Les étoiles mauves

Quand je dis à mes plus jeunes que je les aime, j’essaie toujours de le faire de manière à ce qu’ils comprennent que je les aime beaucoup. Leur dire que je les aime gros comme toute la terre, c’est bien beau mais bien abstrait pour un petit pour qui le monde se limite à la maison et au jardin. Parfois je dis aux petits que je les aime gros comme une maison ou un camion de pompier. Puis en gradissant, la maison devient trop petite et je les aime gros comme une montagne. Puis on rigole, je les aime gros comme une montagne de camions de pompier et ainsi de suite.

Moyen bonhomme

Hier en couchant mon petit bonhomme — qui est en fait mon moyen bonhomme maintenant que j’ai un encore-plus-petit bonhomme — je lui ai dis que je l’aimais gros comme un camion de pompier mais c’était nettement insuffisant. Il a commencé à m’expliquer:

– Non, gros comme les étoiles mauves!

Les étoiles mauves?

– Oui, les étoiles mauves qui son très, très loin dans l’espace. Elles sont tellement loin que ça prend dix… euh, dix ANNÉES pour y arriver! Tu m’aimes gros comme une montagne aussi haute que les étoiles mauves!

C’est bien de se savoir aimé loin comme les étoiles mauves! Et il me le rend bien: la semaine dernière, il m’a annoncé que j’étais sa maman préférée. Compte tenu des options, j’étais touchée. Mais ce n’est pas tout. Il m’a aussi dis que j’étais aussi jolie que Taylor Swift. Alors là!

Taylor Swift

Teenagers: Learning from their mistakes pt 2

I concluded my previous post on teens and discipline by telling you about the essay as a discipline tool. You can find part 1 of Learning from their mistakes here.

Have you ever sent a child to her room to think about what she’d done? Do you really think, while she’s there, that she is pondering on the great wrong she’s done to you? If you do, I hate to burst your bubble. Your child is more likely reflecting on how great a victim she is. Assuming she is not reading, sleeping, surfing the Net or watching TV (but your children don’t have TV in their room, right?? If they do, we must have words). Let’s be honest: when we send a child to their room to “think”, what we are really saying is:

I’m really annoyed by your behaviour, please get out of my space while I regain my composure.


The result of sending a child to his room may not always be as intended but we are on to something with the idea of reflecting on one’s behaviour and understand where it failed. The problem with “go to your room” is that we are not nurturing our children’s budding moral development by shooing them off to “think” by themselves.

When it comes to teenagers, the development of a reliable sense of right and wrong is essential and time sensitive: a teenager in grade 10 (15-16) could be moving out to study in 2-3 years. If they are not learning self-control, impulse-management and developping a moral fiber, they can be in for a world of trouble. When I tell my teenagers to “go think about what you’ve done” I mean it in a way I may not have meant when they were little.

In Good Discipline, Great Teens, Dr. Ray Guarandi suggests using essays instead of lectures to teach discipline. I met Dr. Ray some years ago when I was on the organizing committee for a parenting conference where he was the speaker. His talks are like stand-up routines: we laughed so hard it hurt. But don’t get fooled by the funnies: while his delivery is hilarious, his approach to discipline is serious. After the conference, we went out for dinner with Dr. Ray and I asked him: “That strong discipline approach sounds great in theory but the parents I know who have discipline problems with their teenagers never had a backbone. Shouldn’t they change their approach gradually?”. His reply really left an image that inspires most of my parenting nowadays. He said: “Did you ever drink sour milk thinking it was fresh? When you realize you have a mouthfull of sour milk, do you spit it out gradually or all at once?” When there is something wrong with your children, whether its too much backtalk, too much computer or failing grades, you need to face it head on. Here is a quote from Good Discipline, Great Teens that encapsulates Dr. Ray’s approach:

Dear Dr. Ray, Any words for dealing with a fifteen-year-old who is verbally demeaning to his two younger sisters (…), sometimes abusively so?

Yes. Stop him.

He does give more pointed advice on ways to stop the bad behaviour. But he doesn’t buy the “teens will be teens” schtick. At all. Yes, teens will be teens and this may involve some attitude, back talk and abuse. But it doesn’t mean that you, as parent, have to take it, indulge it or bear it out. Being called over and over on their bad behaviour — and believe me, I have two teens, I cannot overstate how often “over and over” means — is how we imprint on their developping brain what is morally and socially acceptable (and what will get them sued, fired or dumped).

But back to essays. Last December, my husband and I were confronted with a discipline problem involving two of our four oldest children. The offense involved going behind our backs to do something they knew they were not allowed to do. For a few weeks before they got busted, these two children were increasingly short-tempered, rude and difficult. I thought maybe they were overtired or reacting to the twins’ birth, whatever. In hindsight, I think that living a lie was eating away at their souls. When we confronted them, it was very important for us to convey that the material offense wasn’t nearly as big a deal as the lying. The way we approached this was to have a family meeting where we told them (again) about the family rule they had transgressed and why it was in place. We told the children that we knew that two of them had gone beyond our backs. The transgressors were grounded for at least two weeks (except for school and sports) and their computer priviledges were removed (the computer was the instrument of the transgression). Then we assigned them with two written projects. The projects had to be handed-in before the computer priviledges could be regained and the grounding lifted. Both children had to present a written apology with an explanation of what went through their heads when they decided to go behind our backs. They also had to write an essay (500 words for the youngest and 2000 for the oldest) on personal integrity, personal dignity and respect for parental authority. The oldest of the two also had to do a bit of research on why the family rule he-or-she had transgressed was important.

When they handed back their essays and apologies, I was taken aback with how much thought they had put into their work. Here are some exerpts, published with permission from their authors (as long as I keep them anonymous). On respect for parental authority the youngest of the two wrote:

You can see your parents like your boss at work. They tell you what to do and you must obey. But instead of paying you with money, they pay you with love. Another difference is that you will never get fired. In other words, they will always love you no matter what you do.

On personal integrity, the oldest of the two wrote (I really wish I could quote the entire essay, it’s that good):

Integrity. The first image that comes to mind is that of a brick wall. Solidly built, unshakeable and most of all, strong. Every component, every brick, is held together by mortar. Remove a brick and the wall isn’t complete. Remove the mortar and the wall doesn’t hold.

Personal human integrity isn’t all that different. Your values are the bricks, held together by honesty, your mortar. Without your values, your wall of integrity isn’t complete. Without honesty, your bricks will not hold together.

Giving them an essay topic allowed us to put the emphasis on the lesson we wanted the children to learn. The grounding and removal of priviledges were tools to make sure that the children had the time and leisure to work on their essays and also provided motivation for finishing the essays in a timely fashion. I am now thinking of using essays as a gateway for earning more priviledges. For instance, before allowing your child/teen to have a Facebook page, you could ask for a short essay (500 words is very manageable for a 10-12 year-old child) on data mining or online privacy protection or cyber-bullying. Making your teens do the research and writing will always beat a lecture, take it from me.

Teenagers: Learning from their mistakes pt 1

If I title a post on parenting teenagers “Learning from their mistakes” you may think that the post will be about getting teenagers to learn from their mistakes. But I’m not so delusional as to give you such hope: I have to assume that teenagers learn from their mistakes because I once was a teenager, I learned from my mistakes, and I am a relatively well adjusted adult. Beyond that, beats me. No, the title of this post refers to what I — the parent — am learning from disciplining my teens in the great adventure of parenting.

When my four oldest children were little, countless well-meaning strangers told me to enjoy them while they were young because once they hit the teenage years it would be all downhill from there. I was never afraid of the teenage years however. I had a happy teenage-hood. I remember getting along well with my parents and my siblings. I had no interest in drugs and alcohol and I had no major academic issues (I had no clue about anything mathematics or scientific but I did get my high school diploma. This suggests that I had enough of a clue to pass whatever it was I had to pass. But it’s still a mystery.) My experience chatting with other parents is that the amount of fear a parent feels toward their children’s upcoming teenage years is directly proportional to the amount of grief they gave their own parents as teenagers. Call it cosmic payback.

Now that we are more firmly rooted in teenage-dom with each passing year (we have two card-carrying teenagers with a third one coming up the pipe) I can say that parenting teenagers  — so far — has been an experience in mixed emotions. It’s in equal parts more fun, challenging and infuriating than parenting young children.

It’s more fun because teenagers have a sense of humour. They are quirky, they love a good joke and their malleable brain seems to have an infinite capacity to memorize skits and one-liners. It’s easy to laugh with them (and sometimes at them…). Their sense of humour if often dark and off-kilter and if you don’t take yourself too seriously — because they can give it as well as they take it — you can be in for a good time. I also find that my teenagers are keen observers of human nature without the politically correct varnish that develops with age. A varnish is not always a bad thing but sometimes I wish I still had the ability to call a spade a spade the way my teens do.

Having fun with gourds
Teenagers like to make funny faces

It’s more challenging  because the stakes are higher. Higher stakes mean that you are under pressure to make the right discipline call at the right time. What do I mean by that? When raising young children, you often make discipline calls that are either bone-headed or counter-productive. Have you ever spanked a child in anger? Hit a child for hitting a sibling? Flew off the handle after catching a liar? Great. Now your child is learning that hitting is a good way to blow off steam, hitting is a good response to injury and that his lying skills need improvement. The consequences of those bad discipline calls are mild. Unless you repeat them regularly over several years, they won’t make your child into violent liar.  If the balance of your parenting is loving and forgiving you’ll get another kick at the can in a few days. But teenagers can make mistakes that will hunt them for the rest of their lives: get pregnant, flunk high school and crash a car full of friends. Even if your concerns are of a lesser order of magnitude — as mine are, thank God — you still need to be on the ball and ready to roll. Your teen is flunking high school math because he couldn’t be bothered? Sure you can take his iPod away for a week. He still flunked math. And closed the door to every paycheque-friendly faculty, like engineering, medicine, business, dentistry, you name it! I don’t want my teens to learn a life-lesson from flunking math and science out of sheer laziness: I want them to succeed. If they decide to get an English major, it won’t be because nobody else would let them in. Get it? Stakes, higher.

It’s more frustrating because teens push your buttons at a more adult level and really bring you face to face with your shortcomings as a parent. When you lose your “composure” at a 3 year-old, they still come to you for comfort. When you fly off the handle and start ranting at a teenager (two big teenage no-nos, don’t ask me how I know), they think you’re a loser. (Now, if you have done your job right up to this point, your teenagers will know better than to tell you to your face — although my son has been known to exhibit a death wish in that regard: the kid has no filter.) What really rounds-up the challenging and frustrating parts is the well-documented fact that teens really think that they have reached the apogee of knowledge and good judgement. Now, if you reach the apogee of knowledge and good judgement at 15, and the only way from an apogee is down, you can imagine where, in a teen’s mind, the parent is situated on the apogee-to-perigee-continuum: it takes 15 years to get to the top, and it’s all downhill from there, and you are say, almost 40, it means that you’ve been on a downward trajectory from knowledge and good judgement for, like… (40 – 15 = uh…)  25-ish years, rounded-up to the nearest brain fart.

Teenagers challenge, push buttons and seek out limits. Sometimes, you will blow it as a parent and they will let you know. But sometimes you will be right… and they will still challenge, push buttons and explain to you why you are wrong, wrong, wrong. The high-wire number is to know when to stand firm and when to go hat in hand apologize for your mistakes. The first thing I learned from parenting teens is to take a step back and take a deep breath. Unless your child is at the police station right now it never hurts to put a little time between you and an issue (and even then, spending the night in prison might not be an entirely bad thing…). The second lesson I learned, which flows from the first one, is to lower your voice, ideally to the point where you are not saying any words. It never hurts to hear a teenager’s grievance. Sometimes they may be right! Just don’t confuse listening with arguing or agreeing. For instance, we have a strict, unbending and controversial no-sleepover rule. This is not popular with my oldest daughter. Listening to her grievance and why we are wrong, wrong, wrong will not make me agree with her. Nor will I argue for the zillionth time why this is so. But it doesn’t hurt to sit down and hear her out. Again.

In part 2 of this post,I will tell you about a discipline tool I took too long to get out of the toolbox: the essay.

“Comment vous faites?”

Il y a quelque jours, je suis tombée par hasard sur le blog d’une autre maman de 8 enfants (Little Catholic Bubble). Sa publication How to raise eight children without even trying m’a rappelé à quel point on me posait cette question souvent: “Comment faites-vous” et ses variations “Je ne sais pas comment vous faites…” et “Je survie à peine avec mes deux, je ne peux pas imaginer en avoir 8”.

C’est une erreur commune (une que j’ai fait moi-même lorsque j’avais mes deux plus vieux qui n’ont que 14 mois de différence): on projette la vie avec plusieurs enfants à partir de notre expérience vécue. Or, notre expérience vécue est limitée. À moins d’avoir une grossesse multiple de haut calibre, nos enfants naissent un par un puis grandissent, commencent l’école, deviennent plus autonomes et commencent à aider dans la maison. J’ai de très bons souvenirs de la petite enfance de mes 4 plus vieux. Cependant, je me souviens aussi d’avoir eu l’impression de sortir d’un long tunnel lorsqu’ils ont commencé l’école. Lorsque les mamans de très jeunes enfants me disent “Je ne peux pas imaginer en avoir d’autres!” je leur réponds toujours “moi non plus lorsque j’étais à ce stade.” On les a un à la fois, pendant que les autres grandissent. (Ce qui est assez ironique, maintenant que je viens d’en avoir deux d’un coup…). Je remarquais justement il y a quelques semaines que j’avais à nouveau 4 enfants de 5 ans et moins. Pourtant, je vis cette réalité de manière fort différente que lorsque mes quatre plus vieux avaient 5 ans et moins. Je suis plus mature comme mère et mes enfants sont plus vieux. J’ai des gardiens intégrés pour m’aider avec les petits. J’ai aussi beaucoup appris de mes erreurs!

La logistique d’une famille de 10 personnes est un numéro de jonglerie. Cependant, il semble que les gens soient fascinés par la lessive et l’épicerie.

La lessive d’une famille de 10 personnes est une tâche quotidienne qu’il est préférable de garder sous contrôle. Tout d’abord, j’ai un mari qui comprend l’importance de la lessive. Ça peut paraître ordinaire mais ça veut dire que la lessive est un travail d’équipe.  Notre arme secrète contre la lessive est la régularité (non, ce n’est pas un post sur la fonction intestinale). À 19:00 tapante, lorsque le prix de l’hydro-électricité baisse, allez hop! la première brassée démarre puis on la met au séchage avant de se coucher. Le lendemain matin, la lessive propre va dans un panier. Si j’ai le temps, je préfère la plier directement en la sortant de la sécheuse. Sinon, les vêtements sont propres et secs dans un panier et je les plierai (peut-être) plus tard. Faire la lessive quotidiennement ne veut pas dire que tout est lavé quotidiennement: un soir, c’est les jeans, le lendemain les couleurs, le lendemains les serviettes, le lendemain les blancs et ainsi de suite. Un système de roulement quotidien de la lessive me permet de ne pas me retrouver avec 10 brassées  la fin de semaine et, plus important encore, de ne pas me retrouver sans un seul morceau de linge propre dans la maison.

La brassée quotidienne n’est pas seulement une manière efficace de faire les choses au niveau logistique, c’est aussi un manière de préserver le bon fonctionnement de notre puis et de notre fosse septique qui n’ont pas besoin du stress d’un marathon de lavage la fin de semaine. Mais ce n’est pas la fin du bon sens économique: laver les vêtements régulièrement m’évite d’avoir à acheter une semaine complète de vêtements pour tout le monde. Puisque les vêtements préférés des enfants sont lavés aux 3-4 jours, ils n’ont pas tous besoin d’une garde-robe complète pouvant leur durer une semaine.

La lessive illustre bien la logistique générale d’une famille de 10: en faisant un peu de travail régulièrement, on évite d’avoir à faire tout le travail d’un coup.

L’épicerie, c’est tout à fait le contraire: le faire le moins souvent possible. Rentrer chez Superstore pour quelqu’un dans ma situation c’est un billet qui coûte au moins $150, autrement dit, je ne m’en sors jamais pour moins de $150 alors j’essaie d’y aller le moins souvent possible. Une fois par semaine je fais un menu — incluant les lunchs des enfants — et une liste d’épicerie. J’utilise également un tableau blanc dans la cuisine sur lequel je peux prendre note des choses à acheter lorsque j’y pense.

Côté logistique, je crois que le supermarché est un de ces domaines pour lequel avoir plus d’enfants rend les choses plus simples. Je suis toujours frappée, lorsque je vais à l’épicerie le soir après avoir couché les petits, de voir autant de gens accompagnés de très jeunes enfants souvent (choc!) en état de crise. Vous pouvez être certains que ce ne sont pas des mères de 8 enfants. En faits, les gens qui amènent de très jeunes enfants à l’épicerie à l’heure du dodo (vous pouvez substituer l’heure de la sieste ou l’heure du repas) ont sans aucun doute 1 ou 2 enfants et se demandent comment je fais pour en avoir 8. Voici un indice: je ne les amène pas faire des course lorsqu’ils sont fatigués ou lorsqu’ils ont faim!

Avec les jumeaux, il n'y a pas beaucoup de place pour la nourriture. Je dois donc y aller avec quelqu'un pour m'aider: un chariot pour les petits, un chariot pour la bouffe.

Ensuite je planifie ma sortie à l’épicerie de manière à pouvoir le faire sans très jeunes enfants. Si j’oublie certaines choses, j’essaie de me débrouiller sans. Je laisse le Costco aux bons soins de mon mari qui va le faire une fois par semaine pendant que les plus vieux son au jiu-jitsu.

Et voilà comment un peu d’organisation et de discipline fait toute la différence. Je ne suis pas une personne naturellement organisée mais à partir de 4 enfants, il s’agit d’une question de survie!

Light Blogging – Ralentissement

Ralentissement forcé causé par un méchant streptocoque et 5 jours de misère fièvreuse. Fatigue oblige: il fallait que ça arrive. Mais grâce au miracle de la médecine moderne (les antibiotiques) et une bonne dose de chouchoutage par ma maman chérie, je me remets d’aplomb.

Light blogging ahead due to a mean streptococcus and 5 days of febrile misery. Fatigue does take its toll. But thanks to the miracle of modern medicine (antibiotics) and a strong dose of mothering from my own very best mother, I am getting back on my feet.