Our goal with this site is to bring joy, balance & harmony to daily life, even for one moment. We invite you to be in dialogue with us to answer any question you may have on parenting, education, life etc. We are here to be in conversation with you to discuss what matters most right now. Any question you may have- others may have as well and would benefit from our dialogue.
Please post your questions here.
We look forward to building community & conversation with you.
September is always a blur of new schedules for our
family: school, carpools, cello lessons,
soccer practices, etc. But by October, I
feel like we've settled into the new routines, and it's time to look up and
take in the world again.
What do I see? Well
truth be told, it looks like the month is just one long run up to
Here at Family Year we love a good festival, and Halloween
with its costumes (Talking to
Kids about costumes) and treats
(Alternatives to Halloween
Candy) and parties
(Halloween Party) is no exception.
But there's so much more to October.
October is biting into a crisp apple after a summer's worth
of slurping meltingly ripe peaches. It's
a trip to the pumpkin patch
(Tall Small or Plumply Round), and remembering those departed with a memory table (Making a Memory Table).
It's a time for cooking beets
(The Wonders of Root Vegetables) and bringing the harvest home by
filling the pantry (Filling the
Most of all it's a time for courage. Whether it's the omnipresent media (The Courageous Parent) or friends lobbying your
child to get a Facebook (Social
Media and Girls) account, our days can seem steeped in a world of images
and expectations we'd rather not face. But get clear and be strong by teaching
your child to protect themselves as Wendy Mogel models for us in Blessings of a
My daughter, Grace, started playing competitive
sports when she was seven years old. I had never been involved in sports as a
child or an adult, so I found the sports sideline fun and perplexing. Observing
the post-game mêlée of packaged junk food flying into hungry mouths of children
disturbed me, especially since I teach family nutrition and cooking with whole
foods at a university. As if holidays, birthdays and the kid's menu in
restaurants didn't create enough excuses for feeding children poor food, here
was yet another excuse for a sugar frenzy. At the very moment when the body
needs an intense refueling of nutrient-rich foods, parents unknowingly doled
out snacks such as Ding-Dongs.
As my daughter became a more skilled player and
selected to be on more competitive teams, she played in tournaments every
weekend. So making sure that she had the fuel to maintain her performance
became crucial. Not only was I motivated by to help my daughter maintain the
starting position she wanted, I had become invested in the whole team. I wanted
all the players on the team to be empowered by their food choices.
I sought the help of my colleague, Dr. Scott
Murdoch. He has a doctorate in nutrition and human performance and is also a
Registered Dietitian as well. But more importantly, he was also an athlete who
competed in triathlons and professional tennis. Dr. Murdoch is a science
nonfiction kind of guy with all sorts of facts, and the research to back them
up. I would translate the complex data he gave me into language that could be
comprehended by a young athlete or put into recipes I could make in my kitchen.
Then, I'd try the food and the timing of eating with my daughter's team.
They won a lot of games.
I was happy to see that with some simple nutrition
education, the players on the teams (my daughter played soccer all through
middle school, high school and college) began to feel the connection between
food and athletic performance. Pumped about sharing what I was learning with
players and coaches, I generated handouts and folders, and finally with too
many pages to wrangle, this book began to emerge.
Young people who are physically active benefit from
better health, confidence and well-being. For activity to be truly healthy and
enjoyable, however, children need to eat wholesome foods. Both Dr. Murdoch and
I believe that being physically active without eating wholesome foods, or
eating wholesome foods without any activity, is simply self-defeating.
There is a huge rise in the number of young people
participating in sports, yet there is a dearth of easy-to-understand and
practical information on the topic of sports nutrition for kids. Bastyr
University, where both Dr. Murdoch and I have taught, is a school on the
cutting edge of medicine and nutrition. The nutrition department combines the
best of modern scientific research with the wisdom of promoting natural, whole
foods. Using our combined backgrounds in exercise physiology, sports nutrition,
whole foods cooking and family nutrition, we have created a practical,
easy-to-read resource to fill this gap.
In this expanded second edition, we've reorganized
our discussion to highlight what to eat, when to eat and how to shop, so
players can be mindful about snacks they can pack or food to buy when they're
traveling to a distant game. Appreciating the crammed schedules of those who
are involved in team sports, we organized the book using lists and key
takeaways. Families and teams can grasp at a glance the reasoning behind our
guidelines, as well as ways to apply them.
One further addition is that the title now
specifies the book as an educational resource for players, parents AND coaches. This
had been implied in the first edition but never spelled out. Considering the
impact that coaches can have on young people, it seemed important to call them
to action. When the coach is on board with helping players understand the
impact of food on performance, the message is more likely to be heard and
Although this book is ideal for individuals
participating in organized sports, the information is applicable to anyone who
has a physically active lifestyle.
While we all feel pressed for time, the push to
COOK is less of an undertone and more of a directive in this edition. A small
percentage of kids who play sports go on to play in college. An even smaller
fraction of those will play professional sports. But I hope young athletes will
carry their appreciation for movement into adulthood and also carry forward
their knowledge of the relationship between food and the body. Seeing and
practicing the skill of cooking increase the likelihood that the food-body
relationship will be a positive one.
This is a golden opportunity! Eating well increases
energy, endurance, and the ability to concentrate, both on and off the field.
Players who eat and drink well have an edge over their competition, especially
in the second half of the game, the second game of the day, or the second half
of the season. Educating young players, parents and coaches about sports
nutrition offers a gateway to improve performance and lifelong eating habits.
EAT BETTER TO PLAY YOUR BEST!
Click here to order Feeding the Young Athlete by Cynthia Lair
Here is a
different take on watermelon salad-this version is spicy and sweet and perfect
for a hot summer day.
the salad, mix the following ingredients together in a mixing bowl:
¼ of a large watermelon, cut into cubes
jalepeno, finely diced
red onion, thinly sliced
small handful of fresh cilantro leaves
separate bowl, mix together the following ingredients to make the dressing:
of 1 lime
tablespoons of olive oil
tablespoon of honey (tip: measure out the olive oil first, then use the same
measuring spoon for the honey-this way the honey does not stick to your
and pepper to taste
dressing onto the watermelon mixture and gently toss. The salad should be dressed no more than a
few minutes prior to serving-the flavors should have a little time to blend,
but not enough time for the salad to become soggy.
proportions are enough to serve 2 or 3 people.
For summer lawn parties or barbeques, you may multiply the ingredients.
Do you have your own watermelon salad recipe? Share it in the comments below!
I was skeptical when I first saw at this salad on the snack
table at a conference that I was attending, so I took a small helping. I came back for seconds, though and would
have come back for thirds, if there had been any left. It was a hot, muggy day and nothing could
have been more refreshing.
What makes this salad so unique is the blend of sweet,
savory and salty ingredients. To a large
bowl of watermelon chunks add pine nuts, crumbled feta cheese and fresh basil
leaves. I am generous with these
ingredients, but you can vary the proportions of all three to suit your own
taste. Drizzle with olive oil and a few drops of white wine or balsamic vinegar
and toss everything together gently.
Serve as an afternoon snack or a side dish to a summer meal
that suits the palate of both children and adults and is a beautiful to look at
as it is to eat. I have no doubt that your guests will be coming back for
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.
My children and I are spending this summer in
the anvil hot Midwest. The heat's a bit
of a shock for my Pacific Northwest bred brood, but boy does it bring back
memories for me: setting up a lemonade
stand, decorating my bike for the neighborhood 4th of July parade,
sitting in the way back of the blue station wagon from Wisconsin to California (and
This will be the summer your children remember.
Our stand sold lemonade that came powdered in a
can. Think how much more fun it would be
to offer (and make) lemonade with fresh
herbs. And if you have
entrepreneurial children, Kids and Money is definitely worth a look.
I also remember summer as a time for
reading-cradled in the breezy crook of an old willow tree. But if reading is a struggle for your child,
a post from one of our favorite guest
writers, Susan R. Johnson, offers food for thought.
If you'll be traveling with your kids this
summer we have suggestions
and tips for taking some of
the rough edges off travel. And if
you're staying home (or staying in one place), a summer picnic may
be just the memory maker you're hoping for.
Finally, I remember being bored in the
summer. Which, as it turns out, might
have been a great gift from my parents.
Check out this article from the Atlantic to see what I mean.
Thanks for visiting! All of us at Family Year wish you a memorable
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....
May I be a father who is:
to myself, my spouse and my son. May I
act in ways that build trust.
to participate with my full attention in the big and little events of my son's
life, experiencing the joy of everyday life.
Less iPhone, more eye contact.
in word and deed, balancing my fear, anger and appetites with faith, compassion
and self-discipline. Aristotle and
Thomas Aquinas believed that temperance (prudence) was the most important
virtue, helping us discern how best to apply all the others.
in my habits. Would I want my son to
grow up to have the same kinds of relationships that I have today with my body,
work, family, friends, alcohol and drugs, media, money, sex, food, sleep? If not, let me work on those things in me.
in my presence, so my wife and son will know that I'm there for them
emotionally. When that's the case, I
feel closer to them and we can solve problems more effectively.
in my treatment of my wife and son, even when we disagree. They will respect me because I treat them
with respect and act respectably, not because I demand it.
Any day I make progress in these
areas is FATHER's day.
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.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, June starts out so cool and
damp that sometimes it's hard to imagine the glories of summer that lie just
But bite into a local strawberry and it will all come flooding back.
Soon, warm breezes will entice you to hang out the laundry with
your kids, and walk (or run!) barefoot in the grass. Then slow
down and savor the lingering afternoons of summer with a tea party given for your children and their best
The days are getting longer, but the season is short. Thanks for spending a few moments of it here
with us at Family Year!
average American child now spends over eight hours in front of a screen
each day, emailing, texting, surfing and updating their status
constantly. Play Again is a documentary that looks at our
children's relationship with technology and nature today and how their
lifestyle may affect the future of our planet. It follows a group of
kids who agree to unplug in order to spend four days in the wilderness.
Meg Merrill, the producer of Play Again talks about the film and the youth featured in the film in this piece aired in May, 2012 by KBCS 91.3 FM on their program, Music + Ideas.
Click here to listen
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
really enjoyed Quiet and highly recommend the read. This unusual book is
successful in helping people see introverts in a new way, and perhaps most
importantly in helping introverts see themselves more clearly.
Cain does a nice job exploring the extroverted ideal and explaining how it has impacted our culture, in our
school systems as well as in the corporate environment, and challenging the
disproportionate value given to the extrovert. She takes the reader on an
inspiring journey beginning at Dale
Carnegie's birth place and leading us though a series of unexpected landmarks
including a Tony Robbins seminar, Sunday morning at a Mega Church and a
peek inside Harvard Business School. Throughout the book she sites real
research in psychology and neuroscience which reveals surprising
biological differences between extroverts and introverts. She also includes stories of real people,
some of whom are highly successful introverts.
Along the way she definitely challenges the ways in which forced
extroverted collaboration may in fact be a barrier to productivity, creativity
and innovation; an interesting concept to contemplate for both our school
cultures and corporate environments.
it is true, as research suggests, that one third of the people we know are
introverts (and many more are ambiverts, folks with both extroverted and
introverted qualities) this book is a worthwhile tool to help us understand those
who prefer listen to talking, small groups to large social events and the
individual creative act to self promotion, and those who at school and in the
workplace perform better working individually than in large collaborative
about you? Your spouse? Your kids? Where do you think you fall on the
spectrum? Are we willing to let our
loved ones, and ourselves, be who we are, be productive and find fulfillment in
the way that best suits us? Susan Cain
suggests that understanding this vital part of our mental and emotional make-up
can help us to better do just that.
can be passionate about rhubarb. I am
one of those people. Rhubarb, along with
artichokes and asparagus, are the tastes that I long for most in late
spring. Though rhubarb is often matched
with fruit in sweet dishes, it's actually a vegetable. While most people prize rhubarb for its tangy
taste, it is also good for you- full of fiber, potassium and vitamin C.
are whole websites devote to rhubarb, its history and how to grow it. It is also called the "Pie Plant." My
mother-in-law always made rhubarb pie for me when I came to visit. But rhubarb is extremely versatile. One website boasted of 300 different recipes. Besides making terrific crumbles and crisps,
it also makes delicious compotes,and chutneys, glazes and jams, sorbet and
smoothies, and even cocktails!
have two rhubarb plants in my garden and when I need a quick dessert or side
dish, I pick a few stalks and make a rhubarb sauce. The stalks are the edible part of the
plant. In the market, you will only see
the bright red stalks, already trimmed from their large green leaves. The
leaves are very high in oxalic acid and are not edible. Rhubarb is most often combined with
strawberries, but if local strawberries are not yet in season, I will use
whatever berries I have in the freezer from last summer.
and cut up rhubarb stalks into I inch pieces.
Put 3 cups of chopped rhubarb into a saucepan with 1 cup of water and ½
cup of sugar or 1/3 cup of honey. You
can add ½ to 1 c berries or substitute berries for up to 1 c of rhubarb. If you substitute berries for rhubarb, you
can reduce the amount of sugar or honey.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. (Flavors
that are sometimes added to the sauce are lemon, thyme or ginger.) Serve warm or cool, with a dollop of crème
fraiche, yogurt or ice cream. The sauce
will keep well in the refrigerator for a few days. It can also be frozen.
sauce is so easy and so tasty, that after a few bites, I am guessing that the
whole family will want to join the club! Check out the rhubarb websites for
more inspiration and amazing recipes.
What makes May so merry?
Is it the explosion of flowers, or the symphony of birdsong,
or just the warming sunlight that makes this time of year so gay? There's only one way to find out--jump in and
experience this month in all its glory.
Whether you choose to attend a full-blown May festival,
leave a modest May Basket for the
neighbors, or just take a moment to bury your nose in a cluster of apple
blossoms, the traditions of the season will help put your energy in sync with
the cosmos. At the very least you'll
have a bit of fun!
You can also start your own traditions (and memories) by gardening or
outside with your children. Being out in
Nature might even inspire the building of a Fairy House or two!
And if you're not sure what you want (or what to give) for
Mother's Day, maybe this posting will inspire
However you choose to make merry this month, we hope you'll
visit us often here at Family Year.
Thanks for coming!
Susan R. Johnson MD
There has to be some advantage to
commuting. Every other Friday I commute to the Bay Area to take my son to visit
his father. As I drive back late Friday night there is a lot of time for
thinking and reflection and sometimes listening to a book on tape or CD. Two
weeks ago I listened to Stephen Covey's book called "First things
First". He said there are four different quadrants or categories of how we
spend our time, and how we choose to spend our time depends on whether we
perceive something as "Urgent" or "Not Urgent" and
"Important (essential)" or "Not Important
First we have the Urgent and Important
quadrant. Spending time in this space is easy to figure out. There may occur a
sudden illness in a family member or an injury that requires a trip to the
emergency room. We may have neglected our marriage and now it is in crisis. Our
child may be having tremendous difficulties in school or there is some
financial catastrophe at our workplace. This category is easy to recognize and
often requires our immediate response.
The next space or quadrant is often a
place where we spend too much time and energy. This is the Urgent but Not
Essential category. This is where other people are telling us what is urgent to
them, and we are running around trying to meet their needs. In this category,
we are spending our time and energy doing things that someone else, and not we,
think are essential. This can happen at the work place, in our home life, or in
the community. If we stay in this category too long, we can experience burn
out, exhaustion, and loss of our spark for living.
Then there is the "Not Urgent and
Not Important" third category. This is the place we often go when we are
exhausted, and we want to vegetate and escape the stresses of our world. It
might be to drink a lot of alcohol, play violent video games, or just watch a
pointless movie or television show. The activities we do in this category do
not nourish our body, soul, or spirit. They don't reflect goodness, truth, or
beauty. We do them just to escape our life. Often when our life is filled with
the non-essential, when we can't find meaning, we find ourselves spending too
much time in this wasteland.
Finally, the fourth area in our life
where we can choose to spend our time is the "Not Urgent but
Important" category. This is actually an important area to spend our time,
and yet we hardly find the time to be here at all. This is where we really
nourish our relationships with ourself, with our children, with our partner,
with our friends, with our community, and with the Divine. Taking time to go on
a walk, visit a friend, play catch with our child, go dancing, sing in a choir,
plant a garden, meditate, paint, sculpt, or read inspirational poetry. Because
these activities aren't "Urgent", we often neglect this category, put
things off, until something catastrophic happens like we get ill or a
relationship falls apart. When that happens, we finally do spend the time
because the situation has transported itself to the "Urgent and Important"
category. Unfortunately, we then have the monumental task of healing a
relationship (to ourself, our partner, our child, the Divine) that has
experienced many years of neglect.
So how do we sort out what is important
or what is essential in our life? Steven Covey talks about always holding up a
vision for one's life, and having separate visions for the well being of our
body, our soul, and our spirit. A vision for our physical body may be to do
specific things that keep our body healthy such as exercising, eating
nourishing foods, and getting plenty of rest. A vision for our soul may include
ways of loving ourselves and learning how to love and give to others. A vision
for our spirit may have to do with our specific destiny or path, our purpose
for living. So all one needs to do is spend time looking at the visions one has
for body, soul and spirit, and this will help clarify our goals and guide us to
those essential and most important activities in our life.
We can often spend one moment in time
that satisfies several visions at once. For example, to go with a good friend
to a movie, like "What The Bleep Do We Know ..." , may satisfy both soul and
spiritual needs. In addition, if we happen to walk several blocks to get to the
theatre and share a nutritious meal together before the show, then we have also
satisfied some physical needs.
Once we have a sense of our own vision,
those places in our lives where we want to express love, then we will know how
to more effectively use our time. Long ago sages would travel to very isolated
and far away places to get connected with their Spirit. In our lifetime, it is
not so much the specific places we go to that matter, but rather it is how we
spend our time and whether we can remain fully present in those moments.
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.
As a young American woman, I immersed myself in the French
language as a portal to a culture I revered.
I did the typical semester abroad in Paris and then returned to France a
few years out of college to teach English in a secondary school in a Southern
mountain town. My last day of teaching, I dropped the English agenda and
conversed in French with a class of thirteen year-olds who exchanged deeply
insightful thoughts with more sophistication and fluidity than I had
encountered in most of my college courses.
It struck me then that this level of thinking and communicating was what
being French was all about.
Fast forward a few years and I'm living in a mountain town
in North Carolina, now a mother to a two year-old and a new baby. I rarely feel I have the time or focus to
compose full thoughts at all, let alone those remotely on par with my
experience in the French classroom. My
life is exhaustingly consumed with parenting, which is the current norm in
American culture though I keep trying to escape it for something more
balanced. Waldorf education, with its
European roots, offers a very different model for childrearing that I attempt
to follow though it often feels like trying to build a sandcastle in a
Just as I am feeling upended by another tidal wave, Bringing
Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, shows
up on my doorstep as a gift. It is a
witty and insightful comparison of current American and French parenting
cultures and I devour it as if it were a flaky Parisian croissant. As I read, I learn as much about the U.S.
culture of parenting as I do about France's, the most epic difference being
that French parenting is just as refined as are its wine, pastries, and poetry,
whereas American parenting is, well, not. When looked at as a whole, the
culture of parenting in the U.S. is one of ever-changing trends, of more is
better (especially regarding safety), and of customized-to-fit. At best our parenting culture seems to be
consumerist and at worst, complete psychosis.
Druckerman suggests that our culture's parenting problems
stem from a competitive mentality (wanting our kids to have a leg up so they
can join the upper class) and a belief that kids are psychologically
fragile. In the first chapter she
writes, "Today's young parents are part of the most psychoanalyzed generation
ever and have absorbed the idea that every choice we make could damage our
kids. We also came of age during the
divorce boom in the 1980s and we're determined to act more selflessly than we
believe our own parents did." Add to
this that, thanks to the media, "[...] we feel we're parenting in a very
dangerous era" and it's easy to see how so many Americans think that being a
parent is inherently exhausting and overwhelming.
The French, however, offer another way. According to
Druckerman, the whole of childrearing in France is based on the perspective of
two philosophers, Jacques Rousseau and his Twentieth century predecessor,
Francoise Dolto, who observed that the development of a child unfolds naturally
if given the proper space and freedom.
Development here is seen as "awakening" into full-consciousness. Because
of this, the French view children, even babies, as inherently competent,
sentient beings, rather than blank slates onto which they write (positively or
negatively). The role of parents,
caregivers, and educators, therefore, is to assist children in becoming
awakened and autonomous little humans who function well within society.
As I experienced in the French classroom and Druckerman recounts
from her various Parisian encounters, this isn't an unrealistic ideal to which
the French aspire; it is a reality they accomplish. French babies sleep through the night, on
average, by three or four months of age.
As toddlers, they eat the same diverse, gourmet meals as their parents,
and do so politely. They can happily
entertain themselves from an early age and learn to do many things for
themselves giving them a sense of competence and self-confidence. As adolescents, they articulate philosophical
thoughts with eloquence and, in general, they rebel on a much more minor scale
than American youth. Perhaps most
astonishing to American parents is the fact that French parents, even those of
infants, are able to maintain balance in their lives, fulfilling their needs as
adults while still being attentive and loving to their children.
So, how do the French accomplish all of this? As I see it, parenting in France is simpler
than it is in the U.S. due to two main factors.
The first is that because we tailor our parenting approaches and our
beliefs about what children need to fit our individual lifestyles, we find it
hard to be in community with other parents.
We pay lip service to "It takes a village..." but in reality we shut our
little families into our own stylized bubbles. Instead of being a support to each other
and drawing from a shared understanding of child-development, we mostly don't
discuss parenting with one another in any depth for fear of offending or being
This also makes following thru with one's chosen parenting
approach in social settings such as playgrounds highly inconvenient, if not
impossible. (Ever tried to let your child work out his differences with another
child whose parent is mediating his every encounter? Or, how about trying to enforce certain rules
with your child in the midst of others who are being raised with conflicting
guidelines? Or, worse, no rules at
all?) Conversely, French parents have a
sturdy set of norms that they follow so universally that even their snack times
are in-sync. Of course, it is a smaller country, but
still - imagine the population of just one single city in the U.S. all snacking
at 4pm, as the French do.
The second challenging factor in American parenting is that
we are so frenzied by constantly having to develop our own parenting models and
make decisions about how to implement them that we aren't left with much mental
space to think through the long-term significances of our choices. Without the support of community or the space
for depth of thought, it is very easy to forget why we made the choices we did
and to fall back onto the path of least resistance - something that creates
spoiled children who don't have the sense of security a strong parental
authority instills and who believe their desires can always be met.
The French have a word for just such children, which they
consider the U.S. to be full of-- l'enfant
roi, which translates as "child-king" and is seen as something incredibly
damaging for a child to be. Druckerman found that to avoid this, "French
parents stress cadre [translated as
frame or framework] because they know
that without boundaries, children will be overpowered by [their own]
desires. The cadre helps to contain all this inner turmoil and calm it
The term cadre
describes, according to Druckerman, one of the fundamental tenets of French
parenting: setting and enforcing a few very firm limits and then allowing
children complete freedom within these limits to discover the world for themselves. Alongside cadre is the principle of autonomie,
which encourages children to become self-reliant from an early age (a
result of freedom within the cadre) and also teaches them patience rather
than instant gratification. Learning
patience begins at an early age with something referred to as "le pause," in which parents wait and
listen to their infants' cries for a few moments before reacting. This permits them time to discern the baby's
needs while simultaneously teaching the baby that it is okay to feel what he or
she is feeling and that he or she is capable of waiting a moment or two. Parents always respond to their babies'
cries so the babies know they will be attended to, but they also learn the
message being sent that they are not completely helpless; they are able to
When I first read about le
pause, my instinct was to write it off as I had other sleep-training
methods I'd encountered in American parenting books which involved ignoring the
baby's cries, but seen through the lens of French parenting philosophy I
realized that not taking a brief pause before reacting to my infant's cries was
doing him, and me, a disservice. By
rushing in to swoop him up, I wasn't giving myself time to really listen to
what he was communicating and to think through what would best serve him in
With this realization came a greater understanding of what
is perhaps the most fundamental difference between French and American
parenting and the two cultures at large: our relationship with time. In the
U.S., time is seen as something to be contended with. We are often trying to "beat the clock" and
get things done as efficiently as possible.
We believe that being first is paramount ("the early bird gets the
worm"). We work long hours, skip meals,
take short vacations, and don't sleep enough (even without infants!). We frown on the slow poke and repeatedly tell
our children, "Hurry up, it's time to go," or "There's not time for that."
Built into French culture, however, is an awareness and appreciation
that good things take time: wine, pastries, and poetry, of course, but also
thought. Time is needed to think through
things. If it is not taken, then
decisions are made and actions are taken based on impulse or instinct instead
of concentrated thought. This is not
always a bad thing, but given how imbalanced American parents feel and our
children are psychologically testing to be, it seems this is one French lesson
from which our entire culture would benefit.
As for me and mine, I am so grateful for this reminder from
the French that there is another way to be and, by extension, to parent. I have already begun putting into practice
some of the way the French parent their children (talk about cadre - we literally fenced in our yard,
eh, voila! outdoor freedom ensues!),
but I find that in typical American fashion, I am adapting it to fit the needs
of my family. I am not, however, doing
this capriciously. I am taking the time
and thought needed to melt together my own discoveries of these precious little
humans in my care with those of other great thinkers. I hope that a growing number of American
parents will do the same-- adding to this fondue and seasoning it to taste - so
that we can feast on it in community with one another.
More Posts Next page »
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.