The Daily Grind And How To Change It

Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, ‘A house guest,’ you’re wrong because I have just described my kids.” Erma Bombeck

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Brewing beneath the surface of most households is the inevitable and quiet resentment of parenthood. Knowing that you are required to take on task after task, giving away your time and space because “that’s your job” is a really, really hard thing to do.  You know you need to teach your kids life skills, but honestly, after a long day of work and negotiations about well, everything, that last thing you want to do is manage and argue about household chores. So, good intentions and important lessons on responsibility go by the wayside.

But what then happens to the parent(s)?  Burn out and then, burn out turns to anger and in the end, we find ourselves in a crazed state shouting at the sky wondering why no one will help us. Well let’s be frank, a lot of the time it’s because we didn’t ask for it in the first place.

We’ve all been there. We want to provide a safe and organized home for our children. We unselfishly want to make it easier for them and encourage them to do the things we did not always get a chance to do. We want school to be a priority and for them to reach their full potential. We want them in bed at a decent time. (‘Cause you know it’s wine-o’clock!) But in reality, the cost can be too high.  At least for me it has been. I was tired. Very tired.

So, I regrouped. Took a nice, long break and started asking some hard questions. What could I do differently moving forward to make long-lasting significant changes? Consistency. Instead of letting the wind decide what chores or responsibilities my children have, I wanted a regular schedule. I wanted more help around the house. Plain and simple. My molly maid days were over, and I told them so, again. But this time I meant it.

The most important thing to make this a success was letting go and then, choosing the things that mattered the least to me. Dishes. Laundry. I don’t care how or when they get done as long as they get done by the end of the day. These chores are low stake tasks that will teach my whole family life skills, responsibilities and give me a break to go and read that People magazine. (Or write this blog!)

So we started this new reality a few weeks ago, but at a snail’s pace. First, I stopped micromanaging their homework. Of course I help them when asked and still ask everyday, “What homework is there tonight?” But I took a step back, a huge step.

When you have three or more kids, you can’t be a homework coach to all of them at the same level. I have to decide who needs me most in what way and let the rest go. My 5th grade student is going to have to start figuring some stuff out on her own and managing her own time so I can focus on a fundamental skill like reading with my 1st grader. And thank goodness my 3rd grade student seems to have a teacher who does not give homework, at least that’s what she tells me.

Next on the list, dishes. Some people like doing dishes. I do not so the kids can do them. After all, I have six little hands that can put a dish away, load the dishes, wipe sinks and vacuum floors.

Next? Laundry. For the last year they each have to put their clothes away. I leave a basket of freshly laundered and folded clothes each weekend and don’t look back, at least until I need the basket back. It is time to up the stakes and teach them how to use the washing machine and dryer. Maybe they will learn to really consider if something is dirty or not once they start seeing the huge piles of clothes.

And last for this crazy new world, dinner preparation. One night a week if I have to eat hot dogs and nacho chips with melted cheese and sour cream that they made – then so be it. At least they are learning to prepare something, use the appliances and set up dinner at the table. Although I will be encouraging them to think about nutrition moving forward and include a vegetable with every meal.

The research backs this philosophy up, time and time again the benefit of children doing chores outweighs anything else. After all, are we not supposed to be raising competent, capable adults? Chores and sharing the household responsibilities can be the stepping stones for other things. Doing chores as a family increases time spent together and provides children a sense of pride that they helped out, at any age.

Now, my children have had their certain “chores” over the years. Once a week room tidy up. Putting laundry away. Bring garbage bins in. Feed the pets. Other chores too as asked. But as of yet, we have not set a serious schedule that will really help me out. It’s been a kind of ad-hoc system where I still end up doing the majority of things around the house.

The first week was a bit rough. Remember, my children are older so resistance was expected, especially with the older two. I tried to carve out time for me to “take breaks,” and keep myself together because (and let’s be honest here) it’s hard to be the bad guy.

The second week has been a bit easier. I pinned a rough outline of the chores expected on the fridge, let them know that chores may shift as things come up (as in life it does) but the plan was to be followed the best we could.

Now, I had to let stuff go. A load of laundry sat unfolded for a couple of days,  we ate hot dogs for dinner and I bit my tongue as I wiped up the puddles of water on the cupboards.  I also had to endure whining, eye-rolling and complaining. But I did it. You know what, this may actually work if I stick with it. This past weekend as we all did chores Saturday morning, well it went a bit quicker and I was met with a bit less resistance. Progress. It’s all a parent can ask for some days.

How long does it take to break a habit? 66 days seems to be the most recent consensus. So I figure with a family of five, breaking bad habits and replacing them with new ones will take 3 months. So I’m setting a goal date of August 22, 2017. A little longer than the norm but with summer, change of schedule and let’s face it, a large family to re-train, I think it is realistic.

Wish me luck and I will post results the week of August 21, 2017.

Helping your kids, helping yourself.

As per my a previous post, I am on a mission to help my kids (and myself) be more organized and teach responsibility. Knowing this needed to be done but also being a parent to three small children, I always feel as if I’m playing catch up and one of my goals is to get ahead of the game. Or at least try to. In doing this, the hope is to help our household run a little better and teach the kids about organization at the same time.

Some of this was derived from report card time. My eldest child, a bright easily distracted nine-year old, is struggling with her current school program. The standard message has come home the last few years,

“Elizabeth is a bright, empathetic child. She would greatly benefit from focusing more during classroom time, completing her work in an organized way and using the resources available to her.”

Meetings with teachers generally end with the same conversation.

“Yes, we know she can do the work if she wants to, but her work is too inconsistent to be marked at grade level. If she would just focus in class a bit more and take her time, we think there would be huge improvements.”

My standard question is, “What are the resources available during class time and within the school to support this goal of motivating her to focus on her work? Timers? Reward charts? What?”

Usually I am taken through the standard in class resources. But telling me in February that you are just starting to do things like giving her a private area to focus on her work or inviting her to join a guided reading club twice a week at recess is frustrating with more than half the year is gone. I know teachers are limited to what they can do in a day and it is the hardest job. I empathize and know you try your best. But as a parent, I would like not to wait until the year is half over to address concerns, but deal with them as soon as they are noticed and see mechanisms in place after the Progress Report if you think they are needed. Not four months later. As for other available at-school resources outside the classroom for these types of learning skills, well they are non-existent at our school.  Basically the continued message I have received is that she will continue to be marked low until she writes neatly, focuses all the time during class on a more consistent basis and uses the resources for her spelling.

Ummm..okay.

On one level, I can’t argue with them. It is the same frustrating battle I have at home trying to balance her free-spirited ways knowing she understands the material, but she really doesn’t seem to care if she spells are without the “e” because,even though she knows it’s supposed to be there (as she can spell it correctly when she edits her work or spells it orally) so why should she write it down properly? She just wants to finish and get on with the next thing. Sigh…

Trying to walk the line of working with the school system while encouraging them to perhaps look at alternative ways to motivate her, I am tempted to write a standard letter  to every one of her teachers at the beginning of the year.

“Please excuse my daughter. She understands everything you are saying but unless she sees the personal benefit to write neatly and in an organized way, telling her to do it just isn’t going to work. Perhaps rewarding her with smarties will entice her to focus on her work. I invite you to try any positive reinforcement at your disposal but please try those things now and not in March.”

But some teachers may not appreciate my sarcastic sense of humour.

The only thing I can think of as a parent trying to juggle multiple kids homework etc. was to go back to basics. I researched chore lists, homework lists and found some great online free resources. Some of them customizable.

As a first step, I created a simple system to encourage personal responsibility. The system needed to contain visual cues and reminders to teach what is a good use of one’s time as I do have an emerging reader in JK.

What does this mean in kid language?

The Wall

The Wall

Each child has a folder jammed full of their specific paperwork, homework, reminders and special pencils. To be cleaned out once a month. (As the picture was taken last week, as you can see not emptied for the month yet!)

Above that, each child has a list of expected age-appropriate daily tasks to be checked off. If the whole week gets checked, they get extra time for a movie on the weekend, or trip to the book store to cash in that last birthday gift card. Some sort of “good job” incentive.

Beneath that, each child has a daily schedule with slotted times for piano practice, homework time, free time, lessons,  extracurricular activities etc. I also included their in school library days, or weekly dictation tests. These will change every four months as activities change. My hope is that if they can visually see how much time they have for items or upcoming due dates prompting  them to use their time wisely.

This is as much for me as for them as my head was getting full of so many school-related details.

Now as simple as this looks (and let’s be real, this is not staged so yes I use markers to draw things and items are askew) the point is that it is there for reference.

We went through a tutorial with each kid outlining their charts with an emphasis on independence. What is that? Simply put, if they don’t know what to do, check the chart first. If they still need help figuring out how to use their time, ask a parent.

This also can help any grandparent, child care provider and Mr. L in the event the main organizer, (me) is ill or away.

We got through week one of using the charts and for the most part it went well. Especially with Elizabeth. She likes knowing what is expected of her and having a resource to refer to. It helps keep her focused on the task at hand. It also helps a mom who hasn’t showered in two days take a breath and state the mantra, “Did you check your lists?” With that reminder, the two eldest children figured out what they were supposed to do without much more input. Also freeing up my time to teach a rambunctious four-year old his alphabet.

Next on my list? Investigating and brainstorming simple but creative ways to entice a nine-year old girl to care about her work without overwhelming her. I want to motivate her but more importantly, I want her to learn to motivate herself and be proud of her accomplishments.

Charts were all found from: www.freeprintablebehaviourcharts.com

Parenting Milestones

My path has not been determined. I shall have more experiences and pass many more milestones.

Agnetha Faltskog

A windy April has flown the days by quicker than I imagined. As we still wait for warm weather to appear, our little household is winding down winter activities and there will be a brief lull that I will welcome with open arms. No more running around Monday nights to get the girls ready for skating as tonight marks the last class. Thank goodness too. The girls’ skates are a touch on the small side. Elizabeth (who has never been fond of skating although to give her credit plugs along knowing she is behind others younger than her) has given up and I have become the Mom who is cringing on the bleachers watching my eldest child hang off her instructor or clinging to the side wall. Finding anything to do but the skating drills the rest of her class is doing. Audrey actually seems to be gaining more confidence in skating and although her little shuffles are still cautious, she is precise in her moves and attempting all the drills. But, I think even she will appreciate the break and this mom will gladly take their certificates, pat them on the back for making it through another term of skating and put it aside until next winter. After all, baseball season starts in three weeks and there will be a whole new set of challenges to face for my two girls.

Jacob only knows he is not going skating and watches each week sadly out the front window as we leave. Upon our return home he keeps repeating, “I skate when I three?” To which I respond by kissing his cute little fingers and nod yes, next winter Mommy will take him skating. I am sure he will also appreciate the break of having a babysitter every Monday afternoon and some much needed quality time with his sisters. One benefit of being a mom of three or more, hopefully one of your brood will embrace some of the sports and activities you try so hard to diligently expose them to.

Knowing that each child has their own unique strengths and challenges, Mr. L and I always believed that there are a set of skills necessary as part of childhood. We do not expect Olympic athletes. But we do strongly encourage our kids to learn the basics of some sports and skills in the hopes they will have fun, get some exercise and maybe learn to find their hobbies/passions that will stay with them through life. These markers of childhood are plentiful. Riding a bike, learning to skate, (after all we do live in Canada where cold weather is dominant most of the year). Learning to ski. Swimming on their own with no life jacket and water safety. Along with other non-sport skills like reading, learning the basics to playing an instrument and how to tie shoe-laces, it is our job to help teach them these things. We do our best in our busy household, sometimes taking things upon ourselves and often taking advantage of the wonderful community programs available to help us.

However, the time it takes to do this with three or more, well anyone who has tried with one child, multiply that times three, especially if you have kids all within a similar age range without the benefit of having older children to model the behaviours or help younger siblings. It is a lot of work for two people. I applaud those families that are single-parent families going through these parenting milestones.  Most days I feel I am not doing enough or teaching them quick enough.

Through the last year or so, I have learned to take help when offered. Often, trying to teach your children yourself just does not work well for various reasons. You need infinite patience that is truthfully sometimes hard to attain after arguing about homework with a seven-year old or falling asleep because your toddler was up at four am demanding that Mommy sleep in his room. You also need time. Time taken away from all the other things you have to manage in your life.

So it is with a great amount of pride and relief when I saw my eldest girl teaching her younger brother his colours. She patiently spent a half hour taking different coloured-crayons out of our huge assortment of pencils/pencil crayons/crayons/markers Ziploc bag and having him repeat each colour to her. It was with little surprise that shortly after that, my two-year old could rattle off correctly nearly every primary colour. Check that off my parenting list!

It was also with gratitude I said, “Yes!!” when my mother and step-father asked if they could get the girls their new big girl bikes for their birthdays. Being February babies, they waited until this past weekend and picked up two very excited girls. Elizabeth had already started on a bike when she turned five. Rejecting the tricycle, she went straight to a bright blue two-wheeler with streamers and training wheels. With a little hard work she managed to take-off and enjoyed leisurely riding around the neighbourhood.

On one of the rare warmer days earlier this spring, she hopped on the blue bike. Right away we noticed how much she had grown since last summer. It was time for the next bike size. Her younger sister then attempted to get on Elizabeth’s old bike but the clunky monster was hard for her to pedal and she was easily frustrated. We hoped by getting her a brand new bike of her own, it would encourage her to keep pedaling.

After a lunch out with the grandparents, they arrived banging on our front door asking me to come outside with Jacob. Jacob ran to get his tricycle, desperate to keep up with his sisters, whom to my delight hopped on their shiny new bikes and took off down the sidewalk only pedaling back when I yelled, “Helmets!!”

“Audrey is doing it!” I exclaimed feeling excited at seeing my younger daughter pedal her first bike.

“She kept riding it in the store until she got it!” Responded my mom. Somewhere in my mind, I knew the excursion to buy bikes with their grandparents worked better for my girls than if I had taken them. I can picture myself distractedly trying to get them on the bikes to size them while chasing a toddler through the store and the inevitable whining as each tried to get my attention. Instead, they were excited and proud to show their grandparents what they could do and my mom and step-dad were infinitely more patient with them than I could have been this spring. A win-win for my girls.

An impromptu walk/ride around the block was next and even after a couple of falls and firm encouragement to get back on their bikes and keep going, both girls did not care their hands were freezing on the chilly April afternoon. They simply rode their bikes while their little brother took it all in watching them pedal their two-wheelers.

As I look ahead with excitement to warmer temperatures and the winding down of activities, I will try to remember the joy and happiness I could sense from my kids doing the simple things. The couple of times we went skating this year and my older daughter just glided in the softly falling snow without the demands of lessons. Riding their bikes on a sunny afternoon or  colouring together at our kitchen table. I will take these moments and try to remember that even if it takes a bit of time and sometimes frustration, it is well worth it to help them learn these life lessons.

Next step. Removing the training wheels on a a seven-year old’s bike. The teaching never stops.

Glass of wine please.

A crisp glass of chardonnay sits aside my mouse as I take the first deep breath the whole day. It has been one of those days where I feel as if a piano has landed on my chest and if I move ever so slightly, it may crush me. And yes, it is nearly 11:00 pm at night.

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Audrey coming off an epic weekend of dramatic encounters of the third kind, was still in the midst of trying to control those nearly five-year old emotional outbursts. Before I had a chance to take a sip of my lukewarm coffee this morning, we had endured screams about having to wake-up, her toast was cut into four squares instead of two triangles and then I made the mistake of asking her to get dressed to leave for school. Both girls seemed to have left their listening ears off  as they sauntered downstairs albeit dressed and proceeded to ignore the hot breakfasts I had placed on the kitchen table in favour of discussing when spring would arrive and planning where to place their newly acquired fairy door.

Raised voices later, as I tried to get Jacob ready hoping the girls would rally and get behind me in conquering Monday morning, they proceeded to argue over something. Elizabeth fully dressed egging on her younger sister and distracting her. Exasperated with both of them, I pulled the zippers down on their knapsacks, removed the popcorn money I had carefully placed  in their knapsacks and envelopes containing their Scholastic book orders the night before and informed they as of right now, they had lost all such luxuries until such a time I saw a huge improvement in their listening abilities.

Finally with all three bundled in the van, Audrey was ten minutes late for school. The ever calm Ms. M (best ECE teacher ever) took my crying girl inside nodding as I explained she was upset as she lost her popcorn money for the day. Calmly explaining that Mommy was right, she had made poor choices in her behaviour that morning, she smiled at me telling me it was okay to leave. Kissing Audrey’s sweaty curls, I told her I loved her and I was going to be at the school volunteering later that morning (for popcorn day actually) and I would check in with her then. She did not even look at me.

Another-Glass-of-Wine-SomeEcards

After another lecture to Elizabeth en route to her school on the importance of listening in the mornings and not bothering her siblings on the way to her school, she nodded solemnly saying, “Yes Mommy. You’re right Mommy.” like a robot on auto-repeat.

Debating whether an automated response system was better than actual emotion, I chose to let things be and finally with Jacob’s little voice echoing in the quieter van, “my turn?” I took him to his school where after many “hold me tight!” proclamations I finally made it to my volunteer position at Audrey’s school.

From that moment forward, the rest of the day sped by with delivering popcorn, rushing home to put the crock pot dinner on, picking up Jacob, lunch, nap and domestic chores while packing up skating items and prepping Jacob’s snacks and dinner for the babysitter.

Yes,  a babysitter! After many searches, we are trying out a successful candidate who did not run at my rambunctious bunch and seems to be a very kind, patient and general good person. She also does not charge an exorbitant amount. (See Desperately Seeking Resonably-Priced Babysitter)  Booking her Monday nights for the next couple of months while I take the girls skating seemed to be a lightbulb idea. The last few weeks taking Jacob have been nothing less than exhausting, manageable but exhausting keeping him away from random skate blades and ruining his attempts to get onto the rink yelling, “my turn!”

Catching up with Mr. L after the house is tidied, everything is prepped for the next day, dishes are finally done and lunches packed I relayed a rather elaborate story Elizabeth had shared in the van on the way to skating about a possible bullying incident on her bus. Concerned as this was her second time brining up being picked on by older boys, at the time I reminded to use her “Stop it! I don’t like that!” phrases, then tell an adult and finally that perhaps a note to the bus company/driver and Vice-Principal at her school would be a good idea. She resisted the idea coming up with her own plan on how to deal with the issue. Letting it sit for a bit, I checked the information to discuss with Mr. L later to get his input. Right away he seemed suspicious.

“How does she colour on the bus?” he asked.

Thinking for a minute, it dawned on me. Heading to our mud room to look into her knapsack, there was no paper or pencil crayons (or anything to draw with) both items that had been integral to her story. It appeared as if I had been duped.

“Wow,” I said to Mr. L returning to the kitchen. “She may have made it all up.”

Expressing our mutual concern over this new information, we decided to question her in the morning on where was the artwork she had been diligently working on seated in a bumpy bus. But part of me felt a little betrayed by my eldest daughter. If she had lied, not only had she made up an elaborate untruth, but could have potentially and inadvertently (as I do not believe she thought out the repercussions of such a lie) had me storming to her school’s office demanding they address the bully issues on her bus. Bullying is a serious issue and one which should not be taken lightly. Foolishly I had believed she had listened when we and her school had discussed bully issues. Well, perhaps she listened too well to the stories.

Mr. L although gravely concerned about her possibly lying, he was more concerned about the “Boy who cried wolf” factors rather than the lie itself.

“After all,” he proclaimed, “I lied as a kid all the time to get my parents attention and my Mom to fawn all over me.” Looking at him in shock and realizing you do indeed learn new things about your partner all the time, I huffed back,

“Well, I never did that!”

So, a glass of wine before bed tonight seems warranted as I marvel at the wonder of parenting and all that we have to manage. Tantrums, emotions and even tall tales. Learning how to tune into one child and manage them to attempting to teach another a very important moral lesson all while fighting a two-year old to put back on the shirt he has somehow managed to pull down to his hips because he is “too hot!”

Ears are for listening. Listening to our kids.

January 16, 2013

“Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”― Catherine M. Wallace

This morning was my volunteer time at Audrey’s school. I took on helping with their snack program when Elizabeth was in kindergarten and try to get in at least once a month. A wonderful program, it ensures at least twice a week the classes are all provided a healthy snack during their first nutrition break. The lady who has been running it since I started, pregnant with Jacob, is someone I admire. She has two kids, went back to work part-time, co-ordinates a few different programs at the school and still looks very unfazed when I see her rushing to drop off one thing or another in between work appointments. I sometimes wonder if she sleeps?

I wish I could do more at each of my girls respective schools, but juggling three different school schedules right now, this is the only thing I can commit to. Jacob is not the type of toddler I can have tag along to my activities. He can barely sit still at his own activities. I’ve seen other Mom’s bring the younger siblings along for the ride and admire the organized backpacks of snacks and activities. I wonder how they can get their children to sit still while they get their tasks completed. Bringing Jacob along (which has been suggested) would only be hard on me, Jacob and those around us. Thus, I plan my volunteer time around Jacob’s visits to nursery school with the hope that before too long I’ll be one of those parents who can come and spend a morning at my kids’ schools.

It is always enjoyable visiting the classroom and letting my daughter know I’m at the school. It’s also a rare chance to chat with some of the other parents at the school and Audrey’s teacher. Today she told me that she couldn’t believe how quickly Audrey was bringing back her reading club books. I just nodded and smiled saying, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with her if she keeps this pace up!”

This is round two of our kids with this particular teacher. Mrs. R had the distinct pleasure of teaching Elizabeth for two years who became the Queen Bee in the classroom and Mrs. R was very good at recognizing Elizabeth’s need to have individual projects when she finished her work and helped build her presentation skills. We were thrilled with her as a teacher.  Audrey on the other hand is less of a show boat and takes a bit longer to warm up in a large group. Their class also has an increase in students this year, twenty-eight little children ranging in age from three to nearly six. At her fall meet-and-greet,  I actually had to point out to the teacher that Audrey could read most of the words on the word wall. She looked surprised and said, “Really? She hasn’t said a word!”

“No, she wouldn’t.” I replied reminding her how different she is than her sister. A week after that meeting, my four-year old was enrolled in the kindergarten reading club which was something typically only introduced to the majority of the students closer to the end of their first year of junior kindergarten. She hasn’t looked back.

One thing I am quickly learning as a parent is that you have to try to be as visible as you can to your children’s teachers and in their schools. Being involved as a parent and communicating with your children is also extremely important. I have a fairly good understanding of how each of my kids schools work, what the staff is like and just based on the simple questions like, “What was your favorite part of the day?” glean an abundance of information from my children.

When Elizabeth started school, we implemented a little chat time when she arrived home. Even when I was working part-time, usually from our home office, I would stop whatever I was doing to sit down with her for a few minutes to hear her answer to two standard questions, “What was your favorite part of the day?” and “What was your least favorite part of the day?” We continued that tradition and will continue it with all three of our children no matter how busy life gets. What better way to wind down an afternoon than with a cup of coffee listening to my little ones chatter about their days?

Today, after they are all home, we sit down at our long kitchen table that overlooks our backyard and a majestic maple and have a snack before homework time. It can be tricky to pay attention when one is telling me about a boy who pushed her on the bus and another is excitedly shouting about the snow crystals they made in class while Jacob wanting to be part of the conversation starts shouting to be heard. A steady flow of information is presented to me from these chats about their social interactions, school work, what the teachers were doing that day to how they loved I put a treat in their lunches. Two questions become a steady stream of conversation that I try to absorb and relay advice, encouragement or just listen when needed.

Being a Mom of three or more requires very precise listening ears. You need to know when one child needs a hug or another wants to be told again how smart she is and one just simply wants to be part of the conversation. All while dispensing snacks, trying to drink a last cherished cup of coffee for the day and attempting to organize the kitchen before dinner. Some days it feels as if I’m being pulled in three different directions, but I try my best and hope, as they get older we continue these types of conversations.

The three kids off to school.

The three kids off to school.