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Replacing Timeout with Playtime

If you’ve ever stood in a busy grocery store with a child in the midst of a full on meltdown, you know one universal truth: Children will act out, usually at the most embarrassing moment for you. When you can step back and understand that they are seeking your attention and validation, you can prevent and manage these moments with grace.

Think of all the hours in each day when you expect your children to cooperate and participate in your activities. From house chores and errands to remaining silent while you talk on the phone, and even dining out in restaurants. Are you matching each of these minutes with true connection with them in their world? Playtime is a child’s way of including you on their level and asking you to include them on yours. They don’t know how to negotiate this world as an adult, but they would like to show you what the world looks like to them.

Try the 30/30 rule. For every 30 minutes you need to accomplish something in the grown-up arena, spend 30 minutes on your child’s level playing, talking, reading and connecting. Keep it even and let your child lead the playtime. I promise you will have fewer meltdowns if you can stick with this one rule. (For toddlers, try 10/10. They may not have the attention span to entertain themselves for 30 minutes.)

O. Fred Donaldson, a world-famous specialist in the use of play as an alternative to aggression, violence and abuse, posted this morning on API Speaks on what we don’t understand about playtime with children. A five-year-old boy once told him, “Fred, you know play is when we don’t know that we are different from each other.” I invite you to read this short post Coming Out to Play, where Fred reveals the three patterns of play that he observed in children all over the world. (Here’s a hint: enrolling your child in soccer does not count as playtime.)

Grace and Peace.

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Posted by on October 5, 2011 in From Toddlers to Teens

 

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Telling Your Child About Death

Children learn about death in many ways but they learn about grieving from the people they are closest to.

Just three weeks ago I paced the house, cleaning and straightening. I was nervous about breaking the horrible news that our neighbor and first-grade teacher had died suddenly. My eight-year-old daughter adored this woman and I knew that she would be hurt.

I learned of the death after dinner, but knew that the end of a long day was the wrong time to tell her. We were still uncertain about the cause of death and hoped that morning would bring more information.

After breakfast and some play time with her sisters, I found a chance to tell her alone. Random bits of advice and knowledge had swirled around in my head all morning.

Years ago, I heard a child psychologist tell parents that bad news should be delivered to children during the first ten seconds of your conversation. Children often get lost if you spend too much time trying to soften the blow.

Remembering this, I held her hands and told her that I had something hard to tell her. She was sitting across from me on my bed. I watched her head drop and her tiny heart break with the horrible words, “Mrs. Apolzan died this weekend.”

With just the slightest movement of my hands, she fell into my arms so we could cry together. Over the next few days, I answered all of her questions as patiently and honestly as I could. We allowed her to cry, to be sad, but also to forget all about it and just play.

She attended a painfully sad memorial service with me at her request and we talked about different customs regarding death, funerals and burial options. She is a very inquisitive child and the extra information seemed to help her to sort out her feelings.

Death is painful only to the living. I did not want to write about it. Looking back now, I realize I simply did not want to live it. I certainly did not want to be the one to inflict the heartache of death upon my child.

But I’m a mother.

I could never let someone else deliver such a crushing blow. My only real choice was to catch her, to hold her and to love her while she learned this painful lesson of life.

Grace and peace.

We loved you, Mrs. Apolzan, and we will always be grateful for our opportunity to know you.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in From Toddlers to Teens

 

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Shocking Realization: I Married Pa Ingalls

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be married to your childhood celebrity crush? If you’re as old as I am, you may have fantasized about Bon Jovi, Rick Springfield or even Patrick Swayze. But who embodied the ideal husband or perfect family for you?

I grew up in the Seventies in the Midwest, a time before cable television. My youthful obsession was the prime-time series Little House on the Prairie. I read all the books and I was seriously smitten with Michael Landon. I did not realize until recently just how much I must have admired him.

Our three little girls have just discovered the wonder of this show, and anxiously await Friday movie nights so we can watch a few more episodes. While watching the first season again in adulthood, I came to the awesome realization that I had fulfilled my childhood fantasy life. Not only do my three girls look remarkably like Mary, Laura and Carrie, but my husband and I eerily resemble Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

Often in parenthood, we put all our time and energy into our children with very little thought left over for how we got these children in the first place. My “baby Carrie” turned three years old this month, so I guess I’ve had a little more time to devote to my partner, who as it turns out, is the manifestation of Pa. He is loving but firm with the girls, an extremely hard worker, amazing at remodeling and woodworking, plays folk tunes on his guitar and is a fun-loving, affectionate spouse. He is also kind enough to read my blog posts, so I imagine he is completely embarrassed right now.

But, let me be clear about my role as Ma. I still love my (unnaturally) pretty shade of blonde hair and brightly painted toenails. I do not make clothing for myself or my children, with the minor exception of a few Halloween costumes. What I do relate to is her resilience, views on motherhood, devotion to God and family, tireless work ethic and her ability to withstand the misguided arrogance of Mrs. Oleson with dignity and grace.

I wrote last week about how lack of sleep during the baby years can negatively impact your marriage. And recently, my friend and marriage researcher, Lori Lowe, wrote a fascinating post called The Formula for Unhappiness is U = I – R about how our earliest memories about relationships play into our current state of happiness or unhappiness in our marriage.

The amount of unhappiness equals images minus reality. This can be measured for relationships, careers and even how we feel about parenting. If we created an image in our minds during childhood that has not become a reality in adulthood, our happiness decreases.

I have to say that I did not consciously create this life that so closely matches my ideal family image from my youth. My husband admitted that the Ingalls were such a huge part of his childhood that he also unknowingly carried this image into adulthood. We both manifested a life that conjures up happiness for us. We have even joked about wanting to live “off the grid”, the modern equivalent of living on the prairie.

Our realization has been joyful and even divine. We are so grateful for all the stages of our lives, even the less happy struggles when we were not living as we truly desired.

So, what images did you create in your mind during childhood? If you are currently unhappy in your partnership, can you attribute it to lack of sleep (see link above) or a large gap between your images and your reality?

Has motherhood turned out the way you imagined or are you simply recreating your own reality from childhood for better or worse? And most importantly, do you have a plan to lessen the gap between your ideal images and your current reality?

Grace and Peace.

 

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Battle Hymn of the Chicken Mama

According to the Chinese zodiac, I was born in the year of the rooster, but I prefer to think of myself as a chicken. I couldn’t help musing recently at how I would measure up in the much talked-about book about Chinese parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I have not read the book, and while she writes with style and wit, I have no desire to read it. If you have not heard all the hoopla, I encourage you to read the response from her daughter, who admits that her mother is not quite as ferocious as the book implies.

As a mother raising three daughters in the United States, I have no problem being a chicken. Persons born in a rooster year are characterized as sharp, practical and tenacious. We are also hard-working, eccentric, a bit show-offish, loyal, charming and we really hate any viewpoint that disagrees with our own. Hence, many roosters own our own businesses or pursue careers in art or entertainment or you know, blogging. We like to be noticed, and probably care about our hair just a tad too much. I am totally a chicken.

But a Chicken Mama has a different code of ethics and expectations. Much like a Tiger Mother, we are very proud of our flock, and do not care to hear anything (at all) negative about them. However, when my daughter brings home anything less than an “A”, we assume rightly that she has a slight learning disability, was placed on the wrong side of the classroom, or simply failed to properly learn the material because of faulty teaching.

And, also like the Tiger Mother, this Chicken Mama does not allow TV (on week nights), we do not subscribe to cable television nor do we own video games. Personally, I am not a fan of play dates, but I do give in on a case-by-case basis. (Mostly to moms who are artsy or eccentric like me.)

As for musical prodigies, I have a much different stance. I spent about 5 minutes researching the Suzuki method when my firstborn was in preschool, and nearly fell off my nest when I realized how much of my own time would be spent teaching the piano or violin. Forget about it. Our piano teacher’s primary qualification is that she has a car and comes to our house. My eight-year-old is musically gifted, that’s for sure, but hates to practice. I set a timer when necessary, and we get about 30 good minutes of practice each night.

Will she ever play Carnegie Hall? I really don’t care, but if it’s important to her she will make it happen on her own and not by my constant pecking. I will completely support and encourage her, but I won’t be the one who pushes her in the direction of my own dreams.

As for defiance or unruly behavior at home, I also take a much different approach. As a Tiger Mother, Amy Chua once (or more often) called her daughter “garbage” when the girl acted disrespectfully. I’m not into shaming or name-calling to get my children to obey. I do not see the value in this. My children are expected to act respectfully and are often complimented on their good behavior. I have many strategies that make this happen; most importantly my children feel loved, respected and confident. We model respect in our actions, as opposed to the ranting, screaming, hair-pulling tactics given by Ms. Chua.

As for our typical home environment; Western Chickens are very proud of our nests. Our homes are fun, organized and filled with laughter. Chores are required, meals are always taken around the dinner table and homework must be completed the moment the kids step off the bus. When my three little chicks get out of line or have trouble controlling their behavior, I resort to a much different sort of Battle Hymn. We crank up Keith Urban and dance it out. Nothing lifts a mood like a guitar-heavy country lick, especially when the artist looks so fine. Give it a try, it will raise your spirits, or at least your heart rate.

I suppose I could crush them into submission by calling them names; but this German/Irish/Native American so-called Western Chicken Mama would much rather teach my little birds to fly.

Grace, Peace and a bit of humor.

(And thanks again to Totsy. Last week’s sale of the Baby Love Carebook was ridiculously successful!)

 

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I Asked. I Received. I Love How that Works.

Well, I don’t know what ya’ll prayed for after yesterday’s post, but may I just say, “Thank you!” Not only was my husband finally able to fly home late last night, but I learned this afternoon that the Baby Love Carebook was selected to run on Totsy. The sale has been going on all day (and doing quite well) without my knowledge. My product even got the prime placement today. It will move down tonight as new sales are added.

What does all this mean?

Totsy is a members-only, online retailer that offers moms on-the-go and moms-to-be access to brand-specific sales, up to 70% off retail, just for them and the kids, ages 0-7. Each sale lasts only 48 to 72 hours. With every purchase, Totsy will plant one tree in the name of your child to help reduce the effects of deforestation. So, great deals and environmentally friendly; what’s not to love about that?

What’s the Baby Love Carebook?

The Baby Love Carebook™ is the only 24-hour organizer that helps establish baby’s daily routine and create an instruction manual that any caregiver can follow. Awarded the National Parenting Center Seal of Approval, this simple system makes a thoughtful and elegant gift for a new mom or mom-to-be.

What makes the Baby Love Carebook™ unique?
•    It helps you find your own routine, not a “one-size-fits-all” approach
•    It encourages bonding and allows you to discover the unique needs of your baby
•    It creates a customized instruction manual that any caregiver can follow
•    One book can track multiple children, making it great for twins
•    Includes the one-of-a-kind Allergy Caresheets to keep a food diary and track down a suspected allergy
•    The 3-ring binder is the same size (7 x 9 inches) and quality as popular desk-size planners, so you can also insert your own calendars and address pages.

So, there you have it. And from now until Saturday, February 5, 2011, you can get a copy for only $19.99.

Follow this link: http://www.totsy.com/join/WAsAlQ6G then enter your email address and password. You can always cancel your subscription later.

Grace and Peace.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2011 in Weekly Bits of Baby Love

 

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Five Ways to Ask For (and Receive) Help

This week has brought to the forefront my need for assistance. I rely heavily upon my husband for so many things that when he is absent my world gets turned upside down. I’ve been in a partnership (a wonderfully enriching and fulfilling partnership) for so long that I feel lost when faced with a crisis alone.

I’ve also noticed in the past 16 years how my independence has declined drastically. I used to be fearless and completely self-sufficient. So, while I’ve struggled to get back some of my fearless nature, I also relish being secure enough to ask for help. Hopefully, you will learn the value of dependence now that you are a parent.

I wrote a little about the importance of giving and receiving recently in the post about 29 Gifts. It brought up the bigger issue for me of being truly receptive to the gifts of others. Learning to ask for help is a difficult lesson for many people, myself included. If you’re in the first few months or years of motherhood, asking and receiving will become essential.

During your first few weeks as a new mom, you may get offers of help from many different sources. It’s tempting to politely say no simply because it’s easier than coming up with a task for them. Get into the habit of saying “YES” to offers of help, because the offers may stop just when you need them most. (And let me tell you, they stop all together once you’re the mother of three or more children!)

Five specific things you can ask for:

  1. Invite someone to visit for an hour or two. During this time you can shower, take a long nap or just spend a little time in the sunshine by yourself. Or, you can relish the company of another adult.
  2. Request help with some household chores. Maybe you would like for someone to vacuum your house or do a load of laundry. Just ask. I promise that someone loves you enough to do this small act of kindness for you. When I was enormously pregnant with our third child, I sheepishly asked my mother-in-law to mop our filthy floors in the house we had just purchased. She was happy to do it. All she wanted to know was what I needed help with.
  3. Ask for a meal. Don’t beat around the bush, either. Vague statements like “I wish someone would cook for me” may come off the wrong way. But if someone close to you asks what they can do for you, ask for a meal. Some of our friends have brought over gourmet dinners they made themselves, while others picked up our favorite carryout foods.
  4. Ask for advice. Oh, I know. Becoming a mother makes you a target for unsolicited advice. But, when you have a moment alone or on the phone with a more experienced mom, ask her about something you’re struggling with. You just may be surprised to learn a new technique or be comforted in knowing that they struggled, too. When my firstborn was a few weeks old and refused to nap in her bed or anywhere else but my shoulder, my mom commented that it was easier when we were babies because my brother, sister and I all slept on our stomachs. That idea is so taboo now that it never occurred to me. I ended up propping my daughter on her side and she suddenly started napping on her own.
  5. Ask for prayers. A few years ago, I would have rolled my eyes at this. Now, I have a deeper understanding of the power of prayer. Whatever your world view may be, there is strength in numbers, and the more prayers offered up for you, the better. I am Christian, and my good friend is Jewish. We often exchange prayers for each other or celebrate the Sabbath together. For us, we find peace and comfort in honoring our similarities.

As I write this, my two-year-old has spiked another fever and is complaining of her first earache. She is sleeping on my lap while I balance the keyboard precariously on one knee. My husband is stuck in an airport for the third straight day and the roads are an icy mess, making the possibility of school a long shot again tomorrow.

But, my neighbors graciously offered to bring us lunch and the older girls are doing a pretty good job of cleaning up the toys. So, while I’m always open to advice and comments from my readers, I would probably benefit more from a few prayers today. Please?

Grace and peace.

 
 

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Drowning in Motherhood: Three Survival Skills

A family member used this phrase last week to describe her life with a newborn and a toddler. I remember so many days just a few years ago of my own fierce determination mixed with immeasurable joy and overwhelming exhaustion that left me drowning in motherhood.

As a former lifeguard and 8-1/2 year veteran of motherhood, I compiled my top three survival skills to share with new moms who may find themselves in over their heads.

Survival Skill #1: Relax and Submit to Your New Reality

I recently researched an indoor swimming facility for my three young girls to escape this long, dreary winter. I learned that the swim instructors teach a “rollover” technique to children as young as four months. When a submerged child rolls onto her back instead of kicking and fighting for the surface, the air in her lungs creates enough buoyancy to bring her head above water.

Motherhood is like that, too. When we learn to relax and give in a little, the stress and struggle of mothering eases up. Maybe the house is a mess or you’ve served canned soup and grilled cheese for the third time this week. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of mothering. Sit back, put your feet up and catch your breath.

Survival Skill #2: Find Your Life Preserver

Getting your head above water is only the first step, now you need some help staying afloat. When you first become a mom, it’s common and so easy to become isolated from your former world. Your past relationships and lifestyle may not fit any longer; and that’s okay. But motherhood is a lot more difficult if you put yourself in solitary confinement.

You’ve got to reach out to find new connections that will help you through this part of your journey. Consider joining a play group, striking up a conversation with other moms at the park, or enrolling your little ones in a cooperative preschool or Mother’s Time Out program. You will learn so much about parenting and child development, and hopefully, you will start lasting friendships based on the commonality of motherhood.

If you are parenting with a spouse or partner, tether yourself together during this time. Losing your connection to the person you love most is not only possible, it’s common during the first year of parenting. It’s true that your relationship will never be the same, but with a lot of work and communication, you will build yourselves an unsinkable lifeboat.

Survival Secret #3: Count Your Blessings

How many times have you exclaimed, “Thank God!” after pulling through a harrowing experience? It may sound cliché, but learning to appreciate what you have each day will give you the strength to endure whatever comes your way. I give this advice frequently, but only because I’m given so many reminders of why it is important.

Last week, I received the staggering news that a friend’s 12-year-old daughter had died suddenly after a mild illness. It is a tragedy like this that causes you to shift your priorities. In my case, it reminded me of the first few weeks after my second baby was born. I was struggling to care for a 2-year-old and a newborn. And then came a phone call that changed my life forever. A teenage family member was hospitalized in the intensive care unit because of kidney failure.

From that moment on, I cherished the dark, quiet hours at night when I fed and rocked my baby girl. I was still tired, but no longer frustrated or overwhelmed. I understood then, and now, that I am blessed and make sure my children know every day how much they are loved. After many surgeries and weeks in the hospital, my family member survived. The lessons I learned from her struggle remains.

My second daughter is now six years old. Last weekend, she crawled into my bed in the wee hours of the night. She was feverish and wanted to sleep with me. My desire to make her feel better overcame any worry over catching her illness, so I snuggled close to her and listened while she drifted off to sleep. I took a deep breath and whispered a prayer of gratitude. And when – two hours later – my two-year-old daughter padded in wordlessly and climbed into bed on the other side of me, I repeated the ritual.

Grace and Peace.

 

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