballons. For 15 days straight we got to experience these wonderful places and things,  together. We will always have that. And while others may take similar trips and see similar sights, none will have the exact same experience that the five of us had together.

Garden of the Gods

Arkansas River

Sisters

 

When things don’t go as planned, have a Plan B, even if you make it up as you go!
Like I mentioned above, I had a great deal of anxiety leading up to the trip as I thought of every thing that could potentially go wrong.  Overall, we were fortunate that none of my biggest fears came to light. However, I don’t think it’s possible to go on a 2 week road trip and not have something go awry, and our trip was no exception.

We found out two days before we were to pick up the RV that we were not going to be able to get it before 4 p.m., when we had figured on a 1 p.m. pick-up. This meant not only a 3 hour delay, but also dealing with rush hour traffic in Denver. It didn’t take long to figure out that our original plan to drive three and a half hours that first day was not going to work out. After getting over the initial frustration, we looked for a new, closer destination for our first night and adjusted our plans accordingly. As it turns out, we loved the campground we stayed at the first night, even if it was a short stay, and by dedicating our second day to driving (originally we were going to visit Sand Dunes National Park, but had to scratch that plan to allow for a longer drive), we were able to go slower and enjoy everything we saw (see number 4).

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon tower

Jelise at the Grand Canyon

My body is still strong, even when it hurts.
So the truth is that I’ve been mourning the days when I was more fit and exercise wasn’t quite so hard. Turning 40 has magnified a lot of the things I don’t appreciate about the aging process…and gravity. But on this trip we did a lot of hiking and moving. In fact my fitness tracker calculate I walked over 140,400 steps, or 66 miles in two weeks! And I can tell you a big portion of that included some strenuous, up-hill hikes, and even climbing wooden ladders through rock crevices in Mesa Verde.

Of course, it hurt. I was physically exhausted each night, and took a few more ibuprofen than usual. But I did it. And it felt good. This 40 year old body is still strong and capable of new challenges.

Bryce Canyon

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone

Sunset over the Grand Canyon

Enjoy the unexpected moments.
I’m a planner. Like my Sparky namesake, I spent a lot of time mapping out routes, researching parks, reading reviews, and making reservations. But, like I mentioned above, on a trip like this you will have moments that don’t go as planned. However, what really surprised me were the unexpected sights and experiences that became some of my favorite moments of the trip.

For example, day two’s focus was on driving from Buena Vista, CO to Cortez, CO. The most direct route that Google Maps indicated was a 5 hour trip through the Rio Grande National Forest, so that’s what we did. What I didn’t know was that this path would take us through an area called Wolf Creek Pass, which was not only a beautiful drive across the San Juan Mountains, reaching 10,000 feet elevation, but it brought us across the Continental Divide, provided an unplanned snowball fight, and hike to see Treasure Falls. It was one of my most favorite days, not just of the trip, but of all time. Totally unplanned and unexpected.

Snowball fight at Wolf Creek Pass

Bison baby at Yellowstone

Bottom of Bryce Canyon

Everyone is allowed at least one meltdown.
So, Clark Griswold’s meltdown in the movie is pretty iconic and long been quoted. Watching the movie before we left I laughed nervously at that scene because I could totally relate to how he felt in that moment and knew that I was fully capable of having a similar meltdown if faced with a trip where it was one disaster after another, and a vehicle full of whiny, complaining family members.

I confess, that it didn’t even take a series of ridiculous events to trigger my meltdown. On our second-to-last night in the RV it took nothing more than fatigue, lack of fire-wood, and a slightly ruined dinner. While I was at least about my wits enough to know I needed a time-out and went to bed early, it was not my finest moment. As soon as my head hit the pillow I felt guilty. The next morning before we left our campsite I gathered my family to apologize and I was met with the most unbelievable grace and love. They understood and forgave. And then they all thanked me for the planning and effort I put into the vacation. It was a very sweet moment and reminded me that everyone is bound to mess up, it’s how we deal with the mess-up afterwards that matters.

Old Faithful

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

Horseshoe Bend - Page, AZ

There was so much more I learned about myself, my family, and my country on this trip. But I realize this is already a pretty long post, so I’ll wrap it up with this: spend long periods of time with your family, disconnected from electronics. Take long drives and explore places you’ve never been. Be willing to let plans change, and make unexpected stops. And remember, if things go wrong, if you get pushed passed your breaking point, if you have a Clark Griswold meltdown moment, things always look better under the light of a new day and an apology.

 

 

The unexpected Thanksgiving gift

Christmas may be the holiday best-known for giving and receiving gifts, but just a few weeks ago I experienced an unexpected gift on Thanksgiving. A gift that will live in my heart forever.

Before I tell you what the gift was, I have to tell you a little bit about my family. Families are usually the people who have known you the longest, and yet sometimes you feel like they don’t really know you at all. Misplaced loyalties, unspoken expectations, and strong personalities can often lead to hurt feelings, tense moments, and even estrangement. Families can be complicated, and mine is no exception.

My family tree is a little more like a juniper bush – dense and wide spread. Due to divorces and re-marriages, I have many I consider family that are not blood related. I have two moms who raised me at different stages of my childhood and a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins. I also grew up knowing and loving three grandmothers and two grandfathers. When I was a little girl I spent a good bit of time with my grandparents during holidays and summers.

I remember a lot of family dinners at my Grandma and Pappy’s house (my dad’s parents). Their house was the central hub for my  dad’s three siblings and all their kids to gather. It was always loud…there was usually a football game being watched in the basement, aunts chattering in the living room, and kids playing on the floor or running in the yard. My Pappy was always trying to pull a coin out of someone’s ear and my uncles were relentlessly teasing someone — usually my aunt, me or my sister. It was a bit chaotic and not always happy, but it was family. It brought us together and my Grandma was the central force in that.

When I was 13 things changed. My Pappy died. For several years we all continued to gather at my Grandma’s house, but things weren’t quite the same. A few years went by, some family moved out of state, I went off to college, my dad and step-mom got divorced and suddenly there weren’t big family gatherings at Grandma’s anymore. Or at least they were a lot less frequent and smaller.

During the next few years I didn’t see my Grandma very often. And when I did I usually got a bit of a guilt trip for the lack of frequency of those visits. If there was an Olympic sport in handing out guilt trips, my Grandma could take home the gold. I laugh now, but back then I didn’t.

The honest truth is it was not always easy to visit with her. I wasn’t sure what to talk about. I took everything she said very personally, which often led to hurt feelings. I was wrapped up in my world as a young wife and professional and I felt like she just didn’t understand my life. Of course I didn’t really make much of an attempt to understand hers, either.

Things changed a little bit when I had my kids. They were, and still are, her only great-grandchildren and she really treasured that. I wouldn’t say that the frequency of visits improved much or we became closer, but at least now when we visited we had the kids to focus on as our common ground.

During my early 20’s and 30’s I lost both of my grandparents from my mom’s side, whom I had been close to. We also lost my uncle Bill, my dad’s brother, who was just 50 when he died. It was incredibly painful to watch my Grandma go through the loss of a child. I remember her saying to me after the funeral that parents aren’t supposed to out-live their children. As a mother of three I couldn’t begin to imagine what that was like for her. But it was then that I started to see her in a different light. I saw her not just as my Grandma, but as a woman. A woman whose greatest joy in life had been being a wife and mother. She had lost her husband and then a child. I suddenly saw how strong she was and even began to understand that the “guilt trips” came from a place of genuine longing to be with her family.

Late last year my step-Grandma passed away and I found myself with only one living grandparent, and a lot of regrets for time not spent with the ones I had lost.

In March we celebrated my Grandma’s 90th birthday. I took on the project of putting together a photo book of her life and it was a special gift for me to go through these old photos of her as a girl, young bride, and mother…to take a look at the journey of her life. Being my only living grandparent, I silently vowed I would spend more time visiting and calling…

…then two months ago I got a call that my Grandma was sick and in the hospital. The details didn’t sound promising. After a few days in the hospital they moved her to a rehab facility. She didn’t do well there. She couldn’t rest, she ended up with bronchitis and almost developed pneumonia. After several weeks of her being there and some conversations with my aunt I agreed we needed to get her out and offered for her to come stay with us. I wasn’t sure how long she would need me, but made arrangements with work so I could be home with her.

Grandma was only with us for one week, the week of Thanksgiving, but that time was a gift I will not soon forget. It was a week of sitting around the table drinking tea and talking, watching her play checkers with her great-grandson, and shopping together for new clothes. It was time spent napping in a recliner while a Hallmark movie played in the background, eating too much food, and reminiscing about times past. I got to hear about her first job cleaning outhouses at the public school, and how she saved that money to buy a yearbook and go to her senior party.

There were lots of hugs and kind words shared. And for just one brief week, Grandma let herself be taken care of by someone else, in the way she’d taken care of her family for so many years.

In 39 years of being grandmother and granddaughter, I don’t think anything we’ve experienced made me feel as close to her as that week did. And I’m sure that’s partly due to my age and a bit of perspective…things look a little different in middle age than they did in my 20’s.

I’m learning to let go of old hurts and unspoken expectations, to lower my walls and get rid of fear. I’m learning to focus on what really matters and family is at the heart of that.

I hope in ten years we’ll be celebrating Grandma’s 100th birthday and there will be many, many visits and phone calls in between. But the truth is, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

If you have kept family at a distance, or let old hurts linger, causing separation; if you are waiting for tomorrow or next week to pick up the phone and tell someone you love them or go visit that relative…I just want to ask you this one question: what if tomorrow never comes?

Don’t wait. Let go of your fears and your pride and do it today. Even if it’s hard and messy, it will still be worth it. And you might just be surprised at the results.

Let’s all give ourselves that most precious, beautiful gift.

The gift of time.

 

 

God is bigger than my pain

Spring has begun here in Winchester, VA. The temps are rising and the daffodils and crocuses in my yard have just started to bloom, looking like sleepy maidens trying to awake from a long winter’s rest. This time of year is a beautiful reminder of fresh beginnings, new starts, and of course the miracle of resurrection.

I can’t imagine better timing for the release of my friend Crystal Sutherland’s new book, Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. While we still have a little over one month to wait for Journey to Heal to reach stores, I am honored and blessed to be part of Crystal’s book launch team, and was recently given the opportunity to read the first few chapters of her book. As I started to read, the primary message that leapt off the pages and into my heart is that God is bigger than our pain. His ability to heal will far surpass anything we can fathom. Crystal emphasizes this truth by sharing some of her story of healing – the healing of her heart and soul, and the healing of certain relationships.

In my own life I have experienced similar circumstances and been humbled by God’s awesome power to heal, especially within my family relationships. I confess, I have not always understood the importance of working at healing and restoring fractured relationships. At times it has seemed much easier to just walk away. But by my mid-20’s I started to realize that even if I walked away I still had to carry the burden of hurt, anger and pain – in fact walking away just made the baggage I was hauling heavier. This was especially true for me in my relationship with my mother. I had spent years waiting to hear the words “I believe you” and “I’m sorry,” thinking these would be the magic words to cure all, and as time passed, without even realizing it, the seed of bitterness grew larger in my heart.

Click here to continue reading the rest at CrystalSutherland.org