Got Teens? Read this.

Our teens deserve better. We have short changed them for too long and filled their time with busy work and mundane tasks. No wonder they are bored and irritable. No wonder they buck the system and give adults grief. The adults aren’t listening so they must get louder and louder or worse, turn inward and shut down.

This is an amazing article by Katrina Schwartz that will enlighten parents and educators who feel at their wits end with the teens in the lives OR for those who worry about one day having a teen. Let’s change the conversation about our teenagers and see them for the lovely, energetic, adventurous souls they are and agree to collectively work to harness their potential.

“It has become a cultural cliché that raising adolescents is the most difficult part of parenting. It’s common to joke that when kids are in their teens they are sullen, uncommunicative, more interested in their phones than in their parents and generally hard to take. But this negative trope about adolescents misses the incredible opportunity to positively shape a kid’s brain and future life course during this period of development.”

Harnessing the Incredible Learning Potential of the Adolescent Brain

 

 

 

Bedtime Battles: A Modern day Creation?

From co-sleeping to sleep training to bed times and schedules, the topic of where and how our children sleep is a hot button issue in parenting circles. But why?  How did we become so obsessed with where our children sleep and why did it become such a divisive issue?

Before I had children, I knew my sleep would be interrupted, segmented, and take on a form I never knew before. I was somewhat prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was how opinionated, loudly opinionated, people would be about where my baby slept.  It didn’t take me long to realize there were two definitive camps:  Baby is welcome wherever Mom is OR Baby needs to learn how to self-soothe, i.e. sleep alone.  Sure there were variations within the camps, but for the most part it appeared that parenting philosophies on sleep fell into an either or.

If you take a look at the evolutionary perspective, mommas and babies were never meant to be as separated as they are in today’s hectic times. Science overwhelmingly supports sleeping within close proximity to your babies with proven benefits ranging from increased breastfeeding success to the child’s well being to literally life-saving.  My personal experiences have been in line with the science. Breastfeeding my babies at night was much easier when we slept in the same room together. Both of my children slept more soundly and peacefully in close proximity to me. I slept better too and was able to wake gently, nurse, and fall back to sleep in sync with my kids. My first born had a febrile seizure when he was 21 months old. If I had not been in the same room with him, tending to his nightly needs, it is highly likely I would have NEVER known about his seizure. How sad to think he would have been all alone, seizing with no comforting parent to hold him or love him through this unexpected episode.

Plus, how do you think babies feel about all the fuss? Dr. James McKenna, the world’s leading authority on co-sleeping, offers this perspective:  Infants usually have something to say about it too! And for some reason they remain unimpressed with declarations as to how dangerous sleeping next to mother can be. Instead, irrepressible (ancient) neurologically-based infant responses to maternal smells, movements and touch altogether reduce infant crying while positively regulating infant breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation. In short, and as mentioned above, cosleeping (whether on the same surface or not) facilitates positive clinical changes including more infant sleep and seems to make, well, babies happy. In other words, unless practiced dangerously, sleeping next to mother is good for infants. The reason why it occurs is because… it is supposed to.”

This makes so much sense.  So why all the controversy?

1. RIGID SCHEDULES-We are living in a time where alarm clocks control us and schedules are handed to us rather then created by us. People are ignoring their bodily cues to sleep and rest to keep up with the demands of work or school.  Sleep deprivation is a huge problem in this country and one that has staggering ripple effects. If adults aren’t getting enough sleep already, then they add in a baby or two to the mix…well, it’s a nightmare. Keep in mind, this is not the baby’s fault. Trying to force a baby to fit into your schedule will undoubtedly create frustration if you are not able to be flexible with your routine and sleep when your body needs to.

2. EXPECTATIONS- The old adage “Sleeping like a baby” needs to be thrown out with the bathwater. It is true that a comfortably sleeping infant is ever so peaceful and deep in sleep, but this doesn’t tell the entire story. Their sleep is no where close to the 8 hours in a row kind of sleep that we consider normal as adults. And therein lies the problem: Expectations do not equal reality. Babies are born after 9 months of gestation, but of all the primates, human babies are the least neurologically developed at birth–only 25%. “Parents might well think of human infants as final-phase fetuses who will spend their first three months — a fourth trimester — crossing the divide between womb and world.” This is from Susan Brink who wrote the book “Fourth Trimester: Understanding, Nurturing, and Protecting an Infant Through the First Three Months”.  We must accept that our babies NEED us, night AND day. Just because they have arrived outside of our body does not automatically mean they are ready to be separated from our body. Especially separated in a completely different room with a fake nipple pacifier and plush toy or “blanky” for comfort. They desire closeness, touch, the sound of your heartbeat, the smell of your skin. They are built to be WITH their parents, not cut off abruptly from the warmth and security they felt while growing for months in your womb.

3. FEAR–  There is no shortage of fear mongering in parenting circles. All kinds of reasons are given as to why sleeping in close proximity to your baby is so bad.  From rolling over onto your child to causing problems with your marriage. Of course there are things to consider if your baby sleeps in the same bed as you–don’t drink alcohol, do drugs, or sleep beside your child if you have some medical condition that causes you to sleep too soundly.  Healthy parents, who are in sync with their babies, will awaken, even if ever so slightly, when baby moves and can readjust if necessary.

And if a mother panda who is 700 times larger then her newborn can co-sleep without killing her baby, then I feel pretty confident lucid humans can do it too.

What about toddlers and young children? Shouldn’t they sleep in their own room, in their own bed?  My first response to this is: “Why is that a rule?” Why do we have to create more stress by forcing children to be alone while they fight, tooth and nail, to be close to their parents at night? Adults create the problem then turn around and try to solve it by punishing and shaming their kids. It’s so silly, really.  Think of all the books available claiming to teach parents how to get their kids to sleep. It’s a shame that parents aren’t listening to the real expert in the equation–their own child. Sleep isn’t meant to be so controversial. Just sleep wherever you get the best sleep and if that means the husband sleeps in a different room for a while or you sleep in a room with a child then so be it. Recognize this for the short season it is. Your kids will eventually long for their own space, their own room, and their desire to seek you in the night will wane. And it will be different for each child. There is no magical formula…just a peaceful change, a natural progression that respects their emotional and physical development.  There won’t be squeals in the night or worries about monsters under the bed if the child has made the supported decision to sleep alone. There won’t be constant calls for attention or for water sips or snacks if the child has had a say so in his sleeping arrangements. If, as parents, we stop adhering to this notion that kids MUST sleep in room A, B, or C and parents MUST sleep together elsewhere from any of those rooms, the havoc in the night can be replaced with quiet, sweet calm. A dream come true.

 

 

Children’s Questions: The Path to Knowledge

“Why don’t earthworms have faces?”
“What’s wrong with that boy’s teeth?”
“Why are sharks so big?”
“Why are the clouds crying so much?”
“What is God’s last name?”
“Mommy, does this have artificial colors in it?”
“Why can’t you get there (heaven) on a spaceship? Is it past the desert? “
“Mom, how long does an ant live?”
“Why is that a rule?”
“But why, Daddy?”
“For some reason I only like Star Wars movies, but not books. Isn’t that weird?”
“Can I see?”
“Who’s her name?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Why do clouds have ice balls?”
“Why are our eyes round?”
“Mom? Can I tell you something?”
“What’s the concept?”

I keep copious notes of the things my children say and do—have been since 2002 when my first child arrived on the scene.  From the way they interacted with the world as infants to the way they communicated with others as young children to how my oldest, now 12, contemplates relationships and expectations of himself and others.

Their questions have always fascinated me–each one acting as a tiny key, unlocking the mysteries and complexities of the world.  I am offered a glimpse into their innermost thoughts and feelings and through our thought provoking, educational, and many times, humorous exchanges, my understudies are making connections, drawing conclusions, recognizing patterns and consequently, feeding their minds.

While yes or no replies have certainly sufficed a great deal of earnest inquires, others have required in depth thought and discussion. No matter the question, I am a willful listener and a staunch supporter of their search for answers.

“A sense of curiosity is nature’s original school of education.”  –Smiley Blanton, M.D.

Why We Chose Homeschooling- A Letter to My Son

D,

In three more days, I could be sending you, my four year old son, off to Kindergarten.  Your carefree days would be replaced with homework, inflexible schedules, and demands.  You would no longer get to greet your five month older sister when she awakes from her naps or play with your Legos uninterrupted. You would no longer get to sleep until your body was ready to rise or enjoy the freedom of moving from one activity to another, from inside play to outside play, to quench your thirst without waiting in line or relieving your bladder without getting permission. Your thoughtful questions and inquisitive nature would likely go unappreciated due to the inquisitive nature of the other 25 children in your class. Your teacher, overwhelmed by the task of keeping order, a schedule, a checklist of expectations, will have limited time to interact deeply with her pupils on a personal level.  It is not her fault really. She is likely a lovely person, one who finds joy in children even, but has been swallowed up by a system that craves accuracy, facts, and fill-in-the blank worksheets over “childish” things like playing and bonding.

I have wondered how many other moms and dads feel the knot in their throats, the pain in their stomachs, or the ache in their hearts as they prepare their children to begin school. And I wonder still how many of them have dismissed those intense, strong emotions, beat them back or even chastised themselves for being ‘silly’, telling themselves this is what children NEED to do, it is a ritual in our culture that has been romanticized, protected, and preserved- to a fault, I believe.

To all of that Dad and I have said, “No Thanks”.  As different as this choice is from every one of our family members, as crazy as my friends think I am for not staying the course, as frightening as it may be to reject the norm, I am listening to my heart and even more importantly, I am listening to you.  You do NOT want to leave our home, your family, your new sister or your toys for 7 hours a day. You are not interested in participating in school, sitting at a desk when you’d rather be running outside or gazing at the clouds. You do not want to stand in line as you walk down the hallway or be shushed when you are excited and want to share your latest discoveries.  You still get sleepy as the day wears on and sometimes you just need to rest. I want you to be able to honor the rhythm of your internal clock, a rhythm that is your very own.  You also need space, time to unwind or just sit quietly with your thoughts. This is not possible in a classroom full of kids, especially when the culture of the classroom pushes sharing and being with a ‘buddy’ over your individualism. To top it all off, your heart is tender and you are a wise soul. You pick up on people’s energy and their moods. You don’t do well with aggressive, loud kids and you tend to enjoy the company of older children. The impulsive behavior of same aged peers has proven time and time again to be difficult for you. It would take a patient, kind-hearted adult to effectively work with you during one of your emotional episodes, which can be draining and upsetting, even for me. I just want to keep you in tact, as much as possible—emotionally whole, sound, with strong character and a thirst for learning.  I know you will read, take in facts and figures, but just on a different time frame than the majority of your peers, but it’s a time frame I’m willing to support.

It will be worth every second.

Love, Mom

(My son is now 12. I still have not shared this letter with him, but I’m sure one day, when the time is right, I absolutely will)

A new kind of Mother’s Day

As a child I made and bought my fair share of cards for my mom to celebrate her on Mother’s Day. When I had any money I would buy her something, no matter how small, as a token of my appreciation for the work she did for me. I embraced these ‘holidays’ and felt excited to pitch in with my brothers when I got a little older to buy her something pretty or practical–a decoration for the house, a necklace, a bookcase, a microwave (it was the 80’s and a microwave was a big deal!). Many of those Sundays, I was her faithful companion to church because my brothers and Dad certainly weren’t interested in attending and I knew how much she loved to go.  Eventually, I headed to college 3 hours away. I don’t recall if I traveled home each Mother’s Day, but at some point, as I was creating a life of my own away from home, I remember feeling irritated and stressed by the commercialization of “celebrating Mom”. Should I buy flowers or a necklace? Do I need to coordinate with my brothers to get her something from all three of us? Will my Dad remember to celebrate her or should I call to remind him? The pressure of “doing things right” overwhelmed me and the dread of these created holidays crept in.

It is not that I wanted to reject the sentiment behind Mother’s Day–it is that I wanted to reject the pressure to be and do on one specific day–a day I didn’t get to pick but one I was bound to recognize lest I be marked as the ungrateful, cynical daughter.

So, yeah. Mother’s Day and I have had some struggles. Then I became a mom. I fell into the trap. Can you believe it? I became sold on the message that I needed to be celebrated. The second Sunday in May. Right now. And it should be done with chocolates and pretty things and poetic words. I romanticized this day, expecting all the bells and whistles, but time and time again, I was disappointed–the day didn’t go as planned, the kids were fussy and certainly weren’t interested in the ideas I had in mind, the gifts were basic and last minute, the surprise and awe elements were severely lacking. Instead of being celebrated I was deflated. It’s just one day, I thought. Why can’t they just do something out of the ordinary for one day to express their love for me? Is it really that hard?

And here’s what I’ve come to believe–Yes, it is that hard. Why? Expectations.

No matter what my husband or children did for me, it never quite matched my expectations. Did I appreciate their gestures, the flowers, the breakfast made while I pretended to be asleep? Of course. Did I feel loved? Absolutely. But when I allowed myself to get caught up in the notion that I must be celebrated, I also allowed my thoughts to turn selfish and unrealistic. How could they ever do all the things I dreamed up if I never told them? Was it really fair to expect a perfect day when I knew such things don’t even exist? So last year, I made a decision. I turned Mother’s Day into a day to celebrate the people who call me mom. When they got up that morning, they each found a photograph of me holding them the day they were born. Surrounding the photograph were phrases listing all the things that made them special to me. My oldest hugged me and smiled. My youngest, curled up in my lap as I read the sentiments to her. We eventually went out to lunch, then to the park. Was the day rather ordinary still? You bet. There was complaining, there were disagreements but there was also love and understanding, laughter and connection. A real family, not a Hallmark version.

This year, I have expressed to my husband that I do not want gifts–I have given him a pass to relax. No rushing around at the last minute, no stress. In keeping with the original intent of Mother’s Day, I requested that we, as a family, pick a charity that would benefit mothers and children in some capacity. While I recognize that giving can be just as lovely as receiving, and I am not aiming to discourage heartfelt gifts, I can’t help but to wonder–What if a fraction of the money spent on these commercialized holidays was diverted to charities or directly to people in need? It has been estimated that Americans will spend 20 billion dollars on gifts and flowers for their moms on Mother’s Day.  20 BILLION DOLLARS! Let’s sit with that number for a few minutes. Imagine the positive impact this could have on our world.

In honor of Mother’s Day from here on out, which I now affectionately refer to as ‘mothering day’, I will divert my attention from the relentless marketing and advertising that claims I should be honored, to continuing to honor the purpose of my role–a role full of nurturing and caring, loving and doing. These beautiful children call me mom and that is truly celebration enough.

“Intense love does not measure, it just gives.”  (from the mother of all mothers- Mother Teresa)

How we speak to our Children Really does Matter

Would you do things faster and with enthusiasm if your spouse threatened you or took away your phone or car keys or forced you to sit by yourself to “think about your mistakes” or isolated you from your friends?

Um. I think not.

Why, then, have we not stopped doing this crap to kids?

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Consider the following scenarios. Would you make the corresponding comments to an adult? What about a child? Things that make you go hmmm.

Upset or sad adult:
-Get over it. Stop whining. You brought it onto yourself. Just stop crying.

Hungry adult:
-Don’t eat that. You have had enough already. You are eating again?

Frustrated adult:
-(While laughing) It’s not that big of a deal.

An adult who just got hurt:
-Oh, get up, you’re fine. Just brush it off. Be tough. You really don’t need a band aid.

An adult who asks for assistance:
-Gah, can’t you get it yourself? I’m kinda busy right now. Or just ignore them until they leave you alone.

Frightened adult:
You’re being silly. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Don’t be a baby. You are so over-reacting.

A NOT tired adult:
-too bad, it’s time for bed. I don’t care if you’re not sleepy, I need MY time. Are you trying to exhaust me?

When engrossed in an activity:
-We need to go NOW. You play that too much. Can’t you find anything else to do with your time?

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On Disagreements

Disagreements with our children? They will happen. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Question is, will you be ready?

And I don’t mean ready as in:
You will have all the right answers.
You will win the argument.
You will stand your ground and show them that your experience and knowledge surpasses theirs.
You know better.

If you come to disagreements with this philosophy and you believe that being a parent automatically qualifies you as top dog then you are likely missing huge opportunities for YOUR OWN growth AND creating disconnect with your children in the process.

Every mom and dad parents during a time they have never seen. So although you do have some mileage behind you that does not mean you have knowledge of all that is to come. That’s like traveling in a foreign country without a map because you’ve had experience traveling in your own neighborhood, therefore you know things. That’s cocky and dangerous.

Instead of focusing on the win, focus on the path. Each disagreement opens up new channels of communication and clarifies our intentions. We might not have a solution immediately when an issues arises, but if you make it clear you want to travel this new road together, the journey will be so much more peaceful and I guarantee, enlightening for everyone involved. Be open to the idea that your child may actually be a pretty darn good navigator too.  It can not be underestimated how powerfully satisfying peaceful resolutions are.