Last week, I asked for more blog topic suggestions. Thanks to everyone who responded with such great ideas. I will get to each one eventually. One mom asked me to write about how to keep your own life and sense of self-worth while "drowning" in parenthood. I responded that it is such a huge topic to cover, it could be a book rather than a mere blog post. But, I will do my best.
As some of you know, I had my first child two days after my 22nd birthday. I had my next one 3 1/2 years later and a third 11 1/2 years after that. That's a long time to be actively parenting but not crazy. I still had plenty of time left for me. Then, I ended up raising my granddaughter for 9 years when my youngest was 13. I was 50 when she came to me. I had always planned on pursuing my music career once my children were older, but that time frame kept getting pushed further and further away from me. So, when my youngest was around 5, I decided not to wait any longer, quit my job and started looking for consistent music jobs which included going to schools and teaching private lessons. It was a hard road but worthwhile. But, I digress.
Music had always been the most important thing to me until my children came along. Even though they were important, I couldn't give up music completely and while they were young, I gave lessons out of my home, worked part-time in a music store and an electronics repair shop and did gigs with their father. Our gigging was limited because of childcare, but we managed anyway and always played at home, inviting others over to jam with us on a regular basis. My children were surrounded with the thing we loved and learned to accept that their dad and I were musicians. They even accompanied us to many events and parties.
If you have something you love, please continue to do it, and let your children experience your love for it. I've had lots of musician friends who never played when their children were around. They devoted all of their attention to the kids. That's great, up to a point, but shouldn't our children learn to respect our need to live our own lives in addition to being their parents? At parties, those same friends couldn't jam with us, because their children were jealous and demanding. I wanted my children to know that it was okay for me to love other things in addition to caring for them. They did learn that and respected that necessary space. The flip side of this is the musicians who ignored their children when they played, leaving them on their own and feeling abandoned. Our children still need to know that they are a priority, but need to have respect for your needs as well.
Before I turned 40, I was a vocalist and didn't really play instruments, though I did play classical piano. Being a vocalist enabled me to hold my babies while I sang. Later, when I played guitar, I wore my granddaughter on my back while I played. My second child learned to find a table to climb under and would fall asleep on our jackets or blankets I had brought for that purpose. He was out of harms way at gigs and parties and slept well, lulled to sleep by the music. When they were young, they always had an adult available at gigs who could step in if needed. At parties, or at home, they knew they could come to me between songs for whatever they needed, and I took regular breaks to check in with them. They always came first but were also included in whatever the activity was that I was engaged in. In the same way that we teach our children to say "please" and "thank-you," we need to teach them that we are important, that we had a life before them and will have one after they move on. If you didn't start out doing this, it may take a little while for them to accept it, but it's worth every tear.
Like so many things, it is always a fine balance and goes for anything you love. Do you love to read? Do your children see you reading your own books, or do you only read to them? Why not read a story to them then get them to look at their own books while you squeeze in a chapter or two? Do you love making art? You can make your own art while your children are making theirs. Gardening? What child doesn't love to dig in the dirt? As they get a little older, teach them to recognize a weed or two and make a game of pulling weeds. Music? Give them some instruments, sing a few songs they love, then tell them gently that it's your turn. If we never pursue our hobbies in front of our children, they will not learn that those hobbies are important to us and help make us whole. It's not necessary to lose ourselves in order to be good parents. Rather, it's necessary to not lose ourselves but to continue to grow and thrive. My children and grandchildren are all comfortable making music and still engage in other things that were important to me and their father. I think (I hope) we did a good job modeling a good and full life for them. Please feel free to submit questions either publicly or privately. There's so much more I could say.
Too Much Stuff
First of all, many thanks to everyone who suggested topics for this blog. I will get to every one of them eventually. And now, I have a huge list. This one is a highly charged topic that everybody has feelings about. I've been thinking about this one for a while now but it came to a head with a new St. Patrick's Day activity.
Apparently, this year some of the schools have been encouraging kids to build leprechaun traps telling them that, if they build one of these elaborate traps, the leprechaun will leave a treat. This is wrong on so many levels. First of all, leprechauns only give you their pot of gold if you actually catch them, and they are almost impossible to catch. They don't leave candy or toys, and they are so tricky, they almost never get caught. Secondly, why do we need another excuse to get our kids all hyped up about consumerism? Don't we have enough of that to battle already? There are so many other fun ways to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, which is supposed to be about Irish pride, not about getting trashed or pretending that you have that heritage. As someone of Irish heritage, I find it insulting that the holiday has become an excuse for wanton drunkenness.
Now, we have Easter coming up soon. Because I didn't want tons of candy around, I used to have a fruit basket with things we didn't always have around. There were always fresh berries, but we also had mangoes, papayas and other non-everyday fruits. There was also candy in my kids' baskets, and a few fun spring themed toys, but the baskets weren't overloaded and were reasonably sized. And each Easter, they each got a beautiful picture book. I had so much fun choosing the perfect book for each child. They had to have a great story and spectacular pictures. We also colored eggs and had an egg hunt. The eggs and the hunt afforded us a chance to have some quality family time, creating and enjoying each others company. After all, I didn't need hyperactive sugar crazed kids with more breakable plastic toys. What we all needed was togetherness. Even their dad, who loathed holidays, enjoyed this one, stepping up to the challenge of hiding the eggs in places not too hard but not too easy. As the kids got older, they would take turns hiding them for us to find.
A lot of families are now looking at downsizing and are helping their children choose a charity where donations can be made on their birthdays in lieu of presents. For the winter holidays, why not sift through toy boxes and donate old unused toys to children in need. Recycling old toys is a great way to make room for new things while helping others. It's refreshing to see that re-gifting is growing in popularity. One Christmas, my husband and I told our kids that we wanted them to give gifts that they either made or found. We all had so much fun figuring out what to give each other. Some of the best gifts I've received have been homemade gifts. And, I love thinking about someone I'm making a gift for as I'm making it. Coupon books are an easy thing even for the very young. I still have a coupon from my granddaughter for one homemade dessert and another for a shoulder rub. I may not even turn them in. That's not the point, though I'll probably get the shoulder rub. :-)
I've always admired the Jewish holiday's lack of commercialism. Not wanting to ignore Passover during this time of year, I looked for Passover crafts and found many things that reinforced the lessons of Passover and want to share a couple of those with you. Rather than turning this important holiday into an extravaganza of gift giving and money spending, everything I found was about teaching the story. It would be wonderful if we could return to this with the Christian holidays, too. Let's remember what it is we're celebrating.
Elijah's cup: https://toriavey.com/home-garden/family-fun-elijahs-cup-passover-craft/
The ten plagues: http://www.creativejewishmom.com/2011/04/ten-plagues-passover-craft-fun-placards-for-the-seder.html%20
I encourage everyone to get creative when thinking about gift giving and maybe give gifts less often. Most of us don't need to be bombarded with more stuff. Why not give a gift of time instead? In families with more than one child, alone time with one parent may be more valuable than a stuffed Easter Bunny. For a few years, we gathered natural plant materials and made our own dyes to color our eggs. It was a longer process but a wonderfully spent day. If it dyes your fingers, it probably will dye the eggs. Go ahead and experiment. Here are some sites with recipes for this. In addition to the ones listed, I've also used sumac berries. You can leave the eggs for a longer amount of time for richly colored eggs.
Grandparents can be some of the most important people in your children's lives, even if they live a distance away. I have many fond memories of visiting my grandparents in Niantic, Connecticut. The drive there was fun, and their home was magical. I remember vividly playing underneath their grand piano with my brother and cousins. I also remember the front porch and the hydrangea bush at the corner. I have very few memories from my childhood, but I remember every detail about their house and yard. We used to dig in the dirt under the hydrangea bush and find old marbles, and after my grandmother told me about the tooth fairy taking our teeth and turning them into pearls, I would lift the edge of the carpet at the bottom of the stairs and often find little pearls or other beads that had dropped off of the fairy's necklace. Every morning, we would have soft boiled eggs in an egg cup. After my brother and I had eaten ours, we would turn the shell upside down and present it to our grandfather asking, "Do you want another one, Grandpa?" He always did and was fooled every time, laughing at the great joke on him. These visits were my favorite times as a child. We were loved and adored in a way that parents can't possibly maintain.
However, grandparents can also be annoying know-it-alls. I have fallen into that trap myself sometimes with my own family and had to learn from those mistakes. Ultimately, parents know their children best and, although they will make mistakes, they are their own mistakes to make. We grandparents have already made ours, and it's time to pass on the baton. We are well-meaning and have learned a lot over the years and are often trying to prevent those same mistakes from happening again. But, it can be hard on new parents. How do we find a balance between sharing knowledge and being overbearing? I often try to ask the parents for their permission before putting in my two cents. I also ask if I'm overstepping my bounds and hope they will be honest with me. It's very important for grandparents to remember not to override a parent. They need our support, not our competition. Our job is to be an ally to both the parent and the child. That is not always an easy thing to do. It's a tightrope that we have to walk, and parents don't often recognize that struggle. The fact that we raised our children, and they are still our children even when they are adults but are no longer children, presents its own dilemma. So, what can we do to smooth things out?
Parents, please be compassionate with your parents. Understand that they are only trying to help. Ask for their opinions and for help solving problems. It's hard to feel left out. Don't only ask for their help with babysitting. Have fun time, too. Yes, you need a break, but grandparents raised children for a long time and also need a break - a long term one. Some grandparents thrive on babysitting, and that's great, but some don't. They may have a hard time saying no and may end up feeling resentful. Be sure that they have time with their grandchildren without you around so they can develop their own unique relationship, and try not to be jealous of that relationship. It is going to be very different from their relationship with you. We don't choose our families, but there are often certain family members that we really click with, people that we would befriend out in the world. It's important to acknowledge that and encourage the closeness that blooms from that. It enriches everyone's lives.
Grandparents, try to be sensitive to the needs of your children to have autonomy as parents. Don't criticize, and try to ask permission before giving helpful suggestions. Don't undermine their authority, whether verbally or through body language. Children see those eye rolls and hear those sighs. Keep things personal and reflecting your own experiences. Preface your suggestions with language such as, "I remember when you ... then I decided to ..." Or, "When I was a young parent, ______ told me ... and it was so helpful." Also, share your mistakes and failures as well as your successes. Remember how difficult parenting can be and let them know that you remember. You don't want to appear perfect. It gives your children an impossible standard to live up to and sets them up to feel like failures. And most importantly, praise their efforts often. Tell them what good parents they are. We all need to hear that.
The most important thing to remember is that we are all human, all doing the best we can under the circumstances, and we need to be compassionate with each other. We all love these young children and can learn to be a team.
Please send me your comments and suggestions for future topics. This blog is for you.
I was wondering what topic I could cover today without spending a lot of time, since I'm up against the wall in getting prepared for my big fundraising event happening this Saturday. The Family Jam is in its 8th year. It's the most musical fun you'll have all year with your children. It's two hours of singing, dancing and playing instruments together. There will be boxes of percussion instruments available for everyone to share in the fun. This year, I've put together a full band to lead the songs. We have a drummer (Lorrie Keyoskey), bass player (Evan Parsely), two fiddles (Mat Kane and Francis Lindop), button accordion and sometimes keyboard (David Gerhan), recorder (Paul Rosenberg), guitar (Mark Maniak) and mountain dulcimer (me). We'll also have a few contra dances geared towards young people and led by Paul Rosenberg, who leads Family Dances in the Albany, NY area. If you have children in your life, you don't want to miss this exciting event.
As I pondered today's topic, I saw an article on the benefits of music education for children. It's just one of many articles promoting early childhood music classes. https://musiceducationworks.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/a-childs-brain-develops-faster-with-exposure-to-music/ So, I am apologetically promoting my Music Together classes in this post because, of all the music programs I've taught, I think this one is the best by far. The benefits in exposing children to music classes early on are numerous. This article talks faster brain development with exposure to music education, but music classes also help with socialization, cooperation, math and language skills, and the list goes on. Every year, I hear parents rave about their children's language skills and remark on how much earlier younger siblings who have attended class since they were infants, are acquiring spoken language. I've also heard praise from elementary school music teachers and music therapists. Here are a few testimonials from families who have participated in my classes.
"We're so glad our daughter is being introduced to the world of music via Deb Cavanaugh's Music Together class. Deb demonstrates that music can be exciting, calming, challenging, relationship-building, and a great comfort. Each Music Together class is structured and predictable, and Deb rotates use of various props and instruments, encouraging improvisation and silliness. Her musical skills, modeling, and expectations of us in class have increased our musical confidence... and possibly even our skills! Our five month old seems to enjoy music more and more every day."
"My daughters, who happen to be delayed in speech, have made significant progress in communicating and listening, and even their therapists say it's directly due to Deb's Music Together® class."
"My daughter has such a great time at Deb's Music Together® class each week, that I have trouble getting her to leave! And if there's a holiday where there isn't class some week, we play the CDs and sing and get out our own instruments in our living room-- she insists on it..."
"This course has been a great experience for both my son and I. One of the first things I learned, is that my participation was integral to my son getting the most out the class. We have a lot fun with the music and the wide array of instruments and other fun props used in class.
Music, seems to make everything fun, the “bye bye” song even helps making having to put the fun things away fun! I've found that this also works in putting our toys at home away, a nice added bonus :)."
"My 14 month old son, T------, has really taken a liking to Deb, the families and the entire program, and we both look forward to our special time to sing, dance and be together. As a parent, I am so pleased with Music Together - the structured, yet unique classes from week to week are a lot of fun. Brings me joy to see him, while riding in the car, or listening to our cd at home, recognize the songs we have heard and played to in class."
"For the past year and a half our Music Together®® class with Deb has been the highlight of my daughter, K----'s, week. It has been astounding for me to see how much a child can learn before her second birthday and just how she blossoms musically. K---- can now repeat rhythms, sing mostly on pitch, and play instruments. At home she often hands out different instruments to the rest of the family so that we can all jam together. When we're driving in the car, the only music she ever wants to hear is the CD from the current music class..."
"I want my child to understand that music is something you experience, not just something you sit and listen to. Deb allows that to happen in a way that is so subtle and organic, you don't even realize it's happening..."
Although some of the praise is for me as the teacher, most of the credit must go to Music Together for creating such a fun and comprehensive program. They make it easy for everyone, giving lots of support to the directors and teachers. As I near the end of my winter semester and gear up for the spring semester, I start to realize how important this program is in other ways than music education. In every class, there is a parent education component, too. I get to remind parents how easy it is to use the songs in everyday life to help their lives go better. Singing or whispering instead of yelling when your child is not listening. Singing songs about putting shoes and coats on, cleaning up toys, brushing teeth or hair, etc. It's such a pleasant way to get things done without all the stress of cajoling them or trying trick them. The trick, however, is remembering to do it the easier way, and that is not always easy in itself.
If you are not already aware of Music Together, definitely check out the website, even if you don't have children, and see what this life-changing program is about. There are many grandparents who bring their grandchildren to classes. It's for everyone and you are always welcome to try a class for free!