Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year Resolutions

With only two more days left in the year, we start to think about the things we did, the things we didn't do, the projects we accomplished and all the things we want to do next year.

Every year we guide our kids through a little exercise that my father taught me: we sit down in the living room, put on good music, have a warm drink like hot chocolate and a bring a notebook so we can start writing down this year's accomplishments and our new goals for next year.

Some questions we use to get them started:

Did I do enough sports and exercise? Did I do my best in my team? Am I eating right or am I having to much junk food? Did I stop biting my nails? Have I done good to others? How have I treated my friends, my brothers and sisters, my parents?
How did I do at school? What can I do to improve my grades, my reading level, my math skills? How is my handwriting? Can I do better? Am I learning new languages and music? Am I being challenged?
How did I treat God this year? Have I forgotten Him? Have I read good spiritual books?

It is important to always remind them that good intentions are not always enough to accomplish our goals. The most likely reason that we did not achieve our goals is that we lacked perseverance, lacked motivation or we simply set unrealistic goals.

Usually we like to see results right away and we fail because we want to run a sprint instead of a marathon. Sometimes we don't want to move from the comfort zone we are in now. We need to persevere with strength; the continuous effort on the things we set out to do, is something that will help us be different, to stand out from the crowd. With a little effort every day, we can accomplish our goals.

In order to persevere, we must set realistic goals and be clear about our motivation. Even if the goal seems far away, the fuel that keeps our perseverance going is what drives us in the first place: it can be that somebody is counting on us, or that somebody has put their trust in us. Only we have the ability to produce a change inside of us.

Our next year resolutions must be realistic and very few. They cannot be impossible, they must be attainable, so we build confidence in ourselves first and later, as our confidence and strength grows, we can accomplish more demanding goals. Plan ahead, and keep track of your progress.

Finally, we encourage them again to don't give up, to persevere. We remind them that their parents and brothers and sisters will help them along the way to their goals as best we can.

These year-end meetings are getting better every year and we have made them a tradition, brought forth from my parents' home into ours.

Happy New Year!!!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Our Kids, Our Responsibility

When I was pregnant, I often thought about the great responsibility that God places on us as parents when he allows us to have children; we have to guide them through life and help them get to heaven.

It is a huge responsibility, so my husband and I set forth, early, what our goal was: We must make our children realize that their goal in this life must be to reach heaven. We must always keep this, the big picture, our goal, in the forefront of our minds as we want them to be great people, good leaders and successful individuals in the process.

In order to achieve this lofty goal we must:
  • Teach them virtues: order, obedience, gratitude, truthfulness, fortitude, responsibility.
  • Provide them with the best tools possible (good schools that help us with our jobs as parents) to help them achieve their goals.
  • Surround them with good people.
On a more earthly level, we understand that we have the future husband or wife of somebody living under our roof and in our care. In our hands, we have the future teachers, jet pilots, artists, presidents, football pros of the nation, who knows? What we have right now is a blank sheet of paper where we can start filling out all the good things that our children can have, so we must make sure that they want to:
  • be interested on current events around the world,
  • learn at least two languages,
  • know the history of other countries,
  • be creative, good critics, thinkers and
  • up to date with the latest in technology.
It is obvious to us, as it must be to you, that this is a full time job, but what a great job it is!

Friday, December 8, 2006

On Giving Orders and Obedience

After order, obedience is, in my opinion, the most important virtue to teach my kids.

As a parent, I try to teach this virtue since they are 6 months old, hoping to make a few important values their own.
I have to remind myself constantly that they have to obey me because it will make them better, not to be more comfortable or because I am lazy at that moment - they will notice the difference. This virtue helps my kids feel safe, because when you give them limits, it is not to keep them in a small range of action is to keeping them away of what ever is out of that range, that can harm them.

With my five year old and younger, when they ask "why do I have to....?", I tell them "because I'm your mother" or "because I say so". In this case I am not giving a long and boring explanation; I keep it short and clear. With our kids between five and ten years old, we say, for example: "you have to be here by 6 pm", why....? because those are the rules of our home. At these ages, if you start a negotiation process with your kids, you will loose. They will manipulate you and it will be easier for you to bend your rule than for them to understand, so don't even try to start to argue. Use a nice, very convincing tone of voice, and give your order looking at their eyes, then turn around and leave. We should not try to give too many orders, but the ones that we have, we don't change them. For example: bed time, arrival time, phone time.

For our 10 year old and older, we explain the consequences if they don't obey an order; for example: If they ask as for permission to go out to a party on a weekday, then we will tell them that they cannot go because daddy will stay up until you come back just to make sure that your get home OK, so tomorrow "not only you who will be sleepy at school, but daddy will have a hard time at work, and that is not fair. Why don't you go out on Friday or Saturday instead, so everybody can sleep well the next day; you will enjoy your party much more."

Set a list of home rules, before you have to improvise them. Keep them simple, five to ten is more than enough. That is a number you can remember without looking at the paper you wrote them on (and you should write them down!).
  • Phone hours: From Monday through Friday from 9 am until 9pm, Sat. or Sundays from 10 am to 9 pm.
  • Internet or video game hours: Monday through Friday 1 hour a day before 6 pm. Internet has all the parenting control system, if not an adult must be with you.
  • T.V. is available during the following times:
12:00pm - 2:00 pm 0 to 5 years olds,
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm 5 to 9 years olds,
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm 10 years old and up,
8:00 pm an onward is TV time for grown ups.
  • TV will be permitted only if you are done with your homework.
[We find that having only one TV for everybody will teach us generosity, will limit TV time for each of us, and will prevent us from watching bad TV programs - more on this in a future post]
  • Dirty clothes always in the hamper. Remember to do a not together with the pair of socks, and to turn your own dirty cloth inside out.
  • Backpacks for school, with all your papers and agendas - complete uniforms (pants or skirts, underwear, shirt, socks, sweater, tie, etc.) out and ready by the door before bedtime.
  • Pick up your plate after every meal as soon as daddy has left the table, and put it inside the dish washer.
  • Not eating allowed inside the bedrooms or inside the cars.

Why we impart orders.
We impart orders to our smaller kids to keep them safe from physical harm, like: "don't open the door to a stranger, no talking to a stranger, not cooking by yourself". As they grow older obedience will keep them safe from moral harm and will lead them to obey civil laws. When we explain to our children why they should be obedient, we tell them that it is not only to skip a punishment or to have a reward, it is "to teach you self-improvement, to become a better citizen."

Final very important note: It is essential to impart commands clearly- some pointers on this.
a) Be sure that your child knows what you are talking about, don't assume that it is obvious. For example: "go to my bathroom and open the little door at your right" might be confusing. Maybe there are three little doors, maybe they are not sure which is their right hand, so re-confirm the message with them.

b) Don't give more than one order at a time, like for example: "Go up stairs, and close the windows as it is raining. Then go to my closet and bring me the wallet from my purse. Then remember to turn off the lights on your way back and shut the door because your brother is sleeping." By the time they get to the part about their brother, they have completely forgotten what was it that they were looking for.

c) Be a bit flexible, you can bend a rule if you are having fun playing a family game, and is past their bed time. This does not happen everyday, enjoy the moment, soon they all will grow and leave home. What we are looking for is for them to remember the fun it was living at home, instead of "my mom (and/or dad) always ruins the moment".

Final, final note.
We, as parents are at the service of our children, God has given us the authority not to rule them, but to guide them to be good. They will be happy to have somebody who will help them, not somebody that exploits them. Let them know that they count on their Guardian Angle all the time and let them know that we all make mistakes, that we are all struggling to be good. Sometimes it is hard, but it is worth it!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brothers and Sisters -Top Ten Rules on Living Together

As parents of five adorable children, we have to set the rules of living together. We try to set these rules on a daily basis, in small doses, not in lectures.

Here are our top ten, in no particular order:

You are unique
"Each one of you are unique and unrepeatable, there is no one else like you and there will never be another one like you. So you are not allowed to compare yourselves with each other, as I am not allowed to do so."

Setting a good example: chores
"You have the responsibility to set the good example for your siblings. All of them count on you, so when you do your chores, do them the best you can, as if somebody was grading you on it. God is the one that will know how good you did it. Your brothers and sisters will learn how to do each chore from watching you. So do it perfectly and offer it as a gift to God, I’m sure you will make Him happy."

Magic words
"When talking to each other, and to anyone for that matter, use the magic words 'please' and 'thank you'. It feels nice when other people care about you and respect you."

Controlling your feelings
When we see them envious, jealous, selfish or angry, we try not to overreact and help them discover what is that powerful feeling that they have inside them, so they can identify it and control it, instead of exploding.

We tell our children that one of the best things of living in a large family is that you have a lot of stuff, you can share your clothes with your sister, the music with your brother, you don't need more people to have a team on a rainy day, you can still play dolls with your sister. So sharing is very important.

Caring for the family's things
There are some things that don't have a specific owner at home, they are the family things. We all have to take care of these things, like our couch, the backyard, the TV, the computer, the remote control, the scissors, the glue, the tape, the silverware, the dishes, etc. Care for them. Use them wisely.

"Respect your siblings' privacy: knock on the door before entering, don't sneak into their stuff, don't read their e-mails, or messages, don't talk about their secrets...

Private property
"Always ask permission to use something, and lend the thing that you are being ask for, maybe you will need something tomorrow. Respect others belongings, do not damage them, put them back in the same place where you found them, don't wear something if it is to tight, you may stretch them big for your sister...
If you break something that is not yours, even if you are scared to death of the consequences, admit that you broke it, say that you are sorry, and try to pay it back. If you are the affected party, accept the apology, and help your brother to go through this difficult time, he might be feeling very bad and sorry."

Helping each other
"Help around the house, even when is not your turn to do something or is not your chore; you can help with your brothers' homework, placing your dirty clothes on the basket, drying the bathroom floor after taking a bath, placing a glass of water on your parents night table (here is to hoping!)". The idea is to let them know that doing more is better than doing less.

Caring for one another
"We have to remember that the most important thing to take care of is ourselves, taking care of one and another, at school, the shopping mall, the movies, crossing the street, everywhere. Don't forget to always keep the members of your family in your prayers, so baby Jesus will help them solve their problems at work or school."

I will be expanding on all of these topics in future posts.

It is fun to live in a family, enjoy!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Personality's Triumph Over Peer Pressure

I regularly ask my children: "Why is it that you want to be like everybody else? Why should you do what other people tell you to do? Do you feel the pressure to do something that you really don’t want to do?" I tell them: "This is called peer pressure; you will feel it all the time, but it does not mean that you should bend to it.

My girls, you have to be different for the good things, the pretty things, the delicate things; you can call other people's attention without being rude or ugly, you can set the good example.

My boys and my girls, you have to have your own personality, go against the flow, according to what you have seen at home, our principles, our good values and good manners, all of what mom and dad taught you. You should never be ashamed of your home rules, schedules, customs, all of these are good for you, regardless of what 'all your friends do'.

Be different by not saying bad words, be elegant in how you dress, be decent by not talking behind other people's back. Don’t wait to see what the popular boy or girl will do, instead, do what you feel is right. Believe in yourself, be a good leader, the one that cares"

My Daughter is a Victim of Bullying

When I was young, in school, I remember feeling lonely, rejected by my “friends” as they secretly planned a party and didn't invite me or when the teased me or criticized me behind my back. Now, as a mom, I regularly talk to my children about the importance of caring about others. I tell them to look around and be aware of any friend that might be eating by him or herself during lunch, or being left out of the game during recess.

Last year, my daughter was a victim of bullying. She was friendly with all her classmates, but for nearly two straight years, she hung out almost exclusively with her "bestest friend", until this girl turned her back on her. Because she knew my daughter's weaknesses, she took advantage of them, making her feel terrible and lonely. I thought: "My cute and good mannered daughter is being a victim of bullying by her (now former) best friend - how can this be possible?"
My first impulse was to talk directly to the bully, but I was not her mother. Then I thought about talking to the bully's parents,who have been very good friends of our family for years, but I decided against it, as it could make things worse for my daughter if the bully found out that I was trying to fix her problems.

After a lot of thinking and crying, I thought long and hard about taking this bad situation and turning it into a good one. I talked to my daughter about the feeling of being betrayed, about hate and revenge. I made a point of telling her that if she did not set aside these negative feelings, even if they were perfectly natural, they could lead her to become as bad as her ex-friend. We decided to open her circle of friends: inviting a different girl friend home to play each week so she could see that there were plenty of great people out there; not to confine her relationships to a person or a small group in order to avoid her from getting caught in the same situation or even worse: a "click". We even talked about something that would happen later in life: not getting exclusively attached to her eventual boyfriend and nurturing the relationships she had already with her girl friends even when she eventually starts going out with boys.

After all the pain and stress she went through, I think that my daughter came out of all this more mature and with a great perspective on the whole situation. She understood that maybe her friend (the bully) could be going through a difficult time and her behavior was a reflection of her own problems. She realized that it was not her fault, that she did nothing wrong to deserve the terrible treatment she got, but time would go by, and maybe if it was a good friendship in the beginning they would become friends again.

This afternoon, a year later, my daughter is playing at her old friend's house. It turns out that yesterday's bully is now a victim of another bully, and my daughter is giving her advice of how to handle it… "Don’t worry it will all pass".

Bullying might be a "fact of life", but it does not mean that it has to be tolerated and accepted - there are ways to make the best of a bad situation.