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Solo Mom Features & Tips
Great ideas to help make your solo parenting more rewarding and meaningful!
Scroll down to read all, or click on ... Successes of Single Moms .. Family Reunion Cruise ... Kids Say Funny Things! ... How to Choose a Puppy ... Where to Live for Top Schools ... When Your Kids Fly Solo ... Pinocchio in Tuscany ... 6 Tips for Single Moms ... Stats on Single Moms & Dads ... Spa for Kids ... About Autism ... Help Your Child Manage $$ ... Less TV! ... Great Birthday Party Ideas ... 7 Reasons to Take a Family Cruise ... Discipline Confessions ... Is Your Child Gifted?... Dealing with Teachers ... Part-Time Gigs ... Arts & Sports: When to Begin? ... Games to Play Together ... Stay Home & Make Money ... One Kid, Two Homes ... Romance & the Single Mom ... Bully? What to Do! ... Stress-Free Get-Togethers ... Year-Round Gifting Ideas
(For past Solo Mom entries, please click here for archives)
Michael Phelps isn't just a living legend in swimming. He's also a product of single mother.
Psychologist Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., said:Â "In the process of having to do twice as much as an actively partnered parent, many a single parent becomes doubly dedicated to their children's growth, exerting an extremely powerful motivating influence in their lives. Some of the very best run families I have seen have had a single parent at the helm.â€
"Michael Phelpsâ€™ mom should win a Mother of the Year award," said therapist Dr. Gilda Carle. "She single-handedly raisedÂ three kids, and since Michael had learning disabilities, she gave him one thing on which he could focus and call his own â€” his swimming.
Â "This certainly disproves the myth about kids having trouble when coming from broken homes," Carle said. "Itâ€™s all in the parenting and direction we give our children -- whatever their immediate surroundings.Â Each individual should have a skill s/he can nurture and develop.Â I think this is one of the most inspiring American stories we have! And this mom did this by not â€œbetting on a princeâ€ for help.Â She took on grad school, ran a school, and nurtured her family â€” and played up their uniqueness. She can be very proud."
3 Tips For Parenting Success: Dr. GoulstonÂ M.D., clinical psychiatristÂ and author offers these tips for parenting, single or otherwise, to help your children be successful at the Olympic games of life.
2. Find mentors to help. When you can find mentors/coaches in the world who care about your children,Â shower those authority figures with appreciation and offer what I call a "Power Thank You" to them.Â
3. Teach them your core values.Â Core values are not what you say, think or believe, they are what you do in your day to day behavior that you resist changing. If you words match your actions, children will trust and respect you; if they don't, they won't.
For families looking for an alternative to the traditional reunion, the cruise specialists at CruiseCompete.com say a gathering at sea will surely make a splash with everyone.Â There are still cabins available for family gatherings on popular cruises scheduled to set sail this summer and fall, as well as the holiday season.
_____ Â Â Â Â
As a solo mom you may be responsible for all birthday party responsibilities, so use this guide to help:
A Basic (90 minute) Party Format
First party -- Whatever makes you happy!
Tweens and Up
Less Stress The hustle and bustle of the holidays, accompanied by plenty of stress, can bring out the worst in single moms. Rather than worrying about family visits, feeding everyone and keeping crowds entertained, persons taking a cruise vacation during the holidays can simply relax and let the cruise line take care of it all.
Every solo mom has some too harsh tried and true tactics. Topping the list: 49% of you tend to use your child's full name when you're ready to reprimand. Also popular at 36%: "I'm going to count to ten!"
How often does your child act up? 58% say: About as much as other kids; 24% say: Less than other kids; 17% say: More than other kids
When you lay down the law you...Worry that you should have done it differently: 46%; Feel like you're teaching a good lesson: 26%; Don't like it: 19%; Feel guilty: 9%
Out in the world versus the privacy of home -- is there a difference? 69% of you say your child is better behaved in public than at home. A whopping 56% of you don't discipline any differently at home than in public. Let's hear it for consistency!
Without proper assessment, which includes a professionally administered IQ test, it's hard to know if you have a little genius. Some clues: Look at your child in the same context with other kids of the same age. Are there consistent, noticeable differences? Do others comment on the same things you are observing? Notice especially:
Language Skills: Most kids talk by two; gifted kids often talk earlier, and by school age show special language skills.
Learning Abilities: Does your child show ease and joy in learning? Is their brain a mental sponge, absorbing ideas and info?
Emotional and Behavioral Traits: Gifted children are often more emotionally intense. They may show lots of sensitivity and empathy.
Motor Skills: Is your child advanced in skills involving balance, coordination and movement? How about fine motor skills, like putting puzzles together?
If you feel your child is being overlooked, talk to a teacher, then follow up with an administrator involved with the gifted program. Write your concerns and copy to the district coordinator of gifted education, the school principal, and the teacher.
And if your child isn't deemed "gifted" take heart. Neither were Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison or Winston Churchill, who were all "late bloomers." They did just fine!
As a solo parent you want to interact early with your kids' teachers and school, to head off problems. Here are some do's and don'ts.:
-- Introduce yourself to the teacher in the first weeks.
-- Meet supervisors, teachers --even the principals --immediately if you find your child is being bullied.
-- Meet the teacher early is you disagree with teaching methods.
-- Speak to the teacher if you're concerned with reading or math placements.
-- Bring up personal concerns at open-house or back-to-school nights.
-- Commit to frequent events, such as PTA, if you can't follow-up
-- Bother teacher's if you see them out of school.
-- Break rules, such as sending snacks with your kids. Check 'em out first.
by Angelique H. Caffrey
Don't want to spend full-time away from the kids, but want to make some money? Think part-time! These jobs regularly come with perks to entice you. So pick and choose, considering all the benefits of employment and not simply focusing on the advertised salary. The following popular half-time positions offer employees plenty of advantages beyond a paycheck -- and time for solo parenting!
The job: At a clothing retailer, you'll help customers purchase and return merchandise, usually 20-30 hours per week depending on the season. You may also be expected to keep track of inventory, handle large amounts of money, or be on the lookout for shoplifters.
The perks: Clothing stores usually offer a significant discount off regular and sale items. For instance, Talbots gives part-timers 40% off, The Gap 30%, Ann Taylor 40% (25% off sale merchandise), and JC Penney 20% (10% off furniture items). Some may also offer minimal medical coverage options for part-timers.
The "in": The U.S. Department of Bureau and Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that there were over 4.5 million retail jobs in America in 2004. However, they are not always advertised in the paper; it's better to go to their Web sites or just drop by for an application.
The bottom line: If your personal or family clothing allowance is around $200 each month and you work at Talbots, you'll save almost a grand annually.
Retail Sales Associate (Other)
The job: These retailers sell books, home furnishings, arts and crafts, pet items, electronics, or a whole host of other items. Thus, you could find yourself doing everything from customer relations to stocking shelves.
The perks: If you work at Williams-Sonoma, you'll receive a generous 40% off merchandise; at Michaels, a popular craft store, you will get 25% off purchases. Lowe's gives associates 10% off; Tower Records, 15%.
The "in": These jobs are advertised periodically, but you're better off going to the store and getting an application in person.
The bottom line: When you buy items for yourself or others (if that's allowed; sometimes, it's not) for everyday use or special occasions, you could save thousands per year on top of your modest hourly salary (the mean is $11.14/hour as reported by the BLS).
The job: As a server, you will be expected to take orders and bring food and drinks to customers' tables. You must also generate a decent rapport with other staff members, cooks and bartenders. Depending on the restaurant, you may also have to "bus" your own table, vacuum the carpet, or perform other custodial functions.
The "in": The National Restaurant Association estimates that there are just under one million eateries in the United States, translating to plenty of work for the part-timer who wants the flexibility and variety of a server job. Therefore, stop by your favorite restaurant and ask if they are hiring, as server jobs are usually not found in the newspaper classifieds or on CareerBuilder. You can also ask friends in the industry about any openings.
Movie Theater Employee
The job: If you work at a movie theater such as AMC Theatres, you could find yourself running the projector, cleaning up aisles after patrons leave, handling tickets and money, or running the concession stand.
The perks: Most movie theatres allow their employees to view new releases for free. They may also provide workers with some gratis food items, such as popcorn, nachos, soda or candy.
See Who's Hiring:
As solo moms, we're used to making decisions. But when should our children begin arts and sports activities? We went to the experts to find out the right time to start kids in programs. All of them stressed the importance of enjoyment without pressure. (These are general comments, so if your child is a prodigy, factor that in!)
Piano- Between five and seven years old, when children are able to comprehend how things are put together. Some sense of discipline and responsibility needed.
String Instruments- As early as three, like a play class. By six, discipline is emphasized. Kids have to be able to use fingers. As for the Suzuki method, which starts kids at two, there's controversy. (Check www.suzukiassociation.org/parents.)
Wind Instruments- Recorder at six (good starter instrument), flute and clarinet at eight, saxophone at nine. Children must be physically and emotionally ready.
Ballet- Start at eight, when kids are able to concentrate for an hour, and perform movements. Creative movement classes can begin at three or four.
Modern Dance- Six or seven for modern or tap basics, and structured dance. Jazz and hip-hop can begin around nine.
Gymnastics- Tumbling and unstructured activities can begin as early as 11 months; true gymnastics at four or five.
Martial Arts- As early as three; five to eight can be more focused. By nine, children are able to move on to more disciplined levels.
Swimming- No forcing, but the earlier the better. From six months on, with parents.
Soccer- Four or five, for recreational, non-competitive play.
Our arts/sports experts include Alexander Fleitman, Gary Bratt, Donatas Stanciauskas, John DeBlass, Kathleen Yiannoudes, Carolyn Eaton, Jennifer Pollack, Jennifer Dell, Renata Celichowska, Anne Lederfeind, Melissa Lenz, Jodi Levine, Sensei Gustavo Larrea, Steven Sciandra, Fran Clifford, Rachel Peikes, Vinnie Falci
When you want to get the kids off the couch and into the fresh air, set up any one of these favorite classic yard games, collected from weightwatchers.com. We've gathered the rules as reminders for you (though your kids could probably teach you), and rated their exercise and "cool parent" potentials. You'll be the most fun mom on the block!
Capture the Flag
Divide into two teams and separate the yard into two parts. Determine an amount of time (usually five minutes) for each team to hide its flag in its part of the yard. When the time is up, each team's mission is to get into their rival team's territory and find and capture the flag. If you're "tagged" by an opponent while in their territory, you're put in a "jail," from which you can only be freed if one of your teammates tags you to release you. The team that captures the other team's flag first (and, optional, brings it back to their own territory) wins.
Exercise rating: 8 of 10.
Duck, Duck, Goose
Form a seated circle and call one player "it," or "goose." That player walks around the circle, tapping each seated player on the head and labeling them a "duck" or a "goose." When "it" labels somebody "goose," "goose" gets up and chases "it" around the circle. If "goose" cannot tag "it" before "it" can get all the way around the circle and seated in "goose's" spot, "goose" is the new "it." This game is great for younger kids.
Exercise rating: 5 of 10.
Red Light, Green Light
One player is deemed "it" or "red light." He or she stands a good distance away from the other players. "It" calls "green light" and turns around with his or her back to the other players; when "green light" is called, the other players can move toward "it." But when he or she calls "red light" and turns around, the other players must stop moving and be perfectly still. If any of the other players are still in motion when "it" turns around, they're out. The first person to make it all the way to "it" becomes the new "it."
Exercise rating: 7 of 10
Tag has dozens of variations. In freeze tag, any player touched by the "it" player is frozen until another player crawls under the frozen player's legs. TV tag is the same, but in order to unfreeze someone, you must also shout the name of a TV show. In hook-up tag, all players except the "it" player and one other hook elbows to form pairs — to avoid "it," the one lone player hooks onto a pair; the person on the other side of the person hooked onto is now released, and has to run away to avoid "it." There are all sorts of ways to play tag — if you like, use your imagination and come up with your own rules.
Exercise rating: 10 of 10
Do you dream of being a solo mom at home with your kids whenever they need you, and earn some money?
There's a great way to do it, according to an article posted on abcnews.com. Nowadays, when you call an 800 number to place an order, the voice that answers is probably sitting at home. Telecommuting allows you to work from home, full or part-time.
In 1999, only 18 of Fortune's list of best companies to work for offered telecommuting. Today, 79 do. (In fact, all 100 of Working Mother magazine's best companies offer some form of telecommuting.)
New companies now focus on home-based customer service agents. This is legitimate employment, not envelope-stuffing scams that promise big bucks for minimal effort.
Alpine Access, LiveOps and Working Solutions are three leaders in employing or contracting such agents. They provide telephone support services to catalog retailers, financial service institutions, airlines and even the IRS.
More than 100,000 home-based phone representatives live and work across the United States. By 2010, the research group IDC predicts that number could reach more than 300,000, as more companies recognize the financial savings of using home-based agents instead of operating costly call centers to handle customer service inquiries.
Agents set their own hours, averaging about 20 to 25 hours a week — whatever works. Compensation ranges from $8 to $20 an hour.
What do you need to qualify? High-speed Internet access, a land line to handle calls and a quiet work space. Barking dogs, screeching cockatoos, ringing doorbells and crying babies in the background are obvious no-nos. Training is provided, but paid versus unpaid training varies by company.
For stay-at-home moms there aren't too many other legitimate ways to earn steady money and maintain flexibility. You can be home when the kids get on and off the school bus, and add hours to your schedule during the holidays to help cover increased expenses. Or opt to be on during irregular hours — late nights, midday or any combination. The choice is yours. Plus, you'll save money on commuting and sitters.
Ten Home-Based, Full-Time/PT Jobs Great for Single Moms
The number of employed Americans who worked from home, from as little as one day a year to full time, grew from 41.3 million in 2003 to 44.4 million in 2004. In fact, 7.6 million employees conduct work from home every month. Even if the job is advertised as office-based, these positions are telework-friendly and could be in your future.
One Kid, Two Homes
by Dian Larkin
The real fall-out from break-ups fall directly on our kids. Statistics place divorced kids in a higher risk group for destructive choices. How can we avoid that?
We have to let go of our own issues long enough to look at theirs, and often
enough to address their tender needs effectively. For example, your one child
is now divided between two houses. Use these guidelines to help make it an
Holidays, special days, vacations: Don’t do the Solomon thing
and try to split your child in half, ruining the day for everyone. Devise
a rational strategy, in advance, so your child has the security of planning.
For example, you get Thanksgiving this year, and dad’s family feast
is the weekend before. You’re watching the ball drop on New Year’s
Eve with her, and he’ll do something special with her on New Year’s
Day. The goal is to give yourself and your child more special times, with
less stress, rather than fewer memory-making days with more stress! Even
with care and planning, however, expect emotional ups and downs on ‘special’ days – grief
is like that. Focus on the fun, the positive, and minimize chaos.
Be Happy. My daughter loves her weekend home and its amenities – room to spread out for homework and entertaining; tickets to Lincoln Center; 5-star travel. I stifle a “they get the glory and I get the drudgery” impulse, and my precious daughter thrives in the combined love, comfort and opportunity her two families give her. I’ll take whatever she can get!
Keep Out. You may feel a need to ‘fix’ problems between your child and your ex, or his new family. Unless you’re asked, or your child is being harmed, keep out! Their issues in their home are theirs, just as your issues in your home are yours.
Settle In. Develop an overnight schedule that serves your child’s goals of bonding with both parents while maintaining balance. My daughter won’t stay at her dad’s on school nights; it’s too disruptive. Let your child be the primary guide for travel between homes.
Two Homes, One Life. Keep rules, structure and activities as consistent as possible in both homes. For co-parenting books, classes and advice from the experts, see our momma links resource section.
Emotional safety: Let your daughter be the child and you be the adult.
No Middle-Man. She doesn’t have to talk about one parent with the other, or communicate from one to the other – she’s not the middle-man in this.
Love and More Love. She knows this is not her fault because you tell her and show her that truth all the time; she knows she’s deeply loved by one and all, because you model that and tell her that all the time – I remind my kids constantly not only how much I love them, but how very much their dad loves them. Kids can’t hear this stuff enough.
Open door policy: My ex drops by the house when our college son is home – I run errands while they visit in the kitchen. Sometimes he spontaneously calls to take my daughter out – I adjust my schedule if I can. Impromptu visits can evolve into positive co-parenting sessions, structured flexibility serves your child and you. Rigid adherence to “custody rules” can hamper parenting, depress kids, even unnecessarily burden you!
And finally…possibly the most difficult….
Shut It! It’s tough to resist ex-bashing; “explaining” how this is all his fault; even laying adult problems on your kids. Don’t do it. That’s what support groups are for. Still tempted to dump on your kids? Listen to the lyrics of the popular Kelly Clarkson song, Because of You, about a dysfunctional, selfish mom who dragged her kids into her suffering. If you can’t say something nice, zip it. I make a point of comparing my kids to their dad in positive ways ("…you’re so smart, like your dad"). Their faces absolutely light up.
Co-parenting is particularly important with a child who lives between two homes. For help with this critical dynamic, specific suggestions, tips, books, classes and expert advice, review our list of resources in our Momma links section.
Single-Parent Dating: Ten Tips for Romance and The Single Mom
Ready to jump back into the dating game, but not sure how, as a single mom, to manage it? Solo moms are different from our childless counterparts – we carry primary responsibility for our kids. Our schedules are tighter, our financial commitments heavier, we have more people to satisfy. Concerns about successfully juggling competing demands and relationships are real. That said, when you're ready to go for it, follow our ten tips for romance and the single mom.
1. Let Go of Guilt. You're "allowed" to seek personal happiness. You actually owe it to your kids to model self-care and positive relationship habits. Also, sacrificing all for your kids doesn't make a happy or healthy home. That said, keep it slow, balanced and careful – read on!
2. Put Yourself Out There! Dating is like the lottery, you can't win it unless you're in it. Gentleman callers typically don't just appear in your living room (believe me, I've tried). Say hello to that cute guy in line; tell your friends you're available; print up name cards with your cell phone number; join a gym; register with an on-line dating service; and always look your best (it sends a "notice me" message and boosts your confidence).
3. Nice and Easy Does It. Resist the temptation to "just get it over with" and find Mr. Right immediately. One (childless) gal I know structured 28 dates in 28 days. She did meet her man, but marathon dating won't work for us single moms.
4. Clear Your Calendar. You have a date! Exciting! Just make sure you know "who's on first" before you lock the door behind you. Thoroughly coordinate childcare schedules, avoiding an impression that your single- mom life is chaotic, and freeing you to fully attend to the business at hand.
5. Clear Your Mind. This is your time. Don't fall into anxiety or guilt (see tip #1!). Relax. Don't talk exclusively about your kids, but don't avoid the subject. Keep it balanced and natural. Just be yourself – in fact, have fun re-discovering "yourself"!
6. Meet with Resistance. Expect some push-back from your kids. Anger, anxiety or excited-to-get-a-new-parent are all possible reactions to mom dating. Help your kids through their emotions with open communication and respect, but be firm. Don't let them dictate whether you date (see tip #1) or whom you date (but see tip #7).
7. Be Careful. No question, you deserve to date and fall in love again. But you're responsible for young lives as well. Find out as much as you can before you get serious. Background checks are advisable. Beyond that, watch, listen and ask. What are his other significant relationships like (with him mom, best friend, co-workers)? Is his life an open book, or a secret? Is he delighted to welcome your kids into his life, or is he avoiding them? Pay close attention to your gut, and be honest – if something feels wrong, it is wrong!
8. Meet the Kids. Delay introducing your new friend to your kids, and when they do meet, keep it light and quick. Work up to an extended family outing gradually. Kids form strong attachments or strong dislikes quickly, resulting in unnecessary complications and possible traumas. Avoid both by avoiding a rush job.
9. Time Marches On. Your date is now your boyfriend. You really like him. Your kids really like him. Great! Still, go slowly, carefully. Make conscious decisions about when he spends the night for the first time, how much affection to express in front of your children, how involved he becomes in your family's life. And keep your ex out of it – as long as the children are safe it doesn't concern him.
10. Be Patient. With yourself, with your kids, with your beau, with your life. One small step at a time. You'll get there.
For more advice and support, review these resources:
Single Parent Dating Sites: www.singleparentlove.com, www.singleparentmeet.com, www.singleparentsmingle.com, www.singlespouse.com, and www.singleparentmatch.com. And find more dating sites on our living links page, the largest dating sites cater to single-parent dating, as well as other singles matches.
Check out dating on eHow (www.ehow.com) for lots of single-parent dating advice; pick up a copy of Mom, There's a Man in The Kitchen And He's Wearing Your Robe: The Single Mother's Guide to Dating Well without Parenting Poorly, by Ellie Slott Fisher (www.amazon.com); or visit www.tinatessina.com/single_parents.html and www.luvcube.com for expert advice on single parent dating.
The Bully Problem : What Can You Do?
Remember how awful it felt to be bullied? To have your hair pulled, or to be taunted with name calling? Or maybe, long ago, you were a bully yourself. One in five kids today is on one side or the other of this negative, painful and destructive issue. And as solo moms it's especially hard to deal with.
The National Association of School Psychologists (www.naspcenter.org) characterizes school bullying as "widespread," "anti-social," and "unacceptable." Horrifyingly, the NASP reports bullying is a factor in "most school related" deaths. In other words, precious children commit suicide, in part, from bullying. Thankfully, such extreme responses are rare. Nonetheless, bullying engenders deep emotional scars and severe long-term societal effects.
Bullying is a learned behavior, and can be unlearned. Influences include home, school, peers and media. Luckily, moms, including single-parent moms with jobs outside our homes, have significant input in all these areas. Despite often feeling powerless, we are not.
The four "at-risk" groups are bullies, victims, bully-victims and witnesses:
Bullying is physical, verbal or mental aggression aimed at gaining power over others. Pushing and physical threats, name-calling, muttering against a child, spreading rumors, or encouraging others to shun a child all qualify as abuse. Typically, bullies are inconsistently disciplined at home. For some, bullying is a survival response – attack before being attacked. Recent in-depth studies, however, reveal that more frequently, bullies have enormous, power-driven, egos. In all cases, bullies lack empathy, compassion, often blame their victims, and derive pleasure from inflicting pain.
Ironically, many of the most destructive bullies are "cool" at school. Perhaps they rule by fear, but rule they do, and their terrible behavior appears rewarded.
If your kid demonstrates bullying tactics, address it honestly. One mom I know related stories of her son's aggression, but was offended by the term "bully." "My son doesn't know his own strength, but he's not a bully," she huffed. Not surprisingly, her son gets worse.
"Victims" who repeatedly suffer peer abuse struggle with self-esteem, self-blame, and lack socially dexterity – bullies spot these hapless lambs coming a mile away. Sometimes caught in over-protective environments, their coping skills may be undeveloped. Desperate for approval, some fruitlessly seek acceptance from their very tormentors.
"Walking away" and "telling" are difficult responses for victims to practice, but these kids must find a safe place for reassurance, protection and advice, ideally in school as well as home. Their very lives may depend on it.
"Bully-victims" change sides – alternately the abused and the abuser. UCLA's Dr. Jaana Juvonen advises that this most dangerous group is a threat to themselves and others. Often disruptive in class, these kids may be the loneliest, the angriest, the hardest to reach. These are the kids who walked into Columbine High School – and other U.S. high schools – and opened fire.
If your child falls into this category, engage immediate, professional, whole-family help. Underlying issues can be resolved, and these disenfranchised children can end up better adjusted and richer for it.
Typically overlooked, witnesses are in the powerful position of promoting or preventing bullying. Silence harms, and witnesses who do nothing – or even join in the torment (possibly agreeing to spread rumors about a classmate) can suffer feelings of powerlessness, fear, guilt, and shame, with damage to their own qualities of compassion and empathy. Often witnesses fear retaliation, and need to be trained on safe alternatives.
Following New York City's anti-terrorism policy: "if you see something, say something," kids need to learn that:
* Silence is complicity.
* Personal empowerment extends to protecting others.
* Safe intervention options exist.
-- Discuss bullying openly and often at home – your safe attitude will encourage communication.
-- Model and expect consistent mutual respect; be aware of "messages" about inter-personal power.
your kids' computer activities, video games, TV input – nix any entertainments
-- Watch carefully and honestly for signs that your child may need help.
For more on successful parenting, see "authoritarian parenting" developed by Dr. Diana Baumrind, Berkeley University, and discussed in our solo-mom problem, below. For more information and extensive bibliographies on "bullying," visit www.kidsource.com, www.eurekalert.org and www.naspcenter.org And for an example of a local web site supporting a community zero-tolerance policy, review www.colorado.edu.
Ideas for Stress-Free Family Get-Togethers
In 1922, Emily Post recommended using a tape measure for proper spacing of the monogrammed china. Good God! Let's not do that for our get-togethers!
In my single parent household, informal – or
close to it – means more fun and less stress.. Stress makes Jill
a dull girl. Worse, stress makes Jill a hysterical wreck. Review our stress-less suggestions
for great single mom hostings and get-togethers:
Prioritize. There are 1,000 things to do and 100 ways to do them. When your head starts spinning – stop. Just pause. Focus on what must be done. Forget the rest. No one will notice what isn't done. No one!
Pretty, not perfect. "Informal" doesn't mean messy or everyday, but it does mean easy. Dress up your gathering up with a table cloth, fabric napkins and pull out all your special tableware, but don't search frantically for the perfect napkin-rings. Mix and match what you have at hand – whether it actually is monogrammed china, or it's flea market finds. Take it easy. Make it pretty. Forget perfect.
Keep it simple. Decorations help make get-togethers special, memory-making days. Children particularly value little touches and traditions. But again, easy is the key. Review our crafts links for some easy, fun and charming decorations the kids love making. Add flowers and garlands from the supermarket and craft store, and you're decorated. Visit http://homeparents.about.com, http://familyfun.go.com, www.child.com and www.kidsdomain.com for more ideas.
Get out of the kitchen. Enjoy the special people in your life on these special days. Don't hide in the kitchen like a serving girl (see our "Plan Ahead" tip, above).
Keep the kids corralled. Grown-ups can balance a conversation, a plate on their lap and a drink at their feet. Children can't. If you only have one table, put the kids there. This avoids a parade of children dragging themselves, their plates and their glasses of milk or juice around the house, and they're much happier together anyway. Be sure to organize games, videos and structured activities for them too.
Stay connected. Whether you have guests visiting your home, or you and your children are the visiting team, keep light tabs on your kids. The upheaval, extra people and excitement are fun, but hard, for kids. A daily family meeting will help your single parent family stay happy for the get-together.
Check your expectations. Over-inflated expectations are one sure way to deflate any family get-together. Is there someone in your family who always lets you down? Do your kids always argue? Do you always yell, overeat, or both? Is there always some part of this special time of year that disappoints? Chances are; family get-togethers are always less than storybook perfect. Be clear on what you can honestly expect. This removes unnecessary stress, and leaves room for honest fun and joy.
Ignore. There's one jerk in every family (at least one). Just ignore them (like your mom told you years ago about bullies). Do not engage; do not argue; do not react; do not fall into old, negative relating patterns. Excuse yourself for a brisk head-and-heart clearing walk, if necessary. Have fun and be happy. Keep it light, no matter what.
Take a deep breath. Deep and focused breathing eliminates tension and forces relaxation. Do it as often as needed (during family get-togethers, and always!). Before gatherings or events, take a candlelit bubble bath, or a nap, or both. Take a walk, meditate. Starting off relaxed puts you ahead of the stress curve. And don't starve in anticipation of a feast. Hunger makes us edgy.
Be thankful. For who you are, where you are and who you
are with. Keep the things you love about these people, and your life, up
front. Set aside regrets, gripes and grievances – even if only for
Single-Parent Tips for Year-Round Gifting
Making gifts is more meaningful for solo moms and kids, and usually far less expensive, than buying them. Warning: select your projects carefully. Once I attempted homemade cookies for my daughter's favorite teachers, only to learn – at 2 a.m. – that I can't bake. But take heart, even the least artsy of us can master a simple craft or two and produce uniquely appealing, inexpensive, gifts.
Collect materials throughout the year. Last year I scouted out an assortment of plain cardboard boxes and plates from craft stores and thrift shops, and had fun gluing on "pearls", gold yarn, scraps of lace, miniature figurines, cut-outs and decoupage. If you can locate a glue stick and a decoupage pot, you're in; this is such an "easy-make." Each gift took very little time, I saved a bundle, and recipients were pleased and surprised by the treasures created for them
Scoop up good buys for hostess, teacher and last-minute gifts. Buy them where and when you find them (often available as "overstock" in discount and grocery stores). These include: journals; note cards and address books; specialty soaps; bubble baths and moisturizers; exotic teas, cocoas, spiced cooking oils, jams and preserves; candles; paperweights; photo frames – basically any "light", generic-yet-striking, non-perishable item that catches your eye and your bargain hunting instinct
Stock your finds in a special "gift" cupboard until needed. And they're always needed, eventually.
Have your kids create birthday and holiday cards. Avoid the "card penalty" that can really hike gift costs (cards cost nearly $3.00 each!). Children's cards are personal, adorably creative, and – three kids and 10,000 birthdays and holidays later – I've saved lots of money which I can use for gifting, instead.
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