Thursday, June 18, 2009

How Child Care Centers Can Support Working Families

I have always been a proponent of at-home parenting or small in-home daycare situations when necessary. I believe that children thrive in a home setting with lots of one-on-one interaction with adults and other children of various ages. Don’t tell this to my kids though because they are both currently in a daycare center that provides rigorous academic programming to age-segregated classrooms. And they love it!

Our family circumstances have dictated this situation and I would never question it around my children, passing on my anxieties and opinions to them. They love their teachers, their friends, and their classrooms. Instead, I try to make the best of this and every situation finding objects of my gratitude wherever possible. I have learned though that there are certain things daycare providers can do that make working parents feel isolated and without the necessary support. To be optimistic, here are a few things that child care centers can do to support working families:

1. Teach in mixed age-group classrooms:
Siblings can learn together
Kids can learn from peers of all ages
Older kids provide some accountability for smaller kids in a family-like setting

2. Provide avenues for parental involvement:
After school workshops for parents
Conveniently scheduled parent-teacher conferences
Consistent daily communication with teachers

3. Provide a consistent schedule of care:
Limited closures for holidays and maintenance
Adequate notice of any closings
Alternative care options in the event of closure

4. Limit required parental preparation:
Provided lunches and snacks for kids
Limited “homework” assignments
Adequate supplies for projects and activities

Some daycare centers provide a daily reminder that working can be a burden for parents while others make efforts to become part of the team allowing parents to work or go to school while maintaining some level of balance and sanity.

What does your daycare center do to support you as a working parent?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Night Gratitude Exercise

Each week on Sunday night, I sink into a terrible mood looking ahead to a week of workplace and familial obligations. It's not even that I hate my day job but I despise the requirement to sit in an office for eight hours each day when so many more rewarding tasks await me at home. I just love to serve my kids and my husband and wish that I had more time and flexibility to devote to them. Unfortunately I am daily accosted with solutions to this problem via continued education and entrepreneurial opportunities. My day job, however, provides my family's single income, good benefits, stability, and peace of mind in a troubled economy.
Instead of veering off the course set, I have learned to focus on what I can control and recognize the gratitude that is due to my current work-life situation. Could you benefit too from these little exercises on a Sunday night?

1. Write out a statement answering why you are on a certain course: I am currently working to support my husband's efforts in achieving higher education as he did for me through five long years of college. I am proud of his drive and his hard work and want to support him with a smile on my face (even if I am gritting my teeth a little).

2. Take an honest look at who you can help through your daily grind: instead of looking at business as business, look at clients as someone to serve and pay them the same courtesies that you'd pay your family at home. If you don't serve clients directly, look to your coworkers instead.

3. Consider one area of your day where you can work a little harder: sharpen your focus, set clear goals, and seek improvement of your situation. Then take pride in the results.

4. VIsualize your long term goals: my husband and I are working toward a time that he and I will support our family more equitably. I keep a picture on my desk of myself with my kids and enjoy looking forward to the day that I spend more time with them in the yard and less time at my desk looking at their picture.

With that, I'll pack lunches, pull out clothes for tomorrow and leave behind another week's Sunday night blues.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ideas for Freezer Meals

In my family, we have struggled to find easy meals to cook at home within the constraints of our busy schedule. Most evenings include some classes, t-ball practice, or small group meetings with our church leaving an hour or less to get home, cook, eat dinner, and get out the door again. Unfortunately, without proper meal planning we eat out all too often.

Meal planning can simply be creating a menu and shopping list on the weekend so that you have a game plan throughout the week. Incorporating your dinner menu into your calendar makes it easier to plan quick dinners on busy nights while planning for a few relaxing family meals as they fit in throughout the week.

High achieving moms have taken menu planning to a new level stocking their freezer once a month with complete meals. 30 Meals in One Day provides software that can assist the techno-loving mom in this pursuit. The software provides hundreds of recipes with options to manage those that work for your family plus options to build menus and generate shopping lists.

My biggest complaint with freezer meals has always been the hour plus prep time it takes to thaw and reheat the meals, but 30 Meals in One Day provides several menu options that can thaw in the fridge during the day then be heated up quickly in the evening. Sample recipes are provided on the website, here are a few of my favorite:

Cream Cheese Chicken
1 .7-ounce envelope Italian dressing mix
1/2 cup butter
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
1 10.75-ounce can cream of chicken soup
1 8-ounce package cream cheese

Turn slow cooker on High. Place butter in bottom of slow cooker. When the butter has melted, add one envelope Italian dressing dry mix. Stir into butter until well mixed. Cut chicken breasts into 1" strips. Place in slow cooker and stir to coat with butter and dressing mix. Cover and cook on High for 2 hours. Remove chicken to plate to cool. Add cream of chicken soup and cream cheese. Stir to melt and mix well until smooth and creamy. Remove sauce from slow cooker and allow to cool. Place chicken and sauce into a gallon resealable freezer bag. Label. Freeze.To serve: Thaw. Heat until piping hot and bubbly. Serve over mashed potatoes, rice, or hot buttered noodles.

Honey Lime Chicken
2 lbs chicken tenders
1/2 Tbl garlic salt
1 Tbl peanut oil
1 20 oz can pineapple rings
1/4 cup honey
3 Tbl lime juice
2 Tbl soy sauce
1 Tbl cornstarch

Sprinkle chicken with garlic salt. Brown in oil. Drain pineapple. Add one fourth of the pineapple juice to skillet. Cover and simmer 6 to 8 minutes until chicken is golden. Remove chicken. Add honey, lime juice, soy sauce, cornstarch and remainder of pineapple juice. Bring to boil. Cook and stir until thick and clear, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Allow to cool. Place chicken, pineapple rings and sauce in freezer bag. Label and freeze.
To serve: Thaw. Heat until sauce is hot and bubbly and chicken is heated through.

Coconut Shrimp
24 large shrimps, uncooked
1/2 cup cornstarch1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 egg whites
2 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
Marmalade Dipping Sauce

Peel and devein shrimp, leaving tails on. Make a slit about 1/2 way through along the inner curve of each shrimp. Press open and gently flatten. In shallow dish, combine cornstarch, salt and cayenne pepper. In a mixing bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Place the coconut in another shallow dish. Coat shrimp first in cornstarch mixture, then in egg whites, then coat with coconut. Heat oil to 375° in electric skillet or deep-fryer. Deep-fry shrimp 1 to 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with Marmalade Dipping Sauce. To freeze: Arrange prepared but uncooked shrimp in single layer on a baking sheet. Cover and freeze. Transfer to freezer bag. Label and freeze.
To serve: Thaw. Fry shrimp for about 2 minutes on each side or until golden.

Zesty Beef and Vegetable Soup
1 lb beef stew meat, cubed
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups frozen green beans
2 cups carrots, sliced
4 cups hot and spicy tomato vegetable juice
1 14.5 oz can Italian tomatoes
2 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp basil1 Tbl sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Place beef in slow cooker. Add onion, garlic, corn, green beans and carrots. Combine tomato vegetable juice, stewed tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour into slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on Low for 8 to 10 hours or on High for 6 hours. Remove from slow cooker and allow to cool completely. Place in freezer bag or in containers for individual servings. Label and freeze.
To serve: Thaw, heat and serve.

Do you have any tips or recipes for freezer meals? What are your families favorite quick and easy dinners?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Every Mom’s Social Networking Utility

Most of us live through our twenties surrounded by friends and family. Many of us even choose this time of our lives to settle into city centers where we brush elbows with strangers each and every day. As we grow, we choose our truest friends to keep in touch with, we often move away from family, and we select a mate to share the rest of our lives. Then, as the song goes, comes a baby in a baby carriage. From one of many in the crowd to isolation with an infant, and without the euphemistic instruction manual.
Humans are social animals defined by civilizations. We thrive in social situations and falter when left alone. Luckily, we are raising children in a highly digitized age when advice and companionship is never more than a few clicks of the keyboard away. Not all social networking utilities are created equal though. Certain tools available lend themselves better to moms in particular situations:

  1. For Stay at Home Moms: Facebook is a great way to share information about yourself and your family with a group of “friends”. Because your profile is not public, moms can feel safe to share information about themselves and pictures of their family. Friends can leave comments, chat, or send directed messages to one another.
  2. For Work at Home Moms: Twitter provides a venue to share a constant stream of information and ideas. Twitter is great for moms with small business and blogs who are trying to create a brand image. Twitter is also a great networking forum to contact potential clients and like-minded businesses.
  3. For Moms Working outside the Home: LinkedIn provides a professional forum to stay connected and informed about your industry and your contacts. LinkedIn is also used by recruiters and job seekers. Who isn’t always looking for a better opportunity?

Motherhood doesn’t need to be isolating. Do you use social networking for any particular purpose? What do you like about the tool that you’ve chosen?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Shortcuts for Busy Moms

As a busy working mom, I have developed some…behaviors that may seem a little obsessive compulsive to some. I would rather call them my daily coping mechanisms though. Quick shortcuts, these coping mechanisms help to ease my efforts each day as I juggle home, work, and family responsibilities.

  1. When loading the dishwasher, I designate each compartment for a particular type of silverware. This makes unloading easier as an entire handful of silverware can go directly into the silverware drawer already separated.
  2. My work clothes are hung in my closet all facing the same direction and organized according to length of their sleeve or skirt. This makes it easier for me to assess my wardrobe options each morning according to the weather forecast.
  3. I charge my cell phone every night on the same charger whether it needs it or not. Without this routine I would be left searching for my cell phone each morning and inevitably stranded someplace with a dead battery.

Crazy – maybe. But these easy shortcuts leave me feeling a bit more organized and a bit more accomplished as I move through my daily routine.
What coping mechanisms or shortcuts do you have to manage the day to day tasks of a working mom?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Easter Egg Ideas

Easter is a very meaningful time for my family and I am lucky to have an employer that grants a floating holiday to all staff this time of year. This means that our office remains open during regular business hours around Easter but each staff member is able to take one day off with pay. It is then up to us to ensure coverage of office duties during this time.

In the weeks before Easter I will be squeezing in a few activities including Easter Egg hunts, stories, and special church services. I will also be putting together a few activities at home that will help me to teach my kids what our family values as the meaning of Easter. My favorite activity is these resurrection eggs. Instead of candy and stickers, plastic Easter eggs are filled with small meaningful symbols of Easter and quickly facilitate my efforts to teach my children the Easter story.

Easter Symbols:

1. (Bread) Matthew 26:26
2. (Coins) Matthew 26: 14-15
3. (Purple cloth, representing a purple robe) Mark 15:17
4. (Thorns) Matthew 27:29
5. (Scourge-a small piece of rope or thick string) Mark 15:15
6. (Cross) John 19: 17-18a
7. (Nails) John 20:25b
8. (Sign) Luke 23:38
9. (Sponge) Matthew 27:48
10. (Spear) John 19:34
11. (Rock) Matthew 27:59-60
12. (Empty) Matthew 28:6

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Daycare Stories

I recently had a bad experience with my daycare which prompted me to investigate what resources of support exist for daycare parents. I Googled "daycare stories" and was disappointed to only find daycare horror stories - from neglect all the way to child deaths in the care of daytime providers.

I am a strong advocate of children being with families as much as possible, but I also recognize that this isn't always possible. My two children are in full-time daycare; my youngest has been in full-time care since six weeks of age. In this time, I've collected a few negative stories (I won't call them horror stories). I've also collected several good, encouraging stories.
  1. After nearly a year of my husband and my own attempts to potty train my first son, he spent only one week with a daycare provider before being certifiably potty trained.
  2. My boys loved one daycare provider so much that they chose to attend summer camp with her, even though it was a Girl Scout summer camp.
  3. Upon moving out of state, our provider and her own children saw us off each crying on my kids' last day.
Being a parent of children in daycare is tough. I struggle emotionally to drop them off each morning and a part of me wonders if their daytime providers are fostering the same manners and habits I would attempt to teach through a daily routine. These are topics that women don't tend to discuss by the water cooler...but maybe we should.
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State College, PA