Ahhhh….summer: time for family barbeques, endless days of popsicle juice on the kitchen floor, and sibling squabbling. From sunup to sundown, it seems like the number and variety of things to argue about are as generous as the weeds in your flower beds. Just when you’ve solved one problem, the next one is seeping in to take its place. It’s enough to make a mama want to stick knives in her ears!
Even with 30,000 toys in the playroom, the only one anyone wants to play with is the one their brother has. No matter how many times you’ve coached them to ask nicely for a turn, snatching that toy from their sister is always the go-to technique for acquiring what they want.
My grandkids have claimed their own barstools at the kitchen counter at my house. Want to see them get bent out of shape in a hurry? Let their sibling climb onto the stool that is “theirs”. And even if everyone sits on the right stool, they love to stick their feet on the stool of their neighbor. If that doesn’t elicit a response right away, they will give the other stool a little shove to make sure the offended party notices that they are being messed with.
What’s a parent to do? How can you keep your cool when the world around you is in meltdown mode?
The other day I saw a meme on Facebook that said, “One of the greatest threats to America is that the school system is not teaching the next generation morals…..” What?! It went on with a list of things that the school system isn’t teaching, but the whole thing just made me shake my head.
First, let me tell you that in the amount of time in a school day minus the time spent on recess, in the lunch line, waiting on everyone to use the restroom, taking attendance and managing a classroom full of squirmy kids, we should be grateful that they learn to read and write and do basic math. As a kid, the school day may have dragged on forever, but for teachers, the day flies by and there Is often a whole pile of things that had to be cut out of the lesson plan because there just isn’t enough time in the day.
All of that aside, what really irked me is how we, as a nation, are all too willing to pass the responsibility for raising our kids to someone else. When did the school system become liable for parenting too? Just because you send your child to school, it doesn’t negate all of the training that you should be doing at home. It is OUR job to teach our kids manners and morals and the value of hard work. It is OUR job to teach our child to have integrity and treat people how they want to be treated.
There are 168 hours in a week. If your child sleeps 10 hours per day, you still have 98 hours of teachable moments in a week. Even if they go to school for 6 hours per day, they still have 68 hours a week that they are with you or with someone you designate. I know that many of those hours are being filled with dance lessons and scout meetings and ball games, but you are in control of the schedule. If you don’t have time to pour into teaching your kids to be decent humans, then pare down the sports activities.
I home schooled my kids, so all the burden for teaching morals AND math skills rested squarely on my shoulders. (I know that isn’t the lifestyle for everyone and I’ll be the first to tell you that if you don’t feel called to it you probably aren’t cut out for it.) My point is that they were MY kids and MY responsibility. If I took them to an art class at Hayner, I expected them to be taught art. I never expected that the art teacher would take over my job of teaching my kids to be hard workers.
You are the first and best teacher for your kids. What you teach them will be more important than anything they’ll learn in school about the Revolutionary War or Geometry. Lessons about friendship and the value of family are best learned IN THE FAMILY. Lessons about money management and people skills will be learned at the knee of the parents. In fact, we need to be careful about what we model at home, because no amount of “schooling” is strong enough to overcome the attitudes and behaviors that you will make the norm in your home.
I’ll wrap this up by saying, “Yay, teachers!” Your job is hard and you are often underappreciated. You are doing great work in teaching quadratic equations and sentence diagramming! But parents, let’s make sure that we understand that our job is all of the other stuff. We will raise better citizens by passing on the morals and values that we feel strongly about and leaving the school system to do what it was meant to do: educate.
It’s open window season, when all the neighbors get to hear just how happy your household is….or isn’t. Does your place need a happiness overhaul? Sometimes we just need to press the reset button to get back on track. Here are a few of my best secrets for righting the ship.
1. Ditch perfection, embrace realism. I love Pinterest. I can gaze at someone else’s magazine-worthy living room all day long. I love watching HGTV and don’t mind standing in the check-out line if I can browse through decorating magazines. The problem with this addiction is that comparison is the thief of joy. As I look at the paint colors and the furniture, it makes me reevaluate my own home and how out of date it looks compared to the newest trends.
In these photo shoots, there is very little evidence of real life. Where are the shoes kicked off under the coffee table or the stray toys and dog bones lying on the carpet? When I was raising kids, I drove myself crazy picking up after everyone. It made me angry and resentful to constantly remind people to put their things away, or even worse, to pick up their things myself. Finally, when I had enough, I started thinking strategically about the problem. I ditched HGTV perfection and embraced Grant Street realism.
For instance, since shoes were a major issue, I put a shoe rack by the back door and a large basket by the front door. This doesn’t look beautiful, but it keeps the mess corralled. Shoes that aren’t on feet have to go in one of these two places. I got the boys on board with the new plan quite simply. Shoes that I had to pick up would be hidden. They could have them back whenever they found them. The first time, I hid them in easy enough spots but then subsequent offenses were met with more creative hiding places and I quit hiding them in pairs. No more yelling or cajoling. (From me, at least—hahahaha!)
2. Know yourself. I don’t like to be rushed. I am not a procrastinator because I hate the pressure of finishing things under the gun. When I have company, I like to spend the last hour or so before the event reading a good book. I don’t want to be cooking or finishing a last minute decoration when people arrive. The underlying issue here is that I’m a control freak and there is nothing that makes me feel out of control faster than time pressure. Because I know this about myself, it informs the way I live. When I entertain, I only serve foods that can be prepared ahead of time and I make any decorations and favors well ahead of time. This way, my family will still like me when the party starts. Maybe this isn’t a problem for you, but I bet you can relate with whatever it is that makes you grouchy and mean. Know yourself and what makes you feel good, then find ways to make this the norm for your household.
3. Check your perspective. There is nothing like volunteering for checking your perspective. When I help someone who needs it, I find that it makes me appreciate the things I take for granted. I also think this works in a similar way with our kids. Get them involved in helping out in your community. Serve at a soup kitchen. Help at a food pantry. Serving together affords your family many new opportunities to discuss the needs of others. When we direct our focus on others, it takes the emphasis off the things we don’t have and makes us aware of how blessed we really are.
We offer a summer reading program that pairs older teens and adult volunteers with kids in our community to eat lunch and read during the lunch hour. It is a great program and all of our own kids have grown up volunteering for it. In households where enough food is never a worry, sometimes we forget that lunch is not a guarantee for every kid. (P.S. We're always looking for volunteers, so let me know if you want to help out!)
4. Express genuine gratitude. Thank others and model gratitude for your kids. Everyone likes to be acknowledged and appreciated. When we say “thank you” out loud, it sets a tone for the household that positive and encouraging. Look for opportunities to point out good behavior in your kids. I get it….sometimes you really have to search for it. When we have a student at the Rec that I find myself getting after frequently, I try to watch closely for a chance to praise them and thank them for making a good choice. Does it do miracles? Not always, but I do think that it makes them more inclined to repeat that behavior.
So do you need to do a happiness overhaul? What are your secrets for back on track when you find yourself off the rails?
Here are all the things I knew about parenting before I became one:
I could spot a lousy parent a mile off. They were the ones that looked like they hadn’t showered and had three kids screaming in the grocery cart that they were filling with prepackaged junk food. They were the ones whose kids looked like they picked out their own outfit and had chocolate smeared all over their hands and faces. I knew that I would never have left the house that way. I knew that my kids wouldn’t act like that because I would know how to handle a toddler’s tantrums in the bread aisle.
I was such an expert. When I’d hear about children who had been abused on the news, I could scarcely believe that a parent could treat their child that way. But then…..kids came along. Kids who had strong opinions and kept me on my toes from sunup to sundown. Kids who made messes they wouldn’t clean up and got dirty seconds after I had bathed them. Kids who climbed into my bed in the night and I was too tired to fight with.
It’s funny how a little real life experience can turn your ideas upside down. I remember the first time I was beyond frustrated and had to cool off on the front porch because I was on the verge of discipline getting out of hand. I sat there thinking, “This is how parents abuse their children.” I realized that all of my “expertise” was really just book knowledge and when the rubber met the road, parenting was really hard.
So for all the moms in the grocery or at the park that I looked down on back in the good ol’ days when I knew everything, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I judged you. I’m sorry I thought I was better than you. And I’m sorry that I didn’t give you a kind smile and a little grace. Because really, for every wonderful part about parenting there are two or three parts that are not as easy and wonderful. If you’re in the trenches right now and you know what I’m talking about, hang in there. And the next time you see another tired mama who is holding onto her sanity by a thread, give her some compassion. After all, she probably thought she was an expert at one time too.
I’m in a fight with my dog. He’s a great dog, don’t get me wrong, but he is ruining my sofa. He is not allowed on the furniture and he has his own perfectly wonderful dog beds both upstairs and down, but he is determined to do what he wants when we’re not home. As soon as we leave, he thinks he’s the king of the castle. Literally….before I get to the end of the street, I have proof that he’s getting on the couch.
This is not a lap dog we’re talking about. He’s a 70 pound Golden Retriever with enough hair to cover two or three whole dogs. If you sit on the couch he likes, you’ll be wearing half a dog when you stand up. He is partial to one end of the preferred sofa so that he can look out the window. (Never mind that we have a house full of big windows that he can see out of from the floor.) The cushions on that end of the sofa are starting to sag from his daily ritual. The throw pillows get knocked to the floor constantly and they are starting to show wear as well from where he smashes them down and his toenails get hooked on the embroidered fabric.
I decided to attack this from several angles to change his behavior. First, I bought him a new, super soft bed. Then I tied his favorite toy to it and filled the toy with peanut butter. He promptly chewed the rope in half and took the Kong somewhere else to clean it out. Then I started training him to go to his bed by offering treats every time he did what I asked.
Next, I made the sofa off limits by placing a large piece of aluminum foil over it when I was leaving. (It really does work—thanks, Pinterest!) Unfortunately, he just decided to get on the sofa in the other room. When I realized what he was doing, I put foil on that sofa too. And just for good measure, I added it to my favorite chair in case he got any bright ideas about that. When I left the next time, he got on an antique chair that is so small I don’t even know how he fit. Lesson learned, I covered it in foil too. The next time I left, he got on the ottoman. Grrrrrrrr! Now that I’d used an entire roll of aluminum foil and every piece of furniture had foil on it, I thought he’d finally get the idea that he needs to relocate to the floor or his new bed. That’s a big resounding, “Nope.” The first time I neglected to leave the foil out, he was right back at it again.
I decided the only answer was to get a camera and correct him from wherever I am. I ordered a motion sensitive baby that dings my phone when there’s movement and allows me to talk through it. He was a little surprised to hear me yell, “Get off that couch!” when I wasn’t even home. We’re still in this battle. He’s not doing it as often, but it certainly isn’t over yet. (In fact, if you hear a crazy woman yelling into her phone in the aisle at Kroger, that’s probably me.)
Maybe you’ve got a behavior problem you’re dealing with. I’m not suggesting that your kids are anything like my dog, but there might be something to learn here anyway. Parenting isn’t something that goes by the book. Each child and family is different and has its own set of challenges. My point is about perseverance. Keep trying new methods until you find something that works. Is your bedtime routine leaving you exhausted and you don’t know how to right the ship? Does the mess in your child’s room or playroom make you want to pull all your hair out? Whatever those frustrations are, just try something. And if it doesn’t work….try something else. We all have areas that could be better and taking a step in the right direction is always good. Just keep taking those steps until you reach the destination.
As for me and the dog—I’ll guarantee you that I’m going to win this fight. I have a few ideas up my sleeve if this camera doesn’t do the trick. I’ll let you know how it works out.
If you’ve never considered yourself a failure at parenting, we can’t be friends. I mean, aren’t your friends supposed to make you feel good about yourself? So, in the interest of full disclosure, I am going to share some of my most noteworthy mom fails with you. And, since it involves my sons, I’ve asked them to help me narrow it down to the top five. (They were all too happy to help-especially the sassy younger one.) Here they are, in no particular order:
I could go on, but I think that’s enough confession from me. What are your greatest mom fails? You can be real, we’re all friends here.
We know a lot about raising boys. In fact, if there’s any area that I’m an expert in, it’s probably “boy momming”. Our granddaughter is an adorable little mystery to us. She is cut from a different cloth than our sons and grandsons. Her cloth is pink and lacy, while theirs is stained with dirt and ripped to shreds.
My best friend raised girls. Her house was pretty calm except for the occasional sisterly spat. She could go to the grocery on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, she’d still have food in the house. She didn’t spend a lot of time in the emergency room. Most of her beautiful home and furnishings stayed intact and things didn’t get broken constantly.
Then there was our house.
At our house, everyone was always starving. One year I had made about 30 extra loaves of pumpkin bread at Thanksgiving. I froze the extras so that I could give them to neighbors and friends a few weeks later at Christmas. When I went to get the loaves out to thaw, there were only a few left and then I learned that my older son had eaten a loaf for breakfast every morning since Thanksgiving. A whole loaf! Every morning! *Sigh*
We visited the hospital often enough to get a wing named in our honor. There were broken arms and broken feet and broken Matchbox car parts shoved up noses. There were explosions that burned the hair off the left side of their body and whiffle bats to the face. Then there were all the things that should have required a trip to the hospital, but unbelievably didn’t. Like trying to ride a bike down the slide. Or jumping out of the second story of the garage onto the trampoline.
Our house was full of bad ideas. First, there was the time the older son tried to start a fire by friction in his bedroom. (I couldn’t figure out what smelled like it was burning until he casually mentioned that he had been practicing his fire crafting skills. On the CARPET. In his ROOM.) Or the time when the same kid figured out how to make a catapult that would launch a bowling ball onto the next street. Really? Yes, really. And there were so many stupid things that started with this little phrase: “I betcha can’t…….(fill in the blank).”
They broke EVERYTHING. Doors seemed to be a particular favorite, mostly because they were chasing each other through the house. They broke the frosted glass out of the 100 year old bathroom door. They broke the brand new wooden door jamb on the upstairs bathroom. They broke a full length mirror hanging on the bathroom door downstairs. It’s literally a miracle that they didn’t end up in the emergency room over one of these incidents.
And I can’t forget the mountains of dirty laundry that smelled like a small animal died in them. Oh, and the ticks I found crawling out of their backpacks after Boy Scout campouts. Or the socks that found a home under their beds never to be seen again until they moved out as adults. That old rhyme about girls being made of sugar and spice and boys being made out of snips and snails and puppy dog tails—that’s not a joke. The greatest day in a boy mom’s life is the day they become interested in girls. From then on, they shower daily without complaint. They brush their teeth without being reminded. They use deodorant without fail. It’s the payoff for all the years of doing the sniff test after bath time to see if they actually used soap.
I’ll tell you this, though. I think I was made to be a boy mom. When I watch girl moms cringe and hold their breath as a little boy jumps from the top step or run across the top of the monkey bars, I know that God gave me the extra dose of chill that it takes to raise boys. And I also think having a tea party with my granddaughter is the prize for keeping them alive long enough to have children of their own.
Remember September? Back when the school year was shiny and new and held so much promise? Yeah, me neither. Who cares about March Madness? It has nothing on May Madness if you are a teacher or a parent. The beginning of summer sports, the field trips and field days, the permission slips and graduations and spring programs and end of year festivities…sometimes it feels like we’re limping across the finish line.
As we close out this chapter, maybe you are making New (School) Year Resolutions about how next year will be different. I don’t know about you, but I like driving the train—not being run over by it! Here are some things to work on over the summer to get organized and ready for a fresh start.
Develop systems that will help your kids keep it all together. My older son has a problem with organization. When he was a kid, it always looked like a science project exploded in his bedroom. His backpack was where old papers went to die. He lost everything. And when he found that important paper we were searching for, it had been folded into an airplane or crumpled into a ball. Maybe you have a kid like that as well? You can’t actually rewire their brains, but you can develop some strategies that will help. Years ago I read the book, The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond by Donna Goldberg, and found some really great tools to help him stay in better control of his school life. I highly recommend it if this is an area where you are struggling.
A great asset for your whole household is a blog written by my friend who is a professional organizer. Follow her online at www.organizedbyolive.com. She is practical, gentle, and encouraging and will help you make simple changes that will transform your home. Check out her schedule and try to go to one of her live events to hear her wisdom firsthand. I promise that you’ll leave inspired! (And if you need someone to come to your house for a hands-on session, she’s your girl!)
Another thing you can do is to concentrate on these summer months to train your little people. Get them on board with starting and ending the next school year strong. If your kids need a little remediation in taking care of their own stuff, start working on those skills now. In a lot of cases, they just have too many things to keep track of and they need to reduce the clutter. I will guarantee you that a room that is overly full will not stay clean. Less to manage means less to clean. Also, keep things with lots of pieces (I’m looking at you, Lego bricks) in a place where they have to ask to get them down and then only get them down when the other toys are put away. Legos mixed with Barbie shoes and accessories is a sorting nightmare!
Finally, take a look at your schedule. Just like a playroom with too many toys, a calendar that has too many events makes a life that is unmanageable. Do your kids play every sport and participate in 15 different enrichment classes and activities? It might be time to pare that schedule down. Right now, some of you are saying, “No way! My kids need all of these things to make them well rounded and help them get into the right college.” As a mom of two college graduates, I can tell you that just isn’t true. The time you gain as a family, the homework that doesn’t suffer because you’ve been running from one practice to the next, and the down time you’ll recover from trimming the fat off the calendar is so worth it.
As for the next few weeks—drink a cup of coffee and let’s do this! The light at the end of the tunnel of 2017-2018 is getting brighter! And maybe, if you do a little planning, next spring will be less chaotic. That’s what we’ll tell ourselves at least.
Last week we added another precious grandson to our family. Of course, we immediately pulled out the scrapbooks to see how much he resembles his daddy’s baby pictures. As I was looking through those pages I was reminiscing about how adorable and sweet my babies were. Did I even appreciate how cute they were while we were in the moment? As a grandparent, I know that I need to tuck away every funny thing they say, but as a mom did I realize how fast it would be over? I don’t think so. I just remember cleaning up endless juice spills and resolving squabbles and picking up toys on my way to doing mountains of laundry. It was so hard! And while I was in each stage, I knew that it was the hardest one.
Babies who can’t tell you why they are crying at 3am are physically exhausting. Even though everyone says, “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” you know that you’ll never catch up on dishes and chores if you do that. If they could just tell you what is wrong or if you could find that perfect cure for colic it would be so much easier. That has to be the hardest stage.
Toddlers who throw tantrums over getting the blue cup instead of the red one are emotionally draining. These tiny little humans who can barely talk still have very strong opinions. So. Much. Crying. And potty training? Whew! That is so hard! That has to be the hardest stage.
Then they turn into preschoolers who ask you “Why?” after every sentence you utter. They are curious about everything and sometimes you feel like you just can’t stand any more words—yours OR theirs! That has to be the hardest stage.
When they go off to school, a whole new world opens up. Playdates and sports and homework and programs crowd the family calendar and you often feel pulled in too many directions. That science project that they’ve known about since last Wednesday? It requires a piece of orange poster board at 9pm to finish it. That has to be the hardest stage.
Junior high brings puberty and that’s a whole new thing. Acne is ruining their life and suddenly, parents know nothing. From monitoring their use of technology to helping steer them toward good choices in friends, you have become a real drag. You are not nearly as awesome and cool as their third grade selves used to think. That has to be the hardest stage.
High school just raises all the stakes. Now you are equipping them with a 4,000 pound weapon and instructing them not to text and drive. You are trying to help them choose a career path and college when they are still trying to figure out who they are. Weren’t they just babies a few days ago? And what about that boyfriend your daughter introduced you to last week? That has to be the hardest stage.
Just when you think that your parenting responsibilities are over, you realize that this is a job with no retirement. Parenting young adults is hard because they can do whatever they want but the choices they make are life altering. Now that boyfriend that you thought was a disaster could be a husband! Certainly, THAT is the hardest stage.
Can I give you some hope, mamas and daddies? There really is no retirement plan for parenting, but there will come a day when you’ll turn off the lights and realize that no one cried today. There will come a day when you will watch them cross a stage and be handed a college degree and you’ll realize that you’ve crossed one of the finish lines of parenting. And someday, if you’re really lucky, there will come a day when you’ll hold your newborn grandchild and weep because you have been promoted from the best job you’ll ever have to an even better one.
I recently told my daughter in law that it was my job to make sure her children believe they are the center of the universe and it’s her job to make sure they know they aren’t. I was joking—kind of. She is ready to deliver our third grandbaby and I already have a pretty good track record of making the first two think the world revolves around them. If I had treated my kids like I do these littles, they would probably be unemployed and still living at my house expecting me to do their laundry! Can I get an amen from the grandmas out there?
As parents, how do you go about making sure your kids don’t grow up with an air of entitlement? Your job is to raise responsible adults who are self-sufficient and hard working. In our daycare and preschool programs we see the fruits of this problem all the time. We have kids who won’t clean up their own messes because someone will always do it for them. We have kids who boldly announce that it’s their birthday and remind us that we owe them a birthday treat. We have kids who feel like the rules don’t apply to them and expect us to always rescue them from their mistakes. Maybe you see some of these traits in your own child, but aren’t sure how to reverse that line of thinking. I have a few ideas for you!
First, cultivate a servant’s heart. The whole time my boys were growing up, the family joke was that they would be “happy to help” with anything anyone needed. That’s actually what I’d tell people—“My boys would be happy to carry that to your car. My boys would be happy to stay and stack the chairs when the event is over. My boys would be happy to mow your lawn.” You get the idea. They even caught on and would say, “I’m sure I’d be happy to help trim your hedges, wouldn’t I, Mom?” Were they always “happy to help”? Ummmm….not always, but I didn’t allow back talk or eye rolling or deep sighing from boys that were instructed to help. To this day, they will go out of their way to help others when they see a need.
Second, don’t buy them something every time you go to the store. (That’s the grandma’s job anyway!) When the boys were around 3 and 7, we were in Walmart and my younger son was asking for a pair of roller skates. I had already told him “no” but he asked again. His brother ended it by reminding him that they were with Mom, not Grammy. Wanting something is ok. Saving up for it by doing extra jobs is a great lesson in how to spend money wisely. Just because all of their friends have one doesn’t mean that your kid has to have one too. And if you say, “no”, mean what you say. Don’t give in because you are exasperated and don’t want to hear the begging anymore. The correct answer to “No, we’re not getting anything today” is “Yes, ma’am.” If you’ve already gotten into this bad habit, rough roads are ahead when you try to break it. Hold on tight and let them know that there’s a new sheriff in town.
Third, expect them to do their part. When the boys got old enough to stay home when I went to the grocery, they knew that when I pulled in the driveway they had better come out and help carry in the groceries. (This feature of child rearing is one that I miss terribly on grocery day as an empty nester.) If they wanted to eat the food—and they DID want to eat the food because boys are always hungry—they had to do their fair share. When they were old enough for yardwork, my husband saw the opportunity to train them to help and eventually turned those jobs over to them. (He misses this particular feature of child rearing, too!) I promise you won’t ruin their childhood by expecting them to contribute to the household chores. Start this young by putting hooks where your preschooler can reach them and having them hang up their own coat or put their shoes in a designated area. Your child’s teacher will thank you for training them to take care of their own things!
Finally, model the kind of human you want them to become. Let another car go in front of you in traffic. Hold the door for strangers. Help an elderly neighbor drag their trash cans to the curb and back. Not only are you making an impact in someone else’s life, but you are living by example. As the old saying goes, “People won’t always believe what you say, but they’ll always believe what you do.”
Hi! I'm Janet and I've been the Director of the Before and After School and Smart Start Preschool Programs at the Troy Rec since 1994. My hubby and I have been married 30 years and we have two grown sons. Each of them is married and blessing us with grandchildren left and right. Life is good even when the nest is empty!