Parenting "Village" — Do You Have One?

I remember when I was little — like, really little, before-the-divorce little — and my parents always told me that any adult/authority figure who was in charge of me was like my parent. So, if I was at a friend’s house, their parents were my parents while I was there and I was to obey them as if my own parents had asked something of me. And if I was at school, all teachers were my parents-at-school, and I was to obey them and listen to them just as I would my own parents. Shoot, even if we were hanging out at the Y, swimming on a summer afternoon, any adult or lifeguard was like my parent there, too.

I remember thinking how I never could get away from parents.

I also remember that if I got into trouble with a parent who was not really my parent, I actually got in trouble twice. The first punishment could be a timeout or even a little spanking from the adult/authority figure I had misbehaved for. And then, when that parent told my parents about my misbehavior, I got punished again.

I remember that misbehaving wasn’t worth all the trouble.

Now I am a parent and I tell my children the same thing. I tell them their teachers are their “parents” at school. I tell them they must behave for their friends’ parents and if they don’t, those parents have authority to pu them in time out or whatever mode of punishment fits their misbehavior. My kids know not to complain about teachers or other kids’ parents to me because I typically will side with the adult in the matter.

But things are different now. When I was a kid, I think most parents held the same view as mine did. Most adults/authority figures didn’t hesitate to correct me when I misbehaved and they sure didn’t hesitate to tell my parents about my misbehavior. These days, though, I don’t feel the same solidarity among parents. As a matter of fact, I believe I know which parents I can expect this from and it’s not a large number. I know that I can bring bad behavior to the attention of the parents of a few of the kids we know and they will be grateful that I addressed it and will also address it.

I’ve been in authoritative volunteer positions and been in the situation where a parent registered displeasure with my reactions and/or disciplinary measures because the child had simply told them that I “didn’t like him/her” so the parent was not happy. I’ve also been in the situation where I have taken corrective action (obviously not knowing whether the parent would be supportive or not) to realize that I cannot expect support from all other parents/adults when their children misbehave. My opinion of what constitutes bad behavior can be vastly different from other parents. Lots of parents say, “That’s just the way kids are!”

This blog I read via HuffPo recently really hits home on all five things this nanny cites as reasons why parenting is in a crisis these days. But #3 is one of the most important, I think, and also one of the hardest things to regain, once it is lost:

3. We’ve lost the village. It used to be that bus drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and other parents had carte blanche to correct an unruly child. They would act as the mum and dad’s eyes and ears when their children were out of sight, and everyone worked towards the same shared interest: raising proper boys and girls. This village was one of support. Now, when someone who is not the child’ parent dares to correct him, the mum and dad get upset. they want their child to appear perfect, and so they often don’t accept teachers’ and others’ reports that he is not. They’ll storm in and have a go at a teacher rather than discipline their child for acting out in class. They feel the need to project a perfect picture to the world and unfortunately, their insecurity is reinforced because many parents do judge one another. If a child is having a tantrum, all eyes turn on the mum disapprovingly. Instead she should be supported, because chances are the tantrum occurred because she’s not giving in to one of her child’s demands. Those observers should instead be saying, “Hey, good work – I know setting limits is hard.”

I really enjoy my time with my nieces and nephews because my siblings — having been raised in a similar manner — will parent my children and allow me to parent theirs. We enforce the same sort of punishments for bad behavior and expect good behavior from all ages of child. Once I understand where parents of my kids’ friends stand on this issue (and that’s not always easy to determine) it makes it easier to monitor those play dates and friendships because I know whether the friends live to the same expectations as mine or not. 
It’s frustrating to see bad behavior that I feel the need to simply shake my head and turn my kids away. I wish I believed that correcting bad behavior would have the intended effect of helping another child grow. But knowing that some parents would simply be angry with me for correcting their child keeps me silent. And if the bad behavior is pervasive enough, I simply urge my children to stay away.
What is your experience? Do you expect other parents and adults in authority to discipline your kids and inform you? Do you feel comfortable disciplining unruly children?

How’s That Discernment Feel Now?

You may remember towards the end of the summer that I shared a bit about the discernment process we used to decide that perhaps we were finished actively pursuing the conception of biological children. The thing about discernment is — it’s never really over.

No. Nothing has changed. We don’t intend to actively pursue the addition to our family with biological children. But what I have found in the last few months is that I still think about this. All. The. Time. It’s not that I think about desiring children, it’s that I see my children growing up and I realize there’s going to be an end to the whole grow-up process. 

Over the last 12 years, when there’s always been a baby in the house, it’s been difficult to imagine life without a baby in the house. But here I am, sleeping all night every night. Here I am, serving meals for my family with no high chair in the kitchen. Here I am, putting my youngest child in “Time Out” — and he stays there.

And I notice things that I mark as “the last time.” I know someday in the future — probably a few months from now — I will realize we’ve stepped out of Mass with the youngest for the last time. I saw a little bouncy seat in the basement recently — it got missed whenever I passed along a bunch of baby stuff to my sister in the spring — and I realized I’ve had my last time cooing at a smiling baby in it. We took down the crib and my boys are both in “big boy” beds with the bunk beds, so I’ve had “the last time” one of my kids slept in a crib, too.

We pray a blessing before meals at our house, and I’m kind of lenient with the babies…they don’t always understand they need to wait until we’ve prayed to eat. But just a couple of weeks ago, we began praying, then Vincent tried to eat and I gently nudged his hands and showed him we were praying and he stopped, left his plate alone and folded his hands to finish the prayer with us. He doesn’t do it all the time yet, but he is waiting to eat until after the prayer more and more often. Pretty soon, he’ll be the one reminding us all that we pray before we eat.

Some mornings, I marvel at the fact that I haven’t had to bathe, dress, comb hair or brush teeth for my girls in so long that I can’t remember when I did it last. Dominic even gets himself mostly ready in the mornings, though he needs help getting his breakfast. So, I’m left with changing a diaper and dressing Vincent each morning…but even Little Mr. Independent is looking for opportunities to take those duties away from me.

Of course, Sarah’s growth as she’s progressed through middle school fascinates me, too. She is organized and takes pride in doing a good job. I love that she insists on kissing each of her younger siblings good night. Every. Night. She gets herself cleaned up and ready for bed and has all of her school stuff packed and ready at her door every night before bed. She even will sit down with me on Sunday night, pull out her planner and make sure she knows for sure which nights she has activities, how she is getting there and who is picking her up. 

Dani and Helen do their homework independently, monitor their own progress, ask questions when they need help. I am still reading with Helen — at her prompting (Dani is a “speed reader” so she never liked to be read to, so I enjoy getting back to this with Helen). They handle so much without my help. And I am happy about this — not because I am in a hurry for them to grow up — but because it means we are getting there, to that point where our kids really will become independent, contributing members of society.

Instead of focusing on the end, I see that it’s a new beginning. The window on bearing children and caring for babies and toddlers is evolving into the rearing of young people, teaching them how to behave, how to engage and discuss things with adults, helping them figure out how to communicate their opinions — or even just that they should have some opinions about things. And I realize that I’m not sad like I thought I would be. Sure…the thought of never carrying another baby in my womb is sad in the “man, I sure did love being pregnant” sort of way. But I always worried that once we discerned we would not seek pregnancy anymore that I would be resentful or overwhelmed with grief. I especially worried about that after we lost Gregory. But I’m surprised at the peace I feel. 

A big part of me is excited to see how my children are turning out. I have a lot of fun talking with Sarah. And Dani surprises me with her ideas and her imagination. Helen adores me (and I her!) and I’m starting to see that I have something very special with her that I can cherish forever. Dominic is such an inspiration on many levels. And even though Vincent is a handful, I really enjoy how much he is talking and how quickly he is catching on to being a bigger toddler.

So, I just wanted to put my thoughts out there about how I am feeling now, just three months after Craig and I discerned the childbearing phase was set to close. Because truth be told, I was scared. As I said then, this sort of stuff is not to be taken lightly and it’s not for the weak. But I’m pleased at the peace I feel with the whole thing. I’m not losing anything. Life is a progression and we’re moving on to the next step.

There is so much excitement to come. For me, I think having openness to having a large family, for a period of time, put pressure on me to think I must always be open to more, that discerning to avoid pregnancy indefinitely would be wrong on some level. But I feel comfortable now with the fact that our five children on earth (and our little Saint in Heaven) are enough. 

We are blessed.

Bullying: A Post I Didn’t Want To Write

I know Mondays are usually Mumble days, but today I have something else on my mind. I have often stopped short of writing about bullying because it’s difficult for me to do so without getting into personal details of anything that’s happened. But I think I have found a way to keep it objective, and therefore (I hope!) useful. 

The reason it’s a post I didn’t want to write is because I often wonder if I am too sensitive or I take things too seriously. But when there are kids out there committing suicide because it seems they can’t get away from bullies and their parents can’t help them either, I realize that perhaps it’s best to err on the side of over-caution if I must.

I was recently asked to give some information on my experiences with bullying from a parent’s perspective. I was happy to give the information, but sad that I had enough experience that I could give it extensively.

I was bullied as a kid. I went to Catholic school and the bullying there was worse than anything I ever experienced in public school. The bullying I experienced in Catholic school was a big reason that Catholic school wasn’t a huge priority for me at first. I was bullied heavily when I began playing school sports and was actually kind of good. You see, I had been a swimmer, and 7th grade was the first time I seriously attempted volleyball or basketball. And girls don’t take kindly to newcomers who kind of step in a little further ahead than where it seems they should be.

Due to my experience as a child, I am probably hyper-sensitive to the topic. However, I work hard to stay aware of what is going on with my children at school. Last year, when my oldest entered sixth grade (first year of middle school), I suffered through the hardest 18 weeks of my life (school-wise) raising my children. During the first eight weeks of school I watched my daughter withdraw and retreat from me. I’m the kind of parent who was always checking her iPod every night. I checked iMessage, kik, Instagram, not only for my daughter’s posts or comments, but also those with whom she interacted. I saw the things going on via Instagram and instant message on her iPod that, coupled with her withdrawn behavior, gave me pause. I finally tried to “have it out” with her to find out just what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks was going on. Finally, she started talking to me and let me know that she didn’t know why certain friendships had changed. And, she and one of her friends were victims of mockery at the hands of a few girls in her class. Honestly, a lot of it sounded like some of the “mean-girl” antics you witness on TV shows these days — stupid at the core, but hurtful to an 11-year-old or 12-year-old.

I talked with some parents and I also took it up with the teachers at conferences because, while it did not seem severe, I sure didn’t want it to end up that way. That was my first course of action. The next thing we did was decide that we would shut off my daughter’s iPod Touch for awhile. No good was coming from the connections on Instagram and my daughter had been the target of a group message gone bad that caused some emotional damage. Probably more to me than her, but we both decided it was probably for the best to lay low on the technology for awhile. (It turns out she broke her iPod Touch about eight weeks later and we simply haven’t replaced it — best decision ever.)

Over the holiday break last school year, I had a lot of heart-to-heart talks with my daughter and I am happy to say that she put a plan together to move forward. We talked about the things that matter in life and priorities (God – Family – Responsibilities/Friends). We reviewed what we knew about how true friends act — in word and deed — both to each other and when in the absence of each other. We put a plan together for her to know how to be a good friend, how NOT to be taken advantage of and to remember always to attempt to be Christ-like to others. If the “mean girl” antics continued at all, she either didn’t notice or did, but found the behavior lacking enough to allow it to bother or worry her. My daughter was also playing club volleyball on a team with completely new girls and her confidence grew by leaps and bounds. We also discussed how she should act to ensure she was not behaving poorly to others. We spent some time discussing sensitivity awareness and also that other kids are just trying to “fit in” like she was and sometimes we have to cut people some slack, but not at the expense of doing what is right.

I’ve remained aware but less antsy about the social interactions of my daughter over the course of the last ten months. I check in with her regularly, of course, and I also check in with like-minded parents. I also reiterate to my daughter my expectations of her behavior. Every so often something rears its head and we have to talk about it, but mostly, I see that she remembers what is truly important and doesn’t get caught up in the negativity like she did early on. 

I won’t lie: I am sad and sometimes upset when I learn that certain things still go on. And it bothers me knowing that most parents would say, “Well, that’s just the way kids are…” or even if they are confronted that their child may be disrespectful or hurtful to another child, they will say, “I would never tolerate that behavior from my child…”

The vast majority of parents these days seem to brush off what I would consider rather serious or even egregious behavior by their kids as being “normal” or “typical.”  I think that smaller schools with a less diverse population (such as small Catholic schools, for one, but not the only, example) have environments rich for bullying. Sometimes the parents I talk to seem to say, “I would never tolerate that behavior from my child” in such a way that it seems it should be the end of the conversation. It is almost as if, because that parent made such a declaration,they think it absolves their child from any potential wrongdoing. It seems almost as if, since they have declared that position, they should never be questioned with regard to their child’s behavior.

Newsflash to about 75% of the parents out there: Just because you say you won’t tolerate bullying or mean behavior from your children, does not mean they don’t and won’t bully or behave in a mean manner. 

I have often felt as though bullying and mean behavior is much more insidious with females. Although, I think in today’s world of internet and emotional overdrive, the world of male bullying is getting to the same level. I only have girls who have hit the stage where bullying or mean-girl antics are in play. My oldest son is only four years old and at this point. But I’ve seen a lot where girls are concerned — both my own instances as well as watching things with my daughters. I’ve seen enough to know that the way girls can be mean is very subtle, usually parents and teachers are not aware unless they are very diligent. Girls are very good at doing and saying things quietly. Girls often have little sayings that adults would never understand, but the kids around them get the message.

I have witnessed the following ways that kids bully and demean each other:

  • They will mock a child’s name. In some instances, they will mock a pair of children (who are friends) simultaneously by making up names for them and using the made up names in a mocking manner.
  • Sometimes girls will claim a certain hairstyle (I know!) and will then shun or shame an “outsider” (child not in their social circle) for wearing her hair the same way
  • On Instagram, kids often list people as special in bios, to the exclusion of others. I will grant this is not always meant in a mean way. But I’ve seen some girls use it as a power ploy within their group, holding a place in their bio as some prize to be won somehow. Regardless, there’s enough discussion about bios, that I wonder about it often. (i.e., “Why did you take me out of your bio?”; “Why do you have so-and-so listed as your BFF…I thought we were BFFs”; “You’re the dork with so-and-so in your bio”)
  • Some children will claim that a girl “copied” things such as school supplies (umm…we all shop at the same places, people!)
  • Sometimes a girl or group of girls will pull other girls away from one or two “outsiders” (girls not in their circle). Sometimes the girl(s) doing the pulling don’t even really care to be friends or talk to the ones they are pulling away. Their goal is to ensure the “outsiders” don’t get to be friends with any potential “insiders.”
  • Sometimes the girl being pulled away from a group is the one being bullied, as well. Especially in the case where the one doing the pulling is trying to monopolize the girl to keep her from making friends to the detriment of their already established friendship. (I continually work with my daughter to help her identify ways to keep herself from being a “puppet,” though I can’t be sure how successful we’ve been.)
  • At times, I have witnessed group messages that target an individual, while the larger group watches that one individual be humiliated somehow
  • Comments on Instagram pictures (“ugly”, “stupid”, “retarded” — what you would think is harmless/stupid stuff — but the negative is usually targeted toward one or two individuals regularly)
  • When a group of children are walking together, one speeds up or slows down, in an attempt to “ditch” one or more of the children in the group and encourages others to do so as well
  • “Inside” jokes — the incessant use of them in the presence of those kids that have no idea what it is. (My opinion — if you have an “inside” joke — keep it to yourself for goodness sake)
  • Some kids are in the precarious position of being  caught in between, having friends in different social circles. The girls from one circle can put pressure on the this girl to “ditch” friends in the other one. This is a way of bullying these girls, too. The pressure can be external as well as internal (to the girl in between).
Middle school is a time when a lot of bullying behavior takes place. Part of it is because that is when we start to expect more responsible and grown-up behavior out of children, but they have to transition there and feel their way a little bit. So, some forgiveness is required at this point, as kids are going to make mistakes and they need to know that there is life after a mistake. BUT — and this is a big key — parents MUST be aware and involved. Too many parents think this is someone else’s problem. Too many parents think this only happens at such-and-such schools. Too many parents are far too busy with many things to take time to deal with something so seemingly trivial. And, to be honest, many parents just assume it is never their kid perpetrating the harm.

I have read one too many stories about kids my daughter’s age committing suicide because they had trouble relating to other kids or felt they had no friends at school. The way kids talk to each other on Instagram and Facebook and and any other social media avenue can be confusing. They often use put-downs with each other. Then they follow up with “j/k” for “just kidding.” They have no concept of the idea that simply putting “lol” or “j/k” after something hurtful DOES NOT make their harmful words come off with any less sting. Sometimes you see kids say things like, “I should kill myself” in jest or even worse, “You should kill yourself.” Whether in jest or not, our children should NOT be speaking to each other, or messaging each other or tweeting each other in this manner. 

I have actually been thinking about getting my thoughts on bullying out on this blog ever since I read about this girl in Florida who jumped to her death a few weeks ago. I ran across this story when I came into work and it was on the TV in the lobby as it ran CNN. I was shocked to learn that the girl was 12 years old. My oldest daughter is 12 years old. CNN showed her picture and I could see my daughter in her eyes. They talked about the cyber-bullying the girl had endured after she had already endured physical and emotional bullying at a school she had left. a year ago. Yes, the girls who bullied her at that school couldn’t leave well enough alone and basically stalked this girl on a few different social media avenues. And her mother didn’t take away her phone.

I don’t have a lot of patience for bullying behavior when I witness it. When my daughter was having trouble last year, I did go to parents — some were accepting and helpful, others were not as much — in conjunction with enlisting the teachers’ help. And I took my daughter off all social media. I think we could have gotten to a better place with it, but it would be easier without that distraction. And it was clear to me that I could not handle seeing how kids my daughter’s age interacted on social media and that it seemed only a few parents actually monitored.

My daughter has not allowed her confidence to be shaken this year, but it’s clear to me she is still suffering some of these ill behavior to a degree. My daughter now recognizes it for what it is and has chosen not to allow it to affect her as deeply.I hope the strength my daughter shows me is truly what’s in her heart (she’s always been a strong one). But even then — even though I can see this strength in my daughter, I refuse to stop talking with her about it in case that should change. Even a 12-year-old who is strong, can be beaten and broken down quickly if the right weakness is attacked. 

We have discussed getting her a phone and whether she is interested in social media. She did say that she would probably like to participate on Instagram again, but she understands the boundaries she must set with it. I am thankful to have a daughter with a strong head on her shoulders who has witnessed how awry even something like Instagram can be.

How do you address bullying or mean behavior with your children? How do you help them cope if they have been a victim? What programs do your schools employ to assist in handling bullying?

***Update***For anyone not aware, the minimum age to have a Facebook and Instagram account is 13. I have never researched Twitter on that, so can’t speak to it. This has been my strongest defense against my kids having these accounts, and even though my oldest did for a time, she doesn’t now and she and I discussed why it is good to restrict it to 13 and up. Personally, I think older would be even better, but I’m not in charge. The reality is that even if they have this age restriction — is seems a majority of the kids/parents do not abide by it and there’s no way to police it.

Throwback Thursday Re-runs: My Kids Are Spoiled (And I’m Okay With That)

I was laid up for a lot of the past week and I perused some old blog posts. Since I am short on time today, I thought I’d do a re-run. 

I’m really glad I re-read this post. Lately, I’ve been disappointed in the things I haven’t been able to do for my kids monetarily and it is a good reminder that my kids really are spoiled…in the right way. 🙂 

And now, I give you my reflection from January 2011.

Recently, my sister was informed by a member of our family that her four children were spoiled.  Specifically, she was told that her children have “too much stuff” and that they don’t “need” it all and that “they are spoiled”.
That got me thinking.  (of course)
I think my kids are spoiled.  Truly.  But I don’t think they are spoiled because they have lots of stuff.  Sure, they do have more than they need and it’s a constant struggle for me to ensure they understand that their needs are wants for many others and to remember to give praise and thanks to God for the blessings in their lives, material and non-material.
Yes.  My children are spoiled.  Here’s why:  Because they have their mother and their father, living out a Catholic christian marriage to the best of their ability.  Because they have a secure and stable home life.  Because they have parents who are present and ready to love them, listen to them, discipline them.  I think all kids should be spoiled.

My life beginning at age 8 was a fairly unstable, insecure life without a father.  And many Christmases, the presents were not “wants” but regular things that I needed.  Often, Christmas was when we received an annual allotment of socks, underwear and clothing.  Very seldom was there something I had told anyone I “wanted” in my stocking or under the tree.  And even, then, when my father came to town and asked what we’d like for Christmas and we told him, we often got told, “You don’t really want THAT”.  I spent many a summer afternoon accompanying my mother into the Liz Claiborne section at Dillard’s so that she could pad her wardrobe, or sitting by her at the Clinique counter as she bought herself makeup.  I don’t begrudge her these things…I never really thought much about it until I became an adult and realized how often my own trip to get a new outfit or taking the time and setting the money aside to buy some makeup, gets pushed to “last” in the priority column.
My life was a constant balancing act of how to be a kid without further wounding an often delicate relationship with both my parents, even though I was not the one to break the relationship in the first place.  I’ve only just recently begun coping with the emotional and physical abuse I suffered as a child.  I mean, I’m only scratching the surface.  I can feel it brewing any time I start thinking of my next session with my therapist…there’s some big breakthrough occurring.  It’s slowly building and I can tell at some point, I’m going to finally hit that point where it all comes crashing in on me and I realize the magnitude of it all.  For now, I have bits and pieces.  What saddens me the most is how common my experience is.
However, I look at my kids and I truly believe they are spoiled.  They are spoiled with love and affection.  They are spoiled with a father who loves them and isn’t afraid to show it.  They are spoiled with a family environment they can count on.  They are spoiled because they don’t have to rely on their siblings to carry them through the day, they can come to their mom or their dad, cry on our shoulder or just cuddle.
And, honestly, I can say that my youngest sister and brother are quite possibly the most spoiled children on the face of the earth from my vantage point.  I see them as spoiled because they had MY DADDY…all their lives.  They still have MY DADDY.  Sure, he is their daddy, too.  But, I spend my time working on my relationship with my dad knowing it can never be what it would have been.  I’m moving forward and I believe my dad and I have a stronger relationship now than we have ever had in my adult years.  But, it’s still not what it would have been.  That can never be.  And that’s just my life.  There’s no changing it even if I wanted to.  But it doesn’t change the fact that they are spoiled.
I hope that I can always say my kids are spoiled.  I hope I can always say they have a dual-parental unit they can count on.  I hope I can conquer my demons and move on to a place where I can be a most compassionate, loving and merciful mother to my children.  I hope I can always say that every day, I look into the eyes of the man I love knowing he would lay down his life for me and our family.

Please, Lord, allow me to always strive to spoil the heck out of my children!

So far so good.

The Cool Little People Grow…Into Cool Big People

It’s happening almost constantly at our house. Some of my little people aren’t so little anymore! All of a sudden, they are bigger people with their own opinions, thoughts, feelings…about EVERYTHING!! They are interested in different things — different from me and different from each other. 

Pictures of Sarah as early as 2nd gr. and as late as this past summer (now in 7th gr)

Of course, I see it hitting full speed with Sarah. She is 12 years old, in 7th grade, and since she is the oldest kid in the house, is convinced her words carry lots of weight with just about anyone. There have been times I’ve wanted to wring her neck, and there are other times I just want to hug her (and of course she does NOT want me to do that). I can’t get her to walk beside me — always lolly-gagging behind me — and sometimes, she has a hard time looking me in the eye while she speaks to me.

So, I thought it might be fun to document 10 things I enjoy about having big kids.

1. They dress themselves. Since I still have a couple who need help most days…I value this. Tremendously.

2. They can even feed themselves. And by “feed themselves” I mean from the “hunting/gathering” to the preparation to the actual eating.

3. They can clean up after themselves. In more than just one way. Heck, with proper threats, bribery, motivation in place, they can clean up after other people!

4. They laugh at things even adults think are funny. True, most of the things they find funny still fly under the radar for adults, but there are occasions when the funny is had by adults AND big kids.

5. They bathe themselves. I always despised little kid bath time (still do…just not my thing). I’ve been so happy that my girls have moved on to the shower stage and look forward to the boys doing the same!

6. Empathy. It’s not fully there, but there are glimpses — and it’s fun to see them “try to walk a mile in another’s shoes”

7. They go to bed all by themselves. While this is something I encourage from an early age, it’s still different to have a kid who stays up past 9 routinely and is learning to set a schedule that suits her best.

8. They start to assume responsibility. Sometimes they assume responsibility appropriately, and other times…not so much. But seeing your child take responsibility for herself without the force of your hand/words is…gratifying.

9. They start to “get it.” It’s going to vary by kid, I know, but with Sarah — I see that she “gets” what I have tried to teach her about things like popularity, sincerity, true friendship, reliability. I love this about her. And while I know I can’t expect it to happen this soon with all of my children, I enjoy this time right now. Because — well, who knows how fleeting it might be?

10. They keep us on our toes. One minute we think they are “getting” what we say or are trying to teach them, and the next we are flabbergasted at a decision they made or something they said or a reaction they gave in to.

Faith, Morals, Sex-Ed, oh my! A post about sharing information with my Preteen

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my thoughts on Sharing Fertility Awareness with my Preteen.  I stuck to just the physical aspects of Fertility Awareness and what it means. Of course, I realize that the changes that happen to my daughter now as she is growing into an adult physically are accompanied by emotional and intellectual development that will continue over the next 10-13 years.

Over the past couple of years, my daughter and I have had discussions about sex – what it is logistically and theologically, and how it fits into God’s plan for our lives. She’s discovered that she can hear a lot of information outside of our home that is not in line with our Catholic faith. She’s a smart kid so she knows that everyone does not believe or think about these things the way we do. I want my children to be able to express themselves. They should feel comfortable enough to ask questions and get clarification on this stuff, whether it’s with me or with someone else they trust. I hope my daughter wants to get this information from me, but I’m realistic enough to know she might seek counsel elsewhere at some point.

After I posted a couple weeks ago, I thought it might be helpful to some people to write about how I share our Catholic Faith and the Church’s teaching on Marriage and Sexuality with my Preteen, too. I doubt this is groundbreaking or complete. I’m sure our conversations will mature as she continues to grow up. But I am of the opinion that if she’s ready to ask the questions, then she’s ready to hear the answers and I pray I have the right words.

Following are some things I have tried to remember as we began sharing information on sexuality in the context of our faith and morals with our Preteen:

·         Use proper names for body parts. This is something we started when my now-Preteen was 2 or 3 years old. With our children, we have always used the words “vagina” and “penis” and “ovaries” and “scrotum” and any other words to describe anything related to body parts much like we use “hand” and “arm” and “foot.”
Early on my rationale for this was that if my child were to ever be abused, there would be no question about what body part had been touched inappropriately if my child were to confidently state exactly, using anatomically correct language, where s/he was touched. Now that I have a Preteen, with whom I have had discussions about sex, I find the added bonus that there’s no confusion and there’s less embarrassment. She’s always known the names of girl and boy “parts” and so the discussion had a very “matter-of-fact” flavor to it.
·         Explain exactly how intercourse happens. I remember being so confused growing up about the actual sexual act itself. I was almost relieved when my daughter had the exact same questions I did and that she felt comfortable asking me. I used frames of reference for her. We were blessed that we’d had a son by the time this conversation took place so she had seen diaper changes for both boys and girls and it made the discussion run a little smoother.
·         Understand that the child will be uncomfortable about the idea of you and your spouse engaging in sexual intercourse. I remember when the light went off for my daughter that what we were discussing was something that had actually occurred between her parents. My daughter was very cute as she said, “Wow, you mean you did that FOUR times?!?” (We had four children at the time.) And then, when we told the kids Vincent was on the way, she pulled me aside and said, “Mom, you guys did THAT…AGAIN?!?!” I will cherish that memory because it was so darn cute!

Take that opportunity to explain to your child that getting pregnant is not a given just because a couple has sex. The world will provide plenty of misinformation for your child, so we, as parents, have to counter it early and often. Initially, it was uncomfortable helping my daughter understand that her mom and dad have sex and that it does not always result in a baby. But that led to the Fertility Awareness / NFP discussions.  

·         Explain that sex is a gift from God to married men and women. The pleasure that comes from sex is a gift. The babies that come from sex are gifts. Explain that engaging in sex outside of marriage goes against God’s plan for marriage and sex. It’s okay to use the word “sin.” I tried not to go overboard, since I don’t think a lot comes from the pre-emptive use of hellfire and brimstone to make a point. Kids want to do good naturally. They want to please their parents and, it’s been my experience, they want to please God. I try to reiterate that sin is a turning away from God, meaning we are not following God’s Plan.

When discussing the act of intercourse, my daughter mentioned “gross” and “disgusting.” This led naturally into a discussion about how it could seem that way when intercourse is taken out of the context of a marriage. Of course, I let her know that some time in the not-so-distant future, her opinions of intercourse will probably change. I hope she will remember our discussions, though, and they will remind her to consider what God’s plan for her life is so she will act accordingly.

·         Remember that your Preteen probably already knows more than you think they do. The whole reason we have discussed this at all is because my daughter asked questions. The fact that she had the questions to ask helps me understand just how far she had gotten on her own.
·         Be honest. I remember when we heard a news blurb on the radio one day that mentioned sexually active eleven year olds. My daughter’s eyes about popped out of her head and she looked at me and said, “But, I’m eleven…” This led to me asking questions of her about how she felt about learning that children her age would be having sex or whether she knew how those opportunities arose. Without getting too personal, suffice it to say, it was eye opening for her to know there were circumstances in the world that led to children her age becoming parents. But I didn’t shy away from it.

Throughout these discussions, I have had an opportunity to reiterate to my Preteen daughter:

·         That God loves her and us and that our Church has taught on these subjects in such a way to protect us and draw us closer to Him in all things
·         That her parents love each other very much and that we love her and her siblings
·         That we try our best to be honest with her and will do the same with her siblings
·         That boundaries are something set out of love for her guidance and protection

I hope my Preteen will continue to ask questions and communicate with us as she grows older. I know the questions have only just begun. There will be many more opportunities for growth in the coming years.

I am linking to Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary and posting every day this week! Click HERE to see who else took the challenge!

7 Quick Takes — 55

Thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler for hosting!
— 1 —
It’s been a crazy week for us in the Hughes household. I’m surprised by the fact it is Friday as it seems the week went by in the blink of an eye. I guess that’s what happens when there is a lot of activity in the evenings. This week I had a school board meeting Monday night, Tuesday I made it to Crossfit and then Sarah had a late volleyball game (thank God for friends willing to take her — Vincent would have been a TERROR at a 9:05 p.m. volleyball game!) Wednesday night didn’t really have much going on, but then I got out of work late, so couldn’t go to Crossfit until 6:30 instead of 5:30. Thursday I tried (in vain!) to get a little shopping done, but ended up really just taking Dani and Helen out for dinner.

— 2 —
As for the aforementioned shopping…I need to get Helen her new color leotard for Ballet, so before we left I had Craig check the hours of the Dance Shoppe and it said they were open until 7:30, so we headed there first. Only to find out they run summer hours and they closed at 6:00 and we arrived at 6:05. Boo! So now Craig has to take her today sometime so she has the appropriate color for class tomorrow. 

Speaking of Ballet for a minute, I really need to just sit down in front of a YouTube video and practice a ballerina bun over and over again until I can do it easily. I think I should put her hair in the bun for class each week and not simply wait until pictures and/or production and beg Sarah to do it for me. Sarah does a fantastic job, don’t get me wrong, but I know there’s a way to make them flawless…so I really just need to figure it out, I guess. 

— 3 —

The other shopping we were going to do involved getting some last minute things for Dani to take on her trip. She was planning to head out to SC to visit a cousin and they were going to go to a summer camp together. I say that in the Past Perfect tense because…we found out last night they have to cancel the summer camp! There was a septic/sewer type problem and the Park Rangers said they were not going to be allowed to have the camp on the campgrounds. Oh, Dani was so disappointed!! After her initial episode she reiterated to me that not going to camp wasn’t the most disappointing part. The most disappointing part was that she was going to see her cousin and get to hang out with her and now…we didn’t know if we were going to do that anymore. The good news is that my sister and I are still swapping kids (the cousin that is Helen’s age is coming here for a week while Dani goes there for a week). So, I think we are going to be able to salvage some of the fun. 🙂

— 4 —
Sarah got to spend the night at her Grandma’s last night so they could go shopping for her birthday. I can’t believe my girl is going to be 12 on Tuesday. 12. Twelve. She is such a good kiddo. She’s been so helpful for us this summer helping the kids stay on task at home about cleaning their rooms and the bathrooms and all that jazz. She ensured all the kids got done with summer reading and projects that are due the 1st day of school before the end of June. She helped take care of Vincent the week the daycare was on vacation. She comes and talks to me every night before she goes to bed. Sometimes we talk and sometimes we just play Candy Crush and sometimes she just gives me a big hug before she goes down to her room to go to bed. She is growing up too fast and I feel myself getting attached to her in ways I didn’t think would be possible for me with a daughter. I am blessed far beyond anything I have ever deserved with regard to my kids.

— 5 —
Oh, I DID do some online shopping last night to get Sarah’s birthday present. Shh, we got her a Kindle Fire! Well, you don’t have to “shh” too much because she knows she is getting it. We’ll have to talk about online usage again…although, she’s had a good run with online usage with the iPad — Facetimes a couple of friends, texting has been reasonable and no Instagram, which I am happy about. Every time I check her account on Instagram I think how happy I am she is not active. And I start thinking I check up on her too much because I think I wouldn’t allow some of the stuff I see posted by kids in her age group that show up in her feed. As a matter of fact, she would lose all online connectivity privileges if she posted some of the stuff I see. *sigh* I’m such a prude-parent, I guess.

— 6 —
I wrote my little blogpost on Sharing Fertility Awareness with my Preteen earlier this week. It got a lot of hits! I will go ahead and let you know, it spawned ANOTHER post that I am working on. Because…sharing Fertility Awareness is different than sharing the tenets of our Catholic Faith. And Catholic Church teaching on marriage, sexuality, etc., is a LOT more involved when discussing with my preteen. I’ve had THOSE conversations, too. And will continue to have them. Teaching my kids about monitoring Fertility and teaching my kids about our Faith do go hand in hand…but it is a lot more complicated to talk about marriage, sex, babies and all that goes with it than to tell my kid how to figure out when she will get her first period. So…I’m not finished yet. 🙂
— 7 —
I’ve been spending a large amount of my quiet and prayer time contemplating whether our family is complete at this time. I had a doctor visit for something I plan to have addressed in the next few months and the question was asked whether I was finished having children. You see, my treatment options would be different if I would ever be interested in pursuing pregnancy again. I’m thinking about so many things related to this, and I admit that it’s kind of bad timing that this is something Craig and I need to pray about and think about right now with Gregory’s due date just 2 weeks away. I would imagine I’ll be writing a bit more on this as we round out our discernment and discover what God is calling us to for our future.

Have a terrific weekend and be sure to go check out Conversion Diary for more 7 Quick Takes Posts!