Thursday, October 28, 2010

Staying Calm

Yesterday, as the day was just beginning, my two-year old was in the kitchen with me, grabbing on my leg and alternately crying and screaming because I wasn't giving him the marshmallows he saw in a bag on the counter. My three year old was also whining for a marshmallow, and then the boys started fighting--complete with scratching and screaming like dragons at each other--over something. It fries my nerves. Plus, my mom's here visiting, and it fries her nerves, and then I am doubly stressed.

Finding a way to deal with the mommy stress and remain calm is a good thing. The first step in our strategy, I believe, is to make an intentional choice to stay calm--no matter what we encounter. Yet translating that intention into reality is not as easy as it sounds.

Once we've purposed to remain calm, the next step is to recognize when we're heading for the "danger zone:" that place where we're starting to lose our ability to stay calm. Upon realizing we're moving out of calm waters, we can do what we need to in order to keep our cool.

For me, I liken my anger to a volcano. The lava can simmer under the surface for awhile (danger zone 1), then there's a little steam coming out (danger zone 2--flee immediately), and then the volcano erupts. I can tolerate crying, whining, and fighting--for a little while. I can patiently discipline for disobedience, for a while. It's easier for me to stay calm with one out-of-control child. But when those actions and attitudes continue all day, or when all three of my boys are out-of-control, it is much, much harder to remain calm. The volcano erupts. Then I'm not scolding for the immediate behavior at the moment, but for things that happened an hour ago, two hours ago, six hours ago, get the point. It's not good, and the kids feel lambasted by my angry outburst over the collection of their misdeeds.

Here are some other warning signs we're about to lose it:
  • Tight muscles
  • Sweating 
  • Speaking faster
  • Face feels flushed
  • Grind or clench teeth 
  • Heart pounds
  • Lips quiver when you speak
  • Tremble or shake

So what's a mom to do?

The educators at the Boys and Girls Town once came to our town to teach a parenting class called "Caring Skills for Christian Families". While their strategies work well to turn around troubled youth, they're also great for parents to employ in proactive or corrective teaching.

Here are a few of their suggestions.
  1. Develop a plan for staying calm by combining your child's problem behavior, your early warning signals, and a way to stay calm that works for you. For example: "The next time Johnny talks back to me and refuses to go to bed (child's problem behaviors), and I start feeling my heart pounding (my warning signal), I will take a deep breath and let it out slowly before I correct him (what I will do to stay calm). 
  2. "Take five." Instead of blurting out an angry response, take a break of five minutes for yourself. Simply leaving the situation for a bit can help to "defuse" a volatile situation. (The only problem with this, for me, is that children throwing tantrums usually follow me wherever I go, and I can't get the break I need when kids are crying and banging on the bathroom door).
  3. Focus on the behavior instead of what you think are the reasons for the misbehavior. Deal with the way your child is acting. After the child is calm, then take the time to talk about what happened and why. 
  4. Count to ten, very slowly.
  5. If you tend to wave your hands about when angry, intentionally put your hands in your pockets. This is less threatening to a child.
  6. Inhale and exhale deeply. It gets more oxygen to your brain, and you can think more clearly.
  7. Try sitting down.
  8. One parent suggests wearing a rubber band on the wrist and snapping it when one feels like she's getting angry. For her, it's a signal to calm down.
  9. I would add, pray. Remember, "The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phillipians 4:7).
The good news is that parents who've learned to stay calm report the following results:
  1. Temper tantrums or problem behaviors stopped sooner.
  2. The child's behavior id not last as long and was not as severe.
  3. The parent felt better about the way about the way he or she handled the situation.
We all face different circumstances in our parenting, and each of us must find a way that works best for us to remain calm. I love knowing we have a great helper to guide us in our journey. "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5).

What strategies have you found to stay calm? What are your biggest triggers that threaten you to lose that calmness?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Messy Monday: Implement a Routine

Awhile back, when I was really struggling with figuring out a workable plan to help my manage my home and family (not that I'm through that stage yet!), I came across a great tip on the former website Biblical Womanhood to plan a morning routine. Implementing that idea greatly helped to curb some of the chaos, or at the very least, to direct it, thereby making it feel more manageable.

Here's how it worked:

Every morning, think of three to five things that absolutely have to be done and list how you'll do them--in order.
While you can change your tasks daily, I have found it most helpful to allow these three to five items to remain consistent each day. That way, you don't have to think about them (after all, there's already enough to think about!); you just do them.

So for me, my routine morning items were:
  • Make breakfast
  • Clean up breakfast (table, dishes, sweep floor)
  • Have the kids get dressed if not already and make beds, brush teeth, comb hair
  • Throw in a load of laundry
I can't tell you how much it helped me to having this guiding direction. It helped me focus when things felt like they were spinning out of control, like when I discovered the boys dumped an entire bottle of Softsoap on the bathroom floor and were pouring water on it to "clean it up," since it kept sudsing as they tried to wipe it up. Tend to those unexpected interruptions, and then get back to the routine.

As it became more comfortable and routine, I added onto it a bit. Now, after laundry, on a good day, the boys will help with chores. On a bad day, they watch a PBS cartoon while I do a chore.

At 9AM, I aim to have our morning routine jobs completed and we head to the living room for Bible time. We listen to a fun Scripture memory song (my kids love this CD--20 Bible Verses Every Child Should Know), read the corresponding story, read a chapter in the Bible, go over AWANA verses, and then get on with our kindergarten lesson plans (usually my younger two head off to play).

Around 10:30, we take a break for a snack and some free time, and then I finish whatever else we need to work on, and we're usually done by lunch time. Although I didn't start out with scheduling times for my morning routine, as it has become more ingrained, I find the times naturally fall into place, give or take a few minutes.

If scheduling your day according to the clock seems to overwhelming, structured or rigid for you right now, I encourage you to try easing into a daily routine, starting with simply three to five things you can do this very morning.

You can read more, and see an old picture routine chart I made for the kids, here.

Menu Plan 10/24-10/31

I haven't posted a menu plan in awhile, but in the interest of helping fellow moms come up with new ideas, here is what we'll be cooking up this week.


Banana Bread
Beef Stew, whole wheat honey bread
Cranberry Chutney Pork Tenderloin (a Better Homes & Gardens recipe I want to try)
Sweet Potatoes
Normandy Vegetables

Breakfast Burritos
Tuna Salad Sandwiches, carrot & celery sticks
Pinto Beans (crockpot) over rice with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream, salsa, etc. (kind of like taco salad; you can also put them in tortillas); cornbread
Bean & cheese burritos
Penne Pasta (use pork sausage instead of ground beef, add cream cheese to spaghetti sauce and warm, add green and red pepper strips and cook until softened...yummy!).
Salad and breadsticks

Oven baked chicken
Baked Potatoes

(my baby's birthday!)
Triple Berry Blintzes (make crepes, fill with cottage cheese...warm slightly, top with warmed triple berry blend that you can add a little cornstarch to in order to make a syrup, add a dollop of whipped cream)
Birthday lunch (have to figure this one out yet)
Out to dinner

Pancakes, bacon, juice
Garlic Bread

Early Thanksgiving Dinner while my mom is here visiting
(brined turkey, sweet potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, apple pie, etc).

Visit to see more menu planning ideas for the week.

Other ideas to try out (either as backup or for next week):
Vinegar glossed chicken
Lentil vegetable soup
Sesame noodles with chinese celery salad

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Ups and Downs of Family Relationships

It's been busy in my neck of the woods. We've had family in town, and my mother is coming today. Sorry for not getting a Messy Monday post up yesterday. Today's post is not strictly about housekeeping per se, but about homemaking in general. It all starts in the attitude department.

We are homeschooling our oldest son in kindergarten this year. One of the joys of homeschooling is extra time during the day--time that would otherwise be spent in public or private school--to build close family relationships. One of the disadvantages of homeschooling is extra time to work on family relationships. Kidding aside, we all have varying tolerance levels for certain behaviors and attitudes, and the tolerance levels can vary from day to day and minute to minute.

While we chose our husband, most of us did not choose our children. Each child comes with his or her own unique personality, strengths and weaknesses. It is our job as parents to train and mold those little people into healthy and helpful adults. We teach them how to capitalize on their strengths and use them for good, and how to govern their weaknesses (like short-tempers, demanding things in a rude tone of voice, talking disrespectfully, hitting siblings when angry.) so they don't grow into disgraceful people. Some days we as moms have more patience and tolerance for the training, and some days we just don't.

Last week, I was having one such low-tolerance day. My son was not having a great attitude toward his school work (which, admittedly, is quite easy at the kindergarten level). So, fully aware that threatening is not a good parenting technique but quite flustered, I said to him, "Do I need to send you to real school so you can get an attitude adjustment and realize how good you have it to get to stay at home and learn?"

His response cracked me up. We live right next to a high school, so we witness students littering and coming off campus to smoke. My son thinks behaviors are deplorable.

Armed with this knowledge, he said, "Well, if you send me to real school, I'll...(pause) litter. (Longer pause) And [said with emphasis] smoke. And I'll never stop."

Hilarious! A five year old smoking. Can you just see the humor in it? I could. :)

Since that bad day last week, I have been reflecting quite a bit on how I can more effectively cope with all the behaviors and attitudes that drive me over the edge. I wish I could always respond calmly with a spirit of patient instruction, but I don't. I'm a mom in need of mercy, not a perfect mom. I'm so thankful that God is faithful to supply the grace and help we need in our mothering journeys.

One specific tip that has helped me is this: if we can't learn how to govern our own behavior, how can we expect our children to learn to govern theirs? So my challenge to myself (and to you) is--let's work on more effectively governing our own attitudes and actions, and then we can more calmly pass that training on.

I'll be blogging about this more in the coming days.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear how you deal with bad interpersonal days. What tips have you found to keep a positive family atmosphere?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


While recently flipping through my copy of Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss, I came across this question posed to other moms:

How does clutter and materialism affect your home?

I found some of the answers equally interesting. One mother said:

"I think it can be difficult to figure out what is essential and what isn't. It's true you can look at just about everything and find a purpose for it...but purpose doesn't equal necessity. In truth, I think having a lot of 'things' is a trick of Satan. Besides the whole materialistic aspect of it, there's the whole business of managing it all....Managing a lot of 'stuff' can keep us very busy (and very frustrated)."

Amen to that!

Here's another response for personal reflection:

"I'm trying to pray about it now that I recognize it as a moral issue. All I can think of is that the excess stuff in our house is a symptom of some bad habits of my family's. I am going to have to change some of my habits and ways of thinking before I can hope to make a real difference in the state of the house. I am going to be meditating on detachment and poverty of spirit. Perhaps the way to start would be to itemize what is really necessary as opposed to desirable. I know that when I am actually faced with something that is good and useful, but just not necessary, I have a hard time discarding it. Perhaps making a list of different categories--for example, clothing, bedding, curriculum, toys--and then figuring out what is the minimum we could get by with--would be a more positive way of approaching it."

The word "detachment" there struck a chord with me. I have been contemplating that thought (of being more detached to the items cluttering up my home). Sure, there are some special things that I believe it's completely ok to be attached to, but the bulk of items in my home are just that--bulk. In a previous post, I've shared that clothing is the category I am most likely to keep in excess. What that mom said in the first response is so true--the more we have, the more we have to manage, and the more stressful it becomes. It is very stressful for me to open one of my kids' drawers and not be able to put the laundry in neatly because the drawer is so crammed full. While I appreciate the hand-me-downs, the clearance finds and the thrift store treasures, we're at the point where it's simply too much.

When you reach your clutter breaking point, you're ready to do drastic things. Whereas part of me feels a tug to hang on to the extras to pass down to the next boy in line, the magnet is pulling more strongly toward bagging it up and dropping it off at the Salvation Army. Please don't think I'm saying donating extra stuff is drastic. But for me, the volume of what I will be culling will be drastic (at least for me).

Clutter management is, in some respects, subjective. We all have to find our tipping points. When we've gone over the edge, it's time to reevaluate and make some changes. Ruthlessly practice detachment will, I believe, result in a much lower stress-level (even if it's subconscious). Yet, detaching can be incredibly difficult, for a host of reasons--many of which are deeply personal and certainly worth praying over. I've found that for me, it boils down to trust in God's continued provision in my life. I've also come to realize that someone may have a need now for something I'm saving for later. Wouldn't it make more sense, if I'm truly trusting in the Lord, to let go of whatever it is, give it to someone who truly needs it, and then trust that my future need will be provided?

Related post:

The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Housekeepers

(Tip #4: They're ruthless when it comes to getting rid of stuff. Those who maintain consistently tidy homes would rather err on the side of getting rid of something that’s cluttering up space now—even if they have to buy it again later, instead of hanging onto it for that “maybe-someday” possibility later.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Make Breakfast Count, for Less

My almost two-year old and, to some extent, my three-year old aren't great eaters. (I mean, they are if we're talking about candy and sweets, but obviously they can't eat that all day.) They don't eat much at lunch, and my youngest hardly touches his dinner. Yes, it usually stresses me out a bit, but I have learned a survival strategy:

Make breakfast count.

You see, if my boys don't eat much at dinner, they will be starving in the morning. They will be so hungry that they will eat whatever is set before them with gladness. This is not the time to serve Lucky Charms or toaster strudels (we don't eat those anyway). Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, eggs and whole wheat toast, and other nourishing foods packed with vitamins, minerals and healthy calories.

Here are some other breakfast ideas that are healthy and filling and won't break the bank:

  • Whole-wheat pancakes or waffles
  • Crepes (you can even fill them with a bit of cottage cheese and top them with a triple berry blend, found in the freezer section this time of year)
  • Biscuits 
  • Granola
  • Eggs (scrambled, boiled, or fried) and toast with oranges or another fruit
  • Blueberry muffins, or this time of year, pumpkin
  • Baked oatmeal
  • Coco-Wheats (we like to put a spoonful of peanut butter in each bowl and swirl it in with extra milk...yum!)
  • Smoothies with yogurt and fruit, toast

My childhood piano teacher and her husband grew up in Germany and Switzerland, respectively. She served oatmeal to her children every single day. While every day may be a bit much, her children ate it without complaint (as far as I know), because 1) they were hungry, 2) it's all they knew, and 3) they probably developed a taste for it. 

If you struggle with picky eaters at your house, my best advice is to make breakfast really count. Serve healthy foods, and even if children complain a bit, hang in there. Especially if they didn't eat great at dinner, they will be hungry and they will eat what you have made them.

For more information on feeding small children, see my series here, here, here.

What are your favorite healthy breakfast ideas?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Limit Your Chores

Lux CP2428-59 Mechanical Classic Timer, White

Since I've started homeschooling my oldest son in kindergarten, we have established a pretty solid routine for our mornings, and it's working out well. After breakfast, we do chores for half an hour. One of the things that's helping me the most to stay on track time-wise is a handy wind-up kitchen timer.

There's an old saying that works expands to fill the time allotted to it. I find that to be so true in my own life. The other day, for example, one of our afternoon chores was to pick up the basement, which is also the play room. I was sure this job was going to take two hours, judging by how much of a mess it was. So of course, I was dreading the job. But instead, I grabbed my timer, set it for 15 minutes (thinking that surely I could handle it for 15 minutes), and we got to work. Since we were working against the timer, we all hurried. You know what? We got it fifteen minutes.

The timer challenges my assumptions that an undesirable job is going to take up a lot of time (and thereby put it off). Seeing that jobs take much less time than I previously thought builds confidence that the job is indeed doable (and therefore much more likely to get done!). If there is an unpleasant task you are facing today, I encourage you to set a timer, and get to work for a manageable number of minutes. Even if you don't finish it completely, you'll be further ahead than you would have been. But then again, you just might get that job done.

Have a great day!

(linked to Works for Me Wednesday)