Author: Julie K. Nelson

I am a wife and mother of 5 children, with only one left at home to spoil. I write, speak, teach at Utah Valley University, cook, travel, and can sometimes be found folding laundry. My newest book "Keep It Real and Grab a Plunger: 25 tips for surviving parenthood" will be released March 2015 and my first book, "Parenting With Spiritual Power" can be found at local bookstores and online book sellers.

Keeping Balance in Military Families

When I was newly married and my husband was exploring career options, he asked what I thought about him entering the military. You see, he grew up an Air force “brat” and that seemed a natural career path for him.

I, on the other hand, grew up with a university professor dad providing the most stable childhood you could possibly imagine. I was raised in the same home in the same town. So naturally, I answered my husband with, “No way. Not on your life!”

Although I eschewed anything military for a personal family lifestyle, I support the military 100%. It’s just that as a social researcher and family scientist, I have studied the disequilibrium that upsets the balance of family life when one or more parent is serving full time in the military. Normal family life and parenting is hard enough without throwing in extended duty, deployment, and stressors of life-and-death job assignments.

As fate would have it, my oldest son decided (on his own) and announced out of the blue that he was going to follow his uncle and grandfather’s honorable careers and enter the Air Force. He’s on his 4th year of service and I’m super proud of him even as I hold my breath and say a little prayer each day.

My in-laws volunteered for one year after retirement as special military relations chaplains at Ft. Stewart and did a LOT of marriage and parental counseling. This family type special challenges that I’d like to address through these tips to help keep the “balance” of normal family processes.

(I’d like to credit the source, but I don’t remember where I read this originally)

  1. Establish and continue family routines. Children in any family situation thrive on routine. They feel secure with predictability (don’t we all!). Routines and schedules are special anchors in a child’s life who is feeling a few storms like separation from a parent due to death, divorce or military service. Bedtime routines, frequent mealtimes, chores and playing together give a child reassurance. No matter what else is happening, he can count on other certainties in life. Can you write down your daily and weekly routines? If not, begin today.
  2. Keep open communication. The military has improved dramatically in providing a family-friendly venues for communication. No doubt technology is the vehicle for keeping families talking. Real-time conversations are real life savers. Some children may find these awkward and distant, but it is certainly a way for couples to continue talking over significant parenting issues. If a child prefers phone calls, emails or letters in the mail, do what works for him. Write individual messages or letters, not a general one to the family.

Additionally, keep listening and talking with your child over their feelings and thoughts. Acknowledge fears and uncertainties and validate them. “I don’t like that mommy is away for so long either. Sometimes I am sad and feel lonely.” These words let a child know he is not alone and should not be ashamed of his feelings.

  1. Provide a security blanket. When a parent is absent, the child feels ambiguous loss, meaning that the parent is gone but not permanently. It is a different kind of grieving and loss than felt through a death. In lieu of a parent’s physical presence, the child can feel a connection through a physical object, or “security blanket.” Preferably, the child will want something that once belonged to the absentee parent, such as a hat or shirt or some other significant belonging.

Tangibles are powerful. A TV commercial picked up this theme when a child gave her father a teddy bear and he took pictures of the bear in different locations on his business trip. He sent them to her via a phone. This is a great idea for a military parent! Sending postcards are also tangibles…something I hold that you once held.

  1. Share responsibility (but not too much). When one parent is gone, help fill the void by everyone stepping up to the plate. Discuss as a family who will do what now that dad or mom is gone for a while. By filling in, the child can feel like she is walking in her parent’s shoes. As a child takes out the trash, she thinks, “This is what dad does when he’s here, but I’m helping him now” which helps her feel connected through a shared activity.

Doing a little more is a personal sacrifice that unifies the family. It empowers a child to know she makes significant contributions to family life. However, don’t pile on too many chores or the child might resent her parent’s absence. And don’t give a child a harder job than she is able to do.

  1. Stop parentification. Another way we can pile on too much is emotionally dumping on our children. “Parentification” is an unhealthy overreliance on a child to meet your emotional needs. When you are alone and lonely, it’s easy to turn to a family member to sympathize. We have a natural need to vent and share our feelings. Just don’t choose a child! They are not equipped to handle the emotional baggage nor is it appropriate for you to put them in the role of therapist, parent or adult.
  2. Find other military families. for support–kids can relate. I was delighted to hear about a group of military wives who organized a choir (put a link here).
  3. Use other support systems. Living in the military system is tough because it often stations you away from friends and family. No matter where you live, you can find a new “family.” There are organizations nationwide that offer great support for all families. Look them up and join whatever fits your family life. Boys and Girls Scout program are excellent for children and give the child other adult role models; organized religion can also be a great social community and spiritual strength. My mother-in-law chose to move to live with her parents for the year her husband was on tour in Vietnam. That stability of extended family was an enormous help to her.
  4. Be on the same parenting page. Let’s face it: the military is a dictatorship. The sergeant says jump and you say how high. The leadership style is not one conducive to parenting or a marriage. You are not the Sergeant of your home and the kids are not your Privates. Children shouldn’t salute or “hup two” when their parent give an order. But too often, a parent who is immersed in authoritarianism 24/7 will return home with that in-your-face approach. Yelling and punitive measures might work in boot camp, but not at home.

So leave behind your soldier stance and bring home the nurturing, compassionate mom or dad. Work on learning new strategies that consider the needs and sensitivities of a child. Both parents should learn the best parenting style, a balanced approach of love, boundaries and self discipline.

  1. Restore the military parent at home. My mother-in-law’s observations from many years living among military families as well as her work at Ft. Stewart: the coming back is harder than the leaving. The wife has assumed so much responsibility (or husband, if that’s the case) in his absence and has become pretty darned good at it! Once he returns, it’s difficult to give that back. It’s crucial that the wife steps back and let her husband return to his role. If she took over the finances, let him assume that again. He needs to feel important rather than marginalized. It she edges him out because she has been so competent, he will likely opt out of family life, not being the husband and father he needs to be.
  2. Take care of yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be miserable. It’s hard, yes. Harder than most people appreciate and harder than you probably imagined when you signed up for this family arrangement. The trouble with dwelling on the bad parts of separation is it gets you into far worse places. Those who stay home feeling sorry for themselves often turn to the computer to complain and vent their frustrations. They will find virtual friends who can easily turn into online romantic partners. Run. Away. Fast. This can lead to the ruin of your family. Remember the commitment you made to one another and the children who deserve the loving parents who brought them into this union.

When those feel-sorry-for-yourself imps whisper in your ear, brush them aside and get up and get going. Get out and find some interests. Nurture healthy friendships, and military wives have a great sisterhood to share. They will save your sanity! Your husband is doing highly stimulating professional work: physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually. What are you doing to advance yourself in these areas so he returns to an equal partner?

 

 

A Supreme Court Justice’s wish to his son’s 9th grade graduating class

We tend to think of Supreme Court Justices as austere (and a bit wizened) men and women staring down in long dark robes to deliver law and order from hallowed halls. Turns out at least one of them is a parent (who knew!) of a 9th grader.

Justice John Roberts shed his robes and spoke as a dad at his son’s commencement. Not only does he deliver wisdom to our courts, but timeless wisdom to our homes. The internet is picking it up because it offers some rare advice in a rather startling way. Time.com posted this headline to summarize his speech: “I wish you bad luck.”

I totally agree with his advice. Do you?  (read it first before responding…you may be surprised).

Here’s an excerpt:

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.

I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.

Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.

I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.

I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

That final line is the zinger: to see the message in our misfortunes. Parenting isn’t about shielding our children from pain, stumbling, or misfortune. I know my primal instinct is to protect. And protect we should, from infancy on for a few years. But there is a gradual letting go, even before Kindergarten starts, to prepare them for the world of disappointment.

They won’t be first in line.

They won’t get A’s on everything.

They won’t get picked first to play on teams.

They won’t get the first job they apply for.

So Justice Roberts gives us a little window into the hard knocks of life, especially for these privileged boys who probably had some helicopter parents in the crowd. And read between the lines: he’s telling us how to step back, let go, and help our kids become resilient and strong because of the opportunities that challenge give us/them.

As I read his dichotomous lines, I realize how opposition in all things can teach the greatest truth. I, for one, have suffered all these things at some points in my life: betrayal, loneliness, bad luck, being ignored, and losing. And many other hard things. I am grateful for each time these happened because these pointy lessons sent barbs into my heart to soften it up a bit. To bleed a little to feel the humanity of others and of my own.

Think of the compassion kids could learn if we could take to heart what Justice Roberts is saying here. Think of the wisdom, the integrity, the strength of character.

Agree or not? Now that you’ve read it, I hope you felt a little discomfort, as I did, to coach not rescue, to teach not save. It’s usually not our first instinct, but I am glad of the reminder to be more conscious of how to respond better.

Things a parent should never trust

A toddler playing quietly in the other room

Any leftovers in the frig you want saved if you have a teenager

A teenager who says they’ll be home “by midnight”

Filtering devices on the computer

Spreads of fashion magazines models

A child who says, “Everyone else’s mom lets them do it.”

Photos on Facebook or Instagram of everyone on vacation but me, all having the time of their lives

Movie ratings

A teenager with a new driver’s license

“Pinkie” promises

A recipe or picture of a beautiful dessert that looks easy to make

A weight loss program

Instructions to assemble [fill in the blank] in 4 different languages

A nurse who says to your toddler, “This shot won’t hurt a bit.”

A child who says, “Sure, I cleaned my room.”

Pictures of mothers with young children, both wearing white

More Play (Less TV) This Summer

Is that even possible?

It seems that kids are turning to electronics 24/7 for summer vacation. Television and other handheld devices are more inviting than ever.  They are an easy way to keep kids occupied while we work from home, or just want peace and quiet. And they’re easier to clean up than Play Doh.

Sure, gaming is fun and TV has some educational programming, but many parents want more than that for their kids. Aren’t they supposed to learn how to play with others? Socialize? Problem solve (other than how to shoot angry birds to kill virtual pigs)? Engage in creativity and sports? We have this intuitive sense that gaming and TV are like Twinkies: great for a treat, but not for a steady diet. Sadly, many kids are becoming sugar junkies on technology.

The featured photo for this post is a spinner for kids to use for balance in their lives. It could be used for summer or the whole year. Whether or not you are turned on by this “spin” on the Fidget Spinner craze,  I’d like to suggest five ideas for more play and less TV this summer.

  1. Bring out the goods. The expression comes to mind: “You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.” Kids might need a jump start to squeeze creative juices from their stagnant minds. This means it’s up to us, the adult, to supply plenty of material and equipment like sidewalk chalk, Nerf guns, water colors, and roller blades. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. When my kids were small, from time time I’d have an open-ended “make and take” activity on the kitchen table when friends were over. I’d put out rubber stamps and ink pads, various kinds of paper, scissors, glue sticks, glitter, markers, stickers, and decorative punches. They made crowns, cards, paper dolls, you name it. “Trashables” extends this creative process by offering empty egg cartons, paper towel rolls, empty cereal boxes, aluminum foil, etc. Fort building is another popular activity that only requires blankets and chairs.
  2. Practice a 1:1 ratio. For every one hour of physical activity, a child can earn one hour of screen time. It doesn’t have to be a huge sporting activity, but a water fight, bike ride, or hide and seek will do. You’d be surprised how they get so involved in the fun, the hour extends and the time is forgotten.
  3. Be involved. Kids may need your guidance to get ideas. Once they get started, they can continue on their own. Teach them how to play hopscotch and “Around the World” basketball. Draw a “road map” with sidewalk chalk on the driveway or sidewalk and let your little ones drive their toy cars around, and teach them trampoline games. Kids are growing up not knowing HOW to engage in self-guided activities so they resort to TV and gaming to inform them instead. I’d also like to promote summer programs that parents can initiate such as library summer reading programs. Go with your child to the library weekly to get a handful of new books to read and audio books to listen to.  In order to do #3, it’s a given that the parents unplug for a while too (and perhaps find out they are just as addicted as their kids!)
  4. Keep a routine. I like the Fidget Spinner idea where each day the kids know the routine and how to get to “PLAY.” This other idea was shared on the internet and has a similar process:rulesThis may scream,”Too much structure!” because you would rather let your kids do their own thing. It’s summer, after all, right? I read a lot of negative comments that were posted about this idea. Stuff like, “Hey I played computer games 24/7 when I was a kid. Now I’m a computer programmer. I don’t think playing with cardboard boxes would have got me where I am today.” I would respectfully respond that working with computers successfully is one small part of a person’s overall well being and ability to have a fulfilling life and relationship with others.
  5. Recruit other kids and parents. It may not make you The Most Popular Parent on the Block, but encourage your kids’ friends to put away their devices when they come over. Teach them other ways of playing. Talk to other parents about research that overwhelmingly reports the perils of too much technology and TV. It’s hard to fight the tsunami of usage if you are doing it alone. My friend’s son is having a device-free summer and all the friends support and respect him. They know they need to come up with other ideas like skateboarding and playing basketball. The board games have been dusted off and been a gold mine of connection and fun.

If you aren’t convinced, search the internet for plenty of stories and tips where parents did the unthinkable: unplugged their kids from TV and/or electronics. Here is one such testimonial, among others that will give you the inspiration and willpower to do was is best (but not always easiest at first!).

 

 

Infertility

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This is a heart-wrenching post from waiting for baby bird

What is infertility, you ask?

The dictionary would tell you that it is simply being unable to conceive within a year of actively trying or being able to carry a baby to full term. But it’s far more than that. And it’s far more than just an inconvenience. It’s a disease of the reproductive system that affects 1 in 8 couples. And like any other disease, it is frustrating. It is gut-wrenching. And it is depressing. It’s like a grave that keeps following you around day after day as it swallows your hope and buries more and more of your dreams with the tears you just shed.

It is desperately longing to be pregnant. Wanting to know what it feels like to have a life growing inside of you. A life that has your eyes and his smile. A life that you created in love.

It is walking down the baby aisles and touching the onsies, picking up the booties, and wondering when. And asking why.

It’s loving a child you have never met. And missing them fiercely every day.

It’s emptiness as you walk by the bedroom that should be a nursery. It’s loneliness as your house is absent from the pitter patters of tiny feet in the morning or giggles from bath time at night.

It’s frustration that leads to desperation as you try every vitamin recommended, test suggested, treatment procedure offered, medicine given, and diet instructed.

It is feeling unworthy. Because maybe your faith is too weak. Your prayers are not enough. Or your past too damning.

It is trying to understand why prostitutes, drug addicts and those who abuse their children are given such blessings. But you? You seem to have to fight and work and struggle beyond your strength and exhaust all of your resources to receive.

It’s a constant war between your body and your soul. A war that you must fight to win daily and a war that is exhausting, yet you battle on.

It is trying to remain hopeful, yet realistic. And failing to find the balance.

It’s hearing the words, “I’m sorry, but there is no heartbeat.”

Or expecting to walk out of the hospital with a birth certificate, but instead it’s a death certificate.

THAT IS INFERTILITY.

It’s more than just an inconvenience.

It’s more than just the inability to conceive.

It’s dream shattering. Soul crushing. And heartbreaking.

And that is what 1 in 8 couples deal with on a daily basis. Couples that could be your friends, neighbors, or family members. So please keep them in your prayers because the prayer you pray for them today, could be the one that makes a difference in their lives tomorrow.

Open Doors

I know,  I’m lucky. I have two married daughters who live on my same street. One is 4 houses down; the other is a hop, skip, and a jump away from our house. They’re both renting so I know it’s not permanent, but I’m relishing this brief time they are so close and pop in often for a chat or a bite to eat.

Like clockwork, my oldest brings over our grandson around dinnertime. It’s like Christmas every day at 6:00 p.m.

A few days ago, it was early in the morning when heard the *crunch crunch* of someone eating cold cereal in my kitchen. My husband was in bed, still asleep, so I called out to our son. No answer. I got up and found my newly-married daughter there. It tickled me. So does this meme:

kids

Morality and the Teenage Brain

Two of the greatest times of brain and body development (or “plasticity” as psychologists call it) is early childhood and adolescence. Think about the incredible physical changes and growth from birth to 5 years old and during the teen years. Even though we can’t see it, similar rapid cognitive development is happening in the first five years.

If you ever said to your teen, “How could you be so stupid!”…let’s just clarify.  They aren’t stupid. They just don’t have fully developed brains to make really mature decision. The brain is not fully developed until about 25 years old. Because the brain develops back to front and core to outside, the last part to develop is the front, called the pre-frontal cortex. Executive function controls that region where reasoning, moral development, and planning takes place.

Teens do impulsive things. They can use poor judgment and reasoning. To top it off, they are going through stages of moral development. The “Heinz’s dilemma” is a frequently used example in many ethics classes. One well-known version of the dilemma, used in Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, is stated as follows:

A woman was near death. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s laboratory to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not

Kolberg was most interested in the reasons the teenagers gave for their answer. The “why or why nots” gave a window into the formation of the adolescent’s value system. The stages he outlined are simply put:

  1. Early adolescents tend to be more obedient, or self-serving. The do not question authority and think and do what their parents have told them.
  2. Mid-adolescents, teens start to question, which looks a little like rebellion. Furthermore, the new ability to think abstractly enables youth to recognize that rules are simply created by other people. As a result, teens begin to question the absolute authority of parents, schools, government, and other traditional institutions.
  3. By late adolescence, most teens are less rebellious as they have begun to establish their own identity, their own belief system, and their own place in the world.

Some youth who have reached the highest levels of moral development may feel passionate about their moral code and may choose to participate in activities that demonstrate their moral convictions.

As intriguing as the moral dilemma scenario is in Kolberg’s study, there are other, more playful ways to ask your teenager questions that gets him talking about his thinking. Here’s a fun exercise to see where your teenager is on the stages of moral development. Play this “Would you rather…” game together, each answering the questions and examining your rationale. No one is wrong and no judgments should be made. You can start with making up easier choices for younger children, like “Would you rather be a cat or a dog?” and then use these during different years of adolescence to see if their reasoning matures.

Would you rather…

Save the life of a starving African child you’ve never met

OR become a Jedi, get the Force and a light saber?

 

Change your last name to Hitler

OR never eat candy again?

 

Have no Internet

OR no cell phone?

 

Live in a world with no problems

OR live in a world where you RULE

 

Win the lottery of 20 million dollars

OR amputate your right arm if it cured cancer?

 

Have the superpower of flying

OR reading everyone’s mind?

 

Know the date of your death

OR the cause of your death?

 

Have all the time in the world (endless supply)

OR endless supply of money but only 10 years to live?

 

Be the smartest person in the world

OR be the most handsome person in the world?

 

Have a piercing

OR a tattoo?

 

Be able to talk to all animals

OR speak all languages?

 

Never have your mind get old (but body does)

OR never have your body get old (but mind does)?

 

Be able to go back in history and stop 9-11

OR stop the Holocaust?

 

Have mermaids be real

OR unicorns be real?

 

Have a Pinocchio nose when you lie

OR never get to shower again ?

 

Be a genius that no one likes

OR be an idiot that everyone loves?