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

Picking My Life Back Up One Step at a Time

Unknowns. Leaving without Goodbyes. Cancelled Work. Isolation. Empty Shelves. Rationing. Depression. Parenting. Practicing. Moving Forward.

Corona virus (COVID-19) has left its mark on my house, as it has for millions of households around the world. I attended my last live performance right before our state was to go in a quasi-isolation, schools and universities closed. Life upended. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students, one of whom this semester was our last together. We picked up and left, Skype our only means of seeing each other and teaching. I was devastated. I love my job, and I love my students. This was a tough transition for me, not only for its abruptness, but also for the lack of live human interaction, of laughing, playing together, just being. And when all my performance work was cancelled and my lost income mounting, I only too easily slipped into a world of dark cloudy days, wondering when (if?) the fog and dreariness would lift. Was I facing depression?

Parenting during this time of strain and uncertainty has also taken its toll. The strain of seeing empty grocery shelves and wondering how long food will be this scarce and having to ration food in the house is real and unnerving. The realization of lost income is scary. And when parents are stressed, kids can feel it. They get stressed too. During times like these, “cabin fever” also takes on a whole new meaning. They are even advised not to go on playgrounds! Kids act out when they are stressed. I felt like my neat little world was unraveling!

I had to take action. I had to pick up the pieces of what work was left to me, my teaching, and I had to get control over my own emotions, so I can still be the teacher and the parent that I want to be. If for no other reason, than to model how to be for my children in times of global stress. I made myself keep practicing. Knowing the positive effects of endorphins and sunshine, I forced myself to keep exercising and to get outside in my yard as much as possible. I have my kids go outside as much as possible. When they ask to play in the rain, I let them play in rain. Why not? Outside time is crucial for mental and physical well-being, and they need to get that extra energy out. The forced isolation has also given us plenty of opportunities (more than plenty!) to teach my children how to communicate effectively and politely to each other — how to best solve differences with each other. And you know what? It’s working. We have far fewer arguments as they are learning to compromise and solve problems together. The next thing we are working on pitching in a bit more around the house, since we are all always home and all contributing to the mess. We’re getting there… baby steps. As we have been through a few successful days of online teaching and gaining some control of our schedules back, I feel less uneasy and unsure, and the children are more themselves again.

I feel like I went through a kind of grief cycle. I was paying attention to the news, of course, and naturally I knew it would eventually effect us in the U.S. at some point, but the magnitude and the scope of the pandemic was overwhelming. I wanted to fight against having to leave the university, but there was no choice. I wanted to fight against home-schooling while schools are closed, but there was no choice. I wanted to believe that there would still be food on the shelves when I went to the store to pick up some regular groceries, but there was none. (Well, there was still some frozen okra.) I wanted to cry, but what would it help? By putting one foot in front other the other, so to speak, I slowly walked myself out of my slump and got on with life: keeping up with my practicing, keeping up with my exercising, keeping up with teaching to my best ability, keeping up with good parenting. Just as we all do. Just as we all have to. Baby steps.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Turned Dinnertime into a Fun World of Imagination

Big admission here: dinners at home were getting pretty dull or even frustrating. Some days we would just eat and leave. Other days the kids would talk or even begin to play, but then they would forget to eat! Mostly, it became an exasperating affair of start-and-stop chit-chat and interruptions to settle arguments, or just trying to get the kids to even stay at the table. Forget any real conversation and family time! We do have a no-phone, no-books-at-the-table rule at our house, but I kept catching my husband grabbing for his phone, and consequently because, “well, Daddy’s on his phone so I can read my book”, my daughter would immediately grab whatever reading material was nearest to her and start reading, completely ignoring everyone. Ugh! Dinner is supposed to be a respite from the day; a time to enjoy a meal together and each other’s company. But, it just wasn’t, and honestly, I was getting pretty sad and disappointed over it.

So, my daughter and I brainstormed some ways of having a more interesting and engaging dinnertime routine. Our answer? Conversation starters! Here’s what I mean. Most evenings, I would have my daughter sit down for a few minutes before dinner and write out on little bits of paper things that would be fun to talk about: What would be your favorite/ultimate dessert? What would be your perfect day? What mythological creature is your favorite and why? Favorite roller coaster? What do you like the most about [insert anything]? You get the idea. We fold the papers in half, then set them in the middle of the table. Once everyone is ready to eat, one-by-one we each take a paper, read what it says, answer it, then pass that question around for everyone else to answer.

This has proved to be a game-changer! Suddenly, we were laughing together about our ideas, or reminiscing on a perfect day. We would discuss our made-up events or just smile at the prospect of whatever crazy invention or scheme someone just laid out. We were enjoying each other! We were engaged in conversation. We were getting to know each other even better each evening. It was incredible! It has really become something that I look forward to. So, despite how challenging raising my kids can be at times, watching them open up their creativity and explore their imagination has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the day. We turned an often irksome time into some really fun memories that I can look back on and smile for years to come!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Spending Your Time at Home in the Right Way

I was reading through a story from a stay-at-home parent, which I really like. (Read it here). The premise is that you don’t have to have a perfectly clean house to prove that you are doing your job as a stay-at-home parent. I needed that reassurance today, but I wish I had read this years ago!

When I had my first baby, her needs absolutely came first, of course. I would strive to get a shower by 1pm, or not, and hope get at least one household item completed, and maybe 45 minutes practice on my flute. By the time baby number 2 arrived just 16 months later, I still got in a tiny bit of practice, but I gave up trying to get that one household job finished. Dishes piled up. The house smelled of the poopy diapers in the trash. The floors were a mess. Then the guilt started. Dinner was even difficult to get on the table. I felt like I was failing. Yes, I was teaching my daughter to love books, learn her letters, colors, numbers, and to count. Yes, I was breast-feeding my (then) baby and singing and reading to him. But my silly sense of accomplishment was instead wrapped up in keeping an orderly house. I felt like I wasn’t doing my “job.” I felt guilty and felt judged. How I was so wrong! I was absolutely doing my job. I was raising and teaching my kids well.

I have three children now and they are all in school. While that does give me a bit more time for my work — inside and outside the home — because of fear of judgement, I still struggle at times to keep my focus where it belongs: raising good children, not having a perfectly tidy house. My kids do well in school, they come to me with issues, they talk openly with me, they play well with others, they are happy. I would take those good qualities over having a perfectly clean home any day. It means I’m spending my time in the right way. I’m grateful to have been reminded of that!

Posted in Parenting

What I Tell My Kids About Bullying

Bullying. It happens far too often, and it hurts. All three of my children have been the recipient of bullying, and it’s tough, heart-breaking even, to watch as a parent. As difficult a conversation as it can be, we must address bullying with our children, because when prolonged, it can lead to an array of physical and mental health problems that can have lasting effects. Bullying can take many forms, such as name-calling and other verbal abuse to outright physical abuse. None of it is ever acceptable, and our children need to understand this. While I am not an expert on bullying, I do want to share with you what I tell my children. It is important that we, as parents, have talks like these ready to go in our minds for when these situations arise. After empathizing with them, here is what I say in steps:

1. Ignore it. If it is simple, verbal bullying, just walk away. Bullies usually want to assert some sort of power over those they perceive as weaker than they are. There could be a variety of reasons why this might be, from problems at home or at school, to a low self-esteem. If you don’t give their words power, oftentimes, they will get bored with you and stop.

2. Compliment the bully. This seems like a strange request, but it works to throw off the person hurling insults. It’s difficult to continue insulting you if you are complimenting his or her appearance or the way they answered a question in class or played a game. Plus, you’ve covered step 1: you aren’t giving their mean words any power. Quite the opposite, actually!

3. Tell an adult. If the bullying is becoming physical or it just simply won’t stop after several attempts of ignoring it or giving compliments, you must tell a teacher. You aren’t being a “snitch” here. You have tried to handle it calmly and in a good way several times, and it is time for an adult to intervene. It cannot continue.

Again, empathy goes a long way. Kids want to know that their parents are on their side and understand their struggles. Tell your children that you are sorry to hear about the bullying. This helps to validate their feelings and helps them to know that, of course, their feelings do matter to you. An especially effective “tool” is to share your own experiences with your children. Children love to hear stories from their parents’ past. You can talk about what you did to handle the situation and place yourself in your children’s shoes. Sharing stories really helps your children to understand that you “get it,” which is a big deal to them!

My goal with my children — and I tell them this — is that they become confident, independent thinkers who are strong enough to know who they are inside and out. I want them in control of their lives, not anyone else. By attempting to handle these really challenging situations on their own in a rational and calm manner, they develop the self-confidence they need to become the positive, independent, and loving adults we want them to become.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

When Stress Puts Cracks in Your Foundation

Parenting is not easy. Even when things are going fairly well, it’s not always a breeze. Add pressure from work or the stress your child may feel at school, and the difficulty just multiplies. Parenting asks a lot from us humans. The role of mom, dad, grandparent, foster parent is multifaceted and demanding. You are the bedrock, the snuggle-buddy, taxi driver, cook, laundress, nurse/ first aid, maid, role model, cheerleader. 24/7. It doesn’t stop. It’s demanding, and we have to smoothly flow from one role to the next effortlessly, and with patience and loving kindness. Our children want that from us, and we need to provide that for them. I, for one, am no saint — I am as imperfect as any other person, so sometimes I fail at this. It’s an extremely high expectation of us, and who can possibly do it without fault? When you have an especially rotten week where nothing seems to go right, and the stress builds, we start to see fractures in our strong family foundation we have worked so hard to build. For me, I find that heart-breaking, but also, I see it as a demand for action.

I’ve blogged about this before, but one of the best things you can do to build your relationship with your child is dedicated special time with each kid. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite times of the day. I love to play with my kids!! Between my work, kids sports, the homework demands of our school, and extra-curricular activities and clubs, this week has taken special time away. What’s the obvious result? A little breakdown in our relationship, because when kids don’t get the positive attention they crave, they will get it in other ways. My kids resort to tantrums or picking arguments with their siblings or with us, their parents. The stress of everything brings us down and affects our relationship. I had to take action to avoid the downward spiral I suddenly found myself in.

My solution this week has been two-fold: (1) seek help from the school, so they can help my middle guy get himself organized and on-task, to alleviate some of the stress he is feeling from the demands of his school work, and (2) be more diligent about finding some modicum of play time with them, even if that means they stay up just a few minutes past bedtime (not too long, though!) to squeeze in some games, like we did last night. I also added an extra dose of loving words and encouragement to each child separately as I tucked them in, so they went to sleep feeling really loved. It was great way to end the evening, and tonight, we are going to have some extra special time and have a picnic at the soccer fields before my youngest son’s soccer game, since we don’t have much time for dinner. Despite the stress of this week, I am determined to find the fun wherever we can, as well as finding solutions to what is causing the stress so we can deal with it more effectively.

Whenever you find yourself caught in a whirlwind of activity and work, and the stress begins to crumble your day or week, make sure you can still find sources of fun together each day. Maybe, like us, it will be a picnic just before a game. Maybe, a trip to the movies is in order, or go out for a quick ice cream cone together. Maybe a game night after homework and dinner is finished. Whatever you can do to maintain the fun in parenting each day and reduce the amount of stress, it goes a long, long way to building your relationship with your children and repairing any cracks you’ve discovered in your foundation.

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Parenting Advice … from my sticky notes!

Parenting advice from sticky notes? Yes! Here’s what I mean: I have several books and related online articles that I have read over the last several years, which is a lot of information to take in. I have my books full of tabs and notes on information that I found particularly valuable or helpful. And as much as I try to flip through my books periodically to refresh my memory on my favorite ideas, I can’t always get to them, which leads to some forgetfulness on my part. I hate that! I’ve taken a great idea and lost it in the busyness of being a working parent of three kids. Gone — at least until I have a chance to pick up my books and refresh myself again.

My solution to this? Carefully placed sticky notes. I find an area of the house that I will see everyday (every morning and evening, actually) and stick my best, most helpful piece of advice up on that area. This reminds me everyday to work on whatever it is I want to work on. For just one example, in Rebecca Eanes book, Positive Parenting: Connecting from the Heart, she challenges the reader to give your child four statements of encouragement or positivity for every correction. The thought is that children are mostly told what they are doing wrong, and to avoid feeling like they can’t do anything right, you fill them up with positive attention. (It’s really great advice!! Do try it.) However, I was forgetting to actively try to get in four statements. What’s worse is that on my busiest, most hectic days, I may not get in very many encouraging words at all — maybe a quick “thank you” here are there — and the corrections just pile up. You can imagine where that leads! So, I have a sticky note on the mirror in my bedroom — something I see a few times a day — to remind me to work on at least four positive, encouraging statements in between each correction.

The sticky note reminders have started to drift into other parts of the house, as well, to help remind my children of some rules. I have a sticky note on our computer monitor to remind my children that online gaming is not allowed and what the consequence will be for breaking the rule (no computer privileges for one week) — we’ve talked about it many times, so they understand why, which is very important. I also have a sticky note to remind my daughter to work on 30 minutes of math games Monday through Thursday to help build her confidence in her weaker area. Therefore, not much has to be said on the subject. They see the notes, I see the notes, and we are all on the same page. No need for arguments, it’s all spelled out after discussing it.

So, in a manner of speaking, I get some of my best parenting advice from my sticky notes. I see them every day and am reminded every day to improve upon an area of my parenting. We all want to be the best parents we can be. We love our children, after all! There is no shame in getting help and finding clever solutions to help remind ourselves of what works, especially on our busiest days. So, here’s my challenge to you: find two or three of your best or favorite pieces of advice from positive parenting websites or books, stick them to your bathroom mirror or your bedroom mirror, and see what you gain from it. I’ve gained a fantastic way to fill my children up with positive attention and happy hearts!

Posted in Parenting

Mommy’s Gotta Study

Math homework. Math tests. Ugh. We’ve all been there. Your child comes home with homework and questions, and you stare at the book, racking your brain trying to make heads and tails from this new way of presenting what otherwise should be a straight-forward math problem. It reminds me of the scene in the Disney movie, The Incredibles 2, where Mr. Incredible is trying to figure out his son’s 3rd grade math. “WHEN DID THEY CHANGE MATH?!?!” (The theater absolutely erupted in laughter with parents who have been there! It was great!) Yep. Brew some coffee. This going to take us a while.

So, it was with my daughter. She bombed her most recent math test. Ouch. Luckily, so did most of her class, and they got the opportunity to do a re-take of the exam because the class average was so low. Whew! (These are very bright kids at an excellent school, so that is saying something.) So, I decided we were going to take it step by step and work some each day until the day of the re-take. Well, then she developed strep throat, was really sick, and that threw my plans into the waste bin. I instantly had to go from teacher-mom to nurse-mom. Yikes, and we had only one full day after her sick day to work before the test. (Ok, don’t panic, I told myself. We can do this.)

While she was resting and fighting off her fever, and after talking through the methods with my husband, I sat myself down and worked problems over and over until I felt comfortable enough to try to teach it to her later. Yes, I sat down to study and work out 6th grade math. Ha! It’s not that I can’t do 6th grade math, but the methods used are a bit different now, and they have to use these newer methods. Sorry, kids, no more 80’s math! You have to relearn everything you were taught.

So, much later in the day, when she started to feel well enough to think about a little math, we started working. The next day (our one full day left), we literally figured the chapter out together — with a lot of rest time in between, of course — and honestly, it turned out to be fun for both of us! I genuinely got super excited when I stumbled upon how to approach a problem, and she was just as excited for me. It was all coming together for us! It was magical, and I’m not overstating it. By the end of the day, she wrote out her own test using numbers from the practice test in the book, and did it all correctly. She was proud of herself and the work we put in, and she felt ready. We had made plenty of mistakes along the way, but we got through it and learned from the mistakes. (I even got in a bit of practicing during her rest times!) This morning we touched on a few things as I was brushing her hair, and I sent her on her way full of confidence. We studied and learned together, and I found it to be a special time of bonding for us, too.