Read this before your baby arrives

When you are pregnant with your first baby and have not much experience with little children, it is just going to be a surprise pack. No matter how many classes you have attended and how many friends with children you have talked to. You will end up surprised and confused in this totally new situation. Here are some things you must know in advance.

  1. Babies sleep a lot, but… wake up very often. Babies are different, some of them sleep longer, some sleep shorter, there is no rule actually. You will see what type your child is. Generally, you must be prepared for frequent (every 2-4 hours) wake-ups including nights in the beginning. Later (after 3-4 months), you may be lucky and your baby may regulate his or her sleep at night.
  2. You will be sleepy and exhausted. Yes, this sounds demotivating, but do not worry, parents can cope with this. Lack of enough sleep can really make you tired and frustrated, that is why, you must sleep whenever it is possible. So, no cleaning, no cooking while your baby is sleeping – go to bed too. Try to take turns at nights or take the baby to your bed. You must survive the most difficult beginning, sooner or later, situation improves.
  3. Breastfeeding is hard. We think that it is so natural and simple that nothing bad can happen. Wrong. Both you and your child have to learn it first, and this is not as easy as it seems. So as to avoid unnecessary stress and problems find a good lactation consultant as soon as possible.
  4. Be prepared for lots of advice. Children cry, sometimes even more than they sleep. It is very complicated for fresh parents to guess what the problem of their little cutie is. And here come the whole family and neighborhood with help. You will hear a whole range of conflicting advice and sometimes even accusations – do not really care about it. You need to “learn your baby”. Thank for the useful advice and forget the rest.
  5. Organize support. The first three months are going to be the most difficult. Newborn babies have to learn their “new life” outside the safe womb and your body comes back from the pregnancy mode. It is hard for both of you, thus, it would be a good idea to have some help.
  6. It will be an exam for you as a couple. It is even better than a survival camp. You may be more nervous, focused on having at least a five minute of sleep – where is the romance? Do not worry, it will not last forever. Treat this situation as an adventure. But you will need some time for you as a couple, not parents. If you cannot count for a babysitter, organize a date at home when baby is sleeping.
  7. Children grow really fast. You can be so confused in this whole new chaos that you may miss this fact. Try to enjoy the moments with your newborn, these are unrepeatable.
  8. Do not buy too many gadgets. Babies do not need much. It is a better idea to save money for the future, you will be surely needing them later.
  9. You will be a great mom. You do not have to know everything, you can ask, have doubts. You will learn everything with time and you will become an expert of your child.

You, your smartphone and your kids

Parenting can be a bit monotonous and boring sometimes. Fortunately, someone has invited smartphones and we have work, contact with our friends, entertainment and some break from other occupations in one hand. You play with your kid and check Facebook or read something on the internet? Many of us do this, but have you ever thought that such a habit can have a bad impact on parents’ relationship with children? In fact, the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics has published a study which says that using a smartphone around your kids can increase tension in the house.

Surprisingly, this “window” to the world outside – which is your smartphone, makes you absent as a parent, since mentally you are in more than one place: at work, with friends and in Africa with people suffering from hunger. The study mentioned above has checked how multitasking smartphone use affects caregivers and their family routines. 35 caregivers have been interviewed and what turned out?

Many of them admitted that it has an influence on their family lives and, what is more, they noticed that reading bad news or some work related emails had a bad influence on their mood which resulted in negative responses to their children. Often, when children were disturbing caregivers focused on their phones, they were snapped or yelled at. For the caregivers using smartphones meant some kind of an escape from the stresses and monotony of parenting.

These days, it is difficult to be only here and now. Many parents work from homes and using technology around kids is just inevitable. New technologies have made our lives much easier in many aspects, but simultaneously, it has become much harder to achieve the healthy balance between work and family.

What is significant here, we need to understand that our children benefit from some independence. We do not have to devote our whole day for them to make them happy. In fact, unhappy parent means usually unhappy children. If you need to find yourself present and active in more than one area of your life, you have to make a plan.

Remember that too much disruptions can make you feel overwhelmed and too many tasks at a time cannot be done well. There must be some time during the day when your kids are occupied, maybe it would be a good idea to limit your “other matters” to this time so that you could focus on certain things separately.

Children do feel that their parents are absent, even when they are just next to them. Quality is often more important than quantity when it comes to parenting. Your stress pouring out on a child cannot bring any good. We all need balance in our lives and chaos often ends up with exhaustion and frustration. Why don’t we turn off our smartphone for a while and just be here and now? Later we can check what happened outside “without us”.

Isn’t there too much stress in your family?

Stress is a part of our lives. We both need it and have too much of it. How to find the happy medium?

Unfortunately, stressed parents “infect” their children with stress as well. Bad atmosphere spreads out very quickly, and home – the place which is supposed to be the oasis of calm and to help family members relieve the whole work or school stress – becomes the field of a battle. It is almost impossible to get rid of stress entirely.

However, what should we do if our family suffers from too much stress which results in health and relationship problems? First, identify the source of stress, then do something to make it less harmful. We have some ideas how to do it.

  1. Take care of a good night sleep. You have probably heard that sleeping well is healthy and helps relieve stress. It is true, and what is more, problems with sleeping are…another stress generators. Make your family go to bed earlier, have some “sleep weekends” and apart from this, find some time during the day to close your eyes and clear your head for a few minutes (or have a nap if it is possible).
  2. Stop yelling. Yelling is almost inevitable if we feel stressed and overwhelmed. But it does not help, it makes even more problems and strain between family members. Showing respect towards each other and talking calmly can help get rid of the strain and build trust. Children rarely listen to yelling parents, they just start yelling themselves.
  3. Have family dinners. Nobody wants to spend time with cranky people, even if these are their parents. Do not expect you children to cheerfully come to the family table if you are angry and depressed. Make this time more appealing and pleasant– for example, you can play a game in which you tell, in turns, something nice about other family member.
  4. Help your children cope with stress by setting a good example. If you manage with stress by eating too much or drinking alcohol, do not expect that your children will learn good habits in this area. You observe that your child is withdrawing? Talk to each other, take him/her for a walk, bike ride or to other place.
  5. Do not burden yourself and your children with too many activities. Running from one extra activity to another can cause a lot of tension. This tension can, in turn, cause many health problems. First of all, think if it is not too much? You can either reduce the amount of activities or just change the attitude and make it less hectic (being punctual is important, but it is not worth your terrible headache afterwards).

Find your own family stress-remover. If you observe that your family is more and more under the weather, have some sleep, stomach or back problems, it is time for all of you to calm down. Chronic stress harms our immune system and influences negatively our whole body. The only way to relieve the stress and unite the whole family at the same time is to find an activity which will enable you to both get rid of stress and spend time together.

Problems with your children’s behavior? Repair your relationship with them!

All parents have some problems with their children. These are different depending on the age of the offspring, but most of them comes from the wrong parent-child relationship. In the book The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Laurence Steinberg, PhD, we have found a lot of very useful advice for parents struggling with this complicated task which is upbringing children.

The first common mistake is using violence – both in the shape of words and slaps.  Then we have implementing very strict discipline and becoming “a boss” not a parent which also brings bad results. In short, your aim is not to make your child afraid of you, totally obedient and feeling worse – your aim is to help your child become the “healthy” and strong adult.

If your child is, let us call it, difficult, it is time for you to take a closer look at your relationship with him or her and your parenting methods because there is probably something wrong with them. Do you want to cooperate with people you do not like? Or who yell at you to make you obedient? Probably not, just try to see yourself through your child’s eyes.

Here are 10 commandments for you as a parent:

  1. Set a good example. It is not a secret that children just copy their parents.
  2. Love, love and love. What can spoil your child? It is not too much love, these are love-substitutes like being too lenient, having no expectations and showing love through giving loads of presents instead of devoting time and attention.
  3. Engage in your child’s life. Be here and now for your child – both mentally and physically. Show you are interested in his or her life, not only in his school performance and homework.
  4. Make systematical adjustments. Remember that your child is constantly growing and changing. You must be up to date with your parenting.
  5. Make rules. Childhood is this precious time of shaping your child’s future adult life. If you fail now, he or she would have trouble in the future. Do not let your child for him/herself now, it is a way to a disaster.
  6. Let your child be independent. Do not treat your child’s will to be autonomous as a rebelliousness and something wrong. Set limits where it is necessary, but allow for independence – there must be balance between the two.
  7. Consistency is the basis. When you have problems with consistency, your child gets confused. You should know what you expect and inform your child about it, then stick to it and avoid changing your mind every day.
  8. Harsh discipline causes aggression. If you are aggressive towards your child, you make him or her aggressive too. Harsh discipline very often just humbles children and shows them that they are worse and weaker just because they are children. Is your goal to damage your child’s self-esteem?
  9. The policy “No, because I said so” is not very successful. Explain your children – especially adolescents – the rules and decisions you make. Once again, you are not a boss who just gives orders, you are a parent who wants to teach children how they should behave.
  10. The key to success – respect. You want to be respected by your child? Show your child that you respect him/her. The relationship you have with your children builds their future ability to build healthy relationships.

Being a parent is a huge responsibility. That is why, we all should be more or less prepared for the huge amount of effort we will need to put in upbringing our children. Luckily, seeing our child as a happy, self-confident and decent adult in the future will pay everything off.

Top 10 essential family values

How do you define family values? In our home family values are rules or ideals that, as a family, we agree to live by and stay true to. The list of essential family values would be a mile long no doubt and the top 10 lists for each family would be as unique as the one that came up with it.

Having strong well defined family values helps solidify the foundation for a strong, tight knit family. When cultivated long enough this closeness provides a soft place to fall when life doesn’t go according to plan. Strong and consistent family values are important in building trust and confidence in each family member.

Here are my top 10 essential family values.

1. Belonging. It is important that each member of my family feel that they are loved, that they belong and that they matter. Being a cohesive family could mean that you spend every spare minute together doing family activities but keep in mind that everyone is different. Creating a strong family unit is great but each person should be allowed the space and freedom to explore the activities they think they may enjoy. People are more courageous and more willing to take chances if they know they have a safe place to come back to when things dont quite work out. Coming together for special occasions and holidays and just spending time together as a family is what helps build that sense of belonging.

2. Flexibility. Im all for order, schedules and structure in my family to help maintain some level of sanity. But too much structure and the unwillingness to give a little can result in a lot of unhappiness and resentment. The more flexibility you have in decision making, for example, the happier your family will be for it. Imagine one member of the family always thinking they are right and enforcing their way of doing things. This certainly wouldnt lead to much happiness within the family unit.

3. Respect. This is a bit more difficult to define. For my family, to respect each other is to take feelings, thoughts, needs, and preferences in to account when making decisions. It also means acknowledging and valuing everyones thoughts, feelings and contributions to the family as a whole.

Respect is indeed earned and there is a very fine line between it and fear. The only way to earn and keep someones respect is to first show them respect yourself. Respect as an important family value will extend out of the home and into school, work or other social settings.

4. Honesty. This is the foundation of any relationships that are meant to last. Mother-daughter, husband-wife, sister-brother. Without honesty a deeper connection will not form and certainly wont last. Encourage honesty by practicing understanding and respect when someone tells you of their wrong doings. If we lose it and get angry when were told what has happened the other person will be more likely to hide it from you next time simply to avoid the disrespect.

5. Forgiveness. Forgiving people who have wronged you is an important choice to make. Yes, forgiveness is a choice. It is not some feeling that randomly washes over you when you feel the other person has suffered enough. This can be tough since a lot of us tend to equate forgiveness with saying what you did was okay. They are not the same thing. Holding a grudge, is not conducive to a close family with mutual respect.

Keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes, we all occasionally say things we wish we hadnt and non of us are perfect. Refer to value 3 communication. Get issues out in the open, gain some understanding and move on. Life is too short.

6. Generosity. Giving without thinking whats in it for me is an important value for anyone wanting to be a responsible, contributing member to society. Through generosity we build empathy since we tend to think more about what people want or need. Being generous doesn’t mean simply handing over money to someone in need. It can also include giving your time, love, attention or even some of your possessions.

7. Curiosity. Children have a natural curiosity. If you’ve ever watched a toddler even for a couple of minutes youd see that quality shine through. For some that curiosity wanes. I think it’s important to encourage and push our kids and even ourselves to be curious about things. Rarely should we ever just take someones word for it. How do we spark our curiosity? Ask questions. Lots of them. Read about a topic you know very little about and dont be afraid to say you dont know. Critical thinking is an important skill that can be learned and developed through exploring your own curiosity.

8. Communication. Communication is as much an art as it is a science. A failure to communicate will likely lead to unhappiness and misunderstandings. Small issues grow into larger ones and when they eventually boil to the surface it’s unlikely they will be resolved calmly. Communication is a lot more than simply speaking your mind. In addition to spoken words, communication also extends to tone, volume, expression, eye contact, body language and effective listening.

I would argue that this is the most important value for families to have. When people feel they can talk openly about anything hopes, dreams, fears, successes or failures all without judgment, its encouraging and strengthens the bond.

9. Responsibility. Wed all like to be considered responsible people. Some of us are and some of us are decidedly less so. Responsibility is something that is learned. As a child you may have been shown how to put your toys away after playing, how to tidy your room or how and when to feed the dog. This sense of responsibility extends well into adulthood. An adult who has an intrinsic sense of responsibility doesnt require a lot of prodding to show up to work on time, return phone calls or meet deadlines. Setting out individual responsibilities for family members works to instill this quality in everyone.

10. Traditions. This is by far the most fun for me. I think traditions are what make a family unique, they draw people together and create a sense of belonging for everyone. Traditions dont need to be expensive, elaborate or a lot of work. It can be something as simple as a lazy Saturday morning sipping coffee and chatting or an annual fondue dinner to ring in the new year. If you dont currently have traditions in your family, create them! All traditions started with one person why not let your family traditions start with you? Get creative and have fun.

So those are my top 10 family values. Of course there are others Ill be incorporating but these are the most important to me.

Do we have many in common? What is in your top 10?

How to be a minimalist with kids

As you might know, I consider myself a minimalist at least, as much as you can be with kids.

Kids are almost antithetical to minimalism: having them brings new resource consumers into the world, not to mention how much clutter and chaos and complications that come with even just one kid.

But as we parents know, they’re worth it.

Kids bring complexity and clutter, but they also bring to parents joy, simple pleasures, an infinite amount of contentment without needing material goods.

As a minimalist, I enjoy uncluttered spaces, beautifully simple things, experiences over material things, living with and doing less rather than being obsessed with more, and finding contentment.

As a parent, I enjoy the messiness of kids, their chaotic way of living, even their loudness and crabbiness in addition to how sweet, cute, beautiful and fun they can be.

So how do we reconcile the two? It takes a little bit of balancing and the right attitude. Here’s how.

1. A relaxed attitude, and patience. Minimalism is counter-productive if you become obsessive, and become a clutter-Nazi. We become minimalist so we can remove the extraneous, and focus only on the important. The kids are whats important not the lack of clutter, or having the simplest lifestyle. Always remember that. And then, breathe. Relax. Let go of your frustrations, your expectations, your desires for perfection, and instead adopt a minimalist attitude: of going with the flow, of living in the moment, of enjoying your kids and experiences rather than things. Being a parent can be frustrating, if you let it, or it can be fun, if you learn patience and adopt this relaxed attitude.

2. Don’t schedule too much! Any minimalist should adopt a minimalist schedule: put too much on your calendar and youll be stressed and rushed. The same applies to your kids calendars, and your familys calendar in general. Keep a family calendar with everyones schedule Google Docs is good for this, but a wall calendar also works well. This way you can see what everyone has coming up for the week (and month). But avoid filling it up try to leave as many empty spaces as possible, so you can relax and enjoy each day, rather than rushing around. Dont let your kids join too many clubs or sports or activities this is a mistake many parents make these days. This leaves the kids with no downtime they need it as much as you do. Sometimes it’s good for them to go outside, use their imagination, get some fresh air, and do nothing planned.

3. Enjoy the simple pleasures. Slow down, take some time to just be with your kids (and your significant other), and enjoy those little moments. You don’t have to do anything simply going outside and enjoying nature, reading a book on the couch, or just lounging around together, can be amazing. Bake some cookies. Look for bugs. Do a simple science experiment. Wrestle. These things dont have to cost a lot of money or be a big deal but they really are a big deal. Enjoy them.

4. Do a group decluttering. While giving up possessions can be traumatic for kids (and adults), decluttering as a family can actually be fun. Make it a game haul everything out, sort into piles (things youve used in the last year, things you havent), put into boxes, and go and donate boxes together. It’s actually really fun for kids to rediscover old toys. If they cant bear to get rid of them, put them in boxes and rotate the toys every few months then its, Hey, new toys! every time you open up a box.

5. Focus on quality toys, not quantity. Most kids have way too many toys. For their birthdays and Christmas, they get craploads of crap. Instead, focus on good quality toys, made of durable materials (like real wood) that will last, things theyll use and love and cherish for years. Classics usually work best. Fewer but higher quality items in general is a good policy.

6. Teach them good habits, and set an example. The habits you teach them now will last a lifetime. Teach your children to put things away when they’re done with them, to declutter, to buy less, to do less but to focus on whats important, to focus and to be happy now. Talking about these things helps but the best way to teach is by example. Don’t force them, but show them. Your example will go a long way.

7. You don’t need to carry everything. Travel lightly both on long trips and short errands. Many parents tend to take every possible thing they might need, just to feel prepared, but this security is an illusion. Carry few things and youll be less stressed, feel lighter, and freer. Take only what you truly need, not what you might use.

8. When things go wrong, breathe, and smile. And things will go wrong. It’s inevitable so accept it, breathe, smile, and move on. Or in another light, nothing goes wrong its all part of the adventure of being a parent, the adventure of life. Each moment, each child and each life is perfect, as it is, messiness and all.

9. Don’t force. Minimalism is best when you let it happen gradually and naturally especially when it comes to kids and other loved ones. You cant force a philosophy on others, kids included. You have to influence, by (again) setting an example, showing why and how its important to you, letting them adapt and adjust. Things like this take time. Dont force it, but let it unfold. If a kid doesnt want to declutter his room, dont force it.

10. Simple school papers and artwork. Other than toys and clothes and other possessions, one of the biggest sources of kid clutter is school papers (homework, report cards, notices from school, other papers they bring home) and artwork or other things theyve created (at home or school). I’ve let these pile up in the past, and trust me, if you have a lot of kids you can end up with piles and piles. A simple system will help bring these papers under control. First, have one place for all incoming papers, and process them daily weekly is also fine but daily ensures nothing piles up. For school papers, take immediate action: sign papers, put dates on your family calendar, scan things you want on record (perhaps report cards), then toss everything. For artwork, have a place you display a few pieces at a time, such as a bulletin board or your refrigerator (5-10 pieces is good). When new things come up, put them on the board or fridge, and get rid of the old stuff (scan them if you want the memory).

And again, remember that getting rid of clutter and simplifying what you do is a means to an end: the space and ability to relax with your family and enjoy the simple pleasures of being with them. Go, and be happy.

The art of effective exchange

Communication is as much an art as it is a science.

To get it right requires practice, patience and time. But even with a healthy dose of these three things its unlikely to be perfect, few things ever are.

Simply put, communication is the relaying of information from one person to another. Sounds simple right? Well not necessarily. Each person comes to the table with their own set of unique life experiences and histories. This is even true for immediate family members who you may think have everything in common.

The art of communication is complex. It includes spoken words but it also extends to tone, volume, expression, eye contact and body language. Think of the last time someone said to you Oh great!. If they were smiling and had a cheerful tone then you likely interpreted their response as positive and sincere. Now imagine if the words Oh great! were accompanied by a sarcastic tone and a roll of the eyes. Same words totally different feeling.

Communication is certainly a two way street. Failure to communicate effectively can result in unhappiness and misunderstandings. Here are some points to keep in mind when you want to establish good communication in your family.

1. Take a minute. Spend some time thinking before you speak. Taking just a bit of time to sort through your thoughts and to choose your words carefully saves everyone from hurt feelings, misunderstandings and well thats not what I meant.

Consider the following questions: What is the point youre trying to make? Based on past experiences what comments, words or tones should you avoid when speaking with who is in front of you? Is what you are about to say what you really mean i.e. will you regret saying it 2 nanoseconds after it leaves your lips?

2. Take turns. A one-way conversation isnt a conversation at all its more a speech. If there are several people make sure each person has a chance to talk and express what they want to. If every conversation in your family consists of one person doing all the talking and 2 or 3 others blankly staring back, Id suspect youre not getting much value out of these chats.

Everyone should be given a chance to speak no matter how young or old. By not encouraging this its likely that certain issues, thoughts or feelings will be bottled up until the person is so angry or upset that they explode and cant discuss it rationally.

3. Listen. As simple as this sounds it takes a lot of skill to be an effective listener. It goes beyond simply listening to the words of others. To listen effectively I urge you to try the following if you don’t already:

  • Give the other person your undivided attention. Don’t let your mind wander to other things or immediately try to look for solutions to the problem. Listen to what is actually being said.
  • Don’t automatically tune out if what the other person is saying isnt important to you. The fact that they are speaking about it means it’s important to them and that alone should be important to you. So be courteous, open minded and accepting. Hear the other person out.
  • Since everyone has their own unique histories try taping into that when they are done speaking. Make an effort to understand where they’re coming from. Use it to form engaging questions that will help you understand their feelings, fears or problems. Show them you’ve heard what they had to say and that you take it seriously.

4. Get started. So what do you do if your family doesn’t communicate at all right now, let alone poorly? Take initiative, grab the reins and make it happen. If you’re waiting for you daughter, son, mother, father, siblings, or partner to come to you to talk about what is on their mind you could be waiting indefinitely. Here’s how you start:

  • Choose a time that all members of your family will be home and available for a family meeting. If you have family dinners this could be a great place for your first meeting.
  • Come prepared with a list of things you would like to talk about. Maybe you want to get their thoughts on having regular family meetings, as well as frequency, duration, and topics to be discussed. Maybe you want to start by telling each one why you’re grateful for them. It’s totally up to you. There is no right way to do this.
  • Let others voice their opinions and allow them all a chance to be heard without interruption. Even if you don’t particularly agree with ideas or suggestions as they come up acknowledge them if they are indeed valid and be open to taking a different approach to it.
  • Before you all go your separate ways make a note of when the next discussion will be. Keeping them frequent enough to prevent issues from building up but not so frequent that they become tedious and boring.

Learning to communicate takes time and what works well for one family may not work well for another. I may feel weird or silly at first but take your time, be patient and try out different things. That’s the beauty of family, everyone has different ideas and different approaches to get to the desired result. If you approach issues from a place of love and as a team your family will be stronger for it.