How to Make the Most of Your College Student's Winter Break at Home

Parents get excited when their college kids come home for holidays and schools breaks. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate and be together.

Parents get excited when their college kids come home for holidays and schools breaks. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate and be together. Here are some tips on what to do and what not to do to make the most of visits home.

Do family time

Plan one or two mandatory family activities. Let them know in advance what day or times that you’re planning them and that attendance is non-negotiable. Based on your family’s likes and schedule, plan something special, like dinner at a favorite restaurant or show tickets or a family game night.

Don’t overwhelm them with plans

Understand that, while you’ve missed them, they have missed everything about home. They miss their friends, their pets, even just sleeping in their own beds. It’s not that they don’t want to be with you, it’s that they have limited time at home and many people they want to see. Try not to be smothering or overwhelm them. Making family plans for every minute will just lead to stress and disappointment.

Do allow for down time

After months of sharing a room with roommate(s), they might just want to spend some time alone. Don’t worry if they aren’t overly social or feel like spending some time just watching TV or catching up on sleep. Time at home is a good way to re-charge and get a rest from college late nights.

Don’t get insulted

Many college students walk in the house, drop their bags (filled with dirty laundry), and immediately head out the door. Thanksgiving is a prime opportunity to re-connect with friends from high school. If you feel like your kids haven’t spent any time at home, suggest they invite friends over instead of going out.

Do set some rules in advance

They’ve been living on their own for a while now. They aren’t used to asking to borrow the car or having a curfew. Communicate your expectations to your young adult. You may need to loosen the rules you enforced when your child was in high school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set some boundaries regarding underage drinking, car use, etc.

Don’t stress the mess

Having your college kid home means more stuff. More laundry, more shoes at the door, and messy rooms. Remember this mess is temporary. Try not to battle about messy rooms and just close the door. If it truly gets out of hand, let them know in a calm manner.

Do stock the fridge

Nothing says welcome home like a fridge stocked with your child’s favorite foods. Many college dining halls to not have the most appetizing choices. Your kids may have been surviving on Ramen, peanut butter, and take out pizza, so make sure you have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand, as well as some homemade treats. Let them pick the dinner menu for their time home.

Don’t ask too many questions

Of course you’re curious about their life at college, but don’t bombard them with questions the minute they walk in the door. While it’s natural to want to hear lots of details about your child’s new life, it’s more important not to make them feel interrogated or judged. Let your young adult take the lead in conversations. You may want to hear about their classes and grades, but they may be more interested in discussing fraternity life or roommate issues. Don’t press. They are adults and may want some privacy.

Do savor this time

From sibling banter to hearing their footsteps come down the stairs for breakfast (or lunch), embrace the sounds and laughter of having your child home again. Make time for simple activities you enjoy doing together, like going to the movies or the mall or just hanging out on the couch watching reality television. Take cues for your young adult. If it seems like they feel like talking, take a break from whatever else you are doing and really listen.

Don’t forget, they will be back again

It can be hard to say goodbye, but try not to focus on the fact that they’ll be leaving soon. Remember that your kids will be back again for other holidays, and summer break. It’s not the same as when they lived at home full time, but this next phase of parenting can be wonderful, too. 

Out of the Blue: The Sadness of Unexpected Loss

They are the phone calls that change your life. The urgent ones that come from those you love with news too sad to process in the moment, or ever, really.

I had just driven 45 minutes north for our second weekly homeschooling playdate with a new bunch of moms and kids when I got the call. My son had spent the last 45 minutes excitedly talking about who he was going to see and what he was going to do. I was looking forward to adult conversation. We unloaded the arsenal of Nerf guns and made our way towards virtual strangers verging on future friends.

Five minutes after we’d arrived, my phone rang. I recognized the area code and “719” hospital prefix. I had seen it seven years earlier when my father was in the hospital recovering from a massive stroke.

I heard my mother’s voice and as she spoke, I anticipated devastating news about my father. In the moments that followed I would hear words fall out of my mother’s mouth that would bring me to my knees in the middle of a park peppered with laughing, screaming children and gossiping moms.

“It’s your sister. She’s had either a stroke or a heart attack. They’re working on her now.” I heard commotion in the background and multiple emotionless “Code blue” announcements over the hospital intercom.

“Wait. What?! Is she conscious?” I couldn’t make sense of it. My sister is 44. She has a six-year-old boy. She’s happily married. She’s seemingly healthy. Oh my god. Her son.

I tried to take it all in; to ask sound, sensible questions.

My mother was eerily calm and I knew that was her emotional armor – an attempt at self preservation at a time when life as usual temporarily suspends itself.

“I need you to come home.”

In the midst of this brief obscene phone call, I processed a week’s worth of thoughts. We had just arrived at the park. My son would lose his shit if we left only moments after parking the car. He’s seven and family emergencies are surely just inconveniences. Then all the rational yet ridiculous “have tos” pushed their way in. I have to get home. I have to pack. I have to water the plants. I have to get my dog. I have to give the neighbors a key. I have to cancel our recently planned trip.

My son was playing off in the distance. I was about to share intimate family news with a group of women I had only met one other time. I didn’t have time to worry about awkward or appropriate. I wasn’t going to politely excuse myself. I wanted to vomit. I needed to talk to someone other than myself.

This new mom tribe provided me with an outlet for all the jumbled thoughts running through my head. They hugged me and comforted me while I tried to balance being a mom, a daughter, a sister, and an aunt.

I allowed my son to play while I stayed in contact with my mother, knowing that I could do nothing seven hours away. Never have I felt so helpless. I couldn’t move fast enough and yet speed wouldn’t change a thing.

“She’s on a ventilator. They’ve installed a stent and an Impella device to help her heart function. She is not conscious and they are cooling her body to keep brain activity calm. Her pupils are fixed. We have to wait and see.”

With bags packed, and the house in order, my son, dog and I headed out. My husband was away for business. When we finally pulled in at 1:15 a.m. I could think only of whisking myself away to the hospital to see my sister. My mom informed me earlier, however, that we would all go and visit early in the morning so I put my son to bed and tried to close my eyes. I stared at the ceiling imagining the worst yet hoping, begging, praying for the best.

Only one day earlier, I had seen my vibrant sister’s face via FaceTime for a few brief moments while our son’s ran around like rabid animals with our phones sharing Pokémon and Minecraft stories.

We spoke briefly about my writing and about our upcoming visit. There were no deep thoughts or big “I love yous.” I simply had the beautiful gift of seeing my sister sitting on her couch smiling and sharing.

In the morning, a few hours after our arrival, my mother, father and I went to the hospital. Hollow and drained, we all floated to the intensive care room where my once smiling sister was now laid out – swollen, fragile, broken. Tubes and a blue gown modestly covered her unresponsive, child-like body. I squeezed her cold tiny size five feet with green painted toenails.

I kept thinking, She’s a MOTHER! Her six-year-old son still needs mama hugs and mama kisses. One day he’ll seek her sage advice for a future he isn’t comfortable navigating on his own.

Images of my precious nephew living a motherless future flooded my mind and ripped me up inside. Up to this point, he had been told, “Mommy is very sick and in the hospital,” but the reality of the situation was safely out of reach, for all of us.

I had time to think about a lot – our innocent childhood and shared bubble baths, our volatile teen years, a sister bonding trip to NY, our weddings and baby showers, our children whom we call “brousins” (brother-cousins), and conversations about our aging parents for whom we would care together as a team in the future.

I thought about motherhood and the indescribable, all-encompassing body, soul, and spirit love that is motherhood and it pained me to think that this magnificent love might not be enough to keep my sister alive for her son.

I stayed at the hospital all day and headed back home for a few hours of sleep with my son and nephew. As we all lay in bed together, I listened to the brousins trade stories about “farts and toots.” My nephew laughed about how his mom’s toots “blow him to the other side of the bed at night.”

The boys giggled uncontrollably and I turned my head and hid my tears. The juxtaposition of light-hearted silliness with the heaviness of altered lives and futures felt inappropriate.

I knew in that moment that my six-year-old nephew would never have another night like that with his mommy. No nighttime stories, no cuddles. No more sister phone calls chatting about our boys and their futures. No more jokes about who got the better nose or, “Guess who’s older?” during our shared birth month of May. No more shopping sprees or phone calls en route to work. Simply no more.

Only a couple of hours later, I received a call urging me to return to the hospital. I learned what we all had feared – my sister’s brain had been robbed of much needed oxygen for far too long and all the medicine and man-made devices couldn’t repair her damaged heart.

It was time to let her go.

My sister could not will her body to remain on this earthly plane for her son. She would never have given up and yet the choice wasn’t hers to make. Life was unfairly taken away from her.

I watched her take her last breath. I watched her body turn from colorful peach to lifeless grey. I kissed her freckled face and stroked her curly auburn hair for the last time. I touched her petite feet and hands in a way that a mother caresses her child’s.

My baby sister is on a different journey now and I am left to live a lonelier future without her. I move through waves of grief but I take comfort knowing that she experienced the most intense and beautiful love possible as a mother during the last six years of her life.

Beyond Hugs: How to Incorporate More Loving Touch Into Your Kids’ Day

Our kids bloom when we hold, hug, kiss and love on them.

A recent picture of Victoria Beckham kissing her daughter Harper on the lips was criticized by many for being far too intimate an act.

Scores of Instagram comments suggested the kiss was inappropriate. How on earth have we become such a touch-phobic society when all the evidence suggests that humans are hardwired for physical intimacy?

The Case for Loving Touch

  • Loving touch boosts cooperation in relationships with more trust and reciprocity between those who physically interact more.
  • Touch is a vital part of the way humans communicate – studies show we feel sympathy, love, joy, and gratitude through touch.
  • Loving touch has a plethora of physical benefits with some studies showing increased survival rates of patients with complex diseases who were given touch therapy.
  • There also seems to be some emerging evidence that supportive touch enhances our abilities. A study of the sporting world found that teams that touched more, though celebratory high fives and encouraging fist bumps, were significantly more successful.
  • There is evidence to suggest that touch promotes happiness and can act as a antidote to depression.
  • Engaging our children in healthy touch, and clear communication about “good touch/bad touch,” is part of the armory for sexual abuse prevention. One of the primary reasons the reaction to Victoria and Harper’s kiss is so alarming is that this sort of healthy, loving touch is actually a key part of raising kids who are more protected from toxic touching.

I have a very busy five-year-old. She is fiercely independent, ambitious, curious, and so socially driven that at a BBQ last weekend, the only time I saw her was a glimpse of her hand reaching through the crowd to grab a scorched burger from the food table. This means that she’ll quite often hit a wall and either slump or explode because she’s running on empty. I need to consciously make sure I am refilling her cup.

When done consensually and with the clear permission of the child, loving touches can boost happiness, health, and resilience in our children.

Here are 10 ways I squeeze more physical contact in to our day:

1 | Fist bumps

We have our own special one. I think Ramona picked it up from a playground, but we’ve made it our own. We bump fists, wave our hands, and say “High Five, Dolphin Dive.” We do it several times an hour just to remind ourselves that we’re awesome.

2 | Hand catching

My dad used to keep me entertained with this in boring church services and now I keep my kids occupied like this in an equally quiet place. I open my palm and they have to poke it. I’m not allowed to move my hand but I have to try and grasp theirs. Such fun. Can end in very loud giggles though, so be warned.

3 | Nose rubbing

Here in New Zealand there’s a traditional Maori greeting, a Hongi, where greeters press their noses together. The sentiment is beautiful – it’s about sharing breath with one another. Sometimes my kids and I press our noses together and try to sync our breathing.

4 | Listen to body noises

My children put their heads on my heart or my belly and listen to the thump and gurgle. I return the great favor.

5 | Shoulder massage

My daughter loves watching films. Often we’ve seen them 73,7800 times (approximately), so I’m not that piqued by the storyline any more. So I take the opportunity to give her a shoulder massage. It’s one way to connect with her when she’s doing something potentially quite isolating.

6 | The Arm Game

I’m sorry, I can’t think what to call this, but it results in great laughs. One person bares an arm and closes their eyes. The other person walks two fingers up from the first person’s wrist to their shoulder. The first person has to shout when they believe the person has reached the crease by their elbow. It’s impossible! And so fun!

7 | Mimic animals

My daughter is going through a big penguin phase. These days I just have to say, “Want to connect like a penguin?” and we do this really subtle Penguin Dance, by facing tummy to tummy and swooping our necks. This would be an awesome one for any kid into animals. (Like, every kid, am I right?)

8 | Rough housing

We face each other on our knees and have to pin each other down. I’m amazing at this! Literally get my five-year-old down every time! (I jest, I jest. Every so often I let her pin me.)

9 | Body measurements

Every so often we check how much their hands and feet have grown. We place our palms together, and then our feet. Sometimes our ears and chins and bellies.

10 | Bathe together

I love taking a bath with my kids. Sometimes I even take a book in and say “I’m going to read for 10 minutes and after that we will play” – everyone is a winner! Once we get playing we end up all up in each other’s grills. It’s a great, natural opportunity to talk about what bits of our bodies are private and aren’t to be touched by anyone.

Victoria Beckham understands that loving touch is to our children what the sun is to a flower. Held by us, kissed by us, caressed by us, our children bloom and grow.

Intrusive Things My Family Said and Did When I Was Pregnant

Being pregnant is exhausting. Sure, it’s tiring to make a person. But mostly because of all the insensitive and irritating comments from family members.

“I’d given up on you,” my mother-in-law exclaimed, placing the first of many uninvited hands on my still-flat stomach. “You should make a sibling right after so this one won’t be all alone in the world.”

“We’ll see,” I murmured while thinking: Please stop groping my belly.

And thus began the intrusions, the presumptions, and downright ignorance that plagued the time when the miracle of life grew inside me.

“What religion will you raise it?” “Aren’t are you getting rid of your cats?” “When are you quitting your job?”

Once considered a capable, independent 30-year-old, overnight I morphed into a delicate creature, incapable of decision-making or physical labor of any kind. What did I know? This was my first baby. And I needed to be taught how to do it the Right Way.

I instantly crossed some invisible line by instituting a clothing request of, “No pink if it’s a girl, no camo for a boy,” that was met with laughter.

“That won’t fly in this family,” they said.

“You can buy what you want,” I maintained. “But I can’t guarantee I’ll put it on the baby.”

“Oooooo, with mood swings like that maybe she is carrying a girl.”

Right then I should have added a few clothing rules for myself. Over subsequent months I was frequently gifted – or rather given hand-me-downs from decades earlier – dresses that could’ve been mistaken for wallpaper. The shapeless bags of musty cloth dwarfed my petite frame to the tune of, “You’ll grow into it.”

Then came the punishments, as if it were sacrilege to withhold the gender from all who inquired. Guessing games ensued based on where my body fattened and whether my personality changed. I’d often waddled away from demands to lie down and allow my wedding ring to be suspended on a string and swung over my burgeoning belly.

I was quizzed regularly on my cravings, then poo-pooed with, “You’re not eating that, are you?” I always failed to mention enough healthy selections. Of course “healthy” depended on one’s opinion, which ranged from an apple a day being sufficient, to nothing but an unprocessed, organic, sugar-free, caffeine-free, Earth-mother-in-a-hippie-commune diet.

Even complete strangers expressed their thoughts without reserve.

“You should have a girl,” an elderly Yenta and her potent perfume intruded on one of the last pre-baby date nights. “There are too many men in this world. They’re no good.”

“I’ll do my best,” I replied, already well into the seventh month and unsure of how I’d magically affect the gender. Perhaps a good talk with my husband’s sperm would do the trick for the inevitable “next time.”

The Yenta was right about one thing. Females voiced their advice unendingly, but the men expected me to swallow their commands with a “yessir” and a smile on my face.

“Why didn’t you invite your third cousins to the baby shower?” my grandfather asked as I arrived to my baby shower.

“A lot of people weren’t invited, Pop. We wanted to keep it small.”

“You should call them up and apologize.”

I imagined the conversation. Hello obscure relative! I’m your father’s cousin’s granddaughter. No the other cousin…no the other granddaughter. Yeah, I’m that one. The last time you saw me I wore diapers. Anyway, I’ve got a bun in the oven and I’m calling to apologize for not inviting you to the baby shower.

There were no doors held open. No free pass to the front of the bathroom line. Sympathy came in the form of, “Wait until you have your second kid,” under the assumption I’d want another one. Or could have another one at my so-called advanced maternal age. The wall of expectations grew while my fuse had been lit and burned dangerously close to its explosive end; my true pregnancy glow.

When word got out that I needed a Cesarean section, or what I referred to as the “get out of labor free” pass, you’d think that somebody had died. Sobs brimmed forth for the life-changing experience I was going to miss. Nobody believed that I had absolutely zero interest in giving birth to a breeched baby. “The doctors just want your money!” they’d shout before warning me about the difficulties I’d surely face breastfeeding and bonding with my baby.

The day came, during an unusually warm November. I’d already been scolded for pulling myself up into my husband’s truck without a step stool, then taking a nice long walk through the hospital parking lot instead of requesting valet and a wheelchair like an invalid. Scrubbed up and strapped into monitors, it was go time…

…or at least it would have been go time if my entire family didn’t sneak in to the otherwise clean prep room to say one last farewell. This is what it must feel like going to one’s own funeral, I thought. The best apology I could offer the nurse who had the unpleasant task of ushering my audience out was, “They need to be trained.”

After the surgery, I looked down at the most beautiful grumpy face in my arms. She wore a frown on her mouth and a worry line on her brow. She looked pissed off, like she spent those last nine months hearing the very same nonsense, though she accepted the warm consolation of my body with soft chirps of appreciation.

All too soon our quiet, peaceful company was interrupted with a parade of pink balloons and pink bags decorated with pink ribbons filled with pink dresses, pink booties, and other pink nonsense.

“All girls love to wear pink,” my mother-in-law insisted, holding a neon magenta outfit up against the baby.

She let out her first screeching cry.

I smiled. “That’s my girl.”

What Maternity Leave Looks Like for One Family in a Tiny Apartment

A day in the life of one mom, her husband, a toddler, a baby, and a visiting Grandma all sharing the space of a two-bedroom, one bath apartment.

Baby Mabel and I wake up in the big bedroom, formerly the living room. I change her diaper and open the door. The cat and dog stroll in and take their places on the changing table and bed, respectively.

Carrying the baby, I walk into three-year-old Harvey’s room, formerly the big bedroom. We find my husband and Harvey watching videos quietly. We all greet each other and the adults inquire about sleep quality and length. Mabel was up three times but slept til 8. Harvey was up once but slept til 6:30. My husband, Justin, and I cannot decide who had it worse. I suspect it was my husband due to the sleepily discarded PlayStation controller that tripped me outside of Harvey’s bedroom door.

Mabel goes into her vibrating chair as I make breakfast. My husband and I reach around each other and a large Moses basket on a rolling stand to get to the coffee. I dodge for the milk; he lunges for the butter knives. The Moses basket is uneffected.

Harvey jumps on the couch near Mabel’s vibrating chair so I pick her up and put her into the big bedroom for her nap. My husband tells Harvey, “No drumming,” so that the baby can fall asleep. The baby falls asleep.

Carefully, I remove first the dog then, more carefully, the cat who is louder and more pointed. They both lay down under the couch and on the recliner, respectively. My husband tells Harvey, “No drumming,” so that the baby stays asleep. The baby wakes up. Everyone freezes. The baby falls back to sleep.

Grandma arrives. Harvey and the dog jump and bark with excitement. The baby wakes up. I push Grandma and Harvey into his bedroom to jump on the bed and close the door behind them. Hoping to do some work, my husband slogs up to the bonus room, formerly the second bedroom but ornamented with a set of slippery stairs no preschooler would survive in the middle of the night in my opinion, which is the correct opinion.

I put the baby in a wrap and pace around the living room dodging the vibrating chair, the swinging chair, and the toddler-sized Papasan chair that nobody uses. The baby falls asleep. I put her down in the big bedroom.

Harvey and Grandma dash up the slippery stairs to the bonus room and play with the train table. Justin flees the bonus room and settles in the living room. I put my hand on Justin’s shoulder and squeeze it, briefly. Harvey and Grandma, dressed as a black cat and a unicorn, respectively, come to dance in the living room. My husband retreats to the kitchen. The dog is back in the big bedroom. I do not know where the cat is.

I use the one bathroom for the first time that day. As I use the one bathroom Harvey pounds on the door saying he needs to pee. Together we use the one bathroom and discuss what we are both doing in greater detail than I would like. I make Harvey wash his hands despite the fact that, “There no pee on them, mommy!”

The baby wakes up. Harvey and I leave the one bathroom. Harvey races up the slippery stairs to the bonus room where Grandma is waiting with the drum. The baby is now swearing at me in baby talk.

Justin withdraws to Harvey’s bedroom. I put the baby into a wrap and we take the dog for a walk. The baby swears at me until we get back to the house, then falls asleep. Inside, Harvey is drumming. Mabel stays asleep. I put Mabel down into her crib. Mabel wakes up. I put Mabel down into her Rock ‘n Play and rock her. Mabel chooses play and stays awake.

I sit on the recliner with Mabel. Mabel and I look at each other glassy-eyed. Harvey and Grandma want to dance in the living room. I don’t know where my husband is. I don’t dare look in the bonus room because I fear the slippery stairs. Harvey and Grandma go to the backyard with the dog.

I lay down on the big bed with Mabel and nurse her. The cat appears and screams at me. I pet the cat on the head while physically holding him back from the baby. His claws affectionately tear the flesh of my hand. I stifle back cries of pain so the baby won’t wake up. The cat bites me and I wail for my husband, which wakes the baby.

Justin removes the cat and the baby falls asleep and will remain asleep as long as I keep a nipple in her mouth. Hours pass. I don’t know where my son, mother, or husband are and I have no feeling in my right arm.

I remember a different small apartment from an emptier time. My husband and I are there, alone, slunk together on a raggedy couch watching movies until late and using the one bathroom one at a time. I kiss the baby. The baby wakes up.

Grandma announces that she’s leaving. I invite her to stay a little bit longer. She laughs at my killer joke. I assure her I’m serious. She looks at me through eyes that speak of a thousand sleepless nights 30 years past and squeezes my shoulder, briefly. She announces she is still leaving. I thank her and ask her where my husband is and she tells me he’s in the one bathroom.

I knock on the door of the one bathroom and ask my husband if he got any work done. He sighs from behind the door. Harvey pounds on the door and tells my husband he needs to pee. They both use the one bathroom.

I put Mabel in the swinging chair and she cries. I put her in the vibrating chair and she cries. I trip over the toddler-sized Papasan. I hate the toddler-sized Papasan. Harvey wants to dance in the living room. The cat is stalking me from the slippery stairs. The dog has been left in the backyard.

It’s nighttime and the children need to eat dinner and go to bed. They don’t, but then hours later they do. I fall asleep in the big bedroom next to the baby in her Rock ‘n Play. I don’t know where my husband is, but wherever it may be, I hope that he’s happy.

Remember When You Said You’d Never Have Kids?

A humorous and heartfelt essay exploring the many steps along the well-trod path to becoming a mother, from pregnancy to college graduation and beyond.

First, swear you’ll never be one, laugh drunkenly, and swig your fourth glass of wine.

Meet the love of your life, marry, and discuss how many children you’re going to have, jokingly. Laugh heartily and live your glorious newlywed life. Sleep in on weekends, make sweet love, and go for brunch at your favorite hangout.

Watch your friends get married, cheer them on at their weddings; do not talk about whether you’re going to have children.

Watch your friends make sweet, creative pregnancy announcements on Facebook. Feel a twinge.

Discuss vaguely “not trying NOT to get pregnant but not trying to get pregnant on purpose” with your husband.

Get pregnant.

Freak out.

Achieve happiness.

Pregnancy announcement. Puke. Feel like a noodle for most of the first trimester. Perk up and start planning the nursery and buying all the baby things. Wish for week 40 to just come already.

Throw your birth plan out the window. Give birth. Breastfeed. Or not. As long as the baby is fed.

They send you home with no instructions? WHAT?

Survive the first month. Feel out of depth and slightly smelly. Forget what real clothes look like. Marvel at your baby. Smell his hair and take a million photos of his tiny feet. Count your blessings. Post all those photos on Facebook and finally understand why people overshare. (Because you can’t keep all that cuteness to yourself. What evil person doesn’t like babies anyway?)

The tiny bundle you gave life to starts to gurgle, smile, laugh, roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, say “mama.” Your heart swells with each milestone and tears threaten when you put away yet another outgrown outfit. Is this what it’s going to be like from now on?

Learn all about sleep training, co-sleeping, baby-led weaning, babywearing, strollers, cribs, car seats, bottles, sippy cups.

Feel confused, amazed, and befuddled by the many “parenting theories” – helicopter, tiger, submarine, walrus (OK, I made that up) and wonder if “fly by the seat of my pants” is a parenting style.

Join mommy groups online and in real life with trepidation. You are all at once overwhelmed and underwhelmed. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” comes to mind. Commiserating over a cup of tea (or wine, whatever works for you!) makes it all feel better.

Swim in a sea of doubt, always wondering if you’re doing the right thing. You read books and articles purporting one thing or another and agree with all of them – then think it’s all a crapshoot.

Give your child the iPad so you can get some work done (or just for some alone time in the bathroom). Then you read something that tells you that you suck because you use electronics as a “babysitter.”

Read something else that says that technology is inevitable, so you may as well allow it but with a huge dollop of control.

You do this, and it’s wrong. You do that, and it’s wrong. You yell. You cry. You hug. You cuddle. You are who they want when they have a boo-boo. You are the one they yell “I hate you!” to.

You cry and smile when you send them off to preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, the world. You take first-day photos, comb their hair carefully for school picture days, and despair at their messy rooms.

You pack lunches, glue your fingers together, comb glitter out of your hair for days on end, sign school papers, help with homework (and struggle with it), buy arts and crafts supplies at the last-minute to make that damn volcano for the science project, prepare countless crockpot meals (half of which no one eats), feed them pizza anyway, and wonder if they will remember the good times you had baking sugar cookies together.

You look at your body and wonder what the heck happened to it. You joke with your friends that motherhood is the only thing that shrinks your boobs and increases your shoe size. You secretly wish your stomach didn’t look like a wrinkly pug. You write essays about body image. You work out like a fiend, eat clean and lose 20 pounds, then give yourself permission to eat cake on weekends.

From the first day you became a mother, you walk the path so many before you have taken. Yet, it is still a mystery, a glimmery, foggy path. You stumble and fall, pick yourself up and go on. Sometimes, you stop, sit down, put your head in your hands and wonder how you came to this place. You don’t know if you’re doing anything right. You go on anyway. Because that’s how you become a mother – day by day, struggle by struggle, triumph by triumph: giving tiny piece by tiny piece of yourself to your children, and watch love expand.

Why and How to Include Your Kids In the Family Finances

Losing your house makes you really appreciate the importance of money management. Now I pass those values and skills on to my kids through everyday tasks.

You know what sucks? Being broke.

My husband and I learned some cold, hard lessons about life when we were first married and paid no attention to where our money was going. We lost over half of our income (and our house) when we were hit with an unexpected job layoff. We were not prepared.

It took us five long years to recover and pay off our debts, and we had to make big changes in our spending.

Those were emotionally trying times and now we want to do everything we can to keep our kids from knowing that kind of pain in the future. They’re young still – three and eight – but we’ve already started teaching them about handling money responsibly.

You don’t have to go out and buy an expensive kit to teach your kids about money, you can simply let them look over your shoulder to observe the things you do every day for the household.

Kids like to be included in what it takes to run a household, and it increases the chances of them being willing to contribute when asked. There’s no better way to learn than jumping in on real-life, hands-on situations. These suggestions really helped our family:

1 | Let them see you doing the bills.

Invite them to sit down with you as you pay bills, and note the amounts in key areas: housing, vehicle payments, and groceries. Kids are also often surprised at what utilities cost, and that you have to pay for things like electricity.

The amount spent in these areas directly impacts the budget, and determines what is left for “fun money,” activities or entertainment afterwards, and it’s great for them to see that. 

2 | Give them responsibilities at home.

They may groan at having a chore list, but stress their value in the home and the pride of contributing to the household. Toddlers especially like to feel important by helping to fold simple things like washcloths or bringing clothes baskets to the laundry room.

Pay them for the tasks they complete on a chart and let them see their money build up in a jar. Pay can vary depending on age and task, but a good rule of thumb is 50 cents or a dollar per chore.

3 | Let them spend their earnings.

There are a lot of great teachable moments at the store about the cost of different toys and staying within their means.

If they have 10 dollars to spend and a toy they want costs $9.99, you can have them choose something else that costs less, or leave the store and come back after they have earned the rest. It can be hard in the moment not to just spot them the tax, but having them wait or choose an alternative teaches them valuable lessons about patience and spending only as much as they have to spend.

4 | Let them help shop for groceries.

Write out a shopping list and ask them to help you compare prices and brands to stay within a target amount. It’s easier to do this when you have a short list, or just need to pick up a few things.

It’s a great learning experience for them to see how much individual groceries cost, and to compare prices for different versions of the same type of product. I keep a running estimate on the list as I go for what the total will be at the checkout.

It’s also great for them to see the cost when it comes to extras like cookies and soda. Let them study the receipt and talk about how every item might not cost a lot on its own, but it all adds up in the end.

5 | Let them help make dinner.

After seeing how much groceries cost, talk about consumability. The rate at which groceries are consumed and used in recipes directly effects the grocery budget and how often you will need to go back to the store. You can also discuss the expense of eating at a restaurant versus cooking at home.

These are great learning tools for kids that don’t take a lot of time in the long run, and can help set your kids up for success. You can’t predict the future, but you can teach your children to adapt to whatever their circumstances are at any given time.

It gives them a very realistic view of how things work when it comes to running a household and staying within a budget. It’s also a great way to spend quality time with your kids while teaching them real world values they won’t learn in school.

Making the Case For Vacationing With Another Family

Everyone knows that vacationing with kids is all the work of home, away from home. Here’s how to make it relaxing: bring more kids (and their parents).

Everyone knows that vacationing with kids isn’t restful. It’s the work of home, away from home.

So might I suggest a way to make it more relaxing: Bring more kids (and their parents).
We’ve camped with friends and last summer we rented a beach house with another family. While adding more people means more opportunities for things to go wrong, it also means increasing the odds that everything will be just right. Here’s what we’ve learned from vacationing with other families:

The Work Load Is Divided

Our friends are more seasoned campers, so we struck a deal. If they’d bring the fancy gear and the know-how, we’d bring the tin-foil dinners and the smores. Because we’d divided up the To Bring list, one of the most arduous parts of any trip – the packing – wasn’t nearly as laborious usual.

Likewise anything that typically gets categorized as a chore was far more tenable because there was someone to share it with. Doing dishes, even dishes that must be washed in the great outdoors, is enjoyable when it’s done with friends.

The Expenses Get Halved

The house we rented was beach-front, making the water easily accessible but adding substantially to the cost. It would have been out of our price range as a solo family, but because we shared that expense, it was affordable. When other beach-going families schlepped past our deck lugging their gear and sighing as their kids whined about the long walk in the hot sand, we nodded to each other sagely.

(Another cost savings: Even if you forgot something, the other family is almost certain to have brought it reducing the number of “we forgot the…” runs to the store.)

The Fun Is Multiplied

While we’re big fans of family meals, we decided to do two dinner times at the beach. The kids, ravenous from playing all day, ate during the first shift. Then they watched a movie or played contentedly while the adults had a leisurely second dinner complete with good wine and easy conversation. It’s amazing how relaxing a meal can be when you don’t have to cleanup any spills or jump up repeatedly for more ketchup.

It wasn’t just meal times that were a treat. Because the kids had friends to play with, they were content to spend more time hanging out in the house swapping toys and trading chuckles instead of clamoring to hit the waves at 7 AM. This meant the big people got to linger over their cups of coffee rather than slurping it while applying sunscreen to moving parts.

More Hands On Deck Equals More Time Off For You

My friend and I called dibs on the beach house hot tub several evenings. We soaked in silence while the sun set. It was delightful.

Similarly, when our husbands went on an extremely protracted taco run, we didn’t begrudge them that time because there were two of us there to hold down the fort.
Had our kids been older, we would have swapped house duties for a night, giving each other a much-needed date night with our spouses.

Here’s to taking a trip that you don’t need a vacation to recover from!

Guess What Helps Teens Want to Learn More?

Researchers found that adolescents who take part in cultural activities with their mother and father were more likely to aspire to continue their studies.

Teenagers who spend quality time with their parents are more likely to want to further their studies, according to research from the University of Warwick.

Researchers found that adolescents who take part in cultural activities with their mother and father were more likely to aspire to continue their studies post-16 than those who didn’t. This is compared to even those who attended homework clubs or participated in extra-curricular activities.

Dr Dimitra Hartas, associate professor in the Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick led the research. She said: “Filial dynamics such as emotional closeness to parents and cultural capital were better predictors than more school-driven parent-child interactions.”

Source: University of Warwick UK

 

5 Myths of Family Time

Family visits bring us closer, right? RIGHT? Let’s examine the myths and realities of togetherness.

It’s Easter! That means some of us have another holiday weekend coming up!

And by some of us, I mean those of us who are actually Christian, and the rest of us who celebrate Easter for a mash-up of ambiguous reasons ranging from leftover guilt to an abiding love of jelly beans.

In other words, reasons we mostly don’t understand and can’t actually coherently explain to our children.

But, hey! Order that ham, buy those chocolate bunnies, pick out your Sunday(brunch) best, and let’s do this bunny-springtime-candy-NO, KIDS IT’S NOT CHRISTMAS-thing.

Oh, yeah, and family is coming. To stay. In your house. With you. Which, six weeks ago over the phone, seemed like a great idea. Now that they arrive in less than 24 hours, it’s actually VERY CLEARLY A TERRIBLE IDEA. WHOSE TERRIBLE IDEA WAS THIS, ANYWAY?!

Let’s examine the myths and realities of family time.

Myth: Family visiting is a great idea!

Reality: Family visiting is a great idea!  If you’re looking for a way to trigger every childhood trauma you can possibly remember, get drunk, and fight.

Myth: When the family comes, ye shall set a glorious and plentiful feast upon a splendid table adorned with shimmering silver, pressed linens, too many plates, and spoons in weird places.

Reality: Come on, dude. You don’t even have enough chairs. Well, ok. You don’t have enough chairs that will actually support the weight of a human and/or are not covered in some sort of fossilized goober juice.

Hey, you DO have those chairs your grandmother caned from pond reeds 130 years ago and those can hold at least 8-9 pounds. So, if your family is comprised entirely of cats, then you totally have enough chairs.

Myth:  Together, we will explore this great city/town/place I call home!

Reality:  You’ll spend most of your time deciding what activity to do. About an hour before everything closes, you’ll come up with a plan. You’ll tell the kids — who’ve been rolling around on the floor like bored walruses — that you finally made a plan, AND THEY BETTER HURRY UP AND GET READY CUZ IT’S GONNA BE TOO LATE.

You’ll then shell out $162 to be in a museum (the one you never wanted to go to) for just shy of a full 7 minutes before everyone is overcome with blazing hanger. Abandon all hope and spend another $162 on crappy pizza in the museum café.

Myth: You have matching linens that fit all the beds.

Reality: You don’t. You have two sets of sheets that you know are clean because, of course, you washed them yourself. Several times. But they’re also so stained and discolored from all those years of forgetting to buy new sheets, it’d be hard to convince a guest that these aren’t the very sheets upon which you birthed your children.

Myth: You can’t wait for all this dumb visiting to be over because everyone is irritating and it’s high time to get back to your normal routine.

Reality: You’ll cry when they leave, and miss them when they’re gone. They’re your people, after all.