Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Positive Parenting

A few months ago I felt like I really needed a radical change in my parenting style — things simply stopped working well for me. My days were getting filled with a lot of negativity, frustration, and by the end of each day, resignation and tears. What worked for my children as toddlers and preschoolers simply didn’t work for a strong-willed, athletic, and super-confident boy of 8 (for example), not to mention the different personalities of my other kiddos! After all, as our children grow and develop, so do their attitudes, interests, and behaviors (as a result of more self-awareness, maturity, and confidence). Our parenting styles, in turn, need to adapt and evolve, as well.

It just so happened that an ad for Positive Parenting Solutions — https://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/ — popped up on my Facebook feed a few months ago. I had just had a particularly hard day of my son shouting at me most of the afternoon, which he was doing really often, so I thought, “what could it hurt?” I used my practice time the next morning to watch the webinar, and I have never looked back! It opened my eyes to understanding childhood behavior and needs so much better. I immediately bought Amy McCready’s book, If I Have to Tell You One More Time, and another book, Positive Parenting, by Rebecca Eanes. I will tell you that I have read and re-read Amy’s book several times, and I have since added sticky notes to direct me straight to what I usually need guidance with the most. Rebecca’s book has been an excellent supplement for alternate approaches.

These books teach you about parenting your children through positive attention, encouragement (not to be confused with praise), and empowerment, giving them some much-needed control over their own lives. In these books you learn tools and scripts that are designed to help you encourage them and teach them life’s valuable lessons on more-or-less their terms. It teaches you that your home life is, indeed, a democracy, as opposed to the more authoritarian style that most of us grew up with. As a natural result of some of the successes of the tools and lessons I have learned along the way, I actually feel more empowered, too! What a win/win situation!

I will say that the road has been really bumpy. It’s been a challenge, for one, getting my husband on the same page as me — not because he doesn’t want to, just lack of time to learn the techniques — but it is essential that your spouse/partner is in lock-step with you on this. Also, I’ve learned that my own personality has been part of the problem! (Say, what?!) Yeah. So, not only did I need to learn to adjust how I handle all of the difference situations that pop up day-to-day and to change our routine, I needed to adjust my own personality and be more cheery and less frantic overall. Needless to say, I’m still working on that! I am a person that likes a lot of control and order…oh, and did I mention that I am a little short-tempered, too? Haha, yikes! I’ve had to learn to let A LOT of stuff go, speak more gently/ less firmly, walk away from conflicts and power struggles, and hand over a lot of power (positive power) to my children. I’ve also learned that children learn so much more from just sitting down with them and talking calmly and lovingly with them about their choices and about empathy (i.e. using time-IN), rather than just using time-outs as a means to direct behavior in the heat of the moment, which I can attest to, definitely doesn’t work. It does require a TON of extra effort, but it’s so worth it!!

After implementing the techniques from Positive Parenting Solutions, the above-mentioned books, and from various websites devoted to positive parenting, I have rarely had to raise my voice or even ground my children. They simply learn from the choices they make. Encouragement gives them a sense of significance and be more willing to cooperate. Positive power, positive attention, and helping out the family gives them their much-needed sense of belonging. I absolutely love this approach! Again, like anything new, it can have its ups and downs, and I’m definitely still learning myself! But, overall, there has been a very positive difference in our house, and I love the growth and change I’m seeing!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

Mindfulness – It’s not just the latest buzzword!

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A few months ago, I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness: focusing on the present moment. I did some quick searches online to get a feel for what it entails. I even stumbled upon an article in a Women’s Health magazine written by a woman who spent an entire week at a facility doing nothing but practicing mindfulness for 10-11 hours each day: no talking, no phones, no outside communication, and a few light vegetarian meals per day. Enlightening! So, I thought I would try it out for myself, and in the process I have discovered a wonderful new awareness of my body, thoughts, and my outlook. I love it!

My approach is simple. I lay down on the floor in a semi-supine position (flat on your back with your knees bent up and feet on the floor). I begin by closing my eyes and taking slow breaths in through my nose and out through my nose, feeling the air rush in and out the whole time. I feel how it makes the inside of my nose feel. I feel how it rushes into my lungs and fills my chest, and I feel how it exits my body and back through my nose. These sensations are the only sensations I focus on for several breaths. When I feel my head start to clear and almost soften (i.e. muscles have relaxed!), I then start to feel for my pulse internally and how it rushes the blood throughout my body, continuing to take in my slow, deep breaths. Next, I focus on how my skin feels flush against the floor and take in all of these sensations. If at any time my head starts to fill with chatter, I bring it back to any one of these sensations and continue my focus. My only goal during this time to be completely aware of all of my senses at that moment.

After about a week or two of devoting 10-15 minutes of my afternoon to practicing mindfulness, I noticed a positive change in my concentration level and outlook on the day. My favorite part is that I have found it easier to clear my head of needless chatter, especially while I’m practicing or performing. I can much more easily chase away negative thoughts or feelings and regain focus. Relaxing and bringing a more positive spirit to the day has become easier, as well. I also like how much more aware and tuned-in to my body I’ve become as a result of mindfulness. My ability to fall asleep has greatly improved, too! Overall, it has made such a powerful impact on my life.

As parents and musicians, it can be so difficult to find the time to squeeze this in. Honestly, I started out just trying to get even 5 minutes worth every day, and that was tough. However, once I started to feel the positive impact it was having on several areas of my life, I felt more encouraged to try to go longer each day. I definitely encourage you to work up to 10-15 minutes every day, even if you have to just start with 5 minutes like me. After one or two weeks, you’ll begin to take notice of some positive changes. Enjoy it, and let it continue to influence more aspects of your life in an encouraging and positive way!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Always Learning

My husband has been in Texas for a conference for the last five days, and I’ve learned a lot about myself, my children, and my parenting during that time he was away. I learned that I can step-up to challenges and emerge a better, more confident person. Hurtful words from someone I care about taught me that I can turn difficulty into a life lesson of kindness and love for my children. Best of all, I learned that even when I’m all alone, I’m never really completely alone. I have an amazing support system with my family and friends.

In an effort to try to have a lot of fun while he was gone, I got very creative with meals: we had pink pancakes (beet and apple) that Saturday morning, a picnic in the living room that Friday night, and mini-party for a football game on Sunday. We played games over the weekend and generally tried to make a big party out of everything, and somehow I still was able to sneak in some practice. They got to spend a few hours with their great-grandparents while I did some rush grocery shopping before an ice storm, and that proved to be a lot of fun and was helpful in so many ways. Even my daughter’s piano practice was super efficient (don’t ask me how…she’s always so silly when she sits down at the piano, yet she played quite well at her lesson today). I learned that I don’t have to be afraid of doing this wild thing called parenting by myself for an extended period of time, I can turn craziness into a party (except for when they decided to flood the upstairs bathroom while I was on the phone with my dad — that was craziness doing a nosedive). I learned that I can turn fear into motivation, which is a pretty awesome and powerful thing.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Forgetting to Have Fun

Yesterday I felt miserable. I woke up feeling bad and had little energy. Having a recital coming up, however, I had to practice. My practice was unfocused and hardly goal-driven. I took several tiny breaks to pop online and view Facebook and the News, which didn’t help my lack of concentration. And while I scored nearly 4 hours of practice, it was practically unproductive (except for a few shining moments), and I ended up injuring my right hand in two places: my thumb and pinky. What a dumb thing. That night it was clear that I had succumbed to my children’s cold they so graciously shared with me and the rest of their school. Yuck.

After a great night’s sleep, surprisingly, I woke up with a sore throat, aching ears, and even less energy. Great. Well, at least I’ve been taking Zicam (zinc), so, I thought, maybe after I get the older two kids off to school and I get a nice, hot cup of coffee and another dose of Zicam, I’ll feel better. Thankfully, that was the case. I started practicing with my happy toddler watching Super Why (a fun learn-to-read 25-minute series [he’s known his alphabet for months] http://pbskids.org/video/ ), but everything felt, well, not right, like I was working too hard. I did get some productive time in, but knowing that I needed to take it easy on my right hand, I took a very long break after about 1 1/2 hours of practice. What a great decision! I had eaten a good snack, took my recital dress to get altered, had a filling, delicious lunch, and with some renewed energy (and even more Zicam), I sounded great and playing felt easy again. Then it suddenly dawned on me, I was forgetting to have fun and that practicing and the recital itself should be fun — musically satisfying, of course, but fun. With my newly enlightened mindset, practicing was once again enjoyable. I didn’t stress out about missed notes, and even though I had to stop and run an emergency second pair of eyeglasses to my husband, I could pick right up where I left off and happily continue my work. I had a great practice session. Gotta remember to have fun! What a difference!

“With every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find that fun and, snap, the job’s a game!” — Mary Poppins

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Practicing

Cutting Out that Awful Noise in My Head

So, I just finished practicing a little over 3 hours (with a break for snacks for my youngest and me in between). I feel like I accomplished a lot: new phrases memorized, a few more technical “acrobatics” ironed out, and some nice, new phrasing discovered. However, I also spent the majority of that time with panicked, negative commentary running nearly constantly through my head. Normally, I’m a very optimistic person, and when I goof or some aspect of a piece just stubbornly won’t get “fixed” I just shrug my shoulders and tell myself, “next time.” Not today. No, today was, “Is this ever going to go right?”, “Oh no, this could really crash and burn”, “Yikes! How did that happen??”, “What’s wrong with my sound? Oh, yeah, I need to relax and raise my head.” “Stop slouching.” “You’re too tired.” “I wonder if I can do this.” The list goes on. I finished my allotted time by doing some long tones, triple piano, in the highest register — this helps build muscle quickly. When I finished that I decided I should blow some loud low register notes to loosen my lips a little and to keep from getting too tight later on today. Well, I discovered a few things: my sound is always so much better when I’m relaxing and consciously trying to relax (as opposed to trying to play that wickedly hard run just one more time); the noise, the negative commentary, disappeared completely because I knew I was almost finished and could now eat lunch; I enjoyed myself suddenly and was enjoying the nice “buzz” (resonance) coming from my flute with my freshly relaxed embrochure and mindset.

Tomorrow, or maybe even later today just before my student comes, I’m going to experiment with playing with that final relaxation and gentle mindset that I finished playing with this morning. Perhaps, those challenging runs and phrases will feel a lot more easy if I go into them with ease and confidence instead of with a bunch of noise in my head. I think it’s a good exercise for everyone, not just musicians, to approach life with a relaxed mindset than with anxiety and trepidation. I’m not going to allow myself to fall into that downward spiral of negativity while I’m playing again. It’s just a way to set myself up for failure, when I could otherwise set myself up for success. I can do this!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Oh, That Wonderful “Me” Time!

I probably don’t need to go into the importance of having a specified day or time for some “me” time each week, but I’m going to do it, anyway. I didn’t use to have a set day or time set aside for just me; I let it happen when it happens. Well, after weeks of not having any time for myself I would explode and desperately cry to my husband about how I need a time-out NOW and would just take one, leaving him behind, unexpectedly, to handle the chaos that has amassed in our wake. After feeling relieved from my few hours’ break, the cycle would start all over again. Rinse, repeat. This is not only unfair to my husband and children, it’s really unfair to me, as well.

Over the last few months I have set aside Saturday mornings for myself. I run a few miles, go to the farmers market, run any other errands, and come home feeling free and light, ready to take on the next 6 1/2 days. Because we know this is going to happen each week, my husband is a little more prepared for it (at least, I don’t get that exasperated look anymore!), and I feel better about leaving and returning. I am so much more relaxed and comfortable knowing I have a time just for me, and this, of course, affects how I am as a mother: happy mommy translates to better parenting.

Date night is another type of “me” time that is equally important. I wish this was something we could do every week, personally, but we at least get one to two times per month just to ourselves. I mentioned in a previous post about how vital it is to one’s happiness to build and strengthen relationships, and this is one way of doing just that. It’s time set aside for you and your significant other to focus on your relationship and build that special bond we all need.

So, do take the time to find a relative or a friend you trust and can count on to help you with your children each week, and find some time for just yourself. I know how stressful it can be to leave your children with someone else, but it really is better for everyone for you to focus on you. It can help make you a more relaxed and focused person which in turn will make you a better parent. Take the time to do it!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Relying on Balance

Some days are such a struggle. Today is one of those days. I’ve settled on a date for an unaccompanied recital, so I start to feel the crunch (I hate that!), and it seems like my children’s behavior is worse, instantly. I really wrestle with wanting to play and have fun non-stop with my children over their summer break, but I also have the need and desire to work on my flute playing. While orchestra is out over the summer, this feels like my only chance to either focus on technical issues I want to improve or concentrate on flute repertoire and prepare a recital. My children, however, get restless, start going a little crazy, then their behavior spirals downward, and I feel like I’ve lost control of everything. It’s such an inner conflict for me some days: I love them so much and want to give them an incredible childhood, but I can’t let my flute playing go to waste either; I constantly want to improve.  My natural tendency for impatience often gets the better of me, and I want both things at the same time, and I want it done NOW.  I think balance is the solution here. Two more hours of practice, then play time, yes? The house chores can wait.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Working Parent

“We All Need Somebody to Lean On”

I have discovered over the last few years how important it is to have a strong support system in life. As much as I like to think that I am Super Woman, and as much as I like for others to think that I am Super Woman, the truth is that I’m not….well, not entirely. I do manage a house, a husband, three children, a small-but-ongoing performing career, students, and all the cooking, but these things don’t happen on their own. Yes, most of the time I am on my own. My husband often works long days, especially during the academic year, and I do prefer to be the one teaching my children and managing the bulk of our affairs here. However, I’m only human, and like any other person, I have bad days. I have days when, for some random reason, it all feels too hard or too overwhelming. The last few days are an excellent example. I had missed out on 3-4 nights of sleep because I was trying to manage my allergies with Claritin-D (the D part is a ridiculous amount of sudafed), and it was simply keeping me awake at night. By day 5, when our kitchen sink had decided to leak, I was overwhelmed. I called my in-laws to take the children overnight so I could deal with our water emergency. Stuff like this has happened several times, and I couldn’t do it without this strong support. My parents still work outside the home, but they are still another source of strong support. We can go over and hang out at their house and sort of “get away,” our kids can play in their big backyard, and it’s always a good time. I need that.

No matter what you do in life or who you are, it’s so important to have that strong support structure. It’s worth taking the time to develop strong friendships, family relationships, faith-based relationships, and so on. Yes, we are all busy, but we are also humans — imperfect humans with basic needs of love and support. I feel like I am a better mother, wife, and musician because I have these relationships to hang on to when times get a little rough or even when times are great, which is so much more fun to celebrate with others! Maybe I’m not Super Woman, but I am certainly at my best with the love and support of my friends and family (even my friends on the other side of the ocean)! I need you all, and we all need each other.


Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

Why this blog?

Many of my friends, family, and even my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher, ask me, “how do you balance flute with children?” Of course, I give them my honest interpretation of how I am “handling” (more like juggling) it, and, in most cases, advice on how they can succeed at it as well. After answering this many times, I got the idea to create a blog about being a professional musician, a mother of three (in fewer than 4 years!), and how I’ve learned to create some pretty awesome meals on my less-than-professional stove. I want to help musician mothers succeed and live to their full potential. Yes, it’s significantly more difficult to practice and concentrate and, well, work while wiping tushies and being sleep deprived, but I’m here to say that it is possible. As Marcel Moyse and Trevor Wye would say, with time, patience, and intelligent work, you can make it happen.