Learning Lessons Series

Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the years. I would love for you to also share things you’ve learned being a Mama or even the things you grew up with that worked well. It’s all about community and sharing so that we can all do a better and more efficient job of raising amazing kiddos!

Learning Lessons #1

Gabi playdough

It doesn’t matter that I have been doing the job of “Mommy” for 18 years, there are still lessons to learn. Sometimes, I’ll realize that it’s a lesson that I forgot and am revisiting and sometimes it’s all new. Today I revisited a lesson forgotten. Gabi wanted to play with playdough. I always cringe when she asks for this because it ALWAYS ends in a mess. Well, today I thought, “why do I get stressed about playdough?” I realized that it’s because there’s always the mixing of the colors and the bits all on the floor. The poor kids end up stressed out about the color mixing and that mom is yelling about the mess. So, I thought, “Why do I give her so many choices?” The thought process brought me to the conclusion that too many choices are stressful for both of us and that she would be just as happy playing with a little bit that won’t get all over the floor and that if I gave her 2 colors that were similar the mixing part wouldn’t matter so much. As you can see from the pics, it worked!

Gabi playdough2

Voila!

Today’s lesson; Don’t give your kids too many choices. They really just want to play and have fun.

Have a great day!
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Learning Lessons #2

Gabi and Max playing outside with the train

We are bombarded daily with the “go” idea. We must keep our children moving and busy. We are supposed to plan play dates, gymnastics, lunches with friends, preschool, soccer, field trips and on and on. And while all of these things, taken individually, are good, we are brainwashed into thinking that our children should be in constant motion. So, today, following this line of thinking, I had planned to take the kids to the pumpkin patch for the day. Today is the first day this week that we could be home for the whole day (school hours). When I looked around and saw all that needed to be done and knew the hectic nature of putting everything together to be gone all day, I did something radical. I decided we would spend the day at home. After-all, we already have pumpkins. Not only have I been able to play with the kids and tidy up, they are pulling out their toys in a creative manner and enjoying the quietness of their own yard and playroom. We put on kids’ music and took down the puzzles. I hadn’t built a puzzle with my little ones in months.

So, lesson #2 in my Learning Lessons series is;

Slow down. It’s ok to not have something planned. The kids (and you) will enjoy the breath of fresh air that comes with it.

Have a great day
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Learning Lessons #3

Weekly Chores

Children big and small need consistency. This is something I’ve always known, but had to put into play, over time. Here’s the thing…it’s tricky! Kids will tell you that they want choices (we talked about that in an earlier lesson) and they do, but they don’t want so many choices that they never know what to expect. I consider myself an organized person. I lay things out for my family in a fairly clear manner. But when it came to the weekly chores, I was laying it out in a way that made for arguing and headaches. I used make a list of all of the chores and then sit the kids down and have them each pick a chore, one by one until the list was finished. This made for arguing about who was going to go first and that so-and-so went first last time. Or that the least desirable chore was always left for last and then there was crying by the last person to choose. Not so good! I even tried giving each chore a number and then going around the room asking the kids to pick a number between 1 and 12 (or however many chores-kids there were) but THAT didn’t work out peacefully either because if the person who has just had dishes for a week picked it again we were certainly going to hear about how unfair it was! Finally, I’ve used a method that’s based off of one of my friend’s methods. She is also a Mommy of Many and had her children rotate rooms of the house each week. So, every week, they knew what was coming. Now, I have broken the chores up into groups of 3 and we simply move the name down the list each week. Guess what? No fighting! It’s perfectly fair AND they know what to expect!

Lesson learned!Lesson #3;

Kids need to know what to expect~

If you have a great idea that works well in your family, I’d love to hear about it. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter how many kiddos you are raising or how long you’ve been doing it, there’s always something to learn and another GREAT idea out there. Please share!

Have a great day
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Learning Lessons #4

Mariah and JJ, November 2007

This is a lesson I’ve been working on for awhile. It has taken a bit of experimentation and observation. But, I feel pretty confident about it. Bigger kids/teens need positive physical contact. It can change their mood and how they respond. Think about when our kids are little. We are constantly picking them up and kissing them or squeezing their sweet, little bodies. We nurse them and hold them and rock them. Then, suddenly there comes an age where physical contact goes by the wayside. They stop pulling at our arms and stop saying, “hold me”. But, they still need it. They just stop vocalizing it. Think about seeing teens or middle-schoolers and how they greet one another. They usually give each other a hug. Hugging becomes a big part of showing friendship and acceptance. One of my children stopped asking for hugs or being held at a pretty young age, because they became a “big” sibling at a young age and soon had 2 and 3 younger siblings who were demanding my attention. I started to realize that when this child became grumpy and even mouthy, that I could “love” them out of it. Clay and I started grabbing this particular child, every time they got “poopy” and giving them a big hug and saying something kind or even silly and it made all the difference. But truly, the best example, in our home, has been with one of our teens. This kiddo had become sullen, mouthy and even violent. The times that I could remember to speak softly and give a hug (sometimes under the guise of being silly) instead of yelling back and threatening extra chores, worked out WAY better. I even involved the other kids and would say, “That’s it! Everyone hug” So and So. This always diffused the tense situation. Now, I’m not saying that it’s the solution to all problems (that’s a drink of water) but, it is something to keep in mind on a daily basis and when you just don’t know what to do with your older child or teen. A hug can never hurt and it may even give you the minute you need to think of a solution that doesn’t involve yelling. Do I remember this all the time? Heck no! But, it’s a lesson that I keep revisiting and I’m always more pleased with the result when I DO remember.

So, lesson #4-Big kids need hugs and positive physical contact even though they may not voice it.

Have a great day
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Learning Lessons #5

Gabi doing dishes/smaller

As I go through each day, giving out instructions and requests, I’ve realized that kids have to be told every detail of the task they are asked to perform. You can’t just say to an 8 year old, “go take a shower”. Instead, it’s necessary to say, “Go take a shower. Take all of your clothes off. Make sure you use body wash on your body and shampoo on your hair. Be sure to rinse all of the soap off of your body and all of the shampoo out of your hair before you turn the water off. Please don’t forget to use warm water.” Then you will get a clean child. Otherwise, it’s likely that you will get a well-watered child, but not a clean one. I know for a fact that I have at least one child that did not use body wash or shampoo in the shower/bath until asked about it and then being instructed to do so. It’s not just hygiene that must be spelled out. I’ve had to tell older children to take the younger child/children outside and to watch them play or play with them and to please make sure that they know where they are at all times and to be sure that they do not go into the street. The funny part about these detailed instructions is the response you get if it’s not laid out in every detail and then you point out what’s going wrong;

Mom- “So-and-So!……..The baby is in the street and you’re not supposed to let him be in the street.
“Kiddo- “I know”

Hmmmmmm………really?! Yet those same, older kids will start to cut you off when you are trying to lay out the details, by saying (the ever-present), “I know”. But they will later defend their behavior by saying, “You didn’t tell me I had to do that.”

Yep, it’s an ugly cycle, but bottom line, we have to lay out all the details so that they know, for sure, what they are supposed to do.

So, lesson #5 is; Children need things spelled out for them in as much detail as can be provided.

Have a great day~
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Learning Lessons #6

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a 3rd grader from my children’s school. It was a little boy who had previously been in class with Tristan. It was incredibly sad to see the family come in behind the little coffin. The kids go to a Catholic school and the funeral and Mass were held at the parish church affiliated with the school. Many of the students and teachers attended. As I sat there saddened by the loss of a little boy, my mind started to wander. I started to think about what, exactly, I was sad about.

I realized that the saddest part for me was knowing that if I were to lose one of my children, that I’d have missed out on enjoying some of the things that are often “annoying”. I’d miss the clean and folded clothes that have been stuffed into the laundry basket so that they didn’t have to be put away. I’d miss a little voice begging me to sit down and read a story, even though I’m trying to make dinner, fold clothes, wash dishes, write a blog post or take a shower. I’d miss “on-demand” nursing. I’d miss the warmth of a little body climbing into my bed and squishing in-between my husband and I. I’d miss special requests at dinner or snack time. I’d miss the long, drawn-out explanations of ideas from curious and growing little minds. I’d be heart-broken to realize that I hadn’t enjoyed being a mother and instead focused on the annoyances of doing this job 24/7 for years on end. And right there and then I made a decision to ENJOY my children. To love them for the time I have them, dirty hands, food on the floor, whining and all. I’m making a vow to love them the way I want to, despite people who think they should be more disciplined, quieter, cleaner. Despite people who think my family is too large or too poor. I’m just going to love them and enjoy them and hope that I get to keep them for a long, long time.

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday! I learned that I need to appreciate what’s been put before me.

So, now, instead of worrying about the paperwork that’s piling up or the laundry that’s never going to be done, anyway or the messy playroom, I’m going to pack up my 3 youngest kiddos and take a walk to the beach.

I hope you each find a way to appreciate your loved ones today and to vow to love them in your own way, without being hindered by other’s opinions.

Have a great day~
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Learning Lessons #7

Take time to smell the flowers

I’m a planner. I want everything laid out in detail so that I don’t have too many surprises. You can imagine that I have surprises and schedule changes all the time, but I, sort-of, build those in. You know the kind, you’ve sat down to write the budget and the baby gets into something icky and you have to set the budget aside and give him/her a bath. Those, I deal with pretty well. But the other day, I’d planned out the day around work schedules and activities and recording my show. So, I get everyone out the door and get everything set up and my phone rings. The second I looked at my phone I knew I’d made a big mistake. It was one of my sisters and she was at the door. I had TOTALLY forgotten that she had planned to come down to visit! My mind began to race! I was happy that she and my niece were here, but I was frantic about what I was going to do about the show and how my whole plan was blown. I took a big breath and said a little prayer and decided there wasn’t anything I could do. It was my fault for not writing our plans down in my calendar! So, I thought that I better just enjoy this time with family and figure it all out later.

Guess what-It was great! All my fretting and anxiety over my foiled plan-of-the-day were for nothing! I went outside with them and enjoyed the San Diego Saturday. My kids came home and ran around in the yard with their cousin, we made a nice dinner and ultimately, my show still got done.

So Lesson# 7 is; Be Flexible! Don’t get so boxed into your schedule or plans that a nice surprise can’t be enjoyed.

Have a great day~

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Learning Lessons #8

As a parent, one of our biggest and often toughest jobs is teaching our kiddos the lessons they need to lead a successful, happy and productive life.  It would all be so much “easier” and “peaceful” if we could just take the hands-off approach and give in to every whim, want and fit.  But that wouldn’t be parenting.  That would simply be existing.  Sometimes I’m tempted to exist because I’ve taught the same lessons over and over with each child.

Lately I’ve had a morning issue with one of my younger kiddos who’s learning (or needing to learn) some time management skills.  Every morning he drags behind in the routine and often forgets to put things into his backpack or to brush his teeth.  This means I’m constantly reminding and rushing him.  Often times all the other kids will be in the car and he’ll still have no shoes on, no backpack ready and his teeth are unbrushed.  It makes me want to pull my hair!  I’m trying different ideas to keep him on task, but so far none have worked.  I’m getting ready to make him a check list that he can carry with him in the mornings.

This morning when everyone was in the car and I had to come back into the house to move him along, I handed him his backpack and he started complaining that he was cold and needed a sweatshirt and was thirsty and needed water.  I decided to teach a lesson about being uncomfortable because of your own actions.  I told him that he’d just have to get a drink at school and that he’d have to feel a little cold today because he didn’t get his uniform together in a timely manner and that every time he feels cold today that he will have a chance to remember that if he had gotten things together on time that he’d be warm.

Harsh?  Maybe!  But I’m betting he’ll think about it.  And for all of you who are thinking what a mean M.O.M. I am……we live in San Diego for goodness sake!  It’s not like he’s in Pittsburgh fighting snow in a tee shirt!

So, lesson #8 is that as a parent, we must remember that it’s our job to continually guide our kids through the tough lessons of life.  Ultimately we will be building a stronger future for our little ones.

Have a great day~

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Learning Lessons #9-Fits

Fits. I’ve been dealing with them for the better part of 20 years. I’ve seen my share! I can remember being a new mom and trying to give choices to lure the child out of the fit. I can remember being a little more seasoned mom and trying to be stern and give NO choices to lure the child out of the fit. As time and children have gone on, I’ve tried different methods, only to find that what works with one child on one day may very well not work for any other child (not even that one) on any other day.

Now that Gabi and Luke-Xavier have started school, their days are full of routine and they are getting used to authority figures other than me. They don’t like this! They’ve each put in their fair amount of effort to try to be in charge in the their classrooms. I work in the preschool through lunch and when nap time comes, I’m off. So, each day, they line up to be ready to nap and I grab my purse and go. They’ve caught on to the routine and have decided that nap time doesn’t seem so great because Mom won’t be there anymore.

Yesterday I got a call from the preschool director saying that Luke-Xavier had been having a stubborn fit for the better part of an hour and did I have anything that I normally do to help him stop a fit. I snickered a little, because I know how VERY stubborn he is. I know that when he throws a fit, it goes until he’s finally exhausted and falls asleep. We’ve tried many things with him, but I didn’t have any thing I could give her that would make him stop right away. I felt bad because I knew he was disrupting all the kids that were actually trying to sleep. I knew he must be really tired because every other day of school, he’s fallen asleep quickly and slept like a rock. But I also knew that if I went to get him that the fits would go on each day and he’d learn that if he throws a fit for long enough, Mom will come get him. So, we made the decision that he couldn’t win or we’d be done for the year! We decided to just let him finish the fit on his own and that when he was finally tired enough, he’d crash. I gave her permission to just leave him asleep, wherever he may land and to keep up the regular routine with the rest of the class. The last thing I wanted her to think she had to do was wake up a child that had finally fallen asleep 5 minutes earlier and then have to deal with the aftermath of his sleepiness.

He did, in fact, fall asleep on the classroom floor and he woke up feeling much better. Let’s hope that he learned the lesson that throwing a fit doesn’t bring me back to “rescue” him from nap time.

So, I guess this lesson in the Learning Lessons series is actually 2 lessons, one for the parent and one for the child. It’s about sticking to the routine and standing firm so that the child learns that they can’t be in charge of controlling the it. It’s a hard lesson!

Have a great day~

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Learning Lessons #10-Stick to what you say

Tonight I had to revisit one of the toughest jobs of parenting-Following through with what you’ve said.

Earlier this week, I grounded one of my girls. The terms of the grounding were one week no ipod and no going anywhere, other than to sporting events. The grounding will end next Wednesday. Tonight was the jr. high dance. THIS was a tough one! Yes, the kids that went through this stage of life, before her, had to miss out on things. And yes, they’ve turned out perfectly fine. But it’s SO hard to look them in the face when they’re crying and begging and apologizing and promising to do extra chores and saying that THIS is the ONLY thing that they want and proclaiming how very, very mean you are.

But, the lesson will be lost if we don’t stick to our words. A big breath, a lot of patience and a calm and even tone are required to make it through.

So, I packed up her sister and younger siblings and dropped her sister at the dance. When it was time to go pick up her sister from the dance, she asked if she could go. And the answer was yes. I said she couldn’t go to the dance. I didn’t say she couldn’t ride along on the pick up. So, she was able to accept her punishment and then came along on the pick up and was able to say hello to all of her friends. She got in the car in a good mood and I’m pretty sure she learned the lesson that I will stick to the punishment given.

I hope!

So, lesson #10 in the Learning Lessons Series is to stick to what you say. It’s a tough one, but it’s important!

Good night~

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Learning Lessons #11-Letting Go of “Normal”

Normal-it’s what we all strive for. It’s what we’re “supposed” to be. It’s all the people around us-or so we perceive. Normal is what my kids said today’s lunches were, because I included cheese puffs (never mind that they were wheat free, gluten free, contain no corn syrup or msg) and trail mix.

Normal-we all think it’s pretty important.

Well, it’s what I’m needing to let go of. I chuckle at myself for even saying that because, really, when have I EVER been “normal”? I’m the oldest of 9 children, I was a single, teen mom and have gone on to have a grand total of 9 children of my own. None of that fits society’s views of “normal”.

But surely my kids are normal. They’re all good-looking, read just fine, present themselves in a “normal” fashion when out-and-about, play sports and go to private schools where, if anything, everyone is normal or above normal. Geesh! Normal is certainly what my kids are.

Yeah right! As I’m being forced into clearer vision and thinking, I realize that my kids have always been slightly outside the societal norm. My oldest has chosen to pursue all of her higher education in faith-based schools-certainly not the norm for most. My oldest son struggled mightily with what “normal” was supposed to be. He always had strong ideas on what was right and what was wrong and that you should always be choosing to do what was right. I look back, with a heavy heart when I think of a note he wrote in 6th grade, telling his father and I that he was grateful for the Catholic education he was receiving, but that he was really having a very hard time with not having any friends. We encouraged him and pushed him through. He struggled with grades because of poor handwriting and downward-spiraling self esteem. He became angry and aggressive. And then God stepped in and introduced us to the right environment and peer group for him and within a few months he became happy, full of life and by all means, “normal” once again. Hmmm, environment changed everything. Changing our perception of where he “should” be or what sports he “should” be playing and trusting that we couldn’t provide all the answers, changed his whole life.

I could go on down the line, describing each of my children and the ways in which I perceive them as “normal” and the ways in which they are so much more than that. But really, I now need to focus on my 7th child. My 8yr old son.

I look back to bringing him home after his birth and how sensitive he was to all his environmental stimuli. He was coming to a home with 6 older siblings. 6 boisterous, outspoken and noisy siblings and this didn’t work well for him. Every time someone yelled or ran through the house with happy screeches, he would shake and cry. He couldn’t sit in the baby swing. The movement seemed to terrify him. TERRIFY! He only slept if he was directly on me or swaddled in my blanket or clothing (I learned to cover him in things that smelled of me). I asked questions of people I knew who worked in special education or had children with challenges of their own. But little by little we all seemed to develop coping mechanisms. I noticed that he started to become noisy if everything around him was noisy. I learned to tell him to look me in the eye when I was giving him directions and to have him repeat what I’d said. I learned to assign a number to each task and ask him to go through the numbers. I learned that riding a bike was frightening for him but that he could ride a scooter like nobody’s business. I learned that his fine-motor skills were low for his age and we stopped trying to buy shoes with laces. So, we learned to try to make it through each day with a minimum of challenge. But not everyone is his mom and not everyone is so accommodating or patient (I use “patient” loosely when describing myself) and he started to have real challenges in the classroom last year. He couldn’t grasp the concept of getting things done in a certain timeframe. His thoughts on any given subject were too big for the classroom discussions and he just can’t NOT say what’s going through his head. So he became frustrated at not completing things on time and with the fact that he has poor handwriting and he just decided to give up on doing the work all together. He started hiding his work or destroying it. This meant that his grades plummeted and he was put on academic probation. ~sigh~ It was just a downward spiral. Then he started 2nd grade. New teacher, new year. And she worked REALLY REALLY hard with him. We kept our communication open and discussed various ways to help him function within the classroom setting and finally we discussed getting him into counseling so that he could have better tools to draw from to perform successfully. His grades have been up. He’s not hiding work. Both the teacher and I, realized that he is more than capable with any of the work placed before him.  All in all, it’s a better year. But through the open communication between teacher, parent and counselor, it was suggested (strongly) that he be tested for Asperger’s. While I wasn’t totally surprised, I was challenged. I cried for 3 days. Not for myself, but for my child who possibly needed something more, something different and had been pushed through with the hope that he would finally “get it”. I spoke with a couple people and then had the testing scheduled.

We don’t have a full report back yet, but I’ve been given a partial report and he seems to fall, quite solidly, in the spectrum for Asperger’s. Yesterday I was told that according to the tests, he has an IQ of 156 (I placed a link here because until yesterday, I didn’t know what any IQ scores meant and am betting that most people are in the same boat I was) and that it’s suggested that he be placed in a more challenging school environment. This is where I have to fall back on what I learned with my older son (who was never tested for an “disorders” and has no diagnosis of any) about trusting that environment makes all the difference and where I have to let go of “normal”. I want what’s best for each of my kids. But I’m also having a tough time letting go. I will continue to read, research, talk and learn and I will continue to be human and fight my own ideas of “normal”. And, you can bet I’ll be talking about the whole thing as it unfolds.

Lesson #10 is that “normal” is a perception and in order to grow, it needs to be let go of~

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5 Comments

  1. Comment by Kristen:

    Wow, you know, I find that my husband is better at making kids do chores than I am, cuz they all know I would rather read a book…so I kind of use him as the enforcer, A LOT. He even makes me get going when I am being lazy!! When I am working well with that, then I threaten them with his wrath if they don’t comply!

    We have had the same chore chart (with detailed job descriptions) for several years, with kids rotating chores every day. Set/Clear/Sweep dining room; Dishes; Floors; Garbage; Laundry; and Cooking Assistant. Sundays, we don’t make them do any chores at all – Dan and I handle the whole thing. And then on Saturday mornings, we clean the whole house together, catching up on missed chores and mangled ones. Often, I write while they clean, because Dan says he’s better at it than me. Well, I guess he is…

    (The littlest ones aren’t on the chart. I have another friend who does the buddy system on chores so that the littles help too, with supervision. Sounds to me like a good way to start fights here…I am forever telling these guys that “Your job is you”, punctuated with, “Wish my job was you – looks better than my job…”)

  2. Comment by Evelyn Garcia:

    Jen, my kids all went to Catholic School too. Now my granddaughter is in St. Francis Pre K. You really get close to the families because the schools are much smaller than public schools. What happened to the 3rd grader? I will send prayers for the family!

  3. Comment by workout mommy:

    I really enjoyed your lessons, especially #6. Thank you for the valuable insight and I LOVE the fact that you have 9 kids! (I came from a family of 8)

  4. Comment by Therese:

    Hi Jen, Although I’m not a mom, as you know I grew up in a big family. I think one of the biggest lessons I learned growing up is MANNERS and respect towards adults. Back in my younger babysitting years (and part time nanny last year) manners were and are still a must. I still get annoyed when I hear adults who don’t say please and thank you after someone helps them or waits on them in a store (and I cringe when I hear children talk disrespectfully towards adults). It’s a big pet peeve and I’m glad my parents instilled manners in me and my siblings at a young age. I feel it’s really important and it also teaches kids how to communicate and interact respectfully with adults.

  5. Comment by Petronia:

    Hi Jen, Although I’m not a mom, as you know I grew up in a big family. I think one of the biggest lessons I learned growing up is MANNERS and respect towards adults. Back in my younger babysitting years (and part time nanny last year) manners were and are still a must. I still get annoyed when I hear adults who don’t say please and thank you after someone helps them or waits on them in a store (and I cringe when I hear children talk disrespectfully towards adults). It’s a big pet peeve and I’m glad my parents instilled manners in me and my siblings at a young age. I feel it’s really important and it also teaches kids how to communicate and interact respectfully with adults.
    +1

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