Get Your Kids Some Funeral Pants

Teaching Children the Art of Death

child and griefPregnant with my first son, sitting at the bedside of my terminally ill uncle, I felt sad irony pulling at me. There were jubilant kicks within my womb, sequences of rhythmic hiccups from my unborn son, and a wrenching, labored breathing from the bed. Impending birth sat side by side with impending death. I was the keeper and the witness.

I held the hand of my uncle as he quietly ended his journey on earth. There is nothing to ever compare to a moment like that. But there are things we can do to prepare ourselves and our children for the darkness of dying. We can bring light to this season. There is an art to death, shown in the stories of our history. It is in our customs and rituals, and in how we teach our children to embrace the inevitable.

How we respond to death is the art. It is the church ladies and their decadent desserts, served to the mourners. It is in the classic “hot-dish” that my dad’s hometown church served after every funeral. It is in the tables of keepsakes we arrange, filled with photographic montages of the lives of the ones we just lost. The art is how we carefully select flowers, hymns, and prayers. This art is not for adults only. Children need to be present in mourning so that the realities of death do not frighten them – the art of death becomes a comfort to them.

Do not fear funerals. So often I hear parents say they don’t want to bring their children to funerals because their kids are too young, will be too sad, or will perhaps not behave in a mourning-acceptable way. Stop keeping them from funerals. Help them navigate these rituals. Not only have my children attended these events with me, but as teenagers they now volunteer at church to help during funerals – often not knowing who has died, but knowing that a family is grieving and their small service can help the process.

Be real. Avoid terms like sleeping, going away, and other terms that can confuse young children. Children can be frightened of sleeping or of others leaving when death is compared to these events. Be real with your faith, too. I firmly believe that the reality of death is not as frightening for my children because they have faith – that real and honest belief that this life is not all. It is not the end.

Treat the ill as the living – not the dying. My dear children have lost more loved ones than sometimes seems fair. But when the opportunity has been present – during times of illness or late in life – we seize the moments to share time, emotions, and laughter with those loved ones. We let our kids know the reality of the situation, but we help them focus on the living.

Be OK with tears and confusion. Cry in front of and with your children. Let them cry, ask questions, or even seem unaffected. They process in their own time and in their own way – but only if you’re honest with them and let them move through it. You don’t have to have all of the answers.

Have funeral pants. When my oldest was about 13 she was cleaning her closet as fall ended and the start of school neared. I called to her from the hallway – Be sure to let me know if there is anything in particular you need before we go shopping! Her relaxed reply met me at the corner – Well, I have enough funeral pants but I need a new coat.

Just like the changing seasons from summer to fall, and from carefree play to school studies, our wardrobes reflect the seasons of life. We have those date-night dresses, interview jackets, lazy Saturday yoga pants, and backyard BBQ capris. And we have funeral pants. Our go-to outfits for saying fare-thee-well and I’m going to miss her, too. For all the living we do, death is inevitably a part of our living. Get your kids some funeral pants.

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Making Room for Memories

“Right-Sizing” – What does that mean to you?

An amazing friend, whirlwind of an entrepreneur, and superb organizer (Yep – she’s really a Certified Professional Organizer) uses this term, right-sizing. In essence it means making decisions about the “stuff” in our lives – not necessarily down-sizing in massive amounts. These decisions allow us to flourish in our lives and not drown in our things. After learning more from Tammy about right-sizing, I realized that this is precisely what my grandmother did a few years ago. Today I’m sharing that story of Making Room for Memories in a guest post – so stop by Tammy’s site at We Love Messes to read more!

Below is a sneak peak…

Making Room for Memories
Making Room for Memories

Right-Sizing and Our Grandparents
At first I honestly thought it was morbid and creepy – doling out personal belongings as if a loved one has passed while he or she is still alive. But now I’ve realized the benefits are about more than an organized home before dying – they’re about living a calmer, more fulfilled life. I guess Tammy would call this “right-sizing”!

Read more at We Love Messes!

Build Family Traditions and Build Stronger Families

 

Family Playing Board Game At Home

We are in a snow globe, sitting peacefully amid the plastic, waterproof flakes, and suddenly someone gives us a shake – a full maraca-style shake that leaves us dizzy, unable to see clearly, and disorientated. This is how life sometimes feels in my house when it comes to traditions, and I’m struggling as a mom to help my children settle amid the blizzard. Our traditions for holidays, birthdays, and even just those little, comforting traditions have become jumbled. Illnesses, changing extended family dynamics, jobs, and plain-old growing up have impacted our family traditions so much that sometimes it doesn’t seem like we are even in the right place – our globe just doesn’t feel like our own. So I’ve been on a quest these last couple of years to provide the comforts of traditions for my kids – with flexibility.

Building Traditions with Kids

Ask my husband – I’m nuts about traditions. And I am not alone (or even too crazy) for feeling this way. According to research, Dr. Martin Cohen says that children are drawn to rituals and traditions, “artistically, spiritually and emotionally.” Traditions also help to provide our kids with healthy foundations that:

  • Strengthen core beliefs
  • Build self-esteem
  • Give tools with which to deal with stress, fear, and anxiety
  • Provide kids with a sense of control, security, and continuity

When we provide routines and traditions for our children, we are giving them more than memories in their scrapbooks. We are using those rituals to help shape who our children are, and who they will become.

5 Ways to Develop Rituals with Kids

The older my kids get, the more I see how our memories of past experiences can be vastly different, yet we can still hold on to the same fondness for a particular tradition – just for a different reason. Research also shows that there are different reasons why our kids remember certain aspects of their childhood, and what we can do to strengthen those memories.

  • If you want them to remember it – do it more than once. Think about the things you remember from childhood. They are the routines – watching movies together on Friday nights, stopping for doughnuts after church, looking for constellations as you drove home from Grandma’s house – these small things we do without great planning, but they were done often.
  • Write it down. If your child is too young to tell you how she feels, write down her reactions to certain things. If you kids are old enough, ask them to dictate the memories and record their thoughts on the backs of pictures, as captions on digital pictures, and in journals you keep together.
  • Record their stories. Video and voice recordings are priceless keepsakes. One of my favorite things my husband has done is to record the voices of our kids at different ages – just simple things like saying (or trying to say) their names, saying phrases such as, “I love you, Mommy”, and capturing their laughter in audio files. (The kids absolutely love to listen to these as well, and it only takes seconds to record.)
  • Have them choose their favorite drawings and school papers – Their reasons matter to them and they will know why it has been saved. You can keep some of your favorites, too, but the memories will be more meaningful for your kids if they had a say in which items are kept.
  • Save a few tangibles – Their baby hat, first keychain, or first pair of glasses – they all represent memories. My children love to touch and hold the items that they remember cherishing. My 9 year-old still has the teddy bear his siblings picked out for him before he was even born.

Building Traditions with Kids

Sometimes we get so busy with the day-to-day craziness that we lose sight of all the ways we have the opportunities to build traditions with our kids. According to publications from Ohio State University, there are 3 main types of traditions parents should recognize for their kids:

  1. Celebrations – These are traditions built around special occasions such as holidays and birthdays.
  2. Family Traditions – These are specific traditions that are unique to individual families, such as Friday night game night, summer vacations at Grandma’s, etc.
  3. Patterned Family Interactions – These are routines that we often forget help to create traditions that are important to our kids, even small things such as morning routines, who cooks dinner, reading together in the evening, etc.

What to do When Traditions End

It just isn’t the same. I’ve heard those words a lot in my house over the past two years, and my heart sags each time my kids say this phrase, for I am feeling it, too. However, we are slowly emerging from the sadness of losing some traditions and getting excited as we start to build new ones. If your family is struggling, especially this holiday season, with trying to build new traditions and rituals, try some of these ideas.

  • Volunteer together. Nothing makes me and my kids stop the pity-party like volunteering to help someone less fortunate, and the volunteer opportunities can serve as new rituals for your own family.
  • Start small. Sometimes when I see my kids sad about a tradition ending as life events have changed things beyond our control, I want to wave my Magical Mom Wand and make a grand gesture that will distract them. But trying to overdo new traditions can backfire. Can you really keep topping it each year? Instead of going all out, try getting back to the basics of the tradition.
  • Think outside the box. Get creative in your solutions and try celebrating in ways that are non-traditional. If birthday celebrations are the source of sadness because of a loss in your family, spend a year celebrating half-birthdays. Because our kids can no longer celebrate individual birthdays with their cousins who moved out of state, we now hold one ginormous birthday bash each summer. The number of candles on the cake represent the total ages that the cousins will turn this year – which means we will soon light 87 candles! (Last year we had an ice cream cake and my husband had to use a butane torch to light the candles – not a good combination.) The kids also draw names from a hat and go on shopping missions with just $2/each at the thrift store and dollar store. Then the magic happens as they wrap the gifts in duct tape, decoy boxes, and anything else they can create.
  • Don’t try to recreate. My mom always hosted the most magical Christmas Eve celebrations for our family, but now we are a country apart and my kids still miss that magic. The first year I fretted over how I would duplicate what Mom did, but then I realized that what I needed to do was create new traditions for my family.

5 Ways to Celebrate Father’s Day

Any Time of the Yearfather&child

Father’s Day, an American holiday, was born from the love of a daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd, in 1909. Sonora’s father raised her and her 5 siblings when her mother died in childbirth and Sonora sought a way to honor and recognize the sacrifices and strengths of fathers everywhere. While Father’s Day for some is a commercial excuse to sell cards and gimmick gifts, like all things in life, it is what you make of it. Go out and celebrate Father’s Day on the 3rd Sunday in June or any other day, whether you have a father to honor or another man who embodies the sacrifices and strengths that Sonora recognized so many years ago.

  1. Teach your kids, and yourself, about the history of the holiday. Help them choose someone to honor, whether it is their own Daddy, Papa, favorite uncle, or neighbor who always goes the extra mile for them. Make a list with the kids of the honorable, funny, endearing things that make him their special person for the day and come up with a creative way to present it to him. Maybe he could wake up to sidewalk chalk words of appreciation, a letter hidden in his morning newspaper, or the list attached to the collar of the family dog.
  2. Share a tradition with the man of the hour. It can even be as simple as a pajama party breakfast watching Dad’s favorite old movie. My father’s only request every year is the same – a homemade card for him. Decades later, I still oblige and pull out my markers, create something on the computer, or even put together a video card. This tradition is something we both cherish because it is a special time when I can dedicate something so pure and thankful from my heart and he can accept it with open arms and know that his little girl will always be just that.
  3. Honor families without fathers at home. Growing up I had a dear friend whose father died when she was just a child. Father’s Day was always bittersweet for her, and I sometimes felt guilty about my own homemade card preparations. I learned from her that those of us with fathers in our lives can be support for those without. Check with your local veterans association and see if there is a list of families in the area whose fathers are serving in military duty or who have been lost. Your kids can make cards for the family, telling them that they appreciate their fathers for the service they provide the country. Perhaps there are chores that can be done by your family such as yard work or painting.
  4. Don’t buy him the tie! Even if he wears one to work every day and seems to love every last one, it is time to dare to be different. Give him the gift of time, or more specifically, your time. Clean his car, do a chore for him, or just sit and hang out with him while he regales you with his weekly adventures.
  5. Let the kids pick out their dad’s gift, even the young ones. The things they think of are always more creative, and usually more meaningful, to their fathers. Years ago our kids found a t-shirt for their father that read, “Where’s the remote?” and they HAD to get it for him. Ever since they look forward to choosing his next wardrobe addition, and he proudly is known as the guy with the funny shirts.

Father’s Day is what you make of it. Go make it a time to honor someone who makes your day a little easier, fulfilled, and blessed. You don’t even have to wait for the 3rd Sunday of June.

I originally posted this at BetterParenting.com 🙂

 

Making Marriage Work

partnersA Parent’s Gift to a Child

One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me as a child was the example of a committed, cooperative, and engaged marriage. Until I was married and had children of my own, I didn’t realize how important that gift was from my own parents, or just how much energy it can take to remain partners in crime for decades. Research shows children who grow up in a home with parents who are committed to each other and their marriage are most likely to live healthy teen and adult lives. Marriage is the backbone of our home. When we’re not connecting well with our spouses – nothing is connecting well. Not the schooling, not the household chores, not our relationship as a family. And then there are those days, I think especially as a homeschooling mom, when my husband does something (takes over the reading with the kids, works on a shop project with them, does the dishes for me, – you know – those  profoundly simple things that make the heart skip a beat), and I close my eyes and say a silent prayer that this marriage is still working – through the chaos, the scheduling, life.

Four children (gulp) later and working towards my 18th year of marriage (double gulp), and as a homeschooling couple (triple gulp), I’ve come to a place in my life where I’m reflecting on all of those years – and all of those things that help to keep a marriage working.

Commitment – This is one of my favorite definitions of commitment when it comes to marriage: “…a choice to give up choices.” There is no weighing of options when the going gets tough, no back door that is left open, and the what ifs aren’t distractions. There are obviously some situations where marriages end for the safety of a spouse or the children – those are my personal exceptions to the rule of commitment. Research does show, however, that marriages built on commitment can outlast even years of discontentment and unhappiness. In a national survey, three-fifths of formerly unhappily married couples reported that after five years they were either happy or quite happy. Commitment carried them through to the other side.

Building Commitment

  • Another thing I’ve learned from my parents is that commitment takes energy, and there is no stopping point when it comes to putting forth those efforts. The larger picture of marital commitment can be built in part by making smaller commitments that show your partner that you’re still present.
  • Be committed to rituals that demonstrate you are thinking of your spouse. Every morning my husband tells me he loves me and gives me a kiss before he leaves for work. Every summer I make my husband’s favorite family recipe with fresh Swiss chard, and every Christmas he gets his favorite cashew cookies. These small rituals tell our partners that we still want to honor them.
  • Renew a courting tradition. When my husband and I were dating we lived hours apart, so sending cards in the mail or leaving cards for him to find after I left a visit were small ways I let him know I was thinking of him when we were apart. My goal for this month is to revive this tradition and go back to my Hallmark days.

Humor – The research is also clear on this one: humor helps build stronger romantic relationships. And let’s face it, if we are going to spend the rest of our lives with someone, we are going to have a lot more fun if we can laugh together. Couples who are satisfied with their marriage tend to use humor in their interactions, making jokes about themselves and engaging in gentle teasing.

Bringing Funny Back

  • Nothing feels quite like a good laugh-until-you-have-tears-streaming-down-your-face (or in my case – snorts and squeals leaking from my nose and throat) shared with your partner.
  • Attend a comedy show together. Not only is that hour or two a fun way to spend date night, but it gives you something to share together later, reliving some of your favorite lines and laughing all over again.
  • Share jokes and humorous stories together. It takes just minutes to read something like The Fart that (Almost) Altered My Destiny together – but it can lighten your day and help bring smiles to both of your faces.
  • Laugh at yourself. You will do stupid things in your life – you are human – so get over the imperfections and learn to laugh at yourself. I talk and walk in my sleep and the first time I awakened in the middle of a sleepy conversation I was mortified that my husband saw me acting like a lunatic, but I’ve had to either learn to get over myself or not sleep in the same room with him. Now when I wake him up by turning on all of the lights and trying to move the bed (with him in it) in search of something I don’t remember, we laugh together.

Honesty – This one can be a real doozy. How does my hair look? Do these jeans make my butt look big? Husbands around the world often recommend that honesty is not the best policy when it comes to questions like these. But when it comes to things that matter, honesty can make or break a marriage.

  • Be responsible for your own ideas, and use statements that show ownership such as “I need…” instead of “if only you would…”.
  • Be honest every day. Small moments of deceit and deception so easily lead to large moments of hurtful and harmful lies. Financial matters, health, employment, child rearing, and personal goals all require daily doses of honesty.
  • Be honest in front of and with your children. Don’t engage your kids in deceit by saying things such as, “We don’t need to tell Dad XYZ because he won’t really understand.”

Marriage is one of the biggest adventures a person can have. It takes you down rocky roads with steep cliffs, and winds down picturesque trails of beautiful scenery. Along the way we are creating trail guides for our kids, teaching them how to navigate and what to pack for the trip. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making sure that I knew to pack commitment, humor, and honesty in my suitcase. That’s the best kind of family baggage to carry.

(Much of this blog I originally posted at BetterParenting.com, but I wanted to share again :))

Is Homeschooling Bad for Your Marriage?

family conflictThere is no doubt about it: homeschooling is a 24/7 way of life. But how does your spouse fit into those 24 hours? Are you partners in this endeavor or are you flying solo and hoping to make a connecting flight with your spouse sometime in the near future?

As I prepare to graduate my first child from our homeschool, I’ve been reflecting on the efforts that parents put into this educational option, and the toll it can take. And I was one of the lucky ones. I was a mom who wanted to give this crazy thing called homeschooling a chance – and my husband had faith in me that this might work. I often get asked, especially by new homeschoolers or those who are trying to convince a spouse to give it a try: What about the husbands?

True – there are some dads out there who step up to the teacher’s plate and either participate equally or even in full. However, the majority of homeschooling households are led by moms as teachers. So as moms, do we put our marraiges at risk?

Check out my thoughts on the topic, and how we can keep our marriages strong and our kids learning.

How do you balance homeschooling and marraige?