Is it Too Late to Unplug Our Kids?

Kids and technology. It seems to be a love-hate relationship for parents. For me these days it’s more of a hate relationship. Everywhere I go I am seeing more kids plugged into technology, glued to a screen, walking around like zombies. This frustrates me and makes me sad at the same time.

I wish we could rewind to the days when Atari was considered ground-breaking technology and the thought of having a cell phone seemed like something only the Jetsons could achieve. But, the reality is many kids are obsessed with their various devices to the point they don’t know how to have a conversation or use their imagination.

Market research found that children ages five to sixteen spend six and a half hours in front of a screen everyday! If you take into consideration the fact that they sleep for at least eight hours if not more, that means there’s less than ten hours left in the day. When you factor in school and activities, there’s hardly anytime left to have a simple conversation. Is it too late to unplug our kids or have we lost them to technology forever? I guess it depends what side of the screen you’re on.

Have you ever watched a child while they’re on a device? It’s like they’re in a trance. It totally consumes them. Part of me thinks that’s why so many parents let their kids spend so much time on them. It acts like a free babysitter. No parenting required. No interaction needed. Sad isn’t it?

Before you think I’m a technology hating mother who only lets my kids play with pen and paper, I will tell you my kids do play games on my iPad and my phone. But, they do not have their own devices. Why do a 7 and 5 year-old need their own iPads or tablets or kindles? I’m sure many people have their reasons, but they’re not enough for me to take out my credit card.

I am fully aware that kids need to understand and work technology to exist these days and to compete with the rest of the world. I know there are a lot of educational apps and games and books to read. Does that mean we throw out real conversations and books or imaginary play or the arts? I surely hope not. From what I see that seems to be where we’re headed, if we’re not there already. So many kids don’t know how to interact with real people because they spend so much time interacting with their devices.

In order to change the tide, there needs to be balance, as with anything in life. While my kids are allowed to use technology on a daily basis, I usually limit their usage to 15 minute intervals. Once the time is up they have to go and do something else that doesn’t involve a screen. Most of the time they agree, other times I’m “mean.” I can live with that title if the result is that my kids go out and play or use their imagination instead of gluing their eyes to a screen.

When it comes to technology addiction many kids are only copying what they see their parents do. Truthfully there are times when we’re no better. I know I’ve been guilty of a little phone addiction every now and again. Do we really need to constantly check our Facebook feed to see who is blowing their nose every minute? I think we all know the answer to that.

That’s why I have a little rule called “no phones at the table”. It means just what it says. My husband and I are not allowed to have our phones at the table when we’re having a meal. This way we can pay attention to each other and have real conversations. Crazy, I know. But, it works.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s tempting to run over and check a dinging text or go back and finish scrolling through Facebook. But, it’s also important to set an example. If kids see their parents glued to their devices, they may be more inclined to do the same. If we set the example that technology is not king, then maybe we can start to slowly unplug our kids, one device at a time. Hopefully it’s not too late.

 

 

Teaching Kids About Death & Grief

Death is one of those things that is indescribably difficult to deal with and to understand. Imagine trying to do it as a child who still believes in things like the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. It’s nearly impossible. But, as parents it’s one of our toughest jobs. It’s tough because it’s painful and because there doesn’t seem to ever be the right words.

Finding the right words should come easy when you’re used to writing for a living, but that is not the case with something as fragile as death. You need kid gloves, no pun intended, to delicately explain to a child why someone has left this Earth. I am by no means an expert when it comes to this subject, but I’ve had to do it so many times already that I’m unfortunately becoming more used to the uncomfortable situation.

When someone they love dies, the hardest part is telling my kids they’re never going to see that person again. They’re never going to get or give a hug. They’re never going to hear that person’s voice. It’s heartbreaking to see their faces when it begins to sink in. And sink in it does. Although they may not understand how bodies are buried and souls go to heaven, they can understand the fact that they’ll never see someone again.

Then, of course, come the questions of why. Why did someone have to die? Why did they get sick? Why couldn’t the medicine fix their boo-boos? These are all questions none of us know. The best answer I can give is to be honest and admit that I don’t know why. As disappointing of an answer as that may be, it’s the truth. When it comes to a subject like death, the best thing we can do for our kids is to be honest. With that honesty comes the acceptance of letting them be sad. Parents don’t like to see their kids in pain or sad or crying. We always want to take their pain away and make them feel better. Sometimes we just can’t and that’s okay. What we can do is comfort them through their sadness and let them know it’s okay to be sad and to cry and to miss someone. It’s part of being human. It’s part of having emotions. My kids have seen me cry when someone dies because just like them, I’m sad. I don’t know if it makes them feel any better, but at least they know it’s normal and everyone is human…even moms.

While I let them see me cry, I also let them see me wipe away my tears and get up again. Hopefully, that is teaching them they can take their time to mourn, but at some point, they have to keep going, as difficult as it may be. Grief can’t consume you. I try to tell them that the person who died would not want them to be sad forever. They would want them to be happy and play and dance and do all those things that make them a kid. These words seem to work, at least for now. But, I also tell them you don’t forget about the person who died. We never forget. As parents, we can help our kids keep memories alive by maintaining traditions and continuing to do the things we used to do with the person who is no longer with us. Traditions don’t die with a person unless we let them. Kids should know that keeping traditions is how we keep loved ones with us always.

If death teaches us nothing else it is that life is fragile and tomorrow is not guaranteed. That’s a lesson we can all learn no matter how big or small.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Still Make My Kids Write Thank-You Cards

Thank-you.

They’re just two words, but they mean a lot. Sure you may say them from time to time. Hopefully, you teach your kids to say them too. But, when was the last time you sat down and wrote a thank-you card to someone whether it was for a gift or something nice they did? Better yet, have you ever made your kids write or sign a thank-you card?

I can hear the crickets as you read this.

In the age of texts and tweets, the thank-you card has long been forgotten. While bordering extinction, it’s hanging on by a thread. While a lot of people may say who cares? I actually do. That’s why I still make my 7 & 5 year-old  write and/or sign thank-you cards when they get gifts.

I know, I’m such a nag.

But, I’ll take the title proudly if it means my children learn they are not entitled to things and need to express their gratitude. Just because it’s your birthday doesn’t mean you have to get a gift. Someone felt like doing something nice for you. The least you can do is send a thank-you card. It’s a pretty simple concept.

I know, I know. Why would you take the time to go to the store, buy a thank-you card, sit down and actually think of something nice to write, buy a stamp to put on it, and then go to the mailbox? Even more so, why would you sit down and have your child write one (if they’re old enough) or simply sign their name? Quite frankly because it’s the right thing to do.

Believe me, I’ve heard all the excuses why not to send thank-you cards. They end up in the trash. The cards are too expensive. The stamps are too expensive. I don’t have time. Blah, blah, blah.

Of course if that’s what you think, that’s what your child is going to think too. The thank-you card will never get the love and respect it deserves. It will die along with all the other “old school” things like dressing up on a holiday and asking to leave the dinner table instead of bolting like it’s on fire. I think we need to bring some of those things back if you ask me.

If you really break it down, the time and money spent on thank-you cards doesn’t have to bankrupt you or take up your day. You can go to the dollar store and get a pack of at least 6 for $1. Stamps are stamps. They cost what they cost.You just need to deal with it. In reality, it may take you a half-hour tops to write a handful of cards with your kids. Big deal. Isn’t that time well spent together?

I think the pros of writing a thank-you card outweigh the cons by a long shot. In my eyes, there really aren’t any cons to hand-writing a thank-you note. Just think…the person getting it will be excited to get something other than bills in the mail. Maybe you can instill a little love for the thank-you card in your kids so it truly doesn’t become extinct. That wouldn’t be so bad. Give it a try.

Thank-you for taking the time to read this.

Sincerely,

Kristina

 

 

 

What I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self

Sometimes you don’t know how good you had it until you move forward and look back. You see, I went to my 20-year high school reunion recently. First of all, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since I graduated. It may sound cliché, but I can honestly tell you I don’t know where all the time has gone. I also can’t believe how many things, both good and bad, have happened. If you ever told me some parts of my story over the past 20 years, I would have told you, you were nuts.

As I walked through the newly painted and renovated hallways of my high school, I could see visions of my teenage self at various stages of my high school years. I even turned to my friend and commented about how I could close my eyes and immediately be transported back 20 years.

If I could go back 20 years, there are so many things I would tell my 18-year-old self.

Have More Fun. As much as getting good grades is important, I would tell myself to have more fun. This really is the most carefree time of your life! At what other point do you not have to worry about paying a mortgage? When else can you go out Friday and Saturday night and not have to worry about a babysitter or getting up the next morning to kids who think it’s cool to get up at 6:30 on a Sunday morning? There will be no other time like this in your lifetime. Live it up.

It’s Quality Not Quantity with Friends. It truly doesn’t matter how many friends you have. Although it may seem like the end of the world that you only eat lunch with two other people instead of ten, it really isn’t. There are far worse things. If you have to put an exhausting amount of effort into a friendship it really isn’t worth it. It took me a long, and I mean long time to realize that. But, once I did (well into my adult life) I was a much happier person. A true friend is one you can talk to after a year of being off the grid and feel as though you were just with them yesterday.

Not Being Cool is Cool Enough. I was not “cool” in high school. Totally not cool. I knew it and so did all the “cool” kids. Enjoy the real friendships you do have. In the end, you’ll be better for it.

Your Life Plan Will Change. I’m fully aware of your life plan. But, guess what? It’s going to change and that’s okay. Not every prophesy you declare when you’re 18 will come true. You will grow. You will change. Things will happen and it’s all okay. If you ever told me I was going to quit a job I loved to become a stay-at-home mom in my thirties, I would have laughed in your face. I would have laughed even harder if you told me I wasn’t going to be a television reporter. That was the big dream. But, over time my big vision shifted…more than once. I decided being on-air wasn’t for me. I liked the behind the scenes television life instead. Then after a long time, I decided that career wasn’t cutting it either. I decided to follow my passions, even if it meant being viewed as unsuccessful in the minds of some. In the end, you have to do what makes you happy and what’s right for you, not anyone else.

Time Flies When You’re An Adult. As kids we want time to fast forward itself so we can become fancy adults. When we become adults we want to pause time so we have more of it to enjoy our lives. As we all know that’s not possible. There comes a point when you really don’t know where the time went. When you finally become that adult you dreamed about all those years you quickly realize it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. In fact, life is full of rainy days and bulls. Don’t rush to become an adult.

Don’t Take People or Things for Granted. People are not immortal. Things don’t stick around forever. Enjoy them. Appreciate them. Don’t be self-absorbed. There is much more to the universe than yourself. Open your eyes and appreciate the things and people around you. Guess what? They’re not going to be around forever. People get sick unexpectedly and there isn’t always a happy ending. You really need to stop and enjoy everything and everyone around before it is too late.

The saying, “I wish I knew then what I know now” holds a lot of merit. If I knew some of the things I knew now when I was 18, perhaps things would be different. For better? For worse? Who knows? Perhaps my 30-something self can learn from what my 18-year-old self didn’t know.

A New Frontier For Mom

As a mother you’re always looking and waiting for your child’s next milestone. Learning to talk, learning to crawl, learning to walk…they’re among the biggies. As children get bigger, so do the milestones. Things like getting a driver’s license, graduating from high school, graduating from college…they all signify major changes.

While we our mindful of our children’s milestones, our milestones as mothers seem to get lost in the background. Whether you are a working mother or a stay-at-home mother, sometimes the big changes in our lives seem to go unnoticed. For many of us, having kids means taking a bit of a backseat.

But, what happens when you get to ride shotgun again, even for just the short rides? Well, I guess you can say that’s kind of what’s happening with me these days. If you follow my blog regularly (which you should), then you know my youngest daughter started Kindergarten this year. I was and still am sad to see her go. We were like peas and carrots while her sister was at school. Although she went to pre-school, Kindergarten is a whole new game. Her and I had a good thing going, but now that’s all changed. For better or for worse, that special time is over. We still have our time, just not like that. Now, for the first time in five years, I have a bit of unprecedented freedom.

It is a new frontier for Mom.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about being able to focus on myself more and not feel guilty. As a stay-at-home mom for five years, a lot of what I did or didn’t do revolved around my kids. Honestly, I wouldn’t change one second of it. I feel totally blessed to have been able to stay home and witness so many of their milestones first hand. There comes a point when your role as a mother shifts. Trust me, my kids still need me, but it’s different. They’re just not as needy if that makes any sense. They can go off and play together while I work on writing in the other room. They can sit quietly and watch TV or read a book. I don’t have to worry about someone choking on a Lego while I try to meet a deadline. We still have our time together, but I can have mine too.

Before you think I’m about to pull a “Thelma & Louise”, I’m not. But, I am ready to explore. It’s only been a week and in just one week, I’ve already been able to scope out new writing and job opportunities…ones I wouldn’t dare to before because I just didn’t have the time to devote.  I can carve out a new path for myself which is exciting, liberating, and scary all at the same time. I can try to figure out what’s going to work and what isn’t right now as we all adapt to these changes. I can think out of the diaper box and it feels wonderful.

Some may say I could and should have done this all along. But, I chose not to. Everyone makes decisions that fit their lives. That was my choice. I don’t judge you, so hopefully you won’t judge me.

Although I feel like a little Davy Crockett these days as I explore new frontiers, I still miss my babies when they’re at school. I wonder what they’re doing and if they’re having a good day. I wonder if they ate their lunch, if they went to the bathroom, and more importantly if they washed their hands. That’s why I love seeing their smiling faces when they get home. I love to be able to hear about their days and help them with their homework and just be their Mom. I am even more focused when they get home because I’ve had “my time”. Now this is their time.I don’t feel frazzled because I’ve played ten-thousand rounds of Candy Land or played referee to a million arguments. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, I’m sure you can relate!

There is a bit of Zen in this new frontier and it is simply amazing.

 

 

 

I’m Not Ready for Summer to End

As I look on my calendar, I realize that the kids go back to school in about a month. While many parents are doing somersaults and are ready to do the happy dance, I can honestly say I’m not. Truthfully, I’m sad that summer vacation as we know it will be coming to end sooner than I can say day at the beach.

Although there have been plenty of times my kids have driven me crazy over the past six weeks, there have been more times filled with laughs, smiles and hugs. For this, I am eternally blessed. There have been playdates and get togethers with friends that we don’t get to see as often during the hectic school year. I’ve been able to actually watch my kids learn how to swim right in front of my eyes. This is an accomplishment that I am more than proud of because there were plenty of moments when I honestly thought it would never happen! There have been walks on the beach and melting ice cream cones along with carnival rides and rollercoasters. There have been countless nights of no bedtime so we can stay up to watch “Full House” re-runs on Nick at Nite (this is a personal fave!). There have been lazy mornings listening to my girls actually play with each other without killing one another.

So, why would I want summer to end?

I’ll be trading all of this in for bedtime fights followed by morning struggles of literally pulling my girls out of bed. There will be the whole Kindergarten transition for my youngest (that’s a topic for an entirely different post). I’d rather poke my eye out with a spork! I can’t wait for the outfit battles this year now that our school has switched from a uniform to a dress code policy. That should be fun!

There will be extracurricular activities and sports to keep the girls busy and Mom crazy all at the same time. Saturday mornings will be taken up with soccer games and smelly cleats. There will be the birthday invitations coming home for kids I didn’t even know existed! Don’t forget the homework and the effort to get it all done without a fight.

Remind me again why I want the kids to go back to school? I’ll trade all of that in for an endless summer…along with the sunshine and great weather. A momma can dream…

 

 

 

Stepping Out of Her Sister’s Shadow

It’s interesting to watch your kids grow up. Having two girls, the younger one has constantly mimicked her older sister. It’s monkey see, monkey do and “I can do it better than you” 24/7. The younger sibling constantly looks up to the older one.

Little sis has always wanted to play with the “big girls”. So, big sister’s friends became little sister’s friends “just because”.

But, then something started to happen.

Before you can say “share with your little sister”, little sister isn’t so little anymore. She starts becoming her own person. It’s both beautiful and sad in the same glance.

As my baby girl gets ready for Kindergarten in the fall, she’s beginning to spread her little wings. Gone are the days of having a death-grip on mommy’s leg because she doesn’t want to talk to the other kids. She’s starting to fly away without looking back. That’s a good thing, I know.

She’s also starting to make her own little friends and get invited to do things with her friends…without her sister. Everyday I can see her step out of her sister’s shadow a little bit more. While I couldn’t be happier that she’s becoming her own little person, part of me wants her to still play the role of co-pilot. As a mother, there’s something comforting in knowing that she’s always with her big sister, as much as big sister may not enjoy it.

While my younger daughter has always had a mind of her own, she also constantly wanted her sister’s approval. That’s also starting to disappear. Just this morning, my older daughter said she wanted pasta for dinner. In the “old” days, little sis would chime in with a “me too”. Instead, she told us she didn’t want pasta and that she was going to make herself a sandwich instead. After I finished laughing, I thought to myself, wow, you really are becoming your own little person.

Sigh.

Trust me, I know, this is just the beginning. Growing up seems to be so much easier for the kids to do. I wonder what their secret is! It’s a lot harder for us parents to watch!

 

 

Can We Stop Raising Mean Girls?

Mean girls have been around for as long as I can remember.

Perhaps you’ve ran into a few when you were a kid.

Perhaps you were their target like I was.

Perhaps you were even one when you were growing up.

Perhaps your child has had the unfortunate experience of being the victim of one.

Perhaps your child is one.

Whatever the case, mean girls seem to hang on and exist despite anti-bullying programs and zero tolerance policies at school. I just can’t seem to figure out why. What joy can I child get out of hurting another child either mentally or physically? Maybe I’m just naïve, but I just don’t get it.

The only explanation I can come up with is that we are raising a society of mean girls. Truth be told we have been for what seems like forever. It’s not just in certain parts of the country. It’s not exclusive to certain schools or districts. It is everywhere. While I do think outside influences can play a part, I don’t think we can pass the blame. It starts at home.

What are we teaching at home? Are we teaching kindness? Are we teaching tolerance? Are we teaching our kids to be genuinely good people? Sadly, I don’t think enough of us are. If we were then mean girls would cease to exist. We as parents need to take responsibility for the types of people we are raising. We need to teach them to be kind. It would be unrealistic for us to teach them to be friends with everyone. That’s just not possible. What is possible is to teach them to treat everyone with respect and kindness. The golden rule never gets old. Treat others like you want to be treated. It’s as simple yet as complicated all in the same breath.

Do you think those mean girls would like it if they were treated like they treat others? Honestly, some of them have become so damaged that it may bounce right off of them and onto their next victim. Others may actually feel some of the pain they’ve inflicted on others.

If you think your kids need to reach middle school or high school to feel the wrath of mean girls, think again. It’s happening even younger than you may think. I’ve seen it in elementary schools and as early as first grade. It is heartbreaking. No parent should every have to explain mean girls to their crying child who just doesn’t understand what they could have done wrong when they know they’ve done nothing.

At those young ages where are these kids learning this type of behavior? Why do they think it is acceptable? The only answer that makes sense to me is that they are learning it from home. Perhaps it’s what they are not learning at home. They are not being taught basic values of being a decent human being. If this is the case then we are failing as parents. We are failing as a society.

Simply put, can we stop raising mean girls? Is it really too much to ask? I can guarantee that everyone will benefit if we can just figure it out.

 

 

 

 

40 Days of Less Yelling…Can You Do It?

So, today is the first day of Lent. If you’re Catholic, like me, that means you usually have to give something up for the 40 days leading up to Easter. When I was little and even as a younger adult, I would rack my brain trying to thing of the one thing I loved the most that would torture me to give up. In years past that meant chocolate (several times), cookies, sweets in general, and even gossiping…I know, the humanity! Other years I pretended Lent didn’t even exist, so I didn’t give up anything at all.

I can’t say I stayed on the wagon for all those endeavors. I snuck a Reese Peanut Butter Cup or two…or three. I snatched a few cookies here or there or everywhere. Of course, someone annoyed me enough that I had to start talking smack. Needless to say, I was anything but successful with the whole “give up something and stick to it” for Lent thing.

So, now I’m a mom and I’m supposed to know what I’m doing to set a good example. But,  I once again had trouble trying to think what I could give up for Lent. My daughter came home from CCD last week and told me she learned all about Lent. It was interesting that she told me she was going to do something nice. She never once mentioned giving something up. Her “do something nice” was to be nice to her sister. Hopefully she’s more successful with her mission than I have been with mine.

That got me to thinking. What could I do for Lent that would be difficult for me and benefit others at the same time? As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I knew what it was already. I could yell less. I know I said this was part of my New Year’s resolution. Honestly, it hasn’t been working out so well. Time to hit the restart button and have a do-over.

Yelling less doesn’t mean my girls won’t get reprimanded if they do something wrong. It means I won’t feel as though I’m going to have an aneurysm when I do get mad at them. It means I won’t look like one of the characters from “Where the Wild Things Are” when I let them know they are doing something wrong. It means giving myself an interior “time-out” if you will. It’s probably a win-win all around.

As much as I may not want to admit it, yelling really doesn’t solve any problems. My kids may stop doing whatever annoying activity… for awhile. They may clean up a mess…only to mess up the same spot again five minutes later. They may decide to stop screaming like animals…for a few minutes.

In the end, I’m still annoyed.

So, let’s try this yelling less thing for 40 days. Can I do it? Hopefully! Can you?

I Love You All the Time

It’s kinda funny when you see things come full circle with your kids.

When my older daughter was a baby there was one book I would read to her all the time.

It’s called “I Love You All the Time”. Are you familiar with it?

It’s a cute board book that describes all these different scenarios, but in the end, the “busy” adult always love the child. It’s a sweet book to remind kids they are always loved no matter what’s going on around them. I used to love reading it to her. It was the one book that she would always smile and giggle at. I would do funny voices and act it out a bit too. But, as she got older, it kinda got tossed aside. It got “traded up” for more “deeper” books, like “The Cat in the Hat” if you will.

Honestly, I also forgot about it. I knew it was still on the book shelf. But, it seemed to have gotten lost. So, you have to imagine my surprise when my older daughter found it on the shelf and decided she wanted to read it to me. It has to be a good couple of years since I read that book. My younger daughter never took to it the way her sister did.

So, after she asked to read it, I asked her if she remembered that I used to read it to her all the time. When she said she did, my mommy heart melted. We sat on the couch and she started reading. For a few minutes I was brought back to a time when I would hold her tight and read to her. I could breathe that sweet baby smell forever. I wish I could bottle those snuggles and bring them out now.

I was brought back to reality as she read me the story. She did a really nice job. It must have been all the times she heard me read it to her. I have to say a part of me liked it even more when she read it. Although I hate the fact that she is growing up, it showed me that she is learning and getting smarter by the day. Isn’t that what we all want?

While the entire book is great, the last line is the best.

“Even when you can’t see me, I love you all the time.”

I hope that rings true for her just as much as it does for me.