Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Five Areas for Self and Home Improvement

Whew, this turned in to a long post with lots of unimportant details. I actually started writing this more than two weeks ago. But I really wanted to jot down my thoughts on improving myself and my home. I think a good reflection is important every now and again. 

With the aid of several self-help books I've been really focusing on improving myself as a mother and a homemaker. I'm a little surprised by how much I enjoy self help books. I've always been a goal oriented person, but I've felt that slip in the past few years (basically, I'd pin it on my exit from the workforce). Self help books have encouraged me to refocus how I set goals and what I set goals for.

That said, here are some things I'm working on and some of the wisdom I've gained as I've read a few different books in particular. The ideas in this post mostly come from Parent Effectiveness Training (Gordon) Duct Tape Parenting (Hoefle) and Clutterfree with Kids (Becker). Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) pairs so well with Duct Tape Parenting, I almost want to read them both again, back to back this time. Both authors have a clear understanding of human relationships and psychology. Their knowledge is admirable. Both are parenting experts who spent their entire career holding parenting classes that they later summarized in their books. Boy oh boy I would love to take their classes in person (I think Gordon has passed though). Books are great, but I think I'd make more significant changes if the instruction was given while the authors and I sit together in the same room. Likewise, as I read Duct Tape Parenting I just kept thinking Hoefle's strategies would be much easier for people who have mastered a clutter free life. Clutter causes stress and stress impacts our emotional intelligence. Hoefle's book isn't for people who have other problem areas in their life. Anyway, here are some of the takeaway themes I gathered across these different books.

Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries is a popular concept right now. Some of my boundaries are really specific. For example, when it comes to belongings I have decided to set certain limits on things like clothes and toys. I've written about my limited wardrobe before, but minimizing your closet isn't something you do just once and call it good. It's something I regularly have to check. Also, I've set limits (or boundaries) for the number of clothes my kids can have. Reid survived all summer with just two pairs of shorts, five tee shirts to match, and four exercise/pajama sets. That's not much, and yet it was plenty! Nell had three skirts with matching shirts, three shorts, three tees, and a couple of dresses. Again, it was plenty!

This may be one of the silliest things I admit to, but I have a google document tracking each of my kids toys. Reid and Nell are allowed 20; Coraline, 15, and baby, 10 (this includes things like the baby swing and jumperoo). Twenty toys sound like a lot, and it is -- trust me! And yet, we have had to get rid of so many toys. Now, anytime my kids get a new item they have to give another up. This gets tricky with collection type items -- like Legos. Currently Reid's Lego collection counts as 4 toys, but he certainly has more than 4 sets. I typically count two or three sets as one toy. Even with 20 toys on each of their lists, there are plenty of toys we almost never (or rarely) play with.

Communicate Clearly
Setting boundaries extends into our human relationships -- it certainly isn't reserved just for "things." For me, the key to setting boundaries with other people lies in more direct communication. I recognize I need to be straightforward when making plans with others or when expressing my desires and feelings. I also recognize that if people were more straightforward with me my life would be so much easier. This is a simple reminder that I need to be direct when agreeing to certain assignments or meetups. I also need to remember it is okay to say no!

Parent Effectiveness Training focuses quite heavily on communication. I have tried my best to implement "I" statements vs "you" statements when I become upset or am trying to express my feelings. It is so much harder than it sounds! But I know this is so important in my closest relationships. When I tell Reid "I get so mad when you don't clear the table" I am blaming him for my emotions. That is not okay. I am always in charge of my own emotions, but our closest relationships do have an impact on how we feel. So a better option is to say "I feel upset and disrespected when the table is a mess after each meal." This gives my kids a chance to realize I am expressing my emotions in a way that I take responsibility for them, but it also gives them an opportunity to realize they can help me feel better. Then, how much more meaningful is it when they remember to clear the table? Then, they are doing it to help keep me happy and not because I guilt, nag, and shame them! Win, win.

Give Kids the Space They Need to Flourish
Both P.E.T. and Duct Tape Parenting are very anti-helicopter parenting (which I find especially interesting because P.E.T. was written before that term even existed). One of Gordon's main ideas is that parents need to learn how to identify when a problem is theirs and when it is their child's. Any problem that belongs to the child (school, friendships, most behavior issues) needs to be solved by the child with minimal intervention from the parent. The parent simply helps by LISTENING to the child work out potential solutions and then following up with the child on how they handled the problem later on. Of course there are times when the problem is shared between both the parent and the child, that is called conflict (obviously) and Gordon gives six simple steps for solving these conflicts. Again, this process requires a lot of partnership and LISTENING. The parent can't just take control of these conflicts any more than they can successfully take control of their child's problems.

Hoefle also expresses the dangers of controlled parenting. She identifies four ways parents hinder their kids' growth.  She refers to this as "becoming the maid." The four reasons are: we want to spoil our kids (kids should just be kids), we think things go best when we are in control (they'll just do it wrong and I'll have to redo it), we think our kids are a reflection of us (what will others think if...), and finally, we need to be needed (she's not ready to do that on her own). She dedicates an entire section of her book to reminding parents (in detail) that their kids can do many things (chores, food prep, school organization) all on their own. And the base of her argument is that when we let kids do things on their own their behavior, attitude, and entire demeanor improves. I've really been trying this out in the past month since reading her book -- and I agree with her completely! In fact, when the Dentist recently told me I still need to help Reid brush his teeth I was kind of bummed -- "he's almost six, he can do it himself!" I thought. But, I've decided to help him a bit anyway.

Weekly Family Council
The Church I belong to has told members to hold weekly family councils for years, and while Ben and I have been good at holding regularly Family Home Evenings, we haven't really done family councils. But then I read Duct Tape Parenting and she mentions the importance of weekly family meetings and outlines some of the tasks that need to be completed at these meetings. For whatever reason, that made everything click and I haven't missed a Family Council since!

With our kids, these councils last less than five minutes. It basically has three parts. 1) I take out a notebook and everyone sets one goal for something they'd like to improve or learn during the week (mine is repeatedly to yell less). Reid chooses things like making fried eggs and pancakes. Nell's first goal was to learn to dress herself completely. All of their goals require a lot of work on my part, but if I really want them to flourish I have to train them properly! 2) We pay them a small allowance. I have been down the kids and finance rabbit hole over at and soon we will implement a money system similar to theirs. 3) The last thing we do is go over our weekly calendar and talk about any important things coming up. One thing Hoefle suggests that I'd like to implement is a family appreciation chart. I think we could take time in our Family Council to each say one nice thing about each family member.

Weekly Cleaning Schedule
This final area of improvement isn't actually from any of my self-help books, but in the last couple months I have tried really hard to keep the kitchen and dining area clean (and clutter free!). I've taught the kids how to clear the table and load the dishwasher (their's that flourishing thing again). I've forced myself to do the hand wash only dishes almost daily. I've been more dedicated to making weekly meal plans (yes, that is something that helps the kitchen stay clean). I try to not gripe about sweeping or baby wipe moping under the dining table several times daily.

I've also made a google document with my own specialized cleaning schedule. I know there are a million pre-made ones on Pinterest, but I needed one tailored to our home and my cleaning style. Basically, I dust, vacuum, and do laundry on Monday and Friday. I mop one area of the house on Tuesday (we have a lot of hardwood, tile, and laminate floors). These areas are vacuumed along with the rest of the house twice a week, but every other week or so they need a more detailed scrub. Wednesday is bathroom day, and Thursday is either a make up day (because I do regularly miss a day) or a more detailed clean of the basement or kitchen (stove, fridge, cupboards etc). I have not yet perfected this cleaning schedule, but I count anything I get done a win! And I should say, Monday and Friday are almost always completed with perfection. It's those midweek days I struggle with for some reason.

Wish me luck as I try to improve myself and my mothering. I'd love to hear any ideas those who read (or glimpsed over) this whole thing might have. 

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