Family Management, Parenting, Working Parents

3 Tips for Work-Outside-the-Home Parents

We celebrated Labor Day this week and the holiday prompted me to reflect on my personal journey in the workforce…specifically on my time in the work force after having children.  For almost 15 years I have been a full-time mama who has worked at a full-time job outside the home.  During my reflection, I was able to clearly identify things that contributed to my struggles and things that contributed to my successes, so with that in mind, I thought a post sharing a few of the things that have helped me might be something of value for other parents in the same situation.

**A quick aside…I just want to say that I personally think all parents are awesome…those that work outside the home, those that work from home, those that are full-time managers of their home…and I don’t believe there needs to be any debate about what is better/best.  I simply choose to believe that all parents are trying to do their best in the circumstances they live in.  So nothing about this post is meant to indicate I think a parent should be working outside the home, I am just simply trying to write something that other work outside the home parents may find supportive and beneficial.  Ok moving on.

Hands down probably the best thing I did was include my children in my morning routine.  I didn’t initially set out to do that on purpose…the parenting Gods just gave me children who are early risers…so when the kids were babies and I couldn’t leave them unsupervised I would move them with me from room to room and spend time chatting at and engaging with them as I was getting ready each morning.  Once my kids got a bit older and could play a bigger role in getting themselves ready, I continued to keep them in my space every morning, only now I would have them mirror me as I did my getting ready tasks.  We ate breakfast together.  When I got dressed, they got dressed.  When I brushed my hair and teeth, they brushed hair and teeth and so on.  Sure there were moments when I would think to myself…what I wouldn’t give to just to get ready alone and in quiet…but I will say this, I have 3 children with 3 distinctly different personalities and I really feel like our home had less than typical amounts of resistance to these tasks because all they knew was moving through them together in this familiar and parallel way.  Once the kids were fully ready I avoided giving them the option to go off and play on their own or turn on the TV.  I honestly tried to time the morning so we all finished getting ready when it was pretty much time to leave, but if they beat me their option was to hang out in my room.  Sometimes I would put music on, sometimes they read books that were in there, sometimes they just played with each other on the floor.  I know this saved me a lot of morning stress because I never dealt with the challenge of separating kids from activities they enjoy (like screens or toys) to get them out the door for school because they never started in with them in the first place.  It is also worth mentioning that an additional benefit of this practice I didn’t see coming is that now my kids are 14, 13 and 12 and obviously capable of getting completely ready on their own and in their own space (which they mostly do), but I often find them rotating through my room to brush their teeth, do their hair, etc.  Sometimes we just get ready together in the quiet and sometimes they share about things going on at school, sometimes they vent, sometimes they disclose stress over a test happening that day, but whatever it is I really love those little moments of connection before we head off and separate for the day.

My second tip would be to consistently give yourself a 10 minute transition break between returning from work and jumping back into things at home.  My responsibilities at home vs work are so different and require such immense amounts but completely different types of energy so these 10 minutes are used to allow myself to calmly switch gears and briefly re-charge.  I know 10 minutes probably sounds short, but for me it absolutely was enough to make a difference and I think asking young children who have missed you all day to give you more just isn’t that realistic.  Everyday I when my kids were little, I would walk in the door, greet them with hugs and then set a timer for 10 minutes.  In those precious 10 minutes I would change clothes and then go back into the living room, get down on the floor (so my kids still got to start re-connecting with me physically) and read a magazine or a book or sometimes I would even just lay there on the floor, shut my brain off and do nothing.  And if you are thinking in your head…there is no way my kids will let me do this…I would recommend you just give it a try.  I think kids begin to understand and expect things that happen consistently and I know that my kids got so used to it they just accepted it as a normal part of their day.  Somedays they would go off and play on their own, but most days they would just sit right by me (often times when they were really little sit literally on me) and hang out until the timer went off.  This short break was SO necessary for me to be a better mom in the evening for my kids, but I don’t think the benefit was mine alone.  I think this was a perfect exercise to help my children practice the incredibly important life skills of patience and delayed-gratification and I think it also modeled for them that it is important and perfectly acceptable to give yourself a few minutes to re-group during a busy or stressful day.

My final suggestion would be to create and adhere to an extremely consistent evening routine.  I will be the first to admit that doing the same thing day after day can feel sooooo monotonous but I truly believe it is one of the most beneficial things you can do for children…especially children who have spent a majority of their day navigating an unpredictable world without your physical closeness.  A consistent routine provides the structure that children crave to feel safe and secure.  It assures them that no matter what has happened in their day each evening they can settle into things that feel familiar, predictable and comfortable.  I always noticed increased behavioral challenges with my kids on days we were forced to deviate from our typical routine and by evening time, when my energy and patience levels were often running on fumes, that was really, REALLY hard for me.  Obviously every family will know what routine is right for them, but I think that an important note is that young children who have not had a ton of time with you during the day are going to want to get as much close, connected, quality time from you as they can, so try to make the routine focus on being together as much as possible.  I also think it is important to appreciate how much the working parent has to manage at home in a limited amount of time and if you need to get a chore or two done while your kids are still awake to relieve a bit of your stress you should absolutely add that in your routine…just include your kids in that time.  When I look through old photos I probably have 50 pictures of kids sitting in full laundry baskets because getting a load of laundry going each evening did a ton for my stress level so I just made sure that the kids were with me while I did that.  Sometimes they were in the baskets laughing as I threw mounds of clothes I was sorting on top of them and sometimes they were helping me match and fold socks or put away clean clothes.  Whatever works.  My last note regarding the evening routine is that if you choose to make screens any part of your routine (like in our family my kids got to watch a 20 minute video while I got dinner on the table) I would advise that you use something that has a very clear stopping point that your child will easily understand.  My suggestion would be to use a DVD or TV show because once the episode over…it is just over.  Simple as that.  It is so much easier for tired child to manage and regulate the finality of a show then it is for them to have a timer go off to signify the end of their time to play games or watch YouTube because that almost always occurs when they are in the middle of something that doesn’t feel finished and then that will make them beg for more or leave them feeling uncomfortable.  All us parents know what a slippery slope that is and activities that cause an increase in stress levels or open the door for battles right before the often taxing task of getting ready for bed is never good.

So there you have it…my 3 tips for my fellow work-outside-the-home parents.  I hope you find something here that will help you better survive and even help you feel like you are able to thrive as a work-outside-the-home-parent.  It sure isn’t easy, but we can do this!!

Quotable Quotes

Well-being Wednesday – Successful Mothers Struggle

For today’s Well-being Wednesday we are sharing a quote that does the important work of recognizing how truly awesome moms are for showing up for the hard, for standing strong through the struggles and for being willing to try and cry through all the wonderful and the difficult days life as a mother supplies.

Weds Quote- 21For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote- 21

Awareness/Inspiration, Try and Cry

Try & Cry

It is the beginning of a New Year and we have been spending some time reflecting on the reason we initially started this blog.  We did it with the intention of compiling and sharing information that helps to clarify the chaos of everyday family life.  Reconnecting with that intention has inspired us to start off the year sharing one of the top things we both rely on as mothers to keep us going when our exhausted souls need strength and support.  It is a simple motto we say to ourselves and repeat frequently to each other – Try and Cry.

The first part of the motto, TRY, is what we use as our inspiration.  To us it means that no matter what happened during the day… even if well-intentioned plans went sideways, tempers were lost, interactions were a challenge, complicated situations made us unsure of what to do next or whatever it may have been… if we can just lay our heads down at night knowing nothing more than the next day we will wake up willing to try again, we are doing alright.  Things may feel overwhelming and flawed, but if we can remain willing to try we can be proud of the fact that we are doing right for ourselves by showing up for our life and our people day after day and we are doing right for our family by not only giving them the incredibly comforting feelings of love and support that come when someone shows up for you, but by also modeling for our children that no matter what circumstances life throws at you, you can always continue to try.

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The second part of the motto, CRY, is what we use as our expectation.  To us it means that after we have shown up and tried our best, the only outcome we choose to attach ourselves to is that there will be tears.  Our tears could be happy tears, tears of joy or tears from laughing so hard we cry.  They can be tears of frustration, sadness, exhaustion, relief, disappointment, or overwhelm.  The tears will come from a multitude of reasons and feelings but the thing is, if we stop feeling like our efforts need to yield picture perfect moments, successes that adhere to society’s standards or impressive accolades before we can feel validated, we can free ourselves from so much pressure and instead know and accept that after all our trying we will end up crying because it is normal and ok and because it means we are feeling emotions that come when we are truly invested in our life and our people.

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The unpredictability and challenges of family life can feel like so much sometimes. It is our hope that when you are feeling overwhelmed or worn down you can repeat the simple motto of try and cry to yourself or share it with others and it will be a source of the strength and serenity parents so desperately need.

One last note…we love and live this motto so much that we thought it would be fun to share it over to our Instagram page.  Over the next couple days, we are going to post some of our favorite photos that we feel reflect the true spirit of try and cry in action.  Click here to go to our Clarified Chaos Instagram page where you can follow us and watch for the photos with the hashtag – #tryandcry.  We would also love for you to tag us in pictures with the hashtag #tryandcry because photos that are less about perfection and more about beautifully messy family life are something we would enjoy seeing more of.

Quotable Quotes

Well-being Wednesday – A New Ending

Happy New Year Clarified Chaos blog readers/followers/supporters!  We are kicking off our 2018 posts with a quote to gently guide us into the new year with the beautiful reminder that no matter where we currently find ourselves or our lives (or even our blogs :)) , we have the opportunity to choose to make a step in the direction of where we want to see things going.

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For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote- 20

Quotable Quotes

Well-being Wednesday – Responsibility

Today’s Well-Being Wednesday quote from Ann Landers provides an important reminder about what our kids need from us to learn to be successful themselves. If it inspires you to look for new ideas to help you foster independence and responsibility in your children, here is a link to one we shared last week on our blog: Calendars for Kids. Have a great day!Weds Quote- 19For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote- 19

Calendars, Family Management, Parenting

Calendars for Kids

So anyone besides me feeling like they blinked and it is already mid-September?  Weren’t we all just reveling in the unscheduled hours of summer!?!  Well, now that our family has had a few full weeks of adjusting to the chaotic back to school grind, it felt like the right time for me to take a pause and do a quick inventory of what is and isn’t working well for our family in the new school year.  While doing this exercise I realized there is a small handful of valuable practices that just keep consistently working well for us and today I want to share one of those with you.  It is the practice of having my kids keep their own individual written calendars.IMG_1026I have long been a huge fan of a written calendar and I would venture to guess most adults managing a busy household are utilizing one.  I used to keep just my own calendar up to date and then when we held our family meetings (and this is another one of the practices that seems to consistently contribute to our family’s success.  Click here to a previous blog post I wrote on the topic if you are interested) I would share the upcoming weeks activities and we would discuss, but it was not like I could expect anyone to retain all that information for themselves.  Once I got each of my children their own calendar that they would bring to the family meeting and fill out with the activities and happenings that pertained to them for the week I started to see some big changes and awesome benefits.  A brief summary of the major benefits I see from utilizing this practice are below.

  1. Less morning madness.  When my kids have their own calendar filled out with their daily activities/appointments I spend less of my already rushed mornings with kids following me around asking, “What is happening today?”  In fact, when they ask that all I have to do is just calmly ask, “Did you check your calendar?”…and off they go.  Also, the kids can check their calendars at night and plan for the next day by pulling together sport/activity items they might need ahead of time.  It also has majorly reduced the household drama over clothing/uniforms they need clean being stuffed in the bottom of laundry baskets.  If they realize something didn’t get washed the night before they need it I can do something about it, 15 minutes before it is time to leave in the morning, not so much.
  2. Reduction of Homework Meltdowns. As a mama to middle-schoolers the calendar is a life saver when it comes to homework meltdowns. I think whenever kids hear that something isn’t due for a week or so they feel like they have all the time in the world to complete it, but as we all know that isn’t the case and Sunday night you have a stressed-out kid with an entire project left to do.  If they have a calendar where they can see that say Thursday and Friday their evenings are already packed with after-school sports or activities and they have a weekend basketball tournament then they are able to realize for themselves (and as an added bonus without parental nagging!!!) that they have to get that homework done earlier in the week.  This idea also works great for kids who have instrument practice, community service hours, AR reading points, or any of the other various things they may need to accomplish on a bigger picture deadline.  For my family specifically, all three of my kids play an instrument through their school music program and they have to practice for hours each week.  As soon as we complete our family meeting and they have all their activities recorded, they immediately then go back through their planner and write out when they will have free time to get their practice hours in.
  3. Cultivating Time Management Skills. One of the best ways you can set your child up for instant success in life is to help them cultivate strong time management skills and utilizing their calendar is a great way to practice. Just the simple exercise of writing out a week of appointments and activities helps them to understand and appreciate just how much effort is needed when keeping oneself on schedule.  When they plan and log scheduled times for tasks like homework, instrument practice, etc. this further enhances their personal organizational skills and teaches them to practice staying on task. Also, when they find themselves with days with multiple things that need to be accomplished they get to learn to prioritize as they figure out what the most important tasks are to accomplish each day.
  4. Teaching Personal Responsibility.  When you take the responsibility of filling out and monitoring the calendar off of you and transfer that onto your child it goes a long way in helping kids to realize that they are capable of learning to monitor and care for themselves.  I feel like there are so many ways children are micromanaged these days and micromanagement can erode their confidence in themselves. By showing them that as their parent we expect them to be in charge of filling out their own calendar, checking it often and take an active role in managing their time you are sending them the message that you trust and believe they have the ability to learn do things for themselves.  Of course it goes without saying that there are going to be mistakes and disappointments, but childhood, before there are grades going on official transcripts or jobs one can be fired from, is the perfect time for us parents to allow these to happen and then help them learn how to handle and adjust in the future.
  5. Comfort and Security Provided to Our Children. Without advance planning on how we are going to spend our time we can find our family living in a constantly reactive state. Living like this can increase anyone’s stress level, but it can be especially hard on children.  Kids are still learning to manage emotions and reactions and living with routine and structure gives them a sense of security and allows them to feel safe.  Utilizing a calendar allows them feel like they have been made aware of what is happening.  It allows time for upcoming events to be discussed and gives them ample opportunity to ask questions if they feel they need to.  Having advance notice of what is upcoming also helps all children, but especially introverted or anxious children, have the extra time they may need to get mentally prepared for things.
  6. Preservation of Family Time and Down Time. We live in a crazy, busy world and I feel like so often our families end up sacrificing things they really want to do together or downtime they truly need because they think there just “isn’t enough time in the day”.  If you are asking your child to keep a calendar for themselves, once they have entered all their necessary commitments, appointments, assignments they get to look at exactly what free time they have and make choices.  The calendar allows them to appreciate and understand prioritizing things that they want and need.  For example, a couple of my kids really like to get one weekend morning with a few hours of downtime to do some screens and avoid being rushed.  I know they have that in the back of their mind when they schedule their instrument practice time and try to add more in during the week to free up time on the weekend.  Also, our family tries to discuss and plan events that we all want to do together and get them into the calendar because that way if an invite from a friend, sports team or a conflict arises we feel good about the fact that we had this family time planned and we typically feel confident in saying no to whatever it is that is creating a scheduling conflict.

So as you can see the practice of maintaining a personal calendar isn’t just a practice that should be reserved for adults.  It is an awesome way to help kids learn valuable time, life and self-management skills all while contributing to the reduction of stress and strengthening of connection for your family as a whole.

Quotable Quotes

Well-being Wednesday – Authenticity

Our Sunday post “Free to Be You and Me” which featured Pink’s recent courageously awesome speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, inspired my quote choice to share with you all today – wise words from Brené Brown that remind us to stay true to ourselves.  I hope you enjoy :)!Weds Quote- 18For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote- 18

Music, Parenting

Free to Be You and Me

CCPost9-1This week I was given a real gift when a few different Facebook friends of mine shared the video of the speech given by Pink to her daughter at the MTV VMA awards.  I watched the video several times while tearing up over the beautifully honest way she conveyed the messages of self-love and acceptance.  After I stopped watching it on repeat, it took me all of 30 seconds to assemble my trio of kiddos on the couch (since I was asking them to look at a screen on a school night they moved quick) and in one of those awesomely simple parenting moments all I had to do was hit the play button and this crucial message was being delivered straight to my kids without mom’s lecturing voice behind it.

The impactful simplicity of that moment got me thinking and although I feel that you can never, ever replace the all important task of having meaningful in person conversations with your kids, I think there is a lot to be gained by finding easy and frequent ways to expose your children to values and messages you want in the forefront of their minds.  I ended up reflecting on one of the ways I did just that when my kids were younger and today I want to share it with you.  It was by simply playing an awesome album called Free to Be…You and Me by Marlo Thomas and Friends.

This album was recorded in 1972 and it is an epic compilation of catchy song and spoken word skits that share messages of things like self-acceptance, gender equality, empowerment, tolerance and peace that are meant for audiences of all ages.  My own mom loved this CD and played it for us all the time when I was young.  In fact, the first time I went and played it for my kids I realized I still had most of the album committed to memory.  And while I enjoy the whole album I will tell you about a few of my favorite things on it to give you an idea of what is in store for you and your family if you check it out.   There is an awesome ballad, “It’s Alright to Cry” whose words remind us that “it’s aright to cry ’cause crying lets the sad out of ya…it’s alright to cry…it might just make you feel better”.  To this day I still sing that to my kids when they are in the middle of a breakdown and I can sense them starting to be hard on themselves for having strong emotions.  There is a spoken word skit called Atalanta.  She was a princess and her father, the king, decided it was time to marry her off to one of the men of the town and was going to hold a race and the winner would get to marry Atatlana.  However, Atalanta was having none of it because she wanted to go out to see the world before deciding IF she would marry.  When her father insisted the race and marriage would take place Atalanta made a deal with her father that she got to participate in the race and if she won she would decide for herself what she would do about marriage.  And if spunky Atalanta and her stance are not awesome enough there is also one male participant, young John, who enters the race even though he disagrees with her father intentions, because he wanted to win the race to just earn the right to talk to Atalanta and spend time with her.  He wanted to ask for her friendship.  I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that it’s inspiring and beautiful.  In the short poem, “Don’t Dress Your Cat In An Apron” the narrator reminds us all that, “A person should wear what she wants to and not just what other folks say…a person should do what she likes to.  A person’s a person that way.”  And I could NEVER end without mentioning the narrative titled “Housework” with it’s WONDERFUL message that “Your mommy hates housework, your daddy hates housework and when you grow up so will you….Little boys and little girls, when you are big husband and wives, if you want all the days of your lives to seem sunny as summer weather, make sure that when there’s housework to do that you do it together.”    

This week the Pink video was a reminder to me that we have so many different tools and resources at our fingertips when we want to expose our children to the truths and messages we value. Free to Be You and Me is absolutely on of those tools as you can just put it on during playtime or a road trip and with just the simple push of the play button you can let the compelling narrative and catchy grooves gently teach and foster acceptance, equality, open-mindness and respect in your children.

Quotable Quotes

Well-being Wednesday – Just Do It

Happy Wednesday all! The quote we are sharing today reminds us not to wait for perfect conditions to begin. Whether that may in your home life, your relationships, your adventures (or in our case our blogging career), whatever it may be, remember to take chances and keep stepping as everyday is a new chance to do a little living, loving and growing. Weds Quote - 17

For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote – 17

Parenting, Play

Board Games – A Fun and Simple Way to Foster Important Qualities in Children

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I think it is safe to say that in the current day and age we are more likely to find children playing games on televisions or devices than on boards with other people.  And while I feel there is room for all types of entertainment in the life of a child, I think we do ourselves a huge disservice as parents when we allow our kids to transition away from the latter.  By simply playing board games with others our children are given invaluable opportunities to learn critical life skills. Below I offer examples of the things our children learn when we push them to grab a board game over a device or controller.

Sportsmanship.  When a child plays a game with a device instead of with a person there is no need to be a gracious winner or loser.  They can throw a fit and act out in anger after a loss or gloat after a win and then simply hit play again and off they go with no ramifications.  Playing a game with another human does not allow that.  Lose at a board game and throw a fit or act egotistical after a win and you will lose the ability to play again because no one will want to play with you.  To keep human playmates you need to learn to regulate the feelings of anger, disappointment or self-centeredness and be gracious in victory or defeat. 

Patience.  When playing a video game a child is constantly stimulated.  They are involved in every second of play.  That level of stimulation does not mirror most of the situations in real life.  In real life a child will have to patiently wait their turn…to talk in a conversation, to get to use the play equipment on the playground, to order at a restaurant, etc.  The turn taking required when playing games with others is one of the best ways to learn the patience needed to successfully navigate all types of social situations. 

Perseverance. How many of us have watched a child playing a game on a device and when it isn’t going well they simply hit quit half-way through the game and start over?  This simple act erodes their ability to navigate through a situation that is not going their way. Having a child sit through the struggle of being behind or losing during a game can help encourage them to foster a can-do vs a quitter mentality.  Also, as we all know, board games like Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, etc. have circumstances where the tide can quickly turn and seeing that can help foster their sense of optimism in difficult situations.

Respect for Boundaries.  Board games have clear rules and boundaries given for participation.  Children have to learn and respect those rules to understand the game and they have to be able to successfully remain within the boundaries of those rules for the game to go smoothly.  This is great practice for staying within the boundaries they will encounter at school, relatives or friends’ homes, extra-curricular activities, etc.

Ability to Delay Gratification.  Psychologists have studied and stressed the importance of children having the ability to delay gratification.  There are so many board games that are great at reinforcing delayed gratification.  These are most likely for slightly older children playing games that involve strategy, but so many games like Chess, Risk, Stratego, etc. require you to think of a long term strategy and patiently put it into action instead of going for the first available move.  Also, the overstimulating games on screens can interfere with a child’s ability to appreciate the use of quiet, thoughtful moments to plan out and think ahead.  

As you can see from the above the benefits of playing board games are numerous, so every now and then reach over and turn off the Play Station or iPad and break out Candy Land or Sorry instead.  Your children’s development and behavior will thank you.