Simple Parenting: Am I Enough?

CalebandCourt9.2010Sometimes I’m too tired. To be a good mom.  To be a good wife.  To be a good daughter, sister, niece, friend…  Still, I lay awake in this overwhelming tiredness and I can’t sleep.  There are lists of thoughts ( things to do, worries, hopes, and the guilt) that spin so quickly they push forward and corrupt a dream-filled night.  It is the guilt though that pushes through the most.  The constant belief that I’m not good enough to be the above honorable titles.  Most painstakingly, I worry that I am not enough to be mom or wife.  I’m not giving enough of myself (even though some days I feel like I’ve given every sliver I have leaving none for myself) to nurture and love my beloveds.

The voices from media and the mommy wars would indicate that I am mostly not enough for my kids no matter what choices I make.  If I work , I’m a wicked Cowbird.  If I stay home to raise them I’ll become jaded in my mommy martyrhood.   But here is the thing–I’ve done both and both situations are exhausting. I think we as women (and parents) have done ourselves a disservice. We are trying to do it all and we can’t–and so we become exhausted with worry over being enough to all.

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Picture it–a warm summer decades ago on an afternoon in a middle income neighborhood.  The Jones didn’t live here, just Joe and his everyday friends.  Lawn chairs are stretched out on a shaded driveway.  Kids run haphazardly through lawns and mothers (all who work in either their homes or industry) share in neighborhood gossip and watch each other’s children.  They are relaxed and happy.  So are their kids.  These moms may have been tired–life always has hard seasons–but I never questioned if these women were enough for their kids.  The fact that one of my buddies or enemies (depending on the childhood rivalry of the day) called one of these persons mom meant they were surely a special person.  I never as a child questioned if my mom was enough.  She was my mom, simply that was enough.

Today, this worry exhausts me.  Is my child flourishing or am I limiting her potential by not enrolling in x,y,z program?  Am I emotionally present for my children or am I damaging them by being involved in my own personal pursuits?  Am I giving them enough nourishing foods? Enough free play? Enough stimulating learning activities?  Am I doing a good enough job at this job of Mommy CEO to create productive and happy adults in the future?  I have to stop myself and say what the hell is happening here?!  My mom made sure I got a bandaid when I needed one and a drink of water when I was thirsty from play, but she didn’t micromanage my time and the few mothers in the community who did were considered odd.  Today it is quite the reverse, but why?

Has the world become that competitive so we must get them started by reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets in the womb?  Are we worried that our children will get left behind in this age of intrastate and international economics?  Are we worried about how are children will hate us if we don’t find and cultivate their talents?  Will other parents judge us as failures?  I believe fear is the strongest catalyst in the mommy wars and in my own fear that I am not enough.

No wonder I’m tired.  Under this new parental dogma nobody could be enough.  I would need six of me to succeed in being this organic farmer, chef, chauffeur, classical educator, child psychologist, and of course housekeeper.  Why has raising a prominent, prepared child become the status symbol of keeping up with the joneses? Does everybody need to be Ivey league to matter?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So I’m playing the worst case in my head…  What if my kids sought and cultivated their own talents, made their own play, developed their own relationships with peers, ate junk food (once in awhile), learned how to do their own laundry, and even sought out travel experiences or community college instead of Ivey league.  Wouldn’t then the natural process of growth and development that occurred within my kids be the best case scenario?  My exhaustion is self-induced and that has got to change.  Things must be delegated and dropped.  I’m going to allow my kids time to be, and I will be there when the growing pains occur, but I can’t prevent the growing pains by being a micromanaging mom.  Time will allow growth to take its course, and I need to be a spectator as often as I’m a participator.  So it’s time for this mama to let go just a little bit, to take a breath, and rest a bit because while I will be there I can’t do it all for them. They must do for themselves and that is enough.

The Legacy of Owning Stuff: Be careful what you don’t purchase

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I will call her Mrs. Denial. This hardworking American mother never bought herself a beautiful dress.  She made do with what she had, what was passed-down to her, or what she found on clearance.  The kids are grown and she can afford more, but still she does not buy the dress that makes her feel the loveliest.  The reason she states are plentiful,”The grandkids may need something, the kids inheritance….”  She sacrificed and continues to sacrifice because that is what moms do.

But is it right?

Sadly something happened in Mrs. Denial’s methodology, her children didn’t witness this as selflessness.  Instead these actions made them see mom as not valuing herself.  The message got mixed up, “If Mom can’t have what she needs or dreams–neither can we.”  Today, her adult children all struggle with valuing themselves, and there may be a myriad of reasons why. Mostly, children emulate what they see and not necessarily what they hear…

I talk and write a lot about simplifying and minimizing what we own.  I think that message is important–we can’t continue to consume at the level we are in our nation and in the world and possibly sustain it.  I’ve wanted to live what I preach and I make do with what I have a lot.  It is a game to me, “How long can I go without, how can I use what I have to get the job done, can I borrow it, can I buy it used….”  I call it being resourceful and my children participate in the “game” with me and often it is very fun for all of us.

However, something has changed in the past few years and I’ve stopped consuming to the point that buying the shoes I badly need has become unbearably hard.  I have the money and yet I haven’t purchased them…do I deserve new shoes when others have so little and think of the resources, the questionable labor…?  Seems crazy doesn’t it–this self-created martyrism?  But there it is in my head this very instant…and the thing is I think others who journey through voluntary simplicity or minimalism struggle as well. It is a tricky business owning and consuming things.  The wants and the needs get confused, the voices of humanity and fairness echo in your head, and with so much vying for our money and time it is almost easier to completely deny ourselves than have to deal with figuring out what has true value or what is truly fair.

But shouldn’t we value ourselves?

If we cannot value ourselves then how can we value others in this world around us?  Maybe it’s about making ethical choices in our purchases and finding quality and not succumbing to the quantity.  It is the quantity that is the problem–we as a world own too much stuff, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own anything?  (And yes I know the idea of “owning” can be philosophized to death–so let’s skip that part.)

If Mrs. Denial had bought a beautiful, solidly made dress that made her feel lovely…maybe she would have smiled more…her children would have echoed that smile…maybe their stories would be different…a different legacy.  Perhaps, some will think how stupid a dress is a thing and it can’t bring joy–no, it can’t…but sometimes our minds can be altered because of the way we perceive a thing…

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

It is a tricky business owning and consuming things, but I can’t talk about it anymore…I’ve got to buy some solidly made, lasting shoes…and I might just smile about it.

Ten Steps to Begin Taking Back Your Financial Freedom

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Financial denial.  Yep.  That’s what many of us live in, but ironically that is what many of us should plunge towards.  Financial denial can mean two things:

A) I (and possibly my significant other) are in denial about how poorly we manage our finances.Financial denial.  Yep.  That’s what many of us live in, but ironically that is what many of us should plunge towards.  Financial denial can mean two things:

B) I will deny my wants and desires today, so I can better serve myself in the future.

They are two denials at odds with each other, and if you can grasp hold of A then B seemingly falls into place.

Let me explain.

For many years I paid my bills (when I could) and refused to look at the total of what I owed–too scary, and too hard.  Every month, I would pay the minimum balance on credit car payments when it was possible (I had a lot of debt) feeling relieved that this chore was over.  However, I knew that I really hadn’t done much but kept this paperwork off my desk for another month.  So what changed?  I added up all I owed, face reality, and figured out how long it would take to pay it off with minimum payments.  I was going to harnessed and indentured to these payments for the next two decades at least!

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant. –P.T. Barnum American Circus Entertainer

Bankrate offers a calculator to figure out how long it will take to pay off your credit cards with minimum payments.

Twenty years is too long.  I paid off my credit cards in less than two years. This is how I did it.

Ten Steps to Begin Taking Back Your Financial Freedom

  1. I cut them up. I cut up all of my credit cards–I didn’t close the accounts at this point however, closing too many accounts at once can hurt your FICO score.  I slowly closed them one by one over time.
  2. I wrote down everything I bought and paid for. Everything!  I wrote it down in a small notebook I carried in my purse.  This helped me see where the money was being syphoned out. Much of they syphoning was quick and wasteful.  At the end of each month I categorized my expenses and added up each category.  That act alone is the most eye-opening to how money can be quickly wasted.  I plugged those holes and slowed my spending.  For more information about categorizing debt read and really making your money work for you read Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. 
  3. Writing down everything in itself slowed down my spending because I’m lazy.  Do I want to write down the dollar I used in the vending machine?  Nope.  Skip it.  That act alone saved me plenty.
  4. I took ALL the extra money I saved each month from my plugged holes and paid it towards my smallest debt and created the snowball effect a la Dave Ramsey. http://www.daveramsey.com/new/baby-step-2/
  5. I skipped eating out, new clothes, unneeded extras, and payed it towards debt.  More holes were plugged!
  6. I got a second job.  That money went solely towards my debt and kept me from spending money in my free time.
  7. If I got a lump sum–tax returns, a small cash gift, a bonus–it all went towards my debt.
  8. I read everything I could about debt, saving, and finance.  These authors supported a debt free lifestyle and were my coaches/cheerleaders when others laughed at my homemade lunches, thrift store purchases, and other quirky money saving measures.  My best cheerleaders were found in the voices of the The Tightwad Gazette community.
  9. I realized this wasn’t forever.  When my debt was paid off I was able to ease up on my saving and spend some of my money for things I truly enjoyed.  However, I had changed over time and senseless spending just didn’t work for me anymore.  I am my money’s master and that is a terrific feeling.
  10. I had gratitude for the opportunity to get right financially.  In history past debt could mean a sad and desperate situation for a debtor.  Today, however I was able to take control and make things right with the companies I owed money to.

I hope in the early months of this new year, you find yourself working towards making money your servant rather than your master!

Ten Ways to Save Money This Week

We are a society of instant gratifiers–the faster the better…that could possibly be why we are a society in deep debt. Get it now!  Pay for it and the interest later.  Well for those of you who like your food fast, your coffee instant, and results immediately–here are several approaches to saving money that you can feel the benefits of (nearly) now–or at least at the end of the month when that end actually meets the other.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

TOP TEN WAYS TO SAVE THIS WEEK

1. Walk, bike, ride the bus, or ride-share to work (erideshare.com).

2. Take a lunch to work and/or take a lunch while running errands. (My favorite is a thermos of cold water and some PB&J sandwiches–this stops my kids in their tracks when away from home–they say they are hungry and they’ve just spotted golden arches.)

3.  Cook your meals at home–its healthier, cheaper and in most cases more rewarding.

4.  Follow the rule “Less than a mile walk or bike in style.”

5.  Avoid phantom electrical charges–even when electrical gadgets are not in use they still consume energy.  Unplug those babies or put them on a power strip and shut it off at the source.

6. Disguise and use up your leftovers.  Here’s the skinny on leftovers, add a broth to leftovers and it’s soup–add a starch; potatoes, pasta, rice, quinoa it’s a casserole.  You can also use those leftovers as lunch (see #2).

7.  Get a library card–free books, movies, magazines, books on tape.  Additionally, many libraries offer free discussion groups, classes, and lectures.  Who needs to pay for media entertainment (when you have a resource like the library for FREE)?

8. Hang your clothes in your basement or attic to line and air dry.  Indoor drying during the winter adds moisture to inside air.  Winter drying is a bonus as a humidifier for your home.

9.  Put your debit card out to pasture–calculate exactly how much money you will need to get through the week for gas, groceries, etc. and take only that amount out or use an envelope system to truly manage  your money with cash.  It is those small unexpected (and often unnecessary charges) expenditures that push us away from financial goals.

10.  Go on a money fast.  Jeff Yeager, The Ultimate Cheapskate, is passionate about money fasting–not spending for a day, a week, or A MONTH!  Go ahead and try it–if you could avoid spending any money one day each week–what could that add up to for you?

This list is not exhaustive–I barely scraped the surface–but none of these items cost you in initial investments and you can start now.  Have a happy and frugal day.

Simple Living: Do You Own Your Stuff or Does it Own You?

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Trinkets

How much of our lives could we buy back if we cherished our lives instead of our trinkets?  Gerry Spence-American Lawyer &Writer

Trinkets.  I love them.  Exquisitely beaded jewelry, hand-kilned furniture, beautiful shoes, original artwork, the classics bound in leather with gilded pages, fancy porcelain teacups…  For those of you who know me this may sound strange–what I present to the world through my home and clothing seems to run on the side of simple, boring–anything but gilded!  In reality that is not wholly my true tastes.  Wallpapered elegance and finery really would suit a little part of me–wouldn’t it suit us all?  Some would say, “Life is too short…live what you dream…sample the finery…Carpe Diem!”  Part of me would agree.  Except I love something more than this attachment to finery–I love my time.  Not pursuing the finer things means my goals do not have to constantly be guided by gaining monetary wealth.  Of course, I should strive to do well in my career and know that my salary will likely indicate some achievement–but simplifying my desires for trinkets allows for the freedom of time and not a concentrated effort on finding more wealth.

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them.And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?  Ecclesiastes 5:10-11

Even if you are not a Christian, the verses in Ecclesiastes hold true for our current society in huge measure–we watch “others” in pursuit of and loving this wealth–and so shouldn’t we as well?  It is on billboards, commercials, social media, reality shows–it infiltrates and leaves a strong desire for more money, but does it benefit us?  To a certain degree “yes.” Research declares the new number in the United States is $75,000–that is now considered the monetary happiness mark.  If your household declares an income similar to this making more is not likely to make you happier.  However, a one income fits all scenario seems ridiculous–cost of living, family members being supported by income, debt to income ratio, level of consumption increasingly effect what is “needed” to “be happy.”  …And if you have read The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn or Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin you know “happiness” or comfort can be achieved on less.

Life Requires Action, Not Necessarily Cash Flow

The actual action of putting one’s heart and hopes out there is so much more effective for realizing our dreams than buying.

Wealth is synonymous with possessions and riches.  For many of us this means stuff.  Wealth means those beautiful shoes and porcelain tea cups, but why are we in pursuit of wealth?  I believe with stuff there is a dream.  If I wear Jimmy Choo shoes then my life is going to get better…people are going to notice me, like me, and I’ll have more friends.  There is a hope tied to the stuff we possess.  If I buy beautiful furniture for my home…I’ll keep it clean, entertain more, and have lasting and satisfying relationships.  If I buy tickets to the ballet…I’ll be among the socialites, befriend them, and my business prospects will increase.  Maybe?  …But what if in all of these scenarios we skipped the stuff.  I want more friends, so I’m going to put myself out there and be a better friend.  I want to have lasting relationships, so I’m going to open my home to others despite my old couch and coffee table.  I want my business to be successful, so I’m going to listen to my intuition and find a mentor to help me get there.  These scenarios seek the same final results, and stuff really wasn’t required for any of it–the actual action of putting ones heart and hopes out there is so much more effective for realizing our dreams than buying.  You can read more about love and money here: Rich People Talk About How Happy Money Make Them 

Moderation in All Things, Even in Owning Trinkets

The author of Ecclesiastes continues to point out that the increase of goods and consumers does not do much–it benefits only by being a feast for the eye.  That feast though is so tantalizing.  I have four beautiful mugs.  I bought them 15 years ago and spent more than any twenty-something should have for something so small and unnecessary.  They are lovely and artful, and I do enjoy my morning tea in these cups.  I do appreciate their beauty, but I do not treasure them–if they broke that would be okay too.  I enjoy beautiful (and sometimes expensive) things in moderation.  I think enjoying an object because of its beauty is what separates us into this humanness we possess–beauty is in the man-made and in the natural as well–and our human eye and soul seeks many kinds of beauty.   It is when owning trinkets becomes our only pursuits it becomes our idol and this lessens our spirituality (maybe even our compassion).

Just some Monday Meanderings–what is an upside to pursuing beautiful things? Downside?

Simple Parenting: 6 Tips on Finding Imagination and Play

This past weekend my kids spent part of their afternoon building.  They built a house of cards, a structure made of toothpicks and gum drops, a fairy house out of old tubes and cardboard, and several fortresses out a various types of blocks.  Thanks to our very snazzy local children’s librarian she opened up a space for play on a cold afternoon where children were allowed to imagine and build with household items and things that often end up in the trash or recycle bin.  The joy and imagination in that room was magical.

This idea of building something seemed so novel–both her and I conversed about how sad it is that imagination and play has become a novelty.

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About 30 years ago you would find me outside with the neighborhood kids (rain or shine…more often rain…I did grow up in the Pacific Northwest) imagining we were shipwrecked in an old broken boat my dad lugged home, stamping out secret rooms in the tall grass on the vacant lot in our neighborhood, or imagining there were fairies and trolls in a land we declared “Lobo Land” in honor of a friendly dog who often ventured into this mystical territory–it was only the small wooded lot behind the neighbor’s house.  We were a gaggle of kids eating wild blackberries and needing baths every night, cops and robbers, cowboys and Natives, biologists and botanists, and we found so much imagination and learning in this one short, dead-end street.  I want that childhood for my own kids, and I watch it passing by wondering how to capture some of that magic for them.

Here are some things I have done in the past and hope to do in the future to elicit more time out of doors (or even indoors) finding imagination and fun.

1. Turn Off the Screens: In our house we have T.V. and computer time–but on most days those media minutes are limited.  It is very difficult to create a bursting imagination when the mind and eyes are directed at an all encompassing entertainment source.  On sunshine-filled days we just leave the T.V. and iPad off.  Typically, Sunday is a media free day in our house so imagination can reign. *The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children older than 2 limit their screen time to one to two hours (for under 2 they advise no screen time).

Shaving cream and a cookie sheet allows for tactile play/drawing--great for little fingers
Shaving cream and a cookie sheet allows for tactile play/drawing–great for little fingers

2. Make Time: In the age of the hyper-competitive helicopter parenting, I believe-as an educator and a parent-we are overburdening kids these days with very hectic schedules.  If most of your meals are eaten in your car or at a fast food restaurant it is very likely that your schedule and your child’s is too much.  Reducing activities to allow for unscheduled time or “down time” is essential in giving your child time to learn through free play.  Free play offers time for unhindered fun, uninterrupted mental flow, questioning, finding answers, creativity, problem-solving, and peer or sibling interaction.  All things that allow children to thrive and become happy adults.

Look at your child’s activities and see which ones are really making your child happy–which are a burden–let some of them go.

**…And for those of us who are helicopter parents (I include myself in that group), remember for college entrance it is the rigor of course work, test scores, and a couple of outside activities a student is exceptional in that colleges are looking for (if you won’t believe me call a high school counselor or your Alma mater–it’s true)…kids do not need to do every activity under the sun for success in life.

3. Teach Them: The gaggle of kids are nowhere to be seen in our neighborhood.  We moved this summer to a place we knew our kids would be able to get outside and roam free.  They didn’t have that opportunity at our last home.  I know there are children in our new neighborhood, but my kids were the only ones regularly outside during this past season.  My kids needed a little schooling on some things they could play out of doors.  I had to spend some time showing them the things I learned and played as a kid, but I was eventually able to sneak away and let them to their own devices.  Outside play has become something they look forward to without too many moments of boredom–and on that note…

4. Boredom is Good: Allow time for boredom.  Boredom becomes creativity if it is left to fester and ooze into something uncomfortable it then becomes something beautiful–ingenuity.

5. Find Support: Finding other like-minded families is important.  Start in your neighborhood.  When spring arrives, I plan on visiting neighbor families and seeing if their children can “play.”  What a crazy concept…just play!  Also, by joining some community groups (PTO, mom or dad groups, a church, Scouts, etc.) this expands who you know within your community.  Like-minded souls may be among these groups.  You might have to drive your child to a house to be a part of the gaggle, but it is worth it.

6. Spend Time in Nature: In the book, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv gives argument why kids need the natural world to grow in multifaceted ways.  I wholly agree. Your green patch may not be big, but getting kids outside is important for their physical and mental health.  Most metropolitan and suburban areas have easy access to parks, and for those of you in the U.S. www.discovertheforest.org allows you to easily find a forest near you.  Clean forest air is something every human being should experience–invite your kids to love the natural world.  I believe time in nature makes us all better.

What do you do in your family to allow for imagination and play?

Home Economics: If the Shoes Fit Wear Them Out

Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

It is funny where lessons in economic can be found.  My daughter has discovered and I have rediscovered Beverly Cleary books–most especially those involving Ramona and Beezus.   For my daughter she understands the angst of Ramona’s everyday mishaps, and for me I am transported back home to Portland, Oregon where I spent my childhood.  As a girl I glided over the struggles of the Quimby’s and their continuous plight to make ends-meet.  Sometimes there’s was a similar plight in my own childhood home, and so as a girl I just thought that is how things are.  As an adult I recognize international  economic systems, national economics, education, taxes, a person’s background and insights, as well as a plethora of little events and details determine whether a family will be able to make ends-meet.  This is not the only economic lesson I have rediscovered with Ramona and her big sister Beezus.  It is the recollection of shoes and my own childhood that truly made me think.  In several books Ramona discusses shoes and her distaste for hand-me-downs, her acquisition of  new ones, and her desire for the loveliest ones.  She acquires shoes only when necessary–when they are outgrown.  She visits a shoe store where a knowledgeable shoe salesman aides her and her mother in their selection.  Her mother buys only when necessary and makes due with what they have–when they can.  My own daughter has several pairs of shoes.  Only two of them are absolutely necessary–her everyday shoes (athletic shoes) and seasonal shoes (boots or flip-flops depending).  I did not visit a shoe salesman to purchase these items–I bought them off the rack.  The other pairs were acquired in the same manner.  The quality of her shoes are poorly made, imports from China (most likely produced by a youth not much older than my own child)–I purchased them knowing they would not last very long (the built in obsolescence is how our ever growing consumption is created).  When I was a child I had a pair of leather sandals in the summer and a pair of leather oxfords or Mary Janes during colder months–these were purchased at a shoe store with a salesman.  I remember the salesman measuring my foot in the metal Brannock Device (I felt special having so much attention paid to me).  Then things changed–my mom began shopping at big retailers where shoes could be purchased off the rack for much less than the previous shoes I wore.  Rainy days were no longer spent inside cozy shoe stores smelling the clean pungency of leather and polish–no longer was their a happy salesman faking astonishment at how much my feet had grown–how sad.

Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

While the Quimby’s struggled often with their finances, it was not a result of squandering their money–though they did spend money on special treats they “made do or did without” often.  However, the economics of the day required good decent shoes from a shoe store–one pair to get you through.  It is not the economics of our day to day lives currently–we move beyond what is necessary and our children have six pairs of shoes in their closets (or more).  At what cost is this excess to our planet, to others working to produce these articles, to our homes with limited space, to ourselves spending the time and resources to constantly buy up more?  By the time I was a teenager I boasted over owning over 25 pairs of cheaply made shoes (not much to boast about)–now they all lay in a landfill.  As an adult I want to return to the economic of the Quimby’s–to buy one good pair of shoes for my daughter (when they are needed) and make due when we can.  This simplification of priorities and choosing need over wants (with an occasional treat here and there) is what made the Quimby’s a happy  family–I hope it makes yours one too.