Questionnaire on parent-child relationships

If there’s one thing that’s being made increasingly clear to me about mothering, it is that my frustrations are not unique to me. We’re not as alone as we think we are.


The other day I wrote a questionnaire for my kids, out of vexation with a few of our relational rough spots. I made it with my oldest in mind – he is turning twelve next week – but then the other children wanted in on things too. My kids have always loved filling out stuff like this; I guess because I do.

The bulk of it was written on a Likert scale: On a scale of one to five, how strongly do you agree with these statements?

As children grow, parents should allow them increasing choice, even when their decisions are not wise.

If parents ask unreasonable things of a child, obedience is not required.

All children should be treated equally.

One parent is often more sympathetic than another, and more likely to agree with you.

I added a few open-ended questions. If you could choose five words to describe the relationship you’d like to have with your parents during your teenage years, what would they be?

I wanted the document to become a launch point for discussion after they filled it out, and it sure enough was. Their answers were enlightening. (Okay, I also wanted to prove a few points to my oldest. I admit it.) We each saw briefly from the other’s perspective, and had fun doing it.

I made a simpler version for younger children, questions like

Daddy and Mommy usually agree.

Yes? No? Or sometimes?

I feel like my family listens to me.

I feel really stressed out when…

I don’t know, maybe it was silly. I don’t model my home on what my children think, I already told you that. But sometimes I want to invite them to say what they feel about “us” – who we are as a family, and what they wish could change. I really loved hearing what they thought, even though it stung in a few places.

I’m sharing the questionnaire forms here for you, in case you want to use them too. They were written quickly, and have a few problems which I am not in the mood to fix. For me, this was about reaching to learn and grow; if you think it’s a sign that my children are deeply heard and perfectly cared for – well, meet them. They will have a few things to say about that.

Questionnaire for Parent-Child Relationships in our Home

Questionnaire for Younger Children

To all mothers in the trenches – Grab a coffee, give a hug, start that laundry. You’re not alone. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not either.

Glimpses of summer

Confession: I remember why I love and hate summer. This one is, as usual, an even mix of peaceful and chaotic.

My roses are blooming, their enchanted petals slick with rain and glory.

My children are home, and we have a break from all external worries like math and friendships. But someone is always talking, usually at high volume and tempo. Always.

I forget how much I need space to breathe and regroup, and how tricky it is during this season. I push my bedtime late, and later, like a beached fish straining for the oxygen he cannot access. Some days I love the chaos too: baby toys have been replaced, for the most part, by Lego, crafts, tools, library books strewn around the house. There are many appointments, and enormous evaporating stacks of groceries.

I never did get the hang of being a sacrificial-mother-who-picks-up-the-pieces-without-complaint as well as an intentional-mother-who-requires-children-to-be-reponsible-for-themselves. I try to hit the happy middle: I pick up after them while lecturing intentionally about their irresponsibility.

Together, we eat up the summer – the watermelon and sweet corn, sold cheaply in the grocery, surprisingly delicious even so early in the season – the swim sessions with a whiff of chlorine and new friendships, or the sand and sun at the lake – the ice cream, melting down our chins.

I tried to take a selfie. I think it might have failed, but I’m not sure.

Our greatest success of the summer so far has been assigning one child per meal. He or she helps me choose the menus, prepare the food, and clean up the kitchen afterward. One child gets breakfast, one lunch, one supper, and we switch every week. I prefer to manage one child at a time, or I burn everything.

Kelly says when Jenny gets older she will have to make SNACKS.

We made a schedule for daily snacks, because of all the phrases I can’t stand, the second worst is “What’s for snack?” The worst, in case you are wondering, is a tie between, “Mom, help!” [while running away from a pursing younger sibling, after having relentlessly goaded him or her into aggression] and “Mom, I’m bored.”

Some say that if your children are bored, you should intervene with chores. Some say that if your children are bored, you should not intervene, and allow the boredom to push them toward creativity. I try for the happy middle. I don’t want you to even ask what that is.

Anyway, we have been eating high on the hog: fondue suppers, kebabs, cheese wontons, maple-frosted cupcakes, gourmet omelets, and all our favorite dishes. The snack schedule works fine (Monday morning pretzels and cheese, Tuesday afternoon a popsicle) until we get to something healthy. They hate when that happens.

Summer is lovely. We soak up the sunshine and hold new kittens and go see hot air balloons and argue about the hammock I got for Mother’s Day. The kids think I am being a pig because I won’t let them jump on it or push each other out of it. “You just want to keep it all for yourself,” they accuse.

You got it, honey.

I get tired of being the bad guy though. So we plan lots of fun stuff and do it. That helps to balance out all the times I say “no,” and “that’s not what our family does” and “get in here and empty this dish drainer like I told you.” They still think I am a big old meanie, and for me that is the most wearing thing about this stage of mothering.

We have more trouble getting in sync.

“Mom, what are you doing on the computer?”

I am sitting outside typing. “Writing.”

“Well, I’m bored. And now a bunch of dandelions will grow in your flowerbed because I just threw a big bunch of seeds in there.”

{See? Untreated boredom breeds creativity.}

“Is she actually writing this down? Everything we say?”

This is the hard part, and I hate how quickly it came – they don’t think I’m god anymore, and I require things that are painful for us both, and sometimes my ideas look to them like the stuff they sneeze out of their noses on dry winter mornings. Ugh, mom.

“You’ll thank me someday” hardly cuts it.

I wish there were a way to know that I’m doing it just a little bit right, but mothering as far as I can tell is mostly in the dark. Others’ mistakes are clearer; my own are deeply felt, but not easily corrected until it’s too late, indistinct until they appear with blinding clarity in the rearview mirror. Mothering is driving down a country road at high speeds after midnight, the potholes extra painful because I didn’t see them coming. The trajectory veers first one way, then another, because even when I know where I aim to head (which isn’t often), the roads are confusing and it takes a while to get there.

There are good things too. Sometimes we love each other very much, especially when I say yes to a spray painting project and am, briefly, the best mommy in the whole world. Then I pass around some more cupcakes, chocolate-frosted this time.

The delightful part about this stage is always having comrades, game for adventure. I am rarely alone. I have a salad-eating buddy, a shopping helper, a joke lover, and an enthusiastic gaggle of partners in reading, picnicking, boating, exploring, pretty much anything I name that does not involve work. It’s fun. They are fun. They are starting to have thoughts of their own, and can tell a good book from a mediocre one, and spin insights that make me laugh for the intelligent feelings behind them.

“You know what people in Middle Earth the Mennonites remind me of? The Ents. Because we don’t really pride ourselves on being that much to look at, you know? And we’re slower to take opportunities and get on board with new things. But if something we love is threatened or destroyed, you have to reckon us in.”

How did we get here? I couldn’t tell you. I thought he was busy with Play-Doh just yesterday.

“Mommy, I really like how you sleep with your fists. It makes you look like a baby. It makes you look sweet.”

Okay? I don’t know how we got there either. Whatever.

This is summertime at the Zooks. What’s yours like?


And thanks for your delightful comments and confessions on marriage. I enjoyed them very much.

Excerpts

I guess you know that even when I’m not writing here, I am always writing, in some form or another? Here’s a glimpse into a few things I’ve sent to others in the last week or two.


To a dear sis-in-law:

Aw I LOVE the air plant you sent me! And that cute little log to set it on… It’s on my kitchen window sill and making me happy every time I look at it.


To a friend:

You were NOT blubbering. I totally get what you’re saying and don’t always know how concerned to be for you or for myself. The whole rest of the day I could not think at all… I had dizzy spells and ringing in my ears (okay, once) and felt like a fluffball of mishmash. Now do you think it was the devil or the caffeine or the fact that we talked about not being able to think??!

{Aside to you readers: Please, as you love me, do not give me health advice at this moment. I am already drinking kefir and reading my Bible every day, so I figure I’m covered.}


To an employee on a mission:

I appreciate you thinking of me, but it doesn’t feel like my niche. I have rewritten others’ work in the past, but it’s not my favorite thing; it’s hard for me to catch vision for redoing someone else’s material and perhaps not doing it justice. Of course the other issue is time and energy for taking on an additional project of that size. I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I think A.Y. or A.Z. should do it. {grin} Both are gifted with eyes for improving literary quality and age appropriateness, and both have shown some historical/ biographical interest or talent.


To the boss:

Leaving to see my dad, hope Jenny sleeps till I return xo


To select church ladies:

I’m sorry to have to cancel the plant swap party entirely. I only had one definite yes, and the rest either had schedule conflicts or weren’t sure… I guess the time of year that the plants are ready is not a very good time for people’s schedules.


To a new colleague:

I am very interested in your little boy. In fact, I have fallen in love with him. He looks like some of my foster children when they wake up their first morning in a new house, and all they have known has been taken away, and all the rules have changed.


To a most loved sister:

You’re a very tough cookie. You’ve been through a lot and aced it. Don’t even think that because you were given the answers to your prayers and these miracle babies and healings and second chances, you should be on easy street or have become some kind of perfect saint. I really believe that the things we most beg God for turn out to be our hardest assignments. Maybe he plants the seeds of our callings in our hearts, and so we ask him for them, and then they are so. much. harder. than we expected. But He is there, and good to us. It’s not hard because we made a wrong choice or arm-twisted him into grudgingly going along with our foolish ideas. It’s hard because it’s his beautiful plan for us, and just what we were made to do. Why do I always end up preaching?!?! #soapboxsister


To a bio mom:

Would you mind texting me when they leave the visit so I know when to expect them back here? I really appreciate you trusting us with your kiddos…They are very sweet and a delight to care for.


To a fellow foster mom, for whom we did respite:

If children’s happiness can be measured by the amount of muddy laundry they produce, I think we can safely call the weekend a success.


To the same:

On second thought it was judgmental of me to say it was “careless of the adult.”


To our babysitter:

Let us know what you think, and thanks for considering.

Gifts of great beauty

So now that we are talking to each other, what should we talk about?

If I were a smarter blogger, I would have quickly followed up on your willingness to talk with a titillating post on a hot topic, like “Q: What do you think of The Shack?” (A: I don’t think of it at all. What shack?)

I’m not stupid, I’m just stubborn. And occasionally tongue-tied.

So this is a popcorn post – random bits of delight from my days – and then you can share some of yours with me.


First I have a few things to say about food. I found a new favorite cake: chocolate, with maple and buttercream frostings alternating. So yummy.

I’ve been eating my Grandma Grace’s peanut butter toast for breakfast (okay, my peanut butter toast made her way; I’m not stealing poor granny’s brekky). Take a piece of wheat bread and toast it. Spread with peanut butter and long slices of banana. Top with honey and cinnamon. I’m not sure if it’s *that good* because it’s *that good* or because I grew up on it.

This is my favorite lunch: a changing kaleidoscope of color, texture, and flavor. The best edible cure I know for gray days.

I’m spending lots of time with my family. I was watching this basketball game happen and they said “Do you want to play?” and I sort of laughed and panicked because I don’t know the rules. But I said yes, and it was actually fun. No one took pictures of that part, which on the whole is probably a good thing.

Then I found this on my kitchen counter, a teeny bouquet tied up with grass.

Only a six-year-old can be that artistic and precise with weeds, turning them into gifts of great beauty. I love that about her.

She is growing her writing skills too, and has spent much time on this paper just for the fun of it, imitating her big brothers’ assignments. (click to enlarge)

Spring has sprung in Meadville. Last fall I finally remembered to plant the bulbs for which I long in March, crocuses and tulips and daffodils and hyacinths, and I can’t wait to see more of them pop.

I am thinking often of Easter, remembering the wonderful things we did last year to celebrate. This year we are adding handicrafts in the form of glittery eggs from Dollar Tree strung on bare branches. I can’t stop looking at them. I never know how to decorate for this holiday, but if eggs are a symbol of new life, I cannot think of anything more appropriate for Easter than new life hung on a Tree.

Plus it makes the children busy and happy, cutting and twisting all that wire.

We revived last year’s mercy garden, with fresh things from the yard and gardens. On Easter weekend I will put a candle in the tomb.

I think it is so amazing that I found an incredible photo backdrop I didn’t know I had, in the form of my dilapidated basement doors (above). Isn’t that smashing? You might see more of them in future. I always assumed foodie bloggers had cardboard backgrounds they stood behind their masterpieces… I didn’t know they carried the food outside and set it on top of their junk.

But talking of eggs, my son brought me a real trophy from his flock. “Imagine being a hen laying normal eggs and then having to lay this one,” he said.

She is doing well on bedrest.


What popcorn would you like to share from your days? Three pieces at random.

Happy Tuesday!
Shari

Three stories – and #payitforward

Well, I won’t lie – it’s been a hard week, for reasons I don’t want to explain to you. Would you like to be entertained? Here are three snippets that made me laugh.


First

Dear Stranger in the Thrift Store:

I do not usually bum a diaper off someone I do not know. Thank you for being gracious.

You see, I had moved all of my baby’s diapers and wipes to a different purse, to give to the babysitter on the night I had a date—and I forgot to return them to my shopping purse. So that day in the store when I was smelling whiffs of diaper trouble, and whisked my girl off to the bathroom for a change, I got as far as unfastening everything and assessing the damages when I realized I was completely, entirely, 100% fresh out of options.

Several ideas flashed through my mind, none of them pretty.

Then I remembered you and your little girl playing by the toy section, and how we’d smiled at each other. Thank you for letting me come beg from you, and for refusing my money, and for offering me your wipes too as I turned away. I’m sorry that I smiled and clung to my pride and said I was okay, I’d use the paper towels in the bathroom. They were not as helpful as I’d hoped.

But I will remember you and your kindness. If you ever need one, you know where to come.

#payitforward
Shari


Second

I’ve been trying to find new coping strategies for worry.

The other day when something was eating at me I thought I would text it to The Boss, but suddenly wished I could text it to Jesus instead – as a way of forgetting about it and letting it go. So just for the kick of it I typed Jesus into the address line (53787) and wrote my little worries and hit send. I knew the message would bounce right back to me, but I didn’t care. What I didn’t anticipate was what my phone said – in large letters on the left side, JESUS, and on the right side, FAILED.

Not quite the sensation I was going for, but it cracked me straight up.

Since then my husband outfitted me with an extra number by which I can text to Jesus, that only he will ever see. I have been keeping it hot.


Third

I do not usually write here about my speaking engagements, for two reasons. First, it feels like showing off, and second, I don’t have many of them. So if you come here hoping for my opinion of your event, I’m sorry – you’re logging up the wrong tree.

But.

Last year about this time I was preparing to speak at an unusually stressful venue, for me. It was going to be a large audience, both men and women, in a Christian setting so conservative-minded that I figured if I mis-dressed or mis-spoke I might as well build my own coffin and go lie down in it, cuz it was all over.

While packing to go, I dithered about what shoes to wear. I’m not a big shoe person, so it came down to a choice of two pairs: snappy black dress shoes with inordinately high heels, which I had not worn for months – having a faint memory of discomfort associated with them – or black flats with big cream fabric flowers on the toes. I thought with a long skirt, the heels would be the less offensive of the two, so I picked them.

All went well, and I wore those shoes for two long days without mishap, until a week or so after the event when I developed shooting pains in my big toes. Both sides.

Cough.

So, if you were at the event or if you come from a church that has Opinions on such matters, I thought it would comfort you to learn that I lost two toenails to that wretched experience, and everything your pastor tells you about high heels is true. They are from the devil.

I can’t remember just now if I threw them vindictively into the trash can, or donated them to the thrift store to ensnare a new owner.

Like I said,

#payitforward
Shari