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.

You Are Not Alone

During one of my holiday jaunts to the grocery store, I witnessed a young mother attempting to deal with a raging child. The little girl, who appeared to be about 3, threw a temper tantrum as her mother continued to deny her demands to purchase a toy. As I traveled up and down several aisles, I caught glimpses of the drama. The child really worked hard to get her way. She flung herself on the floor, she swung her arms at her mother and screeched, “But I want it!” Her mother tried reasoning with her, encouraging her to stop and failed at attempts to get her back into the grocery cart. Eventually the drama concluded as the young mother picked up her flailing child and exited the store.

As I turned down the next aisle, several women began to comment on the drama we had just witnessed. One woman stated, “Oh, I remember those days.” Another commented. “I felt so bad for her,” and a third lamented that “toys are not needed in a grocery store.” And what pleased me about these comments was the bystander support this young mother was receiving. Not one person who spoke cast a stone or spoke negatively. Instead, these parents responded empathetically to the mother’s attempt to manage her child’s incredible outburst.

And though this mother was given a lot of support, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that she was not there to receive it. I am sure the young mother left the store feeling embarrassed and extremely frustrated, as many of us do when faced with our children’s challenging behaviors. We wonder what we have done wrong, or feel completely inept as our attempts to control the situation fail. And the reality is we have all been there. We have all been faced with parenting challenges. And not a one of us is a perfect parent.

I wonder, what would have happened if any of us had offered our support to this mother? And what prevents us from stepping in to help? For me I think I hesitated because I believed she could handle it. That she would make the decisions and take action based upon what she believed to be best for her child. I mean, who am I to offer support to a stranger? And yet I felt sad that this young mother was unaware of the support others had for her.

And maybe when faced in the future with a similar situation, I will choose to offer my help. Because one thing we can all attest to is that support from others who have been through what we’re experiencing is extremely valuable. It is helpful to know we are not alone and that all parents face similar challenges. There’s safety and comfort in numbers!

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.

Following Your Children’s Lead

Parenting is one of the most informative on the job training experiences that I have ever had in my life. Each day that I parent I learn something new about my children’s personalities, likes and dislikes. I have a tendency to plan parties or activities that I think are fun and sometimes I forget to consider my children’s interest while planning.

Think you know what's fun for your kids? Think again!

In order to reward my son for academic achievement I placed three incentive choices inside of a hat. I told my son that he could pick one item from the hat each time he had a good report card. His choices were going to Dave & Buster’s, shopping at the mall or going to the movies. Once my son picked all of the incentive items from the hat I was pressured to come up with more ideas.

So one day when I picked him up after school I said, “Okay, Joe, you name the place and we will go.” I started rambling off ideas that I thought would be fun, most of them related to my own personal interests and not necessarily his interests. He said, “Mom, can’t we just go to the pet store?” Because animals aren’t exactly my favorite thing I was very hesitant to go along with his choice, but go along with it I did.

And we had an amazing time. My son selected three puppies to play with, held a bird and escorted me up and down each aisle explaining tons of details about each item in store. We spent almost two hours in there! During the time with my son I learned so much from him and gained meaningful insight about the things that make him happy.

After our wonderful trip to the pet store I realized that the choices inside the reward hat were some of my favorite things, not his. I am so glad I decided to follow his lead that day. In the future when I plan activities for my children I will be sure to put their interest firsts. I thought if I did not spend any money we could not have a good time, boy was I wrong. When I followed his lead I learned so much (and saved some money, too).


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!

Roots and Wings

“If I could give you just two things, one would be roots, the other, wings.”

It seems like just yesterday my children were babies, toddlers and preschoolers who needed me to comfort them and be their playmate. But now they’re young adults, teenagers, and I’m sad because it feels like they’re outgrowing me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that they’re independent and confident, that they feel loved and accepted,  but if I could go back in time, I would cherish each minute I spent cuddling, bathing, reading books and spending more individual time with each of them.

Children grow up in a flash.  Cherish them!

I wish I had cuddled with Jared more at bedtime when he had asked me to, that I had played  checkers with Jansen more and read more to Gabrielle. But when I put my kids to bed at night all I wanted to do was unwind. I wish I would’ve slowed down with them, just took a breath and allowed myself to be still in the moment when they were snuggled on my lap and not so caught up in my own personal stressors. My hope is, in spite of my regrets, that my children have felt nurtured , loved and cherished.

Gabrielle, who turns 22 in May, will be leaving high school in May, too. My husband and I are currently searching for adult day programs for her. It seems like just yesterday she wanted nothing more than to sit in my lap and read books, but now she wants to go all the time, be out with her friends, live her own life.

Her brothers are just as busy as she is. Jared, once a pudgy, wide-eyed curious little boy is now a caring young man ready to embark on adulthood. He’s headed to college next fall, and at the start of this year’s football season a video of he and his teammates as toddlers growing into young men made me realize I’ll never see him in this element again. I won’t connect with the other families whose sons have been playing football, soccer and baseball with him all throughout school.

And Jansen, my youngest at 13, has his first “girlfriend.” They’ve gone on dates to the movies or bowling. No longer am I the only woman in his life.

Although my children have outgrown me as mom the chauffeur and cook, being their mother now means new, different-but-good things. Our relationship has changed, but our feelings for each other haven’t. My prayer is I have given each of my children a strong foundation, that they have strong roots and broad wings to support them in being the best human beings they can be and to make a positive difference in this world.

1 Comment

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

So often we address our youngsters with warnings about their behaviors: Watch what you are doing. Use your manners. Play nice. It is our responsibility to make sure they learn how to navigate themselves in the world. We have learned from our own experiences that others make judgments based upon the actions they observe, so we want our children to be careful and learn from a young age that actions speak louder than words.

And though we tend to heap this advice on our children, I often wonder if we really get it. We are so busy using the words to get the messages across to our children that we often forget that it is our actions that really make the difference.

Parents often give children advice that they don't follow themselves! Remember that how you act is going to teach your child more than what you say.

This past weekend I watched as an entire row of football fans became enthralled with a 5-year old boy who was “learning the ropes.” The boy, who was clearly a Bengals football fan, was with his father. During the first offensive series he was in awe of the fans around him who cheered and gleefully exchanged “high-fives” as the Bengals moved the ball down field. When the Bengals’ defense took the field the noise around him grew as fans stood up, loudly chanted and banged their seats. At first he looked shocked, his eyes grew wider but than a smile grew across his face when again the “high-fives” were exchanged amongst the fans. Now his hand flew up in the air as he reached for a “high-five” from, me, the strange woman behind him who only seconds before was bounding on her seat and yelling at the top of her lungs.

As the game continued he grew more and more confident in his actions. He mimicked the gestures during the fight song; he reached all around for high-fives and banged on his seat when the defense took the field. Women and men behind him, next to him and in front of him smiled as he “took on” the actions of a Bengals fan. And it was simply our actions that made this impact. No one talked to him and explained why you make noise when the defense is on the field. No one corrected him or reminded him to chant defense. He simply watched, made some observations and mimicked what was going on around him.

And we know this happens all the time. We know our children are watching and yet we often act poorly. We think teaching is about words when we can teach our children so much more through our behaviors. Children learn how to express feelings, deal with frustration, solve problems and socialize with others by watching our actions. It is what we do and how we do it that makes the difference.

This past weekend a group of adults had a great time teaching a new fan the ropes. I sure hope his father was happy with what his son learned at the game!