{FAMILY} How To Prep Your Kids To Stay Home Alone For The First Time

When I was a kid, playing outside and staying home alone without parental supervision was the norm. I learned from an early age how to fend for myself, recognize boundaries, and stay safe, and never found myself in harm’s way as a result.

I know it’s not the 70s anymore, but that doesn’t mean that we should trust our children, or our own intuition any less than our parents did when we were growing up.

My oldest daughter will be 10 years old in 3 months, and while the average family waits until at least the ages of 10-12 to leave their child home alone for the first time, we’ve decided to start a bit earlier. I believe that she’s old enough to start easing into the next step of independence, and with the right tools, I’m  confident that she can do so safely and successfully.

Here’s how I’ve prepared her (and myself) for this big milestone:

Suss it out.

The first step in determining whether or not your child is ready, is to ask them how they feel about it. For some kids, the mention of having the house to themselves conjures up images of them sitting in front of the TV watching inappropriate movies and stuffing their faces with candy-topped ice cream sundaes (thanks for that Home Alone). But it’s important to discuss the situation in more detail to really get a feel for your child’s comfort level. Ask them how they would feel if the power went out, or if someone they didn’t know were to knock on the door. Helping them to visualize the reality of the situation will help you to gage how ready they really are.

Related: Home Alone: How Young Is Too Young?

Hit the books.

My daughter and I were browsing the shelves of Chapters Indigo awhile back when we came across a great book that has become a valuable resource for us: A Smart Girl’s Guide: Staying Home Alone by American Girl. The book starts with a cute quiz called “ready or not?” where kids can take a self evaluation to determine their readiness, with real-life situations as examples of how they would react to sticky situations. Not only does the book highlight helpful tips on how to be prepared, responsible, and in control when home alone, but it offers fun tips like boredom busters and snack recipes that can be made without the use of appliances.  My daughter read the book from cover-to-cover, and likes to keep it by her side when we leave her home alone.

Establish rules and boundaries.

There are obvious rules and boundaries that should be established before you leave your child alone – don’t open the door for anyone, don’t use the appliances (unless they are seasoned experts), don’t leave the house without permission, and what to do in the case of an emergency. Not only is it important to list the do’s and don’t’s, but it helps to walk them through various scenarios. Quiz them on what they would do if they were hungry, or if someone knocked on the door and said that their parents gave them permission to come in, or if a power outage were to occur.

Practice makes perfect.

Before you leave your child home alone for the first time, do a test run. Do something in the yard and leave them in the house. Call to see if they answer. Knock on the door and practice a few scripts to see how they would respond in various situations. The more you practice, the more confident they’ll be when it’s really time to stay home alone.

I like to make sure that at least one of my neighbours is going to be home – just in case my child feels unsafe or unsure of what to do. We don’t have a home phone so I make sure to leave a fully-charged iPhone with my daughter so she can call or text me whenever she wants. We’ve been easing into it – leaving her home for only 15-20 minutes at a time, and never with her siblings.

Whether you decide to wait until your child is a teenager, or you feel comfortable doing so at an earlier age, independence is an important life skill that takes time to learn successfully. With the proper guidance, it can be a fun and easy transition for your family.

Check out these safety tips for more: American Red Cross Safety Tips 

{FAMILY} Teaching My 8yo Daughter About Self Confidence

Eight seems to be an age of self-awareness and unbridled insecurity. My 8-year-old daughter has suddenly become so self-conscious – constantly questioning her looks, her physical abilities and her mental intelligence. I always reassure her that she is beautiful, talented and smart, but it’s tough for an almost pre-teen to believe those words when they come from her mother, who of course loves her unconditionally.

I’ve always focused on teaching my children to be self-confident beings (and I do my best to be a self-confident mom as well, because it’s important to practice what you preach). But a big part of self confidence, is actually believing in yourself, not relying on others to believe for you.

The other day, my beautiful girl – eyes welling up with tears – asked me why she was finding it so hard to remember the steps in her ballet class. “I try so hard to get them right” she said softly. And I completely understood where she was coming from. Choreography is hard! I told her that I was also struggling to remember the steps in my adult ballet class, and that learning new moves is something that just comes more naturally to some people than it does for others. I went on to explain:

“Dancing is like learning how to play a musical instrument. You have to start with learning how to play the notes before you can learn how to play a whole song. With dancing, you have to learn the steps before you can master the choreography of a whole dance. Keep practicing, and before you know it, you’ll be playing your song.”

I’m not sure if she fully understood the message behind my simile (because I love a good comparison), but I think the empathy in my personal story and in my comparing dance to music, made her realize that she wasn’t alone in her struggle.

I hope that she’ll continue to come to me when she’s feeling down or insecure, and I hope that I can find the words to help lift her spirits.

self confidence

{FAMILY} What To Expect: Leaving Your Toddler Overnight For The First Time

With my first child, it took me almost 3 years to warm up to the idea of leaving her overnight with my parents. Leaving my toddler overnight was a scary thing! I was afraid that she would experience separation anxiety – that she would reach towards me with her arms outstretched as tears streamed down her face, sobbing uncontrollably and begging for me to stay as I walked out the door.

I imagined that she wouldn’t sleep, crying for me throughout the night, calling out “mommy” to the dark and empty room in which she laid her head. I feared that she wouldn’t eat, hanging her head low as she wandered aimlessly through each day, convinced that I had abandoned her for good. And most of all, I worried that I wouldn’t survive the separation – that I would yearn for her day and night, and that the guilt of leaving her parentless for the weekend would forever damage her fragile little soul.

toddler overnight

 

They’ll be alright, I promise.

All of this of course was ridiculously untrue. When I finally did leave her, she waved happily goodbye and went on to play gleefully with her toys. While I was gone, she enjoyed new adventures with her grandparents, and when I returned, she was excited to see me – not broken, but possibly more whole as a result of our time apart.

With my third child, I’m more than confident in our overnight separations. Perhaps because I know that valuable time spent with my parents is almost as important to her well being as spending her time solely spent with her parents. Perhaps it’s because I know that having time away makes me a better parent, and that exposure to varying environments is important for early childhood development. She feels comfortable with our nights apart, as do I.

The one thing that might take awhile to accept…

But there’s one thing that sometimes comes with overnight separation that took me awhile to accept. When I returned from my time away, my children weren’t always excited to see me – at first. They would reach for my parents, rejecting my outstretched arms in favour of Nana and Papa. It wasn’t because they had grown to love my parents more than their own, or because they were traumatized by the experience of sleeping in a different place.

According to my Mama Dina, it’s natural and completely healthy for children to “punish” you for being away. While at first they may seem to reject your advances, they quickly learn that you come back. Which is a good thing. After a few experiences with being apart, they grow comfortable in their new environment, and confident that their parents will be back soon.

And the “punishments” will quickly pass, I promise.

How to make it easier?

I’ll leave you with some quick tips on how to make an overnight stay a little more comfortable for your toddler:

1) Make sure that you are leaving them with someone familiar. Leading up to the overnight stay, pay a few visits to the place where they will be staying and enjoy some time together in that new space. It’ll be easier to say goodbye if they feel comfortable where they’ll be.

2) Bring comfort toys. My youngest has a favourite stuffed bunny that she likes to sleep with, so I make sure to always pack it for her. I also include a photo of the family so she can see our faces regularly (my mom tapes it near the crib where she sleeps).

3) Let them hear your voice. If you aren’t able to call, leave a little voice recording for them to listen to – there’s nothing more comforting than the sound of a parent’s voice when feeling unsure of a new environment.

4) Prepare them for what to expect. Talk to your child about how long you’ll be gone and when you’ll return.

Good luck, and don’t fret, your little one will be just fine.

 

{FAMILY} What Makes A Mom

This year I had the opportunity to work on the fourth annual Leading Moms event – a day full of inspiring talks from extraordinary moms. As always, the speaker lineup was filled with an array of  diverse women, all invited to share their stories and experiences with an engaged audience. Every year, whether I’ve attended as a guest or as a member of the event organizing team, I’ve always left the event feeling connected and inspired, and I’m sure this year’s event did not disappoint.

While I was unable to attend the actual event this year, there were some negative comments shared on the event’s site that left a bad taste in my mouth, so I wanted to share my thoughts.

One of this year’s speakers was Morgane Oger, a transgender activist, leader in social change, and mom of two young children. Some commenters questioned her validity as a “mom” and challenged the Leading Moms event team on the choice to include a trans mom on the panel of speakers. And everyone is entitled to their own opinion – if they don’t like the choice of speakers, they are not obliged to attend the event.

Haters gonna hate.

When the speaker lineup was first revealed, the thought that Morgane was a trans mom didn’t even cross my mind. My only thought was that I was excited to hear her story, to learn more about her perspective as a mom and the experiences, struggles and successes she had faced on her journey towards motherhood.

I can understand the fear of the unknown. I know that not everyone is inclusive, and that some people feel the need to express themselves when they are strongly opposed to another person’s opinions and perspectives. But what I will never understand, is the need to attack another person’s personal choices – choices that in no way affect their own lives – in a way that is so hurtful, and on a platform that is so public.

Many poisonous words were slung on the topic of trans moms, but what bothered me most about the backlash was the argument that the only thing that makes a person a mother is the ability to physically give birth to a child. As an adoptee, this comment hit me on a personal level.

In my eyes, it is not only the hours that it took to push a baby into the world that makes a person a mother, but the hours – days – years – lifetime – afterwards that earns the title of ‘mom’.

There are so many babies who are brought into this world by women who did not intend to become mothers. And if those children were as fortunate as I was, they were connected with people who devoted their lives – their hearts to those children. People who committed to nurturing those children, loving those children, and providing for those children unconditionally. And those people are equally as deserving of the title of ‘mom’, or ‘dad’, or ‘parent’.

Not everyone can have babies naturally. And not all people can love and care for a child naturally either.

A person can become a mom biologically, or emotionally – how that mom came to be is not what matters. What matters most is that the child who calls that person “mom” knows that they are loved.

A lifetime commitment to loving a child unconditionally – that is what truly makes a mom.

 

 

 

First Day of Kindergarten (Round 2)

No matter how hard I try, it’s simply impossible for me not to compare my second child’s first experiences with those of my firstborn. Because when you experience something brand new for the first time – especially those bittersweet monumental childhood milestones – the memories of those very first experiences stick with you. They tuck themselves in your back pocket like little reminder notes, and you just can’t toss them away.

But that doesn’t mean that experiencing those moments with the children that follow are any less significant, or anything the same. My second born and only son started Kindergarten today, and it was equally as monumental, emotional and memorable a milestone as when his sister took the leap into the world of school-aged childhood.

I was just as nervous as I was for Emma’s first day of Kindergarten. I couldn’t sleep the night before – tossing and turning, my mind racing with worrisome thoughts of how his first day would go.

After his less-than-successful Kindergarten orientation, I feared the worst. I prepared myself for tears and persuasive talks and sideways glances from the unfamiliar faces of new parents. I imagined holding my youngest under my arm – kicking and screaming – while I attempted to coax my little guy into his new classroom.

I had countless talks with my son about his first day. I walked him through the steps of how his first day would go, led him through the school on practice visits, and even promised a treat if the day went well.

And you know what? He nailed it.

Kindergarten

My little guy walked right into the classroom, gave me a confident wave goodbye, and sat right down on the mat as directed by his new teacher. He watched intently as she read him a story, and a wide grin spread across his face. I was so proud of him that tears welled up in my eyes. My sweet little boy had done it. He had willingly and enthusiastically stepped across the threshold between nervous little child to confident big boy Kindergartener, and my heart was full.

Two down, one to go…

 

 

In My Daughter’s Shoes

I have vivid memories of what it was like to be 8. I can still remember how it felt to curl my tongue into the gaps of my missing teeth. I remember suddenly feeling butterflies in the pit of my stomach while talking to a boy in my class that I had known for years, unsure of why I was having those funny feelings. I remember feeling self-conscious about my knobby knees, and I can still remember conversations that I had with my best friend.

My oldest daughter is now 8, and I can’t believe that I’m the parent of an 8 year old. Now that she’s at an age that I can remember, parenting somehow feels a bit different to me. My daughter is developing her own personality, experiencing feelings and emotions that I can remember feeling, and I feel more confident as a mother – because I once walked in my daughter’s shoes.

Sure her experiences as an 8-year-old are different than mine were, but I’m hoping that I can help her to navigate through the confusing, exciting, overwhelming, challenging waters as she transitions from child to tween.

mother daughter

The challenge though, is that as she matures, I feel as though my status as “mom” in her eyes is maturing as well. I feel like I’m slowly moving from mom-with-an-enthusiastic-exclamation-mark, to mom-with-a-sarcastic-eye-roll, and I know that it’ll only get more difficult as she moves towards her teen years.

I can still remember suddenly feeling a tinge of embarrassment when my mom kissed me goodbye in front of my friends at school. I can remember rolling my eyes when my mom interrupted my friends and I during a play date, and I can remember crying in my pillow, convinced that my mom was ruining my life because I couldn’t watch TV until my homework was complete.

But I also remember feeling confused about my feelings towards my mom. I remember feeling guilty when I pulled away as she leaned in to give me a kiss, or rolled my eyes, not completely understanding why I was suddenly being so mean to the woman who I looked up to the most. I was suddenly annoyed by my hero – my best friend, and I didn’t understand why.

I’m learning that it’s important to give my daughter the space that she needs to mature. I need to be more conscious of how I speak to her and act around her in the presence of her friends, and most importantly, I’m realizing that it’s more important now than ever to establish a trusting relationship with her that goes beyond the because-I-told-you-so status of mom.

I’m doing my best to teach her that it’s alright to be honest with me about her feelings, even if it means that mine might get hurt. I hope that I’m doing it right, and that I don’t forget that I was once in her shoes, and that my mother was once in mine.

Parenting: Who’s The Boss?

When I was a kid, if I fussed and complained about wanting something (or not wanting to do something), my whiny why’s were immediately put to an end when my mom replied with a finite “My saying so is reason enough!” (her version of the infamous “Because I said so”). When those words were uttered, that was it. I knew I wasn’t going to get my way – my mom had made a decision, and I honoured it.

Nowadays I am constantly witnessing parents who are addressing temper tantrums and disrespectful behaviours with coaxing negotiations, bribery and hugs, and I’m left to wonder – who’s the boss?

I’m not judging the parents who are using these tactics, I know all children are different. I’ve definitely learned through the years that what works with one child, certainly doesn’t mean that it’ll work with all children. When my firstborn acts up, a few stern words about expectations and unacceptable behaviours calm her down.  I explain why her words or actions are not acceptable, and she understands, learns from the experience, and moves on. But my second child, he’s a whole different story.

Tantrum

As I navigate through the challenging waters of parenting, I’m constantly coming across articles and blog posts on the detrimental effects of time outs, consequences, and discipline tactics. And while the idea of correcting the undesirable behaviours by using those moments to teach important life lessons seems ideal, those tactics simply don’t work with every child. If I were to address my son’s screaming and flailing tantrums with a calm discussion about appropriate ways to use his words and communicate his feelings, my words would be met with louder screams and more undesirable behaviours. I confess, I’m not always the boss – but how do I regain my parental control?

I read so much about what we shouldn’t be doing, but I have yet to find a definitive solution to the problem that can be applied to all children. And I know why: because there is no one definitive solution.

What works with one child, will not always work with another. As parents, we know our children best. We know what sets them off, and we do what we can to dissolve the difficult behaviours. If time outs are working for you, do it. If hugging it out calms your child down, hug away! If you’ve discovered a new groundbreaking way to get your children to listen to you – keep on keeping on! But I think the ultimate goal as we raise our little humans is to make it understood that they have to listen to us – that we as parents are the boss.

 

Tooth Fairy Torture

Last night my daughter lost her 7th tooth. As I flashed my best grin and cheered her on with enthusiasm while she recounted her valiant efforts to pull her wiggly tooth from its roots, my thoughts went straight to my late-evening plans, and how they were officially ruined.

I remember writing about how I would never succumb to the over-the-top Tooth Fairy antics. Boy was I wrong. The problem is, as much as I would love to drop a quarter under my daughter’s pillow and call it a job well done, friends talk. And there’s nothing more depressing than seeing your sweet little firstborn teary eyed because her best friend’s Tooth Fairy left her a pony and made real-life magic happen right in her bedroom. Ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but seriously, the things that my daughter hears about from her friends at school leave me pulling my hair out as I try to live up to unrealistic expectations.

When she lost her first tooth, she received $5 in her Tooth Fairy pillow, and that was it. She was ecstatic. By the loss of her second tooth, rumours had been swirling that if you left a cup of water by your bed, the Tooth Fairy would change its colour to coincide with the fairy’s colours. Fine, coloured water, done. For the lost teeth that have followed, the antics had evolved to leaving questionnaires for the Tooth Fairy to complete, water for changing colours, a tooth in a special pillow, and a drawing for the Tooth Fairy to take back to fairyland with her.  It’s just too much!

Tooth Fairy

The stress that comes with entering a sleeping child’s room to replace a tooth with a coin is enough to make my head spin, but mom knows no fear like trying to complete a full questionnaire (in whimsical scripture might I add, cause gosh forbid the Fairy has similar writing to mommy’s), dropping food colouring into a shot glass full of water, and leaving money tucked into a pin-sized hole, all while trying not to startle your little one awake.

The worst part of all? Trying to stay awake while you wait for your nocturnal child to fall into a deep enough sleep to complete the list of daunting tasks. Tooth Fairy visits are complete torture. I just pray that the next tooth waits for a few months so I can afford the time and money it takes to make magic happen once more.

 

 

 

5 Tips On How To Stay Sane as a Mom of Three

As a career mom of three, I’m constantly asked the same question: How do you do it all? And the answer is easy: I don’t.

The truth of the matter is, any mom who tells you that she ‘does it all’ is simply lying. It’s just not possible to give 100% of yourself to everything that you do. Doing it all (in the true sense) would be like riding a unicycle, blindfolded, while juggling 100 balls in the air with one hand. I don’t know about you, but for me, balls would get dropped.

But while I’m not ‘doing it all’, I do like to think that I’m successful at what I’m doing. Because successful moms don’t strive for perfection, they create their own definition of success. The key is to recognize that you can’t do it all, and to prioritize the things that you are able to do by the things that are most important to you.

Striving for perfection will drive you crazy, so why not strive for perfectly imperfect instead?

To keep your sanity amidst the chaos, here are 5 things that will keep you from completely losing your mind:

mom of three

1) Practice saying no.

Stop being a ‘yes’ mom and pick and choose your projects and events based on how they will be of benefit to you and your family. You can’t be everywhere all the time – learning how to effectively manage your time will play a big role in finding your own success. I know it’s easier said than done, I’m always the first to say yes when asked to work on something or attend an event, but if I say no to a few things, I find that I have more time for the things that need to get done, or that I love to do.

2) Take time out for yourself.

As moms we tend to put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. But spending too much time meeting the needs of others can be draining. People always ask me how I could possibly find time for myself with a business and three children. I find the time because I make it a priority. A massage, a quiet hour of focused writing at a coffee shop, or even a short nap are enough to maintain my sanity.

3) Limit your children’s activities.

Extracurriculars can be extra time suckers – especially with multiple children, and I can’t even imagine how much busier it’ll get when my third child is old enough for after-school activities. As much as I’d love for each of my children to take soccer, dance, swimming, skiing, skating, piano, and karate lessons, I know that too much running around will drive me insane, so I limit each child to two activities (one that I choose, and one that they are interested in pursuing). It’s still busy but limiting the number of activities that they take allows for us to enjoy family time together too!

4) Accept help from others.

I’m constantly feeling overwhelmed as a mom of three, yet I have a bad habit of saying ‘no thank you’ when help is offered. When my husband offers to take over with the bedtime routines, I tell him I can do it and then rush around to get it all done myself. My parents are always offering to take the kids for the night and I kindly decline, worried that my busy little trifecta might be a burden on them. Accepting help from others will allow us to enjoy a little rest – which I’m sure we could all use.

5) Lower your standards.

Your house doesn’t have to be perfectly clean all the time, and no one’s going to die if you order pizza every once in awhile. I remember thinking it was so important to cook gourmet, perfectly-balanced dinners each night, have the house perfectly clean before bed, and never have the laundry basket more than half full. And then I had kids.

If you try to do everything yourself, you will lose your mind. Accept that you can’t do it all, let others help you, and take the time to smell the roses. Because you only live once, so make the most of it.

How I Got My Baby To Sleep Through The Night

Unfortunately, teaching your baby to sleep through the night is no easy feat. With each child, I have struggled with long periods of sleep deprivation, and with each child, I have eventually found a solution that works – convinced that I have unlocked the mystery to babies and sleep. But the truth is, there is no one easy answer – at least that hasn’t been the case for me.

With my first child, I tried the Ferber CIO method and let my girl ‘cry it out’.  I found that a combination of playing quiet music, surrounding her with soothers, and leaving her to cry in her crib when I put her down, actually worked quite well.

I remember being so nervous to try it out for the first time – afraid it wouldn’t work, or that I wouldn’t be able to last for more than a minute hearing my baby girl cry for me from another room. But I was so overtired! I had reached the point of desperation where I was willing to try anything.

sleep

My first child – sleeping soundly on her own.

She cried for 40 minutes straight, and then fell asleep on her own. And after that night, she was sleeping through the night. I would lay her down (asleep or awake), and she would suck on her soother and fall asleep peacefully on her own. I was so ready for baby #2. Or so I thought.

With my second child, nothing worked. From the day he was born, my sweet little boy would. not. sleep. There was no honeymoon period at the beginning – where newborns usually sleep most of their days and night away. He just didn’t want to sleep. Ever.

Eventually, when I reached a point of losing my mind from sleep deprivation, I decided it was time to try the Ferber method again. After (I hate to admit) letting him cry for more than 2 hours straight, I realized that it just wasn’t going to work with him. He didn’t take a soother, and just couldn’t settle on his own. I tried every other sleep training technique I could find, and eventually gave up.

sleep

My second child – who would only sleep on the go.

While it took a really long time for him to learn how to sleep on his own in his bed, my little guy had no problem falling asleep when we were out and about – especially in the car or on our boat. With him, I learned that each child is completely different when it comes to sleep patterns and sleep training, regardless of consistency in parenting efforts.

With my third child, this method worked like a charm (so far). For the first 6 months of her life, baby #3 slept like a rockstar. I’d put her down, and she would just sleep. I thought I had been blessed with the best sleeper in the world, and was living the dream. Until about 2 months ago.

Suddenly she just wouldn’t let me put her down. She’d fall asleep in my arms, and if I so much as inhaled too quickly, she’d awake with a vengeance. If I did manage to get her down, she’d wake up in the night frequently. Exhausted, I would pick her up, bring her into my bed, and nurse her to sleep. But I couldn’t sleep with her next to me, and I was starting to lose my mind with sleeplessness once more.

Baby Sleep

Ready to try anything, I started with trying to let her ‘cry it out’. I put her gently down as she wailed desperately for my rescue. I sat in another room listening to her helpless cries, and watched the clock. But as the time went by, I couldn’t handle it – I couldn’t stand to hear her so upset. After about 30 minutes, I went to her rescue. I’m not sure if it was the fact that she’s my last baby, or that my old age has weakened me, but I just wanted to make her feel better. After another long run of sleepless nights, I decided to try something new.

After rocking her and walking her for hours – I put her down in her crib and watched her as she cried. And as she continued to stand up and wail, determined to have me pick her up, I would gently lay her down on her stomach, and say in a hushed voice “It’s night night time, mommy’s here” while patting her back.

For 45 minutes, I continued to repeat those words in a calm and soothing voice, and continued to pat her back and lay her back down as she stood. Yes it was tiring, but I wanted it to work. And you know what? It did.

Her cries faded and eventually she fell asleep.

I ninja’d myself out of the room, and fist-pumped my way back to the living room where I celebrated my victory with a quiet night of tv-watching – baby free and grinning from ear-to-ear. And (knock on wood), she has been letting me put her down (awake!) ever since.

Some nights I still have to pat her back for a minute or two and say “night night”, but then she drifts to sleep – and sleeps all night long.

There is no simple solution – trial and error is what has worked for me.

I’d love to hear what has worked for you – have you unlocked the mystery of babies and sleep with your little one?