Colleen Houck

“I took hold of that scourge -filled ship and crushed it between my limbs, hurtling it into the second sun, the red one that gave me strength. But I was too late." Terraformer

Colleen's blog

  • Reflecting on Mothers

    April 23, 2015

    I thought I’d step outside of the typical blog topics found here, and share a few of my thoughts on the subject of mothers. As you are most likely aware, Mother’s Day is just around the corner and as such, my thoughts have been on my own mother. The typical thoughts I usually have is what to buy her to express my love. Flowers? Candy? Gift Card to her favorite restaurant? Jewelry? How funny it is to me to think that those material, short lived gifts are gifted as a representation of my love and appreciation!


    I adore my mother, as I’m sure many of you. She exemplifies what it means to be a mother. She works hard, she has spirit, she has fight, she’s gifted and patient, loving and selfless, beautiful and passionate. She is a woman of great faith and is an enduring example for me and my family.

    So as I thought more about what she means to me and ways I can attempt to convey my love and appreciation for her, my thoughts turned to advice she has given me though out my years. She’s taught me by example to never give up, to have faith in people, to be kind and focus on my own weaknesses and not stress about others’. She has taught me to be selfless and to serve. In a word, she has taught me to be…. a mother.

    I want to honor my mother in the “pay it forward” fashion (of course I’ll still send her a package with goodies and a note ’cause that’s what good children should do).

    So, here is the short checklist of things I am recommitting to as a mother.

    1. Stop trying to be a better mom, be a happy mom.

    2. Read with my child every day.

    3. Give 5 minutes of undivided attention to each child. (OK, there are some days that I don’t even have 5 minutes to get the endless piles of clean laundry off my bedroom floor let alone time to go to the bathroom in privacy. But, if I can prioritize time for brushing teeth and showering, I can prioritize time with my children. It’s five minutes people, I can do this!).

    4. Trim the extra fat from my schedule. Get rid of the things that aren’t necessary so there is room in my day for the things that are.

    5. Involve my children more in the activities I’m involved with. There’s an old Chinese proverb I have hanging on the wall of my boy’s bedroom and it says, “Tell me and I’ll forget, Show me and I may remember, Involve me and I will understand.” I need to remember that there are many teaching moments I can share with my children if I involve them.

    That’s the very short list. But… with commitments and goals, it’s important not to overwhelm oneself with too much at once. Right?

    So, for Mother’s Day to myself, I plan on recommitting to be a better mother, a gift that my mother gave me as one of her daughters.

    Mother, if you’re reading this… I LOVE YOU!!

    Now, for the rest of this blog post, I thought I’d share something that relates to the topic of Mother’s Day. It’s a paper I wrote in college recently about some of the challenges we as parents/role models/leaders/teachers face in the world today. If you’re interested, you can check it out below.*There’s some fun little inside facts about Colleen, written as “my oldest sister” in the paper you might like to learn. 🙂

    I’d love to hear from you if you’re out there, tuned in. What do you think it means to be a good mother? What are your thoughts about reward systems for children? Do you think we are too easy? Too hard?

    If you’ve ever played or currently play, or maybe perhaps one day will play a role of influence in a child’s life, this blog is dedicated to you. A Beautiful Happy Day for all the time you put into a child’s life for good. For all the smiles, band aids, high fives, hugs, ice cream cones, words of advice, lessons, sticks of bubble gum, and positive examples you’ve given. Thank you!!

    I love this quote by Lincoln who eloquently said,



    Raising Marshmallows

      When did we decide that it was healthier to reward mediocrity? It is demonstrated in the way we hold graduation ceremonies for children starting as early as preschool, or when we shower them with trophies for mere participation in a sport. We see it when parents bribe their children with cookies if they behave in the store and give stickers and prizes if they make their beds and brush their teeth. Do we really accept that our children must be praised and rewarded to instill self-esteem and encourage success as some experts preach? When was the bar on excellence lowered to mediocre? There are evidences of a shift in our children’s thinking from “work hard play hard” to “what’s in it for me?” and if we aren’t careful, our future generation will be a bunch of softies who feel entitled to what they want without putting in the blood, sweat, and tears that our predecessors did before us. As parents, educators and mentors, it is paramount that we must rethink and ultimately modify the way we so freely dish out praise and shower rewards, or be prepared to face the consequences.

    Many parents and experts believe in rewarding their children for doing chores with money. There are charts on the fridge with check marks and stickers, money jars filling with coins, promises of extra video game time, or a trip to the store where they can pick out a treat or toy. James Lehman, a child therapist, said, “It’s pretty simple: If you want kids to take responsibility for their chores, integrate their tasks with some reward system.” Now, I too am a parent whose fridge is covered with chore charts and give allowances for helping with laundry and cleaning up their toys. But, I was forced to analyze this method for teaching responsibility more closely when I found my own children asking me what they would get if they were good at the store. Indeed, are we promoting the mindset of “what’s in it for me?”

    A better approach to teaching responsibility and accountability is to set clear expectations for each family member and communicate it both in word and by example. Marvin Berkowitz and John Grych, both professors in psychology, wrote an article in the Journal of Moral Education which states, “First, parents need to set high but realistic goals for their children…Clearly also, parents need to communicate these goals to their children. Second, provide support… and third, monitor whether or not they meet their expectations.” This suggests that we should be clear with children about the business aspect of being a family. For example, the parent’s job is to go to work each day and earn enough money to support the family and the child’s job is to go to school, learn, and contribute to the household. Everyone has a job to do and if we phrase it in this way, a child should be able to understand this. By clearly communicating and setting realistic expectations coupled with adequate support and then consistently monitoring their work, we will see children develop greater self-control, altruism, and self-esteem (Berkowitz and Grych).

                    While rewarding expected behavior should be limited, if not completely avoided, we can adopt other methods to instill responsibility. As the fictional character Mary Poppins put it, “in every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap, the job’s a game.” I grew up in a family with six siblings and we had many responsibilities which included; cleaning our rooms, washing and folding our own laundry, cooking dinner for the family once a week, sweeping and mopping the floors, vacuuming, and washing and drying the dishes by hand (as we had no dishwasher). My parents made it clear that the chores were not the responsibility of our mother, although she often helped and did most of them when we were very little, they were the responsibility of the entire family. On most Saturday mornings, my oldest sister would make a game of it. She would slip into character as captain and line us all up in a row where we assumed the role as her squad. She’d walk up and down the line barking orders to each crew member. The excitement in her voice quickly washed our initial whines and grumpy attitudes overboard and before we knew it, we were carried away by our imaginations with a resounding “eye, eye captain”. When our mission was complete we would return and report back. There were of course times when one of the siblings would fall out of line, but another brother or sister would quickly whip the other back into shape and help them do their part. Our motivation for hard work was the fun we would have when our chores were done (hide and seek often being our favorite choice). We had the mindset of “work hard play hard”. The alternative to doing chores and not participating was absolute boredom. Even now, as adults, every family member has that same work ethic and it is because of those childhood responsibilities that our mother and father expected and required of us.

    Another way we may be handicapping our children is giving excessive or undeserved praise. It is common to hear well-meaning adults at the ball field shouting out fake praises to their children. The child strikes out and “good job” rings out from the stands. It is not a good job and everyone, especially the child, knows it. He feels defeated, and his self-esteem takes a hit- which is the exact opposite of what the parents intended. Again, I am guilty of this parenting approach and must reconsider how and when I give praise to my children in their activities. Mediocre performances should NOT be rewarded with praise and sugar coating it only makes things worse. A child knows when they are performing badly and having the parents say otherwise is not only insulting their intelligence but is damaging as well. Contrary to popular belief, it is better to be honest by telling your child that they didn’t deserve to win because the other team has more experience (or whatever the real reason) but that they can work hard to improve. Honesty may be harder, but it will serve us better in the long run. Ann Murphy and Jennifer Allen reported that, “Carol Dweck, a professor of developmental psychology, found that children’s performance worsens if they always hear how good they are. Kids who get too much praise are less likely to take risks, are highly sensitive to failure and are more likely to give up when faced with a challenge.” Children are not given enough credit anymore. When did we start believing that they are so weak that they can’t overcome defeat? Why is there more “hand holding” and coddling in fear of damaging our children?

    On the flip side, however, efforts definitely merit praise. For example, when a child makes their bed less than perfect (and let’s be honest, it almost always is), the parent should not praise their work and say, “Oh, the bed looks beautiful”, but rather, “I’m proud of you for helping me make your bed.” We should avoid labels. “Praising effort sends the message that your child has the power to improve and change, but labeling him “smart” gives him little control over changing how he is perceived” (Murphy and Allen). Being honest and giving praise where praise is due is the key to successfully instilling self-esteem. Now, let me interject here that each child is unique and may have needs that differ from another. Parents and leaders should consider the individual as always and carefully consider the best ways to give praise.

                    Another concept we should reconsider is rewarding children when they model good behavior. It is recommended in several parenting magazines and many moms swear by it. For example, some teachers reward the children when they behave appropriately in school (i.e. doesn’t talk or disrupt), by allowing them to pick a prize from their treasure box. Another example is when parents offer treats as incentives to be nice, pick up their toys, or even to discourage bad behavior such as biting or pinching. What has happened to our society? Why do parents think we should reward expected behavior and participation with candy, prizes, certificates, and trophies? Succeed or fail, win or lose, everyone gets a reward. This is not the way the world works, and we are setting them up for disappointment. Many parents, it appears, have been sucked into this “everybody wins” mentality for far too long. Did we forget that there are natural rewards already in place? When a child brushes their teeth, the reward is not having rotten teeth. When they don’t fight or argue with their siblings and share, the reward is peace and friendship. When they work hard in a sport, they learn new techniques, become more skilled and maybe even win a game. Who should be more insulted, the parents or the children?

    Still, it is understandable why we use this method, it seems to make sense. We adopt this approach to raising our children in hopes of encouraging them and helping them to succeed. Yet, in reality, we are creating a false sense of entitlement and crippling their much needed drive and motivation which are vital to success (Murphy and Allen). If this reward system is used throughout a child’s life, they may very well grow up expecting a bonus at work because they show up on time or expect good grades in high school and college because they turned in their average, perhaps even sloppy homework. Success takes hard work and discipline and bribing them will only hinder their ability to do this on their own later in life.

    A healthier way to encourage and help them succeed should include the proper use of positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement fulfills strong basic psychological needs of every child as well as setting a more positive and healthy tone for the relationship. This concept can be much simpler than parents and leaders tend to make it. It is not required to give lollipops and presents each time a child models good behavior. Instead, verbal praise is often all that is needed. As S.K. Adams and J. Baronberg explain, we should “use social reinforcers (smiles, praise, pat on the back, wink, OK sign) and activity reinforcers (engaging in a special activity as a reward for desired behavior). Tangible reinforcers (stickers, stars, prizes) should be used only for short periods of time when other types of reinforcement fail to work with a particular child.”

    Now, it is important to recognize that these methods of teaching children come with the best of intentions and that their efforts are worthy of the highest praise. These teachers and parents care and are trying to instill in their children that they are special and capable of success. Unfortunately, we have gotten carried away with the rewards and praises. After all our hard efforts of stuffing treats in their bellies, emptying our pockets to pay them for doing chores, filling their dresser with trophies, and singing praises ‘till we’re blue, it would be nothing less than tragic to discover we raised a generation of marshmallows. Without realizing it, we are inflating our children’s egos with false praise, excessively dishing out positive reinforcement, and showering undeserved rewards on their heads. As a result, they will not develop the confidence, determination or ability needed to be successful in anything they may want to pursue. These children will grow up feeling more vulnerable to failure, become fearful of challenges and will be unmotivated to learn and work hard. But, there is time and we can change.

    I know this blog topic was a bit out of the norm but if you’re bored, unable to sleep, passing the time. I hope you enjoyed reading some of my thoughts.

    ~Till next time,

    Linda Louise Lotti

    This entry was posted in Articles, Holidays.

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    Author Bio

    I’m Linda Louise, one of the bloggers on this website and Colleen’s little sister. I’m just a girl in her mid-thirties who feels thirteen when I play outside with my boys, fifteen when I sing my heart out listening to tunes while driving by myself, and sixty five when I go out past ten at night. I have a thing for junior mints, Mt. Dew, shrimp and kale (though not all at once) and I have a crush on Superman. I still get girlish butterflies when I read Twilight, cry when I read These is My Words, and smile from ear to ear when I read Anne of Green Gables. I have nightmares about aliens on a regular basis and I have a bad habit of midnight snacking. I love everything sports, except golf (although can that honestly be considered a sport??), and I hate anything that slithers, hisses, or stings. I have a problem with giggling at inappropriate moments and I sometimes wish life was a musical. I love science, hate math, love Dr. Seuss, and hate olives. My family is my world and my joys come from their happiness. I’ve learned I don’t know much about anything and I live for a good adventure, naps, cuddles, stories, exceptional food and The Shire.