How to Help Your Kids Overcome Jealousy and Insecurity

P1050504(Sibling rivalry does not have to come to this.)

“Mommy, is she going to be better at everything than me?”

I hugged my dripping wet tiny seven-year-old. At the end of our girls’ first swimming lessons, what I had dreaded the whole six week session happened.

The younger got promoted to the next level and her big sister didn’t.

Bigger and more athletic than her older sister, she simply had better motor skills, a higher attention span, and more courage at that young age. Big Sister struggled with a mix of hurt and jealousy.

“Am I always going to be not as good?”

I struggled, too.

I mean, given their genetics, none of our children were ever going to be athletically coordinated, let alone gifted. As the larger and stronger child, though, her little sister did have an edge. What to say to this little wet waif, certain that she would always be at the end of every performance test?

I’m checking in at A Fine Parent today with this article on children, jealousy, and how to find abundant praise for everyone, no child left behind!

Read the whole post here.

It’s Your Party and I’ll Come if I Want To

I am a party failure. True story. In this month of talking about community, I’ve got to come clean. I cannot throw a party. Other than unicorn/princess/Harry Potter themed birthday parties that have long since seen their day. My baby is almost twenty. She is not so into letting me plan gift bags with glitter tattoos and a rainbow cake anymore. But at those kinds of parties—I was a boss. Just so you know.
 
But now? Friends, neighbors, coworkers—all those people you want to have over and just kick back and have fun around the backyard fire? Fail. I have them, and no one comes.
 

Party Fail

I once threw a surprise birthday party. And No. One. Came. Do you know what it’s like to sit around with a big tub of sour cream and onion dip and and pretend to your spouse (the birthday-ee) that no, there was just a good sale so you bought that industrial-sized cheetos bag for only the two of you? I cannot even remember how I explained the Happy Birthday banner. Whatever, people. It’s been over 25 years; I think we’ve moved on.
 
But it’s not just me. See, I googled it this morning. There are pages of stories of people who have thrown parties to which no one came. Advice columns. Blogs. Humor essays. Ugly crying in latte essays. All over the world, people throw parties and no one comes. I thought it was just me.
 
In fact, it’s endemic.
 
No one RSVP’s anymore because everyone is just planning to wait until the day to see if they feel like it or not. 


Guilty as charged. 
 
And the reality is, on the day, more often than not inertia sets in. No matter how much you think you should go or you know you’d enjoy it, the pull of not changing the status quo is too great. We don’t go. We find better things to do. We find nothing to do, which is often what we need after a hard day/week/year. 
 
I am one of these people. I know of what I speak.
 
But while I talk about how important it is to create community, I have to be honest, too. I am a community creating failure. And I know it’s not just me. Lots of us are feeling the same way. How do we create a community in the midst of a culture that won’t commit, needs downtime like we need oxygen, and considers relationships as disposable as hitting the “unfriend”button on facebook? How do we not just quit when no one shows up to our lives?
 
I don’t know. If I did, I wouldn’t be a party fail. But I have found some interesting tips. I am terrible at most of the things experts say to do, so there is that. Maybe some of these ideas will stick. But honestly, I don’t know.
 

Timing Is Everything

In her blog, Conrinna Gordon-Barnes writes, “In my experience, there’s an optimal time frame between too lengthy notice and too short notice. Experiment and find what works for the people you want to invite.” In other words, my method of inviting people to come to an event in approximately ten minutes probably isn’t the best modus operandi. Figure out what the magic window is for your people. They’ll still cancel or not RSVP, but you’ve set yourself up for a better chance.
 

Personal Touch

I hate rejection. I hate leaving people out. So I don’t invite people personally. I make blanket invitations. Those almost never work, according to professionals (and according to all those would-be party throwers crying into their drink of choice whose blogs I read). With a blanket invite, people feel free, almost empowered, to not show up. Someone else will. It wasn’t meant for me anyway. I’ll come next time. Here’s a big hurdle for me. I need to do better.
 

Make ‘Em Pay

Not literally. But most experts tell us that having some kind of stake in the commitment makes people keep their word. If someone commits to bringing the flaming pumpkin dessert, he or she is not as likely to flake out on you at the last minute because the ex-boyfriend is back in town and maybe they’ll get back together. That’s good news for you and for the dessert bringer.
 
This is hard for me, because I prefer low key, casual, come and go. If you can you can, if you can’t, no worries. But more often than not, can’t is what happens.
 
I don’t know the answer. I really don’t.
 

But I know this. I need to be a better committer if I want this elusive thing called community.  . Maybe that’s the real answer. Maybe it’s not learning how to throw a better shindig or understanding the exact equation for maximum attendance. Maybe it’s as simple as being a committed friend. Being what I want to see. Because like I said, I am so one of the guilty people.

 
And the truth is, sometimes, we need to be. Sometimes, we do need to take some stuff off our schedule and say no. But sometimes? I think we overdo that.
 

The late Chuck Colson writes, “The basic building blocks of society simply erode without commitment. Any sensible society must address this problem by educating people that commitment is the very essence of human relationships. When we refuse to commit, we miss out on one of the great joys of life. When we obsess over ourselves, we lose the meaning of life, which is to know and serve God and love and serve our neighbors.”

 
If I want to be a better community-maker, I need to serve.  .Not hors-d’oeurvres. People. I need to be the commitment I want to see. Oh, that’s scary. And uncomfortable. And opening myself up right now to anyone who reads this and says, “Hmm. I can guilt her into whatever I want at this point.”
 

But scary is sometimes the best thing we need to move forward.

Do you have any answers for community building? Anything that’s worked for you? Any failure stories you’d like to share (so I don’t feel so alone)? Start the conversation below!

Back to School Tips from a Finished Mom

First day of school  Middle child. A while ago.
For the first time in approximately 3700 years, I realized last fall that I did not have to care about when school started. Or ended. Or did basically anything at any time, except as it pertained to driving through school zones. I was done. Three kids more-or-less-successfully shepherded through school. With a complicated combo of public, home, and private schooling. But we did it.

And then we launched the baby into college, and I predictably lost it, but all is good, because I got to blog about it here in one of my favorite posts that still makes me cry.

Those years were crazy. Partly because I made them so with all the expectations I put on myself to be Awesome Mom. I do not wear that title well. The tiara slips. But I wanted to.

I did the Pinterest lunch ideas, before Pinterest existed. Ask my kids about the eggs. They still remember those eggs. I’m not positive they always ate them, but they remember them. 

I created elaborate birthday parties at home. I chaperoned field trips, at least until I lost a couple kids at the Field Museum. It was totally not my fault they were not as fascinated by the minerals display as the rest of us. I even chaperoned a high school trip to Orlando, and that is hard core, people.

And now it’s done. And I’m writing a post on five back-to-school tips when I am not going back to school. (Actually, I am. Me, myself. But that’s another story.)

But I’m not here at the take-out end of sending kids back to school to give you great tips for kale salads that look like ostriches playing kickball (and that your kids will actually eat). I’m not going to tell you how to color-code your school supplies with brads and die cuts and washi tape. This is not something I am an expert in. I am an expert in knowing all those school supplies will be lost/torn/traded/eaten (it happens) within the fist two weeks of their life. And you do not want to be responsible for any kids eating brads and hot glue.

I’m here with five tips for life in all its beautiful feelings when you say goodbye to those kids, whether it be to kindergarten or, like me now, the second year of college. For a larger perspective at the end. Whether those kids are going on a bus, driving themselves to high school or headed right back into your living room to go to school.

#1–Feel however you feel. 

Elated? Terrified? Sorrowful? Like turning cartwheels and drinking wine right there in the middle of the morning? Whatever, guys. All of those feelings might be cycled through in one hour. It’s OK. Feel them. Don’t feel like you’re “supposed” to feel. We all react differently, and it is no measure of our love for our offspring. No comparisons, no condemnation.

#2–Treasure the firsts and lasts. 


There’s this . . . 
And then there’s this. And I swear to you,
they were only about three hours apart.
Don’t wait until senior year of high school to realize you will never have another first day of school, another last packed lunch (hallelujah!), or another Christmas concert. Treasure them all as they happen. I know—at times you will want to eat your own toenails more than you will want to attend another two-hour concert sitting on bleachers. But trust me, treasure it. It will be over. Enjoy the firsts and lasts, big and small, as they happen. Just don’t believe you have to create a Pinterest/Facebook moment out of all of them.

#3–Be your child’s best advocate but not her biggest excuse. 

She will need you to be in her corner. Especially if she has special needs teachers, parents, and others do not understand and don’t care to. Stand firmly in that corner and don’t back down. But—don’t become his fall back for not making the effort to stand on his own. You won’t always be there. Walk the tightrope of defending when needed and letting him take his consequences when needed. It’s an art, not a perfect science. You will make mistakes here. When you do, reference tip #4.

#4–Nothing is a permanent mistake. 

Remember all those warnings that whatever horrible deeds you did in school would end up in your permanent record? Yeah, exactly true, except not. No misplaced homework paper, no unfinished art project, not even that one time your kid repeated the word your husband said when he missed the final minutes of the Superbowl are going to matter At All when your kid tries to get a job on Wall Street.

Yes, we care about teaching our kids to be responsible. We care about helping them to use the minds God gave them to their fullest capacity. We care about making sure they do not live in our basements forever but do get into college and get jobs. But we also care about giving grace. Offering second chances. Not acting like the end of the world hovers over our heads if they color the grass purple and the sun blue. Kids make mistakes. They are not forever. Dispense grace. Liberally.

Nothing is a permanent mistake for you, either. Not the time you forgot to pack the birthday cupcake. Not the time you sent him to school with a 102 fever because you were sure he was faking it. Not even the time you missed the first grade mother’s day program because you couldn’t get out of Home Depot on time. (I have no personal experience in that last one. None. Except that I still have not forgiven myself for that. And the kid is almost 25.) You, mom or dad, will make mistakes. Reference #3. Dispense grace. To yourself. It is not forever. It will not be on your permanent record unless you put it there. Don’t.

Remember the big picture. 

China. Better than school.
Life is not about perfect papers or team sports or science fair projects that get your kid in the newspaper. It’s about doing what God has for you to do and being what God has for you to be. For both you and your kid. Step back. Breathe. Drop activities that make you crazy. Your kid isn’t going to the big leagues or the Olympics. Take the time to enjoy one another now and grow in God. Don’t sacrifice those things for the things that will not matter in the end. Make the time to put them first.

We took our kids on a mission trip during school. The world did not end, and they did not fail first/fifth/sixth grade. I took my daughter out of school for a zoo trip on her birthday. No one turned us in to DFS. (Sh did, however, get food poisoning from the zoo cafeteria. Karma?) Sometimes, the big picture memories are far more important than the daily urgent. Remember the big picture. Step back. Breathe. Trust me on this one. Earth will remain in orbit.

So there you are. Your five back-to-school tips from one who is finished going back to school. What are your tips?

Happy fall!
And remember–you’re egg-straordinary!

Pink towels and new adventures

Who knew a laundry load of towels and sheets could ambush you like that? It’s been things like that today. Little things that put me on the floor in a puddle. Cleaning the bathroom and noticing her towel is no longer on the hook. Turning around while packing and seeing the preschool picture on the shelf, tentative smile and leopard dress her sister made for her. 

In two hours we pack the van. She is ready. I so am not.

Those were my words last Thursday. And now it’s done—the baby is off, packed into her dorm room (on a day where the heat index read 114 degrees), happily organizing her new life. While I organize mine.

Borrowed van. Because you know what?
An entire life will not fit in a Prius.
There is plenty to do. I will never be one of those who wonders what to do with my time. I know there are new adventures to find and old ones to give my full attention to. I know God has a new chapter for me as well as for her, and I am ready for it.

Yet there are last words to say, and things I want her to know. I’m not going to take this space to lament the passing of time or the loss of a smile and someone who speaks simultaneously the same thought. 

Although, I will definitely miss her uncanny facial expressions that can always light any situation. But you know, the child is texting me as I write this, so it’s not like she’s in Siberia or anything. There is that. At least that.


With all the “you can succeed at anything,” “you are awesome,” and there are no limits to your adventure” talk our kids have been getting as they head into college, I want to add something. Something I don’t think they hear as much, Something I think they may need to hear more. So here, dear Child #3, is what I want you to know as you begin this, indeed, limitless adventure.

You will fail.

When you took that Buzzfeed quiz about “What place in the family are you?” and you got “the perfect one”? Please don’t believe that’s got to be you.

You will fail. You will make mistakes and have regrets. You will disappoint yourself and others. There will be tears. There will be days when you feel your entire identity is tied up in whether or not you get the grade, make the team, or impress the instructor/choir director/interviewer.

And you won’t.

Did you think I was kidding?
Because part of this new adult thing you’re trying to get used to is that the cushion is gone and stuff happens that lands you on your butt. Hard. I’m not there to catch you, and the tough truth is, if I was, I should not, and I hope, would not. You never know with mommas.

Is this depressing advice on your first week when everything looks so rosy happy? I hope not. I hope it’s encouraging, really. See, I know somewhere, in the back of your excited, anticipating, expanding mind, there is fear. 

I know it. I am your momma. 

Fear that this is going to be harder than anything you’ve done before. Fear that you’re standing on a tiny outcrop of stone, and it’s a long, long way down if you misstep and there is no net below. It’s all on you now. Scary.

Please do this at school. You will make
friends. I guarantee it.
So know now that it’s OK to take that misstep. You will fall. But it will not be the end. It will not be disaster. You will have the courage and the resourcefulness to learn from it and make other choices, and new mistakes, next time. You will stand taller after you fall, not smaller. You will have looked fear in the eye and defeated it.

We will still love you. Your community will still love you. Your roommate will still love you. (Just don’t wipe her computer like you did your sister’s. That may tax her love a bit.)

You will still be of infinite value, because your value depends on things other than your output, GPA, or face in the mirror. Eternal things. Things that don’t change like the day’s classes. 

You will fail. But it will not define you. 

Falling will not be the end. It will be the beginning of discovering for yourself that you have wings. And God is holding you up on his wings. So fly, kid.

Old door.
New door.


Failure is like a box of Twinkies

Failure. Oh, we’ve talked about it a lot. Talk is cheap. I can tell youto embrace failure all I want. Easy peasy. But put your money where your mouth is. Or, your picture where the world can see it.

This past week was fair week. For ordinary mortals, that is probably not an event. But we are not ordinary. We are veterans of fifteen years of 4H, which translates to roughly 326 County Fair projects, give or take. Usually, these are all completed in about a week’s time. 

Every year I tell my kids, “Let’s start early and not be stressed about fair projects at the last minute!” Which always ends up, “Let’s think about starting early but really start a week before and then spend the last two days slapping together projects like we have stock in hot glue sticks.” 

We were “that family” who carried 45 projects for three kids in six trips from the car (in 95 degrees), some of which were over three feet tall. (We still have the matchstick Eiffel Tower. It’s a classic.) We also carried super glue, duck tape, safety pins, and scissors. Because we knew the glue was not yet dry and some of the paper still needed trimming. And framing. 

We’ve had our championships, but we’ve had our failures, too.

So here, for your enjoyment, is one of our epic culinary failures.

Can you guess what they were supposed to be? 















But the best part? This. This is my daughter’s face upon her first taste of a Twinkie. Just before she took a flying leap at the garbage can to spit it out. Seriously, if the kid could run like that all the time, she’d have a track scholarship this fall.

Lest you believe, very erroneously, I am such a saintly mother that no processed snack has ever passed her lips and that is why, at this age, she had never tasted a Twinkie, um, no. There have been wholesale-size boxes of ho-hos and ding-dongs at my house. But I draw the line at eating unnaturally yellow couch cushion foam. There have be some standards.

guess I don’t have to worry about her
ever eating Twinkies again.

Child #3 and I were attempting to craft cupcakes that would win a ribbon in food decoration. Or, at least, not embarrass her too greatly. In cake decorating, that is usually the best I could hope for. In cake decorating, I use creativity to cover up for a lack of proficiency. (That may explain a lot in other areas of my life as well.) She, however, is somewhat more proficient.


Except not here.

Yes, these things were failures. FAILURES. The frosting didn’t “dip” properly. The Twinkies broke. The food coloring that was supposed to be grey-blue came out more violent violet, which is perhaps not the color of your average whale. (Though more appetizing than grey, really.) The cute licorice supposed to look like rope tying together the pier looked like . . . licorice and cookie wafers. Drunken licorice and cookie wafers.

 
The failed whales are now the stuff of epic family legend. 

Then we tried apples. Slightly less of a failure but not fair worthy. The third time, she tried flowers. And they were awesome. And they won a reserve champion ribbon. And they are now her signature offering at special occasions. Because everyone is incredibly impressed by the flower cupcakes. 

Failure. Is. Not. Final. 

Unless you let it be. Unless you try once and walk off muttering, “I am the worst excuse for a cupcake decorator born to man and I will never try this again.” Failure is a jumping off point to learn what you need to know to do it better. It’s either an instigator or an excuse. It’s always our call. 

 Keep trying. The law of averages is on your side, if nothing else. Plus, failure can make for some fantastic pictures and stories to tell later.

What have you learned from failure? (Other than never to buy Twinkies again.)

Any epic fails out there you’d like to share? I know you have them. I hope you do. If not, you’re doing it wrong.

gold medals and spectacular failing

Actual Olympic medals from Vancouver. As close as I’ll ever get.

I turn on my television and watch it about once every two years. I realize this rate of use makes even owning the thing a debatable point; nevertheless, we actually went out and bought a new one (in 2004, I believe) because I wanted to watch the Olympics. They didn’t come in on the TV my dad had left me in 1990. Yes, seriously.

The Olympic Games is pretty much the only thing I find our TV useful for, but for those two weeks, I have meals and mail forwarded to the living room. This gives me plenty of time to muse over deeper meanings of it all, and I found one in the men’s figure skating competition. And no, it has nothing to do with their outfits.

Did you notice something unusual this year? Every single final round athlete in the men’s skating competition this winter fell. Every. One. OK, maybe not the American from Chicago, but he had enough almost-falls to make up for it.

Yet still, three men went home with gold, silver, and bronze, and the world believed they had seen the best skaters alive out there on the ice. Even with all the spills. All the mistakes. All the “could have been betters.”

Which really made me think. None of those men had to do quad jumps. None of them had to push themselves to try impossible tricks and defy whatever had been done before. None of them had to fall. They could have played it safe and gone home unbruised and satisfied that they had done the best they could. But none of them did.

Every one of them pushed it to the next level, tried, fell, and went home as victors anyway. 

And it occurred to me how absolutely beautiful it is that falling on our faces can be a victorious moment.

Real Olympic podium from Vancouver. I wonder who stood on this thing? And how many times she or he fell?
It’s beautiful that, in this arena, failing at a hard thing is rewarded more than playing it safe and succeeding at something too easy.

You get more points for having the guts to whip a quadout there and accidentally touch down with two feet than for doing a double-toe-loop that you could do when you were thirteen. You’re recognized for attempting something challenging when you could have stuck with the safe and easy touch down. I love that. Victory from spectacularly trying and equally spectacularly wiping out. And, of course, getting back up to keep skating anyway.

Olympic Flame
Maybe, it’s the fear that keeps us from trying new things, throwing it all out there on the ice and possibly falling hard, that keeps us from real victory. Maybe we never get that golden moment we long for because so often we would rather do what we know we can do. Spinning in the air is dizzying, and we’d prefer to do a quick hop and call it our best effort.

But it isn’t. Because so long as we never push it one more level up, never find a challenge just a little tougher than the last one, never seek that one risk we are not sure is within us but we need to find out, we are not giving it our best. We’re giving it our OK. Gold medals are never won by OK. (Unless all the other speed skaters wipe out in front of you. Then, well, it happens.)

What do you know you need to stretch to try right now? It’s OK to fall. OK to fail spectacularly. OK to put everything you have out there and mop up the mess. It’s just not OK to never jump at all.

what if it totally bombs?

Can I make just one more mention of Christmas before we wrap it up? Yes, it’s February. Time to move on. But it’s kind of relevant to the rest of the year, too.

We did something different this year for Christmas. Besides being away from home, which has never happened other than visits to family. We spent the break on a mission trip to Costa Rica. But that isn’t the different thing.

The different thing is that we decided, in light of having to save money for the trip, we would not buy gifts for one another this Christmas. We would give only what we made ourselves. This also worked in light of the whole “the point of going on a mission trip is other people” thing.

We’ve thought about doing something similar before. It’s often seemed like a good idea to focus on what we have and not what we want.  To emphasize Jesus, given the invaluable gift he gave to us.

But it always ended the same, for me. I like shopping for gifts. (Well, I like shopping online for gifts.) I love seeing my family’s enjoyment of gifts. YES–I completely enjoy seeing a giant pile of presents under a tree and hearing the sounds of ripping paper and frustration over bows that won’t come undone. (I may purposefully cause some of that.) I like the knee-deep ocean of sparkly paper, tissue, and random lost cats that my living room becomes after a massive gift-fest has been executed. I do. Report me to Overdoers Anonymous. It doesn’t happen any other time of the year.

Plus, there’s the nagging fear. What if we try something different and it bombs, totally? What if the kids hate it? What if I hate it? What if instead of being the hap-happiest time of the year Christmas becomes a giant letdown laid at the feet of yours truly? Mom the usual Christmas machine epically fails. Since it’s only once a year, this really matters.

You know what? It didn’t fail. More than once I almost caved and started shopping. I really wanted to. But I think, inside, all of us knew it would feel so wrong to come home from working with people who didn’t have enough money to buy school uniforms and diapers to face a giant pile of glinting paper under a tree. (Not to mention that the cats would have torn it all to pieces by the time we returned and very possibly peed on more than one box. Plus, the tree was very not cheery green anymore.)

Instead, we savored everything someone had made for us. We appreciated the thought that went into another person pouring themselves into a gift. We valued the realization that someone created something personally for us. We felt we’d done the right things for the moment. It was, possibly, the best Christmas ever.

Why is this relevant for the rest of the year? Because we fear change. All year round. We hesitate to do something other than the way it’s always been done. Why? The same reasons I did. We like the status quo. It’s known and comfortable. We don’t like failure. We fear that if we try something new, everyone will hate it. We’ll hate it. We’ll have an epic failure at out feet with no one else to blame.

Is there something you really want to change, but you’re afraid? Something new you’d really like to try to see if it’s a better fit, but you’re terrified of launching out?

I read a Dear Abby column years ago that I just loved. A woman asked her if she should forget her dream of medical school because, “If I go, I’ll be fifty years old in four years when I finish!” Abby’s answer was so simple. “How old will you be in four years if you don’t go?”

Don’t let fear keep you from changing something today you really want to change. What’s the worst that can happen? And–what’s the best? Whichever way it goes, you’ll have the experience of knowing you did the right thing for the moment.