Two for Flinching

Did I tell you that I took a year's leave of absence from my PhD program when we moved to Australia? I asked for three months to get us moved, unpacked, and organized but the powers-that-be said that they would only grant a leave for a year at a time so I gladly took the whole year. (I mean. Wouldn't you?) Oh, I'm so glad for that blessed year because it gave me time to think and adapt and nurture our transplanted kids and, yes, begin to incubate this blog project with Sarah.
Well--you guessed it--tomorrow it's time to strap on my student gear and go back to school one...last...time since (erm, knock on wood, please bless, fingers crossed) I plan to finish and tie it up with a bow by the end of the school year. (There, see that? I put it down for all to see.)
Since I'm in the back-to-school mindset, I've been reading through those patient, long-suffering, slightly accusatory piles of research journals and the like that have accumulated next to my desk. As I've skimmed and studied, I've thought of you Nest & Launchers so I highlighted passages I thought were relevant to mid-stage parenting or that you might find interesting. 
Photo by Vivian Maier

Photo by Vivian Maier

The study described in "Two for Flinching: Children's and Adolescents' Narrative Accounts of Harming Their Friends and Siblings" in this month's Child Development caught my eye, partly because I remember that two for flinching game, partly because I do always appreciate a catchy research article title, and also because the topic is one most of us can relate to, from both childhood and parenthood perspectives. Researcher Holly Recchia and colleagues asked 34 seven-year-olds, 33 eleven-year-olds, and 34 sixteen-year-olds to describe specific incidents where they caused harm or upset to a friend and a specific time when they caused harm or upset to a sibling. Then they compared the desciptions of harming in friendship with those between siblings to see what they could learn about the kids' experiences. Here's what they found:

In friendships:

  • Children especially show heightened moral concern for others within friendships, probably because they are relationships that are earned and can be jeopardized by harming and hurting behavior. Compared with sibling conflict, within friendships children seem more able to control both their own harming of others and their responses to others' harming of them.
  • Compared to siblings, harm or upset between friends was more often based on "relationship-centered concerns" including trust building and connectedness. The most frequent reason for harm between friends had to do with hurting feelings due to sharing (or not sharing) time together, as in something like "I think I hurt my friend when I didn't hang out with her between classes but instead played sports with another group of people."
  • Harming experiences with friends can teach children and teens that it's not always possible to anticipate what harm you may cause even if you don't intend it. 

In sibling relationships:

  • Harming (as you might expect) between siblings was more "ruthless" and "uninhibited," possibly because of the frequency of interactions and also because the nature of the relationship is given (a sister stays your sister, even if you harm her) rather than earned ( a friend might stop being your friend if you harm her). One boy said "I learned this thing from my friends, like when you make somebody flinch, you punch them twice and say "two for flinching." So I did that to her and I just kept doing it and doing it and doing it."
  • Sibling harming typically happened intentionally and was triggered by either explicitly offensive behavior like teasing or over the sharing of things and property disputes.  
  • Children described their harmful behavior as a result of anger or loss of control and was more often provoked. 
  • More often than with friends, siblings responded to being harmed with stronger, more emotionally intense reactions:  escalating behvavior, crying, anger. 
  • Children understand and recognize the cyclical pattern of escalation in harming siblings and know that these patterns are problematic.  
  • As children got older, the differences between treatment of friends and siblings because more similar as adolescents become less careful about upsetting friends and as relationships with siblings mellow. 
  • Harming in siblings interactions can give important feedback to kids and adolescents about what is and is not tolerated, especially since siblings are typically not shy about reacting to harm.  

Take away messages for parents:

  • Handling situations of harm or upset actually may be an important part of children's moral development; it's certainly not something to seek out but when it happens, it can be framed and used for learning. The relationship settings--either between friends or siblings--can provide different and complementary lessons.
  • The feedback that children and adolescents receive from their siblings and parents is particularly helpful in helping them form moral judgment and understand the negative consequences of behavior.
  • Parents can help children process the situations--and understand the intense feelings of anger that provoked the behavior as well as the remorse or regret that can accompany times where the harm is more harsh, ruthless, or intentional. 
  • It gets better, typically. As children age, the sibling conflict mellows. For example, 16-year-olds were more likely to refer to their siblings' sadness than that of their friends, whereas for 7-year-olds the reverse was true. 

What do you think?

p.s. And, come on, how could I resist this especially illustrative description by the Deschanel sisters?


Mom for a day

Looking for summer activities for big kids? Try letting them be parent for a day.  

Last week, when I was contemplating the need to spend the day at the library, I was also ruminating on what to do with Parker. He's plenty old enough (and responsible enough) to stay home by himself for the day, but my schedule was flexible, so I opted to choose a day when the girls weren't working.  

I knew once I announced that I'd be gone for the day there would be some unhappiness (enacted by complaining). Everyone sure likes it when I'm home to facilitate their meals and entertainment and to drive them places. I considered just laying down the law (a favorite parenting technique of mine), in which I would gruffly explain that work is necessary, and disappointment is part of life. The end.

But in the end I opted for the Tom Sawyer/positive approach, which meant talking about how much FUN they could have, and how Maddie could be MOM FOR A DAY, and how I would leave money for an outing, and they could take pictures. YIPPEE!!!  

They were totally fine with the fun option, and I was interested to see what they would make of their day.

The report goes that they met in Becca's room to formulate a plan. They easily agreed they'd spend their outing money on lunch and settled on Pei Wei. Apparently, some difficulty ensued when Maddie tried to locate her wallet just previous to walking out the door. After a good deal of seaching and hand-wringing and calling about, Maddie realized she'd left her wallet on top of the gas pump the evening before. And lucky for her, a good Samaritan had turned the wallet in -- money and all.

See? It was just like my real day as a real mom.  

All photos by Maddie.

All photos by Maddie.

After lunch, they decided to pick up a movie at Red Box and get junky snacks (since I wasn't home and they still had money left). They grabbed up Hotel Transylvania and a giant bag of peanut M&Ms.  


Reportedly, everything went swimmingly until after the movie, when Becca and Parker started rough-housing and being loud. Maddie's take-away was that while everyone was occupied there was peace and harmony, but once the activity was over . . . the situation went quickly downhill and became (in her words) ANNOYING. 

To which I say -- I'VE BEEN THERE.

Many thanks to Madison for her sterling cooperation. 




A few good gems

Hey, there, weekend. Glad to have you here again. [Side note: you know the song "Everybody's Working for the Weekend?" For the longest time I thought it meant that, unfortunately, everyone was scheduled to work for the weekend. I couldn't figure out what was so song-worthy about that. Ha!] 

While our weekend looks pretty busy, what I'm really looking forward to right now is a long-awaited getaway with G in a few weeks. It's been ages since we got away, just the two of us. I think we're calling this our 20th anniversary trip, though we celebrated our 23rd this year. Now that we've got older kids, we're leaving them in the care of each other, with supervision and chauffeuring duties falling to Lauren, 19. Still, I don't think they're too old to appreciate and use something like this to help guide their week:

And I'm definitely not above leaving behind a little "motivational" gimmick like this, ha!  
A few other gems for you as we head into the weekend:

  • This hilarious post about the inevitable parental fizzling at the end of the school year swiftly made the rounds on Facebook yesterday. What does it say about me that I resemble this right now and we're only halfway through the school year here in Oz?
  • You know how you look at some families and think, how do they do it? Not in an abstract way but, really, how do they logistically manage their lives? Here's how NPR's Kai Ryssdal and his family does it. And how Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman and her family does it. (Wow, there were so many biting comments criticizing each other's parenting decisions that the Times had to put their foot down and make a stricter commenting policy. Sigh. We parents can be so tough on each other.)
  • The gift of siblings. I'm curious: have you grown closer or further apart from your siblings as you've grown older?

Okay, over and out. Happy weekend, all!

*Come on over and "Like" us on Facebook for post updates and other good tidbits we find through the week

It's a date

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Sometimes I try to "plan" experiences for my kids intended to foster mutual respect and camaraderie -- to really cement us together as a family unit. Like this one time, around Valentine's Day, I bought a plush frog (holding a heart) and explained this super-neato plan to my kids: perform an act of kindness for a family member and leave the frog behind. The recipient of the frog then does a good turn and so on and so on, thereby passing along good deeds (and the frog). I started it off. I made one of the girls' beds and neatly placed the frog on top. Then I waited and waited and waited, and eventually huffily re-explained the idea. And . . . the frog changed hands one or two times . . . and then NOTHING. I may or may not have loudly "explained" my frustration, ending with something like I DON'T KNOW WHY I EVEN TRY TO IMPROVE OUR FAMILY RELATIONS WHEN I COULD BE EATING CUPCAKES AND WATCHING NETFLIX. And then, of course, I threw the frog down the stairs. The bottom line? It was my plan, and they were plain NOT. INTERESTED.

I still claim points for trying.

But then, there are other times, when sibling relationships blossom outside of the cultivated confines of my carefully tended garden (yeah, that's a metaphor for ya). Point in case: Madison happened to be out of town on a choir trip on Parker's 12th birthday. She felt badly about missing his special day. So, when she returned she invited him out to dinner -- just the two of them. She took him to his favorite barbecue joint (for ribs) and then to Target to spend some birthday money. 

According to Madison's report, Parker opened the car door for her (keep in mind he's 12). On his own, Parker brought his wallet, making sure he had enough money to take Madison out for frozen yogurt after dinner.

Come on. Let's hear it. Aaaaaaaawwwwww.

Now that's what I'm talking about -- pure family gold. I'm not exactly certain how to go about recreating this experience. The kids need to be invested in the process, otherwise it's just the frog debacle all over again . . . except at a local restaurant. But there is something there, and it has to do with autonomy and being a friend -- with spending time and being interested in each other's lives. And making memories folks. I'm all about making memories.

Some restaurant gift cards might end up in the Easter baskets this year. I'm just sayin'.

adventures in babysitting

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See those lovely kids pictured about? They are now 19, 18, 15, and 12 -- big kids for sure. I still peruse the mommy blogs on a semi-regular basis, and when I do so -- I'm not going to lie . . . I miss my babies something fierce. During my own kids' baby days I don't think I was near as self-actualized as the mommy bloggers of today. I loved my kids for sure. I delighted in every stage and accomplishment. I crafted with them and for them. I planned elaborate birthday parties and big Christmas surprises. But I don't think I gloried in the day-to-day that I see broadcast around the Web these days. I didn't glory so much as survive. There was joy interspersed with some incredible vistas of vomit and sleepless nights and an intense amount of whining (much of that whining coming from me). But now? As my teenagers' lives race towards adulthood I find myself more apt to savor these days. And you know what? It's so much easier to savor on a full night's sleep. Just sayin'.

I’m going to inaugurate this blog with one of my best-ever big-kid-parenting memories – leaving my oldest to babysit. You might find this memory, occurring as it did away from my children, to be rather self-serving or cold. To which I say . . . guilty. Except I wasn’t feeling selfish or cold at the time. I felt like I was meeting my Old Self for a Diet Coke and a plate of nachos. “OMG Old Self! Where in tarnation have you been??? How I’ve missed you,” I said. Old Self didn’t stay around for long. But just knowing she existed made me relieved. And happy.

The first time I ever left the kids by themselves was in 2005. My kids were 11, 10, 7 and 4. Sterling and I and some friends went to see a Star Wars movie, (the one where Darth Vader’s legs get burnt off, if you must know). Our youngest was sleeping and we somehow talked ourselves into not getting a sitter. All I can remember is sitting in a dark theater with my cell phone clutched tightly in my hand. And then I’d open it (flip style) every 5-10 minutes to make sure I hadn’t missed a call (that would have vibrated right in my hand). And then, because I have anxiety to the umpteenth degree, I actually ran out into the hallway a few times to call and hear their real life voices. I’m not sure if they were ready to be on their own or not at that point. I am sure I was NOT ready. I needed a valium and a fifth of whiskey to get to sleep that night. (Except I’m Mormon and don’t even know what a fifth of whiskey really means.)

Shortly after the Star Wars incident, we moved. And because our house wasn’t ready, we moved into a 900 square foot, third floor apartment for about three months. Good times. While there I was certain I couldn’t leave the children unattended because we had some special happenings, like that time when our neighbor fell asleep with a lit cigarette and caught his apartment on FIRE. So, when I needed a gallon of milk? I schlepped those four kids down three flights of stairs and into the car and clear back to the dairy department of the supermarket and then home again. When their dad got home from work? Well, I felt like screaming at him. But mostly I just cried and curled up in the corner of our mattress. There was just entirely too much schlepping.

But then. THEN! We finally moved into our house, and our oldest daughter was four days shy of TWELVE. For some reason, for me, twelve meant authentic BABYSITTERHOOD. And she was a good babysitter – responsible, take charge, resilient to little sister trickery. So, we started, in small increments, to leave her at home a bit with the other kiddies. First, just trips to the market or the cleaners. Then maybe lunch out on a Saturday. And then finally . . . Dinner on the weekend. Sterling and I ordered pizza, produced a Netflix dvd (back when we used their dvds), and drove off into the proverbial sunset. No babysitter, no last minute cleaning frenzy, no making sure we had just the right amount of cash. But really? Those inconveniences were nothing. NOTHING. The feeling of getting into my car alone, to listen to my thoughts, to play something other than Radio Disney, to bask in the utter convenience of the small shopping cart – those were moments when my mind expanded beyond my house and Chick-Fil-A and Target. When I remembered how much I loved solitude. When I looked in the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of pre-mother Sarah. And those times, when just Sarah and momma-Sarah met up? Those are the times I felt like flying.