No Whining…Please

 

I’ve been wondering this week why I’ve noticed so many books, movies and women trapped in what I’ve decided to call, “the whining mode”?  I’m not sure why it’s bothering me so much but it’s like someone scratching a chalk board or chewing on tin foil…I’m really annoyed by all this seemingly female whining.  I think I have developed a low tolerance because I’ve been there, right smack in the middle of total chaos, where the world seemed to be chewing me up and spitting  me out, coupled with emotional turmoil that was attempting to hold me hostage for forever, all while raising a child on my own.  I was, where a lot of single moms are today; feeling alone, desperate, financially strapped and my future completely on hold and quite frankly out of reach.   I have been at that very place and managed to pull myself back into the world of the living and the productive so, I say this with much love in my heart…stop whining, please! 

“Adulthood is defined by the willingness to accept full responsibility for where you are at in life; no longer blaming others or circumstances.” — Joe Westbrook

A few months ago I discovered an amazing home for single moms who had previously been homeless, sleeping on the streets or in their cars with their children.  You think you have it bad?  These women were some of the unfortunate recipients of the demise of our American economy.  They were the hard-working moms who washed the towels from your luxury hotel room and scrubbed the floors of your class “A” office building.  They lost their jobs and then they lost their homes.  There are over 900 homeless children in Osceola County, Florida alone which is astounding to me.  These women are living in the depths of poverty, lost in an emotionally taxing maze and not complaining, just trying to get through it the best way they possibly can.   The home I visited had a caring staff dedicated to helping these mothers and their children get back on their feet and into new jobs and new homes.  They are provided with what most middle class Americans would consider “the basics”, but to them its gold.  Shelter, food, clothing, safety and someone to help them in their quest to change their lives for the better.  I admire them, these beautiful ladies who have a large cross to bear and are willing to work diligently to change the future for themselves and for their children.  No whining,  just hard work, graciousness, humility and love.  We can learn from these mothers and their dedicated focus to change their circumstances. (www.osceolahome.org)

I usually like to focus on the positive, but today, although I have many glorious friends that I admire for their courage and their fortitude (you know who you are) I’m really just giving a shout out to all of you who are in “victim” mode.  C’mon ladies, reclaim your dignity, pull up those boot straps and save yourselves by learning to take each day at a time and focus on taking positive steps towards rebuilding your life and a healthy productive life for your children.  It’s a tough place to be, I understand that, but at some point we have to move forward.  Take your first step today and then tell me about it.  I’d love to hear from you.

“The world is wide, and I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.” —Frances Willard

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Mom, Your Child-Like Spirit Was Genius

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of childhood into maturity – Aldous Huxley

When I was about nine I remember my mother strapping on roller skates and taking me for a spin on the carport that sat just below our house.  I also remember her taking my sister, brother and I to the top of our motor home,  in the middle of the desert, with canvas and paints in hand so we could paint the sunset.  How cool is that?  At the time, I couldn’t appreciate her child-like enthusiasm for life but now I draw upon it as if it were a part of my very existence.   I love these memories of my mom because she was so unconventional and she didn’t think like a grown-up.  I’m certain her child-like enthusiasm gave me a piece of my inner self that otherwise would not exist.  Whether I knew it or not, spending this kind of play time with her was a huge confidence booster and made me feel secure inside. 

This brings me to one of the core pieces of the H.A.P.P.Y. plan, “Playful Parenting”.  I think most parents naturally play fun games with their kids but this is a subject worth revisiting because we live in a crazy busy, high-stress world with computer games, movies-on-demand, Ipods, Ipads, etc.  and the child who may be struggling with a family related crisis could definitely benefit from a dose of play-time with mom or dad.

Over the weekend I attended a friends baby shower and the group was asked to individually fill out a card with a bit of parenting advice for the new mother.  I spontaneously wrote down an idea for a really fun kitchen game that I used when my daughter was  between the ages of 3-6.   I would spread a large piece of wax paper on my kitchen counter and pour prepared chocolate pudding on the wax paper.  We would then begin drawing the most wonderful pudding art in the world that was spectacular if I do say so myself.  The best part was licking the pudding off our fingers while we were painting!  I was kind of proud of myself for remembering this idea, after all, it’s been quite a few years since my daughter and I spent the afternoon making pudding art.  What I remember most, however, is how much fun we had.  As she became older our playtime changed; there were Barbie’s, American Girls, bike riding, roller blading and now it’s “family game night” or “girls night out” (which is a great excuse for getting dressed up for dinner and a movie).  

Spending time with your child regardless of age, creates security and stability and eventually shows up in their self-confidence and self-esteem.   And as it turns out, it’s not only good for your kids, it’s good for you too.  If you’re in the midst of a family crisis, whether its divorce, financial problems or some other issue, you can bet your child is feeling the stress of the situation.  So dig deep, find your inner child and become a playful parent today…relax, enjoy and give them the most valuable gift you can give – your time.

Be Careful, Contents are Fragile

After a conversation with a friend of mine this week,  I was reminded of how fragile a child can become when managing emotions and life while their parents go through a divorce.  This was one of the subjects that prompted me to even begin working on H.A.P.P.Y.   I found I had come in contact with many other single mom’s concerned about this same issue and quite frankly, we were all muddling through and hoping we were handling things well.   

Most children enter and exit an extremely fragile state while trying to navigate their emotions during divorce.   So our jobs as mothers becomes even more demanding as we find ourselves the key to helping our children overcome this fragile state and move into a more secure and stable emotional place. 

Now that I’ve revisited this subject, I thought I’d send out a bit of mommy wisdom for those of you that are in the same situation I was in a few short years ago.

If you are a single mom reading this and asking yourself, “is my child still in this fragile state and if so, how do I fix it?”   I’m not a family counselor so my first recommendation is to see one.  I believe in getting a good family counselor that you can see on a regular basis or when you feel everything is becoming too much to bear.  A good counselor will guide you through helpful steps specifically for your family needs.   Secondly, there are a few basic things that you can do at home that I found effective with my daughter as we were trying to adjust to divorce.  

I 100% believe in the power of a positive attitude (Go Zig!)  So #1 is as expected:

1.  Keep a positive attitude or as a very good friend of mine always says…”keep your head high” (which is her German version of stay positive)

I feel this should be repeated because a healthy attitude and positive view on life is good medicine.  I don’t want to oversimplify the situation and I don’t expect anyone to glide like a ballerina around the house singing “Zippidy Doo Da” ; however, it’s like baking a cake, if you use quality ingredients and follow the recipe to the best of your ability, you will have created a beautiful cake that is ready for the frosting.  Your child (the cake) will be ready for life (the frosting).

2.  HUG ME time…refer to my earlier post on this subject.

3.  Turn off TV, phones and computer and have dinner together.  Talk, laugh, tell jokes, whatever it takes to focus on them for at least 30 minutes.  And don’t talk to much, let them do most of the talking; listen as much as possible.  Listening to your children tell stories and showing interest in what is important to them will light up their little brains and their hearts.

4.  Go to Church, Synagogue, Mass, Temple, etc.  Take them to a place of serenity, respect and quiet even if it’s just a few times a month.  This is not only a benefit to them, but to you as well.  There’s just something so peaceful, enriching and calming about spending a few moments listening to spiritual instruction and participating in spiritual reverence.  It rejuvenates the soul.

5.  Don’t tear down your Ex in front of your kids. 

Our little guys and gals can only handle so much, so if you fight with your ex or display your anger in front of your children on a regular basis and say things that tear him down, your child will potentially do one of two things; retreat or rebel.  Both are equally serious.   If your situation is dire, go see a family counselor and vent to them, not your children.  I’ve witnessed the damage of a newly single mom who cannot seem to wrap her arms around her situation.  My heart hurts for her because I’ve experienced the same feelings and I understand the frustration but at some point we have to pick ourselves up and move forward for the beautiful little people in our lives.  It’s ultimately our responsibility to be sure their hearts and their minds are healthy and maturing at a normal pace.

One last recommendation is a book that I’ve found to be extremely insightful and helped me to understand my daughters emotional behaviour and needs.  I recommend reading The Five Love Languages of Children and/or the Love Languages of a Teenager by Gary Chapman.  I’ve recommended this book before because it gave me important insight and ultimately helped me as I parented my daughter through divorce.

Keep in mind all situations are different, some more serious than others; however, these five simple steps worked for me and my daughter.  None of us need to reinvent the wheel, so try them on for size and see how they fit.  You may find your home a happier place and your children loving life just a bit more.

For Cecelia

I completely and wholeheartedly love being a mom.   I love everything right down to the complete exhaustion I feel at the end of a very, very long day.  I know this sounds crazy, but I  try to soak up all the moments I have with my child because I want to remember them for as long as I possibly can.  Why, I wonder?  Why is motherhood so fulfilling, so satisfying, so completely wonderful?   Why do we, as women, get to a point where we want to mother something?  Why am I able to push myself as hard as I do and still come home to simply do it all over again and be content with that?  It’s because I’m feeding and tending a beautiful garden of life and I get to be a part of watching this garden of loveliness grow into a beautiful young woman.  And at some point, if I’ve done my job well, she will enter the world and the world will become a better place because she is in it. 

I cherish the thought that every single day I get to teach her, love her, share with her, dream with her and show her how to be the woman I know she can be.  It’s not a simple task; it’s complicated and time-consuming, but the reward is so great that its difficult to put it into words.  There are times when I feel as if I might have failed her or myself, but then, miraculously, she does something that makes me realize I am indeed doing things right and she is listening.

There really isn’t anything else in this world that gives me the same kind of satisfaction as watching my child exceed at life.  I watch her navigate through troublesome teenage dilemmas, learn how to manage her time, pursue her dreams, develop friendships and gain confidence.  It’s not easy allowing her to do things on her own, I guess its normal to want to do things for her but I force myself to let her be and let her discover her true abilities and reach her potential.  Sometimes she interprets this as my lack of interest in her life but I know deep down I’m doing what needs to be done; making her test her wings so that someday she will fly on her own.

I’m writing this mostly because I’ve been reflecting on motherhood quite a bit in the past week.   Someone I love lost a very special mother and my heart is hurting from the inside out.   I sat silently and watched closely, through my tears, as each of her children paid tribute to her; their rock, their center.  One by one, the memories were recalled as they came together and remembered her strength, her love, her care;  they knew, they had each become the people they were today because she was their mother.  She gave the world nine of the most beautiful souls on this earth and she was delighted by each one of them every single day of her life.

So tonight, as I recall her sweet face and the love in her eyes every time one of her children called or came to see her, I’m inspired.  Inspired to be the kind of mother Cecelia was to her children.  The kind of woman who understands the gift she has been given and the responsibility of it all.  The kind of woman who counts her blessings and appreciates the goodness of the children she raised and the lives they chose to lead…because she was their mom.

  

It was as if she was an angel that landed here on earth

Her eyes sparkling with a mischievous light

And her laughter full of mirth

A gentle spirit with a loving firm hand

A wise woman who loved a good man

Who gave her all that he could give

And showed his love in the courageous life he lived

A home full of children and warmth she did bring

Nine smiles and nine faces of happiness ring

Through her love shining in the lives of her nine

Their goodness and success her sweetest wine

An angelic smile and gentle ways

Her love of life, her hope to stay

As strong as she could forever be

To watch it grow, her family tree

She was a mother, first and foremost

Her heart with each one and her voice always close

She will be greatly missed but loved again and again

And all will listen for her wings in the wind.

Time For Dinner

I believe one of the best parts of being a mom is listening to all of the wildly funny and crazy things our children say.  I love to listen to my daughter talk about life from her perspective.  She see’s the world in such a different light and often times it prompts me to take a second look at the way I view the world and those in it. 

Some of the most rewarding and interesting conversations I’ve had with my child through the years has been while sitting around the dinner table.   When she was very young I remember thinking I could hardly wait to hear what was going on in that cute little blond head of hers.  It seemed I really couldn’t get much out of her until it was time to sit down and eat dinner.  Even now when I ask, “how was school?” I get the standard, “fine”.   But when dinner rolls around and I manage to coax her to the dinner table, I get all of the delicious details of the day!  

I’ve always been an advocate of the family dinner time but even more so after my divorce.  And, mom’s, allow me to be very honest about this; it was a mental and emotional challenge for me to work all day, pick up my daughter from after-school care, help her with homework, cook dinner, finish household chores, etc.  In addition, there were the “hug me” evenings.  I’m a realist and I completely understand the challenges involved here, especially if you have multiple children in a single parent home.  However, that being said, it’s vital to create “the dinner time”.  The benefits of sitting down together to eat dinner are enormous.   It’s an opportunity to connect with your child, talk about the days events, talk about things that are important to them and to you.  There are a few websites full of information regarding the benefits of eating dinner together; one of my favorites is the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services website.  It provides detailed and statistical information on the benefits of a family mealtime in addition to providing resources for assistance if needed.  I recommend this link: http://family.samhsa.gov/get/mealtime.aspx.

Once you’ve read the statistics on the children who eat dinner regularly with their families, you will find the discipline and effort placed into this evening meal with your own family is worth every ounce of extra work.

To help make this a little easier, I’ve created a few quick ideas that worked for me and should help make it more fun for you and your family.

#1 – Plan a menu

I know, it’s that dreaded word, plan!  With everything that’s on your “plate” planning a weekly menu can be a real challenge; however, there’s no need to overwhelm yourself by planning a full week’s menu, you can plan three or four meals at one time and come up with a fun dinner out or a “serendipity” night (everyone gets to have what they want, as long as its healthy).  My daughter still loves “serendipity/anything goes” nights because I let her eat her favorite cereal and a cup of yogurt or we make eggs and toast or sometimes we even make pancakes for dinner.  Add a cup of fruit or cottage cheese and you’ve got yourself a room full of happy and healthy kids.  Just continue to remind yourself to keep things simple and don’t stress over dinner.  The key is having dinner together and listening to all the fantastic things that happened to your child during the day.  Once again, it’s about creating a secure environment that makes your child feel loved.  Providing them your undivided attention at the dinner table goes a long way to helping develop a happy and well-adjusted child.

When you plan your menu try to get everyone involved.  Take a few minutes each weekend to plan a few meals for the following week.  Give your child/children a list of dinners that you know they like and you feel comfortable cooking and let them choose the menu.  This gets everyone involved and makes it easier for you because now your menu is planned.  Place a corkboard, whiteboard, or small chalkboard in your kitchen and post the daily dinner menu.  Most children are extremely visual and it’s exciting for them to see the dinner menu, especially in the morning as they are walking out the door to school.  I’ve often heard my daughter say, “Yea! It’s taco night!” 

#2 – Give everyone a dinner duty

Everyone old enough to carry a dinner plate should have a dinner duty.  Whether you have one child or five, carve out a particular duty for each child during the dinner hour.  It can be as small as clearing the table and bringing dishes to the sink or placing the silverware on the table, stirring the sauce (supervised of course) while you cut up the vegetables.  Whatever you feel they can handle is what you should assign them to do during dinner time. Giving your child/children a dinner duty will build self-confidence and create positive dinner habits for a lifetime.

#3 – Have a themed dinner night

To help my daughter get excited about helping out with dinner, I would occasionally create a themed dinner night, such as a “Fiesta night” which included tacos and pink lemonade.   If I wanted to cook spaghetti with meatballs, I’d call it our “Fun in Italy Night”.  I’d ask her to draw a picture for the table that would match our theme and help me decide the menu based on the theme.  It was a lot of fun for both of us and took some of the stress out of planning dinner. 

#4 – Enjoy a living room picnic

Okay, this was and continues to be so much fun that we probably do it more than we should.  Most of the time I required the television to be turned off during dinner but during our “picnics” I would put in one of her favorite movies.  This isn’t something I would recommend every night but there’s just something so fun about moving the coffee table out-of-the-way, placing a big blanket on the living room floor and having a picnic for dinner.  Sometimes I would even pack up her favorite sandwich and fruit in a picnic basket to help make it feel as if we were really on a picnic.  I’ve served just about everything imaginable during our living room picnics but I think her favorite was Mac and Cheese. 

Today, we make homemade pizzas on the grill and when they are ready we place them on a big platter and get comfortable on the living room floor in front of our favorite movie. 

#5 – No dinner dishes!

I’m a firm believer in cooking at home for many reasons, one of them is simply cost another is making healthy food choices; however, sometimes its fun to have a special night out at a favorite restaurant.  So, if it’s in the budget, let your child pick their favorite restaurant and give yourselves a fun night out together. 

During our first few post-divorce years my daughter and I had a favorite restaurant that we frequented.  To this day she remembers having our once a week out-to-dinner night.  She remembers what she ordered, how we sat outside and talked about the day and most of all, how much she enjoyed that time together.  It was time and money well spent.

Well, Mom’s, I hope I’ve inspired your inner chef and you will begin your own family dinner rituals that will help you place a little “happy” in your family’s day.

One side note:  There are many meal choices when it comes to cooking for your family so I asked my sister and professional chef, Karista Bennett, to kindly develop a recipe section for the H.A.P.P.Y. Plan.  Some of her favorites will be listed in an easy recipe section of the book.  However, until the book is ready, you can visit her website for even more family friendly recipes at www.karistaskitchen.com.

Mommy’s “Hug Me” Time

Since I posted “H” is for Hugs a few days ago, I’ve had a few mom’s ask me for specifics about the “Hug me” time that I created for my daughter and myself. 

The very first step in the H.A.P.P.Y. Plan is “Hugs” and lots of them because they are so very healing.  Here are a few quick steps to helping you create your own “Hug me” time with your child: 

“Hug me” time should be anywhere from five to fifteen minutes in duration. 

Step 1:  Try to complete your child’s daily tasks.  

It’s important to have everything completed so you and your child do not feel any stress or pressure.  Your “Hug me” time is valuable and it’s important to be able to get the most out of it.  So, finish dinner, homework, bath time, bed time rituals like brushing teeth or combing hair, etc.  You may have to finish the dinner dishes, balance the check book and return emails later. For the next several minutes, focus on making sure your child’s world calm and settled with all loose ends neatly tucked in.  

Step 2:  Create a quiet environment. 

Be sure to turn off the television, game consoles, computers, Ipods, etc.  Don’t answer the phone, text message or email.  As difficult as it may be, simply cut yourself off from the outside world for a few minutes. 

Step 3:  Create a sleepy environment 

By this I mean turn lights down low, close blinds or shades making it easy to relax and eventually fall asleep.  Play soft music if it tends to calm your child. 

Step 4:  Find a comfortable place to hold your child. 

I used a rocking chair but it can be a sofa, a cuddly place on the floor with lots of pillows and stuffed animals, or if they’re older and too big for your lap, you can sit beside them on their bed and put your arms around them.  Just be sure everyone is completely comfortable. 

Step 5:  Tell your child this is our “Hug me” time and try to keep things very quiet.  If they talk, let them, but keep it soft and low so they feel relaxed.  Sometimes I would softly sing a song or hum a tune if I felt my daughter was having trouble settling down.  

It would be optimal to repeat this exercise at least three to four times a week or more if your schedule allows.  If you have more than one child, the key is to assign everyone their “Hug me” time and stick to it.  If you can’t squeeze everyone in on one evening, than assign each child their “Hug me” day.  Ex: Alex has Monday, Amelia has Tuesday and Max has Wednesday.   For a busy working single Mom, I realize this seems like added pressure to your day, but you will find once you make time for this exercise, you will look forward to it as much as your child does. 

Our “Hug me” time was without a doubt one of the things that helped my daughter and I through the initial stages of divorce.  It allowed me the opportunity to reconnect with my child after having been in crisis mode for such a long period of time.  Crisis mode is fine for a while, but it takes its toll on you and your child especially if you can’t seem to move on from the crisis.  It’s imperative to get back to a point where you can once again focus on your child’s emotional needs.  It will not only make your child stronger, it will make you stronger as well.

Enjoy your “Hug me” time and feel free to send me some feedback!

The H. In H.A.P.P.Y.

 

H is for Hugs!

aubreywillowLots and lots of hugs!  Hugs are such a wonderful way to show your children, or anyone really, how much they mean to you.  Have you just sat and thought about how a big hug from someone you love makes you feel inside?  We call it having the “warm and fuzzies” at our house.  I love warm and fuzzy and our kids do too.

Here’s an example of how something as simple as HUGS has affected my life and my daughter’s life:

I love the outdoors so when my daughter was old enough to hike with me, I would take her to a state park close to our home and spend the afternoon hiking the mountain.   It was like Heaven…in the fall we would see glorious shades of red, orange and yellow peppering the sides of the mountain.  In the spring it was as if every wildflower in the universe had suddenly popped up out of the ground.  I loved those hikes and so did she.  I would say to her during these mini hiking excursions, “look at the beautiful trees or the lovely flowers, it’s as if God is giving us a great big bear hug today!”  She would stop and look all around her, taking in everything her little eyes could see and imagine.  I wasn’t sure she understood, but I liked saying it to her anyway.

When Aubrey was nine, I took her on a kayaking trip on the Indian River, just near Vero Beach, Florida.  It was her spring break from school and we were looking forward to a few days off.  We set out on a four-hour kayaking journey and along the way; a very large mother manatee and her baby swam alongside our kayak until we made it to our half-way resting point.   It was one of the most spectacular sites I’ve ever experienced and Aubrey was equally as thrilled by this magical moment.  When we made it to shore, she jumped out of the kayak and exclaimed, “Mom! God just gave us a ginormous bear hug!”   It was then I realized she had soaked in all of the moments we had previously discussed and now she completely understood the beauty of a “hug”.

We all need hugs but our children really need hugs…hugs are healing, hugs are inspirational, hugs make us feel secure, alive and confident.

After my divorce, I began seeing a family counselor to help me navigate this new chapter in our lives. I was so nervous about going to see a “professional” and couldn’t afford much at the time. It was incredibly difficult for me to admit I needed help but I knew I had to find someone objective and skilled to talk me through this. In the end, it was one of the best decisions I made. It was a healthy and healing experience and I came away with tips and tools that I would’ve never thought of using.

One of the most effective pieces of instruction the family counselor gave me was a nightly ritual of holding my daughter. Not just giving her a hug goodnight, but really sitting down and holding each other.  I decided to do it and I put my own “spin” on it creating a “game like” approach to the nightly holding; it ended up being the best part of our day.  We called it our “hug me” time.

Every evening before bed we’d finish our “bedtime rituals”, brushing teeth, reading a book, etc. and then I would hold my little girl in our favorite rocking chair.  She was a small five, almost six year old, so I held her cheek to cheek so she could lay her head down on my chest or shoulder.  I would wrap my arms around her and simply rock.  I told her this was our “hug me” time and it was very special.  It was such an awesome experience for me and for my daughter.  The benefits were displayed in her ability to sleep all night, wake up in a good mood and seem well adjusted to her new surroundings.

I found, very quickly, that when I made the time to follow through on our “hug me” time she was much better-behaved and seemed happier.  She responded to my instructions, seemed to do better in class; it was a delightfully surprising result.  It was also good for me.  I didn’t realize how much I benefited from these 15 minutes each evening.  I would tuck her in and kiss her goodnight and I felt so good that I didn’t even mind cleaning up from the evening. I continued the nightly ritual for about two years.  After that, we found new ways to spend “hug me” time.  Sometimes it was as simple as laying on her bed and making up stories about fairies and angels and made up places that she desperately wanted to see.

My daughter is a teenager now and she learned a long time ago how to identify when she needed a hug or needed to be held.  And although she’s too big to hold on my lap for 15 minutes every night, she still, on occasion, comes to me and says “mom, I really need some hugs”.  I love that she knows when she needs to be held tight and I love that she still asks me.  It’s a bond I will forever treasure.