Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Taking a break

This is a very busy time of year for many of us. Some get caught up in the holidays, and some fight to avoid the extra traffic and congestion in the stores as we shop for our necessities. For all of us, another year is ending soon. We will reflect on what has happened this past year and look hopefully to the new possibilities ahead.

I want to thank those of you who have checked in here and read some of my musings. If you are new, welcome. With much going on at home right now, I am going to be taking a break from this journal. I hope to return here with renewed enthusiasm in the new year.

Blessings to you all. And may peace be felt in your hearts and homes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

They still need us

Though teens are very actively pushing us away, they still need us. Our role with them changes. Since we want them to act more independently, we loosen our controls on them. They are making many of their own decisions and choices. They must learn to follow through with their responsibilities. They don't always want our advice, and must learn many things on their own, in their own way. They are very capable. And.... they need us to support them.

When kids get into middle school, they often don't want to be seen with their parents. So naturally, we back off. We participate less in school activities. We trust them to do their homework without us. We hope they are making wise choices with friends. And.... they still need us.

Studies have shown countless times that teens who have positive, supportive, communicative relationships with their parents are far less likely to get into trouble with unwise choices. Of course, this relationship doesn't just blossom at adolescence. We must work on it from day one and learn to adjust our expectations to their age and developing abilities.

Communication... Respect... Unconditional love and acceptance. These are the foundation for this relationship. Yes, it can be hard to sit on the sides lines and watch them falter. We want to help them avoid some of the same missteps that we took. We can be there, but their life will be their own. So, even when they are pushing us away, we can let them know we care and we will listen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Doing the chores - Asking for help

How many reminders does it take to get that chore done? As many as it takes. Think back, when you were a child or teen, did you always do the jobs that you were expected to do without reminders? Yes, a few of us were born organized, with a large dose of self-discipline. But this is rare and really goes counter to the development of most kids. They have very different things on their minds. Most of them are not automatically remembering to do that chore before they go on to the next fun activity. That chore is not on their agenda or list, it is on ours!

I have always been willing to give reminders. And because my kids grew up with the ethic of family work, they rarely complained. Sharing the load is part of being in this family. So, they usually got to the chore after a few nudges in that direction. Did they do it "perfectly?" No. But, there too, I really wanted them to learn about family cooperation, not about doing everything the "right" way. And after all, there really are several different ways to fold towels. We just want to be able to put our hands on a clean, dry one when we are wet!

What are the reasons behind our efforts to get kids to do chores? I wanted to share the load, and I wanted to raise sons that knew how to take care of the details of home life. They are grownups now. How effective was my teaching? Not very. My brother-in-law is quoted as saying "What's so big about neat!" when he was a boy of about 8. Well, my sons would probably agree, even today. They didn't seem to catch my desire to have a tidy house. It doesn't matter to them like it does to me, even though they did chores from the time they were very little. But they know what's important to me and they help when I ask.

The bottom line for me is that I like the help! So, I will keep asking. And maybe they will realize the value in doing daily chores when they can find something they need, like a clean, dry towel!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Curbing the Influence of TV

I grew up with TV. Before we had our own television, I could be found in front of the neighbor's. I have spent many hours in front a screen. I still have some favorite shows that I like to watch while I knit a pair of socks or just relax.

But I also know that Americans watch way too much TV. This sedentary activity is at least one of the reasons why many Americans are getting less exercise and becoming overweight. Childhood obesity has grown to epidemic proportions because our kids are eating too much junk food and not moving their bodies enough.

Yes, there are some excellent educational shows. Children can be exposed to other cultures and other ideas. But taking weekly trips to the library can do the same thing. Also, playing at the local playground can give kids opportunities to meet children from varied backgrounds.

There are many pros and cons to television viewing. But the reality is that too much is too much! A mom in one of my classes shared her recent experiment. This year she decided there would be no TV or video games on school nights. At first her teenagers complained loudly. Now they are used to this routine and don't even ask. And there was a huge benefit. All three of her kids saw major improvements in their grades at the very first quarter. The only thing they had changed to account for this was their TV viewing.

We can curb the negative influences of TV and spend more time together. What a concept!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Starved for Attention

They want it.... they need it! Yes, the need our attention.

Children respond to unmet needs in their own ways. Some become whiny and fuss about everything. Nothing seems to satisfy them. This behavior can be very demanding and takes all of our energy.... and their's too. Others become complacent. They stop asking and learn to make do with the life they have been given. And some other children learn to meet their own needs. They are resourceful and watchful. They are always on the lookout for their own solution. No one knows exactly why children can be so different in their responses to life. But they are.

Our job is to observe them, noticing what is going on. Though it can be hard to tell for sure, our job is to assess their needs and do our best to meet them. Children need love, social interaction, food and shelter, consistent routines. A question that can help in the moment might be, "What is this behavior telling me that he/she needs right now?" Because they are trying to let us know.

During this season of Thanksgiving, let's try to remember to give the attention that our children long for.... enjoy!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

"Be all that you can be"

Many American kids grow up and go into the military. They do this for a variety of reasons. Some want the educational support they get after they serve. Some are looking for job training for the future. Some need a way out of their communities and want to see the world. Some want to do the right thing, and fight for the ideals of democracy. For many reasons, our young men and women make this commitment.

This morning I heard a shocking statistic. More than one quarter of the homeless people on our nation's streets are military veterans. Many of the young people coming home from the conflicts in the Middle East have physical and emotional health issues that this country is unprepared to deal with. Affordable housing is nearly impossible to find. Other important services have limited capacity to really meet these great needs. So, what was once the richest nation in the world, is becoming bankrupt by the war machine. And we are not caring for our sons and daughters.

This web journal is about kids and our desire to do our best to guide our children to become all that they can be. This is even the language used by the army with its slogan "be all that you can be." What are we really doing to help kids in their efforts to grow and use their boundless potential?. Some are meant to be artists, some scientists, some farmers, or architects, or sales people. The possibilities are endless. We need all kinds of gifts and talents to support our communities.

Americans are generous, capable people. What are we doing to assist the young men and women who have given all to serve us and the ideals of freedom? The time is overdue to stand up with them and help them make their transition back into civilian life with the support of their community around them. No one should be homeless in America! And certainly our service people need the respect and care that will help them be all that they can be. These are our children!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

In the heat of the moment

Someone asked me for a "reality check" yesterday. She wanted feedback on how to respond to her teenage son's deceptive behavior. He didn't check in with her after school (as is their custom) before going to hang out with friends for Halloween. Her son knew his mom had concerns about this particular friend and the lack of supervision at his home. She wanted to drive right over there and get him, knowing that he would likely resist and then they would be in the middle of a conflict. One of his other friends had called their house, so she had asked him to have her son call home. I suggested she wait and give her son a chance to call. She set a timer for herself, and he did call. The evening resolved way more peacefully than it might have.

After this call, I started thinking about what I would have done in a similar situation. Out of my fear and concern, I, too, would have wanted to check on my son and make sure he was safe. I might have driven right over there and given him a mini-lecture on keeping in touch with me. Then, depending upon his response, I would have gone back home, with or without him.

When we are in the middle of something with one of our kids, our feelings often take over. Our fears and frustrations can get the best of us and we sometimes over-react. We usually already know a "better way" to deal with our kid's defiance or misbehavior. We don't always remember in the heat of the moment.

So, last night, I was reminded how important it is to stop, breathe, and take time to consider our responses. There are definitely a few from the past that I would like to take back. I can't. But, I can try to remember today to think before I respond. This always helps!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Into the beyond

"On Children" from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of
Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you
yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love,
but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies
but not their souls.
For their souls dwell
in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.

This is one of my favorite writings about children. They are with us only a very short time. They are not ours. They belong to the future. It can be so hard to let go of our expectations for them. When they are little, we have no idea what they will really need to be able to be successful in their world, because we don't know what that world will look like. We do the best we can to provide love and guidance. We offer them opportunities to learn. And then we step back as they step forward into the future, making their own choices. Today, we hope. We hope we have given them what they will need to meet the demands they will face.

What kind of world are we leaving for them? What are we doing to prepare children to meet the future?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Be prepared

I was born and raised in San Diego, CA, and still have most of my family there. For the last several days, there have been major fires. My sister and her son were evacuated from their home and are staying with my parents. Only a few years ago, they had devastating fires in San Diego County. My cousin lost her house of 25+year in that fire. They rebuilt and moved in a little over a year ago and now are packed in case they are evacuated again.

One of the things I have been very impressed with is the amazing outpouring of kindness and support to the citizens who have been displaced. Americans are often very generous. Thanks to all who help in times of emergency and need.

This has also gotten me thinking about the importance of preparation for these kinds of events. We never know when an unexpected event might require us to get up and go, with no warning. How many of us are prepared for this? What would you take with you if you had to leave immediately? Some people have a box of important papers that they can grab and take along, with birth certificates, passports, insurance paperwork, some of our family photos. Could you put your hands on these things quickly if you needed too?

Of course, people are most important. Do you have emergency plans? Do you have a meeting place or a contact person if you should become separated? One of the evacuees in San Diego County who just lost his house said, "It's just a house. We can rebuild. I'm just glad we are together and we are safe." In times like these, even when I am not experiencing it first hand, it is good to remember what's important.

I am grateful for family and friends.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sabbath Rest

Whether you hold religious beliefs, or not, the concept of "sabbath" is a good one. We all need times when we do less and rest.

Kids also need this today. Too often we have them scheduled to the max, just like ourselves. We all need some down time to play and relax. Some kids say they are "bored" because they don't have any experience with finding their fun or devising creative play. It helps when we are good role models... when we show them how to have fun.

There are lots of "toys" to keep a kid busy. But they also often want more.... the newest game, or the next model. We don't have to buy into this.

What can be done today to relax, enjoy and just be?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Getting help for depression

Sometimes kids become depressed. Not just sad for today, or frustrated about an experience. But a melancholy that permeates everything they do or say. They become isolated from family and friends as they close themselves off from people. They sometimes become too focused on the negative, noticing only what is going wrong in their lives, and around them. Their eating and sleeping may be affected, too much or too little.

Finding the right help for your child can be challenging. Some communities have an abundance of mental health services. In others these resources are pretty sparse. The therapy that will work best for each child depends upon their age, temperament, and their particular issue. Very young children often benefit from play therapy. As children get older, talk therapy can help. In addition to the provider's counseling skills, children also need to feel comfortable with their therapist, so they can trust them enough to work on their issues.

One of my regrets from my children's childhoods is that I didn't work harder to find the right match. I wasn't as persistent as I could be. Granted, my child was resistant to getting help, but it was my job to make that happen. He went to counseling. He got some relief, but looking back, I know I could have done more. I am not saying this out of guilt, just from having learned from my experience. Therapy for children can be costly. Some places offer a sliding scale. And of course, if we are feeling overwhelmed and depressed, we need support, too.

With the wisdom of experience, I look back and realize that when children are young and struggling, we are investing in a healthy adulthood.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What are we leaving them?

I often wonder: What kind of a world are we leaving our children? My son and I were talking about some of the differences when I was growing up compared to their childhoods. There is accepted recognition that people could more easily manage their financial lives in the 60's and 70's. Housing and food took less of the monthly paycheck. There was also less "Stuff." He said, "Yeah, if we lived simplier today like people did then, we would manage better, too." Today, there are so many more things that people need: cell phones, high definition TVs, Ipods, and Palm Pilots, video games and the equipment to play them, appliances for every possible need, designer clothes and the accessories to compliment the outfit, the latest model of car or van to commute long distances to work and drive kids to all those lessons and sports events we have scheduled, and big, spacious houses. Many things that were rare luxuries of the past are considered necessities today.

I know we must all decide for ourselves what is really most important for our family, for the quality of our lives. I just worry, though. How long can we put pressure on our resources to make all this "stuff" available for us? There are people in other countries who are desperate to have something of this "American dream" for themselves. Where is this all taking us?

In the long run, what do I want to leave my children? I hope they feel loved. I hope they know how to entertain themselves with a good book. I hope they know how to take care of themselves without depending upon having all this "stuff." And, I hope that we can all listen to the wisdom inside that knows we can't keep taking from the earth indefinitely. I hope more of us will begin to think before we buy. And I hope we will demand that our leaders make decisions that will help us heal the earth and manage our limited resources effectively. Is it too late? I hope not.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Expecting the best

Some children seem to be born with confidence. No matter what happens, they have a smile on their face. If something proves difficult, they are willing to try again and again. Others are more easily discouraged. No matter what a child’s natural temperament tendencies, labels are not helpful. Positive affirmations help children believe in themselves and their own potential.

“I know you can do it.”
“I’m sure if you think about it, you’ll find a better idea.”
“Your project is very creative.”
“I know that is hard, but I can tell you’re determined.”
“You and your little sister seem to be having fun together.”

Children’s behavior is often predictable. If we expect the worse, we often see it. But, if we expect the best, children can reach new heights. They will try hard to meet those beliefs that we have in them. Children really want to do their best.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mindful mothering and fathering

I just found a wonderful new (2007) book by Denise Roy, MOMfulness - Mothering with Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace. She had me hooked in the introduction:

"...motherhood leaves stretch marks on us - in so many ways! I have been stretched physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. .. Motherhood continues to stretch me to this day, and I see no end in sight. It teaches lessons that many spiritual disciplines teach: the transforming effect of true presence, the importance of close attention, the need for deep compassion, the celebration of embodiment, the recognition of the sacred in all things, and the power of community... When we mother with mindfulness and compassion and a willingness to let this vocation awaken our hearts and transform our lives, we walk a spiritual path."

When my kids were little, I often felt like I was out there alone blazing a new path, without instructions. For those of us who care for children, maybe this experience is always laced with mystery, confusion, joys, and surprises. But the support of family, friends, and helpful books really does make a difference.

So, here I am today. My sons are all adults. I'm still growing so I assume they are, too. And I continue to stretch as I am reminded every day to practice acceptance and mindful attention. I still get asked difficult questions by my grown sons. I know the answers are complicated, and often not mine to give. They still wonder why life seems so unfair. Why do good, hard-working people sometimes have to struggle so much? What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose? What am I supposed to do when I grow up? I ask these same things for myself. And I find my own way to the answers that work for me.

Thankfully my spiritual core often guided me when my kids were little. And I feel blessed today to have an even stronger connection to my Higher Power. We all need community. With the help of our connections, we find our way.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

From Known to Unknown

Think about it. We struggle when we go from the known, what is comfortable, to the unknown. We often resist change. We seek the reassurance we feel in our comfort zones and sometimes go kicking and screaming into new experiences.

I got to thinking about this today because I am moving into some unfamiliar territory in some areas of my life. This can be scary and unsettling, even though I have had many previous opportunities to gain skills for coping and growing through these experiences.

So why do we give kids such a hard time for their understandable defiance when we ask them to do something new. New is a strange food. New is an unfamiliar social experience. New is a person they don't know. New is a place they have never been before. New is a classroom full of kids. We have things we resist, too.

Some children are born adventurers. In fact, we made need to hold on, just a little, and supervise closely so they don't get hurt. Others need our encouragement to try new things. Pushing them doesn't help. Support and reassurance does. Eventually new experiences become part of the everyday and may even become something that can be counted on. They become known to us.

We take this passage from the known to the unknown many times in our lives. Let us remember the challenges and resistances that the venture into the unknown can bring. With this awareness, we can encourage children to move forward into new possibilities with our support and understanding.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Daily Lessons

Learning is forever. Or it can be if we are open and willing.

Hmmm. Kids are not always receptive to what we have to say, and what we want them to learn. And neither are we. It can help to wait and consider several things before we jump in:

** Do I need to say something about this right now?
** If so, what do I need to say right now?
** How can I say this in a way that will make it most likely to be heard?
** How can I adjust my expectations to accept the response(or non-response) to my input?

Seems like I need to live through the same lessons over and over before they sink in, if they are going to at all. The lesson that has been rumbling around for me often lately is about my powerlessness. I would often like to believe that I know best. If they would only do "it" my way, everything would be alright. Well, of course, this isn't true. We don't have all the answers. And there is a very good chance that our answer is not exactly what that other person needs. Yes, when children are babies and little ones, we have to make alot of decisions for them. And remember, sometimes we chose wrong. And then once they move into toddlerhood, they want to make at least some of their own choices.

Even with my grown children, my own parents, my siblings and their kids, my partner, I have ideas about what would be best. And everyday, I need to remember to accept the things I cannot change. And work on my own issues, which is the only place where I really have any influence. I have to remember this, and possibly learn this anew, every day.

I just heard a thought tonight that will be helpful for me in the moment, when I am considering giving my input. Or if I am bringing expectations to an interaction:

Let me set aside everything I think I know about ____
so that I may be open to this new experience,
or new idea, or someone else's perspective.

Today's lesson for me is about being open to learning. What is your's?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hopeful thoughts

Oh, my, where does the time go? I just returned from a short stay in Tuolumne Meadows at Yosemite. What a great weekend I had - 3 nights and 2 full days in the Sierra high country, plus traveling each way. I went alone, which was an adventure in itself. And I met many wonderful people there. At least two hopeful thoughts emerged from this experience.

First, it was very encouraging to see so many families: young families with small children, multi-generational groups, and several father-son pairs who were enjoying long back-packing trips together. One cynical man said he would not be able to stand being with his family for anywhere near that long. But the overwhelming impression I got from most people was about the strength of these family relationships. The future looks a little brighter if families stick together and find ways to play and appreciate each other.

My other hopeful thought was about the resiliency of nature and also our own. I can get very frustrated about what seems to be lack of insight and concern when it comes to this planet. We are using up resources way faster than they can be replenished. But out there in the wilderness, I could see evidence of nature's cycle of growth, depletion, and renewal. I was reminded that this planet is fully capable of supporting life. Our own stay here is very short. The earth has been here for a long, long time. It will go on far beyond today.

This doesn't mean we have permission to throw our hands up and just say "oh, well, what can I do?" We can do our small part, and we can teach our children to do the same. In fact, sometimes the children teach us. At least part of our own resilience is recognized in our capacity for growth. We are never to old to learn something new. I have returned from my time away with renewed enthusiasm and openness to this world of possibilities.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Is it really so perfect in Perfectland? There is not a hair out of place. Clothes are all clean and match beautifully. Children always obey and do what they are told. But, do these people know how to have fun? Can kids be kids in Perfectland? Have you ever been there? Do you want to go?

What is really important, anyway? We want children to know we love them. We can encourage their creativity. We demonstrate our flexibility and understanding when we show our acceptance of them, just as they are!

When we have unrealistic expectations for children, sometimes they feel like they can’t do anything right. They never can do enough to reach the impossible assumption of eventual perfection.

Well, we all make mistakes. I notice mine on a regular basis. We all have our individual “flaws” and we have many strengths, too. Children’s individual abilities and uniqueness are what will take them forward into the future. They are not perfect. We are not perfect. But, we each have a lot to offer, just as we are!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Holding on and Letting go

It can be challenging to strike a balance between meeting children’s needs and giving them space to develop independence. At one extreme we hover. Caution - this behavior may be hazardous to everyone's health and well-being. Children can become “spoiled” by the constant care of others who do it all for them. Still others will fight for independence and push over-protective adults away. These children may have a hard time asking for help when they really need it. They are tired of the constant attention and want to be left alone!

Finding a balance - children need watchful adults who observe from a reasonable distance. They need encouragement to empower them to try new things. They need to know, “I believe you can do this!” Much of our role requires balance and wisdom. When do I offer support and when do I let go with love and encourage independence?

I am writing about this because it continues to be one of my biggest challenges. Letting go is hard. I want to believe I have more influence than I really have. If they'd only do "it" my way, their life would go much more smoothly. This is real arrogance on my part. Everyone must walk their own path, and find their own way. I can really only change myself. I can offer love and support. I can be there to listen. I can do my own self care so I have the energy to sustain my relationships. I can take care of my own business, which is no small task.

Holding on and letting go means being available when others need our support. And when they are ready, we step back, letting them know we believe in their ability to figure this out on their own.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Making Memories

I recently got an email from my 82 year old dad reflecting upon a recent 60th wedding anniversary celebration for some friends of theirs. It got me to thinking about memories. Yes, memories. Some things from the past we remember with fondness and joy and some with sadness. Our memories are tiny windows into the past. They have worked their way to help shape us. We have been influenced by many things, especially relationships that have been important to us over the years. And thankfully, we have opportunities every day to continue to make memories, to shape the future. I try to remember this when I interact with family and friends. Of course, I sometimes forget.

I was raised in a wonderful family. I am one of four siblings who have each followed our paths. We each bring wisdom and creativity to what we do. Yes, we have each made mistakes along the way. Actually, I think we learn most from our mistakes. Life would be pretty boring if everything always went along without any excitement or surprises. So, thankfully, those mistakes we all make and the good times work together to shape us.

My parents have 11 grandchildren. Some are already adults, with lives of their own, and choices that they make every day. These may not be the choices we would have for them, but they, too, are wise, creative, and capable young adults. The younger grandchildren have a way to go. Sometimes it is a long journey down the road to adulthood before we finally become all that we were meant to be. In fact, I feel like I'm still working on that, and continue to grow and change, mellow and soften.

Here I am, waxing philosophical. But, I seem to do that more as I get older. I am very grateful for all of my family. I am very glad that I am close to all of my siblings and connect regularly. We have had many great experiences together. And will continue to as well, on into the hopefully distant future.

Memories are tiny glimpses back in time, to the thoughts and feelings we had at that moment. Some of the details of our experiences are forever lost. Mostly, I want to remember the good times and the good feelings. And I am very grateful for family. I think about what legacy I will leave to my kids. I hope a big part of this will be about love of family and sticking together, no matter what. Offering support. Listening.

What kind of memories are you making for children today?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

In Search of Zen Mama

My car was recently broken into at work. And I didn't collapse. My world didn't fall apart. It was unsettling. I'm sure the hopeful vandal was disappointed when it was discovered that the bags only had some books, but for me, there were some class notes that were very precious. The broken window was a nuisance, but it was easily repaired the next day. This has never happened to me before. Yes, I have experienced some other unfortunate mishaps. Sometimes I have handled them with calm and sometimes they have been "the last straw" which took me over the edge with stress and frustration.

Have you heard the saying - "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." This is a universal truth. We parents have a great deal of influence in the family. Our children are looking to us for guidance. We are setting an example in everything we do. So, it is more helpful for everyone when the opposite is true - "When Mama's happy, everyone is content." Finding peace in the midst of our crazy days can be very difficult. It helps to remember -
The kids aren't out to get me.
I really am in control of my life.
I can set realistic goals for how much can be accomplished in an hour, a day.
Each day really is a blessing.

I know. This is easier said then done. Where is Zen Mama when you need her? You know, she's the mother who seems to be able to move into a meditative state during hard times and breathe her way through it. She lets her trust in the infinite goodness of life guide her responses to her children and other things which call for her attention, “Right now!”

In a conversation with our 20 year old son, I was concerned about a deadline he had and his apparent lack of attention to the seriousness of this. I said, "I would like to be Zen Mama, and breathe my way through this, and let go, and not worry. But, you and I both know that's not bloody likely." He was chuckling by now, knowing full well from his experience with me, the implausible nature of this image. I continued, "I don't want to be in the middle of your life. You and I both know that you're the one who needs to figure this all out. It's your responsibility." Yeah, mom. But, I still couldn't resist putting in a codependent plea. "But, help me out here. Deal with this so I can sleep nights." More chuckles from him.

Well, he did it, took care of business, and just in time, too. So, I could relax - for now. But he and I know, my worrying days aren't over. But I do continue to try to be more mindful. To breathe. To ask myself, “What's really important right now?” To appreciate the moments of peace I find in my busy days.

Where is Zen Mama when I need her? Right here if I am willing to let her in.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

In their own time

I just returned from visiting family. I was especially pleased to have a chance to visit with my nephews. Despite some tough circumstances during their childhoods, they are becoming fine young men, with strong goals and interests. This is a testament to timing for learning being out of our control. We do the best we can, providing love and guidance for children. We meet their basic needs for nutrition, shelter, health, and education. Children are also influenced by many experiences involving family, friends, school, and the wider community. All of these things work with their inborn potential to mold their unique identity.

I continue to wrestle with the notion of powerlessness. We each only have the power to determine our own reactions and responses to situations. When I remember this, it can feel very freeing. This doesn't mean I stop fretting, but my worries can be cut short when I breathe and remember that life is unfolding in spite of me.

This also doesn't mean that we give up, and back off from our responsibilities. Our loved ones still need our support. What we do let go of is the expectation that what we say or do alone will determine the behaviors of others. Maybe - Maybe not.

Growth and learning happens for each person, within their own timeline. I am grateful for many opportunities to remember this.... and to continue to encourage my own development. I plan to keep learning for a long time! I am grateful for those moments when I finally "get it" - whatever I need to learn, right now.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On a road trip

Well, I am off on a road trip this week, travelling US101, as we head to San Diego to visit family. I will be listening for inspiration and ideas for this journal along the way and will post when I can.

I remember many road trips with our kids. "When will we be there?" was asked many times before we could finally say in all honesty, "Very soon!" We traveled often the 600 miles from here south to San Diego. And we even took a very long road trip all the way back to the east coast when the kids were little. We stopped lots, and drove during their sleepy times when we could. But they were also very good travelers and enjoyed the games we would play to entertain them. We listened to their music tapes and sang along.

Life is also a journey. And we all need to stop along the way. This is not selfish. It is necessary to replenish our energies and our enthusiasm for life. David Kundtz in his book Quiet Mind - One-Minute Retreats from a Busy World reminds us that there are three ways to stop briefly or for a long while. He says we need Stillpoints frequently during the day, momentary pauses, time to take a breath, and quiet our minds for just a minute. We also need occasional Stopovers which are simply longer times to put our feet up and just do nothing, becoming more aware, recalling our needs and goals. And lastly, Kundtz feels we should schedule longer time away for a Grinding Halt. During these times we get away from our lives for a week or a month to remember who we are, where we come from, where we're going and how we'll get there.

As I head off on a road trip, I plan to have time to stop and remember. I wish the same for you.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fun on a dime

Well, summer has arrived, with sun and heat and kids home from school. The days could quickly get filled up with busy-ness, or we can savor this time. And have fun on a dime. We don’t have to spend a lot of money to entertain children. In fact, it is probably better for them if they don’t become accustomed to expecting expensive gifts and outings. If you have already created entertainment habits that are pricey, let them know you're going to be trying something different, and saving those activities and events for special times.

Children are much less likely to say “I’m bored.” if they have learned to make their own fun. Fun can be found everywhere. And fun is often even more enjoyable when we do it together!
Walk to the park.
Take a bike ride.
Play board games or computer games.
Go grocery shopping.
Read a book.
Sing and dance.
Take a hike.
Relax on a hammock.
Rake the leaves and then jump in them.
Explore a creek or lake or beach.
Look for critters.
Make greeting cards for family and friends.
Bake some cookies or dinner.
Toss a ball.
Dig tunnels in sand or dirt.
Play with pets.

Spending time together builds relationships. What kind of fun will I have with my child today?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Thanks Guys!

Fathers' Day is an opportunity to express our gratitude to the men in our lives who provided for us when we were growing up. We can also thank the men we know now who are important in the lives of children. Boys and girls both need positive male role models.

We thank them for their commitment to caring and their dedication to providing emotional and physical support. Being a positive role model to a child is one of the most important things anyone can do.

Thank you for -
Tossing the ball back and forth
Being strong arms that give hugs
Attending school events
Reading all four books at bedtime
Applying bandaids to a “boo-boo”
Cheering from the sidelines at a sports event
Getting up to watch a midnight meteor shower

Fathers Day is a special day of remembrance and appreciation. Supportive men deserve our gratitude everyday!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Doing our best

I regularly do a two+ mile walks around our beautiful town lake. I feel renewed by the big open sky above the lake, the water, the birds, and the trees. And this time of year, we have many goslings and ducklings being protected by their watchful parents. There are always other people walking, too. All generations are represented. On a recent walk, I passed a woman pushing a stroller and following her busy three year old. An infant was wailing inside the stroller. Mom smiled as she walked by, and I smiled back. But inside, I felt a pang. I wanted to hold that crying baby. I felt judgment rise in my heart thinking, “Why doesn’t she just carry the baby? How could she let her baby cry?” I couldn’t have when mine were little. But, that’s me.

I know a woman who did child care in her home when her two kids were small. She could make a little income and be there for her own children. One of the children she cared for was a newborn whose mom went back to work after only two weeks. The provider nurtured and carried that newborn as she would one of her own. The baby was a cheerful, mellow, observant infant who rarely cried. One day, after about 6 weeks, the parents told her they were taking their child out of her care and moving to another provider. My friend was devastated. She had bonded to that little one and the parents had voiced no concerns up to this time. They told her that all their baby did on the weekends was cry unless he was held. They just couldn’t have their son spoiled this way.

Crying babies.... I have a very particular perspective on this. An infant’s cries are telling us something. Are we listening? Are we trying to figure out what is needed? And, I must remember that everyone doesn’t share my perspective. Does ignoring a baby’s cries damage the child for life? If the crying is rare, for relatively short durations, and the child’s needs are generally met, probably not. My walk around the lake reminded me again that everyone has their own way of doing things. Maybe children become independent at an earlier age when they have been encouraged to self-soothe instead of needing someone to pick them up and comfort them or jiggle them.

Parenting is demanding and non-stop. And very likely that mom needed a break. It was a lovely day. Her three year old was content and not demanding her attention. She was out of the house, getting some much needed exercise. There was a cool refreshing breeze. I only saw and heard them for less than a minute. I don’t have the whole story and it is not my place to judge (though I did). Much better for me to assume that she was doing her best... taking care of herself so she could give more renewed energy to her kids.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Remembering the Lorax

When my kids were little, I had hopes and dreams for their future. I just never could have guessed what it would really be like. There are some amazing things today. One that really knocks my socks off is the Internet. We are all able to communicate with each other, sending words and ideas and pictures across some magical energy waves. When I have a question, I just think, "Oh, I can Google that." And sure enough, I find lots of suggestions immediately. Who woulda thunk it.... way back? So what does the future hold for today's kids?

Sadly, people who study these kinds of trends are seeing declines in resources. It just might be that our age of prosperity is on the way out. Only with the perspective of looking back on these times will we know for sure. I just think it's important that we consider the future. What kind of future are we leaving for today's kids? And, what can we do today, right now? I don't have the answers. There isn't even agreement among the people in-the-know. I just think we need to care.... and we need to keep asking. And we need to do some things now, before it's too late.

And what can we really do? We could use less gasoline today. We could chose activities with our kids that have a lighter impact on resources. We can find ways to have fun together that don't cost us, or the environment. We can do more to support other kids in our neighborhoods, or volunteer in the schools. If we don't care, if we don't pay attention, who will?

Have you read the Dr. Suess book, The Lorax? about environmental issues and considering the consequences of our actions. At the end, the Oncler says, "Unless someone cares, a whole heck of a lot, it's not going to change, it's really not." And then he gives the boy a seed and asks him to plant it and take care of it..... so we'll have a future (my words).

What are we doing right now to insure a future for our kids and grandkids?

Driving us crazy

It's been a week since I posted. My computer has been giving me fits. It still is intermittently sick, with a fan that sometimes makes loud noises for me, but not for the computer doctor I took it to. Have you ever had that experience with anything?

Well, this also makes me think about the way kids selectively act up. I remember telling my guys, when they were doing just that with me, "Well, I'm glad you save this for me and don't do this for your teacher." They also had different reactions for me and for their dad. They had our number early and learned to avoid certain consequences. I often taught night classes when they were little. Every once in a while, the kids and I made cookies during the day. They got a few and we put the rest away. I would come home from my night class, and find the cookie container empty, or nearly so, on the counter. Their dad, who could be very authoritarian with other issues (like finishing all the food you are served), was entirely permissive about chocolate chip cookies. He was also often very laxed with their bedtimes. He would be sleeping and they would be awake! It drove me crazy.

It's amazing how attached we become to things or to the way things are supposed to be. Even a computer can give me a little lesson in patience. Also in letting go. I really don't have the power to control the inner workings of my computer. And I can't control the people I work with, family members, my kids, situations.... I really can only work on dealing with my own response. I do wish I was more aware of this way back. But, I guess there is a time for learning, too. And I happen to be in a mid-life learning curve right now.

So really, they didn't and they don't drive me crazy. I let them, or not. Breath in, Breath out (me relaxing). Have a great day!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

A better world

One of the most enduring gifts we can give children is a better world. What kind of world are we leaving them? Our list of concerns is long - war, environmental degradation, poverty, inequalities.

We can start today to create a world where people work together. Children learn from our kindness and flexibility. We can celebrate diversity and work toward a world that is driven by unity and cooperation. We can be good stewards of the earth’s resources. We can conserve what is here so children will have what they need to survive and thrive in the future. We can volunteer. There are many things that can be done to benefit others now. We are building a better world when just one child and one family is helped.
We can save all that we can.
We can give all that we can.
We can do all that we can.

Children have an amazing capacity for generosity and kindness. They want to help others. They are often our teachers, as they walk their talk. We can work together today to build a better world for tomorrow.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Infants are amazing

A study has hit the airwaves. "Infants have 'amazing capacities' that adults lack." I am so pleased that this kind of research confirms the awesome nature of children. They are programmed to connect with their caregivers. The sooner we realize this, the better. Too many people still believe that infants are "blank slates" that we must write on. How can anyone who holds a baby believe this? Infants come out eager to connect.

They are doing their part. They are open and receptive. Now, we need to do ours. When we talk to them, they are refining the details of language which are already intricately stamped in their brain cells. They are socially memorizing our faces and expressions. The tone of our voice speaks volumes. The way we carry them, close to the skin or in a plastic seat, these things matter.

We need to trust the significance of our connection to them, so they can learn to trust us. We need to talk with them. We need to hold them. They need us to comfort them. Care for their basic needs. We cannot spoil infants with this kind of love and care. In fact, their potential is limited when we don't do these things.

How can we get the word out about this? If we could, it would change the world. If everyone knew how amazing these new beings are, how could they neglect them? Maybe if all children were raised with this kind of love and care, they would become very loving, caring people. And what a world that would be, full of human kindness. I know, it's not this simple, but let's give care and kindness a chance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Making the Grade

It’s finals time. I have been reading many papers and getting down to the most challenging part of my teaching, assessing grades. Long ago I developed a contract system that encourages students to take more responsibility for their grades. Of course, in the end, I am the one who determines if they completed all of the work for their desired grade.

What do grades really tell us, anyway? Certainly, many students would like to get A’s. But being an A-student is a big responsibility. B-students are above average, but some feel let down with this grade. Even though C-students are technically average, many feel they have failed if they receive a C.

Some students work really hard to get their grades, whether they are A’s or C’s. For others, school and learning are fun. They don’t see their efforts as work. Teachers are not all alike in their standards or grading policies. Some classes are very difficult, while others are not. So, grades don’t give the full measure of a person.

Making the grade is about so much more. Is this a person who has passion for a subject? Is this someone who is determined to do well in whatever they try? Does this person have a balanced life that allows for work and play, learning and enjoyment? Where does the push for good grades come from? An internal drive within the child? Or from adults who give kids the impression that they are not “good enough” without good grades?

Children deserve to feel accepted and appreciated for who they are, not who we want them to be. Thankfully, we need variety and creativity in this world. Let’s do our best to lend our support and let kids know that we believe in them.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

An infant's gaze

Newborns look intently into our eyes. In fact, their brains are pre-programmed to be especially attracted to the human face. Their best focus is probably an arm’s length, their arm, about 6-8 inches. So, if we hold them very close and look into their innocent eyes, we might be able to see the whole universe.

I feel awed and mystified by this gaze, every time I hold a baby. I know this is not something that is felt by everyone. But, if I could do one magic thing in this world, it would be to cast a spell on all those who don’t. When they looked into an infant’s eyes, they would realize there is depth and creativity waiting to unfold there. Then they might better understand how precious and how fragile life is, and just maybe, they’d be sure to make choices that mattered for the present and the future of these little ones.

All children would be guaranteed healthy food to help their bodies and their brains grow. They’d have clean air and water. They would have opportunities for learning. We would not send any of our children to war, because we would be able to work out our differences with our fellows. We would protect children from the violence in their streets and on their video screens. We would answer their questions, as best we could.

Life is not easy. There are challenging times as children grow - teething, potty training, tantrums, going off to school, many frustrations, the angst of the teen years, pushing us away as they strive for independence. But if we remembered their infant gaze, maybe we would consider their uniqueness as we guided their lives.

And when an adult says or does something disagreeable or difficult that challenges our world view, maybe we would also remember that each person was once an infant with hidden potential. We all start out small and innocent, then life happens to us along the way. Through it all, we end up right here. I just suspect that “right here” might be a very different place if we adults always made choices that considered what would be best for this child, and the next child, and on into the future.

Maybe my hopes are unrealistic. I certainly have had many times when I got too wrapped up in the immediacy of the moment and lost sight of the possibilities. Still do. But, remembering that infant gaze some of the time would make a difference.

Everyone starts out as an infant with a deep, penetrating, infinite gaze, with potential, looking out on the world with hope, trusting that caring adults will reach out and hold an outstretched hand.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Simple but not easy

There are some simple basics to raising children. But these are rarely easy.

Children need us to pay attention to their basic needs for health, sleep, exercise, play, learning. Feeding them regularly, having routines which include a balance of healthy activities, spending time together as a family. These very realistic activities are complicated by many other demands in our lives.

Children have their own personalities and preferences. They resist some of the things that we say are "good for them." They might want to play all day, and we know that there are other things which must be done. They resist sleep, even when their behavior is telling us they are exhausted and need a rest. The video era and the hours spent in front of a screen have significantly reduced overall fitness for many of today's children. Our own work and life schedules can make it very challenging to find time to do it all.

As I struggle with my own balancing act, it helps when I regularly ask some questions. What are the most important things for me to do today? What activities bring me the most joy and satisfaction? What can I do today to create positive moments with the people I care about? What can I do to take care of family responsibilities willingly and cheerfully? How can I make time for self care? How can I adjust my priorities and use my time wisely?

When I go through my days more consciously, my hours feel fuller. And I am less stressed. The balancing act is not easy, but it is often doable.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Labels Hurt

I teach child development at the local community college. Tonight we were having a great discussion in my discipline and guidance class about all of things we adults can do to help build a child’s self esteem. There were many terrific ideas that summarized all the concepts we had discussed during the entire semester. One student reminded us that it was very important to avoid labels.

Yes! We looked at many examples of labeling. Avoiding labels means to stop calling children “bad” or “good” or “an angel” or “a brat.” I believe all children have potential. They are making choices all the time. They can choose to be kind and helpful. Or they can choose to tease another child or knock down a block structure. Our job is to help them learn that they have the power for “good” or not. They can learn to make responsible and respectful choices.

No matter what the label, even the positive ones, they are all judgments. And judgments feel uncomfortable. It is more helpful for children when we offer specific comments that reflect their behavior, not their character. “Thank you for cleaning up together.” or “You used a lot of red in that picture. Can you describe it for me?”

When I was in my first few years of college, I was a teacher’s aide in a kindergarten classroom. Something happened one day that has stuck with me all of these many years, because even as a young adult, I knew it was very wrong. One of the boys was painting at the easel. There were all the usual colors available, but he chose to exclusively paint with black. And he was really into it. He covered the whole paper. The teacher came up and tore his paper off the easel and threw it away. She told him it was awful. All of the colors were there and he needed to use them! She labeled his work as awful.... and he felt awful, too. He had every right to use black. I will never know what effect that one experience might have had on his self esteem. Maybe he got over it pretty quickly, because kids can be quite resilient, in spite of us. But, it stuck with me. And I felt very badly for him.

Sometimes it feels very difficult to see the positive or the possibility in people or in world events when negativity or hurt is crying out to us. There are people who make very hurtful decisions that affect hundreds, thousands. But when I have some kind of negative judgment that rumbles around in my head, I am hurt further by my own thoughts. We all need to be careful about labels, and reach deeper to understand.

Talking with - not at

True confessions - Once a mother, always a mother. Yes, but does this mean I will always talk to my children like children. I certainly hope not. I have been noticing lately, the times that I occasionally talk to my sons like a mom. I don't want to do that. They are adults and my friends. They are doing just fine living their lives and figuring out what's next. And most of the time, I'm really pleased with my adult relationships with them.

But sometimes... I need a reminder. What kinds of words are we using to communicate with our children? Using baby talk doesn't help young children learn correct speech. Children understand our words and the intention in our voice way before they can speak well themselves. Children learn language through human interactions, with give and take. Not from one sided TV. They learn language within the context of our relationships. So, from early on, they benefit from lots of communication. We can talk with them about what we are doing, where we are going. Ask questions. And wait patiently for their response. As they get older, we can adjust our communication to their increasing capacity for understanding. Then, before we know it, they are capable communicators, who are also talking differently with their peers.

School aged children and teens deserve to be given credit for what they know and who they are. Our communication can reflect this.
"I know this is hard for you. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help."
"Will you please get a load of wash started?"
"Thank you for helping with dinner?"
"What are your thoughts about ____?"

When we are frustrated about our child's behavior or a struggle he or she is in the middle of, one of the surest ways to help is to make sure that we are communicating with sensitivity. Our words matter. What we say and how we say it makes a difference. Are we creating stronger connections? Or are our words pushing them away?

The best way to help children is to work on ourselves. So, I have been noticing lately, catching myself in the "mom" mode that my kids and I have outgrown, understandably. I'll keep you posted as I continue to reflect on my communication, especially with family members, young and old.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

It is good to remember the many women who have gone before us. Who cradled children in their arms. Fed and clothed them. Told bedtime stories. Many who have all been part of the web of life on this blue planet.

These nurturing experiences of mothering are not universal. Some of us have found love and support in our homes. Some have found it in the homes of others, or with teachers at school, or friends or community members. Some of us have had to do our best to mother ourselves.

Whatever our own childhood experiences, we now have the opportunity to provide love and care needed by each child in our lives. We can also work to maintain a world that will continue to help children grow and thrive on into the future.

I stood with 60 people today in a local park. During our 5 minutes of silence, we encircled a tree and held vigil to our own dreams for the future and for the children. It was powerful to know that we are not alone (for more information about this event, go to http://www.standingwomen.org)

Thank you to all of the mothers, Then and now and on into the future. May we continue to provide support to all mothers and fathers so they can continue the loving work of raising children.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Share your thoughts on parenting

Someone is looking for parents who are interested in sharing their thoughts about parenting. This came to me in a comment... but I am copying it here so that it may be more easily considered.

To all interested moms out there:

I would like to invite you to participate in a research study of parenting views and practices. Dr. Kim White-Mills and Dr. Catherine Dobris of IUPUI (both are moms) are interested in understanding what sources parents find useful in their parenting practices, how parents use different parenting information, and what views parents across the county hold regarding parenting issues.

To access this survey, go to http://www.iupui.edu/~momviews/

Comment came in on May 11, 2007 12:18 PM

Friday, May 11, 2007

No more isolation

What do I do when I am feeling frustrated and overwhelmed? I often hunker down and spend solo time. This can be very helpful. We all need a little time to ourselves to figure things out. But, I also know that I can get into trouble, too, when that alone time becomes isolation. I feel like no one would understand. No one will be able to help me with this issue. My feelings are talking to me in these moments, taking control of my thinking. Experience has told me again and again that talking about the issue with someone helps. In fact, I rarely want or need advice. When a loving witness listens to my concerns, the answer usually begins to emerge as I talk.

Our children need a chance to talk, too. We are so quick to come back with possible solutions. We want to fix it, kiss it and make it all better. Instead of jumping in with suggestions, maybe we can ask a question. "That sounds really frustrating and hard. What would really help you right now?" or "What would help you to be able to figure out how to deal with this?"

Over and over (because I am so stubborn and so easily forget) I am reminded that we are not meant to struggle through this life alone. We are meant to work together. Love and support send the isolation packing. Now with the bright light of understanding that comes when someone listens, we often realize that the solution was there all along. Let's see if we can model this, and teach our kids now, so they will be better prepared for the challenges they will surely face in the future.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The power of intention

I'm really looking forward to this Sunday when people gather at 1pm all over the world. At least 70 nations will be participating in over 500 communities (see http://www.standingwomen.org). The Hallmark Mother's Day will take on a very different meaning for me.

Let's see how many of us can stand. Our silent presence will speak volumes about what we value. Next steps? We will need to figure out what we must do to take this further. We must vote. Our vote, our voice does matter. We must talk to others. We can create a new world where all the children will have their basic needs met... a world the earth is cherish, and we all can thrive.

Just had to write. Do you have ideas of what can be done to improve the lives of the children in your care?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lost and Found

I found my favorite earring today. It was lost for 24 hours. I had a tiny remnant of a dream that night where I was fooling with it, and sure enough, it was down in the bedding. Even though I checked there yesterday and didn’t find it, today I did.

The earring is a sterling silver feather, given to me a few years back by Al. It represents birds and birding, which I enjoy. And it also symbolizes the image of flying, soaring above it all. Going where our heart leads us. I guess we care about the things we care about. I looked all over yesterday, feeling pretty sure it was someplace in the house. When I couldn’t find it, I grieved its loss and let it go, putting on my next favorite earrings. Acknowledging loss and letting go is rarely this easy.

My children are certainly my favorite beings in all the world. There are many things they have said and done over the years that are stamped on my memory. And there have been losses along the way, too. As they have grown, I have watched their childhoods fall behind. Many more losses ahead... and much left to be found.

Monday, May 7, 2007


Finding childhood memories buried deep in the long ago... like searching for a needle in a haystack. I remember only very scattered memories of my youngest days. Then bigger pieces of the middle childhood years, and more from the teens.

I remember feeling loved and cared for. I remember the smell and feel of clean sheets that had been hung outside on the clothesline. I remember meal times, and sometimes sitting for a long time as I resisted eating those peas. I remember holidays with family cousins. I remember Grandma and her weird fox stole, with the glass eyes staring at me. I remember Sunday drives in the country in our Ford station wagon and camping trips during the summer. I remember slumber parties with cousins. And sneaking out at night at a friend’s house.

These are just a few of the glimpses I can see looking back into my long ago past. Writing this now opens the flood gate as they tumble out. I wonder what memories my own children have. And what memories are we making today?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Standing for Children

About 10 years ago now, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund organized a “Stand for Children” event in Washington, DC. I joined thousands who made the trek there and stood with them in the great reflection pool area at the base of the Lincoln Monument. We heard many speakers who resonated with the same message. We can make a difference. We already have within our reach the will and the resources. All children need us to do whatever we can so that no child will be left behind. You can read her powerful speech at http://gos.sbc.edu/e/edelman.html

Now a new effort is afoot. Sharon Mehdi, the author of The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering, wrote a wonderful little story about the simple power of taking a stand. You can go to the website below to see for yourself. But the main idea is that a grandmother stood quietly for children. And soon others asked what she was doing and joined in, standing with her. Their stand became a significant message. Some who have read that story are taking it beyond the pages of a book. This Mother’s Day at 1pm throughout the world women and men will be stopping for a few minutes to quietly stand for the children and grandchildren of the world, those who are here now and for the next seven generations.

I encourage you to do the same, too, wherever you are. And if people ask what you are doing you can say, “I am standing for our children and their future.”

We are standing for the world's children and grandchildren,
and for the seven generations beyond them.

We dream of a world where all of our children have
safe drinking water, clean air to breathe, and enough food to eat.

A world where they have access to a basic education
to develop their minds and health care to nurture their growing bodies.

A world where they have a warm, safe and loving place to call home.
A world where they don't live in fear of violence -
in their home, in their neighborhood, in their school or in their world.

This is the world of which we dream.

This is the cause for which we stand.


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Step by Step

Nothing really happens overnight. We actually experience life transforming changes after taking many steps, one at a time.

Sometimes we refuse to try something new because we believe it will take too long to figure it out. We don’t have the patience or the time. We want it now, or we won’t try at all. This perfectionist belief gets us - nowhere.

And it is especially sad when this attitude gets passed on to children. They can also become stuck in familiar habits and afraid to try new things. I remember once when my son was in the 4th grade and was sure that his teacher had put him in the wrong math group. He couldn’t do what they were working on. He was frustrated, but he allowed me to work with him. After some practice together, he got it. The next day he told me he had talked with his teacher and admitted that the math group would work for him after all

In reality, we are all learning every day. Each day we can become one step closer to reaching our potential. But, we don’t see important life lessons or understand their value unless we are open and willing to try.

When a baby is learning to walk, there are many stops and starts. If the baby were to just sit down, the world of possibilities would stop, too. But, trying again, finally the child feels the balance and is able to take off! The world opens up.

We need to remember that learning happens slowly... for children and for us. Day by day, they learn something new. Step by step. What can we do to muster the patience to wait, watch, and assist - when needed?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Don't take it personally

“I hate you!”
“I’m never going to be your friend again!”
Or your teen screams, “You never understand!”

In these intense moments of anger and frustration, children lash out. We sometimes get offended and our feelings are hurt. We have taken this personally. In this state, we react with behaviors that further ignite the battle. We may feel like issuing a comeback with a biting reaction like, “Don’t you talk to me that way!!” Our effective communication goes out the door.

A calm, understanding response is so much more likely to help our relationships. Acknowledge the feelings behind the words and let go of any thought that children really mean it. We all sometimes exaggerate during times of intense emotion.

A simple response can restore good feelings -
“I know you are really disappointed right now. I just want you to know that I am here when you are ready to talk about this.”

It is reassuring to children to know that adults can handle strong feelings without retaliating. We don’t have to take it personally. When children are able to express these deep feelings, this often means that they are comfortable enough to be honest with us. They trust that we will be right here, unconditionally accepting them no matter what emotions rise to the surface.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Where does the time go?

This week went quickly for me. It was full. They usually are. In addition to my work, I connected with family and friends. I did a little reading and writing, I took some walks and enjoyed spring blooming all around. But, time seems to just evaporate. Where does it go? There are 24 hours in a day. That's 1440 minutes. Half of those minutes are for sleep and some of the basics of every day, and then there is our work, away from home or not, maybe another 500 minutes. That leaves only about 200 minutes. Yes, there is so much to do each day, but how often do we find time to cherish some of those minutes.

Stop and notice. Watch children. Observe them in play or conversation. Cherish the moments. Spend time together, side by side in a shared activity. These times are gone in the blink of an eye, even when some of the challenging moments seem to drag on way too slowly. Usually the very ordinary things we experience each day are among the most memorable and sweet. So even during all of the "have tos" of each day, we can appreciate each other.

Respect is rare

Sad to say, but true. Over the years and stretching back for many generations, adults have said something like, “The children today just don’t respect their elders.” Sometimes this statement means, “The kids today just don’t obey adults.” Many children today are raised to question and to challenge. They are not given firm, loving limits. Their “disrespectful” behavior can also be developmental. It is very natural for adolescents who will soon be stepping out on their own to push their elders away. They want to claim their own ideas. They want to speak to what is most important to them.

I would like to also suggest that we are partly to blame for this lack of respect. How often do we really show our respect to children? Do we show our acceptance of them, even when their behavior feels inappropriate? Do we include children in our conversations about our concerns and our joys? Do we listen to them, really listen, when they have something to say? Do we model respect of others - family members, neighbors, our fellow drivers on the road, shoppers in the market, with people from different cultures, from other nations?

Respectful relationships are nurturing. We feel accepted just as we are, and we feel free to speak our mind and know that our disagreement will not sever the relationship. Respect means paying attention and listening. With respect, we show our appreciation and gratitude for our relationships.

Children need our good examples. If kids today don’t respect their elders, that says something about us. And this is where we have the power to change. Let’s see if we can create a surge of kindness, cooperation and respect, starting here and now. Then, true respect will no longer be rare.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Born Spirited

Each of us is born with spirit and heart. The essence of who we are and who we are meant to be is within. Many experiences and relationships further shape us.

What does it mean to be spirited? Children have will-power. They have a strong will and drive to learn and grow. They have their own ideas about things, even as infants. They let us know when they don’t like something. And they screech with joy when they are pleased.

Children have a great curiosity. When they are preschoolers, a favorite word is “Why?” They want to know. They want to understand how things work. Learning about new things can be fun. Invention and creativity rise out of this curiosity. We need to offer opportunities and school experiences that continue to encourage each child's excitement for learning.

Children also care deeply. When they are very young, they interpret the world around them from their unique perspective. And, before we know it, empathy grows. Even young children bring us their favorite lovey if we are feeling sick or tired. This is the beginning of caring about the feelings of others. School aged children can be very passionate about an issue. They want to save an animal that has been hurt, or create a neighborhood cleanup project.

Our spirited nature is really what connects us all. How would you describe spirit? What can we do to accept and nurture the spirit within each child? Or our own spirit?

You are valuable!

You are so valuable! How often do you remember this? We often get caught up in doing for others and responding to all of those things that keep calling out to us. How often do we really acknowledge that we are important. We deserve love and care, too.

Like everyone else, I can get stressed out. I can honestly say that each time I reacted to my kids’ behaviors with yelling and impatience, that wasn’t about them. It was about me. This was an impulsive response fed by my own frustrations. My kids didn’t deserve that. Yes, sometimes their behavior was out of control, too. But what did I teach in that moment? My own behavior was saying it’s okay to yell, and it’s not.

The best “time out” is the one we take ourselves. This doesn’t have to take long. It can just be a moment to take a deep breath. Hey, take one now. Breathe in and feel your body slow down. Feel a different energy flow over you.

Kids depend upon us. They need us to understand them. They are not out to get us. In fact, they absolutely prefer positive energy coming their way from us. And to understand them, we need to take care of the little one in us, too. Yelling at ourselves doesn’t help us either.

Breathe! Take care of you. The kids in our lives are counting on us. Their healthy development is enriched by our loving presence.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Time to lighten up

Oh there are so many serious things in this life. So much we could worry about. But, what is really important?

Time for a break from those big things we really have no control over anyway. Time to find the pleasure in the present.

My kids are grown, so most of the parenting I experience nowadays is through people watching. I love it when I see people enjoying kids. They are in the library and letting their curious child lead them to the perfect book. Or they are in the store getting groceries and they include their kiddo, getting help making choices along the way. Or they are walking in the neighborhood, seeing things from their child's perspective. I remember enjoying many outings like this, too.

Time goes quickly. It gets away from us and everything can become a blur. Or we can cherish these moments.

What helps you lighten up and notice?

Rudeness is never acceptable

In the news we hear about actor, Alec Baldwin, calling his 11 year old daughter a "rude little pig." Well, who is the rude one in this scenario? I don't know the full context of this event, and I don't need to. I do know that words hurt or words heal. Words can shut down communication and respectful conversation can even resolve very difficult rifts between people.

Children are looking to us all the time. Our example is what guides them. Yes, adults get angry and upset and say and do things that are very regrettable. And when that happens, an apology is the next right thing to do. But, even better yet to learn from our mistakes and avoid hurtful words next time. Name calling hurts. Rudeness is never appropriate. There is always a better way, a more respectful way to speak our minds.

I would not want to be a public figure whose life is always open for everyone to see. But, we can all learn from these kinds of stories. The recent events in VA can also be partly explained by hurtful words and teasing which led to hopeless isolation.

Let's all use these very public events to remind us to do what we can right now to prevent the hurt that scars people for life.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Dealing with advice and following our heart

I asked the parents in the class, “What are you hoping to get from this workshop?” One of the parents said, “I just want to get some information and ideas so I can figure out what’s best for my child and for me.” Well, this is what parenting is all about. Deciding what’s best and doing it. But we often have lots of advice to wade through along the way.

We all want the best for our children. We also know that what works for one child is not guaranteed to work for everyone. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed with all of the advice on - breast feeding, weaning, responding to baby’s cries, holding the baby, sleep concerns, when to go back to work, toileting issues, schooling, and discipline. The list goes on. There are so many well-meaning people who have something to say about everything! How do we respond to them? How do we figure out what is best for our family?

We can acknowledge their support and concern. “Thank you for your interest. We are still gathering information. Then we will decide what will work best for us.” Or “I know you really care about us. We appreciate your concern. We have thought about this and decided that what we are doing is working very well for us.”

Ultimately, we each must decide. No one knows better what’s right for you and your family. There is no such thing as the right way or the perfect solution. Children each have unique needs. So do we all. Once we have gathered information by attending classes, or reading books, or talking to supportive people, we can figure out what’s right.

And we can be guaranteed to get lots of practice. As soon as we think we have figured something out, children grow and needs change. When we follow our heart, with our understanding of this child as our guide, we can figure out what is best.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

When do we step in to help?

Two kids are hassling over something, a toy, the T.V. remote, whose turn it is to sit in the front seat. Some adults are pretty convinced that we need to back off and let kids work it out.

This is not always the best response. First, we need to watch them. Are they talking it out? Are their interactions mostly open and cooperative? If so, yes, we can continue to watch and hopefully they will figure it out without us. Sometimes just our presence nearby helps them gauge their own behavior and reminds them to do what's best.

But, if their words are getting mean, we need to step in. The old saying, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me" is far from true. In fact, hurtful words often leave very deep emotional scars. So when their words are escalating to yelling, we need to step in and help them continue their negotiations without name calling.

And as we continue to observe them, if we feel one of them may be getting close to physically retaliating, we must step in. It is not okay for children to think that they can resolve conflicts with physical force. Hitting is not helpful.

Children can experience abuse from adults or from other children. School aged children become especially quick to tease each other. This kind of harassment can be very hurtful to children and have long-lasting effects. Children want to know that we are here to protect them and to help them resolve their conflicts reasonably and fairly.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Where were we?

Whenever something shocking like the recent campus killings occurs, I want to ask, "Where were we?"

Though we didn't know this young man, there's a good chance we have known someone like him - hurting, helpless, isolated. Our society seems to discourage connections. We are less likely to know our neighbors. We are more likely to spend time indoors in front of computers and televisions. We are more likely to think things are someone else's problem. We have adopted our own versions of fierce independence and have a hard time asking for help. We are also afraid of people who are different from us and tend to wall ourselves off from them.

How does this relate to our topic - talking about kids? Well, every child is our responsibility. I heard about a man who moved his family from a comfortable suburban community to the inner city. He wanted his children to have a chance to break down social and cultural barriers and see that we are all really far more similar than different. Then, his son was killed in a senseless driveby shooting. When asked if he had regrets, he said he did not regret moving his family. But he did wish he had done more to become a part of their new community and spent more time with the neighbor kids.

We need to be approachable adults to the children in our lives - our own kids, neighbor kids, relatives. Children need adults in their lives who they can turn to share their pleasures and their pain. They need adults who will listen. They need adults who will love them - no matter what. They need acceptance.

I'm not saying that I could have done anything to help this young man in Virginia. But I do believe we can be involved with children today in positive ways which just may be able to prevent future catastrophes. It's such a shame to see any life wasted. We all have a responsibility to build more understanding communities.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

First things first - Self care

We can all make our lists. We check them twice and then some. We put everything in some kind of priority order. But how often do we put our own needs and care on or near the top?

When we have young children, their needs often cry out for immediate attention. Yes, that diaper needs to be changed. Children are active and have a higher metabolism than ours, so they require healthy meals and snacks regularly, and certainly more often than we do. They get frustrated and don't know how to communicate well, so our assistance can help them resolve their difficulties.

When we have kids in our lives, we are always "on call," on duty 24-7.

So, if we don't also schedule our own self care each day, it doesn't happen. I've seen a t-shirt that says something like, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." We can laugh that off, but it is very true. We adults definitely set the climate in our relationships. We don't need anyone to tell us what to do. Each of us already knows what we need. We know what helps us stay healthy. We know what helps us relax. We know what foods are best for us. The really tough part is making our own self care a priority. Self care isn't selfish. It's a must!

So, what do you do everyday to make taking care of yourself "first things first?" How do you put yourself high on your daily list?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"How many times do I have to tell you?"

Sometimes we are exhausted at the end of day from all the redirecting and reminders we have given.

But, learning happens in stages. Curiosity and frustration often create the motivation to try, risk, study, practice, listen, and learn. Finally one day, children demonstrate knowledge of an idea, a rule or a behavior. It has become automatic. At this point, they know and they can do it without thinking.

When your two year old climbs on the back of the couch for the tenth time today, pull out your patience. She doesn’t really understand yet about the possible consequences or danger potential to both herself and the couch. Children don’t have the impulse control, especially in times of curiosity or excitement. She is not thinking to the future; she is enjoying NOW. Just remind her again that climbing on the couch is not safe. Distract her by offering a few other acceptable choices.

Don’t threaten: “If you do that one more time...” Because then, you’re setting her up for failure and yourself up for some punishment you really don’t want to impose. Immediately follow through and redirect her behavior. When she behaves appropriately, let her know. “You’re having fun and playing safely on the slide!”

So, “How many times do I have to tell you...?”

at least 100 times and one more...

Friday, April 13, 2007

It matters

So often we consider the big problems in the world today, and ask ourselves, “Does what I do or say really matter?” Global climate change, pollution and toxic environments, our shrinking natural resources of water, clean air, and energy sources, childhood obesity, violence in our streets, the impact of media on our children, poverty’s influence. The list can go on and on. So many challenges today seem impossible to resolve.

In spite of our frustrations, what we say and do still matters. There are things we can do. And children can be some of our biggest supporters. School aged kids can be passionate about injustice. We certainly hear siblings saying, “Hey, it’s not fair that he gets to do that and I don’t!” These same kids can also be tireless advocates for a neighborhood cleanup or efforts to recycle.

There are many small steps that can become bigger efforts. We can work with children to -
~ respond to each other with respect
~ recycle all cans, glass, and paper
~ pass on gently-worn clothes and toys
~ clean up the local stream
~ turn the T.V. off and play outside
~ write letters to officials
~ eat healthy meals together

This list can go on and on, too. Ask kids what can be done to fix some of the problems and be pleasantly surprised by their creative ideas and their willingness to help.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Children need a compass

How would we get to our destination without a road map? How could we even read the road map if we didn’t have a sense of direction? We need to know where we’re going and how to get there.

Children need a compass. A compass tells us where to turn. A compass tells us what’s right. For children, the compass tells them the limits. A compass establishes right and wrong. Without a compass, children flounder and fall. They take wrong turns.

Children want to do the right thing. They are naturally curious and energetic. When they are young, their impulses can take them down wrong turns as they follow their curiosity. Children need supportive adults in their lives who lovingly guide them and show them the way.

A compass is consistent. North is North. We need to be consistent, too. Although the rules usually flex as children grow and become more competent, one thing can always remain constant. Our love is always the basis of our guiding direction.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In need of distraction

We can imagine any number of activities or behaviors that get children in trouble with us. They are getting into something that is not theirs. They are tempting the fates and doing something potentially dangerous. They are avoiding our attempt to remind them of the rules and doing the unacceptable anyway. It feels like they are ignoring us.

An effective discipline response that gets too little credit is distraction. Children are very focused on whatever activity or behavior they are doing in the present moment. They are not doing this to get in trouble with us. Children are curious explorers. For example, young children see us using our phones all the time. They don’t understand why it is off limits to them. We need to explain simply and then distract their interest by giving a substitute toy or suggesting an activity which will redirect his attention.

Our active redirection is more likely to successfully stop the inappropriate behavior. It is not enough to just say “No!” It certainly doesn’t help to say “No!!” again, and louder. It is better to offer the child something else, something that is acceptable.
“That’s dangerous. Come over here and do this instead.”
“We can’t do that right now. We can do this.”

Children need a little help from us to learn what we expect. They are in need of some distraction to refocus their curiosity toward safe, acceptable activities.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Wisdom from a mystery book

Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed by life's responsibilities, I enjoy losing myself in a good mystery. I like mysteries that have recurring "detectives" because I like to follow their lives and watch them evolve. One such author is Jon Katz whose fictional private detective is a stay at home dad who left the finance world to focus on family. As he solves the latest crime, he also weaves in some wisdom about parenting. In his book, The Family Stalker, he offers this insight about parenting:

"I've come to see the experience of being a parent as so extraordinary and absorbing and emotional that you can't comprehend what it's like before you have a kid and can't quite recall the details afterward... When your kid comes into the world, you are up at bat in probably the most profound way you ever are. Not that having children is the only meaningful experience in life - I know that's not so - it's just that for most people child rearing is the time when your successes and your mistakes so clearly and visibly affect, enhance, damage, or even destroy a helpless person's life. It's your turn to put your instincts, values, and experiences on the line. With little real training or preparation, you suddenly have all these choices to make about school, bedtime, TV, religion, toys, chores, allowances. How many water guns to buy, how much reading to require, how much civil conversation to insist upon, how much to trust them alone, how much punishment (if any) when rules are broken. When they can cross the street by themselves, go to sleep-away camp, pierce their ears, or stay up for Saturday Night Live."

"The list goes on forever. And you don't know for years, maybe decades, how it's really going to turn out.... To me it is this process, this endless dialogue - a complicated tapestry of decisions, regulations, sensitivities and ethics, conversation and negotiation - that is at the core of parenting and determines what kind of people our children become."

Yes, we don't know for a long time what the effect of our choices for them will have on who our children ultimately become. But, we do the best we can, every day. And sometimes we even learn something along the way.

I hope you have some time to relax today with a good book, or take a walk, or whatever suits you. We all need a break from the many challenges and worries of everyday. And sometimes as we take it easy, we become especially open to new insights.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The ties that bind

An enduring emotional bond often develops between parent and child. This loving bond will help children create and sustain healthy relationships throughout their lives. Attachment can begin before a child is born, and grows as children learn to trust us to meet their needs. When we respond to an infant’s cries by offering food or comfort, she learns that she can trust her own body’s signals and her ability to communicate her needs. Through this reciprocal give and take, children learn they can count on us and on their own experiences to guide them socially and emotionally.

Our busy lives can make it challenging to make the time for connecting, but our children grow as a result of our efforts. Our strong bonds to our children are not something that is achieved and then guaranteed indefinitely. We must regularly work to maintain close ties to each other. We build and maintain strong attachments by:
~ holding babies when we feed them and keeping them close by;
~ talking with children as we go about our daily activities;
~ singing and reading with them;
~ answering their many questions;
~ being there for them when they are excited, pleased, frightened, or frustrated;
~ giving our uninterrupted, focused attention some time during the day.

This connection is short circuited when our increasingly independent children naturally push us away. As they become more capable, we will be needed less. They reach out to others. They try new things. And they push us away. The image that comes to mind is the “Push-Me / Pull - You” from the Dr. Doolittle stories. This llama like creature has four legs and two heads. One head with a long neck and two legs are pulling in one direction. And rather than a tail, they have another long neck and head pulling their other two legs in the other direction. You can imagine the fight this creature must get into with itself. This is how we feel sometimes when children demand our help and attention one moment and scream for us to “leave me alone” the next.

It can be difficult to strike a balance between meeting a child’s needs with love and support, while also giving space for independence. We find ourselves asking - when do I offer support and when do I let go with love and encourage independence?
~ We let go when they take their first steps.
~ We let go when we walk them into kindergarten and say goodbye.
~ We let go when she is angry at a friend and we can’t do anything to fix it.
~ We let go when he can’t find something in his messy room.
~ We let go when the math homework isn’t turned in on time.
~ We let go on the first date.

Our relationships are about creating a balance between holding on and letting go. Children need both. They need to know they can count on us to be there for them, and to lovingly let go with each new stage of development. With regular renewal, our emotional ties connect us for a lifetime.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Sometimes we need a "do-over"

We are not proud of ourselves when we blurt out a harsh over-reaction. There are powerful pressures to do more. We juggle all of our children’s activities - school, lessons, sports, playdates, and more. And we struggle to find time for our needs - family life, work, health, fitness, and fun. How do we fit this all into a day? We don’t. We make choices, and some things don’t get done. We feel overwhelmed and exhausted and unable to cope. When we feel this way, we are more likely to react impatiently with our loved ones. It’s often not about what they just said or did, but that we have no reserves left to respond calmly.

Kids are forgiving. When we acknowledge our mistakes and apologize, children often willingly give us another chance. The courage to apologize is a strength. “I’m sorry” says my relationship with you is more important to me than anything else. I remember an interaction with one of my sons. After yelling about something, I apologized. My sweet, young son said something like, “That’s okay, mom. I love you no matter what. Everyone makes mistakes.” Hmmm.... where had he heard that before?

Kids usually forgive pretty easily. But we don’t, especially when it comes to forgiving ourselves. Sometimes I think I will always have leftover guilt about some of the things I said and did when my kids were little. I apologized. They forgave. Though I am usually able to let go and move on, when I am stressed or upset, “coulda, woulda, shoulda” guilty messages still play in my head.

Thankfully, kids welcome our apologies. We can have a "do-over." The very next moment can be a new start. We have another opportunity to say or do the “right” thing. We can take a breath and slow down. What is really important right now? We can change our mind and make a different choice. We can make time for fun and relaxation. As we strive to live a more balanced life, we are better able to respond to our family members, our friends, and to ourselves with patience and love.