Year 12 Survival Hints for Families

It was past 10.30 pm in the middle of the week. Our daughter was in Term 3 of Year 12. She probably should have been sleeping, but there was a meltdown.

The cause? An essay that needed to be handed in the next day, and an empty page in front of her.  

How many marks do you need to pass?’ I asked her.

‘Well, this is the third part of a three-part assignment. I finished the others weeks ago.’

When we averaged out how much she had already received for the other two sections, we worked out that in order to pass this assignment, she needed to achieve only about 20 per cent: two out of ten.

‘It seems to me that if you put your name and about three sentences on this assignment, you could achieve 2 out of 10. So, anything more than that is a bonus. Do you think you could do that?’

She looked at me, stunned. ‘Are you serious? Would that really be okay with you?’

‘Would that be okay with you is the more important question. If getting fantastic marks is keeping you from finishing, perhaps you need to relax a little and just do it. I reckon you can get 20 per cent. I’m going to bed. Goodnight.’

I went off to bed, but not before I’d received a big hug and saw her contentedly sitting on her bed, typing away on my laptop. Next morning she told me that she had finished in about 40 minutes. And several weeks later, she said, ‘I got my essay back, Mum. I got 86 per cent.’

Somebody has said, ‘When a child does Year 12, the whole family does Year 12.’ We agree!

We’ve now survived four of our kids doing Year 12. Anybody else who’s had a Year 12 in their house probably understands what I mean by ‘survived’. We thought that third time round it should be a breeze. We were wrong. Thankfully, by the fourth child, we’d relaxed somewhat. 

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to get caught up in the storm when our kids are struggling with deadlines and the pressure of Year 12. But what can we do to keep the whole family sane?

Here are some things we’ve learnt.

Try to keep Year 12 in perspective.

Year 12 is one year out of a life-expectancy of 80-plus years. Yes, a great score enables our kids to get into their first choice of university courses. But there are all sorts of detours that they can take to eventually achieve the same goal.

What makes people ultimately employable is not their Year 12 score.  Developing people skills, playing in a sports team or participating in a group, as well as working on stickability, perseverance, creativity and using initiative are attributes every person can achieve, regardless of academic ability.

Keep our own lives balanced.

Only then can we help our teens balance their lives. Help them to see the value of maintaining a balance between the mental, physical, spiritual and social aspects of our lives.

Get to know the teachers at the beginning of the year

and keep in touch with them. Teachers work better with parents who encourage and are interested, and want to work with them.

Let the teachers know your tricks for motivating your child. For example, kids often respond better if you speak their love language: Are words of encouragement their best aid to learning? Do they prefer spending quality time with others in order to get their work done or might they benefit by time alone in the library? Does physical touch such as big bear hugs or rigorous activity help them? Do they learn through doing things for others or really appreciate others doing things for them? Do they respond to rewards and gifts as simple as stickers? (Don’t ask me how I know this!)

Use incentives

Make handing in assignments and essays worthwhile in the student’s eyes—for example: ‘Once you’ve finished that assignment, why don’t we go to that movie you wanted to see’.

Give them the opportunity to see where a good score might take them. Encourage them to speak to other adults in different occupations and explore opportunities for work experience.  University open days can also be inspirational for students who are struggling to see the point of studying. They demonstrate careers that our kids (and we) may never have dreamed of.

Let your young person know you’re interested.

Know their schedule. Get them to post their weekly school schedules and assignment due-dates on a family calendar, or print out a copy of their diary – so that you don’t plan a camping trip the day before an assignment is due. (Don’t ask me how I know this one, either).

Remember that you are the adult

You might need to monitor their time management. Plan rest days or weekends in which nothing is happening. Practise a weekly ‘Sabbath’ with them – that means to consciously have a day of rest – with no homework and a complete break from school-life.

Encourage part-time jobs, but not too much!

Part-time jobs help them to see the bigger picture, learn responsibility and accountability. The teachers at our local school have learnt that those who do well work part-time jobs six hours a week or less.

Be on the same page.

If your child wants to achieve, watch for ways to help.

If your child is hoping just to finish, encourage them to hand in all their assignments.

If your child has no intention of studying, it’s no use nagging—although it may help to give them a reality check if you encourage them to get a job and let them manage their own finances. That way they can find out how tough it is to pay for things on a low wage.

Some things you might try: Keep them supplied with healthy snacks and a walking partner. Sit with them while they study and help underline passages, or copy out charts that they need to learn by rote and post them all over the house (especially in the loo). Be a sounding-board – but remember that any expression of frustration is not a personal attack.

In our home, Year 12’s were exempt from doing the dishes. That was a small way that the rest of the family could let the Year 12 know that we supported them.

Be aware of different learning styles.

Recognise your student’s need for suitable study conditions. Some people need bright light and open areas in order to study, while others need dim light. Some need to have noise around them. One of our children found it useful to go babysitting for friends so that she could study there undisturbed. Mozart has been known to enhance concentration. Other music could be left for relaxation time.

 

Life may be tough during Year 12. The less pressure we apply and the more available we are as parents, the better it will be for the students in our lives. By encouraging our students to keep at it, balancing school life with a healthy lifestyle and maintaining friendships, and not too much computer/screen time, we can create positive memories of Year 12—hopefully for the whole family.

 

Originally published as ‘Year 12 Survival Guide for Parents’ in The Lutheran, 2012 August edition. http://www.thelutheran.com.au

 

Watch them take off and fly!

Tiarna was only 12 months old when we moved to Memphis. Within weeks of our arrival, she made friends with a particular gorilla in the Memphis Zoo.

We lived only a mile away from the zoo. With a family membership, we visited up to three times a week – often enough for Tiarna and the gorilla to form quite a bond.

The gorilla would see us coming, early in the morning, and climbed up to the viewing window. Tiarna climbed up onto the ledge on our side of the window and the gorilla sat next to her on the other side of the glass. There they sat, copying each other and communicating in some form that seemed to mean they would look for each other the next time.

Jesse was nearly three. He seemed to have two speeds – full speed and asleep. The ‘rangle-tangles’ (that’s Hahn-children language for orangutans) were not as accessible as the gorillas. But they knew us well enough to wave to us – particularly to our little, blonde, bouncy Jesse.

We soon discovered that Jesse had an amazing affinity with birds. Memphis Zoo had an indoor, thermostatically-controlled aviary where birds from all over the world were free to fly around, all year round.

Inside the aviary, we wandered along the paths very slowly. Often we stopped to sit and practice being very quiet.

Jesse sat on a low rock wall and birds came right up to him – most often a bleeding-heart dove and her chick. Many people asked  to photograph Jesse with the birds within centimetres of his face.

It was almost magical … until the peace shattered when someone burst into the aviary, running, shouting and sometimes even chasing the birds.
We had lived in Memphis for a couple of years when the zoo installed a Butterfly House. On our first visit we wandered through with Jesse’s pre-school group and a tour-guide.

During the tour, many butterflies landed and stayed on the floral dress I wore – obviously attracted to the colour of the flowers.

The children were fascinated, and I felt rather privileged… until I wriggled and they flew away.

At the end of the tour, we watched butterflies emerge from cocoons. One butterfly hatched completely and took its first flight while we watched.
On my next visit, I remembered to wear the same dress. I stood still in the Butterfly House and about a dozen butterflies settled on my ‘flowers’.

Other people noticed and came to have a closer look.

A girl came up to me and demanded that the butterflies come on to her dress.
She yelled at me.
She yelled at her mother.
She yelled at the butterflies.
The butterflies took flight and flew to the farthest corners of the enclosure.
The child reminded me of the children in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
So did her mother.

The mother pleaded with me to help to get butterflies onto her daughter – as if I had a magic wand.

I couldn’t help – just as if she’d asked me to arrange for the birds in the aviary to come close to her daughter, or for the gorilla to play with the child.

 

A couple years ago Jesse left our home to go renting with a friend, and Tiarna flew to Ireland to meet up with a childhood friend from Memphis (not the gorilla!). I think a piece of my heart went with each of them.

As I sit today and write, I think back to that mother in the Butterfly House, and I recognise that I have plenty of what she had.

I would much prefer to be with my kids wherever they are; making sure that they have everything that they have ever desired; that they can be happy; making  the world safe and perfect for them; and wanting to take their place in scary times (bungee jumping and sky-diving not included!).

Then I remember back to our first tour in the Butterfly House.

When one of the other mums reached out to help a butterfly out of its cocoon, the tour-guide stopped her. The tour-guide stressed that in order to develop their wings properly the butterflies had to go through the struggle of coming out all by themselves.

As parents, it’s always tempting to protect our children from any struggles and to try to keep them happy. But we run the risk of growing beautiful children who can’t cope in the real world.
We can encourage them to learn, and we can influence their environment so that they can make wise choices.
But we cannot live their lives for them.

If we keep them so safe that they cannot learn consequences, or prevent them from experiencing that struggles are a necessary part of life we run the risk of them becoming dependent on us or others approval…always.

If we protect them from taking responsibility for their part in accidents, we don’t allow them to learn about cause and effect.

We can get in the way of their learning while they are young by not allowing them the freedom to explore within safe boundaries.

If we take it upon ourselves to be the provider of all happiness, we can prevent them from discovering that happiness is something they can experience from within themselves.

Our job is to prepare them for life; to let them know that they are always loved and to allow them to grow.

Our children need room to learn, to struggle, to laugh, to cry, and to stretch in order to develop their own wings.

And when they are ready, only by letting go of them can we watch them take off and fly.

 

Originally published as ‘Learning to fly’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2013, September edition.                                                  www.thelutheran.com.au

I’ll mend it, he says. It’ll be fun, he says.

I’ll mend it, he says. It’ll be fun, he says.

I turn around and see the big gaping hole in his much-loved towel and try my darndest not to give him the look of

Are you serious? 

I know he is.

 

 

Does the hero mend the much-loved towel only to return it to the mending pile next week?

Does the heroine save the day by buying a new towel?

Does someone on the beach appreciate the exquisite mending and borrow it permanently – as happened to its predecessor?

How would you finish this story?

 

Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

Faith is like a…cleaning cloth?

It had looked so good at the demonstration.

Sparkling clean results.

No unnatural, caustic, biohazardous or environmentally unfriendly agents were necessary.

All it required was water: And if the job required a little more cleansing than usual, just add more water.

I could just imagine my home sparkling like it never had before.

 

Housekeeping has never been my strong point.

I can always find a higher priority – a child that needs some attention, a friend who needs a phone-call, an article that needs to be written, a book that needs to be read, a topic that needs to be researched. I thought it was high time that I made the commitment and spent a worthwhile amount on a product that would change my life.

So, I thought I would make a purchase that would ultimately help me to achieve a squeaky clean house.

My purchase didn’t prove quite the miracle I was hoping for. Several months after my purchase of a rather expensive piece of fabric, my house, though it had sparkled in places for a week or two, had returned to its usual state of “busy-ness” and “dust-bunnies”. The windows again wore those special marks of little fingers, noses and paws that are familiar in homes with small children and smaller pugs. The bathroom was spilling over with too many soggy towels to even find the sparkling basin, and the dishes were again piling up as though they were reproducing each night.

One morning, as I looked through bleary, unmotivated eyes at the mess that confronted me, I realised that what was lacking wasn’t the ability of the cloth to work a miracle, but my preparedness to use it and put it into action.

When put into use the cleaning cloth works miracles, but is useless if it’s stuck in a drawer. The thought also struck me that faith is rather like my cleaning cloth. Faith too is ineffective if its filed away safely in our heart, without us ever giving it an opportunity to work.

In my house, I’ve learnt its much easier and more effective to use my cloth a little bit, often, rather than wait for the perfect empty day when I can use it from the ceiling to the floor on every wall, window and shower screen. That’s a really daunting task – and inevitably just doesn’t happen.

Similarly, faith often gets left to work on a marathon event, rather than being used a little bit at a time. We are much less likely to have faith in God performing BIG miracles if we don’t learn to trust Him with little miracles.

James wrote, ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:17).
Faith without works – like the cleaning cloth that’s stuck in a drawer.

 

 

Originally published as ‘Faith is like an enjo’,

in The Lutheran, August edition, 2007.

http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

My terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day*

 

The dad was screaming at his child. Every instinct in me wanted to run up to the child and whisk him into my arms as I yelled back at the dad.

Then I remembered.

We’d dropped off our eldest at kindergarten for the morning, and the house seemed too cold and lonely to go back to. So my younger two children and I headed to the library.

Normally the library was a place of solace. On Thursday mornings the library was alive with storytelling and great family-friendly activities.

This wasn’t Thursday morning.

I could usually find some books with which to settle my kids at a table within an arm’s distance of me, while I had a quick look at some reading matter a little more advanced than Dr Seuss.

But not this morning.

While I was two metres away from my kids, they started some sort of uproar.I don’t even remember what they did. But I do remember the face of the security guard as he suggested I try to come back another day when the children wouldn’t be so disruptive.

So we headed for home.

But we needed milk, so we popped into the drugstore (yes, we were living in the USA at the time).

We didn’t end up getting milk that morning. The kids caused a racket.

And in less time than it takes to get a flagon of milk and line up in a 20-person-long queue, another security guard came up to us. In his sweetest, deepest Southern-USA accent, he said,

‘Ma’am, y’all need to leave the store. These chillun’ are disturbin’ the other customers’.

Mortified, I grabbed the pusher and the hand of my three-year-old, and we headed out—without the milk.

Our house still seemed cold and lonely, so I headed to our friend’s home, where the kids felt right at home and joined in the activities without fear of being expelled.

As the kids played, my dear friend poured some freshly brewed coffee and listened as I burst into tears and related the goings-on of the morning.

‘… and then … and then …!’

And then I looked at my friend’s face. She’d evidently been trying to keep a straight face, but could no longer hold it in. She burst into fits of laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked.

‘Well, after all you’ve been trying to tell me about being a Christian, at last I know now that you’re real! This has spoken more to me than anything else you’ve ever said. Thank God you’re human!’

She continued to speak words of truth, encouragement and compassion. Her words were loving, caring, concise and compelling.

She knew us so well.

We were everyday friends and shared most aspects of our lives. So she knew of the stresses and strains on our young family.

She also knew of the unrealistic demands I had placed on myself as a young mum of three young children in a place a world away from everything and everybody we knew.

She was also a doctor, and picked up pretty quickly that at least one of our kids had a fever—something that I’d overlooked. Several hours later, another burst eardrum revealed itself as the cause of my ‘terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day’*.

 

As soon as I remembered that day, I was able to think about the dad in the shopping centre in a different light. I was so quick to judge—just like those people in the drugstore. Several of them offered words of advice:

‘That child needs discipline.’

‘If he were my child, he would have had a spanking by now.’

‘You shouldn’t come here if you can’t control your children.’

None of the advice had been particularly helpful, and none demonstrated any form of understanding.

They did not know that we had been up all night with various demands of the children.

They did not know that we were from the other side of the world and really needed somebody to give us a break.

They didn’t know that the child who was being most boisterous never complained of pain, but acted up in other ways. He must have been screaming inside but didn’t know how to tell me.

The people knew nothing about us yet were so quick to judge.

And here I was, doing the same thing.

The dad and the child left the building.

And I felt sorry that I didn’t do anything. I hadn’t given any word of encouragement. I hadn’t offered any help. I hadn’t even given the understanding smile that I’ve since been practising.

I hope it says, ‘Yes, sometimes we do have terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad days. I understand. I hope your day gets better from here, but I promise not to contribute further to your misery.’

These days I try to keep a bottle of bubbles in my bag, which often is all the distraction that distraught dads need. A dad with those magic bubbles in his hand turns into a super-hero in the eyes of a small child, and in the eyes of judgemental onlookers.

For the times when I’m not armed with bubbles, I have rehearsed some lines which I have actually used, such as:

‘Not a good day? Can I help?’

‘I hope your day gets better.’

‘Would you like me to help you with your trolley?’

‘I remember those days. Is there anything I can do to help you right now?’

I usually receive some funny looks—but, in comparison with being a judgmental, older person with a poor memory and no clue of the cause of anybody else’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day, it’s worth it!

 

Originally published in ‘The Lutheran’ magazine, September, 2012. http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

 

* from the book Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Day by Judith Viorst

My Favourite Blue, Linen Dress

Last week, my husband missed his favourite trousers.

I thought they may have ended up in the same place as my favourite blue, linen dress – probably in a donation bin at the Salvos.

Applying the Marie Kondo ‘The Magic Art of Tidying’ to my house has been interesting.

At the moment, I’m about half-way through my house – so there are boxes of ‘stuff’, still to be sorted, lining the passages and walls. And the carport looks as though it should be hosting a garage sale tomorrow.

Somewhere in the middle of the initial phase; while I read the book, applied what I could, and two daughters moved back into our house, I lost my dress. Accidentally.

But I found my sanity.

I learnt quite quickly, thanks to Marie Kondo, that if something doesn’t ‘spark joy’ it no longer needs a place in my home. If it does ‘spark joy’, it needs to be allocated a proper home within my home.

If it has served it’s purpose and I no longer need it here, I can give thanks for it, and give it away to somewhere else where it may be useful or loved.

There is a sense of calm and peace that has come over this place as the clutter reduces and rooms become more restful with more space to do what we love to do.

To others, my house may still seem cluttered, I guess.

But I think some of what I’ve experienced has rubbed off on my (adult) kids.

This morning, a small pile of clothes appeared out of nowhere.
Among the pile…my husband’s favourite trousers.

Who knows. Perhaps there will be a joyous reunion with my favourite blue, linen dress.

Two-ice-cream days

It had been a big day. As I put our five-year-old to bed, I asked him ‘Did you have a good day?’

‘I had a great day,’ he said.

So I asked him, ‘Why was it a great day?’

‘Oh mum!’ he exclaimed, as if it were completely obvious. ‘Because we had 2 ice-creams of course!’

 

I guess I was taken a little aback. He’d played all day with almost all of his cousins. His grandparents had showered him with love and his favourite things. It had been a really happy day for lots of reasons.  So I continued the question,

‘So that’s what makes a great day, then …when you have two ice-creams?’

‘Yeah!’ Again he gave that exasperated look that means something like ‘Are you for real mum? Of course.’

He continued though.

‘You know when we went on our holiday and we had ice-cream for dessert and you said we could eat as much ice-cream as we like. That was the best day.’

That was the first day of a recent two-week holiday which included toboganning, whale watching and climbing tall towers, and his favourite part was …ice-cream?

 

Kids have a great way of putting life into perspective. While we are often carried away with making things bigger and more exciting, kids seem to revel in the simplicity.

How many children are swamped by technological gizmos and are still bored, only to find delight in simple pleasures such as digging in the dirt, splashing in water or stirring the cake mix?

How often does a toddler delight in the paper wrapping from the Christmas present rather than the present?

 

Especially if life has been too hectic lately, why not take a step back today and turn off the television, DVD and I-pad?

Then steer your kids in the direction of a pile of dirt, a stack of boxes or some water and plastic cups, jugs, funnels and implements from your kitchen and see the wisdom in simplicity.

Oh – and don’t forget the ice-cream!

 

Originally published as ‘2 Icecream days’

in The Lutheran, 24 July 2006, Vol.40, No.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Daze: Settling into School Life

‘Mrs Hahn, I didn’t think this would happen in your family!’

I can still hear the words of our principal when my child (who shall remain nameless) threw their body down onto the ground in the middle of the school driveway, arms and legs flailing, refusing to walk home.

I had decided that it would be good exercise to walk home with my child after their first day at school. When I think about it, that probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.

Though eventually enjoying school, each of my children struggled with the stresses and strains at the beginning. One cried from separation anxiety—made worse by their mother hanging around to try to calm the hysteria. Another asked to be dropped off at the kerb so they could walk up to the school alone — only to return to the car to ask us to open the very heavy front door of the school.

At the end of the first day, from more than one child we heard, ‘There’s no point going anymore. I didn’t learn how to read or write.’

What I learnt in the process of beginning four children in three different schools I’ve shared with other mums and dads who have all said, ‘It’s so nice to know that it’s normal!’

Hints for beginning school that I’ve learnt so far:

  • Beginning school is tiring for all concerned: A more regulated structured day, as well as little bodies and brains that struggle to keep up with each other’s demands, is much more than we can expect of anybody without experiencing some teething problems.
  • Little bodies that are beginning school need lots of rest, lots of love and lots of energy replenishment.
  • Learning, making new friends, trying new things and growing is hard work. So it’s important to plan your child’s day so that she can rest and ‘chill out’ after school and replenish energy.

Our family found it helpful to have a supply of yummy, easy-to-eat, healthy snacks in the car, to restore a little energy supply and get us home without too many tears. Another family I know walked home with picnic food, stopping at a playground along the way to eat, rest, play and relax.

A comfy chair or bed at home, and having ready a supply of favourite storybooks and a milkshake or smoothie for the children to sip while I cuddled and read to them became a safe haven for them (and me) for the first few weeks of school. It also helped to create great memories by giving them devoted time to share the joys and frustrations of their day.

  • It’s worthwhile to resist ‘play dates’, extra-curricular sports and other activities after school until little bodies have become used to the increased demands of school.

In our family, we decided to plan that we had specific nights of activities, and other nights of rest. We also restricted each child to one sport or physical activity such as gymnastics or ballet at a time, and one musical instrument. It’s not only exhausting for kids to be taxi-ed all over the district, but also exhausting for their parents. 

  • Sticking to familiar and established routines such as baths, bedtime stories and prayers helps children to settle and relax for a good night’s sleep, and helps them to have control, knowing that not all of life has changed.

Many schools adjust their schedules for school beginners by having a mid-week day off, having shorter days for the first few weeks or having naps during the afternoon. If you feel that your child needs an occasional ‘early moment’ and would benefit from an afternoon nap, don’t be afraid to negotiate with the teacher to pick him up at lunchtime:

  • Keeping in touch with the teacher is about the best investment you can make, as far as their education goes. 
  • After school is not the best time to go shopping!           
  • After the excitement of beginning school wears off, many children come to realise that they are stuck there!

Be prepared for the end of the honeymoon period. Anticipate ‘tummy aches’, sore heads and sore toes (even if imagined, all of these are very real to your child) and have suitable strategies planned. While being sympathetic and loving, it is also possible to be matter-of-fact and deal with the situation confidently and appropriately. In our home we have often used the same strategy I learnt from my mother: ‘I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. You obviously need some more rest. Why don’t you go back to sleep? I’ll pull the curtains and make sure it’s quiet and dark so you can sleep. I’ll check to see how you are going later on.’

Importantly, the child needs to know she is taken seriously. If she is genuinely sick or needing to catch up on sleep, she’ll soon be back to sleep, and it will become obvious in other ways that there is a genuine illness. However, if the ‘sickness’ is her strategy to stay home, a morning in bed resting without television, games or books is very likely to inspire a quick recovery by recess time. And sometimes, little bodies just need to have a rest.

  • We found that celebrating ‘getting bigger’ helped our children to accept the changes more readily; by going on special weekend dates alone with Mum or Dad; having extra responsibilities, such as helping with the shopping by using the shopping list; or even being able to stay up a little later than younger siblings.
  • Remember that there is definitely somebody out there (probably at your school) whose child has outperformed your child’s tantrum.

Registering discontent is normal and healthy — it even seems to be part of a 4–6-year-old’s job description. It does not mean you are a bad parent, but it does give you the prompting to learn new strategies as your child grows.

Listen to your child. Ask how they feel and acknowledge their feelings as important. Avoid asking ‘WHY?’* Instead, ask something like ‘What happened?’

*’Why’ is a tricky question to answer if you’re a child because it opens up many more questions – and you can get into trouble for not answering the right way, or according to the adult’s expectation.

  • Your child’s teacher will be able to reassure you about particular behaviours you may be worried about and can also suggest ways you can work together to help your child to settle into school life.

If you speak with other more experienced parents you may also be reassured that your child is not the main contender for the Academy Award for melodrama!

 

Originally published as ‘School Daze’ in The Lutheran, February edition, 2008.

Money Matters: teaching kids the value of money

Mum’s birthday was approaching. I decided to give her a surprise and buy her a present. On my way home from school, I took a slight detour—via the main street. Boldly I walked into Eudunda Farmers, chose a lovely perfume and took it to the shop assistant.

‘Book it up, please!’ I said as I signed my very grown-up eight-year-old signature in Mum’s ‘book-it-up’ book. The shop assistant was most helpful and gift-wrapped the lovely present. I went home, gift in hand. A few days later I gave the lovely gift to my mother.

As I remember, Mum was very gracious. She said ‘Thank you’ and then asked where the perfume had come from.

Then she explained that ‘booking it up’ wasn’t all there is to paying. She would have to go to pay the shop, and we would have to go without something else because we didn’t have enough money to just ‘book it up’ whenever we felt like it.

But she knew I’d done it with the best of intentions, so we would call it ‘squits!’ this time.

But I was not to book anything else up without arranging it with Mum first, or I would have to pay for it myself.

I learnt a big lesson that day, and I think Mum did too, because at around the same time she began to give us a weekly allowance, so we could actually learn to save, spend and learn the value of money.

These days I work in a church setting, where we regularly hand out emergency food parcels. Some people are in need of help because they are experiencing a tidal wave of circumstances beyond their control. We are privileged to be able to help them with food and refer them to other services.

But others have never learnt the skill of budgeting, problem-solving or having to plan beyond today.

In February, when the Christmas sales have been forgotten and the payments begin, these people are likely to return to us because they can’t pay for food, gas or electricity. We’ll be told that their payments to department or electronic stores have been due this week. And very often, those payments are more than their income.

They’ve simply never learnt the ‘book-it-up’  rule—that anything bought on credit is not really yours until it’s paid for, and that you have to pay for it somehow.

As parents and youth leaders over the past few decades, Chris and I have learnt that different kids, different personalities and different life experiences lead to different attitudes to money.

We’ve tried to enable our kids to learn about money in small, manageable amounts while they’re little. By the time they’re adults we hope  they’ve learnt about managing money in a way that will protect them from the world’s lies, ‘You need this for your life to be fulfilling’, ‘Get this and you’ll be happy!’, ‘More is better!’

We want them to have experienced the consequences of handling (or mishandling) money before it means that their car is reclaimed or they get a bad credit report.

Where possible we’ve tried to relate kids’ money management to real life.

We’re not in favour of paying kids for jobs that simply need to be done in a family. In every family it’s important that we work as a team. If somebody doesn’t empty the bins or feed the dog, somebody else suffers.

So, rather than earning money to do ‘team’ jobs, our children have received a ‘salary’—an agreed fixed amount. But if they don’t pull their weight, they get charged.

It speaks pretty loudly to an eight-year-old when you hand him his allowance and then ask him to pay you back because you made his bed, emptied the bins or fed the dog, which were his jobs. It also helps teenagers to appreciate the value of reward for effort if they are expected to pay their sibling for doing the dishes, or pay for a takeaway meal for the family if they didn’t take their turn to cook.

Salespeople are taught the tactics of putting something in a customers’ hands for them to ‘feel’ ownership; the same principle works with allowances that have to be paid back.

Once our kids reached high school we gave them a debit card and transferred money into it regularly. To get the debit card they needed to present us with a budget which included clothes (except uniforms and sneakers), youth, Christian giving, savings, sports fees and phone credit (no going out if there is no credit on your phone; it’s a safety issue).They needed to demonstrate accountability.

We’ve also had a rule in our family for years that we don’t purchase on impulse. If somebody decides while we’re shopping that they simply ‘must have it’, they need to think about it for 24 hours before we buy it. Usually it is forgotten by the time we leave the shop. That rule has saved us making lots of poor decisions!

One of our children had her heart set on a game of Cluedo and had been saving for it. When she saw it advertised in the junk mail she asked me if we could go to buy it.

‘This is such a good sale. It’s 30 per cent off. Couldn’t you buy it and I’ll pay you back?’

Stored in my memory banks was the ‘book-it-up’ rule. So I came up with an alternative plan—lay-by. I explained how lay-by works, and we went to the shop to set up an account in her name. The shop assistants took time to explain all the details to our eight-year-old. For the next few weeks my daughter paid about 50 cents a fortnight, until she had paid in full.

What an accomplishment! She’d paid for an item herself, recognised its value, and only received it when it was really hers.

To have a real-life understanding of how money works is something that is important to children. It gives
them experience, teaches them problem-solving and risk assessment, and hopefully will prepare them for life in the big world where, unfortunately, money does matter.

Postscript: The author reserves the right to give a false impression of being a perfect parent. She’s not! Ask any of her kids!

 

Originally published in:

The Lutheran, 2010, February edition

The farm in the front yard

2013-09-07 17.22.18

Chris has been busy gardening. He grew up on a farm, and he is the true-life evidence that you can’t take the farm out of the man. He loves it!

Our half-pug dog Shelby loves to help him. Wherever Chris has been digging, Shelby loves to dig too. And wherever something lush manages to grow (and is not too prickly), Shelby sits on it, as if to give her approval. We can’t get cross at her because she looks up at us with her big, brown eyes, wagging her tail as if to say, ‘Thank you so much! This is a lovely new throne for me!’

Gradually our small backyard has been divided into two domains: Shelby-friendly territory, and the garden. Currently there are all manner of fences, netting and even satay sticks protecting Chris’s precious garden from one small, aging, curious and territory-protecting Shelby. But somehow Shelby still manages to pick Chris’s peas.

2016Pic.ShelbyBev_n
Shelby – photo by Bev. Eckermann

By wangling her half-pug half-snout into whatever angle the fencing allows, Shelby grips onto the nearest pea pod. If it’s a snow pea, she’ll eat it all. But if it is a snap pea, she grabs the whole thing, deposits it on the ground in front of her and shells it. Very occasionally she won’t be able to get the last of the peas that are left in the shell. But she is determined. So she takes the entire pod into her mouth, somehow manages to extract the peas, and spits out the rest. Perhaps she could qualify for Australia’s Got Talent.

I too love gardens. A couple of years ago, inspired by a ‘metre-square garden’ book, I prepared a metre-square in the front yard. I had visions of having a Vietnamese salad garden in my one-metre square. In my head I had it all planned, and off I went to the local garden shop to purchase my seedlings (and have a cup of tea and scones). Evidently I was gone long enough for Chris to see that I’d been digging, so he decided to help.

When I returned, instead of my perfect metre-square ready for picture-perfect planting, half the front yard had been turned into a ploughed field. To write down in words what I felt, in a way that would not embarrass my dear one, is too tricky. Let’s just say that one of our teenagers refused to have any of her friends over anymore. She was already ready to leave because of the possums that had taken up residence in our roof and wall cavities. Now she was disgusted that our front garden had been turned into a farmyard.

Thankfully, Chris and I had grown together long enough for everything to be okay. I could recognise that he had done what came naturally to him. His love language of ‘Acts of Service’ had kicked in and, combined with the gardening and physical activity, he’d had a great afternoon. He was justifiably proud of his efforts.

I, on the other hand, had to swallow the words that had crept to the front of my mouth. In the past I would have said something like, ‘What did you do that for? You always do what you want! Why didn’t you ask?’

A blessing of being married for a couple of decades is that through doing, getting it wrong, forgiving and then trying again, we’ve learnt that our marriage certificate is not a certificate of mind-reading. I hadn’t told Chris about what I had envisaged. How then could I expect that he: had any idea about the book I had bought, would ever think about planting a Vietnamese salad garden, or ever had heard of the concept of a metre-square garden? Fortunately, I had learnt (the hard way) the blessing of choosing to hold my tongue.

So, for a season or two, we had what looked like a farmyard in our front yard. Inside renovations and the eviction of our resident possums altered our daughter’s attitude, so she no longer felt the compulsion to leave. And life was a little too busy to worry about pumpkins replacing petunias. The farmyard survived, and so did our relationship.

2013-09-07 17.22.06

One day, I visited the home of some dear friends. In their front yard were garden beds of pretty flowers and lovely foliage. When I looked more closely, I saw that the foliage was in fact different types of lettuce and herbs. Tomatoes were beautifully staked and attractively presented. Their garden looked gorgeous, as well as being practical. I asked our friends if Chris could come to see their garden, and they were gracious enough to invite us over for pizza.

If a picture paints a thousand words, a garden speaks an entire book to a garden-loving husband. Given a way to combine his love of gardening with his love for his wife, he has now spent weeks redesigning, digging, composting, paving, pruning and planting our front yard, so that now it is both pretty and practical. Yesterday he and I together put in the last touch: spreading lovely mulch among the freshly planted pansies, petunias, cyclamens and gazillion bulbs that he had divided, sorted and replanted.

2013-09-14 15.37.45

In pride of place are his meticulously varnished garden stakes, proudly supporting his precious peas, which are pleasing to the eye and safe from the snout of our pea-plucking pug.

 

 

Originally published as:

‘Shelby, the pea-plucking pug’ in The Lutheran, July 2012, Vol46, No6, P214-215