Back to School for Parents

School all over the country is either in session or about to start, which means parents are gearing up for another academic calendar year much like their children. Here are some back-to-school tips for parents.

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  1. Don’t project. Whether you loved school or hated it or fell somewhere in between, parents should try to keep their own thoughts about school to themselves, especially the first few weeks. We can’t predict how the school year will go, so encouraging a child to have an open mind is the best thing we can give them.
  2. Don’t worry. All too often, if something goes wrong the first few weeks of school, we’re off worrying about the entire year. Kids pick up on our anxiety, so stay calm and remember that the school year is long and things can turn around for your child.
  3. Remember who is going to school. Hint: It’s not you. Your child is the one who needs to learn to navigate the school, teachers, classes and homework, and your child should shoulder that responsibility.
  4. Offer guidance at a distance. Don’t get overly involved in homework, etc. Provide structure when necessary but avoid becoming essential to the task or solution to academic problems.
  5. Emphasize your expectations. I’m not talking about grades, but about the kind of student you want your child to be. We’ve always told our kids that they should not be the reason a teacher can’t teach—that they should behave in the classroom. We’ve also told them that we expect them to do their best in school, but that we realize that will look different on a report card from child to child and subject to subject.
  6. Provide support at home. Through interest in their schooling to a good place to do homework to helping them develop an inquiring mind, let them know you’re invested in their academic success.
  7. Be true to their school. Help their school succeed too by volunteering where you can, being responsive with paperwork and teacher requests, and supporting the school in the community.
  8. Encourage reading. Whether it’s a magazine or the local team’s stats in the newspaper or a book, promoting reading will help your child grow and prosper.

What else would you add to this list? How do you prepare for back to school?

That Annoying, Bothersome Child

Starting when I was 12, my parents took in foster kids of all ages from a variety of backgrounds. When I was a young teen, 9-year-old Trudy (not her real name) arrived on our doorstep with a bag of clothes and head lice hidden by a bowl haircut. Freckles danced across her nose giving her an impish look that belied her rather rough personality. In short, Trudy was a brat, an extremely annoying child who did everything—and I do mean everything!—wrong. She hit, she had a whiny voice, she had no social graces, no ability to make friends. It was almost as if she was bound and determined to push everyone away so that no one could get close to her.

Like most foster kids, she came from a background that would break your heart—abused physically, sexually, mentally. Ignored, unloved. And so she forged her own abhorrent personality to cope with the truly horrible hand she had been dealt by life.

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But just because she was hard to love didn’t mean she was unloveable, as my parents demonstrated with patience and kindness and discipline and love. Lots and lots of unconditional love. It didn’t matter what Trudy did or didn’t do—my parents loved her. She drove me crazy with her antics, but because of my parents’ example, I loved her too.

I thought about Trudy recently when reading a post on Facebook about a young teenage girl with ADHD (“Milly”) who can be really annoying. The mom posting has a daughter (“Suzy”) who has had some run-ins/incidents with Milly. The mom wasn’t being snarky, and I know she’s probably genuinely concerned about her daughter. I know both parties and do understand both sides of the story.

But still, I wondered…Where is the compassion for Milly? Where is the understanding in the middle of the annoyance? Where is the tolerance for another, even one who does cross the line a time or two in tone or words? Do we just write off these kids and wash our hands because it’s hard? Do we allow our kids to do the same because it’s hard (when there’s no real abuse going on beyond annoyance)?

Loving those love us back, who make it easy by their personalities, isn’t difficult. Most of the time, we don’t even think about it. But loving and accepting those who make it hard, whose personalities repel us at times, that’s when the rubber meets the road.

We have to start by not labeling every annoying kid whose behavior pushes the limits or rubs another kid the wrong way. There’s true bullying and there’s “that kid is hard to be around because of her ineptness with social situations.”

We also need to teach our kids a compassionate response in the face of annoying behavior, and also kind responses. Our kids shouldn’t have to “take” an annoying personality but they should try to handle it in a kind way. Sometimes, that means telling a trusted adult. Sometimes, that means walking away. Sometimes, that means overlooking the other girl’s faults.

Because we never know when our influence or the influence of our kids can be the catalyst to change a child’s life. Remember Trudy? The world was stacked against her, but today, she’s the mother of three boys and by all accounts, a success story. Her upbringing and annoying personality didn’t dictate her future, and I know the positive influence of my parents (and perhaps, to a lesser degree, myself) had a lot to do with putting her on the right path.

Please, Correct My Children

The subject of the email sent by a neighbor—Boys Riding Bikes—made me hesitate before clicking on it. With the advent of warm weather (finally!), my four kids played outside almost constantly, and riding bikes was their top choice of outdoor activities. The boys in question were at the time 6 and 8, and were limited to riding on our street unless with their older sisters.

I admit my heart started pounding as I considered what admonishment might be contained in the email. Had my boys run someone off the sidewalk? Had they shouted something inappropriate at the neighbor? Staring at the screen wasn’t going to answer my questions, so I opened the email.

The tone was warm and friendly, and the writer—a father himself—said how much he enjoyed seeing our boys enjoying themselves on their bikes. Then he kindly pointed out that he had noticed the pair hadn’t looked before crossing a street, and he wanted to let me know before an accident happened.

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With a sigh of relief—and a mental note to remind the boys of the look-both-ways-before-crossing-street-rule coupled with a restriction on their biking movements to reinforce the seriousness of not complying—I told the neighbor how grateful I was that he took the time to point out the incident and thanked him for looking out for my boys.

Later I thought about why it’s so difficult these days for us to make the effort to look out for each other’s children, to alert parents to potentially dangerous situations and to help make our communities safe for all kids, not just our own. I think it boils down to fear. Fear that our overtures will be unwelcome. Fear that we’ve misread the circumstances. Fear that our gestures will be met with vitriol. Fear that we will overstep societal boundaries.

For generations, mothers didn’t worry about those things. If they saw a neighbor kid acting in a way that wasn’t right, they called him on it. If they were the closest adult to a child in a potentially hurtful situation, they acted. The parents of those children didn’t react with anger that someone—sometimes, a stranger—had taken it upon themselves to get involved in their child’s life. No, they generally supported the actions and reprimanded their child later for her misbehavior.

That this has ceased to be the norm is both sad and frightening. It’s sad that we’ve lost the camaraderie among mothers to care for all children near our own. It’s sad that we’ve neglected to be aware of other kids, choosing instead to focus exclusively on our own. It’s sad that we don’t get to know our neighbors and their kids because we’re too busy.

It’s also frightening that we’re more apt to call the police than approach children by themselves to see if they’re okay. It’s frightening that we allow fear to rule our parenting decisions, rather than commonsense. It’s frightening that we’ve forgotten how communities that pull together and that know one another are communities that look out for one another—and the children.

But we can change that! This summer, I challenge each of you to be a positive force in your neighborhood. When you see a child not your own doing something wrong, gently correct him. When you come across an unsafe situation, admonish in a kind way. When you see a child hurt, offer comfort. When someone does that to one of your kids, respond with thanks.

We underestimate the power of goodwill toward kids—especially those not our own. The more we act like we care about all children we come in contact with, the better our neighborhoods, cities and countries will become.

Until next time,
Sarah

 

 

Unsolicited Advice of the Parenting Kind

Recently, a reader wrote to say that “we are about to start toilet training and are getting so much negative feedback!” She went on to say that she keeps getting sent articles about how starting toilet training too early will be detrimental to her child’s overall well-being. The reader ended with “Maybe I should have kept my potty-training thoughts to myself.”

Her non-question brought up a very real concern in today’s age of over-sharing and an attitude of “I know best for everyone—listen to me.” How do you handle unsolicited child-rearing advice or concerns?

It’s something I struggle with as a mom of four and as a trained parent coach. There have been times when what I’m saying as a speaker to other moms and dads isn’t well received because they disagree with where I’m coming from. There have been times when I’ve given an answer the parent doesn’t want to hear (and I can tell by her expression, isn’t going to take).

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I’ve shared what we’ve done in certain situations…and felt the roomful of moms initially recoil but eventually see the truth and freedom that comes from doing the right thing even though society at large might not agree with my decisions.

Because of my training in parenting, I don’t often receive unsolicited advice, but my standard response is: “Thank you for sharing your concerns or information.” Then I smile and change the subject. I find it’s best to not engage, just acknowledge their thoughtfulness (choose to interpret that way instead of intrusiveness and you’ll be able to deflect the person much more easily), and move on to something else. Ask a question about some benign child rearing issue that you don’t care one whit about if you must—redirection is key.

But on the flip side, I’ve also had to bite my tongue to avoid giving advice or solutions to problems friends or relatives haven’t asked to hear. I don’t want to be the one who can’t keep her opinions to herself on matters of raising kids.

That doesn’t mean I’m not true to who I am, but it does mean that I try to be more careful to read the situation to see if my advice would be welcome. Sometimes, I’ll even ask before launching into what I would do. Other times, I catch myself on a tear, and apologize for hijacking the conversation into one of my parenting talks. Still others, I wait to be asked my opinion, and if it’s not solicited, then I move on to something else.

I also try not to criticize how others are raising kids. No one wins that game, and while friends, family, acquaintances might be handling a situation differently than how I would (and could be creating more angst while doing so), it’s not up to me to fix that problem.

We should be supportive, rather than critical; warm and accepting, rather than pointing fingers; listening, rather than speaking. Raising kids has enough challenges without throwing in moms and dads being afraid to open their mouths and share their troubles or concerns.

Until next time,
Sarah

Mothers and Daughters

As a daughter (and a mother of daughters), I have firsthand knowledge of the complicated relationship between moms and daughters. As one with two sisters (and a brother) more than a decade older than me—and with a brother and sister more than a decade younger than me—I’m in a unique position to see this in a microcosm of our family.

For example, I experienced how my mom related to adult children while I was in my tweens and early teens. At the same time, I saw how my mom related to babies/toddlers while in my middle teens. I also could see patterns in how my mom raised daughters in particular. For example, how my mother communicated with my younger sister when she was a teenager echoed how she did so with me. When my mother told me how my younger sister adversely reacted to certain things, I sometimes gently pointed out that wasn’t surprising because I acted the same way in response to the same situation.

I well remember saying to myself, “I will NEVER do that as a mom with my daughters.” But even as a teenager or young adult, I had enough self-awareness to know that while I might not do that particular thing that drove the teenage me crazy, I would likely do something else entirely that will drive my own teenagers crazy.

But as I get older and my four children grow older, I’ve come to realize that we all do the best we can in the time we live. My mother had her imperfections—and there are some things I wish she had done differently—but in truth, she hit the target center on all the things that mattered most. I always knew she loved me, that there was nothing I could ever do that would negate that love. I always knew she believed in me, that I would make my way into the world on my own. I always knew she would be there for me, to encourage, to listen, to pray for, to comfort, to rejoice.

That’s the kind of mom I hope I am to my kids—one that tells the truth in love, is a shelter for life’s storms, and loves unconditionally. I pray my mistakes are minor but my love is major. And I hope that my own kids find more to appreciate than criticize in my own child-rearing.

Until next time,
Sarah

Best Mom Ever!
This year, I had the privilege of celebrating my mother with a story in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever! Called “A Mom to Many,” the story gives a small glimpse into this remarkable woman I get to call mom. I will be signing copies of Best Mom Ever! at the Fair Lakes Barnes & Noble in Fairfax, Va., on Saturday, May 6, from 2 to 4 p.m. EST. If you’re in the area, stop by and pick up a copy for the mom in your life! More info here.

More Hosting Tips (With Kids)

I’ve received a lot of wonderful feedback from last month’s Washington Post piece on “Once kids enter the picture, can parents still entertain?” Because of space constraints, not all of my tips made

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it into the paper. Here are five additional lessons I’ve learned about how to pull off dinners and parties when kids are in the house.

  1. Make it easy. When we host large events, we make a Costco run to make setting out a buffet simple. Pressed for time? Buy prepared foods or order from a restaurant.
  2. Consider your guest list. Thinking about who to invite to what should involve some thought to ensure all are comfortable and have a good time. “Different friends find their way into your lives at different times of life, and if you’re in the kid stage, entertain others who are sympathetic,” says says April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert.
  3. Think beyond dinner. There are lots of ways you can host successfully, but it might take some trial and error to find the ones that work for you. For example, when our kids were little, we often hosted brunches instead of dinners because our kids were better behaved in the morning than in the evening.
  4. Communicate expectations. Let your guests know that your kids will be there and that theirs are welcome too. Or if it’s a grownup-only night and your kids will be off in their rooms, let them know that too. “Be sure to what ‘kid-friendly’ means for you and your family. If that means wine and beer are okay, but smoking and cursing are not, be clear and share it early,” advises Anitra Durand Allen with Experience Bliss Coaching.
  5. Remember the point. This is the key to any successful gathering—keeping in mind why you’re hosting. Hint: It’s because you want to spend time or get to know your guests, right?

Cryin’ All the Time

Three of my four kids cry. A lot. They shed tears when they’re angry. They bawl when they’re sad. They sob when they’re frustrated. In short, emotions tend to manifest themselves as water.

And I understand, because I’m the same way. I’ve cried when I was spitting mad–and hated every tear that fell. I cried when frustrated because someone wasn’t hearing me or understanding what I was saying or trying to do.

Teaching our kids how to handle tears has been an ongoing and important lesson in our home. Our criers will probably always shed tears at the most inopportune times. Knowing how to respond and what they can do to control those tears can be one of the best things they’ll ever learn.

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With the help of a few experts, I tackled that topic in a recent Washington Post On Parenting blog entitled “How to help your child cope with tears that come too easily.” One tip that has been of enormous help in our house has been to give the child permission to take a moment to regroup, such as putting her head down on her desk at school, closing his eyes and counting to 10, etc. Those little coping mechanisms have paid huge dividends as our kids have become more confident in how they respond to their own teariness.

Until next time,
Sarah

Calling All Mothers

If you’re called to motherhood, what does that mean? In the simplest terms, it means you have children, who either came to you by way of birth or adoption (both formal and informal). Chimene Shipley Dupler posits that being a mother is a high calling in her new book on the topic. Hers is the voice of encouragement, whispering in our ears that we can do this mothering thing because God has given us this work.

Written in a breezy, cheerleader tone, The High Calling of Motherhood offers guidance on what it means to be called to motherhood. The chapters flow into each other and cover a lot of ground, from social media feeding our insecurities to the power of prayer in the lives of our children. The book’s strength lies in her biblical grounding that God is sovereign over our entire lives—and the lives of our children. All too often, we let fear reign in our hearts instead of resting in the sovereignty of Almighty God.

Dupler’s sincerity and her passion for helping moms shines throughout the book. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to overcome some inherent problems with the book overall. Her prose exuded excitement—a good editor should have curbed her generous use of exclamation points (!)—as well as repeated phrases and ideas, such as informing us over and over (and over) again that motherhood is a high calling (and that’s just in the first chapter). Subsequent chapters also have the similar repetitive notes that could have been streamlined and beefed up with a more rigorous exposition.

I also had a hard time with one huge assumption Dupler asserts early on in the book: “But motherhood has always been hard, in every generation and in every culture. Mothering is hard because it comes from the heart.” I know for a fact that my mother or grandmother would never have said that being a mom is hard in general. This “mothering is hard work” is a very modern idea, one that is largely American in nature (read Bringing Up Bebe to see how different modern Frenchwomen view motherhood, for instance).

In addition, the book has more of a “you can do it!” tone than practical advice, which is thin on the ground. It’s all good and well to tell us that we are called to motherhood, but how does that fit into our other callings as wives? Or into our work or volunteer opportunities? I wished for more chapters like the one on storyboarding and visioning, which provided tangible ways to envision our children’s future that could help us through a particular season of life. While she gives us insights into her own life and shares a few stories of other women she’s met, I wanted Dupler to provide the voices of other moms in her book.

The Bottom Line
The High Calling of Motherhood is a saccharine dose of encouragement for moms who have lost their way after having children. You will find much in this book to spur you on to rediscovering your calling as a mother. However, for those who are in search of practical ways to be a mother, you might find Dupler’s work a little lacking. For that group, I recommend How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. For Christian mothers wanting a guidebook to raising kids in the faith, there is no better recommendation than The Mother at Home by John S.C. Abbott, a 19th century American pastor.

Readers can enter The High of Calling of Motherhood Blog Tour Giveaway for a chance to win either a custom made “World Changer” necklace by The Giving Keys or two tickets to attend the Passion4Moms conference being held in Washington, D.C., May 5-6, 2017.