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Jin Ai

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SanitySavers

Becoming a mother is an awesome, wondrous and demanding life-altering experience. In the past eight years we’ve had four children, I’ve become convinced of one fact – motherhood is the penultimate roller coaster ride. One day I’m happily scaling what appears to the highest peak of my mothering career, another day it seems everything I touch turns to poop.

Don’t get me wrong. If I could do it all over again, I would. Looking back though, things would’ve been easier had I known how to reduce the number of instances I find myself on the verge of losing my marbles.

Here’s my list of 10 sanity savers for new mums:

1. Embrace the season

With the benefit of perspective, I’ve realised baby season passes in a blink. Having a baby is such a privilege that fills me with gratefulness. With my fourth, I’m determined more than ever to appreciate the highs and lows – tiny feet and gurgles, sleep deprivation and nursing marathons.

There’s a fine line between insanity and joy-filled chaos. When I view crazy moments as the new normal, this helps me feel I haven’t hit rock bottom yet. They constitute the stuff of funny stories to tell my kids later on.

2. Prioritise self-care

Being disciplined gives me more energy and reduces mood swings. Drink three litres of water daily, eat healthily, have enough sleep and regular physical activity, take short breaks daily, and connect with God, myself and others.

These aren’t difficult. Buy a 1.5 litre bottle and refill at midday. Make crock pot meals, sandwiches and salads. Keep connected online but impose an Internet curfew. Brisk walk while pushing the stroller. View nursing as breaks, grab an afternoon nap or lie down while reading to an older child. Wear clothes that fit. Self-care helps put into perspective trivial things like food on the floor and husbands who work on weekends.

3. Get organised

I manage better when my space is neat and I can find things easily. Have everyone tidy up twice a day so that while messy play can happen, clutter is temporary. Keep a baby changing station upstairs and downstairs so frequent nappy changes are manageable. Batch cooking and freezing healthy meals twice a week saves cooking a main dish on some evenings and frees me to take everyone out for tennis instead. Stock up on supplies of everything once a month to minimise long shopping trips.

4. Make regular dates

To be better parents and more, my husband and I need our weekly coffee date and couple time nightly. The quality of our relationship exerts a profound influence on how I cope and how our children feel and behave.

5. Get help

My husband’s practical and emotional support makes all the difference. I’m indebted to my mother who comes once or twice a week to give me a break from cooking and the school pick up. The weekly part-time cleaner isn’t the most thorough but night wakings during baby season make me thankful for whatever she does.

6. Get out

It may be “easier” staying home with a young baby, but being indoors all day drives me mental. Early breakfast dates with friends avoid disruptions to nap schedules. Going to the park daily gives me and baby a boost of fresh air, opportunities for exercise and spontaneous play with our older kids.

7. Grow as a person

In the first three months of adjusting to a newborn, it’s only natural to be fully occupied with baby care. Going with the flow and not being so anal about every detail helps me to enjoy those months. Reserve a few minutes daily for personal reflection and interests like journaling and reading.

As the dust settles, I’ve found it important to pursue whatever work and service opportunities I can manage on top of my mummy role. These strengthen me as an individual and keep resentment and impatience at bay (sometimes). However, if I find myself peering at my phone endlessly and getting snappy at my children consistently, it’s time to reprioritise. If I’m cramming carb-laden foods and reaching for caffeine just so I can manage deadlines, I need to reevaluate. Cut back or take a complete break.

8. Ditch supermum… and superdad

I’ve eliminated a lot of stress by not comparing myself to other mums and being confident in doing what’s right for our baby and family. Continually, though, I need to accept the fact that my husband and I aren’t perfect. We have to send ourselves to the corner sometimes for personal and parenting boo-boos. If we want a loving home, we need to practise empathy instead of the blame game.

9. Hang the schedule

With four kids, a detailed daily schedule for each person has really helped us minimise stress and get a lot done. But inflexibility can kill the soul. Occasional deviations are necessary so everyone can be happy, like allowing older kids to sleep at nine instead of eight so we can enjoy a longer time outdoors and get extended family time to reconnect.

10. Have faith

Sanity saving methods preserve a measure of composure but occasionally irrationality, fear and despondency threaten to overwhelm me. Why isn’t this working? Have I overlooked something? What’s really going on? For every known matter I can deal with, there are countless other unknowns. Ultimately the best strategy that makes me feel I can handle this mummy gig is acknowledging the reality that the greater my need for control, the more likely I am to go nuts. Faith is crucial. That, in my particular understanding, means I need to walk each step by the grace of God. Next to the inexhaustible and infinite, there is no upheaval that is too great.

Jin Ai traded refugee work for diapers, dishes and homeschooling. She blogs about parenting, home education and life as mom to four kids at Mama Hear Me Roar.

Image Credit: Flickr user Luke Chan

Toddler

So you have a chunk of time to spare and a toddler who’s raring to go every day. What can you both do?

Some mums seem to know instinctively just how to play with and teach their toddlers, but when I was a new mum I often found myself asking “What next?” after Puppy and I finished the same puzzle for the fifth time in one day. Thankfully, I’ve discovered that it doesn’t require rocket science or expensive toys to engage a toddler in meaningful ways.

Here are eight things I love doing with my tots:

1. Sensory/Messy Play

This is so important for toddlers as they learn so much through the senses (primarily taste and touch) at their age. Give them the freedom to explore. My toddlers love playing with shredded paper, sand, mud and shaving foam. They also like helping me wash rice and vegetables, blowing bubbles, moulding with and sticking objects into play dough, and splashing in the the bath tub with scoops and boats. It’s tempting to avoid some of these activities particularly if there’s mess, but if we’re anxious or uptight about spills or “dirt”, our children may eventually feel squeamish about healthy outdoor play or artistic ventures like painting and gluing. To contain the mess somewhat, sensory play can be done in the bathroom, garden, on the kitchen floor or in a deep tray.

Toddler2

2. Imaginative/Role Play

Toddlers are keen observers and fantastic imitators. Give them opportunities for role play and imaginative play with tool kits, doll houses, prams, cooking sets and toy cookers. If you don’t want to bust your wallet, recycle cardboard boxes and toilet rolls. Make a simple mail box, car, boat, house, shop or even a space ship. Set up a miniature play scene with figures, objects and scenery to stimulate creativity, imagination and language development.

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3. Heuristic Play

Toddlers often prefer playing with real life objects and recycled resources instead of electronic toys. Simple, open-ended exploration with recycled shoe boxes, cake tins, pots, pans and cardboard boxes offer the most interesting and natural play experiences. They love opening and closing containers, sorting and stacking them, stuffing smaller objects into them and figuring how to get them out. While I cook, they want to be nearby so I let them mess about with such materials on the kitchen floor. A win-win situation! I love that real life objects are within arm’s reach at no additional cost.

4. Outdoor Play

Some of the most cherished experiences my children have are those that happen outside the house. They hardly enthuse for long over plastic, store bought toys. More precious are the times we go walking in the rain, splashing puddles in the park, playing in sand and hunting for crabs at the beach, digging for worms in the garden, and exploring a waterfall. They also love throwing balls, riding a scooter, crawling through tunnels and zipping down slides in the playground. These activities keep them connected to nature and it feels so liberating; we try to do them as often as possible.

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5. Creative Play (art, craft, music)

Setting up a creative corner at home with crayons, paints and paper will encourage toddlers to engage in artistic play regularly. Why not do some finger painting? Or paint with sponges or celery sticks? Keep a box of recycled materials and glue sticks nearby for tearing and sticking activities. Create collages using old fabric, buttons, sequins, dried flowers and twigs. Make maracas by filling recycled drinking bottles with assorted beans, rice and pasta. Fill a box with percussion instruments and dance with them to the music.

A portrait of a mother and a son reading a book

6. Reading and Storytelling

These are crucial for a toddler’s development of language and literacy skills, as well as to gain information generally. Read before naps, at bed time, and at the restaurant while waiting for a meal. Place books in most rooms of the house, in low level shelves or boxes for easy access. Use age appropriate books such as rhyming books and picture books, but also read from slightly more advanced books to expose your toddler to a wide range of vocabulary and concepts.

7. Talking

As your toddler’s most important and influential teacher, you’re constantly being watched and listened to. Converse with your toddler. Don’t let your days be filled with “do’s” and “don’ts”. Tell your child why it’s a perfect time to go to the park and who you’re going to meet. Ask him if he likes building with wooden blocks or Lego. Share cherished values that build character and stories about your childhood. Say why you feel happy at a particular moment and what makes you feel sad. Your toddler will learn meaningful interaction, conversational skills, facial gestures, eye contact, emotions and a lot more from what’s shared.

8. Hang Out and Relax

The early years can be exhausting and it can be tempting to diminish into a downward spiral of negativity. I go outside every day with my toddler to relax, enjoy the fresh air and to be stimulated by the sights and sounds of other people. We observe the weather, see pictures in the clouds, talk about the things we see. And when it gets too hot to stay outdoors, we can play in so many different ways at home.

Childhood is such a brief time. I hope my children will remember their formative days as fun, relaxed and free of pressure. A time when their parents talked with them, played often with them, sang and made music together with them. A time they were happy, independent and imaginative – all the things they still are, today.

Jin Ai traded refugee work for diapers, dishes and homeschooling. She blogs about parenting, home education and life as mom to four kids at Mama Hear Me Roar.

Image Credit: Getty

Homeschool

Homeschooling is the education of children at home rather than in a formal setting. Now in my fifth year of homeschooling, I appreciate more than ever the value of allowing a young child the freedom to grow and learn within the natural setting of the home, and the importance of quality time between parent and child.

I’m not saying that homeschooling is the only way to raise or educate one’s child. Neither am I saying that it’s possible or desired by every family. Each family possesses its own dynamic, a hodgepodge of philosophies and needs shaped by background, culture, spiritual beliefs, parenting style, financial stability, goals and circumstances. For various reasons, many parents send their babies or toddlers to a childcare centre or entrust them to grandparents, a nanny or domestic helper for part or most of the day.

Here are the factors we considered in choosing to homeschool our children till age six:

1. Do I want to homeschool?
The initial six years of life are crucial to a child’s overall development. There are certain things my husband and I want our children to learn and influences we want them to avoid. Homeschooling embodies our ideals; it gives structure and consistency to our purposes.

My choice to homeschool isn’t devoid of internal struggle. With more pregnancies and very young children, homeschooling and homemaking is a tough combination. Part-time work is limited to the little time and energy that remains. I’m occasionally disparaged as “just a housewife” and face the negativity of people who think quitting work is a foolish, irresponsible decision given the perceived cost of raising children, as well as a waste of my education and skills.

2. Do we want to homeschool?
My husband doesn’t do crafts with our toddler, teach phonics nor keep the inventory of our homeschooling supplies. But he takes the kids for tennis and swimming every week and is the drum instructor at home. He deals with disputes and his share of chores when he’s home from work. Best of all, he embraces his role as the sole bread-winner, listens to my rants and helps me regain perspective on days I wail “I can’t do this anymore!”

We agree that our kids don’t need the latest toys, gadgets or luxurious holidays to thrive, learn or be happy. We also think private education is unnecessary. We accept the lifestyle changes necessitated by a single income because we feel homeschooling is an investment that shapes and benefits our family life for the better.

3. Benefits of homeschooling
Homeschooling allows me to meet our toddler’s attachment needs and enables me to learn about his other needs, preferences, strengths and weaknesses. This helps me relate to him more emphatically and positively.

At home, he’s less exposed to illness and can be breastfed for longer. Visits to the doctor are extremely rare.

Toddlers learn by example. At home, I can focus on character formation by talking about and modeling our family’s beliefs and values at any time of the day. I can train my toddler consistently on food preferences, table manners, eating habits and how to be content with self-initiated, creative play without electronic devices.

Homeschooling makes it possible to limit negative external influences and restrict TV viewing to an hour or two on weekends. I can deal with misbehaviour immediately and more consistently.

At home, the most fundamental aspects of education can be learned naturally at minimal cost. A toddler can indulge in sensory and imaginative play using items gathered around the house. He can develop important living skills by helping with chores and learn early academic skills in an informal way at his own pace. Conversing intentionally and reading aloud with him a few times daily helps him build an amazing vocabulary quickly. There are many cheap and simple games to play that develop his motor skills and encourage critical thinking. Learning is fast and effective when it happens one-on-one.

Rather than spend most of his waking hours in an institution, my toddler experiences a relaxed day at home with a flexible schedule. We share the simple joys of life together, spend lots of time outdoors and attend play dates.

4. Can I homeschool? 
Am I a superhuman who never gets tired or grumpy? Or never craves adult company or a quiet moment in the toilet? Truthfully, I struggle to spend 24 hours a day with my toddler for most of the week. Whiny moments demand patience. I must deal with personal frustration when I don’t see improvement in certain areas. I have to encourage him even when I don’t feel like it. Increased hours with his older siblings present more frequent teaching moments. The house constantly needs cleaning after our activities.

For me, the question “Can I homeschool?” is eclipsed by the fact that I want to homeschool.

I’m driven by its advantages and am determined to overcome my personal shortcomings to do it well. I don’t need to have early childhood qualifications to homeschool effectively. With the Internet, information and a supportive community of homeschooling mums are readily available. There’s also extended help – my mother who teaches him Chinese, and spiritual instruction and play with other toddlers on Sundays.

As with all decisions on education and parenting, there are pros and cons to homeschooling. Homeschooling a toddler is hard work but for our family, the rewards are unparalleled.

Jin Ai traded refugee work for diapers, dishes and homeschooling. She blogs about parenting, home education and life as mom to four kids at Mama Hear Me Roar.

Image Credit: Flickr user Woodleywonderworks