Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Writing Thank You Notes: A Chore No More

Writing thank you notes has in the past felt like a chore to me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the nice gesture of receiving a gift, but I’ve always struggled over what to say  and how to say it. Many years I would procrastinate and then forget to do it. Weeks would go by and when I remembered to write them I would feel guilty that it took so long to write and send in the mail.  Often,  I figured too much time had gone by so I  ended up not writing them which made me feel worse.  Each year was a hit and miss as to whether thank you notes from my children were written to grandparents, aunts and uncles. Because I didn’t like writing thank you notes, I not only made it a chore for me but for my children, as well.

The typical scenario between my children and I would go like this:  I would resort to nagging them despite their moaning and whining about having to do it and begrudgingly, my kids would end up doing the task. Now, what was I teaching my children? I knew I wasn’t instilling good manners and I felt guilty. The cycle of putting it off and whining about it continued until I was sick and tired of feeling bad for not only me but my children, too. I decided to turn things around. I vowed to change my attitude and demonstrate to my children that thank you notes are essential and fun to write.

I embraced the process by making it a fun family activity. I filled a basket with of different cards, stickers, stamps and colored pens. My husband and I  promoted creativity by challenging our children to think about different ways they can express their gratitude besides just writing a note? One of our children answered that they could send a picture themselves with their brand new gloves on their hands.

Now,  instead of delaying the thank you notes, my children write them the day after receiving a gift. We have adopted this as our family practice. I have found it helps when the whole family writes thank you notes together. It is much easier now that my kids can write their own cards. When they were younger and unable to write, I would write on the card as they would dictate to me in their own words about the gift they received and why they liked it. I involved  them in the process by encouraging them to draw on the card.  As they grew older, they would write in blank cards, and later, to writing the cards themselves.

This process has helped my children understand that the thank you note isn’t  about the gift but more about the individual who cared enough about them to send them something special – like when my son Jared received a guitar from his grandmother, who knew how much he liked music . All my children discovered how much a person appreciates the gesture of a thank you note when their grandmother expressed to them how much she liked receiving it in the mail. They realized she felt appreciated for her acts of kindness, and it kept motivating them to write thank you notes.

Instead of the chore it once was, writing thank you notes is something my family and I now enjoy doing together.  It has taught us to appreciate and express gratitude towards each other, too.

I’m a New Dad – Again!

Josh Craig, project coordinator for the 4C for Children Family Child Care Language and Literacy Project, recently became a new father – again! – and will be joining the Blink — and They’re Grown blogging team in 2014.

I recently became a dad… again! I can’t believe with all that my family has endured over the past 18 months that the day has finally arrived. My family has grown not just by one but by leaps and bounds.

Photo courtesy of Mike Styer.

Photo courtesy of Mike Styer.

Ours is a story not unlike many. We’ve experienced the grueling pain of a miscarriage, sought the expertise of a fertility specialist, found out we were pregnant again (yay! and OMG!), worked around the clock fix up and sell our house, moved out of that house and into four different homes with my very pregnant wife before settling down, and finally welcomed our daughter into the world. This journey has been heartbreaking, sorrowful, challenging, jubilant, exciting and strengthening.

I know it may sound like first world tragedy kind of stuff, but all of it has culminated in this lovely addition to my family and I can’t help but appreciate every moment with her. Some say that newborns don’t do a whole lot but eat, sleep and, you know, poop, but when I look at my Sweet Pea I see her gears turning, synapses firing and know she’s sharing with me a loving, bonding moment.

Just last week I was busy making peanut butter pumpkin cookies with my son, we’ll call him Schmee. While he washed some bowls and spoons and I briskly creamed butter and sugar, I heard that tiny whimper and awful “Kack!” that Sweet Pea makes when she needs something. I scooped her up and looked her in the eye and she just seemed to say, “You’re not Mama, but you’ll do nicely.”

Not wanting to interrupt the cookie making process, I went back to the dough, adding peanut butter and pumpkin with one hand while holding Sweet Pea in the other. I started singing something about, “This is the way we mix the dough, mix the dough,” with Schmee chiming in with his operatic, “All day long! Yum, yum, yum!” With the bowl skipping all over and me juggling her, Sweet Pea closed her eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep.

Schmee and I finished making the cookies, and all the while I held my little Sweet Pea. Moments like this make me so happy and proud to be a father.

The cookies didn’t disappoint, either.


Slow Down and Smell the Poinsettias

The holiday season can be downright stressful. There never seems to be enough time or money to do all the things you want to do for and with your family. So often as parents we place undue pressure on ourselves to create the perfect holiday experience for our children and families. The perfect presents, the perfect decorations, the perfect dinner… it can all be perfectly maddening.

Don't get caught up pursuing perfection this holiday season!

Last week in pursuit of this perfection, I worked for hours looking for and hanging decorations.  I literally spent an entire day doing nothing but. Several times during the day my daughter asked me if I would play with her, and each time I said, “Not now, I’m busy. When I’m finished.”

When I finally sat down to relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor, my daughter sat down next to me and asked if I would play with her. I immediately told her I was too tired.  Then I saw the disappointment on her face.  She’d been waiting all day to spend time with me and I had let her down.

It was an “A-ha” moment for me.  It’s definitely a work in progress, but I am trying to do my best to slow down and be intentional about how I spend my time this holiday season. When I start to feel overwhelmed I have decided to just BREATHE

B:  I will do my best to BE in the moment and not worry.
R:  I will REMEMBER to be grateful for my family.
E:  I will EXTEND kindness to everyone I encounter.
A:  I will ACCEPT help from others.
T:  I will take a TIME-OUT when I become overwhelmed.
H:  I will extend a hand of HELP to someone who is need.
E:  I will EXHALE – it’s going to be ok!

Here’s hoping you are able to do the same!

Dad lost his job, now what?

When my husband came home last month to tell me he would be unemployed within 30 days, I went into panic mode. I had so many questions. How long would it take for my husband to find another job?  How would we survive while he was unemployed? How would we afford our mortgage, utilities, food and property taxes, let alone extracurricular activities for our kids, SAT/ACT  and college application fees? How would we tell our children? I passed a lot of sleepless nights thinking it all through.

How to help your children understand when a parent loses their job.

When we delivered the news to the kids, we explained the need to tighten up the reigns and determine and prioritize our needs. Jared, my older son asked, “Are we going to be homeless?” I assured him that we wouldn’t, we’d just be on a tight budget;  instead of going out to eat, we would eat at home,  buy generic brands when  grocery shopping and refrain from extra activities for a little while.

Their responses as we’ve tightened up have been pretty typical. They complained that the chips in their packed lunches aren’t Doritos. Jared’s football team has been eating out for their pre-game dinners.  Jared had been using the money he made cutting lawns this summer to go with his buddies.  When his funds were depleted, he came to me. I told him it wasn’t in the budget. I was expecting a negative reaction, but to my surprise, he didn’t put up a fight. When my younger son, Jansen, had to miss a Boy Scout trip to Red River Gorge, his scout leader contacted me. After I explained our situation, he told me about available scholarships and that no scout will ever be turned away from an event. I was relieved as I know attending campouts are where badge requirements are met.

Living on a tight budget isn’t always comfortable but it is teaching our family to be resilient, to ask for help and to access resources. As a family we are learning to problem solve together and create a game of where we can cut corners.  I hope this experience helps my children know what’s truly important: that it’s family, love and security that bring them joy and happiness, not material things.

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To spank or not to spank?

When I became pregnant with my first child, my son Joe I started to think about how I would parent. I knew there were some disciplining styles that were used by my mom that I vowed to never use with my own son. Of course, “yelling” and “spanking” were at the top of my list to never use in my home. My mom yelled frequently. When I was young I could not decide if she was always angry or if she just spoke loudly. My mom did not spank me very often. However, when I was spanked I can remember very clearly how it made me feel and it was not good.

It's normal to fall back on the discipline methods that our parents used, but taking a more mindful approach is better for everyone.

As a result, I tried very hard not to use yelling or spanking as a form of discipline when my son misbehaved. I must confess on a very stressful day my son had misbehaved and I decided to spank him. At the time he was almost seven years old. It was his first spanking and his last.

Immediately after spanking my son I felt really bad about my choice. The next morning Joe and I were getting ready for work and school. He approached me with a calm yet confident tone of voice and said, “Momma, do you know that when you spanked me it only made me want to act worse and it did not make me want to act good.” I was speechless! I was shocked that my son had enough courage to tell me about his feelings. My attempt to use spanking in order to discipline my son for misbehaving failed tremendously.

Once I regained my composure I asked my son, “What should mommy do when you misbehave since spanking does not work?” He looked at me and said, “You know, momma, I like it better when you talk to me.” I explained to Joe why I decided to spank him instead of talking. However, right at that moment I made a promise to my son that I would never spank him again. Joe and I created a mutually agreed upon list of consequences that I could use if talking did not work when he misbehaved. He really felt that playing outside was really important and thought that I should take away his outside time if talking failed to help him behave appropriately.

Today Joe is almost ten years old. He is not a mischievous child but at times his behavior needs redirection. I have had major success with redirecting Joe’s behavior by utilizing the list of mutually agreed consequences we created about three years ago.

Parenting is not an easy job. On the job training is the only way to gain experience needed to make better parenting decisions. Before you defer to parenting styles that were used during your own childhood, I highly recommend that you take time to think about what worked and what didn’t work. Even though I knew early on that I did not want to spank my own children, I used the discipline method out of frustration. Take time to think before you act, utilize everything you know about your children, and include the actual child in making choices on how you parent. Keep in mind that your choice will have a tremendous impact on choices they make as a child and an adult.

Planes, Trains and Tea Parties!

When I found out I was expecting a baby girl, I remember worrying that my husband would be disappointed that we were not having a little boy. After all, don’t all men dream of having a son, a mini-me, that they can play and share experiences with? He assured me that he wasn’t disappointed at all, he was actually happy.  He explained it would be like watching me grow up and he was excited to see who our little girl would become. Ironically, Maddy is indeed a mini-me of my husband and for better or worse (mostly better!), she looks and acts just like him.

The importance of father-daughter relationships.

As someone who loves them both, it has been fun to watch their relationship as father and daughter evolve. From having his toenails painted, to tea parties, to mastering the art of the pony tail, my husband has embraced his relationship with our daughter. He wants to know what she likes and do the things that interest her. But he has also shared his likes and interests with her and she has equally embraced them. As a toddler she loved playing with cars and trains and learning all about them. As a preschooler she loves learning about space and building doll houses from materials around the house. All things her Daddy loves and experiences she has shared with him. And that has been the key: all of their activities have been experiences they have shared together and time they have spent learning about each other.

As a mom I often think of myself as the primary caregiver and for our family that is mostly true. But I also recognize how important it is for my daughter to create her own unique connection with her dad. One evening a week my husband and daughter have what we call “Maddy Daddy Date Night.” I must admit, it was initially conceived because I worked one evening a week, but it has become a beloved ritual for them both. Each week, Maddy can’t wait for her “date night” with her Daddy and the feeling is mutual. My hope for them both is that their date nights continue long after the necessity fades. I am myself a self proclaimed “Daddy’s girl.” As a child and as an adult my relationship with each of my parents is very different, but equally cherished.  I wish the same for my daughter.

Coping with change: for kids (and their parents!)

Change. It’s a word most people dread hearing and fewer want to experience. My family is currently experiencing several big changes all at once and I’ll be honest – I’m freaked out! These changes directly impact my 5-year-old daughter and I’m mostly worried about how she will handle them.

Coping with change can be hard for kids... and often harder for their parents!

We are in the process of moving and my daughter will be entering a new child care center as well as starting kindergarten in August. While she is outgoing and always seems to adjust well to new situations, I’m worried that the combination of these changes will be overwhelming for her.

Fortunately, I work with a wonderful team of early childhood professionals who have given me some great advice to help my daughter (and me!) through this time. I have been encouraged to focus on what isn’t changing when talking with Maddy. She has asked lots of questions about what we are taking to the new house: Is the dog going? Are her toys going? Will there still be Disney Junior on our television? It is important to reassure her that while we will be in a new house, all of her prized possessions and things she connects with “home” will be going with her.

I have also been encouraged to include her in the process of the change. We have visited her new child care center and the elementary school and she picked out the paint color for her new room (pink – whew!).  Most importantly, I have been encouraged to be positive. Instead of relaying any concerns I might have regarding the changes, I have presented these changes as something exciting and positive that our family will experience together.

Last weekend while Maddy and I were unpacking boxes at the new house she turned to me and excitedly exclaimed, “Momma, I love our new house… it’s just like a dream!” Like most things parents worry and fret about, I am now certain I am more anxious about how Maddy will react than she is actually worried about the changes to come. Thank goodness!