Sunday, June 29, 2014

What do you want to be?

A few weeks ago, Chad and I were watching a YouTube clip from rabbi Joseph Tulushkin, he noted that most parents assume that their kids know that they want them to be good, but also noted that parent's reserve most of their praise for athletics, academics or other accomplishments (things kids should be praised for). He said that this assumption can be tested by asking our kids "What do you think we (your parents) most want to you to be: (1) happy; (2) successful; (3) smart; or (4) good?" 

He went on to say that the other traits are only praiseworthy if we put goodness as our highest priority, noting that these traits are not intrinsically valuable if a person isn't good (Germany, for example, didn't start the holocaust because it lacked enough intelligent people, but because it lacked enough good people). It was a thought provoking talk and ended with the challenge to ask your children the same question. 

The rabbi guessed that the majority of our children would not get the answer correct (and he was right in our kids case (though Luke got it right)). Goodness doesn't seem like a worthy enough goal if kids aren't praised enough for it. Kids will strive to accomplish the things we praise them for. If we want our kids to be good but we don't emphasize it greatly enough with our praise, then we may not get the results we want. So, our highest praise should be reserved for  acts of kindness, generosity, charity and humanity. 

While we may want them to in fact be good; we need to do better communicating that desire.

Gilbert Temple open house February 2014

A lot of times I feel like that I'm letting great be an enemy to good. I have good kids. Often I'm so focused on what they could be doing better that I lose sight of just how good they already are. It's easy to see how anyone could be doing better, myself included. A few months ago Chad and I joined an organization called the National Association of Child Development. As part of being accepted into that organization you had to listen to six parenting CD's. The CDs advocate a 4:1 ratio of praise or positive teaching experiences for every one negative experience or criticism. In this way you can most influence your child.

Well! Occasionally, I'll fall into a rut and will be more negative with the kids. It's amazing how quickly the vicious cycle begins of criticism/acting out. I've gotten better at catching myself and saying, "wow, I'm feeling bad, let's start the day over and forget about _______." When I'm doing the 4:1 ratio it becomes easier to do it and it has a real snowball effect. When I build them up, as I see them doing good things, they want to do more good things for the positive attention. This is probably the simplest parenting thing I've done with the biggest results.

Anyway, I'm not preaching, but the rabbi's observation and the 4:1 ratio both seem self-evidently true and by implementing those things in my parenting, I'm happier, my kids are happier, and we're all becoming better people. Heck, one day we may even become great, but being good is okay too.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The things that define us.

Last Sunday before bed Chad and I were laying on our magnificent bed (it's the best bed! (it was the first thing we bought after Chad graduated from law school. If you haven't got a good bed, then you have nothing. NOTHING!)) chatting about our children and what an awesome responsibility it all is. I mean parenthood is just so all encompassing; you get these little humans and you have the opportunity to influence how they will view the world and themselves. Some of the major things we considered:

  • what are our priorities?
  • what characteristics do we want to engender? 
  • what do we spend our time doing?
  • how can we influence them?
  • how can we help them overcome individual weaknesses?
  • what does it mean to be a Mead?
I'm not gonna lie, it was pretty deep stuff. Hours later we'd covered each child's individual needs. We talked about how to compensate for weakness and how to help them develop a strong identity.
Some of the obvious answers to our questions are to pray with them and read scriptures together, etc. We do these things but we can always do better. When I look around and see families that are raising great kids--full of values and just plain goodness--I see the same patterns. Here's a few of them:

  • Time--There's no substitute for spending time together. We like to play games, read, walk, hike, chat poolside (see above), play tennis. Do whatever you like and do loads and loads of it. (I'm writing these more to memorialize my thoughts than to instruct you the reader. These are the things that we want to do more consistently.)
  • Traditions--having family rituals seems important. These are the things that seem like "our" things--the things our family does because it's "us." Some of them are the Friday Night movie night, the Saturday morning breakfast, Sunday walks, family reading time, special family places, ongoing activities (Lily and I are currently sewing together every week and she dies of happiness over it. Chad takes the boys to play chess and to the movies (he's taking the kids to the circus next week (some sacrifices are required to be a good parent)).
  • Sayings--when Chad and I were dating we often say it was "it's you and me against the world!" I have no idea why we came up with this but it stuck and has been something that we say to each other every so often. It reminds us that we're in this together. A few years ago we started saying "consider the happy state of those who keep the commandments" to our kids; a scripture from the Book of Mormon.
  • Work--Good kids work. A LOT. Work is something families should do together, every day yard work, house work, school work are all required for the kids' well-being and to help others. We knew a great family that scheduled their boys' Saturdays for them (you've got to mow the Meads' lawn at 8:00 and pull weeds at the Johnsons at 9:30, etc.). These boys saved a lot by doing this, they learned a number of handy skills and were terrific boys, every single one.
  • Example--the parents that I see raising great kids walk the walk. They are the people that they want their children to be. Being is so much more powerful than saying or seeming to be. This one is a real struggle; not that Chad and I are struggling with huge demons, but we may have let inappropriate movies or music slide in the past, thinking that the kids wouldn't notice. Two things, one, if these things are inappropriate, then we suffer the ill-effects even if the kids don't actually see us doing the bad thing. Two, the kids are old enough to notice. Recently we heard someone talk euphemistically about sex in front of their kids, thinking that the kids wouldn't pick up on it. I think it's best to assume that your kids will pick up on subtle things; I certainly did at their age. 

Chad observed that we need to ingrain our values deeply into our kids so that when they're alone in the world and faced with a bad choice--they will appreciate the consequences of that choice. If we've instilled pride in being a Mead (for whatever reason), and they know that Mead's don't do X or Mead's do do Y, then we increase the chances of them staying on the right path. I guess we're just reminding ourselves of the proverb: "train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it."
One of the best parts of marriage is having a partner who cares about the same things you do (and just as much as you do). For example, it's deeply satisfying to reflect together on when a certain little boy refused to eat by his mouth as a three-year-old and drooled so much that you had to change his sopping wet shirt at 10 in the morning and contrasting it with how he's making eggs and toast for the family and managing not have a single bit of saliva out of place. All of our kids have overcome obstacles that were once difficult. Chad feels the greatest of these victories as much as I do and knows that in the remaining time we have with them, there's so much left to do. We can accomplish great things together, producing strong, capable, kind, Christlike adults that make their world and the people they come into contact with better. Our above reflections of these issues helps us clarify what we are trying to accomplish, how important it is, and how we're going to get there. This isn't the whole list, but it's a good start.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Sunday night tradition--walking

On Sunday evening, after dinner; we walk. It's usually the same route, occasionally we go different way and sometimes everyone walks, other times some are on bikes. We usually push Jack and then on a certain street we set him free and he walks up and down, up and down. Often we stick around and see the sunset over the valley. We chat about our day, the week, life. It's a little thing but also something everyone looks forward to and enjoys. 

I'm going to take that as a yes

This is Lily's new favorite phrase and it makes me laugh every single time (on the inside (I have to maintain some authority)). How it goes is she that will ask you for something or ask a question about an outing or a request for a "best friend" to come play. Then 2.4 seconds after asking (about the same time as it takes you to process the first five words of her sentence) she'll follow up with, "I'm going to take that as a yes."

It's just so Lily and it kills me. These days she's demanding, loud, rambunctious, fast, willful adventurous and wild. Wrap all of that up into a little girl who has a ZEST for living that is unparalleled. Raising a child with this much joy for life is challenging but I absolutely love who she is and wouldn't change a hair on her beautiful head. 

**It was very sad this past week when she got food poisoning from eating undercooked bacon. She was so so sick (like projectile vomiting for eight hours straight sick)! It took her two full days after to recover and everyone felt just plain awful for her! I found a few photos of her from over the past few years that I love and are little snippets of this awesome girl.