Yesterday, I embarked on a series about the connection between wisdom and parenting.  You might be thinking that you could jump into this post without reading from the start of the series.  I have to warn you…that would be like beginning the Lord of the Rings series during the last 30 minutes of the third movie, or entering the show LOST at season three.  Tragic, right?  Right!  Think of all you might be missing!  Whatever you do, if you missed yesterday’s post, check it out before you move on!  Read it?  Good.  You may now proceed. (Okay, so really, this whole introduction is not-so-subtly directed to my wonderful and amazing – thought not so keen on catching ALL of a series – brother, Bryan.  Can you believe him?  The last 30 minutes of LOTR?  Missing season 1 and 2 of LOST?  The nerve.  Feel free to give him a stern talking-to in the comments below.)

This is my couch.  Not the couch in our classroom space – it is the couch in my living room.  And I want you to know that I call this picture, “Proof that my children are well taken care of in that A. They have clean clothes, and B.  I do not have time to fold said clothes.” The marvelous, overwhelming, exhausting, maddening, thrilling ride of parenting is not for the perfectionists at heart.  I write as one myself.  The reality that I cannot do everything perfectly is a daily reminder to chose wisely among the best options and move forward – no paralyzing guilt over mistakes made or incapacitating regrets, just resolution to make choices in line with our body’s wisdom about what is right for our children the next time around.  Laundry for me is one of those things. Until my children are old enough to wash, fold, and put away their clothes, I am resigned to have clothes available for the whole family on the couch!  And it isn’t something I bemoan.  I do wish I had a clean house, but I also realize that I have different priorities about how I spend my days with children, and managing to keep all of the clothes clean and folded is not something I am always able to do. (Props to you if you are able to keep a tidy house with your young children!  I’m not trying to say that you aren’t doing a good job of being a parent!  But, will you come fold my clothes in your spare time?)

But what is important for me to do, and how do I decipher between the good ideas and the critical choices?  Yesterday, I wrote about constructing a wisdom filter to help decipher imperatives from less important decisions, and today, I’d like to elaborate a little more about what my filter looks like.

1.  Practice self-care.  This sounds like a no brainer, right?  Taking care of others without taking care of yourself is a dangerous game.  Yet the actual practice of taking care of ourselves professionally, personally, and emotionally is a whole lot harder to do in practice!  I set about brainstorming a list of things that I do to take care of myself, and this is what I came up with:

Watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy instead of folding the laundry. Fold the laundry while watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.  (Sometimes self-care means having a peaceful and ordered space.)  Go for a walk.  Get a massage.  Have the children walk on my back in lieu of a massage (okay, not totally self-care, but close.)  Read a work of fiction.  Exercise as a part of my daily routine: walking to the grocery store, riding my bike to the library.  Take a bath. Listen to the radio (stations that bring me joy) while I am driving the car with my children, and give them books so they can be engaged while I have a mental break.  Go to a coffee shop alone.  Hire a babysitter for the night and finish a sentence over dinner with my husband.

2. Read to learn more. As a culture, we spent a great deal of time electronically engaged.  Deciding to restructure your day might afford some time for reading, and the more you read, the more you can develop a critical lens through which to assess advice.  Find some good resources for books (see #4 or visit my collecion of good reads to get started) or subscribe to blogs that help you think about issues of parenting and early childhood education.  Check out my blogroll – many let you subscribe by email so you will be notified when there is a new post.

3. Create a network of reliable voices. We need voices that we can trust.  Voices that are like-minded and voices that are different that can help us discern through the pile of “wise” and “unwise” ideas.  For a long time when my oldest was young, I had a daily walking partner.  This friend was at a different life stage than I was, but she and I shared many common life values.  We solved most of the world’s problems during our walks around the neighborhood, and even though she has moved away and my (now three) children make it difficult to walk and talk with friends in the short time span between work and dinner, I still call her when I need advice.

4.  Find a trusted source for books and resources. One of the greatest byproducts of my early childhood experience is it has led me to access resources that I otherwise would have had a hard time finding.  When I am at a crossroads and can’t figure out what to do about nightmares, toileting, or aggressive behavior, I hop over to NAEYC, Child Care Exchange, The Center for Nonviolent Communication, or Hand-In-Hand Parenting, and browse their collection of books and articles.  I have read publications from these sources before and found them to be very helpful, so when I don’t know where else to go, I start there.

5.  Simplify!  Hearing your inner wisdom is downright impossible with too much interference.  Think of the ways you can simplify your life: turn off the television, buy pre-washed lettuce, give yourself permission for a day of snuggling and reading books, give yourself permission to pull out all of the art materials and leave the clean up (gasp!) for after naptime, order pizza for lunch (this is one of my all-time favorite practices of simplifying!  I work so hard to prepare healthy meals, and a break from that preparation once in a while is worth its weight in gold! Plus, since it is a part of my program, it’s a tax write off. Not bad!), spend the day outside, spend the day inside, leave an email unanswered until tomorrow, don’t fold the laundry.

6.  Cultivate an introspective nature.  Sit and observe your children.  Pause to reflect on what you are feeling at one precise moment of the day (set a daily alarm, and when it goes off, pause to make a mental note).  Learn to describe rather than evaluate.  (Huh.  I’m feeling pretty grumpy.  Interesting.)

7.  Go easy on yourself!  Learn to recognize the mistakes, and make a mental note to not repeat them, then move on. When our mistakes began to dictate our emotional state, we have given our control over to an outsider.

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Tomorrow (or the next day…perhaps part of my “simplify” practice will involve waiting until Thursday to write another post.) – listening to our children’s wisdom.  Did I miss something?  What kinds of practices do you have for cultivating your inner wisdom?  Let me know in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!