I am a mother and a consultant, and one of the ways I work with
people in leadership roles to teach them to lead more powerfully and
deliberately is to help them get to know who they really are: What is their
purpose, what do they value and, ultimately, what do they stand for? After
defining these things, those particular behaviors and actions that support
purposes and values can be identified. I find that the more these leaders are
able to create a conscious picture of who they are, the more they are able to
lead intentionally, compellingly and successfully.
As the leader of your family, defining your family values and
what you stand for can help you parent more successfully and be a more effective
role model. Your values help you to define the boundaries and guidelines for
your household, as described in a previous article. Your children know that you
mean what you say because they recognize the values that are living behind your
decisions and communications.
How do you begin defining family values?
Start by answering these questions:
The things that matters most to me are?
The things that I most want to pass on to my children are?
Make a list and have your partner make one as well. Share your
lists (hopefully many values will align, although some will be specific to each
of you) and collaborate to make your shared "Family Values".
Family values can be very specific, for instance "I value eating
dinner together as a family." Or they can be broad concepts, such as honoring
diversity. Both of these are clear family values that begin shaping the
boundaries and guidelines for a family.
As an example, I asked three of my friends one night over dinner
if they could put their finger on a core value of their family life and this is
what they said:
with something even when it's hard.
my children that it's o.k. to make mistakes; it's what you do when you make a
mistake that demonstrates your true humanity.
The next step is translating these core principles into
behaviors, actions and expectations that are clear to, and well understood by
the whole family.
We will explore how to do that in Family Values II.
flash: as of the date of this posting, my eleven-year-old child has practiced
her cello everyday... for 338 days... in a row.
years of nagging, bribing, cajoling, and threatening, this seems nothing short
of a miracle. How did it happen?
it began with the little red haired girl....
day, our cello teacher announced that the little red haired girl in our studio
had practiced 86 days straight without missing a day. Her plan was to practice for a full year.
"Wow!" I said to my daughter, "That's so
cool! I bet you could do that."
she could. She sputtered at first, but
after two or three weeks she got her groove and announced the number of days in
her streak with obvious pride.
think one key to long term success was setting the short term bar low. Thirty minutes of practice was the ideal, but
on a late night, just 5 minutes of scales would keep the streak going.
trick was a monetary incentive plan-one dollar per hour of practice was
earmarked for the purchase of a fancy cello case. We keep track on the calendar and celebrate
each 100th consecutive practice with cheers, sparkling cider, and a
bonus $20 towards the cello case.
have been sticky situations: overnight field trips, airplane rides, visits to
grandma. We navigated all of these by
asking, "Do you want to keep your streak going?"
always, the answer was yes.
we've taken a later flight to allow for practice before going to the
airport. My little cellist has skipped
recess to practice at school if there's a sleepover that night. We've hiked with the cello, and rented a
cello, and done pretty much anything we could to not miss a day.
practicing is her deal and she knows it.
And I think that's another reason why this has worked. "The Streak" is something she controls. And with an older sister playing flashy
concertos on the violin, "The Streak" gives my younger daughter an impressive
accomplishment for any player-beginner or advanced.
don't know if this would work for other kids.
My child always LIKED her cello, but it was a challenge to get her
started on practicing. Thanks to "The
Streak" I just mention that bedtime is in 90 minutes and she scurries off to
take out her instrument.
course the whole thing may fall apart once we get to 365 days, but right now,
it's like magic.
if I could just find some magic to get her to clean her room....
When my wife is out for the evening,
sometimes I cook something delicious and healthful for myself and my three-year-old
son. Other times, I heat up some
leftovers. And, then, sometimes, we just
One place I like to go near our
house is a kid-friendly alehouse. On a
recent visit, my son ordered one of his favorites from the kid's menu, the mac
and cheese, and he ate it with gusto.
The next night, my wife was also out, and though it had not been my
intention earlier in the day, I decided we would go out that second night as
well. We went to a different place, one
I hadn't been to in a long time. I
looked at the menu while my son did some coloring. When the waitress came to take our order, she
explained to my son and me that there were two children's items that were not
shown on the menu - mac and cheese and chicken strips. This set the stage for me to learn, over the
next 15 seconds, an important parenting lesson.
My initial split-second reaction to
the children's menu was "Uh oh."
I knew my son would probably choose the mac and cheese, and I didn't
want to tell my wife (who is much more watchful about our son's diet than I am)
that he had mac and cheese two nights in a row.
However, I wasn't prepared or willing to remove that choice, so I just
waited for his reply, hoping he would spare me that uncomfortable conversation
with my wife. I was thinking to myself
silently and urgently "Chicken!
"Mac and cheese," he said. I turned to the waitress, with a knowing
look, and said, "Now there's a shock!", making a little sarcastic fun
of the situation. My son paused for a
second, taking it in. Then he said, a
little sadly, "I changed my mind, I'll have the chicken." Oh did I ever feel like a jerk. How low can a man sink, to make fun of his
child in front of a stranger? I told
him, "It's OK, you can have the mac and cheese." But by that point, it didn't matter. Nothing could take back my hurtful comment.
What happened here? Fundamentally, I think my discomfort with the
situation just leaked out sideways as sarcasm.
When the waitress told us what was available on the kids' menu, I failed
to clarify for myself or my son whether or not the mac and cheese was truly an OK
choice. I was frozen for those few
seconds somewhere between my fear of my wife's disapproval, my own ambivalence,
and wanting my son to like his dinner.
So I just sat silently, pretending I didn't care either way, when in
fact, I did. This set me up for a bad
reaction when he chose the mac and cheese.
Also, after spending the day interacting with a pre-schooler, maybe a
part of me was trying to get a smile out of the waitress with a little humor. Whatever the cause, I ended up breaking one
of the most important rules I have set for myself as a parent - to never shame
Shame is one of our core
emotions. It is different from its
cousin guilt in that it gets at our identity, not just our actions. With guilt, we feel bad because we understand
that we've done a bad thing. With shame,
we feel that we are actually bad and unlovable.
Brené Brown, a professor and researcher who has written and lectured
extensively on shame, has said that shame is the fear that we will lose our
connection to others. As such, shame is
toxic to feelings of secure attachment.
Though shame can serve a healthy function when it helps to keep us in
line with social norms, it can also undermine our own sense of lovability and
I imagine that my son, picking up on
my snide tone, felt intuitively that he was being mocked for who he was, which
is to say, for being a perfectly normal three-year old who wanted mac and
cheese for dinner. He has no concept of
a balanced diet, or the least bit of concern about what my wife might
think. He just realized that, for some
reason, tonight, his dad was making fun of him for wanting mac and cheese. The message was, "you're not OK the way
you are", and that induced shame, and within a few seconds, his demeanor
changed, and he changed his order.
Another parent in my son's preschool
shared that one of her son's teachers told her "sarcasm is
poison." After this mac and cheese
incident, I know what she means. Our
young children are just learning the language.
They are also totally dependent on us as their parents and they need to
be able to trust us. Their sense of
safety and connection relies on the truth of our words. Sarcasm is poison because it is based on
lying - the meaning intended is exactly opposite of the meaning of the words
themselves. Sarcasm is not only
confusing to a young child, but it conveys powerful messages of disdain and
rejection. I can't think of a healthy
reason to be sarcastic with my son, or to model sarcasm in his presence.
Yet, despite all my best intentions,
and all my efforts to parent with intention and conscious awareness, I still
completely blew it that night. I'm
reminded, once again, that parenting can be pretty humbling.
Now, there's a shock.
Now that we have celebrated another Mother's Day, let's take
a moment to remember real reason for the
holiday. Being a mom isn't easy. A quick trip to the book store will reveal
the literally hundreds of parenting manuals currently on the market. One look and you will find yourself
surrounded by Tiger moms, positive and graceful parents, willful and star children
in legion! Who has time to read even a
fraction of all these titles, or knows whose voice to listen to in that
deafening cacophony? All this advice can
make a lifelong, challenging and rewarding task just seem daunting. Once, bringing up baby was a family affair
with Grandparents, aunts and uncles waiting in the wings to burp and diaper and
pass on their expertise. Modern parents
often don't have that luxury. This means
we are free to do it our way but that freedom does have a cost. And it
isn't easy. We mothers have to be firm and loving, and to help our children
develop healthy habits while our own habits are changed, basically forever, by
their arrival. We need to help children
develop positive self-esteem while honestly helping them strengthen their
weaknesses. We want to teach children self-discipline
while encouraging creativity. And that
is just before breakfast!!
And though we want to give them our time and undivided
attention, and enjoy their childhood, we also want to be productive, self-actualized
role models. As in our society this
mostly means being successful in a career, there is a tendency to see women as old-fashioned
and unhappy creatures if they don't work outside the home. Mothers are pitied for having to put their
‘real' lives on hold and often feel the need to justify a decision to care for
their own children. On the other hand we
are in danger of becoming overwhelmed and overtired if we do plunge back into
full-time work while caring for young children, literally holding down two jobs
at once. Dads are of course stepping up
more and more, both sharing the care and taking the role of primary
caregiver. This is a positive and
heartening trend, and still it is a rare mom who doesn't
struggle with the home versus work dilemma.
And whichever way we balance our lives there is always the
nagging worry that we are not doing it right.
We are none of us, fathers or mothers, going to be perfect parents no
matter how hard we try. To complicate
matters, a century of Freudian
psychology, and the materialistic model
of the human psyche that grew up around him, leave us as a generation of uncertain
parents, secretly afraid that we are going to ‘screw up' our own kids. Individually we may not have studied this
work, but nonetheless it pervades our culture, lurking below the surface. I don't doubt that there is true brilliance
and real usefulness in this model. The
hard part is that it can make us morbidly self-conscious, afraid every little
mistake we make will show up again 30 years hence, magnified exponentially, in
therapy! And mothers bear the brunt of
this, as our ‘natural' unconditional love is a child's first reference point in
a brave new world. That is a lot to
A young Canadian mother with a rambunctious and physical little
girl recently told me that since coming to the US a number of people, including
strangers, have offered her advice on therapies and solutions to help her rein
in her active child. This for a bright,
verbal and bouncy two year old! Another mother
starts to cry when she confesses to ‘losing it' with her child after a
frustrating and tiring day. We ask a lot
of ourselves and of each other.
So what does a mother really want for Mother's
Day, or any other day? Give her a
break! If you see a friend, a spouse or
relative looking a little grey, offer a day at the spa, a little humor, a
helping hand. Our kids need patience,
firmness, guidance, and love, from all caregivers. Moms are so much better able to act from the
heart, make unhurried intuitive decisions and enjoy their own children if they
are rested and unstressed. And if they
don't feel judged. Loving inquiry (Hey,
how are things going?) is more helpful than unsolicited advice almost every
time. We all have lots of decisions to
make, about work, schools, discipline and so on. We will all make mistakes, lose our tempers
and say or do things we are not proud of.
Happily children are nearly bottomless resources of true forgiveness. They look to us for love and to learn to love
themselves, and they learn by
example. These decisions and moments
make up the fabric of our lives; if we keep working to act with love and reflect
our own values we can't go too far astray. So if you fall short of your best intentions pick
yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again, and give yourself a
I learned a long time ago that the
best way to get good pictures of my 3 year old son was to take a lot and keep a
few. Like most little kids, he's usually
on the go and not very interested in posing for a camera. But for several months around his third birthday,
it got even harder than usual. In many
of the pictures from that period, he has an exaggerated, uneven squint, and his
teeth are bared in a pained-looking grimace.
What caught my attention was that
this new facial expression was not simply a product of the camera catching him
mid-blink or distracted. It seemed to be
an intentional mug on his part. After
noticing it a few times, I had an insight into what was going on. He was trying to smile.
What a mystery and a challenge this
must have been for him! Of course, he
knew what a smile was when he saw one in a picture, but how was he to know what
to do when an adult asked him to "smile" on command? How could he have possibly known which little
muscles in his face needed to move to perform a smile in the "right"
way? After all, it's not a natural thing
to do, to fake a smile and hold it for a few seconds. It's actually a complex social skill that
requires attention, fine motor control, and practice.
As I realized what he was trying to
do, I began to look forward to his grimaces.
I appreciated that I was witnessing a very particular developmental task
unfolding in slow motion over these months.
As parents, we all pay attention to the big milestones - walking,
speaking, toilet training, or learning to get dressed. But watching my son learning to smile made me
aware that kids have countless things to master, and much of it occurs outside
of our awareness, even as it's happening right under our noses.
One thing that was particularly
amazing to me was that this process of learning to smile for the camera was
entirely initiated and directed by my son.
With our "take a lot, keep a few" approach to photography, my
wife and I certainly weren't concerned about trying to get him to smile
perfectly for us. But just by being
around people taking pictures, and by looking at pictures, he seemed to
understand that something was expected of him.
He seemed to start with the idea
that smiling involved showing teeth.
What else could account for the gritty grimace and the reflexively
squinted eyes? At one point, posing for
a picture with his teeth bared and eyes scrunched up, someone who didn't know
any better said to him reprovingly, "That's not a nice smile!",
probably thinking that he was intentionally making a silly face. I felt bad for my son. He was doing the best he knew how. In hindsight, I wonder if I should have given
my son some smile coaching. However, I
can honestly say that it just didn't occur to me to help him learn to
smile. For better or worse, this was
something he was going to have to figure out on his own.
It took about 4 months for him to
get it. His squinty grimace has been
gone since November, and he looks better in the pictures we've taken
lately. However, I find that I miss that
funny grin. His attempts at a nice smile
were a visible reminder to me that growing up is not simply a physical process,
but is also filled with countless complex cultural skills that seem mostly to
be learned by osmosis. Speaking is one
of the big ones, but there are lots of little ones too. Taking turns.
Singing along. Family meals. Sitting quietly for story time or church. And of course, learning to smile.
in books and on screens are relatively recent innovations for humanity, but
stories themselves are the most ancient means of human sharing, teaching and
you remember listening to your parents or grandparents talk about their (mis)adventures
when you were a child? If you have ever
done the same with your own child, then you will be familiar with the request
for "a story from your mouth."
a kindergarten teacher, I always encouraged the parents in my classes to give
their children the experience of stories without books. Those who tried were surprised to discover
their inherent capacity to tell and even create stories for their
children. The title of this article
comes from a child who delighted at the stories that came not out of a book,
but out of the heart and mouth of a beloved parent.
easy way to begin telling stories is to recall your own childhood, as in "When
I was your age.... " This could be a story
about something that happened to you, perhaps an experience you had with your
siblings, a parent or grandparent. Try
remembering childhood holidays and summer vacations. You will be amazed at how the first couple of
stories will unleash the flow of memories.
The attentiveness of your child(ren) will help draw forth rich details
of events that you may not have thought about since the day they happened.
simple way to begin is to tell your child the story of his or her day. This works best if you tell it in the third
person. The main character could have your
child's name or another name. Children
will, of course, recognize themselves in either case. It can be very helpful to bring humor towards
rough patches of a child's day or resolution to difficult situations. This is a lot like wrapping up the events of
the day as a present and putting it beside the child's bed.
you get more comfortable with telling stories, you can also start making up
characters and taking them on adventures.
Children of two and three want simple, concrete stories of family, animals
and plants. For four and five year-olds,
there needs to be a problem and a resolution.
Children between six and nine need a little more drama.
can entertain, teach and heal. The
underlying gift for us all is the awareness that we are not just consumers, but
also the creators of stories! It won't be long before your children will be
making up and telling their own stories.
My oldest child has been asking for a cell phone for the
last five years. By turns demanding,
cajoling, piteous, and furious, she has run the full gamut of human emotion and
has taken her parents along for the ride.
Now we think, finally, it is time. She is increasingly independent, and traffic
being what it is around here, it seems artificial to continue relying on her
friends' cell phones to communicate late pick-ups and changes of plans.
But we didn't want the phone to be a graduation present or a
birthday present or a present at all. We
wanted her to regard it as a
responsibility. Inspired by the Family
Year post "Home Grown Rituals", I
set out to create a personalized quest, whereby my teenager could earn her much
coveted cell phone.
Since we viewed a phone as an adult responsibility, we
wanted her to approach it as an adult would-researching phone plans and
understanding the risks associated with using the product. This became the beginning of her "Task List"
which we renamed "The Cell Phone
We also wanted to introduce her to the broader world of
adult responsibilities-earning money, getting dinner on the table, and cleaning
up after one's self.
She particularly hates cleaning the bathroom and usually
manages to trade that chore with her sister.
Making it part of the Quest assures me that she won't go to college not
knowing how to clean a bathroom.
The Cell Phone Quest
$50 of your own money. Earned through
any safe, legal means including but not limited to: babysitting, odd jobs, and
extra chores. This money will be applied
towards your phone service.
and present a short (5-10 minutes) report comparing different cell phones and
cell phone service plans.
dinner for our family. You set the date,
the menu, create a grocery list, purchase groceries (with Mom's help and $$),
cook, serve, and clean up after a dinner for our family of four.
and present a report identifying potential health risks associated with cell
phone use and texting. Include your
plans for mitigating these risks.
minutes plus questions.)
the bathroom, yes the whole thing: sink, mirror, counter, toilet, tub and
floor. Mom will do it with you once. You
do it by yourself a week later.
My daughter thought
Tasks #2 and #4 were sensible and declared the others "totally random." Even after explaining our reasoning, she
maintained that cleaning a bathroom had nothing to do with being a responsible
adult. She may be right, but that's our
story and we're sticking to it. Besides,
we may never have a carrot this big to dangle in front of her again-so we're
going to make the most of it.! I'll let
you know how it turns out.
to look down over the Cascades from my aisle seat, I wish I had more a view of
the scenery, but perhaps it's good that I don't. Perhaps my heart
couldn't bare to see the expanse of miles and the rocky terrain that now
separate me from my baby. There's no going back now and, even if I could,
I know that I wouldn't. This trip is a necessity and not just because I
would never miss the wedding of my cousin, a surrogate sister, but also because
I resolved this time to be the end of my nursing relationship with my
thirteen-month-old son, Sam -- something that his health seems to be requiring,
but also something he clearly needs in order to develop as his own individual. The
miles that distance us now are enforcing that resolve, which I'm sure both him
and I need for this to be a success since, even though it is the right time,
separation is something neither of us want -- nursing bonded us intimately
We've been preparing for this for over a month, but it still seems hard to
believe that this morning was the last time I will ever nurse him.
No longer will I filter what goes into his body with my own; now he must
take it directly from the world and filter it himself. No longer will I
be able to soothe him back into sleep with the sweetness and warmth of the milk
my body has been making exclusively for him since he lived inside me; now he
will have to rely on only my caress, perhaps a bottle, and his own will to fall
We have endured separation before. At his birth I didn't think to mourn
the closeness we were sacrificing and barely blinked at the severing of our
cord. Though this original separation was bloody and dramatic, it was so
obviously well worth it to be able to look into his dark, innocent eyes, to
smell his sweet scalp, and to kiss his soft feet while holding him close
to my ***...
But this is now the end of the mystical period of time following the birth --
that time when we were one on the outside. I've seen this end approaching
for some months. First he began rolling away from me, then crawling and
walking. Now he's capable of running away from me and he does it with
such glee -- oh how this boy loves to be chased! The glimmer in his eye as he
peers over his shoulder waiting to see if I'll take the bait and play his game
and then that joyful shriek as he hops from one foot to the other (his starting
prance) and then takes off on his tip toes, hands drawn up to his armpits,
fists closing then opening rhythmically as they used to while he fed at my
Like the first separation, with this one comes many a new joy and I would be
dishonest not to say how much pleasure I am already finding in this new stage
of our relationship and of mothering (more giggles, less poop!), but, of
course, it comes at a cost -- out with the old in order to have in with the
new. So much of parenting is about just this it seems, about letting go.
If we don't, if we cling to what was, we miss the full experience of the
child who shares the present with us, the child who is constantly growing,
changing, leaving the old behind and running full force into the new -- but not
without that inquisitive glance over the shoulder asking if we will, indeed,
take the bait and stay present with him as he ventures forth.
It strikes me that how I meet that
gaze is everything. Will I run with my child, giving him my full love and
trust as he bounds forward into his future? Or will I stay behind,
longing for the irretrievable past, ambivalent to meet his gaze, which then
becomes ambivalent too?
Sam wants to run and it's time. I am grateful that, for now, he also
wants me close behind him, running also, cheering him on.
As my plane lands instead of distance, I feel the strength of love and know
that because of it my son will be fine these three days without me and that he
will thrive once weaned. My return gaze will not be doubtful. It won't be
aimed behind us both, but straight into his wonderfully joyful brown eyes.
My gaze will be the same as it was every time I looked down at him as he
nursed -- a look so full of love it connects us no matter how far the miles or
great the mountains, and no matter how far he runs into his future.
Imagine a young child (perhaps your own), wide open to the
world, watching and listening and totally absorbed in the creative exploration
of the moment. Enter a well-meaning
adult who greets the child and says, "How are you?"
Most toddlers won't respond at all. The shyest ones may even
look away or hide behind their parents.
Answering requires the capacity to be self-reflective, a capacity that
young children will not acquire until much later in their development. To answer any question requires knowing the
difference between subject and object, self and everything else. This awareness
arises only gradually.
When we ask children a question that it is not yet possible
for them to answer, we pull them out of their sensory, experiential and
imitative mode of learning. If we are
observant, we will notice that our query is not really understood, even if a
child has learned to make an appropriate response.
So what can we say?
We can still greet our little ones with a smile and a "Hello, it's so
nice to see you." This is a
communication that young children can understand and it does not demand a
response. Or we can notice what they are
doing. "You are pulling your wagon," or
"You have a new puppy!"
We can still inquire about the wellbeing of our adult
friends; the children who are present will take in the mood of our solicitousness
for future reference.
"How was your day?" is another question that children often
hear from their parents or other adults.
We'll talk about that in another article.
We recently awoke to enough snow at
our house for sledding and snowman making.
When we had finished breakfast, my three-year old son got down from the
table and began to play with some of his toys in our family room. "Ready to go out in the snow?" I
asked? "No, I want to stay in,"
he said. "We could make a
OK." "I see some children
sledding. Do you want to go
sledding?" "No. I want to stay in."
I was surprised, and a little
disappointed. I wanted to go out and
play with him. I was pretty sure we'd
both have fun. But he quite clearly
wanted to stay put. He was engaged in
his play, and was not interested in getting all his snow-gear on and heading
outside at that moment.
I watched his play for a while, and
when I thought he was ready to move on to something else, I again proposed
going out in the snow. "No, thank
you," he said. "I thought to
myself, "We only get a few snow days a year and it seems like we're just
going to miss this one." I felt sad
about the lost opportunity, but decided to trust that it would work out - maybe
after his nap.
Just then, I noticed that the
walkway to our house was covered several inches deep, so I decided that I could
at least go out and shovel it clear.
"I'm going out to do some shoveling," I announced to him and
my wife. "I WANT TO COME!" my
son said excitedly, dropping his toys.
"OK, then, let's get your snow pants and gloves on!" He hurried right over, eager to get into his snow
clothes and get started with this new project.
We spent the next two hours
outside. We started with the shoveling, and
then went on to making a snowman and sledding.
But it was the shoveling that most motivated him. I've read that play is children's work, but
this situation reminded me that, for my son at this stage, working is his
favorite form of play. Whether it's
helping to make breakfast pancakes, pulling weeds, or shoveling snow, he most
wants to be a real part of our family life and home.
Our society sometimes confuses
enjoyment with leisure - with being passive and entertained. But I see again and again in all areas of my
life, that the deepest enjoyment and fulfillment comes from engaging with
others in caring for each other and the world around us. What's amazing is that I don't have to find
this out by reading an ancient book of wisdom.
My three-year old knows it by heart.
term boundary is one I often hear as a parent.
It's a word that in definition isn't hard to understand. A boundary
denotes the beginning and end to something, like a boundary line of a property.
Children are always trying to find out what the limit is to something, testing
how far they can go. "How far can I push until I know I have hit the end of the
much do they really care?" For
example, my four year old will continue to take the dog out of the kennel after
we have told her not to, my nine year old will avoid cleaning his room to see
we will actually insist he do it, and my 12 year old will try to stay-up past
her bedtime, in hopes we don't say anything. These are just a few of the many,
daily insurrections my children will try in our home to see what they can get
away with. It can be tiring to say the least!
there are the questions "When can I get my ears pierced? Everyone else does!"
"Can we watch a PG13 movie? " "When can I get
my own cell phone?" "I don't want to go
skiing this weekend! Do we have to?"
Children keep asking, keep wanting, and they will go on and on, hoping
to wear us down. The easy thing to do
in the moment seems to be to just say "yes" and children know it. Sometimes I
just want to say "yes" just to make it stop, to make them ‘happy'!
we as parents are up against that dilemma, wanting to please our kids and
wanting to be true to who we are, that's when we feel unsteady and unclear.
Boundaries are more than what time bedtime is or what food we eat as a family.
They are how we care for ourselves and our children. We need to know what the end of the line is
for us so at any given moment so that we can feel grounded in just saying
"No" or "This is what we do as a family." The only way to know your true limits is to
know who you are as a family, what your values are and what you stand for. When
those values are clear and come to consciously, setting boundaries is easier,
quicker and less emotional. For a family
it requires really knowing who you are. (more on this in another write-up).
of our family values:
that play together stay together: "You are going skiing this weekend"
things in life are important to wait for: "You are waiting for piercing your
decisions may take some long and honest discussions between parents, or
soul-searching within ourselves, to come to.
It can be hard work but it is worth it.
Just remember, boundaries are like the walls and roof of our
houses. They protect our families and
keep us together, loved and attended to.
We all know that sleep is essential for rejuvenation, but if
you find yourself paddling hard all day long, you may also want to find a quiet
mooring place somewhere in the middle of the day.
Naps give younger children a chance to rest and recharge,
but calm times during waking hours are necessary for children of all ages to
balance their active taking in of new experiences. Parents also need time to reflect and center
Each of us has a different picture of that elusive place of
tranquility. When I was a young parent,
our main source of heat was a woodstove.
In the wintertime, we would sit and watch the fire. In warmer weather, we loved to lie on the
grass and watch the clouds. Every
afternoon, I made myself a cup of tea and took a break for ten or fifteen
minutes. The children knew instinctively
not to disturb me until I picked up my cup and carried it to the sink.
Some of the ideas below may resonate with you, or inspire
you to discover what works for you and your family. They include respites for the whole family, for
children, and for parents:
- Soothe young and old with
the rhythmic motions of a porch swing, glider or rocking chair.
- Pore over a beautiful
picture book, slowly, without speaking.
- Hum, strum or sing a quiet
melody while wrapped up in a blanket on the couch.
- Give older children a
gentle foot or back massage, or draw shapes and letters on their backs.
- Roll a skein of yarn into
- Knit or sew with your
children. Many toddler moms have
become avid knitters because of the relaxation it provides.
- Recall a happy memory and
together make up a little poem about it.
- Wash the dishes together,
enjoying the warm, soapy water.
- Sweep the floor in the
same frame of mind.
- Get outside and breathe
the fresh air.
- Take a walk around the
block. Look with your child's eyes;
notice what is around you.
Any activity done in an attentive mood can be restful and
restorative. The main point is to allow
yourself and your children to breathe out deeply, even for a short while. Your children will take in this important
lesson and your whole family will be healthier and more resilient.
Sometimes parents need to head off to their own tranquil
isle all by themselves. You won't need
directions, but you may need to be reminded that it is both permissible and
healthy to set anchor in that beautiful harbor now and again.
Why is the sun hot?
How fast can a cheetah run?
How did the dinosaurs get extinct?
Young children ask a lot of questions. Often when we take great pains to answer a child's question it can happen that the child will respond to our answer with "Why?", or another question, and so it goes on. When children ask questions what do they really want? Sometimes they want our attention or just to hear our voices; at other times, when they are confused or scared, reassurance is what they want. The challenge for the adult is to discover the reason behind the query and to find an imaginative answer that is both age appropriate and true. A five year old child asking about how fast a cheetah can run isn't really helped by a number pulled off Wikipedia, but by a living picture of something that makes sense in his or her world. Maybe, "Even faster than Jack the dog," is the right answer, or "Not fast enough to get past me and Daddy and into your bedroom!" It depends on the child and the age. And you might try answering the fifth why with "Because the sky is so high" and a kiss on the nose. Often that is enough!
Of course some questions are hard to answer. A young child doesn't really want to know if fairies or Santa Claus are real. The whole world to them is alive and full of magic. For them a whispered "Somebody ate those cookies we left out!" is probably just right. Or perhaps "What do you think?" For an older child (whose look lets you know that they are ready for more) we might say, "Everyone who is loving and giving helps Santa be real, and you are old enough now to help too!" opening the gate to a bright future of holiday surprises and fun.
In the grade school years there will be lots of time for children to pursue interests and treasure facts. Giving facts to young children is like giving them stones instead of bread. They aren't digestible and leave them hungry. A four year old girl I know always pretends to be a dinosaur of some kind or another. She knows the names and attributes of many diverse species, and it can make it hard for her to play with other children who don't know how many toes she is meant to have, or her precise size and so on. She will also tell me at some length about the great big meteor that slammed into the earth and made them all dead. A phrase comes to mind, one that can be abbreviated as TMI, Too Much Information! She is still trying to digest it all. I wonder if she is scared by the image of a giant meteor hitting the earth. It's a little scary for me!
As adults we know that we live in a stressful time, ourselves flooded by an information glut that can make us by turns apprehensive, depressed and overwhelmed. There are a lot of uncertainties in the future but one thing is quite sure, it will not help our children grow in the strength and confidence needed to meet the challenges of our age if they are allowed to worry about them too soon. In fact it seems to be a good rule of thumb to share with children only the problems and concerns that they can immediately help and do something about, even if it is only with a card or a bedtime prayer. Then instead of feeling powerless and paralyzed they can rise to the occasion and make a difference.
Donating a warm coat to a coat-drive or food to food bank as the cold winter weather approaches is a good way to meet the question "Why is that man with a sign sitting on the corner?" Life has been hard on him and we can help.
Questions truly listened to, and answered with warmth and imagination, meet our children where they are, engage them and give them comfort. Let's make a resolution to really listen to our inquisitive young ones and see what they are actually asking of us. <-->
season is upon us. For most of us it is
a time to connect with old friends and family with feast and festivity. For those of us who have chosen communities
and lifestyles a little outside the mainstream,
the holidays can be a source of stress too, as we try to explain to
Uncle Norman for the fourth time why it's not alright with us if the kids watch
‘a little TV for Pete's sake'. And what
about those Gameboys and Bratz, that you have been so careful about, sneaking into
your house in lovely gift wrap? It is no
fun to feel like the Grinch at Christmas time, or be the party pooper at a
Chanukah party. What can we do about
all, as the holidays approach, spend a little time finding out which limits are
really important to you as a family and which things can slide just a
little. Pick your battles. Then let your loved ones know, kindly and
gently, before they shop or plan a party, what will work for your family. This may mean having to say no to some
events. Consider meeting the group after
the movie or trip to the arcade for a hot chocolate or ice skating. And be creative. My kids were practically in middle school
before they learned about batteries. At
our house, objectionable toys would just ‘break' and be quickly forgotten and
your loins and practice your arguments a little
- reading an article or two in Family Year might help with this. Then you will be less likely to be annoyed
when asked to explain your choices.
Sometimes our own parents are the hardest to convince. They can feel judged if we are choosing to do
things differently than they did.
Perhaps remind them that they must have done something right (to have
such an upstanding son/daughter as you!) but that the world has changed and
needs new approaches.
stand your ground. My kids can't stay up that lat; I want them to have as good a time
sledding tomorrow as they had today. The next morning when all the cousins are
whiney and your kids are suited up and chirpy, just remember NOT to say I told
may be a bit more work, consider hosting friends and relatives at your
place. It is a little easier to keep
healthy habits and limits on your own home turf. You might want to pre-plan a lively activity,
something special. Get out dress-ups,
rig up a stage and let the kids put on a play, or just play a good old game of
your sense of humor and be of good cheer.
If you are lucky enough to have a partner with whom you can sneak a
moment to laugh about it all, go ahead and do it. Plan a massage or day at the gym or spa to
keep loosened up. Then create your own
traditions for your family that reflect your values and share them with those
Lucianne Hackbert is a wife, mother, artist, and proud parent of two boys.
Trained as a clinical psychologist, Luci has been developing programs for
children and families since 2007. For more information about her classes and
workshops that integrate creativity, movement, and mindfulness practices
visit www.tendingtothesoul.com and www.campselfdiscovery.com.
Arriving at my
children's school a few minutes before the 1:15 pick-up for first graders is a
perfect time to watch the children at recess. What a delight to see first
graders walking on wood stilts, fourth graders jumping on pogo sticks, and
sixth graders calmly aiming their bows and arrows. Witnessing the children's
simple joy for playing outside, my day brightens. I love the hollow thud of the
kick-ball when it meets with a well-timed foot, and I feel my own exhilaration
watching the full arc of its air-borne journey. What a wonderful feeling of
relief with a secure catch!
children engrossed in play, I also recognize a sense of separateness. I am an
observer, a bystander eager to participate while respectfully acknowledging
that I will not be asked to join the fray. Now that my two sons are in the
grade school, they each have begun to find a unique personal trajectory amongst
their cadre of classmates. Sometimes I get a glimpse of who they are in this
separate existence--the world of school. Standing at a safe distance at this
precious mid point in my day, I take note which children they seek out in play,
how they move on the play yard, and what games hold their attention.
Volunteering at the
school has become a clear way for me to hold on to a sense of connection to my
children while respecting that the space between us is broadening. Simple acts
like sewing aprons for the classroom align me with their daily rhythm. I
am starting to notice that these small gestures of care feed me on a deep
level. I feel my role as a mother being re-defined and expanded to include the
larger community. Spending time in the classroom, I feel camaraderie with other
parents. Just last week I noticed a new beautifully hand crafted wooden rack
holding the children's mugs in the third grade classroom. I picture my son
stopping to consider the wooden rack (its lovely purple color that of royalty!)
and meet the hands of the parent who built it.
Moving toward the
Winter Spiral, I want to clear the inner spaces of my heart, as well as the
hearth, acknowledging that winter is upon us. The expansive growth of summer
has been replaced by a slower and perhaps more contemplative time. Clearing out
clutter in my home, organizing arts and craft supplies, I check to see that we
all have enough warm wool socks and mittens. Like the beautiful mug rack, I
want to put things in place.
I have been thinking
about the idea of spiritual stewardship. This phrase came to me as I was trying
to put words to frame my relationship to our community. Often when I am working
at home, my efforts feel repetitive and isolating. When I gather with other
parents to work at school, or welcome other parents into my home to join forces
on a school project, I feel more useful. With our coordinated efforts we
can get so much done! But there is more to it than commonplace productivity.
Have you ever noticed that when we work as a collective a joyful attitude seems
more accessible? At home, when I face yet another load of laundry sorting
through pockets to remove the sticks and rocks that will clog the drain, I try
to infuse these mundane tasks with an element of reverence. The root for
reverence comes from revere, which is also the derivative for Venus. I remind
myself that Venus is the goddess of love, beauty and natural productivity. Is
it possible that by bringing beauty and intention in alignment with an attitude
of love and care I can connect to something beyond the confines and constraints
of my individual frustrations?
Stewardship is an
ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources that
belong to someone else. For many of us, the ideal of land stewardship is
familiar and we view the natural world as a resource worthy of our
attention. As I look at my home and garden, the school campus, I wonder
whether bringing all of my efforts to bear on these environments can help to
better hold my children, and deepen my experience of community. In the
words of MC Richards, a potter, poet, and Steiner-advocate, can we experience
the school as a place for personal and social renewal?
parents, we can share this task of being spiritual stewards for our children,
our community, and our school. On a recent morning, we park our car at
the church and start walking down the hill. As I wave at friends and the
police officer, my children run ahead. By the time my feet hit the wooden
planks of the small bridge crossing over the creek, I am alone. From atop the
winding stairway, I look out over the campus. I can easily imagine that what I
am seeing in the campus is a huge ship, safely moored in a friendly harbor but
leaning out toward the sea and the next adventure. It needs some
maintenance, some provisions, and a crew for the long-voyage ahead.
Although I am not sure that an eye-patch will look good with my new winter
coat, I know that I am needed as a steward on this ship. I know that over the
coming days and years, these voyages will be longer and longer, as our crew
becomes ever more confident to travel into distant lands and uncharted
territories. We can share this task of preparing for whatever lies ahead. We
need to be tactful as we chart the course for our school and diligent about how
we use our resources. But let's also appreciate the opportunity to celebrate
each trip with an air of appreciation for the beauty and mystery of the
journey. Spiritual stewardship, though unlikely ever uttered on a pirate ship
of yore, is the concept that feels relevant to me, and I hope that these words
inspire you to reflect about your relationship to our community as well.
How do we celebrate the important moments in our lives and
mark the important transitions? I once
taught a girl from a large Jewish family.
Not very big on going to synagogue, the mother of these children worked
hard to bring their faith and culture into their lives and home. For the family Passover celebration, for
instance, they‘d forgo the formal Seder.
Instead, working together, the children had to mix a dough, light a fire
in the backyard and make, bless and eat Matzo in under an hour (the Pharaoh was
coming, you see, and the people were on the move!) My class was lucky enough to be included in
this home grown ritual and it was a joy.
When it was time for the eldest daughter's Bat Mitzvah, the mother took it on with the
same aplomb. The girl was given a year
to prepare herself and asked to complete a number of tasks which included, among
other things, researching and making a family tree, shopping for and cooking
dinner for her brothers and sisters and choosing and completing a community
service project. She grew so much that
year in both skills and confidence that it was clearly right to acknowledge her
on her next birthday with a celebration, a gathering of family and friends to welcome
her into the community of adults.
My only question at the end of this process was "Why don't
all of our young people get to have this?"
Without the recognition of the adult community as they approach
adolescence, many of our young teen-agers flounder. They know and feel that something is changing
in them but may have nothing concrete to judge it by or give it voice. Popular culture provides images of
adolescents as little consumers, defining themselves by what they own. Think of
the things that pass for rites of passage today; a first cell phone or solo
trip to the mall or first car. In response
to this absence young people seem to be trying to initiate themselves. Much of gang behavior, in which we see adolescents egging each other on to acts of
foolhardy courage with drugs, crime and sex without love, can be seen as
attempts to ‘prove' that the member has left childhood behind. Without some meaningful event to mark their
changing consciousness children seem to be becoming teen-agers ever earlier and
real 'grown-ups' late if ever.
Instead this girl had
been asked by the adults who loved her to stretch and grow and define herself, and
then was really seen and recognized for
what she was, no longer just a child but a woman in the making. She was given both new rights AND new responsibilities
to go with her new position. How many of
us had that as young adolescents and how would it have changed our perceptions
of ourselves and the world if we had?
The small touches added to the festivities (which was held in their
home) a lit candle, the sharing of a song, were ancient but also new, acts refreshed
by the laughter and intention of those who performed them. If we do not have a tradition to guide us in
the form that such celebrations of life passages might take, we may have to grow
them ourselves. We can start small,
with the family rituals, special foods, stories and verses that adorn the
little rhythms of the day, week and year.
Then when the big changes come we may have the courage and forethought,
with the help of the larger community, to rise and offer a meaningful and
positive event like this to all our children to help them take the right first
step toward adulthood.
Teaching our children our values about money and finance is
a tricky proposition. On the one hand we
want them to learn to value and save money, so we help them start piggy banks
and ask them to help us as we budget, cut coupons, look for sales and so
forth. On the other, we want to instill
in them a sense of generosity, an openness that reflects our deepest beliefs
that as humans we share with one another and help those in need. In the previous article on Kids and Money we spoke about setting up a system in which
allowance money could be divided into lots; some to spend, but also some to save
and some to give as a gift to a worthwhile cause.
While I was working with a middle school class, raising
money for an exciting field trip we planned to take at the end of 8th
grade, a parent brought to me a marvelous way to teach somewhat older children both
of these values at once in a way in which everybody wins. The solution was an investment in a micro-lending
organization called Oikocredit.
Mowing lawns, baby-sitting and walking dogs, these 6th
grade students together saved $1000 dollars.
We took the money and invested it
in Oikocredit, (the name Oiko derives from the Greek for home or hearth) which then took our principle and lent it out
in small parcels of approximately $50 each to striving people worldwide. Recipients
might use the money to buy a sewing machine, a push cart, a small amount of
stock for a shop-front store or a small flock of chickens, things that in turn generate
a steady and sustainable income. The short
term loan is paid back (and the success rate of loans that are paid back in
full on-time is phenomenally good!) with a fair interest. This interest is used in part to pay the original
investors (the kids) who make 2% per
year on their savings, and also to pay the staff and run the company.
Access to equitable credit is yet another burden which
weighs upon the poorest people in the world.
With nothing to secure a loan, they are often forced to turn to loan
sharks who charge exorbitant rates, often upwards of 50%, and use a person's
health and safety as collateral. By
investing in a micro-finance organization like Oiko we can help to break the cycle
of poverty, not with a hand-out but with a hand up. All this appeals to the sense of fairness
and the new understanding of the world in our older children, from the age of
12 or so, and they are now also ready and able to learn more about the business
world, loans and savings and interest, in a way that connects with something
concrete - we give something and we gain something. In a changeable market, micro-finance
organizations can also be a safe place for long term savings, like college
funds, that will help secure our children's future.
For more information about Oikocredit , go to their website.
an article from The
Well Being Journal
psychologist Robert Holdren, author of the best-selling book Happiness NOW! and father of a young daughter, postulates
that there are three categories of happiness: Pleasure, Satisfaction and Joy.
defines Pleasure as the positive
things we experience through our physical senses. Pleasure awakens when we feel alive in, or
come to life through, our senses, for instance in savoring a great cup of
coffee or a genuine connection with a friend or loved one. In deep pleasure, we
discover at-one-ment. Pleasure is the
enjoyment of the richness of life.
Satisfaction he defines as
circumstantial happiness, a happiness that comes from getting what you want or
achieving your desires. We can achieve
job satisfaction, be satisfied by a loving relationship, or by getting the
house of our dreams. Satisfaction is the result of the thought "I am happy
because I just landed a new client, or bought a new dress." It comes from fulfilling cherished desires or
finding meaning in certain activities.
Satisfaction can also arise from the sense that we are advancing,
learning and growing. No matter what it what it stems from, satisfaction is the
by-product of cause and effect. The downside to this is that true happiness
cannot exist in reaction to something external.
Since the absence of something we crave causes suffering, satisfaction
is short-lived as we humans adapt so quickly to favorable circumstances. Things
that use to satisfy us, a new car, new computer, or friend, don't satisfy us
for very long. This type of happiness is dependent on our minds and on the
holds up Joy as the very soul
of happiness. We often feel joy when we
are not chasing pleasure and stop satisfying our ego. It is the sense of well-being that can come
in the busiest day and the most adverse circumstances. He writes that the more you tune into joy and
let yourself feel it the more you learn about true happiness. Joy is a
practice, and it is not out there or in here, but everywhere. It does not
depend on a cause or effect to exist and one of its strongest qualities is
newness, a pausing in the moment. Unlike Pleasure and Satisfaction, Joy does not induce a
craving for more, because joy is enough. Unless one cultivates an awareness of
joy no amount of pleasure or satisfaction can make them happy. The more you turn
toward the joy that already exists in your soul the more you will expand your
capacity to enjoy pleasure and satisfaction.
refers, to some extent, to all three categories of happiness, it is for the
most part a systematic approach to achieving pleasure and satisfaction. So
though it can be very helpful to set simple and realistic goals and make time
for the things you love, if we don't also work to find a deeper connection to
the well-spring of joy, which is not affected by external circumstances, true
happiness, or so says Holdren, is hard to find.
Two children come running into the room speaking, if it can
still be called that, at top volume.
There are tears, name-calling and even an attempt to get in one more
pinch for good measure. And then the
cascade of explanations starts. You would have to be a Supreme Court Justice to
untangle some of the knotty disputes that children, especially siblings, can
get into! What can we do?
Once upon a time these children might have been spanked and
separated, leaving bad feelings to brew.
Or perhaps a ‘guilty' party and a ‘victim' selected and dealt with
accordingly. As modern parents and
teachers we try hard to step in and guide our children to a détente,
restitution and hopefully a new perspective, and this is not always easy.
Of course we all agree that pinching or kicking someone, or
breaking their things, isn't right. It
is not OK and we don't do that in our family or classroom. The first thing to be done then is to show
your disapproval and put an end to the behavior. What next?
It is easy at this point to ask for the story, What happened? Sometimes
this works, but often it is like pouring gasoline on smoldering leaves. Up come all the hurt feelings and
recriminations. The children get lost
again in the details of the conflict and it starts all over again!
I learned a simple
response that works like a magic ointment, soothing, healing and allowing for
new growth. Frequently, what children
want more than anything is to be seen and heard, even for a moment. If we can remember at this point to pause
and notice the child with positive attention the difficult dynamic can be
changed. All afternoon you two have been playing so well together : or at
school I hear that you are really good at sharing:, or whatever it is that you can
say truthfully. Then you can go on to ask for the story
or discover the cause of the conflict, in a way that recognizes the emotions
and the hurt of both children. "What happened just now that made you so
That moment you take to affirm the child's victories can be
the door into a different mood and calls
the child into a better and higher place.
He or she feels that his/her efforts have been recognized, and
recognizes the truth in what you have said
(Yes, often I do behave better
than I am doing now). Instead of
feeling blamed, or wishing to lay blame on the other, the child can feel part
of a process or solution. The
explanation of the problem that comes next is often more even-handed, less
charged and more open to suggestion. At
this point, you can work together to find a creative solution, a way to handle
the situation more positively, or do it over.
Can you fix what is broken
together? If it happens again that he
starts playing ball near your house of cards, what could we do? Does
that work for both of you? It is
more important here to let the children make up in a real way for the wrongs
they have done than to force an insincere apology, though a real one sometimes
comes of itself.
Noted teacher and psychologist Kim John Payne, the
developer of the Social Inclusion Curriculum, made this technique into a little
mnemonic, easy to remember and therefore more likely to be useful in the heat
of the moment. He calls it DADD (Disapprove,
Affirm, Discover and Do-over) and with practice you can use it to help diffuse
even the most heated conflicts.
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Once the children are in bed, there are so many things that
a parent may want to do. Getting ready
for the next day is probably not high on the list. Still, a few minutes strategically spent in
the evening can help avoid potential stress for both children and parents and
dramatically change the mood of the morning.
Here are some suggestions:
In the bedroom: Remind your older children and help the
younger ones to lay out their clothes for the next day. If children are in a picky phase, you can
offer two possible outfits and let them choose one or the other or some
combination. Allowing a child to choose
from a variety of acceptable possibilities is much less likely to lead to a
parent or child meltdown.
In the kitchen: Clean and set out the lunch containers on the
counter. Decide what the lunch menu is
going to be. Look for an upcoming post
on packing wholesome lunches. Some items
may be able to be packed already. Put
the ice packs in the freezer.
In the dining room: Set the table for breakfast. Decide what you are going to serve. Soak oats or other grains overnight for quick
cooking in the morning.
In the entry: Make sure everyone's outerwear is in order
and that backpacks, homework, musical instruments and sports equipment are
sitting by the door and ready to be picked up on the way out. If there were any requests from the teacher or
the school, get those things together and put them near the door as well..
Now you can answer those emails, make that phone call or
curl up on the couch with a book, knowing that you have done your best to
smooth the way through the coming morning.