Family Friday (vol. 103): The Things I Think I Did Right

All the air quotes in the world in that blog post titleand thats not by mistake. Parenting is not for the weak. Kids are amazing, exhausting, precious, life-giving, and all so very different. Theres no manual for this and so theres the internet to help us all along. These thoughts stem from the influx of babies into my loved ones worlds and the uptick in conversation involving all things baby and toddler. With girls who are now 5 and 3, my life looks a bit different than it did when boobs, bottles, and diapers consumed my waking hours. I didnt have it all figured out then (NO ONE does) and I dont have it all figure out nowbut seasons of parenting have passed. It is with cherished fondness and disbelief in how quickly they came and went, while some of my nearest and dearests are drowning in the chaos that is life with a new baby. And so, this post felt timely and cathartic for me. Do not take any of this as creed, but rather the thoughts and opinions of a Midwestern working mom whos trying to do her best!

The 10 Things I Think I Did Right

  1. Honor the bedtime. Routine is goodfor everyone. Looking back, had I not had a predictable bedtime for the kids to keep me sane, it wouldve been bad for everyone. Im a person who requires balance on a day-to-day basis. I require me time each and every day. I make no apologies for that because for me, its what enables me to be the best parent I can be. We all know, or at least hear, caring for ourselves first allows us to better care for others. What you do with that time? Do what you love. After my kids go to bed, its time I spend vegging on the couch, blogging, podcasting, playing hockey or tennis, or going out with friends all of which are super important to me. Parenting should not require you to lose your identity or cease the activities you love. However, ensuring the time to include said activities requires a bit of structure and so look to create that structure by honoring the bedtime. Consistency of sleep breeds consistent sleep. Not once have my girls ever left their room after being put down for the night, regardless of whos in the house. Bedtime meansbed. And if mornings come a bit too early, may I suggest the OK to Wake clock? Game changer.
  2. Keep the bedtime routine simple. Mark or I are not always the ones to put our girls to sleep and over the course of their lives, theyve experienced lots of caregivers from family to friends to babysitters. Keeping the bedtime routine simple enough to be replicated by anyone is key to a successful evening away, regardless of the circumstances. I hear so many friends get roped into a complex series of demands from their kids in the moments leading up to bed. For us, its teeth brushing, potty, a book each (read together in one of their beds), a song for Piper, and 5 minutes of snuggles for Shea. The whole routine is 10 minutes, 15 max depends on what books they pick. If they choose Where the Wild Things Are, theyre my favorite kid of the day. If they choose Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You, I love it and cry. Every time. This simple routine that does not veer off course allows anyone to step in, when needed. It also ensures caregivers enjoy being with the kids you always want your babysitters to say yes, and that doesnt always boil down to an hourly rate.
  3. Limit screen time, especially hand-helds. This is a slippery slope and one that all families will be on at some point. Holding out as long as possible is key. With rare exception, phones or the iPad are never offered on car rides (however, we have never exceeded 3 straight hours in the car) or in restaurants, medical appointments, etc. Its simply not something they expect and so the battle isnt there. Admittedly, handing over a device would make things 1000x easier in many instances, but weve made a concerted effort to do it the hard way in limiting technology in an attempt to not create little hellions. Those devices are ADDICTING. Consistently, the girls are offered the iPad on weekends while I/we workout. This allows a structured, yet limited exposure and I must say, they never give grief when its time to hand the iPad back to me. They are, however, very committed to my at-home exercise routine When out, we try to choose kid-friendly restaurants and breweries to spend time. We go prepared with coloring books, markers, games, etc. Its not always easy, but almost always, we succeed in not offering technology to make it through. Oh, and dancing is always encouraged! Free entertainment for me. At home, the TV goes on at 7pm other than on weekends when we start our day with an hour or so of cuddle time on the couch with Paw Patrol or the flavor of the week. Boundaries and consistency there has never been rebuttal.
  4. Baby led weaning. Its simple offer baby what youre eating. Its the lazy way, really. Messy, yesbut theres no thought to put into it. And anecdotally, I can tell you it works for me and others in my field who have used and studied baby led weaning. The premise is simply that as little people, they require nothing specific in terms of food no certain shapes, colors, sizes, textures, etc. Give foods in their natural state. When my kids were starting BLW, it looked like handing them an apple (whole, possibly peeled) or a chunk of avocado. Its not the mashed up, pureed, diced or shredded to a pre-chewed consistency stuff. Adults without teeth eat steak and corn-the-cob. Your baby can adapt and try any and all textures give it a try. Start early like, 5-6 months. Aversions to tastes and textures can start very early on. Consider nothing off-limits unless it is too spicy or heavily seasoned. Cold celery makes a great teething stalk give it a whirl. In the end, if you want good eaters, feed them anything and everything.
  5. Dont babysit. A Montessori approach includes a lot of self-play. I learned early on that my kids did best when I IGNORED them. Yes, you did read that correctly. For quite some time, this came with guilt. As a working mom, I come home only to let me kids entertain themselves? It seemedwrong. Being able to look back on this journey of independence, I can see that it may be a lack of helicopter parenting that allows them to walk through life confidently and independently. Next to never do my girls require my presence, much less ask for it. Please do not misconstrue, though Im there, Im just not demanded. This sense of independence has also translated to less stranger danger, separation anxiety, and so on. It has been years since one of my kids cried when Ive left or been away. Part of all parents crave that need to be wanted, but the strengths of childrens confidence is far more important. Let kids be kids. They are imaginative, creative, sensorial, and need you less than you may want to come to terms with. Do everyone a favor by nurturing the quiet alone and watch them develop and grow before your eyes. When your kids amaze you in your absence is when you can really feel success as a parent. Do you know how many cute conversations Ive heard while making dinner in silence as my dining room turns into a magical art studio? Priceless.
  6. Dont get carried away with gift-giving. You know what young kids love? YOU. Their family. Not STUFF. We groom them to want STUFF. Gifts for my children are limited to Christmas and birthdays and even then, what they get is limited. This year, they are both requesting a yo-yo I can handle that. At their joint birthday party, we firmly requested NO gifts. For parents that insisted, a game that the kids could play together that day was voiced as a preferred option. By and large, accumulated toys are just thataccumulated (and not necessarily enjoyed). They just dont need much. My high heels and winter accessories bring more joy than any other toy to date. The season of want-want-want is coming for usthis I know (and dread). But were not there yet and I do think that is, at least in part, due to some very intentional boundaries on gifts.
  7. Set expectations for the daily grind. You need and deserve help, and children are capable people theyre you in a smaller body. I dont drink the Montessori Kool-Aid completely, however, this guiding principle is one I cling to. Shy of 3 years of age, my kids are/were capable of following a series of directions and carrying them out. For example, Mommy is going up stairs to brush her teeth and put on her clothes for work. When you finish eating, please brush your teeth {toothbrushes on the sink ledge with toothpaste on them}, go potty, and put on your shoes and jackets. Almost always, this is done by the time I return from upstairs. Help from a sibling can be instrumental, but even still, children are capable of a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for. Repetition is key and in those first attempts, be patient and express gratitude and pride in their ability to carry out a series of to-dos. Another example: on the way home from school/daycare, start conversation about what will happen when you get home. Ill say something like, When we walk in the door, Id like you to take off your shoes and jacket and take your lunchbox out of your backpack and place it on the kitchen counter. Done. After a few weeks, I didnt have to askit just gets done. And the best part? They LOVE to be helpful.
  8. Take pictures and videos. Lots of them. Unapologetically. Kids change SO fast. Duh. For people like myself with a poor memory and a love for photography, the fact that I have 34,000 photos on my phone is something Im not ashamed to admit! Theres a lot of those that are of food, its not all kid picks But, most are definitely kid pics. Not only images you capture, but take family photos. Some of my favorite photos of my girls were professionally taken at the beach or in a fruit orchard. Regularly capturing both their beauty and their growth has been important to me and contrary to popular belief, not a huge expense. Find those looking to turn a hobby into a business and get a great deal theres a lot of talent out there!
  9. Start swim lessons early on. This seems a bit silly, but babies and kids naturally love water and in life, we encounter water. Its a danger if you cant swim. Learning how to swim at a young age makes it easier and safer for the child to be in and around water. It also makes time at the beach and pool way more relaxing for care-givers. Plus, its great exercise and fun!
  10. Encourage healthy eating habits. This seems basic (and of course, I am a dietitian), but its something a lot of parents struggle with. Things such as grazing on nutritionally void snacks throughout the day and offering too many alternatives at meals can lend to poor nutrition and unhealthy relationships with food. When kids begin first foods, they want to try new foods its innate. To keep that love for food alive, make sure youre offering 3 meals and 2 snacks daily. Avoid the on-the-go graze that can cause children to not be hungry come meal time. Does roasted asparagus sound good to you when you just ate your body weight in goldfish crackers? Never. Choose nutritious snacks that are offered in age-appropriate portions. Dont be afraid to let kids get hungry. If they leave the dinner table without eating, thats on them (starting at about age 2 1/2). My kids have gone to bed refusing dinner many times and theyve not once claimed hunger before bed or in the middle of the night. As caregivers, we have to express our authoritative feeding style and roll with our kids decisions to eat or not eat.

Well, that was one of my longer posts

Be well,

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