It was day four into the move, but it felt more like day forty-five. A sea of brown boxes filled the living room, and it had been a week since any contact with the outside world. To say we were all tired and grouchy may be the biggest understatement of the year.
I was trying to paint the boys new bedroom a beautiful shade of lazy blue. If only I could be lazy myself. My first mistake was attempting to do such a thing with four kids under foot. I often take on these kinds of ridiculous scenarios as some sort of inner parenting challenge. Am I capable of doing it all? Moving, unpacking, painting, settling before my partner walks in the door that night. I wear it like a badge of honor when I'm done, thinking I have some super parent status when really it's probably just stupidity to begin with.
The kids were dying to help paint. I let them help me paint a dresser the week before which was a comedy of errors, so this time I said no. Josiah has his own strategy though, he kind of hangs around, lurking, reminding me of his interest, while the other kids without the same determination scatter to play. I must admit, it does work sometimes.
After meticulous taping and drop cloth laying, I spilled some blue paint on a baseboard.
"Josiah, can you run and get me the wipes in my bedroom?" I asked, because wipes are the secret solution to almost every problem in the world. He ran off, finally getting a job closer to being able to actually paint.
"They aren't here!" he yelled. Now my children rarely are able to find anything I send them to hunt for and yet I always send them. We joke in our family that I am the family finder, able to spot the needle in the haystack or in plain sight on the bed. I gave about fifteen more instructions yelled to the next room with no luck.
"Mom, they are not there." He said plain as day.
"Ugh! Josiah! Come on now!" I returned in my most pissy, annoyed voice feeling the weight of having to do everything for everyone all the time. I stomped down the ladder and into my bedroom to prove him wrong. I looked exactly where I told him they would be, no wipes. I looked under the bed, no wipes, under the clothes, no wipes. I instantly remembered they were in the kitchen. He looked at me, turned around and walked away.
I found them and went back to painting feeling like a total jerk. Stomping around to prove a kid wrong, to shame him? Really? I found him downstairs playing Legos.
"Oh Josiah, I'm sorry I was such a jerk. You were totally right, I didn't believe you and then I was mean to try to prove you wrong." I said. "It's okay mom." He said plain as day once again.
I thought of all the moments, even small ones when I have dismissed feelings, given a curt answer or just even put out a vibe of annoyance. I started to reflect how many more times I should apologize, but sometimes do not, because of my position of power as a parent.
I tell myself it's okay, because kids are tiring and because I have already given so much; like somehow I deserve to respond that way every now and then. The truth is they know, and they are very gracious, but I don't want to be that kind of parent. I want them to know how to accept responsibility for their own moments of unkindness; I want them to know how to say they're sorry and make amends. I want kids to know adults make mistakes and that we can all be forgiven, even the fumbling family finder.
Do you apologize to your kids; do you find it easy or hard? How do you handle your own mistakes in parenting and relationships with your kids? Please tell us in the comments.
Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of our time together as a family in Ocean City, New Jersey. I don't remember how often we went or if there were any actual traditions that we habitually honored, but it hardly matters now. The images in my mind are vivid, and they are as dear to me as the stories themselves.
- The way the sand and sky looked as my father threw me up into the air, over and over again.
- Digging for sand crabs with my cousins by the shore.
- Watching my mother push the stroller back and forth with one hand while playing Pac Man in the boardwalk arcade with the other.
- The wind at the top of the giant slide and the flutter in my stomach as you fly all the way down.
- The warmth of the late afternoon sun as we made mud pies.
- The feel of the sand heavy on my arms and legs as we took turns burying each other in the sand.
- My father painting little scenes on the inside of a clam shell after we came in for the night.
- Feeding seagulls out of bags of old bread.
- The smell of the salt air as we crossed the bridge to go home.
What do you remember about your childhood summers? What tiny piece of that goodness can you bring into the memories you are creating for your kids? I'd love to hear your fondest memories in the comments below.
I remember the first time I took Ethan to the mall playground and watched in horror as the big kids climbed up the slide. Sometimes they watched out for the little kids and sometimes they didn't. I was mortified. There are rules. "Up the stairs and down the slide." Even in the days before smart phones and excessive texting, the parents of these kids weren't paying attention. I glared at the big boys. These would probably be the boys that later on would offer my innocent children cigarettes under the bleachers on the football field in high school.
Fast forward to last Friday when I met a group of friends at the National Building Museum to check out their Lego exhibit. We invited one of Ethan's extremely well-behaved friends so I had four kids under the age of six. No problem. Piece of cake. We all know how well I do with three. Ha.
I thought things out ahead of time. I strapped Mason onto my back in a Babyhawk carrier. Limited movement for the Baby in a Lego free play exhibit with tens of thousands of Legos upon which to choke? CHECK!
We arrived and I reached over my shoulder to hand Mason what I thought was a large Lego brick. It was large enough that I wouldn't need to do the Heimlich. Ten minutes later a woman runs up and taps on my arm.
YOUR BABY HAS A LEGO IN HIS MOUTH. IT'S SCARING ME.
She was actually yelling. I mumbled an "oh, um, thanks?" and directed Ethan to reach back behind me and take the Lego out of his mouth. The woman said, "I'll do it" (insert your own idea of her tone and then multiply it by a thousand) and she handed me a slimy Lego. I'm not sure but I think The Baby growled at her. I thought about it.
I could see that The Baby's entertainment was now gone so we all went down to the play area downstairs for kids 2-6. I figured that 3 out of the 4 kids I had were in that age range, so we were good. Except by 2-6 they really meant 0-2. Maybe 0-3. The place was packed with babies.
The three older boys ran into a corner away from the smaller kids and found erector set pieces that they promptly made into weapons. A mother of an underaged toddler glared at me as she said to her son, "Honey, be careful of those boys. THEIR mom lets them play with swords."
Seriously? Did she just say that? Don't get me wrong. I remember the days when I was pretty sure my precious snowflake was going to be ruined by the world, lady. I yanked the erector set pieces out of the kids hands but only because they had somehow figured out how to make them do this projectile thing like arrows. I turned around to find Nathan making a gun out of those huge soft blocks. Across the room I could hear a woman on her cell, bemoaning the big kids who were (gasp) running around in the corner, shooting each other.
My kids got light sabers for Christmas last year from a dear friend who has now been written out of our will and they got their first toy guns in the form of those miniature Lego policemen for their birthdays this year. I don't even let them have water guns (which is cruel since we are rounding out a month of 90+ temperatures). But we all know they watch Star Wars on loop, so it's not like they are experiencing a violence-free life.
I'm not anti-gun per se, but don't judge me because my kids made swords with erector set pieces. It's not like I was over there giving a tutorial on how to make weapons. Everyone knows boys are going to make guns out of sticks or Legos or whatever they can find if their cruel parents refuse to buy them.
I just really hope that when Sword Lady's son picks up her 2 pound hand weights, points them at the neighbor kid and yells, "I'M LUKE THE SKYWALKER" one day and the neighbor kid's mom glares at her, she remembers me.
Don't let the cuteness fool you. Just moments after this picture was taken, a full-blown tantrum unfolded right there in the Fine Arts Museum's lobby. It was the perfect place for a tantrum: expensive art to break, high ceilings to echo the screaming, lots of people to watch.
I guess the real question is, "Who would take a toddler to such a place?" My answer:
The mother who loves art, who includes her children in every day life, who believes somewhere deep down that conflict is okay. The seasoned mother of four who has lost her mind!
The truth is, I don't believe all places are meant for children, but the opening day of a new wing at the museum was okay. Besides, tantrums can happen anywhere. So, what's a parent to do? Here's what I'm learning (with more practice than I care to admit):
1. Get face to face. Sometimes, all it takes is for me to get down to her level on my knees and be close. Talking close to her face and resisting the urge to raise my voice can draw her in, if we are at the start of the tantrum. My body language sends the message that I'm open to listen.
2. Validate and ask questions. Even though Lyra can't totally communicate (hence the tantrum), the validation and the questions can give her a chance to nod her head to help me know how to help her.
"I know you are sad, angry, frustrated, etc. I would like to help you...Can I get you _______?"
3. Know the point of no return. When we're past the point of helping or sorting through the tantrum and are just crying, flailing, yelling, it's time to leave. Removing your child from the space helps everyone. A change of scenery might diffuse the reaction and is respectful to others around you. Of course there are the moments when you can't leave. Why do these things always happen in the check out line? In these moments, I pick one reassuring phrase and repeat it.
"I know you are upset, I will help you as soon as I can. It's okay. It will be okay."
When we finally get out of the store, she's fine and I feel like I've just been to war, but sometimes, it is about just getting through.
4. Remind them that hands are for hugging. I often have tor remind my kids what there hands, feet and mouth are for in the moment of misuse: "I can't let you hit me, and besides your hands are for playing, hugging, building, etc... Or, "These are the things you can hit- pillow, ball, etc. " It sounds silly, but it works in the long run. It gives an appropriate outlet for the frustration and reminds the child of her other capabilities. It's a good segue to offering to fill a need, too: "My hands can hug, too, do you need a hug?" Kindness melts me when I want to tantrum; it often works on the kids, too.
5. Be honest with yourself. Sometimes, I just need to bail. I need to call in reinforcements, and I'm not afraid to tell my kids. "I love you, but I'm really tired from our hard day (even though she doesn't remember the 253 tantrums). Papa is going to help you, and I'm going to take a break."
What do you do about tantrums? Give us your best tips in the comments.
For the longest time, while my kids didn't always get along, we really didn't have too much trouble with fighting. Every once in a while we'd experience a breakdown of one kind or another, but for the most part, the mood between the kids was fairly peaceful.
This summer, however, the tides seemed to have turned. Tensions are running high and the smallest infraction sets off a series of explosions that leave both kids falling apart. To make things worse, digging into one thing that's not working seems to trigger memories of old grievances that never fully resolved. It's been a real mess.
While I'm all for talking it out, I can't stand it when the focus is on what the other person did with no willingness at all to make things better by being personally responsible. I know this is a lot to ask of kids, but I want my kids to learn that they have the power to improve their relationships, simply by paying attention to what works as well as what they want.
The other day, determined to break the cycle of blame and shame, I gave both kids a piece of paper, a pen and set them up in separate parts of the house. Each kid's task was to write down five personal boundaries--things they just could not bear to have violated. Things that they just knew needed to be honored in order for peace to reign. Both kids spent time on their lists and it had a surprising effect. By having to think about what was personally important to them, it helped shift the focus off the other person. They were reflecting on what they needed instead of everything wrong. And the cloud slowly lifted.
Once they were finished we compiled the list into one generic list of boundaries that they both could honor, and I was surprised at how nicely they fit together. One kid didn't want unwanted hugs or physical affection; the other didn't want hitting, so it was easy to write "No physical contact" as a shared boundary. Both kids agreed that knowing they were guaranteed their own physical space was a great relief and worth the sweeping mandate.
Once we had our list together, I decided on the consequence for disregarding the boundaries. If either kid crossed the line, both kids would lose an individual preference that left them feeling a small loss. For Madeleine, that meant no cell phone. For Carter, that meant no screen time. To keep it from feeling too punitive, both kids would also immediately be moved to a different activity. Madeleine would get her turn on the computer, and Carter would be sent to play with the boys next door. That way, each kid would have a chance to recharge before coming back together to try again.
By linking the consequence to both kids, they both became invested in not punching the other person's buttons. They had a new incentive to work together, not only to honor the other kid but to preserve their own best interests. Best yet, I no longer needed to get my hands dirty trying to sort out who did what or who started it which is always a fruitless endeavor. There was no longer one person to blame or somebody else to hold responsible for making things worse. The only thing worth noting was that the system had broken down and needed to be reset by time apart in a way that both kids agreed was fair and reasonable. By tying the list to the potential loss of something important, they were willing to fully engage in a way that honored the importance of coming together.
How do you navigate fighting at your house? Do you have a special way to hit the reset button when things start falling apart? We'd love to hear your sibling strategies in the comments below.
Yesterday, I got on a plane to Atlanta for work. As I got out of the car at the airport to leave, no one seemed even remotely interested that I was leaving. Part of me felt really bad that my children did not even remotely care that I was leaving and part of me thought, "Yay!!!! No one will be glaring at me on the plane!!"
I was leaving my children for three days. My husband is very competent. They are his children, too. I am always surprised when someone comments on how helpful he is, because I have just always assumed that his participation would be complete and engaged. I mean, no one ever compliments him on how helpful I am. I thought that since it was 2010, it was just assumed that he would actively participate in the rearing of his children. I wouldn't have had more than one, if things had been different. We have three children by choice. His choice.
To be honest, I told him that I thought he would be perfectly fine if I were to die in a fiery airplane crash. As is always the case, my husband asked me not to say such things since it is bad luck. As is always the case with me, who does not believe in bad luck, I continued to speak.
I told him that my only concern was the feeding of my children. You see, my husband will answer seven thousand questions about how grass grows or why there are rings around Saturn or how many layers of skin there are. But when it comes to food, he has a short attention span. He tries for about 10 minutes, and then he gives up. You eat, yay for you. You don't, too bad. So sad.
I would typically land my helicopter there, but my children are a little feisty when they don't eat. We all know this. They come by it honestly from their father. I can get to 7 p.m. before I think, something is wrong here. Oh, I haven't eaten since yesterday. My husband? Eats on a clock. There is that moment of the evening when dinner is behind schedule, and the whole family melts down. Despite being married to my husband for nearly seven years, it took me having children to realize that blood sugars and happy days are synonymous.
So, to be honest, it sometimes surprises me that my husband does not see the correlation between his children's grumpy faces and their need for food. He gives up too quickly, and then everyone is angry and upset. He gets upset, everyone gets upset and no one understands that this is all about food.
I called today and there was screaming in the background. Apparently the boys decided that they wanted to go to the store to get hoola hoops (???). Then everyone cried on the way, while they were there and on the way home. It only took a few minutes in a conversation after they got home for me to determine that lunch had been sketchy and breakfast was even sketchier. I suggested a snack. No one cared.
They will be perfectly fine until I get home. I should probably plan a big dinner though, since it looks like dinner might not be happening any time soon. Is that bad?
He checked the mailbox and asked me every day that week just to be sure. "Did the Lego magazine come?" Josiah (age 10) said. It hadn't arrived yet, and you could feel the build of anticipation. It's exciting to get the old snail mail every now and then. Both of my boys, who are completely unaware of time, only look at the calendar once a month to start the great wait.
A play date is a great way to break up the time in the summer so Josiah and Jack headed off to Charlie and Sam's for awhile. Hours of Lego's, complicated sword battles and snacks filled the time and both boys returned happy as clams. Dinner and bedtime reading closed out the day and all was well until the next morning. I got this e-mail from another ten year old.
We had a little mix up with my lego magazine last night. I thought that Joshia brought a lego magazine to our house. Know i now that it was a mistake because my mama told me that i got it in the mail yesterday.
Could you drop it off if you are diving by.
I casually asked Josiah what happened and he instantly looked nervous, eyes shifting, voice shaking.
"He thought it was mine. I was confused." He said, even seeming to struggle with his own story.
"Okay, let's just get the magazine back to Charlie." I replied.
Only moments later, I checked voicemail and heard a message from an almost teary Charlie starting to wonder how this mix-up happened in the first place and why Josiah took the magazine home.
"Josiah, Charlie just left a message, he's really upset. I'm wondering if there is a little more to this story." I said and the gentle shakedown started. He resisted at first, I think because part of the story was true, he was confused when Charlie originally thought the magazine was his. It seemed though, Josiah deep inside knew it was not, and saw an opportunity which he took.
I was kind of mortified honestly; to think my kid would lie, borrow/steal, that my kid could have a really jerky kind of moment. I could hear him crying from his room.
"What kind of friend am I mom? How could I have done this?" he wailed. All of the judgment in my heart was instantly gone. My boy with long thick hair stained with tears was feeling the weight of his heart, the weight of hurting someone you really care about.
"Oh Josiah, everyone makes mistakes and how sad you are feeling right now shows how much you really care..." I said and the speech went on.
Josiah rode his bike to return the magazine and threw in a coveted silly band as part of his making amends (his idea). I sighed, one moment feeling disappointment and the next seeing the whole boy with a touch of pride.
How do you handle lying at your house? At what age did you start to see these kinds of life lessons start popping up? I'd love to hear your thoughts and share with each from the big bag of parenting tips in the comments. What do you think about kids and lying?
1. Silly string really is worth the unjustifiable purchase when you're being lobbied hard in the store.
2. Nothing good can come from leaving the cake batter unattended, even for one minute.
3. Your example will be followed faster than your rules.
4. If you always say yes, it's probably time to say no.
5. If you always lean towards no, say yes.
6. Your intuition is a better guide than everyone else's opinion of how you should do it.
7. There's nothing like dancing in the living room to get everybody in a better mood.
8. Kids never stop needing you at bedtime, and it's never about the extra glass of water.
9. No matter what they say or how they act, your kids really know you care.
10. There's no such thing as too much time playing outside.
11. Regular bathing is way overrated.
12. Regular haircuts, however, do something mysteriously good for self-esteem and sometimes self-control.
13. Playing together is just as important as eating right and going to bed on time.
14. Your kids are on your side, willing to comply, more than you know.
15. Being tough is important, but you have to know how and when.
16. Mistakes will be forgiven.
17. Your presence is more important than any opportunity you could provide.
18. Kids aren't the only ones with too much screen time.
19. How you handle your own relationship troubles will teach your kids how to handle theirs.
20. No one is too old to be snuggled.
21. Listening is the most powerful way to get through to your kids, no matter what's going on.
22. If you buy the big thing of bubble stuff, it will get spilled in the first five minutes.
23. Without a doubt, a big cardboard box is the best gift they'll ever get, no matter what the age.
24. Telling stories about yourself at their same ages is an endless source of delight, especially if you tell the ones where you got it all wrong trying to get it all right.
25. Committing to your own personal growth and well-being reassures kids and creates a safe space for them to tackle their own challenges, without worrying about yours.
Wanna play? Write your own list of 25 Things you know now as a parent and leave a link to your blog or facebook page in the comments below! You can even tweet your 25--just be sure to follow @pbssupersisters, so we can find you!
We went to the old pioneer house and the guide started with her schtick.
"In a few minutes we are going to show you the saws that the pioneers used on the Oregon Trail over one hundred fifty years ago, and then we are going to let you saw a piece of wood. It will be great fun because normally your mom and dad won't let you use a saw."
My children got on that saw, and the girl was worried they were going to build a log cabin right then and there. It was fairly obvious they had handled adult tools before. I didn't even have the energy to apologize for my three-year-old being able to wield a bow saw better than your average settler.
This was not the first time my three- and five-year-old had taken matters into their own hands this week. While on vacation, my husband took them for a ride in the paddle boat and showed them how the rudder works. Not twelve hours later I found myself diving off the dock onto the paddle boat as Ethan and Nathan were leaving to take the paddle boat for a spin.
Ethan: BUT MOM!!! Dad showed me how to do the paddle boat.
K: Ethan, Dad showing you the paddle boat is not the same as you taking your brother for a spin alone on the lake.
Ethan: But I KNOW how to do it.
You see, the disconnect is "knowing" how to do it and it being safe enough to do. They wear their life jackets, so of course they feel perfectly safe. When I caught Ethan backing the kayak down the embankment at my in-laws house yesterday to take it for a spin, I nearly lost my mind. The rapids aren't horrible but certainly out of the realm of reality for a small child. Just tonight I flipped the kayak over on the river and it took everything to hold on to the kayak and dodge the looming rocks. My right shin shows the evidence of my failure.
Everyone seems to have a suggestion with how to deal with my "active" children but now I'm just tired. I've given up explaining WHY you can't do something and have resorted to going to all lengths to make things impossible. We don't leave keys in accessible places. The kayak was pulled up in front of the house and was too heavy to move. The paddle boat? Well, we just had to leave that place.
One of the cousins asked me if I thought it was just boys. I mean, her kids are the same age and none of them have ever stolen a paddle boat and taken it for a joy ride. In fact, I know NO ONE whose child has left in a paddle boat when the kids were five and three. I'll admit that I have apparently reached my "boys will be boys" fill since my heart cannot absolutely take one more drama, at least today. It's not much of a consolation but right now it's all I have. That and making sure the keys to the lawn mower are hidden.
It was a quick dig, something slightly critical about his parenting in the middle of a discussion. We were in the thick of everyday life, probably both needing a break. I was tired and annoyed but the truth is, if he had said it to me it would have been a way bigger deal. We talked it out and came to some conclusions but the next morning I woke up and wondered. I wondered if he knows how much I appreciate and respect him as a man and a father. I wondered if I don't tell him enough. I wondered if he even knows these things about himself. I have found wondering is a good invitation to act, to find out.
So I made a list and sent it to him:
I want you to know...
I love the way you match Lucy's pitch when you say goodbye to her.
I love the way you help Josiah with his math even though he tries to get you to just tell him the answer.
I love how you make sound effects when you play wrestle with Jackie on the back of his head.
I love how you constantly try to get someone to fall for the "underwear" joke.
I love how you make a joke or throw out something light just at the moment when I am about to be too hard in my discipline.
I love how you can see things that my mother heart can't or doesn't really want to see.
I love how your standard of parenting is so high, you will never reach your view of perfection and will never stop trying.
I love how you will cry in kid movies.
I love how when you go to the party supply store and walk through the favor aisle and see neon friendship bracelets, you instanly pick up six in each person's favorite color.
I love how you will play family DJ and dance with our kids in the living room, even the silly stuff.
I love how laid back you are to let all the little things go and yet have a keen intuition to know when something is really important.
I love how deeply and fully you love.
I love how we are everything to you.
I realized we need more of this, everyone needs more of this as we roll along in life. We need to know that what we do matters, that we are seen. I know I do, especially when it isn't Mother's day. So I'm wondering, right here in the middle of summer, if we can start a challenge together, the Grat-i-Dad Challenge. Let's write in the comment section one thing we love, appreciate or respect about the dads in our lives, just because or for no reason at all. It can be any dad, your dad, your partner, even just a friend. I bet our dads will love it, and we can stop wondering...together.
You can read more dad goodness here too.