Thursday, March 3, 2011

Stay Home, Stay Happy - Chapter 3: Embrace the Chaos, Keep the Order

Making the most of family time

Total peace and serenity is a worthy goal - for monks! Not moms. If you spend the majority of your days in the company of babies, toddlers, or tweens, then your happiness will be directly proportional to your ability to laugh often and enjoy the chaos. 

And I totally agree with her. Following are some of her views and suggestions on how to keep your sanity as an at-home mom while living with the chaos around the house.

Do you like your home's personality?
  • Moms are the key to a happy home.
  • Every home and family have a personality, and Mom is a major determiner of what it will be. Upon reading this, I suddenly made a quick check on what our home and family personality is, and how that reflects who I am. After that, I realized what changes I wanted to do to myself and how I run the household.
  • Not taking myself too seriously has brought levity into our home because my kid learned that it's OK to be human.
  • Learning to live with and laugh at our own flaws helps to reduce the stress of not always meeting our own expectations.
  • Sharing humor that stems from our imperfections binds us closer together as a family. This kind of humor is usually a loving indication of a family's intimacy. It says, "Of course you're not perfect. We love you anyway."
  • The ability to laugh in the midst of stress is an admirable skill that we should teach our children. Laughter helps us cope. That's why it needs to be in every stay-at-home mom's day.
  • Laugh often and enjoy the daily bumps in the road.

Flexibility keeps you sane
  • Embracing chaos requires flexibility because life with children is never dull or routine.
  • One true luxury of being at-home moms is that our schedule permit us a degree of freedom and flexibility others cannot enjoy. Appreciate this gift and take advantage of it.
  • Life with children requires that we live in the moment. When the moment is good, don't fix it! Go with it!
  • An excellent technique when the stressful situation involves your child is to try to reach the way you would have wanted your own parent to react when you spilled the milk or came home with an occasional bad report card.
  • Model the patience you would want your child to emulate. Parenting from this perspective quickly yields good habits. You'll be amazed by how fast you will become the parent you want your kids to see.

Show your kids your spontaneous side
  • Do something totally unexpected and utterly spontaneous
  • Simple things made more fun by the element of surprise
  • It reminds the family to appreciate the unexpected and live in the moment.

  • Moms know that order also has a vital function in a family.
  • The solid foundation offered by having a good general system allows you the mental space to be flexible and relaxed.
  • And yes, YOU'RE the one who has to come up with the system. - the front line when it comes to order in the home and that everyone functions better (whether they know it or not!) because of it.
  • some of the things Rachel tried and suggested are the following:
    • hanging office system from Pottery Barn for the kitchen ("central command") - called the Daily System - with a selection of organizational tools such as a pin board, dry eraser board, and various cubbies for folders, pens, bills, and  miscellaneous items like paper clips, measuring tape, and the school lunch menu.
    • alternatively, purchase a family binder for holding all those school papers that can't be thrown after reading, like lunch menus, practice schedules and class phone lists
  • Spending just ten minutes every evening going through the family's papers, especially the kids' school papers, is the best way to stay on top of things and avoid frantic morning and the stress that comes from forgetting your child's field trip or snack day. One way to simplify life.
  • Family calendar - can be handheld or paper. If you have more than 2 kids, color-coding your calendar with a different pen color for each child may help. In addition, highlight appointments that are of the highest priority.
  • Underscheduling should be a family goal. Too much scheduled activities for the children mean no free time to explore, play or simply be still.
  • Choose activities wisely and be sure to carve out quality time for your family to be together.

Write a family mission statement
  • Writing a family's missions statement can help your family bring consciousness to what you are building and creating together.
  • A family mission statement is a brief summary describing your family's purpose, goals, and aspirations. 
  • It is an excellent way to identify who you are as a family, and what you hope to accomplish on this journey of life together.
  • steps in creating a family mission statement:
    1. Convene a meeting to discuss and understand the concept. Every family member must be present.
    2. Family members share openly and honestly their thoughts on the current state of the family. Specifically, what do you love about it, and how do you believe it can improve? 
    3. It's important to hear what individual members have to say and to listen and understand how they experience family. This is a wonderful way to know whether, in your family, communal and individual needs are met.
    4. This is also the time to affirm important cultural, spiritual, and religious traditions as essential to your family identity.
    5. Once your list is made, you will begin to get a sense of your family's unique path and mission.

Create lifelong family memories
  • Your choice to be an at-home mom reflects your desire to have a great family. You understand that a child is more likely to thrive and be happy in a family that spends quality and quantity time together on a regular basis. I guess she is not saying that SAHMs are better than working moms. I certainly don't believe so. Cause I know of a lot of working moms who have juggled work and family life and they have been quite successful. Hats off to them! The case of other working moms who don't have a choice but to work is another issue. Nonetheless, all moms, working or not, as long as they are trying to spend as much time with their families as they can, are doing just right.
  • If you decide that Sunday afternoons should be reserved for a big family dinner and some family bonding, recognize that you will get the occasional grumbling or even downright resistance for sticking to it. But stick to it! In our family, weekends are usually "untouchable". That means these 2 days are reserved for family activities (usually movie marathon at home, or biking to the park). This also means rest day for Dad from work, but not from playing with the kids. As for Mom (me), there really is no rest day. Weekends are probably the busiest since everyone is at home the whole day!
  • If you have more than 2 kids, alone time with Mom or Dad is a treat in and of itself, and it doesn't matter if it comes in the form of a trip to the grocery store.
  • "alone time" is when all the kids go to bed, one child is allowed to stay up for an additional 20 minutes with Mom and Dad, alone. Interfering with another child's alone time would result in the forfeiture of your alone-time turn. When you have several siblings, having alone Mom and Dad to yourself is a real luxury. I only have 2 kids but I think this really works wonders for kids. I don't usually spend the alone time with kids during bed time but in the afternoon, when I help each of them in their school work. My boys now have the same schedule (meaning their away in the morning and back in the afternoon, unless Kelvin needs to stay back for CCAs or remedials). After eating lunch, I would send Kelvin to do his homework while I spend time with Ira doing his homework or reading with him. When we are done, then alone time with Kelvin is next. Sometimes Kelvin prefers to have time with me reading before he goes to bed.
  • One thing kids of all ages love to do with their parents is go through old family photos or videos. Watching videos together gives your kids a sense of belonging and history. Laughing and remembering when just brings everyone together and gives us a perspective on who we are and how far we have come. And we can all have a good laugh while at it, too!
  • After a home movie night, we are more present and patient with our kids. 
  • There are lots of other easy, fun and bonding things to do with your kids like gardening, baking, etc.
  • You and your family can also take up a worthwhile cause to work with or contribute to in other ways. Few years ago, our family participated in a Christmas-sharing activity to help and entertain foreign domestic helpers in shelter. We brought gifts for them, shared songs with them and brought food for everyone to share. One of the residents of the shelter even cried when she saw Ira, who looked like her son back in the Philippines. She asked if she could hug him. Who am I to say no if that was one thing that could make her happy? I was honored to be able to share Ira even for just a few minutes with her. The kids asked why the lady was crying. We explained that she was sad because she is not with her family, and that seeing Ira made her remember her son. And that Ira have somehow made her happy with that simple hug. I hope somehow we have taught them how to be compassionate and sharing. At the end of the day, the kids enjoyed the visit, and remembered the experience. We even brought home 2 handmade-yellow flowers from the ladies at the centre.
  • The good news is that there are lots of wonderful , simple ways to spend time together that do not require a lot of planning or money!
Before moving on, here are some questions to help us know if we really are making the most of our family time as well as our home personality
  1. When someone accidentally breaks Mom's favorite vase, they can expect:
    • to be yelled at and berated for being so careless
    • mom to be briefly disappointed and then get over it. She knows it's an accident and doesn't want you to feel any worse than you already do about it.
    • total confidence that your apology will be accepted. Mom loves you far more than the vase!
  2. When your kids have friends over:
    • they avoid being around you because you are either not friendly to their friends or they say you embarrass them.
    • they feel comfortable that their friends are welcome
    • they always end up in the kitchen with the rest of the family, where there's plenty of food and laughter
  3. When family members have a problem with one another, they:
    • give one another the silent treatment and wait for it to blow over
    • yell at one another initially, but later sit don to talk it out
    • discuss it  at the weekly family meetings so things don't fester. Being in tune with how everybody is doing is priority to your family
  4. At a typical family meal we:
    • feel uncomfortable and sometimes fight. That's partly why we don't do it often or just turn on the television when we do.
    • talk about one another's days and really try to catch up
    • there's a lot of laughter and conversation. Everyone looks forward to this time together.
  5. When it comes to social gatherings in our home:
    • we don't usually have them. We are private, and hosting is a hassle anyway.
    • we invite our kids and their friends to be part of these gatherings. It makes more fun for everyone!
    • friends often remark that they love the "vibe" at our house. They can always count on good food and good company!
Answer mostly  "b" and "c" 
  • your home's personality is warm, inviting and fun! 
  • Your kids are proud to bring their friends over, and their friends want to be there
  • you have created the optimal environment for building strong family bonds
If you answered "a" to any of the questions
  • your home's personality may need a little adjustment
  • consider holding a family meeting so everyone can discuss how they and their guests feel in the house
  • ask them to give specific ideas of what can be done to bring more fun and warmth back into the house
I think this is really an eye-opener. The questions may seem simple but when we look at our answers, there may be some surprises along the way. Looking back at my answers, I definitely want to make things better in some aspects. Having a family meeting may prove beneficial, but let's face it, the fathers may not be into it (you know guys, sometimes they are not open to these kinds of things). So a different approach may be the solution. The key is that everyone should be in the same page. It's going to be a challenge, but if a family of 7 (Rachel's family) can, why can't we? 

Family road trip: The ultimate family bonding experience
I loved this part a lot, mainly because our family also loves to travel whenever we can (and there is budget to do so). Reading through Rachel's experiences, I realized our family has been doing a lot of bonding really, we just don't see it in that way.

  • The singing, the fighting, the bathroom stops and the messes in the backseat are stuff of family memories. And I couldn't agree more. We've done a few road trips of our own and I can say we have all improved a lot in terms of getting along and thinking of things to do in the car while on the road. It's a learning experience in a very fun way.
  • Not only will time spent planning spare you unnecessary headaches so your family road trip can be the bonding experience you want it to be, but it's also fun for the kids. Don't plan too much though. You should have enough time and flexibility to allow for unplanned stops and adventures along the way. With kids in the backseat, there will be a lot of unplanned stops esp. if they get hungry. And they always do!
  • You can cut down on the "Are we there yet?" mantra if you equip your kids with a custom map, a clipboard, and a highlighter. During our last road trip in New Zealand, Kelvin and Ira were both old enough to read maps. Every destination we go to, we would always stop by the tourist information office to get some brochures and maps. The boys get their own stuff. Then they check where we are already or where we are going on the map. Ira even tried to stay away on one of our drives, holding a map, only to fall asleep after around 30minutes on the road.
  • If your kids are old enough, give them a guidebook to read about where they are going, and encourage them to share the information with their younger siblings, who can't read yet.
  • Another fun idea - during each leg of the trip, give the children responsibility for the family budget. After each expenditure, the child calculates the new total so the family has a running balance of what is spent and how much is left. Everyone must come to the child for money and he has the authority to determine whether an expense should or should not be made. "It's amazing how frugal your kids become when they're in charge of the family budget and can actually, physically see the money leave the family jar." Kids relished the responsibility and came back with a real appreciation for money and what their parents do to provide for them (according to the author's friend). This is a really good idea to teach kids about money. We have watched a tv show before that has the same mechanics. It sounds interesting though we haven't tried it before. But I would love to see how my kids would do when we leave them in charge of the budget. We would probably end up in McDonalds or KFC all the time!
  • Make a playlist before the road trip with your kids. 
    1. Spending time makes them excited about the trip. 
    2. by making playlists, we ensure that we do listen to music, it's together, as opposed to having kids on individual headphones, tuned out from the family
    3. your trip CD or playlist becomes the sound track for your road trip, forever reminding everyone of the time spent together on this particular trip
And I say hands up to that! During our NZ trip, we loaded my samsung phone with our favorite songs, no theme in particular just the songs we love to listen to on the radio. The kids loved singing to the music while driving for hours until they pass out. Imagine singing "Low" (Florida) at the top of your lungs, over and over again. Or be able to memorize the arrangement of the playlist cause you've been driving for 2-3 hours straight. It was fun! And when the trip was over, we could still reminisce what happened just by hearing the song on the radio. So it's not only the pictures or videos that reminded us about the trip, but also the songs that we listened to during the trip.

  • consider giving your kids a digital camera or disposal camera. Encourage them to collect souvenirs and to keep a journal at night, draw pictures and complete their family road trip scrapbook. It will be a lasting memory of how they felt and what they thought at that particular time, and it will be interesting for you to see your trip through the eyes of your child. I plan to do this in the next few road trips we are planning to make. Although the kids have already done some sort of souvenir collecting, drawing and picture-taking of their own before, a mini scrapbook looks more promising to do. The last time we travelled, the kids were assigned their own "gadget" - the camcorder for Kelvin and the old canon camera for Ira. Thank God for digital technology, or we could have wasted a lot of negatives :) Kidding aside, the boys did a good job taking pictures and videos of things that interest them during the trip.
  • On a road trip, it's important to always remember that the journey is not only part of the adventure, but also what everyone will remember most. No matter how spectacular your destination is, twenty years from now, it's the time in the car that will likely define your family's memory of your trip. Because being in close quarters with your family for long periods of time is bonding (even if you and the kids don't feel that way at the time).
Aptly highlighted as an end to this chapter. Looking back at our road trips, its the time in the car that we usually talk about, not to say that the time outside the car was no fun or that the destination was boring. But because we have made memories just being in the car - not taking into account the beauty of nature or city around us. Like how Kelvin loved driving in the US highway seeing all the long trucks and saying "Choo, Choo!" every time he sees one. And how we would tell stories about each other, making fun of each other, just to let the time pass.  Or how we would share chips and cookies up to the last crumb. Or how peaceful and cute the kids looked while they were sleeping like contortionists (head bended sideways). Or how hubby and I reminisce they days when we were just dating (while the kids were sound asleep).

I think road trips not only provides an avenue for family members to bond together and experience new things together in totally new places. But also an opportunity for family members to rekindle past memories. It's also during these road trips that we learn to be patient with each other and learn to compromise. Yes, we do get lots of things in return just from a simple road trip.

Source: Stay Home, Stay Happy by Rachel Campos-Duffy

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