Falling Off My High Unschooling Horse

Even before I was even pregnant with my first, Medina, I found out that a family member homeschooled and started asking questions at a party. “So what curriculum do you use and how do you plan your days?” her response was “We unschool, so we mostly just follow his lead” I was confused. UN-school? Never heard of it. Sounds stupid. As open minded as I was (sarcasm, folks) the conversation didn’t last very long. I didn’t think much of it afterwards since the thought of homeschooling wasn’t even on my radar at the time and she lived out of state so I didn’t see them often.

Fast forward a few years and life lessons later, Medina was turning 5 and I was going to have to sign her up for kindergarten but…It didn’t feel right. She didn’t want to go and I didn’t want to send her. It wasn’t just because I didn’t want to let go. It really didn’t feel like the right thing to do and I didn’t know why. We had moved to a neighborhood with a great elementary school. I took the time, toured the school and even liked it. But it still didn’t feel right. They had to have key cards to get into the school building then also for every room inside, including the gym. When I went, there were teachers standing in front of the locked cafeteria where I assume the kids were eating. The school was clean, quiet, and well decorated. The teachers had smiles on their faces but…something still didn’t feel right. So began my research. I stayed up late into the night reading google results for “should I homeschool my kids?”. Then, In the weeks that followed, homeschoolers suddenly seemed to be everywhere! A friend of mine decided to pull her son out of public school to homeschool and, completely by chance, I met a homeschooling family in my neighborhood…who then introduced me to their amazing homeschooling friends. Amidst all of that, It became clear to me that it was worth giving a shot. I thought Medina was still young and, if it didn’t work out, I could always send her to public school the following year.

My husband, Sameer, is always super supportive of my many endeavors. He will sometimes need a moment for it to sink in and to be able to adjust but he didn’t even need that this time. He asked me if I had thought about the commitment it would need from me and how that would effect our day to day lives- which I had- so he was fully on board with the idea. Then we put a movie on….and I couldn’t tell you which one because I didn’t watch a single moment of it. Instead, I spent the entire time researching curriculums and supplemental programs.

We began homeschooling the following Monday!

This is the thing, though, I had made a rigid schedule for all of us. There was little room for error. It worked ok at first but life happens, and it happened HARD when baby Lana started keeping me up all night and wanting to be attached to me all day. The house suffered, schooling suffered (so I thought at the time), our meals suffered, and – most of all- my sanity suffered. I felt like I was failing everybody and everything.

I had a meltdown…or two…or more…..until I realized that I just had to restructure our days. I started with what was important to me and what I wanted to accomplish with home based schooling:

  1. Help them develop a true love for learning
  2. A well rounded curriculum including life skills
  3. Encourage a love and appreciation for nature and all living things
  4. Nurture independent thought, creativity, and self awareness/confidence
  5. Encourage natural curiosity, open mindedness, kindness, and acceptance
  6. Travel. Placing value in people and experiences over things
  7. Autonomy. Guiding them into keeping control of their bodies, thoughts, and experiences

Once I had these thoughts at the forefront of my mind, I went back and narrowed down the “homeschooling styles” that might suit me. Turns out it’s Unschooling! I just didn’t understand what it was before. You hear “child-led learning” and you think ” unstructured play”. When that’s not the case at all! I mean, play is included but here is what a real life unschooling unit looks like-

Medina on Sunday: “Who was Martin Luther King?”

Monday: Go to the library and get all the books we can find on MLK. Read about MLK. Print out a lesson on what it means to be a good citizen and draw pictures of what being a good citizen looks like. Color a picture of MLK and write his name.

Tuesday: Watch a movie on MLK’s life while painting a picture of a bus and talk about what a boycott means and why they are important. The kids cook their own meals on Tuesdays, fold their own clothes.

Wednesday: map out all of the locations for MLK’s major protests and speeches and discuss each one. Visit MLK’s birth home. While we are out, we discuss what his significance is and how the world would be different without him. At the home, they are encouraged to talk to the adults in charge and ask questions and explore independently (within reason).

Thursday: Read aloud together. Color pictures and put together presentation board.

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Friday: Rehearse presentation on MLK to teach the family. (Presentation is then rehearsed daily until they feel ready to present to a small group)

They work on their math, reading, and science books every day on their own time. They have access to my phone or computer for educational games and videos for an hour a day and they have full access to all their art supplies. They are always enrolled in 1-3 classes/sports outside of the home with other children. We go outside every day. They help with chores around the house every day. They help me budget and understand, at a reasonable level, what it means for money to be earned and spent. We live life together everyday and I make sure to make the time to explain everything as we go.

THAT is unschooling. It wasn’t easy to get here and when people ask me about what to expect when transitioning to homeschool I like to tell them that it takes a full year to really figure out, through trial and error, what will work best for their family…and things continue to evolve over time. For some people the first year is a complete wash. But there is plenty…PLENTY of time to catch up when you’re working on your own time so it’s nothing to worry about.

If you’re wondering about what happened with my homeschooling family member, I saw her again last year and we had the BEST time talking about unschooling and I was able to get some pretty awesome ideas from her and an uplifting sense of comfort meeting her kind, intelligent little ones.

Funny part is, not only was this not an option for me 4 years ago, I thought it was ridiculous. Things change. People change. Opportunities change. we just have to open up our hearts and Seize them.

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All aboard the zero waste train!

I can’t remember when it was, exactly, that I was introduced to the effects of global warming on Polar bears. It wasn’t until I learned about this that I started to care about climate change. I don’t think it had as much to do with the Polar bears, themselves, as much as it changed an abstract thought into a concrete fact. It suddenly became clear that what I do every day has an impact on the rest of the world. Because of my anxiety, I have quite literally thought about the Polar bears every single day ever since. When I leave the water running, I see the image of an emaciated bear. Same when I see trees being cut down or when we go on long car trips. It’s just who I am and how my mind works. The Polar Bear has become my symbol of change. However, through all these years I didn’t actually make any significant changes. More images of animals suffering and whales’ stomachs exploding with plastic haunted me but there was so much I needed to do that it became overwhelming and so I didn’t do anything at all. All it took was meeting some like minded friends a couple years ago and maybe one conversation to get the ball rolling and, boy, is it rolling now!

In honor of Earth day I put together a list of the first 15 zero waste changes we made that didn’t break the bank or drastically change our lifestyle but have made a significant difference to the waste we produce in our home. I’m not saying these are absolutely the first things everyone should do but it worked for us and I want to share in case someone is stuck in the same predicament and doesn’t know where to begin….

1. Reusable shopping bags

Have enough to realistically carry all your items and keep some in the car at all times for impromptu shopping.

2. Homemade liquid hand soap

Purchasing these every other week became a huge waste. Homemade is Easy, lasts a long time, works better than store bought, and cheaper. I buy Dr. Bronners pure castille bar soap with Lavender (in paper packaging). Using a cheese grater, grate 8oz- which is about a bar and a half- into a bowl. Meanwhile, bring a gallon of distilled water to a boil (The only way to get distilled water around here   is in plastic gallons so I just boil filtered water and it works fine for us but the recipe calls for distilled to be safe). Pour the boiling water onto the grated soap and mix with a whisk until there are no more chunks and the mixture is translucent. Then just let it sit for 12-15 hours mixing once or twice in the first 5 hours. It will look watery at first but suddenly at 12 hours it’s a solid jelly-like consistency. Use a hand mixer to make it smooth and break up the chunks of jelly then pour into dispensers/storage containers (we use mason jars). You’ll have to leave a little space at the top of whatever you’re storing it in so that you can shake It up again before pouring into soap dispensers as it settles back into Jelly after a few days.

3. Cloth Napkins

We purchase ours but you can make them at home if you’re a savvy needle worker!

4. Stainless Steel Straws

Love these!! The goal is to remember to carry them with us when we go out so that we can use instead of plastic when needed.

5. Stainless Steel/Glass water bottles

Single use water bottles are just the worst.

6. Homemade body wash in a glass dispenser

Super moisturizing and plenty of variety so you can find what works best for your body type. We use this with a wash cloth instead of any harsh soaps.

7. Wool dryer balls

Replaces dryer sheets without any problem. Just be sure to not overly dry your clothes as that creates more static!

8. Replace laundry detergent

This took a little getting used to because my husband really enjoys the strong smell of clean laundry and we switched to Crystal Wash reusable balls which leaves the clothes smelling faintly like essential oils. Other options are soap nuts, laundry stick, or homemade powder detergent.

9. Homemade body butter

I’ve made some for family and friends and it has been a huge hit! I use this recipe for whipped body butter but there are a TON of options online and they generally require coconut oil, almond oil (can be replaced with avocado, jojoba, or grapeseed oil), shea butter or cocoa butter- or both! This one is thick and on the greasier side but I like to put it on after a shower and let it sit for 10 minutes then pat dry with a damp towel. My skin has never been softer so it gets the job done and there’s no waste!

10. Opting for glass over plastic

Honey, vinegar, peanut butter, and yogurt all have glass contained options. They’re usually slightly more expensive (sometimes only a few cents) but I had to change my mindset. Plastic is not an option for us anymore so it’s just a matter of choosing between the glass options that are available. A few dollars more, if you can afford it, is worth it. Remember, Plastic NEVER GOES AWAY.

11. Shopping bulk food

Take your mason jars or cloth bags to your local Whole Foods, Sprout, Fresh Thyme, or wherever else has bulk items and fill them up instead of using their plastic bags. Some places allow you to weigh your own tare and write in on a sticker and at others you have to take your jars to a register before filling to get your tare weight so just check with them first. Do it once and you’re already a pro (Tare= weight of the container. When checking out, they subtract tare from total weight so that you’re not paying extra for a heavier container).

12. Reusable produce bags

I HATE plastic produce bags. If I forget my reusable ones at home I just grab what I need without a bag at all. They’re wasteful and truly unnecessary. I’ve gotten so many compliments on these reusable ones! Bonus, they have tare already on the tag!

13. Bamboo

We switched to bamboo tableware for the kids. It’s sturdy, beautiful, and fully compostable!! We also switched out our Charmin toilet paper for Who Gives Crap bamboo toilet paper because store bought paper is packaged in a ridiculous amount of plastic and detrimental to our tree population. I’m pretty picky about my toilet paper and these work great! I will say, they don’t look as pretty- without pattern and dull in color, but you literally use it to wipe your butt so….

14. MY MOST FAVORITENorwex Cloths.

OMG the Norwex cloths. They are amazing! I can go an entire month without using a single paper towel. As a matter of fact, after I purchased them I had run out of paper towels and didn’t buy a new pack for 6 weeks. So a pack of Norwex has taken the place of kitchen cleaner, bathroom cleaner (I still use toilet cleaner but there are people who keep a cloth specifically for toilets so I’m working up to that!), window cleaner/polisher, stainless steel cleaner/polisher. I use it to clean our wood tables too but will use a separate oil/conditioner to keep it looking fresh. I have 4 EnviroCloths with Baclock and 3 window cloths because I like to always have one near by but you only need 2 enviro and 1 window if you’re trying to be minimal.

15. Forgo

There are so many things that we get just to get and could easily do without. Being aware, and making intentional choices about what comes home is important. We’ve started making our own granola/protein bars, cookies, and cakes to take the place of store bought snacks that come covered in plastic (and usually preservatives). We still have ways to go in this department but we’re getting there.

Keep in mind that it’s a process. Start with good intentions. Small changes lead to big progress. It took me a full year to start remembering my bags every time I leave the house. Sometimes I would remember them leaving the house but then forget them in the car! Or when I shopped bulk, I wouldn’t bring enough jars so I filled what I had then used plastic for the rest. When it comes to less waste every little bit helps. Would you like to swim in a pool of 10,000 pieces of garbage or 100? Neither sounds great but that’s not where we are right now so we have to do what we can with what he have where we are (Theodore Roosevelt). Happy Zero-Wasting!

p.s. If you have any awesome zero waste recipes, ideas, or blogs please share them with me!

Recipe for a tired and hungry mama

Last night was a rough one, guys. My husband is out of town for work and Lana (20 months) just couldn’t get comfortable enough to fall into a deep sleep for some reason so I don’t remember falling asleep last night but I definitely remember waking up to Medina (almost 6 year old) sitting creepily next to my bed and watching me at 7am. Needless to say, I needed a good -and quick- breakfast to get through this day. So I decided to make my awesome energy packed nutty bites (still working on a name but this is better than my original “Nutty Balls”, no?) They’re a healthy, no bake, gluten free, dairy free, delicious, and filling snack- or breakfast! So I wanted to share this recipe that I created to take the place of a snack that I used to buy at an outrageous price. I love these and have refined the recipe over the last few tries. Enjoy!

 

Nutty Bites, Energy bites, nutty balls? Please find me a name for these! 

Prep time: 10-15 mins
Makes: approx 2 dozen

Ingredients:
-1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
-1/3 cup roasted/salted sunflower seeds
-2/3 cup unsalted halved or chopped walnuts (or your favorite nut)
-2 tblsp coconut oil (melted)
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp almond extract
-3/4 cup raw, organic, unfiltered honey
-2 cups almond meal
-1 cup coconut flour

Throw all the ingredients together and mix. A hands-free mixer with a wide ceramic attachment or a food processor works best, I think, but the idea is to make sure the nuts are chopped and the mixture is sticky enough to roll into a ball but not overly processed and made into a paste. Roll into 1.5-2 inch balls and cover. I don’t think it needs to be refrigerated but I do it for good measure and we enjoy them cool. You can also garnish with slivered almonds and sprinkled coconut flour if you’re sharing!

 

 

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?

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 for 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.

Minding words and guiding love

A topic that often comes up among my mom friends is how to avoid jealousy between siblings. As with everything, I believe we, as parents, plant the seed. Many times, unknowingly, we do and say things that encourage siblings to resent each other- sometimes before they’re even born! It is up to us to help nourish a loving bond between them. It’s most helpful if it begins before a new baby is born but, if you’ve already passed that stage, it’s not too late!! There are always improvements to be made!

*This post is all important but a longer one so if you don’t feel like you have the time, or want, to read it all then just skip to number 4 for one that can quickly be implemented today!*

Starting out, I hadn’t intended on making these posts in bullet points but its easier to organize my thoughts that way… so here are a few ways (in no particular order) that we can help build a better bond between our children:

 

1.Participation

Our days are busy and there is always so much to be done and, if you’re pregnant, all these things take ten times the amount of effort to accomplish. It’s understandable that you don’t have the time to let a toddler help you complete your tasks. However, it’s SO important that, when you’re preparing for baby, big brother or sister gets to help. Putting together a crib? Let them hold the instructions. Let them try to screw something in or hold up a piece of the bed. Anything. It’s going to make the process a little longer but it’ll be well worth it in the end. Anything that has to do with new baby should include big brother or sister as well. Shopping for clothes? Pick two outfits that you love and ask them to choose the one they like best. Then let them fold it and put it away (or hang it) once you get home. If they show interest in anything that has to do with the pregnancy or the baby, don’t dismiss them. Answer their questions and ask them follow up ones. Do anything you can, before baby comes, to make big brother or sister feel like it is just as much their baby as it is yours (also, make sure to make it clear that they are big sibling and not mommy or daddy because I’ve seen this go overboard in the other direction and the big brother or sister wants to take over being the parent and gets upset when the parents try to do anything because they’ve been told it’s “Their” baby. Balance and clarity is key). Keep in mind that there are going to be times that they DON’T want to help or talk about the new baby. That’s ok too. Let them take the lead on their feelings and run with it. If you get offended when they don’t want to participate it’s going to feel like they’re being forced into it.

 

Same goes for older siblings. It’s all about participation. When one has something special, the others are there to encourage them. The reason for this, is that it isn’t always possible to have them all in the same amount of programs or get the same amount of presents, or whatever. Things cannot always be physically or monetarily equal. So, we have help them encourage each other. Help them see their place in what everyone else is doing. For example, When Medina (5yo) plays soccer, the younger ones have “jobs”. Amaya (3yo) is the water girl and Lana (1yo) is the cheer leader (she claps and screams). When Amaya has a class, Medina and Lana are waiting to give her hugs when she’s done and I help Medina come up with questions to ask Amaya about her class. Whatever it is, they’re all involved in it together in one way or another.

 

2. Honesty

 

Here it is again! Honesty is the basis off which all that I do with the kids. It’s definitely difficult sometimes, that’s for SURE! But, really, it makes things more simple in the long run and being honest with them has a great effects all around. If you want to teach them to be understanding, you have to give them the opportunity to understand. Just like adults, they wont always accept the truth gracefully. That’s perfectly ok. Just because they’re crying over the truth doesn’t mean they didn’t need to hear it. For example, Amaya and Medina share a bedroom. Amaya has to go to bed at 7 and Medina at 8. As you can imagine, Amaya was NOT happy about this recent change. I had to talk to her and tell her that she’s 3 and Medina is 5 and she needs more sleep than Medina does to be able to grow and once she’s 5 she can stay up another hour too, if she wants to. It took a few days of explaining it again and again but now it’s normal. She knows what’s happening and she understands the reason why. Also, It is now a part of Amaya’s routine that Medina hugs her sister goodnight and walks her to bed (participation). It would be so much easier to dismiss Amaya’s sadness about the change, or lie and say Medina will be in bed in a few minutes or something but the unintentional repercussions of that is resentment between siblings. Amaya will not understand WHY it’s happening and it’ll seem like we are favoring Medina. If something is seemingly unfair, explain to the kids why it’s necessary. Over and over again if they need it. Eventually they’ll get it and they won’t blame each other.

Same goes for siblings of babies. Explaining that babies have different needs (and maybe adjusting a little so that they can help with those needs if they want to) can have an immense effect on their connection to each other. Again, when things are seemingly unfair, take the time explain why they are necessary. I know some people will try to make things fair by saying things like…”ok you can stay up until the baby falls asleep”….but you’re only hurting yourself in the long run. Things can be fair without being the same. The earlier kids know this the better it is for all of you.

 

 

3. Get rid of unnecessary competitions

I restrict competing to actual competitions. Which is rare. So rare, in fact, I’m not sure they’ve competed against each other in anything other than a race across the yard. Not that I don’t find value in competing but I do think there is a time and a place. Neither of which are at home amongst the family while doing family things. A common competition is “who can finish their food first?!”- but it doesn’t matter. As long as they finish, who cares who finishes their food first? The problem with this is that, generally, one child always just eats better and faster than the other. For me, Amaya gags if she eats too quickly or takes bites that are too large, so she just naturally has to eat slower. It also really crushes her spirit when people point out how slow she is….but she almost always finishes everything on her plate so it’s unnecessary to do that to her. All it does is make her annoyed with her sister for being able to eat so quickly. Btw, it’s also a really unhealthy habit to eat quickly, so this is a bad competition all around. I was going to take the time to list a number of other competitions that need to go but, really, I can’t think of any that are good for a sibling relationship. A competition is literally a rivalry- and a rivalry definitely has no place within a family. If you find yourself saying “look ________is doing it better/faster than you” or ” lets see who can ____________first” just to get them to do things more quickly then take a moment to evaluate why you needs these things done quickly- if for any reason at all! Sometimes we just get into the habit of rushing for the sake of rushing. Slow down a little and help them encourage each other instead of wanting to “beat” each other see how quickly that’ll change their relationship!

 

 

 

4. Taking the name out of excuses

 

A small change in the way we speak makes BIG difference in how kids interpret a situation. When you say:

“I can’t help you right now, the baby needs to be fed”

they hear:

“I’m giving my time to the baby and not you”

instead you can say:

“I’m busy right now, I can help you in about 10 minutes, I’ll set the timer for you”.

Then no one gets the blame for you being unavailable.

Always rearrange your words in such a way that you acknowledge what they need and let them know when you will be able to attend to them. It’s very difficult for kids to understand how a parent’s time needs to be split amongst the family so instead of saying where else your attention is going to right at that moment, let them know when the attention will be back on them. Instead of “I need to help Amaya right now, I’ll read to you later” I simply say “I’m sorry I can’t read to you right this moment, but if you wait for me in your bed, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” then I make sure to do just that.

 

 

The right thing to do isn’t always the easy thing to do. These little beings are watching us and responding to everything we do so, even after we’ve responded to everyone’s needs all day, we have to pull it together and continue respond to their needs with love, kindness, and compassion and hope that we do a good enough job that they learn it and send it back out into the world as they grow. OH! And of course- chocoalte. Lots of chocolate, coffee, and Target are involved in the success of this….and all other things.