Parenting is a Tough Job
How We Successfully Raised Three Daughters to Adulthood
So, you want some ideas on how to raise children. You're looking for parenting ideas, and you're wise enough to know that learning from others' mistakes and experience is the best school. If that describes you, you're in the right place.
I constantly hear stories of "super-moms." We all know a few. They keep the house perfect and make it to every soccer game, piano lesson and extra-curricular activity. These are the homeroom mothers who do the fancy little treats and chaperone every field trip. Snowdays find their homes full of kids, and their yards are packed all Summer.
Now, seriously, there's nothing wrong with that kind of mom. It's just that there are more of us who aren't the "super-mom," and we feel so inferior. But after getting three girls from birth to age 20 without drugs, alcohol or teen pregnancy, I gave up my inferiority complex. I may not have ever been voted mom of the year, but my husband and I have a great relationship with our adult daughters! And although life wasn't perfect, even in the midst of moving every four years, we survived, and all three of them are strong, independent and well respected adults.
Let me first explain that I was basically a kid when I started having children. I had a lot of on the job training as well as great examples in my mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, not to mention their help and support. And if that wasn't blessing enough, I happen to have a wonderful mother-in-law. I realize that not everyone reading this is going to have that kind of example and/or support system. Fact is, that's why I'm writing this. I want to help parents raise great kids!
Are you wondering what kind of credentials I have to give this kind of advice? Well, my degree is life, and my "diploma" is the fruit of our years. Three daughters who've all made it into their thirties as successful adults full of integrity should be proof these techniques work.
Would you like to see this in an e-book or even a hard copy? Everyone who e-mails me asking for a copy before I finish the last chapter will get a FREE copy when the e-book is ready. I can't wait to hear from you!
Birth Through Pre-School
The Most Important Years
It amazed me (and still does with my grandchildren) at how young my children were when they began to develop their own personality. The first thing you need to learn is that your children will not be just like mine. They won't be like your nieces and nephews, or even like your neighbor's or friend's children. If you have more than one, they won't even be similar to each other. Each person on this earth is created uniquely, there are no cookie cutter humans. You may recognize characteristics of your spouse, your parents, your siblings or even your self in your children, but they are still very much individuals, and when we come to terms with that fact, it helps immensely.
Within just a few weeks after their birth, you'll begin to notice their personality, and as they grow, you'll look back and see those personality traits and smile (even when they are adults). One of the keys to raising great kids is balancing they way you allow them to develop their unique personality while still helping them become productive individuals. What some parents don't understand is that it begins at birth.
Every moment of your child's life is a learning moment. Every action you take is an action that teaches. You can't change their personality, but you can influence and train them to best use that personality. One of your greatest jobs as a parent is to help your children understand that you love them regardless of their personality. It's a huge challenge to be sure they discover you love them regardless of their BEHAVIOR, while teaching them you won't tolerate bad behavior.
It is impossible to love your children too much. You can't give them too many hugs or kisses. There's no such thing as too many positive words. You'll never have too much time to spend with them. They'll never outgrow their need for you to help them with hard projects, and while you can give them too much materially, small precious gifts will show them how much you love them. Throughout their lives, but especially in these first few years, touch them, talk to them, smile and speak positively and encouragingly.
Remember that the tone of your voice and your actions speak much more emphatically than the actual words you say. Even the way you interact with others influences the way your very small child views his or her relationship with you. If you treat another adult wonderful to their face and talk about them behind their back, it won't take your child very long to wonder if you feel the same way about them. Your child may be small, but he has a tremendous capability to learn. If you have a bad temper, you may have to learn to breathe or count to 10 before you speak. Don't get me wrong. Having your child see you get angry isn't a bad thing. It's helpful for them to learn that you can be angry and still love them. To be perfectly honest I don't often lose my temper. But even though my husband's anger rises a bit easier, the girls learned early that even when he was upset with them, Dad loved them. It's not necessary to mask true feelings with your children. They'll need to learn how to deal with people who are angry in life. It's just MOST important that they learn how much their parents love them.
So, the first rule in raising kids is help them know you love them. I've discovered a wonderful book in the past few years. I wish I'd read it when my kids were little. Dr. Gary Chapman has written a series that includes "The Five Love Languages of Children." (Check out links below to buy it) Another in the series is tremendous for couples. If your kids are under the age of five, read the "couples" version first.
We didn't have much money when our girls were small (or most of their lives, for that matter). A lot of people in my situation would have looked for a career or at least a better job to make ends meet. My husband and I chose to make raising our daughters a higher priority than making a living. Not that I never worked outside the home, but we made our life decisions based on what would be best for our family, especially the girls.
If I had to do it over again, the only part of our child raising decision I would change would have been to wait a few years to have our kids. We were just barely 18 and broke. Our first years were rough since we both had to work and Steve was in college. So, if you have to work because otherwise you can't feed your child, let me tell you some of the things we did.
First, we made a decision not to have a second child until we could afford for me to be a stay at home mom. I know that's probably hard if you really want a big family, but I truly recommend it. We also made some decisions about what it meant to be able "to afford" to be a stay at home mom. For instance, we never took any real vacations when our kids were small, and we didn't buy a lot of extra material possessions for them. We didn't eat out much. The kids wore a lot of hand-me-downs. This was our decision. It may not be yours. It's not the popular decision in today's world; however, it is a viable decision.
Our economic conditions forced us to be on food stamps for a short time; however, we stopped using them as soon as we were able, even while we were still eligible. Why would we do that? Because everything we do teaches our children something. We've never wanted our kids to think that a handout was an acceptable option as a permanent means of making a living. By our actions they learned a valuable lesson.
So, despite our economic situation, my husband and I applied rule #2 to our family: Try your best to be with your children as much as possible. Bringing us to Rule #3: "you are your child's number one teacher."
That picture that you see up there is the most recent addition to our family. Yep, she has a feeding tube and a trach, but she is beautiful! This picture is from about 3 months old. We are blessed!
Birth Through Pre-School (part 2)
The rest of the story
If you've even contemplated raising children, you probably already know that these first few years are the most important in your child's development. Maybe you're overwhelmed just thinking about it. It's imperative that you begin to settle in your mind that YOU are your child's teacher. It doesn't matter whether you ultimately choose public, private or home schooling. You don't need fancy books or curriculum. As you read before, every moment in your life is a teaching moment.
From their first diaper change you can teach your children. Count every snap, talk in full sentences whenever possible, sing ABC's in the car. Don't panic if your child doesn't talk or crawl as soon as your friend's child. Remember that your child is an individual, so unless your pediatrician sees some developmental or hearing problem, don't panic, just keep teaching them.
One of my girls cried nearly every moment she was awake until she was about nine months old. We took her to the doctor several times, and there was no medical reason for her screaming. Not even the infamous "colic." I've always said she was bored. Most people probably think I'm crazy, but as strange as it may seem, the more she was able to do on her own, the less she cried. When she learned to roll over, it was better. As she learned to crawl, the tantrums became bearable. When she learned to walk, the screaming was over.
One of the things she had to learn was that no matter how much I loved her, her screaming was unacceptable. She was a baby, too tiny to do much in the way of traditional "discipline." But each time she screamed, i would cradle her for a while and try to calm her. If after 10 minutes or so that didn't work, I took her into her room, laid her in her crib and shut the door. I'd check on her from time to time to make sure she was all right, but since I'd already determined it wasn't medical and it wouldn't hurt to allow her to just cry, I gave myself permission to "send her to her room." Not only did it teach her that her crying wasn't acceptable, it kept me sane!
Something that is important to remember is that a child is never too young to learn. I did not experience the typical "terrible twos" with my girls, but looking back and seeing others who did go through that stage, I think part of the problem is that some parents wait until their child is two to begin to teach their child the behavior they expect from their children. When the rules change all of a sudden, kids will rebel, even at the age of two.
Even at this young age, you can teach your child that "no" means "no." When one of my girls was just barely talking she wanted some candy. I said, "no." She got a piece anyway, opened it and put it in her mouth. I immediately got up, made her spit the candy out and moved the dish out of her reach. Don't forget to remove temptation whenever possible.
I wish I'd had this book when my kids were small. It's one of the best things I've ever read for parents. Just because you love your child doesn't mean he or she will feel loved. Let Dr. Chapman help you show your son or daughter just how much you care.
I now make this a standard baby shower gift. I highly recommend it for every parent!
We did remove temptation, but we didn't completely "child proof" our home. Things that were dangerous were removed as were our valuables. Other trinkets and musical instruments were left within the children's reach. These few things gave us opportunity to help our girls learn they weren't allowed to touch everything in sight. They discovered early that there were boundaries, including some of their siblings toys. This made it much easier to take our girls to the homes of our friends and families.
You don't have to have a regimented schedule to teach your children the things they need to know before they reach school age. You don't even have to send them to pre-school. We used every car trip as an opportunity to learn to talk and communicate. We sang and counted everything. As we did laundry, we counted washcloths. Our girls were matching socks by the time they were three or four. They dried every piece of plastic in the drainer and fed the dog before they started school. As they were discovering the basics of math and reading, they were also learning responsibility and life skills.
Just by incorporating learning into everyday experiences, each of my girls could write their alphabet, read on about a 1st grade level, count, and do daily chores by the time they started Kindergarten. My oldest could even make her own bowl of cereal before she was five. These first years are crucial. Helping your child know that you love them, the basics of academics and how to begin to take responsibility will make for a great foundation.
Graphics courtesy of Clker.com
Pre-School Through Elementary
The Fun Years
Yes, these years are the most fun. The kids are out of diapers, they can communicate with relative effectiveness, and if you've done a good job in the past three or four they have a great self-esteem and think you are the most intelligent person on the planet. Don't worry, all of those things have tremendous potential to change very soon, so you might was well enjoy these days as much as possible.
During these years, our family just continued to build on the foundation we'd set before. Helping the girls know how much we loved them and teaching them responsibility were still our two main objectives. It's just that the way we did it was a bit different. Our girls had "chores" from the time they were old enough to walk and talk. As I said earlier, they matched socks and dried plastic at a very young age. As each of the girls turned about 5 years old, they were responsible for feeding the dog and clearing the table. Before they got into middle school they understood the principle that with privileges come responsibility.
You might ask, "But what is a privilege?" In our home everything beside the basic survival needs was a privilege. Television, computers, friends, parties, desserts, snacks, phone calls and the like were considered privileges. And each year around their birthday their responsibilities changed or increased. They went from folding socks and dusting to feeding the dog, from cleaning their room to folding towels. We sometimes used charts and stars to help them remember and other times the fact that if the chores didn't get done they couldn't have friends over was enough to keep them motivated.
I think one of the things that more parents need to wrap their brain around is the fact that your child only NEEDS food and drink, a bed, enough clothing to be able to be clean everyday and your love. Sometimes as parents we're tempted to think our children HAVE TO HAVE the latest and greatest, but we discovered (partially out of our financial situation) that our girls really were much more well rounded and appreciative of everything they received because they didn't have an "entitlement" complex.
So many children (and adults) today think that they are "entitled" to material possessions. They believe that everyone should have brand name jeans and shoes as well as every toy that they see on television. As I said in the last section, children learn by example. We didn't trade our cars in every couple of years and at least one of our vehicles was generally more than 10 years old. Our clothes were hand-me downs and from sales racks. For Christmas and birthdays we usually got each other and the girls only things they needed and maybe one "splurge" item. They learned from a young age that any "non-essentials" they wanted they could save for. The girls never had an allowance, but occasionally when they would do more than their chores demanded, we'd give them some extra spending money. They knew that if they wanted something speical, they needed to save their birthday money and any extra funds they may be blessed to receive. Our oldest bought her first boom box and 10-speed bike with her own money. Today all three of them are better money managers than my husband and I.
During these fun years one of the greatest things you can teach your child is to have a strong character. Integrity is one of the most valuable strengths they can acquire, and truth is key to a character of integrity. We used these years to help the girls learn the importance of telling the truth.
I am a stickler for the truth. There are no grey areas. Anything other than the whole truth is a lie. The girls learned early that any punishment they might get as a result of doing something wrong would be doubled should they lie about it and I find out later. The truth didn't keep them out of trouble, but it did keep them from double trouble.
I've heard it said that integrity is "doing the right thing even when no one is looking." It's during these years, before they hit their teens, that it's the easiest to build integrity into your child's character. When our middle daughter was in first or second grade she was at a softball game with my husband at a church league. I wasn't able to go that afternoon, so when he was on the field, the other mothers watched the girls. One of them told me later that she had offered a sucker to our daughter, but she told the other mother she wasn't allowed any candy because she hadn't finished her lunch, and we'd told her nothing till dinner. She could have taken the candy. She would have been the only one who would have known that she'd disobeyed. Steve was busy playing the game, I wasn't even there. But she was learning integrity. I can't say she displayed that quality in every instance for the rest of her young life, but she passed the test that time, and that meant she was developing a strong character.
In helping our children develop character I promised myself I would not lie to them about anything. I didn't lie about Santa Claus when they asked, and I told the truth about babies being born when my oldest was about 7. Always telling the truth doesn't mean you have to give them more information than they can handle at their age, but it does mean answering every question they have in the most honest way possible. If you want your children to trust you in the difficult teen years, they'll need to develop that trust while they're still in grade school.
We always allowed our girls to choose their own friends. Sometimes they made bad decisions, sometimes good ones. Our role in their interaction with those friends was the supervision. When they chose friends whose parents had standards similar to ours, they were allowed to spend nights. Those whose families had a different set of values were allowed to come to our house, but seldom would the girls be allowed to visit their homes especially for overnight.
During these formative years, we were also pretty strict about what the girls could and couldn't watch on television. Violence and bad language were always forbidden as were shows that demonstrated disfunctional families and pre-marital sex. For instance, we didn't watch "Married with Children," "Ninja Turtles," or "Power Rangers." In fact their friends' parents commented that when the music for "Married with Children" would come on, the girls would say, "We're not allowed to watch that show." And although we really didn't have a lot of internet surfing going on when they were young (because of it's limited access back then), they knew I would regularly check the history, and they'd better not be someplace they weren't supposed to be.
Another of the benefits of our decision to be a one income family was my ability to be at the school a good bit with the girls. Now, don't get me wrong, as I said earlier, I was never one of those super-moms. I wasn't ever homeroom mother, and I didn't make it to every single thing the girls ever did. (They'll tell you that when they got into High School, I even forgot to pick them up after band once in a while) In fact, when the girls went to school, I did go to work. The difference is I didn't decide on a job by what it paid. Part of my employment requirements was the flexibility to be there when my kids needed me. I made it to most school concerts and plays. My employers knew upfront that I'd be coming in late or leaving for an hour the day of parent lunch. My goal was to help the girls see that what was important to them was important to me.
We were very fortunate in that we had both sets of grandparents living close by during these early school years. If we'd have had to pay for a sitter every time we wanted to get away, it would have been really difficult. But we did leave them from time to time. Maybe you're wondering what difference that made in raising our kids. Well, I believe it did several things. First of all, it made us better parents because we could appreciate them even more because we had time away from them. Second, it helped them realize that we were people, too, and we deserved to do things that we wanted to do. It's good to help your kids see that the world doesn't revolve around them. They need to learn to respect you, your time and your privacy.
I recommend that by the time your children are five they learn that when the bedroom or the bathroom door is closed, those rooms are off limits. My shower was my time, and no one was allowed to disturb that unless there was blood involved. There wasn't anything that couldn't wait until after my shower. Don't be afraid to set boundaries for your children and expect them to respect those limits. Teaching them to respect you will teach them to respect others which in turn will build and develop that character mentioned earlier.
Age four through ten are definitely the fun years, but if you do it right, you can set yourself up to avoid some of the worst moments in the pre-teen and teen eras. Enjoy your children. You'll be glad you did.
The Middle School Years
The Real Fun Begins
We were blessed with girls. In our home is that meant we had hormones racing for at least 12 years! During the middle school years, boys and girls alike are beginning to try to figure out who they are and who they want to be. They don't want to admit they need their parents, yet they do. They need you more than even you know.
I really think that teens and pre-teens still need our hugs, but most don't want them (or act like they don't want them). Because the hugs sometimes made the girls uncomfortable during these year, we found ourselves giving fewer and fewer. Fortunately, my husband loved rough housing with the girls, giving him excuses to hold them tight in a wrestle type hold while they laughed and joked. It wasn't exactly a hug, but the physical contact and the laughter helped the girls receive the attention they needed while avoiding the embarrassment that extra hugs would have given them at this age. If your children will accept the hugs, give them generously, but if not, I recommend creativity.
It was during these years that our girls began to truly fight with one another. When they were small children they had spats over toys and their "space," but as they got older they seemed to become more disagreeable with each other. I think the arguments were a mix of hormones and personalities as well as "life" that was happening in our extended family. When they were in the midst of their unpleasantness, I tried hard not to take sides. It wasn't always possible, but one of the lessons I wanted the girls to learn was that it takes two to fight. The first person can pick a fight, but the fight will not happen until the second person reacts. There are times when it's necessary to defend oneself, but for the most part, especially in a family, it's good for children to learn that arguing isn't an acceptable solution to a disagreement. We generally would allow the girls to attempt to work out their differences on their own by the time they got to this age. Perhaps you're wondering how we decided to intervene. I wish we had some wonderful piece of wisdom to share with you here, but the truth is, our involvement was often out of selfishness and maybe even laziness. Our first cue to step in was when we didn't want to listen to the arguing anymore. Of course, by this age the girls knew that physical contact during an argument was entirely out of the question, so we didn't have to deal with too much of that, but someone biting or hitting would also cause immediate intervention. When we did have to intervene, all of the participants would receive the same punishment. We didn't even listen to claims of who started the altercation. It didn't matter. As soon as the second person struck back (even verbally), she was part of the problem. The lesson "it takes two to fight" is one that even a few parents could probably stand to learn.
The middle school years are also the time when schedules begin to get busy. Only one of our girls was really into sports, which seem to have a more hectic schedule than other extra-curricular activities. For the most part, the girls were allowed to be in one or two activities outside of school and church at a time. For instance, marching band and 4-H or Girl Scouts, piano lessons and basketball. Too many extra activities puts a lot of pressure on the entire family. By the time homework gets done and families spend a little quality time together, it's difficult to squeeze in a lot of other events. And if you have more than one child, scheduling can become a piece of stress your family doesn't need.
Even 15 to 20 years ago some parents thought their children needed to be in every activity available. I guess that's every parent's decision to make; however, we tried to make sure that we were all home together at least two weekday evenings each week, and until our last one got her first job, we scheduled dinner every night so that all five of us could be there. This is a really good time to set priorities for your family and judge every thing you write on the calendar by those priorities. If you make eating together at least five nights a week one of your family priorities, every time you add things to your calendar it will be important to evaluate how those appointments will influence your schedule.
As I said in the last chapter, after all three girls were in school, I did go to work. I was fortunate to always be able to find employment that allowed me to go to the parent lunches, plays and awards assemblies. However, these jobs also gave us an opportunity to teach the girls a bit of responsibility. You'll remember that each year near their birthdays, the girls were given a new or additional chore. During the middle school years they picked up things like washing towels and being in charge of dinner one night a week. They usually chose spaghetti or "Kraft Macaroni and Cheese." Hamburgers, hotdogs and breakfast foods were also a favorite. These meals weren't difficult to cook. They had helped make them often when they were in 4th-6th grade. So by 7th or 8th grade, they had no problem taking over the kitchen. When they started cooking, the one who cooked the meal did not have to clean up the kitchen afterward, which made meal preparation seem almost like a privilege rather than a chore. If you are a working mother, don't be afraid to give your children jobs to do that will help you get done and be able to spend more time with them.
During middle school, it's easy for pre-teens to feel insignificant. One of the best things about giving our girls responsibility was the way that it helped their self esteem. I noticed it as our oldest daughter went through these difficult years. She took on a lot of extra responsibility when I began working full time. As she began to realize that she was really making a difference in the life of our family, I could see her growing more self-confident.
Of course on the other hand, I've seen parents who for some reason think their children are their slaves. While it's important that your children learn responsibility, it's equally vital that they see how they are earning your respect with each job they take on. Respect will mean that you begin to trust them to stay at home by themselves and allow them to participate in decisions that affect them. Teaching your pre-teen to be respected, to respect others and themselves will go a long way in the development of that character you began to mold in their elementary years.
You've heard it said, "kids can be cruel." And while it is true, it doesn't have to be. Parents have the power and responsibility to help their children understand that teasing and disrepect of others is unacceptable. When we heard our girls making fun of someone, we tried to help them see how it felt to be on the receiving end of the teasing. Encourage your children to consider the other person's feelings. Help them to understand that not all of their classmates have everything they have. By allowing them to see how fortunate they are, your children will quickly learn to genuinelly care for others.
Middle school will probably be the time when your kids quit telling you everything that's going on in their life. In our family, this is when the automobile became one of the most marvelous inventions known to mankind. It's also one of the few advantages of a busy schedule. I loved getting my girls in the van one on one. If the radio was on, it just played in the background. We were blessed to have lived before MP3 players, and our girls never had Gameboys. The time spent driving to and from after school activities and meetings was always spent talking. They shared their opinions, and I learned what they liked and didn't like. One of my favorite days every year (one of their's too, I hope) was school shopping. The girls and I made it an "event." I started three paydays before school started and took them one at a time, one each pay, for a whole day of shopping. We got all of their school supplies and a couple of new outfits. Best of all we ate lunch together at their favorite restaurant. It was usually fast food, and most of the time it was one that their dad didn't really care for. We took our time and looked at things that we knew we wouldn't buy. It was just a fun day, but it was a time when we got to talk and spend quality time together.
These years won't be the easiest in your parenting life, but as hard as they seem to you, they really are at least that difficult for your kids. You'll find a lot of information on the emotional, physical and mental struggles pre-teens have. Go ahead and read as much as you can, but never forget that your child is an individual and may not fit into any of the pre-made molds psychologists and counselors put them in. If you've been communicating and spending quality time with your children, no book or person will know your child better than you. Just continue to love them through these years, show them respect and teach them to have a strong character. The best is still to come.
Graphic courtesy of The Wizard of Draws
The Teen Years
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
At our house the teendom lasted 12 years. From the time our first turned 13 until our last started college we enjoyed (and sometimes endured) an interesting life. Steve and I added challenges to our child rearing by entering the ministry during this time and turning our average everyday kids into PK's (preacher kids). Besides the fact that our girls were now all of a sudden expected to be a perfect example of well behaved children as well as Bible scholars, this also meant that we introduced them to a new school system every 3-4 years. Not only that, but our last three moves managed to fall between the Sophomore and Junior years of high school for each daughter. It's not that we planned it that way, but by the time the third one had to change schools during that time, the first thought it was poetic justice.
Despite the moving and making new friends, the girls managed to survive these years relatively well. There were times I loved these days and times I was completely frustrated. To be perfectly honest, the success of the teen years in our home was due primarily to the ground work we laid in all the years before. We worked hard to have consistent and fair rules so the girls generally knew what was expected of them. And later when you read about the real secret of our success, you'll see the one thing that made the most difference.
Should you find yourself becoming the parent of teens without being able to lay the groundwork of the previous chapters, you'll probably have to ease into the ideas you'll find here. If you're thrown into parenthood at this late time, you'll need to earn the respect of these double digit kids. And to get their full respect, they'll need to know how much you care. Those become "suddenly parents" who try to create a whole new set of rules without earning the respect of their children, will most often find themselves with rebelious youth. I apologize that I don't have a lot of advice for you in this situation. I have ideas I think would work well, but I've not had the opportunity to put them to the test, so I won't be so bold as to share what I haven't proved. On the other hand for parents who've made it this far with kids from the beginning, let me tell you a few things that worked for us.
One of the first rules we set as parents when our oldest became a teen is that when we left her in charge she was only responsible for her own behavior and helping the other kids out of the house in case of fire. We made it clear to the younger two that if their older sister reminded them of a rule and they chose not to change their actions, the one who disobeyed the rules would be the one who got in trouble. The oldest was not expected or allowed to discipline or yell at her sisters. Her only job was to remind them of the rules. For instance at 8:00 p.m. she was supposed to tell her younger sisters it was bedtime. We let them know right up front, if they chose to stay up till we got home, their older sister wouldn't be telling them over and over again and they'd pay the price for their defiance. It didn't keep them from never fighting while we were gone, but it did lead to fewer opportunities for an argument.
Our teens were not allowed to date until they were 16. I know a lot of parents think that's too strict and a bit old fashioned, but we believe that dating is what you do in order to prepare to find a partner for marriage. We also believe that until age 16 kids don't need the pressure that dating brings. Kids are faced with enough tough decisions without having to deal with dating pressures prior to age 16. I'm sure we were considered old fashioned, but we didn't allow the girls to attend boy/girl parties or dances until they were at least 13 or 14 and boys weren't allowed to come over to our house until about age 15. And while we're on the subject of boys . . . no boys were allowed over when the girls were babysitting, and they weren't allowed to be alone in the house with boys until they were in college.
Along those same lines, our girls had an 11 o'clock curfew until they were in college. In fact our youngest was grounded the week of her graduation because she'd been five minutes past curfew at least three times in a month. (Grounded at our house meant going nowhere without parents - we tried very hard never to punish ourselves with the word "grounded").
And what if your daughter or son brings home the date of your nightmares? We encountered a couple of those. Yes, at least one per daughter. If you've done your job up to this point, this will most likely just be a minor setback. When we went through this dismal time (all three times), we attempted to act as normal as possible. By age sixteen the girls had had plenty of opportunity to learn choose friends and make wise decisions. We tried very hard to trust that they would quickly see the error in their choice of a date.
And while we gave them the freedom to choose their own friends and dates, we still held the power to limit how much time they spent with those friends and dates who weren't good influences on them. We didn't forbid them to go out, but we always knew where they were going and generally limited dating to once a week. Additionally, we had always encouraged group activities, so much of our girls' dating years were spent with several friends rather than just one boy and one girl at a movie.
By now, you're probably thinking, "Is dating the only issue I'll have to deal with during my kids' teen years?" The answer is, "No." However, for me, it was probably the scariest. Yes, even scarier than teaching them how to drive. Although driving brought it's own kind of fun.
When you hear our solution to teenage driving, you may think we had a lot of rules; however, we considered them expectations, and the girls understood that when they didn't meet our expectations, they would lose priviliges. And driving is most definitely a privilige. From the time they got their permit there were a couple of things that the girls clearly understood.
First of all, they weren't allowed to give anyone outside the family a ride, and if they got a ticket they would lose their license until they were 18. Second, the car they drove belonged to their parents. They always had something to drive; however, we did not buy them a car of their own, and they were not allowed to have their own vehicle until they could afford to pay for the car and the insurance. Plus that, the privilige to drive came with the responsibility of running to the store for us and giving their younger siblings rides whenever we asked.
But it wasn't all rules and bad news. It was during these years that the girls were growing into adults. These are the years when we started becoming friends. Our conversations turned from frivilous kids' stuff to important things like dating, college, politics and their feelings. We began to laugh more together and have "girl times." We finally began to take mini-vacations, and it was a joy!
By the time they were sixteen, each of the girls had a job (one when she was 14). We were blessed to know that our girls had learned to have a good work ethic and take responsibility. More than once their employers commented on the way the girls went above and beyond the normal teenage employee. The girls were highly respected by their teachers and even after graduation have been able to return for letters of recommendation.
The teen years can be a struggle, but if, as parents, we allow our kids to grow up and trust them with what we've already taught them, it will be possible to go through these years with very little drama. These are the years when that respect you've been instilling and character building you've been doing will begin to really shine through. Just keep on loving them and begin to really treat them like an adult. College will be here before you know it.
Another great graphic from The Wizard of Draws
I wish I had known about all of the books in this series when my children were young. I didn't read them until all of my girls were grown, but I believe every word in them is true.
Beyond High School
Do they still live at home?
Very few of our children will move out as soon as they graduate from High School. If you've done a good job up to this point, not much will change; however, if you've been too lenient or over protective, this transition might be more difficult. It's important to remember that these young adults are still your children; however, you also have to come to terms with the fact that your children are now adults.
By this time in our home we had three completely different experiences. Our oldest had always taken the initiative to work and find employment. During the Summer of her Junior and Senior year of High School, she'd found a job about 40 miles from home, so she stayed with her grandmother and aunt during the week and was only home on the weekends. After graduation she went to a local college, but during her sophomore year she got a job for a newspaper miles away (again near grandma) and commuted back to school.
Our youngest was engaged by the time she graduated. She had a full time job in an office, signed a loan for a vehicle about 2 weeks after graduation and had entered into a land contract to buy a house. She stayed at home for six months after graduation.
Still at home after college with the plan to be here until she marries is our middle daughter. She did go away to college and wasn't able to come home on the weekends. Right after college she got a great full time job, financed her own vehicle and within 3 years of graduating will have her masters and her own home.
You can not expect
to have someone clean up after you
be treated like an adult!
Pick One!— Lynne Modranski
I say all that to let you know that we were blessed with responsible children. We set our expectations of them high; however, we also stressed that we wanted them to make their own decisions and live their own lives. That's really one of the hardest things we do as parents. We have ideas of what we want our kids to do and be. That makes it difficult sometimes to allow them to be themselves while still pushing and encouraging them to be their best.
So, how do the "rules" change after your children become "adults"? Here are a few standards our home used for our young adults:
- It's always been an expectation that anyone who stays overnight in our home on Saturday night will attend church with us on Sunday morning. Fortunately, our girls had established their own relationship with Jesus Christ before High School, so this wasn't a standard that took any enforcing. They actually WANT to go with us.
- By Christmas after graduation the curfew we had set was pretty much eliminated. After all, those who stay in a dorm won't have anyone telling them what time to be in. However, they had also developed enough respect for us to make sure we knew where they were going and what time they'd be home. In return, we also afford the same courtesy to the young adults who still live with us. And anyone running extremely late calls home to make sure no one is worried about where they are.
- One of the drawbacks of my decision to not have a career was the lack of funds for college. Early in high school the girls knew that they needed to either keep their grades up, get a job or expect loans for college. Some parents can afford to help with their kids higher education, but I hear of so many going deep into debt for kids who don't even really want to be in school. Our family is living proof that the student can be completely responsible for her or her college expense and survive. They can also survive without a vehicle or a cell phone. We did provide an old but reliable truck for a middle daughter while she was student teaching and at the same time added a $10 line to our cell plan so she'd have it when she was on the road. The phone included no texting, messaging or extras and she was keenly aware that she was sharing our minimal minutes so the phone was only for emergencies. Finances are a huge part of growing up. Once they have an income it's alright to expect them to pick up their own cereal and milk and even stop and get a few groceries for the family without being reimbursed. We do a real disservice to our children when we give them everything especially when they are full grown. Is it really fair to expect them to one day all of a sudden become completely financially responsible? Do them a huge favor and teach them how to handle money while they still live at home and being broke doesn't mean being destitute. (Which means it's alright to allow them to be broke!)
- By this time your children should have a completely equal share in the household chores. Much like the disservice we do when we pay for everything, if we make their beds, wash their clothes and clean all their dishes they either will never move out or there will come a day when they will face the shock of responsibility. If you aren't cooking for yourself, it's not your responsibility to cook for your adult child living at home. In fact, our girls often cooked dinner for us including buying the ingredients for the food.
- Last, but not least, we made it clear throughout the kids teen years that they shouldn't plan to get married until they could afford to move out and living with someone of another gender outside of marriage was not an acceptable option.
I believe the key to living with adult children is the continuation of what we started when they were infants. Treating them with respect and teaching them to treat others the same. Each of the points made above will come naturally to someone who the idea of mutual respect and integrity has been instilled.
And if you're wondering what to do if you've messed up before you got to this point, and it's just not working out for you, keep scrolling down. I have some suggestions for that, too!
Beyond High School (part 2)
What if you've just realized you messed it all up earlier in their life?
What happens if you just finished the chapter called "Beyond High School" and you realize you missed something during the past 18 years? You've discovered your son has no sense of responsibility and is not only prepared to live with you for the rest of his life but has started to hint that his girl friend should move in and mooch too. OK, maybe it's not that bad, but you can't even get help mowing the grass or keeping the dishwasher loaded.
The first thing you have to come to terms with is the old adage, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" applies to 18 year olds. You seriously can't expect your teen to all of a sudden begin to take on responsibility if you've never set that kind of standard before.
If you find yourself with a teenager who can't cope on their own, I recommend you begin with small expectations first and gradually add more. You might start by apologizing for not setting the bar higher for them in the past and then explaining what changes they can expect. If you can stand it, start with their room. Stop making the bed, changing the sheets, picking up their clothes and doing their laundry. Let them know they'll be expected to keep all of that done and give them their first laundry lesson if necessary. Be sure they know where the vacuum is and how often they should dust, sweep and bring the dirty dishes out of their room. This time of transition will probably be harder on you than it is on your kids. If you're used to being an excellent caregiver and have made your child's bed every day of her life, it may be difficult for you to give it up now. But, believe me, you can do it! Close the door every time you're tempted to find the floor. Once they graduate from their room to washing dishes, you'll be wondering why you waited so long to give them the push.
Don't feel bad if you need to retrain your young adult. You were probably just a loving parent who didn't think about how not setting any expectations for them would affect their future. It's not too late. Set some expectations, share them with your child and then enjoy your child. Resist the temptation to nag your offspring. Resentment won't help them to become the adult you want to see.
You and your children have a lot of potential. You can make it through this time even if you didn't prepare them as well as you had hoped.
What if I get it wrong?
or what if my mother thinks I'm doing it wrong?
Recently I heard a brand new grandmother telling others about her daughter's parenting techniques. She used the phrase, "she's only doing a few little things wrong." While this grandma is at least 10 years my senior, I had to smile. Here's my opinion about doing things "wrong":
As long as child services doesn't need called in because you are abusive or neglectful, you aren't doing a thing wrong! You may do things different than me or your mother, but that's not wrong! There are as many parenting techniques and ideas as there are children and mothers. In fact, if you have more than one child, there's a good chance each of your children, even as infants, will progress differently causing you to change or adjust your parenting techniques.
The stuff you read on this page is my opinion, and it's mostly the stuff I got right! I left out everything I'd not recommend doing over again. But even that wasn't necessarily WRONG. If you love your child and teach him or her to respect themselves and others, even from infancy, you can't go wrong. The way you dress them, the layers of clothing, the amount of sanitary spaces in your home, those are all variable depending on your child. My youngest grandchild has a very sanitary environment compared to my three children and my oldest two grandkids. She has a trach and a g-tube, so it's necessary. Even the length of time you breastfeed, when you introduce food the first time and the timetable for a child's motor skills will differ depending on the books you read, the influence of grandmothers or the health care professional you consult.
I encourage you to do the very best for each child you have. Each one will grow to be a tremendous individual, unlike any other individual ever born on this planet, so treat her as such. Don't sweat it when your mother or grandmother thinks you're doing things "wrong". Accept her advice and use it to form your own parenting techniques. (and if you are a grandparent reading this page, please understand that you don't know it all - I don't know it all - share the things that worked with your children without expecting them to do every single thing you tell them)
Most of all, pray over your child, ask your Heavenly Father, the only Perfect Parent, HIS advice on how to raise your child. He knows every little idiosyncrasy, every small detail that makes your child who he is. It's that Parent who can give you perfect advice or send you in the right direction to find good tips from those who've gone before you. He's the One who loves you and your child then most, and if you truly trust in Him, there is no way you can mess it up so bad He can't make something beautiful out of it! (Romans 8:28)
Perhaps one of the Most Important Parenting Skills
One of the most important lessons I've learned about parenting, I've learned from talking to adults. I've discovered that many adults who suffer from addictions, hurts, disorders and other social problems often stem from parents who didn't listen or dismissed their child's trauma. No matter how unbelievable your child's story, assume they are telling you the truth. Listen to every word your child speaks and investigate every accusation.
If your child tells you another adult in their life has been acting inappropriate or makes them uncomfortable, remove them from the situation. You needn't slander the adult in question while you investigate the accusation, but you can make sure your child feels safe and is never alone with that adult.
Your child may tell you all kinds of unbelievable things, but your job as a parent is to believe every one of them. Teach them from a very young age the importance of always telling the truth. The best way to do that is to NEVER lie to your kids. I hear so many parents tell me that they out and out lie to their kids about things they don't think are that important. There is only one lesson a child can learn from that behavior: it's OK to lie when it's more convenient for you. As your children learn that you tell the truth even when it's not fun or convenient, they'll eventually figure out that untruths of any kind are unacceptable. Plus, when as they begin to realize the priority you place on the truth, they'll want to tell the truth. And as they understand the value you place in the words they speak, they'll be very eager to make sure they don't let you down.
Listening may involve hearing words your children doesn't speak as well as all the ones they do. Pay attention to their attitudes, the changes in their moods and behaviors. When your child's grades dip, don't automatically get mad, look for things in life that might be causing the problem. Watch for changes in friends and keep an eye out for diet changes.
If you have more than one child, do your best to take each one by themselves as often as is feasible to give your children an opportunity to say what they need to without their siblings around. Listening also often means not talking. If your child says something that you don't like, don't approve of or feel the need to correct, bite your tongue for a moment. Let them completely finish their thought. There's a chance they've already figured out what you'd like to tell them. And if they do need to hear your point of view, they'll repsect it a lot more if they know you've really listened. Plus, if you wait a few moments, you'll be able to give a calm answer. You'll sound more rational, and there's a good chance your response will be accepted by your child, especially if you're talking to a pre-teen or teenager.
You are your child's advocate. They need to know you are always there for them. You can teach them to respect adults while helping them understand that they needn't feel abused or uncomfortable. In my own children's lives, they felt comfortable telling me when they sawa teacher treating another student poorly. Once or twice, because the teacher was using foul language or the words stupid or dumb in front of the entire class, I did contact the teacher on my child's behalf and talked to them about their language. Even though the language wasn't directed toward my own child, it bothered her and made her feel uncomfortable. I believed her when she told me the problem, and I contacted the teacher personally and let him know his behavior was making my child feel uncomfortable. I also expressed my opinion that foul language and degrading any student was unacceptable. But the main thing in the whole scenario was that I listened to my daughter, I believed her, and I did what I could to correct the problem.
So, begin today. No matter how hectic your life and regardless of age, listen to your child, believe everything he says and give him confidence that you won't jump to conclusions and you will act on every problem they bring to you. Not only will you change his present, you will make a huge difference in his future.
You have 16-20 years to parent your children. It's much more productive and less expensive if you do it in their first 16-20— Lynne Modranski
The Secret to My Success
I Couldn't Have Done it Without . . .
One Man . . . nope, not my husband (although I'm blessed to have him, too).
The true secret of my success is Jesus Christ. Please don't stop reading! I know that I just lost a lot of people by writing that sentence, but I'm going to ask you to hear me out. Just read this section with an open mind. Don't start thinking of all the things you've been told about Christianity from your friends and relatives (even the Christians). Just read this chapter with an open mind and, like the rest of the book, consider it simply my opinion. Neither right nor wrong, merely my opinion.
When I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter, I promptly got married and quit going to church. I was raised that good girls didn't find themselves pregnant BEFORE marriage and church was a place for good people. So, for almost 3 years I only went to church on Christmas and Easter and other occasions when it might make my mom or dad feel good.
The year my daughter turned three I decided it was time to get her into church. After all, there were a lot of good morals she could learn there and a lot of people with upstanding character who she could look up to and follow. I didn't really think too much about Jesus. Church was a place where good, honest and successful people went and those are things I wanted for my daughter. (remember these are things I believed at the time, not necessarily things that are true).
I had determined to not miss more than one Sunday a month to set a good example for my daughter. When we moved to New York because Steve was stationed at Griffiss AFB, Monica and I began attending the church on base. A friend invited me to attend a Mom's get together one morning a week, so I did. And it was there I began to realize my view of Christianity was a bit warped.
I had always believed that Christianity was based on being good. I knew I needed Jesus to fit in there somewhere, but I'd really gotten caught up in the "good" part. It was during these few years that I began to realize my need for a real RELATIONSHIP with Jesus. WAIT!!! Please keep reading! I know that phrase really gets some people's goat, but let me remind you again, this is my opinion and what it did in my life. You don't have to believe me, just hear me out.
And that's when everything began to change. Oh, since then I've had a lot of moments and revelations that have molded me into who I am today, but that one piece of information revolutionized my way of thinking, and with it, my way of child rearing. I began to see in my life that my success and true happiness was directly related to how my relationship with Jesus Christ was fairing. It had nothing to do with following the rules that I'd been taught as a youth (BORING!) and everything to do with keeping in touch with the person who gave me real life.
Prayer became different, reading my Bible began to be a whole new adventure and my goal in raising kids changed from helping them become good, productive adults to helping them develop a relationship with Jesus Christ.
When I was a teen I always said I never wanted to tell my kids "Because I said so." I hated that phrase. It meant so little. But I understood where it came from. Kids keep asking and asking and finally you run out of answers. There's nothing else left except "Because I said so." But what if that's not all there is? What if there's more?
When you raise children to believe that there is a Creator and His Son who love them so desparately that they'll do anything to help them see that love, they become motivated by love rather than by rules. You don't have to say, "Because I said so." Instead you can say, "Because God gave you to me as a gift and I worry about you. I don't think that's something that would be good for you right now, but ask again in a few years."
By the time my kids were teens they were pretty much sold out for Christ. Not because I forced them or because they were brainwashed, but because they saw what being a Christian was doing in my life and their dad's life (Steve didn't even go to church with me when Monica was three, but the year she turned 7 he discovered the one thing that would change his life forever.) We lived (and still live) everything we believe at home as well as in public. There aren't two different sets of standards because we aren't trying to "be good" or impress anyone. We have a relationship with a person who knows and wants the best for us, and we act like that relationship is important.
There's something about that relationship that never makes me feel like I HAVE to do anything (there are somethings I volunteer for to help PEOPLE that make me feel that way - I'm terrible at overcommitting). The things I do for Christ are because of this relationship, and it makes me WANT to be this way. I've discovered a life, a NORMAL life, that is worth more than I can imagine because of this relationship.
And teaching the girls to experience this relationship in their own life is what has helped them all be where they are today. We avoided drugs, alcohol problems and the worst of the rebelious teen years. Not because of any rules or threats (OK, their dad may have threatened them some - I remember hearing "lose your license" "grounded" etc. from time to time), but primarily because they believe that Jesus loves them even more than their parents do, and He knows what's best for them. They learned quite young to respect others and themselves partially because we instilled that in them and partially because we believe that every person is created by God in His image and deserves our respect.
We are a pretty normal family. We don't wear funny clothes or skirts all the time. We don't get into your face about religion. You'll never see us bombing abortion clinics (even though we are very conservative), and if you take the time to get to know us you'll discover we like a lot of the same things you do. We watch "Law and Order" and even "Everybody Loves Raymond" (check this out if you're wondering why I mentioned that show) We listen to country music as well as Christian, we dance and sing and play Mario Kart Wii on a regular basis (my grandson has gotten me addicted). We aren't better than you. We aren't better than anyone! We've just chosen to explore how a relationship with Jesus Christ might change our lives and have discovered it to be the best gift we can give our children and grandchildren.
If you are just a "church goer," I encourage you to find a place that will help you grow into a deep RELATIONSHIP with Jesus Christ. I found out more than 20 years ago that it's just too hard being good. I couldn't do it! It was boring and hard work. Just going to church didn't cut it for me. I would never have been able to get my kids to where they are now without this relationship I found with Jesus.
If you've never really considered this kind of relationship before or thought it was just plain stupid, I want to thank you for reading this far. I know it might have been difficult for you not to just close this page. I also want to encourage you to find a group of folks who are working to be like Jesus Christ. Stay away from those congregations that just want to be religious, going through the motions of what it means to be a Christian without any of the "good life" that Jesus promised. The ones that really love Christ are sometimes hard to find, but they are out there. If you need help e-mail me and I'll try to help you find a church near you. We've traveled through a good bit of the US and visit churches everywhere we go (we just LOVE to meet others who are in the midst of growing in Christ). I may have actually been IN a church somewhere near you!
Now you know everything. There's really not much more help I can give you. If all you read was this last chapter and you follow it, you probably know enough to raise great kids. This treasure was the one piece that really changed my child rearing technique and challenged me to be a better parent. After all, once I found Jesus, our Dad set the very best example!
Especially through the Holidays
It's very healthy for families to create traditions. These are the things that memories are made of. Our family created several traditions that we are now handing down to our grandchildren. You'll find that most of our traditions are created around the holidays. I hope that they will inspire you to create your own family traditions.
Nearly 25 years ago, when we had only one child, we began the tradition of creating handmade ornaments. We've used baby food cans and jars, construction paper, needlepoint, oragami and more, but each year the girls and I created an ornament to share with aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends. Each child also got to make one ornament to keep for themselves. So now, years later, they have these memories in their ornament boxes.
When our youngest was about 3, I had a really difficult time celebrating Christmas. The holiday seemed so empty. I didn't even care if I celebrated. One year I discovered the joy of Advent. We began the tradition of lighting candles while reading scripture and a short daily devotion. This beautiful ritual focused me personally on the real meaning of the season. It transformed my Christmas. I actually became excited again to celebrate the season. On top of that, it gave the Modranski family an opportunity to have a short worship time together. We enjoyed the tradition so much that by 1995 I began writing advent readings for my family and our congregation. Every night after our advent readings, we would take the cards we'd received that year and pray by name for each person who'd remembered us with a Christmas greeting.
Another Christmas tradition we shared was giving each of the girls one special ornament each year. By the time they each got married, they had more than 50 ornaments to take to their own homes. And often the ornaments had a wonderful story they could share with their spouse or friends.
Birthdays offer a great time to add traditions. I know that some parents have huge parties every year, but we couldn't really afford that. So our girls had "friend" parties at what we deemed "milestone" years. For us that was age 6, 10, 13 & 16. My decision to use these birthdays was somewhat swayed by the fact that no two girls would have a "friend party" in the same year. Regardless of the size of the party,grandparents were always invited over for a homemade cake and the birthday girl was allowed to choose the menu for dinner on her special day. She also was responsible for the meal blessing and didn't have to clean up after dinner. We focused a lot on making the birthday girl feel special and less on the number or amount spent on presents (although because of when they fell, the girls usually got their Summer clothes for their birthday).
Now that the girls are all grown, we've started some new traditions. For each of our birthdays we meet with all the girls on my maternal side of the family for lunch (This is getting to be a pretty large number since my nephews all have significant others). Some of us take a long lunch or we work it on a day when others are off. We combine birthdays, so we end up going out about 5 times each year. But our immediate family now celebrates every birthday with a meal out at the birthday person's favorite restaurant.
Christmas and Birthdays are just a couple of great times to make traditions. I'll be shaing more so stop back soon to discover other traditions we shared.
Parenting on a Budget
I NEED vs. I WANT
When you are parenting, sometimes money gets tight. You have to prioritize where you spend your money. If you're having problems, I recommend looking at Crown Financial Planning or Dave Ramsey's financial training.
Meanwhile, when you plan your budget, consider this list:
THINGS I NEED
This is a list of things you can not do without. You have to have them, so budget accordingly:
- Shelter (not more than 40% of your net pay)
- Renter's or Home Owners Insurance
- (if you own, you'll need to budget for maintenance too)
- Groceries (you don't need steak and shrimp)
- Clothing (1-4% of your net pay)
- We also consider our Tithe to God (a full 10% of our gross income) to be a "necessity"
THINGS I MAY NEED
This is a list of things that may be necessary depending on where you live:
- Car (including gas and Insurance)
- One Phone per family (just the basic plan for emergencies if you live more than 1/4 mile from your nearest neighbor - Steve and I went several years with no phone)
THINGS YOU DO NOT NEED
These are things much of the world thinks are necessities, but truth is, if you can't comfortably fit these in your budget, you're better off without:
- Cable Television (or a Television at all)
- Cell Phones
- More than two pair of shoes
- NEW anything
- Gaming Devices
- and anything not in the top list
Your children will not be deprived or left out if they don't have those things mentioned. Even when we did finally get cable, our girls never had it in their bedrooms. Money will be one of your greatest struggles as a parent, but if you prioritize your needs properly, you can manage on as little as (or less than) $30,000/year (depending on the area where you live)
All graphics on this page are used royalty free courtesy of the pages below (not all are licensed for non-commercial use, so please visit these sites to discover whether you can use the graphic for your project)
© 2012 Lynne Modranski