The Lost Art of Chill

You know that part in the movie The Alamo when Davey Crockett, as played by Billy  Bob Thornton, looks at the screen and says he is a screamer?  Well, I have a confession, I am a screamer too.  Honestly I am just a loud person in general. If I am happy I squeal with delight.  I laugh with my mouth wide open and my head thrown back.  I don’t cry, I sob.  So it would make sense that my loudness would carry over to when I am angry or upset.  Thankfully I am rarely genuinely upset and am very slow to anger, but once you get me going…

There was never rage or violence in my voice, just lots and lots of volume and frustration.  Due to that I had never really thought about the effect this had on the people around me until I started seeing myself reflected back to me through my children.  I would watch them scream a fit when they would get angry and to my embarrassment it took several years before I finally stopped asking the question “Where do they get this from?” and started taking responsibility for what I had inadvertently taught my children to do.

Once I realized that we had a problem I started a personal self improvement program that would help me police my response to anger. Below I will share with you all some of the steps I have taken and found effective.  Along the way I will share some songs that I find particularly helpful in my journey of learning the lost art of chill.

Xavier Rudd – Messages
1. Record yourself.  Ask your husband, your older children, your best friend, whoever you are around a lot and you feel free to be yourself around, to quietly record you on their phone or other handy device the next time you go on a big giant rip over something stupid.  Play back this tape to yourself until you can accept that yes that really is what you sound like.  This will probably be the single most effective step you take.
Zee Avi – Just You & Me
2. It’s true what they say old habits die hard.  So give your loved ones the tools to help you.  Explain to your children what you are trying to do and let them know that there are going to be days when you just forget.  If they are old enough now would be a great time to explain to them what a habit is.  Ask for their help in helping you remember that screaming when you are upset is not ok for them and so it is not ok for you either.
Now let’s be honest here, kids looove an opportunity to tell parents what to do and if given a chance they can and will go overboard.  In comes the code word.  Pick a word or words for your family that will be an immediate trigger in your brain that you are slipping into melt down mode and that you need to chill.  For our family it is “I’m Watching” feel free to use it but honestly it does work best if it is something personal to your family and situation.  Oh and please do caution your loved ones that over use of the code word will ruin its effectiveness.
Ingrid Michaelson – You and I
3.  Find ways for you to chill when you’re getting to your boiling point.  A few things that worked well for me was to first learn to become more aware of when you are merely a little hot under the collar vs. steaming mad.  This will take practice and time.  Once that is identified fall back on your list of chill.  Don’t have one of those?  Well of course not, at least not yet. But number 4 is going to help you with that.
Awolnation – All I Need
4. Make your personal list of chill and keep it on you at all times.  If you think it will help print off copies and place them in strategic places in your environment.  The dashboard of your car.  The inside of your kids closet for when you are searching for that missing shoe. Next to the computer.  Wherever you feel you are going to need it most.  Remember yours is going to be different from mine, it needs to be the things that calm YOU down. Below is my list to be used as a point of reference.
  • Look at your child and remember they are the one and only them and you only get one shot at raising them.  In life there are no re-do’s!
  • Listen to your chill album.
  • Change the environment.  Go outside, different room, stand on your head.
  • Ask yourself why you are angry.  Are you being selfish or lazy?  Is this a real problem or just annoying?
  • Remember that you do not get to pick your child’s memories.  At any moment you may be making a permanent lasting impression.
  • If you have already screamed remember it is ok to apologize and then explain why you are angry.
  • Is there a way to take a break from this situation?  Then do it.
  • You have permission to be angry or upset, you do not have permission to blow your top.
  • If it is not a real problem then LET IT GO and go do something fun with them instead.
Yael Naim – New Soul
5. What is a chill album?  So glad you asked.  For me music can have a very soothing effect.  If the same is true for you then make a play list of songs that can almost instantly put you in a good mood.  Your list should change around as often as your current favorites change.  I have a few tried and trues that stick around but for the most part there are usually at least one or two new songs that get switched out with older ones monthly.  The songs I have been sharing in this post are from my current chill album play list.
Middle Class Rut – New Low
(Video not appropriate for young children)
Need more?
  • Try forming a new habit, this time a good one, of daily meditation or prayer.
  • Are you a stay at home mom? Get outside, yes, every day.  Even if it is only to check the mail, just take a moment to notice the clouds or the scent of freshly mown grass.  Anything to connect you to a larger world than just the one inside your own four walls.
  • Find a hobby that relaxes you, practice it as often as possible.
  • Give yourself permission to get a babysitter and go out for a few hours.  I personally have a very short list of people willing to watch my 7 children for me, I think the sheer numbers scare them.  Even so it can be done if you are determined.  I usually average about 2 times a month sans kids, which is arguably not much but certainly better than never.
  • Print out photos of yourself during happy moments with your loved ones, real moments during your life not from a photo shoot.  Frame them around your house with little reminders stenciled on the glass or frame.  Remember this moment.  Happiness is a choice.  Make your days worth remembering.  Don’t have any of those type of photos?  Then take them as soon as possible.  Your children deserve to have a lasting physical memory of you with them during their childhood.

My three-year old daughter, Elizabeth. She is also a screamer by nature.

Michael Franti & Spearhead – The Sound of Sunshine
In closing I would like to address something very important.  Failing to have ever learned proper anger management is a very common problem and nothing to be ashamed of.  Something else that is very common and nothing to be ashamed of is a mental health condition.  I have dear loved ones and very close friends that have various mental illnesses.  That does not make them a bad person, or me a better person.  It does not make them weak, nor does it mean they love their children any less than I do mine.  If you suspect that your anger may be something beyond your control please seek help.  I have watched lovely human beings crumble to near collapse only to rise like a phoenix with proper medication and therapy.  You have a right to be happy and your children have a right to see you that way.
One of my sisters is schizophrenic and I love her very much.  I wish every day that we would have known to get her help sooner before her life was nearly destroyed.  Please, if you need help reach out and get it.
You do not have to suffer needlessly.
1-800-950-NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill helpline)
*This post was originally posted by Sasha on her private blog One Rich Mother as part of a Mindful Mama Blog Carnival hosted by the every peaceful and inspiring Zoie that writes the blog TouchstoneZ.

When a Headache Is Not Just a Headache

Sometimes you fail your children.  Sometimes you fail your children so completely that your not really sure you will ever forgive yourself or that you should be forgiven.  My oldest had been complaining about headaches when she would read or play video games for a long time.  She would tell me that her vision would suddenly blur for no real reason and that a scorching headache would follow. So I took her to our local optometrist for an eye exam.  During the examination I was told that she had seen some swelling in her optical nerves and that although it could just be a variation of normal we should take her to an ophthalmologist just to be sure and she made an apointment for her.

This is where I failed my daughter, we didn’t go.  I did not take my daughter.  I just blew it off.

Several months later I took her back because she had lost her glasses and we needed a new pair.  During the examination the optometrist once again commented about the swollen optical nerves and asked what the ophthalmologist had said about it.  “ummm, we didn’t go…”  She then asked if I would like for her to make another appointment for us.  “Well do you really think it is important?  You said it could just be the way her optical nerves are made.  We really have a lot going on…”  She told us that yes, she would really advise we go, that yes more than likely it was nothing but just to be on the safe side we should go and then she made another appointment.  When the time rolled around the babysitter  for the other children had something come up and couldn’t come so I called and rescheduled her appointment.  The next available appointment was in 3 months.

I took the much later appointment and never once worried about it.

On the day of the appointment  I shuffled some things around and on the way to the appointment thought of the 100 other things I would do after getting home from this “totally unnecessary”  consultation.  I told the sitter we would be back in an hour or two and complained about how doctors are always wanting to run all these expensive tests and that was what was wrong with our medical care in this country.  Waiting in the office my daughter and I sat and flipped through magazines and joked about all those little unimportant things that run through your mind when you have no idea that a real danger is just on the other side of the door.  Or lurking inside, unseen to your mother and beyond her imagination when you tell her you have a headache. 

After all the testing was said and done the news was not good.  Mazzy’s optical nerves are not just a little larger than normal, they are severely and alarmingly swollen.  All around the nice round space that would be a normal image of an optical nerve is the bright white blur with streaks running to the outer corners that is the evidence, undeniable evidence, of excess spinal fluid.                                                                   

It is thought that Mazzy has something called pseudotumor cerebri a condition that mimics a brain tumor and causes intracranial pressure for no obvious reason.  The result, if not gotten under control, is blindness.  Permanent, forever blindness.  That is what I had been playing around with, that is what I risked for my daughter for the sake of convenience and an absurd belief that somehow there could not be anything wrong with her.  Just headaches from not wearing her glasses.  Just a belly ache from eating too fast, or the wrong foods.  Just occasional vision blurs from eye strain after reading too much in poor light.  Just fine, nothing bad going to happen here, move along.  Only this time I had been wrong, so very wrong, and it cost my daughter.

We are scheduled for an appointment with a neurologist for the 4th of May but her medical team is working to try and get her in sooner.  I carry the phone around the house with me everywhere I go and every time it rings my heart leaps, maybe they are calling to say that they have worked her in.  Maybe, in the end, it will not be too late after all.  We have talked about the fact that a lumbar puncture will be a possibility to rid her of some of the excess fluid.  We have talked about how in most cases this can be treated with medication.  We don’t talk about what happens if medication alone doesn’t work.  We don’t talk about how much more seriously I should have taken her headaches…

Over the next few weeks I ask that you please keep my daughter in your thoughts and prayers as she goes through her treatments and travels the path of recovery.  Also I hope that you share this information with anyone that has a teen daughter that has been complaining of headaches, especially if she is overweight, as statistically that is the group that this condition most often compromises.  Usually a headache is just a headache, but sometimes, sometimes it is not.

Q&A: How Do You Find Time For Yourself?

This is a very common question!  Here’s what the GMoMs have to say about it…

~ Sasha ~

For many years I didn’t.  As the years have worn on I started to feel a very real sense of “losing myself”.  When I was younger, I was very involved in the arts and drama community, and slowly over the course of parenthood I started to lose that part of myself.  I also had always read a great deal, and I think it was when our 3rd child was around 4 years old I realized it had been years since I had last read a book that was not child or homeschool related or painted/sculpt anything, let alone do anything outside of puppet shows for my children that resembled acting.  I think that was the first time I started carving time out for myself.  I started giving myself permission to “waste” time and read a book again just for the pleasure of it or watch a play and occasionally paint/sculpt again.  The past couple of years I really started working at carving in a little me time again.  I had a long talk with my husband and explained how I was feeling and we both agreed that a changes needed to be made.  Now I get out at least once a week while my husband watches the children, but even at home I have made lifestyle changes that allow me to be alone more.  Although I find parenting greatly rewarding, I now will either wake early or go to bed late to make sure I find time for other things in my life that I also find rewarding.  I find that with a little time here and there to pursue the things that interest me outside of homemaking and parenting makes me appreciate and enjoy my time with my family more, and makes me over all not only a happier parent, but a more interesting one.

~ Nic ~

Time to myself? What’s that? LOL Just kidding… I suppose I do find time for myself but with so many children and such varying ages, I typically always have at least one child with me. When the littles are in bed, I like to sit and chat with my hubby ALONE for an hour or so before I lay down for the night. I tend to get out more when I don’t have a nursling, which has been rather infrequent the past 5 years, but generally I’m okay with that. I’ve always thought little ones are really only little once, it goes by so quickly, so I’d rather enjoy it when they are and find that extra me time when they are bigger, all while realizing I definitely have needs, too.  I know my answer isn’t for everybody, and there are many women out there that crave more me time, and that’s fine too! Whatever works, stick with it and find a balance. 🙂

~ Michelle ~

I have had to make this a top priority, because my sanity suffers otherwise.  I homeschool my children so I don’t have a ton of breaks.  At the moment, my regular me-time routine includes a weekly visit to grandma.  We are fortunate to live just a few miles from my in-laws.  They take the children for 3 hours every Thursday.  During that time, I allow myself to do whatever I want, but only if it’s not something I could easily do with children around, or that my husband would normally assist with (e.g. I do not use this time to go grocery shopping ;)).  I usually end up sewing or writing, but I could potentially take a nap (although naps usually leave me discombobulated and I try to avoid them unless I am just severely pooped), and I have even used alone time to clean in the past!  By adhering to these rules I have made for myself, I am able to enjoy a short but sweet window of time just for me, and since it’s weekly, I look forward to it; it keeps me going!

Something that I believe is extremely important for mothers to do is to keep self-care at the top of the priority list.  Remember the oxygen mask theory, and the saying “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  It is too true!  And it is vital that the partner (and/or other family or friends) is on board and willing to facilitate breaks.  Other little things I am able to do for myself (with my husband’s support) is shower alone, lock myself in the rec room with snacks, knitting, and TV some evenings (leaving bedtime to Daddy), and sometimes lock myself in my bathroom and paint my nails or so some kind of spa-ish treatment.  I always feel much better afterward.

I also have a few outside commitments that are just for me.  I am part of a NonViolent Communication (a.k.a. compassionate communication) study group that meets every other Monday, where I go and sit and talk with some other mamas about what is going on in our lives and how we can use NVC to work through it (I have repeatedly referred to is as group therapy!  hahaha).  And I sing in our church’s choir, so I have rehearsal every Thursday evening.  After choir practice, a friend (and fellow choir member) of mine and I almost always go out for coffee and sit and talk for a few hours.  I guess you could say that Thursday is my recharge day!  This kind of thing is relatively new, as my nurslings typically won’t go with a sitter (even grandma) until well after their first birthdays.  But I find that before that age, the babies aren’t into mischief enough for me to need too much time away; a break from the older children is sufficient (especially because I can nap with the baby when they are not around!), other than having Daddy do some baby care when he’s home.


How do YOU find time for yourself?

Watching Your Flowers Bloom: Unschooling & Child Development

[Disclaimer: these musings and theories are not one-size-fits-all, particularly when there are special needs involved!]

One significant thing that has evolved on my parenting journey is the way I view learning, in its broadest definition.  It occurred to me recently, as I have noticed a pattern in the advice that I dole out to other parents, that I incorporate unschooling philosophies into our lives more than I realized.  Now, we are not Radical Unschoolers.  Far from it, really.  I strictly limit screen time, screen content, and junk food, and I insist on personal hygiene, good manners, safety rules, and a decent night’s sleep.  (Wow, I sound really strict!  But really I’m not; in fact, my children are currently parked in front of PBS Kids so that I can write this!  And sometimes they go to bed without brushing their teeth!  And we like to eat at Sonic!  See, I’m human, too. ;))  So that pretty much disqualifies us from claiming the title of Radical Unschoolers.  But that is beside the point here!  So, what I realized is that among all the battles that I pick to fight as a mother, the ones that involve normal child development are not among them.  At least not anymore.

There is a philosophy that I love and identify with called Free-Range Parenting.  It involves (in a nutshell), teaching your children basic safety rules, having a lot of faith in humanity, and letting them figure out the world on their own as their age and abilities allow.  You do not have to be an unschooler to be a free-range parent, but I am thinking that unschooling and free-ranging kind of go hand in hand.  At least for us.  Being a Mom of Many has led me down this path, not only because of experience and continuous research, but because when you have a lot of children, you have no choice but to carefully pick your battles.  So, what has come of this is that I have let go of the preconceived notion that we actually have to teach our children to do certain things.  Unschooling is about having faith that, given the freedom and opportunity to do so, your children WILL LEARN what they need to learn.  Really, with academics, all they need to do is learn to read, and that opens up the entire world for them to learn from.  And boy, do they drink it up!

self-taught reader

So that brings me to the issue of child development and how it relates to unschooling.  I am talking about “teaching” children to walk.  To talk.  To eat with utensils.  To use the toilet.  To sleep through the night.   To wean from the breast, or a pacifier, or even from co-sleeping.  To swim.  To ride a bike.  To read.  All of these things will happen naturally if you allow it; if you are willing to wait, and have the patience.  All of them!  I have seen it with my own eyes, several times over!  For me, and other MoMs (I assume), the patience bit is a non-issue, because we are so busy doing endless laundry and getting food on the table that we just don’t have the opportunity to worry about every little thing.  Perhaps some would call it laziness. And please do not be confused by thinking that not actively teaching these things equates neglect.  It most certainly does not.  One part of unschooling is being a “facilitator” instead of a “teacher.”  Teaching implies direct instruction of something, while facilitating involves supporting and allowing learning.  I have found that being a facilitator is easier and, more importantly, happier for all involved, and even more successful (in my personal experience), than trying to teach things that don’t need to be taught.

The middle three children, here ages 6, 6, & 3, are all self-taught swimmers.
(as is my oldest child, not pictured here)

So, reviewing what I have already written, I am afraid that I paint a picture of myself as refusing to ever teach my children anything.  Again, not true.  But the way that I teach is not necessarily direct and assertive.  It is mostly opportunistic and random, and their natural curiosity and hunger for knowledge (and questions, oh, the questions!) fills in the gaps.  I lazily teach my babies sign language, and they pick up on some of it.  I allow that binky-addict to keep his binky at bedtime (because I think security items are security items for a reason, and I feel that forcibly removing them is damaging…and I speak from experience), and shortly before his fourth birthday, he seems to forget about it.  Eventually, sometime after their first birthday, I will think to hand them a spoon at the dinner table, and might be delighted to see that they have watched the rest of us use utensils enough that they already know what to do with it!  Same with a tooth brush.  And I don’t care if they don’t get it right.  They will watch.  They will learn.  They will try, and fail, and try again.  I will not put pressure on them, because I believe that kills the joy and wonder of discovery, and sets everyone up for failure and conflict.  I feel this way about many things, including using the toilet and getting dressed.  Eventually they will figure it out, through trial and error, but I do not want to lower the quality of our relationship by fighting about it, and I do so LOVE watching them figure things out!  There is no greater wonder in parenthood.  Those are the moments that make it all worth it, so why would I want to decrease the frequency of them?  I don’t want to be proud of myself for “teaching” my child something; I want to be proud of my child for learning something!  Instead of thinking, with pride, I taught him well! I think, with awe, I gave birth to that!  It’s what gets me through the darkest of times.

Brigit at 15 months, figuring out the fork.

Connor at 19 months, self-initiated tooth-brushing...with MY toothbrush.
(the original caption for this pic said "This is why we have doorknob covers")

So in the interest of clarifying my methodology, I will explain a little bit about how I facilitate, rather than teach, what I consider to be normal developmental milestones.  When it comes to potty “training” (a subject near and dear to my heart after learning the hard way), I prefer to offer the potty every once in a while from about the age of 1; before baths, mainly, or when it’s time for a diaper change and the diaper is dry.  My babies have all seen me use the potty.  The more family members, the more opportunity a child has to witness this necessary function and how the big people deal with it.  Around the age of 2, we might start having naked time a lot at home (the baby, not the rest of us! ;)), keeping a potty chair or two in the living areas.

Eventually the child will use the toilet.  No pressure.  No anger at “accidents.”  No shaming.  No punishments.  I just keep a spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner (around here, that’s water, white vinegar, and a squirt of liquid soap) and some rags on hand, and clean up a few puddles every day (it helps to NOT have carpet…if you do, then I don’t know what to tell you!).  The baby still wears diapers at night, during naps, and when we go out.  Just naked time at home.  In our experience, this no-fuss potty learning took about a year from the first self-initiated urge recognition (read: he ran to the potty to pee of his own accord) before the child could wear underwear out of the house.  So worth it!  And I’ll tell you why: with my first 3 children, I went a more traditional route with the potty training.  There were sticker charts, candy, countless changes of clothing, anger, blame, yelling.  It should not have to be like that!  And the kicker?  It took LONGER for them to train than the kid I did NOTHING for!  Lesson learned.  So much easier, so much happier, and really, so much faster!  All because I sat back and let nature take its course (no pun intended there!).

Connor at 2 1/2, figuring out the potty.

So, the bottom line is that I have come into my laissez faire style of parenting both out of necessity (having a lot of children being the main one, but struggles with depression and debilitating back pain are certainly a part of it) and because of my own trial and error.  It turns out that there are many things that parents are concerned about that I have found really don’t need to be worried over.  It’s a case of picking your battles.  But honestly, I think that modern society has trained us, the parents, to believe that we have to teach our children certain things or they will NEVER LEARN them.  That is so untrue that it makes me sad, because then, hands-off parents like me (and often MoMs in general) are perhaps viewed as lazy (in a bad way ;)) and neglectful, because folks cannot fathom how children can learn something without direct instruction (I’d like to invite those people to take a stopwatch to their nearest school, and time exactly how long a teacher actually spends directly instructing any particular child each day.  The results may very well astound you…and invalidate your argument.  MOST children do MOST of their learning on their own.).  AND, it denies children some of the pride and joy of figuring things out on their own.

In the modern commercial world, there are countless products available to help your children “learn” things that OH MY GOD they will never learn to do without said specialty items.  Like, how will my baby ever learn how to sit up if we don’t buy a certain baby chair that happens to rhyme with Dumbo?!  Not knocking all those products; many are really cool and some of them can certainly make life easier (and I own a lot of them!), but that’s not the point.  The point is, they are not NECESSARY.  Your child (under neurotypical circumstances) will still learn to talk without you sitting down to do speech exercises with fancy flash cards every day. If that’s your thing and you both enjoy it, then by all means, keep it up!  But don’t think that you have to (in fact, that example brings up another philosophy that I ascribe to: Delayed Academics.  Research shows that it can detrimental to the developing brain to force complex thinking before a child is ready…and in my experience, they will let you know when they are ready!).  So, relax; enjoy watching your little flowers blossom.  Give them sun and water and let nature do the rest (metaphor there; children really actually need more than just sun and water!! ;)). But, my children are happy and healthy and creative, and we all celebrate their discoveries and milestones together, with equal delight, because we know that it happened naturally.  That is SUCH a magical feeling.  AND, Mama keeps just a little bit more of her sanity intact in the process.  Win-win!

Self-taught bike riders, here ages 6, 9, & 6
(Never mind those training wheels; they came off not long after this pic was taken, and she got the hang of it within 5 minutes just like her brothers did.)

Happy watching!

~ Michelle

What Natural Parenting Looks Like With a Teen

This is my 15 year old daughter.

She no longer co-sleeps with us, but she will often lovingly let her younger siblings climb into bed with her for the night.

She no longer lets me carry her everywhere, and I am pretty sure we would both fall over in a heap of giggles if I tried.  But she does lay her head in my lap when she has had a bad day and let me stroke her hair while she tells me what has been bothering her.

She is no longer breastfed, and I no longer get to decide her meals for her.  She is, however, a wonderful cook and has a wealth of nutritional knowledge.  She makes the best veggie omelet you will ever eat.

She learned to read long ago, but some days she still likes to listen in while I read to the younger ones.  Often I will find her cuddled in a chair reading to her little brother or sister.

She doesn’t always decide to do what I would like for her to do, but she almost always asks for my opinion.

I no longer get to kiss her boo-boos better, but she knows how to administer first aid and has been a great help to her friends when others would have panicked.

I no longer can be the sole determining factor in how much television she watches or what shows she views, but she will tell you that she finds t.v. boring.

I don’t get to decide the clothes she wears, but I find I like most of her choices and she balks at the idea of buying something just because “everyone” is wearing it.

We still play, but the games have changed.  We traded Chutes & Ladders for Scattergories and Trivial Pursuit long ago.

We still sing together, but the songs are more complex, and sometimes we cry together over a song with sad lyrics, or laugh when something is silly.

We still don’t agree on everything, and we never will.  We are both very comfortable with that fact.

We fight, we cry, we dance, we bake, we laugh, we learn from each other.

This is my daughter, and her age will never change that.

~ Sasha

*Originally posted as a guest post at The Peaceful Housewife that was run by one of the nicest women you will ever meet, who now has a shop by the same name!  The Peaceful Housewife is also one of our sponsors for April 2012 check out her link over on the side bar to find some GREAT mama-made environmentally-friendly products for yourself and your home.