Monthly Archives: March 2007

Progress on the attic and new learning experiences…

I’ve been busy this week looking into local high school options for ds13 for the coming year (private schools – the local public schools are some of the worst in the country), wanting to know what the options were without summarily dismissing them in favor of homeschooling. After all of my research, homeschooling has never looked better! It’s taken a good amount of time and emotional energy, but I feel even more committed to educating our children at home after considering all of the input and feedback with an open mind.

On the home front, after two weeks of dh not really working on our attic, I realized he was very understandably feeling a bit overwhelmed at how much work there was to do, especially in light of how little time he had at home to do it in. I was planning to do a bunch of work, too, but was waiting for him to finish some preliminary things that needed to be done before I could do my part. To take the pressure off of my wonderful husband, I asked my ds13 if he felt comfortable doing some of the work, to which he agreed.

I really think teenagers need and appreciate meaningful outlets for their energies, and this project has been very satisfying and gratifying for my son. He can really see a visible difference before and after he does work, and he knows what a huge help it is to dh and I that he’s getting so involved. I just wanted ds to hang some drywall, but he went well beyond that. After drywalling the knee wall on one side of the attic, he decided to frame the inner concrete wall himself, which was more complicated than a typical wall framing project because of the slant of the roof on each side. Then he went on to begin hanging dry wall on that same wall, which also was a lot more work because of the drywall needing to be cut at an exact slant to fit the interior roofline. And, it’s right next to the stairs so he had to build a kind of scaffold with dh so he would have a place to get the footing for sufficient leverage to drill. The attic is actually beginning to look like it will be a really nice living space – reality is starting to show glimpses of matching the vision in my mind’s eye. I can really see the light at the end of the tunnel. The plumbing and electric work for the bathroom has been done, so a lot of that work is in place. We need to build a custom shower stall, cover all the walls, lay a tile floor, and put the door in for the bathroom, and then the plumber will be back to put in the fixtures, and the electricians will be back to put in the light and venting fan. Though there’s still lots of work to do, both for the bathroom and the attic itself, it’s exciting to see it all come together.

Well, after working together with dh most of Friday on the attic, they were both ready for a break, when we discovered the sewer main had backed up and the contents of my garbage disposal from the kitchen sink were coming up in my utility sink in the basement. We quickly called the plumber, who told us to call a sewer service. Unfortunately, it was 5:30 and they were closed, so there was no help on that end. Feeling a very real sense of urgency and not having any professionals available to come out and take care of it, dh ran out to Home Depot (which is beginning to feel like our second home) and rented an electric snake. He did a fantastic job of snaking out the sewer line (there’s a first time for everything – the joys of home ownership!), and took a quick shower while ds put the pipes back together.

Then in the middle of the night, I woke up to the sounds of crying, and found my two middle sons throwing up. My dds (10 and 12) were taking care of them, and said they hadn’t wanted to wake me up, but fortunately I heard them anyway. There must be a virus going around, since the baby was sick on Thursday and Friday, also the same kinds of symptoms – lethargy and vomiting. The 4 yo seemed to be feeling fine when he woke up, but ds8 still isn’t over it. I hope in the morning when he wakes up it will have worked its way out of his system.

Our guests today were wonderful, just filled with a positive energy and upbeat attitude that I especially love and appreciate. I had considered canceling when we had the sewer main problem because I wasn’t sure what the state of the house would be like, but I’m so glad I didn’t, especially since we made plans with them over a month ago. They are a couple in their sixties, and we had a marvelous lunch conversation that went on for three hours and spanned a wide variety of topics. The older three kids were all interested in the conversation, and participated as well, and the younger kids flitted from the table to their games during the meal.

My older two dds started a baking business several weeks ago, and just got a few large orders. It’s really exciting for them, since they didn’t know what kind of response they would get (and there may still be orders that will come in, since customers have until Monday to place their orders). So I’m organizing my time so that the kitchen will be available exclusively for their use for Tues/Weds/Thurs, and then again on Sunday. I feel it’s really a wonderful project that they’ve taken on, and though I won’t do the work for them, and willing to support them in whatever way I can. Basically, this has meant taking them shopping for supplies and to distribute their flyers. I really feel that nothing builds self-confidence like success, and regardless of how much money they make, this has already been a very good experience for them.


Temper tantrums

Tonight I was wondering about what seems to be a commonly held belief, that temper tantrums are an inevitable and integral part of a young child’s life. This isn’t how I view it at all, and isn’t representative of my personal experience as a parent. So I turned to my expert panel for thoughts on this, my kids. :)

At dinner tonight, I asked them how they define temper tantrums, and what they think the cause of them is. They defined tantrums pretty much the way I think most of us would (emotionally and physically escalating to an extreme level to express unhappiness). Their comments on where they think tantrums stem from was quite interesting for me to hear, since this isn’t something we’ve ever discussed.

One child said that he thinks parents let their kids get whatever they want, and then since the child isn’t used to hearing “no”, he reacts with a tantrum when something doesn’t go his way. Another added that she’s seen children who get into the habit of throwing tantrums to get what they want, because their parents don’t respond strongly the first time there’s a tantrum and don’t give a strong message even after the first time. Another comment was that children aren’t taught when they are young how to act and what is acceptable. They also noticed that some kids will act up in public and thought it might be because parents feel too embarrassed to respond to it the way they would at home.

Though I don’t think things are as black and white as my kids, I do agree with a lot of what they said. Part of the issue that wasn’t mentioned, in my opinion, is parental ambivalence that is projected to a child. Because so many parents believe that tantrums are a normal way for a young child to react, they don’t consider that there is anything wrong with it. Yes, they may feel annoyed and irritated, but think it’s a child’s natural reaction to have a tantrum in certain situations (eg, exhaustion, sickness, and one I especially frequently hear, when they don’t have words to express themselves). And if it’s a natural reaction, then it isn’t fair of them to expect anything else.

I think that a parent gets what he expects, in terms of behavior. I have clear expectations of what is allowed in our home, and I expect that our children will respect those standards. (I of course enforce what I expect.) Part of why we’ve never had an issue with tantrums is that I respond to an escalating situation well before it reaches a tantrum stage (eg, I would respond right away to a child saying “no” to my request, or starting to raise his voice or become impatient; those are responses that I feel need correction from the outset).

Additionally, I don’t think teaching standards begins the first time a child has a tantrum. Teaching my children to respect what I say begins at a young age. For example, our baby (who is almost one) doesn’t wiggle around when I change his diaper, and hasn’t wiggled when changed for at least two months. Why? Not because he was spanked any time he budged! Because I firmly said “no” and gently held him in place when he squirmed. This might have taken 3 – 5 times. So he learned that if he wants to check everything out and move all around, he just has to wait a minute or two until I’m finished changing him. As he gets older, he will learn more and more about how to act in various situations, and will be able to consistently anticipate my response to how he behaves.

When a child gradually gets used to listening to his parent in a wide array of situations, he learns what his parent will tolerate and what he won’t. Kids know how to push their limits, and will push those limits! They are very, very good at seeing if we really mean what we say, and they can tell that by how we respond to their actions. When your children get a clear and consistent message from you that tantrums aren’t a reasonable recourse to expressing themselves, their frequency will drastically be cut down.


Extracurricular activities for kids -how much is too much?

A couple of days ago, we went to a large local park late in the afternoon with the kids. Dh told the older kids he would play some baseball with them in one of the fields, which they were all looking forward to. The problem was, they kept having to find new fields to play on, as more and more teams came out to practice, and said they had reserved the field. (All lacrosse teams ? I never had even heard of lacrosse when I was a kid. Since when did that become so popular?) It got me thinking about how these kids were reflective of the trend all over the country, with kids being super busy with scheduled activities, versus lots of time for free play.

When I was a kid and when we went to a park, we ended up playing with other kids there. We had pickup games in our neighborhood when a bunch of kids happened to be outside at the same time, which wasn’t unusual. But nowadays, it’s getting increasingly rare to see kids playing outside; the vast majority of kids have structured activities for after school is over. A kid who wants to have a pickup game with neighbors is a kid who’s going to be waiting a long time!

We all have a tendency to go along with what everyone else is doing, without really thinking about if it’s a good thing or not. And parents just want to do the best thing for their kids. The message nowadays is, kids need all of this structured activity at a very young age to be competitive as they get older, that an early start is a head start. If you don’t put your three year old in ice skating or ballet, the concern is that they will be hopelessly behind when they get to be 10 and there’s no class that’s suitable for their level. I wonder how much parents have thought about the benefit to kids in this approach. Societally we now see so many kids who end up with frantically overcrowded days, rushing from school to extra curricular activities most days of the week. When so many kids need planners to keep track of their social/extra curricular lives, is that a good thing? Does it encourage emotional balance and family togetherness?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s harmful and damaging to kids when we take away their childhoods by scheduling their days so full that most adults would be overwhelmed by it. Kids need time to be bored, time to learn how to fill their own time and entertain themselves. They need the time to relax and let go of the tension of the day, and time to get to be comfortable in their own skin without the constant busy-ness to keep them from knowing themselves. Free time is supposed to be an integral part of being a child (at least in first world countries). There used to be a saying, “Early ripe, early rot”. Precocity wasn’t viewed as a good thing. Now parents strive to outdo each other with who is busier than the next person, whose child is in more activities and has a fuller schedule, and whose child is on a more advanced level than another’s. It’s almost a prestige thing, when you hear moms comparing whose child is doing more. But when are we going to recognize the insanity of this approach, and give our children the time they deserve to just be?


Keeping the house in order – with kids around

“Have you managed to train your kids to keep the house tidy as they go? ”

The house stays in reasonable condition if I stay on top of things and make sure everyone does what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it. The last couple of weeks I’ve been mentally very preoccupied with a business project I’ve been working on, and when I don’t actively manage, things don’t run as well as usual. So things don’t look as good in that scenario as they should.

I don’t spend much time daily on regular cleaning. I aim for a generally orderly home, not spotless, and your standards might be much higher than mine. Usually if someone were to come in to my house, they would find most of the main floor (living room, dining room, kitchen) in process, because those are constantly in use, since that’s where we spend our time all day long.

What I do is the following: morning chores for 15 minutes – this means wiping down the breakfast table and washing dishes for the child whose turn it is, and three times a week the kids do the bathrooms, 2 kids for each bathroom. There is also a quick pickup of the main floor, I usually have my 4 yo or 6 yo sweep all of the main floor. Whoever I feel like nabbing takes out the garbage.

Sporadically, I give them rags and have the younger kids wipe down the walls, which can get grimy over time with fingerprints. I expect them to pick up their bedrooms before they come downstairs in the morning (but honestly, what isn’t regularly inspected isn’t regularly done – so I often send them back up to finish what should have been done earlier:)) Before dinner, I usually have another quick pick up. The kids take turns during the week doing breakfast and dinner dishes (I cook and do lunch dishes, also Saturday and Sunday dishes). I do picking up and putting away through the day, I don’t really schedule that in or think about it – for example, if I see the stove top needs to be wiped down, I just do it. Some people find it more helpful to have schedules for all of the necessary tasks, but I tend to feel overly burdened by lots of schedules.

I don’t do laundry daily. This doesn’t work for me, since it seems there’s always laundry waiting to be put away in that situation. All the laundry is done on Sunday (though often it drags through to Monday if the loads aren’t moved through promptly enough). My two oldest (ds13, dd12) alternate weeks for doing laundry, the younger kids are responsible for bringing the dirty clothes to the basement. I sort the clean stuff into piles (often grabbing a work buddy but just as often not). Then for several hours on Sunday evening, there is a pile of clothes on the couch that steadily grows, and I send each child to their room two or three times with their stuff to put away. (I put it on the couch because I won’t allow it to stay there; the problem with clean laundry is it’s very easy to just shove it to the side and it builds up in clean piles in the spare room.)

When I feel more serious attention is needed to their rooms, on occasional Sunday mornings I gather everyone and tell them we need to get things back in order – I find that things tend to pile up over time. I hate clutter. Hate, hate, hate. I take a garbage bag or two of things to the Goodwill almost every week – yesterday I took four bags. I can’t figure out how I regularly have so many things to pass on, since I’m not an excessive shopper or accumulator in any way. I have seven kids and limited space, and don’t feel I can afford the luxury of keeping things around that aren’t being used, if I want to keep a reasonably tidy house. Cleaning around lots of stuff is just too hard, and there’s plenty of stuff left to clean around even with my constant decluttering. For me, decluttering is an ongoing process.

So to sum up, I spend maybe half an hour daily on home maintenance; what’s most important for me is to use the systems I’ve put into place and remembering that it’s because I have those systems that things run smoothly. Sometimes things seem to just happen on their own, and I forget to give myself credit for creating and maintaining that environment, and then I lapse and don’t do the necessary maintenance. Times like that are actually helpful, though, because it reminds me that the house running smoothly is happening because I’m there to make sure it happens.


Guilt over anger with child

“I find myself yelling at my daughter for little things, and then I feel horrible afterwards.”

Sometimes moms catch themselves reacting in anger to their young child, getting super frustrated with seemingly small things. Then the mom feels guilty because she was overreacting to something so small. Sound familiar?

There’s definitely something more productive a mom can do than feel guilty and continue to regularly enact the same scenario. Instead of rushing to guilt trip herself for overreacting, a mom needs to instead look at the dynamics of the situation. What is her child doing that she is regularly getting upset about? Are there certain circumstances surrounding incidents that may be a factor? For example, are you tired, hungry, in a rush, or feeling pressured by the presence of certain people? My personal worst trigger is when I feel time pressure, and one day I realized that was the real problem, not my kids or whatever they happened to be doing when I got upset. I would overreact when I felt too rushed (and when combined with exhaustion, things weren’t pretty). So I learned to leave myself bigger chunks of time to get things done, leave earlier than I think I need to in order to get places on time, and try to avoid putting myself in time pressured situations if I can avoid it (planning ahead can eliminate many pressures connected with time based situations).

It’s also important to realize that our kids our tuned into our emotions, and when we are feeling pressured and tense, their behavior is always going to be worse. When the situation is being initiated by your bad mood/exhaustion/depression, you need to realize that they are just reacting to you. When you change your attitude for the better, their behavior will seem to miraculously improve.

Once you check for the above, and that’s not the root of the issue, look objectively at your child’s behavior. Lots of times we think that a behavior is minor and tell ourselves it shouldn’t bug us, so we ignore it. The child does it again and again, and each time, it’s bugging us more and more. And eventually, we explode over (seemingly) one little provocation. The mistake here is that you aren’t respecting your feelings about the action in question in the very beginning. That little feeling of irritation is a warning sign for you that something needs to be responded to, not ignored. It’s like your personal geiger counter that senses something that needs correction.

There are things that you won’t be bothered by that other moms would be, and you wouldn’t put any effort into correction, because it’s not a problem for you. And then there are other things that are important to you that other moms would shrug about, but you will want to insist on them, even if for other people it wouldn’t be a big enough to make an issue of. I’m not talking about giving yourself license to be nitpicky and a perfectionist with your child, which is damaging. Rather, I’m referring to the many times that kids act inappropriately, and we think we are being good mothers by continuing to smile and act like they are acting fine, that if we are bothered, it’s our problem, not theirs. (There are also things that every parent should respond to, even if it doesn’t bother them, because to ignore them gives the wrong message, but that’s a post for another time.)

I’ve seen this happen many times. An example that comes to mind is a child who repeatedly interrupts her mother’s conversation, climbs all over her, and makes demands, while the mother is obviously feeling stressed and continues to say loving words even while she’s getting increasingly tense. She felt that it was normal behavior for a four year old. I said something to the mother about it, to the effect that she seemed to be feeling really resentful and uptight about her child’s presence. She told me she honestly finds it very hard to be around her child. Instead of responding to the many things her child did that were legitimately cause for irritation, her solution was to let her child do whatever she wanted without providing appropriate limitations on her behavior. In a case like this, both the mother and child would benefit by the mother being honest with herself about what she wanted to see; her child was picking up on her negative emotions in spite of her nice sounding words.

Behaviors that are problematic should be nipped in the bud. It doesn’t matter how small they are, because if you don’t address them, they are guaranteed to get bigger. That’s the problem with the theory of choosing your battles, and not wanting to make an issue of little things. When we don’t deal with the small things in the beginning, they escalate to become big things. Then we explode over seemingly superficial incidents, and don’t understand where the anger is coming from.

This is a really important point, because by dealing with this before we are feeling strong negative emotions, we can calmly respond to our child, they can adjust their behavior, and virtually no time needs to be spent in a negative space. Notice, respond, and get back to spending time doing the good stuff with him or her.