Monday, January 18, 2016

When parenting is tough..and you get help.

I don't quite know how to jot down all of these thoughts or whether anyone even reads what has really become more like a family journal of sorts rather than the earlier years of this blog where I posted more and on more varied topics. 

In my reflection on 2015, I wrote about how last year was more of a down year of us settling into life as a family of five. However, 2015 was a pivotal year in parenting for us.  

Peaceful isn't a word I'd use to describe most days in our house. We've raised our voices more than we'd like to admit, lacked patience, and consistency. Sometimes giving in seems worth it when you just can't muster the energy anymore and you have a particularly strong-willed child. Last year we started to get phone calls and notes home from school. We've always had challenges at home (more often than not, when I'm solo parenting) but until recently, they never flowed over into school or other settings. There were so many different things it is hard to even remember them all. Recess incidents, not following classroom instructions, being silly, acting out. "We'll talk to him", was our standard response. While we were looking to the school for suggestions or answers, they were looking to us. We didn't have them. 

We did what many parents are afraid to do for fear of labelling their child, or labelling themselves, we  looked for help. We got on a waiting list for behaviour counselling services. These services are free through our local social services department. While we waited, we attended some parenting workshops that were offered where we met many other parents who were just like us, facing the same sort of challenges, and some with children who have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities (our son has not been diagnosed as having a developmental disability). After 5 months, we had our first appointment with a specialist. She did not meet with our son but rather has supported us in our parenting by listening and providing us with tools and suggestions. I also started reading anything I could get my hands on about boys, education and parenting, from the library and online. More than 80% of our counsellor's caseload are parents of boys. 

Slowly we have been adjusting our parenting approaches and our expectations. We're learning that our number one priority is to set our son up for success and that means looking for opportunities where he can thrive and be successful based on his strengths, personality, etc.  We look for opportunities to catch him demonstrating good behaviours and to praise and acknowledge his efforts. We're signing him up for more activities (we previously tried to keep him less programmed with all the talk of over programming kids these days but he is a kid that needs more stimulation and some of the challenges were coming from boredom). Things at home have been much easier and far more positive lately and things have improved significantly at school. A lot of the things we've learned through this experience have been useful for parenting all of our sons. Our two older sons are very different in personalities, strengths, and interests (we're still watching our youngest grow into his personality each day). Prior to getting help, we had a singular parenting approach mindset. We wanted to be consistent with our approach for all of our children. We now know that our parenting approaches will be different for each child based on their unique needs and that is okay and that is what will work best for our family. 

I think in many ways, we've grown and begun to overcome our own insecurities about being judged for seeking help or around others thinking his actions are a reflection of our parenting or lack of parenting skills. In all other areas of life, some of the strategies I've learned in order to become successful have been to seek out help through lessons or mentors, to read up, and to keep on practicing. I felt much more at ease and confident having an infant the third time around than I did the first. Two big picture things have stuck with me from sessions with our counsellor: 1) Our son has a lot of really exceptional qualities 2) So many parents don't seek out help at all, especially if they don't have a diagnosis, or when they finally do seek help, it is much more difficult because they've waited so long. 

I'm really glad we decided to get help. We've become more open and honest around other parents and have found that we aren't alone. I'm also so fortunate for the advice of many of my colleagues at work who have boys similar in age and older and who have shared their stories, strategies, experiences, and knowingly sympathetic acknowledgements. We don't have to do it alone. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 Goals

In 2016 I've discovered adult colouring books
Between Christmas and New Years I took vacation time. It was the longest stretch of vacation I had taken since I started in my new job a year and a half ago. Right now, I get 11 days of vacation each year. Any overtime or evening meetings give me some extra lieu time I can use for additional time off which I've used to attend the boys school events or other appointments. I can also use a few accumulated sick days for medical appointments but I tend not to use them unless absolutely necessary since I haven't accumulated all that many and I'd like to bank enough in case anything unexpected were to come up.

Coming up to Christmas I was starting to feel burned out. I'd only really taken off a few days here and there aside from my 5-day Chicago trip in September and I've had a steady increase in responsibilities and workload at work. I found taking a day off here and there required just as much preparation as longer vacations like ensuring tasks were wrapped up, letting people know I'd be away, and getting back up to speed on anything I'd missed.

Originally we were planning on going on a vacation to visit my mom in Florida for Christmas but when my mother-in-law passed away in October, we decided this Christmas wasn't the best time. So most of my vacation was spent at home decompressing. I plowed through a stack of library books on parenting (mostly on parenting boys - separate blog post on that) and work/life balance, worked on one or two projects around the house per day, ate glorious and slowly prepared dinners each night, watched tv and movies with R after the boys were in bed, slept in a few days, and spent lots of time with family. I also gathered inspiration from reading other people's 2016 goals. A big influencer of my own goals this year was the book the Power of Less. I found myself going back to it over and over again. It was a quick, easy read. In particular, it made me think of some overall guiding principles for my 2016 goals:

Less multi-tasking, more single tasking.
Having less big "goals" but working harder and smarter to accomplish them.
Focus on doing the things that only I can do and delegate or streamline the rest (i.e. cleaning) - this idea actually came from Anne-Marie Slaughter's Unfinished Business.
Keep our finances under control.

2016 Goals

Aim for 8 hours of sleep consistently - no ifs, ands, or buts.

Take time to transition and unwind before bed. It can be so hard to switch off at night. The boys have a routine and I'd like to implement one myself. Taking a hot bath or reading a book immediately before bed improves my sleep.

Keep on going for monthly massage sessions. 

Prioritize eating and drinking. I know this sounds crazy as a goal but I'm often so busy multi-tasking that I'll put off eating or drinking or eat while doing something else. A lot of people eat more when they're stressed out but I actually eat less. I felt so much better over the holidays when we were preparing good home cooked meals. Single tasking should help with this.

Find ways to nurture our individual and collective family interests. Some examples, B's best subject at school is Drama so we signed him up for an Improv class, I'm a skier but I'm taking snowboarding lessons this winter so we can snowboard together as a family, R is going on a fishing trip with his dad this Spring, and we're taking a whole week off this summer to spend as a family at our trailer.

Celebrate more and work on being empathetic.  I've been trying very hard to listen, acknowledge, and give praise and encouragement more as a parent, wife, friend, and colleague. Even little things like celebrating the boys having a good day at school or stopping what I'm doing when one of the boys has something to show me or tell me and taking the time to acknowledge has made a big difference in how smooth and positive our days have been.

Progress in my career. I've been at the same level in my career for the past three years. I've been taking on more responsibilities at work for a while now and in 2016, I would like to advance.

Go on a weekend trip as a family this winter. 

Go on a weekend trip without the kids. 

Blog more than 2015 :) 

Learning how to snowboard! Bring it on 2016!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A reflection on 2015

In keeping with my trend of late and sparse posts in 2015, I've finally gotten around to reflecting on last year and typing my reflections out. 

2015 was a year of settling down for us. We settled into our first full year of life as a family of five. I settled into my first full year of my new job too. I blogged less than any other year since I started blogging in 2008. 

My broad goals for 2015 were:
* Nurturing my marriage
* Getting back to myself
* Making emotional and physical health a priority
* Making our house a home; and 
* Continuing to pay off debt but not in a stressful, overwhelming way

I was less accountable this year, I think, to my annual goals I set out in January - likely in large part to my decrease in blogging - but I think I a made a lot of progress. It is amazing the changes or things that can be accomplished in twelve short months. 

Some highlights from 2015 were:
> Good health! 2015 was a much better year health-wise for me than 2014 and for that I am most greatful
> Reducing my screen time dramatically and not missing it. These days I check in to Instagram, Facebook, and personal email only a couple of times per day. 
> Competing in two skating competitions and a few festival skates with my adult synchronized skating team 
> Getting up on the water skis behind our brand new boat for the first time in almost 10 years in July and then going for a water ski every weekend after until mid-September and even making a few good attempts at wake boarding. 
> Going on a trip to Chicago with my girlfriend in September and enjoying adult time! 
> Starting to build a wardrobe I feel good in with thrift store finds and new purchases after seriously neglecting this area of my life for the past 7 years
> Redoing our kitchen, replacing our worn out sofas and switching our downstairs layout to make better use of the space, and organizing a small area in our unfinished basement where the kids can watch TV, movies, or play video games with their friends. 
> Eliminating all credit card debt and seeing the benefits of using a rewards credit card properly (i.e. paying it off in full every month!)
> Rediscovering my love of the library and reading and watching our 7 year old, who struggled with reading since starting school, blossom into a competent reader right before my eyes
> Going for regular massages to help my body recover from years of pregnancies, nursing, and lifting little boys and soaking in occasional hot baths with epsom salts at night when everyone is in bed.
> Spending more time together as a couple and family and not being afraid to seek out help and support when we needed it

None seem like extraordinary or monumental feats that have made my list most of the last almost 7 years I've been blogging, like getting married, having a baby, graduating, or new houses or cars or jobs,  but I think 2015 was just what we needed to have the time to reflect on and appreciate all of the greatness that we are blessed with in our lives.