Letting our children grow up
I’ve been getting ready for my 5-year old granddaughter’s overnight visit, sorting through my crafting supplies, planning food, etc. It got me thinking about the importance of our children having their own lives away from us. As a child, I loved going almost anywhere. Even at an early age, I knew that there was a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. I spent nights, whole weekends and even weeks at a time at my aunt and uncle’s house with my three cousins. My brother didn’t like going away from home, so I often went alone. I don’t ever remember being homesick, and I was never afraid. The rules were different, they ate different foods – it was not at all like my own home. And, I loved it!
As a mom, I knew how important it was for my own children to experience that same sense of freedom and autonomy. They often had friends overnight and often went for overnights at friends’ and relative’s houses. It’s true that it takes a village to raise a child. Children need to expand their horizons beyond their immediate families. They need to feel part of a larger world. However, it’s hard for parents to trust others to care for their children as much or as well. It means letting go for the parents, and I think that’s the hardest piece of the puzzle. My husband struggled with it because, unlike me, he never experienced growing up in a village. I am always amazed at how many people missed out on that all-important piece of childhood. Naturally, if we never experienced this richness for ourselves, we have no context for realizing its value.
I’m heartened by the number of young couples I know who have regular date nights, another important thing for the relationship and great modeling for your child. I don’t think our lives should stop when we become parents. Involving and including our children is important, but equally important is showing them how adults live. That’s how they learn, through our modeling. If we trust others to care for them, they will trust others, too. If we constantly protect them, they will have a harder time learning to protect themselves. If we do everything for them, they will struggle with learning to care for themselves. If we are afraid for them, they will be afraid.
Childhood is full of trials. We can’t protect our children from everything, though we often try to delay those trials. In the same way that they get bumps and bruises from falling, they will get bumps and bruises from relationships and experiences. We need to be there to help them get back up and heal from those things, but sooner or later they will experience difficult things. Is it better to wait until they’re older and less likely to turn to us? I don’t know. I know that some of my favorite childhood memories are of being away from home with friends and relatives. And, I felt closer to Aunt Meg and Uncle Bill, who were the parents of my mom’s best friend, than to my own grandparents. I spent many days and overnights there, and cherish the memories of every visit.
Here's a great website that addresses this. HOW TO LET MY CHILD GROW UP
For My Child [JLE 2006 Poetry Verse Form: Heroic Couplet]
I make my plans for you from birth
Carefully carving out your worth
So wrapped up in who you'll be
I neglect your individuality
I want to protect you all your life
Keep you safe from danger and strife
Temptation and pressure attack you all day
How as a parent can I keep it away?
I pray that you'll receive God's grace
And when you need to, slow your pace
Will my guidance be enough?
To guard and keep you from all that stuff?
My goal in life is to see you succeed
What's the best way to plant that seed?
I'll give you the room to make a mistake
I'll trust you with each step you take
I'll tell you "I LOVE YOU" when you make a mess
I'll tell you "NO" when I want to say, "YES."
I'll give you the space to set your tone
Adjust my expectations as you create your own.
And, here's a fun and easy craft idea for the new year - a memory box. The idea is that you wrap a shoe-box or similar sized box so that the top can be removed without unwrapping, then put 2018 on the top. Throughout the year, you collect memories, ticket stubs, photos, cards, etc. At the end of the year, you open the box and relive those fun times together. MEMORY BOX
As a child and as a younger mother, I celebrated Christmas. I celebrated as most people do, waiting for Santa Claus to come and fill my stockings, because of course I'd been good. As a child, my mom woke my brother and me up at midnight to the sound of sleigh bells and a resounding "Ho, Ho, Ho!" We would rush to the window to try to catch a glimpse of Santa's sleigh soaring into the distant sky. Once, I swore I could see it disappearing into the clouds. Then we would go downstairs, eat cookies, drink hot cocoa, empty our stockings and open our gifts surrounded by the lights of the Christmas tree. It was magical. We'd go back to bed and sleep late, since the gifts were already opened. I always thought that was ingenious of my parents, who also got to sleep in. So, I did the same with my kids. After all, we were usually up late anyway. One of my sons even got a piece of coal in his stocking one year, though he loved it and didn't get the message we were trying to send. Another year, we were so broke, we weren't sure we would have any gifts for our kids. We sat them down to talk about it, and I decided that we would all gift everyone something we either made, found or re-gifted. It was one of our nicest Christmases ever, and The Kiwanis Club dropped off food and gifts for all of the kids on the Free Lunch Program while they were in school, so Santa visited that year after all.
Years later, I was leaving my husband and was faced with having to sort out the holidays. Who was going to have the kids on Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. We remained friends, so it wasn't going to be too difficult, but it made me rethink my beliefs a bit. I realized that, although I'd grown up with Christmas and loved it, it was really the magic of Christmas that I loved, not the holiday itself. I hated all the commercialism that I, like so many others, had bought into. I was no longer a Christian, and I also hated all the hype and craziness that surrounded the holiday. I was ready for a change. I told my husband that he could have our sons (our daughter had already moved on to her own life and family) on Christmas Eve. I would start celebrating the Winter Solstice. That felt like a holiday I could really embrace. After all, who wouldn't want to celebrate the end of the growing darkness and return of the light? But, what would I do about Santa Claus? My older son was old enough that he no longer believed in Santa and was a jaded teen, but the younger one was only 3 years old. After much thought and borrowing from other cultures, I invented a poignant and fun celebration.
I invited the snow fairies to visit our house during the month of December by lighting a candle for each day of the month leading up to the 21st or 22nd, depending on the year. On December 1st, there is one candle, and by the time we reach the Solstice, the house is filled with candlelight. When we light our candles, we sing and talk about the growing darkness and the importance of bringing more light into our lives, literally and figuratively. We have one song that always gets sung, a beautiful round I learned in Girl Scouts. It can be sung in 8 parts. Though we never have enough people to pull that off, we usually do a round with even the youngest ones managing to keep up. I like this video with motions to go along.
Then everyone is invited to choose another song. We sing Christmas Carols, Hanukkah songs, pop songs, whatever we want. It's not about the choice of songs, it's about singing together and enjoying each other's company. Because we have our candle lighting ritual, the snow fairies sometimes visit during the night. In the morning, there might be small gifts waiting, a pack of gum, a small toy, stickers, whatever. I found that, without planning it that way, these small gifts helped reduce the anticipation of that one big blowout day. My kids didn't bounce off the walls anymore waiting for Santa. I realized how stressful it had been to wait all month for Santa to come. As a teacher, I had seen how nutty kids got, having a hard time paying attention and getting in more trouble than usual. Now, my life is calmer, my shopping is done and my holiday celebrated while the rest of the world is racing around doing their last minute shopping and battling the growing traffic. It also helps that I don't overspend and do a lot of gift choosing during the rest of the year.
I'm not suggesting that everyone give up Christmas. It's a wonderful holiday. It's just not the only one. I hope that all of us can look at how and what we celebrate and what it means to us. Do we spend more time together as a family, enjoying each other's company, or are we rushing around, short tempered because of the mounting stress? Do our children understand what the holiday is about? And, are we singing together? Singing is a wonderful bonding experience. Over the ages, it's brought people together. I love the song "Christmas in the Trenches" by John McCutcheon that tells the true story about British and German soldiers during WWI stopping their fighting on Christmas Eve when a German soldier started singing a Carol. He was joined by others and eventually both sides sang Silent Night, each in their own language. I hope you enjoy it, too.
Limits for children
I often a lot of questions about limit-setting for children. I hope no one takes offense, but I often compare raising children to raising puppies. In the wild, puppies grow up in a pack. They look to the leader for guidance. In a family, it's important that parents be the leaders of the pack. The most effective way to get our puppy to listen is to speak in a lower register with a tone of authority. We need that same authoritative tone when speaking to our children about limits. If you speak with your voice raising its tone at the end of your sentence, you're asking a question. You're not speaking with an expectation of being listened to. There's no need to yell. It's mostly about the attitude you portray. Limit-setting is not mean, it's a loving thing to do and probably the most important job of parenting.
I once had a visitor at my house with three small boys. They were wreaking havoc in my home, playing chase games on the stairs and knocking things over. I watched patiently as their mom tried cajoling them into behaving. She was so sweet, I thought it would give me a toothache. Finally, I stepped in and said, in a firm decisive but not loud voice, "Stop!" They stopped in their tracks. I sat them all down and told them that if they did not stop running in the house, they would have to sit. I gave them multiple choices of fun things to do that included running outdoors in the fenced in yard and insisted that they choose something, which they did. I was not sweet but was not mean. They could tell that I meant business. The rest of the visit went well. Their mom was amazed. These boys never listened to her.
I'm not saying that it's always that simple. It's hard work for us to remain consistent but kind. I didn't always know this, and I have not always been successful. When my oldest son was around 6 or 7 years old, he was having night terrors every night. His dad and I tried everything we could think of to help him. Nothing was working. He went to an alternative school that was hosting a parent night once a month with a speaker on some aspect of child development or child-rearing. One month, there was a prominent local child psychologist. After he spoke, he opened up the floor for questions. I asked what we could do to prevent my son's nightmares. He explained that children often have nightmares because they feel unsafe. He asked how we handled limits. We had to admit that, coming from hellish childhoods ourselves, we were inconsistent and very lenient. He explained that children need to count on their parents to teach them how to stay safe through firm and consistent limit setting. He advised us to sit down together and come up with our "rules." Each one had to have a consequence for not following them, and we both had to be on board with them. It wasn't easy, but it worked. Once we did that, his nightmares went away. It was like magic.
So what kind of consequences? It doesn't work to say, "Stop doing that or you'll be in trouble." What does that mean? What kind of trouble? You need to come up with a specific consequence that matches the infraction. For instance, if you throw your toy again, I will take it away. Or, if you don't put your pajamas on now, you will not get to play before bed. Or, if you keep taking toys away from your visiting friend, you will be in time out. Time outs need to be reasonable. A minute is a long time for a child, especially if there are other friends around. And, time outs are sitting in a chair doing nothing. They don't get to read or draw. Will your child be upset about it and try to talk you out of it? Probably, but in the long run, it will be helping them learn to be a responsible person. Once they learn that you will continue to set and enforce these limits, they will stop testing you as much. Kids are smart and learn very fast.
Sometimes it's difficult to know what kind of limits to set and how to set them. It's important that our limits be reasonable and explainable. It's not always necessary to state the reason, but it's often helpful to say, "No hitting because hitting hurts. Why don't you try using your words instead?" Empathy is important. For example, "I know you're angry right now, let's try to solve this without hurting someone." If you repeat yourself, you are teaching your child to ignore you. Whatever you decide, it has to be the same every time, and there are no second chances. State what you need and what the consequence will be, then stick to it the first time. Make sure you are close to your child, even touching them gently and lovingly. There needs to be a personal and compassionate contact. Remember that you are on their side, you just need a behavior to change.
My basic rule has been respect. Children need to learn to respect others personal space and individuality, including their parents'. I never insisted on my kids calling adults "Miss" or "Mister," but that is important to some of you, and I respect that. I have always insisted that they learn to not interrupt while trying to remain aware of their struggle. I know that children tend to get distracted and forget easily. When a child is interrupting, I always try to say to them, "I would really like to hear what you have to say. Can you wait just a moment?" That also sends a signal to the other person in the conversation that we need to make space for the child.
I've also insisted that children respect my body. When I nursed my toddlers, I didn't let them be in complete control. I nursed on demand, but as they got older they became more demanding. I loved nursing them, but there were times when it wasn't convenient for me. Maybe I was cooking dinner or doing something with an older child, and they quickly learned to wait. I tried to remember the advice given to me by my first lactation consultant that I teach my child to stop crying before allowing them to latch on. It's better for their digestion, my sanity, and all three of them learned it in the first few days.
Another important thing I taught my children and grandchildren is respect for my belongings, the furniture, my instruments, my phone, my pocketbook, etc. They are not allowed to jump on or off of the furniture. They are not allowed to get into my things or touch my instruments without asking first, and sometimes the answer is no. I usually give them another option, but sometimes it's just no, and that's okay. We all have to take no for an answer sometimes. As adults we don't get our own way because we throw a fit. If we did, the world would be crazier than it already is. It's important to remember that our main job as parents is to teach our children how to navigate the world successfully and responsibly. We are not doing them any favors by letting them run the show. Each of you will have your own rules, and they may be completely different from mine. After all, that's what makes the world go around.
Here are a few great websites that address this issue.
Now that the weather is getting colder, we've been feeding the birds. You can have a lot of fun this month finding some pine cones out in the woods or in your yard. Tie a string around the top and make a loop for hanging. Then fill the spaces with peanut butter and roll them in birdseed. Hang them where you and your child can watch the birds enjoy this tasty treat. They will love the seed, and the peanut butter will give them essential fat they need to survive the winter.
If you don't have pine cones, you can make another fun feeder using a toilet paper roll and sticks.
I have always loved this song.
Although limit setting may be the most important job you'll do, don't forget to have fun. Our children grow up so fast, and we don't want to look back at their childhoods and wish that we'd done more fun things with them. Enjoy them while they're young. The rest can wait.