My New Piece of Advice

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about the fam. It’s a combination of reasons, really. Three kids means not as much free time, a lot of my evenings are now spent editing photos, and frankly, motherhood has humbled me – all the advice that I once thought I had, well… in retrospect all seems a bit smug. I think I got a few things wrong.

The reality of parenting is that there are lots of great ideas on how to succeed. However, most of those great ideas forget that most days we’re just trying to survive. Trying to get through the daily grind and salvage some sanity and happiness in the midst of chaos.  While I don’t discount that helpful suggestions and well meaning advice do aid in the plight of parenthood, my sometimes one-size-fits-all approach was naive. “If you want to get your kids to sleep through the night, do this… “. “If you don’t want your kids to be picky eaters, do this…”. I’m here to tell you if your kid doesn’t want to sleep, she won’t. And if your kid doesn’t want to eat the broccoli, honey, she is not going to eat it. And if she does, you will both be a little worse for the wear. I think the worry about whether we’re doing it all just right is futile. I’ve parented my kids from most sides of the various parenting trends, and I’ve not a clue if any of those decisions will yield well-adjusted, Christ-like, productive members of society. And while that is my prayer for my children, I’m fairly confident that it won’t be because I breast fed or bottle fed, co-slept or let ’em cry-it-out, restricted screen time or allowed a free-for-all, fed them organic or indulged them with candy, spanked them or did time out. It’s as if I thought good works might get us to the parenting promised land. Not so, my friend.

So when a few years ago I’d sit down at my computer each evening and be excited to share my war stories, my triumphs – feeling certain that my insights were unique and maybe even influential and inspiring – the delusion has faded. I’ve gotten wiser. I’ve realized that not only do I truly have no idea what I’m doing, I’m no longer looking to myself for all the answers. I come home some days to one kid who was in trouble at school and is pitching a fit over homework, one kid who screams out “Mommy, mommy, mommy!” every few minutes and throws himself on the floor for attention, and one who is only happy when she’s eating snacks… and so I feed her snacks all the way up until dinner, and then shocker, she doesn’t eat dinner. They’re all screaming and running around and fighting and tattling and destroying the house and being disrespectful, and I think really, am I qualified to do this? Never mind give advice, can I even successfully raise my own kids??  Truth is none of us are qualified. Will I make it through this parenting journey? Yes. But will I act as though I’ve got all the answers? Nope – because I don’t.

Interestingly enough, though my tone may have told a different story, today was actually a really good day. All the kids surprised us with good attitudes and helpful spirits. We enjoyed each other’s company and there was minimal fighting. Homework was done without a complaint and the two littlest played contently outside. And so with kids in bed, and a little “me time” I felt like writing. Felt like sharing about my victory of a day and what lesson could be told. But as I thought about how I wanted to tell the story, how I wanted to boast about my awesome day, God laid a bit of humility on my heart. I was reminded that this perfect day was not of my own doing. I was a reminder that He is and always will be in control. And so while we can run ourselves ragged trying to be the perfect parents – of our own kids and of everyone else’s too – He does not call us to perfection. He calls us to be kind, to show grace, to treat others how we would want to be treated and most of all, to love.  To love our children and each other. I hope I always remember what it was like when I was told the “right” thing to do, but couldn’t muster the energy to execute… or it just didn’t sit right with my soul. I hope I remember my own feelings of unworthiness and failure, of judgement and hopelessness. I hope in moments where the urge comes to judge or see situations through my own narrow lens, I choose grace, compassion and humility. And so as I reflect on what I do know as a mom, the only piece of advice I feel qualified to give is this: seek the answers to parenthood through prayer, and honey, give yourself a break.

Getting back to normal

Dare I say it… but things are getting back to normal: Berkley finally likes people who aren’t named mommy, I get a few hours of “adult” time each evening, and [knock on wood] I’m even getting to sleep through the night again – well, sometimes.

Yep, I’m getting the hang of this mommy-of-three thing. I’m feeling like myself again. A better version of myself, actually. Excuse me while I start reciting clichés, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s true. I’m proof. In the last year, I’ve had to grow and pick up a few more life skills – how to control less, how to stress less and how to enjoy the little moments more. I’m Type A and so this was hard. Real hard. But I’m trying.

I’ve learned with three kids there’s not a lot that I really have control over. For the planner in me, this is terrifying. But I live in a world where there is 3 times the chance that some part of my “plan” is going to get uprooted. And there are 3 tiny humans with little to no self control who have their own agendas at work. With them there are two outcomes: behind door #1 there’s “I get what I want when I want it how it want it precisely” and behind door #2 is “tell me no and I will go batshitcrazy on you”. What I want is behind door #3 where “the children obey, don’t ask why and don’t throw themselves violently on the floor”. I hear one day we may get there, but honey, we ain’t there yet. So my point – I’ve learned to surrender to the fact I can’t plan for everything and the kids don’t give a crap about my plans anyways.

Stressing less means that when my kids do go batshitcrazy, I don’t care. Kick your legs like a maniac, go on. Throw your sippy cup across the room. I don’t care. Scream your head off in the grocery store – you’re still not getting that candy bar. And I don’t care what people think of my parenting either. See, I used to think there were some parents who had it all figured out. I thought that those “lucky” ones had cracked the code and were raising consistently obedient children that didn’t throw fits or talk back or require bed-sharing for 11 months. It’s a lie. There are no perfect parents and there are no perfect children. The third child has taught me that 50% of this parenting thing is a crap shoot. So am I apathetic? No. But do I stress about the fact that my child just screamed in public that I’m the poopiest mommy ever? Nope. And he still isn’t getting that candy bar.

Looking back, I don’t think I took enough time with my boys just enjoying them. I was wound up too tight. I couldn’t wait for them to start eating solids or sitting up or crawling or walking. I did a lot of time thinking about their next milestone and not enough cherishing their “now”. But with Berkley it’s been different. Perhaps it’s because she’s our last. Perhaps I’m smarter and know that she’s easier now than she will be at three. Whatever the reason, I have just cherished her little moments. And I’ve been being intentional about doing it with my boys now too. I’ve learned time goes by so fast and they’re not little forever.

For me, normal means I can exhale. It means I can enjoy our life. It means I’ve got energy to spare for my marriage and myself.  I’ve only gotten back to “normal” by surrendering, by reflecting on the craziness of the past year+ and by learning from my mistakes and doing better. Yes, my life is loud and chaotic, but there’s also a calm to it.  It’s contentment knowing that our family is complete. And it’s peace in knowing that God made me the mommy of these precious children.





Why my third baby turned me crazy

I made the assumption going in to my third pregnancy, that this third child would be easy, as if I had earned some advanced degree in babies, and this little one would just follow suit. I’m a pro at this, I thought. I’ve been through it all, I thought. Of course this baby will sleep through the night, I thought. But somehow over the last 7 months, I have lost my damn mind and forgotten everything I learned with my boys.

You see, we used to be on a schedule. There was a morning nap and and afternoon nap, and nothing, I mean nothing, would get in the way of those. And it worked. My little guys were well rested and generally happy babies. And I thought getting uninterrupted “me time” while the babies napped was the norm.

I used to have babies that slept through the night. Oh yes. From sometime in the 4th or 5th month, my little guys would sleep a solid 8, 9 or 10 hour stretch. And so I also slept long glorious stretches. And it was awesome.

I used to have babies that fell asleep on their own when you laid them down. It was easy – It was like magic. Lay baby down. Walk away. Poof!! Baby goes to sleep.

I used to have babies that slept in their crib… in their room. As soon as I went back to work both times we made the transition. They could have cared less. They went with the flow. I mean, that’s what a nursery with a crib is for right?

I used to have babies who would allow others to hold them. It was great. It’d go something like this: “Awe, can I hold the baby?” “Sure!” [I hand over baby, baby remains happy, happiness continues whether I stay in the room or walk away].

But now… Now I don’t even recognize that mom I used to be – the one who had this whole baby thing figured out. I almost wonder if I dreamt up my past baby experiences, because this time around it is not that easy.

You see, now there is no schedule. Ideally she’d take a nap, or two. But that doesn’t happen every day. If she does sleep, it’s in her bouncy seat, or in the car, or some other place where the poor kid’s exhaustion is greater than the level of craziness and noise that is constant with a three and five year old. And bedtime – that’s just as soon as we corral the boys to go to sleep… and I’ve finished the dishes… and picked up… and washed my face and put my PJ’s on. Oh wait! Her bedtime is my bedtime!

And sleeping through the night – ha ha ha. Wait a second, she’s done it… once. Which may even be crueler than me living in a world where I thought she was incapable of the feat. Ignorance would have been bliss. But nope, her MO is a wake up call for me every two to three hours. But it’s cool. 8 hours is super over-rated. Humans don’t need that much sleep – and plus I hear that waking up that much makes it easier to get up at 5:30 am to go to work.

And this one sort of falls asleep on her own. All she has to do is be in my arms… and nursing… and boom! She’s out. Until I move her… then we start over. Repeat two or three (or four) times. No big deal – I mean it’s almost the same, right?

Yes, Berkley has her own room. Yes, in that room there is a crib. No, she has never slept in either. That’s right, I have a 7-month-old with a beautiful nursery who has never caught one wink of sleep in it. Good thing me and a lot of my family members busted our tails to make sure it was ready before she was born! Good thing. Nope, this girl sleeps in our room. But she sleeps in her swing. Initially. Until she wakes up (which is anywhere between 5 minutes and 2 hours from when I place her in the swing – which no longer swings, for the record). Then she sleeps in our bed. I mean, a king sized bed was meant for three people right? I think deep down if we really cared to not share our bed, we’d have gone with the queen. Yep. And when she’s sleeping in our bed, all she wants is to be touching all night – tummy to tummy or cheek to cheek, that’s all. She wants to be able to run her (clammy) hands through my hair or caress (pinch) my face. It’s sweet actually. No, really it is.

And no, she doesn’t want anyone but me to hold her. And if I’m lucky enough to pass her off occasionally, I better run. She better not see me. Because as soon as I come into view, she remembers that I’m not holding her, and commence the water works and the pitiful “someone-must-be-pinching-me screams”. But then all I have to do is drop whatever I was trying to do without a baby in my arms, hold her and voila! She’s better.

You know, as I think more about it, she’s really an easy baby. All I’ve got to do is hold her or be within arms reach all day and night. That’s it. She’s happy. Never mind that I’m a wife, or mother to two others, or work a full time job outside the house, or have hobbies like laundry or dishes.

So how did I wind up here? I’ve thought about this a lot. Maybe she is just predispositioned to be a stage 5 clinger. Maybe. Maybe it’s because I know she’s my last and I feed into all her baby-ness and want her close all the time. Maybe I am so damn sleep deprived and exhausted that I am unwilling to do anything that in the short term may cause an inkling of further sleep deprivation or exhaustion (regardless of the potential future benefit), and so I live in the moment of make her stop crying now, please.

So what does the future hold? Are the mistakes I’m making today dooming me for tomorrow? Surely she won’t be like this forever (and if you know any two or three year olds still exhibiting these behaviors, please, please for the love of God, do not tell me – I’m living off hope right now). One thing I do know is that she won’t be a baby forever. One day, sooner than I would like, she won’t have those baby rolls or that baby smell. She won’t want to me hold her all the time or snuggle in bed. One thing my older boys have taught me is that kids grow up way too fast. Before I know it she’ll be grown, and I would give anything to have the sweetness of this stage again.

So as crazy as it may sound, I’m good with life right now. And while it may come as a shock to most (including my former self) that I am still a breast-feeding, co-sleeping, attachment-parenting kind of mom – I’m good. Sure a full nights’ sleep every now and then would probably do me good. However, I know one day I will sleep again. But another thing I’m certain of is that she will never, ever be this little again.


Advice for my kids – Because I want you to be happy, successful and decent adults

I’ve recently been thinking about the really important things I should teach my children – the values that will help them to (hopefully) grow into happy, successful and decent adults. It’s the things that aren’t always taught in a classroom – the things that I realize may be lost on some of the present generation. Through my various interactions with adults, it has become apparent that not everyone is taking snaps from the same playbook – some folks just don’t get it.  They don’t get how to be responsible and accountable and cordial. They don’t get the common sense component of how human beings should interact with each other. It’s unfortunate. But that’s one of the cool things about being a parent – getting the opportunity to help mold the little people you created into (hopefully) productive members of society. Now as with everything, part of this is a crapshoot… 1 plus 1 does not always equal 2 – just because you preach certain values doesn’t mean they’ll listen. But I have to believe that providing a foundation rooted in humility and goodness has to play some kind of role. So this is my list. These are the things that count in my book. It’s what I hope I am able to effectively teach my kids, and what I hope they apply when it matters.

  1. Admit mistakes – Period. No one expects perfection, but what they do expect is when you fall short, you fess up, take responsibility. Especially in the workplace. How you act when you royally screw up is one of the quickest way earn or lose respect. Just own it.
  2. You are in charge of your attitude – To pull from the famous Charles Swindoll quote, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Sometimes you can’t control the people and circumstance around you, but you can control how it impacts you. Your attitude is always within your control.
  3. Be genuine – Be you. Whether people like it or not. Don’t let your crowd dictate who you are. It’s okay to go against the grain. People will appreciate your honesty and respect you for it. True authenticity is rare.
  4. Don’t feel entitled – The world doesn’t owe you anything. You’re not entitled fairness or to live the life you think you should. Life isn’t fair. Hard work gets rewarded. Handouts are the easy way out.
  5. Think about other people’s feelings – Taking the extra time to consider the feelings of others will pay off in the long run. Empathy and compassion will build relationships and trust. In a world of people screaming “me, me, me,” showing consideration will set you apart.
  6. Be humble – Don’t ever get too big for your britches. Accept compliments graciously. Don’t boast – let your accomplishments speak for themselves.
  7. Show appreciation – When others make your life easier, be grateful – they didn’t have to. Showing gratitude builds others up. People who feel appreciated give back. Say thank you often and mean it.
  8. Don’t be petty – Don’t make a big deal over small stuff. Forgive quickly. Don’t make the insignificant things significant by giving it your energy.
  9. Be generous – With your time, with your stuff. Give favors easily because you never know when you’ll need one in return.
  10. Don’t expect anything in return – When you are generous, don’t do it with the intent of repayment – you will be disappointed frequently.  If you put enough good out there, it will come back to you, but maybe not in the way you expect.
  11. Don’t take things personally –Don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that people have ill intentions toward you. Although it’s easy to take other people’s words or actions to heart, often it’s not even about you. Being overly sensitive and insecure is unattractive. Your friends/family/colleagues don’t want to walk on eggshells, so don’t break at every criticism.
  12. Don’t feel sorry for yourself – Instead, focus on improving your situation. Self-pity is not productive. There is always a bright side. It might not be immediately apparent, but I promise you it’s there.
  13. Respect authority – Teachers, police officers, bosses, the President. Especially the President. It doesn’t matter if your political beliefs align with the person in office; it is patriotic to respect the President.
  14. Be accepting of others – We’re all different. Black or white, gay or straight, Christian or not, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, toilet paper over or under – we’re all human, all worthy of love. Spend more time looking for each other’s similarities. Don’t disparage those less fortunate than you.
  15. Don’t compare yourself to others – Life is not a competition. What others have is irrelevant to you. You don’t know their whole story. Measure your success against your own scale. You will never be truly happy if jealousy is your motivator. Make your own goals and go after them.

So that’s it – my two cents. Knowing it is the easy part. Living it and being an example for my kids is the hard part. Game on.

Advice to my kids

We’re making progress

A really rough day with Brogan earlier this week had me and Blake looking for some new tactics to handle our “spirited” child.  Blake found this article Parenting Your Strong Willed Child, and since it was pretty much the polar opposite of the approach we had been taking (which wasn’t working), we figured it was worth a try.

So here’s the first status update: we’re making progress. The last 5 days, have, for the most part, gone pretty smoothly. And it was within those 5 days that Brogan took a Sharpie marker to 20+ locations upstairs (walls, doors, furniture, sheets, door knobs…).

Sharpie collage

And how, you ask, is this going smoothly? The real answer is that it’s all about perspective. And attitude. Mostly attitude. And so what I’ve focused on this last week was controlling my reaction over Brogan’s behavior. Not ignore, but control. And control myself, not him. Stop myself from getting too angry. Stop myself from doling out ultimatums, absolutes and punishments that I don’t really believe in.  Address misbehavior and let him know what’s acceptable and what’s not, but not take any indiscretion too seriously. He’s three. We’re not talking felony offenses here. What I’ve found is that this approach does not stop the bad behavior. But, what it does stop is the escalation. Things don’t turn as bad as they were. So by changing what would be a 30 minute ordeal to a 5 minute conversation, it feels like things are much better. We’ve spent much less time being angry, throwing temper tantrums, and raising voices (both of us). But let me reiterate, this has not stopped the bad behavior. He still tests the limits, he still does not want to listen. He still gets into things he shouldn’t, and doesn’t want to take a bath. But how we’ve responded to it has changed – he gets choices. He doesn’t want to clean up. Fine. He can choose to clean up and get to play afterwards, or he can go on to bed. Up to him. He can choose to listen to instruction, or he can lose the toy he’s playing with. Again, up to him. Turns out he’s been making the right decisions. Good decisions lead to positive reinforcement, “You’ve been making good choices tonight, buddy!” which leaves him beaming and proud. And while sometimes those decisions are madebegrudgingly, he says the words – he makes the decision. Whoa.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong. It is totally counter-intuitive to the natural parental instinct. They misbehave = you punish. They don’t listen = you demand they do… right now.  And the louder you relay the message, the more they understand it (yeah right). But that’s what we think. That’s what we do.  And so here this child psychologist comes along and says “discipline through the relationship, never through punishment” and my first thought is, seriously?!?

But I have to say that it is liberating. Parents spend a lot of time doing what they think they should do. Well, he wrote all over my house with a Sharpie, of course he should be punished. But maybe not. Ever think about why we punish? We punish because we want them to stop the behavior. We want them to stop the behavior because we want to keep them safe and we don’t want it to lead to other bad behavior that would prevent them from being productive members of society one day. But what if punishment doesn’t stop the behavior… Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome?  So if you attempt punishment, the behavior doesn’t stop and no one walks away happy, why is it that we repeat over and over and over again? Crazy, right? Just to recalibrate, I’m not talking about doing away with punishment for all kids. Not at all. It works for some. And if you’re lucky, the threat of punishment is enough to deter behavior. But not my kid. No sir. Punishment has not been working for him.

So what are we doing when misbehaves? Expressing our disappointment. Our first real test was with the Sharpie incident. I got a call from Blake on Monday when he was home with the boys, and he, who was very heated, explained that Brogan had taken a Sharpie off of our bathroom counter (which had recently been taken out of Blake’s work shirt… good husband – no one likes markers in the laundry) and gone Michelangelo on the place. Blake was calling wondering what in the world  we do now. We needed to strategize. I calmly reminded him of the decision we’d made the night before to try this out and I hesitantly said, “I don’t think we punish him. Just talk to him – tell him how disappointed you are that he destroyed things that are really special to us.” And so that’s what he did. And when I got home, I did the same thing. You could tell Brogan was remorseful. He said, “I already said I was sorry,” and each time it was mentioned later that evening, he’d hang his head and say he didn’t want to talk about it. Since then, I have, unsolicited, been apologized to multiple times. Surprisingly, I think he got it.  And then I think, what would have been his reaction if we had punished? Would he still have been sorry? Maybe. But here’s another thing I’ve been thinking about punishment – when you give a punishment, a time out or a spanking, whatever, it’s almost like a transaction. They do wrong – you punish – the debt is paid – they are off the hook once the punishment is fulfilled. But when you don’t  “make them pay” it’s almost as if they still owe you something. And while I’m certain my three year old  cannot comprehend this on a conscious level, I do think something feels a little different to him about this incident.

Think you’re up for a change in your M.O.? Here are some of my takeaways…

1) Attitude – control your own… after all, that’s all you can really do

2) Change your perspective – perhaps punishment is not always the way to go… maybe there is another way

3) Choices – give them options (you can live with) when they aren’t doing as they are told… let them make the final call (and making no decision is a decision – but it gets to be the one you want)

4) Be on the same page as your spouse – make sure you’ve got an ally, someone to strategize with and remind you when you’re straying back to your old habits

5) It’s harder than you think – it tools more conscious effort to go this route, but the outcome is much less stress

And on the attitude front, I’m going to leave you all with one of my favorite quotes by Charles Swindoll

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a compay… a church… a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes”

Happy Brogan

What five years of marriage have taught me

Five years ago, it was a cool fall day in Georgia and I married the love of my life. Like many others, my marriage is not perfect – but I don’t expect it to be. It ebbs and flows but I am lucky that there are more good days than bad. I’m lucky to be in a healthy (again, not perfect) marriage where we respect each other (most of the time), love each other and most days, really like each other. This five-year milestone has got me thinking about all I’ve learned about love and marriage along the way; advice and perspectives that have made us work, and that if only I (we) could actually do day-in and day-out, would make us even better…

  • Marriage is 100/100.  I read a book soon after I got married called Love and Respect. It is an awesome book. One of my favorite pieces of advice from it is that marriage is not a 50/50 deal – it’s 100/100.  Because 50% only gets you to 100 if your partner is also giving their 50 at the same time you are… and how often does that really happen? But if you look at it differently, like your commitment to marriage means you give 100% to your spouse no matter what, the results can be amazing.
  • You can’t be selfish.  Learning to be truly unselfish can be a very difficult thing.  It is really hard in a “me, me, me” society to take you out of it and just do what’s right for your spouse.  Especially if they aren’t pulling their “100.” It’s easy to go down the path of, “well he’s not thinking about me in _____, so why should I think about him!” But this is dangerous. This will get you on the Crazy Cycle (also from Love and Respect).  I think to really make a marriage work you have to spend more time focusing on what your spouse needs or wants, and less about you. And you know what? An interesting thing may happen – your spouse may start to be less selfish too. Win-win.
  • Let the past be the past.  This one is hard too. But if you want to move forward with your relationship, you can’t be consumed with the past. You can’t bring it up every time you need it to win an argument/make a point/make he or she feel bad because you feel bad. And while I don’t always follow this one, my logical not in-the-moment brain thinks that you have to look at issues in the past in this way: is it a deal-breaker? If it is not, you move on. If it is, well, then that’s a whole ‘nother story. It’s like the ole adage, “shit or get off the pot.” And by the way, when was the last time bringing up the past actually helped you win an argument??  It usually doesn’t. It usually puts the other person on the defensive and closed off to work things out. So leave the past in the past and focus on the future.
  • Be on the same team.  This one is particularly hard for me. Blake and I are naturally competitive – and in particular, we compete with each other. We try to one-up, prove each other wrong (for the sake of each of us being right), and sometimes we will disagree just because.  But when we get going down this path, we have to recalibrate and realize we are on the same team. This is easy on the big stuff – we’re each other’s cheerleaders when it comes to careers, passions, etc. – but it’s the little stuff that has us fighting like brother and sister (okay, maybe that’s a little weird, but it’s really that type of rivalry).  So when we can step back, be less selfish and less worried about always winning (individually) and realize we are on the same team, it can make a world of difference.
  • Speak kindly to each other. When you’ve been married/together for a long time, sometimes the niceties go out the window. You’re comfortable, and therefore you say whatever is on your mind with little regard to your spouse’s feelings. I caught myself doing this more often than I’d like to admit and so I started asking myself the question, would I talk like this to one of my co-workers?  And often the answer was no. And it made me wonder, why is it that I take the energy to be polite and appreciative at work, but at home, I don’t show the same respect for my husband? I don’t know the answer, but I’ve tried to use this question as the litmus for how to speak to the hubs.  It really can be quite baffling how the person who means the most to you in the world sometimes gets the worst of you just because we get lazy and inconsiderate.
  • Make each other a priority.  Make the time for each other, even when there isn’t much time. Think of all the other things you’d sacrifice for, and then do a little sacrificing for your spouse. Because if the job needed you to work late, you’d do it, and if the kids needed you for something, you’d be there. But sometimes the needs of a spouse can be silent, and so it’s easy to put them on the backburner while you give all of your attention to the other squeaking wheels in your life.  So go on dates, buy each other gifts, take trips (with no kids), and maybe let the dishes sit every once in a while.  Think about what’s most important in your life and adjust your energy accordingly.
  • Respect.  So Love and Respect focuses on a husband’s need for respect. I don’t disagree, but I really think that respect goes both ways. And while for a man, it may be their main source of happiness and validation, I think when it’s a two way street it flows easier both ways.  Respect in a marriage is as important with the little things as it is with the big things. It’s important to respect each other’s ideas (big and small), each other’s passions (career, family, personal goals), each other’s quirks (love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re here to stay) and each other’s faults. Especially the faults. When you build people up it will come back 10-fold. Because when you feel appreciated and understood, your natural reaction is to reward the person who made you feel that way. It’s a chain reaction that can go on and on.
  • You can’t change your spouse.  It’s cliché, I know. But sometimes a cliché got to be a cliché because it’s true. This, to me, is one of the hardest things about marriage.  If you didn’t discover this before you said “I do”, you will likely learn within at least the first five years of your marriage that your spouse is not perfect.  Well crap. What do you do now? Nothing. You live with it. You respect it. You don’t try to change them. If this imperfection is not a deal-breaker, that’s really all you can do.  You have to realize that you really only have control over you. And so all you can do is change your way of thinking about your partner’s imperfections. And maybe they will feel loved and supported and want to make a change themselves; or maybe they won’t. The outcome is actually irrelevant.

And there’s my two cents. I know it, but I don’t follow it all the time. My husband is going to read this and think, man, can the lady that wrote this please be my wife?? Well babe, I’ll keep trying.  It’s easy in theory and hard in practice.  It’s marriage – one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And like parenting, there is no owner’s manual. We are all imperfect beings, most of us trying to be the best spouses we can be. And most of us will fail miserably at times. But the important thing is that we keep trying; that we never give up. A marriage is what you make of it; your happiness is relative to your effort and your expectations. Get both of these in check and in my opinion, things will be just fine.

And so I hope in my next five (or fifty) years of marriage that I will continue to learn lessons and keep trying to improve. I want to be less of a nag and be more supportive. I want to be a good example of a loving marriage to my kids. I want to not be lazy. I want to be more in love each and every day. I’m up for the challenge.

Wedding day

I love you babe – happy anniversary.

How to Be a Happy Parent

Parenting is hard and it’s easy to find yourself stuck in a rut with all the damn dailies.  But I believe that happiness is relative to your expectations.  We all have this romanticized idea of what parenting will be like before we have kids… and then we have them and realize some if it’s not so glamorous.  Managing your expectations and keeping perspective is key to finding all the joy that parenting has to offer. Juggling your children, your marriage, a job (perhaps), and the stresses from the outside world (strangers, other parents, the media, the “experts”) can be downright stressful.  Hey, no pressure, you’re only doing the most important job in the whole wide world and raising another human being!  Below are my 15 keys to being a happy parent:

1.)       Have realistic expectations – If you expect that parenting is going to be awesome every day, that your kids will always listen and that you’ll always know what to do, be ready for some serious disappointment.  Instead, modify those expectation, account for the hard days and when they happen they will be much easier to handle.

2.)       Focus on the end goal – Isn’t our goal in raising children to develop independent adults who are productive members of society?  So when some days all you can muster is the energy to clothe them, feed them and get them off to school, remember you are working toward your goal! And when they are stubborn and strong-willed and want to do it all themselves, think of it as a preview to the independence you one day want them to have.

3.)       You don’t have to be perfect at everything – Every parent has their “parenting gift”. Whether it’s keeping calm, discipline, dinner, homework, birthday parties, snacks, fun-filled activities or communicating with their children, all parents have some part of this job where they excel.  But no one, let me repeat, no one is perfect at it all.  Attempting to be is a futile effort.  So figure out which part you’re great at and be at peace with the fact that you won’t be perfecting all the others.

4.)       Don’t compare yourself to other parents – Just because other parents do it doesn’t mean you should too! Sound familiar?  What works for one family doesn’t necessarily work for another, so don’t even try to compare.  We’re all different parents and we all have different kids, so comparing your adequacies next to another parent just doesn’t make sense. Own your own parenting skills!

5.)       Do the best that you can – At the end of the day, this is really all we can do.  So if you can finish each day knowing that you did the best you can, then who cares what craziness took place? Who cares if you got dirty looks from the bystanders at the grocery store for your screaming kids? Be the best parent you can be and don’t worry about the rest.

6.)       Factor in some failures – If we can all go into this parenting job knowing that we’re going to fail miserably at times, it really just takes some pressure off.  I’m not suggesting we lower our standards, but let’s be real, it’s not like this is all within our control anyways.  Think of failures as learning opportunities for you and your kids, and try to make the best of them. They will happen, so it’s up to you how you react.

7.)       You won’t always make the right decisions – There is no crystal ball with kids. You can’t tell if the punishment you dole out is going crack their code or send them into a tailspin.  There are so many decisions in parenting – public, private or homeschool? How much screen time? Finish your plate or not? Stay at home or work? Their friends… their extracurricular activities… their bedtime… It is impossible to get all this right.  And even if you make the “right” decisions, it probably still isn’t “right” for all of your kids. So what to do?  Look back to #5 and pray.

8.)       This too shall pass – Every parent goes through a phase (or two, or three) with their kids that seems impossible to overcome. Not sleeping through the night, wetting the bed, separation anxiety, temper tantrums, etc., etc. To keep your sanity, just remember, this too shall pass.  These times are fleeting.  Not only will the not-so-desirable phases not last forever, but before we know it our kids will be grown and we’ll probably miss it.

9.)       Maintain your own identity – Don’t forget about you.  Make sure you have an outlet, something that makes you happy. Whether it’s a job or a hobby or an hour of solitude to just think (or sleep), just do it. Making time for you will make you a better and happier parent.

10.)   Don’t let the kids overrun your marriage – Make time for your spouse. Go on dates. Take trips.  Buy each other gifts.  Talk about something other than the kids. Make each other a priority. Don’t blame the kids for why you can’t be a good spouse (“I’m too tired…”).  Remember that one of the most important things you can do for your kids is to keep your marriage strong, so don’t let your marriage come second to your kids.

11.)   Don’t impose your dreams on your kids – It’s only natural to have dreams for your kids… just don’t be so caught up on those dreams that your kids not fulfilling them brings disappointment to you. Give them opportunities to pursue whatever dreams they have and take your expectations out if it.

12.)   It’s okay to be like your parents – One day you will probably find yourself acting just like your parents.  Don’t fight it.  You turned out awesome, right?

13.)   Find someone to clean your house – Now I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but if you can make sacrifices to make this happen, do it. However, be warned, once you start, it will be hard to ever stop. It is shocking how much stress is removed from your life when you don’t have to spend your weekends cleaning.  The extra time with your kids is simply priceless. This one will really, really keep a parent happy.

14.)   When all else fails, have a dance party – Everything going wrong? Kids in a crappy mood? Dinner was burned? It’s nothing that turning up some music and dancing like a fool with your children can’t solve.

15.)   Avoid taking your kids out in public – No, just kidding. I couldn’t resist. Although, it is tempting sometimes :).

Happy Momma

Making Great Sleepers

My boys are not model children.  They don’t always listen, Brogan talks back, they throw fits, they scream, they hit… but, they sleep.  Hallelujah, they sleep!  We have gone through fits and starts with the sleeping, but overall, they have been very good sleepers.  They were both sleeping through the night around three or four months.  Brogan took two long naps a day until he was 2 ½.  And the biggest thing for me is that they go to sleep on their own.  As with most things, Brogan was better with this than Beckett – probably because we had the time to follow all of our own rules.

I think there are a couple of contributing factors that have made them good sleepers.  For Brogan, the first thing (that we can’t take any credit for) is that he is so active he wears himself slap out.  He plays hard, he sleeps hard.  But aside from that lucky draw, we have made a concerted effort to make them good sleepers.  Here is what we’ve done:

Routine – I have always been big on a routine – sometimes to a fault.  The boys have got to have their naps, and they have to get to bed at a reasonable time.  I try not to let them get over-tired.  When it’s nap time, they go down – whether they seem tired or not.  Sometimes it takes a while for them to go to sleep, but they usually do (let’s call it a 95% success rate).  I can’t speak for others, but my kids can be miserable when they skip a nap – so we stick to a routine as well as we can.

Cry It Out – I know, I know, this is hard.  I know some people don’t believe in it, and I respect that, but I truly believe this was critical to creating good sleepers.  We first let Brogan cry it out at 9 months.  It was the day when we realized he was manipulating us.  Until then, we’d put him down, he’d cry.  We’d go get him, give him more bottle, try to rock him and put him back to bed.  We’d repeat until he wore himself out and went to sleep. Then one night, he was screaming harder than normal and when we walked into his room he looked at us, smiled and started laughing.  We realized we had fallen for his trick.  He was perfectly fine, he had just realized that if he cried, we’d come running, and so he did it over and over and over.  Brogan – 1, mom and dad – 0.  So we decided we’d let him cry it out.  It sucked.  I’d sit outside his room listening to him cry, looking at the clock wondering how long I should let him go for before I “rescued” him.  That first night, Blake caved first and after 15 minutes, he went in.  The next night, after a pep-talk, we decided we were going for it, no matter how long the crying went on.  And so he made us really work for it – 45 minutes.  It was awful.  I cried.  I felt like I was letting my little guy down and I worried if he’d ever forgive me.  But he did. The next morning was all smiles and laughs, as if the trauma of the night before had never happened.  We were all-in for that night too – and he only screamed for 15 minutes.  And then a funny thing happened, he never cried himself to sleep again.  That was it.  He was trained.  With Beckett, it was not as hard to let him cry himself to sleep (I think with the second kid you’re desensitized to a lot).  He didn’t quit the screaming as instantly as Brogan, but we still don’t give in (anymore – more on that below).  Some nights he cries for 10 minutes, and some night it’s only a moment.

Don’t Say Night-Night – Blake and I had a strict rule that you don’t talk about going to sleep until it’s actually time to go. This meant you can’t say night-night until you really mean it.  I know this sounds strange, but here is the logic.  We could tell that if you gave Brogan an inch, he would take a mile, so we decided that going to sleep was important and there would be no negotiation about it.  So by eliminating any discussion on the topic, it eliminated the opportunity to fight it.  We’d go through our bedtime routine and then we’d say, “It’s time to go night-night” and scoop him up and take him straight to bed – immediately.  He learned that once he heard those words, that was it, it was bedtime.  We’d lay him in bed, give him hugs and kisses and close the door.  This worked until we started potty training, and then “I have to potty” was an excuse that got him out of bed more than I’d like.  Sometimes now, he doesn’t go straight to sleep, but he stays in his room.  Sometimes he sneaks out of his bed and grabs a book – sometimes he finds gloves and other random pieces of clothing and puts those on – but he stays in his room, which means come around 8 o’clock, I get a break.

No Sleeping in Our Bed – So before I even get into this one, I have to admit that we broke this rule with Beckett, and it reinforced the importance of this rule!  We were his prisoners for about 3 months.  It started with traveling for the holidays and he didn’t like the pack-in-play.  Then he got sick and was really congested.  And then he was teething.  We used all these excuses to justify why he was sleeping in bed with us.  It was awful– even though he was sleeping, we weren’t.  What it boiled down to was that once he got used to sleeping with us, he would scream bloody murder when we put him in his crib.  He would get so upset that he would throw up.  So the bottom line is just don’t do it.  If you never start, you’ll never have to stop.

I think sleep is critical to keep happy mommies and daddies – and happy husbands and wives.  It keeps the kids happy too.  So even though I wake up at 5am on the weekdays, and 6:30am on the weekends, I get a couple of hours of me-time in the evenings, and I get to sleep the whole night through.  It’s was not easy to get here, but the prize was sure worth the fight!

Brogan sleeping

Bringing Home a Little Brother

When I found out I was pregnant with my second, I immediately started thinking about how it would impact my first.  Little did he know that his whole world was going to be changing.  I worried mostly about how he’d react without all the attention.  With my world so full of him, I wondered how two would fit and where the sacrifices would be made.  So my husband and I tried to be very deliberate about the choices we made when it came to introducing Beckett into our home.

The first thing we had to tackle was the new nursery – Beckett was going to use the same crib and furniture as Brogan (which Brogan was currently using).  We worried about Brogan feeling like the new baby was taking his “stuff” (especially the crib) so we opted to move him into a toddler bed at 20 months (4 months before Beckett’s arrival). The hope was that those 4 months would be enough time to unattach him from his crib.  It was – Brogan never once referred to the crib has “his”.  He was proud of his new big boy bed, and was also excited about Beckett’s new room.

We decided to make Brogan a book that would explain the transition.  We knew there were books out there, but we wanted one that he could identify with, that spelled out exactly what was going to happen to him and that showed pictures of people he knew.  I made it in Word, used clipart and pictures of his family, and even bound it with my binding machine at work.  It went through his new role of big brother, that mommy and daddy were going to the hospital to have his brother, that his Gigi was coming to stay with him while mommy and daddy were in the hospital, and what it would be like with a new baby in the house (crying, mommy holding him a lot, things he could help with).  We emphasized what Brogan was getting out of the deal – a new brother and a best friend.  We really wanted their relationship to get off on the right foot!

When we got home from the hospital with Beckett, Blake took Brogan out to buy Beckett a gift.  We let him pick it out – anything (within reason) that he wanted his brother to have.  We also gave Brogan a gift from Beckett.  Brogan was so proud to have given his brother a present (I think this was more impactful than the gift Beckett got him!) It was really neat watching him puff up with pride showing off the present that he got his new brother!

Welcoming Beckett into the family was a much smoother transition that we had anticipated.  When Brogan was jealous, it was only short-lived and didn’t seem to temper his feelings toward his brother.  Who knows if anything we did in preparation worked, if it was just Brogan’s nature, or if we simply got lucky, but I’m proud to say that they seem to actually like each other!  Brogan has a pretty big personality and is always seeking the limelight.  We worried about this need to be noticed, but didn’t consider that in the end, he would make sure he was noticed!  So if too much attention was paid to the baby, Brogan would pick up his guitar and sing a song, problem solved!

While I’m not so naïve to think they will always get along, I’m praying that this liking each other thing will last at least a little while longer.

The other day in the car…

Brogan: Mommy, I don’t love you anymore.  I don’t love you, or daddy or Beckett. I just love myself.

[silence as I was thinking through how to respond – not the first time I had heard this one]

Brogan: Mommy, I changed my mind, I only love myself and Beckett.

Brogan holding Beckett