Parenting

Insights and inspirations about parenting.

“Childhood is Short; Maturity is Forever”

I’ve been studying research about children’s inability or difficulty in expressing their feelings. Part of this is developmental, the other part is experience and learning. In many cases, when a child is out of control (for no apparent reason), the best thing to do is to say, “I see you. This must be hard,” and wrap them up in your protective arms. They feel frightened, out of control, and need to feel safe again. They need emotional connection.

Just this week I was reminiscing about a daughter who had frequent melt downs as a toddler. I tried my best, but sometimes, I just let her be. I have a vivid memory of her sitting at the top of the stairs, bawling uncontrollably. What I wouldn’t do to go back in time, scoop her up in my arms, and rock her until she calmed down. I have this regret, and I will never get that moment back.

Childhood is short.

Being a parent ends quickly.

Eat Halloween candy together.

Take a son or daughter out of school to go on your own “field trip” to the park, a museum, or to a foreign country.

Run through summer sprinklers.

Wrap them up in your arms because too soon you’ll be letting go.

 

What is your mom superpower?

Being a mom or dad automatically endows you with superpowers. It’s like the hospital you enter and come out with a baby has turned into the X-Men School for Gifted People and you come out with extra powers as well.

I call it your Sixth Sense.

You need it to survive as a parent. Time is shredded into ribbons and nano seconds when you’re a parent and you need to get things done fast or more efficiently.  You need to feed 4 people dinner on a dollar and grow eyes on the back of your head.

To substantiate this theory, I turn to real parents who spill the truth about their extrasensory perceptions. These are actual “superpowers” that moms all over the nation have claimed as their own:

Keeping kids clothes clean, which is a killer power especially with baby bibs and clothes with that get stained with puke and poop every day.

Always knowing exactly why a baby is crying: hungry/tired/gassy/poopy, and not just her own baby, but ANY baby!

Knowing something is about to grow mold in the refrigerator. Smelling it before it goes bad.

Impeccable timing at restaurants where she arrives to orders at the counter just before the crowd comes in.

Keeping a baby happy on a 10-hour flight. Now THAT’S a superpower we can all appreciate!

Knowing someone is pregnant before it’s announced, and being able to predict the due date within a week.

Always finding the best bargain. Like, it doesn’t exist unless it’s within budget.

Putting a fussy baby to sleep. Not just her own baby, but ANY baby. Best superpower ever!

Knowing it’s about the rain. “Kids come inside, it’s about to rain.” And then it does.

While breastfeeding, she can: go to the bathroom, successfully make and eat a turkey wrap, do the dishes, drive the car (don’t tell anyone that!), or sleep.

Never burns food but never sets a kitchen timer. She can always smell when something is ready to take out of the oven. Wow. I’m speechless on that one.

Picking ripe produce.

Going to the bathroom in 15 seconds flat.

Extracting a foreign object deeply embedded in a child’s nasal cavity.

Folding fitted sheets nice and flat like the flat sheets. That’s almost Wizard superpowers.

Reaching anything in the backseat from the front seat like Elastagirl.

Knowing direction after only having been there once before. Being able to navigate big cities and new places easily.

Push a double stroller through revolving doors, down narrow grocery isles, etc.

Being a bloodhound. If there’s an off smell in the house, she can find it. Anywhere!

Not feeling like retching when watching a child throw up.

Knowing the sex of kids before the ultrasound.

Having the supersonic hearing of Bat Girl or a Vampire. The most important is the picking up on sound of silence. Knowing the minute all is quiet, something is wrong in the house and the kids are up to mischief.

Getting the close parking spot.

Really good at eating any chocolate in the house.

Being able to make anything from just tasting it once.

Directing/supervising a toddler in the house while taking a shower.

Picking the exact size container for leftovers.

Can smell when people have cavities.

Can wake up at an exact time without an alarm, even when at different times.

Super good reflexes. Like catching a baby the minute they squirrel out of a grocery cart or high chair, or an egg that rolls off the counter, catching in midair. Pretty much elevated to Jedi powers, this one.

Making a full, nutritious meal out of nothing, just a few random items in the frig and pantry.

Staying sane when the house is falling apart all around her.

Really good at building IKEA furniture…and liking it! Just try this once and you’ll see that this is definitely a superpower.

Never being out of clean underwear for children.

Being a single mom. Every day that is a superpower.

Knowing the temperature of a child just by kissing their forehead.

Really good at sleeping. Amen, to that one.

Superhero Woman Supermom Cartoon character Vector illustration

Superhero Woman Supermom Cartoon character Vector illustration T-shirt design

 

What you water grows: Part 1

You can find plenty of parents out there on social media who gripe about being parents. Sure, being a mom or dad is hard. If you’re a stay-at-home parent who has these little critters 27/4, the messy days, lack of sleep, and wearing down of nerves is a real thing. I’ve been there. I get it.

However, as a social scientist and family studies expert, I also believe in the power of “what you water grows.” It’s a scientifically proven principal, and as a lover of gardening, it’s a law of nature I can count on as well. What this means is:

  • Every interaction or relationship has an 80/20 ratio.
  • About 80% of that person is what you love and, in the case of your spouse, the reason why you married them. Then there’s the 20% of what you don’t love so much, perhaps is even a bit annoying, and is a reminder that no none’s perfect (including the 20% in ourselves, mind you!).
  • What you focus on gets more of your attention. I can see the roses or the thorns…it’s my choice.
  • What gets more of your attention is reinforced in your mind, as well as in the other person or thing.
  • If I see the rose, I find beauty and am filled with gratitude, love, and appreciation.
  • If I look for and find the best in the other person, I will find it. If I look for and find the weaker parts, or thorns, in the other person, I will find that too.
  • If I continue to look for and reinforce the weaknesses in another person, the 20% in them inflates to eventually becoming the 80% and I feel completely justified in hating them, being dissatisfied, disgusted, or feeling justified in my removal of love (water) and acceptance of them.

Children and their parents have about an 80/20 relationship principle as well.  I can tell you from raising five babies to teenagers, that they stink, are moody, or contrary at least 20% of the time. But if you can look beyond the crazy hairstyles, acne, and sullenness, you’l find pretty remarkable, talented, loving, funny, smart, social, delightful human beings. I’ve enjoyed every stage of life with them. Each is my favorite.

Click on this image and say aloud what is the first thing you see.

Because of the darker images, usually our eyes are drawn to the bats or demons, as the artist Escher wanted. But look at it again, and stare for a while at the white spaces. Coming into focus, when we really concentrate, are angels.

In every person, there is both, good and bad, light and dark. It’s our choice to look past the things that are of no lasting consequence in our children and spouses and quiet down that voice that wants to criticize. Instead, sit still. Be calm. Focus on the light and the white spaces between. See what angels are brilliantly waiting to emerge and for us to embrace them.

And then water, water, water.

 

 

 

Out of the Mouth of Parents

Boogers

There’s this expression, “Out of the mouth of babes” that has been adopted into our vocabulary to illustrate the wise, wonderful things young children say. Recently, I heard from parents on social media that the things their kids do will cause them (the parents) to say the most outlandish things. Things they would never have imagined saying in their pre-parent (sane) life, the time when they said and did mature, intelligent, socially-acceptable public acts like, “Pass me the Grey Poupon, would you please?” Behind private doors is another matter when you are raising an untamed, uncouth child and hope to one day present it to the world as a genteel adult with manners that won’t make you cringe.

As I’ve always said, pushing each child out into the world caused me to burst a few million brain cells, never to be recovered. I have lost my memory and my mind. I have said some of the most ridiculous things such as, “Don’t stir the toilet with your toothbrush.” As one mother shared, “When I said, ‘Come here and let me smell your butt,’ I knew my life had become very weird.”

Here’s a short list of weird things parents have said to their children:

Don’t stand on your sister

Don’t lick the cupboard

The cat doesn’t wear lipgloss

Please stop licking your shoe

Don’t touch his butthole

No peeing on people (or the sink, the bike tire, or the porch)

Don’t fart on your brother’s head

Get out of the dishwasher

Don’t put your feet in the donut box

Don’t start with the flamethrower

No, you may not bite my toe

No, honey, his boy parts are not jingling; that’s just keys in his pocket

Poop is NOT mud for your monster truck

Stop dancing with the vacuum

Don’t throw up on your sister

No, the cat does not want your dirty diaper

How many times have I told you; you can’t poop in the backyard

Don’t drink the bathwater your brother peed into

You need to wear underwear to the dinner table

Please don’t stab your sister with a pirate sword during dinner

Don’t poke the dog’s eyeballs with a fork

Quit gagging yourself

Why did you give the TV a bath?

Stop eating leaves; you’re not a dinosaur

Don’t pick your sister’s nose

You can’t wear hats as shoes

Don’t take a picture/video of your poop

Stop pulling your brother’s penis

Stop sword fighting with your penises

Don’t smother your brother in the couch

Why did you poop on the floor?

We do not feed the baby our boogers

Get your head out of my butt

Don’t fill up your pants with Legos

We don’t high five strangers

Cats don’t like having stickers put on them

Honey, please don’t play with daddy’s wee wee; he’s trying to go potty

Don’t eat food that was in your underwear

I just want to poop in peace

Yes, your poop comes out of a hole in your butt

We don’t talk about our vaginas to people in the store

What happened to the other half of the hair gel?

Only pick your own nose, honey

Don’t wipe your boogers on your sister

We don’t eat things that move

Stop slapping your [bare] booty and get dressed! Yes, I know it makes a cool sound but we have to go to church

Stop drinking out of the toilet

Don’t hammer your sister

Stop sharing your breakfast with the chicken/Get the goat off the trampoline/Stop biting the dog

Gross, stop putting your toes in your nose

Why are you on the counter…naked…eating cupcakes?

Get the toilet seat off your head

I know what poo looks like; you don’t need to show me

We don’t drive cars on our penis

Why is there a box of Pop Tarts in the shower?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep ‘Em Safe Out There!

 

A few years ago, I wrote for WalletHub magazine when they came calling for experts to comment on an issue. I am no expert in finance by any stretch of the imagination, so why in the world did a money management business magazine request something from me? I’ll never know. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the topic was about Halloween and kids and well…that’s something I know a little about.

I guess they kept my name on file because they emailed me for another contribution to their upcoming Halloween issue. Here is the final product with my mug in it. If you want to skip reading the article, here is what I wrote plus a little more (no extra charge!)

  • What measures should parents take to ensure their kids are safe when trick-or-treating?

If children Trick or Treat in groups, there should be at least one responsible adult or older sibling who knows how to keep young children safe when crossing streets, approaching doorways, and knowing a familiar walking route. One of the primary dangers of Halloween is being hit by a car. Kids should never run ahead of the group or their parent, but instead, stay together. Use designated sidewalks and cross walks, obey pedestrian lights, and be sure the driver makes eye contact with you before crossing in front of a car.

Attach a piece of reflective tape somewhere on their costume or bag. Children also love to wear glow sticks and this doubles for being seen better at night. The leader of the group should also carry a flashlight. It’s always a safe practice when your child is out in public to write your phone number on their palm or inner arm with a permanent marker, or pin it to their costume.

Although many costumes include masks, it’s much more safe to paint on your child’s face so their eyesight is not limited by two tiny eye holes. Many schools prohibit masks anyway, so avoid buying or making masks and opt in for decorative non-toxic face painting instead. Speaking of costumes, check the fabric to see if it’s flame resistant and that accessories (like a knife or sword) have a soft or blunt end.

Go through your child’s candy (not to eat the good stuff!) to make sure all pieces are individually wrapped. No hard candy should be given to a child who might choke and be sure to check for food allergies.

Check out where registered sex offenders live before sending older kids out to Trick or Treat on their own so they do not go near those houses. Older children should each carry a cell phone and discuss a plan for “what ifs” and a reasonable time to be off the streets.

  • What are some healthy treats or nontraditional goodies that kids might actually enjoy?

It’s hard to compete with good, old fashioned candy as a Trick or Treat reward. Kids don’t usually drool over apples and carrots and this healthy switcheroo will definitely not get you nominated for Best Parent in the Neighborhood. But surprisingly, here are eight sure-fire rewards that kids won’t throw immediately into the trash when they get home. They may even enjoy them long after the candy is devoured (and stomachache ensues).

“Super” or Bouncy balls. Who doesn’t love them? They are popular at any age and they even come in “glow in the dark” which is cool for Halloween.

Natural Fruit Leather. A healthy, naturally sweet alternative to candy.

Stickers, especially if they are high quality. Have a variety so the kids can choose their favorites.

Mini flashlights. They can be ordered in bulk to bring the cost down and they are a bonus for keeping kids safe while they Trick or Treat at night.

Fake Mustaches. What a fun and silly way to celebrate dressing up.

Glow Sticks. Here’s another “treat” that doubles for a wearable item to keep kids more visible and safe while they safely Trick of Treat.

Individual-Sized Popcorn or Pretzel Bags.

Mini Playdough. I’ve never seen a child turn this down. You’ll get “oohs” and “aahs” for sure with this one. Maybe ever Parent of the Year.

No More Monkeys

Does bed time with your kids look more like a crime scene than a sweet dream? Unlike adults, little units seem to get more wound up as the sun goes down. They save all their energy and mischief for the night time, like gnomes or witches.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan once said that kids act like they’ve never been put to bed… EVERY day. “Bed? What’s that? I don’t want to go to bed.” It’s like the movie “Groundhog Day” but every night.

Speaking of movies, there was a fabulous FB post by exhausted parents who suffer this routine every night. They all posted a movie title that best describes putting their kids to bed. And it doesn’t end well or look like this:

sleeping-1311784_640-640x360

The Series of Unfortunate Events

The Long Kiss Goodnight

The Remains of the Day

Catch Me If You Can

Girl, Interrupted

Awakenings

Never Let Me Go.

The Negotiator

Most nights? Much Ado About Nothing. (With a generous amount of drama that Shakespeare would have been proud of) The especially bad night? 10 Things I Hate About You.

Insomnia (she is currently belting out show tunes and jumping on her bed).

The Crying Game

Something’s Gotta Give

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (I have 3 😉 )

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (me trying to sneak out after she is asleep)

The Fast and The Furious.

The Never Ending Story

The Sound and the Fury

She’s Not That into You

It Comes at Night

Hellraiser

In and out (of bed numerous times)

The Perfect Storm

The Greatest Showman

Never Back Down

The Hunger Games (mainly because they are all suddenly starving)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Sleepless in Seattle.   🤣

Fight Club

The Big Sleep (mine are teenagers)

Scream. And Scream 2

Superman (my husband runs the routine. My hero.)

Good Night and Good Luck

The Parent Trap

Infinity War

Up

Mission Impossible

PS I Love You

There Will Be Blood

True Lies

Night of the Living Dead

Boss Baby

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Kill Me Now

Get Out

Return of the Mummy (every freaking 30 seconds!!!!)

From Dusk till Dawn

The Great Escape

Throw Mamma From the Train

Where the Wild Things Are

Lost In Space

Morning sequel: The Walking Dead.

Dances with Wolves

Eyes Wide Shut

Silence of the Lambs

Darkest Hour

Nightmare on Elm Street.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Zombieland

The Final Showdown

Dazed and Confused

From Dusk Till Dawn

Oh….if I weren’t laughing so hard I would be crying in pity. Have you seen this time lapse video of a mom of three kids sleeping in bed? Warning: it’s painful to watch and earns the movie title, “Sleeping With the Enemy.” You know, one of the ways they tortured prisoners of war was to deprive them of sleep AND play high pitched noises. Hmmm. No wonder we become babbling idiots, willing to hand over the nuclear missile launch codes or at least give in to whatever demands our children make. One more cookie? Sure. Have three. Another glass of water? I’ll be your waiter for the evening.

 

 

 

Want Smart Kids? Play some “rough and tumble”

There’s more and more research proving that “rough and tumble play” or “roughhousing” is beneficial to your kids. Dads do this intuitively. If I’m in a room with male and female adults and a baby appears on the scene, it takes only minutes before that baby turns into pigskin and the men are tossing it around like they are the quarterback and wide receivers on the 49ers. Moms stand aghast, their eyes and mouths wide open.

When-A-Kid-In-Thrown-In-The-Air-How-The-Father-Sees-It-Vs-How-The-Mother-Sees-It

What’s going on here? Why are we evolutionarily wired to play differently with kids? This is a photo of a friend whose husband loves to manhandle their chubby baby. She made a disclaimer: no babies were harmed in the taking of this photo. In fact, she promised he is a kind, loving father (who just happens to love to squish the bejebbies out of this cute face).

squishy face

The book  The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It is a great resource for parents who want these benefits from wrestling and physical play with kids. Here’s their claim: “Play—especially active physical play, like roughhousing—makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.” Let’s look at each benefit more carefully.

1. Roughhousing makes kid smart.

This is fascinating: Roughhousing fertilizes our brain. For real. This kind of physical play releases a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which really is like fertilizer for our brains. Roughhousing stimulates neuron growth within the cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain, responsible for memory, learning, language, and logic. Animal behaviorists have found that the youngsters of the smarter species engage in physical play, so it isn’t surprising that roughhousing actually boosts school performance. Who knows? If your kid wrestles everyday, he might win a scholarship to Yale!

2. Roughhousing builds emotional intelligence.

Because roughhousing helps children develop skills in reading the emotions of others—Is he going for my gut? Or is he going to grab me over the head?—as well as manage their own emotions—I am not going to hit him in the gut or grab him over the head—they are well prepared to navigate successfully through the emotional adult world: reading a boss’s mood, knowing how to challenge a co-worker, being able to hang with the family during the holidays. Moreover kids learn how to regain self-control, which makes them more confident in their emotional lives.

3. Roughhousing makes kids more likable.

This is true for four reasons. First, physical play builds friendships and other relationships, and this is especially true for boys, who don’t gush all over each other, much less say “I like you.” Roughhousing can be a declaration of friendship or affection not only for elementary school boys, but for young men, as well. Second, kids who roughhouse are able to distinguish between innocent play and aggression; therefore, it helps children develop social and problem-solving skills. Third, youngsters who physically play learn how to take turns. If they are playing right, each person will get a chance to chase, and to be chased. No one person should be “it” the entire time. Finally, roughhousing teaches kids the concept of leadership and negotiation. Think about the rules that go into physical games. Everyone needs to agree, which is wonderful preparation for professional success as well as committed relationships.

4. Roughhousing makes children ethical and moral.

Interestingly enough, the animals with the highest level of moral development also engage in the most play, especially physical play. One way we can measure moral behavior in animal play is by observing “self-handicapping,” when the stronger animal holds back his strength when playing with a weaker or smaller opponent. Humans do this too, and especially parents, when physically engaging with their children.

Write DeBenedet and Cohen:

When we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back. We teach them self-control, fairness, and empathy. We let them win, which gives them confidence and demonstrates that winning isn’t everything. We show them how much can be accomplished by cooperation and how to constructively channel competitive energy so that it doesn’t take over.

5. Roughhousing makes kids physically fit.

This one is obvious. But physical fitness isn’t just about body strength, say the authors. It involves complex motor learning, concentration, coordination, body control, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility. So free play is going to offer different benefits than, say, gym class.

6. Roughhousing brings joy.

As a species, humans are hard-wired for roughhousing, so the body and mind are happy when we let it happen. According to studies in neuroscience, when the play circuits in the brains of mammals are activated, they feel joy.

Source: https://psychcentral.com/lib/6-benefits-of-roughhousing-for-kids/

 

 

25 Rules For My Son

This blog post is taken from the book by Walker Lamond. Rules for My Unborn Son.

I think there’s a lot of wisdom here and I’d like to share 25 of his rules. It applies to both girls and boys but I appreciate his male-oriented perspective. Fathers are SO important to the healthy development of their sons (and daughters!). These are simple rules with a much deeper meaning. Which of these are you teaching your children?

  1. Never shake a man’s hand sitting down.
  2. There are plenty of ways to enter a pool. The stairs ain’t one.
  3. The man at the grill is the closest thing we have to a king.
  4. In a negotiation, never make the first offer.
  5. Act like you’ve been there before. Especially in the end zone.
  6. Request the late check-out.
  7. When entrusted with a secret, keep it.
  8. Return a borrowed car with a full tank of gas.
  9. When shaking hands, grip firmly and look him in the eye.
  10. Don’t let a wishbone grow where a backbone should be.
  11. If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point.
  12. You marry the girl, you marry her whole family.
  13. Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.
  14. Experience the serenity of traveling alone (Me here: I would like to add, Can you be at peace when there is peace? Do you feel anxiety to fill the silence with the radio or news feeds on your phone? Can you be okay with just your thoughts? Can you be “in the moment” of serenity?)
  15. Never be afraid to ask out the best looking girl in the room.
  16. Never turn down a breath mint.
  17. In a game of HORSE, sometimes a simple free throw will get ’em.
  18. Try writing your own eulogy. Never stop revising.
  19. Thank a veteran. And then make it up to him.
  20. If you want to know what makes you unique, sit for a caricature.
  21. Eat lunch with the new kid.
  22. After writing an angry email, read it carefully. Then delete it.
  23. See it on the big screen.
  24. Give credit. Take the blame.
  25. Write down your dreams.

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.