My Seven Most Powerful Parenting Phrases

With Gabe being home all day every day this summer I’ve been thinking about what it takes to parent him – and to parent him well.  He can be the sweetest, funniest little guy until a switch suddenly flips and he becomes really difficult to parent!  I feel very fortunate that I chose to study education for my undergraduate degree; even though I decided to leave the teaching field my training doesn’t get very rusty.  Ironically, one of the main reasons I wanted to get out of teaching – the tediousness of classroom mangement – is one of the things I’m forced to work and rework every day, albeit on a much smaller scale!  Hmm…there might be some irony in there somewhere?

I know there are lots of things you can do to engage children, redirect them, and avoid conflict.  My list reflects a little of that.  But several of the items on my list are primarily directional/disciplinary, and I’m including them because they were such game-changers for me.  Until I stumbled onto them I found myself giving him consequence after consequence, but never really helping him make actual changes.  As I started to replace my reactions with some of these phrases I gradually noticed him making progress.  We still have our share of time outs/lost privileges, etc., but I think it’s less than it might have been otherwise.

I’m grateful for these things that help us through each day.  These are not novel techniques; I didn’t come up with any of them on my own.  There just the things I’ve picked up along the way that have been most helpful for me.  We’ll see how this list changes as Isla gets older and throws in her own curveballs!

1. “Are you going to do it or do you need help?”

I tend to fall toward the “gentle parenting” end of the spectrum, and this is a phrase I picked up there.  When I ask Gabe to do something and he doesn’t obey immediately, I try to remember that he’s still young and he’s still learning.  Sometimes he’s pokey not because he’s being defiant but because he doesn’t know how to fulfill my request or he doesn’t know how to disengage from his preferred activity.  I’ve found that offering help is a great way to encourage action on his part.  Sometimes he takes me up on it, but more often than not he says he’s going to do it (whatever my direction was) and gets to it quickly.

I don’t always use this, but sometimes I use it on things I know he can do, mainly because when he hears an offer of help I think it helps him realize that it’s important enough to me that I’m willing to participate.

2. “Why don’t you try that again?” Closely related to the “Let’s start over!”

For isolated incidents – especially those involving sassy talk – Tahd and I often just tell him to try again without the sassy words/sassy tone.  Sometimes this helps and sometimes it doesn’t; often it takes him three or more tries before he can ask his question or offer his response with appropriate words and without whining or fussing.  It can require a lot of patience, but I’m willing to put in the effort because the whining-weeping-wailing thing he sometimes showcases irks me much, much more.

3. Let me see your eyes.

It’s like the last act of defiance – knowing you’ve been caught, knowing you’re going to get scolded, but figuring if you have to endure it you don’t have to look at the person.  Drives. Me. Insane!  Gabe and I can get into little power plays over things, and as much as I don’t like the “Because-I’m-The-Parent” game, I do need him to understand authority and the importance of respecting it.  Recently I noticed he’s been looking away and refusing to make eye contact when he was in trouble, so I’ve started insisting upon seeing his eyes for the entire duration of our conversation.  If he purposefully looks away we start over.  I think he’s starting to learn that I value his undivided attention and that it’s important to show respect with your body language.

4. Can I do it, too?

This isn’t so much disciplinary, but I do think it has gone such a long way toward creating a positive energy between us.  I’m not someone who gets a lot of enjoyment out of play, especially with weapons and battles and all those aggressive games.  Gabe? He LOVES them!  I play them sometimes, but I try to take advantage of the opportunity to join him doing something else if I notice it.  I like LEGOs and painting, so if Isla’s cooperating I try to participate in little things with him to stay connected.

With all that has happened during the last few years I really struggled with staying engaged.  Now that I’m better I’m more available to him, except that a new baby requires a lot of energy and attention.  So I do my best to make sure we get a little time every day to maintain that contact.  I’m hopeful that we can continue to rebuild this bridge in our relationship.

5. I love the way you…

One of my favorite parenting books is by Alfie Kohn, a writer who has been very influential in shaping American schools.  An important issue he addresses is how parents praise children for being instead of doing.  This can sometimes become a manipulative game children adapt to because they develop distorted perceptions of how the world works and they start believing that praise is insincere, among other things. I’m a big fan of his work; I think children are pretty savvy in that they know when they’re being excessively praised for certain things.  On the other hand, I think children aren’t sophisticated enough to process the excessive bribes and praise effectively so they come to depend on them in unhealthy ways.  Rather than regularly praising a child for who s/he is, Kohn suggests changing the verbiage slightly so the praise starts with “I love the way you…”  Sometimes that includes praising Gabe for the way he constructs a particular LEGO piece or includes details in a certain painting.  Sometimes it includes pointing out a specific kind thing he does for Isla. I’m not crazy strict about it; I still love to tell him I think he’s the sweetest boy ever and other general things like that.  But I try to be purposeful about pointing out specifics because I think those are most meaningful and make the biggest impression.

As an aside, I recently read a blogger’s post about an article about child athletes.  In it, she talked about the importance of saying to your child, “I love watching you play.”  I think this advice falls along the same lines, and I think it’s something kids need to hear.  Check out the blog entry and the article here.

6. What was your high/medium/low today?

When Tahd and I went through marriage counseling several years ago, the counselors homework assignment was that we check in with each other once a day with this question.  Actually, I think we had a group of questions through which we rotated to keep it fun.  As Gabe has gotten older we’ve implemented a family check in, and at dinner each night we ask one another to share our highs, mediums, and lows from the day.  It used to just be highs and lows but Gabe wanted to throw in the mediums so we did.  I’m sure as time goes on we’ll develop some other check-in questions we enjoy, as well.  It’s such a wonderful way to touch base for the day, and I like that Gabe has a chance to see that events affect us emotionally.  When I was growing up I thought of my parents as stoic and unflappable; they were pretty even-keeled, but in retrospect I’m certain they had lots of emotions I never saw.  Obviously there are some facts, situations and emotions in me to which Gabe will never be privy, but I think it’s important for him to develop a general understanding that other people – including adults – have feelings which are affected by the happenings of life.

7. How could you have handled that differently?

I don’t know how I missed this for so long, but once we started asking Gabe this question we started seeing real progress.  It is such an important key for us!  How can I expect him to act differently in the future if we don’t rehearse appropriate choices?

We started using this question when he was hitting out of frustration; obviously, hitting is the last thing a mother wants her child to do, but when Gabe was overwhelmed and angry he used to really struggle to do anything other than hit.  It took quite a while of including this question in our post-hitting discussions, but we eventually saw him starting to implement some of the things we talked about.  It was an especially helpful question to encourage the development of verbal expression of difficult feelings, something that doesn’t come naturally to any of us in our family!


These are the top seven phrases that have helped me come into my own with parenting.  We’re not a family who’s big on behavior modification and reward charts, and being different from the norm has sometimes left me questioning if we were on the right track.  As we’ve stumbled into some of these techniques, however, I’ve become more and more sure that we are on the right track – for us – and that’s all that matters.  I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and approaches, though, and would love to know…

what is it that works for you when parenting isn’t at its easiest?

Ultimate Blog Swap – How Does Everyone In The Family Cope?

Today I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Swap. You’ll find me posting over at Dominique’s Desk about a fun little thing I’m doing with Gabe to help us connect, and I’m excited to welcome Jen from  another day in a mom’s world to Slightly Cosmopolitan.  I relate so much to the way she describes adjusting her expectations!  Enjoy!


I am a mom and that is all I think I’ve ever wanted to be.  Sure, I worked when I was in high school and then after I graduated, but once I found out I was going to be a mom, that was it.  I was so excited that I was going to be able to do SO MUCH with my child!

Imagine my surprise when within a year, I realized I was having difficulty keeping up with my son.  I couldn’t always make and keep plans because I never knew how I would feel.  I could be having a great day or I might be spending the day on the couch trying to “keep up” from there.

After my daughter was born, I received the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.  At first I thought that since I knew what was wrong, it would be an easy fix, and I would be able to go back to how I used to be and have LOTS of energy.


I am still learning how to cope with all of this and the only thing I have REALLY learned was to never promise anyone that I COULD do something.  I wish I could say that there was a magic formula to all of this but it changes every day. (just like the weather!)

My kids have never really known any different, but that makes me sad in some ways.  They never knew their mom when she was able to go nonstop for hours, run around all day, or stay up all night.  Their mom may be able to go for a walk one day and only read and play games from the couch the next.

But you know what??  My kids are used to it.  They are just happy that they have their mom!  Some nights, homework gets done in my bed.  Other nights, they might have to make the huge sacrifice and have dad help with it.  (that’s a whole other topic!)

They jump at the chance of being able to go to the park and play with me and I hope that that will never change!  My 3 are growing so fast and I know the time will come when they will have their own plans and won’t have as much time to spend with mom.  I’ll cross that hurdle when it comes!

The one thing RA and fibro has taught me is to take everything one minute at a time and just try to enjoy those minutes!

So, my one and only coping method for your entire family is PATIENCE, LOTS AND LOTS OF PATIENCE!!!


Visit Life Your Way to see all of the Ultimate Blog Swap participants!

2010 Year In Review

*~*~the summary~*~*

:: it started with surgery that kicked my butt

:: then a pregnancy that came out of nowhere

:: and a little boy who fell in love with the olympics and canada

:: an unthinkable anxiety became pervasive in my mind

:: until I lost Mara on Mother’s Day

:: we grieved

:: we’re grieving

:: but we’re picking up the pieces

:: and learning that

:: life

:: is

:: good

:: I like being me

:: even though it sucked sometimes

:: and I like taking prozac because it helps me be me

:: it’s bittersweet to leave 2010 behind and start 2011

:: but the good outpaced the bad in 2010

:: and I’m trusting the same of 2011

*~*~the review~*~*

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
:: took my son to Florida
:: accepted help at a deeper level
:: learned to take pictures in manual mode
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
:: I didn’t make any resolutions; my focus for the year was to revel, and I definitely feel I took my reveling to a new level.  I’ll pick a new word for 2011.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
:: lots of people around me gave birth.  Tons!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
:: my baby

5. What countries did you visit?
:: just this one!

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
:: financial stability
:: a new baby
:: energy

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
:: May 9, because that was the day Mara died

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
:: surviving; it sounds sort of pitiful, but I’m very, very proud of it.  It was very, very hard.
9. What was your biggest failure?
:: I can’t think of a giant failure. Maybe there have been some, but I can’t think of any.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
:: sort of, I guess

11. What was the best thing you bought?
:: a trip to Florida and family photos while we were there; hands down one of the best decisions we’ve ever made

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
:: Gabe’s! He started school this fall and is proving to be an amazing little guy!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
:: I saw some pretty appalling online behavior, but thankfully nothing horrific in “real” life

14. Where did most of your money go?
:: medical bills, mortgage, and food.  Did I say medical bills?

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
:: being pregnant

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
:: Feels Like Home, by Chantal Kreviazuk

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter?
c) richer or poorer?
a) happier, quite shockingly. When I’m sadder I’m much sadder, but mostly I’m happier.
b) a bit fatter, unfortunately. I picked up about 6 pounds this fall – not a giant deal, but more than what I weighed last New Year’s.
c) mildly richer since I started working a little bit

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
:: the bedtime routine with Gabe

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
:: generally being impatient.  It feels reasonable in the moment, but afterward I always regret it.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
:: with my wonderful family, and it was perfect – just not long enough!

21. Did you fall in love in 2010?
:: yes, again and again

22. What was your favorite TV program?
:: the office

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
:: no, I don’t think I hate anyone. I don’t even think I strongly dislike anyone.

24. What was the best book you read?
:: Jesus Calling or A Perfectly Kept House Is The Sign of a Misspent Life

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
:: not really a new discovery, but there are some things by Lily Allen I fell in love with

26. What did you want and get?
:: to go to Florida

27. What did you want and not get?
:: to bring my new baby home

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
:: did I even go to the movies this year??

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
:: honestly, that was almost 12 months ago.  I have no clue!

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
:: less sickness. The nose surgery was rough, the anxiety was beyond rough, the miscarriage was completely horrific, and the random sinus and strep yuckinesses were more than annoying

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
:: fashion concept??  I buy what looks fun and what I can afford. My favorite fashion “thing” is ruffles. Love me some ruffles!

32. What kept you sane?
:: the love and support of my family and friends

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
:: Bethenny Frankel

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
:: healthcare reform

35. Who did you miss?
:: Mara, my extended family, my grandmothers

36. Who was the best new person you met?
:: the most fascinating person I met this year was Kelle Hampton. I met lots of lovely people, though, so it’s hard to pick a “best.”

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
:: you are stronger than you know

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
:: I have unanswered prayers
I have trouble I wish wasn’t there
And I have asked a thousand ways
That You would take my pain away
That You would take my pain away

I am trying to understand
How to walk this weary land
Make straight the paths that crookedly lie
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine

When my world is shaking
Heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave Your hands

*~*~completion ritual~*~*

1.  What do you want to acknowledge yourself for in 2010?

strength. strength I never knew I had and strength I never wanted to find.  but strength I’m so glad to know I have. I want to go somewhere with it.

2.  What is there to grieve in 2010?

my baby. everything else was a blip on the radar. in a sense, this is good because it has put things in perspective. in another sense, it’s just sad.

3.  What else do you need to say about 2010 to declare it complete?

2010 was. it was good. it was hard. it was important. and it will be, even after 2011 is.

I declare 2010 complete!

As I stand up, I declare 2011 my year of M | A | G | I | C!

The word I had originally chosen for 2011 several months ago was alchemy, which is much the same idea.  Although I still like it, I was looking for something simple and something I could take in multiple directions.  So “magic” it is!  I want to create more magic in my life – from the little, mundane things like completing my daily chores, to making family dinner a more positive, magical experience, to finding the sparkle in every moment, to creating a spirit-filled home for my family, to inviting more radiance into my life, and to having some big, beautiful experiences that will shine as bright spots in my lifetime of memories.  I like that magic is a little bit earthy and mystical; I’m not quite sure how this is going to unfold.  2011’s magic will show me, step by step as I connect to each moment.

Rust of Life

“Anxiety is the rust of life, destroying its brightness and weakening its power. A childlike and abiding trust in Providence is its best preventive and remedy.”

It came out of nowhere this week, a pervasive anxiety I can’t seem to shake.  It doesn’t even make any sense.  Nothing awful is going on, I’m not worrying about Christmas, and I’m not taking hormones or at a particularly hormonal point in my cycle.  I’m just anxious – crazily anxious!  Life’s a little rusty around here, and the rust makes things squeaky and inefficient.

You know what’s killing me lately?  Gabe, and his incessant need to have someone play with him.  I know people say to enjoy it while it lasts because it won’t be long until they don’t want your company at all.  But this is a little out of control!  I thought it would be a bit better once he went to school – he’d have playmates at school and would crave a small amount of independent time at the end of the school day.  But I’ve found the reverse has happened, and when he gets home he is hardly willing to let me out of his sight, let alone play by himself, even for a few minutes.  I attempt to get us ready for dinner amid constant choruses of, “Mommy!  Play with me!”  I don’t mind it unless it comes with a side of whining.  But if the whining starts I’m ready to find a closet and sit on the floor rocking with my hands over my head.

So I’m wondering – what’s wrong here?  My child, the one who was formerly able to entertain himself for 20-30 minutes at a time without too much difficulty – is now almost entirely unable to stay in a room by himself, even if I’m within eyesight.  If I’m not on the floor listening to him play (but not actually playing with him – he mostly just wants to narrate what he’s doing) he’s practically beside himself.  And I?  Start losing my mind.  Is this a phase?  A new normal?  A sign that he needs more attention?  A sign that I’ve screwed him up hopelessly?  Because I’m at a definite loss here.

But what is life without a little squeak?  I’ll take the squeak any day when I think about the grand scheme of my life.  Especially when its preceded by days like yesterday, when I felt sort of awful but ended up drenched in sweetness.  By the time I picked up Gabe from school yesterday afternoon, I thought I was going to be entirely unable to hold my head up for another moment, and on our way home I told him so.  He agreed that if I’d rest on the couch he’d watch tv, and it seemed like a blissful arrangement.  So we got home and he snuggled into his corner of the couch while I snuggled into mine.  And couldn’t. fall. asleep.


So I looked down at the other end of the couch and remembered the days when Gabe and I “snuggled down” for our afternoon naps and I told him I didn’t think I was going to be able to sleep unless I had someone to snuggle with.  After a little persuasion, he suggested I snuggle with him on his end of the couch, so I reoriented myself with my head on his lap and he absent-mindedly patted my head until I drifted off.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say that he’d occasionally jerk his whole body in an effort to startle me and make himself laugh, but I didn’t care because a nap on your 6-year-old child’s lap?  Is bliss, any way it comes.

This has been a busy week with appointments every day, and I think the busyness contributed to my anxiety.  I have only one thing left – a major haircut – for tomorrow, and then my time will be a little less committed.  But dude… a haircut!  I am not good at haircuts!  And haircuts while anxious?  Don’t bode well.  But I’m still going to do it because I think if I visited a farm the animals would mistake my hair for straw and would be thrilled at the plentiful feast before their eyes.  And that’s just not okay.  So I’m going to pack a little Xanax and call it a day and hopefully everything will be okay.  After all, it is just hair and it does grow.

Looking forward to when things feel a little less rusty.  For now, I’m trying to appreciate the unique patina it brings with it.  Maybe it’s not the patina I want, but I might as well revel in what I have.

Thursdays Are My Favorite

Thursdays are my favorite.

1) MOPS is over.  Don’t get me wrong – I love MOPS.  But sometimes I get a little overwhelmed prepping for it.  It always feels good to make it to Thursday and know that I have some time before the next one.

2) There’s good tv on Thursday nights.  And by good, I mean I watch the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (or whatever version of the RH franchise is on) and follow that with some Watch What Happens Live.  Love me some Andy Cohen!

3)  The next day is Friday.  As much as I love Thursdays, I love the universal exhale of the weekend, and knowing it’s just around the corner feels great.

But the real reason Thursday is my favorite?  I get to go to school with Gabe.  {5} I love it!  I love the fact that he’s young enough to like to hold my hand while we walk into the building.  I love seeing him interact with his teacher and classmates.  I love helping all the children learn something during center time.  Today was math.  We played with garishly colored counting bears to practice simple addition facts.  The range of ability fascinates me – almost as much as watching their little minds solve problems.  Regardless of how much they do or don’t know, their problem-solving abilities and tactics never cease to amaze me, and its exciting to watch them figure out answers.

Good grief… after gushing like that you’d think I was a teacher or something!  😉

I have no pictures of that experience because… well, it’s school and I’d be a little more than annoyed if another parent was photographing my child during school and then posting the photos online.  So.  No photos.

But my second favorite moment today happened at school, too.  I thought my heart was going to burst with pride!

At the end of center time, Gabe rushed up to me and pulled me close.  “Mommy,” he whispered, “Do we have enough money to buy another Nintendo DS?  M really, really wants one for her birthday and I want to get her one.”  Ack!  Be still my heart!  {6} Gabe has never tended to be overly aware of other people’s feelings, and he has also never been horridly eager to give away anything that might enable him to get more toys.  lol  He got a DS for his birthday last week, and after dropping it 5 times (not kidding) we discussed how it was an expensive toy and if it broke because of carelessness we wouldn’t be able to replace it. So he knows they’re pricey and he tried to be generous instead of stingy.  He’s definitely maturing!

I couldn’t buy him a DS to give to his friend, but I could donate some warm winter clothes to his classroom.  I overheard the teacher talking to some students about wearing warm coats.  Apparently several of them have jackets but not heavy coats.  With the turn our weather has taken, they’re very cold at recess.

I don’t say this to toot my own horn.  On the contrary – I’ve been hoarding every single piece of Gabe’s clothing since he was born.  This has led to an impressive accumulation of children’s clothing in all sizes from 0-5.  My basement is literally overrun by tubs and boxes of clothing that are serving absolutely no good purpose.  I’ve been afraid of getting rid of them – partly because I tell myself we save them in case we have another child, but mostly because I’m just attached.  However, it was a tremendous joy today to know I could meet a little child’s need by sharing something we don’t even need anymore {7} and it warmed my heart.

When we got home from school this afternoon, I convinced Gabe that it was time to start decorating for Christmas.  I. Can’t. Wait!!! for Christmas! {8} This plain white, ruffled tablecloth is part of my Christmas decorating plan, along with an old beat-up chalkboard whose frame I hacked at with a hammer and a tomato cage.  Tahd is so going to cringe when he reads this!

This is also the photo I took when I decided to experiment with shooting in raw mode rather than shooting jpg files.    Can anyone tell me why I didn’t do this sooner?  Amazing!  I mean, the photo’s nothing special but the control it gives you over the results is really cool.

And this… I noticed that a car in front of our house was being towed this evening, and Gabe promptly created a viewing gallery so he could catch every last second of the action.  It was like he had never seen a car being towed before.  And then I realized – it’s entirely possible that he never has seen a car getting towed before, not that close.  Getting to watch him experience something for the first time is so fun – one of the best parts about being a parent.  Freshness replaces the stale, gray monotony that develops once things don’t seem so new and exciting.  I like being able to relive that sense of wonder.  {9}

Happy December 2!

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