Archives for January 2015

On Vacation, Going Home

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Our family went on vacation recently. It was nothing too fancy: a friend of the family owns a condo on the coast in which we have been staying, occasionally, for the last few years. It is entirely different from taking a trip to, say, Disneyland, or driving to the Grand Canyon. It is familiar. As many times as we have moved since our children were born, this place has been a constant. It is very much a kind of home.

I think that often family vacations can be as stressful, if not more so, than so-called “regular” life. The packing and preparation, the expectation for everyone to have a “good time,” can be more trouble than it is worth. I can understand the temptation for new and unique experiences; after all, as parents we want our children to keep these memories with them and to cherish them as bright spots in their lives. That’s why family trips come with the further expectation of a lot of photos. “See? This really happened. We did this once.”

Our trips to the coast are more like “staycations.” The kids know what is around them, and what there is to do, and we look forward to settling into them again. That view of the Bay bridge, the sight of the clammers wading around in low tide. The lights of the fishing boats; the seals popping up offshore. For me, this extends to the most banal features of our stay: the quirks of the condo’s oven, with its variations in temperature. The water pressure in the shower and the smell of the resident laundry soap. The soft creak of the stairs (we don’t have stairs at home).

The same applies to the more “vacationy” activities around us. We can’t always afford admission for six at the Oregon Coast Aquarium (in which case, as you may know, the nearby–and free–Hatfield Marine Science Center has its own charms). But as a large family, we have discovered that it’s easy to pay for an annual membership, as it’s not much more than a one-day pass. If we have a membership, we can treat the Aquarium as an extension of our home environment. We don’t need to feel that we are getting our money’s worth by seeing as much as we can, by gorging on everything that’s available. If we want to spend an hour in the theater, with its aquatic animal costumes, puzzles and books, we can do so without regret. If someone just needs a shark fix, we can head straight for the tunnel.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an adventurous person. If you or your children crave the thrill of new places and experiences, I salute you. Occasionally, this is what we want as well. But for the most part, what we are trying to do is go home.

New Year’s Resolutions for Parents and Families

This week’s guest post is from Cindy M. Knapp, MS, LMFT, RPT-S. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Cindy.

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A new year often suggests that we take note of where our lives are at. I wondered what parents had to say about resolutions they were making for themselves and their families for the coming year. I looked at a number of popular websites and read some other blogs. I found that there were common thoughts everywhere.

Most parents seem to feel pressured to DO more, or somehow to BE more. There’s a lot of unnecessary guilt because of expectations parents place on themselves. However, the theme that showed up most in my research is that most parents are longing to feel more connected to their partners and their children; to be closer.

Here are some simple ideas that might help you accomplish this goal, too:

1. HAVE MORE FUN TOGETHER.

  • Take a few minutes after dinner one night a week and write down one idea from each family member of some enjoyable, small activity that she/he would like to do with the family in the coming week. Put the idea on the family calendar, no matter how silly it might seem. Then, make sure that you consider it as important as other things on the calendar (like doctor’s appointments) and have fun!
  • Start “Single Kid Night” (or call it whatever you’d like.) If you have more than one child, you might rarely spend one-on-one time with them. Pick one night a week and set a time limit. An important part of this routine is that the child gets to pick what activity she or he wants the parent to do. You can set limits on options that are available. The family establishes that this time is not to be interrupted. This is easy to pull off if the other children understand that their time with the parent won’t be interrupted, either. If there’s more than one parent in the home, schedule “Single Kid Night” in a way that works best for you, but includes both parents spending time with each child.

2. ENCOURAGE FAMILY TOGETHERNESS THROUGH CONTRIBUTION.

  • Cut down on chaos by establishing routines in which everyone works together to take care of the home. Okay, I know, “yawn.” Probably, no one is going to be excited to work with you on this one. However, children feel good when they make a contribution to the family. Keep it simple. For example, when parents are cleaning up after dinner, have the children help with a specific assigned activity. Use encouraging language to show that you value the child’s contribution. Here’s another idea: when you get out of the car, have all the children look around and pick up some things that need to be taken out. Yes, training the children to participate takes time, but it will help you feel less stressed and more connected if everyone is allowed to help.
  • Look for opportunities to prompt siblings to do things for each other. Think of small things and encourage this often. Remember to include the younger child(ren) in doing things for the older ones. Teach the concept of how we need each other. Some examples: “I see your brother is struggling to do _____; I bet he could use your help.” “You are really good at ____ and your sister is trying to learn. Teach her, please.” Note that these are not in the form of questions. Your child can refuse, but the words suggest that we need each other.

3. TAKE SOME TIME OUT TO PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR PARTNER.

  • Make it a priority to sit down and face each other, and check in about your day. If you don’t PLAN to do this and make it a daily ritual, it’s unlikely to happen. When you as parents work on your connection to each other, your children will see this and benefit from it. How you treat each other and the ways in which you make one another feel important and valued sets the tone for how your children act.
  • Be your partner’s best friend. According to marital researcher John Gottman, committed couples who treat their partners like good friends have a stronger bond.  In addition, you show your children behaviors you want them to learn.

Thanks to the Chaos

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Tanya Pritt. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Tanya.

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This time of year, even more than usual, my thoughts turn to my children as they were growing up. Maybe it is the glitter of Christmas and reminiscing about holidays gone by. As an old mom of young men grown up, this happens often. A sight, smell, sound or a dream may inspire those lapses back in time down Memory Lane.

I listened to a young mom on the radio this morning talking about how she rises early for some “alone time” before her children woke up and her day turned to sheer chaos. I smiled and reflected on the chaos of my days. Life with my two youngest boys was busy to say the least. The older of the two was a gifted athlete, playing multiple sports on premier league levels in every season. My youngest likes to tell people that we were homeless often and living in our van. This may have been his perception, but we really did have a home to go to at the end of the day, tournament, or travel. Within the van we carried two coolers, one for dry foods and one for iced drinks. We had multiple duffel bags with sporting equipment and a bin with towels and changes of clothes. We carried blankets, pillows, and rain gear. We would navigate from one sports field to another, eating a meal from the coolers and changing uniforms for the next sport or game.

People who watched us either thought “What fun!” or “You’re crazy”. I guess it’s all in perception. But as I listened to this mom on the radio this morning, I related and I got tears in my eyes as I remembered those chaotic times. And nostalgia eases the pain the chaos presented in the moment.

I, too, would get up early in the morning before the kids woke up. Sometimes extremely tired, wanting those few minutes more of sleep, but knowing if I did my day would be more frantic. Those moments  gave me time for reflection, time to take stock of my gratitude (healthy boys, a job, a car that was currently running, and food for nourishment that day) and time to plan the most efficient way through the day. But it was my gratitude that gave me the strength to invite the day, its activities, and responsibilities. It helped to calm me before the energy erupted!

So to all the young mothers and fathers: hang in there! Give thanks to the chaos! Take time, somewhere in your day, for pause and reflection. And know, amid the chaos or busy adventure, that it is not the end of the story. Every day we have the opportunity to write another chapter of our family experience.

 

Tanya has been the Director of Milestones for the past 21 years.  She has been working in the field of addictions for over 30 years. 

Making Changes

This week we have another guest post from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.

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In my years of parenting, I often acted and reacted to my children in ways that weren’t very effective and that sometimes made the situation worse. As I worked on making changes in my behavior, I learned that changing behavior isn’t easy. Here are some ideas that have helped me, and continue to help me. I am still not a perfect parent or grandparent! These are research-based ideas, drawn from The Incredible Years, Nurturing Parenting and other parenting curriculums. They are ideas I have found helpful to me.

 

  1. Focus on one skill or change. Be as specific as possible: “I am going to spend 10 minutes playing with my preschooler every weekday at 9 am.” It’s fine to make other changes at the same time, but focus on one.

 

  1. Make it a positive action. You can’t do a don’t. Every relationship can benefit from spending time focused on that person—playing, listening, doing something fun together, or working on something together. Relationship expert John Gottman recommends a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions to each negative interaction. If you want to stop doing something—like yelling at your children—come up with a substitute action to do when you feel like yelling. Writing a note, doing jumping jacks, throwing ice cubes into the sink—you might want to brainstorm a list with a friend or with your children.

 

  1. Involve others. Explain your plan and ask for their help and support. Tell them what would be helpful to you as you make changes. Don’t waste time criticizing other’s approaches, but concentrate on your own efforts to change. Find or create a support group of others who are making changes—especially if those around you are not supportive. Parenting classes are a great place to get support and to make friends.

 

  1. Expect resistance. Changes—even positive ones—can trigger negative responses from those around you. Family and friends may be skeptical or even outright hostile. Children may misbehave to get you to react the way you used to because that is what they know and expect from you. It can help to acknowledge their confusion while explaining your new approach and addressing any misbehavior calmly but firmly. “I know I usually yell at you. But I don’t enjoy doing that and I don’t think you like hearing me. You know how to listen to my quiet voice, too. The toys still need to be put away.”

 

  1. Use reminders: electronic or old-fashioned. Try notes, checklists, calendars, alarms, timers, friends, relatives, your children, etc. Create or request reminders that are polite and reaffirming.

 

  1. Track your progress. Praise and reward yourself for accomplishments—no matter how small. Star charts aren’t just for kids.

 

  1. Be nice to yourself. Keep your inner and outer self-talk positive. When you mess up, you can admit it (and perhaps apologize) and say “_____ is hard to do but I am working on it.” When you are successful, celebrate that achievement.

 

  1. Learn from your mistakes and from the times that went well. What things interfere with, and what things help, your efforts to change? If you don’t seem to be able to make the change, step back and analyze the situation and the factors involved.

 

  1. Be patient. Real changes take time.

 

  1. Keep at it. According to researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, in their book Changing for Good, real, lasting change usually takes a spiral pattern—up, level, dipping back down, then around and up a little more.

 

We often wish our children would change their behavior, but for that to happen, we usually have to change our behavior towards them. Moreover, being a parent means our behavior has to keep changing because our children keep growing and changing. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible. You can do it.

 

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.