Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Are You In The (Comfort) Zone?

Have you ever had the feeling your life is on autopilot?  You do the same chores, drive the same routes, talk to the same people, eat the same food, have the same arguments--you get the idea.  Parents can often feel this way, as the demands of successfully raising young children require a certain amount of repetitiveness.  Young children thrive on structure.  It helps them understand their world and gives them security in knowing what to expect.  But what can happen is that parents get stuck in the routine of our roles as parents, and forget to leave any room for our personal development.  Sometimes, our roles as parents become our entire joy and identity, and then when our children fly the coop, we are left trying to understand the depression and loneliness that sets in.

I still have two teenagers at home.  And although I will admit to wishing at times that they could disappear for an hour or two (like when my son is sprawled out on the couch, napping right in the middle of our family room).  My own fear about the emptiness of our house when they too have gone has had me thinking lately.  And reflecting on my own personal development.  And the messages I have been sending them about who I am and what I love.  I decided that I have not asserted myself into our family calendar lately, as I am the designated scheduler and not the predominant schedulee.
I decided that I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone, and show my children that I had interests and pursuits away from my beloved home and family.  So in the last week I attended a Blogging Conference (BBSummit12) and took an over night road trip with my 81 year old mom and teenage daughter, to revisit the vacation homes of our past.  We headed to Michigan for a one night stay and explored the rediscovered some areas that had been very special to both my mom and me.

Both of these experiences have left me refreshed and enthused about what is to come.  And have reminded me and my family members that I have a life too, beyond the laundry and meal preparation that they have come to expect of me.  I have always wanted my three daughters and my son to realize that they are strong, capable individuals who can have anything they aspire to; but I need to also show them that I am doing the same.  Hopefully, as I reach out for new experiences, my family will find more to  to ask me than "Hey Mom, What's for dinner?"; and I will have more to answer.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Evolution of Family Dinners

We all have busy lives.  And modern day families are among the busiest.  When a family has active teenagers, life seems to accelerate to new heights of hyper-speed.  So what usually disappears among the chaos of practices, homework, school meetings, and job obligations?  The Family Dinner.  The Family Dinner used to be a regular in households.  Although it seems a momentous task to keep the "old fashioned" tradition alive, I would like to advocate for this very practice.

Recently, I heard Aaron Sorkin interviewed.  He is a famous and award winning screenwriter/producer of titles like The Social Network, Moneyball, and The West Wing.  Aaron remarked "I loved the sound of our dinner table!" as he was reminiscing about his experiences growing up.  That quote struck me.  It hit me like a thunderbolt.  Here was this uber successful "Hollywood" type, referring to the positive influence the family dinner table had on shaping who he was to become.  He also mentioned that his siblings and parents discussed all kinds of subjects and viewpoints during these special moments doing a very ordinary thing.  But the very ordinary thing is becoming rather extraordinary in our fast paced lives.

Sitting together and sharing a meal is a practice that is threatened.  In the worst case, we don't share any time at all as a family.  We just grab what we can and plunk ourselves in front of the nearest TV or computer screen.  In some cases, we join together at the table but the location is all we are sharing, as our cell phones or I Pads are really hijacking our attention.  My hope is that if any of this rings true to parents, they might resurrect the family dinner.  They might elevate it to it's proper revered position.  Maybe not every night.  But at least a few nights a week.  Sit down as an unplugged family and engage in conversation and debate.  Get to know each other.  Listen to your children and teenagers viewpoints and allow them to question you about yours.  Time marches on and before you know it, those teenagers will be out in the world and you will at least know that during dinner time, you shared the deliciousness of true family life.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

R E S P E C T shouldn't be a dirty word...

In our fast paced and cynical society, respect has fallen on hard times.  We love to criticize politicians and celebrities and anyone else who comes into our public conciousness.  But does this culture of criticism extend its' ugly grip into our own homes?  I think that unfortunately, it does.  And as parents, we need to beat it back by ACTIVELY teaching children to respect us as their parents.  Let me make my case...

I often work with parents who have a tough time disciplining their young children in even the simplest of ways.  I am horrified to watch as their children are allowed to hit them, yell "shut up" or call them unkind names. Some even actively cover their ears and hum when being reprimanded.  These behaviors are all strategies that children use to divert attention from the matter at hand, or to command attention from the parent.  Respect for parents should be a house rule in every happy home.  And it takes consistency and patience to teach your children that certain behaviors cross the line and will not be tolerated.

But the burden of parenting does not stop there.  Parents also must be worthy of respect.  Kids are smart and see right through the parent who yells at them about telling a lie and then turns around and lies to get out of a ticket or considers it a blessing to have a waiter miss an item on the restaurant bill.  Parents need to earn the respect that they expect from their children by trying to be good examples in all ways.  From the soccer field, to the fast food window, to the annoying neighbor next door, your children are studying your behavior and learning how you handle yourself.  This helps them to determine how they act.  So if you are unkind, dishonest, impatient, or worse, your kids will follow you down that path.  And it will make it very difficult to demand respect from them that you don't earn.

No one ever said parenting is easy.  But tackling respect from both the earning and teaching sides will benefit your family immensely!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Televillan or Television

Most children love to watch television.  Most children are drawn to television.  Some children even get into a trance like state when watching and tune the outside world off.  I have witnessed this with my own children, my nieces and nephews, and my students.  Television viewing is not in itself, inherently, a bad thing.  But...there is a lot of bad television out there.  And too much of anything is not a good idea.  That is why, as a parent educator, I constantly remind parents of the two "Q"'s of television viewing: Quality and Quantity.

Let's look at Quality...unfortunately, there are a lot of awful programs on TV.  Some are specifically aimed at children.  Just because a network has the reputation of being "kid friendly" does not mean that all of it's programming is good for children.  Some shows are aimed at older children, and should not be viewed consistently by younger children because the messages and themes are inappropriate for a younger viewer.  And some shows are just plain bad.  They promote bullying behavior, cast adults as idiots, and make any one in authority look like a fool.  Other shows promote materialism and lifestyles that can cause a child to feel inadequate, jealous, envious or depressed.  These messages should be contemplated by parents.  The best way to judge the quality of the programs that you allow your children to watch, is to sit down and watch them yourself.  Take the time to examine the messages of the shows that your children are drawn to, and make sure that these messages are ones that you feel comfortable with.  If they are not, simply do not allow your children to watch certain shows.  Remember, you are the adult in the household and limits should be set and enforced by you.

Quantity is the other "Q" to be examined.  Pediatricians recommend that children under the age of two do not watch television.  I know that this rule is hardly ever followed.  Most mini vans have video screens in them and families play movies on a short ride to school.  I see this often.  But if your child is plugged in for more than two hours in a day, he or she is missing out of the kind of experiential learning that is truly healthy and beneficial.  And placing a television in your child's bedroom is NEVER a good idea.  By allowing this, you are neglecting your duty as a parent, which is to help your child to develop to his/her fullest potential.  Television viewing in a bedroom allows your child to access inappropriate programming and also shows that you are unwilling as a parent to take on the adult role of limit setter, which is key to good parenting.  Study after study has shown that children want parents who set limits and monitor their behavior because then the child knows that you are in control--which fosters feelings of security and confidence in your child.  Children may act as though they want to run the show, but really, they want you to be a parent and be in charge.

So monitor your children's television habits.  Protect them from negative messages.  Treasure and guard their childhood by censoring what they are exposed while they are young.  Childhood is precious and fleeting, so help them hang on to theirs' without the negative and inappropriate messages so easily accessed on television.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lessons From A Farmer's Market

Over the weekend, I had the chance to take a bike ride with my husband and two daughters to a local farmer's market.  The outing, although hot, turned out to be a wonderfully simple way to enjoy some time as a family.  It got me thinking about how a trip to a farmer's market is such a simple teaching opportunity for parents of young children.  By setting aside a morning to explore the different fruits and vegetables at the market, you are able to convey so many important and over looked messages in our fast paced world.

First of all, it is a great opportunity to teach kids to connect the dots when it comes to food that they eat.  All food comes from somewhere.  Often times, children don't give any thought to what food they eat other than how it tastes to them.  In their minds, food comes from out of a box, or out of the refrigerator, or through a car window in a bag.  By exposing them to tables of colorful produce, you are able to stimulate their senses and get them excited about trying some new things.

Secondly, buying fresh produce opens up the discussion of how to use the produce.  Fresh strawberries could mean strawberry shortcake or smoothies or muffins or pie.  You get the idea.  Taking the produce home and transforming it in to something delicious to eat, is another simple yet powerful learning experience for children.

And finally, taking your children somewhere that you are exploring together, creates a connection or strengthens the bond that you share with them.  Parents sometimes fall into the habit of believing everything is easier without the kids in tow.  And from a practical sense this is true.  But taking children with you and exploring a place from a new perspective can make it all the more special.  So grab your bike helmets and pedal off to your local market, and later in the day you will be able to enjoy the "fruits" of your labor!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Technological Tragedy

 While celebrating the Fourth of July, a friend of mine and her family traipsed to a city park in Madison, Wisconsin, and staked out a spot for a premium fireworks experience.  Sitting next to her was a young family.  The fresh faced Dad and Mom arrived about the time that my friend and her family did, almost three hours prior to the show.  My friend shared these observations with me about this young couple and their child.  They had brought some snacks and had their adorable little boy sitting comfortably in his stroller.  Their arrival was based on where the two of them could find cellphone service, as they walked around the area, cell phones in hand, checking for the strongest signal.  They figured that perching next to my friend's blanket was a desirable spot to receive the fastest internet connection.  This was to foreshadow their fireworks experience. 

The little boy was unstrapped and given a slushie to drink and the two parents proceeded to "plug in".  They sat on their phones for the remaining two plus hours, until the fireworks actually began, without hardly uttering a word to each other or interacting with their darling little boy.  He was desperate to engage with them.  He crawled up into their laps, trying to engage.  He barked like a puppy.  He started interacting with my friend as she had been smiling at him and giving him some attention. This continued for two plus hours.  No conversation, no play, no interaction between the little boy and his parents.

This scenario is tragic on so many levels.  The parents are missing out on a wonderful experience with their son.  Instead of enjoying their time together, playing, teasing, conversing, interacting.  They forfeited these experiences for the sake of whatever was capturing their attention on their I-Phones.  This will impact their child.  I can only hope that this was an exception rather than the norm for this family, as the little boy will not develop social skills, much of a vocabulary, or any type of warm and fuzzy memories from eternally plugged in and disengaged parents.  

Parents, please hear my call as an experienced parent and preschool teacher.  Put down your phones.  If you have to, schedule phone free, family time.  Your children need it and your relationship with them will benefit from it.  And next year, leave the phone at home when you go to watch the fireworks.  You might just find you enjoy the show! 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Treasured Grandparents

Grandma and Abbie baking Christmas cookies!

 Today's post is a shout out to Grandparents.  Grandparents offer so much support.  Grandparents support parents in many ways; some financially, some with babysitting, some just with love and care.  The lessons grandparents impart to your children are invaluable.  They have more life experience than you do.  They may look at things differently, but exposing your children to other viewpoints is a healthy way to promote tolerance.  They love your children, and focusing on the positives in the relationship rather than the shortcomings is the key to happiness.

I have worked with many families who for a variety of reasons find their relationships with the grandparents strained.  If you find yourself estranged from your children's grandparent, I challenge you to find a way to reconnect.  Put your differences aside and try to focus on the bigger picture.  Try to be the bigger person.  Stretch yourself in an effort to reinforce to your children that family ties are important and should be respected if not treasured.  Your children may connect with your parents in a fresh new way and allow you to see this relationship in a new light.

The bottom line is that blood truly is thicker than water.  In times of strife, family members are the ones that "have your back".  Do you do enough to nurture these relationships?  Do you teach your children to value them?  Try to put differences aside and be a loving example of tolerance for your children.  Grandparents by nature will not be around for do your best to establish these precious relationships before it is too late.  You and your children will benefit.