Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Big Picture Parenting

Parenting is difficult. We all enter into it full of hope and joy.  We think about the type of parent we want to be, the type of children we want to raise, the kind of family life we want to have.  And then somewhere along the way, reality creeps in.  Parenting is difficult.  There are the sleepless nights, the endless worries, the grueling schedules, the self doubt, the guilt, and did I  mention the exhaustion?!  And then what happens to those lofty goals and parenting dreams? 

We usually abandon them for sheer perseverance.  If the toddler is crying, make him stop, give him what he wants.  If the preteen is whining, give in to her demands before she makes your life miserable.  If the third grader is yelling, acquiesce in the interest of family harmony.  This is short term and short sighted parenting.  And it happens a lot.  When parents react to situations rather than reflecting on them before they react, they are parenting in the moment and usually setting themselves up for a troubled future.

Big Picture Parenting should be the goal.  If the toddler is crying, reflect on why.  Is he tired? Hungry? Frustrated? Merely giving in to a tantrum (the short sighted reaction)  reinforces the tantrum and literally teaches your toddler that tantrums are an effective way to get what they want.

A preteen with no limits is a miserable preteen.  And just because they act as though they hate you, they really act like that to everyone, so don't take it personally, just be the adult in any given situation.  That is Big Picture Parenting.  Preteens know every trick in the book to pull you down to their level.  Keep that in mind as you resist the temptation to revert to being a preteen yourself.

And the yelling third grader is just trying to test you.  Stay true to your parenting goals.  Don't react in the moment, reflect on the long term.  Remember your kids love and respect you, even if they don't always show it.  They want you to set limits for them and teach them things and love them everyday.  The best Big Picture Parents are the ones who combine a loving heart with high expectations and good communication.  Keep that in mind when things get tough.  Parenting is tough, but loving and caring family relationships are the most valuable thing you will ever possess.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cultural Differences in Parenting

I recently returned from a trip that included a transatlantic flight lasting almost 9 hours.  I was seated behind a mother and her three children.  I don't know for sure what her nationality was, but she was french speaking as were her children.  She was a black woman and I know that there are parts of the world that speak french other than France, so I am not sure as to what her background was.  I am guessing that her children were about 3 to 6 years in age.  The youngest being a little girl and two older brothers.  I was utterly amazed and captivated by these children.

Besides being incredibly cute, they were extremely well behaved, quiet and totally self-sufficient.  Their behavior left me speechless.  These three little children occupied themselves for the duration of the flight.  There mother had not brought one item aboard the plane to entertain them.  There were no backpacks stuffed with snacks, gadgets, and toys for their use.  They buckled into their seats and explored the headphones and other buttons available to them.  They napped or watched the video screens.  When the flight attendants brought beverages and food, they politely accepted what was given to them and independently opened the packages and quietly ate the food items.  Each one, at one time or another spoke to their mother but basically they kept to themselves and took care of their own needs.  I was completely gobsmacked to watch the dynamics of this traveling family.

I kept picturing my younger self schlepping on to planes with my four children anxiously worrying about how I would occupy them and keep them entertained.  I remember the "stuff" that I would pack to ensure they had everything they needed to endure two and a half hour flight to Florida without any discomfort or boredom.  These memories created such a stark contrast to this mother and her three youngsters.  She had a calm detachment about her that left me feeling confused and conflicted.  Was she an uncaring, unloving mother?  How could she be so detached?  I later witnessed her and her children being picked up at the airport by family members and confirmed that she was not unloving.  As she ran to her family members and wrapped them in hugs, her independent children smiled happily at their cousins and climbed in the waiting van.  It occurred to me that her way of parenting was just different.  And in someways, more effective.  Her children seemed very happy and content.  And yet they seemed so much older than they appeared.  They had learned to be self sufficient and also had been taught manners.  Their behavior was as foreign to me as their language but I found it all very interesting.

Have you ever witnessed a parent handling things in a manner that was very different from they way you would?  Have you seen cultural differences in parenting?  I would love to hear your comments on this interesting subject.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Vacations/The Worst of Times make the Best of Times

Family vacations are a mixed bag, aren't they?  They take endless planning and budgeting.  They are anticipated for weeks, months, maybe even years.  They require loads of decision making; drive or fly, city or country, active or relaxing, and on and on.  And traveling with little ones is no picnic.  Am I right?  So here are a few things I have learned over the years while traveling domestically, internationally and everywhere in between with our family of six.

1.  Set your expectations LOW!  For some reason, family vacations seem to be the time that your little one will come down with a raging ear infection, usually at 30,000 feet while you are heading to a foreign country where you don't speak the language or have any idea where to get some medical advice.

2.  Don't schedule every minute!  The inclination is to get the most out of the places that you are traveling to.  After all, you are spending the money and you have never been here before and you have lists of all the TOP 100 Things to do and see.  But if you cram the Top 100 sights into your short few days, you will come away being able to check the boxes but not experiencing any of the moments of your vacation.  Some of the best sightseeing moments happen when you are off the itinerary and simply exploring and wandering around a new place.

3.  Keep the age of your children in mind!  Young children thrive on schedules and routines.  Vacations are typically the times when these fly out the window.  Dinner at 10:00 would never be the case at home but on vacation (especially in Europe) this might happen.  So make sure that you are building rest time or down time into their days, too.  Otherwise a screaming tantruming child will be the unwelcome dinner guest at your table.

4.  Embrace the unexpected!  Our family reserved a room in Northern California two years ago that was advertised as a family suite.  It was very reasonably priced and when the six of us arrived, we found out why.  The place was in an area where most travelers camped (not my thing) and the suite was a super sized bunk room with multiple sinks and a funky 70's decor.  The location afforded us easy access to the hiking trails and parks we wanted to visit.  And this unique hotel will be chronicled in our family history as one of the most unusual places we have ever stayed.

5.  Savor the moments!  Now that my children are older, I fondly look back at the days spent building sand castles and lugging all of their ski equipment in to ski school--(that was really my husband doing the lugging).  All the sweet memories we share of exploring new places and experiencing new things together make me feel so very blessed.

6.  Make plans and then make them happen!  As a family, we chose travel above traveling sports leagues for our children.  We chose to prioritize life experiences over material possessions for our kids.  We learned to travel on the "cheap" with a large family by renting apartments* or condos* rather than hotels, flying economy class and pinching pennies where we could.  We even took a Mediterranean Cruise and my husband hung a clothes line off the balcony to dry our clothes!  We wondered at the time if they might kick us off the ship!

Recently I came across this quote:
"Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!"
--And I agree wholeheartedly!

*Looking for a condo or apartment to rent, try the website
We have used them repeatedly to find affordable lodging in the States and abroad.
Or try a home swap.  For information on that try

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