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Why Are You Acting Unusual?

The other day, the kids were a little bit out of control.

We were coming off of a three day swim meet, the kids had been dragged back and forth to a pool that was almost an hour away all weekend, I had been gone for basically three days, and everyone was e xhausted.

So I took Monday to regroup. It was a cool, rainy summer day, and it was just what we needed.

Or so I thought.

I figured the kids would enjoy the down time and not being dragged to another pool and another meet and being able to stay home in their pajamas all day.

I was hoping to use it as a day to catch up on all the stuff that had fallen by the wayside while I was gone.

Around 11:30 a.m., the first kid informed me that she was starving, followed by a second kid who was apparently on the verge of dying from hunger a short time later.

I stopped what I was doing, and I went into the kitchen.

I told the kids I’d make them lunch, that I wanted them out of the kitchen, and that I’d tell them when lunch was ready so they could come and eat.

One of my kids’ favorite things to do is sit on a stool in the kitchen and watch me make lunch and complain about how long it’s taking me.  And once one kid is doing that, it’s not long before they are all doing that.

And that shit drives me insane.

So the kids stayed out of the kitchen for approximately 47 seconds.

And then two of them were screaming at each other. I heard them coming from a couple rooms away.

I was already out of patience.

I told them that I was going to leave the kitchen when they were in there, especially when they were yelling at each other, and that if I had to leave the kitchen, it would take me that much longer to make lunch. And seeing as a couple of them were apparently on the verge of death because it had been more than an hour since they had last eaten, they might not want that.

They didn’t care. They kept screaming at each other.

So I left the kitchen.

I went into the bathroom where the washer and dryer are, and I started sorting laundry.

When I didn’t hear any more screaming, I went back into the kitchen. I resumed the lunch making process.

About five minutes later, the kids resumed the screaming process.

So I left the kitchen and I took the recycling out to the recycling bin.

I stayed outside for a few minutes because I was starting to get seriously frustrated.

I went back inside and the screaming had stopped. Again, I resumed the lunch making process.

And again the kids were at each others’ throats in a matter of minutes.

After about a half hour of this back and forth bullshit, I had had enough.I told the kids I was no longer willing to spend any more time making lunches, that I had been trying for a half hour and that was the maximum amount of time I was willing to spend.

I told them I would  make dinner later, but I had other things to do, and spending ninety minutes waiting for them to stop arguing was not one of them. If they wanted lunch, they’d have to do it themselves.

Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but it was three days after I’d been gone all weekend, and we had like three cans of green beans, some tortillas and for some reason, about fifteen bags of marshmallows.

So it was going to take some creativity.

I didn’t really care, though.

I walked out of the kitchen.

The kids looked at each other like, What the hell are we going to eat and What the fuck happened to Mom?

But I was exhausted from the weekend and stressed out and I was just done.

A little while later, Number 5 delivered me a note:

 

On the left side it said:

This is now, surrounded by a bunch of sad faces.

On the right side it said:

This is how it should be now,  surrounded by a bunch of smiley faces. And then it said:

Look on other side ——>

I turned the note over and read:

Dear Mom,

Why are you acting unusual (AKA mean)

it’s wierd

so please tell me why

Aha. I had struck a nerve.

The fact that she saw this as unusual behavior showed me one thing. I have been letting the kids be disrespectful to me more often than I think.

And she noticed my new response.

Today it’s three days later.

The kids certainly haven’t been angels.

But they’ve been better.

And they definitely haven’t been fucking around when I’m making them something to eat.

If your kids are driving you insane with bickering and fighting, consider trying this.

Don’t yell. Don’t scream. Don’t threaten.

Just quietly define your boundaries.

And then stick to them.

You might be surprised by what happens.

 

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If Mistakes Are Opportunities, I Guess That Makes Me An Opportunist

You know when you lose your shit on your kids and then you are instantly filled with remorse and regret and wish you could rewind and just start all over again?

I had one of those moments the other morning.

I didn’t really lose my shit.

But I was hard on Number 3. Too hard.

And I said something regrettable. Something I think can be particularly damaging, because I’ve been on the receiving ends of these words, and they stung. A lot.

They stung so much I haven’t ever forgotten them.

Number 3 has set a goal for himself this swim season to qualify for a big meet in Virginia in August. He’s been working really hard. And he had a somewhat disappointing season in the winter because he got really sick before championships and missed two weeks of swimming which is kind of a big deal as far as training goes.

I want so badly for him to qualify for this meet because he deserves it and because a lot of focus and attention has gone to Number 4 in the past six months as far as her swimming success goes, and I think he feels kind of overlooked and underestimated.

So when I woke him up the other morning and he refused to get out of bed, I freaked out a little bit.

Well, internally I completely freaked out.

Externally, I was more composed. But I was still freaking out.

I reminded Number 3 of his goals. I reminded him of what happened last season. I told him this was not the time to skip a swim practice.

He told me he just couldn’t get out of bed. He was in tears.

Internally, silently, I was saying, If he misses this practice, he won’t make  Zones,and he will be devastated. The whole season rides on this practice. (All ridiculous thoughts, by the way)

Externally, and out loud, I said, I’m disappointed in you.

Ouch.

Clearly he was already exhausted and struggling. Telling him he was a disappointment didn’t exactly help.

There was no kindness or understanding in my voice. Only judgment and shame.

Understandably, he stayed in bed.

Ugh. The disappointed-in-you thing is the worst.

It’s one of the things I vowed I wouldn’t say to my kids.

It’s not the first parenting vow I’ve broken.

After I took some time to reflect on this, I realized what I was actually feeling.

I wasn’t disappointed in Number 3.

I was concerned. And worried. And panicked.

Number 3 stayed home, and I left for practice with Number 4 about fifteen minutes later.

That was all the time I needed to think about what I had said and realize what I was really feeling and what I had done.

I had made a mistake.

Making mistakes sucks. It doesn’t feel good.

I stopped silently beating myself up after a couple minutes.

Because while this was a mistake, it was also an opportunity.

One of the things that pushes my buttons the most is when my kids take zero responsibility for messing up.

It drives me crazy.

But one of the things we often forget is that this refusal (or inability) to take responsibility for mess ups is a learned behavior.

Our kids are often afraid to acknowledge their mistakes because when they make them, we lose all our compassion and understanding. And we lose it.

We often yell, belittle, humiliate, and shame our kids when they make mistakes.

Who would willingly walk into that fire?

I know I wouldn’t.

Plus, we very often fail to acknowledge our own fuck ups.

As a result our kids rarely have examples of healthy and responsible behaviors when it comes to mistakes.

We can’t really blame them for not wanting to own up to them!

So after a couple minutes of silent reflection in the car, I said to Number 4, “I feel bad about how I handled Number 3 not coming to practice.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Well, I said some things to him I wish I hadn’t said,” I told her.

We talked a little more about it. And I felt a little bit better. I had at least given Number 4 an example of how to acknowledge a mistake.

When I got home, I went right up to Number 3’s room.

I apologized for handling the situation the way I had.

I used every ounce of restraint to not add a “but…” after that.

Not “I’m sorry, but I was worried” or “I’m sorry but I just want you to do well.”

No buts at all.

I told him he’d been working so hard, and I know he’s really trying and pushing  himself, that I blew things way out of proportion and forgot what was important, and in the future, I’d trust that he was listening to his body and making the healthiest decision for himself.

And then I gave him a hug and told him I loved him.

He smiled.

And all of a sudden, the mistake had gone from a bad thing, to a pretty good thing!

I think as parents, we are often afraid to acknowledge our mistakes. In doing so, we are afraid our credibility or authority or power is diminished.

But the goal isn’t to control our kids. It’s to guide them in the right direction and provide them with the skills and tools and awareness to be decent, responsible, self-confident, contributing and happy members of society.

And when we don’t model the behavior we hope to develop in our kids, it’s unrealistic to think they will somehow magically learn to do it on their own.

One of the biggest gifts we can give our kids is the gift of knowing it’s okay to be imperfect. That takes so much pressure off of them, and it provides them with the permission to acknowledge a mistake.

Taking ownership of your mistakes really makes you more relatable  and more respected.

And that’s what parenting is about. Developing respectful relationships with your kids. Respect that goes both ways.

The next time you mess up, remember the three R’s of recovery from mistakes:

  1. Recognize the mistake — “I wasn’t listening to you or understanding this morning!”
  2. Reconcile — “I’m sorry. I apologize.” (NO BUTS!)
  3. Resolve — “In the future I’ll trust that you know what’s best for your body.”

You will be doing your kids (and yourself) a big favor.

Making mistakes does not make you a bad parent.

But acknowledging them definitely helps to make you a good one.

 

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Your Kid Is Not The Only One

Last night I ran a mini Positive Discipline workshop for the local moms club.

And one of the first things I did was ask the moms to make a list of their biggest parenting challenges. You know, real button-pushing behaviors.

90% of the moms in attendance had kids who were 4 years old or younger. And when I asked them to share their challenges, they all seemed to be really hesitant. Like they were embarrassed to acknowledge that their kids weren’t perfect.

It took a minute or two before someone threw hitting out there.

And I actually heard someone exhale and say, Ahhhh. It’s not just me. 

So let me put this out there for any of you moms who think your kids are doing stuff that other peoples’ kids don’t do…

Your kid is not the only one who gets pissed and hits you. Lots of kids do that.

Your kids are not the only kids who attempt to beat the crap out of each other.

Your kid is not the only kid who lies.

Your kid is not the only kid who bites.

Your kid is not the only kid who is afraid of the noise the toilet makes when it flushes or who is terrified of the hand dryer in the Target bathroom (holy shit that thing is loud).

Your kid is not the only kid who has told you he hates you and he hates his entire family.

Your kid is not the only kid who rolls her eyes at you.

Your kid is not the only kid who talks back.

Your kid is not the only kid who steals stuff.

Your kid is not the only kid in kindergarten (or second grade or even seventh grade) who still wets the bed at night.

Your kid is not the only kid who refuses to wear clothing that doesn’t have elasticized waistbands.

Your kid is not the only kid who demands that her apples be sliced into perfectly-sized slices.

Your kid is not the only kid who still has a blankie. Even if she’s in high school.

Your kid is not the only kid who still uses a pacifier when she’s four years old.

Your kid is not the only kid who is eight years old and can’t ride a bike yet.

Your kid is not the only kid who does some really weird shit, whatever it is, that you are sure nobody else’s kids could possibly do.

All kids do strange or stupid or annoying or mean or puzzling or unbelievably frustrating things.

So don’t beat yourself up, and don’t be embarrassed.

Your fellow moms may not be broadcasting these things to the world, but I guarantee you, whatever challenging/infuriating/fucked up things your kids are doing, their kids are doing them, too.

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Kids Don’t Need Praise. But They Do Need This Instead.

When your kid does something you are happy about, what do you say to him or her?

Do you say, “Good girl!!! Good boy!!!”?

Do you say, “Good following directions!” or “You are such a good listener!”?

I know for me, some of those responses can be automatic.

Why do we say these things to kids?

We say these things because we want our kids to continue to behave. We say them because we want to increase their self-esteem.

What we don’t realize is that we are often doing the opposite by constantly praising our kids.

By constantly praising our kids, we are teaching our children to rely and depend upon the approval and opinions of other people.

Because what is the definition of praise?

  • to express favorable judgment of
  • to glorify
  • an expression of approval

Praise addresses the person and not the action. It recognizes perfection, it is patronizing, and it invites children to change because of or for another person and not from in internal locus.

So while we think we are helping our children by giving them lots of praise, we are not.

We are creating approval junkies who need praise from other people in order to feel good about themselves. And that is not encouraging confidence in one’s own worth or abilities and self-respect. Which is the definition of self-esteem.

Here is the other thing.

Would you speak that way to one of your friends?

If your friend saw you carrying a bunch of grocery bags inside and she went and grabbed some from the car to help you out, what would you say to her?

Would you say, “WOW! You are such a good helper!!!”

HA! No way!

Because it’s totally condescending.

But we talk in this patronizing way to our children. We don’t realize we are being patronizing to them when we do this. But we are.

A little praise, like a little candy, is fine. Everybody likes it. Kids love it.

But a lot of it is unhealthy.

It is not praise but encouragement that boosts our children’s self-esteem.

Encouragement means to inspire with courage. To spur on. To stimulate.

Encouragement addresses what our kids are doing. It recognizes effort and improvement. It is respectful and appreciative and it invites an inner direction. It teaches kids how to think, and not what to think.

Most importantly, it helps kids to feel worthwhile without other peoples’ approval.

And boy do I hope that is one gift I can give my kids before they leave the nest! I want them to feel good about themselves all on their own. No matter what anyone else says to them.

The next time your kid comes home with a good grade on a test or a project, try encouraging the behavior that helped them earn that grade.

You worked hard. You deserve it!

The next time your daughter helps you carry things in from the car, try

Thanks so much for the help. I really appreciate it!

The next time one of your kids shows you a Lego creation they’ve just made, try

How do you feel about it?

The next time your son gets a base hit in a little league game, say

You must be really proud of yourself!

Before you say something to your kids, ask yourself, Is this something I would say to my friends?

And if it’s not, reword it so it is.

Because praise, like candy, might be what your children want.

But encouragement is what they need.

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