Confronting the Comparison Trap

“She always gets to go first. You never let me…”

If you’ve spent any time around kids, chances are you’ve heard something like that!

Ever since Adam and Eve we’ve always wanted something we don’t have. Envy is a given. Jealousy is common. It is pretty blatant in our children but often we fail to recognize it in ourselves.

Photo by StockSnap on Pixabay

It’s easy for us women to get caught in a comparison trap without even realizing it. We may compare ourselves to women we see from afar or even to our close friends.

  • She is dating someone and I haven’t had a date in years.
  • She has an exciting career and mine stinks.
  • She is always dressed with style. My outfit is way “last year” and ugly.
  • She’s fit and looks it. I am not and feel it.
  • She seems to have lots of friends. I’m still longing for one soul sister.
  • Her child is polite.  He looks an adult in the eye and speaks clearly. Mine hides behind me or looks at the ground.
  • Her kids get all the awards and mine just show up.
  • Her house is probably clean and organized. I still have dishes left from yesterday.
  • Her marriage seems perfect. Mine is in a hard place.
  • She’s gifted in so many ways and I’m, well…

Sound familiar?

No matter what age we are, it’s easy to look at other women and feel “less than.”

We have to remember that there is always data missing.

This is especially important in our social media age. People post their best selves on Facebook and Instagram — their adorable children, their date night with their husband, their fabulous vacation.

You aren’t seeing the whole picture. You may see someone with a fabulous life, a host of friends, a wonderful marriage. But you can’t see the pain she is facing, the difficult personal relationship, or the health struggles she hasn’t shared with you.

No one has in all together.

We are all broken.

The one thing we have in common is our spiritual poverty.  We need a Savior.

Sometimes I ask myself, “Where are my eyes?” 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

My Eyes are often in one of 3 places: myself, others, or my circumstances.

Am I looking at myself? If so, I will be disappointed either in who I am or in who I am not. If I am looking around at other women, I can fall into the comparison trap manifesting itself in envy, jealousy, or a critical spirit.  If I am looking at my circumstances I can become dissatisfied, plagued by a case of the “if onlys.” If only I had financial stability. If only my husband understood. If only…

God wants me to fix my eyes on Him. He will reassure me of His unique calling in my life. I am not meant to be like someone else. He has very specific plans for me, unlike anyone else’s.  When He looks at me He is pleased with His creation.

As you go through your day today (and as you look at your social media feeds!), ask yourself, “Where are my eyes?”     

 “The Lord be exalted who delights in the well being of his servant.”  Psalm 35:27b

At this very moment He is delighting in YOU!


Am I Competing with My Husband?

Over the years I’ve found it so easy to get myself into the spirit of competing with my husband.  Have you ever noticed that in your relationship?

When I had little kids it usually came out when I met him at the front door as he came home from work. I’d have on my “spit-up-on” shirt, look a mess, and proceed to tell him just how hard my day had been!  Poor man, he hardly had a chance to get his coat off. For some reason I felt the need to prove that I had worked really hard all day.

More recently I’ve found myself unconsciously keeping a mental list of the thing I do that he doesn’t—like paying the bills, doing the taxes, cooking and cleaning. Or even remembering all the family birthdays and sending all the gifts! Some days I get critical thinking about what I’ve done and what he hasn’t done.  It’s a subtle form of competition—who works the hardest, who does the most?

This type of attitude is a bit like a low grade infection. At first it might not be noticeable but if left untreated it can invade the body growing into a full blown illness–an illness that can ultimately harm a marriage.

How do we treat this subtle form of infection?

First, I have to recognize when my thoughts of him turn critical and competitive.

Second, I need to confess this critical spirit and ask God to change my heart.          

Third, it helps to make a list of all the things my husband does right.      

Finally, if there is something we need to negotiate or discuss, I try to plan a time to do so and do it in a way that is gracious and honest. It’s best to do this when I’m not in the midst of being upset. I have to be careful about how I say something.

We’ve had a lot of houseguests lately. Not too long ago I said to him in a sarcastic tone, “Does anyone in this house know how to empty the dish washer besides me?”  Ouch. How much better it would have been to say, “Honey, any time you have a minute I would so appreciate it if you could empty the dishwasher.”

I have to remember over and over again that we are on the same team. We are not competitors.

In different seasons one of us will work harder than the other.  That’s life. That’s normal. When we got married one of the promises we made at the altar was to serve one another.  We have to keep nourishing the idea of completing one another rather than competing with each other.  

It helps me to ask myself the question: What can I do today to make my husband John feel respected and appreciated? My response to this question would be different than his. But at this moment my goal needs to be to serve him.


The Story Behind the ONE WORDS

A few years ago I realized that often when I woke up and began to think about my day I became “down” or “discouraged.” There was no prevailing reason why, simply a feeling of dread followed by guilt for feeling this way.

Mothers of young children don’t have the luxury of thinking before they get out of bed. More likely there’s some little foot kicking them or a big voice screaming for them. But some of us don’t have kids. Others have reached the season when we do have a few minutes to awaken and the time to contemplate. It can be a moment of rejoicing or a moment of feeling blue. It depends upon our focus. Lying in bed that morning I realized I needed to adjust my attitude, to shift from thinking about how I felt about my day to focusing on God.

Paul tells us in Romans 12:2,“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

It was a different kind of wake-up call for me.

In the gospel of John there is a scene in which Jesus is talking with His disciples as He tries to prepare them for His death. He says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

To stop my habit of thinking negatively as I woke up I began to ask the Holy Spirit to remind me of one character trait of God the Father or of His Son that I could meditate on that day.

I remember the first day I did this, the trait that came to mind was He is a God who rescues (Psalm 18:19, Psalm 91: 14-16). Hopping out of bed with more joy than usual I went to get a cup of tea when my phone rang. A friend on the line burst into tears, “Susan,” she exclaimed, “I’m having so much trouble with my teenage son. I feel like he needs to be rescued.” Can you imagine the joy that flooded my heart? It was as if the Holy Spirit placed an exclamation point over His leading.

On another day the character trait was He is a God who lavishes (Ephesians 1:8). As I thought about God lavishing His love on me I realized how radical that was. Too often I act as if He parcels out his love, trickle by trickle, drip by drip, definitely sparingly, without waste. Oh no! He lavishes. Contemplating this fact changed my entire day!

For many years I have continued this habit. Sometimes I forget and then slowly the morning blues return. I realize I need to resume my habit.

Psalm 90:14 states, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” This small practice has changed my attitude and enabled me to focus more on Him throughout each day.

It was out of this habit that I wrote the book, The One Devotional- One Verse, One Trait, and One Thought for 100 days. 

This little devotional is to encourage you to begin a daily habit of focusing on one character trait of our amazing God. It is so easy for our lives to become about me and my stuff. When this happens we lose perspective and our joy begins to evaporate. God delights in revealing himself to us. If we will begin to walk through each day focusing on Him and His character we will gain a healthier perspective on our stuff.

After the book was published my artist daughter-in-law Christy and my graphic artist friend Jessica and I developed the ONE WORD cards and stationary. We found that having a visual reminder of God has helped us to focus more on who He is each day rather than on who we are or are not or on our issues. Friends have placed the cards in their kitchen, on their desk, or flipped them over and mailed one as a postcard to someone else.

As fall gets under way we want to encourage you to begin a practice of focusing on one character trait of God each day. To help you, we are hosting a one-week sale on the cards. Click here to view the different sets.

We’d love it if you sent us a photo of you with your cards!






What is the most important thing you can do for your kids and grandkids?

Me and John with our daughter Allison’s family and her in-laws.

Recently John and I spent an evening with several friends. Our conversation revolved around the topic of parenting and one mom asked this very question.

It’s a great question, and it’s a question for young parents as well as grandparents.

In a world that presents overwhelming options for every facet of life, advice for nearly every problem, and expectations that are most often unrealistic, sometimes what really matters gets lost in a jumble of confusion.

We want to give our kids love, train them in self-discipline, provide for them materially and educationally, protect them, encourage their faith, and prepare them for adulthood. We long for them to love God and one another, to make a difference for good in the world—and so much more. We try. We fail. We try harder. We so want to get this right. And often we don’t.

But there’s one thing we can get right on their behalf—praying for them. It may be a stumbling bumbling prayer, even a simple call for help. Even the same prayer prayed over and over for years but seemingly unanswered. Yet God is working while we are waiting. And think of the joy it brings Him when we pray on behalf of our kids. It is always right to pray.

As parents, we want to fix. We are by nature problem solvers; we have to be as a parent. This is a gift. But often we come to the place where we can’t fix a child, a spouse, a friend, or even ourselves, and we are driven to our knees in prayer.

Prayer is ultimate humility. It’s saying, “I can’t God, but You can.” Jesus himself gives us a model in John 17 when He kneels before His father God and prays for his disciples—his children—and then for those who will believe through them—us and our descendants. The one question the disciples asked him was “teach us to pray,” and He gave them the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). 

Where does this leave us? Back to the question.

There are several things we can do for our kids. For example: live a life we would want them to emulate—a life marked by integrity—, have intentional conversations with them, etc., but if I had to choose one it would be to pray for them.

We can’t fail at prayer. Prayer is simply coming into His presence empty, needy, lacking, and sinful. And our heavenly Father welcomes us with open arms and says, “I’m so glad you are here.”

Prayerfully sending off our grandchildren.

Our two eldest grandchildren are getting ready to leave the country. One for a study abroad program in France, the other to work in an orphanage in Kenya. Last week we gathered around them with both sets of grandparents and several siblings simply to pray over them. We are sending these two treasures off and it’s scary for us and for them. We desperately need God.  It was a special time for each of us in turning them over to their heavenly Father who loves them even more than we do. It was important for each one of us in different ways.

As we prayed, I was once again reminded that we have a “go before you God.” (Ephesians 2:10, Joshua 1:9, John 14:3)

He is going before Callie and Will to prepare their ways. We can rely on Him.

More posts about prayer:

A Parent’s Guide to Prayer Planning for the Fall

Praying Together for Your Children Builds Your Marriage

Praying for Our Kids


My Third Big Hike: The Pacific Crest Trail—Mt. Rainier

Setting out on day one.

My friend Melody and I just completed our third big hike. After 2 years of hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail in the East, we decided to experience the West coast! Melody recently moved to the Seattle area so this was a good fit.

This year our theme was, “Come and see what God has done” (Psalm 66:5).

We wanted not merely to race through the hike but also to slow down in an attempt to see in deeper ways the beauty of God, the heart of God, and the presence of God in the wilds of his wilderness.

We packed lighter, getting our backpacks down to about 30 pounds each, took less food, fewer clothes, not a brush or comb, just a tiny pocket Psalms, and a small journal. We counted every ounce!

Over 3 nights and 4 days we hiked north from White Pass to Chinook Pass (approximately 30 miles) in Washington State. Pitching our tent each night we camped by some sparkling creeks and lakes, cooked packaged pasta on our tiny stove, and went to sleep listening to the gurgling of a mountain stream and the howls of coyotes or wolves.

Because we were in a remote section of the mountains, we were completely cut off from cell service so we turned our phones off. I think it was the first time in my life I was completely unreachable for this long a period. I must confess that once I adjusted, it was great. Being unplugged forced me to let God handle all the problems of life—concerns about friends, kids, decisions, lists, etc. I could no longer try to “fix” anything or anyone! I imagine God chuckles just hearing me say this.

To help us leave our concerns behind and really “see” God’s grandeur we had a small ceremony our first morning. Each of us got a pile of sticks and took turns naming aloud a concern we wanted to let go of over these days. We threw each stick into a pile as a symbol of giving it to God. We also knew these concerns would creep back into our minds so we agreed that when one did we’d simply say a name aloud and the other would respond, “I’ve got it” and pray silently over it. This was a way of “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). It takes real discipline and we didn’t get it perfectly, but it made a big difference in our ability to focus on God’s majesty and to enjoy our hike rather than chewing over life’s concerns.

Filtering drinking water.

So what were our favorite things?

  • DEET—the North West has HUGE flies and mosquitos!
  • The Views of Mt. Rainier, spectacular even though covered by smoke from the southern fires.
  • The giant, tall, straight trees reaching towards the heavens.
  • The dry, cool air—no southern humidity to sweat through!
  • Hiking miles without talking at all! Learning to listen and to soak in the silence.
  • But also having meaningful discussions about suffering and how one processes it. And sharing where we’ve seen God’s faithfulness over the previous decades in our lives. One advantage of getting older—you have more decades!
  • Finding water. Water is the number one need on the trail. We filter it from streams and creeks but our new filter makes it easier. Everything takes more time on a hike. This is good for us. We need to slow down.

And the funny things!

  • Susan: “Mel, we’re going downhill and I don’t know if it’s good or bad.” Mel: “It’s never good. ”
  • Mel: “Susan, you really have to pick up every piece of rice and your egg shells. It’s preserving the trail.” Susan: “You have to be kidding. I’m just feeding ants.”
  • Mel doing surgery on my really infected toe by cutting out the infection with a pocketknife. Hint: a knife is a trail necessity.
  • A guy emerging from a lake swim and running au naturel right through our camp back to his. I almost had heart failure, but Mel responded, “It’s the Northwest, Susan.”
  • Me jumping into a lake fully clothed after a long day. These lakes are freezing!

This year—this hike—we felt we did a better job of “soaking it in” rather than just struggling through the next switchback. We did fewer miles, had lighter packs, and tried to simplify. Yes, we had some hard climbs—ascending 1000 feet one morning. But the satisfaction at the top made the sweat sweet rather than torrid as we paused to rejoice that we had made it through a hard climb and could now rest in the beauty.

We don’t want to look back later and regret that we didn’t soak in more of this experience.

A hike is a bit like life. We can race through it or we can take time to embellish it, experiencing His presence in the good times and the hard times. And learning from both.

One of my regrets, as I look back over my life, is that I tried to pack too much in. I wish I had simply soaked in each season instead of being in such a hurry to get to the next one.

Enjoying the grandeur of the trail.

My Mom once said in her deep southern drawl, “When I get to heaven, God is going to ask me with enthusiasm, ‘My child how did you like my earth? Did you enjoy it?’”

I want to enjoy it. To make time to take it in.

A thought that kept coming to my mind during our hike is that we are under the “Shelter of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). It’s easy to picture this in the wilderness but the reality is that wherever we are right now, whatever we are doing, we are under His shelter. What comfort. What reassurance. What an amazing God who cares this much. 

The end of the hike!


A Symphony

God’s creation becomes an orchestra.  Leaves rustle gently, birds sing in different tunes, streams gurgle along in laughter, crickets chirp in joy, a large branch cracks to the ground like a drum beat, rocks tumble downhill in a noisy cadence.

His orchestra is presenting a masterpiece if only we have ears to hear and eyes to observe.

And those sounds I don’t hear—a leaf falling, a bug scurrying—there’s so much more going on than I can see or hear.

Lord, I want to hear your symphony in my life—yes even in the midst of the noisy, hurried pressures of every day. Slow me down. Open me up. You are doing so much more than I can imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). 


With special thanks to our husbands, John and Allen, who encouraged us, prayed for us, and sent us off with love and enthusiasm!

Interested in reading about our previous hikes? Look no further!

Our first hike on the Appalachian Trail

Our second hike on the Appalachian Trail


Is your nest “emptying”?

Are you getting ready to send a child off to college or preparing to send your youngest to all day school? Or have you just had a wedding? If so, you may be an emotional mess. The empty nest hits us in different ways, at different times, and often when we least expect it!

How well I remember dropping our last child Susy off at college and beginning the long drive home. The week before, we had left her twin sister Libby at another college so not only was I sending off my last two at once, but it was the first time the girls, who are very close, had been separated. My husband John thought this would be a celebration of sorts for us! All those years of daily parenting five children would be finished and now we could focus more on us. So he planned an overnight on the drive home at a romantic lodge in the mountains. Ha.

As we pulled away from the college campus my tears started to flow. I felt like my life was over. My main job of parenting was done. What was my purpose to be now? I ached for the sadness the girls were experiencing in being separated. It had been their idea to go to different colleges but none of us anticipated the pain this would cause. In the midst of my tears I tried to explain my feelings to my husband. Feelings I couldn’t even understand. I felt lonely in my misery. I felt guilty. After all, this was a good thing! And I had a great husband who was trying to please me. Yet I was miserable. Needless to say our romantic getaway wasn’t very romantic!

You may not experience sadness at having just sent a child off. In fact you may be thrilled. Each one of us is different and we never know when the emotions of the empty nest will hit us. It may not be until your last child is married. Or you may grieve when they begin high school. This season is not neat. It’s messy. And there’s not much written about it to guide us through it. But God does have a new plan for each of us as we approach the empty nest. And it is exciting.


If you are about to drop off your college freshman here are 4 great tips:

  1. Before you go to campus research the fellowship groups on the campus. Groups like Cru, RUF, Christian Study Centers, Navigators, IV. Find out when and where they meet and tell your child that you want them to visit two at least twice and then join one. The same thing applies to church. Visit 2 and then commit to the one that feels right. This should be a clear expectation, similar to going to class. You are likely financing some of their costs and you have a right to make this a condition. They should commit to a fellowship group and a church within the first 2 months. Statistics show that the first 10 days of college life are crucial in determining what “group” your student will hang out with. We want to encourage our kids to seek healthy relationships.
  2. Many college fellowships have move-in day luncheons. Sign up to attend one. You and your child will meet other believers and hear about fellowship groups on campus. The Center for Christian Study in Charlottesville, VA has one such lunch that my daughter Libby and I helped start nearly 20 years ago!
  3. When you move in wear a t-shirt from a Christian camp or some logo. When our daughter Libby moved into her dorm she had on a Young Life t-shirt. Another girl moving in recognized this and the girls realized they were both believers. This was a huge connection for their first day!
  4. Be positive, even if you are sad and your child is too. Communicate to your child that he or she is about to begin a great adventure and it is good! And continue to pray daily for them and for their friendships.

Excited to welcome new students! Photo courtesy of Brittany Fan Photography for the Center For Christian Study in Charlottesville, VA.


Barbara Rainey and I wrote a book which deals with various challenges of the empty nest including loneliness, redefining marriage, how to let go of your child, etc. The book contains a 4-session group study. We hope you will invite some friends to join you in an Empty Nest book club.

Listen to Susan and Barbara on FamilyLife Today’s broadcast: Mixed Feelings Stirred Up by the Empty Nest.



Cooking with the Kids: Lessons from Chelsia Rief

Today I am thrilled to welcome my dear friend and fellow Club31Women blogger, Chelsia Rief of Catz in the Kitchen, as a guest blogger. We just enjoyed a few fabulous days together at the Club31 Writers Retreat. Thanks for your words and this delicious recipe, Chelsia!

Chicken Tortilla Pie

Admittedly, I was kind of a lazy child. I hated doing chores and I didn’t often ask if there was anything I could do to be helpful. It’s no wonder growing up that the kitchen often felt like a no-kid zone to me as I often observed my mom do the mad dinner rush.

Occasionally, I would ask my mom if there was anything I could do to help and she would put me in charge in one of four different tasks. Set the table, stir the gravy, slice fruit for the fruit salad, or get out whatever condiments were needed for dinner.

That was pretty much the extent of my kitchen involvement until marriage. I found that first year of cooking in the kitchen rough because I had such bad morning sickness from pregnancy, but I was in for a whole different surprise when I actually had a baby to juggle while getting dinner on the table!

Let’s just say those first several years of marriage were all about survival in the kitchen. Easy meals, the freezer section, out of a box, fast food, and lots of eggs! (As my husband and I joke with our kids now, if you’ve got eggs, you’ve got dinner.)

As my oldest completed her toddler years and I had another baby to juggle, I made the decision to invite the kids and my husband into the kitchen more…and I also challenged myself to finally learn to cook more—quite literally—“outside the box.”

Grace, my oldest, became my taster and encourager and my husband found that being in the kitchen actually helped him relax at the end of the day. As the kids have gotten older, they’ve really begun to show an interest in cooking and baking.

As a mom of four (little Ruby is under a year), I recognize that I had two ways of responding to this. I could encourage and cultivate this interest —a possible benefit to me in the long run—or I could brush their interest aside knowing that I could get things done faster and better alone.

After some missteps, I slowed down and invested the time with Grace. Of course, there were days when I wanted to say “no” (and did) because I was just tired or lacked patience. But then one of them would pop up on the bar stool in front of where I was prepping dinner and ask for an olive to eat or if they could taste the marinade and I would say “yes” and then somehow, I would relax.

I don’t want to paint a perfect picture. With four kids sometimes dinner hour can just be struggle city. But, involving the kids so that they know when I’m downstairs getting dinner ready, they need to be downstairs helping, too—that’s a plus.

Yes, sometimes that is still setting the table. My 10-year-old Eden actually made us all name placards that are individually decorated. (She’s also a great distraction for baby Ruby when she gets fussy!)

My 5-year-old Christian is actually in charge of cooking link sausage for breakfast! He likes to boast and say that he is the “best sausage cooker in the world.” He’s also at the age where he can grab items from the fridge and set them on the table. Different ages call for different jobs and I just try and utilize them as best I can—dinner suggestions for our weekly menus, stirring something on the stove, etc…

I think having the kids help chop, dice, and slice is helpful as well, as long as they are supervised, and old enough that it’s safe. I imagine teaching kids knife skills is like teaching them to drive—stressful at first!

For many, back to school is right around the corner and “summer slowdown” was not much of a slowdown! (Raise your hand if you feel the same!) That means you’re back to all the regularly scheduled activities, making it handy to have meals that you can swing out with ease come dinner time. Enter this chicken tortilla pie!

The recipe is really a method that you can adapt to what you have on hand. You need a sauce (green or red depending on preference), corn tortillas (which should always be on hand because they are cheap and slightly healthier than flour!), a protein (ground beef or turkey, rotisserie chicken, leftover meat from the fridge), and beans. You get to make it what you want. Add some cheese and olives. Olives are a must because my kids adore them!

There are so many things in life that we take part in that can be hard, intimidating and maybe a bit forced at first, but as you become comfortable with it, you become more natural at it. Those are the experiences and memories that are always the most rewarding.

Chicken Tortilla Pie

10 minPrep Time

20 minCook Time

30 minTotal Time

Yields 4-6 servings

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 1/4 cups red enchilada sauce
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken
  • 1 (15 oz.) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15 oz.) can sweet corn, drained
  • 2 cups Mexican shredded cheese
  • 1 (15 oz.) can sliced ripe olives
  • Optional: Chopped cilantro, sour cream, salsa, or hot sauce for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small skillet, warm enchilada sauce over medium heat. Grease a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick cooking spray. Dip four tortillas into the sauce, coating both sides and layer over each other on the bottom of the pie plate.
  2. Layer with half of the chicken, pinto beans, corn, cheese and olives. Repeat the tortilla dipping process, layer the tortillas over the olives and repeat the layers with remaining ingredients. Pour remaining sauce over the ingredients.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes and cheese is melted. Serve with your favorite topping ingredients.


Recipe adapted from Taste of Home

See more of Chelsia’s delicious recipes on Catz in the Kitchen!


Sibling Rivalry in the Tweens and Teens

Last week, we looked at the challenges of sibling rivalry in the earliest years. Today we move to tips on handling sibling rivalry in the tween and teen years.


Callie and WillWhen our daughter Allison was 12 and our son John 10 they didn’t like each other very much. Once she brought home a cow’s eye from a science class and told him it was a piece of candy that he should eat! As he began to put it in his mouth she burst out laughing and told him what it really was. Needless to say, he was furious. I often despaired that these two would ever like each other! But they went off to the same college, double dated, and before our future son-in-law Will asked my husband if he could marry Allison, he first asked her brother John.

During these middle years, we continue to enforce those standards of the early years. But it’s harder in some ways because their arguments are so much better and we begin to wear out. The following will help.

Determine when to get involved and when not to.

A friend of mine with 4 boys walked into the room where they were wrestling. She knew that before long one or two of them would come crying to her.

“Okay guys,” she said, “if you insist on wrestling I don’t want to hear any complaints unless you can see blood or bones!”

During the early years, we intervene the most. We operate as a coach, training in the fundamentals. But as we reach the middle years we move from being coach to being referee. Later we will move to being the spectator, watching our children interact, cheering their good moves, aching when they falter but letting them make their own mistakes. Our job at that time is to ask good questions: “Can you think of three creative ways to handle this problem? If you were the parent, how would you handle this dispute?”

Anticipate potential conflicts.          

“She always gets to have a friend over and I never do.”

“They won’t let me play with them. They leave me out.”

Until we’ve had some disastrous experiences, we probably won’t learn what works or doesn’t work with our children. After a negative experience ask yourself some questions, What works best for our kids? Should each child have a friend over on the same day? Do they need to play in separate areas or do they play well together? Would it be better for my children to take turns having a friend over?

Have family forums.

Sometimes families experience repeated discord. If this happens gather the family together and insist that each person listen to every other family member express his views about the problem. Then discuss creative solutions. Keep in mind the goal is to attack the problem and not other family members. Before the family forum, parents need to agree about how they are going to handle the forum and what their goals are for it.

Be sensitive to hormones and personalities. 

A teenage sister is grumpy as all get out. Her younger brother doesn’t understand why she seems so mad. Take him aside and explain to him about hormones. Tell him it isn’t his fault. He must be patient. His sister is having a difficult time because of the changes taking place in her body. These changes are wonderful but they can also be annoying.

I remember when one of our twins said,

“Why does my sister like to talk on the phone all the time? I don’t like to. She’s weird.”

“She’s not weird,” I responded, “you two are just different and I am so glad. It would be boring if you were just alike.”

Frequently our kids will make comparisons of better or worse. The person or thing compared is neither better nor worse, but merely different.

Provide opportunities for siblings to work together on something fun.

Often siblings who clash do so because they are competing for Mom’s or Dad’s attention. Give these two “clashers” an opportunity to do something together where the parents aren’t around. Send two sisters to the mall or to the movies. Assign two siblings a fun family project to work on together. Doing something together provides an opportunity for a relationship to grow. This is especially helpful in trying to blend siblings from two different families.

Insist your children forgive and accept forgiveness.

We were on a family hike when Libby, who was carrying a big backpack, tripped and fell. Her brother John laughed at her, hurting her feelings. As we continued our walk the tension between the two of them increased until the whole family could feel it.

“John,” I said, “you must apologize to your sister and ask her to forgive you for making fun of her. It seems like a little thing but your relationship is not right and we can’t go any farther until you and Libby take care of this problem.”

He didn’t like doing it but he did and both children learned an important lesson about forgiveness that day. People in families hurt each other and have to ask for forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” often isn’t enough. It doesn’t require a response; asking for forgiveness does. And they will need to do this in their future marriages as well.


One of the real blessings of the later teen years is that we begin to see they did learn a few things. They do seem to like each other at least sometimes. But we can still continue to encourage these friendships.

Know what’s happening in each other’s lives.

In the busyness of activities, it’s all too easy to pass in the night, not really knowing what’s going on in each other’s life. Take a few moments each morning to pray together. Have each person share one thing that’s on their schedule for the day. Then let each person pray for one other family member. Dinner time can become a time of sharing about the day.

Our refrigerator was once full of weekly schedules for the kids who were at college. We knew when Chris was in history class or at his discipleship group. It helped us stay connected with one another. And it enabled the younger ones still at home to know what their older siblings were doing.

I encouraged the boys to take their sisters out on dates when they were home. I slipped them the money but they did the asking.

Love your own siblings.

I remember those phone calls. My mother’s voice would rise with excitement and her enthusiasm and joy would explode. It was one of her brothers on the phone. Mom modeled for us kids what it meant to be committed to siblings. She took pride in her brothers’ accomplishments, she felt pain for their tragedies, she was available whenever they needed her, and she cared for their families. Just watching how they loved each other taught me about sibling relationships.

If we want our children to catch a vision for loving their siblings they need to see us actively loving our own siblings—even if they are difficult, even if we have been out of touch.

It’s never too late to reach out and do what’s right.

God is at work preparing tiny plants to burst forth in due season. Right now you may not see any progress in the challenges of sibling rivalry. But don’t be discouraged. God is working while you are waiting and in time you will see the results of your hard work!


Sibling Rivalry

One of the biggest challenges in every home with multiple children is that of sibling rivalry. Today begins a 2-part series on handling sibling rivalry. This blog addresses parents with young children. Next week, I will address the tween and teen years. I hope you will find encouragement in the following stories. 

“You—–expletive!! ” Jeff screamed at his brother.

Taking her son aside, Jeff’s mom, said, “Son you know those words aren’t allowed, You will have to go to your room.“

“But Will made me say it, wailed the furious child, and you’re punishing me, not Will and it’s all his fault. Why aren’t you punishing him?”

“Nobody makes you talk like that. You are responsible for what comes out of your mouth, son. Your brother is not.”

“I hate my brother.”

Sound familiar? Scenes like this happen every day and cause us to ask ourselves, “Did I handle this right? Will these children ever like each other?”

Sibling rivalry has been around forever. The Old Testament story of Joseph and his jealous brothers is a well-known example. While the causes of sibling rivalry are many, they can be reduced to one basic source–original sin. We all want what we want when we want it. We want to be the favorite. We want everything to go our way. We want the most recognition, the most attention. And we don’t ever want to share, wait, or let someone else get the credit.

Every family will experience the frustration of sibling rivalry. How it plays out in each family will be influenced by the sexes of the children, their age differences, their personalities, their birth order, and how the parents handle the problem. Our job as parents is not merely to keep our kids from killing each other, but to give them the tools for learning to be friends. After all, our greatest desire as parents is that our kids will love the Lord with all their hearts, love us as their parents and love each other as well. Our children will not always have us their parents to turn to, but they will have each other. We are building for that day.

Because the challenges of dealing with sibling rivalry are different at every age, it’s helpful to look at some ways of building friendships between brothers and sisters at three important stages of their life: the early, middle, and later (teen) years.


After all the fuss and excitement over the new baby, her toddler sister turned to her Mom and said,

“Take baby back now, Mommy. He go bye-bye now.”

Even at her young age, this sister was quickly tired of competition. Early years are important because seeds of character are beginning to develop. Personality qualities such as patience, thoughtfulness, gentleness and caring need to be nurtured. Here are some practical things to do during these early years.

Prepare for the new baby.

When a new baby is due, begin to give your older child a positive vision. Say, “You are going to be the best big sister in the world; our new baby is so lucky to have you for a big sister.”

When my husband and I brought each of our five children home from the hospital we laid the new baby on the couch and had family members put their hands on the infant as we prayed a special prayer giving this child back to the Lord. We asked God to keep him safe and help him grow up to love the Lord. And we asked God to help us learn to be good parents, brothers, and sisters for this new baby.

Before I went to the hospital I wrapped a gift for each child at home and put it in the trunk of the car. This gift was brought home with the new baby as his gift to each sibling. With it came a note saying, “I’m so glad you are my big sister or brother!”

Make a plan for the big kids.

Older siblings often misbehave when Mom is caring for the baby. A special activity box can help and make the older child feel special. Fill a plastic box with markers, stickers, and other tools for creativity and keep it in a specific place. This is the “big boy” or “big girl” box and comes out for play at special times of need. Plan dates with the big kids. Get a sitter for the baby and take an older child out for ice-cream or to the movies.

Teach kids to wait and to share.

Our children will have to learn to wait. And they won’t like it. But much of life is waiting. As adults, we still don’t like to wait. But we do our kids a disservice in preparing them for adulthood when we satisfy all their needs immediately. Siblings are a blessing because they force us to teach our kids to wait their turn, to share. There’s a toy no one has wanted to play with and then someone finds it and everyone wants it at the same time. A timer with a bell is essential. One child can have it until the bell rings then it’s another child’s turn. The argument over who gets to sit next to the window on a three-minute car ride can begin a sibling war. Who would ever imagine something so trivial can be so disruptive? One friend solved this dilemma by assigning one child all the odd-numbered days. Her other child got the even days. On a child’s assigned day, he got first choice at everything all day long. (If you have more than 2 children, assign one child every third or fourth day.) 

Teach kids to respect each other’s person and property.

Don’t permit verbal abuse of parents or each other ever. All kids will try it. When our kids verbally abused each other or talked back to us we washed their mouth out with yucky tasting soap. A friend uses white vinegar, another Tabasco sauce on the tip of a tongue. You may have a better idea. Whatever you choose, make it swift, and consistent. A young child who is allowed to get away with verbal abuse will develop into a teenager who talks back to parents and teachers, and a spouse who abuses his own wife and kids. Teach your child how to argue fairly.

“You aren’t being fair. You make me feel stupid. I disagree with you because…” are better phrases to use.

Teach young children to return borrowed toys. They should ask permission before playing with a sibling’s toy. If they begin to learn this at a young age it will make the middle and teen years easier.

Next week we’ll look at sibling rivalry in the tween and teen years.


My Kid is Famous!

This was a front-page headline in USA TODAY on June 7, 2018. It chronicles the story of 15-year-old singer and dancer, Jojo, who has more than 6 million subscribers on her YouTube channel and 7 million followers on Instagram.

Within a day, another story broke—this one about the shocking suicide of Kate Spade, famous designer. She reached the pinnacle in the world of fashion and yet… The same week, international celebrity chef and TV personality star, Anthony Bourdain, hung himself.

It seems like nearly every time we check the news some famous person has died tragically, committed a crime, suffered deep depression, or simply faded off the front page.

From Wall Street to athletic fields, to Hollywood, to the heights of politics, we are vulnerable to the loneliness and disappointments of fame.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong about succeeding. It’s admirable.

However, by itself, fame is empty. Its detachment encourages superficial relationships. Fame is increasingly generated and maintained by isolating systems of media promotion such as Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. They are closed systems, cut off from the physical presence of people who can respond and reflect, and as a result, success becomes even less satisfying.  “It is not good for man to be alone” is a basic Biblical premise. The fame factor combined with the need for self-promotion via the internet can become a great sinkhole of isolation.

As I ponder this drive for fame, questions arise:

Is my highest aim for my child that she or he become “famous?”

Is success in my business my ultimate goal?

Is significance what gives value to my life?

Fame is empty. It can be isolating and lonely. It is not often satisfied; instead, it cries out for more. We who live in the Washington, D.C. area experienced this recently. Our Caps won the Stanley Cup! And we have really celebrated. Yet almost immediately after this great victory, the talk began, “Can they repeat it again next year?”

There’s so much pressure for an encore. Ultimately we, and our children, have been designed for so much more than fleeting fame.

We were created to know that we loved by our heavenly Father who loves us not because of our accomplishments but simply because we belong to Him. Nothing we achieve will make Him love us more.

Our worth, our value, is in him. Period.

I wonder: Are we unintentionally pressuring our children to be the best in the things that really matter or in things the world values, which may ultimately falter? The pressure to succeed creeps in everywhere.

What if: Instead of “Proud parent of an honor student at…” the sticker on our car said, “Proud parent of a child who is learning to be kind and generous.”

I wonder: Does our talk at the dinner table usually focus on the famous and their accomplishments?

What if: This summer we read together short stories of heroes of character—courage, endurance, etc., and discussed why these traits matter.

I wonder: Have you ever made a list of your family core values? Recently friends did this with their 3 children (ages 3,6,8). Some of their values include: “hear the voice of God,” “live big and give big,” “forgive always,” “be grateful,” and “be honest.”

What if: Each of us made a similar list with our kids and began to pray these values into our homes, to praise a child when we see one of the values demonstrated, to look for these values in others and to seek to grow in these traits ourselves.

Here’s a different look at fame:



The river is famous to the fish.


The loud voice is famous to silence,

which knew it would inherit the earth

before anybody said so.


The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds

watching him from the birdhouse.


The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.


The idea you carry close to your bosom

is famous to your bosom.


The boot is famous to the earth,

more famous than the dress shoe,

which is famous only to floors.


The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it

and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.


I want to be famous to shuffling men

who smile while crossing streets,

sticky children in grocery lines,

famous as the one who smiled back.


I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

but because it never forgot what it could do.


Naomi Shihab Nye



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