How We Finally Solved Our Electronics Problem: Cutting back on “Screen Time” Painlessly

How to limit screen time with already internet addicted kids

The internet addiction in our family happened slowly…  passing my iphone over to my toddler while out to dinner when food took too long, educational computer games on pbs kids. Electronic games and devices trickled in on birthdays and Christmases.

But PBSKids.org on our family desktop turned to games on the ipad, which turned to youtube, which slowly turned into a seemingly endless supply of mind numbing garbage.  Before I knew it my kids spent less and less time playing and reading and more and more time in front of some kind of internet connected screen.

But screens aren’t just a kid trap… they are a parent trap as well. When kids are plugged in they are blissfully quiet. Electronics don’t make much of a mess. If you have something for everyone to plug into, nobody is fighting. They make long car rides, cooking dinner, and conversations with adults much easier.  Bonus: a screen can help you sneak in that shower, or take a minute to just relax. Adding to the problem, screens can also be easy to justify, TV and educational games have taught my kids a lot. My 4 year old not only learned the word “gravity” from TV but could actually explain it, correctly, in his own words. At least, I thought to myself, the kids were getting a full day of unplugged time at school.

I became concerned when I could see the effects in my kids: diminished creativity, boredom with anything not electronic, lack of play, and just how they are used to consuming information… but pulling the kids away from the internet resulted in tension, fighting and power struggles. Lots of pouting, lots of anger, and a good deal of yelling and crying.

When we started deschooling after being in school I realized that I was going to need to make some big changes. I wasn’t sure how to go about these changes. We tried several different things: recording screen time to reflect back to the kids how much time they were actually spending online. I tried just putting my foot down and limiting screen time that way. I tried “blackout hours” from morning until 4pm.

After almost a year of trying various ways of getting internet usage under control we finally found a system that makes everyone happy. The kids can control their internet usage and I don’t have to get into arguments all the time. The kids are learning about time management, “saving”, delayed gratification and more. Best of all, the same system works for my 4 year old, 9 year old, and 10 year old.

The 30-Minute Ticket System.
Each Monday the kids get 30 minute tickets corresponding with their age (10 for the 10 year old, 9 for my 9 year old and 4 for my 4 year old). They can redeem these tickets at any time of day and use as many at one time as they choose… but once they’re out, they’re out until the next Monday.  Monday, they receive their next set and so on.  Not unlike an allowance, but for the internet. Tickets cover computer, iPad, Xbox, etc. The kids can be given additional 10 minute extension tickets when they are caught being good or helpful or just because at my discretion (asking for or negotiating for one is not allowed).

How we solved our screen time problems

When they choose to use their ticket, they turn it into me and we set the timer together.

I wasn’t sure about this, but to my surprise, it caught on quickly. The next day I woke up at 6 in the morning to the feeling of my 9 year old pushing a ticket into my hand as I slept. 5 hours of screen time a week (including weekends) cuts my 10 year old waaaay back (he’d spend more than 5 hours on electronics a day if I’d let him), but he doesn’t mind.  Of course he’d rather have more time, but the tradeoff is that he gets more control. He no longer needs to ask my permission, or worry about me storming in to tell him to get off the computer because I’ve had enough.

Having something tangible to keep or giveaway has helped the kids really think about using their time wisely. Screens and electronics are no friend to mindfulness, but by redeeming their tickets, they are at least making the choice to be on electronics, rather than doing that by default.

We’ve had exactly 0 arguments after starting this system (although I did get some balking that weekends were included). On just the first day, my oldest finished two books that had been taking him months to read and started two new projects.

Since the tickets were introduced our house is messier, louder, and somehow even wilder, but we’ve spent a whole lot more time together.

 

Why Talking About Autism Is So Complicated

One of my sons is autistic.

This isn’t news to many people I know personally, and it’s not hard to figure out who for those who follow me on instagram.

Sometimes people tell me he doesn’t “look” autistic.  Although it’s a slightly awkward comment, I see what they are saying. Autism doesn’t come with physical traits, although there are some tell-tale quirks. He doesn’t always look autistic… but sometimes he does. It depends on where we are, what we’re doing, and what kind of day he’s having.

There is a very real chance that my son will never “blend in” with the neurotypical world. As he gets older some traits are more pronounced and some less so.

I struggle with talking about autism for a few reasons. Here they are in no particular order.

I want my son to own his autism.  If my son chooses to identify as an Autistic, and wear his autism with a badge of pride, I want him to feel empowered to do so.  If my son wants to be viewed with a more person-first identity… a person who has autism, I want to be respectful of that.  As my son gets older, he will form his own opinions of self. And while I want him to be proud of who he is, I realize this can come in many forms. I want to give him the space to form his own identity without too heavy an influence from me.

I don’t want my son to think we are hiding his autism.  I just want him to feel in control of his personal information as much as a social media addicted millennial mother can allow.

At the same time, parenting is complicated. Add something like autism into the mix and it gets exponentially more complicated. Sometimes, I want to talk about autism with others to share the unique experience of loving and raising a person with autism.

In our house, autism is not a bad thing. I don’t hate autism… in fact, there are many amazing things about autism.  But this is pretty easy for me to say; I might have a very different perspective if my child were less verbal, or tended to run or wander away, if I worried about his safety when he had a meltdown, or the safety of others.  While we want to instill pride and confidence in our son, I can’t pretend that autism isn’t difficult and much different for many other families. I view autism through a fairly privileged lense; when I talk about autism, I have to be aware of that.

We want him to get assistance when he needs it, but we also don’t want him to feel like we want to “fix” him.

We want people to look at him for who he is, with or without the label depending on his preference, not ours.

So… until the day that my son can tell me his preferences, I’ll be pretty tight lipped on the more personal autism stuff.

But I made a little request on my personal Facebook page and I’ll make it here too:

Whatever your perspective on autism… whatever you think the cause, or what you think autism “looks like”, whether you have an idea of what autism is all about or not, seek some new information today.

Here are a few places to start:

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Autism Network International

Blogs by Autistic Bloggers

Have a question about autism? “Ask an Autistic” YouTube vlogs  by Amethyst Schaber

Why I Ditched The Chore Chart — But Not the Chores

Why I ditched the chore chart-- but not the chores

IMG_4919.PNGFor the past couple of years there has been a chore chart on our refrigerator.

I had listed a daily set of chores that each child would be responsible for based on ability. Occasionally I’d get the kids to complete the items on the list, but mostly the chart sat on the fridge and collected dust. When I asked them to do their chores, there was a chorus of complaints; whining and bickering would grate my nerves and cause me to grumble about how lucky they are and how I don’t make them do anything, grumble, grumble, grumble, stomp, stomp.

But not too long ago, I ditched the chart all together and started a new approach.

What appealed to me about a chore chart was that it’s pretty easy.  No questions really: each person has a chore, then they do it and check it off the list. I made it myself so each chore was appropriate for each age and nobody had more than two items a day.

My problem with it was 2 fold:

First, it was easy.
There was absolutely no thinking involved. The kids looked for their item on the chore list and nothing else, and completed their item regardless of whether or not it really needed to be done, or if something else needed more attention. The dishes could be piled high in the sink and on the counter, but if their job was to pick up the toys in the spotless living room, then that’s what they did and be off doing something else, with the dishes still in the sink.

Second, I took away the chance to do something too difficult.
Dividing chores up by age and ability stopped the kids from doing something that was a little too difficult for them.  If there’s such a thing as dumbing down chores, that’s what I had done.  Since then I learned that, with a little patience and practice, Marlowe at 3 can easily put his clothes on hangers and fold his own pants… but his previous chores had been wiping down tables or cabinets (a chore now most often handed to Langston… yes, the 18 month old).

So, we’ve switched up our morning chore routine to reflect what I want the kids to get out of chores rather than to just get things done.

Instead of telling the kids what to do each day, I now ask the kids to make observations themselves. Each day before we do our chores (for us this happens at our morning meeting before homeschool), I ask the boys to take a look around and see what might need to be done (I usually add one or two items that I’ve observed).  Then we create our list of chores for the day and they divide them up amongst themselves.

While I realize I’m a parent, and work all the time, I also do chores at this time so they see me pitch in and know that I am available to help them when necessary.

Now we do chores with much more frequency than we used to (nearly every day) and there’s hardly any grumbling anymore from any of us. Occasionally, I’ll get a heavy sigh or a groan when they sign up for a certain job, but the requirement isn’t to not like chores, just to do them, so I ignore it.

I can’t say our house is much cleaner (by afternoon everything has exploded again), but in my mind, a cleaner home is only a benefit of what chores really are: a chance to learn how to work together for the good of the household.

 

 

Raising Helpers.

raising helpers

Raising children to be helpful

Most days we have a morning meeting over breakfast.

It’s pretty simple: we start with what day it is and how everyone is feeling; we’ll each talk about what we have on our mind and what we would like to accomplish during the day or week.

Monday morning, I gave the kids a challenge for the week ahead:

The kids had to find a time during each day to ask the question, “How can I help?”
They could ask  me or Jeff this question about something around the house; or our babysitter, their Nana, a stranger, or anyone. They could open it up beyond that, too. If they hear of anything on the news or in discussion, they could ask themselves, “how can I help?”
It didn’t matter so much who or how; what was important was to ask the question (and then actually help) daily.

I wasn’t sure how well it would catch on, but I didn’t want to harp on it, so I decided to change the way I ask them to do things around the house throughout the day.  Instead of saying, “Max, can you watch Langston for a minute while I fix your brother a snack,” I would start with, “Max I need your help.”  Instead of asking Marlowe to pick the books up off the floor, I started saying, “Marlowe, can you please help me”.

Raising helpful children.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but the boys have  been absolutely amazing. So amazing, actually, that I’ve decided to give myself the same challenge.

For the past week, I’ve been overwhelmed with many different calls to action, both on a political and a community level…so many things to get involved with, so many organizations doing great work in need of help.  What if I just asked this question once a day? It doesn’t have to be a big.  Can I devote 10 minutes a day to doing something that makes a difference? Can I make a phone call to my representatives? Can I attend a meeting? Can I volunteer? Can I make a donation to an organization? Can I offer someone help? Can I add canned food to my grocery list? Can I assemble a care package? Or maybe I can spend 10 minutes informing myself about a local candidate or cause?

Hopefully, this is a new habit for our whole family, myself included.

Raising children who help out

A Different Kind of First Halloween.

I’m not really a holiday person.

It’s not that I have anything against holidays; I understand why people love them, but they just aren’t my thing.

Halloween in particular; I might be able to get into the idea of Thanksgiving or the Christmas spirit for a little bit, but Halloween… not so much.

And so every year I thank God for Target and pre-made Halloween costumes.  I usually avoid even thinking about Halloween costumes until the week before. This year it went something like this:

What do you want to be? We’ve got a puppy costume in the attic. Boom. You’re a puppy. Adorable. What do you want to be? Grim Reaper. Fine. Here’s a big black thing for half off 3 sizes too big. Wear that and a glow light so you don’t get hit by a car. What do you want to be? Oh, you’re a baby. Excellent, you’re going to be adorable no matter what.  There’s a dinosaur costume in the attic next to the puppy one. Perfect.

So far, Halloween was going swimmingly. Except for one thing.

Hudson decided he wanted to be Peashooter from Plants vs. Zombies.

Hudson who won’t even wear a hat, a shirt with buttons, or a color other than blue really, wanted to be Peashooter for Halloween. And this time, Target failed me.

Hudson who actually WENT as the color blue last year because we couldn’t get him in a costume and he dresses in head to toe blue anyway. I had given up on the idea of Hudson ever dressing up for Halloween and this year he wanted to dress up in a costume, with a giant mask.

And that’s how I found myself at the store buying a pack of balloons, green spray paint, a green tee shirt, a small pile of felt, and craft foam on the day before Halloween.

Halloween supplies

Hudson sat and watched me construct every piece of that costume.  He made sure nobody touched the paper mache as it was drying and checked on the pieces we left to dry in the backyard. He made sure we didn’t lose or misplace a single component of that costume, and he made absolutely 100% sure that the leaf on the back of his Peashooter head was exactly at the right angle.

Halloween Peashooter costume

My son, who won’t wear a hat, a helmet, or a hood for more than a minute, put on a giant paper mache Peashooter head. He loved it (he tried it on several times during the construction). After it was finished, he wore his costume in the yard (carefully reaching up to make sure his leaf was still attached to the back), wore it for pictures in the park and, of course, put it on for Halloween night.

Halloween Peashooter Costume DIY Homemade

After visiting 3 houses, he declared he was done trick or treating (not being a big fan of candy to begin with).

“Well, that was Halloween,” he said as he stripped off the costume inside. “Now it’s time for Thanksgiving.”

 

 

Our First Year of Homeschool: Small Changes in Our First 2 Months.

Hello from the beach!

Homeschool on the beach

My mother in law invited us to join her on a short trip to North Myrtle Beach so we hopped in the car on Monday to join her. I thought for sure 70 degrees would be too cold for the kids to get in the water but I was wrong, and the kids spent the afternoon with their pants and shorts rolled up running in and out of the water with the tide.

Our first year of homeschool

Adjusting to our new homeschool life has certainly had it’s challenges but the freedom to do things like this make it worth it.

In the past few weeks we’ve been to Shenandoah, Northern Virginia, Maryland, Jamestown and now South Carolina.

We’re still in that deschooling phase, adjusting to our new way of life. I’ll admit I was occasionally frustrated that after 2 weeks of “deschooling” nobody suddenly woke up saying “I want to learn calculus” or “I can’t wait to go on a 3 hour hike today!”.

When people talk about deschooling, or unschooling for that matter, the narrative always seems to be “we relaxed and now my child is reading above grade level/is a math genius/designed a rocket that actually went to the moon and back”

But we’re not focused on the product, we’re focused on the process. And lately I’ve noticed some little things that are telling me that we’re on the right track.

Max, who hates learning, is asking more questions. “What kind of bug is that?” “Can I listen to that book while we drive?” “Can I take a picture of that?”

Hudson, who used to cry every time he had reading homework, sleeps with a giant stack of books in his bed. He looks at the pictures every night. He’s sounding words out on his own out of curiosity. And he’ll sit and listen to me read until I have no voice left.

Hudson’s speech therapist remarked that he seems like a “totally different kid” that he walks in more relaxed and ready to work.

The kids are asking to collect things. They are keeping themselves more entertained outside. And I even heard the words “I’ve been on the computer enough today” come from my 10 year old.

We haven’t made actual rockets, nobody has discovered a secret hidden genius. But we’re learning, and that’s what our homeschool is all about.

our process learning about homeschool

Boys Will Be Boys: A Mother’s Plea For Help.

Sigh.

I can’t wait to talk about my weekend trip to WOW Summit but this seems to be more pressing given the circumstances.

As many of us have, I have been watching the recent news about Donald Trump’s comments with horror.

Just as I read in horror the coverage of Stanford University’s Brock Turner.

Just have I have sat in horror reflecting many, many comments which are explained away with statements like “boys will be boys”.

Yes, boys will be boys.

As you may have noticed… I’m surrounded by quite a few boys.  In addition to having 4 boys of my own and having been married for 10 years, I have a father and a brother and grew up having many male friends. Regardless of whether or not I had any of those, I live in a society dominated by “boys”.

Boys Will Be Boys A Mother's Plea For Help - A Multifaceted Mama

Over the years, I have learned a thing or two about boys:

I have learned that fart jokes are almost always funny.

I have learned to tolerate a little rough housing as long as they move the coffee table out of the way first.

I know that no matter how much I clean the bathroom it might never matter.

I know that they may have trouble expressing themselves, or freeze when you do. Boys might say things that make your eyes roll, because it’s gross or dense or just plain annoying.

I know a lot girls like the above too.

But I know something else about boys:

I know that they can listen.

I know that they, like girls, look up to role models.

I know they can control their behavior.

I know they can control what they say.

I know they can think of others before themselves.

I know they can treat people with respect.

I know they can understand the meaning of the word ‘stop’.

I know they can be caring brothers, and fathers, and friends.

I know they can tell the difference between right and wrong.

I know they can be emotional.

I know they take cues from their parents and our society.

And I know that boys can live up to the expectations we set for them.

These are the type of boys that I hope my boys will be.

Every day as I raise my 4 boys I remember this. Every day there is some example, somewhere that I can set for them… and every day there is some example somewhere that makes that job more difficult.

Sure, we all have our flaws, but being a boy doesn’t have to be a flaw. Being a boy doesn’t mean that they will be vulgar, or disrespectful. It doesn’t mean that they can ignore people’s boundaries. It doesn’t mean they can take what they want without asking.

We TEACH them what being a boy means. Every day. We show them what it means when we give them passes for bad behavior because they are “just being boys”.  We teach them that it’s okay to behave poorly when they see other “boys” get away with it.

And so, I am asking you to help me.  Give my sons the credit they deserve. Don’t write them off, hold them to a higher standard.  Give them role models who set the example of who boys can be.  Help me show them that boys can be strong without being cruel and that kindness and strength are not mutually exclusive.

Hold boys, including mine, accountable. Start when they’re little. They can take it. Don’t let them get away with being less than what we know they can be. They are better than that. I promise you I will do my absolute best to make sure that my boys live up to the standard we set for them.

Help me teach them what it means to be a boy.  Because, yes, boys will be boys… but eventually these boys will become men.

If this post resonates with you, please feel free to share.
Raising boys. Boys will be boys.

For the Moms Who Don’t Love Everything

I’ve noticed a weird trend and I’m not sure if it’s a recent thing or not…

But somewhere there seems to be this idea that we are supposed to look back on every memory of parenthood and miss them… we’re supposed to love the tough moments and the hard days because that’s what good mothers do. Even if, on the rare occasion we’re not loving this particular moment right now, we’ll look back and treasure these precious moments of motherhood. We’ll miss these moments… even the tough ones.

And maybe you will.

But it’s okay if you don’t.

You don’t have to love the 5AM wake up call now, and you don’t have to love it later either.

You don’t have to love pregnancy.

You don’t have to love breastfeeding.

You don’t have to love the Target tantrum or the days you felt like you were stuck in an endless loop between the dishwasher and the washing machine.

You might look back on some days of life with kids and shudder.

You can love your kids without adoring every single habit and quality.

You can love motherhood without relishing every single minute.

But maybe you do, maybe you cry on the first day of kindergarten and miss the midnight breastfeeding snuggles and that’s okay too.  How sentimental you are about these moments, or which moments you do or don’t enjoy about motherhood does not determine how “good” of a mother you are.

There are many aspects to the “mommy wars” but I think that the most upsetting part isn’t parenting styles it’s the HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE IT competition.

I loved being pregnant and I have encouraged moms to find the joy in it… but I understand why it’s not for everyone. If pregnancy isn’t your favorite season of parenting you’re not doomed from the start. I had a miserable time breastfeeding my second and a wonderful time breastfeeding my third but I don’t love them differently as a result. Sometimes raising children can just be difficult. Not “difficult but…” Just difficult.

We accept that we don’t have to love every single part of our lives… why do we set the expectation on ourselves and others to love every single part of parenting?

So, for the moms who don’t love everything I say this:

For better or worse our crappy days are just that. They’re crappy days. You don’t have to love them, you just have to get through them.  And if you’re making it through and doing your best (whatever your best is under the circumstances)… I think that’s good mom enough.

 

Moms who don't love everything about parenting

 

 

5AM Wake Up Call

image

Just before 5am on a Saturday:

Child 2 woke up having apparently had a dream about bugs in his bed but was too afraid of the dark hallway to come to us so just yells to me from down the hall. Child 4 was nursing to stay asleep and would wake up and clamp down little more each time I tried to call down the hall back to Child 2.

Calling down the hall woke me up enough to realize I needed to pee which was going to be pretty much impossible to do without waking Child 4 up completely.

I make a mental list of pos and cons.

Enter Child 3 not afraid of the dark but shuffling into our bedroom in sobbing that he “missed Blaze”

I have no idea who Blaze is.
For a moment, nobody in our bed is asleep so I risk it and take a trip to the bathroom located, unfortunately, just passed child 2’s bedroom.
He jumps out at me “I have to sleep in your bed”
“You can’t buddy, there’s no room.”
“I can sleep at the bottom”
“No you can’t, go back to your bed” (perhaps I sound cold hearted but he’s 8 and two kids are already in there)
“I can’t. There are bugs in there. I have to find somewhere else to sleep.”
So I pee quickly and try to make a bed on the couch for Child 2 knowing that every second I’m not in bed my chances of getting Child 4 back to sleep diminishes. I can hear Child 3 still crying about his beloved Blaze.

Husband puts Child 3 back into the right bed and sits in his room with him.

Silence.

The sound of Child 2 stomping back up the stairs.

The crushing weight of nearly 30lb child 4 (yes, the baby is nearly 30lbs) on my ribcage signing “baby” which means he wants to watch Baby Signing Time. Not the whole video though, just the first minute on repeat.

I lay in bed, lit with an electronic glow listening to the sounds of Child 4’s favorite show. I try to doze keeping one eye open in case the baby has a sudden impulse to smash me on the head with the iPad. It’s been known to happen.

It’s over. I give up.

So here I am.

Child 3 is asleep.

Child 2 is watching TV.

Child 4 is on my lap watching his video. Yawning. Obnoxious, given the circumstances.

Child 1 slept though the entire thing (all the lights are on in his room but apparently that doesn’t matter)

Husband is asleep.

It’s 5:30 am… I might as well put the kettle on for coffee.

Happy Saturday everyone.

We’ve Got Work to Do.

Finding time to blog has been particularly difficult lately, but posting a picture with a little caption is a bit easier. If you want to keep up to date on what we’re doing in between blog posts please follow me on Instagram for more regular updates.

"I hate learning" homeschool challenge

One of the parenting moments I cherish the most are my talks with Max. I’ve been inviting Max out on a beach walk each day of our vacation and sometimes he takes me up on it.

“Mom, I’m never going to like learning.”

Silence.

“I mean, it’s nice to know stuff and I like the benefits of knowing things but I am never going to like actual learning.”

This is the kid that has basically every Pokemon memorized.  Who while at the aquarium, impressed strangers who overheard him telling me about parrotfish. The kid who enjoys reading and watching shows about trivia, and when I find something out to impress him usually responds with, “I know,” and gives me a fact I didn’t know back. Who tested into a center based gifted program at school and we didn’t even realize he was being tested for it…

… this person hates learning.

If learning is miserable to a kid like this, we’re basically all screwed.

This is my challenge for our homeschool year. After years of school I feel like now we have to go backwards in some ways instead of forward.  Back to the playing, the experimenting, back to the joyful and fun part of learning. And it makes me worry… is it possible to reframe our idea of learning and to find the joy in it?

Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but it’s scary to hear that your child hates learning when you are about to be the one responsible for their education. I realized that switching gears from learning by demand to learning out of joy is a little bit of a delicate process.  I don’t want to find myself being just another person who pushes them to the point that they completely lose interest and yet, trusting the process and allowing them to “learn nothing” while exploring their interests is mildly terrifying.

Since summer is winding down and the regular school year is approaching, I am curious to see how the kids will feel when they don’t go back to school with everyone else.
And as my husband is planning his year of teaching ahead, I am thinking about mine.

For the kids, I have two overarching goals for our first homeschool year:

  1. Redefine learning as something enjoyable that never stops.
  2. Reconnect with the outdoors (it’s not just a place you go to get from one building to another).

For myself I have a number of other goals:

  1. Learn to follow their lead.
  2. Manage my expectations.
  3. Learn when to give them a gentle push and when I’m pushing too far.
  4. Create an environment that gives them opportunities to discover new things.
  5. Make time to let them teach me about the things they love (this will involve many Pokemon lessons).
  6. Not go completely insane panic (too often).
  7. Slow down and enjoy our time together.

So while the school year is gearing up, we’re still winding down.