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Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood

June 2, 2015

By Ana and Mario Vela

Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood | Mario and Ana Vela talk about the best and most difficult parts of the first year of parenthood. | Mario, Ana, and Mariana Vela take a photo outside in Lincoln Park, Chicago.

In the Couple Chat series, we pose a few topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s responses and the couple discusses their individual thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion with us in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked Ana and Mario Vela, whose daughter Mariana will turn one year old next week, about surviving the first year of parenthood. Here’s what they said.

What’s the best survival tip you’ve learned in this first year?

Ana: My best survival tip is to trust your instincts. I have been so surprised to discover how well I know my own child, and how my instincts have helped me find solutions to comfort her, make her happy, and keep her safe. I think this is the hardest concept to grasp, but when you are in it you will know exactly what it means.

Mario: The attachment and care your child needs will offer you a drive you might not be aware you had. The new moments and experiences you gain will allow you to offer the care necessary to your child. Also, if your family and friends offer support, accept it. We’ve been very fortunate that our mothers have decided to take turns in living with us.

What was the hardest thing about the first year of parenthood?

Ana: The hardest thing about the first year of parenthood is trying to juggle everything. You lose sleep, your priorities change, it´s difficult to find time to spend with your partner—much less friends—keeping up with work, and finding time just for yourself. I´m most surprised about the strain it has caused on our marriage because we prioritized everything else and took our relationship for granted. It has taken me many months to start getting to a place where I feel I can start “handling my personal load” again, and I have had to make some major life decisions in order to achieve a good sense of balance. And that´s okay. After all, this new child is absolutely worth it!

Mario: Adjusting my priorities. I’ve been driven by my career and educational goals, and I had to adjust that amount of time since I now want to be with my daughter and support my partner. I previously attended several networking events per week, and now I have reduced to a few events a month. I’m also now involved in non-profit boards that require less time in the community, but make a bigger impact. I’ve even had to reduce the time we spend with our friends, which they understand. Now that Mariana is closer to a year old, we’ve been able to spend time with our friends again by having her join us at some Chicago summer festivals.

What was the best thing about the first year?

Ana: The best thing about this first year has been having fun! I never knew how much fun spending time with my daughter would be. Every new thing she learns is fascinating. Making her laugh is the best! And taking her out to the world and seeing her enjoy new experiences is so fulfilling. I am always looking forward to doing ¨the next thing” with her because everything is new to her. I couldn´t have ever imagined this feeling.

Mario: Seeing Mariana mature, socialize, and develop her own personality. I see myself in her.

What did you learn about your partner that you never knew in this first year?

Ana: The most surprising thing I learned about my husband has been seeing his inner child come out. It´s interesting to see how he sees the world through her eyes, and how he wants to make everything fun and memorable for her. I always knew he would be a good father, but didn´t realize how fun and attentive he would be to her development.

Mario: The type of love and care she offers our daughter. Ana wanted to have children, but I was surprised by how naturally it came to her. I was also surprised to see her moments of doubt. I believe she now feels capable and confident, but with new stages forthcoming. She also makes me a better father.

Reflection
Ana: When reading our answers to each other, we got very emotional. The first year has been demanding, and yet so wonderful. It’s the oddest thing. But we survived, and we both agree that we are so proud of where Mariana is in her development. We both contributed different things to shape her in to the person she is right now.

It’s interesting how we don’t want to waste any time in life anymore. Every moment is about her – giving her everything she needs and spending time with her and making it memorable. We’re looking forward to her first birthday party—having our family fly in from Texas, surrounded by our friends, and celebrating that we will have completed our first year as parents!

We can help you through not only your first year of parenthood, but through high school graduation and beyond. Check out our holistic approach to parenting in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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Dad’s Story: Planning the First Mother’s Day

May 7, 2015

By Mario Vela

Dad’s Story: Planning the First Mother’s Day | Once you have a family of your own, the meaning of Mother's Day changes a bit. Here's a first-time father's story of what he's planning for their first Mother's Day with a baby, and how it's not just Mom and Dad who he has to plan for. | The author, his wife, and his daughter pose for a selfie in the snow this past winter.

Photo of Mario, Ana, and Mariana (clockwise from top) courtesy of Mario and Ana Vela. 

My spouse and I decided to have our first child after being married for 10 years. This month, our daughter Mariana will turn 11 months old and we will celebrate our first Mother’s Day as a family.

This first Mother’s Day is especially important to celebrate because I want to thank and appreciate my wife for our new partnership and commitment now that we have a daughter. Being new parents requires a stronger focus on our relationship and how we collaborate in raising our daughter. Because of that, we’ve developed a new kind of friendship and I’ve learned that she has the ability to show a new kind of love that I wasn’t aware of that she offers to our daughter. I appreciate her commitment to our partnership and our daughter, and want to make sure I plan a special day. 
 
Typically I would take my wife to dinner to celebrate an achievement, anniversary, or birthday, but this is an event where Mariana’s needs and preferences will be important to our experience as well. For our first Mother’s Day, I’ll have to consider the opinions and preferences of both my wife and daughter.
 
Since we live in Chicago and it’s warming up, we definitely have to appreciate the ability to be outside. Gone are the days that I would choose the trendiest restaurant. Instead I will base my choice on having the option for Mariana to walk around. We make an effort to have her try different cuisines, new visuals and stimuli, and give her opportunities to interact with people, so the restaurant will need to accommodate those things.

We’ve also learned that Mariana loves—not surprisingly—ice cream, so I’ll need to find a dessert place within walking distance.

Ana, my wife, also prefers that all our plans are seamless and in order before we go out, so I will surprise her with the day’s activities as well—carefully planned so she has a stress-free day. One of the best things I can do for Ana is to listen for anything she’s been missing the last few months. Since we haven’t been able to go out as much due to the winter and having a newborn, I want to make sure we take advantage of Mariana being a little older to appreciate the food and the ability to be outside and enjoy the springtime weather.

A key lesson I’ve learned in this first year of parenthood is that there are times when you might be overextending yourself, but when that happens you can simply adjust your responsibilities. So instead of celebrating this milestone as I would have in the past, with a nice dinner for my wife and me, we can adjust our expectations and keep it family-focused.

The important thing is to show gratitude to my wife for what she’s accomplished this past year with our family. Our friendship and partnership has been strengthened and revitalized, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Do you want to learn about nurturing your child's core areas of development? Check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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For the Kids: 4 Steps to a Kinder Divorce

April 28, 2015

By Amanda Alpert Knight

For the Kids: 4 Steps to a Kinder Divorce | It's tough to stay kind and civil through a divorce, but this mom shares tips she's learned while going through her own divorce that can help you and your partner team up for your children. | A young girl looks at her father as he and her mother each tug one of her arms.

I never thought I would get divorced. I never thought I would be in a position to write an article like this.

How do you divorce kindly? How do you divorce in a way that ensures your children are okay, or even better than okay? How do you divorce in a way that each parent can maintain their sense of self, their pride, their personal well-being, and their ability to be the best parent they can be?

I’m not an expert—my divorce and parenting through it is a work in progress. But through the process of separation and divorce, I’ve learned a lot about what to do, what not to do, and what we can do to not only put our children first but to ensure that the process allows each parent to remain whole and to be set up for success. That is the key to ensuring the livelihood of our children. As my ex and I make our way through this process, I see a bright future for both of us individually and for our children thanks to these four key things we’re focusing on.

  1. Don’t give up on therapy during the separation and divorce process.
    Even after you both decide to divorce, continue to see a therapist or coach to work through issues. This process should focus not on the past and who did what, but on the present and what is happening. This professional is a neutral figure who can help significantly along the way. They don’t take sides and they don’t try to solve or figure out how you got to where you are, but they can help you figure out how to strategize moving forward.
  2. Continue communication.
    Because your children are involved, you can’t stop communicating with your ex. Figure out what the best methods of communication and scheduling are for each of you and be willing to compromise. You each might have different ways of doing things and you need to find a happy medium. There are several shared calendar apps available, like Google Calendars. Use technology to assist in scheduling and communication but stay consistent.

    Agree to share all information about the children (schools, childcare, afterschool programs, friends, etc.) with one another. No one should be left in the dark. There is no advantage to one parent trying to be the “superior” parent. And when other parents see you, as exes, being cooperative and supportive of one another, they gain so much respect and admiration for you.
  3. Keep a family dinner night.
    While I don’t know that this will last forever, we have informally continued to have family dinner nights one or two times a month with just the four of us (my ex, our two kids, and me). I hope we continue this tradition to show our children that we are still a team—we are co-parents who support and love them.

    As our children get older, it will also show them that they cannot pit us against one another. We work together as parents—we aren’t silos. This will not be an easy task if and when other partners come into play, but it’s a lofty goal that I hope to maintain.
  4. Express gratitude.
    Thank you goes a long way. I was really bad at this in the beginning of the separation. But it’s important to be thankful for what the other parent does, not only for the children but also indirectly for you. Swallow your pride and say “thanks.” 

It takes a lot of strength and determination, but parents can work together to make divorce kind and civil for the kids. Show compassion, cooperation, and support despite this life-altering event.

As an educator and a parent, I’m struck by all of the stories I hear about divorce. I think it’s time for a movement toward Kind Divorce—a movement where we don’t forget that life is short, childhood doesn’t last forever, and what we are teaching our children now will last them a lifetime.

Marriage is difficult and divorce is even harder (as it should be). So put in the effort to make it kind. Your kids, friends, and families will appreciate it.

For a holistic approach to parenting well-adjusted kids, check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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How to Remain Strong Parents Through Divorce

March 17, 2015

By Nely Bergsma

How to Remain Strong Parents Through Divorce | By modeling positive behavior, being honest, and keeping a united front, you and your parenting partner can remain strong parents during your divorce. | A young girl looks at her father as he and her mother each tug one of her arms.

When our children were 6 and 12 years old, my now ex-husband and I decided to divorce. It was not an easy decision for us by any means, and is very personal and unique to any family going through it. While some moments were more difficult than others, we remained positive, honest, and always put the healthy development of our children first. Now that our kids are 17 and 24 years old, I feel I have a good perspective of how our divorce affected them during various stages of their development. As you work through the dissolution of your marriage, keep these things in mind for your children.

Sharing the News
It’s difficult to tell your children that they may not be seeing one parent every day, or that they may be going from one home to another. There are a few key strategies to remember when you talk to them:

  • Remain honest.
  • Keep your explanations simple, direct, and age appropriate.
  • Whenever possible, address any concerns and fears your children may have together as parents.
  • Both parents should agree to share the same explanations with your children to avoid confusion.

Modeling Behavior
As challenging as it can be at times, parents should always remember that they model their own behavior to their children. If children witness arguing, they may become argumentative. If they witness anger and sadness, they may become angry and sad. Such emotions put them at risk of acting out, making bad choices, and becoming involved in toxic friendships and relationships. Both parents should try to model positive behavior with their children.

Keep a United Front
While you may have begun to build lives apart from each other, your children will always see you as “their” parents. Their level of understanding of the choices you made or will make as parents can depend on several factors. Their age and maturity may require different methods of communicating with them. Regardless, maintaining a positive and unified front when it comes to parenting will allow children to positively grow and develop successfully within all aspects of their lives.

Just as it is important for two people to parent together within a home, it becomes equally—if not more important—to remain in balance during and after a divorce.

If you have gone through a divorce with children, what was the biggest struggle you faced? What was the best strategy you used? Tell me in the comments below.

If you're struggling with how to model positive behavior during a difficult time, learn how to promote healthy relationships in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. 

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City Dates on a Budget

February 12, 2015

By Jessica Vician

City Dates on a Budget | Music, BYOB restaurants, Babysitters | People gather on the lawn at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in Chicago for a concert and picnic.

As you know, practicing parent engagement includes knowing when to spend time taking care of yourself and your relationship. And based on the popularity of our date night outfits board on Pinterest (and of course this time of year), we know you’re aching for a night out with your parenting partner.

While date night always sounds like a great idea, it can be expensive. A babysitter and dinner alone could put enough of a dent in the wallet to make it an infrequent occurrence. But there are always options if you’re willing to get a little creative.

A good-sized city often has many budget-friendly options for couples. Even if you don’t live in the city, if you’re near one it might be worth the extra 45 minutes in the car or on the train to have a fun night out with your partner. Here are my favorite budget date night options in the city.

Music 
As Chicagoans, my partner and I often visit Millennium Park for free concerts in the summer. Even though we could sit in the pavilion and have a view, we prefer to bring a picnic and sit on the lawn. That way, we can listen to the music, eat together, chat, and lie down and watch the sun fall behind the skyline while the city lights brighten. Not only do we get quality time together, live music, and a great location for free, but since we prepare the picnic food at home, we save a lot of money on this “dinner out.”

If you live in a part of the country with more mild weather, this might even be an option during these winter months. If you’re in a wintery city like I am, try a local music school or university—students often perform regular concerts for free.

BYOB Neighborhood Restaurants 
Every few months, we visit our friends’ apartment to watch their kids while they head across the street to a local BYOB sushi and robata grill. Mom and Dad are able to pop out for a few hours, pick up a bottle of wine at the shop, and share it with delicious food and engaging conversation. Since the restaurant is BYOB (bring your own booze), they often spend under $50 on the full dinner. But the time away from the kids and the constant chores needing to be done is worth much more than the low cost of dinner.

Sitter 
Speaking of watching our friends’ kids, babysitters can be one of the most expensive parts of a date night. Enlist the help of friends and family. Arrange for the kids to play at a friend’s house or with their cousins so you can take the night off. After a few hours of playtime, they will be ready for bed (or already asleep) by the time you pick them up.

If friends or family are not an option, see if you have a neighborhood high school student looking for some extra money. High school students are old enough to watch kids of all ages, provided they are trained in CPR and first aid, but won’t charge as much as college students or professional nannies might.

These are just a few budget-friendly ideas to help you and your partner get out of the house and spend some time alone together. What are your ideas for date nights on a budget? Share them in the comments below.

Tags :  parentingmarriagebudgetsocial
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