Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I know they mean well, but....

Halloween highlighted my latest parenting pet peeve. Here's the scenario: Jamie, grasping two pieces of candy already, says, "I wanted Whoppers." I respond, "That was really rude. You can put those back and not have anything." The person whose house it is says, "Oh, no, he's fine. Here you go, have some Whoppers."

I have issue with this on a couple of levels. First, you contradicted me. I'm the parent and the ultimate authority for my child. Please don't tell him something is ok when it isn't. Second, you just taught my child that whining and being rude gets him what he wants. That is not the lesson I wanted to teach.

My initial response to the candy giver was, "no, it isn't ok." But he said, "oh, he's fine" and was already in the process of putting the Whoppers in Jamie's bag. How to handle this? Do I wrestle the Whoppers from his hand? Remove them from the bag and hand them back? Proceed with a big speech about how I'm trying to teach my child a lesson? No matter how I handle it, my credibility in front of my child is diminished and he's learned that rude behavior gets him what he wants if only mom isn't around.

I've encountered this problem frequently. I often make my children apologize when they've made a mess in public, knocked into someone, or been rude in any other way. Most adults respond to the apology with, "That's ok." No, no, no, no! It isn't ok. If it was ok, I wouldn't be making my child apologize. Instilling good manners is a hard job. It is made even harder by people who let kids off the hook. I know they are well-meaning, but as a parent, I need societal support. I need strangers to read my cues and respond accordingly. Emery purposefully spilling my coffee on the floor of the grocery store might be kinda cute when he's two, but it won't be when he's 6 or 16.

I admit, I've never read Hillary Clinton's book, It Takes a Village, but, I agree with the title. It takes everyone in society to support and reinforce social standards. If others act like bad behavior is ok or minimize it, then, despite what I say, my kids are going to think it is ok. "I'm sorry." "That's ok" has become such an automatic response. Stop and think next time someone apologizes. Is it really ok? If not, find a way to accept the apology without accepting the behavior.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Explosive Emotions

Monday night Baker and I finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets so I promised him the movie last night. We had a pretty calm day. Baker cleaned the downstairs bathroom after a small amount of whining; played nicely with his brothers and friends; and set the table for dinner with no complaints (his friend was over, so that may have helped). He was a bit fussy about dinner, but overall good. So, our friends left and we proceeded to watch the movie. At 8:30 pm when it was over, I told both him and Jamie to head upstairs. Instead of listening to me, they started fighting with each other. Then Baker stated he was hungry (knowing full-well our rule of if you don't eat dinner, you don't get snacks later).  Food became an issue. I finally got him upstairs, while Glen carried Jamie to his room. As Jamie screamed in the next room, Baker announced he was thirsty. I got his water and he proceeded to look directly at me, then tipped the glass out onto the floor. I was already a bit annoyed and stressed and this action just sent me over the edge. Mommy Dearest appeared and there was a good hour of yelling, fighting, and crying all around. Amazingly, Emery managed to stay asleep through it all.

I never wanted to be one of those moms who explode at their kids. When Baker was little, before Jamie came along, I could count on one hand the number of times I even raised my voice. Now, with three kids, I feel so frazzled sometimes that it seems like the day is spent yelling. There are lessons I want them to learn and yelling to get your way isn't one of them. Yet, they are learning that one very well. When I make requests calmly, I'm often ignored. When I raise my voice, they respond. Even Emery yells at his brothers or the dog. So, how to break this viscous cycle? I'm not sure.

I start every day thinking I'm going to try not to raise my voice. Most days I do okay until about 4 pm (4 o'clock mom voice, as my friend calls it). I get to a point where the frustration of repeating myself multiple times for every little task becomes unbearable. I get to the point where I feel my children do not appreciate anything that I do for them. I get to a point where I am so angry I can't keep my calm. Maybe I should take up meditation? Therapy? A vacation? Valium?

Part of the problem is feeling pulled in so many directions. The kids require so much care and upkeep. So does the dog. And the house. I have a bunch of projects around the house. Bills need to get sorted and paid. Laundry and dishes pile up at an amazing rate. I'm involved with church.  I like to spend time with my husband. And my friends. And myself. I have books to read, pages to scrapbook, and a blog to write. I know there must be a way to better prioritize things, but it can be so overwhelming sometimes. And that leaves little time to sort through my emotions or examine what I'm doing as a parent.

I was very upset with myself last night. I walked away from Baker and asked Glen to deal with him. I calmed down and went back upstairs. I laid on the bed with Baker, snuggled up, talking things over. I apologized for how I behaved. At least that is one positive he'll take away. He'll know to say sorry when he's done wrong, because his mom can apologize to him when she is wrong.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Spoiled Rotten

Recently (ok, it's been a month, but things have been busy) we went to see my great-aunt in Kentucky. I think her entire house's square footage would fit in half my first floor. My great-uncle built the house from leftover items when he worked construction. The first floor has a small dining room to the left and living room to the right. The kitchen is on the other side of the living room and it has a table in it, but the room is very narrow. The master bedroom with a bath is beyond the dinning room and there is another small room with stairs to the attic. The attic has two bedrooms, a full bath, and a large family room with a door to balcony deck. The house is nestled into the land. It is a warm, cozy house that I love to visit. When we were trying to figure out sleeping arrangements for my family and my parents, I started to think about the fact that my relatives raised seven children in this tiny house. There are pictures everywhere of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They regularly get together for family meals and there is a warmth and a closeness there that is seldom seen these days. In some ways, it is like stepping back in time.

Most of my relatives worked in the coal mines. My Uncle Sam chose to leave coal country, head north, and work construction. I know they struggled at times raising seven children in rural Kentucky. Partly because of economic difference and partly because of generational differences, I know my mother and her cousins never had the wealth of stuff that my kids have now. I often ponder who is better off?

No one wants to raised spoiled children. We want our kids to be grateful for what they have and to appreciate how lucky they are. We also want them to have it better than we did. It is another one of those fine lines we have to walk. Giving them opportunities we didn't have without giving them too much. I don't think I've navigated this line too well. When I was growing up, my parents didn't have a lot of money. My mom always did her best for Christmas, but there was always the day-to-day disappointment of "no, you can't get that" and I think I was aware early on that it was an issue of money. I knew we didn't live in the nicest place and I didn't have the "latest" fashions. I think in some ways, I've tried to compensate for that with my boys. Instead of having sons who are appreciative of what my husband and I do for them, I have three boys that take things for granted. If they leave a toy out and the dog chews it, their response is either , "daddy will fix it" or "we'll just go to the store for a new one." They love art and I love fostering that. But, they leave the caps off their markers, break their crayons, let the glue sticks dry out, mix the Playdoh up until it's gray, and waste tons of paper. I keep threatening not to replace the art supplies if they get ruined. But, how can you not let a child color? They leave their toys outside to get rained on and don't care. Even if I threaten to take things away, it usually isn't a big deal. They have so many toys, they won't even miss them.

And so, I'm in a quandary. One part of me wants them to feel secure and not be worried about money or not having enough of anything. I rarely felt that way growing up and it's not a feeling I want my children to experience. On the other hand, I do want them to realize there isn't an unlimited supply of money, that things have a cost (and not just the monetary cost), and that you don't always get what you want when you want. I'm planning to scale back. I used to buy them souvenirs for every trip we went on, no matter how big or small the trip. Our last trip to NYC, I almost bought them "I Love NY" t-shirts, but then stopped myself. I didn't get anything at the museum gift shop. They didn't ask or complain about these facts.

I'm planning to go through their toys and get rid of all the ones they don't really play with. Realistically, there are four or five things they consistently play with. The rest just gets dumped. We'll put them in the yard sale and put the money towards our charity bank or bring them somewhere to donate. My parents usually give them change when they visit. A few months back, I started having them split where the money goes. Some goes in their banks, some into the family charity bank. It is a small start, but it is a start. It sounds cliche, but there are things more important than money. My great aunt and uncle raised a large, loving family in a small house with little means. They probably don't remember the things they didn't get, but they will always remember the love and laughter in that house. I want that legacy for my sons.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Support

Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do.  With no relatives, no support, we've put it in an impossible situation.  ~Margaret Mead

This past Sunday, our minister cited some studies in her discussion of Father's Day and family. In the 1970's, when asked if people had someone to share their most personal problems with, on average each person had three others they could turn to. In a more recent study, the mode was 0. This means that in 40 years, as a society, our ability to make friendships and rely on others has diminished.

As I listened to these statistics, I realize how lucky I am. I am still in touch with my three best friends from high school (one I've known since kindergarten). I often think to call them when having issues with my children or husband. I have two very close friends that I've known almost since my first child was born. We joke about our communal dinners and parenting, but all jokes aside, it is a precious thing. We just moved to a neighborhood that had other families and I am starting to develop support networks here. While my parents live two hours away, I know in times of crisis, they will make the drive and help us out. On top of that, we have friends and acquaintances from church who are supportive in many ways.

I would not be the parent I am without the loving support of these people. They cheer me on when I get overwhelmed, they provide a sounding board for me when I'm unsure of my self, and they're strong enough to tell me when I'm wrong or over-reacting.

I don't know how some people do it alone. I couldn't imagine the level of stress I would have without the support of friends and family. It really does, to be cliche, take a village. And yet, in many places, people are isolated. Not geographically, but, self-imposed. As a society, we've become more inwardly focused and more fearful of involvement with others. Because we have become such a mobile society, we no longer live near our extended families. In many neighborhoods people come home and never interact with their neighbors.

Statistically, parents without good support outside of the family are more likely to be abusive. I can see why. There are days when my children just bug me to death and I feel like I'm at my wits end with them. But, I always know there is someone who is willing to come over and talk, be there on the phone, or even take them for a bit if I really need. It is good to travel this journey with others and know I am not alone.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Vicarious Living

I often wonder about the parents of famous athletes. Did Venus and Serena Williams really love tennis at such an early age? At age 2, did Tiger Woods eagerly ask to play golf the way Emery asks for "bob-a-booboo" (Bob the Builder)? Did Wayne Gretzky ever regret learning to skate at age 2 and being thrust into the limelight? Young children have no idea what they want to do with their lives 20 years in the future. Heck, most don't know what they want to do tomorrow. And so, I've always thought badly of the parents of young athletes or artists. I assumed that the parents pushed their children into the sport or activity, either to live vicariously through them or for financial reasons.

And then, Jamie started dancing around the house. When Jamie dances, he has a style and grace that doesn't match his 4 years. He naturally holds his hands in ballet positions and pirouettes across the living room. I look at Jamie and I see the potential for a career. I also see pure joy on his face when he dances: he loves it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I took ballet for 6 years. I don't think I ever really loved it or had any desire to pursue it as a career. But, for six years I took classes, participated in recitals, and have fond memories of the experience.


And now the quandary.

I want to sign Jamie up for dance classes. I think he would really enjoy it. Maybe it would just be a fun thing for a few months or years as it was for me and my siblings. Maybe it would be the introduction to a future career. Maybe the Williams parents saw tennis as a way to keep their kids busy with something productive and Serena and Venus were just naturals. Maybe they worked hard to become good; pushed on by a father with selfish goals. Only they and their dad know the true story.

Maybe Walter Gretzky saw hockey as a way to run the energy out of his boys and Wayne just took to it. Or maybe he saw it as a way to get his sons off the farm. Again, that is between the Gretzkys.

But, the questions give me pause. Tanya Harding started skating at a young age, and we all know what happened to her. Did she just come from a dysfunctional family or was the pressure placed on a young child to succeed too great?

While I don't think I would overtly push Jamie to do something he doesn't want to, I can see the potential for unintended pressure to be placed. "Oh you're so good at that" can be translated in a kid's mind to "I have to stay with this to make mom proud."

On the other hand, maybe some kids have natural gifts and they will pursue them with or without parental support. Dorthy Hamill couldn't get her mom to wake up one morning at 4:30 and take her to skate practice. She began walking the 10 miles to the rink. She was 12.

I have asked Jamie if he is interested in dance and he seems to be. At first he told me, "boys can't do ballet." I showed him a video of Baryshnikov. He seemed quite excited about the idea after that. If he takes lessons, I will have to monitor my enthusiasm and see if it matches his own. If not, a few weeks of lessons never hurt anyone. And, hopefully, no matter where he goes, he will always dance for his mom in the living room.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tonight's Bike Ride: A Metaphor for Life

Baker learned to ride a two-wheeler almost 2 years ago. We briefly used training wheels until he got the hang of steering, then took them off and ran behind him as he pedaled. The first few times, I had to hold the bike for him. I'd let go and he'd stay upright, though wobbly, for a couple of seconds at a time. Next thing I knew, he could get himself started and go for longer distances. He'd cautiously go ahead, and then pedal right back to me.  He moved up in bike sizes, but never went too far from me, until this year. Now, he zooms ahead to each intersection, then waits patiently for me to catch up.  We constantly review the rules of the road and quiz him on bike safety. Tonight, as I walked the dog and he rode his bike, I told him he could go ahead to the end of the road. He took off, crested the hill and disappeared down it. As I saw him vanish, I had a moment of panic. What if a car is coming? What if he brakes too hard and falls? What if he doesn't stop at the intersection? What if? What if? What if?

Our children start as helpless babes and move on to teetering toddlers. We hold their hands and help them every step of the way. They are always at our side. They enter kindergarten. They're still in reach, but a bit more independent. Baker hasn't figuratively crested the hill yet, but I know those "What if?" questions will plague me when he finally does; heading off to college out of my site and my reach. I will worry about whether or not he'll remember all those lessons I've tried to teach him. The "rules" of life and guides to safe living. I'll worry that despite my lessons, unforeseen events will hurt him and I won't be there to help him back up. Of course, I can worry all I want. The fact that he will grow up, move on, and become the adult that he will be, will happen whether I worry or not. So all I can do is try to do the best I can now, hope he remembers what I say, and wait to see if he occasionally rides back to check in with me.



Friday, June 4, 2010

Field Day Inspired Thoughts

Baker's best friend didn't attend field day. He got in trouble at school two days in a row for hitting, so his mom said he couldn't go. She is my new parenting hero! Hurray for personal responsibility. I see so many parents who let their child's bad behavior slide or, worse yet, reinforce it. I've seen parents giggle and say, "how cute" when their young child does something wrong, like throwing food. I've seen parents make excuses for their older child's inappropriate behavior. I often wonder what they think they are accomplishing by doing this. Maybe they are saving their child some short-term stress and it is easier for them at the moment, but, long-term, they are setting their kids up to be spoiled, obnoxious adults who think the world owes them something. So, my friend K is my hero. She is teaching her son that there are consequences and some behaviors just aren't acceptable.

Field day made me think about balance. I like to give my kids some freedom. Emery was walking towards the playground and I let him go. I knew where he was headed, I was watching him, and I planned on joining him in a few minutes. I don't need my child next to me every second. Another adult saw him walking, looked around, and glared at me for letting him go on his own. Maybe he didn't realize my intention, and I can understand that. Once I joined Emery and put him on the swing, a little boy asked me if he could swing. I asked where his mom was. He pointed and she was busy supervising one of the field day games. This little boy was on the playground for a good half hour without anyone watching or checking on him. I've seen that often too at other playgrounds. And so, you have to strike a balance between giving your kids some freedom (and yourself some breathing room) and temporarily "abandoning" your child to the playground. It is difficult. I've gotten distracted talking to a friend and lost track for a second of my child's whereabouts. But, it is infrequent and, overall, I do think I manage that balance of giving them room to explore and be independent without letting them get too far away.

My last thought is this. I was so excited to see the kids, in this day and age of political correctness and litigation, play "tug of war." They had such a good time and although it was called war, the school did a great job of promoting good sportsmanship.