Monday, May 29, 2017

JFK's Birthday-Jackie's Legacy: 5 Parenting Lessons Inspired by a First Lady

     John F. Kennedy would have been 100 years old today. He was the 35th President of the United States. He did a lot of smart things during his political career. But, that’s not what this is about. This is about what may be the smartest thing John F. Kennedy did in his personal life.

     He married Jackie.


     Why was that a smart move? Not because Jackie was smart, beautiful, graceful and cultured. Indeed, she was all of those things and more. But what I find most admirable about the former first lady is that she was a good mother.

     Jackie Kennedy once told a reporter something that became my mantra as a mom. She said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” Jackie Kennedy set the bar high. And from all accounts, she was at the top of that bar.

     Was she perfect? Surely not. Did she “bungle” a few things along the way? Surely so. But on the 100th anniversary of her famous husband’s birth, her quote can both and inspire and challenge parents of today to remember the importance of loving, teaching, guiding, restraining, and yes--- correcting--- our children.

     Somehow--- with the grace of God--- I managed to raise two little girls who are exceptional young women making a difference in the world. Was I a perfect mom? Certainly not. Did I bungle things along the way? Absolutely. But I learned a lot along that way. I’m not Jackie Kennedy, but here are a few things I’ve learned about parenting through the years.

     *Love your children unconditionally. Love them when they make A’s. Love them when they C’s. Love them when they smile. Love them when they sneer. Love them when they walk in the door and give you a hug. Love them when they slam the door and give you the cold shoulder. Love them when they do what you want them to do. Love them when they do what they want to do. Love is not about approval. Love is about LOVE.

     Children need a safe place to be themselves. That means they need a safe place to be happy, sad, sweet, snippy, generous, stingy, loving and even loathing. Love them in spite of themselves. This will help them grow into confident, emotionally healthy, loving human beings. It will serve them well in their own adult relationships. HAVING SAID THIS, PLEASE NOTE! This does not mean letting your children run over you and anyone else in their path. That is not "love!" To truly love your child, you must also-

     *Discipline your children. GASP! I know that goes against much of today’s common thought. I don’t care. I’m right on this one, people. I’ve seen so many children who are undisciplined and allowed free rein to do and say whatever they please. The result? Their parents are unhappy. Anyone around them is unhappy. Frankly, the children are unhappy. A very wise friend of mine in the child care industry once told me, “Children want boundaries. They want to be told “no” every now and then.” Really? Really.

     Now, by discipline, I do not mean physical violence against the child. If you are doing that- STOP IT.  Discipline means teaching children about proper behavior. It means holding them accountable for improper behavior. It means teaching them how to apologize and mean it. It means having them earn privileges instead of teaching them to expect them. It means teaching them how to be good losers as well as good winners. It means expecting the best of them and not tolerating the worst from them. It means guiding them and teaching them how to live and thrive in society. It’s your job. Do it.

     *Spend time with your children. It’s a busy world. We wake up at O’dark-thirty and hit the floor running. We run all day and into the night with jobs, errands, housework, yard work, greetings, meetings, and competing. Chatting with a talkative toddler or a testy teenager may not be what you FEEL like doing. Do it anyway. When you shut out everything else, sit down, look your child in the eye and really listen to what they are saying, you communicate their value. Their value to you and to the world. You tell them that what they are saying and feeling is of worth. You build their confidence and inspire them to be better at what they do. On that note:

   *Encourage them. I don’t know what tickles your child’s fancy. Maybe it’s soccer, or baseball, or football, or art, or reading, or writing, or singing, or cheerleading, or dancing. When they find their passion, do everything you can to encourage it. I might have been dog tired from a long day at work in the television newsroom, but when my little dancer daughters wanted to show me their latest ballet or jazz moves, I put on the music, turned down the soup on the stove, sat on the couch and watched them. For as long as it took.

     *Learn to say "no."  This may offend some of you, but, oh well. Parents who give their children every little thing they ask for, even before they know what to with it, are doing those children no favors. What ever happened to working for it? Saving for it? Waiting for it? I see 8-year-olds watching PG-13 movies, 6th graders being chauffeured to "prom" in a limo, 16-year-old being given brand new cars, but no curfew to go along with it. Appropriate boundaries are good for children. They teach your children how to function in the adult world when the time comes. Who cares if "everybody else is doing it?" You are not "everybody else's" parent.

     And remember that "parent" is the key word. You are not your child's best friend. You are their mother. Or their father. You are the adult. And when you guide them with love, encouragement, discipline, time, and restraint--- you will help them become adults with purpose, passion, and principles.

   
 I don’t know if Jackie did any of those things, exactly. I have a feeling she did all of those things, and more, generally. She seems to have raised two exceptional human beings. And that may be the best birthday gift she could have ever given her husband. If you are a parent who unconditionally loves, disciplines, spends time with, encourages and restrains your children, it will be the best gift you can give them, as well.



*For more on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, visit https://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/Life-of-Jacqueline-B-Kennedy.aspx

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sometimes You Just Need to Bake a Pan of Cornbread

     Sometimes you just need to bake a pan of cornbread, you know?

     We are rushing headlong to the end of May. May is a month of transitions. School lets out for summer. Kids move from one grade to the next. Older ones graduate high school. Some come home from college for the summer, with truckloads of dirty laundry and stomachs that never fill up! Some graduate from college and move away. Sometimes far, far away. Daughters prepare to become June brides. Sons practice their garter-flinging skills as they prepare to become grooms. Snowbirds head north for the summer. Families pack up for the beach or the mountains. Spring ends. Hurricane season begins. May is the month that heralds change.

     And that’s not a bad thing.

    June brings opportunities. New projects to start. New people to meet. New places to go. New lives to begin. But, in the midst of all the change, we sometimes have a momentary longing for “what was.” We wonder how our kids grew up so quickly. How they moved from snaggle-toothed kindergartners to sophisticated college grads, or movers-and-shakers in their chosen career. We marvel at, and at the same time struggle with, rapidly advancing technology. We are so happy that we are out of the “diaper phase,” but are anxious about entering the “driver’s license phase.”  We don’t fear change, but we have a soft-spot for the way things used to be.

     How do you handle that longing? With scrapbooks or videos of days gone by? By visiting childhood friends, or cranking up “your music” on Pandora radio? Maybe it’s by cooking and eating your comfort food. That’s what I do. And my food is cornbread. Homemade. With buttermilk. Like my mama makes.
  
     It didn’t matter what we were celebrating or commiserating in our house when I was
growing up. Homemade buttermilk cornbread was always on the table. Its accessories ranged from black-eyed peas to chicken and dumplings, to turnip greens or meatloaf. If I was sick, my mama made cornbread. If I won an award, my mama made cornbread. If I’d had a rough day at school, my mama made cornbread. If I needed a little lovin’ after being scolded for a mischievous act, my mama made cornbread. If I was happy for no reason at all, my mama made cornbread.

     This May has been a month of transitions for me. My youngest graduated college and moved away. Kinda far, far away. I put my house on the market. I jettisoned a lot of “things” in the process. All good, positive changes… but change nonetheless.
I don’t want to go back to the past. I love my present! I love where my adult children are, and the difference they are making in the world. I’m all about embracing change and looking for something new to do, read, eat or cook every single day! Maybe you are the same way. But sometimes, after a rapid succession of transitions, you just need to indulge in the familiar. For just a little bit. Sometimes you just need a smidgen of the old days to give you the fortification to reach out to the new ones.

     Sometimes, you just need to bake a pan of cornbread. And eat it. Y’all    

Friday, March 3, 2017

Choices


     I did NOT want to get out of bed. I’d pulled a 24-hour study and writing shift before finally putting head to pillow at midnight the night before. I stared at that hateful old clock, which was blinking 5:00! 5:00! 5:00! at me. I had a choice. I could hit snooze and roll back over for more sleep, or I could be strong and roll out of bed and into the day.
     I rolled out.
     I rolled out not because I am strong, but because I’d made a promise the day before on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent, a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal leading up to Easter. For Christians who observe Lent, it’s traditional to fast from something during this 6-week period. 
     My take on fasting for Lent is that if I “give up” something:
  • It needs to be something that is important to me in order for it to be a sacrifice.
  • It needs to have purpose. Does God really care if I give up Krispy Kreme doughnuts for 6 weeks? I don't think so, but He does care about WHY I would choose to give them up and HOW it's supposed to impact my relationship with Him. And that means--
  • The space that's left by what I "do without" needs to be filled with something that enriches my spiritual life and relationship with God.
     For years, the thing I’ve cherished most (other than family) is my time. There’s so little of it. It goes so fast. And, it’s our only non-renewable resource. So, during Lent, I “give up” that very thing. I sacrifice an hour of time every day and fill that hour up with God, through study, prayer, and church.
     On this first morning after Ash Wednesday, I’d marked my calendar to attend an early morning church service. I’m Methodist, but it’s hard to find Protestant churches that are open on weekdays. (We should really do something about that.) So, I made my way to a small Catholic church tucked away in a patch of beautiful woods.
     You know, God has a sense of humor. The scriptures were about, of all things, “choices.” You know, like the one I’d made a couple of hours earlier. The priest’s homily talked about “choices.” You know, like the ones we make every day. He talked about how those daily choices can lead us to a day filled with light--- or not. A day filled with joy--- or not. A day filled with peace--- or not.
     After I left the church, I thought a lot about the choices we make every day. Oh, sure. We have big choices to make- whether to take the job or not, whether to buy the car or not, whether to enter into a relationship or not. But we also have “small” choices that we encounter all day every day.
  • We can choose to gossip or hold our tongue.
  • We can choose to respond IN-KIND to UNKIND words or we can smile and let it go.
  • We can choose to sit numbly in front of the television or we can go for a walk, or read a book, or volunteer in a soup kitchen.
  • We can choose to complain or look for reasons to be grateful.
  • We can choose to criticize or we can compliment.
  • We can choose to keep our eyes glued to our phone or we can turn off the phone and have a real conversation.
  • We can choose to buy that dress or give the money we would have spent on it to our church or to a charity.
  • We can choose to eat lunch out every day, or we can brown bag it and give the money we would have spent to a homeless shelter.
  • We can worry or we can pray.
  • We can try to control everything and everyone, or we can surrender control to the One who is.. well... in control.
      The point is—we have choices every day in our life regardless of the season. They may seem like small choices at the time, but they can have a big impact on they way we live our lives. We hold these choices in our hands. What choices will you make today? You know you'll have to.

       Choose wisely.