To Allowance or Not To Allowance?

Do you give your children an allowance?

This is a topic I have struggled with off and on since my oldest child was about 7 years old.

A bit of background about my situation. It gives my relationship with money some context to the situation I am now in.

Growing up we had a very precarious allowance system. Sometimes we would get it, sometimes not. Depending if there was enough money left over once all the bills were paid and it was tied to completing our chores. Some months, we would get an allowance and then asked for it back to help buy milk at the corner store. There was never any consistency. All allowance stopped when I was old enough to start babysitting and making my own money –  around 11 or 12 years old. I never wanted for anything. I had a clothes budget each fall for school and supplies that my parents gave me. But if I wanted extras, I was on my own.

Post childhood, into university. I was left on my own. No sense of how to budget, manage a student loan or credit cards. Just enough sense to know to pay my bills on time and work so I had money.

Money was also a contentious issue with my parents. Bills were always a stress point and money was considered scary. Arguments about money filtered down the vents in whispered arguments at night. So my relationship with money, budgets and allowance has always been

Back to present day, with all of the above in mind and still grasping a bit blindly but not unsuccessfully with budgeting and money – when my eldest child was old enough to start thinking about an allowance, I panicked.

How much, what age and most importantly, how do I start teaching them so they are more educated and better financial planners than I was and am? How can I help them so they have to struggle less and have a healthy relationship with money? I’m still trying to figure it out.

Opinions are plentiful on the subject. From the internet, articles, parenting experts and of course, other parents.

I tried the go-to allowance method at the time with my oldest. I explained about the three planks: save, spend and charity. I opened up a savings account in her name and put in the first $50 dollars.

She was eight years old.

To give her credit, she tried but a few things became clear at once.

  1. She was way too young to fully understand what I was trying to do.
  2. I could not keep up the monthly allowance – with three or more kids. In turn, all of the children wanted some sort of allowance and there were times I just simply forgot. There was no consistency.
  3. Unless it was completely unreasonable, (For example a $40 Collectible Barbie that she would never play with!) she (and her siblings) got pretty much got anything they asked for. Want a book? Sure, I love bookstores and things are going well that day. Let’s go. Want that special candy, have you been good today? All right.

The word no was used too in my attempt to teach them they could not get EVERYTHING they wanted.  (No. We are buying a birthday present for your friend, you do not need another book today!) But the yes’s and the no’s are evenly matched.

Needless to say, allowances have been inconsistent and I feel and felt like I had failed to start them off on a strong footing with money. Parent fail.  The intent to teach is there – but my follow-through needed some work.

I started an allowance with Elizabeth. Stopped when life got busy. Started again with the two younger kids. Stopped again when we moved and life got buys. Started again this year with the youngest being 6 years old, foiled again within two months as work picked up.

Except this time, they are all old enough to realize I stopped.

“Mom! You owe me $11 dollars for this month.” (I took the rule of thumb in most opinions out there, $1/week for each age of the child.)

“Mom, you forgot my allowance again.”

“Mom – buy me this, just take it off my allowance.”

This went on and on, driving me crazy, making me feel guilty that I was failing a major life learing event –  until I stopped. Cold turkey. Trying to play catch up and three little voices and amounts owed in my head was giving me a headache and something had to shift. The system I tried so hard to implement that I thought would teach them wonderful things about budget and money – it simply did not work for me.

“No more allowance.” I stated and tried to ignore the slack-jawed mouths open in shock.

“But how are we going to buy a new book this month?”

Hmmm..how about I already buy you a book via Scholastic from school each month so that should be enough and it helps out your classroom?

Then I started asking other parents about the allowance situation. Especially those with three or more children. The more experienced parents laughed.

“Allowance? I can barely keep up with the laundry.”

I asked if they tied allowance to chores. It was a mixed-bag of answers just like any information out in the general public today. But the consensus came back as this:

Yes, allowances are great. For older kids who want more stuff. (10 years old seems to be a general starting point.) Younger kids get what they need and then some. Why do they need to buy more stuff? (In this day and age of gift cards younger children do get opportunities to spend and consider costs. Save any they get for one big shopping trip or reward.)

No, not tied to everyday chores. But sometimes tied to extra work done around the house for older children. Sometimes. The importance of learning how to take care of the house coupled with learning the art of pitching in outweighs any allowance. Why should you pay them for doing what they SHOULD be doing anyway?

Yes, debit accounts for kids are a necessity – once they start working at a part-time job but not before. Savings accounts are a good alternative for those cash-only birthday gifts but only if you want to – not a necessity. Alternatively, keep the cash in a safe place until you are ready to open the account.

Yes, they usually kept back part of a cash gift and put into savings account/safe unless the child requested a big-ticket item. (New iPod or game system.)

All of this information came from other parents I respect who are in the same boat as me. It gave me an out but still – why did the thought of allowances and opening bank accounts make my stomach churn?

The answer –  there is so much information out there about what is the right and wrong approach. It is overwhelming, especially for a person who 1) Did not have much guidance growing up on how to handle money. 2) Has a fear around money. 3) Is desperate to do something different or more right with how to approach allowances and money with children.

We all want the best for our children, and sometimes, what works for your family is different from what works for another. Sometimes, there is no money for allowances. And sometimes, it’s just too much work when you have three or more kids.

After much waffling, I decided the best approach was no approach. I cut off the allowances for everyone after I had been asked for the hundredth time when was allowance day coming? If I couldn’t be consistent, than it was best just to stop and take stock of the situation at my own pace.

The children were not happy but in truth, the complaining lasted a day.  As I mentioned, it is not like my children are suffering from lack of well, anything.

Instead of focusing on allowance, I decided helping around the house was a bigger mountain to tackle first. Baby steps.

Are allowances gone forever? No. I do see the importance and value of teaching them about budgeting, earning money for a job well done and not to be afraid of it. I started using the term, budget instead of snapping at them when they asked for another small toy that would fill their already full toy bins that money doesn’t grow on trees. Instead I calmly try to say, “Sorry, not in the budget this week.”

And I stopped tying the items they were lucky enough to get each month, (a new pair of shoes they were eyeing, a book, hair accessories), to behaviour. Good behaviour and manners were a necessity, not a bribe. They get stuff when they need stuff or I see something that I think will make their day.

But they are learning too. Along with my new “not in the budget” proclamation, they actually sit and think about the best way to spread out that birthday money or gift card they have received. How much do they want that item if all they have is a set amount and have to wait until their next birthday?

Want to know a great thing I noticed when I took a step back? My kids are generous.

With no probing from me and left to their own devices, if one of them is out of birthday cash on a special trip to the local mall, another will buy them the coveted item. No strings attached.

And these trips to the mall or book store or even time with on iPad to get that app – that IS tied to behaviour. Not the actual thing they covet, not an allowance – but the experience of going out together. I’ve cancelled and drove away from stores or restaurants that we were just about to go in with a shrug and firm parent tone when any kind of established breaking of house rules like respecting each other, hands off and manners is broken. I have also taken them on a spur of the moment when they are behaving well and we have had a relatively stress-free day. (AKA –  no one arguing with each other in the back seat of the vehicle.)

Dumping the allowance discussion allowed me to really address other things first. How to treat each other. Manners. Responsibility for your own things. Expectations around household chores and pitching in. I also got to see them start to budget in their heads, really think about what they wanted because there was no regular influx of cash each month.  Lastly, I am starting to see the natural charitable side of my children. Towards each other or when my eldest pulls out a five dollar bill of her own  money for a homeless person.

Are these not the very lessons an allowance is supposed to teach?

We will circle around, now that other work is going well and the time will come to address an allowance. But instead of an all in one approach – I think tying to their age makes the most sense and is less overwhelming for a parent.

Elizabeth is now 11 years old. She is ready to start with a more regular allowance as she begins to want to hang out with friends on her own or really wants that particular piece of clothing or book. I figure by the time she is 12 years old, we will have a regular allowance system in place to set her up for those teenage years. The other ones will have their turn when it’s time.

The difference now? Me. I can take my time and teach instead of rushing to do it the “right way” and in my opinion, way to early. Introducing an allowance systems at an age-appropriate level with a person who is beginning to understand the world is bigger than our family makes the most sense to me.

And I’ll do it again and again with each child as they hit a milestone birthday but this time – it will be done right.

How do you manage allowance with your family?

 

 

 

 

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Travel With Kids

For the last few months I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to write guest articles for www.sixsuitcasetravel.com. An informative website about traveling with your large family and a great resource I have used for a few years.

My latest article was about our trip to The Poconos a few years ago.

To read the article you can find it here:

7 Must Do Magical Moments in The Poconos

Poconos Countryside

When A Carefully Built House Of Cards Collapses – You Build It Again

Yes, yes. It has been a long while since I paid any attention to this little blog. I do have my reasons.

  •  I started a new blog about our move to a rural life at Small Town Gal that I am trying to keep updated.
  • I took on paid writing work.
  • I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo again to flush out a story idea that a few encouraging people told me to finish.
  • I started binge watching Netflix, again.
  • I began excercising more seriously, again.
  • I realized I require more sleep.
  • I have three kids.

Nonetheless, I also wasn’t sure if I had anything of value to share on parenting three or more kids that I haven’t either already wrote about or was written about in the general blog, Facebook, Twitter space. After all, I’m just one mom in a million who have multiple kids and I struggle with time management, to-do lists and priorities just like everyone else.

I also had to take a step back, is it really different having one versus two versus three or more children? I think so, but maybe it’s just because I’m not great at the juggling act as others. Of perhaps it’s because I feel guilty that I find managing three little people at times, challenging and unrewarding. Maybe it’s because I just turned forty and I’m tired. Or finally, is it simply that this is my reality so I think having three kids is unique or different in some ways and I tell myself I deserve a space to vent so I don’t go out of my mind. Who really knows? Not me. It could be all of it or none of it.

mother-free-work

From mycity4kids.com

 

But now that I’m here, I have noticed that spending the last few months having little bits of time with one or only two of my adorable munchkins, it seemed, well easier. A breath of fresh air. This small thing along with discussions with others about kids made me realize something. Having kids is hard. Having more than one kid is hard. Having three or more is crazy. Crazy fun sometimes, but crazy.

This fall, I’ve been dealing with a lot of emotional management. Sometimes I do okay and other times I fail, big time. I find having kids that sponge off me physically and emotionally although necessary and wonderfully empowering as a mom who tries to be there for them that they take my advice, hugs and want me there is not so great for me as an individual who requires some personal space and time. The whole thing is sometimes very draining.

But, we have had a lot going on and they have required more attention than normal. We moved. Across the province. Away from our support systems, friends and schools. Big picture it makes sense for us. After all, this was not an easy or whimsical decision but a well thought out, hard one. Regardless, the last few months have been an emotional roller coaster for us and the kids. Happy one minute, enjoying their new home and exploring  the area with unbridled passion all seems wonderful. Then, in a snap they can be in tears. Homesick for what they know, friends they used to see everyday. So much so that it tugs at our heart strings and we wonder if we robbed them of their idyllic childhood.

I almost wonder sometimes as a parent of three or more kids, do they secretly strategize out a plan to keep me on my parenting toes? To see how much I can stretch as a mom?

This past week or so,  just as I finished dispensing hugs and encouragement to my almost eleven year old, told her  that she will indeed find new friends in her new school, the next day my eight year old starts to well up, her eyes full of tears as we leave a playdate back in our old town and wham! I’m back in the therapist chair. The house of cards is starting to fall.

Then, (oh yes..not done), I get her calmed and excited about seeing her new friend at school the next day when the next day wham! My little man, the five year old, breaks my heart when he draws a picture of two very sad stick people, separated by a line. With crocodile tears running down his face he sputtered,

“It’s me and P. Separated forever.” (P was his very good friend from SK last year who we haven’t yet visited since we moved this past summer, although they’ve exchanged a few letters only the way five year old boys can.)

The house of cards is down. Something has been triggered in all three of them. Maybe an unseen hand knocked my thriving kids backwards and I was back to square one. At least it wasn’t all at once, someone had the foresight to only give me as much as I could handle. One emotional tailspin at a time.

I picked Jacob up, he sobbed onto my shoulder and part of me wondered at the sensitive nature of my usually happy-go-lucky man. (I secretly hope he maintains this side of himself and doesn’t hide it away. ) In this moment, although he needed me both physically and emotionally, I had to reach over to stir the taco meat on the stovetop. I rocked him back and forth and told him it was okay to be sad. For on this night, I also have a starving and cranky tween daughter who kept hollering that I can’t expect perfection from her, a reaction because I made her rewrite her messy assignment.  I bit my lip and looked longingly at the glass of untouched red wine on the counter. It had to wait. At least the eight year old seemed content today.

The house of cards is down and I woke up today and started to rebuild. Because that’s what we do. Thankfully, all three of them are seemingly better this morning after a week of roller coaster emotions, the only thing I can think is thank goodness it wasn’t all at the same time.

But it  never ends, not really. There will always be one of them out of sorts. Always. For that is life as we know it and I think I’ve learned to accept that. It’s part of the deal being a parent to three or more kids, the difference if you will between having one or two or three or more kids. You oftentimes will have a fire to put out, a flare-up to manage or a full out storm so intense it takes your breath away, there are no real breaks in between. And perhaps that is what I can offer; how to survive the constant barrage on your own self. I can offer strategies to cope, suggest how to be kind to yourself and most importantly be someone who can empathize when you say, I have three or more kids. For I get it. I really do.

So for today, for all those parents who throw up your hands and ask will I have a day where there isn’t any drama from one of my multiple children? My answer is yes, yes you will. It may not be a whole day, it may be an hour, but take it. Grab tight and do something you love. For me, it was yoga first thing this morning. It calmed me. Maybe I’ll get to do it again this week, maybe, if I’m not busy with the hose.

 

 

A Moment of Distraction

Let’s face it, life is busy. Not just for me, for most people I know. Especially this time of year, just go back and read any of my annual May posts. One in particular that I seem to respost each year is From Overwhelmed Parent to Grateful Parent because it holds up over time.  When you have children, especially those families with three or more little darlings things get a little, let’s use the word, chaotic in the spring.  For fun, throw in some additional and/or unexpected life events and crazy takes on a whole new level of meaning.

Due to my continued (albeit it not intentional) lack of regular postings, let me give you a brief recap.

  • A puppy joined our household, Chip the Australian Labradoodle. He is loveable, goofy, sneaky and believes I am his bed or a cushion to sit on. It’s like having a toddler again.
  • I took on some paid writing work.  A few wonderfully complimentary small business owners decided I was a good fit as a writer for hire for their online content marketing strategies. Blogging takes a back seat when paid work comes along as well as my more creative flights of fancy via short stories and editing a manuscript take off all at the same time.
  • And the big one, THE MOVE. Because we are a little nuts, (after all who gets a puppy on labour day, right before all three kids go back to school full-time?), we have purchased a property on the other side of the province (Ontario). We decide to trade in our convenient and comfortable suburban life for a life in the country. Not too far away sit picturesque wineries and our new home is found along the shoreline of the gently lapping waters of the Bay of Quinte.
  • My eldest daughter is going for day surgery (tonsils) and will be off school, at home recovering for at least a week.
  • The kids are now ten, eight and five. If you have kids this age or have had kids this age, I do not need to write another word. You get it. If you’re kids are younger, just wait. You will soon learn the art of creative time management and juggling the demands of burgeoning little people with their own agendas.

As I swiftly change my hats faster than the Mad Hatter himself, I do try to slow down at times and enjoy moments of distraction. Right now basketball is a useful distraction for our whole family. It is huge in this part of the world and our whole family cheers when those Raptors sink another basket.

But the other thing I find helps is humour. Laughing at the absurdity of our crazy life is not unusual, but there are times when you realize you may be a little too distracted.

As a parent of three or more kids, I try not to take my kids grocery shopping with me. It is an ordeal, usually ending up with one kid trying to ride the shopping cart, another grabbing cookies and my voice in that special low growl that ensures their little hands are all affixed to the sides of the cart.  I often forget things if they are with me. So, you would think that grocery shopping would be a leisurely outing when I am on my own. Except, well see the above. Finding leisurely grocery shopping is a thing of my not so distant past. Oh sure, it will come again, but not right now. Right now it is all about survival.

So one afternoon about a week ago, I dashed into the grocery store noting (of course) that I had forgotten my list. I tried to rely on my lacklustre memory but all that came to mind were the dishes. I hate washing dishes by hand so yes, dishwasher tabs are a must. Even in my harried state, I always try to spot that special yellow or red tag that screams, “Sale! Buy me!” When I raced down the aisle, threw other random items into my cart, I spotted the  “Sale!” tag near the dishwasher tab section and grabbed an unfamiliar brand. “Oh well, it’s on sale.” I thought to myself. “It’s probably fine.”

Thinking nothing of it, I walked over to the cashier, paid and went home.

In our house, we keep our dishwasher tabs in a dark corner of the cupboard under the kitchen sink. We have to reach beyond the nearly full compost bin and grab the tabs from the bag or bucket each night.

After I arrived home, I threw the bag into the cupboard and went on my merry way.

It happened the first night. The dishes were still disgusting after the final wash cycle.

“What’s this?” Mr. L asked and held up a grungy glass.

“Hmm.not sure maybe the setting was on a quick wash. Run it again.”

We do that, over and over. The next load was a little cleaner but there were less dishes. We had spent a lot of time eating out over the weekend.

Sunday night. The dishes were supposed to be clean, after all it worked once, but they were still sort of grungy. “Maybe it’s the new dishwasher tabs, I got a new brand. Just use it and I’ll get a new one next time I’m at the store.”

I left Monday night for a mini trip to take pictures of our new rural digs and to order furniture. I arrived home Tuesday and my elder daughter, Elizabeth was unloading the dishwasher.

“Ewww.these are still dirty.” She shoved her small hands into the the large, yellow gloves not wanting to touch the clean/dirty dishes.

“Just leave the dirty ones.” I told her, tired and worn out after a very busy forty-eight hours.

Mr. L peeked at the dishes as well, and then at the unusually dirty dishwasher. “I hope it’s not the dishwasher.”

Remember, we are moving in six weeks.

Wednesday morning arrives. We tried to wash another load and this time, Audrey, the younger daughter was unloading the dishes.

“These feel gross.” She holds out a dirty knife like it was covered in something disgusting. I stood to the side, continued to cut up vegetables for their lunches, tried to organize my  day in my head, fed the dog and threw in some laundry.

“Just leave it. I’ll hand wash them.”

Later that day, when I finally got around to hand washing the dirty/clean dishes, I realized they were dirty, really dirty. The dishwasher soap in those little plastic tabs must be really bad. No wonder they were on sale. I managed to get out to the grocery store in the afternoon and picked up my regular brand. I was very happy, my regular expensive brand was on sale, score!

I got home, pulled out the not great dishwasher tabs from deep within the cupboard, and was ready to trash them when I actually stopped to read the bag.

Laundry Detergent. 99% natural ingredients. No perfumes. 

I bought laundry detergent tabs and have been using them in my dishwasher.

This my friends is the epitome of distraction and life’s wry sense of humour. Just when you pat yourself on the back on how well you are handling the chaos of life, you realize you not only bought laundry detergent instead of dishwasher detergent, but have been using it for the last six days.

Well, at least my kids will have no internal stains and the product was the most natural on the market.

Parents of three or more kids, find the humour. When life seems out of control, busy as hell just remember, at least you didn’t wash your dishes with laundry detergent today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Banana Bread Recipe

Long ago, on a hot summer afternoon in 2005, two professional young woman bantered back and forth on email trying to carve out and finish multiple conversations. One was on maternity leave, the other finding herself, working at a local arts council after leaving a stable corporate job.

Their emails were filled with affection and updates on their days, motherhood, marriage, gossip about friends and weekend plans.

Prior to the onset of civil pleasantries, a recipe for banana bread was shared. A no-fail recipe with chocolate chips. The receiver of the email (me) was spending some time honing her domestic cooking skills and asked one of the great bakers/cooks she knew, her friend L., for the recipe. Now, eleven years is a long time and I cannot remember if I had L.’s banana bread and that’s why the recipe was shared or I was just trying to fill up my empty cooking journal with something that was easy and delicious. Maybe it was because my partner, Mr. L, loves banana bread and I wanted to make something special. The reason is not very important really, what matters is that today, in February 29, 2016, that reciepe exists.

Folded neatly into a cooking reference book my grandmother made years ago to store recipe and meal ideas (perhaps hoping I would turn out to be a domestic wonder in the kitchen), the recipe comes out every so often. Still printed on the same paper, it brings a smile to my face each time I use it as I wonder if L. knows how much I reread one of our hundreds of emails to each other over the years and use this long ago shared recipe.

Just last week, I pulled the recipe out and asked myself,  “Why can’t I commit this recipe to memory?” After all, I’ve been making it for 11 years, yet, for some reason it will not stick in my brain. The banana bread produced each time has been a hit with my now three children, friends and family members. It is often requested by people who have tried it.

I realized at last, on a cold day last week, I really don’t want to memorize the recipe. If I did, that would mean I would have no need for the paper, or be able to read the email exchange written beneath. I wouldn’t smile remembering that person long ago who had just found out she was pregnant after a long year and a half of trying, had visited her friend L. and her little girl so happy for all of them and was just starting to orient herself in a new community. A woman nearing thirty who was battling tiredness, loss of appetite and the heat.

So instead, I kept it. I tried not to spill anything on it and as soon as I’m done it goes back into the special recipe binder. I have treasured this piece of paper and the person who took time out of her busy day as a new mama to send her friend a Banana Bread Email .

For those who want an easy, no-fail banana bread recipe, I give you my friend’s Banana Bread recipe. Take it from a parent of three or more kids, it is delicious and it is a keeper.

Banana Bread Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (can substitute half with applesauce in a pinch, still tastes good)

Chocolate chips – optional – quantity determined as desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9.5 inch loaf pan. (I use butter but whatever you want.) In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter in prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 60-65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into centre of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Enjoy!

 

From overwhelmed parent to grateful parent. Repost.

I decided to repost this blog from May, 2014. It is still relevant, albeit with some minor changes in our lives but I thought it was a good reread for this time of year for parents of three or more kids. Happy reading! 

There are generally three times each school year that leave me feeling breathless, rattled, unsure of my ability to be supermom, flying from this to that. And that was when I had just one kid in school full-time. Having two this year and a third gearing up for kindergarten in September, I wonder how I’m going to handle it all.

The first time is back to school. If you have one or eight kids this is a crazy time as you prepare you little student for their upcoming year. Second is just before Christmas break. Concerts are planned, gingerbread house making nights, presents to buy and the holidays to prepare for. Third is right now – mid-May until mid-June. Four weeks of frantic activity from everyone involved.

The kids start getting their first taste of warm sunshine. They want outside. All the time. Desperate to soak up the rare vitamin D in our part of the world and chase the explosion of white butterflies and bumblebees. Especially after a year like 2014 that has been low on the sunshine and a what seemed like we lived in the movie, “Frozen” where snow and ice-covered our land.  Trying to get them to bed at their regular bedtime is challenging, even with blackout shades as the older ones know how to raise them up and peek out the window at the sunset.

“Mooom!! It’s not bedtime yet. The sun is still out. I can’t possibly sleep when it’s not dark.”

“I know honey, but while school is still on you have to go to bed at your regular time. Read for bit.”

So they read, chat and play and don’t fall asleep until after 9 pm and it is dark outside. For some reason it doesn’t phase them getting up with the chirping robins at 630 am. The only person in the house who is still going to sleep no matter what is Jacob, the three year-old.

“I’m done everything and ready for school. Can I go in the backyard?”

“No dear. There’s still a heavy dew on the grass. You’re feet will be soaked.”

So, trying to match their boundless energy I coerce them into completing homework and practicing for upcoming recitals and performances.

Yes, every single program my kids participate have their end of year performance, recital or celebration within this four week period. If you are blessed with children who like the performing arts, it means costume trials, dress rehearsals and early morning line-ups to buy tickets to your blessed child’s five-minute routine during a three-hour show. It also means trying to prepare them for these routines the best that you can while they blow bubbles in the backyard because how can you deprive them outside playing time when they have waiting almost seven months for warm summer breezes?

But we try. Oh do we try.

end of school year

Another testament to my patience this time of year is the endless “end of school” celebrations. I admire and appreciate the school’s desires to honour parental volunteers and celebrate the end of the year. But between you and me, having three kids means I have to squeeze in trying to attend all of their school-related stuff. Spring concerts, BBQ’s, Fun Fairs and volunteer teas. Not to mention the onslaught of trying to do that last-ditch attempt at fundraising so movie nights and art nights. Trying to attend them all,  I enthusiastically cheer and really do appreciate the time it takes to organize these things and have a lovely time when I’m there. But then my kids can’t complain when their summer clothes are being pulled out of the bins as the temperatures increase and I really can’t send them in cords and long sleeved-shirts any longer. A quick check to see if too wrinkled and a sniff to see if items pass the smell-test I throw summer dresses and short-sleeved shirts their way hoping they haven’t grown out of them. Something has got to give!

Oh, did I mention soccer started? Yes, all the spring activities start during this time frame as well and with that means extra nights for picture nights and Friday evenings fraught with on the go dinners to get two kids to soccer.

In between all of the above are teacher-parent meetings as teacher’s start collecting their marks for the year and parents try to encourage their kids to “give it all you got for these last few weeks!” Time to shop for year-end gifts and decide if other parents are giving the jazz class instructor a token of appreciation and who makes the cut and who doesn’t in my quick and dirty gift-shopping spree. Having three or more kids means you also have to remember, did I give that gift to that teacher last year? Will the bus driver appreciate yet another gift card from me for coffee at Tim Horton’s or should I do something new?

Oh and I’m trying to pack for our first summer trip of the year, finish editing a book (this is where I am glad I finished it before this time period), exercise to get ready for two and a half weeks at the beach and squeeze in those last playdates with my kid’s friends because goodness knows there are some kids they won’t see all summer (gasp!) and they absolutely must have them to our house one more time.

GratitudeCiceroquote

But yet, although I may complain about how crazy life is about to get I am aware this is brought all upon myself. I can pick and choose how absurd our life gets and for that I am thankful. I am thankful I have schools in our area that care enough about their students/teachers/parents to celebrate a successful school year. It is with gratitude I give tokens of appreciation to all the people who taught my children all different things this year or kept them in safe environments. I will buy tickets to support a local community theatre group and try to coerce my relatives to come and see our kids play pirates in an hour-long play or drive to the obscure theatre to watch my daughter dance for five minutes. For these are the markers of another year gone by. One where despite the full and crazy life we have, I manage to get out once a week for a run. I get to travel a little bit with and without the kids. I completed a novel. I took my son to his first professional baseball game. These are the memories they and I will have.

And that, makes it all worth it.

One last note.

Even though all worth it, do not think for a moment that this particular mom of three, will not hesitate to pour a big tumbler of wine after dinner while the kids sing “Let It Go” to the neighbours and sit with my feet up on my toy-laden patio table looking forward to bedtime each night. For it is only after my little darlings are finally asleep and the house is quiet can I permit myself to do nothing. Absolutely nothing at all and for the next four weeks and I refuse to feel guilty about that.

Helping your kids, helping yourself.

As per my a previous post, I am on a mission to help my kids (and myself) be more organized and teach responsibility. Knowing this needed to be done but also being a parent to three small children, I always feel as if I’m playing catch up and one of my goals is to get ahead of the game. Or at least try to. In doing this, the hope is to help our household run a little better and teach the kids about organization at the same time.

Some of this was derived from report card time. My eldest child, a bright easily distracted nine-year old, is struggling with her current school program. The standard message has come home the last few years,

“Elizabeth is a bright, empathetic child. She would greatly benefit from focusing more during classroom time, completing her work in an organized way and using the resources available to her.”

Meetings with teachers generally end with the same conversation.

“Yes, we know she can do the work if she wants to, but her work is too inconsistent to be marked at grade level. If she would just focus in class a bit more and take her time, we think there would be huge improvements.”

My standard question is, “What are the resources available during class time and within the school to support this goal of motivating her to focus on her work? Timers? Reward charts? What?”

Usually I am taken through the standard in class resources. But telling me in February that you are just starting to do things like giving her a private area to focus on her work or inviting her to join a guided reading club twice a week at recess is frustrating with more than half the year is gone. I know teachers are limited to what they can do in a day and it is the hardest job. I empathize and know you try your best. But as a parent, I would like not to wait until the year is half over to address concerns, but deal with them as soon as they are noticed and see mechanisms in place after the Progress Report if you think they are needed. Not four months later. As for other available at-school resources outside the classroom for these types of learning skills, well they are non-existent at our school.  Basically the continued message I have received is that she will continue to be marked low until she writes neatly, focuses all the time during class on a more consistent basis and uses the resources for her spelling.

Ummm..okay.

On one level, I can’t argue with them. It is the same frustrating battle I have at home trying to balance her free-spirited ways knowing she understands the material, but she really doesn’t seem to care if she spells are without the “e” because,even though she knows it’s supposed to be there (as she can spell it correctly when she edits her work or spells it orally) so why should she write it down properly? She just wants to finish and get on with the next thing. Sigh…

Trying to walk the line of working with the school system while encouraging them to perhaps look at alternative ways to motivate her, I am tempted to write a standard letter  to every one of her teachers at the beginning of the year.

“Please excuse my daughter. She understands everything you are saying but unless she sees the personal benefit to write neatly and in an organized way, telling her to do it just isn’t going to work. Perhaps rewarding her with smarties will entice her to focus on her work. I invite you to try any positive reinforcement at your disposal but please try those things now and not in March.”

But some teachers may not appreciate my sarcastic sense of humour.

The only thing I can think of as a parent trying to juggle multiple kids homework etc. was to go back to basics. I researched chore lists, homework lists and found some great online free resources. Some of them customizable.

As a first step, I created a simple system to encourage personal responsibility. The system needed to contain visual cues and reminders to teach what is a good use of one’s time as I do have an emerging reader in JK.

What does this mean in kid language?

The Wall

The Wall

Each child has a folder jammed full of their specific paperwork, homework, reminders and special pencils. To be cleaned out once a month. (As the picture was taken last week, as you can see not emptied for the month yet!)

Above that, each child has a list of expected age-appropriate daily tasks to be checked off. If the whole week gets checked, they get extra time for a movie on the weekend, or trip to the book store to cash in that last birthday gift card. Some sort of “good job” incentive.

Beneath that, each child has a daily schedule with slotted times for piano practice, homework time, free time, lessons,  extracurricular activities etc. I also included their in school library days, or weekly dictation tests. These will change every four months as activities change. My hope is that if they can visually see how much time they have for items or upcoming due dates prompting  them to use their time wisely.

This is as much for me as for them as my head was getting full of so many school-related details.

Now as simple as this looks (and let’s be real, this is not staged so yes I use markers to draw things and items are askew) the point is that it is there for reference.

We went through a tutorial with each kid outlining their charts with an emphasis on independence. What is that? Simply put, if they don’t know what to do, check the chart first. If they still need help figuring out how to use their time, ask a parent.

This also can help any grandparent, child care provider and Mr. L in the event the main organizer, (me) is ill or away.

We got through week one of using the charts and for the most part it went well. Especially with Elizabeth. She likes knowing what is expected of her and having a resource to refer to. It helps keep her focused on the task at hand. It also helps a mom who hasn’t showered in two days take a breath and state the mantra, “Did you check your lists?” With that reminder, the two eldest children figured out what they were supposed to do without much more input. Also freeing up my time to teach a rambunctious four-year old his alphabet.

Next on my list? Investigating and brainstorming simple but creative ways to entice a nine-year old girl to care about her work without overwhelming her. I want to motivate her but more importantly, I want her to learn to motivate herself and be proud of her accomplishments.

Charts were all found from: www.freeprintablebehaviourcharts.com

How to survive back to back birthdays

“Let’s get together next weekend?”

“Sorry, I can’t. I have to be at my mother’s birthday.”

“How about mid-month?”

“Again, sorry. I have two of my kids birthdays that weekend.”

“The weekend after?”

“No. I will be sleeping. For awhile. Call me in the spring.”

This is an example of my conversations with various people starting early December until the end of February. Having three or more kids with birthdays squished together in a three-month period is tricky. Add in Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, other family members birthdays (husband, mother, aunt, close friends) and Valentine’s Day and well, you get it. For the most part it is manageable with a good Excel spreadsheet and someone who works well under timelines. The hardest part of the last three months was this past week. My mother’s birthday, Valentine’s Day and Elizabeth and Audrey’s birthdays. Yes, we are those parents who seem to have their kids all around the same time.

I spend a little time full of envy for those who have three or more kids who have birthdays separated by a month or a couple of months. Even a few weeks would be great. Having two girls with birthdays two days apart is a little nuts.

The bright side is that after this past weekend, I am free. No more planning, no more balloon bouquets to purchase and no more cupcakes to bake at midnight. (Okay, to be honest I did that for one occasion but not them all!) Not until December when it starts all over again.

How does a parent of three or more kids survive when birthdays are so close?

  • Checklists for each kid
    • I like to use Excel but any spreadsheet option works. It helps keep track of multiple invites, RSVP, dates and contact information.
  • Party City
    • This is my go to place. It could be any party supplier. It could be the dollar store. At Party City I can get decorations, balloon bouquets and loot bags if I want. One stop shop. I can also place orders ahead of schedule for pick up at certain times and days.
  • Simple loot bags
    • Gone are the days of tiny plastic toys loot bags. No parent wants another bag filled with toys. Other options are: gift cards, books, crayons/colouring books or a donation in lieu of loot bags to your favourite charity. I like to give loot bags that are in theme with the party on hand. For example Audrey had her birthday party this year at our local Cineplex Silvercity. I went to Kernels and got gift cards for the loot bags with a $5 value. They provided little bags to place the cards, sleeves and I added a couple of tiny chocolate bars for a treat. Kernels also has gluten-free options which was perfect for a few of our guests.
  • Bake if that’s your thing, but when you want order from local bakery.
    • Not only are you delegating a task but you are supporting a local business. As well, having some kids with peanut/gluten allergies the bakery could provide that option or at least a few gluten-free cupcakes. The bakery we used, Sweet, hand delivered the cake to our location which ensured a safe arrival.
  • If you have back to back birthdays and three or more kids hard decision need to be made.
    • I love having family parties. But with three kids having birthdays spanning end of December (yes, right after the holidays) into mid-February it is a lot to ask everyone to attend all three of my kid’s birthday celebrations and truthfully, getting more and more expensive. We also see various family members for other celebrations during that time frame. So it tends to work out, one kid has a family party including all aunts and grandparents, one has a small party at the house and one gets a medium-sized party where first age-appropriate cousins are invited. Of course, anyone who wants to come and see the birthday boy or girl is welcome to come anytime on their own but I am not organizing three birthday friend parties and then three family parties. Decision made.
  • Sleepovers are great. Every kid must have one, but be stocked up on coffee in your house. Especially if you have another kids birthday party the next day.
    • Mr. L and I wolfed down double espresso all day yesterday after Elizabeth’s birthday sleepover Saturday night and then getting ready for Audrey’s friend birthday party the next day.
  • Finally, book down time the following week.
    • I am going to a day spa this Friday as a reward for getting through the last three months.

In the end, try to take in the happy moments and remember, it will nine more months until it starts again.

 

#kids #birthday

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Responsibility – learning it together.

“It’s a question of discipline,” the little prince told me later on. “When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943, translated from French by Richard Howard

Nine years old. My eldest child is about to turn nine this week. Some days I feel she is wiser beyond her years. Others I have to wonder if she stopped listening at the age of five. Combine that with a blossoming sense of over confidence that she has her world mostly figured out and a girl who since she could speak, has a question or comment on just about anything. Well, if you have or had a nine-year old, you get it.

The topic this week in our household? Responsibility. Honesty. Building a plan to be more responsible. Why? Well, our clever girl, wanting to do well on a presentation for school, decided that because she felt so good about it, to forge a mark on the paper and pass it off that her teacher gave her an A+ on the spot. Thinking back I should have been a little more suspicious when there was no sheet accompanying her speech and that her attempt to explain that the mark was only for the presentation part was a bit far-fetched, but being a distracted mama, I trusted her.

Thankfully, my little girl, having a Jimminy-Cricket voice whisper in her ear, came down at bedtime and confessed the whole thing. At first I was shocked and disappointed. Then sad. Sad that through my overly loud insistence, and ultimately not so nice efforts after hours of frustrating conversations to get her to even prepare for this presentation, she wanted us to be happy with her effort so she felt she had to bring home some sort of mark.

I did what most parents would do at the time. I expressed how disappointed I was but glad she told the truth. Then ushered her upstairs as bedtime was not the moment for confessions. We would discuss it further in the morning after I talked to Mr. L.

Having a heart to heart later that evening with Mr. L about the whole  situation, I made my own confession. I am sinking. Being on my own most nights, trying to manage three kids with activities and homework, (both items that will be increasing the older they get), while getting dinner ready was getting harder and harder. All of the above while trying to ensure they get to bed at a decent time as I don’t believe having a grade three student up at 9:00 pm doing homework does anybody good.

Elizabeth is the type of kid who needs constant reinforcement, reminders to stay on task and someone to push her. She hasn’t yet strengthened her own inner confidence or drive to get through a single study session for a simple dictee. Jacob desperately wants to learn and is, but at a slower pace because in truth, I don’t have as much time to spend one on one with him learning the alphabet or how to print his name. Thank goodness Audrey seems inclined to get things done on her own and will just pick up a book to read if need be, but she is also getting the short end of the stick. She wants to do stuff, I just don’t have the time to come up with interesting extra work. Hopping between three kids while trying to keep my “no television or other electronic device weekly rule” in tact is becoming harder and harder, and they are young. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just not cut out for all this.

Then, this lie happens and I realize all the fighting about homework the last few weeks, the badgering, the nagging, the shouting, did not make one difference. Until Elizabeth understands about personal responsibility and will internalize it, I am speaking to the wall. All she took away from everything was that we were desperate for her to get a good mark. In reality, we did say we simply wanted her to take some responsibility for her own work and do her best, but all she heard was good marks or else.

This past Friday was a PA Day. I made a last-minute decision to put the younger two in a morning camp and have Elizabeth help me do some cleaning as a consequence for lying (as well as taking away her iPad until I deemed she had earned it back). After dropping off the younger kids, I made a pit stop at the local coffee shop. With coffee and hot chocolate in hand, I sat Elizabeth down and had a serious one on one talk with her asking what she thought her responsibility was at the house. She knows. She parrots back everything I have said to her over the years about how important it was to be responsible for your own work, to be proud of what you can accomplish, how at almost nine, she had to start caring about more than just what she wants to do. I stopped  her mid-sentence.

“I don’t want you to be like a robot and tell me what you think I want to hear. I want you to tell me in your own words.”

After a few seconds, she finally started to talk. I listened. I talked.

I think we made progress.

I also realized I need to be an example. Some days I am organized, others I am not. I too have trouble keeping things balanced and organized. Not because I don’t want to, I just don’t have the systems in place quite yet to help me. Systems are hard because you want one that works for your family and then you have to hope your spouse supports the system and the kids understand it.

So I go to seek the systems. The chore/homework charts that may help her. The room she needs as a nine-year old which is different from a six-year-old room that she shares with her sister.

All while standing on my head and planning two little girls birthday parties this week. Is it no wonder that this past weekend, I hid in the house with  my children from friends texting asking for playdates and napped while the kids played one more round of Super Mario during their electronics are okay weekend? I had grand plans to make muffins with them, take out the Scrabble board but with Mr. L gone part of the day, the thought of coaching two kids on the game while the third hurls letters across the room because he doesn’t really understand how to play made me avoid most family activities. I finally stirred after a log of guild ate at me while I read post after post of “Fun Things to do Inside When It’s Too Cold to Go Outside as a Family.” I love family time, but my whole life is family time right now. Scrabble? Who needs it when I have kindergarten Lunch Bag Learning Kits to go through with Jacob before school next week? So I made popcorn, put on a movie and we watched The Chipmunks – Chipwrecked instead.

In this day and age, parents are expected to be involved in everything. Homework is no longer a solitary act but a shared family learning activity. Kids want to try all the wonderful things they can access in their communities. Playdates are planned ahead of time for next weekend. Part of me is all for it or at least parts of it. Another part of me wants to scream.

I know lots of single child parents and they find it hard to do all this with one. Times all of that by three and you have two options. Sink or swim. Some days I have to wonder, do schools/teachers know that some things, although fun to do as a family, when you have three or more all fighting for one’s parent attention to help them or listen to the same book read yesterday, is only setting up parents for potential failure?

Why wasn’t Elizabeth’s speech worked on in class? Or at least some of it? She’s in grade three, not old enough to figure out the nuances of a three-four minute speech without significant guidance. Right now I’m treading water.  I am a big supporter of education, but is pushing our kids younger and younger to make these big jumps in learning with the expectation that a parent is always available to navigate a child through the increasing piles of busy work necessary. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the anomaly who is having a hard time figuring out how to manage three or more kids?

So I forge on, hoping my talk with Elizabeth sticks a little better when delivered during a one on one meeting over hot beverages. I treated her like a big kid. Let’s hope she starts to want to be a big kid. I endeavour to swim so will tread water a little longer until I find the systems I think will work for us and implement them.

What do you use to keep track of your kids activities/chores or homework?  What tactics do you use to help support them and nudge them towards taking personal responsibility? I am on the hunt.

 

Teaching Strength – Morning Musing

 

 

Browsing Facebook this morning I spotted this image on a friend’s timeline. Usually I read these messages, make a brief mental note somewhere in my brain and move on with my day. But this one stuck with me in so much that I went back and reread it for a very specific reason.

My middle daughter, trying to keep up with the reporting tendencies of her older sister, spills all of her daily news as soon as her snowsuit clad legs hit the sidewalk. In the three minutes it takes for us to walk to our driveway, she has tried to fit all her social angst into one conversation ignoring my pleas that we wait until we are inside, warm and all sitting around the kitchen table where I try to negotiate three kids spilling to me about the good and bad of their days.

Yesterday, (as it typical of an almost seven-year old) her daily dose of problems were friend related. For weeks I’ve been quietly observing her kindergarten neighbourhood crew, two other girls, make the transition from “we all play together” mantra to refocusing their energy on each other leaving my girl as the third wheel. It is little things, not intentioned meanly (I hope!) that I can see when they get on the bus together in the morning. Simply put, the other two girls have grown closer leaving my girl feeling left out. Being a bright little girl who listens, she attempts to discuss her feelings with them telling them they are leaving her out and she feels bad.  In reality, they hear her but they are not processing it the same way as she is. They don’t see the big deal. Some days are better than others but my sense is that she is played with on their terms and only if they allow her to play instead of her deciding if she really wants to play with them.

Now in no way do I think these two girls (whose parents I know and this has been discussed how difficult a three-kid friendship can be) are intentionally leaving her out. However, the social nuances pointing to a change in their friendship.  They are increasingly avoiding her and my girl is picking up on that. So what to do?

I have tried the whole, “we should all play together” mantra which is wonderful, but she looks at me like I’m crazy.

“I’ve tried saying that. They ignore me.”

 

“Maybe you can choose to play with someone else?”

“I don’t want to. They’re supposed to include me.”

How do you tell a child that in a perfect world, yes, those kids who were your BFFs in kindergarten would always want to play with you, respect when you feel left out and alter their behaviour accordingly? She gets it. These children do not and truthfully, are only six years old. Her understanding of the situation and how to deal with it may be above what they understand. They are simply playing with who they want, each other.

Being conversation number five on this subject matter, I decided a different approach was needed.

“Do you want me to talk to their parents again? Maybe try to help them understand you feel left out? They are still your friends you know. Friendships just change sometimes.”

“No. I’ve tried telling them. They just ignore me.”

Personally, at this point I don’t think their parents would do anything that hasn’t already been done. How many times can you tell your own child they must include someone when they just don’t want to for whatever reason?

“Well Audrey, let’s think. What are the other options?”

“I could find new people to play with.”

“Yes honey. You know what, stop letting them decide what you do. You do not have to play with them. There are other girls who would love to play with you. You’ve been so focused on these two, you kind of ignore other people. Let the other girls, maybe those in your class get a chance to know you. Ask to play with them. You make the decision. Stop waiting for them to decide to include you. Take charge of what you do.”

“Yeah. I am interested what the other girls play at recess.”

“Then ask to join them. If E. and A want to play with you, let them come and find you and then you can decide if you really want to play with them or your new friends. Just be polite about it. If they want to play only together right now, it doesn’t mean they’re not your friend. But that also means you do not have to drop everything if they come and ask you to join them. You are in charge of your time. Not them.”

“Okay. I’ll try tomorrow.”

My stomach is in knots for her. Then I read this message this morning and think, exactly. That is what I want to teach her. Love yourself more.

We strive so hard to teach our children to be kind, polite and inclusive to all their peers. All wonderful attributes. But do we sometimes forget  to tell them, especially our girls, that you do not need to stay in a friendship that makes you feel bad? That friendships sometimes do not last forever and only so much can be tried before a change is needed? It may be sad, but it will be all right because another friend may be waiting around the corner, perhaps a better suited friend. Or perhaps that friend will come back one day and your friendship will be stronger.

Why are we afraid to tell them that people are agents of their own fates and should not be beholden to others for their happy moments? As long as relationships are managed with consideration, politeness and respect it is okay to walk away. I want to teach my girls to be masters of their own universe and not let their peers dictate what they do. A grand plan that will not always work out I’m sure, but I can try. Is that not my job as their parent?

With bated breath, I await her report at the end of the day and hope for the best.