Parenting with P.E.A.C.E.

By Lisa Cucinotta

I started this blog because I wanted to expose the truth about the challenges of parenting. I’ve talked about the importance of honesty in revealing the tough parts so that we don’t feel so alone. I’ve addressed postpartum depression, losing a pregnancy,  and the (not so) magic of babies among other topics. But something that I haven’t tackled much is specifics for how we can make it better.  Mostly this is because I felt unqualified to give parenting advice, since I have struggled with it quite a bit (spoiler alert: so do most people).

Recently I have been going through a period of major inspiration in my life.  I’ve been more productive and more positive than I have been in years. The happiness and calm that has been coursing through me has been such a contrast to the ball of anxiety and gloom I was from mid 2016 to mid 2017 (aka “the dark period”).  I have noticed that my parenting methods have improved pretty dramatically since I have become more peaceful and positive.  I’ve long believed, and seen the proof, that yelling doesn’t actually help the situation, but my frayed nerves prevented me from effectively practicing that on a regular basis before.

I have been working recently on a self-help and self-care philosophy that I’ve dubbed P.E.A.C.E. (gotta love a good acryonym!).  While I had originally built it as a method for helping myself and others with anxiety, I have discovered it has a number of other practical applications, including work issues like coping with stress, identifying priorities and managing people.  But it is also super good for parenting.

P.E.A.C.E. is simple.  It’s five steps that you run through during the course of a situation.  However, you can also access each of the steps independently depending on what you need at the time.

P: Prepare
E: Examine
A: Accept
C: Calm
E: Embrace

Here’s an example of parenting with P.E.A.C.E. in action:

You are going out to a nice dinner with your husband and toddler and another family tonight. You’ve had mixed results taking her out; sometimes she behaves great, sometimes she is a disaster, so you’re a bit nervous/stressed about how it will go.

Prepare: This is your pre-game. What worked during those successful dinners and what didn’t at the rough ones? Based on that you can prepare for a better outcome: Let’s go at 6 instead of 7 so she will be less tired. We’ll bring a few toys and books.  We’ll have cheerios to feed her before the food comes.

Examine: It’s game time. You’re in the restaurant. She starts to cry. You give her the books and she throws them. You offer her cheerios and she isn’t eating them.  You begin to get impatient and stressed. What if the restaurant throws you out? What if you can never go out to eat with her until she is a teenager? What if your friends think your a bad mom because their kids are sitting so nicely.

This spiral and frustration is what usually leads to the impulsive behavior – the yelling, the anxiety, the obsessive thoughts.  It’s time to examine what is really happening. Take a beat. Clear your mind of the worries and focus on reality.  I suggest that you begin to keep what I call the “bank of proof”.  This can be something that just lives in your head, or if you need it, something you physically write down, ideally on your phone so that you can access it anywhere.  Your bank of proof is a reminder of your “wins”.  Say to yourself: we’ve gone out to dinner 6 times in the last year and never been thrown out, no matter how she behaved. People are nice because they understand kids aren’t always perfect. You’ve had luck in the past calming her down by playing games with her – why don’t you try that?

Accept: You are now at the solution phase. It is what it is so let’s deal with it. She is crying. It’s not the end of the world. She will stop at some point. Try that game you remember working in the past. The one where you have to guess animals by the sound they make. Hey, that seems to be working.  Now let’s get some bread and butter over here and fill her up. Maybe she’s hangry.  If all else fails, you can always take her outside for a quick walk, or (last resort) let her play with your phone.

Calm: Do an emotional gut check. Now that you’re not zoomed in on your fears or anger, it’s a lot easier to process what is happening.  You want to enjoy the rest of dinner, and not feel worried she will do it again (but if she does it again, just keep going through E and A), or make a rash decision to leave.  You’ve got this, girl! You can choose to enjoy yourself tonight. There is this great quote from Mary Engelbreit that has always stuck with me “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you feel about it.” IT IS NOT EASY TO DO.  But it is SO WORTH IT to work on this.

Embrace: You are in the car on the way home from dinner.  You made it! The rest of the dinner turned out ok.  Your toddler wasn’t always happy, but she did eat some of her pasta, and you and your husband had a much needed glass of wine, and no one in the restaurant gave you evil looks, and now she is sleeping in the car seat like a little angel and you survived.  You can add this to your bank of proof. Build up your wins, and draw on them whenever you need.  Be proud of yourself.  You can embrace even the more shitty situations because there is always a redemption point in there somewhere.

I truly believe P.E.A.C.E. can provide a true path to changing your life as a parent.  I just practiced it on a week-long vacation with the kids and my husband in the Dominican Republic and it was amazing. I focused before the trip on not being apprehensive and obsessive or worrying about bad outcomes, which is something I often do before traveling.  I was able to go into the trip more calmly and parent with more enjoyment.  I very rarely get to spend that amount of concentrated time with my kids because I am a working mom, and I thought I would feel exhausted but I came home feeling peaceful and refreshed.  I am not saying the trip was all roses and sunshine because let’s be honest, we were dealing with a 3 and 6 year old here (I will write a post about vacation soon, because I highly recommend the resort!) But there was so much magic, so much fun, and so much happiness.  Were the kids behaving any better or worse than usual? I don’t think so.  But I did, and it made all the difference.

Think of this method like lifting weights. Day one you aren’t going to pick up the biggest barbells and hoist them over your head.  But with continued practice, you can build your strength and accomplish bigger goals. I believe you can find a path to being a calmer and more rational parent and be able to enjoy your kids and your life more!

Note: I will be writing a lot more about P.E.A.C.E. in the future and working on it’s various applications.  If you are interested in learning more about it, please reach out.  I’m looking for beta testers to give feedback on how to distill the idea with the most simplicity and also what specific tactics lead to the best outcomes! 

Traveling with kids, Pt. 4

By Cristina Bedwell

NOTE: Yes, I skipped part 2 & 3. Yes, they are coming later.

It has been documented that our family motto (and by family, I mean myself and Josh, aka The Parents) is “We would rather be traveling than not traveling.”

This trip decidedly put that mantra to the test.

We took a 4 day trip to see my parents, who smartly escape the unbearable heat of Houston summers to the idyllic climes of Breckenridge, Colorado.

I took this trip last summer with the kids on my own. Josh had just started a new job and was understandably hesitant to take vacation time so early in his tenure. It, admittedly, should have served as a warning to me.  I see that now. When I arrived, Townes was newly sick with a cold and I succumbed to the same shortly upon arrival. Elliott somehow managed to escape infection.

Altitude is an evil beast. It affects everyone differently, but it affects all. I recall a trip we took with two other families a few years ago- Our friend’s daughter was 2.5, Elliott was 18m, and another friend’s daughter was 6 months. All children were affected, and the spectrum was readily visible across the age range. Kara, the oldest, didn’t sleep as much as she usually did in the flatlands of Louisiana, but aside from waking up very early, was mostly fine. Elliott woke up multiple times a night, disturbing the altitude-addled sleep of his parents with his vivid bad dreams.  Eva, the 6m old, as I recall, slept about 45 minutes the entire trip. I might exaggerate, but only slightly.

So, this trip last summer with just me and two kids went pretty much according to that early introduction to the perils of altitude. Elliott, at the time 3.5, didn’t sleep great, but was mostly fine, and Townes, one and some change, and sick, was a disaster. With a baseline of sick and cranky, he would dig his heels in and ardently refuse naps, crying until he threw up. Every would-be-naptime ended (or began?) with a bath and a reintroduction of the pack and play to the garden hose.

Fast forward a year, and here we are again with Josh coming and another pair of hands on deck. We left on FridayOn Wednesday prior, Townes suddenly became super congested and on Thursday I took him to the doctor, worried that we were flying with a potential ear infection. My suspicious were confirmed, and we set out on Friday armed with antibiotics.

The trip, and I’m writing this on the plane ride home, has been unanimously deemed a disaster. You know that expression, “If mommy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?  Let me introduce you to the lesser-known, “If two-year-old ain’t happy, burn it all down.”

This trip was primarily a time for my kids to reconnect with their grandparents who had been gone for a few months. Townes, who didn’t feel good to begin with, would cry whenever Mops or Pops offered to hold him, preferring to cling to me and moan. Elliott, a little peeved that most efforts were put towards making Townes feel better, responded to requests for hugs with a not-unnoticed dash of sullenness.

The trip concluded with the 1.5 hour drive back to Denver, Townes screaming almost the entire way. Surely due to the pressure in his ears as we went to lower altitudes, he instead verbalized his displeasure as “Agua! AGUAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!” And then screaming “No want! No want!” when we gave him his water bottle. Repeat that about 8 thousand times, and you get the gist.

Relieved to be somewhat closer to sea level, or the Motrin finally kicking in, Townes finally stopped screaming about 20 minutes after we checked in for the flight. Despite the newfound lack of crying, Josh and I gave each other guarded, wary looks every few minutes, fearful it could start back up again at the drop of a hat. And then, once through security, we ordered two rounds of margaritas at the Cosmic Cantina, because, well, must I really justify that at this point?

I hope we look back on this trip and remember the beautiful weather, the exhilarating trips on the Alpine Slide and the Gold Runner Coaster, mini golf with Pops, the hunt for the elusive neighborhood moose family, the boys’ trout fishing trip and our discovery of a new local brewery, but right now I’m 30,000 miles up seated between a 2 and a 4 year old and beyond exhausted. I’m sure time will give me a little clarity, right?

Traveling with kids, Pt. 1

By Cristina Bedwell

Many people think my husband and I are crazy. Or brave. I’ll tell you: its an intoxicating mix of both. We travel pretty regularly with our kids when we can, and at least one major trip every year. We took the big plunge in September of 2013 with a trip to Rome with our just-shy-of-one-year-old son. We’d taken a few domestic trips with him and thought, Why not? We can do this!

I’m not really sure what drugs we were taking at the time. I wish I could remember because I could really use some of that shit right now. ROME. A 9 hour flight with a wiggly kid who is just on the verge of walking. Brilliant! The time to travel is when they are INFANTS, people. Little slugs that lay around and sleep. Pack ’em up and go go go. Use your maternity leave to work on that bucket list. It’s infinitely easier. Sure, you’re lugging diapers and wipes and maybe a breast pump around, but trust me when I tell you that all of those are easier to carry than a one year old that wants to go places. On his own. Without you holding him down.

Some folks told us to give our kid Benadryl. And we were all, “Drug our child? No! Why would we do THAT??” Idiots. (Us. Not them.)

But really, no big deal. We were going to Rome! Land of cobblestone streets and stairs! So. Many. Stairs. Should I add that neither of us had been to Rome before? Nah. It doesn’t really matter. Because even if you have been places pre-kids, you are never looking around going, “Yeah, this would be a really easy/hard place to come with a baby.” And if you are, then you have some special kind of superpower and I would like to meet you and read a comic book about your life.

So, we packed up the diapers and the kid and our sense of adventure and we went to Rome. If memory serves (and it’s crap these days) he slept for 2.5 hours on the way over. And the other 6.5? ALL ACTION. Squirmy wormy action. It was an overnight flight and we arrived at 6am utterly exhausted.

But let exhaustion stop us? Never! If I could pinpoint our biggest mistake (No, it was not our decision to go), it was doing too much in the first few days. With jet lag those first days were a blurry mess, and we tried to hit the town and see the sights. Did you know Rome is just FULL of SIGHTS? We should have been finding nearby playgrounds and taking lots of naps. But no! We had paid good money to cross an ocean and we were going to go SEE ALL THE THINGS. Our poor childless-at-the-time friend from London came during those first few days and stayed with us. Let’s just say they were not our finest moments. We were seriously afraid for a while that we had scared him off having kids forever.

We stayed in a lovely AirBNB in a central location. Mom Tip: In many instances renting a house or apartment is the way to go. It gives you the space and amenities that make things feel a little more like home. (Now, if you are going to a resort-type place with a swim-up bar and kids camp, I’m willing to make exceptions)

We eventually settled into a routine. Elliott would wake up super early (like 5/530). I would get up and pop him in the stroller and we would walk the mostly empty streets of Rome. I’m so very NOT a morning person, but having the streets all to ourselves, without hordes of tourists, was pretty amazing. We would walk by the Pantheon and choose a small cafe. I would get a coffee and Elliott would destroy a pastry. We enjoyed our lovely breakfast together and then continued our walk. About an hour later, my husband and I would swap, and I would take a nap. We would reconvene as a family of 3 and hit one major Rome must-see. Then, and probably the best part, a big delicious lunch and a bottle of wine, and back to the apartment for epic naps. We would hit another attraction in the late afternoon or just walk around exploring a particular part of town, and then dinner.

One of the best discoveries of our trip is that Italians love kids. Maybe it helped that Elliott was impossibly blonde with blue eyes, but whatever the reason, I felt people went out of their way to be nice to us. Waiters in particular were the best. They would bring us child sized versions of menu items, offer to play with Elliott, and one waiter at a pizza joint took off his own belt to fashion a strap on a broken high chair for us.

Of course, just as we felt like we had confidently found our groove, it was time to go home. I wish I could say the flight back was easier, but…9+ hours with a wiggly kid and this time he slept all of 30 minutes. Josh and I worked in 20 minute shifts. One of us would read or watch a movie for 20 minutes and then we would switch. It was all we could manage. Back and forth trade-offs across the Atlantic ocean. Are we there yet?

It was crazy. It was fun. It was crazy fun and it made us some great memories. Ok, well, Elliott won’t remember it, but we will. Out of this trip grew our motto “We would rather be traveling than not traveling.” We say this to each other occasionally when we travel and things get tough. But really–being in a new place, eating new foods and seeing new things will always be awesome, even with littles in tow. Sometimes that means standing in the Roman Forum with a sweaty crying toddler, and sometimes that means watching your kid excitedly devouring Roman-style pizza from a rickety wooden highchair with a makeshift seatbelt fashioned from an old man’s belt. And both of those things are fantastic.