Thanks to the Chaos

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Tanya Pritt. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Tanya.

This time of year, even more than usual, my thoughts turn to my children as they were growing up. Maybe it is the glitter of Christmas and reminiscing about holidays gone by. As an old mom of young men grown up, this happens often. A sight, smell, sound or dream may inspire those lapses back in time down Memory Lane.

I listened to a young mom on the radio this morning talking about how she rises early for some “alone time” before her children woke up and her day turned to sheer chaos. I smiled and reflected on the chaos of my days. Life with my two youngest boys was busy, to say the least. The older of the two was a gifted athlete, playing multiple sports on premier league levels in every season. My youngest likes to tell people that we were homeless often and living in our van. This may have been his perception, but we really did have a home to go to at the end of the day, tournament, or travel. Within the van, we carried two coolers, one for dry foods and one for iced drinks. We had multiple duffel bags with sporting equipment and a bin with towels and changes of clothes. We carried blankets, pillows, and rain gear. We would navigate from one sports field to another, eating a meal from the coolers and changing uniforms for the next sport or game.

People who watched us either thought “What fun!” or “You’re crazy”. I guess it’s all in perception. But as I listened to this mom on the radio this morning, I related and I got tears in my eyes as I remembered those chaotic times. And nostalgia eases the pain the chaos presented in the moment.

I, too, would get up early in the morning before the kids woke up. Sometimes extremely tired, wanting those few minutes more of sleep, but knowing if I did my day would be more frantic. Those moments gave me time for reflection, time to take stock of my gratitude (healthy boys, a job, a car that was currently running, and food for nourishment that day), and time to plan the most efficient way through the day. But it was my gratitude that gave me the strength to invite the day, its activities, and responsibilities. It helped to calm me before the energy erupted!

So to all the young mothers and fathers: hang in there! Give thanks to the chaos! Take time, somewhere in your day, for pause and reflection. And know, amid the chaos or busy adventure, that it is not the end of the story. Every day we have the opportunity to write another chapter of our family experience.

 

Tanya has been the Director of Milestones for the past 21 years.  She has been working in the field of addictions for over 30 years. 

Making Changes

This week we have another guest post from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.

In my years of parenting, I often acted and reacted to my children in ways that weren’t very effective and that sometimes made the situation worse. As I worked on making changes in my behavior, I learned that changing behavior isn’t easy. Here are some ideas that have helped me, and continue to help me. I am still not a perfect parent or grandparent! These are research-based ideas, drawn from The Incredible Years, Nurturing Parenting, and other parenting curriculums. They are ideas I have found helpful to me.

 

  1. Focus on one skill or change. Be as specific as possible: “I am going to spend 10 minutes playing with my preschooler every weekday at 9 am.” It’s fine to make other changes at the same time but focus on one.

 

  1. Make it a positive action. You can’t do a don’t. Every relationship can benefit from spending time focused on that person—playing, listening, doing something fun together, or working on something together. Relationship expert John Gottman recommends a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions to each negative interaction. If you want to stop doing something—like yelling at your children—come up with a substitute action to do when you feel like yelling. Writing a note, doing jumping jacks, throwing ice cubes into the sink—you might want to brainstorm a list with a friend or with your children.

 

  1. Involve others. Explain your plan and ask for their help and support. Tell them what would be helpful to you as you make changes. Don’t waste time criticizing others’ approaches, but concentrate on your own efforts to change. Find or create a support group of others who are making changes—especially if those around you are not supportive. Parenting classes are a great place to get support and to make friends.

 

  1. Expect resistance. Changes—even positive ones—can trigger negative responses from those around you. Family and friends may be skeptical or even outright hostile. Children may misbehave to get you to react the way you used to because that is what they know and expect from you. It can help to acknowledge their confusion while explaining your new approach and addressing any misbehavior calmly but firmly. “I know I usually yell at you. But I don’t enjoy doing that and I don’t think you like hearing me. You know how to listen to my quiet voice, too. The toys still need to be put away.”

 

  1. Use reminders: electronic or old-fashioned. Try notes, checklists, calendars, alarms, timers, friends, relatives, your children, etc. Create or request reminders that are polite and reaffirming.

 

  1. Track your progress. Praise and reward yourself for accomplishments—no matter how small. Star charts aren’t just for kids.

 

  1. Be nice to yourself. Keep your inner and outer self-talk positive. When you mess up, you can admit it (and perhaps apologize) and say “_____ is hard to do but I am working on it.” When you are successful, celebrate that achievement.

 

  1. Learn from your mistakes and from the times that went well. What things interfere with, and what things help, your efforts to change? If you don’t seem to be able to make the change, step back and analyze the situation and the factors involved.

 

  1. Be patient. Real changes take time.

 

  1. Keep at it. According to researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, in their book Changing for Good, real, lasting change usually takes a spiral pattern—up, level, dipping back down, then around and up a little more.

 

We often wish our children would change their behavior, but for that to happen, we usually have to change our behavior towards them. Moreover, being a parent means our behavior has to keep changing because our children keep growing and changing. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible. You can do it.

 

Esther Schiedel is a parent to three adults, a grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

A Shopping Story

This week’s post was contributed by Kelly Schell. I hope that you find it useful and we look forward to more posts from Kelly in the future.

I remember my first solo trip to the grocery store several weeks after the birth of my second child. I took my two daughters, one a toddler, to do some grocery shopping. It was my first opportunity to do so since being discharged from the hospital. I was exhausted, and not at my best.

Upon arriving at the store, I looked for a cart and discovered that none of them had built-in infant seats. I did not have the type of infant car seat that had a detachable carrier, so I had to juggle my 22 month-old daughter, her newborn sister, and a cart. Faced with this situation, I decided the easiest thing to do was to let my 22 month-old walk with me while shopping. I awkwardly pushed the cart with one arm while holding my two-week-old infant with the other.

My other daughter, being a bright and independent toddler, soon realized my limitations. Taking advantage of this, she took off running through the store, ready to play a game of chase. I called out to her to stop, becoming increasingly frustrated when she kept going. I found that I had to abandon the shopping cart in order to pursue my wildly giggling toddler through the store. I became increasingly frustrated, angry, and embarrassed as I unsuccessfully attempted to rein in my errant daughter. My feeling of embarrassment was intensified by the fact that the chase was witnessed by other customers, most of whom openly stared as we passed them. I was sure I was being judged and found lacking as a parent; after all, I couldn’t even control my small child. When I eventually caught up to my daughter, I felt irritated and angry that she had done this to me. I retrieved her, ensuring that she knew how unhappy I was with her, and quickly left the store to go home.

I have used this more than once as an example to underscore how we perceive what other people are thinking often influences us, especially in our parenting. Most of us, especially in stressful situations, have a negative inner dialogue that happens regularly that we may not even be aware of. For example, when I am shopping and my two-year-old tantrums loudly in the middle of the store, I might think things like: “I’m a bad mother,” or “My child is acting awful”. Looks and occasional comments made by well-meaning bystanders often serve to reinforce our negative perception of our parenting. We tend to assume that people are judging us, even if they really aren’t. All of these factors can make it difficult to remain calm and focus on dealing effectively with our children.

There are several tactics you can use to help you remain calm and focused in these situations.

  • Be aware of your negative self-talk and change it to positive self-talk. This is not easy and takes practice. Instead of “I’m a bad mother” you could change it to, “I’m a good mother doing the best I can.” Instead of “My child is acting awful” you could say, “My child is acting like a normal two-year-old.”
  • Remember that you know your child better than anyone, and ignore unsolicited opinions. People may judge you, and you have no control over that, but you can decide how it will affect you. This is also difficult and will require practice.
  • Avoid or minimize the potential for public outings to become overly stressful. One way to do this is to plan ahead as much as possible and to set expectations for your children. When children know what to expect, things tend to go much smoother for them and for you. Be flexible; you may have to change your plan, no matter how well thought out it is.

I can look back on my experience and laugh now, but if I’d had more tools at the time, it would have been a better experience for both of us.

 

Kelly Schell is the Family Navigator at Family Tree Relief Nursery. 

Holiday Survival Tips

This week’s post was submitted by guest blogger Tanya Pritt. We hope that you enjoy it and look for future posts from Tanya.

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Christmas will be here in less than 70 days!

It’s hard not to think about Christmas. After all, Macy’s announced on television last week that they will be open on Thanksgiving! Stores are beginning to offer their best decorating options, and tins of holiday cookies and candy are showing up on shelves next to the Halloween treats.

Just the sight of these displays can bring anxiety and stress into our lives. How are we going to do everything we think we need to? How will we afford the presents this year? What do the kiddos even want?

Take a breath! If I have learned anything in my life, it is that January 1 comes and we can all watch football and relax.  Here are a couple of ways we manage stress in our family:

  • Be selective about additional activities. There are so many parties: with work, school, teams, and family. Figure out which would be the most fun and rewarding and attend those. Learn to let the others go.
  • Get enough rest. Set a time to stop activities at night.
  • Make a budget. Stick with it. Don’t apologize. If you feel obligated to buy a gift for outside of your family, don’t buy the gift. Instead, send a hand-written card. Write about a memory you share with that person or family: this will be a gift in itself.
  • Have realistic expectations. Accept the fact that things will go wrong. Kids may have a meltdown, Christmas dinner may not come out as perfectly as you hoped, and people may be disappointed by their presents. My boys are grown now and have their own families, but when we were all together last Christmas I found that, with the gifts I had bought them, I had taken their adulthood for granted. As they were going through the stockings that I had filled the night before, they all looked at each other and said accusingly, ”Mom, where is the new toothbrush?” And they weren’t kidding!
  • Keep it simple. Ask for help. And then let the “helpers” help! Have a family meeting and sort it out early, giving everyone a role to play.
  • Talk to a friend. Take a break from the demands of the holiday and have a conversation. Sharing your feelings with a supportive friend is an important way to relieve holiday stress and anxiety.
  • Be open to collaboration. Make the Christmas meals pot lucks; most people have a favorite recipe and would love to contribute. If someone is crafty, put them in charge of decorations! Children can help as well.
  • When you begin to feel the stress, take a walk around the block. Sometimes just getting physical and breathing fresh air can lend perspective.

As much as children, and even teenagers, want to be surprised by the latest toy or piece of technology, they also feel the love and comforts of tradition. Years from now they may or may not remember the gift they received, but they will recall the temperament in the house, the meals they ate, and the company they kept. Whatever the tradition, however small or elaborate, these are things from which memories are made.

As for me, I am headed to Costco to buy some Halloween candy and a family-size package of toothbrushes to put in my Christmas closet for later!

Tanya has been the Director of Milestones for the past 21 years.  She has been working in the field of addictions for over 30 years.