Key Ingredients for Growing Healthy Children

When people mention my “blended family,” I immediately picture all my children hopping into a giant Osterizer—the perils of an over-active imagination!

When people mention my “blended family,” I immediately picture all my children hopping into a giant Osterizer—the perils of an over-active imagination!

John and I started our married life with one nine-year-old and four teenagers between us—one at 16, two at 15, and one at 13—none of whom trusted one another and all of whom hated their parents for deciding on this uber-bad arrangement. Together they created a bubbling cauldron of teenage angst, moodiness, and rage.

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There was the evening when my stepson asked, “What was it that we used to drink for dinner?” The answer was Coke, before “you know who” (that’s me) came along. There were turf wars over room real estate, the television, and almost anything either of us said. All of this was the backdrop for our efforts to just stay above water while paying for independent school tuitions, camps, lessons, and the everyday expenses that never seemed to abate. All I can say is that we did the best we could, and we never gave up.

Twenty-eight years have passed since we all jumped into that giant food processor together. We have certainly grown closer, we are more gentle with our feelings, and all of our children—whether connected by blood or the bonds of our family—introduce themselves as brothers and sisters. I unfailingly receive the most beautiful Mother’s Day cards from my stepson, who will always be my son. Recently, his four-year-old daughter told me that I wasn’t her daddy’s real mother (of course I am her real grandmother). I told her that family is about the people who love you all the time, so while I didn’t give birth to her daddy, I have been another kind of mother—one who loves him and his family. "Unconditionally" is not in her lexicon just yet, but that’s how it is.

Through all of these life experiences, I believe that I have changed as a school leader. I give thanks for the presence of your daughters every single day. I do not sweat the small stuff and I also understand that children test limits and our patience at the same time. We cannot and we should not be the never-ending problem solvers for them. I cherish their joys and their angst as they are weaving the tapestry of their lives, master spinners that they are. It is not my job or your job to make it easy, because they need to have the strength to soldier through the unenviable and inevitable hard times that they will face, and they will. As each of my children has faced a crisis, I have wanted to fix it so that they do not suffer, and yet I remind myself to hold back. I can be there to love and support them with all of my heart and to always be a source for unconditional love, but I am not their master puppeteer, and they no longer expect me to be.

Your children are going to fail sometimes. They may forget their chin or mouth guards for gym and have to face an unhappy coach. They may forget a paper or run out of time, but advocating for themselves builds a different type of muscle, and allowing them to face the consequence is not a bad choice. And by the way, all children try and get out of consequences—mine were no exception. A healthy goal for all of us is to allow for growth through mistakes and for the right to fail.

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