Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

New Year’s Eve Celebration

family-time-holidayCelebrating New Year’s in our house is almost as anticipated as Christmas morning. I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face when I told her I wanted to go to a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve. She was so disappointed that we all wouldn’t be together to ring in the New Year. So, I remembered this when I had children and decided to make it amazing while we had our time together.

Every year the festivities are something different than the year before and every year we try to top the last. First thing on our list, FOOD! Each person gets to pick whatever they want to be on the menu! ANYTHING! This gets kinda crazy! One year we had macaroni and cheese, shrimp cocktail, bowtie pasta, steak, mussels, a cheese tray and a veggie tray. The kids love going to the grocery and picking whatever they want. Then, we have to have champagne (for the adults) and sparkling grape juice (for the kids) served in wine flutes.

To top it off, we…have…games! I must say that since “Minute-to-Win-it” came out we have had so much fun! Every year we fill up balloons with random things to do at different times during the night and the kids love popping them and going crazy! We always have the TV station on the Rockin’ New Year’s Eve NYC ball drop, and we have dance parties and play board games too. The kids love it! And we “old folk” parents get a kick out of it too. At midnight our tradition is to bang pots and pans outside and yell “Happy New Year!” as loud as we can!

I know the time is coming when my kids won’t want to hang with mom and dad during New Year’s Eve, but for now these memories we have made are amazing! Maybe they will continue on our celebratory traditions with their families, but for now it’s just my favorite part of the year!

Too Much of a Good Thing

Too much of a good thingIs there such a thing as too much of a good thing? When it comes to parenting, I believe most of the time the answer is yes. Successful parenting is about finding what works for you and staying consistent. Kids thrive on simplicity and limits. Too much of anything—even a good thing like presents— can be overwhelming. I also believe in being grateful for all the things in my life and teaching my children to be grateful too. If you have relatives that give your children gifts that is an amazing blessing. But what if their gift-giving is too generous? How can you gracefully explain that when it comes to gifts, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing?

My children are blessed with an over-enthusiastic gift-giving grandmother. She loves to shop and she loves to give. She is so excited to see those little faces light up when they open a present. And who can blame her? It is pretty thrilling. But unlike grandparents, parents can see the practical side of over-gifting—as in, “Where is all this going to fit in my house?” “When will they play with that when they already have so many toys?” and, “What is this teaching my children about giving and receiving?”

I know it’s long been the job of grandparents to spoil their grandchildren and I don’t want to deny them that pleasure. Being able to give and receive presents at the holidays is such a blessing, and not all families are in the same situation as us. Because of this, I want my children to be grateful and appreciate what they have, but that can be tough to do when you have too much.

After a couple years of wading through the sea of presents and managing a tired overwhelmed toddler I talked to my mom about limits and expectations for gift giving. These days grandma asks for suggestions on what to get the kids and sticks to those few gift suggestions—though occasionally she goes rogue and drowns the tree in presents (including a giant Melissa and Doug stuffed tiger in the picture above, check out how huge that thing is!). For the most part the kids are now enjoying just the right amount of a good thing.

No Halloween! What’s the big deal?

Parents are sometimes surprised to learn that their child care program doesn’t celebrate Halloween. Why won’t they allow costumes and let the kids have some fun, they wonder. Are these child care providers spoil-sports, or are there good reasons for their policy?

While not the biggest issue in early childhood these days, consider this: Halloween can be very frightening to children under 5. While costumes and make-believe are fun for older children and adults, this can be downright scary for younger children who can’t yet separate fantasy from reality.

Though Halloween is widely accepted as a secular activity by most, it does conflict with the religious beliefs of some families. So programs are being respectful of the diversity of the families they serve when they limit celebration of holidays to those that are strictly secular.

If your program is one that chooses to celebrate Halloween, consider discussing with the director or caregiver how he or she will take steps to avoid frightening experiences. One simple precaution is to not allow masks and to keep costumes limited to simple dress-up items.  Better yet, consider a no-Halloween policy!

This blog post was originally published in October 2009 by Elaine Ward, Senior Vice President/COO, 4C for Children.


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!

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Feeling overwhelmed? Slow down!

Are you a member of the “sandwich generation”? I still have kids at home, but I also have my own parents to care for sometimes. Though they’re barely in their seventies, we’ve still dealt with some emergencies.

In the midst of the Thanksgiving holiday my mom had a scheduled surgery. We knew there would be several days of hospitalization, but we didn’t expect the complications that followed.  Between the drive back and forth to the hospital, working and trying to keep my own home intact, I AM TIRED.  I’ve been at the hospital so much I’m starting to feel like a nurse! But when I felt like I couldn’t go on one more minute, I forced myself to stop and think about the advice I would give my best friend if she were in my situation.

Breathe. Don’t let yourself get so wrapped up in things that you go on auto pilot. Sitting silently for a few moments and taking deep breaths not only relaxes your body but clears your mind and allows you to focus.

Find your comfort. I have my husband and children for moral support, but my personal comfort and peace within comes from much prayer. For you it may be a warm relaxing bath, snuggling with your baby or listening to soft holiday tunes.

Delegate and accept help. Not only am I trying to be present for my mom, I want to be there for my children as well. I am relying on my husband to do things I normally do. Some guilt goes with it, but I have learned to let go. He took them to the choral concert at school, and I drove myself there just in time to hear my daughter sing. Then I left and crashed on the couch! This weekend, my girls are learning to make a menu and prepare two meals each.

Take shortcuts. I love to do things big at the holidays: get everyone together to take the family photo, send out cards, make cookies. This year, I simply haven’t the time or the energy. When I ran in the store the other evening, I went for the refrigerated cookie dough so we can still have the fun of decorating them together!

Sometimes life gets overwhelming and we have to focus on things other than the fun stuff. But by slowing down, simplifying and taking shortcuts, we can still enjoy quality time with our families.

– Debbie


Santa Has Elves, We Have Retailers!

Last Friday, after an emotionally charged day, I headed out of the office and straight for my favorite retail stores for some Christmas shopping therapy. Whether receiving an emotional boost or making a dent in their children’s lists to Santa was the goal, lots of people had the same idea. As we did a crazy consumer dance in every aisle to let one person past, in or out, I remarked to one woman, “It sure doesn’t look like we’re in a recession.” Several people heard my comment and agreed with it. From there I headed to another store where I checked out at close.

On Monday morning, while picking up my daily skinny vanilla latte at the local coffee shop, one of the girls who usually serves me (and who I’d bumped into on Friday night with my overflowing cart), asked if I was done with my shopping. “Almost,” I replied. “But I did some serious damage, not only to the list, but to my wallet!”  The other barista behind the counter chimed in the conversation with, “The news reported record breaking sales over the last six days.” Hmm, so I wasn’t the only one who’d broken the bank playing Santa instead of tightening my purse strings during this tough economic period. I have a feeling many parents feel the way I do: Anything for my children.

Knowing why I spent so much money didn’t stop me from fretting over it a little. Why do I feel compelled to get my children every single item on their lists even if I can’t really afford it? I was still pondering this question when I sat down for a workshop entitled “Poverty and Relationships: Working Toward Success” later that afternoon. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I would get an answer for my question.

It goes back to my childhood. I grew up in poverty. Yet my mother spent  ridiculous amounts on my brother and me at Christmas. She didn’t make much money but ran her credit cards up to their limit then paid for her extravagance all year. Why? Because as we learned in the workshop, one of the driving forces for those in poverty is relationships. Providing those materials things was a way for my mother to express love. And even though I would be considered middle class, recession or no, a pile of presents beneath the tree is also my way of expressing love to my children. That and the fact that they still believe in Santa and wouldn’t understand why he had to cut back this year due to the economy. Hence the record breaking sales.

Unlike my mother, I don’t max out credit cards because I don’t have any. This keeps me out of real financial dire straits: If I don’t have the money, I can’t buy it, no matter how much my children may want it. Still, since Christmas and birthdays are really the only time I give them gifts (non necessities) and I don’t have a workshop to produce them in, I’m grateful for everyday low prices, discounts and sales.

As parents there are countless ways to express our love, and I choose to express mine in this particular way.  Of course just as each parent must decide which holidays to observe/celebrate, each must determine when enough is enough regarding spending. A parent’s willingness or ability is subjective and should be respected by others who do things differently. I’m  grateful that while I figure out the right balance for my family,  certain stores make the process more affordable.

If you’re anything like me, Santa can have his elves. We’ll take retailers!

– Tammi

Photograph courtesy of Bill Roehl.

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‘Tis the Season… for Stress!

4C’s Debbie Bruemmer has a few tips for parents to enjoy the holidays, instead of just stressing out about them!

We were celebrating the holiday a bit early this year since my mom is a snowbird and heads to Florida in the winter. I wasn’t really in the mood to have Christmas so soon: I had barely started shopping!

It had already been a stressful morning of cooking, gathering up last minute presents and making sure the kids were appropriately dressed. I was a bit agitated making sure everything was perfect. My college-aged son who I barely ever see anymore even commented, “So this is what I miss on the days I am not at home?” The five of us piled up in the car, filled the trunk with gifts and food and headed out over the river to grandma’s house.

We pulled out of the drive meeting the first snow of the season, and when we turned on the holiday radio station, SpongeBob started singing, “Don’t be a jerk, it’s Christmas.” We were all soon laughing and howling as we listened to the words and sang along.

Holiday time can easily become a time of stress, especially when young children are involved. My best advice for those of you traveling is to keep it simple.

Delegate. Older children are great at helping in the kitchen, and those cookies don’t have to be homemade. Let them cut the cookie dough off the store bought roll and decorate to their liking. Sometimes “rustic” is better than perfect. They can also wrap gifts or hang some holiday decorations on the tree. This is a great way to keep them involved and give them ownership in the holiday festivities. If they can print or write, they can sign the Christmas cards!

Stick to routine as much as possible. I recall when we lived in Columbus but all of our family was in Cincinnati. My husband made the decision that all of our children were going to sleep in their own beds over the holidays. So, we made three separate trips down to Cincinnati but our children slept in their own beds, had a good night’s sleep and were not so irritated and fussy in the car or at relatives’ homes. Even mom and dad felt more rested. If your child still naps during the day, go ahead and let them have it. Showing up a little late at grandma’s house is better than having a crying and cranky toddler. It will be more enjoyable for all!

Watch the sugar. Offer kids a feast of alternatives to the sugary sweets. Carrot and celery sticks can easily transform into “reindeer food.” Open up a pomegranate and eat the seeds, and let the kids count them first! Cut peanut butter sandwiches into triangles, add pretzel “antlers” and some raisins with a cherry tomato “nose” and you have Rudolph. Make food fun and festive. Even grownup waistlines can benefit from these ideas.

Relax. Create some new traditions. Read a holiday book together. Sit by the fire. Sip on hot cocoa. Light some candles. Wrap up in a warm blanket. Watch the snow fall. Take advantage of those teachable moments. Your family tradition can be anything that your family enjoys doing together.

The holidays don’t have to be all about stressing you out. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. The children don’t have to get all the best toys and latest electronics. The holidays are for making memories, being with family and sharing kindnesses. So this holiday season, take some time to slow down and chill-lax!

Photograph courtesy of Geoanne Millares.