Wooden Teeth and Honesty

As we observe President’s Day this Monday, we are reminded of some of our most famous forefathers, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. When I was a child I knew a handful of things about George Washington:

  • He chopped down a cherry tree – I never thought to inquire why?
  • He never told a lie
  • He was our first president
  • He had wooden teeth – I did wonder how did he eat with wooden teeth? That sounded like a really hard thing to do.

As a child I knew the following about Abraham Lincoln:

  • He wore a tall hat and had an interesting looking beard
  • He was honest
  • He freed the slaves
  • He is on the penny – I never thought about what it took for someone to end up on currency. My child’s mind determined you had to be highly respected. My parents definitely instilled the belief that there is a direct correlation between honesty and respect.

As I reflect on our past and present leaders I think about the role they have played in leading our country and the example they set for our children. We are brought up to respect these leader, they were wise, their names are synonymous with honest and being truthful, and they were people to respect. They may not have been perfect (they chopped down a cherry tree), but they do try their best (they never lied or at least we’d like to believe they didn’t), they could handle difficult situations (be the first president, eat with wooden teeth, liberate oppressed citizens), and did a good enough job to end up on the money we spend today. We are reminded daily, when we pay cash for something, of their accomplishments and our continued respect for them.

Of course, as adults we realize our presidents, while great in many ways, were fallible. It reminds us as parents that we too may be great in many ways to our children, but that’s not the whole story. As parents we make choices in how we conduct ourselves and are role models for our children – we’re not perfect (none of us are), we try our best (but we make mistakes), we all handle difficult situations (its part of life) and while we’ll likely never end up doing anything that will make us famous or end up on a coin or paper bill, we do have the opportunity to be trustworthy and respected by our friends, family and peers, but most importantly by our kids.

Think about what it would be like for your children to honor you every day as an adult, by the way they treat others, the way they conduct themselves; all as a result of the example you set.

A President may lead the country, but you lead something even more valuable–the raising of your child. And that’s the honest truth. Happy Presidents Day.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I’ve been thinking about the word respect lately.

My concentration around this word began following recent statements made by my six-year-old son to my husband and I.

“How dare you speak to me that way?” He responded after not getting something that he wanted (e.g. TV or a sweet)

“What the heck?” He responded after we told him we couldn’t accommodate his request (e.g. TV, play a game, etc)

Besides being momentarily dumbfounded by what he said, I responded each time saying, “We don’t talk that way to each other. We treat each other with respect.” Defining respect for him has been a bit more challenging.

The dictionary defines respect as:

Respect (Noun): A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Respect (Verb): Admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

I was brought up to respect my parents, but I hadn’t put too much thought into why, until my son responded this way. My sisters and I were spanked by our parents. Most of my friends growing up were spanked by their parents. Spanking was an acceptable way to discipline for many families in the ’70s. I’m thankful that is no longer the case.

We do not spank our children. I have never been comfortable with the idea of mixing actions like love and hitting together. It was very confusing to me why loving parents would spank a child.  Instead, we talk to our son and explain the situation about why we have to take an action or inaction to reinforce a desired behavior. I thought it was working until his outbursts occurred.

I’ve always respected my parents, but had to think about why that was as a child.  Was it because I admired them for their parenting abilities or because I was scared that if I didn’t respect them I would get spanked? I’m certain it was a mixture of both. I knew my parents loved me. They showed me that in tangible ways—hugs, kisses, cheers and time. The spanking scared me. It hurt and the pain endured often felt disproportionate to what I was being punished for.  It kept me inline, but at an unquantifiable emotional and physical cost.

I don’t want my children to associate needing to experience physical harm to learn a positive lesson together. Spanking will not ever be part of my parent rearing equation. But how do you teach your child respect?

I talk to my boys about respect and treating each other with kindness. Listening to each other, responding with consideration and care. I will never embarrass them knowingly, shame them or lie to them. I will continue to explain things to them and help them make the connection between the action and the consequence (positive or negative). I have a saying I use with my boys: “If I ask you for something its for one of three reasons. I’m trying to teach you something. I’m trying to keep you safe, or I need your help.”

I’m not sure respect can be taught. I believe it’s earned, and I’m hopeful in time my boys will come to respect my husband and I for raising them the way we are and will.  In the interim, I’m working to stick to what I believe is key: being consistent and practicing patience. I’m hoping to be an expert in patience by the time they are teenagers. I hear we’ll be in for quite a ride by then.

How are you experiencing respect in your life?

Marriage: It’s all about Communication

When my brother-in-law got married, a friend of his gave him some solid advice, “Marriage is all about communication,” he told him. My brother-in-law shared this with my husband and me when we got married a few years later. While we were in agreement with the statement, we didn’t really know what to do with it at the time.

What is communication in a marriage?  Is it simply the act of talking and listening?  I’ve come to believe that it’s much more than that. My husband and I recently reflected on this advice that we’d received nearly eight years ago. My husband pointed out that successful communication in a marriage was more than talking and listening, it included understanding—the need for each partner to work to empathize with the other, to try to understand their point of view. Each person also has to work to make themselves understood, to get their point across. Not an easy task.

You may have heard the expression “heart talk” which refers to talking about how you feel rather than talking about what you think.  Here is an example:

Talking with your head:

“You didn’t take out the trash after I asked you to five times!” 

Talking with your heart:

“It makes me feel discounted when you don’t acknowledge and act on what I ask of you.” 

See the difference? Talking from the heart may seem a little uncomfortable to some, after all, we’re talking about feelings, and most of us run for the hills when we have to do that. But communicating this way can be very effective in helping your partner understand where you’re coming from.

My husband and I have also discovered that a key to communicating well is to understand your individual needs.  What are you getting from each other in the relationship that is making it work? What are you not getting from each other? Or, in other words, what’s not working?  Marriage is partly a journey of self-awareness and you have to have the confidence to bridge the subject of open communication with your spouse.

Do you feel comfortable asking for what you need? Try some of these phrases out:

“I need to feel valued”

“I need to feel respected”

“I need to have some autonomy”

“I need proactive communication”

“I need to be unconditionally loved”

“I need to be listened to”

“I need to be supported and encouraged” 

This may seem like a lot of “I needs”, but being clear about what you need and asking for it is the only way you’re likely to get it.  And having need doesn’t make you needy.  Would you say your child was needy if they said any of the following?

“I need food to eat”

“I need a bed to sleep in”

“I need unconditional love”

“I need respect”

“I need to feel valued and important to you”

“I need to be listened to”

“I need you”

Of course you wouldn’t! And it’s no different in a marriage.  How many married people don’t ask for what they need and maybe haven’t even thought about it?  I suspect many. Most of us are just trying to get through each day and our hectic schedules don’t leave much time to reflect.

Good communication is key to a good marriage, but it’s more than simply talking and listening.

Do you talk to your spouse with your heart or your head? Are you asking for what you need?

When I Get Older What Will I Be?


When I was just a little girl

I asked my mother “What will I be?”

“Will I be pretty?”

“Will I be rich?”

Here’s what she said to me

Que Sera Sera

Whatever will be will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera Sera

 I loved the song Que Sera Sera the first time I heard it, and still do today. It was the melody I really enjoyed when I was younger but I didn’t put much thought into the lyrics.

My oldest son asked me a very simple but poignant question the other day on the car ride home that brought this song to mind. “Mom,” he asked, apropos of nothing, “what will I be like when I’m an adult?” I have no idea why this question popped into his mind when it did, we’d just finished talking about some of the fun things we’d each done during the day. But such is the way with children’s minds.

I turned the question back on him: “Well,” I asked him, “what makes you who you are today?” He struggled to answer the question so I offered up some of my own observations. “You are curious and like to learn about new things, right?” “Yes,” he said. “And you like to have adventures, right?” “Yes,” he said again. “And you like to play with your friends and have fun, right?” “Yes,” he agreed once more. “Well, I think you’ll probably have those same qualities when you grow up,” I said. “You may learn things, have adventures and interact with your friends in a different way, but you’ll probably do all the things you do now.” I continued, “You have your whole life to figure out what you want to be, and Mom and Dad will help you along the way.” That seemed to be enough for him. He smiled to himself and looked back out the car window.

I love that my son is starting to discover who he is and what he likes and think about what that all may mean for the future. I love that he feels more knowledgeable and empowered to figure out what makes him happy. I’m aware that he is likely at some point to want to experience things I might not be comfortable with, or would prefer he avoid. He will eventually turn into a teenage boy after all. I’m mentally preparing myself for how I’ll be able to support him during those times but for now we’re just basking in the beginning of our adventure.

After all we never do know what the future brings. Que Sera Sera.

Is The Hunger Games a book for all ages?

It’s times like this that I think my parents had it so much easier. There was no Internet, no cellphones or texting when I was a child, and the most controversial book of the day was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret—which covers such scandalous ground as a girl getting her first bra and having her period for the first time—pretty innocent compared to what’s available to young people today, right?  I was prepared for the dangers of the Internet and texting, bracing myself for all the trappings of social media; do I have to worry about books now too?

The movie The Hunger Games, based on the book by Suzanne Collins will open this upcoming weekend.  Let me start by saying that I’m a huge fan of the book. Though it’s considered young adult in genre, its appeal goes far beyond that, much like that of Harry Potter and the Twilight series. As you may have heard, there has been great controversy surrounding the franchise as the books are centered on children killing each other to stay alive in a sadistic adult game. While the premise sounds like something no young person should read, the Hunger Games is ultimately a story of youth, finding yourself, staying true to who you are, being brave, resourceful, even compassionate and using smarts to win an unthinkable game. The book’s heroine Katniss Everdeen is arguably an excellent role model in many ways. The question many parents may be asking is: how old should our children be before we let them read books with such a dark subject matter?

A girlfriend recently called me and asked for my opinion on this very thing. She was concerned because a local elementary school teacher had recommended the books for one of the class’ book clubs. While my friend’s children were not in the class in question, they easily could have been. She was concerned after having heard what the books were about and knew I’d read them so was calling to get my take.

Her inquiry forced me to think about when I would let my own children read it. I shared my recollections of the novel with her and encouraged her to read the book so she could make the most informed decision when her kids showed interest in them.  I was struck by the fact that when I think back on my own childhood, I can’t recall wanting to read any books outside of what was required by my teachers.  Times have changed and the young adult book market is hot so many of us with young children should probably start catching up on our reading before our kids start asking us about Panem.

My personal preference is to read or watch things before I let my kids do so. This is great in theory but with parents’ busy lives, it’s difficult to vet everything our children want to read or see. I think books like The Hunger Games give us a great opportunity as parents to talk to one another and share our thoughts. It also allows you and your spouse or partner to discuss and prepare for how you’ll handle controversial material your child shows an interest in. Plus it might get you to read some great books you might have otherwise ignored (though ignoring this juggernaut seems pretty impossible just now). I secretly love that I now have an excuse to read a tween/young adult book without being judged.

I’m grateful that so many parents are cognizant about what they’re exposing their children to, and grateful for people willing to share their perspectives including other blogs that are tackling this same topic. It gives parents a variety of inputs and helps us make better decisions.

Being a parent to young children today isn’t any easier or harder than it was in the past, it’s just different. I really enjoyed The Hunger Games and look forward to the day my children can read the books—many years from now.

The Truth About Santa

When I was seven years old, I found out the truth about Santa. My Mom sat me down at the dinner table and read an article to me that revealed that Santa–the one I had believed in, got so excited for, and couldn’t wait until Christmas Eve to see–wasn’t real. I can remember crying at the table for a long time afterwards. At first, I was very disappointed to learn the truth. Santa had been a magical part of the holiday; I believed that he loved all children and delivered presents to everyone. Santa made me feel special: he knew who I was, he made sure I behaved and rewarded me with toys picked out or made especially for me. After realizing that Santa and several other mythical characters I’d grown to love (the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy) didn’t exist, I started to get mad! My parents had lied to me. And though they’d done it with good intentions–perhaps to let me believe in magic or something special–I felt like a fool. Who else knew that Santa wasn’t real? My older sister must have known the truth. I felt like everyone in the world must have thought that I was a stupid kid for walking around getting all excited about Santa and believing he was real. I felt very betrayed. The kicker came when my parents asked me to keep the secret from my younger sister so that she could enjoy the magic of Santa for another year or two before learning the truth. My first reaction was ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, I’ve just discovered the truth and you want me to keep it a secret–it’s a BIG secret!’ It was a pretty tall order for a seven year old, especially one that was still sad, disappointed and angry with her parents.

I think about this childhood revelation each year as we get closer to Christmas, and I’ve come to better understand the struggle my parents faced. While you want your child to experience the magic of Santa when they’re young, you know there will be the great disappointment of learning the truth down the road. I know we have precious few years left before my children start to question the existence of Santa so my husband and I try not to make too big a deal about the whole thing. When our kids ask questions like ‘Where does Santa get all the toys?’ or ‘How does Santa know where we live?’ We simply turn the question back to them: ‘Where do you think Santa gets all his toys?’, ‘How do you think he knows where we live?’ They come up with some pretty clever answers: ‘He probably get his toys from the store’, ‘Yes, you’re probably right,’ we reply. ‘He must have a phone book so he knows where we live’, ‘That could be,’ we answer. I feel like I’m constantly walking a very thin line by trying to maintain a thread of truth in how I respond. It is so important for my husband and me to be truthful with our kids, and sometimes the line between lying and storytelling is a precarious one. I want the foundation we are building with our children to be one of trust and sometimes I feel the Santa story could put that in jeopardy if they discover the truth in the wrong way.

I want my children to know they can trust me and that I won’t ever deliberately cause them any pain or deceive them. But at the same time, I think there is great benefit in children believing that someone completely outside of their family believes in them and loves them for exactly who they are, be it Santa or some other higher power. I am bracing myself for the day they ask me to come clean about Santa, but I’m also preparing myself for it too. I’ll tell them the truth, share what we struggled with in deciding whether or not to tell them and let them feel whatever they need to feel, be it understanding, anger, disappointment, sadness or anything else.

I never did tell my younger sister about Santa. If I remember correctly, she learned the truth from some neighborhood kids not too long after the Christmas I found out. She was spared the ‘story at the table’ and while she might not appreciate that, knowing that she didn’t connect the experience with the let down of the news coming from my parents, I do. While the experience that I had in being read the story was painful, my mom had told me the truth and believed I was at an age where I could handle it–she thought she was doing me a favor by telling me before the neighborhood kids had a chance to. Upon reflection, I wish she had just acknowledged why she allowed me to believe in Santa in the first place, what she hoped I would gain from believing and why she told me the truth when she did; I wish she had acknowledged that this was hard news to accept and that it was okay to be upset.

How do you talk to your child about Santa? Have you discussed a plan to reveal the truth when you feel they’re ready to hear it? While I still haven’t figured out all of the details of this yet, I know that I want to make sure my children understand that while there might not be a Santa, the love and magic of Christmas still exists in the friends and family who love them just the way they are.