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Family Traditions | The Balanced Mom Magazine

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Family mealtimesby Shaila Saint, M.Ed.

Fall is here, which means it’s time to shake off the summertime cobwebs, and slowly begin to re-establish the rituals and routines of the new school year. And if your household is anything like ours, this will definitely include ridding ourselves of the summer junk food fare and re-establishing healthy eating habits and regular family mealtimes.

Research shows that children who consistently eat dinner with their families do better in school, develop better lifelong eating habits and are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Family mealtimes also becomes a great opportunity to reconnect with each other about the day.

But although this may sound wonderful in theory, we parents know that the challenges always come in the practice (which is why it’s such a common topic of discussion in my mindful parenting classes). For example, what happens when when our three year-old takes two bites of this healthy meal we so lovingly prepared and then gets up to go play? Or when our nine year-old yells, “Yuck, I hate this!” In other words, how do we put our mealtime vision into practice?

The first place to start, as always, is knowing our children’s needs and temperaments and our own family values and boundaries. For example, is our three year-old really hungry or did she just have a snack not long ago? Is she naturally active, and typically just needs to move after a few minutes, regardless of what is being served? As far as the nine year-old, what is allowed and not allowed to be said during mealtimes, based upon your values? And what are the rules/ boundaries you want to establish around trying new things?

One of my favorite authors to help us establish a healthy eating philosophy is the nutritionist Ellyn Satter, whose basic tenet is that eating is a division of responsibility between children and parents. The parent is responsible for what is eaten, when it is eaten and where it is eaten. This includes deciding what food is prepared, providing regular meals and snacks, making mealtimes a pleasant experience, and helping children learn about food and mealtime behavior.

The child is responsible for how much is eaten and whether to eat. Satter contends that if we as parents do our job, then children will do their job including eating the amount they need, increasing the variety of food they eat, and learning to be joyful and appropriate in eating.

Satter’s books also reinforce the concept that if families sit down together and parents take responsibility for deciding what is served, we are less likely to turn into short order cooks, where different things are made for different people. This approach has helped me send the message that just as my boys have the choice of deciding how much to eat, they also have the choice to wait until the next meal, as this is what is being served now. No separate meals.

As the boys have gotten older, we have also developed a routine where everyone chooses a meal once a week, and sometimes help to shop for and prepare the meals as well. These guidelines have enabled all of us to become more open to a variety of things we otherwise may not have tried, and it also helps them learn lifelong skills like planning for and cooking meals.

Finally, Satter suggests that instead of looking at our children’s food and nutritional intake on a daily basis (which we know can vary depending on schedule, mood, and other factors) we look at it over the course of an entire week. This can really take the pressure off trying to make every mealtime nutritionally sound. If we know there are times, like on a busy weekend, when more junk food was consumed, we can decide to serve more fruits and veggies in the course of the next few days to balance it out.

It’s what I call “The Very Hungry Caterpillar philosophy” towards healthy family eating. Any of you who have read this Eric Carle book will recognize the overall message, that food, like other pleasures
and necessities in life, should be enjoyed and appreciated, with both moderation and awareness.

So just as the caterpillar in the book eats the nice green leaf on the Sunday after his Saturday junk food binge, whenever anyone in our family comes back from an event where we have overeaten, I try to discuss how we probably had too much cake/soda/ In-n-Out burgers, and that’s why we have this stomachache/headache/ fatigue.

We try not to judge food as good or bad, as I don’t want my boys looking at any type of food as the much sought after “forbidden fruit”, but I also hope they will develop an awareness of what they are eating and what the consequences are for their bodies and well-being. My long term hope is that the boys will make healthy eating a life choice because they see the benefits of it, and not just because I am making them do it now.

Overall, like anything else, the more mindful we are about the vision we have regarding our children’s relationship with food and their understanding of healthy eating, the more we can hopefully increase the pleasure and enjoyment of our family mealtime experiences during this new school year, and beyond — Bon Appetit!

by Kenia Hernandez-Cueto

California is one of the most sought after destinations in the world for travelers. Its landscape is as diverse as the popula- tion inhabiting it. With its increasingly growing ethnic groups, California has grown to be the melting pot of the world. Families flock to vacation spots throughout the state to seek multiple cultural experiences in its diverse demographic make-up the likes of a trip around the world. They could experience the refreshing touch of the expansive California Pacific Ocean Coast, the rugged terrain and swelter- ing heat generated from the hot desert landscape, or the crisp freshness of high mountain resorts all in an amaz- ingly close proximity to one another. Newcomers are also pleasantly sur- prised to find added access to com- munities much different from their own, which share rich cultural traditions and nuances from countries miles away.

The beauty of cultural diversity and rich traditions tend to get lost in the chaos of life here in California and, for this reason, some parents take on the task to weave the teachings of cultural awareness and understanding into their every day life lessons. How can more parents expose and share diverse cultural treasures with their children that are not so hidden within our midst?

Parenting with a purpose allows one to focus on specifics they believe are important in the development of a child’s formation. Teaching and modeling values, morals, and religion are some of the fundamental building blocks that guide children toward a purposeful beginning. Within these morals and values are cultural acceptance, understanding, and respect towards human kind.

In addition, exposure to diverse experiences enhances life involvement and further exploration of ones own uniqueness. Self-awareness is enhanced and curiosity into ones own personal history and lineage becomes heightened. Making time to follow ancestral heritage allows families to recognize familial and traditional distinctions that best explains who they are. The process of self-discovery through cultural awareness could well be the motivating factor to further multicultural discoveries.

Statistics; According to the 2010 Census, 57.6% of the population claimed to be white, while 40.1% were non-Hispanic white. 13% were Asian and 6.2% Black. Other groups con- sisted of Native American, Hispanic, Latino and others. California’s multi- cultural population of 37,253,956 is the most populous in the country.

Although children are born with their own personalities, traits and individual idiosyncrasies, parents have the ability to impart purposeful teachings their children could carry throughout their lifetime.

Multicultural Experiences in California

Access to the multicultural experience in California can be within reach and free of charge. Outings to ethnic markets, cultural events and museums are bound to create a blend of curiosity, enlightenment and intrigue. Education takes its course as new cultural experiences overtake the natural learning process.

“Children don’t come with instructions, but they do come with open minds,” writes Christopher Metzler, Ph.D., an authority on issues of diversity and inclusion.

As working and stay-at-home moms find themselves hungry for new ideas on keeping their children entertained and motivated during the summer season, it is natural they search for already planned summer programs or camps that most likely require
a hefty out-of-pocket commitment. Participatory programs that welcome parent’s attendance aren’t readily available unless the parent is a volunteer, therefore, begin the search for free summer camps or events through local city community parks and recreation departments, schools, churches, clubs or organizations such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts or YMCA. Many programs aren’t specifically geared to focus on teaching diversity, however; one can make a concerted effort to search for programs that carry within their mission a sense of community, service, respect, humanity and equality.

Planning and thinking out-of-the-box for free summer activities that will entertain, enhance and teach are well worth the time. Although an “all hands on deck” approach may be essential, at the end of the day, parents will find that memorable moments outweighing their exhaustion. To add multiculturalism into the experience, research into the culture and location of the event beforehand. Allow the children to share their curiosity, concerns and comments before, during and after the activity. Open conversations are a healthy way to evaluate their cultural experience.

Become a Proactive in Your Community

There are plenty of non-profit organizations and events within your community that pursue a diverse mission therefore, searching for the best fit may feel somewhat overwhelming. Membership costs and time commitments may overshadow the added benefits a family receives. Researching the pros and cons of participating in a small event versus becoming a member of an organization will pay dividends. Families may find themselves best suited in making a difference in the lives of others and also learning about the diversity within the community by participating in multiple events versus joining one or two long-term organizations. Becoming a member of an organization could also make a positive lasting change on those around you.

Understanding humanity through service allows children to learn about the needs of human kind and the diverse ways in which they live. Traditions are also rich with unique customs, foods, music, and colors. They also learn about love, sharing, giving, commitment, understanding and much more. Neglecting to educate children about multiculturalism is to literally take away their global perspective and understanding of human life therefore, finding a balance to parent with a cultural purpose is critical.

The holidays can sometimes seem overwhelming. However they are also the perfect time to give yourself permission to create bliss in your home. When our home isn’t as beautiful and functional as we want it to be, there’s a negative reaction inside of us at a gut level. That feeling! This holiday season, give yourself permission to gift yourself a space that nurtures and supports you and your family and above all, makes you happy! At my very core, I believe through design we can all have a better life. However, it’s not a matter of putting more ‘stuff’ in our homes. It is really a matter of creating heart in the home through design and infusing the spaces in your home with you… with who you are as a mom, a wife, a sister…with what’s in your heart.

Here are a few ideas to help you create a nurturing, heartfelt home this holiday season.

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to family. This holiday season, surround yourself and your family with love, togetherness and gratitude. One way to infuse your rooms with these things is to bring in happy reminders of what is really important to you and your family. In addition to decorating your home with beautiful holiday decorations, think about infusing treasured memories of past holidays into your home this year. Set aside time after school or one evening as a family to each choose four or five pictures from past holidays that really speak to you and bring happy memories to mind. Choose frames that coordinate with your existing décor and create a photo ‘spot’ in each of your rooms, specific for each person, whether on a blank wall or a side table. For example, your daughter and son could each frame several pictures for their rooms that they’ve chosen, which are special reminders to them. In the living room, you could all choose one or two pictures to display as a collection. This is also a wonderful way for your children to have a hand in creating their own décor and to learn the importance of creating a special space for themselves. Trust me, it will make a difference each time you walk in the room and see the happy memories!

If your photo spots are on side or console tables, try pairing a plant, flowers or other organic component that corresponds with the memory, or that brings up other fun/pleasant memories from past holidays. You may try a small rosemary tree in your kids’ rooms or some other organic, holiday reminder. For instance, when I was younger, my mom and I made spiced orange pomanders during the holidays, using oranges or tangerines and spiking the rinds with cloves in decorative patterns. Not only did they make pretty centerpieces, the scent of orange and clove throughout the house during the holidays was amazing! So for me, using these near my photo spots or simply as a centerpiece just layers the holiday memories together and incorporates a wonderful scent that brings back even more happy memories.

The holidays are also about gratitude and using a gratitude journal is one way many of us stay connected to those things that truly matter to us. Why not begin a new tradition this year and create a family gratitude journal? You can even give it a place of honor on one of the tables or bookshelves in your home, specially decorated for the holiday season. Each evening or every few days, set aside 10 or 15 minutes to spend time as a family and pass the journal around to add one or two things for which you’re each grateful. Writing our gratitude helps center us in the present moment, shutting out the chaos of homework, the To Do list, carpool and soccer. Sharing our gratitude only multiplies it and serves to bring other good things to us, so pass it around and read them to each other! You will create a fun, new family tradition and you’ll have the journal to look back on each year to come.

I know we’ve all heard this phrase at the holiday season: carve out space and time for yourself. Selfcare is important, particularly for moms who focus on nurturing everyone but themselves. To give ourselves adequate self-care in our homes, we need to have a space that we can call our own at least some part of the day. Give yourself permission to take a room, a corner in the living room or a spot on the patio or in the bath, and take a few minutes here to allow yourself space to breathe and be you.

Connect with your surroundings. Congratulate yourself for accomplishing all that you have. Light a candle or use a reed diffuser with a scent that reminds you of something happy and enjoy spending some time with yourself.

Remembering that the holidays are truly about family, giving and gratitude helps center us during this typically crazy time of year. Creating reminders in our home throughout the season is one way to help bring togetherness, comfort and bliss to our families, to carry with us into the new year.

Nicole Cavanaugh

Mind, Body + Home
Interior Design
Nicole is the founder of Cavanaugh Interior Design Group. Her goal is to provide people with functional designs of spaces. Read more about Nicole and her mission here.

I open the door.
In comes the treasured guest.
In her hands are her gifts
the gift of time and far-seeing moments,
the gift of nourishment and wisdom,
the gift of caring and knowledge,
the gift of change and self.
She must have searched her soul for gifts as precious as these.

The holiday season is again upon us. When you ask your kids about the holidays they may automatically think of receiving gifts. So how do we teach the spirit of giving? For many of us parents, we start to think of how we can provide the gifts that meet our child’s expectations this year. We might even exceed our budgets to meet these expectations, which can leave us feeling overwhelmed.

If you feel some of these pressures and feel yourself drifting from the spirit of giving, we have a few suggestions for this season and throughout the year.

First, in honesty, it is developmentally appropriate for children and adolescents to be egocentric in their thinking. At the same time, at any age, children can give generously and genuinely. So, of course our children will tell us what they want for the holidays and asking for it is understandable. We all have needs and wants and having the ability to verbalize them is very important. The balancing act for your family is identifying what is reasonable to expect when it comes to material items. As parents, we have the ability to set the tone and limits of expectations this year. Just know that what your family decides may differ from other families and your children are very likely to make comparisons. However, knowing what feels right for your family is most important.

So what about giving? Can you think of a time that you gave something to someone and you could see how much it meant to that person? Those are great stories to share with your children. Also, reminding your children of a time when they made something just for you and how much that meant/means to you will help personalize the meaning of giving. A beautiful story to share with your children of any age is “The Gift of the Magi” by Henry O (pen name for William Sydney Porter), which was written back in 1906. This timeless classic talks about the act of giving through unselfish love. There is also, “The Giving Tree”, by Shel Silverstein, which brings up great points of conversation around giving and receiving. These are great ways to start conversations in your family.
Look at your own family and see if this is the case. Pay attention and observe how your children take care of their toys. Be mindful of how easily your children ask for things and expect to receive them. Do you find yourself giving in when your child throws a tantrum at the store just to spare yourself the embarrassment?There are many debates out there as to how today’s parents focus on how much they will spend on getting their kids the latest gadgets and/or toys even if it means increasing your debt or spending beyond your means. Many people complain that we are bringing up a generation of “Gimmies” or children with a strong sense of entitlement focused on getting instant gratification.

Transitions in Motherhood invites you to create new traditions about giving in your family this holiday season. You can focus on giving within your family and within your community. Here are a few ideas that you can implement that will help your children understand the concept of giving and giving back.

Within your family

1. At dinner, acknowledge an act of kindness that someone in the family shared that you identify as a gift to your family (opening the door, bringing in the groceries, etc.).

2. Create a little tree that you can place in your home where you can write down acts of kindness/giving and hang the writings on the tree to acknowledge these gifts.

3. Engage your family in recycling cans and bottles to purchase a family gift instead of buying individual gifts.

4. Completing a family project that benefits your family or home. Like the phrase “charity starts at home”. Such as cleaning your yard together, washing the family car, cleaning the garage, etc.

5. Share with your family the things you are grateful for (non-material).

Within your community

1. Ask your children if they see a need in the community that they can help with. The more the act is self-driven the better.

2. Have your children go through their toys and clothes and see what they are no longer using and have them donate some things to their nearest shelter. Reading a little bit about the local charity and what they do before you make your donation can help bring further understanding. Even writing a short note to go with the donation can help personalize the experience.

3. Have your children/family work together and clean a neighbor’s yard.

4. Bake cookies as a family and donate them to a local convalescent home.

5. Perform a dance or song at a convalescent home.

Taking time to reflect as a family on the experience can help put words and further understanding towards the many ways giving can look like.

Happy Holidays from Transitions in Motherhood, supporting you every step of the way.

Emma and Tara are co-founders of Transitions in Motherhood, an organization dedicated in helping families, especially mothers, and their mental health.

Emma Santizo, LCSW

Transitions in Motherhood
Motherhood Balance
Read more about Emma here

Tara Farajian, LCSW

Transitions in Motherhood
Motherhood Balance
Read more about Tara here

Taking this Season Up a Notch
Jennifer Griner ‘Tis the season for cozy times with family, hot chocolate with toasted marshmallows and making new memories of happiness, gratitude and giving.

We all know the typical stories of the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Most of us dread the winter months because of that mental connection and the old thought patterns of spending more or spending beyond our means in order to make people “happy.”

This season, I challenge everyone to look beyond the holiday wish lists and create other gift-giving alternatives that would make a difference in other peoples’ lives while making lasting memories as a family. All the shiny electronics and the sugar-filled goodies are still wonderful things to give and receive, but it’s time to take this season up a notch by doing something different for the community and / or your family as a unit.

Make the holidays a time that fulfills your heart and nourishes your soul, instead of feeling spent, broke and exhausted. Take the time to shift the to-do lists, the holiday plans, the decorating and the budget in order to make room for what is really important to you and your family. Write down 3-5 things you want to do to have your “Mom me-time” and the family quality time this holiday. Shift your focus around those things and celebrate in gratitude. After all, teaching our children what the holidays are truly about is one of the most important gifts we can give them.

Living a life of balance means living with purpose and choosing to do things that truly fulfills your core values.

The team at NAFBM wishes you a holiday season of family togetherness, heart-filled gratitude and selfless giving.

Jennifer Griner