It’s that time of year when employees everywhere are getting feedback on how well they are performing in their jobs. Although pretty much everyone hates them, and there have been many calls for their elimination, these annual / biannual / quarterly sit-downs persist in most organizations because they are a useful way to provide formal feedback. These painful meetings force managers and staff to take a hard look at what they do all day and consider how they could be doing it better. An effective manager will cite specific areas for improvement and ask for bottom-up critique as well. In theory, these appraisals offer an opportunity to recognize outstanding work and to correct missteps.
But what if what you do all day (or even part of the day) is raise children? Although more important than pretty much any other way we spend our time, child rearing is frustratingly un-measurable. There is no bottom line to track or lawsuits to win or clients to attract. There are no pounds to lose or awards to win or records to break. Our goal is to keep our children safe, healthy, and (generally) happy and help them develop into good people (however you define that). So how do we know if we are doing a good job? If our toddler bites a playmate, is that evidence we are slacking in our responsibilities? If our child screams that he hates us, does that mean we have failed to get through to him, or that we are doing well at standing firm?
Some say we can only know if our parenting was “successful” in retrospect, by looking at our children once they are grown. There may be an element of “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” but I cannot accept that there is no way to know in which areas of parenting you are doing well, and where you could do better. Read more…
To My Dear First Born,
It sounds cliché to say it seems like just yesterday that you slept in my arms, but it really is incredible how quickly you have turned into a young man. I know you are nervous about starting kindergarten today, even though you put on a brave face most of the time. To tell you the truth, I am pretty nervous about you starting kindergarten, too. Your sensitivity is one of the traits I most treasure in you, but I know your feelings will be hurt – if not this first day, then tomorrow or the next day. Nine straight hours of people and noise will also challenge your introvert’s need for quiet. Then there is the simple fact that you have struggled with learning letters and numbers, and will be behind some (hopefully not most) of your classmates. Read more…
Our idyllic summer adventure has been full of many wonderful moments, when my children’s joy made my heart feel as if it would burst. My one-year-old discovered the ocean and insisted upon charging into it again and again, laughing gleefully when waves knocked him down. My three-year-old has really gotten into the safari mindset, and orders my husband to stop the car whenever she sees an animal, be it a giraffe or a pigeon. My five-year-old and I went zip-lining over waterfalls and when I asked him if he was enjoying it, he replied, “This is more fun than I ever imagined it could be!”
But the downside of a three-month vacation is that it can’t all be fun and happiness, something is bound to go wrong from time to time. For example, my eldest was bit by a tick and developed a high fever, leading us to rush him to a late-night clinic (it wasn’t tick bite fever, just a 24 hour bug caused by some other bug). My baby fell down some concrete steps and got badly scraped up. My daughter got lost at a gas station and when a kindly stranger brought her back, she denied my husband was her father. These rough times will fade from our memories of this magical summer. However, there are two days that I will carry with me like painless scars; reminders of close calls where terror turned to triumph. Read more…
Nothing makes me as patriotic as traveling. Don’t get me wrong, the people, animals, and landscapes of South Africa are wonderful, and even the weather has been lovely this “winter” (generally in the 60s each day), and yet, wherever you look there are signs of the corruption and distrust that are robbing this beautiful country of its potential for greatness. Read more…
* Happy Father’s Day! None of this – my blog, my family’s summer-long adventure, or my family itself – would be possible without my amazing husband. Similarly, I would not be as able and willing to take a three-month hiatus from my job and daily pressures without the support and encouragement of my Dad. Both fathers have been instrumental in helping me create my dream life. Thank you! *
As I wrote in my last post, my family has taken the summer off from our hectic schedule of work, preschool, dance / gymnastics / swimming / soccer classes, birthday parties, play dates, home improvement projects, yard maintenance, etc. in the hopes of slowing down for some quality time together before my oldest starts kindergarden. As much as we enjoy all the people and fun activities in our daily life, we seem to always be busy doing something so there doesn’t seem to be much time left for actually living. Far too often, when one of my kids will ask me to read a book, play a game, or do yoga with them, I say something like, “Sure honey, I’d love to, right after . . . . ” but never get around to it. This summer, I have been able to enthusiastically respond, “Yeah, let’s do it!”
In recent months, I’ve also grown uncomfortable with how much my husband and I instruct our kids to “hurry up,” “sit down,” and “be quiet.” The reality of our busy life means that we are often trying to get somewhere, but it is completely understandable that my child wants to finish the Lego robot he’s building or examine the new flower bud that’s sprouted on her way to get in the car. Why should what we care about always take precedence over what they care about at a given moment? This summer, on the other side of the world with nothing we have to do and nowhere we need to go, we are allowing the kids to set the pace most of the time (although not when there’s a plane to catch or it’s bedtime). Similarly, research has shown that human beings should not sit as much as we do, and kids especially need movement to learn about the world around them. So we are letting them run and climb and even stand at the dinner table if they want. Finally, I don’t want my kids to lose their shout. Their zeal is still unrestrained by social expectations and self-consciousness. They get caught up in a moment of joy, surprise, imagination, anger, or frustration and get LOUD. I want that to be acceptable this summer. Read more…
One of the ways our family likes to pass the time when we are traveling is to tell collaborative stories. We each take turns adding a sentence until we agree the tale is complete. The narration tends to be fast-moving, but this time I did my best to keep up so I could record this one. It’s called: “Clabba and Llabba’s Happy Adventure.”
Once upon a time, there was a family going on a long trip. They had no food, and that’s why they were going on the trip, so they could get some food. There was a little sheep that lived with the family and it went on the trip with them. Since everyone in the car had no food, they stopped at the side of the road and made a sign that said, “Please give us some money for food.”
Clabba and Llabba were driving along and they had some food that they shared with the family and their sheep. They all ate fish and chicken together. They all got along so well that the family invited Clabba and Llabba to join them on their trip.
They drove until they reached the darkest forest ever. It was so dark that the family did not want to go near it, but Clabba and Llabba were brave enough so they took the sheep into the woods. They found so many wild animals so they hunted them and brought back lots of food for everyone.
Clabba and Llabba shared the food with everyone, so even the people who did not have any food were not hungry anymore.
The only constant is change. I know this to be true, and yet, like most humans, I find change frightening and uncomfortable, so I resist it even as it is unfolding.
In a mindful leadership course last month, our guide introduced the meditation mantra, “Nothing needs to change right now.” As that temporary reality resonated in my body, my muscles relaxed, I exhaled breath I didn’t know I’d been holding, and I sat straighter as a weight floated off my shoulders. Since then, I have carved out a few minutes each day to sit quietly in this unchanging place. It feels like getting off a merry-go-round; the surroundings still seem to be spinning but I know that I am standing still. There is a moment of residual dizziness, and then, peace. Unfortunately, these calm minutes always pass too quickly. Soon my To Do list resumes its assault and I am thrust back into the world of constant change. Read more…
There is nothing like watching a baby transform from a wrinkled, helpless bundle into a walking, babbling, little human with his own ideas (“What happens if I scoop all the cat’s dry food into her water dish?”), opinions (books on floor > books on shelves), sense of humor (blowing raspberries on Mommy and Daddy is hysterical), and personality (“Whatcha doin’?”). Birthdays offer a valuable opportunity to reflect on the all-too-fast passage of time and celebrate the countless bumps in the road we traversed to get here.
As my last child reached his first birthday this weekend, I was also celebrating my own growth as a parent. The first time around, these initial twelve months were full of imagined dangers – every fever, fall, and missed milestone was cause for concern. I have since learned that each child is an individual from the day he or she is born and that keeping them safe does not mean protecting them from every physical or emotional injury. With my third child, I finally managed to swap paranoia for perspective.
I decided months ago that I would give up sugar and grains for Lent. That may sound extreme, or like not a big deal, depending on your perspective. I was inspired by a group of parents from my son’s preschool class who jointly undertook Whole30 in January – thirty days without sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol, or caffeine. I don’t eat much meat, so that regime seemed out of reach for me. I have given up sugar for Lent the past ten years or so, and always find it to be a useful reset for my insatiable sweet tooth. By contrast, living without grains seemed impossible, which is precisely why I thought I should try it.
I read a lot of parenting books. I like books, and I trust books. I read friends’ blogs for fun, and I Google questions in a pinch, but when I want to learn something, I look in a book (something I have in common with Super Why). So when I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I immediately asked my doctor what book I should get to learn how to raise it. My doctor just laughed. “If there was one right way to raise a child,” she told me, “everyone would be doing it and millions of parenting books would not exist.”
With no parenting bible to guide me, I have been working my way through a library of child-rearing books over the last six years. I have read more than one hundred, and generally find one or two aspects of each that I hold onto and incorporate into my repertoire. For example, Harvey Karp’s “5 S’s” helped me avoid feeling frantic when my newborn was crying. Charlotte Kasl’s “If the Buddha Had Kids” gave me a sense of perspective of parenting as a marathon, not a sprint.
Visiting my parents earlier this year, I came across an autographed copy of Ron Taffel’s “Parenting By Heart” in my mom’s library. It was the subtitle that made me pick it up: “How to Be in Charge, Stay Connecting, and Instill Your Values, When it Feels Like You’ve Got Only 15 Minutes a Day,” but it was the subtitle of Chapter 10 that prompted me to read it: “How to use bribery, threats and other ‘dirty’ tricks to help your child become a better person.” The book was published in 1991, and throughout the author laments the “good old days” before TV ads targeted at kids (when was that?) and Nintendo. I imagine the second edition, released in 2002, makes the point that all of Dr. Taffel’s advice is even more relevant in the age of smartphones and social media. [Although his tip to “put on your walkman” when siblings start fighting is likely less effective when you just slip in your earbuds.] Read more…