Category: Family LIfe

Stress Free Lunch Planning – Free download!

This post contains affiliate shopping links for your convenience, at no cost to you. I make a small commission when you shop from these links.

Over the years packing lunches for my picky eaters has felt like a chore. The things they willingly eat will suddenly change, and it is usually right after I purchase that new favorite food in bulk size. What works for other kids, does not always work for mine. Only this year, one of my kids accepted ketchup and ranch as allowable dunking tools. Both of my kiddos’ natural eating habits are more like grazing than eating a full meal. All of this makes lunch planning stressful. But now I have a much simpler way to create lunches my kids will really eat.

For background, besides being picky, my kids also cannot have artificial dyes, need high protein, and we must limit their dairy. This limits their already condensed food repertoire. I’d love to be able to let my kids order anything they want from the school cafeteria, but without me there to read every single label, they can (and they have) ingest something that will be unpleasant later. Packing a lunch for school is a must for us.

Here’s how I learned to make lunch PLANNING easier:

CREATE A LIST OF FAVORITES

The first thing I do is create a list of things my kids willingly eat. I list each protein, fruit, veggie, and carb individually. I include all their favorites and most importantly things I know they will eat. This gives me a great a visual of items to choose from, and it helps me see just how many foods my picky eaters are already eating. My kids have been picky for so long that I was surprised by the length of the list! Next, I use this list to create balanced meal combinations that includes one protein, one veggie, one fruit and one carb or treat. I try to make as many nutritious combinations as I can using this list of trusted options to create a variety of meals my kids will eat.

MEAL PLAN

Now that I have a list of meals my kids will eat, I write it on the lunch menu on the fridge so my kids can see what they will need to pack each night. If it is a hot lunch option, I will make it for them in the morning before school but have them pack up their water bottles and extra snacks inside the bag at night.  There’s no shame in reheating leftovers they ate the night before and sending in for school lunch.

I noticed one thing that was contributing to my kids rejecting their packed lunches, I was over serving the same items. Whenever my kid suddenly fell in love with a new food, I served it so frequently that the novelty wore off quick. It became boring fast. Planning lunches ahead of time helps me see where I can space out those favorites to keep things from getting too repetitive.

Grab my FREE LUNCH PLANNER —-> HERE!

Here’s how I’ve learned to make PACKING easier:

THINK INSIDE THE BOX

I use a Bento box style lunch container that helps my kids see what they pack. There is a section for some fruit, a veggie, and a main food item. Hot lunches I make in the morning and put in a thermos, but I’ll have the kids pack up their water bottles and extra snacks in their lunch box the night before.

Our favorite lunch containers –> here.

Our favorite water bottles —> here.

PUT THE KIDS IN CHARGE OF PACKING

Having my kids see what is going into their lunchboxes eliminates the surprise at lunchtime. There was a time the lunch box came back untouched because my kids didn’t like a single thing I packed inside. Getting their input and having them pack their own lunches, helps avoid any rejections later.

Our favorite lunch bag —>here.

Does this sound easier for you? I know not everyone is a planner, but I feel like having things like meals and lunches planned saves me so much time (and stress) when I need to do the packing. It takes a lot of the thinking out of it because I thought about it and wrote it down three days ago.  I also like to have grab and go options available for my kids to make it easier for them to pack lunches on their own, which is also a big-time saver in my week. I keep things like protein bars, 100 calorie packs of nuts or trail mix, individual pepperoni sticks on hand for them to toss in for snacks.

How about you? I’d love to hear in the comments below what you do to take the stress out of packing your kids school lunches!

The whatever mom blogger bio

How Will the 2021 School Year Look?

This post contains affiliate shopping links for your convenience. I make a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Returning to school this year, like last year, is going to look different than what we are used to. Schools in New York are kind of making it work like they did last year. Based on our experience during the last few months of in-person school, they are already equipped with a plan, kind of know what to expect as far as what supplies are required and barriers and cleaning teams are in place.

My kids did great academically last year, but it took A LOT of motivation from ME! I’ve never been a cheerleader before, but last year I should have won a trophy! (Me and every parent/grandparent that survived remote learning!). My kids did not do well socially and emotionally because learning and connecting with friends through a screen all day, was not helpful at all. We did our best with what we had and even signed them up for in-person outdoor events, but it didn’t help them get through the school day. So, this year the plan is to send them back in-person following whatever protocols the school wants us to follow. The alternative of keeping them home, just isn’t going to benefit them.

We are still waiting for the official plan from our school district about protocols and practices, but I anticipate we will need the same supplies as last year, namely masks and hand sanitizer, plus whatever classroom supplies our teachers request. This can vary with every grade, and with two kids in the same grade I am buying doubles of everything!

I’ve learned how to save a bit on back-to-school supplies and shopping. My biggest suggestion is, don’t stress over the brand names or the exact size. The supplies you send in will get used. Teachers tend to ask for specific brands because they know they work well, however, if it doesn’t fit in your budget that’s perfectly OK too.

This is what our 2021 back to school shopping looks like:

Masks. At some point the kids are going to be wearing masks. Whether it’s the first day of school, or during the predictable indoor season where flu bugs and respiratory viruses run free, I might as well have some on hand to be prepared.  Now that the schools will be at full capacity, I am switching up to a 5 layer mask for my kids to wear on the bus. I also purchased this 10 pack of mask lanyards for the kids to keep their masks attached to themselves. Otherwise, they lay it down they will lose it. And of course, they will lose the lanyard too and I’ll need back ups.

Sanitizing handwipes. The gels are so messy and always have such a strong smell. Hand wipes work better for my kids. I always toss an extra pack in the kids back packs to have on hand. Who knows when they might need to wipe something icky off the seat on the bus, or wipe their hands clean before grabbing a snack?

Click image to purchase.

New backpacks – I try to reuse these from year to year, but my kids’ have had the same backpack for nearly 3 years now and I have been informed they are no longer “cool.” So.. shopping we go!

Lunch boxes – we reuse our lunch boxes as long as we can. I try to get a solid color vs. a fun character that my kid will outgrow when they fall in love with the next character. I just upgraded our lunch boxes for the first time in years to these Bentgo Deluxe lunch boxes because they are so roomy and hold our Rubbermaid Lunch Blox containers perfectly.

New sneakers – this is always hard. Not only do I buy two pairs at once, but I have yet to find a brand that lasts. So, I usually end up buying more than one pair each school year. My most recent find of Reima waterproof / washable high tops seem to be holding up well so far. I am finding that buying the cheapest pair of shoes, just means I’ll be buying a second pair in a few months. So, it’s actually worth it to pay a bit more for a brand that is going to get you through 9 months of gym class.

New outfit – I only buy one new outfit for the first day of school. A fresh outfit sets the tone for the new year. I have tons of clothes already stored away in bins for each new size and season. This has been my system since my kids were little. It helps me avoid those sudden “I have nothing left to wear” growth spurts. Plus, now, it saves us a lot of money during back to school. I spend an hour on a weekend morning going through their dressers to find what fits and what to toss.

Classroom supplies – sometimes I’m lucky to get a supply list with the last report card of the year. And when I do, I start combing through last year’s supplies that come home in my kid’s backpack. I set aside like new colored pencils, markers, erasers, rulers, folders, crayons, etc. to reuse for the next year. This saves a bunch of money and shopping time. I fill in whatever is missing by ordering online and having it delivered to my doorstep or pick up at the store.

Having to shop for more than one kid adds up quick. This is just how my family tackles back-to-school shopping. What money saving tricks do you have for back-to-school shopping? I’d love to read them in the comments below!

Tips to Pitch the Plastic as a Family

Post contains convenient shopping links to my affiliates. I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

It can feel overwhelming trying to pitch the plastics from our homes. And it might be unrealistic for families with young kids to eliminate every ounce of plastic from their lives. The busier we get, the more we tend to rely on convenience packaging, grab and go meals and water bottles for hydration. But there are ways to greatly reduce the amount of plastics we use on a daily basis, thereby reducing the amount of plastics in our water stream and landfills. And it can even save us some money.

If you try to eliminate plastic all at once, it can feel daunting. It might feel like too much change at once. But if you introduce one new habit at a time, or start with simple swaps, it will get easier in time. Once you have the hang of ditching plastics, you’ll discover you have an eye for earth friendly materials, and thinking about our environment will become second nature.

Here are my tips to families looking to purge the plastics from their lives:

START WITH ONE SIMPLE SWAP

For us, it was replacing our paper napkins and towels with cloth. This eliminates plastic wrappers that cannot be recycled. To make it more affordable, I shopped thrift stores for my collection of cloth napkins. We use them at every meal and toss into the laundry basket with our kitchen towels. To replace paper towels, I gathered up old hand towels and wash cloths (a great way to recycle baby bath cloths). I did purchase some Norwex cloths because they are absorbent and designed to last for years. It did take time to get everyone in my house in the habit of grabbing a cloth, or towel to wipe up spills instead of grabbing paper towels. Since we have a dog that makes some pretty gross messes, I do purchase a small number of paper towel rolls. I get paper made from bamboo and packaged in paper, not plastic. This feels like small change, but it will have added impact.

Silicon Jar Jackets- Click to buy

NEXT REPURPOSE, REUSE AND RELAX

Instead of cupboards filled with toppling towers of plastic cups, we only use glass. I know that just gave a lot of moms anxiety, but I use mason jars because the glass is more durable. For extra protection, I use a silicon sleeve for better gripping, and if my kid drops their glass it won’t shatter. If glass is still too much anxiety, you can use stainless steel cups which are quickly becoming a trend.

I reuse glass jars for pantry storage. I’ve already paid for a jar when I purchased my pasta sauce and pickles, why send them to the curb? My husband thought I was kind of crazy those few weeks I was obsessed with saving our glass jars, but it is worth it to revamp my pantry with a matching set of jars I didn’t have to pay extra for. And, if one breaks I won’t be heart broken, or have difficulty finding another matching jar. To make this truly zero waste and plastic free, I take my jars to the bulk bins and fill up in the store.

WHAT TO REPLACE

I went room by room and made a list of plastic products I want to replace. I focused on replacing things in one room before I moved on to the next room. This created new shopping habits and made the process much simpler and easy to manage.

In the kitchen, we replaced our plastic coated dish sponge with a net dish cloth. It was definitely an adjustment because I was convinced it was never going to work as well as a sponge. It actually works great! Plus, it lasts for 10 years, so I am saving my wallet and the earth in one step.

I stopped using plastic food containers or baggies for left overs. I use pint sized mason jars to store things like sauce, veggies, avocados, apple slices, lemon slices, canned goods, and more. The seal on the jar keeps things fresher longer than in plastic and with no chemicals leaching into my food. I also picked up a set of glass storage containers at the thrift store that were brand new. (My guess is they were a duplicate wedding gift). I can see what’s inside and toss right in the microwave and have hot food in minutes.

We made some big changes in the bathroom with our care products. Did you know that every plastic tooth brush manufactured since the 1940s, still lives in landfills today? As soon as I read that, I switched to bamboo tooth brushes. They work just as good as their plastic counterparts, but do less damage to our water ways. Bamboo is renewable and breaks down in your compost.

Instead of plastic floss containers, I use glass. This is such an easy, affordable swap. The glass container can be recycled or repurposed. I use this brand because it is produced with manmade fibers and not from silk moths.

Switching to toothpaste tabs was an adventure. My kids had zero problems with it, I think because it felt like chewing candy. It did take my husband and myself time to get used to crunching our tooth paste before we use it. Knowing the eco-impact of removing the most purchased piece of plastic helped us power through. The tabs come in glass jars, and you can subscribe to receive new tabs in paper packaging instead of buying a new jar each time, or simply purchase a new jar. Honestly, buying a jar to recycle or reuse is still avoiding significant plastics from entering our water stream.

Buying bars of soap without packaging is another super easy swap. My local grocery store carries a large assortment of package free soaps made from organic and natural ingredients. The price per bar is around the same as name brand soap. You can’t buy a mega sized, family pack. But, you can buy a few fresh scents and know there’s no garbage to toss later.

Lotion bars are a great way to eliminate plastic tubes that are rarely recycled. These bars are so easy to use and create less mess. I store my bars in a washable and reusable zipper pouch (I can toss right in with our weekly towel wash). The heat from my hands melts the lotion bar enough to apply to where I need it, but the bar stays solid.

Stainless steel water bottle – click to find your perfect color.

HOW TO PITCH THE PLASTIC OUTSIDE THE HOME

We’ve stopped asking for plastic straws at the drive thru. We aren’t a family that needs to use plastic straws, so we carry a reusable and washable wet bag filled with metal straws. I keep it right in the glove box. When we are traveling, we use our plastic free utensils and put them back in the wet bag to take back home to clean.

We’ve stopped grabbing plastic water bottles at gas stations on our short trips. Instead, we bring water from home in our reusable stainless steal beverage containers. Plus, the double wall feature keeps beverages ice cold for 24 hours.

To avoid grabbing prepackaged foods, we often bring along our own snacks or meals in sustainable packaging, or seek out local family friendly spots who use eco-friendly containers. I have reusable snack bags that I use to fill from our larger container of snacks that I pack in our cooler bag. And I’ve swapped plastic containers for steal.

I bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and if I forget them, I request paper. Some areas charge to use the store bags, so by using my own I avoid the 5 cent per bag fee. Plus, my reusable bags are stronger and carry more in them, which means less trips from the car. I leave my bags in the trunk, so I don’t forget them.

It doesn’t have to cost a million dollars to pitch the plastic, and you don’t need to buy all new products for your home. Focus on your biggest priority for change, then when you have that down, move on to the next. It’s really easy once you get started and your kids will easily follow your lead. Convenience packaging and relying on the same products is easy, but true change takes a little extra thought and a new purchasing pattern.

How are you planning to pitch some plastic this month?

Get your FREE Pitch the Plastic Action Guide Here

The whatever mom blogger bio

Get the Kids Outdoor Ready this Summer {plus my Top 5 Beach Hacks}

Post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission when you use them to shop, at no extra cost to you.

Do you have an all-weather kid? One that plays real hard no matter what? There could be wind, or sleet, mud or snow and they still go out to paly? That’s my kids! They are non-stop energy and not about to let a little mud, or sand, or dirt stand in their way of a good time. We go through clothes and shoes quickly, not just because my kids outgrow them so fast, but because they destroy them. I have yet to find a shoe that can outlast their pace. In fact I have polled every moms group I belong to asking for recommendations, and still have not found anything that is long lasting for active kids.

There are two things I look for in a kid shoe – durability and materials. I’ve noticed the shoes with the synthetic materials that are smooth and lightweight, wear out much quicker and are not recyclable. My kids wear their shoes until threadbare and their toes are poking out. Our only option is to toss them into the trash because the materials aren’t recyclable. Those synthetic, low quality (high priced) materials do not make it through an entire school year before we need to purchase a second pair.

That’s why I am so excited to partner with Reima and try these all-season waterproof machine washable sneakers with Velcro. We need durable shoes that will hold up to different terrains and are easy to keep clean. These are machine washable, but we simply hosed off the shoes when we returned from the beach.

“Wow mom! I can watch the water roll right off my shoes!”

These high-tops have a Velcro closure and elastic built in laces. This should save a lot of time getting out the door, but my kids have never worn high-top shoes before, and it took a few minutes to figure them out. As soon as everyone was comfy and ready to jump into the car, we were off to our favorite river beach. The beautiful thing about the beaches along the Hudson is there is typically a park, lots of water and hiking trails. So, there is a good chance of getting messy.

Taking a forest walk.
Testing how water proof the shoes are. The water just rolls off in beads!

To keep the kids covered and protected from the sun during our play break, my girls wore their terry cloth, SPF 50 cover up hoodies with matching shorts, also from Reima. These are soft and comfortable. One of my kiddos wears this new hoodie at home or just riding in the car. The long sleeves are perfect while near the water. It’s often cooler and the temp drops a few degrees, not to mention there are always bugs. The hoodies kept my kids warm and safe and comfortable. Which means a more enjoyable time for all of us.

Can not miss a chance to climb some rocks!
This is her new favorite hoodie.

“I am glad you made me wear the long sleeves, mom. Why is it always colder by the water?”

Click to get my Top 5 Beach Hacks

Overall, my kids love the shoes and the cover ups. But here are a few things about the company that makes my mom heart happy:   

Reima uses non-toxic, fluorocarbon free and recyclable materials. The dyes used are free of carcinogens and the fibers are selected with the lifecycle of the product in mind. Everything is designed for active, playful children, and to be carefree for parents. Say goodbye to disposable fashion because these are made durable enough for your child to wear for several seasons before passing along to a sibling, or a friend. Reima has spent over 75 years future-proofing the next generations by creating long lasting, durable clothing that keeps our kids and our planet safe.

I am fully committed to sharing products I have personally tried, and I’ll share anything that makes my job as a mom easier.  Purchasing washable, durable, sustainable clothes and shoes that our kids can wear season after season is a big budget saver! It makes sense for our bank accounts and for the planet. If you have an active kid and you need stress free activewear options, take a look at what Reima has to offer, and you can feel good about buying sustainably.

The whatever mom blogger bio

Father’s Day Dinner Recipe Round-up

There are few things my husband asks for, for Father’s Day. But he does enjoy a good celebration meal. His favorite thing to eat is a grilled steak. It doesn’t matter what sides are served if there is the perfect beer to balance it out.

That’s it. He isn’t really picky about the details.

All the gifts he gets are from the kids and it is typically a silly joke between them printed on a t-shirt, or something handmade. They help me prepare dinner and set the table. The kids help me pick out the side dishes (usually things they will eat, and dad just goes along with). I don’t think there has ever been a takeout night or dinner outside our backyard to celebrate. I try to keep things low key and simple. The family seems to enjoy that most.

Do you have a traditional meal to celebrate Father’s Day in your home? Here are a few ideas for inspiration. And if you don’t celebrate Father’s Day, these are great meals to make any day of the year.

Beef – for the family that enjoys a little fancy.

Honey Bourbon Steak

Sheet pan Steak and Veggies

Ribeye Steak and Shrimp

Seafood – for lighter fair.

Creamy Garlic Shrimp

Garlic Butter Cod with Asparagus

The Best Grilled Salmon

Casual Pub Grub – for those who like low key eats.

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken Wings

19 Easy Charcuterie Boards

Backyard BBQ – when you need to feed a crowd.

The Best Macaroni Salad

Loaded Baked Potato Salad

Classic Southern Deviled Eggs

The whatever mom blogger bio

Selfcare is Crucial for Special Needs Mom Wrae Sanders

Contributing Guest Post

I have three kids and they are each quite different people. Even as babies, I could see how different their personalities were. One was very cranky but grew into a very calm, funny boy. One was the quietest baby I’ve ever met but is an Academy Award winning actress in the making. J, however, has always been a bit different than his siblings.

 As a baby, he was so easy to care for we nicknamed him the “Buddha Baby.” He started talking in 3-word sentences at 15 months old. He was walking around one-years-old . He loved everyone and would hug you so tight that you never wanted to let go. He gave huge smacking kisses on everyone’s cheeks. This changed somewhere around the time he was age four. I thought that maybe the “terrible twos” had gone on a bit too long, and he was just going to be a challenging kid.

At first, I wasn’t worried. He was just a little more energetic than the other two kids and got mad a little easier. As time went by, I realized things weren’t that simple. He was getting more aggressive, hitting his brother and sister, and at one point, neither of them really wanted to play with him. He also started tearing things up at home. He also hit me. He struggled at preschool- he wouldn’t engage with the other kids, barely talked and even though it was obvious that he was very smart, he just wouldn’t participate. He also stopped giving the hugs and kisses that we loved so much. My J was gone. I’d lost my loving, sweet little boy. I had no idea what had happened to him, but I wanted him back.

I talked to his pediatrician, who recommended an evaluation. That evaluation went well, but neither of us agreed with the diagnosis-, Adjustment Disorder. It didn’t make sense.  In the meantime, I started reading up online and in books. I just wanted to know what was going on with J. I wanted to help him, but I didn’t know how. It broke my heart because I loved him so much and knew he needed me, but I just couldn’t reach him.

Everything I read pointed to ADHD and autism.

 AUTISM? What? J talked, but he was a bit quiet. He hated change, liked being alone, obsessed over certain things (at one point, dinosaurs, now it’s cars and video games). Other things sounded like him too. I never imagined having a child with autism, but then, who does?

The ADHD? I literally laughed as I read through criteria for this.

By the time J was four, he had broken a foot and arm due to not listening and being impulsive. He had cut a finger so badly he needed stitches. (He broke his arm later that week, five days before his fourth birthday, making that week the worst week in my parenting life until his brother’s hospitalization for heart issues). He had basically no attention span. I talked to his preschool teachers, and they agreed.

Getting a second evaluation wasn’t easy. By this point, my husband and I were clearly on different pages on what to do with J. This is common and probably accounts for why so many couples with special needs children eventually separate. It’s hard to get the other parent to agree. He eventually did, but it took two years and my almost filing for divorce before doing so.

J’s second evaluation was right before Thanksgiving 2011. It was meant to be one day, but went into two because he became uncooperative, which the neuropsychologist told me was common. I got the results in the mail on November 23 and sobbed with relief.

The diagnosis was ADHD, combined and traits of Asperger’s Syndrome. (this was 2011, when Asperger’s still existed.) That was later amended to High Functioning Autism (now Level 2 Autism) by his psychiatrist. I was relieved that I finally knew what was going on and what to do with J. This made a lot of sense. It explained his personality- he’s quiet, and if he doesn’t know you, he probably won’t talk to you. I have to prompt him to speak to people. He took a long time to understand humor, but now that he does, he’s hilarious, with a very dry sense of humor. He’s very smart and asks a million questions a day. He prefers to hang out by himself but has gotten so much better with making friends.

Now that we had a diagnosis, the next thing I tackled was treatment.

J was only five years old and in the middle of kindergarten. He was having problems sitting still in class when he wasn’t hiding under a table. I got in contact with a program at a local University and he began seeing a therapist to help with his social skills. He also began taking medication. That was a difficult decision to make, but he clearly needed it. As the medication began to kick in and therapy began to help, we began to see improvement. J stopped being so aggressive, was able to sit and engage in school and actually started having fun again.

Over the years, he has switched meds, gone through group therapy and changed medical providers. He has come a long way since kindergarten. He just finished the ninth grade. He has an IEP for school and does well with that. There were bumps in the road in elementary and middle school, but nothing is perfect. His middle and high school have been great with him, even during a global pandemic that shut down almost every school in the country.  I have always made sure he knows that I love him exactly the way he is and that I have his back- always.

One big thing I forgot during this time was taking care of myself. I forgot how important this is! I had to relearn this. I was stressed out that I lost and gained weight. I developed Type 2 Diabetes, and had a small stroke in 2013. That was a wakeup call to start taking care of myself more, and I have done so ever since. I even stopped drinking in 2017 as it became a huge problem in my life. Today, I enjoy meditation, yoga, listening to music and podcasts, reading and coloring. And I no longer have diabetes.

What I’ve learned about selfcare as a special needs parent:

  • Take time for yourself. This may sound difficult, but even 10 minutes a day is better than nothing. Listen to music, read a book, watch a few videos on YouTube.
  • Get support. Seek out support in your family or friends, and if you can’t find support there, try finding support online. There are many support groups on Facebook, websites, etc. You aren’t alone in your journey.
  • Get your feelings out. Journal, exercise, talk, whatever you need to do. Parenting is rough, no matter how anyone puts it. When special needs are thrown in, it gets harder. Don’t let your feelings sit inside you.  
  • KNOW YOUR CHILD. This helps in a million ways. Knowing your child’s triggers, foods they WILL eat, etc. will be helpful in many situations. Your child will be glad you know them so well and it will help them feel loved. Support them no matter what.

Special needs parenting is rough. It’s not all rainbows and flowers, but I have learned so much about myself along the way. J has been my tour guide through special needs territory.  


You can find Wrae on Facebook Instagram or Patreon

Intergenerational Trauma and Healing Our Families

As COVID restrictions are lifting, you may be having mixed feelings about getting together with family members again.  For some people, these past 18 months have been a respite from toxic relationships. COVID and mandated social distancing has provided a great excuse to keep distant from family members and provided us with an opportunity to self reflect on those relationships.  Now, we have an opportunity to redraw boundaries and make changes that create empowering environments for ourselves and our children.

Within the past 30 years, studies have established that we inherit much more than eye color from our ancestors.  We also inherit many neurological and emotional characteristics, such as temper, anxieties, and parenting styles.  Intergenerational trauma is passed down as we grow up, rather than when we are born.  We take on characteristics from our caretakers, internalize them as our internal dialogue, and then bestow the same inheritance upon our own children.  When these habits and traits are harmful physically and emotionally, this is intergenerational trauma or inherited trauma, (IT). As our society learns more about IT, adults today are becoming much more aware of their own emotional well-being and the potential toxicity of their familial relationships.  Turning the huge ship of IT around requires a rewrite of your inner dialogue. If you’re a parent, it requires a reflection on your parenting techniques. If your discipline and parenting techniques with your children are the same that you experienced growing up, you are likely continuing the pattern of trauma, whether you realize it or not.  To help you through the process of healing from this trauma and changing your learned habits, mental health professionals are readily available through a variety of platforms, apps, zoom calls, or traditional in-person meetings.  

I inherited generations of trauma from both sides of my family.  As a new mom, I decided 5 years ago that this inheritance of toxic relationships ends with me.  I’ve taken parenting classes, read books, listen often to parenting podcasts, see a therapist regularly, and work hard every day to change my inner dialogue.  I grew up with fear based parenting; spanking, intimidation, plans cancelled as punishment, beloved items taken away, and a general lack of privacy and trust.  When the parenting skills that I inherited ‘pop’ out of my mouth, and I see the looks of fear on my kids, I know I’m going back to old traumatic habits. I remind myself that I’ve got this, seek support from my husband and friends, and review positive parenting resources for skills I may have forgotten.  My husband and I are on the same page and check-in regularly with plans and boundaries.  When one of us gets triggered, the other will take over the situation without shame or guilt.  

Fear based parenting was a popular form of discipline for previous generations of my family, and is still well practiced in today’s society.  Studies have shown fear based parenting practices to be damaging to children. It also creates a parent/child relationship that is very difficult to adjust when children become adults due to its authoritarian characteristics.  Parenting styles are deeply ingrained in our inner dialogue and are difficult skills to change.  Popular alternative parenting styles such as Conscious Discipline and Positive Parenting, all address these challenges in their books and training.  There are many parenting coaches in the Hudson Valley to help your family through this change as well.

As we return to social situations, it is important to remember the following responsibilities to our self and our children:

  1. Our Time and Energy is Valuable: We do not have to spend time with anyone we don’t want to, and nor do our children.  Don’t stress about the length of life a toxic relative has. Make your time the priority.  Life can be short no matter what age you are. 
  2. Giving hugs is always a choice: You own your body and have a choice who your body comes into contact with. Teach your children positive body image and give them the choices to hug or to just wave.   Listen to their words and watch their body language (even as babies); honor their choice to be touched or not.
  3. Only those who empower you have the privilege of your time:  Being a blood relative does not give anyone the authority to belittle, mock, tease, abuse, harass, or harm you.  In fact, no other human being has that authority, and blood relatives don’t get special privileges either.
  4. Set Boundaries:  It is your responsibility to communicate to others what you are and are not comfortable with.  Others can’t read your mind.  If a boundary is crossed, you need to remind and reinforce.   As a parent, the responsibility to set boundaries and reinforce them is even more important.  For young children, you are their only way of learning how to set and have those boundaries respected.  

These changes may seem like a lot of work, but it is absolutely worth it.  Living a life with clear communication, boundaries, and empowering relationships will help you blossom into your true self.  Bestowing this new inheritance on your kids will give them the tools they need for healthy relationships in all facets of their life.  You have the power to heal generations of trauma and stop the cycle with your family.  

Get help locating a therapist in your area by searching Psychology Today

Navigating the Teen Years with Boy Mom Jennifer Vergara

Contributing guest post.

I am a mom to three teenage boys, ages 12, 16 and 19. You might be thinking, 12 isn’t technically a teenager, but let me tell you, puberty has already made its ugly appearance. In my book, he’s a full-blown teenager, equipped with all the hormones, smells, body hair, and attitude that comes with it.  

There is a lot of testosterone floating around my house on the daily (even our dog is a dude). To make matters worse, we live outside of the US, away from our families and close friends, so my estrogen-rich relationships are via phone and Zoom. Then there was that thing last year, the pandemic, which resulted in all 5 of us being stuck together in the house. All day, every day – working from home and schooling from home. We live in Guatemala, where most houses do not have yards, so even the dog has been quarantined inside with us.

Again, So. Much. Testosterone.

I am not complaining about this, as I adjusted to being the only female a long time ago. I have acclimated to the vulgarity of most conversations being centered around specific male body parts, or at least the reference of them, spontaneous bursts of what smells like deadly gases, and the collection of 20+ Marvel superhero movies playing on a constant loop. I’m cool with all of this.

What has been difficult though, as we’ve entered the teenage years, is finding ways to stay connected with each of them. Let’s face it, there are certain topics that are just naturally easier for boys to talk about with their dad. I get that. And my husband? He is AMAZING at having these talks and has a knack for keeping the conversation casual, so that no one feels embarrassed or uncomfortable.

But it’s not just the awkward talks, it’s the everyday connection they have that I’m a bit envious of. When our sons were little, I was the twinkle in their eyes. It was easy to stay connected to them because they always wanted Mom. Now, they turn to their dad to talk about guy stuff, girls, video games, cars etc. And while I’m grateful that they have this amazing connection with their dad, I can’t help but feel a little left out and disconnected at times. Those feelings paired with my inability to accept that they are no longer babies, has been a struggle.

At least this is how I felt for a while. I wallowed in my own momma-pity for some time, mostly during the week of my period each month, when I’m super-duper emotional. I had talks (ugly cries) with my husband about how I felt, and I binged on chick-flicks when I had time off. I was seriously in a funk.

But then I decided to change my outlook, because frankly- it was getting to be a bit depressing. I was so caught up in my feelings about the boys getting bigger and not needing me as much, that I was missing out on the joys of their current life stages.

I decided to quit splashing around in my pool of tears and sentimental pity, and instead, I began embracing the present.

As far as connecting more with my sons, it is still possible; it just takes more work on my behalf. They are so overwhelmed with hormones and new challenges and body changes and new relationships, that they just don’t have the bandwidth to also go out of their way to try and connect with Mom, on a sentimental level. Not because they don’t want to or because they don’t need me anymore. They’re just teenagers. Their interests change and their priorities shift, AND they’re trying to figure out who the heck they are.

Once I came to this realization, everything changed, in a positive way.

If you’re struggling with the teenage years, here are a few tips that might help, they did for me.

1) Show interest. Even if it is something you aren’t interested in… try to be, for the sake of your child. Listen to their music. Watch their favorite movies. Play video games with them. Whatever their hobbies are, embrace them. Trust me, if you’re not interested, they’ll find someone else who is.

2) Be open. They’re teenagers, which means they have teenager problems and curiosities. Be open to talking about relationships, drugs, sex, fears, death- whatever is on their mind. Don’t make it awkward or turn it into a big deal. If you’re uncomfortable, then know that they are too. The more awkward you make the experience, the less they will seek you out for advice.

3) Trust them. Trust your parenting and trust that you’ve raised a well-rounded individual who can make the right decisions. Does this mean they always will? No, of course not, but you should start by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Example: our 16-year-old told us that he was offered alcohol by some older teen friends of his. We didn’t freak out. We didn’t condemn him. Instead, we listened and then asked him what he did; and guess what? He made the right decision on his own.

4) Give them space. Trust me, they need it. Respect their privacy and allow for them to have time alone. They’ve got a ton of things they’re trying to figure out.

5) Let them know they are loved unconditionally.  Your love and support should come with no bounds. No matter how bad they might mess up, no matter how dark their thoughts may be, no matter what sexual preference they have, no matter what gender roles they identify with- you will always love them and be there for them, and they need to know that.

What a blessing it is to be able to watch our children grow up. Not everyone gets this opportunity, so make the extra effort when you can. I promise it will be worth it.

Moms, Get in The Picture {Giveaway Announcement}

Giveaway product generously provided by www.sharpimagesphotographic.com

It’s hard to believe that this time last year, our entire state was locked down to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. We couldn’t think passed the next two weeks, let alone imagine what a year ahead would look like.  School buildings were closed, playgrounds were closed and basically any place with a door on it, closed. We couldn’t pass the time at the mall or go to museums and all our favorite activities were closed. There wasn’t much else to do, except go outside.

That’s when I started documenting our outdoor adventures on my phone camera. Every night before bed, I found joy in just scrolling through the camera roll looking at the smiles on my kids’ faces. I snapped some amazing shots of them exploring waterfalls and standing in awe of the horizon, building fires in the backyard, and tackling sticky s’mores. I wanted to capture as many colorful details as possible of how my kids spent their childhood living through this pandemic. I expect that one day, they will be sharing those photos with their own kids and telling them what it was like.

Then one day I noticed something.

I wasn’t in the photos.

I snapped some great shots of my husband candidly holding hands with one of my kids, or him pointing off into the distance in a teachable moment, but there weren’t any pics of me with my kids. So, I started taking selfies with the family to at least prove I was there too. Those selfies were hard to coordinate at an arms-length and it was awkward trying to huddle in front of the small camera aperture on my phone.

Don’t get me wrong, I got some silly pics of us together that captured our humor brilliantly. However, none of them capture much beyond our four heads huddled together. Someone is always a little out of frame and none of us thought to coordinate our hiking attire.

That’s when I decided, no matter what 2021 brings, we need new family portraits. Thankfully, family photographers are skilled at working from a distance and including moms in the pictures. Plus, we aren’t the only ones wrangling everyone to “look at the camera.” There’s someone else in charge of that. Moms, we just show up and smile. So much easier than trying to smoosh into a selfie (or an “us-ie” as my kids call them).

I know I am not the only mom that struggles to get in the photo (for various reasons), so I want to help another mom out by getting her in the photo with her family! That’s why I’ve partnered with local Hudson Valley photographer, Maureen Gates from Sharp Images Photographic.  

In honor of Mother’s Day, Maureen is generously giving away a family portrait session ($250 value) and an 11×14 wall portrait!

Maureen captured my family photos a few years ago just before my kids entered Kindergarten. It was a beautiful fall day and she worked fast to keep my kids moving and smiling. Social distance wasn’t a thing back then, but in our outside setting she didn’t need to stand close to get the perfect photos of my babies. Today, she knows the right precautions to take, and I am confident, still quick at assembling the family for some great shots.

If you are in the Hudson Valley region and you’d like to enter to win this portrait session package, please head to The Whatever Mom Facebook page to “click” like and “follow” along. This portrait giveaway is the kickoff event to 5 days of giveaways!  I’m giving away something just for moms every day from May 3rd-May 7th (2021). You won’t want to miss the daily giveaways!

How to Prepare for Re-entry after COVID Lockdown

Re-entry anxiety after a global pandemic is a real thing. After a year of social distancing and curbside delivery, it may be hard to remember a time when those things didn’t exist. As our communities slowly open back up, now is a good time to ease our way back into outings and activities we once enjoyed, like dining in public, going to museums, or browsing a store. Maybe your mind races wondering how to feel safe doing these things again, or maybe you’re just ready to get back out there. Either way, it’s OK to have feelings about it. What matters is, we do what makes us feel comfortable and healthy.

Me? I am ready to get back to scheduling things with friends and finding new places to explore that aren’t just nature trails. My family however, not so much. They are all reclusive home bodies to begin with, but I think for our collective mental health it’s time for us to get back out into our community and enjoy our favorite ways to explore. Given the current CDC Guidelines and protocols, which can change week to week, it is safest to call ahead or search a website before making a trip out. Masking is standard in our area, but some places may require an appointment before arriving to ensure social distancing. Knowing what to expect before you leave the house will help ease a lot of anxiety.

To help my family adjust to life after quarantine, we recently, took a little trip to explore the fun, artsy town of Beacon, NY. We paired up with friends and made a simple itinerary to visit three specific locations we knew the kids would enjoy. I wanted my family to see that we can still find joy while remaining safe. Here’s how we spent our time and how we prepared for safety.

One of the many beautiful murals we found on the side of buildings.

Hudson Beach Glass – normally, you can assist in creating a glass blown piece. For now, you can watch the professional glass blower creating their unique pieces from behind a glass window. That’s fine too because it is such a cool process to observe. During our visit, the artist was creating small vases. She made it all look so easy, and made three different pieces in just 15 minutes. The number of people permitted inside is limited to 8. Thankfully, we only had a group of 7. The shop is just gorgeous and filled with enough breakable things to make a mom’s heart race. There is also an art gallery upstairs.

Watching the glassblower at work is mesmerizing.

Next up, we let the kids explore a few shops. There was a toy store directly across from us, with a giant colorful sign that read PLAY. Of course, we had to go in. It’s important to note that we have not been in any building just to browse in a year. We pick up our goods in the parking lot, and if we must go inside, we get what we came for and leave. This shop limited the number of people allowed in, masks are required and there was a hand sanitizing station as you walk in. We browed a couple of other stores with the same requirements, so it seems like the trend for Main Street stores in this town. To some, that might feel like too much, but to me, a mom with two kids who like touching everything, it is a relief.

After we checked out a few shops, we headed straight for Glazed Over Donuts. Once we placed our order, we watched our donuts being made before picking them up at the end of the counter. There is no indoor dining, so after our donuts were complete, we sat outside to dig in. There was a hand sanitizing station upon entry, a bathroom to allow for hand washing and wet wipes to wash down hands before (or after) touching our food. The kids were completely unfazed that sun shifted, the temp dropped a couple of digits and there was a slight drizzle, we were allowing them to eat mega amounts of sugar. This was their nirvana!

Watching our donuts being made minutes before devouring them.

Our last stop took us to Beans Cat Café. It is one part coffee shop, one part cat rescue. We paid $7.00 per person for a 30-minute session with just our group (8 person maximum) to spend time with the cats. They were all extremely sweet and some were even snuggly. This was a dream come true for my kids who read stories to the cats and sat and relaxed by their side. My kids’ dream of having a pet cat, but this mom is super allergic. Sorry kids! Everyone, again, was required to wear masks, even while alone with the cats and we were asked to wash our hands before handling the cats. That made it easier to get the kids to wash their hands before leaving for our trip back home.  

Getting a tour of the café and learning about each individual cat.

The most stressful part for me, was the thought of using public bathrooms, but isn’t that something all moms stress about? I was not a fan pre-COVID, but now I would rather skip it entirely. However, we all know when a kid has got to go, they like to wait until the last possible second. We traveled an hour, so I thought we will just figure it out when we get there. Some places offered bathrooms and due to protocols were cleaning more frequently. So, they are probably cleaner now than anytime in 2019.

Here’s how to get prepared if you are feeling anxious about re-entering the outside world:

Start small by making an itinerary that includes specific places to visit.

Contact businesses directly or look up on their website/social media to clarify what their protocols are. I assure you; most businesses are following CDD guidelines for disinfecting, social distancing, and masking measures.

Bring a pocket-sized hand sanitizer for your bag, and a small package of sanitation wipes.

Make sure everyone has a mask, carry an extra one for each person in your party just in case.

Leave a larger bottle of sanitizer in the car for a final clean before heading home.

Take advantage of opportunities to wash hands using soap and water when you can.

Attend activities or events that are with small, socially distanced groups either outside or in a building with proper ventilation. Hiking trails and outdoor dining areas, petting zoos and small farm settings are a great way to slowly get used to being around people again.

Now that the warmer weather is here, the infection rates (in our area) are coming down and businesses are taking plenty of precautions, I feel much more at ease getting out this year than I did last year. Am I ready for a giant vacation? Maybe, but I know my family isn’t. So, for now, I’ll continue these smaller adventures to help them feel comfortable getting back out there. This trip was definitely worth it for us to help us ease back into being in public again.

How about you? Are you feeling ready for re-entry or traveling again? If you’re not, that’s totally OK too. I’d love to hear more about it in the comments below.

The whatever mom blogger bio
error

Building a community one click at a time.