With Aaron and I being work-from-home parents, and raising our 2 kids beside us - it has been an extremely challenging and yet fulfilling two and a half years. Wow. Has it really been that long? Making the decision to take our careers indoors rather than trade them in was semi-planned. I knew for certain that I'd want to be home - but what I didn't know, was how to make it all fit.
For Ava and Noah to be able to see us "work" is heartening - I sense their appreciation for our time, as well as the opportunity to understand a bigger picture outside of their own worlds. It also gives them their own "space" to explore and "play" throughout the house without us monitoring them like hawks. My annual bonus comes to me daily - by spending all day with them and even stealing moments of them during my "office hours."
From the moment our children wake up - to the moment they lay their heads on the pillow - our hours are preciously spent nurturing, loving, teaching, and learning as a family. We feel blessed to have this way of life, which is why if we want to maintain it, keep it healthy and strong. So we invented our own "Parent Retreat" - a weekend specifically dedicated to the cause of our family by reflecting, repositioning, and redefining our commitment to parenting.
This past weekend, we drove down to the Texas Hill Country and stayed at a cozy B&B so that we could relax, rejuvenate, and realign what we work so hard for.
Our Parent Retreat kicked off with first examining our calendars and how we could better prioritize our individual roles. We created a family calendar using Google so that we could update and access it anytime and anywhere. Then we ran through the gamut of important topics such as:
Managing the flow of money is a job in itself. You can't rely on your financial adviser to plan your future for you - only we can do that - because our goals change so much and ultimately, are responsible for what we want to achieve.
Great resources: Mint.com is a free website that pulls and updates all your accounts [from banking to investing] in one central place. What I love about this site is how it gives me a clear [and sometimes scary] graphic picture of our spending habits and how easy it is to adjust, prevent, and prepare with this knowledge in my hands [sorry Starbucks, we had to let you go].
Motivational reads: Smart Couples Finish Rich and Smart Women Finish Rich
Weekly menu planning
Our biggest expenditure no doubt is food. And that's a good thing since it's our primary source of health and energy. Not having a planned menu has caused fatal incidents - like throwing away unused fruits and vegetables... to therefore not getting a good balance of healthy choices each day.
On top of wasting food, we weren't spending enough time in the kitchen cooking. What was a chore is now something I look forward to as a family. We blocked off times each day for just meal prep - with planned ideas on how we could include the kids [such us ripping the lettuce or setting the table...]. This requires dedicating a day for shopping and drafting our menus - and includes pre-washing, chopping and preparing our ingredients ahead of time - not to mention another way to involve the kids.
Spreadsheets - we created ours in Excel, but any notebook will do if you want to try this. We categorized each meal time and filled it in using cookbooks and memory. This was tremendously helpful because the overview allowed us to see how balanced our diet was - as well as categorize exactly what we need to put on our grocery list. [On Monday when Aaron did the grocery shopping for the week, we cut our average grocery bill by $40!] Buying exactly what you need saves money, time and food from being wasted - and not to mention agony over, "what's for dinner?"
Children's education and daily learning
A very huge topic that is personally sacred to me. With a little pre-planning, we can take advantage of our resources and produce creative experiences for our children. From listening to music to clearing out the furniture for an evening of dance... art projects to express ourselves to dressing up and making puppets for a show...There's also nature walks, reading books, playing instruments [bought and made], board games, and even attending local festivals around town. All of this could easily be done in a week by making use of what we already have and planning ahead so that the creativity continues indefinitely.
While I see the importance of setting routines for Ava and Noah [meals and nap time], I also see the value in letting them lead me in the direction they are feeling creative. For example, I started with finger painting - it may lead to playing with cars instead... and that's ok. Because my overall goal for that activity was practicing fine motor skills...
In addition, we also dedicated time each night for the family to do something together. This helps us wind down [even when we are dancing] simply because Aaron and I have committed to this time to not think about work... or the tiles falling off in the bathroom...
The Complete Daily Curriculum, The Playful Toddler, Child of Wonder, The Creative Family and of course, Savvysource.com. There are also countless wonderful parenting and educational resources available for late night online browsers [like me] to check out too...
There were a few other items on the agenda - such as date nights once a week and designating home chores [We decided it's fruitless to stress over chores left undone and therefore simply split the responsibilities and designated various "clean-up" times throughout the week]. Ahh.....
We ended the weekend with a couple's massage, and got back in the car and headed home. The four hour drive gave us a lot to think about.... and look forward to. First being, the look on Ava and Noah's faces when we walk through the door.... and then all of the new fresh ideas we have in store for them.
The main idea or purpose behind a Parent Retreat - is to dedicate some time to yourself - and your partner. We are accountable for how we spend each precious day we are given - and the idea of a parent retreat is just one way to help map out our days ahead. I would encourage it for every dynamic family - in whatever shape or form that may be. Just as birthdays or anniversaries are celebrated - so too should parenting.
This is just a sampling of what we've experienced, and I hope you find your own way that works for you and your family.
p.s. If there are additional resources or shortcuts you've learned along the way... we'd love to know!