Eight tips for achieving family life balance

elephant balancing on a ballForget work life balance. Some days I think the biggest challenge is family life balance.

In the past six weeks, we’ve had friends or family over three weekends, went to a friend’s cottage one weekend, attended two country fairs, one regatta, one baseball tournament, shuffled our work schedules so we could be home during the day for two service provider visits, and chauffeured kids to various camps, practices and friends’ houses.

Some days it’s exhausting, but most of the time it’s busy, fun and manageable. That’s because we learned the importance a long time ago of always scheduling in down time.

Here are eight tips that we’ve found helped our family maintain a healthy balance on the home front:

  1. Keep one weekend a month completely open. Dave made me promise this years ago and it’s been our saving grace ever since.
  2. Don’t feel pressured to spend time doing something you don’t want to do. If I don’t have the time or feel like baking for a potluck or school fundraiser or dinner party, I’ll just buy something. Same thing with our house—our friends and family know they are always welcome to drop by and there will be a cold beer for them, but we don’t spend hours cleaning or tidying up—they take us as we are.
  3. Keep things simple when you do entertain. I’d rather spend an extra hour with guests chatting on the dock than cooking and cleaning on a beautiful summer’s day, so we often serve what’s simplest and easiest.
  4. No matter how many chores or things need to get done, carve out one hour a day for down time.
  5. If your child asks you to play cards, read, or play a game, say yes. I remember when the kids were little, they would always want to curl up in our big green chair and read after supper. I’d leave the dishes in the sink and read with them. The dishes could wait.
  6. Know what time is most precious to you and protect it. For me, it’s the first few hours of the day on the weekends. I can face just about anything as long as I can enjoy my coffee and read the papers before jetting off somewhere.
  7. Say no sometimes. Where we live, our kids often want us to run them into Kingston for something. It can kill up to half a day since we live north of the city. If we’re really busy the rest of the weekend, and it’s not something important, I’ll just say no.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When Dave had his knee replaced last fall and I was juggling kids, work and running him to appointments, I asked my neighbour to take him to one of his doctor’s appointments—it was a huge help.

This week’s #HappyAct is to share your tips for finding the right family life balance. What are some of the things you do to keep your non nine-to-five life in a happy state of equilibrium? Leave a comment.

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The most important decision you’ll ever make

Picture of girls in newspaper

Grace and Clare on the front page of The Frontenac News

Last weekend, both girls competed in a regatta in Carleton Place. It was a long, 14-hour day, but they both did amazingly well for their first regatta and were featured on the front page of our local paper this week, showcasing their fourth place medals for the K4 500 metre race.

For years, Dave and I tried to minimize the amount of scheduled activities our kids were involved in to keep life sane, but we always knew there would be a time in our lives when our weekends and evenings would be spent chauffeuring our kids to various tournaments, races and activities.

With 4H, kayaking, hockey, and baseball we are finally there.

Life is busy and good, but it does mean we have to sacrifice our own interests for the kids, and I’ll admit, some days I resent not having any time to myself.

I was complaining this to a friend the other day, and asked her how she dealt with raising two children. She said she had felt exactly the same way, and asked the same question years ago to a friend of hers who had four teenagers. Her friend’s answer was “I just decided that this would be the best time of my life.”

In a few years, Grace will be off to university. Clare will be in her final years of high school. The day is nearing when it will just be Dave and I staring at each other over the dining room table.

So I have decided these are going to be the best years of my life. I will embrace every practice and local fair, cheer at the top of my lungs at every baseball and hockey game, and occasionally steal time for myself to keep me sane.

For I know I will never get this time back with my children. I will never be able to rewind time. I resolve to make these the best years of my life.

A tribute to my beautiful daughters on Mother’s Day

The author's daughters on a boardwalkThere was a time in our lives when Dave and I didn’t think we could have children.

Then Grace was born.

Followed four years later by another baby girl, Clare.

We always said we would be happy even if we weren’t blessed with children. I know this to be true, but I always thought of having kids like a kaleidoscope.

Without children, the wheel of life takes us on a journey of twists and turns, revealing an array of pretty patterns and colours. With them, the cylinder opens wide, to unfurl a mesmerizing display of brilliance and untold adventures. Children are not are whole lives, but they make our lives whole.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I want to pay tribute to the greatest gift in my life: the gift of being a Mom. Here is my love letter to my beautiful daughters.

Thank you Grace and Clare.

For making me laugh,
For hugging away my tears.
For making our family and table full,
For the endless hours skating on our beloved lake, and talking on our evening walks.

For filling our house with music
For infuriating me,
For doing your chores even when I don’t ask you to
For the highs and lows and all the in betweens

For your silly, stupid jokes,
For making me feel like a child again,
For telling me I’m beautiful when your beauty outshines us all
For being my friend.

It has been a pleasure and joy to watch you grow into the spirited, independent young women that you have become.

Be bold. Be strong. Be true to yourself. Live your dreams.

And know that I will always be here for you.
Love, Mom.

Girls in bathtub

Girls at a Santa Claus parade

Surround yourself with youthful enthusiasm

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend an hour at the Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Science Fair at Queen’s University. The fair is for students in grade 5-12 and this year there were 289 exhibits. Clare was the very first student to register her exhibit on global warming.

Clare didn’t win any prizes, but was rewarded in so many other ways.

Dr. Neal Scott spent a full 40 minutes talking to her about the Arctic and promised to email her pictures of polar bears from one of his summer expeditions to the Arctic with his students. The very next day we were looking at incredible photos of polar bears in our inbox.

Dr. Arthur MacDonald, one of the leading physicists in Canada, and the keynote speaker at the fair also spent time talking to Clare about her project. In his keynote address, he talked about her, saying it was wonderful to see such youthful enthusiasm and passion in students today.

Here were a few things I learned touring the exhibits:

  • Even though music has no scientific impact on the growth of plants, plants that were exposed to heavy metal music grow faster than plants exposed to classical music (go figure!)
  • An arch bridge made of popsicle sticks is stronger than a truss bridge made of popsicle sticks
  • Swell water bottles are the best for keeping water cold and were twice as effective as a regular plastic water bottle
  • Ball spin, and the dimples on a golf ball help make them fly farther
  • Beet juice is a secret weapon for melting ice, and could help reduce the amount of salt we use on the roads in Canada (although I couldn’t help thinking it would be weird to be driving on pink roads all winter)
  • Potatoes may be our next fuel source

It was exciting to see these wonderful bright minds tackle some of the world’s problems.

Then this week, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with an equally inspiring group of young people. Grace was asked to speak about her transition to high school to a group of Grade 8 students with autism as part of an orientation night.

We spent time learning how to open a combination lock (kids with autism often struggle with fine motor skills), reading schedules and talking about the challenges they’ll face making friends. Their honesty, courage in facing the unknown and often unfriendly world, and sense of humour impressed me beyond belief.

The next time you hear someone despairing about the next generation, and “kids” today who seem to be forever on their devices, I can safely say, don’t worry, our future is in good hands.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend some time with the future leaders of tomorrow. Let their passion and youthful enthusiasm infect and inspire you.

science fair exhibit

Clare’s wonderful playdoh depiction of the earth 30 years from now when our green forests and blue oceans transform due to global warming

Desperate times call for desperate measures

funny quote on houseworkWe are living in desperate times. No, I’m not talking about Trump, Syria or ISIL. I’m talking about the division of labour in our households.

Let’s just say I was not a happy camper last week. It started last Sunday. We got home from Clare’s hockey game. Dave went to lie down and do his exercises for his knee, Clare flaked out on the couch reading a book, Dave’s Dad sat in the sunroom reading the papers and Grace retreated into her lair to do homework and spend endless hours on her iPad.

Instead of curling up with the latest People Sexiest Man Alive issue, I did laundry, drained and scrubbed the hot tub, made supper and did the dishes. At one point I asked the kids through gritted teeth for help with sweeping the floors and folding some laundry.

Help. I hate that dastardly word. It implies the sole responsibility for keeping a household running is one person’s, with the others just “helping” out.

Then Tuesday came. After a 10-hour day, I came home to find supper not started, the wood not brought in and the dogs unfed even though my children get home 2-3 hours before me and my husband was at home all day (albeit still recuperating from his knee surgery, but well enough to make a salad I reckon).

I resorted to the most shameless, childish trick of all time—the silent treatment. I admit it. I’m not proud of myself, but I was angry, tired, and frustrated. The worst part was I had this utopian hope that with Dave’s surgery, the girls would step up their game and help with the cooking and cleaning. I was so wrong.

One brisk walk and one quiet night helped restore my equanimity, but I wasn’t happy with how I reacted and worse, knew it wasn’t a long-term solution. So the next day I came up with the idea to introduce a new rewards system, “Two Things a Day”. I made a chart and explained that everyone in the house had to do two things a day to keep our house running. If at the end of the week, the chart was full, there would be a special reward.

What a change. Yesterday morning, the girls did chores around the house without being asked. We had fresh sheets on the bed, swept floors, wood in the wood box and sand for when the snow and ice comes.

It’s early days yet. But I’m hopeful my evil master plan will work, and my family will accept that we are all responsible for doing housework and keeping our busy household running and I will be a happy camper once again.

Ed. note: When Dave and I first got married, we had to take a marriage course. The minister asked, what is the biggest source of most arguments in a marriage? People answered finances, family issues. I answered housework and the class laughed. Guess what? It was housework.

Make an inspiration wall

inspiration-wall

Grace’s inspiration wall

What inspires you? That’s the question we’ve been asking our employees during this year’s United Way campaign. Once again, the employees at Empire Life have blown me away by their generosity and willingness to be inspired by the incredible work United Way agencies do in our community and to make a difference.

There is so much in the world that is uninspiring today. It is rare to find something that compels you to feel or do something to create change in our society or something unique or beautiful.

I get my inspiration from my children, my friends and co-workers, and the natural surroundings of where I live.

The other day, Clare told me she wanted to start a new project: to create an inspiration wall. She started looking up inspirational sayings online. Her plan was to print them out and post them around her room. (Her teacher said she couldn’t do this at school if you can believe it). Grace created a similar inspiration wall a few years ago.

We need to be inspired at work, at home and in our community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to create your own Inspiration Wall. Here are some of the sayings Clare planned to use on her wall. Leave a comment. What inspires you?

“Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people.”

“When we get to the end of our lives together; the house we had, the cars we drove, the things we possessed won’t matter. What will matter is that I had you by my side.”

“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

“When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.”

“If plan A didn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters.”

uw-inspiration-wall

An inspiration wall created by Empire Life customer service teams who adopted the Kingston Youth Shelter for this year’s campaign–there were posters like this all over the floor to encourage people to bring in donations for what the shelter needs.

Write your own valedictory speech

Girl in grad dress with her grandfather

Grace with her grandfather at her graduation

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honour of hearing Grace deliver the valedictory address at her grade 8 graduation. I am so proud of the beautiful, smart funny person she has become. But I was especially proud because of what she shared that night and how brave she was.

Her words were insightful. She reflected on her classmate’s accomplishments, and spoke with hope and optimism about the future. I think we all need to take a moment for this kind of reflection especially at important milestones in our lives.

This week’s #HappyAct is to write your own valedictory address. Reflect on your accomplishments and look ahead and envision your future. Here’s Grace’s speech.

Ladies and gentleman, fellow students. At this school, we come here for one reason and one reason only, and that is to learn. I have been at Prince Charles since I was in Junior Kindergarten and I’ve had my ups and downs, but overall, this school has helped me to find myself as well as my future.

Every person in this world is smart, whether it is sports, academics or leadership. Every person in this world is smart no matter how you describe it and I’m sure all the parents of the graduates are proud of what they have accomplished in life as a student as well as a person.

Tonight we are celebrating the first chapter in every graduate’s life. On our first day of high school next year we will be starting a new chapter, a new journey and a new way of life. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has made our first chapter incredible—parents, teachers, family, friends, principals, vice-principals and many more.

We have created so many memories in the first chapter. The one memory I’ll never forget is coming second in the girls basketball tournament a few years back. Even though we lost in the finals, we still worked together as a team and we had such a great day.

I can still remember when some of the graduates didn’t know how to tie their shoes and now they are maturing into adults. Even this year as a class, we have created so many memories, such as playing a good game of Dr. Dodgeball in class, our year-end field trip to Canada’s Wonderland or the St. Lawrence Cooking program that we participated in earlier this year. These are all memories that we will never forget.

We all have challenges that we need to face in life, but when we do face them, it makes us stronger, better people. When I was three, I was diagnosed with autism and I had a lot of trouble making friends when I was younger, but I dealt with it because we have to face our challenges in life.

Life is a path and we have to choose our own way. May you always choose the right path. Thank you.”

Copyright Grace Swinton 2016