Saturday, June 6, 2015

Making Life Easier, Part II

I've been trying to think of things we do that make life easier for us. I got really long-winded about it (and probably more opinionated than I usually admit to being) so this is Part II. Go here for Part I.

Some more things that have made life easier:

• Here's one I know lots of people won't agree with for their families, but we don't have TV (we have a TV, but not TV, if that makes sense) or game systems. For me, it's what I grew up with, so it doesn't seem weird. And since we've never had any of that, our kids don't miss it, and it doesn't occur to me as a way to entertain them, either. I know putting on a movie to keep the kids quiet for awhile is a lifesaver for some people. I don't think it's a bad thing to do. But it's just not in my arsenal. They do other things to keep themselves busy. They like reading (even the non-readers like to page through books) and pretending and making things, and while they may be somewhat culturally illiterate—well, so was I, growing up.

• We do have movie night as a family, once a month. And that's A Great Occasion which our kids love. And we watch movies or video clips for school, fairly often. And they play games at their friends' houses. I have no problem with any of that. It's just, I don't want to have to deal with regulating all the "stuff" that goes along with TV and Video Games right now (how much time, when, whose turn, what's appropriate) so we've just chosen not to. For us, the drawbacks of the kids having access to TV/Movies/Games outweigh the benefits right now. (And we do have computer use which has to be regulated, so it's not like we get to avoid the issue altogether.)  I do think this has contributed to my kids' ability to entertain themselves and not be bored.

• Along with that, I think Required Reading Time is the root of all evil. Too strong? Okay, let's just say it's, at best, unhelpful. And I say that as someone who won every reading prize my elementary school offered. I just think reading is sometimes set forth as this thing that is an inherent good in itself, when it should be seen as a tool. Sure, you have to be able to read to get anywhere in life, and I think being a good reader is key to being a good writer and even a good thinker. It's essential. But reading out of duty, just reading anything so you can say you read this many minutes or this many books, means nothing. Reading books that pull you away from light and truth is just as much of a waste of time as any other worthless entertainment. And teaching kids that reading is something so full of drudgery that you need rewards to make it worth it, is almost guaranteed to make them dislike it, or at least, not grow to LOVE it and USE it to help them learn about the things they care about. I'm sure the read-a-thons and minutes and prizes motivate some kids, but I'm equally sure that they drive other kids into the "learning is a chore" camp, and that seems to me like a far more dangerous outcome. If my child has some basic skills for reading and now only needs more practice, than I just quit bugging him about it! I assume all kids are going to like reading something, and so I treat it as a given in their lives. We have tons of books around the house, and once they see that we read because we love it and because it's a way of finding out so many of those things in life we're interested in, they will come to love it on their own. Sure, I recommend books to them, tell them about things they might like, discuss things I have liked. But I don't make them read for a set time, or tell them they get a "prize" for reading, and I certainly don't act anxious about whether or not they're doing "enough" of it. Reading IS its own reward. And any of my initially "reluctant readers," so far, have responded beautifully.

• Two words: Laundry Day. For me, there's nothing more depressing and futile-seeming than a constant flow of laundry. So we do it only once a week. It usually takes most of the day to get all the loads washed and dried or hung, but it's not constant work, so as long as we're not going anywhere in particular, it's not that much effort to fit it in around other stuff. The key is that once laundry day is over, we don't have to worry about laundry again for another week! I guess it's not technically just one day, because we fold and put everything away the next day, but the kids are trained to do this all on their own, or if I do it myself (I find folding laundry kind of soothing) they at least each take their own things out of the living room and put them away.

• Another thing that makes life with kids easier for us is a concept I call "lower the bar." Ha! Unless we're talking about preparing young people for missions, we embrace this idea fully. So for birthdays and Christmas, we do very few presents. (1-2 for birthdays, 2-3 for Christmas.) We don't do big birthday parties because for me, that's not fun or even really possible with so many of us. We'd be planning parties all year long! Of course I want the kids to feel appreciated and have fun. But we have fun "our way." Which means it all is kept very, very simple. Sam and I can get excited about the silliest little things and we encourage our kids (through our example, I guess, and a little bit of lecturing) to do the same. After we've done something as a family, we talk it up for the next several weeks—how fun it was, all the things we remember. We gloss over the bad (like if someone was complaining and whining that she was tired, we just pretend that never happened), by design, so the memories turn sweeter in the telling. After we do something I try not to say negative things, even to Sam, like, "Well, THAT swimming pool was a stupid one" (even if I'm thinking it) because I want my kids to appreciate the things we do even if they aren't The Biggest, Best, Most Exciting Thing. So "having a picnic in the backyard" or "hiking" or "playing at a playground together" or "getting a couple of milkshakes at JCW's and we will all share them!" are all treated as A Fun and Lucky Thing To Do, for birthdays or other special occasions. I know we won't be able to do the waterpark or Lagoon or whatever every time, so we might as well just train the kids to expect and enjoy the smaller things. It seems to be working so far.

I could go on and on (and I have), but I guess that's all I'm going to list for now. I don't know, maybe it doesn't sound very fun to be a child at our house. I think we're stricter parents than some people we know. But being strict on these things Makes Life Easier, and when life is easier, I think I'm also (paradoxically) more fun, more relaxed, more ready to enjoy my children. And when they obey the things we do enforce, we can also give them a lot of space to play around, be kids, and learn to be self-reliant. Best of all, they can sense how much we genuinely like them, and I think it makes them feel less stress about life, too.

I'm always curious about how other families function, and eager to learn new things that will help our lives go more smoothly, so feel free to chime in with any other tips for making life easier!

12 comments:

  1. I loved these posts. I have been in the angst mode since Clover's arrival, but at least I am experienced enough to recognize postpartum horrors for what they are--a brief moment. I know that for me everything is about routine. I have to feel like I am constantly accomplishing things or I go crazy. Therefore (when I am not postpartum) I make an extensive and detailed weekly schedule (it is 90% the same every week so it doesn't take that long to create.) I feel soothed and invigorated by writing it down in a trusty scribbler (I use scribblers and a blue pen for all my planning). Even though I know that my daily plan is aspirational and will never be followed exactly, it is followed closely enough often enough that I feel in control of my life. Yes, I am a control-freak.

    My point--for me, motherhood is about making my children's lives conform to what makes me happy. I don't feel badly about that because I TRULY believe that happy wife=happy life, or if mama ain't happy, etc. So my big tip: know thyself.

    Also, I need to review the family rules with Timothy and brainstorm consequences. The last six months have taken a toll on everyone and a rule refresher is a great idea. We're just getting back into a routine and I already feel worlds better. :)

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  2. Andrea: It's funny, isn't it, how you have to have "rule refreshers" every so often? There are so many things we've started doing and they work great for a time, and then they start to slip and you just sort of have to…yeah, refresh, after awhile.

    I have to re-read "Setting Limits with your Strong-willed child" (a book I really like) every couple years and recommit to being better at following through. I just forget, I think.

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  3. I need that book. I took M to a therapist recently out of desperation and he said she has ODD. I told Timothy and he acted all shocked and said, "You mean, she doesn't like doing what she's told??!!" He's not as funny as he thinks. I don't actually believe therapy will help but whatever at this point. And yes--several family home evenings are in order because Harriet asked Timothy why they feed us in sacrament meeting. *face palm* I forget that even though I've taught the older kids certain things, it doesn't all filter down.

    I didn't know you were so famous!! You showed up randomly in my FB feed and I was so proud to know you!

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  4. Saw Kendra's link (catholicallyear.com) and came over.. Love these posts! If you want to add more, I would be allllll for it! I find that I agree with both of you, pretty much entirely, and we use most of the concepts you discuss, but you are both wonderful at explaining them, which gives me personally inspiration and ideas for implementing them in ways that haven't yet occurred to us. Sort of like seeing a house with the same setup as yours and seeing how it's been decorated.. ;] Anyway, thumbs up on the posts. And hi, seeing as I've never read or "talked" to you before. -Maria

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  5. Maria: hi to you too! Thank you for the kind words! I agree that it's so helpful to see how other people "set up" their lives. I love getting ideas from other like-minded parents! :)

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  6. Interesting reads. Like you said in your intro, I do often answer sort of a "Heck if I know!" type of answer when asked mothering questions. And part of that IS because I don't want to seem "know it all"ish. And part of that is because I know how easy it is for people to feel defensive about the way they do things (like the birthday party thing -- like you, we just celebrate with our little family unless a kid desperately wants a friend one one year -- and haven't had a friend one in several years, but I know planning and carrying out big festivities are one of the highlights of life for my sister-in-law and the ease of simpler birthdays would make life seem sadly worth living to her ;)). But also, I think I say it because of that because . . . it isn't that I don't know what works or has worked for us. It's just that recognizing that what works for us might really not work at all for someone else. I mean occasionally things that work for one of my kids doesn't work at all for another. Still, we do have a passel of children, and life doesn't feel wild or crazy around here (most of the time), so maybe it IS worth dropping the self-depracating "I know nothings" and be more willing to look at what works for us and openly share it. And, a multitude of ideas are probably great for people to hear because maybe it gives them a bigger arsenal to work with and attempt. (For example, I noticed more similarities in the way we handle personality things than just dynamics of "stuff".)

    One thing I will say definitely has come with being "experienced" (yes, what does that mean?) is simply finally feeling comfortable with actually DOING what works for us. You read so much about how babies should sleep or how you should feed them or discipline them with those first few. And then, on top of that, there are all these things that everyone does with their kids like it is just a given (soccer and dance by age 3, sewing classes, children's music classes, pre-school, etc). I remember really worrying with my first few that I was somehow failing them if I didn't chose all the same types of things. It has been so great to have been in this long enough to know what "professional advice" I can toss completely and unconcernedly aside (nipple confusion! heaven forbid!!) and what "keeping up with the Joneses" things really haven't mattered in the least by being missed. It's nice to have been at it long enough (or with enough kids?) to have confidence in what we do (mostly).

    I will say, however, that I really have noticed a definite shift in the last six months. With 15 looming around the corner, Abe is really leaving pre-teen/kidness behind and becoming so much more a teen who wants to have the things his teenage friends have and is losing interest in some of the pastimes that have been failsafes in the past. So, I feel like, while we have a framework set for how we work around here, we really are kind of in new territory again; and I'm realizing that little people are so easy because you really can just more definitely say, "This is what we do." And that is the way it is and nobody needs to feel like they should be the adult and have a say. Haha. Hopefully we'll discover the same "this works for our family" sorts of things that we've found in the past.

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  7. Nancy: yes! I totally agree that what is the BEST about having some "experience" is just…realizing that you can do what works for you. Like you said, it's not that I have total confidence in ALL my decisions, but I don't have so many of the nagging worries like…"but what if not doing preschool turns out to RUIN my four year old?" :) I think, in general, I am also less worried now about making bad decisions, because I know we can always change things that don't work. Like if you institute a new chore system and it doesn't work you can just change it! I don't know why that took me so long to realize.

    But your last paragraph strikes fear into my heart. I know things will change as the kids get older, which is part of why I feel sort of ridiculous giving any advice in the first place. What do I know about raising young adults? Nothing!! I'm hoping the family "framework", like you said, will at least give us a good starting place. But yeah, I'll definitely be looking to YOU for advice as you're just ahead of me heading into these teenage years. :)

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  8. You inspired me to contemplate what works well in our family... and even to blog about it! http://houseofpenguin.blogspot.com/2015/06/what-works-for-us.html

    Thank you! I really am enjoying your blog, and this was a great opportunity to think about what is working well, at least for this moment in time, and write about it.

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  9. Klari: awesome. Thank you! That was a great post. I especially loved your idea of family learning time at night. Brilliant! And you have found a lot of good apps too. I need to check some of those out.

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  10. I've been wondering how it's only now that I actually enjoy and can't get enough of reading. I do believe it WAS the rigidity of the idea of reading throughout school that made it seem like such a chore. And that I just needed to do the minimum to get out of it what I needed. Whatever the case, I love how through deciphering what works you've also discovered what really matters and makes a difference. Starting out with more 'difficult' (for lack of a better word) parameters in the beginning with children DOES make things 'easier' later. Pretty much laying a good foundation for the rest of their lives. I know I started out WAY too uptight in my parenting, and am grateful for the experiences and continued knowledge I keep acquiring to learn what really matters and on what should be our focus. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences!

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  11. Whatever works for you is great! I'm so glad you have found a way to make life easier!

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