A Feather in All of Our Caps

I'm not ashamed to admit that when it comes to parenting advice, I'll take inspiration wherever I can get it. And while it's safe to say that my frequent viewing of The Real Housewives franchise is not the thing I'm most proud of, I also don't hide it. What can I say? It makes me happy. If I'm having a bad day I'll often let myself watch Luann fall into the bushes a few times...or the infamous prosthetic leg throw...or really any of Phaedra's one-liners but I digress. On an episode of last season's Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Kyle Richards was talking to a friend about her ongoing issues with her sisters, Kathy Hilton and Kim Richards. She got emotional speaking about her mother, "Big Kathy," was really the glue that kept them together when she was alive, that even though the girls had similar interests that often brought a competitive note into their relationship, Big Kathy worked tirelessly to make the girls see each other as a team, rather than rivals. Kyle tearfully recounted that whenever something fortunate happened to one sister, she would tell them that the person's success was a feather in all their caps. And it really stuck with me. 

I've spoken before about my sons' larger gap in ages and while you might think that would make them immune to many of the classic scenarios of sibling rivalry, it really doesn't. The problem for us is that, age difference aside, they have many of the same interests; soccer, running, drawing, school work, helpfulness. There is still quite a bit of overlap and acknowledging one person's accomplishments often feels like you're holding it up as a gold standard for the other son to use as a measure which more often than not, makes them feel that they are falling flat in comparison. And that's just not the case. 

Whatever feelings my husband may secretly have on my devotion to my list of Bravo shows, he agreed that it makes sense to highlight accomplishments in this way, a victory for one or the overcoming of an obstacle as a win for our whole family. A feather in everyone's cap. We quickly came to see that it really does work - my middle son's huge leap in math facts may have been due largely to his willingness to not give up and spend extra time practicing, but we also get to share in that as the people who quizzed him over dinner and encouraged him each step of the way. A toddler potty trained in a week? So proud of my little guy but you know that was a group effort. The list goes on, so many instances where someone is able to stand in triumph of an achievement, celebrate the moment and then acknowledge that others played a part, too. 

I encourage you to give it a try and in the meantime I'll just be over here waiting for a grateful family to thank me for the hours and hours I've sacrificed, dutifully watching Housewives installments to find such gems. 

Defining "Done"

As my kids get older and life gets busier the expectation that they will do chores and finish tasks without being double-checked has grown considerably. There are the basics that we do every school day (brush teeth, make beds, care for pets, unpack lunches, etc) and then there are other items that are needed too - vacuuming rooms on weekends, cleaning up the yard, putting away bikes and cleaning out the car after a marathon day of sports shuttling. And I can tell you that there are fewer things that make me want to fall to my knees and shout, "WHY?! WHY?!" at the skies more than what usually happens when these jobs are doled out. My kids will dutifully march off to do whatever was asked, then, after a period of time they'll call out that "______ is done. I'm gonna go play/read/whatever." And then I'll walk into their room an hour later to see that the floor is vacuumed, but the vacuum is in the middle of the room, still plugged in. Or they swept, but left the dustpan full of bits. A car that was recently cleaned out will sit in the driveway with every door open and a bag of trash in the back seat. Bikes put away? Yup! Shed closed. No. Dishwasher loaded with dishes and soap? Done. Start button pushed? Uh, probably not.

It is this vexing problem that led me to start thinking about how I, and they, define when a job is truly done. As frustrating as it is to see my kids suffer from not quite finishing a job I also realized that I am also guilty, too, and more often than I'd care to admit. The last steps are usually the most tedious and least desirable but those are often the pieces separating a job well done from something that stays on a list. I've noticed little and big things I do with varying frequency that I really struggle to finish and how much those loose ends weigh on me. Compound that with loose ends from three kids and it quickly becomes a ball of knots. 

The more I've thought about this the more clear it has made me want to be when handing out little jobs or asking favors from not just my boys but others, too. I think about what a finished job looks like to me and that becomes part of the ask - so, "Can you please vacuum your room then empty it out and put it away?" So simple but it keeps us on the same page. Generally, this expectation becomes the norm pretty quickly which is good because if done too much, it can feel like too much micro-management. In doing this, it's also made me come to the uncomfortable conclusion that my definition of done is not the one that others share and that I sometimes need to let go of that ideal. Less so with kids, more so with adults. Specifically spouses. ;) There are times when it matters and times when it doesn't. Starting to put tasks in these two columns of those that need extra instructions and those that don't frees up mental space and takes so much less time. 

As we quickly barrel towards summer and all the communication and planning those eight weeks involve, I highly recommend putting some thoughts around this as a way to preserve sanity and keep the peace. 

Midsummer

There are certain times each year that feel especially bittersweet; the day after Christmas, when a kid's birthday party has wrapped up and you survey a house strewn with used paper plates, crumpled wrapping paper and discarded toys. But no day draws conflicting emotions quite like the first day of school - I think it will forever remain King. I spend a lot of early summer trying not to think of that looming square on the calendar and in those first days of freedom it's easy to do. The summer stretches out before us full of anticipation and excitement and we sit around asking, "What should we do this summer?" then feel slightly punchy and giddy when the answer is, "We can do anything! We have the WHOLE SUMMER!"

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