Thursday, February 26, 2009

March Ahead—Planning Summer Childcare

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.—Russel Baker

On the last day of school, I want my first thoughts to be, This will be a great summer.

As cold March winds blast my home, I know that peak recruitment for summer childcare takes place. To assess my feelings about the out-of-school-months—I took a 'summer stress test.' The result?

Sister, You Need Help!

Summertime—the living is easy. Right?

Wrong! Work, chores, daycare, and finances never take a vacation.

Summer knocks routine outta whack. It's hard enough maintaining the school-year rat race. The who, what, when, where, how, and cost of securing reliable alternative childcare rocks my pocketbook and nerves. When ice covers my driveway, I'm worrying about surviving summer meltdowns.

It's never too early to make summer plans. The National Camp Association reports that camp registrations start filling up January through March. Don't get stuck on a waiting list holding your breath for cancellations.

  • Review opportunities. Consider trading the routine of costly daycare for adventurous or in-home settings. Evaluate available, affordable options: nanny, babysitting co-op, structured educational or recreational programs offered by community centers, day or resident summer camps, scouting clubs, religious or private organizations, and schools. Make sure they are experienced in gearing programs for your child's age.
  • I prefer an environment that covers my daycare needs, provides an academic break and develops my sons' spectrum of life skills. I also want one that reinforces my values of relating, caring and teamwork. I ask, "Does this program impart principled decision-making, heart skills and social competence?"
  • Seek recommendations. Who endorses this organization? Do you respect this group? What is the adult-to-child ratio? Ask other parents to verify the quality of instruction and the value for the money spent. If you don't know anyone, ask the director for references. Be sure they conduct criminal and sexual offender background checks on anyone caring for your children.
  • Find a good fit. Does your youngster love music, computers, art, or sports? Solo parents always look for positive role models. Find a program that's led by a person of integrity that you would like your child to emulate.
  • Request financial aid. One solo mother saved money by sending her daughter to different programs throughout the summer utilizing scholarships. If grants aren't listed in the brochure, ask, "Is assistance available?"
  • Ask for your children's feedback. Do not assume your kids will enjoy the choices available to them. If options are limited, acknowledge your children's feelings to help process difficult decisions.
  • Consider enrichment opportunities. Three-hour specialty camps or classes or Vacation Bible School offer a welcome break from childcare.
  • Discuss summer plans. Because your children are in the care of strangers, review "bad touch" and how they are to report it to you. Send positive messages to prime their anticipations. Talk up funny summer memories.
  • Crunch the numbers. Will your budget survive? If the other parent changes plans, what is the provider's refund policy? If claiming tax credit for work-related childcare expenses, request the provider's taxpayer identification number or organization's employer identification number (EIN), plus legal name and address. Overnight camps aren't considered a work-related expense, but a specialized day camp qualifies. Questions? Log on to
  • Take a break from chaos. If your child is old enough to attend a one or two-week residential camp, mosey on over to The Lodge at Elk Valley, a retreat center for single-parent families. For details, contact: Single Parent Family Ministry, Gary Sprague, phone: 719.687.0515, email:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Draw Out Your Child’s Qualities

Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.—Proverbs 22:6 NASB

All the 8-1/2" by 11" construction paper works of art bordering the wall were the same—except for one.

    Before I asked—I knew.

    "Which one is Kyle's?"

    "That one," the teacher said, pointing to the solitary design that failed her robotically-created-on-a-Chinese-assembly-line inspection. "Kyle didn't follow my directions." Her tone expressed displeasure with my little Picasso's masterpiece.

    "I love it. It's so-o-o creative." I felt satisfaction: Kyle has far too much inner silly putty to allow someone to squish his creative voice.

    I felt irritated with the teacher. Art is not about gluing cookie-cutter shapes in a predetermined arrangement. Creativity is about artistic vision.

Out of Tune or Perfect Pitch?

Dancing to the tune of a different drummer is not easy. I know. What message did others communicate regarding my inner rhythm and melody?

    Something is wrong with me.

    The great painter and sculptor Michelangelo offers a parenting song I enjoy singing: "In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it."

Chisel Out the Best

My sons are more than pliable clay or plaster to cast in a rigid mold: They are exquisite pieces of uncut marble. Like the wandering veins of marble, their interests, personalities and inherent strengths and weaknesses meander in unexpected directions.

    I respect what they think and feel. To bring my sons' God-given essences to the surface, I look for their inner motivations, offer encouragement and then provide the tools and opportunities I can afford.

    I love Kristoffer and Kyle unconditionally. It's my responsibility to encourage their inner sacred realm. I want them to know, "I'm on God's side. I want you to be all He created you to be."

    Kyle, my sensitive dreamer, takes after my imaginative traits. Kristoffer, my little Army man, picked up my down-to-earth, let's-get-real qualities. Only camouflage face paint sticks purchased at the Army Surplus Store spark his artistic interest.

    Releasing my sons' imaginations takes the painstaking patience of a sculptor. Yep! Sometimes I hammer a bit too hard, chip away in wrong areas or chisel deep, unnecessary scrapes.

    I ask, "Will you forgive me?" and then verbalize my admiration of their giftings. "Kyle, I love the colors you chose. Your design is striking."

    "Kristoffer, you did a great job painting camouflage on your face. I could hardly find you. I cannot believe how high you climbed the tree. You are so courageous. I'm glad God made you so strong."

    I admire my sons' incredible, wonderful one-of-a-kind uniqueness. In my loudest Mom-cheerleader's voice, I shout, "You go, guys! I'm proud of you."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Leadership in Your Home

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.—Abraham Lincoln

"I da boss of myself," my four-year-old son declared.

"I'm your boss, Kyle."

"Who is your boss?"


End of conversation.

Was Kyle thinking what Lisa Simpson said, "I'm no theologian. All I know is he's [God's] more powerful than Mom and Dad put together."?

Sometimes my sons think I'm a candidate for President of our home. They'd prefer that I say, "What do you want? Okay, I can do that."

Other times, they challenge whether I'm tough enough to be the Commander in chief.

I am the President of our home and I have to make wise decisions that are unpopular with my constituents and political rivals—my sons.

Leadership Qualities of a Commander in Chief

Historian and author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin outlines the powerful personal qualities that solo parents need to govern our homes successfully.

Withstand Adversity: Solo parents are survivors, which inspires a quiet, tough self-confidence. Handling setbacks and tragedies—not success—reveals our character.

Diverse Perspectives: I went from living in a beautiful middle-class neighborhood and running with wealthy and middle-class friends to living side-by-side with individuals familiar with poverty. Divorce instantly down-classed our social status, but upped our ability to comfort others. If we truly believe that everyone is valuable to God, then we welcome individuals who are different into our hearts and lives.

I shared my values with my children, but I did not want to raise "yes" men. I exposed them to different views to encourage them to think. It's important to teach the ability to respect and listen to others, even if they disagree with our family's values.

Loyalty: One of my bosses enjoyed taking public credit for our team's successes. Over time, his ability to inspire loyalty dissipated. When faced with the challenges of solo parenting, it's important create a sense of shared purpose and acknowledge our children's successes—no matter how small.

Admit Mistakes: Aristotle said, "To err is human; to not learn from one's mistakes is stupidity." Each time I hurt my sons' feelings or yelled at them because I was stressed, I asked, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"

Manage Emotions: All solo parents experience feelings of anger or sadness. I hoped my sons would see that I was changing for the better and releasing grudges.

Define Goals: My sons were not allowed to get away with saying these words, "I can't." and "I don't know." I set forth a vision for my children that would be realized when they became adults. I led our family by reinforcing our family motto: I'll try.

Relax: For years, I felt burned out. Finding humor in the ridiculousness of my situation released stress. Often I escaped to the bathroom. While the boys fought like dogs, I relaxed in the bath with hot tea, chocolate and reading materials. My twenty-something, able-to-live-well-within-his-budget boss reviewed my budget and then reprimanded me for my one luxury—one magazine subscription. Money-wise I couldn't justify it. He failed to understand it was a mental health issue. That magazine re-filled my depleted emotional well.

Remember, you are not a candidate; be the leader of your home. I run my leadership campaign on a high level. I live the life that I want my children to model as adults.

Solo parents have the most powerful job on the planet—to influence our children.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Parental War Story—Tiny Terrors Unleashed

Why torture yourself, when you're kids will do it for you?

My sons are experts in the art of enhanced interrogation, better known as "torture." Kristoffer and Kyle reserve intensified interrogation techniques for their most challenging captive—me. Their methods are not new: feigning suffocation, stress positions, exhaustion exercising, light and noise bombardment, and sleep deprivation.

I refused to buy Kristoffer an expensive remote control car that he saw advertised every two seconds on TV. His last ditch persuasion technique was an attempt to break the breath-holding world record. His feigned suffocation turned him blue. I panicked. Fortunately, the body overrides stubbornness to resume breathing on its own.

Both of my sons managed to find their way onto my two-story rooftop. Kristoffer was four; Kyle was three. Finagling preschoolers off the roof without sustaining life-threatening injuries is an exercise in an emotionally and physically exhausting 'stress position.'

Kristoffer and Kyle instinctively play warring factions against each other. When the boys lose the war game of pitting Mom versus Dad, they ratchet up hardcore torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture. I allege their tactics are harsh. They deem their methods valid and necessary. The only marks my enhanced interrogators leave are on my heart.

As a battle-weary solo parent, I long for a peaceful night's sleep rather than bedtime skirmishes. Their nocturnal light and noise bombardment diversions wear me down until I cave into their demands. "You can have what you want! Just let me sleep!" The CIA makes a good point: Enhanced interrogation forces the interrogated to give in.

When the CIA forced detainees to listen to rap artist Eminem's Slim Shady album, they became frantic. Hello! Is this not an everyday parental reaction to the music choices of American teens?

Prisoner of War—A Mom's Perspective

My mothering instincts kicked into full gear when U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad and the looting began. I thought: Where are their mothers? It is time for the moms of America to take charge!

I have a few legal suggestions to drag secrets from the enemy—unleash the special forces of preschoolers, or better yet, teenagers. Let them intimidate the terrorists.

  • Pipe incessant whining, complaining and nonstop "Why?" questions into their cells.
  • Guard terrorists on multiple shopping trips as they accompany teeny enemy combatants suffering from a severe case of the "gimmes."
  • Put prisoners in charge of laundry duty. Their assignment? To wrench Superman pajamas off wiry, defiant bodies, then distract angry naked Superboy while jammies wash and dry.
  • Let detainees attempt to de-escalate major temper tantrums in the library thrown by children who are selectively deaf to the word "No!"
  • Set up primal screaming rooms within ear-splitting distance of the terrorists' cells. Sequester tantrum-throwing toddlers and defiant teens that scream, rant, rave, cuss, slam doors, and kick everything in sight.
  • Sleep deprive detainees by compelling them to care for colicky, projectile-vomiting babies and feverish, whimpering toddlers with blowout diarrhea.
  • Assign prisoners the white-knuckle task of teaching advanced driving skills to rookie teen drivers with lead feet. When an inebriated, fast-driving teen sneaks off with their suicide-bomber car, let them figure out how to retrieve it in one piece.
  • Terrorize terrorists by making them care for overactive toddlers and teens 24/7—without help or reprieve.

One escapee from an Afghani CIA prison reported through a translator, "They would not let you rest, day or night. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. Don't sleep. Don't lie on the floor."

Whiner! Welcome to my life.

Obviously, this prisoner was not a solo parent. Luckily, he escaped.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Singles Awareness Day

"Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers."—Veronica A. Shoffstall

The V-Day curse conjures up a variety of emotions—anxiety, dread, sadness, disappointment, embarrassment, shame. The surge of lovey-dovey couples, red roses, expensive chocolates, and Valentine hearts serve as reminders that you are not on your "marry" way.

It's one of those days that the Romance Envy Ogre raises its ugly head. You want to flaunt flowers and chocolate in the faces of all your co-workers, friends, family, and shout, "See! Someone loves me."

This over commercialized holiday brings out other types of gremlins.

Grinch: Anti-V-Dayers who could care less. Valentines? Bleah!

Lovebird: Pro-V-Day lovers who love it. Chocolate? Check. Wine? Check. Roses? Check. Chick flick? Check. Dinner reservations? Let's go.

Love Forlorn: Those who say they don't care, but do. Prozac? Check. Check. Häagen-Dazs® chocolate chocolate chip ice cream, Bridget Jones's Diary, TV dinner, and pjs? Ready for another lonely "Let's Torture Singles Day."

Grouch: Others say they care, but don't. They endure the "I-love-you-isn't-cheap" price tag. Chocolate, roses, wine, and romantic dinner? Waiter, check, please. Ugh!

Make It Your Day of Smiles, Not Trials

Feelings of worthlessness, rejection, unimportance, or being overlooked emerge on Valentine's Day. From Hollywood to Hallmark, too many people promote unrealistic expectations regarding romance. Being special to someone doesn't define who you are or your value. Sure, spending time with a special person would be great. But can you enjoy spending it with people close to you?

Love yourself. Do you enjoy living life without an intimate partner? Rather than hyper focusing on finding a date or a mate, are you happy with yourself—and by yourself? Are you involved in a club, charity, hobby, or activities that you enjoy, just for you? Do you surround yourself with people who have your back? If so, you're less likely to be lonely, even if you're not in a relationship.

Make the Day Special for Your Children. Remember to make your children feel special and loved on Valentine's Day. Drop a trail of candy hearts from their beds to the breakfast table. Put together a Valentine's breakfast basket with a card and muffins. Include an "I love you" note in their backpack. Plan a treasure hunt. Leave notes with clues to find treats. Play games and watch a funny movie together. Shower them with hugs and kisses.

Try Shopping Therapy. Head to the grocery store on Valentine's Eve. Watch all the anxiety-stricken men running around fulfilling their romantic obligations, frantically buying last minute flowers and cards. That helps get over the "everyone else—but me—has somebody to love them" pity fest. While you're out, buy something to perk you up.

Rent Bad-breakup Movies. Laugh at the mayhem of The War of the Roses and The First Wives Club. If you experienced a bad breakup, laugh—lots—it's healing. Give thanks for this time in your life to restore your heart. Celebrate how far you've come.

Throw a Singles Appreciation Party. Cupid isn't invited, but your friends are. Organize a potluck. The only kisses welcome are Hershey's kisses. Devour all the better-than-sex-chocolate you can find.

Replace Your Chocolate Stash. The most redeeming quality of Valentine's Day is fifty percent off Dove's® silky smooth dark chocolates come February 15. Stock up. Cadbury's cream-filled Easter eggs are just around the corner.

Embrace Your Singleness. The Census Bureau confirms that unmarried households in the United States are the new majority. If you live past the age of 70, the average American will spend more years unmarried than married. It's okay to be single. February 14th provides the perfect excuse to plan an out of the ordinary celebration.

Don't feel like celebrating? Still feeling too hurt or rejected? Then don't. However, give yourself a special Valentine gift—love yourself and embrace how truly remarkable you are.