• Lisa Popcak

At some point most exhausted mom’s have said something like, “These kids are driving me crazy! They’re just so difficult and disobedient.” As I sat in a park with my daughter one day, I heard a group of moms all agreeing with each other on this topic. Suddenly one mom yelled at her son, “Put down the stick and don’t hit your brother with it, Okay…?”

He ignored her. She rolled her eyes and said to her friends,”See what I mean? He just won’t listen.”

As I sat there I whispered a silent prayer for this frustrated, exhausted mom, a stranger to me, but a comrade in arms nonetheless. Actually I prayed for her all the way home. As I prayed and turned the scene over and over in my mind it hit me. The son hadn’t been disobedient. He heard a question and had chosen “no” as his answer. His mom had started with a directive, “Put down the stick”,  but ended with “Okay???” Implying, albeit unintentionally, that her son could freely choose whether or not to put down the stick. Wow, I thought. She had completely undermined herself with the way she said what she wanted.

The next day, while in a bookstore restroom, I heard a mom say to her 3 year old son, “Joshy, can you get ready to use the potty after mommy?” Joshy responded with a shockingly defiant “NO!” His poor mom was flabbergasted and began everything from negotiating, with promises of ice cream, to anger about his tone.

Oh wow! There it was again.

How often do we moms do this to ourselves? I dare say more than we realize. When we turn our directives into  questions or we use phrases such as, “Did you ________ (hit your brother, eat the cookie before dinner, take your sisters toy)?” when we already know they did. When we use phrases like, “If I have to tell you one more time…”, or we end what we intend to be a command with “Okay?”, we end up giving up our power without even knowing it.

It comes from a well intentioned place. We may want to empower our kids to come to good conclusions and behaviors on their own, with just a hint of sway from us. We may not want to be dictatorial or harsh.We may think that implying a choice will avoid a temper tantrum form our child. But phrasing like this confuses kids, leaving them to think things like: “I was going to do what mom said, but then she said I didn't have to. Why is she upset with me now?” or “Mom is too weak to set a standard.” Or “Mom doesn't actually know that I obviously ate the cookie. Why would I upset her by letting her know I did?” Or that they have choices they don’t really have.When our phrasing is vague, both mom and child end up out of sync with each other and often angry.

Changing this pattern doesn’t mean we have to throw all those good intentions out the window and begin issuing drill sergeant style orders. Giving our children real choices is an important part of creating in them a sense of agency. But clarity is vital in facilitating agency and helping virtues take root. It also helps us moms feel effective and in sync with our kids.

Here are some steps to be gentle and effective:

  1. Pause for a brief moment and think of what you want your child to do and how to say it as a simple directive statement. “Put down the stick.” or “After I use the potty it will be your turn.

  2. Employ a firm, not harsh, tone of voice.  Tone of voice changes everything! Neither a sing-song wishy-washy tone, nor screaming, will illicit compliance from your child. A tone that expresses the confidence that your directive is doable, and that you trust your child has the integrity to do it, almost always yields positive results. You may have to practice this alone in front of a mirror after the kids go to bed, or do videos of yourself on your phone until you achieve the words, tone, and facial expression that convey kind, but firm, confidence. The results will be worth the practice.

  3. Offer choices at times and in ways that don’t stress you out. Often we add questions to our directives because we want our children to practice making choices and thinking critically. These are vital skills that need to be taught incrementally and age appropriately over time. Choreograph moments to build these skills into your child’s life in manageable ways that don’t add stress to your life.For example, three year old Joshy can practice these skills by being given a choice between only two things and at a unrushed time. Perhaps between his blue shirt and his red shirt as mom lays out his clothes the evening before he is to wear them. At three he isn’t developmentally ready to be given a choice about using the bathroom before he rides in the car. Possible “accidents” are more stress than mom and child need in their day. Whereas an older child could certainly decide whether or not he needs to use the restroom at any given time.

  4. As often as possible address your child by name and maintain eye contact while making a clear directive statement. This will increase your chances that your child is actually tuning into your message. If you're not sure if they've processed what you've said, ask them to repeat it back to you.If they can't, maintain eye contact and tell them to listen so they can repeat what you said and do the task.

None of us can do this perfectly 100% of the time, but practicing these simple steps can significantly take down your stress level, help your child cooperate with you more often, build trust between you and give you more peace in your relationship.

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  • Lisa Popcak

I am inspired today to talk about the tenth Momfidence principle: I aim for cozy not perfect. The inspiration comes as I hunker down with my family, in a wonderful old hotel in Canada. Outside has accumulated 10 inches of snow. Sixty mile per hour winds are slashing ice against the windows. But inside, every fireplace is lit and hot pots of tea and warm scones are transforming the the space into a cosy refuge from the storm. While we pray for the safety of those contending with all that's going on outside, we are finding gratitude that we have been caused to stop. We cannot travel, the internet has stopped working, and we have been given a Haven in which to gather, get warmed, and spend time together. It is cozy.

This time of year we can see many articles and videos on decluttering our homes. There is something so refreshing about getting my home clean and in order! But it takes hard work to get it that way, and I will confess that sometimes, after working so hard, I can get pretty testy with my family if they mess it up again. Not only do I not want all my hard work to be undone, but I can take it as a personal insult after creating such a wonderful space “for them”. The influence of all the women I grew up around, who prided themselves on their housekeeping (and never let a child into their formal living rooms) intrudes into my adult thoughts. But I do my best to check those thoughts and snappishness by asking myself, “How do I want my children to remember me?”. Certainly not as someone with a sterile house and a cold heart. So while I love a clean, shining house, I've chosen to aim for cozy, not perfect.

What is cozy? The dictionary describes it with words like, comfortable, warm, restful, cheerful, secure, safe, welcoming, and snuggly. What wonderful words! I want my children to think of our home that way. But more importantly, I want them to remember me that way!

I have the privilege of talking to people from all over the world every day on my radio show. And I often hear adults, some grandparents themselves, who long to know that their moms loved them in that way. I don't want my children to have to long for those feelings. I want to actively fill their hearts and souls with the knowledge that I love them by creating times, as well as spaces, that help them feel safe, secure, at ease, cheerful, rested and welcome in my home and heart.

Sometimes creating that cozy space and relationship is going to include a fire in the fireplace, candle light,cuddly blankets, warm drinks, yummy snacks, and positive conversation.

Other times it will be laying round in our pajamas ignoring the dishes, and the laundry, and hoping no one drops by in the middle of the mess, but connecting with my people in a heartfelt and vital way. In fact, ignoring the mess and work and focusing on them is huge part of letting them know how much they matter.

As often as I can, I remind myself that my children don't care if our home is Instagramably decorated, or if every meal is a gourmet feast, or if I’ve chaired every school committee, or if I have six-pack abs. They care that they feel loved by me. Then, I intentionally choose the joy that cozy can bring.

If that is something that you want for yourself and your children here are some suggestions for creating coziness in the different stages of your child's life.

Infant and toddler:

  • This stage is all about cuddles and kisses. Relish it!

  • Play, gaze at each other, nap together, cuddle and read pictures books. Fit in as much of it as you can for the sheer joy and connection of it. It will make the good times great and the difficult times easier to bear.

  • If your having an exhausting, irritating day, prioritize connection. Put pillows and blankets in the floor, and get out old school toys that don't make noise or blink lights, like play food, puzzles, coloring books, and enjoy some quiet play together.

Grade School:

  • Play together. Paint. Read a chapter a night (or more!) of wonderful books you both enjoy. Reading aloud together gives you and your child a shared experience and “friends” that you can get excited about and talk about together.

  • Take walks or do one-on-one sports together.

  • Bake together. Using the Great British Baking Show as inspiration, my youngest daughter and I had lots of fun together trying recipes we hadn't seen before. Some recipes will become family traditions with lots of cozy memories attached.

High School:

This is a time when your child wants to be closer to you, even though society says they want to push away. As they seek to become their own people, our kids desperately want our validation, and the emotional security of being close on a regular basis.

  • Plan dates with your teen. Go to breakfast, or a movie and dessert and just talk and have fun. (Don't make this a time of international, or discipline)

  • Take up a shared hobby. Take a cooking class together. Learn to sew or knit together.

  • Intentionally set aside a few hours a week to just hang out comfortably at home together without having to rush to the next activity.

  • Make sure you're still hugging your teen. Yes even young men will feel emotionally healthier when hugged several times mm es a day by his parents.

Adult Children:

  • Our adult children need a cozy place to come to when they visit. Welcome their visits with open arms, literally.  

  • Make some of their favorite foods.

  • Have interesting (not divisive) topics to talk about.

  • Listen with an open heart to everything that's going on in their lives, and be encouraging.

  • Send them text during their off hours, just to tell them your thinking of them and you love be them.

  • Send care packages. Everybody feels loved when someone send them a package full of home baked goodies, or their favorite treats.

For more encouragement, check out my book Corporal Works of Mommy, or tune into the More2Life Radio program on EWTN.

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  • Lisa Popcak

The very first Momfidence Principle is “I Make Affection and Connection My Number One Job.” When I was pregnant with my oldest, I began contemplating, and asking God, what kind of mother I should be. As I did so, I kept coming across beautiful and inspiring “mother and child” artwork. Almost always these pieces showed a mother cuddling or being close to her child in some way. This was especially true in images of Jesus and his mother, not just in his infancy,  but through all his stages of life, including Mary cradling Jesus’ body in her arms after he is taken down from the cross. It became clear to me that, over thousands of years, the best of the mother-child relationship was represented artistically as an image of affection and connection.

As I meditated on this, I began reading a lot more about the science of infancy and parenthood. Confined to bed for most of that pregnancy, I had a lot of time to delve into this. That’s for sure! The vast majority of the science on the subject supports what the art conveyed, that strong affectionate mother/child bonds are best for the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of both the baby and the mother.

  1. Affectionate connection between us and our children, at any age, is good for moms. The chemical cortisol is released during moments of affection. It brings down our stress and helps us engage our thinking brains so we can  be creative and effective moms. Cortisol also helps our children calm down and sink up with us, and when that happens we find moments of peace and empowerment as moms. With this in mind, we can see that when frustration causes a kind of knee-jerk reaction causing us to wait to show affection to our children until we feel good about each other, it undermines our ability to be the amazing moms we want to be.

  2.  Moments of connection build relationship with our children and makes them more receptive to our correction and guidance.

  3. No matter how tired, angry, or disempowered we feel, it's connection and affection we and our children are needing. No mom wants to feel like an ineffective mom. No kid wants to feel like a disappointment. Affectionate connection can help us overcome these difficult feelings and problem solve together.

But take our eyes off the research,  and the idyllic, silent images, and put them on our real life days as moms and that kind of connection can seem pretty difficult to come by. The children in those artistic images don’t scream, or blow out their diapers at church on the only dress that fits our exhausted postpartum bodies.  They don’t fail to ever let us sleep, or throw tantrums, or have obnoxious moments in their teen or adult years. The disconnect between that ideal and real life can leave us questioning our mothering abilities and feeling pretty awful at times.

As I grappled (and still grapple) with the daily realities of motherhood, God has shown me that those ideals are not so much unrealistic, as they are something to be developed and achieved through practice. Just as an athlete or dancer has to practice and perfect their skills, so do we as moms. So how do we practice when our ideals don't match our circumstances, or affection doesn't come naturally?

  • Start by building in daily routines that build connection. For example: Give hugs and kisses every time you greet each other or say goodbye, including waking and bedtimes.

  • Set aside a reconnection time at the end of the school/work day, having a warm drink and a snack together and catching up on how the day is going, without scolding or nagging.

  • Perhaps taking a walk together to clear your heads. (St. John Paul and his father did this together every day after school.)

  • If your child is an adult, set aside a time at the beginning or end of the day for a catch up/ encouraging text or phone call.

  • If your day isn't going well, stop and tell your child, “ I love you more than whatever is making us stressed with each other. Let's pause and give each other a hug.”  (Let that cortisol kick in!) Then figure out how to solve the problem or improve the day together.

  • Keep track of the times you feel closest, and most connected to each child. Is it when your reading together? Doing a craft together? Working on a project together? Sitting together on the couch sharing your favorite funny memes? Prioritize those things in often. It will be like putting gas into the engine of your relationship.

Give yourself time to discern what your ideals for yourself as a mother are, and trust that with prayer and practice you can get closer to them one day at a time.

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