Summer is often a time for family vacation and making the rounds to relatives you may not get to visit often. As you know, your teens are a lot of fun to be around. Not yet adults, they are at an age when they have their eyes wide open. Their refreshing attitude can bring you back to when you were their age.
In fact, it is so infectious that on occasion it can result in the adults in the family vying to be the one relative that the teen loves most. After all, who doesn’t want to be the “cool” aunt or uncle? It is how the relatives go about earning this affection that is surprising, which can be especially evident at summer gatherings.
In my family it was my Great Uncle Mike, also known as the "Candy Uncle.” You knew that Mike always had his pockets filled with candy, so he was always voted the most popular uncle amongst us kids. I can't say we were as excited to visit sweet Great Aunt Rho. As the years went on it was clear she as slowly losing her faculties.
On occasion, I hear situations where the battle to be the favorite relative goes a little too far. There’s Grandpa Kent who upon hearing that his grandson’s other grandparents gave his grandson a hefty check, went out and bought the young man a car. Perhaps he should have checked with the the parents first. There’s Aunt Trudy who buys her niece all the top designer clothes ignoring the pleas of the teen’s parents who are trying to teach her to work for such items, which they believe are unnecessary and frivolous. These are both a far cry from the Candy Uncle.
So, how do you address this? Any sort of calm and gentle confrontation can sometimes end up in a prickly situation. Indignation and anger are not uncommon reactions either. Nonetheless, this is about what you believe is best for your teen.
Sometimes a two step approach is best:
1. Talk to your teen. Explain why you are not OK with these tokens of affection. We know, it is not so easy to ask your teen to turn down a car or that new designer handbag.
Encourage your teen to spend time with the relative. This will help them feel special.
2. Talk to the relative. Explain why you can not allow your teen to accept these gifts. Emphasize your appreciation for their thoughtfulness and generosity. Suggest that the best gift is simply spending time with the teen.
Finally, we leave the best story for last. Grandma Jill showed up at her granddaughter’s house with a horse trailer with a beautiful Palomino. Great, right? Wrong. The family lived in a city and the father had just been laid off. The grandmother suggested that they put the horse in their backyard. They lived on a 1/4-acre plot with neighbors on both sides. You can’t make this stuff up, can you?
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.
And I thought I was cool for running a mile or two when I was eight months pregnant. (I called it the “ruddle,” a mix between a run and a waddle.) Next week, the very pregnant Malaysian shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi is going to compete in the Olympics, representing her country in the 10-meter rifle event.
And then she’ll hurry up and get on a plane home because her doctors don’t want her flying after 35 weeks.
I am in love.
It is no easy feat to be an athlete and a pregnant woman at the same time. With all that stuff going on in the bod, adding extra physical stress is hard. Even for the immortals.
Marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe, for instance, said that training during her first trimester was the hardest physical task she had ever confronted. This kept me from feeling pathetic for months. (Of course, the Radcliffe continued to run 14 miles a day while pregnant and then won the 2007 New York City Marathon months after giving birth, but she is a different species.)
But it’s not just the physical toll. When you’re pregnant and trying to exercise, you get a lot of flak. People on the street scowl at you. Acquaintances tell you you’re being selfish and are hurting your baby. Older relatives bite their tongues.
All of this despite study after study that shows that exercise helps, rather than hurts, both mom and little runner – or shooter – to be.
When I was pregnant I participated in a study at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center that monitored what happened to babies when their late-in-pregnancy moms exercised. They put us on a treadmill, had us exercise at various intensities, monitored mom and fetus, and then immediately performed ultrasounds to see what was going on with baby. Later they collected health information about our infants.
The researchers wanted to evaluate two categories of pregnant women: those who were already regular exercisers and those who were fairly sedentary. They wanted to test the oft-repeated (although, it turns out, based upon very little evidence) theory that “moderate” exercise during pregnancy was OK for those of us who are already active, but that pregnancy is not the right time to start an exercise program.
The study is not yet complete, but so far the doctors involved have found that women can exercise much more vigorously than previous thought, and that exercise doesn’t have any negative impact for those women who hadn’t worked out previously. There are also a slew of apparent benefits to both baby and mom when mama is active.
Even running active, or Olympic active.
Ms. Taibi qualified for the Olympics just days after she found out she was pregnant. She says that she has already received a lot of criticism, but has mostly shrugged it off.
“Most people said I was crazy and selfish because they think I am jeopardizing my baby’s health,” she told reporters. “My husband said grab it as this is a rare chances which may not come again. Also, I am the mother. I know what I can do. I am a stubborn person.”
I’ll be cheering from here.
Every so often, it’s good to let yourself drift, to just follow the current and see where it takes you; to leave an hour, a morning, a day unplanned; to enter open space and time and invite its effects. The artist Paul Klee spoke of drawing as “taking a line out for a walk.” We can see his art as exploration, inquiry, following a random thought, or drifting — and look what comes of it: something fresh and new.
This is what summer is for.
It’s not always easy to do. I used to call time and space “boredom” when I was a kid, as in “Mom, I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” Now I long for the chance to say, “There’s nothing to do (i.e. nothing I have to do) … thank goodness.” Boredom has gotten such a bad rap. Kids are so conditioned to think that they must always be doing something, going somewhere, entertained, active. But a little boredom can be a terrific vessel for a good drift, following a line of thoughts and just seeing what pictures appear.
It helps to have a raft in your summer — literally or figuratively. There were countless days when my boyhood gang, bored with the possibilities at home, gathered around Hurley's pond to throw planks together for epic raft voyages along its great grey-green greasy banks. Kids of a certain age have an instinctual urge to mess around on things that float, with mud, and with sticks. Combine the three and you have an empire of imaginary possibilities. We could be Ulysses, Captain Hook, or Viking swashbucklers. Who needs Playstation when you have a raft and a stick?
Later on, when I read about Huck Finn, I learned that a raft is a moment on the Big River when the bravest adventure occurs: a true connection with another human being. For instance, Jim comes alive to Huck as a person, not just a slave, when they share the raft. A raft can be a collection of planks on the Mississippi, a moment of inspiration, or a yielding to a current that brings you 'round the bend to a new view of a person, place or thing. One shouldn’t gloss over the perils and cruelties encountered on Huck’s trip down river. But we can safely say that it’s good to have had a raft, to have drifted, been a swashbuckler, made brave connections.
From our vantage point here on the middle of summer, I like to listen to Huck’s own words. Dip your toes with me in the current and eddies of his syntax, as Huck throws us an idyllic line:
“You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft. . . Two or three days and nights went by; I reckon I might say they swum by, they slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely. Here is the way we put in the time. It was a monstrous big river down there—sometimes a mile and a half wide; we run nights, and laid up and hid day-times; soon as night was most gone, we stopped navigating and tied up—nearly always in the dead water under a towhead; and then cut young cotton-woods and willows and hid the raft with them. Then we set out the lines. Next we slid into the river and had a swim, so as to freshen up and cool off; then we set down on the sandy bottom where the water was about knee deep, and watched the daylight come. Not a sound, anywheres—perfectly still—just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes the bull-frogs a-cluttering, maybe.”
May the bullfrogs a-clutter to you, as you tend your lines, swim, cool off, and listen to the sound of “not a sound, anywheres.” May you find this free and easy feeling, and a respite from navigating, through the end of July and into August.
Happy rafting. See you around the bend, downstream a ways.
A few days before our Yellow Lab-Golden Retriever Albie arrived from Louisiana, I was talking with our friend Chris, an accomplished chef and long time dog owner.
“You need to let the dog know who’s in charge,” Chris said with the authority of someone who’s used to running a busy restaurant kitchen. “There’s got to be an alpha male and that has to be you.”
“So, what you’re saying,” I replied, “is not to make the same mistake with the dog as I made with my kids.”
“Exactly!” he said.
I was only half kidding. It’s not in my nature to try and be the boss, either as a father or, now, as a proud owner and best friend of the world’s sweetest dog. And, all things considered, the kids turned out better than all right.
In the first few weeks of taking care of Albie, we wondered, indeed suspected, that he wasn’t always treated with the love and affection we’ve been showering on him since he arrived. He hasn’t needed a very firm hand. He’s almost absurdly well behaved, greeting each new person with trust, clearly expecting the best in everyone, and offering his paw for a shake. He doesn’t beg for food. He doesn’t tear up the house. He waits to be invited upstairs.
He seems so happy to be with us, it’s almost as if he’s trying hard not to blow it.
Though I was the lone holdout who finally acquiesced, I have fallen hard for Albie. When I think about what it is – what the magical chemistry might be all about – I suspect it has something to do with the fact that in just a year our younger son will be heading off for college.
I miss, as does my wife Judy, those years when the boys were young, when we bathed them, wrapped them in towels, and read them stories – often the same one night after night after night until we heard the words in what little sleep we were able to muster. We miss the days when they were excited whenever we came home (today there just isn’t anything special about Dad walking though the door and I feel lucky just be acknowledged). We miss the days when they wanted to hold our hands and were eager for our approval. One thing about raising kids: The days and the nights often seemed like an eternity. But the years? They rush by in a blur. With Albie it feels a bit like we’re back in those halcyon days of “Goodnight Moon” and “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” though we haven’t tried reading to him just yet.
Most dogs I have known, and Albie seems to fit the mold, are stuck in a perpetual state of need and attachment with their caretakers that kids inevitably outgrow. I doubt Albie will ever tire of having his belly rubbed, the fur behind his ears caressed, or hearing me sweet talk him whenever he approaches with those wanting eyes and what I swear is a smile on his face.
I doubt I’ll ever tire of it either.
If you’re like my family and many around the world, you’ll be glued to the TV at all hours, watching the 2012 Olympic Games from London, which start tomorrow and run for 17 sports-filled days. The Olympic Games have been fascinating us since 776 B.C. in ancient Greece, where they were a one-day event featuring running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, equestrian sports, and a martial art called pankration. Five city-states (think Athens and Sparta) competed for the prize, a crown made of olive leaves.
In addition to watching them, here are six other ways to celebrate and enjoy the Olympics.
Learn something about another country
With 204 countries competing in the 2012 Olympics, from Mauritius to Kiribati, there are plenty of countries and cultures to become acquainted with. Try finding some of the more obscure ones on a map or globe.
I’ve long been fascinated with the flags of other countries, and I bet many others are, too. Make a fun flag handprint wreath, using these wonderful flag printables from Activity Village.
There is also no shortage of interesting food you can make from every corner of the globe. This list of food from around the world will certainly get you started. Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Japanese food always sound good to me and my family, but we can be convinced to branch out even further, especially during the Olympics.
Celebrate London and England
London, which last hosted the Olympics in 1948, is a fun place to honor. Since we’re always up for celebrating with food, this British food glossary will supply you with traditional comestibles, from Bangers and Mash to the Ploughman’s Lunch.
You also can’t go wrong serving tea (or juice) with simple scones. Even though “high tea” seems very fancy today, the first high teas were actually meals of meats and cheeses served with tea to Industrial Revolution-era workers who sat to eat at high tables.
London, of course, is quite rich culturally. I love this fun double-decker bus made from a cardboard box, courtesy of Entertaining Monsters.
England has also provided the world with a lot of wonderful music. If you haven’t introduced your kids to The Beatles yet, now is the time. Start anywhere in the song catalog and work your way around. Lots of kids love Abbey Road, Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Rubber Soul is a can’t-miss classic. The earliest songs are great to dance to and the latest ones are fascinating for older kids. Speaking of dancing, British '80s new wave music is sure to get toes tapping and heads bobbing.
Get inspired to achieve your dreams and be a good sport
Most people can’t help but be inspired by watching Olympic athletes — indeed, that’s a large part of the fascination of the games. Just about every Olympic athlete sacrificed something to get to the top of his or her sport. While all great athletes show tremendous dedication, discipline, and ability, some have overcome more setbacks than others. (See the Monitor's coverage of eight such athletes.)
The Olympics can inspire you to be active and healthy, and also to achieve your dreams. While urging you to do your best in any endeavor, they can also teach good sportsmanship — as they invariably demonstrate that achievement often comes with disappointment. Sometimes, no matter what your training and background, it’s not your day to win. The best athletes know how to lose with grace, too. “The most important thing is .. not to win but to take part,” reads part of the Olympic Creed.
Get active with a Backyard Olympics
So you don’t have a balance beam or a javelin handy? You can still create your own version of the Games with a Backyard Olympics. Ucreate offers lots of ideas for Olympic-inspired games and activities that are fun and easy to pull off. And Fiskars provides more Backyard Olympics game ideas, as well as fun decorations and accessories, such as homemade Olympic torches and flag banners. (See more craft ideas for your Backyard Olympics, below.)
Get active in your community
Rather get active in your community? First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move organization has declared Saturday, July 28 Olympic Fun Day. Follow the link to find lots of ideas for fun Olympic-inspired games and meet-ups with others in your area.
Make Olympic crafts
You didn’t think we were done with Olympic-inspired crafts, did you? In addition to the ones mentioned above, Sunhats and Wellie Boots offers a tutorial for their version of an Olympic torch craft. And the ribbon wands will make anyone feel like a rhythmic gymnast or, at the very least, an enthusiastic celebrant.
You can also make these cute and clever DIY Olympic gold medals using clay, courtesy of Cindy Hopper from Alphamom.
And, for those who want to get in touch with their inner ancient Greek, this is a fun laurel crown and toga project from Creekside Learning.
Oh, Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders – giving tweens everywhere a lesson in real life this week.
That’s right, fans of “Twilight,” the young adult book series and movies, have been distraught ever since they learned that their beloved, star-crossed, 50 percent vampire couple, Bella and Edward, are not living the fairy-tale romance so many had imagined.
But before getting into the details, I will back up, for those who might have been out of the pop culture loop. (Vampires? Lovers? Kristen Stewart?)
In 2008, Ms. Stewart starred as Bella, the female protagonist of Stephenie Meyer’s young adult book sensation, “Twilight.” The basic plot of the Twilight series is that Bella, decidedly not the most popular girl in school, has fallen in love with Edward, who is, inconveniently (or at least, challengingly) a vampire. It goes from there, with many near death experiences, other angry vampires, obsessive love and lots and lots of not having sex. (Until the last book, that is, and you should just wait for the consequences of that. You do not want to give birth to a baby vampire, all I’m saying.)
There’s been a lot of feminist criticism of these books, but girls across the world love them. Just love them. And so, when it became known that popular actress Stewart was dating – in real life! – hunky Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward in the movie, well, it was almost more than the Tween world could handle. As much as they lurved Bella and Edward, they double lurved Kristen and R-Patz. They called the duo “Robsten.” Seriously.
And then, Mr. Sanders had to come along.
He directed Stewart in her leading roll in the new movie, “Snow White And the Huntsman.” And this week, Us Magazine printed photographs of Mr. Sanders and Stewart apparently involved recently in a romantic tryst.
The whole thing is ugly. Sanders is married to a model and actress Liberty Ross, who is a decade older than the 22-year-old Stewart, and who played Snow White’s mom in the film. Sanders and Ms. Ross have two children together. Meanwhile, rumors had been swirling that Mr. Pattinson would propose to Stewart.
Both Stewart and Sanders have admitted to the cheating. Both have apologized privately and publicly to their families, and Stewart has been photographed looking tearful and drawn.
Meanwhile, the tween world is outraged.
“I don’t want to believe it,” Tweeted one.
“How could you!” said another in an emotional YouTube video.
And then there were death threats, but the Internet is wacky like that.
But here’s the thing. This situation is surely painful and miserable for those people involved. But when it comes to the widespread reaction to the cheating, there is some context worth pondering.
Americans are notoriously conservative and outraged about infidelity. In a 2008 Gallup Values and Beliefs poll, Americans as a group found extramarital affairs morally worse than polygamy, human cloning and suicide. But an awful lot of Americans do cheat. It’s almost impossible to get accurate statistics for this (estimates range from 3 percent to 80 percent), but a lot of studies put the number at about 30 percent of married people. (Stewart, recall, is not married.)
When I reported a Monitor magazine cover story about infidelity a couple of years back, researchers I interviewed told me that it is a very US phenomenon to believe that cheaters are a certain type of person, rather than to acknowledge that cheating is something that happens. (Other countries have a far different view of infidelity – in Russia, for instance, some therapists will recommend extramarital affairs as a way to spice up a relationship.) In this country a lot of people have the “I’m not the sort of person who would cheat,” or, in this case, “she didn’t seem like the type of person to cheat” attitude.
But this black and white view doesn’t make any sense, psychiatrists and academics told me. Relationship dynamics, outside temptations, individual characteristics, feelings of isolation, self control – those all have a lot more to do with cheating behavior than the “type” of person.
Which is something of a lesson, perhaps, for the teenagers furious at Stewart right now, or devastated to learn that their example of true love is messier than a young adult romance novel may portray it.
Relationships are complicated. People are complicated. Good people can hurt each other. (Caveat here that I don’t know any of the folks involved, so really can’t judge their personalities, but let’s assume “good” for now.) And there is nuance in the world of adult romance.
Even when there are no vampires involved.
In all the training that I did to become a lifeguard – swimming, CPR, first aid, rescue simulations – the part that stuck in my head most was the discussion about how I would potentially have to deal with post-traumatic stress. If I was on duty and someone drowned, how would I handle that?
That was whole reason I took the training course, right? To prevent injuries and accidents, so that people could enjoy swimming in a safe environment. This section of the training drove home the seriousness of the post, and the risks involved with swimming.
My main lifeguarding experience occurred at summer camp with a limited number of kids, who were all required to pass a swimming test in order to swim without a personal flotation device. Other people that I trained with worked at the local aquatic center, which, like others throughout the country, have swarms of patrons during the summer months. Crowded pools, children running around, splashing, and the summer heat.
And although lifeguards play a pivotal role in swimming and water safety, unfortunately they aren’t infallible. A recent CDC study called “Lifeguard Effectiveness” says the most important thing that families can do to keep children safe while swimming is focus on prevention.
This week – July 22-29 – more than 70 facilities in 30 states are encouraging parents to learn about swimming safety and prevention as part Pool Safely Day, a national awareness campaign aimed at reducing drowning incidents, especially among children.
While drowning death rates have declined over the past decade, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children ages 1 to 4, according to a CDC report on drowning.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported July 19 that there have been 90 incidents of children drowning nationwide since Memorial Day, in addition to 106 emergency responses to near-drowning calls. Young children are the most vulnerable to drowning – with children under 5 accounting for 72 percent of the incidents. Most of the incidents occurred in swimming pools.
Drowning also adversely affects minority communities and males. According to USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport, youth drowning incidents in minority communities are more than double the national average. Among black and Hispanic/Latino children, six out of 10 are unable to swim, which is twice as many as white children. The CDC study shows that the drowning-related death rate among blacks is 9 percent higher than the overall population, and 116 percent higher among those aged 5 to 14 years. Males are also disproportionately affected by drowning, making up 80 percent of all drowning victims.
Overall, CDC data show that between 2005 and 2009 an average of 3,880 people died from drowning per year, and 5,789 people were treated for near drowning in US hospitals.
As part of Pool Safely Day, the CDC, USA Swimming, and the CPSC have recommendations for parents and caregivers to ensure that children stay safe during swimming season:
- Learn how to swim – parents and children. Knowing how to swim can be a basic life-saving skill. Also consider learning to perform CPR.
- Encourage your local aquatic facility to fund free or low-cost swim programs for under-privileged youth.
- Never leave children unattended in a pool, spa or open body of water. Be alert to what is happening in and around the pool.
- Set up environmental protections. If you have a pool at home, make sure there is fencing around it to prevent kids from falling into the pool. This also includes proper drain covers and rescue equipment, like a floatation tube.
- Boaters and weak swimmers should wear personal floatation devices.
- If you think someone is having trouble in the water, and you cannot swim, alert a lifeguard.
So, an 11-year-old boy somehow slips onto a Rome-bound plane at Manchester Airport in the UK without a ticket, passport, or parental consent. No terrorist, this little guy was simply running away from home, he reportedly explained, politely, to other passengers.
(And really, if you’re going to run away from home, why not pick Rome?)
The reaction, of course, has been one of outrage. The security breach! The possibility for bad guys to exploit clearly lax passenger vetting! With the Olympics coming, no less!
Airport spokesman Russell Craig tried to assuage flying fears by pointing out that technically, this was not a breach because the boy had cleared security. (I love this.)
“The boy posed no threat to the aircraft,” Mr. Craig told the BBC. “He went through the security process.”
But what about that old fashioned concept of security measures being in place to actually look after kids?
Over the past years, we’ve seen little kids being subject to pat downs, random searchers, and even listed on the terrorism no fly list. We’ve had price increases for families wanting to sit together, and police called for toddlers who won’t put on their seat belts.
Now, in all fairness, there have been some changes toward the reasonable. Last year, officials switched rules in the US to allow children 12 and under to keep their shoes on as they go through checkpoints. (Ever try to get a squirming toddler’s shoes back on at the crowded end of that belt?) They also let parents keep babies in slings as they go through the x-ray – they just test the adult’s hands afterwards for explosives. (Again, way better than waking a sleeping baby in the chaos of the security check.)
But for the most part, children at the airport are – like the rest of us – suspects.
And sure, there are some good reasons for this. But the story of the 11-year-old globe trotter does make a parent wonder. Wouldn’t it be nice if, among all this fear, we could take a more protective attitude to the traveling tots?
That’s what the other passengers to Rome did, and alerted the airplane crew to the runaway. He was returned to Manchester and reunited with his family.
Whether it’s Tiger Mom, Bringing up Bebe, or Dr. Sears (not to mention the slippery slope of mommy/daddy web forums), American parents are awash in advice, criticisms, and suggestions for how to raise their kids.
But given the conflicting messages that these parenting theories entail, we wouldn’t blame you for throwing up your hands, chucking the self-help books out the window, and burying your head under the pillow while the toddler runs wild.
Still, we’ve found that, a lot of times, the experts have some really good ideas. And seriously, who doesn’t need a little bit of parenting help now and then?
In the spirit of public service, then, we at Modern Parenthood thought we’d start a new, semi-regular feature on parenting books and theories, with tips and ideas straight from the parenting gurus.
First up: Vicki Hoefle, a longtime educator of both parents and children who created the popular “Parenting on Track Program.” Her book, “Duct Tape Parenting: A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible & Resilient Kids,” is due out later this month.
When I spoke with Hoefle the other day, I told her that I enjoyed the book, but that it reminded me of dog training, with the whole “any attention is good attention” theory underlying much of the advice. (To the un-initiated, this behavior theory says that kids – or puppies – really want your attention, whether it’s praise or scolding, so the best way to deal with most bad behavior is to ignore it.)
“When people start our program, there are always a few that say, ‘This sounds vaguely familiar.’ I say, ‘Do you have puppies?’ And they say, ‘Oh, yeah!’”
But this is common sense, she said. All of those tricks and fixes for bad behavior – whether “time outs,” counting, or bribes – don’t work for long. In her book, she asks participants in her program to raise their hands if they’ve used any of those discipline tools more than once, more than five times, or more than that. Almost everyone keeps their hands up. So, she asks, do you really think they’re working?
The better solution, she says, is to take steps to let the bad behaviors fade away on their own, stop trying to micromanage the kids and focus instead on building real relationships with them.
For instance, if your kid keeps forgetting his hat, or won’t make his lunch without nagging? Don’t fight it; just let him be cold and hungry for a day. He’ll likely be more cooperative tomorrow. (But don’t say, “I told you so.” Remember, this is his lesson to learn.) And at the same time, encourage good behavior by recognizing when he does take care of things around the house.
Meanwhile, if your teen fights about doing homework in the evening, rather than laying down the law, negotiate a solution. Say, “OK, when do you want to do your homework?” And then let them give the new system a try. It’s showing respect, within mutually agreed upon family boundaries.
This, she admits, receives quite a lot of skepticism at first.
“There’s an assumption that if kids have a voice in the family, parents are going to be the doormats,” she said.
This is where the duct tape comes in. And it’s for the parents, not the kids.
Hoefle says that when she was raising her kids, she realized that she was directing too much. Every time she went into the kitchen, she’d start ordering people around. As an experiment, she tried to be quiet and watch what happened when she didn't direct her kids for three days. Within five seconds, she said, she couldn’t help talking. So, she put pieces of duct tape around the room, and grabbed a piece to put over her mouth when she felt herself about to say something.
It started to get painful, she said.
But something else happened, too: The kids started helping each other around the kitchen. They managed to feed themselves and generally get cleaned up. Did everything function exactly as she would design it? Maybe not. But it was functional, and more important, far less stressful.
Rather than jumping in and micromanaging the tasks of the morning, say – the wake-up time, teeth brushing, lunch making, and the outfit choosing – just let your children carry their own weight. At the same time, bring kids into the larger family. Let them decide which family tasks they would like to perform, let them have a vote in family meetings.
“Kids end up being spoiled because people don’t let them help out. If you give a child a chance to step in, to participate more fully in their own lives ... you will raise children who are deeply embedded in the health and wellbeing of their family because they are an integral part of it.”
Awesome, I said. When can I start asking the toddler to help around the house?
“My motto is that if they can walk, they can work,” she said. Think about it: A baby gets all this praise from parents for learning to roll over, crawl, walk, talk – become more grown up. They want to help out, picking out their own clothes or working with mom or dad in the kitchen.
“And that’s where we step in and say, ‘No, no, no. I’ve got it under control, kiddo. You go play with the plastic stuff,’” she said.
We teach them that we will wait on them. Instead, we need to show that they are part of the family, not the center of it.
“Our children are learning about relationships based on the one they have with their parents,” she said. “So they are going to mimic and model everything they learn from us. They’re going to take that information and apply it to the relationships they have with schoolmates and teachers and friends and boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives and bosses and coworkers. What type of relationship do we want to invite them into so they can practice?”
My daughter Joanna and her pal Emily have been friends since they first met, the day their older siblings were assigned to the same kindergarten class at Janney Elementary School in Washington, DC. The two 3-year-olds looked bashfully at each other, and Emily’s mother and I knew these two would connect.
And they did. Soon enough, they were in their own elementary classes together, playing soccer, going to birthday parties, swimming in Emily’s pool, playing dress up, jumping rope on the sidewalk in front of the house. They were paired to march in together for sixth-grade graduation, and they were part of a larger group of girlfriends who seemed to do everything together in high school.
Prom, for instance, brought all the girls to Emily’s house for elaborate hair and makeup preparations and a meal. We still have photos of the girls in rainbow-colored dresses, long and short, all of them fresh-faced and gorgeous.
For one of Joanna’s birthdays, Emily put together a collage of photos from the lifetime of their friendship, including one in her pool where they wore matching one-piece bathing suits and smiled from atop floats. There’s another one with Emily in a cowgirl dress, Joanna in a tutu, posing shyly for the camera. The collage was taped to her wall for years, until we were forced to take down all her pictures, to paint the room and ready it for tenants.
We needed tenants because we were moving to China. And one of the many twists in our move, part of a midlife adventure that swept us away from the grind of daily life to the excitement of moving to a new city in a booming country, was that Joanna decided that she too wanted to experience the Far East.
While she waited for us (visa problems delayed our arrival), she stayed with Emily, the same childhood friend who now lives and works in Beijing, speaks Mandarin, and navigates the city with the aplomb of a native.
We invited Emily for an old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner in Beijing this year, complete with a whole turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. The girls sat around and reminisced, and we laughed over both old and days-old escapades.
It wasn’t that long ago when two little girls played at tea parties and dress up. Now, two young women drink endless cups of jasmine tea and hot water (the Chinese think it’s unhealthy to drink cold beverages) and direct cab drivers around the city as if they’ve lived here forever.
As for me, I still instinctively reach for Joanna’s hand as we get ready to cross the street, which isn’t a bad habit for a place like this. But knowing that she has a lifetime friend here is a comfort all its own.