The Replacement

After some reminders about the importance of self-care (including one from Parenting Success Network boss Aoife Magee), I was thinking about some of the things I’ve been trying to do for myself. As I have written–and said–countless times, we can’t fill someone else’s cup unless we have filled our own.

In case this image is not clear enough (or if you still consider your cup to be half empty), imagine sitting next to your child on an airplane. If God forbid there should be an emergency and the oxygen masks come down, whose will you attach first? If you answered “your own,” you are in the company of the approximately 2/3 of respondents I just made up. Our instinct is to meet the child’s needs before your own, so it’s natural to want to put their mask on first. However, it’s also the wrong choice. Because if something goes wrong you need to be able to help, and you can’t help if you can’t breathe.

So there. How does this apply to the day-to-day? Without plane crashes and such?

I remembered that I hadn’t told you about my new car. New to me, anyway. It’s a 1993 Toyota Tercel, and it’s pretty much so uncool that it comes back around to cool again. To say it is an improvement on my previous car, a Volvo that could allegedly not be repaired following a crash into a curb one icy day because the company no longer made the parts. I took to calling it The Death Car and refused to take on passengers unless absolutely necessary, believing it would someday kill me, Christine-style.

Thankfully, this did not happen. It did not happen because I finally resolved to replace it and finally bought the Tercel from a mechanically inclined friend who had driven it for years before passing it down to adult daughters. The Volvo I donated to my workplace, using the great company V-DAC, for which they netted $25. Sorry, workplace!

Anyway, the point of this story is that once I decided to focus time and energy (and a surprisingly small amount of money) on my own needs, namely a reliable commuter car capable of more than 8 miles per gallon, I was able to shrug off a huge burden of shame and anxiety that was interfering with my ability to parent.

Am I recommending that you go out and buy a new car, for parenting purposes? Sure, I guess. But wait, there’s more. The Tercel is a manual transmission, something I hadn’t driven in about 20 years (ask me about that someday). I have been rediscovering the joys of riding up a learning curve. Between practicing driving a stick (thanks once again to the mighty Art of Manliness blog) and taking as many different routes to and from work as I can (thanks to decent mileage), I’m keeping my brain healthy and burning some new neural pathways. And that’s a good way to fill your cup.

Also, did I mention it has a tape deck?

 

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A Chance Eating

Here’s another question that’s been coming up in my work with families:

Wh do you do if a kid just doesn’t want to eat?

I wish I had a ready answer, because it’s happening at home too. The seven year-old, now that she has (finally) been sleeping through the night again, has decided to eat only fruit (possibly from now on). And today, I hear, the 11 year-old has simply refused everything on offer. This from the girl who lists “eating” as both a personal and future professional pursuit. She just…ain’t havin’ it.

How do we deal with this as parents?

  • As usual, the first step is to ask some questions. Are they feeling okay? Any pains in the tummy or anywhere else? Do they just not like what’s on the menu, or are they not into food of any kind (watch at this step for the “only candy” loophole)?

You may not particularly want to hear their answers, but the point is that they’ll probably tell you something useful, even if by accident.  If they just don’t like your meatloaf, you can decide, ‘cuz you’re the grownup, whether to give them another option. Our newly minted fruitarian child recently went through a period of only wanting peanut butter and jelly. And I’m pretty sure you can live on that for a while, so we let it be an option at every meal. Now it’s fruit. As long as we have it, she can eat it, though we’ve pointed out she’ll need to eat a lot of it to get what she needs.

  • Ask yourself, how long has it been since they last ate? What was it?

I’m about to tell you something. It is this: if they ate at least some of their last meal, and they’re likely to eat at least some of their next, you can just…let it go. That’s right. As long as you are offering food every couple of hours, which is kind of your job, if they choose not to eat it they will be okay. Really. Because there will be food at the next meal, and they’ll probably be hungry.

  • Golly, what if they haven’t eaten in a while?

Then something is probably wrong and you need to take that kid to the doctor.

Also, what’s going on with them in general?

  • Like, are they gearing up for a growth spurt, or done with one? Are they gaining or losing teeth? What’s going on at school? What’s bothering them?

The natural default for children of all ages is to want to eat. If there is some interruption in that urge, it could be due to a variety of factors. This could be a good opportunity to problem-solve together.

Who knows? Maybe the answer is that you need to buy a new cookbook.

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Foster the People

I encounter foster parents quite a bit in my line of work. Of all the categories into which people can be sifted, I believe that foster providers have one of the bummest deals around.

I tend to approach them as fellow professionals, who are just doing a job like the rest of us. I am thus buying into one of the most common myths about foster care, which is that it’s something you do for money. In fact, pretty much any other pursuit, including selling lemonade and becoming a philosopher, is more profitable. Foster care is asking everything from a provider that one expects from a biological parent, only on time and with precise documentation.

Foster parents, I salute you.

Turns out, as I found on a little stroll through the search engines, there are quite a few myths about foster care out there. Some of them are probably preventing folks from becoming foster providers. That’s really too bad, ‘cuz we need ’em.

Here are some.

 

From this blog:

“MYTH: Most children in foster care are teenagers.

REALITY: The median age of children in foster care in the U.S. is eight. Almost 50% are over age 10, and an estimated 70% have siblings in foster care.”

Are older kids more “difficult?” Not necessarily. It means they are more likely to have had multiple foster placements and can sure use a stable home. There are a lot of resources and services available to assist with older kids and teens. Plus, no diapers!

 

MYTH: I have to stay at home to be a foster parent.

Umm, this is the 21st Century. People work. A foster parent is a regular human, and parenting is hard no matter what. You are allowed to live your life and drive kids to as many sports practices as you want. You can also get a babysitter (Solo comes out May 25th!).

 

From this site:

MYTH: Foster parents need to be parents themselves, and not too old.

You don’t need to have (or have had) biological children in order to be a foster parent. All you need is to want to parent. As a verb.

 

If you are in the least bit interested, there are a lot of resources out there. Here are some specific to Oregon. We have an overwhelming need in this state right now. You might find you’re more able, and ready, than you think.

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A Parent’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl, in his influential book Man’s Search for Meaning, drew from his experience as a prisoner in the concentration camps at Auschwitz to assert (and I don’t think anyone would argue) that the way in which we approach our lives determines our ability to find fulfillment and purpose within it.

He writes, “What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

This conclusion is echoed by the Existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, who in his long-form essay The Myth of Sisyphus attempts to imagine what motivates the king from Greek mythology whose eternal punishment in the afterlife was to labor to push a huge boulder up a hill, near the peak of which it would inevitably slip through his hands and roll back down to the bottom. Camus argues that, when faced with even incredible, incomprehensible hardship (such as that lived by Frankl, above), we must use direct our free will to the conclusion that “The struggle itself […] is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Finally, noted (to me, anyway) writer Jeremy Anderberg, in the great blog that everyone should read, The Art of Manliness, lists a few of the many character-building aspects of fatherhood before hitting on this discovery of meaning. He concludes:

“No matter your position in life — CEO, cubicle automaton, day laborer, stay-at-home dad, entrepreneur, freelancer, trade worker, unemployed — it’s very possible, perhaps even probable, that your greatest, most important role in life will be that of parent. Of provider. Of protector. Of wisdom-purveyor. What that looks like can vary widely from man to man, but have no doubt that raising and loving your children well is one of the most significant things you will do in life.”

Parenting, as you know, can be joyful and full of fun and mirth. It can also be grinding, harrowing, even absurd, and in the march of sleepless nights and seeming lack of evidence that our children are learning or even paying attention, it can be hard to find the motivation to be nurturing, patient, humble and persistent in our work. That’s when we must let the struggle be enough to fill our hearts. Unlike Sisyphus, however, we will experience the joy, the fun, the mirth, if not over this hill, then over the next, or the next.

A final thought, from Frank Pittman, author of Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity:

“These guys who fear becoming fathers don’t understand that fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man. The end product of childraising is not the child but the parent.”

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On Chores: The Revenge

Howdy all! It’s time for my semi-annual update on chores.

I would like to remind you that this is only my family’s experience with trying out a system for chores, and that what worked (or didn’t work) for us may not apply to you. It’s a process.

If you look back at the earlier entries (which, by the way, automatically multiplies the value of this post!), you will see that my wife and I had decided to abandon the large whiteboard, with magnets representing each child that moved around the chores in age-appropriate fashion. We discovered that they liked to keep their own stable chores, so the next iteration was as follows:

“Instead of rotating chores, each child now had their own laminated sheet with a list of duties. They could mark them off as they went with a pen, or draw pictures around them, or pull them down and lose them under the sofa. Their choice!”

That was last year. Here’s how it has panned out.

They still like having their own lists. After choosing to lose them under the sofa several times, all four of my daughters have asked us to affix their list on a wall or door where they can see and/or notate it: the seven year-old has added “hug Mama.” I don’t know how that wasn’t in the first draft.

The seven year-old also can’t remember what’s on the list from day to day. Part of this, I think is the literacy bias, which posits that what is on the page is more important than what she perfectly well has in her motor memory by now (given that fully half of her chores consist of getting dressed and brushing her teeth and hair). Part of it is that she can’t actually read yet, so she has to check with someone every time she undertakes her chores.

Next time: pictures instead of words? That she can move from one side to the other with velcro? That sounds like a fabulous idea, but I will leave it to you crafty parents that I know are out there.

Anyway, there has been some revision of chores, and some elimination of redundancy. But for the most part, I think this system is working.

What works for you?

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Disparate Youth

Sullen tee w/dad

An interesting issue came up in our Nurturing Fathers class recently: is there a right time to introduce a concept to your child when they might not otherwise know about it? Some examples: terrorism, drugs, political protest, gender ambiguity, racism.

Granted, this is a disparate list of topics, and the answer is going to be different for each situation (and for each family). But in each case, the parent did not know what, or how much, the child knew or from whom they might have learned it.

I described the scenario a few weeks ago in which I took my daughter, 12, to the doctor and she got tangled up in a list of questions about substance use. She didn’t know what they were about, but knew enough about how drugs could be harmful that she was upset by the questions. I felt like I should have prepared the ground for her, given her more of a context for what she was being asked to think about (she doesn’t go to public school, by the by). But what should I have told her? And how much? And when?

So many questions! What’s the best way to approach a difficult topic with your kids?

The first step, because it can determine what course to follow, is to turn it around:

Ask your kids what they know about it. What do they think? How does it make them feel? What’s important here is not to identify the source or cast blame, but to find out what your child has to work with. Listen non-judgmentally, for content and for emotion. You might be surprised at what you learn!

Now, remember not to render value judgments on what they have told you, even if it is inaccurate or offensive. You don’t what them to shut down and quit sharing. Instead, offer to help them to find out the truth behind the subject: look it up together on the internet or at the library. While you do this you can teach them how to discern good sources of information from bad (we know how to do that, right?).

What if your conversation is not pure research, but touches you or your family directly? How do you give difficult information? I came across a helpful post on this very thing.

By approaching the problem in this way, you get to teach your that it’s possible to learn and process challenging or even scary topics. And you get to spend some time together, to boot.

Thanks to Santigold for the title of this post.

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Rough Patch

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this lately, but my wife Kyrie is super well trained in child development. We’re talking the whole gestalt ball of wax: Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, the regular OSU kind. So when she tells me that what is going on with our youngest daughter is not an extraterrestrial brain-swap or demonic possession or something equally drastic, but just an expected shift in the child’s growth (known in Waldorf arcana as “the seven year change”), why then I believe her.

Never mind that we have seen nothing like this with her older sisters. The next one up went through a rough patch at around the same time (in fact, I covered it pretty thoroughly while it was happening). That one didn’t want to sleep without an adult in the room even though she had been doing so just fine for a couple of years now. My solution to that had been to 1.) shunt her younger sister into our bedroom and sleep in her bed, which required me to be quite a bit shorter than I actually am, or 2.) move the seven year-old into the grownup bed and take hers, thus allowing the younger one to continue sleeping. Neither particularly worked, and the whole operation was almost certainly prolonged by my accomodationist method.

So when this one adds an inability to sleep for more than an hour at a time to a complete loss of her words to express a need for help (the words having been replaced by loud grunting and yelling), I tried to wait it out. I can get up once an hour, no problem. Get her some water, get her a homeopathic lozenge, pack her back into bed. Repeat.

The results were apparent after a couple of nights of this plan. She continued not sleeping and so did I. Turns out that neither of us do well on sleep deprivation. Something had to change, but I was fresh out of empathy. We were both pretty sure that she was just never going to sleep through the night again. And we both felt terrible.

It was at this time that I was preparing for the Nurturing Fathers class and came across the following passage: that we as parents want our children to know that “you are lovable, and you are capable.” Let’s read that again.

“You are lovable, and you are capable.”

It was enough. That night I reminded her of how good a sleeper she is and that this was a temporary phase. We would get through it. In fact, it was already better. Her hard work had already paid off.

I’d like to say that it turned around right away. We’re kind of still working on it.

But boy, does it suck less. I’ll keep you posted.

 

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She’s Not Me

This week’s post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you enjoy it and, as always, we look forward to future posts by Esther.

I watched as my 2-year old daughter concentrated on building a tower of blocks. She paused for a moment and swiped her right hand from her eyebrow up above her hairline, brushing hair out of her eyes—except that she didn’t have any hair hanging in her eyes! No, she made that gesture because –since birth—she had seen me do it several times a day. That image has stuck with me as a powerful reminder of the unconscious impact we parents have on our children.

We certainly inherit many things from our parents—from genes to habits. We often find ourselves saying the things our parents said to us to our children, those “OMG I’m turning into my mother!” moments.

Sometimes we see behaviors in our children that we don’t like or that we think will cause problems for them. Sometimes this happens without us being aware that the child is simply imitating us. Usually, we are well aware that we are the source of the behavior. And well aware of the problems it can lead to. So we try to correct it in our child.

But that form of correction is not only ineffectual, I believe it is harmful. Why?

When I’m told not to do something that I am doing unconsciously it feels like an attack on me. And if I know of no way to stop doing it, then I feel stupid.

What can a parent do?

  1. Set a different example. If you want your child to do something—do it yourself. It won’t be easy—quite possibly you behave this way because that’s how your parents behaved. But change is possible.

Share your struggle and your strategies with your child. You may want to ask your child to help by reminding you or praising your progress.

  1. Be aware of your child’s environment and their viewpoint. Be curious (in a non-threatening way). Share your observations—especially of positive things your child does. Ask questions: What do they want do about something? What do they think will happen if they do that? What do they think they can do about a problem.
  2. Use your knowledge of yourself when thinking about your child’s behavior. Try to put yourself into your child’s situation—how would you react? What’s different? What is the same?

It may be helpful to increase your knowledge of yourself. Some behaviors are learned from our parents, but others result from our temperament. Temperamental traits are not good or bad, they are characteristics present from birth—such as sensitivity, activity level, persistence and many others.  A helpful way to think about these traits is to consider whether you are right or left-handed. Handedness is not learned and trying to change it can cause problems. But both right handed and left handed children can learn to write—they just need strategies that work for them. Often, particularly in the past, some traits were viewed as faults that needed correction. If that happened to you as a child, you probably found ways to cope but you still might see that trait as something that ought to be changed—and want to spare your child from the problems you encountered. A trait is NOT an excuse for bad behavior or for avoiding difficult situations, by the way. However, once we recognize a trait as the reason underlying a behavior, we have an easier time modifying our behavior and helping a child modify theirs. For example, a highly sensitive child can learn strategies that help them deal with the barrage of stimulation in school. Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is an excellent source of information about temperament and strategies.

  1. Recognize that, despite the similarities, your child is a unique individual growing up under different circumstances. Behaviors and traits that caused problems for you, might not do the same for your child. The world is a different place from the world of your childhood. No matter how similar you and your child are they are NOT you.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to three 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.

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The Episode One

Hello, parents and caregivers! I just wanted to check in from my vacation to let you know that the unthinkable has happened. No, not that. And not that either, although…

I’ll tell you. What happened is that, contrary to the vow I declared upon first seeing it in June of 1999, I gave Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace another viewing. I’m not sure how much my perspective on the film has changed since then. Let’s just aside the considerable baggage of how George Lucas’ revisit of my childhood myths felt like a airless and tone-deaf repackaging (what helped me with this, as you may remember, was the much more airy and pitch-perfect repackaging of my childhood myths in the two recent films).

No, I understand that in the new Disney Lucasfilm reality, the prequels are canon, so I’d better learn to appreciate them. I still think that Episode I is muddled, flat, overplotted, undercharacterized, unevenly acted, and full of pointless connections and diversions (midichlorians, anyone? Plus, Anakin owned R2-D2 and built C-3PO but later, as [spoiler] Darth Vader, doesn’t seem to recognize them? Also, the kid was immaculately conceived by the Force? How did I miss that line? Etc).

Whatever. The difference this time is that I watched it with my kids, so I watched it with their eyes. And their eyes found it engaging and exciting and loved the expansion of the universe of the series. More crucially, they eyes found Jar-Jar Binks both hilarious and charming. And there is nothing I can say to that.

Just move on with my life and be a grownup.

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Between the Brick Wall and the Jellyfish

As we experience the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world, please read carefully as I suggest that what we need is more authoritative ones.

That suffix makes all the difference, even according to Google’s dictionary function : an authoritarian is one who goes around “favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.” One who is authoritative, on the other hand, is “commanding and self-confident; likely to be respected and obeyed.”

These are also, as you may know, two of the three parenting styles identified by psychologist Diana Baumrind back in the 1960s.

As venerable as they are, Baumrind’s observations are still widely cited in research today. They break down as follows:

The Authoritarian, or Brick Wall, parent works from a model of rules and convictions to which the child is expected to conform. Because children (much like adults) are all different and have changing needs and temperaments, this does not tend to work very well. Therefore, the Authoritarian parent is compelled to use punishment and force to make it happen. This parent wants obedience and respect, and while the application of “power over” others can generate the former, at least in the short term, the future relationship will hold disillusionment, resentment and possibly trauma.

The Permissive parent, therefore, moves as far from this model as possible, at the cost of providing too little structure and guidance. The child’s response to this Jellyfish parent is that she hungers for limits and healthy boundaries and has no one able to guide them through the vicissitudes of growing up. This is problematic enough; in addition, though, when the chips are down the Jellyfish will often snap, in a panic, into Brick Wall mode.

The healthy middle way is undertaken by the Authoritative parent. Unlike the Permissive parent he has clear rules and limits and is willing to hold them; unlike the Authoritarian, she is sensitive to the cues and adaptive to the needs of the child as they present themselves. The Authoritarian provides choices when appropriate and sets limits when needed. He also “encourages verbal give and take, shares with the child the reasoning behind her policy, and solicits his objections when he refuses to conform. Both autonomous self-will and disciplined conformity are valued.”

The Authoritative parent is like a spine: firm, strong and upright, yet flexible. I urge you to stand with other vertebrate parents in their important work.

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