School days, seemingly chaotic in the moment, are actually idyllic compared to the hot, non-routinized, always bumping into each other summer days. Whoever romanticized the summer hols mustn’t have had children!
Sure there are isolated moments when kids aren’t fighting, and you have enough money to check off the bucket list of fun-time activities, and day camps are blissfully drama-free … but really? Those are the few moments that are social media snap worthy.
My days revolve around a mix of device/tv time requests, shouting and frustrated kids, sunburns, too much indoor time, and a million freezies wrappers on every surface of the house. *not even exaggerating.
Pinterest has some amazing “kids-get-device-time-if-all-these-things-are-done” lists that are so inspiring and so improbable that I just gloss over them when they creep across my feed.
Until I decided to give it a try. I was tired of redirecting kids (ok, I was already tired of all the *imagined* redirecting) so I crafted up a list, and hung it by our whiteboard/listboard.
There was a little bit of push back, I’m not gonna lie. My oldest also thought it was ridiculous for me to have a “notes and comments” section.
It’s been a few days and it’s been so well received! Kids are avoiding devices first thing in the morning. They discuss which jobs will get done. We discuss how this helps the whole family. They play outside together. They share books.
Let’s hope this continues! We may run out of jobs around the house hahaha!
Just kidding. We totally won’t.
I just wanted to share out loud that this is another repair job in an ongoing list of things that I need to take care of. Door knobs. Wood working school projects (with woefully under-supplied power tools). Dishwasher shelf wheel-thingys. Suctionless vacuums. I am the One responsible.
There are people who do home repairs as a profession, and yet I know I won’t call anyone.
I’m strangely compelled to try and tackle things on my own. There is a cost factor, absolutely. There’s also a stubborn streak, to prove I can do things myself. There’s a learning piece, to expose trio to household repairs. There’s a feminist component wrapped up in here too, that a woman can handle what comes up too.
Plumbing work is brand new to me, so I’m kind of excited and intimidated about this job.
Underpinning all of the above is the sense that we need to be our own cheerleaders. Our own motivators. Our own source of strength. We rely on ourselves first, and then reach out second.
I’ll give this a try, and then if things go horribly wrong, at least I’ll have learned a little something.
Thanks for listening and letting me share this. I feel more capable after saying this out loud.
Unexpectedly, during a conversation with my guy, he and I saw unbridgeable gaps in our relationship and so decided to end it.
Even though my head could hear and understand what he was saying, and even though I had already realized these gaps, my heart has been slower to catch up. As my first “real” relationship after my marriage ended, I knew I had a lot to learn and had a lot of room to grow. He was perfect for me while I was navigating this new path, and I deeply appreciate and cherish him for that.
But I’m sad, nonetheless.
After about a week, I realized I wanted to talk to trio about him and I. I finally felt capable of saying the words “we broke up” without throwing up or crying, and didn’t want to wait too long because I anticipated one of them would ask “when did this happen?” and couldn’t handle the deception of either lying to them about it, or letting them know it happened a long time ago.
So without much preamble, I just baldly stated that we decided to end our relationship. They had questions, and I tried to stay open and honest and respond with age appropriate answers. At one point I teared up a little, and that alarmed my oldest (he was very concerned if I was Ok) and saddened my youngest (she didn’t want me to be sad), and my middle just sort of let it wash over him.
The perspective my oldest shared was amazing – he recognized that it’s not as devastating as a marriage break up, and that having misalignment is ok because there is the capacity to learn. He kept checking in to make sure I was ok, and asked poignant questions like, if he told me he loved me and wanted to get back together – what would I say?
I’m glad I waited until I was no longer so cry-y, and I’m glad that throughout our whole relationship trio and I chatted about what was happening in my dating life (to a certain degree!!)
Having kids helped me maintain my rudder during the tumultuous years after my marriage ending, and they continue to ground me and highlight my path as I experience other relationships.
I feel deeply blessed that I had the experience of this relationship, and for my kiddos who are with me on my journey. The path may be rocky or difficult to discern, but I trust my feet and my heart. And I know that I can’t get lost, maybe especially because I’m a mum.
In an unexpected (and yet, strangely expected) way, my parenting approach is shifting as my children age. My *philosophy* remains the same: firmly rooted in attachment parenting with a dash of old school/non-helicoptering, but the way it shows up in 3 tween/teens can’t be the same as when they all occupied single-digit ages.
They all have expectations and responsibilities, however there are no chore charts or weekly have-to lists. I’m the team leader, but we all have opportunities to discuss and share what we would like to do on the daily and they know that I have final say. They also know that if I tell them that something needs to be done, then it outranks device-time or leisure activities.
My frequent ‘growing edge’ is to try and remember that, even with their larger bodies, they are still kids mentally and emotionally. I will forget that they might need softer speech or increased understanding/patience from me – because they look so darned capable and mature! And I think that really comes out when they have an emotional reaction that I wasn’t expecting. It’s almost as if I get frustrated when they are upset – I know that it’s not a big deal, so why don’t they? Because they’re still kiddos. Riiiight.
This happened during the dreaded after-school-hour when they want to decompress but I don’t want to spend the hour picking up three sets of shoes, socks, bags, lunch containers, homework, agendas, snack wrappers, plates, cups, and coats. So I insist they have to do *stuff* before they get free time. This always erupts into shouts of who ‘calls’ the xbox or laptop or tv. And one kid is inevitably disappointed and frustrated. It isn’t as though this is the ONLY time tonight that they’ll get their devices, so it makes no sense to me. I snapped at my poor 11yo and I finally asked him “What is WRONG??” and he said that he was fine until my voice started getting so angry sounding. Oh. Ohkay, yah. I get it.
It really helps me to be aware of what my underlying motivations are (I am not a Roomba, constantly collecting and seeking out things to pick up!) and what theirs might be (they want to unplug and chill out – much like me with my knitting) and then we find a balance.
Combined with my self-diagnosed ADHD, and 3 kids, and a shifting workload, I forget things ALL THE TIME. If I say it out loud, I assume it will be completed, and I get pissy when I see bags/shoes/wrappers/homework/underwear (huh?! Where did that come from??) in the front hall because I expect them to tidy it up upon entering. That adds to my frustration because now I either have to tell them again during their declared device-time, or I have to deal with it. Blegh.
The new balance I’m striving to find is that between letting them take responsibility for their own selves and giving them the latitude of caring for our common spaces – both of which have many opportunities for my frustration levels to rise!
I’m sure this will be an ongoing theme. What are your strategies?
Being a solo parent means learning how to do *everything* on your own. It means struggling to find your own solid core and how to rely on yourself. I do the BBQing, the lawn mowing, the laundry, the baking. I go investigate scary sounds at night, and comfort puking kiddos at 2:30am. I comfort myself when I’m lonely (thank you Ben and Jerry, and Merlot) and celebrate my own successes (thank you Ben and Jerry, and Merlot). I get to figure out what I like and don’t like. I make choices for me and trio, and all decisions rest on my shoulders. It’s liberating and enjoyable, but it’s also incredibly heavy. There’s no one to blame but me (geez, thanks for nothing Ben and Jerry) and no one with whom to discuss challenging thoughts or issues. I can’t know if something was successful if it’s beyond my experience or scope until it fails or is wildly positive.
And so I was completely wrapped up in mummy-ing, and caring for trio, and working, and doing things I liked. I was snuggy and happy in my comfort zone. There was no one but me to challenge my edges and question my knowns.
Turns out, there’s more in this world. There’s things you can’t learn all by yourself. Sometimes another person is a *must* in order to challenge your edges and broaden your mind.
Trio are with their dad (read about my intentions here) and for this visit I wrote out some ideas of what I could do while they’re away.
Well, I have about 30 hours until I’m trio-ed up again and, I’m sure you savvy readers have noticed, there is nothing yet crossed off.
However! I have done other stuff. And I contemplated writing these items on the list, just for the satisfaction of being able to record and remove list items (oh come on, we all do it.) but did not.
One of the things I have done:
This morning Pup-po and I made him some doggy bikkies. I thought of you, and wondered whether you’d like this perfect time-killer to fill up the edges of time in your world when you’re looking to ignore more productive things-you-should-be-doing. It’s easy enough so you think “Oh, that’s a small thing and it will make doggy so happy!” and yet active enough so you’re not ruminating or dwelling or listlessly (ha!) staring at the wall [hm, i’m sure there’s a better joke in there for a better joker. LMK if you see it and can articulate it]
Easy ingredients, right? If your dog tolerates wheat better than mine, please use that. My lil dude seems to have an sensitivity to it. I swirled up 1/3 cup of rolled oats to become more flour-like.
We need a cup of something – I just used a trifecta of binding agents that I had on hand: 1/3 cup of ground up oats, 1/3 cup of whole oats, 1/3 cup quinoa flour – you can use whatever you like. I wanted to channel my Tasty capabilities, so I used the smaller glass dish and poured that trifecta into said dish.
Next is some baby food, or that amount of pureed anything. I had peas and bananas on hand, so I figured a peas-and-carrots bikkie might be nice for him. I grated in a 1/3 cup of raw carrot (it was half-a-carrot, but my carrot was kinda small).
I am a *HUGE* cinnamon lover. Everything gets a dash. I was a little worried how it might taste with the peas and carrots, but then I realized that this is a dog cookie. He’s not going to care! I added cinnamon, but only after I accidentally used nutmeg (a total fail) because I put the nutmeg canister where the cinnamon usually lives. Sigh. I carefully scraped out the nutmeg and sprinkled in about 1/2 teaspoon.
It came together ok. I let it sit, thinking that the oats could absorb some of the baby food. But it never really got much drier. I probably should have used more flour (but srsly. Quinoa flour is super expensive) but did not use any more, and it’s FINE!
I even bought a cute little bone cookie cutter just for him. Bake it in a 350 deg oven (or if yours runs hot like mine, 325, otherwise they get brown and crispy at the edges, and chewy in the centre. Unless you think your friend will like them that way. I feel as though an all-the-way crispy bikkie would be good, and that way I can just leave them in a paper bag on the counter) for about 20 – 30 minutes.
Let me know what combinations you used! I think I might try peanut and banana next.
Poor dude just wanted his cookie, and I chased him down saying “Wait! Wait! Sit! ah-ah! Sit!” just for the photo!
It sure would have been nice had I realized how easy the baby phase was. It seemed so hard at the time! (really. i’m not whining.)
We can’t do the same things with our pre-teens and tweens as with our babies and toddlers. While we can just pick up those little ones and cart them away if their behaviour is truly heinous, dragging a 13 year old away from the arcade would be unheard of. Or we can take their little toddler hand in ours and just say “Hands are not for hitting” and then we continue on. Lesson reinforced. “Mouths are not for swearing” just doesn’t seem to reinforce the lesson as well in an 11 year old.
One similarity between the age groups is that we want their struggles to be, well, not-a-struggle. From the time they are little, we want to mitigate the tough spots, make it less of a challenge… We want math to come easy to them. We want them to just tie their shoes. Sleeping, it would be a true gift for them to self-soothe at any time. Fine motor skills (scissors! knife-and-fork rhythms! pulling apart lego!) are cause for frustration as it hinders the real goal.
In a two-parent family, there is often a code – when one parent just can’t do *any* more soothing, or cutting, or explaining number lines, the other parent is tagged in. As you can imagine (or maybe because you live it) a different approach is needed when there is no one on the ropes ready to jump in while you catch your breath (or swipe a kleenex over your frustrated tears) and help the kiddo in their struggle with renewed patience and gentle guidance.
So what’s a solo-parent to do?
Really? Well, sometimes we do it for them. Okay, maybe most of the time.*
In the middle of the struggle, this works wonderfully. Kids are able to glue their picture together now that the pesky business of snipping the image is done. French toast can be gleefully dipped in maple syrup, in perfect mum-cut squares. And I’d wager that it seems wonderful for years.
Until it’s not.
For any number of reasons, the kiddo needs to learn how to self soothe. How to use their cutlery. How to deal with frustrations. How to be sad.
By inadvertently doing for our kiddos, they’ve missed some important [albeit small-scale] lessons on handling big emotions. And until those small scale lessons become larger, we don’t even notice that there’s a problem.
My oldest, angry and frustrated that he couldn’t do something he felt he should be able to do, told me to back-off when I swooped in to try and make it right for him. “Don’t help me unless I’ve asked for it! I want to try and do it for myself. I’m not a little kid!”
Oh. Right. Well.
It was a big parenting moment for me.
And I wondered whether other parents were experiencing similar moments in their relationships with their 8-14 year olds. And guess what – they were.
So, in no particular order, some points from my experiences on how not to just swoop in and do for your older kids (and foster their capacity to do for themselves):
In the moment of struggle:
Take a breath (a breath to send clean green patience to your heart and brain and centre your love for your kiddo)
Ask before helping.
Wiggle your toes if you’re feeling triggered (sometimes it helps to climb out down out of your brain’s chatter into your grounded feet)
Describe what you see that makes you think they need help and then ask what’s up
Be a “feeling detective” with your kiddo and ask what’s next (sometimes it’s a hug, or a break, or an ice cream – but that switch can be the clean green patience they need to re-engage with the struggle)
During more calm moments:
Listen for dismissive words you use and your tone of voice
Talk about your big emotions, and talk through what you’re going to do to come back into yourself – even if it seems they aren’t listening. And even if it feels clunky and weird. It’s important.
Let kiddo screw up (safely!) and be present with them while they sort it out – but make sure you have the time and the heart space to make it happen in a non-judgmental way
Listen to their viewpoints. Respect what’s happened to bring them to this idea. Even when you disagree. They’ll figure things out.
You make mistakes (I mean, you must, right?). Be gentle with yourself, and model what you can do next.
Comment on what you see, especially related to feelings detective stuff – they can connect when they are calm and progressing vs upset and stuck
As parents, we put out the fires that are blazing in and around our kids – timelines are tight! We can’t have a kid losing his cool over a button when we’re already 6 minutes off schedule! So we just do it for him.
And as a single mum, I know that sometimes I just need peace and harmony in the house because I am too tired/sick/stressed so I ‘fix’ their issues because I can’t afford the issue to get any bigger because I’m. already. at. my. edge!
In either case, we haven’t taught our kids how to recognize the sparks of the fire and be confident they can tackle them- on their own but within the reach of support from their parent(s).
I say it’s not too late. So, to wit: It feels wiggly in my belly, and my ears are kind of getting hot. I’m worried I’ll run out of time or create a kid-who-talks-to-himself. But the more I force encourage trio to do it, means that they are doing it, and they’ll continue to do it into teenager-hood and maybe, just maybe, they’ll come to me with their big teenage emotions and mistakes and we’ll talk it out together.
And they will feel they can tackle it, on their own but within reach of support from me.
*Unless we don’t do it for them because we’re not able to – for any number of reasons we may not be present (emotionally or physically) to do for them. I still believe that doing very little and letting kiddo figure it all out is the other side to the same coin as doing very much and not letting kiddo figure out much of anything.