Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever! is filled with dozens of stories praising mothers: happy stories, bittersweet stories, funny stories and zany stories. My story, “A Mom to Many,” is included in this new edition, just out in March 2017.

Order your copy through my website, and I’ll personalize an inscription, plus include a special Best Mom Ever! bookmark. Place your order today, and receive free shipping to an address in the United States. Order by May 5 to ensure delivery by Mother’s Day (May 14).

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I Mix Up Your Name Because I Love You

Finally, scientific studies show that moms—like me!—who can’t seem to spit out their own child’s name have a really good reason: we love our kids.

My mom used to call me Vicki or Shawn, my two older sisters, often when I was growing up. Trouble was, because of the large age gap between them and me, Vicki and Shawn had grown and moved out of the house by the time I was in grade school. To this day, she’ll call me one of my sister’s names (thank goodness, not my brothers’!). So why did my mom constantly get my name wrong?

Of course, I thought it was simply something my mom did—drove me crazy sometimes, but hey, she’s, er, older than I am, so it makes certain sense. Then I had a daughter, then another, and all of a sudden, I’m calling “Leaomi” when I mean to say Leah or Naomi. My two boys have names that don’t roll together so easily, but I still call Micah by his brother’s name, Silas, and vice versa. Sometimes, I can’t even get any name out even though I’m staring right at the kid.

Image courtesy of Ventrilock/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What a relief to know there’s a scientific reason for this! Yep, we massacre our kids’ names because, well, we love them.

A recent Babble article looked at a 2016 review of five studies of more than 1,700 participants on the problem of misnaming (the report was published in Memory and Cognition). Most often, it was the mothers who called the respondents by the wrong name, but those naming mistakes happened in nearly all family members and friends. While sometimes the misnomers were found to be because of similar sounding names, more often, the wrong names were said because of love.

“Overall, the misnaming of familiar individuals is driven by the relationship between the misnamer, misnamed, and named,” the study stated. That means, the closer we are to someone, the more probable we’ll mix up his or her name.

Because our brain organizes material into the semantic network (like a mental filing system—think Inside Out), we group similar information together. Hence, the propensity for moms to mix-up their children’s names or run through the entire list before landing on the right one.

So kids, it’s just because I love you so much that I can’t get your names right.

Tackling the Small Stuff

Q: My wife and I are discussing smaller issues in our household in which we want to train our children. Examples of these issues are leaving lights on when leaving a room, shutting door during rest time, putting jackets and shoes away when coming home or putting clothes in the hamper. When we talked about what consequence we would give for these minor violations, we discussed giving extra chores. What advice do you have for us in this?

A: This is a great questions, because it’s the little things that can drive us crazy, right? The shoes left yet again in the middle of the living room floor instead of being put away in the shoe basket. The coat draped over the chair every day after school instead of being hung up in the closet. The stack of collectors cards left on the floor each evening in a high traffic area.

Image courtesy of vorakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some of these minor infractions are labeled as such because it bothers us. Some are wasteful (lights left on in rooms with no one present, for example). The reason you want something done isn’t as important as how you present the task and how you motivate their cooperation.

A few years ago, my four kids couldn’t “remember” to turn out a light when leaving an empty room to save their lives. Only when I hit upon the solution of putting the miscreant to bed 10 minutes early did their ability to turn out lights improve drastically. So there is hope, but I wouldn’t have a consequence be extra chores necessarily, unless it’s more of a natural consequence, i.e., the consequence for not putting dirty clothes in the hamper was doing everyone’s laundry that week.

However, since you have quite a list of minor offensives, I would pick one to start with and focus only on that one, such as turning out lights, for a few weeks. Once the kids have mastered that, move on to the next item on your list. (You can order them according to how much they bother you and work on what drives you the craziest first). Don’t try to get all of them at once, or you’ll be policing your kids all the time and they will feel like they can’t do anything right.

As for consequences, think outside the chore box—you’ll want to shake things up a bit to keep the kids on their toes. If you want to have some fun, write down a list of consequences and pick one at random for violations. You could even have a minor violations consequences jar with slips of paper listing punishments. Remember that the punishment does NOT have to equal the crime. Sometimes, you’ll go with natural consequences (doing everyone’s laundry when leaving dirty clothes on the floor), sometimes with outrageous ones (as in you gather all the dirty clothes up and put them in a box for a month, including any favorite pieces of clothing).

Whatever you decide, keep in mind that it’s not so much for the sake of the task (turning off lights) as much as it is to increase a child’s awareness of his surroundings. A child who constantly leaves his bookbag in the middle of the living room floor for everyone to walk around is a child who’s not paying attention to his family. He’s willing to inconvenience everyone else because he can’t be bothered to put his bookbag in its proper place. Think of this as helping a child create more awareness of others (and exhibit less selfish behavior) than as addressing your particular pet peeves.

Sensory or Stubbornness?

Q: My 11-year-old daughter needs to start wearing a bra but is refusing.  She has always had sensory issues with clothes, such as socks, tight-fitting clothes like jeans, shoes even—very particular about the clothes she wears. She tried a bra on once but has said it was too uncomfortable. How do I get her to start wearing one?

Image courtesy of multipedia/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: All too often we discount a child’s sensory issues when it comes to clothing, ignoring their discomfort or dismissing their concerns as childish behavior. I remember hating to wear scratchy sweaters, which was basically anything that was acrylic and sometimes wool. It always made me feel hot and itchy. I never broke out in hives or anything, but to this day, I stay away from anything but cotton when it comes to sweaters and other heavy garments. I also tend to stick with all natural fibers to avoid the experience of synthetics against my skin, which often makes me feel, well, funny in a way.

Since your daughter is already particular about what goes next to her skin, I’m not surprised that bras are on her “do not wear” list. Plus, this can be a difficult transition for girls, especially as bras are not the most comfortable things to wear and most have underwire that can constrict and pinch. I’m assuming at this age, she probably doesn’t need a lot of coverage, so you can get away with some alternatives for now.

Try cotton camisoles with or without built-in “bra” shelves or those little “halters” that are kind of like the top of a two-piece bathing suit that are less bra-like as well that might work too. Those might make the transition time work better. Girls can even wear some of the “boy” tank top undershirts, which are nearly always cotton or cotton blend. Have her do some sleuthing of her own to find out what fabrics she can tolerate and which she can’t—a good project for an 11 year old to do.

Then when she really needs to wear a bra, spend some time researching fabrics and involve her in the process to find a brand and style that work well for her. I’m guessing she probably put on the one you bought, it pinched or felt funny, and she was done. Use the interim items, talk to her about why it’s important to wear a bra or bra-like undergarment, and let her choose the model to wear. There are many different styles of bras out there, so finding the right brand and style that work for her will take some time, but it’s time well spent, given that you’re helping her figure out one of the most important garments a girl will ever wear.

Parental Communication

Q: Our issue has more to do with my spouse and me being on the same page and communicating. We have both read parenting books and my husband knows I’m a big proponent of more traditional methods. He’ll say he “agrees” but I find that I am the only one using the ticket method with our 5-year-old son (our only child), for example. My husband will say things to me that “I’m the one who wants to bring down the hammer.” Our son adores his father and wants him to do everything for him and with him. I feel my husband’s leniency has resulted in this. What advice do you have that might better enable us to work as a team?

A: This is always a tricky question for a parent coach to answer because we only have your side of the story. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that every story has two “versions.” You say you’ve both read parenting books and that you’re a bigger proponent of more traditional child-rearing methods. You’re feeling like the heavy because you think you’re the only one who wants to discipline, while your husband wants to be seen as the “fun” guy with his son.

Image courtesy of chatchai_stocker/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are a couple of suggestions for bringing you both on the same parenting page, keeping in mind that the only person who you can make change is yourself. Not your spouse, not your son. Just you. With that caveat in mind, here goes.

  • Stop criticizing your husband for not following your way of disciplining your son. If son acts up while husband is interacting with him—and eventually, this will happen—don’t swoop in with a solution. Let your husband figure out what to do and how to discipline or not discipline.
  • Keep doing what you think needs to be done in regard to your son and his upbringing.
  • Let your son have his time with dad. This is relationship you want to be good, right?
  • Do fun things with Son on your own. Find special times during the day to interact with your son to build your own relationship with him. I’m guessing here, but I wonder if you’ve let that slip some in your focus on behavior. Tell him jokes, give him hugs, invite him into your world as you fold laundry (such as: “Hey, Son, why don’t you help me match socks and tell me what you did today,” then just listen), don’t wait for him to ask you to read a book–suggest one to him. Make sure you’re having many touch points with him throughout the day, and that will make him more responsive to discipline and also ensure you stay connected with him as well.
  • Finally, ask your husband in a nonjudgmental way what he would do to correct X behavior. Like if son is not doing his chores, say to hubby: “Son isn’t doing his chores. What do you think we should do about it?” Then let him answer without interrupting and ask your husband to implement the plan. In other words, give your spouse complete control over a discipline issue and let him see how it goes (or doesn’t go).

The trap we can all fall into is thinking our way is the best way when it comes to child rearing. While that might be true, we don’t allow for another person’s viewpoint or method—we can find ourselves constantly criticizing or suggesting or fixing what the other person is doing. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but keep that tucked into the back of your mind and see if you perhaps aren’t giving your husband equal footing in parenting by insisting that things be done your way.

Five-Year-Old Still Having Toilet Troubles

Q: I have a question relating to toileting. My daughter is five, and she will start school next year. She has a habit of holding on to her pee too long (sometimes four hours) before going to the toilet. As a result, it often leaks and dries up without my noticing it. Sometimes I do notice that her underwear gets quite wet, and her pants can be damp too and smell like pee. I have also noticed that when she washes herself in the shower, she tells me it stings and burns (I suspect from wet underwear). She has extremely sensitive skin.

I have long since stopped telling her when she has to go for a pee; she is fully responsible for it. My concern is that she will be in school all day next year, and if she does wet her underwear, she will either smell, develop a terrible rash or both. Me telling her about these possibilities do not faze her. Do you think it’s a good idea just to leave it, and ignore this entirely? Do you have any plans for me to perhaps help her a bit without taking back the responsibility?

Image courtesy of khongkitwiriyachan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of khongkitwiriyachan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: Unfortunately, this is all too typical behavior for this age for some kids. Three of my four kids all held their pee until they had tiny “accidents” and smelled like pee. I would have conversations with them about the smell and discomfort my daughter had with wet underwear and my sons with chaffing from damp pants, but I refused to solve it for them.

Most schools require parents send in a change of clothes for the youngest grade for this very reason—kids get distracted and forget until they can’t hold it any longer. You could mention this to the teacher so that she would insist that your daughter go to the bathroom when the rest of the class does (most teachers have designated bathroom times to avoid constant asking to use the facilities). Otherwise, peer pressure might take care of this. Also, she might decide to please her teacher by not wetting her pants, or she might decide that she doesn’t like the stinging/burning any more.

Whatever the case, you should let your daughter figure out how to solve the problem. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t tell her to change and wash out her underwear/bottoms if you smell something. Just do it matter-of-factly and she’ll eventually get over this hump.

 

Recapturing Your Identity

All too often, we moms lose ourselves in our children and the duties associated with raising kids. Here are a few simple ways to start your journey to recapturing your self-identity separate from your children.

Re-evaluate your priorities. What you spend most of your time on is what you value most, or so the saying goes. Think about how you’re spending your day. Is it 90% kid-focused and 10% house focused? What percentage do you spend being a wife versus being a mother? You can do this exercise with all the hats you wear, too.

Re-evaluate your time. We all feel so busy—overwhelmed by our lengthy and never-ending to-do lists. Busyness has become a status symbol. Always rushing around from one task to another. Constantly busy. On the job 24/7. As Americans, we’re busier than ever, filling our lives with constant motion and tasks to be accomplished.

One way to find out what we do with our time is to keep a time journal. To make an accurate time journal, you should keep one for an entire week. If that seems too daunting, try it for a day just to see where you’re spending your time. Use a stop watch or keep an eye on the clock and record what you do each minute.

By doing a time journal, you can see at a glance where your time goes. It can be an eye-opening experience. And for those who might say, “I don’t have time to keep such a detailed journal for a day, let alone a week,” you are probably the person who really needs to keep one. We can’t re-evaluate our time unless we know where we spend it, much like to make a realistic budget, we first need an accurate and detailed picture of income and expenses.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Re-evaluate your schedule. If you’ve done a time journal, you should be able to easily see what is filling your schedule. Are you trying to do too much with and for your kids? In the recent book about mothering in France, Bringing up Bebe, one French mother stopped her kids’ tennis lessons because she found the lessons “constraining.” When the author asked what she meant, the Frenchwoman replied, “Constraining for me.”

If only more American women would view lessons and sports and clubs and all manner of children’s obligations in light of whether it works for them and the overall family instead of running themselves ragged trying to keep up with their kids’ jam-packed schedule.

Re-evaluate your home. Sometimes, we can get a bit obsessed with the cleanliness and décor of our homes. Maybe we like to have everything just so, or perhaps we need to keep every speck of dust at bay. You might be more like me and forget about cleaning until company comes!

You might also enjoy decorating for various holidays and seasons, which can be fun. But sometimes, we take that to the extreme and start to expect perfection in how our homes look. By thinking through your house expectations, you can begin to see where you might need to readjust your desires.

Re-evaluate your relationship with your husband. Don’t neglect your husband. Bringing Up Bebe has a great quote from a Frenchwoman about why this is so important. “The couple is the most important. It’s the only thing that you chose in your life. Your children, you didn’t choose. You chose your husband. So, you’re going to make your life with him. So you have an interest in it going well. Especially when the children leave, you want to get along with him. For me, it’s a priority.”

You can make time for your husband without leaving the house. Date nights are great, but sometimes you just can’t manage it on a regular basis. Have an early bedtime for the kids to give you and your husband time together in the evenings.

Do make time away from home with your husband a priority, too. If you don’t have regular babysitters, try starting a co-op with another family or families. Three families could each get one night out every three months. Even if you only go to the park for a walk, or grab some ice cream, you will find it refreshing. Kids need to see their parents do things as a couple, as it gives them tangible evidence that your marriage is strong. Many studies have found that a strong marriage makes kids feel secure.

Until next time,
Sarah

 

 

A ‘Bad’ Mom’s Guide to School

The summer movie “Bad Moms” hit a chord with many mothers who feel pressure to do all and be all to their kids and families. The opening scene where Amy Mitchell (played by Mila Kunis) races around making breakfast and lunch for her kids, shepherding them to school, and handing her oldest son a huge papier-mâché bust of Nixon for his school project reminded me of how hard we moms try to do the right thing, especially when it relates to our children’s schooling. Over the course of the movie, Amy and two other fellow moms end up shedding the veneer of perfectionism and embracing the “just good enough” mantra that can keep a mom sane (but I’m not sure they full jettisoned the guilt that goes along with not doing everything for your kid).

While I could have done without so many f-bombs and other cursing, “Bad Moms” did show how difficult it can be to the be mother who’s out of step with neighborhood moms by stepping back from doing so much for her children. In the spirit of “Bad Moms,” here is how you can free yourself from the tyranny of trying to be a perfect mother.

  1. Get ‘em on the public school bus. I was frankly surprised that not one of the mom characters put their children on the bus. The school appeared to be a public school—a late scene in the movie did show school buses—yet Amy drove her children to school each morning, and picked them up each afternoon. A truly “bad” mom would make her little darlings walk to school if they lived within walking distance or ride the bus.
  1. Let ‘em make their own breakfast and lunch. Even a kindergartner can make his own breakfast and lunch, so unless you truly enjoy packing lunches, let your kids take over this task. It does help to walk through the week’s lunch menu with your children to ensure you have on hand what they need. For families with multiple children, I’ve found it helpful to post a list on the fridge with who’s making lunch when and with what fixings.
  1. Give ‘em ownership of their school belongings. It’s not your responsibility to keep track of your children’s school supplies, backpack, forms, etc., and the sooner you hand those over to your child, the sooner she will learn how to handle the items responsibly.
  1. Stop helping with homework.
    Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    For me, one of the best moments in “Bad Moms” came when Amy looked at her 12-year-old son and told him that she would no longer be helping him (i.e., doing) his homework. The look of disbelief on his face was priceless, but the realization on Amy’s was even more profound as she figured out she wasn’t doing her son any favors by co-opting his work as her own. This is a tough one for parents to follow through on—this letting the child either do or not do his homework. (Later this month, I will tackle what parents should and shouldn’t do in relation to homework in my Practical Parenting e-newsletter—sign up today to get yours each Friday morning.) If we remember that the purpose of homework is to enforce what the child learned in school, then we would realize that the child should be able to do the work by himself. If he can’t, then the teacher needs to know that so she can review the material or approach it from a different angel.

These are just a few suggestions for how to get off the perfect parent merry-go-round that none of us can achieve. What are some things you’ve stopped doing for your kids lately?

Not Your Grandmother’s Cloth Diapers

When I was expecting our first child, using cloth diapers never occurred to me, probably because memories of struggling to shove the diaper pin through the thick, white cloth of a squirming baby while babysitting still makes me cringe. That and the fact that we lived in a condo community with communal washers and driers pushed cloth diapers off my radar. Pregnant with our second child, a friend was talking about the “new” cloth diapers, ones without the mess and fuss of the old-fashioned diaper pins and plastic pants. Intrigued—and spurred by the rising cost of disposable diapers—I investigated and found a whole new world of cloth diapers, ones that my grandmother wouldn’t recognize.

The cloth diaper booth from MommyCon
The cloth diaper booth from MommyCon

I recently had the chance to talk with Xza Louise Higgins, a businesswoman, marketer, feminist, philanthropist, and multi-tasking mother of two who has channeled her expertise, experience, and passion for bringing people together into establishing herself as a leader in the field of natural parenting. Xza founded MommyCon, a conference that promotes natural and organic parenting. This year’s MommyCon is on Saturday, July 23, at the Walter E Washington Centre in Washington, D.C.

How has cloth diapering changed since pins and plastic pants?
Xza: Cloth diapering has changed so much over the years, and has become a lot more accessible and easy to use. There are now so many different ways to cloth diaper. There are some cloth diapers which even mimic disposables by creating an “All-in-One” design that allows you to place an all-fabric diaper around your baby, which then snaps into place or uses Velcro to keep the diaper together. You can be finished in seconds. Other cloth diapers allow you to use cotton inserts, wool covers, and other natural fibers. With these diapers, moisture is wicked away using organic fabrics or PUL barriers. Some of my favorite cloth diapers are BumGenius, Applecheeks and Sloomb.

What are some benefits to cloth diapering?
Xza: Overall cloth diapering is much better for the environment, and can even be more beneficial for your baby. Cloth diapers can be re-used multiple times. You can use the same cloth diapers for all the children in your family, and the only waste that occurs is the waste from your child. My daughter was cloth-diapered using diapers that had been worn by three other children from different families. They were over nine years old! It’s the ultimate gesture of kindness to the environment. xza family photo

How do you respond to those who think cloth diapering is way too much work?
Xza: If you are doing laundry, what’s one more load? Cloth diapering doesn’t take any more work than doing one extra load of laundry once or twice per week. It is also a huge cost savings to families big and small, so it’s economically sound, as well as environmentally safe.

 

Personally, we (Sarah) used Fuzzi Bunz diapers with inserts for three of our four children, and I know we saved a bundle over disposables. Also, washing diapers becomes old after a while—a great incentive to potty-train early. Plus, there’s a huge market for used cloth diapers, so you could possible recoup some of your original investment by reselling your cloth diapers. All in all, cloth diapers can be a win-win for your family.

Stepping Back

By Gail Kittleson

Looking back over our parenting years, it’s easy to moan, “If only I’d known then what I know now.” But one strategy I later learned would have revolutionized my skills.

Unfortunately, 12-step concepts like stepping back entered my life too late. At least I can use them with our grandchildren!

I wish I’d known that….

  • Interfering with youth’s normal ups and downs blocks learning opportunities;
  • Each of us is responsible for ourselves. This gets complicated when our children are young, but it’s so true as they become adolescents.

The transition from fulltime caregiver/teacher/mentor to part-time, on-call adviser can be traumatic for parents as children. But maybe a word picture like this one would have helped me back then.

A baby bunny whose mama birthed him in our 18-inch high wheel rim eventually had to find his way down to earth. A little bruising ensued in the process, most likely, but carrying nine offspring over the side, one by one, proved too much for his mother.

At one point, she gave the sign and stood back. Sure enough, the little ones toppled over the edge, unscathed, and happed off to greater adventures.

A mama robin cannot take her fledglings’ first flights for them, but must step back to watch. And, unable to rescue her offspring if they fail, she must sometimes accept suffering.

Our children need to learn by doing, by experimentation. It’s scary for us, and not all experiments succeed. But James Joyce wrote, “Mistakes are the portals to discovery.” And consider this quote from George Bernard Shaw: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

If we hinder our children from the learning potential of mistakes, we do them an injustice. Every time they fall down, they glean the know-how to get up again. In order for our beloved namesakes to become realistic, responsible adults, we must let go as we step back and cheer them on. The sooner parents learn this lesson, the better for both parties.

9-15-15 authorAbout Gail Kittleson
Gail writes from northern Iowa, where she and her husband enjoy gardening and grandchildren. Her memoir, Catching Up With Daylight, paved the way for fiction writing, and she’s hooked for life.

Her debut novel, In This Together, released late last year. After World War II steals her only son and sickness takes her husband, Dottie Kyle beg9-15-15ins cooking and cleaning at the local boarding house. The job and small town life allow her to slip into a predictable routine, but her daughters and grandchildren live far away, and loneliness is Dottie’s constant companion when she’s not working. Al Jensen, Dottie’s long-time neighbor, has merely existed since his wife died. Al passes his time working for his son at the town’s hardware store. However, he still copes with tragic memories of serving in WWI. Being with Dottie makes him happy, and their friendship grows until, for him, love has replaced friendship. When Dottie’s daughter has health issues, will Al’s strength and servant’s heart be enough to win Dottie’s love and affection? Can Dottie’s love for her family enable her to face her fear of crowds an d enclosed spaces and travel halfway across the country to help the daughter who so desperately needs her?