Keep the fun alive while living together and getting things done.
I'm a homeschooling mom of three with a husband who works a lot from home. As a result I've spend a lot of time and trial-and-error figuring how to live together almost continuously so that we all still like each other. What I've come to realize is this:
Don't bug the people you live with.
It's easier said than done sometimes. Dishes. Groceries. Garbage. Maintenance inside the house. Maintenance in the yard. If you have kids or animals or live-ins? Talk about even more maintenance. You get it. You know it.
Living together means working together.
This sounds like an obvious concept but I didn't know the extent of it before I got married. Maybe you didn't either.
After over 16 years of family life I'm convinced that not understanding the work-life balance inside the home is where so many families go wrong. It's where kids stop reaching out to their parents to chat. It's where spouses disappear into the garage or their friendships or their iPhone. It's where people roll their eyes and stop listening.
So what do you do? How do you get things done in the house and for the household (and have your kids, partner, roommates, whoever you live with also get things done) so that you still want to be together?
It boils down to three simple rules.
1. If it has to be said that red hot minute and someone else needs to do it, do what you have to do. Say it, yell it, repeat it. If someone is late and they have to let the dog out... use your words. Sometimes loud words.
2. If it does not have to be said that red hot minute and you can say it in a way that keeps it fun, lighthearted, and positive, go ahead and say it if you want to. If you find that your comment about loading the dishwasher puts a damper on the dinner conversation, next time use rule #3.
3. Communicate non red-hot minute work issues through work channels. There are many choices.
But what about general conversation?
It's always a good rule of them to ask someone if they are ready to have a conversation or answer a question. There they are, sitting there reading something. Ask them before you launch into your daily download or find out if they took out the garbage to the curb. "Is this a good time to talk about...?" They may say yes. They may say, "let me finish this chapter".
My point is: work is work and we all need a break from it. A mental break. An emotional break. A physical break. A safe break.
Allow your audience to get into "work mode" before you talk about work. Let them shift gears. Set aside time for it. Make a work-flow. And ask those you live with to give you the same courtesy.
Once you separate (when it’s a burden) the business of living together from actual life together the stress levels in your house and in those live-in relationships will decrease. The people at home–you included–will relax more without those unnecessary (and sometimes just downright unpleasant) interruptions.
What happens when you don't fear the interruptions?
You will play more together. Reach out to each other more. Enjoy each other’s company more.
You will love living together more even while things still get done.
Most of the time. ;)
It's a commitment. Know before you go.
I was so naive. First kid. First tooth lost. I thought, "I'll make it special!" I came up with an elaborate and somewhat expensive ritual and got stuck doing that somewhat expensive and elaborate ritual for two kids worth of teeth.
Then I had my third child and I changed it up. He was so much younger I could start fresh. I made it easier on myself. I'm happy. He's happy.
I'll pass on my learnings in case it helps you be happy too.
Here are my top tips for the Tooth Fairy time of life.
1. You get to decide if you want to do the Tooth Fairy at all.
It never occurred to me to start here. Did you know there are different tooth transitions all over the world? Some kids throw their teeth on the roof. So if you want to have a Tooth Fairy you can. Or you can have a roof ritual. Or a slipper thing. The choices are endless.
2. Pillows are optional.
If you do want to have the Tooth Fairy, you don't have to use the old put-it-under-your-pillow method. Why? Because it's easy to lose a tooth under a pillow and it's hard to sneak in at night and rummage under a pillow without waking up a child sometimes. Especially when the child has a gazillion stuffed animals on the bed and a maze of toys on the floor. Make it easy on yourself. Put the tooth in a bowl next to the bed. Or, even easier, leave it in a bowl outside the bedroom door. It doesn't have to be a bedtime-visiting Tooth Fairy. Again, you get to choose.
3. Manage expectations.
How much money does the Tooth Fairy leave? That is an easy expectation to manage. The answer usually is: whatever they left the first time. But if the Tooth Fairy leaves small gifts instead or in addition to money, what is small? If you have a child who will question dimensions and debate this concept endlessly, use a box. The tooth goes in a shoe box. The toy left cannot be bigger than the box. It has to fit in the box. That's how "small" the toy is. Problem solved. You can also use a smaller box.
4. Plan for vacations.
What happens if the tooth is lost while you are on vacation and your child is with caregivers? Plan ahead. Maybe the Tooth Fairy only visits when a parent is present. So the child knows to wait until you are back to do the tooth thing. Or maybe you have a stash of supplies ready (including the denomination of money needed) so that that Tooth Fairy can visit while you are gone. Regardless, plan ahead. Like if you are on a vacation with your child and they lose a tooth, does the Tooth Fairy visit the campground? You tell me. Or rather, you tell them. Each child is different and some are very intricate in their need for tradition. Some are more flexible. So once again, plan ahead.
5. Plan for lost teeth.
If the child swallows their tooth when it comes out, or it pops out down the drain, you know exactly what to do. Do you leave a note instead of the tooth. Be ready.
6. Keep track of the teeth.
Whether you keep the actual teeth or freeze them or not, keep track of which teeth and how many are out so you know how many are yet to be out. Maybe you will remember. I never remember. I think I will remember. I don't remember. And then I have no idea how many teeth are left when they ask me. For my last kid I bought a box that has spaces for each of his teeth so I know how many and which specific ones. But you can just make a note on your phone.
7. Set your alarm.
You put your kid to bed. They put their tooth wherever and however your family does the tooth thing. You know your job. Tooth Fairy! You get busy. You do dishes. You check Facebook. You go to bed. NO! You must remember to do the tooth thing. I am not kidding: set an alarm. Put a note on your pillow so you can't go to sleep without remembering. But if you are a busy parent (and you are busy because you are a parent) set yourself up for success by making sure you can't forget. Whatever you need to do to remember, do that.
8. Enjoy your whatever it is.
This tooth thing is a passing stage; it's great if you can enjoy it. Think about your child. Think about yourself. Find a path that fits you both and embrace it. Whatever it is.
The Tooth Fairy
This is not a post about fashion, it’s about becoming a mom and the things that happen to our lives because of it.
It’s been years since I haven’t used a mini backpack. The reason was purely practical: I’m so clumsy that when I bent over a regular purse would swing off my body and smash my toddler like a wrecking ball.
So I started wearing a bag on my back.
It’s been years since I’ve worn most of the jewelry I own. The reason was purely practical: I have such slow reflexes that my small children would grab that necklace before I could stop them. My engagement ring was a sharp hazard while dressing squirmy bodies.
So I started wearing just small hoop earrings and a plain band.
It’s been years since I’ve regularly talked on the phone. The reason was purely practical: every time I got on the phone (no matter how occupied my children seemed to be) they would start yelling at each other or for me.
So I started only texting and emailing.
As my youngest grows up and sprouts past his sixth birthday I feel simultaneously older and younger. It’s a strange pull of sensation and age. On the one hand I feel the wisdom of the years gather around me like a strength. On the other hand I feel my normal self unfold like a kid from the back of a coupe after a family road trip.
Where are we?
It took me two seasons of watching the new Doctor Who to realize I feel like the adventurous Doctor’s young 20-something companion but I look like her mother.
How did I get here?
But that’s the thing with age, isn’t it? The secret they can’t share with you until you are there: we are all our younger selves under all these kids and wrinkles. Necessity might change our purses or hide our jewelry in a drawer for a time. Responsibility might put that phone down for a while. But if you let time wind its curved journey we will eventually bend back into ourselves.
And there we are.
This is one of the most profound parenting principles there is:
This world is full of options. That's a blessing. But some days it doesn't feel like one.
Play dates. Classes. Social groups. Outings. Family gatherings. So many things to do.
Are you feeling stressed out by all of the options? Yes, choices are a blessing but when it's play dates, classes, social groups, outings, family gatherings, sports...
How do you eliminate the planning stress?
When I feel put upon, stressed out, or cornered, I have to remember: What do /I/ want?
That changes everything.
Instead of feeling like the world is throwing boulders at me that I have to catch or duck lest I get pummeled, instead I remember: I get to choose.
And not only that: "Look at how many amazing choice I have!"
From there the rest is easy. That's because I've practiced listening to my intuition, and my kids have, too. Intuition is your soul, your Big Guidance, and it never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever steers you wrong.
It even does scheduling.
I have a 6 month old baby, a 10 year old a daughter and a 6 year old daughter. I have a husband who works from home. I have a big summer ahead of me. What do I want?
Ease, of course.
Fun, oh heck-yes.
I want to be easy. I want it to be in our Highest Good. And I want it to be awesome.
So now, from this perspective, nothing seems stressful. Possible sleepover? Trip to Great America? Maybe. If we want. If it is something our Higher Self says "ooooh!" to.
And if it is not?
There is no pushing. No protecting myself (under the guise of protecting my kids). No guilt for saying "no thank you" and no fear of missing out, doing it wrong, or screwing up.
It is just... perfect. As it is. And as it is not.
So now: bring it.
An email box full of invitations? I can handle it. My soul already knows what my summer looks like, and from that perspective, it is AWE-SOME.
I have another baby so that means it's time to get cracking on organizing my life differently. By "differently" I mean "don't get all cranky because you can't get anything done".
Important Note: Don't let the word "baby" stop you parents of kids, tweens, or teens from reading this post. This strategy works for parents with kids of all ages. I just happen to have a baby right now, OK?
Now where was I? Oh yes.
Take my To Do list.
(No, really, take it. Ba-dum-CHISH!)
In the past, it was great to have a running To Do List. It was all I needed. Skim the list, pick something to do, do it, check it off. It was so simple.
But then I had a baby.
Suddenly that To Do list was a huge, looming pile of "Can't Get Done's" - a shadow of shame and frustration hanging over me, weighing me down. Nursing, changing diapers, rocking, holding a baby.... all great times when my body was busy while my mind was free to watch the clock tick, the dishes pile up, the emails to go unanswered, my hair to grow split ends, the thank you cards to be unthanked...
I felt like I couldn't get anything done. I got frustrated when I was interrupted - again. It was stressful.
So I started playing with how to organize my time. First I tried creating a smaller, daily To Do list from my main one. That seemed like a great idea. I could just pick the top three to five things I would, (really, truly, would) do that day that were critical.
Except it didn't work.
Now I had a smaller, but even more pressing To Do list looming over my head throughout the day as I changed diapers, rocked, held, soothed... and I felt even more stressed out because it was a shorter list and I wasn't even able to get thatdone right away.
After years of research and trial and error I have found the To Do list system that works for me - particularly when I have a baby or a toddler. You know, one of those constant-interuptus little people who, bless their hearts, might not take a 2 hour nap that day when you need it.
My system is all about flow.
It's main design is not necessarily to get things done, but to keep me from feeling stressed out. Which, ironically, means I end up getting more things done. (Tricky, but true.)
Instead of assuming I have complete control over time, my To Do list works in a world where I don't have to. (You mean I don't have to control time? No! Yay!)
I will still pick the top three to five things that I really want or need to get done that day and put them down on paper, but instead of just making a list, I categorize them into time opportunities. Or, because I still have a daily paper organizer (in addition to my online calendar) I will pencil in the To Do near the part of the day in which they can - or are most likely to - get done.
What can I do while the baby is awake?
- Folding laundry. (He loves to play with the socks on the bed.)
- Light cooking. (He loves to be held and I am a one-handed wonder at the stove.)
What requires babysitting so I can leave the house?
What requires the baby to be home with me but occupied or asleep and I am OK to be interrupted?
- Digging out the garage
- Taking a shower
What requires the baby to be occupied or asleep at home with someone who can tend the baby if he wakes or needs something so I am uninterrupted?
- Email to a client
With this new framework I feel more flexible and generous about getting my own needs met.
I can actually do that while the baby is in the carrier and I'm standing outside.
Writing a blog post?
This good for my soul and my creativity but I don't need to write every day. How often? Weekly would be great. If I am feeling well rested and inspired, I am totally happy to write in the morning - and get interrupted to change a diaper like just now - but only when the older kids are in bed and it's just the baby and me. Right now at 5 months old he's still very quiet. ;)
Knowing this means I can look forward to one morning when it lines up. Because it does. I don't have to push it.
With this type of To Do list I can:
Once I stop fighting reality or stressing out, it all flows.
That feels fantastic.
And, incidentally, so does getting stuff done. :)