Start Lists, Stop Nagging
Filed Under (parenting tips, self-esteem)

“I don’t want to be a nagging mother.  I want everyone to do their part without me asking repeatedly.”  I moaned. Teen daughter responded matter-of-factly with an irrefutable truth, “It’s just not going to happen, Mom. So accept it.”

She’s right, of course.  A family in which the children operate as self-sufficient, self-motivated, responsible team members without parental involvement is about as realistic as a money tree.  But my passion for nurturing self-esteem motivates me to find new ways to instill self-reliance.  Because a child who can take care of herself feels capable.   And a child who feels capable is more likely to take on new challenges and responsibilities.  Each time she does, she generates self-esteem.

The trick is knowing how much a child can handle.  Expecting too much discourages a child. Expecting too little stunts her personal growth.  How to measure what’s just right?  Follow the child.

  • Signs of overwhelm may be seen in these forms:

    Self-defeating statements like, “I can’t do anything
    Exaggerated reactions:  “This is stupid.  Who cares about this anyway?”
    Backsliding:  reverting to childish behaviors like
    thumb-sucking or clinging to parent in social situations.

As a parent, I’ve been guilty of setting lofty expectations.  When that happens, my children are quick to remind me that children are not miniature adults.  On one particularly harried morning, I barked out a succession of orders to my eager-to-please seven year old.  She
tried her best to keep up but eventually succumbed to tears of stress, blurting out between sobs, “Mom, I’m just a kid.”

It was my husband who suggested our current method of household responsibility.  Envying my efficiency as I methodically crossed items off my to-do list, he asked if I would make him a list.  Fearing the negative connotations of a ‘honey-do’ list, I was hesitant.  Tween son chimed in, “Yeah, I’d like a list too.  That way you don’t have to remind us all day.”

I began the ritual of leaving each child a list of expectations before leaving forwork.  To my surprise, everything got done.  Without my interference, they were free to go at their own pace.  They had choices – what to do first, when to do it.  Best of all, reports from work-at-home Dad indicated no complaints.  There was no mother to complain to.  No one to resist.

It takes some humility to admit that you, as a parent, could be a roadblock to a child.  Sometimes we get in the way with our well-intentioned involvement believing that we hold the key to success.  But the real prize goes to the child who works through a task on his own, problem-solving and overcoming frustrations along the way.

Parents need only set the expectation, offer hands-off guidance, and stay out of the way.  When a child fails (and he will) natural consequences step in as highly effective teachers.  For example, if a child forgets to make or bring her lunch to school and Mom does not deliver it, said child will be very hungry after school and will enjoy that lunch even more.  And she probably won’t forget it the next day.

Giving responsibility to a child and allowing her to make mistakes is a gift.  Don’t let your child’s complaining or resistance convince you otherwise.  Mother knows best after all.

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Filed Under (Something To Think About)

As rare as a pearl in an oyster is the person who takes full responsibility for herself.  When a pearl like this does appear, it is cause for celebration.  Today I celebrate such a pearl – a friend whose recent misfortune could have been cause for her to lay blame and shame.

Having no responses to emails and phone calls to this friend, I suspected a cell phone dilemma.  ”Yes,” she confirmed.  ”The phone was left outside in the rain.”  Friend continued with a sad tale of lost contact lists and that ever-crucial mothering tool – the calendar.

She began, “Who to blame?  I left the phone in the car.  My daughter took it out to play with it and left it on a chair outside.  Then it rained.”

I expected my friend to moan about her daughter’s carelessness.  But surprising me, she said, “What it really comes down to is this:  If I had stricter rules about the use of my phone, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Bravo!  In short order, my friend marched right past blame and regret and through the door of responsibility.  Too often, we blame others for actions that result from our own conditioning or lack thereof.  We fail  to set up clear boundaries and expect them to respect the invisible fence.  Inevitably, they get burned with an accusation like ‘you should have known better.’

We expect children to act like adults.  We need them to be considerate, responsible and intuitive.  But we fail to teach them those very skills.  Regretfully, we use our own short-sightedness against them, and make them pay the price.

Perhaps the gravest error is that a child learns from us the weak habits of blame and defensiveness instead of responsibility for our choices.

Speaking as a typically busy mother of three, I admit that I indulge in lazy parenting sometimes.  And when I do, my kids are quick to pick up the sword.  They start yelling at each other, hurling accusations with barbaric intolerance and disregard. Bearing witness to this direct result of my own indiscretions against them is nothing short of devastating.

So I endeavor to change.  To be a better parent, a better person, for my children’s sake and my own.  And I bow to them in gratitude for being the best teachers I will ever have.

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You Can Do It
Filed Under (coping strategies)

A friend and I took our four daughters on a long walk.  On the return trip, with a mile to go, my friend’s daughter declared that she had to use the bathroom and no, it couldn’t wait.  Immediately the girl was showered with suggestions from the group – knock on that door, go in the woods, cross your legs….none of our suggestions were appealing.

My friend, silently assessing a daughter she knew best, said, “I think you can make it.  Make a goal for yourself.  Get to the next telephone pole.”  Concentrating on the more manageable task of walking a few hundred feet, the girl felt less anxious.  Arriving at her checkpoint, the girl said with relief, “I did it!”  Mom congratulated her and asked what the next goal would be.  Checking in with her again, the girl sounded more hopeful.  If she could repeat this process a few more times, she would be home.  Confident now, and armed with a strategy, the girl skipped ahead to join her friends.

Considering the alternative, less constructive, methods of dealing with this familiar crisis, my friend gets a gold star.  Had she released a condescending ‘you know you should’ve gone before you left the house’ or a frustrated ‘you’ll just have to hold it’ this mom would have disempowered and humiliated her daughter.  Instead, she conjured up a teachable moment and calmly demonstrated a way to manage a crisis.

 Every day parents have the chance to build a child up or demoralize her.  Often our go-to reactions are the ones that do damage.  They might be the methods our parents used on us.  They are reflexive.  If we could just remember to pause and count to ten before we speak, we might have the chance to override our irritation, disappointment, and frustration and choose instead to add to a child’s self-esteem instead of ripping it out from under her.

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The Bystander
Filed Under (bullying, Uncategorized)
I suppose I could have assumed that I hadn’t heard the whole story when my tween told me that a friend had been bullied at school and that my daughter had defended her.  But, to be honest, the topic of bullying has become so common these days that I’ve become a little desensitized to it.  Today’s school children have developed a bullying language, learned bullying scripts, and practiced anti-bullying strategies in such depth, that it has become part of everyday conversation.


My tween daughter and I drove home from a piano lesson having typical conversation.  There was no hint of anxiety in the air to forewarn me of the incoming drama.  As I pulled up to our house, my daughter burst forth with emphatic affirmations, “I’m a good person.  I stick up for people against bullies.  I’m a good friend.  I do what’s right.”  Her quivering tone had me wondering, is it me she’s trying to convince or herself?  Let the debriefing begin.
My daughter was blindsided by the wave of hatred (i.e. defensiveness) directed at her from said bully.  It submerged her.  The affirmations she cast out in my presence were her attempt to come back to the surface – to find a lifeboat that would rescue her and help her to understand how she managed to get thrown overboard by giving a life preserver to a friend. My naive eight year old incorrectly assumed that if she did what was right – helping a victim – she would be a hero of sorts, immune to backlash.
School anti-bullying programs teach kids that bystanders have responsibilities.  To sit back and watch bullying in progress and choose not to act is, in essence, contributing to bullying.  Sure, they teach personal safety – the physical kind – along with bystander intervention.  But what about emotional safety?


Failure to prepare children for the full range of repercussions that an active bystander may incure is a bit like throwing them into the ocean when they only have experience swimming in a pool.
I reassured my would-be hero that doing the right thing isn’t always easy.  Making the choice to help doesn’t guarantee rewards.  When we decide to be an active part in other people’s problems, we risk getting hurt ourselves.  Sometimes it’s easy to choose, sometimes its not.  But one thing remains constant – we can only act and feel for ourselves.  We cannot be responsible for the actions or reactions of others.  If we can accept that fact, it makes choosing easier.
I was reticent to cast judgment on my daughter’s attempt to thwart a bully.  I can’t tell her definitively if she was right or wrong.  I’m not the one who has to live with the choice.  But I am the one who will support her choices and continue to provide the education that she is lacking.
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The Mind Plays Dirty, The Laundry Is Clean
Filed Under (Uncategorized)

I’m in the business of thinking.  Positive thinking.  Both personally and professionally, I study, teach, and utilize the power of thoughts and words.  Yet still, my mind takes off like a dog in heat at the first scent of temptation.

At 19:00 hours, husband, anticipating the need to have sheets on the bed (he’s so clever), heads for the laundry basket full of clean sheets that was abandoned between the dryer and the bedroom earlier in the day.  It’s nowhere to be found.  We begin our repartee.  “I didn’t take the sheets.  They were right there.  Well I didn’t take them.  Where are they?” Given the witching hour and the Sunday night routine with three children, we quickly abandon our mystery for higher priorities.

Fast forward one hour.  I am knee deep in calendars, permission slips, and bills when 13 year old son casually enters with an announcement that the washing machine is broken.  Stuck actually, mid-cycle, and he needs to put his wash in lest he go to school naked in the morning.  With a hearty grunt and a few mumbled slurs, I begrudgingly head to the laundry closet, son in tow.  “Show me what you did!” I demand.  “Nothing,” he defends.  ”I just…….”  Even louder now, I start accusing, ”You opened the door mid-cycle?!  You’re supposed to press cancel and……”  There is no stopping me.  I ramble on with should have’s and could have’s and a variety of accusations and put-downs.

You see, I was exhausted, and my mind was racing.  Like the dog who breaks through the fence and runs like the wind down the street.  I was on fire with blame, picturing a very busy week ahead with too many scheduled activities, work obligations, and other stresses – without a washing machine! Perish the thought!

My inner dialogue went something like this, ‘How much will this cost?!  Why do I let my kids touch the washing machine?  He’s always breaking things.  Who do I call on a Sunday night?  Are there emergency washing machine people?  I don’t have time for this!’  In 30 seconds I had created an imaginary disaster of epic proportions.  Truly, I had a headache from how loud my mind was screaming in fear.

Wait, are those my sheets in the wash?  Where did those come from?  You, my son, put them in for me?  You didn’t know they were already clean and wanted to surprise me?  Before you did your own laundry?!

Long pause.  Make way for regret.

Still somewhat angry at the current predicament, but having paused long enough in my verbal and mental shouting to allow myself to think, I decide to unpulg the machine and hope it will reset.  It does, and I am able to complete the wash.

My son, bless his little heart, is impressed with my technical prowess – and relieved that his head is out of the guillotine.  I too, am relieved, but also horrified by my abominable response to a non-critical situation.  ‘Why did my emergency meter skyrocket?  Why did I let my mind run wild?  I know better than that.  I’m so ashamed.’

A quick chuckle escapes as I realize that even now, in the self-recrimination, my mind is playing dirty.  “End it!”  I hear the ‘other’ voice command.  “Put a leash on that wild dog and get control.”

I oblige and turn my focus to what really matters – my son.  I offer sincere apologies.  “I didn’t mean to yell.  It was a nice thing you did and very responsible.  I was just upset…..”  To which he replies, “I know, Mom.  I still love you.”

Thankfully, someone does, because I’m not lovin’ the me that showed up in the laundry closet tonight.  ”Sit, girl. Good dog. Now stay!”

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