Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

New Year’s Eve Celebration

family-time-holidayCelebrating New Year’s in our house is almost as anticipated as Christmas morning. I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face when I told her I wanted to go to a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve. She was so disappointed that we all wouldn’t be together to ring in the New Year. So, I remembered this when I had children and decided to make it amazing while we had our time together.

Every year the festivities are something different than the year before and every year we try to top the last. First thing on our list, FOOD! Each person gets to pick whatever they want to be on the menu! ANYTHING! This gets kinda crazy! One year we had macaroni and cheese, shrimp cocktail, bowtie pasta, steak, mussels, a cheese tray and a veggie tray. The kids love going to the grocery and picking whatever they want. Then, we have to have champagne (for the adults) and sparkling grape juice (for the kids) served in wine flutes.

To top it off, we…have…games! I must say that since “Minute-to-Win-it” came out we have had so much fun! Every year we fill up balloons with random things to do at different times during the night and the kids love popping them and going crazy! We always have the TV station on the Rockin’ New Year’s Eve NYC ball drop, and we have dance parties and play board games too. The kids love it! And we “old folk” parents get a kick out of it too. At midnight our tradition is to bang pots and pans outside and yell “Happy New Year!” as loud as we can!

I know the time is coming when my kids won’t want to hang with mom and dad during New Year’s Eve, but for now these memories we have made are amazing! Maybe they will continue on our celebratory traditions with their families, but for now it’s just my favorite part of the year!

Talking to Children About Chores

mom-and-daughter-choresChores. Ugh! About a year ago “we” (I use that term loosely) started implementing these dreaded things with our children. I made a list according to age and put it up on the fridge and told the kids this is what needs to be done when you get home from school. I say “dreaded” because of course the kids complain and hunch over as if in massive pain and I get to hear them say “dsjkf;oajerga nvboij!!” (…because there is no way to spell what I have to hear!) Although I can tell you the absolute first thing I hear out of ALL of them if I find a mess is, “I didn’t do that!” As if I am the one who made all the messes I have to clean up every day! So, yes this is dreaded for both parties. Here are some of the things I have done to make the idea of chores easier for all of us:

  • I try to talk calmly and explain to them that we are a family that has to take care of one another and in order to be successful we all have to pitch in to make it easier on all of us.
  • I explain that if everyone doesn’t pitch in a little then I have to do all of it—Emily’s, Michael’s, Natalie’s and Olivia’s—but if we all do a little then it will be done quickly.
  • I talk about it ahead of time so they are warned and not taken off guard or planning something special to do before the chores are complete.
  • However, what may inevitably happen are threats of grounding and raising my voice.

Each week I try a different approach. I have realized something in these several months, no matter how I approach this subject it’s going to be a struggle. I don’t want everyone to be angry and in bad moods but I am not giving up. I am their parent and it is my responsibility to step up to this plate. I have decided from now on to stay positive! I am going to play loud music, sing crazily as we all work on our chores together, and expect the worst so I can be pleasantly surprised. I love these little dirty buggers, and it’s definitely worth it!

Safety First?

Messy-Play-in-the-YardRecently I was tested by my children on whether or not I was considered a “fun” mom. We noticed the back yard was covered in mud puddles and all they wanted to do was to get out there and go crazy! It was a bit chilly outside and sprinkling rain but all I could say was, “Why don’t you just read a book and stay inside? You’re going to get sick! What clothes are you going to wear?  You’re going to ruin your shoes! What about my grass, we just had it seeded?”

Then I realized something, I am more worried about my grass that is completely replaceable than my babies laughing and having a great time together making memories! So then I said, “…Go!”

Instantly I thought of how my father would always err on the side of safety and never allowed us to do random things like play in puddles. This is a continuous struggle for me. I have a difficult time separating my job of maintaining our environment and keeping the kids happy making memories. I don’t think my father was a bad father for not allowing us to do harmless fun things, I certainly see the reasons behind it now that I am an adult. I know he was worried about our safety and didn’t have a lot of money to replace the things we would ruin if we did this type of thing. He took great pride in the part he played in his job of raising all three of us and the fact we made it to adulthood unscathed! I often find myself telling the kids, “No.” and then seconds later, “Yes!” because my first instinct is always to keep them safe and then happy! I certainly do not want to sit around when I am old and wish they would’ve had more laughs and more time together. Lately it has been my mantra to think that way as soon as I say, “No!”  Safety first? Always! But then happiness is a very close second!

How can I let the kids go outside and make a super big mess that I will have to clean up? Let’s call it what it is…it’s the Finding Nemo effect. Marlin is way too scared of losing his boy that he doesn’t allow him to live. My answer, they are only young once and if I can focus on their smiles and their laughter and enjoyment I can give them something that may stick (But hopefully not be too sticky/messy…EWE!) with them forever!

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.



Report Cards for Parents?

Have you ever thought to ask your child to grade you as a mom or dad?

I learned about this phenomenon recently, but wasn’t sure I wanted to ask my children how I was performing as a mom. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. What parent would want to be that vulnerable?

But then I thought about it some more.  As an employee, I am evaluated by my supervisor. It is always helpful to hear from others what my strengths are, and also where there is room for improvement.  What was I afraid of discovering about myself as a mom?

So, holding my breath and gulping with courage, I asked my boys to evaluate my performance as a mom. I explained to them that I wanted to improve my parenting skills, and that I wanted them to be completely honest and that there would be no repercussions.  I also asked them if we could talk about my grades later.

I thought they would not want to do it but they gladly accepted the challenge.

Based on the results of my “report card,” I discovered that my kids really are watching me.  I got good grades in a few areas: my kids felt safe and protected, I offered healthy food choices and I was interested in their dreams.

Of course, there was need for improvement, too. They want me to lead by example, spend quality time with each of them individually, reward them for doing chores and to stop texting and driving.

Jansen and I had a great talk after I got my report card, and we’re making some changes. But while my older son Jared eagerly graded me, he was unwilling to talk about it afterwards. His reasoning was that it was too late as he is an adult now and it doesn’t matter. As a mom that hurt a bit, but it’s because in a way I know it’s true. I wish I could wind the clock back for Jared to when he was little again and do things differently.  I know that of all my children, I failed giving enough time and attention to him.  He wasn’t deprived but he was the middle child, sandwiched between two siblings.

But I can’t change the past. I can only try to do better now. Jansen agreed to evaluate me again in three months, and I’ll be curious to see if I can bring my grade up.

Brothers and Sisters

When Sweet Pea was born, Schmee, then a 3-and-a-half year old, thought that his sister would come into this world a primed, ready and willing playmate. Someone he could tumble around with, run through the grass with and enact intricate and dramatic scenarios with dinosaurs and robots.

He was sadly disappointed.


Since then, he has been attempting to engage in cooperative play with her on a daily basis, getting more frustrated as time went on. If he only he’d known that soon she would be interested in what he was doing… just not in the way he intends.

Sweet Pea’s has gained a little more stable footing as she runs through the house, her reflexes as quick as a striking snake. She seems to be saying, “I’ll gladly play with you, but first I’m going to take your robot, see what it tastes like, and then run off in a random direction and see what you do about it. How’s that for playing together?”

Schmee seems conflicted. He so eagerly wants her to play with him but when they do it’s usually on her terms and that is frustrating for him. So what can I as a parent do about this? What should my reactions be?

For the most part, I let them work it out. Sure, I set boundaries so no one gets hurt but I let them engage in a kind of give-and-take and talk to them both about how they feel and what they want. It’s certainly not easy and not everyone always gets what they want.

Recently, Schmee had worked really hard on a drawing of a train. He insisted it was his best one yet and he wanted to share it with Mom. But it was not to be. Sweet Pea, only trying to see what he had made, accidentally crumpled the paper, “Ruining it forever!”

So what did I do? I talked with Schmee, showing sympathy and compassion for his lost art. “That stinks,” I commiserated, “But maybe you could draw it again?” I explained that Sweet Pea must’ve really liked his drawing, too, and set them both up with their own paper and crayons. Though initially he had his arm raised and fist clenched, he soon relaxed, allowing me to help him draw another train. He even gave Sweet Pea a couple crayons to use for her own work. Things don’t always get resolved so quickly or so well, but we do keep trying to communicate our needs.