Category Archives: moms

TMI or Just the Facts, Ma’am

By Bob Collins

How much information do your children need in order to do what you require from them? Over load or insufficient data?

I have several devices, tablet, phone, laptop, etc, etc, as I’m sure you probably do, too. And I have several power supplies which I have collected over time with the devices. The power supplies are different amperages, stated in different ways, which drives my poor writer’s brain nuts.

This morning I was trying to choose between one power supply that said “output: 8.5 Amps” and another that said, “output: 500 mAmps.” >sigh< unable to find my old college math books, I consulted my next favorite source, Google.

Three hours later, after learning about basic quantum electronic theory and the origin of lightning-based home-schooled electromechanics, I stumbled upon a simple converter that told me, with the click of a simulated button, which one was more gooderer. 

We now have WAY too much information available for the efficient delivery of answers to befuddled, overworked humanoids. 


In our oversaturated, overstimulated, overinformationalized society, I am seeing so many cases of mis-communication between parents and their kids. We moan about a lack of respect from our children, when – I suspect – the problem is really a lack of connection. 

Parents have lately become victims of “Explain-itis” when it comes to giving directions to their children. The directive to stop hitting a playmate slowly melts into a long, dry lecture on the reasons for mutual respect, societal order, individuals’ personal rights versus self-esteem, and all the other catch words spewed out by everyone from the media to Facebook to educational flyers.

By the time a well-meaning parent has explained the psycho-social theory behind playground fairness and mutual concern for the planet, the poor child has forgotten what the lecture started over. And he has lost a little more respect for Mom’s or Dad’s intellectual usefulness.

A simple, “Tommy! Stop hitting that boy! Now, apologize to him; shake his hand; and get in the car, we’re going home,” is an excellent delivery of the necessary information and steps to be taken for Tommy to end the inappropriate action, reconcile with the other child, and begin his next action.

Our children’s minds are not developed, until their mid-twenties, to incorporate and process complex multiple streams of information. The most effective way to instruct them is with simple directives, delivered in a straightforward order, so that they can process one step at a time.

Long detailed explanations about why some actions must be taken, are best left for later, perhaps at bedtime when the excitement of the moment has passed. 

If you spend too much time carefully enlightening your child about the engineering facts of the internal combustion engine and the momentum-to-surface texture friction ratio required to halt a moving automobile – you may end up finishing the explanation in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.

Just like I was distracted and confused by all the in-depth discussions about amperages, your kids don’t necessarily need to understand the “Why” and the background, as much as they need to know What you want them to do first, second, and third.

Remember that kids don’t like “TMI”! 

[by Bob Collins, Copyright 2017]


A Voice from Theater 9

Marie, who wrote this blog post, was one of the unsuspecting innocents sitting in theater 9, in Aurora, Colorado when the gunman opened fire. Here is her take on what happened and why it happened. BTW, just for the record, I agree with her wholeheartedly.

STEPcoach Bob


(Maybe, just maybe God spared my life because He loves YOU and wants you to hear this..He wants you to believe that He loved you so much He gave His only begotten Son that if you would believe in Him you would have eternal life.)

“So, you still believe in a merciful God?”  Some of the comments online are genuinely inquisitive, others are contemptuous in nature. Regardless of the motive behind the question, I will respond the same way.

Yes, I do indeed.
Absolutely, positively, unequivocally.

Let’s get something straight: the theater shooting was an evil, horrendous act done by a man controlled by evil.  God did not take a gun and pull the trigger in a crowded theater. He didn’t even suggest it. A man did.In His sovereignty, God made man in His image with the ability to choose good and evil.
Unfortunately, sometimes man chooses evil.

I was there in theater 9 at midnight, straining to make out the words and trying to figure out the story line as The Dark Night Rises began. I’m not a big movie-goer. The HH and I prefer to watch movies in the comfort of our own home…where I can use subtitles and get a foot rub. I don’t like action movies. And I don’t like midnight showings.  But, as I wrote in my last post, parents sometimes make sacrifices for their kiddos and I decided I would take my fourteen year old and sixteen year old daughters who were chomping at the bit to see this eagerly anticipated third movie in the Batman Trilogy. Twice I had the opportunity to back out and twice I was quite tempted. But something in me said just go with your girls. I did.

So I was there with them, fidgeting in my seat, some forty or  fifty feet away from the man with the gun. It’s still a bit surreal, but I do know that when the seemingly endless shooting started, as my girls were struggling from whatever gas or chemical had been released, and we figured out what was happening, we hit the floor. I threw myself on top of my fourteen year old who was on the end of the row, straight up the aisle from the shooter.  In that moment, as the rapid-fire shots continued, I truly thought I was going to die. And I realized that I was ready. I have put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as the redeemer of my soul, and there wasn’t the slightest doubt that I would be received into heaven, not because of any good thing that I have done but because of His merciful nature and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still, as I lay over my daughter, I began praying out loud. I don’t even remember what I prayed, but I don’t imagine it really matters. I’m sure it was for protection and peace. It drew me closer into the presence of God. When there was a pause in the shooting, people began to clamor for the exits. The girls and I jumped up and joined the masses. We had to step over a lifeless body, not knowing where the shooter was. We raced to our car and I dumped my purse, frantically searching for keys, looking all around, prepared to hit the ground. I yelled at Michelle to call Matthew and find out if he had made it out of the theater next door. She did. He did. We booked on out of there.

Why would you think such a tragedy would make me question the goodness of God? If anything, both of my girls said it made Him a much more real presence to them; the youngest shared this verse: Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your feet from being caught.

He is not the cause of evil, but He is the one who can bring comfort and peace in the midst of evil.  It’s been amazing to see the outpouring of love from so many people after this unthinkable act.  Yes, there was one evil act, but it is being covered by thousands, possibly millions of acts of kindness.

We have not yet slept, so the girls and I are overtired and a bit emotional.  But overall, we are praising God and resting in His Goodness.

I love this word of wisdom and encouragement from a former pastor of mine:
Up to this point I haven’t had words to say that would matter. Of course we are all glad that you and the family are safe. Of course we would all state the obvious that this is horrific and senseless. But those words still don’t carry weight that remain in the midst of the questions. Then it hit me… Do you know what the difference was between Job and his wife in their response to the tragedy of losing everything… Job 1:20 Job was the only one that worshiped in the midst of it. Marie, I know your heart and I’ve seen your worship lived out before your family. Before the weight of this becomes unbearable… worship. Your profile pic was not coincidence, not by accident that you changed it on July 15th, but a beautiful foreshadowing of your need to hear the cry of your heart and give Him praise.

Though we don’t have all the answers, we do indeed listen to the cry of our hearts: When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What  can mere man  do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

God is always good.
Man is not.
Don’t get the two confused.

We will continue to praise and worship our mighty God, anticipating that He will bring beauty from ashes, as only He can do.

If you want to know how to pray for us: first and foremost, we need sleep. Somehow our bodies seem too wired. We also want the life that God has graciously allowed us to continue to live to not be a gift given in vain, we want our lives to draw others closer to Him. We do not want fear to dominate, for God has not given us a spirit of fear. We want His joy to be seen and experienced in all that we do.

Pray for the families who lost loved ones, and for young people who witnessed such horror. Pray for this to be an opportunity for God to manifest Himself in mighty ways.

As for you…we will pray that YOU might know His goodness.
Still grateful for this wonderful life,
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Guest Post: Playtime!

This is a very nice borrowed-with-permission article that I couldn’t resist sharing with you. It originally appeared in Simple Marriage blog at Stepfamilies are all parents – otherwise, you’d just be a couple. And I have been hearing so much lately about issues and clashes between husbands and wives about the kids, that I am pretty kid-minded. So when this post came my way I grabbed it to share with you. Enjoy. And let me know if and how this applies or helps your family.




Post written by Dr. Corey Allan.
Play has become a lost art in the adult world.
Perhaps even in the kid world … play is not be what it used to be.
Gone are the days of tag, chase, tackle the man with the ball, dodgeball, and the like.
Also gone are the “dangerous toys” like the metal Tonka trucks that are indestructible, the monkey bars that tower into the air, the tree house built way up in the tree with a homemade zip line going into the garage, and the metal slide that’s 4 stories tall with no side-rails and several bumps on the way down. Okay so the last one may be a bit of an exaggeration but it’s not far off.
Play serves a great purpose.
Remember when you used to call up your friends or head over to their house and greet them with “wanna play?” It didn’t matter what you played, you’d make it up.
Today it seems that play is all but dead. Especially in the adult world. Even parenting has been impacted.
Parenting often becomes more about the child’s achievement and directing towards goals – be it the child’s – or far more likely the parent’s goals.
Schools are doing away with recess in the belief that giving up play time will allow more time for study. Even preschoolers are not immune to this shift.
Through the 80’s and 90’s a 4 billion dollar industry sprang up … tutoring. With 26% of it being devoted for 2 to 6 year olds. Babies … who should be spending more time in imaginative play than structured learning.
Play develops a child’s cognitive skills.
By play, I mean true child directed play: free, unstructured play where the kids invent the activities that reflect their own curiosities and interests.
Too many children are parentified, or expected to become adults too fast. And too many adults have added too many stipulations and parameters to play – in short, they’ve lost the art of play.
Play is critical in a child’s life. According to David Elkind, play is vital in teaching a child how to control himself and interact with others.
But play is also important in the adult world.
It opens to door to new solutions and creative sparks. It adds passion and energy to life and marriage.
Researcher Jaak Panksepp believes play turns on hundreds of genes in the brain. Specifically, play stimulates neurogenesis to hasten the development of the frontal cortex in the brain.
Play is vital to the development of our children and the health of our families, but it is also vital to us as adults.
So what can you do today?
  1. Encourage your kids to play with other kids. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it doesn’t seem to happen that often. Many parentified children would rather play with adults than other kids. While this may seem mature and grown-up, anytime a kid plays with an adult, imagination and leadership skills are stifled. Adults often take charge or limit the imagination because we can’t compete with a child’s imagination level. When you do play with a child, let go of your imagination restrictions and let them take the lead. When they want you to be a princess or a prince who helps tame the nice dragon so you can fight the mean one, do it!
  2. Play with your kids everyday for at least 30 minutes. Spend time as a family playing. One of my favorite times each day is the wrestling time I get with my daughter and son. My son, before he could even talk, would walk over to the floor and point meaning “it’s time to wrestle dad!” Before long, my daughter and my wife would be in the mix. Now that he’s 5 he just runs and jumps on me anytime I’m within range. It’s a great bonding time as well as a testing of my children’s strength and abilities.
  3. Take your kids out of school for a day. You don’t have to do this too often, but take your kids someplace instead of school. You could even incorporate some learning opportunities into this. Visit the zoo, the aquarium, local museums, or galleries. You could even go to the park. Give them an unexpected break from their normal structure and spend the time together.
  4. Play with your spouse. Pull out the games after the kids are in bed, or go outside ride bikes together. Build a blanket fort in the living room. Point is, you don’t have to be structured in every aspect of your life … just play.
Now … off you go. Have fun storming the castle!

Your Opinion, Please

I’d honestly like to hear your opinion on this question which recently came up in a discussion group for stepparents of difficult children … 

Which is worse (or, conversely, which is better) – 

1) no physical discipline, but plenty of verbal; or 

2) calm, physical discipline?

This question came up after a rather passionate discussion of how parents and stepparents handled hard-to-control children. Some were vehemently opposed to any sort of “physical violence” such as spanking, slapping, or bodily lifting and placing a child in a chair. Their reasoning was that violence begets violence. If you teach a child that hitting is acceptable, that child will fall back on hitting when he or she is excited.

The negative side of this group was that they admitted to far-too-often succumbing to the temptation to scream at their children to get their attention. Instead of grabbing Junior up from the TV and making him get moving, the tended to steadily increase from telling, to yelling, to screaming at him to move. They confessed they “lost it” at least once a week.

The “spare the rod, spoil the child” group first categorically insisted they had specific guidelines regarding corporeal punishment: when, how, and why to spank or slap, and usually had a follow-up strategy. Their method is generally to avoid emotional outbursts and to administer fair amounts of physical discipline, from bottom swats, to hand slaps, to lifting and removing the child.

Both sides were solid in their belief that theirs was the best way, and both had many examples of how well their own program worked for their children. 

But this was a fairly small group – only 6 couples. So I decided to expand this question. I’d like to know how most families deal with discipline/guidance for their unruly children. Please answer using the anonymous option on the comment page so there is no question of anyone getting in trouble. 

Other stepparents and biological parents are facing the same issues you are. I know they’d like to hear your opinions and your reasoning for your side.


STEPcoach, Bob Collins

Do You Punish Your Kids For Being Good?

(This is a guest post from Zen Family Habits [ I really like their stuff!)

It seems a bit counter-intuitive punishing your kids for being good but I suspect we all do it more than we realize. Punishment is easy to see when you’re putting your kids in time out, raising your voice to them or using some other form of discipline. It’s a lot more challenging to see when you’re punishing your kids for being good.

When you have more than one child this is a particularly easy trap to fall into but it’s not so easy to see how it happens. Take a minute and see if you’re punishing your kids for being good, smart, successful etc.

Now, let’s look at a simple example:

Child A can:
  • get dressed
  • help himself to cereal and
  • pack his bag for school
Child B can’t do these things.
As a result more of your time is spent on Child B, and rightfully so as he/she needs more attention to do some of the most basic activities. However, all of this attention spent on their sibling may leave Child A feeling a bit left out.
While this isn’t punishment in the way most of us would describe punishment, it does leave Child A feeling left out, not as important and less worthy (of your time and  attention). Feelings I can say with near certainty that no parent wants to instill in their child.

How to change this

1. Make a conscious effort to devote more time to your other children. If one or two of your kids are more demanding than the others set aside some time to touch base and reconnect with your other children. It doesn’t need to be a huge amount of time but enough to mend some of their insecurities and reassure them that they matter. A walk to a park, shooting some hoops in the driveway or at the school, whatever your child is into take an interest and initiate some together time.
2.  Be aware of how the “neglected” child might be feeling. Sad, lonely, forgotten etc. All kids are different and so will react very differently from each other. While one may feel sad, another may be angry, hurt or feeling as if you like their brother or sister “better”. We know this isn’t true but to our kids it’s very real.
While life isn’t fair and you certainly won’t be able to please everyone ALL the time you can, with a bit of effort, make everyone know they matter.

Summer Short-Shorts

Saw much more than I wanted to again this morning of a young lady as I was heading into my favorite family restaurant. I wondered if they were switching to Hooters or the Playboy club, but no, it was just a girl going out for breakfast during the Summer. Her tiny shorts were more like a bathing suit bottom than short pants!

And I thought again, “Does her dad have any idea she’s flashing his daughter around like that?” He may, or he may not care. The “standards” today are almost non-existent.

And before you start calling me a prude, think how our new standards are affecting life in the US. Rape, physical assault, and attitudes about what’s normal have been changed immensely in just the last 20 years. Just one generation ago, prostitutes weren’t allowed to wear in public what our precious children now wear to the mall, restaurants, or even church!

When parents stop caring how provocatively their children dress or what their children consider “decent,” their children will go as far as they can … then allow their children to go even further. That’s your grandkids I’m talking about now!

“B-b-but,” you stammer, “what can I do about it? She’s practically a grown woman! I don’t have any right to criticize her, do I?”

In Deuteronomy 4:9, we’re instructed, “Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.”

In other words, you are to tell your kids what you’ve learned about the results of being too loose and unconcerned about your body, morals, or reputation. You, yourself will suffer from how your children display themselves in public, because anyone who sees your daughter running around nearly naked is going to place most of the blame on you for the way you brought her up and what you didn’t teach her. You will be judged by how you have raised your kids … you know that. You feel it every time your kids throw a fit in public and everyone’s eyes swing from the kids to you.

Then, there’s the repercussions on the kids, themselves (and your grandchildren, too). Jeremiah 5:7-10 says: 

“How can I pardon you? For even your children have turned from me. They have sworn by gods that are not gods at all! I fed my people until they were full. But they thanked me by committing adultery and lining up at the brothels.  

8 They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.

9 Should I not punish them for this?” says the LORD. “Should I not avenge myself against such a nation?

10 “Go down the rows of the vineyards and destroy the grapevines, leaving a scattered few alive. Strip the branches from the vines, for these people do not belong to the LORD

Wow! What a clear picture of our kids today! They’ve been given everything, but they’ve turned their backs on everything we know and should have taught them to respect! “Well-fed, lusty stallions” indeed! Doesn’t that sound like the boys strutting around demanding respect they’ve not earned?

And then God almost cries out His frustration over how our kids act (and don’t you feel it, too?) “Shouldn’t I punish them for acting out so badly?”

Don’t you owe it to your kids to warn them what they’re doing to you and themselves and to their children? Whose responsibility is it to teach them right from wrong, if not yours? And who will have to deal with the results of their falling away from the standards that helped raise them? 

One last point: The time to teach your adult children right from wrong is Now. Proverbs 22:6 says

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Start with your preschool kids, teaching them modesty. Continue into elementary and middle school, guiding them to wear decent clothes, not the latest fads that try to turn little girls into adults too soon. And keep after them as teens to act in a way they will be proud to look back on as they grow up. 

Whether they’re your biological or your stepkids, you are the ones responsible to demonstrate a good example. As a stepdad, I wasn’t directly held responsible for how my stepdaughter looked and acted, but I had the opportunity to guide her toward how she should act and what she should expect from boys she dated.

If it’s tough – it’s just part of parenting and stepparenting. But you’ll be proud of them later on when they continue to live the way you’ve taught them.

God bless y’all!

STEPcoach, Bob Collins

Mother’s Day? Again?!

Among stepmoms I know, this is a very unpopular holiday. If you’re reading this, you probably agree with them.

Mother’s Day was instituted in 1914 when President Wilson agreed to Anna Marie Jarvis’s request for a national holiday to honor the mothers who were raising America’s next generation of citizens. She regretted her decision many times before she died in 1948, saying, “wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control …”

And, if you’re a stepmom who works hard all year long to help take care of your stepchildren, only to be ignored on Mother’s Day – you probably agree with Jarvis!

Face it, if you married a man who had children from a previous relationship in the hope you’d get the love and affection of a mother, you were nuts! The vast majority of stepchildren (God bless ’em!) can’t even remember your name on Mother’s Day, much less to get you a card or candy or some freakin’ flowers!

But they sure remember their biological mom, don’t they? You know, that woman who whines and gripes about having to allow their dad any time at all with them; who never seems to remember to send the right clothes when they do get to visit; and who refers to you as “that woman” when she even acknowledges all you do for her kids! She may send them over dirty, hungry, and hopped up on high fructose corn syrup, but to them, she’s the only woman in their lives.

How many loads of laundry have you done for her kids? How many meals have you cooked? How many times have you tucked them in and kissed them good night? And how many times have you told them you love them … only to get no thanks for any of it?

Mother’s Day! Bah humbug!

After all, you signed up for cards and candy and flowers, didn’t you? Didn’t you?

What? That’s not why you married into this hillbilly clan?

Oh, yes. That’s right. You joined them because you were in love with their daddy, and you didn’t mind that he brought along some “baggage.” You came into this family with your eyes wide open, your arms outstretched, and your heart full of love.

And that love is still there. Somewhere behind the sticky jelly sandwiches, the smelly clothes, and the shrugs of partial acceptance.

That’s what Mother’s Day is all about for stepmoms. I hope you get a pretty card, a box of sweets, and a beautiful bouquet of flowers. But if you don’t – and most of you won’t – I hope you can remember that your love for them far surpasses the trite little gifts they may give to their bio-mom. Your love goes all the way through their daddy to their needs and their tears you help dry.

You are the glue Anna Marie Jarvis and President Wilson had in mind when they were trying to commemorate the ones who nurture our children, who shape our future. You are the picture of Christ’s love to children who might reject and resent it, but who need it to overcome their wounds from their parents’ divorce. And you are the one who they will remember one day as loving them no matter what they said or didn’t say.

So happy Stepmother’s Day to you dear, strong ladies. God bless you for your dedication, your courage, and for your love.

God bless y’all,

STEPcoach Bob Collins

STEPparenting LETTER: Invisible to the Ex??

In a new post to our newsletter members, I answered a member’s question who felt like he was “Invisible to the Ex?? or: What Am I, Chopped Liver?
Here’s what I wrote:

A new member to the group (Welcome!!) writes:

How do you handle it when your spouse’s ex won’t even look at you, acknowledge you or talk to you in anyway?

Well, I know how many of our members would answer this question … With cart wheels! or champaign! or some sort of celebration. Frankly, I hear much more about ex-es who acknowledge our members TOO much, from direct insults, to cutting them down to the kids, to snide remarks over the phone. But there are plenty with this same problem who feel the icy glare or the cold shoulder that says, “you’re not worthy of my time or any of my attention.”

And, while you didn’t exactly marry your sweetheart to get close to her ex-spouse, those blank stares can leave you feelings pretty worthless and low!

A couple questions I’d ask the writer are, how long have you been married to your current spouse? and has the ex always been like this or is this something new?

First, if you’ve been married less than a year of two, it’s fairly normal to still get a cold shoulder from your “new ex.” It takes most folk a little while to get past the fact that the person they were once married to is now married to someone else. Although their own marriage relationship may be completely over (or it may not be TOTALLY over in their mind), the historical fact that they once were part of your new spouse is enough to keep those confusing thoughts alive. It can take two or even three or four years for an ex to accept the fact that their once-and-only has moved on.

One thing I’ve noticed is that when an ex becomes involved in a new relationship themselves, they can suddenly become much more accepting of their ex’s progress. Something about jealousy or maybe even competition makes it more understandable when they’ve both moved on. So you might find yourself hoping that ex finds love for themselves!

However, if you were on decent terms with the ex, and that relationship has suddenly turned sour, ask yourself if you’ve done something to offend them. Not that you probably have, but that’s just the easiest place to start. Think back honestly and see if you were out of sorts at some point and maybe snapped at them unintentionally. You may simply need to apologize to mend the fence.

Or they may have ended a relationship, as I was talking about before, and that makes them envious of your happiness with their ex. In that case, and if you can find out for sure that’s what happened, sympathy might patch up the break.

Whatever the cause, it is always (always!) in your best interest to do all you reasonably can to maintain a good working relationship with your spouse’s ex, as well as your own. These people may seem like the enemy or an outsider, but they are vital parts of your life. And they will be as long as your spouse and they have children alive together … and grandchildren.

My whole stepfamily gave a sigh of relief when I made nice with my wife’s ex-husband. When he and I could speak civilly over the phone, or shake hands at custody exchanges, everyone’s life was made easier. Tensions between ex-es and spouses can lead to bitterness and battles you don’t want to get into. If they are your enemy, they can infect vacation plans, date nights, child visits, child support exchanges, and … well, pretty much every aspect of your new marriage.

Is that fair? Not really. Is it normal? Very much. Whenever you marry someone who has children with someone else, you should fully expect that child’s other parent to take a strong interest in you and your part in helping raise their child. The huge importance of building a secure relationship between divorced moms and dads is why I wrote Guiding Your Children through Your Divorce . This is a vital foundation upon which your whole future will rest. It pays you to get it right!

And nothing can give a stepchild more reason to accept you into their heart than seeing both parents also accepting you.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

P.S. Feel free to write with your own stepparenting questions and I’ll answer them here! You find many answers in our primary guidebook, Improving Your Stepfamily in 12 Steps , in our online bookstore .

5 Surprising Ways to Improve Your Marriage in 2011

For me, 2010 was a year of personal discovery.
Mr. Right and my two step kids came along for the ride.
We accomplished some awesome personal goals. We found and donated a meteorite. We dealt with heartache on a level you may never understand if you are not divorced or raising kids from a previous marriage.
At times, we felt anger, fear and resentment toward each other.
But not more than we felt happiness, love and contentment.
The scales tipped in our favor.
With the end of year near, I wanted to share some things that improved my marriage in 2010. When I sat down to write this post, I realized the improvements didn’t directly involve Mr. Right. While things like date nights, having sex and communication no doubt improve a marriage, the things that really made a difference were much more unique.
All of the ideas on this list helped us grow – both as a couple – and as individuals.
Today, we are deeper in love.
And here’s a bold statement, but a true one:
We are happier today than we were on our wedding day.
Why? Because we’ve each made an effort to take the bad in life and improve it. Which has affected everything –  our marriage, our kids, ourselves.
Here are five surprising ways to improve your marriage and inspire those around you:

Get out of debt.

This year, we finally did it. With the final car payment made, we demolished our $42,000 debt snowball. Besides our mortgage, we are completely debt free; for the first time since we met, we have money in savings. That’s an amazing feeling.
Don’t be deceived – the process to get out of debt wasn’t easy. At times, we argued. The kids asked, “Are we poor now?” There were months we totally blew our budget.
The good news is – it’s possible. Even if you’re a twit about money, like me. Learn more by reading:
The Married Money Management series by Dustin @Engaged Marriage.
Get Out of Debt with the Debt Snowball Plan by Dave Ramsey.

Quit your day job.

Before you jump to conclusions about this tip, hear me out.
This June, I quit my day job. Up until then, our family lived within a whir of constant chaos. We were stressed out, burned out, used up.  We were doing a lot of things, but nothing very well.
By getting out of debt, we were able to downsize our lifestyle to live on one income. This let me opt out of the rat race to be at home. Now, I work on freelance projects while the kids are at school.
When they come home, I switch into mortar mode – taking care of the homework, teacher’s notes, dinner and cleaning up before Mr. Right even walks through the door.
It’s improved our life in a major way. We’re all a lot less stressed.
Here’s the post that made me believe I could quit.

Try minimalism.

Getting out of debt and living a downsized lifestyle are related to minimalism. If you’ve never learned about it but want to try, my advice is to start small.
For instance, I’m just wrapping up a minimalist clothing experiment myself. The idea was to wear only 33 items for 3 months. My take on it?
I like it.
A lot.
I’ll never go back to my bloated closet again. Sometime in January, I’m giving away most of the clothes I now realize I don’t need or use.
If you want to learn more about how to minimize areas of your life, read:
The Dress with Less Challenge by Courtney Carver
A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home by Leo Babauta
101 Physical Things That Can Be Reduced In Your Home by Joshua Becker

Each week, go on a digital sabbatical.

Instead of spending the weekend trolling Facebook, zoned out to another reality TV show or Tweeting – turn it all off and actually live your life. Be present with your kids. Talk to your spouse. Hear your own thoughts. Disconnect from distraction at least once a week and notice how peace descends.

Shrug off the burden of doing it all.

This world is filled with pressure.
Pressure to be skinny, pressure to get kids involved, pressure to be happy.
I felt it all the time before some of the changes above. I pushed myself to be productive. My house was spotless. My schedule, tightly packed.
I was also stressed to the max, irritable and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Now, I’m still productive. I still take on a lot. Instead, I get to choose what to carry. I’ve shrugged off the world’s burden of doing it all.
My message to you is simple, just like the title of this blog.
If you want a better marriage, do things that improve your life and future. If you’re unhappy, get off the couch and do something about it. I’m not saying that to be mean or arrogant, though it might sound that way. I’m telling you this because years ago, a certain girl I know really needed to hear it. Maybe you need to hear it now.
New year, new you?
You decide.

Melissa is a step mom, wife, editor, columnist and laundry fairy who decided to focus on amazing work this year by doing what she loves: writing. She hopes to inspire others through her blog, Peace & Projects, by sharing what makes her tick: fitness, organizing, simplifying, loving, learning and getting stuff done. She and Mr. Right are dedicated to making their blended family work for almost eight years now. So are: Little Boy, Little Girl and The Dog. Read her full bio here.