There is an ancient story in the New Testament where Jesus takes two fish and five loaves and feeds thousands. I find parenting to be that sort of miracle, whereby we offer what little we have and watch God multiply it again and again. While certain family rhythms and routines have remained constant here this Fall, homeschooling and family living seem uncharted again. The pace of living has quickened and become more individualized. The conversations are deeper and sometimes more vulnerable. Although the hours in a day are the same as ever, they feel shorter somehow at the moment, more precious. Perhaps it is all the talk about changing bodies and SATs and adulthood, but I find myself whispering the words of the Psalmist with fresh humility, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

The short answer to those wondering where I have been the last few months is this: life requires pivots. This new stage of parenting and writing required fresh vision, and although it is business-sabbotauge to be silent for four months, seeing what our home needs and how to best lead our children as young adults meant temporarily putting aside writing here or in the social medias attached to it; it meant saying no to brand partnerships and a few other wonderful opportunities the last few months; it meant reading more books, studying the Scriptures, writing with pen and paper. Instead of trying to compare or cling to our homeschool rhythms and lifestyle in the years passed, I have been watching and listening and praying for wisdom in our small everyday happenings, curious about what our home needs right now.

We are a household coming of age–my children in one way and myself in another. The transformation is palpable, their bodies and minds and relational dynamics stretching into new places. My own growth is less noticeable than theirs, inward and more abstract, but I sense a new person forming, softer and stronger, better anchored in life’s currents.

In more practical homeschool notes, last Fall, we continued with the Classical Conversations curriculum as a guide in our home. While it’s not a perfect fit for us in all ways–which curriculum is?–it suits our home’s needs right now. We did make intentional shifts to create more room for peer-based learning, like opening our home table for study sessions with friends or weekly study groups at a local coffee shop. We added a weekly a la carte Chemistry or Algebra class for the older ones to give them a different classroom experience from their familiar CC Challenge classrooms and for added support. We still prioritze a simple, unhurried family routine, although admittedly, it’s far more challenging as the kids grow older. There are a few weekly lessons for piano, cermics, and basketball, but otherwise, we keep our extras fairly slim and simple. We visited an educational farm to learn about beekeeping and sustainable farming practices. We also took a trip to NASA in Houston to complement Olive and Blythe’s Astromony studies this fall. In the event you are curious about some of what each of the children’s learning has looked like the last few months, here are a few highlights––

For Olive, still in the late years of childhood, I am more intentionally digging in with her, tutoring her Classical Conversations class, allowing more unstructured time for play, giving her more time for independent making and project-style learning rather than limiting her routine to book work (which is tiresome for her dyslexic mind and kinesthetic learning style). She is doing far less copywork and dication than her siblings did at her age, but she is memorizing, writing and illustrating stories, recording heaps of personal voice memos, listening to audiobooks, and is often busy making something.

Blythe turned 13 this fall and is taking more leadership in her own studies and interests this year. Like Burke, she enjoys organizing her time and working independently toward her goals, and I am learning ways to support her through coversations and feedback rather than working through all the details with her. Logic and Latin lessons in Challenge B will grow more complex for her in the Spring, so Mark and I will intentionally work with her as much as possible in those areas. She is also taking an Algebra class through a local a la carte homeschool program, which has been helpful for consitency on my part (wink). Otherwise, she enjoys working through her academic work early and quickly each day so that she has more time for reading, writing letters to friends, illustrating, and a newer interest in ceramics (one of her creations pictured above). Blythe easily reads 2-3 books a week, and several of you have asked if and how I moderate her reading list. Since she is learning to read and write critically through her Challege B course, I allow her to read to her own whim in her free time. I use Common Sense Media to preview the ratings and content of what she chooses and try to intentionally ask her more about the ones she seems to love the most.

Burke, age 14, began high school courses with Challenge 1 curriculum this year, and he is thriving! I love seeing his creative and analytical mind come to life, but I’m also so grateful for a weekly seminar with peers where he is learning stronger interpersonal skills, how to listen to others and love them well. This semester he memorized several portions of important American Documents, researched and prepared for his first team policy debate about the death penalty, read several American novels and is learning to think and write more critically about them. He also loves the independence in his academic work to organize his time each week and work at his own pace. Burke has an affection for comedy and wit, and naturally studies the art of language and delivery, whether in writing or speech. He also still loves to illustrate and is learning how to transform his illustrations digitally, which is pretty fun to see!

Liam turned 16 this fall, learned to drive, took his first SAT, and successfully completed (and enjoyed!) his first two dual-credit university courses in Philosophy and History. Do you feel the increased pace? Wink. To help support him more in his interest to apply to universities next summer, he also enrolled in a local Chemistry class and has had a weekly tutor in PreCalculus. This year, he is reading five of Shakespeare’s plays and some of Caesar’s orginal works in Latin. He is memorizing 30 lines from each play and reciting them with dramatic intepretation. As someone who does not particularly love performance arts, this has been stretching for him, but his playfulness with the project has been so fun to see. He also has a kindred group of friends in the throes with him, making all the difference. He and Burke also wrapped up the third seasonal year of their lawn business, and Liam is currently exploring other creative entreprenurnial projects/interests.

As we begin our Spring term here this week, time feels energetic, hopeful, and unknown. We are scripting plans into the calendar, blocking dates or counting days until birthdays or other expectanct happenings. In my heart, they are numbered differently altogether, not by an accumulation of events or happenings or things, but the accumulation of days by which each of us under this roof unfolds and becomes.

“Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.” ––John Ortberg

Sometimes I find myself chasing tasks when what is needed is stillness. This stage of parenting has seemed busier than ever, not because I am constantly moving in the way I did when my children were young, but because as my children are growing into adulthood, I find my heart and mind never rest. The stage is joyful and active in an entirely different way. My teens introduce me to new music and comedians and perspectives. They help with all the housework and increasingly manage more of their own educations. They do their own laundry and run their own tiny businesses. They help make dinners and mow the lawn. But they are not yet adults. They are straddling two worlds, with changing bodies and emotions, with swelling spiritual questions and complex realities, and in the process, my inner person is rarely still. I worry and wonder and plan. I make lists and set reminders and appointments. I try to remain one step ahead of them in all of their transitions.

I am prone to lean into busyness to pacify a restless heart. Sometimes as parents we can find relief in juggling all the things; other times our efforts wear us out, possibly even exasperate us. As a younger mother, I needed physical stillness to rest my feet, to take a nap, to think. In this stage with older children and teens, stillness has become the pathway into God’s presence, toward trust, toward rest, toward joy. The physical stillness reveals my restless heart and invites me to surrender it. Again and again, much like I wrote a few years ago here.

Long road trips require a lot of sitting and stillness. They also require patience. As any parent might attest in answering the curious little person in the back––ten hours is still ten hours. You cannot hurry time. Perhaps it’s why I enjoy road trips so much. They provide a physical reality of what is always true in life: we’ll get there when we get there. The secret, as they say, is to rest and enjoy the ride.

There were so many years where our home lives and learning looked more concrete—seeing, listening, doing. I worried: Am I doing enough, will they have enough? Have we made the right choices in their education? In those years, our school table sprawled with colorful illustrations, imaginative stories, math or language manipulatives. Our sofa housed long hours of read-aloud with Legos or other handwork and hot cocoa or tea. They sound romantic now, but they were hard—my plans often wandering away to take their own form. I was learning patience in one way or another, again and again. But the funny thing is: I miss those days. I am savoring my youngest’s childhood all the more. 

Our days now feel more abstract, conversations piled one upon the other. Minus Olive’s daily practice, our work together is far less colorful and picturesque—who wants to see images of Logic proofs or Latin translations or Algebra equations—but it’s beautiful in its own way and I feel more present somehow, working out these pages with them, making cheesy jokes, seeing glimpses of the incredible humans they are becoming. 

Parenting in every stage requires our attention.  Not our hovering. Not our control. And sometimes, not even our plans. Our attention, more than the books we read or the curriculum we follow, informs them the most. It changes us. It allows us to see beyond the tantrums and scribbled walls and grumbling mornings, to see them—human, soul, developing person. Grace flows from those humble places. And by some miracle, we can look in the mirror and receive the grace for that person, too.

Some stages and phases will feel more like sweet spots for us than others. But don’t give up on the hard ones. The days or weeks or years that seem to take every part of our mind, will, and emotions—well, quite honestly, they are the ones when you and they grow the most. 

There are a million and two reasons to keep your phone tucked away and out of reach during the day, but an audiobook is not one of them. Like many of you, we listen to audiobooks in the car, in the kitchen, on the sofa or our beds, through our headphones on-the-go, and so on. They have been salvation for me during the little years, when my children would play Legos for hours on their bedroom floor or when they were too old for naps but needed rest time. They have been a gift for me too when I want to enjoy my own books on a run or while bustling about the house or while traveling. I find myself in the same place with audiobooks that I do with the books I read––there are so many good ones, it’s difficult to know which to choose.

There are so many decisions when deciding a book to read. I tend to agree with Kathleen Kelly’s character in You’ve Got Mail when she says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” That said, I can argue countless ways that books change and inform me now. Written and spoken words are powerful. So how do we know which are worth our time? Often, I ask a friend.

On Instagram last week, I asked followers to share their favorite audiobooks. Here’s a list of their responses, linked for the curious, separated only by stories that seemed more suited for older listeners versus younger ones. The asterisks mark books or series that were mentioned more than once. I only added Pride and Prejudice read by Rosamund Pike since it’s my most recent one to finish and enjoy. It’s perfect for older children and teen listeners, too!  I have read or listened to several books listed but now have fresh ideas for both the kids and myself. I hope you will, too.


 

FOR YOU

Eleanor Oliphant is Fine**

Becoming**

The Book of Joy

The Girl of the Limberlost

The Gown

These is My Words

Jayber Crow

The Help**

Big Magic**

Bossypants**

Still Alice

Dare to Lead**

East of Eden

Anything by David Sedaris

Brave Learner

All the Light We Cannot See**

Liturgy of the Ordinary

Bad Blood

The Social Animal 

Love Does

The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society

The Power of a Habit

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn**

A Gentleman in Moscow

Anything by Timothy Keller

The Conscious Parent

Educated**

Anything by Ruta Sepetys

Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year

Bread and Wine**

The Winter Sea

A Praying Life

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

anything by Malcolm Gladwell**

Sherlock Holmes

God’s Smuggler

The Joy of Less

For the Love

The More of Less

Laurus

The Gift of Being Yourself 

Vinyl Cafe 

Better Than Before

12 Rules for Life

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

The Night Circus

All Creatures Great and Small

The Boys in the Boat

To Kill a Mockingbird

Pride and Prejudice 

 

FOR THE FAMILY

Echo**

Farmer Boy

Winnie-the-Pooh

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series

The Hobbit

Mary Poppins series**

The Wingfeather Saga**

The Roald Dahl Collection

Julia Donaldson books (for littles)

Chronicles of Narnia–Radio Theatre**

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy**

Little Britches series**

anything by GA Henty

Anne of Green Gables** 

The Saturdays

The Penderwicks series**

Paddignton Bear

Biographies by Janet + Geoff Benge**

Little Women (also the BBC Radio version)

Young Fredle

Ballet Shoes series

Green Ember series

Robinson Crusoe (also BBC Children’s Classics)

Last week, in the small space between the kitchen stove and the wood countertops, one of my children felt unloved. *He told me I had a soft-spot for the other three children and not for him. My heart cracked open. In that moment, I wanted to blurt out it’s not true, to recount love in concrete terms––held, slept, protected, fed––but they seemed so plain and empty. If love is misunderstood, do those things matter? Instead, I listened.

Through tears, she recounted the list from her head aloud, her inward rehearsals that she was somehow loved less. I wrapped my arms around her, remembering how I once held her within me, her sole source of life. Since birth we have both been learning what it means to be human. I’m sorry, I whispered. I do have a very soft spot for you. Her body began to soften, to receive my embrace.

I slowly asked question after gentle question, trying to find the path to his brokenness. Or maybe it was my brokenness? The heart is such a wayward guide. What was clear is the more these words spilled out, the lighter his face and heart became. Heartache released.

I realize, at times, in my want to fix a situation or a hurtful moment in any of my children, I rush in with words and explanation, with ideas to re-direct their pain. Yet healing is always found in the light, negative thoughts spoken aloud, released. This is easier written than practiced. Sometimes their thoughts brought into light will accuse me. Like the ones I heard in this very moment, I will hear that I am not enough, that I have failed. Maybe you have heard this lie, too? Dearest reader, this is what I know: in the work of shepherding hearts, it takes courage to silence our own insecurities and self-criticisms in order that we might hear theirs. It takes courage to listen without offense, without the need to defend our own hearts. It takes courage to create a safe space for their insecurities, their fears, their offenses. But if willing to do so, we also create space for the truth: that they are so very deeply loved, that they were created with purpose, that they are not bound by the voice in their head. This is the hardest work.

To be clear, as parents, we are not doormats. We are not powerless or without voice or defense. We are leaders of their hearts for only a brief time, showing them in such very small, plain ways how to listen, how to see. Sometimes this will happen with words about their identity––love, beautiful, you, God––and sometimes this will happen with words that instruct––honor, kindness, forgive, patience––and still other times, this will happen with only hugs and eyes that listen.

The obvious fact in homeschooling is also the hidden gift. It is that I live with my children. They see me and I see them, at our very best and our very worst. They may not remember the pages of history or literature or numbers that currently fill our days, but maybe those things are all merely fodder used to reveal one simple truth: we are spirit of God clothed in humanity. We are each imperfect and beloved, broken and rising. Perhaps our heart is not glass at all, shattering and piecing back together. Perhaps our heart is wild and alive, merely shedding skin as it rubs against another, and grows.

*For the privacy of my children, I have intentionally interchanged the pronouns here. The goal is not tell their stories for them, but to share the parts of their narrative that expose my own heart. 

Some of my favorite dates with Mark have been fairly simple ones at home. In the years when our children were really young or our budget really tight, an intentional evening at home together after tucking the kids in bed was our salvation. Some evening, it meant simply pouring a glass of wine and sitting on the sofa without phones or computers. Some nights, we waited to have our own dinner together. Either way, they were a gift for our relationship in busy years.

When Mark and I do make space, our conversation can easily slide into talk about the kids or work or about some logistical solution our home needs. Sexy, right? Wrong. Those necessary conversations are practical, helpful, and foundational for building a home, but my advice (based on experience), leave it for another time. Date nights, whether enjoyed at home or out and about, should be a respite from the logistics, a place of connection where you remember your relationship apart from the logistical juggle of parenthood or work or whatever other life circumstance. I imagine it’s natural in a lot of homes to give ourselves so fully to our work (in and out of home), that we feel too spent to connect beyond sitting in PJs and watching a show together. Or is that just us? Wink.

Whether you are staying in or going out, I will be sharing ideas here more often to help keep date nights sacred. And to keep all of us from slipping into the talk that feel comfortable (work, home life, etc), I’ll be adding a few conversation starters, too. If you all love being in the kitchen, this is one of my very favorite date night recipe and idea books. Be warned, these are not recipes to throw together at the last minute, but they are delicious and worth their time for something special.


CHARCUTERIE AT HOME

You know I love a good Charcuterie board, but they’re such an easy option for a date night at home, even at the last minute or mid-week. Although I adapt it regularly, I like to generally stick to a 4-3-2-2-1 board––4 fruits/veggies, 3 cheeses, 2 meats, 2 sauces/dips, 1 bread/cracker. If you have a luxe food market nearby, consider asking their cheese specialist or even their sommelier for a wine pairing. If that’s too complicated or over your budget, consider a simple cheeseboard or dessert instead. I love the charcuterie board because you can prepare it earlier in the day, wrap it up, and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready for it.

MOOD

In terms of mood, after the kids are tucked in bed, consider using the coffee table instead of the dining table. Spread a throw over the floor or sofa––I love something thick and cozy this time of year, like this fur throw blanket. Light a few candles nearby. Turn on a favorite playlist. Swipe on a bit of red lipstick.  Set the table with the char board and pour a glass of wine.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Some days can be harder to make the shift from work or home life than others, so consider ways to let go and focus on one another. If it was a hard day, set a 5-10 minute timer for you both to rant and release. Then re-focus the conversation to one another. Here’s some ideas:

  • What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?
  • What’s a memory that always makes you laugh or smile?
  • What’s your favorite part of our marriage?
  • If you had 30 more minutes in a day, what would you do?
  • What’s the sexiest thing about me?

Who knows where you’ll go, but have fun!

We mothers wear a lot of hats, and it’s no wonder that we quickly lean into multi-tasking. Sweeping a floor while taking a business call or scheduling a play date. Wiping down the bathroom counter and sink while potty training a toddler. Mentally listing and categorizing the needs around us (including our own––um, shower?) while we drive a carpool or stir a pot or push a swing. Add in homeschooling, and you may find yourself with books or art supplies or papers in any one of these scenes. There are so many things to keep up with as a mother, without considering the emotion, the tantrums, the stories and snuggles. So here is a little lesson I’ve learned in the ebb and flow of this life: efficiency and presence as a mother rarely co-exist. They can complement one another, co-exist by taking turns with the other, but rarely would I consider presence––attending to the emotional or abstract needs of the home––efficient.

This week has been a series of those days, the sort met with heavy sighs, shrugged shoulders, even groans from my children, particularly my younger ones. Why? or I don’t want to do that. or simply –– Ugggghh. The gift of walking this mothering/homeschooling journey for long enough is knowing these sort of days and attitudes do come, but unless I allow it, they do not define me or my home. Life with a three year old can be equally hilarious, delightful, and emotionally exhausting. The same is true of a thirteen year old. As one who loves the accomplishment of doing, I can assure you it is worth your time, patience, and even emotional endurance to be present with your children in the hard places of motherhood.

These hard days are a moment to pause the efficient, multi-tasking button and cast vision for your child again. You may need to step outside or shut yourself in the bathroom temporarily to breathe and encourage yourself first, but after doing so, step toward them. Step into their hard emotions to be with them and remind them who they are and where they are going. We are visionaries. We see our children uniquely. We know their quirks and idiosyncrasies. We know their soft spots emotionally and their tickle spots physically. We know their insecurities and gifts. We are uniquely positioned to speak to all of it. And while we can offer them the best music lessons or clothes or education or travel experience, learning to be present with them in the hard places is where they will grow the most. It is not efficient. It takes time, sometimes 302 times in a day! But it is worth it.

I realize this all sounds lovely written on a screen and entirely different when you’re dealing with an angry child/teen/preschooler. Or when you’re holding a hard and unwelcome no. Or when a child is firmly holding their no or weeping with hurt feelings. I promise you: I have been there. This week, when my daughter told me she didn’t like reading or want to practice reading any more, my heart felt a zing. My impulse wanted to respond, are you kidding me?! But instead I stood up and left the room to get a glass of water, took a deep breath, and returned to her and her point. We talked about some of the topics we’ve read in history together––how women didn’t always have the right to education or political/cultural voice, how it was illegal for women and men in slavery to learn to read at all, how it perpetuated systemic and social control. I asked her why? This led to a conversation about reading leading to independence and freedom to learn anything. It led to a conversation about taking initiative in your life and doing the work. It was brief, five to ten minutes, and then we finished her lesson. I commended her perseverance (and secretly my own) and we both gladly shifted to do something else. This was just one example, in one particular moment, with one particular child. This may happen with each child over a different topic, with a different emotion. With a toddler or young preschooler without much reasoning, the vision-casting may look more concrete: This is how we use our hands. This is how we use our words. This is a sign you need a nap. This is a sign you are hungry. Mothers, do you understand, why at the end of it all, the question we ask ourselves or must sometimes answer to others of what did I do today might be the wrong question altogether? If you must answer, simply tell yourself, today I refreshed our home’s vision.

Our work as mothers requires us to look a bit down the road, to gently lead. There is much meandering along the way, but our work is always to remind ourselves and our children (emotionally and physically) of where we are going, and when it is time, to let them go on their own. We are mothers, practically meeting needs and finding the ways to accomplish all the things for our homes. We are visionaries, making time for wisdom and nurturing of hearts. And just in case you’re needing the reminder, it is worth it.

I will be the first to admit, I am not always very good at protecting or preparing for dates with Mark, often finding myself at loss for ideas or in a rut or too tired to “get ready to go out” at the end of a busy day. But before we head down the list of why it can be difficult to protect this time in marriage (babysitting, exhaustion, budget, etc), let me say what we all know: life is hard. It is rewarding and beautiful and life-giving, but the work and even circumstances can be very hard.

At some point in the early years of mothering, I realized that at the end of a day of holding, nursing, rocking, swaddling, snuggling children and babies, I had little need to be touched or to touch. At the end of a day of reading aloud, or listening to child chatter or sibling squabbles or having conversations all. day. long. with our children, I sometimes had little energy to begin yet another meaningful conversation with Mark, apart from a regurgitation of the day’s events. And as a mother trying to build a business, at the end of the day, there was always a separate TO DO list waiting for attention, a feeling of incompletion inside of me, making it difficult to simply stop and be with Mark. With fatherhood and career and maintaining different details in our home, he had his own set of exhaustion making it hard to protect this time for our marriage, too. I know everyone’s specific circumstances will vary, but this is just a glimpse at some of the factors that tug at intimacy in marriage.

So how do we care for one another within our marriages (sexually and emotionally) when we’re in the thick of busy, difficult circumstances? How do we keep our marital relationship from falling flat, from feeling like another thing on the TO DO, or from being merely a logistical partnership? The answer can be complex, but I know it begins with regular date nights, or protected time for one another. Logistical connection is not the same as relational connection. Here are just a few ways to practically safeguard time together, regardless of what tugs you away from it.

HOW TO PRIORITIZE DATE NIGHTS IN MARRIAGE

Por qué no? / Why not? Pause for a moment and consider what may be specifically tugging at your martial intimacy right now. Of course, I mean sex, but I also mean emotional intimacy, too––time alone together. Don’t over analyze it. Just narrow down what factors may be working against you, so you know how to prepare in spite of them.

Keep it Simple / I know, such a cliché. But the goal is to create a habit of time together, and the only way that happens is with realistic, regular follow-through. What’s your style? What is fun for you right now (because that may change in different stages of marriage)? Don’t undermine the power of having a drink together on the porch or going for a drive out of town to eat just to have more car-time talks without kids.

Make Space in Your Budget / If you don’t have space in your monthly home budget for date nights––do it! Live within your means, but mark guilt-free money to use on time together. It pays enormous dividends. If you only have $50 available for the month, figure out the best way to use it (i.e. one dinner out with a friend to babysit, or a weekly bottle of wine together at home). You get the idea.

Alternate Going Out with Staying at Home / Mark and I have always enjoyed being home, especially in the years where our children went to bed before 7:00. So instead of committing to a weekly babysitter, we alternated weeks of staying home and going out, sometimes only going out once in a month. If you’re hiring a babysitter, it adds up quickly, so we were often able to do something that felt like more of a splurge on the nights we went out.

Freshen Up Beforehand / This is especially important for date nights at home. Mark and I have so much empathy/compassion for one another’s work. That said, changing out of the clothes we both wore all day, adding a bit of lipstick or under-eye concealer to a tired face, or even brushing our teeth or popping into a quick shower helps prepare us for a shift in roles, to put aside the the other roles for this one. It is a way we can help turn a simple glass of wine on the sofa together into focused intimacy––even if we had to stuff the unfolded clothes on the sofa into a basket and move it to the other room. Clearly, I speak from experience. Wink. Freshening up even in the smallest way helps us both let go of the day and relax into one another.

Think of One Question / Conversation can easily slide into talk about the kids or work or about some logistical solution our home needs. Sexy, right? Wrong. Those necessary conversations are practical, helpful, and foundational for building a home, but my advice (based on experience), leave it for another time. Hashing out the days’ events (especially the really hard ones) is not inspirational or sexy for either of us. Date nights, whether enjoyed at home or out and about, should be a respite from the logistics, a place of connection where you remember your relationship apart from the logistical juggle of parenthood or work or whatever other life circumstance. To avoid devolving into the parenting/work/other people’s lives conversation, have a question or two on hand ahead of time, ideally something open-ended to lead into more conversation. Some we use: What have you been dreaming about/hoping for this week? I know [insert hard circumstances] has been difficult this week, how are you doing? If you could transport us to any place right now, what would you where would we be? What would we do? 

Add Something Unexpected / Marriage can become so familiar, so comfortable that we can sometimes lose interest in one another. If your date nights feel the same as every other night (i.e. sit on the sofa with a favorite drink and watch a movie/show), it’s time to change it up! Add a surprise element––maybe something sexy, maybe something tasty, maybe an overnight date, maybe a morning date. Be creative.

Disclaimer / If your marriage is in crisis ( a good sign is not wanting to spend time together for whatever reason), I highly recommend digging into that a bit more with a trustworthy counselor. Counseling tends to have a stigma in our culture, a mark of failure or insufficiency, but in my opinion every marriage needs counseling at various points. Every marriage, even the healthiest of them, endures hard things, and counseling (for the individual or couple) can be an important to help process how we continue to grow in a healthy way regardless.

We spontaneously removed our family’s television a month ago, wrapped up it up, set it in the hall closet, and rearranged the living room. At once, we noticed a difference in the spirit of the place. Our home is not large. We have a six rooms total, including three bedrooms and three common spaces, all neatly connected to one another so that each room becomes as much a passageway as a stopping point. Our living room is a small, cozy space nestled between our kitchen, dining area, and one of the bedrooms. Naturally, this has caused design challenges, but like every space in our humble home, it is multi-purposed. Somehow our television always seemed awkward in it, a bit like an image with “find the thing that doesn’t belong.”

For most of our marriage, we didn’t have a television. Technically, we owned a small one gifted to us when we married nearly 16 years ago, but early in our marriage, we promptly moved it to an antique armoire tucked in a corner of a bedroom. In our former house, we loved raising our children without the cumbersome tele in the living room. It seemed like an afterthought. We had a weekly snuggle movie night with the kids, where we piled in our bed with the laptop. But as you can imagine, we outgrew that practice. Literally. It became difficult for all of six of us to comfortably fit on our bed any longer, let alone for 90-120 minutes for a film. And so nearly three years ago, we purchased our first television and for the most part enjoyed it.

The progression happens quickly though, doesn’t it? What had begun as a weekly film together quickly evolved when the boys purchased their first gaming system with their lawn work money. Plus, our new television was “smart” and offered us direct streaming to Netflix and Amazon. Although we still greatly limited screen time in our home to about 3 hours a week, the tug-of-war for more began to increase. The boys wanted to play 30 minutes of video games; the girls wanted to watch a show. Mark or I would want to watch something else altogether. In our small living space, tucked at the center of our home, when the television was on, it seemed as though home life abruptly paused for it.

We had experimented with various time blocks for screentime––at the end of the day after all our day’s work had been completed, only on the weekend, and so on. It didn’t matter. The change was subtle, but before long, it seemed the TV was on for one reason or another every evening. Our family read-aloud time diminished. Relational dynamics grew more tenuous, while end of day conversation became more shallow. Video game companies created more solo-play games, which meant rotations stretched longer. More bickering occurred between the kids as they wagered who had more or less screentime. And so on. Less than three years and this thing felt like the object of tug-of-war in our home. It was robbing time for us.

It may be easy for me to oversimplify, to pin every discord on the television. We removed the TV not because it was the sole source of all strife or noise in our home’s rhythm but because the television convoluted it. We needed to simplify the terms of our home life again to properly inventory the dynamics and heart of our home. The TV was simply a variable in the equation of home life. For instance, if at the end of the day, the television is a tool to unwind, what are other ways to decompress? What are the sources of stress that need undoing? Since our children are older and growing increasingly more independent, the removal was a little more layered than simply making our executive decision. It’s led to several more abstract conversations about the gift of time and our intentionality, even in reference to the common phrase “killing time.” We’ve had more conversations about consuming and producing, how does the television fit into those needs in our life? The conversations are the parent-training for adulthood when they are deciding these things for themselves.

I’m not sure how long this will occur. Our children fear it may be indefinitely. Wink. Smile. We have still watched shows or enjoyed family movie nights with the laptop, but we have also enjoyed more family game nights and read aloud, too. We allowed the boys to pull it out of the closet for a little video game time when a friend spent the night recently. This choice isn’t about the hard and fast rules; it’s about knowing our home and the needs within it. With a teenager and two more on the cusp, I am aware of both the brevity of childhood and the imminence of adulthood. These years feel so precious, and I haven’t regretted the removal once yet.