What Criticism Does to a Child: Guest Post by Ella Kampakis

(Following is a post by my 10-year-old daughter that we composed together. These are her thoughts and words, and I served as editor. It was inspired by a conversation we recently had in the car about a reality show and the impact of criticism. Ella is wise beyond her years and has excellent insight on how we parents can help our children meet their potential in a loving, positive manner).

A while back I was at a friend’s house, and we stayed up late watching the show “Dance Moms.” While I really liked their dance competitions, it made me sad that the girls didn’t seem to know they had talent.

I never heard anyone tell them, “Good job” or “I can see you practiced.” All they said was “Work harder,” “That’s awful,” and stuff like that. They never told them they had talent. I can’t speak for those girls, but if that was me on TV I would have felt lost because I thought dancing was my talent, but no one was appreciating it.

What I think Abby and the moms should have told those girls is that they were still good and had talent, but they needed to keep working hard and practice. When the girls did work hard and practice, no one noticed. Nobody congratulated them or said, “I’m proud of you. Your hard work paid off.”

The thing about criticism is you remember it a while. Once you get that voice in your head, it’s hard to get it out. You start thinking the voice in your head is right. It makes you want to quit and puts you in an awful mood.

Read More

Children are Blessings, Not Burdens

Being a mom is a blessing. At the same time it’s hard.

Not rocket-science hard, but test-my-patience hard. How can something that looks so simple from the outside arouse the monster in me and crush the wall of sanity I once deemed indestructible?

As a child I put motherhood on a pedestal, holding many romanticized notions. I’d coddle my baby dolls until they were threadbare, stroll them around the house, and line them up neatly to teach school. Being kind was easy because they were always content. I could abandon them on a whim and return hours later, their smiles plastered in place.

But there’s a difference between live babies and inanimate ones, and only an insider can understand the relentless demands of the real thing. Prior to joining the mom club, I’d see a beautiful child dressed up and think how much fun it’d be to have my own. I never considered the legwork required to get that child out the door: the cajoling her out of bed, the scrambling to iron her dress, the time spent fixing breakfast, brushing teeth, and fighting to get a bow in her hair.

On a good day I love being a stay-at-home mom and I’m grateful to have the option. But some days I wish I could trade places with my husband.

Read More

10 Truths Young Girls Should Know

Growing up is a jungle. Having four daughters, I’m passionate about how young girls today navigate that jungle.

We’re all familiar with stories of mean girls, cliques, backstabbing, and social media nightmares started by one impulsive picture or post. We’ve heard of how depression and anxiety may get triggered by a single online incident. Peers cause damage quickly by spreading a rumor or picture through social media, and because kids don’t have the skills to cope with it yet, it can lead to a downward spiral.

It’s all scary, and as parents we want to bulletproof our kids. We want to prepare them for every situation, which is impossible, of course.

There’s no magic armor to carry through the jungle, but we can arm our children with truth. We can assure them they don’t have to compromise their integrity and future to find the love, acceptance, and security they’re searching for. For girls, that is what it’s all about. Even when they act in shocking ways, it’s because of some deeply held desire.

Read More

Surrendering

I was 23 when I started dating my husband – 23 and in love with my job.

My friends teased for loving work so much. It wasn’t normal, and I knew it. But I worked with amazing people at Alabama Power. I was lucky to get a job since the company was on a hiring freeze. Best of all, I had a boss who believed in me. And as his faith in me grew, so did my opportunities.

For once in my life, I didn’t need a plan. I could work hard and reap the benefits. This wasn’t the deal in college. In college I had to work hard and let my desires be known. I had to seek out the achievements I wanted.

But in the workplace, the tide turned. Good projects came my way, along with a few unexpected promotions. Going to work was fun, because every day was different.

And then one weekend, I went to Huntsville for a party. An old friend from college, Harry, was living there and working for his family’s business. We hung out at the party and flirted, and at the end of the night we kissed. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, nor did I expect sparks to fly.

But sparks did fly that night. Actually, it was fireworks, and all I can remember thinking is, I’m going to marry this boy. He is the one. 

Read More

Let’s Get the Kids to Church

I don’t know about you, but getting my family ready for church on Sunday mornings can send me over the edge sometimes.

It’s a paradox for sure, the cursing under my breath and snapping at everyone because they can’t move fast enough. Here we are, preparing for holy ground, and all I can think is, “Enough, already. I’m done.”

Once I get to church, however, something strange happens. The tightness is my chest relaxes, and suddenly I can breathe again. The peace washing over me can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit, and without a doubt I know this is where I belong. Worshipping is what I was made to do. At no other point during the week do I feel so deeply moved and connected.

Once I get to church, I’m always glad I made the effort. Always.

Read More

Jeremiah 29:11

It was a gorgeous spring day, and I was happy. I had the sun on my face, love in my heart, and overwhelming gratitude for the family my husband and I had recently started.

Life was good.

As Harry and I sat in the grass outside our home, watching baby Ella crawl around with an explorer’s curiosity, a sense of peace washed over me. Everything I needed was here. My only agenda was to enjoy the scene before me.

Then all of a sudden, I saw something that threatened to ruin our perfect family moment. Ella was crawling on the sidewalk now, closing in on a new target: a massive pile of ants that, on her level, probably looked like fun.

I knew what had to be done, but I dreaded it. Never in a million years would Ella understand that I had her best interest in mind. The temper tantrum sure to follow would sour all our moods.

Read More

What Does Your Dad Do?

Imagine for a moment a boy walking into his friend’s house for the first time. It’s not just any ordinary house; it’s an estate. There are marble floors, vaulted ceilings, and 6,000 square feet of antiques. Also on the property is a tennis court, a swimming pool, and private exercise quarters.

At first, all the boy does is gape. Once he composes himself, he turns to his friend and asks the million-dollar question:

Wow. What does your dad do?”

One reality of the world we live in is how a family’s standard of living shines a spotlight on the father. Whether a family is living the high life or barely scraping by, we take our observations and automatically make assumptions about a father’s success (or lack of it) in the workplace.

And while fathers have always been under the microscope this way, the pressure is worse today because we’re a wealthier, more materialistic society than previous generations. It’s not just the upper-class enjoying luxuries – it’s the middle class, too. Big homes, fancy vacations, and designer clothes for the kids are norms in many communities.

While it used to be enough for a father to meet his family’s needs, he’s now expected to meet their every want, too. The problem with wants is that they’re never enough to satisfy us. The more we have, the more we need, and after a while, the line between our wants and our needs gets blurred.

Read More

Me, My Man & 15 Years

It all started with a pair of blue swim trunks.

The fact that he was driving a ski boat didn’t hurt.

I knew Harry in college, but not until a year after graduation did I really see him. He was at the beach with his friends; I was there with mine. We were all hanging out and reveling in the freedom of being young, carefree, and financially independent.

I turned to my friend sitting by me in the boat. “Harry’s hot,” I whispered.

“I know,” she whispered back. “I’ve always had a thing for him.”

And thus began my story with my husband, on a remarkable day 18 years ago, when the Gulf water was sparkling and perfect, and the catch of the day was standing right in front of me.

Less than a month later, I’d realize my new love interest wasn’t just the catch of the day – he was the catch of a lifetime.

Read More

When Our Child Brings a Mistake to Us…

The other night I was dead asleep when I heard my daughter creep in my room. She was shaking and crying, and even in the dark I could tell she was troubled. Since she had a friend staying over, I was extra worried. In choking sobs she told me they’d done something terrible.

I dreaded what I’d hear.

“We w-anted to p-lay a j-oke on my sisters,” she cried. “So we p-ainted their faces with m-arkers while they were sl-eeping. And now there’s marker all over the sh-eets…”

It took me a minute to confirm everyone was all right, that no eyes had been poked out or worse. The way my daughter was acting, this sounded tragic.

Read More

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

A while back I watched a bridal reality show in which a full-figured bride shopped for wedding gowns with her mom and sister, who looked like a supermodel.

Early on, the bride confessed her insecurities. Naturally she wanted to look beautiful on her big day, but she worried she’d never find a dress to hide her flaws. She also worried about feeling like an ugly duckling next to her sister, because that was their ongoing dynamic.

All her life, she said it’d happened like this: After spending hours getting ready, she’d think she looked great. But once she saw her sister, her feelings deflated because her sister looked better. The sadness on this bride’s face was heartbreaking, and I eventually got so depressed I had to change channels.

This show reminded me of how easily comparison leads to self-sabotage. Physically speaking, this bride was no match for her sister, even on her best day. But what the camera failed to capture were the qualities that made this bride sparkle. Surely she outshone her sister in other ways, ways that were less obvious to the naked eye but still very important.

Read More

The Deep End of Love

I should have been exhausted, but I wasn’t.

I needed to sleep, but I couldn’t.

Instead, I only wanted to look at my new baby girl, an eight-pound miracle named Ella. After an 18-hour labor, she arrived around midnight. As we settled in a hospital room, our surroundings dark and quiet due to the time, I savored a moment alone with her. The nurse had left to gather supplies. My husband was getting food. And I…well, I was undergoing a major transformation.

With adoring eyes I studied Ella’s face, memorizing features and wishing I could watch her all night, every night. When our eyes met, she held my gaze, never once wavering. It felt like a reunion, not an introduction, two long-lost friends who already knew and understood each other. If ever I’d questioned my existence, wondered what good I added to this world, I now had an answer.

This angel from heaven was here because of me. God had chosen me to raise her. As a tidal wave of love swelled inside me, so powerful and intense I could hardly breathe, I realized something: for this tiny creature to evoke so many life-changing emotions, she had to be special.

Then and there, my life split into two: Before and After.

Read More

Our Kids Will Follow Our Example, Not Our Advice

Even when we think they’re not watching, they’re watching.

Even when we think we’re not parenting, we’re parenting.

The life of a parent is a classroom, a breeding ground for lessons. We can rattle off advice all day, but only when our kids see our advice in action does it hit home. Whatever we expect of them, we must expect of ourselves. To be better parents we must first be better people.

Modeling good virtues is a big part of parenting, but so is teaching our kids to handle life – real, hard, complicated life. At every age, life will throw them game-changing curve balls. Will the curve balls take them out or make them better players? How resilient will they be?

So often, we parents think our lives have be perfect for our children to learn appropriately, but in the grand scheme of life, our adversity can teach them just as much.

Read More

Who Died?

Around this time in 2012, I was living in survival mode. Overwhelmed by life circumstances, I woke up every morning with anxiety and fear that on any given moment, I just might crack.

It had been a trying year for our family, and one full of tests. I felt like I couldn’t catch a break because crazy things kept happening.

First there was the tree that fell on our newly renovated home. Then there were two close calls involving my kids. All the while, other stressors kept popping up, like my daughter being on crutches, and having our rental house listed, which required more upkeep on my part. My husband had started a new job with a commute, and while this was good, it left me to oversee the home renovations he’d been handling.

Add to this that I was preparing to move my family for the 4th time in 14 months, and you may understand why I was completely exhausted.

I missed my normal life.

Read More

Do You Believe in Guardian Angels?

We had a freak accident last night that could have ended tragically for my nine-year-old daughter, Ella. I wasn’t planning to write about it, at least not yet, but when I woke up this morning I felt the need to.

My sweet Ella

I suppose it’s my small way of thanking God for a miracle, one I can never repay but will always remember.

It happened around 7:30 p.m., when I was in the kitchen working on the computer. My husband Harry was with the girls, getting them ready for bed. Out of the blue I heard a loud boom!, and immediately I knew a large piece of furniture had fallen. Initially I wasn’t overly concerned, because the sound came from the spare bedroom, and no one was crying.

But then I heard Harry – my laid-back, never-rattled spouse – start to panic.  “Oh my God, Ella…oh my God, oh my God…Kari, come quick…” I kept thinking his dark tone would lighten up, but it didn’t. With my heart in my throat, I ran to bedroom, unable to shake the feeling that the unthinkable had happened to us.

Read More