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

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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 Keys to Intentional Millennial Parenting

Consider the pendulum…or the seesaw.

From its fixed position of equilibrium, a pendulum’s bob travels from far left to far right over the course of time. The seesaw? As the saying goes, “What goes up…must come down.”

We parents can be similarly reactive to stimuli when we first begin the journey of raising our children …particularly when the stimulus is our own upbringing.

Actually, shifting trends have long governed parenting styles. In the 30s, the authoritarian model (read: “My way or the highway”) was the norm. A generation later, television’s Ozzie and Harriet were prototypes for a super traditional take on family life. In the 70s, social and cultural upheaval relaxed parenting standards and upended gender roles.

That pretty much brings us current.

Many millennial parents – who produce 80% of the 4 million annual U.S. births –were helicoptered beyond reckoning. You were trophy-saturated, uber-scheduled, self-focused and over-managed. No wonder many of you are doing exactly the opposite of what your parents did when it comes to raising your little ones.

But don’t reflexively take the default position by becoming overly permissive or, if you loved being helicoptered, repeat what was done to you. Instead, be intentional and mindful when making decisions about how to raise your children. That’s parenting at its best.

An intentional parent is an empowered parent. It’s the state I aim for with every parent I coach, every friend I advise and every family member who comes to me for support.

Here are four keys to becoming an empowered parent:

·      Know your values

·      Build your tribe

·      Tolerate your imperfections

·      Be digitally smart – and safe

Know your values.

Intentional parents anchor their decisions in their core values.

Identifying your values is simply pinpointing what matters to you from a moral or ethical perspective. These are the guiding principles you believe will help your child become successful, emotionally healthy and contributing members of society.

Once you know what you’re trying to teach your children, you can look at your choices and decisions as basically backfill.

·      Want your kid to be resilient? Then make sure you don’t unintentionally smooth every path for them.

·      Want them to learn to be responsible? Teach them, through consequences, the impact of their choices. (More on protecting them from online consequences below.) 

Build your tribe.

Intentional parents know how important most decisions are, and we want to make sure we are making the right choices for our kids.

A (generally) foolproof way to ensure that is to build a circle of people you trust with whom you can suss out tough decisions. I’m not just talking about professionals, although pediatricians, parenting coaches and doulas can offer great advice. Nor am I referring exclusively to crowd-sourced info via the Internet, which can also be valuable.

I’m talking about including other moms and dads – of all ages – in your tribe.

People whose values you respect.

Relatives whose parenting practices resonate.

Friends with whom you can vet your decisions and talk things through.

Folks with whom you can be vulnerable and insecure without embarrassment or shame.

This tribe will also help you develop confidence in yourself and your understanding of your kids and their individual needs.

Tolerate your imperfections.

Then there are those decisions that don’t work out quite as you had planned. 

Every parent makes mistakes. Every parent has failures. If you haven’t yet done so, prepare to join the club before too long.

Successful parents learn to tolerate and accept their imperfections. You’re human, too. I’ll bet you encourage your first-stepping toddlers to pop back up and try again after a fall. Do yourself the same favor. Rather than wallow in worry or regret when a decision doesn’t pan out as you’d hoped, let your hard-won knowledge mobilize and empower you.

Consider your missteps a teaching moment and model for your kids how to recover and retool after a mistake. You’ll be helping yourself – and modeling resiliency and self-love – at the same time.

Be digitally smart – and safe.

In caveman days, parenting mistakes had dire consequences. If parents didn’t teach their children to stay close to an adult, chances are they became lunch for a saber tooth tiger.

As the first generation of digital-native parents, millennials are in uncharted territory when it comes to the impact of technology on parenting and children. In this age, every moment of your kids’ lives could be public record. This gives you an extra parental responsibility to be digitally smart and safe.

While you may have already researched this topic online ad nauseum, permit this digital immigrant and parenting coach to share her perspective – and a few cautionary tips.

·      Protect your young children online by being intentional and mindful of the information and photos you post. When they’re old enough (perhaps before, but surely as soon as they get their first device), leverage online parental controls when available – and make sure your kids understand the future consequences of information posted online. That's not something you want them to learn via “natural consequences.”

·      I’m often struck by the highly curated nature of family-related posts and photos on social media. Even the toddler meltdown is curated for ultimate entertainment value! Remember that as parents, we all have beautiful moments…and moments of failure and even catastrophe. Enjoy what you see and read, but be sure to contextualize it so you are less apt to judge yourself by the curated standards you see on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest.

·      If you’re feeling vulnerable about your parenting or you feel depressed after viewing your friends and/or other family’s sites – give yourself a tech timeout. It is counterproductive to compare your kids’ development with what it seems their peers are doing. This is especially true if your child has special needs or follows a non-linear developmental path.

·      I totally get the desire to read all the blogs, listen to multiple parenting podcasts and crowd-source parenting advice. Research to your hearts content – but question the veracity of what you view online. There are multiple perspectives on how to parent – online and off. The ones that matters most are yours. You alone know the difference between your child’s cry of frustration and her cry of true distress.

In my parent coaching practice, it often comes down to me reflecting back to a concerned Mom and/or Dad the values I’ve heard them share behind a pending decision. I always tell the parents I coach –Parent in the way that reflects your values. You – and your children – will be glad you did.

 

Two Traits Broaden Meaning of 'Family'

Since Thanksgiving Day I’ve been pleasantly surprised to hear from a number of folks whose holiday table was characterized by an untraditional array this year.

I’m not speaking of food…but rather, of the people who shared in the feast. Along with family there were close friends, longtime neighbors, even a chummy coworker. Clearly, friendsgiving is a “thing.” And I’m a fan.

Billed as a celebratory dinner with friends that occurs either before or after the traditional food fest with family, I advocate that “friendsgiving” become the new model for comemmorating all of life’s festivities. A new model for living, even.

This is not an anti-family rant – not by a long shot. Family is hugely important to me. It always has been. Family is my anchor; a place of safety and acceptance in a not-always-kind world. That’s why I prioritized that my kids would have a strong sense of both their nuclear and extended families.

But here’s the difference. My notion of family goes broader and reaches deeper, deliberating drawing into my orbit those who, were I able to choose, would also have been blood sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, elders and sages.

Given how different families look today than even a generation ago, expanding one’s notion of family isn’t that large a stretch. What I’m advocating is making it intentional. Actively choose to create a large circle around the table. Parents and children alike are navigating an evermore complicated and challenging world. It makes little sense to build walls. In fact, it’s this broader sense of family, of community, that is precisely how families will thrive.

So, what are the traits…the touchstones…by which I measure who becomes family? The list is short but powerful:

1.    Shared core values. These are the values I, as a parent, continually model for my children. Values like compassion, big-heartedness, gratitude, fairness, respect.

2.    Deep capacity for love. These people have the capacity to see beyond themselves and feel others’ joy and pain. People who love my children (almost) as much as I do.

When these are the touchstones for this new notion of family, everyone benefits. Kids have even more adults they can go to with problems and concerns. Adults get an unparalleled network of supportive, loving people who can share burdens and celebrate success. And we all get a safe place to take risks, try new ideas, and explore and experiment before broaching conversations in the wider world.

In short, it’s a recipe for a full, rich, expansive life. And who wouldn’t want that around their table?