This past year might well be known in my family as the year we acted like chickens with heads cut off. We were always running: to and from school, to Latin club and teachers’ office hours; to Girl Scouts and taekwondo and (briefly) guitar lessons; to Hebrew school and bar mitzvah lessons; and then to doctor after doctor, therapist after therapist.
We broke our internal rule of no more than one after-school activity per kid. Life challenges that come with a 12-year-old and 10-year-old caused the craziness, from an upcoming bar mitzvah to a chronic illness diagnosis.
When you add two parents with work and volunteer commitments, as a family, we’re exhausted.
I asked some of Austin’s parenting experts, especially those who focus on the slow parenting method, for their best advice on how to de-craze our lives in 2014.
Renee Peterson Trudeau, author of “Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life”
Spend less time plugged in and more time in nature — the ultimate antidepressant. When my son is out of whack, to the greenbelt we go. Time in nature has a way of recalibrating us, and physiologically it has a big impact on stress hormones.
Do less to experience more. Practice good is good enough. Say “no” more, keep things simple, and remember, we’re happiest when we have fewer choices and decisions. Over-scheduled families equal miserable families. Our quality of life is enhanced when we remove things — not add them.
Schedule rest and downtime on your calendar now. Whether you designate a specific morning or evening for family connection/downtime, every Sunday or one weekend a month, it’s comforting to have these respites to look forward to.
Ask for help. I take a personal retreat every quarter to step back and review how I’d like to allocate my time, energy and resources in the coming 90 days and what type of support I need to feel nourished (from baby sitters to professional mentors to parenting coaches). When you know you’ve got a team to support you, life feels so much easier.
Bernadette Noll, author of “Slow Family Living: 75 Ways to Slow Down, Connect and Create More Joy”
Figure out what you want out of your days and weeks. Start the year off or end this year doing a little focused writing about what you want from family life. How do you want it to go? How do you want to feel? What is important to you in regard to family time? Solo time?
Calendar out your weeks. Take out your 2014 calendar and write in some family time. By putting it on the calendar you are claiming it so that nothing else will take it away.
Remember that being a happy parent is the greatest gift you can give your family. Practice being happy. Come up with mantras for yourself. My latest favorite came from my 11-year-old daughter: “This is supposed to be fun.” We were shopping for her birthday dinner, and I was so cranky because I had a lot on my mind. She looked at me and said, “Hey, Mom, this is supposed to be fun.” And she was right. And truly, it was just about shifting my attitude. Find your mantra. Write it down and post it somewhere you can see it regularly.
Carrie Contey, psychologist and co-founder of the Slow Family Living movement
Clarify how you want to feel. There’s nothing more valuable than taking the time to get clear on how you want to feel in the new year. So what will it be? Easy? Slow? Creative? Rich? Taking the time to clarify how you want to feel and why you want to feel it, and then affirming that regularly, is the quickest way to bring more of that feeling into your life, all year long.
Get grounded — you first. The best gift we can give everyone around us is the gift of staying grounded. When we are grounded and present with ourselves, we are much more grounded and present with others. We are more pleasant to be around, and when we are more pleasant to be around, miraculously others are easier to be with as well. The quickest way to bring yourself into the present moment is to acknowledge what you’re feeling. Learning to becoming skilled at “checking in” with yourself and then doing something that minimizes stress and maximizes ease will serve you well as a person, parent and partner.
Develop the attitude of gratitude. The quickest way to get more of the goodies you want in your life is by focusing on what’s working, what’s fun, what you are loving and what you are appreciating about your life. Cultivating a daily gratitude practice is a beautiful way to tune yourself toward the sweetness of life.
Dr. Ari Brown, 411 Pediatrics
Make a list (forget about checking it twice … who has time?). Being organized and planning ahead, though, really helps maintain sanity.
Divide and conquer. You can’t micromanage everything, so let others help you if they are willing. And, if your kids are old enough, give them some responsibilities to get things done.
Lower your expectations. You will be pleasantly surprised and not disappointed that you didn’t achieve perfection. Your kids will enjoy you more, and you will enjoy being a parent more. And that is the goal, right?
Family events coming this month
Holiday Family Days at the Blanton Museum. Explore the holidays in Augsburg, Germany, inspired by an exhibit. Make your own Christmas cards and enjoy gallery-inspired games. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. $9 adults, $7 seniors, $5 youth ages 13-21. Free children 12 and younger. 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. www.blantonmuseum.org.
Austin’s New Year 2014. Head to Auditorium Shores on Dec. 31 from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for music and interactive exhibits. The fireworks kick off at 10 p.m. Auditorium Shores, 950 W. Riverside Drive. austintexas.gov/event/austins-new-year-2014.
Free First Sundays at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. It’s free to get in noon to 6 p.m. Jan. 5, plus there are activities from noon to 3 p.m. A TEXplorations family story time will be at 2 p.m. Don’t miss the “Extreme Mammals” exhibit while you’re there. This month, don’t miss the Extreme Family Fest, noon to 3 p.m. Jan. 18. You’ll explore Texas mammals with touchable items, real mammals and art exhibits. Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave. 512-936-4649, thestoryoftexas.com.
Leer Y Crear: Family Story time. Come hear “Grandma’s Chocolate (El Chocolate de Abuelita)” by Mara Price at Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. 10:30 a.m. Jan. 11. Free. 600 River St. austintexas.gov/department/emma-s-barrientos-mexican-american-cultural-center.
Ben Hur Shrine Circus. Cedar Park Center becomes the big top Jan. 17-20. $9-$35. 2100 Avenue of the Stars, Cedar Park. www.cedarparkcenter.com.
Harlem Globetrotters. The famous dribblers are back at the Erwin Center Jan. 23-24. The show starts at 7 p.m. both nights. $20-$123. 1701 Red River St. uterwincenter.com.
Architects of Air. Think of it as a giant bouncy castle you can walk through with interactive lights. Jan. 24-Feb. 2. Prices of tickets have not been announced yet, but last year they were $10. The Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Riverside Drive. 512-474-5664, thelongcenter.org.
Sprites. Pollyanna Theatre Co. and Ballet Austin tell the story of the new girl in the neighborhood, Wren, who encounters the local bully, Marlie, in this dance drama. 7 p.m. Jan. 24, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Jan. 25 and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Jan. 26. $11 adults, $10 seniors and children 12 and older, $9 children 11 and younger. The Long Center, 701 Riverside Drive. 512-474-5664, thelongcenter.org.