Category Archives: The Experience

Parenting for the Short Term and Long Term Goals

Sometimes I parent for the short-term goal. I have a doctors appointment. We are running late. We have to go. Now.

Other times I parent for the long term goal. I am taking the kids to the playground. There’s no rush to get out of the house. We can spend two hours learning about all the different steps along the way. About cooperation. About getting our clothes ready. About what happens when we leave later in the day vs leaving earlier in the day.

I’m not parenting for short term compliance. I don’t want to be able to say “SIT!” and have my children sit.

I am parenting for cooperation, not compliance. For compassion, not for dominance. For a natural understanding of the laws and rules, not a fear of the punishments or penalties.

Often what a child learns from an experience is more important than them doing EXACTLY AS I SAY RIGHT NOW.

I find it painful to parent in tandem with people who follow an authoritarian approach because inevitably they interrupt with a punishment or a command.

The WHY is usually more important to me than the HOW.

Why do we get ready? So we can leave. Why do we leave? So we can go someplace. Why do we need to cooperate when we are getting ready to go? Because when we cooperate we are able to leave more quickly. Why do we want to leave more quickly? So that we have more fun doing the fun thing and less time lingering between places looking for our socks. Where are our socks? In our rooms. Can we find our socks? Why can’t we find our socks. Oh. Right. Why do we pair our socks and put them away? So we can find them when we want to leave so we can get ready quickly so we spend more time doing something fun and less time looking for our socks.

When we snap commands we keep all that stuff in our own adult heads and just command our kids to jump.

Honestly it’s really freaking hard for me to slow down and explain everything. It takes a lot of thinking and a lot of practice to remember why we do something. “Because I said so” is a really terrible reason when you’re speaking to a young child who sees everything as completely arbitrary.

But I slow down.

I remember the reasons.

I take the time to teach when I have the time to teach.

So that my children will understand that I always ask them things based on reasons.

So that when I say “I do not have time to explain right now, can you please do it and I promise I will explain later?” they trust me and listen to me and jump a lot faster than they do when a command is used.

What happens when a child is used to being commanded all the time? Honestly they understand nothing. They make a ton of mistakes. They have to guess how to do the things that the adult expects them to JUST DO. They learn to play guessing games where they guess, are wrong, are snapped at, guess again, are wrong, are snapped at, etc.

How do I know this?

Because adults ask my kids to do things ALL THE TIME.

Things that they then turn around and ask me how to do.

And I teach them.

Repeatedly.

While they strive to master things that an adult already decided was “common sense”.

Look. Common sense is LEARNED. It’s not innate. Kids learn common sense by learning the reasons behind things. By guessing at them. By having them discussed and confirmed.

So if you want a child to know something? Teach it. Repeatedly. Over and over and over. Patiently. Step by step. And if they don’t understand a step, figure out how to teach them that step.

If you have a hard time remembering how to do this, teach them to ASK YOU. Teach them to say “Mommy, I do not know how to do that yet. Can you please show me how?” and when they say that, even if you’ve shown them a million times, show them again.

Life takes a lot of practice. Think about the things you learn as an adult. How many times you have to practice something to get it right. Think about the first time you learned how to operate a combination lock or drive a car.

None of that was “I will tell you once and then punish you every time you make a mistake”.

Behavior is learning. Not a series of personality flaws you have to punish a child out of, and not a series of commands that a child should just jump to follow.

They are people.

They deserve the chance to understand and agree with the why.

If you disagree, that’s fine. You can do what you want with your children.

But.

Do. Not. Interrupt. Me. When. I. Am. Explaining. Things. To. Try. To. Get. My. Kids. To. Listen. To. My. Request. Faster. Than. They. Are.

Please. Just let me do what I am doing. Don’t jump in. I don’t need backup.

I am more than capable of demanding immediate compliance if I need to. If I haven’t, it is INTENTIONAL. For a reason. Don’t interrupt me without asking me first if it is okay.

See? I explain first. Then I ask. Then once I’ve explained I expect you to remember that I have explained it. But if you forget I will repeat myself. Unfortunately if you interrupt me in front of the children I will repeat myself in front of the children. Please don’t create a situation where we are both undermining each others authority.

I won’t punish you for forgetting, though. Even if you do sometimes insist that punishments are necessary.

Natural Consequences Made Punitive vs Natural Consequences and Repair

“Isaac, can you come down for breakfast?”

He ignores me. I let him.

I go make breakfast. I put it on his plate.

I trudge back up the stairs.

“Isaac, your food is on the table. It is time to eat.”

He ignores me. I let him.

One of the things we often hear is that kids become accustomed to nagging and repetition followed by force and demands.

Whenever Isaac spends time with people who follow that pattern, whenever I am “backed up” by a well meaning adult, or whenever life follows a curve that puts me in the position of nagging.. we come back to this place.

Everything talks about how we should not let ourselves get to this point.

But what about when we do? Or when others bring our children to that point for us?

I back off.

I made breakfast.
I put it on the table.
He can eat when he is hungry.

Eventually he wanders downstairs. 

He finds that someone else has eaten most of his berries.

Taken bites out of his toast.

By that point the baby is awake and nursing again.

He comes and finds me. Furious and upset. And tells me that someone took a single bite out of each of the squares of toast on his plate.

I can’t help it. I burst into laughter. Not at his upset. I am not laughing at him. I was listening very respectfully until that point. Not trying to dismiss his anger. Not being upset by it.

But the toast has me rolling with the uncontrollable giggles.

He snaps out of his anger and upset. Stares at me speechlessly.

It’s a sunny spring morning.
The ceiling fan is spinning.
The baby has popped off my boob and is smiling at me.
And my poor sweet nine year old is indignant about some unknown gremlin who has been nibbling at his toast.

I can say “sucks to be you” and say that is the consequence of leaving his food at the table. It is the consequence. Yes.

But the truth is, we have been getting along poorly lately and it’s time for us all to do some repair. It won’t help the kids get along better if I stomp my foot and try to drive home this natural consequence as a hard firm line.

Truth is, as parents we sometimes try and make natural consequences more punitive than they are to teach a lesson.

When I finish laughing I apologize for my speechlessness. And I say “Isaac, when you leave food on the table it’s risky. We live in a house with four little gremlins and a dog who loves table food.”

He’s laughing too, and says it isn’t just the kids that are gremlins, that the grownups are too.

And it’s true. We clean off the table and eat the leftovers. 

“Look. Isaac, we’ve been getting along poorly lately. I want us all to start being nicer to each other again. I’m going to start by making you more food. Can you try to be nicer across the day, too?”

He says he will.

“There are still consequences. I am not sure what berries we have left. And we are out of peanut butter. And you’ll need to wait until the baby is done nursing. And if she starts crying I’ll have to pick her up. So it will take longer. I have a lot to do today, but I want to help you deal with the consequences, okay?”

He is happy. And he starts rattling off what he can do to help. He’ll hold the baby.

I agree that would be helpful.

“And Isaac, tomorrow can you come down when I ask you to, so I won’t have to make two breakfasts?”

He nods sheepishly.

When he and I have a good strong relationship he doesn’t want to make more work for me. He doesn’t want to ignore me when I ask him something.  He seeks me out, helps out, is engaged in the things that I am doing.

It’s softer. But it gives more results.

Relationships aren’t rigid. They are compassionate. Going in both directions.

Jealousy, Favorite Color, Favorite Food, Favorite Child

Sometimes I start a conversation expecting it to go one way, and it goes in a totally different direction.

There is a game I play, where I tell each of my kids “You are my favorite Keenie, my favorite Isaac, my favorite Alexander.”

After not playing that game for a while I asked my children randomly at the breakfast table one morning:”So which one of you is my favorite?” I was expecting to fall into that litte game, where I talk about the things that make each child my favorite type-of-them.

Keenie giggled.

Alexander gave me that look that he gives me when I have said something totally ridiculous.

And Isaac… Isaac raised his eyebrow. “Mommy, you can’t even pick a favorite color because they are too different and you like them all. You couldn’t pick a favorite kid. That would be IMPOSSIBLE.”

And he is right. When the issue of favorite anything pops up, I give lists of the things that I like, reasons why I like those things. I say that I am in a particular mood where I want a specific food, and I list other foods that I also like to eat.

My kids have apparently generalized this over to themselves as well. They don’t jockey for the position of favorite child. They let me know if they feel that something is unfair or uneven among them, and they trust that I will have a solution or an explanation that takes their feelings into account.

I’m asked a lot about sibling jealousy. How do I deal with it? I don’t see a lot of it. I mix things up so that different kids come first at different points. I explain when something is related to age differences, and I talk about how things were when my other kids were that age, or how things will be when they are older and the steps they can take to get to a skill or a place faster.

We do group hugs where my arms are big enough to hold them all. We devolve into wrestling tickling matches where I breathlessly proclaim love for each of the squirming kids. I proclaim each as my favorite and they chime in other names as well. Yes. Our dog is my favorite dog. And each of our cats are my favorites too.

We talk about sometimes needing one on one time. Needing for me to read a book to just Alexander, to hug just Keenie, to play a game with just Isaac. And about how we can help each other take turns with that one on one time.

Isaac will tell me when Keenie or Alexander need me, and when he can do things for himself.

Keenie will laugh when I tell her that when Wren is born, she will be my baby. “I’m not a baby!” She says. “I am a big girl!” I assure her that she is, but that I will still hold her like a baby if she wants. I chase her down and bounce her while shh-ing as she giggles and pushes me away.

And Alexander-in-the-middle, he wants mostly to catch up to the things that his big brother can do, and comes running to me for help in figuring out how.

This family of mine? This family is my favorite. Hands down.

Favorite kid, though? Can’t pick. Instead I think of each of them in turn and feel that deep infinite love.

Love multiplies. It doesn’t divide. I love each of them with all my heart, and I spend my days trying to make sure that is tangible for them.

I guess that is how I deal with jealousy. I don’t confront it head on.

My relationship is with each child, so I focus on my relationship with each child and making sure that their needs are met and that they feel loved without comparison to each other.

If one needs a hug because they got hurt, I hug them. If another needs a bug because their sibling got a hug, I hug them too and add a kiss.

A lot of approaches to jealousy seem to focus on discouraging it, or the idea that jealousy is selfish.

Nah. We all need a little reassurance every now and then.

So what am I trying to say? I guess I am saying that you shouldn’t deal with jealousy. Jealousy is the comparison of things. Focus on each individual relationship with each individual child. Strengthen those. They are all side by side.

If it means hauling an 8 year old onto your lap to bounce him while he giggles and protests, do it. Then have a talk about what he really needs right now.

If it means everyone pig-piling onto your lap for storytime, take everyone to the couch or to your bed, and let everyone pile in.

Pull everyone close. You have enough love for each of them. Let it show.

It Isn’t Hypocrisy if Breastfeeding Makes You More Uncomfortable Than a Bikini

If seeing a woman in a low cut top or a bikini barely registers anymore, but seeing a mother breastfeeding her child makes you uncomfortable…

You haven’t seen it often enough.

I no longer believe that it is hypocrisy. It is the simple math of frequency. What we do not see often… stands out.

People who have strong feelings about other people covering up or finding private places are innocent of the details that go into breastfeeding an infant or a toddler. They hold simplified ideas, often ones that they have heard elsewhere that seem to make sense.

They are not aware that not every mother responds to a pump.

They are not aware that not every baby takes a bottle.

They are not aware of the devastation that isolation can create in the mind and heart of a new mother struggling to adjust after her baby has been born.

They are not aware that breastfeeding is a learned skill that both baby and mom need to work at and practice. It is natural but it does not come easily, even when a mama has been through it before.

They are not aware of how some children respond to being covered up.

They are not aware of the impact that adding another step can have on a mama who is struggling with just getting her baby to latch on.

They are unaware of the drastic changes that would take place if every mother began to breastfeed openly without covering.

It would be normal.

It would make it easier for new mothers, because they would have seen it before.

It would increase breastfeeding success rates and that would bring along all of the benefits that breastfeeding carries.

It would have an amazing impact on the postpartum mental health of new mothers.

It would also stop being noticeable. It would be no different than seeing a bathing suit on a beach.

There For You

I notice that your face is cloudy when you come off the bus. You snap at your little brother when he runs up to you to play. You go to your room. The door slams. I knock. You don’t answer. I pause and knock again. Not the “you need to open the door now” knock. A slow knock. Two knocks. Nothing more. Then I sit by the door and I wait.

A few minutes later the door opens. You sit down next to me. “Rough day?” I ask.

The floodgates open.

“I’m there for you” means just that.

I’m there.
For you.
When you are ready.

Never “I Told You So”

I’m thirty five years old. I have a history of thirty five years of experiences, thirty five years of mistakes, thirty five years of learning.

You are five. You have a history of five years, much of which you might not remember. You haven’t grown to the place that I was at when I made the mistakes that I made at ten. You haven’t grown into the types of mistakes that I made at thirteen. Or seventeen. You are no where near the mistakes that I made at twenty five. You are not yet at the mistakes that I will make at 37 or 40. I’m not yet in that place, myself.

I watch you make the mistakes that you will make. Sometimes I ask you to think about what a consequence might be if you continue to do something. But then when you come to me hurting when that thing happens, I hug you near and whisper “I know. It hurts. It hurts a lot. I’m here for you.”

Never “I told you so. “

It’s Time To Just Slow Down.

Keenie is putting sand on her legs. It’s time to go. I ask her to come with me. She piles more sand on her legs. I ask her again. She doesn’t acknowledge what I am saying.

I stay squatting next to her. I go silent. I wait. She starts to talk about the sand on her legs. About the thing that she sees in the eye of her imagination. I listen for a few short moments. I ask questions.

It’s not time to go, it’s time to slowly hatch from the chrysalis that she has made for herself. To fly like a butterfly to showers where we wash off the sand and the salt from the ocean.

It’s time to just slow down. Because this is my child’s childhood. It’s important lovely stuff.

I forget this often when I am in a rush. I should remember it more.

Together We’ll Be Big.

Clinging joyfully to her dad, giggling in the waves. I see a little watermelon swimsuit and a tangle of wavy-curls held up in the air by the arms that held me while I birthed her, while I birthed her brother, while I mourned the passing of my grandmother, while I shook in grief over the passing of several dear friends. The arms that cradled her and her bothers as they have fallen asleep over the years. The arms that pull me close when I cannot sleep. Her legs kick up and down as the waves crash into them. I cannot see her face but recognize excitement. Comfort. Glee.

Trust is a lovely thing.

I often snug her close to me when she is afraid or hesitant. I often whisper “cling close, Keenie-bee. Together we’ll be big.”

They are big together in those waves. She is borrowing from his size and the safety that he offers to squeal with laughter in a place where she might otherwise feel fear.

Friends, family and loved ones are like that. Each of us is tiny on the face of this spinning world. But together? Together we are big. Together this world is less a place of fear and more one that offers opportunity for profound joy.

A Poppy Seed of Promise. (Bebe 4.0)

pregnancyTest2-3weeks
Obviously not the test with lines. 😉 The third “Am I really pregnant?” test that I took before this morning’s announcement.

Two pink lines.
My hands start to shake.
I show Alex.
He’s the one that suggested that it might be time to test.
He always seems to know.

Right now I’m about four weeks along. Those two lines mean that there is a small life growing inside of me. A life that is currently the size of a poppy seed. This morning Alex got me another test. Some fancy schmancy one that estimates the date of ovulation based on HCG levels. So 2-3 weeks since ovulation puts me right at 4-5 weeks pregnant using the LMP/40 weeks approach.

It is early.

I’m not supposed to tell anyone. I’m supposed to tell only Alex, and then spend the next eleven weeks keeping my joys, hopes, fears, and thoughts to myself. Just in case. Because it’s not a guarantee yet. Because grief may follow instead of a baby. Because we’re only supposed to celebrate when things are a bit more of a “guarantee”.

I’ve turned that idea over and over in my head, time and time again.

For me, the act of not sharing would not decrease any future sadness.
For me, the act of not sharing would not save me from grief.
I’d probably still tell everyone if this pregnancy ends in a miscarriage, if it’s chemical, if it’s ectopic. If any of those many things that can go wrong… goes wrong. Because I’ve seen women suffer in silence. And because when I had a loss before, I shared and ended up having so many conversations with women who had kept so  much inside. Because they “had” to. Because not listening and putting on a happy face is some sort of social grace.

I’m telling you. Because I believe that women deserve to yell it out from the treetops if they want to. Because I believe that miscarriage is such a social taboo that people feel they have to keep pregnancies secret. Just in case. And because I don’t believe that is a healthy habit.

I am pregnant. I am expecting a baby next year at the end of March or the beginning of April sometime. This is a happy thing.

It is also a complicated thing. This was not planned. We were talking about starting to try for a baby in January if things lined up. Needless to say, a lot of things are not lined up.

I’m also grieving heavily over some recent things that have shaken how I view friendship and family and myself. So this post is not as joyful as the first moments when I found out that I was pregnant.

That is okay, too. Life is complicated.

There is joy. A small poppy-seed sized joy that is going to slowly grow until it is overwhelming and beautiful.

Growth takes time.

I am okay with that.

Post Holiday Meltdowns

Post holiday meltdowns. Transitioning back into the week after a long and busy weekend.

It is 6:30am, my phone starts vibrating with messages.

“Help!” “My daughter had a fun weekend but today she is screaming about nothing, what can I do?” “My son is upset about everything!” “Why are my kids so unhappy? They were awesome all weekend!”

My own kids are still asleep.

I start writing a post about my expectations for today, the day after a three day weekend spent with family and friends.

My daughter wakes up.

My day begins.

Seven AM. More messages. My middle child is awake now. The two younger ones are eating breakfast between melting down about each and every little thing.

I lost my draft. I decide I’ll leave the topic alone. Focus on today.

Eight AM. My oldest wakes. I playfully offer breakfast in bed. He wants to eat with his brother and sister. I say okay. He immediately starts a brawl.

I think “I will write about today, and my expectations. It will help me to commit to the approach I want to take.”

Eight thirty. My oldest is off to school. I am not writing. I am perched in the attic before it becomes too hot, rooting through garbage bags of clothes looking for the 5T shorts and grumpy that the off-brand masking tape that I used for labels apparently becomes brittle paper and falls off into a useless pile of labels on the floor. I find the shorts and my kids make them rain down the ladder into the hallway below.

Nine AM. I start to write. They start to fight. I put my phone down. I sit down. I talk to them and we come up with a plan. We get dressed and sneak outside to the sandbox to dig. I pull up a chair and try again.

Which takes me to here, my plan for today.

I understand that one of the needs of childhood is stability and routine.

We did a lot over the weekend. Saw a lot of people. We met a lot of the kids needs, but we did not meet the need for stability and routine.

There is nothing wrong or bad about that, but is has consequences. My children will have a hard time with self regulation today. They will have a hard time with communication, with moods.

When they are upset I will stay present, I will make sure that I am listening. I will verbalize what it is they are trying to tell me, and I will stay calm.

(I move to toast a bagel. Keenie starts to scream and cry. I breathe in, I breathe out. I squat down to eye level. “Keenie, can you tell me what is upsetting you?” She can’t yet. I wait until she can. She does not want her bagel toasted. I remind her that she can say “mommy, mommy, please don’t toast my bagel.” She smiles relieved and says those words through her tears. I tell her of course I won’t toast it if she doesn’t want it toasted. I stay with her for a minute more, crouched by her chair waiting for her tears to pass. “Keenie, are you okay now? Can I get you your bagel?” She is not throwing a fit to manipulate me. She saw me moving too quickly for her to remember the words to use, because over the weekend things have worked differently.)

I will expect them to be off schedule, off routine, expecting things that are not part of our normal days.

(“Isaac, can you please put on your shoes and socks?” I ask. His bus is a few minutes away. He puts on his shoes first, then puts his socks on over them. He comes to me laughing. I am less than amused. “Isaac, there is a time to be funny and a time to follow routine. Right now your bus is about to come. Can you please get ready the way you are supposed to?” I ask. He does. His bus comes. He is ready and he runs out the door just on time.)

It’s not that they have unlearned the things that they need to know. They’ve just fallen out of practice in these past three or four days. And little kids don’t have great impulse control or self regulation skills. They rely heavily on routine, on expectations and on practice.

Today we will practice. We will reinforce. We will remember the words that we use and the tones of voice that we use. We will rebuild our connections, we will stay as calm as we can stay.

We will also spend as much time doing quiet things in a “yes” space as we possibly can. Outside in the garden. In the sandbox. On the swings.

I have a lot to do today. A lot of things to catch up on.

But the most important part of today will be this. The gentle transition back into routine.Staying calm through meltdowns. Understanding why they are happening, and being patient while this storm passes.

I can’t just say “Okay folks. Back to the routine. Everyone be happy and polite and nice and cooperative!”

And if I expect that? We’ll just have a rotten week instead of a tough day.

Today will be the long slow gradual transition that they need.