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5 Ways to Teach Your Young Children Gratitude

November 26, 2014

Gratitude. Thankfulness. Blah. Blah. Blah.

This time of year it becomes a cliché. We glaze over our friend’s daily thankful updates. Even I begin to sound like a broken record pounding the pavement with practicing gratitude — practicing gratitude — practicing gratitude.

Except, we know too much. We understand that it’s not happy people who are thankful, but thankful people who are happy. And that’s all we really want, a happy life.

For ourselves. For our children.

We do our best to remember this season is about thankfulness, not about overeating and shopping at midnight. We know we’re supposed to be thankful for all the things we have, and we do our best not to obsess about how we’re going to afford all the Christmas gifts we feel obligated to buy. We do our best to practice gratitude.

But that’s just what we’re doing — practicing. We won’t always get this thankful heart thing down, we’ll whine and complain, we’ll forget to say ‘thanks’, but we must never give up. We must keep practicing, and as we are practicing gratitude in our own hearts, we are now met with the challenge to teach out children the importance of an open and thankful heart.

Here are five ways to practice a life of gratitude for yourself, but also teach your children it’s importance.

1. Speak Gratitude.
We all know the importance of practicing what we preach. Our children learn most by our actions, so in practicing a thankful lifestyle, our children are naturally going to learn how to live a grateful lifestyle. So, say it out loud when your children are around, “I’m so grateful for this moment. Right now, because we are all alive and all together.” Make it an on purpose daily dialogue, long after the turkey is put away.

2. Write Gratitude.
It’s human nature to forget. We say we won’t forget this awesome moment, but somehow, it gets filed in our cluttered memory cabinet under a thousand other awesome moments. Good moments can be recorded forever in a gratitude journal. This is a learned discipline, so if you’re not used to journalling, it will be impossible to teach your children to journal. This is a discipline I have never done, so instead of telling my children to do something that I, myself, don’t practice, I’ve started my own journal, and then I let my kids look through it and read the words I’ve written. Over time, I hope to share this discipline with my kids, too.

3. No More Complaining.
Matt and I have started a ‘no complaining, no negative’ talk rule in our home. Neither he nor I allow ourselves to get caught up in the negative mindset of complaining about what isn’t right in our life. We believe “out of the heart the mouth speaks”, and we believe “like attracts like”. If we complain about all the things that aren’t right in our life and in the world, then we are speaking out of an ungrateful heart. And guess what? We’re going to get more negative in our life.

We live by the rules that: If you want less negative in your life, you speak more positive. If you want less anxiety in your life, you speak more peace. If you want less hate in your life, you speak more *love.

4. Expect Good.
Part of having a grateful heart is believing goodness is coming and that you deserve it. We’ve retrained our thinking to firmly believe that we are all meant to live a good life, no matter what; right where we are, right in the middle of the life we are living. When negative things happen to us, we are quick to remind ourselves that this bad thing doesn’t define us or define our life. Expecting good allows us to take the negative in stride, because the negative isn’t a destination, but rather a bump in our road to goodness. And while we are waiting for goodness to come, we can practice being grateful for what we have right now.

This is something our children are really good at, and I believe we need to learn this from our children. We’re the ones who squish their expectant hearts with fear and doubt. Don’t believe me? Give any four-year-old a Christmas catalogue and ask him to circle what he’d like for Christmas. He’ll circle everything in the magazine and then ask, “Where we gonna put all this stuff?”

5. Surround Yourself with Grateful People.
We have heard this a million times, but it’s still true. You become who you surround yourself with. Negative, ungrateful people will continue to feed negative and ungrateful things into our minds making it impossible to keep our hearts open to the goodness that gratitude brings. We will miss out on a lifetime of goodness, because we continue to surround ourselves with the the fearful, negative, and complaining voices. Find the voices that speak life, peace and goodness — all the time.

As you belly up to the table for a plate full of turkey goodness, remember to keep your heart grateful, open, and expecting goodness, because not only will your heart be happy, but so will your children’s hearts be happy.

Charity shares her messy imperfect life at The Wounded Dove. She has four young kids who inspire her to be a #GoodEnoughMom. In 2013, Charity watched her marriage be restored, but not before she walked the journey to personal freedom.

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Stop Inviting Me to My Kids' School

November 25, 2014

My first-grade son attends a fabulous New York City public school where parents are invited to attend morning meeting with their child. Every morning.

Last year, after a few weeks of watching five year olds try to greet their neighbor with the proper name and answer mind-blowing questions like what they did over the weekend, I was more than ready to drop off my child and run. But when I tried, he erupted into a tantrum.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Everyone else is still here.”

To a kindergartener, six or seven parents may as well have been every single person in the world. How could I leave if they stayed?

Eventually, I did. I had to. My boss’s understanding about the importance of a morning meeting that wasn’t her own, only stretched so far. But I didn’t feel good about letting go, especially when some over-achieving moms attended every single meeting the entire year.

Now that my son’s in first grade, and my third grade daughter attends another school, I’m ready for the invitations to stop. Their teachers are fabulous. I know for sure because neither of them has choked a single parent, not even the mom who comes late every day and loudly disrupts 27 children with questions about her own daughter.

My children are reading and learning math. They come home happy and aren’t too upset when Monday morning comes around. As far as I’m concerned, we’re good. Really.

It’s not that I don’t care what’s happening in my children’s lives; it’s just that I trust the teachers to do their jobs while I do mine. I don’t need to check up on them anymore than I need them to come to my home or office.

It’s only November and so far this year I’ve been invited to parent-teacher conferences, two curriculum nights, open school week, math strategies, instrument practice, behavior modifications workshops, four field trips, a walk to a garden, an African dance performance, lunch with my child, share-your-culture day, two book publishing parties, a Halloween party and magic show, not to mention numerous PTA meetings and volunteer opportunities.

I trust the teachers are doing their jobs even if they’re not doing all of these things and transforming the classroom into an ocean, which my son’s teacher did last year.

I remember the look on a child’s face when no one from her family came to see the fish she hung from the light fixture, and that’s why I still show up. Counting nursery school, we’re in year seven and my husband or I continue to attend every single class event.

He’s a stay-at-home dad, so we’re fortunate, or at least my children are, because this year alone he’s chaperoned six class field trips.

I get it. Children do better when parents are involved in their lives. And bureaucrats are putting pressure on educators to welcome parents into their schools. In fact, a NYC public school survey asks parents how many times they’ve been invited to their child’s school and how welcome they feel on a scale of 1 to 4. Um… 11?

Kim Brown Reiner is mom to Tessa, 8, and James, 6. More of her writing can be found at kimbrownreiner.com":http://kimbrownreiner.com.

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What I've Learned from Modern Dads

November 24, 2014

Several years ago, while talking to a stay at home dad at my daughters’ preschool, he told me about how he lost his engineering job when his company got purchased, and in the same week his wife landed a new, well-paying gig for an accounting firm. His youngest had three years until he would be in school full time. When they ran the numbers, they determined it made sense for him to make a career change. After joking about the initial feeling of emasculation, he said he willingly embraced his new role.

Actually, I would say he was pretty damn good at his new job. In fact, he killed it as the primary parent. After watching him, I was the one that was eMOMulated. (See what I did there?)

It’s pretty typical nowadays to see dads playing an increasing role in their children’s lives. Some estimates say the number of at-home dads who are primary caregivers for their children totals nearly 2 million according to the National At-Home Dad Network. The 2011 census states that nearly seven million dads can be considered primary caregivers, meaning they are a regular source of care for their children under age 15. That’s nearly one-third of all married dads.

Every day I see them baby-wearing at grocery stores, early to school pick up, putting in pony tails at gymnastics and even rocking it at the completely misnomered “Mommy and Me” classes. Some of these men stay at home, and some share the child-rearing load with their partners; but the most important factor is that more dads are understanding that childcare is difficult, important, and not only for Moms.

What is particularly interesting is how men have redefined the “Mr. Mom” stigma. Instead of replicating the way their partner would provide care for their children, dads are parenting to their strengths — not to society’s preconceived notions. This is something us moms should note.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from some great dads:

1. Confidence. I would think you have to be pretty confident to be a stay at home dad — or even the primary care giver — in a world that still thinks a man’s job is to be the bread winner. The dads I know don’t seem to worry about that, and they don’t spend hours worrying about every little aspect of child rearing. They aren’t seeking advice from blogs or Pinterest or parenting sites. They do the best they can and know that it’s good enough. Point taken.

2. Efficiency. I entered Trader Joe’s the other day (by myself) at the same time as a Dad and his three young kids. He had his list on his phone and was in and out of that store with his four bags of groceries before I even got out of the meat aisle. And his kids got lollipops for finding the monkey. He didn’t waste time scanning labels, didn’t get distracted by the samples, and was barely phased when his toddler had a breakdown because he wasn’t getting muffins. He moved with laser-like focus. It was inspiring, but then I lost my train of thought while trying to remember if I needed eggs.

3. Guilt-free. Women feel guilt for working too much or not working enough or not doing enough with their kids or not cleaning the house or not cooking organic — and the list goes on and on. The dads I know who are primary caregivers don’t seem to wrestle with the same guilt. They make the most of their time and move on. I need me some of that.

4. Home-making does not define them. I do not want to marginalize dads in any way, but most fathers I know who are primary care givers are not defined by the cleanliness of their house or the complexity of their meals. That’s not to say dads don’t work hard at cleaning and cooking and doing the laundry, but I’ve heard some rousing games of sock football or putting together a paper plane army sometimes gets in the way of polishing the silver. A former male colleague turned freelance writer/primary parent said this: “When my wife went back to work, our deal was to hire a professional cleaner to come in twice a month. I’m pretty good at picking up, but not so good at the details that drive her crazy. I do the cooking, grocery shopping, house management and child schlepping, and she does the dishes. I hate doing the dishes, so it works for us.”

That being said, dads’ hard work in the home should not go unnoticed. One study found that daughters of fathers who don’t subscribe to “traditional” gender roles at home grow up to become women who feel confident to work outside of the house. And teaching our daughters that their opportunities are not limited should be celebrated.

5. Identity. I once shared a carpool with a dad who left his software sales job to take care of his four kids while his wife completed her residency program. He had the kids listening to The Beatles on the drive (no Kidz Bop for him), took his whole brood ice skating every week (he was a former hockey player) and taught them how to code their own web sites. Dads have a way of being involved with their kids while keeping their identities, while most women struggle with this. Which is kinda why dads can also be more fun — even when they’re doing the parenting every single day. When they like what they are doing, everyone enjoys it more.

Have you learned anything from a modern dad?

Whitney is the mom to three tween-ish daughters, a communications consultant and blogger at Playdates on Fridays. She is trying to break out of the mold of being a typical suburban mom despite that she is often seen driving her minivan to soccer tournaments or volunteering for the PTA. Follow her on Facebook or on twitter.

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A Childhood Without Waiting

November 23, 2014

While many families with young children were fleeing New York City in the mid-1960s, my parents put their names on a waiting list for a two-bedroom, middle-income apartment on the Upper West Side. In 1968 they moved in and my older brother was born.

They waited for a three-bedroom before having me, in 1969.

My father died in that rent-controlled apartment 40 years later, at the time he was still paying less than $500 a month rent. It was worth the wait.

We left the city, and its spiraling number of homeless and crack addicts, twice a year. In the spring, we visited cousins in Englewood, New Jersey who had a big, grassy backyard. In the summer, we drove to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in a rental car. On a kitchen calendar my two brothers and I counted down the weeks, then days, for those trips to begin.

My father meticulously recorded each day of our vacation with his 35mm Leica Rangefinder. Before we could start a round of mini-golf, or jump in the pool, we would wait for him to take a reading with the light meter, focus the camera and shoot. Printing 14 roles of film would have been an extravagance beyond his comprehension, so he developed them into slides.

When we returned home at the end of August we would wait more than a week for the slides to arrive in the mail, then take turns popping each 2×2 image into a viewfinder to relive summer memories – diving for pennies in the town pool, the last moment on a water slide before the plunge, dripping sand from fist to castle. Eventually, my dad set up the projector and a portal would appear to that other world.

My eight-year-old daughter got a digital camera for her birthday that she rarely uses; she prefers to take pictures with my iPhone. On our vacation to Paris she took pictures until the memory was full.

“When I was little,” I told her, “we could only take 36 pictures, after that the film ran out. I had to think about what I really wanted to remember.”

“Well couldn’t you delete pictures?” she asked.

No. I had to wait. I waited until I saved up enough allowance to buy more film.

If I wanted to see a movie I waited until my parents would take me to Loew’s 84th, where the floor was sticky with spilled soda and the balcony seats smelled like stale cigarette smoke.

Once a month or so, my mom took us to Shakespeare and Co. There, I read the back covers of dozens of books in the children’s or young adult sections, before choosing the two titles I wanted most.

My daughter’s kindle has 301 books downloaded.

When I was nine, I went to sleep away camp. Once a week I wrote to my parents and they wrote back. My father’s letters began “Dear Kimmy,” a name no one called me face to face, including him, and ended with a smiley face in the O that started his name, “Oscar.” It was so unlike his imposing personality. In fact, those yellowed relics are the only evidence that he addressed and considered me directly. I still have every one.

Recently, I suggested that my six-year-old son write a thank you note to his uncle for a birthday gift. “I can just text him,” he said, “Then he won’t have to wait.”

This past Halloween we watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” on Amazon instant TV.

Halfway through my daughter asked, “What’s so special about watching this dog pretend he’s a pilot?”

Beginning in early October my brothers and I waited for this TV special. We marked it on the kitchen calendar because if we missed it we would have to wait another year. We watched in the reverent silence usually reserved for religious services, because it couldn’t be rewound. Each moment of that show was something to savor more than the Halloween candy that could be replenished in a store.

“What’s so special about this?” she repeated, impatient with not getting an answer as quickly as Siri can deliver one.

“We waited for it.” I said.

Kim Brown Reiner is mom to Tessa, 8, and James, 6. More of her writing can be found at kimbrownreiner.com.

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Which Do You Choose Ladies? Your Face, or Your Fanny?

November 22, 2014

I was at a costume party recently when a handsome young gentleman smiled broadly at me and remarked that it was “nice to see a woman eat and drink.” At the time I was holding a slice of pizza in one hand, a Vampire’s Delight (a wickedly delicious vodka concoction) in the other.

Looking around the room at the scantily clad women in their costumes, none of them were eating. Their attire left nothing to the imagination and could not hide the multitude of sins that my sheriff’s costume could.

A long time ago I heard a quote often attributed to Catherine Deneuve that at certain age you have to, “choose either your face or your derrière.” I dare not ask my husband which he thinks I chose. There is no win-win answer here.

Never one to be satisfied with a crouton and a glass of water, I’ve always liked to eat. Blame it on low blood-sugar, but I am forever grazing.

For the most part, I’ve made peace with my hips. The little bit of cushion I’ve accumulated the last few years (due to aging not indulging) has softened the sharp edges of my face and, strange as it may seem, at middle age I actually like my reflection better, wrinkles and all. Who’d a thought?!

While I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds, since lately it seems I can simply look at food and gain weight, I have no aspirations of being a “social x-ray.” I know plenty of women who practically starve themselves to fit into teeny-weeny Barbie size jeans. But that could never be me. I like cookies and pasta too much. And wine.

Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. And, as long as I still have the ability to chew my own food, I will enjoy every bite.

Bon appetit!

So ladies, what’s it gonna be: Your face or your fanny?

Linda Wolff writes the lifestyle blog Carpool Goddess where she shows us that midlife, motherhood and the empty nest aren’t so scary. Her essays have been published in numerous anthologies, and is a frequent contributor on Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, What The Flicka, and many more. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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