Togetherness

The family that _________ together, stays together!

Is it possible to fill that blank with just about anything? Well, barring any illegal activities… yes, it is!

There have been many versions of the saying through the years, and in fact I think it started as ‘The family that prays together stays together’. While this saying may have started out as a slogan to get families to church, I find it has much more meaning when you look at the word ‘together’.

You would think the emphasis should be on the activity the family does, however, I think it’s more important to be together. This isn’t meant to minimize the effect prayer has, but rather to take a look at togetherness in the family setting.

The family that cooks together, stays together!

When I was a child, we were exiled from my mother’s kitchen. Anyone that dared to traipse in there looking for a snack would have to answer to the guardian of all our food, my mother. I frequently have to explain to my mother, that I don’t have time to guard food. I put the best choices I can in easy reach, and hope for the best. It is demoralizing when I have to throw away wilted salad, and then vacuum up debris from chips they got into while I was busy, but I try to remember that more often then not the salad bowls are in the sink to wash, and the chips are still in the cupboard!

When you start to have a larger family, food preparation time can really eat into your schedule. So why do it alone? I like to prep vegetables at the kitchen table, where my two-year-old can always be found. He always is curious about what I’m doing and we have fun naming each item and their color. It also helps me be more mindful of my selection of veggies! If he says “Green!” three times in a row, I know I need to get some more colors into my veggie diet.

Of course, there are endless blog posts about food creations you can make with your kids, in fact I have one myself! Play with Your Food was a post I did last year with Halloween food crafts. But what these posts don’t tell you is the finished product isn’t always so pretty, as the nice pictures bloggers put into their posts, and afterwards, the kitchen is a huge mess. I actually remember taking pictures for that post at such an angle that readers would be able to see the huge mess the kids had made. Although I did mention the mess in a post later that month, about Being Present in the Moment. Maybe, this year, in an effort to be more transparent, I’ll include the mess in my blog pictures, so people will know what they are getting themselves into when they decide to cook with their kids.

One thing I can’t show you in a picture, is the pride my kids have, as they grow older and are able to (and do!) make better food choices for themselves. With the knowledge of how to prepare food, they are given more to choose from than just whatever plastic bag they can rip into. Plus, it becomes an activity that brings them fond memories of their early childhood and time together with us, their parents.

The family that eats together, stays together!

Many people don’t even have time to ponder if sit-down meals bring a family closer together, never mind actually have one. With all the schedules of parents and children’s after school activities, it sometimes seems impossible to get everyone under the same roof, forget about getting them to the same table. But I am a supporter of the family sit-down meal.

When children are small, it is mostly on you to clear enough room in your schedule for a sit-down meal each day. If you don’t, you not only rob your children of time with you, interacting unfettered by the outside world distractions, you rob yourself! We spend so much time doing the less than pleasant part of parenting, it is a really nice change to just slow down and take your children in for a moment. How big they are getting, how much they have learned and what thoughts run through those little minds.

When the kids get older, it becomes more difficult to find that slice of time when everyone can sit down. I remember that my mother somehow made it work, and there was an 18-year age span between the four of us. So, when I started school, my brother was graduating and going to college, and my little sister had just been born. When we all got older, my mom still made us sit down for dinner at least once a week. And I adore her for it. I can recall the enthusiastic way my dad and brother would discuss New England sports, and how my sister and I, only 4 years apart, would kick each other under the table, and then my younger sister would say something adorable and everyone would stop and say “Awwww, how sweet.”

Of course, you can only remember these things if there are no phones at dinner, and although back then, it just meant you would let the phone ring, or later, let the fancy new answering machine pick it up, it’s the same concept. No phones at dinner!

The family that cleans together, stays together!

All this cooking and eating makes a huge mess, of course, and it’s why so many chose not to do it. It takes less time to get through the dinner routine if you don’t pull out all the stops. I mean, for some of you, as you read through the last two sections were already picturing your kitchen sink with plates, pots and pans, the floor and table covered with food and not enough energy to deal with that.

When you have a heavy load, it’s always easier when you have some help. Plus work aids in digestion. So, we all clean it up together. Someone takes the baby and cleans him up, someone else put away the leftovers, while another cleans the table and floor. In 10 minutes we have the whole mess cleaned up and everyone can relax. I have never had a meal cleanup last longer than 15 minutes. I know you may think that’s impossible, it takes forever to do all that work, but in reality, it just doesn’t take that long.

I have many friends that clean the house themselves, to avoid the long, inevitable, drawn out task of getting their kids involved in the effort. Even older children can break out the toddler tantrums when you ask them to do chores. So, I use the same tactic I use with my toddler when I want him to eat something, I make them pick between two things I want to happen. Then I just do the other one and my work has been cut in half. I will warn those that are very particular about how chores are done, you may find yourself going behind your children and re-doing the task up to your standard, but don’t use that as an excuse to skip having them so it. When children see what it takes to keep the house nice and tidy, they appreciate you more. Plus they’ll live on their own someday, and they won’t be able to say that you never taught them how to clean!

The family that games together, stays together!

You begin to see that anything that your family does together can have benefits for your family and strengthen your bond, but what about broadening your horizon, and getting into your kid’s turf for a little bit. My parents never had video games, in Ireland, they were lucky to have much at all, but I got into gaming in college, and now I play with my kids. The games they have are very different from what was available to me, and most of the games, I really can’t see myself playing. But I do play Minecraft with the younger kids and last weekend, we started a action role playing game called Diablo, with the older kids. While they saw it as a chance to show off their superior gaming skills, my husband and I used it as an opportunity to teach team work. With four players on the screen, you need to work together to accomplish the game’s goals. Not only that, but you have to sometimes sacrifice for the team. It is obvious that the other games they play teach them to grab all the loot and horde it for themselves. But in Diablo, your team is stronger if you support each other by sharing loot with the team, so that each player has the best statistics for game play.

It’s great for families to do things together, and you don’t need things to be perfect to spend time with your kids. Other things we do together include working out and vegging out in front of the TV; Being super productive and finishing a big project and being super lazy and doing nothing all day. Any and all of these things are opportunities to spend time with your family. Then, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to use the bathroom by yourself again!

What are some of the things your family does together?

 

 

 

 

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When Small Children Act Out

When children are small, every thing is a game to them. They are curious and like to test all the boundaries. When you take them to a place where this curiosity is encouraged, like a playground, it can be an awesome event to behold. But when you are in a situation where this curiosity is not supported, like to eating out at a restaurant or when you are on a tight schedule, it can wreck havoc with your life.

So, there are two things to consider here: how to prevent a situation where your child will act out, and what to do when you’ve failed to prevent it. Dealing with your child’s tantrums can be a major source of parents feeling inadequate. You could have it all together, and then your child screams in the grocery store and you suddenly feel judged by all the patrons.

So, the first thing to adjust, like in most cases, is your own attitude. While it may be your task to go about your business as an adult in an orderly fashion, it is your child’s job to test out their world and push their boundaries. Being able to recognize that your child is not trying to misbehave, or be counterproductive, they are trying to accomplish their own agenda, which can include items like investigating what happens when they pull the apple out of the bottom of the apple pyramid at the grocer, researching people’s reactions to them throwing their food in a restaurant and using trial and error to figure out how best to get you to buy them candy. So, all in all, they are just doing their job.

I believe that understanding this fundamental piece of information can go a long way to remove some of the negative emotion from when we fail to prevent a tantrum. When you understand it isn’t personal, you can begin to see how to engage in a way with your child that is more positive.

Now, as a precursor to this advice, please realize this will not help you get a toddler to behave through a marathon of adult activities. Children can only pay attention to so much throughout any given day. Marathon events can include things like weddings, flying on a commercial airliner, to their very own birthday parties. The fact of the matter is they don’t have the stamina we have, even though we may admire their energy. I will write another post about how I get my kids through those events, and believe me, it is possible.

So, without further ado:

How to prevent situations where you child will likely to act out:

Toddlers are extremely independent souls, that are oddly so dependent on you.  They want to do things by themselves, but they need your help to navigate our society. Balance can bring you leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. So, it follows that if you want your child to sit for a long period of time, have extra active time for them, because children are filled with energy, and that energy has to go somewhere. Make a space for them to perform their experiments and make a mess. Make sure they have a proper appetite at meal time, by limiting pre-meal snacks.

Often we may take the easy route, like hand them a snack to keep them out of our hair while we make dinner, but then how is that same child supposed to focus on their dinner when they have no appetite. Without that focus, you have basically handed them a plate full of projectiles and squishy experiment projects. The easy route leads us down a path to our own detriment. It may be easier to let the child take a longer nap so we can finish our house chores before we go out, but you are then leaving the house with a fresh child ready to terrorize the world.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Plan your child’s day as you would your own, and plan your day with your child in mind. How about an example?

Let’s say on any given weekend, I need to do 4 loads of laundry. I can schedule my day in any number of ways, but some favor more time saving for myself and other schedules prioritize positive interactions with my kids.

As a busy adult, it would seem to make sense to get the laundry over and done with as quickly as possible. At my quickest, I could finish all 4 loads in 3 hours in all. Run down to the basement, start a load, it’s easy, right? But when I go downstairs, my toddler always wants to come with. So, while I may be able to get the washing machine loaded quickly when I do it on my own, 9 times out of 10 I come back upstairs to a toddler tantrum. So, this works out to 5 minutes to load the machine and 25 minutes to calm the child and get them back to their activities.

Instead, I can take him downstairs with me. It may take me 20 minutes to load the machine, but I’m still saving 10 minutes and I’ve been able to have some teachable moments. Toddlers love to explore and going down the basement steps is good practice. Anyone with stairs in their home, will know all too well how much energy is expended in keeping stairs secure from exploring toddlers. At least, I feel if my littlest was to somehow access the stairs without my knowledge, that he is physically able to get up and down them and is less likely to have an accident, than if he had no experience with them. When I separate the clothes, I can teach him his colors, or let him feel the fabrics (this is smooth, that is rough) building his vocabulary.

Also, it is important for us to keep the outcomes of our toddler’s actions in perspective. I needed to walk our two dogs, and once again I was faced with doing the quick adult way, or slowing my pace to incorporate my toddler. So, I let him come along and he presented me with a challenge. HE wanted to hold the leash. One of our dogs is less than 10 pounds, so I knew he was strong enough to do it, but what would happen if he couldn’t? The dog could pull loose and run away.

Now, I use a leash to keep my dog from running away. But if I’m honest, the toddler is the only person that hasn’t accidentally let the dog loose, simply due to a lack of opportunity. So, if he were to let the dog run off, it would be no worse than any number of times I had lost the dog. Our small dog, is a Pomeranian, and she will come when she is called. So, I handed my 22 month old the leash with confidence, and he didn’t let me down.

So, it really comes down to making space in our busy modern lives for these little ones. So then, what about when you’ve done all this to accommodate your small child, but then they throw a tantrum anyways.

System Failure. Child Tantrum Imminent. Now What?

You’re at the bank, and you are using this as a moment to teach your toddler numbers, but they get upset. The denominations of the currency doesn’t match the numbers they learned on Sesame Street. 2 comes after 1, not 5. Where is the $2 bill? You try to explain, but it’s too late. Unless you can produce that $2 bill now, a full blown tantrum is on it’s way. Your child is already raising their voice in excitement.

At this point, the energy has already built up in their tiny little bodies, and now it needs to be released. Whatever it was that has pushed them over that edge, keep in mind that you can’t bring them back from the edge they just flung themselves from, the energy release has already begun. Your job now is to limit the stimulus your child is experiencing. So get them into a calm quiet environment and ride it out.

Remember that they can’t keep up that amount of energy required for kicking and screaming, so soon they will calm. Once you reach this break, don’t introduce new stimulus to the situation, or they will act up immediately. I see this happen sometimes with my husband, when our little one wants a toy, and he can’t find it. The baby proceeds to have a fit, and as soon as he stops to catch his breath, my husband will present the previously missing toy. The baby will erupt once again.

Keep in mind that it probably wasn’t the toy that pushed the baby over the edge, maybe he was tired, or hungry or had a a dirty diaper and the missing toy only provided a catalyst to release the pent up energy he felt about the situation.

Don’t feel bad about your hasty retreat if this happens in public. These things happen. I’ve had meals hastily boxed up so we could quickly leave a restaurant, or even laid in the bedroom in the dark with my son, so he could calm down.

What have you found has helped with keeping your small children from acting out?

Just Say YES!

To keep your sanity, just say NO YES!!

There are many sources of advice on how to say “No.” An internet search will pull up many tips and hints on how to say no to people to lower your stress and increase your productivity. I’m going to tell you the opposite – just say YES!

With the myriad of things each day we have to do, choose to do or do because we finally have two minutes of down time, it is important to limit how thin you spread yourself. Only, that isn’t what people are doing. We end up saying no to family time and yes to more work.

I’m not economy expert, but I can see people happy to still have a job, while they watched coworkers laid off or forced into early retirement. It certainly doesn’t seem like a good time to ask for that vacation time off, does it? Sometimes, the work of those that have gone is foisted upon you, as the positions at your job go unfilled.

So, when you shuffle on home at the end of the day, you just need to relax. We’ve been told, letting stress build up is no good for your health. So, you have to take action to control your stress. Maybe you workout to combat stress. Maybe you eat your feelings. Whatever your plan (or non-plan) may be, you have your routine to keep your sanity. So, when your family asks you to change that, it is understandable why you might get a little nervous and cling to your routine with a resounding “No.”

Work commute

Even though this is part of my commute, I still need to de-stress when I get home from work.

All work and no play makes Supermom a dull girl. It’s a good thing I’m not yet Supermom, because I can set my routine aside and get me some yes.

If you follow my blog, you may know I’ve been suffering some leg pain, and recently was told I have a bone tumor in my femur. So, when my husband asked me out of the blue to go for a walk with him one evening after work, I definitely had a valid excuse. When I opened my mouth to answer him, “Yes.” came out instead. It wasn’t a long walk and we didn’t break a sweat, but I had a chance to connect with my husband, which I would have missed out on had I declined his invitation.

My 12-year-old suddenly emerged from his room, which is a rare circumstance indeed, and asked if he could watch TV with me. I had too much to do to play couch potato in the middle of the afternoon, he must see how busy I am. “Sure.” As we watched one of his favorite shows, he started telling me about the people on the show. Then we ended up having a conversation about his future, and that he may not want to go to the regular high school, here in our town. Even though all his friends will be going there, he thinks he wants to go to the Technical High School. Now, we could have discussed this later, he has the rest of this year and next school year to decide. But I was there for him, and now we both know that when he needs a sounding board, I’ll be there for him.

I am by no means a superfan of sports, but I like cheering for the local teams, and this time of year that means watching Patriot’s games. (I love the Bruins, but the channel their games is broadcasted on, is not in our cable package, BOO COMCAST!). Then, the baby indicated he wanted to explore outside. The sun was going down, and it would be getting cool. I was all comfy, settled in to watch the game. Don’t I deserve some “Me” time?

Instead, I said “Okay.” and outside we went, where this happened:

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Maybe that isn’t so much, but I bet it meant something to him, more than looking at the leaves through the glass door, or hearing me cheer for the Patriots. Then something even better happened. My husband came outside to join us and snapped this picture of me and the baby:IMG_0923

That’s my hubby’s finger in the upper right hand corner, but who cares? I love this picture. And all I had to do was say “Yes.” So, go out there and get yourself all of the Yes you can squeeze in.

What did you say yes to today?

Ready to Try Again

When I suffered my miscarriage back in the summer, the question hung in the air; Would my husband and I like to try to conceive again?

This was a hard thing to think about while I dealt with my grief. I felt like there would be time later to decide this. Then we got the all clear from my doctor. We are physically able to try to conceive. But am I prepared mentally?

The miscarriage shattered the world I lived in previously. In that world, nothing bad could happen, I was a super pregnancy unicorn. With my first son, I was very sick and lost 30 lbs., due to my nausea. I couldn’t keep anything down. Somehow, he managed to grown to a whopping 9.5 lbs! I don’t know how I did it, but I did. With my second son, I was scared of giving birth. I was 11 years older and not in the great shape I was in at 25 years old. Would I be strong enough? Apparently, I was too strong, as I barely got into my first good push and the doctor yelped “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” – the baby was already out!

So, I felt like I was made to have babies. It just seemed to go well for me. Extreme nausea aside, most people didn’t even realize I was pregnant until I was almost due. My tall frame made for plenty of room for little ones to grow.

Back in the summer, in that doctor’s office, with no heartbeat to be found, I just knew it must be something wrong with the equipment. Things just work out for me, this couldn’t happen to me.

But it did happen.

Now, we have to decide if we want to try again. We are certain we want another child, but now the worries are around every corner. I am fallible.

The questions are many and none are productive thoughts. “What if it happens again?” “What if we struggle to get pregnant?” “What if the doctor missed something?” “Can I stand to go through that again?”

To dwell on negative thoughts such as these is not helpful, but they creep into your mind, and you can’t help it. Before, I would just assume things would be fine, but now, I know better. Things can go awry, for apparently no reason. But it’s in that fact that I find my hope to push past the negative fears in my head.

There was nothing I could have done to save my baby.

So, going forward, I can only do my best, and hope that we will be blessed once again with good news. I will use my fear to motivate me to a healthier state, both physically and mentally. Because to let my fear paralyze me will cause me to miss out on what’s to come.

If It Happened to You

Increasingly, I have seen more news articles regarding a student getting in trouble at school for the way they look. From haircuts to exposed collarbones, students are being brought to task for being “distracting” to the other students. So, I began to think about how I would react, if this were to happen to my child.

Just reading the articles, I have been outraged by the stories of girls sent home, or made to wear “shaming” outfits, that spell out their dress code violation. Some of the outfits depicted would have been the most tame in my high school in the ’90s. It all reads very much like The Scarlet Letter – girls made to publicly shame themselves, because their all too alluring legs, cleavage or even collarbones are distracting their classmates. I just can’t fathom how this become something that is really happening in 2015!

I count myself lucky to have all boys. Until you see children being reprimanded for having mohawks, military style buzz cuts or for items printed on their t-shirts. (It’s weird that boy’s collarbones are not deemed too distracting for the classroom… hmmm?)

On top of this, my son’s junior high school has a dress code that only permits khakis, dress pants, button down plain shirts or plain polo shirts. Not even stripes are allowed! (These kids are easily distracted if stripes will do them in!) The initial investment into sound pieces at the beginning of the school year seemed more than worth it to not have to deal with arbitrary “distracting” styles dress codes. Just purchase what is on the list, in the colors allowed, and you can’t go wrong.

So, assume that you, as any normal supermom would, have put a lot of thought into what your child will and will not be allowed to wear. You have approved their haircut, and deemed their school wardrobe as fit for an educational setting. Then, the phone rings and the school has taken issue with your child’s style. What now?

Your first step should be to find out all the details of the school’s complaint against your child’s style. You should definitely request the school’s complaint in writing. If you are asked to come and pick up the child, be sure that you get all the facts before leaving school grounds. It always seems that facts can be muddled after the fact, so be sure you have the issue given to you in the most specific way possible. In my son’s school, students are not allowed to tie their shirts around their waist, so the issue may not be the clothes you bought, but how your child chose to wear it.

Misunderstanding of this nature can be clear up by explaining the dress code to your child again, and asking them to not alter their outfits in a manner not keeping with the dress code. But what if the school staff is not specific about the problem. All too often schools are getting away with reprimanding a student for being “too distracting”. How can you work with such a subjective complaint?

The answer is documentation. School administration tend to be some of the more litigation leery people to interact with. We trust them with our most precious children, and people expect a lot from our educators these days. Sometimes, documentation is all that is required to clear the problem up for school administrations. If you send a letter discussing why your child’s style is important, and should not be excluded from the dress code, they may drop the issue. Parents of the 7-year-old with the mohawk sent a letter from their tribal leader, discussing the haircut as traditional for Native Americans.

I think that in some of these cases, you have to stand up for your child’s right to express themselves and not be censored. If you can not win against the school by making your case with letters and supporting documentation, you may have to get the law on your side.

If your stance is going to be your child’s constitutional right to free speech (via their hairstyle or clothes) here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The courts recognize a student’s rights to free speech. However, they also back the school’s right to control behavior by way of a dress code, so long as they have not set the guidelines for the purpose of censorship.
  • Your child’s expression cannot cause a disruption in the educational process. On the flip side, the school policy can not overly restrict the student’s freedom beyond what is required to meet the educational interests of the school.

If you have questions about whether or not your child’s school policy infringes on your child’s constitutional rights, you may wish to consult an education attorney that can advise you on the specific laws in your state. Keep in mind that there are specific forms of discipline that have been banned in schools in the U.S. These include humiliation and demeaning forms of discipline, like the dunce cap or writing repeated sentences. Some could argue that the dress code sweatpants are akin to the dunce cap.

Contacting an attorney may seem like a leap, but you should always know what your (and your child’s) rights are. That’s what I would do, if it happened to me.

You Are Enough

What does happy look like to you? Right now, you may be thinking of things that you need to get done and goals you want to accomplish. I remember when I was younger, thinking that I would be happy when… queue list of unobtainable standards. Once I looked like Cindy Crawford, I would be happy and could enjoy life. Once I had that car in the ad, my life would take off with possibilities. Until then, I would not allow myself to enjoy anything. Achieving your dreams is hard work, right?

I’m glad I dumped that way of thinking. It took the pressure off myself and it opened up opportunities I couldn’t see when I had my blinders on. I saw that I could obtain personal health, but I would never look like Cindy, I quit worrying about my status symbol car, picked up a $500 Chevy and was off to new places. Not allowing yourself to be happy while in pursuit of your goals is toxic.

Then I wondered if I’m still thinking the same way – only now, my unobtainable goal is being a supermom, and I have a million excuses why I am not or can’t be one.

Look around the internet and there is always a group that states their way is better and you’re doing it wrong. Some may be satirical (and hilarious!), but in the end, you have set the standard for yourself. For me, being a supermom means being pretty close to perfect. Since I feel nowhere near perfect, it perpetuates my view of my self as not yet supermom – a person who is striving to get there, but hasn’t quite met the criteria.

I do this to myself.

Part of my goals in writing this blog is to see all the effort I put into being a parent, so that I can have a more realistic view of how I’m doing. As I start to look at myself more objectively, I see that I expend an enormous amount of energy being a mom. When I’m physically present, actually caring directly for the kids, or when I’m on my break at work, and I’m looking for experiences we can enjoy as a family, I’m thinking about how to give them a childhood that will give them a leg up in adulthood.

Yesterday I told my husband that I’m not perfect. He immediately protested “Yes, you are!” and just that simple statement made me realize I am perfect, in a way. I’m the perfect person to take care of my family.

So whether the pressure on you comes from within or without, please realize that you are enough. You are the perfect person to care for your children and family. The fact that you are striving to be better shows how much you care.

In writing this post, I stumbled across #endmommywars, a movement to stop spreading judgement amongst moms and bring support to a group that needs it – parents. I also found this great post by one of the panel members, Erika Bragdon, you can find here. These are great tips to help with insecurity you may feel as a mother.

Remember to be kind to yourself. You are enough.

Also, add supermom to your dictionary:

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The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Preparing for Junior High School

Transitioning from class-centric format of grade school, into the realm of period scheduling is a big change and one that can be overwhelming. Kids need to make it to their next class on time, carry with them the supplies needed for their next class, remember locker combinations and handle the expectations of several teachers. But they can do it, and here is how you can help.

These practical skills will prepare them to be organized, independent and successful students in high school and on into college.

Study location: Designate a table or desk where your child always completes their homework. They will need a hard surface, so that they can complete their work neatly. Some people use their kitchen table, and that is fine, but I made sure that my son’s room had a small desk in it. It’s great for him, because he is easily distracted when around others, so the kitchen table may have too much stimulus for him to concentrate fully. Also, if homework time runs into dinner time, then your child has to put away their stuff, so you can eat at the table, and get it all back out afterward.

Schedule: Help your child to prioritize and plan their study session. To encourage your child, you can start with the easiest homework, leaving the hardest for last. This can backfire though, as your child grows more weary, the harder assignments become almost impossible. I worked with my son, and we came up with a great plan that works for him. Math first, as it’s his favorite subject, but is also the most time consuming. We leave his 30 minutes of reading each night for last, in fact, he normally takes his shower, crawls into bed and then does his reading. It makes the reading more enjoyable.

Staying on task: As I mentioned before, my son gets easily distracted. To be fair, our family isn’t really very conducive to studying right now. We have the 17 month old, who adores his older brother, wanting to play with him, and knocking on his door, something he’s just learned to do. Dogs that want to play in the evening, dinner time, chores to be done. It can be really distracting! You can use a timer for your child, is that visual will help them. I simply check on him while he studies. He uses his iPad for parts of his homework, so it just can’t be taken away, but he doesn’t need his phone, so I take that. I also take the headphones, so he doesn’t sneak and listen to music. To encourage his focus, I make sure that when he gets home, he doesn’t do homework first. He’s been in class studying all day! He takes the dogs for a walk, plays with his brother, plays his guitar, but he is not allowed to watch TV or play Xbox, as those activities can be huge time sucks!

Support: If your child has difficulty completing an assignment then reread the directions with them, and go over their class notes with them. My son’s school encourages our texting crazed children to use that technology to ask your classmates how they did the assignment. In the end though, if they tried for 30 minutes, and still are unable to complete the task, I simply send a note saying that my son tried, had difficulty, and probably needs a review. This is encouraged by his teachers because they want to know if something is going over their student’s heads. It is more important to get a good night sleep that to stay up late stressing!

Finally, just a word about school supplies. Children today have so much to carry around. My son likes to keep everything in his bag, that way he doesn’t forget anything and always has what he needs for class. Alternatively, if he can’t find it in his bag, he knows it’s good and lost. But I caution you to check how heavy your child’s bag is getting. Just because you bought a ream of paper for your kid for the year, doesn’t mean they have to carry around the whole ream. Only put into the binders the paper that is needed for the week. Keep folders and binders organized. Also keep pens, pencils and other supplies at home, so your child has less to lug around. I helped my son divide up his supplies, so that he has what he needs in his bag, and it’s not too heavy. I have encouraged him to organize his locker.

At some point, you just have to let them go forth and work it all out for themselves, but your guidelines will give them a starting point. have a great school year!

Sending Mixed Signals to Your Child

I was mad, and I was going to show it. “What I actually said was…”

I never got to finish what I was saying because just as my voice grew louder, aggravated by my husband’s inability to hear what I was saying, the baby decided to mimic me: “Argh-a-dada-ba-da!”

That is what I probably sounded like to my husband too. If I wasn’t so ashamed, I would have had to laugh. I just stared at the baby, who was unaware how his mocking me had affected me. He simply was copying what he was hearing, and what he heard was my yelling.

I have been more aware lately of the messages we are sending to our youngest family member. At just 17 months old, he is starting to pick up our ways of interacting and speaking to each other. I hardly want the baby to think it is okay to yell and scream at people. Lesson learned. For all of us. We keep our tone more docile now, and it’s nice that we aren’t all hollering to each other all over the house. Growing up, my family was like that. Someone would start a story, someone else would think that their story was better so they would interrupt the first person, being sure to speak more loudly to be heard. Before long, our nice family dinner would be all 6 of us talking as loud as possible with no one listening. This is a trait I never noticed about my family, until I left home for college and met other families, that conversed in a more civil manner.

I had a conversation with my husband about other poor habits we may be instilling in our little one. My husband loves to rough house with the boys – and we are a rowdy house of boys to be sure. One night, when my 10 year old stepson came to stay, the baby was so happy to see him, he swatted him in the face. I understand that I’m the lone girl in a house of boys, however, what happened next dismayed me. My husband and 12 year old son laughed. The baby thought it was great so he hit him again!

It may be easier for your older children to distinguish the nuances of these interactions. It seems ridiculous that such a sweet cherub would a) be vicious and/or b) hurt anyone with his baby smacks. But the baby doesn’t know why you’re laughing, he just knows he likes it. And he will see no reason why it wouldn’t bring laughter from you again – say at the park. With someone’s child. So, we all know the golden rule, if you don’t want your toddler to hit, don’t hit. If you don’t want them to yell, don’t yell. You also can’t laugh when they go off on their tirades of baby language gibberish, or swat at someone.

With that being said, are there mixed signals we send to the kids, that maybe aren’t so obvious? Normally, we think about this when children are small, since they seem to mimic all of our behaviors. What about older children? When I was growing up, my parents never drank coffee, instead opting for tea, as they were used to doing in Ireland. By the time my younger sister was entering high school, my mom had a cup a day, which she normally picked up from Dunkin Donuts. I don’t drink coffee, not ever. My sister, who moved to the West coast, now regularly gets Dunkin Donuts coffee sent to her via mail. Wherever we go, she is always on the hunt for a good cup of coffee.

Now maybe drinking coffee isn’t a big deal. If anything I feel freakish amongst my office mates when I divulge that I don’t drink coffee. But what about driving habits? My father taught all of us how to drive, including my mother. But we rode in the car with my mother the most. So, despite being taught very technical aspect of driver from a CDL license holder, I drove like my third-time-is-the-charm driving test flunking mother. Several speeding tickets in my youth and huge insurance rates finally broke my poor driving habits, although I still yell at other drivers, just like my mom.

As the children grow older, they become more attuned to your daily habits. Do you workout? Or are you a card-carrying member of the couch potato club? Do you make poor choices when deciding what to eat? Do you spend money frivolously? Do you take time to read? Really, it can be any habit – good or bad – that your child will pick up from you. There are many articles about smoking parents are more likely to have kids that smoke. I don’t think that I have ever seen a parent that would wish for their child to start a smoking habit.

When debating the role-model parenting style, many people wish to point out that some actions are things that adults do, like drinking alcohol, and are not meant for children. Therefore, as an adult, you should be free to do as you wish. I disagree for the main fact that even the adult things I do, I still try to be a role model. My parents drank socially, and many of my drinking habits come from what I watched them do as a child. I don’t drink alone, I don’t drink and drive, and I don’t get wasted. These come from distinctive childhood memories, seeing my parents drink responsibly.

Children can also learn a lot for you messing up, and when you do mess up, own it and apologize. So, instead of launching a much deserved tirade at my husband, who doesn’t listen, I apologized, lowered my voice and repeated what he hadn’t heard, several times. Maybe the baby will mimic my sweet apologetic tone when he get older and messes up.

In the meantime, I’ll just do my best supermom act, until I make it to supermom status.

Helping Children Achieve Goals

Sigh. “I need to save some money.”

My 12 year old is under a lot of stress. As we drive down the road, he tells me of his money woes. He feels the pressure to start gathering the funds he will need to own a car.

I feel I’ve been doing well teaching him about money, despite my recent stumble into debt myself, letting him know about saving, and the actual cost to things. Like insurance. Maybe he knows too much, to be thinking about his financial goals for 4 years from now. I am also proud he’s thinking of his financial future – 4 years from now!

My son’s paternal grandfather passed away when he was only 4 years old, but the two had a strong connection – cars. This child’s first word was “Vroom” followed swiftly by “Papaw”, the affectionate name he had for his grandfather. It was decided that Papaw’s ’95 Chevy Silverado and ’68 Roadrunner would be given to my son. Now, the truck has been kept on the road, and needs a new clutch. My son doesn’t think he will have any problem saving up the funds to get that fixed, in fact, he could probably do the repairs now with his money in his savings account. But the Roadrunner is another issue entirely. It’s a project rebuild car – that Papaw himself barely found time to work on. This summer, while at his Dad’s he worked on the car every chance that he had.

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He dug out all the chrome parts his Papaw had ordered for the car, and put them on the body. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’ll have to take them all off to paint the body, but he’ll figure it out. My son envisions a future (4 years from now) where this Roadrunner and his Papaw’s old truck sit shining in my driveway. He’ll be the envy of all the neighbors because he’ll have such spectacular vehicles. Affording this dream is his primary goal.

I gave him some plans to increase his income. His current saving account is filled with money from relatives in Birthday cards and extra chores he’s completed around the house. He knows how to mow – but mowing season will soon be over. He’s pretty handy with a snow shovel, and if this winter is anything like last winter, he could make a fortune! I also suggested he babysit – he is great with his little brother, knows how to change diapers, make bottles, and play appropriately with little children.

After thinking on his problem, I got some ideas, other than just increasing his income, that may help him get a handle on these big plans he has. What he needs is a project list. When I’m planning anything, I start with a project list and a budget. He should prioritize his two projects – the truck and the car – separately. In my opinion, the truck will be more likely to be put on the road, in a timeline acceptable to him. So, he needs to take a look at what parts the truck will require. Even these need to be prioritized, into items that are really needed, like the clutch and new tires, and those he wants, like fancy rims. How much does it cost to transfer the title? Register the truck? Insure it? How much gas is this guzzler going to drink?

Same for the Roadrunner. What parts of the car are currently viable? What needs to be replaced? After sitting in a garage since the 70’s, this car is going to need a lot of work. It may be something that he will work on through his twenties. He even admits that the project itself is more having something he and his dad can do together, which helps me to know that his ambitious dreams aren’t using all his brain power. He is reasonable enough to know the Roadrunner is a huge undertaking.

Maybe this is too much for a soon to be 13 year old to be worrying about. That thought certainly crosses my mind. These seem to be very grown-up concepts my son is trying to master, not just the financial, but mechanical too. But then again, if you know a pre-teen, motivation can be hard to find in their sulky little bodies. They seem to be made up of eye-rolls and sarcastic barbs for their parents. I certainly prefer his furthering his mechanical aptitude than playing Xbox all the time.

Also, this is a perfect chance to teach my son how he can achieve any goal he sets for himself. You see numerous articles all over the internet that teach you how to take your goal and break it into actionable steps. Each completed step brings you the confidence that you can reach that goal. You can apply this to pretty much any task you set for yourself: athletic training, financial goals, organizing, etc.

I sincerely hope he achieves his goals, despite these not being my first picks for my baby to drive when he gets his driver’s license. I thought my Camry would be a safer, more economical first car for him. But if he accomplishes what he has set out for himself, he will be the kind of responsible person that won’t be reckless behind the wheel, and will work hard for gas money, so he will be able to enjoy the spoils.

Electronics and Relationships

Put down your electronic device and just look at me.

Many people think this on a daily basis. You see Dear Abby columns about it and articles from doctors telling us to put down our phones and talk to our children. It’s everywhere these days.

I come from a close family with strong connections. It is interesting to me that we were able to become a close-knit family, since our addiction was not smartphones, but television. I clearly remember our family having t.v. time every evening as we would wind down from our day. When I was small, we would all cram into the living room at 8:00 p.m. to watch sitcoms and laugh together. Then, as television sets got cheaper, and cable entered the picture, 8:00 p.m. became the time for us to separate and go our own way. At its peak, my family would have 4 different televisions going, every night. My mother would watch some news program in the kitchen, my dad and brother would watch the game in the living room, and my sisters and I would watch our shows in the basement. If we really couldn’t agree on what to watch, we would beg our mother to use the t.v. in my parent’s bedroom.

I look at my family today, and see this same pattern, just different electronics. My 16-year-old stepson is attached to his phone, my 13-year-old plays XBox, my 10-year-old stepson can’t stop staring at his iPad, my husband plays PC games and I am still on the couch watching t.v. I’m embarrassed to admit how adept my 17 month old is at using Apple devices, and even knows which way to hold an XBox controller (they do watch you do everything). Asking any one person on this list to put down their respective electronics and spend time together is met with enthusiastic eye-rolling.

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How did I let this happen!? I didn’t even have cable for years, I thought it was a waste of money! And, I didn’t buy these electronics for the kids, they were given to them as gifts.

A supermom cannot let this stand. So, strategies have been developed to get these drones to disconnect from their screen, and connect with each other. Growing up, my family always had dinner together, every night at the table, and the t.v. was not allowed. We looked at each other and spoke about our days and what was going on in the world. This is how my family’s values were passed on to us kids. It is still my greatest tool. When I find that our busy schedules have spread us apart, I check our dinner plans. Have we been eating away from the table? That’s probably why. Time to get this train back on track.

Another tool moms love to use, is game night. My 10-year-old especially loves this. When we showed him how to play Monopoly for the first time, he found he had a certain knack for winning, and therefore it has been one of his favorite things to do. The others often start the game with sarcasm and bad attitudes, but once the dice are rolled, they seem to relax and the interaction begins.

Now that we are going into autumn, there are outings to be had at the local farms, picking apples or pumpkins, navigating corn mazes and shrieking at haunted houses. No, leave your phone in the car, you will not need it. Well, maybe you’d better bring yours mom, so you can take cute pictures of your family! Ones that don’t include little faces peering into screens.

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