Maternal Soul Health

This past January, God placed a dream in my heart to walk with women through their stories for the purpose of reconnecting them to their God-given design.  This dream began after a season of seeing what a significant impact a mothers’ soul health plays in the lives of her children…whether a healthy soul bringing about a life-giving impact or an unhealthy soul bringing about a detrimental impact.  As I’ve listened to so many people’s stories over the years, the thread of the mom’s impact began to be highlighted and magnified. 

It seemed as I listened more intently to others’ stories, often a person’s season(s) of greatest pain occurred during a time in childhood or adolescence when the mom wasn’t emotionally healthy.  More specifically, it seemed that either direct or indirect hurt (whether emotional, physical, or otherwise) occurred in a person’s story when his/her mom couldn’t deal with life on some level during a season in that person’s childhood or adolescence. 

Let me pause there.  Just so you know the truth and to caution us from engaging judgment and condemnation: we all, each one of us, can’t deal with life on some level and to varying degrees at various points in our lives. The pattern I saw in these people’s stories, though, was simply that the moms had seasons of not being able to deal with life yet didn’t pursue transformation or healing of the issue or struggle in the “can’t deal” seasons, ultimately cascading hurt onto their children. 

As I saw this, a dream began. 

What if, in my generation, I did what I could do to prevent this pattern from spreading?  More specifically, what if I could sit with women and hear their stories and help them connect the dots in their life stories of God-given design and life themes to pursue, lies that are believed that need to be overhauled with truth, and wounds that need healing.  What if we could identify the “can’t deal” places and find healing and hope and tools for those?  What would happen if we could connect the dots of our stories and not be stuck in the “can’t deal” places, not be bound by the places of pain and struggle?  What would happen in our own selves?  What would be the cascade into our children’s lives?  Envisioning the ripple effect of moms living life connected to their God-given design, living from truth (and not from lies), and ultimately living with healthy souls is so, so beautiful to me. 

So, I began to engage this dream.  I began to pray and pursue training in these areas.  And as I began, I also had a sense that God would want to start this process of maternal soul health with me.  And He has.  I did not expect the intensity of the process He would begin taking me through this year.  Yet, it makes sense…how could I take women somewhere I hadn’t first gone myself.  So, I’ve been engaging the process He has me in, facing anything He unfolds in front of me.  It’s been a soul-healing year for sure.  Destabilizing at times.  Unfamiliar often.  But new and better and hopeful and restorative always. 

This past weekend, I went to an interactive training on emotional healing.  It was incredibly intense and way “outside the box”!  In fact, I am still trying to discern how I feel about the training.  What the training did, though, is let me see myself with a new depth of honesty.   While humbling, I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to look at myself with such clarity.  It was like looking at my soul in a mirror. 

After such an intense experience and seeing myself with such clarity, there are many things now to process with God, for me to pray through, for me to ask Him for further transformation and healing.  I feel slowed in my life.  Which is actually a really good thing for me…a slowing of all the drive, ambition, productivity, and accomplishing to sit still, listen, and heal.  So, I will be taking the next six weeks (at least) as a blogging sabbatical.  I will be stepping back and spending time engaging my soul with God and seeing what He has planned in this process of Him guiding me into my own “maternal soul health.”   For these next six weeks, I will let the blog be silent but didn’t want to do so without letting you all know why. 

So, will you pray for me as I engage this process?  And will you also pray for the dream…the hope of one day being able to walk with women into their own stories so that they, too, have soul healing and become reconnected to their God-given design? 

(Photo credits: Val)


A Poem by My Husband on Our Seventh Wedding Anniversary

This morning, after three little boys had started our day well before the crack of dawn, I took some time upstairs getting ready for the day and found a card by the bathroom sink with a poem written in it that not only depicts our marriage in its rawest, most honest moments but also depicts the wins we’ve had as well.  I asked Val if I could share his poem here today mostly because it is simply amazing, speaking of marriage as it really is. But I also wanted to share it here today because we all, in our darkest marriage days, need to believe that two people fully surrendered to Jesus’ transformation of their lives can make it together.*  This is our story…

“We Win”
      By Val Tramonte

I love you more than I did back then
Seems like way back then
Planned to love you completely as a reflection of Him.
Didn’t know the pain that would come
            Or the lack I would find within
Overestimated my skills and underestimated
            The hills…that would come.
Found myself burning out and in a state
            Of spiritual drought.
Not what I planned when I said, “I do,”
            Honestly thought I could handle it
            And never need to depend on you.
But oh how I have had to depend,
            And in so doing have deepened
            As a man and as a human.
Can’t really express how much you have carried for me
            And how much you have taught me.
You persevere in difficulty
And love me fantastically
You are the best friend I have ever had
            And next to Jesus you are my rock within.
Thank you for sticking with me
            Through thick and thin.
Thank you for loving me when I didn’t fulfill
            My part of the bargain.
Yes, especially then.
#sevenyearsin #wewin

*  An End Note to The Hurting Ones: And to you, whose marriage has ended because of an unsurrendered spouse, a spouse who has continued unrepentant in sin (whatever it may be…affairs, narcissism, abuse, pornography, and the list goes on…), unwilling to pursue Jesus’ transformation, to you there is so much grace…and hope…and life.  If you have surrendered your life to Jesus, He will never leave you.  You are not alone.  He is with you.  And He has good things for you.  Maybe those good things will look different that what you had once hoped for...but He will give His good in what is real now. 


When Parenting Is Hard: How to Be a Good Friend to Someone Who Has a Challenging Parenting Reality

I have some real challenges in my parenting reality. 

The extent of which I did not even fully understand until about a year ago.

But those challenges have been a part of my life every single day for a long time.  And in the midst of navigating them over the years, I have felt eyes on me.  Sometimes judging eyes.  Sometimes gentle eyes.  The stress of trying to navigate a challenging parenting reality while feeling judgment and criticism both silent and spoken has left me with wounds that are still healing. 

Parenting is challenging in and of itself.  But add in any other complicating factor…whether ongoing or for a season…having a child with special needs, having a chronic illness, having a child with a chronic illness, having a child with sleep struggles, being a single parent, having a child with emotional or behavioral challenges…and you’ve got a whole new level of challenge on your plate.  Any one of those challenges adds its own layer of stress onto parenting.  Mix two or more of those together and the stress level increases exponentially. Because the nuances, struggles, and difficulties of any given challenging reality are intricate and specific to each family, it can often be hard for others outside that family to grasp the complexity, added weight, and stress of parenting in the context of those challenges.  Without understanding, judgment can easily occur. 

While I certainly have felt the pain of critical voices and judging eyes, I’ve also been incredibly blessed by accepting hearts and affirming voices along the way, too.  In fact, there were times when those accepting people were the ones who God interjected in my life at specific moments so that I could hear the words I needed to hear to keep going.  Those accepting hearts and affirming voices have made more of an impact in my life than they will ever know.

There were a few things that these people said and did that mattered so much. Their acts of understanding, affirmation, and support impacted me so greatly that I wanted to share them with you, too.  These were the things that made a difference in some of my hardest parenting seasons.  If you have a friend who is in the midst of a challenging parenting season or a challenging ongoing reality, these three things can make a world of difference to that mom or dad…


Accept that person, that child, that family as they are.  In order to truly accept someone as they are or their reality for what it is, a level of understanding is necessary.  And to understand you have to be willing to listen.  Good listening involves asking questions without interjecting your own solutions; rather, it involves empathy and reflecting back what you hear the other person saying.  Good listening leaves the person sharing with a sense of being heard with attempts at being understood.  Take time to try to understand your friend’s challenging parenting reality.  Take time to really listen to what her reality is like.  Listen to what is hard, what is exhausting, what is sad.  In her challenging reality, there has probably been so much adjustment and loss.  As you listen, offer acceptance…of her, her child, her family as it is. 


Affirmation is so incredibly strengthening to someone in a challenging parenting reality.  Take a moment to think about your friend, asking yourself this question: What do you see her doing well?  Be specific as you think through that question. She most likely already knows her challenges…she lives it every single solitary day…and may even feel waves of personal failure in parenting depending on how extensive the challenges are.  Make a point to tell her specifically what you see her doing well, whether over the phone, in a text, in person, or in a handwritten note.  Your words that point out what she is doing well…the things that are working in the midst of the challenges…can make all the difference in the world!  It can give her something to hold onto when so many things seem to be falling apart.


If you have the margin in your own life, ask your friend how you could help.  Not in a condescending “man you’re really bad at this parenting thing” way, but in an “I see you and I know it’s really hard right now, what can I do to help” way.  Most likely, she’d love a break from the challenges (whatever they are), which might mean babysitting or might mean you intentionally engaging her child or might mean you running to the store for her or might mean you brining dinner over or might mean you going to coffee with her for some grown-up processing time.  Ask how you can help and then do what you can from what she shares. 

There were seasons early on in parenting before I knew the specifics of the challenges we faced in our family that these three things were the very supports I desperately needed to make it through. 

To be understood.  To be affirmed.  To be supported. 

You can make all the difference in the life of someone with a challenging parenting reality be doing any one (or all) of these three things!

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Long Term Benefits of Free Play

Shortly after I wrote my last post, “How We Homeschool: The Toddler and Preschool Years” (click here to read), I had a friend write me asking me to define “free-play,” a term I had used in that particular post.  I took some time to flesh that concept out in the comments on that post (included here as the first paragraph below), but it pushed me share even further on “free-play,” which resulted in today’s post…

What I was more specifically referring to in the last post as “free play” could better be defined as “self-directed” play as opposed to teacher/parent/care-giver directed play. In our home, there are times when I am creating the activity for my boys to participate in: an art project or a board game or something imaginative (which is good and important); however, free play would look more like my boys deciding what they want to play and creating their own game/agenda/pretend scenario. It could be imaginative (i.e. my big boys create all kinds of stories with their superhero figures), but it also could be coloring or building with blocks or digging in the dirt, etc. “Free play” would be any play activity that is self-directed.

My first year teaching, I taught down the hall from a teacher who was in her last year teaching.  She had been teaching for thirty (plus) years and was retiring that very year.  I still remember to this day words she shared when our grade level team evaluated students’ writing samples on afternoon.  She shared with the team that she had seen a decline in the quality students’ writing over the years…with an increased decline in recent years.  She attributed the decline specifically to the lack of free, imaginative playtime young children now have.  She connected ample amounts of free play to the development of imagination, and ultimately, she connected developed imaginations with quality writing.  I could totally see her point: without adequate time developing and even “living in” your imagination, what will you have to write about? 

Fast forward a few years later to me becoming a mom of my own children.  This very concept naturally and almost immediately became woven into our family.  Even early on, Val and I would delight in watching our boys create their own games, their own storylines, their own imaginative play.  We loved watching their imaginations develop.  We loved seeing them have freedom to be and create and play.  We taught activities and games and learning skills along the way, but it was inherent to our parenting style to give them plenty of time to engage in self-directed, imaginative free play.  Even now, as we balance both school and play, I sense the value of our boys still having ample time to play freely, to create, to self-direct.  So we make time for it. 

Initially, the value of free play was just a hunch I had.  It’s what I felt deep down inside of me…as a mom…as a former teacher…and as a former homeschooled kid myself (who, because I was homeschooled, had plenty of time to imagine and create and play…thanks mom and dad for that).  Ample self-directed playtime felt beneficial to my children’s development, but I didn’t have proof.  Just my own feelings and theories and ideas…until I started doing some research that eventually led to a trail of articles that specifically connected the value of free play to executive functioning.  It seems that not only does ample free play in childhood benefit us in areas of developing our imagination and writing ability (as I learned while teaching), but it actually also helps us learn how to think, how to problems solve, how to organize tasks, how to create and meet our own goals.  The benefit of ample free play in childhood is largely long term in nature.  Now, not only did I sense the benefits of ample free play, I had research in the form of articles that emphasized it’s value and long-term benefit.   

For those of you who would like to read more on this topic, I’ve included a few articles that delve into the benefits of free play in greater specifics that I can include in this post:

“Why Young Kids Need Less Class Time – and More Play Time – at School,” by Valerie Strauss (click here to read)

“Kids Whose Time is Less Structured Are Better Able to Meet Their Own Goals” (click here to read)

“Children Should Learn Mainly through Play until the Age of Eight, Says Lego,” by Lucy Ward (click here to read)


How We Homeschool: The Toddler and Preschool Years

I recently had a friend write and ask me when I started doing homeschool learning activities with the boys.  She was asking for information on when to work on what with her toddler.  While I didn’t consider myself officially homeschooling until my oldest started Pre-K, I had been intentional with learning and life activities all throughout his (and his brothers’) toddler and preschool years.  After writing my friend, I felt like it might be helpful for other toddler-mamas to have access to this info, so I’ve modified my original email to be an easy read guide to what to work on when with your toddler or preschooler.

An Quick and Easy Guide to Learning Activities for Your Toddler or Preschooler

The Basics:

Until your child is about four years old, you’re simply going to be covering these basic things over and over and over again in a variety of ways.  These four basic categories will be your focus for the toddler years:

Capital Letters

Then when your child is about four years old, you’ll start to incorporate:

Lower Case Letters
Number Identification

The Detailed Timeline:

I’ve done something a little different (and a different stages) with each of my boys; however, this was the basic developmental timeline I followed for what I focused on with my boys during their toddler years:

6 months – 12 months

talking to/with each of the boys
singing songs/nursery rhymes
reading to/with each of the boys (mostly board books at this stage)

12 months – 24 months

all of the above, plus…
incorporating play-do, paint, crayons, etc.
doing simple block-style puzzles together

2 years – 4 years old

all of the above, plus…
small lessons that focused on letters
small lessons that focused on bigger themes (weather, animals, habitats, etc.)

My Personal Early Learning Philosophy

I am a huge fan of creativity and imaginative play, so I kept the formal learning times in the toddler/preschool years short and simple.  I firmly believe that free-play is vital to mental and emotional development.  

I have also invested in memberships to places that we could go to frequently as part of my approach to early learning.  This year, we have a family pass to the children’s museum and the aquarium.  In previous years, we have had a pass to the YMCA for swimming, the art museum, and/or the water park (but never all those passes in the same year).   We frequently go to parks and visit the library regularly to check out books (and have done this for-e-ver).  We want to start going to Lowe’s once a month for their free “build it” projects for kids.  With the passes, the parks, the library, and attending whatever other free activities we find in town, I am really trying to focus on experiences in and exposure to a bigger world for my boys.

When I taught first-grade years ago, one of the most important things I would emphasize to my students’ parents in regard to helping their children become readers was the “20-minutes a day” rule for reading.  There are articles out there explaining how reading to or with your child for 20 minutes a day is one of the greatest contributors to your child becoming a reader.  While 20 minutes a day might be too much for some of the early toddler years, just reading daily with your child now starts that life rhythm (and can work up to 20 minutes a day as your child gets older).  

Resources (Ones I Actually Used)

These are a few resources that I actually referred.  These are helpful with a variety of learning focuses and skills (I’ve included links for all that I could):

The Toddler Busy Book (great for activities), click here

Slow and Steady Get Me Ready (I used the activities for a while, but mostly used the checklists at the back), click here

“Scratch Garden” (look for them on YouTube…they have all kinds of learning songs…geared more toward 3-7 year olds), click here

“The Toddler Preschool” (I put together 22 weeks of lesson plans when my oldest was about two and a half years old, posting it all on this blog), click here

“Totally Tots” (I also pulled a lot of activities from this blog…it is fairly user-friendly and broad in scope), click here

“Baby Center” (I used the developmental milestone checklists on this website to help me keep track of what we should be focusing on next in all the developmental areas: cognitive, social, emotional, etc.), click here

Some of my favorite shows with learning focuses include “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”, “Sesame Street,” “Octonauts,” and “Wild Kratts.”

As you’ve read through this resource list, I’d love to have you add in the comments any other helpful websites, books, or apps that you have found helpful in focusing on the basics with your toddler or preschooler! 

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