Tag Archives: family

Life’s Routine or My Routine?

Ah, routine. It happens. Sometimes it’s a routine that we fall into and it works, so we run with it. Sometimes it’s a routine that we try to set up and it doesn’t work, so we scrap it.

Either way, routine happens.

Take, for example, our current morning routine. I get up before the kids, do what I need to do, then I wake them up. I always allow time for snuggles before they get out of bed (and if I’m lucky and one of them has snuck into bed with the other at some point through the night, I can snuggle both of them at the same time and make sure that no one is left out or that one doesn’t get more time than the other). They are close enough in age that their sleep requirements are about the same and they go to bed within a half hour of each other and wake up around the same time together. This simplifies things. It wasn’t part of the plan, but it has worked out nicely and I’ll take it with a giant dollop of gratitude.

Then we all head to the kitchen for breakfast. After breakfast, we tidy up the kitchen and head back upstairs to get dressed and ready for school. This can sometimes take half an hour. There will inevitably be fights over who gets to use the bathroom first, how much time there is for play before getting dressed, whether or not we’re walking or driving to the bus stop, etc. But generally, if I plan right and allow enough time for them to move themselves through their morning routine, they manage themselves fairly well. (And isn’t it all about teaching them those executive function skills so that they can manage themselves and won’t always expect me to do it for them?)

Our morning routine is something that just kind of happened. Obviously, I had to originally do some planning to get them up and out the door for school (and in my current, somewhat disabled state, the help of my parents is mostly what gets us through our morning routine), but this is the routine that we have fallen into and the one that works (right now):

  1. Mom gets up first and completes basic morning prep (mostly sitting for five minutes in a mindful state, splashing cold water on face to wake up, brushing hair, getting dressed)
  2. Wake kids up and have a morning snuggle (this reconnects us after a night apart in our own beds)
  3. Head down for breakfast, eat and tidy up together
  4. Head back upstairs to dress and get ready for school
  5. Head back downstairs to pack lunches and school bags
  6. Head out the door

The thing about routine, though, is that sometimes it needs to change. I had to let go of our old way of doing things when I realized (after way too long) that it wasn’t working for us.

I used to get up at the same time as the kids and insist that they get dressed before they ate breakfast. After breakfast, I would send them upstairs to brush their teeth and wash up while I packed lunches and school bags. That turned out to be a stressful routine for us. I was constantly yelling up the stairs for them to hurry up. They weren’t taking responsibility for their school bags (and really, they are the best ones for that because how do I know what books are supposed to go back to school and which ones can stay home on any given day?) So I let go.

And we floated for a bit, without a routine. It was a bit chaotic, and my condition and the extra adult or two in the house were also contributing factors to the floating, but the extra help made it easy to float and to slowly, intentionally drift toward another routine that could work.

We ended up landing in a nice, comfortable routine that is working…for now. It’s comfortable, safe and works well for everyone.

I remember when Little Brother was about five months old. I caught him napping in his baby rocking chair a few mornings in a row at around the same time each day. I remember being surprised that he seemed to dose off at precisely 10am morning after morning and wondered how I could have missed this napping routine that he had created for himself. So I started taking him out of his chair just before 10am and putting him in his crib in his bedroom. And sure enough, he’d fall asleep in his crib at precisely 10am and he would sleep until about 11:30am every morning.

Of course, that napping routine didn’t last forever (and I was very sad when he gave up his morning nap), but it was a routine that we enjoyed for many months and was one that I didn’t force or try to create to suit me. It just worked.

And that’s the point, I think, with routines. Routines are necessary, especially for children. They create a sense of knowing what’s coming next. But in order for them to be effective, they have to be kind of natural. Forcing a routine has never worked in our house. All it has done is forced me to re-evaluate the reason and need for that particular routine.

So now, we let routines show themselves and then we intentionally and lovingly slip into them until they no longer fit. We’re trying hard not to hang onto old routines once they are worn out and no longer useful and we are all happier because of it.

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On Struggling

There has been a lot of struggling at our house lately. I’m struggling with recovery from surgery, lack of contact with others, exhaustion, feeling like I’m not in control, feeling left out. Big Sister is struggling with math and, well, math. Little Brother is struggling with being at a new school and learning new rules. Husband, well, I’m not positive what he’s struggling with. He’s the strong, silent type. Maybe he’s struggling with lack of sleep because he’s the one the kids go to while I’m in surgery recovery mode.

It has been about seven weeks since my surgery. I’ve had six different casts, five trips to the hospital for surgery follow-up and foot repositioning, and 52 days of a life that doesn’t look much like the one I’m used to. But I’m told that I have excellent coping skills and I think I’ve adapted pretty well to this new (and hopefully temporary) version of my life. Knowing all that (and reminding myself of it constantly) still doesn’t make the hard days any easier.

It’s very easy to slip into blame mode when the rest of my family struggles. It’s all the fault of my foot. I am up and about and thankfully not confined to bed (anymore), but it’s surprisingly hard to help a struggling child when you can’t get up off a chair and walk over to them, put your arms around them and comfort them. How do you convince a child to come to you for a hug when all they want to do is run away? Words have been used in ways that I used to use gestures and physical contact, but sometimes the words are not as effective. And patience has been practiced more in this house in the last 52 days. A silver lining, I suppose.

From struggles come lessons.

I’ve been reading a book lately called School Struggles, by Dr. Richard Selznick. It’s a guide to helping your child break through the shut-down learner mentality and achieving success in school. It has helped me immensely to understand Big Sister’s struggles with math. I’m not great yet at applying the lessons learned from the book, but Dr. Selznick’s message has given me different approaches for helping her.

A growth mindset

See that little word up there? That little “yet”? That’s my new favourite word. I read an article somewhere recently about how this mom was using “yet” at the end of every negative phrase that she heard her children utter. So she hears her son yell from amongst a pile of LEGO in the living room, “I can’t build this LEGO spaceship!” She recognizes the frustration in his voice, but she’s busy making supper and can’t rush to his aid (nor should she, because what will he learn if she does?). So she yells back, “Yet!” She’s been doing this whenever an “I can’t” phrase is said in her house and she’s turning it around.

I’ve started doing it, too. And when helping Big Sister with her nightly math struggle homework, and she screams says, “I can’t do this!” I follow up with “yet”. It’s a tiny thing, a tiny little word, but I think it’s working. It’s putting the idea in her head that almost everything is a struggle and you just have to persevere. A little hard work, some help from an understanding (and calm) adult, and she can do it.

Some math issues are bigger than we can handle together, though, and that’s where Dr. Selznick’s book has been particularly helpful. Though written for and about the American education system, many of the principles apply to Canadian education and it has encouraged me to seek help for Big Sister even though she’s not struggling enough by the school’s standards to qualify for special help.

I’ve always wanted to be the help that gets my kids through, but after so much time spent in hellish battles with red-eyed, purple-winged, hairy number and equation demons frustrating-for-everyone-including-Little-Brother homework sessions, I recognize that it is time to seek outside help.

cat_math_problem

I struggle with this. I want to be the one with her when she has that Aha! moment. I want to help her break through this shut-down learner mentality and realize how wonderful learning is, whether it’s learning about math or words or science or emotions. But my own struggles have taught me that I am too close to her math struggles to be honestly helpful.

I seem to have spent a great deal of time on how Big Sister’s and my struggles have intertwined here of late. Little Brother is also struggling. He’s at a new school (Big Sister’s school, finally!) and he has to make new friends and learn new classroom rules (because every teacher does it differently). For the most part, he has adjusted nicely. He’s learning a new language this year, too. He comes home each day singing the new songs he has learned in French. (If there’s a way to get this kid to learn, it’s through music. And really, who can blame him for choosing that route to knowledge?) But his struggle is with rules. He wants to build and experiment and figure things out. And, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of time for that in classrooms today. The big focus in class from what I can tell is on literacy—letter recognition, reading and writing. He has a great teacher who does allow for more “figuring things out” time, but this is what he wants to spend his whole day doing, and the materials he wants to use are locked in a cupboard for when the teacher can supervise their use.

Getting used to the rules

It will take some adjustment, and there will be days when school will seem unbearable to Little Brother because it’s not how he wants his day to go. But he will struggle through it, and from the struggle he will learn the lesson that we can’t always have things the way we want them. Sometimes we have to conform and follow the rules of the class lest there be chaos. (But really, what’s wrong with a little chaos every now and then? It helps stretch the soul.) I struggle with his sadness that school isn’t fantastic for him. I struggle with wanting to pull him out and show him the world from home in a safe and free-flowing learning environment. This is my biggest struggle.

I can cope with the surgery recovery. I can manage the physical pain. I can adapt to new limitations and new-found abilities that come from limitations. But my biggest struggle is watching my kids slowly shut down because school is taking all the joy out of their learning.

And for now, I will continue to struggle.

2 kids being helpful

Because Helping Should Come Naturally

Before I had surgery that took me off my feet, I wondered sometimes how my kids would survive in the world. It was evident that they were capable of doing many things, but do those things they did not.

I’ll jump in and take almost full responsibility here.

To move things along in the morning (and in the evening, and throughout the day), I made their breakfast, packed their lunches, packed their school bags, practically dressed them, guided them through with repeated instruction the process of brushing their teeth, washing their faces, and going to the bathroom.

I would talk to my husband constantly about how capable the kids were but how they just wouldn’t do it themselves.

And then there were those golden times when I had some miraculously unending stream of patience and a bright and cheery disposition to go along with it. I would step back and watch my kids blossom into their permitted independence.

Then life would take over and we’d be back to me following them around and hounding reminding them about getting ready for school, their chores, picking up after themselves, helping out around the house, etc.

But all that had to change. And we were facing a deadline for that change: My late summer surgery date.

Having that deadline changed things for me. I wasn’t going to be able to do half of what I usually could for myself, let alone for my kids. So, I needed to figure it out. And the impending surgery gave my kids something to shoot for.

So we began summer training. I did my best to keep my comments to myself when I saw one of my kids doing something their way instead of mine. And I made sure to build in lots of time for everything I was asking them to do. That way, there was less chance that I would get frustrated with their slower pace because time was not bearing down on us.

I created space for my kids to grow their independence; like planting a seed, watering it and watching it develop into a beautiful flower.

And they grew. They did chores, they got themselves ready, they prepared basic meals. (Cereal and sandwiches, mostly.) By the end of the summer, we had reached what I had hoped for most but had not dared to set as an achievable goal: my kids recognized when help was needed and they stepped in to provide that help.

Of course you want your kids to help and to be able to take care of themselves doing age-appropriate chores and tasks, but I think, ultimately, you want them to learn more from doing chores than just how to do the chores. You want them to recognize and anticipate needs and to do their best to help fulfill those needs.

I’ve been off my feet now for six weeks. Though sometimes my kids still fight me on getting dressed in the morning or getting ready for bed at night (hey, let’s not hold our kids to impossible standards; even adults don’t always want to do chores), in that summer of training with a patient mother (even when she didn’t want to be), they learned how to help with anything. And they learned that they mattered because their abilities were valued.

Sometimes we still slip, though, so tell me, how do you get your kids to take responsibility and help around the house?

two kids by a pond

A river in the city – some Time for Nature

Originally published August 27, 2012

My family and I live in a city. You might be picturing a concrete jungle without much opportunity to connect with nature. Yet our neighbourhood is teeming with nature and my kids love it.

We live not far from the Humber River and spend many a lazy day sauntering along the path enjoying what nature has to offer. We have met deer, frogs, snakes, geese (always geese), chipmunks and squirrels. I think we may have even spooked a beaver by accident once.

On a particularly beautiful day, we went to a local park to do some climbing, sliding and swinging. At the edge of this park there is a path that leads down to the Humber River. Thinking our kids would rather play at the playground, we settled on a park bench to enjoy the sun and to watch them play. Continue reading

caterpillar changes to a butterfly

Change is good, right?

What if your whole life has been stable and then change happens? Because it does that, you know. It happens. It doesn’t matter if you lived in the same house, went to the same schools, and had the same friends since you were born. Eventually you move out, whether it’s to pursue your education or a career, or just to spread your wings out on your own. Without hesitation, change happens.

You can either be ready for it, and meet it at the door when it comes knocking, or you can cower in the farthest room of the house and hope that it doesn’t notice you curled up in that dark closet.

And, if you’re a parent, how you handle change will be the guide for your children.

In my young years, there was not a lot of change that came from my parents. We were a pretty stable family, doing the same thing day in and day out. That was a good thing for the most part. Outside of my home life, things got changed up a bit. And as I got older, I created change in my own life. But without guidance, it was all very terrifying.

When I was 9, I was devastated when my best friend moved to Vancouver. I thought my life was over. She was gone. I cried for what seemed like weeks, but was probably only a few days.

After graduating from high school, I didn’t go away to school because the thought of leaving home terrified me. I never once considered the benefits, the fun, the new experiences that going away would provide. So, I stayed at home and went to school locally. When I finished school, I felt a little more like spreading my wings. All my friends had their own apartments and I was still living with my parents. I may not have been happy about the change of scenery, but I disliked being mocked by my friends because I still lived with my mom and dad. So, I got my own place.

I remember visiting my parents one night after I moved out. I went into my old room and lay down on the bed, wondering why I had left, wishing I could turn back the clock.

Now that I’m older and have experienced countless changes in my life, I look back on it all and realize that all of it was good. There were some painful-in-the-moment emotions related to changes, but they soon settled themselves and the change became the new normal until the next change.

And with kids, there is so much change. The first year at home with a baby was life changing, the next two years with a toddler in daycare and all the scheduling and changing and reorganizing that went along with that—that was another big adjustment. Then the second baby and the absence from work again, home with two kids, then school for the first one and daycare for the second one and back to work for me. Then a different daycare in a different neighbourhood, a different school for a different program, a second job for me, contract changes for my husband, and so on and so on. And it keeps changing. Every day, every week, every year is different. And each time I have faced these changes, I have been terrified for about a split second (in the grand scheme of things), then I remind myself that this is not the first time I have had life turn upside down on me and I’ve gotten through it with barely a scratch. And this won’t be the last time.

Change is good, right?

bench in a filed

Getting Some Distance

There was a time when I was involved in everything that peaked my interest (and everything that I thought I should be involved in as a mother of school-aged children).

I was on several committees at church, on the parent council at my daughter’s school, on the parent involvement committee for the school district, volunteering with the heritage society in my community, and basically burning out faster than I could stay lit.

All this was to grow I told myself. To expand my horizons, meet new people, get involved and help out. And it was invigorating and exciting for a time.

But the more I got involved, the more I felt I had to be involved.

And the joy went out of the volunteering. I already had a full-time job. And now the volunteer commitments were adding up to another full-time job. My family was not getting my focus. I was rushing from one thing to another. My kids were cranky and reacting to the rushed pace of my schedule. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was cranky, too. I worked late into the night on projects for the various committees on which I sat. Then I went to bed and tossed and turned for hours, going over in my head other things that still needed to get done.

I was also trying to manage a chronic pain issue. I could ignore it mostly. But some days it was so bad that I didn’t want to get out of bed. My husband encouraged me to revisit a specialist I had seen years ago to see if there were any treatment options that might alleviate some (or all) of the pain. Of course, with my busy schedule and “I can do it all” attitude, I put off going to the specialist.

Eventually I caved, or my body gave up and I didn’t have a choice. I don’t really remember what the final straw was.

But after several visits to the specialist, it was determined that something could be done for me, and the surgery that was offered might alleviate most of the pain for a good period of time. (I’m talking years here. I could be relatively pain free for years to come following this surgery.)

In those consultations with the surgeon, I was told what to expect in terms of recovery (very long) and he offered some advice about how to prepare for the time that I would be mostly reliant on others for basic things like meals, help getting dressed, moving around, and other things that I’m still discovering that I can’t do on my own.

His advice was to slow down. Remove myself from some if not all of my commitments. Do only what I have to do (which is work full time).

And so, about 11 months before I had a firm surgery date, I started to cut back. I stepped down from committees. I said no to other, new opportunities. I spent more time just hanging out with my kids instead of shuttling them around to activities, camps and school. I kept them home and did simple activities with them, played games, read books…all the things that I had always wished I’d had time for.

And now that I’ve done that, I’m more focused on what’s truly important.

As much as I’ve enjoyed volunteering and helping at church and my children’s school, my children need me at home. And I need more time to myself. This is what I’ve discovered.

And this discovery has led to another discovery.

My children need more time for the things that they enjoy, the things that spark their interests, things they wish to pursue.

And school and our busy life is not the place for that. I have thought long and hard on this for quite some time. It’s not just about me giving up commitments to scale back and spend more time with my littles. Space needs to be created for my littles, too. What does that look like?

Fewer organized activities; fewer commitments outside of the home; fewer big plans to occupy our time on the weekends, the only two full days we get together each week. More time with family. More time moving slowly, truly absorbing what we’re learning. More time meditating. More time in nature.

Distance from over-commitment has improved my perspective on the need for space to grow and to learn. If there is space, there is room to be together, to learn together, to grow together. This new view is why we are looking for ways to make the simple life our life. It is why we are not enrolling our kids in so many activities this session. (It is also because I cannot drive and it’s easy to be simple and distanced when you can’t get around on your own and create your own busy-ness.) And it is why we are going to bed earlier, spending more time reading and less time looking at screens. It is why we are considering making some big changes along with the little changes.

Distance from it all seems to be just what we need. And with faith and courage, we will follow this new path.

Division in School

Why is that when I write a blog post in my head, it all comes so easily and flows so perfectly together? Yet, when I sit down to put it on paper/screen, I stare blankly for what seems like interminable minutes, wondering why it was that I thought I had anything to say in the first place?

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s get on with the writing.

I dropped my son off at school today, like every day. And as I was standing in the hallway chatting with the other parents and encouraging my son to change into his shoes and put his lunch bag in the appropriate bin, a woman, looking to be past retirement age and wearing a tag that identified her as a supply teacher, said in a know-it-all tone to one of the mothers, “OK, Mom, time to go. He can put his own shoes on. We must leave them alone to do it or they’ll never learn.”

I glanced over at the mother, who, very calmly and in a kind voice said, “Yes, he is doing it himself.” After her statement, she remained firmly rooted to her spot. She knew her place and her role, and that was to support her son.

I’ll mention at this point that these children are not grade-school age. They are kindergarteners; kindergarteners who are capable of putting on their own shoes and dressing and undressing themselves, but still young and still needing support, even if that support is simply mom or dad or another trusted adult standing by in case they need help.

It’s very likely that this elderly supply teacher, who has probably come in from her retirement to help out (with this I have my own set of issues, but that’s for another post), wasn’t going to bend over and help this young boy had he run into trouble with his shoelaces. I’m perhaps reaching, I know. She may have helped him. But I have good reason to believe that she would have more likely stood over him and instructed him on the task rather than get down at his level and do the work of a supporting adult in a child’s learning. I’ve encountered similar scenarios so many times in the school system that my children are part of that I’ve lost count.

And beyond her actions, the problem with what that supply teacher said, though she may have meant it only to be helpful, is that it creates a separation between family and school. Where we should be building and developing a close working relationship between parents and teachers to support our children, we are creating division. The teachers—supply or everyday—need things to work a certain way at school in order to manage the herd. The parents can take more time to support their children. Why not blend those two methods together? We would create a vastly different system in which our children are currently being educated. Continue to create division and we fall short of the goal—raising and educating well-rounded children. Instead, we turn out kids who have learned how to be assembly line workers, following the herd and doing what they are told. True, the odd one escapes this mentality. Those are usually the ones who just can’t conform, never fit into the system and, eventually, with strength, courage and support, beat their own path. Or if strength, courage and support are lacking, they fall off the cliff and get lost at the bottom.

So, rather than rush a parent out the school door in the morning, why not welcome them into the hallway of little kids who need help, support and encouragement to peel away the layers of heavy winter clothing? The kids may not come right out and thank you for it, but they’ll remember the help they got, the warm feeling it gave them, and it will help them through the day when they face other challenges, knowing that adults do care and will not always just stand over them barking instructions that might be hard for them to follow.