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Friday, May 26, 2017

Parenting While It Feels Like Your World is Crashing Down

We have all experienced sudden, unexpected news. Maybe it's the death of a loved-one. Maybe it's being laid off from a job. Maybe, like in our recent situation, it's having a scary medical diagnosis. During such times it literally feels like the world is crashing down around you. It's hard to focus on anything but the situation at hand. You feel like a zombie, going through the motions of life but unable to really live. But life DOES keep going and kids don't stop needing their parents just because tough stuff is happening. How do you keep on keeping on when it feels hard to even just breathe? Here are some of my tips for how I managed to put my big mama pants on and keep parenting even when I couldn't focus on anything but my husbands health:

1. Count on Your Village: It's easy to be hard on yourself and feel like you have to be everything for everyone all of the time. But it's OK to ask for help. You aren't facing this hardship alone and people WANT to help. Let them! If people offer to bring food, let them bring it. If they offer to take the kids for a few hours, let them. Even if you don't feel like you NEED food or NEED a break, allowing others to help is a blessing to them too. And you'll be pleasantly surprised at how yummy food you don't cook yourself will taste ;) (read more about the value of your tribe here!)

2. Be Honest with Your Children: We all want our children to know as little pain as possible. We'd love to keep them in a bubble for their whole lives and protect them from any possible hurt. But kids can tell when something is off. I had a day or two where I literally just couldn't stop crying. Even if I felt fine tears were just constantly flowing down my cheeks. You can't hide that! Our children are young (7, 4, and 2 1/2) but we still sat them down and told them (in simple terms) what is going on. It has been precious to see them pray for Daddy and by being honest and open about everything they have a better understanding of why we are eating healthier and why we are spending less money etc. Tough times can be HUGE learning experiences for our children and opportunities to draw closer as a family unit. (You can see my post on helping children cope with emotional "tough stuff" here)

3. Communicate to Teachers: It's important to communicate big life changes with everyone involved in your children's lives. I emailed each teacher and filled them in on what is going on with our family. Not only did this allow them to keep an eye out for any issues our children may be having in coping, but it also bought me a lot of grace. In my zombie-like state I forgot one kids homework one day, another kids book bag another day. It happens. It's okay. And by having that support system I knew they understood and weren't judging me for my absent mindedness.

4. Let It Go: I am usually pretty hardcore about my kids' appearances at school. Cute matching outfits, hair bows, etc. Same with healthy lunches. I pack a lunch every day for my son and take pride in giving him a healthy variety in his lunch box. Y'all. It's okay not to be Super Mom. So what if my four year old looked like a rag a muffin for a few weeks at school? Who cares if I just let my son buy lunch? Let go of the little things. You don't have to let them go forever, but give yourself grace and let small things slide for awhile.

5. Take Care of YOU: You cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to take care of yourself in order to be able to care for anyone else. Carve out time in your day just for you. I'm thankful my kids are so scheduled as I knew I'd have from 1-4:30 everyday to myself. Sometimes I'd cry. Sometimes I'd get mad and need to just be mad. Sometimes I'd just need a LONG nap. Or, let's be real, sometimes I'd just need some good old emotional binge eating ;) All of that is okay. Make time for yourself. Allow yourself to feel and cope and work through any emotions you have. Even if they feel silly. I know I had a day where I kept saying out loud "I can't do this" over and over. I felt dumb saying it because I knew I WILL handle it. It WILL be okay. But in that moment I just needed to feel helpless. I got it out and was able to adapt to my new normal quicker because I allowed myself those moments of weakness. Through our times of weakness, we are better able to find our strength. (read more about taking care of yourself as a mama here!)

6. Just Say No: As moms we get pulled in a million directions. It's hard for us to say no but sometimes it's needed. Know your limits. Recognize that right now isn't the time to be pouring energy into something that will cause you more stress. Find that balance and understand that it's OKAY to just say no! Even things you may normally enjoy just may be too stressful right now and that's fine. Do not overload your plate or spread yourself too thin. The day after we got my husbands news I physically and emotionally couldn't even handle attending Bible Class. I couldn't imagine getting ready or having to see people face to face and tell them our news. So I didn't go. And that's okay. Your kids will be okay if you aren't room mom, or can't attend a class party. It's fine if maybe they take a week off from soccer or have extra movie time rather than piano. Limit your output so you can focus on the top priories in your life.

7. Have Prayer Warriors: The power of prayer is the real deal. In tough times it's often hard to pray for yourself. It's tough to find those words and hard to work through the emotional pain to find the blessings God has for you even in those hard moments. That's where prayer warriors come in. I could literally FEEL the prayers being lifted for us. It helped give me peace and helped me feel less alone. Pray. Let your children pray. Let others pray.

Whatever you may be facing, you are strong enough to handle it. One week after we got the news about my husbands health, I was in the shower and realized I was JUST showering. I wasn't thinking through our possible future. I wasn't worrying about money or medical needs. I was just showering. As humans we are so blessed with the ability to adapt and we adapt so quickly. Allow yourself time to accept whatever new reality you are facing and understand that just going through the motions of parenting is okay. Lean on your family and allow whatever hardships you are facing to bring you closer together.

You can follow along with me on my journey of parenthood via Facebook and Instagram!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Independent Playtime: A Simple How To

There are many amazing, awesome parenting tools to take away from Babywise. Obviously, my personal favorite is the sleep scheduling. But I also am SO thankful for the concept of independent playtime. Allowing your children to learn to play on their own and entertain themselves has endless benefits. Not only are you able to get things DONE during that time period but long term it helps the child to have a longer attention span, be less likely to struggle with separation anxiety, and have the gift of enjoying time alone. 

I've utilized independent playtime with all of my children and start at a very early age. Here are my personal "How To" tips for successfully implementing independent playtime. 

Start Early

Even in early infancy, I will set up a play mat in my baby's nursery. I will lay them on the mat (mine has overhanging toys) and sit a little distance away from them. I will be perfectly quiet and will be out of their line of sight, but still able to fully see them. I do this just for 5-10 minutes a day and slowly add in more times each day. This gets them used to the concept of playing on their own and makes the transition to the pack and play for that time easier. 

Usually at around three months old I move to the pack and play for independent playtime. At that age they are better able to handle longer awake times and have a more set schedule throughout the day. 

You Decide When

I've heard many parents confuse independent playtime with playing independently. They are not one in the same. It's wonderful if your child will play on their own at any time of the day. But if they choose when those times are, then it's just playing independently. When the parent chooses the time (and place!) for this to take place, that's when it's independent playtime. 

When mine are little I like to have independent playtime right after eating. This helps ensure they don't fall asleep during that time and keeps with the eat-wake-sleep schedule. Fully bellies = happy babies!

Choose a Location

I keep a pack and play set up in our dining room. It's in a corner of the room where there is a wall on two sides and a buffet table on another. It's a room that is far enough from our kitchen where the child can't see me but close enough where I can hear them and easily sneak around to peak at them without being noticed. The less distractions the better to allow your child to focus on their time and not spend it all crying for you to come get them. 

Keep Siblings Away

Siblings can be the biggest distraction during independent playtime. I try to make sure my older children are well occupied too during this time. Since my oldest has his independent time during naps, I encourage my older two to play outside together or to have some room time in their rooms while the youngest has her independent time. This is also a great time to get some quality one on one time with your older child! 

Have a Timer

Once I transition to the pack and play for independent playtime I use a timer. I like to have a cute one and have that timer only be used specifically for independent playtime. Setting a timer that they can hear is a good reminder to them that they are not in charge. You decide when the playtime is over, not them. 

You Decide the Length of Time

As I mentioned, it's not up to the child when independent playtime ends. When I'm just starting with my children I set the timer for 5 minutes. Then, once they do well with that, I go for 10. Then 15. Usually I like to stick with 2-3 independent playtimes a day with shorter increments each until they are older. My current 2 year old now does 40-45 minutes of solid independent playtime once a day. 

Praise Like Crazy

Making a BIG deal over anything makes it exciting for kids. When that timer goes off, I come right away with a big smile on my face and a loud cheer on my lips. I do this so much that as my kids get older when they hear the timer go off, THEY start cheering right away too ;) We clean up the toys and then they are done! 

I find that having something fun planned for after independent playtime makes it a smoother transition as well. As with my current 2 year old we do independent playtime then we have movie time. She loves getting to watch her movie time so it's almost a reward for playing well in the pack and play and she will be excited for that playtime knowing she'll be getting to see Mickey Mouse after it's over!

Choose Toys Wisely

Obviously it's crucial to have age appropriate toys for your child. When they are infants and cannot sit yet, I put the whole play gym in the pack and play with my baby. As they get older, I start incorporating more toys to keep them occupied and entertained. Personally I like to use sound toys in the pack and play. This way I can hear them playing and know they are ok (silence makes me nervous!). Board books are also great. I like to have things that challenge them as this allows them to build concentration and focusing skills. I don't rotate my toys very often as I like for them to be set toys that they only get to play with during independent playtime. This gives them something to look forward to! 

Be Consistent

Just as being consistent with naps is important, it's also important to have independent playtime on a regular basis. When mine are little, and most of our days are spent at home, it's easy to fit it in 1-3 times per day. As they get older, and we're on the go more (especially as they begin dropping naps) I aim for at least 3 times a week.

Wanting to read more about independent playtime? 

Today is our Babywise Friendly Blog Network Day! We're all sharing on the topic of Independent Playtime:

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