I am a radical parent.

My wife and I are trying something radical in parenting. We’re spending some time with our kids.

Okay, maybe it isn’t radical. In fact, it is probably the definition of parenting, but it is something that can be a challenge when your schedule is full of projects and work and household chores and hobbies and such. To make sure that we spend time with our kids, we’re scheduling it.

Wednesday nights after dinner are now reserved for 1-on-1 parent/daughter time until bedtime. My wife takes one daughter to the kitchen where she gets to don a special hat, apron, and oven mitt while I take the other daughter to the basement for some video games or Lego playtime. We all get to do something that we like–spend time with our kids and enjoy some personal interests–and our kids get some personal attention. And each week, we switch daughters.

I know, it probably sounds like a no-brainer, but being intentional about any activity, including fun ones, takes dedication. We’ve had one of these Wednesday night 1-on-1 times so far, and it was a ton of fun. I really want them to continue, I’m hoping for a long time to come.

Here’s a few pictures from that first one.

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Do you have any suggestions for what we should call these nights? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Also, do you have ideas for kid-friendly/healthy recipes that we could use in the kitchen with our kids? Please share those too!

Inspiring Bravery in Children

I have an awesome job at a wonderful bookstore, and the part of the job that I love the most is creating the children’s summer reading program. This year, we have another great program in the works, and I’m excited to tell you about it when summer is a bit closer (since it is still snot-freezingly cold outside at the moment). Everything has been coming together wonderfully.

Well, everything but one sticky part that had me stumped.

dawn_treaderThe general theme of the program this year is a play on the word “character”. We are using different characters from famous children’s series to teach character traits that kids should have. The series that was stumping me was The Chronicles of Narnia. I already knew that I wanted to use Lewis’ Narnia books to encourage bravery, but how?

Each week’s theme comes with a specific challenge. I didn’t fancy the idea of putting swords into children’s hands and sending them off to battle giants and orcs, but I was short of other ideas. Thank goodness for Facebook friends!

Here are some of the ideas that were presented to me in order to challenge kids to be brave:

  • Have them order their own food at a restaurant or make a purchase on their own (with parent present of course).
  • They could write a letter to their favorite author (kind of goes with the reading thing…and it’s scary to write to people who are famous).
  • How about trying a new food that looks scary to them?
  • Try a new skill: craft, cooking, calling grandparents themselves… Anything “new,” but not at all “bad,” meaning they’re stretching themselves.

I think all of these are great, and I feel a bit bad that I only have space to put one on the handouts.

As a parent, I probably spend too much time thinking about how I can keep my kids safe, but that isn’t preparing them to be brave and face life with confidence. That’s why I was having trouble thinking of challenges for other kids, not to mention my own.

So I’m going to start doing these things with my kids. Maybe you can too. Not with my kids, use your own. And when the summer reading program comes around, all of our kids will be better prepared for the challenges coming their way.

Do you have other ideas to instill bravery in your kids? Please share in the comments below!

I am rethinking Cinderella.

This isn't Disney's Cinderella. This is the public domain Cinderella. Use your imagination.

This isn’t Disney’s Cinderella. This is the public domain Cinderella. Use your imagination.

I am slowly overcoming my aversion to Disney princesses. If I did not have super-girly daughters, this wouldn’t be a priority to me. But in spite of our best efforts, my wife and I got a couple of girls who love all things pink and sparkly.

That’s why I picked up the audio storybook for Disney’s Cinderella at the library over the weekend. And, wanting to be the best father I can, I listened to it with them.

I think I actually groaned when the story got to the part about Cinderella arriving at the prince’s ball. This is the bit of the story that I remembered and upon which my original negative feelings for the story as a whole are based.

The girl walks in and she’s beautiful, causing the prince to fall madly in love with her. They dance together but exchange no information about themselves (shouldn’t she have told him her name?), and he decides that he wants to marry her and no one else.

We were listening to the story in the car as we drove to the grocery store. At the arrival at the ball part, my wife said something incredibly insightful.

“Yeah,” she said sarcastically. “It’s a good thing that looks never fade.”

Now, maybe I should have realized this before, but the story isn’t about a stupid guy that bases major life decisions on appearances alone. Nor is it about how wishing really hard for something will cause that thing to come true (Bippity Boppity Boo!). It isn’t even about how important it is to wear impractical footwear (A glass slipper? Really?).This is a story about being the right kind of person when the appearances DO fade. After all, the main twist in the plot is that when the clock strikes midnight, the magic is over.

When we meet Cinderella, she is sweet, kind, hardworking, and she has a way with animals. When the fairy godmother comes along, all of these things are still true, they are just buried within a pumpkin carriage with mice for horses. Sure, the fancy dress got her into the door of the ball, but who she was got her the rest of the way there.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that this is a good story for children to base their lives upon, but I think I get it now. Wishing something was different doesn’t change anything, but being a hardworking sweetheart will make it easier for things to go your way when the chance arrives.

Was I the only one who took thirty years to pick up on this theme in Cinderella’s story?

On Girls & Body Image

glitter_shirtThe other night, my oldest daughter and I got into a spat over which pajamas she was going to wear that night.

We just bought some new clothes at the store and we allowed our girls to pick out a few things on their own. But now, the older one was refusing to wear one of the pajama shirts that she had picked out.

“I don’t want to wear that one,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked. “You are the one who picked it out.”

“Yeah,” she argued, “but I don’t want to wear it. I don’t like it.”

“Why did you pick this one out at the store?”

Silence.

“Why don’t you want to wear it?” I asked, trying a different route.

“Because I’m not pretty in it,” she said.

Hmm.

My wife and I have tried to be careful when it comes to commenting on how our daughters look. It is absolutely true that they are adorable from every angle. Everyone comments on how cute they are.

But we try to moderate that by building up the rest of them as well. We compliment them when they are being nice to each other and when they ask good questions and when they behave themselves with good attitudes. We point out how cool it is when they choose to look at books instead of asking to watch videos.

And yet, my little girl has arrived at the conclusion that being pretty is super important and that wearing certain clothes can help or hurt those efforts.

“You are very pretty,” I say. “But how you look is only part of what makes you pretty. Having a good attitude, being nice and friendly, listening well, and working hard are all things that make someone pretty too.”

After that, she agreed to put on her pajamas, and I made sure to tell her that being willing to do what her mom and I ask of her is very pretty.

I’ve been reflecting on this whole episode for a while now. Is body image something that is just built-in to girls? Is it common across cultures? Do boys deal with it to the same extent?

It makes me sad to think that anyone, including herself, might think less of my girl because of what she looks like or wears. And how do I encourage her as a parent?

What can you build with 62 Lego pieces?

lego_7009I love yard sales, especially when I they have Lego sets for sale. As you probably already know, I’m a sucker for Lego sets. And last Saturday, I found a missing set from a series that I collect and snatched it up for only $5.

Sweet deal!

My daughters “helped” me put it together, and we all had a good time.

As we assembled The Final Joust (Set # 7009), I was reminded of a Lego factoid I read a few years back. It stated that, at the time of publication, if all the Lego pieces in the world were divided equally among all the people of the world, everyone would get 62 pieces. After hearing this figure, I wondered what anyone could really make with only 62 pieces.

Well, lo and behold, The Final Joust is made up of exactly 62 pieces. So, what you can make is this:

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And if that doesn’t seem like much to you, then you aren’t looking hard enough. In terms of narrative play ability, this set contains within it an inherent good vs. evil scenario that can be played out on horseback or on foot, between a variety of combat modes, and that’s only when using the pieces as recommended by the instruction booklet.

If you deviate from the pictured scenario, you can have a scene where a knight is confronted by Death himself and must face the moral consequences of the life he led.

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Or make a hundred other things, like miniature castles, a king’s throne, a stable, and so on. Because this is the true value of Lego. It is a toy that encourages creativity and story telling.

Do you have 62 Lego pieces lying around? What would you like to build?

I am a normal dad who says strange things.

nripperger_underwear

I read this story a while back about graphic designer and father, Nathan Ripperger, who took quotes that he said to his children and made a series of posters out of them. If you aren’t a parent, you might wonder about the veracity of some of these quotes, but they all rang true to me.

As a matter of fact, I was inspired by Mr. Ripperger to start recording some of the strange things that I’ve said to my own children. The following are five such sayings:

  • Don’t attack your sister with a duck.
  • We don’t lick books.
  • Stop stabbing your foot and eat your pizza.
  • Get the viking out of your mouth.
  • Goats are not dinosaurs.

Now I just need someone to make them into fun posters for me.

Do you remember any of the strange things that you’ve said to your kids?

I am married to a parenting genius.

My beautiful wife with our youngest happily munching on some pool toy.

My beautiful wife with our youngest happily munching on some pool toy.

My wife is an awesome parent. She’s also better looking than I am. But back to the parenting thing.

A while back, our eldest entered into a real whiny and unhelpful phase. When she would refuse to do something, at first, we tried commands. Then we tried reasoning, but have you ever tried to reason with a two-year-old? And then my wife came up with “Two Options”. It’s worked like a charm.

“Two Options” goes like this: When our daughter is acting in a way that is not preferred, she is presented with two options (see where the name comes from?).

The first option goes something like, “You can keep screaming at the dinner table, but then you’ll go straight to bed after dinner without a story.” The second option is much better, “Or, you can stop screaming, eat your dinner, play afterward, and get a story tonight.”

To which, my daughter responds, “But I want to play and I want a story.”

“Then you should stop screaming and eat your dinner,” we’ll say.

“Okay,” she says. The choice is hers. We just try to help her choose the right option.

It should be said that my wife is better at coming up with the two options than I am. Mine always end up like, “You can apologize to your sister for knocking her over or you can take the trash out for a month.” And this is just unfeasible, because she is far too small to move our giant trash bin.

Another reason that my wife is a genius-level parent is her invention of the game, “Everything’s a Secret”. Here’s how you play: Whisper everything. The person who speaks above a whisper loses.

It’s a great game for us because the “screaming at the dinner table” scenario spelled out earlier happens on a semi-regular basis. Now we just have to start playing “Everything’s a Secret” and the volume drops back down to acceptable levels.

Do you have any great parenting tricks and tips that you’d like to share?

I am cautious of the narratives we spin for our kids

My kids are unique.

My oldest is getting shy around people. She takes forever to eat a meal. She has red hair and, at times, the stereotypical temperament to match.

My youngest is daring (though she is still wary of strangers). She is a bottomless pit who cannot eat fast enough. She is easy-going (unless you take her toy or her favorite blanket).

And while these are the observations I make about them, my wife and I are careful not to share them too loudly with our girls. They are at that beautiful age where a parent’s word is beyond questioning. They trust us implicitly.

If my oldest hears me telling someone that she was afraid of the bears at the zoo (she wasn’t, she loved the bears, this is just an example), there is a good chance that at our next bear encounter, she will act afraid. If she hears me telling someone about how differently she and her sister approach food, she might place a greater importance on her eating habits (either thinking that she doesn’t eat enough or that she eats too much) than is healthy.

Even our compliments must fall under some scrutiny. If all we tell our children is that they are cute and adorable, they will likely believe that appearance is all that matters. And so, while we do tell them that they are cute (because they are), we also try to mix in how nice, kind, compassionate, smart, and hard-working they are as well.

At this time, possibly more than any other, we are telling them a story about themselves, one that they believe wholeheartedly. They will become the characters that we describe them to be. And so we must be careful how we describe them. Especially to themselves.

the_girls

Apparent to a Parent: What I’ve Realized About My Childhood From My Children

They heard me. Every time I cried out in the middle of the night. Every “Mom!” and “Dad!”. They heard.

But they didn’t come.

Because they were waiting to see if I would calm done and go back to sleep without their intervention. They didn’t want to get out of bed if they didn’t have to.

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Half the time they were acting upset with me, they were holding back laughter.

Sure, I was being naughty. But I was also hilarious.

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Trips took twenty times longer when I came along.

Doing anything with children is difficult. There are so many extra things to remember. They wander off when they should be following. Their short legs only know toddler pace which is slower than a traffic jam.

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What things have you realized about your childhood in light of your children?

Thank You, Mom!

I got something in the mail the other day from my mom. When I opened the envelope, I was a little offended.

Here’s what I saw:

Specifically, this part:

I know that I’m not the skinniest guy, but still.

And then I turned the page over.

This is an ad for Lysol, cleverly disguised as an attractive news brief. Here’s the close-up of what my mom wanted me to see.

If you can’t read what my mom highlighted, here’s what it says:

Research shows that by involving children in cleaning and tidying up, parents instill a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance and self-worth in their children, which can stay with them throughout their lives. In fact, according to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota,† the best predictor of a child’s success is the age at which he or she begins helping with household chores.

†University of Minnesota. “Involving Children in Household Tasks: Is it Worth the Effort?” September 2002

You see, my mom reads my blog and she took offense to a recent post, in which I accused her of tricking me into doing housework. Of course, she WAS tricking me, so I’m not sure that this University of Minnesota study counts since I didn’t realize that I was helping with household chores at the time.

But in all seriousness, I did learn a lot about how to take care of my belongings at an early age thanks to my mom. By middle school, I knew how to do laundry, do the dishes, vaccuum, dust, clean the windows and mirrors, even iron shirts. My brother and I were paid a small sum (I think it was $4.00) each week if we did our chores. And I earned 25 cents per shirt that I ironed. This paved the way to managing money. By eighth grade, I had a paper route and both a checking and a savings account. I even knew how to tithe.

And so, thank you Mom! I am glad that I have learned so much about being a self-reliant person and a good parent from you. I love you.