Understanding the Confusing World of Baby Car Seats (A beginners guide for the pregnant and overwhelmed.)

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You are having your first baby.   You have a car.  You like your car. You just ventured into the world of car seats, and are terrified and overwhelmed.  You’re in the right place.

Of all pre-baby decisions, the car seat one was overwhelming and I hated it!  I came into my 1st pregnancy clueless (and pretty uninterested in everything because I was dealing with other big events in my life) and my brain imploded when I got to brands of car seats and understanding whether the car I had just bought would even fit children in it.

My goal here is to ease some of your fears and start with the absolute basics in human speak, then, once your anxiety is back at a normal level and you are ready to move on armed with the basic knowledge, you may google yourself to your hearts’ content.

 

I also want to advise you right now, if this is your first, sign up for the pregnant chicken newsletter, (CANADIAN TOO!) you will receive advice oriented newsletters PERFECTLY TIMED throughout your pregnancy and she has just such a great way of demystifying, normalizing and explaining everything from your body, to the overwhelming process of buying baby gear, creating a registry and getting a stroller.  She also has a great sense of humour!  My mum died in the middle of my pregnancy so her advice was amazing for me.  (I know, morbid and blunt but that’s what it was!)

Then, you won’t find yourself crying at the base of a mountain of car seats, stammering out the following “I just want to fucking drive from A to B with a kid in the back! THAT IS ALL!”   To this day I haven’t gone back into the same store.

Okay? Let’s go. Let’s start with the baaaasic beginner stuff.

First car seat you get is what is called an infant/baby rear facing car seat, often referred to as a bucket seat by your friends.

According to transport Canada, this is Stage 1.  They have a handy diagram.

 

Tadaaaa!  This is what those bad boys are.   There’s two pieces to a car seat.

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The base, which plugs into your car seats.

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And the seat itself, which you unplug from the base and carry around with you.  Do not let the stock photo deceive you.  The baby will not be this chill.

Baby Girl Toddler in Car Seat

The car seat weighs about 10lb give or take a few pounds.  You can customize car seats A TON.  Some brands are smaller, some bigger.  Some narrower, some wider.  Some lighter, some heavier.  You can get lost in the googling and details.  Go for a mainstream brand so that when you get a stroller and all the other crap  baby gear, you won’t have issues with compatibility.  Chicco or Gracco are mainstream.

When you buy a stroller, there is usually one extra attachment (usually called an “adapter” – so just google the brands of your car seat, stroller and the word “adapter” together in one search) you can buy for whatever brand infant seat you have, that allows you to attach the car seat to the stroller.

 

For example, I have a Bob Stroller.  If I wanted to attach the car seat to it, I need that silver metal bar there, which is about $60 and is called a chicco bob stroller adapter.

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Another consideration is your car.  In all honesty, you will be fine with a 4 door car and a car seat! You’ll receive pressure (or good natured jesting) to upsize to a minivan or suv.

I spent SO MUCH TIME stressing, looking through male car forums for advice on what car seat brands would fit my sports car.  Really, the difference between brands comes down to centimetres.  However, if you have unique needs like a really small / compact car, just do some googling, the car seat lady for example has some great links, as you can see in the image below.  My favourite overall comparison of different brands of car seats is here at Car Seats for the Littles – this is a great review.  

Consumer Reports also has a great “terms to learn” part that will help you survive reading the instruction manual and thinking wtf is the latch?  Where is the recline indicator?  WHAAAAT?  Go here and flip through the terms to learn slideshow in part 3.    There is also a good car seat buying guide here, but honest, the more information you gather, the more confusing it will get.

It’s kind of like buying a wedding dress.  the more you research, and the more you try on, the more confusing and stressful the process becomes.

Pick 3 brands max, look at the specs and ease of use, weight and size, make a decision, and stick with it. 

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When you put the baby in the first few times, it’s terrifying.  They are so mad at you if they are not sleeping, and expect a protest. Though newborn protests are pretty cute 🙂 And if you feel like a novice putting babykins in there the first time, don’t worry, you’ll see your  partner experiencing the same novice feeling when they drive you all home for the first time at about 20km under the legal speed limit. It’s very sweet.

Installing the car seat is worth just enjoying, grab a tea or coffee and prepare to get up in that shit (or ask your partner.)  THANK GOD FOR GOOGLE because it’s the only way I could figure it out.  But my mind was still blown by how tight and secure my friend (certified car seat specialist) managed to get those seats in there, so it’s worth double checking your handiwork with someone.

Installing a car seat base using the LATCH system (lower anchors in your car seat) most cars have them these days and it’s very easy!

 

Installing an infant car seat base with the shoulder / lap belt.

An accessory I would not go without is a car seat canopy, car seat cover, whatever, there’s a gazillion names for them, but they look like this, and they’re great for napping babies and preventing the winter chill from getting in.

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In case you are wondering wtf minky lining is, it’s not a cute small furry creature, it’s a soft fabric that is popular with baby goods.  It has an absurd name, much like many baby goods.  Welcome to the world of goo goo, poo poo, goochy woo stuff.

 

JJ Cole has great winter (read Canadian) baby car seat covers that are very warm and protect from the elements (and make you feel a bit jealous of your own kid.)

*Just ignore the happy mom / baby / car seat photo.  Lies all lies.

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You buckle your feisty little creatures in with a five point harness.  I started off clueless, so I wound up using the car seat lady website which has good links like this one on buckling up a baby safely  which was surprising to me, because you pull those suckers (straps) tight!  You bet that went down really well with a feisty baby.

If you are still overwhelmed, just remember, it’s 2016 and we’ve come a looooooooong way from the car seats you rode in, in 1985.  For perspective, please peruse this fascinating perhaps slightly disturbing, history of the car seat, courtesy of good house keeping magazine.

 

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You, in your car seat, in 1985.

 

What to do with a Baby and a Toddler in Calgary (in the winter) – Activities for families in Calgary

A great list of 30 unique ideas for families with young children visiting Calgary during the winter – baby and toddler-friendly.

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What authority do I have?  Well, I’m the mother of a 3 year old and a 1.5 year old.  We’re all pretty active and go stir crazy inside, though I confess – I DO like my crafternoons by the fireplace as well!  All of these activities are tried, tested and true with my family.  We’re still learning a ton, especially about layering in winter.  Neither of us parents grew up with particularly outdoorsy families, and our skills in any winter activity are

All of these activities are tried, tested and true with my family.  If you want me to blog further or do a “field report”  on any of the experiences below, please leave a comment! We’re still learning a ton, especially about layering in winter.  Neither of us parents (Carina and Trevor) grew up with particularly outdoorsy families, and our skills / knowledge in any winter activity are pretty low.  But we have the right attitude and I think that’s all that matters!

XC skiing, skating, even toboganning.  Our skills are down there with our 3 year old – but that’s the joy!  We are experiencing all of this together and designing the family that we want to be.  

This is a good chance to comment on a sentence that stood out from a book I am reading, Tools of Titans (highlight recommended btw.) In one part of this book, there is a discussion on discovering who you are, versus creating who you are.

You don’t just go on living life and all of a sudden “discover” that you are a certain type of family or a certain type of parent.  It’s about designing and creating it, so that one day you “discover” you are precisely that.

And you know what?  This list of ideas all started with a pinterest board I started in 2010 that I titled “My Ideal Life” and in it, was an active, adventurous family.  I liked the idea.  Even though I hadn’t a clue whether I wanted kids, or how to do half of the activities on the board.  🙂

The biggest piece of advice I’d offer, especially with the outdoors activity stuff, is go into it with zero expectations.  Your kids may love it, or they may melt down 10 minutes in, and you find yourself driving 40 minutes back home, debating whether or not to surrender and just give them the damn iphone in the back seat to gain a moment of peace.  You may spend 20 minutes getting them into a snowsuit and then they announce they have to pee.  You may get to a hike and realize their snowboots are all of a sudden 2 sizes small, let alone impossible to get on when they do fit.  Been there, done all of that in the last two weeks.

The key is not to let expectations prevent you from doing things.  Because if there’s one thing we know as parents, our kids will also surprise us. One snow shoe could be terrible and leaving us questioning “why bother?”  Actually no, it’s more like “F*** why did we do this!” Yet, the following week, we have a magical time and our 3-year-old surprises us with her endurance and fortitude!

As you read every family blog where it seems they are out in these amazing winter adventures in and around Calgary, remember that there was a meltdown or two in there, and what seems like a day out, was probably just a short trip.  But regardless, they still did something epic and we still find ourselves looking at their instagram or facebook feed with admiration and a secret longing to design our lives more intentionally.

THAT is the goal of this post, to encourage you to stop liking others’ instagram posts and start creating your own – to embrace the beauty that is winter (sorry, I write this with ALL of the enthusiasm of a kid that didn’t grow up around snow and is still, to this day at 34, mesmerized by it.)   Design the type of life where you don’t have a ton of time to spend on Instagram liking other people’s photos and feeds, because you’re too busy creating your own adventures!

Alright, off of that soap box.  What is the point of today’s post?

I was asked by a work colleague for a list of ideas for a family visiting Calgary in January (deep winter!)  There are SO many on the internet and most of them are copied from the same few sources, so I tried to add some really unique ideas to this post, and went back through my own journals of what we’ve gotten up to in winter.   I will confess, my list does have a bit of an outdoor activity focus (assuming it’s above -15c, my threshold for enjoying winter with small children.)  I also believe that outdoor time buys you EXCELLENT NAPS AND APPETITES (read: you time!) so it’s a win-win situation. 

I hope this will give you some creative indoor and outdoor activity ideas when you are in Calgary with a baby and small toddler, as well as some fantastic bloggers to follow and websites to use as a resource.

Stay warm and have fun!

 

1.) Telus spark has an incredible section for young children, The Creative Kids Museum – with admission you have access to the main science centre (and) the childrens’ area.

2.)  Try out the lunchtime mom + baby yoga offered at the Holistic Institute of Health and Fertility in the south (Deer Run.)  Then, pop next door to the Cornerstone Cafe for the most amazing cafe food you’ll ever try (I love the vegetarian wrap.)

3.) Also in the same neighbourhood is a drop in yoga program, for both parents and toddlers OR toddlers unattended!  www.yogabears.ca – fish creek is also within a 5 minute drive, with Annie’s Cafe, and the Ice Caves (see list.)

4.)  Go west (1 hour) to Grotto Pond & Grotto Canyon on Highway 1A – this is a favourite destination of ours, because our children tend to tap out in the car before we get to Canmore (1 hour 20 min.)

Grotto Canyon and Pond are just a few minutes after Exshaw on Highway 1A.  YOu can take Highway 1 west most of the way until the 1X turnoff to Exshaw before Lac Des Arcs. Trail Peak Guide to Grotto Canyon

 

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Skating with my 3 year old on grotto pond in December 2016!

 

Natural mountain lake skating at Grotto Pond (ice rink in centre, loop around outside)

Posts by Tanya Koob on Grotto Pond.for Grotto canyon which is do-able for young children – so if your toddler or baby meltsdown, you have a plan B activity right there ready to go! We bought out sled along and skated with the kids in the sled, and then on the hike, we had b aby in a backpack and toddler walking.

for Grotto canyon which is do-able for young children – so if your toddler or baby meltsdown, you have a plan B activity right there ready to go! We bought out sled along and skated with the kids in the sled, and then on the hike, we had b aby in a backpack and toddler walking.

5.) In Calgary, Bowness park / lagoon has amazing skating on the river and fire pits to warm up beside.A sweet cafe is nearby, and if you love alernative / health food stores, the Light Room in Bowness is worth visiting.  Post from Family Fun Canada.

6.) Delta Lodge at Kananaskis – Fantastic family friendly resort with an icerink outside of the hotel and a massive outdoor hot tub that kids love.  Right beside the ice rink is a rental place, with xc ski, snowshoe, walking and bike paths.  You can also rent chariots with winter attachments there for risk-free activities.  Great blog post.

7.) Calgary Zoo Lights – Until January 8th –  you can buy a day admission pass, go at 4pm and stay until the park closes and the zoolights switch on, or go later (after 5 and just pay for the zoolights portion)

8.) Nomad Gear Rentals bring the rental gear to you and fit your children!  Or if you want to stay in Calgary, use Nomad Gear Rentals to rent a variety of gear for yourself and the kids, and explore Fish Creek Park, especially the Ice water falls and caves near to Annie’s Café just off of Bow Bottom Trail.   We just used Nomad this past week to try our 3 year old out on xc skis for the first time and Andrel was lovely to work with.  Rates are competitive with other local rental shops!    Winter Rental List including skis, xc skis, fat bikes and snowshoes.

9.) To warm up, Calgary farmers’ market is a fantastic place to go with a playground area, and adults can enjoy coffee and eat food since the foodcourt is adjacent to the playground area. I highly recommend the spinach and leek gallette (gluten free) from the little fresh crepe place!  At the playground area you can access free fire truck and car-shaped strollers that fit either one or two kids!  Combine that with an ice cream or macaron and this is my secret to getting shopping done there!

 

10.) A beautiful forested part of fish creek is Bebo Grove (at the end of 24st SW) Reviews of Fish Creek Park and favourite spots on Yelp. 

11.) Toboganning at Confederation park or St. Andrews hill (near University of Calgary)  great blog post by Family Fun Canada (another great site to check out.)

12.) Grab hot drinks and drive by the spectacular Christmas lights at Spruce Meadows (deep south of city)  – on until January 8th.

13.) Indoor / outdoor winter crafts:  Winter Playdough sensory activity.  Make natural playdough, go outside and collect pine cones, pine needles, etc and bring them back and make pictures by pressing the items into the playdough and letting it dry.

14.) Go to Calgary Central Library (downtown) to visit a fire truck! there is a full sized firetruck in there (Engine 23) stacked with books. On Fridays they have readings for children by local firefighters.

15.) Also downtown:  Visit the lovely Devonian gardens on the upper floor of the core shopping centre, which also has a playground.

16.)  IMHO, the best wave pool is Southland leisure centre (great baby area and toddler slides) and you can pay for 1 hour. They also have drop-in times for the Kinder room, active play and tots for $5.20 per child.

17.) Snowshoe in west bragg creek with your family!  (baby in backpack, toddler in sled or kids’snowshoes you can rent)  – get a wrap and hot chocolate at cinnamon spoon.

 

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Snowshoeing on New Years Day in West Bragg Creek with our 1.5 and 3 year old! (we plan on getting her some snowshoes!) 

 

18.) Go for a walk and Make maple syrup taffy in the snow. Recipe here. 

19.)  Go to Plant in Inglewood and buy the jar of supplies to make your own terrarium – there is one they have for kids! Or you can pick your own plants, rocks, mini figurines (sweet little mushrooms and gnomes) for about $50 you’d get everything you need!  Great article on kids’ terrariums on CBC! 

20.) Fish Creek library has an incredible play area including a closed of area for babies, a stage with moving backdrops, costumes, reading forest and sensory toys for both toddlers and babies on the 2nd floor, it is worth a visit!  There seats for the adults to relax while the kids play!  It is across the parking lot from Southcentre mall.  The Calgary Public Library also has a rotating schedule of sing along, counting and stories  depending on which library in the city you go to.  http://events.calgarypubliclibrary.com/programs/online-registration

21.) If you would like to shop, Southcentre mall in the south has a beautiful mall & there is a prechool where adults can drop off their children while they shop:  http://greendoorschool.ca/  Or you can rent a police car or firetruck (one or two children capacity) with built-in smart screens to keep the kids entertained while you shop.  I recommend starting at Analog Coffee and also visiting Rocky Mountain soap company for amazing natural, toxin-free products produced locally in Canmore.  The lemongrass bubble bath and lavender bum / diaper spray  is a favourite in our household!

22.) Indoor Crafts: Put snow into a large tub, and have a “snow painting” activity, or pick up a snow painting kit from Canadian tire and go outside to create art (not the yellow snow kind!)

23.) Try out skiing or tubing at Canada Olympic Park, you can pay for certain amounts of time if you are not sure how your child will react to a.) skiing b.) cold.  The 2-hour preschool age package is $14.99, younger is free.  For equipment, 2 hour rentals for preschool age is $9.95. The foot pass is $9.99 for adults to use the magic carpet to get the little ones safely up the bunny hill if you’re daring enough to try skiing with them 🙂  Rentals are

The foot pass is $9.99 for adults to use the magic carpet to get the little ones safely up the bunny hill / assist them  if you’re daring enough to try skiing with them 🙂

If they tap out on the ski hill, there is the bobsled track nearby or indoor skating in the Winsport complex.

24.)  Buy some snow shovels for kids from the loonie store and some “pretend” gemstones  or other treasures, draw a treasure map, and bury them in the snow for the kids to find with a bucket. The little ones love dropping.  Search ” winter activities, toddler” on pinterest to get started with an insane list of ideas and create your own activities / inspo board.  Pinterest is amazing for parents. Here is my own Kids’ Activities Board on Pinterest.

25.) Pick up a free copy of calgary’s child magazine at most grocery stores or anywhere where free magazines are distributed http://www.calgaryschild.com/family-fun/1581-115-things-to-do-with-kids-in-and-around-calgary they have a great events listing and amazing lists of ideas for activities.

 

26.) Visit Gasoline Alley  at Heritage Park (especially if you have shiny car fans in your family) and the old tyme candy / toy stores in the central plaza, then lunch at the Selkirk grille.  Glenmore reservoir is also nearby, you can walk along the path there.

27.)  Grab lunch and watch planes take off from the YYC airport runway (there is a great viewing area at the end of the runway) – the Edward Laborde Airplane Watching Area 

28.)  If it is nice out, check out one of Calgary’s many great playgrounds, Calgary Playground review has an excellent list! 

29.)  Round up everybody and Go for Dim Sum – our favourite is the family friendly Central Grand Restaurant downtown in China town (kids will love the koi carp fish pond at the entrance where you can feed the fish.) Avenue magazine has a great article on dim sum op tions in Calgary and advice if you are new to the experience (and its delicious food) which is in a kid-friendly format of “little eats” and is bought to you via steaming bamboo pots on carts. Children can also choose their own desserts at the desert area.

30.)  Go to a loonie store, pick up little figurines (animals, etc.) and build a winter car race track (for the little guys) or a winter forest for the animals (get branches and stick them into the snow) – kids have fun scavenging for rocks, branches, etc.

Favourite Calgary bloggers or websites:

http://www.rockiesfamilyadventures.com/ Great outdoors activities ideas for families w/ young children and also reports on conditions from different areas.   Family adventures in the Canadian rockies is a facebook group worth joining with a great community happy to offer suggestions based on the area of the city you are in.

Calgary Playground Review http://calgaryplaygroundreview.com/ 

Great infographic on dressing babies for cold weather

Keeping You, YOU

How do you put aside time for YOU and retain some self-identity in these busy days of motherhood? Comment below.  Let’s discuss.

 

The One Thing all Disruptors Do.

Choice. It goes hand in hand with freedom.  Most of us associate having a choice with the ability to say “yes” or “no” or some variation in between.

Choice also refers to how we think.  The freedom to think in ways that serve us or harm us.

The one trait that all disruptors have – people who challenge the status quo – is the that they dare to create original and new content.  They choose not to accept things how they are, and disrupt that status quo with original thought and ideas.  They actively, intentionally choose how to think and filter incoming information accordingly.

The freedom to think and choose is about taking all of the incoming data, inputs, opinions and what else arrives from the external world, sift through it and then use what serves and aligns with our values, and discard that which does not. A disruptor is also someone who dares to step outside of the box and offer a different way of seeing things, which is risky, scary and sometimes dangerous.

I choose to be a maternity leave / early motherhood disruptor.  I choose to take in information, filter it, choose what works, discard what does not, and I work to be aware of alternate ways of thinking.

A great example is one of the most common things that people say to me every.day.  I choose to be a bit of a shit disturber and have them think twice about this common phrase.

Someone will ask me how old my children are.

I reply, 3 and 1.5 years.

They shake their head, pity in their eyes.

“Oh wow. That must be soooooo busy.”

Half of the time, I don’t tell them I work full time as well.  I feel like based on that initial reaction, it might be too much! And I’m already not particularly interested in hearing all of the reasons why that is hard / scary / challenging /sucky.  Because I don’t see it that way.

Sometimes I like to be mischievous and go for it, and maybe while I’m at it all drop the bomb that I also write and run a coaching business.

Pity sort of, well…. it usually turns to horror.

“Oh my god. How. Why?!?!” something along those lines.

Here’s where the disruptor bit comes in.I choose not to look at things the same way.

If I focused on how busy and overwhelming life with two under three is, it would create some pretty powerful self-limiting beliefs and barriers.  “I couldn’t possibly focus on anything else right now.” That’s what I would tell myself.  If I worked and focused on childcare costs and the logistics of it all, well, it would be not very… helpful.

“I couldn’t possibly focus on anything else right now. Look at all of these barriers. My lief is busy! hard! maxed out!” That’s what I would tell myself if I listened and bought into external influences.

The thing is though, that doesn’t work for me, my life or my goals.  I’m not saying it is a bad belief or wrong, it just doesn’t serve me. 

I choose to be liberated in my thinking. I choose to see things in different ways because we do have a choice. My days aren’t busy, they are so ridiculously fulfilling and exciting. I’m not dropping half of my paycheque on childcare and rendering my work futile, I’m exposing y kid to exciting things and a social life and activities, and in turn I’m enjoying professional development growth and adult engagement.  It’s a win-win. Not a lose-lose.

As a mother there is a very, very powerful motherhood dialogue out there – in media, advertising, even in mommy groups.  Too busy. Too overwhelmed.  Unable to balance life (can’t keep up with all of the jobs and roles). Struggle (I’m alone in this).  Hardship (isolation, the difficulty of mommyhood). It sucks. (sleep deprivation- how could you possible survive it and work?!)  Fear (not spending enough time with my child because of work, quality time, tv time over play time)  – gosh all of those dialogues are so, so prevalent.

If I listened to all of those, all of the time, and bought into them, my potential would be wasted.  Lost to self-imposed barriers and harmful thinking.

Choose to be an outlier, choose to be someone who sees the positive in everything.  Choose to get away from the average or status quo.  Disrupt.  Know you have a choice in how you think, act and talk.

Then, go and watch this 12 minute video of Shawn Achor at TED talking about the outliers and positive psychology. (he is also incredibly hilarious.)

And go disrupt, mama. March to your own drum.  Listen to that which serves your goals. Think for yourself.  Set an example for other new mothers, mothers like me that look for “things that are great about being a parent” or “why it’s easy to work and have children” – because I know I have googled those, and I wasn’t able to find the voices or the blog posts that told me all of this is possible. I stumbled around, tried it out and discovered it for myself, but there needs to be more voices out there encouraging, inspiring and disrupting.

 

The Strangely Mixed Experience of Using my iPhone Less Often.

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Last month, I undertook a project, to reduce my iPhone usage by 50%

I actually have a university class to thank for this.  This semester I have been teaching an academic strategies & learning / study skills class.  I’m fine if my students are nodding drowsily, or perhaps fighting heavy eyelids, but in one area, I was not  fine.  Blatant iPhone usage – screen up, covering the lower half of their face – while I was talking to them.  On human-talking-to-human basis it just wasn’t cool.   Instructors vary on their standards around this and I hadn’t set standards at the start of the term – a newbie mistake.

As the weeks passed and a few  individuals continued their iPhone ways, I had a realization; this must much be what it is like for my kids when I am on my phone – especially when they ask me a question.  I’m just not there. 

I wound up privately conferencing with those students in my office and stopped the habit in its tracks by connecting with them on a human-talking-to-a-human level, rather than an instructor-student level.  But, it also led me to reflect on my own habits. If I am telling others to improve their habits, well, I’ve got to walk the talk as well.

Sure, I choose to be on my phone, and most of the time it is with intent – and I believe every person deserves a break.  I wholeheartedly agree that as a parent you do NOT have to be “on” all the time.  People at jobs get breaks, and so should people doing the hardest job at all – parenting.  Even if it’s a micro break like a quick scan of social media during the kids’ naps, or a quick moment in the kitchen, standing by the coffee, waiting for it to finish brewing.  With kids they are micro breaks, but a break is a break.

Goodness knows doing that in the kitchen or on the toilet has allowed me a much, much needed break from the emotional maelstrom of a three year old and has given me a chance to recompose, stabilize my own response and come back into the situation with the calm confidence that they need in that moment.

Before cutting down on iphone usage, I spent some time recording what I spent my phone time on, and each time I put the phone down, I’d think, “was my precious time worth that activity?”

With beginning to pay this closer attention, I began to ask more questions: What exactly I was getting from my Instagram & Facebook feeds? (my go-tos) I realized I was leaving disappointed, not particularly relaxed, or annoyed (especially during the US election aftermath.)

Was this really a beneficial use of my ten precious minutes?  That hard earned break, a delicious feet-up moment with a cup of tea?  No.  The random Buzzfeeds and Instagram sponsored posts which proliferate my IG feed were so not worth that valuable time.

Feeling unfulfilled, I further resolved to use my phone less.  First, around the kids – who try to get at it and then squabble over it.  Second, around myself.  I started forgetting to charge it at night on purpose, and would just leave it in my handbag along with my work tags and keys (I had to use physical strategies.)

In all honesty, during the first week of reduced phone usage, I found myself wondering what on earth to do with a break. I genuinely worried that I would just not take breaks and fill them with even more to-dos, or chores, or something equally “un- break-like.”  I did notice one frustrating day that I was simply replacing a well-earned break with laundry.

I felt lost, sitting there, feeling quite irritated, if I am honest, that I didn’t have my little reward and even more frustrated that I was likely to replace it with work.

When emotions arise, it is a great opportunity to dig deeper and address where those emotions were coming from. It’s a chance to determine exactly what we say to ourselves. What I was telling myself?  “if I don’t take my phone break I won’t be able to have a break because I’ll just replace it with work and I deserve a break and grrrrr.”  Cue another astounding realization.

Aside from using my phone, I couldn’t remember what a break entails.

I had defined breaks around iPhone activities and was at a loss as to alternatives.

The last two weeks have been fascinating because I’ve had to work at “relearning” what a break is without a phone.  Slowly, I began to rediscover things.

Reading a magazine (which re-trained my focus, from scrolling through a feed in 3 seconds, to making it through 10 minutes of an article)  Meditating (that thing I always put off but know I should do.)  An act of creativity.   Having a nap (!)  Reading a fiction book.

At first, all of these activities didn’t feel like a break, until I gave them a chance.

Then, I realized that after these activities, I came out of them a better person, and in a better mood, than I ever did using Facebook or Instagram during most of my microbreaks.

I decided to title this post “The Mixed Experience” because I sit here, genuinely much less interested in my phone these days, and feeling quite free from iPhone habitual use / dependency, yet, in all honesty, it’s a mixed bag of results.  I feel so-so about that.

With vastly reduced iPhone usage, you wind up putting it down.  It is not on your body.  You miss texts and calls.  I’ve learnt there is a fine line between being liberated from the smart phone and being labelled a “terrible texter” or “bad communicator” – people do notice when their family or friends are less available or accessible – and they definitely let you know!  I’ve received comments from family or friends (mostly good natured) about how slow I am to get back to people  It is true – I’m only getting back to them once the kids are in bed, or at my lunch at work.  I respond most often hours after they texted me.

But on the other side, it’s lovely.

With two toddlers underfoot, I don’t have a lot of time to engage in a conversation and I did feel uncomfortable texting entire conversations with the back of my phone to their faces.

Ultimately, you have to decide on your own comfort level and look at your own values and preferences. There is no right or wrong approach, only what works for you.

But the experience is so mixed in my mind. There are also genuinely useful and educational apps, and social media can be designed to work for your life goals, rather than just show you others lives in process (and the highlight reel at that.)

Yes, I spent a lot of time on Facebook and IG,  but for the most part they are carefully curated to reflect people, groups, causes that stand for the life I am working towards (I’ll do another post on that.) That being said though, a lot of crap seeps through based on sponsored posts and data mining, I am of course, a 30-something mother so you can guess the content that gets pushed my way.

AND I still of the strong opinion that hard working mamas of all types DEFINITELY deserve true downtime where they don’t have to learn, don’t have to be ‘on’ for everyone, and can just entertain themselves.  I don’t watch any particular show on TV so I felt a bit of resentment working on removing the social media to the extent that I did.  I’ve reintroduced it but now limit it to specific times of the day.

I feel really good overall, about not using my phone half as much as I did around my kids, and plan on keeping it that way, “bad communicator” joking aside –  but I fully, admittedly enjoy the downtime and will continue to enjoy my phone as a nice break and will scroll the shit out of my social media and continue to use the phone as my quick downtime moment. I don’t regret going through the process – it was fascinating and helpful having to find other ways to occupy “break time” for a few weeks there.  It made me realize that it is far too easy to lose perspective and forget that breaks take on many forms and there is life outside of the iPhone.  I’ve tried to continue many of those breaks, which are iphone-free and now incorporate them as part of a more balanced “break diet,” so to speak.

I’ve love to hear what your perspectives are. Remember, there are no rights or wrongs, only our perspectives which are shaped by our greatly varied history, culture, families, experiences, values and backgrounds.

 

 

The Passion Planner is one of the Greatest Time Management Products I’ve Seen for Busy Moms.

The other day, a student in my office introduced me to the Passion Planner.  She seemed surprised that I did not know what it was (luckily my students keep me up to date with the times!)   I AM SURPRISED I did not know about it!

The moment she pulled a beautifully inscribed journal out of her bag, I knew it would be right up my alley. I am a huge proponent of analog methods of time management (not to replace, but to complement digital methods.) However, I did not know how many great things were inside the pages until she showed me.

The passion planner is a fantastic combination of two important components of time management: It has a tactical component (day to day execution pages – with weekly and monthly calendars, personal & professional to do lists)

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And a strategic component.  There are pages for passion roadmaps and concept charts for 1, 3 and 5-year plans incorporating SMART goal setting principles.  Tips abound and plenty of space for creative brainstorming.

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Smart time managers are also adept at another practice:  They reflect.  The passion planner also allows for that, with a monthly reflection at the end of each month with prompt questions.  The monthly reflection has you think about whether you stayed true to your priorities, how to improve, what successes you had and where you feel gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. It is a nice balance between celebrating success and identifying areas of improvement.

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If you have a journalling or time management enthusiast in your life, this is perhaps the best Christmas gift you can get them, ever, along with a set of fantastic coloured pens 😉 Especially for those returning to work from mat leave, or setting a new year and new priorities for what they want to get out of their maternity leave – or out of their busy lives which include motherhood.  The sacred space to plan, reflect and assess is one that we are all too often missing in the busy days of motherhood, and is perhaps one of the most beneficial gifts we can give to a mother 🙂

http://www.passionplanner.com/

I have mine already on order & can’t wait to show you what I do with it!

 

 

How to Have a Great Maternity Leave: Add this Approach to your Time Management.

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Time management. It’s a word that fascinates me. I study it. I present on it. I coach clients and students in this topic extensively. It is one of the most frequent requests that I get.

When we want to improve ourselves – either professionally or personally, the first place many of us go, is google. A close second is people we look up to or trust.

We open the laptop. We google, and then we search. Scrolling down the page, we select the links that stand out, delve in and read the practices, the tips, the tricks and the life hacks. Then, we go back to work with the best intentions, but quickly settle back into the same routines, the same habits and a sense that simply acquiring knowledge is notall there is to this puzzle of how to effectively manage our time.

Time passes, whether we use it or not.   We are so, so acutely aware of this as our babies grow before our eyes and their faces change in a DAY!  A DAY!

We are hyper-aware of this, aren’t we? Here I am writing this article. Here you are, reading this article. We care about how we use our time, and we want to use it better.

It turns out that time management is deliciously complex, and a perpetual balancing act. Any outstanding time manager knows it is an incredibly dynamic area of their lives with ever-changing needs. I’d be worried for a client if they weren’t having to juggle their lives. If they weren’t struggling. To struggle with time management is to engage with it. The people who say that they are constantly working to manage their time? I want to hear that. They are actively avoiding becoming entrenched in a routine. They are engaging with changes in their daily lives. They are moving forward with intention and avoiding becoming stuck. Struggling with time management means growth. Perhaps that is why it is such an enjoyable and ever-rewarding topic to dive into as a coach.

IT IS NORMAL to say you are struggling to balance your schedule because when you tell me you are struggling, it means you are working at it.  Remember that 🙂

There will actually never be a point in your life where everything is running smoothly.  Unexpected variables will come in – call from Daycare for a sick kid. Mega project at work and an injury at the same time. But there is a point in your life you can get to, and that is the ability to not stress when things aren’t running smoothly, to just embrace the bumps and not let it throw you off.  When you see “not normal” as “normal.”

 

Are you the general, or the soldier?

I could direct you to the time management matrix by Stephen Covey, or print out a nice Monday to Sunday schedule and have you analyze your day-to-day existence. Perhaps I could coach you on the way you conceive of time and your mindset around time.  You don’t need that. You already have had an advanced course in time, because you had a baby.  Time compressed, duties increased and you found yourself re-thinking all of your old routines , which got thrown out with the first diaper.

There is an important skill that these people  – these amazing mamas have – with mad schedules – BUT the calmness and presence and peace of mind that we all envy.  This is a skill that is not discussed as often as other time management practices:

This skill is the the ability to fluidly work at two different levels. The ability to operate at a strategic level (think of a Army General doing the goal setting, planning, assessments) and the ability to operate at a tactical level (think of a Soldier carrying out the work, boots on the ground.) You’re going to have to bear with me using military analogies, but I think we all have the gist of what each role involves.

The strategic level of time management is about consistently having the overarching goals and objectives nearby as the plan is made. A strategic time manager defines and understands priorities, can anticipate influencing factors, incorporate changes in those factors, and decide where, when and why to apply their efforts. They don’t lose site of their goal and are anchored. A strategic time manager takes the time to analyze and assess how things went, and looks at the execution of that plan (the tactical level.)

It is absolutley critical to set yourself a few goals, or things you want to get out of the maternity leave experience.  For my first born, it was learning about motherhood and choosing which parts I wanted to embrace, and other parts where I needed to define my own style.  And  embracing it (because I hated the idea of motherhood before I got pregnant.) A key theme was also slowing down. For my second born, it was about integration of motherhood with my professional goals and testing out balancing the twos.  Mental health improvement was also a big goal during my second maternity leave.

The tactical level of time management is about grounding oneself in the overall strategy, and then deciding exactly how to execute that strategy in real life. Tactics are the way that we actually achieve our goal in real, day-to-day life. In my opinion, the bulk of time management resources lie here. For a mother this may be, how do I manage the crushing fatigue, how to get some sleep in to gain some energy for other tasks.  Meal prep, scheduling some solo time, team work with husband and family, sharing a family iCal, and so on.

The weeks expand into months all too quickly. Do we take the time each week to circle back, think about the previous week, and the next week – do we carve out that 20 minutes? What does our execution look like? Did our week wind up being in line with our goals? What did we say yes and no to? Did we take new things on?   How many of those goals do we accomplish and how do we get them done? Were they done in a sustainable way and at a pace that we can keep up with over many months?

A strategic planner will ask these questions.  But a strategic planner will schedule this time into their day and protect it, as well. Outside of the work world, the best time managers I know are ones who get up before everyone else in the family – or take some alone time – in order to have some strategic planning time. They are also adept at dealing with unexpected events or variables because they have practiced thinking at the strategic level.  Those unflappable Moms who just get to work when all of a sudden their kid breaks a leg and they are trying to manage a baby at the same time but seem to make it to the hospital and deal with it all okay and with a good attitude.  You know those moms.

Months turn into seasons, and with this longer view, we are able to see which area we are dominant in, and how this has influenced our daily lives.

Productivity is great! Do more! Be more! There is a strong drive to be an excellent tactical executor. There is an INTENSE pressure in the Mom world to live in the execution world.  Diaper feed satisfy the baby satisfy the family do more be more do it faster.

And the thing is, we are creatures of habit, our brains want us to get into a routine so that it can automate some of its tasks. The danger here is that in this style of time management, this leads to the situation where we wake up one day and think wow, I am really overwhelmed, I’ve taken too much on, and I am feeling a bit out of control. My goal for you with this article is for you to think about how much time you live in the strategic time management world versus the tactical time management world. I want you to gain some awareness.

What does it mean to make good use of strategic planning? To use an analogy, these people are firmly anchored with their boat and know everything about the environment (including weather) around them, but their sails are not catching the wind. They’re not actually moving forward, despite knowing what they need to do. They’re so busy planning and studying the environment they forgot to put the sails up.

Some mamas are dominant in tactical execution.  I would argue this is the most common theme with mothers.  They are productive machines and there is powerful momentum in this approach. Efficient, fast, they don’t think past what has to be done right now and take on more.  But a departure from strategy means that these hard workers can (and do) take on extra tasks that result in loss of identity & fulfillment – away from the objectives and priorities set out in the role, in the sake of boots on the ground / get work done.

Living in a purely tactical time management world is, in a sense, to lose some power and control in ones daily life. Where all of a sudden you realize “I haven’t had a single evening to myself in three months, wtf.”  or “Wow, I am running on empty at this point and coffee and wine are literally helping me survive it.”

A purely tactical sailor, to go back to our analogy, has lost their anchor and are moving at a fast clip, with wind full force in their sails – however, they are so busy managing the full sails, that they don’t have time to assess, plan and reflect on the environment they are entering. They’re moving so fast in their day, that they cannot look up and are heading for bad weather – and when that bad weather comes, they are so busy managing their sails that they cannot adjust – CRISIS! A tactical time manager will experience a shakeup – perhaps the kids are home from daycare because they are sick – or a project has hit a road bump – and say, and I quote this: “I JUST DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS RIGHT NOW!”

With these analogies, you now have a feel for what it means to be a strategic thinker or a tactical executor. The most effective time managers get things done – yes – but they also know when to take a moment – to request from their husband or boss, to carve out space in their day and PROTECT that space in their day – so that they have a sacred space to plan, reflect and set their goals and intentions.

What do you truly want to make a priority in your life? What do you want to say yes to, and what do you need to say no to?  What does a week or a maternity leave, even,  look like with sound strategic thinking? Hindsight and foresight? Clear priorities and goals?

The most effective time managers are able to dance with strategic and tactical approaches, never losing sight of either one. It’s a fluid dance, sometimes we must put our heads down and go tactical, and survive it (with above mentioned coffee and wine) but when there is time to take a breath, we retreat inside ourselves to the strategic and find our anchor. And if there is no time to do so? Ask yourself why this happened.  Why didn’t you make space for this important part in your life. Were you caught up in the day to day?

To work at the strategic and tactical level in time management gives us the awareness and knowledge to clearly and effectively say “yes,” “no,” or “let’s renegotiate this” in our day to day lives.  If you struggle with setting boundaries, saying yes or no clearly, perhaps this is the right article for you. As a mama, life (and our families) will always be banging on our doors, and when they do, our answers need to be given with clarity, courage, confidence and the knowledge that, as Stephen Covey says, there is a “big yes” burning inside.

For further reading and inspiration around the “bigger yes,” you may want to read this fantastic article by Derek Sivers.

 

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