Why Do I (as a parent) Have Homework?

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“If John Lennon was right that life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans, parenting is what happens when everything is flipped over and spilling everywhere and you can’t find a towel or a sponge or your “inside” voice.”

Kelly Currigan author of Lift

You have just gotten home from an exceedingly exhausting day of work after picking up the kids, and now you are doing your best to tackle dinner before you run the kids to music lessons or practice, or whatever new activity they MUST do tonight. That’s when IT happens…….

Your child pulls out homework. It’s a science kit that the entire family should work on together, or an art project that you need to find all of the supplies for, or you have been assigned parent/child reading time. You can’t help yourself- you think “I already graduated- why do I need to do homework?” In my case, I was working on my Master’s degree while my kids were still in school as many educators do. Inside my head, I would scream at the top of my lungs, “I don’t have time to do your homework project!” On the outside, I would plaster a fake smile on my face and do my best to talk my husband into working on the science kit.

He often did help with the science kits. I always tackled the spelling words and sentences. He would also take responsibility for math help for the kids. We survived IT by dividing and conquering the tasks that seemed overwhelming and far too much to ask of parents who are doing their best to get through the tasks of parenting. At the time, we struggled, but we did the science kits, the art projects, and the family interviews or family trees that came home with them in seemingly endless supply.

Our boys are 26 and 22 now. Our parenting duties are greatly changed and severely diminished. I often tell people I am a semi-retired parent as my boys are in the stage of life where they want to figure things out on their own. You know what is surprising? I actually miss the chaos of life at night when we were working so hard to do all that we expected of ourselves to be the best parents we knew how to be. Not too long ago, my older son stopped by to visit. Over dinner, (HEY! He did visit after all!) He talked about his memories of his dad and me working on the crazy dioramas, science projects, and, of course, the last minute run to the store for supplies at 8:00 because they were needed for the next day at school. He said, “Thank you. I know I would not be where I am today if you hadn’t done all of those things for me.”

Yep! It was worth it. The next time you are screaming inside your head about the fact that you are too darn old for homework, remember that this too shall pass. Do your very best. One day, you will also see it was worth all of the effort.

Let's FACE it. Parenting is hard.

I have been reading a lot of Brene’ Brown lately. Her message to me in my acceptance of myself has been eye opening, but what she has written about being a parent has been life changing. The book Daring Greatly has an entire chapter about parenting that I believe everyone should read- parent or not!

In chapter seven, Brene’ writes about the best parenting advice she ever received. It was from Toni Morrison, “Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?” (223).

Wait! What?!

Immediately I thought back to all of the times my kids walked into a room while I checked out what they were wearing…. was it clean, did it match, was it appropriate for the situation? I thought about how I looked at my kid’s hair, face, tennis shoes, EVERYTHING!! As moms, we have a tendency to look at our kids with a filter that judges them as other people might judge them. WHY DO WE DO THAT? Do we believe we are being judged by other parents all of the time? I think moms think this is how they love children. We are showing them how much we care by wanting them to “put their best foot forward”. We need to ask ourselves, are we judging other parents by how their children look? Maybe we should stop doing that! We are all in the parenting game together. Let’s support each other.

What have I taught my kids by having the face of judgment when I see them? Have I taught them that they don’t measure up to my standards or the standards of others? Am I expecting them to be perfect? According to Brene’, perfectionism is teaching kids to value what other people think over what they think. Personally, that is not a lesson I willingly choose for my children. I want them to know they matter. What they think matters.

What can I do? In my heart, I feel extreme joy when I see my children whether it be after a long separation or simply overnight. My heart smiles…… my face can show what my heart feels and bypass the judgment my brain is conditioned to place upon my kids. They deserve to see the happiness they bring to my life. I can work to not only tell them I love them, but I can let them see that love on my face every time they enter a room. I can only imagine the love they will feel for me in return. As in all parenting lessons, it won’t be easy, but it will be worth the effort.

Patience Little One.

Patience and fortitude conquer all things.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

With the start of a new calendar year, we in the pre-K world begin to get many questions about transition to Kindergarten. Parents realize we are nearly half way through the school year and they begin to wonder (worry) whether their children are ready to make the leap to Kindergarten .

We do our best to reassure parents that there is a great deal of growth that will happen with four year old children between January and September. We encourage them to remember that 9 months of time is 1/4 of the time their student has been alive and a lot can happen in that amount of time!

Many parents worry about their children having the academic knowledge to go into K. Let’s face it, kindergarten is no longer the crayon wielding, cooperative, stay away from eating the paste experience it was 30 years ago. Many kids will leave kindergarten knowing how to read many words. They will know numbers, letters, letter sounds, and sounds of letter combinations along with an incredible list of site words they must master. Sure- this seems pretty scary. How can parents be sure their own children will be able to handle all of the learning expected of them in kindergarten?

Sit down. Quiet your surroundings. Focus only on what you are reading. I am about to give you the magic secret to readying your children for kindergarten. Teach them patience.

Say what? I know you think I am 100% off my rocker , lost my mind, whacko right now. I promise. Patience is key. Can your children listen to directions without interrupting? Are your children able to wait for you to finish speaking AND actually listen to what you are saying? This question makes me think of the times I have participated in Kindergarten Round up at our school…. so many teachers will have a classroom rule, “Ask 3 before you ask me.” I may be wrong about the number, but the idea is clear. Are your children able to problem solve? If they don’t see their mittens where they think the mittens should be, will they look around, ask a friend for help, or do they yell at the top of their lungs, “Where are my mittens?” When given a direction from a teacher, will your child follow it or say no?

When you are parenting your four year old, imagine a room full of 20 or more children of the same age acting the way your child is acting right now. Would you be able to control them? Would you be able to teach them a concept? Make your goal with your children to get them to behave in a manner that allows teaching them to be possible. You are your children’s first teacher and the lessons you teach them about their conduct at school will be some of the the most important lessons you will teach them.

That’s it! Seriously- I am not kidding! When you think about all of the concepts and skills children need to know upon exiting Kindergarten, isn’t it nice to think you only need to worry about teaching them to sit, listen, and be teachable?

One thing I know for sure…… you can handle that!

Are Youth Sports still sport?

Sport= “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” I wonder how many kids still think of sports as entertainment? Physical activity? Fun? If you haven’t asked your child in a while if they are enjoying participating in sports, it’s time to ask.

Research screams the numbers to us each day. Kids are dropping like flies out of youth sports. Why? Years ago, the point of a sport was for kids to have a sense of team and belonging. They learned about the sport in which they were participating, made some friends, and hopefully had an opportunity for some physical activity. I don’t think anyone would describe youth sports today like that.

Faithful readers of this blog know that my kids are in their 20’s, so I can speak with a lot of experience under my belt when it comes to children in sports. I raised two boys who were a part of many sports teams, from baseball, to soccer, cross country, football, and hockey. I live in Hermantown Minnesota, and high school hockey fans will have lots of opinion about hockey in Hermantown. Those who live in Hermantown will likely love the team. Those around the state may have different opinions. Both of my boys played youth hockey from age 4 to age 15 in Hermantown. One was cut trying out for the high school team in tenth grade. The other still plays today at college where he plays on a hockey scholarship. I have seen both sides of the story of hockey. I can tell you the secret to success of high school sports. YEP- the magic that allows Hermantown to produce successful teams and multiple college scholarship winners. The magic is in the numbers.

The bigger the number of kids that a youth program can get to register, the more successful the high school program. But getting kids to register isn’t the only magic. They need to stick around. You see, if each grade has 15-20 kids consistently playing a sport throughout their primary grades, the 5-7 kids that make the high school team will be highly skilled. This will happen automatically. No one needs to go to camps, play year round, or be on traveling teams. The law of numbers will prevail. Give children equal opportunity throughout their younger years, and you will have a great high school program. Simple huh?

So- why isn’t this happening? The formula seems easy enough right? Well…… parents get involved. You know the ones who “know” their child is a savant at age 10 and needs to play at a higher level than the other kids playing at age 10. Thus- speciality teams and traveling teams. People will leave their community teams to play on a team where they believe the opportunity is better suited to the talent their child has. The reality is unless you plan on moving away, your child will need to come back and play with the kids you’ve chosen to leave behind once they reach the high school level. Hmmmm. I wonder how that will go.

What makes more sense for the health of a quality high school program? Keeping high talent kids to lift up and teach kids who need to work harder on their skills or having those naturally talented kids walk away from those kids? A team is only as good as it’s weakest player. Why not put the focus on making the hard-working, gritty kids who may not be naturally gifted at a sport better instead of hoping they leave? Worse yet, making their experience in youth sports so challenging, they choose to quit. What is the lesson in that for them or the naturally gifted athlete?

I have witnessed lots of interesting events over the course of 20 + years in sports. I have enjoyed many, but not all. When my youngest son played hockey, he quickly showed himself to be one of the more naturally talented players early on. Many of his friends parents would pay their kids for the number of goals they would get in a game. Sometimes I would see kids get paid (yes- money!) for their efforts on the ice. Sadly, I also saw kids in tears when parents told them they didn’t work hard enough or score enough goals to get their monetary reward that day. My husband and I challenged our son in a completely different way. We asked him if he could get an assist for every single person on his team. This made him a selfless player. It also gave him a different way of looking at the game. He developed vision of the ice and opportunities for scoring that many other kids never did as they were too busy shooting at the net every time they touched the puck. He also had an incredible sense of pride when he helped players score their very first goal. I was proud of his effort.

As the years progressed, I watched the kids who were pressured and many times paid for their efforts drop from the rosters. They were no longer having fun. Shouldn’t playing on a team be fun? Even professional athletes will reference the fun they have in a hard fought competition. Why would we take the fun out of sports for our kids?

My advice for parents- stop thinking of sports as a way to pay for college. Let’s face it, if you took all of the money you spent on registration and camps over the years and invested it, your kid would likely go to college and have a down payment for their first house. Sports are not vocation. Sports are fun. Sports are a way to meet friends. Sports give kids a sense of belonging. Sports teach compromise, hard work and cooperation. Sports teach a love of physical activity and fitness. That’s enough!

I will end with one of my favorite youth sports memories to put into perspective the view children have on sports. A team mate of my son was playing in a mini mite (littlest kids) hockey tournament in a local arena on Saturday in January. Coaches had lined up the teams so similarly abled kids would play against each other. One child on my husbands’ team went out for his shift and spent the entire time skating around with a player form the other team. The buzzer went off (signalling a line change) and that player came to the bench saying, “I made a new friend!” The next shift change, this same player went back out searching for his friend and they spent two full minutes skating around together chatting away. This time when the boy came to the bench, he exclaimed, “I LOVE that kid!” My husband smiled. What a great day for that player, and he never even scored a goal.

Where do they learn to act like that?

One of the beautiful parts of childhood is the fact that kids don’t have conditioned reactions to differences in people. How many videos have you watched on social media where children of different races, cultures, and abilities are playing together without conflict? I tack those up with my favorites like the animal videos of the mouse and cat becoming friends.

You have likely witnessed over the course of your life that children will ask pointed questions about differences between people. “Why is that person short, tall, fat, skinny, etc?” Kids will learn from the words of an answer ALMOST as much as they will learn from the tone, facial features, and body language. Children are always watching. They don’t always listen.

What tone and body language are you passing on to the children in your life? Do you avoid eye contact with a person in a wheel chair? Do you move to the other side of the street when you see a man of a different race on the sidewalk? Does your tone change when you talk about people with lots of tattoos? Sometimes these subliminal actions come out without us being aware. What would happen if you concentrated on the way you interacted with everyone?

I was fortunate to attend a training a few years ago that opened my eyes to the micro- aggressions many people face each day. From that moment forward, I have studied interaction between people. I witnessed at a volleyball try out in Duluth, a coach ask the only person of color in the room where she was from. The coach had not asked any other player (there were over 50 in the gym) where they were from. Why ask this girl? She answered the question with confusion and embarrassment. She was from Duluth- born and raised. Is it an automatic response to think that someone different from you must be from another place? Another country? Not your country? Hmmmm. Something to think about.

I wish adults could follow the lead of children rather than the other way around. Adults could learn the joy in meeting new people without the reservations of wondering if the person is enough like us to be accepted into our lives. I have seen four year old kids say, “Look- we are twins!” referring to a child of a different race or color. Kids don’t necessarily mean we look exactly alike….. they see sameness, being twins, in the fact that they like the same activities, laugh at the same silly stuff, and enjoy similar toys. Simple.

Challenge yourself to follow the lead of children when encountering people you may judge without conscious thought. See someone who may be a boy or girl? What do your kids do? Ask & then say ,”OK.” No judgment. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Watch a child interact with an older person. They may ask, “Why is your skin all wrinkly?” They take an answer at face value and touch the older person’s hand to learn what older skin feels like. No judgment.

I imagine a world where we could let kids lead adults in how we treat people. I see an end to bullying, marginalizing people, and aggression toward all who are in some way,”different”. I believe we could create a more beautiful and peaceful world. We could use a lot more peace and acceptance in our world. Although changing the world seems overwhelming, change happens one person at a time. Be the change.

Taking Responsibility- You are the sum of your choices.

Sometimes life is ironic. Today is one of those days. Writing this blog has been a long time goal, but like many goals, I didn’t realize how much work it would entail. Writing is fairly easy for me, but coming up with ideas about what to write….that’s a whole different ball game! I now keep a running list as ideas come to me (they usually do when I am in public watching parents with their kids). I take that list and put the title in my drafts with a picture or quote that will help remind me where I was planning to go with the topic. So….. this topic has been sitting in my drafts for about 5 weeks. The funny thing- I am writing about how choices affect your life on the day our president is facing Impeachment. Huh. I guess we get to see how choices affect people around us every day!

Challenges, decisions, choices….. how did we get here and how can we use this in our parenting? The fact is our lives are a summation of our choices. Some may want to argue this point, saying we didn’t choose to have some of the issues we have, but along the way, we made a choice that put the issue in our path. The true question is- can we teach this concept to our children? Of course we can! It’s called taking responsibility.

When children are very small, it is our job to keep them safe and protected. Some of us forget that as our kids grow up, they need learn to face the consequences of those choices. I believe these parents are termed “helicopter” parents. You will find them buzzing around their children’s life at every age providing them with excuses and blaming anyone else for any poor choices their kids make. This is a mistake.

People need to face up to their mistakes. Children included. Haven’t you heard, “Experience is the best teacher”? We remember the mistakes we made more often and more deeply that the perfect decision made at the exact correct moment. Why is that? We have a bigger lesson to learn from mistakes. Don’t be afraid to allow your children to goof up once in awhile.

I remember having this discussion with my husband years ago as our first born was a stereotypical first born -people pleaser who always wanted to do everything “right”. He had reached the ripe age of 14 or 15 and I said to my husband, “We really need him to make a big mistake while he is still at home and we can help him learn that he will recover from it.” My husband looked at me with a bit of horror in his eyes and then realized what I was saying was true! Our son did screw up pretty big not too long after this discussion. Someone at school told him you could buy an app for your phone & if you deleted it the same day, you wouldn’t have to pay for the app. HAHAHAHA! $500 cell phone bill in one month!

It was a great learning opportunity. He had to look his dad and me in the eye and tell us he had downloaded all of those apps. He took responsibility. First and foremost- my son learned he could mess up and we still loved him. Next, he learned the responsibility of paying off a bill. He worked extra chores around the house for 3 or 4 months to pay that off. He learned the feeling of pride and accomplishment. We congratulated him for following through. He learned tenacity.

Taking responsibility for your actions, tenacity, persistence, control over your choices…. These are some skills many adults are challenged by. My son took a big step toward learning all of those lessons in this one big mistake.

The next time you are faced with your child stuck in a bit of hot water, don’t be afraid to let them stew. You are allowing them to grow up. You are allowing them the opportunity to realize their choices make their consequences. Both good and bad. Remember, we could use more people in the world who have learned that lesson.

Maybe Someday….. what are you waiting for?

As parents, I am sure we have all done it…. put off that fun thing the kids want to do in order to finish chores, clean the house, pay bills, ect. I would like you to begin thinking about your time differently. Time with your children is limited. Paying bills is important. How can you find balance?

One of my favorite memories with my children is a beautiful spring day after a long winter (we live in northern Minnesota after all). My husband came home from work early, we picked up the kids at the end of the school day, and headed straight for a local park. (Jay Cooke). We hiked, watched the snow melt rushing through the rivers, and gave our kids their first opportunity at taking nature photos. We even had them take a photo of me and my husband. We don’t have too many of those! We looked for spring flowers and animals. Truly- we simply enjoyed getting outside. We didn’t eat dinner until 8:00 that night. My kids laughed on the way home as they realized we hadn’t had dinner yet.

The reason I share this story…. this experience cost us very little. Entrance to the park and a little gas money. For several hours, our focus was on nature and each other. No distractions. No screens. We actually took photos with a REAL camera and not a phone! We created connections. I still have a photo of my youngest son and I on that day. He scrapbooked a page, titling it “The Best Mom”. Every time I look at that photo, I realize we should have done a lot more of this over the course of my kids lives at home.

Why is this a favorite memory? Maybe because it was a rare moment where I actually chose to walk away from tasks at home and make my family a priority. I know I intended to have days like this more often than I actually did.

Time slips away. If your child asks you to lay in the grass looking at clouds. Do it! If your little one asks to play soccer, baseball, or basketball in the yard- Do it! Have a squirt gun or water balloon fight. Pick wildflowers. Look for agates. Slow down. Savor your time.

One day, like me, you might be driving along, pass a nature trail and think, “I always wanted to take my kids there.” Your kids may be in their 20’s like mine are and it’s possible they won’t have time to walk that trail with you anymore. Maybe they don’t live in the area. Maybe they have their own family and are doing their best to create memories with them. Maybe walking the trail has become physically impossible for you. Maybe you will feel regret like I did. Perhaps, you will even write about it in a blog.

I feel confident that all parents have heard, “Enjoy your kids while you can.” So many of us will listen but not really let the message sink in. We have time right? We are trying so hard to be the best parents we are capable of being. Certainly, we will have time for all of the experiences we’d like to have with our children.

The reality is no one sits on their death bed and wishes they had spent less time with their kids. Put down the dishes. They will still be there later. Sit down, play a board game (even the boring ones). Take a walk. Collect leaves. Polish rocks. Laugh when those rocks go through your washing machine. One day, you will miss washing those pants covered in mud. Someday, you will want reams of wonderful memories and stories to share with your kids.

The best part of prioritizing your kids is that you will have taught your children the importance of parenting and the value of time. I can’t think of many lessons more important.

Enjoy your time- you are lucky.

Do you ever get frustrated with the people who say,”Enjoy your child while they are young. Time goes by so fast.” You smile and accept the advice hoping that the advice is being given with sincerity. When you walk away and your precious little one states they hate you because they got a red sucker at the bank instead of a purple one, you may wonder why time can’t slip by just a little bit faster?

I find my self using this quote on young parents all of the time. I am sure they refer to me as the crazy old lady. When kids are stubborn, I will remind parents that those same skills will find them much success in later years. We want persistence in our adults right? When little ones refuse to go to bed, I laugh and say. Just wait until they are tennagers asking you to pick them up from a movie letting out at midnight?!” I seriously had to set an alarm to pick my kids up from school dances. Who stays up that late on a Friday anyway? My favorite is when parents are struggling with potty training and every older adult in the room states that they had no trouble with potty training. In fact, their children were totally trained by 18 months. Yeah right!

I believe younger parents must leave conversations like those & wonder what is wrong with them? Why is parenting so difficult for them? The reality is, parenting is difficult for everyone. Some of those challenges fade in our memories, so in hindsight, parenting seems a bit easier.

It’s true that our time with our children is limited. Maybe we have 940 Saturdays with them. Those are the days we have to show them what is important in life. Sometimes, parents don’t get that much time.

In the past few years, I have watched a friend help her child battle cancer twice and end up victorious. That is a worthy of celebration. On the flip side, I have seen a neighbor bury her 11 year old son. I watched a community grieve the loss of a 15 year old. I witnessed a coworker go to the funeral of a 3 month old baby. We don’t always get all the time we plan for.

These examples are heartbreaking, tragic, and seemingly pointless. Obviously, nothing good comes from losing a child. From the perspective of the family, I am confident this is true. Pain changes over time as the initial wound scabs, but the family is forever changed. How about the rest of us?

Could we look at these examples and find a little more compassion for our child when they are having a melt down over us buying the wrong cereal? Can we refrain from judgment when our teen is crying over a break up that we know is truly better than maintaining the relationship? Just hold him and let him know you love him. Will we choose to have a bit more patience for our kids when they are learning to get dressed and not jump in to zip that jacket? Maybe. Perhaps this is the only thing we CAN do when facing the tragic loss of a child. It could be our duty for the gift of still having our children with us.

What can we do for those we know that are grieving the loss of a child? Unfortunately, I have had much more experience in this arena than I would choose. I have learned from parents that they still want people to talk about their kids. Tell stories. Especially the good ones. Remember his laugh when we played soccer with him? I loved that. I bet you did too. She was such a great artist. Did you know I still have that picture she drew for me. Would you like to see it?

This will be painful sometimes. Emotions are impossible to predict or control. Overall, parents want to know that you remember too. It helps to know others have some of the pain and that others miss their child. Honor the life of kids no matter how short.

At home, hug your children even if they don’t always like it. Hold them accountable. Teach them responsibility. Celebrate them. One day, they will understand. You were showing them your love for as long as you could.