When should we defend our kids?

When they were young.

One sure sign of being a helicopter parent is to jump in without being asked to solve your kids’ problems. I was always a stickler for what was right or wrong and I never shied away from addressing any issue. I would go to bat for my kids whenever I felt they were being slighted. Looking back, I know I should have let them fight their own battles.

Here are a few things I took on when I thought my kids weren’t being treated right:

I wrote an email to my son’s AP History teacher to complain about his grade. He was .05 off an A and I felt the teacher should round it up. I got a note back explaining that if he were to round up my son’s grade, he’d have to go back and do the same thing for every other student in his grade book who was a fraction off the next higher grade. (Not a bad idea, I thought!) My son was being passed over for his school’s nomination for the coveted National Merit Scholarship award because of the B, but he lived through it. I doubt he loses any sleep over it today. I know I don’t. Instead I want him to be happy and healthy.

When I felt a coach was picking on my son, I made an appointment to complain about it, only to find out that he had earned the “coach’s award” for best attitude and effort. That surprised me and I’m embarrassed about that meeting to this day.

When my daughter was given five days of after-school detention for forgetting to bring the photocopy of Christmas song lyrics to music class, I complained that the punishment was over the top. In fact, other kids were given two nights detention, so there was a definite crossing the line by the music teacher—in my humble opinion. I don’t regret fighting for her that time at all.

randk 11There are countless other incidents where I went to battle for my kids. I do believe I taught them the difference between right and wrong and that they should stand up for themselves. At least that’s what I told myself at the time. I should have known better though, and let them handle it.

I couldn’t understand why other parents would stand by and let bad things happen to their kids. I do now. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and shrug your shoulders. I’ve found that some of the things that would have bugged me to no end, will soon disappear on their own within a few days or weeks. By making an issue out of little things, they can turn into big ones and burn a lot of energy and create angst.

My daughter complained to me during her last year of school, during a meeting with students on a group project, the guys were complaining that all the women coming forward about sexual harassment were “just looking for attention.” That infuriated my daughter to no end. I asked her if she was going to put up with it or wanted to go to the professor or counselor and complain. She decided to let it go. She was a week from being done with that class and just wanted to get through it. I told her I would stand by whatever she decided.

When my son received a letter telling him he was kicked out of college during the summer after his freshman year for bad grades, I was horrified. But, then I stood by and watched him research his options online. He wrote a letter to contest the decision and got hospital and doctor records to substantiate his unfortunate circumstances of an injury and surgery which caused too many missed classes. He was let back in without me doing a thing. After that, he earned As.

Me and my boy.

One thing I know about parenting is all we can do is try our best. It’s been my goal to raise kids who know the difference between right and wrong and will try their best as well.

What do you think about parents fighting battles for their kids? Are they helping or hurting them by getting involved?

Teach your kids these 10 skills — 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.

 

13417585_10210063407525531_6987965472607988093_n

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.
IMG_0609

My daughter with Waffles.

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

 

Tips to Press the Pause Button as a Parent

robkatrock

Just breathe!

One of my kids’ principals from elementary school talked about the “mother bear” syndrome. It’s that creature that comes out of our skin when we think our child is being harmed. The mother bear may come out when our child is being bullied, or comes home upset about something their teacher or coach said.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with that gut-wrenching feeling when we want to protect our child. It starts with a burst of adrenaline and may result into marching into the principal’s office or picking up the phone to chew out a parent about their kid being mean.

In a parenting article, ‘To make sound decisions, employ the power of the pause,” in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman offer tips that will help us as parents as well as in the rest of our lives. Here’s an excerpt:

The pause is the space you intentionally create in your mind to pull back from circumstances and retreat into a quiet corner of your psyche — a place where you can calm your nerves, think about the end result that you want to achieve and plan the steps you will take to reach it.

The pause can mean the difference between reacting out of raw emotion and responding out of rational choices. Often, it can mean the difference between strengthening and ruining relationships.

Few things spark an explosion in our emotional state like a conflict can. But when we pause, sometimes even excusing ourselves from the room, we can take slow, deep breaths to calm our bodies and regulate the fight or flight hormones that are coursing through our veins. We can pray or meditate for a few minutes, and then we can ask ourselves a few critical questions:

– What emotions am I feeling?

– What triggered these emotions?

– What is the root problem here?

– What is my role in fixing the problem?

– What is the best outcome in this situation?

– What is the best way to reach that outcome?

Instead of reacting to a situation from the intense emotions sparked by the conflict, the pause gives you the advantage of responding thoughtfully, carefully and calmly.

I used to be an emotional parent who would react at the slightest wrong-doing I perceived. Through the years, I learned to wait at least 24 hours before taking action. Action to me meant sending an email, making a phone call or showing up in person for a face-to-face meeting. Often, after I slept on it, I had clarity. In most cases, the problem went away on its own. Then a new one would pop up. Can you imagine how much energy and outrage it would take if I reacted to every uncomfortable moment my kids’ encountered?

Now, I use the pause in my own life if there’s something I need to deal with. I weigh the pros and cons, decide what outcome I want–and if it’s worth the energy to pursue at all. It makes life run smoother in the long run. I’ve written about this here.

My kids call and ask for advice on how to handle a situation at work or with a roommate. I offer the same advice of taking a pause. Wait a day or two before making a decision. When we’re flooded with emotion, it’s hard to make the right one.

From the article:

As parents, we can also coach our kids through this process. When we see emotions begin to spike, we can gently pull the child aside, help them calm down and then walk them through the same problem solving questions that we would ask ourselves.

IMG_3516

Walking outside and enjoying nature can put things in perspective.

Do you have any other tips to offer for making rational decisions when we get upset? Please share below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Secrets of Raising Successful Kids

 

10400458_1163243325061_5149557_n

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.

38050_1556243309815_8302301_n

Ribbons and medals received for hard work from her coach.

How do you parent differently than your parents?

True Confessions of a Helicopter Mom

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

There’s a study from BYU that says that helicopter parents are hurting their kids. You can read more about it here.  The study says that even loving parents don’t make up for the damage inflicted by excessive hovering.

I don’t know if I’d call myself a helicopter parent or not. My kids would probably say yes, but as one swim coach told my daughter, we are far from the worst parents he’s met.

To try and determine my status I took this quiz from the Christian Science Monitor.

I earned Terra Firma.

13e7cdf4346de40aade6db55399ea91eMy two kids are so different, I question if I parented them differently? I feel like I helicoptered my first born, and was more laid back with the second. The result is one more dependent and one independent.

I used to boil my son’s binky’s after they hit the ground for a good five minutes. I’ll never forget that smell of burning rubber when the water boiled away. The joke my husband used to tell was that with our second child, I asked the dog to “fetch” the binky.

Binky's

Binky’s

When my son was born, I worked on my writing and PR business from home. I thought I could full-time parent and work simultaneously. I didn’t take into consideration that clients would want to me run over for meetings without notice.

Then, Robert went mobile. He was crawling around. Spitting-up on my keyboard.

Nope, full-time work and stay-at-home parenting didn’t work out well for me. I hired a full-time babysitter and then became jealous every day they left for the park.

Three years later, when my daughter was born, the full-time help was gone, and I switched to part-time work. I was able to spend time with the kids, and do a little work, too. It was a nice balance.

Early on, I volunteered in my son’s classroom. I corrected papers, taught computers, writing. Anything they’d let me do. I’ll never forget arguing with his second-grade teacher over the word “artic.” After all, I had drilled him the night before on the continents. “It’s arctic,” the teacher told me. Oops.

My son constantly asked me to bring things to school. Papers he forgot. Projects left behind. I always dropped what I was doing and drove to school—including during his senior year! I can’t believe I did that! I did not do that for my daughter. Mostly, because she never asked.

I helped out with her schooling, too. But, in her elementary school years, it was limited to driving for field trips and special events.

I have one child that now calls whenever there is a problem. His face pops up on my phone and I automatically ask, “What’s wrong?” A broken computer, a fender bender, a parking ticket. It’s always something. Of course, there are exceptions—he aced a test, or got asked to be a guest speaker by the Dean at a fundraiser.

My daughter calls once a week or so to talk to tell me how she’s decorating her room, about a backpacking trip to hot springs, or that she had a good workout.

Maybe the difference between my kids is this: they are entirely two different people, with different goals, personalities, and interests. 

As far as my being a helicopter parent? I think I improved over the years.

How do you define if you’re a helicopter parent? What things have you done that are over the top?

My two kids.

My two kids.

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.

 

13417585_10210063407525531_6987965472607988093_n

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.
IMG_0609

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?