How Not To Use a SMART list: For mothers and others

I made my list, as I’ve often been told to do.
It was quite short, and, as the experts had been coaching me SMART:
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
And so the day began.
First job: Strip the bed – except that a sleeping husband lay there soundly sleeping, so I made plans to come back later.


I decided that I might as well have breakfast, except that last night’s dishes had been forgotten by the other inhabitants of the house. So, I went to fill the dishwasher. But it too was full of dishes that had not been put away. I thought that while I put those away I’d fill the sink to wash the pots and pans. I turned on the hot water and went to sprinkle several drops of dishwashing liquid into the water, but alas, the bottle was empty. To be efficient, I thought I’d write it on the shopping list straight away.
So I grabbed the shopping list, ticked the box for dishwashing liquid, and some other tick boxes caught my eye.
‘I must not forget coffee, or tuna or flour…Now what else do I need?’


But as I contemplated the list a bit longer, I heard an unfamiliar trickling sound behind me. I looked around and saw that the hot water was still running, and now there was a puddle on the floor and trickles all down the kitchen cabinet doors.
I turned off the tap and headed for the mop and bucket which I couldn’t find in its usual place. So I went to ask the sleeping husband.
“Errr…oh…Its outside!” he moaned as he rolled over and pulled the quilt back over his shoulder.


I grabbed the mop and bucket and was about to mop up the puddle on the floor. But then I thought that while I was at it, I ought to mop the rest of the floor–it was well overdue. 
So I went to the laundry to get the floor washing liquid.

One of the laundry baskets was overflowing, so I filled the washing machine with clothes to wash. But when I went to fill the rinse container with vinegar, the vinegar container was empty.

So I went to the pantry to get some more vinegar. There was no vinegar there either, so I went to the bathroom where I sometimes keep vinegar so I can use it with carb soda to clean the bathroom. Sure enough, there was some vinegar there – and also some carb soda.

The bathroom, especially the loo, looked a bit grimy and I remembered that it had missed out on its weekend clean. So I poured some vinegar and carb soda into the toilet with the promise that I’d return to scrub it later. I went to wash my hands and noticed that the hand basin wasn’t clean either. So I made the most of my time there and began to clean it.

An empty toothpaste tube lay on the vanity as a reminder to get some more – and I’d already forgotten it for three days already. So I picked it up and took it to the kitchen to add it to my shopping list.

And what did I see?

A half-made shopping list; a puddle on the floor and trickles down the kitchen cabinet; a bench full of dirty dishes and an open dishwasher full of clean dishes. I thought back to the laundry in which sat a dry mop and bucket and a washing machine full of clothes but empty of vinegar. In our bathroom was a toilet waiting to be scrubbed and a hand-basin half-done. And still in our bedroom was a soundly sleeping husband.

As far as my list of things to do – well, nothing had been done. My list of SMART was dumb for mums. It was an hour and a half later, and I hadn’t even got to number one.



Part Two:

My morning of doing a SMART list had resulted in many things begun…but nothing finished.
I sat and sulked…until the sleeping husband arose from his slumber and wandered out to the kitchen. He found me, shoulders slumped, at my desk–My desk is only a metre away from the sink.

‘I just wanted to do a few things and have failed at them all!’ I told him, my bottom lip drooping almost to the ground.
He took me in his arms, kissed me on the forehead and laughed gently–I love it when he does that!


Instead of lecturing me about good time-management or coming up with easier solutions, he just hugged me and listened. I ranted and raved until eventually I said,
‘Perhaps I should just be a little gentler on myself.’
At last he commented,
‘That’s about the first thing you’ve said that’s made any sense.’

I hugged him back.


It’s now a few weeks later. All of those jobs did eventually get done – just not in the linear time-frame I had originally planned.
The clothes were washed – and hung out, and brought in, and sorted by another member of the family.
The dishes did not stay in the sink or on the bench or in the dishwasher all day. I think it was the mess in the kitchen that prompted the girls to get it clean before they left for work.
The floor was mopped by the son who was working a late shift.


Eventually I realized that having put some strategies in place years before, to get each of the family to do their bit, had paid off.

As long as I didn’t expect everything to happen before 7 am!


Written in May 2013

Thanks to Beverley Eckermann for the photos


How to Travel with Children Without Losing the Plot

How to travel with children without losing the plot?

Like most of my parenting journey, I learnt the hard way how to travel with children.

We’ve certainly had moments on our trips that we’d all prefer to forget. For example, when they were babies and we had food poisoning from a questionable chicken burger on our way to a wedding in Queensland. And when we moved to the USA — six flights in 56 hours with three children under five, and no sleep!

On our way home several years later, we traveled through the Rocky Mountains and danced with real live American Indians. We went to Universal Studios and screamed on the Jurassic Park ride. And we visited Mickey Mouse at Disneyland – where our four year old whacked him on his nose! Ouch!

We did things we never dreamed we’d do.

Yet, six months later, our children announced that their favourite place in the whole wide world was Lake Bonney Caravan Park, a couple of hour’s drive from our home in Adelaide. And their favourite ‘theme park’ was the Monash playground, a free community playground in the Riverland.

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Family trips became one of our favourite things to do

and we’ve had fewer of those ‘moments’ since we’ve learnt to simplify and enjoy the journey.scan_20161210-19

On one of our trips, the six of us traveled to Queensland in our Tarago–without a trailer or roof rack. Many caravan parks now have camp kitchens, so we no longer have to take our own barbecue or gas bottle, tables, chairs, saucepans and kettles. On that trip we packed two very cheap tents, and limited each passenger to a back-pack and a handbag-sized bag, a gym-mat, pillow, polar-fleece blanket and quilt cover (without the quilt).

We relied completely on what the towns between Adelaide and Brisbane had for us to do and eat. We figured that they needed our business more than the big supermarkets back home did.

So we got to taste the bakery food in every town, and checked out community centres and local landmarks. In Coonabarabran, for instance, there was a really neat planetarium, where our seven-year-old astounded us with his questions about particular constellations. We had a great trip of over 7000 kilometres.

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Perhaps we’ve missed some of the more famous spots along the way.

But we’ve learnt to have fun, discovered all sorts of surprises and enjoyed the diversity of interests in our family. And the kids have stored up enough silly stories about their parents to write their own novel.

 

Tips we’ve learnt along the way:

.    Treat the whole journey as an adventure.

Don’t try to travel too far in one day with little kids. Take your time, even if you need to take an extra day to get there.

Stop every couple of hours, at least, to break up your trip, stretch legs, wear off energy, find a toilet and perhaps, change seats.scan_20161210-15

Even a pile of stones or a creek on the side of the road can turn into an adventure. More than likely, your kids will remember the tiniest thing you did along the way — as long as they had time to spend with you.

.    Pack a ball or Frisbee and find the local playgrounds. Most towns have an oval or sports park. Botanic gardens and national parks are usually cheap places to visit, and they have all sorts of adventures in store for kids (of all ages).

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.    Have the children participate in the planning. Get some maps or ‘trip-tix’ from your automobile association, information from the internet or library, and help the children to plan and anticipate the trip. On the way, help them to follow the roads on the maps, and look for interesting landmarks such as Big Koalas, old buildings and airstrips.

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.    Save your sanity! As parents of little children you still need to cater, cook, wash and clean, even when on holiday.

Aim for simplicity. Is it necessary to have a big holiday far away while your children are really little? Could you get the same benefit from having a more relaxed time somewhere closer?

Is your destination family-friendly?  Could you be less ambitious about how far you will travel on the first day? Is it possible to get the kids looked after while you pack? Could you spend a whole day just relaxing when you get to your first destination? Can you plan to have a day to chill when you arrive home, so you’re not exhausted when you return to work and school?

We discovered that the most stress came from just getting going.

Our parents/grandparents live an hour away. So sometimes we stay there on our first night, just so we’re on the road – then have an early start from there the next morning. With a box of cereal, a long-life milk, (and a stainless-steel coffee plunger) we head off before anyone is ready for breakfast, and stop for brekky somewhere further along the road.

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.    Keep a list of travel games in the glovebox: ‘I spy’, ‘Car cricket’*, ‘Animal, vegetable or mineral?’ Borrow audio books from your local library or download them onto a phone, or stock up on the CDs your kids like to listen to. Make sure they are not your most ‘unfavourite’.

.    What about a scrapbook? Keep a glue stick handy to incorporate collections you make along the way: tickets,  pressed flowers and leaves. Have pencils/felt-tip pens on hand for kids to ‘journal’ — even a two-year-old can ‘draw’ his trip, while a school-age child can write a diary. Remember, like the trip, it’s not the destination or end result that is always the most important.

.    Keep bottles of water in the car and a picnic kit in the boot or in your luggage, with a plate and a knife, and a jar of Vegemite or peanut butter. Lunch can be as simple as purchasing a loaf of fresh bread at the local bakery and making fresh sandwiches at the local playground, saving money for entrances to zoos and theme parks and for accommodation. A bottle of water and a roll of good quality paper-towel makes great wipes for sticky fingers and faces.

.    A trip to the local supermarket for a roasted chicken, a bag of salad and some bread rolls makes a quick, nutritious and relatively inexpensive meal for a family. It’s easy to pack to take to theme parks or to eat when you arrive at your destination. And it really helps the cook to enjoy the holiday!

Pack a bag of apples, bananas or oranges for healthy ‘fast’ food. Freeze long-life milk or drinks to keep your esky (cool-box) cool, and to keep the little ones hydrated, cool and busy for a while.scan_20161210-ggaf-15

.    Children don’t tend to appreciate the value of your money. While Disneyland might have been your life-long dream, that does not oblige your child to appreciate its monetary value. The simple things in life are often the best.

.    Give your children their own spending money, or even better, help them to save for the occasion. Then allow them the freedom to spend ‘their’ money and learn its value. It’s also an effective technique for stopping the
‘I want…s’.

We found this worked when we stopped for an ice-block too. We told the kids they could choose an ice-block up to x-amount. (As the kids have grown older and gone on their own adventures, our ice-blocks have been replaced by coffee.)

.    Teach your children protective behaviour.

Teach them to speak politely and respectfully to new people, but be aware of their safety and security: Not to tell anyone their name, or where they live. And to not go with anyone other than their family.

DO NOT put their name on their hat, t-shirt, bag etc. in a place where it is visible.

Teach your child to stand still if they are lost in a crowd, so that those they’ve lost can retrace their steps to find them. If someone else wants to help them, teach your child to stay still and ask the person to bring mum or dad to where they are.

Children should especially learn that ‘if you can’t see Mummy, Mummy can’t see you’. Practice at home, and get them to also practice saying ‘NO’ really loudly.

.    Keep a list of what to pack, so that you don’t keep forgetting the same thing, such as the hammer to bash in the tent pegs. (No prizes for guessing why I know that one).scan_20161210-14

.    Plan for your trip home too. Don’t be like me. On our first trip I had all sorts of activities for the way to Brisbane, but forgot about the trip home. Oops!

You might like to send some postcards to your home address to remind you of your trip. Or take lots of photos and put a book together as a keepsake. How about getting the kids to design a ‘slide-show’ – using music and narration, when they get home.  Or keep a private Facebook page or use Instagram especially for your trip.

.    Treat the whole trip as the adventure. So a caravan park an hour away can become as much a treat for your children as Disneyland. (Ain’t that the truth?)

.    Finally, remember that

‘Happiness is not the destination; it is a way of traveling’.

 

Originally published in 'The Lutheran' magazine, March 2008.

 

How (Not) To Choose Books Your Children Will Love

I went into a book-shop this morning to gather some inspiration for this blog.

BAD MOVE.

I love books. I love writing. I love reading.

But my all-time favourite thing to do is to read with children.

This morning, inspired by recently baby-sitting a very sweet 2 1/2 year old, I went to the local bookshop – the only book-shop in the entire council region.

I would have had a lovely time

except that

as soon as I found the children’s section (my favourite section) I heard

‘The Manager’ instructing his juniors on how to run a book shop.

 

I did not try to listen.

But I heard him. Everyone inside the shop–and probably outside the shop–heard him.

 

When a writer goes into a book-shop, she should almost be in heaven.

Not this morning.

 

When I venture into a book-shop I usually pick up a book, caress the texture of its cover and marvel at the book design; check out the title and author; and  re-experience that great excitement of opening up a book that’s new to me, or a new version of an old, loved book.

And if I’m really, really lucky, I feel that delicious crisp, slidy-crackle as the page edges peel apart for the very first time.

Not this morning.

 

I love to pick up old-favourites and reread the pace and rhythm of great writers. I rarely leave a bookshop without reading at least one of Mem Fox’s stories, and I hear her in my memories of the audio-tapes my children listened to every day when they were small.

But not this morning.

 

The Manager’s voice had no rhythm.

He didn’t teach about books or words or rhymes or rhythms. He didn’t take a book and stroke it, and demonstrate how to love it.

He spoke only of shelves and sales and stock-take.

 

My heart sank.

 

I left the children’s section, went to the bargain table, picked out some trustworthy classics, took them to the counter and handed them to The Manager.

‘I’m writing a blog about children’s books,’ I said. ‘Which is your favourite children’s book?’

‘I don’t have one.’

I wanted to give him another prompt, but my astonishment rendered me mute. He continued without prompt.

‘I left children’s books in my childhood. I don’t have children. Children and children’s books are of no interest to me.’

By this time, I’d managed to pick up my jaw from off the floor.

‘So, if a parent asked you for a recommendation, what would you say?’

I’d ask them about the child’s interests.’

‘And how about a grandparent asking for their two-year-old grand-child?’

‘Then I’d find out more about the desires of the purchaser.’

The pay-wave machine beeped.

The Manager handed me my bag of books–which was much smaller than usual.

And I left–no longer wondering why children are losing their love of books.

 

Let’s not leave the blog there:

Which are your favourite children’s books?

Which books have your kids worn out?

What do you love about them?

What are you currently reading?

What do your kids love about them?

Please let us know your recommendations.

 

 

 

Daring Ducks: How to Make Boundaries Work

I would never have thought I’d learn about boundaries from a farmer and his ducks.

On a trip to Bali, long before everyone else had been to Bali too, my friends and I stayed in a home in Ubud. One afternoon, as we walked back from a nearby jungle full of cheeky pick-pocketing monkeys, we encountered a farmer walking his ducks.

I can still see the farmer dressed in his traditional rural Bali clothing, complete with a broad-brimmed thatched hat. In his hand he held a thin rod of cane – about three metres long.

Waddling up the path in front of him were several hundred ducks. Most of the ducks walked straight ahead, as though they’d walked the same way dozens of times.

But on each side of the raft of ducks, there were the more daring ducks who kept trying to veer off into neighbouring fields, wandering off from the remainder of their buddies.

Whenever this would happen, the farmer would very gently stretch out the cane in front of him, but to the side of the raft of ducks. By gently alternating his stick from one side of the ducks to the other, the farmer effectively created a physical “V” boundary.

Only those dauntlessly daring ducks who wandered a little further than the edge of the flock ever felt the cane. And never did they feel it as a weapon – more like safety rails on a walk, or bumpers on a ten-pin-bowling alley.

So there were several dozen plucky ducks leading the flock, knowing where they were going, the daring ducks and their buddies in the middle and only a handful of dawdlers who stayed at the back, close to the farmer.

The ‘V’ of Love

Years later, when I was introduced to the ‘V’ of love’ memories of the farmer and his ducks rushed back into my brain.

In her book ‘How to parent so children will learn: clear strategies for raising happy, achieving children’ Dr. Sylvia Rimm* uses the ‘V of love’ as an illustration of how boundaries can be applied effectively.

Boundaries work best when they grow as our children grow.

Picture the sides of a ‘V’ as boundaries, and the length of each side as a time-line.

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If we picture a baby at the bottom of the ‘V’, we can see that babies are restricted in freedom, have limited choices and no responsibility. Their place in the ‘V’ of love’ is within firm, close, nurturing boundaries.

As the baby grows, her freedom, choices and responsibilities within the ‘V’ should grow in proportion to her stage of development. The boundaries expand as she grows.

We can give our children safe and reasonable boundaries

If we’re aware of our child’s development, we can give them safe and reasonable boundaries that allow them to explore, stretch and grow. And to retreat into when necessary.

Rather than being restrictive, effective boundaries are like safety barriers at the sides of steep, narrow, windy roads. They don’t hold us onto the road. But they give us the security that if we wander too far to the right or left, there’s something that will stop us from damaging ourselves.

Within the boundaries of the “V” of love, there needs to be an expanding volume of choices, complete with consequences (especially positive ones), freedom and responsibilities.

Here are some suggestions as to how boundaries need to change as a child grows.

Toddler

For example, reasonable choices for a toddler might include a choice between two options such as:

  • Would you like apple or banana?
  • Would you like to wear the green shirt or the purple shirt today?
  • How are you going to get to bed tonight? Will daddy give you a horse-ride on his back, or will he carry you in his arms?

The boundaries are set:

  • Children need to eat nutritious snacks.

It’s the parent’s responsibility to provide a nutritious choice. The child chooses whether to eat and how much they’ll eat.

  • These are the clothes you can choose from.

This gives your toddler an amount of control suitable for their age and development. If you’re not sure what I mean, watch a child in a department store being given free-reign. Too many choices are overwhelming. Let their choices expand as they’re able to handle them.

  • The toddler’s freedom and choices remain within the boundaries of a familiar bed-time routine.

Eight year old

An eight year old might like to have a bigger choice of which clothes to wear, but with that comes responsibility.

For example: If she forgets to pick her clothes up off the floor she can choose to pay 50c  for every article of clothing dad picks up at the end of the day – or she can figure out and negotiate an alternative.

Eight year olds LOVE the opportunity to debate. Don’t take it personally.  Try to use it as an opportunity to encourage respectful negotiating techniques.

The boundaries are set:  Clothes belong in the cupboard.  If you’re old enough to shop for your clothes, you’re old enough to look after them.  (I’m still working on this one!)

Fifteen year old

A fifteen year old can probably manage his own finances for clothes, mobile phone, social outings and gifts for friends – and learn to save and be charitable.

The boundaries are set – “This is your allowance. If you believe you need more, you will need to negotiate or you will have to find a job.”

Wise parents remain available to help and guide through budgeting at this stage. Allowing teens to have responsibility for managing their own money, within stretching boundaries, gives them the knowledge to be able to manage their finances later.

Some kids will continue to test the boundaries

Just like the daring ducks, some kids will continue to test the boundaries. Some will discover new ways to teach the parents about different dimensions in parenting.

Hang in there, parents! If they are testing out new boundaries, you may need to stretch the boundaries a little or patch up some holes in the boundaries. And be prepared to apologize for not having appropriate boundaries in place that may have protected them from the consequences of unwise choices.

If your kids haven’t had safe, secure boundaries, it’s never too late – but you’ll probably need to find someone who can guide you through applying boundaries to older kids. Speak to the teachers at your school, your GP, or other parents who you know have a great relationship with their older kids.

The ‘V’ of Love works. Kids (and parents) appreciate the security of knowing they are safe between boundaries set by someone bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.

They tend to respect boundaries when they can see them growing with added choices and freedom. And, believe it or not, they take pride in accepting responsibility for the consequences of their actions–good and bad.

By the time they’re independent enough to borrow the car, kids who’ve grown up with ”V’ of love’ boundaries have had the experience of making wise and not-so-wise choices, and are more prepared to navigate safely through adulthood.

And, just like the Plucky ducks up the front, they’re likely to lead the world in the right direction.

 

 

*Used with permission. Thank you to Dr. Sylvia Rimm for permission to cite her book and webpage. www.sylviarimm.com

Thanks to Kay for the photo of a Balinese farmer and his ducks.

Originally published as ‘PLUCKY DUCKS’ in The Lutheran

How Relationships With Your Kids Can Rescue You

There were no spiders on my garden chair when I sat down today.

I checked.

 

The last time I went to sit on my garden chair, I used my hand to knock off a few dried up leaves from its cushions. But, as I went to brush a couple of leaves off the back of the chair, I noticed two big, beady eyes looking up at me.

 

I shrieked–evidently too quietly for my husband to hear me. But one of my sons yelled from inside the house

‘’You okay, mum?’

 

Bravely (I thought) I went inside to create the least fuss possible and sought out my daughter who had named the previous year ‘The Year of The Spiders’. That year she worked at an outdoor education camp and took it upon herself to transfer spiders from inside dormitories to outside, away from the screams of hysterical campers.

 

‘How big is it?’ she asked me as she proceeded to the pantry.

‘Oh, not too big,’ I said.

She raised an eyebrow at me, turned to me and held out her hands. In her left hand she held a square-round tupperware container, big enough for half a sandwich. In her right, a four-litre ice-cream carton.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Medium-sized’.

She grabbed a different container and headed outside to my chair… and the spider.

‘Ooh! He’s a big guy isn’t he?’

 

My embarrassment dissolved. I felt vindicated.

 

I also realized how much I enjoy having my young adult kids close enough to me to have them rescue me.

 

The tables are turning.  We rescue each other.

And I’m so glad of our investment in our relationship with them–or I’d be chasing my own spiders.

How To Be A YES Parent – Without Saying NO To Discipline

In a previous post,  I wrote about how we changed from being No. Don’t!  parents to  Yes! parents.

Saying ‘Yes’ didn’t mean that we gave up discipline, but rather, it changed the way we disciplined.

We read lots of books and listened to people who had a much gentler and more enjoyable approach to parenting – with better results.

We discovered we had confused discipline with punishment. After lots of research, we learnt that they had little in common – especially when dealing with young children.

Show them how

To discipline means to ‘train’; that is, to show how.

Kids are much more co-operative when they know what they’re  expected to do.

For example: We discovered we could show our children how to touch things ‘gently’ – placing their little fingers in ours and helping them to touch and feel things, such as baby brothers and sisters… gently.

When we began to respond with a ‘Yes, that’s right,’ instead of a ‘NO. DON’T!’ we found that desirable behaviour was usually repeated. If you think about it, ‘No. Don’t!’ doesn’t tell our child what to do next. It just breaks our communication with them, confuses them and leaves them with no options.

Learn more positive ways to communicate with our children

When the children wanted to change activity, instead of saying ‘No. The room is a mess; No, you haven’t finished your homework; No, your hands are filthy; No. No. NO!’ we learnt to answer

‘Yes, when the Lego has been put away; Yes, when you’ve washed your hands; Yes, after you’ve written two more sentences of your homework…Yes.’

Save NO’s for those times that are really, really necessary.

You can imagine our children’s surprise when we began to say ‘Yes!’ much more often than ‘No!’ But as they got used to it, they listened to our instructions much better. And on the rare occasions we did say ‘NO!’, they knew it was important and respected it.

At about the same time as we discovered this, our fourth child 
joined our family. We named him 'Noah'. You suddenly become aware of how
 often you inadvertently say 'No!' when you have a little one who 
responds every time you say the beginning of his name. 

Look through different eyes

We began to look at our children through eyes that looked for signs of discovery and wonderment rather than eyes looking out for trouble.

By observing our children we could follow their lead in learning new things, playing, seeking reassurance and rest. Our job was to provide a safe environment. Their job was to explore it.

Children whose needs are being met are much more eager to please their parents than to disappoint them.

When expectations of a child’s behaviour are consistent with the child’s development and ability, discipline becomes much more realistic and manageable, and parenting becomes enjoyable.

 

How To Change a Toxic Atmosphere with a Bottle of Bubbles

There is a little bottle that lives in my purse. It is not elegant. Its packaging is cheap plastic and it cost me about 25 cents. So I’m happy to give it away whenever the situation calls for it.

But the problems it solves, the moods it changes, and its power to transform the atmosphere wherever I am is almost miraculous.

It’s a bottle of bubbles.

I’ve been carrying bubbles with me for years—ever since somebody introduced me to the ABCs of parenting: A is for Atmosphere, B is for Boundaries and C is for Communication.

A is for Atmosphere.

Do you remember the last day that the kids were stuck inside? The television was on all day and the noise turned into a dull roar, with occasional explosions of screams and squawks. The children were initially a little irritable. But being stuck in the house aggravated them to the point that the whining and niggling behaviour turned into all-out war. Or perhaps that only ever happened in my house.

It was at this stage that I’d scream and yell in response. It would go something like, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you guys. There are lots of things to play with. Can’t you just play nicely for a change?’

Sometimes what I said wasn’t quite as nice.

Take control of the atmosphere

Eventually I was reminded that I was the adult and so ultimately I was the one who could take control of the atmosphere.

I know now that a change in atmosphere is literally as good as a holiday, and it’s really simple and inexpensive to achieve.

Nothing beats going outside to change the atmosphere.

Even little babies love to lie and watch the breeze moving the leaves on the trees. Why not take a picnic snack down to a local park? You could lay a rug on the ground, lie back and watch the clouds moving in the sky, and get some exercise and fresh air in the process.ToriWeiss1n

But sometimes you have no choice but to stay inside.

Using My Senses

Some more experienced parents told me that by simply using my five senses—smelling, touching, tasting, seeing and hearing—I could figure out when  and how to make small changes that would make a big difference in the atmosphere.

Hearing

If the noise level is too loud, get the children to turn off all electrical gizmos (especially the television).

Perhaps you could play some beautiful music and dance or sway. Or get the kids to sing.

You could grab some cushions or pillows and a blanket and lie down to read a book or tell a story about what you did when you were growing up.

Or turn everything off, close your eyes and listen to all the noises that happen when everybody in the house is quiet.

You could even practise being blobs of butter melting into hot pieces of toast. Just see who goes to sleep first.

Smell

Open up windows to let in fresh air if you can. Grow herbs or carrot tops by the kitchen sink or on a window ledge. Display flowers (or neighbourhood weeds)  in a glass. Make orange juice. Bake. They’re all pleasant ways to change the ‘smell’ atmosphere in our homes.

A less pleasant (but very practical) idea: Take the rubbish out to the big bin outside. (I found that our kitchen got smelly because our rubbish bin was too big. So I swapped it for a smaller bin that needed to be emptied daily. It got rid of the stinky problem, and was much more pleasant to empty.)

Touch

Feeling clammy, being hot and sweaty, and even sticking to the floor, are all touch sensations I experienced with lots of little kids in my home.

One of my favourite ways to change the ‘touch’ atmosphere has always been bath time. Water refreshes, cooling us in summer and warming us in winter. Children play and chat happily—and I used to find numerous things to do, such as reading magazines and even sewing on buttons as I sat within an arm’s reach of the kids, so there was no risk of tragic accidents.

Keeping a stack of face-washers or microfibre cloths close-by helps to quickly wipe sticky fingers and mouths, and to wipe off tables, chairs and everything else on which those little sticky fingers left their mark. I’ve seen parents teaching their children to do the same.

Taste

Tastebuds will be happier if the children work with you as you prepare their snacks or meals. They’re more likely to eat what they’ve prepared themselves. It’s an easy form of entertainment and it gives them life skills.

Make sure to do this before they are hungry, or it won’t be a good experience for anybody.

Seeing

Encourage creativity. But too much clutter and unsorted toys tend to overwhelm children (and adults).

Sometimes it’s worthwhile keeping some toys packed away for a season while others are played with. Sometimes there’s just so much stuff you don’t even know where to begin.

Try using a kitchen timer and a clothes basket or a big box. And see if all of you can pick up all the toys and things from the floor and put them into the basket before the timer goes off.

If ‘team effort’ is somewhat lacking, give a challenge such as, ‘I’m going to pick up the red things. Which colour are you going to pick up? Ready, set … go!’ – Remember, you’re the adult. They’ll watch what you do and will learn from whatever you do next.

A hint: You may have to start first and ‘enjoy’ yourself before they’ll join in. Their enthusiasm may depend on your acting ability.

Include ‘clean-up’ as an important part of play–although it’s worthwhile to find a space for ‘works in progress’ too, especially as children grow older.

A message to generous grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents: if you give a present such as Lego or something with bits, consider also giving a container big enough to fit in all the pieces when children (or spatially-challenged parents) need to pack it all up—and make sure it’s stackable. Shoeboxes and ice-cream containers work really well.

Balls, balloons and bubbles

Balls, balloons and bubbles are inexpensive and easy to have on hand—at home and on trips.

Even if you’re in the car or on a plane, in a doctor’s waiting room, or a church pew or a schoolyard, remember that you can be in charge of the atmosphere. Packs of cards, a notebook and pencil—anything that gives the children something to concentrate on other than their discomfort—can contribute to a better atmosphere.

A note about electrical games: My own personal experience is that though some kids are fine with them, others (like me) get cranky while playing them. One of my kids couldn’t concentrate at school or focus on anything after they’d had a session on a screen. Simply changing their screen-time to later in the day or after school, before dinner time helped them to stay focused at school.

A lo-o-o-ng trip

I remember a lo-o-o-ng car trip from Adelaide to Brisbane. Somewhere along the way, the kids in the back seat began to moan and whine.

So we stopped by the side of the road, held the hands of our children, told them to be very quiet, and we all went ‘platypus hunting’.

It’s amazing how interesting a creek by the side of the road can become. Bushes that infrequently occur on the Hay Plain or little tracks at a local park can become the sites of great adventures. It’s also amazing how quiet six-year-old boys can be when platypus hunting!

Never too old to change the atmosphere. Reading a book to my daughter in the park
Never too old to change the atmosphere. Reading a book to my daughter in the park

Never too late

Oh, how I wish that I’d known about taking charge of the atmosphere much sooner. But even now, when young adults and their frequently visiting friends inhabit our house, that same principle works equally well.

It’s never too late to change a toxic atmosphere, no matter how old you are.

Perhaps we could all change the world—a bottle of bubbles at a time.

Originally published in The Lutheran, June 2012

How I Remembered to be an Encourager

My friend left her three little ones with me one morning. And suddenly, I remembered what it was like to: wipe the 31st runny nose for the morning, change nappies, wash hands and little fingers that seemed to get into everything, dive for precious things before they hit the floor… You get the picture.

I was also very glad when their mum returned one hour and thirty three minutes later because frankly…I was exhausted.

Their mum took them home with her for the next few years, and I went to the local shopping centre to relax and enjoy a Chai Latte.

As I luxuriated in the froth of my latte, another young mum went past with her two little ones; the elder in the stroller and the younger one, probably about two and a half, throwing a tantrum behind the stroller.

The mum calmly, gently and firmly took control of the situation. She whispered something into her now calmer daughter, and continued walking…with a quiet child who was not only settled but followed happily.

I felt the urge to run up to the mum and say ‘Well done!’ But the comfort of my Chai overwhelmed me and I continued to sit and sip.

When it was too late to be of any use, my conscience pricked me and reminded me of those times that my own little ones had thrown tantrums in public. Those were inevitably the same days that the car played up, one of the children lost a shoe, four litres of milk landed on the floor, and it was the last day to pay the electricity bill–and payday wasn’t until Friday.

On one particularly rotten day, we managed to get ourselves kicked out of both the library and the local store in less than two hours. Some well-meaning person in the store had plenty of words about how unruly my children were. As if I didn’t know that.

Later that afternoon I discovered that the main perpetrator of the mischief had yet another fever and accompanying burst ear-drum. So, I ended up at home with sick kids who I had to pack back into the car when they had just gone to sleep so I could pick up their big sister from school, and later, repeat the ordeal to collect their dad from work.

I don’t remember the words of advice that well-meaning person gave. But I know that as I sat exhausted, frustrated, angry and depressed, I wished that some-one would wave a magic wand and give me five minutes of peace and quiet and take all of my troubles away.

Foundation!

Funny, isn’t it, how we can all be parenting experts until we have at least three children of our own. I maintain that nobody who has parented more than two children ever sets themselves up as a parenting expert.

Yet, the advice flows doesn’t it? And me – I’m as guilty as anybody at handing it out.

So, instead of offering advice, I want to give a collective ‘SORRY’ to all of the parents I’ve judged unfairly, neglected to cheer when they were doing a good job, or felt too shy to offer  15 minutes time-out for a mum while I watched her two-year-old at playgroup.

On behalf of all of us who didn’t encourage you when we had the opportunity, here is some instant encouragement.

And for those of you who, like me, need to practice to be more encouraging, here are some ideas for what to say in the future.

You’re doing a great job!
Way to go!
Be gentle on yourself!
You don’t have to smile if you’re feeling awful on the inside!
We understand!
One day soon there will be more sleep!
Would you like me to hold your baby for a few minutes while you finish your cuppa?
How would you like me or my teenager to baby-sit this Friday night while you both go out for dessert?

Who knows? Maybe we can change our local communities into child and parent friendly communities: by encouraging rather than judging; by baking biscuits with the neighbourhood children to give their mum a morning off; by doing the dishes when we’re visiting;  by being realistic about life and it’s challenges; by standing alongside other parents instead of criticizing them; by reminding ourselves of what it was like to be tired with sick and cranky kids; and by standing up for parents of young children in our local planning committees.

We might just find ourselves sipping Lattes without the guilt – and discovering young friends in our old age.

 

Originally published in The Lutheran  as ‘Perfect Parenting’

 

Family Recipes

My mother-in-law Ruth and her sisters are extraordinary cooks. So family get-togethers of our three generations are a great celebration of good, old-fashioned German cooking, with lots of cream, and belly-aches for the uninitiated who tend to be overfilled by too much great food.

At any family gathering, the aunties bring designated dishes. Auntie Audrey makes brandy snaps and pavlova. Auntie Doreen makes pink jelly cakes, with cream in the middle. Ruth makes jelly-slice. And Auntie Joy makes cream-puffs. But that’s just dessert.

Before then, home-made sausage rolls and little meat-balls with home-made tomato sauce are for entree. That’s where the newbys get into trouble. The rest of us know

‘Don’t fill up on sausage rolls because there’s an ocean of food yet to come.’

Then there’s Ruth’s soup: The best chicken noodle soup in the world. Main course provides mountains of turkey and duck, chicken, ham, lamb and corned beef with lashings of creamy coleslaw, potato salad, and whatever else the in-laws bring along as salad.

Cooking, like housework, is not my forte, and I struggled for years to find something I could happily contribute to my in-laws’ family table.

But, a couple of decades ago when we lived overseas, I asked their mother Ruby for her kuchen (German streusel* cake) recipe. When I was little, I watched my own grandmother making kuchen in her tiny kitchen, and helped her to use the same dough to make doughnuts and kitchener buns. So I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of cooking with yeast.

After Ruby died, when the family was facing their first event without her, I baked Ruby’s kuchen. The taste and smell that were faithful to Ruby’s original recipe brought back many happy home memories. I was really pleased to contribute in a very important way to the family’s memories.

Though all the sisters thought that kuchen was too difficult to make, it didn’t take Ruth very long to work out that if I could cook something, almost anybody else could!

IMG_20160825_145611Recipes are like that, aren’t they? Some of them are intimidating. Some of them call for ingredients we just don’t have in our homes, or are too rich to make too often. And some of them just don’t suit our tastes. But some of them are just right.

I’ve found that parenting tips are like recipes: Many are passed from generation to generation; some are intimidating; some leave a bitter taste; and some are just too yummy to use too often.

But some of them are just right: they fit us, our family and our situation. Once we’ve tried them a few times, we can’t imagine life without them – even though we may tweak them according to our own tastes.

I’ve had the incredible privilege of running parenting seminars, courses and groups. They include a collection of parenting ‘recipes’ that  I’ve learnt along the way, received from colleagues or acquired at a training course. Or they are a complete course, such as Toolbox. They’re all backed up by decades of research.

What I have found though, is that listening to me is not nearly as encouraging to the parents as discovering that others share their joy and frustration — and even their pain!

‘Oh, that happens in your house, too?’ is the most common question I hear. As soon as I hear that, usually within the first five minutes of a seminar, I know that somebody is going to go home feeling much more encouraged, knowing they are not alone in their struggles.

The best bit is to see a parent’s eyes light up as they hear about a different approach, another way of looking at what their kids do, and when they say ‘I reckon I can do that!’

Most of the time the camaraderie that comes from knowing somebody else shares your experience can be positive. But this can be ambushed by a sense of judgement or failure if particular styles or methods of parenting are imposed or implied as particularly better than others.

Because we have different circumstances, personalities and backgrounds, the way we parent will be different from the way others parent. And it will be deeply affected by the way we were parented. It may also differ among our own individual children.

Most of us have memories of promising, ‘I’ll never do that to my child’. But if we don’t find another way to deal with that particular situation, we may discover ourselves reverting to the only way we know how, especially in times of crisis.

2016-08-25 14.56.51

The good news is that we don’t have to stick to the recipes that don’t work or we don’t like. There are plenty of options.

So, where can we find healthy parenting ‘recipes’? How can we tell which methods are the best to follow?

Perhaps start off with a bit of basic biology. Books and dvds and websites are a great place to begin to learn basic anatomy and physiology. It’s great to be aware of how babies grow, what they need in order to develop and how best to meet their needs. Then you will be able to describe and understand anatomical features when you have a medical or child-health appointment.
It will also help you to discern good advice from the rubbish you might read.

With a little basic biology behind you, check out some child-development resources. Two good websites are www.raisingchildren.net.au and www.child-encyclopedia.com.

Find out what’s normal, so that you don’t get upset when your baby starts dropping things from their high-chair over and over again; your two-year-old says ‘No!’; your three-year-old asks ‘Why?’ three hundred times a day; or your eight-year-old argues against everything you say.

Knowing what to expect will help you to feel more comfortable when asking somebody how to work with this next stage.  That’s much better than believing that your child is rebelling against your parenting style, or worse, is attacking you personally.

My favourite place to find useful and practical ideas about parenting is www.theparentingplace.com. But like any recipe, there are bits I add or take out, according to the needs of my family.

Take a look at that site and others. Try them out if they seem like they might work for you. Tweak them as necessary. Ask others what they think. Observe other parents and try to see the cause and effect principle in action.

If parenting ideas don’t sit right with your tastes or ingredients, don’t feel obliged to stick with them. If something doesn’t work, try something else.

And remember, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

Perhaps the best way to measure parenting recipes is to hold them up against a popular list of ingredients found in the bible in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Add a dose of fun and you have the greatest recipe for warm and happy memories that your kids will want to pass on for generations.

*Streusel is a crumble topping made with flour, butter and sugar.

Previously published in The Lutheran

Remote Chance of Chores: Julie Hahn

I did it again this morning.

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…