Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Some of the secrets to sanity while running a large family. (Other than being medicated!)

I've noticed that my blog posts are usually about my struggles and not about the positive things I have going on. I know a lot of that is because it helps me figure things out and is a source of therapy but we've made some changes lately that have made life easier. We also have things that we've just always done that I love that I thought others might get some use out of.

Running a large family and keeping a fairly large house running are more work than I would have ever expected. It's expensive, it's time consuming, you have a lot of different (and sometimes clashing) personalities to contend with and everyone has their own things going on. Things are getting easier though because the kids are all at an age where they have things that they are in charge of and we're working hard to foster independence in chores, personal care and school. This post will be dedicated to sharing some of my secrets! I hope some of them are useful to you!!

-- Coupons- I've done these for Christmas presents for the last few years but now we are using them as rewards when the kids are caught being good. You are never allowed to ask for them but they know that it's possible to earn them by doing things without being told, being kind or going the extra mile. We've also been setting weekly goals for the kids and if they reach them they get a coupon. (We give things like choosing a new kindle book, 30 minutes of tv or video games on a school night, mom or dad does a chore for you, sleepover with siblings on a school night.)

-- Planner- I know that this isn't really a secret and many people use them but it's so important to keeping us on track that I couldn't skip it! Different colors are for different people. I've tried to use the calendar on my phone but this just plain works better for me. I also have my oldest two use planners. They track homework, playdates, goals... it's great to start this habit now and it takes a lot of pressure off of me to constantly remind them of their jobs.

-- Posted Lists- I keep track of things on my own to do lists but it's also good for the kids to have easily understood expectations. This list is actually hanging in our pantry. It the morning routine. It's easy for everyone to see and know what else they have to do in the morning before they leave. Jabe and Dex still need help with the reading but it's another great way for them to practice. Parker struggles with being organized and for the last few weeks we've really been working on him learning to make and use to do lists. He makes one every night for the things he needs to do the next day and then we go over it. Writing it, seeing it and saying it help him to remember it as well as having him to reference it the next day. It's been extremely helpful!

-- Family Meetings- Weekly meetings that happen every Sunday allow us to discuss what is working, what isn't and our schedule. The kids also get a chance to let us know how they feel Shawn and I are doing and give feedback on what we can change to be better. I was surprised to learn that they weren't happy about not knowing in advance when Shawn would be home late and that Parker was concerned that it isn't fair that Shawn does the mornings everyday and that I don't take a turn. (He was happy to learn that this option is ok with Dad and we'd worked it out in advance.) We also use this as a time to set weekly goals... improving habits, working on a project, planning family activities... and discussing how last week's goal went.

-- Toy storage- With so many kids living here or playing here, the messes that were made on a daily basis were about 15 miles past ridiculous. Toys were dumped just to find what they were looking for. Messes were so bad that no one wanted to clean up and Jabe, who has ADHD, was so over stimulated and overwhelmed that getting him to even start a job was almost impossible. My solution was to get a cabinet (and clean out an entire closet) to store almost all of their toys in. The dress up is still out as are the large Imaginex toys in the playroom and the books are still on the shelves in the craftroom but everything else is put away. My kids are ALWAYS allowed to play with their toys! You can pick anything you want and when you are done, you put it back in the bin and let me know and we get the next thing. In the beginning I locked the cabinets. I won't lie.... it was annoying constantly letting them in to get things and then to switch them out 10 minutes later but they quickly got into the routine and after 2-3 weeks, I didn't need to lock it. They knew to clean up what they were playing with to get the next thing out. I don't want to limit what they have access to, just what they have access to at one time. Messes are much more manageable and cleaning out toys to donate is easy because you just get rid of the toys they never take out to play with.

-- Homework time- This one is nothing new. We've done this for a few years. Everyday after school we have snack and do 30 minutes of homework time. If you don't have homework you can read or do something educational. Recently, I've started having a specific theme... writing, math, reading... to make sure that we're working on all of our skills. The nice thing is that we are done with homework before dinner so there is no last minute scramble before bed and they have my undivided attention because I'm not making dinner to trying to get everything ready for the next day.

-- Project Managers- This is a more recent development and I'm bummed I didn't think of this sooner. This was one of those things that came about because of a word vomit moment. (You know, when you don't think about what you say before you say it, words just come out.) The kids were supposed to be cleaning up and I was trying to make dinner. I was sick of micromanaging every little thing so I told them that Regan was in charge of assigning each person a job and when they were done if she was satisfied with the work, she'd give them a new job. She was the project manager. GENIUS. Now I'M not the one point out each Lego and crayon. The way it works is the Project Manager assigns jobs. It's fun to be the boss, right... except you are the one who is responsible if you tell me it's done and it's not done right. The project manager then reports who the best helper was and that person is the next Project Manager. If you aren't a good manager, your workers don't cooperate well. It's in your best interest to be nice and respectful. It's also in your best interest to be a good worker so you can be a manager. It's also been know to happen that Mom is actually actively paying attention to what's going on and coupons get awarded to good helpers.

I know there are dozens more things but these are a few of the big ones! If you have other tricks to keeping things on track or staying more organized, I'd love to hear them. Always open to new ideas!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Losing to Aspergers

Tonight was the first time I've ever felt that I was losing to Aspergers.

Lately, before bed, before we start our bedtime routine, we've been watching short YouTube cartoons on brushing teeth. We've been working on better dental hygiene with the kids and this is a fun and effective way to get through to them. They love it. We usually watch two. After the second one, Dex wanted to watch two more. With no time for that tonight I said no.

Dex. Melted. Down. I've never seen him so upset. I couldn't calm him down. I refused to give in. After physically moving him upstairs and brushing his teeth as he screamed I put him in bed. I walked out and listened from down the hall in my room as he cried.

Keeping in mind that I'm four kids in and rather heartless at this point, I felt broken. He's being unreasonable. He is wrong and I am right. And even if I'm not, I'm the parent, he's the child and I'm the one in the position of authority. But this cry cut through to my heart and it took everything I had to not sob myself.

He looked different. He wouldn't lift his head or use words. He laid in bed shaking and crying not even screaming at this point. I'm right. He's wrong. But he's shutting down and crushed. He can't form reasonable thoughts enough to even answer a simple question about being covered up or not.  But I'm right. He's wrong.

... Or am I... Dexter wants the same thing that my other three want. He wants his needs to be met. He's right. He deserves that. I'm wrong. I'm wrong to let my stubbornness, my rightness, win... because I'm the adult and he's the child. He doesn't need to watch the videos. On this, I am right. But he does need to understand, to be understood and to be loved even at his worst. His brain doesn't just accept my authority and therefore, accept that I said no more videos. He needs more help to understand. He got mad and that made me mad. I reacted poorly. I didn't try to understand him. But I could still love him at his worst.

I grabbed my comforter and even though he fought me a bit, I wrapped him up and held him tight and he let me. After ten minutes or so he still wouldn't talk and when I put him in bed alone he started crying again. So I picked him up and brought him to my bed. Thank God for Tori because she was exactly what he needed. He immediately perked up, started talking and even laughed at her sniffing him. A few minutes later he and Jabe (who'd come in not wanting to be left alone) were ready to head back to bed and happily got tucked in to bed with no struggles.

This is so hard. Just when I feel like I have this parenting thing going on the right track, like I might know what I'm doing, I get this curveball. All these questions... when am I giving in vs accepting what is reasonable for him? When am I being hard and callused vs holding my ground and keeping him accountable? How do I teach someone who doesn't easily understand social situations that even when I'm mad I still love you so fiercely that I'd gladly lay down my life for you? Because tonight, he was so so alone and closed in on himself.

I have so much to learn. Please Dexter, forgive the mistakes I make along the way. Remember that not only is my parenting not perfect, I am also as a human flawed. I'm very stubborn and set in my ways and I'd like to think that I'm right. That makes these lessons hard for me and I am slow to learn.