Monday, October 20, 2014

A Quick and Simple Way to Help Local Families in Need

If you've been to Wal-Mart this week, you may have seen a purple display from Champions for Kids.

Admittedly, I'm not usually one to advertise something at Wal-Mart—I've made no secret of my love affair with Target—but this program is actually worth passing along.

Champions for Kids, if you've never heard of it, is an organization whose goal is to help kids at the local level. Their core values are simple, but awesome. They believe that all children should have:

Someone who cares. 
A place to belong. 
Hope for tomorrow and provisions for their journey. 

Not just some children—all children. Provisions for their journey. I just love that.

So, Champions for Kids has joined up with General Mills (those genius folks behind Cheerios) and Unilever (which includes the Ben & Jerry's and Breyers brands—who knew? I assumed they just did soap.) to collect fall essentials for local families at more than 1400 participating Wal-Mart stores.

Here's how it works:

You go to Wal-mart, buy something to donate, and drop it in the bin at the front of the store.

It's really that simple. 

The coolest thing is that all donations go directly to families in need in your own community, distributed through local school districts. The Champions for Kids display has some suggested items to purchase, but you don't have to go with those. You can donate any kid-friendly items, so find something on sale and go for it.

And for a little extra incentive, there's $10,000 in prizes up for grabs for the stores with the most donations. And you can report your service projects here for more chances to win.

There's just one week left—the program runs until October 28. So kick off the giving season a little early by offering local kids in need some "provisions for their journey."

And please help spread the word by sharing this post or the website below.

For more info, see:

Disclosure: I am part of a group of bloggers who have been commissioned to help promote the Simple Giving program. But honestly, I'd help promote it even if they didn't pay me a dime. Shhhh. Don't tell. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why We Stopped Using Screen Time as Currency (and What We Do Instead)

"If you don't stop whining, you're going to lose your screen time for today."

"If you keep getting out of bed, you're going to lose your screen time for tomorrow."

"The timer went off a few minutes ago. If you don't get off the iPad by the time I count to five, you're going to lose your screen time for the rest of the week."

This was me, up until recently. Losing screen time was my go-to consequence for misbehavior. But no more.

It's not that using screen time as currency didn't work. It worked like a charm. The threat of losing iPad or Minecraft or Wild Kratts shapes our kids right up 99% of the time. They dearly cherish their screen time.

The problem is, SO DO I.

This is BoyWonder's favorite spelling app. I can't imagine why. :)

When I took away screen time as a consequence, I was punishing myself as much as I was them. Our kids do a lot of creative things, which is awesome, but much of it is loud, messy, or requires my attention or intervention. As a work-from-home/homeschooling mom, I value that time when they're totally engrossed in edutainment. I can get an amazing amount of work done in 30-60 minutes without any interruption.

So I decided we needed a new currency. Then I remembered my friend Paula's allowance system. Hmm . . . could using actual currency be the answer?

We decided to give it a shot. Here's how it works for us:

Each kid has a cup with their monthly allowance amount in quarters, and Mom and Dad have a cup as well. The kids start off each month with their full allowance amount in the cup, but they won't receive it until the end of the month.

The kids have daily things that need to be done by certain times. For example, they have a morning routine checklist that needs to be done before school. It's not an unreasonable amount—just basic prep for the day and a couple of morning chores. If they get out of bed on time, there's more than enough time to do it. Until now, more often than not, they would sleep too late, drag their feet, and I'd have to hound them. Now, if anything on the list doesn't get done before school, we move a quarter from their cup into ours.

Voila! Suddenly they're able to get it all done with plenty of time to spare most mornings. Go figure.

We do the same thing for basic maintenance habits, which—really, for the love of all that is good and holy—should be automatic by our kids' ages. For example, clearing your dishes after you eat. Or throwing away your dirty Kleenexes after you blow your nose. By the time you're ten, you shouldn't have to be reminded of those things. And if I have to go find you to ask you to do it, or if I have to clean up after you, that costs me time and energy. Therefore, you pay me a quarter to do it.

Getting into bed on time has been a big issue around here lately for our older girls. So now, if they're up past their respective bedtimes without a reasonable excuse, they lose a quarter.

We're also using the system for our youngest, who is five, for habits like whining or not doing what we've asked him to do. He's old enough to understand the value of having spending money, so the idea of losing a quarter is enough incentive for him to work on impulse control.

We did practice for a week with giving reminders and letting them know that once we started the system, they'd be losing a quarter for certain things. And so far, it's working well. The kids have lost some quarters, but they understand why. What I really appreciate about this system is that they'll feel the accumulation of their choices at the end of the month, when we count up what they'll actually receive for their allowance. It's a good opportunity to reflect on what they can do differently and start fresh with a full cup the next month.

We've also given them opportunities to earn back some quarters, by doing above-and-beyond kinds of chores, or by catching them being extra responsible. For example, our youngest got himself completely ready for bed the other night without being asked. Since we don't expect that of him, we awarded him a bonus quarter for taking the initiative.

I realize that this system is based on negative reinforcement and behavior modification, and that some parents aren't jiggy with that. I didn't used to be, either. I read Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting" when our eldest child was four, and it made lot of sense to me then. With two more kids and ten more years of parenting under my belt, I have a very different perspective. We use plenty of positive reinforcement with our kids, too, and ideally want them to be internally motivated. We talk a lot about the virtues of responsibility, orderliness, obedience, cooperation, etc. But in my experience, at least in our household, those things aren't always enough.

Is it tacky to tie behavior and habits to money? It depends on how you look at it. We don't pay our kids for basic chores, because those things are expected as members of our household. But we do want them to have an allowance so they can learn to manage money. Losing money for not keeping up with their responsibilities seems like a pretty reasonable life lesson. So tying their responsibilities to their allowance in the opposite way (losing allowance by not doing what they're expected to do as opposed to getting paid to do things they're expected to do) feels okay to me.

And the truth is, losing money is a big motivator, even when internal motivation should be enough. I realized this the other day when we got our water bill, which was a lot higher than we expected. We really do believe in conserving water for the environment, but it appears we haven't been particularly vigilant about it. Getting hit in the pocketbook made us more aware of how much water we're using, so we're more likely to take shorter showers, try to cut down on unnecessary laundry, etc.

Sometimes external motivators—even negative ones—can help us develop better habits. That's the theory behind our new currency. And the best part is it doesn't cost us anything—in fact, the more the kids misbehave, the more we earn. (Yikes, that could get ugly. Don't worry, we don't abuse it.)

And at the end of the day, if it turns out we're totally screwing up our kids with this system, at least they'll be technologically savvy and good at counting change. :)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Yes, I Am SuperMom. And So Are You.

Perhaps it's because I have three pretty awesome kids that I haven't managed to totally screw up yet. Or perhaps it's because I often look frazzled and harried and desperate for positive reinforcement. Whatever the reason, my kind-hearted friends and family members frequently compliment my various mom-related activities and abilities. And, God love 'em, some even toss around the loaded term "SuperMom."

And my response, always, is to promptly laugh in their faces before spewing out a mile-long list of my weaknesses and failures as a mother, teacher, homemaker, and wife.

It's not false modesty. My house is truly a disaster more often than not, despite my having read every organizational book on the planet. I start too many projects I don't finish. I've paid enough money in overdue library fines to send at least one of my kids to college. I finally just got around to teaching my 7-year-old to tie her shoes. I've not been able to get a single one of my moppets potty trained before the age of three. The only reason I can type this right now is because I put a Shaun the Sheep video on for my toddler, rather than letting him empty yet another one of my tape dispensers.

So . . . No, I always respond. I am anything but a SuperMom.

Then yesterday, as I was cleaning out a closet, I came across this poster my uber-talented friend Geoff drew me for my 17th birthday.

That's me. Annie G. Superheroine! The pre-kids super me. Pretty impressive, right? As I was admiring my friend's artistic abilities, I thought, "Wow, Geoff was rather generous with my . . . uh . . . bosoms. But it's kind of fitting, really. It's like a foreshadowing of my real superpower."

And that's when it hit me. I do have superpowers. Real, honest-to-goodness, mom superpowers. And it's not just my amazing A-cup breastfeeding abilities. Among other things, I make a mean, mean vegetable soup from scratch. I can kiss boo-boos and make owies magically disappear. I've taught my children to read and write, to say please and thank you, and to (usually) follow the Golden Rule. I manage to work from home, educate my kids, clothe and feed my family, keep my marriage in tact, and even throw my musings about motherhood up on the Internet a couple of times a week. Do my faults and weaknesses really negate those things?

No. They do not. 

I think it's time I embrace the fact that maybe, perhaps, there's at least a slight chance that I just might be a SuperMom.

Here's how I figure it. Up until yesterday, my definition of a SuperMom would have been a woman who embodied the following qualities: (Take a deep breath - the list is long.)
  • has more than one child (with the number of children directly proportional to her degree of "superness")
  • plans meals and cooks them from scratch (preferably with organic ingredients grown in her own garden)
  • cheerfully cooks and bakes with her kids (again, with organic ingredients from her own garden)
  • cheerfully helps her kids with their schoolwork
  • attends all of her kids' sporting, music, and miscellaneous events
  • keeps a perfectly clean and organized house
  • never forgets her cloth grocery bags when she goes to the store
  • brings creative snacks to parties
  • volunteers at her kids' schools or homeschools her kids (again, cheerfully)
  • volunteers in her religious community, homeless shelters, animal shelters, food pantries, and/or nursing homes
  • exercises six days a week
  • reads quality literature, ideally as part of a cool book club
  • prescreens all of her kids' viewing and reading material
  • organizes family game nights
  • keeps up with her friends
  • throws fantastic kids' birthday parties
  • keeps elaborate scrapbooks for each kid
  • spends special one-on-one time with each child every week
  • calmly solves all behavioral issues with natural and logical consequences
  • writes in a gratitude journal
  • does her hair and make-up every day
  • wears matching bras and underwear
  • has regular date nights with her spouse
  • gets intimate with her spouse at least three times a week
  • works some kind of paying job, either part or full-time, in or out of the house
  • somehow manages to find time to follow her passions and nurture her own spirit
I'm sure I'm missing some things. This list may seem over the top, but these are things moms are told time and again that we should strive for. And so the picture of SuperMom is painted. Doing it all and doing it well. Professional, parental, and domestic perfection, with an organic garden thrown in for good measure. That's a SuperMom, right? Or at least something close to it?

That's what I used to think. But then Geoff's drawing and some pondering of iconic superheroes helped me uncover a truth that flipped that silly notion right on its annoying little head.

Ready for it?

Real superheroes aren't perfect. Not a single one of them. To begin with, they all have different powers and strengths. Spiderman uses his spidey senses, superhuman strength, and incredible agility to battle the bad guys. Ironman has super strength as well, but also super speed and self-healing powers. Wolverine has those razor sharp claws (not to mention Hugh Jackman's "superpowers" of his own, thankyouverymuch). Wonder Woman is super strong, super fast, and can rock a bodysuit and boots like no other.

And, of course, there's Superman, the epitome of the superhero, more powerful than all the rest of them combined. Invulnerable, impenetrable, and handsome to boot.

Batman doesn't actually have any superpowers. Did you know that? He protects Gotham with his indomitable will, great athletic and martial arts abilities, and genius-level intelligence. Yet we still consider him a superhero. (Plus, he does have that cool Batmobile swagger.)

We moms have different strengths and superpowers, too. I know a mom who throws birthday parties that would put Martha Stewart to shame, one who volunteers practically full-time at her kids' schools, and another who has a standing Saturday night date with her husband each week. I know moms who work outside the house full-time, moms who stay home full-time, moms who homeschool, and moms who work from home while homeschooling. I know moms whose houses are spotless (though I still can't figure out how). I know moms whom I've begged to tell me their parenting secrets because their kids are so unbelievably stellar.

But no superhero does it all. Even Superman, with all his superpowers, has his weaknesses. His x-ray vision can't penetrate lead. Red solar radiation renders him as normal as you and me. He's somewhat vulnerable to magic. And, of course, Kryptonite cripples him completely.

He's also forced to live a lie, unable to reveal his true identity to anyone. Not exactly living his best life, Oprah-style.

Other superhero weaknesses have familiar human parallels as well. Spiderman has an overactive sense of responsibility. I know some moms with that weakness. Wolverine has a nasty temper. Ironman is an alcoholic. If Batman gets outsmarted, he's as mortal as the rest of us. 

Wonder Woman's biggest weakness? Having her hands bound by a man. I'll leave that one right there.

Just like no superhero does it all, no mom does it all, either. The perfect birthday party mom doesn't always have the energy at the end of her work day to be "on" for her kids. The volunteer mom worries about how staying home will affect her retirement someday. The mom who dates her husband grabs fast food more than she'd like because her kids' schedules are so hectic. The working moms sometimes feel guilty. The stay-at-home moms miss getting a paycheck. The homeschoolers can't keep their houses clean for longer than 30 seconds.

We all have our weaknesses. But just as Superman's vulnerability to Kryptonite and magic doesn't make him any less of a superhero, my inability to maintain a cleaning schedule or convince my kid to poo on the toilet doesn't make me any less of a SuperMom.

Now, some may feel it's unfair to compare real moms with the fictitious powers of these iconic superheroes. But I choose to see it the opposite way. The things moms do are actually way more impressive than the contrived feats of our comic book heroes. There's no comparison, really. If anyone's going to be called a superhero, it's got to be the mom who somehow finds the fortitude to work day after day to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids in the face of hectic schedules, behavioral challenges, financial hardships, familial dysfunction, sleep deprivation, lack of support, health issues, dietary limitations, societal pressures, media influence, and every other challenge you can throw at her.

Oh yes. SuperMom beats Superman, every time, hands down.

So when I finally get around to making BoyWonder a superhero cape, I think I'll make one for myself as well. Because I AM a SuperMom. And so is every other mom I know. We don't do it all. And we may not do the things we do as well as we'd like to. But we do a lot. A whole lot. And some of it we do pretty darn well.

Being a SuperMom doesn't mean perfection. It means finding your superpowers and recognizing your weaknesses. It means accepting the enormous responsibility inherent in the job, but cutting yourself a little slack sometimes. It means enjoying the feel of the breeze through your hair while you're leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but acknowledging that you'll eventually stumble into a phone booth and be painfully human again, at least for a while.

So the next time someone tells me I'm a SuperMom, I won't deny it. Instead, I'll smile, toss my cape behind my shoulder, and say, Why, thank you, kind citizen.

I encourage all my fellow SuperMoms to do the same.

This post was originally published on Motherhood and More on 1/16/12.