Preschool options: Peace or Grace?

I wrote this post in June, as I was trying to figure out our preschool options. Yet, since it’s Teagan’s first week at preschool, it feels very timely to share.

I choose to balance the best of both worlds, and enroll Teagan at Peace Learning Center on Mondays/Tuesdays and Grace Preschool on Wednesday-Friday. She was thrilled to back at Peace (no tears like last fall!). She had a fantastic first two days at Grace. She seems delighted to have different friends, teachers, and classroom environments. I was surprised that she had memorized the new Grace song after just two days! So, I think we’ve found an ideal balance for us both:

I’m once again at that place of weighing my child care options. In my ten years of mamahood, child care always been the most critical question. I’ve written before about Eco-Healthy Child Care, Child Care & Illness, and paying a “Second Mortgage” aka Child Care, so this is just another phase…for me.

I’m not at the fretful new Mama stage, unsure of what to expect (I was a mess when I had a week to first care for Kieran at four months old), but I don’t take the question lightly. A child’s formative years are essential. I feel like there are three important questions you need to ask at each stage/transition (my answers have been different for each child too):

  1. Where will my child thrive? Teagan is very social and needs time with friends. (She begged to go to preschool during the summer when we were home!)
  2. How much care do I need support my career and keep my life in balance? I feel like five hours a day is my bare minimum. Any extra time really ends up getting spent going to yoga, lunches with hubby or taking care of household needs.
  3. What’s the cost/benefit/balance both in the short and long term? Since the fall, I’ve basically been paying for full time child care, even though I’m not earning a real income. While the time has allowed me to invest in my businesses, the lower rate for fewer hours could pay off.

I only ever “stayed home” with Kieran from when he was a year to 18 months (I wasn’t planning this, but was between city jobs). Yet, once my kids were past about the age of 18 months, I felt like I couldn’t give them all of their social needs and they really needed regular social interaction with other kids (even if it was parallel play).

If I’m honest, I’ve always been too committed to my own career/growth to be able to focus 100% on my children, in a traditional stay-at-home role. I’ve wanted, and almost needed, space to myself. Plus, thankfully, my kids are all very social and have always loved going to child care/school. During the summer we get bored with each other, and they need everything scheduled to feel like they know what’s in store (that’s why moving last year was so hard, with so much out of my control and living in limbo).

I’ve always worked a significant chunk of time just to pay for childcare, and with Teagan, I’ve spent far more on childcare than I’ve actually earned (I’ve only been able to afford this because of the passive income we get from owning a post office). I still feel like most of that time/care has been worth my while, and is an investment in my own professional growth, even though I haven’t earned it yet.

Yes, I do pay for care so that I can go to yoga classes, Rotary meetings, coffee with friends and lunches with people I want to network with. Being able to afford child care has been part of my “Yippie Chick” lifestyle. I don’t want to apologize for it.

As I’ve toiled with this question so many times before, it comes down to how much time I need to myself and how productive I can be with that time.

We’ve had our youngest daughter, Teagan at Peace Learning Center since this past fall. When we moved to Astoria it was one of the first things I researched. Overall, we’ve been very happy with Peace Learning Center (See my Google Local Guide Review).

Now back to my decision at hand…With my older kids ending school, and needing to care for them full time and travel quite a bit over the summer, it only made sense for us to withdraw Teagan for the summer.

So, that leaves me questioning what to do come fall. Since she’s turning three soon, Teagan will be old enough to attend Grace Episcopal Preschool at our family’s church. It’s a Montessori-based program taught by two women who have been teaching together for thirty years. They have a fantastic reputation and it’s a beautiful play space.

The only hitch is that they only offer child care from 8:30 to 11:30. Barely three hours.

Between nanny care and now Peace, I’ve grown used to having care almost all day and I’m just not sure whether I can get everything I need done in three short hours. My “work day” this past year has been from 7:30-8:30 to about 3:30. The big question is whether Teagan will continue napping, giving me up to five hours of time to work daily. Like this post, I can still write on most evenings after the kids are in bed (on nights when I’m not too exhausted myself). Plus, I think I’ll learn from her and enjoy our time spent on household projects and creative play.

In the end, it feels like I would regret not sending Teagan to Grace. Plus, now that Teagan is growing up, there are lots of tasks that we can actually do together and she’s much more apt to play by herself with some attention interspersed. Plus, she is such sweet company.

Peace,

Darcy

teagan-cronin-peace-learning-center-june-2016

Life is Better with Teagan

I’m at home reflecting about life with my incredible daughter, Teagan Brenna Cronin, on her third birthday, while Teagan plays and snacks at soccer practice with Daddy and Bubby. Today feels like a very special day indeed, like every day with Teagan.

Michael Franti’s “Life is Better with You” had just been released before Teagan was born. We would crank the family stereo whenever it was played, inspiring an impromptu Cronin Clan dance party.

The song became an family anthem for us, even for Hubby, who doesn’t typically share my passion for lyrically moving social justice melodies by hot tattooed artists. 😉 It probably had something to do with the flowing hormones and engorged breasts, or the fact that we knew that she would be our last born.

When Teagan was born, we experienced a babymoon like no other. Kevin took four weeks of paternity leave, and we hadn’t taken the time to connect at that level since we first dated, if ever. Serendipitously, Makenna began pre-k the very morning after Teagan was born (at 11:08 the night before), as Kieran began second grade. So, Hubby would drop the big kids off at school and we would go out on daylong dates to restaurants in the Pearl and hikes in the Columbia Gorge, complete with autumn sunshine on Edgefield’s patio. Some days we’d work the garden and putter on home projects, all while cooing at Teagan. We visited with friends and entertained family, all while basking in our “little miracle baby.” She literally only woke up every 4-5 hours to nurse and then went back to sleep, just like a dream. There was a sweetness that’s hard to describe, especially after Teagan’s extraordinary birth story.

Extraordinary is probably the best word to describe Teagan. She feels like a gift every day. I diligently work to stay present with her, not wanting to miss an opportunity to connect with her.

Teagan absolutely feels like the best thing that could have ever happened for our family and for the planet. She is the definition of riotously funny, radiantly adorable, and creatively clever. Her demeanor exudes the sweetest self confidence you could ever imagine, with an innocence that makes you want to cuddle her even closer. Teagan hugs like a koala bear and her eyes pierce you like the sky. Her curls bounce wherever she goes, and her voice sounds like a small song bird chirping away.

Teagan is my miracle girl, who truly wanted to be born into this world at this pivotal point in time. She is my life’s greatest joy and blessing, more than I could have ever prayed for. Yet, better than my immense personal gain, is how Teagan lights up nearly every person she encounters and makes them feel good to be alive.

As for parenting, I can only say that she brings out the best in me. While I still have my stresses, parenting Teagan has always been easy (as long as I follow my own 3 parenting tips!) Even her rare moments of pain and suffering are filled with a sense of duty to share compassion, which just leaves you feeling of service when the episode is over. It certainly isn’t a bad gig being Teagan’s Mommy, strangers continually coo over her petite angelic features and constantly call her my mini-me, which feels like the highest compliment.

I can only speak for myself, but I’ve got a hunch that everyone else in her young life feels the same, that life is better with Teagan. Michael Franti’s “Life is Better With You” music video feels extra inspiring on Teagan’s birthday. I definitely need to film her dancing to the song very soon.

I know that our culture has made birthdays to be a celebration centered around the child and not their mother(s), but it’s hard for me to separate my own life’s transformation from Teagan. Everything in my life has changed for the better since Teagan was born. No, every day hasn’t been blooming roses, but there’s no doubt that every day has been made better by Teagan’s presence. She brings you into the moment in the most captivating way, as though she’s only asking for your undivided attention.

Yet, contrary to what some may find acceptable, I have intentionally chosen not to be Teagan full-time. I’ve actually had her in some form of care since she was fourteen months. Initially, she was cared for during the school hours by our shared nanny, Kensey. My Twin Sis, Miel had moved to Portland with her infant son, Clark, Teagan’s cousin, who was “ovulated” when Teagan was born. They all became the closest of friends, and Kensey cared for them both with her undivided attention, entertaining and educating them. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not nearly as much fun as Kensey through Teagan’s eyes; I don’t make elephant noises or play outside for hours, while strumming the guitar. We were truly one big happy family, in a modern-yippie-family sort of way. 🙂

After moving to Astoria, we enrolled at Peace Learning Center, and she thrived in their caring classroom and has genuinely missed the peer social time over the summer (even though she’s also loved playing with her siblings, cousins, and traveling). Having child care for Teagan gave me the personal space that I needed to learn from my fledgling businesses, discover my mama bliss, and craft a vision for our future. It’s only now, writing this, how I see that it was all part of a higher plan. I simply needed three years of life with Teagan in order to be able to share my wisdom with the world.

Teagan, you are an integral part of my life’s purpose. You are more than a daughter, you are my soul mate. In three short years you’ve helped me learn to live life to the fullest, with presence and pure joy. As hard as it is to see you grow up, I can hardly wait for you to shine your light in this world. (In the past few weeks Teagan has decided that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up, to help kids. I have no doubt that she will do whatever she puts her mind to.

Thank you, Teagan, for three beautiful blessed years. Even though you won’t remember these early years, I will always remember when you were my precious baby doll, only better.

Love, Peace and Laughter,
Teagan’s Mommy

Teagan and I at her first Michael Franti concert at 10 months.
This was truly one of my most blissful experiences ever, especially the yoga before the concert, where she was an angel.  Teagan fell asleep in her baby sling and Michael Franti even patted her bottom as he crowd surfed. 🙂
(She’s even got the best feminist shirt ever: Life is better with boobs!!!)

Music that inspires our family values

Music and inspiring songs have become one of our key family values. For a while now I’ve been wanting to share songs that I sing to/with my kids that inspire us.

Like most Mamas, I started out singing lullabies, and still do to my two year old. But now that my oldest is almost ten, we listen to uplifting pop music. I love both equally, and it’s amazing to see the comfort and joy that come over my children when they hear a familiar tune.

As a parent, it makes for a great incentive to get my three children to help out on chores or do their homework, and gives us a quick bonding break together.

Imagine Dragon’s I’m On Top of The World is one of our favorites. On top of having great lyrics, the video is brilliant and very kid friendly. I love all the historical references, and it feels like every frame was well thought out. Plus, I can only how much fun it must have been to film it.

Do your kids love this song/video? What songs inspire your family?

Happy Sunday!

Darcy

Our Most Anti-Climactic Date Night Ever

Over the weekend we had our most anti-climactic date night ever, but instead enjoyed a cozy night.

My Dad was in town to pick up my mom from a trip, so we felt like we needed to take advantage of the opportunity. So, we enjoyed an early BBQ dinner, got Teagan to sleep by seven, slipped the Jungle Book on for the kiddos, and ducked out the door in time to catch a movie. We had thirty minutes to get across town to the Academy Theater, and we didn’t feel rushed. But a just a couple blocks from our house we got stuck in traffic with a malfunctioning traffic light. It took twenty minutes to get through the intersection and by the time we were through, we felt like turning around and going home. Instead we drove on continuing to discuss our back up options. Since we had just eaten, food didn’t sound appealing. We almost always game to check out a new brewery, but since we had enjoyed an early happy hour on Friday (which was in fact a great date night…just from 3:30 to 5). I suddenly realized that my lips were chapped from too much sun and I still had on my capris yoga pants. Then exhaustion hit, as it often does just after the kids go to bed, and all I wanted was to be at home.

In the end, we did turn around and head home to watch an episode of Mad Men. The only difference than a typical Saturday evening was that I had busted out a box of Reese’s Pieces from my Christmas stocking that I had been planning to sneak it into the theater. After watching Don and Peggy slow dance, we turned off the lights by 8:30.

So, I guess the moral of the story is that I’m done with putting “date night” on a pedestal. We used to only go out every six months or so. Now we take every chance we can, trading with my sister, having the neighbor come over for a few hours, meeting during the day for lunch, whatever it takes to get out together. Getting out more often takes the pressure off of making it a perfect night…so what if our night didn’t match our expectations?

Here are a few “date night” ideas that might not even require a sitter:

  • Binge watch Mad Men on Netflix (or House of Cards)
  • Build a fire in the back yard
  • Play Scrabble at breakfast
  • Do a “double date” and invite another family over something easy like take out
  • Befriend a neighbor who is happy to “watch” your kids sleep
  • Do a babysitting trade once the kids are asleep…the only trick is staying up past 8 yourself

What non-date night strategies do you use?

Darcy

“Proof” that Simplicity Parenting works

My Elsa (Makenna), Flower Fairy (Teagan), and Harry Potter (Kieran) at Halloween.

My Elsa (Makenna), Flower Fairy (Teagan), and Harry Potter (Kieran) at Halloween.

I’ve had a much harder time writing about my kids on this blog than I thought I would, partly because its more personal. But also because I don’t want this be seen a “brag blog” and I certainly don’t want to perpetuate the vicious cycle of us moms comparing ourselves to other moms. Heaven knows that comparing doesn’t help anyone.

And, yet, I feel in my heart that in my attempt to parent wholeheartedly and institute simplicity into our lives that my family has brought many “successes” along the way. Sometimes the incremental progress can feel like two steps forward and one step back, but it’s still progress. I can feel it in myself and see it in my kids, and this last year has been one of profound growth for us (although, we are naturally still learning…with Kieran dropping the F-Bomb in class just last week…Makenna stealing Kieran’s cash…Teagan biting my nipple and signing “pain”…and me often wanting more self-care than I have left to give myself…there’s always room for growth).

Even with our progress, I’ve felt challenged in my attempt to “position myself as a parenting expert,” mostly because I don’t believe there’s such a thing. But my Mama Bliss Teacher/Coach, Ms Kathy, helped me put it in perspective, “Darcy, as my Grandmother always said ‘the proof is in the pudding’ and your kids are proof plenty!” And I feel graced by people often noticing and complimenting me on my kids’ behavior (although my trick is training them to be angels in public…alas, they’re never quite so poised at home…)

With that said, I’m finally ready to get past my own self-consciousness (and fear of nasty comments) to share my well-earned bragging rights. I want to share my family’s experiences in the hope that our mini-successes can help you on your parenting journey. I don’t expect that all of my “tips” will work for your family, but hopefully they’ll at least get you thinking more consciously about what approach could work for you.

I’ve got several stories/experiences in mind already, like how to make pool trips fun for everyone, why snuggie time is worth getting up early, and the joy of playing with each other.

Leave a comment if you want “proof” in a particular parenting realm.

Darcy

Secrets of Happy Families: What’s Working & Not Working

Secrets-of-happy-familiesI’ve wanted to share about the Secrets of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler, ever since I read it during my final trimester with Teagan. I had high hopes that it’s secrets would ease our family expansion, and I’m happy to report that it’s working! 

Feiler’s ingenious book is a series of case studies that matches common family dilemmas with case studies from real world experts. For example, he talks with sex therapists about how to give “The Talk” (or rather a lifelong series of conversations…). He also suggests a modern spin to some family traditions, like having your family meal be breakfast instead of dinner (since the point is spending time together). I wholeheartedly agree with his notion that resilient kids know about their family history, and have a role in creating their current family culture.

While there were plenty of valid approaches, some of which I already use, the one that really resonated with me at the time was the idea of having a weekly family meeting. As a busy working mama, I found that some weeks simply slipped by too fast and that many “teachable moments” got lost in the flurry of family life. Plus, I simply wanted to be intentional about our parenting and create more peace in our family.

The idea is simple, set up a consistent time when all family members are given the chance to present and discuss issues. The basic structure is that everyone shares two things: What’s Working and What’s NOT Working. Plus asking how can we work together to resolve issues (or keep the good stuff coming!)?

When I first presented the idea, I honestly got the same push back that Bruce Feiler got with his own family. Kevin laughed about being required to attend yet another meeting (since half of his work is spent attending meetings). Kieran laughed off the idea together with Dad, and then four year old Makenna probably said something like “What’s working is snuggie time and what’s not working is brother kicking me.”

Yet, despite the initial resistance, I continued to bring up the discussion points each Sunday at the end of dinner. After about a month, it became something we all expected and a year later I have little doubt that we will continue this tradition until we have an empty nest, and perhaps beyond. For me the crux of these conversations is about creating a space for democratic dialogue.

As parents there’s a lot of pressure on us to figure everything out, but our kids ought to take ownership as well. We’ve seen a ton of growth in our kids over the past year, and it feels like we’ve given them space to step up their responsibility. We can also share our gratitude, and I find myself sharing both positive and negative feelings that I didn’t seem to have the same space to share previously.

Our meetings have also become an opportunity for Kevin and I to acknowledge that we’re learning along with our kids and that we make mistakes too. Now if we’ve argued about something earlier in the week, we have a chance to debrief as a family and talk about the situation in a defused setting. The kids clearly appreciate this, as well as the kuddos we dole out for the things that are “working.”

Sometimes the highlights may be pretty superficial, but even the silly ones give us insight into what each value and how we impact each other. Occasionally we’ve had a family member take a pass (mostly because they were in agreement with others), but one of the best times was one week when I couldn’t think of anything that “wasn’t working.” This past week we all agreed that the older kids haven’t been fighting barely at all (maybe because is so tired from Kindergarten…), even as we experienced our first toddler bites from Teagan.

Even major frustrations now feel different since we have a system in place for our family to work through our issues together. We all trust that we’ll at least have a chance to say our peace. And that has brought us all more peace. The last part of the meeting is discussing “What will we agree to work on in the week ahead?” For us we do this more organically based on how we can learn from and change the situation.

After a year of family meetings, they’ve also shown us how much our family is evolving. Nothing is static. Everything can change in a week.  Yet, by consistently having family meetings, we’re able to grow more efficiently together. We are each unique people, but we are one family. I can only imagine what our family meetings will be like once Teagan starts talking…

Do you hold family meetings?

What insights/secrets have you discovered?

Darcy

Creating a Family Values Crest

Cronin Family Crest

Cronin Family Crest

One of the things that has drawn me to coaching is my desire to find and express our unique family values, and now to share that process with other mamas. Every family has values, whether they are conscious of them or not. But families who are aware of their values and actively find ways to to express them through work and play are the families who are going to just survive, but truly thrive.

That’s why I LOVE that Values is the “third pillar” of Mama Bliss Coaching.

Values are light a beacon in the fog. They get you through the sibling squabbles, going the wrong way down a one-way street, or somehow missing a new child on your tax return (all of which happened for us yesterday, thankfully our accountant was still able to make the fix and the policemen was busy pulling over a cab!). Values help steer you back on course and remind you of what really matters.

One way to symbolize your family values is by creating a family crest, as I did for my website banner. Aside from paying homage to our Irish/Welsh/Scottish/British ancestry, our self-created coat of arms gives a visual representation our family values.

  • The blossoms on the top left hand show how we are all blooming in our own time. Sometimes its hard to keep in mind that we each have our own stages of growth. Teagan is just learning to crawl, while I am discovering what it takes to be a successful work-at-home mom. Our family’s job is to create the right conditions to help us each grow and develop. I.e. it’s time to baby proof!

  • The waves with sun and moon are symbolic of both our love of the ocean and the need to remain flexible as we ebb and flow toward our higher goals and values. Going with the flow is the most efficient path. Plus, we are real water lovers!

  • The five outstretched hands was my best way representing teamwork. Like all families, we are learning to be a team. We need to work together in order to play together.

  • The tree with shovel reminds me of our desire to give back to our community through volunteer service. Giving back is really important to Kevin and I, and one of the values that brought us together. Kevin served two terms as in Americorps and I’m an active Rotary International member. The kids often attend Portland Pearl Rotary meetings with me, and know way more about local/international causes than your average 8 and 5 year old (I just stopped taking Teagan with me, but she had near perfect attendance for the past eight months!). We did a Village Building Convergence street painting in our neighborhood last year, and are planning for one again next month. They love learning about causes and connecting as a community in the process.

The nice thing about a basic family crest is that it’s simple by design. I’m learning some great coaching methods to find your family values, but the gist is to whittle what you care about down to just four areas and find a way to symbolize each area. You could do it in a crayon drawing, crafty collage or even a purple pen like I did for my first design (My talented friend and former co-worker is due full credit for my lovely and playfully designed family crest…thanks Sarah!). Ideally it would be great to get your partner and kids involved in the process, but in my case I ended up doing it solo. Hubby and I may be aligned in values, but he finds my creative side far too left-brained. Plus, I was a little afraid that it might include lipgloss and Legos if I included the kids in the process. 😉

Have you created a family crest?

I’d love to see more examples on my new Pinterest Board on Creating Family Crests

Darcy

@DarcysUtopia – Coaching to create your ideal family life.

An Ode to Hubby

Big Island Bliss...sans kids, except Teagan in my tummy.

Big Island Bliss…sans kids, except Teagan in my tummy.

I’ve never written at length about my Hubby, but he truly deserves more credit than being mentioned in passing. It’s mostly to respect his sense of privacy. Yet, tonight I feel compelled to reflect and share.

First, I’ll share our “how we met story”… I was in my last year of college, and he was in graduate school at the U of O. I had volunteered for the Sustainable Business Symposium, and was charged with being the Volunteer Coordinator…he was one of the volunteers. We connected at the volunteer appreciation event, held at Cosmic Pizza. After seeing me swing dance with another guy, he came up with one of the best pick up lines I had ever heard, asking me if I gave dance lessons. I was a bit perplexed since the night before I had registered for ballroom dance lessons, but it only took me a moment to realize that he was hitting on me.

Despite our approaching finals, we both suddenly found time in our otherwise busy lives. In six months we were moving in together in a tiny three-bay garage unit on Ladd’s Addition Circle in SE Portland. Our place was so small that I figured we could live anywhere if we could thrive there. Looking back, we were indeed a carefree couple. Sure there were new jobs and responsibilities, but we spent some Sundays just reading the paper, biking and playing Frisbee. Hubby-to-be played his cards well, wooing me with his domestic partnership skills (we were diligent about alternating dinner/dish duties).

Kevin also passed three other tests on his way to becoming Hubby. Before we met, after my first Danish Love, I made a commitment to myself that I needed three basic conditions before getting married:

  1. We had to live together for a year (we lived together for two years)
  2. We had to travel abroad together (we met in London and traveled to Wales and Ireland together)
  3. I had to be at least 25 (my birthday was two months before our wedding)

And I am so ever grateful that he “passed my tests.” After eleven years of marriage, it feels like we’ve moved past the growing pains of a new relationship, and have become stronger for it.

We’ve supported each other in pursuing our Master’s degrees, and in the commitments required of being public servant professionals (more night meetings than I care to count). Becoming parents together was another steep learning curve, with him following my lead almost entirely in the early months and gradually asserting himself as Dad with a capital D.

In case I haven’t made it very clear, Kevin is a stellar Daddy. While I don’t think parenting partners can ever truly be 50/50, he does more than his fair share (of everything but cloth diapers). We alternate bedtime duties religiously, and he makes one-on-one play time a priority. He folds laundry almost nightly, leads up family chores and deep cleaning, and cooks all day nearly every Sunday. He coaches baseball in the spring and soccer in the fall, and simply loves coaching kids. Even though he works long hours, he’s a very hands on Dad.

Lest I portray only his public image, Kevin does admittedly have challenges with his O.C.D. tendencies. He wants/needs the house to be nearly immaculate (not that it always is by any stretch, but it doesn’t take much to set him off, so we’ve all learned to make a valiant effort to clean up before Dad comes home to make for a more peaceful evening). Truly, our family needs simplicity in order to function positively. Partly linked to these triggers, patience is the skill that he’s most needed to learn as a parent. He also wrestles with the kids too rough/much for my liking. They love it though, and it’s somehow how they relate. But to his credit, he/we are learning to identify situations before they escalate and simply communicate more effectively. Plus, we know each other so well that we often anticipate each other needs before we see it for ourselves.

While he was initially reluctant about having a third child, he’s fallen madly in love with our Sweetie. Somehow by grace, bringing another child into the world has brought us closer together than I think either of us expected. In some ways it feels like practice makes perfect, and I do know that our experience and the nice age spread makes all the difference. I also know that my career shift has also benefited our marriage, even if we don’t have a budget for expensive date nights.

The truth is that making time as a couple is part of our success, that and being good business partners. One of the best things we’ve ever done was our anniversary trip to Hawai’i last winter for our 10 year anniversary. It was soooo relaxing to have time purely to ourselves. If I could wave a magic wand, I would plan a getaway from the kids for a week every year…need to find a cheaper alternative this year though.

I don’t think either of us have ever seriously considered the “d” word, although parenting in the early years test our ability to communicate compassionately (sadly, I think sleep deprivation must be a leading cause of divorce…so my one tip is to the sleep in different beds if that’s what it takes to get real sleep, but don’t go too long without snuggling). When Girly was a babe, I remember reading the tongue-in-cheek book, I’d Trade My Husband for a HousekeeperIt hit home on so many levels, as frustration simmered with our relationship put on the back burner. In case you happen to be going through a rough patch, these tips for being married with children completely resonate with me.

Thankfully, we’ve managed to get through the woods of our first decade of marriage unscathed. Our sex life may have been barely status quo at times, but somehow we kept a spark alive. Even when it felt like we could barely finish a conversation over a few days worth of interruptions, we grew together and eventually learned how to communicate with each other more effectively.

Yet, I know in my heart that there’s one reason I love Kevin the most: I love the family values we are creating together. We both care deeply about the environment and getting out in nature as much as possible…we eagerly plan our family camping trips and dream of the same National Park vacations. We both care about education, for ourselves and our children…never wanting to stop learning. We both get excited about the same local policy/politics issues, and want to be a part of making Portland an even better place. We both care about our friends and family and are loyal and generous.

I can honestly say that our relationship keeps getting just better and better. I feel sooooo exceptionally blessed to have such a life partner.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You my Hubby!

Kevin, Darcy & Teagan

Photo by Deena Hofstad…click for family photo shoot

My Top 3 Parenting Tips

In my new “career” as a so-called stay-at-home-mom and Simplicity Parenting Coach, a lot of people have asked me for my best parenting tips (including, The Oregonian’s OMamas). I’m always reluctant to answer. It’s not because I don’t have a wealth of personal experience after eight years of trial by fire. I just don’t think that the bulk of my “tips” apply to anyone but myself and how I manage my own unique family. Even my upcoming workshops are geared to be a community discussion and personal inquiry rather than me lecturing anyone.

That said, I want to reflect and share the 3 parenting tips that truly matter to me:

1) Be Present.

Whether you are savoring snuggles with a newborn or in the midst of a toddler tantrum, the key is being present. While I tried to practice mindfulness as often as possible before becoming a mother, being a mom catalyzed my need and desire for mindfulness. I’m reminded practically every moment of the higher purpose I’m here to serve…or the nose I need to wipe.

Being present has been my approach to helping my children learn how to sleep. Even when I’ve been exhausted and sleep deprived, focusing on my breath when put my babes/kiddos to bed has made all the difference. I start off our bedtime reading rhythm by taking several deep breaths to slow us down and transition from getting ready for bed to actually sleeping. It depends on the book, but I often try to take a long breath between each page, taking the time to articulate each word. And when I sing them to sleep, I take more long breaths between verses. The road to a full night’s sleep has been a long one (still ongoing with my newborn getting the swing of things), but I am certain that my presence and patience has given them the space to find the peace to rest.

On a side note, my nearly five-year old daughter fell asleep on her own for years, but since we transitioned to bunk beds two years ago, she has struggled on and off. She became used to sleeping with her brother and now that he wants his own top bunk on most nights, she’s become a high maintenance get-to-sleeper. For the last while I’ve been reading a book of my own with a flashlight next to her while she falls asleep snugged up next to me. It’s become my way of being present to what she needs in the moment…sometimes compromise is part of being present.

2) Be Yourself.

It may be obvious, but being yourself is the best thing you can do. Yet as apparent as this advice may be, it can be easier said than done, especially for new moms. It’s easy to get caught up in what other parents are doing or what your in-laws think, or even some idealized version of yourself as “super mom.”

You suddenly get a new identity as a mom…you’re ______’s Mom. Truly forming this new identity can take years. It’s fine to find new ways to play and express yourself, but not so fine  to get caught up in trying to be someone you are not. We don’t all bake bakery-beautiful cupcakes…I learned the hard way that mine are the reason sprinkles were invented. The good news is that as your confidence as a mother builds, so does your new knowing of who you truly are.

Most of all, don’t beat yourself up over doing things the best you know how in the moment (review tip #1 and #3).

3) Be Positive.

I’m a naturally positive person, but becoming a mom really made me more aware of my own negative self-talk. While first pregnant I really started to double-check my thoughts, questioning myself when I would project any type of negative outcome in the form of worrying. I would gently remind myself that I don’t know how things will turn out (who my yet-to-be-born child would become), so there is no benefit in speculating. Even simple things like assuming “if I lay down the baby, they’ll wake right up” or “I can’t leave for an hour or two to take care of myself…what if?” I remember needing to share my positive lens with those trying to “help us” learn how to be parents. And I still need to remind myself that phases pass quickly, and everything is a learning experience for all of us.

Now that our kids are getting older, I can see how my rose colored glasses are shaping their outlook too. They very rarely come to me with a genuine worry, although some selfish concerns still come with the territory of finding independence. Instead our conversations are often filled with gratitude for being able to create our future instead of just worry about what might happen that appears out of our control.

Discovering these “tips” for myself has brought me joy in motherhood, despite the unpredictable and demanding line of work.

For real life practical tips from fellow parents, Parent Hacks is my favorite resource.

What advice do you share with others and remind yourself of?

Darcy

@Darcy’s Utopia – Creating Utopia Together

Dear Child…

Mommy Journal, Reflecting about motherhood.

My journal…just loved this Golden Book as a kid.

My third child is three months now, and I feel like I’ve taken very little time to reflect. Aside from writing up her birth story, I haven’t managed to capture the magic that happens in the small moments.

When my daughter Makenna was born I made an effort to journal, but never wrote regularly. I happened to pick up the journal the other day with a fresh cup of coffee. I read through the whole thing and wrote a few new pages.

One trend I find in these entries is that they are a very idealized version of my experience of motherhood, but thinking about it more, I realized that that’s exactly how I want it to be. I think it’s important to dwell on the good times. They say that gratitude is the key to prosperity and joy, and I couldn’t agree more.

A good friend of mine who has been blogging her way around the world did a series last summer called “Dear Life” and it was simply beautiful. She wrote brief reflections of gratitude and asked her many readers to do the same. People from all over the world shared their most intimate musings about life, and it was truly inspiring, sometimes tear-jerking. Most of all, they were authentic and heartfelt. So, I’ve decided to start a blog series called “Dear Child,”

12/9/13

Dear Child,

Sorry for snapping at you for pouring orange juice into your sister’s cereal bowl, and vice versa. I should know by now that life is still one funny experiment, and chance to push your parent’s buttons. We are both doing our best in the moments we are given. While there are more transgressions and regressions that I hope for, I know in the scheme of childhood you are still thriving and somehow learning how to get along in this world.

It’s a joy to se your faces light up in the glow of the freshly decorated tree, and the genuine concern when Dad warns that Santa may not stop by if you keep calling each other names. But I appreciated how short your wish lists are and how your are excited that your gifts from us will be memorable experiences. I’m glad that you think of others during this gift giving season. I may be equally excited about all the fun memories we’ll be making together this holiday season.

It will be Teagan’s first Christmas, and she reminds me of just how cozy it is to just sit and cuddle. She makes people light up everywhere she goes and radiates pure joy. As I’ve been preparing her birth announcements and our annual family letter, I look forward to sharing them with friends and family.

Love,

Mom

I’m going to try writing a post every Monday morning, figuring that reflectiving in a good way to start the week. Actually, “Reflective Practice” was a core component of my graduate program that focused on how to be an agent of social change. At the time I was challenged by the idea of spending time in vague reflection with so many books to read and papers to write, but through blogging I’ve found that reflecting regularly really does help you grow and put things in perspective.

To kick things off, I’m going to go out on a limb and be vulnerable, sharing my inner most thoughts in a way that would make Brene Brown proud. I’ve typed up all of my previous journal entries and posted them to our family blog, West Coast Cronin Clan.

So, if you are feeling inspired…I would love to help share your reflections… and hope you will send me your own “Dear Child” entries. Please include the date/place in your email to me.

Darcy

@Darcy’s Utopia – Creating Utopia Together