Secrets of Raising Successful Kids

 

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What I neglected to teach my kids, they learned from swimming.

Yesterday, while driving to the mountains to escape the summer heat of the desert with a friend, we talked about how different our childhoods were and how our parents were much less hands-on than we have been with our kids. It was fun to reminisce about the good old days. It’s also kind of sad to think about how sheltered our kids are today and that they didn’t get the chance to ride their bikes for miles and miles and play in the street with neighborhood kids.

For example, we both recalled our first day of kindergarten when our mothers took us to school. The second day, we were walking on our own! Our kids were chauffeured everywhere, every single day by good ol’ mom.

Here’s an interesting article that gives nine somewhat scientific steps to raising successful kids. There are some good tips in it and I agree strongly with several–like kids need to play outdoors more and have chores. Here’s tip number three from “Want to Raise Successful Kids? Science Says Do These 9 Things:”

“3. Send them outside to play
This research applied specifically to boys, but it’s common sensical for girls as well. In short, smart parents will advocate for their kids to get a significant amount of unstructured recess time during the school day–and never to have recess withheld as punishment.

Unfortunately, researchers say we’re more likely to do the opposite in schools now: overprotecting kids, trying to keep them safe from all physical dangers, and ultimately inhibiting their academic growth, because lack of physical activity makes it harder for them to concentrate.”

I had a ton of chores growing up. I’d cringe coming home from school or on weekends to my mom’s difficult-to-read handwriting filling every line on a legal yellow pad with chores to do before “we played” or “watched TV.” We had to weed the garden, sweep the steps, vacuum the entire house, cook dinner, clean the game closet, etc.

I wasn’t as good as my mom at making my kids do chores. They were so busy with school and the pool that I felt they didn’t have the time for more work. I know that was a mistake. I had attempted having them do the dishes every night, but that turned into more trouble than if I did it myself. Also, my daughter developed a unique allergy to dishes. Her legs and arms would break out in blotches whenever it was her turn. I couldn’t let her off the hook while making my son wash dishes, right?

Another thing that’s not on the list but should be is letting my kids fail and suffer the consequences. It’s a nice reminder to let kids fail while they’re young and you’re not paying $30k for a year of college. Consequences are what make them steady, reliable adults. I should have let my kids fail when they were younger so they could learn the consequences. I took way too many trips to school with forgotten homework or lunches.

All in all, despite me, they’re happy and hard working. I think that swimming taught them about hard work since I failed in the chore department. Also, swimming taught them how to turn a missed goal or failed swim into motivation to try harder. So, despite my not being a perfect mother, letting them experience life with the swim team taught them life lessons that I neglected to teach them.

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Ribbons and medals received for hard work from her coach.

How do you parent differently than your parents?

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If I Could Have a “Do-Over”

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My young Piranhas.

If I could go back in time, say 15 or so years, I’d do things differently as a parent and a swim mom. I’ve loved every minute of being a swim parent and truly believe that signing my kids up for our local club, the Piranha Swim Team, was the single best thing we’ve done for them. Sticking with the team through ups and downs was a plus, too. Not only did my kids become crazily physically fit and skilled swimmers, they learned to never give up through tough times—whether it was an illness, a plateau or learning what a new coach expects.

So what would I do differently? Here’s my list:

One
Not focus on performance.

Sometimes, I get way too caught up in big meets and best times. I wish I could kick back, relax and enjoy the little moments more.

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Medals at a meet.

Two
Not get involved in parent drama.

Like most sports today, where you find a bunch of enthusiastic and involved parents, there’s bound to be some drama. If I could do it over, I’d never take sides or get involved. At times, I didn’t have a choice because of being on the board. But, the drama and problems we lived through don’t amount to beans, anymore.

Three
Realize everybody is different.

Not every swimmer has the same drive or goals. Not every family is going to focus their lives around the pool. It’s okay for some kids to skip practice and have other interests besides school and swimming. I’d be less judgmental if I got a do over!

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Signing day.

Four
Not compare my kids to others.

When my kids were young and new to swimming, it was common for us to compare their progress to other swimmers. That led to upset feelings all around. Looking back on it, things that seemed so big at the moment, were only a fleeting moment in time.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

Five
Enjoy every moment of the process.

The years go by so quickly. The friends made with other parents, coaches and officials are ones to treasure. Enjoy it all.

What would you do differently as a swim parent?

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Back when my daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

Is it possible to work from home with kids?

katrob 3When I started my Public Relations business, it was June. By July, I discovered I was pregnant. I did pretty good balancing work and life until my firstborn became mobile. Once he was crawling and spitting up on my keyboard, work became more challenging.

I saw an article in the Citizen Times, a USA network paper in North Carolina, called “Making it all work: Balancing parenting and working from home” by Marla Hardee Milling. She interviewed several families and asked how they worked from home with kids. I enjoyed reading their stories, because I had plenty of my own!

If you are a parent, working from home can rank as a blessing and a curse.

First up — the pros: creating a business at home allows you a flexible schedule. You don’t have to worry about a commute. You don’t have to keep a well-stocked wardrobe for daily appearances at an office (this means you can work in pajamas if you want to), and you may well find that you are more productive when you are working for yourself. 

But there are pitfalls. 

Interruptions can be aggravating. Neighbors and friends may think they can call at any moment because you’re at home. Kids often have the uncanny ability to need something right in the middle of a business call. And you may be surrounded by nagging reminders of things that need to be done at home — the stacked dishes, the pile of laundry, the accumulating clutter. 

So how do you strike a balance between being efficient running a home business and keeping your sanity? 

Juggling life and work

Stephanie Carol of Asheville works part-time from home, writing a sewing blog and a travel blog.

“I juggle work at home life with family life imperfectly,” she admits. “My biggest challenge is that I would prefer to work in long stretches of time, but with kids, it’s more like bits and pieces. The two solutions I’ve come up with or used in the past include one, swapping child care with friends so we each get a full or half day to ourselves while the other watches all of our kids, and two: trying to break down my tasks into small chunks so I can dive right back in and out of my list and stay organized.” 

It can be even more complicated when both parents telecommute from home. That’s the current lifestyle for Amy and John Saunders who live in Waynesville with their 3-year-old son. Amy’s parents own a highway construction company — A&P Services LLC in Brevard  and she serves as the vice president of operations. John is a software architect who works for a company in Chicago. 

John’s job is structured in a way that he is required to be at his computer from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. But his home office doesn’t have a door, so Amy has to be creative about keeping their son quiet.

“We leave every morning around 9 or 9:30 and then come home for lunch,” she explained. In the afternoon, she fits in work as she can while her son has some quiet playtime. Once her husband is off work, they have a family dinner at 6, go through the bedtime routine and then Amy can hammer out details of her job that she couldn’t get to during the day.  

“As the VP of operations, I do all the scheduling, billing, general project management — I handle everything except estimating and HR stuff,” she said. “As long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter when it gets done.” 

When I worked from home I had two major problems: how to turn off work and how to get clients to understand that I couldn’t run over for a meeting at the drop of a hat. It was all about boundaries. I had clients who didn’t respect the hours I tried to set and would give me a project at 5 or 6 p.m. and expect it the next morning, because “I worked from home.” When I was pregnant, I could make it to any meeting at any time. Once I had a child, it was a different story. I tried babysitters and nannies and would make set hours when I was available for meetings and appointments. Invariably, I worked on projects at home while the babysitter was there. As soon as she left, I’d get a call from a client to come over immediately.

Here’s how other families deal with childcare:

What can I put off?

Without close neighbors to rely on for babysitting, Amy and John care for their son almost 24/7 except for rare moments when the grandparents can step in. It’s a challenging schedule and can be stressful, but she says, “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

What she is trying to change is her mindset that every work detail needs to be handled immediately. “If I get an email, I feel like I have to take care of it right away,” she said. “I’m learning that if I put something off until tomorrow, it’s probably going to be fine. Some things are time sensitive, but the majority of my job is not. I’m trying to find a balance.” 

Altamont Inspections is the business of Eddie and Angela Roberts, of Hendersonville. While Eddie is out making the inspections, Angela works from her home office to carry out all the details of running the business: scheduling, billing, troubleshooting, and setting priorities.

“I have a designated office space, so office work stays in the office,” Angela said. “I have set times to devote to work and I make a checklist each morning of the most important things to do.”

Having that list is crucial since they have two very active daughters — teens Anna and Emma — who are involved in band, gymnastics and other activities. “I always put family first,” she said. “If someone wants an inspection time that conflicts with my daughter’s band concert, I’ll offer them another day or time.”

She’s found it easier to keep separate email addresses and phone numbers for work and personal use, and she checks social media during her personal time. Angela also has learned to say “no” when she runs out of time.

“The PTO can find someone else to help with the dance decorations this time, but I’m happy to bring pre-packaged snacks,” she said as an example.  

Outside help

Her daughters are older now and more self-sufficient, but she also realizes the value of getting outside help to keep her household and business running smoothly.

“I hire help like a bi-weekly housekeeper, a lawn maintenance crew, and a caregiver to pick up the kids from school and help them with homework a couple of days a week,” she said. “I will also order groceries online and pick them up or have them delivered through Mother Earth Foods. A family dinner doesn’t have to be home cooked every night. I like to support local restaurants and order to-go or make a list of grocery stores that have weekly specials, like The Fresh Market changes their $20 ‘Little Big Meals’ that feed four each Tuesday and some Ingle’s delis have Friday steak nights.” 

With planning, dedication, and creative strategies, working from home can be a fruitful endeavor. And just think about all that traffic you don’t have to sit in day after day.

The final straw in my working from home was after I hired a full-time nanny. I watched as she raised my child. They splashed in the pool and walked to the park to play. Meanwhile, I sat at my desk jealous beyond belief. I quit the PR business and changed my work. Instead or writing press releases and newsletters, I began writing for magazines, newspapers and drafting novels and children’s stories. I squeezed my work in between raising my kids. I made way less money, but I have no regrets.

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Now there’s just me and the cat while I work from home.

Have you tried working from home? How do you juggle the parenting responsibilities with your job?

Looking Forward to Our First Regatta

IMG_0292My son took up rowing a while ago. He rows with the East Bay Rowing Club and enjoys it immensely. He recently had his first “regatta” which is what they call a meet in rowing lingo. After years and years as a swim mom, I am learning a whole new language that goes with a new sport.

We really wanted to come watch his first regatta in the Bay Area, but he was adamant that we not come and cheer him on.

He has a regatta coming up in So Cal and I asked again if we could come. It’s only a short drive for us.

“Oy vey!” was his answer followed by “I guess so.”

“Really? It’s okay? We get to watch?” I asked.

“Oy vey,” followed with a groan. “But you aren’t allowed to cheer OR talk to anybody!”

I’m laughing so hard. What does he think we’ll do? Run along the beach yelling and cheering for him? I guess that is a distinct possibility. After all that’s what we did at my daughter’s open water swims. He’s on a team of all adults, it’s not a child’s sport. My bet is that we will be the only parents there! I guess that’s kind of embarrassing in itself.robert

Will there ever be a day where our kids won’t be embarrassed of us?

Should Everyone Go to College?

IMG_0728With all the news about presidential candidates promising free college, free community college, or forgiving college debt, I’ve been wondering if everyone should go to college? Why spend $120,000 for a state university to $260,000 for a private school out of your
life-savings or saddle your kids with debt? What are the kids getting in return? A bill that will take them 30 years to pay off?

I have several friends whose children are going off to college next year. They have opted for a year of work to save, two years of community college out of town, or staying at home and going to the local community college. Then they will transfer to a UC school.      I was always a fan of the four-year experience because that’s how I was raised. But, this makes practical sense. Why take out a loan as big as a mortgage for an education that you can at least cut the costs in half?

Several years ago I wrote some thoughts about the college experience and why so many kids fail or drop out. With the high costs of college it doesn’t make sense to waste that money if your kids aren’t ready. Here’s my thoughts:

I wonder why so many kids fail college? I was shocked to read a statistic from the ACT that 50% of freshman students do not return for their second year. Then, 30% of those remaining, do not graduate within five years!

Why? What can we do to better prepare our kids for college? There is so much pressure on our kids to get into great schools. You’d think with the great expense, and all their work to get in, it would be a breeze once they are there. But, it’s not.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

Here’s my list of why I think kids fail their freshman year:

ONE

Too many kids go to college. I do not think everyone should go. When I was in high school the majority of students did not continue their education past high school. They were able to get jobs, support themselves and their families without a college education. There are many trades and careers that can support families like plumbers, contractors, electricians, hair dressers, masseuses, etc. Today, a college degree has become the norm and standard. There are many kids who would be better served to work for a few years, and then decide if they want to go to college. By having everyone go, and not everyone is equipped to go, some kids are set up for failure.


TWO

High school doesn’t prepare kids for college. The work is often spoon-fed by teachers in little lumps of daily assignments and reading. Having a syllabus with a couple dates on it and no day-to-day requirements is more what college is like. It takes discipline, motivation and self-determination to not procrastinate but to work and study in advance of deadlines.

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A gorgeous location. UCSB.

THREE

We do too much. As helicopter, hovering parents, we are afraid to let our kids fail. We don’t let our kids learn from their mistakes. They need to have more chores, part-time jobs or something to do besides homework. Some of the crazy, heavy AP schedules don’t allow for real-life experiences. Plus, we cater to our kids’ every need—even to the point of helping them complete projects or assignments. My conversation with four-time Olympian and former University of Texas head coach Jill Sterkel included some great advice that you can read on SwimSwam here. She believes in letting kids work out their problems in a less high-stakes environment. We need to give them room to do this.

FOUR

Millennials mature later, according to Kari Ellingson, Vice President at the University of Utah. I attended a talk by her at orientation with my daughter. I wrote more about her talk here. According to Ellingson, “It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28.” It’s no wonder they can’t handle the many demands of laundry, getting their own food, studying, etc. Maybe our kids are not mature enough to handle the responsibilities of college at age 18?

What do you think are the reasons why so many kids fail in college? What alternatives have you seen to high college costs? 

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

10 Life Skills Our Kids Need — BEFORE College

After my son left for college, I realized that I was negligent preparing him for life. Yes, he had good grades. Yes, he had the right “stuff.” But he was seriously lacking on a few life skills. I spent time teaching my daughter the basics before it was her turn to leave. She was better prepared for the daily tasks–although that doesn’t necessarily mean life won’t throw you some bumps in the road.

 

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My son giving his high school graduation speech.

“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.

Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.

Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.

What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.  

All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.imgres-1

Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?

I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.

But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.

  1. Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
  2. Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic! imgres-5
  3. Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice. 
  4. Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.imgres-6
  5. How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?”  Hmmm. Good question.
  6. Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
  7. Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type. 
  8. Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!images-2
  9. Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
  10. Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.
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My daughter with Waffles.

What other essential life skills would you add to the list?

 

How to best prepare your kids for “adulting”

katrobAre your kids prepared to leave the nest? Do they know how to do more than go to school and complete their homework? With helicopter and snow plow parents not allowing them to fail, let alone do the dishes or laundry, a lot of our children are not prepared to become adults.

In the Sarasota Herald Tribune, two parenting experts I enjoy reading, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, give a strategy to help prepare your kids for the next step. They suggest to adopt an apprenticeship mindset.

Here’s an excerpt from “PARENTING: Preparing our kids for skills of adulthood.”

Adopt an apprenticeship mindset

Preparing our kids for adulthood is one of the paramount duties of parenting. By the time our kids leave our homes, they should be able to run a household; learn anything they may need to know; make, manage and grow money; and contribute to society.

As adults, our kids will need to know what to do when the toilet backs up. They will need to know what to do when they are sick or injured. They will need to be able to plan and prepare food, negotiate a sale, research products they want to buy and maintain their vehicle.

One way to help prepare our kids for adulthood is to adopt an apprenticeship mindset in the family.

When your toilet gets hopelessly clogged and you have to pull the toilet to remove the clog and then replace the wax ring before reinstalling the toilet, grab a kid and have them help you. Talk about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

When it’s time to change the oil in the car, do you take it someplace to have it changed or do you do it yourself? Talk to your child about why you make that particular choice. If you take it in to have the oil changed, tell your child where you are going and why you chose that place. Take them with you and, on the way, talk about why you do oil changes and how often. If you change the oil yourself, take your child along and have him or her help you.

If you have to get quotes for a new insurance policy, pull your child into the process. Talk about why insurance is important and how it works. As you research your options, keep your child by your side and discuss what you find.

When it’s time to pay the bills, pull up a chair next to you and let your child be a part of the process. Talk about the bills and why they are important. Point out due dates and talk about the consequences for missing due dates. Talk about your family budget, and help your child understand that everything has a cost.

This idea of treating your kids like apprentices seems so simple but it does take time. When we get busy, it often feels easier to do everything ourselves. I failed my son in preparing him for his first year of college, which is why he struggled. After learning what my son didn’t know — like how to get home from Costco on his bike with milk, cereal and Top Ramen — I made sure that my daughter was prepared.

Because I homeschooled my daughter for middle school, I had time to teach her about daily tasks and chores. Everything we did was a lesson from pumping gas to opening a checking account (which is probably why she couldn’t wait to start high school and escape!) In contrast, my son took too many AP classes and was always on the go, rushing from homework, to swim practice, piano lessons, plays, science fairs, etc. I did his laundry and drove forgotten homework to school and everything else I could to make his life run smoothly.

My tip for parents is to follow the advice to teach your kids daily tasks they’ll need for adulthood. I made a list of ten things they need to know before college, here. Also, if they’re busy, let them fail and not be perfect. They also need to learn how to pick themselves up after failure.10575366_10204674805333844_4491881722162368424_o

How do you teach your children the daily skills they’ll need for survival on their own?