Eileen Lass - Mother to 12 (all teenage or above now). Mothering looks like..."easier physically but not emotionally."
Nycole Formo - Mother of 2 (elementary age). Work outside the home mom and stay at home dad.
Erica Geffken- Mother of 3 (youngest is 2 months). Mothering looks like..."survival mode."
Our cafe' was packed for this panel! I think we all really wanted to hear ideas from both seasoned moms and moms in the thick of raising little ones...and mostly to know that we are NOT alone.
What are some tips for making it through your day and managing the general 'crazy'?
Nycole: having a social support of women who she can text whenever for encouragement, for perspective, even just for a laugh.
Erica: plan ahead!! She has as a small notebook where she keeps a running list of things she needs to do, as well as things the kids say and other notes she needs to remember!
Eileen: carving out time for her faith (time with God), to 'center herself'. She is in the “sandwich generation” caring for elderly parents and children at the same time, so focus is very important in maintaining her sanity.
Routines: Who sets the pace in the house? Erica: It depends on who has the greatest need in the house. (either one of the children or mom or dad.) The day and needs vary based on that; some days the toddler needs attention so it's a lot of one on one time; other days mom needs a mental break so it's a movie day for the kids!
Being a working mom, Nicole, how do you prioritize? Nycole: She has the 'say yes' rule between her and her husband, where each try to say yes to one another’s activities. They look at the schedule Sunday evening for the week ahead and try to say yes to one another's plans...time alone, out with friends, whatever. This allows them each the refreshment they need to then pour back into their family.
Eileen: She has a daily routine, and the kids all have chores to complete. She always says “our priorities are not the same as other people.” Do not let others control what your life/priorities look like. (can we all breathe a big sigh with this one?! Good.)
Were you overwhelmed by the lack of schedule with a newborn? Erica: She felt like she needed to get back to her “normal” right away with her first, so it was a bit overwhelming, especially because they felt like they were in a completely different stage of life than their friends. By number three...she's good to get a load of laundry done and go grocery shopping in a week, so “success” has looked very different with each child! Now appreciates the cuddle time and just general caring for children a lot more.
Eileen: Someone once shared with her that there three types of days: Progress days: Things are better than when we woke up; we accomplished things. Maintenance days: Things are the same as when we woke up; no better, no worse. Survival days: we're all alive!!
How do you organize a week? Or do you? Erica: "I try to dedicate each day for something specific: education, deep cleaning, groceries, grandma day, etc."
Nycole: “We don’t plan and go by the seat of our pants….but we do have concreate things that each of us (mom and dad) take care of. For example, dad does meal planning; I take care of kids physical needs, like getting dressed, etc.” Both try to have a level of flexibility and very open communication.
Eileen: “we have a family meeting on Sunday and pull out the family calendar to see the week. Each person has a column so we can all see what everyone has for the week.”
Let's talk bedtime routines! Eileen: We would read, sing songs/lullabies.
Nycole: We have a "family curfew" so that we are all home by a certain time (6 pm in their house) to be able to have a smooth transition through the dinner/bath/bedtime routine.
From the audience: “We needed a solid bedtime routine when they were younger, help kids calm down to be able to fall asleep…..bathtime, quiet time, books….so my son knew what to expect.”
“My daughter got used to the routine, so much so it was to the point were she dictated the routine and we had to follow it to a tee!”
Moving on to life skills...how do you handle sibling squabbles? Eileen: “trying to teach them to be kind to one another." For example, if they yelled at each other, then they have to yell “I love you” just as loud! Having rules such as "We aren't mean in this house" and "If it's not fun for all, it's not fun at all!"
Nycole: “we have something called a “re-do”." They stop and have to re-think what they said/how they said it and try again (and apologize). They do “lead days”, so sometimes one child will be able to take the lead for the day and the other will take a different day to lead...get to choose food, books, play, etc. Has helped empower them both and helped so that the first born does not run over the second child. Also give them a chance to figure it out on their own...but if they can't, then they have to follow whatever mom and dad's solution is.
Erica: have kids “hug and apologize” and talk through what they did, why it was wrong and how it hurt the other person. When it’s a bad day they sometimes need to be separated for a while and distracted with activity until anger has been diffused a bit more.
Audience Question: Kindness can be such an abstract topic, how do you practically encourage kindness? Audience Answer: “we have a safe word that each child can use when the others have hurt them.” When the safe word is said, everyone has to stop and talk about it and figure out why that person feels hurt and how to help the situation resolve.
Erica: Helping the children to understand what they are personally feeling in a situation can help to explain how others may be feeling. "Remember when this happened and you felt this way...?"
How did you prepare for another sibling joining the family? Eileen: Give them ownership! This is YOUR baby, YOU are the big brother/sister.
Erica: Dolls! Help them treat the doll just like they will have to treat the real baby.
What about one on one time? How do you fit that in with multiple children? Erica: With the oldest in school, getting that time with them is the hardest. She tries to be alert and intentional in their morning 'getting ready' time together, so that time is used wisely. Also, occasional late-nights where that child can stay up and watch a fun show together that they both enjoy (like 'Chopped').
Eileen: Each child got "their" day. They could choose a meal, got to have the seat next to daddy at the table. Trying to take just one of the children on an errand could even be special, instead of taking everyone.
Other ideas: "dates" - could be intentional or spontaneous; planned or just a quick errand. Use audio books in the car as a way to listen to a story together and be able to talk about it and bond. Build in fun...grab lunch or coffee while out running errands.
Now the fun one...temper tantrums!! How do you handle these?? Nycole:
1) Ask how am I (mom) feeling? That can have a huge impact on their attitudes!
2) Sit down with them and wait until they are done (or if at a store, leave the store).
3) Ask how they're feeling...eventually it will come out and you can figure out the root problem.
4) Model your own feelings! "Mommy is frustrated right now, I need to count to four to calm."
5) Never say that feelings themselves are bad...they're not! Give them tools to manage their
Audience Question: How do you parent the older siblings while protecting the younger ones? (from rough-housing, fighting, enforcing rules physically, etc.) That mama bear instinct can happen even with your own kids! Erica: Have an "ultimate rule" for the oldest. "Safety for your siblings is the MOST important." Also, give them jobs to help care for the younger siblings, so they feel like they are in a 'protector' role.
Finally...how do you practice self-care? How do you re-charge? Nycole: I'm introverted and already give a lot of myself at work and at home. I have 3 or 4 relationships where I just receive, and I prioritize time with those relationships.
Eileen: Give myself grace!! Remember that if you're running a race with weights, you won't run at the same pace as you would without those weights. Figure out what are your weights, and adjust your pace to that for this season of life!
Erica: Little things! Classic rock in the car, hot showers on the weekend, and a close friend with no kids...it keeps me open-minded and not just in my own world!
Ladies, thank you for all of your wonderful insights! This was a wonderful cafe' and I think we all felt like we could breathe a big, collective sigh of knowing that we are in this together!