intentional parenting

6 Special Ways to Celebrate YOUR Family

Would you like to (mostly) guarantee your kids will still want to join you on a family vacation when they’re in their 20s? Or at the very least, will think of their childhood fondly – and repeat some of your best parenting practices? If so, you need to celebrate the sacredness, quirkiness and downright fun of your family unit from the second they’re out of the womb.

If you already missed that boat, it’s not too late to start today.

I happen to believe families are extraordinary – no matter how you define them or what the particular make-up of yours happens to be. In the best of circumstances, a successful family is one in which everyone is respected and can be authentically themselves. Values are shared. Inside jokes abound. You “get” each other. You feel seen.

Like most enduring things of value, creating a solid sense of family takes effort. As I said in a previous post, mindful parents are those who make the time to create, articulate and honor (repeatedly) the core family values by which your family will abide. That’s the heart and soul of the work.

But healthy families are also about play! When you celebrate fun family traditions, you go a long way toward building a love of family that will be central to your kids’ experience. Plus, when you give your kids a role in creating them, these annual happenings can foster warm ties and memories between siblings that all the cajoling in the world couldn’t accomplish.

Fun family traditions are important for another reason. They create the story of your family, a narrative uniquely yours. Even in not particularly happy families there is something to be gained by observing special traditions. A friend of mine from a large family of daughters recalls that most of their non-school time was spent helping their mother clean, cook and babysit the younger siblings. But on birthdays, mom would decorate their place setting, let them choose the dinner menu – and take them off the hook for chores the entire day. Even though she claims her childhood wasn’t nurturing, she still fondly remembers that annual birthday tradition and the joy it brought her.

The internet is replete with ideas for special family traditions you can get ideas from. At the end of the post I’ll share a few links and you can take it from there. 

But first I’d like to share some Hirt family favorites that all three of my (now grown) children have come to cherish. And I’d bet that at least some of these things will be repeated with their own families when (and if!) that lucky day comes to pass.

1.  Establish an official Family Day.  When I was a child, I was annoyed that there was a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but no “Children’s Day,” a fact I made known to my parents. They generously went along with my addition to the holiday canon, inviting my siblings and me to plan the day from sunup to sundown. It was a huge hit and we celebrated it every year. Since I now recognize that every day is Children’s Day, I suggest creating an annual “Family Day” observance instead. Encourage everyone to play a role in planning a portion of the day and really pull out all the stops from a connections perspective. It’s the experiences you share – not the “stuff” you buy – that knit families together.

2.  Embarrass them (Lovingly).  Every time my kids returned from a school trip or camp, I’d great them at the airport or bus drop-off wearing a T-shirt that said, “Welcome Home [Insert name of child returning home]! My kids are all in or nearing their 20s and I still do this. (Now who’s embarrassed?!)

3.  Festoon the house on birthdays.  Birthdays are built-in special days so take full advantage of it. In addition to letting my children choose the food and cake flavor for their special day, I used to decorate the house with birthday posters every year. They loved waking up to a house full of them. Even when they were teens they’d ask, “Are you going to do posters for me again this year?” For my birthday, I ask my children for the gift of their time. Especially now that their lives are expanding, nothing give me more joy then getting to spend an entire day with them.

4.  Create a crazy family outing and give it an acronym, say, HFCDTTTGSAOCSOTC!

This is a true-to-life “day” devised by my brother-in-law. It stands for “Hirt Family Christmas Day Trip to the Gas Station and/or Convenience Store of Their Choosing! (The object is fairly self-explanatory!) They’ve been doing this since the kids were tots. My guess is that when the oldest goes to college and comes home for winter break this will be an activity on the agenda!

The following two ideas take a bit of advance planning, but they’re oh-so-meaningful:

5.  Create a T-shirt quilt. Every year I put aside a couple of each of my kids’ favorite T-shirts. At year’s end I made my final selections and put them in boxes labeled for each of my children. Before each left for college, I had a company create a quilt of the T-shirts for their dorm room. It was my way of sending them off to college with a “blankie” that looked cool enough to leave on the bed.

6.  Publish an 18-letter book. Another annual tradition of mine was to write a letter to each of my children on their birthdays. In each letter I noted their successes…what they struggled with…who their friends were…and some of the funniest things they said. And, of course, all the ways in which they were loveable. I would bestow the bound book on their 18th birthdays.

Time to get started! There’s a plethora of ideas in books and online for ways (and reasons) to celebrate your family year after year. When everyone participates, you’ll be on your way to creating a story only your family gets to tell.

Sibling Rivalry Doesn't Have To Poison Your Home

hirt-2000-1.jpg

Sibling relationships are incredibly complex, and there’s no predicting or controlling the bonds that yours will eventually have…or have not. However, an inviolable role of mindful parenting is ensuring that home is a safe place for every person in the family. Do that, and there is a very good chance your kids will find much to appreciate in one another. Perhaps not immediately, but surely in time!

But first, let’s agree on a few truths (the good, bad and ugly) about siblings:

·      Siblings can be natural allies

·      They’re also sometimes rivals

·      The dynamic between offspring is affected by things outside everyone’s control (e.g., birth order and temperament)

·      Siblings don’t need to be best friends but they must respectfully co-exist

·      Siblings can gain great skills (how to manage parents; how to navigate the world) simply by watching one another

·      It’s normal for siblings to argue -- about toys, boys and even nothing at all

And here’s the final “truth.”

·      Raising multiple kids under one roof (or in the case of divorce, under two) can be a significant challenge for parents

Fortunately, the solution is something I believe is vital for healthy families. And that is creating, articulating and honoring the core values about the type of family dynamic and home environment you intend to foster.

      When we had our first child, my now co-parent and I were in lockstep about our parenting values and aspirations for family life. As they grew up, our kids came to know exactly what those values and aspirations were. Not simply because we articulated them frequently, but because we held everyone in the family to them. Here are some key values that can impact sibling ties.

Family is sacred.  From the start, we considered our family unit, our family space and the time we spent together as sacred. We ensured our home was a safe place for every member, and encourage our kids to try things out at the dining room table without consequence or ridicule (unlike in the school cafeteria). The sacredness applied even when (especially when) we disagreed or were angry.

Family members are kind and respectful.  Our kids knew there would be zero tolerance for bullying, physical abuse or excessive tension between them. They knew the expectation was that they be kind and respectful to one another – and to us. Full stop.

Hitting is not an option.  We drew an extremely hard line at anything physical. We did not spank our children and they were not to hit one another. Naturally we intervened when they were toddlers and hitting and biting one another was to be expected developmentally, but relatively early on they learned that getting physical would not be tolerated.

Get along or go it alone. It’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of blaming an older child for infractions or always making the youngest the victim. Not to mention, it’s easy to spot the actions of the retaliator…but miss the jabbing of the instigator. We decided early on we weren’t going to police our children or preside as judge and jury over their sibling shenanigans. When our kids seemed unable or unwilling to manage their disagreements (decibel level is a great cue), we simply sent them to their respective (or separate) rooms, instructing them that they were welcome back into the family space as soon as they felt they could be kind and respectful and work out their differences. It’s also important to remind everyone in the family that playing (and living) together is a 2-, 3- or 8-way street as the case may be, and that everyone contributes to the tone of the home.

Kids are allowed a sacred cow or two.  Teaching siblings to share is great. But sharing everything? Not necessary. Let you daughter have her treasured truck or you son claim “his” side of the room as off-limits. Of course siblings can’t call “dibs” on everything, but it’s appropriate for them to claim some things as theirs alone.

If it isn’t working, PIVOTWhile most parenting values don’t change much over time, certainly how we enforce them may. So if you’re reading this and thinking, “My value is that our home is sacred, but my kids are always at each other’s throats!” – all is not lost!

The best antidote for losing one’s way is simply to stop long enough to figure out what the problem is, re-articulate your values around it and then back that up with action – even if you’ve let bad behavior go on for far too long. For example, “Daddy and I are tired of you three arguing at dinner all the time. Starting today, if anyone is mean or dismissive to anyone else in the family, you’ll be excused.” Then follow through.

A helpful way to think about raising siblings is to be conscious about what it is you want for your children when you’re dead and gone. Like most parents, you probably want your progeny to love one another…to count on each other…to help each other when it counts. Live your values and it will come to pass. (Mostly) guaranteed.

 

How to Make Tough Parenting Decisions

“You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.”

William W. Purkey

I totally agree with Mr. Purkey’s sage counsel. Yet from a parenting perspective, I think his ditty is missing an important line:

“Make parenting decisions like no one’s opinion matters.”

It doesn’t rhyme…I’ll give you that. But it describes an imperative virtually every parent must face when it comes to making pivotal decisions regarding their kids – especially when they don’t align with what one’s family or society deems is the “right” way to go.

Just ask former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, who lit up the sports blogosphere and social media universe when he pulled his son from the roster of the Nebraska Cornhuskers after Jr. was cited on “suspicion of marijuana possession” in his college dorm.

Keyshawn Johnson, Sr. was vocal, even vociferous, in his avowal that he pulled his son from the program because he was not demonstrating the drive and dedication he committed to when accepting the offer to attend the University of Nebraska. As recounted to the Omaha World-Herald, Mr. Johnson told his son, “If you mature and you’re ready to resume your football career and academic goals, then Nebraska will be ready to embrace you.”

In the meantime, Jr. is back at home and headed to community college for at least one semester and, I daresay, a dearth of parties and extra-curricular activities.

As he should be.

I, for one, sent Mr. Johnson kudos via Twitter (@parentwclarity) for having the courage to pull his son from college until he is ready to maximize the opportunity. What I admire as much as his decision was his lack of concern with what anyone thought: He simply did what was best for his son.

That’s not always as easy as it sounds. 

It’s easy to fall prey to the pressure of seeming family perfection on Instagram and Facebook. Some parents are fearful that taking a teen off the same track as their peers will negatively affect their future. Parents can also be unsteadied when a decision isn’t in line with a trusted friend or mentor.

I even surprised myself when I second-guessed my decision to not allow my graduating senior to attend an unchaperoned high school graduation party.

Yet, when it’s your kid’s physical, emotional or mental well-being that’s at stake, parents have to take the road they deem best.

That’s even tougher for parents of seemingly ‘normal’ kids who suffer from behavioral or mental health issues. As one mom puts it, “Some teens and young adults deal with behavioral problems that are invisible; conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, drug and alcohol use. They can hide it for a while, but often these kids need outside support or treatment. Many times, they simply can’t keep up with their peers. As a parent, I need to get my daughter the help she needs regardless of whether she graduates with her class.”

That’s intentional parenting – which I believe is the best approach for parents and kids. As I’ve opined again and again on my blog, to clients and to audiences at talks I’ve given, it’s vital that you trust your instincts, and let your values and the outcome you want guide your decision-making.

If you need help sticking to your guns, there are ways to get support:

Build a tribe.

Many parents, moms in particular, gather siblings and friends who can be honest about their parenting struggles.

I heard about a mom who started a support group at her church where parents who were struggling with kids with behavioral problems could get help. And this was more than 25 years ago, when a kid with mental health or behavioral issues was often deemed the parents’ fault, not to mention a great source of shame.

Even though mental health is somewhat less stigmatizing today, some parents don’t feel safe confiding in friends or family. But there are still ways to get support. Meetups for parents of children with disabilities and emotional problems exist virtually everywhere (or can be started easily enough). Al-Anon, which has been around for years, offers help and hope for parents who are concerned with their kids’ alcohol or drug use.

Know thy kid.

Forgive me for ever-so-gently mangling the ancient Greek aphorism (Know thyself), but this is my parenting bottom line. No one knows your kid like you do. Trust yourself.  If things don’t feel right speak up.  I know the eye rolling can be tedious.  I appreciate that teens in particular can interpret our concerns as intrusive, but too bad.  Feel free to respond to ‘everything is fine’, with ‘well, they don’t look fine to me’. 

Have compassion.

One mom said that she finally came to understand that her kids have their own journeys. Family life didn’t turn out as she had hoped and dreamed, but once a parent, her only job was to make the tough calls as needed and support them on their trek.

She and her husband also believe that what their daughters accomplish isn’t nearly as important to them than that they become mature, functioning and good-hearted people. That helped enormously.

Trust and back up your co-parent.

Kids know when their parents are out of sync about a decision – and they will exploit that to their advantage.

Nip that in the bud. You’ll find any number of great tips for how to parent and make decisions as a team online.

Even if you are divorced, you and your co-parent will still need to make plenty of decisions – maybe even more! Remember that children are especially vulnerable during and immediately after divorce. If that’s where you are, you may benefit from one of my early blog posts on this topic.

Be confident.

There may be times when no one else on the planet besides your co-parent agrees with a decision you’ve made. Even if that’s the case, you can feel confident if you’ve made it based on your values and what you believe is best for your child.  And by the way, we all make mistakes! 

And if you’re parenting with mindfulness, chances are you’ll recognize when a course correction is needed. No shame in that.

4 Sleepover Strategies that Make Everyone Sleep Better!

Sleepover myth #1:  If you’ve been led to believe that there is some inherent, not-to-be-missed psychological benefit to sleepovers, you’ve been misled. Sleepovers at a favorite friend’s house are not the only way to navigate your children’s significant developmental milestone of separation.

Here’s another belief buster:  If you hope that by creating the perfect sleepover experience for your children you’ll banish the horrid (or re-live the happy) memories of your own, forget it. As I mentioned in a recent post on millennial parenting, a key aim for parents is to avoid reflexively reacting against one’s own upbringing.

I’m about to break the third leg on the sleepover stool:  Playing with a friend in one’s PJs, eating more treats than usual and brushing teeth side-by-side with a pal are not critical activities for successful socialization. If your child goes to school (or is home-schooled and participates in activities with peers), those needs are being met. Consider siblings and relatives a bonus.

For school-aged kids, sleepovers are essentially extended play dates. With teens, they’re a chance to flex independence muscles. The decision to allow them – or disavow them on safety or other grounds – is entirely up to you.

That’s the huge upside of intentional parenting, which is a largely matter of trusting your instincts and following your values. In situations like whether or not to encourage or permit sleepovers, there is no “right way.” There’s just your way – the way that is reflective of your values and your innate knowledge of your children. Without a developmental imperative at stake, you have the freedom to consider what’s appropriate for your particular kids.

When it comes to deciding if a sleepover is right for your child, remember this maxim: “If you’ve met one kid, you’ve met one kid!” No two children are alike – not even within families.

Say you have a child who, if he or she woke up scared, sick or cold, would be afraid to wake up their friend or their friend’s parents for help. In this scenario, a sleepover wouldn’t be a positive experience – and consequently, one worth avoiding.

But what if you have another child who is flexible, outgoing and embraces change and transitions with ease? For s/he, there’s probably no downside to giving sleepovers a thumbs-up.

Here are 4 sleepover strategies for your consideration:

✔Safety first.

Your children’s wellbeing is paramount. While it may feel awkward, there are important things to ask the hosting parent. This is what would be on my list:

·      Are there guns in your house?

·      Is there anyone living in your home besides your immediate family?

·      Will you be home or are you going out and leaving the kids with a babysitter?

·      Are there controls on accessible computers?

✔Comfort second.

Keep these steps in mind for school-aged children:

·      Consider having the first official sleepover at a cousin’s or other close family’s house where there’s already a sense of safety so your child can learn the lay of sleepover land

·      Ensure kids’ physical and psychological comfort by encouraging them to take along a favorite stuffed animal or other well-loved object, as well as their favorite jammies

·      Your children need to know they are welcome to call home and be picked up for any reason, at any time

✔Preparatory trouble-shooting for teen overnights.

Teens up the ante on several fronts. While some parents may have an entirely different list, these would be my particular additional need-to-knows:

·      Will there be access to alcohol?

·      Do the hosting parents have any specific house rules my teen should know in advance?

·      Will there be other teens there?

·      Will there be teens of the opposite sex there?

·      Will there be unsupervised access to a pool or hot tub?

✔Sleepover hacks worth trying.

Kids generally come home from sleepovers wrecked. They eat abnormally and sleep poorly. And after being on their best behavior at their friend’s house, they resort to their best crabby selves once home. If you prefer your children well-fed, -supervised and/or -rested, mull over these options:

·      Sleepunders offer the perfect solution to sleepovers, as they include all the expected rituals (a kid-friendly dinner, a fun craft, and a movie in pajamas or sleeping bags), after which the guests return home to sleep in their own beds

·      Sleep-away camps, many of which are geared to specific topics (aerospace, theatre, leadership, origami even), give kids tons of independence as well as immersion in one of their interests

·      If your family practices a particular faith, see if there are weekend or overnight “retreats” for youth; these pack a sleepover and reinforce values into a single package

Like many, many decisions you will make as a parent – to sleep over or not to sleep over is just one for which the right answer is the answer that’s right for your children. As I always tell my clients and friends who come to me for parenting advice, make your decisions based on you and your co-parents values and the outcomes you want. When you use those as your guiding principles, just about everything turns out just fine.