What our five-year-old daughter wore to school each day had become a battle – so much so, that every morning we’d have another screaming match.
“You will, I won’t … I will, you won’t”.
Every morning at least one of us would end up in tears, and often one of us would end up with a spanked bottom.
One day an experienced grandma advised me to ”choose your battles.” Her wise words encouraged me to take a step back to see what was really happening.
A look from a different perspective enabled me to see that my daughter was trying to assert her independence as a part of growing up. But I was afraid that she was leaving me, so I tried to control her, in every aspect of her life.
Sure, I needed to have my daughter’s respect, but I also needed to show respect to my daughter and allow her to grow up and take on more responsibility and choices as she grew.
We soon solved the “clothes war”.
We went for our first ever “date” –which became a family custom and we continued with all of our children, individually.
Over an ice-cream, we made a mutual decision: My daughter could choose what to wear from Monday to Saturday. But I had final say on Sunday mornings and special occasions, and I chose the clothes to weddings.
Grandma’s words helped me to realise that if I were to continue to fuss over every aspect of my daughter’s life, there would come a time when I would really need to “make a point”. Then how would my daughter distinguish between what I believed was really important and what was “just a fuss”?
Ultimately, fussing over little things did not gain my daughter’s respect – just her resentment.
The difference between life and death
Little things like whether her shirt matched her shorts, or how she wore her hair did not really matter in a world where decisions about drugs, alcohol, sex and fast cars can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Saving my “fussing” for those issues that were important helped my daughter learn how to make wise choices. And as she entered the pre-teens, equipped her to face the “grey issues”. As she grew older, the grey issues became still greyer, but she became more confident in her decision making, having had years of experience.
Twenty-plus years after the “clothes war” we still talk about the big and little issues with great respect and much love for each other. We still have different tastes in clothes, and ice-cream is still our favourite date.
Last year, we all celebrated James’ and Tiarna’s engagement at a church beach retreat, exactly where I am now, exactly one year later. Yesterday was their seven-month Wedding anniversary – So yes, we’ve had a big year.
Last time we were here, I wrote:
James came down the stairs (of another unit) at exactly the same moment that I’d determined to give each one of my family members a hug.
I went to him, arms outstretched.
‘But I can’t hug you back!’ he said, as if I didn’t notice that his arms were stuffed full of the weekend’s rubbish, headed for the bin.
‘That’s what grace is all about. Isn’t it?’ I teased. ‘When you receive and you can’t give back’.
I continued down to the beach.
Grey sky. Storm clouds. Crashing waves. I noted the contrast between the heat of yesterday and the refreshing cool of this morning.
Into my heart flowed ‘God of wonders, beyond our galaxy, You are holy. The universe declares your majesty…You are holy’.
The song continued in my heart and I joined in praise and worship for a brief moment bathing in glory…until a friendly dog came up to me, licked my shoe and then my hand, and splashed me with my second shower for the morning. I laughed, and the poor dog looked up and ran off towards its owners, one of whom was dressed similarly to me.
My walk continued – and so did my contemplation of the ordinariness of our lives in comparison with God’s glory.
But God gently reminded me of my hug with James and of how we often welcome new members of the family. Most often He gives us babies into our family—little ones who can’t coordinate anything yet, can’t do anything to receive our love, our service, our all.
God gives us others who can’t give back, to teach us grace–to gift us with the joy of being grace-givers, and thereby to learn something of the love He has for us.
I used to give a STOP, THINK, ACT handout to parents. Initially it was so they could remind kids to STOP, THINK then ACT before rushing into things inevitably got them into trouble.
Later, I tweaked it a little to incorporate feelings. I learnt that before any child can think clearly, they need to be able to acknowledge what they’re feeling.
Many of the dads came up to me several weeks after their handout made it onto the fridge in their home.
‘You know that “STOP. FEEL & THINK. ACT” thing you gave us for the kids? It works for me too. It reminds me to stop before I yell or smack. Thanks!’
The more I deal with parents, the more I discover that parenting kids involves learning about ourselves in the process.
So, here’s the adultified version of the ABC’s of Stop, Think, Act.
The ABC’s of STOP, THINK, ACT.
How do we continue with life when so many things around us are too horrible to contemplate – but they don’t actually affect us?
When dozens are massacred in a place we know of; When shots are fired at a house on the next block; When lives have been shattered through motor vehicle accidents; When someone else is diagnosed with cancer; When arbitrary decisions made by people who should know better affect families who deserve better; When jobs and the economy are unstable.
We can climb into our shells and pretend the world doesn’t exist.
Or we can:
FEEL, ACKNOWLEDGE, THINK.
Before you do anything else, especially if it’s going to lead you or someone else into trouble, STOP – long enough to take a breath.
FEEL & ACKNOWLEDGE. THINK & PLAN
What are your feelings?
Are they coming from now? Are they protecting you and telling you to run for your life or to seek shelter or care for others?
Then fight or flee, or tend and find others to be with.
Or are they coming from the past? Are they protecting you – or are they paralysing you in panic, causing the child in you to fear something you have never been helped to deal with? Then make an appointment with yourself to sort through them when you’re out of the current situation. But NOT right now.
But What to do now? Think and PLAN
Identify what is outside of your control. Be aware of it, but hand it over to someone bigger, stronger, wiser or kind for the moment. Pray. Dig down deep and dump it in a place where you can pick it up and be helped to deal with it later.
Worrying about something outside of your control cripples you from doing what you CAN do.
Concentrate on what is within YOUR control?
What CAN you do?
ABCs of what you CAN do:
A – Acknowledge – ‘All I can do is all I can do, and all I can do is enough’
B – Breathe
C – Create something beautiful or useful
D – Donate your time, talent or treasure
E – Encourage others with your words, your presence, your attitude, your actions
F – Find help to deal with those emotions from the past
You may not make a big difference in the whole scheme of things,
But you can make an enormous difference in the life of another.
Put your plans into action. Take tiny steps forward into doing something positive. And you’ll take your thoughts under control in the process.
Volunteer in a local op-shop; or Meals-on-Wheels; in a hospital or nursing home; mow a lawn or weed a garden; take immigrants/students for driving practice; sell sausages for charities at your local hardware store; take a dog for a walk; hang up washing or sort clothes for an overwhelmed mum or dad; hold a baby; bake a cake with a teenager; cook a meal for a neighbour; listen to kids reading in school; sweep up in a Men’s Shed; grow fruit & vegetables for a Grow Free cart; work in a community garden; join a choir; teach a child to play an instrument; make costumes or props for a school concert; edit a newsletter; write to your politician or newspaper; join a quilting group …
Please add your ideas in the comments section below.
As adults we have the ability to determine what is within and outside of our control. Stop. Feel & Acknowledge, Think & Plan helps us to remember that we CAN take control of the next moment.
Inspired by: Ephesians 5:15-17
‘Live life then, with a due sense of responsibilitiy, not as people who do not know the meaning of life but as those who do.
Make the best use of your time, despite the evils of these days. Don’t be vague, but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of the Lord.’ Phillips
Ok. I admit it. I’m a bit precious about my hair – something I have in common with many people I think.
It seems that those of us like me, who have naturally straight hair, spend as much time and effort in trying to make it curl as those who have curly hair spend straightening it. Then there are those who, like my husband, would be proud to have any hair on their very shiny, bald heads.
To those of us who have dead-straight hair, with cowlicks and double-crowns for added interest, a hairdresser who can cope with our hair is like a rare jewel. We keep regular appointments, and will virtually camp outside of the salon in case there happens to be a vacancy, if for some reason we’ve forgotten to book our appointment six weeks in advance.
I had one of those hairdressers recently. We formed a close enough bond that we exchanged mobile phone numbers when she moved salons.
But four haircuts ago, as she cut my hair she told me she was having a change in her career path. Outwardly I smiled and nodded – being very careful to nod in between snips so I didn’t accidentally lose an ear. But inwardly I was screaming,
Being the great actress I can be, I congratulated her and wished her all the best – while secretly and selfishly wishing that it would not work out!
Since then, I’ve been experimenting with hairdressers. I’ve really tried hard not to be too precious about it. My first haircut with a new hairdresser was not too bad. So I returned six weeks later, but unfortunately timed it at the end of a very busy Saturday. The haircut took a week to settle, but it was alright. So I went back to the same salon for the next haircut.
I smiled at the stranger behind the counter, and she took my name and number and made an appointment for me for the next day. The next day, she cut my hair.
Well, I’m still not really sure what the cut looks like or whether I like it. Usually hairdressers have a way of ‘selling’ my new cut to me. While I’m sitting in the chair looking in the mirror and waiting for them to wave their magic wand, they grab some styling gel – or in my case, some stuff literally called ‘muk’ which closely resembles putty. They fool around with my very short locks, sticking up bits that refuse to stick up if they’re un-mukked, and plastering down other bits. Somehow, they have me believing I’m gorgeous!
Not this day! The cut was finished. Precise and closely resembling a pom-pom, I wasn’t quite sure how the hairdresser would putty it. She didn’t. She moved over to the cash till and I gathered my glasses and my handbag and walked over to the cash till too. I waited for the shock of the cost. But I wasn’t ready for her next question.
‘Do you have a Seniors Card?’
My outer-actress face smiled and said ‘No’.
Inside, my heart was sinking. I thought, ‘You’ve just spent 20 minutes with me talking about yourself and your views and you’ve just commented that I don’t have many grey hairs yet. I’m only just 50. I was here to have a spiffy haircut and feel better about myself, and now you’re asking if I have a Seniors Card.’
I must say that my retelling of my story at bible-study later that night created much more humour at my expense than I anticipated.
Once I had calmed down a bit I thought back to this hairdresser who in reality had followed my instructions, but just failed in her sales pitch. I thought of the power of her few tiny words.
I know of only some of the pain I’ve caused others because of my thoughtless words. I have known no greater anguish than when I hurt others with hastily written words which were distributed unedited. Thank God, these days I have several editors who get back to me about these articles.
‘Are you sure that you want to say this?’
‘Are you aware it could be taken differently than you intend?’
‘Is that what you really meant to say?’
Wouldn’t it be great in real life to have an editor to take with me, to check my words before they leave my mouth?
Sometimes words themselves can be quite inert
As I was trying to write the rest of this article, I heard a loud yell from one of our kid’s rooms.
‘A hundred and thirty dollars?’
Sometimes words themselves can be quite inert. Nobody would raise an eyebrow at a hundred and thirty dollars if they had just checked through the contents of a supermarket trolley, or if they’d paid for a car service. But the way in which we say words often speaks more loudly than the words themselves could ever say.
I love a part of the movie ‘Three men and a baby’ where one of the three ‘dads’ read to the baby from a magazine about wrestling. His intonation was gentle and soothing, so it was not long before the baby was asleep.
When our kids were little, we used to sing a song
‘Keep your tongue from evil, keep your tongue’ (click, click, click – went our tongues!)
For a verse we would grab hold of our tongues with our fingers – literally.It was a fun song.
But today as I write I think that I should take that song more seriously. If I can’t physically take hold of my tongue, I can practise to be quieter – to listen to others rather than offer them my words of wisdom. I can respond to emails or Facebook, but write a draft somewhere else to give me time to process what I’m really trying to say. Perhaps sleep on it before I post. I can avoid ever becoming a tweeter because hastily written or said words have always got me into trouble.
And I can always check and recheck that my words are like honey, for tomorrow, I may have to eat them.
First published in The Lutheran magazine, November 2013 as ‘My Bad Hair-Cut Day’.
Four of us delivered beautiful babies within a couple days of each other, and met as we waddled down the corridors, pushing our babies in their clear bassinettes. We discovered that we lived close to each other, and decided to meet up. We each brought a friend to our first meeting, and continued to gather regularly to support, laugh and cry together.
We shared our problems with breastfeeding: some had no milk and some had too much. Some had sleep, others had little. We excitedly phoned each other when our babies cut their first teeth, and rolled over for the first time – Well everybody else phoned when their baby rolled over. Our baby rolled over off the side of the bed, landing on her head – with both of us watching. So our excited phone-call was to the doctor!
Then, the babies began to walk. From then on, they proceeded to ‘explore’ or ‘get into mischief’ – depending on which school of thought we came from. Out came the virtual daggers that ripped each other’s views of parenting into shreds. Some were in favour of smacking while others were opposed to it. Some had schedules for sleeping times, while others had baby-led regimes.
Out of our regard for each other, we celebrated a combined first birthday, and officially ended our group. We recognised that our views differed enough to become a barrier to our friendship if we continued to meet up under the same circumstances.
Our ‘babies’ are now well into their twenties. All of them are beautiful, healthy, loving young adults – despite their parents’ different approaches to parenting. Occasionally we bump into the other parents and we share what our young adults are up to. We are still friends – probably because we chose to focus on things other than the behaviour of each other’s children.
We all wanted to do our very best for our families. But unfortunately, that was often framed in a very black and white viewpoint – certainly one that was clouded by lack of sleep, childhood illnesses, current hypotheses on child-rearing and the different backgrounds and beliefs of each of our families.
That initial experience of parenting groups was enough to make me seek friendships and mentoring outside of a focus on children. Perhaps I subconsciously recognised that other parents of children the same age as mine were caught up in the same boat as me. So I maintained friendships with older, more experienced parents through craft groups and bible studies. Through informal discussions, I found their objective views were much more helpful. Perhaps the most encouraging message they gave me was that they had survived.
At one stage, a group of older members of our congregation organised a parenting course presented by Ross Campbell, author of ‘How to really love your child’ and Gary Chapman, author of ‘The Five Love Languages’. The course was great and the kids had a good time too. They were fed pizza and cared for while we learnt to enjoy our kids…and really love them in a way they could understand. These days, we try to encourage and mentor parents as we were encouraged and mentored.
We recognise that there is a whole world full of different parenting philosophies and practices today. Each family is different from every other family. So we encourage families to note and treasure those differences.
Some families have found it useful to make their own Family Values Ladder. Parents each make a list of what is important to them such as: education, trust, sharing, honesty, God-loving. Then they share their ideas and together prioritise them according to what they believe to be most important to their family. It’s useful to involve the kids in this process. Just a word of caution: Taking your teens to the local KFC to do this activity while their friends are working a shift behind the counter is not a good idea…Don’t ask me how I know that!
Family Values Ladders
Together with your partner, work out which values you hold to most strongly, and write them on a ladder such as this.
‘Family Values Ladders’ help keep family ‘challenges’ in perspective. For example, if ‘kindness’ is high on the family value ladder, while ‘keeping up with fashion’ is further down the ladder, mum and dad might choose to focus on encouraging kindness in their family, rather than arguing with their children about which t-shirt they should wear.
These days I encourage all parents to attend courses, read books, watch dvds or television programmes that teach about child development and relationships. There are some words of caution I usually give:
Parenting courses, parenting groups and parenting advice that is useful should leave you with a feeling of ‘I can do that’, no matter how well (or not) you have been doing.
Good parenting courses should back-up other good parenting courses
If some advice you hear is contrary to what others are saying, check it out! Find out the evidence and the original source of the information and compare it.
If your heart is telling you that something is not right, ask yourself, “Is this showing love, and does it practice respect for all concerned?’
Ask questions! Don’t take any advice as ‘gospel’ without questioning it – and especially, check out the context of biblical references if they are quoted.
Perhaps the wisest words of advice we’ve ever received are from Ian Grant, author of ‘Growing Great Families!’ *
‘If you’re having fun being a parent you’re probably doing it about right!’
The nest is but an empty shell. It sits on the lowest branch of our neighbour’s palm tree. I can see it from my window as I write.
To look at it now, in mid-winter Adelaide, it looks cold, hard and lifeless.
A pair of Murray Magpies built it from mud last Spring. Then they took it in turns to bring materials to line it with warmth and love–and a Murray-Magpie-mud-nest-full of our roof insulation. We had enough to share.
Over the next few weeks the birds kept the nest warm and each other company much of the time. Of course, they may well have been guarding the nest from neighbourhood cats and possums. Beware anything that gets between a Murray-Magpie-mum and her eggs!
The day arrived that we saw tiny beaks poke up to be shoved full of whatever mum and dad bird collected.
But, as happens, the chicks grew–too big for the nest. The chicks flew away.
Too soon the nest was empty.
Summer passed. Autumn too.
And now, Winter sits. Its long, dark clouds hang like a lifeless shroud.
The nest is but an empty shell. It sits and sways on a dying palm branch, waiting silently for the warmth of Spring that promises new life and love.
And this empty shell, from which I watch, fills with the warmth of hope.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
. 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.
. 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.
. 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.
. 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
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).
. 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’.
I went into a book-shop this morning to gather some inspiration for this blog.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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