Who Is Teaching Whom?

‎”Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that he is exactly the person he is supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, he just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.” ~ Joan Ryan

I think we would be lying if we didn’t all say we had, at least for one moment, daydreams or hopes about who our children would be one day. Even those of us who agree that children already are someone the moment they are born, may still have trouble letting go of our wishes for who they might become. Who wouldn’t hope for their child to have every opportunity in life? But what if our children have traits we feel may make life difficult?

who will you becomeI know I’ve never wished I had different children, but I certainly have had times where their personalities exasperated me. My son’s dreaminess and ability to get lost in 5 different activities on his way to put his dirty dish in the sink makes me nuts sometimes. My daughter’s penchant for trying to re-negotiate every rule, and the fact that she laughs maniacally when overtired, push every one of my buttons. Yet, if I stop for a minute I can see that there is so much for me to learn from my reaction to my children’s behaviors.

As parents I think we spend much of our time thinking about what we are teaching our children. We teach them to sleep through the night, to eat solid food without choking, to get dressed on their own, to say “please’ and “thank you”, to share, to read, to be kind, to be a good friend. We hope we are teaching them our values and morals, we picture ourselves teaching them to ride a bike or drive a car, we dream of teaching them to love art, we wonder if we can teach them to cook.

But I think few of us stop to consider how much our children teach us each day. In our effort to teach our children all that we know so that they might grow up to become everything they have the potential to be, perhaps we are forgetting that if we could just step out of the way, we would see how much we can learn from them. If we look at their “difficult behaviors” as their way of showing us who they are instead of their way of disobeying us, we begin to see our children in a whole new light.

My son getting easily distracted doesn’t have to be so frustrating. I would actually love to be as dreamy as he is. I would love to not always be so focused on potential problems up ahead and to be so easily entertained by the simple things that delight him.

My daughter’s strong opinions will actually serve her well down the line. I would love to be as sure of my own artistic abilities and point of view as she is. I would love to have the same sense of joy she has over finding something as inconsequential as a stray, sparkly sequin. It’s garbage to me, but only she knows how this little, shiny object will enhance the collection of treasures she has at home.

Bedtime struggles can be a time for tears. But if I think about it, I would love to run, as they do, naked through the house completely unashamed and dancing with abandon to my favorite songs. I would love to feel so much pride in my body.

dandelion3aI would love to see the whole world as the magical place they do, each discovery a miracle in itself. I wonder if I would be happier if I believed that toys came to life when I wasn’t there, that wishes made on dandelions did come true, or that fairies drank the dew drops in our garden.

And what we can learn from our children isn’t just about being as free and openminded as they are. I know that every day I am learning from them about how to forgive, how to love wholeheartedly, how to ask for help when I am struggling with something, how to be brave, how to try new things and not give up when they are difficult, and how to find joy in ordinary moments. In studying my reactions to the things they do that trigger my anger I begin to shed light on my own insecurities and weaknesses as well as my strengths (because, I will admit, sometimes I do a great job of understanding and connecting).

Of course my children aren’t perfect, but they are exactly the children I am supposed to have in order to learn the lessons I need to learn. These two, wise little souls are here to guide me, just as much as I am here to guide them (perhaps more so)! So for all my dreams about who my children will one day become, I am very, very grateful for the kind, generous people they are right now.

Are We Modern Women Or Behaving Like Our Grandmothers?

I’m a stay at home mom. I have a lot of friends who are stay at home moms. I’m sure each of us decided to stay home to raise our kids for different reasons, but the fact is that all of us are what I think of as quite modern women who are highly educated and yet our careers were put on hold (or said goodbye to) in order to be full time mothers. I find it interesting how many families these days seem really happy with what is in many ways a very “traditional” arrangement with dad going to work and mom staying home. I remember when I was in my 20’s and married to my first husband, I brought up the idea of staying home when we had children and he seemed completely put out. He not only didn’t want the pressure of being the sole breadwinner, but he turned his nose up at the idea that his wife might no longer be the fancy fashion designer he married but would instead be “just” a mom. Obviously, he and I were not meant to be.

domesticity27But the idea that just a decade or two later, so many women would be home raising their children fascinates me. Not only are so many of us staying home, but many are doing things our own bra-burning mothers might consider a step backwards and are actually homeschooling, knitting, canning, making our own cleaning supplies, and baking our own bread. Is today’s mother ruining everything our grandmothers fought for, or is she actually starting some sort of new revolution?

I read this really interesting article in this weekend’s Washington Post in which the author asks if today’s new domesticity is fun, empowering or a step back for American women. She brings up some really interesting ideas:

“You could say these women are simply homemakers searching for a purpose beyond driving carpool. As work-life balance scholar Joan Williams tells me, extreme domesticity can be a refuge for educated women who’ve left the workforce: “You’ve been trained your entire life in a high-pressure, high-achievement atmosphere, and you need somewhere to put that,” she says. “So you turn your household into an arena for dazzling performance.”

But these extreme DIY-ers are also voicing a fear and frustration that resonates with anyone who worries about salmonella-tainted eggs or BPA in their kid’s sippy cup. Which is to say, most of us. Their domesticity can be seen as an effort to repair on an individual level what isn’t being fixed at a governmental or societal one.”

raising chickensObviously, it’s not only stay at home mothers who have embraced this do it yourself culture. I’m sure there are plenty of mothers who work outside of the home who strap on an apron when they get back from the office and churn their own butter. Well, maybe not…but you know what I mean. But I do wonder have we placed yet another layer of pressure on ourselves? Do women now also have the stress of feeling that if they don’t collect the eggs from the chickens raised in their own backyard or cook every meal from scratch that they have fallen even farther from being the perfect homemaker? Or do women feel empowered, as the WP article suggests, by being able to do all of this themselves?

Do you do many of the DIY things mentioned in this article? Or are you the type of mother who is just grateful you can call in for a pizza at the end of a long day? Do you feel liberated by not having to grow your own food or does that kind of connection with nature and providing for your family sound appealing? Does all of this old-fashioned domesticity sound like a fun respite from today’s high tech world to you? Or do you think that, as the author wonders, these quaint hobbies may one day become our daughter’s burdensome chores? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know your thoughts!

5 Ways To Excite Your Kids About Fruits And Veggies

When my children were much younger, they ate a wide variety of foods. Friends marveled as they chowed down lentil soup or grilled salmon. I patted myself on the back for their choices of fruit or yogurt as a dessert. However, as they’ve grown older, they have winnowed away just about everything. My son eats almost no proteins now except eggs and chicken nuggets. My daughter eats almost no vegetables except peas. While they still do eat a lot of fruit and yogurt, the whines at dessert time when I don’t have something chocolate are beyond annoying. I’m not worried, as they are both healthy and growing, but I do want them to develop good eating habits!

Recently I got into a conversation with Kia Robertson who runs a site called Today I Ate A Rainbow and happened to mention the trouble I was having getting my kids to eat a variety of foods. Kia very generously offered to send me her Rainbow Kit and we have been using it for a week now. Wow!

My children were immediately intrigued by Kia’s interactive magnetic chart. Once they realized that they could move the magnetic shapes each time they ate a fruit or vegetable in the corresponding color to earn a rainbow magnet, they couldn’t move fast enough. The first night my daughter ate all her colors except orange and actually begged to eat a carrot so she could complete her rainbow! My son requested avocado at dinner to make sure he got in his green that day!

In addition to the Rainbow Kit, Kia has a great children’s book, with lovely illustrations, called The Rainbow Bunch. This rhyming book was written for young children between the ages of 2 and 5 yrs old. It is a great tool to open up communication about the importance of eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables everyday – my kids have asked to read it numerous time since it arrived.

Keeping Kids Interested:

the kitSo, it’s been a week, but will the kids stay interested? Kia and I talked about ways to keep up the enthusiasm as time goes by.

Set a weekly goal.

After eating their rainbows Monday through Friday, let them pick a fun family activity on the weekend. It could be something like a favorite board game or book, or a physical activity like swimming or riding bikes. Whatever it is, your children get to choose!

Switch things up.

One week you only get magnets for eating veggies, the next week only for eating fruit. Increase the amount that needs to be eaten to earn a magnet. Better yet, set the goal to get two rainbows a day!

Set a monthly challenge.

Kia mentioned a family she worked with whose children only wanted to eat at McDonald’s because they loved the Happy Meal toys. This family decided to forgo McDonald’s for the month and challenge their girls to eat a rainbow every week for a month. Once they did that, they got to go to a toy store and buy a decent toy for a dollar amount the parents had decided on ahead of time. The family saved money (and their health) by not going out for fast food, the girls got a nice toy at the end of the month and realized that they actually enjoyed the good, healthy food.

Healthy Competition.

If your kids can handle a little competition, see who can eat their rainbows first. In our house we try to lessen the competition between our kids and increase their sibling bond, so we set up a competition that pits the two of them against mom and dad. It works wonders. Now they feel like a team and as though they are able to do something mom and dad can’t do!

Include the kids in shopping, preparing and choosing.

Any time my children help prepare a meal, whether it’s setting the table or helping chop something up, they are more invested in eating it. When you’re at the market get your kids to help pick out things that fill your rainbow requirements. See if they’ll try new food items just because they’re the right color. Kia’s Rainbow Kits include a color coded shopping list to make it easy. Get clear containers that are easily opened and put items such as edamame, yellow and red bell pepper slices, orange segments and blueberries in each one – let you children choose for themselves.

fruits and vegetablesWhat I really like about this kit is that Kia said once you have been using it steadily for a little while it just becomes second nature to eat, and shop for, a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. I’ve never been a fan of hiding veggies in my children’s food as I do want them to know that they actually like yams or string beans! I’ve been so pleased with how this simple tool has actually encouraged my kids to eat not only better food, but a greater variety of foods. And they are now active participants in their health as opposed to just finishing their peas because I won’t give them dessert unless they do! The Rainbow Kits happen to be on sale right now and you can get yours by going to Kia’s site: Today I Ate A Rainbow.

This has been a great discovery for us. I’d love to hear some of your ideas. What tips do you have for encouraging your children to eat their fruits and vegetables? What are your favorite ways to prepare and serve fruits and vegetables? Do you think a Rainbow Kit would help in your house?

Labels Are For Clothes, Not For Children.

One of the first things I learned as a mother of twins is that people naturally want to label and compare things. With twins it’s often people’s way of figuring out who is who. “Kaitlin is the one who likes puppies and Pearle is the one who likes horses.” In part it’s people’s way of connecting and making conversation, so I don’t take offense. But I have always felt it important to gently correct and enlighten.

When my kids were little, my son was the type of child who needed to observe a situation before he proceeded, whereas our daughter would rush right in. Because they are the same age it was unavoidable that we would hear, “So, she’s the outgoing one and he’s the shy one!” When this sort of thing happens repeatedly, the children can begin to take on the roles assigned to them. My daughter could easily have become the child who felt she had to always help her brother make friends or speak up for himself. And my son could easily have begun to think of himself as shy and introverted when in actuality nothing could be further from the truth!

What’s The Harm?

  • Even a label we may think of as “positive” can have negative consequences. Imagine having to live up to the idea of being “the helpful one”.
  • Comparing siblings, especially twins, is a perfect way to amp up the sibling rivalry.
  • Children believe EVERYTHING we say. Be careful with the words you use. Negative labels can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How Can I Avoid Comparing And Labeling?

  • As much as possible, contrast a label made by someone else by pointing out the broader picture: “Yes, right now he’s being a little timid, but you should have seen him climb those monkey bars yesterday!”
  • Make these responses in front of your children so that they begin to absorb the idea that their personalities are fluid and complex.
  • Compliment your child for something she has control over. Instead of telling her she’s smart, notice the hard work she puts into everything she does. Instead of telling her she’s pretty, compliment how kind she is to people.
  • Keep your comments about your twins focused. Avoid comparing one to the other when you compliment. “Thank you for clearing the table so quickly” doesn’t need to be followed up with “I don’t know why it takes your brother so long to do it!”
  • Remind friends and family that just because you have twins doesn’t mean they will hit milestones at the same time. One may be “the good eater” this week but before you know it, her sister will have caught up.

Of course you’re not going to ruin your children by telling them they’re beautiful or brilliant. Just be aware that your children are absorbing the comparing and labeling. Help them out by focusing on their individuality and getting to know their personalities in a deep and meaningful way. It will make a world of difference.

Most of us don’t think we’re labeling, but we do it all the time. And it’s not just our children who feel the effects, we lose out as well. Labeling also limits our experience of others.

If I decided that my daughter was a “girly girl” based on the fact that for a period of time she loved to play mommy with her dolls, I would perhaps have missed the chance to see that she also loves to build and dig and climb, that she has an incredible gift for spatial relationships and can create amazing mosaic patterns, or that she has a brain that can craft that most well thought-out negotiations that my husband and I often joke she will one day use in her law career. Imagine if I limited how I saw her by only labeling her as “girly”.

What do you think? Do you ever label your kids? Have you been labeled? What are your suggestions for handling this issue? Or maybe you don’t think it’s an issue at all. Leave a comment below, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Connection, Not Combat, Gets You What You Want

For the second time in a week the concept of using martial arts in the context of relationships was mentioned to me. Not as a way to fight, but as a way not to. So many of us push against that which we disagree with, getting louder and louder, upping the battle in an attempt to make the other side yield. In the end, there is no winner. How can there be a winner when both sides aren’t happy with the outcome?

My father studied T’ai Chi for a number of years when I was younger, often embarrassing me greatly by practicing the slow, meditative movements in public. One of the methods he practiced was a style of self defense called “Sticky Hand” or “Pushing Hands”. My husband, just before we were married, jokingly asked my father in an email to teach him this method as a way to help our marriage. Little did he realize how accurate his request was.

My husband wrote:

“I have recently learned of your training and skill in the art of sticky hand, which I believe will be a useful tool in my marriage to your daughter. Perhaps we can retreat to some remote mountain location where you can pass on your knowledge of this most venerated art.”

To which my father replied:

“Well, here’s a verbal description: It’s essentially the art of yielding, granting one’s partner the full latitude of their push — which has a natural limit, so doesn’t need to be blocked with a counter-push — and all the while staying lightly, sensitively in touch. Basically it transforms combat into love.”

I’ve been thinking about this idea for the last few days. It makes complete sense. The more you push against something (or someone), the more you are met with resistance and defense. But to allow the other person the full range of their emotion, to meet them where they are at and stay connected can only result in those emotions being alleviated. If you don’t push back with aggression, there is nothing for the other party to rail against.

I love this description of students learning Pushing Hands when I frame it in the context of a power struggle with my children or my husband:

“These exchanges are characterized as ‘question and answer’ sessions between training partners; the person pushing is asking a question, the person receiving the push answers with their response. The answers should be “soft,” without resistance or stiffness. The students hope to learn to not fight back when pushed nor retreat before anticipated force, but rather to allow the strength and direction of the push to determine their answer. The intent thereby is for the students to condition themselves and their reflexes to the point that they can meet an incoming force in softness, move with it until they determine its intent and then allow it to exhaust itself or redirect it into a harmless direction. The degree to which students maintain their balance while observing these requirements determines the appropriateness of their ‘answers.’ “

When I allow my children to be angry or frustrated without having a rigid response to those expressions, and am open to trying to understand where they are going with their emotions, I am able to stay connected to them. When I am connected that way, there is no struggle and they do not feel the need to battle me. In this way of thinking, I remember that there is no need to control my children (or my husband) to get what I want. We all are able to express ourselves fully, we all feel heard and understood, and ultimately, we all win.

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

As a mother of twins, one of the things I spend a good deal of time focusing on is how much alone time each of our children is getting. This isn’t something only parents of twins deal with, although in a number of ways it’s more intense when you have twins.

twin hug 2When I had a full time nanny, it was pretty easy to split the kids up and get one on one time with them. But these days my help is sporadic and I have started working a lot more than I used to, so the kids have been spending day after day together without a break. It’s beginning to wear on them.

No matter how much you love someone, you need time apart to remember how wonderful it is when you are together! I’ve had a lot of guilt over how much I have been working lately and the fact that my kids are taking out some of their frustration on each other isn’t helping matters. This weekend I had some time to think about all of this and begin to make some changes.

Our children shared a womb. Then they shared a crib for 5 months. They shared meals, their bedroom, their toys (for the most part). They share a classroom, play dates, and birthdays. They often have to share the attention of mommy or daddy. Of course, we do our best to make everything as individualized and special for each of them as we can. And, until lately, my husband and I have been great at giving them time alone with each of us. But when our preschool director pointed out that she had noticed how sick of each other our kids are getting, I realized I had been slacking.

My sitter situation doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon and since my husband’s heart attack last year I have been trying to give him more down time on weekends, so even doing one on one time then has been challenging. But, I realized this weekend that we have one idea at our disposal that might make a huge difference for our kids: it might be time to give them each their own room.

J's bedNow, this is not as easy as it sounds. I am a little sad at the idea of them no longer sharing a room. Intellectually I know that it will be good for them (and as they are brother and sister, it would inevitably happen at some point) But emotionally it is harder than I thought. I love the way they talk to each other at night, flashlights in hand. I love standing outside their door listening to them play “camp”, with one sleeping under the bed in the “bottom bunk” and the other sleeping above. I love the room itself, only put together a year and a half ago…soft green, orange and white. Giving them each their own room means losing our playroom/guest room. Where do all those toys go now? Where do my parents stay when they visit? There’s even a part of me that hangs on to that fantasy that sharing a room makes their bond tighter. But, does it?

Every time I had asked my children previously if they wanted their own room they emphatically said “no”! This weekend I broached the subject again and was met with enthusiastic yeses. So, I guess I need to move forward. My daughter wants a gold room with rainbow unicorns and princesses. Yikes. My son is all over the place with themes: pirates, dinosaurs, volcanos exploding lava. Coupled with his favorite color, orange, I’m not picturing the most relaxing of rooms.

They’re growing up and becoming more and more the unique individuals they are meant to be. I know it’s what I want, and yet now that it’s happening, it’s harder than I expected for me to let go.