Smart Media We Watch: Cartoons that Begin with S

When I started this post, I intended to just cover a few shows we watch together and talk about what makes them smart. I ended with the three choices you see below and they all happen to be cartoons that start with an S. Enjoy…

Not everything my kids are tuning into is educational, or even meaningful. I’m ok with that as long as the media they consume is, by and large, a healthy media diet.

With that said, I do like to know what their favorites are and why and I do like to try to influence their tastes. I know that sounds manipulative as fuck but don’t worry, my kids are way smarter than me with complete and total minds of their own.

Sometimes they agree when I say something is or is not trash and sometimes they don’t.

Fortunately, my kids have great taste and that’s what I want to share with you all today. Some of the smart media my kids are watching on television.

Steven Universe

A young boy takes his mother’s place in a group of gemstone-based beings, and must learn to control his powers.

SU

The show follows four main characters – three crystal gems: Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl, and a crystal gem/boy hybrid: Steven – as they defend earth from being colonized by the crystal gem home world.

Why my kids watch: I think at the heart of the program is Steven, a relatable and likeable character you want to see win. His bond with the three gems (his other worldly guardians) is endearing and their confusion over earth make for endless fodder)

Pros: There is a lot of creative license in these characters as they experience worldly and other worldly experiences. To that end, the show has brought me and the kids to a lot of discussions revolving around some pretty heavy themes like, gender nonconformity, same gender love, racism, and personal accountability. There is also plenty of characters of color to be found, all with exciting stories of their own.

Cons: Because the gems are not human but they are coded with some human characteristics that might be stereotypical. For example both Amethyst and Garnett read as black women characters and the writers tend to fall back on the ‘strong and sassy black woman’ trope.

Why I watch: At the end of the day it’s a really a great show with great characters and intriguing writing. It has also opened us up to discussions I mentioned above and then some.

Star Vs. The Forces of Evil

Star, 14, is a fun-loving optimist who never wants to have a dull day. She’s fascinated by the world around her and wants to explore as much of it as possible. On Mewni, Star’s parents put pressure on her to be the perfect princess, but on Earth she has freedom to live by her own rules

Star

A Disney Princess in almost every sense of the word, she is a slender, blond, blue-eyed, girl with an adventurous spirit. Usually I wouldn’t be attracted to such a character but Star has a compelling story. Born into a magical legacy, Star is being groomed to follow the traditions and trappings of royal life. To meet these obligations she must endure training. Her parents send her to the relative safety of earth and her guardian Marco.

Why my kids watch: The adventure and the magic. With a book and a wand Star is able to create cute yet deadly magic to protect herself, her friends, earth, and Mewnie from the forces of evil. Whether conjuring stampeding narwhals or a spider with a top hat, her hits are always fun and fatal!

Pros: She is a bad ass character. Fearless, fun, loyal, trustworthy, and flawed in some very typical ways. She does not want to be a princess and she rebels against this in as many different ways as possible. This is so common of every kid who combatting the will of their parents. She is funky and atypical and no matter how hard she tries to forego her responsibilities, in the end, she always does the “right” thing her own way.

Cons: Not a lot of diversity here, although her guardian, 14-year-old Marco, is of LatinX decent, there are really no other characters of color to speak of. The one character that codes as ethnic, (Star’s best friend Ponyhead) is played to some stereotypes.

Why I watch: I like magic and I like strong female characters and I love adventure and this happens to have all of that plus some great writing and plot work. The story is interesting and I am a true fan. Hoping to see them expand to more diverse characters moving forward

Spongebob Square Pants

Whoooooooooo lives in a pineapple under the sea – SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!

Absorbent and yellow and porous is he….

SB

I personally hate this show and I know there are many parents out there who agree but Spongebob aint for me! It’s for the kiddies. By now we all know this sponge who, as the song would suggest, lives in a pineapple under the sea. He has many cohorts including a starfish and a squirrel and none of it makes sense but it’s decades long run proves, I don’t know shit about the popularity of sea sponges.

Why my kids watch: The show has been on for decades. My 16 year-olds still watch and really love this show. I think it’s the nautical nonsense. There is so much tom foolery and malarkey it is literally laughable. Silly songs, silly plots, and ridiculous characters make this cartoon a timeless and enduring classic.

Pros: Spongbob is really altruistic and a loyal friend to the end. As far as fictional characters go, he is gold. He teaches lessons about being oneself and accepting other’s for themselves. Squidward is the absolute worst and yet he still loves him dearly. I think that’s some role model worthy stuff.

Cons: This show is obnoxious and ridiculous and totally just for the kids. My dog barks at the tv constantly whenever it’s on. It’s that annoying to her too.

Why I watch: I really don’t but sometimes the kids leave it on the TV when they go out and I find myself cracking the fuck up at the shenanigans and asking myself, “Why?”


What are your kids watching and loving and learning from?

Smart Media Consumption and My Kids

Long-time Smarties know I’ve got six whole kids! They range in age from 10 months to 16 years. Technology has been a huge part of their lives. They literally can’t comprehend a world before smart phones. They giggle at the inconvenience of telephones with chords and vinyl records. They laughed through the original Ghostbusters and it wasn’t at Bill Murray’s quick wit. It was in response to the “cheesy special effects.” Continue reading “Smart Media Consumption and My Kids”

Talking to my Kids About the Orange Menace

Lets get a few things out-of-the-way, shall we?

This entire blog is op-ed, in this space my voice reigns…supreme. I’m Smart Media Mom and I’m not here for your approval or your clicks. I’m here to be free. I’m here to be unapologetically me! I created this blog so that I can create the kind of smart content I crave and is in scarce supply around the internet. If you don’t agree with me, you are welcome to comment but please remember, keeping it moving costs zero dollars and zero cents.

In my universe Donald J. Trump is an Orange Menace (OM). In my universe white people elected an ego maniacal, white supremacist, who is lining his pockets while filling the white house with other ego maniacal, white supremacists to create, what my husband has called, “the Voltron of corruption.” I’m not arguing this obvious point. History and publications more worthy than mine have proven this fact. If you voted for the OM, please, and I mean this with all due respect, Fuck. Off.

Today I am here in the aftermath to talk to fellow parents, who aren’t seduced by bat shit insanity, to figure out how we talk to our kids about this mess we call American politics!

Hate crimes are up and on the rise.

Don’t believe me, do the research. Start here and here.

Emboldened by OM’s win, people are popping right out of their racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic closets. Proudly announcing themselves, “here!” for the white pride party. Exit polls will tell you, it’s not just the usual suspects like the KKK, alt-right, neo-Nazis, or whatever those kids are calling themselves these days. Nor is it just red-necked yokels with poor educations and even poorer hygiene. No, the hate is coming from suburbanites who shop at Michael’s too.

Unfortunately kids are boarding the hate train as well.

In Minneapolis, middle-school boys leaned out of a school bus to yell, “Grab her by the pussy!” to a man walking with a female colleague. – Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)

I have had multiple conversations with my children throughout this election. I’m no monolith as a parent and my way is exactly that, my way. My way is to talk about it, confrontation can be healthy. I think it’s important to talk to our kids about what is going on. They already have an idea, they are talking about it on the playground, trust me.

The next four years are going to push well past the boundaries of decency. I’ve accepted this inevitability. So, here is how I am talking to my kids about the Orange Menace:

He’s a bully…a quick trip to his twitter page will completely validate this fact. Whether he is threatening to jail or deport (to where idk) protesters who burn the flag or insisting the press refrain from criticism, it is clear his character is devoid of traits like compassion, empathy, diplomacy, grace and from where I’m sitting, he seems to have a love and joy deficiency as well. My kids understand what a bully is, they have been taught both at home and in school how to spot and handle a bully.

When I explained OM in this way, they immediately agreed and then asked why anyone would want a bully as president. Kids are smarter than all of us by the way.

My response, “The fact is bullies don’t always suffer consequences for their behavior, especially when others enable and reinforce the negative. They sometimes even win. It doesn’t make them less of a bully nor more likable, nor worthy of anyone’s respect. Life isn’t always just or fair.” That’s the truth, tell your kids the truth.

Our values and beliefs did not change just because a bully was elected into office. Just as we have always stood up for the most vulnerable among us so we will continue to do just that now. Probably even more diligently than ever before. That’s what the world needs most in my opinion. People willing to fight the bullies of the world.

I am trying to raise kids who will champion the marginalized. This becomes more difficult with every day the OM and his minions transition into office. I imagine it will get worse before it gets better but I refuse to allow hate to be normalized in my home. Despite the fact that millions of people across this nation welcomed that into their homes by voting for this bully in the first place.

Be honest with your kids about racism and all the isms and phobias that are lurking around every corner. Call it out in your community, in the media, in front of them, let them see in real-time what inclusive, inter-sectional activism looks like and I promise they will follow suit.

I wish I could end this on a lighter note but the way my reality is set up I can only ask, how are you talking to your kids post-truth? How do  you explain the Orange Menace?

The Baby Chronicles: Two Pink Lines

The tale that lead us all to this moment is a whopper and I promise to dedicate some time to it but, not today.

We’re having a baby! That’s an epic sentence because we said we weren’t going to do that, for a myriad of reasons but mainly because the very idea of poopy diapers makes me gag.  We’d joke about the nightmare of sleepless nights and shirts full of vomit, like  a couple of veterans who’ve seen things. After our children were all safely tucked into bed, we’d sit up late into the night and sip our beer and wine, enjoying the silence and saying things like, “If we had a baby, we’d be too exhausted to enjoy this time,”

We felt full together, we share our children and the adventure of raising them and we didn’t think we needed any other thing.  Deep down, though, we did wonder if we were wrong about all of that. What if it would be really great to do this, one more time but, together? How would we handle those sleepless nights? What would our baby look like? It was with this sentiment that we just, sort of, let it happen and exactly one month later…two pink lines. Holy guacamole! This is really happening!

We never expected giving it one, single, last try, would result in an actual baby. We left it to fate, understanding that it usually takes many tries, over the course of many weeks, sometimes months, so this one try was a long shot (pun totally intended!). I should have known better, our whole existence as a couple was a long shot to begin with! Which is why, once the shock wore off, we understood exactly how meant to be this was.

Having-a-child_quote

So, let me just get a few things out of the way…I know I’m 39 and my eldest children will both be 15 when they meet this little one. I know for many, many people in the world 39 seems really old. I am also well aware that in reproductive terms I am “no spring chicken,” so stop “just being honest” with me! I give not a single fuck if you think I’m mid-life and your geriatric jokes are not funny. Yes, I see my grey hair and crows feet when I look in the mirror. Yes, I know that by the time this kid is in High School I’ll be in my fifties and I’m well aware of what starting all over again “at this age” really means. Turn all that ageist shit all the way off when talking to me, thanks.

We are happy with this very unexpected journey and we still feel like silly teenagers when we’re together. We are looking at this as the latest and greatest adventure for our family – we’ve been on quite a few already, we have no regrets!

It’s been seven years since I’ve been pregnant, a lot has changed (the good news, no amniocentesis the bad news, lots more lab work) but I am embracing it all and chronicling it here for you to follow along because it’s the 21st century and the only reason anything is real anymore is if it’s on the internet, right?

The first stop along this road…Hyperemesis Gravidarum…despite what that sounds like it is NOT a spell from Harry Potter. It is “persistent severe vomiting leading to weight loss and dehydration, as a condition occurring during pregnancy.” Or as I lovingly refer to it, a first class trip to hell. HG effects .5% – 12% of pregnant women, including The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, so of all the lotteries I could have won, mine is kind of royal! I had pretty bad morning sickness with my first pregnancy but none with my second and certainly nothing like HG. Persistent seems like an understatement really. It seems way too polite. I would describe it as demanding and controlling nausea and vomiting that lasts until you want to die. I spent a week in the hospital, I lost 8lbs and it took me another 2 weeks before I could eat anything not jello and two more weeks before my abdominal muscles stopped feeling like I’d put them through a cheese grater. It was fun.

frabz-Morning-Sickness-Morning-sickness-everywhere-a6c973

For any woman out there who understands what I am saying, nausea pops and Honey Nut Cheerios, have been a lifesaver. I was also prescribed Reglan (Metoclopramide) but my OB/GYN suggested I try to manage the symptoms as best I can without meds, which I have done by eating like a two-year old and sticking to a regimented routine. No processed foods, no fast foods, no junk foods…all natural diet and consistent grazing. I track my calories and take note of foods that really agree with me through an app called, My Fitness Pal. I finally made it to my 12th week and although I am pretty sure I will have “morning sickness” through most of my pregnancy, the nausea and vomiting are NOT persistent and both me and baby are gaining weight again.

Next stop on the road is our first round of genetic testing, pretty standard stuff I’m told, I’ll start reading up this week on all the things I can expect and I’ll be sure to share in our next installment of the baby chronicles!

7 Awful things about Poverty that have Nothing to do with Money

mindisapalaceRecently, my family fell on some hard times. My husband, a veteran, safety engineer, and EOD tech was finding it difficult to find an appropriate job. This meant that I, a marketing consultant and writer, was solely supporting my blended, family of seven. We made it work, with resourcefulness and a tight rein on our budget, we were doing pretty well. Neither of us have or want credit cards, and we were living within our means, life was pretty cool.

Then something awful happened, I was let go from my place of employment (this is a long story but I will say, people can be really petty and awful and selfish and might not have considered how I would be feeding my five kids – if you are reading this, please know I am talking about you) but I digress. I managed to pick up some freelance gigs, which held us together but things started to dry up. Times are hard and competition is fierce. We found ourselves in a position thousands of families across the country are in every day. We were out of work and running out of savings quickly and it didn’t seem like there was any hope in sight.

Soon our savings ran out and we became, in what felt like an instant, poor. Don’t get me wrong, we were never rich, but now, things were different. I was having a hard time figuring out what to do. I knew the truth about the world, this is how families end up sleeping in their cars. I was scared, we both were. Our days and nights were full of bitter anxiety and with each passing rejection letter, my self-worth and self-esteem was diminishing.

There are many awful things about being poor and none of it has much to do with money.

  1. Social Services will not come to your rescue. After depleting our life savings and borrowing all the money we were comfortable with borrowing, the time had come to look beyond all our resources and get help in the form of social services. So we applied and we waited, for weeks, to get a response, which came in the form of more paperwork and a million hoops to jump through. We faced judgement and scrutiny in the most shameful ways. “Don’t get pregnant” the case worker told me, “we aren’t putting any more of your children on this case” and in the end we were denied any help at all. The thing about social services is you have to be destitute with no other help in order to receive any services. They literally ask you “Don’t you have friends or family that can help you?” as one of the qualifying questions. They want you to basically be homeless in order to qualify. The irony of it all is that the money or assistance you receive wont help you get out of poverty because, that would be a crazy, right? Services that actually lift people from poverty.
  2. Trying to hide your poverty so the kids wont feel it. Without any social services we were really stretching our resources. “Can I have a glass of milk with my cookies, mom?” was a loaded question. I must respond “No” without explaining that we just can’t use milk for those frivolous things anymore. Confusing, right? How gross is cookies and water? Very. But I would make up excuses so my kids wouldn’t suspect the truth. Patching up holes in clothing, handing down jeans and jackets became the order of the times. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just “Go to Target and get a new one” and I couldn’t explain why. Sooner or later though we had to come clean. They just didn’t understand why we were, all of a sudden, saying “No” to everything. So, we talked to our kids, honestly, without frightening them, by explaining that we were just on a really tight budget right now. Hiding that stress from them, denying the burden of it was hard but they are kids and kids deserve fun and they deserve to have milk with their cookies.
  3. Making constant excuses to friends and family about why we couldn’t participate in anything fun.  All of this happened right around the holiday season when parties, dinners, and social gatherings were in full swing. My pride just wouldn’t let me say “I can’t afford to come to your event.” So we made excuses about being sick or having other engagements that didn’t exist.  We missed being around our friends and family. In hindsight, perhaps we should have been more honest, perhaps if we had we would have gotten more support than we realized possible.
  4. It’s a shameful secret you carry like a metric ton on your shoulders. Being poor in America today is likened to being lazy, criminal, worthless, and no-good. Every day, I would scroll through my social media feeds and see post after post about how easy it was to achieve the American dream and if I wasn’t achieving, it was because I was just lazy or stupid. In response to that, I worked hard to hide my circumstances from others. When my child’s school reached out to find out if maybe I needed supplies from the local food bank, even though I did, I said “No,” and thought “My God, that’s for homeless people not me” I was so ashamed to need, so ashamed to be poor that it was unbearable. But I realized, poverty isn’t always self-inflicted, poverty is like a disease, it happens to you without you understanding why and the best you can do is fight hard to survive.
  5. Poverty is expensive. Every week that passed with no money and no relief in sight was adding to our collective debt. But that’s not what I mean by expensive – poverty cost me my pride, my self-esteem, my self-worth. It took my confidence and turned me into a weak, depressed, soul. My usually optimistic persona had become dark and inconsolable. I was constantly worried about my kids, my home, my husband, constantly wondering whether tomorrow would be the day the bank would come take my car, take my house, maybe even take my kids because I couldn’t afford to be a good mother. I lived in agony and felt defeated. Poverty doesn’t only cost you material possessions, it costs you a little bit of your soul too. It takes you to a dark and desperate place, which brings me to….
  6. Desperate and extreme thinking.  I use to lie awake at night trying to figure out how to make money. No one was hiring me, not even Wal-Mart (I applied but they told me they did all their holiday hiring already) and there was just no hope in sight. What would I have to do to keep our heads above water? (I am pretty sure my husband was lying in bed right next to me thinking the same) I read an article a while back about a girl who sells her panties with much success and actually thought, “well, if worse comes to worse, I can always sell my panties” Can you imagine that? Me, a mother, a professional, a feminist, was actually thinking about selling her panties for some extra cash. Being poor makes you desperate and while I would have never actually sold my panties for money, I thought about. Like, seriously, thought about it.
  7. The strain on your marriage. My husband and I are close, as close as a couple can be. We have no secrets and we talk about our deepest and darkest thoughts but something about the strain of poverty was getting to us. Where we were once easy-going and open with each other, we unconsciously became withdrawn. We talked less, hugged less, kissed less, played less. Not because we were blaming each other for what was going on but simply because the financial stress was eating away at both of us on an emotional and mental level. The side-effect was a growing distance and silence that only broke when we admitted what was happening.

I am relieved and happy to say that we are at the end of our road. My husband has begun a new position with a prestigious company and we are on our way toward healing both the financial and mental stress of poverty. I have picked up some new freelance gigs and I continue to use my blog as a way to share and vent my experiences. For us this is a happy ending but for hundreds of families across the country and throughout the world, the ending is often much more tragic.

I am not ashamed anymore, hell, even J.K. Rowling was on food stamps at one point. What I want people to get out of this is that poverty has many faces and many characteristics. I want people to understand that poverty, like cancer, can happen to anyone, at any time, for any number of reasons. I want people to know that they should not judge someone hard on their luck or assume that every case of poverty is a case of laziness. No one wants to be poor, no one wants to need social services, no one wants to need help but no one should be made to feel ashamed should they find themselves in just that position.

If you find yourself in similar circumstances, there is help, you can find support.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Five Body Positive Building Blocks

I don’t know anyone who has a perfect relationship with their body.  If you do, please tell me how you accomplished it in the comments below, there is much I can learn from you.  If you are like me you have struggled with loving yourself, perhaps still struggle sometimes. But, I know loving myself better will help me raise body positive kids. So, I work at loving myself to ensure my kids don’t have to work as hard to love themselves.

I made a quiet promise to them, a long time ago, NOT to pass down personal body hang-ups. This isn’t always easy but it’s well worth the effort, for everyone’s sake. Recently, my youngest daughter asked if she could make her straight hair curly. When I asked her why she replied “curly hair is prettier.” (ironic, I spent most of my young life trying to coax my curly hair straight). First, I reminded her that while curly hair is pretty, it isn’t prettier than her own, very beautiful, straight hair. Next, I braided her hair so that when she undid the braid her own, usually, pin-straight tresses would have some wave to it. Then I had time to consider positive body image and my kids.

Am I teaching it? Being body positive, in my mind, is being comfortable in your own skin. It’s having a matter-of-fact attitude about our bodies and what they do. Creating this comfort depends on some essential building blocks that constantly reinforce, for the whole family, positive body image. My family’s building blocks focus on:

Each building block is an opportunity for your kids to take ownership of themselves and their bodies. Every teaching moment should encourage a healthier sense of well-being by promoting self-love, either through ritual tasks like grooming, as well as, open and meaningful conversation. My parenting style is centered around teaching my children responsibility (for self and others), accountability, and self-control. These traits will serve them well through their adult lives and life is just easier when you can love and appreciate yourself.

What do you think about it? How do you encourage healthy body image in your home? Do you or your children struggle to stay body positive? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Are You a Smart Media Mom?

Everyone who reads my blog knows my philosophy: smart media is sincere, authentic content thatinfluences smart people in positive ways. I never really thought to define it before I was a mom.

Then I had a baby and everything changed. When my daughter first started speaking, I heard her humming some commercial jingle. I don’t remember which but I remember thinking, “holy shit, my kid is a sponge.” Everything from television commercials to Elmo had some kind of influence on her tiny little brain. I introduced her to Baby Einstein immediately and then I became a smart media mom.childrenmedia_info

Being a smart media parent is hard work, it takes dedication and a willingness to learn new things. How can you tell if you are a smart media mom?

You screen media before your child consumes it. 

Data shows that exposure to violence, inappropriate sexuality and offensive language can have negative effects on our children. Extensive research by the American Pediatrics Association indicates that “media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.”

For this reason, we screen and research the media our kids want to consume. When my kids are into a new video game, we find out what it is. When they are assigned a new book at school, I read it too. If they are interested in the latest blockbuster movie or up and coming artists, we are also interested. This keeps us in the loop and in touch with the things they are in touch with and that keeps me in touch with them.

You keep cellphone use on a tight leashChildren & Cellphones

Most teens – 85 percent aged 15 to 17 – 69 percent of kids aged 11-14 and 31% aged and kids between 8-10- have cell phones. According to WebMD, twice as many children have cell phones today as in 2004.

Our household falls into the 11-14 bracket – middle school felt like the right time to give our kids the privilege. After-school obligations and extra curricular activities means we need to stay in touch.

However I have a lot of rules around this privilege:

  • No phones during school hours
  • No phones at the dinner table
  • No phones in the bedroom overnight
  • Parental locks and permissions must remain in place
  • No new apps or game downloads without permission
  • Grades slip or rules broken and no more phone

We monitor their usage and retain the right to examine their phones at any time we choose until the child is 18 years of age. We set very strict parental permissions that can not be adjusted without a password. So far, so good but, my eldest will be 14 in a month so check back with me on that.

You keep them from social media for as long as possible.

The rule in my house is simple, mom and dad MUST be your friend or the social media account is deleted. That means it is irrelevant if I want  to be on Instagram or not. My daughter did and I had no reasonable argument why she couldn’t, so I downloaded it and now we have a new way of communicating.

Like anything else there are rules:

  • No over sharing
  • No identifying information
  • No follows from people you don’t know in real life (except celebrities)
  • No suggestive language, pictures or other media
  • No bullying

I retain the right to change, add to, or alter those rules at will, if they don’t like it, they lose phone privileges and all accounts are deleted.

You keep the lines of communication open

No matter how hard you try to screen and regulate your kid’s media consumption, they will have access to ALL of the information anyway and it is rarely accurate. Therefore, it’s important to be realistic. Talk to your kids as often as possible about what they might be seeing and hearing in the great, big world out there.

They will roll their eyes at you but don’t be deterred. Parents, your voice must be the loudest voice in their heads. You must give them the tools they need to make sense of what is going on in the world around them.

We will be our children’s first and greatest influence, they will look to us for guidance first and we must fight peer pressure and the constant media barrage aimed at them. We can not fail them.

If you are a smart media parent, how do you help your kids navigate the digital world? What’s on your smart media checklist?

5 Rules to Survive Blending your Families

I am going to break my blended family down for you, if it had a relationship status it would be “complicated.” Our blended family consists of 5 kids, 6 parents (plus bonus parents, grandparents, in-laws) and spans three states. Our “village” on the best of days, is a dense forest, with sturdy branches and healthy leaves, providing shelter and shade to all our precious “saplings”. Most times it works like an ecosystem in perfect harmony, sometimes it’s more like global warming – disastrous!

When my partner and I decided to merge our families, It was, at times, a painful transition for all. We worried about getting everyone on the same page. How do we figure out the rules and rights of our kids and put them in place? There were no perfect answers, there are no hard and fast rules to parenting. We don’t need any, we just need to do what is best for our family dynamic.

After five years in this beautifully, blended family, we’ve learned some things:

Always Put the Children First:keepcalm_kidsfirst

Rest assured that you and the other adults in your kid’s lives wont always agree. Discussions will turn into disagreements and if left unchecked those disagreements could turn ugly. Stop it! Put your own feelings aside and work to make good decisions for the kids. If you can’t do this you end up in court waiting for a judge to do it for  you. You will also be subjecting your child to a lifetime of having parents that never get along. That’s horrible and sad.

If everyone wants a hand in seeing the kids grow up, everyone must put their egos aside and work together. When everyone gets along it will only benefit your kids. Good friends make great parents. Friends are honest, they remind each other what’s important. It’s always about the kids, they are THE most important thing, the only thing that matters.

Communication is everything:

If you have primary custody of your children, you are responsible for keeping everyone in the loop. It’s up to you to coordinate visitations, vacations, holidays, birthdays, school events and all the other occasions that come up. To get through it, you have to be able to communicate. In the 21st century there are so many ways to do this, there should be no excuses.

Be prepared to:

  • Listen – pay attention to body language, facial expressions, verbal and non-verbal cues. All of it contributes to the conversation. Tune in without thinking about how to reply, just listen. Then, think about it and reply thoughtfully.
  • Empathize – take a walk in someone else’s shoes. Through empathy, we are able to see the other side more clearly, making situations that once proved challenging much easier to resolve.
  • Validate – at the end of the day people want to be understood. Be kind with your words, validate each others feelings, and always keep the lines of communication open.

Make Flexibility your Best Friend:

If you have a complicated, family dynamic flexibility will be your best friend. Sharing custody, no matter how you split it up, requires all of the flexibility you can muster. When a lot of people are involved in your kid’s life any flexiblenumber of things can change at any time.

In a perfect world, the rules, rights, boundaries, and schedules you put down, work, forever, and everyone plays their part without incident. Life is never that perfect though. So you’ll work to build a solid framework and someone will get sick, find a new job or decide to move to a new state. Be ready and willing to adjust when this happens. Plans change and this can be very stressful if you don’t learn to be flexible.

Be a United Front:

Kids smell weakness and they will manipulate you to get their way. We work tirelessly to set up appropriate boundaries that allow our children to safely learn and grow. They work tirelessly to push those boundaries and try to break us. Combining our household meant figuring out what rules would work and which ones were no longer relevant.

The kind of topics we covered:

  • Rules of the house – bedtime, meal time, bath time, media time, appropriate discipline etc.
  • Special needs – schooling, tutoring, therapies etc.
  • Extra curricular activities – how many, who pays, what’s appropriate etc
  • Rights of the kids – cell phone/technology/social media readiness, age appropriate behaviors etc.

Do your research, speak to specialists if necessary and come prepared for team work. If there are any issues the kids might have, address them. Be solution minded and if there are no solutions to be had then and there commit to finding one together. This might be done over dinner or it might be an ongoing process.

Once you’ve agreed on all the rules stick together to apply them across the board. This means if a child breaks the rules in one household the punishment should stand in all households. This will teach your children to respect the boundaries and ensure they wont try to manipulate one parent or guardian against the other to get their way.

In my blended family this is the foundation for “making it work” for us. Every family is different, every family has their own tips and tricks that make it work for them. What would you add to this?  How do you establish the rules and rights in your home?

Tell me in the comments below.

Parenting 101: Self Care

Parenting requires only that we love our children and keep them healthy and safe, that’s really all anyone needs to “get it right”

parenting_self_care

The way to get it wrong is by burning yourself out. I’ve seen it happen to the best of us. There’s no vacation time from parenting, you are in it for days, weeks, years, sometimes sleep deprived, most times running on empty. You search for the exits but there is no escape and then you feel guilty for wanting to escape at all.

Well meaning people love to give new parents advice but most of it is about co-sleeping or breast-feeding. You’ll also hear about “your instincts,” and “knowing exactly what you’ll need to do.” There’s never any advice if your baby is colic and does nothing but cry for 6 months straight. No one tells you what to do when you turn into a zombie who would just as soon eat her crying baby as rock her gently back to sleep.

The first year of life with your child is the best and worst, lots of sleepless nights but so many snuggles. You want to spend every moment watching and loving them as best you can. So much so that it seems nothing else exists, it’s all-consuming and this is where the burn-out begins.

To avoid this burn out here are some self-care tips:

self_care_pin

  1. Get a hobby: I spent a lot of time on bed rest when I was pregnant with my son. It was very frustrating and there is only so much daytime TV that can keep you occupied. My cousin bought me some needles and yarn and I decided to take up knitting. I am really glad I did because I found it to be very therapeutic. Knitting might not be for you but you should find something that is. Scrap booking, jewelry making, baking, or anything that makes you focus on something other than your kids.
  2. Make grown-up time a priority: For the first few months of your baby’s life you will have no time for grown ups. Eventually though they transform from helpless infants into terrible toddlers who will insist on watching Teletubbies or Barney or whatever on loop forever. This will make your mind mush and drive you to the brink of insanity. At this point I recommend you call up grandma, grandpa, or auntie to sit on your kid(s). Then invite some close friends for dinner and drinks. A few rules, refrain from talking, thinking, or bragging about your kids. Take a break, a total break from being a parent.
  3. Pamper yourself: Whether you’re mommy or daddy, you deserve a little pampering. I don’t care if it’s a bubble bath or a haircut and a shave. Whatever makes you feel good, do it often, when you refresh your body you refresh your mind. A strong mind will give you the strength to parent another day
  4. Talk about your frustrations: Every parent wants to drop their kid(s) at grandma’s house and never return at least once during their parenting journey. Any parent who denies this is lying…I don’t care what they say…they are lying. I wish someone would have told me this because when I had these feelings I felt tremendously ashamed and wondered when the total bliss was going to kick in. So I spoke to my pediatrician about these frustrations and he told me they were normal and reminded me that there is no perfect way to parent. The moral of the story is talk to someone you trust and you’ll feel better about it, I promise.
  5. Unplug and have quiet time: I’ve talked about feeding your body and your mind but now I want to talk about feeding your soul. At the end of the day, after your umpteenth meal, or bottle, or episode of Spongebob, when your precious little angel-devil is finally fast asleep, stop and soak up the quiet. Don’t check your email or log into Facebook, don’t call a friend and don’t turn on the TV to veg out just yet. Unplug yourself from the world and just sit in peace and quiet, breath deeply, clear your mind of doubt and be by yourself for a little while.

Self-care requires prioritizing yourself and doing so will help you prioritize everything else. You are important, so put yourself on the list and work just as hard at self-care as you do at caring for your loved ones!

Parenting 101: Quality Time

One of my greatest challenges as a parent is money. I never have enough of it which means I am constantly working or trying to find work. It also means I have to say “no” a lot. “Mom can we go to the movies?” before I can respond I must calculate how much it would cost to take a family of seven to the movies….my entire life savings. So I must respond “No, I’m sorry – we don’t have the money for that this week.”

I hate saying no because my kids are amazing and they deserve all of the fun! I know my reality is the reality of parents all across the country and that is why I’ve decided to dedicate this post to free or low-cost quality time activities. Even if we can’t afford to take our kids to Disney World or the movies every week – we can still afford to give our kids time and attention.  We can always afford to pay attention!

My first bit of advice is to remember that of all the toys, games, and technology your kids may have, their favorite “thing” to play with is you. Even when they are teenagers and pretend that you’re lame, deep down inside, what they most enjoy is interacting with you. Take on quality time with that in mind.

Pictured - family fun in the car
Pictured – family fun in the car
  1. Game night. We love game night – it’s a time to let our hair down and encourage friendly competition. You don’t even need to invest in a bunch of board games to make this happen. Charades is fun and requires absolutely no money, all you need is:
    • Pieces of paper
    • A hat or bowl or container
      • What to do: decide on your categories – person, place, things, movies, TV, cartoons etc.
      • Write down topics in each category on pieces of paper put the paper in the hat, bowl, or container
      • Take turns picking from the hat and acting out the topics
      • If you have children in different age groups like I do, use two different containers and place easier topics in one for the little ones to choose from
  2. Movie night. This is a great opportunity to introduce your kids to all the classic movies you loved as a kid. For example, we just watched Gremlins together over Halloween and the kids loved it. We have a pretty big DVD collection but even if you don’t most cable/satellite companies offer free movies on-demand for you to choose from. You can also choose from TV specials which are plenty during the holiday season. The point isn’t really the movie, so even if you choose cartoons on Disney or Nick, it’s about getting together as a family.
  3. “Date” night. Obviously I don’t mean a romantic evening with your kids, that’s weird. What I mean is a special evening as a family. Set a date – Friday night works great – make a special dinner (you can do this together, my kids love to cook) and get dressed up. Meet in your dining room and share a meal together. You can follow it up with a movie or some games.
  4. Any outdoor activity, weather permitting. If you’ve exhausted all your games, movies, and meals, get outside for a game of soccer, kickball, or tag. If you live near a park, go hiking and explore nature. The point is to get out and play as a family.
  5. Freeze dance. When all else fails, nothing brings a family together like music and dancing. If you aren’t familiar with the rules to freeze dance it goes like this:
    • Turn on the radio to your favorite station or play your favorite record
    • Someone is in charge of the radio (usually my partner – since dancing in front of people embarrasses him)
    • Once the music starts everyone dances their hearts out
    • Once the music stops everyone freezes – the person in charge of the radio watches closely to make sure everyone is still
    • The first one who moves is out and then you start the music again – if no one moves, everyone keeps dancing
    • Keep going until everyone is so tired they need to go to bed!

Fun and family time doesn’t have to cost any money at all. Togetherness is free and you should take advantage of that every chance you get! When your children grow up they wont really remember the dollars and cents you spent but they will carry the memories of quality time you shared for the rest of their lives.