Are You Ready to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom?

Are You Ready to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom?

I never knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom until I became a mom. My daughter was 2 when I graduated from college and was offered what might have been considered a dream job, but for so many reasons, I turned it down and made the move to become a full-time stay-at-home mother. I was young, had no friends who stayed home with their children, and we were not yet financially fruitful in our young marriage. Life as a stay-at-home mom was full of challenges and changes, but as the moths grew into years and we welcomed 3 more children into our family, I clearly saw that this was the best choice for us.

As amazing and wonderful as being a stay-at-home mom can be, if you don’t plan for the realities of it the stress and responsibilities can be daunting. Over the years I made my fumbles, but thankfully was, and still am, able to stay home with all of my children and be a part of their everyday lives in ways I just don’t think I could if I had taken that dream job.

  • If at all possible practice with a single-income budget before you make the move to become a stay-at-home mom. Stash your current paycheck into savings and only use the income provided by your spouse. This will give you a real-world sampling of what it will be like to live on one paycheck.
  • Consider which things you can comfortably live without in order to reach your goal of living on a single income. Look for things you can remove the expense of and still find similar benefits elsewhere.
    • Cable – check out DVDs from your library instead
    • Dinner out once week – go for dinner out once a month or take a picnic somewhere so you still feel like you are getting out
    • Winter vacations – consider travelling in off seasons for reduced rates
    • Gym membership – get together with moms from the neighborhood to work out together (set days/times for meeting to walk) or look for used equipment for the home
    • Wine of the month club – treats like this have the price tag of convenience, so make a trip yourself once month to choose your own treat
  • Be ready to clip corners and coupons. I became an expert at searching ads and sale prices and knowing when a bargain is truly a bargain.
  • Buy in bulk only when there is not a “best buy” date (unless you have a large family). Things like toilet paper and soap have great shelf lives so stock up when you find rock-bottom prices.
  • Buy generic, especially when it comes to your staple items. Stores like Aldi’s carry many household basics at fractions of the cost (and the items often come from the same manufacturers, with different labels thrown on them).
  • Find ways to be your own service-person. As the mother of 3 sons (one who grows hair like Sasquatch), I quickly realized that haircuts are one area where I can be the salon manager. I invested $24 in a quality “buzz kit” and found a friend who used to work in a salon to give me some quick lessons. Even if I only cut their hair once each year myself, I had paid for the buzz kit the first time I used it. Other ways you can do the job yourself include:
    • Car washing
    • Dog grooming
    • Manicures/pedicures
    • Housecleaning
    • Yard maintenance
    • Simple home repairs (before we ever consider calling in a repair man we check online – someone somewhere else has always had the same problem and posted their solutions)
    • Taxes (it can be intimidating the first year, but you can calm your fears by trying it yourself and then taking it in for review)
    • Vehicle maintenance (even my 16 year old daughter has changed the oil in the car)
  • Use online resources like Freecycle, Vegsource, FatWallet, and Ebates to make the most of your stay-at-home dollar.

Yes – the finances are an obvious obstacle for parents who want to stay home with their children. However, there are other factors that can become hurdles as well, especially if we don’t go into the situation with both eyes wide open. Staying home with the kids has wonderful benefits, but there can be some hidden dangers along the way. If both partners are not on board with the decision you are setting yourself up for resentment and frustration, and much larger problems down the road.

  • Make the budget together so there are no surprises.
  • Set aside time to be a couple. You will need this even more once you start spending the majority of your time home with the demands of young children, but your partner will also need to know that you still have time and energy for him.
  • Clearly set up the expectations of the household. Your partner might think that you staying home means you take on all of the household responsibilities, 7 days a week. If this is not your intention – be up front with it. Tell him you need him to help with dishes on the weekends or vacuuming on Saturday morning.
  • Stay-at-home moms have large workloads that just sometimes go unrealized by partners, but approaching the situation calmly and respectfully is better than just wishing he would help more at bath-time but resenting him because he doesn’t.

Find others who are stay-at-home parents for companionship and compassion (you will give and receive both!). Friends who also stay home with their kids are great resources for budget hints, time-saving strategies, and the latest free concerts for the toddlers on weekday morning. You can also take turns babysitting so each of you get that much needed sanity break (even if it is just to run to the grocery store).

The life of a stay-at-home mom is not very glamorous or sadly, highly respected, in many circles. You need to choose this path because it is your passion and because you truly feel it is right for your family. If you do, maybe in the end you will find that it is your dream job, just like I did.

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Is My Child Really Ready to Drive?

There are wings on our car. Not the tangible, feather encrusted kind, but independent wings that just lifted my daughter as she drove by herself for the first time today. She took all of the driver’s training classes, passed through behind the wheel experiences with flying colors and all too-quickly passed her driving test. Suddenly it is much more than driving that worries me – I have thoughts from car-jackings to car fires to attempted abductions flitting through my mind, and I have to wonder: Did I do enough to prepare my teenager for the responsibility of driving on her own?

Teenagers grow up quickly enough as it is, and then suddenly they are living much more independent lives with cars keys in hand. As worried as I am about my daughter every time she drives away, I am confident that her preparation was sound, both in driving classes and life experiences, and that my worries can further be eased by implementing a few more driver safety guidelines in our family.

Even though we homeschool, I readily put the responsibility and trust in another source to teach my daughter about the rules of the road from a technical standpoint. My children are probably pretty typical – they are sometimes more apt to listen and less apt to insert their own versions when they are listening to someone other than me – the mom. I wanted her to hear from police officers about road laws and safety. I wanted her to watch the videos that showed the real and immense dangers of car crashes. Yes – I wanted her scared – to a certain point.

If your teenager is ready for driver education, consider the following:

Your own driving – I have never been more conscious of my own driving than when I knew my daughter was paying close attention to my every move. No cell phone use for me and no speeding (even when I felt like I was at a snail’s pace). I even found myself talking out loud about why I made certain driving decisions – such as why I didn’t pass the farm machinery that was making us late.

Cost – Shop around, both for school programs, home programs, and accredited programs in your community. In our area the costs were about equal.

Training – While the costs might have been relatively the same, the experiences of the trainers were vastly different. In the school settings sometimes the driving instructor doubles as the gym coach, and is not a dedicated professional to this specific course. Then there was me – a newbie. For us the formal driving school offered the most experienced staff, and the best 1:1 ratio of learning (outside of home).

Reputation – Talk to other parents and listen to their experiences. We had several formal programs from which to choose, and by far the one we selected had the best reviews.

Driving Apps – Our daughter is using a pretty cool program from State Farm. One portion of it is a paper log the new driver completes with the participation of at least one parent that can later be used to receive insurance deductions. The other part, an app she has on her iPod, records things like acceleration, cornering, and time spent driving. I get a report emailed to me after her trips. Our daughter appreciated the feedback, especially since she doesn’t always have an adult with her for guidance. We appreciate the extra monitoring so we know how things are progressing for her with the newfound independence.

The first time my daughter drove with her permit, I felt like my mom. My invisible gas and brake pedals on the passenger side were fully engaged as she drove. Even though at first I wished I could close my eyes, I was able to relax myself enough to be the calm, nurturing driving instructor seated next to her. Fortunately for both of us, she is a very cautious driver (maybe those videos helped do the trick!). For more than 6 months we practiced (yes – I needed to practice giving up my invisible pedals).

Start small – The first places our daughter drove with her permit were country back roads with little or no traffic. It is enough for them to get the feel of the wheel; they don’t need rush hour to add to the pressure.

Be calm – I admit that the first few times on the road I opted for my husband to sit next to my daughter in the front seat, leading her way. I managed not to be a backseat driver (but I had my eyes closed a few times).

Gradually add in experiences – We moved from back road driving to city driving, but made sure that we eased into it during times of low-traffic levels. She didn’t practice driving at night for the first few weeks, either. We also eased in winter driving – a Midwest treat with icy and snowy roads.

The sound of silence – She had 3 younger brothers along for many of the rides, but we implemented a low-noise rule when she drives. No or low radio, and no or low sounds from brothers. She’ll have plenty of years to drive with distractions being thrown at her.

Constructive criticism – There were times when my daughter needed gentle reminders or clarifications while driving. I made every effort to deliver these is a quiet tone. Sometimes I waited until she finished driving to go over decisions she made so as not to distract her from her driving.

Affirmation – I will never forget the day we were cruising along at 55 mph with my teen at the wheel. Another driver pulled out directly in front of us to cross the road. My daughter slammed on the brakes, very aware of the situation, even managing to check her review mirror to see if we were in danger from being hit from behind for such an abrupt change of speed. Things went flying off of van seats, but my daughter’s cool remained intact. We narrowly avoided a crash. I gave my child affirmation that she did everything right, and praised her quick actions and choices. As frightening as it was, it gave us a great opportunity to talk about how distracted driving can quickly change things, and you have to be just as concerned about the other drivers. If she had been using a cell phone or otherwise distracted, her reactions would not have been so quick.

As my daughter took the keys for her first time alone, suddenly knowing the road rules weren’t enough. I tried to make sure that she was prepared for anything and everything, and I included the more obvious rules. As she smiled and half-laughed at my mothering, I told her that if she gets to use the car, I get to pretend to be my mom once again!

  • No cell phones – at all.
  • You must only drive to the destinations we have discussed (today was school, church, and home).
  • Upon your arrival you need to text me, and do so again before you leave your destination, and again when you arrive. Basically be your own GPS.
  • You may not give a ride to anyone.
  • If you are worried you are being followed, drive to a crowded destination with lots of people outside.
  • Park under a street light or in a well-lit area, especially if it will be twilight or dark when you enter or exit your car.
  • Always lock your car – preferably without leaving the keys in it.
  • Always have back-up cash for emergencies.
  • Know how to fill the car with gas – and don’t leave it on empty for me!
  • When you walk to and from your car, pay attention to your surroundings and keep your keys in your hand (they double as a weapon if needed).
  • Come back home. We love you aren’t quite ready for you to let your wings take you too far.

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Teach Your Kids to Say “No!”

One of the most frustrating thing as a parent can be to hear your child tell you “No!” for various reasons, and it begins almost as soon as they can speak. We also probably wear on their nerves as we tell them “No” for so many things in life. No – you can’t cut your own hair. No – please don’t smear your banana in my hair. No – we aren’t watching that cartoon for the 29th time.

Life can build as a battle of wills, with both parents and children duking it out with this one, simple word. Despite how frustrating it can be to hear my child tell me, “no”, the older they become they more I know that it is really important that they be able to use this word well. In fact, I hope they learn how to say “no” better than I ever did.

Why is it good for our kids to say no?

It is not something we necessarily want our kids to say to us when we ask them to do their chores or tell them it is time to leave the park. However, our kids will encounter so many situations in life where they will need the confidence and capability to say no.

Refusal skills are valuable tools for children (and everyone) to learn. A good perspective on this matter comes from Dr. Sears when he says that, “It’s necessary for a parent to say “no” to a child so the child can later say “no” to himself.” Beyond being able to regulate our own actions and words, no becomes an assertive tool our children can use to develop independence, security, and strength.

Maintain identity. The world around us and our children asks things of us – to do things, participate in activities, and make choices. When our kids have the confidence to say no, they are more capable of maintaining their identity, their personal preferences, and their true opinions. They learn to say yes to things that they value, and are able to say no when it is not right in their hearts.

Improve self-image. No really is a powerful word, and being able to stand up for yourself and your own beliefs can improve your self-image. I’ve seen my children assert their own beliefs with the word no, and doing so respectfully and confidently can help build a positive self-image. It gives them a sense of independence and that they are capable of making good decisions.

Protect their personal space. It is so important to me that my kids learn to define their personal boundaries – both physically and emotionally. While it can be more comfortable to say yes and avoid confrontation or feel like you are letting down someone, often we give up some of our personal space in return. I want my children to have people and opportunities in their lives because they choose them to be there, not because they were too intimidated to say no to them.

Protect their personal safety. This is obviously an important issue for parents and children. We must teach them to say (and scream) No! if their safety or security is ever threatened. No parent wants to imagine their child being physically or sexually abused. We need to empower them to say no, repeatedly, and to combine that No! with strong body language (kicking, thrashing, drawing attention to the situation).

How do I help my child learn to say no?

Keep a balance. In order for your child to understand the power of the words yes and no, make sure that they are used in balance within the home so they don’t lose their significance. If we overuse “no” with our children they begin to see it as a barrier word, instead of an empowering tool in communication.

Allow for their opinions. When our kids say no to us, we might not want to hear it, but we need to respect their opinions whenever possible. If they are able to express their opposing opinions to us in respectful ways and they get positive feedback from us, it teaches them how to their own ideas with respect and confidence.

Teach non-verbal communication skills. Model good non-verbal communication skills such as maintaining eye contact and using appropriate body language. Eye contact is a powerful tool, and kids can learn to match their “no” with shaking the head and facial expressions that match the language.

Teach them to say more than “no”. Even though no is a clear and simple word, sometimes it is just not enough for some people. Teach your child about saying no and expanding it with their reasons why. “No, I’m not going to skip class because I don’t want to lose my spot on the basketball team and I know my parents will not be happy with that choice.”

Role play. There are certain situations we hope our children never face, but we need to prepare them for those anyway. Role play things like situations of peer pressure. While this can be uncomfortable, it is even more uncomfortable for your child when she is actually faced with these situations and saying “no” seems a lot harder than it sounds.

I’d be a rich woman if I had a penny for every time my kids said “no” to me. It may not be my favorite part of any conversation, but I know that they will be rich in confidence, security, and self-worth when they are able to voice their own opinions and needs – even if it means saying “no”.

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5 Tips to Manage Morning Routines

Getting kids ready for the day, especially school days, can be like swimming through oatmeal – you keep plowing through, but feel like you are getting sucked back into the mess. Even though we homeschool, our oldest attends college 5 days a week and we still must have a routine in our house for mornings in order to get where we need to be and accomplish our goals. Over the years I have developed a strategy for getting everyone in the house going each morning, and it finally doesn’t just hinge on me being the lead swimmer! Morning routines are so much smoother when everyone plays a responsible part.

1. Put the kids in charge of themselves. As long as I kept pleading with them to get out of bed, begging for some sign of life, they were very comfortable letting me waste my time in the morning acting as their human snooze buttons. Kids know how to work us. If we offer ourselves as their servants in the morning – getting them out of bed, preparing their breakfasts, and readying them for the day – they will use our free labor. They don’t do this because they are cruel creatures, but because this is what we are teaching them to do.

We have to make them responsible for their mornings. I give my kids one wake-up call if their alarms or internal clocks don’t do the job. Sometimes they have had to pay the price for sleeping through all of these options, such as arriving late to class. Your kids might have to serve detention for tardiness in school. These are real consequences that do help teach kids. When they are adults their bosses won’t call them and provide repeated wake-up services, so we only do them a disservice when we take away that opportunity when they are younger to learn how to ready themselves for the day. If their being late impacts you (you are late for work), pass on those consequences to them, such as an extra hour of chores for every 30 minutes you were late.

2. Set them up for success. Yes – kids need to be responsible for getting themselves ready, but you can increase their possibilities for success by giving them the tools to reach it.

  • Make sure they have good alarm clocks, and maybe make sure they have more than one. When I first married my husband he had a jeep speaker hooked up to his alarm clock, set on the other side of the room!
  • Help them plan out their evening before, as well as their mornings. Sometimes kids run so late because they don’t have realistic expectations about things that need to happen.
  • Limit distractions. In our house the computer, cell phones, and iPods are the biggest distractions in the morning, where everyone wants to check in with friends to see what they might have missed overnight. We have a rule that this can’t be done until the kids are ready for the day. It motivates them, helps them stay on task, and keeps me from going insane!
  • Keep routines routine. They can’t plan for their morning goals and meet them if you keep changing the bar. If you always need to leave at 7:45, don’t randomly expect them to be ready at 7:30 one day because you have a meeting. Forewarning the night before is best in these situations.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep routines. Make sure you understand how much sleep your kids need, for their ages, their activity levels, and their personal health needs. Teenagers might be harder to wake in the morning, but that is because their natural internal clocks aren’t letting them fall asleep as easily. Especially in homes with several children, make sure all of their needs are addressed.

  • It can seem tedious, but stagger bedtimes if that is what is needed to give everyone the rest they need.
  • Make sure that those kids who are still awake later in the evening respect the sleep needs and habits of those who are already snoring.
  • Create effective sleeping arrangements in your home – lights dimmed, sounds low, temperatures regulated.

4. Start your morning routine the night before. One of the most effective ways I have been able to ease our morning chaos is to have the kids do as much as possible the night before.

  • Make a list of the last-minute items needed in the morning
  • Pack lunches
  • Get backpacks ready with homework and papers signed
  • Shower or bathe the night before
  • Set clothes and other basics out the night before
  • Review with everyone else in the family what the plan is for the following day, especially the morning, if there are new kinks in the routine

5. Consider behavior modification charts. At younger ages the kids in my home always seem to wake up easier, but have a more challenging time remembering everything they need to do in order to be ready for the day on time. We have used behavior charts and chore charts to help them become more independent in the morning and to take the extra “reminding” burden from my shoulders. Depending on their ages a morning routine chart can include things like this:

  • Feed pets
  • Get dressed
  • Make bed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Brush teeth
  • Wash face
  • Anything else they need to do before heading out the door or starting their day

The days start early in our home with a 4:15 wake-up alarm for my husband. It is a domino effect after that, with him waking me just before he leaves (he likes his solitude in the kitchen each morning to make his own breakfast and lunch for the day – I distract him too much!). Then the kids are in charge of themselves after that. Yes – some mornings like today I did a door knocking reminder as time seemed to be slipping by, but all 4 children were able to feed themselves, do their chores, and get ready for the day without much harassing from me. They are able to, because they need to do it. Necessity is a wonderful teacher for us all.

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Breastfeeding Backlash

The stigmas attached to breastfeeding in industrial nations and the dangers they pose

When my first child was just several months old I did what so many working women do – I stopped breastfeeding because I just didn’t feel capable of doing both. Even though I worked for a very large company, there were no policies for breastfeeding moms, no places in which to discreetly pump during the day, and no extended breaks allowed in order to feed my daughter if she was brought to the office. There were no mothers in my circle of friends and co-workers who breastfed after returning to work, if at all. I felt as if I had failed in that one job that as a mother I was supposed to be able to do.

Breastfeeding, although recommended by the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other leading organization as the most complete and best way to feed infants, is still not accepted in so many modern cultures. When it is accepted, it is not always supported and encouraged.

Just as recently as December of 2011, a breastfeeding sit-in was declared in Target stores across America in response to one mother’s reports of ill-treatment after she chose to breastfeed her baby in the store. Employees apparently asked her to move from her spot in the women’s clothing section of the store where she was breastfeeding her baby, completely covered with a blanket, to an even more remote location – a dressing room.

Those who do find offense to breastfeeding appear to be most specifically adverse to it when it is done where they know it is happening. It doesn’t even have to be something that is seen – it can be as innocent as a mother swaddling her baby under a blanket where not even a single tiny toe is visible. The naysayers appear to be afraid that even a glimpse of breast flesh might be seen. Ironic, in a country where you can’t go to the mall without seeing teenagers dressed in less clothing than I wear to the beach, and where movies and television commercials are flooded with more skin than I ever revealed breastfeeding.

In third world countries breastfeeding is a necessity and a completely accepted and encouraged aspect of raising children. However, in industrial nations such as the United States of America, breastfeeding is still looked at as something that is done in large part by 4 groups of moms:

  • Throwback hippies (I saw this with all of the love for a generation from which I come)
  • Natural pathogen moms who wouldn’t ever consider manufactured foods of any kinds
  • Working moms who have more demanding things to do with their time
  • Those who are too poor to purchase formula and the necessary supplies

Moms who might consider breastfeeding are often put off by several stereotypes, stigmas, and unfortunate concerns.

  • Formula, like wine, is not cheap, especially the good stuff. There is an undercurrent in American society that breastfeeding is something that those who can’t afford formula choose to do.
  • Breastfeeding is icky (according to some). There is a stigma that it is gross and perverted to have an infant so dependent on what society has declared to be a purely sexual body part. Our “modernized” society has melded breastfeeding and sexual imagery – two totally separate issues – and has somehow declared breastfeeding in public to be inappropriate. Yet parents can yell at their children during tee-ball games, belittle their children for not doing well enough in school, and ignore their children as they spend more time texting than talking. Somehow our definition of inappropriate has gone askew.
  • Breastfeeding reduces your social life. Nothing says “new mom” like when you are out with friends to dinner and a baby nearby begins to cry and you spring a leak in a natural response.
  • Breastfeeding your baby means you won’t be able to return to work at full capacity and pursue career goals with vigor.

Yes – there are unfortunately some truths to these stigmas, but only because society hasn’t caught up to reality. They shouldn’t be stigmas and issues that stop moms from providing this wonderful and natural source of nutrition for their babies.

  • Breastfeeding does mean restructuring your social life – but so does becoming a parent in general. Good friends at dinner won’t think less of you if you need to pump-n-dump – those who do probably aren’t worth dinner plans anyway.
  • Even though the laws are changing, they are still not current with world health opinions and endeavors. Working outside of the home will be more challenging as a breastfeeding mom. You will need to plan ahead and let your employer know how often you will need to pump and work with your employer to find a suitable place to do this and store the milk. It won’t always be easy, but it will be worth your time and your infant’s health and relationship with you. Don’t let it be something you regret like I do.

When my 2nd child was just days old I became very ill with a high fever and signs of a bacterial infection, and was told I needed to be hospitalized for a round of IV antibiotics. I immediately saw my hopes and plans of breastfeeding for at least the first year of his life begin to fail as I hadn’t even been able to breastfeed long enough to establish a pattern with my newborn – until my stubborn Irish side kicked in and I refused to be admitted to the hospital without my son allowed in my room so I could breastfeed. The hospital staff relented and I was admitted for 3 days of treatment with him at my side.

That baby, and his brothers who followed, were all breastfed for at least the first year of their lives, despite the roadblocks and stigmas that modern society tends to place on the choice. Don’t let the breastfeeding backlash stop you from providing your child with the best nutritional and developmental start possible – even if you aren’t Irish.

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Do You Have a Parenting Plan?

Would you get a job or move across the world without a plan? Probably not. There would be résumés to prepare and job hours to consider, or language barriers and cultural changes with which to deal. However, all too often parents find themselves without a plan for one of the most important jobs a person can have – raising children. From the nuts and bolts of hours needed for parenting (24/day on-call) to understanding the languages of toddlers and teenagers, parenting needs a plan – a way to reach the goals you envision for your family. Parenting is an enormous, amazing undertaking, and creating a parenting plan helps to keep those of us in the most adventurous roles of our lives (moms and dads), on the right tracks.

Yes – I’m a type A personality planner and list-maker. My natural tendency is to make a plan and a list of the things that I need to do in order to accomplish my goals, sometimes just a collection of mental calculations and supplies needed. Even if you are far from a list-maker and traditional planner, parenting plans are wonderful ways to build strong relationships with your children, and help to understand yourself as a person even better. I’m not asking you to draw up a formal contract with yourself, but just consider a few of the basic ideas for a parenting plan.

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a personal roadmap for you as a parent, developed by you to meet the individual and specific goals of your family. It will help you determine what type of relationship you want with your children, how you hope to help them grow, and specifically what you can do to make those things happen.

It is never too late for a parenting plan.

Whether you are just considering starting a family, are new parents to a precious baby, or are moving through tween years, now is the time for a parenting plan.

Learn as much as you can about parenting styles.

I’m not going to tell you to choose just one specific parenting style. Every child is unique, and parenting styles need to be positive approaches that work for both you and your children. Some of the parenting styles that you might encounter as you develop your plan include:

There is no one right and perfect parenting style, as there is no one right and perfect parent. Sometimes I find myself using certain strategies from one style, but pulling from others in different situations with my children. It is important, however, to remain consistent with your children as they thrive on trusting you and knowing what to expect from your relationship. If you think you are hearing or reading about a parenting style that seems to “click” with you, ask yourself if the methods involved will help you reach your family’s goals.

Make goals.

These goals should be both long-term and short-term, and can include everything from helping your baby learn how to sleep peacefully at night to raising a daughter into a young woman who isn’t afraid of challenges. Brainstorm ideas on any conceivable parenting issue you can imagine:

  • Sleep – Co-sleeping, child-directed sleep patterns, and more options await parents. Some parents choose methods and work to find ways to meet these goals, and sometimes there aren’t any goals other than to get some sleep at night!
  • Discipline methods – I knew right away I didn’t want to spank my kids, but I still needed to find discipline methods that worked and meshed with my other goals.
  • Education – We homeschool, but that wasn’t in our original plans. We had to make sure homeschooling helped us to reach the other goals we had for our children. In our first discussions about it we wondered how we would be able to help our children grow to be outgrowing, independent, confident people if what we heard about the stereotypes of homeschooling were true – thank goodness those stereotypes were wrong!
  • So many more options – the list is infinite what you might include for parenting issues, and these issues will change along the way.

Envision reaching your parenting goals.

What do you think it will feel like to reach your goals? If the goal is having your child sleep through the night, 7 hours of slumber can make you feel wonderful! However, if you and your child have to get there by spending 3 months of agony through trying “crying it out” methods, how will reaching your goals feel compared to if you could have achieved it with less stress? What will be the long-term results of using this method?

Work with your partner.

Have you ever tried to walk against a strong current? That is what it can feel like if you aren’t working together with your child’s other parent (whether married, divorced, or sharing custody). Raising children requires teamwork, and wonderfully effective parenting demands a united front from parents. Even if you have the same goals, it can be impossible to reach those if you are aren’t using the same methods – remember – kids need consistency.

Don’t be afraid to change your plans.

Families are unique and we need to honor our individual needs and goals. Some of my personal parenting goals, such as raising emotionally connected sons and an independent daughter do not waiver on my importance scale. Other goals, however, have changed. Before I became a mom, the only consideration I gave homeschooling was a negative one, but now we find it to be one of the best things about our family. When you give yourself room to change with your family, you acknowledge that we all, even parents, have learning and growing to do still.

A glimpse at my plan

This is in no way a complete vision of my parenting plan, but it will give you an idea of how a parenting plan looks.

Goal: Raise children who value learning and understand how to find information and enlighten themselves and others.


  • Use ideas from Emotion Coaching and Parenting for Success to make sure that I meld the emotional and the intellectual aspects – they can’t operate well apart.
  • Don’t do things for my children that they can do themselves because it will take away their confidence and initiative.
  • Homeschool as long as it works for us. This lets our kids have self-direction in their education.
  • Work with my kids to help them identify their passions and talents and find ways to pursue those (classes, coaches, job shadowing, curriculum, etc.).

This is just a small portion of even this one goal in my own personal parenting journey. Some of my goals are much smaller, such getting the two older children not to bicker over who gets to sit in the front seat, while some of them are more monumental on ongoing, such as raising children who are compassionate and capable of recognizing and apologizing for the wrongs they do (a wonderful family goal).

If we don’t know what we want, need, and hope for our children, how can we know how to parent effectively? If you haven’t given it much thought, no matter how old your children are, just try to develop a parenting plan that speaks to the heart of your family. When we do this as parents, we give a gift to our children, but also to ourselves.

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Talking With Your Kids About Drugs

Yesterday I wrote about the risk factors our kids face when it comes to substance abuse, and how drugs don’t care if our kids are on the honor roll or are star baseball players, and today I share some of the ways that parents can teach themselves about drug abuse and give their kids tools to stay safe. The wonderful side effect of parenting in a proactive and positive way is that when we give our kids skills to make good decisions, those tools often spill over into other areas of their lives.

Talking with our kids about drugs begins with a little “schooling” for parents about the kinds of drugs that pose risks for our kids. Some of them you will probably recognize, but others might surprise you.

Gateway Drugs

Gateway drugs are not only plaguing the children in our communities, but they are even easier to access than before. They are inexpensive and often right in our own homes, and unfortunately our kids sometimes think that if we can buy them at the grocery store, that they can’t be that bad. If you think there is no way your kids have access to things that are considered gateways drugs, look around your home and see if you have any of the following.

  • Glue
  • Aerosol cans of paint, hairspray, deodorant, or even whipping cream
  • Paint thinner
  • Prescriptions medications
  • Cold medications
  • Alcohol
  • Nail polish remover

Kids are learning how about huffing (getting high from aerosol fumes) from online tutorials and friends, and they have instant access to recipes for “home-grown” highs at the family computer. These are for the most part legal substances that kids have learned how to use to get high, and they don’t cost much more than a can of soda. Huffing involves inhaling the chemical vapors, actually depriving the brain of oxygen. They can lose consciousness, coordination, and have strokes or cardiac arrest. Then why do they do it? The high it gives as it destroys brain cells gives them a “funny feeling” and often peer pressure and reactions contribute to this epidemic.

Kids also have increased access to prescription drugs, and some kids even have their own prescriptions for anything from antidepressants to painkillers. Statistics are clear that whether kids “borrow” pills from parents or grandparents or take more than the recommended amount of their own, that the effects can be devastating.

Street Drugs

It doesn’t have to be the plastic bag filled with white powder from the movie scene because street drugs are available worldwide, in all kinds of neighborhoods. Some street drugs are as inexpensive as a drive-thru meal. It really is important to know what kinds of drugs your kids might hear about, see, or unfortunately, be offered, at some point in their lives. If you don’t know what the drug is or does to the body, you can’t teach your kids about those dangers. Find some resources and learn more about what your kids face – below is just an eye-opening start.

  • Marijuana (pot, refer, weed, grass, hashish, etc.) is most often smoked in joints, pipes (bowls), or through water pipes (bongs). The high gives users a false sense of happiness, but also comes with loss of coordination, memory problems, and generalized confusion.
  • Cocaine (from the leaves of the coca plant) is one of the most addictive street drugs known. Its high stimulates the pleasure center of the brain, but this false sense of joy means that users can no longer find joy in things they once did. Maybe it is the football star who no longer cares about sports, or the student who doesn’t dream about college anymore, and it can cause heart attacks and seizures, even in children.
  • Crack comes from cocaine that has been processed for smoking. It is dangerously and instantly addictive, making the user constantly seek out that high again.
  • Methamphetamines are stimulants that include meth, speed, uppers, ice, and more. Kids most often use these for appetite suppressants and to feel energized. Meth highs can give kids who are under school and life pressures the feeling that they can accomplish anything, but what they really are getting is brain damage.

This list is far from complete, but it gives you an idea of some of the drugs that are available all too often. More importantly, kids need the tools that will help them lead lives where they won’t feel the need to turn to these drugs.

How do I talk with my child about drugs?

Like the other awkward conversations parents dread (or don’t think they need to have), talking with kids about substance abuse needs to be more than a “one-shot” deal. The conversations should be ongoing and involve both talking and listening by parents.

Communicate – If you haven’t already developed good communication skills with your child, the time is now to start. Keep your voice calm, your questions non-confrontational, and your judgments reserved.

Build Trust – When it comes to talking with kids about things like drugs, it is imperative that kids feel they can trust their parents. We can’t create that trust if we jump to conclusions or throw threats and punishments around. Yes – kids need to earn trust, but they can’t do that if we don’t give them opportunities to do so.

Know Their Lives – Understanding teens’ friends, school activities, and extracurricular functions is mandatory. Parents don’t need to be spying shadows, but they should know who their kids hang out with and where they go after school. To really know their lives, parents need to participate in the lives of their kids – as much as possible.

Be Real – Let kids know the true facts in non-accusatory ways. Teens often think their parents are clueless, but if you let them know that you know about the dangers of crank and ecstasy, they know that you’ve done your homework.

Use Opportunities – Watch television and movies with your kids or listen to their music, and you’re bound to hear about or see drug use portrayed. Talk about the scenes or the lyrics and create an open dialogue. If your child ever mentions a friend or someone from school in the context of drugs, don’t jump to conclusions and go over-protective-parent-ninja. Embrace the trust your teen has placed in you and calmly talk with them about the situation.

  • Encourage sports or physical activity to reduce stress and provide positive outlets for energy.
  • Be an active listener when kids are feeling stressed or frustrated.
  • Don’t ignore pleas for help with bullying and other social issues and brush them off as “phases” – these can lead to depression, anxiety, and teens giving into peer pressure.
  • Help kids find opportunities for safe and responsible fun – even if that means hosting teenage parties (I have survived these and you will, too!).
  • Encourage hobbies for your kids for outlets for stress, anxiety, and a break from life stresses.
  • Volunteer with your kids. Helping others who have gone through struggles is a great way to remind kids about values in their own lives.
  • Keep your child up to date on health check-ups. Healthy kids are less likely to feel the need for drug use, and doctors can help monitor for things like weight loss and depression.

Parenting is not easy. Considering our children and drug use in the same breath is painful and uncomfortable. The alternatives, however, are so much worse. Take the time today to build healthy relationships with your kids.

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A Parent’s Guide to Talking with Kids about Drugs

I grew up in the era where just say no was the policy response taught to children about drug use, and I grew up in a culture and community where a “druggie” was considered the guy who skipped classes to smoke a cigarette across the street. Now I am raising children where drug use is an undertone in movies, drug abuse makes for common reality television programming, and there really is not a community safe from drug abuse anymore.

So, how does a mom who grew up in a time and place where parents didn’t really worry about drug use teach her kids to make responsible, safe choices? I admit that I came into this a little green. Fortunately I have been able to develop very open relationships with my children, and feel that our communication and participation levels are amazing (considering two are teenagers). However, I know that this can’t be a fool-proof safeguard, especially as they spread their wings more every day.

Recently I worked on a technical writing assignment for a production company that opened my eyes even more to the world our kids face, specifically with the dangers of drugs. I learned about typical kids, coming from typical families, who made one wrong turn – they just tried drugs. That wrong turn can mean all of the difference in the world. As parents we need to first educate ourselves, before we can lead our children. My education came in the form of a work assignment, but I was so touched by what I read and saw that I wanted to make sure that I shared it with other parents.

Parent Education

It starts with research and developing or relying on a parenting style that creates a harmonious and healthy family. Research does show that parents who are actively engaged in their children’s lives and use positive and nurturing approaches with their children are more likely to raise children who do not succumb to drug abuse. Parenting styles that are based on ideas of emotion coaching and parenting for success are really important for laying the groundwork needed for strong relationships with tweens and teens.

If kids don’t feel they can come to parents with stressful situations, bullying, peer issues, and health concerns, it is even more unlikely that they will feel they can come to parents about issues such as sex and drugs (those two big things that parents and kids seem to have the most difficulty discussing). By the same token, parents who are uninvolved and extremely permissive are at more risk of having children who are willing to experiment with drugs.

We can tell our kids – Don’t use drugs! – but that doesn’t really tell them what we mean by drugs, what drugs look like, how they affect a person, and how they affect lives. It also doesn’t acknowledge the truths about why kids experiment with drugs, and unfortunately, become addicted to them.

Why Do Kids Use Drugs?

There are no formal checklists of finite reasons why kids begin experimenting with drugs, but there are several risk factors that kids face, and it isn’t necessarily about what kind of neighborhood you live in or the schools your kids attend. The high that kids seek really comes in two parts. The first is the high of the risk-taking that we know teen’s brains often have difficulty processing. The second is the physical high that the brain and body experiences because of the drug. Unfortunately, for many addictive drugs, it only takes one time to train the brain to seek out a repeat high.

One parent who watched her child go through drug addiction spoke eloquently about the veracity of drugs. The drugs don’t care about the car she drives as a mom, the house the family lives in, the grades on the transcript, or the clothes that hang in the closet. The drug knows nothing different from the teen who lives in the modest two-story home when compared with the teen who lives in a neglected apartment building in an even more neglected part of town. We have to be so extremely careful not to lull ourselves into complacency as parents, and become truly aware of the risk factors for our kids that go beyond the neighborhoods.

Peer pressure – the more obvious and long-standing reason is still a factor. Kids who have friends who experiment with drugs are more likely to try drugs themselves.

Academic pressure – as kids are facing mounting academic pressures they are also learning that stimulants (such as speed) can make them feel like they have limitless energy to accomplish all of the tasks before them.

Family stress – including things like divorce, illness, job losses for parents, and more can all negatively affect children and sometimes increase the likelihood that they would take risks to relieve those pressures that make them feel helpless.

Health problems – including depression, but also things like sports injuries can turn kids to gateway drugs like prescription pain killers.

Puberty – the one factor you really can’t influence. Puberty means that kids are going through enormous physical, psychological, and hormonal changes. The immaturity of the brain functions sometimes simply do not support sound, responsible decision making in kids. Where drug use is concerned, sometimes one mistake is one mistake too many.

How Can I Talk with My Child About Substance Abuse?

There are a few conversations many parents feel at least slightly uncomfortable about having with their children. None of our kids are immune to the effects of drugs, or the pressures that might make them more likely to experiment with drugs.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll explore more on the following:

  • What drugs do I need to worry about with my kids?
  • How will substance abuse affect our family?
  • How can I give my kids the tools they need to make safe, responsible choices?

Please join me in this important discussion – our kids need us to be involved and informed.

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Does Your Child Have Sensory Overload?

The Value of the Senses in Childhood Development

We use our senses every day to experience the world, and children especially are influenced by tasting, touching, smelling, hearing, and seeing the environments around them. Sometimes, because of illness, disability, or life circumstances, our kids’ senses are unbalanced, overstimulated, or under-stimulated. The results can be kids who struggle with daily behaviors, or on the extreme end, are diagnosed with Dysfunction in Sensory Integration (DSI), which is also called Sensory Integration Dysfunction.

None of my children have been diagnosed with DSI – Dysfunction in Sensory Integration – but I am finding so many wonderful benefits of the tools one particular author offers to parents on the subject. Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A., has written The Out-of-Sync Child and The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun.

The Stress of Unbalanced Senses

For years I have recognized that in particular one of my children has stronger sensory needs than my other children. When he struggled with severe ear pain, infections, surgery, and temporary hearing reduction as a toddler, his other senses overcompensated for these issues and the results have been a child who prefers tactile sensations, lower sounds, and more particular food textures. At a period of time in his life when his development should have included all of his senses, it was limited in some, creating an imbalance that he is slowly rebuilding into a level playing field.

These needs might be seen by some as enough reason to diagnose with DSI. I take them as just more characteristics of my child that can be addressed through opportunities and play. Kranowitz’s work has given me great tools with which to meet the needs of my kids. More importantly, these activities are valuable for all children. Integrating sensory development opportunities helps kids to bridge their awareness of the world. The second book, The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun includes numerous activities to address the senses. These go beyond the 5 senses we think of typically:

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Hearing
  • Touch
  • Taste

The Real Sensory System

Kranowitz describes the more integral and basic fundamentals of the sensory system:

Tactile Sense – Information is provided to the brain mainly through the skin. It includes actively touching things and passively touching things, like the differences between petting a dog and feeling the breeze blow across your arm. These differences also help us distinguish between threatening and non-threatening touches.

Vestibular Sense – Sensation is provided through the inner ear. This affects balance, movement, and awareness of our body positions in relation to our environment. This is the one that my child experienced the most challenges with, rendering his other senses more heightened.

Proprioceptive Sense – This sense provides us with the awareness of our body parts and how they are moving, specifically the joints, muscles, and ligaments.

These three foundations of the sensory system are sometimes known as the hidden senses, and develop in utero before the other 5 commonly known senses, but they all work closely together to provide a person with information about and interpretations of the world.

All Kids Benefit from Sensory Rich Activities

Kranowitz is quick to remind parents that kids haven’t changed in all of the ways that count and in all of the important aspects for parents. They still thrive on hands-on activities that require hard work and tangible experiences. In a world filled with so many passive activities for kids (computers, video games, etc.), sensory stimulation can be lost.

The Seven Drops

The author also has a great technique for parents to use with their kids, especially when sensory overload or under-load is causing stress. While this is targeted for children with DSI, it is really applicable for all for parents to consider using with their children. It is called the “Seven Drops” and doesn’t require medication, classes, or enormous amounts of time.

  1. Drop your voice. Whispers will sometime get way more attention from your kids than yelling.
  2. Drop your body. Children are less intimated and stressed when their caregivers are at their body levels.
  3. Drop your TV remote. Get engaged with your child, whether it is by putting down the remote, the newspaper, or the cell phone.
  4. Drop your guard. Let your child take risks, as it is the only way they will truly experience success.
  5. Drop your defenses. If your child is having a meltdown, don’t ignore the reactions of your in-laws or other parents, or get defensive. Acknowledge the situation and it is easier to move forward with it.
  6. Drop your batteries. Toys and video games that are passive don’t require the energy of the kids. When kids plays with toys that require kid power, the kids get so much more out of them.
  7. Drop your misconception that fun is frivolous. Enough said!

Sensory needs are extremely vital to the healthy development of children, and I have experienced first-hand how imbalances in the senses can create stress for children. Through exercises like the ones provided by Kranowitz we are moving from a place where my toddler insisted on wearing shirts with silky tags so he had something soft with which to reassure himself at all times, to just preferring to snuggle with special blankets at bedtime.

If your child is showing any signs of special sensory needs (even things like agitation, fidgety movements, clumsiness, frustration with change, and heightened sensitivity), reading Kranowitz’s works can provide you with some clues to these behaviors and tools for integrating all of the senses in balanced ways. Even if your child does not have any of these issues, the activities provided are wonderful ways for children to experience play and learning to the fullest extent possible.

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Help Teens Get the Sleep They Need

Practically every night I am serenaded by the sounds of a teenager rambling through the house, and thumping, dancing, or bumping in her room that is above my office. I know I shouldn’t be surprised to hear her drop books to the floor well past midnight, or giggle on the phone when her brothers are sleeping in the room nearby. All of these sounds tell me what many other parents know – teenagers fall asleep as well as some teething toddlers.

According to numbers released by the National Sleep Foundation, as few as 15% of teens are getting even 8.5 hours of sleep each night, when at minimum they should really be getting at least 9.25 hours each night. On school nights these hours of rest are even more important.

Why do teens have such crazy sleeping patterns?

I remember well the years of staying up late, loving to sleep later, yet also seeming to run through life on limited sleep. I also participated in a research project on circadian rhythms, those natural tendencies our bodies have to adjust to sleeping and waking cycles. The biological changes that teenagers go through bring about changes in their sleep patterns. It is typical and natural for teens to shift their sleeping habits to later bedtimes, often not falling asleep before 11:00 pm. When teens have to be at school and functioning by 7:00 or so, it is easy to see why they are tired and resist waking in the morning.

Another habit that tends to add to the poor sleep habits of teens is that they often stay up even later on weekends and sleep later in the morning. Their bodies simply don’t have enough time to adjust to these different sleep patterns.

Why is sleep important for teens?

  • Rest is needed for keeping up with the demands of academics and sports.
  • Sleep deprivation can be a risk for teens who are driving or working at part-time jobs and might be more inclined to fall asleep behind the wheel or while doing a work-related task.
  • Poor sleep habits contribute to things like depression and anxiety.
  • Unhealthy sleep habits contribute to skin problems like acne.
  • Teens are already dealing with surging hormones, and sleep disruptions can make them even more prone to outbursts and frustrations that they don’t deal with well.

How can parents help their teens get better sleep?

Now that I have 2 teenagers in the house adequate sleep is even more of a priority. As a parent I know the demands that their lives have and how important sleep is, but I need to do more than just nag them to go to bed. We have instituted some practices that help them keep reasonable bedtimes, allow for them to still be independent (not many teens want to be tucked in with a story at 8 pm), and have enough energy and enthusiasm for life the next day.

Make a sleep record. Work with your teen to determine how much sleep is actually accrued each night, and what the habits are in the 3 hours before falling asleep. This information will help both of you find ways to improve those numbers.

Prioritize the evening. Homework is definitely an issue for our oldest who is in college. Studies come first, but she can intersperse those with chatting with friends, hanging out with family, or just veg’ing on the couch. Those things that require the most mental and physical energy come first. It helps to set the tone for the evening into a natural slow-down.

Gradually reduce electronics. Between the television, video games, cell phones, iPods, and computers, it is unrealistic to think that teens can have access to all of those right up until they fall asleep and not be interrupted by their blinks, beeps, and constant updates. By about 10:00 we have all of the main lights in the house turned off, and our teens know that they need to limit their technology – laptops only for homework and televisions off. Our sons like to fall asleep listening to the radio or books on CD, but the volume must be low and not distracting others.

Create a cozy room. Warm, comfortable bedrooms are more likely to help teens fall asleep. Help your child create an environment that comforts him and helps him relax. This could include window blinds that block glares from outdoor lights, cozy bedding, options for light music, or scents like lavender.

Make it a habit. In our home the habits are most important. Even our dog knows when it is time to go to bed, just by the adjustments in surroundings. Each night our kids have routines, everything from standard teeth brushing to snuggling with pets. Establishing routines helps signal the brain that it is time to slow-down and prepare for sleep.

Don’t forget about food and nutrition. The foods and beverages your teen chooses will also likely impact their sleep habits in some way. Caffeine, sugars, and carbohydrates can influence the energy levels your kids experience. When you create a sleep record with them, include their foods, especially those they eat from supper and beyond. Also consider what they are eating throughout the day. My daughter feels most tired in the early afternoon, so we are adjusting her lunch to compensate for her sleepy feelings right when she needs to be alert in classes – fewer carbs and more fruits and veggies.

Be ready for the morning. Mornings just aren’t pretty things for most teens. In order to make the morning less chaotic, we make sure our kids plan ahead the night before so they aren’t scattered the next day. They also have morning routines and know how long it will take to get things done before they are ready for school. Just as we have a technology wind-down at night, we have a slow-start policy for them for the morning. Until their chores are complete and they are ready for school they can’t be checking out Facebook or catching up on emails. Those activities just suck them in and they lose track of time, and don’t help them get energized for the day.

I’m realistic enough to know that telling a teen to go to bed at 9:00 pm will be about as successful as telling a toddler to read himself a bedtime story. Instead of arguing over the biological inevitable, I need to focus on helping my teens adjust their habits so that they can get as much sleep as possible, and get it consistently. I at least know that when I also hear my daughter’s cell phone (the one she must have pushed out from under her pillows in the middle of the night) vibrate through the ceiling above me that she is ignoring that tone as well as my own calls for her to (in my mother’s words), “Rise and shine!”

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