Tag Archives: children

Making ‘family time’ a priority

Do you have regrets?

I always wanted to be the person who said no to that question. No regrets.

But do I? Probably.

I wish I would’ve done this. Or I probably shouldn’t have done that.

I’m not sure I really even like that question, though, or the idea of it.

Life is a journey, full of ups and downs, good choices and not so good ones.

And that is true when it comes to parenting, especially as our children have gotten into their older teen years.

I guess my husband, Larry, was pondering some of these same things last fall when he decided we were going to implement what he called “Family Time.”

Let me back up a bit and say that family has always been extremely important to us. Since our children were very young, we’ve tried to set aside one night a week for Family Home Evening, a program recommended by our church. We’ve also tried to read scriptures and pray together every day. And we’ve also tried to spend as much time together as possible, supporting them in their activities, getting together with extended family and enjoying family vacations together.

Some of these things have been more successful than others.

In the last couple of years, though, it’s been extremely difficult as our kids started high school and became more involved with things.

Larry was reminded of guidance we once received from the leaders of our church: “We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children. We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, gospel study and instruction and wholesome family activities.”

Have we been giving our children our “best efforts?” Not always. We needed to do better.

So what is family time? Ideally, it’s 30 minutes to an hour set aside for praying, reading scriptures, listening to each other without devices distracting us and finding some fun to throw in there like a quick game of charades, or if we have more time, a board game. Or we’ll watch a video on YouTube. Or just let them talk about what’s important to them.


I can’t say Family Time happens every single day. Some days it’s just impossible for all of us to be in one place at the same time and awake. Larry leaves in the morning before everyone is up and goes to sleep sometimes before everyone gets home.

Sometimes it’s only five or ten minutes, long enough to see how everyone’s day was, pray and read a few scriptures.

Sometimes we combine it with dinner. Or we read and eat at the same time.

Sometimes we do it over the phone or use FaceTime.

Sometimes we laugh so much we cry. And sometimes it’s rough, especially when people are moody or tired, and someone leaves the room in anger.

But looking back at the last six months, I feel more connected with my kids than I ever have before.

And more hopeful.

Because when I look around at the world and all the darkness that seems to be growing with each day, I want to make sure I’m doing what I can to help spread more light. And help them do the same.

If we want to see change in the world, we must be the change. And I believe that starts at home.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and by just having fun. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities.”

So I’m encouraging you to start your own Family Time, whatever that means to you. It doesn’t have to be like ours. If you’re not religious, that’s okay. Make it your own. Five or ten minutes when they wake up or before they go to bed. Or a phone call or FaceTime every afternoon on your break at work. Whatever works for you and your situation.

But make it a priority. Show them how much you love them by giving of your time, even when you don’t think you have any to spare.

You won’t regret it.

Helping our children ‘find the good life’

I recently took a week off from social media. One of my main goals with that extra free time was to get my nose back in a book again. Reading daily, not just tweets and articles, but back to my list of unread classics.

Sadly, my time spent reading has decreased dramatically with the increase in my use of social media. And I’d been feeling I needed to change that.

Before I got to my list, though, I wanted to read/listen to Ben Sasse’s new book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis, with our two teenage kids. The perfect opportunity to do that was while we were driving during a quick road trip to visit the Lincoln presidential museum and historical sites.


Sasse says families should develop practices to prepare their kids to become “fully formed, vivacious, appealing, resilient, self-reliant, problem-solving souls who see themselves as called to love and serve their neighbors.”

And how do they do that? Learning the value of hard work, developing multi-generational relationships, traveling and – wait for it – reading.

Coincidence? Probably not. I knew I needed to do better. And Sasse’s book reinforced that.

It’s not enough for us to encourage our children to read, however. They need to see us setting the example of being readers ourselves.

When we returned from our road trip, we all headed to our home library to pick out some books we hadn’t read yet. And a trip to the public library followed.

One of the most important things I’ve discovered over the years, with two very different children, is that letting them choose what they want to read, not what we want them to read, is vital.

We struggled with our oldest and reading for years. Then one day, he checked out the first Percy Jackson book from the library and devoured it. And the next in the series and the next. It opened up a new world of him wanting to read instead of us feeling like we had to force him to read.

Katherine Paterson, who wrote two of my favorite books, Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins, said: “The wonderful thing about books is that they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else’s life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn’t been able to see before.”

I think that’s one of the things Sasse was talking about in his book.

“Our goal is for our kids to be intentional about everything they do — to reject passivity and mindless consumption and to embrace an ethos of action, of productivity, of meaningful work, of genuinely lifelong learning,” Sasse writes. “In other words, we want them to find the good life.”

‘when sensible children turn scatter-brained or start having wild mood swings’

By Jacki Wood, “That they they might have joy” column for the Nodaway News Leader

So I have a “friend” …

Her oldest child recently turned 18 and is getting ready to graduate high school in less than two months. And she’s starting to freak out feeling like she hasn’t prepared him enough yet for adulthood.

Hunter Wood senior    Okay, yes, it’s me, not some friend.

Somewhere around January 3rd, it hit me that my oldest is graduating soon and I’ve been frantically trying to teach him all the things that I think I should have by now.

I’m no expert but I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ve done right over the last 18 years and where we could’ve done better. Parenting teenagers has proven especially hard, like everyone said it would.

Sue Shellenbarger, writing for the Wall Street Journal in 2016, said the teen years can be “mystifying” for parents “when sensible children turn scatter-brained or start having wild mood swings.”

Not exactly earth-shattering news. But she said new research offers some explanations and scientists are changing their views on the role parents should play.

“Once seen as a time for parents to step back, adolescence is increasingly viewed as an opportunity to stay tuned in and emotionally connected.

“As adolescents navigate the stormiest years in their development, they need coaching, support, good examples, and most of all, understanding.”

Being understanding can be tricky, especially as you watch them make mistakes. It’s so easy to want to just correct them.

I recently read about Bert Fulks who works with a youth addiction recovery group. He asked how many found themselves in situations where they were uncomfortable but stuck around because they felt like they didn’t have a way out. They all raised their hands.

So he came up with the X-plan for his family, a simple but powerful tool for his kids to use at any time. It gives them a way out of a situation by simply texting the letter X to a family member who then calls the teen and arranges to pick them up with no questions asked.

“This is one of the most loving things we’ve ever given (our son),” he said. “It offers him a sense of security and confidence in a world that tends to beat our young people into submission.”

Adolescence is such a critical time, when we still want to protect them, but also need to help them continue learning how to become independent.

In “Helping without Hovering,” Dr. Mark Ogletree, LPC, offers these tips:
1. Look for opportunities to allow your children to do things for themselves, even if it means more work for you.
2. Teach your children to work.
3. Teach your children that choices have consequences.
4. Allow your children to have heartaches and setbacks.
5. Stand up and be courageous.

Courageous parenting. This, too, might be difficult at times. We might be afraid of offending them or having them be upset with us.

My husband and I talk with our kids. A lot. And we keep it real. They sometimes point out what other parents allow that we don’t. And that can take courage to remain committed to what we feel is best for them, although we are willing to discuss why they might disagree.

They might take offense at what we’re saying or trying to teach, but we talk through it, and hopefully, come to an understanding, even if we might not agree. And I think that’s okay.

Some of our kids’ friends have recently called us overprotective. And I’m okay with that, too, although I just call it parenting.

I’m sure it’s partially because I watch too many cop shows that have tragic stories about teens. But when they leave the house, I want to know who they’re with, where they’re going and what they’re doing. While I want to foster independence, I also want to make sure I’m doing all I can to still protect them.

We could talk for days about parenting teenagers and we’d probably disagree on different aspects.

But I guess the most important thing for me, at least right now when the countdown is on to graduation, is to simply spend time with him and create just a few more memories together.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner (and) by just having fun. In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e.”

So show up. Be there. Love them. Have fun. Listen. And be understanding.

Barbara Bush, wife of President George HW Bush, said: “Whatever the era, whatever the times, one thing will never change…Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens inside your house.”


The gift of autism: Fox family helps spread autism awareness

Creed Fox knows all about tornadoes. He knows the wind speeds of an F-5 tornado and what kinds of clouds are in the sky.

The almost 10-year-old also knows about airplanes. He knows their military branch, their engine types and who makes them.

But the little boy who loves tornados and airplanes would not ride in an elevator. He also doesn’t play with neighborhood children, struggles with eye contact, has trouble with table manners and refuses to leave the house after he comes home from school.

Creed is one of the 54.

One in 54 boys who are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in 88 children will be affected by an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and of those 88, one in 54 will be a boy. Creed was diagnosed in January 2011 at the age of 7 1/2.

Magical moments

While things may be more difficult at times for his family because of autism, it has also opened their eyes to what his mom calls “magical moments.”

“I find pleasure in watching him do things that excite him,” Maryville resident Penni Fox said. “As we were leaving school yesterday, our normal routine is to go to the post office. Well, I went a different way, which is not allowed, and we found two cement mixers pouring concrete into a newly dug basement hole.

“He was mesmerized as we talked about rebar and concrete and the workers doing the job.

“At a time before autism, I would have barely noticed the work taking place.”

Magical moments.

“Seeing things that are so unimportant to most people become magical moments to my son with autism,” Penni said. “That is the gift of autism.”


Some people don’t see it that way, as a gift. But that’s what Penni and her husband, Chuck, are trying to do. Share their story and share their gift.

That little boy who can tell you everything about tornadoes and airplanes goes into an absolute panic when he nears an elevator.

It’s his latest autism hangup, Penni said, but he’s working on it with a specialist.

“He will now step inside it as long as someone holds the ‘door open’ button,” Penni said. “Then he examines the inside for the manufacturer and the capacity, whether it says number of people or a total weight limit, and he can remember who makes many of the elevators.”

The Foxes

Chuck and Penni Fox are natives of Northwest Missouri. In addition to Creed, they have an older son, Drake.

As a toddler, Penni said Creed was reaching his developmental milestones, although at the end of the window or even months later, but he was doing some amazing and bizarre things, too.

“I knew he was struggling but nothing was obvious enough to warrant testing for autism or anything else,” she said. “He was just a little quirky.”

They moved to Maryville in 2008 when Chuck retired from the Air Force. He worked as an assistant coach for the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team with former coach, Gene Steinmeyer. (See story on Creed and the team on page A1)

“Creed started kindergarten at Eugene Field that year, but he struggled,” Penni said.


Soon, Creed received a diagnosis of dyslexia along with ADHD. He repeated kindergarten and Penni thought he was doing better, although he was still behind academically.

During the next year, however, Penni said she realized something was really wrong.

While discussing his academic performance with his teacher, Penni said she blurted out, “Do you think he has autism?”

The school district worked very hard to get a plan in place, she said, while they waited nearly four months for testing at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City and at the University of Kansas. He was diagnosed with high functioning autism.

“High functioning is the blessing in the autism diagnosis,” she said. “It means he is highly verbal, does most self care and has these out of the world understandings of the strangest things for a seven-year-old kid.”

During the early stages of his diagnosis, Penni said she kept reading about the “gift of autism.”

“At that point, I wasn’t sure it was a gift,” she said. “But it was a relief to know what was wrong with Creed.”

Toothpicks & drinking straws

Penni has chosen to work from home part-time so she can be available full-time for Creed. It means very little time away from him because he can’t be left with just anyone.

“Paying a teenager to watch TV while he plays is not a reality,” she said. “He may decide to build a recycling landfill by opening full garbage bags and burying them in the back yard.

“He might fill the bathtub with 25 plastic shopping bags to see if they float.

“He might make toilet paper sculptures in the bathroom sink then place them in areas his brother stores his possessions to dry.”

All true stories.

On the plus side, she said he loves art and anything that can become a sculpture, like that toilet paper, or even toothpicks and drinking straws.


Creed craves routine.

“He likes to drive the same route to our destination, tells me when I should get over, asks if I am watching for the exit and how fast am I going,” Penni said.

He also wants everyone else to follow rules, she said.

“It drives him crazy if Mr. Dumke keeps them just an extra minute or two past his scheduled departure time,” she said.

Creed is currently in Howard Dumke’s third grade class at Eugene Field. He is mainstreamed for special classes like PE, music and art and also has some regular classroom time. He receives speech, occupational therapy and social skills intervention.

“We are incredibly lucky to have the support we do from Eugene Field Elementary School,” Penni said.

In the early stages of this autism, he would become frustrated or agitated and have episodes of Echolalia, which is repeating random things he had heard, she said.

Now he’s focused on a six-rotation medley. He randomly shouts out digital clock times, like 5:09, and then backward, 9:05, for six rotations.

Gift of autism

Penni advocates for more support for mental and behavioral health in Maryville to help Creed and the other one in 54 like him.

“Being in this largely rural area, access to services for autism are nearly nonexistent,” she said.

She also hopes her efforts with awareness will help people understand and embrace autism.

“Our country has to understand and embrace the gift of autism and create and find suitable opportunities for these individuals,” she said. “In the right places, with the right training and support, individuals on the spectrum can be productive citizens.”

When people realize that potential, their eyes can open to see those magical moments that Penni sees with Creed.

It is the gift that is called autism.