Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Missing Out

missing-outHave you heard of FOMO, or the fear of missing out? Being a mother of four brings me to this feeling quite frequently! I always imagined being that “perfect” parent that never allowed the TV to become the babysitter, or electronics to outweigh the importance of books and one-on-one time. I wanted to ensure my children had every opportunity possible to expand their interests and I wanted to be that inspiration for each of them. I wanted to know what was going on all the time with everyone so I could coach them if they needed it, or simply be in the know. What I am finding is that I am missing out!

More often than not I find myself wishing I could go back and walk these steps with them that they are making all on their own. I spend more time trying to catch-up than I do helping to create these memories. Part of me feels proud that they can all carry on independently and be successful, but the mom side of me quietly sobs when I hear things like, “Mom, I entered a poetry contest and won!” And I so eloquently say, “You write poems? Since when? What was it about?” They are successful, they are all doing well, but I still ache for a little bit of satisfaction by being a part of every decision.

When they were small, I encouraged them to crawl, walk and then run! I guided their every choice and decision. Now, they are all living their lives and making decisions that I may never get to know about. Having four makes me feel like I am spread too thin, like just maybe if I had extra time I could be a part of everything. However, I know (I just don’t want to accept) it’s not that at all. My babies are all making these decisions and learning on their own not because I am not a part of each one, but because I have (we have, my husband and myself) given them the encouragement at such a young age to run! I may not be able to witness every little thing in person, but I am just extra blessed getting to see each of their successes everyday with or without me.

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Trust Comes First

I am often approached by parents looking for advice on disciplining their children. I don’t think I have ever met a parent who didn’t struggle with this task. Parents clearly get that their role is to ensure children know right from wrong. They are responsible for teaching their children how to behave, and to demonstrate for their children that there are clear consequences when they act poorly or make the wrong choice.  Though they are clear about their role and the desired outcome, most parents struggle on how to get there.

When it comes to disciplining your children, trust comes first.

My first piece of advice is that the relationship between a parent and child needs to be built first. Parents often make the mistake of trying to manage their child’s behaviors, yet have not established a trusting relationship with their child. It is critical that the child identify the parent as the person they can count on. Parents who are responsive to the needs of their children are more likely to have children who will respond to them. Children who feel attached to their parent are more likely to want to please the parent.

Attachment begins with infants. Picking up your baby when she cries, cooing back to her while you hold her and holding her while you feed her are three ways to start the bond with your young child. As your child grows this attachment is further nurtured by your emotional responses. Listening to your child, reassuring him when he is frustrated and continuing to soothe and hold your child are ways to nurture that attachment.

My second piece of advice is to “do what you say.” Doing what you say is not limited to discipline. Children need to know that you will follow through. Do not make promises you can’t keep. If you make a commitment to play a game or watch a TV show then it is imperative that you do that. Children who know their parent will “do as they say” are less likely to test limits set by their parent. But this sense of respect is earned. I have heard many parents say that children just need to respect authority, but know that they will respect you as a parent when you have demonstrated behaviors that can be trusted and respected.

Discipline will be more successful once you have established a bond with your child and your child is able to trust your actions. Consequences tend to be more effective when they are clearly connected to the behavior you are addressing. For example, if a child breaks something, then taking toys away may make sense. A child who refuses to get ready for school in the morning has to go to bed earlier and a child who tells a lie needs to learn that lying limits your ability to trust.

Lastly, just know that your style of discipline and the type of discipline children respond to is based upon you and your child. There will be some trial and error, but you will truly see that discipline is easier when a trusting relationship comes first.

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.

Is your parenting style influencing your child’s eating habits?

For her bedtime story recently, my daughter chose a book about eating too much junk food. It really made me think about my role in preventing obesity in my children. It also forced me to recall my personal childhood choices when it came to eating meals and snacks. I am using the term “choices” lightly, because I really did not have any say.

Parents have a responsibility to their children when it comes to how and what they eat.

When I was growing up we had three solid meals per day. Desserts were only served on special occasions. My family was very adamant about children eating all their food, especially fruits and vegetables. Most of our meals were chased by a tall glass of milk or water. During trips to the grocery store my grandmother only purchased items that were on her list, and the list usually consisted of items that were going to be used solely to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But  my flexible parenting style has led to an à la carte menu selection for my children when it comes time for meals and snacks. My children and I not only have three meals per day, we often indulge in at least two to three snacks per day (bedtime snack is non-negotiable with my children). I do not force my children to eat all of their food. Needless to say, when I am preparing meals I make various side items because I know there are some foods that my children will not eat. My son has appointed himself as the official “family drink server,” and he typically pours mostly juice and pop. When we go to the grocery store I am lucky to have room in the cart for items that were initially on my list because of all of the yummy snacks and items from wonderful food displays filling up my shopping cart.

When I was younger, obesity in young children was not a major issue. I feel that most children in my community did not snack because they were forced to eat everything on their plate or simply because snack food was not as readily available. Historically, parents were very strict about eating fruits and vegetables. Children were forced to sit at the table from sun up to sun down until they swallowed every fruit/veggie that was on their plate. I am not saying that the latter eating habits enforced by parents were right, however meal time, snacking and the “choices” children could make about the foods they consumed were totally different. How can we find a happy medium between then and now?

I am so glad that my daughter selected the book about junk food as a bedtime story. While I definitely understand the importance of healthy eating, I have been reminded about how my parenting choices can and will have an everlasting impact on my children’s eating habits (and how much I can do to make sure that’s a positive impact). In order to take a detour from my children’s trip to obesity, I may need to revisit some of my grandma’s meal time and shopping traditions.


We All Need Somebody to Lean On

In second grade, my daughter became friends with a class mate, and since her mother and I are actively involved at the school, over the last few years, she and I have formed a friendship of our own. At first this friendship revolved around the girls’ school events and  play dates, but when we began to trade after school pick ups so I could work late when my husband couldn’t keep the children or she needed some single mommy time, our relationship evolved into one of mutual support.

This evolution has come as a two-fold pleasant surprise to me. Because I am remarried and have a blended family of eight, I was concerned that I wouldn’t have room in my life to act as a support to a single parent. I feared she’d be so needy that I would be drained trying to help her. And though I was still willing to try, because she is single and has considerably fewer resources, I worried that I’d be doing a lot more giving than taking. I’m not proud to admit that, but I’m being honest. So I was not only surprised but relieved to learn that instead of being drained, I’m filled by the relationship and my friend is one who gives as good as she gets!

You’d think having been a single mom myself, I of all people would have known that no matter the circumstances, most parents have a level of resiliency. It comes with the job. But the hard work of parenting, and it is hard work, can deplete or replenish that supply. My friend is one who has allowed her parenting challenges to do the latter. Her divorce and her daughter’s recent autism diagnosis have only served to increase her resilience. Often, when she calls on me for encouragement, I’m the one who comes away feeling like I can parent another day. With every blow she’s dealt, she increases her resilience by leaning on her faith, her family and her friends.

And there I was thinking just because I have a good husband, a good education and a good job, I had more to offer her than the other way around. The truth is, despite my educational background and my professional training on the protective factors that contribute to parental resiliency, which include having a strong network of support, I often try to do it all on my own and fall so short, whereas my friend lacks all the things I have but is in possession of a lot more good sense than I. She’s not only learned how to build her own resilience, she’s teaching me to do the same.

My friend is not too proud to ask for help and she’s humble enough to admit when she’s failed. She relies on her faith, family and friends, and I’m honored to be counted among the latter.

Slow down this summer!

This past week I spent quite a bit of time with the four loves of my life – my niece and three nephews. Instead of taking a family vacation this year, we made a decision to spend five fun-filled days “stay-cationing” in Cincinnati. Our goal was to fill-up the time with as much activity as we could – Coney Island, Newport Aquarium and Kings Island were three of the chosen outings. Golf, swimming, grilling out and a Reds’ ballgame completed our plans. And oh what fun we had!

Take advantage of summer's long days by spending them with your family!

For the most part, we were able to participate in the activities we had planned.  The rain caused us to change our itinerary slightly, but this did not cast a cloud on our time together. What made the “stay-cation” perfect was all of us being together. To mimic advertising from Visa:

  • admission to King’s Island – $38 dollars
  • souvenir at the Reds game for my nephew – $45 dollars
  • admission for 6 to Newport Aquarium – $137.00 dollars
  • sharing stories and making memories – PRICELESS

I realize that most parents get it. They know the value of spending time with their children. What I appreciate about summer is that often families do a better job of taking time to slow down, find time to relax and have fun. It must have something to do with more hours of daylight, no homework and activities that draw us together – like summer fairs, cook outs and sleeping outdoors! And it’s at these times that we are better able to recognize what is really important. The crazy schedules, the long work hours and the constant chatter from cell phones and computers become barriers to us being present in the moment, while summertime can help us to re-engage with ourselves and our families.

Summer days provide us with so many opportunities to engage with our children. There is so much attention given to summer learning and making sure our children do not lose what they gained in school. And though I agree with that focus, I also think that summertime fun is just as important. Our kids also need time to relax, have fun and connect with us.

While on “stay-cation” I had a chance to talk to one of my nephews about his upcoming entry into high school. We talked about friends changing and starting football at a new school. He shared his hopes and excitement with me. My other nephew is in the midst of becoming a young man. He and has dad do not see eye-to-eye on his most recent hair style choice. He asked me what I thought his dad meant by calling him rebellious. We had a wonderful conversation about choosing battles and also his decision to keep his hair the way it was because the “girls liked it”.

This time to connect, for me to show them that I was interested in their lives and what they were dealing with – also PRICELESS.

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!