what to do with kids Christmas break

Things to Do with Your Kids This Christmas Break

It will be here before you know it…

Christmas break!

And I just heard it…. the cheer of little ones embracing their upcoming freedom, and the gasp from moms who are looking for ways to fill their children’s time for the duration of the break.

If you are going away for some of the break, then half of your battle is already won, since leaving home is an adventure all its own and comes with its own entertainment for young ones. But if you are staying home during your break, then filling the hours of your days is a daunting challenge.

Because I homeschool my children, I am always looking for ways to keep my kids on their toes after our schoolwork is done with fun, meaningful activities that I can plan and prepare for the night before. They are not stress inducing activities or even complicated in their preparation, but my children feel as though they have been thought of and have even expressed their appreciation of these planned times.

what to do with kids Christmas break

Each activity comes with a time limit so the activity is ended before boredom sets in and leaves anticipation for the activity to be repeated in the future.

We do not do all of these activities each day. This is just a list that I use to choose from when planning our day.

At Home:

  • Silent reading (30 minutes)- My son who recently turned 5 has been doing this for a while now and can sit for the duration of the time. He cannot read a full book at this point, but he is a pro at looking at pictures and even doing some picture search books.
  • Read aloud (30 minutes)- This does require Mom’s involvement, but that’s okay! Choose books that are related to the season you are in (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc.). Having a book basket helps with this. This would also be a great time to begin a classic or novel with them (we have read the Winnie the Pooh collection together).  You will be amazed at how their understanding and communication skills grow with this simple activity. During this time, I pull out the blocks and perler beads and my children quietly create while they listen.
  • Color/Draw (20-30 minutes)- Coloring and drawing is an important childhood skill that our kids need in order to develop fine motor skills among other things. [source]

what to do with kids Christmas break

  • Play-doh (20-30 minutes)- Kids love play-doh, and moms can easily use this time for some therapy. Squishing play-doh is relaxing and has the ability to keep kids entertained without any effort on our part.
  • Bake cookies (30 minutes)- This one requires a little bit of work, but there is no hard and fast rule that you have to make your cookies from scratch (we don’t always). Kids love the process of mixing and seeing their work turn into something they can actually eat.
  • Play games (30-45 minutes)- This is a fun one! Grab all of those you have hidden away in a closet and play a few. Depending on ability, the games may even get a bit competitive. A few of our favorites are Shopkins Uno, Candyland, Dominoes, Go Fish, Sorry, Guess Who, and Connect Four.
  • Watch a show (30-120 minutes)- This activity is great when Mom just needs to sit with a cup of coffee in a quiet room for a bit. Pull out a video (your children’s ages and attention spans will dictate the length of your movie), put your feet up, and enjoy the quiet. If your children know that movie time only comes at a specific time of the day, they will appreciate that time even more.
  • Play outside (30-60 minutes)- This is the stuff of childhood and the maker of good naps for little ones. Fresh air, sunshine, and the ability to run unrestricted are all great for a child’s well-being and also is important for Mom. Pull out the bicycles, roller skates, scooters, hula hoops, and sidewalk chalk or let them enjoy your personal jungle gym. No matter what they do, it will be a win for everyone. Need more ideas? 15 Minutes Outside by Rebecca Cohen is a great book with 365 outdoor ideas.

what to do with kids Christmas break

  • Video games (30-60 minutes)- Kids enjoy video games and technology is the wave of the future, but that doesn’t mean our kids should have unlimited access to it. Schedule time for your kiddos to play some of their video games. By scheduling time for this activity, your kids won’t spend too much time in front of a screen, they won’t tire of their games too quickly, and video game time will become a very special time for them.
  • Free play (1-2 hours)- Free play is so important for children.  Not only does it give them the ability to decide for themselves what they want to play, but it gives them a chance to pull out the toys and stretch their imaginations. And with Christmas just around the corner, it will give them a chance to really play with their new toys.

Quick trips

Sometimes, you just need to leave the house, but you don’t want to spend a lot or be out all day. Here are a few ideas for taking quick trips that don’t involve shopping or stores. Don’t forget to schedule in travel time.

  • Library (1 hour)- Libraries are so much more than warehouses for books. They are now being upgraded with play areas, puzzles, learning games, and story time. Take advantage of these amenities that your library has to offer and spend an hour in a quiet but fun atmosphere.
  • Local park (30-60 minutes)- If you don’t have a swing set, your local park is guaranteed to have a great jungle gym (take proper safety precautions). From playground equipment and open areas for unhindered running to walking paths and  bike trails, your park has much to offer that a backyard can’t. Pack a lunch and make your adventure last a little longer.

what to do with kids Christmas break

  • Donut/ice cream run (30 minutes)- Have the kids been really good for you on a particular day? Why not treat them to a donut shop or Ice cream shop run? Encourage their good behavior with a small treat and a quick adventure outside of the house.
  • Visit a friend (1-2 hours for littles 3-4 hours for bigs)- I am a firm believer that visits with friends need to fall into a reasonable time frame, especially if you are spending time in their home with little ones. Your visit has time to end on a good note before little ones begin to get too antsy.
  • Bounce house or kids gym (1-2 hours)- Do you live in an area that has a bounce house or kids gym? Take advantage of these. Purchase a membership if it is something that can be used quite often by your family. This is a great way to fill a couple of hours of your day, give your kids ample space to exert plenty of energy, and give you a fun place to escape to on rainy days when a park visit wold not be possible.

What are some other ways you can inexpensively provide meaningful activities for your children during a school break? Feel free to share them with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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The Lesson from the Termite’s Nest

Song of Solomon 2:15- Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

A few years ago, my husband and I went on a cruise. One of our stops was Playa de Carmen, Mexico.

As we walked for what seemed like forever to the bus that would take us to the Mayan Ruins of Tulum, Brian and I noticed that all of the trees were painted white from the ground to part of the way up the trunk.

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At first I didn’t think anything of it, but as we drove through the city, we noticed that EVERY tree had been whitewashed. I just chalked it up to “that’s just how they do it here” and didn’t think anything else of it.

Until……

We finally reached our destination a little more than an hour later. As were walking the mile and a half from where our bus dropped us off to the entrance of the ruins, Tour Guide Juan stopped us and had us look over into the trees.

He continued, “Did you notice that all of the trees in Playa de Carmen were whitewashed from the ground to halfway up the trunk? There is a reason for that. You all know termites eat wood, but something happens to their bodies when we take a mixture of limestone and water and paint our trees. As the termites begin climbing up a whitewashed tree, the temperature of their bodies rises and they burn up. If we didn’t whitewash our trees in Playa de Carmen, you would see termite mounds like this one everywhere.”

We went on into the ruins and I forgot all about the termites, whitewashed trees, and the vendors we would have to push through a second time as we made our way back to our bus.

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As we were leaving the ruins, I saw this termite nest (pictured above) and something hit me. With all of the green around, the tree hosting this nest had no healthy foliage on it. The tree itself could not grow while something was sucking the life out of it. It could only die.

Our homes, families, and lives are living things. Satan wants to destroy those things. If he came with a hack saw, motorized saw, or ax, we would recognize him immediately and protect those things that are so precious to us.

Instead he comes into our lives as a termite- something so tiny that we would not even notice it or recognize the harm it could do (overly busy schedule, television, Internet, food, harmful relationships, etc.). He comes as a termite that doesn’t mind how long it will take to suck the life out of us. He comes in the form of a thousand little things that slowly drain our will, desire, and ability to fight back. Before you know it, there is no life left in you.

We need a whitewash!

We need to take preventative measures before those little termites even have a chance to climb into our lives.

We need to set time alone for ourselves with the Lord and His Word.
We need to set boundaries.
We need to learn to say “no” to things that take our time away from what is important.
We need to invest time in our marriages and children.
We need to let go of the desire to have more and be content with what we already have.
We need to be willing to let go of some of our material possessions that bog us down.

It is possible to remove the termites once they have made a nest, but it is hard work and, in some cases, can be costly. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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That day, Brian and I made some wonderful memories at the Mayan ruins, saw some amazing structures that have lasted a thousand years, saw the bluest water on the coast of Tulum, and took some amazing photos.

But I think the one thing that will never leave my heart from that day was the lesson I learned while looking at a termite’s nest.

I pray I never forget what it looks like. I want it to be a constant reminder to me that I need to keep my “tree” whitewashed.

This post was originally featured on my previous blog The Joy of Homemaking.

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Celebrate the Ordinary Days- Fall Edition

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September is here and with it comes the anticipation of all things fall. Sweaters, boots, leaves changing colors, and pumpkin flavored everything…. yes, fall is coming.

Here in Florida, we can only imagine what the rest of the world experiences for fall. We live vicariously through Pinterest photos and Hallmark movies and imagine the crisp feel of the air on Thanksgiving.

However, there are so many delightful, ordinary days sprinkled into the months of September through December that it doesn’t matter if our leaves actually turn color and fall in January. We can still enjoy these days along with everyone else who live in the perfect fall climates further north.

Here are some of my upcoming favorite ordinary days (this list is by no means extensive) and how I plan to recognize them in splendid ways or just acknowledge them in passing. After all, that is the beauty of ordinary days.

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September 22- First Day of Fall (We celebrate this day by decorating for the season of fall, not a particular holiday.)

September 23- Native American Day (I have several books about Squanto and Sacajawea that we read at this time)

September 29- Coffee Day (no explanation needed…)

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October 4- Taco Day (Tacos for dinner!)

October 10- Columbus Day (This year we are going to make this Christopher Columbus themed craft.)

October 15- Sweetest Day (Enjoy a sweet treat.)

October 17- Boss’s Day (A good day to show our children how to respect the ones who sign our paychecks.)

October 24- United Nations Day (We will take some time to learn about this organization.)

October 28- National Chocolate Day (Watch the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)

October 31- Reformation Day (We will be “nailing” the 95 Thesis to our door using tape on the back of the papers and my son’s plastic hammer and learning the Five Solas.)

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November 3- Sandwich Day (This will be easy to celebrate…)

November 8- Election Day (Take your kids with you as you place your vote… and explain to your children that a secret ballot means they are not to announce your choice of candidate to everyone in your voting precinct.)

November 11- Veteran’s Day (Several state parks in our area offer free entrance on this day in exchange for supplies to be made care packages to be sent to our troops- a more than reasonable trade. Find out if any state parks in your area offer this service to you.)

November 15- America Recycles Day (Take note of what you and your children are currently doing to help preserve our environment, and decide what changes could be made to help even further.)

November 24- Thanksgiving

November 26- Small Business Saturday (Look into small businesses in your area that could use a boost during the holiday season.)

November 27- First Day of Advent (Begin celebrating the advent of Jesus and the Christmas season.)

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December 4- Cookie Day (Bake a batch or more of cookies. Package them to be given as gifts for your neighbors, friends, and teachers.

December 7- Pearl Harbor Day (Take some time to reflect on the impact this event had on our country 75 years ago.)

December 15- Bill of Rights Day (Review what the Bill of Rights are and show them Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the Four Freedoms.)

December 20- Last Day of Fall (Get ready! Christmas is around the corner!)

Let’s make fall’s ordinary days a memorable time for our families. 

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intentional-celebrations

Building Monuments

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God loves a good celebration. So much so that He instituted times when His people came together to rejoice with food and symbols to represent what the celebration was for.

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But the celebrations were not meant to be frivolous. They were not meant to be commercialized. These celebrations were meant to be spiritual monuments for the people to look back and remember God’s goodness to them as they made the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. These celebrations were to mark specific moments in time when God showed His provision, protection, love, and mercy to His stubborn, stiff-necked people (Deuteronomy 9:13). These celebrations were to contain lessons that would be passed down from generation to generation so there would never be a generation who did not know the Lord or the things He had done (Judges 2:10).

As I think of my own life, I can remember distinct moments where God showed His hand of provision, protection, love, and mercy on my journey from childhood into adulthood.

He provided a piano for me when my parents could not afford to buy one. (In fact, my family nor I have ever had to buy a piano, but we have almost always had one in our home or access to one since I was 11 years old.)

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He provided the money needed for me to attend college through scholarships, generous gifts from others, and some savings my father had intentionally put aside without the need for college loans.

He protected us from an oncoming tornado when I was 7 years old and caused that tornado to completely turn around and head in a different direction.

His love and mercy allowed my mother to know she would have a granddaughter before she passed away.

His goodness provided for our children so much that we can look at their rooms and count on one hand what we have had to actually purchase for them.

I want these memories to be monuments for my children to see, for them to reflect back on when times get rough in their lives, when they are unsure how the end of the story will turn out. I want to retell these stories to my children so they will not forget them, and so they will have stories to pass down to future generations of God’s goodness, grace, and mercy.

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As I thought of our personal monuments, I realized that underneath the debris of our calendar holidays, there are beautiful monuments for us to refer back to when the going gets rough.

When you pull away the tinsel, the lights, the wrapping paper, the wish lists, and the empty boxes, there is a stable with a sleeping Baby who was given as the greatest Gift humanity has ever received. During those times when we feel that we have nothing, that hope is lost, that life is for those in high position and not for us, that Baby stands as a monument saying, “I was given to you.”

Hidden under the very last strand of shredded, plastic, green grass, eggs, and bunnies is a cross of raw wood that is stained with blood. When we visit that monument we are reminded of how very loved we are- so much that someone was willing to die in our place to carry our burden, and reap the punishment for what we sowed.

Some monuments are built as reminders to us of principles in God’s Word.

Buried under the flowers, chocolate, cards, and paper hearts is a man who, as tradition tells us, defied an emperor in order to keep those in his flock from breaking God’s law.

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Journey past the rainbows, the leprechauns, the pots of gold, and shamrocks and you will find a young English boy, kidnapped by pirates, and taken to Ireland to be a slave. Despite his circumstances he prayed to God one hundred times a day, escaped his captors, and eventually went back to Ireland as a missionary to reach the people he had grown to love for Christ.

Travel through the fields of cornucopias, feathers, black and white garb, and gaze upon the monuments of a small band of pilgrims who are celebrating what only the hand of God could have brought about and done.

I want the “holidays” to be more than just a stressful time filled with rushed trips to the stores, receipts, and commercialism.

I want these days to be “holy days”- days that turn our focus to God and His goodness towards humanity.

I want my children to visit these monuments yearly, not with the expectation of temporary trinkets they may receive, but with the expectation of receiving the long-lasting gift of hope these monuments stand for.

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One of my favorite books is Jerusalem Jackson Greer’s book, A Homemade Year. In it, she lists dates that are significant to the history of the Christian Church at large- spiritual monuments. Days that I usually breeze by as I go about my year have a spiritual significance and lesson to teach me and my children. Days that I would have scheduled a doctor’s appointment or a library trip were monuments meant to turn our hearts towards the Lord.

Many of these dates are not on our calendars.

They are probably not even on the radars of marketers.

But these dates are there, and they are a gift. Not just to me, but to my family as well. They are days that I have an opportunity to use as monuments for my family. Monuments with a beautiful history that my family can look back to and remember God’s goodness in the past and His promised faithfulness in the future.

When in Barnes & Noble, Play with the Trains!

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Over time, as the Lord has begun to open my eyes regarding my need for being more intentional as a mom, I’ve come to the realization that there are additional relationship building opportunities beyond playtime at home that would benefit from me being more engaged and present in the moment…

And, you know, it really didn’t take too long for an opportunity to present itself where I could actually begin taking practical steps in that direction.

In fact, the opportunity came one day as I was at the local mall with my son.

On this particular day I decided to take my little guy to the oh-so beautiful bookstore by the name of Barnes & Noble. You know it well yourself… It’s the one with a Starbucks coffee shop tucked neatly in the corner with small tables that invite you to just sit and cozy up quietly for an hour or two with a good book…

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In days past, that could have been something a “pre-mommy” woman like you or I could perhaps leisurely consider as a relaxed destination option, but these days, that’s not our draw. No, it’s what’s directly in front of us when we enter the store that brings us the “greatest” joy!

…The two escalators leading up to the “pot of gold” at the top of the “rainbow”!!!

And you, my friends, know the very place I’m talking about… Because it’s every stroller-pushing parent’s go-to spot!!!

The CHILDREN”S BOOKS SECTION!!!

Hooray!!!! (Yes, we are all looking for things to do with our little ones these day, and Barnes & Nobles just seems to get that. Oh how we love you B&N!)

Once we reach the top of the rainbow- by taking the elevator, of course-  we excitedly remind our little ones that we are about to arrive at our primary destination in that area…the train table!!!!

Okay, Class, now let’s all say it together, “Hooray for the trains!”

Our little ones are excited and so are we. We love them oh-so much and just want them to have the most fabulous time and loads of fun every single day… Truly that’s just something God placed in our hearts as parents.

So, we stroll our little ones over to the train table and lovingly lift little “Johnny” or “Suzie” out of the stroller and repeat, “Yay! Look where we are! The Trains!!! Hooray for the trains!!!”

And then what do we do next……..?

WE…SIT…ON….THE….CHAIRS……….

…And we get on our iPhones while they play.

The End.Barnes--Noble-Kids-Parents-Moms

No… Of course the story’s not over… because on this particular day, I was really excited about being more intentional as a mom and giving my son the gift of my focus and attention.

I hadn”t started writing the blog post on “Confessions of a Self-Diagnosed ADD Mom” just yet, but God was already working on my heart regarding my need for being more engaged during playtime with my son.

So, my friends…. On this day….

“Yes, yes?” I can hear you say. (Oh, I just know all of you are holding your breath.)

On this day…..!!!!

I decided to PLAY WITH THE TRAINS! (Cue the applause soundtrack, as I curtsy and take a dramatic bow.)

Yes, Dear Friends. I decided to play with my son at the train table. No, I may not be the best at playing trains, but truthfully that doesn’t really even matter….because it’s my time and focused attention that are what truly counts during moments like these.

And you know what…. In addition to enjoying the time with my son at the train table and seeing him happy that I was involved in train play, something also took place that helped reinforce the value of making that decision. I was actually able to catch a glimpse of what that time “could have been like” if my mindset had not been changed earlier that day by the awareness of my need to be more intentional in my focus during playtime with my son.

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A few minutes into our play, another parent also came to the train table with his little girl. (She was probably around three or four. And “Hooray for the trains!!!” was, I’m sure, his thought as well.)

But viewing this scenario, from my place at the train table with my son, was almost like watching my own version of Charles Dickin’s classic “A Christmas Carol”….as I watched a past version of myself in his response to the amazing train table.

He brought his child to the train table…

He sat on a chair…

And then he went on his iPhone…

I think at one point, he even asked his little girl to look at him, perhaps for a picture… (And sadly, I could identify…) As parents we sometimes think, “Let’s take a picture of our cute little one in this moment, while he/she is doing something fun…” All the while, we as parents are not active participants in that fun.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all of our photos as parents are of moments in which we are not actively present. But in this moment, I could identify with that father from times past at the same train table.

Yes, take pictures of your children having fun. Yes, celebrate along with them that there is a train table at the “top of the rainbow” in Barnes & Noble…

But, for goodness sake… Play with the trains!

And leave the chairs empty…

And let your iPhones starve for your your attention….

Because in this moment, only one can be fed… And it’s either your phone or your child.

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Confessions of a “Self-Diagnosed” ADD Mom

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Bored and easily distracted… It wasn’t long before I realized my problem and decided to just go ahead and personally diagnose myself.

Let’s just go ahead and say it… I was experiencing an attention deficit disorder when it came to playtime with my son.

Okay, so no, I wasn’t always distracted… I did “try” to play, but I’ll have to admit that when I became bored of playing with cars or couldn’t find my imagination when making conversation with dinosaurs (I don’t know how many times I’ve asked how they’re doing), my mind could easily take me and my attention away from my son and either straight to social media or something else that I might find to be more interesting in that moment….even cleaning up.

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Okay, okay… you need to give a mom some grace, right? (I know what most of you are thinking. “You’re with your little guy 24/7. A mom’s job is never done. You need a mental and emotional break every once in a while, right?”)

While I certainly appreciate the love and support from you all, there was still another side of me that believed things should look differently. (Well…For me, at least.)

Yes, being a mom is a 24/7 job, filled with to-do’s like changing diapers, feeding hungry bellies, cleaning house, and kissing boo-boos. But what I was finding was that the quality of my focus and attention during playtime with my son became diluted if I allowed distractions to freely come as they pleased. Thus, my real priority in that moment- my son- could easily take a back seat to the things that really weren’t that important at all.

Facebook was a good example of that. (Um…. At least for me it had been.) …Which is why I had to delete the app off my phone…

“What?!!! No!!!” You gasp.

Oh…….believe me. It was hard at first… And, no… No  one asked me to do this…

(Now, please don’t misunderstand me… And my wonderful Facebook friends can even tell you…. I AM still on Facebook. However, now in order to access it, I must go onto our office desktop. Yes, my app is gone. And although I can and still do share photos via IOS on my iPhone, I have been extremely intentional in not using my phone to actually view Facebook newsfeeds, comments, messages, “likes”, etc. Our office desktop is now where I must go to do that…making it less convenient for me to access it during a normal weekday, and that ‘s just how I want to keep it.)

This came out of necessity and in some sense out of obedience. Let me explain.

A while back, a phrase came to my mind out of the blue which I believe is something I really needed to hear at that time (and still do)…and that phrase was… “Eliminate distractions”. I honestly believe this was God speaking to my heart, but to be perfectly honest, I didn’t begin working on this until about a month ago. Since taking that step, though, I’ve begun to notice that my focus and engagement in the present moment has greatly improved.

You see, over time, I began to notice that social media so easily became a welcomed distraction for me when I either got bored or didn’t feel in the mood to play, and it really wasn’t doing much to help me build quality time with my son. 

It’s kind of sad to think how we as adults are so quick to judge kids and young people these days on their lack of attention in school or their lack of engagement with their families… And yet, when you think about it… Do we as adults even realize the things that are distractions in our own lives, preventing us from focusing on what mattters most? Are we really enjoying the moments? Or is something else occupying our mind and our attention as well?

purposeful-moms-iphone-distraction-social-mediaYou see, just as we, as adults, get “bored” playing with cars or dinosaurs- which may not make much sense to us or be as fun as checking social media- our kids too will face those same kinds of challenges when they are also expected to learn and focus on something new (and maybe not as engaging as their favorite games, toys, or activities).

So, if there’s something I’m learning through this, it’s this… The same expectations I have of my child, should also be the same I have of myself. And furthermore… Being engaged and focused during time with my little guy are gifts that tangibly demonstrate my love for him, especially as I’ve noticed quality time to be one of his primary love languages. (By the way, if you haven’t read The 5 Love Languages by Gary D. Chapman, I highly recommend you do.)

No, I’m not saying I have to play with cars and dinosaurs 24/7 or even have the greatest ability to do so. But in this moment… For this 30 minutes of playtime and throughout my day when I know I should be giving him my fullest attention… It’s in these moments that I must remind myself that I am there for someone else- not myself. I am there to be engaged and present in his life… To show love in practical ways by putting myself aside so that he can have joy in this moment.confessions-ADD-mom

And you know what? I’m actually beginning to enjoy my days a whole lot more because of it. It’s funny how even over a brief timespan, you can already begin to see changes happen. And that’s how it is with many things in life. (Sometimes, it takes making a somewhat “hard” decision- in letting go of the familiar and the convenient- to help you begin seeing the results you always wanted but just didn’t know were there for you to have.)

Over just a short amount of time, I’ve really begun to enjoy playing with my son. Not only have I seen myself grow in my “career” as a Mega Block engineer and a fan of Mighty Machines, but even more than that, with God’s help, I’m becoming more creative just in general during playtime.

For me, being a “self-diagnosed” ADD mom is choice… And, while I still have opportunity to grow in this area, I’m finding that as I continue to allow the Lord to work in my heart, and as I continue making the daily choices to focus on what matters most, my days are becoming more filled with God’s peace, rest, and opportunities to tangibly demonstrate love to those closest to me.

And these are the choices that one day, with God’s help, I’ll look back on and be thankful that they weren’t sacrificed for something that was less worthy of my attention.
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