I took a picture of the front of my house because it is a mess. A total mess. A tangle of scooters and helmets, cobwebs and sidewalk chalk, strollers and balance bikes.
I was coming in from dropping all three off at school, looked at the porch and shook my head.
Shit. This really is a mess. Look at this porch, I thought to myself. You really should care more about the appearance of your home, Meghan.
You should be putting all of those things away nightly. Even better, why aren’t the children trained to do it.
THAT’S YOUR JOB, MEGHAN.
I snapped the picture to punish myself. To post it on Facebook and tell the world:
LOOK! Look at what a failure I am. Look at how ashamed I should feel! Look everyone, you should punish me, too!
I went inside and downloaded the picture:
Huh. I had backed up so that I could get the totality of the mess. So I could capture the Radio Flyer the kids have been dragging up and down the street.
But I also captured the flag. And the light. And the plants, and some chalk drawings on the ground.
I often think my house, my business, my marriage, my life is a mess.
And sometimes it is. All that junk I was ashamed of? It is all there, on the porch.
But like this picture shows, everything is not a total mess.
And if I brave enough to admit it, some of this mess could even be beautiful.
(And yes, I am still going to clean this up. Just a little.)
I am forever telling my five-year-old it is “TIME TO GET DRESSED.”
It starts kind. It starts quiet. It starts with a gentle touch; a sweet reminder.
And before I know it, I am yelling up the stairs, threatening, and invoking my own mother so very well. ”That’s it! I’ve had it!”
This dance, this struggle, is frequent enough that it deserves my attention. My REAL attention. And it needs me to do something different, for the love of Pete.
So, this morning, I could feel the slow dance beginning and picking up speed. The 5 year old defiantly and happily bounded down the basement steps (the opposite direction of her clothing), and I stared at my husband with wide eyes. Click. Okay, something different.
“Mark, we are not going to say one more word about the damn clothes. I will find her clothes, bring them in the car, but that is it.”
He nodded in silent agreement, happy to be freed from the usual “DO something with that horrid child” he usually gets.
And don’t ya know it. About 20 minutes before we were leaving, she found a dress, brushed her hair and teeth, got on her shoes, and happily bounded out to the car.
Sometimes this parent coaching stuff works.
Every single morning. Every single morning since school has begun, my five year old wakes up and says this.
“I don’t want to go to school.”
She is, by all accounts, very happy at school. She loves her teacher, she is making new friends, she like the order, she is eating her lunch and learning, and when I pick her up…she is as happy as a clam.
And yet, every single morning…the same sadness.
“I miss you all day, Mom.”
I didn’t even think this kid liked me, let alone missed me.
“I don’t think you will be there at the end of the day.”
I have never even been late to pick-up.
So, every morning I tell her, “If you are unhappy, tell your teacher, the teacher will call me, and I will come get you. Promise.”
And every morning she looks at me, with the “Hmmmm, I gonna test this…” face.
And every day she goes to school and happily walks in.
I don’t know how long we are going to play this little game, but it’s okay.
She is my little curmudgeon and I love her this way.
Someone just asked me, “Meghan, what do you what parents to know before they send their little ones off to school?” Here you go:
So, as far as I can tell, all these BACK-TO-SCHOOL blogs are about kids, kids, kids! How to help them, how to encourage them, how to get them to do their homework, how to feed, sleep, toilet them! And listen, I think it is great. Really, I do.
If you are looking at this fall and all you feel is despair, exhaustion, and worry…this BOOTCAMP is for you.
Let’s get together and create some goals for YOU. Let’s figure out what YOU need, as a parent.
In this 90 minutes, we are going to iron-out what you REALLY want for this fall, and create some tangible goals to get you there. Because you can work as hard as you want on your family, but if you feel out of control and stressed, change is hard to create.
This BOOTCAMP is for people who are open to change, who are ready to learn from others on the call, and who want to start this school year with optimism and hope.
Each person in the group also gets a check-in e-mail from me!
I only have 5 spots.
It is Wednesday, August 29th, from 8-9:30 PM EST.
This session is ON THE PHONE! I will send you a freeconference.com invite. How easy is that?
All you have to do is e-mail me to set up the details.
Cannot wait to talk to you!
Imagine you are with extended family, out to a special dinner. Or there is a group play date at the park with lots of parents around. There’s a birthday party where tons of family and friends gather. Either way, you’re in a very public place and your child has decided to have a meltdown – in a big way. Hitting, screaming, throwing things, it isn’t pretty.
A public tantrum is one of the most embarrassing events for parents. What can be annoying and irritating at home is gut-wrenching and horrifying in public. As parents, we start to feel instantly judged by others.
No one else’s children are behaving this way. Everyone is waiting for me to do something here. I look like I am not in control of my own child.
It is this pressure, this embarrassment, this shame that makes it very difficult to parent well in these moments.
Our brains are screaming: This is unacceptable. I must punish this child. This child must learn a lesson.
It is in these public moments that you can only do two things:
1) Get out of the public eye.
With the situation going from bad to worse, the only thing you can do is get out of dodge. If you can go home, go home. If you must stay in the vicinity, then go to the car. If you don’t have a car, go for a walk. Just get out! As soon as you leave, your temperature will start to go down and you are less likely to have your own tantrum. When the eyes are off of you and the child, you can start to breathe, calm yourself, and start to be a positive presence for the child.
2) No punishments, lectures, threats, and as little physical contact as possible
Your child’s brain has short-circuited. When they are in a full-blown tantrum, language is not getting through to them. No lessons will be learned, nothing will be reversed, and the best you can do is to wait the tantrum out. As well as the child not being able to listen and receive, you are not usually in a loving and calm place to speak or act. When you feel publically humiliated, you are more likely to lash out, feeling shame and hurt. Sometimes as parents, we simply need to wait.
Parents often ask me whether they should stay near the child or go into another room. Some children need for the parent to just sit on the sidewalk and wait. Some children want the parent to hold them and hug them. If walking away from a child sends them further into the tantrum, then stay close. If you feel like staying close is making it worse, give them space. You know your child best, so do what is best for them and for you. And as always, if simply being near them makes you feel angrier and possibly violent, then find a safe way to get away from your child.
When this public tantrum has passed (and you have sufficiently cooled down), you can look back at the incident more objectively. Was your child getting sick? Were they hungry? Was it naptime? Were they bored? When you are out again, how can you change the course? Or was it simply a young child being…a young child? Children throw tantrums. Whatever you decide, let the moment be where it now is: the past.
Recently, a MLPC Facebook liker asked me about her lovely 4 year old, who has started saying that she “loves mommy zero” and “I don’t want Mama to live in this family.”
“It hurts,” this Mom said to me, “and I am having trouble getting over it.”
I have so much respect for the mother who can write those words because:
A) I usually get e-mails about how these things are “unacceptable” (which is the verbal roadblock before getting to the hurt place), and
B) It is not easy to write out those words. Any of them. Takes courage, which I always respect.
So, I started to think about a class I took while at Hopkins. I cannot remember the exact name of the course, but I loved the professor. He speciality was counseling at-risk adolescents and part of the lesson I took away was the idea of therapeutic button-pushing. What? Well, the idea is that these aggressive, angry, and provocative teens will purposely say horrible things to their counselors to “throw them off the scent.” The teens feel so unlovable that they go ahead and preempt any compassion that an adult may show by insulting them first. And they can really go for it.
So, a good counselor may realize that being told “you are stupid bitch” will generate anger and resistance within themselves, so they will purposely have someone tell them over and over and over “You Are A Stupid Bitch” until the words have no more meaning. They do not carry any power; the words have exhausted themselves, hence not provoking a response in the counselor.
Why would I tell you, the parents, this story? You are NOT therapists and your children are not angry teens.
But there is value in this story for understanding the perspective of the child.
The teen was trying to push away first out of intense anger, fear, and pain.
A four year old? Not the same. BUT.
A four year old, who is a new player in the wonderful and amazing language game, LOVES to see the big reactions he gets to his new phraseology. From the good to bad, the 4 year old knows he wields power.
And how does she know? He knows from your furrowed brow. You lecture about hurt feelings and apologies. You may stomp away in anger or even have tears in your eyes. The child holds the power.
Not purposely, mind you. The 4 year old is not that savvy.
But. It is heady stuff to the young mind to watch Mom sometimes delight, sometimes squirm.
I like to think that the 4 year old is only warming you up for those teen years. You can remember them, right? I mean, I remember throwing the kitchen sink of venom and invective at my mom, and I loved (and love) her to pieces. She was number one in my life, and I tried to tell her she wasn’t through a slew of words and actions.
So parents, take heart.
The “I Hate You’s” and “I Love Daddy More’s”…yes, they sting. But the more you hear them, the less they sting. Really. Just try to remember that this is an active brain trying to find a toehold of attention.
And remember, if you are doing a really good job, pretty soon the kid will try to run away. Then you know you are really entering into the big leagues!
If you have an eight-year-old girl, you probably have had, are currently having, or about to have fights about clothing.
This is not to say that boys don’t care about their clothing…
But let’s face it; they don’t.
The parenting/clothing correlation to boys is “the guns and weapons” fight. The difference being, that, your boys will eventually stop wanting to shoot fake guns.
But clothing and girls? Well, this fight goes on forever, doesn’t it? I can remember standing in dressing rooms with my mother, hot-faced with embarrassment and annoyance. Couldn’t she see that all I wanted was to look “cool?” Which essentially means, “like the other cool girls?”
My mom still critiques my clothing.
And the only reason I ever started working (at age14) was so I could buy the Guess Jeans my mother refused to buy me.
Mothers and daughters and clothing.
Now that I am mother of three girls, I am hearing myself say the things I never thought I would. You know, all those parent-y things.
”The clothes never looked this slutty when I was younger.”
”The sequins? On the bathing suits?”
”Why does a 4T shirt say, ‘I’m a flirt on it?’”
I recently chatted with a friend, who is also the mom of an 8 year old girl, and she reiterated my story.
“What do I do,” she sputtered, “about the inappropriate clothes? Our shopping trip was rife with tears, struggles, and arguing, and I worry for the struggles in the future. But some of these clothes she wants are too mature, too short, and too, just too much!”
The parent coach had answers and advice for her. The mother in me drew in a long breath and heaved the heavy sigh.
Even if you are a stripper, with a long and storied career on the pole, there seems to be a “trashy-clothing” threshold that is innate to almost every mother (toddlers and tiara moms are completely and utterly excluded).
It makes a mom shudder to watch their four year old become sexualized, and now with an eight year old? It’s getting worse. She is not simply cute any more; my daughter is becoming pretty. She has lost of all of the little “kid” about her, and her bikinis are starting to make me nervous.
Of course, she is only eight. She is only on the cusp of her body-awareness and I don’t want her to think about her body. Not at all. Not ever. But when I watch her playing on the beach in her tiny bottoms, I cringe a little.
People are going to start to look at her.
I don’t want to fight with her about her clothes. I don’t want to make her feel ashamed of, or embarrassed by, her cute, ballerina, figure. I don’t want to lay the responsibility of the guilt or the worry of leering and pervy men at her feet.
She will have body-awareness issues…she is a female. Isn’t it unavoidable? I just want to mitigate how truly crazy it can be.
So, I have a couple of nonnegotiable (there are a some pieces clothing I cannot even consider), but I cannot fight every battle. I cannot sacrifice my relationship with my child over an aesthetic or a fear of the future. I know my battles are based in fear about her getting older, and me forcing her to wear long skirts is not going to stop that.
But, oh the shorts. Can they cover her bottom? Just a tad more?
We were only in the car for four days, but the minivan looked wild and ransacked. My husband escaped to work after bringing in the bags, the clothes on hangers, and the pac-n-play (thank God for him), the kids were enjoying our home; looking at their toys like they were brand new.
And then there was me. Standing in the burning D.C. sun, peering into the car.
Stuffed animals with tinsel tied around their necks
Lollipops, half-eaten and dropped, covered in Goldfish dust
Broken crayons and lid-less markers
Random parts to fast-food restaurant toys and Elmo stickers
DVD covers, minus the DVD inside
Water bottle lids and candy wrappers
Apple cores stuffed into cup holders and Highlights magazines, torn apart
Hair bands, barrettes, underwear, one shirt, one sock, four pairs of shoes, and one bathing suit bottom
Half-eaten cheese crackers and bingo pieces
Lip-gloss and a toothbrush
And the wipes, my heavens! The wipes! Dozens of wipes used to clean hands, then balled up and tossed on the floor.
And that was only the back of the minivan.
I sighed the long sigh of the beleaguered parent. Everyone talks about the planning, the packing, the fun fun fun games for the long long long trips! How to stay in a hotel room! The apps! The healthy snacks! The good bathrooms along I-95! Family-friendly parks!
But no one talks about the UNpacking. Everything that is left behind.
BUT, I know there is happiness in this car; I know that this detritus is sign of a good adventure. Signs of mom loosening the rules, and of Dad singing his Sinatra. Of saying, “yes, let’s get ice cream again,” and staring up at the Georgia stars late at night (through the sunroof, of course.) Of putting in another DVD, listening to Ramona Quimby, Age 8 on CD, and singing along to Adele. The lollipops and the Skittles, the Cheezits and the Goldfish. The faint smell of the barbeque we ate, the wedding programs, and burnt-down sparklers we held as they bride and groom waved from the convertible…riding off to their new life in the sticky Georgia night. All of this stuff, it has to be there. Otherwise, it is a just car and a trip of no consequence.
If you want to make the memories, into your life a little trash must fall. And yes, I will implore, almost beg, start to threaten and eventually appeal to their good natures, and the girls will clean the crap out of the car. They will do it, grumbling and eye rolling, whining and shrugging. But like a family pet, the work falls to the mother. It always falls to the mother.
So, with my trash bag, I go in…smiling and knowing (trying) to remember:
This trash is our first family road trip.
This trash is a sign of good parenting.
This trash is happiness.
I stood and stared at my husband. He had just suggested that my barely-turned-eight-year-old-daughter go to a sleep-away camp for a week this summer. It is a camp that our church runs and has been going strong for decades.
“The priest and his wife are going with all of their kids, Meg. As well as all her friends.”
I continued staring, with only a rare blink to break it.
“I think she is ready and would love it.”
Ready, huh? I did want any great parent coach does when she wants back up for her opinions: calls her mother.
“Oh, yes, Meg, you didn’t go to camp until you were ten or eleven. Eight is so young…” Yes, I agreed completely. My mother and I were in a fear spiral together, and I fully embraced it. My daughter was completely too young, and I immediately kyboshed the whole idea.
So, imagine my surprise when, weeks later, I stood in a circle of three or four school moms, and all of them were sending their eight-year-olds to sleep-away camp.
Hmmm. “Well,” I started justifying to myself, “all of those children aren’t first-born. They are ready because they have older siblings…”
My wheels started turning, though. Deep down, yes, I think six may be a little young for two weeks of sleep-away camp, but your average, well adjusted eight year old might be just fine. I kept wondering, though: are more and more younger kids (nine and under) going to sleep-away camp? Was my thinking wrong? Should younger children be going to sleep-away camp?
I needed proof. I needed data. I found myself on the American Camp Association (ACA) website, expecting to find that no, young children don’t attend camp. I was quite wrong.
When camp directors were asked about enrollment in Spring 2012: “Compared to last year at this time, what is your best guess at how enrollment in each of the following AGE GROUPS is progressing?” The answers were surprising! 42.5% of camp directors reported that they the “nine and under” were ahead of the prior year! Even in 2005, 58.1% camp directors were anticipating that the “nine and under” were going to stay “about the same” as the previous year. Okay, what about 2009, when so people started to panic about money and job security? Surely, people would not spend money to return their young children to camp? 39.8% of camp directors reported that, in fact, enrollment was about the same for the “nine and under” campers.
Huh, okay. So, it seems that, at least for the last seven years, a healthy group of nine and under campers have been attending (and re-attending) sleepover camps.
Yes, I also found that the recession had hurt enrollment of younger children, as well as sleep-away campers across the board, but the conclusion was clear: young children have been and are going to sleep away camps.
Not only this, but an advanced search on the ACA “Find a Camp” section yielded a significant number of camps for seven, eight, and nine-year-olds!
For a two-week, overnight camp, co-ed, and in the Northeast Region, I found:
Feeling utterly conflicted; I called the esteemed and absolutely lovely Dr. Michael Thompson. He is a super-star in my world, and wrote Raising Cain, among other amazing books that should be sitting on your bookshelf. He has helped thousands of parents, and he was kind enough to talk to me.
Dr. Thompson’s new book, Homesick and Happy, is about the beauty of sleep-away camp for children. He makes a powerful argument, through research and anecdotes, for why many kids need it more now than ever.
It starts with our own memories of being campers when we were young. Dr. Thompson says that adults report, “In their best childhood memories, only 20% had parents in them, whereas 80% had no parents; they were totally independent! It is normal and good to have children miss their parents.” He went on, “Parents talk often wanting their children to be independent, but you cannot give your child that. You have to allow them to build skills, and this is often done without the parent watching. The parent has to let go.”
The parent has to let go. Let go of the eight-year-old? Dr. Thompson said that studies show that a child’s temperament is far more predictive of how they will do at camp than their age. In fact, Dr. Thompson finds that children who happily go on overnights with friends will probably do just fine at sleep-away camp. The means that a seven-year-old could be raring to go, whereas a 11 year old may still need more time.
Yet parents are more anxious than ever to send their young children to camp, says Dr. Thompson, and this sentiment was echoed over and over by others I spoke to.
Walt Lafontaine, Director of Camp Arrowhead in Lewes DE (and where I was a camper for a number of summers and LOVED it), and would agree that there are more and more anxious parents today. Mr. Lafontaine states clearly that, “Parents are just unwilling to part with their younger children,” and that “younger children attending camps has dropped since 9/11.” Mr. Lafontaine feels that parents are “clingier than ever.”
And this is loss of experience for children, according to Carey Rivers of “Tips on Trips and Camps,” a service that helps parents match the right camp for the right child. Ms. Rivers says, “My best guess is that kids are starting camp later and going for more two week options…which is a shame as they lose the benefit of becoming part of a longer summer community at camp.”
This idea of community and belonging is crucial to the camp experience, as well as the development of the independent child, according to Dr. Thompson. When “Character development and community are the goals of camp,” rather than sports or academic skills, children will grow the resilience and maturity parents are often, and elusively, searching for.
Here is what I know to be true: My happiest summer memories are of sleep-away camp at Camp Arrowhead. Free of my parents, with friends, in nature; I was totally alive. And I did not miss my parents. Not for a minute. And it did not diminish my love for them. Not for a minute.
As Dr. Thompson and I chatted on the phone, we spoke of how not missing your parents can be a sign of a well adjusted, loved, and confident child. It is the parents who interfere with this normalcy with their anxieties, fears, guilt, and control that think, “My child must miss me for me to know I am doing a good job.”
So, my eldest is not going to camp this summer. I mustered my courage and asked her, outright, if she wanted to go; she said she wants to wait until next summer. And I will send her. Happily.