Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

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What Tragedy Teaches Us

Cute girl resting her head on her mother's shoulder

“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.”  — Robert Kennedy

It is our nature to try to make sense out of tragic situations—especially when the tragedy harms those that are helpless. Certainly there is wisdom that can be gained in the aftermath of most tragedies. We can dissect the event, identify who was harmed and figure out new precautions that can be put in place. Yet we cannot go backwards. We cannot undo what was done—and it is this helpless that causes us such woe.

The times in my life when I have experienced loss or tragedy, I have anxiously sought answers. Why did this happen or what could I have done? I begin creating the long list of everything I should’ve or could’ve done differently. Because obviously in replaying the past I can come up with everything that would’ve been different. But at some point I have to ask—to what end? How does blaming myself or others alleviate the helplessness or sadness I feel? It doesn’t.

I wonder what the outcome would be if, when tragedy strikes, we let our hearts take the lead? If instead of thinking and blaming we allow our sadness and compassion to come forth. And if we did that, what would the tragedy teach us and teach our children?

I think the answer to this question is simple. If we express our sadness and compassion then the lesson of the tragedy becomes one of unity. By honoring what was lost and responding with genuine kindness, then the tragedy teaches that we can comfort each other, that we are not helpless and that each of us can make a difference. And if we can show compassion and sadness following a tragedy, then our children also learn how powerful compassion can be.

I think of compassion as engaging with another, acknowledging their feelings and reacting from a place of genuine kindness. When being compassionate I am present in the moment. I am listening to the needs of the other person and putting aside my own desires. Children learn to act compassionately by observing the actions of adults—especially their parents. Teach compassion by tending to the needs of others. When you encounter a person who needs help, stop what you are doing and show that they come first. When frustrated, use words that show respect and empathy.  As a family seek opportunities to make a difference and give back to those that are there for you.

It is certain that we will all experience loss. Though a tragic event may teach us about what went wrong—I believe the deeper wisdom comes from the power of our compassion. Compassion that our children learn from us.

Give Your Kids a Piece of Yourself

dad son time

In this guest post, 4C Parent Services Specialist Dan Scheiman shares a reflection on fatherhood.

“Noble fathers have noble children.” -Euripides

When it comes to fatherhood, the above quote seems to say it all.

Be noble. Be honest. Be kind. And, maybe most of all, be present in your child’s life.

The first few on the list are actually easy. Treat your kids the way you want to be treated and in the way you want your kids to be treated by everyone they encounter. Be the measure that your children hold everyone they know up to and then be the one they feel safe enough to come to when things get tough and their heads fill with questions.

Being present is the tricky one. Things like work can get in the way. Life in general can get in the way and, something I can relate to, divorce can get in the way. So, at some point, every dad and every parent for that matter, has looked at their watch or even a calendar and wondered if they’ve made enough time for their kids.

But, here’s where that whole being noble, kind and honest thing comes in. For those times when despite your best efforts, you can’t physically be there, give your kids a big piece of yourself to carry with them and the confidence in you to know that you’re never too far away.

My dad passed away a few weeks ago so he is no longer physically present in my life and, while I could look to the things he didn’t do, the things he missed or left to my mom, I’d rather celebrate how he taught me to be honest, to be kind, and how to treat others, which by the way, had a lot to do with how he treated my mom. Those lessons became a guide for me through my life and through my divorce. 

I can’t count the number of times I have tormented my now nineteen-year-old son with “You’re…umm…ok after the stuff with your mom and I…yeah…umm…I mean the divorce?” The first few times were, to say the least, awkward, but we talked a lot and, after talking a lot, his responses have become, “Dad, geez, I’m fine. I talked to mom the other day; she’s good and says hi. Can we grab some Chipotle?”

My son has been home but will be heading back to college soon and, while I’ll miss him and worry from time to time, I know he has that piece of me with him. So, even with him hundreds of miles away, he knows I’m there which, regardless of the distance, always makes me present in his life.

All of this can be downright scary, believe me, I know, so here’s another quote to inspire you.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Parenting is a mighty high staircase to climb. Do it one step at a time. Have faith in yourself and your kids to do what’s right.

Apples Don’t Fall Far From Trees

parent-child-playingI recently traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina to enjoy spring break with my sister and her family. Throughout this journey I encountered many families—some with older children and others with younger ones. But regardless of their shape or size it was clear when observing their behavior that the old saying “apples don’t fall far from trees” still holds true today. Here are three examples:

I’ve often heard it said that our personalities are part natural and part learned—meaning some of our personality traits we are born with and others we acquire along the way. As I watched two twin boys in the airport I was mesmerized by their symmetry. Not only did they look alike (from the same hat on their heads to the same shoes on their feet) but their actions and mannerisms were identical. As I watched them play on their ipads I noted that they almost seemed to be involved in a synchronized dance. From the smirks on their faces, to the movement of their eyes, arms and feet—they seemed to be in perfect harmony. I can’t be sure which traits were genetic or learned, but one thing was for sure: these 10-year-old twins had come from the same family tree!

During the flight to Hilton Head, I sat close to a mother and her young precocious child. He—being about five years old—had a lot of questions about the flight and what would happen on the trip. At one point the child stated that he wanted to move to another seat. His mother responded with a, “No,” and he responded by echoing his request to “move.” The two bantered back and forth for quite a while until the exhausted mother finally responded, “Go ahead and move; I don’t want to sit by you and probably nobody else does either.” To which the child retorted, “You’re mean.” I have no idea if what I observed was typical for this parent-child relationship. However, children do imitate their parents and this child appeared to be learning to use hurtful words—an example of an apple not falling far from its tree.

My nephew is a major sports fan. He loves to watch most professional sporting events and retains a ton of knowledge regarding teams and their players. He also enjoys playing sports, especially golf, which he has gotten quite good at. His father is equally a fan and the two of them debate and discuss sports until long after the sun has set. In playing a round of golf with the two of them I noted quite a few similarities. They both hit the ground with their golf club when not pleased with their shot, they both took numerous practice swings before actually hitting the ball, and they both “strutted” off the green when scoring a par or birdie. Again watching the two of them I couldn’t help but see how their mannerisms were identical—another apple not falling far from the tree.

It is certainly hard to know what personality or temperament traits are inherited or learned, but what is known is that children mimic us—the significant adults in their lives. The environment we create and the example we provide influences the young apples on our family tree.

Excuse My Mess, Memories Are Being Made

messybooksOne day I think it will all look swell
A clean house, clean car, and shoes that don’t smell
I’ll wake up and have coffee and plan what to do
No one else will be wearing my shoes
I’ll sit back and admire my clean house
Everything in its place, spend time with my spouse
Someone will pop in to say, “Hello!”
And I won’t be embarrassed my house will glow
But when this time comes I’m afraid you see
Cause everyday this is what happens to me;
My day begins with my baby snuggles
“Mommy can you get your coffee and cuddle?”
As we sit, each one wakes and says good morning to me
I smile and ask so cheerfully
“How was your night? Did you sleep okay?”
This is when they share their dreams and say,
“It was so weird mom, you’ll never believe…”
And our day begins, love is achieved
It bothers me a lot I will just say
I want to be proud, succeed in every way
But I want to promise myself to remember this
If I focus on pride, bad memories I risk
For this is their life as much as mine
If I spend all day yelling I soon will find
Only bad memories will stick with them
If I’m constantly yelling to clean again
My time with my babies is too valuable I now see
As each day passes they get too far away from me
So I challenge myself to put down my trials
And begin each day with those beautiful smiles.

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.”

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!