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Managing the Clutter

April 11, 2011

Do you ever catch yourself sounding just like your mother? For me, it happens when I get annoyed with all the clutter in the house. It never really bothered me much as a kid, but now that I’m the mom, I find myself frequently irritated by the shoes left in the middle of a room, the sweatshirts left on couches, and the piles of paper left everywhere by my preteen and teen children. Recently it seemed like a lot of my parenting energy was being used to repeatedly command my children to clean up after themselves.

Being motivated to get myself out of the role of “constant nag,” I recently started trying a new approach. From time to time I like to share my little successes with you in the hopes that it might inspire you to try something new too. My new approach is having designated clean up days. So instead of constantly reminding my children to pick up their stuff whenever I see it, I now save up my reminders for Tuesdays and Thursdays (and maybe Sundays, too!).

The result? I nag less, and they’re more responsive to my clean up requests. I ignore messes that can wait another day to be tidied and put in their place, and they know that they are expected to clean up on specific days.

Our house isn’t necessarily cleaner, but my attitude about it is better.

P.S. If you’re feeling a spring cleaning urge, why not start with the kitchen? Share your tips and struggles about kitchen organization and be eligible to enter a giveaway for a kitchen organization tool at the Dinner Together blog.



Leaky Roof Repair and Parenting

March 28, 2011

Unfortunately, we have experienced several water-related problems at my house over the last few years. Recently, we found a contractor who has been helping us tackle some of these issues on our quest for a water-tight house. What I like most about Willy is that I can see him thinking and trying to figure things out.

Several months ago I was interviewing contractors to repair a water-damaged piece of wall in our basement that was caused by water seeping in through the garage. A previous contractor had figured out a fix to seal the wall between the garage and the basement. I was willing to live with a little post-storm rainwater in my garage as long as it stayed there, but Willy wasn’t. He got the job from us to repair the wall because he had an idea (at a reasonable cost) for stopping the water from collecting in the garage in the first place. When we had a leaky roof a little later, he was the first and only person we called to repair it. He was here again today because of yet another issue, and we could see his mind wheels turning.

His visit today had me reflecting on the skill of trying to figure things out as related to parenting. So often parenting requires us to stop and think about potential causes of our kids’ behavior before we can develop an effective plan of action. I am always impressed with parents whom I work with when I can see the wheels turning in their mind trying to figure out what is going on with their child in the face of a challenging behavior. In my opinion, you don’t always have to be correct in your attempts at guessing what’s going on with your child, but you do have to at least make some attempts and be open to the process of trial and error.

Sometimes we need others to help us with that figuring-it-out process. Spouses, friends, parents, teachers, and folks like me are all potential resources for helping us see problems and their potential fixes more clearly. What has been your experience with this process? Who helps you?

What Does Self-Care Really Mean?

March 21, 2011

Today’s article is a guest post from Julie McAllister of Julie’s dedication to empowering moms of special needs kids to love themselves as much as they love their kids is inspiring. I asked her to share this article with my readers because I believe that the topic of self-care is important for all parents, regardless of gender and regardless of your child’s needs. Julie is holding her first conference emphasizing the “woman behind the mom” in the Austin, Texas area on April 9, 2011. Learn more here.

What Does Self-Care Really Mean?

by Julie McAllister

As parents, we don’t often make time for ourselves.  Our focus is on work and our family and on our children most specifically.  But neglecting ourselves affects our family too.  So, it is important to take time for ourselves, to feed our soul.

But how do we do that?  It’s different for everyone, but here are some suggestions:

  1. Make time every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes to “unplug” from life.  For some that may be reading a good book (not related to your children), taking a bath, or meditating.
  2. Take a class on something that you’re interested in, that is completely unrelated to your children.
  3. Take yourself out to lunch, dinner or for coffee by yourself or with a friend.
  4. Go shopping with a friend.  I did this recently and realized just how long it had been since I had done it, and that I had forgotten how much FUN it was.
  5. Keep a gratitude journal.  Every night before you go to bed, write down what you were grateful for that day.  It can be little things or big things.
  6. Improve your diet and thus improve your health.  This is really the ultimate in self-care.
  7. Learn to forgive, both yourself and others.  Freeing yourself from anger and guilt makes more room for love in your life.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs (like I am), then it is even more difficult to make time for yourself.   But when you love yourself as much as you love your children, everyone benefits.  You are a happier parent, which means you are more patient and able to see the bigger picture, rather than getting bogged down in the many details of raising a child with special needs.

Because I recognized the need for parents, and especially mothers, of children with special needs, to take care of themselves, I decided to host a self-care conference/retreat for them.  The Special Moms, Special  Healing Conference, being held on April 9, 2011, is the first-of-its-kind conference focusing on the self-care of mothers of children with special needs.  Every speaker will speak on a different aspect of self-care, including positive thinking about future events, transformative self-care, nutrition, fitness, overcoming fear, and spiritual healing. The location is a gorgeous outdoor camp designed for children with special needs.

Whatever you do, just do something.  When you make yourself a priority, you win and so do your kids.  In addition, you are setting an example for them.  They will see how important it is to practice good self-care.

Julie McAllister is the owner and creator of Special Moms, Special Healing, where she supports and empowers mothers of children with special needs to take care of themselves.  She is the mother of two sons with special needs, one with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, and one with numerous food allergies.

Lent as an Opportunity

March 9, 2011

photo courtesy of Simon Howden/

For those of you who may not know today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. While many people make a commitment to “give something up” (e.g., things like candy, wine, snacks, etc.) during this season, I have not found a way in my adult life to make that kind of commitment in a sustained and meaningful way. Instead, I try to make a commitment to do something that will have meaning for me in my efforts to become a more compassionate and loving person.

Recently I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit with my gratitude practice, so I am taking this Lent as an opportunity to recommit to that. The other night at family dinner we each discussed our plans for this Lent. I have to say that I was impressed with what my kids came up with – including making their own lunch and donating the money we usually spend for them to buy school lunch and saying nightly prayers. I’m hopeful that taking the time to think about it and share our plans out loud with each other will help us stay on track with our plans.

I look at this an opportunity similar to the opportunities to make change that are present at the beginning of a new school year or the beginning of a new calendar year. Whether or not you practice a faith with the tradition of Lent, I encourage you to take this opportunity of a new approaching Spring to focus for a time on making a positive change or habit in your life. Encourage your children to do the same, and support each other with your goals. At the very least, it will make for a very empowering dinner conversation!

Announcing Kitchen Table Parents!

March 3, 2011


I’m very excited to tell you about a new program I’ve developed. For the past couple of years I’ve been trying to figure out how to offer support and education at an affordable cost to parents who are interested in both providing healthy family meals and raising happy, compassionate kids. I’ve been running Dinner Together and Empowered Parenting side by side, but I think I’ve found a way to bring them together.

My new program offers solutions for parents who know that raising a healthy family involves more than just food; it also involves nourishing our families through our words, interactions, and connections with each other.

You can learn more about the program here:

If you are looking for:

–       Guidance on how to stop being a short order cook

–       Strategies to help your kids to try new foods and eat vegetables

–       Ways to have your kids join the family at the table and be pleasant once they get there

–       Tools for positive family communication

–       More confidence in your parenting decisions and interactions

–       Reassurance about what to expect with regard to your child’s development

–       Ideas for involving your children with helping others

…then Kitchen Table Parents is where you want to be!

Two membership options to the exclusive new Kitchen Table Parents website are available: a free Basic membership and a low cost Premium membership.

Premium members will have access to:

  • Recipes and Meal Plans
  • A library of articles, audio and video recordings on popular parenting topics, including how to deal with picky eaters and how to manage bedtime battles
  • An interactive forum which I will moderate
  • Recommended tools and resources
  • Monthly telephone conference calls where you can ask your most burning parenting questions
  • Discounts on my parent coaching packages

Basic members will have access to a limited selection of the recipe and article archives, sample meal plans, and tools and resources for successful family meals and empowered parenting.

You can learn more and register here:

I hope you will join me. I look forward to getting to know you as part of a community of parents supporting and empowering each other to raise healthy families.

If you have any questions about this program, please leave your comments below or email me.

Confessions of a TV-watching Mom-Psychologist

February 27, 2011

Last week was winter break for many schools in my area. While listening to a radio show offering ideas of fun, low-cost activities with children over this school break, I was struck by how many of the parents featured on the show said that they did not have televisions in their homes. I started going down a path of self-doubt. Am I being a “bad parent” by letting my children watch TV? Shouldn’t I know better as a psychologist than to let my kids watch TV? I cut the journey down that path short though.

I do respect, and even admire, people who choose not to have televisions in their homes, and I certainly believe you can have a satisfying, enriched life without television. I also believe, however, that television can be managed successfully in a family. I’m sure that many of you have found your own ways to do this, and I’d love to hear about them. Here’s what has worked in my family:

  • The kids are not allowed to have televisions in their bedrooms and only watch out in the common living area of the house.
  • My husband and I are in control of whether or not the TV is allowed to be on or not and are empowered to turn it off at any given moment.
  • My kids are involved in many other activities and TV-watching is not central to their lives.
  • My kids enjoy reading, imaginative play, and other creative activities.
  • At this point in our family’s life, we don’t have a set amount of hours that are permitted per day or similar structural limits (although we have in the past), but it is well-established in our family culture that television watching is secondary to most other activities.
  • We have a few shows that we watch together and enjoy as a family. Sometimes these shows have us all laughing together and other times they can serve as springboards for discussions about important topics (e.g., sexism, drugs and alcohol, poverty, and greed).

I think we all have those moments when we doubt ourselves; when we hear something that someone else is doing and start to question our own parenting practices. Sometimes those moments can be useful to help motivate us to make beneficial changes for our families. Sometimes those moments can make us pause and emerge more confident upon reflection about our own decisions. And sometimes those moments really serve no useful purpose at all! I would love to hear about your experiences with television and your family and/or with those moments you’ve had where you’ve questioned your parenting after hearing about what others are doing.

Random Acts of Kindness

February 22, 2011

Last week one of my Facebook friends posted a comment about how touched her family was by the random act of kindness displayed by a stranger who paid for her family’s meal out at a restaurant. I was pretty impressed by this as well. My friend’s story reminded me that I had read somewhere about “Random Acts of Kindness Week,” which was February 14th-20th. Well that week has come and gone, but it’s never too late to show some kindness.

Kindness is such an important topic for parenting. It’s a given that raising happy kids who care about others in the world around them is going to involve kindness and giving. Earlier this month I wrote about a recent find for resources on everyday philanthropy and giving. In writing this article I found another great resource to share which has some wonderful ideas for showing kindness in the world.

The resources described above offer a wealth of ideas for giving outside of your family, but I think it’s also important to find ways to give within our families. Sometimes a random act of kindness given within the family can result in big shifts in mood, tone, and connection. As I had described in my post on one of my favorite holiday traditions, sometimes unexpected small gifts or surprise acts of thoughtfulness can create a sense of warmth and happiness in your family.

So how can you practice random acts of kindness within your own family? Below are a few ideas to get you started, but I’d love to hear ideas from you too. Feel free share in the comments.

– Surprise your spouse with his favorite dinner.
– Leave a little love note in your daughter’s lunch box.
– Give a nice back rub to someone in your family.
– Bring some flowers home to celebrate the day.
– Leave an inspirational quote on the bathroom mirror.

What else can you think of?