The Overwhelmed Family

The photo above was on a train ride from Vicenza to Roma. I’d like to say how lovely the trip was, but it wasn’t, we were way overwhelmed and under prepared.

 

Life isn’t so simple, I’m not sure it’s been simple since the industrial revolution, and today’s technologies make it increasingly more difficult to reconnect and slow down within our family.

Signs Your Family is Overwhelmed:

  1. Mom, Dad, and kids are easy to snap during the simplest tasks.
  2. Kids come home and immediately start a fight with you or each other.
  3. The look of disgust or anguish can be seen on their little faces the moment they get into the car.
  4. Tears come quickly at the slightest hint of the word ‘no’ or ‘time to go home’.

For some of these, we think that this is always normal, or this is just how kids are and how we are. However, this really can’t be the norm. Living this way every day or even weekly isn’t healthy and doesn’t need to be the case.

I’ve recommended it before, but I seriously can’t recommend it enough: Simplicity Parenting by Kim Payne. The signs above are what he calls a Soul Fever, and it can be reduced or eliminated if we take steps to slow down our family.

Recognizing these Soul Fevers is the most important step. My husband and I recently came home one night with our two daughters, completely melting down from leaving an art show. They had school all day, a playdate after school, a quick dinner then an art show, until 8 p.m. Although this doesn’t seem so bad, our girls just couldn’t handle it. The amount of attitude and tears was unbearable leaving the show. After some embarrassing yelling and prompting, my hubby and I took a seat on the couch (with kids still breaking down in the background) and recalled that this was our fault. We know their limits, we’ve done this before and recognized that they can’t handle long days and nights, especially on school nights. If we knew they would have to go to the art show we should have said no to the afterschool playdate and left the show earlier than we did. A small failure that we paid dearly for.

In the past we’ve implemented the one activity per day rule; we don’t plan more than one big activity per day, even on weekends. This worked out fabulously for us in the past, when they were really little, and we thought since they were getting older they could handle a bit more now. Well, we were wrong! We are back to our standard one activity a day and life is much easier. We say no to a lot of invitations since we know they just will not end well. Truthfully, it makes us more relaxed parents. We aren’t carting them all over God’s Creation, trying to fill every last second with something fun. There are times when we feel guilty that they will miss out on a rewarding and exciting experience, but nothing is rewarding if it calls for a tantrum at the end.

Tantrums do not have to be normal.

Every child is different, get to know yours really well and you’ll be able to tell why they tantrum. My oldest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough downtime and sleep. My youngest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough one-on-one attention (and sleep). We all ‘tantrum’ we don’t get enough sleep, Amen!

What does your family do to avoid the Soul Fever? Do you have family rules to help keep a calm and relaxed household?

Some of our rules:

  1. One activity/sport per season, per kid.
  2. One activity per day.
  3. One down day every weekend, almost like a Sabbath.
  4. Reward chart for good behavior during required activities (teeth brushing, bedtime, getting ready for school).
  5. Checking with our spouse before we say ‘yes’ to anything.
  6. No friend sleepovers (again the sleep factor)!
  7. No playdates on school nights (this one I’ve tried over and over again, but sadly she just can’t handle it).

Good Change, Bad Change, It’s All the Same

Photo Credit: Joe Leap

Have you ever wondered why you felt so drained even though you’ve accomplished something amazing? Maybe you’re supposed to feel elated about a career move but then suddenly you’re exhausted just thinking about it. If you express those feelings you’ll be seen as unhappy and ungrateful. It’s okay, there is nothing wrong with you, your body is just responding to stress, it’s just good stress. However, your body responds to those changes, roughly, in the same way as negative change. We go through similar hormonal responses.

Change can be good, in moderation, at the right time in your life.

If you’ve never heard of the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale Test, I recommend you take it. You should retake this test anytime you feel unexplainably stressed, you don’t know why you keep getting sick or have some unexplained health issues. Don’t forget to add things that you can recognize as stress that may not be listed or may not be as straight forward. For instance, if you’ve just graduated college make sure to add ‘end of college‘ and ‘outstanding personal achievement‘. If you’re moving back in with your parents add ‘moving‘ and ‘change in family obligations‘ as well. Thus graduating from college is incredibly stressful, even though it’s an entirely wonderful achievement.

All change is stress to your mind and body!

If you’d like to do some further research head on over to the CDC website to do an experiment on how you personally cope with stress: (https://www.cdc.gov/bam/teachers/documents/stress_body_mind.pdf).

Just know that all change is stress to your mind and body. Just got a promotion? Great, check the stress box. Just had a big disagreement with your in-laws? Sorry about that, but again, check the stress box.

So what do we do about about all this stress? Since it’s inevitable and life happens after all. Learn to recognize the things you can control and things you can’t. If you’ve just lost an important family member, now is not the time to take on optional work. MindTools states, “While this is clearly easier said than done, you can usually avoid moving house, for example, close to when you retire, or when one of your children goes off to college; you can learn conflict resolution skills to minimize conflict with other people; you can avoid taking on new obligations or engaging with new programs of study; and you can take things easy, and look after yourself.” 

Looking after yourself receives a post all on it’s own, but for now find one thing you do just for yourself (that doesn’t include internet surfing or television watching). Schedule time for this, by writing it on the calendar. Do this regularly and more often during noticeably high stress times. It’s okay not to do it all now. That’s the whole point of slowing down. There is a time in life for everything, but the time for everything is not right now.

Meditation also deserves a note here. I am in no way affiliated with 10% Happier but I’ve used their first seven guided meditations and I can happily recommend it.

I’m going to coin the term, Change Seeker, a person constantly in need of change to feel fulfilled.

Personal aside: the military has made me a Change Seeker. I look for change everywhere, I constantly rearrange my furniture, I’m always looking forward to the next place to move or new things to get involved in (or new degrees to get). But I can recognize that I’m, pretty much, chronically stressed (in both good and bad ways). I made a list of ongoing projects and I’m a little embarrassed to share it, so let’s just say it’s over 50 items long. I’m looking to slow my change seeking behaviors and hope to report to you a healthier update in the future.

 

 

Why I Don’t Rotate Toys

As parents, we have lofty goals of giving our kids the best of everything. Most times, this equates to a complete excess of everything! In truth, it’s unhealthy for kids to have 200+ toys, even if they are the best quality. If you haven’t read the book Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, then rent a copy because it will change the way you look at toys, activities, and media for your kiddos.

If you want to do what is BEST for your kids, have less toys, less clothes, less commitments and less noise around them!

I often get asked which toys should be kept, which should be donated and what can be ‘rotated’?

First off, you’re the parent, and you know what your kid’s favorite toys are. They are the ones that they drag around the house and ask you to play with ALL. THE. TIME. So box up the rest! Secondly, I don’t rotate toys. I tried to rotate toys and you know what happened? I boxed up all the ‘rotatable’ toys and put them in the attic and they never came down again, except one stuffed animal.

Reasons those toys didn’t come down:

  1. They weren’t asked for.
  2. They don’t require creativity or imagination.
  3. They are, in reality, junk.

It’s hard to be honest with ourselves when toys are really just junk. Here are some questions to help decide if it’s junk or not. How much plastic is involved? Can your child engage their imagination with the toy? Do you already have multiple of the same toy? Was it a gift that they never really asked for in the first place?

Want to know what made the list of toys we keep?

  • Dress up clothes (limited to three dresses each and a small basket of accessories)
  • Blankets (used for forts, baby dolls, capes, etc. – Montessori practitioners use play silks for the same thing)
  • Play kitchen and play food
  • Baby dolls and baby doll bed
  • Art supplies
  • A few board games
  • Favorite Stuffed Animals (stays in their bedrooms)

I have two girls, and so we don’t have trains or cars. But if I had a boy we would have his favorites, which would be more boy oriented.

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(although this is plastic, ‘pretend play’ toys tend to stick around!)

Sometimes I worry when friends come to visit that we won’t have enough toys for everyone to play with. However, I’ve never had a problem and not one child has ever said they are bored when they come over. Since all the toys are new to the visiting child they always find something exciting.

My favorite article on why kids need less stuff is by Denaye Barahona over at Becoming Minimalist: Why Kids Need Minimalism

Personally, I have a goal, similar to The Minimal Mom, to buy one toy organizer from IKEA and anything that doesn’t fit in that goes. It works for her and her 4 kids actually thrive using the system. The Minimal Mom – Toy Storage