Monday, September 28, 2015

Is Drop Off Etiquette Realistic?

Written by Eileen Wacker

It’s only a month into the new school year and I’m stressed out by the end of most days. Getting kids up and out in the morning is a grind. Yes, we lay our clothes out, have our backpacks in the entryway, have all the clothes, equipment, notebooks and other essentials ready for their million activities. I make a healthy breakfast for each of my four kids who get up the first time I say in my sweetest voice ever, “Good morning! It’s time to get up angels!”

ONCEKids Publishing is run by literacy advocate and Mompreneur Eileen Wacker.  Click here to find her acclaimed books

I’M KIDDING! This never happens. It’s a gong show most mornings. If there is something in their stomachs and they are wearing shoes, it’s a pretty good start. The next goal is to get them to school on time with all the work they did actually in their backpacks. They fight over who sits where in the minivan and who positioned their backpack on purpose to touch the sibling’s leg. As we enter the rush hour traffic, my daughter announces that she wants to be a vegetarian. I apologize to her and tell her she will have to wait until college. It’s simply too inconvenient for a family of six to accommodate a vegetarian at this moment. Every one of them has some protest and the only way to quiet them is to let them stare at their phones and ignore the world around them, which includes me. Since I can’t bear to be the ignored taxi driver, I usually take the verbal battles, but I’m weary as we reach the school campus.

As I pull in, I fall in line with the other moms.  I tell my kids to have the best day ever and please do their best work. They look cute again and innocent as they get out of the car with their giant backpacks. They usually smile and wave.  I treasure this. Then, I spy ‘cutter mom’ pushing her way in and ‘trapper mom’ not letting anyone exit after the drop off. The first week we all expect chaos as we try and understand the rules. But by week four, please do not drive, staring straight ahead, sipping your coffee, pretending you have no idea there is any protocol.

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We can’t do anything about the traffic and morning routine chaos, but we can follow simple etiquette to make things move more smoothly on campus. It helps all of our moods too. I don’t want to caffeinate a bad mood!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Moms, Let's Choose People Over Sweaters

As all our kids go back to their fall routines, a mom’s life gets complicated. My routine is a combination of my four children’s calendars loaded on my shoulders. The final result is always a modernist work of art. In other words- messy, confusing to those who view it, and something other moms know is a thing of beauty. I’ve chased down the right club teams for my kids, the right voice and piano teachers, a tutor to get ready for standardized tests, and more. I’m fighting the good fight about electronic usage and dress code with my kids. In short, I’m riding a wave of peak chaos that unfolds with every school year.

ONCEKids Publishing is run by literacy advocate and Mompreneur Eileen Wacker.  Click here to find her acclaimed books

This is why I’m vulnerable right now. I’ve done all I can to get a good schedule in place for my kids, and, for better or worse, it’s done. Now my challenge is to get the kids to own it and stay on it.

Other moms could help me out by observing a few ground rules that are in line with the mom’s code (a bro code for moms).

#1) People over sweaters and shopping bags. At the school events, if we could hold ‘saving seats’ to a minimum, things would go a lot more smoothly. Why can’t I sit in the seat? I don’t think there are any sweater rights groups that would protest this bold new move. And please don’t bring tripods to every event to tape your child.

#2) If you put it out there, you have to share. When my kids were little and had play dates, I would tell them, “If there are a few special things you don’t want anyone else to play with, we can leave them in the closet. Everything else gets shared.” Moms, please don’t brag excessively about your super awesome, wonderful, and up-until-now secret schedule. I can’t change mine and I was perfectly happy with it until you told me about the fabulous tutors/coaches/etc. you found BUT they don’t want you to give out their information. Of course they don’t want to expand their business base! Come on moms! If you talk about it, you should share.

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#3) No measuring please. It would really helpful if the classrooms on back-to-school night did not contain reading stars and leveled multiplication charts hung on every wall. Then the inevitable question, “My daughter Emily went to an accelerated math camp this summer and she really needs to be working above grade level. I’m sure other kids are in this same situation.” Not mine. I wish we could stick with art on the walls. I can handle it if my child is not the best artist. I can even crack a joke. But with academics, my eyes drift over and I look at where my child is stacking up. It’s like a parent report!

I love when my kids are back in school but let’s try to keep the competition reasonable. I promise to do my best.

Thumbs down on Halloween

Written by Eileen Wacker

We are still in the middle of back to school nights, sports are ramping up and homework is starting to roll in. I feel like I’m losing time because every store I go into already has Halloween decorations and candy. Since I have four kids, I really love and embrace holidays as a chance to celebrate and create happy childhood memories.

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I’m going to make a confession. I don’t like Halloween. Orange and black with a hint of green don’t go together for me as a kid color palette. They are perfect for a tiger. Too harsh and scary for little kids. And I don’t like pumpkin carving at all. There are tools for sale at every store and almost every classroom across the U.S. holds a pumpkin carving event. My son summed up the insides of a pumpkin quite correctly, “Pumpkin guts are gross!” Ninety percent of the mush gets thrown away and then the trash smells. Room moms count on dads taking a half day off to come in and help carve the pumpkins. The kids are not carving them. So the dads either ask the mom to fill in for this gruesome task or enter into a massively competitive pumpkin carving war with each other.

ONCEKids Publishing is run by literacy advocate and Mompreneur Eileen Wacker.  Click here to find her acclaimed books

The night of Halloween, my children attempt to collect massive amounts of candy. I don’t mind the sweets. And, there are two elements of Halloween that I adore. I love homemade costumes and that my child can be anyone he wants to be for that day. I also love the ‘pause for humanity’ when a porch light on signifies an individual is behind his or her door waiting with a smile, compliment and a treat for every neighbor or stranger who knocks. I also find Jimmy Kimmel’s annual video of children’s responses to their parent’s telling them they ate all of their Halloween candy to be hilarious.

Friday, September 4, 2015

How to Initiate Productive Family Meetings

Now that the summer is winding down and school is around the corner for some and already here for others, there are going to be lots of changes in family dynamics, schedules, and routines. With all the changes, many parents see it best to sit their families down and host a family meeting. Holding a family meeting allows parents to communicate the upcoming changes as well as expectations for each of the children, while giving the children an opportunity to voice their opinions and desires for the new routine. 

Family meetings are important and effective when there is going to be a change in schedules but they are also helpful and very beneficial to have on a weekly or monthly basis throughout the school year. Hosting a weekly or monthly family meeting helps to strengthen the family bond, bring everyone closer together, and communicate more effectively. The mutual support and understanding that stems from these meetings brings more harmony, love and respect among members of the family. 

ONCEKids Publishing is run by literacy advocate and Mompreneur Eileen Wacker.  Click here to find her acclaimed books

Despite family meetings being both important and beneficial, that does not mean they are easy to initiate or host. With everyone’s busy and changing schedules, having the time or ability to have your entire family sit down for a family meeting can be a rare or daunting task. For these reasons, it is crucial to know the best strategies for planning and implementing productive, efficient meetings. Dr. Barton Goldsmith from Psychology Today provides ten key strategies for hosting the best, most beneficial family meeting possible. He reminds readers to remember that all families are unique, so be creative and add or tweak rules as fitted to your family’s needs.

1. Keep it up-beat
Start the meeting by asking everyone how their week was and the best thing that happened in school. Don’t be afraid to use your sense of humor and laugh together, communication is easier when everyone is having a good time. Try and keep it light whenever possible, especially at the beginning!

2. Don’t try to control participation
Let everyone in the family join in when they have something to say, but don’t force participation and avoid putting people on the spot. Don’t use the words mandatory or required when asking teens to participate in the meeting, that may cause tension and spoil the atmosphere right from the beginning. Instead, invite them to participate and even if they decline, chances are they will join after a few minutes just to see what they are missing. 

3. Encourage each member of the family to join the meeting
Although it is good to avoid putting family members on the spot, use positive encouragement to try and get everyone to join in and voice their feelings or opinions. If one member is not talking, Dr. Goldsmith suggests using some gentle questioning to get him or her to open up. This can even be as simple as asking, “What was the best thing that happened to you this week?” 

4. Be creative with meeting space
Find a place in your home where everyone is comfortable and everyone can see one another. A kitchen or dining room table is a great spot for meetings. If things may get tense at the house, a fun, public place may be a better location for a meeting- such as a pizza parlor or the local miniature golf course. If you choose a busy, fun location keep in mind that it may be harder to keep family members on track with the conversation. 

5. Give everyone a chance to to lead the meeting
Giving each of the children a chance to lead the conversation and voice their opinions will make them feel validated as well as realize that their think matters. Making each family members’ opinions, thoughts, and feelings important will make everyone leave the meeting feeling happier and like they benefitted from the experience. Also, writing down a list of each members’ contributions as well as the agreed upon goals will be a great way to refer back to the main points of the meeting later on and remember all that was discussed.

6. Be creative with your agenda
Having some goals set for the meeting ahead of time is important, but being flexible with how the meeting goes is key to making it work. Kids tend to have a low boredom threshold, so if the meeting is too much like school, they make mentally check out halfway through. 
Some examples of potential family meeting topics include:
A. What happened last week
B. What happening this week as well as future plans
C. Money related issues
D. Questions/comments about anything that anyone needs to talk about 

7. End each meeting with a fun experience
Ending the meeting with a fun event will not only encourage everyone to attend and participate, but also make the children more likely to actually look forward to the meetings instead of dread them. Doing something fun also doesn’t need to involve going out of spending money, it can mean a special dessert, a movie night, or a game night. If everyone does want to go out, consider doing something like going bowling, going out for ice-cream, or going to the movies. Plan the experience as a family and remind the kids that if they don’t get to do what they wanted this time, there is always next week. This way, no one will get upset and it provides a lesson for teaching the children about patience. 

8. Help each other resolve any issues
Dr. Goldsmith reminds us that family meetings are purposed as a bonding tool for teaching as well as inspiring everyone that being close as a family is the best thing for everyone concerned. Talk issues out until they are resolved, or at least until everyone politely agrees to disagree. Explaining your decisions to your children and getting support is important in teaching children about fairness and about being a family. Point out areas where there have been difficulties, but don’t be punitive.

9. Consult a therapist if/when necessary
If you and your spouse are having trouble navigating some of the deeper issues, do not be afraid to consult a professional. Most families struggle with communication sometimes or have moments of difficultly, being comfortable getting advice when needed will make life a lot easier!

10. Remember that its never to late to become closer as a family
Dr. Goldsmith saves this one for last to point out that it is critical to never give up on making your family work as a team and that the only way to fail is to not try at all. 

Dr. Goldsmith believes that parents have two jobs, to teach their children how to love and to teach them how to live without their parents. He firmly believes that family meetings with help parents to accomplish both of these. According to him, trying for a weekly family meeting will be one of the highest return investments you will ever make! 

To maximize effective communication and harmony within the household, consider making a weekly or monthly family meeting your “back to school resolution”! 

Parents, what additional strategies do you use to ensure your family meeting goes smoothly and productively? Comment below with your additions and suggestions! 

ONCEKids Publishing is run by literacy advocate and Mompreneur Eileen Wacker.  Click here to find her acclaimed books