Adulting

Disclaimer: This article is not exactly about parenting. I will understand if you are not interested and want to skip this post!

We recently moved to a new city and my husband started a new job.  Previously he worked at the same place for 14 years, and we did not realize how many “adult” tasks would be involved in this move. It has been quite overwhelming, like a part-time job for me for the last four months.  I started to feel so burdened and stressed out by these tasks, which I do not enjoy very much, that I decided I needed a reframe.  I told myself that I was taking a class, Moving 101. Taking this class requires a lot of time, but I tell myself I chose to take the class because I wanted to learn more about all these varied grown-up situations. This class has been very hands-on! It required a lot of research and real-world experiences such as filling out forms, making difficult decisions, calling mortgage brokers, insurance agents and the like, initiating relationships, and sometimes breaking off those relationships later.

This class has been frustrating at times (and I’ve wondered why I signed up for it!) but I’ve learned so much. I am so much more knowledgeable and well-rounded. I decided to write about all that I have learned because it helps me appreciate the knowledge that I’ve gained and realize there’s a reason it’s been so hard.  Writing and sharing this article also helps me feel like my work can benefit others, and that makes it more worth it. This is my “term paper” for Moving 101.

In this class I have researched, learned about, and talked to professionals about the following topics, and I’d like to share my hard-earned knowledge with you. What follows is a short explanation about many aspects of adulting.  It is not intended to be comprehensive but more of a jumping off point.  When you have to call a professional about a certain topic (say, health insurance), it’s nice to know a few things about the topic and know what questions to ask.  Hopefully something here will be helpful as you “adult” throughout your life.

GETTING A REALTOR

Finding a realtor is simple with a google search. Browse the websites and find companies or individuals that appeal to you. Contact a few and see which get back to you.  I think it’s a good sign if they get back to you right away; this means they are available and responsive.

Before you can talk to a realtor about what’s important to you in a house, you have to do some introspection to figure that out.  Do you want to be close to work? in a family-oriented neighborhood? do you want lots of kids running around for your kids to be friends with? Do you like new developments or older neighborhoods? A fixer-upper house with charm or something newer? Once you know what you want you can talk with your realtor about those preferences and the area you’re moving to.  It’s best to find a realtor who lives in or knows your desired area as closely as possible.

BUILDING A HOUSE

I could do a whole post about building a house, but I just want to add a few notes. Most builders won’t carry the construction loan, you have to get that on your own.  Sometimes if a whole subdivision is being built the builder will let you put a certain amount down instead of having a construction loan, but that is not common.  When you find a lot you want to build on, make an offer on it and contact a bank to get a loan for that and the cost of building the house.  You have to have the house plans drawn up before getting approved for the loan, so the bank knows what they’re lending money for.

When you create the house plans with the builder, it’s good to specify whether this is a “cost-plus” or “contract” type of agreement.  In a cost-plus situation, the builder gets a percentage of whatever you spend, whether the costs go up or down.  You get an allowance for cabinets, flooring, etc., and if you go over the allowance you pay the extra plus the builder’s percentage.  This makes sense because you chose something more expensive.  But it gets trickier when certain aspects of building go over budget, like excavation or framing, things that you didn’t choose.  Those type of expenses can go up if the subcontractor has raised their prices or there is more work than they expected.  It’s good to discuss these situations with your builder in advance so you know who will be responsible for those costs.

As your house is being built you will be making decisions regarding counters, cabinets, flooring, etc.  You don’t want your decision making to hold up the building process, so be sure to look into these things and make timely decisions.  Our builder had an in-house designer that helped us choose colors and styles, which was very nice.  If your builder doesn’t have that it can be a little more overwhelming.

It’s not uncommon for builders to be behind schedule, and it’s not always their fault.  Weather and subcontractor delays can be frustrating, but if you’ve told yourself they will happen (prepare yourself mentally!) then you can stay calm.

A few mistakes we made and lessons we learned: on the bid from the flooring company, be sure each line item includes labor.  On ours, the carpet and wood included labor, but not the tile.  I thought I was within budget for the total flooring until months later when I found out that all tile labor costs would be on top of that bid!

It’s hard to think of every detail, and inevitably your house is going to have some shortcomings when you move in.  It’s common to notice the problems and imperfections more than the good, so give yourself some time to get used to the new house. Your enjoyment and appreciation of it will grow over time.  I think this is true of any new house.

Two items we overlooked and would have mentioned earlier if we could do it again are exterior lights and solid doors.  We assumed there would be lights under the eaves of the roofing, like so many homes of our size that we’d seen.  But it was never specified and when we moved in we realized they were missing.  There are some exterior lights, but not as many as we would have preferred.  Also, our designer talked us into hollow doors to save a little money, but we really wish we’d done solid core doors because they feel sturdier and nicer.  Other than that, we were very happy with how our house turned out!

CALL THOSE WORKERS BACK

Here’s another thing I learned from building a house that applies in many areas: don’t hesitate to have workers come back.  When we first moved in our air conditioning was coming out harder in some areas of the house than others and continued blowing below the set temperature.  I called the HVAC people and they came back to take a look.  The worker said that many things were set up wrong.  He spent about 2 hours fixing it and got everything straightened out.  Plus, he gave me a tutorial on the iPad-like tablet where we control the thermostat.  What if I hadn’t had him come back?!

After a few weeks of living in the house our wifi was giving us problems.  It was spotty and sometimes not existent.  We called Xfinity and they sent a worker over.  The same thing happened: he found multiple problems and spent a good while getting everything in order.  The wifi worked much better after that.

The tile in our shower had streaks of grout in various places.  It wasn’t totally noticeable because the grout was the same color as the tile, but as I was showering I would count the places that needed to be cleaned off (there were a lot).  Finally, we got our builder to send in a tile worker and he was able to get it all cleaned and perfect, like you would expect it should have been done the first time.

Lastly, we had a sprinkler system installed and it ran for a few weeks to water the sod.  When the weather turned cold and it came time turn them off, Bryan couldn’t quite remember how the landscape guy had explained to do that.  He tried a few things and ended up calling the guy.  It turned out that there was this very large tool needed to turn off the sprinklers beneath the ground.  The guy had forgotten to leave that tool and show Bryan how it worked!  Moral of the story: always call and ask or have the workers come back!

HEALTH INSURANCE

When you go to the doctor, you hand them your health insurance card and they copy down the information and bill your insurance.  You don’t really know what any of the costs are going to be until you get an “explanation of benefits,” either in paper or electronic form.  This form explains the different charges and what is covered by insurance and what is your responsibility.  Later (sometimes a month or more later) you will get the actual bill for your portion of the costs.  It seems like a lot of paperwork, but there is a reason for each document.

Here are some health insurance terms:

Premium: the amount you or your employer pays every month to continue your insurance.  Many professional jobs pay this premium as one of their benefits.

Deductible: the amount you pay out of pocket before the insurance pays for anything.  This amount can be very high, around $5,000 in many cases.  This means that every doctor visit or lab test will be paid by you until you reach that $5,000.  There are individual deductible limits and family limits as well.

Health Savings Account (HSA): an account where you can put pre-tax dollars to pay for any health care costs.  This money rolls over year to year, so it’s never lost.  It’s a great way to save on taxes and have money set aside for health costs.  You have to talk to you benefits administrator to set it up.

Copay: after your deductible is met, you still have to pay a portion of your office visit or hospital stay costs.  The amount is usually around $25 for an office visit and 20% of your costs for a hospital stay.

Out of pocket maximum: this is just what it sounds like, there is a maximum amount that you have to pay and once that is met the insurance company pays for everything else.  This is in addition to your deductible.  This would apply in situations of very serious accidents or disease with extended hospital stays.  If you have to pay 20% of all those costs it could bankrupt you.  So there is a maximum amount.

Knowing these terms gives you an idea of how health insurance works and what costs to expect.  When you talk to human resources or your benefits administrator, you’ll know what questions to ask and you’ll be able to understand the conversation better.

DENTAL INSURANCE

Most health insurance plans do not cover dental care.  But many professional jobs will include dental insurance as well as health insurance.  Dental insurance works the same as health insurance.

FINDING A DENTIST OR DOCTOR

When you have insurance, you have to go to a doctor or dentist that is approved by your insurance company.  This list is also known as the insurance “panel.” You can search on the insurance company’s website to find doctors and dentists who are on the panel.

FINANCIAL PLANNER

Whether or not to hire a financial planner can be a difficult and personal decision.  Here are some things to think about when making that decision.

If you have a lot of debt and you’re not sure the best way to pay it off or if you have trouble keeping track of your money or budget, it might be worth it to hire a financial planner. However, in my opinion, if you understand the basics of investing (start with pretax options—401k, IRA and HSA—and invest in index funds after that) and you can manage your own money adequately (meaning short term savings, budgeting, etc.), it might not be the best use of time and money to hire a financial planner. If and when you have substantial additional wealth to invest, beyond funding your 401k and IRA accounts, that would be the time to consider professional help to guide you through the options and decisions.

There are many different types of financial planners and different ways they are compensated.  I don’t know everything about the industry, but I can recommend one thing: be sure you know how they are paid. Here are some examples:

If they are paid every time you buy a product like life insurance or annuities, then they will be very enthusiastic about your need to buy those products!

If they are paid every time they move around your investments, then they will move them around more often.

If they are paid a flat fee no matter what happens to your stocks, they might be less motivated for your stocks to do well.

Some brokers and fund managers make money when they meet a quarterly goal.  Their decisions in regard to this goal may or may not be in your best interest.

Of course, you want to find an adviser that you trust and feel comfortable with, but any way they are paid comes with hidden incentives.  These incentives will always be there, but it’s important for you to know what and where they are.

Many financial advisers will take their fee directly out of your money that they manage.  But you should still know how much that is and when they take it out.

To read more about how financial planners are compensated, click here.

There are so many problems with this industry and many laws and regulations have been passed to try to protect consumers. You want to find an adviser that has a fiduciary obligation to you.  This means they are obligated by law to do what is in your favor (not theirs).  Other advisers are monitored by agencies such as FINRA or government entities, but those agencies are not able to control and govern every adviser.

One reason people want an adviser is to find out how much they will have in retirement according to the rate they are saving.  The calculations to estimate this are not too complex, but it’s nice to have someone sit down with you and say, “If you save at this same rate until you retire, and then take out this much a year, here’s how much you’ll have and how long it will last.”

You can find an adviser who will accept a flat fee or hourly rate to have this type of meeting.  Alternatively, if you have your retirement account with an investment firm (such as Fidelity), they have advisers who will meet with you once a year or so for free.  They will go over all your accounts and give you those types of estimates.  They may even give advice on how much and where else to invest in order to boost your savings.

Another place you can get this type of advice is from an accountant. If you hire an accountant to do your annual taxes, you can ask if they will also give advice on retirement savings and tax-advantageous ways to invest beyond retirement.

As you can see, it is a complicated industry.  Hopefully this advice will give you a head start in contemplating your need for a professional financial planner.

LIFE INSURANCE

One of the financial advisors we initially met with turned out to be basically an insurance salesman.  Because of his insistence that we needed whole (or permanent) life insurance, I looked into life insurance options quite a bit.

Whole (or permanent) life insurance

From my reading, the consensus is that whole life insurance is a good option IF you have funded all other retirement and some investment options AND you want to leave money to your children when you die. This is a good option for very wealthy people who need to utilize many more investment vehicles than most of us ever think about. We did not fall in that category.

Term life insurance

Term life insurance is the kind where you pay a fee every month and when you die your beneficiaries get the payout.  The fee increases as you get older and you should probably consider discontinuing it at some point.  As you get closer to retirement you need this life insurance less because your children are grown, and/or your spouse relies on your income less, and/or you have a lot of savings and money in retirement accounts (hopefully!).  So pay the term life insurance premiums monthly and stop when it makes sense to stop.  You may lose all that money you spent on premiums, but that means you lived a long life! It’s like car insurance: you may never use it, but you keep it for the peace of mind.

MORTGAGES

I don’t have any great advice on mortgages because I feel like we did everything the hard way.  We went with a large, established credit union (UCCU) for our construction loan, but the lady we worked with was flaky and unresponsive, so we had to look for other options.  Everyone had a suggestion for a lender, but it’s a pain to start these relationships, discuss your situation and turn over all your financial information.

When you call a mortgage broker they can tell you a little about what the options are, including their current rates, but to get a real quote you have to fill out an application and then upload an extensive number of documents (taxes, paystubs, bank account statements, retirement account statements, explanations for certain expenditures or credit checks, etc.), and often get an appraisal. It’s a lot of work, and we did that for three different banks/firms. We felt like it was very difficult to get accurate and reliable information (i.e., the people we were speaking with were confusing and said different things at different times).

One thing I do know is the process is much easier if you have 20% down.  Anything less than that requires special permission and a lot of, “we’ll see.”  Building a house makes things much more complicated.  We didn’t know if we’d for sure have 20% down because we didn’t know what the final cost of the house was (literally until about a month after we’d moved in!). Also, we had an additional appraisal after the house was built, and the value of the house had gone up, giving us instant equity.  We had no idea how much we’d need to bring to the closing until those two numbers were finalized.

We could move in before doing our final mortgage because our construction loan lasted for 12 months.  It was cheaper to just pay the interest on that construction loan anyway, so we continued with that while we moved in and waited for those numbers to come through.  Then we started talking to two different mortgage companies and finding out what they could offer.  It’s really hard to know if you’re getting a good deal or making the right decision. One difficult choice is between a 30-year fixed loan and an ARM (adjustable rate mortgage). The ARM was a lower interest rate, but it has some risk because after a certain number of years (7 in our case), the rate can be adjusted.  It’s a good idea to refinance before the 7 years is up, maybe getting into a 30-year fixed mortgage at that point, or even a 15-year fixed (which has great interest rates).  When you refinance you have to pay closing costs again, and you take the risk of higher rates. But, for us, the 7-year ARM made sense because it gave us a good rate right now and in 7 years our financial situation will be very different.  Bryan’s practice will be up and running and most of our kids will be out of the house.  So, we can afford the closing costs at that time, and we are hoping that rates stay the same or at least don’t go too crazy!

LUMP SUM PENSION ROLLOVER

Not many companies offer pensions anymore.  Pensions are also known as “defined benefit” retirement plans.  This means that you get a defined amount from the company when you retire, monthly until you die, as part of your benefit package.  The reason these went out of favor is because too many companies went bankrupt or mismanaged their pension funds and so retirees ended up not getting the promised money.

It is more common for companies to offer a “defined contribution” retirement plan, which means that you can contribute to a 401k (or 403b if you work for a nonprofit) which will hold and grow your own money. Your company may also contribute to the account, as part of your benefits.  If the company goes out of business, you still have your money, and if you move, you can take the money with you.

We had a pension at Mayo. When we left we were given the choice to keep it and acquire the money when Bryan retired, or roll it over into an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) and let it grow.  We consulted a few different professional opinions, and everyone agreed: it is more advantageous to roll it over to the IRA and let it grow with the market.  We were overwhelmed by this decision and process at the time, but now I realize it was not that big of a deal.  The decision was clear, and since Bryan already had an IRA account (through Vanguard), we just had to fill out the form with that account number.  We went through two different financial planners in part because we weren’t sure what and how to do this step.  The meetings with the planners were laborious, time consuming and stressful.  We ended up not going with either of them (for reasons outlined above), and just figured out the pension rollover on our own.

DISABILITY INSURANCE

For many professions, disability insurance is not necessary or warranted. It is expensive, and many jobs can still be done with a physical disability.  But most physicians have disability insurance because they make a high salary and any tremor or slight problem with their hands means they cannot do their job.  Here are some terms to get you started when you are considering disability insurance.

When you talk to an insurance agent he will ask questions about your income and your health, and then he will give you some options. You can ask right away that he send you an “illustration.” This is an 8-10-page document that explains all the policy features and optional riders (see below). It’s very helpful to see this illustration to start to get a sense of what is standard in disability policies and what is extra. After reviewing the illustration, you can speak with your agent again, ask him/her to explain the features more in depth, and fine tune which features you want to keep and which you want to discard.

Just for reference, disability insurance can range from $500-1000/month, depending on your age, health, and the chosen features.

Premium: same as in health insurance, the amount you pay per month for the insurance policy.  Often there is a discount if you pay for a whole year at once.

Elimination period: amount of time between the event that caused the disability and when the insurance payments start coming to you.  The shorter the elimination period, the more expensive the premiums for the insurance.

Total monthly benefit: the amount the insurance will pay you per month if you are disabled.

Own true occupation: a type of disability insurance that will pay you if you can’t do your own specialty, even if you could do another job.  Many disability insurances have small print that says if you can do any other job (consulting or teaching biology, for example) or you make money doing something totally different (start a business, write a book), then you won’t get the payments. If you get the “own true occupation” policy then this won’t happen.

Rider: an add-on provision to a basic insurance policy that provides additional benefits (usually at additional costs).

LICENSE PLATES/DRIVERS LICENSE

For some reason, finding out how to switch over our license plates and drivers licenses in Utah was very difficult. The online information was inadequate and it’s confusing to know which department and location to go to.  I finally figured out where to go and what to bring.  Here are some of the things I learned:

To get a license plate in a new state you have to take the title of your car and proof of registration in the old state.  If the car is leased, you also have to have a letter from the leasing company stating that you can register this car in a new state (sometimes this is a power of attorney letter). If the car is to be registered in your and your spouse’s names, you need both of your drivers license numbers. If you have a loan on the car, you might need other documentation, I’m not sure.

To get a new drivers licenses, most states require a test, but it is usually an open book test.  The lines at the DMV are shorter earlier in the day, so that’s when I’d recommend going. You have to take your old license and a piece of mail at your new (local) address.  You might as well bring your social security card, also, because you never know what they’ll need or ask for! And of course, there’s a fee, so bring your wallet.

Teach Children Mediation Skills

I’ve been working in the nursery in our church (a class for 18-month-old to three-year-old children) and it’s such a joy. I love to watch the way the little ones interact. Most of the time they are cute; they do and say darling things, but it’s even more entertaining when they are mean! They grab toys aggressively, pull or push another child down for no reason, or hit with surprising force when they want a toy. Of course, I find this entertaining because these are not my children, but I also enjoy these moments because I have a secret weapon! I have the most powerful tool for these situations, which I have written about before, but being around these children reminded me of it and I wanted to reemphasize it and share it again.

In a nutshell, the tool is “use your words,” but you must give the child the exact words to say.  A two-year-old doesn’t know what to say to solve these problems, and if we come in and solve the problem for the children, they don’t learn what to say. I’ve always felt that it far more important to teach children to keep the peace than to teach them to share. If they know how to keep the peace, they have mediation skills, and these can serve them in a variety of problematic situations.

Here’s an example of what I mean.  For clarity, I’m going to use T and S for the names of the children.  Let’s say that T is playing with a toy, S comes over and grabs it, and T starts to cry or fuss.  As the leader/parent I come over and gently hold S’s hand that is holding the toy.  I say, “Ask for the toy, say, ‘Can I have it?’” S then repeats “Can I have it?” (Or sometimes she looks blankly at me and I repeat the instructions.)  If T seems like he won’t mind giving it up I instruct T to say, “Sure, you can have it.”  If T appears upset at losing the toy, I say to T: “Tell her, when I’m done you can have it.” Again, the instruction might need to be repeated if T doesn’t understand.

It is amazing to watch the transformation that occurs when this process is followed.  The children relax, as if they are relieved that there is going to be a peaceful solution.  Just by saying “can I have it?” tensions are calmed and the atmosphere becomes friendlier. Saying those words, even though they are simply copying you, empowers the children and gives them a sense of control.

Sometimes I might explain to T: “If you’re done with it you can say yes, but if you want it for longer, you can tell her she can have it in a minute.” If S continues to fuss about wanting it, I will ask T, “How many minutes to do you want it?” If no answer is forthcoming I’ll offer some ideas: “Five minutes?” Eventually T will say, “Yeah, five minutes.” Then I instruct T: “Tell S, say, ‘You can have it in five minutes.’”  It literally does not matter the number of minutes chosen.  Knowing that there is a time limit gives both children peace.  Usually T will give up the toy before it’s even close to the five minutes. As we all know, the allure of a toy is when someone else wants it.  Once that is diffused, the child usually moves on to another toy.

I don’t believe that forcing a child to share makes the child kinder in future situations. Being forced to share creates a feeling of resentment and a sense that sharing results in unhappiness. It’s much more effective to gently encourage sharing while teaching children how to get along in general, using tactics such as finding another toy of that type for the friend who wants your toy or finding a way you can both play with the toy. Teaching your child how to use words to get what he wants and to resolve conflicts takes more time in the short term, but in the long run you will be mediating fewer conflicts.  And your training will give your children strong personal relationship skills that will be beneficial throughout their lives.

For more on this topic, see Use Your Words.

Some Quick Ideas I Learned Too Late (and One I Didn’t)

There are some helpful parenting ideas that I heard about after my kids were too old to implement them. I wanted to explain them here in a quick post as an aid to other parents.

1.Give each child a certain amount of money to spend on each vacation you go on. The amount could vary, obviously, with the age of your children, the nature of the trip, and your personal finances. I spent way too much time on vacations negotiating with my children in gift shops, trying to convince them they didn’t need whatever trinket or stuffed animal they had encountered and set their heart on. I also agonized over what treats to buy them and when. If I’d given them their own money, I could have saved myself a lot of emotional strain and relationship contention.

I also like this idea because it’s another way (besides weekly allowance) to allow children to learn about money, what it buys and how it feels to spend it, and what the value/worth is of the items to be purchased. When they are asking for a $20 stuffed animal, they don’t have a relative idea of how much that is. But if they were given a certain amount each trip, those prices would start to mean a lot more.  There are many advantages to this trip souvenir strategy; I wish I’d heard of it sooner!

2.The second concept I learned about too late also relates to family travel. When you have many young children, you are obviously packing for all of them when you go on vacation. Instead of packing a suitcase or portion of a suitcase for each child with swimwear, church clothes, coats, etc., think of packing for specific events.  For example, church clothes for all the children should go together.  All their swimwear, all their hiking shoes, all their warm layers, and so on, could be packed together.  Then when you get to that part of the trip you don’t have to look through four suitcases to find that specific apparel item.  They will be all packed in one place.  I got this idea from Saren Loosli’s post about family road trips.  If you want to read the rest of her suggestions, click here.

3.The last suggestion is to have assign a child as a “kitchen helper” on a rotating basis. I did hear of this idea when my kids were young, but I dismissed it as too inconvenient. Chores tend to go slower, not faster, when moms have helpers! But, my girls ended up being somewhat picky eaters and that’s also inconvenient. I can’t say for sure that doing this would have helped their pickiness, but I had an experience that made me think it could have helped.

When my daughter Brooke was about ten years old I had her help me make dinner one night. Her task was to slice mushrooms and put them in a pan to sauté. They were then added to a sauce of some kind. Before this she hated mushrooms, gagging when we strongly encouraged her to eat them. That night she decided to try the sauce and said, “These mushrooms aren’t bad!” And she proceeded to eat the rest of what was on her plate. That occurrence helped me see the power of children helping in the kitchen. When they help prepare the food, they get to see it and interact with it in a different way and they have more of a desire to try something they made themselves.  It’s difficult to continuously have kitchen helpers and keep track of the rotation, but if I could do it again I would make more of an effort to do have kids help on a regular basis.

4.One thing that I did do, and I would highly encourage other parents to do, is work with your children instead of telling them what chores to do and checking on it later. The second approach usually ends with the parent getting angry with the child for not doing the chore or doing it wrong. It takes a long time for children to learn to be independent cleaners (somewhere around age 10) so don’t expect too much of them too soon. Make sure you teach them how to do the chore and explain your expectations. Working alongside your child reduces tension, provides a good example, and can even be a source of bonding. See Go Clean Your Room! for more on this.

 

A Treat When You Get Home

I was walking out of the gym the other night and overheard one of my top parenting pet peeves.  A mom was walking out holding her two- or three-year-old daughter.  She said, “You were such a good girl at daycare. Do you know what that means? That means you get a treat when you get home!”

It’s not that big of a deal once in a while, but this parenting technique rubs me the wrong way for many reasons. First, it uses food as a reward. We don’t want to teach our children to turn to food when they are feeling negative emotions or use food to reward themselves. It’s detrimental to our children to pair good behavior and treats.  Second, it’s a delayed reward.  Children aren’t mature enough to remember by the time they get home that the treat is related to their behavior at day care. It also isn’t a natural or logical consequence.

Third, many parents underestimate the power of a nice word, a pat on the back, or a hug. When you are trying to encourage good behavior, these are the powerful rewards you should rely on most often. Just saying, “Thank you for being good at day care!” and giving a smile and a hug are all that is necessary.

We all know it is sometimes easier to notice bad behavior in children than good. And I want to emphasize that it’s very important to point out behavior that you want to continue, but just do it in the right way. If you can be more specific in your praise, that’s even better. You could say, “I like the way you shared your toys with your friends at day care,” or, “I can tell you were kind to your friends, there was such a nice peaceful feeling at the day care,” or, “I appreciate that you do what your day care teacher asks you to do.”

I’m not a big fan of external motivators (also known as bribes) of any kind. I recommend using them only for situations that are temporary, such as a plane flight or a rare family event like a wedding or funeral. For circumstances that are commonplace or every day, such as church or day care or playing with friends, it’s best to reward good behavior with compliments and positive touches.  These are powerful influencers to children and encourage eventual internal motivation.

For more on this topic, see Positive Reinforcement.  Also, don’t forget some other important principles of good parenting: explain expectations, stay close to your children and practice patience.

 

Advice to Parents of Teens

I am thankful my teenagers have been fairly easy to parent and quite enjoyable to be with.  They are obedient and kind, get great grades, enjoy participating in church, and don’t mind spending time with the family.  We’ve had our various challenges, but most have related to difficult things they are going through, rather than direct conflicts.

As I reflect on these years, a few pieces of advice come to mind for parents of children who are about to enter this phase. These thoughts are related to mistakes or troubles we went through or experiences we heard about other parents having.

  1. Be specific in laying out your family rules and expectations. I wrote a post called Explain Expectations that relates to little children. But this principle applies to teenagers as well.  It helps keep everyone on the same page if you specifically describe what you expect of your child at different ages, stages, and situations.  If you haven’t elucidated a rule, teenagers can tell themselves, “She didn’t say not to do this.”

At this age, children are getting more and more independent and making more of their own decisions, so it’s helpful every once in a while to review what choices fall under their domain and what is still expected of them as a member of the family. You might remind them, “You are expected to come to family dinner and scriptures every evening and go to church with us each week.”  Also, tell them you expect them to work hard at school, turn in their work, and get good grades.  You might think they already know this, but having it explicitly spoken out loud can make a difference in their thought process and choices.  It doesn’t have to be a big lecture, just a reminder now and then.  And be sure to compliment them when they do these things (for example, “Thanks for coming to dinner when I called you, we like having everyone here at the table”).

Another situation you want to discuss is what items you want them to pay for and what you will pay for.  If you can be clear about this it will save frustration and confusion.  But allow yourself to change your policies as needs arise. There are so many factors that go into these types of decisions (what their friends are getting or doing, how much money children can earn on their own, how much discretionary money you have, etc). This doesn’t have to be something set in stone, just a foundation for future decisions.

By having these conversations early and often you prevent problems instead of struggling with them as they come up. You’ll have more conversations as they get older and more independent: to discuss rules regarding driving and car use, expectations about letting you know where they are in the evening and when they’re coming home, etc. [For more about this, see Rules or Relationships]. In all of these areas, don’t assume they know what you want or what you are thinking.

In addition to expectations regarding family activities, school work, and finances, another area that necessitates a straightforward discussion is moral choices such as substance abuse and sex.  Hopefully as parents you will cover the basics: don’t drink, smoke or have sex in high school (as well as other specific values and standards you may have).  But there are so many more subtle behaviors that you don’t want them to do but you might not think of mentioning. Here are some suggestions:

“Don’t read a book that has any F-words or sex scenes in it.”

“Going out to do anything with a boy where it’s just the two of you is considered a date.”

“Reading about explicit sex is a form of pornography. Don’t do it.”

“If alcohol is mixed into a fruity drink it’s still alcohol. The same goes for ‘hard lemonade’ and spritzers. Don’t drink them.”

“If someone has your same class but at an earlier hour and they tell you what was on the test, that’s still cheating.”

“We expect you to attend youth night through your senior year, even if it gets boring and you’ve completed your Eagle/YW Medallion.”

“It is not okay to park your car somewhere and make out with a boy.”

“If I say not to wear something, it’s not okay to take it to school and change.”

You are probably starting to get the idea. These exact phrases might not be important or relevant to you, they are just examples. You might be surprised or amused by these examples, but good teenagers everywhere have tried these things and tried to justify them!

I’m suggesting you mention these things to your child (whichever ones apply to you and your situation) but I’m not saying this will completely prevent them from doing any of them.  All teenagers make mistakes and there are no sure-fire ways of parenting to prevent this.  But there is power in just saying them.  Don’t be overbearing or judgmental, but just say them.  For the most part, children are obedient.  If they’ve been explicitly told ‘not’ to do something, they will try not to. You want to keep communicating with your teen, finding out what they are doing and how they feel about things.  It’s good to make compromises when you can, so they feel that they have a say in how things go and some control over their lives.  And give them more control as they get older.  Remember that they are going to be completely independent one day, and prepare them (and yourself) for that.

Try to give them as much freedom as possible, but since they still live in your home, that freedom needs to be accompanied by respect. This mean communicating where they will be, what they’re doing and how they are feeling about things. It’s definitely a balancing act to know what to do for your teenagers and what to expect of them.

2. Besides continuing to remind your teens what behavior is expected, you are also trying to keep up a good relationship with them. This can be tricky because they get “prickly” around this age: hard to talk to, hard to hug, and hard to take on family activities. One strategy I’ve found for creating positive interactions is “eyes light up.” This means be enthusiastic and excited when you see them—first thing in the morning, when they come home from school, or anytime they come in the door. These “’crossroad” times start to become the primary way you see or interact with your child, which makes it even more important to have a good interaction.

This technique may seem obvious and easy when you have little children, but it gets harder as they get older.  For the most part, little kids’ eyes light up when they see you, first thing in the morning or when you come home, and you automatically mimic this and act excited to see them too.  But as children get older, this unfortunately happens less and less. Teens frown or scowl or just have a neutral expression when they see you, and again, you tend to automatically mimic this.  It’s natural to copy the other person’s mood and approach in any human interaction.

So there comes a time when you have to make a conscious effort to light up your eyes upon seeing your teenager.  It doesn’t come naturally because they are often grumpy with you.  But, it can make a big difference in the interaction because sometimes it makes them mimic you! They may hold on to their frown, but at times they will respond to you with a smile and a happy face (and those times make up for a lot of scowls!).  At least they will know you love them and are excited to see them, and that is definitely the message you want to send.  Get in the habit of greeting them with love and enthusiasm.  It helps you feel more positive about your teenager and it will make a difference in how they respond to you.

3. Because children of this age are prickly, it’s easy for parents to start to pull away and interact with them less. When I saw this happening in myself I made a goal to try to do these three things every day: hug, compliment, and ask a question. Questions can include what happened in history today? How is so-and-so doing? How did your test go? How are you feeling about ___?  Once again, when your kids are little you can’t imagine not doing these things, but there will come a time when these behaviors don’t come as naturally.  Teenagers are compared to porcupines for good reason!  You can get “pricked” when you try to ask questions or give a hug, and that makes you nervous to try again; you start to become afraid of future rejections.  It’s natural and common to start talking and interacting less.  There are times when I feel like the only reason my teens talk to me is to ask me for something (money or a ride).  When I decided to attempt these three things every day (give a hug, give a compliment, and ask a question) I found that I could stay more in the habit of interacting with my girls.  These small conversations sometimes lead to larger ones. And again, at least your child knows you care and are trying.

4. My last piece of advice is simple and straightforward. Have your teen make Sunday dinner every week for his/her senior year. By doing this for a year your teen will learn how to make many different meals and have a great foundation for preparing food for herself in the future. Your teen might resist at first, saying she’s too busy, too tired or doesn’t like to cook. But as the year goes on you will be amazed at how well she develops this important skill.  Fostering these abilities will benefit teens their entire lives. They will feel more confident and secure as they begin to live on their own and be more independent.

 

Farewell. . . for Now

In the next few weeks I will be transitioning this blog into more of a website format.  It will have a static landing page with links to different topics, and a list of all the blog posts.  I always knew this blog was going to be more like a book (that ends) than a magazine (that has continuing editions).  I had a finite number of things I wanted to write, topics I’d been thinking about for years, and I didn’t plan on posting forever. I have come to the end of those ideas.  I may post more in the future if I think of other topics or as my children get older and I have more knowledge about teen years, transitioning to adult children, etc.

Hopefully you will continue to use and refer to this blog even though there are not new posts.  You can use it as a reference for future problems.  When you are struggling, review the posts and try to apply the general principles to that specific problem.  There are always areas for improvement as parents, and reviewing the content can help remind you of skills to work on.  The Basic Principles page has links to the main parenting ideas.  It’s always good to go back to the basics!

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or ideas. Click on the Comment button or email me at betterwayparenting@yahoo.com

If you want another blog with continual posts, check out www.ahaparenting.com/blog.  I have read some of her posts, and her philosophies and advice are right in line with mine.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Power of Family History

The idea that telling your children about their family history is important could have been included in the Family Unity post.  But I felt it was so vital I wanted it to have a post all its own.  I always believed that telling children stories about your life, as their parent, would help them see you as a real person, someone who made mistakes and learned from them, and this would in turn help you have a closer relationship now and in the future.  However, I did not realize the great significance of telling these stories and those of extended relatives and ancestors, until I read a book review of The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler.

One of Feiler’s main “secrets” is to tell your children the story of their family.  Feiler refers to research studies showing that children who know more about their parents, grandparents, and other relatives – both their ups and their downs – have higher self-esteem and greater confidence to confront their own challenges. Knowing more about family history turned out to be the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being!

In this New York Times article he describes why and how he started trying to find the secrets to happy families, and how he was surprised at the large and lasting effect telling children their family stories had.  He discovered research from Dr. Marshall Duke who, with his colleague, developed a scale called “Do You Know?”  It asked children if they knew where their grandparents grew up, where their parents went to high school and how they met, about an illness or other tragedy in their family, and many other such questions.  The researchers were astounded to discover “that the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

It makes sense that knowing these stories helps children feel a part of something bigger than themselves and gives them something to hold on to in times of difficulty.  Children know that people in general crossed the Atlantic and came to America for freedom (at various stages in history), but to know that your ancestor specifically was one of them – to know a detailed story about their difficulties on the trip and getting settled once they were here – can be very impactful.  It gives children a special connection with someone who has overcome great odds.  They come to believe that they have the same strength – it is in their blood.  That is just one example of a story you might tell. Every family and every person has had triumphs and difficulties.  It is so important to share these with your children.

Some parents might want to emphasize the successes, but learning about the struggles is what really sticks with children.  The “overcoming obstacles” stories from your ancestors teach them that when challenges come, if we keep on working, things do get better eventually.  It is not abstract knowledge; it is just not a lesson you sit down and present to your children about how hard work pays off. It is a first-person account, a family story of someone they are related to, and the power of that cannot be underestimated. It is huge!  Additionally, telling your children these stories will draw you closer together because they are your shared history.  They link you to each other as well as to your ancestors.

Tell your children about your life, about their birth and life, and especially about the lives of their grandparents and ancestors.  This might require some research on your part.  Reach out to relatives and ask them to tell you (or your child) about their lives. You can also ask those relatives how you can get more information about your ancestors.  Build an intergenerational story that shows your children they are part of something large and meaningful.  Be sure to include the happy moments and the difficult ones; you will give your children the skills and the confidence they need to overcome their current or future hardships.