Wednesday, September 30, 2015

In Defense of Homemaking


We do not have to be suspicious of homemaking.

Our talents and aptitudes may afford us opportunities that weren't available to earlier generations of women. But most of us also desire to have a husband, and children, and to create a home for them.

To aspire to professional excellence is viewed as natural, and good. But, somehow, excellence in the home has become an awkward battleground of overdoing vs eschewing.

There are women who pursue excellence in homemaking to a truly staggering degree. Empires have been created around cooking and decorating tips. There are untold numbers of blogs and Instagram accounts devoted to beautifully unrealistic visions of aspirational homemaking. But at the same time, some women fear that to be a proficient homemaker somehow subjugates them.

I require both my boys and my girls to do chores around the house. Both my boys and my girls know how to cook, clean, take out the trash, make beds, and do laundry. But it's my hope that my daughters will grow up with an appreciation for traditionally feminine pursuits, so they are members of a girls' club called Little Women Hospitality Program. It's an offshoot of Little Flowers, aimed at older girls, in which they wear matching shirts and work on learning hospitality skills alongside their friends.

Over the two year program, the girls are introduced to skills including . . . Cooking, Cleaning, Setting and Clearing a Table, Table Manners and Conversation, Preparing a Room for a Guest, Writing Correspondence, Bringing Hospitality to Others, Sewing and Dressing Modestly, Planning a Tea Party, Running a Book Club, Laundry, Care for the Elderly, Personal Cleanliness, Tradition, Art and Beauty, Interior Decorating, Public Speaking, Gardening, and Friendship.

We had our first meeting of year two a couple of weeks ago, and I posted a picture on the blog's Facebook page of the girls learning about how to do laundry.

I was surprised at the lively discussion that ensued. Commenters were split about 90/10, with ninety percent wishing that they'd had a group like this when they were younger, because they felt themselves underprepared for the demands of homemaking, and ten percent REALLY concerned that this was a sexist thing to do to a group of girls. Coincidentally, another discussion about this club popped up on a fellow blogger's personal Facebook page, on the very same day. And some of the comments over there were less charitable. Some of them were CRAZY uncharitable. And really seemed to miss the point.

Lets look at the two main objections voiced in the comments, shall we?

1. Shouldn't girls and boys be taught the same things in the same ways?

Here's the thing:  My boys would not enjoy attending a club where they learned homemaking skills. That sounds just awful for them. My daughters do very much enjoy their homemaking club, so they get to do that with their girlfriends while the brothers make paper airplanes and hit each other with sticks outside. (Actually what happened during that meeting.) 

The girls enjoy learning these skills in a group environment, with their friends, in matching shirts. They enjoy learning these skills WITHOUT their brothers. My girls enjoy this club. My boys would hate it. It would be terrible for them. That doesn't mean the boys don't learn homemaking skills and that they don't do chores. They do. I'm just acknowledging here that there are better ways to teach my girls and better ways to teach my boys.

For my boys homemaking is a skill they should know so they don't die. For my girls, I hope homemaking is an art they can cultivate, whether or not they also have another career. But also, so they don't die. Which brings me to . . . 

2. If girls are taught homemaking, won't they aspire to nothing more?

Remember Andrea in season one of The Walking Dead? The women end up doing the laundry, but she'd rather go hunting, or fight zombies with the boys. I totally get that.

But I want my daughters to learn stuff like this precisely BECAUSE they were not skills I valued as a young woman.

Dosmesticity doesn't come naturally to me, and I'm pretty sure I must have resisted all my mother's attempts to teach me any basic homemaking. I didn't know how to do most rudimentary home ec stuff until after I got married. And it didn't make me a bada$$ feminist . . . it made me pathetic and embarrassed. And dirty.

You will never convince me that withholding skills and information from girls is empowering, or that giving them skills and information is sexist. 

Cooking, cleaning, laundry . . . these are IMPORTANT LIFE SKILLS. I hope my daughters will grow up to take pride in their careers (if they have them) and their children (if they have them). But I'm assuming they will also live somewhere, and wear clothing, and eat stuff. I hope that they can also take pride in their ability to do those things well.

That's what I've learned to do. I've been able to find interesting challenges and unexpected joys in homemaking tasks. Sure there's also drudgery. But some of that is good for me too.

I don't expect them to love every second of doing laundry. But maybe they won't like driving. That doesn't mean I'm just going to let them be terrible at it.

Most of these "homemaking" skills, are really just "Catholic" skills, right out of the Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy. None of us is above learning those things, no matter how accomplished we are outside the home.

So, if you're a ten percenter . . . don't be worried about my boys. They're learning most of this stuff too, just in a different format. And don't be worried about my girls, I have every intention of their being able to do laundry AND kick some butt in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

And if you're a ninety percenter . . . it is NOT too late for you to learn this stuff. It wasn't too late for me, and I'm looking forward to the rest of this year of Little Women Hospitality Program, because I figure I've still got plenty to learn. Don't be scared to try stuff, don't be scared to fail. For excellent, practical, accessible information, check out Like Mother, Like Daughter. And/or, start your own Little Women Hospitality Program club. Nothing like trying to teach something to help learn it. 

Don't worry that putting some effort into domestic pursuits makes you less empowered. Knowing stuff is good. Just ask G.I Joe.

You might also enjoy . . . 

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: A Difference in Kind not Just in Degree

How to Start a Little Flowers Girls' Club


Monday, September 28, 2015

What If I Can't Afford to Send Them to College?

Mailbag time! It's the million dollar question for big Catholic families: How can we keep having them, if we don't know whether we can afford them?

- question -

Hi Kendra,

I feel a little silly emailing someone I have never met such a personal question, but I've been reading your blog for almost a year now and really appreciate you sharing your experiences and advice.

I am a stereotypical cradle Catholic, as they say. I grew up going to church on Sundays, etc, but never really dove into the teachings of the Church until fairly recently. It's been a slow growing process for me. I had never even heard about NFP or St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body until maybe 3 years ago. However, it's taken me that long to mull over all that information (which is just so radical from everything you learn growing up, right?) and talking about it with my husband, to say, "Okay, I think we should try NFP."

We have two small children. Almost all our friends/family have no more than two children. Everyone is telling me that we should not have more than two. BUT with NFP I expect that we'll be open to more children. As someone who never thought they would have ANY kids, I can't deny that the idea of having more than two feels overwhelming. The thing that overwhelms me the most, is the increased expenses. Specifically, paying for college. This is something that is very important to me, and I want to be able to provide this for my children should they choose to go to college. My husband and I are pretty frugal people. We don't have fancy stuff. We don't do fancy things. So, I suppose my question is, how do larger families afford the larger number of children? Is saving for college something that larger families are generally able to do? I kind of feel like I'm entering foreign territory so any advice would be appreciated!

Thank you!

- answer -

Hey C,

This is a concern a lot of people have, I know. I think coming to terms with it requires a combination of virtues.
  1. Planning ahead
  2. Having the right priorities
  3. Living frugally
  4. Trusting in God

All of them. We met an old timer after Mass once and he told us how he had a bunch of kids on a city worker salary, and he always just figured that if God wanted them to go to college, God would figure it out. And, apparently most of them did. So, that's our backup plan. But we're also putting money away each month, as much as we can. We're focusing on instilling in our children the virtues that would allow them to be successful in school and hopefully qualify for scholarships. We're encouraging our older kids to look for ways to earn money, and they each have an investment account of their own, to which they contribute.

College expenses aside, one more kid really isn't all that expensive. We mostly eat at home, so one more mouth doesn't add up to all that much more in food bill, although I know they will eat more as they get older (I now have a teenager!), they wear hand-me-down clothes, and we've really had to get creative on Christmas and birthday gifts, because we have all the toys we could possibly ever need. All of those "how much it costs to raise a child" infographics are nonsense. Kids just don't need all that STUFF.

I think Jenny at Mama Needs Coffee wrote about this really well:

On Debt and Openness to Life

We do have a responsibility to gauge whether we can "afford" emotionally, physically, and financially to have another child. But I also think that if there's any question, we should err on the side of reckless generosity. You really can't put a price on another snuggly baby's smiles, another sibling for your children, another wedding to dance at, another grandchild's drawings on the fridge, another person at your deathbed. All of that is so much more important than money. If I look at each of my children and I think, "Well, what if I couldn't afford to send you to college? Would I wish I'd never had you?" of course, the answer is a resounding "No." If MY own parents hadn't been able to afford to send ME to college, would I wish I had never been born? No, I wouldn't.

And now I'm just going to go out on a limb here, and guess that there's more to your worry than just money. Because two little kids is really hard work. When I had two little kids, I looked at my day and I knew that to add two more kids and twice as much work would have been flat out impossible. But, of course, my kids kept right on coming all the same. And I found that having that third baby was the scariest, but then it ended up being an easier adjustment for me than having my first or second, then by the time number four came along, my big kids were helping, and I knew what I was doing, and it was easier still to adjust. And now, we've got our routines and our systems and everyone helps and it all functions pretty smoothly, most of the time, even when we have a new baby.

I don't know if God's calling you to have a big family. It's not always a given. But if God IS calling you to have a big family, he will give you the graces you need to be able to survive it. He hasn't given them to you yet, because you don't need them yet. That's what I see in the big families I know. But I also know lovely, devout Catholic families with one or two children. You just never know how things are going to work out. The best any of us can do is try to correspond to the graces God gives us to deal with the life we're living at this particular moment.

Keep me posted!


You might also enjoy these posts:

To Moms of Only Little Kids: psst, the magic number is ten

Dear Newlywed, You're Probably Worried About the Wrong Thing


Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Them's the Rules: Part II (Seven Quick Takes)

Here we go on the second installment of . . . Them's the Rules! Where I share with you our family rules and things I say one hundred times a day, with images I made in a weird fit of graphic design-themed nesti-ness the day before Mary Jane was born.

Here's Part I, in case you missed it.

1. What does God do to complainers? He sends snakes to bite them.

Really, I just love this one. I love it so much I wrote a blog post about it AND a reflection at Blessed is She about it. My kids know this one so well, that now I don't even have to say it. I can just hiss and poke them with two fingers. And THEY KNOW.

2. Is that a tool, or a toy?

I don't know about yours, but my kids are always messing with stuff they ought not be messing with. So we have this rule to help little kids (and big kids who need reminding) learn to distinguish between things that should be played with and things that should just be used for their intended purpose.

So . . . Scissors: okay for cutting paper. Not okay for putting in your mouth to make your cheeks poke out funny. Oven mitt: okay for moving a hot pan. Not okay for having a puppet show. Rubber mulch: okay for walking on, or falling upon from a great height. Not okay for filling your pockets or winging at your sister.
3. Don't look at me when you're talking to him.

This one is just tattling, disguised as not tattling.

We have a family rule that before you come to tell mom or dad, you must take up the issue with the person with whom you are having a problem. Or, if you see someone breaking a family rule, you're to remind him and give him a chance to stop before you involve mom and dad.

But, unfortunately, that rule necessitated this rule, because a lot of the "reminders" ended up being shouted right past the offender, right to me.
4. What do we say when someone helps us? (thank you, not: I WANNA DO IT!)

This one has always been directed mostly at the one to three year old set. But I currently have a seven year old who is terribly offended at assistance of any kind and still needs reminders.

It is a fact of life that toddlers need help for many, many things. But most of them do NOT want that help. My toddlers all want to "do it aself." That's great. I love that. I'm a huge fan of encouraging independence, even in toddlers. But sometimes we just need the hand washing or unbuckling to happen this decade and there will need to be help. So, when the shrieking begins, I remind them of the preferred response.
5. Three times is the limit, for singin' stuff, sayin' stuff, and doin' stuff.

Much like whoever makes The Fast and the Furious movies, my kids believe that if something was good once, it will be good fifteen times. But, I think WE can agree that that just isn't true. Three times is plenty for that novelty song about a duck at a lemonade stand or that knock knock joke.
6. Unless it's dangerous or destructive, you're just tattling.

That's two anti-tattling rules in this list. But, MAN do I hate tattling. So, there ya go.

Basically our rule is that the kids should make every effort to handle things amongst themselves. They are Team Kid and we are Team Grown Up, and they should be trying to take care of each other, and address problems between members of their team without involving us.

However, if it's dangerous or destructive, I want to know about it.
7. No. No screaming.

My formerly Sweetest Baby in the Universe has become a Regular Old Toddler, so this rule is in high rotation around here. I can't abide shrieking. I just can. not. So, we don't allow shrieks of anger or frustration or glee. You can BE angry or frustrated or gleeful, you just can't scream about it.

So, if there is screaming, there is one warning, then there is a trip to the corner or the crib, depending on how old you are. It's pretty effective . . . eventually. Even with really stubborn kids.
And that's all for today. But don't worry, there's at least one more post where this one came from.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Show About the Depth of Male Friendship . . . and farting trolls

The husband is reading The Lord of the Rings aloud to the kids, and I find myself struck again by the beauty of the friendship between Frodo and Sam. Sam's constant selfless devotion, Frodo's (eventual) trust and reliance . . . it's just all so touching. And a deep and profound friendship between two men is not something I'm used to finding in entertainment.

Then, in my poking around on Netflix, looking for something to watch while stuck under a nursing baby, I happened upon a BBC show from about ten years ago, called Merlin. And, wouldn't you know it, this show features a similarly moving relationship between the titular character and Aurthur of Camelot. There's also a lot of teasing and silliness, but it all ends up in friendship.

Now, The Lord of the Rings is profound for lots of other reasons besides its portrayal of friendship, and Tolkien's writing is brilliant and complex. I would not describe the writing on Merlin using either of those terms, but it is fun and entertaining.

It somehow manages to be The Lord of the Rings meets Doctor Who. It has the heart and Truth, deep down, of The Lord of the Rings but the lighthearted wackiness and (somewhat cheesy) monster-heavy special effects of Doctor Who.

My favorite things about the show . . .

1. Merlin is chock full of self-sacrifice and virtue among its characters. Merlin is a servant willing to die for his master and friend. Aurthur is a leader willing to die for his kingdom and people. Gaius is a model example of a foster father. The knights are selfless and daring and good. Guinevere is brave and loyal (when she's not under a magic spell, but she's under a magic spell a LOT).

2. The heroes don't flip-flop. Characters develop, and some do start out as friends and become foes, but it's a story arc, and you have the sense that it's coming. The GOOD guys, however, struggle and question, and they sometimes fail, but they don't just become bad guys for a while, or turn out to have been bad guys all along. I really hate that. And I think it's unnecessarily confusing for kids.

3. Speaking of kids, this is truly a family show. There is no sexual content in the show. Even characters who get married don't ever have a big SCENE. There's some awkwardness between a troll and a main character (more on that later) and one of the knights is shown putting his shirt on in his room with a young lady present, so we can figure what must have happened. But that's absolutely as bad as it gets.

4. It's all been made. It's five seasons, which is enough but not too much, and it's finished, so you can't get invested in it then have them spring something problematic on you.

Good guys are good, bad guys are bad, a little romance, a lot of swashbuckling, a lot of magic, no gore, no language, no sex. It's fun for the whole family.

BUT. I should probably warn you . . .

1. There is a TON of male shirtlessness in this show. I don't personally imagine the king of Camelot sleeping shirtless. But this one does. There's an episode in which the knights are captured and made to work in some snow mines where it's so cold, you can see their breath. And they are shirtless the whole time. One of the knights, Percival, wears cut off chain mail, which should no more be a thing than bikini armor. It just really defeats the POINT of chain mail, if it has no sleeves. Most awkward of all, there's a running gag about Aurthur's pants falling down.

2. It can be kind of intense. There is one REALLY SCARY episode in season five (The Dark Tower). There are intense battle scenes. Characters we love die. It might all be too much for sensitive kids.

3. The writing is a bit formulaic. Basically, most episodes are: A trusted person within the court wants to kill the king. Merlin and Gaius know but can't tell Aurthur because, reasons. The murderous person cannot, say, just STAB the king because, reasons. So, there's an elaborate plot that involves going on a quest or fighting a magical beast of some sort. All poisons take about three days to kill you, to give you time for the questing.

4. Many of the episodes are very earnest and very touching. . . . And some seem like they must have been written by a nine year old boy because they are almost completely about farting. I really did not like those episodes, and felt extraordinarily embarrassed for all of the actors while watching them. I'd recommend skipping them entirely, except they do advance the plot. Fortunately, there are only a handful, mostly in season two.

Overall, I enjoyed and recommend it. If you like fantasy and don't mind some camp to go with it, and you're not TOO worried about whether some knights might catch a cold, perhaps Merlin is for you. And if you're looking for something to watch with the kids, this could fit the bill. I plan to watch it through again sometime with my kids, probably the seven and ups.

You might also enjoy:

There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Fracture a Fairy Tale . . .

Daredevil is Catholic (so far)

And that's my honest opinion. But this is a sponsored post.

What are we missing out on? What are YOUR favorite whole-family shows?


Monday, September 21, 2015

Enforcing the Rules When Family Isn't Supportive

Mailbag time! Today, you get two for the price of one, on a really challenging topic: how to handle family members who undermine our parenting.

- first question -

Hey, Kendra!

I was at the funeral for one of my relatives, and after at the cemetery, we went to visit the grave sites of some other family members. Well, one of my second cousins is in her mid 30s, and she has three kids- 1 girl and 2 boys. The youngest, I'd say, is about 7 or 8, and he's quite the handful. Anyways. We were all gathered around my great-grandfather's grave site, and said boy walks right up and starts climbing on top of the gravestone.

At which point, his mother tells him to get down. Two things happen. 1- he completely ignores her, and, 2- the rest of her family (parents, aunts, and cousins) completely undermines her authority and tell her and the child that it's ok, it's not a big deal, and then even make light of it.

I said nothing, but was outraged because 1- Mom said NO, regardless of what the kid is doing is unacceptable, she said no. End of story. 2- her family members unintentionally enabled the kid to completely ignore his mother by disregarding her authority as a parent.

I discussed it with my fiancee, and we both agreed that said situation was not acceptable, and would remove our kid from the situation for correction if it ever occurred. However, we drew a complete blank when it came to dealing with family members who undermine our authority as parents.

So. Question: Has anything like this ever happened to you? How would you deal with the family members who stepped in?


- first answer -

Hey Jen,

Thanks! Yeah. I think all parents have faced that one. And I think your instincts are completely right on it.

In those situations, I try to remember that the family members (or friends, or complete strangers) really do THINK they're being helpful They're not, of course, but they do mean well. It's not like they've set out to undermine your parenting, they are just uncomfortable witnessing parental correction, since you just don't see it out in the open these days.

So, I am polite to the meddlers, but firm in my discipline. I'd just smile and say, "Well, either way, he DOES have to listen when his parents tell him something." And I'd try to find someplace more private to have a discussion with my child.

And if you do that often enough, the meddlers quit meddling, mostly.

I'm sure there are some grandparents out there who are (consciously or unconsciously) deliberately undermining parental authority, but I think in MOST cases it's just awkwardness than can be handled by confident parenting. It sounds like you're on the right track!


- second question -

Hi Kendra,

I am wondering how you would handle a situation I often find myself in. My husband and I are very, very blessed to live close to our parents, siblings, and close family. We see them often, at least once per week, usually more. I am so happy that my children get to see their family on such a regular basis.

I have learned so much about parenting from your blog, and a lot of the rules and expectations you have shared really seem to work for my family. The problem is that our extended families do not seem to respect our rules for our children, even when we politely explain or ask. Many of them think we are "much too strict" and that our expectations exceed the capabilities of a two year old (which is obviously not true, because my daughter has shown me that she is very capable of following my rules).

I used to simply give up and allow "free for all" whenever our family visited, but since we do see them so often, it is causing me a great deal of stress. And, not to mention, the amount of effort it takes to get my daughter back on track after they leave is difficult in itself.

I really want to be respectful of our family, and especially our parents. But where is the line between "honoring thy father and mother" and my sanity?

Thank you Kendra, and God Bless!

- second answer -


This one is really tricky. And how I would handle it depends on a few different factors.

If I thought I could do it without hurting their feelings, I might mention to individual family members, in as casual a way as I could manage, that I think consistency with our family rules is really important for my daughter and I'd really appreciate it if they could try to back us up on them.

But I know that's not possible in all families, and in some cases people could be really offended.

In that case, you might be stuck doing your best and waiting it out a bit. I have a different mailbag post about how we try to babyproof the baby, rather than babyproofing the house. And, really, we are the same way with older kids. I want their discipline and standards of behavior to come from within. Of course, those standards are based on our family rules, but basically, my goal is that the behavior of my children would be the same inside my home as at someone else's home, and the same under my direct supervision as under the supervision of another adult, or completely unsupervised.

I should admit here, however, that despite the fact that this is something we really do work with our kids on, IF my kids are going to do something crazy and ridiculous and that I would not believe they were capable of, except that someone is standing here telling me that they did it . . . well, you can bet they're going to do it at someone else's house. And make it appear to our friends that Tierneys are totally fine with locking toddlers in closets, or attempting to eat lunch with our feet.

But, in THEORY, we do expect our kids to hold themselves to the standards of our family rules whether someone is there to make them, or not. And mostly, it's an effective technique. It really doesn't matter at this point if other family members or friends agree with or want to enforce our family rules, because it's what the kids are supposed to be doing on their own, anyway.

Now, I'm all for high expectations and starting discipline at a young age, but for my kids, two would have been too young to expect them to do a very good job of keeping our family rules on their own. Some things, like not getting food for yourself without permission, not going out the door alone, only drawing on paper . . . stuff like that, I do expect them to be able to handle. But not throwing toys if kids around them are throwing toys, or saying no thank you to snacks that are offered right before dinner, that's probably too much to ask of a toddler.

So, if you don't think you can convince the family to support you, I would focus on being really consistent with your rules at home, and calmly and repeatedly reminding your daughter that family rules are for all the time and everywhere and they are her responsibility to remember, even if mommy isn't watching. I would make a point of really noticing and praising her when she does follow family rules on her own. But, probably, you're going to end up having to let some things go for another couple of years. And it will be okay, she will still learn. She will still internalize YOUR family culture, because that's the one she's around most often.

Good luck!


Other posts you might enjoy:

Creating a Family Culture

How to Love Your Kids and Like Them Too


Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


Friday, September 18, 2015

The Secret to Teaching Kids to Read is . . .

The secret part is step number four, which involves understanding that not all kids start reading as early as you've been led to believe. But since there are five steps that I've followed to get my kids reading, I figure we should probably start with number one.

1. Read Aloud

Reading aloud is my favorite part of our day. Or maybe nap time. But reading aloud is a close second.

Picture books are easy enough to find the time for. Starting up a chapter book with a little kid can feel daunting. But it's totally worth it.

A couple years ago, I decided to really make reading chapter books aloud to my kids a priority each school day. And it's been great. All of my kids, from the toddler to the teenager, listen to the same book together. We have inside jokes, and shared experiences because of it. And, for the little ones, it sets the stage for learning to read.

I'm modeling for them that I think reading is important and enjoyable. I'm demonstrating for them how reading works, so when they get to the point of trying it for themselves, they'll have an understanding of how words flow when you're reading.

So far this school year, the newborn has made it difficult to consistently read a chapter a day. But I'm trying to make up for it with audio books.

2. Begin at the Beginning

Before they're ready to start reading, I like them to know their letter sounds. I've found the easiest way to do that has been by letting them watch the Leap Frog DVDs.

My kids really like them. I don't mind them. And they do a really great job of teaching the letter sounds, and the basic rules of reading, in song format. So, even years later, when one of my kids is having trouble with a word, I can sing, "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking" at him. Good times.

I cannot recommend THESE PARTICULAR Leap Frog movies enough:

I'm not sure what's happened to the Leap Frog brand. There are a whole bunch of new Leap Frog shows available on Netflix, but not these original ones. I watched a few minutes of a few of them and was really disappointed. They don't have the useful songs, and the animation on a couple of them is downright creepy.

I'm sure there are other, more recent shows that also do a good job of introducing phonics. But these are the only ones I can personally vouch for.

Once my kids know the letter sounds and seem to be able to sit still for ten minutes and complete a task, we start actual lessons. That has happened for my kids between three and five. For lessons, we use this book:

It says twenty minutes per day, but we do closer to ten, because I don't use the writing component of the program. I haven't found that reading readiness always coincides with writing readiness in my kids, so I prefer to teach those skills separately. After Hundred Easy Lessons, we move on to phonics readers , then easy readers from the library.

3. Be Consistent

My goal is to do reading and phonics consistently, usually four days per week. I also try to be consistent about the time of day that we do lessons. I find that there is less push-back from the less enthusiastic kiddos when they know when to expect lessons.

Then we just do them. There's no complaining allowed. We just do it and get it done.

I've had some kids LOVE these lessons, and some not love them quite as much. But they've all been amused by the silly little stories and illustrations. And the techniques of Hundred Easy Lessons has been really effective for all of my kids so far.

4. Be Patient

Here's the big secret: My Kid Will Read Well When He is Ready

My oldest daughter was able to ready easy chapter books by the end of Kindergarten. But the same has not been true of any of her brothers. My so-far-reading other kids have done Hundred Easy Lessons in Kindergarten, and moved on to easy readers after that. But three out of four couldn't read easy chapter books until the summer between second and third grade.

My older two sons are very strong readers now. The third one is coming right along. Somehow that rising third grader age, seems to be the sweet spot for us. That's when my boys start reading, regardless of what I do.

I was too hard on my oldest kids. I had this expectation that all kids learned to read in Kindergarten or first grade. But my experience with teaching five kids (so far) to read is that it just isn't true.

I've had some kids learn to read pretty early, some a lot later, and the odd thing is that as long as I'm consistent in steps 1-3, they seem to put it together themselves. And even when I'm NOT as consistent as I probably should be, they still seem to put it together themselves.

5. Read Aloud

It WASN'T all about me, after all. As long as I give them the tools, and read aloud to them and have them read aloud to me, from easy readers or whatever level book with which they're comfortable, they are able to make progress relatively painlessly.

Having them read to me lets me make sure they're not just skipping words if they're having trouble with them.

Sometimes we take turns reading pages of a picture book. Another trick is have them read aloud to younger siblings, which is enjoyable for the little kid, and great, stress-free practice for the big kid. But I often eavesdrop.

Then, once they do graduate to chapter books, I have plenty of good ones around the house, so they'll keep it up.

But the main thing I've learned is not to fret about the timeline. Some kids read early, some kids read late, but almost all kids WILL learn to read. As long as they have a solid foundation, it seems to come -- like a lot of things -- in its own time.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Beauty of a W I D E Family

I've been sold for some time on the benefits of a big family: many hands with which to share the work, plenty of folks for games and conversation.

But, really, the benefits I appreciate most in my big family, are actually because it's also a wide family.

Having a baby when your eldest is one and a half or two is what you're "supposed" to do. It's also, um, super-duper hard.

Having a baby when your eldest is seven, or ten, or . . . a teenager, well, folks are going to look at you funny. But that's just because they don't know how awesome it is.

Having done both, I'm here to tell you that the former is good, but the latter is even better. It is awesome. For me. For the little kids. For the big kids. It's awesome all around . . .

1. Having a wide family is lovely for moms.

My older kids are able to be actually, no kidding helpful. Not the kind of "helping" that gets a third of the batter slopped over the side of the bowl by adorable enthusiastic little mixers. Not the kind of "helping" that actually kinda makes every task take twice as long and then have to get quietly redone by me once they lose interest.

No. No. No.

Being the mother of a wide family means I now get the kind of help that lets me stay in my glider nursing while dinner gets made by someone else.

Having older kids AND babies and toddlers means we can divide and conquer. At nap time, I get the baby, and the big kids can take care of story time for toddlers.

'Tweens and teens in the house means there's someone to watch the baby for me so I can bathe regularly. It means I can run errands without loading all the kids in the car. It means the husband and I can have a date night without hiring a babysitter.

Older kids mean I'm not overwhelmed and isolated like I was with my first couple of babies. Of course, I have more experience as a mother now, so that helps. But mostly, it's because of my older kids. We work together to keep the house running and the little ones looked after. We have each other for company.

So much of mothering with my first babies was just survival. I didn't have the luxury of being able to enjoy their babyhood. But, now, with a wide family, I really can. I have NEVER enjoyed my babies like I have these last two. I get to stare into their little eyes and sniff their little heads like I never have had the time to do before. With my first, I was too stressed out, and with all the babies in between I was just too busy. Having older kids and a baby means I have the experience AND the opportunity to relax and appreciate babies being babies.

2. Having a wide family is fun for little kids.

My little kids get blown off WAY less than my big kids did when they were little.

I make a point of doing stuff with them and for them, really I do. But there's only one of me. And I have a lot of obligations around the house and a limited tolerance for multiple readings of The Poky Little Puppy.

My big kids are willing and able to do all the things I can't, like get a cup of water for the toddler when I'm nursing a baby. Or won't, like figure out how to get the last piece of the train track to connect.

My little kids get love and attention from their mom and dad, but they also get nearly the same level of devotion from their oldest siblings. There are more people to admire their scribbles, and laugh at their not-quite-jokes, and pick them up if they skin a knee.

3. Having a wide family is good for big kids.

A little hero worship is a wonderful thing. And that's what my big kids get -- hero worshiped. Their much younger brothers and sisters look up to them in a unique and beautiful way.

Sure, they can occasionally be . . . pesky. But, mostly, my kids' frustrations with their siblings happen with kids within three or four years of one another. Beyond that, they just don't have that same rivalry. They're not in competition for the same toys, or for the same type of attention.

My thirteen year old son makes obstacle courses in the yard for his three year old brother. He swipes his dad's iPhone to record backyard dinner parties with his one and a half year old sister (no sticks).

Folks talk about what a blessing it is to be a grandparent. How you get all the fun and adoration of kids, but when it all gets to be too much, you can hand them back to their parents. My big kids have the same thing going.

My eleven year old daughter and her little group of girlfriends like to spend parties toting around their various baby brothers and sisters, grudgingly returning them to their mothers only as a last resort. They bounce them and pat them and show them off and shift their positions when they get fussy, just like old pros.

A friend told me that she heard a Kimberly Hahn talk in which she posited that many teen pregnancies might be avoided if more teen-aged girls had baby sisters to dote upon.

Tween and teen girls with babies at home get to experience just the right amount of that joy of caring for a baby, but also get a realistic picture of how much responsibility is required.

Betty was there for the births of both of her youngest sisters. She and Jack can change diapers and kiss boo boos. They can negotiate with hostile toddlers for the release of objects held hostage. If necessary, they can speak in that low, firm voice that lets toddlers know you mean it when you send them to sit in the corner.

Empathy, authority, compromise. These are life-skills many kids their age haven't had the opportunity to learn.

For my bold, demanding son, having much younger siblings has helped him grown in gentleness and compassion. For my quiet, nurturing daughter, having much younger siblings has helped her grow in confidence and responsibility.

And none of this is limited to families that are both big and wide. The husband grew up as one of three, six years older than his sister and ten years older than his brother. His almost paternal relationship with them as a teenager helped prepare him to be the awesome father he is to our kids. And, as they all became adults, they grew into a relationship of equals.

I just have one sister, who is three years younger than I am. So I never got to experience that, myself.  But it's been amazing for me, as a mother, to witness those relationships between my biggest and littlest children. It truly is a thing of beauty.

not all mine. there are a couple cousins in there.

You might also enjoy . . .

Are Older Siblings Overburdened by Responsibilities? Or Are They Empowered by Them?

To Moms of Only Little Kids: psst, the magic number is ten

Before I Had a Seven Year Old



Monday, September 14, 2015

Motivating Reluctant Helpers

Mailbag time! You're not going to believe this, but some kids are NOT super excited about doing chores. Here's what we do about it.

- question - 

Hi Kendra!

My question is this: I've recently begun having my four- and two-year old children set the table for dinner each night. At first, they thought it was great fun to help with a grown-up task, but my four-year-old son has begun showing some aversion. I have already put my foot down on him whining about it (or from running away to hide, which happened once or twice as well!). A few days ago, he simply said, "I don't want to set the table." My response was, "Well, you may not like it, but it's your job. I don't really want to cook dinner or wash the dishes, but I do it because it's my job."

I was reflecting on my response later, and I'm just not happy with it. I feel like instead of agreeing that doing chores are something to be dreaded, I should have spoken more positively - focusing on our duty to serve the family (and the joy that is possible to find there). But how can I explain this to young children?

Or perhaps I'm just over-thinking the whole thing, and what I should do is just start considering comments such as "I don't want to _______" as complaining, and give out appropriate consequences for them!

Thanks for any advice you might be able to offer,

(Splendor in the Home)

- answer -

Hey Christine,

Well it's certainly nothing new, just ask Moses. The whole book of Exodus is pretty much Moses listening to people grumble about stuff. And God has a little something special up his sleeve for complainers.

What you said is pretty much exactly how I respond in that situation. I do think we have a responsibility, like you mention, of trying to model joy in acts of service to our family. But our kids should also understand that I don't cook them dinner because it's the thing I'd most like to be doing at that moment, and Daddy doesn't drive off to work each morning because it's his favorite place to be. I want my kids to understand that we do those things as a result of a conscious decision to love God and the people around us by our actions, not just our words or our feelings.

I want my kids to understand that they are a burden, but one for which I am grateful. We are all made better by doing things for others even when we don't feel like it. Especially when we don't feel like it.

Sometimes I'll respond just as you did. But sometimes I'll add, "Well, when you do something you don't feel like doing, out of love for God or our family, you get another jewel in your crown in heaven" or, depending on how that particular kid is best motivated, "Well, it's better to do stuff you don't like here rather than in purgatory. Setting the table in purgatory is probably much more unpleasant." And then, of course, they want to know HOW it would be unpleasant, and I don't know for sure, but we can come up with some good guesses.

Anyway, some push back on chores is TOTALLY normal. You just have to be a little more stubborn than he is.

And there's a line somewhere. For younger kids, just learning to do chores, I'm okay with a little push back, with some feeling around to see if I really do mean it, and to understand why they have to. But at some point it does just become complaining and a waste of everyone's time. I STILL have to have this conversation with my thirteen year old every so often. He labors under the belief that if only I truly understood how much he disliked doing chores, I wouldn't make him do them.

But he's wrong. I know he doesn't like 'em. He still has to do 'em.

I changed my approach a bit after reading the book The Temperament God Gave You . It helped me understand how best to motivate different kids. The oldest, for instance, really isn't much motivated by the idea of being of service to his family, but he does like a challenge, and to be given responsibilities that other kids couldn't handle. So, whenever possible, I'll ask him to do unique chores that come up, like running an errand for me, or replacing batteries, or gluing something that's been broken.

It's not always possible, of course, the table DOES need setting, and even if it's beneath him sometimes he's the one who needs to do it.

Good luck!


Some other posts you might enjoy:

Chores for Enthusiastic Toddlers

Can't Buy Me Love? Not For Chores Anyway.

Are Older Siblings Overburdened by Responsibilities? Or Are They Empowered by Them?


Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

p.s. Would you believe I'm talking about complaining over at Blessed is She today as well? Click on over, read all about it.