Friday, May 11, 2012

A Few Ideas from a Single Mother of Four

I haven’t written in a while, and the longer I stay away, the more overwhelmed I get with things to write about. In the past year, I have left the religion I was born into and believed in wholeheartedly for 26 years, ended a 9 year marriage, and last month me and my four children moved from Utah to Texas to be closer to their daddy. It has been a crazy year, but one that has brought more happiness and pure joy than any other. There are so many things I want to write about, but one thing in particular has been weighing on my mind lately so I figured that might be a good place to start.
I have a friend who is set to adopt 3 children from Africa anytime, and she and her husband recently found out that they are pregnant! I honestly can’t imagine going from zero to four children, but if anyone can do it, it is these two amazing people. They truly are an inspiring couple. Anyway, she recently mentioned, “You’re going to have to give me some pointers on how to be a mommy of four!” and it got me thinking. Since that day, I’ve thought of several things that might be helpful to her and others, and I have yet to put them down on paper. This is mostly because I don’t think I’m anything extraordinary when it comes to stay-at-home mothering, and I definitely do not want to come across as boastful or condescending. I do my best as a single stay-at-home mommy, and I love my job, but most days I feel like I’ve failed in at least a few areas.
Having not had the best experience with my own mother growing up, I was always determined to be the kind of mom I never had. While I feel like most days I’m just trying to do my best and barely succeeding, there have been a few things that I’ve found to be really helpful, and I thought I’d share them with you here. My hope is that other moms might read this post and share with me advice that they’ve found helpful, and maybe we can all just be better mommies for it! So here goes…
“Sit on the couch and think of a solution.” This is a sentence my children hear often. One child wants the toy, the other says it’s his, they come whining to me, and, you guessed it: “Go sit on the couch and think of a solution.” This has helped my kids in a lot of ways, and it takes me out of having to be the referee, one of my least favorite jobs as a mom. My rule is that they sit on the couch (or park bench, or floor, wherever we may be) until they’ve reached a conclusion that they are both happy with. Sometimes it takes 20 seconds, and sometimes it takes 10 minutes, but it works every time. While it is incredibly tempting, I try not to get involved at all in coming up with ideas for the solution because I want them to gain confidence in their problem-solving abilities. Sometimes one of them will whine to me something like, “Mom! He is saying he won’t let me have a turn!” I usually respond with, “I just know that you two can figure this out together.” If one of them is rude or says something inappropriate, they lose the right to come to a compromise and usually end up on their bed or in the corner for a few minutes. But that is rarely the case. The majority of the time, they will discuss the problem until they both have come up with a solution that they can live with, and then they go back to playing. It’s been fantastic. This works for all of my children (ages 8, 6, 4, and 3). I’ve found that the amount of contention between my children has greatly decreased since starting this practice. These days, they usually come to a compromise on their own so that they don’t have to hear me say, “Sit on the couch and think of a solution.”
As helpful as that is though, it is inevitable that my kids will fight and yes, even hurt each other at times. When they are being mean to each other, they serve their time in the corner, and then they “hug it out.” Usually, this means a solid 20 to 30 seconds of hugging. I think this physical contact is important, and it really does help all of the tension between them disappear. They start with a grumpy, dreading look on their faces, and by the end of holding each other for 20 seconds, they are almost always smiling and laughing. If one of them is not willing to hug it out, they go back to the corner until they’re ready. But that very rarely happens. I honestly think that they love it, even when they pretend that they don’t.
"Hug it out."
It is very important to me for my children to understand why they are being disciplined when they make negative choices. My ultimate goal as a mother is to teach my children how to live a life of happiness. When any of my children misbehave, one of the things they hear most often is, “I love you too much to let you behave that way because I know you won’t be happy making those choices.” Or “I love you too much to not teach you the right way to behave because I want you to be happy.” You get the picture. This seems to go over better than yelling, chastising, condescending, or berating.
In fact, most of my disciplining is done in a very unemotional, matter-of-fact tone. This has taken years of practice, and of course I have plenty of set backs. When I had my first child, I would take it personally when he misbehaved. I was incredibly hard on myself and I would get extremely frustrated wondering, "What am I doing wrong?" Usually I would take that frustration out on him through raising my voice when he made a wrong choice. I have learned though that a child misbehaving is just part of the process of learning and growing. It is my job to calmly let them know that they are still loved, that they are still good, but that the behavior will not be tolerated.
When I was married, my husband and I would take turns each Thursday night taking one of our children out for a “one on one” date. Since this is just not practical anymore, I now do one on ones each night. Every night, 3 of my children go to bed at 7:30 and one child stays up with me for 30 or 45 minutes. I silence my phone and put away any distractions, and we do whatever activity that child wants. We color, play legos, build a train track, play cards, take funny pictures, read books, watch a movie, whatever they want. During that time, I try and talk to them about how they’re doing, and give them what I call “positive affirmations,” which are concrete, simple, positive statements about him/her. I like to use their name when I say them. For example, I say, “Thomas, you are such a good boy. I love you.” Or “Chandler, you are the bravest boy I have ever met. I love being your mom.” Or  “Anna, I am very proud of you. You are such a good big sister to Jonah.” Or “Jonah, I love you. You are so special. I am so thankful to be your mommy.” I got this idea from my wonderful sister-in-law Kim. She gives her son positive affirmations each night at bedtime. These are things that I think every child would benefit from hearing. At first, it was a little uncomfortable for me to make such blunt statements, but now I absolutely love it. Their faces light up, sometimes they get bashful and giggle, or sometimes they just snuggle into me and wait for more. That’s my favorite.

Thomas and I playing the original Nintendo (the only video game I allow lol) and
Chandler and I making cookies on our One on Ones.
One of the most significant things that I feel like has helped our family is the lack of television in our home. I don’t have any TV channels and haven’t for years. I had Netflix On Demand for the past little while, but it hasn’t worked in Texas, so I decided to just cancel it and it hasn't been missed. I know this seems extreme to some, but I am really thankful that they are not exposed to the mainstream media. I love that they don’t see all of the advertisements that trigger all kinds of wants and “needs” in them. I remember watching commercials as a kid and thinking all of those sugary cereals looked so magical, and every toy was so enticing. It’s honestly really nice not to have to deal with them wanting everything they see on television. Speaking of sugary cereals…
I like to feed the kids a good breakfast. But they naturally love the sugary sweet cereals. I find a happy compromise in what the kids and I call “Saturday Cereal.” They look so forward to Saturday morning when they get to eat all the sugary cereal that their little hearts desire. I love not being begged for sugary cereals every other day of the week. It is reserved for Saturday morning and Saturday morning alone and they know that there are no exceptions. They each have their own special Saturday cereal bowl and they love it. I feel like it teaches them moderation and gives them something exciting to look forward to each week.
Thomas (left) makes me laugh in this picture. He said, "Mom! Did you see how I was crossing my eyes?!"
My oldest, Chandler, was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, and after 19 surgeries, he is doing pretty well. But bullying has definitely been an issue that we’ve dealt with. It can be difficult to get a little boy to open up about what he’s experiencing at school, and if I asked how his day was, no matter what the situation, I would get the same “fine” answer. So I started asking each of my children to tell me their favorite and least favorite part of their day on the drive home from school. I’ve found that this opens up a lot more discussion and doesn’t allow for a one-worded answer. I also try to ask them each day what they did at recess, and they’re usually excited to tell me about a new game they learned or what friends they played with, etc.
I do something similar when my kids return from their dad’s house. Every other Thursday when they’ve been with their dad for a few days, they come back to my house and we have cookies and milk. Each time, a different child gets to choose what kind of cookies he/she wants. We go around the table and each person (including me) gets to say their favorite and least favorite part of the past few days. This helps the transition go more smoothly from daddy’s to mommy’s house, and helps me stay informed about how they’re doing with their dad.
Another weekly tradition that my children look forward to is pizza and movie night each Friday. I make a homemade whole-wheat pizza (super simple recipe) with turkey pepperoni and then we have popcorn and watch a movie together. They love it. I believe that it builds a good foundation of trust and makes my children feel secure (even in the midst of change) when they have routines and happy traditions that don’t change.

Pizza and Movie Night
Finally, I want to share what I have found to help my stress levels more than anything else. As a single stay at home mother of four with MS, believe it or not, I sometimes have stressful days. My days are the worst when I have a lot on my plate, and my children just become an annoyance or an obstacle in the way of getting other things accomplished. I have found that the best thing to do when my children are driving me crazy and it seems like they won’t stop misbehaving or bothering me is to drop everything and have fun with them. Sometimes I fight it because I have too much to do, but it really always ends up saving me time and stress and brings me more happiness than most things in this life. I’ll get out a game, we'll play outside, or I'll read a book to them. My favorite is to find a way to make them laugh and get me laughing. We’ll tickle or wrestle each other, or turn on the radio and have what we call a “dance party." Sometimes, all we need is to lay down on the couch and snuggle together. They get the attention that they are craving, and I am reminded of what is most important. Usually after a little while of focussing on them, their needs and mine are met and they go off and do their own thing and I can get something else done.

Stress Relief.
So there you have it: Sit on the couch and think of a solution, hug it out, “I love you too much to allow you to behave that way,” nightly one on ones with positive affirmations, getting rid of TV, Saturday cereal, asking the favorite and least favorite part of their day or time at Dad’s house, pizza and movie night, and dropping everything to have fun with my children when things get too stressful.
If you’ve made it to the end of this rather boring novel, thanks. I hope you found something helpful.
Being a mother is my greatest joy. It’s all I have ever wanted to be. It has been the most incredible blessing of my life. I would love to hear any and all of your ideas on how to make it a little easier for all of us. Signing off for now. Anna and Jonah are driving me crazy. Time to have some fun. :-)