Monday, January 28, 2013

The New Routine

Kids, even the ones without ADHD thrive on consistency, predictability and routine. Well, and why limit this to kids - I know how much better I do when there is some method to decrease the madness. Please welcome back to center stage, The Food Nanny Saves Dinner, by Liz Edmunds. If there is a common thread amidst psychologists, therapists and the food nanny, it would be that dinner is supposed to be fun - there should be as few rules as possible when it comes to dinner.

Admittedly, dinner-time at our house for the last couple of years has been anything but. My dear little Preston, who (truth-be-told most likely has a sensory disorder in regard to food) lives in mortal fear of dinner, has been a tough nut to crack when it comes to getting him to venture out of his comfort zone to even try new food. This has lead to bit of a struggle between my husband and I in regard to the purpose for trying new food. In the end, what is the point of sitting down as a family to chat and have a glimpse into every one's life if everyone is on pins and needles? There isn't. Main goal: lighten the time; no criticism, just fun. This leads to one of my biggest goals this year and that is to always ask myself in that moment, "What is the ultimate goal here?"

When Preston is having a meltdown because Bentley slobbered on one of Preston's Lego's, I remove Preston to his room to chill out because the ultimate goal of removing him is to have him relax and get a grip. That is the reason behind most time-outs - to simply remove kids from the situation and/or to stop the bad behavior. In this case to remove him and stop the behavior. The Lego can be washed for heavens' sake, but in that life or death moment when he is drunk on emotion, there is no point in trying to reason with him. Hence, with dinner, the point for me is to enjoy a good plate of food and conversation. I've given up on Preston's meltdowns over clam chowder. So, I implemented the following:

1) You have to try it and give an opinion on the food if you want to enjoy a snack at snack time.
2) You get to enjoy a dessert if you clean your plate (and given there is dessert that night).
3) If you can't stand what's for dinner, you are welcome to pass. You can eat up at your next meal, breakfast.

Simple. He can choose to eat or not eat and live with the consequences - hunger or no dessert. In the meantime, I get to enjoy my meal and the conversation. He will be excused from the table if there is whining and wailing and gnashing of teeth over how the meal was plated.

Now, part of the Food Nanny's goal is to bring families together for a little interpersonal time together to stay connected and involved in everybody's life (especially parents with kids). She even offers suggestions for conversation topics. The point is to have fun. She outlined her weekly meal plan as follows for simplification for her and predictability for the family:

Monday - Comfort Food
Tuesday - Italian
Wednesday - Fish or Meatless (Including breakfast for dinner)
Thursday - Mexican
Friday - Pizza Night
Saturday - Grill Night
Sunday - Family Traditions

With each chapter she includes some of her family's favorite recipes (which are quickly becoming our favorites as well). I went to a local home decor store and bought a small chalkboard for our kitchen. Each morning I write the dinner menu for that evening along with the pre-bed snack. Preston isn't in love with it yet (I hate Mexican night!) but I do think the predictability will help in the long-run (I even heard the other night, "Yay! It's pizza night!"). He is loving the nightly snack and that has been a motivator  in working through dinner. I've also told him that we are practicing picking through his food and eating the good stuff, and leaving a pile of rubbish that is un-edible to him (baby steps) just for the sake of more nourishment.

Each night we come together for scripture study at about 8pm. During scripture study we have our snack:

Monday - Cookie or Brownie Night
Tuesday - Graham Crackers and Milk Night
Wednesday - Fresh Bread with butter and Honey Night
Thursday - Hot Chocolate Night
Friday - Movie Night with Popcorn
Saturday - Game Night and Kneader's Night
Sunday - Dessert Night

On Sunday's I'm also stoking the tradition of grilled cheese or denver sandwiches for lunch. I loved it when my Dad made either for lunch on Sunday's. That was a fun tradition for me. And that's part of what I'm trying to do - create some fun traditions and things for the kids to look forward to.

I created a chart for them to refer to reminding them what each night is and what the snacks are. On this chart I also included their personal chores/contributions for the day including, landmine duty, setting the table, doing the dishes, laundry folding party, and their Saturday 'Family Home Improvement' time (10 - 12 am). This has been helpful for them and incredibly helpful for me. I sat down last week and planned out three weeks worth of meal plans and grocery lists. No more guesswork or stress. It's also got my family down for scripture study every night; my 13-year-old is super excited about this and Preston is already excited to be in charge of family home evening next Monday night.

Not to mention that it keeps us on track time-wise and right after scriptures and snack, Preston and I head down to his room to play a quick one-on-one game before bed.

This is a step in the right direction for a happier home. Happier mom, happier dad, happier kids = happier home and I am already seeing the fruits of this labor. Employ and enjoy.

The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner, by Liz Edmunds

Recipe for Denver Sandwiches
1 slice of toasted bread
1-2 Eggs (I prefer cooked over easy - most nutrients!)
Couple slices cheddar cheese
Optional: Mayo, mustard

Toast the bread and melt the cheese on top, add cooked bacon and eggs and mustard. Love it!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Shaking Things Up

Given the fact that my kids don't currently see me as a 'happy mom' my knickers are in a real twist over that. That is the driving force behind my resolutions for the new year kick-off in the month of January and the fact that I want my kids to feel happy themselves. Now, I have no control over anybody but myself, but as the woman at the head of the household, I can be an example and use specific methods, set up certain parameters and steer my home in a direction that will help my kids feel safe, loved and happy. That's what I want at home.

I took a good look at how I am currently managing my household and identified the issues that I was saddened and disappointed by:

1) Blended family; too much contention and strife
2) Troubles with Preston's ADHD - ongoing
3) Not taking the time to do what is important to me
4) Every day gets away from me and am often frustrated, stressed
5) Not following my instincts

I then did some thinking as to what I DID want to be happening in my home:

1) Happier Me
2) Happier Husband
3) Happier Family
4) Happier Home

I then decided on a course of action, did up some charts and set my sight on the prize and repeat to myself often, "It's do or die time folks!" Yes, it is in quotations because I say it aloud. It's incredibly empowering to hear yourself fighting for what you want. Honestly. Take charge!

I then broke down my goals into the following categories (in no particular order):

1) Me
2) Spouse
3) Kids
4) Family Life - Routine, Predictability
5) Parenting - Blended family, ADHD

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be breaking down each one of these sections and what I have implemented to improve the atmosphere in our home and our interpersonal relationships. In the last two weeks since I changed-up a few things, I'm already impressed with the direction our home is headed.

I decided to first start with myself and my husband. This is a second marriage for both of us with a yours, mine and ours. This has proven exceedingly challenging and I understand why the odds are against us in relation to a lasting marriage. But, I do believe that we can do it. We decided to wipe the board clean and adopted the following rules:

1) Any issues over 24 hours is 'garbage' and has already been 'taken out.' The moment is now - in the present. Focusing on the past or future leaves no time for the now. There is no way possible to get around imperfection; it is inevitable that we will handle situations wrong and make poor choices. When I find myself frustrated with my kids or husband I remind myself, out loud, "They're just as imperfect as I am and thank goodness they forgive me the same way I will forgive them. " This has been very centering and humbling for me as I quickly reflect on my own imperfections and how grateful I am for forgiveness and the ability to learn from my mistakes. I will have the same conversations again and again and again with my kids. I will consequence appropriately and drop the, "How many times do we have to go over this?" How many times I wonder does the big guy upstairs say the same of me?

2) You parent yours and I will parent mine. This gets tricky because I am home more than my husband is. So, I simply time-out to let the kids chill out or consequence appropriately for the time being when there is an issue and I'm the parent-on-deck. I then report to my husband to manage any further concerns or consequences. Our main goal here is to build our relationship and trust with our step-kids. This is challenging as we often see things differently as far as how to discipline and what should be disciplined but as our values are on the same page, this is simply where we learn to trust the other parent. The other key component for me has been to just let it go. I will be the one ultimately to answer to how I raised my son and my husband will be the one to answer to how he raised his son. Strong discipline from the step-parent only seems to create problems and dissolve the relationship; you simply have to let it go to a large degree.

3) Take time out as parents. I have structured our evenings so that the kids are in bed by a certain time and the house is picked up before they head to bed. This leaves some time to spend with my spouse and to also get to bed early. Eight hours of sleep is key to one's physical and emotional strength and health. I've also put on the calendar a date night every Friday or Saturday night.

4) Serve the other person (not as a maid, but more along the lines of doing little things for them). It is so easy to get caught up in keeping track of what you do and what your spouse does; there will always be discrepancies in who is carrying more weight - so what's the point? It is also so easy to get trapped in to looking at the negatives. When you are looking for them, you will find them. Focus on the positives. Let the little things roll off your back and find ways to serve your spouse and family and enjoy doing it. I took a couple minutes last night to scatter a few love notes for my husband to find as he left for work before I was up. I know he appreciates it and it was fun to be clever. It also increases my love for him. Funny how that works.

If your marriage isn't in the right place, your family will suffer; this is why your relationship is most important and has to come first. It is so important to put effort into our marriage each day and keep one-eye closed. Focus on the positive and good and write down what you are grateful for each day, including what you love about your spouse, your kids. Anything worthwhile takes work, and at times more work than usual. That's okay. Employ and enjoy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Will Your Kids Remember You as Being A Happy Mom?

Oh the holidays - or in my family this year, the 'holler-days.' So, I obviously took a Christmas break, but not a break in the sense of a vacation break but more in I had to focus every last ounce of my energy into remaining calm while the fires of kid-dom engulfed my world. I told a friend the other day that I would take three months of summer vacation over the last two weeks at my house. I'm telling ya, my kids' heads exploded this year from the anxiety over Christmas. It was fascinatingly scary. Preston spent most of the time in tears over I don't know what. The other two kids went into hyper-bossy and controlling mode and sibling rivalry was at its peak. The most amazing aspect of all of this was how totally calm I stayed! Truly, it was something miraculous to behold. I was dog tired by the end of the day but the break didn't actually leave me broken. Wow, what a ride though.

I can confidently say that the month of December does turn kids into crazy people as once the month ended (and step-sis went home), Preston's super erratic emotions and behavior leveled-off and he has been a different kid. No more crazy outbursts, tears, or weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. This is at the least, thrilling. It's back to book reports and science experiments and meetings with psychologists and teacher check-ins at the end of the week. Sigh.

Alas, with the year starting off anew, I'm making plans to facilitate routine, consistency and more levity and opportunities for success in the home. This starts with the 'Me Makeover' that leads to the 'Happiness at Home' project. A good friend the other day asked me that if my kids in ten years were asked what their mother was like, would they remember her as being happy. This really gave me pause and led to the following silent questions asked by myself:

Q. Am I happy?
A. Yes.

Q. Would my kids describe me as happy?
A. Probably not.

Q. Why?
A. Because I am always busy cleaning, making dinner, running errands, and often tired, anxious and stressed. I make plans to do fun things, but meaningless stuff (mostly) often seems to get in the way or I run out of time or something comes up (and then we have to give Lecture #24 about being flexible and learning to adapt).

Q. Do I want my kids to remember me as being tired, anxious, stressed and flaky?
A. Duh.

Q. How do I change this?
A. Simple. Really. I am happy. I want my kids to SEE that and know it. The answer is, make a plan including what I'm going to do to implement said plan and follow through. Because I love myself and I love my family.

I told my kids last night that a plan without action will never take you anywhere. Well, I often know what I want to do but I don't develop a specific enough plan that allows me to accomplish my goals. Well, time to change. I've been taking time each day working on progress charts, identifying road blocks and even what I will say to myself in those tough moments to reach my goals. I really have to adopt a 'do-or-die' mentality to ensure that I follow-through (especially when I'm premenstrual and deep-cleansing). The other key is this:

There is no such thing as perfection, therefore work toward progression.

In starting with myself, I've kicked the New Year off with a 9-day cleanse. Did it last year and loved it and am excited to do it this year. I'm on day four and am already down four pounds - LOVE IT! HOWEVER, despite wanting to lose the extra pounds that inevitably show-up around the holidays, I firmly decided that this year it isn't going to be about the number on the scale. Since I started cleansing and lost my baby weight, I've felt amazing. I've come to love my body despite its flaws. That has hugely helped me on a daily basis allowing me to focus on other things in my life that I want to improve on like patience and staying calm when I feel my kids are going to drive me to drink (and I don't drink). I decided that on Hot Chocolate Night (more to come next week on that big plan) I get to participate - even if I make myself an Vanilla Almond mile steamer. When its Kneader's night, I will participate (if I want to). It really is about balance and moderation. I don't have to skip out on stuff! It's about finding what works and sticking with it. There is something to be said for being in a good place yourself before being able to help others around you.

The other big 'Me' kick-off is something I've been working-on for several months, but was re-inspired by a blog post I read the other day found on the following website about letting go, read it. Do it. It's a fabulous reminder for all parents:
Let it go.
What are some new New Year's Resolutions you've made this year? And no, I didn't repeat myself - I am wondering what new ideas you are bringing to the table and how you plan to follow-through.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Christmas Spirit Leading Into the New Year

Every year we make the goal of de-commericalizing Christmas and focusing more on the Spirit of Christmas and the birth of Christ. And every year, we over-spend, over-commercialize and worry about our kids feeling 'jipped.' Sigh. This year we introduced Mr. Tibbs, an official Santa Scout, who not only kept a careful watch on each of us and our behavior, but also gave to me daily 'to-do's' to more fully take advantage of Christmas and what it means. More than anything, to me Christmas is about love. And the love I need to work on most is the love in my own home. It is so easy to be the nastiest version of ourselves around our family because we trust them to love us unconditionally and to be more forgiving than any of our friends and acquaintances. This year, I think we are on the right track and I realize it will take a few years of shifting that focus regarding Christmas to what it really is supposed to be: a reminder of hope, faith, giving, love and family and friends.

My toddler right now is in love with the movie "The Polar Express." Honestly, as much as I try to like that movie, it's just all around creepy to me - I never got the homeless dude on top of the train and his grody sock coffee, his eerie impersonation of Santa and the fact that the 'magic happy' train has all sorts of troubles and scary moments. The last ten minutes however is wonderful. When Santa sits down in the slay to give out the first gift of Christmas he says to the young boy, "This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas, as am I. Always remember that the true spirit of Christmas lies within your heart." Truer words were never spoken.

I had a conversation with my mother the other day about Santa and the fact that she staunchly protects Santa's true existence. It's pretty much an un-debateable debate with her. And in the end, I came to agree with her. Santa Claus is a symbol of the true spirit of Christmas. We aren't supposed to see him. I have never seen my savior in this life, but I know that He exists. I know that He knows personally the feeling in each tear I have shed for sadness and joy. He knows the physical pains I have felt and He knows me by name and loves me. I know this to be true. I have never seen Santa Claus, nor will I ever see Santa Claus. I will not always get what I want for Christmas, nor should I always get what I want in life. Life is not about having our way all the time or indulgence or even constant need. Life works out how it is supposed to - giving us the challenges we need to grow and progress within our own existences. My destiny is different from anybody else's. And do I believe in destiny? Well, I believe we have a specific path and the right choices keep us on it while the wrong ones lead us away. And there is greatness and joy at the end of each of our path's - it's totally up to us if and how we get there.

In the end, Santa Claus represents the true Spirit of Christmas in loving the children, bringing them gifts representative of the gift of the Savior. He reminds us of this most precious gift and the need to share and give to others and to offer our hearts and love unselfishly and without expectation of any return. This is one gift that we do not seek out a return on investment. It is truly a magical season to reconsider the direction our lives are going and to take every opportunity to help those around and share more love.