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Becoming Family Spring 2001

A Role of a Lifetime
By Delia Flores

The word "pampers' took on a whole new meaning when former Facts of Life star, Lisa Whelchel, traded in her acting career to devote full time to her most challenging role-motherhood. In her new book, Creative Correction , she shares with humor, understanding, and great warmth what she's learned from this rigorous, though rewarding, part.

Lisa Whelchel doesn't doubt that if Blair Warner could live Lisa's life as a stay-at-home mom of three children for a day, she'd turn tail and run. "Blair would think it's so incredibly boring," says Lisa, who played the stuck-up Blair on the long-running NBC sitcom The Facts of Life . Blair's idea of motherhood would be "a couple of trophy kids to dress up like dolls and then have a nanny raise them." Blair would also find it hard to keep up her perfect dress and hair. "It's kind of hard to think of yourself and still be a mom," she says dryly, her native Texan accent still apparent after years in California.

From 1979-1988, Lisa vividly brought Blair, the spoiled, snooty rich girl, who only occasionally grew in compassion and understanding, to life. But for the past 12 years, Lisa has lived the reality of wife and mother-a role of a lifetime-which she handles with grace, creativity, and self-deprecating wit. And she's the first to point out-without perfection.

These traits are apparent in her book, Creative Correction: Extraordinary Ideas for Everyday Discipline, published by Tyndale House Publishers and Focus on the Family. The book, written from a Christian perspective, is an often humorous and always encouraging look at family life. Whether or not your family adheres to similar religious beliefs, the book is helpful.

In Creative Correction, Lisa knows-and tells-what it's really like to be a mom on the front lines. She's married to Steve Cauble, an associate pastor for a church in southern California. She drives a minivan, never has enough time to exercise, and sometimes serves her children cereal for dinner. Her life is far from glamorous.

She relates how after the birth of daughter Clancy, her third baby in as many years, an actress friend sighed that after years of taping television shows, it must be wonderful for Lisa to be able to relax and not work for a while. "I was tempted to slap her with a wet wipe," Lisa recalls. Like many a harried mother, she's often told to enjoy her children now because they'll be grown before she knows it. "I personally have not found that to be the case. It feels as if they've been small forever," she writes ruefully.

Creative Correction , the reality came into being when Lisa and Steve's son, Tucker, now 11, was a toddler. Once stable and happy, he soon exhibited the classic signs was diagnosed twice with ADHD, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

From the start, Lisa and Steve had parented by the book. Since she was first pregnant with Tucker, they took classes, bought books, dutifully jotted down notes and tips and fully expected time-tested strategies, like spanking, time-outs, and grounding, to work. Tucker, on the other hand, had a different agenda.

Lisa vividly recalls the day she acknowledged none of their best-laid patenting plans were working. "A plus B isn't equal to C!" she recalls writing to a friend in frustration.

It wasn't until much later that the couple realized that Tucker's troubles were linked to severe allergies and health problems caused by the erratic and unusual weather pattern known as El Nino. By then, the couple had incorporated new strategies into their parenting arsenal against lying, whining, leaving a mess, and sibling mayhem, the gist of which can be summer up in the phrase Creative Correction .

How does Creative Correction work? By using your imagination and inherent knowledge of your own children instead of hard and fast rules. For example, when her daughter got up on the wrong side of the bed one morning, Lisa was faced with a crying, cranky girl who was already frazzling Mom's nerves at 7:15 a.m. Instead of ordering her to just stop crying or punishing her for dawdling, Lisa instead voiced the words to anyone, child or adult, wishes could come true: "Let's start the day over." She asked her daughter to climb back into bed, set the alarm to ring again, and literally start over with a new attitude. It worked.

Another way of creatively addressing a family problem is through telling stories, Lisa says. Storytelling comes naturally to this actress, but if it doesn't to you, she suggest reading aloud to your children from books like the Chicken Soup for the Soul series or other short, inspirational, and clever works.

Even with all her good advice and experience, Lisa makes mistakes. She still finds herself giving long-winded lectures to eyes-glazed-over kids. And she knows her incentives have gone awry and turned into bribes as when Tucker crows, "I know this game!"

Of the three, Tucker is indeed bold, full of life, and funny. Haven, 9, the elder daughter, is deep, complicated, and longs to be an actress. She is also a tomboy. Clancy, 8, the youngest, is charming, calm, and "does the right things for the right reasons," says Lisa. A "girly-girl," she loves gymnastics largely for the great costumes.

Lisa and Steve give the three the time and freedom to be children. "My kids are loud in the backyard all the time," Lisa says. A rainy day might find her kids screaming in delight while they jump on the trampoline. And team sports, while terrific for learning many valuable lessons, just aren't in the cards right now for the family; They would just be too rushed.

In fact, the key word to parenting her brood is flexibility. Lisa began their education by homeschooling. But this past school year, the children all attended a private Christian school since Lisa's writing schedule just became too much of a distraction from the teaching.

She knows that there are sessions to everything. This summer the family begins a new adventure in learning: a yearlong trip across America in an RV> Steve is taking a year's leave of absence from his pastoral duties and will concentrate on his meeting planning business via the Internet and cell phones. Lisa will homeschool the children, take them on tours of historical sites and workplaces, give talks in various cities, and gather research for her next book, Finding God in America . But "I want to keep it loose enough so that if we want to just go fishing we can," she adds.

Heading off for thousands of miles and hundreds of days with her children in close quarters doesn't faze her. But she predicts Steve, like many other dads, will take a bit more time to adapt. When they're noisy late a night he asks. "Isn't it their bedtime yet?" she laughs.

It's this understanding of their different personalities that helps ground her as a wife and mother. Lisa is the main disciplinarian, and says that in the past "whenever Steve did step in, I would knock his feet out from under him." Moments like the "Carpet Episode" helped her see his point of view and widen her own. The children were regularly spilling things on the carpet, which made Steve crazy. Lisa admits her attitude was "like who cars?" But by listening closely to Steve's objections, she realized that his goal was not that the children never spill things but "that they learn to care for property."

Her honest descriptions of disagreement and reconciliation are what cause Lisa to connect with everyday families. Indeed, she proposes a bumper sticker: "My children aren't perfect, but neither are yours."

Lisa is the first to admit that the onset of adolescence, life's own El Nino, will likely change everything in her parental arsenal. But then she'll be ready to write: "Creative Chaos Raising Teens." Who know? It may even include a chapter on creatively dealing with "the facts of life."


 

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