Q: Our family schedules are always crazy, but the past year has made it worse. Whether I'm working from home or go to the office, I often don't finish until at least 6 p.m. Then I have to fix dinner while the hungry crew waits impatiently -- or just does their own thing. How can we make family meals a priority when we're all so busy?
Jim: Start by acknowledging that as a working mom with a busy family, you're not positioned to serve up the kind of family dinners your great-grandmother produced. That's OK. Don't give up; just change your strategy -- approach the problem from a different angle.
Remember that shared meals don't always have to happen at dinnertime or during the busy working week. Sometimes that's just not realistic. You'll be on the right track if you can manage three family meals a week. And you can achieve this if you're willing to adjust your plan to include weekends and other mealtimes. A little creativity and ingenuity can compensate for your lack of time.
One way to do this is to prepare a large number of meals beforehand. Numerous cookbooks and websites offer practical tips for planning and preparing meals "in bulk," such as the Once-A-Month Cooking series by Mary Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson. You may also want to look at subscription-based services offering customized meal plans, recipes and correlated shopping lists; this can take much of the stress out of food prep so you can focus on the relational aspect of mealtimes.
If you don't want to get involved in planning that far ahead, you may be able to simplify things just by changing your ideas about dinner. The evening meal doesn't have to be a big production. The point is to have some family time around the table.
Q: My wife is a beautiful woman. She doesn't need makeup, but when we go out, she wears too much (in my view) and hides her innate beauty. I've tried to drop subtle hints that she's prettier with less, but she's not getting it. Should I keep my mouth shut or be more direct?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: My friend, you'd be wise to tread VERY lightly here. Matters of appearance are highly personal decisions -- for both men and women -- and they're tied closely to our sense of identity. Furthermore, while honesty is essential in a marriage, it's also critical to respect boundaries and your mate's feelings.
So, when dealing with delicate issues like this, first determine what the real issue is. In your case, that means you need to carefully examine YOUR motives. Is the energy here about your own preferences or how your wife's appearance makes you feel? Or are you truly seeking her best interest: trying to encourage her in how she feels about herself, or helping her understand how others may be misperceiving her?
If an honest assessment points the finger back at yourself, I'd strongly recommend you keep your opinions to yourself -- unless your wife asks for or invites them. If she does, limit your feedback to positive reinforcement, highlighting those things about her appearance that you appreciate.
On the other hand, if she's shared with you some doubts or insecurity about her clothes or makeup, you might gently offer some suggestions -- again, primarily affirming the things she already does that you find attractive. Make sure to compliment her when she isn't wearing makeup. If she expresses an interest in a session or two with a beauty consultant, gladly foot the bill as your unconditional gift to her. Bottom line: Value and guard the beauty of your wife's heart above all else.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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