A couple weeks ago a friend texted me. I haven’t seen her in over 4 years. She wanted to catch up, have a drink, and talk about being a busy working mom. She was on my team at Hallmark. When we started working together, she had just returned from maternity leave. She had twins – two beautiful little girls. At that time, my kids were 7 and 12. Tonight I learned that she admired my relationship with my kids, the balance I seemed to have in my life, and she wanted advice. I have to say, that felt pretty good! As a busy working mom, I never expect to hear a compliment. Instead, I expect to hear how I could have done things better.
Learning that she actually felt I was a good mom, made my day! She asked for advice, and as I thought about it, my advice was pretty simple: Create positive routines that your kids can count on, ask for their thoughts, and enjoy your time together. So, I will share a few of those things here, in hopes others can take them, tweak them, add their own spin, and hopefully find a ray of sunshine that works for their family.
Routine 1 – Family Dinner. Every night that we are able to eat together as a family, we eat off nice dishes in the dining room with candles lit. Candles mean a lot. It was a tradition from my grandma. I adored my grandma. She was my favorite person in the world. She made me feel so special. We had a bedtime routine at her house. She always lit a candle before bed. We ate our bedtime snack by candlelight. Then we snuggled and read a book. Always. Every. Single. Night. I updated her routine to work for our family to dinnertime. As the kids got older, we might only eat together a couple nights per week. But, ALWAYS on Sunday nights. If I had a dollar for every Sunday night activity we missed because I insisted on having Sunday night dinner, I would have hundreds of dollars! We start the meal off with a singing pre-school prayer. (Oh, the Lord’s been good to me – sing along if you know it!) Then we go around the table and share our highs and lows. Through the years, it helped me understand what made the kids happiest — was it a good grade on an assignment, having a friend over, or playing a sport? Many times, our family candlelight dinner was their high. And, it helped me understand what made them sad, and if they needed help with something as they shared their low.
Routine 2- Snuggle time: My kids are 19 and 14. And yes, we still snuggle and talk at bedtime. It isn’t every night anymore, but it is every opportunity. When they were little, it is where I learned about the teacher that made my daughter feel bad or the friends that didn’t invite my son to a party. I learned who they “liked” or what upset them. It is a time to laugh, tell secrets, ask questions (and actually get answers), and just listen. And most importantly, it is a time the kids know they can tell me anything. As they get older and stay up later than I do some nights, I always know when they need some snuggle time, because they will ask me to talk before I turn in. My biggest advice here would be to start young, so it is expected, a routine, and just as important to them.
I will add a sweet story to Snuggle Time. I bought a rocking chair 20 years ago when furnishing our nursery. I always rocked the kids before bed and sang “You are My Sunshine”, and “Rock-a-bye baby” (I made up a happy ending since I didn’t like the “bough breaking” part: “but don’t you worry, I will catch you”….). Well, today was a neighborhood Goodwill drive, and after 20 years I decided to donate it. I asked my son, Spencer, to donate it. He did. He came home. He was sad. He said he sat in the rocker for 10 minutes thinking of those songs before leaving it. He asked if he could go back and retrieve it. He did. We rocked and sang both songs today. It is now sitting in his teenage game room!
Ask for their thoughts
Thoughts 1- Mid-year reviews: Over the course of my Hallmark career, I have probably written 400+ reviews. During the review process, I always asked what would make our team stronger. When the kids were young, I decided to also ask them a similar question: what could we do better as a family? I remember asking Chloe in first-grade. She looked at me and asked why we always had to rush around in the morning? Why did she have to get up so early and go to “Before School Care”? Her friends didn’t do that. The first-grade bus came at 7:30am, but for our family, that was too late. My husband and I both got to work by 7am. I thought about it. Why did I have to get to work by 7am? I didn’t punch a clock. I just needed to get my work done well. Chloe was right. We stopped rushing. She stopped going to morning care, I changed my hours at work and improved my time management skills, and we were so much happier. I am so glad I asked!
Thoughts 2 – Expectations: I have always traveled for work. Some positions required more travel than others. And at times, conflicts arose. I always asked my kids and set expectations with them. I told them I promised to never miss an important event if they promised to help me understand what was important to them, and what wasn’t. I found out that my daughter didn’t really care if I attended a band festival where she only played two songs in the band, but my son would be very hurt if I missed a band concert. My daughter was fine with me missing an evening production for the parents if I was able to pop in the school assembly to see her play her part. I never missed a dance recital for Chloe or a concert for Spencer. But I did miss a few games or events over the years, and it all worked out. Sometimes we put more pressure on ourselves by thinking we need to be everywhere, but we really just need to ask. And with technology, we can often be there. Just today I Face-Timed my husband, Brian, into Spencer’s swim meet while he was in Minnesota at our alma mater’s Golden Gopher football game with college friends. Spencer’s races were 1 min 3 seconds and 1 minute 17 seconds. Short, sweet, and most importantly, Spencer knew Dad was watching.
I remember dreading telling the kids I had a 10 day trip to China planned. While I had never purchased gifts for them when I traveled, I went out and bought very small inexpensive gifts (toy plastic dinosaurs, hair ties, bookmarks, etc) and wrapped them separately. 10 gifts for each kid. I set them out and told them that I needed to go out of town for a long time, but that we would talk every day and they could open a gift when we spoke. I let the wrapped gifts sit out for a week until they were begging me to leave!
Enjoy your time together:
Enjoy 1 – As your kids grow up, the time seems to speed by. It is cliche, but true. The best way I have found to slow down time is to do things together. Enjoy your time together. One of my absolute favorite things to do as a family is to go for a long bike ride. We are outside, we have our routine water stopping places to rest and talk, and we are getting exercise. It is fun, and it creates memories. Just a couple weeks ago when Chloe was home from college we all went on a family bike ride. I was grinning the entire time!
I also enjoy family vacations. Some trips include other families, but we also are sure to take a vacation somewhere adventurous with just our family. During those vacations, we realize how much we like spending time together. While you can live together, you find you are often hustling from one activity to the next or trying to keep up with the kids’ social calendars. But on a family vacation, you find out how much you love being together. Over Memorial Day, we took a vacation to the cutest, and smallest, cabin in the world. We had the best time! We played games, ate dinner in, went for walks, went boating and played frisbee golf. We just enjoyed being together. We also had the opportunity to spend the fourth of July in Lake Tahoe. It was there I realized how very close my kids are. They spent time laughing and hanging out together. They have become good friends. Setting aside time as a family has ensured they see the value in our family unit, and in their relationship as brother and sister.
Enjoy 2 – Don’t worry about the little things. Yes, it can frustrate me that my son doesn’t put away his clothes, or that no one else will clean the kitchen. But, in the scheme of things, it isn’t that important. I don’t want to be the one always nagging. So, I have decided that if it is really important to me to have a clean room, I will clean it. If I am stressed out because the dishwasher is clean and the dishes are piling up on the counter, I will take the 3 minutes (I timed it) to unload and load the dishwasher.
And, when I do want others to pitch in, I just need to clearly state it. When I tell my son to unload the dishwasher and take out the trash before he goes to his friend’s house, he does it without any complaints. But if I decide to get frustrated because he didn’t think of it himself, and I yell at him, he gets upset and it goes downhill from there. So, while I do wonder at times if my family would ever think to put anything away on their own, they are happy to do so at my suggestion. So, things are much more enjoyable when I simply ask/tell.
OK, I am not “mother-of-the-year” (or even week), but if you find a ray of sunshine in any of my examples from my 19+ years of being a working mom, then it is worth it! Cheers to all moms! Moms that work outside the home, inside the home, single moms, moms with twins, moms with blended families, and more! We all rock and we all have nuggets worth sharing!