Monday, September 1, 2014

Tip #195: More peace, less quiet

My house is not very quiet. So far this morning I have been yelled at by a toddler who demanded "lights on" at 6:30, there was a sword fight using a pool noodle and a cardboard cut-out, and a "snuggle time" that mostly involved boys shoving each other and giggling.  And this is a holiday.

So quiet, not so much. But peaceful--now that's a different topic.

The other day I was having coffee with a younger friend without children. She asked how the school year was going so far and if we had gotten back into the groove of activities and homework and such. I replied that things were going really well and that, in fact, our mornings and afternoons were...I paused here, not sure what word fit our lives in this moment.

"Peaceful?", she asked.

I laughed out loud and said, "Well, I'm not so sure about that, but our routine is going really well."

Every morning, by 7:20 am, all six of us have dressed, brushed our teeth, eaten breakfast at an actual table, packed snacks and/or lunches, put on shoes, and gotten into the car. Without yelling.

Every night, by 7:30 pm, all four of our kids have finished their homework, eaten dinner, bathed, brushed their teeth, had family prayer time, and gotten into their beds. Still no yelling.

Clearly, I am a parenting genius.

O.k, maybe that is not the most obvious conclusion, but I sometimes wish that it were that simple.

Actually, as I've had a little time to think about what we are doing differently this year I have come to the conclusion that our house is, in fact, peaceful.  When my friend suggested that word I was equating peaceful with boring or quiet or calm--none of which describe the happy chaos of four kids under 10 years old.

We are not experiencing that kind of peace. What we do have, however, is a set of expectations and routines that are making it a lot easier to get the business of home life accomplished with more room for sword fights and Lego time and the design and creation of three thousand rubber-band bracelets.

So, where is all this super-awesome peace coming from, you ask? (I totally understand if you asked that in a snotty, 12-year-old-girl kind of a voice. I'm not mad at you.)

Here's what I've come up with as the major contributing factors to our more peaceful daily life:

1. Established routine

This is not ground breaking or anything, but it matters so much. I realized that some of the biggest fights I had with my kids were because they had one plan and I had another one. So I work to make sure that our expectations match up to encourage less conflict.

Our kids know what happens next on any given school/work day. They get up, go to the bathroom, get dressed, and brush their teeth all before heading to breakfast. (I know, they would be better off brushing after breakfast, but if I let them go back upstairs I would never see them again--this is a hard-earned lesson. So I'm risking their dental health.)

They do not get food until all of these things are accomplished. I run the upstairs crew, getting everyone moving in the right direction while Jay goes downstairs and makes breakfast and gets it on the table.  They have all of their "must-dos" accomplished before they're really awake--which is good because they argue less when they're half asleep.

Our afternoons and evenings run in the reverse. They do homework and have a snack as soon as they get home. If a kid doesn't have homework I make something up so that everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. When a kid finishes their work, they can go play. When everyone is finished they can play or watch a TV show (I usually reserve TV for when I'm making dinner so there is less whining and begging for food while I cook). They know well in advance if they have a practice or a lesson or something that day and no one is stunned by a sudden shift in the schedule. They just complain less that way.

2. A place for everything

We also spent a lot of time arguing about finding shoes or picking out appropriate outfits, cleaning up their toys, and getting all their school stuff ready in the morning. While I am pretty good at being organized, I do not have the time or inclination to constantly clean my house and hunt down 12 individual shoes every morning. So we have finally settled into some options that work for us as a family and that the kids can do themselves.

For instance, toys stay in their rooms or in our family room. There is a giant cabinet in the family room where any toys found there at the end of the day are stored. The kids, even the two-year-old, can pick up any toys they see and put them away in the cabinet. It is easy and they know where toys go. They have similar bin/cabinet solutions in their rooms so that they can clean up after themselves without my help. Sure, it takes for-freakin'-ever when they do it themselves, but it gets done eventually. And no one has any fun until it is all done. Honestly, this usually results in the older ones herding the younger ones into helping at this point in our family. When they were all younger it took more time and attention on my part.

All shoes go in a basket by our door. You get to keep your tennis shoes and a pair of flip-flops in there. (This is the South so flip flops are a 9-month kind of a shoe. Sometimes even 10 months if December turns out to be mild.) Other shoes are worn rarely and stay in their closets. Their instructions when they get home are to go to the bathroom and take off their shoes. Everyone, even baby Jack, knows this routine and they all do it pretty regularly. So, no more shoe hunts in the mornings.

Shoe Basket-close is good enough
Clothes are identified as either school appropriate or play clothes--if you pick a top and a bottom from the school appropriate categories then I do not argue about what you wear. Even if it doesn't match, although I will point that out. Even if you will be hot/cold, even though I will point that out as well. The kids decide pretty quickly to take my advice or leave it. No more dressing fights.

We have a bench with hooks above it where all backpacks and coats go. No backpacks or coats go anywhere else. All the kids can reach the hooks and the bench. Backpacks are put on the bench and are ready for school for the next day before dinner (or baseball practice or whatever for that night). All they have left to do in the morning is put in the snacks we hand them and pick up their lunch box if they are taking their lunch.

3. My adjusted attitude

I realized that a lot of our daily stresses were due to my expectations and the complete unrealistic nature of those expectations. I tend to think that it all has to be perfect all of the time. All beds made, all toys always picked up, all of us calmly moving toward our day filled with joy and energy. Some days are like that. But other days have a sick kid or a stressful meeting at work to look forward to or a new baby who likes to poop out of his clothes after you've buckled him into his car seat. That's what real life looks like.

I, over the last year, have really focused on being more patient with my children. I have focused on seeing my instructions through their eyes and seeing myself that way as well. I have realized that they will not remember if all the toys were picked up--they will remember that I smiled at them every morning. Sometimes, it doesn't all get done. Sometimes, if I think we've all had a particularly tiring day, I let things slide and we climb into unmade beds with visible Legos on the floor. That's o.k. We can still be peaceful and a little messy just like we can be peaceful and a lot loud.

4. Better anticipation of exceptions

I used to be totally blindsided by mornings with hiccups in them. When Jay is at work early or out of town, for instance, I used to expect to be able to get the same morning routine accomplished without him. Sometimes I can, but sometimes you get cold cereal for breakfast in the car on the way to school and you're buying your lunch. And your snack because I forgot that, too. Maybe your teacher has an extra--I'll send her two to replace her stash tomorrow.

I have one kid who wakes up hard. There could be an earthquake and a helicopter collision above our house at the same time and this kid would sleep through it. Most days it doesn't matter at all, but then there have also been days that resulted in me physically dressing the kid myself in an effort to move more quickly. It generally just made the whole situation worse and did not make anything move faster, especially not said child.

It turns out, however, that over the course of a few painful years, I noticed that these weren't totally random events sent to harass me. The kids have a harder time remembering what to do when Daddy is gone. It throws them off their game. I need to get up earlier for that so we have extra time. My slow-to-wake-up kid has a harder time the morning after baseball or soccer practice so he gets a few minutes of extra snuggling before any instructions on those days and magically returns to his sweet self.

What seemed like totally random melt-downs by irrational beings now look more like the frustrated expressions of people who were confused or surprised when they woke up.  Sometimes they still show all the rational behavior of Yosemite Sam on a bad acid trip, but most of the time I can figure out what is really wrong and course correct before it spirals out of control.

And when I can't...when I have to manhandle a toddler into a five-point harness while dragging three backpacks and a half eaten bagel smeared with dripping honey to the car, I pray.

And that's really where our more-peaceful daily lives are coming from. I am more peaceful. I am more willing to get out of the way of God's plan for my life and my family and to allow that kind of peace--the peace of love and joy and grace--to flow through me and over my sweet kiddos.

Even when they're messy. Even when they're loud. Even when they're crazy.

Hope you've had a peaceful Labor Day weekend--happy four-day week!

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