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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Birthday Traditions to Connect with Your Child (That Aren't Big Parties)


Birthdays have always been a big deal in our family.  In a large family, a person might feel a bit lost on some days, so we use the date on the calendar to celebrate each individual.  With four of our seven having had birthdays in the past two months, we consider January and February our "Birthday Season."


We still have parties for the elementary schoolers, by middle and high school, it's usually an activity with a friend or two.  So gathering with friends is one way that we honor each special day.  But here are some simple yet meaningful ways to connect with your birthday child that aren't a big party:

1) Pull out the Baby Book.  Mom, you spent time and energy noting details that didn't really matter so put that sweet book to good use and look through it with your child.  Mine love to see the silly faces and funny firsts that make each child unique.

2) Recount the Birth Story.  To this day, my own mother will call or text and say, "Forty-three years ago I was heading to the hospital and..."  I know the story now, but my children don't know theirs yet.  Each one loves to hear about the details of the day they were born.  Who was there, who came to the hospital, what did the doctor say, was it planned or surprise labor?  All these things make their own story precious.

3) Put out a fun photo. We have frame that holds a 4x6 photo and says "Happy Birthday."  I rotate the photo, depending on whose birthday is coming next and keep it out for the week surrounding the special day.  It's just a little touch and a reminder to everyone that a special day is coming.



4) Note something new that he or she has done or acquired in the past year.  Note that last year he wasn't able to ride a bike, but now he can!  Look at how your room has changed.  I notice your grades are so much better this year.  Can you believe how many books you have read this year?  Or how many Lego sets you have put together?  Find anything notable to express pride in the growth you see.

5) Enjoy a personal favorite!
This can be a meal cooked at home or at a favorite restaurant.  It can be a favorite dessert or one of mine chose to get his favorite coffee - and the largest one money can purchase!

BONUS: If you have family that live far away, have them send cards or gifts and let them pile up until the actual birthday.  This really ignites the anticipation!

Sometimes a child may feel overlooked in a large family.  The blended family dynamic can magnify this feeling.  But there are ways to strengthen each individual child and celebrate his or her uniqueness.  Make birthdays exciting in simple ways to build up self esteem and family bonding.

Family connection is vital to healthy emotional development and self identity.  Children with strong families grow to be strong individuals.  Take advantage of a birthday to celebrate and connect with your children. How do you celebrate birthdays?



Friday, February 24, 2017

Easing the Stress of Transition Days When Coparenting

It's transition day again - the day my children leave home and head to their dad's place, which is another home to them.  Children in blended families have unique needs that often overlap with blended family roles.

I don't like the fact that my children move between two homes.  It disrupts their schedules and creates tension on transition days.  I see the anxiety levels rise as they attempt to gather what they need and want or get frustrated when things are left in their other home.  Their dad and I work hard to combat and minimize the struggle, but it is a reality that we know will impact them.  It is an ever-present aspect of their lives that will define their concept of "home" forever.

As a parent, there is tension, anxiety and frustration for me, too.

Sometimes, I strive to have exceptionally wonderful moments during the hours prior to their departure.  This is unrealistic and adds pressure to both myself and the children.

I am tempted to make their lives easier in our home by requiring fewer chores, less responsibility and providing fewer boundaries.  This doesn't do them any favors and results in entitled children. Eventually, I resent that they expect me to do everything for them.

It feels like the angst builds closer and closer to pickup time and so there are some things I've learned in the seven + years that I've been co-parenting.

·         No Suitcase Required!  Having all the necessary gear at two homes is the ideal.  Children are not visitors and need a sense of ownership and belonging in both locations.  Stress increases dramatically when there is a need to cart clothing, hygiene supplies, games, toys and more between two locations.  Some things do have to go back and forth (homework, personal devices or a stuffed animal), but these can be minimized.

·         Avoid big chores on transition day.  Early in the process, I used to make leaving a time to straighten, organize and get everything in order so that the children would return to a comfortable room and space.  This only created stress prior to them leaving and they dreaded it.  Now we take care of major chores the day before transition, and they just keep up the day to day things.  If it’s messy when they leave, it’s messy when they get home…and no one seems to care much.

·         Keep a space available for items that need to move between homes.  We don't pack suitcases, but we do have to transport backpacks, school papers and the occasional uniform or device.  Having a designated spot alleviates the mad dash at the door while dad is waiting. 

·         Separation anxiety extends beyond the toddler years and in the shuffle between homes, some personalities are more prone than others to agitation that they cannot yet articulate.  Knowing that the tension during the back-and-forth is normal, can help you adjust expectations accordingly.  This isn’t the time for life lessons.  Correct only what is essential and aim to bid farewell on a positive note.

·         Separation anxiety happens for parents, too, but your anxiety will escalate theirs.  Calm down because your calm presence provides the perspective they need and will adopt.  It is essential that your children do not feel responsible for your feelings or worry about you while you are apart. Let them know if you have plans or how you will fill the time.  You are the grown up.  You have just been given a block of time without childcare responsibilities.  Use it work, for self care, for home maintenance or whatever.  Keep your perspective positive and treat the time you have as a gift.

·         Keep goodbye simple, sweet and in advance.  Do not prolong the farewell or require superficial affection prior to departure. Be relaxed, upbeat and keep it enjoyable.  A quick hug and kiss is just fine.  Let them know you are available if they need you, but give them the freedom to head out to their other family and enjoy time there, as well.  Long, heartfelt goodbyes will make your child feel guilty about leaving you.

·         Create a schedule and keep it as consistent as possible.  Kids like to know what to expect and it will instill security.  Predictability is your friend in the sometimes chaotic lives of co-parenting families.  Be simple and positive at send-off.

Transitions while co-parenting are unavoidable and inevitable.  They are part of the normal patchwork and life for some children.  I have found that keeping the transition as low-key as possible it best.  We try to make the switch as uneventful as possible and normalize the back and forth. There is a specific need for peace in these families.

I love speaking with older kids who have gone through the process and have more perspective.  One girl told me it feels, “So unbelievably normal.  I couldn’t imagine not going between homes, especially now that my dad has my brothers.  And of course, my mom is my mom!”  She went on to say, “If you start when you’re little, it’s no big deal.  If not, you still get used to it.”  It's sobering to grasp that something that seems so out of ordinary to me will be the status quo for many children.

Obviously, most children and teens eventually find a way to cope with the movement between two homes.  But we cannot deny the real pressure and triggers that are involved.  As parents, we take on the duty to make these transitions as simple, low stress as possible.  Ultimately, transition days are not about me.  My gift is to smooth the process where I can and help my children cope with the drawbacks.  While they are gone, I get to take care of me and enjoy some freedom from the pressing responsibilities of childcare.  





Monday, February 13, 2017

Be The Love


"All You Need Is Love," some say and I do cherish being loved.  But instead setting up false expectations about a deeply romantic Valentine's Day, use the 14th as inspiration to be the love that others in your life can celebrate.

I'm kind of famous among those who know me well for being wild about Valentine's Day.  It remains such a fun moment for me to spoil and pamper the ones that I hold most dear.  Mostly, I want them to know they are so loved by not only me, but by their Heavenly Father.  His love is more than enough to fill our lives, if we let Him. This is the true message of love.

So how do I celebrate this annual Love-fest?  Here are some ideas:
  • Spend some energy to spruce up your space.  You don't have to wait for someone to buy
    flowers, bring some back from the grocery store after your next weekly trip.
  • Send something special to someone unexpecting.  Do you know a single mama or grad student?  Surprise them with an invite to dinner or something that shows you see their hard work.
  • Pay it forward in the drive through - just for fun! 
  • Take cookies or flowers to your neighbors.
  • Spoil your children with notes that detail what you love about them.  Leave on the table for a breakfast surprise on Valentine's morning.  Pack some chocolate in their lunch.  Never let them wonder if you think they are amazing!
  • Send a text to a friend far away.
  • Love yourself with a bath, mani/pedi or new lipstick.  Wear red or pink just for fun on Valentine's Day.  
  • If there is a man whom you admire, think about what would be special for him.  Write a note.  Bake some cookies.  Give him something to anticipate in the bedroom.  Find a way to connect.  He may never admit it, may even say Valentine's doesn't matter, but he will appreciate your reaching out to demonstrate the ways you love him.
  • Tell your parents how much you love and appreciate what they have done for you all of your life.  Send an encouraging note to a far-away relative.  Isn't it fun to get real mail these days? 
  • Send a care package to a college student far from home.
  • Offer to babysit so your friends can go out.  

There are countless ways to celebrate love, but most importantly we must take the time to do it!


Valentines Day - Skip the Dread & Drama

Nine Easy Ways to Love Your Family

Our Valentine Tradition



Friday, February 10, 2017

The Big Secret is That the Forties are Fabulous!

I never dreaded my forties, but I didn't know that I was supposed to look forward to them either.  For anyone who hasn't hit this age yet, the big secret is that the forties are fabulous!

Of course I deal with the normal aging issues: my knees crackle and ache, heels are no longer and all-day option, yet I'm healthy and strong.  My waist is thicker and my skin less youthful, but I smile more than ever.  I am comfortable in my own skin.  I enjoy deep, quality relationships that involve give and take.

I know myself better than ever, and I know what I need, what I like and what doesn't work for me.  Plus, I'm not afraid to speak up about those things.  I am happier and more content in my life than ever, I think.  I don't say that to gloat or rub-it-in-your face or one-up anyone.  I'm just truly happy, and recognizing it amplifies the feeling.  Here is what I note about myself this year:
  • I am confident in God's over-arching care of me, no longer
    driven to perform for approval but able to rest and act in confidence that He has my best interest in mind (even when I don't understand at a particular moment).
  • I'm loved and respected by a true partner in life.  I fully trust Mr. Wonderful and knows he desires the best for me and my children.
  • I get to be the primary parent to three fabulous children.  I have a role in the lives of two step daughters that we continue to work out and define.  I am confident of my place in these lives.
  • Every physical need is supplied and so many of my wishes, too.  We are healthy and I am aware this is a gift that we may not always enjoy.
  • My extended family is far away and that sometimes makes me sad.  Yet I recognize that we have wonderful relationships and history.  I know not everyone enjoys close relationships and I'm so grateful that we all make the effort to remain connected.
  • My best friends are also far away in location, but close in heart and are seriously the highest quality women that I know!  We have adapted to our cross-country friendships and manage to remain involved and active in each others' lives.
  • The stress levels in my daily life are fairly low.  This is an ENORMOUS gift! 
  • All but one of my children can do their laundry from washer, to dryer, to folded and put away.  This is seriously one of the best gifts of the year!
 Birthdays happen every year and while I don't love everything about getting older, I really am in love with this season of life!  I've been working on those goals I make every year...kind of like my "New Year's Resolutions," and I'll share those soon.  



Thursday, February 2, 2017

What's Saving My Life Right Now



1. Getting Outside: I track my outside exercise miles in the Map My Run App, and January/February are notoriously low mileage months.  But this January?  I was right up there with my monthly average of 100 miles.  It's been warmer than usual, even if quite gray.  So forcing myself outdoors while it's still light out has worked wonders so far this winter.  I'm already noticing that the light is lasting longer and the tangible promise of spring is encouraging.

2. Spice Jar Labels: This seems so minor, but it is a huge lifesaver for me.  For years I have lifted the jars while trying to add just the right spice to a recipe at just the right moment.  I mumbled every single time.  Finally, I did something about it and ordered labels to make my life easier.  I haven't applied them all and can't wait to complete the task.  Perhaps I'll bite the bullet and order the uniform jars, too!


3. Glovies from the Hubby: Even though it has been a warmer winter, my hands still get ultra cold and dry when I'm outdoors each day.  My Santa put these cuties in my stocking this year and I just love that they are warm yet allow me to use my iphone apps.  Double score for Mr. Wonderful.

4. Budget and Planning: February is a month of some serious payments due: property tax, loan payoff, new tires and insurance premiums.  I hate the massive outflow of cash-on-hand, but I'm thankful we planned ahead and aren't blindsided.  We are mostly prepared, even if we do have to be especially frugal in the fun department this month.  I can see why people opt to live without vehicles, they are seriously expensive to own and operate.

5. Treating the eczema with the "hard stuff:" The past several years have been blissfully mild ones for my ongoing eczema issues.  But in December I had a flare-up that has persisted.  I try to avoid the harsh steroids, when I can, but by January I was done playing nice.  I used all three prescriptions and beat that rash back.  It is a persistent plague and I still have spots but I'm not suffering like I was. Also, I began using Aveeno Eczema Therapy all over after my showers.  So far, no more outbreaks, which is totally saving my life.



6. Chick Fil A Night and "Make Your Own" in Meal Planning:  Meal planning has long been one of the only ways I survive each week feeding our large, blended family.  Now I plan for flexibility with a couple of nights off for myself.  They are labeled on our Meal Plan and are self explanatory, I think.


8. Texting with the Girlfriends: I've embraced the group text and the jolt of intimacy/laughter/camaraderie is perfection.  I have the best friends!

9. Finally, my sister has always snickered at the way I avoid washing my hair until absolutely necessary.  For Christmas, she gifted me with a dry shampoo and it has made my life even easier plus I feel even less pressure to wash, dry and style every time I shower.  Thank you, Mindy!

This post was inspired by Modern Mrs. Darcy and I'm linking up with others there.  Check it out to see what could be saving Your life right now.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The March of Women

Over the weekend I heard reports of women marching both near and far away.  I tried to relate, but was embarrassed by most of what I saw.  I tried to relate because I usually feel an instrinsic connection to with women that transcends opinions.  I wanted to connect, but I could not.  Today I saw women marching and I was proud.

I saw a young woman marching into the classroom to teach even younger women-to-be and future men the basics like reading, math and science.  It's her first classroom and she is still learning, too. But she shows up each morning with a smile and a positive attitude.  She modeling the march for little girls and boys each day.

I saw another woman marching into a middle school before she had to be there to help a student who has fallen behind.  She earned nothing extra for her twice-weekly efforts or her consistent presence to make sure he stays on track in his difficult subject.  She is quietly and consistently marching.  Her work may never be documented by the media, but our family will never forget her investment.

Earlier this year I was moved by another woman in the super center who was shopping for back to school.  She was marching to gather supplies and provide for her own woman-child, the one marching to the beat of her own unique, middle-school drum.  I was moved because this woman has faced serious setbacks, addiction, jail-time, false starts.  But she kept marching.  She was marching for her daughter.

Not long ago I was able to dine with a woman marching in high places: government, management, leadership.  She marched with kindness, determination and focus.  She was disciplined and credentialed.  This woman marches in places of great influence.  She inspires me to march well, also.

This week I see women marching to the gym to donate their time and their talents to teach little women basketball.  I see women march to the church to donate money and time to share hope.  I saw an elderly woman slowly march to her front door, leaning heavily on the aid of her friend and her walker.  She marched through great struggle.

Every day I see women marching.  Some with energy and zeal, some with resignation and struggle, some with pain and longing.  Yet they march on and with them the future for womankind and humankind everywhere.

I get it, I have personally experienced many of the struggles that are particular to being a woman: bullying, poverty and government assistance, infertility, special needs, single parenting, childcare woes and zero pay for maternity leave.  I faced childhood sexual trauma and our family has grieved with illegal immigrants who are lost in the underworld of being undocumented.  I have to discuss pornography with my children,  We attend Title One schools. I struggle with working and finding balance for family life and personal aspirations.  I've been a corporate warrior and a secretary as well as a work-at-home mom.  I relate with most women in some way and draw from that connection. I do not march with some who protest in parades, but I am proud to march daily in conquest for what is right and dignified.  I am honored to be a woman.  I am pro-woman and desire to empower women everywhere.

There are days when I am required to stand up and stand out.  But most days, my best effort is made by marching forward and onward, looking to my left and my right and nodding in camaraderie with those marching, too.  We link arms and reach out to those who are trying to get their own footing and together we rise.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What's Your Connection Cue?

Our home is a busy one and I'm sure that yours is, too.  Life is full and hectic, which makes it very easy for married couples to become task-oriented rather than relationship-focus.  I myself get fixated on too many details and schedules, when I would rather focus on connections that last.

Because of this, it's so very easy to fall into the tag-team pattern of running a household and parenting where I take care of one thing and Mr. Wonderful deals with another, so that we operate in parallel worlds.  It works for functionality, but the connection and personality gets starved from our relationship.  I've lived in a marriage like that before and I am vigilant against allowing that pattern to creep into our home.

So we have little rituals that remind us that we are more than the grown-ups responsible for the housework and maintenance of life.  We are two people madly in love a devoted to one another for life, not just someday when the to-do lists are done, but right now in the crazy and madness of all that requires our attention.  I want Mr. Wonderful to know he is my priority.  He is more important than dishes or laundry or bills or the best show I can find on tv.

So after the children are tucked into bed (and sometimes before they even get there when our schedule gets crazy), Mr. Wonderful and I site together on the couch and just let ourselves relax.  Often, I find myself giving him a little foot rub or neck massage.  I can feel him let go of the daily cares and the physical act of touching brings an intimate connection that is so satisfying.  In this brief interaction, often just ten minutes or so, we move from coworkers managing life into partners pursuing each other.  It signals loud and clear that while I must cook and clean, I choose to connect.

This has been the most obvious connection cue, but I notice there are others throughout the day.  That moment in the mornings where we pause during the mad-dash and embrace, kiss and move on to our individual schedules.  The quick call or text as we move through individual itineraries.  So much of life inevitably pulls a couple apart.  We must find a way to intentional draw closer to one another and remain connected.  There are many ways to do this and much freedom for creativity.  For us, it's a simple cuddle as we shift from corporate warrior and home manager into a couple who are simply satisfied in each others' company.  What is your connection cue? Me? I rub feet.