Including Your TCKs….

I grew up in a family that worked together. What I mean is that my parents expected us to help each other out with family projects. For instance, every fall we helped Dad cut and haul wood; every summer we worked in my grandmother’s very large garden, and then at the end of the summer we canned everything; and as we got older we helped each other move into our homes. It is like that still . Almost every return visit there is usually some family project going on that we (my husband, kids, and I) help with. Like a few years ago we helped my brother-in-law build his barn; and last summer we helped my mother tear down an old building. Everyone that was able helped in some way, even if it was just refilling the water jugs.

My husband grew up somewhat the same, so he jumps right in and helps with no complaints when we are back. And because of this, we have tried to include our kids in whatever we are involved with while living overseas. When they were younger my husband was a principal at international schools, so I would take them to all the school programs. It was a way we could support him and be a part of each of those communities. When our kids were toddlers, we wanted them to learn to help others – so I had them help me pick up trash after school events or other small jobs that they could handle.

Now that they are older, our work focus has changed. My husband is now the director of a not-for-profit that helps families of children with special needs. We wanted to include all of our children, not just our child with special needs in this new endeavor. The other two “get” to help in appropriate ways like volunteering as a buddy for a child with special needs at activities we host or they help with the preparations. It’s a family project, not just my husband’s job.


Why do we do this? We want our kids to feel involved in the work that we are doing. We want to them to experience different aspects of life, not just what they see at school or with their friends. We want them to do something meaningful. I just read an article* that says that “adult MKs who felt they were a significant part of their parents’ ministries had, as adults, a greater sense of spiritual/emotional stability” (“Raising Resilient MKs” by Diane Morris). That MK, could be replaced by TCK for those who are working with humanitarian organizations. I believe our kids need to see what we do and why it is important.

Do we force our kids help us? Honestly, sometimes, but not always. We ask and see if they want to help out, especially if it is volunteering to help other people. We challenge them to try it, but we don’t force them to volunteer if they are uncomfortable. Now, we might force or bribe them to help with preparations when we need extra hands to sort T-shirts and medals, but most of the time they do it because they want to – but not always. They are children.

“But, I work with organizations that work against child trafficking and sex-slavery, there is NO way I’m bringing my children anywhere near those places,” you say. I hear you. I wouldn’t either. I want to protect my own children’s innocence as long as I can. I’ll be honest, this is not an area I’m an expert in – but I’ve had my kids help me make cookies and color eggs that were to be delivered by another organization to “tea shops” where some of the women worked. My kids did not and still do not know what kind of work these ladies do, just that we were making cookies for some people to make them happy. What kid does not want to make others happy.

“But, I’m not a missionary or a humanitarian,” you say. I still think you can get involved in something with your community. I’m sure you may already are. I know of other traveling spouses that volunteer at orphanages, help with fund-raisers for needs in their city, or other “humanitarian” type work. Try to work in times to get your kids involved with you. It’s great for kids to see their parents helping others, and it’s even better when you see them and can honestly say “Great job, today. I’m so proud of you!”

So, I challenge you. I challenge you to get your children involved with whatever it is you do. It can be simple like making cookies or it can be more difficult like building new homes after a natural disaster. Whatever you do make sure it is age appropriate, meaningful, and that you do it together.

Your Turn: How do you involve your children in the work/ministry that you do? I’d love to hear of more examples and stories, so please share below in the comments section.

*Taken from the book, Raising Resilient MKs edited by Joyce M. Bowers.

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Make Sure To Say Good-bye

It’s the end of the school year, which means traveling with family, moving to a new place, or hanging out at home. Most parents and teachers of third culture kids know that they need to make sure there are opportunities for students to say good-byes properly. They have “Good-bye Parties” for their children; they take photos of their favorite places, and/or they have dinners with special people before they leave.

Alloway Kirk and Burial Place of Burns's Family

Photo by The Commons at

Saying “Good-bye” well is something we should have our children do at the end of every school year or long vacation no matter if we are leaving or not.

Just last week I put in a music DVD for Jie Jie that we’ve had for over ten years now (Have DVDs truly been around that long now?). She requests it once in awhile, and on this particular morning I sat and watched her dance along with it. A song came on, this song in particular, and my heart wrenched.

I was flooded with memories from 10 years ago.

It was the last week of our time in Shenyang, China. Due to SARS, the school had ended a week earlier. My husband was the principal at the time, so we were making our last rounds of dinners and lunches with various people. This day we happened to be eating fish head soup with a Korean family when my husband got the phone call. An elementary student had gotten pinned down by a large iron gate just outside his home. He was dead.

In a haze of confusion and pain, a memorial service was arranged. The students who were still around all showed up, along with teachers and friends of the parents. “With All of My Heart” by Jana Alayra was one of the songs that was played that day. It had been one of his favorites.

Many of his classmates were not there that day. They had already traveled back to their passport country. *

We can’t know for sure that when school resumes in the fall, that your child’s classmates will all be there. So, if you have the chance help your young children say “Good-bye” well this year. Maybe it it’s just a handshake and the words spoken or maybe you go all out and have an end of the year party where the kids say something nice about each other. Either way, from this experience, I learned the importance of saying “Good-bye” every time.

*The school had another Memorial Service in fall for all the students, along with counselors to help them deal with such a huge loss.

Your Turn: What do you do to help your child/student say “Good-bye” at the end of the school year? Please comment below.

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Debunking the Excuse Rail – Part 2

For the first part of this series click here to read.IMG_2608

Living overseas can be adventurous and exciting. It can also be lonely and hard – even if you have a family. I’ve had my seasons of it all – or at least I think I should have by now, but I’m sure as seasons come and go they will each return at various times in my life.

One season that seems to return quite frequently is the Season of Feout (pronounced fe-out, combo of fear and doubt). This one pops up when I mention things or people from the US and my kids look at me with a blank stare. It also pops up in the fall when many Facebook friends start posting pics of their children at the pumpkin farms, hayrides they’ve taken, or tree leaves in their brilliant autumn colors. These I mentally add to my “list” of all the things I’m failing at with my kids because I have them here and not there. Here where there are no pumpkin patches, where the leaves don’t change colors, and hayrides? HA, we live in a mega-city. Here where they can’t get to know their grandparents, nor their cousins. Here where they constantly have to say good-bye to great friends who move. Here where “here” may be a new location in a year.

Do you relate to these “feout” questions I have sometimes? My mind can really get out of control with all the emotions swirling around.

I sometimes struggle – not always, just sometimes. It is during those times though that I want to “make-it-up” to my kids. I want to make up for all the losses they have because of the decision I made years ago – way before Uwe came into the picture – to live overseas. When we go to the US (or Germany) I want to take them to all the “fun” places – so they don’t miss out. I want to take them to baseball games, to amusement parks, to zoos, to farms/ranches, to fairs – whatever I can find. I sometimes want to make sure they “experience” the culture, not just hear about it through stories of my past.

Maybe you’ve not had these feelings above, but maybe you felt your children “deserved” something for all the loss in their lives. You know that the transitions are difficult, so you buy all the kids a smartphone so that they can “keep in touch” with their friends better. Or you think everyone deserves an iPad mini because let’s face it, it sure would make travel easier on the plane if everyone had their own. Or maybe you feel just the opposite. You feel as if you can’t give your children anything too nice because you work for a relief organization or are a missionary – and it just wouldn’t look good to those who support your work.

Either way, it’s all an excuse.

An excuse to do, buy, or not to buy for our kids (and let’s face for ourselves, too). Fact is that transitions are hard. Fact is my kids are going to miss out on some of my cultural activities. Fact is our kids are going to be fine. Yes, they will be fine if I take them to every fun thing I can find, or if we just play in the grandparents’ backyards. They will be fine if I buy them all an iPad mini or (more likely) not buy any. Point is, they will be fine. I shouldn’t, and neither should you, fall into that trap that we should “make-it-up” to our kids for living overseas. If you want to buy them an iWhatever, then do it. If you don’t have the money, don’t feel guilty. If you want to “experience” a cultural event like a baseball game with your child, then go. I really believe that our kids will remember the time we spent with them more than the actual event or gadget we buy them.

How do I know that our kids are going to be fine? I’m married to a TCK, have TCKs for friends, and have watched countless TCKs grow up. They all survived the experience – and most would say they are glad they grew up the way they did. That’s how I know my kids are going to be fine. This is how I get through those Seasons of Feout – I remind myself of other TCKs that were taken on this path. I don’t have to go far to be reminded – I just have look across the dinner table.

Your Turn: Have you ever had a “Season of Feout”? If so, how did you get through it? Please share in the comments below.

*Note: As far as I know “Feout” is my made up word from “fear” and “doubt”, but if it should be a word in another language please forgive me.

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An Expat’s Letter to Santa


I’m sure you are one busy man this time of year. I can’t imagine, as I only have three kids, not millions to check on. I don’t want to take up too much of your precious time, as I know you have quite a few of these letters to read. So, here it goes:

This year I’d like…


1. Language – the ability to communicate clearly with the locals around me. I know I could study more, but if you could just give me the language, then I would be able to understand the man on the phone telling me that a package has arrived for us and I need to get it soon. I’d also like to be able to read in this new language. It would be so helpful with the public notices in our elevator, especially today when the water went off during my shower. That would have been very helpful.

2. Lifetime of free airline ticketsOkay this maybe steep, but hey I’ve been REALLY good this year. I love to travel, but it just costs so much money to go places, especially with a family of five. So, maybe you could put at least a few years worth of free tickets in my stocking?

3. Cooking classes – A personal tutor to teach me how to make all the wonderful food that I have eaten in the various places that I have called home. It is difficult to find the exact same food after we move on to the next destination. I’d even settle for a recipe book, but they have to be authentic recipes. Please don’t send me the recipes that are westernized.

4. Home – Yes, this maybe the most difficult as we are not really sure where home is. To spend the holidays with the entire extended family each year would be just a dream come true. For us it’s difficult because my family and my in-laws live on different continents. You are creative, so I’m sure you will come up with a grand way for us to be able to celebrate with both families this year. (If it doesn’t workout, then I’ll settle for a GREAT connection on Skype.)

Thank you so much in advance. And in case you didn’t know, we no longer live where we did last year. In fact, we don’t even live in the same country. So, be sure to pay attention to the return address. Don’t worry though, I smuggled in my suitcase the special ingredients so I can make your favorite cookies.

Your Biggest and Most-Well Behaved Fan,

The Expat

Your Turn: I had fun thinking about what an expat might ask for. Now if you could ask Santa for anything, what would you ask for? Share in the comments below.

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*Photo Credit: Flickr, The Commons


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“Rise of the Guardians” and my TCK


My son just watched “Rise of the Guardians” a few nights ago with some friends. He came home and told my husband that it was a funny movie, but he had one question.

Who is the Sandman?

This could seem like a funny question, maybe even a dumb question to many parents. I mean, in today’s age kids have the opportunity to watch cable TV, Movie on Demand, Netflix, etc. One would think that they would be up-to-date on all the stories and fairy tales from their “home” country, right?

This is not always the case – and we need to remember that as parents. We can’t assume that they know everything about our home country. And with that assumption, we can’t assume that our kids will figure it out or transition well if/when they move there.

How can we help them?

I think the best way is to inform them that although they may look like everyone else, they will be different. Actually, they probably have already figured that out if they are in elementary school and have made the return trip to visit family. Although they may know this, do they know how to cope with it? Can we teach them how? Can we encourage them?

I think we can.

1. Clueless does not equal stupid. I believe this is an idea that many TCKs may battle with as they enter the “home” country and not know what everyone else round them seems to know. It could be TV shows, it could be an expression/idiom, or even a name of a candy. They will feel stupid, but they need to remember that they are not. We can help them by reminding them that they are going to experience it and that this situation is normal. They are definitely not stupid.

2. Laugh – Laughing brings healing and can soothe the heart. Learning to laugh at ourselves is not always easy, but it can be done. Kids need to see that everyone messes up and are not perfect. Maybe you can share with them a time you messed up culturally when you were home – because let’s get real, even we forget what “home” is like. Just this summer, I had trouble counting money in my home country – It’s moments like this that I want to use as a model for “marking it up” as a living-overseas moment for me. For them, a TCK moment. Nothing more.

3. Bridge-people – You may have heard this term when you first moved overseas – you know the person that can help you understand the new culture better, be the bridge for you. I think this is needed for older children who transition into their parent’s home country. They need someone around their age who can help them navigate the teenage/university cultural differences. Someone who has been there and can relate to them, possibly another TCK or mentor who understands the issues of TCKs.

Whoever thought that the one to bring sleep and good dreams would turn out to be the one that stumped a TCK. Thanks Sandman for helping me remember that though my kids live in a world of technology, they still will not get all of my home country’s culture.

Your Turn: What have you seen from your children in regards to “missing out” on the home culture and helping your children cope with this transition issue. Please share in the comments below.

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Nontraditional Holiday? Why not?

For the ‘American’ part of our family, the big holiday is coming up quickly. You know, Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potato souffle, pumpkin pie, and all the rest of the good stuff. In the past we’ve celebrated with fellow expats (aka adopted family) gathered around our own table or their table – or even larger gatherings where we rented space at the international school to feast.

This year is different.

This year we did not buy a turkey. I did not make stuffing. I didn’t even make a pumpkin pie. In fact, we are not even going to be home for Thanksgiving. We are leaving and taking a much needed mini vacation.

How do I feel about this? Actually, relieved. I’m not stressed about putting food together . I’m not worried about how Jie Jie is going to act/react at the gathering. I’m excited. We haven’t vacationed as a family in quite a while – like two years. We’ve gone to the US and visited family, but we didn’t go anywhere to shut off completely as a family. We’ve had stay-cations  but we tend to work anyway. We need to go away with books and games. I can’t wait -(actually, by the time you read this we will already be gone).

Why be nontraditional when this is the time I should be teaching my children about “their home” culture?

1. The thought of being away from family is too much this year. This is what one of my friends told me as she related their plans for the Thanksgiving break. They were planning to not have a huge feast at their home as they have in years past, but instead go to a different city and help at an orphanage with a group of other expats. I thought this was a brilliant way to fight the holiday blues. Go and serve others. And with that they are teaching their kids empathy for others.

2. The thought of doing anymore work is going to kill me. This is me, I raise my hand waving my white flag. I’m tired and the thought of cooking and prepping makes me swoon. And we have an “I Am a Hero Game” that we will travel six hours for the day before, so we decided to add time away and explore a small island off the main island.

I totally agree that holidays are a great way to teach kids about your own home culture. It helps them relate and understand where they came from. I understand that and agree. I get the full blown celebrations with all the fun crafts, food, and pre-recorded football games. I have done this – except the football game. We are European football fans, not so much the American football. So, my kids are not going to get a turkey this year. Will they survive? YES.

We really went wild this year – we put up our tree before Thanksgiving! We usually do this the weekend following Thanksgiving, but I wanted to come back to a decorated apartment. 

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you all! If you are eating turkey and pumpkin pie I wish you well as I sit at the beach reading a book and watching the kids play in the ocean. I’m thankful for time with my family.

Your Turn: How do you celebrate holidays? Do you go all out with every tradition? Do you ever do a nontraditional type of holiday? Please share in the comments below.

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Language and TCKs

“Which language should we speak at home with our children?”

“Which school should we send our children to? Language is important, but I’m afraid my child will forget or not master our ‘mother tongue’.”

As an expat parent, I’ve asked those same questions. As an international elementary teacher, I’ve heard those questions from parents about their own children.

They are legit questions, ones that should be addressed from the get-go when deciding to live abroad with your family. When I was pregnant with our first child my husband, being German, and I decided that I would speak English and he would speak German. Let me just say this, in theory it was a great plan, but for our family it didn’t happen. My husband rarely spoke German anywhere. His working world was in English and Chinese. His world at home with me was in English. He didn’t think about speaking German unless he was talking with his parents, but even that was a mixture of English, German, and a bit of Chinese. Please know that I do know of families that spoke dual languages and it worked wonderfully for them. It just wasn’t for our family. If you have a mixed family, this is definitely something you need to discuss as a family – which language(s) will we speak at home with our kids?

Schooling affects language as well…

Yes, which school do we send our child to? Local? International? Home-school?  These are questions that you definitely need to discuss with your spouse. Something to think about though, is what language do you see your child using as an adult? Is it your mother-tongue? your husband’s? English – if that isn’t your mother-tongue? As an educator, I can’t say this strong enough – Whatever language(s) you decide your child will be educated in make sure your child masters a language – and what I mean is they have mastered both speaking and writing. If your child cannot fully function in one language, they may never be able to fully express their feelings.

Once GeGe was almost pre-school age, Uwe and I discussed what language we wanted him to be educated in. We wanted him to be able to speak Chinese well. We had planned for him to attend local school until Grade 2, with me home-schooling him in English to keep up his writing. We chose this grade level because we knew that he would most likely go to an English speaking university. The English writing begins to expand quickly to paragraphs in grade 3. We didn’t want him to fall too far behind and not master English. Well, this plan didn’t workout for us. He attended only Kindergarten at the local school, then in grade 1 we switched over to the international school, but requested that he be in the same Chinese level as the native speakers in his homeroom. This worked out well for him. Our decision to pull him into the international school was due to the fact that Jie Jie needed to start school and her school was not at the same school. They were not really even close to each other and there was no way for me to get them both to school. GeGe could go in early with my husband, and I could take JieJie.

We speak English in the home, so these questions were not so difficult to answer, but for those expat parents whose language at home is not English this decision must be weighed out carefully. And many times a sacrifice of the mother-tongue happens. The language spoken by the parents is learned, but not fully mastered.

When raising kids abroad, the question about language is huge. It’s one that every expat parent must think through and discuss with their spouse. It is a question that my in-laws had to make over thirty years ago when they decided to send their very young children to the American school versus the German boarding school that was located in a different country. And it will be the question that probably my children will have to make should they choose to live abroad with families of their own.

Your Turn: What language do you speak at home? How did you make the language decision about education? What school do you send your kids to or did your parents send you to? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’m really interested.

This post was inspired by a blogpost I recently read about raising kids overseas. She is a TCK herself and understands the advantages and the disadvantages of living abroad. She listed questions one should ask when they begin to think about raising TCKs. The one suggestion that she gives to expat parents is to READ. Read books, articles, and blog posts about and authored by adult TCKs. If you are not currently following DrieCulturen, you should. Great resource!

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The Working Mama Weekend Saga~

I just joined the work-outside-the-home Mamas Club this fall. I am working part-time as a teacher for a small bi-lingual school where my kids are now attending. It has been both wonderful and challenging. If you are in this “Club”, then you know exactly what I mean.

It’s a Wonderful Life…

I LOVE teaching. I forgot that I loved it. I have been out of the classroom for about ten years now. I was a bit intimidated at first, but I really do love everything about it…being in the classroom, doing projects,sparking interest in learning (occasionally get to see this), planning the lessons, and yes even some grading (I’m a little odd though).

Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a SAHM (stay at home mom), but the kids are now ALL in school. Jie Jie even has a teacher and goes half days – which is why I’m part-time ~ and I’m okay with part-time. Part-time is E.N.O.U.G.H. Really.

It’s a Crazy Life…

I am part-time, but my Mom and Wife duties are still full-time. I still take Jie-Jie to therapy twice a week. I still have meals to cook. About Thursday, the laundry becomes Mt. Darks, Mt. Lights, and Mt. Whites. My floors and bathrooms still need cleaning. Life is crazy. My weekends are bogged down with housework and lesson plans. I feel like I’m just surviving at times.

I don’t want to just survive, I want to thrive.

You, too? We can thrive, I just know it. I’ll be honest, I don’t have all the answers, but here has been my weekend saving trick. It will blow your mind. It is so cheap, so easy to find (okay, you may have to look under a bed or in a closet), and some of the time easy to use.

The Children…yep, I’ve recruited the kids to help out with the chores. They can vacuum, fold clothes, clean the bathrooms, dust, and take out the trash. Some of these chores they get paid for, like taking out the trash. The others they don’t – it’s just what they do as part of the family. Kids learn valuable life skills while doing chores. And we all want them to be able live on their own when they graduate from high school, right? Right! And since your TCK will probably not live that close to home after graduation, all the more reason to teach them a few skills while they are still under your roof.

So, get those kids geared up to grab the dust rag and help out around the apartment. Sound difficult? It is, but giving them the option of going to friend’s house or having friends over afterwards motivates them pretty quickly.

So, here’s to the weekend. Hope you are able to get outside or do something you enjoy to do that is not on the “To Do” List.

Your Turn: Have any tips of your own that helps lessen the work on the weekends? Please share in the comments below.

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Public Transportation and Children, including Special Needs…

crowded bus

*photo by nats’ photostream at

Imagine getting on this bus with Baby in the front pack and Toddler trying to free his hand from yours. You help Toddler climb the giant steps up, only to find the bus crowed with no seats. With Toddler in front, you tighten the grip of his wriggly hand while you grasp with the other hand the hand grip swinging from the ceiling. The bus lurches forward. You stumble a bit. You close your eyes praying for your lives and cursing yourself for taking the bus. Then someone smiles and gets up so Toddler can sit. You stand swaying back and forth, or more likely jerking forward and backward while bouncing Baby, who at this point has started crying. Somehow the bus gets more crowded. Your stop is coming up. You begin planning the exit strategy in hopes that you don’t loose Toddler and don’t crush Baby. Then, the Mommy Panic Button is pushed – what if Toddler doesn’t get off with you? What if he gets lost? 

Imagination or Real?

Maybe you didn’t have to imagine this because you just experienced it this week AND to top it all off you are in a foreign country. I’m pretty sure I have had this kind of a day. It was WAY too easy to write for me to have imagined it all up.

Transportation Holder

When our son became old enough to have his own transportation card (like a debit card for buses and subways) we bought him a holder that went around his neck. All the kids now have one. Jie Jie just got a new one for her recent birthday.


“But a transportation holder isn’t going to help…”

No, just having the holder and the card are not going to help. I agree. That is why we decided that in case we should get separated from our kids, they need to have our phone numbers in the holder as well. So, we have my husband’s business card with his cell number inside, too. This card is written in both English and in Chinese. The dual language is important – not everyone can read English, so the language of your host country needs to be on the card as well. The kids know they are to ask someone to call that number if for some reason they find they are lost.

Special Needs Addition

Since Jie Jie is a special needs child, we have added  a little more information to her holder. We also have a card that states, in English and Chinese, that she is a special needs child who cannot speak or have anything by mouth. Then both of our cell numbers are on that paper as well.

I’ve been thankful that the kids have not had to use those business cards to call us. Tomorrow morning we will climb those steps again and face the crowds. We take the bus to school most mornings. Even though the kids have gotten really good about staying close and paying attention when it’s time to get off, I feel a little better knowing they have our numbers in their holders in case something does happen.

Your Turn: Do you use public transportation with your kids? What has been your experience? Share your story below.

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How to Prepare for Typhoon Days (or other stay at home days)

Typhoon Guchol Approaching Japan

photo by NASA

It is typhoon season, and once again we are about to get hit with not one, but possibly two nice sized typhoons.

Typhoons can complicate life. They mess up plans to go out and play. They cancel school and work, which is usually welcomed in this family. They cause some city-wide panic as everyone runs out and buys all the instant noodles at the grocery store. We can learn from the locals, though.

Be Prepared:

Typhoons are predicted days in advance, so there is time to be prepared. You can go out and buy the extra staples like milk, eggs, bread, instant noodles, extra water, candles, batteries, etc. I advise that you do this, but this is not what I’m talking about today. No, today I’m talking about something I always want to do, but never get to it because of my “To Do” List.

Preparing Fun with my TCKs:

Usually, I clean the house during a typhoon. I’m home and can’t go out. The kids can play in their rooms or watch a movie. I can get SO much done because we don’t have to go anywhere – we can’t go anywhere.

It hit me yesterday as I looked at my soon to be 11-year old son. I’m “wasting” valuable time cleaning when I could be spending time with my kids. They are going to be at an age where they may not want to play a board game with us, and then too soon they will be off to that place called university.


Be Intentional!

I cleaned the whole apartment yesterday. Today I am planning the “fun” with the kids for the typhoon that will hit sometime in the next day or so. We will play board games, do some crafts, and probably bake together. I want to be more intentional with my life and this is one way I can do that.

I have found that my kids share things on their mind while playing a board game. We discuss questions they may have. We find out what they are thinking about. We laugh at jokes. We find out how creative our kids are, or not. We explore. We experiment. We bond. Bonding is what I want and to get that the vacuum, the mop, and the “To Do” list must be put away.

Your Turn: How about you? How do you prepare for those snow days, typhoon days, or other vacation days when the kids are at home? Please share in the comments below.

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