Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An Attitude of Gratitude

 Many years ago, I found myself at a end of the school year party with one of my daughters.  The party was at the home of one of her classmates.  She was in grade school at the time.  The family hosting the party lived in a huge mansion and the event was as over the top as any child's party I had ever witnessed.  Out on the lawn, near the catering station over looking the pool and inflatable slides and jumping ball pit stood the hostess of the party, who was the mother of one of my daughter's classmates.  

As various parents and children entered the gathering, (most with an expression of utter disbelief on their faces) I remember standing waiting to greet and thank the hostess for this unbelievable event.  As I waited, I could over hear her telling another parent that although they had lived in the mansion for over a year, she still yearned for their last house and really couldn't find much to be happy about.  I was stunned.  This woman was complaining about her life just as people who barely knew her, were ogling over all the incredible riches that her daily life afforded her.  I did not know this mother well, and she may have been having a bad day, or problems that I was unaware of.  I didn't hear the entire conversation.  So I am not trying to pass judgment here, but at the time,  I found it incredible that someone in these circumstances would be complaining and not feel utter gratitude, every single moment for the life that she had been given.  But that is easy for me to say.  There are certainly people who could look at me when I am complaining and have the same thoughts run through their head.  What does she have to complain about?  How can she not appreciate all that she has been given!  So what is the characteristic that seems to be lacking?  Gratitude.

As parents, we need to consciously teach our children to be grateful and appreciate what they have.  Often, we get so caught up in fulfilling their every want and need, we forget to look at the big picture and remember that handing our children everything does not teach them anything but insatiable greed.  A habit of handing your child every latest gadget, just makes them yearn for the next and newest one.  Buying them closets full of designer clothes and shoes will never give them the self esteem they lack.  Things don't make people happy.  Relationships do.  But somehow, many of us think that giving our kids everything they want will help foster our relationship with them.  I am sorry to be the one to tell you that this doesn't work.

So how do you raise a child to be thankful?  Well first of all, look in the mirror.  Do they see you being grateful for what you have?  Do you make it a point to thank people for what they give you?  Do you write thank you notes or emails or make phone calls when someone has helped you out or given you a gift?

Help your child to appreciate what he/she has by having them give to others.  Have your children donate toys or clothes to organizations that will pass them on.  As they get older, encourage them to volunteer their time through service clubs at school or your parish or synagog.  Volunteering to help others often exposes your children to families who do not have what they take for granted.  This can be an eye opening experience for preteens and teenagers.

Require your children to have chores and contribute to the running of your household.  If you do everything for them, they don't even understand how good they have it.  But if they are involved in doing work around your household, they begin to realize that the laundry fairy and the grocery elves do not exist.

And finally, expect them to step up for you when you need them to.  I recently had to organize a party for a retiring coworker.  Two of my daughters were there with me to set up and help throughout the afternoon and clean up.  It was a lot of work, but I knew that I could count on them to be there for me and not let me down.  That is the type of relationship we have cultivated, because they appreciate all that they have and have confidence in their own abilities to help out.

When your children are young, get in the habit of having them tell you what they are thankful for each night before they go to bed.  This little moment of gratitude can set the tone for a fulfilling life ahead, instead of a life of discontent and disappointment.

And if your children are older but suffer from a lack of appreciation, begin in small ways to expect more of them and also remind them how lucky you feel to have them in your life; because everyone loves to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Notes from a Mom at Graduation

It's that time of year again.  Families are gathering to witness and celebrate middle high school and college graduations.  These occasions cause me to reflect on the past and the tired old cliche of just how quickly the years fly by.  I heard a young mom recently say "the days seem long, but the years go quickly".  She has no idea how right she is!

My only son is about to graduate from high school.  And as I reflect on his high school years and what lies ahead, I have discovered that I am a complete sexist.  Why?  Because the following questions continue to assault my brain.  And I don't remember dealing with any of this when his two older sisters were graduating.

Why am I feeling panicky at the thought that he doesn't know how to change the oil in a car?  I did make my husband teach him how to change a tire.  So I can check that off my list.  But can he mow a lawn?  Cook a nutritious meal? Drive a stick shift?  Why are these thoughts racing through my mind?

Will he know enough not to wear pajama pants out in public?  Will he lock his bike on campus?  I know he knows how to do laundry, but will he do it?  Will he change his sheets?  Clip his toenails?  And the questions continue to bubble up, like the water in a drinking fountain that never stops running.

Who will look after him?  Who will check up on him?  Who will care about him?  Maybe a girlfriend, but that comes with another whole host of worries.  The bottom line is that I need to let go.  I have done my job.  He has learned what he needs for now.  And the rest will come.  And I will begin to focus on what he has already learned.  He is a confident and wonderful young man facing a bright future.  And he knows that his father and I are very proud of him.  And we have learned how lucky we are to have him as our son!


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Explore With Your Kids!

Life can be so hectic when you have kids.  The calendar fills up at breakneck speed with organized activities and then when we have a break, we always have chores and errands and things we "should" do; we should wash the windows, we should plant a garden, we should clean our closets!  My plea to you is put the should's aside when your kids are young and explore your neighborhood with them.

Outings can be simple and inexpensive.  The difficulty is in finding the time.  So put some adventures on your calendar and start planning.  Ride the train if you normally drive.  Take a bus somewhere.  Go to a park or forest preserve and hike.  Visit an art museum, a science center, a planetarium or aquarium.  Take the time to explore your town or county or nearest city.  Learn about the history of a certain place.  Is there a historical landmark around?  Find it and learn something new.  Try an out of the way ice cream shop or hot dog stand.  Go to an outdoor concert.  Enjoy exploring together.  You will strengthen your family bonds, and be developing your child's knowledge about the world.

I know you have heard it before.  Children grow up so fast.  That's why now is the time to enjoy exploring with them.  Encourage their curiosity.  Broaden their horizons.  Take the time now, because before you know it...the calendar will not be as full, they will be on to their own adventures and their curious spirit and community awareness will be a credit to you.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!


Happy Mother's Day to all the Amazing Mother's I know:

Mother's who sacrifice, encourage, support, love, hug, kiss, work, toil, spoil, and give more than 100% each and every day!

And especially to my mom and mother in law--who make the job look easy--and do it so well!


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Understanding Parent/Teacher Conferences

You know the drill.  Sign up for a time slot.  Put it on your calendar.  Set aside a 15 minute period of time to have someone tell you about someone you know better than anyone else--your child.  I mean you live with this person.  You care for this person.  And you sincerely doubt that you will hear anything that you don't already know.  And if you do, you are praying that it is only good news.

Parent/Teacher Conferences have been spoofed on television sit coms because they are awkward and anxiety provoking and can be quite emotional.  It feels vulnerable to be discussing someone you love so very much.  And you don't always feel comfortable with the person doing the "discussing".    After all,  you only know the teacher through the lens of your child unless you have been able to have other experiences in the classroom as a volunteer or have had the teacher teach one of your other children.
So how should a parent make the most of these annual events?  Here are my tips as a mother of four and a teacher:

1.  Come Prepared:  Think about any questions or concerns you would like to voice and write them down, so you don't get caught off guard and completely forget what you might have wanted to ask.

2.  Teamwork:  If possible, have both parents attend the conference.  This allows for more discussion and offers more collaboration for all parties involved.  I realize this might not always be possible, but it is a great option if it can be achieved.

3.  Defensiveness is Deafening:  If the teacher raises an issue, a parent's first reaction is to get defensive.  The problem with this is that if you are on the defensive you are shutting down your ability to listen and problem solve which doesn't help your child.  Put your emotions aside and concentrate on learning what can be done to help your child succeed.

4.  Do Your Homework:  Go home and think about what issues were raised by the teacher.  Are there things that you could do to support the growth and success of your child that are not currently doing?  Come up with a plan to solve the issue in a mature and analytical way.  You may need to ask for another conference, or talk to your child about solving the problem.  In any case, you want your child to learn and grow from the experience, and see you behaving as a mature and capable problem solver.

5.  Never Give Up:  There will be times in your child's school years where you will have to advocate for them.  Don't be shy about communicating with the school.  Teachers, principals, social workers, and counselors are in these professions because they care about children.  If you calmly persevere on behalf of your child in a professional manner, these professionals will often times go above and beyond to support your child's education and well being.

6.  Stay Positive:  Between the time they start preschool and graduate from high school, your child will have many teachers and you will have many conferences.  Education is about learning to thrive in the real world, and so teaching your children how to deal with all different kinds of teachers-each with their own quirks and personalities, is an education in itself.  Try at all times to stay positive.  Because this is the most important life lesson of all.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Madness!

This is a crazy time of year.  My mom once told me that May feels busier than the holidays when you have kids.  Nothing could be more true.  There are sports practices, concerts, graduation practices, end of school year parties and celebrations.  There are confirmations and first communions and teacher appreciation events and then you throw in Mother's Day.  As your kids grow older, there are dances and prom, scholastic award assemblies, band and choral concerts, the list is never ending.  OVERWHELMING!

So how does a parent cope without losing their mind in May?  Find some practical tips below:

1.  The Family Calendar:  A central calendar for a busy family is key.  Everyone should be designated a different color and as your kids get older, they should enter their own commitments on the family calendar.  This way you can stay organized and see at a quick glance what each day holds.

 2.  Say Maybe or No:  When you are approached to run the little league picnic or teacher appreciation pot luck, buy your self some time to think about it.  Don't automatically say no, because you may be robbing yourself and your family from a wonderful community experience.  But if it is something that you truly feel no calling toward.  Simply say "No."

3.  Divide and Conquer:  In a two parent household, the duties should be shared.  So map out your strategy as a couple and include some "me" time on the agreed upon calendar as well.  Two parents make the schedule easier to cope with, and if you a single parent, think of others who may be willing and able to step in and help you.

4.  Don't Skip "Me" Time:  A parent who takes no time to nurture themselves is no good to anyone.  When your batteries are depleted you tend to have a shorter fuse and are not being a good role model to your children.  Make sure that you have a few minutes each day, and a longer period each week to spend some time doing things that you enjoy.  Your needs are important, too.

You will survive May.  But by following the steps above, you may enjoy May!