Monday, December 19, 2011

O Christmas Tree

Our family tradition is to go out in the bitter cold, search through the entire tree farm, and finally select the perfect tree and cut it down ourselves.  I love the smell of pine needles and the warm glow of lights against the green boughs.  The myriad of ornaments sparkle gently amid the twinkling lights, reflecting the diversity and memories of Christmases gone by.  Each year we add another ornament to our collection, so that now each of us children has our own box of keepsake ornaments.  As we lovingly hang the delicate bulbs and memorable baubles, I recall the family memories tied in to each treasured keepsake.  Working together, we create a Christmas tree that reflects both our individuality and our unity as a family.
This year was no different than years past.  We drove out in the morning with our trailer and braved the snowless cold (yet warmer than previous years) to discover the perfect tree.  This is a long and detailed process which involves analyzing every single potential tree.  
This tree was too tall, but my musical sisters decided it was a conductor.
We found several trees just the right height –– for my littler sisters.  So we had to keep looking.
This tree was bent sideways, so we got some interesting photos pushing and pulling it to the ground.
Finally, after much debate and deliberation, we found the perfect tree.
Oh yes, no Christmas tree search with my family is complete without numerous cups of hot chocolate.
Finally victorious, we carry the tree towards the trailer.
And sit in regal state with the tree.
Once we arrived home (and waited several hours), my father drilled a hole in the base and helped hammer the tree stand into place.
The next job is the lights.  I’m in charge of hanging the lights, which went rather smoothly this year with much help from my sisters.  After the lights are up, all of us hang our ornaments upon our own sections of the tree.
The ornaments are new and old, reflecting the changes and traditions over the years.
And finally, once all the ornaments are hung, the floor rugs are laid and the presents placed beneath the tree.  The finished Christmas tree is a truly beautiful sight to see.  As I gaze at the shimmering ornaments and shining lights, I reflect on the joy of Christmas and the wonderful blessings and memories I have received and created over the years.  As we enter this final week of Advent, I wish you all a blessed octave before Christmas and a Merry Christmas!

Hard Work is Sensible

When you were growing up, did your mother do all the work around the house?  Or did you have to pick up your toys?  Or clean your room?  Or sweep the floors?  Or help with the dishes?  Most likely you had some type of chores, especially as you got older and your number of siblings increased.  Now that you have kids of your own, do you make them do chores?  Or do you do everything for them so that they don't have to work?  Regardless of whether you homeschool or send your children away to school, chores are an important aspect of growing up that should never be dispensed with for several reasons.

1.  Chores build the family.  When a child has specific jobs to help out around the house, that child is contributing to the family unit.  A family that works together, builds together.  If the mother is stuck doing all of the housework and laundry etc., chances are that she will either develop a very short temper or she will have no time whatsoever to spend with her children (both of which are terrible options.)  While the children may not believe this at the time, chores help give them both a sense of accomplishment and of belonging to the family.  Because they are given responsibility, they have a keener sense of duty to the family.  As they grow older, they will (hopefully) realize a) how much a clean house makes everything run smoother and b) how much they enjoy a job well done.

2.  Chores build character.  If your children grow up being either waited on hand and foot or without responsibility, they will develop a character of "everything hard will be done for me."  By giving them chores and specific obligations young, you can train your children that a) hard work is a good and necessary thing and b) develop a sense of responsibility in their lives.  With chores comes a type of discipline in their daily and weekly routines that they can carry throughout their lives.

3.  Chores are a life-long tool.  Unless they marry extremely wealthy or make a boatload of money themselves and can, therefore, afford a housekeeper or a cleaning lady, a child who grows up without learning basic housecleaning etc. will be at a loss when they have their own household.  Every child should know the basics of how to properly clean a room, especially the kitchen and the bathroom.  These are basic, everyday skills that they will use throughout their lives.  They will help them pass their dorm inspections.  They could very well help fund their college education.  They will make their future homes so much easier to deal with.  

Growing up, I had several chores.  My first chore at the age of two was scrubbing the marker off the walls after I drew on the paper and the walls.  My second chore was helping put my toys in a paper bag to put away for a very long time because I wouldn't pick them up by myself.  My third chore was babysitting my younger siblings so that my pregnant mother could take a nap.  Filtered in between these more unique jobs, I had to sweep, do the dishes, help with the laundry, clean my room, etc.  Of course, I didn't have all of these to do at the same time until I got much older, but they were implemented nevertheless.  As my sisters and I grew up, the major chores were rotated.  One of us did dishes.  One of us cleaned bathrooms.  One of us helped with the laundry.  One of us swept and vacuumed.  This way we were neither overwhelmed nor underworked.  And all of us have learned or are learning how to properly care for a household.

To be continued . . . 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Just A Note

As you all know, the Christmas season is almost upon us.  I am delighted to be home with my family for the holiday, so my posts may be sporadic (or non-existent.)  Do not despair!  I will do my best to post a few times over the next two weeks.  In the meantime, I hope the remainder of your Advent season is blessed.  Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I'll Be An Old Maid

No young girl wants to be labeled an "old maid."  Perhaps that's why we have become so desperate to have a man in our lives, regardless of whether he is "the one."  I have to admit that I was in the boat with all the other optimistic, naive young women who entered college with the thought "I'll be getting married when I graduate."  That wasn't in God's plan for me, at least not yet.  It's been a long road, and a difficult one, but I'm at last beginning to be content with my singlehood (even rejoicing in it occasionally.)  I'd like to take a few moments to pass on my experience and thoughts on the subject to all you readers out there who may be going through this or know somebody going through it.  Plus, teaching your girls what I'm about to write can save a lot of heartache.  Not all of it, but a great deal of it.

I've decided that there are a few steps to be taken when one looks at one's future, especially regarding the vocation of marriage.  I would like to outline them for you in the hope that together we can determine some of the cause behind womankind's inevitable tendency towards romantic illusions and heartbreak.

Step 1:  Discerning your vocation.  This does not mean figuring out where you want to work after graduation.  A vocation is your life's work, your calling, what God intended you for.  The most common distinction within vocations is that between the religious life and the married life, both of which are amazing vocations.  But your vocation could also be to the single life.  The process of discernment can take many years, even decades, and it won't work unless you are completely open to every possibility.  Too many people (myself included) spend their lives searching for something to complete them, but they search on their own and refuse to let God take control and show them their path.  It is a scary thing to offer all your hopes and dreams to God and place all your trust in Him.  And it's incredibly difficult, but once you do, everything will fall into place as He reveals His wondrous plans for your life.  

Step 2:  Where to look?  For the sake of this post, I'm going to focus on those who are called to the married life.  I currently believe that is my vocation, although I'm still working at the complete discernment.  In the meantime, what should you do?  Suppose you don't have a boyfriend (or any possible prospects).  Does this mean that you will end an old maid?  NO!  As a dear friend recently said, "If you're not ready, and he is, God won't bring you together.  If you're ready, and he is not, God won't bring you together.  Only when God knows you are both ready will you be brought together."  While you are single, your sole purpose is to draw closer to God and develop your own spiritual life.  The vocation of all people is to strive for sainthood.  As a single person, you have advantages that married people do not.  You can spend more time in prayer and meditation than a mother with seven children or a working father.  Use this time to become the best person you can be.  For in order to give yourself to someone else completely, you must first know who you are.  And that is no easy task.

Step 3:  Don't despair!  Too many young women fall into the depths of despair when they aren't married by age 23.  Believe me, I was in that boat once too.  It seems that everyone around you is happily in love, and you are left out in the cold.  What is it that those girls have that you don't?  Are you ugly?  Boring?  Unlovable?  I've asked myself all these questions at one time or other, but thankfully with the help of God and my closest friends, I have determined that the answer to all those questions is an emphatic NO.  Just because you don't have someone yet, doesn't mean that you won't in the future.  Focusing on what we don't have causes us to lose sight of all that we do possess.  If you spend too much time daydreaming about Mr. Right, you will miss spectacular opportunities in your daily life.  He'll come when he's supposed to (or near enough).  Don't spend your life wishing upon a fairy tale.  

Step 4:  Stop looking.  I'm sure you've all had the trouble of something bordering on a pathological search for a guy.  Or close enough.  The checking of left hands for rings.  The glances to see if he's got a girlfriend with him.  The subconscious appraisal of his potential.  All of this simply works negatively.  A) You're automatically classifying every guy you see, making snap judgments.  B) You set yourself up for heartache because inevitably all of the guys are taken or whatever.  You have to stop thinking "Is he the one?" every time you see a guy.  And this goes double when you make friends with a guy.  There is nothing worse than analyzing a new acquaintance for his marriageable potential.  Treat him as a friend, nothing more and nothing less.  If something is meant to happen, let it blossom out of the friendship.  Don't try to force love to grow in a hothouse rather than using the clean air of nature.  If you can stop thinking about every guy as a potential boyfriend, and instead think of them just as potential friends, your life (and your heart) will be a lot easier.  

Step 5:  Guard your heart.  Don't leap at the first opportunity just because you've been waiting for so long.  Don't allow yourself to enter a relationship which is detrimental to your health, whether it be your spiritual, your physical, your emotional, or your mental health.  We've all seen the movies with love at first sight, but I've come to believe that such a thing does not exist.  Not true love anyways.  Like at first sight I can do.  But true love must come from a deep understanding of the other person, which understanding only comes about through true friendship.  By staying away from bad relationships, you protect your heart for your future spouse.  I was once told that every time you break up with someone, your heart rips in two.  If you go through relationship after relationship, by the time you finally find your spouse, your heart is missing large portions.  Be cautious (but not afraid).  Love is about taking chances and risking everything, but generally when a person takes life-changing chances, they weigh a few of the potential pros and cons.  Don't let your passion drown out your reason.  Passion and reason should work harmoniously together.  Believe me, your heart will thank you in the long run if you let reason take the precedence.

I could go on, but I believe that these are the most important things to remember.  Above all, do not lose hope.  God has a calling for everyone, and if your vocation is marriage, He will not let you die without fulfilling it.  Keep your mind and heart open to His will.  Strive towards sainthood.  Keep your eyes open to the world around you.  Cherish and care for your friendships.  And eventually, probably when you least expect it, you'll find that the love of your life has appeared before you, creeping on soft and slow through the guise of friendship blossoming to true love.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Mother's Touch

Watching a single baby should be a piece of cake, right?  Even if you do happen to be in a foreign location, such as a hotel.  Besides, the parents assure of how easily their child goes to sleep after he or she takes their night bottle.  Going into a babysitting job like that, you almost feel criminal accepting money.  Until, of course, things dissolve rapidly.  The baby is happy enough until it is time for bed.  Then, after the bottle has been drunk, the stories have been read, and the lights turned out, the baby decides that they want their mother.  And no amount of walking back and forth, rocking, soothingly rubbing their back or cooing softly into their ears will stop the flow of tears.  

So as the last resort, the mother is informed.  As you wait for her arrival, you look around desperate for a way to quiet her child.  Apparently, running water is fascinating.  Turn on the sink faucet, and the baby will calm down.  Once the mother arrived, it was enchanting to see how the child instantly calmed down and grew sleepy again.  A mother's touch is nothing like anything I've ever seen.  Somehow the infant knows who their mother is and that when she's holding them, everything will be alright.  As I watched the mother put her baby to sleep in the dark, I smiled to myself thinking of what a lovely picture of love was enacted before my eyes.  There is so much trust and faith and love and responsibility intertwined in the relationship between mother and child.  And no person can ever replace a truly loving mother.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Family Traditions

I am continually realizing all the traditions and memories my family has created over the years.  These revelations have been occurring recently as I discuss holidays, most specifically Christmas, with other families.  I love being able to pass on something that my own family enjoys every years.  Yesterday, I shared a cookie tradition with a few families, and now I'm going to share it with you.  These adorable snowmen butter cookies are easy to make, lovely to look at, and most importantly, very delicious to eat.  Enjoy!
Butter Cookie Snowmen

1 c butter (no substitutes), softened
½ c sugar
1 T milk
1 t vanilla extract
2 ¼ c all-purpose flour
red and yellow paste food coloring
miniature chocolate chips

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add milk and vanilla; mix well.  Gradually add flour.  Divide dough in half and keep ½ white.  Tint remaining white 2/3 red and 1/3 yellow.

For snowmen, shape white dough into 24 balls, 1 ¼ inch each; 24 balls ½ inch each; and 24 balls 1/8 inch each.  For bodies, place large balls on two ungreased baking sheets; flatten to 3/8 inch thickness.Place ½ inch balls above bodies for heads; flatten.

Shape red dough into 24 balls, 1/8 inch each, and 24 triangles.  Place triangles above heads for hats; attach 1/8 inch white balls for tassels.  Place red balls on heads for noses.  Divide yellow dough into 24 pieces.  Shape into scarves; position on snowmen.  Add chocolate chip eyes and buttons.  Bake at 325 degrees for 13-16 minutes until set.  Cool 2 minutes before carefully removing to wire racks.  Yield:  2 dozen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Finding An Outlet

I have had next to no experience with little boys and the antics and energy they possess.  I don't have any brothers of my own, and most of the "boys" that I've dealt with were of the older teenage variety.  Now I'm constantly discovering how vastly different boys are from girls.  It has been my recent experience that boys have a great deal more pent-up energy than girls, but in a house filled with girls, it is hard for them to find a proper outlet.  Thus, the boys resort to throwing things, swinging sticks, and chasing and/or torturing their siblings because they don't have a constructive means of dispensing their innate energy.  While this energy is a beautiful thing, the aforementioned means of releasing it are not acceptable.  Unfortunately, people (like myself up until recently) may not know how to deal with the energy of a young boy, and so they simply punish the apparent disobedience and reckless behavior rather than tracking down the source of the boy's actions.  If this is your first experience with raising little boys, do not despair.  It's definitely a matter of trial and error, but you will succeed!  And here's a few tips on how to deal with that energetic young man you're raising.

Most of the time that little boys act up and become little terrors they are simply trying to use up all their energy and desire for action.  All boys (or so I gather) have an innate desire for physical activity and roughhousing, which stems from their innate calling to be the protector of their future families. Furthermore, they generally go through phases of playing cops & robbers, pirates, knights, soldiers, etc., all of which speak towards their tendency towards protection of others (although at the time, they probably only think of how fun it is to pretend to be a strong knight using his sword to defeat the evil dragon.)  Most boys also have an inclination towards manual labor such as construction or building forts.  They love taking things apart (such as their bikes) and figuring out how things work.  So rather than inhibiting this natural energy, learn how to channel it correctly.

1.  Find an outlet.  Does your child like banging a hammer?  Do they prefer fighting imaginary monsters?  Are they inclined towards sports?  Once you determine your child's particular interests, do all in your power to provide opportunity for him to pursue his instructive play (although he doesn't need to know that he is learning.)  Show your boy how to create a doghouse or build the perfect fort rather than simply crushing his desire to pile things together and hide beneath or jump upon them.  I'm not suggesting that you give his energy free rein.  There are still household rules regarding proper behavior indoors vs. outdoors, and he is still not allowed to behave meanly towards his siblings or destroy the house.  I am suggesting that you find a proper outlet for his energy rather than simply trying to squelch it because you don't know how to deal with it.

2.  Encourage him.  Teach your son the virtues that accompany strong male heroes and leaders to whom he can look as examples of how to live an exemplary life.  Show him how he can imitate his father in the way he treats his sisters, helping them rather than terrorizing them.  Rather than pushing the little girls to the side, teach your son how to help those smaller and younger than he.  At all times prompt him to live a saintly life of humility and virtue.  Help him to understand how to combine his energy and his thoughts to become a manly boy.

3.  Exercise is a good thing.  Generally when a young boy acts up, he needs to let off some steam or dispense with some excess energy.  Rather than losing your temper, send him outside to run laps or do jumping jacks.  Once he has his energy under control again, you can continue with your schooling or other project.  A young boy grows quickly, and thus a healthy lifestyle is key to his success as a man.  Daily exercise through sports or a simply home PE program helps keep his body fit, release his energy, and teach him to create an ordered program.

4.  What about rainy days?  If you are plagued by a stormy day (or several in a row), it's harder to send the boy outdoors to release his energy.  And as the days pass, his energy builds up since he cannot escape the enclosing house.  Believe me, this is when he begins to act up excessively (even if he doesn't really want to).  Your temper will run shorter because you, too, are trapped inside with bouncing children.  Please try to keep your cool.  You'll have to get creative, but there are ways to let out his energy without destroying the house or your temper.  Create an obstacle course, even if you don't have a very large room.  Institute a family olympics with competitions in jumping, speed, bounces, etc.  See how many times he can run up and down the stairs in a minute.  Time how many seconds it takes to do 100 jumping jacks.  Whatever you do, remember that he isn't necessarily misbehaving because he is simply feeling wicked.  Most likely, he simply has too much energy and doesn't know how to deal with it.

Regardless of how you decide to deal with your young son's energy, keep in mind that it is natural.  While you may not understand it fully (I know I don't), you can figure out how to help him channel his energy constructively.  And it is always useful (I have decided) to consult with your friends in this matter.  Swap ideas and horror stories.  Figure out that you're not the only woman on the planet having to deal with a rambunctious little boy.  By this comfort and confidence you can succeed in raising your little boy to be a great man, filled with masculine strength and virtue.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Celebrating the Season

Sugar cookies are amazing.  Well, most cookies are amazing.  Today, I was able to participate in yet another reason why I absolutely love home schooling: baking cookies as a family.  In honor of the Feast of St. Nicholas, after the schoolwork was completed, an epic baking and decorating experiment began.  I mixed the dough, aided by a few very willing children (even if they were a bit sloppy with the flour.) :)  Afterwards, we rolled it out and cut stars and canes and images of St. Nick.  As I watched the kids squish out the dough and get creative with the shapes, I tried to focus on the beauty of it all (rather than the mess ending up on the floor.)  Being able to spend time baking with your kids rather than having them in school for 8 hours plus 2 hours of homework before dinner and bed is a true blessing.  Crafting cookies together as a family is just one of innumerable ways you and your children can bond.  Plus, the art of making tasty cookies is always a good skill to learn.  Then, more family arrived to help with the decorating.  The splendid glittery stars and brightly colored St. Nick's looked as delicious as they tasted.  It was wonderful to see the variety in the kids' imaginations as they combined marshmallows, candy, icing, and sprinkles in creative mixes.  No two cookies looked the same.  Each one portrayed the individuality and uniqueness of the kids.  We are in store for more cookie baking this Thursday in celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

As I watch the kids work at inventing their colorful cookies, I fall back to fond memories of my own family Christmas cookie baking.  We have our own traditional cookies that grace our table each year: shortbread snowmen; chocolate golf balls; snickerdoodles.  We spend a few days before Christmas baking the cookies in preparation.  (Of course, not ALL of the cookies make it to Christmas.  We have to taste-test them.)  These memories of my childhood bring a smile to my lips as I witness new memories being made right in front of me.  Regardless of the fact that the kids probably don't think about the memories they're creating now, I know that they will one day look back at the traditions they celebrated and the family time they spent together.  Don't be afraid to continue the old traditions, even if your kids complain a bit.  Don't be afraid to begin new traditions.  It is never too late to create a memory.

Turning to the feast behind these particular cookies, I remember hearing once that people don't believe in Santa Claus.  That there is no such person, nor was there ever.  While I tend to agree that there isn't a man living at the North Pole with hordes of tiny elves at his command, I do believe most emphatically in the existence of Saint Nicholas, aka Santa Claus.  Saint Nicholas was born in the 3rd century to wealthy parents who raised him as a devout Christian.  His parents died when he was still young, and Nicholas used his whole inheritance to help the sick and needy just as Jesus commanded.  He became Bishop of Myra at a young age, and soon Bishop Nicholas was well-known for his generosity to all in need.  One of the most famous of stories concerning Nicholas' generosity is the tale of a man and his three daughters.  The girls had no suitable dowry, so on three separate nights a bag of gold was thrown through the window by Nicholas, supposedly landing in a stocking or a shoe (which led to the custom of children hanging out their stockings or laying out their shoes for gifts from St. Nick.)  For more information concerning St. Nicholas' story, please visit: St. Nicholas Center.

Therefore, to all the nay-sayers who state that Santa Claus is a simple myth, I reply to the contrary.  Santa Claus has come down through the centuries as a tradition inspired by the famous Saint Nicholas.  Indeed, Santa's outfit itself correlates to the clothing that Bishop Nicholas would have worn - red robes; a pointed hat; a staff.  Keep the magic of Santa Claus alive in your homes and remember the origin behind the tradition.  The stories and tales of both Saint Nicholas and the fables of Santa Claus teach virtues and an honorable way of life.  Generosity, above all else to be learned from these stories, is the most important.  If such a beautiful virtue can be instilled in your children, together we will create a happier and more peaceful and loving world.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nursery Rhymes

Mother Goose.  Old King Cole.  Mary Contrary.  The cow jumped over the moon.  Hickory, Dickory, Dock.  We all know the famous childhood rhymes of days gone by.  Sadly, it seems to me that these beautiful gems have fallen into a dusty drawer that the children of yesteryear have forgotten.  When I recall these poetries, I remember days of carefree childhood when we were entertained by the silly images of Mother Goose and leaping cows, fiddling cats and flying blackbirds.  In today's "advance advance advance" age, the simple things of old are cast aside as unfit rejects.  Where have the simplicities of the imagination disappeared to?

I have often wondered what exactly each of these rhymes signifies.  What hidden meanings lie beneath the catchy phrases?  Perhaps Mary Had a Little Lamb should bring to mind images of the Blessed Virgin and her Son, Jesus Christ, the perfect lamb sent to die for our sins.  Glancing at other rhymes, while we may not know the full back story, we can still find countless means of enjoyment and entertainment within the playful verses.  My favorites involve the hand clapping such as Pease Porridge Hot or Knick Knack Paddy Wack.  These provide not only means of laughter and fun, but they also improve the hand-eye coordination.  

Do you have a favorite childhood rhyme or story?  Do your children know it?  If not, teach it to them.  It will connect the past to the present and continue the beautiful tradition of Mother Goose for generations to come.  Besides, if you're home schooling, teaching your children memorization skills at an early age is a definite plus.  And what better way to memorize than with the funny songs and rhymes of innocent children?  Perhaps I'll continue this post at some point if I discover more back stories to the famous fables of old.  Or if you know of some, I'm sure we'd all be interested to learn.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Comforts of Home

Let's take a moment to gaze into your child's future.  They'll head off to college and the real world, making their own way and leading their own lives.  At times you may think they've forgotten all about you as they focus on building their own career and finding their own path.  Occasional phone calls or e-mails are all that link you to their thoughts, or so you may believe.  While I'm sure they cross your mind a dozen times a day, you feel severed from their lives.  And so it should be, to a certain extent.  Once your children reach adulthood and enter the world, they cease to be completely under your wing.  You can still influence them, but they must make their own decisions and pay their own bills.  Yet it must be hard to see someone you've raised since infancy face the potential terrors of reality on their own.  The sharks of the business world and the snatching claws of the biting taxes morph into horrible monsters in your mind's eye.  No parent wants to send their child out into the teeming dangerous waters, yet it cannot (and should not) be stopped.  All you can do is prepare them as best you can and then turn them loose with a prayer and luck.  Through the ensuing years, you may grow distant as they enjoy the excitement of life on their own.  They will relish the thought of creating their own rules and determining their own lives.  Hopefully, of course, your training will help them order their own lives with regularity and good sense.  Regardless, there will be a time (whether long or short) where your child will draw back from you to a certain degree.  You won't know everything going on in their life.

While this sounds tragic and depressing, there are a few glimmers of hope.  Firstly, you should rejoice in the fact that your child is making it on their own rather than swinging from momma's apron strings for the rest of their life.  Furthermore, while they may seem distant for a while, believe me that they will inevitably draw closer to you once more.  Homesickness sets in at some point, and they will want nothing more than to snuggle with you on the couch, drinking cocoa and reading stories just like you did when they were little.  A longing for the comforts of home will creep into their hearts.  While they understand they can never really go back to those days, the memory of their childhood will return sweet and wholesome.  All of your advice and instruction will gain new meaning as they learn what it is to be an adult.  I could go on for pages about how your children, long after they have grown, will want to come home and be kids again.  They'll want nothing more than to know that you are there, and that everything is going to be alright.  So wait for that day.  Pray for your children.  Advise them as you can. And be ready with waiting arms when they open themselves up to you.  Know that they love you deeply, and once they've gotten past the stubborn "I can do it all myself" stage, they'll realize how much they cherish and treasure your love and helpful comfort.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Explanation? or Because I Said So?

The favorite word in almost any child's vocabulary is the all-inquisitive "why?"  Why is the sky blue?  Why do I have to eat broccoli?  Why can't I stay up late?  Why?  Why?  Why?  All of these questions present varying degrees of difficulty based on your knowledge-base or your authority.  I would like to deal specifically with questions wondering why you do/don't want your child to do something.

Most kids question their parents' authority and/or motives or reasoning behind parental decisions such as bedtime, game privileges, clothes, etc.  The parental dilemma revolves around what kind of answer (if any) the child's question requires.  Should the child receive a detailed explanation as to your logical reasoning behind selecting 8 p.m. as their bedtime?  Or should the child simply be reminded of your authority by hearing "Because I said so"?  Someone once told me about a book or article that discusses explanations for kids based on their age.  Unfortunately I don't remember all of it exactly, but I agree with the basic principles I do remember.

Ages 0-6 years:  At this stage in a child's life, discipline without question is highly necessary.  These are some of the most formative years, and the respect for a parent's decision regardless of the child's feelings about said decision is crucial to a successful raising of the child.  Explanation behind why the child is to stop hitting their brother or to go to bed now is not necessary.  Rather, it often detracts from the commanding emphasis of tone.  Furthermore, trying to explain to a four-year-old child why they can't stay up until all hours is both frustrating and futile.  Therefore, at this age, keep to a simple "because I said so" and save yourself a lot of bubbling tempers.  

Ages 7-12 years:  7 is the age of reason (although arguably it begins much earlier).  Regardless, 7 is the age when kids become morally responsible for their actions and any consequences.  (This does not mean that discipline and punishment before age 7 is unnecessary.  Rather, it is more so because an obedient character should be firmly in place as the child grows older.)  At this stage in a child's life, they have a better understanding of right and wrong, dos and don'ts, yes and no.  This doesn't meant that they are necessarily entitled to a descriptive explanation behind your decisions, but they can be trusted with a brief statement outlining your actions.  As your child grows older, you can treat them more as an adult (although most definitely still a child).  As they mature, giving them brief explanations oftentimes helps them understand further the reasoning behind obeying your word.  They should still obey you pleasantly, but they can validly question why they have to go to bed so early and expect to receive a short reason rather than simply "because I said so."  

Ages 13-18 years:  Finally, as your children enter into their teenage years, the more difficult questions begin.  Why can't I go out with him?  Why can't I see that movie?  Why can't I drive out there?  At this point in their lives, your children should have a good mind developed due to your training and their schooling.  This means that they will be able to understand your reasoning, if they apply their own rationality to the answers.  At this age, a more detailed explanation behind your reasoning often grants more weight to your decision than a simple "because I said so."  The teenage years are often the most rebellious, and your child is apt to be more prone towards flagrant disobedience if all they hear is "No" and "because I said so" in answer to their ever more frequent questions.  They are young adults and deserve the proper response due to them.  While still respecting your authority, you can discuss your decisions regarding your teenager's privileges etc.  If you treat them like an adult and NOT as a little child, you will get a far better response than the ranting and raving that often ensues between the strong-willed parent and child.  If you treat them as an adult, they are more likely to respond as an adult rather than a complaining child.

Beyond the age of 18, your child is an adult.  They are no longer legally bound to do as you say, although one would hope that they would still respect your authority and pay heed to your sage advice.  Furthermore, if they continue to abide under your roof, you have every right to set some ground rules for them to follow.  You cannot necessarily dictate what they do and who they see, but you can still maintain control of what goes on within your own home.  Regardless of where your child is at the precipice of adulthood, keep in mind that (hopefully) you have done all you can to raise your child properly.  It is now up to them to act on or disregard the sound moral principles you have ingrained within their character.  Please, continue to offer advice and counsel, but don't expect your child to always heed your words or take everything you say to heart.  Remember that they have their own minds and ideas about how to live their lives.  Oftentimes, their ideas are just as good as yours, simply different.  Let them make their own mistakes, but be there when they ask for help.  Believe me, your child will realize (sooner or later) how much they cherish your wisdom and comfort.  

Therefore, the answer to the question "Why" varies depending on the child, their age, and the pertinence of the actual question.  The answer of "because I said so" can be used at any age and should be followed without question based on your authority and your child's obedience.  Further explanation concerning your parental decisions can be introduced as you see fit, preferably once the child is a bit older.  These explanations will, most likely, become more frequent once your child hits their adolescent years.  Remember, maintaining a good relationship with your child is crucial.  They must respect your authority, but at the same time, you should treat them according to their age.  Don't talk to your 16 year-old like she was 3 years old.  And don't explain to your 5 year-old like she was 17 years old.  Keep in mind balance and moderation.  And good luck!