Saturday, January 4, 2014

Playing Favorites

We hear about siblings claiming their parents have a favorite child. But what happens when a child has a favorite parent?

Young children are known for having a preferred parent. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from a friend or read in another mommy blog about a little one who hero-worships his mother and utterly rejects his poor father. It happens in my own home! There was a time when my little guy couldn't even bear to watch my husband give me a hug. He would turn away in horror, shielding his eyes from this threatening sight. His possessiveness has improved with age. Now that he's four years old, he still prefers that I brush his teeth, bathe him, put him to bed, and just about anything else that involves one person spending time with another; but things are sloooowly changing. Now there are times when my son gently and sweetly (so as not to hurt my feelings) asks me to leave the room so he and his fun-loving dad can properly play trains. And he'll accept it, mostly without incident, when I'm attending a school meeting and my husband has to put him to bed. (Although he still requires fair warning.) Basically, I can see his progress toward opening up to the idea of having two parents.

How does my son's intense attachment make me feel? Loved and flattered, of course. But also exhausted. I can feel the crushing weight of his expectations, my total lack of freedom that comes with his need for my undivided attention. Then there's my husband's feelings. I'm lucky on that front. My husband's patience is admirable. He is very understanding about this stage of our son's life; he knows that eventually our son's world view will change.

My little guy's entree into our family has also affected my daughter. There has been a shift in my relationship with her. It used to be that I was her world, too. She was almost as mommy-centric as my son is now. Once he came into the world, he took over with such force that she was cast out of that role overnight. She was six at the time, so she had enjoyed a long reign, but the change was swift and permanent, my guilt palpable.

But there's something more.

It's no surprise that my unavailability forced my daughter to search elsewhere for the attention she needed. She developed a relationship with my husband that has grown into something more than she and I had shared. As father and daughter have spent more time together and our daughter's persona has developed with age, they've become close. Rather than the snuggles and baths and trips to the playground she and I had shared when she was small, she began to share discoveries, thoughts and opinions with her dad. They found that their personalities were similar; they are both reserved, meticulous observers. With so much in common it has become clear over time that they are kindred spirits.

I am grateful that my daughter has found someone in this world who understands her so well. It's great that she feels comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings with her dad. It seems so rare that a father is able to relate to his daughter on such an emotional level. What a lucky thing for her to grow up with that solid presence by her side.

This is not to say that I've given up being close with her myself. I want more than anything to be her best friend! I long to be the person she comes to when she argues with a friend, the shoulder she cries on the first time someone breaks her heart. I feel a surge of ugly jealousy when she has lengthy conversations with my husband about her day at school. She and I talk about her day, too, but somehow she seems to delve deeper when she talks to him.

Time will likely change the dynamics in our family again and again. That's the nature of things: they change. Still, it's possible that my daughter has found a connection with her father that she and I may not achieve. Our personalities may just be too disparate for her to feel comfortable coming to me. The thought frightens and saddens me, at the same time, I'm so happy for her that she has him. So many girls grow up looking for love from the daddy who was never there for them. That will never be my daughter's fate.

Meanwhile, my son is still very young, but his personality seems to have more in common with my own. As he matures, I'm interested to see what type of relationship we'll develop. I'm still chugging along down this mysterious and confusing road with my daughter. She's on the verge of adolescence, so I'm thinking things will get worse before they get better, but I haven't given up. All I can do is wait and see. And keep trying.

Monday, December 9, 2013

One Mother, Two Distinctly Different Children

My children are polar opposites. My daughter is bright and reserved and meticulous; my son is clever, exuberant, and gregarious. I marvel when my son, who is only four years old, talks in depth about his feelings and is able to ferret out his own opinions in the blink of an eye. For my daughter, a ten year old girl on the verge of adolescence, feelings and opinions have always been a bit of a mystery, but she is a master at focusing her attention on most any task that is set before her. She doesn't know the meaning of the word, "quit." She pushes herself as far as she can go in almost everything she pursues, while my son enjoys pushing others to their limits. These two souls are both so unique and have such different needs. I am only one person with one view of the world and one skill set. So how do I go about parenting these two distinct personalities?

I do have a husband who is very active in this parenting journey we're on together. Luckily he comes with his own point of view, his own set of strengths, his own skill set, all of which are different from mine. So when you put us together, we have many of the bases covered. But I can't help feeling a little inadequate when I look to him to provide something to our children that I can't. Why is that? Well, if you know me or have read this blog, you know that I am a doer by nature. I have a hard time delegating. When I manage to do so, I don't find it a relief. While the expression, "Many hands make light work" may be true, it is not satisfying to me. When hands other than my own do the work, I end up feeling lazy or like I got away with something.

I realize I can't be everything to my children. Not only is it impossible, it's unwise. Deep down I know they need influences other than mine to help them grow into the well rounded people I aim for them to become. Still, I am humbled when someone other than me comes up with the "right" answer to a problem.

When my daughter struggles with making a choice, it's my husband who talks her through it, breaking down the pros and cons of either side of the issue. And there I stand, observing, mystified by the concept of not knowing how to choose. I was born with an opinion - about everything!

The other day my son was upset when my daughter opened the door to an Advent calendar without him being there. He was beginning to have a meltdown, and I (in the midst of trying to get us out the door on time) became flustered and unable to calm him. My daughter curtly resolved the conflict by closing the door to the calendar and letting him open it a second time. So simple, and more importantly, so effective! My son was instantly mollified and we were all able to move on with our day. A big part of me was proud of my daughter for being able to problem solve on the fly. But I felt annoyed with myself for not coming up with that solution right off the bat. It was so obvious that a 10-year-old girl could clearly see it. Why couldn't I?

I am still learning how to parent each of my children. As they grow and change, so do I. My education in parenting started by watching my own parents. It has developed through reading books and blogs. I gather advice from fellow parents and friends. But most of all I am feeling my way. I am trying to remain flexible, to love in the ways they need, to be the mother they each need me to be.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

5 Ways to Streamline Parenting

I'm not an expert in child development, but I do have 10 years' experience as a parent. In that time I've made plenty of mistakes. But I've also made enough observations about what works and what doesn't to streamline and simplify the process. (At least little bit.) Here are a few things I've learned along the way, and if you're in the mood to share, go for it! I'd love to hear your tips.

Buy two identical loveys.
Specific, I know, but this piece of advice will save a lot of stress. Children are not known for their flexibility, plus they don't particularly care about cleanliness. If you buy two loveys and switch them out regularly on laundry day, you'll have peace of mind knowing that your child is snuggling with a clean lovey, and your child will never have to give up her security - not even for a couple of hours.

Introduce new foods at the start of the day.
Children are at their best after a good night's sleep. Conversely, they're at their worst at the end of the day (re: dinnertime). So I've taken to serving my picky eater dinner leftovers for breakfast, when my little one is feeling more adventurous. That way, when dinnertime rolls around, I don't have to feel guilty about defaulting to cereal. Cereal also has the added benefit of being simple to prepare, so I feel less like a short-order cook. Once he's more accepting of a diverse diet, I'll transition him to eating what the rest of us do at the dinner table. I figure before long he'll naturally start wanting to eat what the rest of us are eating anyway, like my daughter did.

Wait and see.
I've written about this subject before, but it definitely bears mentioning here. If I had one piece of advice to offer a new parent, it would be to take the "wait-and-see" approach. I'm a planner, so this goes against my nature, but childhood really is nothing more than a series of phases. It's like the weather: If you wait long enough things will change. So whatever the issue, give it a week or two, and you might find you're in a whole new place. All this stress we parents take on about doing away with the pacifier or transitioning to a Big Kid Bed or learning to eat new foods, it's a waste of time. It also places unnecessary stress onto both the parent and child. If you picture yourself and your child 15 or 20 years into the future, you'll see that your worry is likely unfounded. After all, how many teenagers have you seen with their mommies trailing them in case they need a diaper change?

Give up.
I don't take 'no' for an answer. Except when it comes to parenting dilemmas. I've found that if you can't find an answer to a parenting dilemma it's because there isn't one. Sometimes there's no real solution and you just have to wait it out. Take sleep, for example. Or eating. Or potty training. You can ask your fellow parents for their sage advice. You can read parenting manuals. You can ask your pediatrician. But after you've tried try every trick in the book and you're still not making any progress, it's time to admit defeat. If the milestone isn't coming easily, then your child isn't ready. I've found that if I give up and let my child lead the way, things will work themselves out without much intervention from me. My advice: Just hold on and enjoy the ride, you'll be on to the next big issue before you know it.

Leave your child alone.
Obviously I don't mean literally, children need adult supervision. I'm talking figuratively. Children learn very quickly from two things: Doing things for themselves, and failure. Neither of those things can happen if you're there, guiding them along all the time. I struggle here because it's hard for me not to share my rich life experience and infinite wisdom. But seriously, following this tenet requires patience. It takes a lot longer for my children to accomplish a task on their own. The hardest part is finding the fortitude to practice staying uninvolved. The heartbreak of watching them fail, especially when some simple advice could have prevented it, is hard to bear, but they probably wouldn't have listened anyway. Inaction really is the best teaching tool in your parenting toolbox.

Monday, July 22, 2013

5 Gorgeous Picture Books for Children

The 5 books that I'm about to recommend not only have beautiful illustrations, they are well written and fun to read to your little one. They also have universal appeal, so boys and girls alike are sure to delight in these tales...

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman
Peter wants only milk, Lucy won't settle for anything but homemade lemonade, and Jack is stuck on applesauce. Each new addition to the Peters household brings a new demand for a special meal. What's a mother to do? Even though Mrs. Peters picks, peels, strains, scrapes, poaches, fries, and kneads, the requests for special foods keep coming. It isn't until her birthday arrives that a present from her children solves the problem with a hilarious surprise that pleases everyone.

The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen
Hwei Min, the only daughter of the emperor of China, has been blind since birth. Her father offers a reward to anyone who can find a cure for the little girl. It seems that no one from magicians to physicians can help her. Then, one day a wise old man with a mysterious seeing stick visits the princess. Will he be able to teach Hwei Min that there is more than one way to see the world?

The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven
A little bird discovers why a lion's tail changes color each day.

Wild Child by Lynn Plourde
In a satisfying tribute to the wonders of nature and family, Mother Earth attempts to put her wild child, Autumn, to bed, but Autumn isn't quite ready.

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
Once upon a time there was an old man and an old woman who were very lonely. They decided to get a cat, but when the old man went out searching, he found not one cat, but millions and billions and trillions of cats! Unable to decide which one would be the best pet, he brought them all home. How the old couple came to have just one cat to call their own is a classic tale that has been loved for generations.

Monday, July 15, 2013

6 Things To Do With Children When There's Nothing To Do

Does anyone else struggle to find ways to entertain their children? (Especially during the loooong summer vacation!) We have a little camp scheduled here and there and find time to visit the library each week. But inevitably we are left with periods of free time that seem to drag on. And on. So I'm sharing my ideas to fill those pockets of time, and I hope you'll share yours in the comments because my pockets can always use a little filling....

Car Wash
There's nothing better than a good old fashioned car wash for hours of good, clean fun. Your little ones will be thoroughly entertained and you'll get a shiny, sparkling car out of the deal. It's a win-win!

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Obviously the recipes of choice are always dessert. There are plenty of healthy dessert options out there, but you can employ your little ones' culinary talents at dinner time if dessert is off the table.

Go beyond crayons. Build with playdough, paint a masterpiece, create with popsicle sticks or pipe cleaners, sculpt with shaving cream. Scan Pinterest for great craft ideas.

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A world of fantasy is always a great escape from boredom. If you're children are too young to read to themselves or they just aren't that into reading on their own, read with them. If you're on a road trip, there's nothing like a book on CD to magically create an atmosphere of quiet.

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Board Games & Puzzles
I'm not a huge fan of puzzles, but some claim they're meditative. Board games or card games are a fun way to pass the time. Hopscotch is always a winner. If you don't have a game that speaks to you on a given day, create your own!

Our own creation - a "Zoo Game"

What is it about bubbles? They mesmerize, they delight. They're beautiful, ethereal, and even a little magical. Even a brand new bottle costs very little, but you can make your own bubble solution and fashion bubble wands out of wire coat hangers. 

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Why I love My Daughter's Best Friends

C & my daughter, friends from the start.
Each of my daughter's friends is unique and has her own strengths and funny little quirks. I am grateful to them all for the lessons they have taught my daughter and for the confidence she has gained through each relationship. Her best friends are especially precious because they provide a safe place for her to practice the social skills we all endeavor to master, from sharing our toys to sharing our hopes and dreams.

Lifelong Friends
I've known C almost as long as I've known my daughter. The two girls met when they were not quite three years old, and today we are neighbors. The two of them are like sisters. I have watched them grow over the years. They are opposites in many ways. Physically, they are on extreme ends of the growth charts - C is small, my daughter is tall. Their dispositions are also opposite: My daughter is reserved and measured, C is boisterous and wild. But they both love magic and animals and climbing trees. They are the best of friends, and I know C will always have a special place in my daughter's heart. C has helped my daughter revel in her own silliness. Most importantly, C is such a close friend that my child feels comfortable speaking her mind, which isn't always easy for a people-pleaser like my daughter.

Kindred Spirits
J & my daughter making pancakes after a sleepover.
Have you ever had a friend who you don't see often, but when you do it's like you've never been apart? J is that friend for my daughter. She moved away a couple of years ago but comes back to visit every so often. The girls are truly kindred spirits. They are similar outside and in. Their mutually reserved personalities create an even playing field. Both girls are smart and creative and never get bored when they are together. Whether they're washing the car or inventing a new board game, they are a pleasure to watch. My daughter can be self-conscious when she's away from the comforts of home. I love seeing her be herself with this person she rarely sees. I am grateful to J for showing my daughter what it feels like to be comfortable with being yourself, even in the face of the unfamiliar.

My daughter is still young, so I'm able to influence whom she chooses to befriend. I know the day will come when she'll be solely in charge of those choices. I am hopeful that these early friendships will help establish a good foundation for my daughter's future relationships. One thing I do know: Spending her time with these special little girls is a gift.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why You Shouldn't Edit Yourself

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Like so many in my circle, I'm a conscientious parent. I do my best to keep informed about parenting. I read up on homework studies (and homework, it turns out, is a pretty pointless exercise perpetuated by parental pressure, by the way). I keep abreast of recommendations by educators who say that play and recess are essential components of learning. I even educate myself about ideas other parents have on child rearing, and as you might expect, it turns out there are many opinions out there. In the midst of this information bonanza, there's one thing that raises my hackles.

When I see posts on what you should or shouldn't say to your child, feelings of exasperation inevitably arise within me:
  • Six Ways to Praise Without Saying "Good Job"

  • Why You Shouldn't Tell Your Daughter She's Beautiful

  • How to Say No Without Saying No

Isn't being a parent confusing enough? Now we have to self-monitor our otherwise natural interactions with our children? Edit every word that escapes our lips? Enough, I say! I refuse to be pressured into limiting my own free speech. I will say "good job" to my preschooler when it seems appropriate (even if it's every day). I will tell my daughter that she's smart and strong and tenacious, but I will also tell her how beautiful she is, because she is! And I will say no. A lot. Because my children, like all children, push boundaries and need to know their limits, and let's face it: Sometimes "no" is the quickest way to communicate.

New ideas are what keep us evolving as parents, so is there value to these posts that shame us for using words that spring from love? The authors seem well intended. They're only trying to help us become better parents, but I think we need to trust ourselves more as parents. Our instincts are a powerful and undervalued tool! We are a thoughtful and loving bunch, so how can our well meaning words be so bad? We should feel empowered to use praise at will and set limits without having to hire a speech writer.

So I don't know about you, but I'm standing by my own instincts. They've served me well so far. I have two beautiful children who (usually) stop when I say no and (almost) always do a very good job.

Friday, June 21, 2013

4 Free Toys Every Child Needs

The last few weeks, I've explored both heirloom toys and toys of a less fancy ilk. Today I'm touching upon a fun topic: Toys that are absolutely, unequivocally free! And these may be the best ones of all....

Who needs a play structure when you have a tree? Trees are way cooler. The challenge of climbing is a built in reward. There are infinite ways to climb, so it's less likely to get boring. And it's a natural habitat, so there's always something new happening - a new animal building its nest, a seasonal change with the leaves. Trees are beautiful, awesome, and tons of fun.

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Cardboard Box
With each new box comes a new world of possibilities. Cut new holes in it. Color it. Paint it. Will it be a stage for a puppet show? A dollhouse? A racetrack? Anything goes!

Toilet Paper Tubes
There are so many ways to use a toilet paper tube. Make them into puppets, a car, or use them to plant seedlings. Here's a great tutorial with more interesting ideas.

Mud is nature's playdough. It's a critical ingredient in everything from mud pies to magical potions. Not necessarily a parent's favorite thanks to its messy tendencies, but definitely ranks up there for kids. Luckily, children are washable.

Are there any free toys you'd add to the list?

Friday, June 14, 2013

5 Economical Must-Have Toys

In my last post I explored heirloom toys. I would be remiss if I didn't add a few other, more economical choices to the list. Even though these toys tend to be less aesthetically pleasing, they are loads of fun for little ones and deserve a place in your toy chest.

1. AquaDoodle
If you don't like the mess of paint in your house, this is a great alternative. All you need is water! For some reason children love this exercise, and it's perfect for a rainy day. I do recommend investing in a few more Aquadoodle accessories to avoid the inevitable argument over those darned pens.

2. A Playdough Kit
Whether you make your own or buy it from the store, it's one of the least expensive and most versatile toys you can offer your little ones. Having a few molding, shaping, and cutting tools on hand is essential. Here plastic is king because it's so simple to throw into the dishwasher to easily clean off all the muck. 

3. Doodle Pad
Again, this is a great tool for minimizing mess. It also is great on the go. The stampers and the stylus can hold the attention of both younger and older children.


4. Legos
Who doesn't love Legos? The only bad thing about them is stepping on them. But look at the bright side: They can double as home security if you place a few in front of your door. Other than that one small, they are hours of fun. I recommend starting with the big blocks for younger children.


5.  Art Supplies
You'll probably go through a ton of these, but they are crucial to any household with children. Be sure your kit includes scissors, markers, crayons, colored pencils, and of course, paint.

Friday, June 7, 2013

6 Heirloom Toys You Can't Do Without

Anyone who's been to my house can tell you what a sucker I am for heirloom toys. They're like little works of art designed to make everyone happy. It's true, they can get pricey, but sometimes it's worth spending a little more to get something solid that will last. (It's kind of like splurging on a great pair of blue jeans rather than a dress you can wear once a year.)

I've narrowed down the list to the toys that are worth the extra expense. While you're browsing through it, keep an open mind about "girls' toys" versus "boys' toys." I say there's no such thing!

I hope you enjoy this list of some of our household favorites (in no particular order)...

1. Lincoln Logs
Admit it: you played "Little House on the Prairie" with these. They're so versatile. Build a city or one big log-mansion.

2. Dollhouse
A great dollhouse is fun for any child - don't rule it out for a boy. (Although I think a classic dollhouse would be perfectly fine, there are also "boys'dollhouses available.) Oh! And don't forget to invest in a good how-to build your own dollhouse furniture book.

3. Blocks
Every children's toy chest needs a good set of blocks. Personally, I like the plain wooden variety. But if you want to jazz them up, paint them in chalkboard paint. Then your little ones can enjoy drawing all kinds of fun designs on them that can vary with the game of the day.

4. Knitting & Sewing Kit
Every child should learn how to sew and knit. (For the how-to aspect, you can invest in a good book, or there are plenty of free tutorials on YouTube.) It's such a fabulous life skill. It exercises fine motor development, critical thinking and problem solving, and even math! There are several methods of knitting - finger knitting is great for beginners. After that, move on to a French Knitting spool, and finally knitting with needles. This kit includes it all.

5. Marble Run
Encourage your little engineer with one of these sets. The possibilities are endless, so each playtime offers a fresh take on the same toy.

6. Easel
A beautiful easel is such a great tool. Be sure you invest in one that is dual sided with both a dry erase and chalkboard. Storage is good to have for art supplies, and a place for a roll of paper is nice to have too.