Presence

There are moments when our precious/adorable children drive us crazy.  The noise level is ratcheting up and we want to run out the door or scream or both! It often happens when we are stressed, in a hurry to get out the door, or just trying to get food on the table for them.

 

Here is a question to ask yourself or your child if they are old enough and self-aware enough: “What do you need?” It may be something physical such as food, sleep, affection, or some kind of attention to what they are doing.

 

I remember more than once being in conversation with someone when my toddler son would put his two little hands on my face and turn it towards him.  He was not subtle in asking for my full attention!

 

A great gift we give to our children is ourselves, fully present. This means we are paying attention to them, understanding their needs and desires. It takes focus and determination at times.  We have to decide to step into the present with our children, when so many other things are calling for our attention. We have to turn off the game or put down the phone, tablet, book, or whatever is taking our attention and focus on them.

 

It is impossible for us to be 100 percent present to our children, just as it is impossible to keep them completely safe from all suffering and harm.  Yet, as we become more aware of their need for our presence, we can practice giving them more of our full attention. This is an aspect of love, choosing to be present to those we love.  Our positive, caring attention helps our child know she or he is loved.  A child who is aware of being loved grows into a person who can love others. It is amazing how small acts of love and kindness have a great rippling effect on many lives.

 

The Gift of Forgiveness

A family friend who had watched us raise our children over the years once asked my son, “What did your parents do right in raising you?” We had met up with them in Thailand in 2002 and had not seen them for a few years. She was raising her own set of children, a few years younger than my set.  Our son, at the time was a teenager. He, after going through some rough faith testing waters, had a radiant faith and was involved in leadership at his International School in Central Asia.  Our friend had known him mostly as a young boy growing up in NW China. His answer was a bit humbling but not completely surprising to me.  “They asked me to forgive them many times.”

 

As I look back over the years of our parenting I have to agree with my son. I believe our parenting took a steep growth spike when we learned to face our own brokenness and pain. We learned to forgive our own parents for their shortcomings, and then ask our children to forgive us when we hurt them.

 

There was the time when we left them for too long with our youngest son’s first grade teacher.  We needed to go to Thailand to sort out some messy team problems.  We stayed an extra week to get some R&R afterwards.  These were in the days when there was only one flight a week in and out of Central Asia to Thailand.  Our dear friend, who volunteered willing to take care of our kids, probably didn’t realize how much work mentally and physically it took to look after 3 lively school age children. (She will always be our hero!)  Our kids missed us, we missed them, it was too long and they let us know. I was angry with myself as well because in my heart I knew it would be too long when we booked our tickets, but I wasn’t vocal enough with my husband at the time.  I hadn’t learned to trust my instincts enough.  We asked them to forgive us (more than once!) and made a promise to take them back to Thailand some day.  We were able to fulfill that promise a few years later.

 

In the day in and day out of raising children there are numerous times when we are stretched in our patience and self-control, we speak harshly, or spank them in anger (if we spank), ignore them when they are talking to us, or at least don’t give them our full attention.  I have had to ask forgiveness when I’ve told a story I thought was funny about them that was actually embarrassing to them. We have asked them to forgive us for the effects of our anger, depression, impulsive decision-making, and contention between us at times.  The list goes on and on.

 

This is a beautiful humbling aspect to parenting if we but embrace it.  This is who we are – imperfect human beings yet hopefully growing and learning from our many mistakes.  Thank God for His grace and love that covers a multitude of sin.  Thank God for children who long to keep a bond with their parents. Thank God for the gift of forgiveness.

 

The Best Candy Shop

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As I was reading over different posts paying tribute to Maya Angelou this morning, I came across this quote: “The best candy shop a child can be left alone in is the library”. (Maya Angelou)

 

It reminded me of these posters I saw in one of Seattle’s public libraries, “5 best way to raise a reader”: read, talk, write and play with your children in any language. I never saw the 5th poster but I am guessing it is “sing with them”.

 

What a world opens up to a child when they discover books. First pictures and then when they learn to decipher the code of language and begin to read. Libraries are wonderful entrances to this world of books where imaginations take flight. This is where creativity begins: in the thoughts of a child.

 

For much of my children’s lives we lived abroad with little access to libraries. When we came back to the United States for breaks, one of the first places we would visit during our settling in time was the Library. We would get our cards then go pick out our books. I know my husband and I enjoyed this maybe even more than our children. I have memories of joining summer reading clubs as a child and going through the shelves picking out books. I was not a great reader as a child but continued steadily on to read year after year. Now it is one of my great pleasures. I read for pleasure as well as to learn and it all happens as I continue to expand my thinking and imagination.

 

Give the gift of books to your children. Take them to the library often. It will open the doors of their imagination. The best candy store ever, and it won’t rot their teeth! I know we have moved into an era where everything can be found on a screen, but the feel of a book in hand and a whole library full of them cannot be replaced.

 

 

Family Gatherings

Our 1,750 square foot home didn’t feel very big when we gathered as a small clan for an extended time in mid wet winter.  There were a few days when 9 of us were together.  I am grateful for dear friends who let us use their “cabin”, which was bigger than our house, for those few days. Mix in a small dog with a toddler to liven things up and you can imagine the chaos at times. On the whole the 1,750 square feet were big enough, everyone had a bed or at least a mattress, enough bathrooms to share and room to cook in the kitchen to keep all of the above fed.

 

Compared to some parts of the world where we have traversed, our square footage is enormous. Many families in Hong Kong live in very small flats where gathering as a clan takes creativity. When we lived there, hospitality was often shared in a favorite restaurant. We were grateful for the rare opportunities to visit friends in their homes.  The refugees (boat people), who were our students, had one tier of a double sized bunk bed to call home. Yet, they still practiced hospitality and invited us to sit on low plastic stools to share a meal. Our Central Asian friends don’t worry about tables and chairs, they sit on colorful mats on the floor with a tablecloth spread out on the carpet for piles of food to share.  That way more people can squeeze into a room. Later they spread those same mats and more for sleeping.

 

I have been thinking this morning about how good it was to gather as a growing family.  It’s good to move our stuff and make room for each other. Our bonds were strengthened with each other. Our grandson will not remember the details of this visit in his long-term memory, but I believe he bonded with each of us in a special way that will continue through his life.  I’m smiling as I think of him singing “Teo, Teo, Teo”, (Uncle in Spanish) as he headed upstairs looking for his very fun Uncle. Or the report from his Mama that he woke up saying “Nana” a morning or two while he was here.

 

Another way it was good, was to see where love still needs to grow.  We don’t always know unless we are in a situation where it is challenged.  Say, tired and in need of a shower and both of the showers are in use.  O,r not quite enough of that fresh french pressed coffee to go around.  Or, whose on the dish duty, not me again? Or just trying to figure out what to do together. Things like that can help us see where our attitudes need adjusting.  If we live isolated lives we never really know where we need to grow. When the children were young and we all lived together,  there were daily lessons to be learned by all of us. Now I need my family to keep showing up for visits to keep that process going in my life. It’s not just knowing where I need to grow that is important, but also turning those needs into prayers and inviting the help of Heaven to bring about change on earth, in me.

 

I am tired and need to put my house back together again.  I need to get back into my regular schedule of writing and meeting with people, but above all I am so grateful for the sacrifices my kids and their spouses made to come home, from far away for the holidays.

 

Mother Guilt

Let me go here once in a while

Not often or too long

Only we mothers know

What we could have been

Had we been whole

What we missed

When we weren’t there

Spoke too soon

Or not enough

Over protected

Or neglected

Too harsh

Too lax

Too busy

Too tired

We know

So let us alone

To grieve for a while

I promise

I won’t stay too long

Or I might drown

I won’t medicate it

Numb it or

Meditate it away

Instead it’s good

To face it

Then super grace it

With God’s love

Move on

There are more

Children, teens or

Young adults

To love and care for

If not my own

Then another mother’s

We need each other

We mothers

We don’t have enough

Of all we need

For this job

 

© 2013 Julie Clark

Building Parent/Child Connections

Build and strengthen your bonds of connection with your child.  You can repair them if they are damaged.  Don’t start with a list of all the things your child has done wrong.  Start with your own heart.  Where have I wronged my child?  Was I impatient?  Was I distracted?  Was I negligent? Did I shame him? Was I too harsh? Learn to say:  “I am sorry, I was wrong. Please forgive me.”  I have found children to be the quickest of forgivers.  They long to be connected with their parents. I found as a parent when I would use this approach that my child would not only forgive me, but be much more open to admitting their responsibility in the matter and open for correction.

Today there is a great struggle for our time.  Jobs, careers, schools, peers, extra-curricular activities of sports, music, etc., all play a part of this struggle. Parents must make choices of just how much time to spend with their families. Children need time with their parents.  They need to know they are valuable and time is one of the currencies we use to show them their value.  How important is it for both parents to have full-time jobs?  How important is it for children to be involved in extra-curricular activity and how much is enough? These and many other questions need to be wrestled with, not just automatically decided by what everyone else does.

Making meaningful family memories are ways to stay connected.  Doing something special with each child on a regular basis is a way to say you are special to me.  It might be as simple as a once a month coffee or hot chocolate date.  It might be a walk or trip to the park.  Family vacations are so important.  Those are times of extended time together, doing something special together.  My kids have always loved camping or trips to a lake for swimming.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive.  Those memories stay with you.  I remember my mother telling us stories of her family vacations camping on the beach. They were some of her favorite memories that she loved talking about.  My own memories of childhood have those vacation highlights there.  I know it is the same for my kids.

When a Parent/Child bond is strong then that child is able to increasingly connect with others.  It is so simple yet, so vital.  They have security at home and this enables them to be secure outside the home. Parents teach their children whether they mean to or not.  Children watch and learn.  The way a parent interacts with others is watched and learned.  How do I talk about others at home?  We can model to our children how to interact with other, how to be kind and courteous. We can show them how to make friends.  It is also important to talk about these things with children.  We need to teach them about what is appropriate in our society and what is not.

I love it when a child or teenager looks me in the eye and greets me or has a conversation with me.  On the other hand I have been walked past and ignored by children I know who make me feel like I am invisible.  Teach your children to look people in the eye and say hello.

Build peace in the world by connecting as a family with others who are different from you.  This is so important for children to not only learn tolerance for others who are different but to respect and learn from those differences.  Not everyone can travel abroad as my family has, but the world truly is at our doorstep.  We can get out and meet our neighbors who may have emigrated from another country.  Explore ways to do this with your children.

We humans are wired for relationship and connection, yet we must learn how to do this in a healthy way.  Parents teach your children.

Who Tricked These Kids?

I am aborting my vacuuming project before it gets started.  I just keep thinking about the article I read in yesterday’s New York Times called Extreme Grief:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/sports/skiing/grieving-families-of-extreme-sports-enthusiasts-are-left-to-wonder-was-the-thrill-worth-it.html?_r=0

 

I met a young man last year who came to our church with his fiancé now widow.  He died last weekend in an avalanche, ice-climbing.  Many of my friends got to know and love him while he was here before he moved on to get married and start medical school.

 

I keep thinking of his young widow, his mother, all those who loved him and valued his life.  Why didn’t he value his life as they did?  Why didn’t he see how connected he was to them, tied to them with bonds stronger than any rope? Why didn’t he see how devastated they would be with his loss?  I don’t know the answer to any of these haunting questions.  I just want to say please parents teach your children of their extreme value to you and the world.  They are here for a reason.  Every life has extreme potential to change the world for good.  Since ancient times parents have been training and teaching their children the important values they hold dear.

 

I am growing to detest the phrase: “He died doing what he loved.”  What about those he was extremely connected to?  Did they get a vote on this?  He was an extremely talented, bright, and beautiful person that the world will be bereft of now. I know anger is a part of grief and my anger will subside to sadness eventually, but while I am still angry I want to challenge parents to use their parental authority to teach children their extreme value.  Talk to your children about how important they are to you and the world.  Teach them what is important to you; don’t wait for someone else to do it.  They may not do it and children need to hear from parents more than anyone else; peers, teachers, counselors, and especially the media.  Teach them to love and respect. Teach them to love and respect themselves, others, as well as our beautiful planet.  As a person of faith I would add love and respect God.  Knowing His love helps me to love extremely others, His creation and myself.

Tips for Active Tots

Do you have an active toddler, rushing around the house or playground from one thing to the next?

 

Is your child bored with her toys and books?

 

Here are some ideas, and I hope others will join in the conversation with more ideas to keep those active tots engaged, learning and safe.

 

Keep some or most special books set aside for reading together before naps and at bedtime.  Then the child will get used to calming down with a snuggle and a read before going off to sleep.  Also this will protect the books from being destroyed by a curious little person.

 

Divide the child’s toys into half or even thirds.  Set aside and hide the half or third.  Alternate toys every few weeks (few days), then old toys are like new again, and again, and again.

 

Put your favorite music on and dance, dance, dance!

 

Don’t get into the habit of rewarding or comforting your child with food, especially sweets.  This creates a bad habit of rewards or comfort equals something to eat.

 

Daily outings, as simple as walking around the neighborhood or going out to get the mail help break up the routine at home and get some fresh (hopefully) air for everybody.

 

Swimming, baths, and water play are great ways to mix up the routine, with your supervision of course! There is lots of learning and experimentation going on with pouring water in and out of containers and all over the floor!  This is where Asian bathrooms are the best with drains in the floors.  Outside water play is great too!  Don’t worry about mud.  It washes off.  My Norwegian friends really helped me with this when my kids were little.  Just find some rain boots and slickers and it doesn’t matter what the weather is like.  The important thing was to get the kids outside to play.

 

Now what are some of your ideas to help entertain or calm down an active Tot?

 

Media, Screens and Parenting

The Seattle Times recently had two interesting articles regarding media and screen time for children. The first was Monica Guzman’s article: Is Screen Time Play Time? Making Sense of Tots and Tablets.

http://blogs.seattletimes.com/monica-guzman/2013/02/16/is-screen-time-play-time-making-sense-of-tots-and-tablets/

This article brought into question the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for no screen time for children age 2 and younger, and no more than one or two hours screen time for older kids.  She is encouraging more research regarding level of brain activity for children playing with interactive screens.

The second article was called “Study: Better TV Might Improve Kids’ Behavior” by Donna Gordon Blankinship. http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020379703_apusmedtvtots.html

This was a Seattle study comparing the behavior of young children watching TV.  This article explores whether children watching educational programs have less behavioral problems than children watching more violent programs.

I suspect there will be findings of more brain activity with a child using an interactive screen then with a child watching a video or TV program.  I also suspect children watching educational programs will have less violent behavioral problems than children who are feeding on a steady diet of violent programming.  There is one point I feel is being missed in both of these articles. The point is that any type of screen time is taking away from the vital time children need to learn the essential skills of being a person. These essential skills relate to imagination, creativity, socialization, and compassion in the real three-dimensional world.  When a child is using any kind of screen they are not interacting with another person or with the real three-dimensional world around them. They are not making eye contact with anyone, not learning to read another’s face or body language.  They are not developing and practicing language with another person, which is so important for developing their imagination and creativity.   They are not using their whole body, mind and imagination to interact with the world around them. Physical movement is essential for brain development.  The brain needs the body to move to develop and make connections.  They are not learning to be patient, kind or loving with a real person. I am not saying that a child should never use a screen.  What I am saying is parents need to be vigilant about screen time.  Be wary of giving in to the temptation to hand over your phone or tablet to your small child.  You may have trouble getting it back and they will want it more and more! Instead, keep playing with them, talking to them, reading to them and providing safe opportunities for them to explore the very real world at their fingertips.  Make sure your child is not overusing screens in any form because if they are they will miss out on important experiences children need to grow into healthy happy adults.

For more information about this subject I strongly recommend reading: Parenting Well in a Media Age: Keeping Our Kids Human by Gloria Degataeno

Every Stage of a Child’s Life is a Gift

Every stage of a child’s life is a gift. There is something new to discover about my child and myself.  There is an opportunity to grow as a person along with my child. I can grow in love, patience, kindness, wisdom, or where ever I need to grow. Even the teenage years are a gift!  There are so many negative voices out there regarding raising children, especially about teenagers. Beware the rolling of the eyes and the horror stories that get passed along! There were definitely times when I was challenged and confused, desperate for answers, but I learned to love the challenges my teenagers brought to me, helping me to grow and think deeper about things I had taken for granted. I loved the joy and laughter they brought.  I learned to slow down and ask them questions. I learned to not just be upset by their behavior, but to find out what really was bothering them. I learned to be the first one to say sorry, when I had lost my temper out of frustration. This helped break the cycle and start the communication going again. We can find faith and find God in every stage. We can walk with him on this parenting journey.  Before you are ready to pull out your hair or worse go to God and ask for help.  His promise to us is to give us wisdom in our times of need when we ask.  Each child is unique.  So there won’t be a book or a person that can tell you just how to raise your child.  You can of course learn from books and other people, but read and listen prayerfully with discernment regarding your child.  Listen to your own heart because no one knows and loves your child like you do.

 

How is the stage your child is in now a gift to you?

 

Do you have a story to share how you discovered a new gift in your child that you had not noticed before?

 

Anyone have a story of wisdom coming at just the right time?