Monday, March 7, 2011

Intentional Motherhood

Micah, Josh, Amy and Heidi, 1978

I was an intentional mother—I knew what I wanted to have happen and I thought of ways to make it happen. (And then I thought again.) Here is an example.

My father-in-law worked shifts at Geneva Steel Plant, so Dee used his terminology to dub the hectic part of my day the Swing Shift. Rest time was from noon to two—whether the little kids napped or not they were tucked away for a quiet time so I could restore myself. (I'll admit that sometimes they were locked, rather than tucked; and sometimes it was riot time rather than quiet time.) The swinging part started an hour later and I was ready. After-school snacks were ready on the counter, my projects were set aside and my nerves were steeled.

At 3:10 I opened the front door with a smile on my face. "How was your day, Josh?" I asked my second grader as he shed his coat, boots, backpack and papers in a heap at my feet. He glanced up at me like I was a stranger and mumbled "OK" and headed straight for the food.

Gabi burst into tears as she shoved him through the door. "You always ask him first! You never ask me!" she complained. "How was your day, Gabi?" I asked, with a tad less cheerfulness. She erupted in tears. "You didn't sign my spelling! Miss Strasser said I couldn't get a star by my name because you didn't sign my spelling!" She tripped over Josh's boots, noticed Amy holding her Barbie and smacked her as she grabbed the doll. Three-year-old Amy had also planned this afternoon encounter, and was shrieking before the doll even left her arms. (They each had their parts memorized.)

Micah wailed in the family room when Josh commandeered the TV. Right on cue, the doorbell rang. Amy pulled the door opened and Walter, our silent, 5-year-old neighbor walked in without waiting for an invitation. He was an only child, and his mom said he needed to play. At our house.

Carolyn was on the phone, "Can you take the girls to dance? I've got sick kids."

It had taken five minutes. The kid's paraphernalia was all over the floor, the kitchen counter was covered with wrappers, coated with crumbs, a wrinkled spelling paper stuck to the surface with drips of apple juice, and five children were glued to the vibrating sounds of Electric Company.

There was evidence in the air that Heidi was awake needing a diaper change, and ballet started in half-an-hour. That meant searching for shoes, sending Walter home, picking up Carolyn's car pool, and then watching my kids and a dozen others fight for a turn on the dance teacher's trampoline for an hour. Heidi was too little for the tramp so she bounced on my pregnant belly, while I entertained her with finger-plays and nursery rhymes.

Somehow bonding time had turned into bondage time, so I thought it through again. I had to be in control of the Swing Shift. These were important hours when I could have a positive influence on my kids, and I didn't want to give those hours away to chaos or peer pressure. Here's what I did:

At least twice a week I hung a little sign on our front door that said Halverson Hero Happening! That meant we were having a family after-school party (no friends allowed. Sorry Walter.) Just by naming it, I had made it special. Then, I acted excited! "Hi guys! Did you remember we're having a Happening?" They behaved better because of my enthusiasm. I directed them to hurry and hang up their coats, give me their papers, etc. "Quick! We have activities planned!" First we'd go to the Treat Cafe (normal after-school snacks served by mom acting like a waitress. I'd recite the menu and they'd place their order while they sat at the counter like customers.) With the phone off the hook and a sign on the door that said "We're busy today," we had time to chat.

Then we had Games:

Minute Reports—the timer was set for one minute and each kid had a turn to tell as many things as they could about their day. Someone watched the timer and someone kept track.

Story Time—
We'd sit on the floor in a circle and I'd tell a story about my day, or about an upcoming holiday, or a story with a moral, or a funny story, or we'd tell knock-knock jokes. Something fun.

Homework Hop
—each kid had to hop on one foot for as long as it took to tell what their homework was.

Laundry Prize—each kid put away their laundry and would find a piece of bubble gum, or a lollipop at the bottom of their individual basket. It was a race to get back to the family room first.

Chore Challenge
—each kid drew a chore from a hat and had five minutes to do it well, and return and sit down. Then we'd all inspect each chore and decide if it passed inspection. If it did, the kid got a star on the job chart.

Talent Showoff
—each kid performed something they were supposed to practice (a piano piece, a violin solo, a gymnastics trick, a multiplication table) and we all clapped.

Free Time—
I assigned partners or trios of kids to invent an activity, which they could play together as long as they didn't bother another partnership. When the inevitable melt-down came, I'd gather the group again and they'd all report on their activity. By then the magic of the Happening had dissipated and we'd break up into homework, practicing, TV, whatever til dinner time.

Happenings met all our needs. The kids wanted my full attention after school. When they got it, they behaved. I wanted their full attention after school and when I got it, I behaved. The whole afternoon went smoother. (To be totally honest, this did not work all the time. But it worked enough of the time for me to call it successful.)

The kids had to deal with peer pressure—telling Walter and other friends they couldn't come play was embarrassing. I had my own peer pressure: telling Carolyn and other friends "I've reserved this time for my kids," was hard for me. I consolidated lessons as much as possible so we'd have a couple of unpressured afternoons a week; sometimes I bagged lessons altogether for a season in favor of a less chaotic home life. (Everyone grew up with a talent or two that they still use in adulthood.)

This week I'll be giving some other examples of Intentional Mothering. Motherhood was a career choice for me, not something on the side. Because I viewed it this way, I could excuse the parts I wasn't thrilled about—every career has its downsides—and concentrate my efforts where my personal talents and interests lay.

"The greatest aid to adult education is children."
—Charlie T. Jones

Have you got some after-school tips?


Misty said...

Oh my word, you are an answer to prayers. You are also a genius. And a really cool mom, it sounds like. Thank you!

polly said...

my teenagers and i always went to the seven-eleven for a drink after school. we'd talk about the day. get a snack - have some one on one. instead of them going in their room or turning on the tv. it was something we all enjoyed.

Christie said...

I love how you call it "intentional motherhood." This is just so genius. And you tell it so well. I can picture EXACTLY that afternoon when they all came home. I love how you write. Bravo, Omi!

mama boss said...

What a fantastic idea! I'm going to have to store this in my mental files, I have a feeling I'll be needing this someday!

Travelin'Oma said...

I want to clarify that I didn't come up with the term "Intentional Motherhood." I used to think of myself as a "deliberate mother" but I heard Julie B. Beck use the phrase "be intentional about mothering." I liked her phrase better than mine, so I've adopted it.

Diane said...

Why weren't we next door neighbors when my children were small? I would have adopted your idea!

One thing I did do with my neighbor was have the "cleaning fairy" come to visit. We would dress up as the cleaning fairy, and inspect each other's kids rooms and leave a treat if the room was clean. These were "surprise" visits - of course once in a while a giant hint was given to be ready.

Grandma Cebe said...

I've sent the link to this post to my daughters and DILs. It's too late for me. But since they are all in the early stages of intentional motherhood, it isn't too late for them.

Susan Adcox said...

Fantastic ideas! Although I have to admit I also enjoyed the description of the chaos. It's always nice to know that one's own house wasn't the only one to resemble a mock disaster drill.

Jamie said...

Great idea, thanks so much for sharing! I have done something similar, but not made it "Official" I think the sign adds to the grandeur of the whole idea, and makes it more fun. So glad I found your blog, can't wait to read more.

Kimberly said...

Hi, I'm a blog friend of Stie's and Gabi's. I have to tell you this post is an answer to my prayers. I have really been struggling with the after school routine and I'm going to implement some of these ideas starting tomorrow! Thank you so much!
(I don't remember that line from Sister Beck- I'll have to find it. I have always thought of it as purposeful parenting, but I like intentional mothering.)

Heather P said...

Great series!

martha ann said...

oh my goodness, you're the best! I hope you're putting this together for something to own through amazon because it's really just too worthy to not keep on my kitchen counter for dog-earing.

I found you through your daughter's blog, which I found through another, you know the journey...we have the same name. thanks for being you,

house of 7 said...

i completely adore this post! the afternoon chaos is known too well around here and your 'happenings' is just what the doctor ordered. you write it and capture it so perfectly!
(i can see where miss marta writes gets her incredible talent!)
thank you for the lift!

mitchpamandtherhoadants said...

I wish i had read this years ago! After school is not easy but what a great way to make it fun. When my girls were small and we went to the pool I wanted to work on swimming with them. They would whine or not listen, so I created Miss Aqua. I used a bad British accent and directed the drills and games. They loved it and tried way harder to please Miss Aqua than they ever did me! I didnt have to nag and they learned to swim.

Alisha Stamper said...

This post is what I needed. thanks.

we sing. A LOT.
we're not in the after school stage yet, but we do have an after church jar that we pick family activities from. I love it. That way we don't break the sabbath AND we make sure to spend the day together.