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Friday, September 13, 2013

Manufactured Struggle

So do you want to know why I haven't been around much lately or when I have I've been talking about laundry, running, wheat, or anything BUT parenting? Oh...that'd be because my parenting was pretty much sucking at the time. 

Ahem, let me explain.

So I was coming up on the end of the summertime commotion; life was busy; kids were fighting; I was overwhelmed; no one was happy. Then in mid-August we added our new family member, Jana - a 17 year old exchange student daughter from the Czech Republic (PSA: they usually just call it "Czech", and no, they are no longer Czechoslovakia - haven't been since 1992).

"foreign exchange with young children" "kids adjusting to foreign exchange student" "positive discipline"
Um, hello, are you thinking what I'm thinking? This picture would be a LOT better with Jana actually IN it! I guess we were all too nervous and flustered to think about it. 
When she got here, I was a bit, um, embarrassed. I kept nervously telling her that it normally isn't that raucous and unruly - it was just the end of summer. She nervously smiled and counted down the days to the first day of school.

The first day of school came, and you know how it goes. Everyone's bustling and adjusting, but there's a buzz of excitement in the air. A couple days passed, and my two older boys, Samuel and Levi were a bit nonplussed by second grade and kindergarten.

After a week of school, I was at my wit's end. Summer doldrums were over, so why did everyone still hate each other and not want to listen to me?! I mean for real. I'd say, "Go do your homework," or, "Dinnertime," and I'd get answers like, "No, never," or, "I don't have to." And this would be proceeded by a 30 minute power struggle.

I also got many other beloved phrases, such as, but not limited to:
 - I hate you
 - I wish I were born in another family
 - You're the worst mother ever

Needless to say, I started reading devouring Positive Discipline every night for answers. More on the implementation of some of her solutions later, but the biggest thing I got out of that was to consider the sources of their misbehavior. These quotes from the book really got me thinking:
We will be more effective with children if we always ask ourselves, “Is what I am doing empowering or discouraging?” 
Nelsen Ed.D., Jane (2011-05-25). Positive Discipline (p. 33-35). Random House Publishing Group. 

Right off the bat, I realized that one of the sources of their misbehavior was that my punishment was discouraging good behavior and encouraging rebellion, power struggles, and negative self-talk.
1. Children Are Social Beings Behavior is determined within a social context. Children make decisions about themselves and how to behave, based on how they see themselves in relationship to others and how they think others feel about them. Remember that children are constantly making decisions and forming beliefs about themselves, about the world, and about what they need to do to survive or thrive. When they are “thriving” they are developing strength in all of the Significant Seven discussed in chapter one. When they are in their “survival” mode (trying to figure out how to feel a sense of belonging and significance), adults often interpret this as misbehavior. Does misbehavior seem different to you when you think of it as “survival mode” behavior? [emphasis mine]
A Misbehaving Child Is a Discouraged Child A misbehaving child is trying to tell us, “I don’t feel I belong or have significance, and I have a mistaken belief about how to achieve it.” When a misbehaving child acts obnoxious, it is easy to understand why it is difficult for most adults to get past the misbehavior and remember the real meaning and message behind it: “I just want to belong.” 
Nelsen Ed.D., Jane (2011-05-25). Positive Discipline (p. 33-35). Random House Publishing Group. 
Ugh, even just rereading it makes me feel so dumb in hindsight, but I hadn't even considered the fact that adding a new family member might have affected their subconsciouses in such a way as to make them feel like they had lost their prior standing in the family.

Samuel was no longer the oldest kid. Levi was now bottom-middle and had to share his position with Samuel. (Isaac was pretty unaffected since he's still the baby, and I hadn't had any out of the ordinary misbehavior from him.)

So that's when the doubt started creeping in. 'Oh no, did we make a terrible mistake? Samuel and Levi are miserable. Jana is miserable not having a peer in the house and dealing with these boys that are no fun to be around right now. What have I done?' 

Well, the question was kind of irrelevant because backing out of the whole deal was just not an option. So I kept just trying to figure out how to best handle their feelings. I didn't want to punish them for simply feeling like they lost a little bit of my love. That would have been cruel.

So then, just because we like to mix it up over here in this Blessed Nest, it came time to babysit my sweet niece (3) and nephew (21 months) for 5 days and nights. At that point, all emotions and problem solving got put on hold while we were in babysit mode.

Here's a pic of all 6 of them. Jana was a good sport.

"letting kids struggle" "positive discipline"
Yes, this was the best pic I could get with at least 5 of them having a case of the wiggles (serious respect for child photographers).
During that five days, every night Michael and I talked about the things we were learning in Positive Discipline, assessed routines we had in place or needed to put into place, assessed solutions to problems we were having with the kids. It was a really good, strengthening exercise for us.

And pray! Oh boy was I praying. I was having those freak-out prayers. "Oh God, I don't know what I'm doing here. Can you please help me out? I feel like I'm losing them."

And as we started to see things working out, slowly but surely, we realized something SO important for our kids: IT'S OKAY GOOD FOR THEM TO STRUGGLE A LITTLE BIT.

These kids have a blessed life. They have parents that love them, that are conscious and deliberate in their upbringing, that are NOT on drugs, in affairs, physically or verbally abusive, neglectful, etc.

I am who I am today because I struggled. I had a rough upbringing, but I overcame. They have very little to overcome, unless we manufacture struggles for them. 

So how do we manufacture struggles for them? In my humble opinion, we can STOP RESCUING THEM FROM EVERY LITTLE STRUGGLE by lovingly leading and teaching them through it. Think of the confidence and self-assuredness to be gained from that! We can LET LIFE BE HARD every now and then. It's okay.

I could have figured out a way to rescue them. We could've tried to move Jana {never, Jana, don't worry! you're family now!}. Or I could've gotten someone else to babysit the kids {aw, even the thought makes me sad}, but what kind of "values" would my boys have learned if I would have rescued them in that way:
 - put yourself first no matter the cost
 - don't love or help others (not even family)
 - run from difficult situations

No, thanks. As I look back at the last few weeks, I see how the five days of babysitting bumped up the pressure, but everyone hunkered down and worked as a team. The manufactured struggle was GOOD! It moved us toward focusing on solutions. And now, the addition of a teenager seems like a cake-walk to the boys! Ha!

And let's just put things into perspective. Having an extremely bright, respectful, and delightful exchange student (even from a country that we love) living with us and babysitting our niece and nephew who we love immensely are not struggles.

Having a parent die, that's a struggle. Cancer, struggle. Sexual abuse, struggle. Extreme poverty, struggle. Divorce, struggle. Sharing your house and parents with three other lovely people, that's a minor disruption to normalcy, nothing more.

Nonetheless, in their little minds, it was a struggle. And now they worked their little deal-with-it muscles and came out stronger. I wouldn't trade that in order to rescue them from discomfort.

No, we won't flinch from sowing more seeds of manufactured struggle into their little privileged lives. They are too precious, and we love them much too much for that.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Laundry Solution

"how to do laundry" "laundry solutions" "folding clothes" "easier way to fold clothes" "better way of doing laundry"


Just so you know, right off the bat, this is not going to be one of those laundry room makeovers that you get jealous over, so don't worry. In all honesty, I'm just happy to HAVE a laundry room (my last house had the washer/dryer in the kitchen, so I'm truly grateful). It really is a luxury to have my laundry-mountains hidden away when company comes over.

Over the course of the last...oh....7 years, I've tried to come up with a laundry system that works for me and doesn't drive me insane. I tried other people's, and really I just had to find something that worked for me.

So please don't think that this is the end all be all of laundry solutions. For it is not. However, it does really work for me. (2 story with laundry room downstairs and all bedrooms upstairs.) So take what you like and leave the rest. ;)

And if this doesn't work for you, just keep brainstorming! And maybe even lower your standards a little. I totally did. :-P

During Project Week, I went ahead and ordered the laundry bags that I had pinned forever ago and installed them into my laundry room (heavy duty anchors and hooks and whatnot).

Well, I was waiting to tell you about it until I knew if it was going to work or not. If you've read this blog at all in the past, then you know that laundry is the I hate it more than anything. And yes, it will be my downfall - I will trip and fall into an enormous pile of laundry, and it will most definitely eat me up.

Needless to say, I needed a system that wouldn't make me hate my life.

So here's what I came up with:

1) My oldest son brings down the laundry from his room daily as part of his chores. The laundry from my room gets taken down every couple of days.

2) And I then wash, dry, and sort one load of laundry every day. After it dries, I take about five minutes to separate it. This might seem complicated, but it really goes fast. Everything that I don't want to get wrinkled gets laid out and stacked onto the washer/dryer counter. And all of the socks, undies, workout clothes, pajamas, and towels get separated into the bags.

"sorting laundry" "sorting clothes" "how to do laundry" "laundry solutions" "folding clothes" "easier way to fold clothes" "better way of doing laundry"

3) Once a week (usually Sunday) each capable kid and adult takes their bags to their room and folds the clothes and puts them away. Honestly, the kids don't even fold it. It just gets shoved into their drawers, but do I care? No, I do not. Why? Because it's one less thing that I have to do, and who cares if they wear wrinkled pajamas?

4) That same day, Michael and I hang up all of the closet clothes. I usually get the kids to help me in some way so that they can learn how to do it, too. They'll hand me hangers, or get the next shirt ready for me to hang.

5) Then we bring all the empty bags back to the laundry room and start a new week all over again!

Sure there are days that the kids run out of undies or socks, and I have to tell them to go find it in their laundry bag. But that is a LOT better than having to dig through a MOUNTAIN of laundry on top of the washer.

And sure, there are really busy weekends, but you just make up for it on Monday or plan ahead on Friday. This totally beats what I was doing before, which was just taking a solid day and doing nothing but washing, folding, and putting away all day long. Talk about a depressing day.

This way, I just invest about 10-20 minutes a day, and an hour once a week. Not bad.


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