Leaning In: The Discipline of Spending Regular Time With My Kids

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Photo Credit: Reiterlied Flickr via Compfight cc

 

We had a tough week with our kids. There was the usual arguing and fighting plus and extra dose of sass from my eight year old. I’ve honestly hit my wits end with what to do about her behavior in particular. So I finally decided to take the advice that I’ve read so often and rarely manage to do. I leaned in.

When weekend comes, hubby and I are usually quite burned out. But I felt like we need to begin the discipline of regularly scheduled time with our kids, specifically one on one time. Usually when the toddler naps on weekends is ideal time for me to recharge because the kids will hang out with Daddy. But with all these recent conflicts between me and my kids I realized they needed time with just me, where my focus is not split between them and the house, or the school work or even each other.

To say this was difficult was an understatement. Just saying that makes me sound like a pretty awful mother. But what I really am is a selfish, human being who doesn’t like giving up her comforts. In these case, that comfort is my leisure time. I already spend nearly twenty four hours a day, seven days a week with my kiddos. While I love them dearly, there are definitely days when I want to run screaming as soon as Rob comes through the door. But beneath the rants and insults that lately come out of my daughter’s mouth, I heard a continuing theme.

“Mommy, why don’t you spend more time with me?”

She rarely used those words precisely, but it was strongly implied. I also hear that when my five year old is trying to stand on my lap while I pay bills or write a blog post. He says it in his own language of physical touch, but I still get the message. I knew they both needed me, and their father to give them our undivided attention.

So we did. On Saturday and Sunday, each kid got a parent for about two hours. I had my son first. We assembled puzzles and built with Legos. We talked a little bit. (They were geography puzzles and as a good home school mom I wasn’t going to let an educational opportunity go to waste). But mostly we just sat near each other and played side by side. Sunday afternoon I had planned to knit and do yoga with my daughter. The knitting got a slow start because I had to track down the proper size needles and yarn to teach her. While she was excited at first, she quickly became frustrated and we ended up cutting our time short and skipping the yoga routine because she said she wanted to do go build Legos with her dad and brother.

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I wish I could tell you that this was some kind of miracle cure and I saw a measurable change in their behavior. Maybe it yet will be. I didn’t expect to see results after just one time. (Which is good because the kids were just as snarky as usual despite the quality time). What I’m hoping to build is consistency. We have always spent time with our kids, but it’s usually hit or miss, especially one on one. We have family movie nights and my husband is introducing them to his love of video games. But I wanted to specifically focus on activities that would leave room for discussion. My kids are ALWAYS talking but I don’t usually fully tune in to what they are saying. This was a chance to do that.

I learned a few things about my kids would this weekend. They enjoy being challenged, but not too much. It’s difficult to walk the line between boredom and frustration. If something is too difficult, they both are quick to give up and decide they aren’t capable. I was glad I noticed this trend, and now I need to figure out how to help them learn to work hard, even if something doesn’t come naturally or easily.

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Photo Credit: Anne Worner Flickr via Compfight cc

I also realized quite a bit about myself. I need to spend this kind of time with my kids. Because when it’s too rare, too much rides on it. But the more time we invest in our relationship, the less pressure there is on each individual activity. Every time won’t be successful and that’s Ok, as long as I keep trying. I was also reminded, yet again, that parenting is very much about changing me. I am still a very selfish person. I need to learn how to serve my family with joy, rather than out of simple obligation. The discipline of spending regular one on one time with my children is part of that.

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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Celebrating Advent with My Kids

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Last year I did a series of various ways to celebrate Advent. But this year we are going to make a more specific effort to actually celebrate as a family. Our children are two and five, so much of what is traditional may or may not work for us. But I put together a list of things we are going to attempt.

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Truth in the Tinsel

Since my children are a bit too young for my own Advent devotional, I got this e-book last year; but was too busy to do it. This year I’m working it into our homeschool curriculum. I plan to take a break from our usual lessons, except perhaps for phonics, and instead use this to guide our lessons for the month of December. I know we probably won’t do it every day, because let’s face it, life happens. But I think it would be a fun, hands-on way to engage my children’s interest.

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Christmas Count Down Chain

This is a simple idea, and one that I think may possibly be incorporated into Truth in the Tinsel. My daughter is constantly asking how many days until Christmas. We’re going to make a paper chain so she can count for herself. (So she works on her counting skills and I avoid a constant repetitive questions. Win, Win.)

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Advent Wreath with We Light the Candles

I’m also considering pulling out the Advent devotional I used as a child and begin the tradition of lighting the advent wreath. They may be too young and it may not work, but I want to try anyway. Some of my fondest memories of Christmas as a child were sitting as a family around the Advent wreath, the nightly reading followed by the singing of a carol. This is something I want to begin to share with my own little family.

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Jackie Lawson’s Animated Advent Calendar

The last several years, my mother has purchases animated advent calendars from Jackie Lawson for the whole family. While these are generally non-religious, my children still enjoy the idyllic wonder of exploring different parts of the Christmas village or the various rooms of the English manor as the pre-Christmas events commence. The antics of the adorable animals (especially the dogs) are a big hit as well.

How do you celebrate Advent with your family? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Get a Grasp on Gratitude: Mindset For Moms

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I’ve talked a lot about gratitude here over the years. I credit focusing on gratitude as one of the ways that I overcame my extreme anxiety. But I do still struggle with it when it comes to my parenting. I wasn’t gifted with easy-going compliant children. So most tasks on most days are a struggle. There are tantrums, there is screaming. I really hate that it’s like that. I’m continually evaluating my parenting and trying to see how I can improve as a mom, but in the short term I need to hang on to thankfulness. I have two beautiful children. They have good qualities that I need to focus on. There have sweet moments that I need to try and record and remember, so that at the end of the day the disasters won’t be the only thing etched on my mind.

We all have something we can be grateful for. As a mom, it’s my kids. My life would be so different without them. On my rough days I sometimes wonder if me becoming a mom was a mistake, but I know that it wasn’t. I don’t believe that the existence of these amazing little creations is a mistake. So somehow, even in my failings, I was meant to be their mother. So I take a deep breath, pray for strength and thank God, even if only under my breath, for my job as mom. Gratitude will be my anchor that holds me fast to this place I call home.

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Don’t Expect Kindness From Your Kids

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I love that in her first line of this chapter Jamie acknowledges that on the face of it, this looks like a contradiction of last week’s discussion. However, I think a better clarification of this chapter is “Expect Your Kids to Be Kids.” Too often I only notice the bad things my kids do. But sometimes those are just normal kid things. I get angry at my daughter for spilling her milk at dinner or falling off her chair. But these or normal behaviors and usually not intentional.

Jamie points out how important it is to remind ourselves of the positive progress our children make as they grow their character. My kids usually get more of my attention when they disobey. Why? Because when they are getting along I take that as an opportunity to try and get work done. However, they need me to notice and acknowledge these times so that they can see it as preferred behavior (and hopefully desire to repeat it). I need to compliment my daughter for sharing with her brother rather than just reprimand her for ripping toys away from him.

I am very easily frustrated with my kids lately. This isn’t easy for me to admit. I always feel like they should be behaving better and doing more for themselves by now. I have to remember that they are only 5 and 2. My two year old has to be constantly reminded, supervised and assisted with putting away his toys. He often resists and throws tantrum. I get angry that he does this and blame myself for poor parenting. Except he is behaving like a two year old. He is still learning and eventually he will get it.

I know that I need to teach and discipline my children, but I also need to let them be kids, with all the messes and mistakes that entails. I am raising them, not training or managing them. Better to be pleased with the kindness they do show, then disappointed when I expect to see it and don’t. This is not however to say that we shouldn’t tell our children that we know they are capable of wonderful things. We should. If they know we expect positive things from them, they are more likely to believe it of themselves. But in our own minds and hearts it is better to focus on the process rather than lament the lack of finished product.

This is something I especially need to address when it comes to my own emotions and my kids. My kids are really mean to me sometimes. We don’t allow them to be rude or disrespectful on a regular basis but the often say hurtful things to me. (Yes, even my two year old). Sometimes I remind myself that they don’t mean them, but other times it really cuts me, and if I let it, I start to feel bitter towards them. Aren’t they supposed to love me? I gave them life, carried them for nine months each (with an extra 10 days tacked onto the end of my son’s gestation), suffered through delivery and breastfeeding difficulties. I make their meals (and myriad snacks), make sure they have clean clothes. I change and wash their diapers and help them in the bathroom. Aren’t they grateful?

Then I feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. My Father God has supplied all of my needs, yet there have been plenty of times when I not only forgot to thank him, but complained about what he had given me. If I can’t always manage to behave lovingly toward my perfect Father, how can I expect my children to always behave kindly to me, the imperfect earthly parent? So I pray for heavenly wisdom and latch onto the loving moments, like when my daughter cuddles up next to me on the couch or asks me to read to her. When my son asks me to come and play or brings a book and insists that he sit in my lap. I can’t expect the kindness and love all the time, but I can hope for it, while I continue learning how to better love my Father, and ask him to help me be a better mother.

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Lonely But Not Alone

IMG_1410I don’t feel lonely as often as most people. I like being alone. It gives me time to do what I want to do without having to consult anyone else. Spending time with myself allows me to better reassess my own thoughts, emotions and goals. I am a great example of the introverted truth that in solitude I am least alone. But eventually I do like to be with people. Motherhood is a strange kind of lonely. I am rarely, if ever alone. Yet I do feel lonely, isolated from adult contact. When I’m with other moms our kids are usually there too. Sometimes we talk about things that really matter to us, but mostly we have superficial conversations peppered with interruptions for drinks, snacks, bandaids and general whining. I love spending time with my husband but the few hours a day my kids are not awake (which seems to be fewer and fewer these days), he is there. Even if we sit quietly, I feel the weight of his presence, of the expectations that come with having another human being in the room who deserves my attention and consideration. Sometimes I just want to be alone. It’s amazing that I can feel so lonely without ever actually having solitude. How do I find a balance between those rare times of solitude and the desire to commune with others sans children? As an introvert I am the kind of person who can, and in fact should, be alone to feel myself, yet not feel lonely. As an introverted mom to active children, I am still lonely for the companionship of like minds and engaged conversation, just never alone.

 

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Five Minute Friday: In the Quiet After

After the children have gone to bed, the house seems quiet. Occasionally we hear sleepy moans and mumbles or little footsteps and doors opening and closing. But as long as no one appears at the top of the stairs or begins to scream, we tune it out. We each spend time on our laptops. Blogging, paying bills, writing, researching. He works getting his paperback ready to launch. I catch up on articles I want to read and spend sometime cyber window shopping for things I’d like but can’t really afford. We stop with enough time to watch a favorite TV show. I do another load of laundry while he serves us dessert.

Later we snuggle in bed and enjoy the quiet. Whispering romantic words to each other and reminiscing about what it was like when it was just us. Before kids. When the quiet was by choice and not necessity. When we stayed up late because we liked to, not because we needed a few hours of personal enrichment before another kid-filled day. But our last words are always

“I love them.”

“I know I do too.”

“I love you.”

“Love you too.”

What Children Really Need, Contrary to the Consumer Mentality

I was browsing some sale items on Target.com when an advertising slogan caught my eye: “Babies Need Lots of Stuff, Save Now on Big and Small Things.” It reminded of a post I read on Simple Mom a few weeks ago called “What Do Kids Really Need?” Tsh proposed that all children really NEED in life is their physical needs met (however simply), play and love. She was visiting the Philippines with Compassion International at the time and was struck by how much the children appreciate simple gifts because of how little they have, as well as how far the money provided by Compassion International child sponsors can be stretched to provide these children with the basics of living.

This is such juxtaposition to the Target slogan, and the mindset of most Americans. I can’t count the number of people who complain how expensive it is to have children. Yes, it can be. But it doesn’t always have to be. Now I could spend the rest of this post to innumerate the various ways to save money when you are having children, from cloth diapering to breastfeeding to bargain shopping. But you’ve probably heard them all before. I don’t think this is an issue of frugality but an issue of personal philosophy. What do my children need most and how can I provide it? For some people providing a child’s physical needs is as simple as pulling out a credit card or debit card and there is nothing wrong with that. For others it is about saving, slaving and bartering. The real question is, have we bought into the idea that every item that a child wants constitutes a need? (Or worse yet, any item that is advertised as a “must have.”) As a parent, a part of me wants to give my daughter anything and everything. I see adorable outfits and fascinating toys and part of me wants her to have them all. But I know that even if I had the resources to buy her all these things I probably still wouldn’t.

What’s especially poignant about that Target ad slogan is that it admits that most of the stuff we buy for our kids is simply that: stuff. In my own life, I’ve always defined stuff as items which take up space but provide little if any value. Examples: clothing that is never worn, functionless or rarely used single use items, broken or worn out items that are beyond repurposing. Having children seems to be an invitation to fill our lives with even more stuff. I think being a new parent has a way of making many of us feel unprepared and the consumer mentality of our culture preys on that fear. We are offered every possible item for every conceivable “need.” For fear of lacking the perfect item at the crucial time we fill our homes with various baby products in different colors, patterns and styles. But the truth is no matter how much stuff we buy, we will still be unprepared for the awesome responsibility of parenting. Having more stuff won’t make our children feel more loved, and having more toys won’t make their play any better. My daughter will happily play with a pair of rocks and a pine cone, in spite of the fact that our living room offers a selection of fascinating toys of various kinds.

I realize that our world has changed significantly in the last hundred years, so I don’t advocate trying to return to the way life was then, but perhaps we can glean some wisdom from bygone lifestyles. Children had fewer things and were taught to be grateful for what they had. Work was something to take pride in, not something to be avoided. A worthwhile life consisted of faith, family and hard work rather than the acquisition of things. As Tsh defines needs, most of us can provide our children with these things. Love can be given by anyone, play can be produced with simple interactions like games of peek-a-boo and tag. Physical needs are simpler than we realize: clothing appropriate to the weather, healthy food to eat in appropriate quantities, a safe place to live. I know that in many areas of the world, this is a struggle. But for most Americans providing our children’s basic physical needs is much easier than for most of the world. But for those where it isn’t, it has been my experience that an outpouring of love and attention from parents helps make up for fewer physical possessions. The reverse rarely works. No amount of new toys or clothes or trips to McDonald’s will make up for neglect or abuse. Whether they tell you so or not, children would rather be loved than have things.

So as I find myself perusing sale racks looking for good deals, it suddenly doesn’t seem to matter so much. At the end of my day my daughter may not have the most stylish clothes or the most expensive toys, but she has parents who love her, enough food to keep her healthy and a safe place to sleep and I’m very grateful to be able to provide those things to her. Stuff is optional.