Q&A: Getting Stuff Done with Kids Underfoot?

Q&A: Getting Stuff Done (with kids underfoot) // jessconnell.com

Q&A: My 2 practical questions are:

I have a 2.5 yr old and 11 mo old twins….all boys….all active. The twins swarm my 2.5 yr old and it makes him angry, so he shoves / etc. We discipline him for this, but I have a hard time blaming his reaction when they are coming at him from both sides. I have no idea how to keep all of them near to me AND keep them separated or how to train them to get along.

Secondly, how do you get things done while also paying attention to your kids and bringing them along with you? If I let my twins near me, they are literally crawling all over my body. My two year old immediately starts competing for attention when they do this because he feels left out. For instance, do you have any resources about blanket training? What age do you start? Is there an age that is too late to start?

A: You said: “I like the idea of keeping them closer, but also need to die to my desire to do chores and my ‘own thing’ un-encumbered by littles latched at my knees.” And I just wanted to say– me too. So when you’re praying that for you, pray it for me too. Cause that is hard for us all.

I think we all are easily given over to the idea of getting things done, and much less apt to be honed in on the work at the heart-level, with day-in, day-out presence. The checklist and things done shows up so easily… we can see what we’ve done, and others can too, and we feel achievement in that. (And pretty much all of us in this modern world have been reared with a heart seeking after achievement.) So we run to that which is measurable, and that which is less measurable (the incremental change of little hearts) can easily be pushed to the side.

So. Practically… first, for the 2.5 year old, I would try to set up some sort of space where he can play on his own from time to time (things like pattern blocks on the dining table) where they can’t mess up what he’s doing. Cause, yeah, that is frustrating, to feel like you can’t do anything, build anything, etc, without being swarmed. LOL. Poor little guy.

At the same time, I would try to build in some times of “wrestling” on the floor– you with all of them. Things like– tell the two year old that his goal is to try to, for example, make your legs go flat. All the while, you’re able to kiss, snuggle, twist, tickle, grab and growl, etc., with the twins. If he gets your legs flat to the ground, he wins. Boys love this kind of play… Or, take turns lifting them up on your shins and bouncing them. Getting him to, at times, learn how to gently wrestle with and love on them, so that they aren’t always seen as little pests, but he can (on his two-year-old level) see how to have fun with them, how to be gentle, etc. It’s not going to be perfect. He’s two. But he can start to have a good time with them at intervals in the day, without it constantly being that they’re messing up his fun.

And on the second question, in your case, I would definitely try blanket training, or using two pack and plays, and letting the 2 year old help you in the kitchen, for example, help make lunch, help put dishes away, etc. He is old enough to stand in front of the dryer while you hand him laundry to throw in. Yes, it will take longer. For a year or two. But he will eventually start being able to truly be a help to you. The only way that happens is for him to learn to help you at times when it isn’t actually a help to you. As one of our friends said, with a smile on his face after our 2 & 4 year old “helped” him with dishes, “Thank you boys SO MUCH for doing dishes with me… with your help, it only took TWICE as long.” :)

For blanket training, 11 months old is actually a really great time to start. It will be slow going at first (for a week or two) while they “get it”– which means you won’t be able to get as much done during those times. But it will pay off if you are diligent and consistent, because it will go from just 5-10 minutes of independent play to being able to do 30-45 minute stretches happily on the blanket, engrossed in their own toys/books/etc. The alternative (if that isn’t appealing) would be to use two pack and plays, or two sealed-off areas (gates?) that are visible to you, where they can safely play on their own. (Here’s a pretty thorough “how to”/”why” post about blanket time… that’s a good start for you to have a picture of what it is I mean when I use that term.)

Also, honestly, when they are little, I used nap times to try to tackle any “must do” items that I couldn’t get done with them awake.

Sometimes parenting/training really will take up most of your time, especially in the early years, but then, the pay off is that it produces peace and joy in your home later on. :)

Keep at it.

And don’t feel too much guilt about wanting to “get them settled with toys so you can get others things done.” That’s OK too. I bet Mary did that to Jesus, and I think every mom does. That’s just normal.

It’s not that every minute of every day has to be with them attached at the hip. But it’s that you’re purposeful as you go about your day, training as you go, bringing them along to help and learn to be contributors to your home, etc., smiling at them, spending time together laughing and learning, teaching them what a cup of flour means, etc.

Sometimes it will also mean setting them down with toys to play so you can get things done. There’s no harm in that. Hang in there.

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Big Family Life: It’s Harder… and Easier.

Big Family Life: It's harder... and easier. // jessconnell.com

It’s probably the most common thing I hear in the grocery store: “I couldn’t handle any more children. I haven’t even got patience for these TWO!”

The funny thing is that I don’t ask people why they don’t have more children.

Especially when I’m going through the checkout line… I can assure you my mind is fully occupied! I don’t have time to sit around wondering why perfect strangers have made the fertility decisions they have. But many of them offer this information immediately after exclaiming shock at how many children we have.

And.

To be fair.

We do have seven children. And I’m now showing with baby #8.

(The lady at the discount grocery store cackled the other day when I confirmed her suspicion about my belly. CACKLED. I’m so glad to have these years of taking these things in stride and learning to smile about it. Anyway, it really was funny to see how much joy it gave her in her everyday routine. It clearly made her day. And Ethan and I laughed about it for  a while afterward, so maybe it made our day too.)

But if I could write a letter to the random strangers , here’s what I’d say:

Dear Stranger Looking at Our Large Family:

There’s something I think you’re missing when you look at us.

You look at this trail of stairstep children and heap of groceries, and think, oh there’s no way I could ever do that!

Maybe you think, “WOW! That takes EXTRA patience. EXTRA super-hero mom stuff.” Or maybe you think, “that lady is NUTS. Who needs that many kids? Just know when to call it QUITS already!!”

And I get it. I do.

I think I would have gawked at us. I probably would have counted them all to be sure, like you just did. Back when Doug & I met and were dreaming of a life together, we wanted “more kids than average,” but for us I think we meant something like four. Five, max. Having eight kids would have sounded to my ears like something akin to joining the looney bin.

First, let me tell you about this “patience” you accuse me of possessing. I don’t have much. Truth is, in some ways I have less than I used to. But yes, in some ways I have more. Just like anyone who faces challenges in a particular area of life, our capacities expand to the demands we face. So while I do have more patience than I used to, I am still just a normal gal who has to work to love the people in my home.

The thing is… you’re right in many ways– it’s harder.

  • I can’t be as selfish as I want to be. While I do prioritize self-care, I don’t get a ton of me-time. I don’t get as much sleep as I might prefer.
  • I can’t let discipline stuff go, cause it gets out of hand FAST. So I can’t be as lazy in parenting as I want to be.
  • I can’t control it all. There’s no way. I’ve had to relinquish control again and again.
  • I have to have better systems than I used to have. We just started a 6-week meal plan again, after about 6 years of flying by the seat of our pants for meals. But it was time to start that bad boy back up again, so now each day I know what’s for dinner. Yay, systems!
  • And there’s just more. More strain on furniture, more time spent letting a virus cycle through our family, more quantity of food to cook, more noise, more shoes piled at the door, more spankings, more tantrums to handle.

But I think sometimes the thing you don’t know is this: in many ways, you’re absolutely wrong.

In many ways, it’s easier.

  • I can’t be as selfish as I want to be. Not if I want to be an upright person. I suppose I could try to be a hypocrite, but I have 14 eyes that would (if not now, eventually) call me out on that ruse. It’s such a GIFT that I can’t be as selfish as I want to be. This ultimately makes my life easier… making me less of a whiner, less of a navel-gazer.
  • I can’t let discipline stuff go. And how GOOD that is! Even when it’s driven by a selfish desire for easier days ahead, I can’t be as lazy in parenting as I would naturally be… and that is SO GOOD… for me and for them! It makes me a more consistent mother, and gives them a more consistent upbringing.
  • I can’t control it all. This is a wonderful thing for me (as a woman) to come to grips with! No, I can’t micromanage my life and the lives of everyone I love. It’s GOOD for me to go ahead and give this up now rather than trying to cling to it and have to face reality when they head out into the wide world. This forces me to rely fully on God’s grace and sovereignty. He is good and faithful and I can trust Him to control and work in all the ways I never can.
  • I have to have better systems, and this is just flat out good for me. I would SOOOOO be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants gal, but this large family kicks my tail into gear, and I’m grateful. It’s part of the way God is changing me into a more self-disciplined person.
  • And there’s just more. More smiles, more snuggles, more opportunities to ask for forgiveness, more opportunities to offer forgiveness, more personalities to make me marvel at God’s creative power, more up-close chances to see God at work in various people’s lives, more funny quirkiness to enjoy each day in our home, and more people who might–by God’s grace– come to Heaven with Doug and I… there’s just more.

The truth is, I couldn’t be more grateful for each of these little people. They each are a unique expression of God in terms of personality, faith, weakness, and strength.

And God uses each one of them to grace the world, and to change my heart in unique ways. I’m so thankful for them! Even with the tantrums and the noise and exhaustion.

God’s gifts are always so good. Each one is so RIGHT. And these particular eight gifts God has given us…

Well they probably look like they make life harder. And they do.

But they also make it much, much easier.

~Jess

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How I Built A First-Aid Kit for our Large Family

How I Built a First-Aid Kit for Our Large Family // jessconnell.com

 

We’ve got 7 children. 6 of those are boys, but actually, our daughter ended up having the worst traumatic accident we’ve encountered yet (so don’t count out those girls!). We’ve had dozens of ER runs, and dozens more of NEAR-ER runs, where I carefully assessed the damage and ultimately decided to stay home and fix the wound or injury at home.

To do both, I keep a nicely-stocked home First Aid kit. Whether we end up going to the ER or not, it is really nice to be prepared for those GASP-y moments when someone comes rushing in to tell you that their sibling has been hurt.

WHY NOT THE STORE-BOUGHT KITS?

I’ve looked at the little already-prepared first aid kits they sell in stores, and I have three problems with them:

  1. They’re CRAZY over-priced for how little you get.
  2. They’re never big enough for the first-aid needs of an active, large family.
  3. You’ll quickly run out of some items, and then be sitting there with a weird set of random items you’ll probably never use, in your tiny plastic box.

So, after about 6 years of having a piecemeal approach to first-aid care, here’s what I now keep in our large family’s First Aid kit: 

  • steristripSteri-strips. These are great for cuts/slices that look nerve-wracking but don’t actually need stitches. The material is strong and holds the two pieces of skin together tightly. They don’t stick to as much skin as a bandaid, but they hold stronger. And they’re thin enough to cut down to the size you need.
  • Super glue is another surprisingly easy way to close up small cuts. We did this when our (then) 3-year-old son fell back into the metal radiator our first week in China and got a big gash, and we’ve used it again and again for various cuts and slices on our kids.  If you have family allergies, try this out before using it, but this is a common way ERs still close up wounds (they use a fancier one but it’s basically super glue), and is a sound method for closing small to mid-level cuts.
  • Antiseptic liquids. At our home, we keep a bottle of isopropyl alcohol and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide on hand for giving a quick clean to wounds and scrapes. (These often go on sale for a $1 at drug stores.)
  • But we also go on a few trips a year, so I’ve come to prefer having a box of individual-wrapped alcohol wipes on hand as well.
  • Gauze pads. I find that in the heat of the moment, it’s really annoying to have your gauze pad be way too big, or too small to actually cover the wound… so I like having both the 2-inch gauze pads, and the 4-inch gauze pads to pull from when someone has a scrape, cut, or slice. Even if we end up heading to the ER, having these keeps blood from dripping everywhere in the house, on the clothes, and in the car on the way there.
  • In addition to gauze pads, I keep rolled gauze on hand. It allows me to wrap around a wound if it’s in an awkward or bendy place, and it’s easy to cut to the length I need.
  • Fabric tape and/or self-adhesive bandage wrap. This (paired with gauze) is great for helping (especially younger) kids get over the “hump” of a bad scrape or cut, while waiting for enough healing to go with a smaller bandage, or no bandage at all. It keeps everything nice and snug and cuts or tears easily to the length you need. This can also wrap a wound securely if you’re headed to the ER.
  • Variety-pack of bandaids. It’s nice to have a variety of sizes, but I like for the majority to be the normal sized bandaids, as those are the ones we use most.
  • Scissors. They just need to be sharp. I prefer small haircutting shears like these. These are helpful for cutting bandages, fabric tape, or even cutting ripped clothes out of the way so you can get to a cut more quickly.
  • Neosporin. Classic for cuts and wounds. I have started buying mine at Dollar Tree because they’re nice little tubes for a dollar.
  • Epsom Salt. This is something I always keep in our bathroom, so for times when we’re home and a child gets bad stings or bites, it’s my first line of defense. A warm/hot sink of water, with a cup or two of epsom salts will greatly soothe fire ants bites, bee stings, and other bug bites (this worked like a charm in Texas, where our kids regularly got fire ants bites!). It’s also a great thing to add to the bathwater of a child having fever, stomach problems, or itchy skin, as it draws out toxins and soaks their body in magnesium to help them relax.
  • Sting Care—  I didn’t used to have this in my first aid kit, because we were almost always at home with epsom salt close at hand, but now that we do some camping and outdoorsy trips, I’ve added it. If we ever do get a bad sting or bite, I want to have something to offer my little people to give at least some help.
  • When we head out on a trip, I carry a simple ziplock with sample size portions of over-the-counter medicines for common maladies: Ibuprofen, Immodium, Benadryl, Dramamine, cough drops, chapstick, Tums, and (now that we have some migraine-sufferers in our family) Excedrin Migraine. I don’t carry enough to treat days and days of an affliction, but it gives me enough to offer someone a few doses to start off with, before we can make it to a store to get a full pack.
  • One final tip: we keep our First Aid Kit in cleaning caddy containers with the handles in the center. This allows us to easily carry it with us on multi-day trips as a family. I like, too, that this lets me grab the entire kit and carry it to where the person is (whether outside, or even just up to the counter while I’m treating a cut/scrape).

(Note: all links in this post go to the best deals I could find on Amazon.)

A couple times a year (usually right before trips), I assess what’s still in the kit, locate any missing items (like scissors) and make sure we stock back up on anything that’s gotten low (usually bandaids and neosporin… occasionally something else).

Having a hearty first-aid kit comes in handy when:

  • your 3-year-old busts his chin on the tub and the “good” ER is 30 minutes away.
  • your 8-year-old’s hand goes through a window
  • someone gets a nasty-looking scrape from doing scooters on the sidewalk
  • your child is standing in the middle of an ant pile getting covered and bitten by them before realizing they’ve done so.

IN THE COMMENTS, SHARE: Are you happy with your current first aid solution? Do you have everything you need in an accessible place when those near-ER-moments happen?

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Mental Snapshots & Good Goodbyes

Mental Snapshots & Good Goodbyes // jessconnell.com

Important moments of life are often overrun with busyness, planning, stress, and “must-dos.” And the big “goodbyes” of life are often overshadowed by sorrow, a busy schedule, and stresses like packing, funeral planning, or travel plans. The expression of genuine emotion gets overlooked, stuffed down, or put off for a “later” that never arrives.

Here are some ways I push back against those tendencies.

MENTAL SNAPSHOTS

Back when Doug and I were on the cusp of our wedding, one of our professors gave me his best piece of wedding advice.

He said, “it’s very easy to get lost in all the busyness and everyone telling you where you need to be. So make sure at some point when you’re standing up at the altar, you really set aside all your other thoughts, and take a good mental snapshot. Look at how he’s smiling at you and what it feels like to hold his hands in this moment. Then, you’ll have that memory to think back on for the rest of your life as what your wedding felt like. Otherwise, you run the risk of having a bunch of pretty pictures in a book, and over time your perspective will shift away from your own actual experience of your wedding, to the outsiders’ perspective of what the view was from behind the camera lens. You will start to lose the memory of what it was like to be in your wedding and all the other pictures taken from other vantage points will become your sole ability to reflect back on what it was like to be in that day.”

I’ve always been grateful for his advice. I did that, and it was particularly important because we also were dealing with my father-in-law in the hospital in critical condition at the very same moment that we took those vows, and it would have been easy to lose the memory of our actual perspective in that moment, amidst all the stress and swirling thoughts and concerns.

Instead, in addition to the photos of that day, I have a clear memory of Doug’s watery eyes smiling at me and squeezing my hand while my now-deceased friend Allison’s voice soared.

Ever since then, at times when there is great emotional importance, I try to do this same thing– take a mental snapshot when I’m holding my newborn, take a mental snapshot of what a special day feels like.

I like being able to think back through my life and still these things happening from my own perspective, rather than through the perspective of the photos we have.

“AUNT DOC”

There’s this woman I want to tell you about.

When I first met her, she was in her 70s, and had spent the last few years taking adventure trips around the world. She had taken trips to Egypt, to southeast Asia, to the Mediterranean, and even yes even in her 70s, had taken a small boat into the back channels of the Amazon. She was my husband’s great aunt, and she was a godly woman who had lived an incredible life. She served in the Navy as a young woman,  served her local community as a physician for more than four decades. Though she never married, she still had a hand bringing children into the world. Thousands of babies were delivered by her (sometimes multiple generations in the same families!!). She was the first female physician in her area, and attained many professional accolades.

But one of my favorite things about Aunt Doc, was her affinity for the plain old truth. She would speak what she really thought and you could count on her to do it. If she thought someone was a cad, she might not say it out right but you’d know that that’s what she thought. If someone had been irresponsible, she wouldn’t hold back from intimating that truth. If she believed there was nuance to a situation, she wouldn’t paint it as black and white.

And if she thought you were doing a great job, she would tell you. Just a few years ago, after we talked at length about what my homeschool days with the children looked like, particularly the history portion of our studies, her eyes got wide and she said, “I’d love to be in your homeschool class! That sounds fascinating.” Some of my most valued real-life encouragement as a mom came from her lips, because I knew that she was an unfailingly honest person. If she said it, you knew she really thought it.

I still have a lovely mental snapshot of the last time I saw Aunt Doc. She was standing in her pink polyester suit with a white high-neck shirt, smiling with tears in her eyes. She and another favorite aunt of Doug’s, aunt MaryAnn, were waving and smiling and sending us off as we came to Washington 2 & 1/2 years ago.

I think I even said at the time, “I feel like that is probably the last time I will see Aunt Doc. on this earth.” Sure enough, she passed away just a number of weeks ago, at the ripe old age of 94. She was in good health, but as our bodies are wont to do, age had taken its toll. And I don’t believe she would have wanted it lengthened. In her latter years, she grew increasingly eager to see her Savior and to be reunited with old friends that she had seen come and go.

GOOD GOODBYES

Before we moved overseas, more than 10 years ago now, we spoke to as many people as we could who had lived abroad in various settings. If there were people willing to share their experiences and wisdom with us, we wanted to hear it!

One of the most memorable and useful pieces of advice that we received was, “Say good goodbyes. You might think that you are coming back to a city, but you can’t be sure. You can’t be sure that while you were gone there will not be a political uprising, that your visa will be reapproved, that the baby you are going to have won’t have some sort of medical treatment required in the US, or any number of other factors that could entirely prevent you from going back to that same place. And if you miss a chance to say it, you might never again have the chance to connect with that person. So, always leave a city as if it is the last time you will leave. Tell your friends, local and from the ex-pat community, how you really feel. Don’t hold back; be honest and tell them what they mean to you.”

Overseas, that piece of advice became very relevant to us, as we had many many transitions (expected and unexpected) in our 6 years abroad. I am not sorry for a single one of the good goodbyes I spoke during those six years. In fact, overseas life is an unending river of goodbyes because at any given moment, you’re the one leaving, or someone else is. There’s almost never a “constant” set of relationships in overseas life.

Perhaps that overseas context makes this habit of “saying good goodbyes” easier to develop. Maybe it’s harder when you rarely have reason to say “goodbye.” 

The last time I spoke face-to-face with Aunt Doc was just inside the open-door of Aunt MaryAnn’s garage. The old-habit-training kicked in– I went to her and took her hands and told her exactly what she meant to me. I told her what a heritage of faith and family she’d passed on to all the generations of her family… how her love and encouragement had been a blessing to me and to Doug, and how much we loved her. I told her I was thankful for these years of close-by living, how much the kids love and look up to her, and how we’d all miss her.

She was very emotional and seemed shocked to hear these things. We hugged and expressed love and tenderness, and I headed back to the van (where I took that “mental snapshot” of her in the pink polyester suit, through my own tear-filled eyes).

We did, in fact, talk on the phone a few more times over the last two and half years, but I’m so thankful for that last, sweet, good goodbye. Especially now, I don’t have a single regret about not having said something I wish I’d said.

 

IN THE COMMENTS: In what ways could you implement a practice of taking “mental snapshots” and saying “good goodbyes?”

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From Grumpy to Grateful: Helping Our Children CHANGE Their Thinking

From GRUMPY to Grateful: Helping Our CHILDREN CHANGE THEIR THINKING // jessconnell.com Is a grumpy child just destined to be grumpy? Since his lip naturally turns downward and his arms easily fold and his body crumples, should we just give in and let him be a grump? Well, no. Just like anything else (how our kids approach their schoolwork, what sort of attitude they bring to family gatherings, how they respond when gifts are given, etc.), we can affect *not only* how our children behave, *but also* how they think.

 “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”  ~Matthew 15:18-20

 

 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” ~Romans 12:2

 

“Keep your heart with all vigilance,     for from it flow the springs of life.” ~Proverbs 4:23

The things we think in our hearts affect our reactions, our attitudes, and our choices. Kids need lots of help with this. Because (unlike what culture might say) kids are not a blank slate. They come to us with sinful hearts, and a generally selfish approach to life. Please understand that I am not unduly condemning children– this is true of every one of us. We all have to fight a self-ward focus in our hearts.

And in addition to just our general pull toward sin, we each have our own areas where we tend toward weakness. So with my children who are more naturally predisposed to grumping/ miserable/ discouraged/ defeatist thinking, I have learned that I have to do a lot of thought-supplying.

It’s basically teaching them how to biblically counsel their own hearts.

Let’s say we’re having rhubarb crisp (something I just made up and don’t even know if people eat), and one of my kids starts to act like it’s the worst meal ever, and he’s tearing up, asking questions like why does he have to eat it, and on and on… So I’ll say something like,

“Instead of thinking, “I HATE rhubarb crisp! I’ll just die if I have to eat it. Nothing will ever be good again if I have to eat it. I’m so mad. Sad. Angry. Grossed out.” (etc… whatever I actually think he’s thinking, based on what I know of my son and his words/phrases/reactions) … “What you SHOULD be thinking is, “God always gives us enough food. Daddy works so hard to provide for our family. Mama works hard to make good things for us. Even if this isn’t my favorite, I can eat it, drink water after every bite, and be thankful for the food God, Daddy, and Mama have put in front of me.

Even if I don’t like the taste of something, I can stop my heart from being selfish and instead, think about what other people have done for me. I can say something honest and kind afterward, like, ‘Thanks, Mom, for making this.'”

“You can also think things like, ‘Lots of people don’t love everything they eat, but we can still eat and be thankful. I don’t have to love it, and I don’t have to make the whole meal miserable. I can enjoy time with my family and try to smile and think about other pleasant things we’ve done today. I have a family that loves me and plenty of things to be grateful to God for.”

Then have the child list out 5 things he can be thankful for right now. Or 3, if you can already see his attitude changing. Or 10, if his attitude is just flat out rotten.

This is the process I take my natural-grumpers through semi-regularly.

Really, what’s it’s doing is teaching them how to counsel their own hearts and change their thinking when they get in a bad rut. Some of them need it more frequently than others, but it does seem to train them out of habitually thinking this way (for the most part) the older they get.

Of course, because this is a trait they came “out of the box” possessing, I have no doubt some will struggle for their whole lives. But instead of leaving them to flounder on their own, sulking in their bedroom, or trying to finagle a way out of the meal, I want to equip them with the tools that will help them master their rotten attitudes, for their whole lives. 

We all come with our in-built ‘bents’ toward sin (some criticize others internally, some are grumpy, some are depressive, some are manipulative, some are super-self-centered and attention-seeking, etc) but as moms we can help our children learn to biblically and truthfully counsel their own hearts against sinful attitudes that would captivate them for their whole lives.

IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE: Have you tried this with your children? With yourself? 

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Why Your Kids Shouldn’t Follow Your Diet Plan

Why Your Kids SHOULDN'T Follow Your Diet // jessconnell.com

Moms nowadays are obsessed with their bodies. Modern diet trends are all about the extreme. Extreme butt-tightener. Extreme abs. Extreme consumptions of raw food. Extreme protein quantities. Extreme cutting of carbs. Extreme cutting of sugar.

But here’s the thing: Extreme rules lead to extreme breaking of rules. And generally, moderation leads to health.

And that’s why I won’t go on your diet.

But more importantly for this article, it’s why your kids shouldn’t be on your diet. 

THE “GRAINS-ARE-EVIL” APPROACH

Many recent diet approaches cast grains as an outright bad guy.

But, truth be told, it’s just not healthy for children to not eat (or not eat many) grains. Almost every culture in the world, for thousands of years, has subsisted almost entirely on grains as the staple, and occasionally enjoyed meat and veggies as side items when seasons and herds allowed for it.

I think these modern “grains-are-the-worst” diets can be dangerous even for adults, but to a much greater degree, I do not think it is good for kids to exist on so little carbs and whole grains. Those are fine, maybe, for middle-aged women who are trying to maintain or lose weight… but for children, growing in bulk, weight, bone mass, height, and muscle mass, there is not remotely enough data to indicate that cutting grains entirely is a healthy choice for kids.

Consider that in China, and across Asia, it has been normal for thousands of years for kids to have a bowl of rice or rice noodles for every single meal, with quite-small add-ons of meat and veggies… it’s still somewhat normal for children there. (Many, perhaps most, Chinese still eat rice for breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner!) Now I’m not saying that the Chinese people represent the pinnacle of health in every way, but I am saying that there is a tried-and-tested observable culture that has pretty much eaten in a monolithic way for thousands of years that is centered on grains.

Almost all cultures have done this, until this modern one where we have on-demand access to meat and veggies (which almost no other culture has had, to this degree, on a reliable basis)… I don’t think it’s right or well-substantiated for us to utterly shake up the way we eat, based on fad books, but I especially don’t think we should do so for our children.

HUNGER & SLEEP ARE CONNECTED

Hunger is not an issue around here; nor is sleep. Our kids eat well. And our kids sleep well. I think the two are often connected.

Here are a few questions to consider if you feel like this could be an area you need to rethink–

  • Are you seeing “grains and dairy” as not healthy?
  • Are you sure your children “can’t” eat them?
  • What if you tried different grains and varieties?
  • Are your kids needing constant snacks?
  • Do they wake up hungry rather than sleeping nice, normal, healthy chunks of time?
  • What if you simplified meals (as in, make the same things more regularly) but served larger portions and did not let them get up from the table until they were finished?
  • The other factor is- what do your children look like in person and in action? Are they thin? Heavy? Energetic in play? Lethargic/easily tired?

If your kids aren’t sleeping well, this very easy connection (satisfied bellies = easier to sleep) could be a big part of the “cause” of their lack of sleep. Are they getting enough food? Are they getting enough healthy variety IN their food?

REAL FOOD CARBS & GRAINS ARE GOOD FOR KIDS

  • Breads
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Rice, quinoa
  • Seeds

If you think of these foods as inherently “unhealthy” you have been unduly influenced by the last 5-8 years of American thinking.

Go back in time. Put these thoughts in the context of millennia. Bread was a significant part of Moses’ diet. Jesus’ diet. Europeans’ diet. Central Asians’ diets. Rice has long been the primary staple in Asia. Pasta and bread have been longstanding “norms” across Europe.

Do you really think every other generation and every other society has gotten this wrong, and only the ultra-granola American culture of the last 5 years “really” understands how we’re supposed to eat?

Did Jesus get it wrong? Should He have called Himself the “meat of life” or “raw kale of life” rather than the “bread of life?”

DON’T “DIET” WITH YOUR KIDS

I would not do whole 30, THM, Paleo, raw food, no-grain type stuff with kids (unless you are absolutely certain there is a medically-diagnosed allergy and you have to follow a particular diet).

That doesn’t mean I think they can’t have a smoothie, or grab almonds rather than Ho-Hos for their afternoon snack. I’m not talking about teaching them to make healthy choices. Of course we should do that! We’re their parents, and what we do or don’t teach affects their appetites throughout life.

HOWEVER- having them join you while you do a month of this diet, three months of that style of eating, three weeks of workout intensives, etc., is not healthy during the developmental time of growth. Doing diet-type binges (I think) is teaching kids to binge eat.

In general, moderation in all things is better than occasional and extreme cuts of random bits.

COMMON-SENSE WISDOM FOR EATING

Before you ask, no, I don’t have a heap of studies to prove this.

I’m relying on wisdom gleaned from grandparent-type people who all live a long time. This common-sense eating plan comes from years of watching my grandparents, thinking about what they ate, watching my husband’s extended family aging relatives (all 70 and up now) and how they eat. They eat in moderation and aren’t afraid of dessert or carbs or sugar (unless they’re diabetic). If they gain a few pounds, they discipline themselves to eat less. They just eat normal foods, until they’re full, and stay active in reasonable, livable, real-life ways.

These basic “Common-Sense Principles” would include things like:

  • Eat mostly boring, simple foods.
  • Some grains, some potatoes, some carbs.
  • Eat proteins in affordable quantities. [Think historically about how meat was a rare treat… this gives me a better idea of how much meat to include in a normal meal. Some of these “tons of protein all the time” things are things only our modern society would even think feasible (not to mention, affordable)!!]
  • Normal eggs. (Skip the “egg white omelet.”)
  • Whole milk.
  • Full-fat yogurts and cheeses.
  • Veggies of all kinds, consumed regularly, with salt and fat/butter on top for flavor (that may be a southern thing, but the people over 60 I know who did this all through their decades are slim, healthy, and have long lives).
  • Mix your foods together (which is where I strongly differ with THM style eating), and eat them all in reasonable healthy portions until full.
  • Eat foods made from ingredients you know the source of and can pronounce.
  • The only times you should feel “stuffed” would be for rare occasions like Thanksgiving dinner and Easter lunch.
  • Dessert a couple times a week, maybe, but much enjoyed when they eat it. With real hand-whipped cream and the rest.
  • No fake/chemical ingredients. (again, a place where I differ from THM and the powdered smoothie approaches. If you have to source various chemical powders in order to supposedly “eat healthy”, that’s a bid absurd to me. So no other generation before now could eat this “right” way?! I don’t buy it.)
  • No fake/substitute sugars.
  • Use rendered bacon grease in other cooking.
  • Go for fiber.
  • Instead of low-fat, low-carb, low-cal… just lower your portion sizes.
  • Almost never drink colas, but plenty of tea, coffee, and lots of water.
  • Go for regular walks. Run if it suits you. Do yard work yourself. Mow your lawn. Go to work days at the church. Build the barn or chicken coop yourself if you can. Opt for real work, over fake work-outs led by women who’ve never had babies.

Part of the problem with this whole issue is summed up in those last 5 words.

OUR SOCIETY HAS A WRONG VIEW OF NORMAL

Our society has a lot of women who have never had babies telling us what “normal” women are supposed to look like.

Other generations and societies have known better. There were “maiden bodies” and “maternal” ones. It was a sign of honor to bear a child– to bring life into the world… and to have your body marked by that honor. And most women’s bodies were permanently altered by this. The midsection change came as no surprise to women, and statues and paintings from across the ages show that everyday people looked like everyday people, not runway models.

  • Yes, there are tummy scars that prove that your body has stretched to include new life.
  • Yes, you probably have a semi-permanent pooch you didn’t have before (psst– there’s no wrong or shame in that– Hollywood beauties like Jennifer Garner do too!).
  • Yes, your breasts have stretched to make room for milk as they never needed to do before.

Anyway, all I really mean to say is this:

  1. If your body looks (and is!) different than it was before you had children, that’s normal.
  2. If you want to try to fight that, and jump through hoops, following diets with strange rules and chemical ingredients, I won’t stop you. (But I won’t join you either.)
  3. But if you want your children to do special fad diets or extreme workouts with you, I think that’s a scary-wrong approach to life, and I think you could be doing them and their bodies real, long-term damage. 

Mama, whatever you do, PLEASE don’t make your children follow a diet other than eating normal portions of real food.

 

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Q&A: Is Being a Stay-at-Home-Mom BORING?

What if I'm BORED as a Stay-at-Home MOM? // jessconnell.com

Q:  How do I keep busy at home? I find myself so terribly bored and restless at times. Being a stay at home mom is so boring! What am I supposed to do with my down time? Once chores and homeschooling are done for the day, I literally have no idea how to fill the couple of hours before I need to start supper. Lately I’ve been finding myself so tempted to get a part-time job, simply because I am so incredibly bored with my life. My husband is so sick of hearing about it that he thinks I should get a job too. And yet, I don’t feel like it’s what God would want of me right now, with my kids still so young (10, 9 and 6).

So what is the secret to being content at home and keeping busy at home, like the Bible instructs us to do? I am not a typical stay-at-home mom in that I despise sewing, canning, gardening, hobby farming… I am truly not cut out for any of that stuff and yet they seem like the only ‘noble’ things to be doing when you read what other at-home moms are doing with their lives. I feel like I could just scream with the frustration of it all.

HELP!

A: Well, I had to laugh a little… you said “once chores and homeschooling are done for the day” and I thought… is that stuff ever done around here? LOL. Homeschooling, yes, but chores seems like a never-ending merry-go-round here. :)

I don’t think I would ever say I’m bored.

But there are a few things I see that make our lives very different–

  1. I still have little people running around and making messes and needing to be disciplined and needing naps and diaper changes, etc.
  2. My husband is in ministry, so we constantly have items on our calendar to prepare for and attend.
  3. I do have other outlets where I spend time when it comes my way– writing, occasional projects (like crocheting– I do about one project/year), and backyard chickens.

Where I’d like to probe a bit– for you– is in regard to #3. I can totally see how if those things you list aren’t your cup of tea, then you might feel stifled, if that’s all there is to do.

But that’s not all there is to do.

WHAT GIFTS AND INTERESTS HAS GOD PUT INTO YOU?

What do you LIKE to do? What ARE your passions? Have you ever thought about starting a small business? Here are some thoughts- although obviously these would be according to your interest/passion, not simply “to do them”–

  • start a catering business where you could work weekend events and use your extra hours through the week to plan and prepare for those big events?
  • do freelance work in an area of your expertise?
  • could you do part-time social media management for companies/websites?
  • are you good at doing taxes/accounting work? Could you start a business that runs every January-April and helps people file taxes?
  • are you adept at home and office organization and could start a part-time business doing that?
  • or elder care? or animal sitting for pay? or house cleaning?
  • could you learn graphic design and start taking clients for logos, book covers, and web design work in your free hours?
  • do you have some kind of skill that would lend itself to an etsy-type business? (i.e., some friends of mine find props for baby photography and sell them at large profits)
  • is there something you enjoy making (cakes? building dog houses? etc?) where you can take items/ingredients you get on the cheap and turn them into larger profits?

Aside from all that, I don’t know what your passions are, but there are a tremendous amount of online opportunities if you’re at all entrepreneurial. People like Michael Hyatt, John Lee Dumas, Pat Flynn, and others, offer a wealth of information online (and in their podcasts) about how to build an authoritative online site…

So I would do some brainstorming, if I were you… on what you’re “great” at.

Some things to consider:

  • What do your friends ask your advice about?
  • What is it that you have developed systems for or approaches to that make your life easier that would solve real problems for other people?
  • Is there knowledge in your head that other people would find valuable and pay for?
  • (Sometimes this can be in unexpected places too…. sometimes in our sorrows and difficulties there are things we’ve experienced that, if we write about them and help other people, become opportunities for encouraging others as well as earning extra income.)

POUR INTO YOUR LOCAL CHURCH BODY!

Beyond that, I do think biblically that we are to be heavily invested in our local church Body.

So what needs exist in your local church? I’m willing to bet that if you went and asked the Sunday School director, the Pastor, or the ladies’ ministry leader, that there are practical ways you can start serving almost immediately. Substituting for sick teachers, or setting up tables for the next ladies’ conference, or making a run to Costco to purchase all the food for the next church breakfast.

Another way to serve your local church from home is to take meals to those who are sick, recovering from surgery, or newly postpartum.

Beyond practical need-meeting in your local church, what are your spiritual gifts? Are you a teacher? Counselor? Administrator? I’d encourage you to find the place where your extra hours can go to blessing the people in your local Body. That is the picture given to us in Scripture… a woman who blesses her family, loving and serving them (Titus 2), a woman who is industrious and makes the most of her skills to financially bless her home (Proverbs 31), and a woman who serves diligently in her local community of believers, investing her “extra” into the Body of Christ around her.

  • Does your ladies’ ministry need extra teachers?
  • Or someone willing to help with scheduling and planning?
  • Does your church need someone to volunteer in the front office from time to time or those sorts of things?
  • Do they need someone to head up VBS this year, or restock their books & resources between each Sunday?
  • Is there a need for someone to manage social media engagement for the church?

Look for ways to bless and increase the fruitfulness of your local church.

POUR INTO YOUNGER CHRISTIAN WOMEN & DISCIPLE THEM!

Another definite way to spend your time is to invest in younger women. You may not see yourself as “old” (and I don’t think you are!) but you have gained biblical wisdom and insight into parenting and marriage issues that younger women around you NEED.

So perhaps once a week, you could meet with a younger woman from 2-4pm? If she’s a mom of a little one, maybe your oldest child could watch her toddler while the two of you visit? Or if she’s a new believer, you could read through the book of John together and spend time praying for the things she’s concerned about.

REMINDER FOR OTHER WOMEN: IT IS NOT ALWAYS AS HARD AS IT IS IN THE BEGINNING!

The final thing I want to say may be touchy… and it is not a personal critique to the woman who asked this question, but I feel compelled to say it for the benefit of other women:

Many women, when they are in the thick of having little children, are convinced that it will always feel *THIS* hard… that it will always be *THIS* tiring… that there is *NO WAY* you can have energy for anything more than these 2, or these 3 children. 

I just want to take this opportunity to point out that the season of little children is not eternal… and that you should not make decisions like how many children to have, or whether or not you’ll homeschool, solely based on the tiredness of the moments when you’re in the thick of having young children close together.

The moments of your most extreme exhaustion don’t fully and accurately reflect what your upcoming years will look like. It is ENTIRELY possible that you could get a stretch down the road and find that you have energy to spare and no one else to spend it on.

 

IN THE COMMENTS: HOW WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE THIS WOMAN?

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The #1 Job Where Feminism Gives Anxiety and Self-Doubt

The #1 Job Where FEMINISM Gives Anxiety & Self-Doubt // jessconnell.com

You may already know what I’m referring to.

It’s the job where nearly everyone– celebrities, politicians, nurses, and stay-home-moms– struggles, almost from the first few minutes.

In this place,

  • we feel self-doubt
  • we feel pressured to do it all
  • we are ill-equipped in what we do
  • we have no idea how to do it
  • we’re pretty sure we’re messing it up 
  • we have virtually no role models who have done it well
  • we have a litany of role models who have abandoned it or done it poorly
  • we often have to look back in history to find women who were competent in this area
  • it takes discipline and self-training in order to gain confidence
  • we have lost the collective “common sense” wisdom that used to be culturally acquired from mothers and extended family
  • alarming rates of women are on meds because of our stress, anxiety, and lack of confidence

You know what it is.

It’s motherhood.

Motherhood isn’t the only job where feminist ideas contribute to depression and anxiety, but I do think it’s the most common across society.

Far from the old-world position of honor and wonder and reverence for mothers, modern society treats pregnancy as an undesirable condition. Feminists have, for so long, belittled motherhood, the home, and homemaker, that we all, culturally, feel it’s somehow lesser.

  • We use awkward, fumbly language as we talk about “getting knocked up,” or having a “baby bump.”
  • Incompetence is assumed– it’s normal to hear moms say things like, “I have no idea what I’m doing!” or “I don’t know what’s going on with her lately!”
  • It’s popular for teen girls & young women to claim they don’t ever want to be mothers.
  • Though Mother’s Day was intended to be NOT a society-wide bowing to all mothers but a simple day when children young and old went and spent time with or took time to honor their mothers, it now carries a politically-correct obligatory honoring of all women, rather than only our own mothers. Whatever happened to each of us just quietly, thankfully honoring our own moms?
  • Phrases like “Mom jeans,” “mom hips,” and “mom van,” show an innate cultural disdain for the unfashionable, lumpier body of a woman who has sacrificed her own person in order to bring new life into the world.
  • We might say, “I’m just a stay-home-mom.”

And yet, the truth is: when we become mothers, we feel bowled over. Never have we felt so tired, overwhelmed, unsure of ourselves, and ill-equipped.

We thought we knew ourselves. We’re fierce. Feminist. Capable. Strong. Our moms and grandmas chanted, “I am woman; hear me roar!” This generation sings, “I am a champion; you’re gonna hear me roar!”

“I can be anything I want to be,” right? 

And yet… we find that we can’t even have a little 7-pound baby without anxiety attacks, identity questions, body-issues, postpartum depression, and a previously unknown level of self-doubt.

Really?, we think. This one little baby can do all this?

THAT TIME DREW BARRYMORE SPOKE THE TRUTH

Drew Barrymore gets it, and was actually bold enough to say something that hacked off the feminists:

“I was raised in that generation of ‘women can have it all,’ and I don’t think you can. I think some things fall off the table.”

She’s right, you know. And this is what they don’t want to admit. Consider this pithy tale from the president of Barnard College:

“I was in the women’s bathroom at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. I had an hour between flights, so I rushed for the stalls. Cramming my bags against the door and pulling off my blouse, I perched on the seat, took out my little Medela pump, and began feverishly expressing my breast milk. After several minutes of whirring and fumbling, I pulled myself together and stuffed my five- weeks-postpartum belly back into my business suit.

And that’s when I realized—wryly, ironically, totally deprived of sleep—that I was experiencing the superwoman dream.

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Like many women, I grew up believing we were equal to men, that we could have sex whenever we wanted, children whenever we chose, and work wherever we desired. For years, as a professor at Harvard Business School, I was the only woman in a room of alpha men and still I always felt equal. … We have opportunities today—to choose our educations, careers, spouses—that would’ve stunned our grandmothers. But now we’re dazed and confused by all the choices. “

You know what Drew Barrymore is referring to by “falls off the table?” You can see it in the story above–

This woman’s TIME with her BABY. Her own time to HEAL, time to rest, and make milk for her baby, time to figure out motherhood in an unpressured way, time to enjoy the relationships God made her for without having to also leave those relationships in order to prove to everyone that she’s got a brain and can earn an income. What falls off the table is time to treat herself, and her sweet tiny one, as the frail human beings they are in these delicate moments of early motherhood.

Instead of being a superwoman powerhouse, she’s a newly postpartum mom, perched on a toilet, miles away from her baby, pumping liquid out of her body, her tummy being stuffed into a business suit as she tries to feverishly “have it all.”

Later, our honest Barrymore said,

“I didn’t really have parents, you know? And therefore the kind of parent I will be is a good, present parent. In a way, maybe that was a detriment to my youth, but it’ll be the biggest asset to my adulthood.”

Perhaps this is one of the takeaways feminism didn’t anticipate…

…that all those kids that got left behind while their moms went back to work in the “second” and “third” waves of feminism know the toll it took on their SOULS to not have a mom around, and many are committed to doing differently.

Tolls like:

  • emotional stress and anxiety
  • sorting through bullying without a warm-hearted, open-armed mother to return home to
  • horrifying rates of sexual abuse, rape, and molestation because of unwatched latchkey kids
  • emotional fallout from divorces and angry, stress-riddled marriages
  • latching on to any available adult who took the slightest interest, even if that adult was a bad example, or even abusive
  • often being left to be watched by people with no vested interest or innate concern for the child (day care/group care settings)
  • less family togetherness/less awareness of how to healthily *do* family
  • more access to vices like cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, ouija boards, and pornography
  • less “margin” when sickness, hardships, and tragedies strike, so these crises take a greater toll on each member of the family

The continual quest for career heights has a cost. And all too often, it’s the kids who pay. For those who are watching carefully, the “latchkey kid” age of the last few decades speaks to us about the simple value of presence.

So why am I raising this issue? A few reasons, really.

  • Because feminism is part of the air we breathe. I think it’s valuable for us, no matter our position or station in society, to recognize the lies of our culture and counsel our hearts against swallowing ideas without sober consideration.
  • Because I think kids of all ages are better off with mom at home and far too few people are saying it now.  I’m so thankful to have spent these last 14 years of my life devoted to nurturing and teaching and training these 7 people. Has it been easy? No. But I believe it’s worth it. And I want to be honest with you about that.
  • Because some of you reading this are wonderingDoes what I do at home with my kids really matter? Won’t they be fine if I run off and pursue my dreams? I want to be a voice encouraging moms who are tempted to doubt themselves.

Mama, it MATTERS what you do with your children. Don’t buy the lies that say it doesn’t, they’ll be fine, everybody does it. Listen to your gut.

Don’t let feminism and its “lofty” aims rob you of the things that really matter in life– loving faithfulness in the relationships of your life.

 

You might also want to read:

Unprepared For Motherhood; Thanks, Feminism! // JessConnell.com

 

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How I Record Podcast Interviews (and a Special Announcement!)

How I Record PODCAST Interviews // jessconnell.com

So I’ve been working on recording podcast interviews for my new Podcast–  titled (announcement!) “Mom on Purpose.”

Here’s the podcast cover you’ll see on iTunes– eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

Mom On Purpose Podcast w/ Jess Connell // momonpurpose.com

I’ll be launching soon. And I actually need your help. Will you join my Mom on Purpose Promo Team ? Once it’s ready for release, I need readers and listeners who are willing to share with their friends so that more women will find the podcast, listen, and be encouraged by it.

Join the Mom On Purpose Promo Team HERE!

Now, for the practical how-to!

HOW I RECORD PODCAST INTERVIEWS

For those of you who might be considering launching your own podcast, I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.

Here’s the step-by-step process of how I record my podcast interviews:

#1- Choose guests who have something specific and beneficial to offer my listeners, e-mail them and ASK for the interview. In that initial “ask,” I propose the basic topic idea I have for them.
#2- Once they agree to the interview, I sit down and brainstorm a list of questions to keep us on track in the interview. I try to keeping in mind the “story arc” and the challenge/solution being offered in this particular episode. (i.e., We don’t start with the solution. We start with the challenges and work toward the solutions/wisdom that this person has to offer.)
#3- I write them back and offer 3-4 timeslots that work for me for the guest to choose from, asking that if these don’t work, they can e-mail me back with 2-3 times that work for them and we’ll make it work according to their time schedule. I ask them to set aside an hour for the interview. In this e-mail, I also send the proposed list of interview questions I’ve brainstormed (inviting their feedback), ask for the product/website they’ll want to promote in our interview (if any) and also ask for their Skype name.
#4- I put the interview on my calendar and friend them on Skype.
#5- I do these 10 practical things right beforehand:

  1. Even if it’s 6am, get dressed in full clothes. (This helps me be on my game and take it seriously.)
  2. Go potty.
  3. Drink plenty of water.
  4. Have a cup of water at my desk in a place that will not bump the mic.
  5. Run up and down the stairs or do a series of jumping jacks. Get the blood flowing!
  6. Blow my nose. Twice. :)
  7. Put on chapstick.
  8. Do vocal warm-ups (essentially, blowing my lips like a raspberry while singing scales– this is what my vocal lesson instructor taught me to do in college and I’ve found that it’s the quickest way to warm up the vocal cords to my full range). This makes for less squeaks, squawks, and coughs.
  9. Close all other programs on my computer, and DO NOT LEAVE UP an internet browser. (Not only do I not want it hogging my connection, but I also don’t want to run the risk of distraction while in the interview.)
  10. PRAY! Ask for wisdom & for God’s help to make the interview useful to women.

#6- Use decent equipment. I use this Audio-Technica USB microphone (excellent reviews at a low price compared to most mics of this quality), this NEEWER microphone shield (masks air/smacking sounds and allows the mic to simply pick up your voice), this NEEWER boomstand (I just needed something simple).
#7- I use Skype and eCamm recorder to easily record the interview. These two programs are easy to use and do an EXCELLENT job.
#8- I call and record the interview. We typically have a 1-2 minute “hello” but then jump right into the interview. I don’t want to waste my guest’s time. Interviews typically take anywhere from 45-65 minutes.
#9- I sit up tall and SMILE through the interview (I even have a sign posted in front of my face that reminds me to do this!). Posture and facial expression affects how we sound, and I want to keep my energy up to give listeners the best possible experience.

These things keep me on the ball and sounding clear for each podcast interview. Hope this helps others who are contemplating launching a podcast.

 

IN THE COMMENTS, please share: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PODCASTS? And when do you listen to them?

One final plug: if you’d join the Mom On Purpose Promo Team, I’d be thrilled!

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To The Mom Whose Kids Aren’t Sleeping Well

To the Mom Whose KIDS AREN'T SLEEPING Well // jessconnell.com

DEAR TIRED MAMA:

I’m not writing this to shame you, or make you feel guilty about your parenting choices, as if this fact of life makes you a “bad mom.” But I’m a mom of 7 (going on 8) who spends a lot of my life analyzing problems in my own parenting and coming up with practical solutions.

What I  want to do is provide some structured, practical advice to help you think through potential solutions for this challenge. These are the things *I* think through when I hit problems in sleep with our kiddos.

If your kids aren’t sleeping well, here are some things to consider:

  • ARE THEY EATING ENOUGH THROUGH THE DAY? This is a huge reason why babies and kids of all ages don’t sleep enough. Now of course if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you won’t know precisely how much they’re getting (but keeping track of wet/dirty diapers can help!). You might even ask someone else to see their portions and food choices and confirm that these are healthy and normal for a growing child. This is not necessarily about you… I have no idea whether or not it fits your family… but I’m seeing a lot of moms nowadays who don’t have a good sense of how MUCH food kids need to eat… like portion sizes. Very often, it’s either WAYYYYYYYY too big and very unhealthy stuff and the kids are all obese, or else the portion sizes are too small and “all healthy” (veggies/etc/low calories) and their very-very active kids are perpetually under-eating. Problems show up in other areas (not sleeping well, finicky, agitated, easily angry) because they’re simply not eating enough food. So first– I would make sure they are eating hearty, balanced, full, good-portioned meals.
  • ARE YOUR BABIES & TODDLERS ON AN ABSOLUTELY PREDICTABLE ROUTINE? Yes, babies shift their routines every few months, but the day-to-day sleep rhythms should be happening with almost-boring consistency. If 10am is baby’s nap time, it should be so every single day. For a 2 year old, here’s a normal schedule in our house: (8pm- to bed, Between 7am-8am- Wake up, 1 or 2pm- lay down for nap, 3:30-5pm- wake up from nap.) Yes this means we are home every afternoon. Every day. Like clockwork. For 14 years, this has been true of our life as a family. We don’t schedule things in the afternoons so that nap time can be consistent.
  • ARE BEDTIMES REGULAR AND NON-NEGOTIABLE? The older your kids get, the more this should be an absolute “norm” in your home. Give a consequence for getting out of bed, and stick to it. There should be no getting around you!!
  • HAVE YOU TRAINED YOUR BABIES AND LITTLE ONES TO WAKE UP MORE TIMES THAN ARE NECESSARY? We might all approach newborn life differently (I purposefully work to give our whole family full nights of sleep ASAP), but having interacted deeply with hundreds of moms on sleep issues over the last 15 years, I believe healthy babies around a year and up can and should be sleeping most nights, all the way through. Sleep is not just a preference issue; it’s a health issue, and it’s an important skill we can teach. It’s also a lifelong way we can BLESS our children… to give them good sleep habits, and the foundation of healthy mental and physical health that comes from sleeping WELL. If you think you might have trained your children to wake more often than necessary, a few options are — feed full feedings every time they wake (no snacking!), — keep lights off and do not do anything other than necessary items (diaper change + full feeding + back to bed), — and do not go in to them for grizzling/small noises. Choose to be discerning in which sorts of actions get your response.
  • ARE YOU BELIEVING THEY “CAN’T” STAY IN THEIR OWN BEDS? Kids 5 and up are plenty old enough to stay in bed and stay put and never have another issue (except for sickness or a rare occasion of fear). 3 and under can easily be put in a crib, and I would do it if it were me (if it meant them and us getting better sleep). This puts the 3/4-year-old season as one of training kids to stay in their beds. All other ages should be in their beds and know to stay in their beds. Don’t second-guess yourself! This is not an unreasonable expectation. Barring medical issues, you are right to expect your kids to get in bed and stay there.
  • DO THEY FEEL ENTITLED TO STAY UP? Sometimes older kids can get too big for their britches. See a simple sleep chart HERE with medical recommendations for how many sleeping hours/day various ages need. Help your children rightly understand their body’s signals. Tell them– when they feel like sleeping in late, or feel easily irritated through the day, their body is actually telling them to go to sleep sooner. Help them learn to watch their bodies for signs and participate WITH their bodies to work for health and rest.

12 QUESTIONS FOR PRACTICAL TROUBLESHOOTING:

In addition to these overarching principles, here’s a grid of questions I go through to evaluate possible sleep challenges for a particular child. These are things to think through for nighttime sleep as well as naps. You may have already thought through these but these are practical influences I think through in regard to maximizing sleep.

  1. Is there any kind of sickness/physical irritant? Fever? Teething? Tummy problems? Itchy skin?
  2. Is there some sort of white noise? A fan is usually what we use, but something that blocks out noise. I’ve even turned on the stovetop blower and nearby bathroom fans to mask other noise for naps and bedtime.
  3. Is the room dark enough? If not, Walmart sells room-darkening panels for fairly cheap (I want to say under $10 for a basic set). Clipping a dark flat sheet over the curtains is also a quick solution.
  4. Is the bedding cozy? soft (not scratchy), and warm enough?
  5. Is it too cold? Too hot? In their room? In the house in general? In their bedding/pjs? (This might also be an area to ask other people… certain cultures overdress their babies and keep them far too warm… other people are apt to let their kids dress in summer clothes in winter. Invite wisdom from other people!!)
  6. Is another child talking and waking the rest of them up a lot? (if so, go fierce ninja mama on that child) :)
  7. Are there weird noises in the environment waking them up? A train? Live near the highway? Does the vent bring in every noise from big brother’s room? etc? (which I’d point back to the white-noise solution)
  8. Are they eating too close to bedtime? (rumbly digestion happening can affect ability to truly rest at bedtime, so if so, move dinner up to between 5 & 6pm, in order to leave enough time before bedtime @8)
  9. Do they need a cup of water near the bed? (too much is no good– they’ll be waking up to potty non-stop… but some of us function better with a sip or two through the night when we wake up– just remind them to sip, not drink.) NOTE: I DO NOT DO THIS for children who are learning to stay dry at night. During that season, we stop drinking 1-2 hours before bedtime and do not let them drink at night, in order to learn the skill of staying dry. But in our home, toddlers can take a sippy cup to the crib with them, and older kids can keep a half-cup of water near their beds.
  10. Is a nightlight near the potty (so going to the potty is not a big deal?)
  11. Have you explicitly told them how to go back to sleep? “When you wake up and it’s still dark outside, don’t come get mommy. When it’s dark out, it’s still time to sleep. Your can just roll over, close your eyes tight, lay still, and go back to sleep.” 
  12. Are you praying with them before bed? Something about mommy praying for a full nights’ sleep can help comfort and quiet their hearts… but also, prayer works! God hears us! Don’t be discouraged!!

If you do all this, and then still are having sleep issues, TALK TO A DOCTOR.

WHY NOT A DOCTOR FIRST?

These are practical, realistic ways to assess what’s going wrong with your child’s sleep patterns, but once you address these very typical reasons for lack of sleep, if there are still problems, talk to your doctor. I do not think medical advice is the first place you should go, because, unfortunately the trampling of motherhood by feminism has stripped us of these basic pieces of mothering wisdom that we used to collectively *know*. Too many modern mothers are riddled with fears of diagnoses and conditions when the answers may be much, much more straightforward.

Yes, there could be medical things going on, but the most likely answer is that there are simple, physical issues at work. Tackle these practical solutions first… THEN, when all common sense approaches have been exhausted, consider the possibility of a diagnosis or medical issue.

SLEEP MATTERS

Scientists continue to uncover ways that sleep deeply affects us– medically, intellectually, how we deal with stress, how our bodies fight illness, how we perceive life, and more. Healthy, regular sleep cycles are incredibly crucial and giving your children the gift of solid sleep is an incredibly practical and beneficial way to LOVE them.

I hope this comes across as helpful and not judgmental. I know it can be a great challenge when you feel worn out by a child’s lack of sleep.

It is often the case that thinking through practical concerns can facilitate sleep. I genuinely hope you find some doable solutions.

Grace & Peace,
Jess

 

You might also enjoy:

Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep? Are You? // jessconnell.com

Q&A: Getting KIDS to STAY in Their BEDS // jessconnell.com

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