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About the Episode:  What I love about Mary Ann is that she is real. There is no fluff. She doesn't put on pretenses about being the best mom in the world. She talks like a real mom with real struggles. She started the blog as a way to remember positive memories with her kids. I love that! And, she's got some gold nuggets that are really helpful such as: The most focused time for her kids is between 10-12PM Over the years, one of her biggest lessons is to relax Think about things through your kids' perspective SUMMARY:  Question: Can you tell us about yourself? I live in California with my husband, Mike, and we have 4 kids: Anna is 11, Jack is 9, Lydia is 7 and Anna is 4-yrs old. Question: You have a wonderful blog called Mama Smiles, could you tell us how you got started? I started really on a whim back in 2008. At the time it was just a way for me to record things I love about being a mom and also, honestly, it’s just kind of to prove that I was doing something [laughter] myself. Not to anyone else, because I think I had 2 little, little kids at that time, and I think it’s so easy to get caught in the dishes and the laundry, in the dishes and more laundry, in speaking of toys…2 minutes later how to get it. I really didn’t have any vision beyond that, but thanks to some amazing readers it’s grown into a great project for me, and I think it’s a resource on parenting and education and also creativity for family. Question: How did you manage running around with the kids, and finding a quiet time to blog and just put down some of your thoughts? I started it when my mother-in-law was in town so I had a lot of help at that time. At the beginning, it was like a few seconds here, a few seconds there, and then I do put my kids to bed at 7:00 PM so after they’re in bed, that’s where I do most of the blogs. Question: You mentioned you wanted to feel like you were doing something for yourself. After you started writing, how did that make you feel? I think it just helped me to focus on the more positive aspects of parenting. Let’s be honest, being a mom, or a dad, is a lot of work. Kids aren’t always the most grateful for everything you do, what you think they want isn’t what they always want to in fairness to them. So it’ just nice, it’s been a way for me to kind of make some memories of the more positive parts of our life. And you know as my kids have gotten older, they kind of gotten into it to. My 11-year old writes book reviews for my blog sometimes, that’s kind of like grown into a family project which is fun. Question: Can you talk more about those super cool activities that you’ve published on your blogs? For kids of different ages, what are the activities that kids could do with their parents which are helpful and educational? I think the easiest thing to do is to just take the kids outside. We do a lot of crafts, that’s because we like, like I like them, my kids enjoy them, but it’s not going to be every family’s thing. There is nothing wrong with not liking crafts, they’re messy actually. So one of my favorite things to do with my kids is we’ll go outside and we’ll walk, but they’re in charge of where we go and how fast we go. And it’s really cool where they go, like they found this spot near where we live that I never even know this existed, it’s like this kind of open space. It’s a little hidden and they find—they’re really into saving roly poly. So everywhere we go, they save the roly polies from the sidewalk. And when you’re outside, it removes so much stress because you’re not thinking about what needs to be done around the house, the kids aren’t worried about taking care, you know, making sure that nobody touches their project. That’s my top one. I also just think, I’m a huge fan of like wooden blocks, Duplo’s, Magna-tiles are really popular in our house, those easy to use building blocks and you could do so much without. You know we’ve done everything from basic kind of pretend play, to building a tower - let’s see if we can build a tower that reaches the ceiling, to more engineering , let’s see if we can build a bridge that will hold a can of food. Question: Is there a typical schedule or routine that you follow with the activities you do with your kids’ every day? Let’s see. We do snack time everyday [laughter], that’s a big one. I try to get them outside every day. And we live in California, so the weather’s on my side. We kind of have like a routine where they get their breakfast, and then they play for a while, and then we’ll do something structured in the morning. And I do like to do something with them in the morning, I guess, especially when they’re home all day. If I could do something with them early in the day, then they’re much more likely to go play by themselves for the rest of the day without fighting. It’s really kind of interesting, it’s like preventive parenting, to just give them the attention before they start to demand it Question: Is there a specific time that you find this most beneficial? I think between 10:00 and noon. Coz’ up until then they can like entertain themselves for the most part, but that’s around where they start to reach the breaking point of like being really functional on how they interact with each other, unless I step in and get some structure. Question: Is there something specific that you do? We kind of do something hands on. We tend to read more in the evening or later in the afternoon when they’re tired, but I don’t think that there’s something like an activity, but I think it’s the fact that you’re paying attention to your kids and giving them the extra time that you’re structuring with them. Question: When you look in 2008 to now, what are those key insights that you look at as your blogs evolve and the lessons you’ve learned as a parent? I think I’ve learned to be a lot more relaxed. I had a really big insight back when I had the 2 little kids. I remember one night, when my son was just crying, and my daughter will wake up, and my husband was on a business trip, I was just kind of feeling sorry for myself. And I remember this moment when I had a sister who was like 14 years younger than me and there is one like, when I was taking care of her my mom was off doing something and she was just a huge mama’s girl. And she just cried for basically 5 hours straight, and my son probably triggered this memory, and what’s surprising is that I enjoyed this memory [laughter]. Why do I like this memory? And I realized that I liked it because even though that night was truly miserable, I was able to kind of able to stay with her. I never lost patience, I understood that she was upset, and I understood that I was upset, but I didn’t turn it into, “You’re making me upset”. And so I feel like, just a kind of that realization for me was a turning point as a parent. I realized that it’s okay to have horrible moments with your kids, because as long as you could just be in the moment, and yes that is painful, but it’s actually in my experience, better to just stay there and feel the emotions than you get frustrated. Or what I did most often, was I would just try to kind of like numb myself to all the screaming [laughter] which I think a lot of moms do, but if you could learn to like numb yourself and just let it be there, then it could turn into even an oddly positive memory later on. And it also made me realize, when my kids act up in public, I should focus on my relationship with them because that’s what’s going to matter. It’s embarrassing when your kid is-- or you know, when you’re in the parking lot and your daughter would consistently honk the car it’s the worst thing, but getting mad at her it doesn’t solve the problem. Focus on interacting with the child to solve the problem and making them a partner rather than letting the embarrassment, or the humiliation, or the pain… Question: What are the tips that you have to help connect with your child when they are upset? Top one, is to really watch their faces. If you’re angry at them and you’re not watching their face that’s like my biggest red flag, like I’m doing something wrong. When I’m talking to them I need to be watching them and see their reaction coz’ that helps me realize when I’m doing the right thing, when I’m not, just staring at them and making them more mad at me or tuning me out. And I also find out that it’s easier for me to be patient, when I’m actually looking at their face with the intention of measuring what they need to. It’s so easy to look back and say “I should have” [laughter]. I also realize how important it is to, like over the years, I’ve realized how important it is to forgive yourself as well as your kids. Coz’ we all have bad parenting moment. Question: So what was your bad parenting moment? The recent one was, I tried to like, the 4-year old is going to bed and she was being a little bit ridiculous. And my 3 girls share a room, which makes bedtime sometimes challenging. And my 11-year old was laughing at how she was being ridiculous, and so I yelled at the 11-year old to stop laughing [laughter]. And I was just like it’s counter-productive, but we just do that kind of thing. And I had to go apologize to her. It’s just accepting that we all do stuff like that. It was actually better for her to laugh, than me to yell at her. Question: Having 4 different kids, what would you say would be the biggest challenge is for you being a parent? It’s really busy all of the time. I think I find myself having to be really careful and I haven’t achieved this balance anywhere near balance, but it’s really hard. I find it really challenging to balance like opportunities, with obligations, and then figuring out that perfect balance. And like we’re doing some things or opportunities that I feel like we should cease. Every opportunity you take complicates life, and takes away time, so it’s just finding that balance. Like, my house is never clean, but how messy is okay to have it [laughter]. I’m so glad google calendar exist, I have no idea what parents did before. Question: Sharing all these experiences on your blog what type of advice would you give to new parents - of just being a good parent, having multiple kids, etc.? I think my top piece of advice is to let yourself live in the moment and see the world thru your children’s eyes. It makes for just an incredible parenting experience. When I look at things thru my kids’ point of view, I discover things that I forgot from my own childhood. They introduce me to new things, and I’m also much better prepared to communicate my expectations and I understand better where and how they view my support. website: www.mamasmiles.com email: mamasmilesblog@gmail.com twitter: twitter.com/mamasmiles instagram: www.instagram.com/mamasmiles/ pinterest: www.pinterest.com/mamasmiles/ youtube: www.youtube.com/mamasmiles