Making the World a Better Place

The neighbors were having a gathering the other day, and all of the families had at least one child in the range of 6 – 16 years. Our little Schmee is only a couple months into being 4, so I was cautiously optimistic about how he would fit in with the group. He, however, felt confident that his wooden sword (a Vitamix stir stick circa 1980) would help his cause.

Making the world a better place, one neighborhood BBQ at a time

We’ve been in the neighborhood for only a few months now, so the activity has been quite subdued. The neighbors warned us about all the play activity that would start up as soon as school let out for the summer. Apparently a group of children, eight of them and counting and all boys, take over the neighborhood, marching the younger children in pick-up boot camp, fending off evil monsters and bad guys and generally keeping mayhem at bay.

What struck me most about this gathering was not necessarily the awesome food (these people can cook!), nor was it the feeling of being amongst old friends. It was the pure joy of watching a group of children with such a wide age range amongst them treat each other with respect. It was also the joy of being among adults who showed their respect not only for each other but for all the children, as well.

Sometimes we think of children as not being able to show compassion, understanding and empathy towards one another, and yet this group of children proved that presumption wrong. It’s no wonder that these children could play for hours on end with little to no arguing. They had superb role models: parents who really listened. And when there was something that needed worked out they helped the children talk through it. No blame was cast. No assumptions were made. So, when the children found themselves at odds and by themselves they, too, were able to listen to each other, talk about and solve the challenge at hand.

Does this really happen all the time? Was it just by chance I caught this glimpse of hope? I don’t know but I will say that Schmee found his niche. Among all the high-tech gadgets and gear the older boys had, it was Schmee’s “sword” that was the envy of the evening. It could have been the honesty that Schmee brought with him that allowed the other children to show him respect. It could have been the parents who show only the utmost care and interest for others. It could have been the delicious food. Most likely it was a combination of all these things and more that led to such positive relationships being developed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded,” and that seems fitting here. Perhaps if we could show others some respect, treat them with dignity, we might be better off for future generations. Why not start today, with our children?

Isn’t there an award for that?

It is hard for me to believe, but this week my daughter is finishing kindergarten. It seems like it was just yesterday we were nervously accompanying her to the first day of school. Now, we are anxiously awaiting her last!

There's lots of award ceremonies at the end of each school year... but what about mom and dad?!

On one hand, this has been a long, grinding year and on the other, it has gone by way too fast. As I reflected on Maddy’s first year of school, I have both laughed and cried. It is amazing to me the changes that have taken place in her over the school year. When she started, in many ways she was still just a baby. There was a lot of crying in the beginning and lots of frustration at not knowing how to do school work or how to fit in. Now, she is a confident young lady. There are still some occasional tears but overall I have seen her confidence soar academically, socially and emotionally.

And so to complete the kindergarten experience, I attended my daughter’s graduation ceremony this past week. To begin the ceremony, each child’s name was read and they received a diploma and a handshake from their teacher and principal. Every child received a warm round of applause from the audience. They did it! Next, children were recognized for their individual accomplishments in reading and math. Again, the children were applauded for the hard work and effort over the past school year. Lastly, there were a series of awards given out for things such as perfect attendance, artistry and creativity, penmanship, citizenship, the ability to tie one’s shoes, a “Principal’s Pick” and excellence in behavior. I am not making these up!

I won’t comment on the appropriateness of some of the later awards but, regardless, the ceremony, and the subsequent awards, started me thinking. There should be an end of the school year awards ceremony for parents! Some of the parent awards would be: successfully navigating the parking lot drop off and pick up line, excellence in nagging (how else would your child have completed their homework each night?), and a “Parent’s Pick,” a special award for the parents of children with perfect attendance from the other parents’ whose children were home sick because you sent your child anyway.

All joking aside, these somewhat silly awards really helped me to see the importance of my involvement in my daughter’s education. Because the reality is, for your child to thrive and succeed in school, they need your support, encouragement and guidance. All of the little things we do each day – feeding your child breakfast before school, getting them to school on time, checking their backpack each day for notes and homework, insuring they receive a good’s night rest – all of these things contribute to your child’s ability to meet the challenges of their day. Never under estimate the impact you have as a parent to prepare your child for success. That being said, I am ready for the summer and I know my daughter is as well. So for now we will take a deep breath, enjoy her accomplishment, and relax until August when it all starts again!

Crossing the Finish Line

After months of training for the Bank One Marathon, race day had finally arrived. Nerves, excitement and adrenalin were pumping vigorously through my veins. Shots rang out, signaling the start of the event, and a sea of runners were heard pounding the pavement. After a few minutes, I started pacing myself. Five hours later, nothing was more exhilarating than crossing the finish line.

All parents are marathoners!

The preparation that goes into training for a marathon is similar to that necessary for raising children. It is by no means a short-term endeavor.  What’s critical about going the distance is keeping your eyes on the prize: making it across the finish line or, in the context of parenting, high school graduation.  There is truly nothing as sweet.

Once I decided to run the “race,” I realized I was in it for the long haul and quitting wasn’t an option. Being a parent isn’t a short-term proposition, either. Although Jared is 18-years-old, I will always be his mom.  There have been times, even though no parent wants to admit it, that I have been at my breaking point. An instance comes to mind when Jared was causing trouble at school and I was getting weekly calls from the assistant principal. If I had quit on him, what message would I have sent him? So, I didn’t. I couldn’t. Two months later, Jared’s attitude, grades and behavior improved.

Running is full of trials and tribulations. There were, undoubtedly, many bumps in the road and hurdles to overcome as I trained for my marathon. I would get frequent shin splints which caused me a great deal of pain when I walked, let alone when I jogged.  Similarly, being a parent had its own struggles: memories of my newborn son in the hospital struggling to survive a respiratory illness often plague me. Fast-forward 18 years and one would never believe my pudgy, active, thriving son was ever so sickly. The prize was worth the perseverance and determination of raising Jared to be the best young man he could be.

In reality, all moms are “marathoners.” Mothers must keep themselves both physically and mentally strong, with a strong heart, mind and soul. But we must also instill these values upon our children. And so the journey, like a marathon, feels like it never ends. Providing Jared with love, stability, security and boundaries were the tools he needed to succeed in life and beyond his home borders. Jared was my button pusher, always asking, why? Often he had to learn the hard way of dealing with the consequences. After many times of being told at age 4 to leave the bumble bees alone, he learned the logical consequence. After a plethora of stings, he finally learned to stop playing with the bees.

In running the twenty six miles, I learned I could persevere and that I possessed the determination needed to succeed. And as I watched my son and his classmates walk in procession in May, my heart leapt with joy and pride. All the training and preparation was worth the minor infractions. His aunts, uncle, grandparent and neighbors who watched him grow up from an ornery, mischievous little boy to a well-mannered young man celebrated his success that day. Maybe I’ve crossed the “finish line,” but now Jared has his own marathon to run as he ponders his own goals and endeavors. And I’ll still be here for him.

Pretty on the Inside

My ten, soon-to-be-eleven-year-old, Liv, is pretty. Yes, of course I’m biased, as most parents are, but she really is. With naturally curly ringlets down her back, just the other day a grown man told her he loved her hair. And she gets comments like that from men, women, teens and other children on a daily basis. Add to this the fact that she’s petite and delicate like a doll, and she has to fight not to have people try to pick her up and carry her around.

Parents can't afford to ignore the fact that our children live in a world where "good looks" get attention.

As parents, we can’t afford to ignore the fact that our children live in a world where “good looks” get attention. I’m reminded of a birthday party for a one-year-old where the parents thought it adorable to say to the child, “So pretty,” which would prompt her to bat her eyelashes coyly, dip her shoulder, run her hand over her hair and echo the words back. It made me ask myself, “Is that cute or priming her to be a self-centered narcissist?” Because as cute as the little girl was, something about what she was doing wasn’t so cute. At least to me.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with telling children they’re beautiful or handsome. My children hear it from me frequently. But when my son Levi is throwing a fit and spinning like the Exorcist, which he’s been known to do on occasion, that’s not the time for me or anyone else to say, “That’s an ugly fit, but you’re still handsome!” Which is exactly what one of his teachers did once. It’s as if looking good on the outside excused his hideous acting out.

Rather than focusing on how children look, it seems it would serve them better in the long run to point out something positive about their attitude or behavior instead. For instance, when Liv hears she is pretty, she merely simpers, murmurs thank you, then runs to take a selfie! LOL! Levi on the other hand smiles heartbreakingly at whichever female just told him he was handsome (young or old) then later asks me why women and girls always stare at him and say that. Neither of these responses seem to bode well for the future! How much better for these impressionable children to hear that they’re well-mannered, smart, sweet, kind, a good student, friend, son or daughter?

It may be just me, but I’d rather have my mama’s heart swell with pride over the fact that my child is pretty on the inside.

Children Leading the Way

Recently I read an article on a parenting style referred to as “child-led parenting.” Simply put, “child-led parenting means the parent is in charge and makes the decisions but does so in response to the needs and wishes of the child.” The article indicated that this parenting style works for parents who recognize that children are not machines. This style requires the parent to make frequent adjustments to their expectations so that children’s feelings and needs are considered. One of the examples provided in the article was a child refusing to eat, where a parent practicing child-led parenting would react by putting the food away until the child is hungry or by offering another food choice. The parent’s ultimate goal is that the child eats healthy, but the parent is willing to compromise on when or what the child eats.

Do you have what it takes for child-led parenting?

What I like about this parenting style is that it takes into account the individualized needs of the child. It also requires parents to focus on the present. It seems to me that in order to truly assess and listen to the needs of their children, parents using child-led parenting would need to be present in the moment. Lastly, this parenting style would enhance the parent-child relationship as it lends itself to parents being responsive to their children.

In addition, I appreciate parents being able to compromise without giving up on what they see as important. I have often observed parents who become involved in extreme power struggles. These struggles typically involve parents insisting children follow the rules in order to demonstrate that they are in charge. In these situations parents identify compromise as weakness. However, in child-led parenting, parents use compromise to intentionally ensure the desired results are achieved. Choices provided by parents lead to what parents want for their children.

And though I see many benefits in this style of parenting, I could envision a potential pothole -parents taking the “easy way out.” Child-led parenting requires parents be responsive and still hold their own intention. At times parenting can be exhausting. In addition sometimes children’s challenging behaviors are reinforced when parents “give-in” to children versus dealing with the behavior. To avoid this unintended consequence, parents would need to be careful not to forfeit their own desired results as a means to eliminate children’s negative behaviors.

I typically state that there is no one right way to parent. I do wonder if child-led parenting comes close to being one way to parent, simply because it does take into account the individualized needs of the children while also supporting the intentions of parents. What do you think?

Extracurriculars? What extracurriculars?

It seems like every organization and agency is offering some sort of great activity for children to participate in, especially during the summer. We receive emails and newsletters from various organizations around town and all include a calendar of events with enticing descriptions. Yet in my family, we struggle just to wash and fold a load of laundry, let alone get everyone loaded into the car and out the door to some awesome enhancement activity  before 10:00 a.m. My wife and I both work full-time, and we all love our sleep! Most nights we don’t even have time to make dinner.

Sure, I see our friends going to this creative program or that totally-gonna-make-‘em-smart-one-time event and I’ll admit it, I get jealous. But only for a minute. And then I realize that the nagging, buzzing sound in my head is actually the dryer letting me know what’s up: I don’t have time to be jealous.

Don’t get me wrong, we do all kinds of things with our children – we build cardboard houses, fire stations and parking garages. We dig holes in the yard, plant seeds, spray water everywhere and, Schmee’s current favorite, toy monster truck mud drag! We go on hikes in the woods to play in icy streams, hang out with strangers at the playground and ride bikes in the neighborhood.

For our family, right now, the most important thing is to spend time together. We look at the future and see many daytimes, evenings and weekends taken up with lessons for this and lessons for that. An event over here and one over there. As exciting as everything sounds, we just can’t bring ourselves to give up even a minute of family time right now!

The Art of Having Fun

It has finally happened. I have crossed a line as a parent from which there is no return. This spring I officially became a soccer mom.

As this is primary season, I half expected the candidates in my area to greet me at the YMCA after my daughter’s registration for the spring soccer league begging for my vote. Thankfully, I haven’t heard from any of them yet wanting to know my thoughts on local politics. I’m even more thankful that my daughter is having a blast learning and playing soccer. And she is doing both against all odds. Her new found love of soccer is no small feat. Her ragtag team of feisty 6-year-olds has a 0-5 record and has yet to score a goal as a team (details, details).

But if you could see her on the field, you would never know she was an underdog. She truly loves playing and gives each game her best effort. My husband and I have repeatedly stressed to her that we just want her to have fun and learn. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there’s a time and place for competition. But I don’t believe the Y soccer league at age 6 is one of those places.

Unfortunately, not all parents share this view. I have been disheartened as I have watched other parents place undue pressures and expectations on their children. For some reason these parents think that berating their children in public for their lack of soccer skills will encourage them to be better players. It is so hard to sit by and watch another parent discourage and break the spirit of their child. It has made me even more resolved to make sure my daughter has a healthy understanding of competition. It is okay to want to win, to push yourself to be the best you can be. But achieving those goals should not come at the cost of your child’s self-esteem and view of their self-worth.

As parents it is our job to give our children all the tools they need to be successful. Success in soccer for my daughter is that she is learning the skills of a new game, making new friends and having fun. And fortunately, she hasn’t figured out that her team is not very good! As she was getting ready for her game this past weekend, she looked at me and said excitedly, “Maybe we’ll score a goal this week!” I could not have been more proud of my little soccer star. Go get ‘em!