I have a love/hate relationship with toaster ovens. As much as I realize that probably sounds strange (I mean who really has a relationship with a toaster oven, anyway?), it’s true.
I love the idea of the toaster oven. No more shoving an oversized bagel into a traditional toaster only to have it pop up two minutes later – not looking toasted at all. I love that you can reheat food in them without use of the microwave (because what is that doing to us?). I love that toaster ovens are quick and convenient for busy families.
When they function properly. My mom has a theory about toaster ovens. She’s fairly certain that a toaster oven, no matter the brand, is only good for three years at the most. The day after that warranty expires…the toaster oven is toast. I tend to agree. I’ve tried them all. From the traditional doesn’t do much other than toast toaster oven to the fancy allegedly roasts a chicken convection oven (no way). They’ve all lasted 2-3 years and have proved a disappointment (to my kitchen and my wallet).
What all of the obsessive talk about toaster ovens?
Frigidaire recently launched a new line of professional small appliances at Target and, wow, I am impressed. As you know, I love to cook and bake. With the food allergies running through this little family of four, I make everything, and I do mean everything, from scratch. I rely on appliances that work.
Frigidaire sent me a a few items from this new line to try out in my very busy kitchen. The Infrared Convection Oven (available at Target for $149.99), is amazing. As advertised, it cooks everything to perfection the first time around. It’s big enough for a 12 inch pizza and does not require any preheating time. I am in LOVE.
They also sent me the Professional 5-in-1 Griddle (available at Target for $129.99), which is all kinds of awesome. I love the extra large cooking space, and the separate temperature controls make is super easy to cook two different things at once (bacon and eggs, anyone?). I don’t know about you, but I have two bacon lovers in my house and this is the perfect tool for cooking crispy bacon.
For the smoothie lovers (or margarita, either way) out there, this new line at Target also features the 5-Speed Glass Jar Blender (available at Target for $129.99). I know that the right blender can truly make a difference when whipping up that morning smoothie, and this one looks great. Also? It’s actually very pretty – no need to hide this one when you have friends over!
In addition to these wonderful products, the people at Frigidaire are really nice (and clearly very generous). I love it when companies make themselves available to help and genuinely want customers to feel not just satisfied, but happy.
And because they are so generous…they also offered to gift one of these new professional small appliances to a friend of mine. It won’t be long before my sister finds this incredible Thermal Carafe Coffee Maker (available at Target for $99.99) at her door! Who doesn’t love a morning cup of coffee brewed to perfection and kept nice and warm in the carafe? Trick question. Everybody loves that.
But the generosity doesn’t stop there. Are you ready for it?
Firigidaire wants to give one of these professional small kitchen appliances to one of you! One lucky reader will get to choose from one of the four appliances mentioned (shown below). How’s that for a little Mother’s Day treat?
As you know, I don’t do a lot of product placement around here. You guys read my words and seek my advice, and I never wanted to clog this feed with items that wouldn’t be of use to you. But busy mamas need great cooking appliances, and these professional small kitchen appliances are both reasonably priced at Target (you know you’re going there this week, anyway) and fantastic. Honestly? I can’t say enough good things about my experience with Frigidaire – products and company.
How do you win?
It’s simple (you know how I loathe complicated). Leave me a comment below and tell me how your product of choice will simplify your cooking routine. Make sure that I have your email address so that I can track you down if you’re the lucky winner!
Contest is open until May 14th at 8pm PST. Spread the word and get your entry in!
Contest is open to U.S. residents only.
Disclosure: Frigidaire sent me the Convection Oven and the 5-in-1 Griddle to try in my kitchen. They also sent the Thermal Carafe Coffee Maker to my sister as a gift. All of the opinions in the post are my own. I’m telling you…I am in love with that Convection Oven!
“Some people go for those sultry evenings, sipping cocktails in the blue, red and grey.” –The Who
For as long as I can remember, the fog has always spoken to me. It began when I was just a little girl, spending summers on the Connecticut shore.
Scrawny, tan, and dirty blonde hair full of salt and lemon juice and long summer days, I longed for the foggy mornings of August. Wrapped tight under summer sheets and quilts just warm enough, the cool mist filtered through the open windows and grazed my cheeks with chill and salt.
The low muffled sounds of foghorns on sailboats making their way through the thick air awakened me with a calm like no other. The smell of blueberry pancakes cooking on the griddle triggered my senses.
Cozying up in a sweatshirt worn to perfection, I made my way downstairs. Staring out at the uncertain looking ocean, I found my happy place. Lost in dreams and wonder, I slowly worked my way through a heaping plate of pancakes – the syrup warmed to just the right temperature. Mom. A taste of Mom.
Later, I made my way to the beach. Bundled up against the cool air, I shivered for a moment. After days of heat and sand and endless sun, it was a welcome break. Digging my feet into the cool sand, I sat and watched the fog begin to recede.
Calm. The fog always brought calm to my little introverted soul.
We all have a time of day, it seems, when calm descends upon us. For me, a foggy mid-summer morning always brought the most peace.
For my father, it was a summer sunset.
Do you smell it? That’s the salty sea air!
My brother’s words echoed through my mind as we finally turned the corner, the very corner I’ve turned one thousand times before.
Gasps of wonder escaped the small mouths behind me as we came face to face with the blues, greens, whites, and yellows that comprise our little slice of heaven along the Long Island sound.
What’s that smell?
Poor baby boy is used to smog and city smells, despite our close proximity to the beach. One little mile is far enough that we only catch the scent of the ocean every once in a while.
That’s the smell of the ocean, sweet boy. That’s the salty sea air.
In an instant, I was transported back to a simpler time. I was 7 (maybe 8, maybe nine, pick a year…) and side-by-side with my siblings in the back of the Buick station wagon (the one with the faux wood sides and sparkly deep red paint) as we made our annual pilgrimage to our beach house the minute school got out for the summer.
As we turned the pivotal corner to catch our first glimpse of the water for the summer, we all pushed our way to the windows to smell the air and take in the colors.
Exchanging glances and knowing smiles, my brother and I made our declarations about the salty sea air, almost in unison. It was the same script year after year, all part of the task of leaving the stress of real life behind in favor of sand, water, and life without shoes.
I see a boat! I see trees! I see the sand!
The excitement coming from the back of the car broke my trance and brought me back to the present tense.
I didn’t recognize the silence for what it was until he returned from his summer of travel. But once the silence was finally broken, it was hard to believe that I didn’t see it all along.
In hindsight, the silence was deafening. It was right there in front of me for four weeks straight. It changed the vibe of the house, it left me unsettled, and, although they didn’t verbalize it as such, it left the kids unsettled too.
The silence changed everything.
When my husband travels for long stretches, I go under. I hide out, I play with my kids non-stop, and I do my best to somehow fill the void for them. The phone goes unanswered. The email piles up. The mail is opened in order of importance.
I focus on the small moments of greatness before me. I enjoy every moment with my little ones instead of waiting for him to return. When you wait, time stands still. When you enjoy what you have, time flies.
(If only it could be the other way around.)
In my quest to enjoy my everything, the silence went somewhat unnoticed.
On his second day home, it hit me. The silence was the cause of the discomfort that occurred every once in a while during those four weeks. In his absence, the quiet moments that we so often enjoy felt large and overwhelming. The quiet moments seemed to scream, “Daddy is away! Please send him home!”
Upon his return, the silence seemed to disappear…
Today, I get to share a friend with you. She’s brilliant, talented, supportive, and kind. She is there when you need her, and even when you think you don’t. Her words will draw you in and make you feel at home. Truly, she needs no introduction. Please…enjoy her words here, but then visit her there…because Galit Breen is someone you need to get to know.
I make my way downstairs, by feel, and by dark.
Each first breath and morning stretch and slipper step is much too loud for this early quiet.
Above, I hear Jason get ready for his own day. His suit and tie a sharp line to the fuzziness that I now know best.
Outside, dark is just giving in to light. The sky’s smoky blues and shocking reds peek through blackened trees.
A neighbor brightens a single light. It shines alone, and seeps into my kitchen.
For a moment, I pause, splay my fingers onto the counter, and wonder why she’s up so early.
My Mind Pencil starts weaving her details quickly, filling in -sketching, even- what I don’t know.
I force myself to look away, busy my hands in my own kitchen, focus on my own story.
Jason’s steps gentle toward me, he is as careful as I am. It’s my birthday, and we want to start the day just the two of us.
And we do.
We sit knee to knee, share coffee steam and croissant sweetness, our elbows grazing, our voices murmuring.
On this day of new and fresh and begin, we’re focusing within.
And while the rest of my day will be loud and messy and more about my children than me, this is the perfect start.
Some gems are bold, bright, easily grasped.
The sweetest of belly laughs, the warmest of laced fingers, the strongest of wrapped arms.
And when we slow down and bite back “Be carefuls” and “Not nows,” they’re there.
But others, need to be carved out.
And that’s exactly what this moment was.
A chance to connect and charge, better at each of our days for having started it enveloped within a single light, alone in the dark.
When Jason and I got married, a friend gave us a card that read, “The best thing a father can do for his children, is love their mother.”
We used to feel and do and be this so easily.
But a decade and three children and several careers and a house and chores and so very many responsibilities later, these gifts are more often planned, than not.
(They mean just as much this way.)
Kayli and Chloe and Brody make their way downstairs as Jason slips out the door; our days officially Different for the next twelve hours.
They’re sleepy eyed and pink cheeked and an absolute blend of the two of us.
I clear Jason’s and my dishes away, swap them for the kids’ Birthday Breakfast.
Few moments are more alarming than when a sweet little four year old boy looks up at his mommy and says, “bang, bang! You’re dead!” while wielding a fake gun fashioned out of Legos. And yet it happens to some unsuspecting mommy every single day (I dread the day that my sweet little Liam learns the word “gun”).
While many preschool girls are drawn toward fairy tales, princesses, and playing mommy (this is where Riley currently places most of her energy), most boys of the same age seem to find their way to the superhero and “bad versus good” game play. It doesn’t seem to matter what you expose them to in your own home, at some point Batman enters the picture. It should also be noted that there are boys who will head to the princess castle and girls who will enter the Hall of Justice simply because it seems appealing. Preschool is all about exploring new ideas.
The good news is that it all falls under the “age appropriate” heading for preschoolers. Although it’s unsettling for parents, and teachers, to watch, studies do not show any link between pretend gunplay and violence later in life. In fact, most often it’s a phase that disappears just when you start to get used to it. **The only potential cause for concern is if gunplay is the ONLY interest your child has all day every day.
This doesn’t mean that you should just stand by quietly while your preschooler fills his day with gunplay. Below are a few tips to help you handle the fascination with guns:
1. Avoid Overreacting: The easiest way to send your child into a secret world of gunplay and make him feel like he can’t tell you things is to immediately shut him down and set a strict “no pretend guns” policy. A better strategy is to get into the game. Join the story and figure out the subtext. Ask questions: Who are the bad guys? Why are they bad? Most often, preschoolers use gunplay to work through feelings about power, control, and keeping the world safe. Taking away the control they feel in their play can leave them feeling helpless. Work through it with them.
2. Set Realistic Limits: Some of the jargon that accompanies gunplay can be scary to other kids. Phrases like, “you’re dead” or “I killed you” might frighten another child who doesn’t play the same way. They are also serious words with big consequences in the larger world around them. It’s perfectly reasonable to set some limits. Changing the phrasing to, “I got you” or “you’re out” still allows the feeling of control without the focus on death and killing. Due to the level of excitement with such games, time limits are important. Preschoolers don’t know when to say when. Make believe can become overwhelming when it involves significant chasing and trying to conquer evil. Stop the game and move into a calming activity before over-stimulation sets in. This is not a good play activity right before bed. Preschoolers need time to wind down and process the feelings that come up in their play. Although they are working on having some control, the themes contained in gunplay can become scary when the lights go down. Allow plenty of time to move on before starting the bedtime routine. **Note: Many preschools do not allow gunplay, more often due to the potential for over-stimulation than the fear of aggression. Be prepared to explain to your child that he might have to save that game for home.
3. Focus on Pretend: Whether it’s a fairy tale or Batman and Robin, play can feel real to preschoolers when they are engaged in it. It’s important to label gunplay as “pretend”. Instead of having your child say, “I got you Mommy”, take on the persona of the “bad guy”. Come up with a name for your character and make it pretend. Avoid parents, siblings, and friends as the intended targets. Play can become confusing, and difficult to process, when the players are real. In fact, you might find a weepy child later in the day feeling bad that he “killed” his friend. Make sure pretend characters are involved.
4. Avoid Realistic Props: There are some seriously scary looking “play” guns at Toys R Us these days. Toys made to look exactly like real guns can blur the line between fantasy and reality. Stick to the old cowboy guns or, better yet, something that looks like it belongs in outer space. As I used to tell concerned teachers back in my school administration days, if a boy wants to play guns he will find a twig in the grass and make that his gun. They don’t need realistic “play” semi-automatic weapons.
5. Consider Other Kids: Not all boys like to engage in gunplay. Some stick to cars, sports, or like to play with the girls. If gunplay is scaring a friend on a playdate, or if that friend just isn’t interested, it is best to stop the game and have the kids come up with a game or activity that they both enjoy. They don’t have to have all of the same interests to be friends, but they do have to find common ground when playing together.
6. Expand Pretend Play: Your son might gravitate toward constant gunplay because that’s what he knows to be fun. Liam would really only play with his cars if Riley wasn’t around to engage him in other games, like “Princess Riley and Prince Liam”. Play with your child to help him learn new pretend games. Open a restaurant and make him the chef. Have a carwash. Break out the instruments and form a rock band. Solve a mystery together. Sometimes kids just need new ideas to break out of a cycle.
7. Consider Exposure: Do you regularly have the news on in the background with the hope that you might secretly get caught up when the kids aren’t paying attention? If the TV is on, they’re paying attention. Visuals of war, local violence, and other scary stories on the news can be confusing and frightening to preschoolers. Catch up online when the kids are asleep. Does your son have an older sibling who plays a lot of video games? Any images of gunfights (whether they are fantasy in the form of a video game or real situations happening on the news) will have an impact on your child. Limit your older child’s video game time to when your preschooler is not around to see it.
8. Older Kids & Video Games: Here’s the potentially good news: A 2008 study conducted by Dr. Christopher Ferguson, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Texas A&M University found no strong link between violent video games and future violent behavior. The study found that innate aggressive behavior and family exposure to violence were better predictors of future violent crime (“Violent Video Games and Aggression”, Criminal Justice and Behavior, March 2008). **It should be noted that other studies have found increased heart rates when playing and poor sleep quality (due to continued increased heart rates) after playing violent video games. Monitor closely. Cause for concern: If your older child has no (or few) social contacts, isolates himself, shows symptoms of Depression, uses drugs and/or alcohol, has been the target of a bully, and ONLY plays violent video games when not in school, you should seek an evaluation.
Rest your worried minds, mommies. With a few limits, a heavy focus on pretend, and by getting involved in your child’s play, you can help your child work through his feelings about control, power, and safety without resorting to actual aggression. Your preschool boy is right on target!
How do you handle gunplay in your home?
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” –Eleanor Roosevelt
In my previous post, I addressed the idea that the overwhelming amount of external pressure in the world of Mommyhood can sometimes cause moms to suffer from low “Mom-Esteem” . Being a parent is hard work and, even on a very good day, there is usually some amount of unpredicted stress that gets internalized throughout the day.
There seems to be a new level of mom competition out in the world today. Moms are obsessively making comparisons, sharing their parenting stats, and commenting on the parenting styles of others. It can be hard to know who your friends are with so much competition clouding the conversation.
And then there are the experts: The grandparents, the friends and relatives with no kids, the people who seem to have the answers to all of the questions you never asked.
Add in the day-to-day stress of sickness, school issues, time management, trying to please others, trying to care for yourself, and, most of all, caring for your children, and you end up with multiple chances per day to see your mom-esteem plummet. I know because I’ve been there. Below are some tips to help you keep your mom-esteem high, even on the most tiring days:
1. Embrace your choices: You can’t please everyone. This is not a new concept, but it is one that can be hard to remember. Up until recently, I was a people pleaser. I struggled to make decisions in my own best interest because it might upset someone I loved. This past Fall I made a decision that some people close to me could not understand. I made it because I had to put my kids first. I had to do what was right for them. Some people turned on me. Some might never talk to me again. That was when it really hit me: You can’t please everyone. As a mom, everything takes a backseat to your kids. All important decisions come with the question, “what about the kids?” It took this hard decision for me to realize that pleasing other people for a few hours isn’t reason enough to put my kids through something very stressful. You can’t please everyone. Feel good about your choices. You made them for the right reasons.
2. Avoid comparisons: Sometimes we do it to ourselves; sometimes other people do it to us. Either way, comparisons rarely end on a positive. No two kids are the same. No two moms are the same. All families are different. Comparing milestones, preschools, language development, and eating habits is useless. Try to flip it. Sharing strategies that helped you might really help another mom with a similar situation. But if the comparisons just won’t stop despite an effort to focus on the positive, walk away. You know that you’re doing your best on any given day. That’s all you can do.
3. Accept compliments: It seems so simple, yet it can be so hard to do. There’s something about motherhood that conditions us to credit everything good in our lives with a little luck. You’re working hard every single day. If someone notices that your kid shares well, has good manners, is respectful, that you handled a situation well, or even that your hair looks great…just say thank you. You don’t need an excuse for your greatness. You earned it (do I need to remind you about the endless night feedings, diapers, and bouts of the stomach flu you’ve endured?). You’ve done the work; accept the praise that comes your way.
4. Choose wisely: Did you know that excessive complaining and negativity among women is actually contagious? It’s true. Studies have been done. Everyone needs to vent and blow off steam, but if you find yourself in a friendship fueled by complaining and negativity, it might be best to take a break. Try to surround yourself with positive friends who are willing to listen and show support, but who also know how to make you smile. I have one girlfriend who quite literally lights up every room she enters. Due to work schedules and kids we don’t get much alone time together, but when we do we spend the first 15 minutes discussing how happy we make each other. At 36, I’ve finally learned that it’s ok to walk away from negativity. I don’t have to be there for everyone, especially if other people are not willing to be there for me. Choose wisely.
5. Keep a small moments journal: Parenting is all about the small moments. Days can be wonderful and days can be overwhelming, but there are always small moments of pure joy at some point during the day. Capture them with your camera when you can, but use your words to remember the details. I’m not talking about a lengthy essay, just a couple of sentences. Like when your two year old finally figures out how to put the Mega Blocks together. Or when your three year old draws a picture of the whole family. Maybe it’s just a few funny comments you heard, or the first time your baby says, “I love you, Mommy”. Look for the small moments of wonder each day and write them down. Twenty years from now you won’t remember the sleep deprivation or the unfriendly comment that left you feeling defeated, but you will want to remember those little moments of happiness.
6. Challenge yourself: Whether or not you work in addition to being a mommy, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. When Sean was on tour I felt like I was just cycling through the same day over and over again. This blog is as much a challenge for me as it is a creative outlet. Every time I hit “post” I panic. Will I get any comments? Will they be positive or negative? Does anyone even care? But I truly enjoy the time spent doing the research, writing the articles, and communicating with other moms. It can be a challenge to keep up with it, but it’s incredibly rewarding. After years in the fashion industry, and then time spent at home, my best friend recently took a new job that is completely different than her previous life. She’s doing really well and always sounds really positive when I ask her about it. Whether it’s training for a 10K or taking an online class that interests you, try to challenge yourself. I think you will find that you feel really good about yourself when you are able to step away from the routine, even for just a few hours a week.
7. Avoid personalizing: I have to admit that I struggle with this a lot. Someone makes a comment intending to upset me, and I let it. Sometimes even just a look can leave me feeling unsettled. Here’s the thing: You never truly know what someone else is going through. On the days when I remember to just laugh things off or turn the other way, I always feel much better about myself. At the end of the day, I know that I’m doing a great job as a mom. If someone doesn’t agree with my parenting style it doesn’t mean that I’m wrong; it just means that we’re different. Try not to personalize the comments, stares, and feedback. Make that Eleanor Roosevelt quote your new mantra and release yourself of a huge burden. You don’t have to take on other people’s negativity just because they’re dishing it out.
8. Find your outlet: I read. A lot. I sometimes drive Sean crazy (when he’s home at a decent hour) because I read by way of Kindle on my iPhone. I hide under the duvet and cruise through chapter after chapter while I should be catching up on sleep. I can’t help it. It’s my outlet. Years ago I was in a book group and loved it. Sometimes we talked about the books, but often we spent the time catching up and talking about whatever was happening in the world at the time. If I had the childcare, I would be back in a book group for sure. I have a friend who has a monthly girls dinner out with a group of old friends. She really looks forward to those dinners. Another friend joined a running group and can’t get enough of it. Find what works for you. As much as we LOVE our kids, we also need a break once in a while. Take one. You deserve it.
9. Prioritize your marriage/relationship: Parenting can easily take up your whole life. It’s wonderful and amazing and everything you ever wanted, but it’s a full time job. It’s easy to put your marriage/relationship on the back burner. Plan date nights. Even staying home can be a date night. Turn off all electronics, light a candle, eat at the TABLE (gasp!), and spend quality time talking and connecting. It’s amazing how much a wonderful night with your significant other can truly help you forget about your stress and feel better about yourself.
10. Exercise: Believe me I know, it’s hard to find the time and the motivation. But, wow, it feels good when you’re on a roll. Whether you invest in the treadmill at home or find the YMCA (or gym) with the daycare, allow yourself some time a few days a week to get moving. It’s good for your body, it will help you sleep, and it will rest your worried mind. You do so much for everyone else; try to focus on you.
High mom-esteem won’t come overnight. It’s a gradual process of changing your thinking, your responses, and your ability to put yourself first some of the time. Hopefully some of my strategies will work for you. If not, maybe this will inspire you to figure what will work for you. Everyday I work a little bit harder to try to turn away from negative input and focus on the small moments of success instead. I hope you will give yourself permission to do the same.
You tell me: What coping strategies work for you?
**It’s mom week at Practical Parenting! Today I’m tackling the way we feel about ourselves as moms, and Friday I will provide tips for improving our “mom-esteem”.
Self-esteem. Some people spend a lifetime working on it. The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition, defines self-esteem as: (n.) respect for, or a favorable impression of, oneself. I have counseled many children, and their parents, through periods of low self-esteem. Recognizing your own unique greatness can be a difficult task.
People struggle with self-esteem for a variety of reasons. Some internalize their feelings and feel compelled to compare themselves to others on a regular basis. Others feel like they just can’t seem to catch a break and that life is out to get them. Many have been the targets of bullies, either within their families or in the outside world. Loss, traumatic experiences, medical conditions, and various disabilities can all cause people to question their self-worth. There’s generally a trigger (or a series of triggers) that requires some working through in order to raise self-esteem.
Having spent the past four years at home with my kids (with a little work on the side), I’ve seen (and felt) how moms are on a constant ride on the emotional roller coaster. It’s hard work being a mom. In fact, I’ve come up my own term for how moms feel about themselves: “Mom-esteem”. I would define mom-esteem as (n.) respect for, or feeling good about, the choices one makes as a mom.
When you’re raising kids, some days are great, some are ok, and some are downright difficult. You never know what you’re going to get. And at the end of the day, moms have to find a way to decompress and cope with whatever was sent their way that day. On a good day, it’s easy. On a difficult day, your mom-esteem can really plummet.
Trying to rely on the theory that you can’t control everything and it’s not always your fault is easier said than done. While this is certainly true, moms are conditioned to feel like they need to be able to handle everything. Moms are the ones who keep everyone healthy, well fed, and, above all else, happy. Moms are running things from the control tower. When something isn’t right, or a day is really difficult, it’s the mom who is left to internalize the resulting emotions.
Then there are the external factors. The moms who insist on sharing their greatness at the park. The moms who allegedly never let their kids have any sugar and cook everything from scratch every night using only organic ingredients (my two year old currently lives on bagels, yogurt, and fruit. Does that make me a failure?). The moms with impeccably dressed children with clean faces and perfectly coiffed hair. The moms who found the perfect preschool with the perfect teachers and the perfect play yard.
Not long ago I was at the grocery store with both kids. They were on foot, “helping” me pick out the groceries. I’m sure it’s a familiar scenario: Two items in, one back out. It takes three times as long to shop this way, but the kids have a little more fun. If I have to do it, I might as well make it fun. The check out line is always the hard part. They compete to see who can put the most items on the belt. It gets a little hard to control. And that’s when an elderly shopper shot me a dirty look and commented, “it would be easier if those kids were in a cart, you know”. My defenses went up. I bit my tongue (respect your elders) and feigned a smile to avoid a sarcastic reply. But she got me. When my defenses are up, my mom-esteem is down. I tell myself to ignore the people passing judgment, but that can be hard to do.
Another time I picked up Riley at school to have a teacher make a comment about her hearing (while I was signing her out and Liam was running toward the parking lot unattended). Hearing loss? Impossible. It never occurred to me. I speed dialed Sean and then my sister, and then spent the rest of the day sneaking up on her to check her hearing. She later passed the hearing screening with flying colors. Low mom-esteem. One questionable comment and I immediately assume that I’ve failed my child in some way.
And then there are the endless comparisons. The race for developmental milestones. Did you potty train him yet? Does she get herself dressed in the morning? Do they sleep through night? Can she write her name? Does he know his letters? These are the conversations I quietly walk away from. Sometimes even a compliment seems like an accusation, “wow. He really talks in complete sentences at a young age”. The subtext is there. This conversation won’t end until the other mom is back on top. It can really cause the mom-esteem to take a hit.
Forget about a public temper tantrum. It can take a week to come back from one of those. A few disapproving stares and the mom-esteem is almost non-existent. I’ve learned to grin and move on, but I’ve had some experiences where I ended up emotionally exhausted after coping with the tantrum, the exhausted child, and the input from the passersby. It’s hard to tune it out every time.
Do I need to mention the constant feedback and unsolicited advice from older (who might think they are wiser) family members? They always seem to remember having done it just right. Did they really? Was their mom-esteem always a perfect ten? It’s doubtful.
Great days are amazing. You end the day feeling very connected to your children. You had fun. They had fun. Everyone ate something green and lots of fruit. The stars were aligned. Your mom-esteem is at an all-time high.
But the bad days are horrible. The kids are tired, cranky, sick, and picking on each other every time you attempt to make a meal or clean a dish left in the sink. The house is a mess. The laundry still isn’t done. You end the day in a state of complete emotional exhaustion. You question whether or not you raised your voice just a little, and what impact that had on your child. You wonder if that trip to the germy indoor play space caused the colds. You might even start to envy someone who seems to have an “easier” time with this motherhood thing. Your mom-esteem ceases to exist. So you break out the chocolate and ice cream, because what else can you do?
The truth is that we all have hard days. I’ve been told that I make it look easy. More than once. It’s not always easy. Some people spend years working on their self-esteem, but from the minute your first child is born, you will likely spend the rest of your life working on your mom-esteem.
And you know those moms with the perfect kids who only eat organic everything? Let me let you in on a little secret: They struggle with their mom-esteem too. Why else would they feel compelled to share their stats with unsuspecting strangers at the park instead of just enjoying their kids? They strive to feel good too.
What causes shifts in your mom-esteem? How do you cope with difficult days?
**Please remember to check back Friday for “Tips on Raising your Mom-Esteem”, and look for my weekly article at Mommy Moment on Thursday, where I will be talking about mom stress.
We cringe when we hear it; we cringe when we catch ourselves saying it, and yet the phrase is oft repeated in Mommyland, “LISTEN TO ME!” Toddlers and preschoolers are notorious selective listeners. They do it because they can. They know there might be a consequence if they don’t follow directions, but they’re willing to take a gamble. They’re hoping to get by on a cute face and angelic smile. Sometimes they’re not listening because they are unwilling to stop a certain behavior that they find funny (like jumping on the couch), but often it’s probably more of a case of your child “not hearing” versus “not listening” when engaged in an interesting activity. A few weeks into preschool Riley’s teacher pulled me aside and asked whether or not I thought Riley had trouble hearing. If you’ve ever heard my child talk (and talk and talk and talk), it wouldn’t be your first concern. I used to get a kick out of the fact that my oldest niece always talked exactly like my sister as a preschooler. Her vocabulary was unmatched. And then came Riley. Having spent 3 years and 9 months exclusively with me, she is officially a mini-me. Her vocabulary is very well developed. What can I say? I talk a lot, and she’s often the only person I talk to all day! Still, when you hear “hearing loss”, you can’t help but freak out a little. As I talked quickly and in code to Sean all the way home from preschool pick-up that day, we came to the following conclusion: She wasn’t listening. Riley is a very creative child. While most kids her age are more focused on drawing themselves, other people, or pets, Riley spends an inordinate amount of time creating intricate “designs” (her word) and then challenges me to copy them. It’s nearly impossible to copy them. When she’s in the creative zone, there’s no stopping her. She wants to complete a project start to finish without interruption. Her preschool runs on a fairly set schedule, which means that they make transitions at certain times. If Riley isn’t finished with her work, the listening skills are out the window. Like her Mommy, she NEEDS to finish before moving on. We practiced saying, “can I please have a few more minutes to finish my work?” instead of pretending not to hear, which is her default. We also spent a fair amount of time working on coping with making the transition even if she isn’t finished. Rules are rules. Listening skills are an invaluable part of life. Children with good listening skills perform better in school, are more successful in social relationships, and have better frustration tolerance (when you can listen to other options, you are less prone to acting out when faced with frustration). Listening skills should be taught early. Below are a few tips to get your child on the road to good listening skills:
1. Listen to them: Life is busy. Most of us are reachable by various means at any time thanks to the ever-evolving world of the Smartphone. It can be hard to unplug and focus. If we want our kids to listen to us, we have to listen to them. Easier said than done. Sean and I have a checks and balances system going on. If I’m checking email and tuning out the rest he will say, “Mommy, what do you think?” to bring me back. If he sneaks his iPhone to the table, I sneak it away from him and put it with the laptops. There will be times when you have to take an important call or cruise through some email while you are with your kids, but during meals, baths, stories, and playtime keep your focus on them. They won’t always require an overwhelming amount of attention, but right now they do. Give it to them while you can.
2. Eye Contact: One of the most important skills you can teach your child is making eye contact when talking to others. Preschoolers and toddlers tend to avert their gaze quickly, often due to constant distractions. Little kids also have BIG feelings, and if they think that they are in trouble or feel like you are mad at them, or if they tend to feel shy, they are likely to look away. It’s hard to listen when you’re staring out the window watching the birds or searching the room for an interesting toy. Cue them often. When Riley is in the zone and I need to tell her something, I look right into her eyes and say, “Riley, I’m sorry to interrupt but I need you to look at me for one minute please”. Kids respond better to positive requests, so try to avoid commands whenever possible. That said, sometimes they make poor choices and you need to get their attention fast. The important thing is to teach them to look.
3. Meet them at their level: The world is a big place to toddlers and preschoolers. It’s much easier for a child to listen, and hear, what an adult is saying when the adult kneels down and meets the child at eye level. This ties in with #1 and #2 as well. The best way to model appropriate listening skills is to get on your child’s level, make eye contact, and listen to them too. Many parents instinctively kneel down to greet other children, but some do not. Meeting them where they are increases their comfort level and encourages them to make eye contact and listen. It feels less threatening.
4. Use a calm voice: The best way to get your kids to tune out and stop listening is to raise your voice. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Frustrated parents get down low, grab their kids, and then start yelling. I know the feeling. Loud, angry voices tend to scare kids, and scared kids are unable to listen. Do what you have to do to keep your emotions in check (I’ve been known to run upstairs to “grab a sweatshirt”) and then approach your child with a calm demeanor. Modeling a calm approach teaches your child that people are better able to listen to them when they use a calm voice.
5. Avoid Sarcasm: We live in a sarcastic world. I know this because, at times, I’m a part of it. Sometimes sarcasm is a useful tool. It can provide a humorous icebreaker. But sarcasm, by definition, is hurtful. Toddlers and preschoolers might not understand the subtext of your comment when said sarcastically, but they do understand the tone. They know that it’s used in frustration. They know that it hurts. Use of sarcasm will shut your child down; it will not promote listening. The same goes for rhetorical questions. “How many times do I have to tell you to…..?” doesn’t correct a behavior. It just makes a child feel bad, and possibly causes him/her to shut down.
6. Use a little “Magic”: I have been working with parents for many years, which means that I have read many parenting books. The only book that I regularly recommend to parents to help promote listening skills and encourage positive behavior is “1-2-3 Magic” by Thomas Phelan. Parents routinely read the back and declare it too good to be true. It’s not. It’s simple. It will keep your house positive. It will help your kids learn to listen and follow directions. Read it. Refresh yourself regularly. And follow the three easy steps every single day. It works.
7. Repeat back: Any strategy used in anger is likely to backfire. In fact, many young kids laugh when their parents become upset. It’s not that they think you’re funny, it’s that anxiety sometimes manifests as laughter in young children. When asked, by a calm parent, to repeat back a set of directions kids are forced to stop and think about what was said, and ask for clarification if necessary. Remember, simple rules and explanations are easier to retain and follow.
8. Play listening games: The best way to teach toddlers and preschoolers is to keep things fun. No one wants to hear a lecture, but especially not the youngest segment of our population. Joint Story Telling: I’ve used this in the therapeutic environment for years to help kids join and feel more comfortable, but it also works well with young, imaginative minds. Start a story by making up the first line (“once upon a time” is always a crowd pleaser) then create the story with your child by alternating who says each line. You have to make eye contact and listen to one another in order to make the story work. It’s fun, engaging, and helps your child practice active listening skills. Simon Says: This preschool classic is great for helping your child watch and listen. They have to pay close attention to Simon’s movements AND listen for the cue, “Simon Says”. Red Light/Green Light: Do your best stop light impersonation and start the road race! This fun game also requires looking (for the stop light to face forward) and listening (for the cue, “green light”). If they fail to stop they start from the beginning again. What time is it Mr. Tiger?: This lesser known preschool game is great fun for kids. The goal of the game is to get from the starting line to the tiger’s den. They ask the question, “what time is it Mr. Tiger?” and then have to listen for the answer, and follow directions (3 o’clock = 3 steps forward). ***These are all great group games, but can also be played with just 1 or 2 kids as well.
Listening skills can take time and patience to teach, but are incredibly important to your child long term. Take a deep breath, get down to their level, listen to them, and calmly teach them how to listen. You’ll be surprised to learn how much they pay attention when you think they’re not listening.
How do you work on listening skills in your house?