Little Heroes

20140417_083937Despite the fact that we work at home, we are not immune to the demands of life when children return from school. Just because we are home doesn’t mean we’ve tended to the household (you should see the dust that piles up, normally until Dave can’t stand it anymore and he grabs the dust cloth).

But it’s the children who are most important, and we don’t want to ignore their demands – especially after they’ve been so patient with us finishing up our work. Even after a tough day ,you can’t simply ignore their pleas for both dinner and attention.

Most times, you’ll be able to find enough energy to play a game or spend time doing something with your kids for a while, but some days you just don’t have it in you. Some days, our brains are so frazzled it’s all we can do to pick up the phone, order the pizza, and get out the paper plates.

And that’s ok.

Kids will notice your lack of interest and attention, so admit to your child that you have had a bad o long or tiring day. They’ve had bad days too and can definitely relate. Give them credit.

You might be surprised at their response, whether it is playing quietly by themselves or helping to clean up the house.

When your kids really need you and you don’t have a lot of energy, choose a relaxing activity that you all can enjoy together. Let your child know you would really like to sit and read, or perhaps watch a favorite show together. You can share time together without devoting your full attention, and it will show your child that even on your worst days they can still make you happy. Just do them a favor and disconnect. Nothing sends the message to your kids that they aren’t important than you choosing your phone and Facebook friends over them.

[Tweet “Nothing sends the message to your kids that they aren’t important than you choosing your phone and Facebook friends over them.”]

As much as we want to be heroes for our children, sometimes they are our heroes.

(im)Perfect Moms

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

dusty house happy kidsBeing a mom is a full-time job by itself. Balancing family, your personal life, school and work, as well as everything else that life tosses in your direction can sometimes seem overwhelming. One way to save your sanity and learn to enjoy your life is to realize that it’s not about being a perfect mom but more about being the perfect mom to your kids.

[Tweet “It’s not about being a perfect mom but more about being the perfect mom to your kids.”]

When you’re under a lot of stress, the first thing you can do is prioritize. If dinner is hard to handle, prepare meals on your off days that can be cooked when time is short. If the house is looking a little messy, enlist the help of your children for small rewards such as an extra bed time story or extra time with their electronics. And honestly, if you would rather play with your kids than spend time cleaning nobody is going to mind the mess.

[Tweet “If you would rather play with your kids than spend time cleaning nobody is going to mind the mess”]

It’s a hard truth to face but you’re not going to juggle it all every time. You’ll miss a ball here or there, whether it’s skipping a shower, forgetting a meeting at work or swinging through the drive-thru because it’s easier than cooking.

Lucky for us moms, kids are pretty resilient. They’ll survive being fed the occasional cheeseburger or pizza, and if you skip cleaning the house to spend time with them, you’ll be their hero, not a bad housekeeper.

If I Were You … I Wouldn’t Give that Advice

Getting Real With Mary Swan-Bell

Once I read an article that said there are only two conditions under which you should offer advice: If you are asked and/or if it is a matter of life and death. I had a small child at the time, so that reinforced what I all ready felt since everyone from my mother-in-law to old ladies at Wal-Mart were weighing in on my abilities as a mother (or lack of abilities depending who you asked.)

“You really should put a hat on that baby.” “You should really take that baby’s hat off; she’ll get too warm in here.” “I don’t know why you want to breastfeed, I gave all my kids bottles of formula, and they turned out fine.”

Since this was a formative time, I remembered that. I rarely offer advice. I can usually put myself in other people’s shoes and know what I would do, but that’s me not them. So, I am hesitant to offer advice for fear of the “If I were you, I would…” gene.

mommy dearestSee, that was one of my mother’s favorite intros. As in: “If I were you, I would wear black shoes with that dress.” “If I were you, I’d put a girdle on.” “If I were you, I would give that baby a little cereal, she’s starving.” “If I were you, I would be a nurse. What in the world are you going to do with that professional writing degree?” (She might’ve been right there, but that is beside the point.)

But I am a grown up woman with a wonderful marriage, three great kids, and a happy life, so I no longer let my mother’s unsolicited advice bother me.

Except when it pertains to my weight.

My mom is extremely thin; I am not. For the past 6 months, I have been trying–mostly unsuccessfully–to lose 20 pounds, by eating healthy and going to the gym nearly every day. Upon one trip to the gym, I saw that they were offering a senior citizen’s class and thought it would be a good way for my recently widowed and relocated mom to get a little exercise and maybe meet some friends.

She agreed, joined and has been going for about a month.

Last week, during week three of the Fast Metabolism Diet when I was enjoying a nice dinner of cucumbers and oysters, while my family scarfed down pizza, my mom said…”You know, if I were you, I’d quit that diet. You could just come to exercise class with me…” and she proceeded to show me how she no longer had excess skin under her arms or any flab on her 81-year-old stomach.

You might think I’m writing this from jail, but I promise, I held my temper and responded with grace and dignity: GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!! I AM NOT COMING TO YOUR OLD LADY EXERCISE CLASS! She shrugged her shoulders and responded with her second favorite line, “Suit yourself,” but I’ll tell you about that one another day.

Coping with Stress without Potato Chips

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

To cope with stress (the body can’t tell the difference between sabre tooth tigers and atrocious bosses), the body’s fight or flight response causes a dump of adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine into the body. These are great hormones that make you stronger, more powerful, and quicker on your feet.

Perfect for fighting sabre tooth tigers.

Not so perfect for sitting on your butt, bitching about your boss, and eating a bag of potato chips.

So what happens when you don’t put those stress hormones to good use during stress?

Heart disease. Obesity. Migraines. Diabetes. Potentially even cancer.

You can’t eliminate stress from your life, unless you decide to go live in a day spa and get mani-pedis and massages every day. But you can learn to cope with stress in different ways.

5 Ways to Cope with Stress without Turning to Food

  • coping with stress

    At the first sign of stress, take a deep, calming breath. You really can control the stress response to some degree with a mind-over-bad-boss approach.

  • Instead of eating, put all of those energy hormones to good use by running up and down the stairs a few times.
  • Eliminate the stresses that you can – don’t overbook yourself or overcommit. Set a good example of life balance for your kids, too. Limit their social and extracurricular activities and make sure everyone has time for down time.
  • Exercise regularly – people who exercise are better able to cope with stress.
  • Meditate.
  • Talk to someone.
  • Clean the house.
  • Seek alternatives like aromatherapy.
  • Write.

Stress Relieving Foods

If you are going to eat, make sure you choose healthy comfort foods that help relieve stress:

  • A handful of walnuts or almonds
  • Broccoli or dark green leafy veggies
  • Salmon
  • Dark chocolate (a SMALL amount)
  • Drink milk, hot cocoa or tea
  • Drink ice cold water

You can train yourself to react to stress in more positive ways than reaching for the bag of potato chips. By reducing stress, learning to cope with stress that you can’t eliminate, and choosing foods that make you healthier, you can turn stress into a positive tool for achieving your goals.

6 Tips for Moving With Young Kids

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Depending on how you look at it, moving can be a blessing or a curse. Sure, it’s a fresh start in a new place and an opportunity to get rid of things you don’t need, but it’s also a challenge to pack up all of your worldly possessions and move them from point A to point B. When you add young kids to that equation, optimistic attitudes are really put to the test. Between a general aversion to change and the boredom and mischief that can ensue once all of the toys are packed away, moving with young kids is no small undertaking. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey, over four million children under age 10 moved in 2012.

Our family has made three cross-country moves (Boise, Idaho to Bath, New York; Bath, New York to Reno, Nevada; an easy move from Reno back to Boise; and a second move to Bath, New York. This year, we’ll be moving from Bath to Salt Lake City, Utah).

To help make your next move as painless as possible, here are six tips for moving with young kids:

Explain the Changes

moving-with-kidsClear communication goes a long way to help your family adjust to the changes that will soon be taking place. Your children may be too young to really grasp what “moving” means, so take the time to fully explain it to them and help them understand why you’re moving, as well as the benefits of it. Detail exactly what will happen from packing everything in boxes to the auto transport company loading up your cars and the movers packing their truck full of boxes. Hype up your destination and get your kids excited about choosing their new bedroom and unpacking their stuff.

Streamline Travel Plans

Considering using a long-distance move as an opportunity to finally take that cross-country road trip? Think again. Save your sanity and streamline your travel plans as much as possible to minimize the disruption to your children’s schedules. Skip the endless hours of driving and opt to ship your vehicle and fly to your destination instead.

Say Goodbye With a Party

Host a goodbye party a few weeks before the move to give you and your kids the opportunity to see close friends and loved ones before you leave. According to ParentingSquad.com, “children love a celebration, and this can be a great way to turn your move into a positive, exciting experience.”

Create a Checklist & Delegate

Make a checklist and delegate simple tasks that your kids can help complete, such as packing their toys and clothes. Involving your kids in this process helps them to feel included and connected to the decision to move. PBS parenting experts recommend to “call family meetings to check-in with each member about how things are going and what everyone might need throughout the move.”

Allot Ample Time to Pack

Don’t try to rush the packing process; with young children underfoot, it will only make things more stressful. Allow for twice as much time as you think you need to get everything packed. If possible, get a babysitter for a few days unless you have the patience to deal with your little ones unpacking things as quickly as you pack them.

Clearly Label All Boxes

Clearly label all boxes, but be especially diligent when labeling boxes that contain your children’s things. Don’t just label boxes “toys.” There will come a day when your child needs to play with a specific toy, throwing a tantrum until he or she gets it, and you’ll be thankful that you took the time to label boxes clearly.

Shadra Bruce is the owner & managing editor of MomsGetReal. She and her family are planning to move from New York to Utah in the next six months.

Surviving School Breaks with Your Kids

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce

The short version of my advice for surviving the kids being home on break is to BUY A LOT OF WINE.

Since that won’t always solve the problem – say it’s 9am or you’ve already had three glasses, then you have to find other ways to get through the break.

Don’t get me wrong – I love having my kids home. But just when I’ve gotten used to having peace and quiet during the day to get work done, they get two weeks off. I don’t, and trying to write articles about server virtualization or choosing the right daycare while the kids are playing another round of Guitar Hero Argument (you know, the game where no music gets played because they can’t agree who gets the guitar and who gets the drums) can be difficult.

Want to know what’s worse than the kids being home for break?

The college kids being home for break.

Kira’s college break is SIX WEEKS long.

The college-age kid would like to be treated like the grown up she is, considering herself a guest who is just visiting and is therefore “above” being required to help out with chores. Of course, we disagree, given that guests don’t stay for six weeks, eating the food and using all the hot water, so we think she should contribute by taking a turn cleaning the bathroom and helping out with dishes.

The college-age kid is used to living on a different schedule than the rest of the household, so at 2am when the rest of us are trying to sleep, she’s having a way-t00-loud Skype conversation with the boyfriend, and because she was up at 2am, she doesn’t wake up and eat breakfast until mid-morning.

The college-age daughter consumes more energy and hot water than all the other people in the home, and suddenly, the bathroom is NEVER free. For six weeks, we have to play bathroom traffic control cops to make sure the younger kids can at least squeeze in the occasional shower and toothbrushing.

The college-age daughter, because she is a grown up now, tends to not recognize the signals of “this is a mom-and-dad conversation” or “you’re not the mom; I’ll handle the younger kid discipline” which creates moments of tension when it’s too early for that glass of wine.

I love having the kids home – even the college age ones – but if the liquor store on the corner makes a few extra wine sales over the next month, you’ll know why.

wine

Use Your Stress to Achieve Your Goals

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

I know a little something about stress. When my youngest child was 14 months old, I decided to return to college to finish my degree. I was 31 years old with five kids at home, and the closest university was 45 miles away. I started classes in January, in New York, during a blizzard. If that wasn’t stressful enough, a month after I started school, my mom, 2,400 miles away in Idaho, was diagnosed with cancer. Two months after that, my husband’s corporation “reorganized,” leaving him without a job.

Talk about stress!

We seriously considered dropping out. Since I had transferred all of my previous college credits to my new university, I was actually quite close to my bachelor’s degree, and the university had given me an extraordinary scholarship that allowed me to go to school (at a prestigious, private university) for free. We couldn’t let that go, so we resolved to see it through – stress and all.

Stress can do odd things to a person. It can cause loss of sleep; it can affect your health. Stress can make you lose your appetite or want to eat all the time; it can make you short-tempered. Chronic stress is even linked to things like increased belly fat, high blood pressure, and clogged arteries. Stress can cause breakouts – even when you are well past the acne age.

As my first semester ended, my husband found work with the local school district. My mother’s health, however, continued to decline. I decided the following year to double up on classes and graduate a year early, so that we could head west to be close enough to care for my mom.

I enrolled in 22 credits at school, had three teenagers, a kindergartner and a “terrible” 2–year-old at home, and we were still reeling from the job upset. I wanted to obtain my degree but not at the expense of my family.

Stress took its toll. I had trouble sleeping some nights. I may have been slightly cranky at times…and my face broke out like it had in high school.

But stress also helped me achieve my goals.

If you can keep your goals in mind, stress can be a great motivator. My goals were to graduate (with a decent GPA) while still spending time with my kids. Stress became a tool to help me stay on task and accomplish my goals. Certainly, there were times when I wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Forget it!” – and there were times when my mom was having a bad day with chemo and I wanted to drop everything and be with her.

With the support of my husband (and my mom cheering me on) I finished with straight A’s, graduated with honors and bonded with my kids every day. I even earned a full-tuition assistanceship to grad school. My mom came to New York to see my graduation ceremony, and I was by my mother’s side through the last year of her efforts to fight cancer.

To use stress as a motivational tool, you need to set goals. Perhaps you are working two jobs for a short time in order to pay down credit debt. Don’t think about the day-to-day exhaustion of working; think about the end-goal of having less debt and more financial freedom.

Once you have a goal, make a plan. Be sure to set a time limit for how long you will have to endure the stress – have an end in sight. Enlist the support of your family and friends. Write down your goals and your plan for achieving them. Make sure you have visuals to remind you of why you are working so hard now.

It’s important that you manage your stress. That 45-minute drive I had to school each way actually ended up being a blessing. I used it to shift gears mentally, to prepare for (on the way to school) what I had to get done that day and (on the way home) getting back into mommy-mode. I spent a lot of time on the phone with my mom during those drives, so that I could feel like I was actively supporting her.

One of the best ways to manage stress is to perform breathing exercises. You can do these exercises anywhere. Whenever you need to “de-stress,” take a few deep breaths, the kind that reach your belly. Not only do they help calm you mentally, but they have a physical affect on your body and reduce your blood pressure and heart rate.  If you’re pushing yourself and getting tired, take short, quick breaths. Be sure you are sitting down, and stop if you get light headed. This breathing exercise increases your circulation and wakes you up.

The most important way to manage your stress is to squeeze in some exercise. Stay focused on nutrition. If, like me, you lean toward food when you’re stressed, pack healthy snacks and keep trail mix around. The better you eat, the more you’ll be able to keep your stress levels under control. No matter how busy you are, take five minutes every day to re-center. Find a quiet place, meditate, close your eyes – do something to just stop each day.

Finally, to really manage your stress and accomplish the most, use your time wisely. If I had five or ten minutes before a class started, I would read ahead in a chapter. I made lists of what I had to do that day, and I followed them. I stayed flexible enough to handle changes (like sick kids), but I also used every minute of my time to get something done.

Stress can be debilitating if you let it. It can stop you in your tracks and make it difficult to think clearly or make decisions, but if you can keep your eye on the goal you are trying to achieve – and the fact that the stress is temporary – you can use stress to help keep you motivated to achieve whatever you set out to accomplish.

 

Thanksgiving Survival Tips

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

Every year, I tell my husband, “Let’s just keep Thanksgiving simple.” It should be a time to enjoy the company of friends and family and eat great food. I almost wish we could just have toast and popcorn like Snoopy and Charlie Brown serve. I can make toast!

But there is nothing simple about it once the chaos in the kitchen begins. Dave cooks the turkey and the ham, makes the fruit salad, and most of the side dishes. I prepare the stuffing and the mashed potatoes (I have mastered those two dishes, and while I never actually enjoy cooking, I find it satisfying to be able to help cook at Thanksgiving).

If you’re hosting the meal, there’s not a lot you can do about the chaos of the kitchen, but here are some tips for easing other stresses of the day so that you can relax & enjoy:

Occupy the Kids

If your own kids are already bouncing off the walls – food, fun, break from school and Christmas is coming – just see what happens when you add a few cousins or grandparents to the mix. It’s nice to have the family together, but better if you can keep them occupied.

Older tweens and teens can help in the kitchen, either with cooking or setting the table. Younger kids can take drink orders and make sure the older adults in the family are cared for. Helping out will only occupy so much of their minds though, so set aside some out-of-the-kitchen space where they can watch TV, play video games, or even work on crafts – handmade place mats or pine cone turkeys.

Another idea is to turn the kids loose with cameras. If your hands are elbow-deep in turkey guts, having the kids grab some snapshots will ensure you get pictures of the day.

Get Help Hosting

Most people want to help out, but when they are a guest in someone else’s home, they’re not sure how to. Make it easy on your guests by giving them specific tasks. While your mom and sister sit and gab, have them slice apples and grapes for the fruit salad. While the guys watch football, have them peel potatoes. Everyone will enjoy the meal more if they contribute – and in that same vein, just because you have agreed to host doesn’t mean you can’t ask your guests to bring a side dish.

Keep it Simple

We never quite succeed at this one, but we do try. We do both a ham and a turkey, but we no longer make homemade gravy. We buy the stuff in the jar or can, which seems to taste better anyway. We skip things like cranberry sauce that no one would eat anyway, and instead of a fancy salad, we just buy precut veggies and put them out early with Ranch dip. Instant potatoes were our solution for years, until our youngest daughter tasted the real thing; now we do 10 pounds of mashed potatoes (with five kids, three of them growing boys and one of them a starving college student, lots of food is required to sustain them until the next holiday).

Don’t Stress

Dinner will never be done exactly at the time you want it to, and not everything will come together exactly at the same time. That’s what the warm setting on your oven is for. Relax and realize that no matter how many hours you spend cooking, the dinner will be consumed (along with seconds) in less than 30 minutes. Make sure you sit down and enjoy that part.

Bonus Tip

Skip all the talk about politics, religion and other conversations that are likely to start the next family feud. Focus instead on sharing moments of gratitude and planning for your next get together.

10 Comfort Foods Everyone Should Be Eating

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

Did you know that there are comfort foods that are also good for you – foods that you can turn to in time of need without feeling guilty for bottoming out a bag of potato chips? When I need a feel good comfort food, these are the ones I turn to:

1.  Turkey:    There’s a reason you want to take a nap after Thanksgiving dinner besides overeating. Turkey is a great cure for insomnia and very lowfat.

2.  Oranges:  If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, peel an orange. From an aromatherapy standpoint as well as through consumption of the orange itself, you can lower stress and anxiety while eating a delicious sweet & juicy treat filled with vitamins.

3. Dark chocolate: No cheating, as this is also on my “12 superfoods everyone should eat” list, but dark chocolate is great for depression

4. Pretzels: When you need a salty crunchy munchy without the fat and guilt that comes from potato chips, grab a handful of pretzels – they have no fat and quickly resolve feelings of stress and anxiety.

5. Bananas: Bananas are filled with potassium, making them perfect for your post-workout refuel and offer quick energy any time of day.

6. Carrots: Need a mid-afternoon energy boost? Grab a handful of baby carrots. These little guys are full of anti-oxidants, a perfect grab-n-go snack, and just what you need to get through the last bit of your day, whatever it holds.

7. Dried cherries: Feeling bloated, off your game, or just a little off-kilter? Grab a handful of dried cherries, or better yet, toss them into a small cup of vanilla yogurt (my favorite is Dannon Light & Fit). Cherries are great for reducing inflammation, making them an excellent addition to your diet

8. Popcorn: Another salty crunchy munchy favorite, popcorn only works if you avoid the oil-laden microwavable nasties and go for good old fashioned air-popped. Great for preventing strokes.

9. Hot chocolate: Warm up, fulfill your craving for a sweet treat, and get an energy boost. Just be sure what you’re choosing to drink is really hot chocolate and not just powdered, flavored sugar.

10. Green tea: Considered a heart-healthy concoction than can aid in weight loss, green tea is my favorite afternoon comfort food, getting me through the roughest days.

 

30 Parenting Tips for the Holidays

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

1.Keep the holidays from being stressful by remembering that your kids care more about getting your time than getting your presents.

2.Don’t kick your kids out of the kitchen during the holidays; let them be part of the magic (no matter which parent is doing the cooking).

3.Stress Less. Don’t worry about the mess.

4.Don’t try to make it the best holiday ever – the high expectations will be the ruin of it. Just relax and enjoy each moment.

5.Before the holidays, spend some time with your kids going through their things and clearing out the clutter before new stuff gets unwrapped. Some great websites to send this clutter to include Amazon, Ebay and musicMagpie.com.

6.Re-gifting is the best kind of recycling – let your kids pick gently used items to share with friends, family, and those in need for the holidays.

7.One time we spent more than we should on a gift for our daughter. She ended up playing with the box all day. Remember, it’s not how much you spend but the time you give that makes it special.

8.Create traditions that are unique to your family. Don’t worry about trying to live up to

9.Make time to see your kids’ performances in school choirs and plays. These moments are incredibly important to your children and have an impact on their self-esteem and success throughout their lives.

10.This is a good time of year to help your kids understand that everyone has a different way of celebrating the holidays and that it is our unique ways that make us strong. Embrace difference.

11.Don’t stress if your kid would rather eat chicken nuggets than your beautifully cooked turkey. It’s not about what you eat but that you share the mealtime.

12.Set the example for your children by making the holidays (whichever you celebrate) the season for forgiveness and tolerance.

13.Take advantage of cold winter days by having movie and popcorn day with your kids. It’s cheaper than going out and lets the kids snuggle up with you on the couch for a classic favorite.

14.Do something fun when you’re cooped up in cold weather. Bake chocolate chip cookies with the kids. It will warm up the house and homemade cookies are always cheaper and better for you than prepackaged.

15.Encourage your kids to explore their talents by supporting their desires to express themselves creatively through art, music, and dance.

16.The holiday season can be chaotic, so Moms and Dads, make sure you get away for some alone time to recharge your batteries.

17.Fun is NOT just for kids. Get out there with them to build a snowman, have a snowball fight, or go sledding.

18.Dads, take your kids shopping for Mom or provide them with the supplies to create a homemade gift. It will be her favorite gift. Moms, do the same for Dad.

19.Blended families have it tough around the holidays. It’s ok to cherish everyone’s favorite parts of the holiday season and create new memories for your new family unit.

20.Turn off the cell phone, look your child in the eyes, and truly engage with them every single day.

21.Let your kids wrap their own presents – only the paper has to be pretty, not the wrapping job.

22.Grown ups can help make the holidays go more smoothly by remembering that the kids want to spend time with everyone they care about, so put custody issues aside and get along.

23.Bruce Family Tradition worth sharing: on Christmas Eve, we drive around looking at Christmas lights, then come home and have peppermint ice cream milk shakes made with egg nog. Yum!

24.Bruce Family Tradition worth sharing: Tired of having turkey twice during the holidays? Skip the bird at Christmas and have Lasagna or another favorite dish.

25.It’s normal for kids to be bouncing off the walls and totally excited this time of year, and it’s ok for you to catch their enthusiasm instead of try to curtail it.

26.Teach your kids to do something nice for someone else this time of year – donate food, dish Thanksgiving dinner at the local soup kitchen, sponsor a family at Christmas.

27.Tip from Anika: make sure your kids have plenty of healthy snacks around so they eat healthy foods.

28.Tip from Parker: Understand your kids enough to know what they’re talking about and why they’re acting the way they do. Don’t just assume they’re misbehaving.

29. Let your kids play outside, but be sure to monitor them and make sure they are bundled up.

30. Christmas cards can be expensive, but grandparents love handmade drawings from the kids and photos more than anything.