Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Have We BECOME?

It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write today's post. My blog is dedicated to helping parents navigate their way through the difficulties of parenthood. But the events that occurred yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut leave me searching for answers and depressed at the collective state of our American culture.

What have we become when a 20 year old (a whisper away from a teenager) takes a gun and shoots his mother, and then proceeds to drive her car to an elementary school and take his vengeance and hatred out on poor, little defenseless children, and educators who dedicate their life to them? I can't help thinking about the preschoolers that I teach and how I would do anything to protect them. Their little faces. Their little bright eyes and inquiring minds. How did this young man go from that innocence to a monster in the short years in between?

Our culture needs examination. We are headed in the wrong direction. When this happens and is cataloged against the backdrop of other recent events it has become startlingly clear. Shootings in movie theaters, shopping malls, houses of worship and now elementary schools! What have we become? We are all responsible at some level for this. And I am outraged about it. So what are the causes? Here are my theories:

Violence has been spoon fed to our children through video games, movies, television show and the internet has dulled our senses and lulled us into becoming more accepting of the unacceptable. It cannot be healthy for young children, and then preteens, and then teenagers to play violent video games for hours on end and watch entertainment that continually glorifies violence.

Families are fracturing. Two parent families are becoming less and less common. And although there are many excellent parents who bring up successful children in single parent homes, the fact of the matter is that it is EXTREMELY hard to be a single parent. And often times when both parents are still in the picture, there is still a great deal of unresolved anger and rage on the part of the children--who are always the casualties of divorce.

Lack of Spiritual Direction. Our society glorifies superficial successes and worldly possessions over character. What do we desire in the USA? We want a big house, expensive car, designer clothes and shoes. Where does a healthy, happy, well adjusted family rank on our list of wants? I am not sure. We hire nannies to raise our children, or just leave them to fend for themselves. And then wonder why they didn't turn out the way we wanted them to. We rank a spiritual life as something to discover during trying times, but do we take our children to religious education classes? Do we impart on them the importance of being a good, kind, loving person? No, we are too busy. But we allow Hollywood and gaming companies to shape their young minds with absolute dreck?

Think of what is glorified in our society? Jersey Shore? The "REAL" Housewives of multiple locations? Pro athletes? Rap and Pop artists? Where are the positive messages coming from any of those sources?

Lack of mental health services are another concern. Where do families turn when they know their loved one is capable of committing a crime but have no clue about what to do to stop it. We need facilities and legislation that will give us a safety net for deeply troubled individuals.

And finally. The Guns. Our society must get a handle on guns. If you don't believe me, look at the death by gun rates of other developed nations. You cannot convince me that the Constitution was meant to guarantee our right to carry concealed, automatic weapons that were manufactured to excel at killing human beings--including little children. Do you want to hunt? Fine. You may have a hunting rifle. But you should not be allowed to lawfully own rapid fire, high-powered, automatic weapons that can efficiently kill my children. And you should not be allowed to have a bullet proof vest and body armor. Good, law abiding citizens have no need for such items and as a society we should not tolerate their sale and possession. We must get serious about this! We need creative solutions to get the guns out of our homes and only in the hands of our law enforcement agents.

The time is now to do some serious soul searching about the direction of our nation. Take action. Write to your representatives about gun issues. Get involved on a community level to help struggling families. Give money to mental health organizations. Turn your televisions off and throw away your inappropriate video games. We must all do something so that events like Sandy Hook will never happen again! My prayers and deepest sympathy go out to the families of that tiny little school and all of the families that have lost loved ones to senseless violence in our country.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Try this instead of Elf on the Shelf--it's so much better!

I cannot take credit for this idea, I actually read it in a women's magazine many years ago.  But I can take credit for trying a version of it out on my family.  And now that my children are grown, they will be the first to tell you that it was their favorite family tradition of all time.  Your family must try this idea.  It has so many benefits. It is such a wonderful idea. 

So what is the tradition?  Well here it is...every December  1st, our family picked names out of a hat.  The name was Secret Santa Recipient.  You were in charge of performing random, small acts of kindness for that person everyday until Christmas Eve.  You were their "Secret Santa" and each time you did something nice, you tied a bow to our Christmas tree.  The trick was to not let your person know who was being kind to them.  It was a secret.  Then on Christmas Eve our family guessed who the person was that drew their name.

Why was this the best tradition ever?  Well, it was so much fun to watch the tree fill up with bows.  As a mom, it was so fulfilling to think of all the kindness being spread around our home.  Also, this tradition emphasized giving instead of getting.  And, what would often happen was our family members performed extra kind things for others in order to "fake out" their true recipient.  So the kindnesses were multiplied.  And each Christmas Eve was filled with laughter and joking about the kindnesses and who got spoiled the most or least.  The children loved the secret element to hiding a piece of candy in a brother's backpack, or performing a chore for a sister or leaving a loving note (computer printed of course to conceal one's identity) on Mom or Dad's pillow.

 As a preschool teacher, I know that the "elf on the shelf" tradition is going strong, but this Secret Santa idea trumps that one in so many ways.  Being someone's Secret Santa doesn't use negative reinforcement to get your children to behave ("the elf is going to tell Santa if you are naughty!"--say so many parents everywhere...).  This idea doesn't focus on what gifts your child is going to be rewarded with on Christmas morning.  Christmas is about giving and sharing and loving and family.  That is why I urge you to give the Secret Santa Tradition a try.  You will be so glad that you did.  My children are growing up, and with two of them away, we really don't have the time together to continue this tradition.  But someday, I have a feeling they might start it up in their own families.  And they will watch the kindness and love being shared throughout this magical season.

I received a message yesterday from a lovely woman who was my youngest daughter's fourth grade teacher.  She wanted me to remind her what our family's tradition was, because she remembered years ago when Claire was talking about in class.  That speaks to the enthusiasm with which my four children embraced this Secret Santa Tradition.  So do your family a favor and try this out.  I guarantee you will be so glad that you did!  And let me know how it works out, too!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Focus on Family Friendly Holidays

Something about this time of year makes it feel as though we are moving at warp speed.  The messages bombarding us are that we need to be baking cookies, planning parties, decorating our homes, buying perfect gifts, sending holiday cards, volunteering at our children's school parties, attending their holiday concerts and on and on and on.

I want to whisper a secret into your ear.  Your children are only young once, so don't forget to focus on them while they are little and precious and (exhausting).  I am afraid we can get so caught up in "doing the season" that we forget what is really supposed to be at the heart of it...our family life.

So here are a few ideas to put you back on track, so that you can enjoy the holiday season with depth and meaning rather than kill yourself attaining superficial societal seasonal success.

  • Allow your children to help you decorate your home.  Trying to achieve the "HGTV" perfection in domestic design doesn't belong in this season.  Paper chains and snowflake cutouts are more in order.  Revel in the rustic simplicity of children's artwork.  They will grow up sooner than you think, and you will have plenty of time to bring your own visions on decorating to life, when you are an empty nester. 

  • Say NO in order to say Yes.  In otherwords, turn down invitations that truly don't speak to you and feel like obligations in order to have more time to spend at home with your family.  Set limits to how many invitations or activities you will commit to outside the home in a week, and then stick to it.  It is not wrong to choose family over other things.  Your children should be your primary focus and need to make it on to your calendar.  Otherwise you are missing the opportunity to build family traditions and connections that will last a lifetime.  To be blunt: don't let your babysitter decorate the tree with your kids 

  • Unplug to tune in.  Turn of the tv, put down the I-Phone, hide the Kindlefire, and build a real fire in the fireplace, make some hot chocolate, put on some holiday music and spend an evening reading together, or baking cookies, or playing UNO, or doing a craft together.

  • Be a Gift to Others.  Give some thought to how your family can be a blessing to others.  Bring cookies to your local firestation, call a retirement home and ask if you and your family can visit someone who doesn't have anyone, donate food to your local pantry, the list goes on and on.  Talk with your children about performing acts of kindness and listen to their ideas.

  • Embrace Peace.  Take a moment or two each day, to sit quietly and reflect on your blessings and how you can be a blessing to your family.  Write it down or pray on it.  Do whatever it takes to drown out the madness of the season and revel in the peace.  This season where the days are short and the darkness is long, remember to be a light to others--to find peace and joy in within the four walls of your home, and lay the foundation for a family that strengthens its bonds during the holiday season instead of becoming frayed and frazzled.

Here's to you and your family!  May you enjoy your holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!