Archives for March 2016

Free, and Priceless

This week’s guest post is by Julie Whitus. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Julie.

Baldhill kids

The other night I stopped and looked at my children playing. My youngest was dancing with a lampshade on her head while my nine-year-old was singing into a remote control. Then, my 11 year-old popped out of the clothes hamper to surprise me. I laughed to myself thinking how ridiculous this might have looked to an outsider, while admiring my children for their imaginations.

I thought back to my childhood and played back some happy memories. I remember walking outside in the rain catching earthworms for fishing, playing in a cardboard house, climbing trees, painting the garage with my dad, and exploring the empty field by my house. I realize that all these memories had two things in common: 1. My parents were spending time with me; and 2. these activities were free.

As a parent of six I know that having children is costly. However, spending time with them isn’t. I have to admit that sometimes I get caught up with wanting to give my children expensive toys or take them on grandiose outings. The reality is I really cannot afford it and would regret it later on. As I evaluate my childhood I realize that the most memorable moments involved my parents spending quality time with me for free.

Right now, with Summer vacation coming up, I am challenging myself to schedule time for free activities. Also, I challenge myself to forget the guilt of being unable to afford Disneyland, to picture my childrens’ carefree play with a lampshade and a remote control, and remember that making memories costs nothing and is priceless.

I encourage parents to respond to this blog by posting some low cost Summer activities that your family has enjoyed.

Julie Whitus is a Family Navigator at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Insert Cliché Here

Miriam kicking it

If there’s one thing that makes me itch more than excess jollity, it’s clichés. I try not to use them in writing or in speech, and I cringe a little when I hear them from other people. Call it residual English Major snobbery. I’m fine with that.

But I know what you’re going to tell me. You’re going to say, “The reason it’s a cliché is because it’s true.” And I know that. But first of all, “the reason is because” is redundant (see? Snobbery). And second of all, I’d say that’s no excuse to not try to say things in a new way. That’s why we have poetry. And those teabags with quotes on the tag (and by the way, sentence fragments are okay if they establish style).

Of all the clichés that are trotted out, the most bothersome are those that have to do with children. Here are some:

“Boys will be boys.” Seriously, what does that even mean? Girls will be girls too; why isn’t that a thing?

“Well, you’ve got your hands full.” Heard while shopping with any number of children greater than one. No comment.

“I haven’t seen you since you were knee high to a grasshopper.” Actually, that’s more of an idiom than a cliché, and it’s kind of good. Don’t hear that often enough.

Here’s one, though, that gives me some trouble: “They’re growing like weeds.” I want to dismiss it offhand, because you could easily say my children are growing like…something else that grows really fast. “They’re growing like bamboo?”

But the fact is, weeds not only grow fast, they do it when you’re not paying attention. They do it whether you are involved or not, and even if you’re paying attention to other things in the garden, and trying to keep bugs off them (I try to keep bugs off my children as well).

Nevertheless, children actually do grow that way: inexorably, relentlessly, ruthlessly. They can’t stop, won’t stop. In fact, that’s a related cliché, and one just as undeniable: “They just won’t stop growing.” Tell me about it!

And that leads to the ultimate parenting cliché, and one to which my resistance, in spite of my best snobbery, has broken down completely.

“It all goes by so fast.”

That one just stops me in my tracks (“in my tracks:” is that a cliché? I’m going with it). It brings me up short. Takes the wind out of my sails (well, now I’m doing it).

Is there a phrase in the English language that packs more punch than “It all goes by so fast?” That punch is to my gut. It opens up a veritable steamer trunk of feelings, encompassing regret, nostalgia, panic, pride, helplessness, resolve.

That’s one true cliché, and I let it stand. With a child in the double digits now, and a “baby” who just turned five and can prepare toast with all the fixings unaided, I can’t think of a more pithy or succinct way to express what’s happening here. It’s so solid, in fact, that I find myself saying it to first time parents.

No, really. Listen. You just have no idea. It all goes by so fast.

Awkward…

dadteachboy

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

How do you talk to kids about difficult topics? Are there topics that should be off limits? Is there an age threshold for some topics? All of these questions have come up for me recently. For most of them, because this is real life we’re talking about, the answer starts with “It depends on…” which is probably not why you’re reading a blog post.

One of them is fairly simple to address. If we are refusing to speak to our children about a particular subject, particularly if it is something they may have learned about from some other source (and in the 21st Century, there are many, many other sources), we need to keep in mind what our silence is telling them. According to Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, it could be:

1) My parents don’t know about this and can’t shed light on any questions I have;

2) My parents didn’t talk to me about this because they don’t want to talk about it (either they’re uncomfortable talking about it, it’s not something that should be asked about, or they don’t think I should know anything about it); or

3) It’s something embarrassing or shameful and they might think there’s something wrong with me if I ask questions about it or talk about it.

It’s good, then, to be prepared for questions when they come up. In my experience, they are usually a surprise. I still remember my mom’s response when I asked her, apropos of nothing, what a tampon was for. I’m guessing that if I were a girl she would have had at least something prepared. Snuck up on her!

It seems, then that there are two kinds of difficult topics: those that we can anticipate and those that we cannot. Among the first are things like major news events—disasters, scandals, shootings, crimes—that kids will get wind of even if we don’t expose them to the media. Also major life events: puberty, birth, death, marriage, divorce, new family members. If we can see these things coming we can reasonably expect kids to be curious about them. But as evidenced by my surprise attack on my mom, we may not always get the chance to rehearse a response.

So, whether or not we saw them coming, what’s the best way to proceed? This article gives us a good place to start:

“Find out what your child knows already. If your child asks you a difficult question (about sex, death, politics, etc.), you might simply ask, ‘What have you heard?’ This allows your child to tell you what she understands — or misunderstands — and perhaps what concerns are prompting her question.” Also, “Keep your answers simple.” Keep in mind the age and maturity level of the person doing the asking.

To these, I would like to add a couple of riders:

Don’t bring it up if they don’t, and don’t continue talking about it if they don’t appear to be interested, or to be following you. If we encourage kids to ask us about anything they want to know about, and respond accordingly, they will come to us.

Also, and this is also from bitter experience, prepare a response if you can but don’t make it a lecture. Kids can smell a moral a mile away.

Not having the answer is okay. Offer to find out more, or if appropriate, involve them in the project. Honesty has a scent as well, but it’s much sweeter.

The Breaks

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I’ve written a lot on this blog about the importance of routines, and of keeping things consistent and predictable for children. I do think that this is one of the most important things we can do for them, in order to keep them feeling safe and nurtured. It helps them to sleep, to focus, to transition from one place to another.

Recently I was asked, when is it okay to break from the routine? How do you know when it is more appropriate to switch things up, or to make exceptions to the rule? In other words, are there situations in which it is better to just let things go?

I have to admit that this is hard for me. Those routines, I think, are often at least as important for my well-being as for my kids. Or at least it feels that way to me. But I ran into a situation that made me question this. It was bedtime, and as usual I was in charge of moving everyone through the pajama-donning, the tooth-brushing and the story-reading into the sleep zone. But my five and seven year-old, who had spent the day immersed in the high energy of their Nana (my dear mother-in-law), were not having it. They could not calm down. My attempts to keep the energy calm and cozy were calcifying into a general sternness and lack of amusement.

I sent them to say goodnight to their mom, who at this point, having had them for the day, was taking a well-deserved break. Her part in the bedtime routine has been scaled back considerably, consisting mostly of this last round of hugs and kisses. My two girls went to her and almost immediately I heard a round of giggling and whooping. She led them back into the bedroom in this state of tickling and joking and dancing around, and I was, needless to say, not amused. I have trouble with what I regard as excess jollity, whether in children or adults, that I just don’t have time to go into here, or really anywhere outside of therapy (though I do like to quote Mel Brooks from The Muppet Movie: “I detest the surfeit of provincial laughter”).

It quickly became evident, however, that this method of going with their rollicking energy, rather than attempting to put the brakes on it, was exactly what they needed. They were now able to transition into bedtime feeling understood and valued rather than badgered and thwarted. Point to Mom.

How do we know when it is appropriate to switch up the routines? When what we’re trying is clearly not working, especially if it usually does, it may be time to switch tack. Often it involves simply waiting and giving kids time to do what they feel they need to do. After all, when they are ready, they will be eager to return to those comforting, predictable rhythms.

And sometimes the impetus comes from the parents, for whom the usual expectations are just not working. For me, the iconic example is that summer evening (you know the one), in which ice cream for dinner really is the only answer.

Regardless of where the dissonance is coming from, it can be valuable to know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, and when to let it go. They’ll come around to the routines when they’re ready, and be glad to do so.

The Good Stuff

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As adult parents, we tend to expend a lot of thought and energy on the way our parents raised us, and much of this is focused on the negative. We are determined to do things differently with our children, to avoid the mistakes our parents made with us. Of course our parents made mistakes, assuming they were human (we’ll go with that assumption). And of course we are making our own mistakes. Sometimes we’re okay with that as long as they’re different mistakes.

I know that I do this. That’s why I wanted to take some time to focus on some of the things my parents did right, and that I am glad to pass along to my own children (keeping in mind that those right things may or may not have come about any more deliberately than the things that didn’t work. After all, if parenting is a science it’s certainly not an exact one).

Here are some things I appreciated and remembered from my own experience as a child, and that I hope to honor by passing along.

You’re welcome to eat what is being served. That’s really up to you. The sticking point with me was onions. They appeared in spaghetti sauce, they featured in meatloaf. When we ordered pizza, they were practically the star. Given that I loved all of those items, I learned to make peace with them, or do the work of moving them out of the way. This can also be translated as “not every meal can be your favorite.” After all, we know there will always be food next time.

Go play outside. Really. Spend a lot of time outside. Have fun. I’ll call you in for supper.

Let ‘em read. He seems to be really into that book. And he’s quiet, and not destroying anything. And yes, we’ll go to the library today. And yes, you obviously can’t live without your 37th Choose Your Own Adventure book. It’s not up to me to be a critic.

Wash your feet.

Here is something my dad actually said: “Whatever you do with your life, make sure that it’s something you love to do.”

And here’s something my mom told me, or at least this is how I remember it: “I worry about things a lot too. But if there’s something I can do about it, I know I’ll find a solution. And if there’s nothing I can do, there’s no point in worrying.”

And: “I love you.”