Twenty Minutes of Teamwork

Yesterday, we made it to school on time.  Just barely.  When the clock turned to 7:45, and it was time to get in the car to head that direction, I had two kids standing in my kitchen.  

Both barefoot.

Neither with their hair combed.

One missing his belt.

And the other frantically looking for her lost library book.  

Kory and I sprung into action to move them along, and we made it.  Just barely. But we made it.

All of that to say, it’s a challenge to manage two careers, three children, a home, and all of the things that go along with it.  And school day mornings are a daily reminder of this harsh reality.

Kory and I admit that both of us would struggle to do it alone (and we applaud all of the single parents out there who are doing a mighty job).  We certainly couldn’t do it without God.  And you know what?  We couldn’t do it without the help of our kids either.

Being a family requires teamwork.  Period.

Yes, we require work from our kids around the house.  And they don’t get paid for it.  Instead, we treat it as the “sweat equity” they must invest for the privilege of being a member of our family.  A member of our “team.”  

Of course, they have daily responsibilities relative to their own personal space.  They are expected to make their beds, take care of their personal hygiene, and clean their rooms daily.  Our two oldest children are now doing their own laundry (the youngest with supervision).  And if we notice our kids enjoying free time after school or on the weekends before these tasks have been completed, we will simply ask them,

“Have you earned the freedom to play?”

But that’s not the kind of work I’m talking about here.

In addition to these personal chores, we believe contributions to the family at large are really important.  Practically, it helps Kory and I manage the home, particularly now that we have two kids over the age of five who are quite capable of pitching in.  But emotionally and spiritually, it also helps our kids invest in our family.  It strengthens our family identity.  And it conjures a sense of gratitude for all the work that goes into making our world turn.  

But we don’t have a chore list. We’ll admit we couldn’t keep up with one. It’s just one more thing to manage, and we would fail.  We would lack consistency in its enforcement.  And everyone would get frustrated.

So instead of keeping a chore list, when we’re working around the house, we simply survey what needs to be done, and we ask our kids to help.  The work gets done faster, and because we’re often doing it together, it’s more fun.

We refer to one of the ways in which we’ve implemented this strategy as “Twenty Minutes of Teamwork.”  And we adjust the time to whatever suits the task at hand.  Sometimes we do Ten Minutes of Teamwork.  Other times we do Thirty Minutes of Teamwork.  But regardless of the time allotted, the idea is to get as much work done as possible before the oven timer goes off.  

Last Sunday, I used this strategy before we hopped in the car to go to church.  We were ahead of schedule for a change, and we had precisely 13 minutes to spare.  I knew that we had a busy afternoon ahead of us, and the house was a wreck.  So I called the kids to the sofa and told them we were going to work to tidy things up for 13 minutes before getting in the car.  I set the kitchen timer, and the kids headed off to start working on the tasks I had assigned.  As my daughter headed upstairs with a handful of items that needed to be put away, she said to all of us,

“Let’s work at Pancake Speed!”  

And because she said the magic words, my boys sprung into action.  We managed to get the entire kitchen clean, all the laundry put away, the items at the bottom of the stairs stored, and the living areas tidied up in 13 minutes!  And when we got home from church, not much remained to be done.  

We assign work in other ways too.  Sometimes, we give them a task and a deadline such as before they go to bed or by the end of the weekend.  Other times, out of necessity, we give them a task and request that it be done immediately.  And when they want to earn some money, we will come up with tasks that we’re willing to pay them for.  But we’ve found that Twenty Minutes of Teamwork is working beautifully for those times when there’s a lot to be done and a tendency for us all to get a little overwhelmed.  Coupled with Pancake Speed, it’s amazing what we can accomplish as a family!

How do you involve your children in work around the house?


Right Away. All The Way. And In A Happy Way!

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from one of our church staff members who works in the day school that our youngest son attends three days each week.  She was writing to ask me about the “three-point behavioral system” we use with our kids and that Kory referenced in one of his recent sermons.  She couldn’t recall the phrase, and she wanted to share it with the teachers at the school.  (Or maybe, she needed to use it on our son, and she didn’t have the heart to tell me! Ignorance is bless, I tell ya!)

It’s not the first time I’ve gotten this question from someone who’s either heard Kory share this phrase in a sermon or who has witnessed us use it with one of our kids, so I thought I would share it here.  We learned it in the second parenting class we took as young parents, Preparation for the Toddler Years, written by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, and it’s proven to be one of the very best tools we’ve been given as parents.  My hope is that, through this post, it might bless another family with young children in the same way that it’s blessed us.

The principle is called “First Time Obedience.”  That is, when training our children, we can expect them to obey our instructions the first time they are given.  

And to help us train our children to First Time Obedience as little ones, we were taught to use this phrase:

“Right Away.  All the Way.  And in a Happy Way.”

But let me be more specific.

First, we expect our children to obey our instructions Right Away.  That means immediately.  Not when we count to three.  Not when it’s convenient for them.  And not in five minutes when they feel like it or after they’ve been threatened with a consequence.  (We also expect them to come to us when we call their names, and we expect an oral response such as “coming mom.”  Right now, our littlest one is taking me to task on this component of First Time Obedience by saying, “I’m not here!” when I call his name.  Ugh.  There’s always a new challenge presented in parenting!)

Second, we expect our kids to obey us All the Way.  That means exactly as we instructed.  Without modification based on their own preferences.  And with good effort (but not perfection).

And third, we expect our kids to obey us in a Happy Way.  That means without huffing.  Without puffing.  Without negotiation.  And without complaint.

We found that using this phrase when they were young was really helpful because it’s catchy and it rhymes.  This made it easy for our kids to memorize and recite it at a very early age.  And when we taught it to each of our children, we counted to three using our fingers as we recited the three points.  The symbol for the number “three” became a symbol for our expectations regarding obedience, and we could use it from across a room without saying a word.  And it worked…most of the time.  

No doubt we’re in the throws of training our littlest one regarding First Time Obedience.  And right now, at his ripe old age of three, we are struggling mostly with the “Right Away” component.  But we’re working on it.  Thankfully, we have two other children who, for the most part, have this aspect of First Time Obedience down, and they serve as great reminders that our hard work will eventually pay off!  Someday.

As our two oldest have grown, we’ve found using the phrase “Right Away, All the Way, and in a Happy Way” is helpful in a different way than when they were pre-schoolers.  Because as they’ve grown, when they are disobedient, it has become more subtle.  Usually, it’s less about whether they do what we ask (because usually they do obey the first time) and more about how they carry out our instructions.  I’m sure none of you know what I’m talking about!

Are they rolling their eyes?  (Sigh.)  Did they slam a door?  (Gasp!)  Are they negotiating with us like we’re engaged in a real estate transaction?  (Seriously?)  Or are they downright arguing with us?  (Who do they think they are? Lawyers?)  The three point phrase allows us to break down their responses to our instruction, and it helps us to identify the root of the problem we’re dealing with so that our consequences can be appropriately tailored to deal with that particular issue rather than something else.  (Some of the Bible stories we’ve used with our kids to break down the standard of Biblical obedience are 1 Samuel 3:1-10, which I referenced in a different context here, and the story of Jonah.)

But First Time Obedience is useful beyond child training too.  It’s an excellent standard to set for ourselves, isn’t it?  Because Biblical obedience is done Right Away, All the Way, and in a Happy Way.  Whether we are 3, 33, or 103.  And that’s the context in which Kory has shared it in his sermons.  


Do we struggle to obey God’s word Right Away?  Do we struggle to obey God’s word All the Way?  Or do we struggle to obey God’s word in a Happy Way?  

I’ll go first.  

I’m a rule follower by nature.  And, sad to say, I’m somewhat of a legalist too.  So I usually do what I’m supposed to do, and generally speaking, I do it fairly quickly after acknowledging that it’s the right thing to do.  But as I shared here a few weeks ago, I (a/k/a Ursula the Sea Witch) don’t always do it in a Happy Way.  That’s where I struggle the most.  And that’s where God continues to work on me…thank goodness.

How about you?

“Do everything without complaining and arguing.” 

Philippians 2:14



Hiding In The Closet

We still keep a baby monitor in our two year old’s room.  It’s there because he’s not to be trusted.  He’s known for climbing out of his bed at all hours of the night.  He enjoys creating murals with Boudreaux’s Butt Paste on his furniture and walls.  He likes to wake his sister and brother in the wee hours of the morning.  And he climbs.  Well, he climbs just about everything.  So we’re not keeping a baby monitor in his room to hear his cries in the middle of the night.  We’re spying on him.

This is a new world order for us.  Our daughter and oldest son never strayed from their beds in the middle of the night.  They never used our walls or furniture as an art canvas.  And we never worried about one of them actually climbing the banister railing on the second floor of our home.  But we worry now.  And it’s is an up-at-dawn, all-day battle to keep our very busy youngest child safe and “in the funnel” as Gary Ezzo would say.

Don’t get me wrong.  He’s precious.  He’s charming.  He’s loving.  And he’s tons of fun.  We can’t imagine our family without him.  

But when I share stories about our youngest’s latest shenanigans with our extended family, my mother-in-law looks me square in the eyes, laughs, and says, “I’m so sorry.”  So I guess our youngest gets his adventurous spirit from his father…I’m just sayin’.  (He gets most of his qualities from his father.  Especially his good ones.  So I’m not picking on Daddy.  I’m just being honest.)

During the night, we’ve learned to discern the noises associated with our son’s pre-escape strategic planning sessions.  So we decided to watch him over the baby monitor as soon as the next planning session began.  

The James Bond-like night vision feature on our baby monitor allows us to watch him in the dark. You can see here that he’s engaged in preliminary surveillance as he debates whether to make a run for it!

 And once he kicked one leg over the railing, I used the talk-back feature to correct him.

And he’s off!

“No sir.  Get back in your bed!”  I said.

He let out a loud scream and dove back into his bed and under the covers.


But the next morning, when I went into his room to get him up, he began talking about the baby monitor.  He calls it the “modeemurder.”  He said, “Mommy, the modeemurder was talkin’ to me las’ night, and it scare me.  I don’ like the modeemurder.”


When we find that he’s actually stayed in his bed upon waking up in the morning, he gets lots of praise!

Well, obviously, my goal was not to scare him, but rather, to get him back into his bed.  So I brought the receiver up to his room and demonstrated that what he was hearing was just mommy’s voice.  We had some fun with it, and I thought that he understood.

The next night, the same thing happened.  The child kicked his leg over the railing of his crib, and mommy talked over the “modeemurder” to encourage him back into his bed.  Instead of diving back into the bed this time, though, he went forward with his escape, tore across his room in the dark, and shut himself into his closet.  


I waited.  

And waited.  

And waited.  

When I realized he wasn’t going to come out on his own, I made the trip up our stairs to get him out of the closet and back into his bed.  When I opened the closet, he was standing inside in the dark, with a horrified look on his face.  He jumped when I opened the door.  I picked him up, calmed him down, and got him back to bed.

The next day, we played the same game with the “modeemurder” in my effort to help him understand what was happening and to eliminate his fear.  I also started introducing myself over the airwaves to help him understand:

“This is your mommy.  There is nothing to be afraid of.  Get back in your bed.”  

To no avail, one of two things would happen.  He would dive back into the bed, under the covers, and scream his head off.  Or he would tear across the bedroom and lock himself in the dark closet.  

Every time.  No matter how many times I told him who I was.  

Over a series of nights, though, we began to make some progress.  Something finally clicked, and he began to either recognize my voice over the baby monitor or, based on repeated experiences, he learned that nothing bad was going to happen when the “modeemurder” talked to him.  Either way, he gained understanding that there was nothing to fear.  Now, when I talk to him in the middle of the night, I hear only a soft “OK”.  And he stays in his bed.

But as we’ve worked through this together, it’s made me think of my relationship with God.  How often do I hear God’s voice and not recognize it?  How often do I hear God’s voice and react with fear?  How many times do I hear God’s voice and “lock myself in a dark closet” rather than listen to his words?

In 1 Samuel 3, Samuel mistook God’s voice for that of Eli in the middle of the night.  Three times he made this mistake before Eli, the priest who was in charge of all worship in Israel, realized what was going on:

“A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, ‘I’m here. You called me?’ Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’ So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been. Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, ‘Samuel, Samuel!’ Samuel said, ‘Speak. Your servant is listening.'” 1 Samuel 3:8-10.

Listening for God’s voice and responding to it with action are vital components to our relationship with God.  God doesn’t always use the sound of a human voice, but he speaks clearly through the scriptures.  God also speaks in unexpected places, through unexpected people, and in unexpected ways.  It would serve us well to be on high alert, listening for God to communicate with us, at all times.  So that when God speaks, we are prepared to listen and respond.  

Are there places in your life where God is speaking to you?  Are you hearing him?  Are you saying, “Speak.  Your servant is listening.”?  Or are you hiding in the closet?

Happy New Year everyone!

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My Mommy Secret #3: Mealtime Matters

Mealtime matters.  And in this day and age where many families are dual income, we regularly hear from other moms how difficult it is to get their entire families around the table for a meal.  We feel their pain.  It’s … Continue reading

My Mommy Secret #2: The Dinner Table is Not a Battlefield

And then she turned 3. I’m not exaggerating when I say that she went to bed one night a “good eater” and woke the next morning to be a “terror” at the kitchen table. If it didn’t taste good, it was too mushy. If it wasn’t too mushy, it was too hard. If it wasn’t too hard, it “spiced her tongue.” If it wasn’t too spicy, it was too hot. If it wasn’t too hot, it was — you guessed it. Too cold. Different foods couldn’t touch or be mixed together (she got that one from her dad, according to his mother). Certain foods had to be cut. Other foods couldn’t be cut. Sometimes she wanted to feed herself. And other times, we had to spoon feed her. We found ourselves in a battle of the wills, at every meal, 3 times per day to get her to eat. Forget about all the battles we were having about HOW she was eating. Like a little piggy to the trough — straight out of A Christmas Story! Food was everywhere but in her mouth. Continue reading