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Snapshot: Where is Home?

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Thoughts on being a better – more effective? – parent…

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Well, does it really exist? Is there a place in the ‘Matrix’, offering parents the comfort they so-desperately seek, when it comes to the betterment of their children?

In the endless search for answers, and like any other parent [of multiple children, in my case], any free time my weekend is able to provide, is quickly filled up with interesting/intriguing/questioning op-pieces. From other parents, from seasoned educators/teachers, from child/teen psychologists.. you name it!

In a nutshell, and as many may already have imagined, there’s no magic formula.

Sorry, folks, but my brief weekend-long motherly non-scientific research led me to the already-known venue: All parents offer the same things to their children: emotional and physical safety, some level of connection, boundaries and patience. Tons of it – before they [the parents!], unfortunately, and without any warning signs – they lose it! 😦

Parents are not perfect, nor are they effective all of the time. Parents keep on going, despite their continuous mistakes or doubts.

So… what have I learned from my without being interrupted by my children ‘weekend research’?

I have learned I need to cultivate a family value system. hopefully, that’s what my husband and I have set as the foundation for our growing family. Pretty tough, though. One may lay out a great life plan, completely filled with values to abide by… and see all dismantling in front of their own eyes…

I have learned it is crucial to prioritize th care my spouse and I offer each other. While managing our children’s expectations, and what we exactly would request from them. Children should understand that we, as parents, bear our problems with hope, honest acknowledgment of hard times, and a crazy [and hopeless!] case of lack of self-mercy!

I have learned I need to keep working on creating constant [yet accommodating] routines and boundaries. Children like and need routine. As parents, we should not aim for the tightly maintained routine, which could only create unnecessary disagreements and discomfort among all parts involved.

I have learned not to take any particular behavior [i.e. my youngest child, the soon-to-be teen boy, the middle-child who firmly believes she’s Broadway-material, and would become quite sensitive if told otherwise] as a personal attack. Not even the resulting-behavior from my husband should be understood as such. Leaning a bit on the science side, it is probably a chain-reaction – misunderstood behavior generates unfortunate [physical, verbal, emotional] responses, which could translate into not-well-thought-of actions, and uncalled for [and sometimes, hurtful] comments and reactions.

And finally,I have learned the most important task and responsibility while parenting [single kids, multiple kids] is the constant attempt to CONNECT. We need to connect with our children. In any and all levels possible. Again, this probably is the most difficult advice. But a good one, indeed – and it has become my September mantra: I’ll try to better connect with my children, and consequently, with my husband. At least, for the upcoming month of September. Let’s see how it goes.

Stay tuned! 🙂

 

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A great Washington Post Read: ‘A tale of two temperaments: Same Parents, Different Kids’

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This morning, I stumbled upon this short op-piece from the Washington Post. Easy, quick, enjoyable read – and it represents exactly what I sometimes feel regarding raising our 3 children: they all came from the very same set of parents, we’ve offered them the same opportunities, require the same level of respect and responsibility [okay, maybe a bit weighted to each one’s age, but you get my point!], and yet, the results from each one’s behavioral expressions are [and maybe, should be!] completely different.

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Who knows? Maybe that’s what makes each and every one of them special in their own way. Unique, challenging, intriguing. And obviously, lovely and wonderful – like any other Mother Goose would refer to her offspring!

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Here’s the op-piece I am referring to:
[and my deepest appreciation for the Washington Post for having it out there!]

 

On Parenting

A tale of two temperaments: Same parents, different kids
By Deborah Farmer Kris

May 20 at 7:00 AM

When my daughter got home from school yesterday, she made a cozy nest of pillows, pulled out her crayons and started to draw.

“Mommy,” she complained, “the music is too loud. I need to focus.”

To which her little brother predictably replied, “I want too loud! I like too loud! TOO LOUD PLEASE!”

My husband and I are raising two curious, caring kids — who happen to have fundamentally different temperaments.

Thankfully, temperament and character are not synonyms. No matter our personality, most of us can learn to be kind, responsible, and hard-working. But one’s basic temperament — particularly our response to stimuli — seems rooted in biology.

Think of the seven dwarfs. Doc is an extrovert, Bashful is an introvert, and Grumpy is a natural skeptic — but they all choose to work hard, respect each other and protect strangers in distress. Seven decent people with different approaches to life.

That said, it must have been a challenge to be the dwarfs’ mother.

Our daughter was only a few weeks old when I began to notice her heightened sensitivity to sound — a reaction that some research links to later introversion. Shutting cabinet doors would startle her awake, and the blender terrified her. Her first full sentence was, “What’s that sound?”

At her first toddler tumbling class, she spent 15 minutes clutching my skirt. Then she mimicked the actions of the students from the safety of the back wall. Finally — after sizing up her teacher, her peers, and the relative safety of the activity — she happily joined the group for the last five minutes.

This is how she has approached almost every novel situation since infancy: observing before engaging. I got pretty good at helping her navigate new experiences in ways that stimulated her without being overwhelming. And then came child No. 2.

On my son’s first beach trip, as I was coaxing his sister to dip her feet in the water, he threw open his arms and toddled headlong into the waves. That’s his basic approach to life: dive in — and then scream for help if necessary.

Sometimes it has felt like whiplash parenting — pulling the toddler off a playground ladder while encouraging the preschooler to take “one more step” up the climbing wall. She perches watchfully while I vacuum; he tries to climb on and go for a ride.

We have a lot of shorthand for different temperaments. I often hear kids described as shy or bossy — or all-boy or all-girl. But these labels are laden with cultural baggage, and they put a box around children who are just beginning to explore who they are.

Every temperament brings with it strengths and possibilities. In Susan Cain’s essay, “Don’t Call Introverted Children ‘Shy,’ ” she writes that some children are “born with a careful, sensitive temperament that predisposes them to look before they leap. And this can pay off handsomely as they grow, in the form of strong academics, enhanced creativity and even a unique brand of leadership and empathy. . . . [T]hese kids are not antisocial. They’re simply sensitive to their environments.”

I am trying to create an environment that will allow both my kids to thrive — one that gives them the space to be themselves and the tools to “work it out” together. Sometimes my strategies work better with one than the other.

But I wonder if, in the end, their differences can be a source of strength. Perhaps their close relationship will give them a measure of empathy toward those who respond to the ebbs of life a little differently than they do.

On a recent visit to a small creek, my son persuaded his sister to wade into the water — and she got him to stop throwing rocks long enough to watch a heron catch a fish. And I thought of Cain’s comment that the best scenario “is when those two toddlers — the one who hands you the toy with the smile and the other who checks you out so carefully — grow up to run the world together.” Or as the Seven Dwarfs illustrate: No matter our temperament, we can find a way to live together and whistle while we work.

Deborah Farmer Kris is an educator, writer, researcher and the mother of two young children.
By Deborah Farmer Kris

May 20 at 7:00 AM

 

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Living in a ‘limbo’: Raising Third Culture Kids.

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What do I mean by ‘trouble with third-culture kids‘?

Right now I’m simply trying to collect my thoughts into one piece, because attempting to answer this question has become my life task. I joke with my three children that I was only a woman before they were brought into my life. they made me turned into something completely different, the somehow scary concept of a parent… Not easy to be a parent, and even harder the ongoing duty of raising (well) kids that are wholeheartedly part of a hybrid scenario.

The so-called hybrid culture, a moving creature, a living chimera who’s not only part of their lives, but also defines who they (the children) are, the way they behave, how they interact with the (current) society, how they understand and express their feelings…

This past week the children went to visit their new school, and participated in a short orientation activity with same-age/same grade kids. They were asked to introduce themselves, and mention where they were coming from, their previous school/country,  stating their nationality.

My oldest was born in the US, and seems to have strong ties to the country thru sports, aligning himself with the ‘American’ culture. He’d also tell you he’s Brazilian – got a Brazilian-American mom and embraces the culture here. My surprise that day at school, came from my 1st-grader: when students originally from Brazil where called to stand up, she remained sited. The same happened when US kids were called to introduced themselves. Finally, when she heard, ‘now, children from Africa’, she jumped out of her seat, displaying a big and proud smile… Yes, she was born in South Africa, while our family was leaving/working in Mozambique. She left the country before she turned 2. But her allegiances to her ‘African past’ are remarkably strong – the culture, the music, the dances – she lives thru the stories we tell her from the time our family spent there. Who knows why? and, as long as she’s happy, we’re happy, despite our utterly lack of understanding. Maybe, for now, the answers will just confuse us…

As a parent, I’ve become aware of this ‘chimera’ my children represent. Sometimes I feel I don’t know them, and it’s not their fault – I simply don’t find the correct way to address their growing needs; how to respond to their sadness and anger; how to deal with their mood swings during the transitions, the constant moves, the new places, the losses of old friends…

I recently read a guest post written by Nina Sichel, introducing on one of publications, which referred to third-culture children living in a ‘limbo‘. Throughout the text, there was the comment on the ‘layers of loss’ a TCK experiences – according to Nina Sichel, those layers run deep – friends, schools, favorite places, pets… and again, now I’m wearing my ‘concerned parent hat’, seeking ways to address these losses with my kids, already knowing they will happen over and over…

Our family has relocated to our new post assignment – today marks the end of our second week in Brasília. My children are comfortable with Portuguese, and have been able to make a feel new friends during Summer Camp here. They seem happy, they’d adjusting, and yet, they’re struggling… I can tell from their little faces they’re trying hard, they’re no quitters, but sometimes the lack of (self) understanding  turns into and default. They look up to us (the parents) for answers we do not carry… We knew it would be like this, we knew it wouldn’t be easy, no transition is, but we’re here for them, even though, my husband and I are still trying to figure things out: socially, emotionally… I have no evidence, our family dynamics feels a tad disjoint, but time and patience will hopefully be good allies throughout the process… Time, patience, acceptance, and love – our travel companions 😮

(Note: Thanks again to Nina Sichel’s article, and for her book, the inspiration for this ‘parental op-piece’).

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 1, 2014 in children, FAMILY, foreign service, TCKs

 

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{Weekly Writing Challenge} Parenting as a Cliffhanger…

When being called “Incredibly Good” is really not good for children?

Great Wednesday, although it began with a not-so-welcoming weather in La Paz – the rainy season has arrived, and flooded streets displaying the hectic driving behavior are definitely not the best place to be! The inspiration for this ‘quasi-op-piece’ comes from the idea of leaving the readers ‘hanging’ [thanks, Michelle W., btw!]’, while I freely start a discussion on possible strategies on parenting well-rounded children [or lack of thereof!].

Back to work, as expected, and having the opportunity to read the paper before the work day starts is key! The Washington Post column on ‘Parenting’ called my attention with an article on ‘Stop heaping praise on your kids’, by Amy Joyce, really brought some thoughts up, as well as, a few questions and concerns.

STOP PRAISING YOUR KIDS??

Not really, but let’s keep on moving on. Also, nobody should be telling us what to do regarding the way we bring our kids up, correct? 😮

We’ve all done it, stated Amy Joyce. But I’m sure not all of us knew we might be hurting our kids by doing it… At least, I did not know. How could I? Simply trying to work my best magic tricks when it comes to parenting…

Why would we, parents, knowingly harm our children?

Let’s start thinking! Continue reading

 
19 Comments

Posted by on January 8, 2014 in children, expat, FAMILY, foreign service

 

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“Un café con leche, por favor…”

Café con leche (Coffee with milk)

Café con leche (Credit: Wikipedia)

Like many parents, I’m silently watching my children grow. And I say ‘silently’ because I wanna witness the process in its fullest, without interfering or attempting to change its course.

My oldest child, and the only boy of the 3, just turned 8 years old. Even though my secret wishes still perceive him as ‘my baby’, he’s growing to be a clever and compassionate young person.

I remain discreet, though, and again, silent, watching from behind the scenes the growth and maturing processes unveil themselves right in front of my motherly eyes… Not an easy task, if one asked me!

Raising children is definitely challenging, as many here may relate. But it’s worth every single second of it – even the ‘over-dramatic’ and ‘not-so-fun’ ones, when as a parent, you don’t really know which direction to take in order to avoid some imminent collapse!

Oh, boy! And those ‘crashes’ do happen! All part of the [parenting] game, as my mother would always remind me about…

But now, back to my initial ‘café con leche‘, or in good Portuguese, ‘Café com Leite‘, as my Portuguese heritage would recommend me to mention! Coffee with milk – as a born and raised Brazilian, the typical beverage served during family gatherings, office reunions, work events… or simply, what I would share with my mother, as the oldest child [and only girl], while chatting about life, love, future. I would share my doubts and my complaints. I would blame the world and in-between sips of the warm drink, praise women for moving far into the society. I would judge my peers and lay out possible solutions for any current political crisis…

In Brazil, when one invites you for a coffee [“um cafezinho”], it’s never just about enjoying the beverage together: it’s about talking, sharing emotions and feelings, exchanging experiences and secrets… it’s about being part of somebody else’s life; the warmth brought by a cup of ‘café com leite’ is a peaceful experience, well known by all Brazilians. And this experience I cherished with my own mother, up to this day, when our ‘nomad family’ has the opportunity to go to Brazil and visit with the grandparents…

This past week, taking advantage of the [Fall] school break, our family went out on a short trip to the city of Tarija, famous for its wineries and warm climate. There’ll be more about this visit, but not today. This time, my focus will remain on our family nucleus, and more specifically, on the very special bond recently established between myself and my little boy…

During the inbound flight to Tarija, my son watched me accept [from the flight attendant] a cup of coffee and milk, perfectly brewed, according to the Latino standards. And he was curious why I always asked for coffee, whenever we were out. I told him it reminded me of the moments I shared with my family, and specifically, with my mother. For the Portuguese, a good cup of coffee and milk is the best remedy for the mind and the soul…

His little eyes were curious and confused – how could a drink be responsible for building memories? How could a beverage carry such a powerful feeling, and trigger emotions lost in time?

I didn’t know the answers. Who does? I just feel it, and I cherish the memories it brings me… ♥

During our flight back to La Paz, our family was split among three rows: I had our baby girl next to me, and the two oldest ones, in the row in front of us.

As expected, it came time for snacks and beverages. The flight attendants showed up pushing along the beverage cart. My son turns to me, and I see his smiley face from in-between the seats. His face is happy, and yet, a bit guilty.

I’m confused, but waiting to see what unveils. He winks at me, and at that point, I hear his heart telling me: I want to build memories, like what you have with “vovó” [grandma]…

The next thing I hear is his flawless Spanish to the flight attendant: “Un café con leche, por favor”. My boy is growing… and he wants to be his own person… The flight attendant gives me a look, checking if it was okay to give him the small styrofoam cup with an once of tinted milk. “It’s okay, I reply”. He takes it, and from between the plane seats, asks me: “Mom, do you wanna a sip from my coffee? It’s pretty good…”

He was right… it was pretty good… Again, emotions that only a nice cup of  “café con leche” is capable of bringing up… 😮

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12 Comments

Posted by on October 17, 2013 in BOLIVIA, FAMILY, LOVE

 

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Weekly Writing Challenge: DNA Analysis

Clearly a writing challenge inspired by a topic titled ‘DNA analysis’ had to catch my attention. Not only I’m a born-again geek, I’m a ‘recovering scientist’, and up for grabbing any opportunity to jump right back into my past!

Funny how reading through this week’s suggestion from the Daily Post put me into a time machine, sending me back and forth in time: remembering my days as a researcher, scientist, professor; and yet, imagining how it would be when my [now little] children grow and decide on their own careers, taking up on different life paths…

Who knows what the future will have for them? What I’ve got is my past, followed by a great present bringing my off-spring up…

Talking about offspring, let me take you back to this post’s original idea, before my reminiscent past [and the uncertainties of our nomad future], take me completely off-track! My family is a melting pot: I seem to bring to the table a mix of Portuguese and Northern African backgrounds, surprisingly revealed by a recent DNA analysis. Our 3 children are a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, English, French, German ingredients, bubbling up from inside a hot deep cooking pot.

[Quick note: one of my husband’s passions, besides me, obviously, is Genealogy. He maintains a website on his parental families, and we’ve done together the DNA analysis, to learn more about our ‘ancestry’. The triggering idea for immersing into the research was actually the moment our first child was born: leave a knowledge legacy for our children].

Off-track… again? Not really! Back to my Portuguese/Northern African heritage…

From my mother I’ve inherited the quick temper and the sharp tongue – aww, those Portuguese Senoritas! I’ve also learned from her how to appreciate food and cooking, especially seafood dishes; all well-accompanied with good wine. She is the Teacher in my life, in more ways than one. My mother has taught me to understand and develop a passion for artistic expressions: music, dance and painting. Later in life, they all morphed into a healthy taste for fashion, dining out, event hosting, social outings and the passion for traveling to new places…

From my long-lost past...

From my long-lost past…

My father’s legacy is deeply imprinted in my body and mind. I became a person of Science because of him. Like my mother, he grew up orphan, lacking a present father-figure at home; nevertheless, made a life for himself as a chemical engineer, and teaching me how to love and appreciate all expressions of science and investigation and discipline. From my father I’ve inherited a ‘not-so-healthy’ taste for questioning, inquiring, and looking for answers and justifications. I’ve learned I’m capable of challenging facts of life, seeking solutions to daily problems.

I consider myself a product of hybrid environments, a product of mixed cultures, nicely blending together. I consider myself not a noun, but a verb… I’ve learned to accept and embrace new cultures and traditions as my own, since a very early age.

Life went on, and as it should be, the day I had to overlap my nucleic acid sequence with someone else’s came around. Considering that recombination is a common method of DNA repair, it was definitely the way the ‘future Mr. Right’ and I decided to pursue. Structural repair? What a great suggestion for a lucky start! Genetic recombination with breaking and rejoining of DNA strands is accelerated by many different enzymes. In our case, those enzymes were an endless curiosity, the unpaired desire to travel and visit new places and the recognition that neither one of us could survive withought the other’s genetic material… And so we merged; two genomes fusing into one happily married sequence… trust me, PCR results can prove it! 😮

The results of this apparently odd combination can be checked [through a quite simple molecular biology experiment]: the three children that fill our house with joy and love. They have dark, brown and blond hairs. They’ve got dark and light eye colors. They dance and play like Brazilians, eat like Mexican and Portuguese; cry like Spaniards and French. They’re emotional and they’re grounded. They like art, and they like science. They’re growing up knowing the world is much bigger than what’s stated by their birth certificates, or stamped on their 9 passports…

Our children understand they come from mixed backgrounds, and know in their hearts they need to honor their heritage. And one day, they’ll be telling stories about their parents and grandparents to their own offspring: tales about how recombinant DNA, Portuguese cuisine, Mariachis, and American football traditions are all related… 😮

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20 Comments

Posted by on October 1, 2013 in FAMILY, foreign service, humor

 

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