Thursday, December 31, 2009

Not Every Independent Act Turns out Well

Giving our children the freedom to do things on their own (age-appropriate things!), doesn't always turn out as well as we would like. As much as I would like to believe that I have the ability to shield my children from all danger, I do not. Sometimes they do things on their own that don't turn out quite as expected. They might even be hurt. I have no desire to put my children in a position to be hurt, but I also try not to freak out when it happens. So, here's my story.

Not long ago I was on a trip with my girls. On the way home, I stopped to get gasoline. The pump was running very slowly for some reason and I needed something from the convenience store. I told my girls to stay in the car (this is important – I did not give my youngest permission to get out of the car) and that I would be right back. When I returned about 5 minutes later, there was a smell of gasoline on the car and my six-year-old daughter was screaming in the car. I opened the door and saw her throwing water in her face from a water bottle in the car. She was completely soaked.

After I left the car, she had decided to finish pumping the gasoline for me. My husband had been letting her help him a couple of times, which she loved. So, she decided that she could help me out. Unfortunately, pumping gas is a little beyond her ability to do alone and she ended up spraying herself with gasoline and her eyes were burning. We were lucky enough that an ambulance was getting gas at our same pump, so I asked them for assistance and they were quickly able to flush her eyes. She changed her clothes and we were on our way – being careful to stay away from any lit matches or anyone smoking.

Did I freak? No. Did I have a moment of panic? Yes. But, my moment of panic quickly turned into a moment of pride realizing that even though my daughter had made a terrible mistake, she had also reacted completely appropriately by getting the water into her eyes. I was really amazed that at six, she had the presence of mind to take the most appropriate next step to wash the gasoline from her eyes.

Don't get me wrong, we were incredibly lucky that the ambulance was there and this incident was over quickly without anything worse happening. My daughter exercised poor judgment and disobeyed me, but she did it in a spirit of trying to be helpful and she suffered the consequences. She hasn't asked lately to even help pump gas and it will probably be a long time before she is interested in doing it again. And, she will think twice the next time she tries something a little bit dangerous.

My Daughter Cooks

My oldest daughter did the most amazing thing the other day. I had taken my youngest daughter to ride horses and left my older two at home and on the way back I called them and asked what they wanted for dinner. We had a church activity to attend and were going to have to fix and eat dinner rather quickly. My eight-year-old said, "I can do dinner, Mom." I responded that she could certainly help when I got home. That was the end of the conversation and I was then thinking of the things I could cook that she could help with.

Imagine my surprise when I walked in the door and she announced that dinner was ready. The table was set, cooked scrambled eggs and ramen were on the table and she had a pot on to boil to cook green peas. She had done it all on her own. I'll admit that my first thought was worry about her doing it all unsupervised, but I looked at the table and the kitchen and was just proud that she had done it all on her own. The truly amazing part was that the table was completely set. Do you think she will set the table without complaint if I ask her and I'm cooking dinner? No way! But, when she was in charge, she did it all willingly.

In my experience, every new task my children undertake alone makes my heart skip a little beat as I imagine all the "what ifs". But, I truly believe that my job as a parent is to facilitate independence. And, I feel a great deal of pride in my children every time they are successful as doing something new on their own. This was a good day and she has since cooked even more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Fun

This picture illustrates Christmas fun for me. This is my family on Christmas Eve. My children, their cousins, my sister, brother, and brother-in-law in the water. There were 30 of us together for Christmas in Texas and about half (and all the kids over 5) decided to get into the pool and hot tub despite the snowy weather. The water was heated, but not too terribly much because the previous day it had been 75 degrees and the heater hadn't been on.

As a mom, this is also how I love to parent. Our kids were dying to swim in my sister's pool. We weren't at all sure it was a good idea, especially when we lost electricity for an hour and the pool heater stopped heating. But the water warmed to a reasonable temperature and we let them all go. Thank goodness a few adults were willing to get wet with them (not me this time)!

How many years from now do you think they'll remember and talk about this Christmas Eve? It was definitely not traditional, but my sister has already moved out of this house with the pool, so we knew getting in the pool wouldn't be an option again.

Being together as family is about building relationships and creating memories. The relationship part my kids have to do on their own, but I can help create some fun memories. It doesn't always mean anything way out there, but it does mean looking for opportunities for things different from the normal routine.

There are a few family memories we still talk about. What does your family remember when you get together?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Learning to help Moms

I had a moment today where I considered my place in the mommy universe. We were traveling home from Thanksgiving vacation and stopped by a rest area. As I walked in with my two girls, there was a mother changing her baby's diaper. I looked at her as I walked alone into a bathroom stall and realized I had passed through that phase of my life. My youngest child is six and perfectly capable of going to the bathroom all by herself. How did I get through the diaper changing part of my life so quickly? At the time I never would have believed that I would look back and think that is all went by quickly, because the image of caring for a baby is the one that seems to say "Mom" more than anything else. I'm still "Mom", but I don't change diapers anymore.

I will always carry with me the experience of that part of my life and I am different because of it. I now notice mothers and I know that they sometimes need assistance. Having taken care of my three, I also have a much better idea of what kind of help would be most appreciated. I remember the challenges of taking one or two or sometimes even three babies or toddlers into a public restroom. I remember how on some trips it seemed an impossible task to negotiate if I was alone. I just had to hope that I didn't personally need to use the facilities. A little help would have been wonderful sometimes.

The mother I saw had it all under control. But then I walked out and saw another mother with a baby standing close to the door of the restroom as if she was waiting for someone to come out. My first thought was that it was her husband so she could hand him the baby and go in herself. I thought of offering to hold the baby, but wasn't sure she would let me do that. Then, I saw her son walk out and her instruct him to wait at the door of the women's restroom for her. He balked at the idea – he looked to be about 7 or 8 in age and didn't want to be near the women's restroom. After a few seconds of listening I offered to let him stand with us. I was there with my husband and two children awaiting a third to finish inside. She let him stay with us and he looked much relieved. The mother was lightning fast in the restroom, however, and I wonder if she really did what she needed or if she was too concerned about her son with me to take the necessary time.

I hope I never forget the overwhelming physical challenge of young children and always remember to help other moms.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Assessing Risk

The night before I read the article in Time about over-parenting, I had a discussion with a member of my church about risk. I am having discussion follow the article because I think the basic issue with over-parenting has to do with improperly assessing risk.

In my discussion with this friend, he made the comment that he would never again fly in an airplane, but preferred to drive everywhere he went. Flying is statistically just as safe or safer than driving in a car (I can detail the stats, but they get rather tedious). But, does my friend realize that? He has heard the numbers, but he still doesn't feel comfortable flying. My personal opinion is that his issue is one of being in control. In driving a car, he believes that he is in control of his fate, but in an airplane, he has no control. But, being in control doesn't make him any safer.

What does this have to do with parenting? As humans, we are mostly bad at making good decisions when having to weigh risk factors. The way individuals invest in the stock market shows this time and time again. How likely is it that my child will be kidnapped if let him play outside my house, or ride around the block? About the same as your chances of winning the mega lottery if you bought 4 tickets – 1 one 1.5 million. So, are going to buy 4 lottery tickets now? Are you going to let your child play outside unattended? If you are smart enough not to play the lottery thinking you will win, you should know that your child is safe outside without you. It's always easy to increase those odds by teaching your child some important safety skills.

So, the next time you are pondering a freedom you do or don't give your child, think about the risks in terms of something else you do or don't do. Doesn't it still make sense to be afraid?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Here is a great article in Time on parenting.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Cell Phone Contract

My middle daughter - aged 8 - has been asking for a cell phone for about a year now. I personally think it's ridiculous for an 8-year-old to have a cell phone, so she has gotten nowhere with me so far. That is all about to change. Let me explain why.

When my oldest (now 10) was 8, he was introduced to video games. He worked, saved his money, and I matched him dollar for dollar to purchase a GameCube. He was hooked. We have to stay vigilant to make sure he doesn't spend every waking minute playing games (now in a Wii or the computer), but it has had benefits. One HUGE benefit I discovered rather quickly was that the punishment of taking video games away got his attention. It still works wonders. All it takes is the threat of losing game privileges and he straightens up immediately. Every parent needs something like it. I have a friend here who told me she was challenged by her children because no punishment bothered them. They didn't care about losing anything. So, how do you discipline when you have no punishment that works as a motivator? Fortunately, for my oldest boy, I do.

I thought the same tactic might work with my middle child as well. Add to that the fact that she has been getting herself up and ready for school every morning and catching the bus at 6:30. She doesn't have to ride the bus. We carpool with a neighbor and get to school even earlier that we have any other year. But, she likes the time to herself and getting to school as early as possible. School starts at 7:45, and 6:30 is early (she is the first one on the bus and the last off in the afternoon), but she has been faithfully doing it. I think that shows a lot of responsibility.

So, we are going to negotiate over the cell phone. I told her I would write up a contract for her to get a cell phone. There will be rules like she has to turn the phone over to me after bedtime and she has to pay the $10 a month extra for the phone service (which means she'll have to earn her $5 a week allowance at least twice each month, see my earlier post for how that works). Of course, grades must be maintained and homework done without a fight.

I hope this turns out to be a good thing. As much as I have heard about the dangers of cell phones, I still don't think she needs to have one, but if she can show responsibility and I set some very strict rules about usage that she follows, I think this exercise can be beneficial.

We'll see how it works. Our cell phone contract is up in January, so I'll be shopping carriers and getting her phone then. Suggestions for service offerings or rules are welcome.

Busy Mom

I realize I didn't post all of October. Why is October so busy? I need to learn that planning and decorating for Halloween should start in September or it will never get done. We got costumes this year, thanks to Wal-mart. Last year I spent enormous amounts of time sewing cheerleader outfits for my girls, mostly because my sewing skills are next to nil. But, it was a good exercise and I'm glad I did it last year. Don't know when I'll do it again.

Much of October has been focused on keeping up with school. We finished the first nine weeks and so the teachers are seriously getting into schoolwork. I volunteer in my children's classes every week - getting to teach Spanish to the fifth graders now. Money may be tight, but there are still local field trips and special events. Oh, and soccer season started, though with the rain many games have been postponed.

Some months of the year are relaxed months, some are for holidays and family and some are just "get down to work" months. I think October is a "get down to work" month. Even taking time out to post on my blog seemed frivolous this past month. Or maybe it was just that I couldn't figure out what to post about.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lying Children?

Just read through this story from NPR and thought it is fantastic. Every parent should read it. It's a little long but well worth the read.

The author reviews studies about children and lying and gives some great advice about how and why it happens and how to deal with it as a parent.

If you are like me, you'll find that you are still doing lots of things that are encouraging lying. I was aware of the many ways that children consider that parents are lying - my children have called me on them - and I work hard to avoid lying to my children for any reason. Sometimes the way to avoid it is to be purposely vague when they ask for a promise of doing something in the future. Unless I'm absolutely certain I can do what they are asking, I usually just say, "Maybe. Sometime".

I know I have been frustrated at times by my inability to know whether or not my children are telling the truth. The article really gives me some tools to monitor my own behavior so that I am encouraging my children to be honest.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Guess what I saw this week right near my house? The city is working on sidewalks! This is an example of the work being done. It is repair work, no new sidewalks are being built, but I think it's a great step in the right direction. All down the length of this street from downtown almost to the turn to my house, these sidewalks are being repaired.

This is the opposite side of my house from the elementary school. I am still working on sidewalks to the school, but I'm encouraged now!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jeff Foxworthy on Capable Kids

I knew I really liked Jeff Foxworthy. Here's a quote from him in today's Parade Magazine:

I’ve learned a lot from working with the kids themselves. For starters, I’ve learned that they’re much more capable than we believe they are. We’re probably the most overprotective generation of parents that’s ever been on this planet, but I’ve found that if you turn a group of kids loose in the outdoors, they learn to work together. They learn how to build forts and solve problems, like, How do we cross this ditch or this creek? That’s how we all find out what we’re capable of. Best of all, they figure out how to entertain themselves without electricity. Amazing!

I have to agree. So, let's give them more freedom outside.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Please, please write a letter to include. This program provides money for infrastructure improves that otherwise could not happen. I can tell you from personal experience that trying to convince city officials to install speed limits signs, improve crosswalks, or build sidewalks is a hard enough proposition when you say, "I can get the money for it." If this program and its funds are taken away, it would be impossible.

Thank you!

Join the Safe Routes to School “Dear Congress” campaign

The federal Safe Routes to School program is all about making sure that children can safely and independently walk and bicycle to school. With Safe Routes to School funding—which is $612 million over 5 years—communities are building sidewalks, bike paths, crosswalks, and other infrastructure improvements to make sure children have safe routes to school, separate from traffic. Safe Routes to School funding also helps teach children safe behaviors when they are walking and bicycling, and encourages more families and children to get active on the way to and from school.

Congress is currently considering reauthorizing the federal Safe Routes to School program as part of the next transportation bill. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership wants Congress to hear from children, parents, Safe Routes to School staff and volunteers, and school and city leaders about why Safe Routes to School matters to individuals and communities.

Please take a moment to write a letter about how Safe Routes to School helps your child be “Free Range.” Quick instructions are below. Write a letter that addresses the following points:

  • Start your letter with “Dear Congress,”
  • Thank Congress for the Safe Routes to School program
  • Why it’s important to you, as a parent, that your children are able to walk and bicycle to school
  • How it is important that your children walk and bicycle to school every year, up through high school, to build healthy habits
  • (if applicable) How Safe Routes to School has helped make it safer or easier for your child to walk and bicycle to school
  • What kinds of infrastructure improvements are needed in your community to improve safety for your children on their way to school
  • See if your children want to participate – ask them to draw a picture or write a short letter (crayon is ok!) about why they love walking and bicycling to school.
  1. Make sure you put your mailing address on the letter so that it can be matched with your Congressional district.
  2. Send your letters to Margo Pedroso with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership by September 24, 2009. You can scan and email electronic versions to Or you can mail letters to: Margo Pedroso, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, P.O. Box 442328, Fort Washington, MD 20749.
  3. Do not send your letters directly to your Members of Congress; the Partnership will bundle your letters together with those from other families and deliver to Congress as a package to have the strongest impact.
  4. Pass the word to other individuals and organizations you know through e-mail chains and list-servs.

Thank you so much for your help in making sure that Safe Routes to School continues—and is able to get more children walking and bicycling to and from school! If you need additional information, please visit or contact Margo Pedroso with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership at .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It’s a Miracle

The most amazing thing happened this morning. My 10-year-old woke me up at 6:30 to ask if I knew where his Sunday shoes were!

For years I have been giving my son instructions on how to get ready in the morning. School clothes he finally got down and so long as he gets up early enough, he can get himself completely dressed and ready to go. But, Sunday has been a different story.

I guess it's that his wardrobe is so different and since he only wears some of it once a week, if he left things sitting somewhere he shouldn't, after a week he doesn't remember where they are. Plus, Sunday mornings are much slower than weekly ones. During the week we have to leave the house by 7:30 am for school, so there's no leisure time. On Sunday, church doesn't start until 10:00 am. My kids enjoying playing around or watching TV and they are never in a hurry to get dressed. But, this morning at 6:30, my son had on dress pants, a white shirt (not ironed, of course, so he ended up having to take it off for ironing), a belt and black socks and was looking for his shoes! I thought I would fall out of bed.

Maybe this parenting thing does work after all. How many times have I had to follow him around on Sunday mornings reminding him to find clothes, find dark socks or his dress shoes? He's ten, so you do the math. A LOT of Sundays. For the first time today, I didn't have to.

So, maybe my children really will learn eventually to be responsible for themselves. Just one incident that will help me have more patience to wait for changes in my children's behavior.

It was a nice way to start off a Sunday morning.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

NY Times Article about Walking to School

Here it is. This is an article that will appear in Sunday's NY Times and includes my story. I think the reporter, Jan Hoffman, did a great job on it! Please read and forward to anyone you think might be interested.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Teaching Respect

As a child growing up in the south, we were taught never to call an adult by his or her first name without attaching a title. My grandmother's neighbor across the street was Aunt Emma to my dad and his sisters as well as all the grandchildren. Now, we more commonly attached "Miss" to a first name for our friends. I am "Miss Lori" to the children of most of my friends. For adults, I'm not one who is overly worried about using titles, but I think it very appropriate for children. Children should learn respect for others, especially those in an authority position.

We should all show respect to those around us. I'm not talking about the military style "if you outrank me I have to do everything you say kind of obedience" but basic respect. There have been too many examples of late of problems in our country relating to lack of respect. Dr. Gates, the Harvard professor arrested at his home, could have avoided a big mess had he shown more respect for the police officer. Yes, the police officer was acting inappropriately, but he's still a police officer. Getting in his face isn't going to help the situation. My encounter with a police officer after my son walked to soccer practice was similar. I was fairly upset by what he said to me, but I didn't let my emotions get the best of me at the time. I respectfully listened to his tirade and then a day later, contacted the chief of police for clarification. So, by "respect" I don't mean just lie down and take abuse of power, just handle the conflict differently.

Another poor example is parents' refusal to allow their children to watch an address by the President of the United States. This country has always been divided on political views, but it seems to be getting much worse lately. Agree or not with the President, he is the President, elected fairly and through the same process we have used for over 200 years. Government only functions when citizens have faith in it.

Lose respect for our elected leaders and our country will fall in anarchy. I'm serious about that. I've disagreed with many elected officials before and I'm not afraid to tell them so. But, I respect the position that they hold and I know it's not easy being in a job where making even half the people happy is success. We need to teach our children to have respect for the President. Not everyone voted for him, but for the next four years, he is the President for every citizen of the United States. Our children should see us set the example of respect, not learn distain for authority from us.

Lastly, I want to comment on Rep. Wilson's outburst during the President's speech last night. I think everyone agrees it was in bad taste, but I would argue that it's the natural outgrowth of this disrespect we are exhibiting for our President and other elected officials. We need to lead our children by example in showing respect for our elected officials, the police, our children's teachers and anyone else in an authority role. If we don't, how do we expect our children to behave? I don't want to live in a world like that.

I teach my children to respect others.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Child Catcher

A friend related an incident to me recently about letting her children walk to school and having a woman in a van stop to talk with them. A police officer saw them, was concerned about them "talking to a stranger" and came over to investigate. He ended up escorting them to school and then finding their mother to report that her children had been talking to strangers.

Since when are nice ladies talking to children a danger? I know, I know, an abductor can be anyone. But really. Everyone isn't dangerous. I'm sure had she seemed creepy or asked them to get in her car, the children would have run the other direction. When my son walked to soccer practice one woman in a van spoke to him to see that he was ok. It didn't even dawn on me to be worried that he answered her. We should teach our children not to GO anywhere with strangers, not teach them that it's inappropriate to talk to anyone you haven't met. My Grandpa talked to strangers all the time. I talk to people I don't know. I find that they are really nice. Sometimes they become my friends.

As I was thinking about this incident, I thought of the movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". In the movie a family flies in a car to some foreign country. They enter town with two children, who are immediately rushed out of sight into a shop by a toy maker. It is dangerous for them to be on the street. You see, in this country, the queen hates children and employs a "child catcher" to round up any children he sees and then takes them prisoner in the castle. So, any children in the town are always hidden away inside, in cellars and behind hidden doors. Are we getting to that point? Do we think that just by being outside our children are in danger?

I try not to think that way, but I wonder about when we do and what harm we do to our children. The children in this story had no lives. Our children won't either if we don't learn to be afraid of realities and not possibilities.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Walking to School

It was a goal of mine this school year for my girls to walk to their elementary school from our house. Several things need to happen before we will be there, and we are making progress towards that goal. We live one mile from the elementary school in a residential neighborhood and my daughters are in the first and third grade.

I am car-pooling with a neighbor who has one child in middle school with mine and one in the elementary school with my daughters. On the mornings I take the elementary school route, she takes my son to the middle school, thus giving me enough time to walk with my girls and her son. So far, we have driven to where the sidewalk begins and walked from there (about another block from her house). That has worked out nicely, but I am still walking with them. I don't really mind – I enjoy the walk – but it would be nice for them to walk alone.

Part of the issue is making sure that my friend is comfortable with her son walking. We aren't quite sure we totally trust our children to walk straight to school in a timely manner, which is why I'm walking with them for now. I assume that after awhile I won't need to keep reminding them how we are supposed to walk.

Secondly, though, is the entrance to the school. The sidewalk to the school is very safe and the few streets it crosses are very little traveled. But, the sidewalk ends at the edge of the schoolyard and the only way from there to the school entrance is across car traffic with no crossing guards. I hate to ask the school to provide a crossing guard if my children are the only ones walking, so I keep going with them. There is an assistant principal who watches out for them, but he is positioned across the yard from them. Maybe if I can convince more people to walk, we might get a real crossing guard. One other friend that I know of is now walking from the end of the sidewalk. Maybe in time others will join us.

I am also working with the city to improve the safety of walking along the street without a sidewalk. There is a stretch of about one block that doesn't have a sidewalk or even much of a side to the street and is on a fairly well-traveled road. I have spoken with city officials about a speed limit sign. The next step would be a better crosswalk. There are two hotels in development another block down the road and the city engineer is supposed to be getting back to me so that I can see what the plans are for road changes for that development and to see how we can make improvements for safe walking part of it.

Another obstacle is the weather. It's still too hot to attempt to walk home and not every morning is cool enough to walk, but some are. I enjoy those mornings when we do walk and lots of parents see us and wave on the street.

But, we are making progress and I'm glad that we are.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Time Management

I went to a symposium this weekend – completely for personal enrichment! I had decided to stay at a hotel one block from the one where the symposium was being held, for a variety of reasons. I had checked the distance and even seen the street on Google Earth, so I was confident that I was still close enough. I did have a car, but figured I could easily walk the distance; after all, I'm the mom who lets my kids walk. I should be setting the example.

I discovered the first morning that one block still wasn't close enough. I left my hotel room 5 minutes before the first session of the day and was almost race-walking the one city block. The same phenomenon occurred several more times where I was on such a tight schedule trying to fit everything in that I wasn't leaving time for a normally paced walk from one hotel to the other. I tried to figure out why.

I don't like wasted time. As much as I long for the days of being able to sit around all day reading or watching TV, I don't do it anymore. It doesn't feel productive. I don't think it's that I don't know how to relax, I can certainly sit down with friends and forget the time or enjoying researching, discussions, or shopping online. It's the "in-between" that I compress. I hate standing or sitting with nothing to do. I try to always carry a book or my iPod, or a magazine to give me something to do when I'm waiting. Walking with a destination in mind (as opposed to "going on a walk" just for fun or exercise) always stresses me about the time involved.

Why am I that way? I chose to be a stay-at-home parent partly because I thought it would free me from a hectic and harried lifestyle. Mostly it has. Much of the time I feel as though I have enough time to take care of both the urgent and the important responsibilities I have. Yet, I still feel as though I can afford no wasted time.

I'm going to ponder how I can change my thinking this way. If you have a thought or suggestion, feel free to share.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Horseback Riding

Today I had my first horseback riding lesson. I have ridden horses a handful of times before – and fallen off about 50 percent of the time – but have never really had lessons. I am into my forties and the last time I was on a horse was close to twenty years ago. So, why did I have a horseback riding lesson today? The short answer is that my children have been taking lessons for a few months now, only because of the heat their lessons in the summer were at 7:00 am. School started last week, making early morning lessons impossible (school starts at 7:45 am), and it's still much too hot here for afternoon lessons. So, I'm taking their slot for a few weeks until the weather cools.

The real question, though, is WHY am I taking their slot? Hmmm. This one requires a longer answer. First, I am taking lessons because I want to – which is really reason enough. Every time I got on a horse, I wished I knew more about what to do. The other part of the answer is that I'm taking lessons because my children are. Since all three of my children have been taking lessons, I wanted to know how to ride with them. It would be fun to go riding together as a family sometimes.

I try to get involved in the activities that my children enjoy. Not in a "parent who just wants to be your friend" kind of way, but just to be able to talk to them about their activities and sometimes participate with them. I have learned now to play Pokemon, video games, and soccer. I have learned all about guinea pigs and hamsters. And, I even watch the Disney Channel occasionally. I have found that when I know something about what my children enjoy, they talk to me more. Keeping those lines of communication open is very important to me, even more so the older my children get. I'm always worrying about "those teen years". I hope I survive them!

Hopefully, horseback riding lessons will help.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Seeing Evil all Around

I would paraphrase this post by Lenore Skenazy of "Free Range Kids", but there is no way I could say it better. When I first heard her compare our culture now to the hysteria of the Salem witch trials, I thought she was seeing things, but I have since come to agree with her. I'm all for caution, and sexual assaults on children MUST be stopped, but losing the ability to trust any adult with a child will cause harm as well. Like the story she quoted about the man who saw a two-year-old who had wandered from her nursery class, but was afraid to stop for fear he would be accused of kidnapping. She was later found at the bottom of a pond. Drowned.

Our children still need adult role models – especially men. Exercise caution and good judgment, but I think that seeing a pedophile behind any adult (or male, if you want to go there) is going too far. Now, this may be age-related. My children are now old enough that I have conversations with them about what is and isn't appropriate and I don't expect to be with them every minute. I think teaching them to be protective of themselves is better than keeping them away from all other adults. When they were infants and toddlers, I did feel much more protective, as I should have.

Just let good judgment, not hysteria rule.

Back from Vacation

I have been enjoying the summer with my children. We have been gone a lot. We live in a small town and while I really absolutely love living here, the opportunities for entertainment and cultural exposure are limited (and, I admit, we don't have access to a pool and it's hot! For several years we had unlimited access to our neighbor's pool and almost never left, but they moved and their house is still on the market). So, we travel. This summer we have been to Florida, Alabama, Atlanta, Texas, and Utah – all driving, so we saw plenty of places in-between too. We have visited a lot of family. Between my husband and me, we have eight siblings and we have seen all but two of them so far this summer. So, I haven't been updating my blog. Most of July the kids and I were on a trip without my husband out west – that's probably a recipe for INSANITY – but we had a great time. I'm lucky that my children travel really well – at least in a car where no one else has to hear them – ha ha.

Free range parenting is getting some attention this summer, along with a few parents who have disagreed with law enforcement involvement with them and their children. I'll probably comment on some of them later. This week Fox News has been highlighting some of the stories on their morning show, Fox & Friends. They found my story and called me about being on the show, but this was the week I was traveling across country alone with my children. Too bad. I love sharing my story and using it as a springboard for discussion. I think we should have more discussions about how being unrealistic about risk causes over-protecting, which actually has own harmful effects.

So, I'll post a little more frequently now. School starts in just 10 days.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Promoting Failure

I love the message of this video. It's all about well-known people who overcame the failures of their lives.

So, what does this mean for parents? I came to a realization a few years ago that my children were old enough that I not only didn't need to stop every tear, but that I shouldn't. When my children were babies, I considered it my job to prevent or soothe tears. I was lucky in that I didn't have any colicky children, so my experience won't relate to a parent who has been through that. My children cried when they needed something or were hurt and it wasn't all that difficult to have very few tears. As they grew, though, their tears came as a result of frustration over things they weren't able to do, or disappointment from life not going the way they wanted.

I had trained myself to respond to every tear, but one day I realized that I should change my behavior. There is something to be learned from frustration, guilt and sorrow. If I tried to protect my children from their consequences, I would deprive them of valuable growth opportunities. This doesn't mean that I completely ignore them. I believe it's important to acknowledge their feelings, but not my job to make them go away. It's easy to offer them something else they want as a bribe or distraction, but in that case a short-term solution causes a long-term problem.

What I want my children to hear from me is, "I'm sorry you are feeling . . . sad, frustrated, mad, etc. . . . Everybody feels that way sometimes. Don't let it stop you."

My youngest daughter really wants to learn to play the piano. I teach my children myself and we are rather hit and miss as far as lessons go. But, my five-year-old really wants to be taking lessons with the older ones. She goes to the piano and practices and practices, but she's a little young and learning the piano is a challenge. More than once (on the same song even), she has called me in to listen to her try and pass off "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star". She would do really went most of the way through, but then make a small mistake. Then, she would start to cry and run out of the room. Now, it's very tempting to overlook a small error and just give her a pass, but I won't do it. I will follow her, try to give her a hug, and just let her calm down. She doesn't have to come back to piano right then, but she always does come back eventually – sometimes days later. We went through this at least twice on the same song, but yesterday she finally passed it off perfectly (I was listening from the other room – thinking maybe just standing by her was making her nervous). She was so proud; and, much more willing to practice longer on the next piece. I'm proud of her!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Advocating for Our Children

I've been thinking about how to approach this post for days now. As with just about anything considered "sane", there is a sweet spot in the middle of this. First, let's delineate the extremes. At one end of the spectrum are parents who blame their children for everything, ignore their issues, don't get them help when it's needed and available, etc. At the other end are parents who fight so hard for their children to be the best at everything, or included in everything, or always in the right that they cannot see the reality of the child in front of them. I'm sure we all can tell stories about a parent who behave in one or other of those ways and if we are honest we can remember times when we personally behaved in that way. But, the goal is to stay squaring in the middle of those two extremes as much as possible. Let me give a few concrete examples of how I have tried to stay in the middle.

I have children with speech issues. Even my oldest, who is adopted, had us worried for a time that his speech wasn't developing as it should. Since I had been in speech therapy as a child, along with all five of my siblings, I was well aware of how it could help. We first had my oldest tested at about age three, I think. He was behind, but the therapist wasn't sure he needed therapy to catch up. She gave us a few instructions about how to help him ourselves and sent us home. We used a few of her techniques and then within a few months his speech blossomed (not necessarily because of our efforts, not implying a cause-effect relationship here). It was like he just started talking in sentences. No more worries. But then, with both of my daughters, I requested that the school district test them in pre-school, even before any teachers mentioned an issue. I heard my daughters speak with the same mistakes I had made before therapy and I knew that early intervention worked best. They both started speech therapy at three years old which has continued into elementary school and are speaking much better now!

On the other side, I have been fairly aggressive about requesting that my children be tested for the gifted program in school. I was always at the top of my class and I hope that my children will have that same experience. My son tested in while he was at the end of first grade. My oldest daughter's first grade teacher didn't recommend her for testing, even though I requested it. It's possible she had reservations, but she didn't discuss them with me, she just didn't do it and every time I asked she said she was "getting around to it". Her second grade teacher was willing to make the recommendation, but then the application sat at the school district office for months. I finally got annoying and called them repeatedly to make sure they got the testing done. I followed up with them and once they started moving, they kept me pretty well informed along the process.

Ultimately, however, I got a letter that she didn't get in. I wanted details about why and met with them in person. They were great about explaining it all to me – she had missed the cut-off by THREE percentage points. I could tell they were a little on the defensive, probably because they expected me to come in demanding that she be let in. That wasn't my attitude. It might have been if I had thought the process was unfair, but it wasn't. They actually did their best. Now, I know what my next steps need to be should I care to pursue the issue further. But, that decision is up to my daughter. I would love for her to have the experience of the gifted program curriculum, but I'm not going to push it for my personal reasons. At least I keep saying that I won't and I'm trying to keep my mouth shut to her, so that she can make her own decision about it. She knows what I know about the process, but I told her it was her choice to pursue or not pursue.

I think the underlying theme is really to see your children for who they are – the good and the bad. Be a strong advocate when they need help that only you can provide or find for them, and then back off so that our advocacy doesn't interfere with their own life development. Sounds simpler and easier said than done.

Monday, June 15, 2009

An Interesting Observation

Not sure this is all that helpful for parents, but I made an observation recently that I thought I would note. We were watching Spiderman this weekend and it struck me as the mother was outside a burning building screaming that her baby was inside. What was she doing outside when her baby was inside? Either that mother ran an errand or whatever and left her baby unattended inside or left a burning building alone knowing that she was leaving her baby inside. Neither option would be acceptable in today's culture. Was it ever?

I don't know that this kind of scenario has any actual basis in real life, but it is pretty common in the movies or on TV. Maybe nobody just took the time to think about how the mom ended up outside with a baby inside. Maybe they just thought of the most heart-wrenching scene possible.

Or, has it been that in the last few generations, the responsibilities of parents have widened to include constant supervision of their children? Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating leaving babies home alone. I'm just wondering if attitudes have changed overall.

Monday, June 8, 2009

An Allowance System that works

I thought I would follow-up my last post with one about the allowance system that we have implemented for our children. We held off for awhile on giving allowances because I couldn't come up with a system that I felt good about. I didn't want to just hand-out money to hand-out money, but I also didn't want a system where I paid a specific amount of money for a particular job around the house. I don't want my children to feel that I'm paying them to help around the house, but I didn't want the allowance to be given without any requirements. I finally hit on the idea we use.

I have a chart for each of my children with a list of household duties. Things like setting or clearing the table, emptying the dishwasher, putting their dirty clothes down the chute or putting away clean clothes, giving food and water to the pets or reading or practicing the piano. They get a sticker for each of the things that they do and when they have accumulated a specific number (right now our magic number is 14) they get their allowance. At first I gave them a week to accumulate the stickers and if they didn't get 14, they had to start over with a blank chart. I have since decided that they can just keep the chart up and turn it in for an allowance once it has 14 stickers on it. My oldest has asked if he can earn his allowance more than once in a week. For now, I tell him that he can, but he hasn't yet done enough work to do it. Oh, and when they try and negotiate a raise, the criteria is to earn their allowance within a week for three weeks in a row before we can discuss it.

The beauty of the allowance has been twofold. First is that I don't have to worry about them bugging me to buy them things if we go to the store. They are welcome to spend their money however they wish (that has taken some discipline to not interfere, but I'm doing better) and are expected to buy their own treats and toys from the store. I have to admit that I LOVE this part. It makes going to the store so much easier for me and it is also teaching them to pay attention to the prices of things. They are starting to be better shoppers.

The second benefit is that I get more help around the house Surprisingly to me, they aren't motivated enough by the money to help without being asked, but they are more willing. Maybe it was just the process of making of list of things they could do. Now I can ask them to do anything on the list and they will usually do it, eventually.

I think it's important for children to learn how to manage money before they are on their own. Maybe I'm a little biased because I have an MBA, but I really appreciate the money management skills I have acquired and am determined that my children will be savvy about earning, saving, and spending. I like this system because I do believe they are learning. We don't just give them money to squander, we cut back on what we spent when we gave the money. So far, our system seems to be working pretty well the way we want it to.

Eventually, we expect to expand the system to include regular long-term savings and charitable contributions. One step at a time. We have offered to match any money that they save over from previous weeks if they want to buy something more expensive. Our 10-year-old has taken advantage of that, but the younger girls haven't yet been that disciplined. I'm sure in time it will happen.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Free-Range at Disney

I spent the last 2 weeks wrapping up school for my kids and then went straight to Orlando and Disney World. It wasn't that I didn't think of lots of thing to write about, we just never slowed down.

I tried to make a conscience effort to trust my children more on this trip and give them more independence. No, I didn't let them take off on their own. They are still too young to be expected to roam around an unfamiliar spot alone.

The one big thing that I did was to make them in charge of their own money. We brought plenty of water and snacks we bought earlier at Target and we paid for meals. Then, we gave each of them $7.00 a day, which they had to use for any additional snacks or souvenirs. They could spend it each day or save up for something bigger. We didn't advance them money (with one exception for my youngest who is still learning how to save and she didn't forget the next morning that she owed me $4). It was actually pretty fun to watch them figure out what they wanted to buy. They were frustrated at first because everything at Disney was so expensive, but then they found the hotel gift shop. I'm not sure all their choices were good ones, but they did get better and the money management and shopping lessons were worth every penny. Oh, and they handled the actual purchase transactions themselves as well. They even managed to combine money to buy things more expensive and loan money to each other (we didn't interfere with that). The biggest plus for us parents, though, was always knowing how to answer the question of "can I have that?" The answer was, "Sure, if you have the money." And guess how much of their money was spent on food? Not one single penny! No $2.75 ice cream bars or sodas or frozen lemonade. Amazing!

The other "free-range" incident was on the second day when we lost track of our youngest in the Magic Kingdom. We were walking in Fantasyland and I had just remembered to remind my girls that if we ever were separated, they were to find an employee and tell him/her that they were lost. And, I made them practice our cell phone numbers with the area code. Not five minutes later I realized that my five-year-old daughter wasn't with us. My husband had walked ahead with our son, so I headed that direction first, thinking she had followed them. We spent no more than five minutes walking in circles looking for her, when I decided it was best to just contact a park employee. I didn't panic. I didn't assume that someone had taken her or that she was in any danger (that's the free-range part). We were just in different places and she knew what to do. Within ten minutes, the park employee I had contacted was walking back to me with my daughter. She had wandered into a store and when she finally noticed that we were with her, she went to the clerk and explained that she was lost.

My husband accused me of not being free-range because I wouldn't let our oldest leave us in line for the Aerosmith Rockin' Coaster to get in the single rider line alone and try and ride twice while we were waiting (there's the downside of making the news by allowing your child freedom – nobody forgets it). I just didn't like the idea of being separated with so many variables to complicate finding each other again. I had already lost him in Disney Quest when we all stopped by the restroom and then he took off before my daughter and I got out (thinking we had already exited and were somewhere else) and it took us ten minutes to find him. It was more about losing time looking for people than about worrying that something would happen to him.

Free-ranging can be challenging because while letting my children be independent means I do less for them, I am responsible for teaching them how to make good choices while exercising their independence first. That part can be tedious. But, it's worth it in the end. My seven-year-old daughter is attending a cooking camp this coming week. I wonder how much unsupervised freedom I will allow her in the kitchen after that? It would sure be worth it if she managed to cook dinner, or even most of it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I just read a great article about how "over-parenting" is harming our children. The idea behind it is exactly why I chose "sane parenting" as the title for my blog. Let me be honest. I started my parenting journey as an over-achieving parent, or at least I tried to be. I had traveled a rather long and difficult journey to become a parent. I also had a satisfying career that I gave up to stay home full-time. I'm not really sure if it was the challenges I encountered in becoming a parent that made me try to be super-mom, or the fact that in order to feel good about leaving the workforce, but I felt that I had to put the same kind of effort into parenting that I had into my job. I certainly wasn't going to feel good about myself if I sat around and watched TV or cleaned house all day.

At first my son was just so fascinating that I spent hours just watching him play. Now, really, that wasn't so bad – at least I didn't interfere – and I learned a lot by observing my son in action. But, I bought him every educational toy I saw. And, I rarely left him in the care of anyone else, because frankly I didn't think anyone could do as good of a job as I could. I locked the guest bathroom toilet, annoying a lot of visiting friends and family who would come out of the bathroom doing the potty dance begging me to open the toilet for them. And, after he dropped a bottle of lemon juice on the kitchen floor, broke it, and stepped on it and cut his foot (all with me standing not 6 feet from him), I took all glass out of my kitchen and stocked up on Tupperware. Ok, maybe I like that story because I also started selling Tupperware around then and it makes a great story for worried moms.

My first awakening to the dangers of over-protecting our children was in reading about the undesirable effects of all of our germ control measures. This was mentioned in the article as well. Because we are becoming such clean freaks, our children's immune systems are finding other things to fight, which creates allergies. Within reason, (there's that "sane" thing again – I love it! Works so well.) our children should be exposed to germs. Remember what our parents did back a generation or so ago when one kid came home with the chickenpox? They put him in bed with all the other kids so everyone would get sick at once. Now we take a vaccine so our kids don't get chickenpox at all. Don't misunderstand, I'm for vaccinations. My dad was a polio survivor, so I know first-hand just what they prevent. I just get the feeling that we are going a little overboard with some of them.

For the past several years, the only serious illnesses with which my children have been afflicted have been allergy related – sore throats and ear infections. So, I'm encouraging them to occasionally eat off the floor. I'm hoping it will give their immune systems something else to fight. And, I'm trying to back-off some of my overly involved parenting efforts. We are at Walt Disney World this week and I'm trying out some things. I'll blog about them soon.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Protecting, Teaching, and Letting go

I was thinking today about parenting in terms of protecting, teaching and letting go. There are definitely particular times in our children's lives when we do each of these and at the risk of being terribly simplistic, I'm thinking that doing the wrong one at the wrong time is at the heart of "insane parenting". I'd like to expand more on this idea, but I'm also interested in what others think. So what do you think?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

How to Keep our Children Safe

The following editorial was printed in our local paper today. I am including it, along with my reply below.

It was almost 10 o'clock last Wednesday night. I had sent my 5-year-old daughter to bed, with instructions to pick out a bedtime story. This particular night, I selfishly hoped she would doze off before I made it up the stairs. It had been a long day.

I got to work at 7ish, left at after 5, picked Kyla up from school soon after and prepped dinner, which I really hoped would be done before Bible class at 7. No such luck. So I put in a call to my sister in Hoover, Ala., to ask on what temperature I should leave the chicken, since it now was at least halfway cooked. She had more important things to discuss: My nieces, ages 13 and 11, at about 4 p.m. had come face-to-face with a child predator.

They and four friends were walking what would equate to a couple blocks to CVS Pharmacy. As they were leaving, a man was parked in a green Honda, near their apartment's playground. He asked if they wanted a ride; they declined. On the way home, most of the girls stopped to walk a friend to her apartment door; my oldest niece headed around the corner to her own apartment. The green Honda was still at the playground. The Hispanic man inside maneuvered the car in front of her and exposed himself. She screamed and ran; the other girls followed suit. After reporting the incident to the police, my sister found out at least one other incident had been reported with the same car and same description for the suspect. He had physically tried to abduct a girl — a high school freshman — just after the incident with my nieces.

I was appalled something like this would happen, in broad daylight. "I couldn't process it; I had to have them repeat it because I couldn't believe what they were saying," my sister, Givonne, said. After the shock wore off, she wanted find him, get his license plate number and get a good look at him. I could relate. I felt like driving to Alabama myself and hunting down the degenerate. But my nieces, I'm sure, were more traumatized than the two of us. "I'm OK," the 13-year-old said, not very convincingly. I tried to be encouraging; I'm pretty sure I failed miserably. What do you say? "I'm sorry you were confronted by a sick pervert, sweetheart."

I had to switch gears: Chicken. Bible class. We decided I would leave the chicken breasts in the oven on 200 degrees, while Kyla and I headed to Gregory Road Church of Christ. It was a good class, and, as usual, educational. But the thought of my niece being exposed to such a sicko plagued me.

News Monday a similar situation happened here in Columbus was enough to disturb me even more. Police still are investigating the case of a man who exposed himself to a child last Friday afternoon. The girl got off the school bus and saw a white male sitting in a blue 2003 Hyundai Accent with Alabama tags. The man told the child he had something he wanted to show her and beckoned her to the car. When she approached, he exposed himself to her. Columbus police have apprehended a suspect based on the car's license plate but have yet to verify whether or not he's the culprit.

I had berated my sister for letting my nieces walk, even in a large group, to the store alone. But this girl was getting off of a school bus, headed home. Kyla will start kindergarten in the fall, and I shudder to think of the possibility of something like this happening to her. My instincts say shield her from the ways of the world, quit my job and home school her even.

I won't. But there must be some median ground between hunkering down in a bomb shelter and being completely vulnerable to these kinds of deviants.

And, here is my response:

There is a middle ground.

First, as much as we might want to think that we can protect our children, the fact of the matter is that we cannot protect them from harm. Even further, in some cases, we shouldn't. What would happen if we kept our children from learning to walk because they might fall down and hurt themselves? Can we agree that it wouldn't be a good idea? Yes, they will fall down and get hurt, but the benefits of learning to walk usually outweigh the damage that might be done in a fall.

So, what do we do for our children? We don't overprotect, we teach. We teach our children that if you fall, you get back up. We teach them that they don't go anywhere with a stranger. We teach them to run away from situations that feel dangerous or uncomfortable to them. There are programs out that do a great job of teaching our children how to manage their own safety, if you want some help with what works and is appropriate.

What we don't do is lock our children up in our houses. To deprive them of the experiences that give them wisdom about the world and teach them to take care of themselves is to hinder them, not to mention how much harder it will be to keep them from being overweight if we never let them outside. At 13 and 11, your nieces are old enough to walk to the store alone. And, I would bet that after the shock of this incident has worn off, they will be even more aware of uncomfortable situations and more likely to avoid them altogether.

I don't mean to diminish the significance of being flashed, but they apparently handled it correctly. They walked away and told their mothers. The young woman in Columbus also told authorities. It's likely the perpetrators will be apprehended before they move past flashing into more dangerous attacks.

I think that's the best we can do. There's no way to prevent creeps from being creeps and we can't spend our lives hiding in fear, but if we teach our children to run away, give the authorities a good description and then we catch them, we have done the best we can. And, we will end up with strong, resilient children who walk with confidence.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Teacher Appreciation

This week is the PTA's official Teacher Appreciation Week. In honor of teachers, I thought I would share my philosophy of how sane parents work best with schools and teachers. As background, I have a BA in French and German Teaching, but chose to change fields after student teaching. I changed primarily due to the negative experiences I had dealing with parents. I made a commitment then and there to be a supportive parent for teachers. So, what does a supportive parent look like? Here are some ideas:

  • First and foremost, recognize that the teacher is a trained professional who has the best interests of your child at heart. Sure, you might say there are exceptions, but you should start with the assumption that she isn't an exception. You give the teacher the benefit of the doubt, rather than asking her to prove herself to you. My father was a university professor for thirty years and he expected to be mostly left alone to run his classroom and trusted to make good choices. So, why not treat a K-12 teacher the same way? The only real difference between a university level professor and a public school teacher is more content knowledge training for college and more teaching theory training for K-12.
  • Prepare your child for a good experience at school. Before kindergarten, teach them the ABCs, colors, shapes and numbers. Read to them. Teach them to respect authority and behave. Beyond that, watch for what kinds of things they naturally enjoy learning and support that. My son loved puzzles, so we bought a bunch of them. My sister's daughter taught herself to read before pre-school (this isn't required or even encouraged, in case you are wondering, but it was what my sister's daughter wanted to do). I enrolled my children in church-run pre-schools. There wasn't a lot of academic instruction there, but there was lots of playtime, good friends, and an organized routine. That's what I considered important.
  • Don't be a stranger at the school. I am at my children's school at least once a week. In kindergarten, be sure and check with your child's teacher about when to come in person. Making that transition to student is sometimes easier without mom or dad around, but once they adjust I'm sure you'll be welcome. If the teacher doesn't invite your help in the classroom, eat lunch with your child. They'll like it for awhile. I went to school recently to eat lunch with my 4th grader and as I sat down, he didn't even look at me and just said, "I'll give you 20 bucks when I get home if you don't talk to me." Sigh. They grow up too fast.
  • And, most importantly, do what the teacher requests of parents. I'll be the first to admit that it's challenging at first and I'm frequently forgetting to sign behavior sheets or graded papers, but I do my best. Plus, I'm in the school enough that the teachers know that I'm very available if there is any issue they want to discuss. If you need to return field trip money, do it before the deadline.

My bottom line? I like to think that it's my job to make the teacher's job easier. They are responsible for the most important people in my life. I want to keep them happy.

Thank a teacher today.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Teaching Parenting Skills

I read article today by Anna Quindlen published in Newsweek magazine about teaching parenting skills that I loved. It's about the importance of parenting skills and I think the idea is really important. As I mentioned in a previous post, I feel strongly that every parent should follow their instincts when it come to making decisions for their children, but reading through this article reminded me that educating yourself first is an important part of that equation. Don't make decisions in ignorance (or at least try not to). Get lots of information and then listen to the one that makes the most sense to you.

Quindlen wrote about a parenting training study that showed how teaching basic parenting skills like consistent discipline (Oh, there's that word again. We try our best, really.) without corporal punishment (hmm, mostly without? I believe in spanking in certain situations.), positive reinforcement and playing with your kids changes the stress level in young children in measurable ways.

Two points I want to make relative to this analysis:

  • Learning how to be a good parent is important. I went through a lot to become a parent and it made me think about how easy it is for some people, even accidental. We need a license to drive, be 18 to vote, and don't get me started on how laborious the process is to become a teacher in the public schools. But to be a parent? Anybody can do that. The problem is, though, that the desires that makes many of us parents have nothing in common with the desires to be a good parent. Now, I'm not saying we should make any new laws or anything; I'm a strong believer in personal freedom. What I am suggesting is that we spread the word that there are parenting skills to be learned that help.
  • The most important parenting skills aren't that complicated. A few basics go a long way. They aren't always easy – who can be consistent all the time? But, holding the line on them goes a long way. For example, with discipline, a child who knows how his parents are going to react to certain behavior because they always react the same way will be less likely to test those parents with misbehavior.

I liked the last line of the article: It can be a great job, motherhood, but it would be nice if everyone could be more honest about how overwhelming the job can be, and more willing to find ways to support and inform the people who are trying to do it. We should all strive to be more of a community, whether it's physically or virtually.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Free-Range is my Philosophy and Lenore Skenazy is my Hero

I'm new to the official Free Range movement, but it was my free range thinking that brought me here. I've always wanted to foster a sense of independence with my children. Whether it's letting my then 4-year-old order her own meal at Wendy's while I watched from a booth or letting my 10-year-old walk on his own less than a mile to soccer practice, I am trying to teach my children to be in charge of their own lives. My youngest daughter is now completely at home doing her own shopping. She can find prices – even though she cannot add or subtract much yet – and handle the entire checkout process herself. She keeps track of her money, even if her allowance doesn't last very long because she wants to spend it as soon as she gets it. But hey, it's her allowance and I don't buy her things she can afford for herself, even if her money is gone.

When my son asked permission to walk to soccer alone, I wasn't sure I was ready to let him, but couldn't come up with a good reason to deny him. Despite the fact that numerous people called 911 and he got a police escort the last ½ mile to practice, I have gotten not one single report that he did anything dangerous or inappropriate. In fact, I'm sure he got a ride to practice because he insisted that was where he was supposed to be and not driven back home. Now, he encourages me to let his younger sisters walk that way, "so that they can have their 15 minutes of fame." I'm not quite that free-range, but I am meeting with city officials to see what can be done to make that stretch of road as safe as possible for my girls to walk by themselves to school next year.

I remember when I first heard about Lenore's story of letting her nine-year-old son ride the NYC subway (who could resist clicking on the link that said "America's worst mom" – at least it wasn't me!). She sounded very sane and confident in the fact her son was capable of managing the NYC subway. That is why after my encounter with the local police, who threatened me with child endangerment, I Googled her story for the details. I found her website ( and posted my story. She responded to me via email and it was in those exchanges with her that I decided to approach the police chief for actual crime statistics for my neighborhood. Fortunately for me, my local police chief was extremely responsive and assured me that the streets of Columbus, MS are safe for my children.

Having been through this myself, I was interested in reading what Lenore had to say on her blog. I found her very reasonable. I looked forward to reading her book and I can honestly say that it was one of the best books I have read on parenting – ever! I believe in common sense and she has that in spades. She is also a reporter by training so her ideas are well-researched and documented. As a former researcher myself, I very much appreciate the documentation (even if I am perfectly happy to take her word for it). What is most admirable about her is that she trusted her own instincts about what was safe for her children and instead of backing off under criticism, she armed herself with actual research and stood up to her critics.

I am now making a conscience effort to let my children stretch their wings. I still believe in safety, but I also don't believe in worrying about things that are extremely rare. I don't play the lottery because I understand statistics and I'm not running to the doctor today because I'm not feeling well and might have the swine flu. And, I believe my children are safe playing outside and walking in my neighborhood. After all, I know my neighbors are watching!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Free Range Kids Book Launch

Today I celebrate the launch of Lenore Skenazy's book, Free Range Kids. She also runs a blog by the same name. How does she describe her philosophy? Here, from her website: Do you ever.....let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk alone to school? Take a bus, solo? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free Range Kid! At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale.

Lenore became famous last spring when she let her nine-year-old take the subway home alone in NYC and then wrote a column about it. She was proud that he tested his independence and proved his ability to navigate the subway and make it home safe and sound. Unfortunately, however, much of the rest of America wasn't so impressed and she was dubbed "America's Worst Mom".

I bought an early copy of her book and I loved it! Not only does she have great – and very sane – ideas, but she has done research and as a good reporter would, documented it as well. I think this is the perfect book club read. You could guarantee a great discussion.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mojomom interviews Lenore Skenazy

Mojomom (Amy Tieman) interviewed Lenore Skenazy for her weekly podcast and they were talking about my story, among other things. Check out the mojomom podcast. Amy happens to be a neighbor of my in-laws, and heard about my story from them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why I chose Stay-at-home

The stay-at-home versus working mother is such a debated topic. I thought I would add my story. Maybe it will resonate with someone.

I grew up in a very traditional home. My mother stayed home and my father worked. I was taught that a woman's role was in the home and that's what I planned on. But, education was important and there was no question that I would complete college. I did. Then I went to graduate school and finished, still with no prospects for marriage that would lead me to a stay-at-home path. Fortunately, I was excited about a career path by then, which I pursued. And, I found a career that I enjoyed and was successful at (market research, if anyone wants to know). I did get married a few years later, at which time my career moved forward and I was really enjoying it. My husband and I actually had discussions about who would stay home full-time. We made the exact same amount of money, so that wasn't part of the discussion and my husband loves kids. But, it finally came down to the fact that I had more training and desire to organize the home. One of my criteria, however, was that I wanted to be making a choice to stay home, not feel like I was running away from a bad job. I can honestly say that it was totally my choice, not that it was easy to quit working in a field that I really enjoyed.

The transition was more difficult than I had imagined, but I still felt good about my decision. Then, when we added 3 children to our family within a span of 4 years, going back to work wasn't even an option. It's not that I thought I couldn't manage it all, but it would have meant a much more harried life. It's not that I don't like harried – sometimes I get really energized by harried – but mostly I wanted a more calm life. When it's calm, I feel as though I am able to get more of the important things done, because my time isn't completely taken up by the urgent (Stephen Covey time-management training anyone?).

I remember telling a woman at church when my child were babies that I fully intended to return to work full-time when my children were all in school. She gave me that look that seasoned mothers give new mothers that indicated that she thought I would realize eventually that wasn't possible. And, I have to admit that so far, she is right. There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal recently that reinforced my thinking.

This was the first year all three of my children were in school full-time. I had my mother living with me most of the year and taking care of her made working impossible, but even now I wonder how I could possibly juggle it all. I'm involved in a lot of community things, plus volunteering in the school. I did renew my teaching license (that was my undergraduate) and if the right teaching job came alone I might take it. Actually, if the right opportunity came along either in teaching or research or even something totally new, I would take it. But, the timing doesn't seem quite right yet. So, I'll wait for the right timing. Meanwhile I work at enriching my children's lives and exploring other personal interests and feel glad that in this economy I still have the freedom to make my own choices.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Taking Charge

A friend sent me the link to this article on CNN about taking charge as the mom. As I read it, I realized how I had moved from controlled to in-charge.

When my children were very young, I felt very controlled. I remember specifically wondering what my former work colleagues who didn’t have children would think about someone that small being in charge of my life. But, when they were babies, that was ok. Seriously. They are only communicating needs and it was my job to provide what they needed.

But, once they got old enough to communicate, the power shifted. Not that I’m a tyrant, but I’m definitely in charge. My children do negotiate – my oldest is a master at never giving up – but they aren’t in charge. At least I don’t think they are. I’ll have to watch my behavior over the next few days just to make sure.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Does the title make you wince? It’s one of the more critical parenting skills, yet at the same time one of the more challenging. For infants and toddlers, consistency mostly means eating regular intervals and sleeping on a regular schedule. I found that with my own children, the more consistent their routines were at this age, the less I had to deal with cross or misbehaving children. That was an outcome worth a little bit of sacrifice, so I tried very hard to be consistent. (I have to note my personal belief in not punishing young children for misbehavior if they are tired or hungry. Fix the problem first, then see if the behavior doesn’t fix itself.)

But consistency is difficult. And, I found that it gets more challenging as my children get old enough to remember and negotiate. I have children who don’t forget that a week ago I promised them we would get donuts after school in a week. Or, that once when my girls were fighting I let my seven-year-old sit in the front seat with her car seat. I ran across a quote this week in a book I happened across at the library – Guilt-free Motherhood by Julianna Slattery. “The average kid has much more time and energy to devote to lobbying than his mother does to staying consistent.” Ain’t that the truth?

But, this blog is about sane parenting, not expecting perfection out of ourselves with unrealistic goals. Is being consistent good? Absolutely. Is it possible to always be consistent? Maybe, but not likely (didn’t we all have parents who forgot they grounded us? I know mine always did.). So, what do we do instead? The best we can. Know what the really important things for you are and stay consistent with them.

The easiest way to be as consistent as possible? Don’t promise anything you aren’t sure you can remember and deliver. I’m really good at vague responses – just ask my kids. Or, better yet, make your children responsible for reminding you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Letting Go

I had an "ah-ha" moment a week or so ago about being a hovering parent. We were at a mall in a large metro area. We had driven 250 miles that morning and were meeting my sister and her family for lunch (and spend the rest of the weekend, we don't drive that far just for lunch). My children were excited and quickly got out of the car and walked toward the mall entrance. We were parked very close to the entrance, so they only had to cross one traffic area. Still, I called to them to wait for me before crossing.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized just how protective I was being. My youngest child is five and I have taught her how to look for traffic before crossing. She is responsible enough to remember to do it. She is also responsible enough to get herself up in the morning, make her bed, get dressed, and put breakfast on the table before school. Of course, anyone can get excited and forget to look for cars coming and I'm right there, why not be completely safe? Because she will never gain her own sense of independence if I'm always hovering, double-checking her decisions.

In a nutshell, parenting really boils down to caring and protecting, teaching, and then letting go. And, knowing when to let go can be just as hard as the other responsibilities. The bottom line is that you have to let go at some point. I don't yet have teenagers, but I have heard that the challenges of the teenage years are the juxtaposition of children wanting their independence and parents not wanting to give it to them. I figure if I start now learning how to let go little by little, I just might learn something about me and my children before I am the mother of a teenager.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Right Timing

Sometimes timing is everything. My mother once told me that I could work hard to potty train my child at two, or I could wait until he was three and he would potty train himself. My sister will attest to the fact that even at three potty training isn't easy, but I like her point. Timing is everything.

Sometimes it's important for things to happen right at a particular time, but most of the time we save ourselves a lot of extra effort we could expend doing something else if we just wait for the right time. I waited to potty train my kids. I found that I much preferred changing diapers to changing pull-ups and remembering to take my child to the bathroom. Of course, it didn't help that I was, twice, pregnant when my children turned 2 and new baby and potty training just don't mix. So, I waited. And it was easier.

My son had bed-wetting issues. We tried the easy stuff, reducing liquids and waking him up at night. Nothing helped. We just lost sleep. I finally decided just to wait; after all GoodNights work really well. Then, he turned 10 and we were talking about going to summer camps. We tried prescription medication with limited success. Ultimately, the doctor suggested stopping for a couple of weeks. Out of the blue, I decided to tell my son that if he went 14 nights dry, I would buy him Guitar Hero. I figured I was pretty safe, he hadn't gone a single night, much less two in a row. Guess what happened? He went fourteen straight nights, though he ended up with a subscription to Wizard 101 (his choice). He has now gone six weeks. WOW! That was so much easier than I had feared.

So, I tried it with my daughters. They had been biting their nails for years and I just hadn't had the energy to make a big deal out it. I promised them manicures and pedicures if they stopped biting their nails long enough for them to grow. Guess what? They stopped immediately and we had a great day at the spa.

It also sometimes happens the other way around too. Like if your 10-year-old asks to be able to walk to soccer practice alone. You might not be ready, but he apparently is. So, let him. It might just change your life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finding your inner voice

This is the post I had planned to do second. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since I finished my first post (which was also published in the local newspaper as a column).

All parents should find their own voice and learn to trust themselves. Let me explain.

As a first-time parent I was overwhelmed. There was a human being totally dependent on me and I knew next to nothing. I thought as the oldest of six kids I knew a lot, but a lot wasn’t nearly enough. So, I went searching for advice. Lots of advice. Some of it conflicting.

I tried a lot of things. Some things worked and some didn’t. And then there were some decisions that my children made all on their own. One example was our sleeping arrangement. I had never intended to do co-sleeping. I liked sleeping without worrying about rolling onto a baby. My daughter, however, had other ideas.

The very first night in the hospital, I tried to lay her down to sleep in her bassinet and she woke up immediately. I picked her up and tried again. Again, she woke up. Now, I was fairly experience at putting babies to sleep, so it wasn’t that I was doing something wrong. She just wouldn’t sleep there. I took her to my bed and slept with her in my arms. We came home and it continued. Every once in awhile I would try to put her down to sleep, but she wouldn’t have it. Not even for naps. So, my daughter became permanently attached to me.

If I had needed separation, I’m sure I could have found a way. But I was a full-time mom by then and just decided to indulge her. I figure it wouldn’t last forever and sure enough, when she was six months old she started sleeping through the night and moved to her crib.

I made a choice to listen to my “inner voice” that told me this was the right choice for me. I think every parent has this kind of personal voice. As a religious person, I believe sometimes this is God, speaking directly to me so that I can make good choices for my children. Others may just see it as mother’s intuition or instinct. My point, though, is that there is an inner voice that we all have to help us make good choices. Lots of people love to give advice (me included, hence the blog) but each parent is capable of being the best judge of what’s best for their children.

So, no matter who gives you advice (even if it’s your mother-in-law), listen politely and do what feels right for you and your child. I found, over time, that some people’s advice made more sense than others. I also developed a confidence in my own ability to make the right choices for my children. I’m not saying every choice is the best one, I have made some bad ones and had to deal with the repercussions, but over time a lot of them have turned out to be the best – even if they seemed a little questionable at the time.