Nothing is actually better than Something

About a year ago I watched the documentary “The Minimalists”. Its all about these two friends who worked in the corporate world and, just like so many of us, lived and breathed work, money, and the general hustle. They talked about how they came to the realization that it just wasn’t bringing them joy and from there the journey to minimalism began. Obviously, it’s much more detailed and interesting but it was this documentary that spurred my year of personal growth.

Like I do, I watched the documentary and, literally, the moment it ended I was already filling bags and getting rid of ALL excess things. It clicked for me. Not only did I understand it but I knew that I needed it. One of the most significant things I’ve learned this year is how important support is. First of all, I have my husband who has always not only supported me as in “allowing” me to do things my way but if, after I explain the what and whys to him, it makes sense….he joins in on the fun (and sometimes sits back and laughs at how quickly things change around here). There is nothing better than truly having and being a partner to your partner. Beyond that, when I am interested in learning more about something and making life changes, I immerse myself in knowledge. I read the books, I watch the videos, I Listen to the podcasts, find like minded friends, and join support groups online. I rarely actually participate in these groups but knowing there are people out there more experienced than me is comforting. They provide excellent guidance to people who are taking the time to ask questions (that I get to read and learn from) and sometimes they’ll share relative articles that answer questions I didn’t even know I had. Knowing I don’t know everything about absolutely anything and constantly seeking information has opened up my world. I’ve found that people want to share their knowledge just to share it and make the world better. I am grateful for these people!

There is one question frequently asked to The Minimalists that I hear on their weekly podcasts and that is “How can you be a minimalist with kids?”. I am happy that they continued to answer this question week after week because it took months for it to really sink in for me. Basically, it’s no different than being a minimalist without kids. You go through all things and get rid of the things that don’t bring you joy or add value to your life. The trick is, though, that the “you” in that scenario is the child. It’s not ok for me to go through their things and toss out the things I don’t like (those God forsaken tiny shopkins!) if it still brings joy to them. The good thing to know, though, is that kids are smarter and more intuitive than we give them credit for. A couple times a month I’ll give the kids a bag (reusable or a box now that zero waste is a part of my journey!) and ask them to work together and put all the things away that they think they don’t care for anymore or that someone who has no toys would really appreciate more than they do now. The only rule is they have to ask each other before putting anything in the bag or else Medina will put all of Amaya’s favorite toys in the bag and vice versa. They always come back with a full bag that they’re happy to part with. On more than one occasion I’ve had to take a toy out because it held sentimental value to me. I held on to it for a bit longer then, after seeing it just sit on my dresser for a few months, I realized it doesn’t serve any real purpose so I took a picture then got rid of it when I was ready. When I was ready. Minimalism means something different to everyone. It absolutely should not feel torturous. It should feel like a weight is lifted to bring you more joy. It takes time and can be done in small steps. Over the year I’ve learned that something can seem important today and that same thing is worth donating next week. So it is a constant evaluation of the things coming into and leaving your home…..or your life. Minimalism applies to people and situations too. If it/he/she isn’t ADDING value to your life or is something/someone that brings you joy then it’s time to part with it/them.

It’s taken a full year for me to get to a point where I truly, deep down, don’t desire anything more than what I need. I didn’t think I would ever get to this point (and still have ways to go, I think). For example, My wardrobe now consists of 2 black pants, 4 tshirts, 2 hoodies, 2 nice tops, 2 long sweaters, 1 skirt, and a pair of jeans. Granted, I’m a stay at home mom so this wouldn’t work for everyone but it works for me. I wash every morning and start again. For the kids: I took them shopping and let them pick out a few of their favorite things at a good quality store. So they were a little more expensive ($8 for a tiny tshirt) but since they’re only getting a few tops for the season I want them to be good quality and something they love (think sparkles, sequins, and unicorns). Their wardrobe now consists of 8 shirts, 2 sweaters, 2 dresses, and 5 pants. They don’t like jeans so I don’t buy jeans. Even with just these clothes, they wear the same 2 shirts 90% of the time. They have no desire (and therefore no need) for anything more!

So…What’t the point?

The idea here is, especially for me, that I spend too much of my life worrying about my things (cleaning them, organizing them, buying them, etc. ) and not enough time doing the things i love and add value to my life and the lives of those around me. Also, I am an anxious person and nothing triggers my anxiety quite like a mess and when I’m anxious I have less patience, and when I have less patience this house is not as peaceful and joyful as it can be. When my to do list is short (or even non existent!) then I have all the time in the world to just sit and play with the kids. 9 out of 10 times I say no to playing (or spending time with Sameer) because of household chores that need to be done. Less stuff=less chores. Less chores=more time with my loves. More time with my loves=more joy for all of us…and who doesn’t need a little more joy in their life?

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Preschoolers: Let them (not) eat!

Every day was a struggle. Every. Single. Day. It didn’t matter what I served them or when. It didn’t matter if it was one of their “favorite” foods or not, The girls just never happily finished their food. They sat down in front of their plates three times a day with a grunt of disappointment and an hour or more or complaining, bargaining, mess making, and goofing around. I was 5 months pregnant and at my limit. I gave the girls a bowl of rice and daal (lentils), something they sometimes love and sometimes hate and, unfortunately for me, that turned out to be a hate day. Both Medina and Amaya whined as I put the bowls in front of them. I was low on patience and just turned around to take a breath. As my back turned towards them, a bowl crashed to the floor- then silence. Amaya somehow knocked her bowl off the table and all the food was spread out across the freshly mopped floor. I wanted to cry. I was literally holding back tears over the spilled food. At this point the girls, ages 2 and 3, had mostly stopped napping but I decided to end lunch and send them to bed. They weren’t happy about it but I needed a moment to think about what was happening and, quite frankly, to cry a little bit without little judging eyes watching me. I knew there had to be a better way. There had to be something I could do differently because I just couldn’t go on fighting with them every day. As it turns out- there WAS a better (and so much easier) way!

 

I sat down to do a little research and there were a lot of things I learned that day. I studied the food pyramid and realized I was feeding them too much of the wrong things and that, most days, they were probably not getting much more than grains and dairy. I learned that their bellies are small and that a full sized serving for them is TINY. So much less than I thought it was. Do you know what 1/4cup of loosely packed rice with chicken looks like? It basically looks like crumbs. However, learning about what to feed them wasn’t my biggest takeaway. My epiphany of that day was that I wasn’t respecting my children. Not only was I ignoring their feelings, I was teaching them to disregard what their bodies were telling them too! Let me explain….

 

Here are some examples mealtime conversations we would have:

 

Medina: I’m not hungry

Me: you haven’t eaten in hours, just eat your food please

 

Amaya: I don’t like this

Me: Well, I’m sorry but that’s too bad. That’s what we’re having for lunch today so you have to eat it

Amaya: *Takes a few small bites while crying*

 

Medina: I’m full

Me: there are just a few more bites on your plate, don’t waste your food

 

Amaya: I’m thirsty

Me: You can have something to drink when you eat some of your food

 

 

Typing that out made me cringe. There is so much wrong with the way we, as a society, treat our children. Like they know absolutely nothing. As though we know what they’re feeling better than they do. I stumbled upon an article while the girls were “napping” that day. It explained how we have such a broken bond with our own bodies that we don’t know how to tune in and listen to what we need to nourish it. We are actually born with the ability to know when to eat and how much. When a baby is born they literally need only drops of food. They know this. But even then, we sometimes try to get them to eat more. WHY?! Why do we do these things?? What is our obsession with not only over eating, but also OVER FEEDING?! Over the years we ignore our kids when they tell us they’re full. OR they don’t like something, or that they’re not hungry and over time they start to just ignore what they’re feeling. How sad is that? We actually teach our kids to ignore their own bodies. We are essentially breaking that bond for them. It broke my heart. Once I realized that it was my approach that was causing all this chaos in our lives, I started to think about how I could give them back their power and autonomy. I immediately implemented a few meal time changes:

 

  • Best decision EVER: I bought portion plates. They’re plates that have 5 small sections. So a typical lunch plate would be half a chicken sandwich, three raw spinach leaves, 5-6 strawberries, 4-5 raw almonds, about 2 ounces of yogurt (half of a kid’s yogurt cup). This way, they’re getting the nutrition they need from all their food groups every single day. The reason this made such a difference is that I realized just looking at a pile of one food was very overwhelming to the girls. The variety gives them the feeling of choice and when they finish the small portion size in a little section makes them feel accomplished! They eat the food in any order they like, and however gross their order might be to me sometimes, they love it! It’s especially fun if I put pudding or some other sweet in one portion and they have the choice to eat it first if they’d like to. Funny thing is, they realized all on their own that eating sweet first is no fun because it makes the food taste differently so they almost always save it for last now.
    • IMG_7134

 

  • I ask them if they’re hungry. If they say no, I don’t serve them. I want them to feel hungry and know what that feeling is.

 

  • They always have 2-3 choices to choose from. “would you like a chicken sandwich or veggie pasta” Always things I already have on deck.

 

  • They have to try at least one bite of EVERYTHING on their plate. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it but they’re not allowed to say they don’t like it if they don’t try it. This has worked SO much better than I could have ever imagined it would and has added a whole new world of foods to Medina’s list. But the key is truly being ok with them not eating it. They have to trust I won’t make them eat all of it or make them feel badly about their opinion in order for them to take the bite. My research taught me that sometimes a kid has to try the same food 10 times or more before they develop a taste for it. So as long as they take that one bite I have hope. I keep putting new things in their plates and having them take that one little taste. My biggest fear doing this was that it might teach them that it’s ok to waste food. But the truth is that they definitely waste less overall and every time they don’t want to eat it I just remind them that it isn’t nice to waste food so that they have it in mind. I trust that, in the long run, if they have a healthy relationship with food they will be less wasteful adults.

 

  • If they say they’re full. They’re full. I have no way of knowing why they don’t want to finish their food so I have to trust what they tell me. I don’t want them to ignore their sense of being full just to satisfy my need to make them eat. My response to “I’m full” before the plate is cleared is always “That’s fine, but no snacks until the next meal time” Sometimes they’re ok with no snacks so they’ll walk away and sometimes (especially if a sibling is eating a yummy snack) they’ll go back to the plate and finish it on their own!

 

  • ALWAYS provide water. They need it and are most likely not getting enough of it. I give them one kids cup full of water with their meal (more if they feel it’s spicy) and as much as they’d like whenever they’d like the rest of the day.

 

  • They have full access to healthy snacks all day. Yogurt, fruit, veggies, and nuts are available all day everyday (except when they don’t finish a meal).

 

 

We are going on 2 years of this new approach and this has been completely life changing for all of us! I no longer dread meal times and both girls try any where from 1-5 new foods every week. More than that, though, I love to see them making good food choices all on their own. I make it a point to keep a food pyramid in the kitchen so that they can point out what food groups they’re eating from and we can talk about the effects of sugar and fats and how eating has an impact on how they feel now as well as how they’ll feel in the future.

 

The concept of children and their bodily autonomy goes so much deeper than food, too. I’m still learning how to go about it just the right way but my goal is to guide my girls into trusting their feelings and intuition. As they grow into young women and make their way out into a world that likes to make women second guess themselves, it can provide them with a comfort and confidence….and that can be their super power.

It isn’t silence. It’s compassion.

On my quest to become a better, more patient, connected, and loving parent, I’ve come across many wonderful resources. I can’t remember which one it was that recently brought to my attention the importance of being silent. More specifically, being silent when the kids are hurt or having a hard time. Just being there for them. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t already doing that. I truly didn’t know how badly I needed to have that brought to my attention. So, I’ve spent the last couple weeks focusing on being silent. Just keeping my opinions and “guidance” to myself. IT WAS SO HARD! I mean, damn near impossible sometimes! It made me realize that I can be really annoying! **insert eye roll from close family friends who already know this**

Basically, the idea is that if my child is hurt, either physically or emotionally, just allowing them to come to me comfort without me judging what got them there and/or telling them how they can avoid it next time. Here are a few examples of what that looked like this past week:

Scenario 1:
Medina (5 years old) likes to sit at the edge of her chair while she eats. She just fell off the chair for the THIRD time in a week and hurt her elbow/knee/hand. She came running to me screaming and crying.

What I wanted to say (and usually would): “Shhhh, it’s ok. You’re ok. My love, if you would just sit in the center of your chair this wouldn’t happen. How many times have I asked you to sit nicely? Do you see what happens when you don’t sit nicely?”

What I actually said: Nothing. I hugged her, kissed her where it hurts, and let her walk away when she was done being comforted by me.

Let me tell you, it was hardest as she was walking away. She was walking back to her chair and, in my mind, she was just going to sit her little butt right back at the edge of that chair and eventually fall off again. I lost it a little in my mind. She was walking away and I was holding back a ridiculous number of thoughts that wanted to spew out like incoherent babble at that point just to get out of my brain. But I didn’t allow it. I took a deep breath and went back to what I was doing without addressing it as a problem that needed to be fixed.

 

Scenario 2:
Medina and Amaya (3 year old) were playing in the basement. Medina wanted a snack and came upstairs. Amaya didn’t realize Medina left and got scared. Mind you, this happens almost everyday. Amaya ran upstairs crying uncontrollably because she was scared of the noises coming from the water heater closet.

What I wanted to say: “There’s nothing to be scared of, my love. We’ve talked about this before and It was just the noises coming from the water heater.” (in a frustrated and exhausted tone of voice, of course!)

What I said: “I’m sorry you were scared.” Then I hugged her until she let go.

 

Scenario 3:
Medina was running with a snow globe we got on our trip to Turkey. She slipped, fell, and it shattered on the bathroom floor. She started crying and saying “BUT I LOVE THAT SNOW GLOBE!!”

What I wanted to say: “Well WHY were you running with something made of glass? You know better than that! I’ve told you before to play nicely with it because it can break easily. Well, that’s what happens when you’re not careful with your things.”

What I said: “I’m sorry your favorite snow globe is broken.” I hugged her until she let go. Then I asked her if she would help me clean it up by getting the things I needed to clean it so I could keep Lana (1 year old) away from the broken glass.  She did.

 

So, here is what I’ve learned so far: All I was doing, by addressing the situation right away, was kicking them while they were down. It didn’t help anything. It didn’t teach them anything because they’re not really listening while they’re so upset and it made them feel worse than they already did. I’m ashamed to admit that “correcting” them was probably just a stress reliever for me. The fact that it was sometimes ridiculously hard to keep my “corrections” to myself proved to me that I was just looking for a release. As a matter of fact, there was one time I just couldn’t control it and that’s when it really hit me. I wish I wrote down the scenario that led up to it because I can’t remember it at the moment, but the result hit me hard.

Medina was upset about something and, as I was hugging her, I went through a whole mess of thoughts and told myself I wasn’t going to say anything but even as I was thinking not to, my mouth opened and the I told you so came out. That’s when I noticed it….as soon as the words came out of my mouth, she clenched her body, and her cry got a little louder. She already knew. She didn’t need me to tell her. She needed me to hold her. I wasn’t even doing it right but she still wanted to be there with me. ONLY me. That’s the sadness of it all for me. For most of the day, they only have me to run to. I AM their comfort. So when they come to me for comfort I just turn around and make them feel worse?

Most of all, I thought about all the stupid things I do in a day and how I would feel if I had someone watching me all the time telling me that I knew better and what I could do differently next time. I thought about if that person was my husband. The first person I run to for comfort. I thought about how damaging that would be for our relationship. How unloved I would feel. Why would my children feel any different?

It’s hard, sometimes, to think of such little people as human beings with complex thoughts and feelings. It really is so simple, though, at the same time. They are me. How I like to feel, they like to feel. They only want to be loved and respected they just don’t know how to express to me what they need from me in our relationship. Deep down I already know. It’s just a matter of controlling my need to control them and make loving them and respecting them a priority.

I’m a work in progress but I am intent on progressing.

 

Positive Parenting. Who knew?

Other than memes and online articles, I don’t do a lot of reading up on parenting styles or philosophies. I have to say, though, that I really enjoyed reading Positive Parenting: An essential guide. It took a few tries to get through, not because I wasn’t interested, but because spending my day with three little balls of energy and keeping up with everything else means the moment I sit still at the end of the night- I’m asleep. But I finally, very enthusiastically, started reading it for a fourth time and finished! So, here are a couple of my thoughts/reflections on the book along with small excerpts for those of you who’d like to read the book but probably won’t get around to it. I got you.

 

1. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my new parenting style could actually be categorized as Positive Parenting!
a. It’s not completely a coincidence. As I’ve been maneuvering through this new   approach of more patience and self control, I have been following every possible Facebook page that provides me with daily reminders of who and how I’d like to be because, let’s be honest, I take a few more peeks at Facebook during the day then I’d like to admit so I may as well use it for good! Since I started following a variety of positive meme and parenting pages, Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond came up as a suggestion and I followed it too. I love this page. I have loved almost every single article that they have shared and the creator of the page is the author of this book. So, she was promoting it and it peaked my interest so I ordered it along with a few of my homeschool books. The number one reason I feel like this style best suits me is because it requires constant introspection. It focuses on being who you want your children to be and that is truly my goal. To be their role model. If I want them to be kind, then I must be kind to them. If I want them to be respectful then I must respect them.

b. Positive parenting is not to be confused with permissive parenting. This is a very important distinction. Permissive parents give in to their kids demands, however unreasonable, or allow misbehavior without proper intervention. Positive parents address the reasons behind the behavior and provide unconditional love and support but stay firm in what they expect of their little ones. For example, if my child wants a toy at the store and, after I say no (and explain why- even briefly) she throws a tantrum, I take a moment to realize that she’s having a hard time with her emotions and give her a hug and tell her I’m sorry that she’s sad about the toy….but she still doesn’t get the toy. One thing that I learned from the book is the fact that she doesn’t get the toy is enough. I don’t have to go back and talk about it and I have to refrain from lecturing her in the moment or asking her not to cry. I just have to be there for her and give her love- and stay firm on my position without rubbing it in her face and making it worse for her. That takes a lot of effort on my part. I SO want to revisit it and talk about the situation after we get home or before we go out again- but it’s unnecessary.

 

2. My top three takeaways:

a. We have to change the way we think about our children. If you really think about it, our language surrounding children is mostly negative. We talk about them like they’re these little nuisances that we have to deal with. Sometimes before a kid is anywhere near 2 years old, people start saying things like “omg they’ve already started their terrible twos” then there is “threenager” and “fearsome fours”. I’ve heard friends call their kids “a-holes” and “sh** disturbers” among other things. Why? Where did this come from? I’m guilty of this too and it really hit me like a ton of bricks to think about how it just crept in without me realizing. It’s just a regular parenting thing to do now but I hate it. I don’t want that. I adore my children and I want to give them the respect they deserve. Just like anything else, if we change our way of thinking we are able to change our approach. Excerpt: Unfortunately, the way children are viewed in our culture has caused us to relate to them poorly. We perceive attention seeking where there is only a desire to connect, clinginess where there is only a motive for love, disobedience where there is only a will to learn, and defiance where there is only a need to grow. We view them as manipulative, conniving, and selfish, and we base our interactions with them on those views.

 

b. Kids are not manipulative. Duh, right? But again, think about it. We have these amazing tiny beings who we love and cuddle and care for but very early on, from one day to the next, we are convinced that they are manipulating us into doing things for them. We are told not to rock them to sleep or hold them when they cry. We are conditioned to see their instinctual behaviors as a way for them to control our lives and we do all that we can to stop it before it begins. That’s INSANE! Again, I couldn’t even believe that I fell for this. My poor first born came into this world fighting all my preconceived notions. My poor baby probably didn’t feel loved in the way I wanted her to feel loved because I was trying to control her emotions for her. It isn’t something I enjoy thinking about but it’s important that I do…which brings me to final takeaway….

 

c. In order to be good parents we need to heal our pasts. It’s extremely important that we understand our own (and our spouse’s) feelings and reactions and how deeply they are rooted in us. This book provides discussion questions at the end of each chapter that I really appreciated. Full disclosure: My husband and I didn’t do them together like we were supposed to but we have been together a while and have had more than many parenting discussion so there were no questions I felt we hadn’t already discussed to some degree. Nonetheless, I do still plan on going back and touching base with them at some point in the near future because things can change.

Sample questions:
   1) Do you feel the pressure for your children to behave like adults, especially in public? Does their childish behavior embarrass you? Is it their behavior or your expectation that is really the problem?
2) How do you speak about your children to others in front of them? Are your words uplifting or crushing?
3) Will you commit to looking for and pointing out the goodness of those you love?

What Positive Parenting comes down to is, taa- daa, the positivity. We have to think of our children in a positive light. We need to surround ourselves with positive people who will encourage and support us with positivity. We need to flip our negative language into positive language. Life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies and we all know that there are times on our low days that we’d like to just throw our hands up to the heavens and give up- but we can’t. So we may as well try our hardest! We may as well take it one day at a time and muster up all the positive energy we have to create, through practice and consistency, a truly positive being within us for the sake of our little ones. It probably won’t happen in one day and there will DEFINITELY be setbacks. But if every morning we wake up with intention of just one day of positivity, one day will turn to many days before we know it. Many days will turn to a year and a year will then turn into their childhood….and isn’t that what we really want?