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Samantha Loewen

Samantha Loewen

Considering my husband does computer 'stuff' for a living, we're actually a pretty low-tech family. We watch some television and movies, but between Clara's afternoon tv 'quiet' time and our evening TV/movie watching, I think I can safely say that on average, our television is on less than 4 hours per day.  That applies only to the days that the TV is on at all - there are many days when we get out of the house for various activities and on those days our TV watching is less or even non-existent. I don't mean to judge or condemn families that spend more time in front of the television, but I am pretty happy with and proud of our TV habits. 

Also, up until this Christmas, Clara has had virtually no experience with computers and unlike many 3 year olds I've seen - she would have no clue how to open and play a game on my cell phone.  This was the year, however, that we decided it was time to get Clara her own computer. 

Enter the Leap Pad2.

So far she doesn't spend all that much time playing on this computer, and there are a few things that are still quite difficult for her. The touch screen is less sensitive than the screen on our cell phones - probably for strength and durability reasons - and sometimes Clara struggles with impatience when the LeapPad doesn't respond to her touch right away.  Her impatience means that so far we haven't even considered limiting her time playing with the LeapPad, because she rarely lasts more than about 20 minutes anyway before she becomes distracted by something else. 

Her favourite things so far are the books, since they mostly play themselves and all she has to do is turn the pages.  She is also interested in the movie maker app that came with the LeapPad, although creating movies are a bit beyond her capability just yet. I think she will really enjoy this activity in a year or two.  I'm disappointed with the battery life of this particular LeapPad, but we plan to purchase a battery pack for $30 which will solve that problem. 

All of this makes me think about the concept of 'screen time' and what our family rules will be surrounding this particular thing. I recall a rant I heard in college by a young man who believed that all TV - especially documentaries - were rotting our brains. He argued that watching educational television made it less enjoyable for us to read and learn from a textbook, and I had to agree that after awhile of not reading, I found it more difficult to concentrate on reading. For this reason, I want to encourage my kids to spend less time using technology than is generally accepted by our culture today - don't get me started on laptops in elementary school... 

I recently read an article that brought up a lot of interesting points on this topic. It was in the December 2013 issue of Parents Magazine (the print issue), and of course I can't remember what the article was called - I actually think it was a quiz about how 'tech smart' you (the parent) are about your children and technology.

One thing the article brought up was the idea that 'screen time' should apply to everyone in the household - that not just the children should be subject to limitations, but the parents as well. I completely agree with this, because I think too much screen time is bad for anyone and the best way to teach our children is to model the kind of behaviour we want from them. Also, when there is no TV on distracting us, we are more likely to engage in our children in productive and relationship-developing ways. 

Another idea that the article brought up - which I wouldn't have considered myself - was to NOT count the hours.  The idea behind not counting the hours was based on the fact that not all days are the same, and if you introduce the idea that each child 'gets' a certain amount of screen time, they are more likely to demand it or expect it on days when your schedule is maybe too busy to fit in technology.  For example, you may have a 'free' day in your week when no one has to go anywhere (our 'free' day is Monday) and there may be lots of time for children to do their schoolwork and chores, watch TV and play outside while still leaving time to watch two or three hours of TV.  Another day, however, may leave only a couple of hours at home after lessons, visits, shopping etc. and during those few hours the child still may need to complete their schoolwork and chores - making it unrealistic to allow them their 'allotted' television time when the day just doesn't really allow it. 

Another principle brought up in this article that I wouldn't have agreed with before hearing their argument is that a parent shouldn't use screen time as a reward or a punishment - for example, if a child is rude or doesn't clean up their room to take away their 'screen time' for the day.  This sort of goes along with the previous point about not wanting to encourage the idea of entitlement as well as not wanting to give 'screen time' more importance than it deserves. The principle here being that if it becomes a reward or punishment, the child might start desiring screen time more than otherwise because the parent has elevated it in the child's eyes. 

One principle that the article mentioned that I completely agree with is the idea of having no screens in bedrooms. For a few reasons, one of course being safety for children - it is more difficult to get involved in scary chatrooms when the computer is in a main room where parents can look over shoulders at any moment. Another reason for no screens in the bedroom is because TV and computers stimulate the brain in a way that makes it difficult for most people to get good, solid sleep.  One thing I appreciate about our girls having to share such a small bedroom is that we don't really have the option of filling their room with all kinds of toys and books, because there really isn't room for any more than the two toddler-sized beds and dressers that are already in there.  It will be easy to lay out their room in such a way that makes it useful only for sleeping, getting dressed and eventually reading - so their rooms can always be a place of calm. Hopefully. 

What are your thoughts on electronics and whether they should be limited at all, or not? Do you have rules in your house for TV, computer or internet use, and what are your rules?

 

 


 

Thursday, 23 January 2014 08:00

What to Pay the Babysitter

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to this post about what to pay the babysitter.  This friend likes to forward me links to particular parenting topics that she finds interesting or particularly provocative and I couldn't help but respond to this one. 

To summarize, the controversial post argues that teenaged babysitters shouldn't be paid as much as minimum wage because overpaying teenagers is creating a sense of entitlement in kids today, as well as making it impossible for lower income households to get out for an evening which is bad for families and relationships. The comments to this post were mostly against her - saying that babysitting is one of the most important jobs and should be rewarded, and many parents said that they intended to pay well for a good babysitter to ensure that the babysitter would return. 

I pride myself in trying to see both sides of an issue, and this one was easy.  

On the one hand, I completely agree with her. Teenagers today are given too much money - from my experience, teenagers are less and less likely to work for something because their parents give them everything they could possibly want, and there is less motivation for hard work.  I also agree that it is tragic when a couple counts the cost of going out for dinner and a movie without their children and finds the extra cost of babysitting to be too high to make this evening possible. I believe that parents NEED this time alone - the lack of 'adult time' in a family can result in extra stress and frustration and I'm sure it is the cause of many family breakdowns and even abuse. When young families don't have family or friends nearby who can fill in for them when they need this time away, they are forced to rely on too-expensive babysitters. I also agree that over-paying babysitters has partially caused this problem, because when one parent pays more than minimum wage to a fourteen year old, and all of their less-than-minimum-wage-earning friends find out, suddenly their measly $5/hour seems dismall and they are probably more likely to seek out jobs that pay higher. 

However - I also agree that watching children is an extremely important job - the teenager is responsible for the lives of little people, after all - and that the financial value of this is huge.  As a parent whose budget allows for the cost of occasional babysitters, I also try to pay babysitters well - because if we find a good babysitter, I'd like them to want to come back. 

My first reaction to her article was that although her statements were not incorrect (in my opinion), her viewpoint was inappropriate to be making these statements. If she had been the parent of teenagers, who was discussing the values she was intending to teach her babysitting children in order to make them more responsible and hard-working people who are compassionate to low-income people, I would have a lot of respect for her methods, and I absolutely think I would like to follow these principles myself when I am teaching my own teenaged girls.

However, since she is the parent of young children, her approach came across as a bit less noble, and more like a complaint. 

Some of the comments, however, were just downright silly. One comment stated that how much you pay a babysitter comes down to how much you value your children. I wouldn't state the value of MY children in terms of money, so I wouldn't worry about calculating that into a babysitters fee... 

I also wouldn't pay a babysitter more or less depending on how much cleaning he/she did - because who knows how easy/difficult my children decided to be on that particular day? Some days I can't get my own dishes done because my kids are so much trouble to get into bed and some days I can clean the whole house.  Odds are, if a babysitter did my dishes, she probably had LESS work to do that evening since my kids were probably amiable.  And we all know that doing dishes is MUCH easier than handling difficult kids. 

Those are my two cents. I have my own formula for what I pay a babysitter, and I think that it's relatively high based on what babysitters have told me - but it's still less than minimum wage around here. I try to strike a balance between paying well and still keeping it affordable enough that we can go out occasionally. Considering that dinner and a movie can take at least 4 hours - probably more, considering transportation time and the fact that many movies today are 2.5 hours or longer - and can cost at least $30 for a  cheap meal plus $20 if you don't get popcorn at the theatre, paying a babysitter can pretty much double that cost if you're determined to pay minimum wage.  For a semi-nice meal that includes a glass of wine and if you spring for popcorn at the movies, you could be looking at $150 for a date night that doesn't even include a fancy restaurant or dessert.  I feel for families who can't fit this into their budget - because time away from the kids is, like I said earlier, so important for a relationship. 

When my daughters are older, I'll try to teach them the ideals that Jan Francisco discusses in her controversial blog post

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 13:57

1-2-3 Magic - New Book Review

It feels like awhile since I've posted a book review (because it has been, since I only read a total of 13 books last year), but check out my 'Book Reviews' link or click here for my latest review on the book '1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, by Thomas W. Phelan

Thanks!

This book distinguishes between two types of child behaviour: 'Stop Behaviour' & 'Start Behaviour'. Stop Behaviour is behaviour that must be stopped immediately, like whining, fighting or yelling. Start Behaviour is behaviour that involves a longer process that needs to be done by the child – particularly behaviour that is often delayed or difficult, such as getting ready to leave the house in the morning, eating meals or going to bed at night.

The two main principles of this method involve two parenting 'rules': no talking, and no emotion. Phelan says that the two biggest mistakes parents make are to discipline emotionally, which results in parents arguing or pleading with the child which can lead to yelling and 'hitting'. As a parent, I don't have anything against spanking in itself, although I entirely agree that when a parent is reacting to their own emotions, yelling at or spanking a child can become very dangerous. The other mistake is talking too much, or trying to reason with a child who is either incapable of understanding reason, or is too selfish to care about your reasons.

The whole basis for this method and these principles is the belief that children are not miniature adults who are capable of reasoning and empathy, but selfish beings by nature. I know that this view would not be held by everyone, but as a Christian who believes in the sin nature, and based on my own observations and experience, this completely rings true for me. This method is about stopping bad behaviour using mild but consistent and emotionless discipline, while gradually training a child to develop their own self-discipline. Later in the book, the author reminds readers that part of the goal of parenting is to raise people who can leave their parents' homes and take care of themselves, which is something I try to keep in mind constantly when making parenting decisions and it was comforting to hear the author of this method emphasis the importance of this.

The basic 'Stop Behaviour' method outlined in this book is counting – when a child is misbehaving deliberately: whining, yelling, teasing, fighting, etc., you count to 3, giving about 5 seconds of silence between each count to give the child a chance to stop misbehaving. Almost always, the child knows what they are doing wrong, and so usually no explanation is necessary. If the child is legitimately clueless, the author says to quickly tell the child what they are doing wrong, but other than this to say nothing. Later in the book, the author describes situations and circumstances where talking and explaining are important and necessary for the parent/child relationship, but states that the time for talking is NOT during discipline. An emotionless parent can't be emotionally manipulated by the child, nor can the parent lose control of their own emotions.

So far, we have been following the method in this book for about five days, and despite its simplicity, it is difficult to remain emotionless and to keep quiet. I have always thought of myself as a calm and collected parent when it comes to discipline – I nearly always follow through on discipline without showing anger – but through this method I have realized how much I talk and allow myself to be distracted and manipulated before the discipline occurs.

For example, today Clara was asked to pick up her boots off the floor, and she began to babble about something and because I wasn't sure she had heard me, I asked her about three times before I realized I should count. I said 'That's one', and she continued babbling through 'That's 2...' and appeared as though she hadn't heard me at all. So, I stopped the count and explained to her again that I was counting, and if I got to 3, she would have a time out so she'd better clean up her boots. Finally, she started slithering (on her belly like a snake) sloooowly across the floor toward her boots. I was tempted to start counting again, since I had stopped proceedings to re-explain the situation to her, until she momentarily stopped on her way across the floor to examine a toy and I said 'That's 3' and she had her time out. What I should have done was to count right up to 3 – no explanations – when I started counting, and given her the time-out immediately. Based on her behaviour, she clearly doesn't take it seriously when I begin counting, and I need to make sure that I stay consistent – and quite strict - for a couple of weeks for sure to make sure she begins to take me seriously. Obviously I continue to give her reason to question my resolve.

The book goes on to discuss methods for encouraging children to complete certain tasks – like getting ready to leave the house in the morning, or to eat their dinner, or finish their homework – and although I think there is a lot of value in what the book spoke of here, many of these ideas will be more useful to me when Clara is a bit older. For now, it is my job to get her mostly ready in the morning and starting a kitchen timer to give her a limited amount of time to complete a task would – at this point, I think – still be over her head.

All in all, I appreciate this book – largely because it has given us a plan, and a simple methodology that involved principles that we had not yet considered. After realizing last week how very poorly we were doing in the area of discipline, we needed something different and this book was exactly that. 

Monday, 20 January 2014 07:00

Do We Believe in Magic?

Tonight we had some friends over for supper - something we've been doing a lot lately, since we have a big open space to do it now! We had a great time, and although our friends kids were considerably older than Clara, they all played really well together and we were really impressed. It's good to see examples of Clara being a well-behaved 'big kid' in certain contexts. Poor Audrey still had to stay near the adults while the older kids went downstairs - because the older kids are still too young to have a gate up blocking the stairs, but Audrey can't be downstairs without a gate up.  Looking forward to next year, when she can do stairs, for her sake! 

Last Week, I wrote about our behavior issues with Clara. She's 3. I have a friend who uses the term 'threenager' and I have to agree - the amount of attitude she has is shocking.  Like I mentioned earlier, she does have her really good times - times when she's really well behaved, and plays well with other kids, and is polite and calm and even sometimes patient.  Usually her nights are not so good, though, especially lately.

Wednesday of last week, we started using the methods outlined in 1-2-3 Magic, by Thomas W. Phelan.  If you know me by now, I'm a big fan of using books and the internet as resources for anything, including raising kids.  Some people say you should just do what feels 'right' or 'natural', but what feels 'natural' to me is not guaranteed to be right - because I'm not perfect. I also like learning about alternate methods of parenting, whether I agree or not, just so I can be sure I know why I would choose something different.  In this particular case, I felt so completely lost and useless as a parent and - knowing that my own choices were not working - I was willing to try anything that was different from what we were already doing. 

So far, I'm about 80 pages into the book 1-2-3 Magic, and the basic 'rules' of this method involve two simple principles that the author feels many parents need. The first is to separate emotions from parenting.  Phelan discusses how reacting emotionally to a child's misbehavior can begin with negotiating, pleading, and arguing and then lead up to yelling and hitting (spanking).  Typically, I'm not opposed to spanking although when spanking comes from an emotional parent response, I absolutely agree that this is very wrong.  To refuse to get emotional is tricky, but Phelan argues that it is necessary because often your emotional response is exactly what the child is looking for, and to respond in that way only ultimately makes them feel powerful. 

The second rule is 'no talking', in the context of when your child is looking for an argument or when you are tempted to give a grand explanation of their misbehaviour. Phelan says that because young children can't be reasoned with - and are inherently selfish - it only complicates things when we try to 'make them understand why' we want their behaviour to stop.  I might have wanted to disagree with this one - I want to believe that my daughter has the potential to understand, if only I give her the chance - but I had to admit that my personal experience says otherwise.  Whether or not she understands or not, as a toddler, she is too selfish to care. She wants what she wants and it doesn't matter how many 'good reasons' I have otherwise.  Not to say it hasn't worked occasionally to get her to stop doing something, but as a general rule she doesn't react at all to 'good reasons' - in fact, they often aggravate her further.  Also, I have seen parents spend hours discussing with their child the wrongs of their behaviour, outlining the problem from many different angles, only to have the child leave their presence and immediately repeat the bad behaviour.  And, at this point, I appreciated an approach that was immediate and simple. 

So, to stop bad behaviour, we say 'That's 1' and then give Clara 5 seconds.  Then, if the behaviour hasn't stopped, we say 'That's 2' and give her an additional 5 seconds. At this point, she is out of chances and at '3' she is given an immediate time out. We will sit her in her room (during the day) or in the bathroom (at night) for 3 minutes, saying nothing the whole time, and then letting her out calmly with no discussion at the end of the time period. 

I used to disagree with an in-room time out, because it made sense to me that you wouldn't want your child to view their bedroom as a 'punishment area', but as I said earlier, clearly our parenting tactics from before weren't working so I was willing to suspend that particular issue on the basis that maybe I was wrong about that - at least for Clara. I guess we'll see how that goes. 

We had one really great night, and then a couple of nights where Clara received a few time-outs over the span of about an hour and then fell asleep. Then, we had another good night where she fell asleep quickly, and tonight again was pretty awful. She had 4 or 5 time-outs and during the last two she screamed bloody murder all the way through. We changed the location of her time outs after the first few, though, so there was a bit of inconsistency, so I'm not ready to give up yet. I want to give this at least a few weeks before making any decision about its effectiveness. Wish us luck.

Audrey gets a bit stressed when she hears Clara tantruming nearby, but there's not much we can do about that. Poor girl. 

Another thing we have been doing, because the girls share a room, is separating the girls after 20-30 minutes of excitement. For most of the past week we have had to move Audrey into a playpen in our bedroom until Clara fell asleep, and then we moved Audrey back. We were worried about this, because Audrey is a light sleeper, but so far it's worked pretty well. Once or twice Audrey woke during the move back to her bed, but Clara slept through her jabbering until Audrey finally fell asleep also.  

I'm still reading, because I know 1-2-3 Magic contains a chapter on bedtime, but this is where we're at so far. 

Because I have actually challenged myself to take at least 5 "good" photos each week, a '365' doesn't technically apply, but I'm still linking up because my heart is in the right place, and that counts, right? Right?

Anyway, here are my 5 for this week:

I had set up the playpen for a playdate during which my friend and I let our 3 year olds play outside while we sat inside the patio doors of our back porch and let our 1 year olds play in the playpen.  For some strange reason, playing in an enclosed space is appealing to Clara and she asked if she and Audrey could go into the playpen. This was a great time to vacuum... 

Our new pantry has a pocket door, which is evidently the best thing ever. Both girls like to go into it and slide the door back and forth, pretending to be going to random places. I'm not sure what Clara was dressing up as at the moment - an Eskimo princess, maybe??

Big Sister Clara is constantly irritated by clothing issues. She tried to do up this stubborn button on Audrey's sweater repeatedly throughout this morning. And since both girls were clearly dressed up as Princesses (Clara puts a blanket under her tiara and calls it her 'long hair'), I'm sure it was extremely important that Audrey be presentable. 

So, Clara plays this really wierd game where she pretends to be 'a baby Jesus'.  She got quite obsessed with the story of Jesus' birth, as well as the story about King Herod where he tries to kill Jesus. So, she goes back and forth between pretending to be 'a baby Jesus' wrapped in cloth in a manger, and running away from the mean King Herod. This much wouldn't bother me, except that she sometimes gets really into her pretend play, and makes statements like "Jesus is the son of God... and I am Baby Jesus... So, I am the Son of God..."  Not really sure how to respond to that one... 

Clara pretending to be 'a Baby Jesus' again, and Audrey took advantage of the opportunity to clobber her sister. Oh, I know it LOOKS like a hug...

Have a great weekend, y'all! Leave me a comment and tell me which is your favourite photo this week!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014 21:11

When You Screw Up a Kid

Clara is only 3 years old, so I am desperately praying that there is still hope for her - but up until this point, I have to say that right now I feel like I've already failed her.  Ever seen that Gilmore Girls' episode where Lorelai has to watch Christopher's daughter Gigi? Click here if you haven't - this is a really short clip that doesn't really show the extent of Gigi's behaviour issues - I tried to find a better one, but couldn't, sorry.

Anyway, tonight is Tuesday - my late piano teaching night - and during my last hour of teaching, when my daughter was supposed to be going to bed, all we could really hear were her screams. Not crying screams either - defiant, demanding, bossy, hell-child screams. I fought back tears - knowing that my daughters behaviour was completely my fault (as her parent), and that I had absolutely no clue how to fix the situation. 

All I really know is that something (or all) of what we have been doing up until now is NOT working.

I was a difficult child. I know that. My mother left when I was a few months old, and for most of my childhood everyone tried to 'make up for it' by being soft on me. By not disciplining me too harshly, and by giving me as much as possible. Partially because of this, I have developed some pretty strong parenting perspectives. I believe that obedience is important, and that children need to learn discipline and respect. 

Brian and I have heard over and over that consistency is important - and I always agreed that whatever your parenting method, your children need to know what to expect and so consistency is always the most important thing. There was one thing that we missed in all of this, or ignored, or something - the fact that consistency also applied to Brian's parenting vs. my parenting. We both agree on the outcome we would like from the girls - and we both agree that discipline is important - but we both handle discipline very differently. I grew up in a calm, mild-mannered household. People did not yell in my house, or at least not often. My Dad was extremely self-controlled when it came to anger, and I intuitively handle stress calmly.  Brian is not that way - when he gets frustrated, it builds up in him and suddenly he's yelling. 

Despite having tried everything we can think of to control her behavior - even to taking away her precious 'Bo' - the fact that Brian and I do not react the same way is, I think, counteracting anything good we are doing. 

I mentioned our problem to my doctor this week, and she suggested a book/method called 1-2-3 Magic and I'm ready and willing to try anything. The first 60 pages of this book so far have said that the key part of this method is to handle discipline with no talking (don't try to reason with a 3-year-old) and no emotion.  For us, I think the 'no emotion' part of this equation will be important.

Wish us luck.

And always remember:

- No bright light

- Don't get them wet

- Never feed them after midnight... no matter how much they beg. 

Friday, 10 January 2014 07:00

Catch the Moment - A 365 Project

I have been following my friend Sarah's (Nurse Loves Farmer) photography link-ups periodically for the past two years - occasionally linking up my own 'Catch the Moment' post. I love the idea behind this, and I love her new project - Catch the Moment 365, which she has created with two other bloggers.

To take a photo each day is a bit daunting for me, and I don't want to be under too much pressure, but I find that when I look through my old photos from the past year that many days are missing - and many moments are lost - because we were busy or distracted by one thing or another. In the month of November we took photos - almost exclusively - of our kitchen renovation, and almost none of our daughters.  So, to honour the purpose of this blog and to attempt to make sure that my daughters don't look back and wonder where months of their lives have gone - I am going to attempt this 365 Project with a few modified rules for myself. 

1. To take photos that tell the story of the day. If I look back at these photos in a year - do they tell me the story of our lives? That's what I want to do.

2. Not to stress too much about taking 1 photo EVERY DAY, but to make sure to get at least 5 significant things documented pictorally from that week.

3. To document my daughters' - particularly their faces - as they grow. This means I'd like at least one close-up of each of them each week.

4. I'd love for my photography skills to improve. I'm working with a Nikon D70S, and I'd love to get better at using it. This, however, isn't my main purpose. If it happens, awesome! If not, I can't stress about it - I tend to overwhelm myself too much as it is...

So, this week, my 5 photos tell this story...

I had purchased a pre-made gingerbread house at Michael's a few weeks before Christmas with the intention of making it on our Christmas Day at home. Haha... maybe if it hadn't taken us until bedtime just to open presents... Anyway, here it is - we made it almost a week into January. 

Bo had to have a little surgery this week. After he went through the wash, we discovered a few filler beads rolling around in the dryer and after searching him quite thoroughly, we discovered that his arm was almost entirely disconnected - the beads must have worked their way from his butt to his shoulder - and he had to be sewn back together. This is Bo's second surgery. In early 2011 I had to sew the seam below his tail together.  I just hope he lasts her childhood...

 The other morning we had waffles. For the first time ever, the  girls shared a taste of the whipped cream on the beater. And yes - they are wearing matching Cinderella T-shirts.

 I feel like this is my life sometimes - I swear this was completely tidy only 10 minutes before this picture was taken. My daughters are tornadoes. 

Audrey is getting quite attached to this panda bear from IKEA. He doesn't have to come everywhere with us - yet - but I'm thinking we should maybe pick up a couple of extras when we go to IKEA again in spring. 

Photos are good. I love looking through old photos - even photos from the past year - and I surprise myself at how much I can forget about the context surrounding a picture. I'm a huge fan of documenting life - journal, and take pictures! 

Sunday, 05 January 2014 13:36

It's 50 Below!!!

When I was a kid, I remember watching a movie based on this book by Robert Munch but I don't remember ever actually experiencing this degree of cold. This morning, when I checked the local weather, it was 33 degrees below zero (celsius, which is about 27 below zero farenheit) with a severe windchill warning of -51 degrees (that's almost -60 in farenheit).

It's cold out here... 

Earlier this week it got as high as -8 below zero, and we had a couple of great days for the girls to play outside, but today we didn't even go to church because we couldn't guarantee that between our car and the church doors that our girls wouldn't get frost bite. 

This week I'll be reviewing and modifying my list of Indoor Things to Do with Kids, and hopefully we can all keep busy as we hide inside the house! 

Saturday, 04 January 2014 20:28

Evaluating the Holidays - Christmas Traditions

This is the time of year when I look back at the past month (and year) and evaluate what we did.  The things that turned out really well, and that we all enjoyed, we will definitely do again and a few of the things that didn't work as well as we'd hoped - well, we probably won't repeat them. 

Reading back over my post on Christmas Traditions and priorities from last year, it's encouraging to see that our priorities are still the same and we upheld them well this year again. Our schedule was insanely busy, but we managed to spend an entire day as a family of 4 and go to the Christmas Eve service at church. We were also able to spend a day each with our parents, and we even saw each of our Grandparents over the holidays for a meal. Then, on New Years' Eve, we had a few of our close friends over for our 'traditional' New Years' Eve party to enjoy the company of some of our favourite people and to 'try out' our new space for a gathering. 

Last year I also wrote a post on the traditions that Brian and I both grew up with, discussing which Traditions to Carry Forward from our own childhoods. One of my favourite memories of getting ready for Christmas as a child was the day we set up the tree. My Dad might sit and watch - that was about as involved as he would get - but my Mom, brother and I would listen to Christmas music, eat chocolates and Christmas oranges and decorate the tree.  Since Clara was born it has also become a part of our Christmas tradition to make a day out of getting ready for Christmas. 

Last year, we dressed the girls up in Christmas dresses and took semi-formal pictures of them at our piano and with the sparkling tree lights in the background. The year before this, we did the same with Clara.  We had every intention of making this a tradition - and I still hope to - but because of our renovation this year, everything was pushed back a few weeks in our lives and although we spent a wonderful afternoon decorating the Christmas tree, it didn't work out to dress up the girls for pictures. I was really disappointed about this one.  

One thing we tried this year was to do a month-long advent calender for the girls using books and movies. After only a few days, I realized that although half of the books and movies that I wrapped were their own books and movies from the the previous year - they didn't remember them, and so I had created an advent calender in which my daughters would receive a gift every single day of December. I think this would have been a good idea for older children - children who would know that almost everything in the surprise packages was from previous years, and would understand that the fun and excitement was in the discovery and story time together.  I might revisit this in the future - years from now when the girls can handle it - but for next year, I would like to plan a simple activity advent calendar with few or no gifts involved.  

On the topic of gifts, my perspective on Christmas gifts has changed also. I've been doing a lot of soul searching this past year, and I'm feeling more and more as though we have too much stuff and the excess of gifts that comes at Christmas is something I would like to try to minimize. Again wanting to focus on the fact that Christmas is not 'about' receiving presents (which I'm sure Clara is still not convinced of, despite my days of discussion with her on the topic), and wanting to learn to live more simply, I would like to try to tone down our gift giving to each other for next year. 

All of the gifts in the presents below were for our small family of 4. It actually looks a bit less ridiculous in the photo than I thought it looked in reality, but after deciding not to go too crazy on gifts for the girls - looking at the extravagance here, I felt a bit like a failure.  I knew that this year could very well set the stage for Clara's expectations in the future, and I had hoped to tone it down significantly now so that she would not be disappointed in future years - and I just hope now that next year will not be too late. 

Another thing I missed out on this year with the renovation was Christmas baking. As we try to live and eat healthier - specifically using less sugar - it actually gave me a chance to evaluate how much we really need to have Christmas baking around, and how much we really missed it. "Not much." I'm a bit disappointed to admit.  Not that I will abandon all Christmas baking in the future, because I still love the baking itself, but I will probably not try to fill my freezer with Christmas treats in the months leading up to the holidays, and only bake a few of our favourites for the joy of baking itself. 

Such a strange and disjointed Christmas for us this year - and suddenly it's all over.  How were your holidays? What traditions do you cling to, and how was your Christmas the same or different than previous years? Is there anything you won't repeat for next year? 

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