the tattle tales

If there’s one thing I learned over the summer with the seemingly interminable visits of my siblings and their offspring, it’s that kids LOVE to tattle.

My kids, being young, are still fairly honest.  My son will march into a room and announce with distress, “Mommy, I was jumping in the crib and it BROKE!”  If I ask my daughter, “Goobie, did you color on the door?” she will sweetly answer, “Yes.”

The older kids seem to be a bit wilier.  When I went to investigate the abovementioned crib incident, my 6- and 4.5-year-old nieces gleefully proclaimed, “He was jumping in the crib!  WE weren’t doing it, just him.  See, here’s where it broke.  And I think he took my drawing, too, because I can’t find it.”  Peatie endured my lecture and his subsequent removal from Grandma’s house looking dismayed and chagrined; I found out later that Goober quietly told Grandma, “My cousin was jumping in the crib, too; the cousin in the blue shirt.”

There’s a lot that bothers me about this and the several similar incidents I witnessed.  First off, my nieces lied about their involvement in the crib-breaking event.  Second, any child who’s present for such sustained rule-breaking (that crib did not break in one bounce) is, in my book, equally guilty unless they were taking significant steps to deter the others.  Third, it thoroughly irks me when children try to make life worse for others, in this case by magnifying the situation and attempting to add additional blame and infractions.  There are several blog posts imbedded in this paragraph, but today my focus is on the last issue.

So why do kids tattle?  At times, tattling can be a reaction to distress.  Small children’s lives are governed by the rules of their environment.  These rules (if consistent) provide a sense of security; little ones know what is allowed and not allowed, so they are able to function comfortably.  If someone breaks a rule, this rocks a little person’s world; they want an adult to firmly bolt that world back down by reinforcing the rules.

But at some point, tattling loses that sort of benevolent glow.  At some point, tattling seems to be about the balance of power: getting the authority figure to frown upon a playmate and, in turn, gaining a holier-than-thou glow for oneself.

Because I wish to heartily discourage the second form of tattling, I also gently discourage the former.  When one of my kids rushes to me with a tale of what the other has done, I listen solemnly and affirm their distress at the broken rule.  I then ask, “Did you remind __ what our family rule is?”  And send them off to speak to their sibling.  Within a few moments, I will check in to make sure all is well and provide any necessary correction—but I want my correction to be disconnected from the tattle.  I want my kids’ first resource to be their own words and actions, not, “I’ll tell Mom!”

Lately I’ve been on a parenting book kick.  One of the common parenting-book themes I’ve noticed is the idea that parents should encourage (and help) their children to solve problems themselves, without needing to enlist the help of a parent.  Over and over, I’ve been told that this is an excellent way to foster good sibling relationships and to equip children to better deal with other difficult relational situations later in life.

I like the idea of encouraging my children to solve conflict independently.  This doesn’t mean that I’ll turn away a child who’s being chased by a sibling with a hammer; it means that I will mediate for them, protecting them as a parent while also coaching them to find words to describe their problem and ways to compromise.  Hopefully this will prevent future teachers from needing to assign my children their own personal “Tattle Notebook” and bosses from, well, from firing them in exasperation.

What’s your take on tattling?

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comparison: hurtful or helpful?

Today’s topic is one of the greatest sources of inter-parental strife: comparison.

I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t compare your kids.  As far as I can tell, comparison is hard-wired into the human brain.  The way our brains make sense of the world around us is by categorizing and comparing.  Even simple description is based on comparison:  “My son is the tall blonde one.”  This sentence only makes sense if you know what blonde is as compared to brunette or redheaded and what tall means when you’re looking at a group of kids playing.

Comparison, like anger, is not evil by nature; it’s what you do with it that counts.  I naturally compare my kids’ sleeping habits (hallelujah that numbers two and three have both been better sleepers), their initial responses to solid food (they all made faces—but my current baby doesn’t like baby food, he likes big people food), their growth (each child has been bigger—I’d better stop while I’m in one piece), their likes and dislikes.

I can tell you that Peatie has always been a giggler, while Goobie is more reserved; Ender is the smilingest baby anyone has ever met.  I can tell you that Peatie is fascinated by the way things work and is compiling a mental atlas to rival Rand-McNally.  I can tell you that Goobie has always been excellent at doing puzzles and that she speaks almost as well as her big brother (more clearly, by most accounts, but with slightly less mastery of complex sentences).

Knowing this does not make me a bad mother; in fact, I’d argue that good mothers ought to know the differences between their children (and maybe even between their children and their children’s friends).  It’s what you do with this knowledge that defines its merit.  Hopefully you celebrate each child’s unique personality and accomplishments.

Obviously, parents realize that not all personality quirks are laudable.  I’m trying to help Peatie develop more responsibility for his things, urging Goobie not to do things solely for their brother-antagonizing power.  But in general, each child’s personality and accomplishments can be celebrated separately, comparing without lamenting.

Chalk "A" and person drawingToday I’m proud of all three of my kids.

This morning, Peatie made an A all by himself.  He’s been interested in making letters for a while, but he hasn’t been able to control his hand well enough to create anything recognizable until now.

Goobie “made Gwamma nice and pwiddy.”  She’s been making a few letters recently—a random G, L, V, or ? added to a page of scribbles—but this was her first recognizable picture.

And this afternoon, Ender figured out how to get his knees under his gut, dig his toes into the carpet, and propel himself forward.  He’s not moving fast, but he’s now a baby on the move.

Three achievements on three different kid-timelines.  Three reasons for this Mommy to be so excited about my kids’ development and proud of their success.  Now if only my perspective were as uniformly healthy when it came to observing other people’s children, I’d be all set!  (My success with rational inter-family comparison depends on the day.)

What’s your take on comparison?  Can you share stories of your child (or listen to others’ stories) without feeling like you’re playing a game of one-upmanship with friends?  Can you view one child without drawing unhelpful comparisons to others?

one lovely blog award

I’ve just been nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award by barrentoblessed, a fellow blogger who shares about faith, life, and especially infertility and motherhood.  Head on over to check out some of her thoughtful, honest posts!

While these awards can sometimes seem as unwieldy as those chain e-mails most of us grew to despise, I do think they are a wonderful way to encourage fellow bloggers and to help folks find each other in this broad blogosphere, so thank you, barrentoblessed!

As per the requirements of this award, I’ve let you know who shared this award with me; below I’ve included the requisite seven personal tidbits and fifteen blogs I think are worth checking out.  If I’ve linked to you, don’t feel as if you MUST continue this award.  Just bask in the glow and move on, if you’d rather.

At any rate, on to my seven personal tidbits:

1.  I’ve had lots of fears since childhood.  When I was little, I had a plan for what I would do if my house caught fire or if someone crawled in my window and tried to kidnap me.  I still don’t like being alone in the dark or being too close to bugs or being in deep water…

2. I was once told that I would never walk again.  Then I was told that I would DEFINITELY never run or jump.  I guess God knew how fast my (not-likely-to-be-naturally-conceived) kids would be able to move and adjusted accordingly.

3. For as long as I can remember, my hobbies have been reading, writing, and doing craft projects (drawing, painting, sewing).

4. If I had a clue how, I’d start a custom mural-painting business.  I’ve painted walls in my mom’s house, done a nursery for my sister, and painted two different kids’ rooms for my sister’s friend, and I love doing it.

5. Despite the fact that I love painting murals, I have not painted a single one in either home we’ve lived in during the 6.5 years we’ve been married.  I have no idea why not.

6. Lately, I have been on a nonfiction reading kick.  This strikes me as odd, since I’ve never been really big on nonfiction before.

7. I wish I were good with tools.  Any kind, though construction-type would be most helpful, given the amount of work to be done yet on our fixer-upper house.  Sadly my father-in-law, who is pretty handy, always told my husband that his household fix-it jobs were one-man tasks, so ‘Love never learned to work with his hands, either.  We would save either a lot of money or a lot of headache (or both) if one of us had a clue how to work with wood, drywall, tile, or any other construction material.

Now that you’ve got some new dirt on me, how ’bout reading up on some other folks.  The blogs below have some pretty cool material.  Some are well-established and some are just getting started, but all have something great to offer:

rookiemomadventures

I Made a Human, Now What?

dirtyrottenparenting

Defining Motherhood

iGameMom

memyselfandkids

Mom in the Muddle

jegriffinarts

sleeping should be easy

thegreenhousewife

My Cracked Pot

clotildajamcracker

The Parenting Construction Site

slapppshot

Mothering many with gentle grace

finding fulfillment during the mommy years

The more time I spend wandering from blog to blog, the more I seem to sense a theme: motherhood in and of itself is not always fulfilling.  While some moms profess to love each diaper change and every second of repetitive toddler play, there are plenty seeking affirmation that they are still human, something more than just a walking burp cloth.  Time and again, I have run across posts that say something like, “I love my kids and wouldn’t trade them for the world, but I need something more.”

As this search for fulfillment has been a large part of my mommy career, I find it reassuring to discover so many who share my struggle.  As a part of my meaning-seeking process, I’ve made a list of ways to find fulfillment as a mommy.  Perhaps you’ll find them helpful:

  • Write about it.  Obviously, plenty of folks have already gone this route.  I somehow find it very satisfying to write about my mommy adventures and agonies, as if writing gives them meaning.
  • Talk about it.  Have you noticed that being a parent automatically gives you a topic of conversation to rely on for nearly all social interactions?  Sometimes this chat really helps to affirm what you’re doing, reassuring you that others are in the trenches too and showing you that each phase will eventually pass.
  • Treat it as a job.  When you work outside the home, you have definite goals, projects to check off your list, deadlines to meet.  All of this (while sometimes frustrating) leads to a sense of satisfaction.  I’ve determined that it’s helpful for me to recreate some of this in my job as Mommy.  As stated in my Purposeful Parenting post, I’m not quizzing my kids on flashcards or making them raise their hand before speaking; I’m just trying to be deliberate in providing a range of enriching experiences and exposing my kids to information I think they’ll find interesting or useful.  I’m currently in the process of compiling a project I call MommyDotEdu: Laid-Back Learning for Mommies Who Need Goals; this project provides a list of topics that I plan to weave into our play and interaction each week.  (I loved the planning portion of teaching, so I can’t help myself!)  I’ll share some of it as I begin it at the end of summer.  In addition, I break my housework into daily tasks to check off.
  • Find a hobby.  In a sense, I’ve done this with my MommyDotEdu project.  Pick something that interests you—related to motherhood or not—and dive in.  Most of my hobbies have begun to revolve around parenting.  I sew things for my kids, I journal about the things they say and do, and I read books about effective parenting (as well as myriad other topics).  A hobby can help you fill your naptimes and evenings with something that makes you feel good.
  • Join a club or choose a cause.  Give yourself something else to focus on, something bigger than the pile of laundry you’ve got to do today.  Volunteer at a local soup kitchen, raise awareness of a disease that has touched your family, campaign for a politician who excites you, organize a school supply drive, or choose something else that you’re passionate about.  I joined the local MOMS Club, which provides social opportunities and does fundraising for area mother/child causes.  Since childcare gets in the way of my volunteering, I help with set-up for church events when nursery is provided or shop for bargains to donate to school supply, toy, and other “good” drives, which I can do with my children (though it’s not easy explaining that the toys we’re buying aren’t going to stay at our house!).

How do YOU find fulfillment as a mom?

thicker than water: the summer of insanity update

I have survived more than half of my Summer of Insanity.  I’m exhausted—but yet, I’m also exhilarated.  My schedule has been blown to bits, my routine is nil, my free time is miniscule, my sleep is pathetically lacking.  But I have reconnected with my siblings, I have been re-introduced to nieces and a nephew whose recollection of me one year later was vague at best, and, the crown of it all, I have watched my kids connect with their aunts and uncles and cousins.

Holding hands

I’ve taken hundreds of photos to capture memories of our time together.

Is there something special about being related?  All of my siblings are separated by at least 10 hours of driving, so our kids see each other once each year.  All of our kids tend to be shy, hanging onto our knees at playdates.  And yet from the moment they met, the cousins fell into playing happily together unlike their play with anyone else.  All three moms commented on it.

This play has been good for my kids.  Around here, I’ve not managed to find them playmates who are a good fit.  The kids in the two families I’ve connected with most regularly seem to have a different style of play or different interests than my kids; playdates usually consist of their kids growling and chasing my terrified children or my kids huddling in a corner playing with trains while their “friend” hollers desperately that they are playing wrong or that they really ought to be interested in playing something else.  I’d seen glimpses of hope when my oldest made a magical connection with another child at a park, but I wasn’t sure how to nurture or recreate that spark.

With their cousins, it has happened.  Over and over again, they have gleefully run off to make messes together, to imagine together.  Little Goober tells me stories about her “other sisters”—her girl cousins—and Peatie asks daily if his cousins are at Grandma’s house to play with him.  This brings me great joy, but it also breaks my heart.

It is already drawing to a close.  Goobie’s “other sisters” have gone home.  The remaining two cousins will be in town for two weeks, gone for one, then back for just a few final days.  And that will be the end of it until next summer, when we’ll have just one week together.  How I wish that they lived closer, or that I at least could find a family with whom we could create some sort of surrogate connection.  Lucky are those who have such close relationships in close proximity.

teaching kids about money

If piggy bank care is any indication of future financial responsibility, them we’re in for a doozy of a ride with our oldest two.

Both kids enjoy playing with their piggy banks, an activity I only allow if they’ve found or been given a new coin to add.  Peatie carries his from place to place, dumping and replacing his coins, blithely unaware of the many that he is dropping along the way.  Goober, meanwhile, stays in one spot to play with her money.  She is aware of the location of each and every one of her coins, and if one falls, she drops down on all fours until she finds it.  She is also aware of the location of each of her brother’s coins; each time one falls, she waits until he is out of the way and then quietly adds it to her own collection.  On the worst day, Peatie was lamenting that he had just three pennies left; today I only had to return $.97 to his pig to even things out.

As my kids get older, I’ve begun to wonder how to help them learn to be financially responsible.  When I was young, my parents faithfully presented me with a dollar each week.  I put $.10 into the Tootsie Roll bank that held my tithe money, sent $.65 to the bank with my dad, and had $.25 left for spending—which I swiftly blew through with a trip to the candy counter at The Custard Shoppe.

piggy banks and coinsThough these early lessons taught me the importance of setting aside my tithe money before I considered my spending desires, I think I learned more financial responsibility as a teenager.

For a long time, my mother lamented that a trip to the store with me in tow was simply a recipe for a long list of “I want.”  At some point I ran across something—an article?  a TV show?—that talked about giving kids a clothing allowance so they could buy what they really wanted and have a known spending limit.  I proposed this to my mom, who discussed with my dad and determined that they would give me a clothing allowance.  This proved to be a distinct eye-opener.  When I had to consider that buying a much-desired new sweater would mean that I couldn’t afford much-needed new jeans for another month or two, my needs and wants were clarified.  I might admire something in the store, but I recognized that not everything was a wise use of my money, and I prioritized my spending.

The other element of my upbringing that I found especially helpful was my dad’s credit card policy.  When we kids learned to drive, we were issued a credit card for gas purchases.  We were expected to save any receipts we generated and present them to him.  In college, the credit card was intended to be used at our discretion.  We were to save all receipts, create a spreadsheet of our expenses indicating whether they were items that fell into his monthly allowance for our expenses or things for which we’d need to repay him, and submit both the receipts and spreadsheet to him each month.  This system gave me practice at tracking my expenses and crafting a basic budget for myself covering more than just clothing.  Due to my dad’s system, I am actually better at keeping track of my expenses on credit cards than I am with cash; I use credit almost exclusively, paying the bill in full each month and reaping the reward money as a bonus for my daily expenditures.

So when do you need to start educating kids about money?  We already discuss the fact that Daddy goes to work to earn money to pay for the things we buy from the store, and my kids will ask if things are on a good sale this week, so we’re starting with some basics.  When is a good age to take the next step?

It’s been long enough that I have no idea when I began to get an allowance (and neither do my parents).  When I was little, a buck was a decent allowance—enough to tithe and save and still be able to afford a few pieces of candy each week.  How much is appropriate now?  I’ve read the suggestion of a dollar a week for each year of life, but I can’t think where I’d come up with a couple hundred dollars from my budget (never mind that the amount will be over $500 in just a few years).

What do you do to help your kids learn about money?  And how do you make sure the lesson of financial responsibility hits home without passing on a sort of scarcity obsession?

12 activities to improve fine-motor coordination

If you’re like me, occasionally you’ll notice that your kid is a real whiz at some things, but perhaps a bit weak in other areas.  Last fall I was noticing that Peatie, who was doing great at gross-motor and imaginative stuff, seemed to be frustrated by fine-motor tasks.  In order to help him out, I brainstormed activities that develop fine-motor skills.

  • Art projects that involve coloring and cutting
  • Doing puzzles
  • Wooden train set
  • Self-care like buttoning a shirt and putting on shoes
  • Putting coins in a piggybank, then opening the hatch to release them
  • Building with toys like Duplos or wooden blocks
  • Lacing cards (make your own with some cardboard, a hole punch, and a shoelace)
  • Stringing beads (or noodles!)
  • Making things with PlayDoh
  • Pouring (we used pinto beans in the kitchen or water in the tub)
  • Screwing a nut onto a bolt (we have toy ones that came with a toy tool kit)
  • Sorting small objects (coins, colored fishy crackers)

With the goal of fine-motor development at the forefront, I encouraged the kids to participate in at least a few of these activities each week.  While we’re not perfecting our cursive (or even buttoning our own buttons yet), I have seen a distinct improvement.