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Parenting

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King! For those of you who celebrate the birth of Jesus, Merry Christmas!  I know you have commitments over the holidays and many of them can be stressful, but remind yourself to relax, laugh, play, and be a kid again–if just for a little while. You are going to have an absolutely wonderful day!

Parenting: Give Yourself Grace

by Amy Hilbrich Davis

in Parenting

Best laid plans… the best of intentions– We all have them. Whether it be planning the ideal  vacation, birthday, or maybe even a night out with our husbands– we do our best, and then reality steps in and forces us to wake up and smell the java. We are tired and there’s nothing left for us to give .

There are lots of days when our time and energy can’t fuel the most well thought out, ingenious plan. And it’s on those days that we need to remember our priorities and what’s important to us.

Years ago I read a memoir about a woman who’s father wrote her a letter on every birthday, starting with the day she was born. That letter was excerpted in the Real Simple magazine and I literally wept when I read it. She talked about how she treasured her letters and considered them her most prized possession, especially now that her father had passed on.

Beautiful, huh? I thought so, too.  Feeling overwhelmed with inspiration, I did what any time-stressed, in over her head, mother would do… I decided to write every one of my kids a letter on their birthday— all seven of them. I was on a roll. The birthday letters would not just any letter, it would become the mother of all letters, showcasing the greatest hits of the prior year. I couldn’t wait to begin creating these priceless keepsakes.

Well, here’s how it played out.

I cranked out Evelyn’s ninth birthday letter. Feeling pretty proud, I wrote Charlotte’s fifth birthday one, even though I had the flu and couldn’t stand.  When Oliver’s came up just a few months later, I fell asleep in bed writing it and figured I’d make it up the following week (when it wasn’t so beat, ha). Needless to say, when Louisa was born I was still trying to finish Oliver’s and the whole experiment was falling apart by the time  all nine pounds and fourteen ounces of Anderson joined our family.

Oh well, I only can do what I can do. Some nights I lie awake the night before a birthday, exhausted by the day and think, “the letter, I need to write the letter!” Thankfully, I’ve  learned to give myself grace and I roll over and drift off to sleep thinking of all the things I do with the kids and the fun we have. I get over it.

I guess I’m satisfied with living in the present over  creating memories for their future (even though I wish I could do both).

One day I’ll have more time and energy for that–who knows, maybe  I’ll finish the kids’ baby books, maybe not.

Our family went to Sandestin Resort in Destin Florida for Spring Break 2010. We had such a great time together in Sandestin, yet in the midst of games of scrabble, bike rides, and sand castles on the beach,  I had  to fight off little twinges of  melancholy, or shall I say the reality that this will most likely be our last Spring Break together as a family of nine.

2010 will mark the beginning of a new era at our house… college. Before I know it, the days of all of us hopping in our car and heading off to spend time together will be gone.

It sounds so cliche, yet where did the time go? I feel like it was yesterday and I was bringing home Johnathon from the hospital — all nine pounds nine ounces of him. And then eighteen months later, Evelyn joined the mix, and then Connor, and so it went for many years. That has been my life. It’s what I do, and what I love doing.

I look back now and hope that amidst all of the  dirty diapers, baskets of laundry, chaos, and hugs that I can hold on to all of the amazing memories. I’ve enjoyed raising all seven of my kids. Some days, I forget what we had for dinner! Most of all, though, I pray that the  kids look back on their time together and remember the great times they shared, alongside the wackiness of growing up sharing, taking turns, and fighting over who’s turn it is to sit by the window on one of our cross country trips.

Senior Day – New Family Tradition

Well, no time to let our growing family make me too sad especially on Spring Break, so in honor of our number one son, we’ve created a new family tradition — Senior Day.

The goal: honor the oldest and make one day during their final Spring Break extra special. The premise is simple. The senior is in charge and can do anything, go anywhere, and live a life (only for a day) where they don’t have to consider anyone else — truly a luxury in our house.

On Friday, Johnathon got to pick the menu for the day, plan the days’ activities, and we had to take his lead. I had so much fun watching him  plot out his day.

Our first official Senior Day. Breakfast was home-made Crosissant/egg sandwiches, sausage and juice. Not the usual morning fare for the Davis family — I’m sure the boxes of cereal were missing us! Next a morning bike ride, followed by an afternoon of tennis. I packed a lunch for all of us and off we went. We returned home and then quickly back out again for an afternoon at the beach. It was a great day.

It may not seem like a big deal to many of you, but imagine the daily compromises in a family of nine. Rarely, if ever, is the sky the limit at our house , yet on Senior Day, your wish is our command and Johnathon loved it! We ended the day celebrating dinner out at Cheeseburger in Paradise, and grabbed a Redbox movie for those who could stay awake.

The perfect ending to a really nice day — one in which our amazing senior ruled. Compromises took a back seat and he was honored. I like that. Ultimately, Johnathon and I were the only ones who stayed awake to watch the movie. There we sat, just  my baby and me, up past midnight — some things will never change. :)

Since the earthquake in Haiti, when I haven’t been driving my kids to their activities, making dinner, or tucking them in at night, my mind has wandered to the devastation and horror blanketing that country. I feel such sadness for the children lost and families destroyed. I can’t imagine one of my kids wandering the streets searching for me, or digging for life in the rubble of our house. It is at these times that I am reminded of our family’s motto: Big takes care of little.

We have raised our large family with many mantras or mottos, yet “Big takes care of little” Is the most important. In our home it means that the older kids nurture the younger ones. In the community it means that those with more to give have a responsibility to nurture those in need. We believe that in serving others we change lives and improve the world. This mantra echoes daily in the halls of our house and led me to reach out five years ago after Hurricane Katrina.

Days after Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans, I learned of an organization in our area collecting stuffed animals to send to children displaced by the tragedy. I thought it was an ideal way for my little ones to comprehend loss and understand how “Big takes care of little” outside of our home. I wanted them to see how our mantra could make a difference globally, outside of Kansas City. Upon hearing how the water was destroying homes, belongings, and even stuffed animals,  each one of the kids ran up to their rooms and offered as many as they could carry– imagine how many stuffed animals seven children can accumulate over the years. The memory of each child ransacking their room to fill bag after bag remains one of my proudest. They were giving without considering their own desires. They were living our family’s mantra and I was planting the seed of community service.

If we as parents plant this seed early in the lives of our children, and nurture it, we are likely to raise compassionate kids who feel empowered and believe that they can and will make a difference in both their life and the lives of others. Their efforts matter.

Please join our family this week (if you haven’t already) and pledge to make a difference for children and their families in Haiti. Make time to sit down together and discuss the earthquake. Use age appropriate language to describe it, and how many people have been hurt. Be clear that they are in no danger. Acknowledge their feelings and share yours appropriately. Talk about how you want your family to help.  Ask each of your kids how they think they can make a difference in the life of just one child who is sad. What can they do? Brainstorm with them. Empower them with a sense of control and a plan to make it happen.

By building on the theme “Big takes care of little,” we are all raising globally friendly, tolerant, and compassionate kids— good neighbors.  None of us individually is as strong as we all are together.

Fall Leaves Fall is the perfect time to share my thoughts on the importance of traditions and creating an environment for your family that is joyful, happy, and full of love. The beauty of traditions is that they provide memories that capture wonderful moments over and over again. Your kids look forward to them and eagerly await the promise of another year of festive celebrations. Whether it’s your annual decorating of the front door with the pumpkins they’ve made over the years, or the hanging of the bats and black spiders on the dinner table light fixture; traditions create suspense and anticipation of fun to come.

I‘d love to share some of my traditions to inspire you to join in, as well as encourage you to keep up the traditions you’ve started. Some years, I’ve been so beat, I couldn’t imagine pulling my decorations out from the basement, yet after I did, the expressions on the kids’ faces are payment enough for digging deep and following through. You can do it!

I’ve already shared my pumpkin, bat, and spider traditions earlier, so here are a few more. Most years, I decorate the house to be Halloween ready for the kids when they wake up on October 1st. I love the excitement on their faces as they discover it all decked out for the season. This year however, it happened in stages. The point is that it happened. However you do it–just make it happen! Imagine how fun it is for your kids to wake to a house all festive and fun!

I love to bring out all of my Halloween bowls, platters and dish towels to make the month of October one huge celebration. I’ve picked many of them up over the years after the Holiday and on sale–Target is great for that! As the kids bring home their crafts and art projects, I hang them everywhere. The best way to hang them is to laminate them first. I go to a local home school store which laminates for 25 cents a foot; it’s such a steal! I then cut out the creations and put yellow sticky tack on the back and hang them everywhere: on windows, doors, cabinet—honestly wherever the stuff will stick. After the season, I pull them down and save the yellow tack and use it for the next season of creations.

To store the laminated works of art, I staple two poster boards together on three sides and leave the fourth open. I write the name of the season or holiday on both sides and store everything inside. I keep all of the poster board holiday files close at hand in a closet so it doesn’t feel like I’m moving heaven and earth to decorate throughout the year. Sometimes going into the basement to get decorations feels like one step too many. And there you have it, a festive house decorated with your children’s works of art and laminated to be keepsakes forever!

One last tradition I will share with you is to create a holiday book collection. As many of you know, or will learn, I love books. My kids have grown up surrounded by them. My earliest and fondest memories with my kids come from the warmth and comfort of the kids on my lap or snuggled up close to me enjoying a book.  Reading creates that “cozy” that has always been so important for me to nurture as a Mom.

To inspire you to begin your collection or to keep adding to it, here are a few strategies to making it meaningful and memorable for years to come. First, I buy one book (not one for each child—in case you were wondering). I date it, write the town where we live, and then write a note sharing a snapshot of our family’s blessings and current successes and challenges. I always end with a line of gratitude for each other, our faith and our health. I then set it out on the counter after the kids go to bed so it is the first thing that they see when they enter the kitchen in the morning. That book is then passed around all morning long, and then it is added to the coffee table of Halloween books from past years. You can see my top five Halloween books by clicking HERE.

The Halloween books stay out all October long until we usher in November and the Thanksgiving books. After Halloween, I store the books out of sight in the basement until the next year. I love this tradition as much as the kids. And no matter the age, they all reread those books every year. I watched my senior in high school reading one yesterday while having a snack. Reading the books from when they were younger brings back those memories, good, sad, scary and wacky that we can relive each and every year. And that’s the beauty of creating a tradition.

The most important thing about Back to School Night is that your kids know that you are excited to meet their teachers and learn about their school community. You are your child’s most important advocate and Back to School Night provides the first opportunity to create a partnership with your child’s new teacher and staff.

 

Back to School Night kicks off your partnership. It allows you an opportunity to get to know the people who will be spending time with your child. It also provides a glimpse into the curriculum, the teacher’s experience and their philosophies. To make the most out of this evening, start off by introducing yourself.  Shake the teacher’s hand; let them know that you are excited to meet them and appreciate the work they have done to prepare for the year. (ie. “The classroom looks so fun," or “What a neat year you have planned for the kids.”) Be honest with your praise– everybody enjoys sincere recognition.

 

Next, make sure the teacher has a good idea of who your child is, academically and socially—the clearer the picture, the better. Many teachers provide an information sheet for you to complete regarding your child; their strengths, challenges, likes, dislikes, interests, etc. and ask you to turn it in at Back to School Night. If not, take some time before you head out and jot down some notes regarding any information you think the teacher would need as they begin the year instructing your child. Remember, you are your child’s first and most important teacher– share your wealth of information. I promise the teachers will appreciate it and respect you for making the time to partner with them to make it the best year for your child. I have such respect for teachers. Like us, they work hard!