Finding Life Balance: Family Time

Young family painting together

Building a family takes a deliberate effort. It’s easy to neglect family a little here and there until you realize what you are losing. It is important to include family time in your measure of life balance.

While the actual meaning of life balance can and must vary among us, all can understand the need to step back from the busy-ness of our lives to check whether we are giving each area of life the time and nurturing it needs. Balance doesn’t mean that you give exactly equal time to an exact number of life areas to be covered. It just means that you continually strive for the mix that brings you the greatest happiness and wellbeing.

Family Is Essential for Life Balance

In my experience, a new family—a family that includes a newly married couple or young children—is the least able to make major contributions of time to their community, and yet we are often most in demand. Young families should be especially careful to protect family time. We are modeling what life balance will mean for our children into their future. We are creating the foundation they will need to build their own balanced lives. They need that deep, enriching sense of family.

Family isn’t automatic. You need to define what family means for young children and nurture your intentions with activities and love.

Learn to say “No”
At some point, as I tried to figure out the chaos around me, I realized that this young family period of one’s life is the busiest and most difficult to protect. When you have babies, you might not realize how much time you will need to spend with your children as they grow. Before you realize what is happening, you are in charge of the co-op delivery, you are singing in the choir, you are arranging three different play groups, and you’ve started a home business. Then you wonder why your children tell you that they miss you as soon as they can talk. It is OK to turn down many, even most, opportunities for outside commitments. Prioritize, and just choose one or two activities that mean the most to you.

Plan Family Time
I’m with my children all day because we homeschool, but that isn’t the same as planned family time. We need time together when everyone is free from stress. We need all four of us. So, we protect our Saturday night. We camp out and watch movies every Saturday night. Other times, we read a book together (1001 Arabian Nights and Lord of the Rings took more than a year each), play board games, or invite a neighbor over for dinner. What we do is far less important than doing something deliberate together at least once a week. Put that time on your calender, and don’t bring your phone. Schedule it, mix it up, ask for ideas from everyone, and find your groove.

Recognize the Moments
Pull yourself into consciousness of those beautiful moments with your family. When my children were very small, I remember distinctly that my favorite time in every day was falling asleep with them, laying in bed with an arm wrapped around each child. I could hear them breathing softly as they fell asleep, and my happiness was profound. Stop at those moments. Recognize and gather them.

Keeping family time in balance doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of time. I adore the TED talk by Nigel Marsh on work-life balance. Be sure to listen until the end to hear how he recognized one of those beautiful moments with his son after a simple day together.

“Being balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life.”
Nigel Marsh, “How to Make Work-Life Balance Work”

Image © Thomas Perkins | Dreamstime.com

Summer Water Games for Children

Child playing in the sprinkler

Every day in summer for my kids has to include water outdoors. When they were little, I tried to keep it interesting by suggesting water adventures and games. These are a few of the summer water games my children love.


Tips Before You Start

Have your child wear a swimsuit or swim diaper. It’s going to be wet and probably dirty, so just keep it simple.

Remember the sunscreen and sun hat. If your child is particularly sun sensitive, you might even consider a sun protection suit.

Before you start, talk together about the rules of play and make sure your child understands. With any water games, always supervise. Don’t leave young children alone in the water even for a minute.


Water Games and Adventures

Bucket Splashing
My daughter’s absolute favorite summertime activity during her first year was sitting in front of a bucket of water and splashing. No extra structure required. The anticipation of a cold splash in the face was irresistible. As your child gets older, you can expand on this activity to experiment with cupping hands and creating rhythms. Since my children and I saw Vanuatu water music in a documentary on volcanoes, we always start pool activities with water drumming.

Giant Bubbles
A yard full of bubbles is fun, but why only tiny bubbles from tiny wands? We like huge bubbles. We create our own bubble wands with string and sticks then we fill up a wash basin with bubble solution. You can sometimes create a giant bubble snake a dozen feet long chasing screaming children around the yard. This is a noisy activity.

Sponge Catch
Grab your biggest, wettest sponge and head outside. Soak it really well in water and play catch. With little kids, be sure that they know to put their hands out so they don’t just feel like they are a target. We practiced with the sponge dry before wetting it. If you get the sponge wet enough, it will spin and spit water everywhere with every throw. While you have the sponge out, you can play different games with sponges. Toss the wet sponge into a bucket for target practice. Experiment with transferring water from the full bucket to an empty bucket with just the sponge. Paint on the sidewalk with sponges and try to finish the painting before it dries up and goes away.

Jump Rope Splash
Add a splash to three-person jump rope by giving the jumper a (non-breakable) cup of water. The more gently they jump, the less water they lose. When they bounce hard on the ground, they get wet. You could make the object of the game to keep as much water as possible, to lose as much water as possible, or just to see what happens.

Adventure Course
Child's dragon costume
Does your child love dress up? If you have a little dragon or knight, set up the backyard with a castle (picnic table), woods, mud holes, waterfalls (a running hose over a wall), and any other fun hazards. Either plan an adventure or just set the dragon free to roam.

Mud Dancing
If you have an area of your yard that won’t be completely destroyed by creating a mud pit, add water until it is thick and sticky then turn on the music. If the mud is thick enough to suck the feet as you move around, it is perfect. The mud will add sound and sensation to the dance. If you child loves dirt, check out the book I Love Dirt for more dirty play ideas. Follow dirty play with a quick trip through the sprinkler, and you’re all set.

Sprinkler
Every kid I know loves the sprinkler, especially if the sprinkler moves. There is no structure necessary at all. Just turn on the water and see what happens. Leave a bunch of boats, balls, cups, buckets and sponges nearby, and your children might pull those into the fun.

For more summer fun ideas for children, see Let’s Go Outside.

Let's Go Outside book

Image © Sergey Mostovoy | Dreamstime.com

Summer in Nature for Your Children

Father and son exploring river

Growing up, summer was a time when my friends and I would run wild and free. We went off most of the day exploring, digging in the fields, and running screaming from imagined monsters in the woods. We shaped our own very long days. One of the best summers I remember, though, included a once-a-week activity through my school. Other students and I would take a bus trip with the science teacher to a local place of some scientific interest. We went hiking on a island to learn about rock formations, hiking in the mountains to learn about plants, visiting a fish hatchery to talk about a local reservoir, and testing water in a river to talk about runoff. I don’t remember every trip, but I remember those quite vividly. What I learned on those day trips influenced my play. I became an explorer and discoverer. I collected samples. I kept notebooks.

The most important lesson I learned from my summer of science exploration is the far-reaching effect of a little bit of structure for children. With my own children, I have explored the effects of no structure, a lot of structure, and just a little structure. I think they both respond well to a little structure.

For some young children, a question might be enough to start a flow of many more questions. “Why do you think this plant grows such big leaves?” With others, an exciting new possibility might open their eyes to a big adventure. “Let’s go on a walk to find flowers that we can eat.” I tend to focus on plants and rocks because that is what I know, but I use books to help me stretch my own experience and give me the prompts I need.

How much structure your child needs to spark excitement and independent exploration depends very much on your child. Experiment. Make an educated guess and test it. That is what science is all about, after all.

As summer stretches out in front of you, how will you help your children explore nature and explore themselves? If you are looking for some simple, science-based prompts that could give them a little structure through occasional activities, I have found the following resources very helpful.

  • Earth Child 2000
    This is a teaching guide that always keeps in mind a child’s sense of wonder and awareness. Ideal for very young and elementary age children.
  • David Suzuki Foundation’s Connecting with Nature education guide
    This is also a teaching guide with clearly outlined lesson plans that can be adapted to home use. Intended for upper elementary grades.
  • The Children & Nature Network
    C&NN is a nonprofit that creates resources and supports local activities to connection children with nature. Their resources are varied. Most families or organizations concerned about environmental teaching for kids will find useful tools here.

Image © Goh Siok hian | Dreamstime.com

Your Summer Baby Carrier

Ergo Baby Carrier for summer

Windows are open. I notice the occasional warm breeze. It’s time to ask whether you have the right carrier to take advantage of this beautiful weather with your baby or toddler. Do you have your summer baby carrier?

As you are out and about this summer, how active will you be and for how long?


Mei Tai Baby Carriers

If you will just be walking around town or going to the park, a soft mei tai baby carrier gives you a good balance between comfort and support for both you and your baby.

The FreeHand Mei Tai Baby Carrier is soft like traditional Asian baby carriers.

Free Hand baby carrier at bynature.ca

The BabyHawk Mei Tai Carrier has thicker, padded shoulder straps.

BabyHawk baby carrier at bynature.ca

Both of these mei tai carriers get great reviews from our customers.


Soft Pack Buckle Carriers

If you will be hiking and spending a lot of time wearing your baby, a soft-pack buckle baby carrier will give both of you more support.

The Ergo Baby Carrier is our most popular baby carrier—lightweight an very comfortable.

Ergo baby carrier

The Boba Baby Carrier takes the traditional mei tai shape and adds zippered pouches, straps, and buckles to make this adaptable for long periods out.

Boba baby carrier

Ergo always gets great reviews, but none of our customers has reviewed the Boba yet. Be the first!

A comfortable baby carrier that fits your lifestyle makes an active summer with your baby so much easier.

Helping Your Teenage Daughter Choose Reusable Menstrual Products

Teen Girl with family

You cloth diaper your baby, use reusable products throughout your house, and you’ve tried to create a more sustainable lifestyle for your children. They will begin to make their own choices at some point. When you’ve directly modeled an action and they understand how easy it is (like washing kitchen towels), or when it just doesn’t occur to them that there is another way to live (like cooking meals from scratch), they will probably follow your choices to a great extent.

What will happen when they don’t have a direct model, though? What will happen when they don’t want to talk about their choices? What will happen when reusable products make your child stand out among peers?

What will happen when your daughter reaches menarche (her first period)?

For those who think this is far, far in the future, if your little girl is six years old and you find yourself surprised by that, just know that twelve will sneak up just as fast. It helps to think through now what you will do to help your daughter become familiar with her body and her options for menstrual products.


Create Familiarity

Creating familiarity was my strategy. My daughter (and everyone else in my house) knows that I use cloth pads. It’s just part of our life and not hidden or whispered about. Some of us grew up in households where the natural functioning of our bodies was not a welcome topic. If that was the case with the family you grew up in, you have the power to change that with your growing family. If your daughter is comfortable asking you questions about your period, she will be more comfortable asking you about her own period.

My daughter is generally quite private. Despite my efforts to be the radically open parent (or maybe even because of them), my daughter hated talking about puberty. I persisted, but I wasn’t annoying. I tried to keep the door open and knock on that door occasionally as I could see that puberty was coming. She did ask questions, though, and I answered her questions as she asked them, so I knew it was working just to be available.

I told my daughter how we handled potty training. When she was a toddler, I showed her where there were underwear in her drawer in addition to diapers and explained how underwear work. One day, she told me she planned to wear the underwear all day, and she did. That was it. Potty trained.

When she was about twelve years old, we did the same with cloth pads.

I have a lot of cloth scraps in a rainbow of colors. My daughter chose a time when we were alone, and together we drew the shape of a basic cloth pad that snaps around the underwear with an extra layer in the center. We cut out half a dozen and sewed them. Then, she stuffed them into the back of a drawer so her brother would never see them.

For a long time, that was it. I occasionally knocked on the door and talked to her about changes, but I didn’t push too much. When the time came, she just used the pads on her own. By making sure that she had access to what she needed, I tried to be sure that she could be as private as she wanted to be.

That was not it with cloth pads, though.


Be Open to Options

My daughter is a dancer. She spends a lot of time in leotards and tights. The cloth pads were uncomfortable for her, but also she hated how bulky they were. “Please just let me use tampons,” she said. I asked her to trust me that we could find a way to use reusables, and she did.

We kept looking for better options. We did the research together. She was completely unwilling to use a menstrual cup, but she decided to try natural sponges. These actually worked really well, but she still needed some kind of pad, so she finally tried Lunapanties. These start with the same long oval as the Lunapads that snap around your underwear. Rather than being held in place on a pad with rickrack, though, they are held in place on underwear by tucking the pad under elastic. No extra bulk snapped around the underwear.

Basic Lunapads set

I tell you what my daughter chose not because it is the solution for every girl but because it was the solution that finally helped my daughter embrace reusable menstrual products. I adore Lunapads because they helped my daughter relax and stop worrying about accidents. My daughter washes her own sponges and puts her pads in the same bucket with mine for wash. She’s less sensitive about her brother knowing now. She’s comfortable talking with friends about what she uses. And, she’s committed to reusables.

In the end, what menstrual products my daughter would use was not my choice. I certainly tried to influence her choice, but I recognized that she would do whatever she wanted to do, so I tried to keep the pressure off and the conversation open. My low-level persistence in talking about it and my openness to hearing and trying to understand what wasn’t working for her paid off.

My advice to you cloth diapering mothers who think this choice is far in your future is to start now with the openness. You don’t need to talk about periods or cloth pads necessarily. Just learn how to hear what your daughter needs and answer her questions. Create a pattern of discussion as a foundation for later. If you can see that puberty is coming, inform yourself about the full range of options for reusable menstrual products and talk to your daughter about those options. I’ve known girls who loved choosing their own fabrics for pretty pads, but my daughter is far less interested in pretty. Figure out what is important not to teen girls in general but to your daughter specifically. Tell her why it is important to you that she choose a sustainable option, and she’ll probably be willing to follow your lead.

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