20 Things to change when you’re a stay-at-home parent with under 3s

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I reflect on having 3 kids 3 and under and what I chose to give up, and take on, to help my health, and also increase my enjoyment of being with our wee ones. I share in case it can be of assistance or inspiration, and to get the conversation flowing and invite you to share your tips…

1. Give up folding washing (except towels, sheets and tea towels if you must). Adopt the ‘stuff’ technique. It saves a heap of time, and also means when your 2 year old wants a wardrobe change for the 3rd time that day, you don’t get ‘overwhelmed’.

2. Find a teenager, make it local (I realise not everyone has the financial luxury of being able to access this sort of support). Even once a week for 75 mins (from 4.00pm-5.15pm) can be such a relief and great for your ‘heart’ & ‘mind’. They can be a mother’s / father’s helper. They can walk the dog, ‘stuff’ the washing, take the kids to the playground, read the kids stories, do the dishes, clean the bath…I dare you to ask for the help you need.

3. Get a dog walker, if you have a dog (again if money permits), but the point I’m making is try and minimise the jobs and responsibilities you have. It is unnatural to be one adult at home with multiple children, without extra support. Cut yourself some slack. Out source when/where you can. Be your own best-friend.

4. Start a blog. Hahaha. Blogging was something that fed me. It felt like someone was listening. It gave me autonomy. It kept my adult voice lubricated. I felt a sense of belonging to a community and I could do it as silly hours in the night. Is there some activity you can start or keep up from your life pre mama/papa hood?

5. Write a list of 5-10 activities you genuinely L O V E doing with your tamariki and put it where you can see it . Mine were/are: reading books out loud, playing with blocks, painting with the kids, dancing, dress ups, singing, ukulele, having family baths, being in the garden, playdough, drawing on the concrete with chalk, ride the bus into town to the library & art gallery. Note – these were not my favourites: playing lego, playing cars, going for bike rides with all 3 kids, going to the playground with all 3 kids. Note: This ‘favourite’ list changes. Our kids are now 8, 6 and nearly 5 and now one of my fave things to do is ‘bike riding’ all together, and going to the beach all together, whereas when they were 3 or 4 years and younger, I found this stressful and difficult to do alone (as a single adult). You may like to check of lulastic and the hippyshake’s video about ‘SMF’ (Sites of Mutual Fulfilment) which is similar to what I’m suggesting here.

6. Get in the car (with your kids) include food, drink bottles, raincoats, gumboots, togs, towel, sunblock, hats, money, phone, extra clothes without having any other plan, other than driving. I used to drive until they all fell asleep then I’d pull over under a tree and sit in the silence and stillness (away from the piles of domestic duty). When everyone wakes up the car is packed if you feel brazen enough for a spot of adventure. If 1/2 the family or no one went to sleep you have some supplies. If you really need to you can drive to family/friends for help (with your basics).

7. Have a sleepover at a friends’ house with all the kids (I did this once the youngest one was sleeping through the night, but awesome if you’ve got that kind of relationship and headspace to do it without a ‘sound sleeper’). Invest in self-inflating single mattresses so that your family are portable and can be slotted next to a guest room’s queen bed.

8. Go stay at a family member’s with aforementioned mattresses (even mid week), scooters (mini micros), and the basics and let family member help.

9. Get good at reflective listening and role modelling this to your friends. Hang out with people who are empathetic and great listeners. Rather than try to solve people’s problems, listen to them. Help friends when you can, and liberate yourself from guilt when you can’t. Find the ways you can help (that flows for you). For me it’s offering playdates (especially once the friends’ are out of nappies), and dropping off a meal. Everyone’s different. I find a playdate helps sibling rivalry. Dropping off a meal (apart from the budgeting) simply means doubling a spaghetti bolognese, or taco beans, or curry. The dinner may not be kid-friendly, but don’t let that ‘stop’ you. Offer what feels easy. For some it may be offering to babysit for date night, or bringing in someone’s washing.

10. Offer to take other people’s kids’ to school or kindy, once the kids are older. Be bold and begin a rhythm. Have spare carseats (to be able to help people or give out so other people can help you). See if they’re open to reciprocating. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to raise a community. I thought deeply about what a village means. I assumed it was ‘blood’. I felt ‘let down’ grandparents weren’t offering to help (more). I kept coming back to ‘where’s my village’? It was very challenging to rise out of victim mode. I’m not sure it should be required of a ‘new’ parent to rise out of victim mode, but it does make things more light-hearted, when one ‘out sources’ and ‘seeks’ for what support and weekly rhythm one needs. Anyway back to village. Then it occurred to me that a village is a collection of buildings, next to each other. I started to reach out to my immediate neighbours. Organised shared kai nights. Invited people to the local playground when we went. Took around cake or pudding when we had extra. Delivered plums at the end of the season. The people that live within 2 minutes walking distance from your home can help the most with the least disruption (or ‘cost’) to their lives. They can pop over and throw the stick for your pooch easier than Grandad a 20 minute drive away. They can loan you their older child to pacify your younger. They can bring in the washing when it starts to rain. Hahaha – am I sounding like a nightmare neighbour? Hey thanks neighbours for saying YES, and embracing my reaching out to you. When we accept help, we signal to others they can ask us for help also. I also believe I do you a favour, or care for you, and you may not be able to ‘care for me’ but sometime, someone else ‘cares for me’ and I may not be able to ‘care for them’. It all evens out.

11. S T A Y  A T  H O M E – Pick a day in the week (yes each week) to not leave the house. Literally don’t leave the property. Especially not in your car. Get creative and brave to organise alternative ways to get the oldest to school or kindy (as mentioned above). Go slow. Get simple. Stay out.

12. Staying open to ‘The Art of Parenting’ – do a workshop or read a book or watch a video or listen to a podcast or read an article or listen to the National Programme as you’re driving your kids to sleep (wink wink). It’s so ‘natural’ to default to the way we were raised. Culture, science, psychology, law, education has changed since then. It’s wise to question. It’s brave to deviate from what ‘was’. Keep learning. Keep staying open. When you do learn something that helps you feel more calm as a parent/adult. More empathetic. More confident. More relaxed. More content. More connected. Model it. The most effective way to share or teach a way of being, or thinking is by modelling it to the degree someone watches and asks, or watches and replicates. Bring your learning up in conversation. Let’s continue to grow as a community, towards a more empathetic, non-violent, way with aroha to be together.

13. Love Bombing. Orchestrate things so you can have one on one time (once in a while) with one of your children. You know that ‘what activities do I love to do with my kids’? That can be narrowed down to what do I love to do with each of my children. Right now, with first born I like to read books aloud to her at bedtime, or bike down to the dairy. With second born I like to give each other massages/tickles, or listen to her read to me. With third born I like to get outside and do something, or look at pictures of animals together.

14. Enforce ‘time-out’ (for 2 minutes) on yourself. Go for a walk down the driveway. Go out side and look up at the stars. Take your shoes off and walk under on the dewy grass. Look up under and tree and listen to the bird. Re-centre yourself.

15. Hang on to your relationship (unless it’s dangerous) until the youngest is 5 years young. Having young children is stressful. It may be the fact you’re both ‘overstretched’ that’s the problem rather than ‘the relationship’. Living with less time, sleep & money (than your used to) is challenging. All change is challenging even if it’s positive.

16. Forgive yourself when you make a mistake. Apologise to your children (even if they’re ‘pre-verbal’ babies). Priscilla Dunstan would argue no baby is preverbal (you may like to check out her mahi on Dunstan Baby Language). Nathan Mikaere-Wallis says the most helpful thing we can do for our baby’s ‘neuro-plasticity’ or the ability to ‘learn new concepts, behaviours, ways of being’ is to talk to them (not over them or in their direction) but with eye contact. If we’re making a pledge to learn empathy for others, we have plenty of opportunity to be hone this skill by being empathetic with ourselves. It is challenging caring for others. Many of us are in heightened situations above this. We may be with babies, infants, children with additional needs. We may have multiple children. We may not be living in the same house as baby’s Dad or Mum. We may have limited financial resources or compromised health…

17. What conditions or environments allow us to thrive with our children? Robin Grille on a course which I remember choosing to go to cos it inferred ‘What do I do when I’m having a tantrum, the same time as my child is’? recommended asking ourselves how can I support myself. Is there a place I feel ‘strong’ or ‘more capable’ with my kids. I realised one of mine was being with other like-hearted Mums (or Dads) so we could ‘pool’ our human resources. If you’re feeling more exhausted than usual be mindful of choosing a dynamic that is supportive rather than adding to the complication. Sometimes a dynamic between your child and your friend’s child is not a relaxing one. Sometimes people’s homes e.g. aren’t fenced, or has a bouncy dog can add to tension. I found Playcentre amazing. It’s a neutral space, purpose-built, designed to support children and their families.

18. Introduce date-night. Once a week turn your phone off and be present to your partner. You can alternate who gets to choose the ‘activity’ week to week. You don’t have to leave the house. Perhaps it’s watching a TED Talk together. Perhaps it’s giving each other a massage. Maybe it’s lighting an outdoor fire and sitting under the stars. Maybe it’s lying on the couch making eye contact and talking. Even if you don’t like each other very much – do it. You might start liking each other again.  Eye contact can be VERY healing and help forgiveness. I also found Kundalini Yoga to have great forgiveness practices.

19. Get outside. Nature teaches us authenticity and resilience. It is more expansive than those 4 walls and windows. Fresh air. Sounds. Colours. Light.  Nature is an inexpensive invitation to mindfulness. Go outside and listen to the sounds. Feel the air on your body. Smell your garden. Feel the grass, trees, leaves. Look for insects with your children. It settles them down too. If you don’t have a backyard do you have a park close by? Invest in good quality wet weather gear. “There’s not such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing.” In Norway they deem it too cold to take the kids out side (during school) when its -4 degrees!

20. Journal & hand on heart. Reflect on how you feel. Write 3 things you can be grateful for today. Take a soul dump. Put voice memo on or video without the pictures (intended only for you) talk aloud how you feel in this moment. I find speaking out loud, hearing it, helps clarify things, and even though I’m only speaking with myself, I feel more validated. It’s like journalling with your voice. I find putting one hand on my heart or both one hand on my heart the other on my tummy (over my belly button) and speaking like that, extra helpful. The hand on heart can help when I chose to address something or someone that I feel uncomfortable about also. Lying down in semi-supine with one hand on heart, the other on belly and consciously breathing into this space and watching my hands rise can be calming and centering. A return to home.

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Go well on this delicious (bittersweet) journey of parenting and life-ing.

What are your tips for ‘enjoying your living with very young children’?

I love reading your comments, kia ora for taking the time to share your thoughts

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