Author: Julie K. Nelson

I am a wife and mother of 5 children, with only one left at home to spoil. I write, speak, teach at Utah Valley University, cook, travel, and can sometimes be found folding laundry. My newest book "Keep It Real and Grab a Plunger: 25 tips for surviving parenthood" will be released March 2015 and my first book, "Parenting With Spiritual Power" can be found at local bookstores and online book sellers.

In Every Moment a Seed

The Night Before My Daughter’s 13th Birthday
by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
If I could do it all again,
I would—every blooming bit of it.
Every bout of pink eye,
every snotty nose, every
late night waking, every
single reading of Good Night Moon,
every fairy house, every
drive to every ballet class,
every singalong to the entire
soundtrack of Hamilton,
every wobble and stumble
and blunder and lapse
to arrive at this very moment
when we lie on her bed
in the dark and talk about
this miracle, this astonishing
life, and watch dumb videos
and curl into each other.
In every moment, a seed.
It surprises me now,
how beautiful the field.

Marriage and Parenting are Brutal!

This comedian was hilarious. His gig is entitled, “Marriage Ruins Everything” or “Marriage is Brutal.” He goes on to describe some perfectly crazy examples with his wife that confirm just that. Keep watching and he moves into parenting material. Yes, perfectly crazy stuff there, too. Parenting IS Brutal. Enjoy!

If this school year isn’t what you hoped it would be

It’s hard to parent in a pandemic. There are so many casualties, not the least of which are uncertainties, disappointments, and crushed expectations. Today I’m sharing a post about high school graduation by @Brooke Romney Writes from Thursday, April 29, 2021. I have a child who recently graduated from a pandemic-pocked high school. It would be good for me to remember Brooke’s wisdom to “embrace reality & individual timing” and be patient with the process of becoming.

Here is the link https://brookeromney.com/2021/04/if-this-school-year-isnt-what-you-hoped-it-would-be/

It’s that time of year.

Your feed is full of kids winning elections, going to prom, making teams, collecting awards, opening mission calls & heading off to dream schools surrounded by the

“Best group of kids EVER.”

It’s an exciting time…for some. But not for all.

So, I’m just popping in for a little reality check.

It’s okay if your kid didn’t win, didn’t get asked, is sitting the bench, or is never recognized.

It’s okay if their now doesn’t include a mission or a dream school or if their future feels hazy.

It’s okay if there are just medium friends or if they are ready to bust out of high school and never look back.

It’s also okay to feel a little sad about it.

But most parents don’t post about that, so you might also feel a little lonely about it.

It’s been such a weird year, in every way.

So be happy for the kids that DID get that great experience, who had the loyal friends, all the memories and a future that looks picture perfect.

Then, find peace knowing that millions of people have found success, happiness and fulfillment without ever going to junior prom or a top tier university.

Twenty years from now, no one will remember who the quarterback was on their mediocre high school football team or care about who graduated with a 4.0. I promise.

Life doesn’t end after high school. It begins. Remember that.

So cheer your own kid on, passionately, in just the way he or she needs it.

Don’t spend the next few months drooling over the filtered photos of your friend’s family or wishing your kid’s experience was more like someone else’s.

Embrace reality & individual timing.

Recognize that your child’s life is exactly as it should be in order to become the person they were always meant to be.

Celebrate the good things, the lessons learned, the growth achieved, the relationships that mattered.

Talk about the endless opportunities the future holds & how cool it is when everyone grows up.

Help them look forward with focus, faith, openness and adventure.

And reassure them, with certainty, that the best is yet to come.

Is this photo realistic in your home?

Do you and your children smile while doing chores?

Do you whistle while you work?

Is everyone happy and helpful in maintaining the home?

Stock photos on Google Images can be so staged and fake, right?

Reality may be more like your kids’ bedrooms look like a bomb went off and your emotional fuse exploding.

Read this instead of cleaning your room. | Messy bedroom, Cleaning my room, Messy  room

This is SUCH a common problem. It can’t be addressed in one article, or be applied to every situation. However, I’ll offer some general principles that work well and can be helpful in informing your approach.

Here are the basics of setting up family rules. I’ll model this by suggesting only 3 rules.

  1. The fewer the rules, the better.
  2. Rules should be adapted and evolve as children grow. For example, here’s how a rule about cleaning their room would change over the years and a child’s maturation grows.
  • Preschooler: pick up their toys each day and make bed (with your help), and put dirty clothes in laundry basket.
  • School Aged Child: pick up their toys, vacuum carpet (or sweep floor), make bed and change out sheets every week, and put dirty cloths in laundry and put clean clothes away.
  • Adolescent: pick up floor, sweep or vacuum, make bed and do their own laundry.

May I speak up from experience as well? On the “clean your bedroom and do laundry” issue, I have raised a few teenagers (five, to be exact) and some kids were less sparkling clean than others. They weren’t bothered by wearing wrinkly, stained clothes or living in a bedroom mess. Their bedroom became a battleground and I wasn’t ready to die on that hill.

There were other issues and rules that were much more important to me, and essential to their safety (such as curfew and electronic use). I had to decide that if I needed to stand my ground, it had to be what really counted. If I have too many rules and go Dolores Umbridge on everything, it makes every rule something for my teen to resist and our relationship to break apart. During rough times when I needed to back off and focus on our relationship, I just said, “Just keep your door closed so we don’t have to see it. So long as cockroaches and rodents are not roaming your room to eat leftover crumbs, you can live as you wish.” I figured that natural consequences (set by the world) rather than logical (set by me) would be a better teacher, navigator, and motivator. If their friends gave them negative feedback so much the better!

3. Children should also become more involved in creating the rules, rewards, and consequences as they grow. When there is “buy in” and more power given to kids, it is so much easier for everyone to feel validated and part of a team. It’s also surprising how kids can come up with brilliant ideas and solutions to problems that might not have occurred to a parent.

There are several categories of rules and I can’t cover them all (each family can decide what they want to prioritize). Categories can be:

  • Electronic use
  • School and homework
  • Household chores, bedroom clean up and laundry, etc.
  • Curfew and time home for dinner and bedtime
  • Personal hygiene and dress, grooming, etc.
  • Safety with drugs, alcohol, dating, social media, and healthy sexuality. Of course these would be ongoing subjects, introduced early in a very general way, and becoming more specific and relevant as the child becomes a preteen and teen.
  • Respect for others and property, honesty, individual value, etc.

Rules can part of a weekly family meeting. If discussed weekly, these can be addressed in smaller segments so as to not overwhelm the family. Just talk about one topic or issue at a time. Celebrate successes and problem solve together. Calendaring weekly in a family meeting is essential so everyone is on the same page, the family can coordinate activities, and kids can know what is expected for the week.

Here’s a pdf of how to establish general family rules.

This a more detailed list from a Christian-oriented family. I wouldn’t post this one but discuss it since it’s too much. If you have family rules posted, they should be a short list. This one example:

15 Best Chore chart template ideas | chore chart, chores, chores for kids

A posted chore chart is easy to rotate responsibilities each week. Kids can be paired up to do household chores if they work better with a sibling. If it takes longer and they just end up arguing, working alone or with a parent is just fine. I like to have daily chores done by dinnertime and weekly chores get done whenever the child chooses, just so it’s done before the weekend and before they go out on the weekend to hangout with friends.

Here’s another nice worksheet that may be helpful for your family.

I’m not a fan of paying kids for their chores, such as an allowance, but there are several ways to give kids money to help them learn financial literacy and responsibly. One way is to offer extra jobs (more involved than regular chores) for money:

Family Chore Chart Center | All Things Target

You may also reframe the negative perception of chores by re-naming them. The word “job” or “chore” feels heavy, like a chore or hardship. How about “Family Contribution, “Helping Time,” or “Home Improvement Time”? I once asked my brother in law how he enjoyed his job. He said, “It’s called ‘work’ for a reason. It isn’t called ‘play.’ It’s really hard.” So your own attitude and the words you use make all the difference. Rather than saying, “Go do that job” why not say, “Come help me get this done.” I highly suggest watching this video https://www.byutv.org/player/7657cf0a-c3bb-4e1d-852a-4be61c6398f8/real-families-real-answers-effective-parenting

Finally, keep the big picture in mind. The long view is to remember we are guiding and teaching our children to become responsible citizens, to be wise stewards of our communities, earth, and natural resources. And to be good workers to keep our economy strong. The home setting is a microcosm for where to learn the small, essential skills in daily living. We are the world in a nutshell, where we grow and nurture our kids. And that’s no small chore.

Managing Expectations in Marriage…

…or in any relationship. Between two business partners, a parent and child, siblings, or best friends. This topic is for everyone. Even between a pet owner and his furry little animal.

Think about it. When do you NOT have expectations on a daily basis? Nearly every thing we do is laden with an expectation whether we are aware of it or not. Managing finances, raising children, doing chores around the house, maintaining a car and home, communication styles, and on and on. Every interaction involves two people who expect the outcome to be one way or another and for each person to act in a certain way.

In any disagreement on any topic, I assert that is has everything to do with unmet expectations. If you are angry, frustrated, disappointed, or just plain ticked off, just fill in the blank: “I expected that you would…”

Because expectations are part of everything we do and the source of unhappiness, I chose this topic when I was asked to be interviewed for The Growth Marriage.

Enjoy!

Covid (Idiot) Kids

I have a friend who I greatly admire. She’s bright, funny, intelligent, articulate, and (dang it all), beautiful and refined on top of it all. She has it all together with a husband and four amazing children. They are the picture-perfect family. Until everything fell apart.

Enter Covid-19.

The pandemic hit her family hard. Like wrecking-ball hard. Her youngest son took a nose dive and she recently wrote about him and what they’ve gone through this past year. As I read it, I thought, “We are two mothers with the same story. We live in parallel universes.” It certainly makes me realize how her words will resound with other mothers.

She writes, “Done with the quarantine almost before it started, my son was desperate to reclaim a sense of agency he felt had been ripped away from him. Confined in an environment he already viewed as restrictive, dubious about claims of what the virus would do to him, he pushed back…What I saw all around me were kids suffering from lethargy and restlessness by turns, limping through school under the constant shadow of overwhelm, while services and infrastructure faltered.”

When you read her story (link below), you may want to cry out #MeToo. Welcome! Join the Covid Club. We are living as a village of parents scratching our heads and pulling our hair out, trying to raise the village idiots. But…she also offers level-headed, brilliant advice for how to handle Covid Kids. Something true to hold onto in this time of uncertainty.

https://becky-davidson.medium.com/how-the-pandemic-sparked-an-identity-crisis-in-my-high-schooler-and-the-counterintuitive-approach-ce8544372452

The cost of parental addictions on children

It’s tragic when a parent suffers from the chokehold of an addiction. It’s usually the case that an addiction is an unhealthy coping mechanism, or tool, a person uses to deal with painful emotions or thoughts. Parents were once children who might have experienced trauma of one sort or the other. If they don’t learn to overcome these challenges, or deal with them in a healthy way, the drugs, alcohol, or some other addiction can become their escape valve. Substances dull the senses. How tragic not only for parents, but for the children who lose their own sense of safety and connection to the adult who should be their protector.

Children in these homes often have inverted relationships; they become “parentified” too early and lose their innocence and childhood. The parent is the “child” and needing to be protected and taken care of.

In a class I teach, adult students reflect on any addiction they witnessed as a child. Thankfully, many do not have anything to report; their parents were mature, caring, and responsive. Those that report addictions have sorrowful stories. Every semester I hear them. There are the ones you expect of alcohol and drugs, but it’s amazing what other addictions these grown up children are still affected by and feel the burden of the painful past. Social science has shown that intergenerational transmission of addiction and abuse is the tragic legacy addicts are at a greater risk to leave to their children. It’s inspiring to read my students’ reports and how they have chosen to be the transitional character and break the chain of family addictions.

The following is a sample in their own words.* Are there any smaller patterns of addictions you might be indulging that you need to discard to have a fuller, healthier relationship? What are your children watching, learning, and carrying with them to adulthood? Consider these as cautionary tales of what your own children might report one day.

“I grew up with a father who was there… but not really there. He spent a lot of time playing computer games and didn’t really know how to connect to his daughters. He spent a lot of time on his computer with my brothers and had a pretty good relationship with them. My dad’s “addiction” to his computer games caused a lot of problems in my parents’ marriage and divorce has been discussed at least 3 times in my lifetime between my parents. To me, this is addiction. My dad gives so much of his time and energy to his video games that now that I am in therapy as an adult; I have come to realize that a lot of my tendencies from my teenage years to adulthood come from me being needy of male attention because I never got it as a child from my dad. I became pregnant as a teenager due to the unmet need of wanting a male to show attention to me and to love me.”

“My parents both have the same addictions. I hold the same addiction as them. They are both addicted to eating food and drinking soda.”

“I’d argue that the worst addiction my family has is tension. My dad, sister, and I all show an unhealthy addiction to creating and living with tension. That is to say, none of us grew up in environments where emotional relaxation was a luxury. When things seem to have been good for too long, we all poke at our life to find any negativity there. If we don’t find it, we create it. My sister and I have especially learned about this addiction in the past year with our own significant others and have sought out to find out why and how to fix it.”

“My parents both adamantly say they are not addicted to anything. But I have always noticed they are addicted to working. My dad has worked two full time jobs his whole life. He could retire and live comfortably but he always says he loses his mind on his days off and must be doing something. My mother is the same, goes to work, comes home, and works on the house until she goes to bed. They both never stop.”

“Within my immediate family my mom was addicted to caffeine. Her breaking point happened one day when she realized that she was happier to wake up in the morning, looking forward to having her bottles of Dr. Pepper instead of seeing her own four kids. She knew she had to stop. Once she gave up this drinking, she became more present with us. She was not as grumpy or moody when things didn’t go right. Her headaches stopped. She saw within herself that she was happier instead of depending on that addiction to bring her happiness. I learned second hand what having an addiction can do to a person as well as a family through my family being a foster home for children. It was heart breaking to see the state of these children who were ripped away from their parents because they were not being properly cared for. My parents taught me that if I do not want to be addicted to something it is better never to start. But if you were to get addicted, there is always a way to stop if you desire it enough.”

“I know that my parents can’t save money to save their lives. When I was in high school, my father got fired from a job where he made a six figure salary. My parents spent their money extravagantly, always having nice cars, a nice house, and the newest technology, not to mention making impulse purchases everywhere. Within two months of my father being fired, my family had to declare bankruptcy.”

“I inherited a negative body image from my parents. They are both fit and look nice, work out compulsively, but make critical comments about their bodies. I have had an eating disorder because of my inability to view my body as beautiful for what it is. I’ve recovered, but it can still be hard to feed my brain and body positivity when I am surrounded by comments that can be triggering. I am most definitely a perfectionist and I workout consistently.”

“My mom told us stories about her awful childhood to justify why she was always drinking. Since I can remember, my mom always had a beer in her hand, or alcohol in her cup. I knew it was alcohol when she would tell us not to drink out of her cup because it was only for adults. Drinking seemed to calm her down, her temper was not as bad when she drank. When she was drunk, she was funny and would make us laugh, we had a good time with her. After I grew up, I also found out my dad smoked weed and religiously around me and my sister.”

“My parents’ marriage ended because of lies and secrets due to a prescription drug addiction that my dad picked up when I was around 12 or 13. My mom found out about it and did everything in her power to help him for close to five years but the stress of raising a family and running a house by herself finally caused her to file for divorce.”

“My father had an alcohol addiction. Shortly after his second divorce he started to drink. It started with just a wine here and there, but it shortly led to an addiction. As a teen I would go to his business and his lips would be stained purple from his wine he drank the night before. On some weekends, he would have my friends and me drive him to Reno and drop him off to a bar. He would give us money to go to a movie or dinner so I loved taking him, but after we were done, we would sit around and wait for him for hours. Finally, we would go looking for him across town. He would end up at a different bar and he would always be so far gone. I had to drive him home and take care of him, even when I was an unlicensed, underaged driver. My dad spent all his extra money on his addiction.”

“Because of my dad’s job, we were very well off. No debt, no money issues, no problems. But because of that, we traveled whenever we wanted, we shopped whenever, ate out all the time because nobody had the energy to cook or make any food. A habit formed called retail therapy. Happy? Treat yourself to a new outfit. Sad? Treat yourself to a spa day, shopping, and whatever else you need to make yourself feel better. Mad? Angry? Annoyed? Hurt? Excited? Treat yourself. No limit. Because of that mindset, never having to cook a meal, and not having to worry about money- I have caused some financial issues in my marriage. I am learning that not every occasion needs a new outfit, not every emotion needs something to comfort and validate my actions, and grocery shopping is cheaper than eating out every day.”

“Just as any stressful situation leads most people to vices, my dad loved to gamble, drink, and I recently found out he also liked to look for relationships outside his marriage. Our family vacations were restricted to Las Vegas.”

“Addiction has plagued both sides of my family for generations. Our family’s drug of choice is alcohol. Alcoholism is extremely prevalent on my mother’s side – it has affected her, her father, his father, and for a period of time me. Through personal experiences, I have watched addictions of all shapes and sizes destroy families, including my own. They grow like weeds uprooting the foundations of marriage such as trust, loyalty, dedication and replace them with betrayal, dishonesty, and apathy.”

“The older I got the worse her addiction got. She would drink usually from 12:00 in the afternoon to midnight. I rarely saw her without a drink in her hand. When I was five years old, she had an accident and hurt her back. She did need surgery and after that is when the prescription pain and benzo medication addiction started.”

“Addiction is very prevalent throughout my lineage. In my immediate family alone, we’ve dealt with substance abuse, pornography, and sex addictions. My family has a genetic predisposition to anxiety and depression, which is directly correlated with addiction. With extensive rehabilitation and therapy, my family has worked to overcome dependency on alcohol, pornography, and sex. Having been exposed to addiction from a very young age, I’ve come to recognize it as more of a disease. So often people view addiction as a result of choice. To that I ask, who would choose to have a disease? In most cases, addiction stems from trauma. To cope with the tragedies of life, people rely on different vices to escape their reality. Having experienced it in my own home, I recognize addiction as a result of circumstance. Just as you would never blame anyone for having cancer, I don’t blame those in my family for their addictions. Rather, I’ve learned to support my loved ones to encourage healing.”

*Some specifics have been changed to protect the identity of the students.

How to talk to your child about mental health

I’ve got one of those good news-bad news scenarios to share.

The good news: there is hope that the pandemic will end soon with a vaccine now available.

The bad news: the pandemic has produced a second wave casualty–the silent and invisible plague of mental health issues.

There isn’t a quick and easy vaccine for this kind of illness. People around the world have suffered jobs loss, loss of friendship and celebrations, lost opportunities, uncertainty about the most basics of everyday living, anxiety about the future, and feelings of frustration vented onto family members crowded together in chaotic living arrangements.

The cumulative effect of stress suppressed in the body can turn into feelings of chronic depression or anxiety.

Wearing masks have shielded us from the virus. But what about the other masks we wear? The ones that lie and tell everyone that we are “doing fine” and “hanging in there” but hide the real emotion. We mask what is going on behind closed doors. According to the CDC, the social effects of the coronavirus has been associated with increased mental health challenges and anxiety and depression reports have risen during the past year. Forbes magazine also reports increased stress due to Covid-19 and a reluctance for adults to talk about how that stress affects their mental state.

So this leads me to the important question. What does a parent do when he or she is battling mental illness brought on by this pandemic, or from any other reason? How do you talk to your child if you are experiencing depression? Kids have it tough enough without having to worry about their parent.

Now’s the time to open up, take off the mask of shame, fear, guilt, doubt, and denial. Let’s replace it with safety, connection, vulnerability (which is an act of courage), honesty, and hope. Now’s the time to talk openly about mental illness.

One of the best ways to talk about difficult subjects with kids is through children’s literature…”bibliotherapy” so to speak. You learn about how other people are suffering and experiencing a wide range of emotions through fictional or nonfictional stories. It’s an indirect way to broach the topic which for many, makes it easier. Reading these books aloud with your kids will make it “safe” to talk about since it’s in a storybook format with captivating pictures.

Then, as you read each page, you can open up and talk about how you feel similar to the character in the book. Ask your child if they notice when you are in a depressed state and how it affects them. It also sparks questions such as, “Is depression contagious,” “What are my triggers?” and that it is a normal thing we are going through. The books also give ways the main character gets help from others and learns to cope, which you can discuss with your child. What a relief that will feel! No one is powerless; there is always help. Talk to them about how you are getting help (or plan to) and learning how to manage. These books can be read again and again to help your kids process their situation. Each time, you can ask different questions that are sparked from the story.

The following list are for the topic of depression. There is an equally wonderful selection of books on other topics related to mental health.

Can I Catch It Like a Cold? Coping With a Parent’s Depression
Written by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, illustrated by Joe Weissmann

Synopsis: Alex’s dad doesn’t work anymore and just wants to sleep all the time. When Alex finds out why — that he’s suffering from depression — he confides in his friend Anna. She tells him that her mom has depression too, and she sees a therapist to help her feel better. “I like that it promotes the benefits of therapy for the entire family,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. Ages 7-12. Published by Tundra Books.

Although this next story is about PTSD, a parent suffering from depression may identify that their depression is triggered by past experiences, smells, sights, etc. like the girl in this story. They could read it and talk about how he/she feels similarly anxious and depressed by life’s challenges.

The War That Saved My Life
By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Synopsis: During World War II, 10-year-old Ava escapes her traumatic life with her mom and goes to the countryside, where she learns to ride a pony and read. But in the country she is still struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder; for instance, going into a bomb shelter reminds her of being locked in a kitchen cabinet in her mom’s apartment. Because of some mature language and themes, it’s better read with your child. Ages 9-12. Published by Puffin Books.

Here are four more books that are sensitively illustrated and written. Choose what targets your child’s age and appropriate developmental understanding.

Meh by Deborah Malcolm (depression) (for children ages 6-10)
(https://www.amazon.com/Meh-Story-Depression-Deborah-Malcolm/dp/163411003X)

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen (for ages 6-pre-teens)
(https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Rosens-Boston-Globe-Horn-Honors/dp/0763625973)

The Princess and the Fog by Lloyd Jones (depression) (for ages 5-7)
(https://www.amazon.com/Princess-Fog-Story-Children-Depression/dp/1849056552

Why Are You So Sad: A Child’s Book about Parental Depression (Kindergarten to Grade 3)
by Andrews, Beth, and Wong, Nicole

Now, another good resource to open up discussion with your children is short videos. This one has great animation, information, and very helpful for children. I’d suggest watching it first, then viewing it with your kids and talking about the message. It’s terrific!

Finally, this video talks about signs of depression that would be great for older kids and teens. Not only to talk about how they see your signs, but also to become aware of their own mental health as well as their friends.

Let’s mask up for the virus but unmask when talking about mental health. It’s one less thing that doesn’t have to become a casualty of our current health crisis.

Managing Expectations in Marriage…

…or in any relationship. Between two business partners, a parent and child, siblings, or best friends. This topic is for everyone. Even between a pet owner and his furry little animal.

Think about it. When do you NOT have expectations on a daily basis? Nearly every thing we do is laden with an expectation whether we are aware of it or not. Managing finances, raising children, doing chores around the house, maintaining a car and home, communication styles, and on and on. Every interaction involves two people who expect the outcome to be one way or another and for each person to act in a certain way.

In any disagreement on any topic, I assert that is has everything to do with unmet expectations. If you are angry, frustrated, disappointed, or just plain ticked off, just fill in the blank: “I expected that you would…”

Because expectations are part of everything we do and the source of unhappiness, I chose this topic when I was asked to be interviewed for The Growth Marriage.

Enjoy!