Friday, October 28, 2011

Let Your Body Do the Shopping

The other day I had some precious time to run errands by myself.  I was exhausted and feeling pretty low. Our whole family had been sick, we were sleep-deprived, Munchkin had been whiny, cranky, over-sensitive and clingy, and I hadn't had much of a break for almost 2 weeks. Self-care had taken a backseat for too long. My reserves were tapped and I needed to nurture myself.

I bought myself some personal supplies that I'd been needing for way too long (did I mention that  I'd neglected self-care?), then felt I wanted to get myself a little something extra. You know, something I didn't need, but something that would pamper me a bit.

I don't eat much junk food, but I do enjoy it, especially as a treat. So I eyed the candy aisle looking for something sweet and delectable, something to soothe my weary soul. There were literally dozens of items to choose from. A few caught my eye, and I even picked up one or two chocolates. Well, bags of chocolate. I realized that I only wanted one, not a whole bag. I just wanted a treat, not diabetes.

Then I slowed down. I fell back into myself, my tired, drained, worn-out self who desperately needed some TLC. I tuned into my body and felt the fatigue, the lingering sadness. Then a question popped into my mind as I examined each possible choice of treat:

"Is that going to make me feel better?"

I searched and searched. Obviously, I was in the wrong store, because the answer was a pervasive NO. I imagined how I would feel after consuming one of those "treats" and my body rejected each and every one. None of those bags of goodies spoke to me with love. None of those sweets had anything nice to say to my body, a body who was listening, watching, and waiting for sustenance.

It's not that I think all junk food is bad all the time, either. I eat ice-cream every Friday night! But good ice-cream, not garbage. The chocolates in that store were just garbage, though, and my body detected it. Thankfully, I was listening.

I left the store without a special treat and went home to enjoy the rest of my short break in silence and solitude. My body relished the peace, the almost foreign quiet. Thank you, I could almost hear it say.

Still wanting to spoil myself,  I grabbed a piece of high-quality, dark chocolate truffle from my own stash. Mmmmm. I savored it along with the last few minutes of solace before the boys came home. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

What's Wrong With Messy?

Courtesy Flickr
One of our local playgrounds has a delightful sandbox, fully equipped with a spigot of running water. The water splashes down through pavement and rocks, then enters the sandbox down below. Kids love to run over to push the button to activate the water, about 6 feet away, then dash back to splash in the water coming out. Sometimes the button gets stuck or kids push it repeatedly. Then the corner of the sandbox fills with water...enough water to splash feet, dig moats, and get very, very messy.

I've seen two patterns emerge at this sandbox, especially around the water. The most common one is the Forbidden Zone pattern. Toddlers and babies, in particular, are shuttled away from this Forbidden Zone of sand and water. Many of them never get a chance to touch either one. Some brave, well-meaning parents let their little ones explore a few moments, until the first splash of water gets on those oh-so-cute clothes. Then the game is over in a split second, ending with cries of defeat, loss, and frustration. From expressions on the parents' faces, I'm guessing they feel pretty deflated, too. 

The other pattern I've seen is one of Oh Well, Here We Go. Parents remove their child's shoes gently and sometimes pant legs get rolled up. Often these kids are accompanied by a few sand toys to share. They make their mess and when it's time to go, they use the running water to rinse off the sand. Some just play in the water the whole time, getting soaked to varying degrees. The only remorseful parting cries are those from the kid who wants to play longer.

Today I met one of these mothers who admitted to having once been a Forbidden Zone mom. I never would have guessed, watching her 3 year-old daughter romp in the wet sand, caked up to the knees. She didn't even bother taking off shoes or rolling up her pants. Instead, her mom helped fill the bucket with water over and over again. Munchkin and the little girl took turns pouring water through a funnel. Some of the water spilled all around them, some splashed in the sand, and a good portion splattered all over Munchkin and the little girl. The girl and her mother just kept filling the bucket for us. Eventually Munchkin and the little girl were wading ankle deep in sand and water, stomping, splashing, kicking.

"Wow, that's cool that you let her get all messy," I remarked to the girl's mom.

"Well, you know, if you'd talked to me 3 years ago, it'd be different. But eventually I thought, you know, why fight it? She loves getting messy!" the girl's mom explained.

I smiled deeply. I recognized the personal evolution. From Blech! What a mess! I don't want to clean that up! to What's wrong with messy? While I don't enjoy cleaning up Munchkin's relentless messes (spilled milk, pee on the floor, crushed cereal under foot, etc., etc.), I have gotten better at dealing with them. Thanks to a suggestion from Hobo Mama, I now exaggerate any annoyance to a point that just makes us both laugh. I also allow Munchkin ample opportunity to get messy within safe boundaries, like this park with the awesome sandbox.

Watching this woman and her sand-covered daughter reminded me of something else about messes and children: acceptance. It's amazing what a little acceptance will do for a mother. Of course, having a spare change of clothes handy helps, too.

What are your views on letting kids get messy? Please do tell, I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

When Gratitude is Better Than Praise

I try to avoid overuse and misuse of the phrase "Good job!" when talking to my son. This type of "empty" praise is a value judgment that can lead to an array of self-esteem, autonomy, and relationship issues (check out this article for a primer). Therefore, I'm always looking for more constructive and meaningful things to say. Like many great ideas, this one came about while I was on the, uh, porcelain throne...

Usually, I tend to let empty TP rolls pile up in the bathroom before I take them to the recycling bin because I get lazy or immediately distracted by my messy toddler. Once, I decided to give Munchkin a chance to do it for me while I was - ahem - occupied. When the toilet paper roll ran out, I handed it to him and asked if he could please take it to the recycling bin (if he could get me a new roll, that would be even better!). In our house, this task means carrying the empty roll down the hallway, through another room, opening a pocket door, putting the empty TP roll in the bin, then closing the pocket door using the hard-to-grab latch. This is a multiple-step task that requires dexterity, memory, and the ability to stay focused on task - no easy feat for a young toddler! I didn't really expect Munchkin to actually make it all the way to the recycling bin and back, at least not without unloading a stack of papers or other mess.  But I thought 2 minutes of privacy might be worth the chance.

To my surprise and delight, he did it! He placed the empty roll in the recycling bin, closed the door behind him and came back to inform me. I felt the urge to say, "Good job!" because I was so impressed. I resisted, although I'm sure I let out a "Wow, you did it!" When I realized I was also incredibly grateful for the help, I added, "Thank you, Munchkin! That's very helpful."

This got me thinking. I realized I had a new and incredibly valuable new tool in my arsenal of unconditional parenting techniques.

Instead of offering praise for Munchkin's helpful "achievements", I offer him gratitude and appreciation whenever appropriate. Anytime he "accomplishes" a skill or task, especially a new or difficult one, that is helpful to me or others in some way I say "Thank you, that's very helpful. I appreciate it." I don't exaggerate the gratitude, I just say it simply and honestly.

It makes so much sense. When an adult does me a favor, I don't flatter them by saying "Nice work, you're a good helper!" No, I say thank you. Why would I treat my toddler any differently? If I want to teach him to be helpful, it seems like being gracious and appreciative will go a lot further than telling him "good job." With honest gratitude from me, he may begin to feel the joy of giving instead of the joy of getting his ego stroked.

Here are a few examples of typical toddler situations where I find saying "thank you" is more appropriate than saying "good job":

·         putting waste in the trash, recycling bin, etc.
·         picking up toys
·         opening or closing a door
·         picking out shoes or clothes
·         putting clothes in the laundry bin
·         putting clothes in the washer or dryer
·         returning an item to its stored location after use
·         selecting an item from its location for use
·         carrying groceries or other items to or from the car or bike
·         helping wash vegetables
·         pouring rice into the rice cooker
·         when I ask "Can you help me to...?" and he is able to, and does
·         and of course...flushing the toilet

On the flip side, I avoid showing disappointment or disapproval if he can't or won't do the favor I've asked. After all, favors are just that - favors. They aren't obligations.

The best part is that it feels good to say thank you to him. It feels right. It feels genuine and real and respectful. I don't get that feeling from saying "good job."  I'm guessing he doesn't, either. With a healthy dose of genuine appreciation for his helpful efforts - not empty praise -  it's likely he will grow into someone who enjoys helping others.  And I bet he'll do a "good job" at that, too.

Do you have useful alternatives to saying "good job"?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Punishment and Praise at the Playground

The other day at the playground, I heard it happen again.  It came out in that pseudo-gentle, condescending tone with an understated, forced calm.

Courtesy Flickr
It was the threat of a "time-out".

Ineffective, invalidating, meaningless time-out.

"Uh-oh. Does someone need a time-out? Come over here and sit," the boy's mother said.

Little Tommy had cried because he wanted the ball in my son's hand. Tommy lay on the ground, quite upset. At his mother's prompt for a time-out, Tommy obediently moved over 3 feet from where he was crying, presumably into time-out position. His whining and complaining didn't stop, despite his mother's instructions to settle down. He repeatedly tried to move back towards me and Munchkin.

I offered my own words of validation for Tommy: "You want the ball, but Munchkin is having a turn right now. It's really hard to wait, isn't it? When he's done, you can have a turn." (incidentally, Tommy ended up waiting about 5 minutes, after which Munchkin happily gave him the ball).

I said nothing more, but I did have two immediate thoughts:
1) Tommy is two and a half. He's crying because he wants something he can't have at this moment.  Crying seems like a pretty natural and age-appropriate thing to do in the situation.
2) What behavior was he supposed to exhibit to in order prevent the time-out?

But I get it. His mother wants to teach him to interact nicely with other children, so she punished him for...what, exactly? For acting his age? For behaving in a "normal" but socially unacceptable way (for adults, that is)? For being sad?  Maybe his mom really just wanted him to withdraw from the situation, to find entertainment in something else. Maybe what she meant is that he should be patient while waiting for his turn. I wondered how Tommy interpreted the time-out.

About a half hour later, I heard something else that struck me just as hard. It came out in that mellifluous, exaggerated cheerleader voice, with an overstated, hyper-excited positive tone. 

It was praise.

Empty, blanketed, unattached praise.

"Good digging, Tommy!" the boy's mother exclaimed.

I watched silently and had two immediate thoughts:
1) He's two and a half. He's in a sandbox and has a shovel. Digging seems like a pretty natural thing to do in that situation.
2) What would "bad" digging look like? Is there a way for a toddler to dig in the sand that's incorrect or morally reprehensible?

 But I get it. His mom wanted to praise him for...what, exactly? For acting his age? For behaving in a "normal" and socially acceptable way? For having fun? Maybe she really just wanted to connect with him. Maybe what she meant was that she was happy to see him enjoying himself in the sand, not throwing it. I wondered how Tommy interpreted her remark.

Now, I can't read minds and I don't even know Tommy and his mother. But I'm pretty sure that without reading any research about the harm of both praise and punishment Tommy is already making his own conclusions about how he is treated. I imagine it's something like: Mommy isn't nice to me when I cry, but she's nice when I'm happy.

Or maybe he's reasoned: If I express my unhappiness about coveting another child's toy, then I make my mom uncomfortable. Instead, I should ask politely and then patiently wait my turn...or I'll end up in a time-out. If I'm having fun and not causing any trouble, then I make myself and my mommy happy... then she compliments me and I feel even better.

Sound crazy? Far-fetched? Too judgmental? Perhaps.

Like I said, I can't read minds. But I can wonder about the child's perspective.  And I do, I always wonder...

What are your thoughts? How do you think children perceive praise and punishment? Do their perceptions matter as much as parental control?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Poor People, Wealthy Ways

Welcome to the October Carnival of Natural Parenting: Money Matters
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how finances affect their parenting choices. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
We have a small family, a small apartment, and even a small dog. We support ourselves on a very, very, very small budget.  While there are constraints and stress due to finances, I mostly appreciate our simple, frugal existence.  Despite, or perhaps because of, having very little money, I am able to model the behaviors and values I want to teach my son.

I want to teach him that our time together matters more than a career, paycheck, or prestige, so I chose to stay home and raise him instead of going back to work.

I want to teach him the value of life not materialism, so we engage in free or inexpensive activities like hiking, biking, the library, and spending time with friends.

I want to teach him to reuse over and over and over again before recycling, so we buy used as much as possible and are active on Freecycle.

I want to teach him to leave a small footprint, so we live in a 1-bedroom apartment without heating, air conditioning, a washer or a dryer.

I want to teach him to take care of the air he breathes, so we bike to our destinations as often as possible and drive a fuel efficient car.

I want to teach him that people are already beautiful, so I don't spend time or money on hair, clothes, make-up, or jewelry.

I want to teach him that food comes from the earth and animals, so I cook from scratch as much as possible.

I want to teach him that most of what surrounds us in this land of plenty is excess, not we indulge in few luxuries. 

Even if we could afford to do things differently, I wouldn't significantly change my lifestyle. Finding meaning outside of consumerism is a way of life for me. Parenting my son this way has provided some of the most profound and transformative moments of my life. What's more, my actions today affect the planet that I leave for my son tomorrow.  By caring for his earth, I show him the true depth my love.

The one big change I'd like is to leave our dark, suburban apartment. I think our dream home would only have one more bedroom but LOTS of space outdoors (and a man cave for my husband).  I could spend hours outside unschooling  Munchkin, keeping a vegetable garden, observing and caring for animals, hiking, and watching the native grass grow. I could set an even better example of how to live fully and freely. I'm pretty sure Munchkin would blossom and grow as well if nature was out his back door instead of down the road. We would both be more in tune with our humanity, with our earth, and with each other.

Until we can afford to move to a home more in sync with our values, I will continue to mother my son in poverty by monetary standards, but in wealth by my own ethical standards. And I will always try to teach my son how to be rich without money.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon October 11 with all the carnival links.)

  • Money Matter$ — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares her experiences on several ways to save money as a parent.
  • A different kind of life... — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares her utopian life and how it differs from her current one!
  • Show Me The Money! — Arpita of Up, Down & Natural shares her experience of planning for parenting costs while also balancing the financial aspect of infertility treatments.
  • Material v Spiritual Wealth - Living a Very Frugal Life with Kids — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares her family's realizations about the differences between material and spiritual wealth.
  • If I Had a Money Tree — Sheila at A Gift Universe lists the things she would buy for her children if money were no object.
  • Financial Sacrifices, Budgets, and the Single Income Family — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of living within your means, the basics of crafting a budget, and the "real cost" of working outside of the home.
  • Overcoming My Fear of All Things Financial — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares how she is currently overcoming her fear of money and trying to rectify her ignorance of all things financial.
  • Confessions of a Cheapskate — Adrienne at Mommying My Way admits that her cheapskate tendencies that were present pre-motherhood only compounded post-baby.
  • Money MattersWitch Mom hates money; here's why.
  • Money? What Money?! — Alicia C. at McCrenshaw's Newest Thoughts describes how decisions she's made have resulted in little income, yet a green lifestyle for her and her family.
  • What matters. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life might worry about spending too much money on the grocery budget, but she will not sacrifice quality to save a dollar.
  • Making Ends Meet — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter shares about being a working mom and natural parent.
  • Poor People, Wealthy Ways — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses how existing on very little money allows her to set an example of how to live conscientiously and with love.
  • The Green Stuff — Amyables at Toddler In Tow shares how natural parenting has bettered her budget - and her perspective on creating and mothering.
  • Jemma's Money — Take a sneak peek at That Mama Gretchen's monthly budget and how Jemma fits into it.
  • 5 Tips for How to Save Time and Money by Eating Healthier — Family meal prep can be expensive and time-consuming without a plan! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares five easy tips for how to make your cooking life (and budget) easier.
  • Belonging in the Countryside — Lack of money led Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales towards natural parenting, but it also hinders her from realizing her dream.
  • Total Disclosure and Total Reform — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl gets down to the nitty gritty of her money problems with hopes that you all can help her get her budget under control.
  • Save Money by Using What You Have — Gaby at Tmuffin is only good with money because she's lazy, has trouble throwing things away, and is indecisive. Here are some money-saving tips that helped her manage to quit her job and save enough money to become a WAHM.
  • Two Hippos & Ten Euros: A Lesson in BudgetingMudpieMama shares all about how her boys managed a tight budget at a recent zoo outing.
  • ABBA said it — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen ponders where her family has come from, where they are now and her hopes for her children's financial future.
  • Money vs. TimeMomma Jorje writes about cutting back on junk, bills, and then ultimately on income as well ~ to gain something of greater value: Time.
  • An Unexpected Cost of Parenting — Moorea at MamaLady shares how medical crises changed how she feels about planning for parenthood.
  • 5 Ways This Stay at Home Mom Saves Money — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares 5 self-imposed guidelines that help her spend as little money as possible.
  • Frugal Parenting — Lisa at My World Edenwild shares 8 ways she saves money and enriches her family's lives at the same time.
  • Conscious Cash Conscious — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares her 5 money-conscious considerations that balance her family’s joy with their eco-friendly ideals.
  • Money, Sex and Having it All — Patti at Jazzy Mama explains how she's willing to give up one thing to get another. (And just for fun, she pretends to give advice on how to build capital in the bedroom.)
  • Money could buy me ... a clone? — With no local family to help out, Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wants childcare so she can take care of her health.
  • Spending IntentionallyCatholicMommy loves to budget! Join her to learn what to buy, what not to buy, and, most importantly, where to buy.
  • New lessons from an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a follow-up guest post from Sam about the latest lessons their four-year-old's learned from having his own spending money.
  • How to Homeschool without Spending a Fortune — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares tips and links to many resources for saving money while homeschooling from preschool through high school.
  • It's Not a Baby Crisis. It's Not Even a Professional Crisis. — Why paid maternity leave, you may ask? Rachael at The Variegated Life has some answers.
  • "Making" Money — Do you like to do-it-yourself? Amy at Anktangle uses her crafty skills to save her family money and live a little greener.
  • Money On My Mind — Luschka at Diary of a First Child has been thinking about money and her relationship with it, specifically how it impacts on her parenting, her parenting choices, and ultimately her lifestyle.
  • Spending, Saving, and Finding a Balance — Melissa at The New Mommy Files discusses the various choices she and her family have made that affect their finances, and finds it all to be worth it in the end.
  • Accounting for Taste — Cassie at There's a Pickle in My Life shares their budget and talks about how they decided food is the most important item to budget for.
  • Money Matters... But Not Too Much — Mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting shares how her family approaches money without putting too much of a focus onto it.
  • Parenting While Owning a Home Business — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Lauren at Hobo Mama lays out the pros and cons of balancing parenting with working from home.
  • Crunchy Living is SO Expensive...Or Is It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about her biggest objection to natural living - and her surprise at what she learned.
  • Mo' Money, Mo' Problems — Sarah at Parenting God's Children shares how a financial accountability partner changed her family's finances.
  • The Importance of Food Planning — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro discusses how food budgeting and planning has helped her, even if she doesn't always do it.
  • Kids & Money: Starting an Allowance for Preschoolers — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses her family's approach and experiences with starting an allowance for preschoolers.