Monday, March 19, 2012

Time to let them go

I think one of the most difficult things to do as a parent is to let go. As a  parent we want to see our children grow up and live their own lives, but we all have our own ideas of how their lives should go. Some parents are more vocal about it than others, but we all do it. Maybe we think we know the best career path they should take, when they should or shouldn't get married or have children, where they should live, what kind of relationships they should have, the list goes on and on. As parents, we need to remind ourselves that part of growing up is making your own choices. That can be hard if it isn't a choice we would make. Parents, it is time to back off and let go.
I am guilty of it. I have to remind myself often that as long as my children are healthy and generally happy they are okay. They will find their way just as I did. No matter what path life takes them on I will love them and support them as best I can because they are my children. Once they are adults it is time to let go. They must learn to fly. Maybe they will crash a few times and if so, I will be there to help pick them up and get them back in the air. But I will let them choose the direction they will fly in.
Parents have to respect their children's choices and the right they have as adults to make those choices. Surely that is better than alienating them for the rest of your life. It is not easy - it is necessary. Certainly in their late teens and early adulthood you should guide them in planning their future. They need to understand about bills, insurance, emergency money and retirement planning at an early age. Talk with them about these (hopefully before they are adults) and then let it rest. But, once they have made major life decisions, don't spend all of your precious time with them trying to change their mind. Respect their right to be adults. Continue to enjoy your time with them, not dread it. I am going to work on letting go gracefully. It is hard, but it is what I have tried to prepare them for all of their youth. I will do what I can to help them without trying to control them. I know they will learn to soar.

The Momma

Friday, February 24, 2012

Accidental Poisoning Preparedness

Most new parents I know child proof their home immediately. Many do so before the baby even arrives. Electrical outlets are covered and cabinets get child proof latches. Breakables get move up higher and electrical cords are secured. Baby gates are purchased. But preparation for accidental poisoning often is overlooked. It is simple to do. First and foremost, post the number for poison control on your refrigerator.   National Poison Controls # is 1-800-222-1222. This will connect you to the nearest poison control center. If your child eats anything you are unsure of the safety of, call them. They don't mind and would rather you call for something non-harmful than not call for something deadly. Keep all cleaning supplies, medicine, vitamins, alcohol and other known toxins up high if possible and in a cabinet or closet with a child safety lock. Be aware that shampoos and conditioners can be toxic. The deodorizing disks used in diaper pails are often very poisonous. Baby creams and ointments should be securely put away when not in use. Know all of the plants in your home and yard and know which are poisonous. If the plant can be fatal, you may want to remove it from your yard.
Watch your young children closely AT ALL TIMES. It only takes a few seconds for a child to grab and ingest something. Most fatal poisonings in children occur at ages 6 and under. Even with all the right precautions, your child may eat something questionable. I was on a first name basis with poison control with one of my children! Chalk, air freshener (which I had just set down and my child snatched it up and shot a mouthful before I could grab it), plants, etc. Some children put everything in their mouths. Everywhere you go. It happens. Don't panic. If it is a packaged substance, quickly scan the label for warnings. If you don't see one call poison control just to be sure. If it is a plant you know is toxic, call poison control for instructions. Be on the alert for ant poisons in the yard, weeds that have been sprayed with weed killer and mothballs at "Aunt Darling's" house. Don't assume your child will never go in the shop or garage, secure all dangerous items there.
 Never treat a poisoning on your own. Don't let the child eat or drink anything if you suspect poisoning until you talk to the poison control center. Treatments vary depending on the substance and you don't want to do anything that might make it worse or speed it up in your child's system.
If you call poison control center be prepared to give the child's name, age, and weight, the substance ingested and suspected quantity as well as the time the substance was ingested. They will also ask for your name and phone number.  Follow their instructions if you need to take action! Stay safe and be prepared.

The Momma

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Does your child throw tantrums?

If you have a child who throws some kind of tantrum, you are a typical parent. Most children I have known have thrown some kind of tantrum at some point in their childhood. They are testing boundaries. I have seen children who bang their heads on the floor (one of mine), hold their breath until they pass out, scream like a banshee and all other manners of tantrums. I don't think parents should ever give in to tantrums. When my child banged her head, I gave her a pillow to bang it on or moved her to the carpet, and left the room. It didn't take long for her to realize two important things. One, it hurt, and two, it got no results. When confronted with a child who screams it can be hard to ignore. Ignore it anyway. If possible move to another room and if the child follows, tell them they can't join you until they have stopped screaming. Don't beg or threaten. State the rule and leave the room.
One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make is rewarding bad behavior. To a child wanting attention, negative attention can re-enforce poor behavior the same as positive attention. A child throwing a tantrum should never get their way. Don't buy the toy, let them stay up or say "OK you can have one more cookie but you have to stop screaming". (or whining or whatever the tantrum is)  Seems like common sense to me, but I see parents do this a lot. Don't engage in a battle of will with the child either. You can't effectively reason with a two year old having a tantrum. You can say "stop it" a hundred times and they probably won't because they are getting your attention. Don't try to reason with a young child. Ignore the fit. If you are in a public setting such as a restaurant, you should leave rather than give in. (don't make other restaurant patrons have to listen to your screaming child) Once you leave the public place, continue to ignore the tantrum. If your child is older, say five and up, come back to them after the tantrum is over and explain that their behavior was unacceptable and explain to them what the consequence will be. This may set off another tantrum. That is okay, ignore this one too, except to point out the consequences will be worse if they continue.
Parents have to realize that parenting is work. It doesn't always fit neatly into your schedule. But, it has to be done. Be consistent with the rules. If it is a rule you set, you must enforce it 100% of the time. It can take time for a child to realize the tantrum is pointless and give up on it. As a parent you also have to take into consideration your child's personality. A discipline strategy that worked for one child, may not work for another. Rules should be the same, but consequences may have to vary to be effective. If you have established basic discipline in your household, tantrums should pass quickly. If you lack consistency in the enforcement of even basic rules, you may be in for a long run of tantrums. I read one time that children have learned basic behavior by the age of five. I believe that. If you wait until your child is older to begin disciplining them, it will be much harder to change the "habits"  of what has always worked for them, such as tantrums.
One of the most difficult issues for a parent to deal with is poor behavior by your child when they are not with you. Perhaps your child behaves and listens to you just fine but becomes a terror at school or at Grandma's house. I think this is because they have often learned that poor behavior works in these settings. Grandma doesn't want to see her little darling unhappy so a tantrum will get him another cookie. Or maybe your child sees another child at school getting attention for tantrums so they decide to try it too. And it works for them. Sometimes tantrums can be a symptom of anxiety or frustration. You need to identify the cause of the tantrum. Talk to the adult in charge, express your concerns, find out what is happening and explain how you deal with discipline at home. Come to an agreement on how they will deal with tantrums and follow up with them often. If your child is old enough to reason with, talk to them about the tantrum and have a consequence at home for it.  As a parent, you do have to realize it may not be possible, or desirable, for a teacher to leave the room. Ask them to ignore the tantrum. They could require your child to sit out of the activity they are doing until the child has calmed down. Perhaps your child will have to go sit in the office. Work closely with the adult who will be in charge of your child to come up with a plan that works for both of you. Unfortunately some teachers don't deal well with tantrums and some family members don't want to be the "bad guy" and enforce discipline. You will have to deal with each situation individually. I kept a friend's child who regularly threw tantrums at home. After a few weeks at my house the child no longer had tantrums when with me. Children figure out when and where the tantrums will achieve the desired result.
Some adults are just not good at dealing with disgruntled children. If you feel uncomfortable with a teacher and how they are handling classroom discipline, it is okay to move your child to another teacher's room or a new daycare. Make sure, if you do move your child,  that it is not just a case of mom or dad refusing to believe their little angel could ever do anything wrong. Most teachers are well trained, but not all teachers are suited to work with children.
Well, now you hopefully have a starting point for dealing with tantrums. As a parent you have to figure out what works best for your family. Just don't let it be "the tantrums don't really bother me" or "he will outgrow them on his own"!  Build a strong relationship with your child and everyone will benefit from it. Set rules and enforce them.  But, don't forget to reward the good behavior and hug those kids often!

The Momma

Monday, February 6, 2012

Save That Money!

Saving money can be very difficult for young families. At times it may not be possible at all. But, there are a lot of good reasons you need to trim the budget or increase the income so you can put money in savings. It is critical to have money saved for unexpected expenses (a new roof, or serious illness). It is also wise to have enough to live on for 3-4 months in case you suddenly find yourself unemployed. Opening a Christmas savings account and, at Christmas, only spending what you have in the account is a great way to avoid building more debt. You also need to start early saving for long and short term goals. Having part of your paycheck direct deposited to savings is a great way to save. Every time you get a raise at work you should increase your savings deposit by a percentage you (and your spouse if married) have agreed on. If you never have the money in your checking account or in cash, you won't "miss it". If you get a tax refund, plan to put part in savings and budget the rest BEFORE you get the money. I have met lots of people who complain they can barely make ends meet much less save any money. This is often told to me as they drink a soda and eat a snack they just purchased at a convenience store. Pardon me if I am not very sympathetic in these circumstances. If you buy your sodas and chips in bulk at the grocery and carry them to work with you, then you could put that money you are saving into an account. :) Or you could drink more water or tea (brought in a thermos) and save even more.

Saving money takes effort and a bit of organization. If you are living paycheck to paycheck and you eat lunch out most days you are a fool. Sorry, that is my opinion. Eating out is a luxury you can't afford. Pack a lunch. I have never met a family with both parents working that couldn't trim their spending somewhere in order to save. Take the money in the change jar to the bank every month or two and put it in savings. Instead of the family eating out every weekend, have pizza night at home where everyone makes their own pizza. Put the tax refund in savings. (By the way, if you get over $500 back on federal taxes you need to adjust your withholding so you get more in your paycheck and not in your refund. Put that difference in savings) Maybe you have to cut out the smart phone, beer, movie rentals, cable TV or other luxury items. This is why you should eliminate cash and miscellaneous spending categories in your budget. If you live paycheck to paycheck you should know where every penny of your money is going. Track it for a month and cut out unnecessary spending. If you do carry cash, keep a notebook and log every single thing you spend that cash on.

Wonderful! Someone got a raise and you are no longer living paycheck to paycheck. Don't rush out and buy a new car just yet. Sit down and decide how much of that money will go to savings. The amount to save, (just like the amount to spend on major purchases) should be decided as a couple if you are married. If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that has a 401k plan and offers to match part of what you put in - jump on it. If you can't afford to save the full amount they match when you start working there, put in what you can and bump it up with each raise.

I think family vacations are very important because they allow the family to reconnect and bond. They also allow mom and dad to relax and recharge. Memories of family vacation time will stay with you and your children forever. If money is tight, try not to eliminate the vacation, just reduce the cost. Maybe vacation will just be staying home and playing tourist in your own town for 3 days. (no house or yard work allowed-you are on vacation) End the days with family games and movies. If it is summer, set up water games in the backyard. Maybe vacation will be a trip to stay with nearby family. Camping is inexpensive and there is probably somewhere within an hour of your home that you can get away to. Just a long weekend is fine. If you have some money set aside for a trip but need to stretch it, try renting a room with a kitchenette and eating most of your meals in the room. Carry a large ice chest to allow for more food storage. You could even cook one dish meals to bring with you and heat in the microwave. With 4 children in tow, we found it was cheaper to rent a condo at the beach  than to rent 2 hotel rooms. It also made it easy to cook our meals. I personally think it is better to give up sodas and lunches out all year, if that is what it takes, and have a family vacation instead. Vacation is a good incentive to start saving! Find whatever it take to motivate you and start saving. Even if you already save regularly, I bet you could find a little more money to tuck away if you look.

The Momma

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Control Your Money, Don't Let It Control You

Money. Boy, this is a tough topic for everyone, especially for young families just starting out. Decisions you make now will affect you for years to come. Yet, in talking with young families, I find that often very little time is devoted to financial planning. Managing your money to meet your current and future needs is critical and should be discussed at length and often.
First, sit down and set a monthly budget, plus short term and long term goals. Monthly budgets deal with payment of bills, eating out, money to go to savings each paycheck, etc. All of your income should be accounted for in the budget. Short term can be "we will need another car in 2 years" or "we need money set aside for Christmas this year". Anything for the next 5 years can be considered short term. Long term goals are things like, retirement, college funds, purchase of a home or even a 25 year anniversary trip. I am going to talk about monthly budgeting because it is the key to everything.
If you don't get the budget right, none of the other goals will fall into place. Budgets are about priorities. One problem I see a lot with the "me generation" is the failure to realize that starting a family changes the priorities. When you start a family, you may no longer be able to buy every movies on DVD or eat 75% of your meals out. Your priorities are diapers, baby formula and clothing. It is time to readjust your priority list. Make a list of monthly bills that stay pretty much the same. Rent, electric, phone, etc. Make a list of necessities such as food, gas, medical, insurance, clothing and savings. (yes, savings should be considered a necessity.) I will talk more about savings in a separate post. Track the necessities for a month or two, average it out and use these numbers to start. Every 3-6 months you will need to average these numbers again and make adjustments if needed. Now you are ready to budget. If your spending exceeds your income you will have to make adjustments. Credit cards and loans are not a good answer. If your income exceeds your spending, you are ready to work on long and short term goals. Be sure to average annual costs such as insurance so you can set aside money monthly. Also, be sure to include money for doctor visits, school supplies and other common expenses you have.

How do you "trim" the budget if your spending is greater than your income and you are running up debt? The short answer is stop spending. :) Here are ways to reduce spending. Plan your meals and eat at home. Eating out is expensive. It should classed as luxury spending, not necessity. But, even if you already eat most meals at home, you may be able to trim the cost down. Plan your menus ahead for the week, including snacks, make a shopping list and stick to the list. Impulse buying at the store adds to the bill and is seldom for meal items. Most people impulse buy something every time they go in the grocery store. So, reduce the number of store trips and stick to the list. Post your menu for the week in the kitchen and stick to it. When meal planning, include use of leftovers and allow at least one "quick fix" meal per week. (use it when you really don't want to do much cooking, instead of eating out. Frozen pizza or pasta meals work well) I did progressive meals. Left over red beans became chili and leftover chili meant hot dogs. Grill chicken one night and plan to have grilled chicken wraps the next night. Have a leftover night at the end of the week if you have a lot left. Leftovers make good lunches to take to work! Buy meat in family packs which are less expensive and divide it when you get home. Whole chickens are usually cheaper and you can cut it up and divide it when you get home. Try store brands over name brands. Many of them are just as good and are cheaper.

Minimize cash or miscellaneous spending. Allow what you can really afford to not keep track of, (maybe it is $10-20 a week, maybe it is $0 a week) for cash spending on cokes, coffee, etc. Other than that amount, know what your money is being spent on. Carry a lunch, sodas and snacks to work with you. Make eating lunch out a payday Friday treat (if it fits in the budget). If you have $50 dollars a month for clothing and you spent it on the kids new shoes, you will have to wait on getting that cute new purse. Sorry mom. As parents, you may have to give up or cut back on your hobbies until the budget has more money. Family needs take priority over individual needs.

Buy it when you can afford it. If you can't afford to pay cash for a new car, drive a used one that you can afford to pay cash for. If you can't pay cash for a new couch, keep the old one. People spend incredible amounts of money on car notes and other loans and the interest that goes with them when they can't really afford to. If you make enough that a car note fits comfortably into your budget, fine. (I still prefer to buy a newer used car and put that car note money in savings) But, don't add that to your budget if it will strain the budget.

One method that worked well for me to start my budget was envelopes. I made envelopes for clothing, eating out, gifts, vacations, medical, etc. The budgeted amount of money went in the envelope and when it was gone, that was it for spending in that category. If I had eating out money left at the end of the month, my husband and I would decide if it carried over, went to savings or moved to another categories envelope, such as vacation. After doing this for a while you should be able to eliminate the envelopes and still stay on budget.

If trimming the smaller more flexible categories is not enough you may have to look at bigger adjustments. A home with lower rent or moving closer to work to reduce the gas bill. Do what you need to do to live within your means. I am sorry but screw what the Jones are doing. Don't blow your financial future just to impress other people.
If you can't trim the budget to get your spending equal to or less than your income, start looking for a better job or a second job. If you have credit card debt already eating away at the budget, a second job may be the solution. Work the extra job until the credit card is paid off. The best thing you can do for your finances is live within your means. I hope this gives you some ideas to get you started. The important thing is to find a method that works for you and stick with it. So, schedule time to get started (soon) and get that budget working.

The Momma

Friday, February 3, 2012

Record your memories

As I grow older there are things I wish I had done when my children were growing up. I wish I had kept records of the memorable things they said and did. A lot of people keep baby books for the first year or two. I say, keep those records going! When your 2 year old says something really adorable you think you will remember it forever. That is not always the case. I have four children and I remember a lot about what they said and did. But, there are those moments when someone else will talk about some small thing that they remember and I think "how could I have forgotten that?" Then I start wondering what else I have forgotten. Stories of which child did what get blurry. (don't judge me all you young moms, your days of foggy memory are coming) I wish I had written it all down over the years.
What I would suggest to young parents is to start a journal on each child. Daily or weekly set aside a few minutes to jot down a story from that week about each child. Make a note of favorite words, sayings, songs, games and foods. In 20 or 30 years you will be glad you did and your children will surely enjoy reading through the journals with you. (and you will have written proof that "baby boy" liked green vegetables at one point in his life) I would also suggest starting a photo album for each child. I know you have all those cute pics on your computer but print a few out each month and put in the album. When your children are older you will have a lovely album of their life to give to them. Sure, you could put them on a disk or thumb drive for them but there is something wonderful about sitting together and flipping through an album of old photos. If you are so inclined, make a scrapbook. If you are not so inclined, just do a plain album. Either one is fine.
Memories of your children are not the only ones worth preserving. If you have a family member who tells elaborate stories about the family history, sings or is known for their joke telling make a recording of it. It will be a family treasure. Document the history and stories you know about your family. One day, someone will be glad you did. Every family seems to have at least one "historian" who likes to know and pass on the old family tales. Written documentation will keep the stories accurate.
Now, stop browsing on the computer, grab a notebook and start recording those memories!

The Momma

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Work those minds

Active minds stay sharper. I think most people have heard this at one time or another especially regarding older adults. I think it is good for children and adults alike. Start early on challenging your children to think and learn new things. Play chess, scrabble and other games that require them to really think. Puzzles are a great family activity and a great workout for the mind. Make sure the puzzle you do as a family is at a good skill level for the children to be able to work it. Do a riddle a day with the kids. Buy them activity books with word searches and mazes. I also think it is important to teach your children to really learn about things they have an interest in. If your child likes to draw, get them a beginner art book on sketching. Buy a children's book on making jewelry and make necklaces.
Parents, don't neglect your own minds! Take up new hobbies and learn all you can about them. Do more complex puzzles. Work the crossword puzzle in the paper. Read a book. Learn to build a birdhouse. I know it can be hard as a parent to find any spare time. Work, the kids and the household chores can seem to consume the day. Find the time somewhere. Schedule yourself in. Once the children are grown, keep working your mind. This blog is a way for me to keep my mind challenged. I recently joined a photo of the day group and am learning about photography. I took up jewelry making less than a year ago. The idea is to keep the challenges coming, for you and your children. So, put on your thinking caps and come up with ways to keep challenging the minds in your home!

The Momma