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Oct 192016
 
Julie

Julie

Our military life experience – with the frequent moves, deployments and making family and home from new surroundings – provides us with many opportunities to raise healthy and safe children. We rise to challenges by turning them into advantages on a daily basis, and we’ve got great resources for support. If you’re part of a military family you may be giving me the skeptical stink-eye as you read this, but hang with me for a minute.

We are our children’s first teachers. What they grow up seeing, hearing and knowing as normal comes from our homes, expressions, interactions and lifestyle. Your children are growing up watching you meet challenges head on and then turn them into opportunities.

So, let’s make sure we use our military life experiences and resources to lend advantages to our children’s physical and mental health, as well as their safety.

Use your experience and military resources to teach your children about nutrition and exercise and practice it with them

  • Take advantage of the military physical fitness requirements and teach your kids what you need to do to stay in shape. Work out together at home or at your installation’s fitness center and see how many reps your kids can do. Keep track of their reps on the refrigerator for motivation to try to improve.
  • Use this Military OneSource article, “5210 Healthy Military Children” for a daily health guide that’s easy for kids to remember. Each day eat five or more fruits and veggies, have two or fewer hours of screen time, do one hour or more of physical activity and have 0 sugary drinks.
  • Enjoy an outdoor adventure through Morale, Welfare and Recreation, or MWR. Join a team sport or look up the youth and teen programs for other fun physical activities.

Make exercise a fun part of life by wrapping it into a trip to the park. Find a park they enjoy and walk, jog, ride bikes, skateboard, etc. to the park, play and return. Show your children the importance of maintenance and prevention by keeping your family on a yearly schedule for health physicals, eye exams and biannual dental cleanings.

Mental and emotional health is as important as physical health
Every child deserves to feel safe and loved at home. Building strong family bonds provides that safety net for your children. You help your children develop coping skills and flexibility every time you prep for and go through a PCS or deployment. That is how you turn the moves and separations into healthy advantages — by helping them learn to problem solve through the challenges and find joy in the growth.

Turning challenges into advantages is what makes military families so resilient. Here are some ideas for you to try and some you may already be doing to increase your child’s mental and emotional health.

  • Build in family bonding time before deployments. Combine teamwork with physical activity for fun memories: rake leaves (add in extra time for jumping into the piles of leaves), plant a flowerbed, or paint a room for a more permanent reminder of the fun.
  • Team up one-on-one with each child to do chores. Kids tend to open up a bit more when working beside you and focusing on a task. Take these moments to listen. Guide them in problem solving challenges and calming any fears.
  • Reverse trick-or-treat can help reduce some stress. When your spouse is deployed and you’re in single parent mode, reverse trick-or-treating (on Halloween or a modified version anytime) allows you to spread the candy joy while you walk (since you can’t be in two places at once). Let the kids help hand it out in between their doorbell runs.

When it’s PCS time for you children or for a new family near you, it’s the perfect opportunity to talk with your children about having empathy for others and treating them with respect

  • Ask your children if they have any concerns about your move. They may be worried about making new friends or missing their current friends. Have your child think of things he or she can do to keep in touch with their current friends and what they can do to make new friends. With a little guidance from you, they’ll feel more prepared.
  • Discuss how it feels to be the new kid. Being part of the military community means helping others in the same situation. Ask them to think of ways they can help others.
  • Model the behavior you want to see in your children. Let them see you do random acts of kindness, and have them help you decide what to do and who to surprise.
  • Look for ways to help other families mutually. My friends and I would help each other out when our spouses deployed. From hosting dinners where the kids played and we got to enjoy (somewhat) uninterrupted adult conversation, to watching each other’s kids so we could grocery shop without little hands “helping.” We also helped each other with home improvement projects since most of them require more than two hands to accomplish.

Military kids are more resilient, healthier and happier people because their “normal” includes meeting challenges and seeing them as opportunities. You may not even realize all the amazing things you are already doing for you and your family just by raising your children in the military community.

How to Talk to Your Kids About World Tragedies

 Posted by on September 26, 2016 at 07:00
Sep 262016
 
Julie

Julie

Bubble wrap ‘em. I’ve wanted to bubble wrap my kids’ hearts, minds and skins on many occasions. That’s what all parents want (right?) — to protect our kids from the hurts, fears and tragedies in the world. I guess packaging them like precious porcelain doesn’t do much for making them resilient human beings even if the image gives us the false sense of keeping them safe. One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is the knowledge of how to handle tragedies and difficulties in a healthy way. So how do we equip our kids with coping skills when we are still trying to figure that out as adults?

The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, recommends parents and those who work with children act as filters before funneling information of national tragedies and crisis to children. They suggest we present the information in a way the child can understand, cope with and adjust to. Here are five ways to act as filter and guide as you help your children process what happened and build coping skills to see them through life.

1. Check your emotions. Your emotions speak louder than words.

When my kindergartener came home from school on 9/11 she started asking me about why airplanes were flying into buildings and people were jumping out of them. Already emotionally charged from having seen it on the news during my work breaks, I did my best to answer her questions as simply and factually as I could, but I know my emotions weren’t in check. That was confirmed when I asked my daughter (now 20) to remember that day. Mostly, she remembered how mad I was at her teacher for letting the class watch the news coverage. Yikes. Emotions have more hang time in memory.

2. Limit media exposure. Turn it off. Keep exposure to the images, commentary and media’s tragedy-branding theme songs to a minimum.

As adults, we tend to crave the information, and want to know the latest developments. But for our children, all that exposure to the raw images, media frenzy and regurgitation of information isn’t healthy — it forces them to focus on the fear of events instead of how to cope with them. If you do allow your children to watch some of the news coverage, watch it together and use it as a conversation starter. Talking about what happened, the fears the event creates or anything that worries your kids or you is a healthy way to cope with tragedy. Model it and they’ll join the discussion and learn with you.

3. Ask your kids. What did you hear? Do you have any questions? And actively listen to their answers.

Find out what they’ve heard and what their questions are so you know where to start with the information. This can help you find out what their fears are early on and can help you assess what they may need to know in order to help them learn to cope. School shootings were the tragedies that scared my kids the most. It’s something they understand as they go through lock-down drills in school multiple times every year. When you discover their fears, you may be able to help them reframe how they view things. Help them understand the lock-down drills are for safety, just like buckling seat belts. You practice it so when you need it, it’s already in place to keep you safe.

4. Answer their questions. Be direct and honest and stick to answering only what they ask.

There’s no need to overload kids with information. Provide them with the answers they need and ways to cope with the emotions. Let your main message to your children be that it’s OK to be upset by what happened, we’re going through this together and will help each other through it. This is also an opportunity to teach your kids about compassion and empathy. As they tell you how they feel, talk about how you all think others may feel. Take it a step further and discuss how you may be able to help the victims. What is something you can do together to help those suffering? Helping others is another way to cope with the darkness in the world…add in some light.

5. Support when needed. Be there for your children emotionally when they need it.

Model caring and compassion to your children and others, and your children will notice and repeat. After you help them or someone else, explain to your kids how you knew they needed support, what made you decide to act and what to do. Teach them what they can look for in others that will clue them in to someone who may need help. Kids are small, but their hearts and minds are mighty. Give them the power to look for ways and means to help others. Show your kids that being there for someone only takes small acts, but can mean the world to the person in need at that moment.

A little girl in my daughter’s preschool lost her dad during the attack on the USS Cole. Soon after that tragic loss, when my husband would pick up our daughter from preschool, the little girl would always come up to him. Maybe it was his haircut or uniform, but whatever the reason, she just wanted to tell him about her day and other times about her dad. He would take some time to listen and return a hug if she wanted one. Maybe it was her way of feeling close to her dad — a preschooler’s way of getting a message of love through. Whatever it was it seemed to put a smile on her face and helped her at that moment.

Join the conversation. Please share what things helped your kids process and cope with world tragedies.

Avoiding Mealtime Battles With a Toddler

 Posted by on September 19, 2016 at 07:00
Sep 192016
 
Dani

Dani

Mealtime is a big deal in our house. Well, at least for my toddler. If he isn’t fed at 8 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. on the dot, his world comes to an end. I’m not quite sure how such a tiny human can have this much emotion about food, but mine does. And every meal brings a new adventure in parenting. Will he finger paint with his ketchup? Will he feed his chicken nuggets to the dog? Is it a pancake or a waffle morning? Will he wear a milk mustache, or a yogurt beard? Or will he eat all of his food, even using his utensils, and then ask for seconds?

On this particular evening, it’s 5:26 p.m., post-daycare, and he’s already pretty angry that his dinner is late. Mind you, he’s just about two years old. Tonight I decided to get creative and make him breakfast quesadillas (so easy, just a one-egg omelet sandwiched between a sprinkle of cheddar cheese and flour tortillas on either side) with a side of mild salsa, a sippy cup of whole milk, and a veggie pouch to sneak in some extra greens. At this point I’m more excited about his meal than he is, and I proudly set it down on his high chair and exclaim, “It’s dinnertime, baby!”

He stares at his plate, then back at me. He sticks his finger in the salsa and swirls it around a bit, then looks at me with a half laugh, half smile. Next, he takes his whole hand and slaps the salsa, sending pieces of tomato all over the kitchen. He completely ignores the quesadillas and doesn’t even look at his veggie pouch. I already know what direction this meal is going in.

Fortunately, before I can feel completely defeated, I collect my cool and remember the following tips and tricks I’ve picked up during my tenure as a first-time mommy. Some ideas are from a toddler nutrition class I took when my son first started eating solid foods, others are from friends, and most I just learned along the way.

Eat with him. Like many adults I know, my toddler doesn’t like to eat alone. He prefers eating together, and I don’t blame him. He almost always eats better when we sit down at the table as a family. Some days this isn’t always possible (like pretty much every breakfast as we’re all scrambling to get out the door for work and daycare), but we make a point to at least time our dinners so that we can all eat together. Bonus points if everyone is eating the same food!

Be creative. Offer a healthy selection and variety of food. We try not to overload his plate with too many carbs or similar colors. In fact, don’t overload his plate, period! Smaller portions fare better with toddlers, and it’s good practice to start with less and let them ask for more. It also saves you the headache of throwing out good food that becomes inedible after taking a dunk in applesauce (or salsa). To get creative, serve food in different ways. For example, tonight my toddler wouldn’t eat his quesadilla in little triangles. Instead, I cut it up into smaller pieces and gave him a fork so he could stab it and dip it in his salsa. Winning!

Be patient. Staying positive is key when training our mini-mes to become good, healthy, confident eaters. Never associate mealtime with negative feelings, forcing your child to eat, or punishment. Even when I’m the one who wants to flip his plate upside down during a mealtime tantrum, I do my best to stay on point and gently coax him to “eat up, it’s yummy!” If he isn’t hungry, he isn’t hungry. It’s not the end of the world!

Listen to and look for his cues. Some days they’ll eat everything in sight, other days they won’t take a bite. The child nutrition class I attended explained that this is normal and expected. At this young age, the whole of what a toddler eats in a week is more important than what a toddler eats in a day. You know your child best, so watch his or her cues for when they’re telling you they are hungry or full. This is the ultimate mealtime tantrum saver.

Don’t give up. Don’t let one meal, several meals, or even a week’s worth of disappointing toddler meal times get you down. Toddlers can be fussy, fickle and are really just trying to figure this whole “eating” thing out. Keep trying new foods, keep your cool, and stay positive. Soon your little one will be tantrum-free and enjoying new foods and the wonderful family time that happens around the table!

When Your Child Makes Bad Choices

 Posted by on July 29, 2016 at 08:00
Jul 292016
 
Kelli

Kelli

Raising children is a contradictory ongoing life event. Our children have the ability to bring the greatest joy into our lives as well as some of the greatest sorrows. Not because they are terrible or horrid, but because the work of growing little people into responsible and kind citizens of the world is dirty messy work and glorious at the same time. There are often times there are no words to describe the feelings our children evoke in us. It is no wonder we have some of our most passionate reactions in life involving our children. Good and bad. It’s easy to discuss those beautiful joyful moments. It’s harder to talk about those moments when you feel that mix of mortification, humiliation and deep disappointment. What do we do with those feelings? Six kids, four grandchildren and more to come doesn’t make me an expert, or even confident that I know what I’m doing, but, it does give me some experience. Below are a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

It’s not about you- All too often we as parents react out of embarrassment or humiliation instead of taking the time to breathe and look at all sides of a situation. We take our child’s behavior as a direct reflection on ourselves and our parenting skills. We unwittingly allow ourselves to worry how others perceive our worth as a parent. DON’T. It’s not helpful to let the opinions of others regarding how you should or should not correct your child influence how you parent. Setting our own feelings aside, we can more clearly focus on how we can help our child learn from the decisions they have made and make amends where possible.

Keep in mind the end goal- We have to be careful to block out the judging eyes and accusatory tones of those around us and the embarrassment we will inevitably feel at some point along the way. Many times we will have to acknowledge that yes, indeed, our pride and joy has made a terrible choice, one that as a parent we must address. If the end goal is raising our children to be good and kind, strong and self-sufficient, productive and successful then remember; some of the greatest life lessons that will have lasting influence on our children will come out of times they make poor choices. How we help them navigate through those experiences is more important than what others think.

Never assume you know the whole story- I wish, I WISH, I had taken this to heart so much earlier in my parenting career. Sometimes I was too harsh, unreasonably so, and other times I did not see the whole picture and did not stand the ground that needed to be stood. On one occasion one of my children brought a story home to me regarding a P.E. teacher and his disregard for my child’s safety. I was incensed, outraged even! I wrote a scathing letter and requested a meeting. I am after all my child’s advocate. It’s my job to protect her. My husband and I left that meeting still incensed and outraged. The target of our ire however was now my beautiful perfect child. In the parking lot of the school, barely containing my anger, I stood the ground that needed to be stood. I turned to this child and said, “Child, I love you more than I can express and I will fight dragons for you. I will go to the ends of the earth to be your champion, but you had better make sure YOU are not the dragon.”

Take time to talk and to listen- When stuff happens and people are pointing fingers at your child, or your child is pointing fingers at others, it is never a bad idea to disrupt the chaotic energy stirring up emotions by being still and quiet. Taking time to let emotions settle and to hear what is really going on will go much further than emotionally charged exchanges or decisions being made. Sometimes your child WILL get the short end of the stick. It happens. The short end of the stick is NOT the lesson to teach. It’s what we do with that experience that is the lesson. Those lessons are hard. A sense of justice might never be achieved. In those situations it’s important to model a healthy attitude and focus on what we have control over. There are other times when we need to fight the dragons for our child. Choose thoughtfully where you spend that energy.

Check your expectations- There are times when we overreact and expect more than our children are developmentally able to give. That doesn’t mean we don’t teach, correct or instruct them. It means that we understand a two year old is driven by two year old desires and a two year old view of the world. It doesn’t change when they are ten, twelve or even twenty. Change is constant and those changes often drive behavior. One day you are dealing with cutting teeth, potty training and separation anxiety causing melt downs then all of a sudden it’s body hair, driver’s education and dating. Make sure you are discerning which are easy to pull weeds in the garden of growing children and which weeds might need additional help to pull. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference, but we live in a day and age when we have the ability to gather information very quickly. Parenting is a constant topic of interest; new parents are born every day! It will never be a bad idea to ask questions. Military OneSource has counselors available just for that!

Keep it simple-

Stop and breath – Take time to evaluate the situation before you form opinions or make decisions.

Listen and love – even if they did make a mistake, our kids need to be heard and know they are still loved regardless.

Make adjustments and stay strong – If you need to provide consequences stand by them and see them through.

Let them grow and overcome their bad choice- This is one of the most important things we can do for anyone, but especially our children.

You are not your child’s decisions and guess what? Neither are they! Keep that in mind when you are wondering what in the world they were thinking. They are precious, even when they remind you of a troll and letting go of the opinions of others frees you up to truly love them unconditionally.

Mommy and Me Go Back to School

 Posted by on July 27, 2016 at 08:00
Jul 272016
 
Kristi

Kristi

Yesterday I registered for my first semester of graduate school and had a fantastic first meeting with my advisor. That overachieving student in me woke up and shot out of bed for the first time in nearly 10 years. With the adrenaline I had pumping right then, I probably could’ve read my first textbook cover to cover, unfortunately, the textbook assignments haven’t been posted yet.

Today was a little different. I spent the entire morning trying to log into my student orientation. When I was finally in, I was greeted by a header that read, “Karen S.” Which is only an issue because my name isn’t Karen. If ever there was a head-to-desk moment, this was it. I had visions of my hard-earned master’s degree with the name Karen on it, and I wondered — only half seriously — if it would be easier to just legally change my name or get back on hold for the remainder of the day.

I have to see the humor in that situation. I mean, it is a pretty funny story. But, there is a lesson in it — aside from the all-important realization that the tech helpline is long on knowledge, but short on appreciating my jokes. Yes, this snafu was a hearty reality check alright. You see, I’m not the only one going back to school this fall. My son will start kindergarten (sniff, sniff), and my daughter will head to preschool for the very first time ever (sniff, sniff, cry uncontrollably).

As a mom who has worked from home longer than my babies have been alive, I saw the opportunity in them starting school. No more am I juggling my schedule around a 3-hour “school day” or no school at all. More uninterrupted time means I can accomplish more in one day. Not to mention it’s a good distraction from the fact that my kids are growing up.

Just yesterday, after my most frustrating day of grad school to date (granted I don’t start until the end of August), I was still able to remind another military spouse that there isn’t much that a mom with a goal can’t handle. And I stand by that. We can multitask. We can focus while the noisiest toys in the house sound simultaneously, cereal flies across the room and the dog barks at every … single … person walking down the sidewalk.

But, though I’d like to think so, we aren’t superheroes. To be successful, we do need a plan and some serious organization, after all this isn’t just keeping track of one person’s assignments, it’s that on top of everything else moms already do.

Put it (all of it) on the calendar

I already know I’ll get a calendar of all my assignments on the first day of class. That magical paper is getting printed and posted by our family’s communication station (which isn’t as complex as it sounds — it’s a calendar and bulletin board in our pantry). I will also post the monthly calendars for both kids in there as well — no mom wants to be the one that forgot about preschool pajama day.

Make time for school

My grad school is 100 percent online, which for convenience’s sake is more fabulous than fabulous, but it also means forcing myself to block off a time and space where I focus only on school. I figured this out years ago when I started working from home, but it’s only human to find distraction in laundry, errands, whatever is on TV and — of course — my family. I don’t have the luxury of an actual office in our quaint 1,200-square feet of townhouse, so the best I can do is section off a space for my desk in the living room. That’s my setup, and while it isn’t a favorable study space when we have a full house, it should do the job when I’m the only one home. As a backup, I’ve also found an installation library right down the street from both of the kids’ schools. Who says you can’t still be hover mom when everyone’s at school?

Fight the urge to “mom” all day

As far as small kids go, mine are pretty patient. When I tell them I need them to play on their own for 15 minutes so I can finish something, they’re pretty respectful. But a 5-year old that respects your time is not always all the respect you need to get the job done. Someone will always need a drink of water. Someone will always give you puppy-dog eyes because it’s been eight minutes since you last played with her and she’s bored. There will always be laundry, and a dirty dish, and an errand. My biggest challenge — and maybe yours too — will be tuning everything else out. I want to give my goals just as much attention as I do everyone else’s. It’s not selfish, no matter what that mothering instinct is telling you.

So, from my freshly organized desk, I’ll wrap this up so I can focus on the last few days of summer with my kids. We’re full of butterflies, and with our new school clothes (them, not me — there’s no dress code for distance learning) and a fresh stack of school supplies, we can’t wait to kick off a successful school year.

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May 272016
 
Kelli

Kelli

Being consistent with technology-free family time is a challenge. Everywhere we turn, we are attached to some sort of technology. Breaking that bond, even for a short period of time, isn’t easy to begin with, but once you do, watch out. Also, be careful what you ask for, or should I say parents be PREPARED for what you ask for. Can you handle technology-free family time?

May 132016
 
Blog Brigade 21-Day Challenge
Kelli

Kelli

I’m contemplating how I’m going to define success in this 21-Day Technology-Free Family-Time challenge, because right now I feel like I’m I the middle of a deployment when the days are long and the nights are longer. I wonder why my family can’t figure out how important this is. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and I’ve been through enough early morning anxiety attacks to have a small sliver of faith that, in the end, these last few days will have been worth the experience.

 

 

Apr 262016
 
The 21-Day Challenge
Kelli

Kelli

Technology is wonderful and fabulous until that moment you realize you’re more disconnected than ever before and yet you live in the same house! Check out the first of three videos as Kelli takes her family back and attempts to ban technology from family time. It’s never easy changing and no-technology family time is no exception.

 

So Long Social Media and Video Games, I’m taking Back Family Time-Kelli Style!

Trade Screen Time for Real Time With Your Teens

 Posted by on April 25, 2016 at 00:50
Apr 252016
 
Julie

Julie

We are minions to technology these days. In my relaxed state, you will likely find me on the couch, multitasking across multiple screens (TV, phone, and laptop) … and it must be contagious because my teens and husband do it too.

So how do we get our teens (and ourselves) to unplug and engage with the rest of the family, peers, society — or anyone other than a screen? I think the answer lies in teaching our teens (and reminding ourselves), to make choices to keep our activities in moderation.

Unplug: it’s a family affair. “Do as I say and not as I do” is not realistic. Actions leave a deeper impression with teens than words do. What parents do in their everyday life, teens will come to know as the norm. If we want our teens to unplug from the screen and plug in to socializing with family and friends, we have to do so ourselves. (And I say this while looking in the mirror with one lifted and self-accusing eyebrow.)

Replace don’t quit. Let’s go for a lifestyle change. It’s easier to replace a habit with another, healthier, activity than it is to quit cold turkey. I struggle with this, but am working to improve on creating more opportunities for our family to put the phone down, turn the TV off, rest the game controller batteries and do something more interesting and productive. Here are some ideas to try in place of screen time:

  • Volunteer (many high schools require a minimum number of hours for a seal on the diploma)
  • Practice a sport (at school, on base, with a travel team, or with the county parks and recreation)
  • Be active in a club (join through school, the community, a national or religious organization)
  • Play an instrument (colleges require extracurricular activities and the arts are great options too)
  • Get a job (provides great life experience and a little extra cash flow)
  • Exercise (walk every day with a pet or the family, work out on base, through the YMCA or solo)
  • Read a book (find your local community or base library, used bookstore, or swap with friends)
  • Learn a hobby (learn for free from friends, family or on-base social groups, or pay for lessons)

Experiment with new activities to discover interests and talents. After a few art classes I acquired a new love for painting and drawing. My son is tackling a new sport — he recently joined the lacrosse club at his high school. My husband, son and daughter volunteer as umpires for our local youth baseball league.

Beware of the overscheduled life. Replacing tech time with social experiences and community involvement is a great way to go, but learning the lesson of doing all things in moderation is just as important. I know I started out overscheduling our family thinking it would help keep my teens out of trouble. But I found that, in practice, it lead to all of us being gone so often we were tired when we were home, which lead to excessive tech use.

How is that? Because tech use can be relaxing and mind numbing — it lets us veg out from our problems or an exhausting day (think about the binging of TV shows, smartphone games, social media sites and video gaming). There’s nothing wrong with doing any of those activities on occasion, but when it becomes a habit, it takes time away from the people in your life and becomes isolating and problematic.

To combat tech overuse and everyone going in opposite directions, try something new as a family. Our family recently started training our dog by attending classes together and practicing the skills at home.

Create downtime at home. Encourage your teens to get outside with their friends and neighbors and start pick-up games of a favorite sport. My son plays a lot of street hockey with friends.

Consider creating a place for your teen and friends to gather. We recently built a fire pit in the backyard and with some smores, hotdogs and soda — it’s an instant party. It’s been rewarding to see them breaking out the guitar and entertaining themselves for hours just talking and singing — and being the silly and fantastic teens they are. They created some videos and took many selfies too, but if they are using tech together while interacting face to face, I call that a win.

Remember that technology isn’t the enemy. It is here to stay and our teens need to be experts with it to be able to function in the workplace one day and in school now. So instead of banning it, embrace it and make it work for you.

Turn TV shows and movies into time spent together and a chance for deeper conversations. Discuss the show with your teen and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Whether you are a veteran gamer or a newb like me, play a video game with your teen to get a glimpse into their world. Ask about their squad of online players and you’ll have more things to talk about in the future.

Make real time a priority over screen time so you continue to learn what is important to your teens and in turn, they learn what is important to you.

Looking Up: Phones Down, Family First

 Posted by on April 18, 2016 at 15:14
Apr 182016
 
Dani

Dani

Ever since my husband’s first deployment, I’ve been attached to my cell phone. The thought of missing a call from him, however brief that call might be, was unbearable to me. Because of that, I kept my phone on me at all times. It was on my pillow at night, in my hand while I was shopping and by my keyboard while I was at work. I’ll admit to even setting it on the soap shelf in my shower a time or two…or three or four.

After more than one deployment, it just became natural never to be without my phone, even when my husband was home. It became a routine for me. I had moved away from my family and friends, and as social media became more and more popular, I never wanted to miss an update, text or phone call.

Fast forward six years later to the birth of our son. My phone was with me in the delivery room, at home while I nursed and on my nightstand when I finally got a few minutes of sleep. I used it as my alarm clock, my camera and my outlet to the rest of the world.

No matter how anyone gets there, I was there. I was addicted to my phone. It wasn’t until one day when I had a real eye opener that things finally started to change. My baby was lying on his mat doing tummy time and I was taking photos and posting them to social media, then taking videos and emailing them to family. After about 15 minutes, I realized I had been looking down at my phone more than I was looking up at my son. I felt guilty and ashamed, and I knew it had finally gotten to the point where enough was enough.

It’s a hard habit to break, let me tell you! I first started by consciously setting my phone aside during any time with my son and during family time. I continue to use it as my camera, but I stopped posting or texting things immediately. It could all wait. What mattered most was that precious time with my beautiful baby boy. Next, I started removing my phone from the table at family meals. This was huge, and my husband noticed and starting doing the same. After that, I began removing my phone from my nightstand and placing it in the bathroom at night. I still use it as my alarm, but now the temptation to mindlessly scroll social media in bed at night or first thing in the morning is taken away. I’d say this has been the hardest step, and I still forget at times and find myself lying in bed, scrolling through my social news feeds. It’s a process, and like any addiction, it’s taking time to break free.

Finally, beginning in November of 2015, I began taking “social media-free weekends.” I turned off all social media notifications on my phone to avoid the constant desire to scroll through the updates that used to flash across my screen. To this day, I have not turned the notifications back on. At first, I had to completely delete the apps from my phone, but now I simply keep them all in a folder on my phone labeled “Distractions.” Any app or social media platform that distracts me from my family, real life or my work goes in this folder. Any time I want to open those apps, I am reminded that it is a big, fat distraction.

Now I love my social media-free weekends. I look forward to them each month, especially the break and release I feel from not being plugged in 24/7. I usually start these weekends on a Friday evening and stay off until Sunday evening. I find that taking this time once a month is just the break I need to not want to jump right back into it the next day. I look down less, and up more.

The most important thing to me is this —I will not be a parent who looks down at her phone more than she looks up at her child. I keep this phrase with me, repeating it to myself when I find that I’m slipping back in to that mindless thumb scroll on my phone. What matters most is my time with my husband and my son and making those moments count.

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