Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Homework Can Be Stressful for Parents, Too!

homeworkHave you heard about the no homework letter one teacher sent home at the beginning of the school year? The letter was first shared on Facebook by Samantha Gallagher, whose daughter is in Mrs. Young’s class, and it quickly went viral. The response to this letter has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents everywhere have shared comments agreeing that student success is less reliant on nightly homework and more dependent on children spending their evenings playing, eating dinner and reading as a family and going to bed early.

As a mom of school-age children this letter really hit home for me. My children are now in sixth, third and second grades.

I often find myself resenting homework. My children are at school roughly 7.5 hours a day. My husband and I are at work between 7-9 hours a day. At the end of the day I want our family to have the freedom to decompress from the day’s events, relax, and enjoy time talking, watching TV together or going for a walk. The National Education Association recommends the “10 minute rule,” 10 minutes per grade level per night. That translates into 10 minutes of homework in the first grade, 20 minutes in the second grade, all the way up to 120 minutes for senior year of high school. According to CNN Health, a recent study published in The American Journal of Family Therapy found students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended.

My sixth grader spends 1.5 to 2 hours on homework almost every night. My second grader’s homework includes 20 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of math facts practice, and completing one sheet in his homework packet. That is about 30-40 minutes of homework a night.

I’m not saying that my children should never have homework. I believe that homework can help students develop and strengthen responsibility and time management skills. It also helps parents to see what their student is learning. I am saying that homework can be good or it can be bad depending on the volume and the quality of the assignment.

What can parents do to lessen the stress that homework can create on the family?

I have found that having regular communication with your child’s teacher is helpful for school success. Most of the time they don’t realize until you talk to them that the amount of homework is overwhelming and causing continued family stress. Work together to come up with a plan that will work best for your child and family while respecting the teacher’s needs. Most of the time my children’s teachers’ homework expectations were the right fit. So far this year we are struggling, but I am hopeful that with the teacher’s help we will find the right balance.

What do you think of the no homework letter? Do you feel your child has too much homework? Too little? Just the right amount? What are some things you have tried to lessen the stress homework can create?

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Summer Routines

Avery-sleepThe day I have been dreaming about for years arrived this summer.  My children are sleeping in.

First, we achieved this much-anticipated milestone with my 11-year-old. She has to be pulled out of bed around 9:30 each morning, which makes sense because according to research sleep patterns change during adolescence. Then for reasons I don’t understand but do appreciate, my boys who are  8- and 6-years-old are following suit and sleeping in much later.

While I am enjoying this slower start to our mornings I am concerned about getting back on track when school starts. I am already dreading the fights that will ensue from those 6:30 a.m. back to school wake up calls.

I was torn between letting them have freedom to make the most of their summer—schedules and rules be damned—or keeping them on track, allowing them to better ease back into the school routine.

They work hard during the school year to stay on track and they deserve a break. However as a seasoned parent I know that children need routines and boundaries and if we ditch those completely the entire family will suffer.

I decided we could have both. We kept the routines that mattered most to us and eased up on the others.

The routines that matter most to us are bedtime, mealtime and reading.

Bedtime: nature isn’t doing parents any favors with the extended daylight hours. It’s really tough to get your kids in bed when it’s still light outside. We do push bedtime back later in the summer and we let them stay up extra late on special occasions but it is important to my husband and I that they do have a regular bedtime.

Mealtime: As someone who fully admits to bouts of erratic behavior when “hangry,” I don’t like to mess with mealtimes when it comes to myself or my children. We stick to a regular breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner schedule as much as life allows.

Reading: I like to keep my kids stocked with books that interest them and ask that they read for at least 20 minutes a day. When I find books that interest them they read for much longer than the minimum.

What do you do to make sure your kids enjoy their summer—and are ready for the transition to school in August? In your family, is summer a time for complete freedom, sticking to routines, or a little of both?


What I Learned When I Returned to Work

boys being sillyYears ago, after a failed attempt to negotiate a work from home deal with my job, our child care provider resigning to raise a family of her own, and many evenings spent discussing future plans and expenses with my husband, this second time mom-to-be made the decision to leave the professional world behind for awhile and take on a new title as stay-at-home mom.

The decision was both exciting and scary. It had always been a desire of mine to stay home with my children during their early years and to have the opportunity to make it a reality was a gift. The troublesome part wasn’t the overwhelming amount of physical and emotional energy that comes with being a constant caregiver for small children, that realization came later, the cons on my list were concerns of lost time building professional work experience.

I had only just begun building a career and wondered what it would be like re-entering that world after years of absence. Still, the pros of being there for all the moments of my children’s first years of life outweighed the cons and I happily accepted my new title as stay-at-home mom.

I enjoyed (and cursed, on the particularly tiresome days) that title for 6 years; I even expanded my team and went from managing two to three with the birth of our third child.  But the time had come for me to make my comeback into the workforce and face the many challenges that came along with that.

  1. Resume and References

I remember looking at my resume and wondering if I could add household CEO and list teacher, nurse, chef, housekeeper, event planner as titles to describe the work I had been most recently performing. I joked with my friends that I was going to add the children as references and attach their drawings and “world’s best mommy” notes as reference letters.  Seriously though when I left the working world Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were not popular yet so maintaining a connection to past co-workers wasn’t easy. Luckily I managed to reconnect with a few former colleagues to use as references and I refreshed my resume making sure to be straightforward about the reason for the gap in time.

  1. Interviews

I got a call for an interview very quickly after submitting my resume and enthusiastically agreed to meet the next day. It had been many years since I had been on an interview and made a classic mom mistake by being so concerned with the children’s needs that I left no time for myself to prepare. I hadn’t thought about my professional experiences in years and couldn’t for the life of me come up with any examples. At that moment my mind was filled with the crying 3-year-old I just left and whether or not I had told grandma what time to the get the 1st-grader off the bus. Needless to say the interview did go that well. I chalked it up as a learning experience and made sure to give myself some prep time for the next interview. My sister even helped me prepare by doing a mock interview with me.  The next couple of interviews went very well and it wasn’t long before I was back to work.

  1. Emotional Adjustment

For years I played a major role in my children’s daily lives.  Even when the oldest was in school, I was there to get her off the bus and hear about her day. Going back to work meant finding new ways to keep that connection strong and it took some getting used to.

  1. Feeling Left Behind

Once you get hired and start back down the career path it’s tough to resist the urge to compare yourself to others who have gained valuable professional experience while you were at home raising a family.  At times I’ve felt frustrated when others talk about opportunities they’ve had and I’ve felt a pang of regret thinking about how much fuller my resume could be if I had made a different choice.  But ultimately I know I made the right choice for me and I am thankful for the valuable experiences I had, even if they could never be explained on a resume.

Sharing Parenting Woes and Joys Online

sharing-onlineAt a staff meeting the other day the conversation came up about how we often share personal stories of our own children when educating parents on child development. We laughed as we talked about a recent blog post from a co-worker who shared a funny potty training experience with her son.

We wondered aloud what our children would think if they knew we often use them as examples when teaching. I said this generation of children will have a digital diary to look back on when they are older.

Later that day I thought about that statement and realized just how true and interesting it   is. I was born in 1979; I spent my childhood in the 80’s and my adolescent years in the 90’s. Cameras used film with a set number of pictures needing snapped before you could drop it off at a store to be developed. When you did finally use an entire roll of film you would drop it off to be developed and then wait about a week until your pictures were ready. This meant that my mom, like most parents during that time, used the camera sparingly. She captured some of the big moments from my childhood and even made a scrapbook or two with descriptions of the event. When I want to reminisce I sort through a scrapbook, an album or a box of photos of me dressed as fairy for Halloween, twirling at a dance recital, on the beach during summer vacation.

When our children want to reminisce they will type their parent’s name into a search engine and find pictures, posts, and comments about their daily lives. I understand the importance of respecting our children’s private lives but I don’t view sharing parent frustrations and joys as trespassing on their privacy. I see it as way to connect with other parents and to learn from our shared experiences. Sharing our personal experiences with other parents is valuable. Connecting as parents and helping each other find solutions and support is beneficial for the adults as well as the children.

With that said, now that my oldest child is reaching adolescence I understand even more clearly that there needs to be a balance between sharing my stories and respecting her comfort and developing sense of self. As parents I think setting a few guidelines for sharing is important.  

Ask your child
When your child is older ask them if it’s OK to share a picture of them making a grumpy face or a post about something funny they said to you.

Take advantage of the privacy settings.
Facebook and other social media sites give you the option to decrease the number of people who see certain posts and pictures.  So you can share that picture of your child throwing a tantrum at the grocery store with your mom friends but maybe not the other people on your friend list that you are not as comfortable with.

Consider what and where you are sharing
An article from the New York Times explains it best stating, “A frustrated tweet about a child who won’t eat her cereal because it’s not in a red bowl is a lot less likely to resurface than a YouTube video of the resulting tantrum. Looking for advice or sympathy about a behavioral problem? Skip both the image, and your child’s name, in a post to limit later searches.”

Too Much of a Good Thing

Too much of a good thingIs there such a thing as too much of a good thing? When it comes to parenting, I believe most of the time the answer is yes. Successful parenting is about finding what works for you and staying consistent. Kids thrive on simplicity and limits. Too much of anything—even a good thing like presents— can be overwhelming. I also believe in being grateful for all the things in my life and teaching my children to be grateful too. If you have relatives that give your children gifts that is an amazing blessing. But what if their gift-giving is too generous? How can you gracefully explain that when it comes to gifts, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing?

My children are blessed with an over-enthusiastic gift-giving grandmother. She loves to shop and she loves to give. She is so excited to see those little faces light up when they open a present. And who can blame her? It is pretty thrilling. But unlike grandparents, parents can see the practical side of over-gifting—as in, “Where is all this going to fit in my house?” “When will they play with that when they already have so many toys?” and, “What is this teaching my children about giving and receiving?”

I know it’s long been the job of grandparents to spoil their grandchildren and I don’t want to deny them that pleasure. Being able to give and receive presents at the holidays is such a blessing, and not all families are in the same situation as us. Because of this, I want my children to be grateful and appreciate what they have, but that can be tough to do when you have too much.

After a couple years of wading through the sea of presents and managing a tired overwhelmed toddler I talked to my mom about limits and expectations for gift giving. These days grandma asks for suggestions on what to get the kids and sticks to those few gift suggestions—though occasionally she goes rogue and drowns the tree in presents (including a giant Melissa and Doug stuffed tiger in the picture above, check out how huge that thing is!). For the most part the kids are now enjoying just the right amount of a good thing.

How Full Is Your Bucket?

How Full Is Your Bucket?My children have been fighting a lot lately. Like most siblings they tread the line between love and hate several times a day.

They play. They laugh. They snuggle.

They yell. They push. They name call.

This is all typical sibling stuff and while I know it’s nothing to worry about I also know it’s not something I want to ignore either. I want them to focus on making each other feel good.

My children’s preschool teacher introduced them to the book How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath. This story uses the metaphor of a bucket to explain why happy people make you feel good and fill up your bucket, while others make you feel bad and empty your bucket.

I could tell that this story made sense to them. It gave them a way to visualize how they have the power to affect others. So I took that idea and a created a positive reward system for our home.

Each child has their own bucket. When I observe or hear about them doing something kind for someone else they get a pom pom in their bucket. We talked about how the pom poms were soft and fuzzy similar to the warm fuzzy feelings we get inside when we make others happy.

I asked the kids how it will make them feel if a sibling gets a pom pom in their bucket and they do not. Then we talked about how it’s OK to feel jealous, angry, or sad but how we should try to control those feelings and not to say things that would hurt feelings. I also told them that feeling proud and happy for each other would definitely fill someone’s bucket.

When the buckets are full they can choose a reward. I was careful to make the rewards less about material things and more about meaningful interactions with the family. The coupons they can pick from are:

  • “You Choose Coupon”—good for choosing the movie for our family movie night each Friday or choosing the dessert we share after dinner;
  • “Night Owl Coupon”—staying up past bedtime;
  • “Sleep Tight Coupon”—which is good for sleeping in mom and dad’s big bed.

I love that these rewards are meaningful and focus on quality time. I was surprised to find that my 5-year-old son’s favorite reward is the sleep tight coupon. Knowing that he prefers to snuggle with me versus choosing dessert fills my bucket all the way up!

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“No Fair!”

No Fair

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that phrase in my house, I’d be able to buy my kids that Xbox they’ve been begging for. OK, maybe I am exaggerating a little but I’m telling the truth when I say that the expression is a regular occurrence in our house.

I know I’m not alone in this as I have heard other parents express these same frustrations but also, I once was a child and I remember claiming that my life was “so unfair.” I had good reason to make such claims, at least to me anyway. My cousin got the Barbie car for her birthday that I had wanted…no fair! My older sister was allowed to stay up 20 minutes later than me… no fair!

Children are very egocentric, meaning they do not have the ability to see a situation from another person’s point of view. That is a skill they are still developing. When they do not receive the same treatment as another they have a difficult time understanding the reasons why—and so that popular childhood phrase lives on. The expression is especially frequent among children with siblings. A friend of mine told me that her boys would place their cups of juice side by side to ensure they were poured evenly. If mom’s hand lingered over one child’s cup for a second longer allowing for an ounce more juice to fill his cup then the other child would get upset and say it was unfair. Like most things in parenthood these experiences are funny, but they are also frustrating, so what can we do to help kids understand that life is not always fair?

Well I can tell you what my grandpa would do: he would shut down my sister and my grievances with a simple “life’s not fair.” While his strategy worked for the moment (meaning I understood he meant that our behavior was unacceptable and that it needed to stop) it didn’t work long term (I didn’t understand what his words meant and I didn’t know what to do next time).

So when my children claim their lives are so unjust I tell them what fairness means to me.

I tell them that to me fairness doesn’t mean everyone is getting the same thing. I tell them mom isn’t perfect and can’t make everything the same but I do try my best to make sure everyone feels happy, safe, and loved.

When they argue that a younger sibling gets more leniencies on the rules, I say to the older child, “The 3-year-old is still learning, you were 3-years-old once, and your rules were not as firm as they are now.”

When they cry because a sibling’s cookie is larger than their own I acknowledge their complaint. I say, “Her cookie does look a little bigger,” and then I ask, “What is different and special about your cookie?” Honestly, most of the time the cookie, snack, juice, whatever they are comparing looks exactly the same, so I just say, “It looks the same to me and it looks delicious—eat up!”

When I can tell that they are feeling strongly that they are not getting enough attention from me or a caregiver, I listen. Then I make sure to talk to the caregiver or to plan some one on one time with that child.