Telling Your Child About Death

Just three weeks ago I paced the house, cleaning and straightening. I was nervous about breaking the horrible news that our neighbor and first-grade teacher had died suddenly. My eight-year-old daughter adored this woman and I knew that she would be hurt.

Children learn about death from many sources, but they learn about grieving from the people they love most.

Many AP parents want to know how to be an attached parent beyond the baby years. I hope this post helps others to understand how the principles of AP can come together to help you make gentle parenting choices throughout the lives of your children. I did not realize until now just how many AP principles went into my approach.

I learned of the death after dinner, but knew that the end of a long day was the wrong time to tell her. We were still uncertain about the cause of death and hoped that morning would bring more information. Such tragic news delivered at bedtime was sure to bring poor sleep and nightmares. (API Principle 5: Ensure safe sleep; physically and emotionally)

After a good, healthy breakfast (Principle 2: Feed with love and respect) and some play time with her sisters, I found a chance to tell her alone. Random bits of advice and knowledge had swirled around in my head all morning.

Years ago, I heard a child psychologist tell parents that bad news should be delivered to children during the first ten seconds of the conversation. Children often get lost and overly anxious if you spend too much time trying to soften the blow. (Principle 1: Prepare for parenting)

Remembering this, I held her hands (Principle 4: Use nurturing touch) and told her that I had something hard to tell her. She was sitting across from me on my bed. I watched her head drop and her tiny heart break with the horrible words, “Mrs. Apolzan died this weekend.”

With just the slightest movement of my hands, she fell into my arms so we could cry together. (Principle 3: Respond with sensitivity.) Over the next few days, I answered all of her questions as patiently and honestly as I could. We allowed her to cry, to be sad, but also to forget all about it and just play.

She attended a painfully sad memorial service with me at her request and we talked about different customs regarding death, funerals and burial options. She is a very inquisitive child and the extra information seemed to help her to sort out her feelings.

Death is painful only to the living. I did not want to write about it. Looking back now, I realize I simply did not want to live it. I certainly did not want to be the one to inflict the heartache of death upon my child.

But, I’m a mother.

I could never let someone else deliver such a crushing blow. My only real choice was to catch her, to hold her and to love her while she learned this painful lesson of life.

Grace and peace.

We loved you, Mrs. Apolzan, and we will always be grateful for our opportunity to know you.

Battle Hymn of the Chicken Mama

According to the Chinese zodiac, I was born in the year of the rooster, but I prefer to think of myself as a chicken. I couldn’t help musing recently at how I would measure up in the much talked-about book about Chinese parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I have not read the book, and while she writes with style and wit, I have no desire to read it. If you have not heard all the hoopla, I encourage you to read the response from her daughter, who admits that her mother is not quite as ferocious as the book implies.

As a mother raising three daughters in the United States, I have no problem being a chicken. Persons born in a rooster year are characterized as sharp, practical and tenacious. We are also hard-working, eccentric, a bit show-offish, loyal, charming and we really hate any viewpoint that disagrees with our own. Hence, many roosters own our own businesses or pursue careers in art or entertainment or you know, blogging. We like to be noticed, and probably care about our hair just a tad too much. I am totally a chicken.

Like the Tiger Mother, this Chicken Mama does not allow TV (on week nights), we do not subscribe to cable television nor do we own video games. Personally, I am not a fan of play dates, but I do give in on a case-by-case basis. (Mostly to moms who are artsy or eccentric like me.)

But a Chicken Mama has a different code of ethics and expectations, especially when it comes to education. When my daughter brings home anything less than an “A”, I simply assume that she has a slight learning disability or was placed on the wrong side of the classroom or simply failed to properly learn the material because of faulty teaching. (I’m kidding, sort of, but the point is that I feel that the love of learning is more important than a grade.)

As for musical prodigies, I have a much different stance. I spent about 5 minutes researching the Suzuki method when my firstborn was in preschool, and nearly fell off my nest when I realized how much of my own time would be spent teaching the piano or violin. Forget about it. Our piano teacher’s primary qualification is that she has a car and comes to our house. My eight-year-old is musically gifted, that’s for sure, but hates to practice. I set a timer when necessary, and we get about 30 good minutes of practice each night, but not because I force her.

Will she ever play Carnegie Hall? I really don’t care, but if it’s important to her she will make it happen on her own and not by my constant pecking. I will completely support and encourage her, but I won’t be the one who pushes her in the direction of my own dreams.

As a Tiger Mother, Amy Chua once (or more often) called her daughter “garbage” when the girl acted disrespectfully. I’m not into shaming or name-calling to get my children to obey. I do not see the value in this. My children are expected to act respectfully and are often complimented on their good behavior. I have many strategies that make this happen; most importantly my children feel loved, respected and confident. We model respect in our actions, as opposed to the ranting, screaming, hair-pulling tactics given by Ms. Chua.

Western Chickens are very proud of our nests. Our homes are fun, organized and filled with laughter. Chores are required, meals are always taken around the dinner table and homework must be completed the moment the kids get home. When my three little chicks get out of line or have trouble controlling their behavior, I resort to a much different sort of Battle Hymn. We crank up Keith Urban and dance it out. Nothing lifts a mood like a guitar-heavy country lick. Give it a try, it will raise your spirits, or at least your heart rate. (And I’m honestly not a big fan of country music!)

I suppose I could crush them into submission by calling them names; but this German/Irish/Native American Chicken Mama would much rather teach my little birds to fly.

Grace, Peace and a bit of humor.

Sharron

Drowning in Motherhood: Three Survival Skills

A family member used the phrase “drowning in motherhood” last week to describe her life with a newborn and a toddler. I remember so many days just a few years ago of my own fierce determination mixed with immeasurable joy and overwhelming exhaustion that left me drowning in motherhood.

As a former lifeguard and 8-1/2 year veteran of motherhood, I compiled my top three survival skills to share with new moms who may find themselves in over their heads.

Survival Skill #1: Relax and Submit to Your New Reality

I recently researched an indoor swimming facility for my three young girls to escape this long, dreary winter. I learned that the swim instructors teach a “rollover” technique to children as young as four months. When a submerged child rolls into their back instead of kicking and fighting for the surface, the air in their lungs creates enough buoyancy to bring their head above water.

Motherhood is like that, too. When we learn to relax and give in a little, the stress and struggle of mothering eases up. Maybe the house is a mess and you’ve served canned soup and grilled cheese for the third time this week. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of mothering. Sit back, put your feet up and catch your breath.

Survival Skill #2: Find Your Life Preserver

Getting your head above water is only the first step; now you need some help staying afloat. When you first become a mom, it’s common and so easy to become isolated from your former world. Your past relationships and lifestyle may not fit any longer; and that’s okay. But motherhood is a lot more difficult if you put yourself in solitary confinement.

You’ve got to reach out and find new connections to help you through this part of your journey. Consider joining a play group, striking up a conversation with other moms at the park, or enrolling your little ones in a cooperative preschool or Mother’s Time Out program. You will learn so much about parenting and child development, and hopefully, you will start lasting friendships based on the commonality of motherhood.

If you are parenting with a spouse or partner, tether yourself together during this time. Losing your connection to the person you love most is not only possible, it’s common during the first year of parenting. It’s true that your relationship will never be the same, but with a lot of work and communication, you will build yourselves an unsinkable lifeboat.

Survival Secret #3: Count Your Blessings

How many times have you exclaimed, “Thank God!” after pulling through a harrowing experience? It may sound cliché, but learning to appreciate what you have each day will give you the strength to endure whatever comes your way.

Last week, I received the staggering news that a friend’s 12-year-old daughter had died suddenly after a mild illness. It is a tragedy like this that causes you to shift your priorities. In my case, it reminded me of the first few weeks after my second baby was born. I was struggling to care for a 2-year-old and a newborn. And then came a phone call that changed my life forever. A teenage family member was hospitalized in the intensive care unit because of kidney failure.

From that moment on, I cherished the dark, quiet hours at night when I fed and rocked my baby girl. I was still tired, but no longer frustrated or overwhelmed. I understood then, and now, that I am blessed and make sure my children know every day how much they are loved. After many surgeries and weeks in the hospital, my family member survived. The lesson I learned from her struggle remains.

My second daughter is now six years old. She crawled into my bed last weekend in the wee hours of the night. She was feverish and wanted to sleep with me. I snuggled close to her and listened while she drifted off to sleep. I took a deep breath and whispered a prayer of gratitude. And when – two hours later – my two-year-old daughter padded in wordlessly and climbed into bed on the other side of me, I repeated the ritual.

Finding Grace and Love in Potty Training?

Potty training. Again. While I’ve done this twice already with varying degrees of difficulty, I still find the process to be exhausting. Most days, I want to throw all the cloth diapers out the window – other days I want to chuck the potty seat and trainers along with my determination to teach this skill.

What transition are you working on? Moving your child from your bed to a crib, weaning from breast milk to bottle or cup or giving up diapers in exchange for the potty are not small tasks. And even if you’ve done them before, the reality is you’ve never made this change with this child. It’s all new to him or her. Some changes come about quickly while others drag on stubbornly. That’s where we are with potty training.

Before giving up (or forcing my will upon the poor child), I’ve found it’s helpful to examine my motives behind making the transition at this time.

Motivations for change often fall into three categories:

  1. Shame/embarrassment. You know you should have taught this skill sooner but didn’t. Maybe you waited until your baby was nine-months old before introducing a bottle. (I’ve been there.) Or you waited until your four-year-old became so big that you can no longer sleep in your own bed comfortably and must demand they sleep elsewhere. The logical part of your brain knows that developmentally, there is no reason why your child is unable to make the change. But the emotional parent part of your brain is too afraid to make it happen.
  2. Anger/resentment. Do you feel so tired of the way things are and find yourself blaming your child? Maybe you wonder why they can’t just do (or stop doing) this one thing. After a lot of introspection, I realize I’m probably in this category. I don’t feel resentment, but after more than eight years of changing diapers; I’m very, very tired of it. Perhaps I’m ready to move on whether my daughter is or not.
  3. Competition. You really want to tell the grandparents, or other moms, that your little prodigy accomplished this transition easily and early. You want to brag a little about whatever milestone would give you this edge on being a good mother. It sounds shallow, and you will probably deny you’ve ever felt this way, but chances are you really are competing with another person’s timetable.

I’m tired of changing diapers, that’s for sure. I suspect there’s a little more going on as well. This is my youngest of three children and we are certainly not having any more. I stopped trying to hold on to the baby years mostly because she refused to stay in the baby phase, reaching all of her physical milestones many months before her older sisters.

But I also prefer to breeze through a transition without marking its passing; hoping to avoid any sadness or longing on my part. She gave up breastfeeding sometime in her 17th month, but I do not have a memory of the “last” time nor did I want to dwell on it. I loved breastfeeding and while a part of me misses this connection; I knew that marking an official end would be too painful. We simply moved on.

Potty training will also mark an end to my baby and toddler years. This independence will mean I no longer have any babies in my care. No more diapers. While it will be sweet freedom, it will also mark a major transition for me as a mother. Dragging out this transition for so many months just prolongs the pain.

I’ve come to realize that the one thing that is required of me at this time is love. My daughter will be potty trained in the near future. (I sometimes chant this just to convince myself.)

It’s my job to love her, to love the stage we are in and to use this love to fuel my patience.

It’s this love that will also lift me out of sadness when I realize there are no more babies, no more toddlers and someday, no more little girls in my care.

So, I’ve made a few changes to how we go about potty training. I removed the changing table from her room. We don’t use it anyway and it helps us solidify the transition taking place. I also added disposable diapers to my shopping list. While we use only two diapers a day for nap and bedtime, I need the mental and physical break from washing them. We’ll continue making the transition using consistent behaviors, but I’ll relax my timetable and renew my love for caring for a toddler.

Mom Dare: Life is filled with one transition after another. Look at what changes you are trying to make in your life and with your children. Examine your motivations, remove the negative emotions and concentrate on love. Use this positive emotion to feed your actions each day as you bring about a positive change.

Making Unique Rules for Unique Children

I spent the last nine days worrying and praying for my 19-year-old niece who was hospitalized again for a problem stemming from her kidney disease, despite taking early precaution and being on chanca piedra stone-breaking pills. Her strength and stamina are inspiring, her tears are gut-wrenching and her journey is still an uphill climb. One realization for all of us this week is that she can never live by the same rules enjoyed by her peers. While most collegians survive on pizza and experiment with alcohol, my niece can get sick from too little sleep and too much stress. It doesn’t take much to upset the delicate balance of keeping her body healthy. She must adhere to very different rules and regulations. Continue reading “Making Unique Rules for Unique Children”

Motherhood’s Magic Mirror

It starts off simply enough. I smile, you smile. Then it gets more complicated.

My daughters had a hard time using the word “please.” I noticed this several years ago, when I was constantly correcting their demands, making them insert the word before I would honor their request. They always said, “Thank you,” just not the “p” word. I remember the moment when I discovered why this phenomenon was occurring and needless to say, it was a head-slapping revelation. I asked my child (about age 4) to do something and she looked at me while asking, “please?” She was correcting my rudeness.

So, I listened in on all my conversations that day. Do I ever use the word? I frequently use the words “thanks” and, “I’m sorry.” I say “you’re welcome” and I always say “I love you” at least twice a day per family member. Somehow I had gotten into the habit of issuing orders without the basic nicety of “please.” It didn’t matter that I was telling my children to always use this word, they were simply mirroring my own behavior. It was so basic. So many trite sayings have formed out of this one constant of human development. Monkey see, monkey do. Do as I say, not as I do. But there it was staring me in the face without me really seeing it.

There are many times in raising children when you need to stop, examine your world through your child’s eyes and ears, and really think about what they are learning from you. Are you telling them not to hit, but spanking them as a form of punishment? Do you raise your voice when angry, but reprimand your child for yelling? (This is one of my uglier problems that I’m still working on.) Do you wish they would interact more with other children, but spend all your time with them instead of making strong connections with other adults?

It’s not easy realizing that your children are so much like you, yet so different. You assume they will only pick up your strengths and excel at the areas you have mastered. In addition to picking up your bad habits, magnifying them and mirroring them back to you like a carnival fun house; children also pick up on your energy. They know when you are tense, sad, angry with your spouse or worried about life. They know instantly when you don’t like someone. Unfortunately, children assume that they are the cause of your negative emotions, not an outside influence. My oldest daughter has the eerie habit of plucking thoughts right out of my head. It happens so often now that I’ve come to accept her ability as yet another reason to focus my thoughts and energy into positive messages.

MOM DARE: Spend this week listening in on your conversations, really hearing yourself the way your child does. Are they imitating you? Can you see how one of their troublesome behaviors could be related to something you have inadvertently taught them? Are you stressed about something and your child is picking up on your anxiety? Try spending a little more time this week reassuring your children that they are doing a good job, that you love them, and that life is truly beautiful. Please.

Sharron Wright is the work-at-home mother of three girls, ages 2, 5 and 8. Her mission is to help other new parents feel empowered and to instill in them the confidence to care for their babies in a loving, positive way that respects the uniqueness of all children. She blogs at http://momswithgrace.wordpress.com and helps new moms at www.babylovecarebook.com

If You Can Grow Kids, You Can Grow Anything

"So, this is where garlic bread comes from?"
“So, this is where garlic bread comes from?”

I spent this morning digging up garlic bulbs with my delighted 5-year-old daughter. She shouted every time she brought one out of the earth and into the scorching July sun thanks who Olathe pest control who saved the crops earlier. We stopped at 50 bulbs; both of us hot, dirty and reeking of garlic. It was fun for both of us, but also profound. She loves garlic bread, but never would have imagined this delicious treat could come from under the dirt!

Growing vegetables is more than a hobby for me. Oh sure, I’m geeky enough to take pictures of my garden and post them on Facebook. But farming is part of my past, present and future. I’m the granddaughter of farmers on both sides of my family and have always known where food comes from – both animal and vegetable. For me, growing food is an essential life skill for my children – and if my dreams come true someday – for all children. Just as I teach my girls the alphabet, I also show them how to plant seeds, water and mulch them, and most importantly, how to harvest and prepare the food. What they get from the process is part science lesson, part cooking lesson and part spiritual awakening. Children begin to see the cycle of life in gardening, but issues of life and death are a lot less scary when dealing with plants. Farming also raises the consciousness of children about their food supply. At the age of four, our daughter refused to eat pork when she found out it came from pigs, her favorite animal. This lasted for an entire year with our full support.
Continue reading “If You Can Grow Kids, You Can Grow Anything”

Beyond Babyhood: The Joy of Mothering Toddlers to Teens

I’m anxious to see the documentary “Babies” (see clip below), that chronicles the first year in the lives of four babies from across the globe. However, I can’t help but wish that the producers would follow up with a sequel, “Toddlers.” And of course, “Teens” would also be an interesting film.

(In case you haven\’t seen it, here’s the Babies documentary promo.)

I’m still surprised by how frequently new moms express a fear of parenting a toddler; sometimes openly critical of other moms with older children. I see it in the blogosphere over and over. All this judgment coming from parents who are used to observing a contented baby cooing in a baby carrier. I can only smile and nod, while silently praying, “Give strength to this mother, Lord, because she will certainly need it!”

I have definitely struggled to let go of the baby years; I was pregnant with my second child shortly after the first started to walk. And while I will always love being around babies, I’ve also embraced the joy of each passing milestone. This week, my five-year-old daughter lost her first tooth. I shared her pride and happiness, despite my memories of rocking her when she was teething. My seven-year-old girl watched in awe as an older girl got her ears pierced; asking again when she can do this. (Not before age 10, which will be here before I know it.) And I’m not afraid to admit that I will be incredibly grateful to be done with the diaper phase!

MOM DARE: For moms who are still at the beginning of this journey, your challenge this week is to imagine your baby as a toddler, a preschooler and beyond (as far as you can fathom). What will you miss and what will you be happy to put behind you? Conjure up that first moment when your child hugs your neck and proclaims, “I wub you.” And most of all, I urge you to practice patience and tolerance of moms who are mothering children at different stages than your own. If you’re a mom who has moved beyond the baby years, take some time this week to look back on that first magical year with each of your children. Look through some old photos or baby books. Sometimes during a rough phase in parenting, it helps to remember your child as that toothless, cooing bundle of love.

Sharron Wright is the work-at-home mother of three girls, ages 2, 5 and 7. Her mission is to help other new parents feel empowered and to instill in them the confidence to care for their babies in a loving, positive way that respects the uniqueness of all children. Visit her at www.babylovecarebook.com.

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