Training For Gratitude.

This week has been full of enlightenments in so many forms that I sat down this morning to write and thought, “I CAN’T EVEN DECIDE WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT.”

The cool thing is a lot of my revelations came from friends, AND I DON’T HAVE TO PAY THEM! Woo Hoo!

I had a meeting at my house last night and one of the points of discussion was, “How do we make sure our kids don’t grow up spoiled or entitled?” I think we all agreed that some entitlement is inevitable, but what can we do to minimize that and to make sure they have a realistic view of their own privilege? It’s so easy to think the greater world is just a BIGGER version of our small sphere of experience, but it’s so VERY NOT true. Relative to the world, hell – even just to the rest of our country, my family is wealthy in many different ways. How do I make sure my kids realize how rich we are, even if half of their friends have iPads when they don’t?

It turns out a lot of my friends institute gratitude rituals in their families. In some, it’s part of prayers, in others its just part of recaps of days. In my house? It’s part of nothing. We do “Highs and Lows” some days, but we don’t specifically talk about gratitude. One friend referenced that gratitude is like a muscle you need to work out regularly so that it’s always in shape and comes easy and almost instinctively. One friend does this with constant questioning of her kids, “What are you thankful for?”

So, obviously, I’m stealing that idea.

I’m going to try to start making that part of meal time. We don’t do prayers, except at big family functions. But I like the idea that before meals we could take a moment to share something we’re thankful for. I already forgot to do it once this morning at breakfast, so obviously my gratitude muscle is just as in need of working out.

Do you have any gratitude rituals in your family? Do you have any ways to kinda “force” your kids to recognize things in their life they should or could be thankful for?

That Fine Line

My kids never put up their wet towels. And when I say “never” I actually mean “995 times out of 1,000” but for practical purposes, let’s round up to “never.” When I come home after work and see the wet towels I get really angry and demand they get put up. Then I see them 15 minutes later still on the floor and I am so overwhelmed with frustration my night spirals out of control and everyone has a shitty time because I’m SO SICK OF SEEING WET TOWELS ON THE DAMN FLOOR.

On the weekends it’s worse because all day long it’s a thing. Why don’t they remember to hang them up? And when they don’t remember, why don’t they put them up IMMEDIATELY when I point it out? HOW CAN THEY GET DISTRACTED ON THE WAY TO THE BATHROOM?

But – on the advice of a friend (Elsa) – I let it go. As much as possible, anyway. It is now something I do when I let the dog out after work. I go to the various places around the house there might be a wet towel, and I pick it up and hang it up. Sometimes I tell the kids I’ve done it, just so they know I’m doing it. But it’s not something that eats at my soul any more and ruins many nights. It’s just another domestic task in my day.

I gave up after years and years of trying to train them. But we’re all better for it.

My question is – what are your thoughts?

On one hand? Who the hell cares about the towels? BIG PICTURE – not a big deal. Why was that becoming SUCH A DAMN THING? It was ruining all of our nights and it was making me DAMN INSANE. It felt so good to let that go. Now we can have nice afternoons discussing our days instead of me twitching like a crazy person in the corner of the bathroom.

On the other hand? What if my kids grow up to be assholes? Some habits we ingrain in them are habits that are good for the entire household and if they can’t see those behaviors and change them, are they going to be horrible humans?

Do you have things you nag about that you just gave up on? Did you experience relief like I did? Do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing? DISCUSS.

Calming Versus Escalating

Wes had a tantrum the other night at the Super Bowl party. It started innocently enough (they always do) with him banging his head repeated against a chair (a nice old/fancy one) as he rocked back and forth and I kept telling him to stop and he kept ignoring me so I picked him up and removed him from the situation. My big priority was to avoid a scene in front of Family so I figured I would put him in timeout but I’d be in there with him.

But he wouldn’t stay. And he was getting more and more angry and while he hadn’t started hitting, he was pushing trying to get away from me and while I’ve been really good about not yelling, I tend to escalate punishments in those moments. “Okay, instead of time out for 5 minutes you have 20…now your screens are taken away…now your Pokemon cards…” and so on. But I knew we were in someone else’s house and I had to try something different so I went with a technique I’ve read about recently where you focus on getting them calm FIRST, punishments LAST.

I wrapped my arms and legs around him so he couldn’t fight me and I just held him and asked him to calm down. He was still fighting and telling me “You’re the worst!” and “Get your ugly legs off of me!” but he wasn’t hitting so I took the upper body freedom and started rubbing his back to calm him down. “I’ll start the clock when you calm down. I understand you’re angry but you need to calm down before it gets worse so I’m going to try to help you get calm…” and so on. He stopped struggling for the most part so I would say, “Okay – look at my watch…5 minutes of time out,” and then he’d fight again – but just a little – so I’d say. “Oh, you’re not calm yet, let’s wait and start the clock. You tell me when you’re ready.”

Eventually he did calm down and we did 5 minutes of time out and we joined the party. I missed the entire halftime show, but it could have been SO MUCH WORSE. Typically he ends up basically being grounded until he’s 45 because I feel like if he’s not going to do what I say I have to keep piling stuff on until something works. This was a lot shorter lived and I didn’t have to then contend with remembering the 17 punishments I threatened in the process. We focused on just getting calm and eventually he did.

I have mixed feelings because part of me thinks he was a jerk and got off easy. But most of me feels better about this tantrum cycle than any others. I think I’ll stick with that method again if we hit another tantrum. Calming FIRST, then the punishment. Not escalating the punishment until they’re calm. AND – what the article suggested that gave me the idea in the first place – not leaving him alone with those extreme emotions. At home I basically leave because I’m upset too and we stay separated until something shifts. But this time I stayed with him, trying to be part of the calming instead of making him do it alone. All-in-all, it felt better. And the other day wasn’t working very well so why not?


The Parenting Guilt Scale

Last night I had to do that thing that all parents have to do at some point (at least I hope all parents do, if you’ve never done this I don’t want to know) and I had to basically tell my kids they couldn’t do the thing they wanted to do because I had too much to do.

I’ve got a new volunteer position and it involves editing an outdated website. There’s a new one in trial mode, but until it’s launched I’m editing a web page originally created in Frontpage. I had forgotten how terrible Frontpage was with dumping so much crap in headers and what not. It’s taking me awhile to find where things are hidden both in the directories and in the HTML itself. One page I had to edit last night had nonbreaking space entities ( ) creating space for columns and y’all? I DIED. Seeing that literally killed me.

ANYWAY…I just started this new job like a week ago and I’m trying to play catch up which is going a little slower than it should as I learn directory structures and delete thousands of unnecessary nonbreaking spaces and I REALLY needed a couple hours to just clear the inbox for the job so I could have a better chance of staying caught up. BUT – there was a big Challenger Commemoration ceremony at the kid’s school. Their school is named after the mission, after all. And they were so excited and I tried to get Donnie to take them but he wasn’t going to be able to so I basically had to beg them to skip.

And they did and they weren’t even too terrible about it.

I did get caught up, the email for that job now has an empty inbox. But this morning I see all of the photos and videos from last night and I feel bad. Not terrible, because I was raised by a single Dad who worked on his Masters for awhile so we weren’t always able to do things we wanted to do, and I turned out fine. But I do feel a little guilty. I firmly believe it’s important to have a life outside parenting, I know my kids need to see me doing things for ME, or for other people, not just for THEM. This is one of those times, they know how much I wanted this job (I HAD TO BE ELECTED, GUYS. I HAD TO GIVE A SPEECH. IT WAS AWFUL.) so in the big picture I know that decision is not a huge deal and they weren’t even that upset about it, they really weren’t upset at all. They were disappointed for a few minutes and then I told them they could have cereal for dinner and they were fine.

On a guilt scale of 1-10 I’m only feeling about a 4 or 5, so not too terrible, but I do feel a little bad that everyone might be talking about that today and they won’t be.

Not as terrible as I felt on Sunday when I had to call my oldest child and say, “Hey! We can’t come see you for your birthday because my race got moved!” Now, on that day? I felt a giant 10. He doesn’t need me for much of anything and the ONE thing he wanted from me – a birthday visit – I had to move because of my race. We did see him on Wednesday but we had to miss school and work to do it and because of his crazy schedule we drove the 2 1/2 hours to see him, visited a while, ate lunch, and then had to basically come right back home since he had rehearsal that night. If we had come on Sunday we would have been able to spend more time with him. BUT NO! The snow had to reschedule my big race.

SO – yeah. It’s been a week of parenting guilt. I know it’s not a huge deal big picture, but my logical brain that “knows” that does not control my emotional brain that feels like a giant piece of poop about it all.


The Most Epic Of All Of My “Truth Hurts” Moments In Parenting (So far?)

Brace yourselves. This is a doozy.

SO! Remember how I was patting myself on the back for staying calm when I’m angry with Wes, even when he’s losing his temper in epic fashion? Because THAT is the first rule of teaching your child anger management. REMAIN CALM. DO NOT YELL. And it’s REALLY hard, I discussed how it was SO HARD it was all I could focus on instead of any diffusing techniques. BUT I DID IT. AND I WAS SO PROUD. I STAYED CALM.

Well, Nikki’s only real current discipline issues is this sassy attitude she dishes out periodically. (I almost said “constantly” because some days that’s how it feels.) It is REALLY hard to stomach. It sounds TERRIBLE and it takes something so benign (like letting me know she’s in her room when I’m hollering for her) and turns it into something needing to warranting a punishment. Like…imagine the attitude someone would have to attach to their words if they yelling, “Jeezus Christ, woman! I’m in my effin’ room! Leave me the eff alone!” Take that attitude and tone you just imagined but change the script to the benign, “I’m in my room.” The attitude fills in the blanks from the first example and it makes my (and Donnie’s, it’s not just me, I promise) blood boil. BOIL. I do that think everyone’s parent has done at some time where I say, “No. No you did NOT just throw me that attitude. NO MA’AM.”

Last night she did just that and I was tired and I yelled at her. “Nikki! You can NOT throw me that kind of attitude. Do you HEAR how you sound? If you do NOT hear the attitude in the words you’re saying then we have big problems young lady. You speak to me with RESPECT. You wouldn’t talk to your teacher with that attitude!”

She cried. She apologized and we went about our night. When I was laying down with her later she said:

I hope this doesn’t make you angry…but…you know how you work so hard at being calm for Wesley? And that makes you a REALLY good Mom! I’m glad you do that! But you know how he gets so mean and angry and you stay calm? I feel like I don’t do anything near as bad but you raise your voice and yell at me all the time.

Ouch. Just let that sit there for a moment.

In that moment I was torn between running away because she was right and I was OFFICIALLY the worst Mom in the world – OR – celebrating that I raised a child who comprehends the world and her experience in such a way to notice the injustice and be brave enough to point it out. I WAS FEELING BOTH THINGS AT ONCE.

But mostly the first one.

I told her she was right and I would work on that. I explained why I did it, “I’m trying to teach Wes about anger management so I have to manage my own anger well and you don’t need that lesson.” And I promised her I would work on it.

JEEZUS, Y’all? She sure knew how to hit me RIGHT WHERE IT HURTS.

But also? That’s pretty damn amazing. It’s an amazing thing to notice, to recognize as unfair, and to confront. I’m truthfully glad she did because this can only make me a better Mom AND a better person. I’m going to continue to focus on the positive aspects of it and not the issue of how I’d been focusing my energy so much on not yelling at Wesley and never even tried to apply the same technique to his sister.

Parent, yo. It’s TOUGH. But also kind of amazing.