I grew up in a household full of animals. At any given time, we had rabbits (Funny story: we thought we had two sisters…we did not. We went from 2 rabbits to 26 in a month!), guinea pigs, fish, dogs, cats, hamsters. Even a frog! I even “rescued” a butterfly, who stayed my constant companion for its short life and refused to fly away. Caring for and enjoying animals was a natural part of my childhood and I couldn’t wait to share that with my own children.
Right now, we have a bull dog, Ivy, and a whole slew of fish in a giant tank in the boys’ room (I believe their names range from Blackie, Big Fish, Baby Fish, to the Brothers). The host of lessons and teachable moments with these animals as part of our family are endless. With any animal, the opportunity is there to teach:
1. Responsibility: Teaching your children to be responsible for another life in all its many facets has countless rewards. Not only do they learn to contribute to the care and wellbeing of others, but they also learn to respect what you do as their parent. As they play “mommy” to their pets, they put someone before themselves, they clean, they work hard. It can be a lightbulb moment in communicating family roles and the necessity of everyone’s contribution to the greater good.
2. Care/Empathy: Teaching your children to recognize the needs of another being and to empathize in a way that prompts action and care is an invaluable life lesson. I truly believe that having a heart for others is a learned skill that comes from seeing that same love and devotion in action in the people surrounding you and from being in an environment that demands and challenges you to consider others before yourself. I want my children to have servant hearts. Caring for their pets is a helpful first step in molding that character trait.
With our specific family pets, we can highlight some specific teachable moments.
With our dog, Ivy (p.s. That is NOT Ivy…I admit to having only really lame images of her! I will work on that.)
1. Respect for Animals/Awareness for their Natural Cues: We spend a lot of time talking about what Ivy is doing and why, and most importantly, what that means for us. Is she resting and should we leave her be? Is she jumping and wants to play? Did she growl and what does that mean? Teaching children that pets are animals and not toys, and to have a healthy respect and awareness for the natural cues they give us as to whether or not they should be approached gives them the tools to make the best decisions for their safety.
2. Loyalty: Take this one with a grain of salt, since Ivy isn’t loyal to anyone except my husband (see above reference to lame pictures), but that relationship is truly something to behold. Those two are so stinkin’ in love with each other. The sun rises and sets on my husband and that example of true friendship and loyalty is especially important to little boys in my humble opinion. A boy and his dog. Is there anything sweeter?
3. Routine: Need I say more? We are all hoping to maximize every opportunity to teach our children how to follow and appreciate a good routine.
4. Obedience: Yeah, this one pretty much speaks for itself too. Watching the relationship develop between hearing a “command,” acting on it and the resulting positive reinforcement is a great example for any child.
5. Ask Permission: Here’s another safety one. The boys have been taught that because of #1, we must never approach any animal, especially a dog, from behind or without asking the owner first if it is ok if they pet it. Upon receiving permission, they have been taught to put out their hand and let a dog sniff first, and pet second. Respect.
With our fish, of countless aforementioned names (p.s. That is also not me or our fish tank – seriously, who takes a picture of their own fish tank? Not this photog.)
1. Counting: We count our fish in every way possible. By color, by size, by family. Count, count, count. How many fish are eating? How many fish are hiding in the cave? I use every opportunity in that fish tank to get them thinking.
2. Security: They go to sleep at naps and night time with the tank light on. They find an incredible restfulness and sense of security by watching the peaceful underwater environment ebb and flow. It quiets their spirits and develops their imaginations. They feel content and safe knowing their fishies are “watching over them.”
3. Socialization: We talk at length about the personalities of our different fish. We have fish that are friends with each other and are inseparable. We have super shy fish that hide and we speak encouragements to them to help them feel more a part of the group. We have the food stealers and the bottom feeders. The schools and the loners. We are learning, albeit on a much smaller scale, to identify emotions and personality through action.
4. Life and Death: Fish come and go pretty frequently. The boys are still a bit young to understand what’s happening when we flush a fishy, but I’ll continue to talk them through what happened and why, and I’m sure at some point, when they have a better understanding, it will be a teachable moment that it is ok to feel sad and miss someone who leaves, but that we keep on keepin’ on.
Pets aren’t for everyone. And as a mother of multiples, I’ll be the first to say that sometimes you just don’t have the resources to properly care for an animal while you can barely survive the day to day chaos of the kids. That’s perfectly ok. There are a million other just as effective ways to instill these different values and similar activities. If you are a pet owner, or foresee yourself becoming one in the future, keep these helpful tips in mind and use your pet not only as a new family member to love on, but also as a teachable moment for your children as they develop into sturdy, responsible contributing members of society.
Ah!! Look what I found! Ivy, in her cute stage, pre-husband obsession.
The 10 Best Things About Being a Working Parent
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Ready, Set, Date Night! Five Must-Haves When the Babysitter Comes Over
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.
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?!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
How to Avoid the Epic Meltdown: Understanding Your Child’s Cues
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.
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.