One Strange Parenting Tip from the Italian Mama (It Works!)

My daughter granted permission to relate the following story:

I’m having dinner with the Italian Mama, and I explain how my daughter currently seems to enjoy disobeying me with emotional tantrums about everything.  

“You need to compliment her for what’s really happening in that tantrum.  Find something good about what she’s doing in that moment of frustration, and then redirect it.”

What?  You want me to reward the tantrum by praising my daughter while she’s exploding at me? Won’t this enable her?  Doesn’t this go against every parenting book?  Doesn’t this contradict all the parenting techniques about punishment and my authority?

But it’s the Italian Mama speaking.  I trust this woman. 

The next morning, my daughter just screams at me.  Instead of punishing her or sending her to her room, I say, “You know, you are really good at alerting me with a very loud voice when you want something.  That could come in handy if the house is on fire or if you fall out of a tree or if someone were in danger.  You actually have a fabulous screaming voice.”

She tilts her head, wide-eyed, and stares at me.

She hasn’t screamed or talked-back to me in 3 days.  In fact, at breakfast, she leans over and whispers to her sister, “Mom told me I have the best alert scream, and I could save the family one day.”

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Have you ever found something good within a tantrum?

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“Mommy, Today Was a Small Day”

My six year old whimpers beside me, “Mommy, today was a small day.” 

“What made it small?” 

“There were not enough play dates or friends.  This was not a big day.  I need big days.”

Already, I think about what kind of big life this little girl will lead.  She’s challenging me to wake up to big days.  I don’t want to ever have a day that’s too small. 

I’ll never have this day again.  Lord, let it be a big day.

Living with flair means we don’t have small days.  

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Journal:  What would make today a big day?  

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Everything Else Can Wait

My youngest arranges all the nail polish bottles on the kitchen table and asks me to paint her toenails.

Seriously?  I can think of 20 more important and urgent things to do instead of painting her toenails.  I do not have time for this. 

But I look at that little face and those little, little toes.  

In even just a few years, she won’t ask for this.  One day, she’ll paint her own toes, in her own bedroom, in her own house even.  Maybe it’s because another school year starts this week, or maybe it’s because I can see how tall she’s grown by the markings on the kitchen wall.  Whatever the reason, I suddenly can’t imagine anything more important or more urgent than those little toes. 

So here I am, painting little toenails silver and neon pink.  Everything else can wait.

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Journal:  What aspects of parenting annoy most folks now that they end up missing once their children are grown? 

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What a Child Needs to Hear from You

I’m visiting with my dear friend, the one who told me that the sign of a happy childhood is dirty children.  This is my same friend who raises five children without a television set or computer games.  I’m always eager for what new parenting advice she’ll impart.

Today, I watch and listen.  Over and over again, I hear her tell her children, “I just love to be with you.”  Her teenage daughter comes to sit next to her, and she says, “I’m so glad!  I just love to be with you.”  She still walks with the teenager to school, she says, “because I just love to be with her so much.”  She says it so that daughter can overhear her. 

The teenager’s beaming face lights the whole kitchen.

Later, we leave to go on a walk in the neighborhood, and the oldest children want to come along.  Their mother says, “Of course!  I just love to be with you!” 

That’s the phrase I hear the most coming out of this mother’s mouth.

I make lunch with my daughters later, and I tell them, “I just love to be with you.”  I walk outside and push them on the swing and tell them, “I just love to be with you.”

Something’s changed between us already.  

I wonder if children would make better choices, grow in confidence, overflow with happiness, and connect better with their parents if we practiced saying, “I just love to be with you.”  I want my children to overhear me tell the neighbors this.  I want my children to know I’d choose them.  I want my children to know that those words reflect the boundless love of God who adores and delights in them.

I’m going to tell more children that I love to be with them.  

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Journal:  What child in your life needs to hear the words, “I just love to be with you”?  

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Why We Need a “Yes!” Day

It’s only 7:30 PM, and I’m falling asleep.  My oldest daughter climbs up beside me on the bed and says, “Mom, you really need a Yes! day.  That’s what you need!  Remember the Yes! day?”

Oh, I remember.

A few years ago, I felt like every word out of my mouth was, “No.”  I’d scream that word about everything.  No she couldn’t eat this, touch that, go there.  No she couldn’t stay up late, sleep out in a tent, climb that tree, bake that thing, or visit that place.

I saw her little shoulders slump down further and further with every “No!”

So one day, I told her I was changing my ways.  We were going to try out a Yes! day.  For one entire day, I would say Yes! to every single thing she asked.   

It was a very long and very strange day.

It involved brownies for breakfast, glitter, playgrounds, visiting neighborhood dogs, eating pizza, and watching movies.  It involved baking, bubble baths, lip gloss, and dancing. It involved Polly Pockets somehow.  I can’t remember each event, but I remember I learned to say, “Yes!”

“Why do I need a Yes! day?”  I ask her, rubbing my eyes and yawning.

“You need a break.  You need to say Yes! to yourself.”

(insert long pause as a mother sits up, tilts her head, and considers the wisdom of a child)

She’s nodding with the words of an ancient soul.  “You need to wake up and say Yes! to the stuff you want.  You know, the things you love.  Maybe just for a day, you could say Yes! to all the things you love and want.”  She furrows her eyebrows very seriously.  “Like coffee.  You could get the best coffee tomorrow.”   

I want to cry.  Moms forget to say Yes! to themselves.

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Journal:  What am I saying Yes! to today?

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My Kitchen Table and the Snowspeeder

Neighbor boys introduce me to the intricacies of Star Wars.  They spread Legos across my counter top and build V-Wing Starfighters.   I learn the whole story beginning with Qui Gon Jinn and ending with Luke Skywalker.  I’m thrilled that my kitchen now houses the Legos snowspeeder from Episode V (the boys alert me that I must write that as a Roman Numeral to be precise).   

I’ve learned more about boys and Star Wars this last hour than I ever thought a person could.  My daughters haven’t introduced me to this world, and I haven’t been that attentive when my husband attempted to.  I realize something:  Living with flair means learning what other folks care about.  You enter into that world, you ask good questions, and you take a seat at the table and build another Starfighter. 

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Journal:  What’s the latest culture you’ve tried to learn about? 

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Mothers Who Get in the Way

I’m lounging by the neighborhood pool, and I notice a group of teenage boys wildly attacking one another, throwing one another into the water, and performing ever-increasing feats of manliness for all to see.  I’m worried someone will get hurt, especially the young children trying to swim. 

One mother gets up from her seat and positions herself directly in their path.  She sits down, dips her feet in the pool, and reclines as water, sweat, and testosterone fall like grenades around her peaceful form.  

“What are you doing?” I ask and join her while shielding my face from the onslaught of water and muscles.  I know this mother has a teenage son, so I’m curious about her behavior. 

“I’m putting myself in the way.”

She’s stationed herself between the teenagers and the young children.  She whispers to me that one of her best parenting strategies is to “be in the way.”   Sure enough, those boys redirect their energy away from the young children trying to swim.

“Just be in the way,” she says.

I nod my head and think of all the times I have already been “in the way” of family members, students, and neighbors.  Something about getting right in the middle of somebody’s business–being obviously in the way–could help avert harm.  And I’m so thankful for all the mothers, teachers, pastors, and friends who stood in my way when I went about my own disastrous plans.  “Get out of my way!” I’d think.  “You’re ruining my plan!”

Well, those folks who were in my way saved my life.

I love this pool mother’s attitude.  That tiny little woman got right in the mix with a dozen sweaty teens.  She was in the way.  And that’s what mothers do.  

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Journal:  Do you need to get in somebody’s way today? 

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You Can Go Where Others Cannot

Today my daughter announces that she hates being so short.  “Everyone else my age is taller than I am!”

I want to deny it.  I want to comfort her.  I want to tell her to get over it. 

But she is rather short.  So instead of denying the truth of her statement, I remind her that God has a reason for everything

“Can you think of any reason why a loving God would let you be shorter than everyone else right now?”  I ask her, staring deeply into those little girl eyes that will undoubtedly face a lifetime of the kinds of disappointments and heartbreak that come with the human experience.  She will ask so many why? questions as the years unfold.  

She tilts her head to one side and ponders the thought.  “Well, I can get into places that most people can’t.”

This means she wins hide-n-seek.  This means she has an advantage in finding hiding places that suddenly makes her stature valuable.  What a change of heart! 

All day, this statement resonates in my heart:  “I can get into places that most people can’t.”  I talk to God about this, and I imagine this conversation: 

Yes.  You can go where others cannot.  That’s what this confusion, this disappointment, this heartache is for.  Your experience gives you access.  It’s a portal into a place others cannot–or will not–go. 

I find myself welling up. God speaks to my own heart through my daughter’s answer.  Suffering allows you to “get into places that most people can’t.”  I think about ministry opportunities, writing projects, insights, amazing friendships, communities, and blessing after blessing because I went into beautiful spiritual and physical places I could only enter through the door of suffering. 

Living with flair means knowing that you can go where others cannot because of the things you’ve suffered. 

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Journal:  Where has your suffering allowed you to go?

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Does Losing Sleep Also Make You Crazy?

I know the thing that makes me the worst version of myself.

Lack of sleep.  Simple.

It’s so hard to believe the truth, to stay positive and peaceful, and to rise above our circumstances when we are just plain tired.  Am I right? 

A wise woman once said to me, “Heather, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do for yourself is take a nap.”  Sometimes I wonder if depression in caregivers directly relates to lack of sleep. 

I need a nap.  One daughter successfully fought her virus, but the other vomited all over both beds and all the towels last night.  I told my friend in the parking lot this morning that I’m on my last load of vomit laundry.  I laughed.  Inside I was crying.

She said that would make a great blog title:  The Last Load of Vomit Laundry

Sleeping remains my singular goal today (besides comforting, hydrating, and nourishing sick children).  Living with flair means we recognize how sleep deprivation can keep us from living with flair. 

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Journal:  What happens to you when you lose sleep?

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On the Cheap

Who would have thought that living with flair could be. . . cheap!  I used to think that budgets and coupons and delayed gratification (blah, blah, blah) meant limitation.  But it actually offers me a different kind of freedom.  I’m free not to buy.  Imagine! 

Just today, my daughter and I made homemade hazelnut frappuccino drinks because you can make anything good with a blender, ice, and something sweet.  You put out some ingredients on the counter, start pouring things into the blender, and you ask–wide-eyed and smiling–“What can we make with this?” 

It was better than Starbucks.  I mean it.

Earlier, I took the advice of my world-traveling neighbor that you don’t need to buy expensive craft kits or distractions for your children when you travel in the minivan.

“You just need one thing,” she says.  This is the woman who drove her children from Pennsylvania to Washington in her minivan last summer.  “And it will cost you less than five dollars.”

“What?”  I’m taking notes.

“Pipe cleaners!”  She tells me that if you hand a child a bunch of pipe cleaners, they can make whole villages of imaginary animals and flowers.  “There’s no mess on the floor, either.”

I’m going to buckle them into their seats, hand them some pipe cleaners, and simply ask, “What can we make with this?”  

I like living on the cheap.  It’s never felt more creative.

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Journal:  How do you live on the cheap?

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