Tips for a Super-Fun Family Summer

I’m a huge proponent of family fun – as my last post on special ways to celebrate your family makes clear.

While there are a number of ways to cement family bonds, one of my favorites is to simply have fun together. After all, when you live in a city like Chicago famous for its long cold winters, the sudden and momentous return of summertime signals “family fun” like no other season of the year. So let’s get to it.

The beauty of summer – and what makes it particularly advantageous for families – is that it represents a departure from the structured world of the school year. Whether you are working inside or outside the home, the array of academic and extra-curricular activities your kids have leaves precious little time for carefree family activities during the school year.

Let’s take dinner. When children have ball or band practice after school – and  homework that evening – dinner is simply about providing nutrition.

But summertime? Even something as banal as supper can become a fun family activity. How?

·      Get everyone involved in packing a picnic to take to your favorite neighborhood park

·      Throw some pre-made pizza crusts on the grill, and have a contest to see who can create the most outlandish (yet edible) pie

·      Go to a family-friendly restaurant with outdoor seating – and bring along a deck of cards for a quick game after ordering or eating

·      Let the kids do the menu-planning, shopping and cooking! (a personal favorite)

See what I mean?

Making summertime a prime time for family fun is largely a mindset, and now is the time to shift yours so this summer can become one of your family’s best ever. Hyperbole aside, there are a few caveats.

CAVEAT #1    What your kids don’t need to know is that family summertime fun is not just about fun. Summer can be a growth opportunity. With intentional parents at the helm, kids can get lots of opportunities to exercise their executive functioning muscles (organizing, planning and executing a plan; understanding different points of view; regulating emotions (like when a rainstorm makes plans go awry). Their regular muscles can get some additional action, too, when you try new sports or activities together.

CAVEAT #2   Summer can be a stressor. Working parents face the anxiety of getting their kids into enough camps and classes and park activities so they can show up for their jobs. Stay-at-home parents may fear having their kids around 24/7 with less of the quiet or private time they’ve come to rely on during the school year.

CAVEAT #3    Transitions are difficult for kids (for parents, too), particularly the ones out of and eventually back into the school year. So give your family a break if things aren’t picture-perfect.

CAVEAT #4   Speaking of pictures…your family’s “fun” doesn’t have to look like any other family’s, nor does it have to pass the Instagram test. It simply needs to meet the needs of your particular unit.

Now let’s get back to making this summer great! Here are two basic strategies to help kick-start the season.

Have a family meeting. This is the time for everyone to come up with a few must-dos / wanna-dos for summer 2018. Out of that brainstorming session, create a bucket list that includes something for everyone. Here are just a few ideas you might want to consider:

·       Virtually every city offers family-centric activities, many of which are free or very low-cost; assign one of your kids the task of doing a bit of online research to see what’s available in your city

·      Make reading a fun family activity by selecting a book to read aloud one night each week (i.e., no book report required!)

·      Plant a garden in your backyard or join a community garden

·      Be a tourist in your own city and explore some of the neighborhoods you’ve never been to before

·       Let each of your kids include their friends in one family activity each month (dinner is a great option here, especially when you put them in charge!)

·       Speaking of dinner, try a cuisine your family has never eaten. Vietnamese, anyone?

 Approach the summer season intentionally and mindfully. You know your kids and what they need, and have no doubt already put into place the right amount and variety of structured activities and camps. But if summertime is all structure, your kids miss out the bounty of ideas and self-awareness that comes from some freedom and un-structured activities. That’s where parents need to exercise intentionality. Here are some ideas in this regard:

·      Don’t be freaked out if your kids just want to laze around the house or backyard some days. Resist the urge to keep them busy. With freedom and downtime, kids become more adept at finding out what interests them. It’s actually an important lesson to know how to entertain oneself!

·      Make and take some downtime for yourself – no matter what

·      Consider if this summer is a good time for a philanthropic activity everyone participates in

·      Limit screens – for everyone in the family

How can a working parent practice intentional parenting during the summer?

·      Consider using your PTO to spend at least one day a month with each one of your kids alone for a special activity. Taking time off “just because” sends a powerful message to kids.

·      Check with your manager regarding flex time. Many companies have official or unofficial summer policies or, if not, may be amenable to an idea you propose

·      Stay connected with your kids as much as you can with a phone call during lunchtime

Being an intentional parent also means setting realistic expectations – for everyone in the family. No parent can make summertime fun-central from dawn to dusk. You still need to go to work, do the laundry and pay the bills. If you haven’t already, make this the summer you lift the veil on all the things you do as parents to make your kids lives comfortable.

It’s a great way to teach your kids to be empathic to someone else’s experience. I’m certainly not advocating you play the martyr, but it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “Listen guys – Tasks A, B, C and D need to get done this week – in addition to all the fun stuff we’d like to do. Let’s figure out who will do what and when.” You just may be surprised how eager they are to help (especially the younger ones!)

A clean house and a day at the fair? Sounds like fun to me!

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.

The Importance of ‘Family Time’ When College Kids Come Home For Break

Last year your junior successfully completed the college selection process I blogged about, survived the college campus visits during senior year and has been happily ensconced in his or her ideal-fit university since September.

Then came Thanksgiving break. Prior to their arrival, you’d imagined leafy walks arm-in-arm with your offspring or, at the very least, looked forward to seeing their shining face across the Thanksgiving table laden with their favorite foods.

What happened? They graced you with their presence for 45 fleeting minutes during the entire four-day weekend! And you had to share that time with the family pet who was greeted with more enthusiasm.

No more, you promised yourself. Come Winter break, that wayward child is going to spend time with the family – and love it!

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

What could be satisfying, though, is a negotiated two-party solution. Your newly independence-loving college freshman agrees to a set amount of family time in exchange for the freedom to catch up with their besties and do everything else that college kids long to do during their month off.

Getting there will take more than a wish and a prayer – but not much more. Here is what I recommend:

Communicate your needs and expectations.

Begin a conversation before Winter Break so everyone fares better between semesters. Naturally, every family is going to have different needs and desires about how much family time is enough. No matter the amount, the tactic is the same: Clearly communicate exactly what it is you and your co-parent want and need from your kids. That’s critical, because they won’t have any idea what we’re expecting if we don’t tell them. For example, I typically ask my home-for-the-holidays kids for one or two family dinners per week, as well as their presence with our extended brood on the actual holidays. Any other family time (and it turns out, there’s plenty) is a bonus.

Articulate the “Why.”

Saying what we want isn’t enough. Parents need to communicate why family time matters. This is a values conversation, and I never miss an opportunity to tie my values into my conversations with my kids. I happen to believe spending time together is one of the best ways to strengthen our family community. So I make sure I remind them of that.

Manage unreasonable expectations.

Rein in on asking for the moon. Once our kids are in college, it’s not appropriate for us to hold them hostage 24/7 when they’re home. When you carefully examine your own expectations of them and make reasonable requests, you model for them how to navigate differences and be respectful others. For example, while my college kids don’t have a nightly curfew, per se, I tell them that when they come home at 3 am it’s disruptive to me. Let them know you understand their needs (to see their friends; lounge in their rooms; paint the town), too.

Acknowledge when they do as you’ve asked.

The power of “Thank you” cannot be overestimated. Don’t take it for granted that you asked your kids for something important to you and they did it! Not only does it make our kids feel appreciated for making the effort, subsequent visits home are much more likely to go better too. 

So, if Thanksgiving wasn’t everything you hoped it would be, make sure you wrap up this all-important conversation sooner rather than later. Once they leave, email me and let me know how it went!

Tips For Keeping Grandparenting The Great Gig That It Is!

The official commemoration of Grandparent’s Day is the Sunday after Labor Day, but most grandparents will tell you that every day is grandparent’s day if you’re lucky enough to be one!

I suspect you’ve heard (or said!) some variant of this: “I know I’m biased, but my granddaughter / grandson is one of the smartest / most creative / most coordinated / most [you-name-it!] child I have ever known.” 

It’s a great job if and when you get it – and everyone benefits from intergenerational relationships. Let me enumerate the benefits first…and then I’ll share a few tips for hanging on to this plum assignment!

Values of GrandParenting

The Job Description Can’t Be Beat.

Hands down, the #1 reason grandparenting is so great is that you get all the fun of being a parent without any of the responsibilities! Revel in your special role as cheerleaders, spoilers, supporters and bestowers of unconditional love.

You Get to Share Your History and Passions

Grandchildren, particularly as they grow up, look to grandparents for their perspectives and advice. So share your values, your family history and what life was like for you at their age.

Share your passions, too. My parents are great art lovers and collectors, and they’ve shared this with my kids both in terms of cultural outings and gifts of art. Of course my kids appreciate the inherent value of the works, but they truly treasure being a part of their grandparents’ legacy.

Even so, it’s not the “stuff” grandparents give; it’s the connection. My mom always sent my kids little things to let them know she was thinking of them. Pinecones she collected on a walk…a random purchase on the street…a funny postcard. My kids loved receiving it all.

The Gifts (of Health) Keep On Giving

Being a grandparent can help older adults stay active, which often translates to better health. There are mental health benefits as well.

One study demonstrates that women who spent one day a week caring for young grandchildren may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders. Another studied examined the link between quality grand-parenting relationships and depression and found that if the relationship is a high-quality one and support is mutual, both grandparents and grandchildren experience reduced incidence of depression.

You Can Help Out When / If You Want

Many grandparents have the economic freedom to defray education or medical costs for their grandchildren. If you have the means and want to help, it’s a great feeling. And typically there aren’t any negative tax consequences.  My children and I are grateful for the college tuition assistance and also recognize my Dad’s commitment to their education.

When it comes to your time, it’s up to you to set limits based on your energy and availability.

How to Keep the Gig!

Let Parents Rule.

Parents have a major role to play in the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in that they set the rules and determine the consequences for the moral and ethical education of their kids.

One grandmother I know has the right approach. She says she always lets her daughter and son-in-law make the parenting rules – and she never shares her opinion on anything except to admire it. “I might not always agree with them, but my opinions are not on the table. The kids are their responsibilities to raise and our responsibility to love.”

Adopt the Right Tone.

Don’t be judgmental. Your grandkids will experiment with tons of things that may be foreign to you. Unless your grandkids are into something dangerous, keep your opinions to yourself. Respect and honor their choices about food, hairstyles, clothing, etc. Unsolicited advice or commentary is often heard as criticism and may be alienating.

p.s. Don’t be hurt by the occasional sassy comment. Kids can be insensitive, but it’s often age-appropriate and not intended to be rude or disrespectful.

Learn to Use Technology.

If grandparents want to have full access to their grandkids, they have to get proficient with the technology their grandchildren are using. My kids never listen to voicemails, so my Mom knows that if she wants to get in touch, she needs to text them. And while Facebook may be the preferred social media for baby boomers, their teen and tween grandkids are much more apt to use Instagram or Snapchat.

Stay Involved.

Don’t always wait for an invite. Offer to help by taking the kids out for an afternoon if you’re local or for a visit if you’re long-distance. Other ways to stay involved is to gift parents with a cleaning service or a spa afternoon. Remember how overwhelming it was for you as new parents and do something you might have appreciated.

But don’t keep score on who is contacting whom. If you want to stay engaged with your grandchildren, reach out to them.

Make Your Home Welcoming

A kid-friendly home makes visiting much less stressful for everyone. Make a quick sweep around the house to remove breakables and irreplaceables. If possible, borrow, rent or buy things like strollers, pack-n-plays, high chairs and even bikes so your kids don’t have to schlep them. And stock some fun toys and children’s books.

What if there aren’t any grandparents in the picture, either by death or lack of interest?   

Building a tribe is always the best solution – even when grandparents are in the picture. One friend of mine, who regularly volunteered at a senior center, unofficially 'adopted' grandparents for her kids.

If you’re the type that would like a more detailed primer on how to be the perfect grandmother or grandfather, check out the American Grandparents Association for resources, tips and other perks.

Either way, enjoy the best job in the world!

 

 

Empty Nest, Full Heart

Aack!  I woke up on August 1st and faced the reality that for the first time in 23 years, I won’t have any children living at home beginning September 15th.

My “baby” graduated from high school June 2017, so come back-to-school season, there will be no breakfasts to make, no lunches to pack, no sporting events to attend, no teacher conferences to schedule, no band concerts to buy tickets to, no cookie dough to sell…

What’s a mom to do?!?

Nothing, actually.

That’s the aim of parenting. Our job is to get them ready to leave; to help create launchable people. So I’m proud.

I’m fortunate in that things have gone more or less according to plan, with all three of my kids doing what they want to be doing. My oldest just moved to another city to start his first job. My middle one will head back to college. My youngest will set off on his gap year. And I will have an empty nest.

No first day of school for this mom. Starting very soon, I will be waking up for me alone. I will still be a parent, but a different type of parent, one who is much less hands-on.

I have been thoughtful about positioning myself – and them – for this moment. When I transitioned to high school mom, I stopped being their alarm clock. They got themselves to and from school. They scheduled their own haircuts and made their own plans. When I transitioned to gap year and college mom, I didn’t always know where they were. They booked their own travel, chose their own classes, managed their own time. That was intentional.

I also made sure I built a full life for myself– as more than a mom. But truth is, my favorite job is this mom gig. I relished each phase of their development, and I never guessed (or didn’t let myself think) it would be over so soon.

I realize I’m not the only parent facing this. If you have been a stay-at-home-mom or dad, how do you redefine your life when your purpose has been taking care of children?  Take some advice from this mom…plan ahead. It may seem like it is way in the future, but it will feel like it arrives as quickly as tomorrow.

Step back. Allow your kids more autonomy and more responsibility. Build your life: volunteer, consider a new career, get engaged in your community, become an activist. Our world needs more amazing people like you! 

Get ready, folks. They will leave. But that’s the goal.

It’s still really hard to see them go. So while my nest may be empty September 2017 –I’ll have a full heart forever.

8 Ways to Be Kind to Other Parents - and Raise Great Kids in the Process!

Let’s face it, parenting is hard in the best of circumstances…and really, really tough in the worst.

The lives of countless families – particularly those whose kids don’t follow the path the other 85% seem to do with ease – run counter to the social and mass media images of fabulous family-dom. So what better way to support other parents than to be kind, nonjudgmental and empathic and, by word and deed, teach our children to do the same?

Sadly, it doesn’t always happen that way. Consider these true-to-life tales:

One mom of an 11-year-old boy has had other parents tell her (to her face, I’m sad to report): “Your kid is a nightmare.” And “Your kid is ruining the class.” Stunned by such comments, they often go unaddressed, although certainly not un-felt.

Another mother, now in her 50s, recalls in vivid detail when her two-year-old, already exhibiting signs of the physical and emotional syndromes to come, was screaming in tantrum – once again and in public. A woman came up to her and said, “You must have done something really terrible to your daughter for her to be acting this way.” Mortified and filled with shame, the mom never forgot the incident.

Smartly, though, each of these women built a tribe of trusted peers and professionals with whom she could share her parenting challenges – and bear witness to those of others.

They faced early on what virtually every one of us eventually comes to know: No parent gets through life without their children having some sort of problem – whether major or minor.

In all my years of being an educational therapist, parenting my own children and helping others do the same through coaching, I have yet to meet a single parent who didn’t struggle with parenting decisions and profoundly benefit from the understanding of another mom or dad.

Given this indisputable fact, the expectation is that parents would really be there for one another. What tends to happen some times, is that parents of “normative” kids fear their children’s lives and educations will be impacted in a negative way by children deemed troubled or different. Problems arise when the former reflexively react to advantage their kid over the “other.”

The competition that ensues from such a worldview perpetuates a dog-eat-dog family culture, when what we need is one where compassion, cooperation and collaboration produce the best hope for our collective future.

I’ll give you that the world can seem big and scary for parents today. And there’s plenty of societal pressure to compel you to leverage every advantage for your offspring.

But when the parental MO is to hunker down in family insularity and isolation and, in some cases, compete with other families, every family loses.

After all, they really aren’t “my” kids and “your” kids. All kids matter. In the blink of an eye, they’ll be running the world. Unless we teach them, they will not learn to factor kindness, empathy and mindfulness about the diversity of human experience into their adult decisions.

Teaching it doesn’t take all that much, by the way. Mindful words and thoughtful actions – modeled in front of our kids – can truly make the world a better place. Even Sesame Street climbed on the “let’s be kind and tolerant of otherness” bandwagon in a big way when it introduced Julia, a girl with autism, into the family of characters loved by generations. (And if it’s good enough for Sesame Street...)

That’s why I’m putting out the call to every parent to let kindness and tolerance be your touchstones from here on out. Here are my 8 suggestions. If you have additional suggestions for how we can “share the love” with other parents, please email me directly or share them with my followers on Facebook and Twitter.

 

·               Practice empathy. Don’t judge or assume the worst about the parents when a child is having a tantrum or acting in a manner you think is inappropriate. Reframe “what” you see by considering “why” the child may be acting that way.

·               Model acceptance for your children. If a classmate or playmate is having a meltdown, saying, “Johnny really seems to be having a tough day” versus “Johnny is bad,” lets your child know that every kid gets overwhelmed sometimes. When inappropriate behavior requires intervention, by all means step in, but be sure to model empathy. Avoid equating a child’s actions with their character. Saying, “You seem upset Susie, but in our house we don’t hit one another” lets her know her behavior isn’t acceptable, but it doesn’t make her any less valuable or lovable.

·               Err on the side of inclusion rather than homogeneity. Especially during the early years when you have more control over friends and play dates, consider how you can enhance your child’s intersection with kids from a range of economic, racial, religious and ethnic groups. Inclusion also refers to sharing information about team sign-ups, class registration, scholarships or special programs with all the parents in your kid’s class, rather than only with your inner circle.

·               Remember your early parenting days. If you’re an experienced parent, be especially kind and thoughtful toward moms and dads struggling with unruly young children on buses or airplanes, in stores or at school. Even if there’s nothing you can do to help, you can share a smile that says, “I understand. I’ve been there, too. Everything will be okay.”

·               Avoid appearing competitive – especially on social media.  Of course, you’re proud of your child’s straight As or sports achievements; you deserve to be! Trumpet the good news, but with sensitivity – especially online. Some of your friends-followers may have kids who struggle in those endeavors. Plus, remember that social media’s omnipresence requires us as parents to be particularly sensitive to our children’s exposure. On the other hand, always be upbeat and congratulatory about another child’s good fortune.

·               Maintain perspective – and gratitude. Today your kids may be healthy and happy, but we never know what is around the corner. I’m not saying I keep the other shoe in ready-to-drop position, but I sure do respect its presence.

·               Make sure your kids see you treat everyone you meet with dignity. It may sound obvious, but our kids need to see us model respect for everyone, regardless of appearance or circumstance.

·               Be honest with other moms and dads about your struggles. It’s incredibly helpful to talk about the challenges our kids are facing and the resulting trials as parents. It helps all of us see behind the curtain – and feel more seen ourselves.

If you are really struggling and just can’t get the support you need from friends, there are professional and peer resources you can turn to.

Join a parent support group, some of which are geared to parents of children with specific disabilities. Read about “the unplanned journey” of having a child with special needs. Work with a parenting coach. See a developmental specialist or child therapist. In my book, seeking the help we need is a sign of superior parenting. 

 

34 Ways to Say 'I Love You' Mom! Or What Moms Really Want for Mother's Day

Not all Moms are fans of breakfast in bed on the one day a year when a mother’s preference ought to rule. For them, a wake-up meal rustled up by unschooled young chefs can leave one, well, hungry for more. Apparently, also on the not-well-loved gift list is attendance at a crowded brunch with the entire family in tow – even at restaurants where the chefs are well-schooled.

So… as Mother’s Day rolls around for the 103rd time since President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed it an official U.S. holiday, I offer this crowd-sourced list of 34 unconventional, meaningful and creative ideas that let these Moms know she’s the best!

* # 34 is my favorite because I feel the exact same way!

1.     A handwritten letter from Dad to the kids, naming all the things he loves about their Mom, acknowledging all the things she does for the family, details she presumed went completely unnoticed.

2.     Homemade Mother’s Day card.

3.     Handwritten note expressing gratitude for me.

4.     Coupon for a spring-cleaning crew.

5.     A donation to my favorite charity.

6.     Adult-kid-and-mom trip.          

7.     Any art made with handprints.

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8.     Handmade gift certificate for a walk in the woods or by the lake with my family.

9.     Silence.

10.     A free day’s labor in the yard.

11.     A “Mom’s Day Off” when I don’t have to do ANYTHING!

12.     Something made by an artist whose work I love.

13.     A gift, like yarn or fabric or a book about sewing, that demonstrates my family notices the things and hobbies I love.

14.     Not having to make dinner (for as many days as possible!).

15.     A framed (by Dad) compilation of favorite mommy-and-me drawings.

16.     The word “M-O-M” within a heart spelled out on the living room floor using my massive oversupply of plastic containers!

 

17.     Little knickknacks from the dollar store.

18.     Handmade paper frames with their pictures in them.

19.     A bag filled with all of my favorite little things.

20.     Space.

21.     Edible arrangements and a home-cooked meal.

22.     Sweet letters written to me from the kids.

23.     A small pot of seedlings with a hand-drawn ladybug (and a squeeze ball for when clients drive me crazy!

24.     A spa day.

25.     My son won a sledding contest and the prize was a choice between a bicycle and a microwave – and he chose the microwave for his Mamma!

26.     A book of coupons with adorable offers like these:

“I’ll eat whatever is for dinner without complaining.”

“I’ll perform one chore of your choice.” (presumably also without complaining!)

“I promise to put away my clean clothes.”

“You get to pick what TV show to watch tonight.”

27.     The word “Family” carved out of wood covered with all the family activities my kids loved.

28.     Spending the day with me, going out to a meal, a movie or a museum.

29.     A phone call on Mother’s Day if we can't be together.

30.     My grown son gave me a ride on his motorcycle, which meant I could hug his grown body while he drove. How long it’s been since he was a little guy I could hug whenever I wanted!

31.     A swim with the dolphins at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

32.     A little gift box my daughter filled with the top 25 reasons I'm a great Mom. (Priceless)

33.     A baby pig with a red ribbon on his neck. (You can’t make this stuff up!) 

34.     The gift of being a Mom was always gift enough for me. Truly.

Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there and to all of the other people who are functioning in myriad ways as 'mothers' to children in their lives.

How to Raise Kids Who Can 'Love and Be Loved'

Forget about an apple a day keeping the medical doctor away.

If you want to do something to ensure your kids experience backed-by-research benefits like:

·      Higher self esteem

·      Better parent-child communication

·      Improved academic performance

·      Fewer psychological and behavior problems and

·      Better coping skills…

be sure to add copious amounts of affection and acceptance to the healthy foodstuffs you dole out daily.

Need another reason? Parental warmth, affection and acceptance not only foster your child’s psychological development while they’re under your roof, it also impacts the quality of loving relationships they will have as adults.

Learning to “love and be loved” is a fundamental part of being human for all of us. From it comes profound purpose for our lives. It’s what gives us the capacity to go out into the world, confident in our ability to navigate and perhaps even mitigate the complexities of daily life through our personal and professional contributions. For that, we need a secure attachment bond.

 

Let’s start at the beginning….

 

Early Attachment – Why it Matters

From the moment of birth, the attachment bond a child develops with the primary caregiver (usually, but not always, the mother) becomes their framework for emotional wellbeing.

Absolutely key to healthy development, the attachment bond is essentially a child's ability to feel responded to by the parent or caregiver. When a child's needs are consistently met at the early stages of life, parent and child grow to trust the other. A secure attachment based on that feeling is what enables kids to separate and differentiate when developmentally appropriate.

Without it, kids can develop what’s called “learned helplessness,” which makes them (as children and later, without intervention, as adults) believe that adverse outcomes are not only to be expected, but also are not controllable or changeable by their own agency.

I can’t overstate how critical parental affection and acceptance are for helping your children develop a secure attachment. Making them feel important, special and cared about – warts and all – is like dressing them in a Teflon® suit that makes it is safe to experiment, to express themselves and to imagine their potential.

Best yet, even when those experiments fail…

that creative expression doesn't merit an audience beyond the living room…

or their ideas to save the world are wildly immature and impractical…

kids with a secure attachment know intrinsically they are still OK – great, even! Their worth and value isn’t defined by what they “do.” It’s their existential “being” that makes them worthy of their parents’ – and others’ – love.

 

What Does Affection and Acceptance Look Like?

Affection needs to be both broadly defined and responsive to your particular children’s needs and preferences.

Mine? All three love and appreciate physical affection. But not every family – or every kid in every family – is the cuddly type. Be aware of the differences and uniqueness of each of your children. Give them warmth and affection that is meaningful to them – not that which comes easiest to you.

While hugs, kisses and reassuring pats on the back are certainly meaningful demonstrations of love, there are a lot of non-physical actions that express parental love:

·      Relax on the couch and read or watch TV together

·      Sit with them and talk about their day (be sure you’re focus is on them, not on prepping dinner)

·      Build or create something together like a puzzle or model

·      Put a love note in a lunchbox or surprise them with a note on the bathroom mirror that they’ll see as soon as they get up

·      Acknowledge the characteristics that make them unique – not just those that replicate traits you like about yourself

·      When kids leave for overnight camp or college, hide small gifts and notes in their luggage

·      Thank them – even when they’re just doing their chores

·      Tell them, “I’m looking forward to seeing you after school,” so they come to know you think of them even when they’re not around

 

Parental warmth and affection is an all-the-time activity, NOT JUST WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE IT. (Excuse the virtual screaming, but this is important.)

We all get angry and frustrated with our kids, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not. But there is never a time when it’s appropriate for a parent to withhold love and acceptance from a child. We need to model that it’s possible to both love our children and be furious with them.

Angry kids often say, “I hate you!” to their parents. Rather than hurling a similar invective, parents need to say, “I understand. I may not like the behaviors I’m seeing, but I still love you.”

If you have teens, you may have noticed that they’ve become less amenable to affection – particularly from the opposite sex parent. But I promise you that teens don’t age out of the need for your warmth and affection. This is especially true when they act in ways that make them hard to love. So the next time your sullen and sarcastic teen starts to steal out the door after a fight, remember to say, “I love you, be safe.” Those moments matter.

No parent is immune to lapses on occasion. In Chicago Tribune columnist’s Heidi Stevens’ recent essay, she admits she’d noticed that the easy delight she’d expressed when her kids were little ones was starting to become “more connected to performance” now that were school-aged. Her personal pledge to “light up” every time she sees her kids is something all of us can emulate.

 

Why Modeling Adult Affection and Care Matters

Think back to when you were a child. Do you remember seeing your parents hug and kiss, crack one another up, or maybe even dance together? On the surface, you may have felt anything from embarrassment to delight, but at a deeper level seeing one’s parents express affection for one another makes kids feel safe and loved.

Unbeknownst to you – and maybe even to your parents – they were also modeling what to aspire to when it comes to adult relationships.

Here’s the thing: It’s easy for parents to forget that it only works if we model it. We have an assumed parity regarding roles and responsibilities (e.g., you cook, I clean). “Thanks, dear,” is understood. But kids aren’t privy to your adult conversations when you divvy up chores…or the bedtime chats when you take time to connect. So if kids don't hear or witness expressions of appreciation and love between their parents, they either presume they don’t happen – or that they aren’t central to a healthy relationship.

That’s why the tacit must become explicit.

Here’s extra incentive.

Children grow up to treat their partners as they saw their parents treat one another. If we’re inattentive, dismissive or non-affectionate to our mates – intentional or not – that becomes our kids’ blueprint of what to expect when they partner up. And who wants that for their children? No one I know.

So what is appropriate behavior for parents to model?

·      Stop what you’re doing and greet your partner when she or he walks in the door

·      Display affection (hugs, kisses, even just a big smile)

·      Be courteous to one another; say “Please” and “Thank you”

·      Let your kids hear you acknowledge one another’s successes

·      Express empathy when a parent has had a rough day

·      Communicate your appreciation for your partner’s small kindnesses in front of the kids

Still not convinced?  Remember, the goal of parents is to launch their kids after 18 years. The partner? That’s the one we want to keep! So not only does expressing love and appreciation for our partners help our kids, it keeps adult love connections alive as well.

Trust me, there’s enough love to go around. Make sure you express it daily and with gusto!