Monday, January 31, 2011

The greatest gift

My youngest daughter is turning one tomorrow and I'd like to take the month to dedicate it to her and how her arrival in our family has changed everything. We have started thinking about what to get her for her birthday and so this afternoon we were upstairs playing and i was taking a critical look at her toys. Which were great toys, which were good toys and which should I not even have bothered to unwrap!

The greatest toys my kids have ever had comes from the Fisher Price Little People collection-both the playground and the house paired with all of the little people characters we have. We have spent hours and hours playing and enacting scenes.

I taught my kids how to stand in line through role playing with the Little People slide and how to stay in their beds with the house. Role playing and creating scene after scene allowed me to be silly, creative, and help prepare them for life. Our characters were bossy and rude and polite and sweet and grumpy and over tired and sometimes even mean. When my girls would get old enough to interactively play with me their characters were always the naughty ones. They liked to see what i'd do when the little people would stand on the table or pee on the floor.

It made everything so real for them. And when my oldest would go to playdates she would come home and re-enact those same issues she faced with her Little People, Polly Pockets and now her Barbies. When I ask her about a situation she can easily talk about different perspectives (even if she doesn't realize them at the time!!) and I attribute this to the hours and days upon days we spent verbalizing the perspectives of the farmer, the teacher, the girl with the funny hat and the mommy.

But my littlest one has more Little People than she needs. In fact being the third girl she has more pink and purple plastic than even fits in her bedroom. And yet, after a long oh so long year I feel like I'd like to get her something wonderful to commemorate it. I want to get her the greatest gift.

And today- while I went through all of her stuff- I realized that the greatest gift i could ever give to her- is simply the time to learn and explore and of course to play.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The power of NO!

The word "NO!" is an awesome gift. My daughter is learning that she cannot get everything she wants. She will learn self control because we have to actively teach it to her and she will have the opportunity to practice practice practice!! They say that the health and wealth of a person can be determined, at least on a comparative basis, by the amount of self control they have as a 3 year old child.

My youngest daughter has a rare genetic metabolic disease. It is called Phenylketonuria ( PKU) and basically she is on a severely restricted diet for the rest of her life. She cannot eat meat, dairy or grains and only a small measured amount of some fruits and veggies. She will exist off of a specialized formula that she will be on for the rest of her life and we can fill her belly with specialty food products that we special order and are designed to be safe for her to eat. Saying "NO" all day long to the foods that her sisters eat is already a challenge and she's only just turned one.

Other mothers pity me and my situation, and while I admit that sometimes I also pity myself- I am thankful for the lessons I've learned because I've learned to be consistent with food and then consistency with everything else seems to follow suit.

We as parents *know* we should work on teaching self control to our children but really.... unless you are forced to do it because of circumstance it is often too easy just to let it be. Isn't that parenting in general? I think that most of us *know* theoretically what we need to teach our children but it often takes an unusual situation or experience for us to be consistent. I couldn't count how many times have I said " ok girls, time to clean up" and then walked away and not been surprised when 10 mins later they were still playing. I sigh and tell them again and sometimes again - and then when i'm actually ready for them to clean up i will stand in the doorway and they will happily clean their toys- as though they knew all along mamma wasn't really serious before. And I guess I wasn't!

I know some parenting theories say that we shouldn't use the word "no" because it is a negative experience for the child- but I believe in the power of the word NO. I believe that by teaching children boundaries and giving them limits and letting them feel these little disappointments of not being able to touch the remote control or color on the wall is really a great way to help them build character. Afterall they learn that they are OK even without the things that they long for and don't we all want to feel that way- secure in knowing that even if we don't get what we want it will still be OK?

I tend to think that large families sometimes have more balance because the children learn that they are part of something bigger than themselves from the very beginning. They learn compromise and patience and I wonder if the larger families also create that unique environment where parents MUST be more consistent - you can make carrots for your son who won't eat broccoli but you cannot reasonably make separate meals for all 6 kids! This philosophy was behind my Baby-Baby-Baby-Dog theory -

-when we create the environment (or in my case when it was thrust upon me!) where we need consistency to thrive - our children will too.

Friday, January 28, 2011

When I'm a MOM.....

Saturday night we went to a family dance and had a wonderful (albeit exhausting ) time. Driving home in the dark was peaceful and quiet and somehow magically serene. My husband and I were talking quietly hoping our three girls would go to sleep for the drive home as it was rather long and it was past bedtime. We talked about the dance, and our plans for the next day and we talked and talked and talked- about our week and things we'd seen or read or heard. Everything was quiet from the backseat.

I'd read an excerpt from a Dave Ramsey radio call in show about how to discipline a 6 year old and wanted to know what my husband thought. He is a lot more of a "peaceful crunchy granola attachment parent" than I am . The caller had a 6 year old daughter who had stolen $350 from her mom (and subsequently lost $50 of it) and this missing money had caused a fight between the parents before they discovered that the unlikely thief.

My husband suggested that at 6 years old the child didn't understand the value of the money stolen, and so it should be explained to them. The parents were responsible for explaining why stealing is bad. The fact that it caused an argument between the parents, was not the girls fault he said because really she couldn't have foreseen this.

I took another approach- I believed that the child did know better- which is why they didn't confess to having the money when the argument broke out. I believed that the best way to teach the child not to steal - was to let them FEEL the same loss their parents felt. I would have taken a garbage bag into their room and taken $350 from their stuff. Which in my kids room would have meant most of their toys and some of their clothes too. The level of remorse felt by the child would dictate if and when they could get their stuff back.

It was then I heard my oldest (5 year old little princess) a bit surprised by my answer. I hadn't realized she was still awake. I then asked her what she would do- if she was the mom. She said she didn't know. I pushed- "come on- think about it- what do you think a mom should do?"

Dh whispers "don't put her on the spot- that is a hard question for most grown ups. "

I wait.

I continue to wait ( secretly wondering if she is falling asleep).

And finally she says "well.....I think time out is a good idea. I would put in her time out the same minutes that it took to find the money so she could think about why it was bad"

And I think that is a pretty good answer! More interestingly though....this week she's been talking a lot about "when I'm a mom" and telling me that she won't let her kids watch tv (because then when you have to turn it off there will be whining and crying and such) and that she will buy her kids an ipod so they can play on it (but not all day or anything). She has started to think about what kind of kids she wants and what she would do to encourage them to "be good" and " be nice".

I'm happy to learn that my daughter is developing this understanding. Not only because I think that it will make her a better mamma one day (learning how to reflect on what her values are and how to teach them to her children) but because I think it is important that my children see me as a mom. Not a friend. Not a jail warden. But as mom who has an important job to give them the tools to be successful in life. And who might do things that are difficult on them- but only done out of love.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Coping Skills

My darling middle child is 2 1/2 years old and full of sunshine and spunk. She wears her emotions on her sleeve and while she is a happy go lucky child by nature she is definitely a 2 year old with meltdowns and whining and the flux of emotions that come with trying to figure out your place in the world with only a couple hundred words at your disposal.

Last night she was already in her jammies when she had a potty accident- since she's been potty trained for about 7 months it was a surprise to both of us! After I stripped her and started cleaning up she was complaining she was cold so I thought she could just get dressed in a pair of comfy sweatpants that were within reach.

Around an hour later, after all the bedtime routine was over and all of the girls were tucked into their beds, I went downstairs for a quick game of tile rummy with my DH ( tile rummy is a weakness of mine). And I hear a blood curdling scream coming from my middle child- I run upstairs frantically and she is sobbing- " I NO HAVE JAMMIE PANTS- I NO HAVE JAMMIE PANTS" . I had a game waiting for me downstairs. If I didn't act fast she could very well wake up the baby and that would be the end of my "me time". I looked around the room and saw a basket of clean laundry that wasn't yet put away- a basket that had some clean "jammie pants". I could swap her comfy sweat pants for almost equal jammie pants (except these had cute little monkeys in dresses on them) and keep her quiet or .......or......maybe I could use this as a learning opportunity.

So many times I look at my children and feel so thankful that we live in Canada, that we are so blessed and really long for nothing that we really need. I feel so thankful that each day I don't worry about trying to find food, or worry about bombs or raiding or worry that they just might not make it to the end of that day. And I look at my little darlings and see that they are so happy and so blessed and so soft. They don't have the opportunities on a day to day basis to learn coping skills- it is too easy to just give her the monkey jammie pants- they are there- they are clean and so there is no reason not to give them to her. Except for the fact that I think she should learn that sometimes she can make do- even if the covers are not straight or even if she is not wearing matching jammies or even if something isn't perfect- she'll still be OK.

She will still be OK. What a great comfort it would be to us if we as adults could believe that in whatever trials we deal with - we'll still be OK. Those who have this confidence and this strength are happier adults. And since I know she will be OK if she sleeps in the red sweat pants- I just now have to figure out how to teach her that she will be OK. And since she's 2 I did the only thing that I felt I could do- I told her that in the morning she could change but tonight she is sleeping in those pants. If she wanted to take them off that was up to her but it was bedtime and lights out and I told her she would be OK and I was not coming back upstairs.

And downstairs I went. Waiting for the inevitable crying, screaming meltdown and the chaos that would ensue. Silence.



Why didn't she cry? Why wasn't she upset? She had been devastated just moments before. I was bracing myself for a meltdown and she just started talking to her stuffies and soon fell asleep. She was OK. So I have to wonder what would have happened if I would have come upstairs and responded differently to her distress. What if I would have acknowledged her distress and said "oh dear you don't want to sleep in those pants- oh well then I'll just get you new ones" . Would I have been called back 2 mins later for something else? Or would it still have just been ok?

I'll never know. And maybe I'm reading too much into this (it wouldn't be the first time!) or maybe it was a small victory in teaching coping skills- maybe by showing her confidence in the fact she'd be OK - she learned she really was.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Collaboration Parenting

It takes a village to raise a child. Have you ever heard that phrase and wondered what it meant? Whenever i hear it i imagine a child running down the street and some random neighbor getting off of their porch and calling out- hey you- what are you doing and then giving them a good stern talking to. In my image the kid is always doing something they shouldn't be doing!

Sometimes I long for that kind of a world- one where as a parent i don't feel like i have to be on hyperparenting duty 24/7 but could let my girls go outside and play and know that if there are issues someone else will deal with them. Of course i also would like ice cream to grow on trees but I don't think i'm going to get either.

Today's society is not like that- it is hard enough to parent within your own home and even within your mind it is hard to figure out exactly what we as a parent is supposed to DO exactly. We as parents are being tossed to and fro by new books, studies and philosophies on parenting. We have lost the sense of community and even for those of us lucky enough to have biological family close by or a church family that we are close to- most of us still feel like we are parenting on a little island. Every once in a while a plane flies overhead and a package of value is sent down to help us but at the end of the day we are alone.

And that is a scary thing.

But what can we do about it?

Before my first child was born I read every book I could get my hands on. They tended to be either so vague "it is important the child feels loved" or so extreme "if you put your child down to pee it will give them separation anxiety and they will fail at relationships" that I wound up more confused than when I started. (There are notable exceptions like "Blessings of a Skinned Knee")

I love being a mom- it truly completes me. But there have been times (and probably will still be many more times) when I struggle with it. And I desperately need to rely on the "it takes a village to raise a child" mentality. The good news is- i've found it.

But not in the way you might think and to be honest not in a way i've ever really admitted! When I got engaged I had no clue how to plan a wedding but I had about 5 months to do do (in another country no less!) so I did what I do when I don't know where to start- I google it! I found an online wedding forum (which no longer exists) and learned that there are a LOT of women who know alot more than I do and seem to have an endless passion for picking table colors and helping collaborate on wedding favor ideas. One in particular stood out and she mentioned that she was also part of a parenting forum. I though that was strange considering she was not a parent or even pregnant - she wasn't even married yet! But I tucked this little kernel of knowledge away and a few months after getting married myself I found myself registering and logging onto this forum.

That was Nov 11 2004. Since then i've had three children and I've "met" some of the most amazing inspiring mammas and have learned so very much. The group split apart a few times and some people have been "voted off the island" and some have chosen to move on- but there are probably about 60 of us who form something we lovingly call "camp".

Camp is now our private online forum for mammas (and our one token pappa) and it gives me the sounding board and the space to really figure out what parenting is and what being a mom means to me. I don't like to admit that some of the people i respect the most i've never even met in person .

What I've learned in the last 5 + years is that the best work is often a result of collaboration. That when you work with others- give and get honest feedback - you can grow in a non linear fashion. Being a parent is not like any other job you'll ever do- because it requires not only that you develop the human capacity of living breathing growing changing little blessing- but because it requires that you dig deep within yourself and develop your own human capacity. Because that is what life is about- and that is what makes children such a blessing- not what we give them but what we discover through them and uncover as our love for them defines us.

I challenge each of you in the next week to reach out to another parent and talk about what you're dealing it- don't ask for advice but have a give and take honest conversation about it- and maybe what you're dealing with is technical like trying to get angelina to stop wetting the bed or maybe it is profound like coming to terms with the label of stay at home mom now that your maternity leave is over even if you never had any intentions of going back to work.