Tag Archive | parenting

I Can’t Wait to Hold Your Hand

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Photo Credit: Licensed under the Public Domain by the National Cancer Institute.

Photo Credit: Licensed under the Public Domain by the National Cancer Institute.

Ah, sweet summertime… those lazy, hazy days. The days are lighter and brighter, the pace of life seems to slow down, and families get to spend more time together. And that’s what all moms and dads look forward to, right? Time spent with their children.

Funny, though, I don’t always hear that from parents. In fact, many times I hear quite the opposite. In May, I attended a fellowship dinner for my church. The conversation soon turned to children—about how fast kids grow and about the many changes they go through.

I sensed where all this was going because many times while talking with a friend or family member, at some point during the conversation they begin complaining about their children. Now, I do realize that this is likely not ever meant in a derogatory way; nor is it an expression of these parents’ true feelings for their kids. They probably just feel comfortable venting their frustrations to me, and unloading their feelings about their children’s antics and behaviors. Sometimes, these parents may even use humor in their ranting in order to defuse conflicts with their children when they later interact. That is actually a positive approach to dealing with many family situations.

Honestly, though, I have never really known how to respond to this manner of complaining simply because I don’t share these feelings about my son. My husband and I were no less than tortured for years by the many circumstances, and seemingly unending losses, surrounding the building our family. When our child was finally born and ready for us to adopt him, we were so overcome with emotion and filled with joy that we didn’t even have words. Although perhaps it will be hard for some to believe this, my husband and I used to “argue” over which of us wanted to get up with our son for the next middle of the night feeding. No, I am not kidding!

Sometimes, we would resolve to getting up together and sharing in this late-night ritual because we knew it was a special, treasured time that would all-too-soon be gone. And, it was. For our son began growing—sometimes in faster spurts than others—and never stopped. He has continued to grow up and fill out. We also know that once he reaches his destined height, he will continue his growth emotionally and spiritually.

We never can turn back the hands of time.

Speaking of hands… In reference to her children’s rapidly growing bodies over the years, one woman in our fellowship group said:

“One day you go to hold their hand and you see that it is actually—a hand!”

The talk continued, round the dinner table, with every member contributing toward the “kids these days” conversation. It seems that at every stage of my child’s life, I hear something from someone about how I should prepare for what lies ahead – what lies “in wait” (cue the Evil laugh–heh heh heh–here). I have already passed many of these supposedly dreaded stages – the terrible two’s, which is the year of public meltdowns and tantrums; the threshold three’s, which is when your child is older yet not old enough; the ferocious four’s, which is the year of independence wars; and the stage I’m in now ….. the fighting five’s, which is a year that will bring more I-can-do-it-myself battles. And through this all I wonder: Just when will these behaviors drive me to the brink of, well—complaining?

I do recognize that all of the behaviors observed and described by child development experts, and many parents, are categorized as general attitudes and behaviors that will likely be seen at some point during a child’s second year of life, third year of life, etc.; as well as in varying degrees of frequency and intensity, within that given year. However, I truly do feel as though my son and I do not fit in with the: My-Kids-Drive-Me-Nutty Club simply because… well, he doesn’t.

From the moment I brought my son home, and as I have watched him grow, I can honestly say I have enjoyed every age/stage/phase/and “fad” that has shown itself in his development. Initially, I did think I would have a hard time “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years,” especially since my son is an only child.

Yet, it seems that as he grows, my son only becomes more wonderful—more adorable and fun to spend time with; more intuitive and sensitive; more curious and inquisitive; and more helpful and loving. So, I honestly can’t complain when the complaining wheel begins turning around my social and professional circles.

As I wake up each day to my beautiful little boy, growing big... I look at him, grin, and think:

I can’t wait to hold his great BIG hand!

We're "keeping it under our hats"... truth is, we have no complaints!

We’re “keeping it under our hats”… truth is, we have no complaints!

How do you handle being on the receiving end of parents’ complaints about their children? Do you perceive these “vent sessions” as a healthy, positive coping strategy? Or as having a negative effect on one’s parenting? Do you participate in, or even initiate, these kinds of discussions? Also, do you have tips for dealing with the inevitable growth and moving on of our children? How can we keep our relationships with our kids warm, loving, and strong – without causing them to feel “smothered?” 

We look forward to reading your thoughts!


Waiting for Wisdom

From MetroParent

Image courtesy: MetroParent

By Chris Little

One of the things I’m learning about having a college student for a kid: My role as his parent demands quite new behaviors from me. When something happens to him–let’s say the end of a relationship, an untimely migraine headache, or even just a hassle with a class schedule–where I once might have swooped in with advice or a cup of tea, I’m learning that my role now is to, well, just kind of sit still. Preferably in silence. It’s been… let’s just say, it’s been a learning experience—and this from someone who was never one of those helicopter moms who made a life out of rescuing her kids.

The wonderful writer Anne Lamott became a grandmother not too long ago, an experience she learned provided a whole new opportunity to sit still and let her adult son, now a parent himself, learn his own lessons. She came up with an acronym to help her remember that it’s no longer her role to step in and run the show: W.A.I.T., which stands for Why Am I Talking? You can read about it here and here.

It’s hard for us parents, and maybe especially for us often hyper-communicative mothers, to opt for silence sometimes. At least in my house, my husband is much better about giving the kids space to work things out on their own without the benefit of his talking. So as I’ve been adjusting to having one kid living halfway across the state, I’ve been thinking a lot about Lamott’s handy mnemonic. I like to take each word in turn:

Why am I talking? What purpose do I wish my words to serve? All too often, I can talk for unhelpful reasons, like wanting to keep my kids engaged with me, wanting to protect them (or myself) from uncomfortable feelings—or thinking my words can serve as a kind of talisman to protect them in unsafe situations. One day I heard a radio show about the drug MDMA, and I commented to my high-school daughter that I thought I’d give the freshman a call, you know, just to remind him to steer clear of parties where kids might be trying it. “Don’t,” she suggested, kindly hiding her impulse to roll her eyes. “He’s already learned all that, and at this point, your telling him isn’t going to do anything but irritate him.” She had a point. Still, I had this feeling that if I could just warn him against the drug (again), I could protect him. I know I’m not the only mom who’s wanted to dole out desperate little pieces of advice out of a deeply engrained instinct to protect my kids. “Don’t climb too high!” “Hold on tight!” “Be careful!” Now, that’s not to say I’m never going to give my freshman a nugget of advice—but I suppose I should start by knowing why I want to do it in the first place, and follow up by asking myself whether it’s something the kid really doesn’t already know.

Why am I talking? If I’m the one doing the talking, what’s my kid doing? Is he listening? Is he tuning out? Is he wishing he could get out of the room? And what about me? Am I thinking about the kid at all—or am I just satisfying my desire to control him? In other words, are he and I actually communicating, or am I just lecturing, or worse, filling space? Have I asked him his point of view? Am I letting it be as real as mine feels to me?

Why am I talking? Because most of the time, listening is better. And if you’re so inclined, prayer is too (as long as we’re talking about private, silent, open-hearted prayer, not the spoken kind that seeks to guilt-trip the kid, which is really just another form of exerting control).

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not giving my college kid the silent treatment, not by any stretch of the imagination! But now that my freshman is more on his own, I’m trying to be more aware of what I’m saying to him and why, so that I give him the space to grow into a healthy adult (and not coincidentally, hopefully one who wants to spend time with me!).

Kat B. said it very well over at Travel Garden Eat when she quoted Robert Brault: “It is one thing to show your child the way, and a harder thing to then stand out of it.”


A Special Sunday: A Mix of Mother’s Day Blogs

We are so honored to have Off the Merry-Go-Round featured on the WordPress blog, among some fabulous company! We are sharing the love… 🙂

The WordPress.com Blog

In some parts around the world, this Sunday is dedicated to the mothers out there. For Mother’s Day, we’ve rounded up sites on motherhood, parenting, and family. On WordPress.com, you’ll discover mothers on all paths: new moms, stay-at-home-moms, single moms, mothers who are full-time writers, and more. (Even mommy men, as you’ll see below.)

We especially want to highlight bloggers with unique perspectives and thoughtful commentary, as well as collaborative blogs with multiple contributors. So, we hope you enjoy this sampling of sites in honor of this special day.

Butterfly Mind

Creative nonfiction writer Andrea Badgley lives with her husband and two children in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. In the past, she’s caught our eye with thoughtful posts on both family and the writing life: a piece on putting food on the table, and a post on revisiting her childhood diaries. Her blog is a delight: lovely musings on 

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Lessons We Learn from Our Children

By Jen Ashenfelter

Our children are amazing. Their accomplishments are inspiring. Their achievements in the classroom, on the playing field, in a performance, or out in the community make us proud parents.

These days—compared to when I think back to my years in school—the parenting trend is to involve our children in a multitude of sports and activities as well as nurture a well-rounded honor student. Whether you subscribe to the tiger-parenting philosophy or your approach is less hands-on, as parents it’s our responsibility to prepare our children for the future.

Sometimes our children’s efforts are self-driven because they are naturally competitive, thrive on the positive feedback, or simply enjoy what they are doing.

Sometimes it’s not that easy. As parents, we cheer them on, share our wisdom gained from years of experience, dish out advice—wanted or not—or basically lay down the law to motivate and challenge them to do better.

My youngest and I had a nice conversation recently which made me smile and got me thinking. To set the background, students can choose a musical instrument in fifth grade; he decided to play the trumpet. Having never expressed an interest in playing an instrument before, we had many in-depth discussions about his decision and the resulting commitment. He didn’t waiver in his decision. The trumpet was rented and the lessons began.

If we quit too soon, we may never know our potential.

If we quit too soon, we may never know our potential.

Many times I could be heard saying, “I want to hear you practicing that trumpet.” By the time Christmas break was over, he got off the bus one afternoon and announced he wanted to quit playing the trumpet because “everyone” was allowed to quit, and he felt it was taking up too much time.

(What? The kid has nothing but time. And who is everyone? Wait, I don’t care about everyone; they are not my responsibility. Would you jump off a bridge if everyone was doing it? You gotta love the everyone argument; I’ve used it myself back in the day. And then it bubbled up and spilled out of my mouth, that voice of a mother…)

My response was a firm “No” with a reminder about the commitment he agreed to for the school year, and I expected him to do the work as required by the teacher to earn a good grade. I knew he was frustrated over the time and practice it took to sound good. Who wants to sound like a dying cow in public? The fear of failure and public humiliation can be paralyzing—just quit before it reaches that point. But that was the end of the conversation and we began to hear him practice more often during the last month.

Our recent chat:

C: I’m going to work on getting 140 minutes of trumpet practice this week. If I practice for 30 minutes on Saturday and Sunday, that’s 60 plus 80 minutes during the week…that’s 80 + 60 = 140. (Students are expected to practice 80 to 100 minutes a week.)

Me: Ok, that’s great! Do you think you are getting better with all this practice?

C: I think so, but I still have trouble with the high notes.

Me: Maybe you should devote a few minutes of each practice to just the high notes?

C: Yes. On the weekends, I could do 15 minutes on the high notes and 15 minutes on the songs.

Me: Sounds like a good plan to me. See how it works out. (huge smile, fist pump when he left the room)

By simply not letting him quit and challenging him to honor his commitment and push through the frustration, something grabbed hold. It was his decision how to handle the situation. I’m proud of him.

At that moment I realized a few things. As adults, who challenges us? How many times do we give up on something new because there’s no one above our authority to encourage us to push on? What can we learn from the accomplishments of our children when we challenge them to do better?

Sometimes it’s what we teach our children and what they teach us in return!

  • To challenge ourselves as much as we challenge them
  • To choose how we will handle a challenge and create a plan to rise above it
  • To put our best effort into everything we do
  • To manage our time wisely
  • To push through the difficult moments—we are stronger than we think
  • To learn from failures and try again
  • To practice, practice…and practice some more—success takes patience and hard work; striving for perfection shouldn’t be the goal
  • To determine when it is the right time to change direction
  • To take pride in a job well done and celebrate success

Do you set the same expectations for yourself as you do for your children? Do you feel you set expectations for your children higher than you do for yourself? What can you learn from their efforts and accomplishments? Next time you are struggling with a challenge, listen to your own advice—or call your mother—and see what happens next!

Setting Limits on TV and Video Games (or How NOT to Win Mother-of-the Year)

By Jen Ashenfelter 

There are a lot of distractions for children today: Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo DS, iPod, iPad, cell phones, Angry Birds and, oh yeah, that old favorite, the television. It’s hard to believe but when I grew up—not only did I walk to school uphill both ways…I’m not kidding—video games were played on an Atari system, the phone was tethered to the wall, a television was controlled by two legs and five fingers, and an apple was something you ate with lunch. Consider me ancient.

If the scientists and experts thought television and video games were bad for the healthy development of children back then, what’s a parent to do today? Times and technology may have changed but the answer remains the same: Turn it all off. Keep it off. It’s that easy. Ok, well sometimes it’s not that easy but we’ll get to that later. 

Long, long ago…

During the school year, I was not allowed to watch television during the week. Friday evening through Sunday evening was it—Love Boat, American Bandstand and the Sunday Disney movie totally rocked. And we never owned an Atari—a game of Monopoly could last 1 ½ days if we played it right. A focus on homework and school activities were my responsibility and high grades were expected.

I hated the rule. I will never win a contest about 80’s TV trivia, but I’m happy to report that I survived, graduated ranked 12th in my class, used the “therapy fund” to pay for college, and today I’m a fairly well-adjusted adult.

The circle of life goes on…

Yes, the most hated, evil rule ever devised in the history of parenting lives on—in my house. But it’s bigger and more evil than ever before: the weekday ban not only includes TV but all gaming systems of any size, type or style. Same reasons. Same expectations. Hopefully the same results—so far, so good.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not always easy. My two boys are very good at reasoning and, in some cases, argument and debate. Future lawyers, perhaps. However, I prefer a more scientific approach to the laws of rule bending. When the well-read ‘A’ student asks for slight change, the experiment begins. When the quiz, test and project grades start to drop, or an inch becomes a mile, the experiment ends and the theory is successfully proven.

And it’s not always perfect. The real work begins on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons when both boys have to be pried away from sets and systems for a seat at the dining room table or an extended break outside for sunshine, fresh air and, oh yeah, actual physical, sweat-inducing exercise.

I will never win a Mother of the Year contest either.  

All kidding and “mean, strict mommy” stuff aside…

There are plenty of studies and reports available that provide serious statistics for why time spent in front of the television, gaming devices and other electronic toys should be limited. As well, there are plenty of resources—including our family oriented blog posts chock full of great ideas and first-hand experiences—that suggest better ways for young minds and bodies to spend their free time.

May I also suggest reading this linked post from the Becoming Minimalist blog.  Eye-opening statistics! You’ve got the resources, now it’s time to create the plan. Here are a few ideas:

Set rules and expectations early. If you have preschool aged children, then now is the time to set the rules. As the years progress, they won’t know any differently. Setting a new rule with older children will be more challenging—be strong.

Define your rule and any exceptions. For us, it’s basic: No television or gaming systems Mondays – Thursdays during the school year but they’re allowed Friday after school through Sunday evening.

Be consistent. There are always exceptions and small battles to be fought, but the boys know where I stand and what the absolute limit is.

Make it your lifestyle. It’s the same concept as dieting. To completely deny chocolate cake is to want chocolate cake. So, limit the amount, fill the time with other meaningful activities, remain steadfast, praise the effort, and celebrate the results! Stick with it week after month after year…you’ll be glad you did.

Thank you Mom and Dad! I hated the rule then, but I appreciate its value now. You were right! (Yup, that just happened.…) 

Did you grow up with a limit on television and video games? As a parent, what rules or expectations do you have during the school year? How has it worked for your family? Join the conversation and share your thoughts and ideas on this subject.

Surviving and Thriving as a New Mom!

By MA Filler

First my disclaimers:  I’m a bit nervous about writing this first blog post.  I have a science and math degree and no writing experience other than the papers that I wrote in college.  In addition, I want to make it clear that I am by no means an authority on the issues of parenting.  But, I hope that I can be of help to you in whatever stage of parenting you find yourself.  In fact, I’m hoping to learn from you as well!  Finally, I am aware that not everyone has or desires the privilege of “jumping off the merry-go-round.”  Our differences in approach and circumstance are what make life interesting!

I blame my dominant left lobe for my inclination to view all sorts of things in chronological order.  So, let’s begin with the new mom stage.  What are some of the challenges that new mothers face, and how can those challenges be addressed?

“The first day of the rest of my life” – my husband and I with our first son, David

My first son was born one day after his due date and just about 12 hours after I got home from my last day of full-time teaching.  I planned to work until my due date as I thought statistics showed that first time babies are generally late.  I thought I might even have a week or two to rest and get mentally prepared.  The bottom line is that babies will come when they are ready.  Unfortunately, I was exhausted going in to the parenting process for the first time.

When boy wonder number one was born, I was immediately overcome with intense feelings of love and, surprisingly, being overwhelmed.  I cried in the hospital while a nurse comforted me saying that “it” would be all right.

What was wrong with me?  Why did I feel so under-prepared to assume this new role?  Perhaps it was the physical pain I was in from giving birth or the reality that I didn’t have a very big support system once I got home.  My mom came for a few days to help out but lived two states away and was unable to stay beyond that.  We were new to our community, and I knew very few people.  I went from knowing exactly what I was going to do every day to having no idea what I was doing day to day.  I had chosen to nurse, and no one in my family had ever done that nor was there support in our area for nursing mothers. On top of that, my son had colic and didn’t sleep day or night.

How did I survive that phase of parenting?  Well, it wasn’t easy, and it is a wonder that I went on to have two more babies after that!

When I reflect back, here are some things I did to not only survive but to thrive during that first year.

  1. Take one day at a time. I remember thinking that I would NEVER get sleep again.  Try to keep perspective and know that all children do eventually learn to sleep (that’s a topic for another blog post).
  2. Make friends with other new moms.  I was blessed to meet two of my fellow bloggers, Karen and Ruth, in a Sunday school class for parents.  In addition, I attended a stay-at-home Bible study group that met during the week.  From those relationships, we formed a much needed playgroup for “the moms!”
  3. Make friends with moms who are ahead of you “in the game.”  Fortunately, just before my first son was born, I moved across the street from a mom with two girls, ages 7 and 10 at the time.  Her wisdom has and continues to be priceless.
  4. Go for a walk or get some other form of exercise.  The exercise piece is critical in mood lifting!  If weather permits, get that stroller out and walk. The sunlight alone will lift your spirits.   If you have to stay inside, the baby swing can be your best friend while you get in a quick 30-minute workout.
  5. Accept help when it’s offered.  For some reason, it’s not only difficult to ask for help, but it’s also difficult to accept help when being offered.  I remember friends and family offering to keep the baby.  News flash…there are people out there who ADORE babies and would LOVE to help you out at this stage!
  6. Take Time for Yourself.  Take a bath, read a great work of fiction or sleep!  Also, for future perspective, read Jen A’s blog post from 10/5/12, The Importance of Girlfriend Getaways. 
  7. Laugh!  Look in the mirror at your unkempt, pajama-wearing self and laugh.  Try to find humor in the stream of urine that was sprayed on the nursery wall (you know I have boys) and the other day-to-day mishaps that are likely.

Note:   If you have a colicky baby, make a recording of the hair dryer or some other form of white noise and play it back for your baby.  It works wonders!

Cherish every moment you have with that newborn baby!  In the blink of an eye, you’ll be moving on to the next stage!


Finding Family Fun–Off the Merry-Go-Round

Jen with “her guys.”

By Jen Ashenfelter

Riding the “career carousel” is a different experience for everyone; some love it, some loathe it…and a few ride somewhere in between. This is my story and I can tell you it’s ok to get off the merry-go-round and be happy…

One step through the gate…anticipation builds. The distant music is joyous and enchanting, quickly pulling you closer to its source. Anxiously you search, competing with the crowds and traveling with focused determination to reach your destination. At first sight, you fall helplessly in love with its breathtaking beauty and dazzling detail. With the giddy excitement of a child, you eagerly hop on full of energy and expectations. After close inspection, you carefully chose a horse—deciding whether to remain steady or add a bit of movement. The ride is slow at first so you enthusiastically wave to the crowds. Feeling the rush as the speed picks up, you firmly grasp the reins. Eventually, the crowds and the music become a blur and you grow tired of the monotonous motion. You think: What happened to this wondrous ride? I expected more than this one-trick pony moving in circles.

At home with my first baby, Nicholas, at 10-months-old, April 1999.

When the ride is over, it’s ok to get off.

Long before I decided on a career path, getting married and having a family was what I wanted most. That’s not to say developing a career and landing my dream job were not important. I married after college graduation and wanted to build a firm foundation with a resume full of experience to draw from in the future before starting a family. International travel, global publications, corporate initiatives, and management presentations—the ride was everything I dreamed it would be. And after 8 years, it was time to go. The day we knew our first child was on the way, I was prepared to get off the proverbial “merry-go-round.”

The option to take another ride on the merry-go-round always presents itself.

Several years later, I heard the music again. Knowing what to expect when I reached the carousel again, this journey was less deliberate and I searched for a slower ride. All the horses were attractive so I tried a few on for size. However, there was something about that last horse—adorned with lots of pretty ribbons and bells; it seemed innocent underneath. I hopped on and took off in a measured gait thinking I had this trot mastered. Each time around, the pace quickened so slightly I hardly recognized the change. The next thing I knew, the ribbons had unraveled and I was racing again.

My youngest, Christopher (in blue), is a joy to watch on the soccer field.

The second ride is not always as smooth as the first. These alluring and hypnotic attractions can easily create distraction from what we really desire.

By this time, my first born was now in middle school and my baby was in elementary school. Where did the time go? That horse was moving so fast I started missing these little boys step off the school bus, learn a new karate move or score a goal during a soccer match. I became frustrated when they got sick, and was cranky when they needed my attention. Despite the speed, I became restless at work, impatient at home and full of doubt that I could ever win the race.

Jumping off at full speed is scary, but you won’t fall.

Finally, tired of holding on for dear life and disappointed that I veered off course, I hated everything that about that horse. The reins snapped and I jumped. The fear of falling hard was immediately replaced with comforting relief and the promise of a new journey that would lead me back home to my family and focused on the career I established many years before.

Hopefully, our stories will inspire you to get “off the merry-go-round.”

Yep, I jumped off twice…and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. There are open, caring arms in that crowd around the carousel who understand the need to take that leap of faith. Our mission is to create a supportive community where women can share information and creative ideas that enrich our family life and celebrate…us.

WELCOME to Off the Merry-Go-Round!  Please share a comment below–thanks!

Nicholas earned his first-degree Black Belt, 2012, after 6 years of hard work! I am so thankful to be there for my family’s big moments… I cherish each one.