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Last year we bought a little house on a large lot in a neighbourhood we loved. We gutted it, adding two floors and digging out the basement. The whole job took eight months. My husband, our five kids, our dog and me lived in the house the whole time.
It was one wild adventure. It made us a better family and I think it made me a better person. I learned a lot about parenting, about marriage, and about kids while living in the reno zone.
There were good reasons to stay in the house. For one thing, there were no houses to rent in the area and no apartment could house our brood. We wanted the kids to settle into the neighbourhood. We wanted them to stay at their school. Despite the mayhem around them, we wanted them to continue on with all their normal activities.
Oops. I used the word “normal”. Looking back on it from the comfortable confines of my renovated house, I think the biggest lessons I learned from this adventure had to do with the words normal and change.
While living in the reno zone, we chose to recognize and embrace change. The kids, who slept on single mattresses stuck together like Scrabble pieces, knew things were different. Why hide it? There was no TV, no computer, only books and board games surrounded by tools and materials. The kids, all powerfully driven by the pursuit of fun, adapted immediately. (It took my husband a little longer.)
I learned that some things shouldn’t change. We ate every meal together, sitting around the dinner table each night reviewing our days. By the way, an unplugged table saw makes for an excellent sideboard. Bedtime is bedtime, homework is homework, and the dog needs to be walked.
By keeping the basic structure of family life together, I realized that home is simply any place where we are all living together. It was rather liberating. This is probably the best reason why living in the reno zone felt so normal.
It’s late November, and both of my kids really should be in school—grades two and four respectively—but instead, they’re bowling a coconut down the beach and hunting for geckos while I type this from a restaurant on the sand nearby. We’re on Koh Lanta, an island in southern Thailand, and we’re not coming home until March.
The kids are Ciaran, nearly seven, and Chloe, nine. Koh Lanta is just one stop on our six-month tour of southeast Asia and southern India. Together with my husband, Mark, we set off from Ottawa in mid-August for Bali, where we spent the first month helping the kids become seasoned little travellers. After that, we spent several weeks roaming north from Singapore up through peninsular Malaysia. From there we took in Bangkok and parts of northern Thailand before heading to Laos via a two-day slow boat trip along the Mekong River. Descending back south through Laos from Luang Prabang to the capital, Vientiane, we then made our way down to southern Thailand.
November 20 is the midpoint of the trip, so the balance has already tipped—sadly, we’ve got less time ahead of us than we have behind us. Coming up ahead, we still have Cambodia, Vietnam and southern India to cover. So far, everyone is healthy and happy and having a fabulous time.
The kids have stunned us with their infinite adaptability and flexibility. They virtually never complain about missing anybody or anything from home. They can find something to love about even the most hideous of hotel rooms. They can find something to order on the sketchiest of menus. They can see the funny side of any near (or complete) disaster. They can sleep in the strangest, noisiest, most disruptive environments.
Unsurprisingly, they can also fight over the silliest things and be incredibly resistant to the school work we sometimes impose on them, but overall I would say we’ve been amazed and dazzled (and relieved) by how well they’re coping.
Of course, a trip of this magnitude is not without its challenges—and the next one facing us will be how to mark the holidays. While we’re not particularly religious, our family has always celebrated Christmas, and Santa Claus has a reputation in our house for being excessively generous. We’re still working out how Santa will find us in Vietnam, whether or not he will be wrapping the gifts this year, and how he’s going to fly his sled around (and land it) in the absence of snow. More news on all of that in my next entry!
Our Savvy Scouts have been very busy enjoying all that there is to enjoy while the Olympics are in town. Here’s our savvy list of what to do and where to go with kids, because we want to make sure you make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Have you been to any great Olympic events or activities? We’d love to hear about your Olympic experiences.
“What’s for breakfast?” “What’s for lunch?” “What’s for dinner?”
Sometimes you can’t believe yet another meal for the kids is just minutes away. ‘Back to reality’ brings enough to-do’s on our list while we’re worrying about the next healthy meal that even ‘ants on a log’ (read: cream cheese with raisins on celery sticks) seems ambitious when you’re looking for new sneakers, signing forms and registering for soccer.
Some strategies to help you are:
How do you plan your meals?
Your new baby has arrived on the scene and your toddler is understandably wide-eyed and eager to help.
Or, your toddler could be ignoring the new baby entirely, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach until he’s sure that she’s here to stay.
Whether your toddler is ready to dive into siblinghood or wait on the sidelines for now, he’ll be looking for guidance from you. He’s probably wondering how babies work. Are they simply miniature versions of big kids? What can you do with a newborn brother or sister anyway?
The best way to teach a toddler about babies is by being hands-on.
Start out by sitting on the floor with your toddler and the baby (so you won’t have to worry about anyone tumbling off a couch or a bed). Point out the baby’s eyes, ears, fingers, and toes—everything that a toddler is likely to find fascinating. Your toddler will no doubt want to point out his eyes, ears, fingers, and toes, too.
Then, show your toddler how to hold a baby. You may find it works best if you sit your toddler across from you on the floor and help your baby to support the baby on his lap. Show your toddler how to gently caress a baby, making soft, slow motions. (You can model the motions and then try guiding his hand.)
Next, place the baby back on the floor and talk about the ways big brothers can help with a baby: by choosing a clean outfit before a diaper change, by choosing a toy from a bin of baby toys, by singing a lullaby, by sharing a book with the baby.
Be sure to let your toddler know that it’s normal for babies to wake up in the middle of the night: that he doesn’t have to hop out of bed or worry if he hears the baby crying for a moment or two. Babies wake up in the night because they have very small stomachs and they need to eat more often than children and adults with larger stomachs. The baby will nurse and then go back to sleep.
Finally, don’t forget to talk to your toddler about all the ways the two of you can have fun while the baby is nursing or napping. You don’t want your toddler to feel like it’s going to be all work and no play around here from now on.
Your new baby has just arrived on the scene. Everyone who walks through the front door tends to make a big fuss about the baby, which can leave your older child feeling like the understudy to a hot new star. Can you blame her if she’s feeling lonely, unappreciated, and a little bit resentful, too?
The antidote to those prickly feelings she’s experiencing is some TLC from you, amply administered in regular doses as parental time and energy allows. Here are some tips on making that happen.
Think about activities that you can enjoy with your older child while you’re feeding your baby. You will, after all, be spending a lot of your time breastfeeding, particularly when your baby is still in the newborn stage. Fortunately, breastfeeding can be combined with other activities, like reading books, playing games (everything from simple board games and card games to in-your-head games like “I spy”), telling stories, and enjoying a cuddle on the couch.
Take advantage of your baby’s naptimes to enjoy activities with your older child that can’t be done quite as easily with a babe-in-arms. Do somersaults together in the backyard. Whip up something healthy in the kitchen. Or go for a walk together while your partner or some other trusted adult listens for the first signs of baby waking up for his next feeding. (If you carry your cell phone with you, the person at home can text you to alert you that feeding time is rapidly approaching and that it might be wise to start heading for home.)
Get a handle on what your older child is thinking and how she is feeling about the new baby’s arrival. You want her to be honest about her feelings, so don’t tell her that her feelings are wrong or bad if she says something negative about the new baby. Incorporating a new person into a family is a big adjustment for everyone. With support, encouragement, and patience from you, your older child will make this adjustment—when she’s ready.
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting, including The Mother of All Pregnancy Books (2nd Canadian edition, Wiley, June 2011). Her websites are http://www.having-a-baby.com and www.anndouglas.ca.
‘Mom, how did that baby get in your tummy?’ Suddenly, you stumble and begin to stutter—the stork seems like a great answer. What will you say?
One of the easiest ways to regain your footing and your ability to speak is by using a stalling technique. These come in handy when dealing with parenting questions, from toddlerhood to University. They give us time to gather our wits, seek out information, and teach our child that adults don’t know everything but are happy to do some research.
Follow that with a clarification to determine what is really being asked:
Finally, buy yourself some time:
Having landed yourself an opportunity to discuss these questions with your co-parent (or anyone else for that matter), you can develop a plan to answer these questions honestly and with information relevant to your child’s level of development.
You may have decided to end your marriage, but with a young family, you still face years of co-parenting with your ex. There are ways of having a good divorce and raising happy children with minimal emotional upset. Here are some best practices to set you on the right path:
Are you getting a sense of the scale now? So, fighting about trans fats in fast food isn’t the way to go. You’ll probably do more psychological damage to your toddler watching you bicker over it.
Fact: marriage is hard. Fact: talking about money is awkward. Put these together and you’ve got a combination that most people prefer to avoid: talking to your spouse about money.
It is hardly surprising that money is the number one stumbling block among couples, given that money issues are often loaded with prejudices, guilt, fear and anxiety. Avoiding discussions that could pre-empt later arguments may be shortsighted, but in the moment, it just seems, well, easier.
What if there was a way you could make money discussions [http://www.goldengirlfinance.ca/articles/marriage-couples/wedding-pre-game-talk-five-must-discuss-topics-before-saying-i-do] with your honey more pleasant and less likely to spiral out of control and into a fight? Would you be willing to try?
Financial experts advise that the right thing to do is hold a monthly meeting to evaluate the state of household finances, debt and savings goals. Involving your kids in the discussion is also a great way to teach them about transparency and responsibility, while reinforcing the act of making decisions as a family.
While there is no one way of doing things that works for everyone, here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you find the right mix of love and money.
Controlling tempers and withholding judgments seems to be the toughest part about money discussions. If matters of resentment or anger arise, tread carefully, hold hands and recognize that getting to the heart of the matter can only help in the long run.
You did say for richer or poorer, right? Here’s hoping for richer! And remember—the family that saves together, stays together.
With Earth Day quickly approaching, going green is top of mind for many—my family included. But instead of trying to live green for one day or one month, what if you and your family made a long-term commitment to reducing your environmental footprint?
I’ve recently discovered millions of homes across the country share a dirty little secret—Canadian households typically have three zones that can consume up to 60% of energy usage. However, by making small, mindful changes, families can turn their impact from negative to positive.
In my books, Green For Life and There’s Lead in Your Lipstick, I talk about the small and easy changes families can incorporate into their day-to-day lives to eliminate harmful chemicals, save on energy costs and leave you feeling good about your environmental footprint. By focusing on each area as a ‘greenable zone’, it is possible to unlock countless environmental saving opportunities.
The first step is to identify which areas of your life have the most potential for green living—if your family is anything like mine, you undoubtedly spend the most time in the kitchen and there are several simple changes that can be made:
Where does an estimated 65% of your home’s total indoor water use take place? The bathroom. In this room, small simple changes can make a big impact:
As Canadians, there are many alternatives that we can start to integrate into our daily lives that will help make the planet a cleaner, healthier and more enjoyable place to live. The laundry room is the final room in the house where small changes can make a big difference:
There are lots of great online resources that offer tips and tricks on how to live a greener life—education is the key. I follow several green companies online for daily tips and green giveaways; my personal favourite is Seventh Generation.
Time Magazine’s recent controversial cover has fueled mommy rants across the country. Even Saturday Night Live thought it was juicy enough to satirize.
I’ve decided it’s time to put my own thoughts on the page once and for all.
American Pediatrician Dr. Sears created a brand called ‘attachment parenting’ which espouses such practices as co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding and carrying babes in slings in order to meet a child’s need to know they are loved and cared for.
I think every parent would want a good ‘attachment’ experience with their child. However, the exact process of how you attach and how fragile that attachment is has lead me to observe some parenting practices that actually backfire and create more problems than they cure. Let me break that down into a few misconceptions the public harbour.
Misconception #1: Psychic Distress
Many parents believe that psychic distress is bad and will injure the attachment because they deduce a child’s need is not being met and that is supposedly an attachment parenting no-no. I disagree; in fact, certain psychic distress is exactly how we build mental strength and resiliency. Of course, everyone would agree that distress like living in a war-torn country, or witnessing or experiencing abuse is injurious, but having to walk instead of being carried in mommy’s sling is a different kind of stressor, isn’t it?
Just as the chick must peck its way out of the egg, using its muscles to strengthen its neck and lungs in preparation for life outside the egg, so too does a child need to struggle with disappointment, failure, loss and frustration. This is how one learns to trust one’s self and to manage life’s ups and downs. It builds a positive self-concept of being capable.
Misconception #2: Needs Versus Wants
Does the 3 ½ year old on the cover of TIME Magazine ‘need’ to nurse or does he ‘want’ to? At 3 ½, if nursing was a need, the dietary challenges to the mother would be immense. Suckling for soothing is not the same as providing breast milk for its nutritional value. Of course, soothing a child is an important parenting role, but so is teaching self-soothing. It’s a skill to be learned. Being dependant on a mother’s nipple to soothe is time limiting even if we disagree on what the timing is.
Attachment parents seem to over estimate their youngsters’ needs and under estimate their wants. Children who always get what they want come to expect that this is their right. They learn to use tears and upset to get their way instead of more socially adept methods.
Deciding to start and stop breastfeeding is personal. I don’t want a mom to feel she needs to carry on breastfeeding because she believes if she doesn’t the child’s mental health is compromised. Every women should respect themselves enough to honour their inner voice and listen when those ‘NO’ feelings arise.
Misconception # 3: Kids First, Parents Last
Parenting is about training our children to be cooperative and participate in the ‘give and take’ required of social living. No one should be unduly burdened or leaned on in the family. That is disrespectful.
Attachment parenting seems to focus solely on the child and not on the health of the entire family unit. Co-sleeping might be nice for a toddler, but if they kick, turn and disrupt the adult’s sleep, the needs of the parent to get proper sleep are being diminished. If we remind ourselves to go back to the simple notion of cooperation and ask if everyone is happy and feeling cooperative with one another then you can’t go wrong. If five people want to tangle together to sleep and they are all happy and willing to do so then ENJOY! But sadly, in my experience of working with families, this is rarely the case.
Usually it’s mom sleeping with a baby or toddler while dad sleeps disgruntled and alone in a kiddie bed or on the couch. Too many times I have seen co-sleeping as an avoidance tactic, using the presence of kids to avoid facing the real issue: a dying sex life between mom and dad.
If you want an attachment family, don’t forget to attach with your partner. You will be doing a great service to your children if you model attachment by having a good strong marriage and a good sex life only improves matters. I say, ‘reclaim the matrimonial bed’ and trust kids will benefit from seeing two parents glowing in the morning. If you are a single mom/dad and are co-sleeping, ask yourself whose needs are really being met? Yours? Or theirs?
Lets raise children who are loved and cared for and who feel a sense of connection and belonging in their family life. Lets show them how to manage on their own and with others while teaching them life skills. Let’s pledge to set boundaries and reinforce them. Let’s treat ourselves with respect and dignity too. And finally, never do for a child something they can do for themselves…even if it’s a hassle right now, it will pay off in the future.
When a second baby arrives, our toddlers suddenly seem so much more mature. We still need to have age-appropriate expectations of their abilities to set everyone up for success.
Baby’s arrival can be as frustrating for Big Sibling as it is exciting for others. Big Sib didn’t want this new child and is no longer the star of the show. Surely, misbehaviour will bring all the attention that Big Sib needs.
Create a ‘treasure box’ with Big Sib, full of books, blocks, independent activities and shelf-stable snacks. At baby’s feeding time, invite Big Sib to grab the treasure box. He can help himself to a snack while baby is eating, then the two of you can read a book together. Giving attention for behaviour we want to see means that Big Sib doesn’t have to resort to misbehaviour for attention.
Be realistic about sharing—kids this age are egocentric—they believe that their point of view is the only one: ‘Everyone knows that I want this toy now. No one else will take it.’ We can introduce/model sharing by:
When kids are fighting over a toy, step in and guide children. Express your belief that it can work, ‘I know that you two can find a way to make this work.’ Guiding when they are too young to do it on their own will be the first step in their development as problem-solvers.
Last summer, my husband and I chose to drive from Toronto, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with our two daughters. It was one of the most memorable and awesome summer vacations we had ever experienced as a family.
Along with being able to capture the historic beauty of Quebec, we also visited New Brunswick and PEI for the first time. After spending time with friends in Halifax, we were awe inspired by the breathtaking Green and White Mountain ranges as we drove back home through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Never having experienced a family road trip before, I wasn’t sure how everyone would adapt to spending so many hours on the road but planning ahead really paid off and we can’t wait to do it again.
If you’re planning a road trip with your family anytime soon, here’s what you might like to know:
1. Consider the age and temperament of your children. Travelling as we did with two older children who are quite capable of entertaining themselves, and each other, made our trip that much more enjoyable. I don’t think it would have been quite the same if we had made the same trip when they were much younger. Although travelling overnight so that young children can sleep the hours away may make getting to your destination easier, there are cons to this. For one thing, you may feel exhausted from driving without getting a night’s sleep and the beauty of your surroundings will be lost.
2. The journey is really just as important as the destination. If you plot out stops and points of interest along the way, then the final destination becomes the place that you are spending the most amount of time at, but is not that much more important than all the special stops along the way. If you journey over several days and don’t need to be somewhere in a hurry, then you’re more likely to appreciate every place you stop at. And dont be afraid to make slight diversions along the way if something special catches your attention.
3. Involve your family in the planning stage. If your children do research on the internet, for example, about special places they’d like to visit and if you integrate these stops along the way, they will feel that their needs have been equally considered. Then the vacation truly becomes a family vacation.
4. Take lots to occupy them in the car. One of the great things about car travel is that you don’t have to worry about your luggage being a couple of pounds overweight. You also don’t have to worry about other restrictions such as products that are not allowed on board an aircraft, for example. Other than the portable DVD and other electronics, how about a knapsack of creative car activities such as paper and crayons, stickers and maybe even a small lap tray to place the material on. This knapsack can also be taken in and out of restaurants too.
5. Other than material items for the kids, think about other games that require nothing more than thought and imagination. Counting the number of red versus blue cars between point A and B or playing a memory game such as ‘I went to the market…’ are great ways to pass time.
6. Help your children know in advance how much time between stops so that they don’t ask ‘Are we there yet?’ every half hour. Older children, who understand time and can read, can be provided with an itinerary including approximate time planned to be on the road. Children can also be helped by showing them how to read a GPS so that they can see at a glance how much time remains until they can stretch their legs or visit another place of interest.
7. If you typically drive a smaller car, consider renting a mini van for the time you’re going to be away. A van allows you the luxury of extra leg space, extra luggage space and extra elbow space may even mean that the children are less likely to fight with one another—both physically and verbally.
Most importantly, take lots of time planning and researching a road trip so that you know where and when you are coming and going. Treasure each stop and inhale every moment along the way. Don’t rush the trip but plan the scenic route so that you can experience the beauty of your surroundings.
Have you been watching the London Olympics with your kids?
If so we’d love you to share your experiences with us. Are your children inspired, impressed or indifferent? What are their favourite events? Do the Games spur them on to try harder or try something new? Did they have any reactions that surprised you?
The Olympics provide a great opportunity for you to connect with your kids on topics like doing something you love and following your passion, rewards vs. self-satisfaction, goal planning and role models.
Here are some potential conversation starters:
Next, for some real-life Olympic fun try setting up your own mini-Olympics in your backyard or the local park. Use softballs for the shot-put. Get some ribbon from a dollar store to use as a finish line for foot races. Use playground equipment for an obstacle course. Make it as big or as small as you like; either a family or neighbourhood event.
I’m fortunate. My family loves to be outside. And we happen to live close to a fantastic warren of forest trails. So we take every opportunity to venture into Lynn Canyon, in the mountains 25 minutes north of Vancouver.
Getting into the fresh air is not only invigorating; our hikes provide countless opportunities to share great experiences with our kids.
We teach our children, ages 2 and 5, about the wonders of nature. By asking questions and encouraging observation, we give our children their first science experiences. We look at plants and fungi. We search out signs of animal life.
And while not all of our hikes are vigorous—we do enjoy a leisurely stroll from time to time—every moment outdoors is an opportunity to develop and refine fundamental movement skills.
We hop over branches. We climb and leap off stumps. We practice balancing while walking on fallen logs.
Our children quickly became confident in performing these skills and are comfortable enough on the uneven—and often muddy—ground that they are often racing ahead, and blazing new trails in the underbrush.
In fact, we think of the outdoors as an activity environment for development of physical literacy. To our minds, being able to move in the natural world is as important as being able to do things on the ground, in the water, on snow and ice, and in the air.
So get outside! It’s possible to find hiking spots even in the most urban of Canada’s cities. You don’t need a large area, just the right outlook. And your kids will learn and develop skills while having fun.
Blaine Kyllo has written for a variety of print and online publications including CBC.ca, the Globe & Mail, the Georgia Straight and Vancouver Magazine. Also an editor, producer and the father of two young children, he lives in North Vancouver.