Keeping Your Husband First During the Busy Years

husband first

Candlelight dinners for just two

We felt eyes watching us as we ate by candlelight in front of the living room fireplace. It was late when Dave got home and we had sent the kids to their rooms. One by one, they meandered into the dining room, trying to watch us unobtrusively.

They knew they couldn’t come into our space. This was our time. They were a tad bit jealous, but that was okay.

One of the ways children learn the value and importance of the marriage relationship is when they have to give up their wants so their parents can have special times. Children need to know that the relationship between their parents is special. While they might fuss at not being able to go along on dates, it will breed security. They’ll grow to understand that marriage is so important that even children can’t get in the way!

How can we keep our husbands first when the demands of motherhood are many, constant, and tiring? I have a few ideas that worked for me.

These same principles can be applied if you’re the caregiver of a parent or sibling in your home. Don’t think that, once the kids are gone, distractions will not be there. They will. You can use some of these same ideas to help you find your way in your new normal. You can also click here to read about the things a caregiver needs to do.

 First Things First

Sometimes when a baby arrives, mom loses focus. Her busyness in taking care of baby results in neglecting her spouse. Do we sometimes cement the idea that the baby and mom go together when we insist on such things as carrying the baby into the church? How about when a family photo is taken – why does mom usually hold the baby?  Invite your spouse to carry part of the load.  Parenting should not be a competition. Don’t let your children divide your team. In conversations, name your spouse first. I remember a young mom who was spending her first weekend away from her baby. The entire weekend, she kept telling us how anxious she was to get back to Bobby and John. ‘Only problem was, John was her spouse and he was always mentioned after her child. Our words and speech patterns reveal where our heart is. Who do you refer to first when you’re talking about your newborn -your spouse or your baby?  When we’re always naming the baby first, guess who isn’t first?!

My Way Is Not the Only Way

Most husbands are more willing to help if they think they can “do it right” or feel appreciated for their efforts. Don’t get caught in the sentiment: mommy knows how to do it, but daddy doesn’t.  Allow him to do things differently than you do. Mismatched PJs don’t matter, but getting a diaper on tightly does. Don’t sweat the small stuff and give him space to learn. Children are resilient and won’t be cheated if it’s not done our way. Do you like being the only one who can do this for Susie, the only one who knows how Johnny likes his cereal? When our spouse isn’t allowed to participate in our child’s care, we end up feeling lonely and tired, with little energy for our spouse.

 You Are a Team

Mom is not more important than daddy. Early on, we need to proclaim that mommy and daddy are a team, not a caregiver with a helper. When our kids get that picture, they’ll understand that a good marriage involves teamwork, even in raising kids. Some children want mommy to do it because we’ve trained them that only mommy can do it right! Fathers will help more if we don’t try to do and be all things to our kids. When your husband helps more, you will be less stressed and have more energy for him.

Whoever Disciplines Should Comfort

The idea, “when daddy disciplines, mommy should comfort” is wrong. This is another way to show our husbands and our children that we’re on the same team. After being disciplined by their papa, our kids’ inclination was to run to me. They expected me to comfort them (daddy hurts me and mommy comforts).  First, I required them to “make up” with their papa. One Sunday morning, Dave took our toddler out for discipline. They were gone for a while because she was not one to give in easily. When they came back, she wanted me. I whispered that when she could sit on her papa’s lap and love him first, I’d hold her. She whimpered and cried, reaching out her arms to me while other moms glared daggers at the back of my neck. She didn’t need her mama so she’d feel loved. She needed to respond to her father and reckon with the fact that he loved her as much as did I. Finally, after long minutes (wherein I received nothing out of the sermon), she leaned back against her father and allowed him to cuddle her. They “made up”. When I offered my arms as promised, she didn’t need them anymore. Had I allowed her to come to me while still upset, he would have become the enemy, and I would have been the savior. Dave was equally capable of nurturing and hugging her as was I. When we try to comfort our kids after they’ve been disciplined by their father, we are choosing their side over his. Choosing sides makes us less willing to keep our husbands first.

Make Time for Him

To our spouses, love is spelled TIME. Get rid of deterrents to connecting at the end of the day. What can’t wait until later? A fussy newborn, a toddler who is having diarrhea are all now concerns.  Folding that last load of laundry, being on Facebook, or reading a few more chapters in the book can wait. When a pattern develops into something else always calling our attention, then someone or something has replaced our spouse. Schedule time for him and for intimacy.  Take a nap, tidy your bedroom, and whisper in his ear when he comes in for supper. He’ll encourage you to take a nap every day after that!

Who Belongs in the Bedroom?

When our kids were scared or sick, they would walk past Dave (closest to the door) to get to my side because I was more welcoming. Our room was our room, and kids didn’t (normally) belong there. One daughter commented recently, “I don’t remember ever sleeping in your bed with you. When we came into the room because we were sick, Papa cleaned it up and Mama got the mat out and ready for us to sleep on. It was a tag-team effort.”

When a toddler becomes distractive to your intimacy, then it’s time to move him to another room.  You might not be ready for that, but your spouse will be. Let your husband decide when it’s time to move the baby out of the room. If nursing a baby is more difficult if he’s in another room, try making a deal with your spouse that if he will get the baby and put him back in his bed after you nurse him, the baby can go to another room. He’ll either be up helping keep the baby out of your room, or he’ll concede to let your infant in a few more weeks or months.

Remember the Things that Matter to Husbands

Our husbands need our respect and admiration. One of the best ways to give that is speaking positively about him to our kids. Build up anticipation for the return of the man of the house! Dave tells me that most days I had the kids excited about his homecoming. I didn’t instruct; I just modeled. (That was easy to do, because I was excited about his homecoming!)

Men care about how their wives look, all the way down to their undies. Do the things that are important to your spouse. Don’t allow your kids’ wants to trump the things that your husband desires on a consistent basis. Be neat, be tidy, and be appealing when he comes in from work. If need be, tell your kids it’s time for you to get spruced up because your man is coming home and you want to look nice because he’s the most important man in your life!

Well ladies, there you have it. 7 Ideas to help you keep your spouse where he deserves – right up there in first place.  Don’t be overwhelmed. Choose one idea for now, then add one at a time.  If you’re not sure where to start, ask your hubby. I’m sure he’ll be glad to help you choose the first one!

husband first

This article was first printed in Daughters of Promise magazine. I have made a few adaptations for this blog post. For information about DOP, click here.

husband first

Re-emptying My Pockets


A Pockets Sort of Day

It had been a dreary autumn day. The rain had fallen continually and its dampness had permeated not only my body but also my soul. As we sat down to eat supper that evening, the kids seemed oblivious to my mood as they talked about their day and the fun times at school. They didn’t care that homework wasn’t done, that leaf piles had become mountains in the yard, and that laundry was still unfolded. I was out of sorts because – well, I’m not really sure why. I just know that I’d spent part of the day moping because I wished some things in life were different. I’d thought if only too many times that day.

Dave looked around the table at our half-dozen squirming kids. I’m sure he sensed my mood (he usually does.) Then his eyes twinkled as he said to me, “We need to treasure these times. It won’t be long until they’ll be gone.”

I knew he was right. In a few years, they’d be heading out. I could dread the future years, or I could clasp what I had today.

So I did. That evening, I emptied the pockets of my skirt. I’d been dusting and tidying the house and accumulated my wealth as I filled my pockets with semblances of my world.  Only thing is, I hadn’t seen it as wealth then. I saw it as just another task I needed to do because my kids were still just kids.

I still remember that feeling from that long-ago evening. I also remember how, as I emptied item after item in my pockets and looked outward instead of in, the despondency and gloom lifted.

Instead of looking at my losses, I chose to look at the blessings I had. I still try to do that.

Some days I have to make a conscious choice to count my blessings instead of my losses. Every time I do, I come out ahead. Every single time, I find that I am living in goodness from God.

Are you struggling today with life’s situations? Perhaps this poem I wrote that dreary evening will help you like it did me.

Pocket Treasures

One by one I pull out the items I’ve collected through the day.

If these pockets of mine could speak, they’d sure have a lot to say.

I’ve found a little girl’s comb, a safety pin, and the picture someone drew, making me grin.

There’s a rubber band, a paper airplane, and the grocery receipt still wet from the rain.

I’ve got a broken pencil, a spool of thread, and the needle I used to sew that button on in red.

There’s a Band-Aid wrapper, a crayon that’s blue, a couple of Legos, and a lace from a shoe.

I’ve got some unused tissues, a cap for a pen, and a book of matches that belongs in the den.

There are a half-dozen pennies, a sticker that’s “cool,”

And a couple of markers from the project due for school.

Throughout the house as I’ve been cleaning and dusting,

I’ve picked up this stuff — sometimes smiling, sometimes fussing.

I look at my treasures lying there on the chair,

And I know I’m far richer than a body can tell.

For the treasures that I’ve stashed there before I’ve gone on my way,

Are reminders to me that life has been good today.

Sometimes days are crazy and time slips by in a whirl,

And looking back, it truly seems that life is just a big blur.

Yet emptying my pockets, I must confess,

Is a guarantee that I’ll see how much I am blessed.

That’s because I have another set of pockets.  These I treasure even more.

They’re filled with intangible memories that no one can take from me, for sure!

There’s the gentle memory of brown eyes nestled close to me,

And a little hand patting my back when no one else can see.

I recall those blue eyes sparkling when the sight word test says “Great!”

And I smile because, for once, a kid got up early instead of late.

I treasure hearing laughter rippling in the afternoon sun,

And watching big brother helping sister’s chores in getting done.

There’s the sense of satisfaction when my kids don’t know I’ve seen,

And they choose to say, “I’m sorry,” before I need to intervene.

I clasp the memory of the secret whispered gently in my ear,

“I love you so much, Mama!” where no one else can hear.

I hold the quiet, gentle knowledge that commitment will be strong;

Though marriage sometimes isn’t easy, I know I’ll always belong.

And there’s the warmth and tender feeling lingering through me all day long,

From the hug and kiss he gave me before he put his work clothes on.

There’s the knowledge and experience that accumulates with years

Of a God who really loves me and can handle all my fears.

There’s delight in candles burning, the fragrance of the new-mown lawn,

Leaves a-turning, breezes blowing, and the crimson light at dawn.

When the day is drizzly gloomy, when the night seems frigid cold,

I find purpose in my pockets and the treasures that I hold.

When I’m tempted to look around me, to fret and to complain,

I find meaning in recalling, not what I’ve lost, but all that I have gained.

I clutch the promise of tomorrow: treasures that can’t be bought or sold.

I just reach into my pockets and grasp my riches, worth more than gold.

Have you emptied your pockets today?!



This article was first published in October 1999 and later printed in the book Southside Glimmerswhich is available here.


pinterest pockets

Claiming Our Family Tree

The roots of my family tree go deep. Its branches are gnarled with varying widths and lengths. There has been grafting which has added uniqueness. There has been drought and heat, which has diminished its strength and reach. But it’s my family, and it’s my tree.  This article was published previously, and there is more information about that at the end of this blog post.

family tree

A hickory nut and its outer shell.                   photo credit: Willis Beitzel.

Claiming Our Family Tree

It wasn’t that much fun back then.  Each autumn, we were sent out to the pasture to gather hickory nuts.  Although encased in a large outer shell, the actual nut itself is small.  Do you know how many nuts it takes to measure one cup of chopped nutmeat for a recipe?  A lot!

Sometimes we fussed and complained, but we went nonetheless. It was autumn. Hickory Nut cake was the cake that our mama liked best, and it was almost time for her birthday. So we went.

It became a tradition and part of who we were as siblings and as a family. That brown sugar/real butter/heavy cream frosting was a pure taste of taffy and maple sweetness. Oh, what bliss!

And now, when I taste this cake and this frosting, I am a child again, back in the warm kitchen with my family.  It’s dark and wintry-cold outside, but there is warmth in the kitchen, and I belong.

Many years later, two cousins and I traveled to the land where our great-grandfather Wilhelm set sail when he left Germany at the age of fifteen. We walked the streets of the small town of Langendorf and imagined that the cows wearing cow-bells were descendants from the cows our forefathers had pastured a hundred fifty years before!  My cousins and I imagined that we saw distant relatives in the faces of folks we passed on the street. Pensively, we stood by the lot where the Bender house had been. There was something about being among these people that felt like home.

Our mothers and aunts enjoyed the stories of our travels and our descriptions of that geography across the Atlantic, so like the homeland of their own childhood in Pennsylvania. The photo taken of the death record of Wilhelm’s father (who was buried just days before the remainder of the family left Germany) prompted somberness.  We regaled them with tales of the town their grandfather lived in before his journey to America.

“On Sunday morning,” we told them, “all the women were out sweeping their porches and sidewalks, just like you do here.”

Their eyes twinkled when we said, “We couldn’t get away from our mothers even though we were an ocean apart.”

It’s true. There are some things about family that are special just because that’s who we are. Often there are traits and characteristics that we don’t even recognize as belonging to our families. Yet there is familiarity in being part of the folks we call family.

Just a few weeks ago, a cousin stopped in overnight on her way back home.  I asked her if she had ever made the frosting for the Hickory Nut cake that is in the Mennonite Community Cookbook.

“Oh yes,” she said, “I’d be happy to make my mama’s cake and frosting again.”

And I thought to myself, “Your mama’s cake?!  It’s my mama’s cake!”

 For, after all, my mama’s birthday was in November and I was certain that no other children were ever sent out to the woods or pastures to gather hickory nuts. How wrong I was.

First cousins from nearly all of my mother’s siblings confirmed that their parent also liked hickory nut cake. They shared memories of gathering nuts and then sitting outside on large stones and cracking those tiny nuts using another rock.

“It was always important,” one cousin remembered, “to be sure to get the nut out in an entire piece.”

“We tried our best to get the half out without breaking it so we could put a circle around the outside of the top layer or cover the entire top with neat [concentric] circles,” another cousin said.

family tree

Well now. That could have been spoken by any of my siblings or any other cousin. That tradition had been passed down without any of us being aware of its passing. Yes, the hickory nut doesn’t fall far from the tree.

So all these years, my sisters and I thought this recipe was special because our mama liked it. Now we know that our grandma loved nut cake; small wonder then that her offspring claimed hickory nut cake as a favorite!

That’s what is so neat about family.  Genetics and those taste buds might have played into this tradition in my extended family, but I think it’s more about environment than about genetics.

We develop traditions without even realizing we are enveloping them. Something done once is repeated the next year, and suddenly it’s an unplanned tradition.

Your family might not claim hickory nut cake as a novelty, but you can name things that are special and that belong to you just because you are a family. Tracing the path back to the beginnings of a tradition can help you identify and claim your roots.

When we have the opportunity, we should be a part of family reunions. If we listen closely, we’ll hear stories rustling among the branches that we had no idea were there.

Go back home and find the place where you belong.

Sometimes going back home can be painful, but we still need to go. Memories of insecurities are bound to surface. You might find yourself reverting to the child you once were. Other adults might still view you as the bossy older sibling, the complacent middle child or the spoiled baby of the family.

Yes, our family trees can be warped and gnarled. But it’s who we are. We are family nonetheless.

It helps sometimes to go back and find out why we do things the way we do them. It’s not so much that our way is better than someone else’s; it’s just that learning why we do the things we do will help us understand who we are.

A cousin of mine moved with his wife and small child to the basement of his parents’ home for the summer. They were in transition between jobs, and he wanted to go back home for a few months so his wife could learn to know his community better. He also wanted to reconnect with folks he hadn’t been able to spend time with for several years.

At the end of the summer, his wife told me, “I learned to know my husband so much better by being around his family. I never could understand why Nate always walked around the kitchen eating his cereal. He’d kick the cupboard doors shut with his feet. It used to drive me crazy. But this summer, it finally made sense. His dad walks around the kitchen eating his cereal, doing the exact same thing. Now I understand!”

As individuals in a family, we are significant because we belong. Whether we’re part of the tree from our beginning or whether we were grafted in, we belong. We not only belong to the tree; the tree is a part of us.

Those knots and gnarled limbs? There’s a story behind them.

We should listen to those stories. Hearing those untold stories will help us learn to know our past and it will help us understand our present.

It’s true that we didn’t have a choice in the decisions made by our ancestors. Yet we can choose to change the course of our future by how we respond to our past.  One of the best ways to begin is to understand those who are part of our family and its tree.

To do that, we must climb the tree.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”

That’s where we come in – at the fork of the next branch.

So go ahead, recognize the roots of your tree. Run your hands along the bark of the trunk and feel its solidness. Embrace the limbs.

Go ahead. Climb that tree and rest against it branches.

Understanding where you come from will help you recognize why you are who you are.  It will also help you evaluate where you want to go and who you want to become.

By acknowledging this tree and its gnarled warts, we can relish in its shade. And we can change, if necessary, its bent.

Our future is determined not so much by our past. Rather, the bent of future twigs and branches is determined by how we respond to the roots of our tree and acknowledging the trunk in the present.

We can choose to lean toward the shadow or toward the sun. The direction we lean will plot the course of our future tree. We can allow the past to cripple us or empower us. We can choose life, thus setting the course for future generations.

That’s what God meant when He said,

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” [Deuteronomy 30:19]

That family tree?  Claim it.  Embrace it.  Then choose life.

This story was first shared in Daughters of Promise magazine in December of 2015.  It’s autumn, and my mama’s 100th birthday was this month, on the 16th. I shared a previous post about her favorite cake – Hickory Nut – on that date (yesterday, November 16.) To get the recipe, you can click here.


pinterest family tree

Creative Play for the Bored Child


Bored! When there’s nothing to do

Having fun in play or being bored and complaining that “there’s nothing to do” is really a mindset. Many parents have taught their kids that it’s the parent’s job to make sure their children are happy and have things to do. Children have been taught that they deserve to be able to have fun without any effort on their part. They’ve been taught that when they are bored, it’s their parent’s fault or their responsibility to fix the boredom problem.

‘Trouble is, they have been taught wrong. No wonder they expect their parents to meet their needs for entertainment. Children have been trained to expect it.

Well now. How can parents undo what has been done? How can they help their kids figure out ways to be entertained on their own instead of expecting their parents to meet that need?!

So what’s a mom to do when her kids are bored or think there’s nothing to do? Here are some suggestions of things that worked in our home.


Bored? There’s plenty to do!

  1. Chores provide entertainment. Give him a chore or a job and have him complete it. If he is still bored, give him another job. He will probably find something interesting to do quickly so he won’t need to keep working your list. Oh yes, you can expect him to help with daily activities of living in your house. If he lives there, eats there and sleeps there, he needs to help with the upkeep of his home.  So start by making him responsible to keep certain areas clean and presentable. It might be boring, but he can’t complain that he has nothing to do.
  2. Clean out the toy closet and put one container (such as blocks or Legos or some other former favorite) high enough that he can’t reach it. Sorting and organizing the toys will get his attention and he’ll probably find some toys he hasn’t played with for a while. If he’s still bored, tell him he can play with anything in the closet except for those wooden blocks/Legos/former favorite. You might be surprised at how quickly he will be able to think of things he could do if only he could play with forbidden blocks or other items. Ask me how I know! It’s called reverse psychology, and it works.
  3. Practice. Have your kids practice a skit or play to perform for the family or a neighbor. Let them choose a story or assign one to them and give them free rein to make costumes and props. They might even have more fun deciding how to do it and practicing than actually doing the performance. This used to keep my kids entertained for hours. They had so much fun perfecting their performance that the actual “program” was less fun than the practicing and coming up with ideas on how to do it. This is a great idea for helping children interact with other folks in a nursing home or other senior citizen event. This will take work on your part – but it will be worth it because they will learn so much (and you will, too.)
  4. Get involved. Make some playdough (click here for a great recipe). Spend time having a story time. Older kids can read to themselves or to younger kids. By the time story time is done, they will no doubt have thought of something else they could do for entertainment. Give some of your time to play a game with them. If a child is struggling with learning his numbers, play a game like Sorry where he will be exposed to numbers. He will learn while he’s playing. I read several books to our kids – a few chapters at a time – always making certain I stopped at a point of suspense in the story. They clamored for more, were anxious for the next story time, and then were relaxed and ready to go outside and play when downtime was over.
  5. Reach out to a lonely or hurting neighbor. This will take your time, but you will be modeling some powerful stuff here. Help them mix up some cookies, make a card, and/or go for a visit. Place a phone call or skype with family members or friends who are not at home. Take them with you to visit elderly friends or neighbors, or adopt a grandparent in a nursing home who needs a family. By the time they’re done reaching out, they’ll be ready to come home and “act out” the things they learned.
  6. Recycle toys and books. Always have a container of toys and books put back, then switch them out two or three times a year. Keep a stash of previously unplayed with toys, books, or new items hidden. On a dark and desperate day, pull out a surprise or two. The kids will love seeing an old toy/game/puzzle or having fun with something new, especially if you take the time to get them started. I used to snarf up items at yard sales to have on hand for a “this is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
  7. When no one gets along. When kids just won’t get along, try this. Have each child choose a toy to play with and put each of them in a different room.  Tell them they can’t talk to each other, but can just play alone since they can’t get along anyhow. That happened in our home one day. I had two boys in two different rooms, standing in the doorway looking forlornly at a brother they could not talk to or play with. Suddenly having a playmate was more important than having their own way. I made them work for the privilege of being able to play together. They had plenty of time to think and decide how they could have gotten along earlier and not had this consequence. When I finally lifted the playmate ban, they played together in harmony for hours (as I grinned inside myself the entire afternoon).
  8. Project Day. When you have a deadline for a project, here’s a suggestion that comes from my experience. When we had four kids under the age of five years, I had some writing deadlines, so Tuesday was declared “Project Day.” After the house was tidied with everyone “helping”, we did a project together. It was simple. Once we went on a walk and gathered as many different colors and shapes of autumn leaves. We placed them inside hard-cover books so they would lie flat. Later, we created a tree on the kitchen wall from the leaves. Choose something that goes with the season or the significance of something happening in their lives. By the time our project was done, it was time for lunch and quiet or nap time. My boys knew that on Project Day I played with them in the morning and in the afternoon they were free to play; however, they could not bother me while I was typing away. I think it worked so well because I poured my heart into them in the morning and they did not feel deprived of attention.


The Balance with Boredom and Entertainment

When a child feels secure from the attention and love you give him, he will more readily go off and entertain himself. When his love tank is low, he will be clamoring for attention. A child who uses his mind will have plenty to do for entertainment. Keep electronic toys and television at a full minimum and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your child’s mind will find things to do that are both educational and entertaining.