February 2011 - Posts
Whether you are a harried at-home parent or a
hurry-to-work-and-back parent, getting to the end of the day is sometimes a
monumental achievement. Is it
enough just to make it to bedtime, or do we need to set our sights on something
more? In Aesop's fable of the
tortoise and the hare, "slow and steady wins the race." Pacing ourselves, rather than sprinting
and stopping several times, may be the wiser way to get where we want to go and
allow us to feel different when we arrive.
Slow and steady could mean:
Breaking up a task that
needs to be accomplished into parts that can be done once a day or weekly.
Doing a task more
slowly, at a pace that other family members - children included - can sustain.
Enjoying the scenery,
singing a song or greeting people along the way as you work.
Inviting friends to
help you and offering to help them with household or seasonal chores.
through it all.
Although it may seem like there's nothing more you can
squeeze into your day, adding a dose of "slow and steady" may make you feel
like you have more time rather than less.
January, a seminar on Simplicity Parenting was held at a Waldorf school in
Bellevue, WA. The speaker,
Kim-John Payne, has been facilitating hands-on and step-by-step workshops on
how to slow down family life and help our children become calmer, happier and
more successful as students and as human beings. Payne is a doctor of psychology, a long time Waldorf
educator and the parent of two young girls, who began his career as a clinical
psychologist working with at-risk youth.
At that time he began to see symptoms in young people that seemed to
match the clinical descriptions of post-traumatic stress disorder. These same symptoms were also present
in the children of more affluent families who came to him later in private
practice for help in facing behavioral challenges. Over many years he began to draw the firm conclusion that
the stresses of modern life are causing some of the behaviors that parents and
educators readily recognize: anxiety, oppositional behavior, mood swings and
Payne characterized traditional childhood as a period of long, even boring,
summers and afternoons with lots of outdoor play and time for rumination. More or less sheltered from the adult
world of worry and decision making, steadied by the inevitable rhythms of the
seasons in which changes were natural, young people came to maturity slowly and
only gradually took on roles in the larger world. Now, according to Dr. Payne, this is less the case and
children are suffering.
to Payne, there are four main stresses that speed up the process of growth and
wear away at our youngsters' health and well-being:
- An environment with too much stuff.
- A life with too little predictability.
- A day with too many plans and activities.
- Too much information: ‘houses without walls' in
which children are burdened with too many adult decisions and worries and
too much overall stimulus.
which help families pare back some of these stressors a little at a time are
being held all over the US and abroad.
The movement is helping to develop a growing support system for parents
who want their lives to be a little simpler.
useful in this workshop were the practical ideas that came out of our
discussions. I greatly appreciated
the enthusiasm generated when participants laughed and talked through their
Solutions could be as easy as sorting through the toy chest and tossing
out or giving away broken, unused toys; boxing up out of season clothes for
storage, and minimalizing wall décor.
Talking about support from the community for more difficult family
changes such as keeping adult decisions in adult hands, and taking a critical
look at our "Too Much Information" culture, was also helpful. When parents shared their challenges
there were audible sighs of relief from the rest of us. We all know it's hard to do this on our
own and appreciate knowing that we are not alone!
If you are interested in learning more
or finding out about upcoming seminars visit Payne's website at www.simplicityparenting.com. His
new book, Simplicity Parenting,
is available on the site as well.
For several weeks I heard
talk at home about fantastic looking heart-shaped cookies that my daughter
wanted to make. She had taken a children's cookbook out of the library with the
word "Princess" somewhere in the title and the book, with it's bright pink
cover, became a fixture on our breakfast bar. With each passing day more and
more pages were flagged with pastel-colored sticky notes, identifying the many
recipes she wished to try.
A call home earlier today
gave away the secret that the cookies were in production. I say production
because what I learned on that call is that these were no ordinary,
kid-friendly (read: easy to make) cookies that could be whipped up after
school. While a quick read of the recipe and it's mention of ‘shortbread
cookies' made my partner think they would be a breeze to make, the reality had
been a bit more complicated. To achieve the results of the alluring photo in
the princess cookbook would take time and dedication. And dinner would be
either leftovers or late.
When I got home from work my
daughter couldn't wait to show me the cookies. She was so proud of all the work
she had done to create them and had to explain their provenance.
First step: shortbread dough
rolled out and cut with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. While those were cooling,
another batch was made but these were cut twice: once with the same cookie
cutter and then a second time with a smaller, heart-shaped cookie cutter to
pull out an inside heart. During all this baking, cutting and cooling the white
chocolate needed to be melted and cooled. It would be spread on the bottom
shortbread and while still sticky, the heart-shaped frame would be positioned
on top. When the white chocolate was dried the finishing flair was raspberry
preserves which filled the inside heart.
The end results were
beautiful and delicious, perfect in every way and worth the effort.
our first year of Waldorf kindergarten, I remember our teacher mandating
homemade valentines. No candy or
other sweets please.
from a more conventional school experience, this demand seemed both burdensome
and a bit mean-spirited. How were
we going to make 24 handmade valentines in the next four weeks? And what's wrong with a little candy on
what's wrong with a little candy is the math. In a classroom of 24 children, one little piece of candy can multiply to 48 or 72 pieces and a
stomachache. So fine, no
candy. But what about this
Although daunting at first, 24 handmade valentines really
don't need to take over your life (unless you let them). Requiring Martha Stewart perfection
from a five year old (or a 45 year old) is asking for trouble. But the simplest red paper heart pasted
on a doily can be absolutely charming.
Keep it simple. And make
sure everyone is well-fed and well-rested.
with any craft project, you help your child break down the task into manageable
pieces. Definitely hold him
accountable for clean up-but let his aesthetics rule, and let him do the work. That way he'll have the sense of accomplishment
that comes from working on a project and completing it.
kindergartener chose to make Swedish hearts-an overly ambitious project I'd NOT
recommend before Grade 2 or 3, but she was adamant. So we split the work.
I cut the paper, and she wove the hearts, and we had scrambled eggs for
dinner three nights in a row. But
I learned a lot about my determined, nimble-fingered little girl on those
nights. And when the valentines
were finally done, she GLOWED with pride. (So did I!)
my children know to set aside time for making valentines. Believe me, when your tween sets aside
time to craft with you, you will bless the kindergarten teacher who so sweetly
required homemade valentines all those years ago.
or not you live in a snowy climate, the tug of outdoor fun in a winter
wonderland has strong appeal. Images of sledding, snowball fights, and watching
snowflakes fall from the sky while making snow-angels all can make us smile and
long for cold weather games. Who doesn't love the feeling of bundling up for
time in the outdoors followed by hot chocolate and cookies by a blazing fire?
are many ways for a family to enjoy outdoor time in the winter. For those who
enjoy the views from up high in the mountains and the rush of speed there's
always alpine skiing and snowboarding. However, except for the few who live
near the slopes a ski outing is an all-day affair.
the snow is calling and time and money are a consideration a great option is a
more leisurely outing such as cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. It's often
easy to get out for a few hours and children as young as five are able to
participate. My daughter loves to tear it up on the alpine slopes but also
appreciates the solitude and quiet beauty of Nordic skiing, and is never in a
rush when we're out on the trails. With young children it's a good idea to
limit the hills and keep the distance to a minimum as the energy they expend to
move forward on flat terrain is considerable and they'll tire easily. Bring
along high-energy snacks and water and be sure your children know that cookies
and hot chocolate await them at the end of the outing!
skating and sledding are other enjoyable options for short winter activities.
Even those just learning to skate will have fun for an hour on a frozen pond,
especially if they have a more experienced skater to hold hands with as they
make their way around the ice. For an older kid sledding has more appeal on
adrenaline-inducing hills in the mountains, while younger children are content
on small hills that provide just the right amount of rush. Don't underestimate
the value of a hour's worth of runs down what might seem like a short slope:
kids just love going down and walking back up over and over again.
few inches of snow is enough to make everything white and fresh looking and
merit a family walk in the woods or even just through town. Snowball fights are
bound to spontaneously occur and the cold air adds much to an invigorating
walk. That few inches of snow is also enough for a snowman, and oftentimes
children will want to head outdoors with the first flakes and will make their
snowmen before the ground is covered. Of course, when there's ample
accumulation there's the opportunity to spend hours building elaborate snowmen
and snow forts, plus a snow woman or two.
No longer the Year of the Tiger, this month's new moon ushered in the Year of the
Rabbit. So now's the time for this mom,
born in the Year of the Rabbit, to look back at the firestorm surrounding
"Tiger Mom" Amy Chua's Wall
Street Journal article entitled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior"
am the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and yes I played the piano and my
brother played the violin. Oh and my
daughters play the piano and the violin.
So I found Chua's book excerpt both true enough to resonate, and
outlandish enough to elicit giggles - I laughed out loud when I read her piece.
I can see how it stirred up controversy.
Chua's WSJ essay begins:
"A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents
raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do
to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the
family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've
done it." An attitude like that is bound
to ruffle some feathers. That she is
mostly joking is beside the point.
article then lists a host of activities Chua banned from her children:
sleepovers, playdates, television and computer games, trying out for a school
play, any grade less than an "A" - the list goes on. Even before you get to the
infamous "The Little White Donkey" piano practice session, Chua is sounding
pretty extreme. Is this really what Chinese
parenting is like?
one woman's parenting journey, guided by values common to many cultures: work
hard, don't give up, set high expectations, and mommy knows best.
is a law professor, not a cultural anthropologist, so for me that would take
the question of what is "Chinese" off the table. Instead, what I find interesting about this
controversy is the opportunity it presents to review parenting trends and
practices: a chance to be more conscious about parenting.
all want what's best for our children. Still, whether we parent the way we were
parented, or work to create a new parenting model, it's impossible to know if
what we're doing is the right thing until it's too late. So parents can feel
vulnerable and eager for feedback on what works.
we all have different ideas about what "works" means. Is it children with straight A's? Children who play well with others? Children who perform at Carnegie Hall?
Children who are always obedient? Children who chew with their mouths closed
and don't talk with their mouths full (at least not very often)? And keep in mind that what we want to end up
with are not children at all, but adults.
is hardest for me when I'm not clear.
And it is the transcendent ideas that most often befuddle me. For example, I want my children to have high
self-esteem. But what IS self-esteem and
how does it move upward? This is where I
found Chua's essay very helpful. She
talks about "big differences between the Chinese and Western parental
mind-set," and highlights their opposing views on self-esteem.
notes that "Western" parents seem to assume a child's self-esteem is fragile,
requiring reassurance and praise to grow.
"Chinese" parents assume a robust self-esteem that grows with the
mastery achieved from practice - lots of practice. Perhaps your family relates more to "Race
to Nowhere" than Amy Chua, but I agreed with Chua on this point: Self-esteem can be bolstered by mastery and
mastery comes from practice.
Chua's daughters, my girls take music lessons.
Do I make my children practice?
Sorta...we have an agreement. I pay
for lessons and books and instruments and rosin and metronomes and tuners and
drive them back and forth to lessons.
They practice. 30 minutes. Six days a week. Some days they practice more, seldom
less. I don't berate them or refuse to
let them use the bathroom while practicing.
But I will ask to hear a tricky measure again. And again.
And again. And I never say it
sounds great unless it does. It's not a
formula for creating musical prodigies, but it seems to work for our
family. That means my children have fun
making music and are proud of what they do.
And yes, I am proud too.
paragraph of Amy Chua's article reads: "Western
parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to
pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive
reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe
that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the
future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills,
work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away."
to this Rabbit mom that the two sides are not mutually exclusive.
are twelve different animals in the Chinese zodiac, and ten thousand times as
many ways to raise a family with wonderful kids who will become wonderful