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How I Survived Postpartum Depression

Let’s be honest. Being a mom is hard. Being a person is hard. Sometimes it’s hard just to “be”. Period.

I am not perfect. I am not happy all of the time. Sometimes I even totally lose my shit…but you might not know that about me because I have a tendency to mostly share just the positive…because that’s what we do. We celebrate what we’re proud of, and we sweep the rest under the rug.

I was at a MOPS meeting the other day and felt such a profound connection with all of the women there as we started sharing stories of postpartum depression. To be honest, I was completely floored when I heard story after story that kept sounding like my story, and as I looked around the room, I noticed not just a room full of tears, but a room full of love and support. It made me realize that none of us really have the answers, but by sharing our stories, we feel connected, we feel like we’re not alone, and it made me feel, well…ok, almost normal even.

The bottom line is that it made me want to share my story. I have tried to write this blog for a long time, but I could never find the right words, and then I realized, there are no right words. There are just words – words that come together to form a story, and that’s what I’m going to do now; I’m going to share my story. Just know that yes, I’m happy now, and I’ll share that part of the journey too, but first I want to take you to some of the darkest moments I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.

Postpartum Depression Round #2

About 9 months ago (when Julian was 13 months old, Ophelia was 2, Elliot was 4, and Ruby was 6), I started writing a blog called, “I’m Choosing to be Happy Today”, as way to work through some of the depression that I was feeling. But while everything I was writing was completely real, raw, and full of emotion, there was no happy ending, and so I had to put it aside until things weren’t so bleak.

Now that I’ve been able to crawl out of the depths of postpartum depression (for the second time), I think I’m finally ready to share my story.

It was the middle of winter and yet another cold and flu season was upon us when I noticed a little bit of spotting, and then a bit more, and pretty soon, I was experiencing the first period I’ve had since…gosh, I don’t even know how long! (4 births in 6 years…hello!) My mom warned me about fluctuating hormones, but I brushed her warning away thinking,

“I’m too tough to get emotional. I’ll be okay.”

At the same time as I got my period, it seemed like my milk was drying up. Julian was up to feed in the night just about every hour, and he would get really rough, pulling on my nipple, hitting me with his arms, and flailing his legs. (On a side note, I think this is what led to my nursing aversion.) When he woke up with a practically dry diaper after an all night nursing marathon, I knew that it was the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship.

This made me so sad – desperately sad. The only way he would go to sleep was with me nursing him, and even though he ate food with us at every meal, I never really had to worry about how much he ate because he would just nurse him all. the. time. (In hindsight, I wish I would have started this bedtime routine with him a little sooner.)

The thought of not being able to breastfeed Julian anymore, the ongoing lack of sleep, the constant busyness and business of our daily lives, feeling overwhelmed and constantly behind, and now these hormonal changes with the onset of my period absolutely turned my head upside down. It was a gradual change for sure, but one day, it felt like a switch had been flipped. Everything that used to make me happy was suddenly driving me bat-shit crazy.

The way that everyone needed me every single moment of every single day made me want to run and hide. I felt like a failure, a loser, and a fraud. I started fantasizing about going back to work and putting them all in day care. I just didn’t feel like I could handle it for one minute more…and then I remembered feeling this same way when Elliot started to wean. I tried hard to pinpoint why I was feeling this way. Was having two little ones 2 and under just too much for me to handle? Did I need to work on creating more of a balance in my life? Did I need more things just for me? I just couldn’t figure it out.

Usually, I’m pretty good about seeing what I’m doing well and planning new areas of growth for my future, but with everything going on…

My self-doubt started to outweigh my self-worth.

I started feeling like I was failing everyone. I started feeling like I was doing everything wrong. I started feeling like I wanted to quit being a mother. I started feeling like I wanted to find someone more capable to take care of my kids and just get a job where I knew I would be able to succeed (as if that would be so much easier).

Whenever I would hear the little voice of self-doubt in my head, the one that said, “You’re not good enough. You are a fat, frumpy, disheveled mess. You are a failure.”

I would scream, “NO!” and I would try to quiet that little voice and instead look at my sweet little darlings, and I would choose to be happy.

I felt like I was at the edge of a precipice and could go either way. With one more little negative event or thought, I knew that I would tumble into the abyss of sadness, but with every conscious choice placing me into the world of “happy”, I saved myself from that doomed path.

Then one day, I woke up, looked in the mirror, and noticed a giant zit on my chin. That was it. It was the zit that broke the camel’s back so to speak. Everything came crashing down around me, and all of those little walls of happiness that I had worked so hard to build suddenly came crashing down.

I tried to choose to be happy again like I did before, but I just couldn’t. Every little thing was making me cry, and I felt like a complete and utter failure.

Usually, I have a long list of things that make me happy – things like making a healthy meal from scratch, cleaning out and organizing a drawer or cupboard, designing a new learning activity, cuddling up and reading with one of the kids, getting the house clean and organized, writing, or researching a new blog topic,- but no matter how many times I went through the motions, NONE of these things were making me happy.

And then I couldn’t even go through the motions.

I would find myself just sitting there on the floor, looking out the window with a blank stare while the kids played around me, feeling like I was in a fog, and like I could just start bawling at any second.

When my husband came home for lunch one day and didn’t say the right thing, I snapped. I got angry and told him to LEAVE. We fought via texts until he came home hours later, and I just bawled about all of the things that were making me sad.

He was very kind and supportive, but he said,

“It doesn’t make any sense. None of these things were making you depressed a few weeks ago. Where else could this be coming from?”

Those words really struck me because he was right. I didn’t have a reason to be depressed. My life was good, and I was surrounded by things that should make me happy. Why couldn’t I see that? Why couldn’t I feel that? And of course…that just made me even more depressed.

But I kept thinking over and over again about choosing to be happy. And even as the tendrils of depression tried to reach out and pull me into oblivion, I kept thinking, “NO! YOU’RE NOT TAKING ME!!!”

I tried thinking about all of the things that were spiraling me into depression in a positive way, and so instead of thinking, “When will Julian ever sleep through the night?” I started thinking about his sweet little smile, the feel of his body tucked into mine, and how I was the only one who could comfort him at night.

That evening, I cracked a beer, slipped into a warm bath, and just thought about all that was good in my life. Then I pulled my daughter Ophelia into the bath with me. She was so happy to pour water and to “swim” in our sitting Jacuzzi tub. I looked at her face, really looked, and noticed how she was happier than ever just by being with me. She didn’t need any special activities or toys, she just needed me.

The more I started to think about how I was enough, how just the mere existence of me was enough to nourish and sustain all of my children, I could feel the veil of sadness begin to lift.

Where before every thought had been in a muddled in a fog of sadness, suddenly everything started to look so clear, so simple, so…attainable. And just like that, I felt my breasts fill up with milk. I almost wept with tears of joy! It was almost like all of my worry, self-doubt, and depression had inhibited my milk supply. I was overjoyed to feel my milk let down as Julian nursed hungrily. In the times of nursing him after that, I noticed that if I wasn’t present in the moment, I couldn’t make any milk, but as I became aware of his warm body, his sweet eyes looking up at me, and my love for him, I could feel that old familiar fullness of milk.

And that was that. It wasn’t a long list of things that helped me to lift my head up, it was a moment. I forgot about my insecurities, my fears, the future, and my past, and just really and truly tried living in that moment. Noticing the smells, the sounds, the textures, the sensations…just being in the moment…it was my life preserver.

Now, it wasn’t a completely magical fix after that. I still felt like I was at the bottom of a deep dark well, but it was like the sun finally came out and illuminated a step that I never noticed before. Every day, I worked hard to see the sunshine at the top of the well and the light that illuminated the way, and brick by brick, I found a way to climb out.

Postpartum Depression Round #1

Now, before I delve more into what helped me come out of my postpartum depression for good, I want to step back in time to my first experience with postpartum depression because this was truly my darkest time, and I never even thought that this could be connected to postpartum depression until my experience after Julian.

Before we had children, I loved being a teacher, and I mean LOVED it. After I got my Master’s degree in Linguistics, we were blessed with our first child, and the year after that I landed my dream job as an ESL coach working with teachers to help make input more comprehensible for English language learners. Little did I know, however, that I was pregnant again. After only one year on the job, I knew that I just couldn’t leave my sweet babes in daycare anymore, and so I quit my job to be a stay at home mom. (Read more about that story here.) We decided to move back to our home state, lived with my parents for 8 months, and then finally moved into a rented house in the city (which we would later come to find out was a pretty rough neighborhood) while my husband worked over an hour away.

Instead of feeling like we had made it, I felt completely lost. Who was I? How would I fill my days? And what was there to stimulate me besides poopy diapers and preschool activities???

I mean sure, I was loving being home with my little ones and really enjoyed challenging them with creative learning opportunities, but I started to get depressed…and I mean REALLY depressed. I thought that by moving “back home” we would be surrounded by the positive support of friends and family, but what they had to give just wasn’t enough to fill the deep whole in my heart. I longed for adult interaction and the need to be challenged intellectually, I wanted to own a house in the country, I wanted a good friend group, I wished my husband worked closer to us, I felt like I was missing so many parts of me…and then, just like with Julian, my period returned, my milk started drying up, and I started slipping into a really really deep and dark state of depression.

Because it was so long after giving birth, I never thought of it as “postpartum depression” or even “depression”. (I think technically it’s called postpartum distress syndrome.) All I know is that I would cry…a lot. I would check the mail ten times a day hoping for something exciting to happen. I felt listless, restless, lost, and worst of all…empty. I hated that I couldn’t lose the last 10 pounds of belly fat, and I hated how I looked in the mirror. I used to have all of these dreams and aspirations, but then, I felt like I had nothing, and then I would feel so GUILTY! I mean, I was able to be home with my two golden treasures, wasn’t that enough? I got to cuddle them, read to them, take them to play groups, build forts with them, go to the library for story hour, put them down for naps, feed them healthy food, and just BE with them.

But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel whole, or complete, or even like me really.

Then one night, my husband and I got into a HUGE fight that ended up with him driving away. I wasn’t sure if he would come ever back because he’s usually never the one to leave. I was so relieved when several hours later he came back. We were finally able to talk without screaming, and we decided that we didn’t want to end our marriage. I also knew that I wanted to find happiness as a stay at home mom, and so that’s what we set out to do. It wasn’t always easy, but we just took things one day at a time.

After that conversation, I started discovering the new me. I read Nourishing Traditions like it was my Bible, got really into feeding my family healthy food, I started working out and eating a better diet, we found out we were pregnant again, we moved one mile away from my husband’s work to a beautiful home in a safe neighborhood where he could come home for lunch every day, and I started my blog about embracing the new me…embracing motherhood. After Ophelia was born, I was prepared. I encapsulated my placenta into pills and started taking them after she was born. Whenever I felt the first signs of depression, I would take a pill, and I would immediately start to feel better.

Now, as you know, postpartum depression did find me again after our fourth child, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time, and somehow, I found my way out of it once again.

What is Postpartum Depression?

After going through all of this, I started to realize that it was more than just a choice of being happy or not. Yes, that was a battle going on in my mind, and yes all of the chaos of my life made me more susceptible to depression, but there was something going on with my hormones that made it the perfect storm.

When you’re pregnant, your body produces extraordinary amounts of estrogen and progesterone to help you grow your new baby. The moment the placenta leaves your body, however, estrogen and progesterone return to pre-pregnancy levels. This hormone crash is why up to 80% of women feel the “baby blues” in the first few weeks after pregnancy. About 10% of women will suffer from a more severe form of the “baby blues” in the first year, and this is what is known as postpartum depression (PPD). After the baby is a year old, postpartum depression is actually called postpartum distress syndrome (PPDS), but is still primarily related to fluctuating hormones. A more serious form of postpartum depression is postpartum psychosis (PPP) in which the mother may suffer hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, and thoughts of harming the baby. This is more related to a bi-polar disorder and should be treated immediately.

The reason why postpartum depression can affect mothers so long after birth is because many of the hormones present during pregnancy still remain afterwards. Relaxin, for example, takes about 5 months to leave, which is why you are more prone to sprains at that time, and prolactin, that hormone that produces milk, will stay present during the entire phase of nursing. Proloctin is also what suppresses the production of the fertility hormones estrogen and progesterone (which prevents ovulation and menstruation). Once the baby starts to nurse less, estrogen and progesterone levels will increase, ovulation will resume, and the menstrual cycle will return. If there is an imbalance with these hormones and there is too much progesterone, anxiety can occur, and if there is too much estrogen, depression can occur.

The bottom line here is that after you have a baby and when your period returns, your hormones can get out of whack and make you feel crazy, especially if you already have a history of depression.

Tips for Overcoming Postpartum Depression

These are the tips that have helped me to completely pull away from postpartum depression, or postpartum distress syndrome, or just plain old depression, or whatever the heck you want to call it.

  1. Find happiness in the moments. At first, you just have to find the happy moments…the moments that make life worth living, the moments that make you smile, and the moments that make you see that being on this earth is where you need to be. After awhile, you can find the happy days, and then the happy weeks, and eventually they will lead to happy years and a happy lifetime, but you have to start small. Baby steps. Find the happy moments first.
  2. Build a support system. Talking with other women who have experienced the same thing is so valuable, and something I simply can’t even express enough. Now, if you talk to someone about what you’re going through, and instead of listening to you, they try to “fix” you and tell you all of the things that you “should be doing”, RUN! You need to find someone, anyone, who can just listen to you and let you talk about every feeling you have, every thought, and every idea without judgement, and without trying to fix you. All they need to do is listen. Sometimes, the best option might be to speak to a therapist or psychiatrist about what you’re going through.
  3. Know that the cause of (and the solution to) your depression lies within. Does it seem like your husband, your kids, your job, your appearance, etc. are all contributing to your depression? If you fall into this trap of thinking, it can make you think that if you leave these things, then your depression will simply end, but it’s not that simple. The way you perceive the world and interact with the world is controlled by you and only you.
  4. Have open and honest communication with your significant other. My husband has been there with me through the good times and the bad, and through it all, I have learned that he cannot read my mind, he cannot always pick up on subtle clues to figure out what I am thinking and feeling, and that I need to share my feelings openly and honestly on a regular basis. If I bottle things up, they will eventually explode, but when I share my feelings often, it helps me to figure out why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, and that’s what open communication is all about.
  5. Feed your intellectual adult brain. Yes, being a stay at home mom is a very rewarding, thrilling, and amazing experience, but I needed something to stimulate my adult brain too. By creating a reading system for young children and blogging, I feel like I have an outlet, a voice, and a form of expression. It continuously motivates me to research, learn, stretch myself, and grow.
  6. Accomplish something. Sometimes you need to see something checked off a list that isn’t part of your daily routine. For example, once I found my niche of blogging and creating a reading program for young children, I have continuously needed to see myself making progress in order to be happy. Sometimes, I need to complete something as small as making a list of blog ideas in One Note, collecting some research based articles online, drafting an outline for a blog, or perfecting the rough draft of a flashcard sketch. But whatever it is, I need to feel like I’m moving forward.
  7. Know that sometimes you might need a life preserver. Have you ever physically felt what it’s like to drown before? I have. When we lived in Colorado, we stupidly went tubing down a river that was full of spring rain with no life jackets and cheap little inner tubes. As I went over a mini rapid, my tubed slipped out from underneath me, and I was immediately pushed to the bottom of the river by the very powerful pressure of the rapid. I tried desperately to reach for the surface, but it was so so hard, and I thought, “This is it”. I could feel myself slipping, ready to let go. I could literally see my life flashing before my eyes, and suddenly I thought, “NO!!! I’M NOT READY TO DIE!!!” With every last bit of strength, I reached for the surface, and as if by some miracle, my hand latched onto something. It was a kayaker, my guardian angel, there to save me. As my head exploded to the surface, arms flailing and mouth gasping for breath, he yelled at me to STOP panicking, to hold on, and to kick my legs. When he brought me to shore and then disappeared down the river as if he were some sort of apparition, I felt as though I had been given a second chance at life. That story is pretty much the best analogy I can think of to describe depression. When you’re in the depths of depression, it literally feels like you’re drowning, and sometimes you just need a life preserver, something to rescue you so that you can tread water again. Maybe it’s a trip to the spa, maybe it’s making a big change in your life or many small ones, maybe it’s seeing a therapist and/or taking some medication, but the important thing is that you need to grab ahold of something so that you can tread water again.
  8. Don’t be afraid to facilitate change. If it bothers you that your house is continuously messy, find a way to keep it clean! Get rid of the clutter, get your kids and spouse to pitch in more, or hire some cleaning help. If you hate your body, find a way to work out, cut out the sugar, or count calories. If you’re upset that you haven’t accomplished anything, find something to accomplish! Try a new recipe, sign up for an online class, or do a paint by number. If you’re mad at your husband because he won’t help out enough, TELL HIM!!! How else is he supposed to know? If you are frustrated that your kids don’t help out enough, TEACH THEM HOW! How else are they supposed to learn? Anyways, you get the point. 😉
  9. Create healthy habits. This may sound simple, but it is so so important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and plenty of sunshine, eat a healthy and well balanced diet, make time for mediation/yoga/reflection, and find something to be thankful for every day. Before you can take care of everyone else, you have to take care of yourself.
  10. Take placenta pills. I didn’t learn about encapsulating my placenta into pills until my third pregnancy, and boy what a difference that made! Whenever I would start to feel a little depressed, I would pop a couple of placenta pills and feel like a completely different person. Now I just to remember to save some to see if they’ll help when my period comes back.
  11. Know that sometimes, it’s just hormones. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, it’s just hormones. After Julian, when I realized that it was actually the hormones making me sad and not my entire life, it was a lot easier to mentally switch gears.

In Conclusion

I have been very hesitant about sharing my experiences with postpartum depression because I don’t want people to judge me or feel sorry for me. I don’t want people to look at me like I’m weak, and most of all, I don’t want people to look at me with pity and say things like, “Are you really okay,” while touching my arm in a consoling but also slightly condescending way. I’m tough, I’m strong, and I’m capable, but I’m not stronger than postpartum depression, and I think I’m finally okay with that.

I’m glad to share my story because I think that we all need to share our stories. It’s the only way we can feel – it’s the only way we can know – that we’re not alone. So, if you have a story that you’d like to share, share it. Share with your loved ones, share it with your girlfriends, or share it here. If you’d like to submit a guest post about your experience(s) with postpartum depression, that would be awesome! You can even post it anonymously if you want. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, you’re not a failure because you’re depressed, and there is a way out, you just have to find it.

Additional Resources

  • Click here to see a map of the United States to find someone to talk to about what you are going through.
  • Tools for Mom – Here you’ll find checklists, questionnaires, support groups, and more.
  • Postpartum Support International – This is a great portal to learn more and to find many additional resources.
Embracing Motherhood Teaching Children in Their Zone of Proximal Development

How to Set Learning Goals for Young Children

As a former teacher and now parent, would you expect anything less than me setting learning goals for my children? 🙂 But this isn’t about me trying to breed academically superior children (although they probably will be), it’s about me wanting to give my children the best childhood possible…and guess what? Children actually LOVE learning!

What Are Learning Goals?

As a teacher, my learning goals were tied into grade level expectations and state standards (Common Core), but now as a parent, I have the freedom to look at where my children are…not where they should be. By teaching my children in their zones of proximal development, I am able to create learning goals and activities to accompany them that match the exact strengths, interests, and developmental levels of each individual child.

Learning goals can pertain to a desired behavior, the next steps in an academic progression (reading, writing, math), an artistic or musical goal, a concept or idea, a new understanding, movement, or anything.

Setting and Using Learning Goals

Here are a series of steps that I follow to set and use learning goals for each of my children. If you would like to see examples of these learning goals check out my blog: Examples of Learning Goals That I Use with My Children.

1. Know Where They Are

Being a stay at home mom has truly been a blessing in my life. I love being home with my little ones and having the time to really get down on the floor with them and play. Sure I have my hands full with laundry and preparing healthy meals, but my favorite parts of the day are just spent immersed in whatever my children want to do.

On any given day, I can be found building Lego towers, tickling and wrestling, reading piles of books, playing catch outside, using our imaginations and dress up clothes to transport ourselves to new worlds, playing music on the keyboard, making Play-Doh creations, doing flashcard activities, playing Starfall, or any other number of things. I just love to let my children lead me to what they want to do and then get lost in their worlds with them.

When I get down on the floor and play with my children, it really helps me to know first hand what things they are good at, what things they enjoy doing, what they are curious about, where their passions lie, and what things they are struggling with.

For example, when I play imagination games with Elliot, I can see how crazy obsessed he is with getting into these imaginary worlds where good versus evil, and I think, “How can I bring this idea into reading? Could I make some favorite things books with his favorite characters and give them word bubbles? How can I help him to expand his imaginary world? Are there some new problems and solutions that I can show him that he can use in his made up world?”

2. Discuss It

It’s one thing to just think about it, but these thoughts can get lost in the daily minutia if we don’t express them somehow. I am constantly talking to my husband about each of our children. We love talking throughout the day and into the night after the kids are all in bed about all of the cute, funny, and amazing things they are doing. We also like to discuss the things they are struggling with along with possible solutions.

I also love keeping journals where I record the milestones and special moments of our daily lives, and sometimes I will even make charts with each child’s learning goals. Through thinking, writing, and/or communicating in some form about where my children are, it helps me to be able to visualize where to take them next.

3. Set Learning Goals

Each child is completely unique and different. I don’t think about what they need to learn before kindergarten, I don’t worry about what other kids their age are doing, and I don’t go to the Internet to look up “preschool activities” or something overly general of that nature. I just look at them, listen to them, observe them, think, get in their minds, and let my creative juices flow as I ponder,

“What would excite them? What would engage them? What would they love to do over and over and over?”

Sometimes, we have a technical goal to work on like correcting a backwards letter in writing or pronouncing a word correctly, but mostly, I like to set goals according to each child’s strengths and interests.

*To see examples of specific learning goals that I’ve set for each of my children and what I do to to help them achieve them, check out my blog here.

4. Share with the Children

Whenever I set a learning goal, I like to share it with each child. For the younger ones, I don’t explicitly say, “This is your learning goal”, but with my 2 year old, I might say something like,

“You’re reading all of the words on the whole page! I’m so proud of you for reading so well! You’re learning how to be a reader!”

With my older ones, I’ll either write down their learning goals or just talk to them about it. For Ruby (6 years old), I would say,

“I’ve noticed that you’re really interested in meiosis and mitosis. What would you like to know more about? Would you like to make a poster or a book to show what you are learning?”

Or with Elliot (4 years old) I would say,

“You are really good at addition and subtraction. I think you’re ready to start learning about multiplication! What do you think?”

When we praise children for vague and general behaviors simply giving the old standard, “Good job!” they lose sight of why they were doing a certain activity. “Is the ultimate goal to get praise?” they might wonder. But by praising them for specific actions, ideas, or behaviors, we are using praise to actually help their brains give a name to what they are learning, and this helps them to form their identities. (To read more about children and praise, check out my blog: When You Tell Children They are Smart It Actually Makes them Dumb.)

I like to encourage my older children to set their own goals too. Sometimes I’ll just say,

“What would you like to get better at?”

Or I might give them a little more guidance and say, “We’ve been learning a lot about the body and how it works, what would you like to learn about next?”

4. Find the Time to Teach

It can be hard finding specific teaching times, especially if you’re like me with a bunch of little ones, but instead of designating certain teaching times of the day (or year), I simply find ways to embed teachable moments throughout each day.

Many people have asked my why I don’t homeschool my children. Read my blog here if you want to read the long answer, but the short answer is that I’m doing homeschool all the time. From the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed, during summer break, winter break, spring break, and even on the weekends, I am always looking for teachable moments. My entire home is set up for learning, and I’m always looking for ways to make our environment conducive for learning in a fun and engaging way.

Throughout the day, I balance getting things done, dealing with basic needs, and finding time for teachable moments.

It’s like I have this little dial in my brain that keeps track of who had one on one time last, who needs it next, who seems to need more of it, who needs a little nudge, who is doing wonderfully on their own, and so on.

While I try to balance things out during the day, sometimes my balancing is a little more long term. For example, I might feel like there’s one particular child who needs my attention more than the others, and so I’ll really work to make that child the focus for an extended number of days.

5. Teaching

Teaching in my home as a parent looks very different from what teaching looked like in my classroom. As a teacher, I would see all 28 students like one gigantic mega blob student that I had to keep under control at all times. When I would get ready to teach a lesson, I would either gather everyone up to circle time or have them sit in their seats as I would begin with an anticipatory set to get their attention. I would then launch into a mini-lesson where I would make the learning goals very clear. Next, I would model what I expected, give students guided practice (working with me in a small group, working with others in small groups, working in pairs, working with an aide, etc.), and then give them a chance to practice what they learned independently.

Now, as a parent, all of these steps are intermingled and actually, most of the learning takes place with the two of us side by side going through things together. In this way, the learning always stays in their zone of proximal development, and I’m able to scaffold appropriately where needed.

As Elliot and I are sitting on the floor together playing with Legos for example, I’m modeling how to build a multi-dimensional tower as he works on his own. He might look over at mine and use some of my ideas, or he might continue on his own path. As we play, I encourage him to talk out loud about what he is doing, and I listen asking questions along the way. Every once in awhile, I might suggest something new, like I might take a toy figure and have him climb on Elliot’s tower saying, “Hey, what’s going on up here?”

The bottom line is that as a parent working one on one with my child, I’m able to make the learning outcomes open ended. As a teacher, it was very hard to design lessons and activities where the students could have the freedom to go in their own direction while trying to hold both them and myself accountable. I think that the learning is far more engaging when children can decide their own direction. It also takes a lot of the pressure off from me to try to guide them to just regurgitate the right answer.

I’ll share another example with Ruby and a writing project. I know that she’s really good writing single words and short phrases, but she hasn’t been able to write complete sentences or paragraphs independently very well. So the other day I suggested we do some writing about her favorite topic, Digimon. “Would you like to write a story or make a favorite things book?” I asked her. She chose to make a favorite things book and excitedly gathered all of her materials.

As she glued each of her favorite characters down and wrote about them, I actually didn’t really do or say anything to guide her along. I just listened. I was an audience. I asked her questions or talked about what was interesting and I helped her to spell a few words, but I wasn’t trying to force her to do something my way.

I knew that whatever she created would be amazing…and it was.

6. Independent Practice

Once I sit side by side with my children and help them navigate through a new activity, it then becomes something that they can do independently.

When I work with my children on new learning goals and new activities to support these learning goals, I like to think about guiding them towards activities that they can do independently for extended periods of time.

In this way, my “homeschool not homeschool” day usually functions with everyone working on independent centers which frees me up to work one on one with a child, with a few children, or to get caught up on some cooking, housework, or take care of the baby.

We don’t have just one playroom or one designated homeschool room where all of the learning takes place. Instead, I have little areas set up around the house where learning can take place, and let me tell you why. First of all, even though my four children do like to all play together sometimes, other times, they like to be alone. I often hear an older one scolding a younger one for taking his or her toys and I always have to remind them, “You used to be just the same way until _____ (us, older sibling) taught you how to play.” At any rate, it’s nice to have things spread out so that they can be spread out.

Another benefit for spreading things out is that I usually have work to do in just about every room (particularly the kitchen), and I like to have them nearby me so I can hear what’s going on. The final and most important reason I like things spread out is that I find that children seem to do more with less. They like little spaces with a minimal amount of toys where they can use everything. Sometimes a gigantic playroom with lots of toys can seem overwhelming. As an added bonus, as kids migrate from room to room, it’s easier to pick up after them.

In Conclusion

By setting individualized learning goals for our children, I can be ready to jump into teachable moments as they arise. When children are gently scaffolded in their zones of proximal development and given the freedom to learn in an open ended environment, I think they can make the most amount of growth in the areas that are of the most interest to them. The amazing thing about setting learning goals (like these) is that instead of performing “at grade level”, your children will blow all of your expectations out of the water and take you to places you would have never even dreamed possible.

Happy learning!

How to Set Up a Summer Routine That Keeps Kids Productive

With school out and summer upon us, I find myself wondering how I can make the best use of time with all of my children. Yes, I want to sleep in late, be outside as much as possible, go to the beach, make forts, be silly, and have the freedom to do whatever we want at a moment’s notice, but by having routines in place, I can ensure that my children continue to learn and grow while we have fun together.

The Importance of Routines

I am a huge fan of routines, and as a teacher and now a parent, I have seen them work wonders in many situations.

When routines are in place, especially ones that allow for flexibility, kids feel safe and can run on autopilot without constant hovering and redirection.

After my daughter has been in kindergarten all year, and will now be spending her summer days with her three younger siblings, I knew that a routine for her and her four year old brother especially would be very beneficial to keep them productive, to minimize the fighting, and to minimize them wanting to just watch TV or play on their ipads all day.

Using Charts

I am also a big fan of making charts, and I love how making them with my children gets them to buy in to what I’m trying to teach them. I usually set up the structure for the charts on my own, then get their input as I begin to fill it out, fill in most of the rest of it on my own, and then get their final input. They especially like to get their help with the coloring!

Ruby Helping Me Color Our Charts

Ruby Helping Me Color Our Charts

For the purpose of this summer routine chart, I knew that I would need to provide my kids with routine, ideas, and flexibility, so I decided to include our daily routine, ideas for activities they could do, and a separate goal chart to remind all of us of what they needed to work on.

homeschool summer school and goal chart

Summer School and Goal Charts

Your charts have to work for you and your kiddos. They have to reflect both your needs and theirs. I have a lot of work to do around the house on a daily basis, and I need to spend a lot of time with the younger two, so my charts reflect this. I also want to be able to guide and scaffold my children during teachable moments, and these charts serve as a good reminder for how I can use my time wisely with them.

Setting Up a Learning Environment

I know that my teaching experience may make it easier for me to get into “teacher mode”, but the things that I do are so simple and easy that anyone could do them.

The number one thing that I do is create a stimulating learning environment.

I believe that children like to learn, they like to be challenged, and they like to stay busy. By setting up little learning stations all over the house, I can ensure that my children can do all of these things independently. This also allows me to jump in at opportune “teachable moments” to help scaffold them to the next level. (Check out how I set up a learning environment in my blog: How to Create an Environment that Encourages Independent Play and Learning.)

Activities

I am a big advocate of giving children choices, and the charts allow children to see what all of the possibilities are. Sometimes I like to make a big list of all possible activities so my kids know what all of these are and sometimes just need a reminder of all that is possible. When thinking about new activities for my children to do, I like to create learning goals to guide the activity choices. (To read about how I write learning goals, check out this article, and to read some examples of learning goals that I have created for my children, click here.)

Examples of Activities:

  • Imagination games
  • Dress up
  • Reading
  • Coloring
  • Write a story
  • Favorite things books
  • Play music
  • Build with Legos or blocks
  • Board games
  • Play outside
  • Rock garden

Usually, my children know how to use their imaginations to entertain themselves (because I’ve worked really hard on this with them), but if they ever falter, then I just drop what I’m doing and get down on the floor and play with them to help scaffold them to independence.

Daily Routine

After writing out a list of all of the activities, I created our daily routine.

I wanted to create a routine that would get them to use the best parts of their brain first thing in the morning.

I have found that we can all be most productive if we get up and get dressed right away. My oldest daughter is so used to this anyways from her school routine and both her and my four year old (who will be attending preschool next year) will need to do it again, so I think it’s best to leave it in place. I also needed something that would allow me to do some direct instruction, but also allow me some flexibility if I need to be with the younger two. You’ll need to tailor your daily routine to meet your specific needs, but here is what works for me.

  1. Get Dressed/Bathroom
  2. Eat Breakfast
  3. Brush Teeth
  4. 2 Workbook Pages – Handwriting, ABCs, basic math, cursive, mazes, etc.
  5. 1 Chore – Pick up, clean room, help with laundry, cooking, etc.
  6. 3 Activities – The workbook pages, chore, and activities can occur in any order.
  7. Lunch
  8. Choice Time (Rest Time) – When the little ones take a nap, the big kids can watch a movie (any length), watch one hour of an educational program, or play an educational game on the computer for one hour.
  9. More Activities
  10. Free Choice – If the big kids are good and do all of their workbooks, activities, and chores, then they can have 30 minutes to do whatever they’d like. (Lately it’s watching Digimon on Netflix or toy videos on YouTube)
  11. Daddy’s Home!

*I updated this routine June 2016 after we decided to take a break from ipads, touchscreens, and video games for a bit. (Find out why here.)

Goals

I like to tell my children specifically what they are good at (Check out by blog: When You Tell Your Children They Are Smart, It Actually Makes Them Dumb to see how I use specific praise.) and in addition to that, I like to talk to them about what they should be working on next. So with Ruby, for example, who at 5 is reading fluently at a 3rd grade level, we are going to start focusing more on writing. With Elliot (4), we will be working on reading skills and basic math, with Ophelia (2) we will be working on reading as well as language development, and Julian (1) is all about beginning reading and vocabulary development.

While it is helpful for the children to know what their goals are, it is even more helpful for me so that I can keep my mind aware of where each child is and what he/she is working on.

Then, I can design learning stations, create activities, and look for resources to support each of their goals. Click here to see my blog about learning goals that I set for my children.

Other Tips and Tricks

  • It will seem really hard at first, but it will get easier. The first day always seems impossible and like an incredible amount of work, but the longer you stick with it, the easier it will get. After about a week, they will get the “feel” for their new routine, and you will be surprised how well they do with it.
  • Find time to fill their tanks first. I love trying to find one on one time to play and cuddle with each child as soon after they wake up as possible. Once their tanks are full of love and cuddles, it’s much easier for them to play independently.
  • Create an independent environment. Make sure that there are games they can take out, toys they can play with, and activities they can be engaged in that don’t require your direct involvement or supervision.
  • Be consistent. Be really strict and consistent in the beginning, otherwise they will know that the routine is merely a suggestion instead of “just the way things are”. No matter how much you want to take a shower or get some free time, don’t turn on the TV no matter how much they beg! If you give in even once, it will set a prescience for future behavior.
  • Be patient, you’ll get some time for you…eventually. When the summer first comes, I initially say goodbye to any free time I ever had, but once we settle into our new routine, I start to find more pockets of time for myself.

When Things Aren’t Working

It’s inevitable that problems will arise even with the best laid plans.

One of the best lessons I ever learned as a teacher is that if you see a routine not working, don’t try to change it right away.

For example, one day in my 3rd grade classroom, I noticed that as we got lined up to go to lunch it was too chaotic, too noisy, and it was just not working. It was a gradual progression that all of a sudden came to a head, and I knew that something would have to be done.

Rather than talk to the students about the way they were lining up and how it was not okay in the moment, I bit my tongue and I waited. When they came back from lunch, I planted a seed by asking them how things went. Kids started sharing about how it was noisy, how it took a long time, and how we were late for lunch. I simply told them that we’d try to do better the next day.

The next day, I had a chart ready. I made the title “Lining Up” and then made two columns. One said, “Looks Like” and the other had the words “Doesn’t Look Like”. Then, long before we needed to line up for lunch, I had the kids act out what it would look like to do a really bad job of lining up. We wrote down on the chart paper all of the things they observed. Then, I had them act out what it should look like, and we wrote down on the chart what that looked like too.

When we lined up for lunch that day, it went so smoothly, I could hardly believe the difference. After lunch, we talked about how it went, and they were very pleased with themselves.

Every day for the next week, I reflected on the chart, and then after awhile, I didn’t need to anymore. Every once in awhile, they needed a reminder, but for the most part, things ran smoothly for the rest of the year.

We make a huge mistake when we simply bark orders at children to do better without really showing them what that looks like. If we can take the time to be very clear with our expectations and make sure that they understand what those expectations look like, then children will have a much easier time of doing what we expect them to do. This is why I think it’s very important to be clear about your summer routine and be consistent with your expectations.

How Our First Day Went

The biggest struggle we had was getting dressed. Whenever Ruby doesn’t have to go to school, she loves staying in her pajamas and will often want to stay in them all day. This is all well and good on the weekends, but during the week, I want to create a sense of formality and a sense of pride about our day that transcends pajamas. By getting dressed, brushing our teeth, and brushing our hair even if we won’t see anyone else, I feel that it instills a sense of pride and purpose. At any rate, it makes me feel better, and I like doing it, but try explaining this to a five year old! *Update: One year later, June 2016, Ruby and Elliot get dressed on their own without complaint every single morning. Yeah!

After that, the kids were really excited to all be together, and they loved the idea of “Homeschool Summer School”. They were very motivated to do their activities, and they worked very well independently. I think this was because this is so similar to what we do on a normal basis anyways. Because they are so used to independent play, they didn’t need much guidance from me. I would help them get started on new projects, scaffold them a bit, and when they were done, give them a reminder to clean up. It was a great day, and it’s going to be a great summer!

Elliot is Learning How to Write His Name

Elliot is Learning How to Write His Name


Ruby Coloring Her 1st Grade Writing Packet

Ruby Coloring Her 1st Grade Writing Packet


Ophelia Loves Learning Her ABCs using leapfrog abc games

Ophelia Loves Learning Her ABCs!


Julian Doing Tummy Time

Julian Doing Tummy Time


Elliot Reading a Star Wars Book

Elliot Reading a Star Wars Book


IMG_3394

Ruby Reading “A Book with No Pictures” by BJ Novak


Ophelia Loves Reading Dora Books

Ophelia Loves Reading Dora Books


Julian and I are Having a Conversation

Julian and I are Having a Conversation


Elliot Playing with His Mini Figures

Elliot Playing with His Mini Figures


Ruby Playing the Keyboard...and Feeling It!

Ruby Playing the Keyboard…and Feeling It!


Using Unifix Cubes During Imaginative Play

Elliot is Using Unifix Cubes During Imaginative Play


Ophelia is Mesmerized with Balls and Ramps

Ophelia is Mesmerized with Balls and Ramps


Making healthy oatmeal cookies with kids

Making Cookies!


Elliot Playing with Legos

Elliot Playing with Legos


Ruby Collecting Leaves

Ruby Collecting Leaves


Ruby, Elliot, and Ophelia Playing Together

Ruby, Elliot, and Ophelia Playing Together


Elliot is King of His Domain

Elliot is King of His Domain

In Conclusion

If you have children, summer is a fun time for them to take a break from school and enjoy playing outside in some much needed sunshine and fresh air. (Especially if you live in a place like Michigan where you are trapped inside by the weather for at least 9 months of the year.) But I believe that children need more than just undirected play all day. I feel like they thrive most when they are challenged and can see themselves grow. If you are fortunate enough to be able to stay home with your children over the summer, then I think that devoting a bit of time in the morning towards learning will be beneficial for everyone involved.

Happy learning, and here’s to a great summer!

Embracing Motherhood Setting and Achieving Learning Goals for Young Children

Examples of Learning Goals That I Use with My Children

I love setting learning goals with my children so that I can keep track of where they are and what I can do to help facilitate their growth to the next level. Teaching children in the zone of proximal development helps me to achieve this. By scaffolding their learning to where they are, not where they should be as deemed by grade level and age level expectations, I can help each child grow in a way that fits their specific needs.

Even though we are involved in public education, I still design a homeschool atmosphere for my younger ones who are home with me all the time and the older ones who are learning at home after school, on the weekends, during breaks, and over the summer. During the summer months, I am especially focused on their goals because it helps me to establish a successful and productive routine.

Examples of Learning Goals

How I set learning goals is just as important as what the learning goals are, but I thought it best to separate these topics into two separate posts. By seeing a brief description of each child along with their learning goals and how I can facilitate their learning, I hope to provide a clear picture of what it means to set learning goals.

These goals are always shifting and changing depending on their interests and moods, my interests and available time, the time of year, whether or not everyone is sick, how much sleep I got the night before, and so on. Sometimes I write them down, but usually I just tuck them away in the back of my mind. I don’t follow some strict daily schedule, but rather try to incorporate these learning goals into our daily routines and into the one on one time I spend with each of them throughout the day.

*Note: I wrote this article a year ago, and am finally publishing it now, so my current learning goals are different.

1. Julian (11 Months)

Julian is the happiest little baby you’ll ever meet. He gets to have his mom at home all the time and breastfeeds on demand. After he gets lots and lots of love and cuddles from me, he loves to crawl around like crazy and explore his world. He is very fascinated by whatever his siblings are doing, and he loves chasing around our cat! He also loves watching Your Baby Can Read videos (which sadly aren’t available anymore so we are currently making our own videos) and cuddling up on my lap to read interactive books.

Julian’s Learning Goals

  • Learn about his environment
  • Crawl safely
  • Go up and down the stairs
  • Walk
  • Babble and talk
  • Learn how to make different sounds
  • Learn about the names of things that he interacts with in his environment
  • Say words
  • Turn the pages in a book
  • Interact with books
  • Grasp objects
  • Play with toys
  • Interact with others
  • Play independently

What I Can Do to Facilitate Julian’s Learning Goals

  • Babyproof the house so he can explore freely
  • Sit behind him as he learns about the stairs
  • Hold his hands to help him walk
  • Sit him on my lap and let him explore my mouth as I make exaggerated sounds
  • Have conversations with him where I speak, then pause waiting for him to speak, and so on
  • Say certain words over and over (His favorite words are clap, mouth, and daddy. I’ll say, “Clap. Clap. Can you clap your hands? Clap your hands like mommy. Good clapping Julian!” Or I’ll say, “Mouth. Mouth. Can you open your mouth? Mouth. I can open my mouth.”)
  • Talk to him about his environment, whatever we’re doing, and tell him the names of things (Check out my blog about oral language development for more tips and tricks for developing oral language.)
  • Repeat what he says
  • Watch Your Baby Can Read videos WITH him and talk to him about what is happening, use these words often when not watching the videos (Here’s a video we made to teach our children vocabulary.)
  • Sit him on my lap and read cloth books, board books, and any other kind of interactive book that he can touch and feel (Check out my blogs: How to Engage Your Baby with Reading and Best Books for Babies)
  • Help him to turn the pages of a book
  • Set up baskets of toys that he likes and can explore by himself
  • Set up furniture so it is easy for him to pull himself up to stand
  • Show him how certain toys work and play with him

2. Ophelia (2, Halfway to 3)

Ophelia needs to have her tank filled with lots of cuddles and love, but after this happens, she’s ready to be independent…extremely independent. She loves language like crazy and is already reading quite well. When she finds something that she likes to do, she will do it over and over and over again. She also loves putting things into things (like marbles into a metal tin), sorting objects, and stacking things.

Ophelia’s Learning Goals

  • Read words she knows automatically
  • Read words in sentences
  • Read words in books
  • Picture read books
  • Read flashcards independently
  • Review letter names and sounds
  • Sound out words
  • Learn new vocabulary words from her environment
  • Learn new vocabulary words that are abstract (in books, etc.)
  • Sing favorite songs and learn new songs
  • Expand her imaginative play
  • Learn Spanish words and phrases (and maybe other languages)
  • Count to 20, count higher
  • Demonstrate one to one counting principle
  • Say the names and descriptors of shapes (number of sides, etc.)
  • Do puzzles independently
  • Continue stacking and sorting
  • Color on paper with multiple colors

What I Can Do to Facilitate Ophelia’s Learning Goals

  • Make flashcard rings of words and phrases she knows
  • Make flashcard rings of words and phrases that she is learning
  • Set out her favorite books in easy to reach baskets
  • Read books with her, model picture reading, point to words as I’m reading, read simple level 1 books and point to words that she can read on her own, give wait time (You might like this blog: How Children Really Learn to Read or this one too: How to Raise Children who WANT to read.)
  • Make mini-books with her favorite words and phrases
  • Make favorite things books with lots of pictures
  • Talk to her about her world as we play together
  • Sing songs together, teach her new songs that have hand motions
  • Model imaginative play, play with her
  • Find some intro to Spanish videos to watch
  • Make counting books, practice counting objects and pointing to them
  • Make shape books with descriptors
  • Set up an independent puzzle station
  • Set up stacking cups, add some small objects like golf balls that she can put into cups
  • Color together

3. Elliot (4, Almost 5)

Elliot marches to the beat of his own drum, literally. He absolutely loves rhythm, music, dancing, and any type of music. He is very empathetic with a big heart and desperately needs his daily dose of cuddles. He has an incredible imagination and loves making toy figures come to life during imaginative play. He also loves anything that has to do with building like Legos, blocks, and especially Minecraft.

Elliot’s Learning Goals

  • Play the keyboard
  • Play the drums
  • Play on the guitar
  • Dance to music
  • Learn how to dribble a soccer ball, and shoot a basket
  • Play different games that involve lots of running and motion independently
  • Build elaborate structures with a variety of materials
  • Pick out books that he would like to read together
  • Read his favorite things books independently (picture reading, basic words)
  • Read words that he knows when we read together
  • Read simple 3 and 4 letter word flashcards
  • Read all Your Baby Can Read words
  • Read all Dolch words
  • Read simple sentences
  • Draw pictures of his choosing
  • Learn about science topics he’s interested in: dinosaurs, weather, rocks and minerals, etc.
  • Do science experiments
  • Play imagination games with elaborate and complex themes
  • Play independently with activities of his choosing for extended periods of time
  • Learn about basic math functions: Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division as well as learn a variety of math vocabulary
  • Memorize basic math facts
  • Count as high as he can
  • Count by 2s, 5s, 10s, 20s, and 100s

What I Can Do to Facilitate Elliot’s Learning Goals

  • Teach him how to play simple songs on the keyboard
  • Teach him how to read music using a color coding system
  • Teach him how to play drum beats using both hands and a foot for the bass drum
  • Teach him how to make different guitar sounds
  • Set up music playlists that he likes to dance to, have dance parties
  • Do yoga, play basketball, play soccer, fly a kite, play tag, run races…anything to help him move
  • Show him how to use different building materials (Big Legos, small Legos, wooden blocks, small colored blocks, K’nex, etc.) to make new and elaborate structures
  • Make sure his favorite books are accessible in our book baskets
  • Set aside time to cuddle up and read his favorite books
  • Work on his favorite things book
  • Make flashcards with his favorite characters and add little phrases for each one that he can read
  • Cut up flashcards with pictures on one side and 3-4 letter words on the other, practice reading, play little games like flipping them over, putting them on my head, etc. (or something like this)
  • Quiz him on Your Baby Can Read words
  • Practice Dolch word flashcards
  • When reading together, pause and let him read the words he knows
  • Read Basher books together and make the characters talk to him
  • Encourage him to draw pictures using a variety of colors, draw together, print out and color his favorite things together
  • Play imagination games with him, introduce new problems and solutions, new characters, new settings, use props, etc.
  • Play board games together, let him make up whatever rules he wants
  • Do science experiments together, start with vinegar and baking soda ones and move on to others, find some online, Usborne Science Experiments book
  • Play Starfall math during breakfast time, let him choose whatever he wants to do and talk to him about what he is doing (Here’s a video of us doing Starfall Math together.)
  • Quiz him with math flashcards
  • Find times to count throughout the day

Ruby (Just Turned 6)

Like Ophelia, Ruby also started reading at a very young age, and now in 1st grade, she is reading at a 3rd grade level. Being able to read really helps her to do many different independent projects. She likes getting really deep into a certain show (right now it’s Digimon) and then printing out pictures, writing stories, and making drawings with that theme. She is very creative and crafty and she is always working on drawing, art projects, and a variety of crafts. She is also really fascinated by science. My mom talked to her about biology from a young age, and I have fed her curiosity ever since.

Ruby’s Learning Goals

  • Find and read beginning chapter books on her own
  • Comprehend longer texts
  • Write complete sentences
  • Write a paragraph
  • Make mini books
  • Make Digimon books
  • Create a variety of craft projects
  • Color using a variety of mediums and styles
  • Free draw using drawing templates
  • Complete needlepoint projects
  • Learn about meiosis and mitosis
  • Learn about biology, chemistry, and any science topic she is interested in

What I Can Do to Facilitate Ruby’s Learning Goals

  • Take her to the library and show her how to pick out beginning chapter books
  • Encourage independent reading during “rest time”
  • Read chapter books together and talk about the story
  • Sit with her while she’s writing to encourage her to write more about a single topic
  • Make more blank mini books and write stories together
  • Make Digimon favorite things books together
  • Find drawing videos and drawing templates for Digimon characters and draw with her
  • Teach her how to free draw by erasing and adding more
  • Sit with her while she does needlepoint so that she doesn’t get frustrated and give up
  • Make a new YouTube Channel for the science topics she wants to learn about
  • Make mini-books about the science topics she is interested in, print out pictures and leave room for her to write about what she is learning

In Conclusion

I know that children are children and should have the freedom to explore nature, use their imaginations, be wild and free, and to even yes…get bored. But their brains are growing at a rapid rate (especially until the age of 3), and by the time they enter school, the pathways of their brains are established and ready to be specialized. By constantly and consistently nurturing them with new learning opportunities from a young age that match their strengths, interests, and developmental levels, we can give them the best chance to reach their fullest potential in life.

And let me make it very clear that I am not suggesting learning goals as a way to make our children academically superior (although they probably will be), I am advocating for them because children actually LOVE to be challenged, they love to learn, and they love to be engaged, especially when it means that they get to spend more time with their favorite person in the world…you!

Embracing Motherhood The Story of How I Became a Stay at Home Mom

The Story of How I Became a Stay at Home Mom

I worked full time until my children were 6 and 18 months old, and choosing to be a stay at home mom was the best decision I ever made. I often wonder and regret why I didn’t do it sooner, but I did it nonetheless. Here’s my story.

I’ll always remember what it felt like the first day I went back to work after spending a glorious three months uninterrupted with my sweet first baby girl, Ruby. As I walked down the long hallway to my classroom, I was greeted with hugs and sympathetic sentiments.

One teacher said,

“It’s okay to cry. I cried at first too.”

And I thought, yes I probably should cry. But oddly enough, I didn’t feel any tears. I wondered what was wrong with me that I wouldn’t be crying at the mere thought of leaving my sweet, precious, exclusively breastfed little infant in the arms of someone else.

I mean, it was my mom watching her, but still…

So, as I stood there in my classroom, all set up and ready for the students that had been waiting patiently with a substitute during the first three months of school for me to return, and I tried to see if I could cry.

But before I could get at my true feelings, I had to peel back a few layers that were covering them up.

First, I peeled back the excuse that I had to do this because we couldn’t afford to make ends meet any other way, then I scraped away the sentiments that she was in good hands with my mother, and finally I sloughed off the guilty feelings about how bored I sometimes felt being home without any adult interaction, and how hard it actually was to be a mother.

What I found buried underneath was a very fresh wound that was very sensitive to these probing thoughts.

Just poking at that wound brought back a sudden flood of memories. And as I stood there remembering what it felt like to hold her the moment after she was born, the way she was always happiest to lay inbetween us cooing early in the mornings, the sweet smell of breast milk that was always on her skin, the softness of her little fingers as they would grasp at my face, and the way her eyes would widen and how she would reach for me desperately even when she merely glanced at me from across the room…

I suddenly felt like I couldn’t breath and the tears started to flow noiselessly in a stream down my cheek.

I was just about to start heaving and sobbing when I heard the shuffle of footsteps in the hallway. As I looked at the clock, I noticed that I only had a few more minutes to pull things together before I needed to greet my students for the day.

So, I took all of those memories and all of those feelings, and I buried them deep down into the pit of my soul.

Then I packed all of my excuses back on top until the feelings of pain became but a vague memory. And I felt something grow within me that would only grow stronger as time went on. It wasn’t really a feeling of anything, but the absence of feeling. It was a numbness that allowed me to focus on the tasks in front of me while burying an instinct that I just couldn’t let out.

A teacher who saw me crying ran in for a quick hug.



“Don’t worry,” she said expertly. “It will get easier.” And she was right. It did get easier.

With each passing day, I got better at burying my true emotions, and the painful wound of our separation began to heal into a weird disfigured scar. Every time I would hear my sweet precious daughter cry as I slipped out the door to go to work in the morning or back to work after nursing her at lunch, I would pack more excuses like a salve onto my wound.

Everyone that watched her at our home during the rest of the school year would always tell me,

“She always stops crying a few minutes after you’re gone,” as if that was supposed to console me. But it did.

I knew she was in good hands and that she was being loved and cared for. My mom would even bring her into the classroom for me to nurse her during every break that I had and would even hang out for hours in the back of the room playing quietly for the first month that I was back to work. But they weren’t MY hands taking care of her, and that was a fact that gnawed at me constantly.

When the family was done caring for Ruby and she had to be put into daycare, it really was the best possible scenario. A coworker’s mother in law did day care one mile from where I was teaching, and I was able to go and breastfeed her to sleep during my lunch break every single day. But even though Ruby was happy there and well cared for, I felt like I was missing out.

I would try to linger after dropping her off just to be able to spend a little more time with her, but the pressures of work were calling me, and I had to go. She still cried every day as I left, and it never stop hurting to leave her.

At the end of the day, the eight hours we were apart were summarized in a few sentences.

As I got a report of what she ate, whether or not she pooped, and any other milestones she accomplished, my mind was really only half listening because all I really wanted to do was just whisk her away so that I could be with her as much as I could for the remainder of the day. But there were always errands to run, dinner to prepare, and things to do around the house, and it just felt like there was never enough TIME.

After a tough and emotional return to work, I decided that a position utilizing my Master’s degree in Language Acquisition at another school would allow me more flexibility and freedom to be a better working mother. In my new job as ESL Coach the following year, I found that it was definitely a better blend of my two worlds.

But little did I know that even as I was interviewing for this new job, I was pregnant with our second child, and he was about to change everything.

Elliot was born peacefully in front of the fireplace of our little one bedroom condo in December, and after only four weeks of maternity leave (we couldn’t afford to have my pay docked like we had with Ruby), I went back to work. (Did you know that every other industrialized nation except for America mandates full paid maternity leave? Go figure.)

Elliot was quite different from his independent, happy-with-anyone big sister. He was born ten days overdue, but he probably would have preferred to stay in there indefinitely. Even after he had been earthside for over a day, he still didn’t want to open his eyes and preferred instead to bury himself in my bosom and nurse constantly.

If a little bit of me died having to leave Ruby behind, leaving Elliot behind almost destroyed me. He needed me so much and my only consolation was that he slept most of the day and was up with me to nurse constantly throughout the night.

I almost didn’t even want to sleep inbetween feedings because I just wanted to hold on to each moment where the two of us could be snuggled up together soaking in the feel of his skin against mine and feeling his little body rise and fall with each breath.

Just as with Ruby, we had an onslaught of family visitors who moved in with us and helped take care of Elliot during my first six weeks back at work. After that, I only had to put him in day care for three months until the end of the school year. Throughout it all, he was always really close to my work and even though he would never take a bottle, I was able to go to him and nurse him every four hours.

Right up until before he was born, I had assumed that he would be taken care of by the sweet grandmotherly lady who lovingly took care of Ruby. But due to some unforeseen hip problems, she told me that she wouldn’t be able to take care of a new baby after all. That left me scrambling at the last minute to find someone else. I thought I found the perfect place right next to the school with a busy day care mom who had room for both Ruby and Elliot. I was sad to take Ruby out of her current placement, but happy to have both of my kids together.

When I came to nurse Elliot (10 weeks old) on my first break during their first day at this new place, I noticed that Ruby (17 months) was in her high chair eating food. I thought nothing of it until I came back at lunch only to see her nodding off, still in her high chair. When I came back at the end of the day, she was STILL in her high chair.

I was very upset, and the day care mom tried desperately to console me saying that she fell asleep there and had only just woken up. I was just like,”Why didn’t you put her in bed after she fell asleep in the high chair?” but she had no response.

The next day, I knew that I couldn’t take Ruby back there again, so I called Ruby’s sweet grandmotherly caretaker in tears and asked if she could take Ruby for the remainder of the year. She graciously agreed, but reminded me again that she wouldn’t be able to take care of Elliot too. Elliot seemed to do fine with the busy day care mom because he pretty much slept all day, and I had no other options, so that was that.

I’ll always remember the African lullaby songs that I would listen to every morning as I first dropped off Ruby, then Elliot to a parking lot near his drop off home where I would nurse him. When I hear that cd to this day, it brings tears to my eyes.

I was desperately trying to juggle having a career, being a mom, being a wife, and taking care of myself, but I never had enough to give to everyone and so it felt like I was failing in all areas of my life.

When summer break finally came, I was in total and absolute heaven! I could finally be with my sweet babies all day and all night without any interruptions. We got into a nice little routine, and I really started to feel like not only was I surviving; I was thriving!

Instead of just worrying about our basic needs, I could actually spend time each day thinking of new ways to arrange our little house for the best play and learning opportunities, I had time to cook healthy meals for everyone, I could sleep when the kids slept without worrying about a clock, and most importantly, I could nurse my 6 month old Elliot on demand. He was VERY happy about that!

When we traveled back to our Michigan stomping ground that summer, we fell in love with being a family and being surrounded by family. When we came back to our Colorado home and our third floor condo with no air conditioning in 100° F weather, it just didn’t feel right. It felt empty and lonely, and I just couldn’t imagine what it would be like trying to get through another year while working. When we looked at our finances and saw that with two kids in daycare, it was hardly worth it for my husband to work, we made a big decision to have him be a stay at home dad and take care of the kids while I continued to work.

After those wheels were set in motion, and with the start date of my next school year quickly approaching, I just woke up one day and knew I couldn’t go back. Elliot was just getting used to me being around all the time, and I couldn’t bear to be apart from him again.

It felt like my heart would most certainly break into a thousand pieces if I couldn’t continue breastfeeding him on demand.

And then there was my sweet little Ruby who was already growing up so fast! At 18 months, she knew all of her letters and numbers and she was already starting to read. I wanted to be with her during every milestone, every cuddle, every naptime, and every tear. I wanted to be there for both of them, and I wanted to ENJOY my time with them, not just get through it.

After I made the phone call resigning from my position, I felt giddy with excitement! I was so happy to have finally made the decision to be with my little ones and set up a new life as a stay at home mom, but this in itself is another journey with its own story. 🙂

While we waited on the short sale of our condo, we packed up all of our things, said goodbye to the beautiful state of Colorado, our family there, our friends, and what had been our home for the last 6 years and moved into my parent’s house in Michigan.

After a few months, Scott got a job as a computer tech in a little rural town we had never heard of. He commuted over an hour every day until we finally accepted that even though it was a little farther from family than we would have liked, it was still a heck of a lot closer than Colorado, and it was really a great job in a nice location. So, we moved there. Now, we own an amazing house on a nice piece of land that’s much much cheaper than our condo in Colorado, and with two more kids, we couldn’t be happier!

I’ll always be a little bit sad about the times that I lost with Ruby and Elliot, but it was all a part of my journey and a part of our story, and I am so proud of how far we have come and what we have become.

At first, we tried to make our kids fit into our lives, just like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. But now that we have centered every aspect of our lives around our children and me being a stay at home mom, I couldn’t imagine a simpler, happier, or more fulfilling way to spend these years.

Our babies are only babies for a short little while. Why is there so much pressure and such a hurried rush for women to “get back to work”?

Now, I totally understand that the life of a stay at home mom isn’t for everyone, and I am completely and totally fine sharing the same arena with mothers who choose to work or have no choice but to work, but

I feel like the voices that are out there cheering on the working mothers are MUCH LOUDER than the voices cheering on the stay at home mothers.

When I was struggling as a working mom, I got A LOT of encouragement from co-workers, family, friends, strangers, and the internet that what I was doing was ok, that it was hard but it would get easier, that my kids would be fine, and that I would be fine.

Only one brave soul, one of those grandmothers who become a mother again due to unfortunate circumstances, told me the truth.

“You never get those years back,”

she said to me one day. I felt offended and angry that she would suggest something that I felt at the time was impossible, but her words haunted me and were possibly the catalyst for me leaving my job to begin this wonderful career as a stay at home mom.

Comments like, “I could never do what you do.” or “Don’t you feel like you’re wasting your Master’s level education?” are sentiments that my husband and I have heard on more than one occasion. But worse than the negative comments are the absence of comments.

At times, my voice is soft, too soft perhaps, because I don’t want to offend anybody. We live in an age where everyone is fighting for women to have equal rights and equal pay, but who is fighting for the moms who want to stay home and raise their families?

We are looked at as ancient relics from our grandmother’s era, something that our progressive society has tried to do away with.

But I don’t want to be silent anymore. I want to shout from the top of a mountain (or at least blog through the channels of the Internet) that it’s okay to be a stay at home mom.

I’m not saying it’s better than being a working mom or that all moms should be stay at home moms, I’m just saying that being a stay at home mom isn’t a step down, or something we all do because we couldn’t do anything else. I see it as a privilege, an honor, and the best career move I could have ever made, and something I will never ever ever regret.

How I've Found Happiness as a Stay at Home Mom

How I’ve Found Happiness as a Stay at Home Mom

Being a stay at home mom has been the hardest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had in my life. When I was a working mom for two years, going to work actually felt like a break. I had a scheduled lunch time, I was given challenging tasks and completed them, and I got to interact with other adults. As a stay at home mom, I am working (or on call) 24 hours a day, I am constantly multitasking and busy doing a thousand things at once, and I am in a sea of children. All. The. Time.

BUT, I am truly and deeply happier than I ever thought possible. Being with my children during these formative years is not only rewarding for me, it is deeply beneficial for my children too. I get to be there to see every smile and to soothe every frown, I get to nurse on demand and see first steps, I get to see what goes in and what comes out of them all day long, and I get to just BE with them. They are my favorite little people in the whole world, and words cannot express the joy that I feel upon seeing them every day in my role as a stay at home mom.

But it hasn’t always been peaches and cream. We had to really think about our lives differently in order to make everything “fit” around me being a stay at home mom. When we just had one child, we could easily cart her around and make her a part of our former lives. But when we had two, and then three, and then four, we had to let go of our old lives and start living a new normal. These 13 tips are what have helped me to battle some of the low points and find a happiness greater than anything I thought I was capable of experiencing.

Also, let me be very clear in that I am NOT saying, “Follow these 13 tips and you will find happiness!” I am saying, “These are the 13 things that have helped ME to find happiness.” I believe that we are each on our own journey and we each have to decide what things actually DO make us happy versus things that we feel like we are “supposed” to do for x number of reasons. You, dear reader, might actually be happier working, or unschooling, or living in another country…who knows! The important thing is for each of us to support each other in this wonderful journey of motherhood.

1. I Found a Way to Make It Happen

When we had our first daughter Ruby, I wanted more than anything to just keep staying with her after my 3 month maternity leave, but I just didn’t think it was possible. We were upside down in our condo, both working full time, and barely making ends meet. When I expressed my desire to stay at home with my daughter, a very well meaning grandmother (who actually adopted her daughter’s son who was in my class) said to me, “You never get that time back.” I just threw up my hands in exasperation and said, “I make twice my husband’s income, I don’t have any choice but to work.”

But I did have a choice, I just didn’t see it at the time. It took having another child, trying to juggle two different child care providers for my two children (that’s a whole other story), and spending a summer vacation at home with my two little angels (Elliot was 6 months old and Ruby was 21 months old at the time) to make it happen. I don’t know how I ever managed going back to work when Elliot was only 4 weeks old or how we managed to be apart until he was 5 months old, but after spending the summer with him attached to my boob, I couldn’t imagine him ever making it without me nearby. Not to mention that I was crazy in love with my daughter Ruby and enjoying spending every minute with her as well.

So we decided to go for broke. We made some radical decisions that led to us both quitting our jobs, doing a short sale on our condo, and moving 1,200 miles away to live with my parents for 8 months while we sorted things out. Now, flash forward four years later, and we own our own home on an acre of land with a fenced in yard minutes away from my husband’s amazing job that provides very nicely for our family of six (even though he makes about what I did when I was working). A blog that will be coming soon: How Our Family of Six Makes It On One Modest Income.

If you really want to be a stay at home mom, you can find a way to make it work. You may have to really think about your choices from an “outside of the box” perspective, but sometimes those crazy hair-brained ideas that you think will never in a million years work, well they just might be the best ideas you ever had.

2. Finding My Identity

When I chose to stay home, I was riding high on cloud nine at first, but then after the routine set in, I felt lost. I felt like I had lost a part of myself when I quit working, like I had lost my identity. Taking care of my children was an amazing honor, and I cherished every moment that I was there to cuddle them and love them, yet for so long I had worked towards my career, and it kind of felt like I had just thrown it all away. More than once, I fell into some pretty serious bouts of depression as I struggled to find my new normal.

I knew that I needed something just for me that was separate from the kids, but I couldn’t seem to find what that could be short of finding a part time (or even full time) job. But, it wasn’t about needing money, it was about finding something for me…something that I could work on, something that I was passionate about, something that would stimulate my mind, something that I could accomplish, and something that would make me feel whole.

It took many years of trial and error until I established what this blog is now (even though I still feel like I am at the beginning). I knew that I was passionate about learning new things, discovering the best health options for our family, cooking healthy food, learning about the science behind health topics, educating our children, being a mom, and writing. It just took me awhile to put all of those things together and find my voice at Embracing Motherhood.

I don’t write this blog with any intention of making money, I just do it because it completes me. I love finding time to write when all of the kids are happily playing independently or sleeping. I love having a voice and a platform to learn new things and record them. I love sharing what I’m learning with others. I love having something to talk to other adults about besides just surface level topics. This blog has helped me to find my identity and give me purpose. It is also a great bonus that everything I’m learning and writing about also benefits our family.

If you are reading this and wondering what your passions are and what your identity could be beyond being a mother (which might just be enough for you, and that’s ok too), then I encourage you to think about what it is that you enjoy doing that makes you really really happy. What do you enjoy learning about? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? What completes you? If you can find a little bit of time every day to work towards figuring out what you are truly passionate about, it can actually be the most liberating thing ever. So many times, we fill our time with what can make us money, and to be a mother and not only be able to spend time with your precious angels but to also look into the deepest regions of your soul and figure out who you are without the burden of earning an income, well, it is truly a blessing. (If you’re interested in doing a guest post on my blog, contact me!)

3. Owning It In the Kitchen!

When I read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, it changed my life. I realized that everything that I thought I knew about health and nutrition was wrong, and I made it my new mission to learn everything I could about Weston Price and what a healthy diet meant for our family. I’m still learning more and tweaking our diet as our health continuously improves, but this journey and this knowledge have really given me confidence in the kitchen. It really helps that Scott has been learning right beside me and is totally on board with everything I’m doing.

After I learned what our family needed to eat, I had to learn how to cook it! I’ve had fun sharing my recipes that give my family healthy nourishing meals that they enjoy eating. It seems like each child has a certain list of foods that they will or will not eat and that list is constantly changing. By planning ahead and having the fridge stocked with things like my sourdough waffles, whole wheat pancakes, steel cut oats, homemade cereal or healthy oatmeal cookies it makes the day much more manageable.

Even though we eat mostly organic foods and pastured animal products, we are still able to stick to a pretty good budget because I am always planning ahead and buying in bulk. Country Life Natural Foods is one of my favorite places to order dry goods in bulk and we live near many Amish farms where we get our raw milk and pastured eggs and grass fed beef all at reasonable prices. I also save us money by making my own laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, and more!

We are also not crazy obsessed about eating the “perfect diet”. We try to eat mostly good most of the time, and we don’t worry about eating a little birthday cake or fast food every now and then. We just try to make the things that are routine pretty consistently healthy.

4. Creating a Morning Routine

The rest of the day is always different depending on what we need to do or how everyone is feeling, but our mornings are always pretty much the same. During the summer, when I have all four kids at home, we get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, and then do three activities before they are allowed any screen time. Having this routine in the morning takes the guess work out of the beginning of our day, and it allows us all to sort of run on autopilot as we wake up.

Now, that being said, there are many days (like today) where I’ve been up with 7 month Julian multiple times in the night, and all I want to do is sleep in. When the kids (Ruby – 5 and Elliot – 4) wake up, they know where their iPads are and how to turn on the TV and find their favorite shows, so I have no problem at all when they do this and let me sleep in a bit. We have have food like apples and my healthy oatmeal cookies within easy reach, and the kids will often get themselves snacks when they need them.

5. Filling Their Tanks First 

Throughout the day, I take turns giving each child as much attention as I can. Sometimes they want to do something, like coloring with us sitting side by side and other times they want to tickle, wrestle, fight, and get as much physical contact as possible. Whatever it is that they need, I give it to them until their tanks are full. Once their bellies are full of food and their tanks are full of love, they are able to go off and play on their own, and THEN I get some time for me. 🙂

6. Finding Time for Me

There are little pockets of time throughout the day when I’m caught up on food preparation, cleaning, and all of the children are either playing independently or sleeping. Sometimes this happens multiple times a day for extended periods, and sometimes it happens less often and for short durations, but when that time comes, I seize it!

When I do get this time, this is what I like to do:

  • Take a shower
  • Work out (When I had one child, I would do these deep medatative yoga videos for an hour and a half, but now I do a 10 minute yoga video and an 8 minute core workout when I can.)
  • Work in the garden
  • Read
  • Take a nap
  • Eat
  • Blog (This is what I usually end of doing!)

7. Making It Fun…For Me!

Do you like schedules? Do like organized activities? Do you like spontaneity? Do you like playing outdoors? Do you like go to museums and learning new things? Are you a homebody? Do you enjoy gardening? Whatever it is you like to do…if you can get in touch with your deepest passions and find things to do with your children that makes your heart sing, then everyone will be happy.

There’s no such thing as the perfect routine or the perfect way to raise your children. It’s so completely important to be happy and enjoy what you do. That is what matters, and that is what your children will remember when they’re grown and on their own. They will remember the happiness, and it will comfort them and give them confidence at the same time.

8. Learning Goals for the Kids

I like to set learning goals for each of my children so that I can be aware of what their needs are. I like to keep it simple and stay in their zone of proximal development. For example, Julian, who is 7 months old, is ready to start building a relationship with reading, so we watch Your Baby Can Read videos (which sadly went out of business, so we created our own video here) and read the same books over and over. Ophelia, who is 2, is reading single words and simple sentences, so we’re doing lots of flashcards and repetitive reading of her favorite books. Elliot, who is 4, is developing his reading skills and working on math concepts, so we play a lot of online math games and spend lots of time cuddling and reading his favorite books. Ruby, who is 5, is already a voracious reader, so now we are working on her writing skills by writing lots of stories, letters, and books together. (Here are some videos of our kids reading over the years.)

When you have really little ones, it can seem like you are spending all of your time wiping butts, making food, and cuddling, but by setting aside a little time every day for learning activities, you will be so pleased with the results in the long run. You don’t need to spend six hours a day or really any set amount of time, just wait for teachable moments and do it for as long as you both are interested.

To learn more about setting learning goals and creating activities, check out my blog: How to Set Up a Summer Routine That Keeps Kids Productive.

9. Creating a Stimulating Environment

When I’ve got a crying baby in one hand, a screaming toddler in the other, and two young-ins who are looking for something to do, I’ve got to have some things ready to go at a moment’s notice. I spend a lot of time creating play and learning stations that will keep my children engaged in independent and self directed play for extended periods of time. Read more about how I do this in my blog: How to Create an Environment That Encourages Creative Play and Learning.

10. Educational Screen Time

When people see our 2 year old reading and hear that I used to be a teacher, I think that they assume that I spend hours doing elaborate lesson plans, but the reality is that while I do spend a lot of time with children on my lap reading books and such, I rely on a lot of educational screen time supplements to help me teach the basics. (To learn why we DO allow our children under 2 to have screen time, check out my blog: Why We Shouldn’t Ban Screen Time for Children Under 2.)

The important this is to have a balance. I find that the older kids do really well with these limits that we have in place. (Of course, the limits wouldn’t work if we didn’t have a good management system in place.) I love putting on these educational YouTube Playlists with my little ones (and the older ones love them too!) to teach them letters, numbers, vocabulary, nursery rhymes, and more! I also have loved using these educational apps to teach my young  children the fundamentals.

Instead of having cable TV, we’ve connected our TV to a computer so that we are very purposeful about what we watch. Using Netflix, YouTube, Network websites, and DVDs, we watch programs like Dora, Super Why, Little Einsteins, Preschool Prep videos, Your Baby Can Read videos, and Leapfrog videos that are all great learning tools.

By having these educational screen time options set up, I am able to use them as a babysitter if I need to put the baby down, make some food, cuddle a crying toddler, or whatever other “emergency” that might pop up. This definitely saves my sanity.

11. Living Close to Scott’s Work

The best thing we ever did was move really really close to where Scott works. And I’m not talking close like 15 minutes away, I’m talking like two minutes away. 15 minutes away means a 30 minute trip home and back and so lunchtime visits will be out of the question. 2 minutes away means that he can pop home whenever he can without wasting any time in the car.

We have lived together for many many years where Scott had over an hour commute each way, and that in comparison to this was horrendous. Now, the time he is away from us, he is earning money, not just sitting in a car. We also have more time together in the mornings and evenings, and he can get me something from the grocery store if I need it without too much hassle.

An added bonus is that he’s able to come home for lunch every day. How can spending time with co-workers compare with that? Not only am I able to make him a nutritious lunch every day, but he’s able to pitch in and give me a hand while he’s here. We also enjoy napping together from time to time. 😉 What could be better than that?

12. Dealing with the Boredom

It’s a weird juxtaposition because when I was working full time and had two little ones, I never had enough time, and now, here I am, still very busy, but also, well…bored (sometimes). It’s a crazy feeling to be bored when you’re not used to it. When I was working, I was so used to scheduling and filling all of my time, and then when I became a stay at home mom, I felt like there was this pressure to go to play groups, get involved in activities, sign up my kids up for things, and cart them around to avoid the boredom.

I tried this for a little while, and it didn’t work for me. The kids just do better (the little ones especially) when we can stay home. When we’re here, I don’t need to worry about what food they are going to eat, and they can nap in their beds whenever they need to (rather than falling asleep in their car seats). So yes, rather than feeling stressed, I sometimes feel bored, and honestly…I LOVE it! I mean, are you kidding me? I can just lay on a bed for an hour playing mouth bubble games with Julian, spend time cuddled on the couch reading books with Ophelia, really focus on building towers with Elliot, and get really creative doing art projects with Ruby…um, yes please!

I know that these days are passing by quick and that I don’t need to have everything in my life balanced all the time (i.e. 25% of my time for me, 25% of my time for work, 25% of my time for my husband, and 25% of my time for the kids). I know that while they are little, children demand an insane amount of attention, and so I balance out time for everything else after that. I know that someday I’m going to be an old lady remembering these as the “good old days” and I will have more than enough time “just for me”. (Which is also why I love taking tons of pictures and movies and keeping memory books!)

13. Find Ways to Relax

There is certainly nothing wrong with cracking a beer or having a glass of wine from time to time (if that suits you), but if this is the only way that you can “unwind” or “relax” after a long day, you’re asking for trouble. See, kids don’t take time off for you to drink, and as soon as you crack a beer because you finally got them to sleep, you just know that they will wake up in half an hour to nurse or need to use the potty. Plus, when we put the kids to bed, that is the time when my husband likes to work on his programming or music side projects, and I like to work on blogging. We’re not just looking to veg out and deaden our minds…ok, sometimes we are (Game of Thrones anyone?).

Here are some of the things that I do that help me to relax:

  • Kombucha: Not only is kombucha good for helping to build a healthy gut flora, but it can help to relax you too. There’s about as much alcohol in a kombucha as a non-alcoholic beer, but unlike drinking beer, the euphoric “high” I get from drinking a kombucha is nothing like the buzz I get from drinking a beer. It feels uplifting, invigorating, and relaxing all at the same time. In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon states that it’s even more hydrating than water. Check out my kombucha recipe to learn how to make your own.
  • Bath: We inherited this crazy sit down Jacuzzi tub from the previous owners of our house, and we all just love it! At times, you can find either Scott or I piled in there with three kids. But I really love getting the water as hot as possible, putting in some bath salts, putting my Enya mix on, dimming the lights, closing my eyes, and enjoying a good soak.
  • Massage: Sometimes a quick shoulder rub or a foot massage can just make the problems of the world melt away. My husband is always so generous to give me the attention of his hands when I need it, and I like to do the same for him.
  • Alone Time: After a long day cooped inside with the kids, sometimes I just need a half an hour to myself. I might go out and weed the garden or hop in the car to go drop some books off at the library. Just having a few moments to catch my breath without anyone needing me is all I need to reset my clock.
  • Being Intimate: Sometimes we get so busy taking care of everyone else’s needs that we forget to make time for us. Enjoying a good cuddle on the couch wrapped up in each other’s arms is a very good way to relax.

In Conclusion

My husband encounters a lot of older women at his job who tell him how amazing it is that I’m able to stay at home with the kids and how they wish they could have done that with their little ones too. But he’s never once met anyone who has said that they stayed home to raise their little ones and have then regretted it ever since. (Can you imagine?)

Personally, I don’t think that staying at home with the kids is something that I will ever regret. In fact, I think that it is one of the greatest things that I have ever done. I can’t imagine being a grandmother forty years from now saying, “The one regret I have is putting my career on hold while I raised my children”. All I can say is that after much soul searching, self reflection, and following these steps, I love my life, I am completely happy, and I feel like every day is a gift.

My Number One Priority as a Mom

My Number One Priority As a Mom

The most important thing to do with your children isn’t teaching them the ABCs, developing their oral language, teaching them how to read, or instilling manners or math skills. And while these things are important, they mean nothing without this…your love, your presence, your undivided attention…YOU.

I’ll do anything for my kids, and I want them to grow up knowing that I’ll always put them first – not with just my words, but my actions too.

Now, putting them first doesn’t mean that I put myself or my marriage second – because children need a happy mother, a happy father, and parents who love each other.

happy couple winter hat

Happily Married for Two Years

What it means is that I don’t want them to feel pushed aside because I needed to clean the house, work on my blog, or go on a date with Daddy. I want them to know without a shadow of a doubt that they are top priority and that I’d do anything for them.

Putting them first means that I will teach them things that will prepare them for the future and challenge their minds, that I will be there to set boundaries and hold them accountable, and that I will provide them with nutritious food and teach them how to make healthy choices. But most importantly, I will hold them. 

When they come to me with open arms, I will drop everything to squeeze them tight. I will hug them, cuddle them, smooth their hair, and scratch their backs until they pull away from me to go play. I will fill their tanks with so much love that they will have the confidence to be away from me and still wear my love on their sleeves.

Hugging our children is simply the best!

Family Photo

When children feel loved, they can take on the world. It gives them confidence, strength, and the ability to love others. It makes them feel important and like they matter. Having parents who love them is what gives children their wings.

This is what that love looks like…

1. Hug, Kiss, Snuggle, and Cuddle

With four kids five and under, I have my hands full! I am constantly busy doing dishes, laundry, preparing food, setting up learning stations, writing, and any other number of things. Lately, I’ve realized how much I have to prioritize because it seems that I can never completely tackle my “to do” list. 

That being said, cuddles, hugs, kisses, and snuggles always take a top priority, especially when I can tell that my little ones need me. Even if I’ve just started making a batch of sourdough muffins or I finally found a time to sit down and write, I will stop whatever I’m doing to drop down and give a hug, or go to the couch and read a book, or just rock them on my lap and smooth their hair.

cuddling a newborn

Cuddling Newborn Ophelia

Even when my kids are happily engaged and playing and I’m elbows deep in chores, whenever I see a little body race by, I do not hesitate to scoop it up in a big bear hug and smother it with kisses, or give a head scratch, or a little back rub. 

I do not take these moments for granted. I know that they will only be little once and so I kiss their chubby cheeks, snuggle up on the couch with a pile of books and silkies, hug them tightly, and cuddle them close whenever I can.

2. Say I Love You Often

Sometimes, we tend to not say the things that are implied as often as we should. It might seem obvious by your actions that you love your children, but I think that they still need to hear you say it many many times every single day. It shouldn’t be something forced that you say on the hour, but whenever you feel it well up inside of you, just say it! 

Whenever you find yourself completely in awe of this life that you carried inside of you, that shared a body with you, that you nursed, cuddled, and rocked through so many things – whenever you get an ache in your heart because you can literally feel it growing with love, about to burst with joy, say it out loud! Tell them exactly how amazing they are and how complete they make you feel.

children in winter coats hugging

Ruby and Elliot Hugging

3. Play

My kids have these amazing imaginations and play these crazy intricate imagination games with little figures and houses, building toys, or dress up clothes. my husband and I love getting on the floor with them and introducing new ways of play. Sometimes we’ll show them a new scenario and other times we’ll just follow their lead.

Family Play Time

Family Play Time

They need their tanks to be filled with love before they are ready to go and play on their own. One of our favorite things to do is to just play together. It’s an honor to be let into their worlds and it’s an insight into their brains and a little glimpse as to what is going on inside.

4. Tickle, Wrestle, and Fight

Every night before bed, my husband wrestles with all of the kids, and it is pretty much their favorite part of the day. It motivates them to drop whatever they’re doing and put their pajamas on so that they can race into the bedroom to fight their dad. He loves it too, and it is so cute to see them roughhouse and play. I’m a little better with the tickles than the wrestling. 

I know how to find just the right tickle spot…under the neck, behind the knee, or right on the belly! The kids love interacting with their grandpas through wrestling and fighting too. I think that wrestling is a very important part of the expression of love.

Tickle Time with Grandpa

Tickle Time with Grandpa

5. Listen

When you listen, and I mean really listen, you stop talking, you pause, you wait. With little children who don’t have the biggest vocabulary, it can be easy to speak for them and to supply an endless stream of chatter to make up for their silence. But when we learn how to slow down, stop talking, and really listen, we can hear so much more. If we get down to their level and get into their world they will open up in ways we couldn’t imagine.

Grandmas Love to Listen

Grandmas Love to Listen

6. Arrange Your Time

I know that we all have a thousand things to do and a million places to be, but we can make our lives as peaceful or as hectic as we want them to be. Trust me, we have gone through five moves and made some major life changes in the last five years so that we could be where we are today. 

When we had our first child and I came back into the classroom after an amazing 12 week maternity leave, a mother said something that really stuck with me. She actually wasn’t my student’s mother, but his grandmother who had taken custody of him and we were chatting about me being back at work. I said that of course I would love to be at home with my daughter, but I explained that I made more money than my husband and we couldn’t survive on one income. I explained how we didn’t have a choice, but even still, she said to me sweetly, “You can never get that time back.” How rude of her to say, I thought. Doesn’t she know my situation? 

Now that I’m staying home with my next two children and I see them throughout every single moment and milestone, I mourn for the time that I wasn’t with my first two while they were in daycare and I was juggling too much. We have worked hard to make our children a priority and it is a decision that I don’t think we will ever regret.

Being a Stay at Home Mom

Being a Stay at Home Mom

In Conclusion

There are a lot of things that I like to blog about pertaining to how kids learn, how to use food as our medicine, how to use the best parenting strategies, and my journey into motherhood, but nothing, absolutely NOTHING is as important as what I’ve covered in this post. Yes, all of the things that I write about have helped to bring our family to its current state of happiness, but the number one priority above all is love. It’s about giving your children all of you, the best you, the real you, and it’s about enjoying every moment in the moment and realizing that these sleepless nights, endless cuddles, and constant companionship represents but a fleeting time in our lives that we should embrace.