If your morning at home starts anything like mine, by 8am you have undoubtedly accomplished a near heroic feat–getting one or more little ones up, dressed, fed and out the door for school. Any parent can tell you that school mornings feel rushed at best, and often times, chaotic, complete with a hurried, mad dash for the door with backpacks and lunch boxes in hand in an effort to get to school on time. One of my intentions for 2014 is to practice a different style of early morning parenting. My intention is to set a calm and relaxed tone in the mornings for both myself and my family of four. My friend Rorke Denver, a former US Navy SEAL, has a saying that really resonates with me, calm is contagious. I think those three simple words are really powerful and a wonderful leadership lesson not only for our troops in battle, but also for all of us at home raising children.
As parents, we set the tone for our household. When you have your first baby, you don’t leave the hospital with a parenting handbook but are left to rather sink or swim on your own. If you’re lucky, you have a support network of family and friends, a church, synagogue or other faith based community to lean on. But, many of us are living far away from our families of origin and are left to cultivate our own parenting network. One of my main motivations for starting Welcome to Family Life was to build an encouraging, supportive and nonjudgemental platform for parents and educators alike to share what’s working well in their lives and what areas they are struggling in and need more support. I often feel like I’m drawn to writing pieces about things I’m challenged by most. It’s almost as if by researching, writing and talking to other parents and experts in the field, I’m giving myself the tools I need to best thrive in my own life as a wife and mom of two young daughters.
Here’s a few tips to encourage you to create a culture of calm in your home:
1. Wake up early! I’ve noticed that when I set my alarm for 30-40 minutes before the alarm goes off in our girls’ bedroom, I am able to start my day with much needed “me” time. My morning ritual includes drinking a tall glass of water, reading and writing for 30 minutes each day. I have friends who wake up an hour before their kids to go workout or for a run. I think it’s important for parents to take some time for themselves to do whatever it is they love to do, and often times with our busy lives raising kids and work (inside or outside of the home), there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to fit it all in. By waking up before the rest of my family, I am able to start the day on a calm note because I’ve taken care of some of my basic needs before I begin to take care of others!
2. Breathe! This sounds easy and it really is. Take a deep breath right now. Close your eyes for a second, give yourself the mental image of your “happy place” (for me, that’s Kauai, where I first learned how to surf!) and take a long, slow breath. When I’m feeling stressed out or pushed to my limit by my kids, I try to remember to take a deep belly breath as my friends who practice yoga have taught me. This kind of calming breath requires you to slow down, take pause and focus intently on your breath. I’ve even been known to tell our daughters to “take a yoga breath” when they are spinning out of control, about to melt down, have a tantrum or fall apart in some way due to tiredness, irritability or for any other reason. It really does help. Try it and you’ll see for yourself!
3. Plan ahead. Plan ahead as much as you can–help your kids lay out their clothes the night before, leave their shoes by the front door and their backpacks in the same place each day. Make lunches the night before or wake up a little earlier in the mornings if you like to prepare them the same day. Go through your child’s homework folder as soon as you walk through your door so that you can sign permission slips and review any homework or special projects that may require extra time or a trip to Target or Michaels for extra art or school supplies.
4. Set boundaries. Setting boundaries on your time as well as your kids’ time is healthy! When you don’t set boundaries, you are risking exhaustion or burn out. Only you can set the boundaries for your family and it’s up to each one of us to be consistent and enforce those family rules. Learn to say yes to only those things, people or opportunities that you are truly excited about and say no to the activities or relationships that are not positive or bringing you joy. Kids (and adults) thrive with structure, limits and routine.
5. Take as good care of yourself as you care for others! I know that if I want to have a calm, positive and happy attitude with my family, I need to ensure that I’ve taken good care of myself. That means I need to slow down, take time to eat breakfast (and not simply finish what’s left on my kids’ plates), eat healthy snacks like nuts, fruit and water throughout the day and eat regular meals. I am prone to headaches and migraines so I have learned the hard way that my body can not tolerate dips in blood sugar. Even if you don’t suffer from headaches, your body will appreciate the time you spend eating healthy foods and drinking several glasses of water a day. We wouldn’t think of sending our kids to school without breakfast, a lunch box or money to buy lunch at school, so do yourself a favor and be mindful about your own eating practices. Sleep is another big one! As parents, we often don’t get enough sleep due to a variety of factors. Try going to bed a half hour earlier tonight. Even if you can’t fall asleep right away, turn off the TV, your iPhone or computer and consider writing in a journal or reading a chapter from that book on your nightstand you keep meaning to pick up. I keep a gratitude journal and love the nightly practice of writing down the things I am grateful for. It’s a wonderful way to wind down your day and to go to sleep being mindful of all that you have to be thankful for.