life skills

I gotta wear shades…

On January 7 of this year, it was exactly one year since Berrik stopped eating all refined sugar, and wheat.  Technically the first 4-5 months were no sugar and no grains as we battled yeast (and won!), and then there was 4 painful weeks of wheat added back in, in order to test for celiac disease, and then back to no wheat, but reintroducing all other grains.  With the exception of one weekend where Berrik was away from home for one night and he was given a cinnamon bun and some other wheat and sugar filled snacks, he has been essentially free of refined sugar and wheat.  (As an aside, when he returned home after his treat filled night away, he was miserable for 3-4 days.  While I was frustrated that he was given all of that junk, I was more upset about what it did to him.  His quality of life – and mine – was horrible.  For DAYS.  Not worth it.)

People tell me all the time that there is no way their kid could do that, or that they couldn’t do it.  Truth is, if you really want to, you can.  It’s super hard and requires a lot of time, effort and organization. But it can be done.  Interestingly, Berrik is a considerably better eater now than he was prior.  Less fussy.  More willing to try new things.  At this point he makes absolutely no comment about having to bring his own ‘cake’ to birthday parties, or not being allowed to have candy at Halloween (he negotiated a trade of candy bag for Wii U game).

A couple of my thoughts on why this has been so successful:

  1. He noticed within two weeks of diet change that he felt better.  He said (and I quote), “My brain doesn’t feel crazy anymore.”
  2. It wasn’t optional.  There were no ‘exceptions’.  When we did it, I explained why (as best I could) and then we just did it.  Cold turkey.  And we didn’t let up.  No time off at Christmas.  No free pass on his birthday.  I learned to make treats that he could have (that incidentally, my other kids also love), so we use those for special occasions when others are having treats, and the rest of the time we just go about eating real food.  It sounds easy when I read over what I just wrote.  Let me be clear.  It was not easy.  The first 6 months of this diet change I was working full time, busy with all three kids’ activities, away for work, away for dance competitions (my own and McKenna’s) etc.  It was a change for all of us.  Kevin was picking up all my slack as I was in the kitchen every night baking until 10pm.  Everyone was hesitant to feed Berrik anything in case he wasn’t allowed to have it.  There was no such thing as convenience foods – not in the sense that most of us see it anyways.  I almost had a complete breakdown.  I was exhausted and overwhelmed.  I think it was the most difficult thing I have ever done.  But it was worth it, and I knew it was worth it, so I kept at it.  Convenience food to us now is fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds.  Not really rocket science.  If there are apples, oranges, bananas, carrots, cucumbers, and peppers around the house, then there are plenty of snacks. We’ve learned to make extra meat for dinner so that Berrik can eat the leftovers for lunches along with his fruit and veggies.  School lunches were hard.  And avoiding the never ending junk food that is handed out at school – birthday cupcakes (or ‘healthy’ muffins, that are basically cake for all the sugar in them), lollipops, granola bars, and on and on – was a huge challenge.  Homeschooling has made that considerably easier.  Even so, at his homeschool board classes, they do a lot of baking and cooking with the kids (which I think is fantastic) but of course, sometimes they baked cookies or other wheat/sugar items.  The teacher in charge of that was wonderful at asking me what they could do to make it possible for Berrik to eat the stuff…which ultimately I just asked to be notified when they were doing it, and I’d send a treat for Berrik to enjoy instead.  It worked ok.  Berrik was a good sport about it and would bring the cookie or treat home for his sisters or dad to enjoy.  (He offered them to me, but truth be told, the thought of all those kids’ hands in the batter, after wherever else those hands had been, made me not that interested in the fruits of their labours…. Yuck.  😉
  3. The support of my family.  Kevin and the girls were all in on this little adventure.  I can’t say enough about how much Kevin did to help, especially in those rough first few months.  I’m sure he thought I had gone off the deep end, but luckily he has always been quite patient with my shenanigans, and this particular shenanigan, he could see as well as I could what a difference it was making.  My mom and dad are also so amazingly supportive.  The kids go to Oyen every summer for a couple of weeks, and despite the fact that Berrik’s diet makes hosting him for 2 weeks a bit of a PIA , Mom was all in, making it so easy for me. Considering my mom is a nurse who worked at the bedside for over 40 years (and is still working!), one might not expect her to be supportive of our decisions that are at times a little outside of mainstream medicine, but in fact, it has been just the opposite.   Dad likely wouldn’t tell me if he disagreed with me… he’s always been quietly supportive and non judgmental that way, even when I was a kid.  Mom, however, is more like me (or I am like her) and she would tell me if she thought I was nuts.  But all I have ever heard from her on this journey with Berrik is her telling me I’m a good mom.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain how that makes me feel.

When I started this blog, I was planning to talk briefly about how this year has gone for us.  Clearly the ‘briefly’ ship has now sailed.  Sorry about that.

In June I left work for one year to see if I could help Berrik get a better foothold academically.  He had struggled so much in Grade 1, and I knew I had to intervene or the trajectory we were on was going to lead us to further heartache, pain, and who knows what else. As I have mentioned repeatedly, we started Sound Connections in June, the Monday after I left work.  We continue to work with them and their program, which has been life changing.  After a couple of months of working with Sound Connections, I realized that being home with Berrik and homeschooling him one on one was the best way to help get him on the right path.  We went through many ups and downs, and I made changes to supplements, and tweaked his diet, altered how I taught him, and just kept moving forward.  It has been quite a ride.  I have read so much research about what happens in the brain with regard to speech, executive function, attention, working memory, learning disabilities and theories about why, and what we could try, that my head sometimes feels as if it will explode.  The research is relatively young, but there is a lot of it going on these days, so the next 20 years will be very interesting.  Whether it is the changes I’ve made for Berrik, or just the fact that he’s maturing, I can’t say. But there has been significant growth for him in all areas.  His working memory is better.  His speech has improved again dramatically…a veritable explosion of not only vocabulary, but increased ability to express himself clearly. He is reading and learning phonics and even journaling with increased skill and speed.  He’s proving to be a math whiz, and surprises me daily with some new thought or observation that he expresses.  I am not sure if he had those thoughts before and just couldn’t fully express them or if his interpretation of the world around him is getting more sophisticated.  Likely a bit of both.  I don’t even have the words to express how proud I am of his persistence and tenacity.  He’s an inspiration.

Last night Berrik had his first official sleepover with other kids at someone else’s house. He has had one sleepover with kids (other than cousins) at our house, and of course many sleepovers at Grandparents’ houses or with Riza (our former nanny), but there hasn’t been much opportunity for ‘friends’ sleepovers.  Part of this is because in school he just didn’t have many friends, so there were no invites.  This past year, sleepovers away from the house would have been a huge challenge.  Who wants to host the kid who is a bit socially immature and can’t eat any of the ‘normal’ foods that most families eat?  But last night Berrik was invited to the birthday party of his best friend, who is also conveniently our next door neighbor.  This was the perfect opportunity.  The birthday boy’s mom knows Berrik very well, and I trust her with my baby.  So that helps.  She is also super laid back, and was totally open to me bringing Berrik his own pizza and cake for dinner, and was happy to make sure the movie snacks were things Berrik could eat.  I also knew that if Berrik had any issues, she would be able to help him out, or would text me to come get him if it came to that.   When your kid has been bullied and felt like he was not worthy of friends, you so desperately hope for success in this ‘typical’ kid situation.  And guess what?  SUCCESS.  There were around 8 or 9 boys in the house for the sleepover (did I mention she is a super laid back mom!?) and they all played and had a great time, were all asleep by 10 and slept until 8am.  Berrik is tired today but he says he had the best time and can’t wait for his next sleepover.  It’s yet another milestone in every kids life…and maybe 8 years old is a bit late to hit that milestone, but we are pretty pumped about it.  Now that he knows he can do it, and I know he can do it, I see more sleepovers in our future.

There have been times where I have thought about the future for Berrik and felt stress, heartache, and worry.  My wise cousin and friend says, “He will find his place.”  She is right.  And in those moments I envied how sure she was.  But looking back on this past year, and looking at my brave, empathetic, funny, tenacious little boy, I now share her sureness.  He will find his place.  He will do amazing things.  The world is better because he is here.  I am better because he is here.

This year has gone by in a blink…but in so many ways it feels like an eternity.  I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.  As Dire Straits has pointed out, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades!”

Executive Function – It’s not a VP luncheon!

The first time I heard the term Executive Function, I immediately envisioned the executive team where I worked attending a luncheon. Which didn’t make much sense considering I was in a conversation about Berrik.

Executive function (and self-regulation) is defined by the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard as:

…the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.

This requires three key components:

  1. Working Memory
  2. Mental Flexibility
  3. Self Control

Children are not born with these skills.  They are learned, and continue to develop into early adulthood.  Many kids will pick these up through lived experiences combined with direct instruction that they will be exposed to as part of playing, school, interactions with family and friends, and just about all life experiences.  For many kids, it is relatively seamless over the developmental years.  Three and four year olds learn about turn taking and are able to grasp and apply the concept, either through learning at preschool, interactions (read: squabbles) with friends at play dates or with siblings.  As kids’ brains develop, their working memory, mental flexibility and self control, typically develop as well.  For some kids, the development of executive function isn’t quite so seamless, for a variety of different reasons.

We are working on executive function skills with Berrik all the time.  Some of the potential reasons why he hasn’t had a seamless development of these skills is likely due at least in part to receptive and expressive speech delay.  When you don’t totally understand what is being said, and you aren’t able to express yourself in those early developmental years, it’s easy to understand why a kid may not ‘intuitively’ develop these skills from play and life experiences.  It’s difficult to relate outcomes to what is going on, when  you aren’t quite sure what just happened or why.  For this reason, Berrik and I work on building his capacity with these skills.  The wonderful thing about brains and neuroplasticity is that it is possible to improve capacity in these areas, and I see the evidence in Berrik consistently.  Because of the challenges he faces with receptive and expressive speech, I assume that he will always require strategies to support his executive functioning skills.  (If I’m wrong and he catches up to his peers, then all the better, but in the mean time, he needs strategies now, so that is what we work on).

Working Memory – Berrik can be challenged to keep information in his head long enough to manipulate that information.  As a result, we work on building his capacity to do so through practice using a variety of different games and activities, as well as through modelling and practicing strategies to support this.  Things like visualization, repeating things back, taking notes or drawing pictures are all helpful.  This is something that we practice as part of all subjects (and all parts of life, actually).  It’s pretty easy to incorporate.  There is always something to ‘remember’ as we do schoolwork, so I will often help him use his strategies to keep the information in his head, and then ask questions or ask him to do something that requires him to manipulate the information in some way.  For example, if we are doing a science experiment, we will go through a few steps that we will  need to take to complete the experiment (or a portion of it).  Then I may ask him to skip a step and come back to it.  Initially we will do this using visuals, so he can physically move the skipped step and put it in the new order.  Depending on the topic (it’s easier when the material is familiar), I will have him do this only in his head, using visualization, and repeating.  As he gets good at doing this, I up the ante and add more steps, or make the manipulation more challenging.  I see this as a two-fold exercise.  First, I am helping him work his brain and develop new neural pathways.  You can read about Neuroplasticity here.  Second, I am helping him develop strategies that he can use throughout his life in the likely case that this is always a challenge for him.

Another great game for working memory is the game of ‘Memory’  (Go figure). The game is also called ‘Concentration.’   We use it with sight words (thank you Sound Connections for that idea!), and also with facts in science, social studies and we are just starting to use it in math.  In science we recently did a unit on the Earth’s water cycle.  In the Memory game, I created cards for different parts of the cycle – words on one card, pictures on the other set – and Berrik had to not only match them up, but remember where each card was as we flipped them over.  We started first with matching only, with all cards visible.  Then we moved to the actual Memory game, where all cards are face down, you flip two and find the matches.  Memory, reading practice, and learning about science all in one activity. In Math, I will use two different depictions of the same numbers (as we work with base 10 blocks), and Berrik has to identify which ones represent the same number and then match them.  I am currently building a game where the cards are addition and subtraction problems and he has to find the two that have the same answer.  The key is to make sure he is pretty strong on all the cards first, and then use them in the Memory game.  It then doubles as a working memory exercise and a review of whatever subject we are working on.  It’s quite effective, and it can be used for pretty much anything.

Mental Flexibility – This comes into play when something unpredictable or unexpected happens and Berrik needs to be able to adapt and adjust to the new situation and respond appropriately.  This is fun to work on, as it’s almost like you can see the wheels turning inside Berrik’s head as he tries to figure out how to apply old rules to new situations.  We play games and then I will switch up the rules.  This helps with working memory as well, as he now has to remember the new rules as well as apply them.  Starting simple and then scaffolding is the key.  Build on skills rather than trying to jump ahead.  For a kid who had a rough grade 1 year, confidence is something that is coming along, but still needs work.  When you develop the base skills and then build on those, you are setting up for success.  Success means confidence.  Confidence means willingness to take some risks.  Taking risks means increased learning opportunities.  It’s a process.   And when he takes some risks, we really celebrate the effort as opposed to the outcome.  Outcomes will vary throughout life – for all of us – but those of us who aren’t afraid to make the effort and take a chance will see more success in life, in my opinion.  I know this from my experience in both learning, and in people management.  It rings true over and over.

Some examples of ways to do this:  In the Snakes and Ladders game, play it the normal way and then play it where you must go up the slides and down the ladders.  Play basketball, and instead of dribbling the ball, you have to toss it up and down in the air instead (this is great for all kinds of brain and coordination work).  Or if you have enough people, only allow passing, no dribbling.  Or only shoot backwards.  Anything that changes the rules, will work.  Simon Says is another good game to play for mental flexibility, working memory AND self control.  It’s also easily adaptable for kids Berrik’s age depending on interest.  When we play, Simon will often say “kick like a ninja” or “turn into the blue power ranger” etc., as that is what Berrik is interested in.  The sillier ‘Simon’ is, the more fun Berrik has with it.  I also let him be ‘Simon’ as this is great for his planning and language skills.

Self Control – In terms of impulsiveness, Berrik is fine.  The ability to set priorities is likely behind what most 8 year olds are able to do.  We work on this every single day as we plan our days.  We will talk about what is important to get done, what we would prefer to do, and how we should set up our day to get these things accomplished.  We look at the week ahead, and the months ahead as well.  Even on individual tasks we will set priorities.  What I have found is that sometimes Berrik’s priorities will be ‘out of order’ but when I ask him to explain his rationale, he has a very rational reason (rational reason for an 8 year old!).  It occurred to me after one of his explanations that if I asked my neurotypical daughters to prioritize their day for me, I suspect theirs would be ‘out of order’ as well! Sometimes I need to be reminded that it is completely typical for kids’ priorities to not match parents.  Duh.

In the photo below, Berrik and I created this camel by looking at a photo and building it, step by step.  So much planning and prioritizing with these types of activities. And if you get it wrong, it just doesn’t work.  Berrik is actually very strong in this type of planning.  If he loses patience with the activity, I’ll just do the building and have him correct me.  I will do something wrong to let him catch me. (Full disclosure, I only ‘accidentally’ mix it up some of the time.  Often I mess it up without realizing.  This type of detailed planning is not my strength.)  Variations on the game Red Light Green Light are great for self control as well.  When we play this, I usually do bear crawls or crab walks or hopping/jumping.  When physical exertion is part of the game, it requires more concentration to listen and stay focused.

image

As you can tell, we do things here with as much efficiency as possible, with the most possible gain.  It would be overwhelming if I tried to individually teach or facilitate each area that Berrik needs to work on.  Combining activities and outcomes is not only more efficient, it’s actually more effective as it almost certain to require a multisensory approach.  Additionally, it’s more similar to real life in that you don’t ever just get to use one skill in whatever tasks you’re working on from day to day.  You need to be able to access it all, at the same time, in varying levels.  What is exciting, is that I can consistently see progress in all areas, and even though I may have been focusing more on one area than another, I will see the benefit show up in unexpected places.  That application of knowledge and skills in different contexts is really the key outcome for me.  It tells me that what we are doing is working.

If you’re looking for more information on executive function, or on child development in general, the Centre for the Developing Child at Harvard site is excellent.

Less is more. Really.

Homeschooling Berrik continues to be full of learning for me.  Not only am I learning what it takes to be an effective teacher of Berrik (I’m not sure I would be an effective teacher of someone else, but darn it I’m getting really good at teaching this sweet boy that I love), I am learning so much about myself in the process.

Recently I was reflecting on our week, thinking about the frustrating moments, and the major successes.  I can say with honesty that ever single week has some of each.  As I was thinking about the frustrating moments, it occurred to me that almost every time I am feeling frustrated with Berrik, it is because I have created an environment to frustrate him.  Let me back up a bit to try to explain.

I read an article recently called Achieve More By Doing Less (Click here to read it).  The Myth below is what I have bought into most of my life, and the Truth is what I am coming to realize more and more.

Myth

Busyness = importance
We so often wear our busyness as a badge of honor. We see our ability to withstand mounting levels of stress as a sign of character.

Truth

Busyness = cognitive overload
An overloaded brain hinders performance. It impairs our ability to think creatively, plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss’s daughter, or our daughter’s boss), and control our emotions.

Berrik has made incredible gains over the past few months.  My reaction to his gains has been to try to add more practice, more knowledge, more reading, more math, more, more, more.  In my own life I do this to myself.  The more I succeed, the more I try to pile on.  More is more.  Faster is better.  Go, go, go.  But what I’ve noticed, is that the more I add to his plate, the slower his gains are.  He either doesn’t absorb, or shuts down completely when I’ve really crossed the line into crazy mom/teacher mode.  When I really think about the times he has made the most gains, with the least amount of work, it has always been when I did less, more effectively, and at the right times.  Hmmm.  Less is more.  I’m not a fan of using cliches.  But this time, it fits.

Myth

More is better
We live in a more is more culture. We want a more prestigious job, more likes on Facebook, more enrichment activities for our kids, more work so we can earn more money so we can buy more stuff.

Truth

Often, less is more
When we step back from the lie that more is going to be better, we often find that we already have enough.

Turnaround

Find the minimum effective dose
The “minimum effective dose” (MED) is the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being. Look for the MED in everything: work, sleep, meditation, blogging frequency, checking email, school volunteering, homework help, date nights.

I love the idea of Minimum Effective Dose.  This makes so much sense to me.  And the beauty is that it applies to everything.  I am so guilty of wearing my busyness like a badge of honor, and seeking more, for myself and for my kids.  I come by this honestly (anyone who knows my mom will see that it is likely a significant nature AND nurture situation). I’m quite sure that I’ll always be like this some degree as I believe it is in my genetic code.  I see it in my eldest daughter too.  And I see the effects of it in my younger two.  Neither of them are coded for a more, more, more life.  They become overwhelmed, anxious, and frustrated.

Myth

Doing nothing is a waste of time
We do not like standing in line waiting for things or staring out the window before everyone has shown up for a meeting. That’s wasting time and time is money…and the only thing worse than wasting time is wasting money.

Truth

Our brains benefit when we waste time
When we let our minds go…to daydream, to wander…an area of our brain turns on that’s responsible for creative insight. And our best work comes from those creative insights—the ones that happen in the shower!

Turnaround

Stare into space
We feel uncomfortable with stillness, with downtime, so we cancel it out by becoming busy again. Instead of just staring out the window on the bus, we read our Facebook feed. We check our email in line at the grocery store. Instead of enjoying our dinner, we shovel food in our mouths while staring at a screen. Give yourself the joy of just staring into space sometimes. What could possibly be easier to put into practice?

I was absolutely raised with the notion that doing nothing is a waste of time.  We were by no means overworked as children, but it was clear that we should be up in the morning getting our chores done.  Even so, the lack of technology and the significantly less intense focus on scheduled activities of my youth resulted in a lot of downtime.  I played with my cousins outside on the farm, played make believe at my Grandma’s house next door (tea towels on heads to resemble long hair, tummies full of raw cookie dough – raw eggs and all), read a ton of books.  These days we live in an instant gratification culture.  We want (and have) the world at our fingertips and we become incredibly impatient if things are not available the very second it occurs to us that we need it.  Waiting in line, face in phone the entire time, yet still feeling so impatient and annoyed that we have to wait.   Listening to podcasts while waiting in traffic, or making phone calls… because just sitting in your car thinking, or enjoying the break from work would be a waste of time. Need to know something?  Settle an argument?  Figure out who the emcee for the #FieldofCrossesyyc Remembrance Day ceremony is?  Google it.  Hungry?  Drive thru… or order in… favorite restaurant doesn’t deliver? Not to worry, there is an app for that too.  Is it any wonder that our kids become overwhelmed?

I’ve blogged about the importance of boredom before and this is a similar notion.  Human brains need time to just decompress, reflect, consider, and just rest.  Dreams are made in these moments.  The struggle for me is three-fold:

1. I need to fight my tendencies to push and schedule and add more to my life (and the lives of my family members).It’s a serious battle for me that requires a lot of conscious thought and intentional action.  I am one of the worst of the worst for checking my phone for texts/emails/social media/regular media/weather…. you name it, I likely check it.  Frequently.  And especially if I’m ‘wasting time’ waiting in line!  Sigh.

2.Everyone in my family has a different threshold for busyness.  I need to help the kids gain awareness of their own thresholds and self-regulate (while attempting to teach myself the same skills).  I need to model ‘wasting time’ by spending time away from technology and busyness and really being present at all times.

3.  I need to accept that this is an uphill battle for which small victories will be made, against large odds. Schools don’t promote a philosophy of waiting, boredom and less is more.  In fact, there may be badges of honor for busyness handed out regularly, metaphorically speaking (says the mom who put her kids in a bilingual program and encourages writing DELE exams, ballet exams, piano exams etc.)  However, I can and do implement strict technology rules inside my house.  Phones in the kitchen when we are home.  Limited TV, internet and video games, and only after chores are complete (perhaps I need to implement a scheduled ‘chore’ of staring into space?)  I might argue that folding laundry, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, or vacuuming are all therapeutic thinking time!  From what I’ve been told by my children, all such activities qualify in the ‘boredom’ category.

My reward for implementing a ‘less is more’ philosophy in my family comes swiftly when I am able to remember to do it.  The kids function better, learn more, feel happier, sleep more soundly, and enjoy life.  Berrik is particularly good at reminding me what happens if I lean too far towards ‘more is more’.  The key is to find the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) for all aspects of life, knowing that this dose will change and evolve.  I find it overwhelming to think about this in the bigger picture so perhaps best to find the MED for things in baby steps.

LATE ADDITION:  I was completely remiss in sharing a quote from one of the smartest ladies I know, a woman I met in Nursing school so many years ago, and who has taught and continues to teach me about strength and perseverance and being present.  Jean Dzubin has said before, and I suspect she’ll say it again (she’s kind of like the good angel on my shoulder, offering gentle reminders and support just when I need it),

“We are human beings, not human doings.”

At the end of the day, it really is as simple as that.

What strategies do you use to create an environment and culture of ‘less is more’ in your house, your life, the lives of your family?  What are your most exciting successes?  What barriers do you face?

Overparenting, or “Oh crap, I’m totally guilty of doing this!”

Can you hear the hum of the helicopter hovering over my children?  Sigh.  I can.  And I’m driving the helicopter.

I have often waxed on about how we are overparenting our children and creating anxious, entitled, confused young adults who can barely keep themselves alive, let alone make good decisions and problem solve through bad ones.  While our society makes it challenging to avoid some of the overparenting that happens – anyone with kids likely has judged, or been judged regarding young children walking to and from school alone, or walking to the park alone or with other young friends or siblings – that is just one small part of the epidemic of overparenting that is happening all around us.  We can use that as our excuse if we are super happy with burying our heads in the sand.  But if you picture yourself with your head stuck in the sand, what body part is now most prominent?  If you can’t picture this, ask your spouse or a good friend to demonstrate it… you’ll get the point, and if you’re organized and quick about it, you’ll probably get a good photo to post on Instagram.

So, enlightened parent that I am, I was pretty sure I was doing a semi-reasonable job of NOT overparenting. <insert head in sand photo, or just a dramatic eye roll here>  But the truth is that I am overparenting with the best of them. I read this article today:  Overparenting is Doing More Harm Than Good  And as I read it, I actually said a couple bad words out loud.  Nothing like finding out that you are guilty of EVERY SINGLE item listed to describe overparenting.  Let me summarize for you:

  1. Scheduling play dates instead of letting kids just go outside and find some friends to play with.  Granted, because we are all overparenting, there aren’t always a bunch of kids running around outside to play with, but still.  I do this for Berrik, and I sadly also do this for McKenna and Avi and they are 13 & 11!!!!  Good grief.  #fail
  2. Go to every game or practice.  I have  3 kids so I don’t get to every single game or practice.  But a LOT of them.  And I wouldn’t miss a dance performance, choir performance, piano recital, karate parent night, ball game etc. unless I absolutely could not avoid it.  I thought this was me supporting my kids, and showing them how much I value them. Where is that effing parenting handbook anyways!?!  I thought this was the right thing to do!!!  Last night I was at the dance studio watching Mac dance for the first time this month… <pats herself on the back for nailing non-overparenting of one aspect of McKenna’s life for a solid 10 straight days>.
  3. Hires tutors throughout school years – not because they need tutors, but so they can improve their already excellent grades.  While I haven’t hired tutors for my girls, I did ‘homeschool’ them in math all summer even though they both have high grades in math.  My intention was to help them gain confidence and give them a head start on the school year in a subject they are least comfortable with.  Upon reflection I realize I probably sent them the message that their A wasn’t quite good enough and that I expect more from them.  Ugh. #homeschoolfail #parentingfail #selfesteemenhancingfail
  4. Want kids challenged at the highest level all the time.  Groan…  So guilty of this.  With all three kids.  One might even say I’m currently doing it full speed with Berrik and this homeschooling gig.  #wthiswrongwithme
  5. Want kids to ‘find their passion’ in middle school and/or highschool.  Just last evening at the dance studio, where I was basking in the joy of watching my daughter be challenged at the highest level in her tap class, I had a conversation with another dance teacher about Avi ‘finding her passion’ in choir. As I type this post, I am rolling my eyes at myself so frequently that I’ve given myself a headache.

I was not raised this way.  I was a farm kid who was lucky enough to live in the same farm yard as my grandparents and my cousins, and only a kilometer down the road from more cousins.  We left the house and headed off to whatever adventure we could find all the time, with no intervention from adults, and came back when it was getting dark or we were getting hungry.  We learned problem solving.  For example, on the round bales stacked two high we had to figure out what to do when youngest cousin falls (read: gets dropped) down the holes between the bales to the bottom (sorry Andrea). We discovered how much gas you need in the jerrycan strapped to the dirtbike to get to Sedalia and back. (Mom, did I ever tell you about the time we went to Sedalia?)  I had chores on the weekends and may the good Lord (or more likely Grandma) save you if you didn’t get them done before Mom got home from her shift at the hospital.  We helped with dinner and dishes (except when I just HAD to go to the washroom, and took my book in there to read to give Ryan plenty of time to get a head start on the dishes…for the record, I believe that qualifies as strategic thinking).  We had 2 channels on the TV and one was often a bit fuzzy. We didn’t watch it much.  Our first computer was a Commodore Vic 20 – the 20 is for kilobytes.  So you can imagine we weren’t doing too much on that fancy piece of technology.  We read books.  And played outside.  We put tea towels on our heads to pretend we had long hair, and ate Grandma’s cookie dough until we were sick.  We played school sports and I danced one or two nights per week, likely for 30 minutes at a time.  We went to dance festivals and to be honest I can’t really even recall if we ever won.

There are many things we did that I think we were exceptionally lucky that nothing permanently disfiguring or worse happened.  By today’s standards were were totally underparented. But I will say that when I went to college, I knew how to cook for myself, do my own laundry, and problem solve out of many a pickle… I registered myself for classes, talked to my professors if I had a concern about a grade, and even used that strategic thinking to avoid 8am classes at all costs.

The article I linked to above says this:

Have you ever stopped to question what the end result of all this involvement is? It’s a generation that can’t do anything on its own.

A generation that needs coaches, tutors, mom and dad to be at the sidelines at all times.

A generation that thinks it always needs to be number one at everything.

A generation that is never satisfied with who they are.

A generation of anxious, nervous kids.

A generation that is not hungry for anything because everything is handed to them, everything is fixed for them.

We are robbing them of the opportunity to grow up and discover themselves. To figure out who they are, what they love, what they excel at, what they want to excel at.

Let’s stop protecting them from the world and start preparing them for it, instead.

Sigh.  You know how as a parent you have those days (or more likely 15 minute increments) where you think, wow, I’m really nailing this?  Only yesterday I had one of those moments.  It was while I hovered in my helicopter watching McKenna dance and discussing how my middle schoolers had each found their passions, and mentally congratulating myself for challenging Berrik to learn a few more sight words and achieve more math problem solving skills earlier in the day.

What’s most interesting is that while I intellectually get that overparenting is not doing my kids any favors, it will take a significant mindset shift for me to break these nasty habits.  It’s all about balance, and I’m going to make a concerted effort to try to scale back where I can.  Baby steps.  Head is officially out of the sand, but it’s going to take some time to land this helicopter and park it for good.