Tag Archives: parenting

My new mantra is…

My husband, Julio Naudin, is good at doing one thing at a time. Here he is placing the final stone on a small cairn in Northern California.
My husband, Julio Naudin, is good at doing one thing at a time. Here he is placing the final stone on a small cairn in Northern California.

Four simple syllables give me the heebie jeebies.
I used to believe the same four syllables were wonderful. I used to believe they represented something I wanted to be doing as much as possible. I used to believe they embodied the utmost of productivity.
I now know better.
I was wrong.
The four simple syllables are not the be all, but after years of experimentation with them, I realize they could be my undoing.
The four syllables are mul-ti-task-ing.
Multitasking is not my friend. For that matter, it’s not your friend either.
I came to this decision on my own, but as it turns out, this isn’t just my opinion. Science backs me up — by doing less, we do more.
Plus, it’s not good for our brains. Chronic multitaskers have a “failure to filter,” according to research by Stanford University. And that filter failure doesn’t allow them to distinguish between the information that’s important and the information that isn’t.
I had missed that newsflash when it came out a few years back. I came to my anti-multitasking stance based on observation and personal experience.
For example, I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with a young mother who works part-time from home. She has a toddler. Until recently, she spent most of her time trying to watch the toddler and get work done in spurts when the child was occupied.
This is what we do now, isn’t it? We check emails when we’re closing the car door and walking in the building. We used to just walk in the building. We catch up with loved ones on the phone while we’re watering the plants. We used to just water the plants. We go walking or running and listen to a book on audio. We used to just walk or run.
The whole thing seems to work, but maybe it’s not working as well as we think. Science says that our brains just aren’t wired to take in more than one message at a time.
The young mother says she was constantly frustrated with her young daughter and the little girl whined a lot. Maybe that was because she never had her mother’s full attention. The lines of our lives have been so blurred. Most of us are never fully at work or off work. That constantly on with constant access isn’t working as well as we think it is.
Let me say that I’m as guilty as any. As I tried to write this column, my 18-year-daughter came up and wanted to chat. In case you’re keeping score at home, the 18-year-old daughter wanting to sit and chat doesn’t happen often. She sat beside me as I sat with my computer open. She just wanted to talk. I felt like I had to write and finish this column.
The irony was not lost on me.
I ended up closing the computer and pushing it away. Had I been writing about any other topic, I’m not sure I would have taken my own advice.
But the truth is, how many more times is my girl, while she’s living at home, going to want to sit and talk to me about the new choreography for their Spirit Week dance at school? How many more times is she going to want to look at information on colleges and have a rational conversation about where she should go?
I missed my deadline on this column — and maybe I don’t have all the words just right, but I did have a lovely, distraction-free conversation with my daughter tonight.
“One thing at a time” is my new mantra.

17 years (and rules) of parenting

I am not a fan of spoiled children.
However, 17 years into parenthood, I understand how spoiling a child happens — much better now than back in the years when I would have been an absolute perfect parent, if I had just had any children. Ah, I knew so much more back then. These days, I realize that loving your children inspires you to do crazy things and go to absurd lengths to make sure their lives are the best they can be.
The question now is: have we gone too far? Did we cross the Rubicon somewhere along the way? Instead of creating wiser children with greater insights and perspective, have we created spoiled, entitled children who don’t appreciate the value of the work required to allow for all the bounty of their lives or have the spirit of service such opportunity obliges?
Some of the advice I’m about to give may seem harsh. Some of it is appropriate for children of all ages. Other bits may most appropriate for kids ages 10 and up. At any rate, I’d like you to learn from my mistakes:
1. Do not buy your child a smartphone. If they must have a phone for safety reasons (because landlines are few and far between), buy them a no-frills flip phone. Not giving your child a smartphone will help you and your family avoid so many problems.
2. Regardless of what type of phone your child has, check it regularly. Children’s brains aren’t fully developed. They make stupid decisions sometimes. They also don’t want you to know just how poor their decision making ability is. Checking their phones is illuminating.
3. Enact a no-technology-in-the-bedroom policy. Trust me on this one. They can have their computers in the den or at the dining room table, but don’t let them cocoon themselves in their rooms with their computers.
4. Limit their computer/television time to no more than two hours a day.
5. Don’t chaperone every school trip or Scout trip your child takes. Really. They need to spread their wings and learn how to negotiate the world without you.
6. If you miss a game or school performance, your child will be fine.
7. Make them go outside.
8. Play board games and cards with them.
9. Learn something new together — jiu jitsu, SCUBA, ballroom dancing, golfing. Find something that you’d both be willing to learn and do it together.
10. Create opportunities for your children to visit with old people.
11. Make your children load and unload the dishwasher or wash the dishes.
12. Find other chores for your children to do in the house. They need to understand early that operating a house doesn’t just happen. You’re not doing them a favor by teaching them otherwise.
13. Teach your children to cook. If you can’t cook, ask a friend who can or take a class together — or find a class for them to take. Everybody needs to know how to cook the basics.
14. Let your children prepare the occasional meal. They should also have to clean up their own mess in the kitchen.
15. Teach your children to wash, dry and fold clothes.
16. Teach your children to set a proper table.
17. Sit down at a table together for a home-cooked meal at least three times a week.
To be clear, my children have smartphones. I wish they didn’t. They don’t wash the dishes every day, but they do on most days. They know how to cook and could cook a meal for the family if necessary — with a little luck, it wouldn’t be chicken nuggets and mac n’ cheese.
Following these rules doesn’t ensure perfect children, but it does teach children something about what’s required to navigate the world beyond their parents.

LSS: Lessons in a letter to be delivered by Dr. Who


Lately I’ve spent time with friends I love who have young children. That time has made me consider things I’ve learned in the process of parenting — things I wish I had known back when my children were younger. I decided to write myself a letter — the kind of letter that Marty McFly and Doc Brown or Doctor Who could deliver:

Dear Jan in 1997,

Chill out. Just enjoy it all as much as possible. I believe in you and know you’ll do your best. But here are a few extra tidbits to remember along the way:

Help your children. Model the behaviors you want them to have. Always be aware that your actions have repercussions. Do the right thing — and remember that sometimes the right thing to do is nothing (which also happens to be the hardest thing to do as a parent).

All that said, know now that as hard as you try, things will never be perfect for your little ones. You can do all the “right things,” but somewhere along the way, this tiny, perfect beautiful baby is going to run into situations that you can’t fix. No amount of preparing on your part could prepare that little doll you hold in your arms to flourish in every situation that’s going to come her way.

Even so, she’ll be OK.

In some ways you’ll parent as a reaction to your parents — that’s how these things go. Just know that you don’t need to change it all. Your parents did many things well. With today’s tendencies to encourage children to be engaged and play with all the right toys, watch all the right shows, be in the best schools, think back to when you were young and how some days your parents told you not to come inside until dark. Granted, that’s probably not a good move with a toddler, but try hard not to over-parent.

Know that your children need time and opportunity to be unsupervised. They need to be in places where they can take risks. A skinned knee is not the end of the world. A bump on the head is sometimes necessary. Trying to protect this child into perfection will not happen. Basically, I’m telling you to get over yourself. Your kid may end up doing great things — and you will play a role in your child’s development, but so will other people.

This one is going to shock you. Secondly, brace yourself, but know that there will come a time when your child isn’t telling you the truth. Throw out the whole sack of pohooey about always believing your child and never questioning them with last week’s meatloaf. No matter that you’ve always told them the truth. Still, there will come a time — and hopefully there won’t be too many times — but that sweet thing will inadvertently or deliberately deceive you. You are not a bad parent when you ask a few extra questions.

Next, and this is an important one that a lot of people seem to have let go in recent years, but you need to find effective ways to punish your child when she behaves in a way that is not appropriate. This will sound really harsh, but I have come to believe that — and this observation isn’t totally based on personal parenting experience, it comes in large part from teaching in a middle school, but here goes — children need a certain level of awareness and even a mild fear of consequences. They need to know that there will be consequences if they do the thing they are not supposed to do. Disastrous things happen when children don’t have a basic respect for authority, but I’m not suggesting beating their beautiful little spirits down.

Also, don’t feel like you’ve got to pack up the car and head out to every event that your child might enjoy. There’s serious beauty in just staying home and doing very little — together.

Lastly, make sure your children have chores that they alone own. Make these chores vital to the running of the household.

Oh, and when the time comes, buy Apple, Google and Amazon.


LSS: Grit and grace

A few months ago, one of my daughters was weeping and whining about a skinned knee. The lamenting continued until I proclaimed, “Seriously, I have clearly coddled you girls too much. Skinned knees are a part of life. You two have had so few that you don’t get that. From this point on, I will coddle you both less.”

And with that, I began to try my best to coddle less.

In truth, I don’t believe I changed much about my parenting skills. I promise I didn’t begin pushing them down to prove a point. Maybe it was a coincidence, but something changed. My daughters began to get skinned knees and shins and elbows much more often.

We went through more Band-Aids this summer than we’ve gone through in their lives. We weren’t living a rough and tumble lifestyle, but bumps and bruises, albeit (and thankfully) inconsequential, just kept a’ coming.

And with every tiny scratch, my daughters would thrust their elbow in my face and say, “You see this. This is because you’re not coddling us anymore.”

The litany of minor injuries became somewhat of a joke. Even still, both girls were making less and less of their scratches and scrapes. Even they would admit they were becoming, inch-by-inch, scratch-by-scratch, more resilient — and more confident.

While I wish for nothing but the best of health for my children — and yours too, for that matter, I am becoming more and more convinced that a little grit only adds to their potential for grace.

Grit and grace — that’s what we want for them. If everything in childhood is easy, when they become young adults, normal dilemmas and difficulties may set them back too far.

After marveling at my girls gaining in poise and self-assurance in the midst of a few scrapes and scratches, I heard a radio interview with author Paul Tough about his new book called How Children Succeed. Tough argues that the qualities that matter most in a child growing up and into success have less to do with intelligence and more to do with character — including skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism and self-control.

When our children make mistakes — and like all children, they do, my husband and I try to walk that line between teaching them the importance of making good choices, the value and necessity of consequences and the hope tomorrow offers.

Our discipline techniques go back to our family mantra, “Acknowledge and move on.” If we’re even mildly mentally healthy people, eventually we’re going to move on. Why not do it sooner rather than later?

Holding something over another person destroys relationships. The key is to embrace the “we can do better” attitude. We’ve learned our lesson. Our mistakes don’t define us.

Part of making the parent-child relationship work is about transparency. Our children have to know that consequences don’t happen because they told us something we wouldn’t want to hear. The consequences need to be directly linked to the problem — not the telling of the problem. And we want to build these kids up enough that they have the confidence to tell us things — even things they know we won’t want to hear.

Our prayer is that these scratches and mistakes remain small and manageable and continue to be the building blocks of stronger characters.

(Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears in the Sunday Advertiser. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.)

LSS: Waiting for the lights to come on

Sitting in the dark of our living room, with the lights and electricity out because of Thursday night’s humdinger of a storm, my 10-year-old daughter was freaked out by the lack of light and electricity.
Barely a hundred years ago, electricity was the exception and not the rule. In fact, by 1920 only 35 percent of homes had electricity. By 1956, 99 percent of American homes were wired to use electricity, which means the bulk of us have had lights at our beck and call throughout the duration of our lives. We take light and so much more of our day-to-day lives for such granted that we miss a major element of appreciation altogether.
Genuine gratitude is soul soothing and makes life at large so much more palatable — for everything from a refrigerator full of food to a song that makes you smile to a car that cranks to a phone that rings to a faucet that turns on and spews forth cold, fresh, clean water. By today’s standards, any of those amenities are considered basic necessities by most.
Sitting in the dark of our living room seemed to be a good place to continue the gratitude conversation my 14-year-old daughter and I had started earlier this week. I know 14 is tough, and I try to be fair, but there are times when 14-ness gets to a parent — and, lately, that parent has been me.
I think about the time when I was about her age. I recall enough of that time to remember believing that I was really proving something with my outward display of a near-constant state of frustration with the world. Of course, I generally reserved such an exhibition for my parents at home. I suppose I wanted to be certain they recognized just how little they knew and what a pain they were.
And, you know what they say about karma.
I’m still uncertain about just what it was I was blustering around about, but it was something significant in my mind. Like my own daughter today, I took light and so much more for granted.
Sitting in the dark made me think about all of this.
Lately, I’ve tried on several occasions to share with my daughter how much better life gets after the transition from living a tormented life full of anguish to one that’s more contented — and I’m unsure if that shift comes by choice or chance. Either way, something caused my realization and appreciation of the bounty of my world, and life was so much better afterwards. With that awareness, I also became conscious of other notions that made life much easier — the value of letting go of situations instead of trying to control them, the wisdom of forgiving those who had wronged me in reality or perception and the joy in attempting to do my part to make the world a better place every day.
Together, we continued sitting in the dark until the storm subsided, and the lights came back on.