Chaos. The word I would use to describe most of 2013 for our family. Change. That’s another good one. And challenge. Life has definitely been filled with challenges this year. And when life is filled with chaos, change, and challenge, I have found that at least in our family, we tend to create a number of bad habits while living in survival mode, and we tend to let many other good habits fall by the wayside. I’m sure it’s happened to you too.
But since school started in mid-August, each day, things have gotten progressively better for our family.
We have clawed our way out of boxes. And I mean clawed. We have said “goodbye” to fast food as a staple (except in dire situations, for treats, and when mama is craving tacos). And we have implemented new schedules and routines that we think will serve us well this school year.
A “new normal” is upon us, and for the first time since we left our old church family, it feels like we are beginning to settle in to a place we can call home…just in time to mess it up again and decorate for the holidays. Yippee.
Yes. We have finally sniffed the smelling salts and have awakened to a new season. One that is filled with more date nights for Kory and me, more family time for everyone, and a more active approach to parenting. Thank goodness. Because things were beginning to get a little out of control, and there were times when I actually wondered if we would survive it. It’s not everyday that I find my two year old on top of a 6 foot ladder trying to reach the chandelier so he can swing from it. But I did. Just in time.
I also found this two-year-old’s interpretation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night on one of my kitchen chairs:
This original masterpiece on my wood floor:
And this new spice concoction in my salt box:
A two year old without boundaries is, to say the very least, creative. That’s one word for it.
But because things have settled down a bit, we’re no longer preoccupied with “putting out fires,” and we have had enough mental energy to begin resurrecting some practices that have served our family well in the past. We’ve also stumbled onto some new ones. So in an effort to share the wealth, I thought I would pass them along. Possibly you, too, are in need of a “boost” when it comes to your parenting practices.
I hope these posts — My Mommy Secrets — will inspire and encourage you. They will include things we have learned through a variety of parenting books and classes, things more experienced parents have taught us along the way, and things we have learned on our own through trial and error and promptings from the Holy Spirit. Please pass them along to anyone you think might benefit from them.
My Mommy Secret #1
What goes in the pack and play, stays in the pack and play!
When we were expecting our first child, just like most couples in America, we received a pack and play as a baby gift. But the people who bought us the pack and play — our next door neighbors at the time — included a note with it that challenged us to consider using it for something far beyond a portable crib. We were curious, so we asked. And the next thing we knew, we were taking a Preparation for Parenting class with them as our mentors.
One of the things they taught us was how to use the pack and play to create time during our day to accomplish things around the house while knowing our baby was in a safe place. From the time our oldest was strong enough to sit in a bouncy seat, we began to use the pack and play as a play space for her.
When she was too young to sit up by herself, we would string interesting things from one wall of the pack and play to the other, and we would use links to attach rattles and squeaky toys to her chair. When she learned to sit up, we began placing 4-6 age-appropriate toys in the pack and play for her to enjoy.
And we engaged in this practice every day, at least twice. Once in the morning and once after her nap. Until she was three years old, when we transitioned to free play in her bedroom. This carved out 1-2 hours per day for us to do things like shower, clean the kitchen, prepare a meal, or pay the bills, knowing that our baby was being stimulated with learning toys in a safe place.
We continued this practice with our middle child. And we used it with our youngest — until we moved in June. And at that point, as did so many of our parenting practices, pack and play time became nothing but a distant memory.
When we finally got our things unpacked and put away and could actually create a safe environment to house our pack and play, we began using the pack and play again. But it was no easy task. Our youngest had gotten out of the habit of being content in a cofined space and had also learned how to climb out of his crib, so we had to do some retraining.
Ugh. I. Hate. Retraining. It’s the hardest kind.
But it was well worth the effort. And along the way, I was reminded of what makes pack and play time a successful endeavor:
1. I put the pack and play in a safe place where I can see and hear our child, but he cannot see and hear me. This is an excellent way to put a second camera to a video monitor to good use. If no video monitor is available, then a place where I can easily peek my head around the corner to spy on my child without him knowing.
2. In the pack and play, I place 4-6 age-appropriate toys that will stimulate learning and keep my child engaged. I usually limit electronic toys to only 1 and stick with things like blocks, puzzles, books, trains, etc. I rotate the toys weekly so that my child does not get bored with them.
3. I play music in the background. My go-to is typically contemporary Christian, but I have also used classical and spa music.
4. I start with short amounts of time (even 5 or 10 minutes if this is a challenge for a particular child) and build from there, with a goal of achieving one hour in the pack and play with a happy spirit.
5. I use a timer to signal to my child when pack and play time will be over.
6. When pack and play time is over, I praise my child for his happy spirit and ask him to help me “clean up” the pack and play. He places all of the toys in a basket while we sing the clean up song, and we put any puzzles back together so they will be ready for the next session.
7. I rarely get a screaming child out of a pack and play absent extenuating circumstances involving a health or safety issue. Scandalous, I know. Even if I have to simply wait for a “lull” in the crying to tear around the corner and pick him up at that moment, I will — I have found that it is much easier to train in this area if my child doesn’t think that crying yields good results (i.e., getting out of jail — I mean the pack and play — free).
The same idea can be used with a blanket with an older toddler/younger pre-schooler, though I have found that using a blanket is most effective when we are in the same room. And the nice thing about a blanket is that I can throw it into a diaper bag and have a portable play space wherever I go — the doctor’s waiting room, a church event, or a friend’s house.
If you have never used a pack and play or blanket as I have just described, feel free to comment on this post with any questions you may have. I am glad to help you implement this strategy in your home. But I also wonder…
What tricks do you have up your sleeve to carve out time for yourself during the day and to instill boundaries in the life of your child? I would love to reap the benefits of your experience!