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It's so strange that autumn is beautiful, yet everything is dying.- Unknown

As the year dies, it is only natural that our thoughts turn to musings on our own mortality.  For Catholics, Halloween is not only about pumpkins and trick-or-treating; it is the eve of the Feast of All Saints, followed immediately by the Feast of All Souls, days set aside for us to remember and pray for the dead.

As we get older it becomes harder to ignore the fact that every second that passes brings us that much closer to our own deaths.  Children, for whom time seems almost to stand still so that the time between Christmases feels infinite, usually don’t think about the inevitability of death as we do.

But children will encounter death, some sooner than others, and how we prepare them for this and help them deal with it when it comes is important.

There doesn’t have to be some big moment where you sit your kids down and explain death to them.  Better for it to be introduced early, before they can really comprehend it, as a natural process.  You can start with what your kids encounter as they play–dead insects.  If they’ve heard you talking about the fact that an insect is dead from infancy, they’ll always have at least a vague concept of what death is, which you can flesh out later when they have questions.  Tell them that the insect got tired and old and its body couldn’t work anymore, so it was time for it to die.

When they ask questions about their own eventual deaths or yours, it’s best to reassure them by saying that they–and you–are still very young and it will be a long time before you die.  There’s no need to muddy the waters at this point with discussions of death by accident or illness.  Sadly, there will no doubt come a time when you will have to answer those kinds of questions.

My children had their first close encounter with death when my grandmother died.  They were 16, 13, 12, six, and three at the time.  They knew Mima well so they were definitely affected by her death and I felt they should be a part of it.  We told the little ones that, like the insects, Mima was old and her body had worn out, but we also added that she had gone to Heaven to be with God as we all hope to one day. (I personally don’t think that it’s particularly necessary or useful to bring up the concept of Purgatory with little kids right when they are grieving the loss of a loved one.)

We took all the kids with us to the funeral home.  The open casket was at the far end of the room and we let the kids decide whether to approach.  Lorelei and her cousin Ella, who were three and five at the time, were interested and spent time looking at Mima.  William, who was six, did not want to look at her and stayed at the other end of the room.  The children also attended the funeral Mass and the graveside service.

It’s very important not to impose your own–or other people’s–expectations or interpretations on the grieving of children.  They may not look as upset as you think they should look, but don’t make assumptions.  When my dog was hit by a car when I was four, I was very upset, too upset to even talk about it.  I will never forget an adult making the comment that it didn’t seem like I cared very much.  So keep in mind that your children may need space to grieve, or they may need for you to draw them out so that they can express their feelings or ask questions.  I was very impressed by a friend whose husband died when their son was about ten years old.  He wanted to go sit with his friends at the funeral.  Some people might have insisted that he sit up front with the family but she gave him the space he needed and allowed him to find comfort with his friends.

Many children’s first experience with death is the loss of a pet.  My children experienced this for the first time a couple of years ago, when we had to put our elderly dog to sleep.  Lorelei and William accompanied me to the veterinarian and we all supported each other.  I was proud of how brave they were and how they comforted our dog through the process, constantly petting him and reassuring him with loving words.  When kids lose a pet they will almost certainly ask you if the pet will go to Heaven.  The best answer I’ve heard to that question is that when you go to Heaven and want your pet, he will be there.

Like everything else, children will learn more from your actions around death than your words.  Do you talk about how you miss those who have died, or do your avoid discussing uncomfortable feelings?  Do you pray for those who have died and encourage your children to join in? (That’s when you can explain about Purgatory!)  Do you lead by example by attending funerals of those you know whenever possible and encouraging your children to come when appropriate?

My grandfather died when I was 13, and his was the first funeral I ever attended.  For years I was uncomfortable with the whole idea of “viewing” the body, and dreaded going to funerals.  But forcing myself to attend many out of a sense of duty and obligation over the past several years changed my attitude.  In one tragic week several summers ago, a high school friend’s son committed suicide, the father of one of Teddy’s football teammates died in an accident, and the father of one of his classmates committed suicide.  I took Teddy to the funeral of one father, and he accompanied me to take food to the family of the other one.  Set an example for your children with your actions when death touches you, and encourage their participation, and they will internalize the value of these rituals and will not fear them.

This post is part of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network Bloghop.  For more writing on this topic, click below.

siena-sisters

blog hop death

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When I was a little girl, I hated going to Mass.

My father wasn’t Catholic, and we all know how hard it is to take little kids to Mass.  So for the first six years of my life, I mostly stayed home on Sundays with Daddy.  Sometimes we’d drop my mother off and then go out for waffles at Krystal, or drive around the cones in the parking lot, or visit the Torchbearer statue.  Other times we’d stay home and watch Rocky and Bullwinkle.  Either option was way more fun than church, in my opinion, and I was resentful when it came time to prepare for First Communion when I was told I’d have to attend regularly from then on while my sister got to be the one to stay home and have fun.

So the very first thing I resolved upon having children is that they would attend Mass every Sunday from babyhood on up.  That way, I reasoned, they would be used to it and accept it as just what you do on a Sunday.

We followed through with this, starting about two weeks after each one was born and dressing them in a special “first day at church” outfit that was my husband’s when he was a baby.

baby william

But we didn’t want to be the folks who just showed up for one hour on Sunday.  We wanted our kids to feel like a part of the community.  I joined–and later ran–the weekly Moms’ Group, which we attended weekly from the time I was expecting Jake until Teddy started kindergarten.  So my kids had friends to visit with at church on Sunday, just like I did.  We attended every parish social event.  John became very involved in the Knights of Columbus and our kids came along to Masses and picnics and even conventions.

john koc.jpg

When it was time for school we enrolled them in the same parochial school I attended.  With an occasional break for homeschooling, my first three kids were in Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, receiving an excellent religious education, making mostly Catholic friends, and benefiting from the intertwining of Catholic values into every aspect of the school day.

Kids in uniform with baby William

But we didn’t leave religion for school and Sundays! I minored in Theology at Georgetown and our family thrives on continued education, conversation, and debate.  So we discussed the faith, explained it, answered questions.  We owned and used a Catechism.  We talked frequently about the importance of faith in daily life, and how our values should impact the way we live in the world.    I chaired the Deanery Respect Life Committee and wrote for the Catholic press.  John rose in the KOC ranks.  Both of us served long terms on our parish council. And our kids heard about it all.

We said morning prayers and prayers before meals.  We had an Advent wreath and a Jesse Tree.  Our house was Catholic in appearance, with religious pictures and statues in almost every room, complete with a kitchen Madonna on the window sill and a picture of Mary hanging laundry next to the washing machine.

In short, we took the job of raising Catholic kids very seriously indeed.  I grew up hearing about “fallen away” Catholics.  I knew big Catholic families where one of the kids had stopped going to Mass.  I often wondered what had gone wrong with those kids, since personally I could no more imagine leaving Catholicism intentionally than I could imagine willfully ceasing to breathe.

So there you have my tips for raising Catholic kids.  I suppose I could have done more, but most of my child rearing happened before I discovered the Catholic blogosphere.  I thought rigorously celebrating Advent was pretty hard core.  I didn’t know anyone who had in-home rituals for celebrating every liturgical feast.  If I’d known about those celebrations, I would probably have incorporated some of that into our family’s life as well.

Honestly, I’ve written this post in my head for months, ever since I knew this topic was on the CWBN agenda, and I’ve been dreading it.  Because today I have five kids, aged 12, 16, 22, 23, and 26.  From my own experience and that of others I know that young adults are not always regular in their practice of the faith of their youth, for whatever reasons.  Typically this resolves itself after marriage and children if not before.  But without going into great detail because at this age their stories are not mine to tell, there is a real possibility that despite all this Catholic upbringing at least one of my kids will be in that “fallen away” camp, and I won’t pretend that doesn’t break my heart.

Whatever happens, I’m confident that many Catholic values are imprinted on the hearts of my children and that they possess a Catholic worldview whether they realize it or not.

Click below for more personal stories on keeping kids Catholic from the other ladies of the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network.

keeping our kids Catholic

 

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I’m sitting here in my office working on bills as if it were any other Saturday even though a seismic shift occurred in my world less than 24 hours ago.  Because life does, in fact, go on.

Twenty-two-and-a-half years ago, give or take, we welcomed our third child.  This was our second baby in just over a year, and we brought him home to a 2.5 bedroom apartment and placed him in the cradle by our bed, which we hadn’t even bothered to put away between babies.

We named this 12 lb. bundle of joy Richard Theodore because I’d always wanted a boy I could call Teddy, and the name suited him well as he grew from big baby to roly-poly toddler who filled out 4T rompers by the time he was a year old.

Teddy and the Teletubbies 2

Teddy was my baby for six years.  I developed extremely toned biceps from toting around my 75 lb. four-year-old.  He was none too pleased about the arrival of his baby brother, but he was in kindergarten by then and already building a reputation as the smart, academic achiever that he would continue to be all the way through college.

Teddy Zorro Birthday 2

You know the rest of the story.  The days are long but the years are short and all that.

Teddy (or to use his preferred name, Theo) graduated from college in May.  Yesterday I dropped him off at the airport.  Now he’s in San Francisco, where he’ll start his first professional job on Monday.

Right now I feel like posting a comment on every baby picture I see on Facebook saying enjoy them while you can they grow so fast but that’s not a thing that anyone really understands or wants to hear when their kids are fretful infants or whining toddlers or stubborn preschoolers.  I’ve read many a thread and post complaining about the meddlesome old ladies who say those kinds of things.  But here’s the deal:  we aren’t trying to be bossy or irritating or to minimalize the work and stress of coping with small children–we just want you to realize what we didn’t; we want you to fully experience the joy of what you have, because we would give anything just to have one more day of it.

Because twenty-two-and-a-half years ago I brought a baby boy home from the hospital.

And just like that, he was gone.

Teddy Leaving for SF

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Mothers are closer to God the Creator

It’s been three weeks now since Anni tagged me to participate in the #RockingMotherhood challenge.  I hadn’t forgotten about the challenge–I was just thinking.

Because it IS a challenge, in a society that’s hell bent on making mothers feel that they are never quite good enough, to focus on the positive.  And it can be intimidating to toot one’s own horn, especially since I just did not long ago.  Plus I am a perfectionist, and am far more likely to be berating myself for my motherhood failures than congratulating myself on my wins.

So to get myself in the proper frame of mind, I decided to ask the people who ought to really know the answer to this question: my family.

My big kids all wanted time to think up a good answer.  I’m still waiting. But William’s answer to the question: “How am I a good mother?” was just what I needed:  “How AREN’T you a good mother?”

Seriously, y’all, William is my biggest cheerleader.

Lorelei said, “You feed me,” but that’s a pretty low bar for motherhood, I have to say.  She did add, “You look at my pictures,” and allowed that I could translate that into, “You support my artistic pursuits,” which I think I can work with.

John had two answers, and since they were the two things I’d already thought of myself, I considered it a sign that I was on the right track.   (I marked those with a *)

So here, without further ado, is the list of some ways I am #RockingMotherhood.

  • I am a good advocate for my children.*  William has an IEP.  I show up at meetings with an intimidating-looking binder full of research/ammunition and an attitude.  Yes, I am That Mom.  I don’t care if anyone at the school likes me and some of them probably don’t, but most of them understand and appreciate parents who educate themselves and are engaged in their children’s education.  I was not always as good at this as I am now, which leads me to my next point . . .
  • I learn from my mistakes.  I am not under some kind of illusion that I know everything about parenting.  In fact, as the years go on I really feel like I know less and less.  I don’t see anything wrong with apologizing when I don’t get it right, or with changing my approach from kid to kid or even from week to week.
  • I have (mostly) figured out the truly important aspects of parenting teenagers.* You can read more about that here.
  • I know how to provide the right kind of support for my adult kids.  I didn’t tell my big kids where to go to college.  I didn’t tell them what classes to take or what to major in.  I don’t pry into their personal affairs or tell them more than once that I disagree with a choice they have made. I DO give advice when requested, feed them when they are hungry, help them with adult things they haven’t learned about yet, and provide financial support when requested if I can.
  • I celebrate and support my kids’ interests, even when I don’t share them.  It’s easy for me to support Emily’s interests in literature and writing, since I love those things too.  It’s harder to remain enthralled by William’s fascination with all things Godzilla.  But I listen and learn.  I consider it a privilege that my kids want to share their passions with me.  And you know what?  You can develop an interest in anything that is loved by the people you love, if you try hard enough.
  • I don’t live a life that revolves around my children.  My kids know that my relationship with their father is important and that he and I will be spending time away from them frequently.  They know that I need time alone.  They know that I have interests and passions and they are expected to pay attention if I want to share about those just as I listen when they tell me about their passions.
  • I model faith, morals, values, and principles.  My kids have seen me go to Mass every Sunday and they’ve watched me march for causes I believe in.  We have conversations about politics, ethics, philosophy, and theology.  They know I am a person of strong opinions and they know what I think about things.  With this foundation, they are learning how to think (not WHAT to think), and the importance of having their own strong beliefs in these areas and standing up for them.
  • I love my children and they KNOW that I love them.  That may sound like another baseline requirement for motherhood–and I truly believe it’s a rare mother who doesn’t love her child–but the second part is just as important.  They have to know they are loved, just as they are and no matter what.  They have to be hugged and kissed and listened to and affirmed, and I am confident that I have done all those things, notwithstanding the impatience and the screaming and the inconsistent discipline and all the many other mistakes that I have made.

Here’s where I tag other bloggers to participate in this #RockingMotherhood challenge!

I am nominating:

Yanique of Kiddie Matters

Kim of This Ole Mom

Kim of Knock It Off Kim

Crystal of So-So Mom

The “rules” are simple:

  1. Thank the blogger who tagged you, and provide a link back to them;
  2. List 10 things (plus, or minus) you believe make you a good mother;
  3. Tag some other bloggers to participate in the challenge.

I picked these ladies because I KNOW they are rocking motherhood–but there’s no punishment for not participating in the challenge!  And if you weren’t tagged, feel free to tell me how you rock right here in the comments.

And here, by the way, is my actual MEDAL for being a good mother–part of a custom necklace that my sister gave me for Christmas, made from an antique French medal still given out to mothers of many kids today.

mother award necklace

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I didn’t write anything about how awful people were when the little boy fell into the gorilla enclosure.  I didn’t say anything about how quick people were to judge the poor parents whose child was killed by the alligator.  What finally put me over the edge were the comments on an article about the most recent instance of a baby dying in a hot car, left there by her father due, as usual, to a change in the family routine.

It was an accident, terrible and tragic.  Witnesses saw the father sobbing in the driveway.  His child is dead.  Nothing can change that.  And although it WAS an accident, he will forever believe it was his fault.  He will never stop going over that day in his mind, imagining what he might have done differently and wishing that he could have a second chance.

And yet the comments on this article were vicious.  Inhumane.  Merciless.  People wrote that he should be locked up forever–or in a hot car for a few hours.  They accused him of lying, said he did it on purpose, called him a terrible father.  How could he, they asked.  I would NEVER forget MY kid, they said.

The same hate that has polarized the country over issues like gun control and presidential politics has seeped into every area of public discussion.  We are all firmly entrenched in our little self-righteous camps, unwilling to listen to one another or to extend any benefit of the doubt or God forbid any mercy to ANYONE.

Loudly judging other parents arises from fear.  It’s our way of saying that we are not like THOSE parents and that something like that could never happen to OUR kids.  It’s a way of asserting control but it’s just an illusion because no one can control everything.

Chances are your kid won’t fall into a gorilla pit or be eaten by an alligator.  But let me tell you, at some point a Bad Thing will happen to your child.  Maybe he will break a bone, or be in a bad car accident, or flunk out of school, or use drugs, or shoplift, or get caught drinking underage.  Maybe she will wander away from you in the mall and get lost, or turn into a Mean Girl, or develop an eating disorder, or experience an unplanned pregnancy.  And if people find out they will talk about how you weren’t protective enough, how you weren’t paying attention, how you didn’t raise that kid right, how there must be something wrong with you, how that would never happen to THEIR kid.

And you will probably be telling yourself some of those same things.

Let’s cut each other some slack, shall we?  Let’s accept that we are human and make mistakes, some of them with tragic consequences.  Let’s concentrate on what we really CAN control–loving our kids and offering mercy to those who need it.

Blesssed are the Merciful- Showing Mercy to Parents Who Need It

 

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What NOT to Say to the Parent of a Picky Eater

You know, I’m not really a big fan of all those “what not to say” posts.  Because I think that most of the time people mean well, and the people who don’t mean well are going to keep right on saying whatever they want to anyway.

But hey! There’s a first time for everything, right? And today I feel like ranting about What Not to Say to the Parent (that would be me) of a Picky Eater (that would be William).

So what should you not say?  Probably pretty much anything you are thinking of saying.  Just don’t say it.  Because William is 14, and you can be pretty sure that whatever you are dying to tell me I already know about and it won’t work.  If you want a list:

  1. Don’t tell me he won’t grow or that he will be malnourished.  He is almost 6 feet tall, he’s had his blood checked, he takes a vitamin every day, and I cannot remember a time he had to visit a doctor for an actual illness.
  2. Don’t tell me that if I just don’t give him the food he wants he will eat the other foods I want him to.  There are things that William will NEVER eat.
  3. Don’t tell me to force him to eat vegetables or else.  See above.
  4. Don’t tell me that I’ve spoiled him by not making him eat whatever you think he should eat.  When you have a child who is this picky, you feed him whatever he will eat because he needs calories, even nutritionally inferior calories.
  5. Don’t tell me what YOU would do if you were me.  Let’s make a deal, okay? You do what works for you with your kids, and I’ll do what works for me with mine.

How picky is William?  He won’t eat any vegetables except baby corn cobs.  He won’t eat any fruits.  He likes pasta with salt and pepper, but only angel hair (spaghetti under duress).  He won’t eat hamburgers, pizza, or macaroni and cheese.  He likes crab, canned tuna, most chicken, rice, Asian food, ice cream, milk, some juice, bread, and most (but not all!) sweet things.  This isn’t a complete list, but you get the idea.  William’s pickiness is difficult enough that it has an impact on his life and his family’s.

William has ALWAYS been picky.  This is not my fault.  I did not do anything different with him than I did with my first three kids, who are now grownups who eat pretty much everything, and who were not particularly picky as children.  Shortly after I introduced William to solids, he started spitting out his baby food.  In would go the spoon, then squash (or whatever) would spew through the air.  It didn’t matter what I tried.  Even bananas! What baby doesn’t like those?

It’s a good thing that he was breastfed, because that continued (no lie!) to be his main source of nourishment until he was about two.  For a long time the only things he would eat were butter and sugar sandwiches and he wouldn’t drink cow’s milk unless it was sweetened too.  So really, I look at what he eats now and feel like we’ve come a long way.

I realize now that William wasn’t just going through some kind of phase like I assumed back then, and that this isn’t something that he is growing out of like I’d hoped.  He has actual issues that cause his eating difficulties, and had I realized this back when he was a baby there were likely therapies that could have helped.  But I cannot beat myself up for what I did not know, and now William is an adolescent who can try new foods himself if he decides that he wants to.
NaBloPoMo November 2015

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Lorelei is all about making videos lately.  She has her own YouTube channel, with a weekly posting schedule, and she has custody of my iPhone more than I do.  Today she was telling me that she no longer enjoys watching the videos made by one of her subscribers, because they all involve makeup, whether she is putting it on her American Girl dolls or herself.

“You know what I really don’t like, Mommy?” Lorelei asked me. “Before she puts on her makeup, she says ‘Ugly!’  And she isn’t ugly.”

My heart sank.  The little girl she was talking about is ten years old, just like Lorelei.  She shouldn’t be wearing makeup AT ALL, in my opinion, let alone thinking that she is ugly without it.

When I was a little girl, my Catholic school did not allow us to wear makeup (a policy they should have maintained, if you ask me).  I did not start wearing makeup until the middle of my first year of high school, and most of the other girls didn’t wear much either.

By the time I graduated from high school, though, I wore makeup daily–eyeliner, shadow, mascara, blush, lipstick, powder.  I didn’t go out without “fixing my face.”

I think it was after I started having kids that one day I realized that I thought of my naked face as ugly.  And I didn’t like that.  I knew it was wrong to think that my real face, the one that God gave me, was too unsightly for the outside world to view unless I “fixed” it first.

So you know what I did?

I stopped wearing makeup.  I stopped wearing makeup until I could look at my naked face and see “normal” instead of “ugly” when I looked at my reflection.

These days, I wear makeup for church (if I’m not running late) or for special occasions.  When I put it on I feel dressed up and fancy and pretty, but I don’t feel ugly when I don’t.

I told Lorelei all of this, but she still seemed a little anxious when she showed me a picture of the little girl in question–a BEFORE picture. “See, Mommy?  Isn’t she pretty?”

Of course I said she was, and it was true.  A ten-year-old face cannot be improved by makeup.

If you ask Lorelei (as I often do), “Who’s the prettiest girl in the world?” she’ll promptly respond, “ME!” and she might even add, “In the UNIVERSE!”  What’s wonderful is that she believes it.  When she gets on the scale it’s in the hopes that she will have GAINED weight because she’s proud of how big she is growing and she will tell that number to anyone who asks her.  She might even volunteer it.

I don’t want the world to take that confidence away from her.  But I know it will.

The Prettiest Girl in the Universe

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