In the months before we’re born, we swim peacefully in our amniotic sac. Born to be aquaphiles, we gravitate to water for all of our time on this planet (which happens to also be about 75% water.)
Infants sleep better after baths which seem to drain tension away from their tiny bodies. Toddlers and preschoolers delight in their baths, using them as opportunities for physics experiments. Teenagers drain their families’ hot water tanks with marathon showers, which are about much more than getting clean. And adults soak away their day’s troubles in a hot bath.
They’re calling it “Social Surrogacy,” this new practice of affluent parents delegating the tasks of pregnancy and childbirth to another person. Social Surrogacy is for women who could carry a child, but choose not to because of perceived risks to their productivity or physical image.
The price? Social surrogacy represents at least a $100,000 investment. And yet, I’m convinced that this cost is grossly understated. The physical costs of pregnancy and childbirth are only the beginning of the toll paid by parents, like the ante required to get into the parenting game.
Closer than classmates, more sensational than siblings, cousins are a boon to growing up.
While I never lived in the same town with my own cousins, I remember how I loving family get-togethers. Even for cousins I saw rarely, our play would pick up right where it left off the last time we were together.
My older cousins were someone to look up to. My younger ones tickled me with their cuteness. We always managed to fill the hours with games and adventures that each of us could relate to.
In my family, the first time we see a child after school lets out for the summer, we HAVE to say, “School’s out, school’s out, teacher let the monkeys out!” A great deal has changed in the world since I was a student, but this remains true: The last day of school represents a real transition for children, for teachers, and for parents.
Hatching chicken eggs with my class as a kindergarten teacher turned out to be good training for raising the children I would have later. One spring, after most of the chicks successfully hatched, one little fellow seemed to have a hard time. I worried about him like a mother hen. Thinking I could help, I contacted a chicken farmer to ask if I couldn’t give the chick a little assistance. “No way!” he warned me.
On May 1, 1865, former slaves dug up the remains of 257 dead Union soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp outside Charleston, South Carolina. They worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial in gratitude for their sacrifice. Following the burials, 10,000 people celebrated with a parade led by 2800 black children.
You rise with the sun, planning for a happy day with your children. You walk into your daughter’s room to wake her for school and discover urine-soaked sheets, again.
You calmly strip the bed and run the bath for the requisite clean-up you hadn’t really allowed enough time for. You get this one headed to the tub and throw the linens in the washer just before you go wake your other child.
If there’s a gift I could give parents it would be to forgive themselves for not being perfect. We love our children so much we want them to be raised by perfect parents, but we’re daily aware of the ways we’re unable to be those imagined perfect parents.
The fourth of don Miguel Ruiz’ “The Four Agreements” speaks to this drive in parents: “Always do your best.” Notice, the concept is not “Be perfect,” but is instead “Do your best.”
The third of don Miguel Ruiz’ “Four Agreements” sounds simple enough: Don't Make Assumptions. But the application of this to living with children is not so easy.
When we make assumptions it’s because we believe we know what others are thinking and feeling. When it comes to our children, we blindly assume their lives will mirror our own. “Of course you love Brussel sprouts! Everyone in our family loves Brussel sprouts!”
Last week, I introduced the application of don Miguel Ruiz’ book The Four Agreements to our work of raising children. Today, I would like to think about the Second Agreement, “Don’t take anything personally,” as it applies to the lives of parents.
In his book, “The Four Agreements,” don Miguel Ruiz laid out four principles based on the great religions of the world and particularly his own Toltec roots in Southern Mexico. These four agreements, he writes, provide a practical guide to personal freedom and happiness.
His simple ideas also provide a solid foundation for successfully raising our children. Over the next four weeks, I’d like to explore these four ideas beginning today with the first agreement: Be Impeccable with your Word.
The numbers tell a solemn story. American children play outside less now than at any other time in our nation’s history. Time spent playing outdoors has decreased for all children, but especially for females and for minorities. This lifestyle change has contributed to increasing health risks as children display more obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure than in previous generations.
Every parent understands that your joy and sorrow rises and falls with your child. Your heart vacillates between those two extremes as your child faces tragedy and triumph.
You may be on top of your game at work, but if you get a call from the principal telling you your child just cheated on a test, you feel like an utter failure. You may be enjoying great health yourself, but when your child's pediatrician wants to run some tests to rule out a dreaded diagnosis, your lay awake nights worrying.
My years of marriage have taught me that raising kids with another person is rarely a smooth ride. Any two adults bring very different upbringings to the table, causing them to often take a different view of kids’ behavior.
But the single most important thing parenting partners do for each other is that every day, we can count on this: No matter how difficult their behavior, we know that our kids are desperately loved by at least one other human being who would walk through fire for them.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s take on toddlers is right on: “A two-year-old is kind of like having a blender but you don’t have a top for it.”
Our hopes for order and cleanliness are challenged when young children are around, for sure. At a recent family dinner, we thought we’d placed toddler Emmy where she could do no harm. We pulled back the tablecloth, laid a drop cloth on the floor beneath her, and covered her chair with a towel.
Parents entertain the fantasy our children will enjoy the same activities that interest us. If you lettered in track in high school, you may be shopping for baby running shoes before your child can walk. If you spent your childhood playing in piano recitals, you have your little one listening to piano concertos on the nursery CD player as she drifts off to sleep at night.
The middle-age woman spoke tentatively as she reached for words to express her meaning. She was raised in the south, the great-grandchild of slaves. “When I was growing up,” she said, “We were taught that children are to be seen and not heard. I wanted to be a good girl, so I spoke very little until I went to school. There, I struggled to keep up with other children whose language skills were light years beyond my own.”
I love words. A well-turned phrase gives me goose bumps. Words play a significant role in my life. But sometimes in the life of a family, words are nearly worthless.
When your daughter runs downhill too fast (despite your repeated warnings) and breaks out her front teeth in a spectacular face plant, she doesn’t need to hear you say that this was what you’d feared all along.
When your son has to retake a class because he failed to complete the assignments you’d badgered him about, nothing you say can make the lesson clearer than this most painful consequence.
After the holiday hustle and bustle, an empty datebook can seem anticlimactic. But in my estimation, those empty calendar pages feel like a benediction to the frenetic season just past.
Children are pushed through holiday observances on the crest of their families’ schedules and their own adrenaline. But as those special times wind down, regular life once again takes center stage. And for most of the little children I know, regular life is a pretty big deal.
Stars glittered in the mother’s eyes as she described her family’s recent drive west through the Rockies. They stood in wonder at the foot of beautiful waterfalls. They marveled at the girth and height of some enormous trees. They thrilled at their quick glances of shy moose and elk.
Mom and Dad are convinced they’ll never forget this experience, but they have a concern. The youngest member of this journeying family is only three. How will she ever remember the experience?
The middle-aged woman’s excitement was palpable as she described the lovely gifts she had just purchased.
Her two grandchildren would be in her home at some point for the holidays, and she’s planned to recreate every holiday tradition her family’s ever enjoyed. She’ll bake each cookie recipe in her family cookbook. She’s arranged a visit from a friend who owns a Santa suit.
And the gifts! She’s bought every toy these children might possibly desire, and looks forward to showering them with her love on December 22.
Each morning my little dog and I venture out in our neighborhood for a brisk walk. She employs her excellent nose to read messages from other dogs, and I try to notice things a little higher up.
Yesterday for the first time I noticed each home’s foundation. These foundations are primarily concrete of a non-descript color, so as not to take anything away from the lovely paint and siding colors and architectural details of the homes.
There’s one resource every parent needs: a close friend or family member to stand beside them in the trenches.
Dr. Victor Bernstein from the University of Chicago teaches that “Relationships take the edge off chaos.” When we find ourselves in the midst of trauma, chaos or disorganization, a relationship with someone we trust has the power to soothe and settle us.
It’s one of those enigmas of child-rearing: In order to flourish, children need a complex mix of events that are both normal and novel.
Normal events include reliable routines which structure a child’s day. Going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday may sound a bit boring. And yet, this predictable pattern helps children develop healthy sleep habits.
Likewise, a consistent daytime schedule builds a child’s feeling of competence as he anticipates what comes next throughout the day. This regularity breeds trust and reduces stress for kids.
Recent reports about women choosing not to bear children has brought the “Childfree Choice” into the spotlight. Time Magazine reports that in 1976, only one in ten American women in her forties was childless, compared to the current statistic of one in five.
Some say our world is in such a mess they cannot in good conscience bring a child into it. Others describe their own sad upbringing and fear making the same mistakes their parents did. Still others say they could never be as good at parenting as their parents were.
Parents long to know what’s on their kids’ minds, but getting kids to talk about those things can be a tough nut to crack.
But there’s one time when kids are likely to have a great deal to say, and that’s when in they’re smack-dab in the thick of an interesting experience. If you want to hear your kids talk, plan to be present with them when something’s going on. Here are some ideas: