Parenting with a Story

I received a lot of email regarding my article To my Daughter, At Halftime, a list of things I wanted my daughter to know in the “second half” of her growing-up years. Quite a few people contacted me and asked if I read the article to her, and did it resonate?

Always one to take on a double-dog dare, I sat down with my three girls (twins age 10 and my almost nine-year old) separately and read them the piece. I received quite a few giggles, a few nods, and about 25 interruptions asking what certain words meant like trajectory and unfulfilling and diss. In the world of Common Core grading, they didn’t even know what GPA was yet.

Even though I took the time to define these words to them, and I spent time explaining why these points were important to me, it wasn’t sinking in. I lost them. It was a big fail. All of these great messages were not getting into their heads and into their souls.

I mulled it over quite a bit the next day. If I was putting all this thought into what I wanted my girls to know, how could I actually get them to, well, get it.

That’s when it clicked. A few months back a publishing executive saw one of my posts on Mean Girls and asked if I would take a look at a book she was promoting. Because I like free stuff, I said sure, but I really wasn’t sure what to do with it.

When Parenting with a Story arrived in my mail box, I was excited. I loved the premise of the book, which offered real-life stories for parents and children to share to underscore important lessons such as perseverance, gratitude, kindness, grit, and more. I read several of the sometimes heart-wrenching and sometimes heart warming stories, but since I didn’t need them in the moment, I placed the book to the side.

Until now.

I felt like an idiot. I couldn’t read my kids one of my blog posts and expect them to understand it. I mean, when I was growing up, if my mom started lecturing me about something I totally tuned her out. And I certainly never believed her when she said she knew what it was like to be my age.

I went back and read the intro Paul Smith wrote for his book. One of the most powerful lines is a quote he pulled from the self-described political theorist Hannah Arendt: “Story-telling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” From a parenting perspective that means it is possible to get our point across without blatant eye rolls.

Smith also said in the book: “Platitudes that seem profound in a pithy piece of prose are surprisingly unhelpful to children in a real-life situation….What does it mean to ‘be myself’ or ‘stand up to peer pressure?’ Should I walk away, start a fight, or just ignore them? At the other end of the spectrum, telling children exactly what to do in every situation is overly prescriptive and doesn’t leave them room to think for themselves. But a story…gives them a concrete idea for how to respond without just telling them what to do.”

Are you talking to me Mr. Smith?

Luckily, I have stories. A lot of them. I have stories that underscore every point in my blog post. I probably have stories about me — or my friends — to highlight every lesson I want my kids to know (yes, if I’m going down, I’m taking all of you with me….it’s for the children.)

I had the story of how someone had accidentally forwarded a message to a group of fifty people, including me, that was only meant for the eyes of one. It contained private, embarrassing information about someone’s divorce. It was completely unintentional, but it happened and the damage was done. Daughters, this is why maintaining your digital privacy is important

I had the story of when I was ten and watching television with my brother. I exclaimed how much I loved the band on TV. He scoffed and told me I didn’t even know who it was. I showed him, and proudly said: “I do too, it’s Via Satellite.” He was relentless with mocking me while he explained  that the concert was broadcasting live “via satellite” and the band was, in fact, U2. Daughters, this is why you should not pretend to be something you’re not. And be thankful you don’t have a brother.

I had the story of making the decision to leave my career in public relations to try something new, something that makes me infinitely happier and self-satisfied. One decision can change the trajectory of your life. It was a story that my kids are watching play out first hand. Daughters, this is why you should let yourself be vulnerable, and always be courageous.

I sat down with the girls to try again. We went through each point, and I told a story to go with each one. They had questions this time. They made comments about things that have happened in their lives, some of which I never knew. They started to get it.

I can answer truthfully now that I shared this post with my kids in a meaningful way. The future will tell how deeply it impacted them, but I feel pretty good every time I get my kids to open up to me.

And I can’t wait to share the story of my first spiral perm. Man, that one is a doozy and I’ve got pictures to prove it. Don’t even ask…

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Why Do We Make It Harder?

I think we all know by now that being a parent is hard. Really hard.

It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home parent or full-time working mom — or somewhere in between like me — being fully responsible for another human being(s) is tough work. I always say that the demands of having little ones is physically exhausting, and as they get older, it transitions into mentally exhausting.

But as hard of a job as it is, we as parents always seem to make it harder. We set unrealistic expectations on ourselves — and our kids — that can take the joy out of being a Mom (or Dad.) We spend hours shopping for the perfect outfits for holiday cards; we will stay up all night to bake just the right cake for a birthday party; or we will spend an entire day going store to store just to get the right pieces for a Valentine’s Day Box (not that I have ever done any of these.) And we do them all in the name of our children.

I often know that I complain a lot that I never have enough time. There’s never enough time to clean, or play that extra game with my daughter, or finish reading that book, or make that phone call, and the list goes on and on. But then there will be that time that I take on something so ridiculous, and I make my family go on that ride with me.

For example, one time I said I would bring the “special” treat for my daughter’s soccer party. Although I love to cook, I’m not much of a baker; but I wanted to do something creative and I wanted to do it myself. Of course Pinterest had “easy-to-make” soccer sugar cookies, so I set out to do this. Yes, I wanted to do it because I thought the kids would like them, but let’s be honest, this was more for me.

Of course I had to go to three different stores to get what I needed for these cookies, and because I didn’t want to embarrass myself, I had to do a practice run before making them for a bunch of judgemental seven-year olds. The whole process end to end probably took a good six hours, and I felt pretty good about the results.

soccer cookies

 

I proudly handed them out post-game and the kids wolfed them down. I even received a few thumbs up from some parents. But my favorite part was when we came home and I let the girls eat the cookies that did not make the cut for distribution to those outside my family because they either were a little too brown on the bottom, or the decorations weren’t as good. It was then that one of my daughters exclaims: “I think these are even better than the ones we had at the game!”

The moral of this story is I don’t think my daughter cared so much about what the cookies looked like or that I had just put my blood, sweat and tears into them. She just wanted her cookie.

Now this does not mean our kids do not appreciate what we do for them and we shouldn’t try to make something special; but instead, we can’t always blame parenting for our own craziness. My daughter did not ask me to make those cookies from scratch and then go over the top with decorating them, and I’m pretty sure she would have been equally appreciative if I had swung by the grocery store on the way to the game and bought them. And if your kids are talking smack about the fact that you didn’t bake them home-made, well, that’s a whole different problem anyway.

I believe as parents our jobs are actually quite simple. We truly just have four things we have to do:

1. Unconditionally love our kids.

2. Provide them with the basic necessities (food, water, clothing, etc.)

3. Teach them self-care.

4. .Help them become productive members of society.

Anything else we do beyond this is parenting gravy. Of course, the gravy is always the best part, and things such as spending quality time with your child, getting involved in their education and/or extracurricular activities, and helping them navigate this thing called life is both the most joyous and heart-wrenching part of this parenting journey.

Last night, the beautiful Jared Leto won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. In his acceptance speech, he thanked his mom, who was a single parent to him and his brother. He gushed about how she taught him to work hard and encouraged him to get involved in the arts. My guess in that most amazing moment, he was not thinking of the events she might have missed, or even the extraordinary things she bought or made for him. It was the totality of her parenting and the support she gave while raising him. I can only hope my own children would feel the same about me.

It is easy to get caught up trying to keep up with the Joneses in the parenting game. Or, when we are natural over-achievers, it is hard to dial back and see what is truly important to our kids. And what is important, is the relationships we have with them, not what we do or buy for them.

So, when we complain about how hard it is to be a working mom, or how exhausting it is to stay at home caring for our kids — and it is — I believe we also have to look within ourselves. What role do we play in making it harder? And who are we really doing it for?

I think when we step back and look at life through the lens of what our kids think is important, we may change the things we choose to spend our time on just a bit. Or, if we must go over the top, perhaps we won’t blame the kids for being so exhausted. Well, at least not this time.

Five things I’ve Learned Since Turning the Big 4-0

First, let me say a heartfelt thanks for supporting my blog! I have way more subscribers, followers, likers, twitterers, etc. than I ever thought possible, so please bear with me as I figure this blogosphere out!  I honestly thought my subscriber list would be comprised of a few loyal Facebook friends — and  my mom — yet we had more than 600 unique users read my post today.  I’m just blown away.  I’m not sure if I can keep up with the pace of a blog a day, but I had to commemorate my birthday, so here’s a short piece I put together late last night (probably not the best time to write about getting old…)

So, it’s the eve of my 41st birthday. Ugh.

I know, I know. I am supposed to be all “I’ve never felt so comfortable in my own skin” and “I love where I am in my life right now.” And I am. Sort of.

It’s not that I’m unhappy or unsatisfied with my life. I would be a real jerk if I was considering how blessed I am. I just don’t want to be any older. Or old period.

I’ve read a lot of great, inspiring posts about growing older gracefully, embracing your “laugh lines”, sporting your gray like a badge of honor…yeah, for me, not so much.  I plan on dyeing my hair like Rose Nyland until I’m 90.  And seriously, why does Mother Nature punish you by putting the first gray hairs you find in the weirdest places? It’s also funny how your opinion about things like Botox change when you wake up to see the Grand Canyon of wrinkles span your entire forehead (not that I have done it, but let’s just say I’m open-minded.)

But, despite the physical aspects, I’m pretty happy with my life at 30 plus 11 years. There are a lot of great things about finally being comfortable with who you are as a person, and although I still worry too much at times about what other people think of me, I kinda like the person I’ve become.

So, I decided to pour a glass of chardonnay and reflect on some of the things I learned this year.  This list probably won’t inspire you to be Fab at Forty. It probably won’t inspire you at all. Hopefully, it will give you a little perspective into the world as I see it (through my contact lenses because my eyes are going):

  • It’s okay if I’m not a runner. This past year I have watched so many of my friends accomplish many feats of athleticism when it comes to running. 5Ks, 10Ks, marathons, running in your underwear, running in a tu-tu, running and getting shocked, running for four days straight.  It is inspiring!  But I hate running.  I’ve hated running since I almost didn’t get my Presidential Fitness badge in the fifth grade because I barely made the cut-off time for the 600 yard dash.  I’ve tried to be a runner for years (I am married to a man who has completed six marathons, and despite being the whitest man I know, I feel quite confident he’s half Kenyan), but I just don’t enjoy it.  So, I happily go to a Zumba class, suffer through a Pure Barre session or take a walk with my kids to stay fit.  I’m certainly not burning off 1600 calories a session, but I finally feel confident enough to say that I’m not going to try to love something I don’t.
  • But you can always try something new. I wish I could say that I took this year to try an ancient form of Karate, or I finally decided to take that sky diving trip, but that’s just not me.  I’m not really a risk taker.  Not because I don’t believe you should, but again, I just don’t enjoy it.  I hate horror movies and was never a big fan of roller coasters.  But I do think 40 is a great time to expand your horizons.  I went out of my comfort zone on Pinterest and made jello shots for the first time this year. My Arnold Palmers were a huge hit at the neighbor’s Fourth of July Party.  Yes, I also took the risk of quitting my job and starting my writing career, but the jello shots really were awesome.  You get the point.
  • At 40, you really do turn into your mother: I have the exact same stubborn hair follicle pop out on my chin that my mother does.  It is ridiculous.  I also have had some serious deja vu as I walk over to my children muttering words like: “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out!”  But I also see a lot of my Mom in me in other, less scary, ways, such as my parenting philosophy, and my quest to make the perfect holiday dinner. And as I get older, I realize there are certainly worse things to be than my amazing mom (yes, she reads this blog, so although I would write this anyway, earning some extra suck up points never hurts.)
  • Learn how not to be a human scoreboard. It’s never good to keep score in a relationship, whether it is your marriage, your friendships, or your siblings.  Whoever said relationships, particularly marriages, were fifty-fifty was smoking the pipe. Sometimes you give more, sometimes you take more, but the point is to be there for the people who need you,.  This was a hard lesson for me, and I work on it all the time.
  • There is always time for a glass of wine.  And if you don’t drink alcohol, have a cup of decaf. For me, having a glass of wine with friends is the equivalent of stopping to smell the roses.  I am a better mom, friend, writer, wife, daughter, and whatever other title I wear in any given day because of the relationships I choose to cultivate.  And if it’s over a good bottle of KJ, all the better.

So, here’s to another year in the books.  My goal this year is to embrace this quote from Sophia Loren: “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” 

If you don’t see a post from me on my trials and tribulations with Botox, you know I’m still working on it.

Cheers!

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