"Managing a home and family is no less demanding or time consuming than running a large corporation... the development of lovely, joyful, responsible children doesn't just happen accidentally, any more than a successful corporation just happens. A unified, organized, progressing family requires a unified, organized, progressive plan! Setting goals and producing a plan are just as essential to a mother and father as to a good company." Linda Eyre A Joyful Mother of Children
Since the summer I've read (or skimmed ;)) 30+ amazing parenting books and counting. The overlap in the experts' ideas has lead me to 10 areas of awareness or goals I've started working on to strengthen my family and home:
Build Routines- Routines don't just happen (at least in my family) but are an amazingly powerful tool to help everyone's day go smoothly, eliminate contention, meet everyone's needs, create a feeling of order and calm and... keep cavities at bay. Also a tool to teach kids the power of work. Practice Calm and Connected Discipline- A number of my readings prove the most long-term effective way to teach kids is by remaining calm and focused with prepared tools on hand when disciplining instead of giving in to yelling, anger, frustration, and "losing it". Support Good Choices- Often the parenting paradigm is backwards- kids get more payoff and attention from parents when they make choices that have a negative impact than when they are making good choices. By noticing, verbalizing, rewarding, and stickerizing good choices I hope to help build and reinforce them. Enjoy One Another Consistently having fun as a family through building family traditions, strengthening relationships and skills, laughing together, connecting and building memories. Speak Love I speak love to my children as I pay the price to really know them individually- spending one on one time together, making eye contact, giving gifts, giving affection, noticing things that make them unique and listening to them. Also may prevent a host of discipline and esteem problems. Record and Remember- Capturing happy moments in photos, journals and videos, organizing and taking time to remember them builds family joy in the present and motivates us all in many different ways to be better for each other. Explore-Discover-Learn- Kids are wired for creative exploration, discovery and play and are happiest when they do this. Providing time, opportunities and tools to keep this enthusiasm alive strengthens my connection to my kids when we do it together and leads to the development of talents and a love of learning that may build a foundation for a productive and happy career. Strengthen our Community and Build Friendships- Getting to know our neighbors, building our schools and community, connecting with families who have kids my kids' age and providing my kids the time and availability to build and prioritize friendships teaches them to be a good friend and build good friendships. It gives us opportunities to lend a hand and find a hand when needed. Give and Be Thankful- The development of gratitude and awareness of blessings ever-present in our lives came up in almost every book I read as a tool for strengthening family connections and increased well-being. Part of that awareness for thanks is giving back and finding opportunities to serve our community, country and world. Nurture Faith and Spirituality- A relationship with God helps bring out my best and builds joy and happiness in my life. Many experts recognize it as an important foundation for wholistic childhood development.
These goals are all great and many connect with each other but they're also intimidating and overwhelming, so the glue that actually makes them happen is Plan and Be Prepared. For the past month, each Sunday I go through them in my binder, break them into little action items, and plug them into my monthly calendar and daily schedule. By consistently doing a little bit I'm amazed at how much I'm able to accomplish.
Which brings me to my little announcement- with the help of my amazing friend and PR talent Lyndsey I've decided to move my parenting project to a new blog www.givingkidsourbest.com Each week I'll post a few times about one of these 10 areas and try to get your feedback and advice. You've already all helped me so much as I struggle to reach my goal of making my 2x2 home a peaceful and happy place that nurtures and grows my kids into their best, so I hope you'll keep sharing your insights. Churchill said "We shape our homes and then our homes shape us" - hopefully this will lead my 2x2 situation to a good place ;)
"Once you have a solid plan-a list of what needs to be done-you must work that plan. In other words, just do it-and don't second guess yourself... If I stick to the plan I usually accomplish my goal" Debbie Lillard Absolutely Organized: A Mom's Guide to a No-Stress Schedule and Clutter-free Home
Over the past couple weeks in response to a binder-post comment I've been creating a poster to match my daily schedule page so my kids could visually see what was planned for our day. I plan these pages around my 10 goals based on all my research, which I'll get to next time. Charla actually once told me that she taught two kindergarten classes- one had a schedule and routines and the other didn't. She thought the kids would love the freedom of the unscheduled class, but she was surprised to see that everyone was happier in the scheduled class. The kids liked knowing what was coming up next. Even when kids direct their playtime, I'm realizing that in today's world playtime often needs a dedicated time-slot so they can get into it, and kids sometimes need a variety of places/items to start their play.
So I made this poster. Actually the kids painted it and I very unprofessionally drew the time-circles based off my ideas page headers, then got them laminated and stuck on with velcro dots. The morning routine is a bit itemized (there's a separate sticker for bed-making, teeth-brushing, prayer-saying, dressed-getting etc.) but more on that later.
Honestly, I feel kinda dorky that I made this, it seems like I'm really trying over-extraordinarily hard here, but I thought it was a good idea and wanted to see what it would do. My kids actually really love it, and it's fun to let them pick circles (musictime or arttime after breakfast?) Mostly thought I've really noticed our days go more smoothly when we take a minute with it right after breakfast because they know what's coming up next and we can talk about it.
Does anyone have things they do with their kids to tell them about plans?
"He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign." Victor Hugo (I wish it were easier)
At any given moment I've got about 100+ things I could be doing that are all good: cleaning my oven/sink/tub/dining room chairs/piano, returning phone calls and emails, making dentist visits, preparing meals, headstarting on Christmas shopping, playing/teaching/reading/singing with my kids, serving in my community, drawing with my kids, organizing photos...
How do I choose the best one?
The best way I've found is to plan. When my vision extends to a global perspective I make the best plans; I can plan my goals into practice, I can plan my errands with efficiency, I can meet my kids needs, I can prioritize and balance. In contrast, when I decide in the now I can't see too far because the moment waves at me with its demands- fix me! clean me! create me! watch me! I see the plants I haven't watered yet, that shelf that needs organizing, that scrapbook page I want to finish and the children I need to bathe so I attend to what's in front of me, rarely getting beyond my line of sight. So the good gets done, the better not so much.
Of course with chaotic, unpredictable, multiple-variables kid-life no plan at this stage will ever get followed exactly. Some people think that unpredictability is solid grounds to not bother with planning right now, others feel like it's too depressing to see everything you didn't get done. But the more I plan, the more I realize how desperately this time of my life really does need it, probably more so than any other, because there's so much more at stake.
So I make to-do lists when something pops in my head or when I review my goals and look at my continuously-updated ideas page, then I transfer those to-do list items onto the time map of daily schedule pages, all of which I keep in my handy binder which saves my life every day. I have a big meeting with Ian once a week where we go over our calendar and objectives. Each night I create the plan for the next day.
These daily-page tools inspired from Steady Days are fantastic, but Ian and I have only had two meetings, so I can't really say we're doing this. Even as I see how much smoother my days are going when I plan them with purpose, how satisfied I am that we made it to the park again and I found a spot in my schedule to pick up the Caleb Box, and take Halloween costume photos and write sympathy cards and pick up thank you gifts and do so many little wonderful things on my list, I also know it's going to be hard to keep this up. I've talked about this before, but there are a billion legitimate excuses to just slack off, to let go of Hugo's thread and surrender to the chaos of the day. Plus, nobody is watching me, nobody is giving performance reviews or salary increases, NOBODY REALLY CARES! Where do I find that strength to continue day after day to plan to give my best to my kids and my family, the most important job I'll ever have, when it's really easy to skip it?
Does anybody have any ideas for what keeps you motivated? Seriously, how do moms and anybody stay motivated? How do you get through the pulls and tugs and dead ends and frustrations and chaos to give that little bit of extra effort to make plans and goals and follow them when tons of things are working against you? Is this something that can really be done?
"The more you get messy and go through the routine of cleaning up together, the easier the process will be," Ginger Carlson Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creativity and Naturally Curious Children
We made another mess yesterday- a haunted gingerbread house from a kit we get each year from dear Grandma Louise. I love to let my kids really do it instead of me doing it. This, of course, meant that it's not quite like the picture on the box, which makes the Martha Stewart craft lover in me shudder, but it does mean they really participate and use those fine motor skills instead of hanging back, following my instructions the whole time, or watching me do it.
I decided to follow Melanie's idea and throw down a sheet before we got started. I've heard of this idea before, but I've never given it a try. It just seems easier to start instead of hunting around for a sheet. Now, I don't want to overstate, but at least for this project, the sheet investment made cleanup seriously take about 10 seconds. Loved it! Why don't I get my lazy butt up and take mess-prep more seriously?
Other ideas are doing it outside, scheduling mess-time around baths and making a kid "handwash basin" for outside and inside and investing in a dustbuster. As I'm taking Katie's suggestion about resigning myself to messes I'm looking at ways to prepare accordingly for pre and post cleanup instead of being freaked out by it. As I let go of my anxiety, the door is opening to lots of projects I know my kids will love but I've avoided because of the mess factor- nut doughs, mudpies, papier mache, soap doughs, cloth sculptures, collages, and more! Of course, I'm going to have to put a limit, like Kristin suggests, to just once or twice a week, but I don't want to say never anymore. If anyone else has any mess strategy ideas, please (please. seriously.) share...
I've been doing a lot of research over the past couple months about ways to bring out the best in my kids and me and from the many books I've read so far I've come up with 10 "areas" or goals/objectives if you will. One of these is the Explore, Discover, Learn area. My kids (all kids) are wired for this, and it supports their development and overall happy-level when I find ways to fan that enthusiasm while keeping my sanity. For better or worse, messes are usually part of Explore, Discover, Learn so I better learn to work with them.
Next week I'm going to hit another area. I'm having a hard time choosing which one because they're all so good and all connect to each other, but I'll tackle this one next: Plan and Prepare
"Children need messes. Not just when they are babies and toddlers trying to make sense of their world, but well into their childhood... If a child doesn't learn to make a mess, he may not learn to use his mind in an open-ended way" Ginger Carlson Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creativity and Naturally Curious Children
Thank you so much to everyone who shared their strategies for dealing with messes. They were all so good! I think the common theme was to kind of pre-pare for the chaos, Either resign to the mess (decide beforehand I'm OK with it), or make preparations to minimize (I'm trying this sheet idea out tomorrow), or say no, this isn't something I can deal with right now, we'll plan for it another time (this is guilt-free-necessary at times).
But what about ambush- messes? Yesterday we made owl cookies, a yearly tradition that's fun because even little boys can really participate in squishing the eyes together and placing in the m&ms and cashews. And it's pretty simple, not too messy, or so I thought. Nope. Afterwards nuts were scattered ALL over the floor, m&ms were EVERYWHERE, some of the cookie dough fell on the ground and got smashed into the carpet... and since it was nearing the 5pm hour my kids were going haywire. I constantly had to stop and start as I cleaned to break up fights, working hard to stay patient. I was prepared to resign myself to the mess, I just had no idea it would be this bad!
The funny thing is that after dinner as the whole family polished off the cookies, we wound up having a really good time together. We acted silly and eventually pulled out Lobel's Owl at Home to read around the table. I completely and utterly forgot about the nuisancey mess. That mess was a price to pay for a magical moment, in this case being surrounded by smiling, laughing kid faces, hearing Jack say "ow-ah coo-kees" and just having a really great time together.
Ginger Carlson has a whole chapter dedicated to the importance of encouraging kids to get messy, even going so far as to mention sensory delays for kids that are "too clean." "Although it may be difficult at times to accept the messes our children (need to make), know that you can. But don't just accept the mess, rejoice in it, knowing that you are supporting your child's creative growth even further." I don't know if I can go that far, but I can probably appreciate it a little more.
"Children love to be busy, and useful. They delight in seeing that there is a place for them in the hum of doing, making, and fixing that surrounds them... honor your child's efforts with real tools for their work." Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting
Please. Does anyone have any ideas about how to encourage passionate discovery without going insane?
For well over a year my little son has been torturing me with his culinary experiments. He loves to mix things, and while I want to encourage his curiosity and creativity, it's just plain hard when he dumps an entire gallon of extra-virgin olive oil on the counter (there goes $20), or blankets our dinner with powdered sugar (what do we eat now?), sprays the kitchen floor with PAM (so his brother slips so hard he almost cracks his head) and other patience-testing, madness inducing activities. Despite my best efforts I get snappy, which is slowly dampening his enthusiastic little flame.
So this week after fighting back a huge lash-out when Caleb wound up using all our eggs in one of his concoctions-which I didn't realize until I was in the middle of making dinner and my recipe CALLED for eggs- I pulled out my binder and approached the problem with purpose. I decided I could help him pursue his passion and "honor (his) efforts" while preserving my sanity if I got him his own ingredients. I went to the dollar store the very next day when my nanny was home and spent $10 stocking up on spices, a couple baking mix boxes, oil, his own jars of flour and sugar, etc.
I put them in a box which we called 'the Caleb Box,' and told him he could use these and only these ingredients in his baking. He totally LOVES it, and for the past week has pulled it out every single day. I can hear him humming as he mixes and stirs. He seems happier, content and focused. Some of his experiments are even quite tasty, at least his brothers like them.
But my problems aren't solved. This advice is easier said then done because now he's cooking more not less and it's like I'm inviting him to frustrate me. I feel sheepish that I still get frustrated because he pitches in when I ask him to help me clean up, he takes good care of his box, he's allowed one egg a day and he sticks to that which is very good. But. HE STILL MAKES MESSES! I still have to clean up after him because he can't do it all himself. Wiping counters, scrubbing baking dishes and bowls, vacuuming crumbs. I still feel frustrated even as I recognize this is so great for him, even as I'm happy he's happy. Is there something that I can do differently? Does anyone else struggle with this? I know the accessibility to creativity is very good (countless experts tell me this), I know my kids are happy when they do it (look at these photos for heaven's sake- he loves it!) but how do I keep a smile on my face when I'm slipping on the egg shells day after day after day after day....
"A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body" Benjamin Franklin
I love getting in the holiday spirit and firing up my boys' imaginations by borrowing a bunch of festive books from the library. Some of our favs for Halloween are Fright Night Flight, Scary, Scary Halloween (illustrations by Jan Brett), Ghosts in the House (please try to check out this one, my kids LOVE it), Plumply Dumply Pumpkin, Georgie's Halloween, the House that Drac Built and By the Light of the Halloween Moon. My kids love gathering for Storytime and popping questions like 'what's a manticore' and 'where do werewolves come from?'. Somehow the answers don't seem to scare them that much, probably because these books usually end with kids putting the ghosts and ghouls in their place.
Last week after reading Plumply Dumply Pumpkin they asked if we could carve the pumpkin I picked up the night before into a jack'o lantern like the one in the illustration. We had a lot of fun working on it together- they scooped out the goop and drew the face, then we put a candle inside and read more stories under a blanket fort.
I'm really grateful that I'm devoting a couple hours each week just on connecting my kids without going anywhere or trying to get anything else done. Things aren't perfect, but when I look back to the way they were before I was making an effort to connect with them, it's been a big change.