Five Experiences EVERY Kid Should Have

I have now earned the moniker “adventure momma.” Last year, I took my dear friend’s daughter (then eight) on a zip line/aerial course with the promise that, if she enjoyed herself, it would become an annual occurrence. She enjoyed herself.

This year, when I presented her with the option of again doing the “kid” course from last year or the level one adult course, she bravely chose the latter. I think she started to get a little nervous when she noticed that she was the only person under sixteen in the group of thirty or so in the training and gear-up area. I knew she was nervous once we climbed three stories of stairs to the start of the course. And her fears were evident to everyone when she held tightly to a bolt on the tree on the first platform as the zip liners caused the small landing to sway dramatically.

But never once did she consider backing down. Bolstered by my reminders of how awesome she did last year, the continued instruction from the guide and the expressed nervousness of the adult man behind me, she took a leap of faith. And then another. Each time, holding onto the tree a little less and smiling a little more.

One man in the group, an active marine, looked reticent at having a nervous nine-year-old in his group. At the end, he approached her with a high five and dubbed her a superstar.

That’s an experience every child should have.

Not necessarily the zip lining (although as an “adventure momma,” I full support this activity!), but the opportunity to do something that is scary and feel the satisfaction and confidence on the other side.

 

The following are five experiences that EVERY child should have by the age of ten:

 

1 – Time Outside Their Comfort Zone

One of the more common – and frustrating – ways that kids become entrenched in their comfort zones is with food. Once they have decided that they like Kraft Mac and cheese or chicken nuggets, it can feel like trying to engineer a habitat on Mars to get them to try something new. One mom I know recently started the family on Purple Carrot, a vegetarian meal delivery service that offers unique and creative vegetable-based recipes.  Her son picks out the biweekly meals and is now excited to try new foods.

Here’s the thing with comfort zones – the more time you spend in them, the harder it becomes to take a step outside of them. If kids are raised without every being encouraged (okay, sometimes pushed) outside their comfort zone, they will become an adult who is afraid to try new things or take any risks.

Depending upon the personality of your child, this journey outside their comfort zone may be quite a struggle for both of you, but the long-term payoffs are worth the short-term frustration.

 

2 – Occasion to Struggle

As a parent, one of your strongest motivations is to keep your children safe and happy. This noble instinct means that you’ll give up your life for them, but it also means that sometimes you may shelter them too much from their own life.

As a teacher, I constantly have to fight the impulse to give a child the answer or to expedite the process by simply doing some task for a kid (try teaching new middle-schoolers how to open their lockers some time – it’s an exercise in extreme patience!). I resist the urge, because I know that bypassing the struggle also means bypassing the learning.

It’s not easy watching a child grapple with something until their frustration reaches a boiling point. It can be so tempting to step in with your greater wisdom and experience and solve a problem for them instead of stepping back and letting them try on their own. We often want to create so many guidelines and boundaries for them that they have no choice but to follow a predetermined and manicured path.

Yet struggle is exactly what builds strength. Confidence. Resilience.

Let them try. They will fail sometimes. And that’s okay.

 

3 – Practice With Failure

Brock showed me a video on his facebook feed the other day. It showed a young girl attempting to jump onto a high platform with the encouragement of her father in the background. She tries and fails to stick the landing many times. At one point, you can see her frustration starting to grow and her father steps in and gives her a little pep talk. She nails the next attempt.

This young girl’s muscles indicate that she is training for some sort of gymnastics, but her attitude towards failure shows that, more importantly, she is training for life.

Failure is a certainty. When it is delayed for too long, coming first in later childhood or even adulthood, it comes as quite a shock and can easily be interpreted as, “I am a failure.” By exposing young kids to repeated failure, it normalizes the experience and lessens its power.

Along with failing to achieve their personal goals, kids will experience losing to others that are smarter or more talented (or just luckier) than they are. This can become a great opportunity to expose them to fact that life isn’t fair.

 

4 – Opportunity to Accept That Life is Unfair

Kids have a tendency to see the world in black and white. If you’re a benevolent character, things will go your way in the long run. If you’re the villain, you will eventually get what’s coming to you. Playing by the rules will allow you to win and breaking the rules always leads to consequences.

As adults, we know it’s not that simple. Some of the kindest souls in the world have been subject to seemingly endless tragedies. Many bad guys find success, even as they harm others to reach their goals. Sometimes the hardest worker is passed up for the raise and the best friend is left in the dust.

Life isn’t fair. It’s up to us to help our kids understand this basic truth so that they do not carry forth with unrealistic expectations. Included in this lesson is the idea that kindness is never wasted and by giving to others, we can help to lift the lives of all.

 

5 – Episodes of Altruism Without Expectation

My favorite day of the school year is one that we dub our day of giving. The entire faculty  joins with the student body and hundreds of parent volunteers to participate in community service projects. It’s always a magical day as the students first realize how much need there is in our own suburban community and then feel accomplished by helping to meet those needs.

Giving to others shapes kids in many ways. It teaches them compassion for others and helps them to respect those that may live differently than they do. It shows them that small acts can have great consequences and that when we work together, we can achieve even greater things. By engaging in altruistic acts without expectation of reward, we encourage them to develop integrity and the importance of doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

 

By ensuring that your kids have had these experiences, you are raising them to be strong, resilient and compassionate. All these qualities will continue to serve them well far into the future.

 

Have your kids had to experience divorce? Here are the vital lessons that divorce teaches children. 

 

 

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We Don’t Talk About That

we don't talk about that

It usually starts in childhood.

The son learns to play the clown whenever the topic of conversation begins to make his father uncomfortable. The daughter of divorced parents learns that mentioning the other parent has a tendency to end in tears, so it’s better to simply keep quiet. At school, any mention of financial struggles in the home leads to ridicule, so any words that would reveal the truth are instead swallowed. Even when the home environment is one that welcomes open dialog, the reactions of those outside the home often reinforce that it’s not considered polite or acceptable to bring up issues of death, disease or discord.

 

“We don’t talk about that,” becomes the unspoken vow of secrecy that follows most of us into adulthood.

 

As we grow and become more aware of the very real threats that exist, we continue to remain silent. Convinced that merely speaking of the thing that frightens us will give it the power to manifest. And that as long as we refuse to say its name, it does not exist. That which will not be named is relegated to the shadows where it can grow and influence without notice.

The husband, sensing a growing distance in his marriage, makes the largely unconscious decision to press onward without comment, believing that addressing the issue would only make it more formidable and would upset his wife. The mother becomes increasingly concerned about her child’s mental health but brushes away the unsettled feelings by telling herself that this is a normal part of growing up. The boss, increasingly demanding of her employees, steadfastly refuses to discuss her increasing fears of failure.

When something becomes off-limits to talk about, it only grows in power.

 

There’s a strange thing that happens when something is banned. Any parent of teenagers knows that the surest way to get them to act is to forbid them to do something. And we are not so different when it comes to banned trains of conversation; the prohibited becomes more powerful as we begin to fill in the gaps with our fears and our imaginations. Because the dialog still happens, only we are simply listening to ourselves.

The adopted child internalizes the implied rejection, assuming that it must be because she simply isn’t enough.  The young man begins to drink to try to escape his feelings of inadequacy because he’s learned that men aren’t supposed to express weakness. The  matriarch elects not to disclose her cancer diagnosis to the family after envisioning the tears that the revelation will cause. After all, isn’t it better to spare them the pain?

 

“We don’t talk about that” implies that your feelings are wrong, misguided.

 

In our modern culture, we value rational thought and have a tendency to dismiss feelings. We see them as animalistic, base and unsophisticated. We push them down. Shove them aside. Pretend that they do not exist even as we berate ourselves that we shouldn’t feel the way we do.  We feed our shame and in turn, it tells us that we need to hide our true selves.

Meanwhile, the suppressed feelings bubble to the surface in the form of increased blood pressure, recurring headaches, panic attacks or IBS. We seek answers in doctor’s office’s, self-help books, online support groups and endless therapy in pursuit of the root of all our problems.

And often it’s found in the dark, in the shadows. By finally bringing light to that which we do not talk about.

Because of instead of causing it to grow, talking about those things that scare us serves to bleed them of their power. Once we name it, bring it to the surface, it no longer can control us.

 

It’s only when we talk about it that we can begin to release it.

 

The Perks and Problems of Being an Only Child

I just saw a former student from a few years back.

“How are you?” I inquired, looking at the almost-adult in front of me.

“Great,” she replied, “I just got my license today!”

“Awesome! That’s got to be a little freaky to have your first day driving on such a stormy day.”

“That’s why I brought my [younger] brother with me. That way, if I got into a wreck, I wouldn’t be alone.”

 

I am an only child. It’s a status that never gave me much thought as a child and when it was worthy of consideration, my attitude was generally one of gratitude as I encountered my friends’ obnoxious younger siblings. I was also a deliberate only child, raised by parents who were well-versed in the stereotypes and generalizations of solo offspring.

So it came as somewhat of a surprise to me the other day when I realized an undeniable adverse impact that being an only child had on me. But before I get to the downsides of being siblingless, let me begin with the positives. Because there is a LOT to be grateful for.

Only children…

Are comfortable with adults. In larger families, there is a divide between the children and the adults. They occupy two separate spheres. As the only child, my world intersected the adult arena more often and, as a result, I grew comfortable talking to and interacting with adults. As a teacher, this is often the first clue I have about the size of my student’s families.

Learn to be assertive. I didn’t have a sibling to look out for me on the schoolyard or to help me navigate uncomfortable situations. I had to learn to do it myself (I didn’t find it an easy lesson). I had to reach out to have friends accompany me since I had no built-in peer group. Only children have to learn to speak for themselves.

Have a flexible view of family. Without siblings, children have a tendency to find and build familial relationships with others. Family is defined by the relationships formed between the people rather than the mandates of the DNA. This is a lesson that has served me well in adulthood as my tribe has morphed over time and location.

Independence. Without an older one to pave the way or a younger one to assume the blame, only children have to learn to stand on their own and take responsibility for their actions. I learned how to take care of myself, entertain myself and go out by myself. All good skills to have as an adult.

Of course, there were downsides too. As Brock and I watched two brothers tussle on screen in a series we’re watching, he mentioned how he and his siblings used to do similar all the time. And it suddenly clicked.

Only children…

Don’t learn how to fight. And not just physically, as in the case on the show, but verbally as well. Most siblings are constantly battling for attention and resources. They antagonize each other and engage in frequent arguments and altercations. And unlike with a friend that you can discard, you have to return home to your sibling so navigating the discord is essential. Sibling squabbles teach kids that disagreements are natural and that you can love one another even when you’re fighting.

Have nobody to verify their experience. Only children do not have somebody else to talk to about their experiences with their parents. I was lucky, I only had the normal childhood parental gripes. But for those with parents who are toxic, abusive or narcissistic, the lack of a sounding board can be devastating and extremely isolating.

Limited lessons in learning to compromise and share. Yeah, kindergarten did a good job here, but it was still limited. After all, my room and my things at home were still my domain with nobody to challenge that status. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I became a teacher – it’s MY room! 🙂

Don’t have as much struggle for individuation. It’s always interesting to me how siblings assume family labels from a young age – “the athletic one,” “the smart one,” “the smart aleck one.” The kids have to find and fight for their individual identity from the beginning. And if they attend the same schools, it’s a struggle that follows them their entire childhood. As an only child, I never had to try to set myself apart from anyone.

I’m grateful for the recent ah-ha moment in my difficulty with interpersonal conflict and disagreement. It’s one of those areas where simply having an awareness pays dividends.

And as for Tiger, my current only canine child, we’re planning on getting him a sibling this fall in the hopes that he can pass on some of his awesomeness to the next doggy generation.

 

 

Guest Post: How I Told My Kids We Were Getting Divorced

For many people, the most difficult part about divorce is the impact on the kids. And this starts on the day that you tell them about the divorce. Author L.J. Burke shares his story and surprising revelation about the day his kids were told about their parent’s divorce.

 How I Told My Kids We Were Getting Divorced

The toughest part of my divorce was telling the kids that their Mom and Dad weren’t going to be together anymore. I avoided and agonized over this inevitable conversation for weeks. You don’t want them finding out through friends or other family members. You owe it to them to break the news as soon as possible. Preferably the both of you will do this together with your happy faces on.

I don’t think there is a perfect way to tell your kids that you’re getting divorced. There are so many factors; age, maturity, any kind of special problems with physical or mental health. There is no easy way to do this. I believe honesty is the most important thing to keep in mind. Don’t give your kids any false sense of hope that you will not break up. There are way too many Disney movies where divorced couples wind up back together in some magical zany way. Shame on you Disney!

This is how it happened to me: It was a nice summer morning and my soon to be ex-wife woke me up after I was sleeping for about three hours. I worked nights and this was my nighttime. We corralled the kids into the kitchen and my ex started the conversation with, “Kids, we have to tell you something.” She stopped and looked at me for what felt like an eternity. “OK, I guess I will do the dirty work,” I thought to myself. Now I was wide-awake. “There’s no easy way to say this, kids, but your mother and I are getting a divorce.” Both kids smiled at me and told us that they already knew. They both said they heard my soon to be ex having conversations with her divorce lawyer. (Remember, kids are incredible in hearing when they want to.) I went on and told them that we would still be a family; only it will be different now. I wanted to stress how we both loved them, and nobody was going to get abandoned.

I asked if they had any questions and they both said no. They both got up from the table and went on with their regular routines. I wasn’t sure what to think of this. My stomach was still in a knot, and I felt horrible. My ex just continued to pace and really didn’t say all that much.

I realize that wasn’t the perfect way to break the news to my kids, but it could of went much worse.

If you really have no idea how to break the news to your kids, I would suggest you go to a family therapist. Also, it would probably be a good idea for the kids to see a therapist at this very confusing and often difficult time. Make sure you reassure your kids often that you both still love them very much and will do everything in your power to make this process as painless as possible.   Do this often through the divorce process. Protecting your kids is priority one!

About the author:

L.J. Burke is the author of his new book, “Divorced Dad: Kids are Forever, Wives are Not.” Burke wrote this book looking back at his divorce with clarity, seeing what he did wrong and what he did right during this tough time.  It is his sincere hope that if you are contemplating, going through or have gone through a divorce, his book will help you through this very tough time. Burke is a Police Sergeant in a major metropolitan police department. The father of his two teenage boys, Burke recently remarried and is enjoying life with his new blended family.

 

Planning On Being a Stay-At-Home Parent? Make Sure You Consider THIS First!

Brock and I recently finished watching the series Boardwalk Empire, which takes place in the Prohibition-era United States. After watching one heart-breaking scene with a woman and her kids, Brock turned to me.

“It’s so sad how women were trapped in bad marriages or devastated when their husbands left or died back then because of a lack of resources and opportunity.”

“Sadly,” I replied, “It still happens. I hear from women in that very position all the time.”

—–

Circumstances have changed dramatically since the early twentieth century. Staying at home to raise the kids is no longer an assumption, it is generally a carefully made decision. Couples weigh the pros (quality time with the child, no child care costs, more influence on development) against the cons (reduced family income, possibility of isolation or boredom for the parent who stays home, difficulty of re-entering the workforce down the road). It is still usually the female that elects to stay home if that decision is reached, yet increasingly, that role is given to or shared with the man.

The decision to stay home to raise children is an incredibly personal one, with many beliefs and goals entering into the process.

And I am not trying to sway you either way. That choice is entirely yours to make.

I just want you to think about all of the possibilities when you make your decision.

Because I often hear what happens when people don’t.

—–

“I need to get out of this marriage. His drinking is out of control and he’s starting to scare me. I don’t want to raise my kids in this environment. But I don’t have any money and I don’t work. What can I do?”

“My tsunami divorce happened when he sent me an email and then left. The courts ordered that he pay child support, but he’s only made a couple of payments in the last year. I stopped working 10 years ago to raise the kids and I can’t seem to get a job now. What do I do?”

“We always seemed to be okay financially. But then when she died, I learned that there was all kinds of debt I didn’t know about. Since she was the primary bread winner, we decided that I would stay at home when the kids were young. It’s been so long now, my former industry has changed. What should I do?”

I hate reading these questions. I wish I could help them into a time machine and take them back along with the knowledge that they needed to form a contingency plan along with their child care plan.

And I get why people often don’t. You don’t believe that it can happen to you.

—–

I was lucky. Even though I did a lot of things wrong in my marriage (secure in the belief that my husband really meant til death), I had my own career and my own income. My situation was also made significantly easier by the fact that we did not have children. I only had to worry about my own survival, not that of any offspring.

I didn’t follow up enough with the financial conversations that we had to ensure that his words matched the ledgers. I didn’t keep up with the myriad accounts, trusting that he had our best interests in mind. I didn’t have my own money, separate from his reach. I didn’t have an emergency plan for what I could do if the worst came to past. I allowed him access to my preexisting credit card. I didn’t know that he had canceled (or simply neglected to pay) the life insurance policy that let me sleep at night. And I trusted the courts would enforce their ruling that he was to pay me back.

I trusted him to take care of us. Of me. And I neglected to take care of myself.

And those mistakes cost me money.

If I had been a stay-at-home mom who made the same mistakes, the results could have been disastrous and so much larger than just a financial hit.

Because here’s the scary, sad and so-not-fair truth – It can happen to you.

You may find yourself wed (and dependent upon) an abuser. Scared to stay and yet unable to leave.

That same spouse that was so supportive of your staying home may decide that he or she no longer wants to return home.

The perfect parent may suddenly morph into somebody refuses to pay child support.

And through no fault of their own, your husband or wife may be struck down before their time.

And so as much as you hate to , consider those worst cases while you’re making life changes. Your life – and your kids’ lives – may depend upon it.

—–

If you are the partner who will be staying home, consider implementing the following as part of an emergency preparedness plan:

-Build an emergency fund that you have access to. If your spouse also has access, make sure that you periodically check to ensure it’s there. It really doesn’t have to be some great amount. Just enough so that you never feel trapped in that moment because of a lack of funds. This isn’t meant to be a primary savings account or some source of anxiety. Just a small insurance tucked away, hopefully never to be needed.

-Have at least one credit card in your name with a reasonable limit. One problem people often face after staying at home for a period of time is that their credit takes a hit. Use the card at least every few months and then pay it off to keep your credit score high.

-Before you decide to stay home, develop some education or job skills as well as some experience. It’s never easy to return to the working world after a break, but it’s a little easier if you’ve been there before and had something to offer.

-Consider work you can do part-time or from home. Even if the pay is not great, it is something and it keeps you from feeling powerless.

-Maintain connections with people who are in the working world.

-Build and nurture a safety net of friends and family.

-Stay sharp. Enroll in free online courses. Take on freelance gigs that relate to your former career. Keep up with the changes and developments in your industry.

-Have an outline of a “If the sh*t hits the fan plan.” Hopefully the outline grows faded and dusty. But if it’s ever needed, you’ll be so glad you put some thought into it when you could still think rationally.

-Have a pulse on the relationship and the family’s financial standing.

-If divorce is in the picture, don’t assume that alimony or child support will be awarded or promptly paid. Try to put yourself in a position where that money is nice, but not needed.

—–

There are times when you have to be dependent upon somebody else.

And that’s okay.

But never allow yourself to become dependent upon being dependent.

Because that’s a risk that may end up being too big to take.

This is one area where the motto I learned from the residents of a remote – and harsh – Alaskan town applies:

“Prepare for the worst. Expect the best. And live for today.”

Because even though it can happen to you, I hope it never does.

I just want you to be prepared just in case.

So that you are never in a position of asking somebody the unanswerable question, “What can I do now?”