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Family Rhythm and Mealtime as an Anchor

I have been thinking a lot about our family rhythm and mealtimes. These are the ways our family moves day-to-day and stays somewhat balanced. My husband and I comment often about how much prep work it takes to keep our family moving along in a (somewhat) harmonious way. One thing we do is have our evening meal together, as a family. Dinner time is our major anchor of the day.

During my childhood, our family mealtimes were tense. We always had to walk on eggshells around my dad– you just never knew when he was going to blow. I learned to eat as quickly as possible and excuse myself to my room to avoid the temper- flares. I’m sure the value I place on family meal-time has its basis in correcting that childhood stressor.

Also, as I’ve learned how important gut health is and how our stress levels affect our digestive processes it only makes sense to have harmony around mealtimes.

Fine Tuning the Engine

This is one important piece of our daily rhythm. As I mentioned, it takes a lot of energy to make it happen. Food is one of our highest budget items, we plan, prep, and work ahead of time so that the evening transition is relatively smooth.

Our daily schedules are full. We have many different places to be, many different meal “shifts”. However, we work to adjust and adapt our schedules so that everyone can participate in our evening meal. Dinner is the time we all round out the day together. Even when we have crazy days, we try to keep this as close to “normal” as possible.

The larger our family has grown, and the more mouths we have to feed, the more predictability is necessary. Having regular meal and snack times is an anchor that helps the rest of the family rhythms to fall into place. The kids generally know what to expect in the few hours after each meal or snack.

Transitioning to a Family Meal

As we move into our evening meal, there are few things we do to set a positive atmosphere. Since the table is the center of our focus for many other things, we make sure all of the days projects and toys are cleaned up and add a “special” touch. This is often a candle or flowers, and sometimes cloth napkins.

I like to make sure the atmosphere is relaxed and conducive to digestion. The familiarity, the regularity, and the calm all promote healthy digestion and mental attitudes around our food. We don’t have television, news, or any distractions at the dinner table and we keep our conversation light and positive.

My husband is great at promoting gratitude as we start our meal. Sometimes we start our meal sharing 1 high and 1 low point of our day. This lets us decompress without dwelling on a negative. When Keenan was small we would start our meal with a verse as a way to promote gratitude. I have found many nice blessings in books, or it could be based on your religious preference.

All hands are on deck with our dinner preparation and serving. Each person has a role in getting it together. Generally, I do the cooking. My oldest is in charge of after-dinner dishes, Gus guides the little kids and helps them set the table and fold the napkins. He also cuts and preps their food and gets them settled and ready to eat. For me, this is a huge relief. Not everything is on my shoulders and I can actually sit and enjoy the food I have prepared.

The Busy Table, Rhythm as Discipline

In our home, our table is one of the busiest locations in the house. We all gather for many reasons. It is our “Grand Central Station”. Our place of celebration, creativity, education, play, and family meals (and clutter, lol).

Having a regular family rhythm and structure is the main component of our “discipline” tactic. We have found that predictability and routine have created an atmosphere of trust and established boundaries. The kids know what to expect day in and day out (basically) and what is expected of them so there is much less room for “error”.

And yes, we have our days and struggles (in NO way am I saying we are perfect and have it all together). I have just found in my mothering years, that creating a somewhat predictable family rhythm can really eliminate a lot of problems before they begin.

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Simple Emotional Wellness Tips

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Have you ever wanted to just run away?

This is my M.O. when I’m feeling stressed or down. I have an escapist fantasy. I imagine running away from my husband and kids and lounging in Bali in a beachside treetop hut.

My reality is that I am having one of those weeks… ugh, and it is just Wednesday. We had an amazing weekend and then it seems all of my stresses piled up in my body and mind and now I’ve created an internal disaster zone. Plus, I’m not getting any sleep (friggin 4 month sleep regression).

I am not writing this blog for recognition or sympathy. I am writing this down because I’m sure many people who open this post have these thoughts and feelings too. It is a tough place to be and for me, the cycle of negative thinking can spiral much quicker than it should.

Call it hormones, call it sleep-deprivation, call it emotional imbalance. Whatever it is, it sucks and I know I want to make bad choices when feeling this way. I often run to comfort eating, Target or Amazon retail therapy, an extra coffee– just something to pacify the mood. All of that can be well and good, but right now none of those choices line up with my current goals.

These days will come over and over again, however, I am learning to lessen the impact and the length of time I’m “out of commission” with stress and overwhelm.

I’m writing to share the tools I use to reduce the impact of negative days and recharge when the kids are extra draining. You know, since it isn’t possible to retreat to Bali, or even stay in bed for a day.

  • Always remember my goals— I keep a vision board around to remind me of my goals. I make a new one every few months to stay fresh and to recognize my progress. I will spend a few moments looking at the vision board and remind myself where I am going so that I continue to make wise, not rash decisions (eat a whole pan of brownies for dinner, lol)– so guess what? My vision board currently showcases a lot of green and fresh veggies, exercise, and positive affirmations.
  • Meditate/Pray— I will take 5-10 minutes during the day (usually during the kids’ nap) and sit down. It is always surprising to me how this action will recharge my batteries or fill my cup when I don’t think I have any energy left.
  • Take care of my belly— My goodness this has been the best thing for my nervous system and anxiety. Magnesium supplements, a good probiotic and keeping my ph alkaline really help regulate my moods! I’ve posted a few times what I use to keep my belly healthy.
  • Art– doing something creative is also a great way to replenish when you’re dragging. I am not the most artistic being on the planet, but making a vision board or writing are great outlets (hence the blog post).
  • Rest– a nap or just lying down with your eyes shut for a few minutes can change your outlook as well. As a mom of 3, it is often hard to find a few moments for a nap– but I can utilize Buzz Lightyear or Baby Einstein for a brief 10-minute pause, and not feel guilty for taking a few moments of “me” time in the middle of a highly emotional day. A rejuvenated mama is better than a burnt-out one!

These are my tips for getting through when life and parenthood are taking their toll. I always feel more grounded and generally at ease when I pull a tool (or 3) from my toolbox rather than booking my flight and disappearing from my family.






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Tips for Taming Two-Year Old Tantrums

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Our sweet, little, easy-going Ezra turned two on Valentine’s Day. Recently, his two-year old switch was flipped on, and he is exploring the world of tantrums. This go-around with parenting, I am in a different place than I was 11 years ago when this happened with my oldest son.

When I first became a mother I was 25, and definitely less mature than I am now at nearly 39. My parenting philosophy in the early years was that I did not want my son to feel pain, have his feelings hurt, or ever lack security. In retrospect, this was because of my upbringing and feelings of lack. I transferred my “pain” on him and did what I could to make sure his childhood wasn’t mine.  All psychology aside, it was not the right course of action and now that I know better, I can do better. That is how life works, I do not beat myself up for past mistakes. I just get back up, dust myself off and keep on moving.

I did not “damage” my oldest son (that I can tell) 😂. It just took a longer time to establish the parent/child roles and structure that a kid actually craves. 11 years later, I do not take any of the tantruming personally, and have learned how a two-year old’s mind works, and what they are actually communicating when they lose their temper.

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The Two-Year Old Mind

A two-year old is not “terrible”, the so-called terrible behavior often occurs during the second year because their language skills are underdeveloped and their desire exceeds their ability. A two-year old does not have the ability to reason, or have any of their own wisdom to make decisions or have concern for their safety.

A toddler is equipped with persistence so they can develop into their world, and they live in the moment. They know what they desire and how they feel, but can not express with words. All they know is that they are angry. Big brother can eat a muffin? I want one too.

Know the Triggers

Knowing what sets your little one off is the first step in tantrum avoidance or diffusion. Does skipping a nap make it worse? Is bedtime a terror? Does your two-year old hate abrupt change? Is it when you are preoccupied or when you say “no”? In the store or in the car?  Having the knowledge of what the triggers are will help avoid the situation. Although, you may not be able to live 100% tantrum free, you can have yourself prepared to deal with whatever situation occurs.

For my two-year old, food and abrupt changes are his biggest triggers. He wants to eat other kids snacks, or things out of our pantry that are not being offered. For us, keeping the food out of sight (and therefore out of mind) is a prevention method, and warning him ahead of time that his activity is coming to an end is another method. It is not a fool-proof method, just an awareness we have and can make steps toward avoidance.

Parents and Caregivers are a Team

When it comes to kids, they learn very quickly how to get their way. The adults in the situation have to be a united front so that the child does not receive mixed signals about what is expected of them. If one adult “gives in” and the other is standing firm, “giving in” discredits the work of the other adult.

Clearly defining what is acceptable and agreeing on it and staying firm together keeps the child balanced, because there is no “grey” area. The grey area for children leads to confusion of what boundaries exist. Setting up the home environment for success is also helpful. When the trigger areas are less accessible, the thought to tantrum may not even occur. Keep do not touch items out of sight, have appealing play areas available, are great ways to “toddler-proof” the environment. We even keep a basket of Ezra-friendly items in the car, for one of those dreaded car-tantrums.

Do Not Take it Personally

This was my biggest mistake when my oldest son was a toddler. His tantrums hurt my feelings and I took it very personally. I would feel I “did” something to upset him rather than realizing that he needed structure and language skills to help him deal with his emotions.

When he melted down, I would feel like a failure and in a sense, meltdown with him. As an adult, and as a parent, it is our job to keep our peace in the midst of chaos. Knowing our own triggers, and being able to stay uplifted and balanced and responding from a mature place will diffuse the tantrum much quicker with less “trauma” for parent and child.

What to Do When the Inevitable Occurs

Remember that tantrums are a normal part of development, and we use these moments to guide and direct them toward appropriate behavior. This “appropriate” behavior is actually emotional recognition and coping skills that will develop well into life. If the skills are not learned, then the same behavior will be carried on later in life because it worked effectively to get their way.

Sometimes a child may need help (tantrum about not being able to do something they want to do, like get undressed), so offering help may diffuse the emotional spiral. Other times, they may need to let off steam. When this occurs, verbalize for them what they can not say. Our common one is “you are mad because mama won’t let you have that snack”. Some children need someone to provide support and security with a hug and language. Maybe offering to hold them while they are angry. This does not work with my toddler, he does not want restraint so redirection is usually our method.

Redirecting his behavior by walking outside and pointing out birds or airplanes will usually calm our little guy swiftly. Other times, just sitting beside him and reminding him that we are here and we know he is angry is another nice technique. The final method we use, if nothing else seems to be doing the trick, is to give him a time-out. For instance, if the tantrum happens at Target, we will immediately walk out of the store and go to the car until he settles down, or we leave completely. If it happens at home, we will put him in his bed and tell him we are leaving him there to cool off, and so-far this has been successfully rather quickly.

This Too Shall Pass

Having a plan, and staying calm and confident will help move a parent through the tantrum-piece of toddlerhood. Our children are rapidly developing, and over time we will see their ability to reason and make choices blossom.

Staying connected to your child, and being a safe, secure figure allows them to trust and develop emotionally and verbally during this time. Remember that “giving-in” when they tantrum is just reinforcing the behavior, so staying on top of the triggers and reminding them that no amount of tantruming will result in what they want reinforces that you mean what you say. Children catch on to this very quickly.

Have you raised a toddler? What worked for you?