organization, Parenting

When Schedules Collide

With four growing kids, you can imagine how ridiculous our schedules can get. I struggled to try to find a way to keep everyone connected. We used Google Calendar, and I still do. But somehow we ran into some hiccups where my husband wasn’t seeing things on my calendar, a few things mysteriously disappeared…basically just chaos happened. We needed something better!

A friend of mine is a Mary & Martha Consultant. I hadn’t heard of the company until I became friends with her, but their products are awesome! As a super thoughtful gesture, she gifted me a weekly calendar notepad, similar to the one in the picture that I found on Zazzle. It has been a game-changer. I’m positive she had no idea how big of a help that was. Or maybe she actually saw that I was a hot mess and was gently trying to help. Who knows!!Either way, I will forever be buying these things because they have majorly changed things at our house!

On Sunday afternoons or evenings, my husband and I write everything from our calendars (digital calendars, school calendars, activity calendars…everything) on one of these pages. We ask the kids if there’s anything they need to put on there like due dates for projects, spelling tests, activities we didn’t know about, or anything else. Not only do we make sure everything is laid out in one place, it’s a good reminder for us as to what the week actually holds. It’s easy to look at my calendar on my phone and think I’ve got it all. But to actually have to carry it over and write it down? It cements it in my brain and makes it harder to forget. Not impossible, but harder!

When it’s all on the counter in one place, not only can we make a plan to divide and conquer if needed, but the kids see what the week holds. It is SO easy for them to see which nights are jam-packed and which nights are free. We are all on the same page and there’s no surprises. It has made all of our lives so much more streamlined! It’s such an easy thing. I’ve seen notepads like this in the past. I’m pretty sure I’ve even bought them. But I don’t think I fully understood the need for them until there were six of us going in different directions at once. Now? Now I get it!

The most brilliant part of all of this is that we’ve started using the back of the sheet as a grocery list. Whenever somebody uses the last of something, they’re SUPPOSED to write it on the list. My husband and I are good at this but the kids aren’t quite trained…yet. It’s still been super helpful though! We usually place a grocery order on Saturday nights (we are QUITE the interesting couple, I tell you!), so it’s right there in front of us, ready to be entered.

Now, we still forget things here and there, but it’s been such a practical thing that we put in place that has made a huge difference! If you’re starting to feel like a chauffeur that has no idea where they’re going, give it a try. Go back to the basics of a pencil and paper. There’s something about it that just works for us!

Parenting

Choose Your Battles

One of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever gotten came from my oldest son’s 2-year well-child visit. Our pediatrician at the time very wisely told us that soon we would start having some battles with our son as he began to strive for independence. Her exact words were, “You have to choose your battles. Don’t fight them all. But the ones you choose, you HAVE to win.” This has stuck with me through all of my years of being a parent.

It sounds simple enough, and really the idea of it IS very simple. In reality though, what it means is that you have to pre-think every situation through. When they ask for something or for permission to do something, you have to think it through completely before you give your answer. If you say “no” to playing outside before dinner, are you prepared to stand your ground? Is it important enough for you to go to battle for? If the answer is yes, then carry on. If the answer is no, then don’t say that “no” in the first place.

In that case, you aren’t actually committed to that no. It really doesn’t matter to you, it’s just more convenient if they play inside. But if they start to beg and whine, you don’t care enough to fight the battle. You will most likely give in and then reinforce the fact that fits, whining and begging will get you to change your mind. But the funny thing is, they didn’t! You just never made your mind up in the first place!

I’ve had my fair share of weak moments where I’ve given in or changed my mind, and I can tell you that it makes the next battle even harder. Don’t do it! Save your energy and patience for the battles you care enough to fight for. I’m not saying you should let your kids do whatever they want. I’m not crazy!! I still have stipulations before I say “yes” to things! Whatever reason would tempt you to say “no” in the first place becomes part of the stipulation for getting the “yes”. You want to play outside? Sure, but when I say it’s time to come in for dinner, no complaining and you pick everything up immediately. If they don’t follow those stipulations, there’s a consequence. I’m not letting them walk all over me, but they’re seeing that there’s some give-and-take, even in the yes moments.

Parenting is HARD. There are no perfect days, perfect answers, or perfect situations, no matter how hard you try. As you navigate through though, think your answers through before you give them. Be thoughtful and intentional in your parenting and mean what you say. Your kids will hear “no” less often, but it will mean more and become non-negotiable.

Parenting

We Are Blessed, But We Are Exhausted

If you are a parent, I’m sure you know the struggle that I’m talking about. You love your kids beyond measure. They amaze you, you adore them, you can’t live without them…but they exhaust you. Hopefully I’m not the worst parent in the world for feeling this way. I don’t think I am, but forgive me if I’m way off-base. With four kids, it’s ALWAYS time to feed somebody, the laundry is never-ending, we are late for everything because getting all six of us out the door quickly is impossible, and in general, there’s just a million things to do each day to keep up with six lives. We are blessed, but we are exhausted!!

We are extremely lucky to have help from family in town. Ten years ago, we actually chose to move back to our hometown that doesn’t even have a Target (after you’ve lived with Targets close-by, this is a tragedy!) so that we would be able to raise our kids with family close to them. It’s not an accident that we have help. As a side-note: It bothers me when people tell me we’re lucky to have help because they don’t have anybody. I know all circumstances are different, so it may not be a choice for everyone, but it wasn’t luck for us. It was a decision we made, with some sacrifices on our part that made this possible. Family was most important to us…over jobs, income, location, etc. Still, yes, we are so fortunate to be close to family. My kids don’t even know how lucky they are to have grandpas and grandmas in their everyday life. They don’t know any different.

With family in town that are willing to take four kids for multiple days, my husband and I are able to take weekend getaways every so often, and every other year, we take an extended trip for a week or so. It has been amazing for our relationship and marriage. It leaves us craving that next getaway, planning and dreaming about it together. This year for Valentine’s Day, my husband surprised me with a spring break quick getaway to Magnolia Market in Waco, TX. We were to leave on Wednesday and return Saturday night. He made arrangements for the kids to go to Grandpa and Grandma’s and cheap flights made it a perfect, quick getaway.

Wednesday came and in our great state of Nebraska, a blizzard occurred on the western part of the state, while the eastern part (where we are) saw warmer temperatures and rain. It doesn’t seem like that would be a problem, but that meant TONS of snow melted quickly and the rain added to the moisture. The ground was still frozen, so the water had nowhere to go. We had ice jams on the rivers and flood warnings everywhere. It’s not uncommon for this to happen, so we really didn’t think much of it. Usually there’s some flooding along the river and that’s the end of it. We worked hard to get out of town to the airport 90 miles away. It was worth the struggle to find a way out of town because we NEEDED time away! We assumed that by Saturday when we returned, things would be back to normal. We flew to Texas and visited Magnolia Market (I’ll blog about that in the near future!) the next day. There was not much on the news about the flooding (no mention of it at all, actually), so I didn’t worry much. We were carefree and enjoying time away from the kids. When I checked social media that afternoon, my mama heart dropped. It became very clear that this wasn’t flood warnings that would go away soon. People were being evacuated from our very own county, just a couple of miles from my parents’ house. Some were being rescued by helicopter as water levels were rising fast. A farmer lost his life trying to rescue somebody when the bridge washed out from under his tractor. My kids were there! I knew my parents would do everything they could to keep them safe, but all of the what-ifs were rolling through my head. I spent that evening fighting back tears as I searched for updates and information. I spent the night having terrible nightmares of my kids in a flood, then crying each time I woke up. I knew that we needed to try to get home immediately. We couldn’t get to the kids, as all ways in and out of town were under water, but I needed to be in the same state as them at least. We spent a small fortune that next morning buying last-minute direct flights home, changing car rental reservations and hotel reservations. I had looked forward to time away from my kids for a month, yet in that instant, I wanted nothing more to have them in my arms. Isn’t parenthood strange?

As we struggle through the days and sometimes feel like we’ll go crazy if bedtime doesn’t get here immediately, there is literally nothing that you wouldn’t do for the health, safety and happiness of your kids. We cut our time in Waco from three days down to one day. We spent the next two days flying and then driving 300 miles to get to the kids (220 miles more than normal), and spent triple what we planned to spend on that trip, just to make sure we could get to them. Walking in the door, it took my breath away to see my youngest run to me and yell, “MOMMY!!” and she flung her little arms around me. There’s nowhere else I would have rather been. All the sacrifices were worth it. We made it. They made it. My prayers had been answered.

Then, about an hour later, as we got home and I became a referee again, I began longing for our quiet hotel room in Texas. The room where I didn’t need to feed anybody, break up fights, remind them to pick up toys, etc. This balance of being blessed with healthy rambunctious children and yet wanting some time to yourself is so weird. How can you want two things that are complete opposites? I wouldn’t be happy without one or the other, yet you can’t have them both at the same time. The quiet reminds me to miss my kids and the noise reminds me that I miss time away. Is this normal? Is something wrong with me? I don’t know. But for now, I’m choosing to be thankful for every second I have, whether it’s appreciating them from afar or managing them from up close. Parenthood is a blessing, but man is it exhausting!

Parenting

“Don’t Stare!” (Spoken By Moms In Stores Everywhere)

Do you ever go out in public and get embarrassed because your kids stare at somebody who looks or acts differently than them? It happens to ALL of us. It can get embarrassing, but really, kids are just curious and trying to figure this world out! It’s not that they’re judging or trying to be rude. Your first reaction may be to tell them not to stare because it’s rude. When we tell them not to stare or look though, it makes them think those differences are taboo or that they should just ignore the person.

Instead of telling them not to stare, tell them to say “Hello!” It teaches them that even though that person might act and look differently than them, they’re still a person and we treat them the same as we would everyone else. It teaches them to be accepting of differences and even teaches them to engage with people who are different than them. Our world needs more of both of those things! It’s a simple change in our daily interactions with our children, but it’s one that can cause a completely different mindset as they’re figuring out this big confusing world!

Parenting

No, I really DON’T want to play…

“Mommy, can you play with me?” It’s like kids have a radar and they know exactly when you need to accomplish something. That’s when they strike and ask you to play. When my oldest was a toddler, I dropped what I was doing every time he asked and subjected myself to playing cars, trucks, trains…whatever he wanted. I. Wanted. To. Poke. My. Eyeballs. Out. Seriously, I love my kids, but I wasn’t great at pretend play when I was a kid, so doing it as a grown-up is rough. I hate it. Maybe that makes me a terrible mom. But if it does, at least I’m an honest one, I guess!

After my oldest got a bit older and started asking me to play things like Ninjago or Transformers or whatever these characters were that I knew nothing about, I couldn’t even pretend anymore. Luckily, by then, our second son was old enough that they could sort of play together. It was more like the oldest was telling the next one what to do and how to play, but they were mostly happy…for a little while. And it was then that I realized it was okay to say “no thanks” when they asked me to play. Not only were they learning independence, they were actually becoming more creative without me stifling their play with my non-creative self! I wasn’t hearing “I’m bored” by my oldest as much anymore. AND I was getting things done during the day, which made me way less stressed and better rested. That meant I was a more patient and understanding mom. It was like all of a sudden, things were falling into place!

I thought back to when I was little and realized my mom and dad rarely played with me. My friends’ parents didn’t sit and play with them all day. That’s not how it worked! Don’t get me wrong, I had wonderful parents that gave me plenty of love and attention. But they did NOT sit and entertain me all day! If I asked them to play a board game or something like that, they often would. However, it was one game and then they went back to whatever it was that they were working on. No endless rounds of CandyLand like I felt like I had to do when I was just starting this mom gig. For some reason, nowadays, moms are made to feel super guilty for not sitting down and entertaining their kids from sun-up to sun-down. You’re made to feel like that’s the way to teach and enrich them and if you don’t, they will be behind. It’s like you’re supposed to leave every single thing you have to do in a day until after bedtime and your kids should have your undivided attention. Guess what. I tried that. It’s awful! I was so tired when my oldest kids were little because I’d be bored to tears playing all day, then they’d go to bed, I’d do a million tasks and then crash before waking up and doing it all again the next day. I don’t think that’s actually supposed to be how this parenting things works, you guys.

As a teacher, I see problems with students who have no attention at home. They don’t have supervision and they sit on screens all day. I’ve blogged about that and got “Amens” from most of the teachers I know. BUT, the kids that are entertained by parents all the livelong day come with their own set of problems! These kids don’t know how to engage with teachers that aren’t sitting right in front of them talking directly to them…you often have to call their name to get their attention before speaking to the class. They don’t know how to initiate play. They often don’t have the same set of play skills that the other kids do (because theirs is more like an adult pretending to be a kid…that’s all they’ve seen). They don’t keep themselves engaged in a task because they’re used to somebody pulling them through it. They don’t know how to wait for attention, help, etc. because they’ve always had attention on-demand. They don’t know how to be bored and live through it! There are SO many skills that kids learn when they have to entertain themselves. Independence depends on it. And let me tell you, kids NEED independence when starting school!

Now before a whole bunch of people jump all over me, I am not saying you should ignore your kids. I’m not saying you should never play with them. What I am saying though, is they need to have a balance. Obviously, they will learn though play with you, so it is a wonderful time to model skills, slip in some practice with colors, shapes, counting, etc. It’s a great bonding experience (even if you’re bored to tears!) and shows them that you care about them and are interested in what they are learning. It can give you great insight as to their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, you need to play with them. But not every time they ask and not all day long. If you are working on a task and they ask, it’s okay to say “no” or “not right now”. It’s okay for them to not be able to play what they wanted. It’s okay for them to not get their way! It’s actually really very healthy. When you do play with them, set some limits for yourself. Play one or two rounds of the game, build with Legos with them for 20 minutes…but set a limit. Then go work on your to-do list. It’s good for kids to see that you have household jobs to do, that you want to sit down and read a book, that you have work to do at home. This is your reality and someday will be their reality, too. Most of all, it’s good for them to see that the world does not revolve around them. Even though they may be your entire world, once they step foot outside of your door, they’re just one piece in whatever world they are a part of (school, daycare, sports teams, etc.). It’s a hard reality to face when the world has always revolved around them. From experience, I know it is a hard reality to get them to accept without them (and their parents) thinking you’re completely against them. When bedtime comes, you’ll be less stressed and have time, patience and energy to give them. You’ll have time to be more than a stressed out mom after bedtime is over. Seriously, everybody wins!!

Life Hacks, Parenting

One Easy Trick = One Tidy House

There are times (like this very second) where my house is not the tidiest. It’s a snow day, so all four kids are home with me for the day. Toys are out and the kids are playing. But the toys are a quick and easy thing to clean up if you keep them pretty organized. You know what becomes overwhelming though? ALL of the little things that stack up and makes it seem like a daunting task to try to get your house back in order. Wiping the table. Sweeping around the table. Putting shoes away instead of leaving them by the door. Wiping the crumbs off the counter. I have one tip that will make it MUCH easier to stay on top of things and keep the tasks from stacking up.

As you’re moving throughout your house during the day, don’t leave the little things undone. I know it sounds ridiculous, and may seem like it’s not all that helpful of a hint. Hear me out though. Every time I come to a task that needs to be done, I ask myself if it’s a job that would take a minute or less. If it is, I don’t leave it undone. I’m trying HARD to instill this in my kids. My teenager gets it and his room stays incredibly neat and tidy. He never leaves his things around the house. The other three? Let’s just say it’s a work in progress!

Think about it though. You can do pretty much anything for a minute, right? Even things you hate. I am a TERRIBLE runner. Like, I pretty much want to die before I even start. But even I could run for a minute. (Don’t ask me to though. Please don’t!) A minute…60 seconds…its tolerable. If a task takes less than a minute, don’t leave it for later. Suck it up, take a minute and get it done. What are some of the jobs that might take less than a minute? Replacing the toilet paper roll, unpacking your child’s backpack, loading dishes into the dishwasher, washing the pan you used to make dinner, wiping off the table, changing a lightbulb, cleaning the bathroom mirror. They’re endless. By themselves, they’re all easy tasks, but if you let them wait, you end up with a really long to-do list full of annoying little tasks that seem really tedious. By knocking them out as you see them, you leave your house relatively neat and tidy with a few bigger jobs to be spread throughout the week. There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Spending even 20 minutes knocking out 20 little jobs seems like a drop in a bucket, doesn’t it? Your future self will thank you when she has time to sit and watch The Bachelor that night!

Parenting

Cut The Cord

Okay, not literally. I’m talking about the cord to our kids’ electronic devices…phones, iPads, tablets, etc. I don’t actually want to cut the cord completely. I love my phone and couldn’t live without it. I know my kids feel the same about their devices. Plus, the cord isn’t what actually makes it work, but you know what I mean! We need to pull away and realize the harm that they are doing to our kids. It might seem like it’s easiest to just let them play. It’s quiet, peaceful and you can get things done. I get it! I promise it’s having its impact though.

As a kindergarten teacher, I know my mom-view on use of electronics or technology has been greatly impacted by what I see in the classroom. It’s changed as I’ve seen kids come through that have had iPads or tablets in their homes since birth. People say that kids are kids and they haven’t changed, but they’re wrong. I’ve watched it happen before my very eyes and it has greatly changed the job description of a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, my kids have their fair share of screen time. On the weekends, it’s more than during the week. At Grandma’s house, it’s more (not my jurisdiction…I’m just thankful for the help!). I don’t hate technology and I know that my kids need exposure because most likely these skills will be necessary in their lives. However, screen time is something that I am fighting hard to control at home. I’ve even tightened the reins more in the past couple of months as we get to the toughest part of the school year. In the classroom, we are STRUGGLING, people. We are drowning in the results of too much time spent on electronic devices and not enough time spent socializing, learning to play, strengthening character traits…or really just kids figuring out who they are!

They come to kindergarten without really even an identity. They don’t know what they enjoy or what they dislike. The only thing they can tell us that they like to do is play video games, play on their tablet, watch TV, or something similar. These options aren’t available at school when it’s recess or play time and they don’t know what to do. They almost don’t really even know how to play with toys anymore. Often times, I see kids resorting to acting out video games when it’s play time because that’s all they know. They need somebody to teach them how to play because they’re about five years behind where some of the more well-rounded students are. Sadly, our play time during the school day has dwindled to almost nothing (this is NOT a teacher’s choice, so please don’t blame us!), so there’s not time to make up for that five year deficit.

That means that not only is the little bit of play time during the day a struggle, but their learning is majorly impacted. They are used to only paying attention to something that is continuously flashing, moving and grabbing their attention. They aren’t even used to commercials anymore, so they don’t know how to sit through and watch something they consider “boring”. When it comes time for learning, teachers make it as interesting as we can. Though even that can be difficult depending on the instructional techniques that may be mandated by their district. No matter what though, we can’t compete with the graphics and fast-pace of the video games. This is real-life, not a digital world. The kids don’t know how to learn. They don’t know how to wait for something because their electronics are brought out the second they don’t have something to do. They don’t know how to make themselves pay attention to something that isn’t immediately interesting to them. They don’t know how to keep their thoughts to themselves because they’re so used to people narrating their video game playing, thanks to YouTube. I’m positive they narrate while they play video games themselves. We struggle to even watch a PBS Kids show in the classroom without kids trying to narrate what’s happening or letting every thought pop right out of their mouths. On top of that, curriculum and more rigorous standards are being piled and piled and piled on our plates. There’s more and more each year. We. Are. Drowning.

So fix it, right?? I know that’s what you’re thinking. “Well, it’s your job now to teach them not to do all of those things, You’re the teacher!” Here’s the problem: we take five steps forward during the week and then they take two steps back on the weekend. Christmas break?? Fourteen steps backward. Summer break? Ninety steps backward. We can never get ahead. Every day that we spend re-training their little brains and habits is one step forward. Every day that parents let their kids play endless amount of video games, tablet time, watching YouTube…that’s a step backward. They’re out of school more days than they’re in school. We need help and support of parents.

I have many parents who think their child is just fine in the classroom and their teacher has no idea their kids spends so much time on Xbox, Minecraft, YouTube, etc. They’re wrong. I can tell in their social skills, their processing speed, their vocabulary, their fine motor skills, their gross motor skills…we know. Nobody’s kid is immune to this. Not yours, not mine! Electronics aren’t a bad thing. There is actually a lot of learning that can be done with them. However, my kids have to give me a plan before they can hop on. They need to tell me what they’re planning on doing and how long they think it will take. We set a timer for that long (if I’ve agreed that it’s an appropriate amount and an acceptable task!) and they do what they planned. Then when the timer goes off, they know they need to go do something else. But endless amounts of time? It’s not happening here. I love my kids too much for that!

I’ve watched amazing teachers walk away because it’s more than they can do. They go to a different school or district, hopeful that it will be different. Or they retire as early as possible because they feel like they can’t fight the battle anymore. We’re talking master, phenomenal teachers. A huge loss to the field of education. We just aren’t equipped to deal with kids coming in the masses without social skills. We don’t even have the time to do it, even if we had the training or resources because the curriculum is more rigorous than ever! I see education changing right in front of my eyes. The teachers that care enough to do a good job are struggling because they know they’re not getting the job done. The ones that don’t care whether they’re doing a good job will stay. So what does that do for our kids? Leaves them with huge social problems, harder things to learn than ever expected before AND teachers that are only there for a paycheck. I’m scared, you guys. Something has got to change. I’m begging you. Unplug your kids’ devices, at least a little.