Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

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!

Another shooting in another school—and this time it’s close to home.

worriedWatching the news coverage of the shooting at Madison Junior Senior High School I am struck by the re-occurrence of similar themes and images—parents racing to the school to find and hug their children, students and teachers in disbelief that a shooting has happened and a child pulled the trigger. And I can’t help but wonder why this continues to happen? What has caused some of our children to take such violent and irreversible actions? Do they not understand the possible consequences of their behavior? Do they not care?

I am a firm believer that children’s actions are feelings to be understood. Meaning in order to understand a child’s behavior it is helpful to look at the feelings that triggered the action. A child who strikes out at another child may be feeling sad, frustrated or rejected. By helping the child express and cope with these feelings, the actions of aggression will lessen. I also believe that children use behaviors that work for them. So that if a temper tantrum results in a child getting a piece of candy, the child will continue to use temper tantrums to get more candy.

These beliefs have always helped me better understand children’s actions—yet I have to admit I have a hard time wrapping my head around the feelings that lead to a child shooting another child. And an even harder time comprehending how such an act of violence can be perceived as a solution. And isn’t this what we all do—we seek to understand how and why these tragic events occur? We believe, if we understand the cause, we can prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future. Yet we seldom get an answer that makes sense which results in us looking for who or what to blame.

In my previous work as a family therapist, I came to understand that the painful depression experienced by individuals who commit suicide is unimaginable to those who have never experienced that intense emotional pain. And maybe I need to look at these school shootings in the same way—to assume that the emotional pain being experienced by a child who pulls the trigger is beyond what I or anyone else can comprehend.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking to excuse any act of violence. I’m simply acknowledging that these incidents may never make sense and I have to believe the child that pulls the trigger is experiencing emotional turmoil that is beyond what I can imagine. However, just because these incidents don’t make sense, we cannot ignore that school shootings are on the rise. We have to continue to seek reasonable solutions. We have to pay attention to any possible warning signs. And we have to figure out how to keep guns out of our children’s hands. I fear that ideas to put more guns in schools or the judicial system treating these children as adults are short-sighted reactions. I believe we have to move beyond the blame and recognize this as a social issue that requires a unified and thoughtful response.    

My thoughts go out to the families in Butler County that have been impacted by this most recent shooting. May those of us who have not experienced this type of tragedy never have to experience it in the future.

Are You Ready for Sleepovers?

sleepoverHave you had the opportunity yet to have your “baby” ask if they could spend the night at a friend’s house? I recently was asked by my 12-year-old if she could—and I quickly responded with, “Why don’t you just stay here?” I would much rather keep my children home, where I can see exactly what they are doing. I remember my mother saying the same thing to me when I was younger and thinking, “It’s not as much fun staying here!” My mother would never let me spend the night at a friend’s house until she spoke with the parents.

I have now become that embarrassing mother that wants to get to know the parents, where they live, what they do for a living, if they have other children, what shows they watch on TV, what games they play, books they read, results of the FBI background check…I know it seems a bit extensive.  But in all seriousness, even though it may be uncomfortable, I feel it’s really important for me to take the extra step and get to know the people that have the ability to influence my babies for an entire evening. I know I am embarrassing my children by doing so but hopefully one day when they are older they realize the importance and can understand how embarrassing it is for us, too.

There are a few ways to go about reaching out to the parents of your children’s friends to get to know them. Something that I do is set up a play date where I and the other parents will all be present and we can chat over coffee. Sometimes I have to make the first move in the conversation. This is easy if I have some ideas in mind of what is important to talk about, to fill in those awkward moments of silence. In the article 7 Steps to Prepare Your Child for a First Sleepover by Kate Rope from Parents Magazine, one parent says, “When I’m hosting I put it all out there. I say, ‘We have no dog, no pool, and no guns. We are going to watch this show, eat pizza and go to bed.’” I tend to follow the idea of “putting it all out there.” This way there are no questions of expectations and a good understanding of rules and plans.

The idea of someone else telling my kids what to do or allowing them to do things I wouldn’t makes me uncomfortable. But a conversation with the parents of my kid’s friends goes a long way in ensuring that I feel they will be safe, so to me, the extra step is worth it!


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