Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Best Christmas Gift

Thinking about Christmas gifts, we ran out of ideas for one of our children.  They have what they need, but they deserve a lot more; they are great, hard working, fun, normal children. Then I started wondering what was my best Christmas gift when I was a child and I remembered my wonderful snow cone machine. I know my mom and dad worked hard to buy the best possible toys, or watches, the best gift they could imagine for us, but the truth is that for me, the best gifts have been my brother and sisters, the friends I have made, my family, the knowledge I received from my good and bad teachers, all those experiences. 

The best gifts are definitely moments, not things:  time together, experiences together. This Christmas try talking to your children while cooking rather that yelling at them to go play outside. Make plans to watch a movie together at home and listen and enjoy their comments, even when you have seen this movie over and over. Cuddle together inside the bed sheets while the snow storm passes by. Wrap the presents together, even when they might not look as neat as you would like. Shop online as much as you can and spend that extra time with your husband or wife. 

Enjoy the season and be thankful for all your gifts.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Our Children and Drugs - Reality Hits

Some of us never had any contact with illegal drugs when we were teenagers. Unfortunately, this is not the case for our kids today.  I went to a talk on drugs a week ago and reality hit me: children as young as 11 years old can encounter a situation related to drugs up to 2 times a day, every day, depending on the city where they live. It has become more and more "normal" to talk about who went to the emergency room this weekend because of an overdose... even among kids in the same schools as my children's and their friends.

According to the experts, this alarming state of affairs is due to the lack of structure, nonexistence of solid rules and the absence of a good role model to follow at home, along with the normal teenage phases of not belonging and trying to understand who they are.

Things are not easy for us as parents, especially if we are going through an economic crisis, or a serious illness we have to deal with in the family, or struggling through a divorce. But all of these real problems, that unchecked help to make our kids more vulnerable to drugs, should not be an excuse for us to be lacking in our important duties as parents.

It seems that we are unable or afraid to say "NO" to our children. Our kids, as young as 10 or 11 years old, have access to all the gadgets, cellphones, laptops, money, freedom that we did not have access to until we were into our twenties, but without the maturity and experience of a twenty year old. We have to be much more assertive, but this is not enough.

Dr. Marcela Brown - a leading expert in drug prevention dealing daily with the realities of teenage addicts -  told us during the talk that in her experience, the only way to save our children from drugs is to rely on faith and family.   By fortifying our relationship with God, connecting with Him and teaching this relationship to our children, when the time comes and they are tested, not only will they have the strength to know the right thing to do, but will realize that they are an important part of their family; an example for their brothers, sisters and friends to follow. If we can provide guidance in this effort and turn it into a life project, they will have a better chance to avoid the scourge of drugs.

Action Plan:
  • Connect with your children.
  • Have more dinners and lunches together as a family (and turn the TV off).
  • Tell them every day how important they are to you.
  • Show them structure and limits - don't be afraid of being a parent. 
  • Read, study, prepare, pray.
  • Tell them often that we are depending on them, that the whole family could fall apart if one of us fails, so each one of us should strive to succeed, so our family can triumph.

There are a lot of bad people trying to do the wrong things for the wrong reasons, but there are a lot of good people willing to help and do the right thing too. We can do it!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Money Management

Even though I have a business degree, my husband studied economics and both of us have worked in the banking industry, I have to say that it is REALLY hard to teach money management to your own children. You walk through the house and see dollar bills and coins on their desks, in the bathroom drawer, on the kitchen table; they have no clue how hard it is to earn a dollar.  When our seven year old boy asks me to buy something and I say I don't have money, he replies: "go to the ATM", and I laugh.

For children money is mysterious and saving is an alien concept.  Saving is hard for everybody; it means that I have to say NO today so I can get what I want tomorrow. It sounds crazy to them. We try to tell them that it requires courage and discipline to do it, but later when you see how much you have saved for your goal, it will feel great.

It is a constant struggle: we are always telling them to save 30% of their allowance, donate 10%, and use the rest wisely. We are always trying to encourage them to start a business:  DJ, photographer, babysitter, delivery boy, cookie factory... the sky is the limit.

In the book  "Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age" by Daniel J. Kindlon,  the author talks about how hard it is for people to teach their children sobriety, temperance on an era where parents don't know how to say no to their children. There is a great story in the book about a very wealthy father who made his son pay for his own college education and after his graduation, he gave him back all the money his son had spent over those 4 years so he could start his own business.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I did.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Detachment From Material Things

Can money buy happiness? Money gives you satisfaction, maybe accomplishment, but you can have a lot of money and not have a decent life. You might have a lot of money and live a meaningless life.

Father Frank says that we should live detached from material things and develop our capability of enjoyment of what we have, while feeling happy about what other people have. You shouldn't feel sad for things you don't have - the house or the fancy car - if the whole world was made for us. We own it! Every single flower, every single species, the oceans and the sky, everything is ours, and we do not appreciate it because we are immersed in our race to work, earn and pay: credit cards, mortgages, insurance and taxes.
Animals live in this creation but only the human race can consciously enjoy and admire the colors, the variety of shapes, the expressions of beauty that surround us. When you attach yourself to material things you lose your capability of enjoyment.

That is why it is important to teach our children to grow in virtues and values, to distinguish between what they want and what they need. They should focus on something greater: who they want to become. 

Stop and think: if today was our last day on earth, can we examine ourselves and say that we have lived an accomplished life?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Seeing The Good in Others: a necessary daily struggle

To see the good in people requires practice and is taught by example. During a morning retreat I attended last week, the priest said "...sometimes you don't see any virtues in your husband, (your wife) or your children. What has probably happened is that the virtues you once saw have become "invisible" with time; you became used to them. It is also a common occurrence that what you perceive to be a defect is not really a defect, it is just the way they are".

To live with charity within family relationships is very hard; it is a daily struggle. It consists of trying not to see the defects in others, but rather focusing on their virtues and trying to see the multiple defects in ourselves.

If your husband or wife did had not have any virtues when you met them, you probably would not have married them. Sometimes it is easier to only see the big sacrifices I make - and to repeat constantly to everybody what I do for all of them every day. It is harder to stop for a moment and contemplate the sacrifices the others around me make and the way they try to be better everyday.

You have to have at least ten minutes of peace and quiet to sit down, think and analyze your relationship as mother (father), wife (husband) and friend and interpret the different ways of communications between man and women. Women use gestures, postures and an indirect message; men, they go straight to the point.

Women keep going over and over on the same message, interpreting what he or she was trying to say, or should have said; men take the message literally and move on.

We should never criticize, stone wall or act with contempt. It will be used against us sooner or later. Look at the positive side in the people around you, no matter how hard it may sometimes be.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Summer Plans, Again

There are 12 weeks of summer vacation. Our children's ages range from 15 years old to 4 years old. Both of us are working parents and with no nanny at the moment, this could be a challenge...

This is how we will try to plan this summer - in no particular order after week 2:

Week 1: Re-learning to live all together in the same house without school. Sharing the TV, the favorite spot on the couch, organizing meal times, etc. Usually our schedules differ, so the 7 of us can be together only at dinner. We divide chores and responsibilities very roughly, like each one is in charge of fixing their room, making their own bed, while I fix meals and do laundry. If I have a work meeting, big ones should drop their personal plans and babysit until I come back. This routine will go on for the whole summer.

Week 2: Summer closet cleaning / social awareness. Check for clothes that don't fit or are damaged, so we can repair them or give them away. Get rid of papers, books and thing that they don't need or work anymore. It is great week to promote social awareness, visit homeless shelters, orphan homes and hospitals. Usually it gives better results if they invite one or two friends to do it together with us.

Week 3: Mom's camp for the little ones. Mom's camp is an idea that a friend of mine gave us. You group 5 other moms of your children friends and each one pick one day of the week to come pick your child up and plan the day as she sees fit. It could be from ice skating, to a beach day with a picnic, taking them to the movies, or a water park. The only rule is that each mom arranges what the 5 kids are going to do for that day according to their budget. Anything works. That way you have 1 day per kid. Usually I am in charge 3 days with 3 different groups and have 2 free days.

Week 4: Free schedule, no rush, no planning, just free time to do whatever they want do and maybe get a jump start on their summer reading... Paint with chalk on the sidewalk, do a bake sale or lemonade stand, car wash, etc...

Week 5 and 6: Family trip for two weeks. Destination to be determined by the parents with input from the children and could be split into several shorter trips, budget permitting.

Week 7: Free week... rest. No big plans: play at the pool or ride bike, simple unplanned, fun things.

Week 8 and 9: My Cozy Cooking Camp. I run this "summer camp" at home. I invite 8 friends of my children. My children are the helpers and get paid for their work and their friends come and pay for materials. The sessions go from 10am to 1pm. I teach them good manners, menu planning, recipes, home matters and we do crafts and board games...It is fun!

Week 10: Focus on friends and family; trips to local parks, ride bike, go to the beach, go to see a family movie.

Week 11 and 12: Swimming summer camp for the little ones. Recharge batteries before school starts. For older ones they go to a two week warm-up math class at school in the mornings, free afternoons.


There is no particular science to this. Overall, try not to micro manage every waking moment and give them free time to play on their own and be creative!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Teenagers Starting to Drive

I have to admit that I am panicking with the idea that my fifteen year old daughter is about to be at that age where she can take the wheel and drive on her own... I know we did learn at the same age, but I remember myself being more focused on the actual driving... I feel like my daughter is more focused on the mirror (looking how good she looks driving!), trying to find the right radio station, the right song, than on the road ahead.

The truth is that between the ages of 16 and 18, is the ideal sensitive period to learn how to drive, grow in responsibility, social justice, help others, friendship; so it is the perfect time - see my previous post on "When to teach what?"

Driving is not only transporting yourself on a car from one place to another, it is the responsibility that you have to do it well for your own safety and the safety of others: the ones in your car and the ones sharing the road with you. It is respecting the law and following the rules.

Concentration, NO texting, NO drinking and driving, NO speeding, returning the car home with a full tank of gas and on time are obvious rules that MUST be followed. Driving can be fun, but it also means helping with home errands and carpools and being thankful to your parents for giving you the privilege of letting you drive. The 'privilege of driving', as the sign at the DMV says, is something you earn and you must understand its meaning.

We must start early, building trust so when the time comes, he or she can be a safe, responsible an excellent driver. Good luck!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

First Boyfriend or First Girlfriend

Only 12 years old and we are talking about boyfriends or girlfriends? How innocent and fun it can be if it is addressed correctly. We are talking probably around 6th or 7th grade. Yes, it can be somebody from school, a neighbor, his or her best friend's brother or sister, hopefully somebody you know.

And I wonder, how can I prepare my children to manage this relationship correctly? We are not talking about formality, we are talking about respect, fun, setting the foundations for future relationships.

Let’s start by talking to them about the definition of friend and friendship: a friend is a person you know well and regard with affection and trust; who provides assistance; a person who backs you; and friendship is a type of interpersonal relationship that is found among humans and among animals with rich intelligence. Friends will seek out each others company and exhibit mutually helping behavior. A friend is somebody that leads you to the right path, so that probably this first step towards a person of the other gender, is more like the discovery of a good friend. The beginnings of commitment, of trust.

Then let's talk to them about respect for themselves, for their intimacy, for their belongings; their body is not something that they can experiment or play with. Not everything that they do to their body can be undone, tell them not to play with it. This is serious. Feelings: they are great, memorable, exciting, but their brain has to have control over them. Their body will express their feelings and their brain has to learn to manage them.

As a parent, be vigilant, strive to have a fluent communication with your children and insist on inviting their friends over. Group plans are mandatory, couple plans are forbidden. Lots of sports, plenty of enrichment programs, art, music, other languages, will keep their minds busy and growing.

Try not to get too involved, remember that these first relationships will, in most cases, end faster than you think. Discretely, try to prepare your kids for the most likely eventual break-up, so it won’t hurt that much.

Soon there will be another one. Good luck to us all!

The wonderful Pam Stenzel has great books and DVDs that are VERY HELPFUL in these challenging times. We HIGHLY recommend them.