Why are we doing this?


We moved last week, the realization of 3 years of planning and strategic decision-making. In 2010, when I announced that I was expecting twins to a friend (and fellow twin mama) she exclaimed: “This is wonderful! This will really focus you on your family!” I remember being a little taken-aback. We had 6 children, why did she think we were not family-focused already? I should have known better than to question the wisdom of a mother of 10. Of course she was right. After welcoming the twins in 2011, the futility of our lifestyle really hit us like a ton of brick. My husband was working himself to an early grave for the sake of keeping us ensconced in our busy and abundant lifestyle. We decided to sell our house, pay-off our debts, offload a lot of our stuff and live a life that was more coherent with our beliefs and principles. We bought a piece of land in the country where we eventually built a house. A house designed with the needs and requirements of a large homeschooling family in mind, where square-footage is not a thing in and of itself.
Our little piece of Canadian shield sits about an hour’s drive away from the east end of Ottawa where our children were born and raised. It is a radical move from a suburban lifestyle to a rural lifestyle, from school to homeschool, and it leaves no one indifferent.

Decisions based on convictions rarely leave people indifferent. Returning to school full time to get a Master’s degree didn’t leave people indifferent. Selling our house to pay off our debts and move into a rental house didn’t leave people indifferent. Having another child didn’t leave people indifferent. Building a house in the country didn’t leave people indifferent. Homeschooling didn’t leave people indifferent. We always elicit a reaction. We are either living the dream or delusional.

Last week, we moved 9 children away from the community they have known since birth. Four of those 9 children are teenagers. Rightfully, people are asking: “What are the children thinking about this move?” Uprooting teenagers is a bold move, especially in the absence of a non-negotiable driver such as a job posting. But if anyone thinks that we’re delusional to move teenagers on purpose, let me assure you that this move, at this time, is intentional. We are under no illusion that the move will be seamless or even easy for our teenagers but we are doing it because we believe it’s the right thing to do for our family.

We are committed to make it work for our teenagers and we are often asking for their input on ways to facilitate the transition. Don’t get me wrong, the teenagers never held the power to stop the move. But there is a difference between asking for input and veto power. Our teenagers know that we have an ear for well thought-through plans. They do not like to plan much — neither do their friends – preferring to pick-up as they go. We believe — and this is how this decision was intentional — that the cream of friendships will rise to the top. This happens to most of us through the post-secondary years. Our move has only provoked a natural progression of high school dalliances and connections. We see this as a positive aspect of the move, not a negative one. Our society sees the teenage years as an end in itself, a last grab at the freedom of childhood. We see the teenage years as a transition into adulthood. Our vision for our family is to raise adults, not big children. It’s very difficult to cast this approach as essentially affirmative when the children grow-up in a cultural environment where this formation is seen as essentially restrictive. I love the analogy of arrows in the hand of the warrior: to launch arrows, you need tension. If you make everything easy for your teenagers to avoid tension, the arrow will fall flatly to the ground. Too much tension and the bow breaks, not enough tension and the arrow doesn’t launch. Moving teenagers is causing some tension, I will not lie. However, we see tension as an essential component of growth, maturation and individualization.

Our decision to move to the country was also a decision to slow right down. We wanted to move away from the tyranny of activities and the pressure of wanting to keep-up with everyone else. We were tired of fighting our environment to instill the values we wanted to instill in our children. Here, in the country the rhythms are different, the expectations are different. For instance, our new church’s children’s choir rehearsal takes place right after Mass while the families are still around. No need to book another evening off for choir practice. All the children are welcome, regardless of age, because everybody needs to make the most out of their country mileage. This is just an example of the many ways in which country folks are more practical. This is how we want our family to start thinking and living.

You may read this in complete agreement or recoil in horror, your reaction is rooted in your own values and priorities. I believe that the proof will be in the fruit. I will tend my garden and let the fruit ripen.

So you want to pull your kids out of school


Our decision to homeschool coincided with the introduction of full-day kindergarten in Ontario’s public schools. I am not familiar with the details of the recent changes occurring in Ontario kindergarten classrooms but parents are telling me that the increase in school population brought-on by full day kindergarten has bumped-up class sizes across the board as other classes are combined to make room for the additional kindergarten classes. A field of portables – complete with graffiti – sprouted beside a shiny new neighbourhood’s public school (begging the question “how did you not see this coming and couldn’t you have built the school the right size in the first place?”) and a large extension to another new school was built in the schoolyard. In the land of “play-based learning” space to run around doing nothing is at a premium.

From full day kindergarten, to poor academic placement, to special needs, parents express a growing concern that while the school system is staffed by dedicated teachers and well-meaning principals, it is not serving the needs of their individual children very well. And so they ask about homeschooling. A lot.

A friend recently inquired about homeschooling and my reply inspired this blog post. Her question was not so much “why homeschool?” or even “how to homeschool?” but “what can I expect after pulling children out of school?” and “How will I stay sane?”

The sanity question is very much undetermined at this point. Homeschooling is hard and we are still negotiating the learning curve. My days are long and the nights are short. I remain sane by remembering why we are doing this. Thankfully, having five children older than the four youngest gives me perspective on how quickly this season will pass. I keep simple goals in mind on an hourly basis (don’t get angry, don’t yell, breathe) and the big picture in sight whenever I feel like quitting.

At this point in our homeschool journey – we started 2 months ago with 3 school-age children and will be adding a fourth in January – we are mostly learning to learn in different ways. The Internet calls it “deschooling” but I prefer using “deprogramming” to describe the process of bringing children home. We often assume (at least I did) that homeschooling is “doing school at home” – and for some that’s exactly what it is – but in reality, homeschooling is a paradigm shift. You will notice this paradigm shift in the comments you receive from people who do not support homeschooling: you can’t teach unless you are a teacher, you need to isolate children from their home environment for learning to occur, you need a lot of material support, you need a curriculum telling you exactly what needs to be learned when, you need a large group of same-age peers for socialization to happen. We are conditioned from a very young age to believe that schooling happens in a box. The physical act of removing the children from the box does not necessary change our thinking. There is a lot to learn in homeschooling and curriculum is only part of it. Here are a few unwritten lessons from my first two months of homeschooling after 14 years of school:

1. You will need to teach your children to trust you as a teacher. I had an interesting exchange with one of my daughters during the summer prior to the start of our homeschooling journey. We were talking about menstrual cycles – well, I was doing the talking — and I said: “When your periods start, they may not be regular for a while. You may skip weeks or even months.” And she looked at me with the kind of look you would give a lost puppy and said “I know mom, I’ve been to health class.” And this sums it up: your children, after years of conventional schooling, may love you and even respect you but their learning has been compartmentalized between the “home stuff” and the “school stuff”. You don’t understand their “new math” and “modern grammar”, you are no longer welcome to help in the classroom and your children don’t expect you to know jack squat. Don’t expect to jump into pre-algebra and traditional logic and think that your children will suddenly trust your superior brain. As far as they’re concerned, this homeschooling thing might just be another one of your “phases”, like that vegetarian kick of 2002. By the way, your mom and their teachers think the same way.

2. You will have to learn to learn at home. After years in school, your children are used to learning at school and flopping at home. The proximity to the kitchen, the toy room and the TV/computer can challenge academic work. I spent the entire month of September guarding the fridge. I’m not sure how they coped with fixed snack-times in school when I see how much fuel they need to keep their concentration.

3. You will learn to smooth the kinks in your relationship and discipline before learning can occur. Regardless of how good your relationship is, you can only teach so much if you don’t get along well with your children. And I mean this in the most loving way possible: we all love our children on the inside but the day-to-day grind often gets in the way of a cordial rapport on the outside. Parents of teenagers and toddlers, you know what I mean. To homeschool, you need to get along with your children on the inside AND the outside. It doesn’t mean that they become compliant little Stepford Kids but you need a basis of genuine compliance to move ahead with homeschooling. Learning to obtain compliance from your children without damaging your relationship – yelling, nagging or generally getting fed-up – may take weeks or even months but it needs to be done first. If you can’t get your children to clean-up their rooms without a fight, you have a taste of what homeschooling will look like day after day, hour after hour, until you quit in despair. Character before curriculum. I repeat this to myself about 2000 times a week.

4. Your children will have to learn to live with each other in close quarters. Your children may get along well at home or they may fight like cats and dogs, either way they will learn to work and live with each other. At school, they have been socialized to play strictly with children their own age. They have also been socialized into “girl play” and “boy play”. Boys and girls who play well together are often told they are in love with each other. Boys who enjoy “girl play” are often told they are gay. We all have stories of children who play well all summer with a younger neighbour only to royally ignore their best friend on school ground. We all have stories of older siblings who will not be seen with their younger siblings at school or on the school bus. Your children need to unlearn all this wonderful socialization to get along well in the context of the homeschool, especially if they are boys and girls. It may sound far-fetched but for our first month of home schooling, my biggest obstacle to teaching was the constant fighting between my 5 year-old and my 8 year-old. And I have 3 year-old twins and an infant, it says a lot.

5. You will learn to walk in confidence to the beat of your own drum. You will face opposition, criticism and soul-crushing doubt. The biggest failure predictor for homeschooling families (other than obvious challenges such as income loss, death and mental illness) is lack of confidence. If you doubt your ability to homeschool, there are good chances that you will prove yourself right. A few days ago, I heard a beloved family member explain to me how she didn’t think I could raise forward-thinking, engaging and open-minded teenagers in the context of the homeschool. A friend later suggested that she doubted my ability to teach advanced academics on the topics I did not master myself. Both are valid concerns coming from people I respect and care about, even though they show a lack of research on the ins and outs of homeschooling. I went to bed reeling, first thinking I would ruin my children forever, and then thinking I would prove everybody wrong. I got up this morning with a bone to pick and lined-up my little circus monkeys for a full day of academics. By lunchtime, I had to bitch-slap myself a few times to regain focus: I am not training circus monkeys, I am raising people. I will prove everybody wrong, all in good time. The proof will be in the fruit but I have to let the fruit ripen. Whenever I feel like I need to prove something to someone, I repeat to myself “Let the fruit ripen.”

Homeschooling is a journey of discovery, about yourself, about your children, and about the world around you. Whenever I feel wobbly and unsure, I remind myself that I am only taking my first steps. We will learn, we will grow and we will become stronger.

Whine and cheese


 

This post started as a description of a bad day. We all have them, don’t we? No matter how heavy or light our burden, some days (weeks, months) just won’t end. Or so it seems. The whine was spurred by a somewhat critical “You make everything look easy” from a friend. This shook me a little because if anything looks easy I can assure you that it’s all fluff and no substance. Anybody who sees me in real life – as opposed to social media – knows that whatever it is I’m doing, I’m (a) fumbling all the way; and (b) not doing it all that well. Every. Single. Day. I recently posted late birthday wishes to my father on Facebook, hoping that a public self-shaming would make-up for my poor daughterly behaviour, adding:

“Next time any of you wonders how Véro does it, remember that I don’t.”

That’s it in a nutshell. For every finite “thing” I do, there’s an equal amount of something else that doesn’t happen. My days, like yours, have 24h. If you look at what I don’t do, you will notice that the list of what I get done pales in comparison. That’s why I find it very irritating when people bow before me, which happens about 10 times a day when I am out and about with my family. Yes, you read that well, people bow before me. They actually, physically, bow before me. You can’t imagine how uncomfortable being worshiped can make you feel when you are not — you know — God.

Not only am I not God, I’m a wretched sinner. I order my life in concentric circles, building priorities from the centre and adding larger circles as I master the smaller ones. The smaller circles are my husband and children, my home life, around that core is my family, parents, siblings, in-laws; around the family circle are friends and close ones, this circle extends into my community. The largest circle would be those in need of my time and talent but who are not directly linked to me by the bonds of family, friendship or community. My faith radiates through from the core, informing how I (try to) relate to myself and others.

On a good day, I might make it to circle number 2. Everything else – friends, community, service – falls by the wayside. My every hour is consumed by caring for my basic needs and raising my children in a cheerful, peaceful and stable home where they can grow happy and healthy. Putting good food on the table, having clean clothes, a happy face and a listening ear takes-up my entire day. I am horrible at keeping in touch with my parents and siblings. I never remember anyone’s birthday, and when I do I don’t do anything about it. I’m a write-off when it comes to social graces like thank you notes. I have very few real friends left, and those who stick by me have precious little needs. I am not involved in my community; our family gives money to a few good causes because we can’t find the time to help out in a more meaningful way. If you are impressed because I manage to keep 9 children fed, dressed and somewhat educated assuming that I am also doing what normally productive members of the society do on the side, be informed that there is no side here: it’s all inner circle with a smattering of social media. In a nutshell it takes me 24h a day to be a decent wife and mother. That’s nothing to bow to.

Unlike some of my friends with larger-than-average families, I don’t have children with special needs. I don’t even have children with learning difficulties. In fact, all my children are above average students. They are physically, mentally and emotionally sound. My parents, my in-laws and my siblings are all in good health and economically wealthy enough to cover their needs as they age. There is no strife on either side of our extended family. There are no obvious mental health or substance abuse problems in our immediate family. We have been undeservedly spared by grief and loss. I should be able to do more with my 24h but for the limitations of my own person, my intelligence, my heart and my body. I am raising children whom I hope will be positive contributors to society, competent men and women committed to live by principles of integrity. I hope to look happy and peaceful doing it because the least I can do for the world from the confines of my kitchen – where I spend most of my life cooking, cleaning and homeschooling – is to give my children an example of self-giving that makes them want to choose others before themselves as they grow-up. Some days I fail miserably and that’s why I am still stuck in the innermost circles, trying to be a good mother, daughter, wife and sister before I move outward and onward.

Next time you are tempted to feel inadequate or bow before me or anyone else, remember that people like me need people with less stringent family obligations to make the world go round. Because I sure ain’t doin’ it. I need people like you to volunteer on school trips with my children, participate in bake sales, sit on board of directors, work as doctors, nurses and midwives, teachers, managers and creators. If you are dealing with loss, grief, illness, special needs or below average intelligence, you are already doing more than I am with my 9 healthy and bright children. So don’t bow. Don’t feel inadequate. Just go out and do your thing. From talking with you, I know that the more you already do, the more likely you are to feel like you’re not doing enough. Fill your 24h with purpose and hold you head up high.

Now go.

1-2-3 Magic. Is it really?


It’s been a quiet blogging season. The demands of early pregnancy (now in its 24th week), toddler twins and work have essentially squeezed writing time right out of my schedule. In my few writing moments, I struggle to find inspiration. The topics abound but my writing rings hollow. I have ideas that I struggle to put in order. I have half-started posts on a range of subjects, from teenagers to sleep training to sibling rivalry, with nothing to add. But a recent post in a Facebook parenting group had me reflecting and my reflection lead me to a few ideas I would like to share.

A parent asked for thoughts and opinions on the discipline book “I-2-3 Magic” by Thomas W. Phelan. It was all the rage when my older children (born between 1996 and 2002) were younger. Her questions led me to revisit the 1-2-3 Magic method of discipline and reflect on my own experience. Like most disciplinary methods, the 1-2-3 Magic approach to discipline is rooted in an equal mix of sound psychological information, half-baked assumptions and a one-size-fits-all solution. As with most parenting books, it is very difficult to accept it or discredit it on the whole.

**** As usual with all my discipline posts, this only applies to children who are mentally and physically healthy. Parents of children with special needs such as mental health issues, brain injuries or autism spectrum disorder, or parents who themselves struggle with these issues, may define successful discipline differently and achieve great success with methods that are otherwise problematic for “conventional” children. I am not an expert, just a mom with opinions. *****

The 1-2-3 Magic approach is based on the observation that parents talk too damn much. And this is true. Whether you are a screamer, a ranter, a lecturer or a cajoler, even if you engage in endless explaining in the hope that your child will understand the logic of your position and concede your victory, chances are your discipline involves way too much talking. Studies have repeatedly shown that children (and teenagers!) tune out after a very short period of talking. With the 1-2-3 Magic approach, you let a negative outcome, a time-out period, do the talking. A short explanation may be given, followed by a count to 3. If by 3 the behaviour has not stopped, the child is put in a time-out. The book’s subtitle “Effective Discipline for Children 2 to 12” infers that this method is appropriate for children older than 6. My educated opinion as a mother of almost 9 is that if you are still counting your child past Senior Kindergarten (5 years-old), you have a much bigger issue on your hands than day-to-day discipline. The fact that you may still count a 12 year-old illustrates my main concern with the method: it teaches the children to be compliant without allowing them to develop inner discipline and compliance born of trust in their parents’ lead. If you wonder why this matters, you will find out the hard way when you have teenagers.

My own experience with the 1-2-3 Magic Method (and its acolytes) is that it made my children manipulative and self-centered. When you put children in the driver’s seat of deciding whether they prefer complying or taking the time-out, you get children who become extraordinarily efficient at figuring out what is good for them in less than 3 seconds. I was discussing this with my husband while doing dishes the other evening and I said: “If you give children the choice between ‘stop hitting your brother’ and ‘go to your room’, some will choose the room 100% of the time, as long as they can shove one last time… and come out to hit again” and my 14 year-old chimed-in “That’s me!”  Her observation was only half-accurate: she never had an aggression problem but her explosive temperament means that her frustration is expressed impulsively without thinking about the consequences. Sending her to her room after the fact still allowed the release of anger in inadequate ways and the memory of previous time-outs was never motivation enough to check her angry outbursts at the door.

This example illustrates two of my main concerns with the method. First, this one-size-fits-all approach to behaviour modification doesn’t consider the importance of knowing your child’s individual temperament in finding effective discipline. Temperament, also known as our natural pattern of reactions, not only determines whether a discipline approach will be effective in modifying the behaviour but also in determining what will motivate our child to do the right thing. My second issue is that it doesn’t emphasize the importance of attachment in ensuring some compliance from our children or, at the very least, explain the absence of compliance, especially as the children grow-out of the preschool years and approach the challenging 6-10 years of age. As Gordon Neufeld so aptly writes it in his excellent book “Hold On to your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers”:

“When we focus so narrowly on what we should be doing, we become blind to our attachment relationship with our children and its inadequacies. Parenthood is above all a relationship, not a skill to be acquired. Attachment is not a behavior to be learned but a connection to be sought.”

The simplicity of methods like 1-2-3 Magic is what appeals to parents who have a tendency to loose themselves in explanations or rants. But the same simplicity can hide the appearance of attachment voids and the growth of attachment-related issues that are often harder to address during the teenage years, when our children are well beyond the reach of time-outs and punishments. For parents who are inclined to fall within what Dr. Phelan calls the Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit Syndrome, 1-2-3 Magic can prevent the constant attacks on attachment caused by age-inappropriate verbal diarrhea. But what we need to remember most of all is that if you need to talk-persuade-argue-yell-hit (even if you only make it to argue and yell) every time you ask something, you are more likely dealing with a relationship problem rather than a behaviour problem.

As parents, we can’t help but notice when our grip on our children is slipping. We get caught in endless arguments, tantrums, and crisis. We are unable to ensure compliance, ever. Parents who rely on coercive methods of discipline, also known under the euphemisms of “consequences” and including time-outs and isolation, watch themselves get caught in a “consequence rut” or in a “last man standing” contest. I often recall a grocery store trip on December 23rd when two active little boys would not leave the candy display alone while their mother waited in line at the cash register. “At 3, if you haven’t stopped, we’re not going to Florida!” and I was dying to reply: “As if!!” But here is the utter powerlessness of a parent who cannot simply ask her boys not to play with the candies.

As with any relationship, the parent-child relationship needs to be nurtured and built-up. Often, our children’s misbehaviours are warning bells we better not ignore. The constant resort to time-outs can prevent us from listening to our child and improve our game. To be effective teachers, we need to first discipline ourselves. How many tantrums could be avoided if we simply provided our children with a calmer, more structured environment? How much aggression could be prevented if we simply took time to reconnect and empathize with an overwhelmed child? How many meltdowns could be nipped in the bud if we simply respected our child’s shyness and reluctance to embrace new situations? Those are all “discipline” problems that are within us as parents to solve, if we would only discipline ourselves and put order in our environment.  When we punish our children for responding in an age-appropriate manner to our own lack of structure and discipline, we effectively demand more maturity from our children than we are able to display ourselves.

Does it mean that we must put-up with anything?  What about strong-willed children? In the words of Gordon Neufeld (because I couldn’t write it better):

“We may believe that our child is stubborn or willful and that we have to break him of his defiant ways. Yet young children can hardly be said to have a will at all, if by that is meant a person’s capacity to know what he wants and to stick to that goal despite setbacks or distractions. “But my child is strong-willed,” many parents insist. “When he decides that he wants something he just keeps at it until I cannot say no, or until I get very angry.” What is really being described here is not will but a rigid, obsessive clinging to this or that desire. An obsession may resemble will in its persistence but has nothing in common with it. Its power comes from the unconscious and it rules the individual, whereas a person with true will is in command of his intentions. The child’s oppositionality is not an expression of will. What it denotes is the absence of will, which allows a person only to react, but not to act from a free and conscious process of choosing.”

As parents, we need to be able to demand compliance from our children. We may not always be able to connect and empathize with our children first, especially in dangerous situations. The work of building a strong relationship of trust, whereby a child will follow our lead most of the time, happens in the little moments between the meltdowns and the impulsive behaviour. Our power to discipline is not built through coercion as the meltdowns happen. In fact, the opposite is true: by the time we are locked in a power struggle or facing a temper tantrum, our power to teach is all but gone.  We need to think ahead and own-up to our share of responsibility in causing our children’s misbehaviours.

I often wonder how often my children would send me off to my room if they could…

Preventing meltdowns, one snuggle at a time. (photo by Jenna Sparks Photography http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/)
Preventing meltdowns, one snuggle at a time. (photo by Jenna Sparks Photography http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/)

More than friends


I wanted to call this post “I am not friend with my kids” but it really sounds awful doesn’t it?

It was in reference to this widely shared blog post: I am friends with my kids. I started answering in my head before reading the text, on the basis of the title alone. When I finally took the time to read, I realized that, gah, I completely agreed with the gist of the author’s ideas.  The title is definitely an attention grabber but her position is more nuanced.

Parenting with respect is crucial to the development of a strong and healthy relationship with our children. If the importance of mutual respect in parenting is eluding you, you haven’t reached the teenage years yet.  When we live in the fast-paced and eminently physical world of young children, the immediate nature of parenting with a Big Stick can be appealing. But when you wake-up one morning with the real, potentially life-altering, problems of the teen age, it’s too late to wish for wide open lines of communication if they never existed. Our children need to know that they are loved and that we appreciate their presence in our lives. It is not a guarantee of smooth sailing but how would you rather cross the Atlantic? In a sailboat or a canoe?

While a healthy parenting relationship has a lot in common with friendship, it is a unique relationship that shouldn’t be so readily assimilated to the sometimes fickle and often temporary nature of friendship. Especially children’s friendships.  My children have dozens of friends but I’m their only mother. If I am their friend, who will be their mother?

The type of parenting illustrated in the blog post I am friend with my kids stands in opposition to what I would call “traditional” types of parenting. As a parent who opposes — as I do — corporal punishment, harsh consequences, isolation and threats as parenting tools, the author draws parallels between parenting and friendship along those lines: I don’t hit my friends, I don’t threaten my friends, I don’t isolate my friends when they are sad, I seek to understand my friends, I don’t yell at my friends. But if parenting can have some of the attributes of friendship, it is also so much more! I have skin in the game. My children’s friends do not.

Skin in the game matters because it gets us through the sort of tough times that friendship would not weather. Children can be little jerks. They can be rude, ungrateful, demanding. Year after year. Like friendship, the parent-child relationship is reciprocal but the giving and the receiving play-out over a lifetime. If my friends treated me like my kids do over a 20 year period, the relationship would probably die by the wayside, as the ebb and flow of life took us along different paths.  My kids are a ton of fun, don’t get me wrong. But the giving sure outweighs the receiving. In other words, the fact that my children have not yet died of exposure is the surest sign that not being their friend works to their benefits.

Skin in the game is also what motivates us to teach hard lessons and uphold unpopular principles for their own long-term good. My friends don’t care what I eat. My friends don’t care if I never eat a fruit. They may care if I eat like an animal and never invite me out but that’s about it. In fact, much of the learning that happens in the family such as self-discipline, impulse-control and good, caring manners, enables us to have and maintain healthy friendships later in life. Healthy relationships don’t start with friendship. Family is the root relationship from which all other healthy (or unhealthy) relationships flow.  Learning to eat a healthy, balanced diet, learning to make way to others, learning to love people we don’t always like, learning to work when we don’t feel like it can all be taught in the family and better prepare our children to face the big wide world of relationships: from friendships to partnerships to employment relationships. But they are not always easy lessons and may not endear us to our children (or vice versa). How would you feel if one of your friends was on your case about your eating habits the same way we are with our children? Sounds a little off, doesn’t it?

As the giving and receiving of the parent-child relationship plays out over a lifetime, I can see the relatively-near future when our parents will become more dependent and, as age takes its toll, more fragile and irascible. Caring for an elderly parent bears some eerie resemblance with the care they provided us as we were growing-up. They can become demanding, ungrateful, and frustrated by their limitations. And just like they cared for us when we were little jerks, we will let them treat us in ways we would never accept from a friend. We will give of ourselves in ways we never thought we could. This is the way unconditional love flows.

I want my children to expect more than friendship from their parents. I want to be more than friends.

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Warts and all


I had a moment the other morning. You know the kind? A “Mother of the Year” moment.

I’m telling you this because I used to think that mothers of large families were different. I used to think they had a special gift, a special patience, a special temperament. That they were “good with children,” whereas I wasn’t.  I used to think that mothers of large families found joy in the little aggravations of motherhood, whereas I found exasperation. I used to think that they had boundless patience and energy, whereas I ran out of both shortly after getting up in the morning.

I am now one of those mothers. I have 8 children including a pair of twins. I am expecting my 9th child in the spring of 2014. I am a member of the large family club although I expect someone to knock at my door and revoke my membership any day. Mothers of large family are inspirations. They make people think they can do it too. I don’t think anyone looks at me that way. Or maybe they look at me and think: “Yeah… let’s not and say we did.”

Mothers of large families have moments too. Moments like the other morning, when my 4 year-old woke-up just a little too early. I dragged my sorry behind to the kitchen to help her with breakfast before she could wake-up the twins. No luck: I heard one baby stir and thought that I may be able to nurse him back to sleep for another hour or two. I hurried to prepare my daughter’s bowl of cereal before the crying twin could wake-up his sister. Doing so, I inadvertently poured the milk instead of letting her do it. We’ve all done this right? Except that the difference between you and I is that you only have two children: I’ve had 17 years to learn these lessons and I still screw-up.

I am nursing one baby to the sound of a major melt down in the kitchen. She is screaming like her arm has been chewed-off by a shark. The second baby starts waking-up. I return the first baby to his bed and leave the room. Return to the kitchen and that’s when I had my “moment”. I grabbed my daughter by the arms, sat her down a little too firmly in front of her bowl of cereal and told her to stop screaming. Actually, I may have told her to shut-up. I did not threaten to tape her mouth shut with duct tape although the fleeting though may have crossed my mind. My entire day was going up in smoke: the twins up before 6 am meant that they would certainly fall asleep in the car when I left for errands at 9; the short car nap would certainly knee-cap the afternoon nap; no afternoon nap means no work in the afternoon; no afternoon nap means a hellish supper time; a hellish supper time makes everybody cranky and uncooperative. And I dumped all this squarely on my 4 year-old’s shoulders. Because yeah, she should know, right?

By now, I was back nursing my second twin back to sleep but my daughter was no longer screaming: she was wailing and sobbing for a hug. And from upstairs, stuck nursing in the dark, my heart sank. My child is only 4 and her need for affection and affirmation is gigantic. Not that my other children’s needs are less significant. But this particular child feels everything keenly. The frustration of having the milk poured for her but also her mother’s disapproval and anger. The firm arm grab, the harsh tone of voice, they just broke her apart. And now, I was at a loss to understand how after parenting so many children for so many years, I could still let a 4 year-old get the best of me.

I did give her a big hug. And I did apologize. Later that evening, as we were reading bedtime stories and cuddling in bed, I still felt the sting of failure but she didn’t seem to remember. We read about the wolf and the seven kids, naming each kid after her siblings, puzzling as always over who would be left out (all the kids are swallowed whole by the wolf so it’s a blessing really.) My little tantrum of the morning seemed all but forgotten.

In the balance of our parenting, we all hope that the happy, cozy, moments, the ones that we share around a bedtime story or a family walk in the park will outweigh the moments when we lose it. That’s why we need to love and cherish our children at every opportunity. So that on the whole, they’ll remember their childhood as a happy one, and their parents as loving. I don’t know yet how my children will remember me: a loving mom or a tired old hag with a short fuse? Maybe it will be a bit of both.

I used to parent with very clear goals and expectations in mind. I still parent with vision. But the minute expectations about my children’s table manners and church etiquette have given way to a broader vision of happiness and respect for themselves and others. If I can’t be a perfect parent, I will cover my imperfections with an extra layer of love and forgiveness. I hope that my children will remember the love over the imperfections. Warts and all.

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Simplicity Parenting – A talk by Kim John Payne


I went to a parenting talk last weekend and on the request of a few mamas from my community babywearing group I decided to do a quick write-up on the presentation. This will be a quick job, in the interest of posting something while it’s still fresh, as opposed to a fully researched job. If you are a Kim John Payne/Simplicity Parenting fan, please keep in mind that I did not know Kim John Payne until I went to his talk and have not read the book (although it is currently in my Amazon shopping cart). I am writing this post off the top of my head while my four youngest children are enjoying breakfast on a Sunday morning (and possibly watching some mindless tv, yes, there, I said it.)

Continue reading “Simplicity Parenting – A talk by Kim John Payne”

“Friendly message asking to keep toilet clean”


Believe it or not, someone came upon my blog while making a Google search on “friendly message asking to keep toilet clean”… No doubt because of my blogs on kids and chores. You can read it here.

As for the friendly message, the visitor to my blog has come and gone and probably won’t be back. But dirty toilets are a pet-peeve of mine. In fact, when people ask me what is my biggest challenge as a mother of young children they expect an answer like “the laundry”, “the groceries” or “remembering where I drove which child”. But really, my biggest challenge is public bathrooms, especially taking young children to public bathrooms. I. Hate. It. And God, knowing how much I always despised public bathrooms, “blessed” me with FIVE DAUGHTERS! Guys can just walk in a bathroom, unzip, empty their bladders touching nothing but their own private parts and walk away. But my husband can eat an entire restaurant meal without having to take anyone to a stinkin’ public bathroom. I was blessed with FIVE DAUGHTERS which means that I have visited just about every public bathroom in the Ottawa area and will continue to do so for another 10 years-ish. (Why 10 years? Because I don’t let my children go in public bathrooms alone. Yeah, I’m nuts, go read my post on Accidents.)

Someone overhearing me in the next stall would hear things like “don’t touch anything! No, no, don’t put your hands on the seat, put your hands on my knees and don’t touch anything. No you can’t flush, let me flush with my foot… Nooooo, don’t touch the door! Now let’s wash our hands… Don’t touch the soap dispenser, everybody who touches it has dirty hands (duh…). Don’t touch the taps, I’ll turn them on with my elbows. Just let me wash and dry your hands and run away from here. Noooo, don’t touch the door!! Here, have some Purell… more… more…” I don’t know if you can be friendly with people who leave their urine or sanitary products behind. I would just write:

What makes you think I want to sit in your urine?

Is that friendly enough? Because that’s what I wonder sometimes.

Friday’s Mixed Nuts


1 one new English word I learned this week: distaff. In French, the word for distaff (“quenouille”)  is also used to describe the pollen-holding part of the reed (“roseau”) as in “Holy Cow there’s a lot of pollen in a distaff!”

On our daily walk, we picked a "quenouille" and my daughter asked if she could pick it apart. "Sure", I said,"Here's a bowl."
Aaaaaah.... Lesson learned (or rather "remembered from childhood")

2 two pet-peeves (bear with me, I don’t have many): TV doctors wearing scrubs and lab coats. Really? I didn’t realize that you had to be sterile to explain how the excretory system works to a camera. And Gmail.  I can’t understand how a web service with a user interface that is so counter-intuitive can make so much money. Oh, wait, that’s right, they’re not making money from the users of the interface, they’re merely selling access to their users to marketers. I’ve been trying to find an attachement for a couple of hours now, I think I clicked on just about every icon on my screen. User interfaces like this are why it’s so hard to teach my mother-in-law how to use her iPod. “Yes, I can see the pictures but I don’t know how to open just one.” “Touch it.” “Touch what?” “The picture” ” What do you mean??” “Just touch the picture you want to see Grandma!” “Aaaaaaah! So easy!” All this time spent trying to open a stupid attachement is giving me too much opportunity to notice the targeted ads on the sidebar. Hey marketers, tell your clients that when I see their ad as I’m reading a personal email on a related topic, I’m spooked. Not tempted to buy their products. Spooked. And considernig closing my Gmail account. This book The Daily You by Joseph Turow is next on my reading list.

3 three feet is how far my baby daughter throws up when she burps. I love babies but not the part where I walk through life stinking of sour milk.

Better out than in I always say!
Mom? Could you, uh, like, put down the camera and maybe clean me up? Maybe?

4 four crying out loud!    When they say you shouldn’t type anything into a computer (and especially online) you wouldn’t want read in a court of law, that’s what they meant: Ottawa jogger sues blind runners for crashing into her . See that last paragraph?

“We Googled her name to see who she was and it showed that she ran a race in April 2010, so if she was hurt so bad that she said she’s been unable to run, why is her name listed for running a 10-k months later?” Dunkerley asked.”

5 five… I don’t have a five… Except, wait, five fingers way up (as in “High Five” ) to all the moms out there on the “mommy track”. Earlier this week I was asked by a TV research assistant how I was balancing out work and family. I’m not, I said. “Balancing out” work and family is a game of fractions where what you give to one you don’t give to the other. The idea of balance or equilibrium means that you are somehow giving equal parts to both plates. I like my work but I don’t want work and family to balance. Family comes first and in my case, it means that I write MP correspondence part-time with a graduate degree in law. I will never fly in the Prime Minister’s plane but I will always be home in time to make a healthy diner for my family. So give me a high five if you’re with me on the mommy track, over-educated and under-employed, and not resenting the workplace for being different than the family place. ‘Cuz the workplace is missing something crucial and that’s my children.