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Family Far Away: 7 Tips to Stay in Touch



Family Far Away | 7 Tips to Stay in Touch | Chaos & Kiddos: Mommy's Survival Guide
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Last week I lamented and vented with Family Far Away: The Tough Stuff. This week it’s time for the good news! All is not lost thanks to today’s technology and there are a number of great ways to stay connected with long-distance family and friends. Turn that frown upside down and heal that “miss you” heart with these seven tips to staying in touch!

Family Far Away: 7 Tips to Stay in Touch

1. Social Media – Facebook and Instagram
The 24/7 real time access to every detail of our lives through social media has its very good and very bad points, but a major win at the top of the list of good points is that family far away get to live vicariously through our images, updates and video shares. Relationships that would have otherwise been extremely difficult to keep alive get a new lease on life by following and interacting with each other on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. I’m so thankful my family can see what the kids are up to on a daily basis.

2. Video Chat – Skype and FaceTime
Voice recognition via frequent phone calls was the best way to keep in touch and develop a relationship in the past. Technology has taken that so much further with things like Skype, FaceTime (and Google Hangouts!). My kids know their grandparents voice, but even more importantly, they know their faces. They love to video chat, share silly faces, sing together and even see the family pets each week. Plus, the video feature keeps their attention better and they stay much more engaged than they would on the phone.

3. Pen Pal Care Packages
Even with all this new technology, there is still something so special and exciting about receiving “real mail.” Sending little care packages back and forth with pictures, treats and cards can be a fantastic way to keep in touch with family and friends far away. Checking the mail is the highlight of my boys’ day and if there’s something for them?! Immediate chaos ensues with how excited they are.

4. Write a Book Together
My mom actually came up with this idea forever ago. What a neat way to create together, build something truly special and share a project over time. The grandparent (or other family far away member) starts the book and sets up the beginning story line, drawing pictures, introducing characters, etc. Then you ship it to the child and they continue the story at the “left off” point! (This of course can create great hilarity for a child with an awesome imagination and sense of humor.) The child leaves off at some point and ships it back. And so on and so forth. You can even self-publish it when you’re done and have official copies!

5. Recordable Books – Hallmark
Here is another great voice recognition and fun learning opportunity when keeping in touch with family members far away. It can also serve as a wonderful source of comfort on a bad day. Both sides of the family send our boys recordable books. They record them reading the story and then the boys get to listen to it. They love hearing familiar voices and of course love reading a new book! There’s nothing better than starting the story and hearing “Hey! That’s Gramma!”

Family Far Away: 7 Tips to Stay in Touch

6. Picture Magnets – Sticky9
I adore Instagram. But one step better? Sticky9 (formerly Stickygram). They do the awesome. You can take your Instagram photos and turn them into magnets. WIN!!! This has been such a big hit in our home. The boys get such a kick out of seeing themselves stuck to the fridge. It’s also great for family far away. Having pictures up as reference to ask “Who is that? You’re right! That’s Gramma! We love our Gramma!” is another great face recognition game that will make in-person visits that much better.

7. Shared Online Picture Gallery – PASS
All of the photographs I take of the boys get uploaded to an online gallery. All family and friends have the link, and anytime they want to see the latest and greatest, they can go straight to the gallery and see what’s new. They can download high resolution files, share to social media and even order prints to ship to their homes. Plus, I know my images are safe in the cloud, so I get the peace of mind that my memories are backed up. I upload the digital files of their school pictures, any fun pictures I take for blog posts, and normal day-to-day stuff. They can follow our lives visually and wallpaper their homes with pictures of the boys if they so choose.

Family Far Away: 7 Tips to Stay in Touch
How do you stay in touch with far away family?

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  1. Mrs. AOK

    July 19, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    First off, kudos on the new digs 😉
    My family and I live faraway from our extended family, we have for years. It is hard for us at times. What is even more tough is at times it feels as though… out of sight, out of mind takes place.
    I really enjoy when we get together for a Skype.
    I totally prefer Skype over SM. I don’t do FB and my IG is more geared towards blogging.
    We’ve done the recorded books and my kids LOVED them.
    Writing a book together, now, that, is AWESOME!
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Katy Blevins

      July 19, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      I totally get the “out of sight, out of mind” thing. We are challenged with that too, especially when life gets super hectic. I love how excited the boys get when they FaceTime or Skype with anyone. It’s always hilarious and makes that relationship “real.” Ya know? XOXO

  2. Sadia

    July 21, 2014 at 12:03 am

    It’s so important to stay connected with family (at least positive, supportive family!). I’m in the odd position of being the distant parent, since my girls are visiting my ex-husband and his girlfriend. We speak on the phone every day, occasionally videochat, and they receive care packages from me at least once a week.

    When my then-husband was deployed, I came to realize that communication requires two… if he wasn’t willing to look at the photos I sent, there wasn’t much I could do about it!!

    • Katy Blevins

      July 21, 2014 at 9:53 am

      You are absolutely right. It is a two way street for sure. I’m sure having the girls far away right now is not easy for you. So glad you get to use technology to stay in touch!

  3. Lauren Tamm

    August 26, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Great ideas, especially for military families who are almost always away from family! We use both Google hangouts and Skype. We’ve actually done several virtual baby showers, birthdays and holidays over the internet. Google hangouts offers multiple people to participate for FREE!!

    • Katy Blevins

      September 1, 2014 at 8:01 am

      Lauren! That is an absolutely fabulous idea! I never even thought of hosting holidays, baby showers and birthdays online. I am so going to do that with my family!!!

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Purposeful Parenting

The 10 Best Things About Being a Working Parent



The 10 Best Things About Being a Working Parent
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I sometimes find myself envious of the stay-at-home moms and dads who stroll up to the bus stop with a steaming mug of coffee in their loungewear or yoga pants.  Once their kids step onto the bus, they have what I often perceive to be an entire day of freedom laid out in front of them to finish laundry, work out, run errands, or maybe just take a nap. Must be nice, huh?

Of course, I know stay-at-home parents don’t have it easy at all, and that “fantasy” of mine is truly that – an illusion resulting from my jealous misconceptions – but I’d be lying if I didn’t sometimes fall into the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” pit. 

The 10 Best Things About Being a Working Parent

When I’m feeling jealous, discouraged, or inadequate, I think about the reasons I’m a working parent and why it works best for me and my family.  If you’re like me (or just human for that matter), at some point you struggle with what-ifs about the choices you’ve made and often wish you had the life of someone else.  The 10 best things about being a working parent might help you refocus and put things into proper perspective. I know every parent, whether working in an office or taking care of the kids at home, could use reminders that they are not alone in the world!  

And in that same vein, I find it necessary to write this disclaimer:  The list below in no way is meant to give the impression that working parents are better than those that stay at home.  This list is meant to highlight the reasons that working parents should give themselves a break and focus on gratitude instead of envy.

  • Adult Interaction 

It goes without saying that spending the day with your kids can be wonderful.  A rainy Saturday afternoon spent baking cookies, coloring, etc. is a great way to get to know your kids and spend some quality time cuddling. Extend that rainy day to a rainy week, however, and you may start to crave some adult interaction (and a straight jacket or two).  

When you are a working parent, you frequently get the adult interaction you crave. Psychologists recommend that stay-at-home parents get involved with other adults in their situation to ensure that they get enough adult conversation to feel connected to the outside world.  As a working parent, you have that connection with your peers every day.   

It is fabulous to spend the day with your kids, but at some point, every mom or dad needs to connect with another like-minded person on a more intellectual level.

  • Income

The cost of daycare can be overwhelming (sending twins to day care is the equivalent of an extra mortgage payment!), so many people believe that staying home with the kids versus paying for child care generally equals out when it comes to finances.  And it often does! 

Depending on your profession and your personal circumstances, your salary may generate more income than you will save in child care costs (like it does in my situation).  In addition to your salary, you need to factor in health care, retirement benefits, and other employment perks (like flextime or gym memberships, which are becoming increasingly popular).  Having a steady income is a luxury many families don’t have when mom or dad stays at home. 

  • Staying in the Game 

The general economy is slowly improving, but for awhile, unemployment was at an all-time high and the job market was extremely competitive.  Unfortunately, especially for women, re-entering the workforce after a period of unemployment made it even more difficult to land a job. 

While ideally every parent could jump back into the workforce after taking time to raise children if they chose to take time away, it doesn’t necessarily work that way.  As a working parent, you keep your foot in the door and your resume active to better take advantage of future opportunities.  

10 Best Things About Being a Working Parent

  • Setting an Example

Children who grow up with working parents quickly adapt by learning responsibility, self-sufficiency, time management, and the value of hard work.  That is not the only way for children to learn those lessons, and stay-at-home parents are equally focused on instilling strong character traits in their children; it just so happens to put you on the fast track when you work outside the home. 

Of course your children ARE the center of your existence, but you also crave a life outside of them and necessity may dictate it if you need to work to help support your family financially.  You were a unique person with personal interests before they were born, and it can be difficult to maintain that when your role as parent is in center focus.  Working outside the home can set an important example that hard work pays off, you need to earn your way to success and survival, and that you have priorities and interests that aren’t always all about them.

  • Mental Stimulation

Taking care of children is hard work, but it’s not always mentally stimulating.  Stay-at-home parents and working parents alike need to take a break and do something that turns on that extra brain power, like read the news or a book without pictures.  Working parents have more opportunity to do this when they’re in the outside world, meeting the challenges of a career and leading a professionally and mentally adventurous life outside of the home every single day.  

While the mental stimulation of a career can also be the root of exhaustion, stress and more than a little chaos as a working parent, it’s also one of our greatest benefits when we step outside the home each morning.

  • Socialization for your Kids 

Your children may be in school full-time, go to a daycare, or you may be one of the lucky ones that sends them to grandma and grandpa’s house.  Whatever your situation, your kids can benefit from learning to adapt to time away from the home when there are working parents in the mix.  This may mean getting along with other kids at a daycare or school, or adjusting to a different style of care with a family member or home daycare provider. It fosters trust and can diminish separation anxiety, as your children develop a routine understanding that “Mommy and Daddy go to work, but Mommy and Daddy always come back.”

Developing the skills to interact in new situations, with new people of varying personalities, is an important skill for your child to develop, and life as a working family can help cultivate that confidence.

  • Special Occasions 

As a working parent, one of my favorite things to do is take time to volunteer at school or attend a holiday party.  Because I’m not always able to do these things, when I am able to participate, my kids are absolutely over the moon with excitement.  There is something extra special about being a working parent at school on an impromptu day off, and I like that I can make the time with my kids seem like a special occasion and surprise treat. As a working parent, quality not quantity is most often the name of the game, purely by default.

Stay-at-home parents of course trigger the same happiness and joy when they attend school functions with their children. It’s always a big win for any child to see that special face round the corner on their way to the classroom. And admittedly, I’m often envious that they get those special moments more frequently than I might.

10 Best Things About Being a Working Parent

  • Sense of Accomplishment

As I mentioned above, it is important to have a sense of identity outside of your children.  This extends to accomplishing goals outside of potty training or learning milestones. While equally important, they don’t always feel as satisfying when you cross the finish line (although I certainly did my best end-zone victory dance when we finally got potty training down!).  

When you complete a complex project at work, earn a raise or a promotion, or simply contribute as a valued employee with creative ideas, you’re awarded a deep sense of mental accomplishment in yourself that doesn’t necessarily depend on your parenting skills. Of course, stay-at-home parents are incredibly accomplished and break records every day too. We’re all winners! 

  • Prioritization 

Working parents spend their few free hours chauffeuring kids to and from school, piano lessons, soccer practice, make school lunches, plan birthday parties, etc. on top of a busy workload, deadlines and a full day at the office/store.  Working parents often need to become master planners, and become adept at organizing and prioritizing. Survival of the fittest rings true, with working parents channeling every resource to keep energy and focus front and center. The challenges working parents face logistically often cultivates a deeply rooted talent for accomplishing a lot with very little. 

  • Perspective

Every day I talk to working parents like me and stay-at-home parents in my community, and I always learn something new.  I’m thankful that my job allows me to see both sides of the coin of parenting, and I have a greater appreciation for the time I do spend with my children. 

Being a parent is never easy.  Focus on the best things about being a working parent and remember that every parent, whether the stay-at-home mom in yoga pants or the corporate executive dropping her son off at daycare, is doing their best. We’re all parents. That is our bond. Our personal journeys are our own. For me, working outside the home is a necessity, mentally and financially. But that doesn’t make me any better, any smarter or any more capable that a parent who chooses to stay at home. Remember, we’re all in this together! 

10 Best Things About Being a Working Parent


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Purposeful Parenting

Ready, Set, Date Night! Five Must-Haves When the Babysitter Comes Over



Date Night - Must Haves for the Babysitter
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You’re free!  It’s date night! (Shhh…I’m dating!!!) Make sure you have a stress-free time out of the house by preparing for the babysitter.

Date Night - Must Haves for the Babysitter

Most of us don’t have a live-in nanny to help care for the children, cook the meals, and wash the dishes.  If you do…good for you (just kidding, I don’t mean that).  If you’re like me and you have to depend on babysitters to watch your kids when you need a date night, girl’s day out, even if it’s just to get groceries, you need to do a little planning beforehand.  And if you’re like me and have crazy twin toddlers, you need to do a lot of planning.

Depending on the age of your children, the age of your babysitter, and how long you’ll be gone, what you need before the babysitter comes over will change.  Generally, however, there are five “must-haves” before the doorbell rings and you are released from parental duties for a glorious period of time (Did I tell you I’m dating?!).

Date Night - Must Haves for the Babysitter

  1. Food

Unfortunately, I never seem to have food in the house.  I always have the staples like water, bread, and wine…I mean, fruit…but I don’t usually have the ingredients to put a quick dinner together or fulfill whatever craving my twins (like homemade chocolate chip waffles).  There is nothing worse, though, than having a babysitter come to your home and not be able to offer her (or him) something to eat.  Well, there is one thing worse:  leaving the babysitter with your hungry kids and no food to offer.  Make sure you have easy-to-make meals and healthy snacks on-hand to feed the kids.  Even if you do not need a babysitter during a major mealtime, make sure you have a little something something to offer both the babysitter and your children.  And always remind your babysitter about any food allergies.

  1. Spare key or garage code

When I first started babysitting I brought the toddler I was watching outside to play.  I didn’t realize that the doorknob lock was engaged and once the door shut, we were locked out of the house.  I had to knock on the neighbor’s door and he used a credit card to “break in.”

The point of the story is even if you don’t expect your babysitter to go anywhere with the kids, make sure the babysitter has a spare key or the code to your garage or any other information needed in case a random, unplanned-for activity leaves the babysitter and your child with no way to get back into the house. I have two neighbors with spare keys that are willing and able to help whenever needed.

Date Night - Must Haves for the Babysitter

  1. Suggested timeline

You don’t need to micromanage your kids’ activites, but providing a general timeline will help your babysitter and your children feel more secure.  For example, suggesting that the kids play a board game after you leave and then have a snack will give your kids a better sense of direction for the time you are away and will help your babysitter avoid the “I’m bored” whine immediately after you walk out the door.  Make sure your babysitter knows where games, toys, and other activities are located. Help your babysitter follow your normal routine for everyone’s benefit.

  1. First aid and emergency supplies, along with contact information

This is a no-brainer, although I have to admit that I don’t necessarily think to tell babysitters where to find the band-aids as I’m heading out for date night.  It is important that your babysitter knows where to find basic first-aid supplies, however, so if the unthinkable happens, your babysitter will be prepared.  Also, make sure your babysitter has a way to contact you in case of emergency.  Not every home has a landline – my kids don’t even know what one is – and you can’t just assume that your babysitter has a cell phone.  Make sure your sitter has a way to contact you and 911, if necessary.

Date Night - Must Haves for the Babysitter

  1. Bedtime basics

Maybe bedtime is a breeze for your kids.  I’ll admit, now that the boys are a bit older, bedtime is a lot easier than it used to be.  That being said, bedtime can still be tricky business.  Make bedtime easier by having pajamas laid out beforehand.  Brief the babysitter on any out-of-the-ordinary bedtime routines.  Of course your kids always brush their teeth thoroughly for two minutes before bed every night (can you hear the sarcasm?), but make sure your babysitter knows about specific books your child likes to read, whether the hall light should be kept on with the bedroom door open wide, slightly cracked, or shut tight, and whether your kids still like to be tucked in.  Even older kids can have a tough time with bedtimes, so make sure your babysitter is fully prepared to make the process easier on everyone.

As a parent, you need to take time for yourself.  Plan a creative date night, visit a friend, or just get your hair cut – just make sure you have what you need when the babysitter arrives to ensure that you can think as little as possible about what is going on at home while you are away. A little extra prep goes a long way when it comes to peace of mind and making the most of your “quiet time.”

Date Night - Must Haves for the Babysitter

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Purposeful Parenting

How to Avoid the Epic Meltdown: Understanding Your Child’s Cues



How to Avoid the Epic Meltdown | Chaos & Kiddos: Mommy's Survival Guide
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This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please refer to my Legal Policies and Terms of Use. The opinions here are entirely my own. 
How to Avoid the Epic Meltdown: Understanding Your Child's Cues - Infographic

Duh, duh, duh….the dreaded meltdown. With one kid, this can bring the strongest mommy to her knees. With multiples, well…the word “epic” takes on a completely new meaning. In the worst possible way.

My system certainly isn’t perfect, and my kids give new meaning to the word tantrum (I have one that goes “no bones, limp baby, immovable and impossible to catch” and one that goes “cement block that weighs a bazillion pounds and can’t be bended, lifted and/or manipulated in any fashion,” with both adding crazy decibel, ear-splitting screams to boot). At some point in the insanity, I learned to anticipate the meltdown.
My husband and I can spot a meltdown coming from a mile away. We’ll give the other that “It’s time to go. Stat. Grab the kids and sprint. NOW. Forget your shoes! Leave them! Run!” look and as the rest of the human race looks on in bewildered dismay, we quickly head for the hills before things get ugly. I think we have our exit down to about 46 seconds these days (58 if I get to grab my shoes).
On a day-to-day basis, I’ve developed a couple of tricks that stave off most meltdowns. IF I’m paying attention. This is where the understanding your child’s cues part comes in to play. You have to catch the cue before it’s too late. “Practice makes perfect” is the phrase of the day here. Or is “trial through fire” more resonant? In any event, here are my go to lifesavers:

1. Mini Baby Blanket with Attachment Loop – Cold is the enemy. Nothing brings on the whine, which brings on the frustration, which brings on the ultimate refusal to act like a normal human being like frigid weather. I was lugging around blankets to tuck the kids in to their car seats (Remember to avoid bulky coats when strapping kiddos in!) and they were getting tossed, dropped, forgotten, you name it. Then I realized my mother-in-law had given us these super cute sensory blankets with a loop that could attach to a stroller and the light bulb went off. I strapped both blankets to the side of each car seat (they are small and hang to the side if unused, so unobtrusive and the loop is short and sweet, so no wrapping around anything else) and they’re always there when I need them. The link above is one of many Etsy shops that make these small wonders, and ours are even sports themed, so the husband is happy.
2. Baby Sign Language – I admit to being one of those people that eye-rolled the idea of baby sign language when I was pregnant. Never gave it a second thought until my kids starting screaming for reasons that I couldn’t seem to identify. A friend suggested I take a jab at it, and purely out of desperation, I did, still with a bit of attitude and skepticism. And then the boys started signing back. HALLELUJAH! We did only the basics – “More, All Done, Hungry, Please, Thank You” – and that opened up whole new worlds for us in communication. Not only were they excited to sign and overjoyed that I knew what the heck was going on, but I was immensely relieved and didn’t feel like Failure Parent of the Century. Big win. I eat my humble pie proudly. I was an idiot to think this was lame.
3. Snacks at the Ready – Baby Cooler – If cold is the enemy, hunger is the Antichrist. I’d say a good 50% of the time, the boys’ tantrums stem from being hungry. We’re usually in transition to our next meal when the tank slips below E. Low fuel = channeling Satan. And the perfect timing for this special little stream of insanity was pick up from day care. The kids were tired and spent and ready for dinner. Like, 5 minutes before I got there. The first words I heard daily were “Mommy! I need my milk! Hungry!” They were whining, crying, going all sorts of Apocalyptic on me because the last thing they wanted was to be strapped into their car seats for the ride home. They wanted to be teleported straight to the dinner table. I got tired of this daily warfare, especially at the end of my own long day at work, so I started packing snacks and milk in this convenient little cooler (which as an aside, a friend gave me with the promise that it would be one of the most handy baby items I received – she was right). It gets stashed in the community kitchen at work and I grab it on my way out the door each evening. Every morning, I repack and head off knowing that I’ve crossed one tantrum off the list for that day. Yay me.Insert random cuteness here…I mean seriously, people, how can these children have meltdowns that rival the End of Days?

Photos Courtesy of Somer Anne Photography

Moral of the story? A little organization and forethought can go a long way. Considering WHY my kids were throwing tantrums and then exploring what I could do to prevent them before they started has saved me a million tears. Like I said, it’s not a perfect system. But every little bit helps.

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