I have a bit of a love affair going on with all things French right now. This is due in no small part to the some of the books coming out about French living, parenting philosophies, and cooking for kids. Do you remember my review of the awesome book Bringing Up Bebe – The Wisdom of French Parenting? Well that got me started and I can’t seem to stop. I loved that book and it made me realize that whereas attachment parenting resonated most with me whilst my kids were little I am definitely taking a page from French moms nowadays. It was where I was introduced to the concept of equilibre (eh-key-lee-bruh) or balance. Not letting any one part of life – including being a parent – overwhelm the other parts. Everyone probably wishes they had some do-overs in regards to parenting choices but one of my do overs would be to have lots more equilibre as a mom, wife, and woman with her own interests and passions.
Among others books I have recently picked up are Paris in Love: A Memoir about a woman who sold off her belongings and moved her family to Paris for a year. I wish!! Also French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters.
Just like the aforementioned parenting book, I loved French Kids Eat Everything. Like the previous author, Karen Le Billon also moved to France only to be amazed by how mannerly French kids were and how they eat anything and everything set before them. French kids could manage to stay well behaved through a four hour meal with their parents and they relished foods that her own kids wouldn’t touch. The stark contrast between her own children and french children spurred her to investigate just what French parents were doing to achieve the near miraculous. This book is the result of all that research and also a memoir of her experiences and conversations. It is not only informative and helpful…it is also a page turner. How many parenting books and healthy eating books can boast that??
Once again I was amazed by how the school system works in France and just how well kids there eat. It is really a very rigid system and actually a rather punitive. No one’s quirks and preferences are pandered to and you if you don’t toe the line and conform to the rule of standard you are ostracised. While that may sound bad to me if that involves test scores or homework I see lots of value in that if it is nutrition education. Food education is mandatory in the French schooling system and this is so important because it ensures that all French children are eating healthy diets regardless of circumstance. We can see how in America it is the wealthier people who have greater access to healthy foods and nutrition education. It is just not like that in France. All kids from the time they are babies are encouraged to eat healthy foods within the school and daycare systems (also government run). Parents had the same education so they are on the same page. It really appears to be an awesome example of citizens and government being in sync with what is best for the people and nutritional health. In America the guy who vandalizes a McDonalds goes to jail. In France he is elected to office for being a crusader (true story).
In the US our government subsidizes crap food to make it artificially cheap whilst keeping healthy foods out of the reach of the poorer individuals. Nutrition education is also a joke. In France the kids are not only being taught from day one what is healthy to eat they are provided stellar meals with fresh fruit and veggies making an appearance every day (and being eaten), meats that include real chicken, fish, crab, roast pork (even in the poorest districts), real desserts (not twinkies), and water instead of sugary colored milk. Some schools even send home meals suggestions in advance for evening meals so that children are eating a perfectly planned and balanced diet.
You also won’t find too much of the fake processed foods in France that Americans seem to love so much. They have an affinity for healthy, quality foods and take pride in being foodies who want only the best. That may sound elitist but remember this is EVERYONE from the rich banker, to the school teacher, to the guy who fixes carburetors.
There are ten food rules in the book that were modeled to reflect the way of the French system and the author used to them to overhaul her own family’s eating habits. Many of them I copied into a notebook or on post it notes on the frig. Food rule #2 is to avoid emotional eating by not using food as a pacifier, punishment, or reward. I know this to be excellent advice but it is so hard to do in practice, especially if you were raised in a contradictory way. #3 revolves around scheduling and planning meals (much better than I currently do) and making sure kids eat what the adults eat or they don’t eat…period. Amen to that as I chuck my short order cooking apron.
Food rule #4 is all about making all meal times social and beautiful, ala setting the table like royalty is coming to dinner and really making every meal meaningful. #7 is about avoiding snacks, which we are already implementing. Snacking is just not done in France and I happen to LOVE this. I have such a hard time convincing my own kids that they will not die if they are not allowed to graze all day.
One of the best tips I picked up was about adding more veggies to the diet (I forget what food rule that was). The author started making soups reminiscent of the purees that French babies eat to train their palates for all manner of fresh veggies. Her kids were older but she wanted to introduce them to veggies (which they refused to touch) in much the same way. Hubby and I discussed it and are now planning menus that include a thick veggie based soup as a first course before the main event. Think carrot soup, leek soup, cauliflower soup, broccoli soup, turnip soup, ect with lots of fresh herbs and spices thrown in. I can make just enough so that everyone gets about 1/4 cup to a whole cup and that needs to be eaten first. A particular soup never appears more than once in the same week. There are usually veggies in the main dish too but this just adds another veggie opportunity and a way to sneak stuff in that they normally won’t eat. Such a simple yet brilliant idea and the book is full of great tips and ideas.
I highly recommend French Kids Eat Everything as leisure reading for the health minded but especially if you struggle with making sure your kids are eating a varied and balanced diet. Enjoy!
This is the time of year when you are bombarded with all kinds of local summer camp offerings. Summer time isn’t vacation time for many parents and you either have to find ways to keep kids occupied or maybe you just want to occasionally. No parent wants to hear the dreaded “Mom, I’m bored!” from their kids. I am one of those mean moms that tells my kids to get creative and use their imagination if they are bored. I don’t feel as though it is my job to entertain them. Yet, I do want to facilitate some special moments and memories during the summer and summer camps are usually out of our budget, at least for all three kids. The next best option may be a co-op.
What is a co-op, and what does it have to do with child care and/or child entertainment during the summer? A co-op can be various things, from a homeschool organization to a group of people who share similar interests. But we are talking about summer co-ops that will act as child care if you need to work or child entertainment if you just want to give your kids some fun summer experiences. This kind of co-op is basically a conglomeration (or co-operative) of parents who get together and share child care/entertainment duties. It’s very much like a do-it-yourself summer camp!
How Can You Start a Summer Co-op?
First, you’ll want to decide what the co-op is all about. Will it have a theme that changes weekly? Are you going to integrate learning, educational projects, fun activities, or a combination of these? Is there a point besides just babysitting? Other parents might be more inclined to commit if you have a general plan in place for what the co-op will look like. However, it may be off-putting if you have every detail worked out and other parents feel as though they have to follow your blueprint without any input of their own. The best approach is probably a loose outline or idea and a request for ideas and feedback.
Next, you will need to start contacting parents in your area. You can start with close friends, then move into your child’s school directory if possible. Based on a 5-day work week, you will need at least ten families who are willing to commit to once a week care (with at least two adults present at each co-op). Invite parents via email, phone, letter, or whatever works best for you. You can also create a private Facebook group for all involved parties so that you can organize better and stay up to date on planning and schedules.
What Activities Should We Offer?
There are all kinds of activities you can offer during your summer co-op! Because of the favorable weather, outdoor activities are possible. You might find it works best to have a theme for each day (Monday is Art Day, Friday is All About Animals, Wednesday is Water Fun, etc.) Here are some ideas.
* Birds – Bird-watching, crafts, and art projects are just the beginning with bird-oriented activities. You could also visit an aviary, collect feathers, make bird feeders, and go on hikes to watch birds in the wild. A field trip to a farm to look at chickens would be fun, or the kids could do a bird theme scavenger hunt.
* Art – This is a broad and almost endless subject for activities! You can paint outside (try throwing washable balls at a big sheet of paper!) and use the hose to clean off. Create a sidewalk or driveway mural with paints and chalk. You could make your own sidewalk chalk as a project. You could also plan a visit to a museum and create artwork inspired by what you observe. Use colored water to spray-paint the surface of sand in a sandbox, sculpt with clay, and create nature crafts like twig picture frames. There are so many ways you could do art with kids that you could incorporate it into all kinds of other activities.
* Water – Make sure that water play is safe; if some kids can’t swim, a trip to the pool could be disastrous. Instead, have a water day with hoses, sprinklers, wading pools, and, to help out parents, car-washing. If the cost of water is a concern, parents can pool their money to cover the cost of the water use. Alternatively there many localities that have parks with water features and splash areas you could take the kids to visit.
* Picnics – Plan an outdoor meal or cookout, and then include games like Frisbee, hopscotch, badminton, horseshoes, cornhole, and other move-about games.
* Parks – Groups of kids can have a great deal of fun at a state forest or park. You can take them all on a wildflower walk, wading in streams and creeks, or just let them play on the playground equipment and partake in the park’s resources (such as miniature golf, paddle boats, etc.).
If you need or want help with daycare this summer or you just want an affordable summer fun experience for your kids, a co-op may be just what you are looking for.
Further Reading: The Kids Summer Games Book & The Kids’ Summer Handbook
For adults you have the monthly Conscious Box (of which I am a huge fan) but I also recently came across a similar concept for kids, the BabbaBox. If you subscribe then you get a new box every month especially for kids with crafts and activities to keep them entertained and engaged for a few afternoons, and not glued to a TV screen. I like the concept for the obvious reasons… it encourages play, crafting, creativity, TV free play, ect. But I also like it because it gives busy moms, and moms who don’t identify as creative or crafty, an easy way to encourage these activities in their kids without too much brain power. Having such an inventive idea at your disposal during the winter months when the weather may drive kids indoors… bonus.
And the lack of parental brain power required part, it’s no small thing. When you decide to do some crafts with kids you have to plan it out, scour the Internet for ideas that are fun yet doable, buy the stuff you need, and go to a specialty stores many times to get them. Then you try to clean the house a bit so you actually have clean work surfaces. Even so, you could end up with a big fat mess at the end, with crafts requiring massive space and time for paint to dry and you may wonder why in the heck you even decided to do this in the first place. Some of us are just not overly crafty and the work it takes to provide those experiences for your kids can be daunting.
BabbaCo, the company behind the box, set us up with a sample box to test out recently. As soon as you open the box you get an inventory of what is inside. Each activity or craft comes in a separate bag with corresponding instructions so you don’t have to worry that your kids will just dive in and lose pieces that you may need for later. It is all very organized. Our box had a Thanksgiving/Gratitude theme and like all boxes it had 4 components: Create, Explore, Story Tell, Digital. The Create part gives them 3-4 activities where they can craft and/or create. Explore seeks to engage your kids with the world and nature. Story Tell is accomplished with a story or book. Digital hooks you up with interactive learning opportunities and BabbaCo approved downloads.
In our box we got 3 gratitude projects… a serving tray to paint and decorate, a trivet/hotpad to personalize and decorate, and a DIY thank you cards. I liked that all 3 of the crafts could be used as gifts. I thought that was really timely for the season. It also came with an empty journal and a disposable camera so that a child can take pictures of all the things they are grateful for and then after they are processed, put them inside the journal. The storytelling part came into play with a copy of the book Giving Thanks. It was an excellent book that fit the theme but also incorporated a great message about wildlife and nature. It was our fave part about the box actually and got me wondering if there is a good book of the month subscription opportunity out there.
The last part was digital. You can either scan a QR code found inside the box or visit the link they give to access the corresponding digital content. There you find video and pdf files with step by step instructions for each activity (if you need it). It also links to iPad/iPhone apps. In this case it was a Dora Thanksgiving online activity (free) and a decorating cookies app. If you have one of these devices then you get the app free with a code from the box. I have an Android phone so if I wanted the app I would have had to pay. I am one of those uncool mommies who does not let my kids play with my phone and they will not get a smartphone of their own OR a tablet until they are old enough to pay for them I suspect. So, we didn’t do the app part.
The best part of the box IMO is that it also has a little gift for mom in it. Woot! This is a very clever idea! My gift was a stainless steel Tea Infuser and two bags of premium, caffeine free herbal tea. I am not a tea drinker so I will be re-gifting it but it is the thought that counts.
In the end we had fun with the box and I know my youngest would love to keep getting them. He is almost 6 and the suggested age range is 3-6. The camera/journal was a bit beyond him but I also suspect that he is on the autism spectrum like his older brother, so that could be a factor. I really like the idea and the presentation but I also think that the box could use some greening. The plastic bags that house each activity have to go, in favor of paper ones or comparable. The crafts themselves could also use some help in this regard but I do realize this product is designed to cater to eco conscious families.
If you are interested in ordering you can use code: ZB2367U for 20% off. Does this box look like something your kids would enjoy?
I recently had the opportunity to do an interview with Sara Chana, IBCLC. She is a a New York based, international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), classical homeopath, herbalist, lecturer, author, wife and mother of seven children. She is a wealth of helpful information and advice. Enjoy!
1. What are some of the most prominent breastfeeding myths that you encounter?
It is amazing how many myths seem to circulate among new moms. One of the most common is that moms need to “drain” their breasts. It is true that some women will feel very full, nurse their babies, and then feel “empty” afterwards, but that is not necessarily true for most women. Some women never feel full, and never feel “drained”, yet their babies are satisfied after they have been fed. The truth is that a breast is never really “drained” because when milk is drawn out of a breast the brain receives the message to refill the breast again with milk. Therefore, rather than worrying about feeling empty or drained, a woman should give her baby the amount of milk the baby needs to feel satisfied and to produce six to eight wet diapers within a twenty-four hour period. If this basic guideline is followed, then the healthy mother’s breast and brain will learn how to adjust to the baby’s needs, regardless of the mother’s own sensations.
2. What tips do you think will help women overcome most breastfeeding obstacles they come across?
Some women give birth, plop their baby on the breast, and the mom and baby breastfeed happily for years without any problems. Unfortunately, that is not the typical scenario and most women and babies take a while to learn the art of breastfeeding. There are women who get sore nipples, while others have babies who do not seem satisfied, and some moms get engorged breasts. In general, the remedy to most of these problems is twofold. First, make sure that the baby has a good deep latch onto the breast, and then see to it that the baby is swallowing milk and not just hanging out. If this simple but essential advice does not produce the desired results, the good news is that most breastfeeding problems can be overcome with a competent lactation consultant, patience, and a good sense of humor.
3. Can childbirth affect the breastfeeding experience?
After twenty years of working with mothers and babies I can safely say that the birth experience does have an impact on the breastfeeding experience. Medication used during labor does seem to affect most babies, often making it more difficult for them to coordinate the suck-swallow-breath pattern that is necessary for a baby to master breastfeeding. This is not to say that some women who have fabulous labors and deliveries won’t have babies that don’t nurse well, or in the reverse, that women who have horrible labors and deliveries can have the best nursing babies. However, a woman should know that a baby usually needs to be very alert in order to learn how the breast works, and that both the medications given during labor, as well as the position of the woman during childbirth can impact upon that learning process, making it easier or more difficult for the newborn to breastfeed.
4. Does diet have an effect on breastfeeding?
It is fascinating to know that breast milk stays consistent in its vitamin and mineral content across the world, no matter what a woman eats. This means that if you were to test the breast milk of two moms whose babies are the same age, the vitamin and mineral content of their breast milk will be practically the same, even when the mothers’ diets are completely different. This is true because the body produces breast milk to match the needs of the growing child. Therefore, it is safe to say that it doesn’t really matter what the mother eats because the breast milk will be consistent and healthy according to the developmental needs of the infant. That said, many babies are, nevertheless, affected by what their mothers eat due to individual health issues. Some babies will get blood in their stools if the mother consumes dairy, while others will cry horribly if their mother drinks orange juice. Although each mother-baby dyad is different, as a general rule-of-thumb, it is best for moms to stick to a high protein and vegetable diet, with fruits and whole grains mixed in. (And please try to limit the dairy products. You don’t need to consume milk in order to produce milk.)
5. What advice would you offer to busy moms you have to juggle breastfeeding and an outside job?
Juggling breastfeeding and an outside job is definitely challenging. Some women are advised to rent a hospital-grade pump to leave at their work place, in order to pump while being away from the baby. This may work for some women, but not for most. Although there are women who are fabulous pumpers and can mechanically express ounces of milk while at work, there are others who cannot manage to pump at all, which leaves them majorly depressed. However, it should be known that the success of pumping depends on several factors. One of the factors has to do with the location of the milk producing ducts which are within the breast. Some women’s ducts are so far back into the breast that they are never properly compressed while pumping. Another factor to consider is how well the flange of the pump part fits the particular woman. The majority of flanges available fit only a very small percentage of the population, resulting in only a small number of woman who can properly pump. Finally, one must take into consideration the power of the pump itself. And there’s no way around this one, it’s just that same old story, the more expensive pumps do work better. So, my general advice to women is this: if you pump well, then pump when you are at work, but if you do not pump well, then just give your baby formula while you are at work and don’t stress yourself over it. But, still the most important advice is breastfeed and talk with your precious baby as much as you can when you are not working.
Many thanks to Sara Chana for taking the time to answer some questions!
What is it about being an attached family that lends itself to a minimalist parenting style? Are you criticized by others wondering why your children don’t “have the hottest new item?”
I hope this post is not too redundant since I have addressed this subject many times before.
My own love of minimalism and going minimalist with kids probably stems from a few different things. First would be my desire to live green. Consumption of less stuff and reusing what you have instead of buying new is green and minimalist. They go together like peas and carrots.
The second reason why I love minimalism… it is liberating! Working tons of hours to afford the really nice house instead of the perfectly sufficient one or working to fund a never ending list of wants from all family members is a form of slavery. You are letting yourself be enslaved by the media and my popular culture. It is amazingly freeing to be able to step outside that mindset and see that you are happier not chasing after that shallow dream. So many people today are like hamsters on a wheel and some of us are fortunate enough to one day stop, get off the wheel, and realize we have no desire to ever get back on. Minimalism is a tool that keeps the important things in the forefront so we aren’t tempted to get back on that wheel.
So how does that work when your kids are being bombarded by media and popular culture.. which tells them the way to happiness is the accumulation of stuff? It is pretty easy actually. Just live your values and explain to your kids why you make the decisions you do.
My third reason for loving minimalism would probably be my desire to make the monumental job of parenting and living as stress free and enjoyable as possible. Parenting is oodles easier when you you don’t live among lots of clutter and you don’t have to work your life away to afford everything the media says you or your kids should have. This is perhaps why AP and minimalism get along so well too. It is easier to connect with your kids when you actually have time to spend with them and you or they are not engaged on some electronic device or some other diversion that society persuades us is important.
Because my two youngest have always been raised pretty minimalist they are very well adapted to the lifestyle. My oldest is a harder sell because he remembers the years we spent running on that hamster wheel and going into debt to buy oodles of useless crap. With him we have to justify our decisions quite often… like over, and over, and over again. We work hard for the “needs” in life and we are quite honest about the fact that we choose not to work any more hours than we have to, to buy “wants”. We want to model liberation and non-conformity so that our kids will not one day think they need to keep up with the Jones’s or go into debt to have the latest and greatest of everything. The smartest way to live IMO is to make the conscious decision to enjoy what you have right now, right here. When you are happy with what you have then the world is abundant, there are no limits, and you are rich.
Okay… so what does that mean literally? Well for us it means having a sparsely decorated home and fewer possessions. When I start having a problem finding a home for kitchen gadgets and utensils I know it is time to get rid of some. When the laundry starts to get overwhelming I decide it is time to pare down and I ask the kids to tell me what clothes they LOVE and what clothes they only wear because they are there. When the toy box gets overstuffed, some toys have got to go. It means visiting the library every week so that the bookaholics in the family are satiated. Gifts are given on holidays and birthdays and that is pretty much it unless we find a deal we cannot pass up (used sports equipment for instance). It means requiring our kids to help out with household cleaning and other tasks and paying them for these services so that they can get used to earning money and spending it wisely. It also means requiring them to use their money to pay for their own expenses… like pet food or blown bike tubes AND not advancing them money for larger purchases because that is like kiddie credit. This allows them to see what it is like to have to budget in the needs before the wants and to not spend what they do not have. It often means waiting until gadgets and toys can be bought used or an older, cheaper model is available.
The goal of attachment parenting is not to keep kids dependent on or too attached to you as they grow but rather to give them the foundation they need to have confidence in their own choices and decisions. Raising them minimalist lends a helping hand by teaching them not to be slaves to media and the ideals of a culture obsessed with consumption.
Books I LOVE about minimalism and simple living:
Living Simply with Children: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide for Moms, Dads, and Kids Who Want to Reclaim the Bliss of Childhood and the Joy of Parenting
What about you? What works for your family?