Thursday, February 18, 2016

4 Ways Parents Can (and should!) be Friends with their Kids

One of the things that brings the most sunshine into my life is my friendship with my kids.  I know that some question whether parents can be friends with their children and still parent effectively.  I have children aged 5 to 20 and my answer is a resounding, “Yes!”  In fact, I think it is a terrific model for parenting in general.

In these ways I think parenting is all about being a good friend:

1)      A friend listens.  Absolutely.  We want our kids to come to us with their joys and their sorrows.  They will if we give them our full attention and always consider seriously what they are saying.  I feel like a good parent when I do this.

2)      Friends problem-solve.  Again . . . yes!  Who would we rather our children come to with a dilemma in their lives than ourselves?  But consider, when you have a problem, what makes you comfortable bringing it to your friend?  We bring up our problems to others if we know they won’t criticize us for how we got there, and also if we know that after they give us some ideas, they’ll let us make our own decision.  I love seeing my kids grow in their self-confidence when I give them that autonomy.

3)      Friends understand you.  No one understands my kids better than myself. (Even when they don’t know it!)  Because I’ve listened to them, when they come to me to problem solve, I can respect when they say, “I just can’t [insert hang-up here:  walk into a room of strangers, talk to people wearing green, etc.,” and I can help them come up with alternatives.  Friends help us find solutions even through our own particular hang-ups.  Parents can do this, too!

4)      Friends don’t keep quiet if their friend is about to do something dangerous or something they think will make them unhappy.  A good friend tries to talk their friend out of it.  They give reasons to their friend why they don’t think they should do it.  They offer support in the better alternative.  That’s a good friend and the kind of friend I want for my children.  I want to be that kind of friend for them, too.

Remember that ad with the mom and daughter hanging out in the daughter’s room trying on clothes, having a good time, until suddenly mom finds a packet of marijuana and the daughter says something like, “Oh yeah, no big deal!”  The mom slowly takes off the hat and the deep-announcer voice says, “KIDS NEED PARENTS, NOT A FRIEND.” 

This is where I want to knock on the screen and say, “Um, Mr. Announcer-Guy, how does Mom find out about the drugs if she’s not friends with the daughter in the first place?  She is in a perfect position to help her child make changes in her life!  Just give her a minute to talk to her.  That daughter couldn’t ask for a better friend.”

What do you think?  Can a parent also be a friend?

Friday, January 29, 2016

What we do with Eight Kids to Keep the House (mostly) Clean

We all feel a bit more sunshiney when the house is clean, but when we have kids, this can be a daily struggle!  In this post, I’ll tell you how I do it with a family of ten in a little house.

 I’ve tried lots of different “programs” over my years of parenting:  Gunny Bag, the Bedroom Fairy, marbles in jars, points for privileges, chores on index cards with “to-do” and “done” pockets, even having the kids work for pay! They were all good and they all worked for a while.  I found that I couldn’t continue the programs because I got wiped out!  I think I’ve learned something from all of them, though, as I discovered what works for me

I should start with my principles on this subject.

     1)      I should not do the picking up.  Exceptions to this exist, of course, but on the whole, I do my children a disservice by not teaching them how to return things to a state of order.  My first job as a parent is to teach my children how to be competent adults!  This will not happen if I am always the straightener.

     2)      Kids need to make messes to really get involved in their play.  I believe in play!  I believe in imagination and creativity!  I provide my kids with a home and toys and props so they can spread out and have fun and do what’s best for them—not so the home is tour-ready.  I don’t want to squelch any of this creativity even if it means the couch cushions are being used for forts and all the blankets are spread on the floor for gardens and the dolls and stuffed animals are scattered haphazardly everywhere.  “There was a ‘splosion, Mom.”  It’s good for them.  I won’t make them clean-up until the day is done.

     3)      Ownership motivates kids and boosts their self-esteem.  “Clean up the things that you played with,” or “Everyone just clean up your own mess,” or even, “Hey everybody, clean up this house!” has never worked for me nor for our kids.  If “everyone” has been asked to clean the room, there’s always kids bickering about who’s doing the most work and everyone usually quits before its all the way done.  If you give them their own space to be responsible for, however, they can see the extent of the work for which they are accountable and take a sense of accomplishment in how it looks in the end.

So.  I let the kids play.  I do not interrupt.  I do not follow them around straightening as I go.  I find my own thing to do and leave all the cleaning for later.  (This appeals strongly to my time-management side, too!) 

The best time for “later” for me has turned out to be right after dinner.  The family is gathered.  They stopped all their activities in order to eat and they haven’t started new activities, yet. 

It’s time for After-Dinner Jobs!

The purpose of After-Dinner Jobs is to put the house back in order.  Each child is assigned a room to clean (as in the public rooms, not the bedrooms).  “But I didn’t make that mess!”  Doesn’t matter.  You clean it for everybody this week and someone else will clean it for you next week.  We all help our family. 

I now have more children than I have rooms to clean.  (Ha, ha!  You’re jealous now, right?)  So the job chart looks like this:  Family Room, Front Room, Clear Table, Sweep and Trash, Hall and Bathroom, Vacuum Front Room, and Clear Kitchen Bar.  It doesn’t take anyone longer than ten minutes.

(Dishes are a different job entirely with everyone being assigned a day.  On that day they do dishes in addition to their after-dinner job.)

We have had different assignments over the years and different ways of divvying up the chores.  The important elements 1) it’s right after dinner and 2) everyone has a specific area of responsibility has stayed the same.

We do Big Jobs on Saturday morning.  (For a little while, I woke everyone up early one day a week for Big Jobs.  This worked nicely, too, until I decided I would rather sleep in! J)  Big Jobs is where the actual cleaning gets done and the kids learn how to clean a bathroom, mop the kitchen floor, and vacuum. 

I also have enough kids so if they were lucky enough to not be assigned one of the aforementioned jobs, they get jobs that don’t need to be done every week but are necessary every now and then:  organize the game cupboard, rake leaves, put away coats from the coat room, clean the refrigerator, pick up walnuts, whatever random thing that Mom wants done or Dad needs help with!

We keep a list of who did what each week (I keep it taped on the inside of one of my kitchen cupboards) so I don’t have just one child learning to mop the floor.

When I am on top of my game, I make these assignments Friday night or early Saturday morning and then ask the kids to get the job done before they play with friends or eat lunch, whichever comes first.  I have been known to be really laid back about it, too, and ask that they just get it done before they go to bed.

I talk to my kids with respect for their activities and busy lives.  If they forget and don’t do their job, they feel bad!  They want to do their part to help our family and they see the work their siblings do and how it helps them and they appreciate it.  They don’t want anyone to have to do extra because they didn’t do their part.

I’m not making this up. 

Afterall, a child’s strong sense of fairness goes both ways.  There’s also something to be said for teaching a child not only the right things to do but also the right reasons for doing it!  It has worked for me.

What has worked for you?  I’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Is Being a Parent Making You Crazy? Change this one Thing.

When I was a young mom, I found myself getting angry at my young children fairly often.  One day as I hurriedly tried to put dishes in the dishwasher and my two-year-old undid all my work by taking them out and spreading them across the floor, anger flashed once again into my heart. 

I took a minute, though, to look at my feelings.  My stress was higher than usual because I knew some people might be stopping by later and I wanted the house to look nice.  As a young mom, I wanted to prove that I was a good homemaker.  I wanted to feel like I was good at what I was doing and I recognized that, in my own heart, I had decided that if I couldn’t keep the house in order, I wasn’t good at what I was doing! 

Most startlingly, though, I realized that by making my goal “a house in order,” I had effectively turned my two-year old into my enemy!  The reason my house wasn’t in order was because of my two-year old.  If I needed my house to be in order to feel like a success, then my two-year old stood between me and success.  I was a failure because of her!

This made me consider.  When I put them next to each other for comparison, I knew that the nurturing of this sweet soul was far and away more important than whether my house was in order!  And while having my house in order was a good goal, I needed to recognize that it had to take a back seat to my higher goals.  I needed to have a higher goal!  I needed to figure out what I subconsciously thought of as success and subjugate it to what I knew in my conscious mind were my real goals.

I needed to Change This One Thing—my goal!

While doing the dishes, my goal was to have the house in order and it effectively turned my two-year-old into my enemy.  There are many more goals, which, although seem like part of a sane, normal person’s goals for a regular day, will in-fact turn your children into your arch-enemies.  Here are a few examples:

      1)      Making things last.  The more you want your child not to break something, the more I can guarantee that they will find a way.  Just let go now.  You will have to replace everything.

      2)      Getting to places on time.  Even if you do find both shoes, the baby will mess her pants right as you’re going out the door.

      3)      Not disturbing others.  They will scream in the store, make loud noises in their pants during church meetings, and run between the legs of senior citizens.  They just will!  You are not a failure because they did!

      4)      Getting sleep.  This is one of the first goals we know we have to give up on and yet, it is so. hard.  Still, not having it as a goal helps you to not be angry at the little person who mucked it all up for you.  Again.

      5)      Having your child always be happy with you.  Nothing can make us feel more like a failure than our own child’s tears.  You can’t avoid it all the time, nor should you!  Mark yourself by your higher goal and stop being so hard on yourself by this standard.

Have you ever felt like a failure when you weren’t able to accomplish these things?  As we have all discovered, these are only some of the many disappointments of parenting.  If you are a success only if these goals are met, then get rid of these now!  What are you really trying to do?  What would you like to accomplish with these souls?  What is really the most important thing?

I’m glad that for me, it stopped being the dishes.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Three Rules for Children to Follow when Fighting

On Fighting Between Siblings

When my children fight, my goal is to teach them how to take care of it themselves.  They will not always have me with them.  The bonus, of course, is that my own life is more peaceful.  It also removes the motivation to argue in order to get mom’s attention, which is important.

When mom becomes the judge, the child’s whole motivation can change.  They are no longer arguing about who gets to play with the doll, but who does mom love?

Notice I didn’t say, who does mom love best?  No.  If you side with Child 1, you love Child 1 and do not love Child 2.  This is how my kids interpret it, I guarantee it.  So, naturally, the arguing escalates astronomically.  It hits them in the heart much more than whatever the initial argument was about and so they will fight much more aggressively.  Notably, losing truly will be the tragedy they say it is.

Isn’t that sad?

But I can’t stay completely out of arguments, either!  I must protect my children from abuse, especially in their own home, and I also must teach my children not to become abusers, especially of the people they should love best.

When my children fight, I try to teach them these principles:

1. They must communicate.  Did Child 1 even tell Child 2 what she didn’t like?  My kids love to skip this step.  I am often surprised, no matter how often we go over it, that they have skipped it and run straight to me instead!  “Mom!  Ben is jumping on my back!!” It is very important to stop your gut reaction at this point.  Contrary to what we might assume, kids do not simply know that they shouldn’t do something.  Weird, but true.  I could go instruct Ben in the dos and don’ts of jumping, but then Beth misses out on the lesson of how to solve her own problems—an essential life skill.  Correct response:  “Did you tell Ben that you didn’t want him jumping on your back?”  Surprisingly, more often than not, that is the end of the situation!  Bethany runs to tell Ben she doesn’t want him jumping on her back.  Ben stops jumping on her back and starts jumping on the couch instead.  Lovely.  No more argument and I didn’t have to get involved.  Bonus, I didn’t even have to stand up!  My couch will be fine.

2. They must try to understand the other person’s point of view.  I suppose this is where I interfere the most.  Especially if the child is younger and doesn’t have the verbal skills or maybe even an understanding of why they’re acting the way they are.  For instance, in the example above, if Ben hadn’t stopped jumping and they both now stood in front of me, I would say to Bethany, “Ben has a lot of energy and he needs to get it out.  You’ve felt that way haven’t you?  Maybe you could help him find another way to get his energy out.” With older kids, I can just ask simple why questions and it usually does the trick.  “Why did you do that?”  “Why didn’t you stop when she asked you?”  My kids know that when a sibling asks them to stop something, they need to stop.  They better have a pretty good reason if they didn’t.  Again, though, I am referee and not judge.  They should be talking to each other.

3. They must be kind.  You can disagree with your sibling.  You can be frustrated with your sibling.  But you can not be mean!  This is another place I may need to referee until they learn to keep their emotions in check.  It can take many, many times doing this before they learn that the system works and that they can be kind and still have their own pain acknowledged and the situation rectified without having to resort to anger, physical force, or hurtful words.  See my post on how you can model keeping your anger under control.  That helps the kids a lot!  The trick here is to not become punishing with the child who is angry.  “Do not speak to your sister like that!” only escalates the emotions in the room.  How about, “Kaylee, can you say that more kindly, please?”  I am not above pleading at this point.  “Kaylee, this is your sister!  You love her!  I know she is important to you.  Let’s try to work it out.”  Reminding the child that we are trying to love each other can really help clear some of the red mists from their eyes.  If you can get  them to internalize that goal (to love each other, to have our home be a safe place, and to be a safe person to be around), all that will go a long way to having the kind of home you want.

A few weeks ago, I heard two of my teenage daughters talking heatedly in another room.  I could tell they were upset.  I worried.  Could they handle it alone without me stepping in?   I listened.  They were talking to each other.  They were listening to each other.  They were not being unduly mean to each other.  So I let them be.

Several minutes later, my 15 year-old came in and I asked what had happened.  My 17 year-old was upset about something a friend had told her that my 15 year-old had said.  Importantly, after their conversation, both daughters were still upset.  BUT they had talked it out.  They had explained their side.  Neither had done anything that would damage their relationship with one another once they had a chance to calm down. I called it a success.

It seems that all that training really can pay off.  It can for you, too!

Friday, January 8, 2016

The very best system for mopping the floor without a plug

I had a friend post on Facebook the other day asking if she was the only person in the world who still mopped the floor on her hands and knees.  I wanted to respond, “Yes!”  But a quick perusal of the comments revealed that she most definitely was not.

With the exception of electronic devices, mopping the floor falls into two major camps.

First you have the “Hands and Knees Method” where you get down on the floor with a bucket and some rags.  The advantages are that you always start with a clean rag and you can get into the corners and make sure the edges are clean.  The disadvantages are that you are down on your hands and knees.  Ouch!  Oh.  And it takes forever.  This is hands-down (ha ha!) the cleanest result you will get with any system.  However, with the discomfort and time involved you will avoid the chore like the plague and it will rarely, if ever get done.  So, yes.  Once every three months you have the cleanest floor in the neighborhood, but guess what that means during the other 89 days?

Second you have the “Stick Mop Method.”  Stick mops come in many shapes and sizes but typically you use the same sponge on the end many times before replacing it with a new one which you may or may not have found in the store when you needed it and so may or may not have it on hand to replace when the time comes around.  The advantages are that you get to stand up (yay!) and the job goes much quicker (also yay!).  The disadvantages are that you can’t get into the corners or clean those edges very well.  Also, have you looked at those sponges after even one go-around?  Bleck!  Fortunately, it is better than nothing and it also gets done more often than it would on your hands and knees.

I like to use a combination of both of these strategies.  I found a stick mop with a very large head, like six times the area of those sponge heads.  I thought perhaps, this would make the job go even faster (it does!)  Even better, the head isn’t covered by a sponge at all but by a laundry-machine-washable terry-cloth rag.  Thank you!  Now not only do I not have to search the grocery store for the right sponge replacement (did I have a P-type mop head or a Q?), but because I can throw it in with my other laundry, it’s always clean when I start!  Of course, this still leaves the problem of the corners.  So, after I wipe the floor quickly with my stand-up mop, I take the rag off of the mop and bend over to scrub the spots it missed.  It is super fast and the floor looks great!
One final tip!  I no longer use a bucket.  I feel like this adds too much time!  Maybe I am a whiner, but if I have to go fill up a bucket then my thought-process changes from, “After I sweep, I’ll mop the floor real fast,” to, “After I sweep, I should schedule a time to mop the floor.”  Big difference right there.  Besides, the giant mop head doesn’t fit in the bucket.  Instead, before I put the rag on the mop, I run hot water over it in the sink and squeeze it out – just like I would if I were wiping the table!  If I run out of wetness, I stick it over the sink and squirt some more water on it.  For a really big job, I have three of the rags and I can just take the old one off and pop a new, wet one on.  You see what this means, too, don’t you?  Instead of sticking my mop back into increasingly dirtier water, I have fresh water every time!  Ah.  I love it when the lazy way is the cleanest way.  Don’t you?

In all, this took me much longer to tell you about than to actually do.  I love it.  Try it.  It is truly the best of both worlds.

I actually own one of the ones below which I bought at WalMart but I use the terry-cloth covers in the refill pack listed below that.

Microfiber is nice dry, I think, but won't do nearly as good a job as terry cloth when wet!

4 Things to do when you feel like Screaming

When I was a young mom, we lived in an apartment building full of other newlyweds and new parents.  The apartments had no air conditioning so in the summer we lived with our windows open and inadvertently heard goings-on in other apartments.  One night we woke to the child in the apartment below us screaming for all he was worth.  Something had definitely made him mad!  I think he didn’t want to go back to sleeping in his own bed.  We heard the parents trying to talk to the child, their voices raising incrementally as they tried to be heard over their screaming progeny but also as their frustration mounted.  Finally, the dad hollered, “WHO TAUGHT YOU TO SCREAM LIKE THAT?!”
I loved it.  I love it now and I loved it then.  Who indeed but the child’s own parents?

Not that I’m perfect.  Not that I haven’t ever screamed at my children.  I have.  So loudly that my raw throat reminded me of the event even the next day.  However. . . I have always regretted it.  Every. Single. Time.  It might have even prompted a much-needed change in their behavior.  Even then I have regretted it and felt that I did wrong.  I felt that I had been inappropriate and needed to apologize!  It’s wrong to yell at people.  How even more wrong to yell at your own off-spring who look to you for a determination of their own worth?  Oh people, let’s not get that wrong.  How can we, who know in this place rooted deep inside our hearts, that these are the most incredible people God ever gave to the Earth, how can we make them feel like they are nothing?  The world may tell them that, but, oh no, let it not ever be us.

Still, there are times, oh yes, there are times, when those incredible souls make us see red.  What can we do instead of teach them to scream?

1)      Remember.  I know that this technically can’t work for you until after you’ve screamed at a child at least once, but if you are lucky enough to have avoided this in the past, perhaps you can vicariously remember how awful you will feel after you yell.  I have yelled.  I know how terrific it feels in the moment.  I am so right and they are so wrong and just this once, they are going to listen AND they are going to quake so hard in their little boots that they will NEVER do it again.  Yep.  Makes sense when you are mad, but while we are all rational, it makes ya’ll want to turn me in to child services.  In my right mind, why would I ever want to make a child afraid of me?  That’s not my job.  My job is to build trust with that little one.  So, when I’m not in my right mind, I have programmed a little voice to start repeating frantically behind my red vision, “You’ll regret it later!  You’ll regret it later!  Choose a different way!  Choose a different way!”

2)      Comfort yourself.  I once heard a story of a woman who noticed a mother in a grocery store.  The mother’s toddler was having an enormous tantrum, kicking and screaming and drawing attention to herself through the whole store.  Throughout the checkout line the mother continued saying in her kindest voice, “It’s alright, Jenny, I know it’s hard, but we’re almost done.”  The woman followed her to the parking lot to praise her for her kindness with her child.  The mother thanked her but then added, “There’s something you should know.  My name is Jenny.”  Wonderful!  Often, the emotion that sends me into my worst tantrums—and that is really what they are when I have started screaming at my child--is the feeling that I am being ignored or that my needs are being ignored.  We all scream, parent or child, because we feel like we are not being heard!  So.  Be the person who hears you.  Give yourself your own compassion.  I cannot always rely on others being there for me at the exact moment when I need a pep talk, so I’ve practiced giving them to myself.  You can too!

3)      Model how you hope your child will deal with frustration.  I’ve often heard that if you want to rid yourself of an undesirable habit, that you should replace it with a desirable habit.  Since nature abhors a vacuum, you will be 430% more successful than you otherwise would be (give or take).  In any case, if I remember at this moment of supreme frustration, that this is the perfect opportunity to model for my child how I want them to deal with their own supreme frustration, then I have effectively redirected myself.  It’s no longer about NOW but about the future and how blissful and anger-free the future will be if I can model patience and respectful conversation in this moment.

4)      Leave.  Sometimes none of this is enough.  I know that.  Fortunately for me, my experience with #1 is strong enough, now at least, to grab that indignant, self-righteous, you-are-going-to-get-it-this-time woman, run her to her room and lock her there.  She can scream there (into her pillow).  She can cry, and oh, she does!  Eventually she calms enough that I can do #2.  Then I can think about #3.  When I’m ready, and only then! do I come back out of the room.  All children, no matter how young can be left alone for the ten or so minutes this is going to take.  Place the little ones in their crib.  I guarantee they are safer without you than with you for this time.  They will benefit from the sweet woman or man who has remembered herself or himself and comes to lift them back out.