Define Your Family’s Core Values by Creating a Family Mission Statement

Taking the time to figure out what your family is about and what you truly value can be anything from a fun family activity to a transformative experience.

What does your family value most? Would your kids’ answers mirror yours if asked that question? As parents, one of our biggest jobs is to help our kids develop their own internal compass – a framework to help them make decisions when we aren’t with them. But with all of the outside influences kids experience today, how can you make sure that your children really understand what qualities and traits are important to your family? One way is to create a family mission statement in which everyone has a voice in articulating your family’s purpose.
The family mission statement is a concept described in author and businessman Stephen Covey’s 1989 book “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.” Many successful corporations craft mission statements so that all employees can work together toward a common goal.
Covey contends that families, like businesses, need common goals and values to function well:

“A family mission statement is a combined, unified expression from all family members of what your family is all about — what it is you really want to do and be — and the principles you choose to govern your family life.” – Stephen Covey

To start developing your statement, hold a family get-together. Covey recommends that you keep the meetings fun: combine it with a pizza party or fun activity. If your kids are young, keep the meeting short. You don’t want this important discussion to become a chore! Keep in mind that it may take more than one meeting to complete your mission statement.

Where to begin

Start with reflection questions to get everyone thinking. Read each person’s answers out loud. Make sure that there is a strict rule that no one is allowed to laugh at or judge another’s thoughts. For moms and dads, be careful not to turn this into a discussion of what kids are doing wrong – even if Timmy bringing up “responsibility” as a value seems like the perfect opening to bring up that he doesn’t always do his chores! The discussion should focus on what the family is doing well in the present and what you hope to do better in the future.
There are step-by-step documents and tutorials available around the blogosphere if you want some guidance. If you feel stuck, consider using one of these as a starting point and modify to fit your family dynamic:

Or try some of these sample questions and add your own:

  • How do we show our love and support for one another?
  • How do we treat others?
  • What do you like about our family?
  • What do you like about coming home?
  • Think about your favorite memories of our family time? What were we doing? What made that time special?
  • Can you think of other families whom you admire? Why?
  • How do you think others describe our family?

After the refection answers are read, you will likely see some similar values start to repeat. For example, does everyone agree that supporting each other is one of your family’s core values?

Stick to values and keep it fun

Once you have culled a list of values from members’ reflections, write them down. Try to stay away from goals. This is because goals are situation specific, while values are timeless. For example, a goal would be “We will volunteer as a family each summer,” while a value would be “We serve others.”
Every family will have a different list. Be sure to include fun values as well as more serious ones. Your list will likely be very long initially. You might need to get together more than once to whittle it down. The end goal of creating your statement is honing it down to a memorable sentence or short paragraph. Some families even choose a movie or book quote that immediately brings their philosophy to mind.
Once you finish, display your hard work! Print it out and frame the page, paint it on the wall or create a piece of art to symbolize your unique family vision. The important thing isn’t how fancy it looks or whether guests visiting your home will understand what you wrote, as long as it holds meaning for your family.
Taking the time to figure out what your family is about and what you truly value can be anything from a fun family activity to a transformative experience. At the very least, it will spark discussion!

5 Amazing TED Talks Every Busy Parent Should Hear

Here are five TED Talks to inspire you on uncovering happiness in parenting, seizing the reins of your work-life balance, living passionately, and more.

If you are a parent, then by definition you are busy and also quite possibly overwhelmed. When parenting overwhelms us, it’s time to rethink our approach and seek out perspective.
Here are five TED Talks to inspire you on uncovering happiness in parenting, seizing the reins of your work-life balance, living passionately, learning passionately, and mentoring children who fall on the autism spectrum.
1 | For Parents, Happiness is a Very High Bar by Jennifer Senior
Jennifer Senior is an author on modern parenting, a writer for The New York Times, and a mom. In this insightful talk, Senior examines the trend of today’s parents to micromanage their children’s lives, from checking homework to enrolling their children in countless extracurricular activities to shouldering responsibility for their children’s happiness. Senior commends parents on their well-intentioned efforts to ensure their children’s success, but cautions that this level of hyper-immersion is leaving parents overburdened and children overscheduled.
Instead of this exhausting child-rearing model, Senior suggests that parents return to focusing on raising productive and moral kids by teaching children the importance of decency, a strong work ethic, and love. Senior contends that this shift away from micromanagement and toward overarching values will benefit parents by facilitating a more gratifying parenting experience. Likewise, children will benefit from the opportunity to accomplish goals on their own within a less-stressed household.
2 | How to Make Work-Life Balance Work by Nigel Marsh
Nigel Marsh is a self-proclaimed former “corporate warrior” and champion of the work-life balance cause. In this fiery discourse, Marsh comes out swinging by calling work-life policies such as flex-time, paternity leave, and dress-down Fridays “rubbish.” Marsh, a father of four, clarifies that when there are thousands of employees working long hours at jobs they hate to have money to buy things to impress people they dislike, allowing these employees to wear jeans on Fridays does nothing to treat the underlying work-life dilemma.
Marsh counsels that it is up to us, not corporations or governments, to tailor our own work-life balance, emphasizing that doing so doesn’t require a dramatic upheaval in our day-to-day.
Instead, Marsh urges us to make small investments in increasing the quality of our relationships, such as spending an extra hour with our children, calling our parents more often, or nourishing our spirituality.
These small changes, Marsh contends, can significantly increase our quality of life and may transform society’s definition of a life well-lived.
3 | How to Live Passionately – No Matter Your Age by Isabel Allende
Author Isabel Allende writes stories of passion, including the best-selling “The House of the Spirits.” Allende, in her seventies, encourages us to resist the aging of our spirit by living life with a passionate attitude.
Allende candidly describes how she has become “lighter” over the years by letting go of vanity, ambition, and grudges. Allende celebrates the freedom she has gained by replacing those “deadly sins” with spirituality, mindfulness, and the ability to see value in vulnerability.
Allende advises us to practice living passionately by gracefully accepting life’s peaks and valleys – from success and comedy to loss and tragedy—and by keeping love our focal point.
4 | The Power of Believing That You Can Improve by Carol Dweck
Carol Dweck is a Stanford University professor and a pioneer in the study of how motivation impacts achievement in children. In this session on how to improve the way children learn, Dweck summarizes compelling research that identifies a link between a child’s opinion of his abilities and that child’s willingness to persevere in the face of challenges.
Dweck explains that children with a predominantly “fixed mindset” see their abilities as static and not subject to improvement. As a result, these children lose confidence and motivation when learning new, increasingly difficult tasks. In contrast, children who display a “growth mindset” understand that the harder they work at solving a problem, the higher the chance they’ll succeed. These children regard obstacles as opportunities to expand their skill set and are more likely to maintain their motivation to master a new skill when faced with challenging work and even failure.
Importantly, Dweck outlines the methods parents can use to help children of any age remain confident and motivated when navigating difficult tasks, in and out of school.
5 | The World Needs All Kinds of Minds by Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University and a consultant to the livestock industry. She also happens to be autistic.
In this moving talk, Grandin shares details of her life with autism and how her ability to “think in pictures” and pay particular attention to detail lead to her career success. Grandin discusses the breadth of the autism spectrum, noting that brilliant innovators such as Einstein, Mozart, and Tesla would likely be diagnosed within the spectrum today.
Grandin is concerned that schools – especially in more rural areas – may not be effectively developing the interests of children on the spectrum who, if mentored properly, may excel in fields such as science, engineering, and technology. Grandin is especially troubled by the cuts in art programs and other hands-on classes in which many children on the spectrum may excel.
Grandin refers to the autistic mind as a “fixated mind.” Grandin stresses that if an autistic child is fixated on Legos, for example, then educators have to draw on that fixation to expand that child’s interest in building, which may lead the child to a career in engineering or the sciences.
Is there a TED Talk you would recommend to busy parents? Let us know in the comments below.
This article was originally publishing in HavingTime.com.

Here's Another Benefit to Eating Together as a Family

According to the results of this longitudinal study, maintaining a family mealtime is important for your child’s long term well-being.

The importance of eating together is often suggested by parenting and family experts. It’s encouraged as a strategy to stay connected with your kids. It’s something I promote in my own home even though it is sometimes a challenge with after-school activities.
When reading the memoir of my favorite psychiatry writer Dr. Irvin Yalom, I read with sadness that Dr. Yalom rarely ate a meal with his family in what was a lonely childhood. Instead, he served himself a meal each evening from a pot his mother left on the stove while his parents worked. If Dr. Yalom became a reasonable human being without eating an evening meal with his family, could the parenting experts be overstating things, I wondered?

The study

A large recent longitudinal study of 1,492 children in Quebec studied the benefits of families’ sharing evening meals. Published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the study found that there were long-term physical and mental health benefits for children who routinely eat their meals together with their family.
“We decided to look at the long-term influence of sharing meals as an early childhood family environment experience in a sample of children born the same year,” says Researcher Dr. Mary Pagnini. “And we followed-up regularly as they grew up. Using a birth cohort, this study examines the prospective associations between the environmental quality of the family meal experience at age six and child well-being at age 10.”
Previous research failed to determine whether children who ate with their family were healthier to begin with. The design of this study allowed researchers to look at children whose health status had been studied since the age of five months.
“There is a handful of research suggesting positive links between eating family meals together frequently and child and adolescent health,” says Pagani. “In the past, researchers were unclear on whether families that ate together were simply healthier, to begin with. And measuring how often families eat together and how children are doing at that very moment may not capture the complexity of the environmental experience.”
The child participants in this study were part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. At age six, parents were required to report on whether or not they had family meals together. At age 10, researchers collected information about the children’s lifestyle habits, academic achievement and social adjustment from parents, teachers, and the children themselves.
The advantage of using this group of children was ideal, according to co-researcher Marie-Josée Harbec: “Because we had a lot of information about the children before age six – such as their temperament and cognitive abilities, their mother’s education and psychological characteristics, and prior family configuration and functioning – we were able to eliminate any pre-existing conditions of the children or families that could throw a different light on our results.”

The benefits of eating together

The study found that children who had a quality family meal environment at age six had higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption at age 10. These children were less likely to be physically aggressive, oppositional, or delinquent at age 10. This suggests family meals help promote better social skills and self-regulation.
Pagnini concluded: “The presence of parents during mealtimes likely provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns, and vicarious learning of pro-social interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting. Experiencing positive forms of communication may likely help the child engage in better communication skills with people outside of the family unit. Our findings suggest that family meals are not solely markers of home environment quality, but are also easy targets for parent education about improving children’s well-being.”
According to the results of this study, maintaining a family mealtime is important for your child’s long term well-being. Not only does it create a space for daily connection, it will likely benefit your child’s social skills, ability to self-regulate, and physical health. For me, it makes the daily “what shall we eat” seem worth it somehow. I plan to continue to make shared evening meals a priority. How about you?

How to Boost Your Child's Emotional Intelligence

Parents can use a simple and effective approach to raise an emotionally intelligent child and to improve their own EQ.

We all want the best for our children, but instead of just wanting them to be “happy,” perhaps we can help them become emotionally healthy. Besides a myriad of other benefits, cultivating emotional intelligence (EQ) can lead to stronger and more functional relationships among children and their parents and siblings. What parent doesn’t want a more peaceful and functional home life? Plus, EQ is a better indicator of success in life than IQ.

Fortunately, it’s never too early to help children cultivate their emotional intelligence. Parents can use a simple and effective approach to raise an emotionally intelligent child and to improve their own EQ.

Start now

Whether you’re expecting or have grown children, you can increase your EQ by making nuanced distinctions between emotions. This way you can develop and maintain your emotional granularity, an important step in becoming emotionally healthy.

Research shows that the bigger your palette in describing emotional concepts, the more nimble your responses become when faced with difficulties. In her New York Times article, researcher Lisa Feldman Barrett explains that, “Emotional granularity isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary; it’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely. This can make a difference in your life. In fact, there is growing scientific evidence that precisely tailored emotional experiences are good for you, even if those experiences are negative.”

Let’s use pregnancy as an example. Being with child often comes with unwanted surprises. By describing your feelings, you can gather more data on how to adjust your behavior to these surprises. Try giving your emotions as much texture, weight, and dimension as you can imagine. If you’re experiencing water retention in your feet and ankles. Do you feel annoying discomfort? Or are you feeling surprising despair that your feet won’t fit into your normally comfortable shoes? Add more details.

The precision in describing your feeling frees you to make the switch from being a passive observer to an active participant in your plight. This might spur you to take an epsom salt foot bath or get a foot massage. In fact, many of your concerns might send you down the path to this kind of self-care. Besides alleviating the problem, you’re rewarded by becoming more emotionally intelligent.

Wherever you are in your parenting journey, use a more precise language to describe your feelings when talking to your friends or partner. Observe different ways and their benefits. This also helps you connect with your partner and others in your support network, an important ingredient in overall wellbeing.

Experiment with your kids

As parents, you can cultivate emotional granularity in your children the same way you help them learn their colors or ABCs. Instead of just using generic words such as sad, mad, or happy, use more nuanced words like melancholy, furious, and delighted.

To encourage emotional granularity in our household, we put a moratorium on the overused word “bored” as a blanket expression to cover more subtle thoughts and feelings. I noticed that my son used the word when a math problem was particularly challenging or when a new situation was too intimidating. This helped him create new emotional concepts while providing material for lively dinner discussions.

Lose yourself in a book

Reading literary fiction is another way parents can improve their emotional intelligence. Research shows that when we read literary fiction, we improve our sense of empathy by cultivating our ability to understand what others think and feel. Literary fiction focuses on the relationship of the characters and their rich inner lives and we’re often left to imagine their impetus and motivations. This helps us become more aware of how we relate to one another and improve our social behavior.

While reading with children helps with parent-child bond, discussing the characters and their motivations and feelings has the added benefit of improving empathy and emotional wellbeing.

Keep yourself accountable

There are several tools to help emotional intelligence through practicing emotional self-awareness:

  • Emotion Wheel (iPhone only, free) lets users track up to eight emotions, plot these on either a line graph or wheel graphs, and share a graph image with each other.
  • Inside Feedback (free) is a web app for both computers and mobile devices. Users can identify emotions, add journal entries, and share results.
  • Mood Meter (iPhone/android, $0.99) lets users pinpoint a single emotion and receive tips on how to shift that emotion should they choose.

We want our children to not only thrive but to live in a healthy society made of emotionally intelligent people who make the right choices for themselves and their environment. To create such a world, we begin with cultivating our own emotional intelligence and practicing with our children.

This Is What Happened When My Teenage Son Gave up Sugar

After doing some research a few months ago, my teenage son decided to give up sugar. We’re both noticing a big difference.

My oldest son has anxiety. It’s been something he’s struggled with his whole life. When he was younger he was often hyper, excited, and impulsive. If he got a laugh out of someone he would continue to do that same thing over. He’s twisted his hair when he’s anxious since it started growing in when he was one, and is very reactive when there is a change of plans.
Being an anxious person myself, I recognize the signs in him and I’ve tried to help him cope with his feelings. It’s definitely harder for him to relax than it is for some kids. He was always able to express himself when he was younger, which I think was very helpful, but after going through puberty, I noticed his anxiety seemed to get worse. He didn’t want to talk as much and became closed off.
He now stands at almost six feet tall and wears a size 12 shoe. The rambunctious boy who used to over-share is gone, and has been replaced by a stoic boy who often retreats to his room and never wants to talk about his feelings or things that are going on in his social life.
I have to remind myself he is still the same person, despite me not recognizing him some days. I noticed his lack of communicating and not being able to express his feelings – like he used to when he was younger – has caused him to be irritable and downright angry. Some days, even explosive.
Recently he has taken a huge interest into working out. He enjoys CrossFit and lifting weights, and watches a lot of videos about body building and fitness. After doing some research a few months ago, he decided to give up sugar which was huge for him – he absolutely loves baked goods and candy. When I’m making his favorite cake or cookie his anxiety flares up as he can’t wait to have some, then he wants some more.
After a few weeks of going sugar free, he sat down next me and said, “Mom, since I’ve stopped eating sugar, I feel so much better, less angry and mad about stuff.”
I had noticed a huge difference in his moods, too. They seemed to be more even. His fuse isn’t as short, and he’s falling asleep earlier. He’s also more talkative, and has been communicating more with the rest of the family.
I’m sure the exercising and finding something he loves to do helped with his moods, but I talked with Child Psychiatrist, Scott Carroll, who explained exactly what was going on in his brain when he’s eaten sugar: “Eating something really sweet can trigger way more insulin release than you need to have your muscle cells absorb the glucose,” he says.
After the insulin has been released, it causes your blood glucose level to drop and “the brain, which almost exclusively runs on insulin, responds to the dropping blood glucose level by making you feel hungry to get you to eat more triggers,” Carroll says.
We’ve all felt this, especially after a big meal that’s followed by dessert – we can’t seem to stop and keep reaching for more even if we feel full. While this impacts a lot of us, certain people are more prone to the effects this can have on our moods.
Dr. Carroll goes on to say the hunger feeling comes back to us by triggering our amygdala which is a nerve in your brain that controls our fight or flight response. When triggered, this makes you “more irritable and aggressive so you will fight for food,” he says.
That really made sense to me as I’ve watched my son many times eat three cookies and want more and get angry when I’ve told him no, or watched him make bad choices shortly after eating the sugar. He’s been caught sneaking sweets, too, and never seemed to have the self-control to stop himself until he saw what giving it up could do for his physical appearance.
Dr. Carroll explains the reason we feel cranky after a big sugar rush, then crash, is because glucose is not a real source of food. So, when my son switched from eating processed, sugary foods, and started eating only foods which contain natural glucose like potatoes, carrots, grains and corn, and beefing up his protein with meat and nuts, Dr. Carroll says his moods changed because his “glucose level doesn’t spike and he doesn’t release a lot of insulin” so he isn’t experiencing that irritable feeling that makes him want to get more of the sugary foods into his system.
I’m sure my son won’t be giving up sugar forever, life is too short to not enjoy things like holiday cookies and birthday cakes, but I am proud of him for recognizing this as a solution to feeling better mentally. If it helps him, it helps me and his wellbeing is the most important thing to me.
I’ve seen firsthand what giving up sugar has done for him and the positive effects it’s had on his moods, and I’m thankful he’s recognizing it’s a trigger for him at a young age.

Take Back the Night: a Sleep Training Guide for Parents Who Failed the First Time Around

It’s moving day around here, and these kids are moving out of my bed come hell or high water. Here is how I plan to take back the night.

When my 10-year-old was a baby, she would only fall asleep if she was snoozing in between my husband and I, while holding our earlobes. We would silently lie awake staring at her beauty and wonder.
When she grew into a toddler bed, we took turns sleeping on her bedroom floor, singing Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Pony Man”. We literally sang the words off of a printed sheet of paper by moonlight.
This is what crazy, first-time parents do. They screw it all up.
The second child came around, and she was a champion sleeper. We had a few good years of sweet, blissful sleep, and then…the twins arrived, at which point, the middle child decided that sleeping in her own room was for the birds. For the past three years, she has been a frequent flyer in our king-sized sanctuary, visiting us every single night.
The twin babies are now toddlers. They have never in their entire lives made it through the night without summoning mommy to their rooms or crawling into bed with us.
And so it goes. The kids nightly rotate into our room, we move them out, lay with them, sneak away, find them pressed up against our sides an hour later. Finally, my husband and I give up, crying ourselves back to sleep.
It isn’t that I don’t want to cuddle my babies. I am just so tired now. I want no human contact from the hours of 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Is that too much to ask?
The thing that gets me is that the kids don’t really need anything. They aren’t scared, cold, sick, or thirsty. They’re just addicted.
Addicted to mom.
But it’s moving day around here, and these kids are moving out of my bed come hell or high water. I need to sprawl out. I want to sleep with no pants on. I don’t want to conduct a full-on search party for pink blankie or Bingo the Lion in the middle of the night. This. Is. Happening.
Here is how I plan to take back the night:

Go back to Sleep Training School

If you’re anything like me, the thought of sleep training made your heart hurt when your kids were infants. I could never do it. I tried four times and failed miserably, hence the current situation around here.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to head back to school, moms, dust off the sleep training manuals, and give it another go. These kids are older and wiser. They have words now. Lord knows they have words! And this time around, we moms are stronger and plain old fed up. It’s a perfect recipe for success.

Create a soothing bedtime routine

I’m giving myself a C+ on this one because we always have provided a calm and predictable evening routine. The problem is that we become giant wusses when it comes to pulling the cuddle plug.
When we should be telling the girls, “After this last story, I am going to hug and kiss you goodnight” (and then run like hell), we snuggle them, and then snug some more. Before we even realized what was happening, we had created an expectation of laying with each child until they fell completely asleep.
This literally takes hours per day, which literally sucks. It’s time to cut the cuddle cord.

Give them authority and ownership of their space

I love the twin’s current nursery decor, but if allowing them to pick out some cheesy “Shimmer and Shine” sheets and a few Disney-themed nightlights means I’ll get some sleep back, then I’ll drive them to Target right now.
They are older. They have some sense of bargaining and reasoning, which means we’re at the point where we can strike a deal: I’ll buy that junk if you kids stay in your damn beds at night. Is this bribery? Perhaps.
Research does tell us, however, that if kids feel empowered and in control of their environment, then they are more prone to spending time there. Power to the design-prone toddlers!

Grow a pair and say no

I hate myself for saying this, but it’s pretty obvious that I’m a pushover in the middle of the night. I make exceptions for my kids’ nighttime creepster ways like it’s my job. Maybe they had a bad day at school, that show was kind of scary, they are thirsty, they just love mommy, they won’t be little forever….
Excuses. I have used them all, and they stem from dread, guilt, and exhaustion. Experts agree that, once you decide the bed-hopping is over, you have to go cold turkey. It’s high time I followed that advice and put the hard work in. It’s time to spend my evenings walking kids back to their rooms, bearing with their crying, for as long as it takes.
I’m awake all night long anyway. I might as well be doing something useful…like teaching my kids to stay put.

Dig out the old sticker chart

I tried the sticker chart with the twins awhile back. It failed miserably. In hindsight, they were probably too young to digest the whole rewards system concept, so it might be time to give it another go.
Over the years, I have used sticker charts for morning routines, dinner habits, reading goals, and potty training. When I was a teacher, about half of my yearly budget went to stickers. Stickers can be freaking magical, really. Let’s hope the magic holds at 2 a.m.
The bottom line here is this: If the kids aren’t sleeping, I’m not sleeping. If I’m not sleeping, I’m can’t keep this circus afloat. And this parent juggling act is willing to do what it takes to reclaim her much needed beauty rest.

Money: There's No Magic Number When Kids Enter the Picture

Before my children came along, money wasn’t a major source of stress. But things are different now.

Before my children came along, money wasn’t a major source of stress. While my wife and I have never been wealthy by any standards, we’ve always had enough. Enough to pay our bills on time. Enough to order Chinese take-out whenever we needed a good MSG buzz. Enough to spring for a round of shots when it wasn’t happy hour. Even enough to embark on the occasional adventure.
But things are different now. We have two kids, and money is on my mind a lot. I’d be crazy if it wasn’t.
When you hit the lottery, you can opt for an annuity option where you receive installment payments for a fixed number of years – or forever, depending on how big the jackpot is.
Having a kid is like hitting the lottery and opting for the annuity payout. Only instead of getting paid, you’re doing the paying. A little bit here, a little bit there, and the next thing you know, you’ve shelled out $4 million to feed, clothe, house, insure, educate, and entertain a human being you pray won’t shove you in a home when you can no longer do those things for yourself.
Yes, $4 million is an exaggeration (unless you’re a Wall Street banker or a successful reality TV star), but not by much. The Department of Agriculture estimates the average cost of raising a child born in 2015 from birth through age 17 is $233,610 or $14,000 annually for a middle-income couple with two children.
That’s nearly a quarter of a million dollars before the kid even turns 18! It doesn’t even account for astronomical college tuition bills that should be mailed out with a vial of Xanax for the recipient. Plus, if my children follow the trend of previous generations, I can expect them to live in our home until they’re around 43.
I can’t look at numbers like those without feeling my pulse rise.
Pre-kids, I never worried about living paycheck-to-paycheck. I never thought much about all the potential financial disasters that accompanied such a lifestyle. I genuinely thought that, if my luck took a turn, I’d simply drop off the grid, move to the mountains, grow a long beard, and live off the land.
People surely still do that type of thing in beautiful, exotic places like Canada or Vermont, I reasoned. Part of me longed for the opportunity. At least I’d have something to write about.
Then my daughter was born.
When that happened, I wasn’t flooded with those feelings of instant love and inner peace you read about so often in people’s Facebook posts. Nope, the warm and gooey feelings took months to surface in me. Instead, I was filled with an overwhelming urge to protect a helpless, loud, innocent little creature. Mixed in with that was a solid dose of terror and dread.
That protective instinct has changed my entire perspective on money, and the change was both instant and drastic. My wife and I hadn’t even been released from the hospital when I started making a list of all the bad financial habits I needed to change a.s.a.p.
These days, I can barely even order my beloved Chinese take-out without questioning whether the move was prudent. That’s the third time this week, Jared. If you put some of that Chinese food money into an HSA, then you’ll be able to pay for the heart attack that General Tso’s will eventually give you tax-free, I think to myself.
When I landed my first post-college job, I didn’t even enroll in the company’s 401(k) plan because I thought putting aside even three percent of my paycheck for later was absurd. Today, I consider not taking full advantage of the company match a form of financial suicide.
In the past, I mocked Tony Robbins and anybody who subscribed to that self-help garbage. Last year, I read Mr. Robbins nearly 700-page tome, “MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom”, cover to cover.
While I still occasionally daydream about going off the grid and living off the bare essentials, I’m firmly tethered to a world of bills and budgets and 529s and personal finance articles on the myriad things I need to be doing (Invest in Bitcoin RIGHT NOW or you’ll be sorry!).
My interest in money is more paranoia than passion. I don’t want my kids to miss out because I’m not paying attention. For better or worse, I live in a country where the already disturbing gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening at an alarming pace. Based on some recently passed legislation, it doesn’t look like that trend is going to change anytime soon.
That means I can no longer afford to be either naïve or idealistic in how I view or manage money. True, it doesn’t buy happiness. But it can buy opportunity, and I want my children to have as many opportunities as I can provide without going to jail.
My family’s financial security is one of the few areas in which I have some degree of control. In a world where I’m powerless to protect my kids from so many horrible things, I’d be a selfish asshole not to do everything I can to build and protect that security.
I guess the whole living-off-the-land fantasy will have to wait for my next life.

4 Tips to Help You Master the Power Nap (and Maybe Skip the Afternoon Coffee)

If you’re finding yourself lagging mid-morning or mid-afternoon, here are a few tips to help you master the power nap.

I did not know adults napped. Until the first weekend I spent with my husband’s family, I thought it was only something children did in infancy or on colored mats in kindergarten. But at around two o’clock on that Sunday, something in the house shifted. People started to disappear. They retreated into their various spaces without a word. The house was deadly quiet and so I tiptoed through the living room like a thief. My husband was sprawled out on the sofa with an afghan pulled up to his chin, quietly snoring. I kicked his foot.

“What are you doing?”

“Napping,” he said, looking like nothing more than a giant toddler

I mocked him and then left him to it. It wasn’t until I had kids that the beauty of the power nap came home to me in all its sweet oblivion. I’m not necessarily talking about the exhausted naps of infancy when you drift off in the middle of a pile of dirty laundry. It was toddlerhood, when every minute was chasing, feeding, and running the standard clown show, that the power nap really came to fruition.

A power nap is some form of sleep that occurs during the day and lasts anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Any shorter and it’s just a long blink. Any longer and it’s a solid snooze with the potential to leave you dragging the rest of the day. The point of the power nap is to energize and it can be better than coffee if you use it right. It also lowers blood pressure, makes you more creative, helps you solve problems, and improves declarative memory so you can find your keys and remember what day it is and the names of your kids.

So if you’re finding yourself lagging mid-morning or mid-afternoon, here are a few tips to help you master the power nap.

Find the time

All you really need is 10 minutes. I know life is crazy with kids, but one-sixth of an hour is hiding in there somewhere. Maybe it’s when the kids nap or the little sliver of time after work when you can let your significant other takeover before the dinner rush. Carve that time out and make it sacred. Make it the hallowed time of day that nobody can mess with. It’s the easiest and cheapest form of self-care.

Ditch the guilty conscience

You are not being lazy. You need this for you and it will help you be a better parent, spouse, and human in the long run. There will always be things to do and, if you spend these precious minutes worrying about the checklist, you’ll negate all the good this rest period is offering. If necessary, put it on that list. It can be a very satisfying thing to check off.

Use a meditation technique

Turning the brain off isn’t magic and it’s not a simple flipping of a switch. If you already meditate, practice some of that deep breathing and the sensing of your body from your head down to your toes. Feel the space you take up and relax into it. If you’ve never tried mediation, use an easy app like Headspace to guide you through it.

Practice

The power nap takes time. You might very well spend the first few weeks lying in bed and staring at the ceiling like you’ve been put in time out. Make your space what you need it to be to induce that calm – a soft blanket, dim lights, white noise, whatever it takes. Eventually, like any habit, it will take hold and you will find yourself drifting off and back again without a clock.

It took parenthood to make me see the light when it comes to napping. But if the entire business class on an airplane can do it and little old ladies watching “Wheel of Fortune” can do it, then surely you can take a power nap too.

When Parenting Gets Tough, Find Someone to Channel

Putting things into perspective is, I have found, the best way to cope when parenting gets rough.

Shoes are thrown across the hall, bouncing off the wall and skidding into the next room. A jumble of bags, coats, books, and random bits of string littering the floor is kicked aside. I am furious.
“Why can’t people pick their stuff up, just once?” I shout at no one in particular, my words echoing up the stairs though I suspect my daughters are shuttered away in their rooms, headphones drowning out my attempts to guilt them into clearing up.
“Okay,” my voice rises higher, frustration mounting. “I’ll do it myself. As always!”
There’s no denying it: parenting can be hard. From a newborn that never stops crying to high schoolers experimenting with sex and drugs, I don’t think there is a single period after you give birth when you can kick back, relax, and think, “ah, it’s not really so bad this parenthood thing, what was everyone stressing about?” I’m not there yet but I have a feeling they’ll still be causing me problems after they’ve left home and had children of their own.
But how do we get through those rough patches, the dark days, the lowest lows?
This is what I do: I channel someone.
What I mean by channel is I think of someone and try to behave how I think they would behave. Or I consider their lives and how much harder they have it than me, but yet they still cope. Basically I do anything and everything to stop feeling sorry for myself. Putting things into perspective is, I have found, the best way to cope when your toddler has just thrown the entire content of their dinner bowl on the floor, the dog has then eaten it and been sick, and the baby will only stop screaming when you pick her up.
So who do I channel? Who do I turn to in my head to help me get over myself and realize that I don’t have things that bad. I have two people – one real and one made up. You, of course, can chose whoever you want.
My real person is an old friend who recently lost her very sick son. I will call her Lisa. It was a heart-breaking situation, but in fact when I think of her, I think of what her life was like when he was still alive. I don’t channel her because I feel sorry for her – I channel her because she was someone who had an awful lot on her plate (she also has two other sons), and she just got on with it.
We don’t know what goes on behind the scenes in anyone’s life and for all I know my friend was doing what we all do when things get hard – silently screaming, locking herself in bathrooms, and packing her suitcase with the intention of running away forever.
But the person she presented to the world was one of an organized, efficient, no-nonsense mum with a great sense of humor, who loved her children and who gave them a great life despite the problems that had been thrown at her. And when my own children are having tantrums or kicking each other or refusing to wash their hair, or clean their teeth, or whatever the latest protest is about, I think to myself “how would Lisa cope?” It might be that Lisa would do exactly the same as I do nine times out of 10: shout at the kids, threaten them with something and never follow through, and run away to hide from the problem. But whatever she did – or didn’t do – I am sure it wouldn’t be the end of the world because to her these are normal, everyday problems. As opposed to the never-ending difficulties she had to cope with around her son.
The other person I channel doesn’t exist. I have made her up. I don’t really know when or where I first got the idea for this person but they are probably an amalgamation of a few different women I have seen by the roadside on my travels or on television documentaries about poverty. This woman lives in a tiny shack with her partner and several (probably three or four at least) children. She has to get up before dawn, she has to work hard all day, every day, she has to sleep on a room with her entire family. She has very little and has to make it go a long way.
I don’t have a name for this woman. She is just someone I have created to make me realize that however crappy my day is, however much I resent having to still do the dishes, the ironing, and cleaning the floor at 10 at night even though all I want to do is collapse on the sofa, she will always have it worse than me. And in my imagination, this woman wouldn’t let something as unimportant as a tantrum or a pile of dog sick stop her.
You don’t have to conjure up these exact people. Think of someone whose courage or endurance or cheerfulness in the face of adversity you admire. Perhaps think of your own mother, parenting at a time without all the modern conveniences like 24-hour cartoon networks or baby food that comes in pouches. Or make up your own. Maybe some tough Stone Age mama carrying a baby on her hip while she picks berries and tries to escape from a hungry saber tooth tiger.
It might all sound a bit far-fetched but try it. Parenting problems can seem overwhelming when we are in the thick of it and things like tiredness and isolation add to our feelings of helplessness. But there will always be someone in the world in a worse situation than us and putting our issues into perspective can only help us get over them.
Or, if nothing else, by the time you have spent 10 minutes making up some poor woman living in an isolated forest shack somewhere with no running water and eight mouths to feed, your kids will have stopped fighting and you can carry on with your day.

The Art of Practicing Patience When You Basically Suck at It

If patience doesn’t exactly come naturally, let me offer you some footnotes so that we can all make it through to the other side together.

Patience is a skill that I don’t have.
I think remaining patient in the eye of the storm that is mothering four young daughters is my Achilles’s heel, my absolute downfall, the fail that I can count on just about every single day.
11 years ago I was gearing up to take on the only job that I was ever sure I would be cut out for: parenthood. Never did it cross my mind that I would lack the calm and the patience that it would take to get through each and every day.
Of course I would remain steadfast and strong in the midst of epic toddler tantrums.
Without a doubt I could manage the tween emotions and meltdowns that would hit me upside my head out of nowhere.
Sass and outright defiance would be child’s play for me.
I was an amazingly patient mother … before I had kids.
Now I find myself boiling over with irritation when all four kids start shouting high pitched demands at me all at once.
Yes you can have a fork. Don’t I always give you one?
Please just accept this pink cup, I have no freaking clue where the blue one is. Did we ever even have a blue cup?
Who colored on the walls … again!
I breathe through my nose while I step away into the darkness of the bathroom or the laundry room, desperately grasping at any shred of calm that I can conjure up. Without fail I blow … Every. Single. Time.
I yell, grit my teeth, and teeter on the verge of tears as I threaten the girls with early bedtime and no IPad. Anything to make the chaos freeze for just a minute, because if I could halt the insanity that is my life I might be able to find that elusive patience. It’s frustrating, this constant feeling of emotional upheaval and parental stress, especially because I used to be a master at patience. Having worked in special education for years I assumed that parenting my own children would be nothing compared to what I did for a living, but of course I was wrong, misguided, and naïve.
Teaching special needs was a cake walk compared to this circus.
So moving into the New Year, creating patience and peace in my parenting is the goal. Without it I have about a zero percent chance of getting four girls through the teen years. So, if you are like me and patience doesn’t exactly come naturally, let me offer you some footnotes so that we can all make it through to the other side together.

1 | Identify triggers and stay away from them

For me triggers are everyone screaming at once, clutter, and dinnertime. These are my kryptonite. Knowing that these triggers will send me right over the edge I have to start better preparing for them and devise a game plan.
Staggering morning wake ups will allow the kids to take turns whining at me for waffles, rather than all at once.
Having everything we need for dinner out on the table will hopefully stop the minions from constantly demanding things like milk and salt.
Clutter will always be here to some extent, but finding new strategies for storage and organization might alleviate the stress that piles of junk cause.

2 | Pretend someone is watching

This seems silly, but it is not a bad way to practice patient parenting. We all try and bring our A Game when company is around, so why not spend some time in our day interacting with our kids like we were under a microscope. Like anything else in life, practice makes perfect.

3 | Focus on the short term – what will life look like in an hour

When family life derails and the home is in complete chaos you will find yourself snapping. Stop. Think to yourself, “yes, right now is the pits, but what will life look like in an hour? If I can hang on and make it an hour, will this hot mess still be here?” Most likely the answer is no. Although meltdowns and tantrums seem like they last forever, they don’t. Naptime, bedtime, a favorite show, or daddy walking through the door will happen and you will be saved, even if only temporarily. Focus on that short term and get to the next parenting checkpoint.

4 | Be an active listener

Heaven knows this one is going to be the death of me. Listening to their screeching, crying, and drama hurts my brain and I truly don’t want to listen. Ask them what is making them so ornery, so frustrated, and so darn annoying. Statements such as “Help me understand why you are so upset” and “Share with me what is making you so angry” leave the door open for communication rather than lectures and punitive speech.

5 | Get over yourself – don’t take it all personally

Three-year-olds will bring you to your knees, but remember they aren’t out to destroy you or break your will to live, even though it feels that way. Taking the personal emotion out of intense situations with your kids will help diffuse your anger so that you can better manage your children. After all, everyone says things they don’t mean from time to time.

6 | Make time for yourself

This should be so much easier than it really is. If mom’s battery is dead, she can’t very well power the mothership. Parents have to take care of their own needs so that they can better take care of their families. Sometimes this means a weekend away from the zoo, other times it means a mid-day nap or an hour of silence while your spouse takes the kids grocery shopping. Different strokes work for different folks, but dang moms! Find your stroke … fast!
So these are my six starting points to becoming a patient parent. They are manageable, straight forward, and completely doable. Here’s to hoping for more peace in the New Year for our world and our homes!