Friday, June 28, 2013

Toddlers, Tiaras, and Thievery

“You know mom just watches it to feel good about herself.”

This was the explanation my daughter gave my son for why I, an intelligent and normal mom, was watching Toddlers and Tiaras.

Dang! I hate it when kids tell the truth. And I admit that I do feel rather superior after watching an episode.

 At least I’m not that obsessed with my kids.

I would never put such high demands on my kids like those moms.

At least I don’t spend $1200 on a stinkin’ dress for a 6 year old.

That poor girl is going to need some serious therapy… like right now.

One of the characters, a Russian mail-order-bride mom, who admitted that she’s seriously competitive, threatened to pull her daughter from the competition because the emcee cut short her daughter’s performance. And then there was the mom who seriously neglected her own appearance and health while spending countless dollars on her daughter’s fake tans and false teeth.  (Yes, “flippers”…you know, to cover up the baby teeth). Don’t get me started.

It’s amazing and yet embarrassing how spending 60 minutes watching T & T will raise my spirits as a mom.  You know what, though? I’m a seriously flawed mom, too. I’ve been known to be a little too competitive at the field day tug-of-war. (Yes, I was the maniac on the sideline screaming, “Dig! Dig! Pull! Pull!”). And there might be some less-than-stellar mom jeans that I’ve worn in the way past in the back of my closet. Maybe.

At the end of the day, we are all broken. We are all messed up, screwed up, make mistakes, and have enormous blind spots. No matter how hard we try, we all have areas in our parenting where we need to improve.  Most of us realize this, yet we still feel that pull to compare ourselves to other parents. And usually when we do, we have one of two reactions. We either feel so much better about ourselves (like me after watching T & T) or we feel awful, less than, a failure. We all know that mom who seems to have the patience of Job or can plan the most elaborate birthday party out of popsicle sticks and cotton balls. She seems to have it all together and it makes us sick.

I actually had a woman tell me once that she thought I was that mom. She’d seen me arrive at church week after week with 3 children (all under the age of 4), looking so pulled together with everyone dressed so nicely. All I could think was, “Are you kidding me?” If she could have followed me around that morning she would have seen a ridiculously frazzled mom, scrambling to throw on a little mascara between nursing, changing diapers, and sarcastically griping at her husband about how he could help out a little more! Ah, yes. The epitome of perfection!

No, we are all a little flawed but all have great strengths as well. The problem with comparison is that we focus on the wrong things. Rather than embracing our strengths, we see them as lacking when compared to someone else; and rather than realizing our need to change in other areas, we feel self-righteous that at least we’re not like her.

Theodore Roosevelt said it best: Comparison is the thief of joy. Oh, I love that. When I compare myself, I lose out on the thrill of being the mom I was created to be. I forget that I have taught my kids to make a mean chocolate chip cookie. I lose sight of the fact that I’m darn good at creating fun memories with my kids and that they actually enjoy spending time with me. Comparison robs us; it gives us a false sense of who we are.

So today, how can you gain a realistic picture of who you are as a parent? How can you embrace your strengths and enJOY being a parent?

Me? I’m headed to watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I Stopped Parenting My Kids—Today

I’m done! This parenting thing, it is just too hard. I am declaring to the world, or at least to those that are reading this post, that, “I quit!” I have truly had enough of this whole process.

My decision is based upon logic, not emotion. I’ve thought long and hard about my decision and to tell you the truth, I’m happy with it. I’ve prayed about it and consulted others, and I have firmly settled on the option to surrender the role that I have assumed over the past five years. So for the sake of emphasis, let me repeat, “I am done parenting my kids!”

Here’s why...

I’ve tried to make sure that my kids are the people that I want them to be. I’ve set out clear cut goals for them to follow, but they seem to reject them at times. I have created a pathway that would ensure their happiness and success, but at times they choose a course that I have not prescribed. I’ve taken the time to plan their schedules, including the activities that are the most beneficial to them, but they seem unappreciative. My kids just want to do what they want to do. All of this has left me feeling frustrated and a bit annoyed.

The Most Frustrating Thing

I feel frustrated at the fact that I have enforced consequences, but they don’t seem to be working. I’ve taken things, called all the time-outs that I have at my disposal, but my kids keep on making the same mistakes. I just don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how else to respond. It usually ends in some sort of blow up, with a lot of crying, screaming and pouting.

That’s why I’ve decided to quit—to stop parenting the way that I have been. I realized that the way I have been approaching the idea of parenting has contributed to my own unhappiness and resentment. I’ve been trying to control my kids. When that hasn’t worked, I’ve tried to coerce and even manipulate them so that they will do what I wanted them to do and be who I wanted them to be. It hasn’t been effective! As a matter of fact, it has driven us apart.

The Choice to Lead

As parents, we have been given the greatest leadership responsibility known to man. What kind of leaders do we want to be? I want to be the type of leader that invites my kids to follow me. Invite them, because of my actions, my demeanor and my calm. My desire is not to bark commands, but to inform my kids of their choices.

Great leaders set direction, but at the same time they realize that they may not always be followed. Our kids have to choose to follow us. Sometimes they elect to test the boundaries of life. They are doing this because they are seeking to understand the space around their lives. We can be intimidated by it, or we can accept it and choose to be the resource that can help our children navigate their way around their space.

Now, I am charting a new course for my parenting journey. One that focuses a lot more on me and my actions and less on my kids and their actions. No longer am I trying to dictate and make them live the dream that I have for their lives, but now I am appreciating the fact that their lives belong to them. I am their tour guide through life. This role allows me to witness the lives that they will choose to live.

I like parenting better this way. It actually helps me love and appreciate my kids even more.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The ScreamFree Chauffeur

I remember when my kids were little. Occasionally, they would get fussy, and the only hope for getting them to sleep was a nice, slow drive in a warm minivan with some peaceful, classical music playing.

Now they’re old enough to be bored in the backseat. One of them asks 400 questions per hour, and the other two do dreadful, vicious, horrible things such as...wait for it...looking at one another.

The truth is, children feel relatively safe in cars. They know that your disciplinary options decrease as the distance from your front door increases. They may have a vague awareness that consequences await them upon arrival, but there are several factors that keep this from being much of a deterrent.

For example, they know that discipline lies, quite literally, at some point down the road. The longer the journey, the longer you have to cool down and forget about how badly they behaved. They also know that there will be witnesses once you get where you’re going. They figure you’re not going to really throw down in front of those other law-abiding citizens.

So, how do you keep the vehicle running smoothly -- especially with all the trips to the mall and the store and the swim party and soccer practice and grandma’s house and summer camp and...whew! I’m out of breath just thinking of it all!

To begin with you might consider keeping a small bag of books, toys and games in the car to occupy time. Play the alphabet game by trying to find each letter on signs as you drive by. The winner gets to drive.

Uh...okay...maybe not.

How about some age-appropriate trivia? Name three candy bars that begin with the letter “M”. Which color is the most common color for other cars? How far away do you think that bridge is?

Of course, you can’t head off every bit of trouble, so I’ve got four things for you to keep in mind. Most are based on a single principle, which is this: When you can’t discipline, discipline when you can. In other words, if you are unable to immediately respond to car trouble, fix the trouble when you do stop.

One: When chauffeuring your kids around, tell them before you leave what level of peace you want en route. Also, tell them that you will turn the car around if you don’t get it. Also, mean it when you say it. Actually follow through if you must. You may want to just call it a day after that, or you may call for a “do-over” and try again. That’s your call. Transportation is a privilege not a right. Privileges are earned in our house through responsible behavior.

Two: “If you don’t stop that this instant, I will pull this car over” has been used so many times it’s lost some of its power, which is a shame because it’s a very helpful option. If you can find a safe place, pull over and sit for a minute. It won’t take long for them to realize that this is eating into valuable pool or shopping or party time. Require a few minutes of peace and quiet before moving on. You can pull over as many times as you like -- or you can decide to only pull over once and head for home if there’s a second offense.

Three: Timeout in the car at the destination. If you endure 13 minutes of chaos en route, force them to sit in the car for 13 minutes once they arrive. Just sitting in the car, watching their friends skate and have fun, thinking of how they could be out there, too.

Four: At the start of each trip, the kids each get, say, four tickets. Every infraction costs them a ticket. Each lost ticket leads to some consequence: a 10-minute timeout, a 200-word essay or a $5.00 fine. You could also reverse this one and hand out tickets for infractions -- you know, like the police do. Consequences are served upon arrival, or later at home.

The key to avoiding car trouble is to abandon the idea that discipline must be immediate to be effective. That may be the ideal situation for toddlers and preschoolers, but discipline quickly becomes logistically more complicated as they get older. That’s why it’s always better to do something, even if it’s later or somewhere else, than to do nothing just because it happened 26 miles ago.

If all else fails, find your favorite radio station, blast the volume and sing as loudly as you can! Your kids will collapse into a catatonic state, but they’ll snap out of it as soon as they can safely escape from the car and tell their friends how weird you are! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Thing Most Remembered: A Lesson for Dads

Last week I had the privilege of spending some wonderful quality time with my kids. As a dad of a 4 and 3 year old, our time together is usually spent doing something active on the floor like rolling around or wrestling. The truth is, I am trying really hard to wear them out so that they will go right to sleep at bedtime, but it is usually to no avail. On one particular day it was like normal, I was running around “play fighting” with my son as he was pretending to be Captain America and I was the unknown, evil villain. My daughter Jordan even joined the cast of our epic “battle.” If this sounds violent to you, please don’t judge me, forstudies show that this type of roughhousing is common for fathers and can bequite helpful.

A Painful Lesson

Eventually, my son began doing something else, but Jordan and I kept going. She soon started chasing me around while she punched at the air. She would hit me in the leg a few times and I would run away. In the middle of one of our “rounds,” my attention was suddenly shifted by a text message that came through on my iPhone. I stopped all of a sudden, walked away from her and began reading this “important” message. I had taken my attention off of my daughter and assumed that she would see that daddy had stopped playing. I was wrong. She didn’t notice and she kept punching away into the air until she reached a certain area of my body. Yep...THAT AREA!

As I found myself keeled over in pain, my little girl noticed that she had hurt her daddy. In the middle of my groans and my pleas that God would grant me a semblance of mercy, I heard my daughter’s attempt to get my attention. “Daddy,” she said. Through my tears I looked at her and responded, “Yeeeesss, baby.” Jordan said, “I’m sorry.”

Her apology should have settled it, but it didn’t because I observed the look on her face. She was smiling! SMILING! In the midst of my pain, my 3 year old had the nerve to smile as if everything should just be okay. A grown man is on the ground in a fetal position! Everything is NOT okay!

The Thing Most Remembered

Jordan repeated herself to make sure I heard her. G After all we’ve taught her to repeat herself when someone doesn’t acknowledge her. Doing so shows maturity and commands respect. Unfortunately, her dad was about to behave in a very immature manner, for all I could see was the smile on her face. I interpreted her smile as proof that the situation was funny to her, so I “maturely” barked out, “It’s not funny, Jordan!” I then gingerly guided her away from me. Real mature, I know! “Way to go ScreamFree guy.”

My wife was present for this entire episode, but she was unaware of Jordan’s apology attempt. She calmly explained to our daughter the importance of not punching boys “down there.” She then encouraged her to apologize. Jordan sadly told her that she had apologized, but that daddy just moved her aside. Suddenly the pain in my inward parts disappeared and a new one emerged - the emotional pain that I had just inflicted upon my daughter by my immature actions.

What stuck out to Jordan wasn’t the fact that her dad was on the floor in pain. The thing most remembered by her was how I responded to it. This occurrence made me think back to many of the times that I had reacted emotionally to my kids. I’ve noticed how their countenance tends to fall, how their shoulders drop and how emotional they become. Now, I finally understand what all of those experts talk about when they say that fathers play a crucial role in the cognitive, behavioral and emotional development of their kids.

How dads respond, interact and love their kids has a real impact on what they do and who they will one day become. We are responsible to them as fathers for the way in which we behave. How we behave ultimately will be the thing most remembered by those “little ones” we love so much.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Staying Sane During Summer Break

Question: What is a six letter word that brings joy to teachers and strikes fear in the hearts of many parents?

Answer: Summer! While many parents, myself included, are excited about the lazy days of summer, they also understand that too much of a good thing can be, well, too much. The initial excitement about getting to sleep in and having the freedom to do “whatever” can quickly turn into “How am I going to keep these kids entertained all summer?” So while teachers rejoice, let’s look at a couple of strategies to calm our parental fears about summer.
  1. Have a little structure in your summer. It’s tempting to throw the schedule to the wind once summer vacation hits, but, as my 13 year old wisely pointed out, no structure at all leads to chaos. So our family instituted a “lightweight” structure for each weekday morning. Each child needs to accomplish five things before lunch time, all of which can be done within one hour or so. They include reading (about 15-20 minutes), writing (either in response to their writing or adding 5 items to our family gratitude journal), light chores (wiping down the bathroom counters, watering the plants, etc.), practicing their new skill (see below), and Bible reading. They have a chart to mark off their completion of each item, and while they protested at first, they know that these five things aren’t going to take up too much time.
  2. Limit screen time. Let me say this up front. This is NOT easy, and while we may get the initial pushback from our kids, the reward is far greater. The creativity required to entertain themselves IS the reward. In fact, yesterday I watched sibling rivalry melt away as two of my kids built forts with every couch cushion in the house.
  3. Learn a new skill. The school year is often too busy with homework and after school activities to devote much time to something like this. Maybe your child has been interested in the guitar or piano. The summer might be the perfect time to try it out.  How about teaching your elementary school aged child how to make cookies? Or maybe your high schooler needs to learn how to do laundry? My daughter, who is entering middle school this fall, will be learning to type this summer, and I plan on teaching all of my kids how to paint when I repaint our playroom. (I know…shameless child labor!)
  4. Create a family bucket list. Don’t forget to add in the fun! Have each member of your family come up with their own list and then enjoy sharing them. Be creative and make sure to include freebie ones, too! Here are a few to get you started:
    • Go fishing.
    • Make homemade ice cream.
    • Have a water balloon fight.
    • Play miniature golf.
    • Visit an amusement park.
    • Catch fireflies.
    • Go on a hike.
  5. Take time for yourself. Or, as we say at ScreamFree, put on your own oxygen mask first! Having your kids around all summer can quickly drain you, so make sure you are refilling your own tank. Take care of yourself by focusing on YOU. This could mean grabbing your favorite magazine and heading to the backyard hammock for 15 minutes. It might mean going on a walk by yourself or having a girls’/guys’ night out. Whatever it looks like, realize that you will be a much better mom or dad if you are refreshed.
  6. Nurture your marriage. Having the kids around ALL THE TIME can put a real strain on your marriage as well, so make sure you are scheduling in some couple time. If you can’t afford a babysitter, rent the kids a video and then retreat to the dining room for a nice dinner.
So with a little planning, a lot of flexibility, and a healthy dose of me-time, you might just utter the words you’ve always wanted to hear: This was the best summer ever!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Avoiding the Chore Wars

Ah...summertime. The living is easy. The fish are jumping. The cotton is high.

And your house is a disaster!

With kids out of school and laying around the house all day, how in the world are you supposed to be able to keep it livable in there? It’s time to get serious about chores.

Chores are loaded with life lessons. Chores remind us that living indoors is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. Chores foster a sense of shared ownership and a respect for property. Chores are previews of what it’s like to work in the real world.

In short, chores help us prepare our children for life on their own, and those lessons are best taught young. Introduce kids to the value of work early on, before they become allergic to it later.

In the beginning, you’ll have to do most of the heavy lifting, but your effort is aimed toward the future. As with any behavior, a little work on the front end will pay hefty dividends in days to come. As your child internalizes some sense of responsibility, the need for parental prodding decreases.

I’ve found that little ones love to help out, especially if they think chores are for grown-ups. Take full advantage of a toddler’s penchant to imitate by giving them their own rag to help wipe the table or dry their sippy cup. Let them hold onto the broom while you vacuum. Odds are they’ll make as much of a mess as they clean, but you’re nurturing something positive in them -- a sense that their help is appreciated and expected.

Preschoolers can put away puzzles or toss their cup into the sink. They can help set the table, put clothes where they belong and keep common areas from violating too many health codes.

Joint ventures are always a good option. In our house, we found that our kids give us twice as much help if we do chores with them. For example, I may wash and one of my daughters will dry. But you don’t always have to be present. In fact, some things should be solely your child’s responsibility. On the whole, however, timing your work to coincide with hers should improve her output -- and her outlook.

Another good thing about shared chores: they have a way of allowing your child the opportunity to open up about what she is thinking or feeling. The highly elusive “quality time” we’ve all heard about often shows up spontaneously while folding the laundry or emptying the dishwasher. Chores are often prime times for our kids to talk to us -- even if it is just because we’re the only ones around!

Of course, as kids get older more activities compete for their time. So, it might behoove you to structure your expectations. You may need some strategies for making children’s chores less work for you than for them. Also, most kids are content to do nothing for 10 or 11 weeks from June to August. Your “To Do” list doesn’t always jive with their “Will Do” list. So, how do you keep a four-minute chore from becoming a 40-minute war?

Below are some suggestions for making chores less of a challenge.

First, make a list of household duties you would like from your kids. Then, divide the list into family chores (things that are expected because the child is part of the family) and paying chores (things that are linked to an allowance or that the child can do to pick up some extra cash).

Second, tell your kids that they can only do the paying chores if the family chores are up to date. Also, tell them that any daily duty (a “core chore”) must be complete before any privileges begin. In other words, no TV, computer, phone, pool, friends, etc. are available until the bathroom has been fumigated.

For younger children, you might want to construct a chore wheel. List household tasks or rooms to be cleaned, and everyone spins the wheel for an assigned task until all have been delegated. A variation of this includes flipping a coin to decide who washes and who dries, pulling chores out of a hat or tossing a velcro ball at a chore chart.

That last one might actually develop some hand-eye coordination. They’ll learn to hit the two-inch square that says, “Clean the computer screen” from across the room while avoiding the two-foot poster that says, “Clean out the refrigerator”.