How moms and their kids can feel well-loved and wanted

May 13, 1999|By Jo Ellen Barnhart

The recent shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., still stings our hearts and continues to stir discussions about how such a tragedy could occur. I'm certainly not able to offer answers, but I can report on the dozens of conversations I've heard that always question "Where were the parents of the children who developed and executed this well-planned, senseless rampage?"

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When we finish pointing fingers - the message hits home. Do we know where and what our own children are doing - right now? How involved are we in the lives of our own children?

Well? How much stress-free, one-on-one time have you spent with your children in the last month? If your answer is not enough, it may be time to rethink your schedule.

For most working moms, getting through an average day takes an enormous amount of energy. The demands of balancing work and family responsibilities often leave us exhausted. We tend to give our best performance hours to our employers and then we're just too pooped to enjoy our families.


The face we often show our children is harassed, hurried and worried. Just today, my 6-year-old son noticed the frustrated look on my face and serious, short tone in my voice as we rushed through the grocery store checkout line. To ease the tension, he tugged on my shirt and said, "Mommy, I love you."

My son's remedy worked perfectly. I paused and took a nonhurried moment, then gave him a huge hug and returned an "I love you, too." From that moment on, I saved my frustrated looks for the pushy patrons behind me shoving their carts into my back side.

While no one has invented a magic formula for transforming every family frenzy into bliss, writer and working mother Carol Turkington claims these six pieces of advice are guaranteed to keep more moms and more children feeling well-loved and wanted.

1. Create time for joy even when rushed.

It simply doesn't matter whether the kitchen floor is scrubbed, the flower garden weeded, or even whether all of the work deadlines are met. Routine duties and chores may need to be placed on the back burner more often.

2. Try to be positive.

Worry and self-criticism eat away at self-confidence, which in turn can sabotage your goals. During these low points it may be tempting to give up and walk away. But the belief that no matter how bad things get, you'll always find a solution will invariably lead you to a satisfactory outcome. Jane Klass, a secretary and mother of two, makes daily affirmative statements, such as, "I can do this," to keep putting one foot in front of the other on demanding days.

3. Don't wait for a Kodak moment.

Busy moms often try to orchestrate or schedule togetherness when children aren't in the mood to communicate, creating artificial quality time. Here's an alternative: Pay attention to your kids during ordinary downtime - in the car, doing dishes or throwing a ball together. In fact, the most vivid childhood memories grow from ordinary times like walking the dog. These may seem like no big deal to an adult, but to a child, they may be magical moments, remembered for years.

4. Shake up your in-a-rut routine.

Sometimes a busy family becomes addicted to a certain schedule. A carefully controlled schedule keeps things running smoothly and efficiently. But some moms find that putting some spin into the day's events keeps everyone alert and feeling more alive. For example, you can drive home a different way and point out new scenery, visit Grandma during the week instead of the weekend or throw a picnic on the living room floor during a rainstorm.

5. Listen as though your child's life depends on it.

Listening should be an active process. Most of the time we are preoccupied with other agendas. Figuring out whether the spaghetti needs meatballs receives more attention than checking school homework or looking at school artwork. Pause and reflect: Is uh-huh part of my vocabulary? How often do I finish my children's sentences or think what I'm going to say while he's still talking?

6. Forget about doing it all.

Perfect mothers and Supermoms are tantalizing fantasies. In reality, modern life is a delicate balancing act, and when you toss too many balls, at least one is going to fall. Make sure that ball isn't your child.

Jo Ellen Barnhart is the working mother of three young boys. She teaches at Frostburg State University and Hagerstown Community College and consults in public relations and marketing. Write to her in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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