Family Life

birthday1Celebrating children’s birthdays is exciting but don’t allow them to overwhelm you. We alternate between birthday treats and birthday parties. One year will be a treat, for instance a visit to the zoo with one or two friends and the following year is a party. With three children this means I’m not laying on three parties a year and the children really enjoy the novelty of a treat with a fantastic picnic and having a special friend to celebrate with.

Parties are kept simple with about 8 friends so no mass class parties! If you keep the numbers small enough, you are not obliged to invite an entire class and my rule of thumb is to invite the  number of guests of the age your child plus one. Birthdays are emotional times with all the extra attention and your child will cope better if there are not too many friends. For the very young, cousins and grandparents are probably enough. Lavish entertainment is unnecessary and I favour having a theme on which to ‘hang’ the activities and love having traditional party games plus one or two creative ‘wow’ factors. Hiring a bouncy castle at the village hall or trooping off to a soft play centre is unoriginal. If you keep the guest list small enough there is no reason why you can’t entertain and host the party without having to wheel in a professional entertainer. In the next few posts I will suggest 5 party ideas to inspire you.

This post is first of a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

My top tip to instil good saving habits in your children is to stroll into a high street bank together and open a young savers bank account with a small starter fund. So simple and yet so obvious, not an internet account, not in mum’s top drawer but a real bank where they physically take their money and can actually learn how saving works. We did just that two years ago. James, Sophie and Ella each clutching a piggy bank followed me into the bank where the manager greeted us. James tipped open his piggy bank and a shower of small coins fell out all around us. I don’t think the manager had counted coins for many a long year and it took us all back to the grass-roots of saving. Bank accounts were initiated by my grandmother who left her great-grandchildren £50 in her will and requested that the children opened accounts in their own names. I told my children that they needed to save the £50 from great-granny until they were 10 years old but if they added to it with their pocket-money then the bank would give them interest. James’ eyes lit up – extra money just for keeping it in a bank – he was hooked.

Another two important suggestions is to give your children pocket-money which is a small amount for them to handle and learn lessons from if they choose to waste it. In our house pocket-money is linked to chores and as you take on more responsibilities, so your money increases. Lastly, don’t buy them everything they want, teach them delayed gratification. If they want it badly enough, they can save up for it. I won’t even lend them money in the shops if they see something that they instantly desire but explain to them that they need to bring their own money and we can return. We all benefit from a cooling-off period!

‘Jobs about the house’ is what my friend’s son calls chores. When I reviewed chores, I realised my youngest, Ella was getting away with murder. The bigger two were drying themselves by three as a baby had now arrived in the family, Ella is four and stands like royalty with arms outstretched while I dry and dress her. I am remedying that!

Each child has a job that benefits the family and is also learning responsiblity for pets. When the chores increase, the children’s pocket money increases but they are not strictly linked as I want my children to realise jobs are part of family life where we all pull our weight. One friend had a super solution for her older children when they didn’t do their jobs – they could pay their parents to do the chores. The pain of having to pay dad 50p to pack the dishwasher was far greater than having their pocket money docked. Definitely a strategy to remember!

Ages 2 – 4 years
Clear own plate from the table
Dry himself after a bath
Start dressing himself
Tidy toys
Help make bed and tidy room
Tidy shoe rack
Bring in the post
Collect eggs from the chickens

Ages 5 – 7 years
Set the table
Clear the table
Make bed
Tidy bedroom
Wash himself (supervised)
Brush teeth independently once a day
Put out school uniform
Place family’s dirty laundry in basket
Empty lunch boxes after school
Deliver notes to neighbours
Feed the cats

Ages 8 – 10 years
Set the table
Clear the table
Make bed
Tidy bedroom
Put out school uniform
Take bikes out of shed
Put bikes away after school
Water plants in pots
Answer the phone
Run small errands – eg post a letter
Prepare school lunches
Pack dishwasher
Bath unsupervised
Brush teeth independently
Care for chickens
Be responsible for packing correct items for sport and school
Pack own suitcase when going on holiday (mum to check!)

As a child I remember confidently making any request of my parents and knowing that I didn’t have to work out their answer in advance. I knew that they would say no if necessary and would not feel guilty about denying my request. I can still remember how safe this made me feel. I realise now that they knew how to provide good boundaries. Firm boundaries help to develop self-discipline, a respect for authority and security for a child. Of course children like to test the boundaries – especially in a pubic place!

As parents we need to keep the boundaries firm but also remember to HALT – is your child Hungry, Anxious or Angry, Lonely or Tired – if so then cut him some slack. Or are any of the above applicable to you and are you acting reasonably? Maybe it is time for you to sit down and have a cup of tea and biscuit!

If you want to know more about The Parenting Course, click on this link to read my initial post about the course. Here is a link to the Holy Trinity Brompton website which has a video about the course

My daughter loves gifts! This week I discovered that gifts is her ‘love language’ and I have made an effort to connect with her through this. They weren’t extravagant – but thoughtful gifts such a rose at her table place, a wild apple picked on my walk home and a note in her lunch box. I already feel as if she is responding and that is exciting because she can be contrary and unpredictable at the best of times.

This was Week 4 of The Parenting Course and we continued to study The Five Love Languages which are affirming words, affectionate touch, time, small gifts and actions. Children need time and channels of communication are opened by spending one-to-one time with our children. It is difficult especially when you have more than one child but be deliberate and make time regularly for each child to be alone with you. As parents we are continually doing kind actions for our children which can be taken for granted but it is worth checking our attitude is willing and not allow resentment to creep in. Giving gifts for no reason is difficult because it feels materialistic but I am discovering that just because it is not my primary ‘love language’ doesn’t mean I should ignore it.

If you want to know more about The Parenting Course, click on this link to read my initial post about the course. Here is a link to the Holy Trinity Brompton website which has a video about the course

It is not rocket science but when your child is grizzling it normally means their ’emotional tank’ is running empty. We get frustrated and cross with the bad behaviour but that is the gauge showing the level of their tank and we need to step back and review. It’s time to refill the tank and hopefully keep it topped up. Children (and adults) receive love in five ways and these are called The Five Love Languages. They are affirming words, affectionate touch, time, small gifts and actions. The way we feel most loved may not be the way our child feels most loved so we need to discover their top ‘love language’. This week on The Parenting Course we focussed on words and touch. Praise and affirmation will build children up and I want to give specific encouragement to each of my children daily. Touch is easy when they are little or if it comes naturally to you but as they grow older or if you are not demonstrative then practice and be deliberate about giving cuddles. At least 12 hugs a day is recommended!

If you want to know more about The Parenting Course, click on this link to read my initial post about the course.

In the second session of The Parenting Course we looked at the importance of spending time with our children (quality and quantity), establishing routines and the importance of play. I was challenged by the question, ‘What helps your children to engage in healthy play?’ Generally it happens in bucketfuls, I get them started and then let them get on with it. But I find I am hassled by the mess and the huge Amazon cardboard boxes that litter our house for weeks. I may see tatty boxes but they see televisions, dog kennels, castles and boats. I’ll strive not to grow impatient and chuck them away but appreciate the magic of imaginary play. And in summer I won’t be grumpy about mud and water sneaking into the house!

If you want to know more about The Parenting Course, click on this link to read my initial post about the course.

I picked up the book Mum’s List by St John Greene expecting a light-hearted holiday read but was deeply affected as I hadn’t realised what the book was about and nor that it was a true story. When Kate Greene, a mum of 38, fell seriously ill nothing was as important to her as her two little boys and her husband. In her final months of life she wrote her Mum’s List – a guide to her thoughts, her wishes and her longings for the boys she had to leave behind. I wanted to cry as the subject matter is so painful and yet the book is written with a light touch, humour and hope as Singe, her husband, expresses his love for his wife and uses the list as a springboard to a new life.

It made me think about what I would put on my list and I realised what a good idea it is to have a list – mental or otherwise. We can whizz through the days and lose the bigger picture of our desires for our children and our family. I postponed the idea of writing a list as it seemed to be an insurmountable task but then I thought I will write out my longings for my children – big and little. Before I knew it I had a ‘Mum’s List’ which is a plumb line to refer to so my greater desires don’t become lost in the day-to-day. Things on my list include go backpacking as a family around Europe on a budget, have self-confident and assertive children, be kind to others, have a strong faith and relationship with God, create rich, happy memories and family traditions, visit South Africa again, enjoy outdoors and biking. Big things and little things, specific goals and general characteristics… what would be on your ‘Mum’s List’?

Zeb and I are very excited to have launched The Parenting Children Course yesterday. One thing that stood out for me was the importance of Family Time. Families are there to provide support, a moral compass, teach about relationships and to provide fun. What can you do for Family Time? Have fun as a family and enjoy an activity together whether it is a chocolate fondue, a picnic, making pancakes, building dens or going for a muddy walk. As the children get used to the idea, they will become excited about it so let them help plan the next activity. Aim for Family Time of about two hours, once a week. Put it in your diary and then prioritise and protect it. Don’t worry if Family Time is not always successful and the board game degenerates into tears and grumpiness. It is so important to build in regular time together while your children are young so that when they become teenagers, it is part of the fabric of your family.

Why do a parenting course? It is a minefield out there with many bewildering choices and yet no role we undertake can be more important. You don’t have to be a struggling parent either, maybe you just want a few more tools at your disposal.

The Parenting Course is a practical 10 week course based on biblical principles that will help you parent effectively. It is written by Nicky and Sila Lee from Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), London and runs along similar lines to The Alpha Course. It follows Christian principles but is not so overly Christian that it alienates those with other (or no) beliefs. The evening consists of pudding and coffee, a 20 minute DVD and about half an hour for discussion and to work through your manuals. Here is a link to the HTB website which has a video about the course If you are interested in doing a course, have a look on the website to see if there is one near you.