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© Gail Underwood Parker

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Parenting Tips: Friday Spaghetti Open

Try starting this new family tradition to get the family together and let you meet your kids friends at the same time. Institute a Friday Spaghetti Open for your household. [or Saturday if you prefer]
Here is how it works:

1. The kids have your okay to each invite a friend [one each] over for any Friday Spaghetti Open. [The more the merrier?] You might want to start by doing it on a specific Friday each month [ex: first Friday]. IF you like it and the process is running smoothly you can increase the frequency. The truly brave, flexible, [or slightly crazy?] can try every other Friday.

2. All people eating dinner must help prepare the dinner, set and clear the table, do the dishes and cleanup. [This includes guests and grownups.] Insist on this so that you only have to deal with the confusion and noise, not prep or cleanup too. Anyone who doesn't pitch in loses the privilege of having guests the next Spaghetti night. Half of the fun and benefit is in the cooperation of the project.

3. Mom or Dad will drive all guests home at a set time. [Choose one based on the age of the youngest child or on your tolerance for possibly loud but happy noise.] Stick to this even if all is going smoothly. Remember the theater adage to always leave them wanting more.

4. Keep extra spaghetti and jars of sauce in the cupboard at all times. Meat can be added to the sauce if you choose, but be sure you have a jar of meatless sauce available in case of vegetarian family members or guests.

Why spaghetti?
In my experience spaghetti is the best choice because it is easily expanded, cooks quickly [remember you aren't aiming for elaborate homemade sauce], most children like it, and clean up is simple. Even a very young pair of children can help with spaghetti and sauce. If a frequent guest [or their parent] offers to bring something, a salad or loaf of bread can be easily and inexpensively added to the meal.

Try it! Is it crazy and chaotic?... sometimes. Do they all talk at once?... often. Do the kids look forward to it?... more and more. Do you learn a lot about your kids by watching them with their friends...absolutely. Will they remember the Friday Spaghetti Nights?..... forever.

Let me know how it goes for you!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Soap Box Derby: Announcing a new format!

You may have notice me referring to my new format in the last two posts. I have been thinking about this for a while and am finally doing it. There will now be a pattern to the topics on this blog. I will still be aiming for entries three or more times a week but the day of the week will set the overall topic. Hopefully this will make it easier for people out there. I hope so!

The pattern is: [drum roll, please..........]

Monday: School Bell [school and education related topics]

Tuesday: Focus on Fostering [special tips for foster, kinship, and adoptive parenting]

Wednesday: Soapbox Derby [me or guest bloggers on topics of concern]

Thursday: Parenting Tips [Hints for anyone...not specific to foster/adoptive etc.]

Friday: Anything Can Happen Day [a throwback to the old Mickey Mouse Club show]

Saturday: Quick Takes [quick lists, book reviews, recipes, mini-blogs, etc.]

Sunday: The Caring Heart [sample meditations from my book, faith issues]

I am going to try this at least through the month of November. So if you like it, let me know. If you hate it, let me know. In other words, this blog is for you, so stay in touch! Don't be shy...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Focus on Fostering: Why can't I live with my mother?

In my new plan, Tuesday's blog entries will be for specific issues of foster parenting and adoptive parenting. Most everything that works with foster and adoptive children works for biological children too so biological parents don't need to automatically ignore these posts. However, what works for biological children may not work the same for adoptive or foster children.... so if that's your situation... Tuesdays are especially for you!

Today: Answering one of the tough questions.
"Why can't I live with my mother?

While not every child asks this, many foster and adoptive children sooner or later ask, "Why can't I live with my mother?" There are a lot of books out there to help adoptive children with this. Many focus on a parent choosing to release their infant, or a child being abandoned or orphaned. I want to offer an option for those children who were taken away from their parent/s. For these children there is extra pain because it isn't that the parents cared too much, or didn't care. Their parents put them in danger either from abuse or neglect [or whatever prompted legal authorities to step in to protect the child]. How do you explain that to a young child?

After dealing with this situation many times I was thrilled to attend a workshop on "Tough Questions" led by A. Patricia Miller several years ago. Since then I have followed her advice and my little guys have responded very well to the following type of conversation. [I will use basketball because my kiddos have seen basketball games and I am barely 5'2." Change the comparison to fit you if needed. The typical responses from kids are in italics. Hints are in smaller type. It isn't a long conversation, just a quick, to the point one.

"Have you ever watched a basketball game? I love basketball. When I was younger I used to dream about playing basketball. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a famous basketball player. [By this time my kids are usually already laughing at the image.] What? You don't think I could be a great basketball player? Why not? ["You're too short!!"] What if I practiced every day and went to classes to be a great basketball player? ["You'd still be too short!"] Yes, I guess you're right. I might get better and be able to at least play basketball for fun once in a while, but I could never be a really great basketball player. Is it my fault I can't be a great basketball player? ["Noooo."] Should people be mad at me or my friends make fun of me because I can't be a great basketball player? ["No." or "They might, but they shouldn't."] Well, being a parent is kind of like being a basketball player. Not everybody is good at it. You can study it. You can practice it. You can even take classes in it. [Sometimes they interrupt with surprise at classes for parenting.] But some people just can't seem to be good at it no matter how hard they try. [ If it is appropriate to your situation add: "Some people are so bad at it that they give up and don't even try to get better." Kids really do understand that discouragement and defeatism, because either they feel that way about something or have a friend who has given up on something for the same reason.] Your mom [or dad or both] is like that.... just not very good at being a parent and keeping you safe and loved. [Sometimes I add that they were good at the loving part, just not the safe part but be careful the image you present of what love is.] But guess what they were good at? [all kinds of answers] They were great at making beautiful babies. Just look at you! They made you [and ____ and _____ if there are siblings]! And you were not only a beautiful baby, but they gave you a start that has turned into someone who is already good at .... [Fill in anything from climbing the monkey bars, to saying thank you, to skateboarding, to anything.] They did such a great job. And you know what else? I am so glad that even though I can't ever be a great basketball player, I am good at being a parent. Do you know why? Because I got the chance to be the parent for you!"

Let the child think about it afterwards and repeat the explanation again the next time they ask. Often as they get older they will want examples and details. You can share what is safe and true and kind [and allowed]. You will have laid the groundwork with this conversation. This also gives them a safe explanation they can understand and even share with friends in whom they choose to confide.

Keep me posted on how it works for you! Comments?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Parenting Tips: communication vs conversation

Today I am going to start trying out my new schedule for postings.Thursday is going to be general parenting day. These posts will work for any parents, not geared specifically for foster and adoptive. They are geared for children
but may apply more broadly as well.
Today... communication vs conversation.

Communication hopefully happens when you talk to your child.
Conversation hopefully happens when you talk with your child.

Conversations are important. They help you find out information, share events and feelings, and solve problems or shape decisions. The best conversations have an easy flow between people, a back and forth of reactions, thoughts, and ideas that leaves both sides feeling positive about the exchange ...even if the outcome may not be what was hoped. In conversations it is the process of exchange that is beneficial more than the outcome. Often conversation has a fairly informal feel.

Communication has a different role. Communication is needed when trying to inform your child of something... often a rule, a consequence, or similar topic. In this case, the outcome is more important than the process of exchange. The communication has failed if there isn't mutual understanding at the end. Mutual agreement is not required, but understanding is.

Knowing the differences between conversations and communications will help you shape the opportunities for and appoaches to each. Understanding each will help you succeed at both. This applies to talking to/with children, friends, coworkers, employers... everyone.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Finding Other Blogs

Today I ignored my to-do list for an hour and chose to spend the time looking around on the internet to find some other foster parenting blogs. A lot of them seem to spring up when a person is waiting for a child and then drift away after the family grows. If any of you know of a cool blog on parenting [or especially on foster parenting] please let me know. I am particularly interested in blogs that share ideas and strategies for parents and foster/adoptive parents. Not that I am opposed to reading the thoughts, feelings and experiences type of blogs, but those seem to be a bit easier to find. I would also love to find another foster parent/writer out there or another grandmother fostering. I guess I am trying to figure out where I fit in the world of blogging.

If anyone is curious what I have found so far, you can check on my profile page to see the blogs that I am now following. Some are recent additions, some longer. Chime in with blogs you love!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Golden Rule of Consequences

All too often parents feel that a consequence's purpose is to make a child suffer so they won't ever do the misbehavior again. Consequences are not supposed to punish... they are to teach. Teaching effectively is helped by restraint. I know it is tempting to threaten all our war ["You are grounded for the next month." "No cell phone for three weeks." "I'm going to take all of your toys and pack them up." etc.] Resist! Don't blow all your ammunition at once. Don't attack an annoying insect with a full house exterminator. Don't threaten something you are not able or willing to follow through. Show restraint. Take a minute [or an hour] to get calmed down and to consider a realistic, effective consequence.

The golden rule of consequences is :
Always use the smallest consequence possible that is likely to be effective.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Too many appointments!

How did it get to be a week since my last entry? I feel that it is realistic to make a short entry almost daily and yet here it is six days and no entry at all. Of course I know the answer for that... in the last six days I have had literally 25 different appointments! Yikes. Can I say overload??

How did dentists, doctors, counseling, parent-teacher, open house, orientation, and student team meetings all fall in line for a perfect storm? I was hoping to take a day to drive to visit my daughters [two hours away] and in the entire month of September there is only ONE day with no appointments scheduled. I have to do something about this! Is there anybody out there who has found a solution? I'm all ears....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Parents and Teachers ...part 2

If your child has a special condition or need that a teacher must be aware of to teach the class [or that child] effectively then you should be sure they have that information as soon as possible. Try to do it in a way that is helpful to the teacher... that is the best way to help your child. Trying to arrange a face to face meeting the first few weeks of school is next to impossible. Save the face to face for later. Start by writing the note I talked about yesterday. [If your child has ongoing issues be sure you save a copy to work from the next fall.]

Things to inform the teacher:
• anything that could have emotional repercussions for the child
[visuals, noises, words, topics...especially common for kids with PTSD, abuse, neglect or sensory issues]

• anything that might affect classroom plans
[court orders, non-custodial parent, book topic choices, visitation arrangements that may affect homework support]

• anything that will affect the child's ability to complete home assignments
[counseling afternoons, visitation obligations, in home support services, biological family visits]

A foster child I knew would take off running out of the room, down the hall, and find a hiding place anytime he heard a story starting that was about a dad. This would have been helpful for the teacher to know ahead, not have to figure out during the course of repeated chase events! If your child reacts violently to fire sirens it would be helpful for the teacher to know before the first fire drill.

We would never not tell a teacher about a bee sting allergy, so too we must inform them if our child has an emotional allergy to something that may commonly occur within a school day or year. Forewarned is forearmed and the teacher will greatly appreciate the heads up! Even more important, your child is likely to have a smoother, more successful year.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Parents and Teachers-- 2 hints

School has started almost everywhere and many parents are eager for the start of school open house when they meet their child's teacher. As a 32-year veteran teacher let me give you a hint.... Fall open house is not a parent conference. Your teachers are still getting to know the students, not evaluating them. They may still be sorting out the three Megans in the their class, the two Liams, and keeping that set of twins straight. Give them a chance to get settled with the group. When you join a new club or church or civic group, how long does it take you to really feel comfortable with everyone's name etc? Here are two of my favorite hints to get the parent-teacher communication off to a great start---

My second-best hint....
Don't pigeonhole the teacher when 20 other parents also are vying for attention on the first day or at the open house. If possible [more about that tomorrow] wait a week or so and then contact the teacher either before or after school. Beforehand... Write a note to the teacher with the key points you want the teacher to know about your child as they begin a year teaching. [If you are really efficient you could have it ready before school even starts!] When you meet the teacher, say you know how busy they must be with the start of school, introduce yourself, hand the teacher your note, and suggest the teacher to call you if s/he has any questions. Then leave. Trust me the teacher will peg you as organized and thoughtful and will be eager to read what you wrote at a time when they can give the information their full attention.

My best secret hint....
Remember how many kids they are trying to get to know? Attach a picture of your child to the note you wrote! It can be last year's school picture ... there are often extras lying around or in your file under the previous grade [remember the filing system?] If not, just attach one of his/her smiling face to jog the teacher's memory and connect the info to the child. It really works!

Monday, September 6, 2010


This weekend my area was threatened with Hurricane Earl. By the end of the Friday Earl was predicted to graze only, and by Saturday night it was clear that Earl had not even touched us. All the gloom and doom and frantic sales of batteries and generators, the tying down of porch furniture, filling gas tanks. Today the news commentaries are all about wasted effort. I disagree.

I think of Earl like many life storms for which you prepare but hope never to endure. Getting ready helps you think about what is truly important. Weather and life storms may not turn out as bad as predicted or feared, but you dodge the bullet you are discover a new appreciation for the things that matter.

Five years ago people thought they had dodged a bullet when Hurricane Katrina hit and they got through it. Then the levees failed and the lifestorm that resulted was far worse than any weather storm alone. Life sometimes tricks us into thinking we are safe only to discover danger from another side. Sometimes we ignore the warning signs, the predictions, too confident in our own abilities only to be humbled or lost when we are wrong.

I am glad Earl missed us. I am glad to be reminded of how fragile we are in the face of a major storm, from the skies or from life. I hope I remember. I hope I prepare. I hope I continue to be blessed by storms which fail to hit.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Banishing the school paper monster

Yesterday was the first day of school and already my three remaining cherubs have attempted to rebuid the piles of paper clutter that seem to be an inevitable part of opening the backpack after school. It only took a bit to remind them of our system of papers. For those of you new to this blog you can find my solution detailed in the November 2, 2009 and Nov 4, 09 entries. This has worked for almost 7 years straight now so I feel confident in it. You do need a file cabinet drawer or file box for each child, but you can start any time with just a single folderkept in a safe, available place for each child. My system will get you from kindergarten or day care all the way through high school with a single folder for each year of school with key papers that you and your child have chosen and a simple way to locate items from any given year. The oldest of my second group of kiddos recently moved into her own apartment and is preparing to take her file [condensed one last [?] time] with her as she transitions to independent living.

We sorted through the paper flood of the first two days of school and chose a few to keep either for reference purposes [school field trip rules etc.] or for fun... the 'Welcome to x grade' letters from their teacher. Into the folders they went. I did not take a first day of school picture this year so the photo for the front of the folder will wait a bit, but the teacher's name and class schedule have already been attached. We are ready to go... The school paper monster has met its match!