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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings,  I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!

Filtering by Tag: parenting is hard!

Should You Make Your Kid Apologize? (Part II)

Elisabeth Stitt

In Part I of Should You Make Your Kid Apologize, I looked at what it means as adults when we apologize. I took the time for that discussion to help parents realize the implications of when and why we apologize. Yes, I do think it is important that we teach children to apologize, but we have to go beyond a hollow apology by supporting our kids’ emotional growth.

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Do You Have a Case of the Middle School Mom Blues?

Elisabeth Stitt

Did you see the article in the Wall Street Journal about Middle School Moms’ Blues?  

A new study finds the stress and anxiety Middle School Moms feel is even greater than that of moms of infants!

Well, with the bulk of my teaching career spent with middle schoolers, that is no surprise to me.  In fact, I started my business, Joyful Parenting Coaching, because of a conversation I had with the mom of a 7th grader whose daughter was coming home crying every day.  This mom felt at a loss, but to me the saddest part was that she did not trust she could share what was going on with other moms in the class.  The feared being judged, looked down on or pitied kept her from reaching out.  

That broke my heart.  

But I don’t think she was alone.  The more work I’ve done out of the classroom and directly with parents, the more I see how many of them are carrying the burdens of parenting in isolation.  

I would never have survived parenting—any stage of it—if I hadn’t felt like I had trusted people around me with whom to compare notes—or to just let off steam!!  I don’t know about you, but I have certainly had days when I could have killed my child.  Or at least cheerfully sold her to the gypsies.  Of course, I never would, but it sure helped to have close and loving friends who could give me their Amen to That, Sister! rally before helping me find constructive solutions.  

The article does not really break down why Middle School Moms are so stressed.  

Here is my theory on why Middle School Moms find parenting harder than other stages: 

1.  As our children go up in grades, the ways society measures their success gets narrower and narrower.  Academic ease and performance become key.  Sports and Artistic proficiency can provide some secondary credit, but in our get-into-a-good-college-at-all-costs society, measurable numbers (grade point averages, state testing scores, SATs) hold the most weight.  Lots of parents start obsessing about those things and find it hard to stop.  

2.  As our children go up in grades, the percentage of moms who are working full time also goes up.  That means as women we spend the whole day talking business, not kids and parenting.  Last week I volunteered at the high school for a couple of hours stuffing envelopes (the beauty of working from home, being my own boss and living close to the high school).   I realized it was pretty much the same moms I had seen the two other times I have volunteered this year.  Their chatter was incessant and far ranging.  These moms knew each other well and clearly had spent a lot of hours together.  They felt perfectly comfortable airing their dirty laundry—and getting and receiving advice from each other.  

But most moms don’t have that.  Many moms drop their kids off at school in the morning and pick them up from childcare or after school activities in the evening.  Not only does that not allow that mom much time for connecting with her kids, it really doesn’t allow her much time to meet up with a girlfriend and compare notes (and I am not saying you cannot or should not be comparing notes with your spouse, but it is really useful to get the perspective of what is going on with other kids in other households).  

3.  Perhaps the most significant reason parenting a middle school child is harder than other ages and stages is that the rewards are not as great.  With an infant you are exhausted and lose sleep, but then that child smiles at you—or laughs for the first time—and in a moment you are totally in love again.  The preschooler balances tantrums with ardent declarations of “I love you, Mommy!” In lower elementary, kids become a lot less work and at the same time still look to you for you insights and views on the world in general and their own worries in particular.  But the middle school child?  Well, I don’t know how you were in middle school, but I was miserable.  I hated school, I basically had no friends, and I was an emotional wreck.  On top of all that, I was convinced my mom (who always painted a picture of her friends and fun activities in middle school) could never in a million years understand what I was going through.  8th grade was the year my grades went down, I lied, and I even cut school!  My poor mom!  

So in middle school we have all the worry, doubt and work of other stages but few opportunities to be our children’s heroes. 

Our kids may still need our advice and counsel, but they won’t admit it to save their lives.  Furthermore, they need us to step away from our god-like positions and become the wise elders who walk beside them.  One of my favorite analogies for teens is that they are on a roller coaster ride; Mom’s job is not to get on and ride with them but to stand on the platform ready to be there when they get off.

For all these reasons that make it especially challenging to parent kids in middle school, that’s why I have created the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind.  

Are you familiar with the concept of a mastermind?  I am in one for solo entrepreneur women.  We are smart, motivated and we face similar struggles.  While only our intrepid leader claims to be the expert, we still get a wealth of advice and good ideas from our fellow entrepreneurs.  We have a community of people to ask, What do you think of this idea?  Or Has anyone of you tried X before?  I love this group of brave, creative go-getters.  They are at once my role models and my friends, and when I get to share my own advice and experience, it makes me realize how far I have come as a business woman.  

We use a Private FB group as the primary means of communicating with each other (though I have also had private phone conversations from time to time with individuals who have a lot to share about a given topic). In twice monthly group coaching calls, our outstanding business coach gives us concrete advice both through direct instruction and through answer our specific questions about our specific situations.  

Imagine having that kind of support for your parenting!

That is exactly what I want for you.  The Middle School Moms’ Mastermind  will bring together a maximum of 15 moms of middle school kids.  I will moderate our private FB group where moms can post questions and observations.  Both moms and I will post relevant articles that we come across.  Moms will be free to post advice for people who ask for it as long as they do so in a way that has no shaming, blaming or judgment.  Additionally, I will lead two monthly calls (recorded so you can access them any time).  On these calls I will spend the first 15 to 20 minutes educating participants about some topic specific to early adolescents and then the rest of the call is your chance to ask me about your particular needs.  

Of course, I do not have all the answers (no one does!), but I do have three adult children and in my 25 years of teaching, I have dealt with more than 3,000 kids between the ages of 11-14.  That means I have pretty much seen it all—all kinds of kids and all kinds of families.  Working with such a large and diverse sample has taught me how many different ways there are to parent effectively.  It is incredibly useful to hear the views and insights of fellow parents.  Hearing a lot of different approaches allows you to get new perspectives and ideas for your own parenting.  

 

 

Does this sound like a group for you?  

Could you use a safe haven to share your woes, to compare notes, to get ideas on how other families handle things and to get access to my 25 years of expertise?  Let's talk.  Email me at elisabeth@stitt.com or call me at 650.248.8916 (Pacific time) to find out if the Middle School Moms’ Mastermind is the tribe you have been longing for!

Act now to reserve your spot.  

I am gathering a group of moms who are dedicated to supporting each other in being the best moms they can be.  I absolutely believe that you can love parenting your middle school child.  I know that I love helping parents find the joy in whatever age or stage their children are, and while I cannot guarantee 100% that you are going to love parenting your middle school children as much as I love teaching them, I do guarantee the fellowship of other women, lots of laughs and unstinting faith that you are the parent your child needs.  

Why don't you try a complimentary group coaching call?  Our next call is Wednesday, October 19 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  (If this time doesn't work for you, let me know what does so that I can let you know when else we are meeting).  

I can’t wait to talk to you.

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Stitt/ Joyful Parenting Coaching/ 650.248.8916/ www.elisabethstitt.com

What Is Your Parenting Color?

Elisabeth Stitt

 

Parenting is a confidence game.  The question is, how do we as parents put aside our own doubts and embrace our role as parent?  How do we quiet the many voices around us telling us how to parent?  Nothing sucks the joy out of parenting like anxiety, and nothing grows anxiety like trying to sort out people’s opinions on parenting. 

So, let’s do a little exercise.  I want you to think a color you associate with a brilliant parenting moment---one where you were confident, loving and joyous.  Really take the time to sort through your memories and find one that just makes you smile.  Got it?  Now, what color comes to mind when you remember that parenting moment? 

That’s it!  That’s your top-notch parenting color! I don’t mean your favorite color, or even the one you like to dress your child in.  Your parenting color is that one you thought of, that one you associate with parenting at your best.  Let’s look at how to use that color to trigger that joyful, confident feeling in your parenting. 

Color can be a great mood changer.  It can make us feel a certain way.  Do you want to know my top-notch parenting color?  It’s gold.  Harvest moon gold.  Why?  Because the full harvest moon was there on one of my lowest parenting nights.  Uh?  How could my top-notch parenting moment come out of one of my lowest nights?  Well, sometimes we have to feel the lows to fully appreciate our shining moments. 

One night, when my daughter was around four months old, she was teething and just miserable.  All afternoon she had been fussy, she hadn’t napped well, and by bedtime she had worked herself into quite a frenzy.  It’s not like she had been an easy baby up until now—she was colicky well into her third month—but that day was just a doozy.  I had called my mother for advice; she swore by a wet washcloth put in the freezer for some time.  Didn’t work.  My friend Alice recommended letting her suck on a cold binky, but my daughter was born without a suck reflex and had never learned to take pacifier.  My other friend extolled the virtues of a little rum rubbed along her gums.  No, thank you.  Not only did I really not like the idea of giving alcohol to a baby, I’m not a drinker.  I didn’t even have wine in the house much less hard liqueur. 

With each passing moment, I was feeling more and more desperate, more and more incompetent.  A good mother would know what to do!  A good mother would find a way to comfort her baby!  The baby was bawling streams of tears down her hot, tense face.  I was crying, too, as I tried to mop up the snot out of her mouth and nose so she could breath.  My first tears fell, and I couldn’t stop.  I felt so alone.  It didn’t feel like anyone would have the advice I needed for my baby.  I was ready to stick her in her crib and run away.  This mothering thing was not all it was cracked up to be!

Hot and sticky from having a sweating baby pressed up against me, I finally walked outside into the night’s air.  Though almost November, it was warm for a fall night, but blessedly cool after the closed air of the house.  The moment I walked outside, I felt myself begin to calm down.  But it was the full harvest moon that really did the trick.  High in the sky with that sort of textured gold that looks like velvet rubbed the wrong way, the moon seemed to blaze with a light of its own. 

I was mesmerized.  And so was the baby!  She stopped crying and just stared.  My heart stopped beating so fast.  Her heart stopped beating so fast.  As we gazed at the moon, our collective blood pressure dropped breath by breath.

We lay in the hammock and let that golden light wash over us like it had some kind of magical force.  I felt one with my baby and one with the world.  I was powerful and strong and whole.  I was Mother.  I was my baby’s rock, her center.  I had figured out the secret code.

That’s not a feeling you forget.  That’s something you carry with you.  And harvest moon gold is a color I carry with me, in my mind and in my heart.  It is my secret parenting weapon.

The next time some grandmother on the street tsk-tsked me for not having enough clothes on my baby, at first I saw red and then I pictured that harvest moon in my mind’s eye.  “Thank you,” I said and smiled and pushed blithely on.  You don’t know my baby, I thought, but I do!

When we hit the toddler stage I remember a mother in my daughter’s gym class warning me that I better get her under control and nip her stubbornness in the bud.  Such a deflating comment!  For a moment I was as limp and gray as Eyore’s broken balloon.  Visions of my wild child growing up ever wilder swamped me.  I looked at that woman trying to think of something to say.  Ah ha!  She was wearing a ribbed, gold turtleneck that at once reminded me of my old friend the full moon.  I felt a surge of energy rush through me.  “Do you think so?” I asked as calmly as if she had commented on the need for an umbrella.  Victory again. 

Bit by bit, harvest moon gold infused me.  I was Mother!  This was my child.  I knew her best and I knew what was best for her.  Hooking into the image of gold gave me the courage of my conviction.  I couldn’t rely on what other parents were doing with their babies.  I had to trust my own instincts.

What is your parenting color?  How do you remain confident as a parent?  What gives you strength?  

I'd love to hear.  Come over to the Joyful Parenting Coaching Facebook page and share your story. 

Happy Parenting,

Warmly,

Elisabeth

Joyful Parenting Coaching

www.elisabethstitt.com

      

by Elisabeth Stitt

From Monster to Citizen

Elisabeth Stitt

 

I wish I could show you a picture of my girl.  I'd say, Isn't she beautiful?


And she's pretty fantastic, if a mom may brag.  
 
And as a toddler she was fantastic, too--fantastically strong-willed, fantastically persistent, and fantastically hard.  
 
Seriously.  On her first birthday, I woke up and burst into tears.  Everyone had told me that if I made it through the first year, I would be just fine.  Well, I knew that with this kid, year two was going to be twice as hard and boy, oh boy, was I right.  

When she was a baby, I could distract Julie from something she wanted or could charm her through things she didn't want to do.  Then it was a like a switch went off.  She used to look at me like, uh, Mom, you know I'm not really that stupid.  I was going for that electrical outlet and even taking me into the other room isn't going to make me forget that.   She had very clear ideas about what she wanted--and it felt like 90% of the day, it was the exact opposite of what I wanted.  Other children you could distract or redirect.  Other children would sit quietly on your lap--at least for a little bit.  Other children did not have to discover everything for themselves (Is it really hot, Mom?  Maybe it is not as hot as you think.  I better touch it and find out for myself!). 

Julie was a late talker.  For a long time she used muh, duh and bah to communicate most of her needs.  Her one articulate phrase early on was I do!  

Well, there wasn't enough time in the day to let her do everything on her own.  The result was what felt like around 18 months of nonstop crying, whining, kicking, and running away from me.

I thought it was going to do me in.  But I guess my daughter comes by her personality naturally because when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  

In a moment of clarity--after the end of an especially horrific day--I realized that one of us was going to have to be the adult--and I guessed it was going to have to be me.  

So, what did I do?  Well, for one, I continued to love her to pieces and to give her a ton of empathy that it is hard when you want to do things by yourself, your way, and that just is not going to work for everyone else.  Then I set firm limits, breathed deeply through her crying jags, and waited her out.  Slowly, the combination of knowing she could trust me not to budge if she had a fit and the increase in her own physical competence meant she was able to do a lot more on her own and when she couldn't, it wasn't a need for tears.  

That time seemed like it went on for ever, but as I look back, really as she approached three, she was a quite reasonably civil human being most of the time.  

And now?  Wow.  Words cannot describe how proud I am of her.

Surviving the Evil Five O'Clock Hour: Planning, Setting Expectations and Executing

Elisabeth Stitt

PLANNING

     One of my nightmares as a mother was having to go shopping--or anywhere actually--during the Evil 5 O'Clock Hour.  I don't know how it is for you, but for me 5:00-6:00 every day was always a hump to get over.  It went best when I made myself available to give my child some undivided attention--maybe for playing in the yard if it wasn't too dark and cold or for some cozy book reading.  Best yet was when I had the emotional energy to just quietly follow her lead no matter how silly it might make me look.   So, needless to say, to weather that twilight hour when it seemed like my child would cry at the drop of a hat, I tried my best to not make other plans.  Not to have to be cooking dinner, not to have to be meeting with a repair man, and above all not to have to go to any kind of store, but most especially the grocery store.  

SETTING EXPECTATIONS

      Of course, life didn't always work that way.  Sometimes, I really had pushed things to the absolute limit and the stars converged such that the diapers ran out and the milk went sour on the same day that I'd have a staff meeting at school and not be able to nip into the store before picking my daughter up at childcare.  If I knew in the morning that that was going to be the case, I did my best to use my time in the car on the way to school to tell my daughter what pick-up time was going to be like--that I was going to be in a hurry, that I wouldn't be able to walk around with her and see the dolly she played with or her painting that was still hanging on the line drying.  I also used this time to ask her if she could think of anything that would help make the quick dash out the door easier for her.  Would it help if we made it a contest and saw if she could do it in 2 minutes?  Would it help if we asked an adult to give her a five minute warning before my arrival?  Would it help if we agreed ahead of time that just this once I could do up her coat by myself?  Would it help if she got an extra big hug from her favorite teacher?  Even before she was really talking, my daughter could communicate these kinds of preferences if I made enough guesses.  My aim was twofold:  One, to give her choice in how we left even if there was no choice about stopping at the store on the way home and two, to have something to remind her about when I got to school to nudge her along.  

     In the case that I didn't have time to warn her that we were going to have to go to the store, it was essential that I pull her aside at childcare into some quiet corner.  I would get her on my lap and hold her until I had her attention.  Sometimes, this meant a tantrum right there at childcare.  It was a break from her routine.  I was springing on her that her evening routine was going to be altered.  She wouldn't get her playtime with mommy before dinner.  Sometimes just holding her on my lap and not letting her run around the center would set her off crying.  That was okay with me.  Remember I started by saying that even on a good day my child is more likely to cry between 5:00 and 6:00 o'clock?  It's as if all the emotional stresses of the day had built up and she was just looking for an excuse to cry them out.  Frankly, if she was going to have a meltdown, I would rather that she have it at the center where we could sit on a beanbag in the corner than that she have it in the middle of the cereal aisle.  Yes, a tantrum takes time.  You cannot hurry it along,  and I admit that while I was sitting there letting her wail it out,  I was mentally revising my shopping list down to the bare essentials I could get away with getting without making tomorrow a hard day, too.  On a happier note, the miracle of a good cry is that it really is like letting the storm wash through with its thunder and lighting.  At the end of it, my daughter's tension would be spent and almost without exception she would be ready to calmly go to the store.  

     Although it might seem counter intuitive, the last minute trips to the store when she hadn't had a chance to cry were by far the dicier ones, the ones which required every bit of patience and creativity on my part to move us along without upset.  Again, I would use the time in the car to set the expectations for what would happen once we got to the store:  We were only getting a few things (could she hold the list for me?); we weren't getting anything that wasn't on the list (that meant no requests for raspberries, dinosaur pasta or "special treat" cereal); but we were getting apples (did she want red or green?).  Again, I would ask her what might make going to the store easier?  Could we use the special cart that she could drive?  Yes, if it was free, but what if it wasn't free?  Did she want to sit in the cart?  Would she keep her bottom down?  Otherwise she was going to be sitting up in the front part right in front of Mommy.  How could she help Mommy?  Could she count the apples?  Sort the food by whether or not it went in the fridge or the cupboard?  Hold the reusable grocery bags and hand them to the bagger?  My main aim here in addition to letting her know what kind of behavior would be expected was to make her feel needed and included.  Instead of my dragging her to the store because I had no choice, I would pose it as how lovely it was that she was there to assist me.  

EXECUTING

     Once we got to the store, I was all about cheerful confidence that we were going to be quick and that the trip was going to be fun.  Often, I would turn it into a song and we would skip through the parking lot (Yes, I skipped in public.  If it made a five o'clock shopping trip go off without a hitch, dignity be damned).  We would sing:  We're going to the store/We're going to the store/Hi Ho the Merry-o,/We're going to the store.  If it was working, we'd add more verses (We'll buy the apples first/We'll buy the apples first/Hi Ho the Merry-o/We'll buy the apples first).  As we were singing, we wouldn't have to stop to have conversation about which cart we'd use or where she would sit because we had already worked that out in the car.  If she did decide to resist, I wouldn't let her change her mind because I knew that if I gave in on that first agreement, all I was doing was putting off the inevitable battle for inside the store.  Instead, I would get down to eye level, hold her hands or stroke her arms and gently remind her of her agreement.  Sometimes that brought on a crying jag right there outside the store [Let me offer up a small prayer of thanks here that I was parenting in California.  The weather was rarely so bad that we couldn't take the time to have the tantrum outside the store.  If it had been, I suppose I would have had to go back to the car and let her do her crying there.]  

     You know as well as I do that a grocery store is specifically designed as a land mine that a parent must negotiate through.  Yes, the store does deliberately place toys and yummy snacks right where a child is most likely to see them.  That's why I would use the shopping list plus empathy.  My daughter would cry out in great need for something--bubbles, maybe--and I would say, "Aw, too bad it is not on the list!"  And then as I pushed by the bubbles, I might add in my most energized voice, "I love bubbles!  They're so much fun!!  I like the way they shimmer with different colors!!  Don't you think bubbles are just the prettiest?"  At this point, on a good day, my daughter would get excited just talking about bubbles.  By the time she got back to wanting to buy them, we would be aisles away and looking for the next item on the list.  On a bad day, this might be where the tears finally appeared.  Remember, some days there are just tears that need to fall.  A child has been keeping it together all day at school, but now that she is with you, her parent, she can safely fall apart secure in the knowledge that you won't abandon her.  At this point, you have to make a decision.  It might be possible to keep offering sympathy while at the same time going down your shopping list:  "Aw, Sweetie.  I know you really wanted those bubbles,  You really like them and really wish you could get some.  I know that's hard, Pumpkin.  I wish I could make it easier for you."   For my own part, if the crying was at a reasonable decibel and I didn't think I was making the other patrons suffer too badly, I would push through my list, continuing to murmur comforting sounds, taking her hand if she would let me.  If it was really bad, I would ask the clerk at the front of the store to watch my cart and head outside until she finished crying.  Once she was done--and that could be a while--we would head back in and finish.

AT THE END OF THE DAY

     Boy.  I am feeling a bit overwhelmed just writing this, just remembering how hard it could be.  I certainly didn't make it through my daughter's childhood without some very trying evenings.  On the other hand, there were lots of successful times, too, when setting expectations and going into the store with a sense of adventure won the day--days when other parents would look at me enviously and older parents would smile at me indulgently.  These were good tricks to have in my bag.  But never forget the best trick of all:  Whenever possible, at the end of the day, do the planning that WON'T require you to tax your child during the bewitching hour.  

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Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 7: Celebration, Reflection and Recommitment

Elisabeth Stitt

HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN OR DID YOU MISS TIPS 1 THROUGH 6?  JUST SCROLL DOWN AND START FROM THE BEGINNING.

Being consistent is hard!  So celebrate any step or part that is working.  Was dinner a nightmare, but you held your ground?  Do a private jig for joy.  Call a friend and crow.  Give yourself a gold star.  Changing our way of being and reacting takes going back to the drawing board over and over.  Have a pow wow before the next meal to reflect.  Did you support each other sufficiently?  Were you able to stay calm?  Did you reward the compliant child with genuine interest and lively conversation?  Would it help to have a different seating arrangement next time?  Did it go better than you thought it would? Give yourself another pat on the back!  Remind each other of why you are doing what you are doing.  What values are you honoring by following through?  In your mind’s eye see the warm, connected family dinners that you are in the act of creating.  Take a deep breath and recommit to the vision.  Tomorrow is another day!    

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 6: Prepare Physically for Battle

Elisabeth Stitt

(Catching this series in the middle?  No problem.  Scroll down and start with Tip 1.  Feeling overwhelmed or unsuccessful?  That is also no problem.  Go back and work on Tips 1 and 2 until they feel really solid.)

So, Prepare Physically for Battle.  Do I really mean go to the gym and work out?  Well, only sort of.  But we all know that we never do our best parenting when we are feeling tired and worn out.  So, set yourself up for success by being well rested.  Develop a meditation practice or find some simple yoga practices on YouTube.  Plan on taking a walk on your lunch hour at work.  At home with the kids all day?  Nap when they nap.  Worried that your new meal time expectations are going to increase the tension for a while? You might even want to sneak in a high protein afternoon snack so that even if your meal is upset, you will have energy to sustain you.  Really need a break?  Get yourself a babysitter one night and forget to mention the new dinner table policy!  Maybe plan a meal in an alternate setting where the rule just won’t come up.  A picnic with all finger food would make it mighty hard to hold a phone!  Put whatever structure in place you need to sustain your determination to see the new policy through until it becomes a habit.  If you are not absolutely convinced this is a rule you want, don’t even start.  To build success, you need to start with something you care deeply about.  (That is what makes the values clarification piece so important.)

On a slightly different note, some of you have asked about how to create appropriate consequences--that you are ready to enforce them; you just don't know which ones to use.  Yes!  I admit, I glossed right over that as it is a big topic.  Stay tuned, however.  I promise that as soon as we are done with the Building Consistency series, I will break down Effective Consequences step by step.