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.