An increasing number of studies show that intensive parenting is bad for mothers and bad for children, yielding a generation of kids who lack the wings to fly. Why then do American families still have June Cleaver on a pedestal? Let’s put an end to face time parenting and instead focus on how to be the best parent possible when we are with our children. Regardless of your constraints – financial, time, or logistical – here are 8 gifts to give your children now:
1. The Gift of Empathy
We all want our children to grow up with the ability to have close relationships and empathy is at the cornerstone. With that in mind, let’s not be the parent who addresses their crying child with exasperation and says, “You’re fine!” Instead, think back to the last time you felt sad or angry and shared your feelings. How would you have felt if the person you opened up to said, “Buck up.” Just as you crave and need emotional validation, your child does too. Validating doesn’t say to your child, “You are right.” It says: “I have heard you. I understand your feelings.”
2. The Gift of Unconditional Love
I grew up in a family that said, “I love you” every day. My husband did not but it has since become important to him. Hearing and saying the words are not just an emotion – they are an activity – and integral to creating a safe, warm family culture. As Michele Borba explains, “‘I love you’ plants the most important message. Our kids need to develop those critical beliefs that say ‘I’m a worthwhile person’ and our words become their inner dialogue.”
3. The Gift of Listening
We feel we know what is best for our children so we tend to bring the “answer” to the conversation. Yet listening trumps solving. As life coach Martha Beck shared with me, the most important gift to a child is to show them: “I see you” for who you really are. Martha was sick in bed for much of her children’s early years but she explains that she could still see them for who they were, and now as adults, they tell her that was all that really mattered.
4. The Gift of Happiness
Research shows that optimistic people lead healthier and happier lives. If you don’t see the glass half full today, shift your thinking for the sake of your child. Having a negative parent makes it harder for a child to have positive expectancy – to believe that good things will happen to them. So the next time you catch yourself verbalizing your self-doubt or cynicism, turn it around for the sake of your audience.
5. The Gift of Peace
Children sense their parents’ stress. As much as you are worried about finances, your cat’s injury, the angry client and what you will be scraping together for dinner, take a breath and refocus on the big picture for the sake of your innocent child. Exposure to an anxious parent leads to anxiety in children.
6. The Gift of a Strong Body Image
If your child catches you loving your body, she will learn to love hers. A child’s healthy body image comes with work. Never let her hear you criticizing your body or anyone else’s. Shield her from spending time with families that talk about diet and weight loss. Curate your friends so that you surround her with positive body images and healthy talk. Intentionally point out beauty that comes in all shapes, colors and sizes. Give your child a head start on a healthy body image by pointing out what makes her beautiful – her strength, her mind, her heart, and her smile.
7. The Gift of Self-Confidence
When I interviewed successful and famous people for my internet talk show, Obsessed TV, 98% of them had one thing in common – parents who made them believe they could be anything they set out to become; that whatever their dreams, they could achieve them with hard work. Make this your mantra.
8. The Gift of a Healthy Drive
As a child, if I came home with a new test result, my mom would ask what grades the students sitting to my left and right had received. Yet when we are raised to compare to others, we are never fully satisfied with ourselves. By encouraging your child to achieve his personal best, you will be setting him up for a healthy attitude and a great definition of success.
Do you have a picky eater and spend hours agonizing about how to steer her away from the chicken nuggets and pasta diet? At my wit’s end with one of my own, I askedCooking Channel host and The Next Food Network Star winner Melissa d’Arabian for some help.
Here, in her own words, are Melissa’s favorite tricks:
1. Let your kids pick the produce
I turn grocery shopping into a bit of an outing and the kids all know that they are in charge of picking produce. I hand them the plastic bag and say “Ok, Margaux, you are in charge of picking the best two fennel bulbs you can find!” Amazingly, the kids never tire of “being in charge of picking.” Now, you might expect me to tell you that Margaux will go home and eat the fennel because she picked it. Ha! Were it only so easy. But I think the fact that she had to ask me “What does fennel look like?” and she had to search over the green veggies, and spot the kale and the bok choy to get to the fennel means several veggies were a bit demystified for her. She might taste the fennel when I serve it, but even if she doesn’t, she spent 15 minutes feeling good about fennel and learning about it. Victory.
2. Go to the farmer’s market, for entertainment
Turn the farmer’s market trip into a relaxed, fun family outing. We amble leisurely from stall to stall, finding the craziest shaped squash, or a funny, knobby, tomato. The girls strike up conversations with the vendors, many of them farmers, who love to chat about their goods. We can easily spend a couple of hours at the farmer’s market, feeling good about fresh, unprocessed food. While the prices may be a bit higher than they are at the grocery store, I figure it’s still cheaper than taking everyone to the movie for two hours. And no one is falling in love with an oversized pumpkin at the cinema.
3. Serve at least two vegetables at dinner
Kids like to feel empowered. I like to serve two veggies during dinner to give my kids the option: Would you like carrots, kale, or both? They get to be involved in the decisions and I can ensure they’re eating at least one. Plus it’s a great way for us to meet our own nutritional goals and model healthy eating to the kids.
4. Have the kids “present” dinner
Every night one of the children presents the dinner to the rest of the family, explaining what each dish is, the main ingredients, and a very brief nutritional overview of the dish. For instance, “This is chicken cooked in a mustard sauce. Chicken is a protein which helps us build muscles.” My goal is to develop an appreciation for the different roles of healthy foods. Kids tend to group all “healthy” foods into one bucket, and I want my kids to know that just because they ate some healthy fish doesn’t mean that they don’t need to get some produce in there too.
5. Invite Your Kids to Plan the Menu
Every couple of weeks, I let each child plan dinner for the entire family. The rules are: Mom has to approve the menu, and mom is allowed to add a dish or two of her choosing. At first, the girls were suggesting crazy, imbalanced dinner menus, like my daughter Charlotte’s first: doughnuts and cinnamon cake. I gently told her how much I loved her creativity with the “breakfast for dinner” concept, but I wondered if perhaps we might be missing a protein? We agreed to add an omelet to the meal, and we moved the cinnamon cake to dessert. And, she excitedly suggested having a fruit salad instead of vegetables. The girls are developing a good sense for how to build a balanced meal, but there are two additional benefits: I have an internal salesperson sitting at the table, selling “her” menu to her sisters and the girls are more accepting of my menus, knowing they will get their own turn next Tuesday.
6. Make one meal for the whole family, and have the “no thank you” bite
I like to serve meals that offer delicious and nutritious foods that the whole family can enjoy. Sure you can adjust spices as needed, but I still make one meal. Then, the “no thank you” bite comes into play. My kids are welcome to say they don’t care for something as long as they have one bite. If they don’t like it, that’s fine, and I move on. For me this fits our family because I wanted my kids to be willing to try things. That was more important to me than having them stomach a huge thing of broccoli.
7. Give them “taste-tester” notebooks
I turned my children into “official” taste-testers just by giving each one a composition book that I bought for a buck! Anytime they try a new food, they write it down, give it a score from 1-10, and can write some comments (“yummy!” or “thought it was mushy”). Just the act of giving them a place to voice their opinion helps validate their opinions and creates an adventurous spirit at the table.
Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch is a former pro softball player, a Hershey’s Good Life Guru and a married mom of two sons, Ace and Diesel, with a baby girl on the way. I chatted with Jennie about her life as a working mom; marriage, travel, fitness and those sleepless nights.
When you first became a mom, you took your newborn son on an 18 day Beijing tour with you. How did it work?
JF: My husband (Former Major League Baseball player Casey Daigle) played baseball and I played softball. Baseball is more hectic so my son came with me. He had a passport and went to China and Japan. It worked out so great because he ended up getting 14 of my teammates as aunts to him. It wasn’t all easy, though. My mom, Ace and I all stayed in the same hotel room. My mom would get the bottle in middle of the night and she would either feed him or I would get up and feed him. I knew I was doing double duty but I couldn’t imagine leaving him for 18 days at that time.
How did you perform on the field after a sleepless night with your kids?
JF: You get over the mental block. You convince yourself that you can do anything. It is one pitch at a time, one inning at a time. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at my week and cried…but I think, one pitch at a time.
What did you learn on the softball field that you apply to parenting?
JF: You get what you put into it. The sacrifice, the discipline, the selflesslessness of being on a team. Being able to push your body beyond the boundaries of what you think you can do. My husband will say “I can’t, I am sleepless.” And I will say, “Don’t say that. Say you can do it and you will be able to.”
When you and your husband are both at home, how do you divide responsibilities?
JF: I am blessed to have a supportive husband. We pick up each other’s slack and it is a lot of teamwork. He does a lot of heating the bottles and I do a lot of the feeding. I travel a lot so when I am not there he does a lot himself and when I am there I do a lot of it. I couldn’t imagine doing it by myself.
What were your own parents like when you were a kid?
JF: They were my number one supporters. It was all about ‘If you work hard enough, you can achieve. You have to be the best that you can be. You can’t compare yourself to others.’
How do you use your time at night once your kids are asleep?
JF: I load the laundry, unload the dishwasher and catch up on things. I do emails and then after that it is relaxing together with my husband.
How do you avoid mommy guilt?
JF: If I was on the field, I knew how much I had sacrificed to be there so I gave it everything I have. When I am at home I try to give 110% to my kids.
How do you handle youth sports with your kids?
JF: It has been quite an experience. For Casey and I, we are discovering ourselves. At one game after listening to Casey yelling nonstop through flag football to, “Find the receiver,” I went over to him and said “I don’t think he (6yo son, Ace) knows what the receiver is.” We don’t want to be that overbearing parent but we sometimes find ourselves there. But if they are being active and having fun then we have all won. I could care less what happens on the field. If he comes off smiling, it is a victory for us all.
What is your post baby workout routine?
JF: With Ace I had to be back on the field six weeks after I gave birth for a tryout. With Diesel I was just retired but I had the New York City marathon three or four months after. My cardio these days is jumping on the trampoline. Anything where I can involve my kids.
What is your breakfast of Champions?
JF: To each their own. But for me it is Chobani Greek yogurt, granola and fresh berries.
You have a baby girl on the way. What advice will you give her?
JF: Do what you love. We all have a passion within us and it is a matter of finding that passion.
When my friend Katie Rosman made each of her kids a photo book for Hannukah, I loved the idea. And when I heard that she had compiled her son Ari’s funny text messages, I was inspired. She had created something personal that her children can keep forever.
With this in mind, I decided to start a tradition right here, right now – to write a poem for my children’s birthdays, starting with my oldest, Ella, who is 7 today. I want her to look back and see who she was at age seven and then every year after. So here it is, the start of what I intend to be a new family tradition:
Ella, age 7
Happy Birthday, Ella
It was years ago, exactly seven
That you joined the world at around eleven
At first, your beauty took our breath away
Now it is your mind that amazes us each day
You are a great big sister and a leader too
You burst with creativity and love the color blue
Everything you do has your own “Ella” spin
You never met a baby whose heart you didn’t win
From lox to hearts of palm and more
You try all new foods and often adore
Your sense of humor is so funny and witty
You fall, you cry, but you don’t self-pity
You used to prefer baths, now you like showers
You love Lego and building tall towers
Sudoku with mom, biking with dad
A great adventure is always had
You love to climb walls, monkey bars and trees
All on your own, you now say “please”
You burst with curiosity and passion
You always prefer comfort to fashion
Rather than copying, you do your own thing
When drawing or solving, uniqueness you bring
On this day, from the rooftops we shout
We love you more than possible, inside and out
Whatever the topic, big or small
We hope our listening will ease it all
Always reach for the stars, through any cloud
Of you, Ella, we are ever so proud.
Do you have family traditions around birthdays? What are they? How did they unfold?
More than 20 years ago, American Airlines saved $40,000 by removing just one olive from each salad tray in First class. This fun fact translates to your life where the smallest lifestyle changes can yield the most dramatic gains. Here are 10 ways to steal more time from your own life:
1. Organize Masterfully
Triathletes win and lose races in the transitions. Make sure your “supplies’ are in the right places. Every member of your family needs her own equivalent of the cubby and her backpack, lunchbox, homework, and shoes all needs to live there.
2. Outsource – to Your Kids
Figure out the age appropriate activities that your kids can do on their own. Get dressed? Pour cereal? Even put him in charge of managing the schedule. An added bonus is that you are helping him towards independence at the same time. More on Forbes…
Between parenting and working, you probably feel lucky if you can even squeeze in time to vote. Yet Election Day is just the kind of moment we look for as working moms — a terrific opportunity to share a giant civics lesson with our kids while spending time together and getting something done. Here’s how:
1. Start Talking
If your kid is old enough to understand the idea of racing her brother down the block, she can understand an election. Explain it to her in age appropriate terms.
2. Make a Festive Meal
Try the celebratory red white and blue breakfast – blueberry pancakes with strawberries and whip cream. Nothing says “holiday” like a themed meal. More on Forbes…
It just happens to be national craft month so I’m extra excited about guest posting. As working moms, we are always short on time, so here are five easy and gorgeous craft projects that will get your crafty wheels turning. The easy to follow, step-by-step tutorials guarantee success regardless of your skill level. Have fun and be sure to send pics once you’ve gotten your craft on!