Monday, April 30, 2007

My Addiction to Magazines

I must admit that I’m addicted to magazines. I guess it could be worse . . . reading is a good thing, right? I keep one in the car at all times to read while I’m waiting for my son to get out of fencing or the twins to come out of preschool. I read them at the dinner table or while supervising my twins in the back yard. I’ve always got a stack of them in several places in the house. It’s gotten to the point where I just can’t read them all! I want to read them from cover-to-cover, but now I find myself skimming. Still, it’s rare that I can convince myself to give up a subscription. My husband says that I’m oblivious to what’s going on around me when I’m absorbed in a good article. And when my People magazine arrives on Saturdays, I read the entire issue that day! So, I guess I should start working on this little obsession of mine before it starts overtaking my life. Here’s a list of the magazines that arrive at our house (all highly recommended)!

Family Fun
Twins Magazine

Today’s Christian Woman
Focus on the Family

Family Circle
Good Housekeeping
Hallmark Magazine
Ladies’ Home Journal
Woman’s Day

For Preschoolers
Nick Jr.
Sesame Street Magazine

For Teens
Ignite Your Faith

For Men (or Women Who Are Interested in Finance!)

Chicken Soup for the Soul Magazine
Reader’s Digest

Children’s Book Insider
Poets & Writers
Writer’s Digest

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Value of Play and Discovery

What pictures come into your mind when you remember your childhood? For me, I remember waking up to the sound of birds singing in the summer. And then my friends and I would play outside all day, only stopping into the house for meals or a quick check-in with Mom. The only rule we had was, "Just make sure you come home when the streetlights come on." We’d ride our bikes all over the neighborhood, go across the street to play at the park and elementary school, and collect worms and bugs and other creepy stuff. My sister and I would take our bamboo fishing poles to the river with a can of corn to catch carp. It was an idyllic time.

In the winter, we’d head out at the first sign of a snowfall. We’d build forts and snowmen, and make snow angels. We’d gather our sleds and head to the nearest hill. We’d put on our skates and play hockey in the street. Even in the winter, we were outdoors much of the time. I rarely remember sitting inside glued to the television, and we certainly didn’t play video games.

Today’s children are missing out on all that. Sure, they’ve got their soccer teams and organized sports, but what children are often missing out on is just unstructured time to explore and discover. According to Rae Pica, author of A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child, "Today, we have considerable research proving that . . . movement, play, and physical activity contribute to brain and intellectual development." Too often, she contends, we’re so focused on "achievement" and "competition" that we’re not allowing our children just to have their childhoods. We buy them the most high-tech gadgets and hurry them from one class to another, but "old-fashioned play and physical experiences offer the best opportunities for brain development"—NOT "the latest gadgets and gear."

In A Running Start, Rae Pica, an internationally recognized educational consultant in early childhood and movement education, shares her techniques for raising children "with the right balance of free play and structured activity." Topics include:

Keeping It Real: How Kids Really Learn
Ready or Not, Here Come Organized Sports
Helping Your Child Master Movement
The Real Standards for "Smart"
Is Your Child Playing Enough at School?
Finding the Right Organized Activity Program
You’ve Gotta Have Heart: Why Compassion Matters More Than Competition
Finding Creatures in the Clouds: The Value of Downtime
Getting Back on Track: Family First

I especially like how A Running Start is sprinkled with "Play & Learn Activities" that provide some great ideas for parents to bring fun and play back into their homes and yards. As Pica reminds us, "The family that plays together stays together." So, come on, grab those video controllers out of your kids’ hands and grab a butterfly net! Turn off the TV and head out to the stream to look for tadpoles! These are the memories that your children—and you—will cherish forever.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I Love My Kids' Clutter

There’s a house in our neighborhood that always has toys strewn in the front yard. The kids have torn up a piece of the lawn to create a sand pit, and there are numerous miniature bulldozers, dump trucks, and other assorted construction vehicles tossed in. Some people call it an eyesore; I call it charming. The clutter says, "This is a home with a family."

I smile when I head toward my own house and see a plastic dinosaur amongst my husband’s meticulously groomed flowers. I decide not to pick it up. It tells the world that children live here, and I love it. Inside, toys litter the floor and the tabletops. My husband comes home and wants to know why they’re not picked up. The children should only play with one thing at a time, he says. Hmmm, I suppose, I mutter. But I don’t really agree. To him, the house is messy; to me, it’s a sign of wondrous play.

I guess I have the hindsight that comes with experience. My two oldest boys are now teenagers, and they grew up so fast. Having raised them as a single mom during their early years, I sometimes had less time than I wished just to relax and play with them. Power Rangers, Pokemon cards and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles used to cover the carpet . . . and then, one day, seemingly overnight, they were gone. No longer are my boys perfectly happy with anything "dinosaur" for their birthdays. All they want is cash and video games. I miss "Barney" and "Blue’s Clues."

Now that I have three-year-old boys again, I’m going to enjoy the "kid clutter" while I can. I laugh when I discover a plastic car in my underwear drawer, and I don’t mind a bit when I find my socks on a teddy bear. (Okay, I admit I got a little upset when I discovered one of my pearl earrings missing!) But I tell my husband that, one day, he’s going to miss the toys on the floor and the mess in our rooms. I know I’ll cherish these memories. Sure, it will be nice someday to actually be able to keep my house clean for an extended period of time, but for now, I’m embracing the clutter as only a parent can.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Children Are Not Trophies

I’m disturbed by the trend in which parents feel the need to show off their children as if they were trophies. I know a woman who actually took her newborn baby straight from the birthing hospital to a Mommy & Me class because she was so eager to place him on display! In the meantime, she ignored the safety of the child, who could have been exposed to dangerous cold and flu viruses at a very young age. Didn’t she realize that a newborn with a fever would be hospitalized? It hardly seems worth the risk of impressing a few friends and strangers.

Another woman I know would drag her three children into work with her at every possible opportunity. Then she would spend hours taking them around to every desk in the company, providing her coworkers the opportunity to ooh and aah over her children. Needless to say, she wasn’t getting much work done, and neither was anyone else! I soon took to closing my office door at the sight of her and her children. I felt bad for those coworkers who didn’t have the luxury of an office door.

Since when are children trophies? Don’t get me wrong. I adore my children, and I’m very proud of them. I beam just as much as the next parent when someone fawns over them. But there are appropriate times and places for sharing our children with others. Risking their health as newborns is definitely the wrong time. And showing them off at the workplace more than once or twice a year is definitely the wrong place. Flaunting our precious possessions—whether they be diamonds or children—is always in bad taste. Consideration of others is always in style.

Susan M. Heim is the author of Oh, Baby! 7 Ways a Baby Will Change Your Life the First Year; It's Twins! Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence; and Twice the Love: Stories of Inspiration for Families with Twins, Multiples, and Singletons.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Encouraging Preschoolers to Help Out Around the House

Preschoolers are at the only age in their lives when they don’t see chores as “work.” This is the perfect opportunity to get them started on helping you around the house. They often get very excited at the opportunity to be Mommy’s or Daddy’s little helper!

I know from experience that if you don’t get them started early that you’ll pay the price later. I was a single parent for many years, and raised my two oldest children alone from infancy and toddlerhood. Because they were so young, I got in the habit of just doing things myself, and it was just easiest to continue doing so as my children got older. I didn’t want to take the time to teach my sons how to help out, and I didn’t always have the patience to tolerate a less-than-exemplary job. When my kids were 11 and 14, I remarried, and my husband expected the boys to contribute to the household responsibilities. Needless to say, there was great resentment from them because they’d pretty much had a free ride up until that point! I began to see that I was really hurting my children by not teaching them to help out at a young age. We had a lot of adjustments to make, but my teenagers now do their own laundry, cook simple meals, clean their bathroom, mow the lawn, take care of the pets, and do many other things. Best of all, they’ll be able to do these things for themselves when they’re older—and they’ll make wonderful husbands!

Obviously, your preschoolers aren’t going to be able to help you with all of your tasks, but here’s a partial list of things that they can do. I’m sure you can think of more on your own!

• Pick up their toys.

• Set the table. Teach them where the silverware and napkins go.

• After dinner, take their dishes carefully into the kitchen (one at a time!).

• Wash the table. My preschoolers love to get a wet washcloth and scrub!

• Wash windows.

• Dust. Give them an old towel and have them dust the lower tables. (You may have to help them move things out of the way first.)

• Pull the covers up on their beds.

• Feed the pets.

• Put their dirty clothes in the hamper or laundry basket every day.

If your preschoolers are resistant to helping out, there are many ways to motivate them:

Make It Fun! Sing songs or play music while you’re cleaning up. Some parents have a “theme song” where the kids know that if Mom or Dad turn on a certain song that it’s time to clean up!

Never Use the Words “Work” or “Chores.” Always tell your children how much you need their help and what a big favor they’re doing for you!

Don’t Complain About Your Own Work in Their Hearing. Let them see you enjoy making order from chaos.

Start Them Out with Simple Tasks. Break big jobs down into little steps.

Make a Game of It. Have a race to see who can clean up the most toys.

Never Criticize Your Kids for Doing Their Jobs “Wrong.” Gently show them the correct way to do the task—even if you have to do it several times and on different occasions. If your children feel like they’ll never be able to please you, they’ll be reluctant to help out at all.

Be Firm. Make it clear to your children that they can’t move on to a desired activity, such as having lunch or watching a movie, until clean-up is completed.

Only Allow Children to Bring Out One or Two Toys at a Time. Before they can bring out something else, they must put their other toys away. This prevents messes from becoming overwhelming.

Teach Your Children to Help Out When They’re Visiting Other Children’s Houses. If you want your children to be welcome playmates at other people’s houses, they need to have good manners and learn to help their friends clean up.

Thank Your Children for Helping You. This instills a sense of accomplishment and sets a good example.

Susan M. Heim is the author of It’s Twins! Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence and Oh, Baby! 7 Ways a Baby Will Change Your Life the First Year. Visit Susan's website at

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Mama Bird Worries When Baby Birds Leave the Nest

As I write this, I have my butt mentally glued to my seat so that I don’t pace the floor out of concern for my children’s welfare. You see, I actually have a rare moment when all four children (and my husband) are out of the house. But instead of enjoying the solitude, I’m spending the time worrying about them!

My oldest son, age 17, is in New Orleans—a very long way from home. He left two days ago with a group from church, and he’ll be helping to rebuild houses that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. And the “what ifs” fill my mind: What if he falls off a roof? What if he’s hurt using power tools? He’s in a poor neighborhood . . . what if he gets robbed?

My 14-year-old is riding his bike to a park to meet some friends. I know he has to cross a busy road to get there. What if he gets hit by a car? Should I have driven him?

My husband took our 3-year-old twins to the beach by himself so I could get some work done at home. What if the twins run off in different directions and get hurt? Or drown in the ocean? What if they get bit by a jellyfish?

As you can tell, the worst-case scenario always pops into my head! But regardless of how much my stomach is churning, I know I need to let my children have wings. My husband lectures me that I’m not doing the children any good by sheltering them—that they must learn to do things for themselves and build up confidence in their abilities. And, I know he’s right. It is good for them not to depend on me to escort them everywhere they go. So, I say my prayers and swallow the Pepto-Bismol. But that won’t stop me from breathing a huge sigh of relief when my little chicks return to the nest—at least until the next time they fly away from home!