A Stay-at-Home Date Night for Every Room

The “stay-at-home” orders are slowly starting to shift as we move from “red” to “yellow” to “green.”  Still, it remains challenging to eat out or go someplace for a date night. Even before the current crisis you may have felt the challenge of going out for a date night due to financial constraints. But, no fear. You can have a date night without even leaving home. In fact, you can have a date night in every room of your house. Here are a few date night ideas for each room.

  • The Dining Room Date. Of course, you could have a dinner date in the dining room. Make it interesting though. Have a candlelight dinner with romantic music playing. Order your food through DoorDash or UberEATS.
  • The Living Room or Family Room Date. Pull out the cards and board games to enjoy a game night date. Or, rent a movie and have a movie date night. Don’t forget the  popcorn, chips, and drinks for game dates or movie dates.
  • The Kitchen Date. The kitchen date involves cooking together. Think about a food you have always wanted to try or a food you really liked when you ate it in a restaurant. It might be a main dish, a dessert, or an appetizer…or one of each. Look up the recipes and have a kitchen date making it. You can even find a cooking class with expert chefs on YouTube to enjoy as a cooking class date night.
  • The Bedroom Date. You can go all kinds of directions for the bedroom date. You could simply enjoy a breakfast-in-bed date. Or, you could enjoy a candlelight-romantic-massage date night. Or, do the breakfast-in-bed date in the morning and the candlelight-romantic-massage date at night. You can use your imagination for other bedroom date ideas.
  • The Back Porch. For the more casual date, enjoy an evening on the porch with a ­just hanging out date night. Simply sit together, cuddle up, and enjoy conversation remember fun times from the past and fun times you look forward to in the future.
  • The Yard Date. Pack a picnic and go into your back yard for a picnic date. Then, lay out the blanket and lay down to watch clouds go by. Or, do it later in the evening and stargaze. Listen the concert of birds and watch the firework of the stars with your spouse. It’s a nature’s concert date night.

If you want to have an even more unique date night, make it a progressive room date night. Order your favorite meal through DoorDash and then start your date in the kitchen while you wait for the food to arrive. In the kitchen, make your favorite appetizer or dessert together. When the food arrives, enjoy a candlelight dinner in the dining room that includes the appetizer you made. Then move to the family room for a movie. Afterward, enjoy your dessert in the living room. By this time, the sun will have set and the stars come out. Lay on your blanket in the back yard to enjoy God’s light show of stars for a time. Finally, end your date in the bedroom with a romantic massage. 

What are your ideas for a date in every room of the house?

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned At Dinner

Family having a big dinner together at home

I enjoyed daily family dinners as a child. Well, most of the time I enjoyed family dinners. Sometimes tensions and disagreements cast a shadow over the meal. But I still remember family dinners with great fondness. My wife and I did our best to keep the tradition of family dinners alive in our own family. Looking back, I realize that everything I really need to learn I learned at family dinners. Let me share a few of those lessons with you.

  • Come to the table when you are called. Opportunity does not wait. At the very least, it grows cold. So, when opportunity calls, respond. Come to the table or you might miss out.
  • Always begin by giving thanks for the blessings you received and the people who make those blessings possible.
  • You do not always get what you want or even like. Give thanks anyway. Not everyone is fortunate enough to receive such an abundance; and many people contributed to the raising, harvesting, transporting, selling, purchasing, and preparing that made this blessing possible. Be grateful.
  • Share. There are others at the table with you. Keep them in mind. Take some for yourself and joyfully pass it along to the others. Share.
  • Take only what you know you are going to eat. No need to be greedy. If you want more after you finish what you have, you can have more. Each time you get more, take only what you will use.
  • Remember, there is always enough to go around when each person remains considerate and mindful of everyone else.
  • Wait your turn. Your favorite dish will make it to you even if you have to wait a bit.
  • Serve one another. Sometimes the dishes are too hot to pass. In such cases, everyone patiently passes their plate to the person nearest the hot dish. That person scoops the food onto each person’s plate while carefully assuring they receive the amount desired. It is an exciting privilege to be deemed mature enough to serve and an honor to be served.
  • Practice patience. Wait for everyone to get their food before you begin. We are a family, a community. It is polite to wait for everyone before you “dig in.” After all, we are eating dinner together. Enjoy it together. 
  • Just because you are upset about something does not give you the right to ruin dinner for everyone else. Remain polite and kind, even if you are upset with the person sitting next to you.  
  • Enjoy the conversation. Don’t simple “shovel food into your mouth.” Be curious about the other people present. Learn about their day. Converse. (As a bonus, this will also increase your children’s vocabulary.)
  • Ask for what you need rather than reaching impolitely in front of everyone and so intruding into their space and disrupting their composure.
  • Dessert is coming…but only to those who are grateful for the gift they received, gracious to receive even what was not perfectly prepared, and well-mannered.

Eating as a family proves much greater than simply filling our stomachs with needed nutrients.  It is a microcosm of the larger community. Indeed, family dinners teach us everything we need to know to live a life of honor, grace, and celebration in our world.

*Titled with a “shout out” to Robert Fulghum who wrote the excellent book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Graduating Quiet as a Mouse? No Way!

My youngest daughter is one of the many young men and women graduating from college this year.  Like so many others during the covid-19 pandemic, she transitions quietly from one phase of life to another. No pomp and circumstance. No announcing of her name before a crowd of people. No walking across a stage to be given a congratulatory handshake as she receives her diploma. No cap thrown into the air with her classmates. No gathering of family and friends to celebrate. Just a quiet step from one stage of life into another.

But, do not let the forced isolation of this year’s graduation fool you. We recognize your hard work.  You have worked hard, and your hard work has paid off.  You have achieved a milestone in your life. We recognize your success.

I ask you not to let this time pass by without taking a moment to reflect in the quietness. Reflect on the long nights you conquered and the seemingly impossible demands you met. Reflect on the knowledge you have gained and the life experiences from which you have learned. Reflect and celebrate the friends you made, the joys you shared, and the obstacles you have overcome. I think you will discover, like I did, that although you are graduating quietly, you are more like a lion than a mouse. Yes, more like a lion quietly prowling through the tall grasses of anxiety and confusion that distract the world from seeing your hard-earned success. A lion stealthily studying the current climate, confidently looking for just the right moment and the right angle from which to gain the best gain in the current environment. Muscles primed for the quest of life’s next stage as you crouch, kneading the ground under your feet to assure good footing. Quietly preparing and watching for the right moment to pounce at full throttle into the next phase of life. Ready to conquer. Ready to run. Yes, you are much more like a lion.

But for now, it is quiet. Don’t worry. Wait patiently. Reflect on your accomplishments. Continue looking ahead to survey the possible opportunities. They will come and you will go. We have confidence in you and your ability, a confidence born from watching you achieve so much already, a confidence undergirded by our pride in who you have become.  Yes, we are proud of you. We may not be able to take you out to dinner or gather with friends and family to celebrate…we may not get the opportunity to applaud your success at a graduation ceremony…but, we are proud of you. We know you have worked hard. We watched you struggle with obstacles and overcome. We see you planning and waiting–patiently biding your time, itching to take that next leap. And we are as excited for your next step as you are. It will come. And when it does, you will leap. And through it all, we are behind you cheering you on. We are proud of you.

Teach Your Children Hardiness

Times are tough, no doubt. But you can use these tough times to teach your children an important skill: hardiness. Hardiness is a psychological term describing a pattern of managing stress (aka-tough times) in a way that leads to greater success and joy. People who develop hardiness tend to manage stress better, take better care of their health, and view themselves as capable. Doesn’t that sound like traits we want our children to learn? We can help our children grow hardier by promoting the “three C’s” in their lives: commitment, challenge, and control.  Here is a very brief description of each one and things you can say that may help your children grow hardier through the tough times.

  • Commitment. Commitment refers to a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It is marked by involvement instead of withdrawal and isolation. A person of commitment keeps their eye on the larger meaning of life, their purpose. They look at problems within the context of “something bigger,” the context of values, priorities, and meaning. Questions you might ask your children during “hard times” or problems that can promote commitment include:
    • What makes this so important to you? What does this mean for you?
    • What do you ultimately want from this situation? In an ideal world, what would be the perfect outcome?
    • What is most interesting to you about this…?
    • What makes this situation so important to you? Why does it arouse such strong emotion in you?
    • How do you think you can become a better person by dealing with this challenge?
  • Challenge. People with hardiness see the problem as a challenge, an opportunity to learn and grow. Because they are committed to a life of meaning and purpose, they see the challenge, the tough times, as an opportunity to move toward the ultimate goals of their values and purpose. You can help instill a sense of challenge in your children with comments like:
    • What can we learn from this situation?
    • That did not work out the way we/you wanted. But we did learn that….
    • How can you use what you learned in this situation to grow stronger? To bring your life more in line with your values?
    • How can you communicate you values and priorities effectively during this tough time (problem, conflict, etc.)?
    • Remember other times when you overcame problems even when it was hard?
  • Control. Control refers to our belief in our own agency, our influence in the situation or our ability to choose our response. It is the opposite of powerlessness. It combines with a sense of challenge to see what aspects of the stressful situations we have influence over and then seeks to exert that influence to create a positive change. We can help our children grow an appropriate sense of control by asking:
    • What are your options?
    • What will you do now?
    • What parts of this situation can you change?
    • There are a lot of contributors to this situation. Which ones are within your power to change?
    • What mistakes did you make? How will you do it differently next time?
    • How can you improve this situation? Or make this problem better?

Simple questions that can help your child develop hardiness over time…and reap the benefits of growing into a hardy adult.

3 Elements of a Healthy Marriage

Healthy marriages face challenges. Any time two different people from two different backgrounds with two unique sets of values and communication nuances work to become one unit (a marriage), you are bond to have some conflict. Fortunately, challenges and conflict do not cancel out a healthy marriage. In fact, challenges and conflict present wonderful opportunities to grow more intimate as a couple…as long as the couple handles them with grace. How can couples handle challenges and conflicts with the grace that brings intimacy? Here are 3 suggestions.

  • Embrace the Conflict. Conflict happens. You might as well accept it. In fact, turn toward the conflict. Recognize the moment of conflict as an opportunity to learn about your spouse. Listen carefully to their point of view and you will discover amazing things about your spouse. You will discover that wrapped inside the conflict and your spouse’s emotions is a treasure chest overflowing with information about their values, fears, hopes, and dreams. 
  • Accept the 69. Gottman found that couples who returned to his “love lab” as part of ongoing research would often have the same disagreements they had even five years ago. In fact, his research revealed that about two thirds of all conflicts are unsolvable. They represent differences of personality and style. You could address them with anger and impatience…but that will not change anything. It will not strengthen your relationship. And, the conflict will remain. So, what can you do? Healthy couples do not avoid the conflict or disagreement. They learn to manage them differently, with honor and grace. For instance, they learn to use humor and repair statements during their disagreements forge strong marriages. They also believe and practice point number 3 below.
  • You Need Two Honest Voices to Forge a Strong Marriage. That means couples need to talk about hard feelings, frustrations, and conflicts as well as the celebrations and joys. (Because it ruins a marriage to Shut Up and Put Up.) No matter the content of the conversation, we must remain respectful and kind, even when we might disagree. We must listen, especially when we disagree. When handled with care and love, healthy relationships can handle two opinions. When both people remain open, both people feel accepted. When both people listen, both people feel heard. In the process, both people learn and grow more intimate with one another. Their love grows as they resolve their solvable disagreements  and as they learn to accept their unsolvable conflicts with grace and love.

Yes. Healthy marriages face challenges. Healthy marriages embrace those challenges because you need two honest voices to forge a strong marriage.

The Digital Bedtime Story?

I love to read. When my daughters were young, I loved reading to them at bedtime. I also loved lying in the bed with my wife and children listening to my wife read Little House on the Prairie or The Chronicles of Narnia to our children. We read physical books to our children…you know, books made of real paper as opposed to e-books. I’m not sure we had the choice of using e-books when my children were young. Still, the smell and touch of the paper, the sound of a turning page…it all has a certain beauty to it.

Today, you might think to read bedtime stories from an e-book, a nook, or a kindle to your children. But before you do, consider this small study published in 2019. This study involved 37 parent-child pairs. The children were an average of 29-months-old. The researchers observed and recorded behaviors while these parent-child pairs read stories together. In fact, each pair read each story in three different formats: a physical book, an e-reading tablet, and an e-reading tablet on which the story was interactive (touching added sounds, enhanced pictures, read words).

After observing and coding behavior, the researchers found that parent-child pairs using e-readers battled for possession of the tablet more often than they did when using a physical  book. Children moved so the parent could not see the e-reader more often, controlling the parent’s ability to read. Children and parents touched the book more often, pushed the other person’s hand away. Parents and children grabbed the book or attempted to move it out of the other’s range as well. In other words, parent and child exerted more effort to control the e-reader. They exhibited more behaviors aimed at “managing possession” of the tablet.

Why? The researchers note that tablets are generally for solitary use. For instance, parents may use the e-reader as an electronic babysitter for the child, letting their play with it alone while they clean the kitchen. This may increase the difficulty of using it collaboratively as a pair. Children also love to explore what is generally off limits to them. So, when an e-reader, which is generally off limits to them or turned off so they cannot use it, is suddenly presented to them, they may want to possess it. The researchers also suggest that both parent and child may be “mesmerized” by the screens that invite each one into a solitary interaction with the screen. In other words, in the long run, we really do not know why parents and children battled more for control of the e-reader when they can collaborate and share with the physical book. Perhaps that will be the next study we read.

But, whatever the reason, physical books led to greater interactive sharing versus attempts to control and possess. I like what the author of Bedtime Stories in the Digital Age concluded after reviewing this information: “if our parent-child interactions shape our future behaviors (and they do), we might want to read physical books with our children. Doing so is a more collaborative, less controlling interaction.”  And, if our world needs anything right now, it needs more collaborative, less controlling people. So, pick up a couple of physical books and enjoy reading them with your child.

Gratitude Will Help Your Family Survive

I am not suggesting we ignore struggles or gloss over pain, BUT gratitude will help your family and my family survive hard times. Let me explain a couple of ways in which gratitude will help your family through the tough times.

  • A study published in 2007 involving 236 undergraduate students showed that students who report greater gratitude were more likely to take active steps to deal with problems when they arose. They were less likely to blame themselves for the problem and more likely to look for something positive in the problem, the “silver-lining” so to speak. In other words, gratitude helps us take an active role in problem-solving during tough times.
  • A study published in 2009 surveyed 201 college students and found that those who were more grateful were also more likely to use positive reframing to cope with stress. In other words, grateful people were more likely to look for something in the problem to help them learn and grow rather than wallow in the negative aspects of the problem. 
  • A 2019 study involving 71 college students found that students who spent time recording their gratitude twice a week for four weeks were better able to decrease negative reactions to negative emotions. In other words, they were better able to manage their negative emotions. Interestingly, those who wrote about gratitude used more words to describe their emotions, allowing them to better process and manage them.
  • Finally, a 2014 study involving 75 participants found that those participants instructed to remember a time of gratitude were more likely to wait for a long-term reward than those who recalled times of happiness or just a typical day. Gratitude helped them manage impatient urges for immediate reward. Gratitude supported patience.

What do you think? In these studies, grateful people were less likely to blame themselves and more likely to actively seek solutions and participate in the solution of a present problem. Grateful people were more likely to look for the “silver lining,” to look for what they can learn from a difficult situation. Grateful people were better able to manage their negative emotions. And, grateful people were more patient. Perhaps what we need right now is a little more gratitude. I’m going to promote that in my own life and the life of my family. Will you join me?

Read about these benefits and more in Four Ways Gratitude Helps You with Difficult Emotions from Greater Good.

The #1 Goal of Marital Arguments

Have you ever thought about the #1 goal of marital arguments? At first glance, you may think the goal is “to win. To make my spouse understand or see it my way.” But that is NOT the most important goal, the one we desire most. Let me ask the question differently. Do you want to make your spouse “see it your way” if it means damaging (or worse yet, destroying) your marriage? For most disagreements (at least 99% of them), the answer is “no.” We don’t want “to win” an argument with our spouse at the expense of our relationship. You may have had an experience like this in your marriage though. You disagree with your spouse and, after exchanging a few heated words, you “prove your point.” Your spouse concedes. They give in. They say you are right. You walk away knowing you “won the argument,” but feeling dissatisfied, disconnected from the one you love. In fact, you’re probably thinking about how to repair the relationship, how to reconnect and feel close again. No, we do not want to win at any cost.

If the #1 goal of any marital argument is not to win, what is it? The #1 goal of any marital argument is to connect in a way that makes both people feel safe and secure. You have probably had this experience too. You and your spouse have the same disagreement mentioned above. You even exchange a few heated words about it. But, somehow, when all is said and done, you feel closer, more connected. You’re not really sure who “won,” but you know you understand your spouse better than you did before the argument and your spouse understands you better as well. You feel connected…and as though you have both “won.”

How do you achieve this #1 goal of any marital argument?

  • First, see your spouse. Look at them. Don’t just look at the issue, the frustration or the anger of the moment. Look at your spouse. Soften your gaze. Recognize your spouse. We all long to be seen. Give your spouse the gift of being seen by you.
  • Pay attention to your spouse’s emotions. Do they look and sound angry, frustrated, hopeless, happy, passionate…. Accept their emotion. When your spouse reveals their emotions, they are opening themselves up like a book for you to learn about them and their priorities. Read this precious book carefully, lovingly. Do not just glance at the book. Get curious and read between the lines. Look deeply to find the priority behind the emotion. It may have little to do with the disagreement you are having and more to do with their sense of security and safety.
  • Accept that your spouse may have a valid point of view. Many issues have more than one valid perspective. Much like the group of blind men trying to describe the elephant, you and your spouse may both have valid perspectives, even though they differ. See your spouse as the intelligent, loving person you married and accept that they may have something important to add to the issue, something important for you to hear and know.   
  • Graciously delay voicing your own point of view until you understand your spouse’s point of view. Lovingly defer your desire to be proven correct until you can understand how your spouse’s perspective seems right to them. This takes patience…a patient delay of your own right to be heard. Such patience is an act of love for “love is patient” (Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:4).
  • Listen. Listen carefully. Listen intently. Listen sincerely. Listen completely. Listen until you understand your spouse’s perspective and they know you understand their perspective. Listen.

As you practice these 5 actions, you will find a growing emotional connection with your spouse. You will also find arguments resolve more easily and more quickly. Hmmmm, a more intimate connection with the added bonus of a quicker resolution? Now that is a great goal for marital arguments!

A Powerful Way to Learn About Your Teen

Turns out that one of the best ways to learn about teens is to ask them questions about themselves. But ask with caution because questions are powerful. Using them improperly can result in a backfire that drives your teen into silence. In order to avoid the backfire, keep these safety precautions in mind.

  1. Do not fire questions too rapidly. Machine gun firing of questions leads to a backfire. The teen becomes overwhelmed and shuts down, silence.
  2. Why ask why? Why? Because “why questions” backfire. “Why would you do that?” leads to defensiveness. “Why are you going there?” invites a lie. “Why” can make your teen feel criticized. Best to think of a different way of wording the “why question.” Try a “what” or a “how.” “What led you to try that?” “What kind of things are you going to do there?”
  3. Condescending questions backfire as well. Asking a rhetorical question with a tone of voice that says your teen should also know the answer” pushes their silence button. Your teen will likely think, “No need to talk with them. They think they know everything.”
  4. Questions designed to make your teen confess will backfire. Such questions make your teen feel trapped. What reason would they have for answering a question for which you already have the answer. (Notice the avoidance of the “why question: “Why would they answer?”) It makes them feel humiliated. Instead, make the statement of what you already know.
  5. “Closed questions” fall into the category above. They invite simple “yes/no” answers or answers from a limited set of options. They also introduce the questioner’s bias and, many times, are used to manipulate the listener toward a certain end. Teens run from this trap. They shut down. “Closed questions” backfire.

Caveats in mind, questions are powerful. You can learn a lot about a person by asking them thoughtful, loving questions with an open and curious mind. Some powerful questions include:

  1. Follow-up questions. When your teen is telling you about something, ask them follow-up questions to assure you understand. This shows you value them enough to listen and become interested in what they are saying.
  2. Open-ended questions. Open questions allow your teen the freedom to express their thoughts and opinions. A parent will often learn a great deal about their teen through the careful use of open-ended questions.
  3. Be sensitive to your teen’s mood and schedule when asking questions. Look for the right time to ask a question. Do not ask questions as your teen runs out the door or while they are in the middle of their video game. Ideally, you can develop times when your teen is available to ask question. For instance, bedtime, supper time, and time in the car as you go to various events provide great times to talk with your teen. 
  4. Use the “right” tone and volume. A casual tone often contributes to more ready responses. A volume sensitive to your teen encourages more responses.
  5. Be willing to answer questions your teen asks of you. Our children and teens want to know about us. They want to know about our lives, our mistakes, our victories. Be willing to answer questions they might have. If a question seems inappropriate (and some will), you can politely tell them you do not think they need to know those answers right now. But, be willing to accept the same answer from them.

Questions are powerful ways to build a relationship with our teen. Used recklessly, questions can backfire and leave you with a silent teen. But used wisely, questions can help you learn about your teen. You will grow more connected with your teen. You will enjoy a deep, loving relationship with your teen.

“As For Me & My House…”

Are you tired of all the infighting we see in the world around us? The divisive comments and constant accusations? The incivility and contempt we witness in the news, on social media, and even in the public square?  I know I am…and it frightens me a little bit. After all, “civility, politeness, it’s like cement in a society: binds it together. And when we lose it, then I think we all feel lesser and slightly dirty because of it” (Jeremy Irons). I do “feel lesser and slightly dirty” as I witness rudeness, disrespect, and coarseness in the world around me. At times, I fear the cement of our civility is weakening and beginning to crack rather than holding us together. I worry that if we do nothing, civility will remain a mere tool in the hand of those who attempt to manipulate us…an illusion without true substance. And “when civility is illusory, war is inevitable” (Steve Maraboli).

However, I also have hope. I am optimistic that we can make a change…and it begins with each of us and our families. It begins when we value civility and practice it in our own lives and in the lives of our families. With that in mind, let me offer some practical ways you can practice civility in your life and in your family life and so begin a swell of civility in our society.

  • Practice politeness with gusto. Practicing politeness includes saying small phrases like “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and “I’m sorry” with all sincerity. Politeness involves “looking out for the other guy.” Polite people ask other people what they can do to help, how they can serve, and then they follow through by doing what is requested. A polite person holds the door open for “the other guy” and shares the last of the goodies with “the other guy.” Politeness compels us to think about other people. It urges us to let people know we respect them through our words and actions. Practice politeness with gusto in your home with family and outside your home with everyone you meet. Let you children witness your politeness.
  • Celebrate your differences. Each of your family members are unique. They have unique tastes, abilities, weaknesses, and fears. Those differences add to the beauty of our families. They help us achieve more. They provide opportunities to practice grace and so grow as individuals. They allow us to practice humility as we accept one another’s strengths. Honor the differences within your family. Celebrate those differences. It’s a practice of civility and love.
  • Practice radical kindness. Kindness is a warrior. It takes great strength to truly practice kindness. It begins by replacing any negative thoughts about those in your life (directly in your life or indirectly influencing your life) with thoughts of kindness. Next, do something kind for those people in your life, those in your family and those outside your family. When you truly need address some difference of opinion or inappropriate behaviors, do so with kindness. Kindness is contagious as well. As you practice kindness, those around you will catch it as well. Practice kindness…and watch others pass it forward.
  • Listen. Listen intently and sincerely. Listen to understand what the other person intends. Listen to learn the background and the context of what the other is saying. Listen. No name calling. No quick rebuttal. No proving them wrong. No counterargument. Just listen. Bear witness to their world. Understand them deeply. Then, when you understand them, respond with radical kindness…especially when you disagree or believe them wrong.

As we practice these skills in our homes and teach our families to practice these skills outside our home, we will build a groundswell of civility. We need that in our society today for “civility isn’t just some optional value in a multicultural, multistate democratic republic. Civility is the key to civilization” (Van Jones). So, I’m going to work at practicing civility in my house and in my world. I hope you will join me. But, if not, “as for me and my house….”

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