Thursday, 21 August 2014

Eating out with Kids

Over the next few weeks I thought Id write some tips on some of the things Im often asked. For many people, having kids means the ends of order and life out. Knowing I intended to homeschool, I really began to consider what were the things I were willing and wanting to give up, after all, I knew 'me time' was not going to be a regular option. With a busy self employed husband and the demands of schedules/ routines and lots to juggle, I began to consider what ways I could still create pockets of fun and creativity in our lives. For me, one of those was being able to take my kids to a nice restaurant or to a friends home, without fear of it turning into a chaotic event. While we have certainly had some moments that felt that way.. over time we have developed and learnt some strategies to make eating out pleasant. These days, its a joy to go to a restaurant and hear them complement our children on their manners and demeanour. Here are some things weve learnt along the way: Firstly, start at home: Make a point of having practise sessions once in a while, around the comfort of your own table. Put some rules in place that reflect the qualities you hope they will take with them elsewhere. For us these are: * We only eat sitting at the table (no walking around, standing up, or eating in front of tv, in the lounge etc) * When were finished, we dont jump down. We make a point of making them stay and just be for a while, talking, or sometimes listening to us talk. The 'host' or (mum) gives the cue that its clear up time, when she gets up from the table * Serve Dad/ guest first. * No kiddy options. Dont dumb down meals, remove spices or flavours in the assumption that theyre too 'adult'. My kids are not adverse to curry, thai, mexican, soup or weird beans that appear in dishes. Theyve developed a love affair with Camembert, appreciate the salty taste of Feta, and know that most dishes can be enjoyed without a generous serving of tomato sauce. * No toys/ books at the table. How many times do you see a child in a highchair with a prop in hand (usually food covered) to serve as a distraction while food goes everywhere? As they age, it becomes a diecast car, or a lego creation. Worse still, an iphone. Did you know you can eat without taking a photo of every meal out that you have? Most kids, by example, wont know that ;) * Have lots of wipes/ wash cloths ready and ensure all hands and faces are washed when leaving the table. When you take them out: * Dont automatically hit the fast food. Our kids know that good food takes time, thats its actually good to wait politely for a meal. If its taken a long time, order a bread starter, or something little. * Dont take them 'full'. I know it makes it cheaper, but you were also have a bored child/ren on your hand who are no longer hungry, and worse still, ready to play. If necessary, fill them up a little when you get home, rather than prior * Ask for what you know works. Dont use these trips out as a time to introduce new food for your children.. at least not as a main. Its wiser to order something for yourself, and have them trial a little off your plate, than get quietly cross that they wont eat the 'good decent meal' under their nose. * Relax! Your stress will pass onto them. Create calm by being calm yourself. Scan the table for glasses too near the edge of the table, clutter or items that will go crash. * Seat children properly and enforce that this is not the place to get down, wander around and stretch your legs. The restaurant owners and other visitors will thank you for that. Remember, it might be cute to you to have a child with sauce/ pumpkin/ smeared over their face, but not necessarily so to others. Be respectful and take a large pad of disposible wipes with you to keep faces and fingers clean. * Take a little bag for each child with some colouring pencils and colouring books/ stickers. Amy has a wee backpack we bought a couple of years ago that is a favourite. In it, we currently have this little activity book: These little activity books can be picked up relatively cheap on Book Depository, and we make a point of only letting them come out on meals out, plane trips and special outings where long periods of quiet might be useful. Dont forget the slightly older ones too.. My ten year old boy takes a book to read these days, or a pad to do of his own drawing, whereas I still use colouring books for my 7 and 8yr old, such as this: * Have them always thank the waitress and chef where possible. I whisper in their ear to remind them to do so when service comes around. When you get home. * Praise good character, wherever you can. It reinforces all the hard work and lets your kids know what a pleasure it is to take them out!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


If you ask my kids what its like to be a Cahill, Im sure you will hear a full, honest and fluid account of life inside our home: Noisy, fun, crazy, hard work, creative, busy and so on. Sam and I love being parents. We really do. Every evening we flop on the bed together, usually exhausted, and our conversation generally turns to something sweet or funny one of them said. Yet inspite of the joy, there has been a journey on the way. Its on that journey where we have set posts in the ground, that have made all the difference. I think of the scripture; "The boundaries lines have fallen for me in pleasant places" (Psalm 16). We flourish where we stick to Gods best for our lives. I cant claim the wisdom for those precious posts. Each one is an accummulation of great resources, Godly grandparents, wise counsel and a great deal of prayer. But the posts are worthy of mention! A Higher Purpose. We are not raising our kids to be 'good kids'. You wont hear ours rattling off memorized scripture to impress, or performing hymns to guests, nor will you find our homeschool walls plastered with academic achievement. Proverbs 16 warns us that pride goes before destruction, yet as parents, we often impose on our kids the very thing that sets them up for failure: trying to please and impress man. Were big on teaching our kids about Godly character, but at the foundation of it all is this... for WHOM?! We constantly remind our children that through their lives, they reflect the character of Jesus and that unless it all stems from, and leads back to, a devotion for Him, its in vain. As For Me and My House. Life is full of opportunities to talk about truth and pray together. Sam and I have found value in making our children a precious part of hard times, decisions, and ministry opportunities. We dont shield and shy them away from the (age appropriate) challenges that cross our paths.. be that relationally, financially or spiritually. We usually talk about the problem and what God says in His Word, and how we apply that in our situation. Its been precious to be able to impart not just truth, but the application of it to our lives, and we pray they are learning to do the same. To that end, we dont place high value on peer relationships. We recognize its great for the kids to have friends, but we believe its important to win and earn the greatest influence in your childs life and to be mindful how peer relationships can compete with that influence. We are intentional about what influences we encourage in their lives and to find and seek out the "heroes" in our generation who can spur them on. On that note... some of their greatest heroes are their grandparents and Uncles. My Dad in particular is amazing with our boys, he has taught them skills to last a lifetime, and his gentle loving manner makes him one of the greatest heroes out. Look For Whats Going on in the Heart If were coming across a repetitive behaviour pattern in our children, be that fighting with each other, defiance or moodiness, weve learnt to look for whats going on inside. Correcting behaviour is important, but if its ongoing, its a cue, youre missing something... and it takes time and discipline to hone in one what that something is. My experiences has been that whats underneath it, is often a brokenness, a hurt, a wound that needs attention. Weve found it takes time and effort to build a rapport where open and honest questions can be asked that peel off layers and reveal whats going on in the heart. Be Watchful My mum recently made a comment to me that I loved.. she said that in every house, there is usually one child who is the barometer of pressure. I know thats true in our home! One of our sons behaviour can be often an accurate gauge as to what tensions exist for his mummy :). External influences and pressures have often the biggest distraction in parenting, rather than the internal ones, and we try to keep alert for them. For us - we dont have tv and are strict on DVD's and media that we allow through, yet, we have to be equally as watchful for the subtle pressures that creep in. Things such as the dynamics a visiting neighbour may bring, phone calls, texts, emails, relational complications, Church pressures, ministry opportunities.. for me, even researching parenting or reading a Treasures magazine can be a hinderence, cause of anxiety and a distraction. Those things come in so many shapes and sizes but we often come back to this question: "How is this affecting my parenting?". If its coming at a cost, we take that as a cue, that a boundary needs to be put in place. And put it in place! Because if you dont.. someeone else will for you.. and it will be miles from where you wanted it to be!! You Are Your Own Family For the first years of our parenting life we went with the traditional alternating of families at Christmas time. But we began to notice a pattern. I inevitably got sick, either right on, or after, Christmas. The stress of planning, preparing, meeting expectations (often my own) and trying to have a merry old time, was just plain taxing. On Sams side alone, there are 14, soon to be 15, cousins, just between 3 siblings. Legendary effort and we love them all. Yet its unrealistic to put us all under one roof and imagine that even as Christians, were all going to beat the same drum and have the same expectations. One year, Sam and I met with a counsellor and discussed the tensions that existed and decided we would set a new rule for our family: We do what we know is best for us. We decided to take each year as it comes, weigh up the blessing of being all together, versus what we actually need as a family. We adopted a great mantra "I love you but, this is whats best for us". There have been a couple of years we actually have celebrated Christmas alone, or consecutively with my side of the family, simply because their nearer. The thing that stands out to me, is that without the confines of obligations and rules unwritten, we actually feel more free to love and enjoy family and to make opportunity to be together when we can. Have Fun Its a given right?! But its not always 'natural'. Sam is probably the most playful fun loving Daddy I know. I kid you not when I say that nearly every night, he comes home and engages the kids in some game/ activity/ challenge which involves lots of laughter. He loves to do it. As a homeschooling mum, who manages the home, and needs order, I have to be more intentional about the 'fun'. I learnt off Rosie Boom a great rule: "Do the work, then play". We have a schedule we work through daily on our school stuff, and the kids live for the afternoons where its all wrapped up and out comes the art, sewing, bike rides, clay, craft, lego, library trips, ice cream adventures and field trips. These fun times refresh all of us. For a long time weve been purposeful to make meal time special too. Every night, out come candles and we make the dinner table a place to fellowship. Just the other day, I bought a set of bright coloured plates and bowls from Stevens, on sale. It melted me when we lay the table and Nate exclaimed "Mum, I love these plates, theyre so HAPPY". A worthy investment to creating memories and conversation that I pray will last forever.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The art of quiet rest..

Rest is an art. To each of us in its ideal form it means something different.. lying on a beach, reading a book, drinking coffee, people watching, enjoying good company and good food... taking one day off from the grind. God knew we needed it. Still, its something Im not so good at: Treating Sundays as a day of rest. Yet in the past couple of months Ive been reminded: Life has rhythms and seasons, all God given. One of them was that he patterned for us that which is good for us. Taking a day where life doesn't revolve around doing. As a mother, that takes planning. Yet its something Im determined to make a part of our lives. I have not always been successful.. but were getting there! So here are some things I have found make that work: Getting the washing up to date. Obvious I know, but I cant relax when the laundry is begging my attention. Staying up a little later on Saturday night to get things dry, put things away, lay out the kids clothes for Church - simple but it helps create order. Meal Prep. The kitchen is pretty hard to avoid, unless youre eating out, and I still hold the dream to make Sunday lunches a time to invite people over. I hold the greater dream to be able to do that, spontaneously, and no fret about the state of the home! Last night I took the time, while making dinner, to pre-make a pizza base for lunch, cook a base for lemon meringue pie, and pull out the chicken thighs and spices to make moroccan chicken (slow cook - little prep). It means if there is the chance that we have pop in guests, I can know we have something on offer. But mostly it means I can spend more time being 'still' and less time pondering and preparing food.
No TV/ DVD's. We dont have tv, so were limited to DVD's. But knowing that Sundays that screen wont go on is lovely. Room Time. I dont make my kids strictly go to their rooms (mainly as they share rooms).. but I do ask them for an hour of quiet, uninterrupted play. They can draw, read, build lego, puzzles - whatever. As long as its on their own and without noise. That hour where the house is a peaceful lull is heaven. And I use that hour to do what refreshes me: lie down, read, make plans for my next creative project, or write, such as Im doing now. Hospitality. Being with others can just bring a joy and rest to life that refreshes the soul. It doesn't always have to equal stress, elaborate meals and rushing around in the kitchen. Why not plan a communal lunch: buns, coleslaw and a hot chicken. Or pop on a loaf of homemade bread and slice it up with simple spreads. Easier still, take advantage of the local park with its BBQ. We have one down the road thats free.. all the mess is the birds business, and its little effort to throw some sausages on the grill, butter some bread and bring a bottle of squeezy sauce. Forget the salad and picnic blankets and fussy utensils... serviettes are fine, take some plastic cups and use the water. Finally. Plan for success! As a family, were in a transition period right now, seeking God for what is next for our lives. It takes mental energy to talk about what it looks like and how we plan for it. This morning, we skipped Church and opted instead to take the kids to the local plant shop, where there is a cafe, and a park. We ordered a coffee for ourselves, sent the kids to play, and took the time and fresh air to list the pro's/ con's and our family dreams and intentions. After we'd listed those, we called the kids back to the table and talked with them about their part in it. They each had precious gems to share and we came away with some clear and exciting goals for the Cahill Clan.