Self Care for Better Parenting – Part 2

by Mary Ann on August 28, 2015



How can your bedroom, your bathroom or the far end of your house help you get some quality free time away from your family and kids? Today I am going to share three experiments that women I have worked with have tried, with success, to get some quality free time.

Last week I gave you some tips for giving yourself some self-care right in the midst of your busy, sometimes chaotic family. However, now and then it is really important for mom’s and dad’s to have some down time from their family.

Remember what I said last week – Taking care of yourself does not make you selfish. It shows that you care about yourself and your family relationships. Being kind to yourself in everyday life is one of the best things you can do. Life will become lighter, and your relationships will most likely improve. You will feel happier overall. Your self-esteem will go up. You will be a better parent.

When I am mentoring parents, I frequently ask them to come up with experiments that they can try to get specific outcomes. I like the term experiment because it attaches nothing to the outcome. An experiment is just that, an experiment. You do it to see if you can get the desired result, but if you don’t, instead of beating yourself up for having another failure, you just try a new experiment. Here are three examples that had terrific results.

Experiment 1

bedroom-window-seatK was feeling burnt out. In one of our conversations, she told me about her wonderful bedroom. It had a lovely window seat that looked out onto a green field. The problem was that it was the messiest room in her home. So together we came up with a list of things that she could easily do to make it an inviting space.

She cleared all the stuff off of the window seat and got a basket for her husband to put his stuff in – so it would stay cleaned off. She made some changes in how they managed the laundry, so it wasn’t always piled on the bed. She painted a wall. She added her favorite books to the window seat.

Then she talked with her family about her room and how it could help her be a better parent. She told them that when she feels like she is not going to be able to react the way she wants to, she was going to her bedroom to regroup, for 5-10 minutes. She asked for their support in allowing her to do this when she needs to. They all agreed to help her out.

When K is feeling on the verge of exploding or ceasing to be the adult, she retreats to her bedroom. She shuts the door and sits in the window seat for about 5 minutes. She breathes deeply, sometimes she reads one or two paragraphs in her book. Then she heads back out into the fray. She is managing better; her kids are happier, and her husband is relieved. : ) It has had a positive impact on her family.

Experiment 2

A has multiple heath issues that tax her strength and resources for parenting. She also has one child with some 482150245significant health issues. We talked about her getting some alone time twice a week. She worried that something might come up with her ill child and that her husband wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Nevertheless, she was willing to try an experiment. She asked her husband if he would take over for two hours a week, in the evening, so that she could write or paint. He was very open to the idea.

She decided on a room at the other end of the house from the family room where her husband and children would spend their time. That way she could have her quiet time and still be close at hand in case of an emergency.

The first week was a wonderful success. She was frankly impressed with her husband and was surprised that he managed so well without her. She was surprised that her kids managed so well without her.

She has been doing this for a while, now. It has given her husband an opportunity to be with the kids and she has been able to fulfill her need to write, paint, and have time to herself. The whole family is happier.

Experiment 3

FotorCreatedM wanted to know how I found time to read when I had so many children. She wants some time to be by herself and read. However, she has a large family, and her husband is often gone .

I took her on a visual walk through my bathroom. I have an amazing bathroom. I mentioned to her that it was my retreat. That surprised her, I mean really, the bathroom for your retreat. Who does that?

In my home, it is the only practical place. I live in a one bedroom apartment. The living room, office, and kitchen run the length of the house and are, for all intents and purposes just one room. The bedroom is right off of that part of the house, and you can hear the TV. The way the bathroom is situated make it a perfect alone space.

I talked to her about the simple things I have done to make it a sanctuary. Beautiful pictures are hanging on the wall. My favorite color is in the shower curtain and rugs. A vase of flowers and candles for decoration. Most importantly, a basket of wonderful books. Sometimes they just spill out of the basket. : )

Every time I go into the bathroom, which is at least three times a day, I read at least 1-3 paragraphs. You would be amazed at how much you can get read in a year 1-3 paragraphs at a time.

So M decided to give it a try. One of her worries was that her bathroom was always so messy. However, when she set about putting it to rights, she discovered that almost all of the clutter was hers. She devised some simple systems to keep her stuff corralled. She added some flowers, a new rug, and a basket of books.

At last report, she was enjoying her mini moments of peace and reading. It has made her feel more taken care of, and she is happier with her children.

When we are looking for alone time, we need to get creative. How can it be managed right where we are, without expending too much money or time? How can it be made doable even with small children? There is always a way to care for yourself right where you are.

Have you found some creative ways to manage your self-care? Please post your comments below. I would love to hear about them.

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Self Care for Better Parenting – Part 1

by Mary Ann on August 20, 2015


Is self care and having children mutually exclusive? We often think of taking care of ourselves as being child free, away from home, in quiet. But if that is the true definition of self care then most moms and dads are going to get precious little of it.

Self care is really important to parents because it helps maintain a calm demeanor, for longer periods of time. It facilitates more patience. It helps us to not take our frustration out on our children when we are really upset about something or someone else. Self care on a regular basis helps us tune in to the joy and satisfaction of having children, even during overly busy or chaotic days.

Self care helps us remain freer of resentment, exhaustion or feeling depleted. I am sure these are all things you have experienced and you know how damaging they can be to kind and effective parenting. They can be really hard on our relationships with our children. How we are feeling often determines the tone in our home. Self care benefits not only us, but our whole family. It is actually an investment in our family relationships, rather than a selfish indulgence.

When thinking about self care we can look at ways to make that happen when we are in the thick of parenting and also in terms of finding some alone time. Today we’ll take a look at self care when you are home, your kids are home and the general chaos of life is in full force.

Self Care in the Thick of Things

  1. Make it simple and doable – Self care can be as simple and plain as having a cup of herb tea while you read to
    your children. It might be taking some deep breaths while soothing a screaming child. You could turn on your favorite music and dance in the living room with your kids. Add laughter!
  2. Pay attention to yourself – When you feel like you are on the edge of losing your temper, getting irritable or feeling resentful ask yourself what you need to stay in control. I can still vividly recall what that moment felt like when I was going to stop being the adult. It was almost always when I had pushed myself for too long or was too tired. What I needed was to just STOP. In those younger years I didn’t stop and the result was inevitable. If you find yourself in that place, STOP. Stop working. Sit down. Hug a child. Breathe deeply. Get a drink of water. Walk out to the yard. Do something that will feel nurturing to you.
  3. Take care of your physical self – Get more sleep. Go to bed a bit earlier even if it means you don’t get that alonecalm rested ready time you try to snatch after midnight! Don’t get on the computer after 10pm. Really, this will absolutely help you get to bed earlier! Eat better. Don’t let lunch be the crusts off of your kid’s sandwiches. Don’t eat over the sink. Sit down for goodness sake and eat. It only takes five minutes! Exercise. Learn the difference between mom walks and kid walks and take a healthy measure of both weekly. Think and talk nicely to and about yourself. You would rarely speak to others, even those who are messing up, the way you talk to yourself. Pay attention to what you say and how you say it to yourself and then take the time to re-frame what you say into something more positive, supportive, and true.
  4. Smell the roses – Stop rushing through the day in order to get your “list” taken care of. Join in your children’s laughter. Smell their hair and skin. Get good at random touches and mini-conversations. Sit on the lawn and listens to your children’s chatter. Take a moment off, even if it is only 5 minutes. It will be enough!

Taking care of yourself does not make you selfish. It shows that you care about yourself and your family relationships. Being kind to yourself in everyday life is one of the best things you can do. Life will become lighter and your relationships will most likely improve. You will feel happier overall. Your self-esteem will go up. You will be a better parent.

An empty lantern provides no light.  Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly. Piper Larsen



How do you care for yourself in the midst of a busy and chaotic day at home? I would love it if you would share.

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Got Kids 24/7 – 2 Tips to make life easier

by Mary Ann on July 30, 2015

large family

24/7, 365 days a year for 18 plus years!! That is a long time to parent. I know because I did it. I actually had children living in my home, full time, for 39 years, so I know how hairy that can be. There is no way around the fact that parenting is a real commitment. The upside is that it is a commitment that can pay HUGE dividends in joy and satisfaction.

That being said, we still have to deal with the day to day effort to feed, cloth, clean up after, minster to and create relationships with our children. Add to that the importance of finding time for ourselves.

I can’t resolve all the issues involved with this big job you have taken on but I can share two terrific tools that I use at my home that help to make it easier.

Snack Plates

When my oldest daughter was expecting her fourth child she needed some help.  She was having a hard time keeping up with everything. One of the big struggles was keeping  Jack, aged 4 and Mary, aged 2, fed. Because they were little, they didn’t eat much at a meal and then wanted something to eat every couple of hours in between. That is how it is with little kids. (My pediatrician said that it is about 1 tablespoon of food, per meal, per year of age, after they turn one. Many of you know that is soooo true!) My husband came up with the perfect solution.

Each morning we would cut up vegetables, fruit, meat, such as salami or pepperoni,olives, crackers, cheese, etc and store it in airtight containers. Then Don would drive them over to our daughters home and throughout the day she would make “snack plates”. Each plate would have an assortment of goodies on it and would be placed on a flat surface, at child height, in this case the TV center. Then the children could help themselves as needed. Each plate would last a couple of hours. That would get them through from breakfast to lunch and then again from lunch to dinner. It was perfect.

Jack is now 7 and Mary is 5. We have been using this little trick for a good while now and it is still working. We don’t need a plate everyday, but frequently enough, on a munchy day, either Don or I will throw one together. While I have been in Seattle with my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter I have been doing the same thing. Because this is a university married housing complex there are children here all the time and they all get hungry. If I want to get anything done then, snack plates it is. Very helpful. : ) Here are some examples of what they look like at our home. (We don’t do anything special, we use what we have on hand)

snack plate 1-horz


 Picture 1 – L to R – strawberries, apple slices with peanut butter, buttered bread,  cheese

Picture 2 – L to R – mini carrots, canned pineapple, olives, raw almonds, cucumber slices

Picture 3 – L to R – banana slices, orange slices, cheese, sliced ham lunch meat, orange and red pepper slices

Picture 4 – L to R – pretzels, blueberries, strawberry slices

Picture 5 – L to R – Gogurt, cheese, pepperoni

Picture 6 – L to R – orange slices, apple slices, grapes, cheese, pepperoni

Door Hangers

door hangerBecause we live in a basement apartment under one of our children, we have those grandchildren over all the time. As grandparents we love it! However, I am not retired and I work at home four days a week. It can get pretty noisy and I find it hard to concentrate, especially if I am writing.

And please bear in mind that even though we are older and grandparents, that doesn’t change the need for quiet time! Sometimes I want to hear silence. I want to read or crochet or watch a television program or eat an ice cream bar undisturbed and unshared.

One day we came up with the perfect solution and it works! We talked to our daughter about what we needed and she set up a family meeting. She and her husband gathered all of their children around and told them how much we loved them but that sometimes we just needed some space. They asked the kids how they thought their family could make that happen. There were lots of ideas, some good, some wild and some just plain silly.

In the end our daughter invited them to make two door hangers. One would be green for “Come on in” and one door hanger 2would be red for “Grandma is working”. The children were really excited about the idea and they got to make them.

I have often said, and have proved it for myself, that if you want a system to work, the presentation has to be exciting and inviting and the family has to “buy in”. These children were excited by the presentation and making the door hangers themselves helped them buy in.

The youngest child, Ben,  is three. Even Ben has great respect for the door hangers. Sometimes the kids will come down, crack the door open and peek in to see if I am really still working. They know that sometimes I forget to change signs. One day Ben came clattering down the stairs and barreled into the living room. I said, “Benny I can’t have company right now because I am working.” He looked at me, cocked his head and replied, “Grandma you don’t have the sign out.” So I got the door hanger for him and he hung it on the doorknob and left.

We have discovered that we just don’t need the “go” door hanger because they are welcome in our home most of the time. We focus mostly on using the “stop” door hanger when I really do need private time. That means that I often work when the house is filled with laughing, rambunctious children. But if I really do need quite, I put out the sign.

I think this could work for busy mom’s and dad’s too. You could have a family meeting and talk about people needing some quiet time and where they might need it: in the bathroom, in the bedroom, in the office. Then you could talk about ways family members can help mom and dad get the time they need and introduce the idea of the door hanger. There could be one for the bathroom, one for the parents bedroom, one for the office. Then when you just need a time out or 10 minutes to read or breathe deeply, you could try it out.

If you don’t abuse or overuse this tool it just may give you the few minutes break that you need now and then to keep going 24/7, 365 days a year for 18 plus years!!

What are your best tricks for making the job of parenting easier?

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The Screen Free Experiment

by Mary Ann on July 25, 2015

The Smith Family

The Smith Family

What if you went Screen Free, as a family, for a WHOLE MONTH!! Do you think you could do it? Would your family go nuts? Would everyone crack up? Would the fighting increase? Yikes!! A whole month!!

Remember that last week I gave you five tips to help you put your family first. Here is a recap of #3:

3. Turn off your digital devices, ditch technology – just for a while. Have technology free moments everyday. For example, maybe you have a TV, computer and no phone hour just before bed. When you are willing to let go of technology for even short amounts of time you will be surprised at how much time you can open up for family.

I suggested finding a few moments each day to turn technology off and I think that is a good idea. But after I wrote last weeks article I met a family that actually goes screen free for a whole month once a year. I got all the details from the mom, Courtney, and I want to share them with you because I think you will be so impressed that you might consider making this a tradition in your home.

So what is Screen Free you ask? No TV, no movies on TV, no computer time, no games on the phone, no screens.


Here is how the Smith’s make it work:

1. Prepare your kids ahead of time. This particular family goes screen free in June, every year. However, this year they didn’t begin talking about it early enough. They usually begin talking about it and making plans about a month in advance. So for the sake of having a successful Screen Free Month, this year they are doing it in July.

2. Presentation is everything. That is my phrase and you’ve heard me say it before, but it is what they do. They talk it up. They talk about all the great things they are going to be able to do as a family, how much fun they are going to have together, the family reward at the end of the month.

3. Get everyone to buy in. As Courtney was telling me how they get their kids to cooperate I said, “Oh you get them to buy in.” She smiled and said, “Well I didn’t have a term for it but yup that’s what we do.” They get their kids to buy in by allowing them to pick a reward they would like to have at the end of the month. It has to be a really fun family activity. It might be swimming, camping, eating out, going to the movie theater, visiting grandparents, a road trip, whatever the parents want to throw out there. When the kids pick it, plan it and talk about it – they are IN.

Here is their one caveat – They don’t use screen time as the reward. They don’t want to reward no screen time with screen time. : )

4. Parent’s have to be honest! It isn’t the kids who struggle the most, it’s the parents. They really do have to commit. Courtney told me that the hard part for her is at lunch. She usually has lunch when the big kids are at school and her little one is taking a nap. She likes to read Facebook, watch a show, catch up on the news, whatever, as she eats lunch. It is a challenge to read instead or call a friend.

It also becomes challenging for her and her husband in the evening when everyone is in bed. They usually veg out a bit in front of the TV, just the two of them but – YIKES – it’s screen free month. She told me that they have learned to play games together or read to each other. It has become really fun.

The one caveat – They do occasionally check email, pay bills on line or prepare church lessons. Just no screens for entertainment purposes.

5. Plan ahead. Get the games out. Check some great books out of the library. Stock up on pop corn. Know in your mind what you are going to say to your kids, how are you going to direct them, when they come and ask to watch a movie. Get prepared.

This family goes screen free in the summer months because they feel that in the winter you are shut in and it is more difficult to disengage from TV, videos, games etc. In the summer you can get out, walk, go swimming, go to the mountains, etc.


Courtney said that it is a bit hard the first few days because it is a serious transition, but then they settle right in. They have a lot of fun. They play together, they talk, and they laugh. She said that it is something that they really do all look forward to each year.

They feel more connected at the end of their Screen Free Month. It takes a while for screen time to become important to them again. The break feels good – after the first few days. : )

In fact Courtney shared this with me, “Last time we did it our kids wanted to continue for more than a month! And they hardly ever ask when it will be over.”

So why not consider it and give it a try. You just might find out how much your family likes to read, play games, hike or swim.

Who else out there goes screen free for a day, a week, a month. What is your experience?

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