5 Tips for Working From Home Without Childcare

If you’re considering working from home without putting your kids in childcare, these tips can help you feel and be more productive throughout the day.

When parents who work outside the home think of work life balance, they often imagine working from home as the gold standard. Parents with the work-from-home fantasy imagine keeping their babies out of daycare (and saving serious cash), loading the dishwasher between returning emails and fulfilling the roles and tasks of working parents and stay at home parents simultaneously.
While working from home does have some amazing benefits, most parents who do so understand that it can be incredibly challenging, particularly if choice or circumstance means that they have babies or young kids with them throughout their workday.
If you’re considering working from home without putting your kids in childcare, or are already doing so, check out the tips below to help you feel and be more productive throughout the day.

1 | Create a daily routine

When you work from home with your kids having a consistent routine is vital. By choosing intentionally when you’ll focus singularly on your child and when you’ll focus singularly on your work, you can avoid the pitfall of never being able to give 100 percent to either. Many working parents plan a busy, high energy morning with their young child in order to ensure a long nap and a peaceful afternoon. Many parents who work from home also report blocking a few evening hours, after their partner gets home of the kids go to bed to round out their eight hour workday.

2 | Time your tasks

It can be incredibly difficult to start a task that you know you won’t be able to finish in one sitting. When you work from home with your kids, it’s likely that your day will be filled with far more 15 minute chunks of time than 60-minute chucks of time. Start taking notes on just how long your regular tasks take so that you can maximize every five-, 10- or, 15-minute block of time you have.

3 | Create a physical workspace

When you have little ones at home, your workspace may be more mobile than a traditional office. While you might find yourself toting you laptop back and forth from the kitchen to the playroom all day long, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a space that is dedicated to your work. Consider creating an office where you can store your work materials and retreat during naptime for some serious concentration.

4 | Snag cheap childcare

If you’re working from home without childcare, having a major deadline or conference call coming up can be stressful. Before this happens, locate and lock down your affordable drop in child care location. Perhaps there’s a parent down the street who is interested in providing drop in care on select dates or a grandparent who never minds a visit from their grandchild. If you don’t have someone in mind who can provide care when you need it most, consider looking into drop-in childcare centers or gyms that have care you utilize while working from the lobby.

5 | Share your daily schedule with your boss

While you don’t have to share the details of your childcare arrangement with your boss, letting them in on a few key points throughout your day can alleviate some serious stress. If your boss or colleagues know that you’re always putting the baby down for their nap at 12:30 or picking up your big kid at 3:30, they’ll likely do their best to schedule meetings at different times.
Good luck to all the working-from-home parents this week!

Be a Guide, Not a Guard and Raise a Happy, Responsible Kid

As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished.

“Be a guide, not a guard” perfectly describes the kinds of parenting behaviors that create happy and responsible children. It’s a term I learned at a recent training session focused on reducing controlling parenting behaviors.
When I ask parents “what have you tried to help change your child’s behavior?” little breaks my heart more than hearing a long list of punishments. The story will go something like “the rule is that he is to clean up his room but he never does it so we took away his tablet, then banned watching TV, we smacked him, we put him in time out all day, cancelled his play dates with his friends and then grounded him for a month. It doesn’t matter what we do, he doesn’t care.”
This is parenting like a guard. It is inflexible, rules-based parenting that requires punishment when a child doesn’t behave. The punishments often escalate and may be harsh, cruel even. In the worst case scenario, a child raised in a controlling environment will comply due to a fear of being beaten but will not do anything other adults say if there is no risk of being hurt. The most anti-social children are often parented in this way. They don’t care about the meaning of the rules set; instead they decide whether to comply based on whether they will get hurt. Controlling parenting practices are also correlated to poor mental health in children and youth.
When we parent like a guard we are trying to stop behavior through control and dominance. In an attempt to get rid of the behaviors we don’t like, we use consequences. A guard expects trouble and treats people as such. A guard does not care whether you feel sad, confused or don’t feel like you belong. A guard only cares if you comply. As a guard we can’t be flexible and this means if a child doesn’t comply, regardless of the reason, our only option is to escalate the consequences until they do. Even if this means excluding them from the very systems we want them to belong to.
When we parent as a guide we work to encourage behaviors we want to see in our children. We help children belong in our world and all the systems that come with that. We use care and compassion in our parenting practices. When we see unwanted behavior that cannot work or is unacceptable in our systems, we look at what steps we can take to help that child learn to fit better in our world. We don’t use harsh consequences that will exclude the child from the system; instead we see their difficulty as a skill deficit. We don’t use escalating consequences; instead we look for ways for children to want to be part of the system and to want to please us.
As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished. We want our children to comply because they want to be part of our community, they want to help us and because they understand the value of their chosen behavior.

How to be a guide

See your child’s perspective

Being able to hold your child’s perspective is essential to being a guide. It helps parents understand how best to help their child. It helps us identify that difficult behaviors are often related to emotions or skills deficits. This doesn’t mean we accept all behaviors as ok, it means that we understand that there is a meaning to whatever behavior we are seeing.

Encourage behavior through praise and noticing

Children love receiving genuine praise and being noticed. If they feel you genuinely care about them rather than that you are trying to control their behavior, they are more motivated to work for you. Children are less receptive to praise that functions to control behavior such as “aren’t you a good boy for sitting up straight today?” A genuine “I can really see you are listening, and that makes me feel good” is more effective.

Promote values-based living

Show your child what matters through the way you live. If you want to raise a kind and responsible child, lead by modeling kind and responsible behavior. Notice when your child is kind and responsible and praise the behavior.

Be flexible where possible

Give your child opportunities to choose. Avoid controlling choices unless there is a good reason not to offer a choice such as safety or legality. Guides raise kids who choose to be responsible. Guards raise kids who conform to avoid a consequence.

Promote intrinsic goals over extrinsic goals

Encourage your child to do things for personal growth, for health, to create meaningful relationships and contribute to their community as opposed to doing things to achieve financial success, popularity, power or for their image. People with intrinsic goals are happier and engage in more pro-social behavior.
Next time you see your child doing something that you don’t like, whisper to yourself: “Be a guide, not a guard.”
Acknowledgement: Thanks and gratitude to Darin Cairns for introducing me to the helpful term “Be a guide, not a guard.”

There’s No Crying in Parenting

At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.

From about 18 months to four years old, Briggs kept his meltdowns private. His behavior started small at first – random hitting for no reason, throwing temper tantrums, and what seemed like normal “terrible two” behavior, but on some sort of cocktail of Adderall and Mountain Dew.
As he has gotten older, his behavior has grown with him. We’ve gone through the spitting phase, the name calling phase, the tantrum on the floor as if his bones were made of limp noodles phase, and the screaming at the top of his lungs phase.
When he turned four (two years ago now), he escalated to directly hitting us…on purpose. The first time he punched me, I may have audibly started talking to the Lord as an intercessor for my husband, lest he be overtaken by the Spirit and hand Briggs’ own behind to him on a silver platter. I am almost certain Madea overtook my mouth as I cried out to the “Lort” on Briggs’ behalf.
Fast forward a year, and he has graduated to public displays of crazy. The first time was epic. I will literally never forget it. At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.
Not the time I split my super sweet maroon-colored Guess jeans in gym class in sixth grade. Not the time I got busted in middle school Sharpie-ing a Nike swoosh on my Payless high-tops because I couldn’t afford the real ones. Not even the time they posted our mile run times above the water fountain in gym, and I was dead last with a light speed time of 18:18.
No, nothing thus far had ever made me feel so small as that moment in the Florida diner.
We were on our way back from a work trip to Orlando and everyone was hungry. We don’t get to travel much, so we love to check out little mom and pop types of places when we’re out of town. We stopped in this little diner called Eddie’s in Nowheresville, Florida for what the Yelp reviewers said were, “Florida’s best chicken and waffles.”
We held hands and ran through the rain to get inside the restaurant. I held Sparrow, our then six-month-old daughter, on my lap and helped Briggs manage the coloring sheet the hostess had given him as Spence made his way to the men’s room all the way in the back of the diner.
Forks clanged and men laughed from the bar. As I helped Briggs sound out the words on his children’s menu and he colored in a Spiderman, I noticed there were two women sitting in the booth directly beside our table.
They were both well-dressed and appeared to be in their late 60s. One had on an oversized necklace that reminded me of the costume jewelry my aunt used to wear, and the other had that kind of hairdo women have who would rather donate their arms to science than get wet at the pool. I imagined they both had large, flamboyant broaches for every holiday neatly displayed in some sort of well-lit case in their bedrooms.
They hadn’t noticed me…yet.
When Briggs finished coloring, he wanted to tear the paper because, naturally, Spiderman wouldn’t live in the same realm as a children’s menu. He began tearing the page and I watched it happen as if it were unfolding in slow motion. The paper’s tear went from the center of the page and, like an earthquake’s line in the dry desert clay, separated Spiderman’s foot from the rest of his body.
“Noooooooooooooooo!!” Briggs’ scream rang out across the small diner. Once filled with the loud bangs of forks and knives, the chatter of old friends catching up, and that guy who’d had one too many at the bar, it fell silent. Deafeningly silent. My son’s eyes filled with tears of rage and he crumpled up the amputated Spiderman and threw him under another family’s table.
“Pick that up, please.” I said, attempting to keep calm as everyone watched the dinner show they hadn’t paid for.
“No! I will NEVER pick it up!” he screamed back.
With everyone watching, Briggs stood up as though he’d had a change of heart and decided to pick up the balled-up menu after all. Instead, he grabbed a chair from the table beside ours, where a man sat eating by himself, and threw it.
He. Threw. A. Chair.
By this time, all eyes were on us. The entire diner was paralyzed. I looked up to see Spence tearing through the crowd to get to me. He’d heard Briggs yell all the way in the bathroom.
Without a word, I handed Sparrow over to him, took Briggs by the arm, and walked him outside into the rain. We walked passed stunned faces, horrified looks, and the hostess who looked like she might have her finger on the last “1” in 9-1-1. I smiled, walked Briggs out in the pouring rain and across the street and under an awning, where he proceeded to hit me, kick, scream, cry, and flail backwards so hard that I had to position myself between his head and the abandoned store’s brick wall behind me.
I took deep breaths and talked to him until he calmed himself. “Listen to me breathing, buddy. Deep breaths. Match my breathing,” I said as I fought to hold back tears.
Once he had it together, we walked back into the restaurant. I thought the original walk of shame was the worst thing I’d have to face that day, but I was wrong. Try going through that meltdown and then staring back at the faces of those who just spent the better part of the last 20 minutes talking about what your kid just did while making guesses at how you handled it.
I smiled again and walked Briggs back to the table by ours where he picked up his crumpled menu from the floor and uprighted the tossed chair. He apologized to the man who had been eating alone when he lost his mind as if he were tagging in Rick Flair in an early 90s wrestling match.
“I’m sorry I threw your chair, sir,” he said with his head hung in shame. The man smiled back his forgiveness.
I sat back down in my seat just as the two well-dressed ladies were getting up to leave. I desperately wanted to avoid eye contact because I felt certain they had judged me. I was convinced they’d finished their salads and lemon waters over conversations about “kids these days” and what terrible parents Spence and I must be.
Instead, the lady with the necklace stopped just behind our table on her way out. She turned to me so I had to meet her eyes with my own – and smiled. Then she mouthed the words, “You did a great job.”
I mustered a faint smile in return and lowered my head, hot tears streaking down both sides of my face.
I had never felt so completely alone as I did during that meltdown and the moments after. I may always remember that feeling, but I know I will never forget that woman’s smile. Her muted approval reminded me that no matter how many people stare or point fingers, no matter how many people disagree with the parenting decisions we make, I am doing the best I can, and that is good enough.

The Art of Essentialism: How to Do Better by Doing Less

Embrace the idea of “less but better” and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life.

When I left my office job about a year ago to spend more time with my three children, I thought I’d have more time. Time to start a blog, read, write, learn, exercise, practice mindfulness, and do a lot more. Clearly, I was being too ambitious.
And soon enough I became so frazzled and overwhelmed by it all that I realized I was being busy but not productive at all. I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to pack our schedules to the brim, doing everything we think we should be doing (or want to be doing) to improve our lives. But we just have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t do it all. And I don’t know about you, but when my house is full of things that never get used (i.e. clutter) or schedules that are filled with tasks that I cannot complete, I don’t feel any better for it. Quite the opposite, in fact.
So, in the attempt to look for ways to identify my priorities and do things more efficiently, I picked up a copy of “Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” by Greg McKeown. Seeing that he coaches companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I’ll take any advice he might have!
The first tip is I picked up from this fantastic book is that we should learn to focus on what is absolutely essential to our happiness and well-being. When we do things we “have to do,” rather than things we “choose to do,” we’re surrendering our power to choose. And essentially we give this power to others. McKeown calls this “learned helplessness.” Instead, embrace the idea of “less but better” and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life. To do this, we need to adopt the principle of essentialism, which focuses on four main points.
1| Do less, but do it better. Identify the things you need to cut out, and do what’s left at a higher standard. Be ruthless in cutting away things that aren’t essential.
2 | Reject the notion that we should accomplish everything. We just can’t do everything. So choose what matters most to you and choose to excel in those specific directions.
3 | Question yourself and update your plans accordingly. Life, people and circumstances change, so keep asking yourself: is this worth my time? Or should I invest my time and energy into a more productive area?
4 | Take action. Nothing changes if we don’t take action. But how exactly do we implement these principles?

Escape

Giving yourself space to escape will help you pick out the vital from the trivial. With modern technologies giving us instant and constant access to entertainment and communication, we’re never bored. But carving out regular periods of time to do nothing can give us an opportunity to think clearly about what needs to be done. Think about your life – what options, problems, or challenges you face, and assess what’s vital and what isn’t. According to McKeown, people like Newton and Einstein used to do this, and many of today’s most successful CEOs do the same. Are we really too busy to do this too?

Keep a journal and focus on the big picture

We get so lost in the small, day-to-day tasks that sometimes we lose track of the reason we are doing certain things in the first place. In order to maintain focus on what’s important, essentialism teaches us to always concentrate on the bigger picture. And one way to do this is to keep a journal. McKeown suggests to force yourself to write as little as possible though. This way you can think through everything you’ve done and sift out only what you consider essential. And when you read it back, you will see the big picture emerge.

Play

Playing is a vital tool for inspiration. It gets our creative juices flowing, helps us develop new connections between ideas that we would have never otherwise considered, it’s a great antidote to stress, and it helps us prioritize and analyze tasks. Unfortunately, some of us (me included) tend to see play as trivial and unproductive. Because it’s pure entertainment, we may feel it’s as a waste of time. But if companies like Twitter, Pixar, and Google, for example, promote play based on the belief that a playful employee is an inspired and productive one, maybe we should take a leaf out of their book too?

Rest and sleep

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it? With so much to do and not enough hours in the day, are we really saying that we should sleep more? Indeed. Sleep increases your ability to think, connect ideas, and maximize your productivity during your waking hours. One hour of sleep actually results in several more hours of higher productivity the following day. Studies have shown that going 24 hours without sleep, or getting a weekly average of just four to five hours of sleep per night causes a cognitive impairment equivalent to what you would have with zero point one percent blood alcohol level. That’s enough to get your driver’s license suspended!

Learn to say no

Say no to non-essential tasks. Unfortunately, we are so socially programmed to please others that when other people are involved in our decision-making, we fear saying no. We feel awkward and pressured not to disappoint everyone we care about, fearful that we may damage our relationships. So separate your decisions from the relationship. Know it’s not personal and try and remember that failing to say not to the things which aren’t vital can lead you to miss out on the opportunities that truly are.

Let go of what no longer serves you

Do you ever find yourself doing something that you know is a waste of effort simply because at some point you committed to it? McKeown calls this the sunk-cost-bias – the tendency to continue investing money, time, effort, and energy into something we already know is unlikely to succeed. You can easily avoid this trap by developing the courage to admit your errors and mistakes and to let them go. If it’s clear that something isn’t going to work out, don’t be afraid to cut your losses and abandon ship.

Believe in small wins

Creating success is all about building upon your previous progress with small, incremental steps. Small wins create momentum, which gives you the confidence to further succeed. And they allow you to stay on track by giving you the opportunity to check whether you are heading in the right direction. While it might be frustrating to take small steps, their consequences can be far-reaching.

Create a routine

No matter what your goals are, ensure you stick with them by designing a routine. Routines create a habit, thus making difficult things become easier over time. Create a routine that aligns with your goals, and you’ll be on to a winner.
So, are you ready to lead a more productive and fulfilling life by focusing on your goals and well-being and letting go of the rest? Do you have any more tips to share? Leave tips or suggestions in the comments section below.

Just One More Time

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
There is a skate park in our town, built sometime in the decade before we moved here. It’s steep concrete bowls are confined to a space that could park a half dozen cars. It’s because of this park that our youngest son received a used skateboard from his best friend on his seventh birthday. We saw excitement, not determination. That would come later. But, that skateboard, in a tiny skatepark in rural Colorado was the fuel for a dream.
By his eighth birthday he wanted to be a professional skateboarder. His mind was made up. Two years later he was still skating at the park everyday after school and all summer. In the winter he’d read skate magazines and watch the same videos over and over. Just before his 12th birthday a half-pipe ramp became available in Denver. If you don’t know what a half-pipe ramp is, imagine two, vertical, 12-foot walls you roll off, no nets, no ropes, and no rules. It required two truck trailers to move the wooden monster 180 miles up into the mountains to our back yard. I was less than excited to buy it, worried about injury, and thought it was total overkill on my husband’s part to be the cool skate dad. It would require hundreds of hours to assemble. I shelved my aggravation and pulled out the screw gun. It was my son’s communion.
He skated that ramp nearly every day. The number of people who could skate our behemoth paired down to a narrow few. After a few hours he was generally alone again. Back and forth. Fall. Climb. Skate. Fall. Climb. Skate. He’d bake in the summer sun and shovel the snow off before school in the winter. He’d skate at night under farm lights. His dad and I would watch him practice the same trick repeatedly, for hours. I’d try to talk sense into him after watching his 50th failed attempt, but he’d always say “wait, just one more time,” until he’d either land it, or collapse in a demoralized heap. He competed in any and every competition in Colorado. Later, in the pursuit of his passion, we’d spend a couple weeks a year traveling to competitions in California. Oh, California. The skate Mecca.
Watching passion at work can be a gut-wrenching experience. For years he made lists of the tricks he wanted to learn and stuck these lists to the fridge. He followed his heroes on Instagram and Youtube, bought into brands, and saved for gear. There were countless pep talks, and so much frustration. He had so much love for this sport that beat him to pieces. It wasn’t the competition he loved, but the camaraderie he found with other skaters. He was finding his people in this artsy, off beat, punk rock world and to lose them would have been unbearable.
He was a good skater but isolated by climate and geography from becoming great. He worked and saved his money. He planned. He skated the wooden beast that his dad had known, early on, would be what he needed to stay inspired and relevant. He graduated a semester early and at 17 moved to Southern California. His grandmother gave him her old Subaru and we watched as he drove away on a brisk, brilliantly blue, winter day.
We never told him it was going to be hard, or that he should go to college (though he had good grades). We never told him he should have something to fall back on. He was too excited, so full of hope and passion. He was so much braver and fiercer than I had ever been, with a sense of humor that could help bolster his resolve.
As parents, we watch our babies move through a series of somewhat predictable progressions. In the early years, their reward is, in large part, the adulation of a caring adult. That back and forth feels so natural. But, later their independence and character seems to hijack the process and it’s hard to build them big enough wings. It was hard to watch my baby step out of the nest, and off the edge, with nothing but words of encouragement because his determination was always a force beyond my understanding, but something I learned to respect.
It’s been two years. He’s worked numerous jobs, and found his crew. In the last nine months he’s traveled to Australia, six countries in Europe, Mexico, and China exploring and competing with many of the skaters he worshipped. He’s happy and busy. An artist, and an athlete willing to practice the same trick over and over and over until he can barely stand. Then he’ll yell to his friends, ”wait, just one more time.”

What I Gained by Giving up Weeknight Drinking

What does it matter that my nightly glass of wine was turning into two or three, or two light beers were becoming five? It matters quite a bit, actually.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
This is going to sound cliché, but as I’ve gotten older I have found it harder and harder to maintain my “happy weight.” I know, I know: Join the club. But I started examining the possible reasons and I had to admit something that I really didn’t want to: Calories from alcohol do count. But it wasn’t that simple.
What does it matter that my nightly glass of wine was turning into two or three, or two light beers were becoming five? I eat a healthy diet (I told myself) and exercise every day, so I assumed it would all balance out. And yet, the less attention I paid to how much I was drinking, the faster the weight crept on. I decided that there was nothing else I could do. My knees will no longer allow me to work out three hours a day, and who has time to do that anyway?
The turning point came when I was watching TV one weekend morning, flipping through channels aimlessly. I landed on a show where a young, beautiful, skinny host travels to different exotic destinations and basically eats and drinks her way through all the cheesy, meaty goodness, and tropical alcohol combinations that the region could offer, all while cavorting on the beach in an impossibly small bikini. Or sometimes a sarong.
It should have been obvious before, but it hit me then: She doesn’t really do that. No thin person really does that. I wish it were true, but it’s not.
That was it, I was going to quit drinking. At least on weeknights. I honestly expected an amazing transformation, considering not only the calories in the alcohol I was drinking, but all the additional calories I was taking in as an indirect result of drinking.
Case in point: Almost every very morning I would wake up at 3 a.m., thirsty. I would go downstairs, fully intending to only get a glass of water, but the pantry would call to me. “A doughnut would go nicely with that ice water … How about a handful of crackers with cheese? Some olives would make a nice accompaniment. Come on, it will help you get back to sleep.” I gave in every time. Why I didn’t just bring a glass of water with me to bed every night and avoid the middle of the night doughnut dance is beyond me.
Then there were the morning breakfast choices. The mornings after not drinking, a small bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey seemed perfectly reasonable. The mornings after drinking, cold pizza was the obvious choice.
After three days of no drinking, I stepped on the scale, eager to see what I figured should have been at least a pound lost. Nothing.
Ok, maybe a pound isn’t enough to register on the scale. I’ll wait a few more days.
At the end of week one: Nothing. No weight lost. I almost gave up. What’s the point? If trying and not trying have the same result, why go through the effort of trying?
But I stuck with it, and somewhere during week two, I noticed something interesting. No, not weight loss. That still hadn’t happened. But I was feeling different. Mostly I was in a better mood. I realized this when I sat at the table with my son one morning and calmly told him to chew with his mouth closed. Any other day, I would have snapped at him for breathing too loud.
I was also sleeping more soundly. No more middle of the night trips to the pantry, no waking up thirsty or groggy. I got out of bed when my alarm went off, made myself oatmeal, and didn’t think anything of it. Who knew that feeling normal could feel so … normal?
My memory also improved. Don’t you hate when you walk into a room and can’t remember what you are there for? Well, that didn’t stop happening. I still do that, quite often. But the difference is that I remember what I came for much faster. I even produced an actress’ name in record time the other day. “Jessica Lange!” I blurted out in a conversation with my husband, rudely interrupting him. He couldn’t understand why I was so happy to yell her name.
Some weight finally started coming off in week three. I have no idea why it took so long. It’s been six weeks now, and I’m seven pounds down. It wasn’t the sudden, amazing transformation I was expecting, and I haven’t reached my goal yet. But I’m about halfway there.
What surprised me is that the non-weight-related improvements have been as rewarding – if not more rewarding – than the weight loss. Once I realized that being crabby, tired, and forgetful wasn’t normal, I embraced my “new normal.” No drinking. I mean, on weeknights. I may be slightly transformed, but I’m not perfect. And I can live with that.

When School Is No Longer a Reliable Babysitter

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
After a fraught winter of flirting with freelance writing (chagrin implied), I’d made some gains. They were almost negligible, and some of the platforms dubious, yet I got published elsewhere. Still mostly for free (more chagrin) but on bigger platforms for a few more likes, shares, and an occasional pocket change paycheck. (No large advance is forthcoming.)
Then school was out, summer happened, and I reacquainted myself with TV, some video games, full-time parenting, and the clouds.
Well, I’m a parent all the time but her first year of school was an amazing freedom for me.
It’s not that summer strips parents of all their free time. The hours between 9:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. were usually open. If I were a real go-getter, I’d have gotten up at the butt crack to “scribble” on the keys then burn the midnight oil after a few beers, but I didn’t.
Not all was procrastination, though. A lot went on this summer, and it started out fantastically with a two-week break from parenting. The g-rents whisked the kid away, leaving my wife and I childless. It was glorious. We were a couple of young adults without a child again. Other parents were jealous.
After that two-week stint without the kid, things changed. We traveled a lot, there was a death in the family, and we went from practically having a live-in babysitter (a niece) to being full-time parents again.
The adult time was over and my hobby sort of dropped off.
It dropped off because writing isn’t a sprint but a distance game, and it requires more than 20 to 30 minutes of attention at a time. I tried to write with her around but that required a lot of TV (something us modern parents aren’t supposed to let our kids overindulge in), and she had questions and concerns every two minutes.
Can’t get mad, though. When your preschooler asks you to come into the bathroom to smell her fart, your heart just swells. These are the precious moments parents carry with them to their graves.
I’ve also found that picking up where you left off only works with pieces that are nearly done. That being said, it’s easier to pick up a book and easier still to watch Netflix, Amazon, Hulu – whatever.
The easiest thing to do, however, is watch clouds.
Being committed to a word file takes focus, time, and, I guess, some will power.
Not making excuses helps, too, but no one else is going to get that paladin to level 99 other than you, bro.
That’s game talk and while procrastination and gaming go hand in hand, they should never be used in the same sentence around a gamer. They’re liable to set you on fire with a level four flame spell.
Instead, I set the writing aside and checked out critically acclaimed works of nonfiction, making sure I brought them with me so people would notice. I didn’t read them, just skimmed reviews in hifalutin magazines in case someone asked me about them. It’s what we procrastinators call “doing adequate homework”.
I also watched a lot of YouTube videos on lions, landslides, volcanoes (just one Saturday night), even Saturday Night Live, tsunamis again (never gets old), and an inordinate amount of Star Wars fan theory videos.
Did you know that not all Jedi are prudes? I didn’t think so.
The kid and I also did our fair share of floating around the pool. Well, I floated and she attempted the world record at most consecutive drowning attempts.
However, before I lay too much blame on parenting and chronic procrastination, let me reiterate the real culprit: summer break. I absolve myself of all responsibility and lay most of the blame, if not all, on the summer holiday. It’s just too long. Really, kids should be in school more. Perhaps all day so that the only time you see them is when they wake up and after dinner.
A parent’s daily peace of mind is worth a little state indoctrination, am I right?
To be blunt, summer break ruins a this peace-o-mind, pure and simple. Yes, it was great having almost three months off from school as kid, but I’m not a kid anymore and their time off offends me.
Of course, we could’ve mitigated all this with summer camps (I will become a convert next year) and a regular schedule. But to have regularity in you and your child’s schedule, you must plan for it. Since I’m neither a planner nor someone who remotely understand plans, this was not the case for me.
That’s why we’re here now, commiserating summer break together and relieved it’s over.
You hear that kiddo? Sounds like first bell. Time for dad to level up.

Rewards Don’t Work – Here’s What Does

While a reward system may get kids into the habit of behaving in the desired manner, it’s not a long-term solution.

“Mom, can I have the vacuum?” asked my five-year-old daughter.
I was confused and also reluctant to turn over my beloved cordless Dyson.
“Why, sweetheart?”
Normally you cannot see my daughter’s floor through the forest of books, dolls, and clothes. She grinned while imploring me: “Come see.” She marched down the hall and into her room, leading me by the hand. When we got to her doorway I laughed in surprise. The floor was completely clear. I ceded control of the Dyson until my daughter got bored (about 47 seconds later). After I vacuumed neat rows back and forth over her pink, gray, and white chevron rug, I texted the preschool teacher photos of the immaculate room along with all the happy emojis.
Earlier that day, in frustration, I’d begged the teacher to help me find a way to quell the power struggles that had been erupting between my daughter and me for months. If I’m being honest, years. No sticker chart or time-out could tame her steadfast refusal to do what I asked, whether it was to do her chore (she literally has one chore), to get out of the bathtub, or get her shoes on.
Her teacher suggested a marble jar. Here’s how it works: I put a marble in a jar every time I “catch” my daughter being good. When the jar is full, she earns a treat. The teacher said to follow a rule of never removing marbles as a consequence for bad behavior. I added my own rule: Requesting a marble (e.g., “Will I get a marble if I do my chore?”) precludes you from receiving one.
My daughter’s response to the marble jar was a classic example of positive reinforcement at work. According to Ira Chasnoff, M.D., author of “The Mystery of Risk,” positive reinforcement is the only one of the four types of discipline that actually works. In light of that, the steep improvement I saw in my child’s behavior should not have been surprising.
Still, I had questions. Why had the sticker charts not worked? And why, even as I grew lazy about rewarding “marble-worthy” behavior, did the power struggles continue to decrease both in frequency and intensity? There had to be more to the equation than simply positive reinforcement.
I talked to Sarah MacLaughlin, parent educator and author of “What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children” to fill in the gap. She cautions parents to use positive reinforcement only “as training wheels” – and even then, only if they’ve already tried approaches emphasizing the relationship. In other words, while a reward system may get kids into the habit of behaving in the desired manner, it’s not a long-term solution.
MacLaughlin cites the work of education and parenting expert Alfie Kohn, who calls rewards and punishments “two sides of the same coin” in his book “Punished by Rewards.” As MacLaughlin explains, whether you’re rewarding good behavior or punishing bad behavior, “the goal is to influence/control/coerce a child and their behavior, [a strategy that has] a rapidly approaching expiration date.” She recalls offering her son candy as a reward for taking a necessary dose of bitter medicine when he was five years old. “He burst into tears and wailed, ‘Why are you threatening me?’ It took me a minute to work out how offering him M&M’s to take the stuff was a threat, but then I realized – the threat was that he wouldn’t get the chocolate unless he took the medicine.” MacLaughlin says she then realized she’d inadvertently attempted to coerce her child, something she’d never advise parents to do.
While MacLaughlin feels positive reinforcement may be effective, it should be used sparingly, if at all. She says children tend to respond well to positive reinforcement for the same reasons adults do. Most of us would be more motivated to meet performance goals for a manager who rewards our efforts than be subject to punishment for poor performance. However, MacLaughlin points out “I’m also not likely to care much about positive reinforcement or rewards from someone I don’t respect or feel connected to.” Both MacLaughlin and Chasnoff agree on one important point: When it comes to motivating our children, no system or method can (or should) take the place of a loving relationship.
One of the risks of using positive reinforcement, says MacLaughlin, is raising a child who becomes an extrinsically motivated adult. Extrinsic motivation is when a reward or recognition motivates a person to perform. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is what causes people to accomplish something simply because they want to. According to Daniel Pink, career analyst and author of “Drive,” when it comes to creative problem solving, the prospect of extrinsic rewards actually hurts performance.
But the main issue with positive reinforcement is that it ignores the greatest source of influence on your child – your relationship. Says MacLaughlin, “Behavior is always driven by either development (i.e., it’s normal and to be expected), an unmet physiological need, or emotion/stress (children don’t have a fully wired brain and their off-track behavior is often a result of a dysregulated brain state).” As parents, it is crucial to understand that it’s our connection with our kids – not any “sticker, star, gummy bear, [or] punishment” according to Dr. Becky Bailey – that can help get them back on track. Bailey is a developmental psychologist and early childhood expert whose TEDx talk “Wiring the Brain for Success” explains the neurology responsible for this phenomenon.
But if offering a marble isn’t the way to go when your kid is not cooperating, or worse, having a meltdown, what is? MacLaughlin advises parents to listen. And listen some more. If your child is having a fit, she says it is futile to attempt to give consequences or feedback when a child is an elevated emotional state (e.g., crying or screaming). That does not mean you should ignore bad behavior, however. If for example, your child becomes physically aggressive, MacLaughlin recommends you first help her calm down. Only when kids are calm do they have the capacity to listen and learn. At that point, she says,

“You can validate a child who is heated by saying, ‘You tried to kick me because I said NO to dessert. I understand you’re upset, and I won’t let you hurt me.’ Then listen more, say less, and offer no ‘consequences’ or feedback until they are calm (the Hand in Hand model calls this Staylistening). Once you gauge you’re past the point of triggering those big emotions, you can offer feedback and education. For example, ‘I know you know that hitting is not okay. As you grow and mature you’ll learn how to stay in charge of yourself and not hit when you’re upset.” I call this combo a Truth Bomb Pep Talk–information, a reminder, and encouragement all rolled into one.”

If your child is simply refusing to do what you’re requesting, MacLaughlin urges parents to remember that kids are doing the best they can, and to assume that they aren’t cooperating because they need help, whether emotionally or physically. She says there could be something bothering them on an emotional level, in which case she recommends the Staylistening approach. Or it could be that using humor – making your request in a funny voice or with an accent – will get them on board. If that doesn’t work, and before you lose your cool, MacLaughlin suggests stopping what you’re doing and set a limit by calmly, kindly, physically guiding the child to the chore or task. She says parents are often surprised at how well this works.
Whenever my daughter’s marble jar filled up, she chose a treat. We would either hit the bagel shop or the used bookstore, but no matter what, it was just us. Her love languages are apparently carbs, books, and quality time. In light of what I learned from MacLaughlin, it’s clear the positive reinforcement was just the “training wheels” she needed to start rolling in the right direction. I’m convinced that it was the “reward” of spending rare one on one time together that took care of the rest.

The Case for Boredom to Ignite Our Minds

We may assume that curing boredom is a good thing for all of us. But researchers fear that not being bored is the problem.

The demands of careers and parenting mean we’ve lost time to let our minds wander. There are always tasks that need to be handled.
Then there’s the other obvious way we cure boredom should it have a chance to strike: technology. Smartphones give us the opportunity to constantly engage with social media, games, news, or countless text threads. All of these serve as distractions that keep our minds from dealing with boredom for even a minute.
We may assume that curing boredom is a good thing for all of us. We’re not bored, the kids aren’t bored, we don’t have to listen to the kids complain about being bored, and everyone can grab their smartphones or tablets should boredom arise.
But researchers fear that not being bored is the problem.

Why we need boredom

Research shows that people will go to extremes to avoid sitting alone with their thoughts. Studies found that boredom can cause excessive drinking, gambling, and eating when we’re not hungry.
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to engage in these harmful activities to stave off boredom. Unfortunately, we turn to smartphones as a safe option when they are not.
According to studies used in author Manoush Zomorodi’s TED Talk, we now shift our attention every 45 seconds while working because technology makes it easy to do so. We also spend time checking our phones when we don’t even know what we’re looking for. Notifications constantly pop up, and we become Pavlovian in our responses to them, searching for them when they’re not even there just because we can see the phone.
A recent study showed that even having our smartphones in the room with us lowers our cognitive function.
Smartphones and the way we use them keep us from allowing ourselves to get bored, and that means we’re missing out. When bored, the brain goes into default mode. It’s in this mindset that we can reflect on our past and problem solve for our future.
When bored, we daydream, we create ideas, and we stick with a train of thought that can lead us to create. A study even found that participants asked to perform a boring task before solving a problem using creativity did a better job than those whose brains weren’t first prepared by boredom.

How to be bored in the technology age

Journalist Manoush Zomorodi launched a podcast in 2015 that challenged listeners to engage with technology responsibly and put some boredom back in their lives. It wasn’t a cold-turkey technology detox. Most of us have to use some form of technology for jobs or communication with others. Zomorodi launched her challenge to help people learn to do it responsibly.  She wanted participants to give themselves time during the day to free their minds from simply staring at a screen for no reason.
Her challenge led to a book that came out this year titled “Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self”.  It details how to engage responsibly with our phones while giving our brains the sacred time they need to be utterly bored.
Challenges include deleting our favorite apps from our phones or walking without a phone in our hands for an entire day. None of these challenges seem that hard until participants are forced to perform them.
That’s when many who signed up for the challenge on Manoush’s podcast realized they were addicted, though some had inklings of that before. It’s why they signed up in the first place. Most of us know we are missing time we used to have, time where our minds roamed and we used wonder and curiosity to cure our boredom. Our brains had room and time to develop ideas.
Children born into the smartphone age need to be trained to use technology responsibly because they will not remember having all that tech-free time. That longing we have to unplug will be foreign to kids who live electronically plugged in at all times.
Parents can set the example by using self-control and making technology work for their lives, but not take them over. In the process, they teach their kids the sacred practice of boredom.
These simple guidelines are a good start:

Keep the phone out of the bedroom

Let those boring moments before sleep get the creative juices flowing and preserve rest. Phones in the bedroom can cause sleep problems.

Go hands-free

When walking or driving, don’t hold a phone like it’s an extension of the body. Instead of focusing brain power on looking at the phone or wondering when it’s going to offer a notification, go hands-free and let the brain go into default mode.

Set times for engagement

Those in the technology development industry have no problem admitting they are creating a product, and they want it to be as addictive as possible. Manoush believes that it’s so hard to be bored because our technology is designed to draw us in.
To combat this, set up rules and times for engagement. Don’t let tech designers decide how and when you use technology.

The long-term payoff

Creativity was identified as a leadership competency that CEOs look for in employees. Creative people may be hard to find if we now live in a society that doesn’t value boredom. We are also living in a society full of people who feel guilty about the unhealthy relationships they have with their phones.
We can change the course, though, and raise a generation that benefits from technology while still using their minds to create and problem solve without distractions. We can have the conveniences that smartphones offer without the addiction or the brain drain they cause.
It’s as simple, and as difficult, as embracing boredom.

One Moment at a Time

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Giving up isn’t an option today. One mistake, one wrong decision, one moment of indulgence in self-pity will rip away everything and everyone who brings meaning and love to my life. To an outsider, my life may seem bleak: I live paycheck to (one week before) paycheck in a condo that is too small for my three children and me. It is not out of the norm for me to not know how I will put gas in my car or food on the table. My credit score is a whopping 450. I am divorced. I borrow money from my 70-year-old mother, who also helps me with laundry and other household chores. At 39, I am only at the beginning stages of my first career. I have no husband and I don’t go on vacation. I am scraping by one day at a time, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
No one wants to visit the depths of emotional and physical pain that I have. My story is as sad as they get. Every alcoholic mother cliché is true. I am a low-bottom drunk. My final years of drinking were spent chugging vodka straight out of the bottle just to calm the shakes and nausea. My final drink ended with me driving in a blackout at 10 a.m. after disappearing from my place of employment unannounced. My visits with my children were supervised by court order. They still loved me and I can’t comprehend how or why. They still had hope for me. They saw through the sour breath and the phony smile, and they knew the person I am today was hiding in there. They waited for me.
I was full of broken promises and empty apologies. I missed birthday parties, and I passed out in front of my children. Hangover after hangover, alcoholism told me I could drink today and not get drunk. Just a few to keep the shakes at bay, then I will stop. This is a disease that lies. This is a disease that takes over mind, body and spirit and grabs hold of families and innocent children. This disease held me so tightly, and I danced with it for so long, believing the lies and forgiving its betrayal.
I was unemployable, undependable, and (I thought) unlovable. Alcohol was my everything. My best friend and lover. My courage and fear. My entertainment and bedtime story. My motivation to live and desire to die. Alcohol came before my kids, relationships, health, and sanity. I wanted so badly to want to stop drinking, but I still longed for alcohol to run steadily through my veins every waking moment.
During my final months of drinking, I began to sense the end was near. I didn’t make sense of it at the time, but I grew so scared of myself. I would enter a package store, and as I left I would think, something terrible is going to happen tonight, and then wake the next day thanking God nothing terrible happened. This became the beginning of the end. The disease was dying. I no longer felt invincible. I no longer believed the lies of alcoholism.
I bought a gallon of vodka knowing I would drink the whole thing that night. It scared me. I was preparing for my final surrender. Surrender came on February 3, 2014. I did not want to die. I knew I would lose my oldest daughter forever. I saw it in her eyes, in the way she was beginning to pull away from me. She would not be fooled by this disease much longer. I prayed for help in my own desperate way, and God answered my prayers.
Detox. A six-month inpatient rehab an hour and half away from my kids. AA meetings. I learned to like some things about myself. I learned to do things sober. I relearned how to do everything sober. I danced sober, I laughed sober, I cried sober, and I felt things I had been numbing my entire adult life. I embraced a new way of life, and I made a commitment to God and to myself to stay sober at all costs, just for today.
I have caused pain to those I love that I cannot take away. I don’t do that today. My children waited for me, and I am going to make sure their wait was worth it. Today I don’t care how much money is in my bank account or what my credit score is. Today I am sober and God is my provider. I now live in acceptance, self-awareness, and gratitude, including gratitude for my darkest days because they made me who I am today.
Through dedication to God, to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and to self-love, I have accumulated 1,347 days sober, one moment at a time.