Where does my creativity come from? It’s hereditary, and here’s my proof. This is a letter from my Nana to my daughter.
[The envelope was addressed to my daughter from Marshall, Nana’s dog] Dear Eve, I am chasing lizards today! It is warmer at my house and I found my first lizard under the trunk in the backyard that holds the small succulents for my mom. I am writing you with a tear in my eye and a hurt in my heart (and my mom, your Nana, was mad at me for what I did). I am so very sorry that I got so upset and scared and agitated that I bit you, Eve, and snapped at Warren! Sometimes the high squeals oft he babies and the toddlers really hurts my ears and I panic because I cannot stop the noise. I also panic when everyone starts moving and I know people are leaving but I don’t know WHO is leaving. I am very afraid of being left alone or that my mom is leaving me. I am silly (and I have a little brain) HOWEVER, those are not excuses for my behavior. I love you both very much (and Kristen too). I look froward to seeing you each time I come to Mimi’s house. I would never hurt you and I must have more self-control or my mom will have to take me away, which I do not want. Please, please for give me and know I love your gentle hands petting my head. Your friend forever, Marshall
Isn’t that the sweetest? I love it!
I have a very strong memory of my Nana telling me stories. Most prominent is the story of “The Little Seed”, which was a story about a flower growing in a little pot that my Nana recorded on a tape for me and my siblings. I remember sitting in front of the big tape player and listening to my Nana’s voice through the speaker, totally transfixed by her voice. I loved that story, I would play it in my head when I had trouble falling asleep.
I have many other “sources” for my creativity, and we can debate nature vs. nurture, but my Nana’s creativity has definitely rubbed off on me!
Every time we bring a child home, it’s an adjustment, especially for the older kids. I thought I’d share some things we have done to help adjusting to the new family dynamic.
Disclaimer: Not all these suggestions will work for you, your family, your child. Everyone is different, each parent is different, each child is different, each family dynamic is different. Sometimes you just gotta figure it out.
It’s a group effort
This mentality of “group effort” is needed in any family I think. Family life does not revolve around any one person. It can’t in order to function properly. So, when a new member of the family comes in, it’s really a group effort to figure out how everyone fits in and is an active part of the family.
This new baby is not “mommy’s baby”, it is “our baby”
This idea was given to us by our pediatrician, and it’s the concept the follows the “group effort” mentality in that everyone helps take care of Baby.
Now, obviously Mom and Dad do the more important things like feed baby, change baby’s diapers, pick up baby, and such so on. But! Letting the older kids participate in taking care of baby helps a lot. It gives time to develop relationships between the siblings, it gives the older kids a sense of responsibility, it helps teach baby who they’re people are.
How is this practically done?
Here are some ideas of how to get the older kids participating in taking care of baby, most of these ideas will work for any age, but use your own discretion and knowledge of what your kids are capable of:
Tummy Time Focus – It can help baby to have someone to look at during tummy time, and sometimes Mommy doesn’t want to get all the way down on the floor! The older kids love to be the one baby looks at. Now that my kids are older, I even let them (with my observation) have baby to tummy time on their tummy, “belly to belly” as it were.
Wake Up Time’s “First Face” – This is a favorite for us. Everyone loves that fresh, wake up smile! I make sure it been long enough for nap time, or it’s a good time to wake up in the morning, or whatever.
Quiet Monitor – This is really just me implementing the reminder to be quiet while baby sleeps. I focus it more on teaching an awareness of another person’s needs, rather than my own strict rule. So, it’s more than just “be quiet” but “help baby sleep by being quiet around his room, and go be loud somewhere else until he wakes up”.
Mommy’s Gofer – I will send the kids to go things for me, or go get things for me, while I do the “more important things” of feeding and changing baby. I’ve had them go get my water bottle while I nurse, get something from the diaper bag, pull out a new outfit when baby needs a change of clothes, etc.
Toy Retriever – This may be a lazy mom hack, but instead of picking up toys myself when baby drops (or throws) them, I have one of the siblings pick it up. If then baby makes a game out of throwing the toy, it’s a game with a sibling (and not me)!
SupplyChecker – I do this with my older kids, and have them help me check on how many diapers or wipes or whatever I have at the changing station in my room, or in the diaper bag. It’s just another way for them to help me, and participate in caring for and thinking of someone (their sibling) who cannot care for themselves in this way.
Entertainer – This is how I get the dishes done and the laundry folded! I ask one of the kids to talk/play with baby so I can do what I need to do around the house.
All these have been helpful for me also as a Mom to remember that it’s not just me adjusting to having a baby (again!), but my other kids too. It helps me distribute my attention to all my children, even while the baby takes up a lot, I can still include my older kids too.
It’s from Little Women. It is arguably the climax of the story, when Jo Marsh finally gets married. At this point in the story, all the other sisters have gotten married. Jo had thought for a while that she would never get married, but then she does and it’s beautiful.
We just had this moment as a family. My sister, my dear Abby, got married last month. There are four of us siblings, just like in Little Women, and the three others have already gotten married, and now it was Abby’s turn.
I was my sister’s matron of honor. So, I thought I’d share my speech from the reception. There was much crying when I read it, so get some tissues if you need.
For clarity, I am specifically going to talk about my own experience with one of my children, and what I have done that has helped my family.
What do I mean by “Struggling Reader”?
There are lots of definitions and terms in talking about students and reading. A reluctant reader or struggling reader is typically a student who is not motivated to read, does not enjoy reading, complains about reading, etc. The student may find the process of reading difficult to do, yet, without practice they cannot advance their reading skills or fluency. So, because they don’t practice reading takes more work, so it is hard, and therefore not enjoyable. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
My eldest son is a struggling reader. His birthday is late August. So, just because of where his birthday falls he is one of the youngest kids in his class. Reading has not – to this point, over halfway through the school year – come easily for him. It’s hard for him, and therefore he is not super motivated to do it.
My son is a typical human. He wants to do what is fun! Not hard! He’d way rather go run around, or build Legos, or tease his sisters, or really anything else besides read.
As his mom, and as a person who really loves to read, and write, I have found this struggle of his really hard for me! I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but sometimes I do. I want my son to enjoy what I enjoy. I want him to love books. I don’t want him to struggle. I don’t want him to have difficulty in school when I know he is a smart, capable child. And, and, and, and… (cue the spiral of mom guilt).
But let’s not wallow.
What have we done?
What have we done to help our son, and all our kids? It’s pretty straight forward: we have worked to foster a love of stories. Not a love of books (not specifically), but stories.
This has turned out to be key for our son. If we force the books issue, then books become an obstacle at best, and the bad guy at worst. If we instead make the issue stories, that opens up a whole range of things for him, including shows, movies, audiobooks, bible stories (my kids don’t count the bible as a “regular book”. Kid logic, it’s cute), even songs.
My husband and I have worked to make our home a place of stories, starting when the kids were babies. Reading out loud has been an important part of this. We have been reading out loud to them since they were born. We read books before bed for years. Now, with school schedules and early mornings, we read before dinner and/or at the dinner table (after we eat, no food on my books please!). We tell stories all the time, about things we imagine, dreams we had, what happened in our days, etc. We play pretend with the kids – which is basically acting out stories. We watch movies together. We talk about the shows we watch (my kids will literally shout out “teamwork and friendship!” to their shows when they see the trope because we talk about it so much!). Anytime a story is being told, we jump into it.
I can now officially tell you that this has paid off. After seven and a half years of this, my son figured out just two weeks ago that books contain stories. More specifically, that the pictures don’t tell you the full story – but the words do. He just figured out that in order to understand the whole story (including the jokes, because of course he likes funny books best), he actually has to do the work of reading the words.
I didn’t tell him. My husband didn’t tell him. Even if we had given him the lecture about “you should really read the words, not just the pictures, because you’re missing the story”, he wouldn’t have listened, or believed us! (To be honest I did get halfway through this lecture, and stopped because I realized he had 100% tuned me out.)
If you have a struggling reader, this is the key, I think.
Keep reading to them. Keep engaging with stories. Keep things fun! Don’t avoid hard things, but don’t make them feel like they are on their own, like it’s this insurmountable task they have to do alone. Do it with them. Sit with them as they struggle through the words. Be their cheerleader. Celebrate any victory, even the small ones on the normal days. It’s a cumulative effect. They will figure it out. They will find the story that they love.
Kids are way more interested in what we adults find interesting, what we value, what we spend time doing with them.
Maybe I’ll have my husband do a post on how he encourages our kids in loving math!
What are you doing to encourage your kids in whatever they struggle in? Is there something you struggled in as a child? What encouraged you?
Update: I was looking up some books that might interest my son. He found me and joined me, and we researched some books. He got very excited about one in particular, and counted up his money to buy it. Just a few days ago it arrived in the mail! This is the first book he’s ordered for himself. So exciting!
Something happened the other night that doesn’t happen often: my three year old woke up to go to the bathroom. This doesn’t happen often for two reasons. One, she sleeps like a rock, and usually only wakes up when she is sick. Two, she wears a pull-up to bed and therefore doesn’t wake up to use the toilet. She did wake up though, and she DID use the toilet. She was not sick, and was in fact happy to go back to bed, snuggle up with her blankie and roll over to sleep.
Except for the second thing that happened that doesn’t happen that often: my three year old didn’t sleep. For whatever reason, she could not settle down, and she could not go back to sleep. Being a three year old, she did the only thing she could do. She cried for her Mama, for me.
The result was that I was up with her, getting in and out of my bed, and down to her little bed that nearly touches the floor. Every time I thought I had settled her down, I would get back in my own bed, and pray. I’d pray that God would settler her heart, mind, and body down, that his grace would extend to her, that his grace would keep her siblings (who share the room with her) asleep, that his grace would get us all back to sleep. “God give her the grace to sleep” I sighed the fourth time I heaved myself out of bed, and went to wipe her tears and kiss her forehead.
Oh, did I mention that I’m currently seven months pregnant? Factor that into your mental image of me getting up and down in the middle of the night. I didn’t just want her to sleep. I wanted to sleep too!
Finally, I grabbed a pillow, and headed back to my daughter’s side. This time, I had given up, and do the thing I rarely do, actually lay down with her in her own bed, hoping against hope that Mama being with her would calm her down. As I lay down, trying to get as comfortable as possible on her much thinner mattress, the very words of my own prayer came into my mind. “I am the grace she needs to sleep.”
I smiled into the darkness, and kissed my little girl. She put her hand on my belly, rubbed it, then cuddled herself as close as she could get to me with that belly in the way. I had been praying for God to be my magic sleep potion for my child, and myself. I had been praying for God to do the work that he was calling me to do as my child’s parent. I prayed for the grace my child needed to sleep. And God answered my prayer, he gave her me.
How often does this happen and I’m too blind in my own selfishness to see it? How often do I just want my kids to be good, or be quiet, or get along for ten seconds without me doing anything? How often do I want God to parent my kids, but I don’t want to do any parenting?
God blessed me and my husband with these kids. We purposely had all these kids. Yes, intentionally, on purpose, all four of them. We prayed with desperate tears for this fourth child still growing within me. This fourth child is our “rainbow baby”. This pregnancy has been difficult, and scary. Yet, it’s a blessing. The pregnancy and the baby.
I’m thankful for that sleepless night. I’m thankful for the rough few days that followed because Mama was tired. I’m thankful for what those difficulties – self inflicted to an extent – exposed in me: selfishness. Parenting has a way of breaking you down as a parent and exposing sin in you that you would have sworn up and down you didn’t have. Mine is selfishness, and anger. These few days of little sleep, on top of regular third trimester tiredness, and typical childhood folly have really shown that to me.
So, my prayers are changing. I’m still praying that God would give my family grace, but specifically, I pray that he would give me grace. The grace to get up, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a podcast, in the middle of a sibling fight, in the middle of a really uncomfortable Braxton Hicks cramp. I need the grace to get up out of my comfort zone, to stop yelling from across the room, and to image God to them by being the grace my kids need. God wants to give my kids grace, I can see that. More importantly, I see how he wants to give it to them, and it’s through me.