How Long Does it Take to Hear 30 Million Words?

Many parents do it thoughtlessly. We prattle on, speaking words first to babies and then later to toddlers that they have no way of understanding. We do it to keep them engaged, to fill the silence of hours spent with our children who are not yet verbal. Later as they learn to speak, we chatter to illicit their imitation, to model patterns of speech. Often we just speak a stream of consciousness, a narration of our actions, thinking that the sing-song of our voices and the animation of our expressions that will entertain our tiny child.

No one told us to chatter like this, but maybe our mothers did the same to us. Now scientists and doctors tell us that our endless speaking, the stream of thousands, and eventually millions, of words that we rain down on our children, is the best possible preparation for their later education.

Neighbors Link, child in school,

While formal education for children in the United States begins at age three, four or as late as five, researchers have shown that there is a word gap that has already opened up between 18 month olds from poorer and wealthier families. By age three, children from wealthier homes have heard an astounding 30 million more words than those from poorer homes. That gap only widens and the effects are felt in the classroom, according to the New York Times, “Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read.”

While there is much demand from the public for expanded early childhood education, the deficit starts so early that even children lucky enough to be in a preschool program at three have already fallen behind. “That gap just gets bigger and bigger,” said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocate of early education for low-income children. “That gap is very real and very hard to undo.”

Neighbors Link, child and teacher

The answer begins in the home with parents acting as their children’s first teachers. I have been inspired by the work of a program in Mt. Kisco, New York, called Neighbors Link Northern Westchester which works with immigrant families showing parents how early language and verbal interaction, in either Spanish or English, is essential to their children’s educational development. Similar programs exist throughout the country but do not come close to meeting the need.

At Neighbors Link, parents work with their birth-to-four year olds and trained parent educators, to find ways to help their children be successful in thriving in a bicultural family and preparing them for transition to school. This is not flash card learning or drilling kids on their colors or body parts. Rather parents are shown how to incorporate, questions, conversation, and importantly reading and probing dialogue into their family’s daily lives. It is a parent centered, child focused program that uses evidence informed programs to teach parents about early childhood learning and how it can best be practiced.

Neighbors Link, child in school

Earlier this month the American Academy of Pediatrics announced a policy whereby their members would recommend that parents read to their children from infancy. “If we can get that first 1,000 days of life right,” said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health told The New York Times, “we’re really going to save a lot of trouble later on and have to do far less remediation.”

The families who come to Neighbors Link are inspiring. They have left their communities and their homes to find opportunity for their families. Often they have faced the obstacles of poverty, language and culture to help their children successfully navigate a new home. By coming to a well staffed community center, welcoming home visits from parent educators and participating in programs like “Parents as Teachers” and “Parent Child Together” they are taking steps from their child’s very first days to overcome these obstacles, to close the language gap for their children.  Learn more about the work of Neighbors Link in Parent Education. 

Neighbors Link, child and mother

As the school year begins, too many children are already falling behind. We are 1 of 30 bloggers helping #FindtheWords with @SavetheChildren to raise awareness of the need for early childhood education for all kids.

Save the Children provides kids in need with access to books, essential learning support and a literacy-rich environment. Learn more about Save the Children’s work in the US and around the world. We participating in this social media campaign to highlight 30 words in 30 days — to symbolize the 30 million fewer words that children from low-income homes hear by age three.

 

#FindtheWords #Inspire

 

#FindtheWord #Inspire



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Joining Rob Lowe in the Empty Nest

Mary Dell writes: The moment our son grabbed the car keys for his first solo drive, I had the proud/heartsick feeling of watching him begin to separate from me. This August, when we drop our daughter at her freshman dorm, I will return to the very quiet house I first imagined as I saw him drive away eight years ago. While my kids have been growing up and increasingly growing away, I have been moving along the empty nest on-ramp. Soon I will arrive at my destination.

This post is sponsored by Life Reimagined

With nearly 22 million students attending American colleges and universities, I am part of a massive cohort. Turns out that one of my empty nest “buddies” is Rob Lowe, who described this moment in a parent’s life as well as anyone possibly could in Love Life:

I’m trying to remember when I felt like this before. Like an el­ephant is sitting on my chest, like my throat is so tight and constricted that I can feel its tendons, like my eyes are 100 percent water, spilling out at will, down pathways on my face that have been dry for as long as I can think of. I’m trying to remember: When was the last time my heart was breaking?

It will be Lisa, not Rob, joining me at Starbucks to weep in our lattes. Friends since our soon-to-be-freshmen were in third grade together, we launched Grown and Flown to write about the stage of family life when kids begin to slip through parental fingers. Taking another lesson from Rob:

Through the grief I feel a rising embarrassment. “Jesus Christ, pull yourself together, man!” I tell myself. There are parents sending their kids off to battle zones, or putting them into rehabs and many other more legitimately emotional situations, all over our country. How dare I feel so shattered? What the hell is going on?

I realize that writing about an empty nest and living in one are not the same thing, just like sitting, big-bellied and cross-legged on the floor while a Lamaze teacher talks about labor pain is not at all like enduring contractions. The only way to understand childbirth is to have a baby. Ditto the empty nest.

So the question I ponder is how prepared I am for living a life that is no longer kid-centric. For both SAHMs and working moms, once their youngest leaves for college, life is never again as it was. This month I will say goodbye to much that has created structure in my life and taken up precious real estate on my September-June calendar. No longer will I volunteer for the PTA, watch my kids play sports, or sprint to the grocery store to pull together a family dinner.

What I may miss the most is sitting down with cheese and crackers and my kids at the kitchen table after school. I have adored hearing the precious bits they reveal about their days and know that much of the info I  get come August will be delivered in a text message, no longer face-to-face.

It has been our good fortune at Grown and Flown to have met, both on-line and in person, countless other parents who are nearing or already in their empty nest phase. Many are working hard to make this pivot point in their lives less about mourning the loss of little children in the house and more about personal re-creation. We have learned from and been inspired by them and many ask the same question: What next?

Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of Teach Your Children Well  has written about this time in life:

The chaotic diversions inherent in raising children cease, and we suddenly find ourselves with time to reflect. What did we do right? Where did we fail? How do we spend our remaining time? And who will show up to help with the transition?

It wouldn’t be that hard to make this transition more pleasant — and more productive. First of all, it would be useful if we began to think about post-parenting years long before they arrive.

As my kids began to grow more independent, I began to change how I spent my time. I started volunteering with my dog at a hospital  and traveled more with my husband. I reconnected with my college, exploring the varied resources offered to alumni. But even with Grown and Flown to keep me busy writing and connected online, I wonder what else I should and can be doing now that my active, in-the-house-mothering days are drawing to a close.

Last weekend, ironically, while Mother’s Day was winding down, I finished a book that creates a framework for seeking the answers to the what next question. Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Possibilities had me at page 2: “It is a map and guidance system to help people navigate a new phase of life.” Written by bestselling author Richard J. Leider and Fast Company co-founding editor, Alan M. Webber, Life Reimagined is both a book and an interactive website  created under the auspices of the AARP.

There are personal stories of both ordinary individuals and celebrities like former Today Show anchor Jane Pauley  and musician/producer Emilio Estefan all of whom experienced trigger moments that lead them, successfully, down a new path.

It is this new path I will search for in the aftermath of saying goodbye to my youngest child. As Rob describes how he felt watching his son turn to walk back into the dorm:

I close in to hug him, but he puts just one arm around me, a half hug. “Peace,” he says, a phrase I’d never heard him use until he said the same thing to his little brother in the driveway. Then he turns on his heel and strides away. From his body lan­guage I know he won’t turn to look back; I know why and I’m glad. I watch him until I can’t see him anymore, until he’s swallowed up by his new friends and his new life.

This post is sponsored by Life Reimagined, a guide to answering your own What’s next? questions. All opinions are my own.



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Getting Ready for High School Begins in Sixth Grade

Lisa writes: Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight.  As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have been thinking about what allows kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest.  What do I wish I had known as my kids turned 12 that would have helped them in getting ready for high school? If I had it to do again…

Misc.School Bus.IMG_0094_2_2

Do one thing well

I would make sure, if possible, that my child was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity.  Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the orchestra or given a role in the school play.  I know educators advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

 Sleep is an elixir

I would teach my kids that sleep is the elixir of the gods. It repairs sick bodies. It allows teens to perform better intellectually and athletically. It improves mood and helps maintain healthy weight. Teach your child to worship at the altar of an eight-hour night’s sleep and you have set them up for life.

Look away from the screen

I would work long and hard helping my child develop the ability to concentrate on books or art or anything but an electronic screen. Success in high school results from a level of concentration on the written word that can be challenging for a 14-year-old. I would make them read books, even if it meant tying them to a chair in order to do so.

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We Have to Talk About This, Now

Mary Dell writes: “If I get hit by a bus” is the preamble I use before imparting to my kids some bit of information that I may not be here to tell them later. Although I am not given to gloomy thoughts about my future, I am occasionally reminded by how suddenly one can be knocked off an optimistic trajectory.  On a flight last Saturday night, during turbulence that made the trip feel more like a roller coaster than an airplane,  my confidence was shaken along with the plane. By the time I got home, I decided I could no longer procrastinate and needed to talk to my kids, soon, about the future.

We have to talk about this now, talking with our adult children


Aren’t We Too Young For This?

Pew research reports that 63% of the 75 million baby boomers have at least one adult child. At 18, kids step onto the road toward adulthood, with college, work and the beginning of their own futures. Our relationship with our children changes at this juncture and we expect them to appreciate, possibly for the first time, adult topics regarding home, health, and finances. Acknowledging them as adults, rather than continuing to treat them as children, means trusting them with important family information. Further, while we discuss and reveal arrangements for our future, we model the responsible planning that they, someday, may remember and emulate.


Yes, We Have to Talk About This, Now

Experts agree about the value of involving our older children in the conversation, although they acknowledge it is a talk most of us would rather skip.  Lori R. Sackler, financial advisor and author of The M Word, discusses the topic of communicating with our adult kids.

She says the question she is most often asked by her clients is “What’s the best way to tell our grown children about estate plans without creating a family drama?” She cautions, “Families don’t do enough to prepare their heirs for the handoff. It’s like giving your 16- year old son the keys to your car without a driving lesson.”

In a recent Wall Street Journal article,  The Inheritance Conversation. Ugh. columnist Veronica Dagher, cautions that “For many parents, it is easier to talk to their children about sex than money.” She adds  “waiting too long to discuss the issue, or avoiding the conversation altogether, is a bad idea, financial advisors say. It can cause confusion, mistrust and leave heirs unprepared to manage the family’s wealth.”

How to Start?

This month, AARP launched a new website, Decide.Create.Share.

Written for midlife women, Decide.Create.Share. is a comprehensive resource and template for long-term planning. The basic goal of DCS is to help each of us decide on what we want and need for the future, create a plan to help us achieve these goals, and learn to share our plans with important people in our lives. A 40 Day Pledge included on the site provided motivation and structure for me to review the plans my husband and I already have in place and think through the information we want to impart to our nearly grown kids, now 17 and 22.

I signed the pledge and have begun to answer each prompt. DCS is easy to navigate with state-specific details and checklists. My personal favorite is the three-page “Valuable Documents at Your Fingertips.” Like the long-ago intricate instructions and contact names we left babysitters,  this serves much the same purpose for our now, grown-up babies.

In one spot I have collected contact information for doctors, lawyers, accountants, banks and people to alert in case of emergencies. Financial, medical, and insurance information is included along with personal data (locations for social security numbers, birth and marriage certificates.) Finally, though I would rather remain in denial about it, there is a section for our final wishes.

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Filling in the Blanks: Confronting Alcoholism

A Grown and Flown friend and wonderful writer sent us this heartfelt post about her painful moment of truth with alcoholism.

mother and toddler

When I introduce myself from here on out, I am supposed to say, “Hi, my name is ______________, and I’m an alcoholic.” That’s the first step, according to the brochure some nice woman handed me as I entered my first AA meeting day before yesterday.

As I have left that space in my introduction blank, it’s fairly obvious I’m not all the way there yet. That step, and all the subsequent ones I’m going to have to tread, are not entirely clear to me yet.

It’s not that I have any doubt that I’m an alcoholic. I know what alcoholics look like, and they look a heck of a lot like me. And my mom, and my aunt, and my grandfather, and my cousin, and my great-grandmother. I am well-acquainted with alcoholics, and the specter of all those slurry words and empty, glassy stares loom large in my childhood memories.

I hated it. Hated them sometimes, and I swore that no matter what, I’d never end up like them. I’d never allow my children and grandchildren and nieces and great-grandchildren to equate me with “alcoholic.”

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Chobani: Nothing But Good

Lisa writes: I would not buy a product simply because the founder is a small businessman who has a passion for entrepreneurship and who donates 10% of all the proceeds.  I would not buy a product simply because the company has invested in the towns in which they have their plants and the employees are insanely passionate about the company.  I would not buy a product because they have a trendy new store in NYC that sells flavors and combinations that make your head spin.   Or would I? One word, “Chobani.”

What if it tasted amazing and had incomparable health benefits?  What if it was fat-free, portion-controlled, all real and came in flavors like Pomegranate and Passion Fruit?

Chobani Greek yogurt, Greek yogurt, calcium for women

At Grown and Flown, you are not used to hearing us talk about products, but there is one product that Mary Dell and I are so obsessed with that we had to explore further. Their stylish website was a perfect place to begin.

When we discovered a shared craving for the little cups of yogurt and fruit we set out to meet the Chobani people who make our day, every morning.  You might call us Yogurt Groupies.

[Read more...]



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Grown and Flown in Today’s Wall Street Journal: Cheating in School

Wall Street Journal, WSJLisa writes: Last Fall, in the wake of a number of high-profile cheating scandals, Grown and Flown examined cheating in school.  We were surprised by some of the facts we uncovered. Technology, academic pressure and changing attitudes have increased the incidence of cheating in school and made it even more important that parents discuss this issue with kids from an early age.  It was our good fortune that The Wall Street Journal found us and included us in an article this morning entitled “How Could a Sweet Third-Grader Just Cheat on That School Exam?”

cheating in school, Wall Street Journal, kids cheating,

In this wonderful piece, Sue Shellenbarger finds that cheating is tricky parental terrain “The line between right and wrong in the classroom is often hazy for young children, and shaping the moral compass of children whose brains are still developing can be one of the trickiest jobs a parent faces.”  Shellenbarger found that rates of cheating rose as kids moved into middle school and high school and thus the conversation needs to start when school begins, as early as kindergarten.

[Read more...]



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Blindsided by Childhood Milestones

Lisa writes: Parenthood is littered with Milestone Moments. Some we see coming, like registering for the draft, buying a bra, beginning high school or shaving. They are all expected, and all powerful. Yet other childhood milestones blindside us like a two by four with the rusty nails still sticking out.

childhood milestones, milestone, old milestone

SIbling Playdates. It was a huge childhood milestone the first time my kids actually played together, real interactive sibling-as-a-playdate played together. I looked on bursting with pride and thought they would become a perfect self-contained unit, full of rich imaginary play and support and understanding. And just when I was leaning back to admire my handiwork, feeling pretty good about myself, one son bit the other and was treated with a smack in the face for his efforts. My 30-seconds of fantasy was gone and life as I was really going to know it began.

Drivers License. This one is obvious, but what I didn’t realize was how much getting a driver’s license is akin to learning to walk. The first time my teens drove out of our driveway felt like the moment they stood up and walked away as toddlers. The only difference was that, behind the wheel, I worried far more and when they drove away, they didn’t turn around and come right back. These events may have been separated by 15 years but for me, they held the same power. They were when I realized that I wouldn’t need to carry them or drive them forever.

Cooking. It is a big milestone the first time a child makes himself a meal, when they put together a sandwich, boil some pasta and pour sauce on top or fry an egg. Up until that moment, my children’s very existence depended on my culinary skills, yet once I saw that fried egg, I knew they would not starve.

[Read more...]



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Grown and Flown on Scary Mommy!

Among the top blogs we have fallen in love with is Scary Mommy, the brainchild of Jill Smokler. If we loved Scary Mommy before, we love her even more now that we are  guest posted on her site. As we send Jill this digital thank you note, we hope we are also sending you over to check out our newest post, The Myth of Protection, right now on Scary Mommy.

Scary Mommy

Here are the reasons why we love Scary Mommy:

1. She finds humor – and lots of it – in the daily grind of motherhood.

2. She has written not one but two books – including the fantastic new release, Motherhood Comes Naturally (and other Vicious Lies.) [Read more...]



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Ready to Go?

Lisa writes: After high school, many of our kids go on to college.  Unlike in other countries, this transition is made seamlessly and without more than a summer break.  We send our eighteen year olds off to their next stage, often without knowing if they are ready to go.    Many have the option to stay home and attend a local university or community college but legions march off into dormitories every year for their first real taste of living alone.

When my older kids made this journey, I was, at first, unsure as to whether they were ready to go.  I looked at them over their high school years and could not fathom their independent life.  But then things began to change.

How did you know your kids were ready to go?

ready to go?, little child walking alone, child

 

A few thoughts:

As the days shortened to their departures, they made a concerted effort to spend more time at home.  They thought about which nights we would have family dinners, sacrificing their social lives to be with us, something they had never willingly done before.  They recognized the enormity of the change they were about to make and, to me, that helped signal that they were ready to go.

During high school, my kids often headed out the door, car keys in hand, with the words, “Mom, how do I get to….”As they entered that final summer, they either realized that they needed to figure out directions on their own or had to learn to use the GPS.  Either way, getting where you want to go, without asking mom, has to be a good sign.

Once accepted into colleges, a barrage of emails began flooding their in boxes. There were forms to be filled out, health insurance to be opted into or out of, choices to be made in classes, housing and dining.  In high school, I had been She Who Fills Out Forms, but as we entered this second stage they seemed to understand that the forms were their life and I was so done.

Sometime in high school, I had stopped accompanying my kids to check-ups with the doctor. As they were approaching college, I stopped going with them to the doctor, at all.  If they were sick they would need to learn to ask the right questions and get directions. It was time for them to take on all issues of their health, and they did.

The final summer at home involved more dressy clothing than ever before.  There were graduation parties and good-bye dinners with friend’s parents.  In the past, the procedure was to walk up and stand in front of me with whatever article of clothing they hoped to wear but was either dirty or wrinkled.  They knew better than to even ask, but as males, had cultivated that look of helplessness that would cause me to grab the item and, with a look of despair, say “I’ll do it, you will only ruin it.”  That last summer my boys didn’t even try this nonsense and mastered the washer, dryer and iron.

My boys hate shopping.  For years they let me buy almost all of their clothing or they ordered for themselves online.  But that last summer, they were willing to wander Bed Bath and Beyond with me and even venture into the Container Store.  Even they realized that in their dorm they were setting up a second home, albeit it a tiny one.

As I dropped them off, I stayed calm and only when they were out of sight did I cry.  I cried because it had all gone too fast.  I cried because two of the people I loved most in the world would not be at my breakfast table in the morning but also I cried because I knew they were ready to go.

Today, our friend and enormously talented creator of the blog, Carpool Goddess, offers her perspective on preparing for an empty nest. I only wish I would have known her when my sons left for college!

How did you know your kids were ready to go?



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Talking to Myself: The Words We Use to Parent

Lisa writes: I have survived two decades of parenting by talking to myself.  My incantations are my alter ego reminding me to put things in perspective, step back and take a breath and that things will probably be okay.  So while the mom voice in my head is shrieking, at myself or my kids, there is a calmer quieter voice, talking to myself, reminding me to count to ten before I speak.  I suspect that the calm, ever-so-sensible voice I hear in my head is my husband’s.

Well, at least no one was hurt.  My kids have smashed walls (who knew drywall was so easy go through), cars (ah yes, well)  and every toy of value they were ever given.   Boys seem to have a seek and destroy mechanism that is programmed from birth so this was one of the first parenting phrases I learned to say to myself.  I still say it to myself when they call and begin the conversation with, “Mom, there is something I need to tell you….”

He doesn’t mean that, he really doesn’t.  The first time one of my kids railed at me with the words, “you don’t understand anything, anything!” I had to repeat these words.  My crime? I had scheduled a play date for a fifth grader without asking first. This refrain works in response to a wide variety of invectives from,  “You are ruining my life”,  to everyone’s favorite, “I hate you” to my polite child’s  “I don’t really like you right now.”

I am the parent, he is a child.  This one usually requires much repetition because it is rolled out at the moments when we feel most unsure about our parenting. Some parenting decisions can find us sitting on the fence.  Curfew stretched to 1 am for a special occasion? Sleepover at a house you are not 100% about?   When we remember the first rule of parenting is to trust our instincts and say “no,” this is the reminder that if our kids’ judgements were sound, they would no longer need to live with us.

talking to myself-parenting boys-brothers-boys at the beach-children playng at the beach

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The Mommy War Within

Lisa writes: Many young women are engaged in something characterized by the media as the mommy wars.  In this “war,” women who have continued to work full-time while having children look down at their stay-at-home counterparts for backing away from the workforce. In return, those women who are caring for their children full-time, denigrate the parenting of women who have combined work outside the home with motherhood.

I don’t believe that women are at war with each other, but rather that any hint of a clash sells copy.  If there is a conflict, it is inside each of us, not between us.  The only mommy war I waged was with myself.

mommy wars, sahm, working mom

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Staying Young: It’s About Questions, Not Answers

Lisa writes: Recently a friend told me of a thrilling career opportunity that he had been offered and accepted. He and his wife are in their late 50s and the opportunity involved relocating to Asia. Excitement was written all over his face as he said to me, “It is so much easier to do this now with the kids gone, and us staying young. Or at least believing that we are still young.”

To me those words said everything. He looked, and I am going to guess felt, younger than I have seen him in years as he told me of the job he had never expected to be offered, in an industry from which he had retired a decade earlier. When I watched him I felt a little like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. I wanted what he was having.

On a parallel track I am watching my nearly grown sons go out into the world for the first time. They are experiencing life in the big city, minus mom and dad. When I cut through the thick layer of jealousy that comes from wanting to be my children, I realize that both my sons and my friend are at a moment in life where so many things are unknown and so much feels possible. The reason my friend is staying young is that at this moment, his life is much like my children’s, filled with more questions than answers.
Dock, looking out from the dock, rustic dock
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Like Parent, Like Child: A Look in the Mirror

Lisa writes: Reproduction it turns out, is just that.  While we strive to treat our children as their very own selves, we cannot help but peer through the genetic stew to the many people who have lent their chromosomes to the task of creating our children.  When lucky, we see the echos of the traits we fell in love with in our child’s other parent.  Sometimes we see a beloved parent, grandparent or sibling in a smile, a gritty determination or just the tilt of a head.  But often times, we see ourselves mirrored and think “like parent, like child.”

Even though we know that it is coming, the experience of seeing ourselves replicated can be a startling one.   The physical similarities can be charming, or unsettling.  Yet it is our personality traits, seemingly planted at birth in our offspring, that can be the most challenging to face.



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Great Parents

Lisa writes: Great parents: we know them, we watch them, we learn from them and ultimately, we want to be them. Between our children’s other parent and the many adults that surround our kids, we are exposed to a vast array of parenting practices. Some we emulate, many we reject and over the years, we bear witness to some great parenting, even if it isn’t always happening in our own homes.

Great parenting? It is hard to define and may even be a matter of opinion, But the only way to improve, is to set the bar high and try to learn something from those we admire.

Perfect parenting is a painful and elusive goal. Great parenting is within all of our grasps.

We cannot teach our children to be the best that they can be if we have not tried to be the best parent we can be, no matter the challenge. Here are some of the things that great parents do, but the converse is not true. One can still be a great parent without doing some or any them.

1. Great parents realize that their marriage/relationship isn’t theirs alone, but rather acts as a model for their children for their rest of their lives. Whatever anger, affection, intolerance or kindness parents show towards each other will reverberate down through the generations.

little girl, little girl playing in snow, child

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