Parenting Practice: “Sit back and enjoy the ride!”
Making the Most of Drive Time
The past three weeks I have been: 1) to Sea World with my daughters and their friend for my 9 year-old’s birthday, 2) to basketball camp in Utah with my 3 teenage sons and their friends, and 3) back to San Diego with my husband and our 6 children for our family vacation. I thought school-year chauffeuring was exhausting, but summer-time can be even more so!
Fortunately, I’ve also learned a valuable lesson from all this “drive time”. See, I love to travel with my kids, to show them new places and people, but it can definitely be loud and stressful. Past experience has taught me that the more people you cram in a car and the more hours you drive are positively correlated with the level of noise, crankiness, and arguing that’s bound to occur. But I was prepared to handle the stress, to keep order as much as possible, and to employ my music/audiobook-stocked iPod and headphones the minute the noise and stress became too much. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that my plan wasn’t benefitting me at all! In fact, by tuning out I was missing out! And so, I ended up letting go of my need to “be the parent,” to “keep order,” or to “tune out the noise” and instead decided to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Drive Time=Time to Connect
Sitting back, observing, listening, or even joining in the fun can turn “drive time” into a time to connect with our children and open our eyes to things we might otherwise miss. For example, these past weeks I have learned that: My 4 year-old daughter, “knows” mermaids are “real” and that they “live in Japan, of course!” My 9 year-old daughter is “crushing on” One Direction and intends to go downtown and perform their songs with her BFF to “make some money”. My 11 year-old son has been stalking the Verizon ads and telling his brothers, “They can do up to 10 phones now, so mom can’t tell me we already have the 5 cell phone lines we’re allowed!” My 13 year-old has apparently been doing very well with his “business” of selling sodas, chips, and iPod covers to his older brothers’ friends, and my 15 year-old is astoundingly good at doing accents (his “Russian” gets the most laughs)! Finally, I overheard my almost-sixteen year old son share his best pick-up line for when we finally let him date (in two months): “Kiss me if I’m wrong, but is your name Optimus Prime?”
See? There is so much to learn about and from our children, and even if they seem like small facts or unimportant details, to our kids these facts and details mean everything. Drive time is the perfect time to get to know our kids, if we’ll just be present and pay attention.
Here are some suggestions:
1) Let them choose the music—The music your child selects can give great insight into how they are feeling and what matters to them. I was pleasantly surprised last week when I let my oldest “DJ” our drive home only to find he’d given up the angry “rap” he was into last year and settled back into the “acoustic” music we used to play together on our guitars (a sure sign his teenage “angst” is coming to a close)!
2) Join in the games and the fun—For longer trips, play a good, old-fashioned car game (we prefer the A-Z game where the first to find all the letters of the alphabet on road signs wins), or participate in whatever games your kids come up with (my sons and their friends took turns drawing pictures of each other on an iPad. It was creative, hilarious, and highly entertaining for us all!)
3) Engage in conversation with your kids and with their friends–Kids act different around their friends. If you want to get to know this other side of them, drive their friends around too. Ask questions that help you get to know them, (What do you guys think about…?), joke around, make them feel comfortable. You’ll not only get to know your kids better, you’ll get to know the kids they’re hanging out with too!
4) Sing together!—Let everyone take turns choosing a song from the radio or MP3 and sing along. This not only helped me stay awake on our 8-hour drive from Utah, but I was shocked to find that my sons and their friends knew all the words to “Living on a Prayer” and “Jessie’s Girl”! Learn the words to their favorite songs, too. (I can sing along to Eminem (the clean songs), Katy Perry, Coldplay, or One Direction–and my kids think I’m pretty cool when I do!)
5) Laugh together!—Take turns telling jokes, share fun and humorous memories, or trade interesting stories. Laughing together makes for a very memorable ride!
6) If all else fails, just sit back and listen. Sometimes the best you can do is observe. Not every kid at every age will let you participate in their fun. (I’ve had my share of “Mom, can’t you put your headphones on?”, believe me!) I try to respect that sometimes kids just need to be kids without the eyes and ears of a parent overseeing everything. In these times I sit back, watch, and listen. You can learn so much by tuning in to what your kids say and do when they think that you’re tuned out!
I know it can get old chauffeuring kids to and fro (I’ve certainly had my share of complaints about it)! But trust me, if you make the most of your drive time it can help you get to know your kids (and their friends) in a whole new way. In fact, it can improve your relationship if you let it! So, the next time you are driving hither and yon with SUV-loads of kids, sit back and enjoy the ride!
Any tips you’d like to share for making the most of “drive time?” We’d love to hear about it, so leave a comment below!
7 Strategies for Summer Sanity
Summer is upon us once again with its longer days and warmer weather. Yet for we parents of school-aged children, summer break can be anything but relaxing. I admit, my past few summer breaks have started with a mental breakdown on my part. But this year is different. I have looked back, taken notes, and learned from my mistakes; with only four days of school left, my summer sanity plan is firmly in place. So, allow me to share my 7 strategies for summer sanity in hopes it will bring a little sanity your way this summer too!
1) Evaluate & adjust expectations. This is a biggie. As I’ve written before, “All frustration comes from expectations” (Dr. John Lund); expecting your schedule to remain the same in the summer is simply not possible and your sanity will pay the price if you don’t make some changes. For example, I’ve learned that I need to cut back on my own “projects” during the summer. The less I expect to get done, the less interrupted and frustrated I feel. Instead, I now try to read, relax, and play a little more in the summer, reminding myself that, even though I’m not getting much of my “to do list” done, I am doing some very important things (like strengthening my relationships and resting up for the fall). Expecting a little less in the summer can bring a whole lot more peace of mind. (For tips on altering expectations, read this).
2) Set up summer rules. What are your policies for summer sleepovers, playdates, chauffeur services, and chores? Call a family meeting, discuss, and write them down; then, post them in plain sight. Having written “rules” takes the guess work out of summer days, providing structure and helping children (and parents) know what to expect. One of our rules involves “Summer Kitchen Hours”. These hours are posted next to the other rules, telling the kids when the kitchen is “open” and when it is not. This helps prevent constant grazing and entices my hungry teens out of bed a little earlier, but mostly it helps me feel like I’m not constantly cooking and cleaning. What policies might help your summer run a little more smoothly?
3) Don’t over- or under- schedule. While it certainly helps to have some scheduled activities each week, resist the temptation to sign up for too many. Let’s face it—we live in an overscheduled world, and overscheduling wears parents and kids out. Instead, let summer be a time to slow down from the hustle and bustle of the school year. Planning one activity a day is plenty; and it’s ok to have days with nothing planned at all. It’s actually good for kids to have “nothing to do” sometimes—it allows them to hear their own thoughts and invokes creativity; it also helps them appreciate all they get to do at other times. When my kids start in with “I’m bored,” I tell them, “Great! I’m happy you’re bored—it’s good for you! Go sit and be bored for a while!” This gets plenty of eye-rolling, of course, but usually does the trick. (If they continue complaining, I say, “Oh, good! I need someone to help me get this work done”–they sure run away quickly after that one!). So, be careful with your scheduling–keeping kids (and you) entertained but not drained is a fine line to walk!
4) Do activities that you enjoy. Hiking? Reading? Drawing? Gardening?—whatever you love, look for opportunities to share it with your children; it’s a great way to teach them about the things you love. I love travelling, and now that I no longer have babies in tow taking my kids on trips is something I adore. (The photo to the right, is from when I decided [the week before] to take the fam to Utah. Once there, I took all the kids to Sundance for the day, to hike, bike, ride the lifts, and play frisbee [while my husband played golf]!) I also love music, so writing songs and playing instruments together is another great activity for us. The point is to find what you love and do it—you’ll be so much more engaged in what you’re doing, and your kids will be so much the better for it!
5) Set up some summer help. To avoid breaking down you need some breaks, and summer camps, babysitters, family, or friends can be a big help. You might set up a childcare co-op and swap “free time” with a friend; you might enlist grandparents to take the kids for a while; or, you might ask your partner or spouse to take over for a night or day each week. Whatever your situation, look for opportunities to get some help and then take them! Your sanity will thank you for it, I guarantee.
6) Create daily quiet time. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, a work-at-home parent, a work-at work parent (oh, let’s face it—we’re all working parents!), you need some time and space that is just for you. Being “on” all the time is a sure way to burn out. To prevent burn out, set up daily “quiet time”. In our home we have 1 hour of “quiet time” each afternoon. I help the little ones settle down with books, a movie, or coloring, put a sign on my door (“Mom’s Quiet Time—Please Do Not Enter”) and hit my bed for reading, a nap, and usually some dark chocolate. The older kids entertain themselves and they all know not to interrupt or else “mean mom” might make an appearance. It’s good for everyone to have a break from activities and from each other. What can you do to establish some quiet time each day?
7) Be flexible. All this being said, summer really is a test of flexibility. Just because you have a summer “plan” doesn’t mean it won’t change–it will. Just count on it. Remembering strategy #1, if you can expect things to change, you will handle those changes much more smoothly. Just roll with it—that’s what summer is all about. (For more on flexibility, read here).
So, here’s to the summer of sanity! My hope is that, by using these 7 strategies, your summer will not only be more a little more sane, but perhaps even a little (or a lot) more satisfying too!
What are your summer survival tips? What gets you frustrated? What have you found to make things easier? Help us all out by leaving a comment below!
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Getting Good at “The Let-Go’s”
Welcome to my new series, “Parenting Practice”. I may have learned a lot about parenting in my psychology practice, but my true expertise has come through the practice of raising my own family. In order to survive as a mom of 6, I’ve had to learn a few tricks. In this series I will share some of my best tips and tricks with you in hopes that “practice” really does “make perfect” (or at least “better”)!
Today we explore one of my favorite (and most used) tips–getting good at “the let-go’s”. “The let-go’s” is my name for the many things I must let go of each day in order to ensure a greater measure of sanity for myself and my family.
For example, most days I let go of my need for a clean house. I let go of tidying up while the kids are at school in exchange for using my limited time more constructively, which also allows the kids the chance to help with chores when they get home. Matching socks and ironing are easy let-go’s for me, along with sheet folding and using fancy dinnerware. I let go of having all the beds made (though I do make my own) in lieu of letting us all get a few more minutes of much-needed sleep in the morning. Not only do I benefit from my let-go’s; you can see the great benefits I’m giving my family—opportunities to learn the value of hard work, to sleep more, and to iron their own clothes (yea for that)!
I’ve also learned to let go of my wants in order to get more of what I need. Most of the time I let go of my want for more sleep in order to meet my need for an “hour of power” each morning, but sometimes I let go of my want for an “hour of power” in favor of getting a little more sleep. I let go of my want for high expectations in my work when I’m home with my kids all day in favor of my need for less frustration when they interrupt me. It’s gotten easier not to run every time I hear someone arguing or someone starting to cry in order to fill my need (and theirs) of teaching them how to handle things on their own. During preschool time this morning, I let go of my want to write, answer phone calls, and return emails, opting instead for a much-needed nap in the couple of hours of while my kids were all (miraculously) away!
And there are so many other “let-go’s” that come each and every day. Today, in between driving kids to and from doctor’s appointments, scouts, music, sports, picking up prescriptions and such, I had to let go. For one, I had to let go of being on time to everything.;I was 5 minutes late for music class, 10 minutes early for boy scouts, and 15 minutes late for pick ups! I let go of my 11 year-old actually wearing his scout shirt to scouts, for one, because we couldn’t find it, and two, because I’ve yet to sew on any of the patches he’s earned. I let go of giving my freshman and sophomore sons a ride home from sports, allowing them the opportunity to enjoy the warm day and melting snow instead. I let go of a healthy dinner in exchange for a “fun” and quick trip to Sonic for Chili Cheese Coneys and tots. I let go of working on my 8 year-old’s school project, opting to use the vanishing night time to cuddle her and my 4 year-old and read to them instead. I did give everyone hugs and kisses goodnight after we said our family prayers; some things are too important to let go.
I’m not always good at the let-go’s; it’s something I have to practice every single day. But I do know that the more I practice, the more I am able to let go, and the more I let go, the greater the peace for my family and me. So get out there and practice getting good at “the let-go’s”. It may be tough at first, but believe me, you will quickly become amazed at just how many things you can “let-go” of each and every day!
What are some of your let-go’s? Leave a comment below and share with us!