When I wrote this post last week so many of you got it. You really got it. But most of you probably did before you read it too.
Blogs are so often like that. We are taking to the people who are already there. Because that's why so many of you come here. It's familiar. It's reinforces what you already believe.
But one mama wrote something about that post that I couldn't shake.
beautiful. But just reminds me where I fail. We live in an apartment,
in a bad neighborhood. I can't send them outside to explore, by
That reality of so very many parents in the world. Where it is safer indoors than out. Where there is no backdoor to throw open; no grass to run barefoot through. And even if there were, you wouldn't. You couldn't.
And if this mama assumed I was writing with a picture in my head of kids living in safe, green neighborhoods, well… she was right.
That was humbling.
I didn't picture a child living in the inner city or on the fifth floor of an apartment building.
I didn't picture a child at school all day and at after-school care until seven.
I didn't picture so many of the stories that are reality for so many families.
I pictured my family. Here. In the country.
And I pictured the countless backyards devoid of children in neighborhoods where it is perfectly safe to venture out and play.
The more I sat with her comment the more I felt that what I said might have missed the point for some of you, simply because of the context.
So today I'm giving it another go. This time written more for those of you without a yard or other safe place to run free.
Because giving your kids just what they need does not require special tools or a fancy environment.
It doesn't! You can rock this gig anywhere. Yes, even in an apartment in a bad neighborhood. Even without extra cash. Even with little spare time.
So thank you, mama, for reminding me to think outside of my small green box. This post is for you.
Here is another take on giving kids what they need – no matter where you call home.
Ten Ways to Rock Your Parenting – Wherever You Are
1. Put down your phone.
cultivate presence with your child. Choose your priority. Your time with
your little one is fleeting. Facebook isn't going anywhere.
2. Turn off the screens.
If you're going to go, go big. (See discomfort acknowledged in step 1. Ahem.)
Curb your own screen addiction and that of your child. I know. Media is easy. It's relaxing. (Sort of.) It's like a mini vacation.
But it's not the best way to spend your free time. Especially when you're a kid.
I've always taken a pretty radical
stance on media for children. Turn off the screens and they will become
more grounded, more imaginative, more present. And in that space life will bloom.
3. Embrace boredom.
do not need to entertain your child.
you and for your child) but it's a path that leads to creativity if you
let it do its work.
4. Find nature where you live.
Nature can be found in big expanses of green or in a clay pot on your windowsill. Heck, nature can be found in a crack in the sidewalk it you just take time to lay on your belly and look.
Do one of the items on the list below, or do them all. It's up to you.
*Watch clouds drifting across the sky and imagine aloud the magic pictures they contain. You can even make cloud art with your child, painting with a teased apart cotton ball instead of a brush.
5. Create rituals to celebrate the seasons.
Pagans celebrate the turning of the seasons at eight points in the calender. At the start of each season and at the mid-point. You don't have to be Pagan to celebrate the turning of the year!
These celebrations can be as simple as making a season painting together at your kitchen table, gathering with friends to celebrate, or taking a walk on the same path to take note of the turning of the year.
Put these on your calendar as you would an important birthday. Make time to celebrate the turning seasons.
6. Keep a phenology journal.
7. Make art together.
We thrifted a big stack of old nature magazines recently. With some scissors and a little diluted white glue we could spend all day at our kitchen table, creating collages on old boards and pieces of cardboard.
Stock a drawer or shelf with some basic, affordable art supplies and let art replace screen-time. You'll all be glad you did.
Supplies to keep on hand: watercolor paint, tempra paint, thick paper (watercolor or other painting paper is nice), white paper (we use regular office paper), colored pencils or markers, and a few jars of random extras – buttons, glitter, acorn caps, etc.
You'll find lots more tips over here.
8. Grow food, prepare food, and eat together.
This is a powerful act.
You can grow food in a big garden outside or right on your kitchen counter.
Sprout seeds in a mason jar or grow edible herbs in pots. Re-grow celery from a cut off stalk.
Growing and eating food is a wonderful lesson to empower us in our lives!
9. Embrace unscheduled time.
We tend to over-engage, over-schedule, and over-plan. Childhood is no exception. Let your kids have free time. Lots of it.
They don't need more activities. They need more undirected free time. (Yes, even if it's happening inside the walls of your flat.)
10. Let them explore.
Give your kids a bucket of rocks to play with. Or their own bin of flour in the kitchen. Or some clay pots full of soil.
Fill the dishpan with soap bubbles and a pile of yogurt tubs and measuring cups. Stick them in the bathtub with a baking soda and vinegar.
While my kids love playing mud kitchen, they also love what they call "potions". And this, friends, is like mud kitchen without the mud. And, um, indoors.
Potions involves vinegar, baking soda, beet juice, food coloring, stale spices, flour, water, cut grass, seeds, a mess of little jars and bowls… you get the idea.
Just let it flow and let it be and allow them to explore their world. Don't tell them what to do. Just let them go.
Clean-up can be epic, but it's worth the mess.
(We often do this in the tub.)
11. Love yourself and your life.
Okay, make it 11.
Know that life is imperfect. It's meant to be. There are lessons to be found in your less-than-ideal life, home, or schedule. Embrace the imperfection while you sift through for the magic within.
To live in a fifth story apartment means that when you do run barefoot through the grass it can be ecstasy. Even if it only happens once a year.
57 thoughts on “Ten ways to rock your parenting – wherever you are.”
This is beautiful. Written with so much heart and kindness. I am fortunate that I spend all day with my children. That while we don’t live in the ‘country,’ we have a huge fenced in yard. That we are surrounded by trees. That we can see farmland from our porch. But this spoke to me, too. Sometimes it can be hard to ‘do it all.’ Most days we spend outside, but there are days we don’t (for whatever reason) and those days are beautiful, too. Thank you. <3
Thank you for this, I didn’t even reed that post, because I thought of that, that’s great if is not dangerous outside and you don’t live in the big city, and I have been thinking about it for a few days.
Thank you Amanda.
So honest. Thank you Nahuatl.
Your original post resonated with me, but there was part of me that said — it’s different for them, in the country…there’s so much to *do*, so much space, so much to see. But here, in my yard, well, it’s less exciting. but this post…this post…so much inspiration. thank you, Rachel, for your insight, kindness, wisdom.
Inspiring words, as always, Rachel. Is it strange that perhaps what I loved the most about this post is that your daughter is playing with “real” dishes, jars, silverware–nothing plastic or “kiddie” about them? It shows a real trust–that you’re trusting her with fragile, beautiful, “grown-up” things. I’ve always hated those fake plastic tea sets and fake produce for kiddie kitchens. The real things are so much more tactile and lovely. (You just inspired another post for me–somehow, I always find blogging inspiration here–thank you!) By the way, I love your daughter’s dandelion soup!
This is great. We live in a small two bedroom apartment with just a cement patio. We live in a city in Kentucky that is very green and has a ton of parks – so we’ve done exactly what you say! We walk to a little park where we have favorite trees we observe all year. We go to the same u-pick farms every year, and the farmer’s market on saturdays. It can be tempting to feel jealous of others’ homes, but we are grateful for what we have (and apartment living means I can stay home with our two little girls). We are planting some container herbs this weekend and can’t wait. This was a very fitting post! : )
This was really a great post. I live in the country now, but didn’t always. We moved here from a small city apartment with no yard, and we did end up doing our fair share of cornstarch-and-water goo fests, finger painting, and growing things in pots. But there were many days– and still are, even in the country– where I just don’t feel like I do enough or utilize what we have now enough, or I feel disengaged, or frustrated. Sometimes it seems impossible to be as creative as other people. But your suggestions in this post are so simple and do-able that they make parenting success seem less out of reach. Thank you!
I love this…
I too live in the country and can let my children go but the telly seems to shout louder than I can and that’s all they seem to hear. I need to gather the strength to turn off the telly and unplug it if needs be to make sure it’s silent and they can only hear the birds, which they can if only they listened. My 3 guys are fabulous but I am sitting here frustrated with them because they aren’t ‘doing’ things I want them too but maybe it’s that I’m not doing things THEY want me too?
I write a blog too and I write a lot about my family. I am going to post your blog on my Facebook page (Little White Cottage if you fancy coming along to take a peek) as I know my likers will love your ideas.
Many thanks for opening my eyes and showing me that I need to change if I want them too. Best wishes, Emma x
Thank you for this wonderful post – I need the challenge! Having not seen this one yet, and inspired by your other one we set up an outside kitchen and my boys had lots of fun. The flowers were pounded into the mud never to be seen again but proudly recalled. I love the inspiration you bring to my life, thank you x
I had a moment like that (in the intro). PTA meeting at a parent’s home instead of at school. A mom from the local apartment complexes, (where half of our students come from) asked if we all had back yards like this. We all did. Except her. But she represented half of our school population. It was very humbling. We tend to forget how many kids are living without this available, and how many parents grew up that way and never really think about it.
I just recently found you online and what a wonderful surprise. You have a truly beautiful heart.
I’m always so glad when I stop by here. You are a very cool woman!
Thank you for your words, Sarah.
We love real dishes for kids. Trust! Indeed. And letting go. Because yes, sometimes things break. Like in life.
Magic! I love your point about how your apartment means you can stay home. What could be better than that?
And remember – what others seem to be doing isn’t what they are always doing. We all have slow days, unmotivated days, blech days. Each and every one of us.
Blessings, Emma! It sounds like you have some important things to chew on. Peace.
Oh, yes. We need these reminders.
Welcome, Heather! Thank you for your words.
I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately as we patiently(or not, as the day may be) wait wait wait for our country home. I am focusing on blooming where I am planted!
I so appreciate this post. My kids, while still very young, spent the first years of their lives in an apartment. Now, we are in the suburban desert, not my ideal climate. I have been working hard to try to help them to see the little bits of nature around us–the one ladybug, the owls, the jackrabbits, birds’ nests, woodpeckers, etc.
this post reminded me so much of when we lived in a little apartment in Berlin- when our daily walks were so mindful of the seasons and the little bits of nature around us because it wasn’t so easy to see them! when we moved to the west coast of Ireland I had plans for a bit of land, animals and children running barefoot six months of the year like my own childhood growing up in Australia. But life doesn’t always play ball 🙂 and though the view out of our back window is beautiful, with nothing to see except a pheasant or a fox and the changing green, the realities of school and work and this and that (and the fact that the weather isn’t barefoot six months of the year ideal…) mean that the amount of time spent consciously observing the natural world is less that when we had to look for it. i think the conscious effort is all of it- thanks for the reminder of all the things we did when it wasn’t so obvious, i think in having it around us all the time we have lost a little bit of the magic! so here’s to potion making and going out to see the hedgerows bloom!
I always read your posts even if I do live in an apartment in a big city across the ocean. Your posts always speak to me, but this one did in particular. We take walks in nature and grow things on our small balcony but you gave me a lot of good ideas for things to do after a very long day at school. We will be using our bathtub much more in the future!
Sometimes when it’s elusive it’s that much more magical.
Oh, I love this. Truly.
Must say, your original post made me feel so sad! I sent it to my husband and we were both all, “le sigh! outdoor space!”
We’ve got three little ones on the 10th floor of an apartment building. We’re at the park ALL. THE. TIME. but it’s just not the same as being able to head out without umpteen preparations! So thank you for this follow-up post for those of us whose reality is a leeeeetle different.
(And, if truth be told, we’re going to look at a rental house on Saturday that’s on 3 ACRES in the middle of a nearby city. Keep your fingers crossed for us!!)
Thank you for acknowledging the ApartmentMoms!
Thank you 🙂
Dear Rachel ~
Another blogger friend shared this on FB today. As the mother of a soon to be 16 year old and a 17 year old, I truly appreciate this piece. BLINK. Your babies are now teenagers looking at colleges. When my kids were young I was too busy being mom that I didn’t always take the time to appreciate them just being them. They were in daycare from 7:15am until 5:15pm every day until I got laid off just before my eldest started kindergarten, in September of 2001. There are no coincidences.
My kids were permitted 30 minutes of a video when they were little after dinner and a bath and just before bed. They learned what 3 and 0 looked like together and if it was the weekend, they were over the top excited when they could actually watch a 45 minute video. If they were particularly wound up, nothing could calm them down like “Little Bear.” (Is that even still around?) It was mind numbing for the adults, but excellent for the kids. When they started school, TV wasn’t even an option. (That lasted until 3rd grade as I recall.)
A picnic of dinner anywhere was always a treat. Without central air, often in the summer we would have dinner on a sheet in the bedroom.
Meals of all the same colors were always a hit too. Having tracked back on your blog I am guessing there wouldn’t be an orange night quite like ours, (Doritos were a HUGE treat) but it can still be fantastic fun no matter what your food is.
The family dinner is THE link. Turning off anything with a screen. VERY hard, especially when you are a blogger – this is our lifeline. Do. It. Anyway.
Car rides = forced time to talk when you have teenagers. It’s often hard to take away the iPhone that is surgically attached to the hand, but it’s so worth it when you do.
Homemade play-dough is far superior to the store bought kind and lasts infinitely longer. It’s still a nightmare, but…
Goop is another great treasure.
ANY kind of baking that requires decorating.
Glitter. I love it and am still cleaning it up ten years later.
There is nothing more soothing and fun than playing in the tub or small kiddie pool. For us, it was a lot of different size containers and whisks. OH, the froth one can make with a whisk and some soap.
Congratulations on a beautiful post. Congratulations on the many gorgeous pictures. You will be so grateful you have this visual diary to remind yourself JUST how fast time passes.
This is so good – thank you! As I have been dealing with discontentment lately – why I don’t know as I am abundantly blessed – reading this is a timely reminder.
We have the same situation–we have a toddler and a baby on the way, and live in a two bedroom apartment on the 8th floor… not ideal for sure, but this way I can stay home with the kids and we can save to hopefully buy our own home someday. But just this morning I found myself envious of a friend’s backyard – that she can just open the door and her son can be outside!
This post was helpful in making me think of some new ideas. I’m terrible with plants (I kill them — every single time), but maybe we’ll try some small flower or herbs on the balcony…
…like the ants between the sidewalk blocks! They’re fascinating to an almost-two-year-old! I just keep reminding myself that she doesn’t actually know she’s missing anything by not having a house and a yard…
I saw that comment too in that post and it made me sad, super wonderful that you wrote a post about it all.
I spent the morning off the computer, and it feels good, but isn’t it soooo hard to not be on it. it’s like a magnet for a social connection most of us are lacking at home with the kids. and we all know media isn’t great too, but again, it’s so hard to take breaks from. I had no internet for a couple of days recently and it felt great, but it’s almost like all or nothing for me, if its there it’s there, if it’s gone it’s not!
I ended up writing that last post on my fridge I loved it so much! I am super blessed to be able to open the front door to an acreage, but I have to be by her side the whole time as we live in the mountains and the forest backs onto the house, I gotta protect my cub!
What a delightful read. Thank you.
Beautiful, thoughtful, humble post! And don’t forget one more: READ. Libraries are FREE, and books take you ANYWHERE! 🙂
I spent the first years of my mothering in a 450 sq. ft. fourth floor apartment in West Philly. It was hard, I won’t lie. It was depressing, and I wanted to take my children outside. I have found that almost ANY city has beautiful outdoor space SOMEWHERE. We found the most amazing place. We would drive just five minutes from our apartment, through an awful, ghetto, graffiti-covered part of town and end up in a several-acre historic house and botanical gardens on the river. You couldn’t see any of the city from it. It was always quiet, always peaceful, and safe. We spent many happy hours there. Now we live in the suburbs, with a safe, green, lovely backyard, with hope for several acres in the near future. But I am still grateful we found that space when we needed.
In terms of not needing to be a pagan to celebrate the seasons, why not celebrate the feasts of the Lord, his appointed times! They include the seasons, early and latter harvests, full moons, etc. based on the lunar calendar. 😉
Sometimes I’m guilty of being clueless. My husband has worked at home most of our married life. He’s around 24/7. I often forget how much freedom I have had because there was another adult on the premises. Heck, I can go to the grocery store by myself. I under-appreciate how much less stressful my mommy life is because of my husband’s constant support and presence. Just knowing he’s there makes all the difference. I shouldn’t take that for granted.
We live on 5 acres outside of a rural town. The last few years I have been lamenting our rural status. It was great when the kids were young and all they wanted to do was run and shout and explore and build and make uninhibited messes. Now that they are mostly in their 20’s or teenagers it is very difficult to find jobs here and we realize how far “everything” is. We don’t have an extra car. One of my young people spends a lot of time on a bus getting to and from a junior college. Many moms agree with me that our area is a great place to raise a family, but it’s not so hot for young adults. Sometimes I wished we lived closer to a major city. So, every place has its advantages and disadvantages at different stages of life.
Thank you so much for writing this. Some things I know we are doing more of, and others…I know I am guilty of doing.
As the mom of a 20 year old just home from his first semester in college, I was bemoaning the fact that we didn’t make enough wonderful opportunities when he was little… he looked at me with shock. “Mom, what about Dangerous Road? (a crazy game they played with bicycles in our 20x30f yard) What about the Gnarled Old Tree? (we used to pat a crazy tree in the corner of an overgrown lot) what about Valley of the Hands? (a game: they would try to pass their father, crouched down with his eyes squeezed shut, in the cramped hallway after baths, before bed, without being touched by his randomly waving hands). “Our childhood was amazing!”
There ya go.
Thank you for this. We live in a one bedroom, 4th floor walkup and finding the outdoors and having unstructured esp. outdoor time that is not mediated by adults is very challenging. We go outside everyday, we take the bus to the park and sit under the big trees and wander around the man made lake, we go around the corner to the beautiful front yard of a neighbor and smell every single flower, we try to just wander away from the danger and hubbub of the very busy city street we live on and find our little pockets. Following my daughters lead, not forcing the discovery of a little patch of grass to sit on near the train station, the dandelion we pick off the sidewalk to blow out into the street…I grew up with fields to run in all day and I hope in the future to have that for my daughter but the most important thing I have found is just to slow down, go at your childs pace, and find space physical or mental just to be.
Sorry for that feeling, Kim. Good luck on your 3 acres…
Great post. Thanks!
This is fantastic.
My kids are older now (youngest of three is 21) and we have lived the gamut — apartments, tiny houses/no yard, rental houses/don’t go on the grass!, nice house/nice yard — and our kids (the now-adults) have terrific memories of the fun we/they concocted in each place. Windowsill gardens, crazy and made-up games like Deb Meyers above, and moments uniquely possible because of the uniqueness of the place we called home.
One of our favorites was the brainchild of our oldest (now 30), who took the younger two “rock climbing” with him: over the back of the futon with tied-together bandannas and belts, everyone attached with the belayer (sp?), water bottles strapped to their waists — we’re talking the back of a couch, folks, but he made it the wildest adventure they could imagine. And this was probably the outcome of a “We’re bored, Mom” moment — to which I responded, without fail, “Oh, too bad.” No rushing to entertain or even to suggest. Amazingly, they came up with wonderful ideas. The middle one (now 25), was the proprietor of “The Rose Café” with her little brother as the busboy. We still have the menu they came up with, wrote out, and made copies of for their patrons (us, and anyone who came to visit!). The busboy could spend hours with his mass of Legos, or as much time as we could stand with his “drum set” — canisters and chopsticks serving to create plenty of noise. (He’s a professional musician today.)
Twice a year we imposed a two-week no-TV period. To this day they are indifferent to television, although movies are another story (the oldest is a filmmaker). As a number of commenters have mentioned, treasuring the moment is key with your kids. Finding what’s possible right where you’re planted. I’m still agog that they aren’t my little babes anymore, and I truly miss those times. I’m thinking there’s a lot more pressure on you younger moms to be and do so much to/with your kids, and believe me, I was crazy about my kids (and home schooled them all, as well), but I knew they were going to have to develop their own capabilities, along with their abilities, and for that reason, both my husband and I were able to “ignore” them (safely) plenty of times. Today, they love us deeply and compliment us often — and we love to be with them. (Maybe you can tell I’m hugely proud of them too? The middle one, the girl, started a ballet school in Africa four years ago; still going strong.) (Trust me, we had no idea what any of their careers would be … except for the drummer ; )
So thank you, Rachel, for your wise words, and if you can all relax — and trust — a bit more, I know your kids will make it … just fine.
This is so true and children pick up on our discontentment with our home so much more than we realize. When we used to live in a townhouse with no green space for my daughter to play and three stories of very teeny, tiny rooms stacked on top of each other with neighbors on connecting walls who would yell obscenities and throw things against those thin walls, I worried what kind of memories my daughter would grow up with of our life there. So we walked to a nearby vacant lot that was overgrown with wildflowers and herbs that we learned to identify and bring home to dry for tea; we sat in the highest window and overlooked all the smoking chimneys in the winter and watched the sunset together every night; we had picnics under a pine tree that was at the end of our neighborhood where she pretended we were invisible when we were underneath and she swung from the bottom branches until her hands were so sticky with pine that it was hard to wash off. Now we live in the country, have a huge garden with herbs for our tea right out our back door and a turtle habitat along with things I could only dream of in that tiny townhouse. You know what? She misses our walks to our flower field and the view of the sunset and smoking chimneys and our magical pine tree!
This I love. x
My daughter loves to make potions and calls them just that!
I appreciate your second take on this. The life you live is my dream. But that is not how it is for me. I also don’t naturally think of great ways to let my kids just be. It is a natural tendency for me want to provide activities and events for them. To prevent messes and keep them from destroying my house. But I also want them to live to learn to love and to explore. Messes are going to happen. Luckily, they are getting old enough to learn that they can help clean up those messes! But I still struggle to come up with the ideas, so I am grateful for this post and the wonderful ideas that you have shared. You have inspired me to begin a tweaked version of unschooling in our home. I am going to be awful at it for a while, but I hope that in the long run it works!
What a thrilling journey, Camille! Enjoy it when you can. Also remember: one path is not right for all people. Make sure that what you choose is a match for you and your kids. Hugs.