Tag Archives: parenting

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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Every little thing is gonna be alright

Be the example

Frustration, anger, upset, exhaustion, etc. These are all emotions of motherhood. (I know, there are the good emotions, too, like love, compassion, cuddling (that’s an emotion at our house), happiness, calm, joy, peace, etc.) But this is about the messy emotions that hurt.

I let those get out of control a lot when my kids were young. I didn’t have a good grasp on what it was I needed to keep those emotions in check. Turns out, that last one I mentioned in the list above, exhaustion, was the guiding emotion. He was the Big Kahuna, the one who basically set the tone for everything else.

When sleep was elusive with babies and toddlers in the house, Exhaustion moved in and took over. And when Exhaustion is in charge, Anger, Upset and Frustration are like groupies. They follow wherever Exhaustion leads.

It can be hard, for several reasons, for a new mom to recognize this. There’s the cute new baby that everyone is in love with—and because it’s so cute and cuddly, you’re losing sleep to stay awake and watch it sleep—or you’re wondering why everyone is so in love with this bundle that eats, poops and sleeps all the time, and these thoughts are keeping you up because you’re stressed because you feel like a bad mother. Then there are the constant loads of laundry. I.Mean.Constant.

And there are the expectations that you put on yourself. (OK, the expectations start with society, but we moms internalize them and they become our expectations if we’re not careful.) And these standards are high. We ran corporations, headed up major projects, hiked across Europe and made something of ourselves. This motherhood thing should be a cinch.

Haha. It’s not.

When we were doing all those other great things in our lives before kids, we did them in a non-hormonal state, without the responsibility for the most precious thing on earth—human life.

Turns out, becoming responsible for a new human life coincides directly with enhanced hormones and sleep deprivation.

So, what to do? Don’t let Exhaustion be in charge of you. He already has his groupies. Don’t be one, too.

If you’re a first-time mom, the solution is simple—not easy, but simple. Sleep when the baby sleeps and let your partner (or, if you’re a single mom, let anyone who is willing to help you with these things) do the laundry and cook the meals. Ask for help from neighbours, friends and family. Even better, accept it when it’s offered. There is no prize for doing it all. Seriously. No prize. (This hurt when I found out.)

Your calm, peaceful attitude will rub off on your baby. The less exhausted you are, the less stressed you are, the happier your baby will be. I’m not talking perfect bouncing cherub-faced baby all the time here. I’m just saying, deep down, your baby will be calmer when faced with upsets. Be the example, even at that young age.

If you are not a first-time mom and don’t have the luxury of sleeping when the baby sleeps because you have to make sure that the toddler doesn’t dump all the Cheerios on the floor and burn the house down, put the kids to bed at a decent hour (bedtime is between 7:00 and 7:30 pm in our house), spend some quality time with your partner (I’m talking a good solid connection but for a short period of time), then go to bed early.

I didn’t do this when my kids were little because I thought I had to do it all. And I wanted to spend a lot of time with my husband because, you know, he’s an adult and adults are really cool to talk to. But now that those years are behind me—and I suffer from terrible guilt attacks from how many bad emotions I consistently displayed in front of my kids—I realize that those years were short and my children and I would have been better served by lots of sleep so that Exhaustion could not be in charge.

Silver linings

There is always something good to come out of any bad circumstance. You just have to look for it. And the silver lining to my early years with my kids was that I had ample opportunity (more than I’d like to admit) to be an example of regaining control after losing it.

I wasn’t always good at it. Sometimes Exhaustion had me in its cold, iron grip and I just couldn’t squeeze out. And when I was very upset and Exhaustion was in charge of the upset instead of me, it often spiraled out of control and ended up in the most dramatic of upsets: the upset that I couldn’t seem to keep it together no matter how hard I tried.

But there were days of calm when things would happen unexpectedly and Upset and Anger would step up to the plate and I would reign them in by sheer will and my desire to be a better person and a better mom to my kids. (Those were days that followed nights of adequate sleep.)

So when I see that my children are tired and frustrated, my example is the best lesson for them. If you let yourself get frustrated at your child’s frustration, the situation escalates. Jan Blaxall, a professor of early childhood education at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario says, “Research shows that children learn how to regulate their emotions by watching their parents.” (Source: www.todaysparent.com/toddler/toddler-behaviour/how-to-deal-with-a-frustrated-toddler/).

So what did my angry outbursts and unhelpful self-care patterns teach my children? It taught them that getting upset and freaking out was the way to go when things didn’t go their way. It taught them that cooperating and helping each other was optional depending on their mood. And it taught them that when they couldn’t keep it together, they didn’t have to try harder, they could just fall down into a balling mass of tears and screams. (Yeah, I did that sometimes. I was that exhausted and unwilling to ask for help. Lesson learned.)

And this is a vicious cycle. The more upset I got, the more upset they got. We needed some peace in our lives.

And somehow, somewhere deep down inside me, I found that place where peace exists and I dragged it up into the lives of my children. And I saw an immediate change in their behaviour as it related directly to my behaviour.

And even now, with slightly older children and no babies in the house, sleep has to be a priority. If it isn’t, we open the door and invite Exhaustion in. And his groupies follow him. And they don’t make for a very nice family life.

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.

My daughter the mover

Told Big Sister she couldn’t re-arrange the furniture. To say the least, listening is not her strongest skill.

She moved all of the toy bins from where we had them arranged under the breakfast bar over to where she wanted them near her chalkboard.

Her dad came home at the end of the day and moved them back while the kids and I were at the park.

hell hath no fury

Reflecting

I haven’t written in this space for a while. Life has taken over again.

But this I must put down in writing somewhere and I do not have my notebook with me today.

On the way to daycare drop-off this morning, my sweet little girl was in one of those moods. She grumbled and whined all the way to her babysitter’s house. She wouldn’t let go of whatever it was that was turning her beautiful smile upside down.

Normally, this would irk me. I would let it get to me and it would force my smile upside down. Which in turn would make my daughter worse and my little boy a grumpy or sad mess.

I’ve read tons of parenting magazines, books, articles, blogs, etc. Many of them give fantastic advice. Some of them are ridiculous (they’re good for a laugh, though). But one piece of advice that I have read over and over in my lifetime (and not just from parenting “experts”) is that how other people treat you is not a reflection of you, it is a reflection of them and their circumstances.

Until this morning, I never really applied that to my children. I often think of it in terms of the adults in my life. But I have always taken more of a I-control-how-my-kids-feel attitude toward the little people in my life.

But today, my little girl was grumpy and whiny and I looked up at the grey sky and thanked God for her, grump and whine and all. And my gratitude reflected back to me and I felt good. All the way to daycare.

And when I dropped them off, she gave me a wonderful kiss and a hug. And she walked happily over to her friends. Perhaps my gratitude for her shone some light into her and cheered her up.

Whatever it was, for the first time, I did not feel like her mood was my problem. People get grumpy sometimes. All we can do is stand by and be there when the sun comes out for them again.

Summertime Fun in French!

OK, OK, I know. It’s only February. But if you’re a parent—and particularly a working parent—you know that you have to start early to get your kids into the good camps for the summer.

There are a lot of points to consider when booking a summer camp.

  • Do you need full-time care for your child while you work?
  • Does the camp provide meals or will you be packing lunches everyday?
  • Is the camp in a convenient location for your drop-offs and pick-ups?
  • Will the camp be entertaining and challenging enough for your child?
  • Will the camp be too exhausting for your child?
  • Is the price reasonable?

That’s a lot to think about. And there are a lot of camps to choose from in a city the size of Toronto.

Last year, I received a flyer toward the end of the school year from my daughter’s school advertising Camp Tournesol. Knowing I’d have to find full-time care for her for the summer, I looked into it. She had gone to Parks and Rec camps in previous summers. No major complaints there. Nice counselors, close by, low price. Those camps were good for introducing her to the camp experience. But the last time she went to a city-run camp, she complained of being bored. I want to her to love her camp experiences and to look back on her summers with fondness. Like most parents, I also want her to learn and experience new things. And since she’s in French Immersion, a French camp seemed like a good idea.

Not only was it a great experience overall for her, it was also great for me. (I believe that it’s as important that a child enjoy the camp as it is that parents have a positive experience with the camp.)

The only thing that made me kind of sad was that Little Brother was going to have to wait two years before he could to Camp Tournesol with his big sister because he wasn’t in French Immersion yet. But then, this really amazing camp did something even more amazing. They added a camp program for pre-JK kids! Big Sister had so much fun and was truly challenged at camp last summer and I was truly impressed with the administration and the counselors, the only thing that could make that experience better was to be able to put Little Brother in the same camp! And now we can!

So, long story short, both my kidlets are all signed up and ready to have fun in French this summer at Camp Tournesol!

If you have kids in French Immersion and are looking for a great summer camp full of lots of fun and lots of learning, or if you know of anyone who is looking for a great camp for their kids, check out www.camptournesol.ca. You’ll be glad you did!

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Disclaimer: This post was written entirely of my own accord. The opinions above are entirely my own.

The Cityhook

My kids are past the stroller stage, but I would’ve killed to have these hooks when I was pushing a stroller around town.

cityhook-descr

They velcro onto your stroller, car seat, crib, wherever you need an extra hand (and let’s face it, what mom (or dad) doesn’t need an extra hand?) And because there’s no clip, you can easily slip bags on and off of the hook.

Since I don’t need them for extra baggage on a stroller, I have found other handy ways to use the cityhook. Since winter hit, our car floor has been covered in slush and salt from our messy boots. So, whenever we get in the car, the bottoms of my purse and my kids’ backpacks get wet and covered with muck.

We fastened one of these to the head rest of the front seat and, voilà! A hook for purses and backpacks…and no more messy bottoms!

On top of being very useful, they are moderately priced and they come in pairs. You can get them from choopie.com.

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Disclaimer: I was provided with a pair of cityhooks for review (but they have come in very handy and I love them!) I received no other compensation and the opinions above are entirely my own.