To Love Somebody

coke-parenting-hed-2013You know you’re pregnant when Coke commercials from other countries make you cry. Nevertheless, I love this commercial. It almost makes me want to go buy a Coke…despite the fact that I don’t really like Coke. Maybe I’ll like the new Coke Life if we ever get it here.

(Unrelated sidebar: I’m super impressed that Coke made a diet drink without aspartame. I truly know nothing about stevia, other than it exists, but I’m glad to see a move away from the former.)

Go ahead. Watch it. It’s a commercial. It’s short.

Feel free to nod in agreement, pull your hair out in frustration, and weep with joy at the succinct, true, and beautiful message this commercial sends.

I think I’ve watched it 300 times in the 48 hours I’ve been aware of it’s existence…and, yes, I tear up every time. (I’m going to blame it on the hormones, but I really think it’s just seeing this great reflection of the chaos and the beauty that I lovingly refer to as parenting.)

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Behavior Management Series: Target Problem Behaviors

This post is part of a series on behavior management. The preceding post can be found HERE. 
 

kidsfighting-cartoon

When seeking to improve the behavior of your children, you need to decide what you want to accomplish with your kids. You want them to behave. But what does behave mean to you?

Target one or two, but no more than three, behaviors where you really want to see improvement. If you feel like you have 50 areas that need improvement, don’t worry. You can snowball to those later. For now, just focus on a few key behaviors or attitudes. For me, my key behaviors are obedience and respect. These are admittedly broad behaviors. If you are just setting out on a behavior management journey, you will want to target very specific behaviors. The more specific, the more easily you can measure success for both you and your child. By choosing very specific behaviors, you will be able to see your child’s improvement more clearly, you will be able to feel more victorious in conquering problem behaviors, and you will be able to easily move on to the next behavior you wish to target.

If you’re not sure where to begin, try sitting down in the middle of a particularly grumpy moment. You know, one of those moments when you’re nearly positive that your children are either possessed or on drugs. One of those moments where all you want to do is run away screaming. One of those moments when you can’t fathom why you ever chose to have kids. Ok…I think you know what I’m talking about.

Anyway…

Sit down during one of those grumpy moments and write down all of the problem areas you can think of. Be as specific as possible. Suzie uses a rude tone. Jimmy and Johnny pick on each other. Sally doesn’t share. Larry colors on the wall. Etc, etc, etc. If you do this activity in a grumpy moment, you will be more likely to identify all the problems you’re dealing with.

Then, when you’re feeling slightly less grumpy pick your list back up. Now, to the best of your ability, add the cause of the problem behaviors. Suzie uses a rude tone when she doesn’t get her way. Jimmy and Johnny pick on each other when they’re bored. Sally doesn’t share the legos. Larry colors on the wall when I’m working on the computer. You may not be able to do this for every behavior. That’s ok. Keep watching for situations that trigger the particular behaviors you don’t like. Add them to the list as you observe them.

You may be lucky enough to be able to eradicate some problem behaviors simply by identifying the cause. For example, if Tommy gets really hyper while watching Lazy Town, you may choose to simply eliminate Lazy Town. In this example, if he doesn’t watch the show, the hyperactivity will cease to exist. There is nothing wrong with manipulating the environment to achieve your desired results. If fact, for a situation as clear as that, it would be foolish not to. Otherwise, you’re just creating more work for yourself.

Next, sit down with your list after the kids are in bed or at another quiet time when you can think. You may wish to include your spouse or other caregivers in this step. Make as many observations about your list as you can. Do you notice any patterns? Are there groups of similar behaviors? Are there groups of similar trigger situations? The more you know about what you’re dealing with, the more effective you will be.

Finally, prioritize your list. Choose your top problem behaviors. These behaviors will be your focus. Having these priorities does not mean you allow all other bad behavior to slide, it simply means that these behaviors are your primary focus. This will help tremendously when you struggle with consistency down the road. (Stay tuned for that fun challenge!)

Next time, we’ll start talking about what to do with these problem behaviors.

Happy list making!

Next post in the series: Delight in Your Children

Behavior Management Series: What Is Discipline?

Believe it or not, I’m just now starting to have “mommy friends.” I’ve spent the first 7 years of my parenting career mostly as a lone ranger, not having many other friends with kids. The more mommies I get to know, the more I realize what a gift my background in psychology really is. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, something I’m passionate about even, but now I see what a gift it has been to my parenting. Realizing that what I’ve learned over the years isn’t necessarily common knowledge, I thought I’d write a few posts  about behavior management. Most of the practical knowledge I have comes from my time working at Youth Villages Center for Intensive Residential Treatment and from the outpatient skills training I lead at Denton County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center. Of course, some of my knowledge comes from book work, as the majority of classes I chose to complete my psychology major were in some way related to children. Several mommies have asked me questions recently about my children’s behavior and what we do at home. Because of that, I thought sharing what I know may prove helpful to others.

Master effective discipline so you don't constantly feel like an angry circus-master.

Mastering effective discipline allows you to be yourself instead of an angry circus-master.

I think the first thing one must understand when realizing a need for behavior management is what discipline really is. The word gets a bad rap. I’m not sure why. My guess is that it stems from a misunderstanding about either (1) what discipline really is or (2) what children really need to thrive. I’d like to clear up both problems.

The word discipline derives from a Latin word that means “to teach.” Teaching is the goal of effective discipline. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Parents discipline their child(ren) in order to teach them some kind of lesson about life. How one goes about teaching these lessons is where the controversy arrises.

Some would claim that the only way to discipline a child is through a good ol’ fashioned spanking. You know, “spare the rod, and spoil the child.” Others are so obsessed with psychological correctness and developing adequate self-esteem in their child that they believe no discipline should be used, ever. They believe children instinctively know what they need and that children can lead the way. Both of these approaches, especially as extremes, are unacceptable and ineffective methods of behavior management.

The former teaches with fear. Fear is not a successful motivator. Spanking, used alone, is simply not an effective technique. It can not be done consistently enough or provide the proper motivation for truly effective behavior management. It the future, I will talk more about consistency as well as what schedules of reinforcement provide the most motivation for a child.

The later is just silly. I don’t know where this came from. I don’t care what’s trendy, reality wins out. Children need to be molded into well-rounded, decent citizens. They aren’t born that way. They are born completely self-centered and self-obsessed. That is a good thing for an infant. One of the many tasks of parenting is helping children move past this self-centerdness so they can function in the world.

Good discipline forms children. It creates people with character; people who are responsible; people who are respectful. Children need this. Otherwise they become the spoiled, selfish 20-somethings who bring their pets to job interviews because they have no concept of how to control their desires in favor of what’s appropriate.

I want to end with a word of encouragement. Parenting is supposed to be a joyous. If it’s not joyous for you, if you dread the moment when your children wake up or when you have to take them out in public, something is not functioning properly. I’m not saying parenting is easy. Quite the contrary. Parenting is hard. And good parenting is the hardest. But it’s well worth it. By properly disciplining your child, you get to discover who they really are, instead of only knowing them for their behavior.  Properly disciplining your child will bring out the best in both you and him. It allows for an environment in which all involved can really thrive.

Next Post in the Series: Target Problem Behaviors

My Choice?

This is the rhetoric of pro-choice feminists. As a woman who has chosen to have a family, I can attest that this is certainly not the reality these feminists have created.

This is the rhetoric of pro-choice feminists. As a woman who has chosen to have a family, I can attest that this is certainly not the reality these feminists have created.

Recently, I shared some of my hope for what life would be like in a society that accepts and embraces women in their totality. Today, I’m going to share some of the pain I experience living in a society that doesn’t.

Every time I hear the phrase, “My body. My choice.” I vomit a little.

Seriously.

Ok…not seriously.

But it makes me incredibly angry.

The women who coined this phrase don’t really mean it. They mean that they will wholeheartedly support any woman who does not want to be saddled with the burden of pregnancy, children, and family life. They will fight to the death (tragically, I have to say no pun intended) to ensure that a woman will never be forced to shoulder these responsibilities if she doesn’t want to.

But what if she does want to?

By their own logic, it seems that a woman should also be able to CHOOSE pregnancy, children, and family life. If that’s what she wants, more power to her. Right?

Sadly, I know first-hand that the reverse is simply not true.

They do not support women who want to be pregnant, who want to raise children, and who want to devote their lives to their families. And, unfortunately, this lack of support doesn’t stop with them, but extends to society at large.

I can’t begin to count how many snide, rude, and downright cruel comments have been made to me and my children when we dare venture out in public. Men occasionally make comments about my workload, “My, you’ve got your hands full…” But they rarely, if ever, have anything ugly to say. Women, on the other hand, are often vicious in their commentary, and have no qualms about questioning the need for my children’s existence right in front of them. Interestingly, when my husband takes the kiddos out in public alone, he never gets nasty comments, only praise and admiration.

I’m certainly not looking for praise and admiration. I haven’t chosen my family life for the sake of what others think. But it would definitely be nice if I didn’t feel like I was preparing for battle every time I left the house. It would be nice if I didn’t have to rehearse witty answers about my knowledge of the reproductive process or my ability to provide financially for the little ones that have been entrusted to my care on the way to the store. It would be nice if I didn’t have to warn my children that if someone is nasty to us at the store, they should simply smile or stand there quietly because mommy will handle it. It seems funny that a group who loves to make posters about “rosaries on their ovaries” and “government in their bedrooms” has no issues busting up into my bedroom in the checkout line at the grocery store. Double standard much?

I don’t need a reason to have a child. And I certainly don’t need your permission. My children have a right to exist. More than that, they are a gift. Each child brings a new spark, new joy, and a new dynamic to our family. I am so grateful for each one of them.

When questioned by strangers if she’s “done yet” my girlfriend, also a mother of four, joyfully replies, “I certainly hope not!” I couldn’t agree with her more.

It makes me so sad to know that it doesn’t matter how much I love and want my children. The fact is, the world doesn’t want them. The world thinks they don’t deserve to exist. But I can’t understand why. Why would you not love these precious, irrepeatable, bundles of joy and laughter and creativity. Aren’t those good things? Why can’t the world want more of that? But even if you don’t want more of that, isn’t it supposed to be my choice?

This is my decision about what to do with my body. Don't infringe on my right to privacy by assuming you have a voice in my most intimate decisions. No one has more of a say on my own rights than me. If you're going to be pro-choice, you better get prepared to stand by your own logic. Meet my "choice." I am grateful for every one of them.

This is my decision about what to do with my body. Don’t infringe on my right to privacy by assuming you have a voice in my most intimate decisions. No one has more of a say on my own rights than me. If you’re going to be pro-choice, you better get prepared to stand by your own logic. Meet my “choice.” I am grateful for every one of them.

In the Narthex

We don’t have a cry room at our church, or else the title of this post would be “In the Cry Room” Over the years, we’ve belonged to parishes that have cry rooms and parishes that don’t. Regardless of what it’s called or where it’s located, it presents the same phenomenon. Something about walking through the door that separates one and their child from the rest of the church seems to make parents think that suddenly any and all behavior is acceptable.

Now, just to be clear, before anyone starts getting all upset about how I simply don’t understand what it’s like to have little ones in Mass, let me remind you: I have three very energetic little boys, currently 6, 5, and 2, and I’m also 28 weeks pregnant. I know all about being at Mass wondering why I even bothered to come. I know all about fighting off tears because of how hard I’m trying to manage my rebellious little one’s behavior, yet failing so miserably at it. But, I also know there’s a huge difference between desperately trying to convince an incorrigible wee one to behave and allowing that incorrigible wee one to do whatever s/he wants, however loudly s/he wants.

For those of you who are lost, let me back up. Many Catholic churches have some area, often a cry room, or in our case, the Narthex (which is basically just the foyer of the Church) where parents can take their little ones who are too loud to remain in the actual church. It usually has a glass wall and speakers so you can still participate in the Mass, but without your little one disturbing the entire congregation. Because of the sacredness of what it happening during the Mass, it is fitting that upset or loud little ones should be removed from the church until they settle down a bit. That’s what the cry room or other similar areas are intended for.

They are not areas designed for you to plop down right from the moment you arrive, accepting defeat before you ever even enter the battle.

They are not convenient places where you can spread your array of snack items, juice cups, video games, and toys all over the place for your child’s pleasure.

They are not your neighborhood park or playground, and, therefore, not the place for running, climbing, or any other park-like behavior.

But that’s exactly what they’re used for.

My husband and I work very hard to train our little ones to behave during Mass. We have very high standards for our children at Mass and expect our children to rise to the occasion, bearing in mind what they are actually capable of handling at their given age. We work with the children both during Mass and at home to ensure they understand what’s appropriate and what’s not. For the most part, these efforts have been successful. (And, thus, I get really annoyed when people comment about how “lucky” I am that my children behave during Mass. Luck has nothing to do with it.) But the fact remains that my children are children. There are times when the standards won’t be met. There are times that, for one reason or another, they are simply unable to behave as they should during Mass. It is times such as these that I need to take my child to the narthex.

But I feel like I can’t.

Because of the free-for -all that we will inevitably find when we walk through the door.

Because my little ones look around and think, “Wait. Why would I want to behave in the Church, when I could come to a party back here instead?”

Because instead of calming down they see all the kids behaving waaay worse then they were when were when I removed them from the church and very quickly jump on the bandwagon.

Because they want to know why all these kids (including many that are way past the age of reason) are hanging out on the floor playing video games, texting, or even TALKING on their cell phones.

There isn’t a place for me to take my child to redirect his behavior thanks to all the parents in the narthex allowing their children to go berserk. That’s simply not fair. If you’re going to allow your children to behave like wild monkeys, if you’re going to stand there chewing your gum and chatting with the mom next to you, in all seriousness, why did you bother coming? Surely a play date would have been a better use of your time.

Now, in case you can’t already tell, I have a really hard time being charitable about some things. I know I should simply pray for the narthex parents and offer a prayer of thanksgiving that, for whatever reason, they did find it important to make the effort to come to church. Some days I’m better at it than others.
Clearly, today is not one of those day.

I really resent the fact that after struggling with my child in the pew, I don’t have a place where I can take him to reinforce all the lessons we’ve been working on. I resent that all the parents who are too lazy, too tired, or too whatever to control their children undermine everything I work so hard on by the way they allow their children to behave.

I certainly don’t expect it to be quiet in the narthex, but what goes on back there is asinine. It is definitely not the sound of children who are struggling to behave and parents struggling to guide them. It’s just a giant play room. And, sadly, the parents aren’t usually behaving much better than the children.

I find it unfair that I’m stuck doing this dance where I’m trying not to actually leave the church because I know the chaos that awaits on the other side of that door. Yet, I’m trying to get far enough back where my 2 year old’s chattering or whimpering or uncontrollable squirming will be distracting to the least number of people as possible. The fact is, there’s a place I should be able to take him. I should be able to go to the narthex.

And in the narthex I should find parents fighting the same battle with me.

Parents who are actively participating in the Mass, but happen to also be trying not to drop their flailing child.

Parents who quietly redirect as their child begins singing the ABCs at the top of his lungs during the Sanctus.

Parents who, no matter how desperately hopeless the situation appears, remain convinced that they are, in fact, an authority figure to their child and have the obligation to train their child to behave better.

Parents who haven’t simply given up, leaving everyone around them to deal with the consequences.

Unfortunately, I don’t how to fix this problem. I suppose it’s a combination of catechizing the parents, offering some kind of parental support group or classes, and a great deal more charity on my part. It certainly isn’t a situation that could be resolved easily.

All that being said, I am so grateful that the Church is much more charitable than I am. She allows all people to be in the presence of our Lord, whether they realize they are or not. I’m grateful that, as always, Holy Mother Church holds up a high standard to me and expects me to rise to the occasion, just as I do with my children. It just frustrates me that these Narthex Parents don’t do the same.

Pray for me, as I obviously have a long way to go… I need to surrender my pride and grow in charity. I realize this, but, nevertheless, I remain frustrated. That being said, I suppose you’ll find me in the confession line this evening because, even after all this, and the realization that I am being called to grow, I still really dislike the Narthex Parents. St. Therese, pray for me.

“Babe, we need to have a talk…of the morbid variety.”

I’m sure my husband was thrilled to hear that just after I walked in the door last night after spending the last 10 hours up at church. Nothing says “I’m ready to relax and unwind with you” like a comment like that, right? But it had to be done. I’m getting on a plane on Thursday and spending 4 whole days of my life away from my family and then getting on another plane to come home. And I know, I know. Josh is very quick to remind me that I’m more likely to be killed on the way to work than in a plane crash, but I’m a mom. I need to know there’s a plan in place for my babies. And my hubby too.

The truth is we’re really bad at this kind of planning. Neither of us are insured to the level I want us to be, and we don’t have a will. It’s not that I’m worried about distribution of assets…we don’t really have any of those. :0) But my babies…I just don’t know where I’d send my babies. I want a will so I know they will be provided for and raised the way we would raise them. I want adequate life insurance so whoever is entrusted with such a huge task will be able to do so without a huge financial burden. But I just don’t know who that who would be. How do you make that kind of decision?

Josh and I have had variations of this conversation many times over the years, but we’ve never come to an answer we’re happy with. That’s why we don’t have a will. Does that make us the most irresponsible parents in the world? It sure feels like it right now. In this instance, I’m not quite as worried because, if something did happen to me, Josh is still here, and, thankfully, we are on the same page when it comes to parenting. But any time we walk out that door together without the kiddos, it really bothers me. I guess that’s one reason to be grateful that we don’t go out alone very often. In fact, Saturday night we went out without any of the kids for the first time since January. And it was the first time we went out alone since…I don’t even know…I think August of 2009? But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, we are not properly prepared.

If something were to happen to us, I know both sets of our parents would think they have rights to the kids. And, yes, of course we want our parents to be very much involved in our kids lives, but we don’t want them raising them. Neither set agrees with our parenting philosophies and that’s fine; they don’t have to. But if we were gone, we’d want someone raising our kids who does agree with our philosophies and priorities. But can you really sign a legal document that declares that your kids shouldn’t be raised by family, rather friends?

Obviously, you can, but that just makes me feel so guilty. I don’t know why. I know what’s important to me. But I think the difficulty arises because family is also hugely important to me. It just seems so insulting not to trust family with raising my kids. But the fact is, I don’t. Well, trust is too strong a word. Of course, I would trust them to provide for them and love them, but I don’t think they would give them the same priorities and values that we are working so hard to instill in our kids.

These are the moments that it’s really difficult to be a parent. It’s not the endless supply of dirty diapers and 3 different kids getting up 3 different times in the night. Those moments are trying and exhausting, but not frightening. The fear that comes with parenting can be almost debilitating if you sit around and marinate in it too long.

Interestingly, as I wrote that last line, I had the epiphany that, like so many other causes of stress in my life, it all comes back to fear. You would think I would have realized that before just now, but I hadn’t. The Lord really seems to be trying to teach me not to fear. To have faith. To trust. Those are such difficult lessons for me. I am a control freak, in part, because I know if I’m in control things will go as I see fit. No need for faith. No need for trust. No room for fear. I just make sure things happens exactly as I plan for them to happen. But, lately, I’ve been realizing that’s not good enough for the Lord.

I’ve been on a journey of learning to “let go and let God” since October 2008. Yet, he continually he peals back another layer, phrases the lesson a slightly different way, or illustrates his point anew, just hoping I’ll finally get his message. I’m trying. I really am. But this is such a hard lesson for me. Surrendering all to another is so difficult, but it seems especially difficult for me. Did you know that the Lord tells us not to fear 365 times in the Bible? He left us a message for every day of the year to let go of fear and trust him. Isn’t that awesome? I know I’ve strayed entirely off point, but the Lord continually amazes me and I am truly baffled by his constant, patient, and unfailing love for me.  All I can say to that is thank you, thank you, thank you Lord! You are so good to me!

But, wrapping up the initial point of this entry, because I wouldn’t feel satisfied if I didn’t, we are truly unprepared should something unthinkable happen. Now, however, I am much more peaceful about it than when I first started writing. I know that our parenting is in line with the will of God and he will protect that. If he sees fit to bring us home early, he will ensure that my kids are provided for just as he provides for us. That’s not to say that we don’t need to make the appropriate provisions too, just that, as always, God will provide.

On Being an Armless Supermom

As  I was just discussing with a girlfriend, I desperately need to invest in a baby sling or carrier to free up my hands. My lack of entries is evidence of the amount of time I actually have these days without a baby in my arms. So is my messy house, my subpar dinners, and my to do list, which has many more items added to it these days than items crossed off. Having three little ones at home has definitely been a huge change in terms of what I can get accomplished during the day. I’m either going to have to lower my standards for what being a homemaker means, quickly figure out a way to juggle my new responsibilities with my old ones, or quite possibly go crazy.

In all honesty the transition from two to three has been a breeze. Many people over the years, ranging from my mother to my Intro to Psychology professor freshman year of college, have told me how difficult the transition between two and three children is. I’ve heard horror stories about sibling jealousy, marital discord, and parental incompetence. I’m pleased to report that we are having issues in none of those areas. The boys are getting along smashingly…sometimes literally. My marriage seems to be unaffected. To my knowledge, neither Josh nor I feel incompetent to handle our brood, which now outnumbers us by one. As I recall, the transition from one to two was much worse. Ben has moved right in and I don’t think any of us remember life without him.

The only real challenges I’m facing are those encountered during the day on account of having no free hands. And as I mentioned earlier, this situation can be quickly remedied with the purchase of a sling or carrier. This purchase definitely needs to occur sooner rather than later or I might never be able to find the floor of my house, we may go broke thanks to my desperate pleas for Josh to pick up dinner on his way home, or we may just have to revert to people who never eat home-cooked meals and don’t remember what it’s like to find clean laundry in the dresser or what their house actually looks like sans mess.

The later is absolutely not an option. I am plagued with perfectionism and I could never live like that. I take pride in my home-cooked meals that I’m strategically placing on the table as Josh walks through the door in the evening. I love it when my mother inquires how my house could possibly be so clean despite the little monkeys that live here. Making a home is what I’ve chosen to do with my life and I intend to do it to the very best of my ability.

Truthfully, that mentality can be rather problematic for me. It makes me a little crazy sometimes as I’m racing to meet some goal or stretching to meet a standard that only exists in my own mind. However, for the time being, I’m perfectly capable of juggling my high expectations for myself and I don’t have any intention to lower them.  Down the road, sometime after reality smacks me in the face, I may write an entry or two documenting my journey to embracing realistic expectations of keeping house, raising a family, and what it means to be a good wife and mother. In the meantime we absolutely must purchase a baby carrier so I’m not forced to face my own human limitations.