The first time I did it was months ago, when my beloved child was not contributing at all to the smooth-functioning of our household. Instead of doing his allocated chores, he spent his time and energy on playing x-box on our t.v.
When he went off to school one morning, I grabbed his x-box remote and put it away.
I can’t remember whether it was intentional or not. But after I put it away, I forgot where I put it.
Sometimes I’m blessed with a terrible memory.
To say that for a while I was not a popular mum would be the understatement of the year. However, I do remember telling him that, perhaps, if he did his chores, I might be prompted to remember.
Weeks went past.
Everyone in our house has their own chores to do. Everyone else had already taken on his job of feeding the dog.
Shelby the dog was a bundle of white fluff that you couldn’t actually see on her. Chris used to say that she shed more fluff than she could possibly produce. In the ensuing weeks white fluff carpeted the rugs, the floors and every surface in the house.
It was disgusting.
But we were at an impasse.
Stubborn mum refused to look for the remote until his jobs were done. And refused to do his jobs despite living in dog-fluff circumstances.
Son demonstrated that he can be equally stubborn. He inherited a double-dose of stubborn, with an added pinch of passive resistance.
Possibly prompted by an imminent houseful of guests I decided that, regardless of my intentions to stick to my guns, I needed to do the vacuuming. I went to the cupboard in the laundry, picked up the vacuum-cleaner…and there, behind the vacuum-cleaner, was the hidden remote.
I didn’t need to do the vacuuming that day.
I simply went to find the offending son and explained that I’d suddenly remembered where his treasure was. If he did his chores I could make sure they were reunited.
He looked at me with that look that asks ‘Should I believe you?’.
I walked away.
A few moments later, I heard chuckling coming from the laundry.
‘Fair call, mum. Fair call. I deserved that. That was well done.’
Phew! Not quite the reaction I anticipated. But it reaffirmed to me that logical consequences and ‘assisting’ our kids to take responsibility for their actions works – at least it did, that time.
I wonder if he’ll know where to look when he’s looking for his missing computer…
Focus on your priorities, they say.
Clear your desk.
Concentrate on writing whatever comes into your mind.
My pen is poised for a fraction of a second and…
The phone rings.
It’s Mum. Mum has been neglected somewhat since we left for our month long holiday. She joined us halfway for a couple of days. But I haven’t spent much time with her since then.
‘I have an appointment with the doctor. I’ll see you afterwards,’ she says. Then turns up on my doorstep with a relatively clean bill of health, but a need for some loving.
‘Let’s go out for lunch’, I suggest. Lunch extends into an afternoon of shopping. With a new grandchild / niece / nephew due in the next few weeks, we have new and interesting shops and departments to check out.
She leaves at 5 p.m.
‘I don’t know how to make mashed potatoes,’ says No. 4 child who is rostered to cook dinner. Mashed potatoes might be on the menu but life is on his mind. He needs some loving.
Husband arrives home. He needs some loving. The Olympics give us an excuse to snuggle on the couch – until my eyes demand to be closed.
I climb into bed – with no words written.
The next morning arrives.
SMS from No. 1 child.
‘Do you have time for a mum-chat?’
Fifty-two minutes later, she smiles through the phone and says that she always knows I’ll help her get grounded and put life back into perspective. Thanks Mum.
I grab a cup of coffee and head to my office.
Phone rings. I do all I can to answer politely.
It’s my sister – the one who’s about to present my new niece/nephew within the next few weeks.
‘Soothe that belly. Try some ginger’, I say, trying to reassure her. She needs some loving. And I enjoy a chat that I’ve forgotten we can do at waking hours now that she’s back in the country. Gotta get used to that.
43 minutes later, she decides she’d better do some housework.
I go to wash my coffee cup and No. 3 child returns from her morning classes. I ask how they went, and she smiles for the first time for weeks. ‘Great!’ I say and turn in the direction of my desk.
Okay if we sort out the Centrelink stuff? she asks. She needs much more than loving. She needs an income, and someone who is much more practiced at handling people who may or may not enjoy working for the government.
Three hours later I sit at my desk, which I cleared while I was on hold to Centrelink for 37 minutes. And all I can think of is how life as a mum is unpredictable, disrupted, and full of loving.
It doesn’t matter how many motivational speakers, self-appointed leaders, organizational experts or preachers tell me that I’ll never achieve unless I prioritize, life as a full-time wife and mum is exactly that: deciding moment by moment which is my biggest priority.
Some people have told me how talented they think I am, and inside I laugh. The most important lesson I’ve learnt in the process of writing is that practice makes better.
Very occasionally, writing these articles happens easily. I wake up very early in the morning with a thought in my mind, get dressed, grab my glasses and my car keys and head to a coffee shop, and voila, 40 minutes later an article is born. But more often, they are a slog—an enjoyable slog.
I became a writer quite accidentally … well, so I thought, until I took a look back at how it happened.
Our little family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when our children were four, two and not quite one. Even before we were married we’d planned to move overseas for Chris to do post-doctorate research. We figured that I would be stuck at home with little kids during this time, so it didn’t really matter where we were.
But we had no idea how homesick I would be, being so far away from everybody we knew. It was before the age of computers in homes. These days I can communicate with my sister in the UK using Skype or Facebook.
In Memphis, I wrote letters. Ten pages of letters per day, every day. And in the process of writing letters,
I learnt to write.
My mother kept all the letters I wrote to her and presented them to me in a large folder only last year. The letters stopped after about 18 months, by which time we’d settled into the Memphis community and I was no longer so homesick.
After we came back to Australia, moved houses, had another baby and settled all the kids into school, I went to university and learnt more about writing … and word limits. Writing essay after essay helped me to learn to be more concise, and reading article after article, book after book, I learnt to be more discerning about styles and word choices.
‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’
Being surrounded by toddlers in my work reminds me of their persistence. Toddlers are determined to get to where they want to go. They get up and fall down, and get up … and fall down. They keep getting up, over, and over and over again. I’m sure that whoever it was who said ‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’ had been watching a bunch of babies.
Younger children just want to learn and keep doing, over and over and over again. They don’t seem to care how well they do anything. They just keep at it
But as children get to school age, that determined endeavour seems to disappear in some of them.
Children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something
Chris and I attended an excellent ‘Family Wellness’ course a number of years ago. The kids were dragged along for a couple of sessions, too. A key idea of the course was that children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something.
With a new perspective from the course, I looked at the people I knew who were confident and accomplished in what they did. Whether they were artists, engineers, architects, cooks, farmers or athletes, every one of them had worked hard to be where they are now. Talent had very little to do with their success.
Skyscrapers, bridges, planes and ships are not designed by people who suddenly decide to build them. Great buildings begin with wooden blocks, Lego, meccano and piles of sand being moved from one spot to another. Great artworks begin with painting dots and squiggles, and experimentations with shade and light, correction and starting from scratch, over and over again.
Admittedly, some people are born to be more athletic or musical or artistic than others. But without determined, intentional, frequent practice, people do not become great at something.
Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes
I recently heard an interview on the ABC with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the world-famous singer. She said,
‘You never stop learning … The moment you think you can’t learn anymore, I think you’re dead. Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes … If I did two hours a day on vocalese, seven days a week, it would never be enough. Think of the tennis player. How many times has he hit that little ball? It’s a lifestyle, not a job.’
So, armed with our new perspective on parenting 5–12-year-olds, Chris and I looked at our parenting. We were familiar with our kids beginning new ventures: joining a basketball team, learning a musical instrument, playing a game.
They were eager starters.
Everything was new and interesting.
For a while the practice was a novelty, but soon it became a drag with its repetition. Being part of a team was fun, but it also became tiresome when it required early morning starts or missing out on parties or fishing trips.
With our new perspective we began to help them to ‘hang in there!’ We explained the plateau that happens when you learn something new: You learn eagerly and quickly for a while, but then you don’t seem to get any better; the kids in the team won’t throw to you because you keep dropping the ball; the clarinet refuses to give you that particular note and it squeaks precisely when you are trying your hardest; you keep coming ‘second’ every time you play chess.
It’s at the plateau that most people quit.
It’s at the plateau that most people quit. That’s the time that we as parents, coaches and encouragers need to get in there and be the cheer squad.
Forget about ‘constructive criticism’! Research by the Gottman Institute demonstrates that, particularly in children, criticism is not constructive.
Instead, stress the positive:
‘What a great catch! Now, do that again!’
‘See what happens when you do that: It’s strong!’
Describe what you see. Describe how you feel.
Give your children the words to express what they’ve done.
Encourage positive steps and celebrate small successes as well as big ones.
Every positive effort is a success, regardless of its outcome.
A few years ago I was part of a school chaplains’ meeting. One of the chaplains shared a story about a teenager who was constantly in trouble with the police. He kept breaking into cars and stealing them.
When the teenager was asked by the chaplain, ‘Why do you do it?’, his reply was,
‘I just want to be good at something, and that’s all I know’.
Everybody needs to get good at something.
Everybody needs to get good at something. Natural talent and ability play only a small part in a person’s success. For each of us, in everything we do, practice makes better.
After my day in Kakadu yesterday, where my energy output exceeded my input and my willpower, I decided to give the others (Chris and Gabby) a day off. I volunteered to stay behind at our camping ground at Cooinda in Kakadu, while they went to Gumlom Falls, unheeded by me.
Good call, apparently.
That allowed my companions freedom to drive on bumpy roads, climb and swim while I had a personal retreat day.
My challenge: to be still and to simply be.
The car drove off with them in it, only a few moments before I realized I’d left my hat in the boot. That just meant that I must stay in the shade all day.
Aah…but…Chris had left his glasses in the tent.
So, very soon, the wanderers returned, we swapped the pair of glasses for my hat and they departed. Again.
Under the shade of my hat, I gathered my tools together; books, paper, pens, paints, plates, cups, drink, kleenex, esky, hand-bag. And I wandered through the park to find a shady table and bench.
As I strolled past the bistro directly between our tent and the pool, I noticed the queue of between 50 and 60 people lining up for breakfast.
I congratulated myself on our choice to camp, and took a photo to remind myself that camping is a good idea, for the next time I felt that I might prefer a few more luxuries than a tent and a camp-stretcher.
I wandered through the shaded area just beyond the perimeter of the pool fence, found the perfect spot, set out the tools of my trade and began to sit quietly.
Except for the buzz of mosquitoes…
S l o w . . . m o s q u i t o e s…
Julie: Five in one swoop
Then… the mozzies I missed called for reinforcements.
And I remembered the one tool I’d left at the tent…
. . . Insect repellent.
Dilemma 1: Do I need to pack up everything in order to return to the camp-site to retrieve the insect repellent?
I continued to sit for about three seconds, thinking I might be able to sit it out… until more of the mozzie-army invaded.
Julie: Nil – and 53 Mozzie bites.
Decided to leave most things as they were, but just take things of value with me.
Then sprinted (in a Julie-style-sprint) laden with my hand-bag, esky and books, across the park to pick up insect repellent, and Tea Tree Oil for the mozzies which had already got me.
Note to self: Always carry Tea Tree Oil.
Great for Mozzie bites, wasp stings, burns, infections: And especially soothing for bites from bugs that hitch a ride in your trousers while you’re on guided walks around the base of Uluru, and bite when they want to get out.
I returned to my spot.
And I sat.
And I wrote.
Dilemma 2: I get bored easily
Before I knew it, I was up and looking for some distraction. Any distraction.
Usually it’s food.
Today, I got frustrated with myself, knowing that at last I was all set up and had actually written something, yet I needed to wriggle.
I look at my phoned and jumped for joy that I’d been writing without distraction for eighty-three minutes. I got up, wriggled a little bit, and sat down again.
I deemed that I’d earned a coffee break…
The bistro-brekky-bunch had subsided. So I ordered a long-black coffee with soy milk on the side, sat at a bistro bench and sipped while I observed the people around me. But the patrons seemed intent on being peculiarly uninteresting. And the barramundi burger was less than inspiring: Not sure how the cook did that.
I returned to my reclusive table outside of the pool, right next to the playground. where a dad and his three little girls played together for the next hour.
I sat and I sat and I sat. And listened and smiled and wrote and remembered why I wanted to write to inspire parents. The little family was so full of happiness – enjoying each others’ discoveries, helping but not interrupting, encouraging but not demanding, allowing exploration without initiating fear. I wished I could bottle that love and spread it onto pages.
The afternoon grew warmer – and I edged closer to the pool, found a deck-chair and nestled in. Several families moved in close around me. I wondered if they knew they’d be observed.
A mum nearby read several new books to her children. Then she decided to read a book to herself while the three children shared TWO books.
Of course it was Little Mister Three who missed out. And everyone in the whole resort heard about it.
I love to keep bubbles in my hand-bag for such occasions. But with all the travelling we’d done, bubbles had not been on my list of what to pack.
But, as a writer and experimental painter/drawer, I had paper and pencils. So I wandered over to the family.
‘Excuse me, I’m trying to write a book and I need some pictures. Is there anyone here who might like to draw a picture?’
Mister Three’s eyes popped open. He jumped up and shouted.
‘I can. I can.’
Big brother and sister wanted to as well, but the mum said,
‘No, he was first’, so I left Mister Three with my pencil and some paper and went back to my deck-chair.
A few minutes later, little Mister Three was at the foot of my chair.
He held up his picture for me to admire and told me all about it, that his name was Jack, and that he was having a great holiday. And could he do some more, please.
My afternoon progressed with meeting other families who came to enjoy the pool. I talked with mums and dads and kids and aunties. We talked about where we were from, where we were going, places we recommend, things we’d seen, what we’d learnt along the way, and shared any news we’d heard.
‘Do we have a Prime Minister yet?’ I asked a dad, who had grown up in the town next to where I’d grown up.
But while we were talking, my grown-ups returned from their trip, excited at what they’d done, and not-so-secretly thankful that I hadn’t gone with them.
A great day of climbing and swimming for them.
And a day that reminded me of my vocation.
We’re home again. Arrived at the airport at lunch time Thursday with peace in our hearts and minds and only a little anxiety at how things would be at our house.
This morning, I’ve spent my first few hours checking out some photos, my journal, and planning for where to begin this next phase of our lives.
In my journal I was reminded about a sermon I heard while we were away, by Casey Treat. A phrase he said hit home to me and has been playing in my mind ever since. He said that some miracles are spontaneous and have instant effects.
‘But most times’, he said, ‘you’ve got to walk into your miracle every day’.
When we began our trek around the beautiful Northern Territory, I was unfit and felt sorry for myself. For the past couple of weeks, my mind has replayed ‘You’ve got to walk into your miracle everyday!’ Walking into my miracle has worn out my new shoes and given me a new attitude.
My husband heard the same sermon. Before the sermon he encouraged me up and over and through King’s Canyon. He sat with me when I conked out on the way to the Mirray lookout at Kakadu, and helped me get to the top…eventually.
He taught me about where to place my feet, to take the smallest steps possible to conserve energy. He held my water bottle and my camera. And held my hand when I was scared.
Since the sermon he’s been encouraging me to ‘walk into my miracle everyday’, pointing out my progress.
I need to add here that the kids were almost placing bets as to whether we would come back liking each other more, or ready to throw each other off a cliff. I think they’re happy.
We’ve had lots of coffee. We’ve eaten lots of camp food and many take-aways, especially if there were markets available. We’ve even helped to cater for several meals for 80! We’ve spent time with our daughter and some dear friends, and made new ones.
We’ve laughed a lot. We’ve talked a lot. We’ve held hands a lot and learnt more about each other. We’ve also realized how much we’ve rubbed off on each other over the past 28 years. The past month has refreshed our relationship–another miracle we’ve walked into every day.
Now we’re home again and I guess there’s the temptation to get back into the same life we left a month ago: which would seem to destroy the purpose of having ever left.
My hope is that the good things will continue – spending time together, less television and news interrupting our day, our increased communication with each other.
But what I’ve learnt during this trip is that hoping to do well in anything doesn’t bring the miracles. It’s walking into those miracles everyday that makes the difference.
It doesn’t matter where we walk. What does matter is that we consciously and intentionally continue to walk into the miracle of a great relationship, together. And wherever we are will be home.
The Sunday school we belonged to in America ran a family day at the local roller-skating rink. So, our family joined in, as usual.
I had just settled into my viewer’s chair when I heard that the races were about to start.
‘OK,’ I thought. ‘This will be fun.’
Then… I saw him.
My son. The four year old with the blonde hair, cheeky grin and eyes that spelt mischief. Jesse, who had his mother wrapped around his little finger.
As I screamed, I felt a very firm but gentle hand grasp my leg. I turned to see Miss Irene the Sunday School director seated next to me. Her hand held my leg and she screamed much more loudly than me
Jesse did not win the race…in fact, he probably spent more time down on his tail than up on his skates. He finished – not shamed, as he would have if he’d listened to me and stopped, but triumphantly, with several hundred people cheering him on.
What a lesson in encouragement.
How many opportunities do we take to encourage others – especially when they are trying something new, or are struggling in their attempts?
As Aussies, our culture tends to knock people who try – and especially those who don’t excel. Even worse, is that we often use sarcasm against others in attempts to make humour. Especially in children, we refer to this as “teasing”. Perhaps we could begin a new culture shift, encouraging instead of telling people ‘Don’t’ or ‘You can’t’.
Encourage one another and build each other up
When babies begin to explore, we can make sure they are in a safe but interesting environment that encourages them to explore – not a sterile one that does not enable them to learn, or one that’s full of breakable objects or things that might hurt them.
When toddlers recognise pictures and symbols we can encourage them with ‘great reading’
When a child runs, skips, jumps or hops, encourage them with ‘Great job!’ instead of ‘Don’t do that… you’ll fall.’
When a child makes a mess in the middle of showing independence, we can coach instead of scold
When a teenager shows interest in taking more initiative we can encourage and give them more responsibility and freedom
When musicians play, we can encourage – and offer help with administration, or babysitters during practice or performances
When pastors preach and speakers teach, we can let them know what we learnt through them
When the neighbourhood kids are rowdy, we can encourage them with a smile and a wave
When our footy team is struggling, we can cheer them on, rather than leave at three-quarter-time
What would happen in Australian homes, schools, churches and workplaces if Aussies chose to encourage, rather than discourage or tease?
What can you do to encourage somebody today?
There are reminders of Shelby all around the house. The irony is that the things I miss the most are the things that most annoyed me:
The blonde fluff everywhere. Her dad used to say ‘She sheds more fluff than she can produce’.
The snoring over the volume of her dad.
The clip of her toenails on the floor in the middle of the night.
The yelping, signalling she wanted to go outside, and inside and outside and inside and…you get the picture.
Her determination to join and oversee every project I ever undertook – finding a comfortable throne in the middle of it.
I put my dinner on the coffee table two nights ago – when I was alone to eat it by myself in front of the telly. I put it in the middle of the table so she couldn’t get it. If we forgot to feed her, then nothing stopped her from climbing onto the lounge-chair, straddling the chasm between seat and table, and eating whatever was there.
Then I realized, I can put my food on the floor now, and it will stay intact.
No-doggy to lick the plates clean.
No clicking of her paws as she climbed into the electric fry-pan on the floor.
No spaghetti-stained fur on the top of her head after she’d dug into a big pot and tipped it over so she didn’t miss one lick.
No snuffly noises as she tried to investigate who was on the other side of the door.
The garden won’t be sat on or dug up anymore.
It doesn’t matter if the gas-man leaves the gate ajar.
And no-doggy to sit at the side of the bed or chair alerting me that someone needs more loving than usual.
I’ve never had a dog before so I’ve never lost one either.
But I wish it hadn’t taken me until she was gone to realize how much she taught me.
It was the day before our daughter Gabby’s 21st birthday party. Unfortunately, the timing of the party coincided with a busy time at work, and I was really stressed. For the second time in a few short minutes my husband Chris was the focus of my irritation.
Gabby, who was just passing by, looked at me, put on her child-care voice and asked, ‘Have you got your grumpy pants on?’
In a few words she had summed up the situation, acknowledged my feelings and given me a different way of looking at the situation. Instead of accusing or shaming, she’d pointed out my undesirable behaviour but had not personalised it.
It could have sounded much different.
‘Don’t say that, Mum! You’re always having a go at Dad! He’s done nothing wrong. It’s about time you acknowledged your attitude and took more control over what you say!’
It’s funny how a few words can completely change the atmosphere. They can poison the mood, or sweeten and brighten it.
Gabby’s words absolutely brightened it.
I was able to smile and recognise that Chris was not the cause of my grumps. He was able to smile and forgive me.
And we were able to get on with spending our time more productively and again enjoy each other’s company.
Before we were married Chris and I were given some very practical and useful words of advice:
‘Avoid two phrases: You always … and You never …
That advice has been very helpful and we’ll never know how many times it has saved us from having horrible, blaming arguments.
Fighting words or Friendly words
Since then we’ve learned about ‘fighting words’ and ‘friendly words’.
Friendly words have become more of a habit in our home than they used to be. For years now we’ve been practising how to use encouraging (friendly) words to build each other up rather than discouraging (fighting) words that tear each other down. I’m not saying that we’re perfect, but it’s quite amazing how choosing words (or choosing not to say something) can completely change a home’s atmosphere.
I don’t think we realised what a difference it made until our kids grew into teenagers and began to bring their friends home. It was their friends who pointed out what was different about our house.
‘I wish my parents would speak to me like that. They just nag or yell, or worse, they won’t speak to me’.
Does nagging happen in our house? Sure does!
Are we perfect? Sure aren’t.
But we’ve tried some techniques that others have recommended. And when new things work we’re happy to keep using them.
We’re also happy to recognise that what works in somebody else’s house might not necessarily work in ours.
John and Julie Gottman, through The Gottman Institute, have been studying what they call, ‘The Masters and Disasters of Relationships’ for decades. They have observed thousands of couples over many years and have identified the common important factors that make a relationship successful.
Pretty much it boils down to the way couples speak to each other and the way they fight that determines whether or not a relationship will be successful. Couples can learn to apply these factors to their relationship and improve its quality. Learning different ways of speaking to each other and replacing negative criticism and complaining with positive words and interactions can really change a whole relationship.
Unfortunately, for some of us, we’ve grown up accepting that teasing, criticism and complaining are a part of life. We are so used to nagging or yelling, whining and complaining that we think that is how it must be. I’ve seen many families change (ours’ included) when they’ve been prepared to learn some new language and tactics.
I’ve seen many families take this on board and begin new dialogue and create a different atmosphere in their homes. Focus this week on how many times you say ‘Don’t!’ and you might be surprised, especially if you struggle with kids (or adults) who don’t listen.
Maybe they are good listeners but are waiting for positive instruction.
Turn your words around into positive instructions and let the kids be the problem-solvers as much as possible.
Who knows, your kids might be the ones who turn to their grumpy parent to say,
Question 3: How do you balance your time between being a wife/partner and a mother so that no-one feels they miss out? What about when you have more than one child?
I used to think that I should spend lots of quality time with my husband and each of my kids. It drove the family mad and I nearly went nuts – not to mention, never had time to do anything else – such as housework (Well, that’s today’s excuse).
I discovered that everyone gives and receives Love in different languages. In other words, we connect with each other in different ways. Gary Chapman has identified these as Quality Time, Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Touch, and Gifts.
My preferred method of connection is to spend quality time with someone, or, in their absence, make them something or spend lots of time thinking about them. I even go shopping for hours by myself in order to find the perfect gift for them, just to spend quality time with them, even though they’re not with me, and sometimes I don’t purchase anything.
However, my husband does things to show me he loves me; the housework, cooking, gardening and fixing things. My daughter writes letters and notes. My son gives gifts…to everyone. My other daughter loves to be hugged. And our youngest? We haven’t quite figured that one out yet – probably because with the five love languages covered in our house, he is never lacking in any of them.
Diagnosis: A waste of time?
I used to go around and ‘diagnose’ everyone else’s love language. That wasn’t particularly conducive to relationship building.
Then someone reminded me that we generally operate in our own love language. However, if we consciously operate in all five, we can cover all bases, and it conserves our time and effort. It means that as mothers, we need not spread ourselves so thinly that someone misses out. And we don’t need to miss out on being able to top up our own energy tank.
For example, in preparing a meal in the evening I can incorporate all five love languages; I do something in service for my husband, I can spend time with whomever is in the kitchen, give a meal to my son, have a hug with my daughter or give her a back rub while something’s cooking, and use encouraging words to my other daughter. All bases covered: Everyone feeling loved in their own language, without requiring five times the amount of energy from me.
There’s also a great question that I was taught and I’ve asked,