[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages now available on Amazon]
With economies struggling all over the world, more and more moms are trying to juggle work and children. Working from home is one way to earn a living or supplement your household income while still parenting full-time, but it comes with its own unique set of challenges. Here are seven tips to help you parent your little ones gently while operating a home business:
1. Think ‘routine’ instead of ‘schedule.’ Gentle parenting is very much about being in-sync with your child’s needs. Being tied to an inflexible schedule will only cause stress and conflict as your child’s needs evolve from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. Children do, however, enjoy the comfort and familiarity of a regular routine, and knowing what to expect helps them to make transitions throughout the day. So, instead of making a minute to minute schedule, try working with your child to establish a routine that’s flexible enough to adjust to meet their fluctuating needs, but builds into your day the time you need to devote to your work. For example, a routine could look something like this:
- Morning cuddles, breakfast, playtime with mommy
- Playtime while mommy works
- Snack and storytime with mommy
- Play while mommy works
- Lunch and outside playtime with mommy
- Naptime while mommy works
- Playtime with mommy
- Playtime while mommy works
- Help mommy with dinner
- Help mommy clean up after dinner
- Playtime while mommy works
- Evening snack
- Bathtime, bedtime story, cuddles, night-night time
Notice that there are no time limits, only a loose plan for the day that you can adjust if your little one is sick or teething or just needs some extra mommy time during the day. A younger baby will need more naps during the day and can be worn in a baby carrier for naps and/or in place of playtime, and some toddlers and preschoolers will outgrow their need for naps earlier than others, and some will need more outside time, etc. so you’ll want to come up with a routine that accommodates your child’s age, sleep needs, and temperament. Also, of course, if your spouse or a trusted family member or friend is available to help, be sure to include them in your routine.
2. Children love the novelty value of new toys, so get a box for each of your working days of the week. Label each box with one day of the week and place a set of toys in them that you only bring out on that day. Remember to think outside the box (lol) and don’t only choose store-bought toys. One box could be full of paper towel and toilet paper tubes and various sizes of bouncy balls and hot wheels, etc. so your little one can make tunnels and chutes and all sorts of inventions. Another box could have kitchen utensils and bowls and pots and pans. Don’t be afraid of a little mess, either! Children are washable, and messy play can keep them happily engaged for long stretches of time, so in one box you could have a plastic tablecloth from the dollar store or even a little blow-up wading pool, some paintbrushes, and shaving cream. Just put down the tablecloth or blow up the pool and add a touch of different colors of food coloring to a few small bowls of shaving cream let your little Picasso go to town! The trick is to be creative and choose things that are out of the ordinary that will engage your child’s imagination, not just keep them busy.
3. For older preschoolers or early elementary ages, an independent project is an excellent idea to help them stay happily engaged while you’re working. During your work periods, provide your child with an ongoing project that they’re interested in and can work on independently. It can be a paint-by-number project, a jigsaw puzzle, a simple model car, a jewelry making set, or any number of other things. Since time is a hard concept for young children, setting a timer for your work periods and having a little sticker chart on the fridge for you and your child to ‘clock in’ and ‘clock out’ of work might be a fun, helpful part of your routine, as well.
4. Meal planning is a huge, huge help in freeing up time and mental energy. Take the time to write out a list of every meal you know how to make that your family likes, then break each of those meals down into their ingredients. Save the list on your laptop, and then twice a month simply cut and paste two weeks of meals into a Word doc. Then print it out, cross off any ingredients you already have on hand, and ‘voila’ you have a shopping list and menu for two weeks done in one shot!
5. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Be realistic about your commitments and expectations for yourself. Have fruit and cheese for breakfast most mornings instead of eggs and pancakes and sausage. It’s healthier, faster, and there’s less to cleanup! Resign from any pre-working-at-home commitments you can such as directing your church’s Vacation Bible School or doing the book work for your local food pantry. No one expects you to be able to do everything, and someone else can take on those tasks while you’re doing double duty as a work-and-stay-at-home-mom. And, once you’ve cleared up your commitments, avoid the temptation to fill up your time with playgroups and playdates and mommy-and-me classes. Your little ones need you, not activities.
6. Don’t be afraid to go mobile. Find a local park that is suitable for your child’s age and temperament (i.e. Don’t go to a park with a lake if your little one is a runner, and don’t choose a playground with only big kid slides and jungle gyms if you’ve got a toddler.). Once you’ve found a park that’s a good fit, take your laptop or iPhone and answer emails or return phone calls or do other simple tasks that you can manage while swinging your little one in a baby swing or watching your toddler dig in the sand. Make sure you take the time to play with them while you’re there, too, and don’t worry if you get a few judgmental looks from other parents. They don’t know your life, but you know you’re doing the best you can to meet your child’s needs while doing what you need to do for work, so take comfort in that knowledge.
7. Don’t forget to take care of yourself! We can get so caught up in meeting our family’s needs at times that we forget to take care of our own needs. Make sure you include a bit of downtime in your routine each day to simply be still and have a cup of coffee or read the newspaper or simply stare out the window and daydream for a few minutes. Take the time on a regular basis to do your nails, go have your hair done, and make a lunch date with a friend. Even if you bring your little one with you, you’ll still be out and about in a non-working environment for a bit and actually get to feel like an adult. If you’ve got a teething baby or a sick child and aren’t getting much sleep at night, take a nap during the day when your little one’s asleep instead of working during their nap. You may get a bit less work done, but you’ll enjoy your life and your family more, and isn’t that really the point of it all anyway?
*reprinted with permission from The Natural Parent Magazine
I’ve been ‘single-parenting’ it for almost two months now as my amazing husband has been gone day and night, working his day job and then heading nearly an hour away to help his family renovate an old home. It’s for a single mom who needs a place to move with her son because she’s losing her home to foreclosure, so there’s a time pressure involved. My husband is a skilled builder, so the renovation has fallen mainly to him, and with the narrow time frame he has to work with, the pressure has been pretty intense.
Nearly every day after work he heads straight to the reno house and works late into the night, often just staying there and sleeping so he can get up and go straight to work again. Between all of his extra driving and the times the children and I have driven over just so we can see him for a few minutes and get a tour of the work he’s doing, our gas budget has nearly doubled. That’s just not sustainable for a one-income family, so we’ve had to stop going to see him.
What that’s meant for me is a hubby who’s absent most of the time (read: no breaks for mama!) and who, when he does come home, is stressed and tired and tapped-out. Now, by ‘breaks for mama’ I don’t mean time away from my children. I don’t want or need to leave my little ones. But normally along with all of the sacrifices, compromises, and hard work that goes into keeping a long-term marriage healthy, there is companionship, caring, support, and a sharing of responsibilities.
In our family, mama having a break means daddy is the one who listens, at least for a little while, to the endless stories about snails that our little mud-magnet is into sharing at the moment. It means daddy takes a turn at the helm in helping our SPD girl cope when she gets overwhelmed. It means daddy takes our currently teething, clingy, diaper-rashed, sad little milk monkey out in the evenings to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to the moon (she’s a bit confused, but it’s adorable) so mama can take a shower alone. And, of course, all of that’s in addition to him running to the store, helping out around the house, fixing what’s broken, grilling dinner occasionally, etc.
But for the last two months all of the myriad details that go into running our home…homeschooling, juggling teenagers’ schedules, shepherding a high-spirited kindergartener, keeping up with a toddler, handling the bills, doing the banking and shopping and cleaning, coping with a broken dryer, and on and on and on…have all fallen entirely to me. Add to that some pretty hefty life-stressors we’re dealing with at the moment outside of our marriage and home…
And I’m tired.
And my hubby is tired.
And we’ve unconsciously fallen into the ‘my needs vs. your needs’ vicious cycle. You know the one:
First volley: “This is what I did all day.” (Translation: I need you to acknowledge me.)
“Well, this is what I did all day.” (Translation: I need you to acknowledge me.)
Second volley: “These are the reasons I did what I did all day.”
(Translation: I need you to understand me.)
“Well, these are the reasons I did what I did all day.”
(Translation: I need you to understand me.)
Third volley: “This is why what I did was harder than what you did.”
(Translation: I really need you to hear me.)
“Well, this is why what I did was harder than what you did.”
(Translation: I really need you to hear me.)
Fourth volley: “You didn’t do this.” (Translation: I’ll make you hear me.)
“Well, you didn’t do this.” (Translation: I’ll make you hear me.)
Unmet needs result in an ever-escalating cycle of attempts to get those needs met. And, as long as those two little letters ‘vs’ stand between ‘my needs’ being met and ‘your needs’ being met, the cycle will continue. Someone has to break the cycle, and the solution is always the same: Sacrifice.
Someone has to step up and stand down. Someone has to let go of their own needs and focus on meeting the other’s needs, not in an attempt to manipulate that person to meet their own needs, but with an honest generosity of spirit, a choosing to lay down self, a living expression of love.
And ‘someone’ will. Our marriage wouldn’t have lasted for twenty-five years and counting, otherwise! But I wanted to share some of the dynamics of breaking the ‘need standoff’ in a relationship while they’re fresh in my mind.
There are endless contributing factors to who stands down and when, from the differences in love languages, to past hurts and experiences, to upbringing, to the circumstances of the conflict itself. And standing down can take many different forms. It may mean moving on without receiving the apology you believe you deserve. It may mean letting go of the need to explain your position. It may take the form of an apology from you or a verbal indication that you are choosing to let go of the conflict. Or it may take the form of a favorite meal, flowers, a back rub, a gift, or some other loving act.
Sometimes the one who chooses (note: an active choice, not a reactive/self-protective response as in an abusive/controlling relationship) to stand down in a relationship is the same person most, if not all, of the time. This is often the result of a peacemaking personality. If you feel you are ‘always’ the one to stand down, consider these two things:
1.) Are you really the one to always stand down or is that just a perception you need to work through?
2.) Do you have a peacemaking personality? In other words, do you tend to be the calming factor in most of your relationships?
If you do, in fact, have a peacemaking personality, be aware that it is a rare gift that comes with great responsibility. Someone once asked me why they always had to be the one to “put out the fires” in their relationship. Knowing this person to be a peacemaker in all of their relationships, I said, “Because God gave you the hose.”
While it can certainly be frustrating to be in that position, instead of letting it cause resentment to take hold, imagine how difficult life can be for those who don’t have that inner calm, and try to focus on the strengths they do have rather than fixating on the gifts they don’t have. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and focusing on people’s strengths (as well as being aware of our own weaknesses!) helps us to give them grace for their weaknesses.
*Take note, when it comes to parent/child relationships, the parent must always take the role of peacemaker, regardless of personality or gifts. Children not only don’t have an adult’s capacity for self-control, but they also don’t bear the responsibility for maintaining the relationship.
And so, in our home, with both parents tapped-out, tired, and out-of-sorts, we’ve found ourselves in that place of competing to get our needs met. Our children have, of course, joined in the ‘needs games,’ little reflectors that they are. It’s made for a less-than-joyful interval in what we typically refer to as the joyful chaos of our lives.
Then, last night as my miserably teething little milk monkey woke me up for the zillionth time with her crying and whimpering and tossing and turning and climbing from one side of me to the other and nursing and nursing and nursing and nursing until I thought I might explode, she suddenly stopped mid-climb, mid-cry, and pressed her ear against my heart. And then, with her tiny body draped across my belly and her head cradled between my breasts, she sighed and relaxed, a little Mona Lisa smile curving her sweet mouth as she finally succumbed to a peaceful sleep.
And in that moment, that tiny, mysterious, contented smile called me to surrender. To surrender to heart-meltingly sweet moments. To embrace again the extraordinary loveliness of ordinary life. To marvel at the littleness of the issues that set us apart and the bigness of the love that holds us together.
Love is a choice, not a feeling. Feelings shift, flowing now hot, now cold. They lead nowhere, and instead are misleading with their mercurial, capricious nature.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13
I choose love.
Small children aren’t born with an instinctive understanding of finances, so expecting them to grasp concepts such as pay periods, budgets, poverty, credit, saving, tithing, etc. is unreasonable. When they ask for things a parent can’t afford, the parent might react negatively out of their own stress, worry, or even guilt at not being able to provide what their child desires. Having open, honest, and ongoing financial interactions with our children sets the stage for a ‘team-spirit’ response and helps to ease the tension when these requests arise.
I remember one of my little people, about six years old, suggesting that I “use plastic” when I tried to explain that we didn’t have enough money for a particular toy. After I cracked up (and shared that little-ism with my hubby), I decided to start working on teaching economic concepts. Through the years, I’ve used different games and activities to give concrete examples of real life money management and social finance issues, some with more success than others.
~Here are a few of my favorites~
When your child wants to see this:
Or buy this:
Try this cute money management lesson:
Paint a square on a mason jar out of chalkboard paint. On the Wish Jar write what your child wants (or have them draw or cut out a picture of it and tape it on the front), and on the other jar write the amount of money needed for that wish and put that amount in the jar (round to the nearest dollar and use cash for more expensive wishes and quarters for less expensive). Every day before going to bed, let them take out one dollar (or quarter) and move it to the Wish Jar. When all the money is moved over, they get their wish, and in the process have learned about saving up for something in a simplified manner without the extraneous temptations of spending it along the way or keeping track of it that they may not be ready to handle. Keep in mind that this can be a fun and non-stressful object lesson, but only if it’s used sparingly.
Note: This can also be used for special family things like saving up money for gifts for Grandma or for a camping trip, etc. It’s a great time-keeper, too. As the money is moved from one jar to the other, it’s a natural count-down clock!
Social economic issues can be introduced by activities such as joining in a local church or charity’s community outreaches or on your own by organizing a mini-blanket or canned food drive among family and friends and letting your little people help with gathering items and going with you to deliver them. Nothing impacts children (or adults, for that matter!) more than serving others and seeing first-hand how real the people are who are in need.
Setting up a little shopping center at home can be a great way of helping older elementary school aged children learn some business skills such as stocking and keeping inventory, bookkeeping, making change, etc. And smaller children have a blast ‘shopping’ for their own toys or a small dollar store item or even grocery shopping for ingredients for helping you make lunch!
We’ve used several games to teach economics and finances through the years, as well. Here are a few you might like:
And here are some books to check out (Literally! Checking books out from the library teaches a great money-saving option!):