I often wish someone had offered suggestions to us as a young family when we struggled for balance.
I didn’t have mentors at all. We knew we wanted a different lifestyle than our parents, peers, siblings, friends.
We didn’t know where to start to streamline our schedules and get the most bang for our buck.
We had to make our own way, lots of mistakes, and lean on each other for the last 14 years. We’re still learning!
It’s often so much newness that you don’t stop to think about the stress.
Finishing up college or grad school, getting married or moving in, new jobs, beginning or changing a career, having babies.
These are all wonderful, exciting things…but they’re also very high on the stress index.
We often don’t stop to realize how all these amazing opportunities and changes stress us out even though we think we’re happy.
It’s important to have a good support network, rely on and trust your spouse, and have a good foundation about your values, priorities, and needs.
I’m 43 now and looking back, I’ve learned a lot from life and…
I have some advice for my younger self.
I should have taken better care of me – my physical and mental health. It’s important and I’m paying the price now. Is this what a mid-life crisis look like?
No one really cares what you look like. Don’t worry so much about it. Wear what you want, what’s comfortable. Do whatever to your hair and makeup. Stretch marks and laugh lines are battle scars. Be yourself.
Speak up. No one knows what you’re feeling or thinking if you don’t tell them. Don’t play childish guessing games.
There is no us and them. We’re all in this together.
5 Areas to Address for Success:
No name calling, ever.
The only time you should use the words “dummy” or “fool” is when you’re talking about puppets or pudding desserts, respectively. Focus on positive and nonviolent language, even when you’re angry.
Work together as a team.
It’s easy to get lazy and not be as courteous to our spouses as we should be. “Equality” means different things to different couples. Some do their own laundry separately or one cooks and the other does the dishes. If it works, then by all means, continue. But don’t be petty or waste time, money, and energy when it could be more helpful and efficient to work together or help each other out on something. Use gifts, talents, and interests well.
The 3 biggest issues in most marriages are sex, money, and parenting. Most disagreements, misconceptions, arguments, and misunderstandings involve one of these three topics.
Get over your embarrassments, inhibitions, issues, and baggage…and learn how to discuss your needs, desires, wants, and expectations about these things.
The marriage checklist listed in this article is a great place to fill in some gaps.
My favorite marriage book is John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
I don’t like the term “budget” because it’s so narrow and constricting. Most of us are a little flexible and don’t spend the exact same amount on categories each pay period. Using the term “spending plan” is much more accurate for most of us. We’re not disciplined enough to use cash envelopes each month for categories, but I hear it’s successful for some. I think most of us pay bills online and use our check cards for other purchases. Obviously, that requires keeping on top of purchases and receipts, and communicating with your partner.
I use an Excel spreadsheet to track our expenses each month.
If there are separate accounts, make sure to communicate about who is responsible for what. We have a separate account just for our rent and car payment. I have a separate account for all my writing, but it barely breaks even.
Know your income. Know the salary at your job. Make sure to getting what you’re owed. Check pay stubs and make corrections. Get the most income by adjusting withholding for taxes at places of employment. No need to lend that money to the government to get a big tax return. Most of us would rather have that little bit more each paycheck.
Insurance. Research the best options for your family’s needs. Everyone needs affordable health insurance. Shop around for the best auto and renters or homeowners insurance for your situation. And update as your frequently as your lifestyle changes.
Investments. As soon as possible, invest in Roth IRAs and max those babies out. We’re not even there yet. We’ve never been able to max them out. We do have 529s for our 4 kids. That’s a great way to help kids begin their adult lives debt-free, with no student loans!
Debt. List all debt and be honest with yourself. Student loans. Car payments. Child support and alimony. List minimum payments and due dates in order.
Food. This is often a HUGE expense and can be curtailed with some planning. See info about “meals” below.
Gas. This can be a big expense. The USA is a huge gas guzzling empire, and cars are everywhere. Most towns and cities aren’t built for bicycles or pedestrians. Public transportation is minimal and unreliable in most places. If possible, limit your family to one car and plan well – carpooling, limiting errands to 1 or 2 days a week, bicycling and walking more. It cuts down on expenses and pollution.
Miscellaneous. There’s always something, right? We have to be aware of regular expenses and plan for emergencies. Know when car tags are due and put that on your spreadsheet. Spring is a big time for our family’s birthdays. Autumn comes with new curriculum and school supplies and clothes. Summer camps and rec sports for kids can really add up. Holidays can often make for surprises. We don’t give greeting cards anymore and we limit gift-giving.
Prepping and planning. It took me years to develop a good system and I still sometimes struggle.
I try to limit waste and plan meals around store sales and coupons on shopping apps.
Sure, we get bored and have to mix it up sometimes.
We sometimes throw a plan out the window for holidays and celebrations.
We seldom eat out, which saves money. We make our food from scratch which is healthier and more satisfying for us. We don’t like a lot of processed, pre-packaged foods.
Shopping. I tend to shop weekly at Kroger and/or Walmart.
About once a month, I do a big haul at Costco and/or the commissary.
I price compare and keep track of where the better deals are.
I buy bacon, sausage, and cat litter at the commissary.
Cooking. Someone has to make dinner. Every day.
I feel it’s important to have dinner together as a family every night, if possible.
As the kids get older, they help so much with meals and it’s great for us to all to work together.
I often prep and my husband grills.
Occasionally, I serve the kids earlier and have a nicer meal and movie night with my husband.
Maintenance. Whether it’s an apartment, rental house, or you own your own home, regular maintenance is important. We’ve always rented homes, but we try to stay proactive and let the homeowner know when and if items need repair. We replace filters on time, we keep everything clean, and we maintain the yard and grounds regularly.
Decoration. We are frugal and simple with seasonal and regular home decor. It took me years to find a home style I feel comfortable with that isn’t overwhelming. I’m still evolving and since we move every few years, it allows for some fun updates.
Organization. Everything in its place. If you have to buy storage for your stuff, you have too much stuff. With four growing kids, we had so much stuff for so many years. As they grow and don’t need so much, it’s so refreshing to donate or sell items as they outgrow toys, clothes, and homeschool materials.
Discipline. It’s important for spouses to be on the same page about how to raise children.
Chores. Kids really want to help, so let them.
Activities. Less is more. We’ve had seasons of overscheduling and find it’s better for each child to have one extracurricular activity at a time. We do family art lessons and each child has a seasonal or recreational sport.
Day care/Babysitting. Day care is just so expensive. We made a hard choice for me to stay home with the kids to save money and not outsource them to someone else to raise.
While we had a season when we hired babysitters so we could socialize, I regret that now that it didn’t really help our family grow personally or spiritually.
School. There are lots of options for education. Public, private, religious, charter, homeschool. Each has its pros and cons and your family has to make the tough decision how you want your kids educated. And it can even change from year to year, season to season, or with different kids.
We tried homeschooling and never looked back. It was an easy choice for us with moving around so frequently. It allowed so much more freedom for our family to travel and learn how we want.
Religion. Even if it’s not important or an issue for you and your spouse, kids will most likely bring this up at some point. It’s better to have a response in mind beforehand than to have to scramble and stumble with ill-conceived explanations. Know what you believe and why so you can explain, teach, and guide your kids. They will have questions. Don’t be embarrassed or shame them if you don’t know the answers. Find out together.
Setting Goals for the Future:
Sometimes, this is really hard and life throws really fast curveballs.
We’ve had our fair share of struggles and setbacks. We’ve lived through tragedies and adventures we never imagined or planned for and here we are, living to tell about it.
I often think about these things, dream about it, and set goals:
Where do I want to be a year from now?
Sometimes, we know we’re going to PCS and I make plans for our new location.
I research our homeschool activities and curriculum.
I consider our debt and finances and plan better.
My eldest is beginning college and will probably move into a dorm.
What dreams do I have for 3 years from now?
I consider what my kids will be doing in our homeschool.
My eldest might be finishing college and starting her career.
My middle girls will be high school age. What do I want that to look like?
What do we want 5 years from now?
We’re getting close to my husband’s retirement. Where do we want to live? What other job does he want?
My son will be our last child at home. What will his high school years look like?
How can I support my middle girls in their higher education?
What will our relationship look like with my eldest daughter?
What do I want our family to look like in 10 years?
What am I doing right now to ensure my kids are friends as adults?
How will we juggle relationships with four adult kids who might live all over the world?
How am I managing our finances for our future comfort?
How can I care for my aging parents?
Patsy Burnette says
Jennifer, this is such a great, comprehensive post! I am 10 years your senior and I would have said all these things to my younger self as well. It’s so funny how fast time goes by. You don’t see it when you’re young. You hear people talk about it, but you just don’t see it. Now I do. Seems like a blink and Thing 4 has left the nest and it’s all quiet on the homefront. My younger self needed to hear all these things. I hope this will be a help to those still in the trenches of motherhood and young marriedness. Shared. Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!
Christine Malkemes says
Jennifer, thank you for your comprehensive list and helpful. So many military wives/husbands would find this helpful. I don’t know if you know about Planting Roots (http://www.plantingroots.net) – a not-for-profit Christian organization supporting military women around the world how to find the strength to thrive in military life. Please check them out. I think you would be a good writer/contributor for them. Tell them “Chris” sent you. (Oh I’m at https://www.christinemalkemes.com)
Mother of 3 says
Great advice! I look back now and wonder how we juggled all that stress at once; we graduated college, bought a house, planned a wedding, started building a house and had our first child all within just two (maybe 3?) short years.
Jennifer Smith says
Hi Jennifer – another Jennifer:) (and your neighbor) visiting from Welcome Heart link up. Nice to look through your blog….and I totally agree – spend much less time focusing and worrying about how you look! No one is going to remember – and it really is not what you really want remembered! I’m still learning this lesson!
Alice V says
You covered so much about family and marriage that could only be expressed through life lessons. Thanks for sharing these with us at #OMHGWW.
Jennifer, your advice to your younger self was spot on! I would give very similar advice to my younger self too. I think I did not appreciate kindness or showing appreciation and patience enough when I was younger.
April J Harris says
There is so much valuable advice in this post, Jen! You’ve covered so many areas, and so many stages of marriage and family. Thank you so much for bringing this post to the Hearth and Soul Link Party. I know it will help lots of people!
Becca | anchoredabode.com says
The ‘Speak Up’ part made me smile a bit, how true that it’s a childish game we play when we aren’t forthright. Thanks for the reminder to reevaluate our goals as a couple!