Monday's Food for Thought

Monday’s Food for Thought: Shrinking Women

new food for thought

A video of Lily Myers “Shrinking Women” from the 2013 College National Poetry Slam has been circulating amongst my friends the past few days. While this particular poem deals with gender stereotypes, food relationships, and a host of other issues, the one thought I keep coming back to over and over and over is, “What am I teaching my child?”

Do my actions say something all together different than what comes out of my mouth? Will my son learn more from what I do, instead of what I say?

As Lily states about her own mother, “I never meant to replicate her, but spend enough time sitting across from someone, you’ll start to pick up their habits.”

What do you think?

Happy Monday,

~Mandy

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Children · Family · Moving · Patience

REPOST: Helping Children Put Down New Roots

                                                                                                  written by Michelle – a former graduate wife

In the summer heat, my boys are restless and roaming the house looking for their next adventure.  Hoping to provide some direction for their boundless energy, my sister asks if we would help her transplant some potted plants.

“Yeah! Digging and dirt!” shouts one.

“I want to hold the hose!” chimes in the other as he sprints out to the back patio.

She brings a basket of plants outside that have grown too big for their original pots.  Browning and overcrowded, they clearly need more dirt, fresh nutrients . . . something to bring new life back into withering leaves.

My boys hover over pots and sacks of Miracle-Gro.   Soon, clay pots are filled with new soil and small shovels loosen plants from old containers, their roots twisted and tangled together.  The perfectly pot-sized clumps of roots are placed in spacious pots and new dirt secures them in place.  My younger boy comes by with a miniature watering can to finish the job.

This small bit of gardening took all of ten minutes, but now as I sit in the evening quiet, my thoughts come back to this transplanting idea.  I am thinking about how many times my family has been transplanted during the course of my husband’s studies.   I am remembering what it was like to tell our kids we were moving again and how we attempted to guide them through the transitions.

Even my rowdy 3 and 7 year old boys can transfer a strong, established plant to a new pot with a little bit of focus, but it can be difficult to move a seedling successfully.  Moving children is a lot like attempting to transplant seedlings.  Their roots are tiny, fragile white threads and they never seem to balance properly in the new pot.  We moved five different times during our graduate journey and each time friends and family were keen to reassure us:  “Oh, don’t worry – kids are so resilient!  Especially at such young ages!”  or “Kids pick up new languages almost instantly.  They soak it up like a sponge. ” And yet, each time we moved, my children did struggle.  And learning a new language and going to school in that language was hard work for my older son.  After a few moves, I began to be of the opposite mind as my well-intentioned advice givers.  I came to realize that my children actually do hear and understand and feel a lot more than I sometimes realize.  Especially because they are fragile and not fully formed (much like seedlings), my boys need to be given opportunities to process what is happening if they are going to transition without problems.    So, in this piece I would like to explore ways we can help our children during a move or major transition.  Some ideas come from what we have tried in our own family and I have also added some ideas from the moving chapter of the book Third Culture Kids.

1)     Introducing the Idea of Moving

a)     Before our most recent move, my husband set up a series of bedtime chats with our sons (then 5 and 1) in which he told them about “God’s special plan” for our family.   We told the boys that we felt that God was directing us to move in order to follow His special plan.  We also had a night in which we talked about the fact that God has a special plan for each of their lives and God may be using some of our travels to prepare them for their futures.  These chats were given in bite-sized pieces they could understand, usually with a map nearby and time for their questions.

b)     We marked on a map where we lived (Germany) and where we were moving (England).  In order to create some excitement, we tried to make lists of things the children might like about our new city.  If possible, it is great to find pictures of the school the children will attend or pictures of the house/apartment that you will live in and its surrounding neighborhood.

c)     Read books about moving and talk about how the different characters might feel.  Try to find one with clear pictures of what happens during the packing up of an old house, the unpacking at new house, saying goodbye to old friends, making new friends, etc.

d)     For very small children, it can be helpful to play “moving games” in order to just introduce them to what a move is.  We did this some with our youngest in our last move a couple of weeks before we left.  I gave him a couple of empty boxes and we would pack up toys and move them to the next room and unpack them, explaining that this is what we were going to do later with all of our stuff.  Also, during all the events that precede a move and happen during a move, it is good for the parents to “frame” what is happening:  “Look, Daddy and his friend are putting the boxes in the van.  They will bring all of your toys safely to your new room.  Just like our game!”  or “We are waving goodbye to our old house.  We will have a picture of it in our photo album, but now we are going to live in our new house.”   When things get busy, it is easy to forget to include our young children in what is happening by framing it in words they can understand.

 2)     Giving a Sense of Closure

a)     As it got closer to our moving date, we wanted the kids to have a chance to think about all the people in our current home who have been important to them (church leaders, teachers, friends, neighbors, family members, etc.) and also the places we have been that have been meaningful.

i)      People: Children can write notes of appreciation, draw pictures for special people,  or think about leaving a special momento with a close friend or family member

ii)     Places that hold important memories:  Visiting these places one last time, reminiscing, and getting a special photo or hiding a treasure or note to hopefully find again there someday. 

3)     Easing the Actual Transition

a)     Use of “sacred objects”:  For some of us who are making international moves, it is just not possible to take much with us.  How do you deal with this?  We met one family who had a policy we really liked.  Though they moved often, they made sure they always kept a few of their children’s most valued possessions:  some quilts their grandmother had made them and some special dishes made for them by a friend.  The quilts were unpacked first thing and spread over the beds and then their dishes were set out, helping to create a feeling of “home” for them.  Though the quilts were bulky and the family was sometimes very limited on space, these “sacred objects” were always a priority.  Having a set of “sacred objects” as they are called in Third Culture Kids helps to give the kids some stability.

b)     Keep as many family rituals in place as possible – Keep the days and weeks as normal as you can.

c)     Plan for a period of misbehavior and general adjustment.  You, as the parent, are going to need to give a lot emotionally and the kids are going to need you more than normal.  Their behavior is almost guaranteed to be crazy for a while. Give them grace – moving can be even harder for little ones who had no control in the decision that has resulted in their entire world changing.  Keep close tabs on how kids are doing emotionally – you will be very busy and overtired but keep your eye on signs that something might be off with them.  Help them to name feelings and provide acceptable outlets to express feelings.

d)     Make contact with some other families in the area or at the same school as soon as possible (in advance if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity!)  Don’t expect your new community to initiate having a relationship with you – be prepared to go out and actively seek out community for your family.

e)     One way we have eased the transition for our family is by sending my husband ahead first.  When we moved to Germany, he drove our possessions to our new apartment with a friend a few days before we arrived.  It made a big difference for our five year old, because when he first saw his new room it was completely unpacked with all of his familiar toys out and favorite posters on the walls.  Instead of a weird feeling of not belonging in a small white-walled, empty room, he seemed to feel at peace and slept alone in that room on the first night.  It also helped lessen the stress for me because before our arrival my husband could purchase some preliminary groceries and a map and scout out the neighborhood.

f)      For those of you who are moving internationally, I strongly urge you to learn all you can about the language and culture ahead of time.  Of course, no matter how much you prepare, you will still be learning a lot as you go through life in your new country.  Your children can learn a lot by watching how you handle the experience.  Describe how you are feeling about learning all these new things.  Present it as an exciting new adventure, but acknowledge that it can be overwhelming at times and that’s normal and okay to feel that way.  Try to laugh at your mistakes and move forward so the children know that when they make mistakes, they can learn from them and move on without feeling ashamed.

Taking some time to put some of these ideas in place (and maybe add to them with some of your own!) can really make a difference in how your children react to a move.  We all hope that our kids, if they must be transplanted to a new place, will adjust to the soil and be able to drink deeply of the water and nutrients that a new experience can offer them.  With a little bit of planning and effort, you can help give them the best possible start.

In your graduate wife journey, how have you prepared your children to move to another country, city, or state? Did you do anything specifically?

Family

The Glad Sacrifice of Motherhood

Chris & David 2
Julia’s mother, Christine, with her son, David

A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. –Mother Teresa

Before I became a mother, I often listened to the stories of sacrifice that populated my family’s collective memory, handed on like heirlooms. They were impressive to me then, as a child and adolescent, but the reality behind the tales has only gradually sunk in as I’ve had my own children and settled into life as a mother. This Mother’s Day has me remembering with gratitude the legacy of glad sacrifice in my maternal forebears.

When my grandfather returned from World War II he married the love of his life, my grandmother. When his son, my father, was four years old, my grandfather suddenly lost his ability to walk. He learned from doctors that a spinal column injury sustained during the war would, as they told him, give him the option of sitting or lying down. He told them he would walk. (And he did walk eventually – with a brace from hip to ankle, and supporting himself with a cane.) My grandmother looked after the children and visited him daily for months in the hospital and rehabilitation center. In the evening, she put her kids to bed and went off to work as a waitress. Tirelessly, she worked to put food on the table – from the time my grandfather was in the hospital to when he came home unable to walk, let alone work.

My maternal grandmother had seven children. My mother, Christine, was the third born. When my mother was in junior high, my grandfather grew gravely sick, suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. And so my grandmother went to work at a factory while my oldest aunts and uncles kept things going at home. And when my grandfather passed away when her youngest was still in grade school, she continued to work at night and be at home during the day, never taking her wedding band off her ring finger.

And then there’s my mother. After she married her high school sweetheart at the tender age of twenty-one, my mother left school, her family, and her way of life to move across the country for my father to go to seminary. Shortly after they arrived, she discovered she was pregnant. David was born nine months later. A very difficult labor made way for the even more difficult news that David had a heart condition that would require surgery in a few months’ time. When David was six months of age, my parents and their best friends got on their knees and pleaded with God to protect their firstborn son the next morning during open heart surgery. The next morning David died. My parents were twenty-three.

In sharing these stories, I don’t for a moment think that my family is unique. This kind of risky love and untiring devotion are wonderfully universal. There is beautiful commonality woven in the stories we all carry of our mothers, and of our mothers’ mothers. Each of us is here today precisely as the result of the sacrifice of others. Even those of us who may not have had ideal mothers have often benefited from mother-like sacrifices from someone who loved us.

When I’m tempted to despair at the solipsism of this world and question whether the era of this type of sacrifice has passed, I step back and consider the strong women around me, many of whom have forsaken family and country in the graduate journey, and now joyfully sacrifice to raise their children in circumstances that are not always easy – children who will, one day, look back on the difficulty their mothers endured with gratitude and wonder.

written by Julia, a former graduate wife

Monday's Food for Thought

Monday’s Food for Thought: Having It All?

I know many of you have come across the recently posted article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic, entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”.  It seems this piece went viral last week and I have had several interesting conversations revolving around it’s contents.  Slaughter takes a look at several ‘half truths’ that women have been telling younger generations and basically says they are lies that have to be re-thought in order for women to ever somewhat ‘have it all’ in the world today.

It’s time to stop fooling ourselves… the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change…”

Another piece I came across recently as well is this one entitled, “Why Women Leave Academia and Why Universities Should be Worried”, published in the Guardian.  Although not entirely related to the first, there is a lot of food for thought here and much room for conversation.

Young women scientists leave academia in far greater numbers than men for three reasons. During their time as PhD candidates, large numbers of women conclude that (i) the characteristics of academic careers are unappealing, (ii) the impediments they will encounter are disproportionate, and (iii) the sacrifices they will have to make are great.”

What do you think about these two pieces?

What you have encountered personally?

-M.C.

Monday's Food for Thought · Motherhood

Monday’s Food for Thought: The Parent Trap….or Not?

This fascinating piece published in the Guardian last year, takes you on an interesting thought journey exploring the realities of trying to ‘work’ after having children.

“There’s a belief that to do great work you need tranquility and control, that the pram (stroller) is cluttering up the hallway; life needs to be neat and tidy. This isn’t the case. Tranquility and control provide the best conditions for completing the work you imagined. But surely the real trick is to produce the work that you never imagined. The great creative moments in our history are almost all stories of distraction and daydreaming – Archimedes in the bath, Einstein dreaming of riding a sunbeam – of alert minds open to the grace of chaos.”

This gives me much ‘food for thought’ as I am trying to navitgate my own way in this crazy path of ‘working’ with children.  It also speaks greatly to my grad school husband who is daily trying to figure out how to be the best student and also father.  I hope it leaves you with some inspiration if you have children, or are considering them, and also with a good laugh.

“I remember reading that when the writer Tracey Chevalier had her first baby, someone told her that “every baby costs one book”; she said something to the effect that that seemed fair enough. But we should turn Connolly’s equation upside-down and say that maybe what’s in the pram – breathing, vulnerable life, hope, a present responsibility – is actually more important than good art. It might make us produce less art, but maybe it would be art with the future at its heart.”

Wow…Well said.

-M.C.

Children · Monday's Food for Thought

Monday’s Food for Thought: My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling

One of the great things about being in the world of academia (or law school, graduate school, med school) is the fact that I often feel like I get to ride on my husband’s intellectual coattails. Our dinner conversation is often peppered with, “I just read a great article,” or “Did you listen to that podcast?” or “You’ve got to check this blog out!” I learn daily from my husband, and I think his time in graduate school has increased my own love of learning, reading, and thinking, even though I don’t have the desire to do that in a classroom. Ever. Again. :)

All that to say, the conversations amongst our graduate wife friends are often the same; we swap news articles, talk about documentaries, give book reviews, and discuss blogs…some of it is related to the graduate wife life, and some of isn’t, but it seemed like a natural fit to share that all with you, so….

Welcome to the first segment of Monday’s Food for Thought. 

Following on Michelle’s post from last week, this week’s article comes from The New York Times Magazine, and is an interesting read on a family’s move to Russia, and how they coped with the language and school they attended.

We hope you enjoy it!

Mandy & MC

Children · Family · Moving · Patience

Helping Children Put Down New Roots

                                                                                                  written by Michelle – a former graduate wife

In the summer heat, my boys are restless and roaming the house looking for their next adventure.  Hoping to provide some direction for their boundless energy, my sister asks if we would help her transplant some potted plants.

“Yeah! Digging and dirt!” shouts one.

“I want to hold the hose!” chimes in the other as he sprints out to the back patio.

She brings a basket of plants outside that have grown too big for their original pots.  Browning and overcrowded, they clearly need more dirt, fresh nutrients . . . something to bring new life back into withering leaves.

My boys hover over pots and sacks of Miracle-Gro.   Soon, clay pots are filled with new soil and small shovels loosen plants from old containers, their roots twisted and tangled together.  The perfectly pot-sized clumps of roots are placed in spacious pots and new dirt secures them in place.  My younger boy comes by with a miniature watering can to finish the job.

This small bit of gardening took all of ten minutes, but now as I sit in the evening quiet, my thoughts come back to this transplanting idea.  I am thinking about how many times my family has been transplanted during the course of my husband’s studies.   I am remembering what it was like to tell our kids we were moving again and how we attempted to guide them through the transitions.

Even my rowdy 3 and 7 year old boys can transfer a strong, established plant to a new pot with a little bit of focus, but it can be difficult to move a seedling successfully.  Moving children is a lot like attempting to transplant seedlings.  Their roots are tiny, fragile white threads and they never seem to balance properly in the new pot.  We moved five different times during our graduate journey and each time friends and family were keen to reassure us:  “Oh, don’t worry – kids are so resilient!  Especially at such young ages!”  or “Kids pick up new languages almost instantly.  They soak it up like a sponge. ” And yet, each time we moved, my children did struggle.  And learning a new language and going to school in that language was hard work for my older son.  After a few moves, I began to be of the opposite mind as my well-intentioned advice givers.  I came to realize that my children actually do hear and understand and feel a lot more than I sometimes realize.  Especially because they are fragile and not fully formed (much like seedlings), my boys need to be given opportunities to process what is happening if they are going to transition without problems.    So, in this piece I would like to explore ways we can help our children during a move or major transition.  Some ideas come from what we have tried in our own family and I have also added some ideas from the moving chapter of the book Third Culture Kids.

1)     Introducing the Idea of Moving

a)     Before our most recent move, my husband set up a series of bedtime chats with our sons (then 5 and 1) in which he told them about “God’s special plan” for our family.   We told the boys that we felt that God was directing us to move in order to follow His special plan.  We also had a night in which we talked about the fact that God has a special plan for each of their lives and God may be using some of our travels to prepare them for their futures.  These chats were given in bite-sized pieces they could understand, usually with a map nearby and time for their questions.

b)     We marked on a map where we lived (Germany) and where we were moving (England).  In order to create some excitement, we tried to make lists of things the children might like about our new city.  If possible, it is great to find pictures of the school the children will attend or pictures of the house/apartment that you will live in and its surrounding neighborhood.

c)     Read books about moving and talk about how the different characters might feel.  Try to find one with clear pictures of what happens during the packing up of an old house, the unpacking at new house, saying goodbye to old friends, making new friends, etc.

d)     For very small children, it can be helpful to play “moving games” in order to just introduce them to what a move is.  We did this some with our youngest in our last move a couple of weeks before we left.  I gave him a couple of empty boxes and we would pack up toys and move them to the next room and unpack them, explaining that this is what we were going to do later with all of our stuff.  Also, during all the events that precede a move and happen during a move, it is good for the parents to “frame” what is happening:  “Look, Daddy and his friend are putting the boxes in the van.  They will bring all of your toys safely to your new room.  Just like our game!”  or “We are waving goodbye to our old house.  We will have a picture of it in our photo album, but now we are going to live in our new house.”   When things get busy, it is easy to forget to include our young children in what is happening by framing it in words they can understand.

 2)     Giving a Sense of Closure

a)     As it got closer to our moving date, we wanted the kids to have a chance to think about all the people in our current home who have been important to them (church leaders, teachers, friends, neighbors, family members, etc.) and also the places we have been that have been meaningful.

i)      People: Children can write notes of appreciation, draw pictures for special people,  or think about leaving a special momento with a close friend or family member

ii)     Places that hold important memories:  Visiting these places one last time, reminiscing, and getting a special photo or hiding a treasure or note to hopefully find again there someday. 

3)     Easing the Actual Transition

a)     Use of “sacred objects”:  For some of us who are making international moves, it is just not possible to take much with us.  How do you deal with this?  We met one family who had a policy we really liked.  Though they moved often, they made sure they always kept a few of their children’s most valued possessions:  some quilts their grandmother had made them and some special dishes made for them by a friend.  The quilts were unpacked first thing and spread over the beds and then their dishes were set out, helping to create a feeling of “home” for them.  Though the quilts were bulky and the family was sometimes very limited on space, these “sacred objects” were always a priority.  Having a set of “sacred objects” as they are called in Third Culture Kids helps to give the kids some stability.

b)     Keep as many family rituals in place as possible – Keep the days and weeks as normal as you can.

c)     Plan for a period of misbehavior and general adjustment.  You, as the parent, are going to need to give a lot emotionally and the kids are going to need you more than normal.  Their behavior is almost guaranteed to be crazy for a while. Give them grace – moving can be even harder for little ones who had no control in the decision that has resulted in their entire world changing.  Keep close tabs on how kids are doing emotionally – you will be very busy and overtired but keep your eye on signs that something might be off with them.  Help them to name feelings and provide acceptable outlets to express feelings.

d)     Make contact with some other families in the area or at the same school as soon as possible (in advance if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity!)  Don’t expect your new community to initiate having a relationship with you – be prepared to go out and actively seek out community for your family.

e)     One way we have eased the transition for our family is by sending my husband ahead first.  When we moved to Germany, he drove our possessions to our new apartment with a friend a few days before we arrived.  It made a big difference for our five year old, because when he first saw his new room it was completely unpacked with all of his familiar toys out and favorite posters on the walls.  Instead of a weird feeling of not belonging in a small white-walled, empty room, he seemed to feel at peace and slept alone in that room on the first night.  It also helped lessen the stress for me because before our arrival my husband could purchase some preliminary groceries and a map and scout out the neighborhood.

f)      For those of you who are moving internationally, I strongly urge you to learn all you can about the language and culture ahead of time.  Of course, no matter how much you prepare, you will still be learning a lot as you go through life in your new country.  Your children can learn a lot by watching how you handle the experience.  Describe how you are feeling about learning all these new things.  Present it as an exciting new adventure, but acknowledge that it can be overwhelming at times and that’s normal and okay to feel that way.  Try to laugh at your mistakes and move forward so the children know that when they make mistakes, they can learn from them and move on without feeling ashamed.

Taking some time to put some of these ideas in place (and maybe add to them with some of your own!) can really make a difference in how your children react to a move.  We all hope that our kids, if they must be transplanted to a new place, will adjust to the soil and be able to drink deeply of the water and nutrients that a new experience can offer them.  With a little bit of planning and effort, you can help give them the best possible start.

In your graduate wife journey, how have you prepared your children to move to another country, city, or state? Did you do anything specifically?