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

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!

organization, Parenting

Toys, Toys Everywhere

If you aren’t careful, toys can take over your life. I mean that in the most literal sense possible. It’s never more obvious than after Christmas when you have multiple kids with a lot of people that love them! So. Many. Toys. All over the place and it’s overwhelming to keep up with keeping them picked up and put away. Why?? Well, because they’re new and they don’t have a “home”!

When your kids get new toys, you need to take time with them to figure out where they go. Where do they want to keep them? They need to find a home for each and every toy. It needs to be a place that makes sense to them so that they can easily remember where it is. I know it seems like a tooooooon of work, especially when there’s a bunch of new toys from Christmas or birthdays. But honestly, it’s no more work than having to pick that same toy up every single day! If you have an overabundance of toys, have your kids pick their favorite ones and give them the most prominent “homes”. In our house, this means spots in their bedrooms. Everything else either goes into the playroom or the basement (which honestly is the last stop before being donated!!). If it’s going in the playroom, it goes into a categorized bin (cars & trucks, dolls, puzzles, games, etc.). Usually it gets forgotten about and can be purged later. But every once in awhile, they’ll head in there and play with something that wasn’t originally given prime real estate. Then we know it’s more valued and probably needs to find a new home in their room.

I find that by declaring “homes” for new toys, they tend to actually get played with more because they aren’t ending up in a pile somewhere, shoved in their closet or under the bed (their favorite place to put things when they don’t know where to put them…). If things are out of place or the messiness is starting to take over, which I seriously can’t handle, all I have to do is ask them to put things in their place and they know just what to do. You don’t have to lift a finger! It’s like magic!

Parenting, Uncategorized

Easier Bedtimes

How is bedtime with kids at your house? Stressful? Chaotic? I get it. With four kids, I’ve had those nights. Or would you say, “It’s fine!”? But is it REALLY fine? Do you secretly dread it? Let’s make it better than fine! When I first became a mom, a good friend that I totally looked up to gave me a bedtime tip that has stuck with us through four children and 13 years (and counting!). It works and makes bedtime run pretty smoothly around here!

It seems like it would be pretty natural for kids to fight bedtime. You can’t even blame them! Most kids will tell you they hate sleeping. Give them ten years and they’ll change their mind. But how do we survive until they get to that point? The answer is stories. Yep, bedtime stories. You probably already read to your kids at night, so why not use the stories to drive compliant behavior?

See, in our house, bedtime stories aren’t a right. They’re a privilege. They are earned. How are they earned? Through compliance at bedtime. Brilliant, right?!? This is how it works. Each child has the opportunity to choose three stories for bedtime. When they’re really little, they might get to choose these before the getting-ready-for-bed routine begins. Grab a basket and call it their “Book Basket” (or something more clever than that!). That makes it a bit more concrete for them. As they get older it’s just a number we keep track of until it’s actually time to pick out stories and read. Once you start the process of getting ready for bed, any non-compliance like whining, saying “no”, refusing to open their mouth to brush teeth, running away from their bedroom (Just hypothetical examples there. I’m sure none of us have these things happen.) result in a book being taken away. If they have their book basket, they have to go pull one out and put it back on the shelf. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They can not earn these back. If all three books are lost before they crawl into bed, there are no stories that evening. When that happens (and it WILL, especially in the beginning), I tuck them in, give them a hug and kiss, tell them I love them and that we’ll try again tomorrow. That’s it.

It seems simple, maybe too simple to work. But I promise, if you stick to your guns, even if you feel like you’re being harsh, the behaviors will change. Not only that, but they will look at books and reading as a reward and a positive thing. It will help create a sense of love for literature, give you a positive bonding activity, while majorly boosting their vocabulary. This is only going to help them down the road! And those nights when you read three stories? You might groan inside about how long it takes, especially if multiple kids are still on this system. We had three at once, so that was nine stories tackled between the two of us…ugh! But think about how much time and energy you saved by having compliant kids getting ready for bed. Trust me, a few extra minutes of reading each night is totally worth it!