Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Do you take your children to church?

My church attendance hasn't always been consistent.  But my husband grew up going to mass every single week.  It was something I admired about him when we met in college. And when we were engaged, the question of religion was was discussed.  We decided to raise our children in the Catholic Church even though I had no intention of converting to Catholicism at that time--I was a Lutheran and planned on staying that way.  But God had other plans.

After we were married, something stirred in me to learn about becoming a catholic.  Mainly because I wasn't comfortable thinking of raising children in a home where dad went to mass every weekend, and mom went somewhere else, or skipped, or went with dad but didn't fully participate.

I was fortunate to receive my catholic education at Old St. Pat's in Chicago, where I found a liberal and welcoming form of Catholicism that really connected me and my faith to becoming a catholic.

Raising four children in the faith has turned out to be such a blessing in my life. My husband's disciplined approach has allowed our family to spend countless hours enjoying, discussing and reflecting on the mass.  And my parish life included teaching catechism classes and attending bible study.  Our children grew up watching us pay attention to our spiritual lives. 

We have been so fortunate to make memories by attending masses in unusual places while traveling with our family.  We met a priest in the mountains of Colorado, who used a boom box and sang show tunes.  We celebrated Christmas at a midnight mass in a tiny Hawaiian church filled with ukelele music.  And one Palm Sunday, we were at a mass in Brugge, Belgium where they were speaking Flemish as we tried unsuccessfully to follow along.  But usually we are at 9:00 am mass in our home parish with whoever is back from college or still living in our house.  Because that is what we do.  We go to mass- as a family.  

My point of this post is to illustrate to you, that as parents--my husband and I are so glad that we made the decision to nurture and develop our children's faith.  I realize there are a lot of people who have complaints against organized religion. There have been and will be many atrocities that have been committed in the name of religion.  But the other side of the story is very rarely discussed.

Attending religious services once a week teaches your children to focus on something other than themselves for one hour.  How can that be a bad thing?  And the message of Christianity offers hope and promotes love and service to others. These are powerful messages for young people.  Church can provide an anchor for your family to help you and your children navigate through tough times.  My son had a dear friend pass away while he was away at college.  It was a very hard time for him, and his campus parish helped him navigate a difficult time while being far away from the love and support of his parents. This situation confirmed to me the importance of nurturing and growing a spiritual life in our children from a very young age.

When your children leave the nest, although they may or may not go every week, they know their faith is there waiting for them...because it grew in them all of those years--one hour at a time.  So go for it, go back to church, it is only one hour a week but can offer an eternity of gifts.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

5 Tips on Building Trust in your Family

That is me in the yellow!

I recently had the chance to experience something I had never done before.  I went zip lining with my family, and although I am not always comfortable with heights this experience was incredible.  It was empowering to push beyond my fear and take a risk to experience something new.  The way the course was designed helped me master shorter and lower lines before graduating to the final zip line; which had me soaring way, way, way above the tree lined valley, and allowed for spectacular mountain and ocean views.  I started thinking about how the course was developed to allow me to trust the process and the guides and the safety standards.  Trust was key in allowing me to overcome my fear and venture on to the most challenging zip line.

This experience allowed me to feel like a child again.  I think that explains the popularity of zip lining.  It allowed me to face something that I feared and step by step build trust in the people and myself--and after observing and process, venture out and have some pure fun.

Children are always encountering new experiences.  They face them all the time.  And parents are usually the ones who are there to guide and encourage them.  That is why trust is such a key ingredient to good parenting.  So how does a parent nurture and grow trust within the family?  Here are my ideas:

1.  Be a truth teller:  Try at all times to tell the truth in front of your children.  Don't let them see you repeatedly lying and covering up.  We all have had our moments when a little white lie seems so much easier than the truth...like not owning up to how much you spent on those new shoes, or calling your child out of school for one reason or another.  But little lies turn into bigger ones.  And repeatedly lying in front of your children is TEACHING YOUR CHILDREN TO BE SKEPTICAL OF WHAT YOU SAY!!!!  And trust me, that is not where you want your relationship with them to go.

2.  Insist on the truth from your children:  Kids will lie.  They will test out if lying can save them from a worse punishment.  Make it clear that within your family, you only accept the truth and if you catch them in a lie the consequences will be much more severe than if they just come clean in the first place.

3.  Don't involve your children in lies:  It is never a good idea to place your children in the middle of lies. You may think that lying to your spouse about a low grade your child received will make your child indebted to you.  They will realize you are the loving, protective parent.  The problem with this theory is they don't reason the way adults do, it is beyond their cognitive power to reason this way.  But the message will already be sent to their immature brain that you are willing to deceive others.  And then they will not know if they can trust you, and will feel justified in deceiving you in the future.

4.  Don't ever willingly allow your children to break the law:  It always mystifies me when parents of teens allow them to get their licenses and then immediately allow them to drive more than one other teen in their car.  Being this kind of parent is sending the message that laws don't matter or don't apply to your new driver.  IS THIS REALLY THE MESSAGE YOU WANT TO SEND????  It is extremely short sighted to allow your children to break a law that makes something more convenient for you.  You are teaching them to justify breaking laws...and to their immature brains, this is a very dangerous message.

5.  Only say what you mean: Children are great listeners.  They don't always do what we tell them to do.  But they do listen to what we say.  Any parent who says one thing to a child and then for whatever reason does something else is actively teaching their child not to listen to them.  When this happens repeatedly, you are teaching your child that your words have no value.  Usually this type of parent finds themselves yelling a lot, because they believe it is the only way to get their children to listen.  This has NOTHING to do with the volume of your voice...and everything to do with the pattern of communication you have established.

These tips can help you develop trusting relationships in your family.  If you haven't done this in the past--it is not too late!  Start now!  Resolve to do better.  Resolve to be the parent who lives in truth and doesn't resort to unhealthy secrets and/or lies.  Resolve to be the parent who only says words that hold meaning.  If you say it to your child, it means you are going to do it.  Your word has value, and your relationship can be solidly built on trust.  This will allow your children to feel safe and ready to take on challenges--and soar confidently into their future with their trust firmly planted in you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Five Simple Ways to Play with your Children

Plugged in at the Apple Store
Parents, this post is an all out plea.  Please put down your phones and play with your children.  They need your attention.  It is what they live for.  They adore the time that you spend focusing your attention on them.  They crave it.  You are like a drug to them.  They need you to spend time interacting with them.  And when they don't get any, they turn manic.

So if you truthfully haven't been the best in this department, how are you to change?  What can you do?  Where do you start?  Here are some practical tips to help you begin to build time into your busy schedule for your most important job...raising your children.

1.  Make a Playdate with your Kids.  Put it on the calendar if you need to.  Or work it into your weekly schedule.  Play cannot take place without time devoted to it, and finding the time is only going to happen if you plan for it.  Maybe it could be every week night after dinner, or Saturday mornings and two evenings a week.  Only you know what will work in your family, but prioritize this important time on your calendar so you don't keep missing out.

2.  Experiment with Indoor and Outdoor Play.  If you tend to always reach for games, try bundling up for an afternoon of sledding or skating, or take a trek through a snowy forest preserve.  If you tend to play with your children out of doors, mix it up and play board games or build a model or have a tea party.  Push yourself to experience new things with your children.

3.  Embrace Imaginary Play.  Kids love forts made from blankets that become castles, or rows of chairs that are rocket ships.  Interacting with your children and encouraging them to use their imagination will help them develop important problem solving and critical thinking skills.

4.  Get out the board games.  Playing board games teaches children about delayed gratification, rule following and sportsman ship.  Playing games requires taking turns, following the rules, and not always winning.  These are all important lessons for social and emotional growth.

5.  Treat your children to special "date nights".  One of the best things my husband and I did while raising our four children was to institute a "date" night with one child per month.  On this night, we would take the one child out for a special event--like bowling, or miniature golf, or a carriage ride in the city.  Spending this time focused on just the one child helped us develop our special bonds and allowed each of them to receive all of our undivided attention a few times per year.  Smaller families might not need to do this as frequently but for families with four or more children, this is an awesome  idea to put into practice.  I think this helped us get to know our children better and allowed them to feel that all important love and acceptance from us, on a somewhat regular basis.  Strengthening the bonds of your family is never time wasted.

Albert Einstein was quoted as saying "Play is the highest form of research".  But I worry that in these days filled with technology our children are not learning how to play.  Do your part for your children and make the time to teach them to play...not virtually on their tablets and phones but in the real world with real experiences and time spent with you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Words parents should live by...

My youngest daughter, our baby turned 18 yesterday.  So my husband and I toasted to the fact that our job is officially done...not really--we have a son in college and she will be leaving at the end of the summer for college.  We still feel that the two of them will need our guidance and financial support.  But their two older siblings are currently self sufficient, working at careers they enjoy and can be classified as "grown-ups".  So what have we learned over the years about parenting this crew.  Here is a list of our lessons learned--sometimes the hard way.

1.  Parents need to be strong.  Weak parents who allow their kids to do anything and everything result in very unhappy young adults.  Set limits for your kids.  Have high expectations for their behavior and work ethic.  Within our family we see huge ranges in abilities when it comes to specific areas...but one thing holds constant--all children have gifts.  The key is finding them and then teaching the child to embrace who they are and what they are capable of accomplishing.  And emphasize education.  School is a child's work.  Monitor their homework.  Go to teacher conferences.  Be active in their school and take an interest.  Communicate to them the importance of education.

2.  Respect your children as individuals and require them to respect you.  You must earn your children's respect by your own behavior.  If you humiliate them, constantly criticize them, or allow them to witness you lying or justifying otherwise inappropriate behavior they will NOT respect you.  And when your children don't respect you, you have lost the battle.

3.  Don't always rush in to be the hero.  Let your children figure things out by themselves.  If you constantly swoop in when the going gets tough, you are communicating to them that they are incapable of solving their own problems.  This completely decimates their self esteem.  Self esteem is not built through constantly praising your children, contrary to popular belief.  It is built through successfully navigating the tough patches of one's life.
    When your child is experiencing difficulty, support them, listen to them, be there for them...but don't rush in and deal with the issues.  Don't be the parent who calls the teacher to curse them out before hearing the teacher's side of the story.  Don't allow your child to quit a team because they don't like the coach, or their other teammates, or whatever it is they are initially reporting to you.  Investigate situations and support your child through them.  Don't control situations and blame difficulties on others.  Help your child to persevere and problem solve in their own life.

4.  Make time for your family.  Believe me when I say the years fly by.  No one ever said on their death bed "I wish I worked more hours!".  Share family dinners, plan vacations, celebrate life with your children.  Enjoy spending time together.  Listen to their thoughts and ideas.  Tell them your beliefs, experiences, observations.  Create the bonds that will last a lifetime.

5.  Don't let them grow up too fast!  Childhood is a precious time of life.  You only get to be an innocent child for a short time.  It's a parent's job to protect this stage of life.  Revel in childhood and protect your children from media messages that are too mature and negative.  Children don't need to play violent video games to be happy.  Children don't need spa days to be happy.  Children don't need smart phones to be happy.  Giving children access to everything in the adult world creates miserable children.  They will have nothing to look forward to.  Protect your child's precious childhood.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Thanks to Glancer Magazine for this incredible shout out!

My dear friend, Ginger Wheeler nominated me for this honor, and another wonderful friend, Kim Stephens, wrote some kind things about my work. Thanks to both of you and to Kristen Kucharski for this flattering write up.  I love teaching both parents and preschoolers...but Hero?  I don't think I've earned that title yet.