Archive for May, 2009

Being a Parent – Part Expert Part Hypocrite

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

One minute, you’re having a conversation about healthy eating with your child.  The next minute, you’re stealing a cupcake from the batch your wife made for her committee meeting.  Yes, the expert and the hypocrite can be the one and the same.  You’re not perfect, and that’s part of the deal.

Even as I look at me writing these blog posts to you, the greater public, I think about this.  Who am I to impart such wisdom on all of you when I sometimes let my kids get by without finishing chores?  Well, I am a parent and I have some professional training.  That doesn’t exempt me from being human.

Even after I write and post things, I sometimes still mull on them, wish I had changed something, roll them over in my mind.  Even a day later, I can move on to a higher level of understanding about the topic I wrote on.  So the post is simply a snapshot of my thoughts at the time, but my actual thoughts are much more fluid and constantly evolving in real life.  Even the comments prompt deeper thoughts, and the original post becomes the first stepping stone.  Writing and parenting, both are constantly in motion.

When you become a parent, that’s when you realize just how much you don’t know about a lot of stuff.  Well, you do “know” things, but having to explain and follow through on them yourself is a trickier task.  Much easier said than done.  So while family development theories are nice for a term paper, they’ve got nothing
on parenting experience from the trenches.

You are often an expert in your children’s eyes, especially when they are young.  You simply have more accumulated knowledge and experience than they do, and you have to literally teach them so many things as they grow.  However, it can be easy to feel kind of like a fraud.  You know “something” about black holes, more than your kids, but you aren’t exactly sure you’re telling them the right things.  You aren’t truly an expert, only in relative terms.  Until your …

How Does Clutter Make You and Your Family Feel?

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I have a smallish house and I seem to be decluttering on a regular basis.  Also, decluttering and organizing shows are fairly popular these days.  It seems to all be about having too much stuff in our lives.  But what’s behind all that stuff?  Probably something that has nothing to do with the stuff itself.

I’ll use a few examples from my own past and recent decluttering missions to get the ball rolling.  What if my daughters wanted me to keep this for them after they’ve grown up (anxiety)?  Oh, they got that from Grandma last Christmas – we can’t get rid of that (guilt).  I can stand to even look at that pile of junk over there – it makes me so angry (hopeless)!

Meanwhile, the excess toys or clothes just make my kids rooms more easily messed up.  And I spend time going through the pile of stuff that I really could use doing something better.  I get frustrated with myself and with the whole family for allowing it to continue – nobody appreciates it when I’m in that mood!  Why doesn’t my husband move that?  Why don’t the kids pick up this?  Why don’t I just throw all that stuff away already?  So in the end, clutter just brings the whole family down.  The clutter represents the emotional junk that gets passed around among us.  And yes, those leftover depression and PMDD thoughts just love to cling to my clutter!

My clutter issue is nothing obsessive or extreme, but it still gets in our way.  I have seen shows and heard stories about people who are literally trapped in their homes because of their clutter.  It is so physically overwhelming that they can do very little about it anymore.  They don’t go anywhere, they don’t have people over, and the clutter is a huge monument to the shame and guilt they carry around with them daily.  This is truly difficult for me to see and hear about.  I’ve had mental illness so I know what the walls of that prison look like from the inside.  …

Parenting and Teaching Kids About Social Norms

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

OK, I have to admit.  I got a little dorky on my daughter this evening.  We were talking about why I was expecting her to eat her homemade chicken nuggets with a fork instead of her fingers.  And thus launched a conversation about social norms.  Yes, I actually said that.  Who even uses the words “social norms” in
normal conversation??  Apparently someone with a psychology degree trying to have an educational family moment.  A little overboard, I admit, but at least she’ll remember this someday for a social studies vocabulary quiz.

Different Situations Mean Different Manners

She and I are working on her manners right now, so I thought a more thorough expanation was in order.  I expected her to use her fork for chicken nuggets because it was suppertime, she’s nine (not 2), and all the other food on her plate required a fork.  I said that if she wanted to eat them for lunch tomorrow, she could certainly eat them with her fingers.  These are somewhat subtle reasons, I realize that.  But this opened the conversation about why these things are even different or matter.

I said that if I served these chicken nuggets for lunch but the president ate with us, she’d absolutely have to use a fork.  Or, she could just eat however the president was eating.  The difference is that an important dignitary would be eating with us, worthy of extra effort to show respect and dignity.  However, hardly
anyone in a fast food restaurant, regardless of the time of day, would be eating chicken nuggets with a fork.

Isn’t this interesting to think about for a moment?  The same activity in different situations and different times of the day can dictate different kinds of manners.  The “social norms” for the situation make a difference for how you behave.  The norm for dance student apparel at the dance studio would be leotards, with or without pants if the weather is nice (even out in the parking lot).  But at school – gotta wear pants every day no matter how hot it is.  Same kids, same clothes, …

End of School Transitions – Stressful or Relaxing?

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Transitions can be difficult to handle.  Doesn’t matter if you’re finally landing that dream job, moving to a new house, having a baby, or even going on vacation.  Anything that takes you out of your normal routine can add some stress to your day.  One of those transitions is the end of school.  Does this time of year add more stress for you or create more relaxation?

Your answer might depend on how long your patterns have been going, what kind of flexibility you have, plans for your children, how much or whether you work in the summer, and simply how you view change and transition.  Granted, it can be challenging even with a good attitude.  But if you or your child need a lot of time to absorb change, this transition can be bumpy.

Yesterday, I focused my post on the amount of activities planned versus open free time.  This time, I’m asking you to think about your temperament.  Also take moment to think about each of your children, and your spouse or partner if you have one.  Temperament is a predictable and stable pattern of how you navigate through life.  You are generally more or less flexible, more or less open to new things, more or less active, etc.  None of these are right or wrong, they just “are.”  Temperament traits are often grouped as easy, difficult, and slow-to-warm-up.

For example, one of my daughters is particularly persistent and active.  She always needs something to focus on, to grind on, to keep her appetite for challenge satisfied.  Her younger sister has a similar persistent streak, and both can have some difficulty with transitions.  They need time and preparation to “unhook” themselves from their previous patterns before they engage in a new one.   My middle one is the most flexible and emotionally sensitive.  She is very sentimentally attached to favorite people or objects, but can change gears a lot more easily than either of her sisters.  I tend to be a lot more flexible in general, which can get me into conflicts with the oldest and youngest …

Summer Interrupted Might Be Healthier and More Relaxing

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

It’s the last day of school for our family, and summer vacation has finally begun.  Because of some scheduling issues this summer, our usual flow of sporting activities will be very different.  My kids are all under age ten, and I’ve tried to help them choose summer activities they like without getting too over-scheduled.  You have to have some “Countrytime Lemonade” days in there, too.  You know, the kind where you run in the grass, watch clouds, and just don’t care what you do.  That’s just as important as passing your swimming lesson level for the year.

Instead of trying to work in the six weeks of softball, three weeks of soccer, golf, and day camps, we’re talking about one kid taking eight leisurely days with the grandparents while the others hang out at home.  A one day art event instead of a week-long enrichment program.  Two kids spending the week at the cousin’s and grandparent’s house.  I think if we just get in a little soccer for the youngest and one week of swimming lessons, we will be doing just fine.

Usually by now, I’ve already got the forms filled out and the checks sent off.  There are a million things to pick from, and everyone gets started shortly after school ends.  I’ll admit, I’ve avoided trying to figure out how this all goes around our other commitments.  I’ve put it off and tried to keep my head clear.  I used up my focus reserved for summer planning by getting other things lined up.

The by-product of this odd summer is a more relaxed expectation.  Some planned stuff is good, but too much feels a lot like the school year.  And in a summer that’s not typical anyway, why not take full advantage of the disruptions to encourage creative relaxing use of time?  The more I think about it, the more I like it.  It’s entirely possible they might miss some of their stand-by activities.  And you know, that might be OK.

Family Stress – What's Your Tipping Point?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Right now is a pretty crazy time of year for us – dance, dance, and more dance.  Recitals, practice, pictures, a different schedule each week – all part of the deal through early June.  And we have Memorial Day in there, which will change the work schedule for my husband and myself.  Good stuff, but all just on the edge of too much.

Today I spent time at school talent shows, dance practice, doing random errands, and an appointment.  In the midst of this a had a major schedule wrench thrown at me, right into the middle of the dance schedule frenzy.  Mmmmm…..the panic buttons started buzzing and flashing as soon as I figured out what this could mean.  The rescheduling issue would either involve this totally inflexible event or that other completely mandatory event.  Geez – which difficult day do I make worse?

It all turned out OK, found out there was a glitch on my calendar and nothing overlapped.  But for a short while, my head was in a whirlwind.  I had trouble thinking straight, scrambled to think of some people to help me out, imaging how this could all come together.  My nerves were noticeably jangled and I know I was irritable for a while, even after it was resolved.  It’s still a change from the original plan, but it doesn’t
affect much in the end.  Just when I thought I was handling my day pretty well, that last straw really showed I only had a fraction of an inch for cushion.

If this were occurring at an earlier time of the year, would I react differently?  Even just a less wild day?  Probably so.  If it had happened on a day I was home more, I would have probably felt more connected to my calendar and scheduling info.  As it happened, I just whooshed into the house after being gone almost all day.  If this had been during a time of greater calendar stability, like just a few weeks ago, I might have
not been so reactive.  Doesn’t change the fact that the schedule switch is …

Are We Overprotecting Our Kids?

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

In the last 24 hours, I’ve happened upon some articles and videos talking about overprotection of kids.  This has gotten me thinking about what I’m doing as a parent, how I was raised, and what I see happening.

Competition Is Getting A Bad Name

There’s a very general trend right now to diminish the importance of winning and competition, or at least that’s my perception.  I keep hearing news about how schools aren’t having an honor roll anymore, kids are getting trophies just for participating in something, and how it’s all about just feeling good.  I’m all for kids feeling happiness, but I’m concerned about how the difference between success and failure is starting to get watered down.

I joined the competitive speech team as a junior in high school, which was late by our school norms.  It was a state winning team, and I was only doing it because my dad promised to get our family a computer (this was back in 1988, so that was BIG).  I was totally freaked out by how much better everyone else seemed to be.  I was totally new and most of the team had experience in big time meets.  I wanted to quit about a month in.

During one evening of particularly terrifying practice, I knew that I either had to walk off the stage and face my coach asking what I was doing (and then face my dad), or gut it out and keep fighting.  I decided to keep fighting – it was really uncomfortable and I felt like I would never get better.  I was thrown into a couple of big-time competitions shortly after that.  No one was more surprised than me to learn that I had placed third overall in my event.  I had several other first place wins those two years, including a state title as a senior.  And it felt great because of the journey it took for me to get there.

I knew I was expected to put up with some discomfort and fear of failure, or I’d have to face my father and his disappointment in me …

Big Changes, Teamwork, and Social Lessons

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Many families with plans to move over the summer have already begun all the tasks that go along with the job. Besides just the practical issues, there is a distinct psychological aspect of selling a home.   Home owners need to do things to their homes that is a little different from daily living.  This can be a great opportunity to talk to your kids about making others feel comfortable and welcome.

Here’s the gist of what I’ve learned from HGTV and home improvement shows.  You want to make the prospective buyer feel as comfortable as possible in your home.  That includes not being there, taking down your personal items, adding more neutral colors, and doing a lot of decluttering.

Emotional Roller Coaster For The Whole Family

This entire home selling and buying experience can be an emotional roller coaster for us.  You’ve become a family under this roof, yet you are desperately in need of more space to be comfortable.  And in order to get something more comfortable and suitable, you need to make some temporary sacrifices.

You and your family could just ignore what your real estate agent says and just keep ALL of your favorite things around you, your favorite paint colors, and every piece of art on the refrigerator.  If you only did what felt comfortable to us, guess how the buyer would feel?  Like they just barged in on family day, into a house that doesn’t really feel like it could be theirs.  Probably no sale there.

And why do you have to leave your house when the agent shows it?  Again, you don’t want it to look like our lived-in house, you want the buyer to imagine their stuff in our house.  They would feel uneasy with you all sitting there in the living room, watching the prospective buyers peek into every room and look through the closets.  Looks like you aren’t all that ready to leave, and they feel like they intruded.  Again, not what you are after.

To state the lesson again, you need to focus on others first before you can focus on …

Teaching Your Kids About Courage

Friday, May 15th, 2009

For a long time, I thought courage was only something firefighters and policemen got.  Somehow, something magical happened inside them to make them heroes in the face of danger.  I thought that courage meant the absence of fear.  As an adult, I’ve learned that I was wrong.

It can be tempting to dismiss your child’s fears about things.  Getting “over” something is often the goal, pushing aside or swallowing the feeling so they can move on with life.  Or, parents sometimes feed into the emotions with their own paranoia and don’t give a strong enough example of how to move through life *with* their emotions.

These are extremes, and many people fall somewhere in the middle.  But where does courage fit in?  Do your kids believe courage is something that only heroes or storybook characters have?  They are probably courageous in many situations and don’t know it.  The key lies in how accessible courage really is to everyone.

If you wait around to feel comfortable and fearless to do something you really don’t like, then you’re never going to do it.  Period.  Having courage means taking action while feeling the fear anyway.  Courage itself isn’t so much a feeling, but a decisive state of mind.

My daughter was concerned about some big changes coming soon.  She sadly said, “Mommy, I’m not ready and I don’t like it.”  I told her that she probably wasn’t going to feel ready, ever, when there was something ahead that made her scared.  I said I’d felt that way before, and the feelings never seemed to get better until it was over.   I told her that she was courageous to face something difficult and do it anyway.   That’s courage.

When your child stands up to someone picking on a younger kid or calling someone a name, that’s courage.  When your child is afraid of getting up in front of class to show their project, but they do it anyway, that’s courage.  When your child tries a new sport or after-school activity and they don’t give up after failures, that’s courage.  Do you think your kids …

Schools Almost Out – Parents, What Did You Learn This Year?

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Trust me, I have had enough school mornings with simmering frustration and lingering guilt to write about this with authority.  You are your worst version of yourself when you are late, scrambling, and unprepared on a school morning.  Your kids might even be crying when they leave the door or your vehicle.

That feeling makes you cringe, like a big “I’m a bad parent” banner is draped over your forehead.  Goodness knows if they can learn anything when they have to recover from their tears and your barking voice in their
head.  So while they go learn about fractions and parts of speech, the school year is your chance to brush up on the art of school routines and habits.

Helping With Homework

I’m soon coming to the top end of my useful homework helping abilities with elementary school math.  But parts of speech and essay writing will be a breeze.  Probably the opposite for my husband.  At any rate, I know I’ll still get asked some math stuff when my husband isn’t available.  What now?

In some cases, you need to listen to the emotion and watch the behaviors of your child.  My oldest gets her head in a knot about putting random spelling words into a paragraph.  She’s a wreck before she even starts.
So for her, it’s important to catch on to this pattern and lookout for this kind of homework.  I make sure I work way more on calming her and helping with her perspective rather than “help” her too much.  It’s much better for her to learn how to manage her frustration than to have me “help” too much on that assignment.

If it’s a practical knowledge element I need to help her with, the internet is a great tool.  Or, grandparents might have skills and understanding that you can tap into.  Sometimes they’ll take that when they’ve had it with you.

The Lesson: Be resourceful and know when to call for backup (internet, other parents, grandparents, etc) if you are stuck.  Pay a lot of attention to their emotions and frustration – that may be their main …


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