My sister is single and living in LA. Recently she escaped Los Angeles and its local wildfires, protests, and smokoggy air for a few weeks and is quarantining with me, the big sister Joelle, in San Diego. We still have fires, funky air, and protesting but on a much smaller scale. It’s been a wonderful, fun time and now she has a great perspective. She now knows how life is day to day in this busy family house with three homeschooling kids (15, 13 and 9) seeing all of us in our daily routine. Hear this whole talk in Mouse and Weens podcast Episode 91 "Fix My Life Sis"
So I decided to put her in the hot seat and ask her for advice on how I should run things differently at home. If she could Freaky Friday and switch places with me, what would she do differently? Julianne is not comfortable with this idea but finally agreed to be my little sister life coach of sorts! I told her to think of it like the tv show Supernanny: I’m hiring her, like Jo Frost, to observe our family and advise on positive changes.
Help me! How can I fix what is broken in our family?
Here are the five categories that I know need some work in our home:
- kids and parenting
Here is what she says:
(1) FOOD (min 7:00):
First of all she would not serve meat, especially pressed hams and gams (callback to leg and butt stories!). If we are going to serve meat, make it organic, grass-fed, and environmentally friendly. Julianne is an empathic vegetarian and has done a lot of research around health and nutrition, so assures us we can get our protein from plant-based foods. As for family eating, she realizes that we all go for the easy-to-heat foods and the quick snacks instead of vegetables, herself included. Without doing a complete pantry purge, try to fill up your belly first thing in the a.m. and make it last. Not feeling hungry helps you avoid the dangerous snacking. Want to know her new secret? A special green smoothie every morning! They fill you up and give you great vitamins, iron, calcium, B-vitamins, protein, omegas, and energy to start your day. What a great easy idea that I’ve heard of - we’ve probably all heard of - but never really implemented because it sounds like a lot of work. If we just plan ahead though and keep all the main ingredients in stock, it ends up being really easy.
Here is the WEENS GREENS SMOOTHIE RECIPE to make 3 large cups. But be sure to listen too for all the hot tips and hacks when making these!
- 1 blender-full of greens In a regular-sized blender, fill it almost full to the top with greens. Can be spinach, mixed greens, kale, or bagged power greens, fresh or frozen
- 1/4 of the blender w/ almond milk unsweetened or vanilla (or milk-substitute of your choice)
- 2-3 bananas ~1 banana per person fresh or frozen
- 1 handful of fruit. Apple, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, any kind of berries; fresh or frozen
- 4 tablespoons hemp seeds or can be a handful of nuts or a dollop of nut butter
These smoothies will help your skin, your hair, your nails, and your bowels! They are about 300 calories each for those doing the counting. There are a few recipes like this out there in the world, namely one that Reese Witherspoon touts. But Julianne does not like the lemon she added in. We do like her cute dance though!
My sister moves on to talk about all of the snacks and junk food that we have in our house. On the one hand, it would be a good idea to overhaul our pantry and get rid of it all. This is great in theory. But she thinks that in reality, dumping all the junk would create a dynamic of the kids seeing me as the enemy who took away all of their good food. This also might create a sneaky environment. Also if I suddenly turned our house into raw food central, I would have to prepare and cook all of the food, which isn’t really feasible! So instead, she thinks kids’ food choices should change starting on the social-emotional side. If we work on communicating from the ground up, it would create respect and trust to talk about food, eating habits, and taking charge of making some of their own meals.
- Add green smoothies into our lives, even if I have to camouflage them with chocolate and opaque cups.
- Cut down on junk food and replace it with healthy and quick options.
- Start having more quality family talks to improve communication and food choices.
(2) KIDS AND PARENTING (min 13:00)
After covering food, we talk about how she would do things differently as a parent if we could Freaky Friday ourselves. Julianne said one thing she would do would be to take the kids out into nature for long chunks of time, leave all the screens behind, and do tiring activities like hiking or to the beach. (Hello nature deficit disorder!) Her thought is that after many hours, the kids would come down out of their stimulated world and start to open up and talk about deeper things. This is a great idea and I confirm that our usual outings are quick dinners or movies. I would love more quality time away from home without screens and agree that once a week isn’t too much. Here in San Diego we can hike Torrey Pines, go to the beach, hike Potato Chip Rock, or go for bike rides.
Another important non-screen time would be family dinners when we take turns talking around the family table. We do try to do this pretty often, although it’s tough with soccer practices always at supper time. There is something to be said for flexibility, but making these dinners consistent, no matter how many days a week you choose, would be key in making the quality time habit stick, says Julianne. Visit our sponsor Dream Dinners and San Diego locals use code MOUSEANDWEENS99 for $99 off your first order! Makes dinner time fun, healthy, and simple. Get your time back with your family!
One of the obstacles I mention is getting the buy-in and the help of my partner for these multi-hour events when he only has two precious days off of work on the weekend. But if there is planning ahead and entering events on the calendar, then they could be manageable. In my case, we have a very traditional household where my husband works a lot and I carry the rest of the load with kids, housework, bill paying, and cooking.
Julianne was able to experience this workload firsthand and said it took her about a week to adjust to the fact that in our house, an adult can’t sit for a long chunk of time and get anything done because there are constant interruptions. The only way I get uninterrupted time is if I hole myself in a back room, set up rules for the kids not to bother me, and put a sign on the door. But then I get pangs of mom-guilt that I’m not being a good parent! I wonder what the kids get up to in their alone time if I’m not keeping an eye on them. Does anyone else relate to this?
Another obstacle, going back to my zombie-like digital children, is the fact that our family culture is one of lots of tv and movies. We call it being a ‘tuber’ in our family! We can all plop down and marathon binge all sorts of entertainment. We also have a few introverted personality types in our family, so this makes it extra easy to fall into this trap of tubing out and becoming a zombie. But the kids do respond well to time limits so we could go back to scheduled screen times.
One more tricky characteristic of us Kohns is that we tend to keep things light and fun, and occasions really don’t get too serious or deep. We don’t go to church so there aren’t scheduled sit-down lessons per se. This is all well and good to rely on spur of the moment conversations, unless it turns out we are ignoring the deeper emotional talks and the true connections. I ask Julianne if she thinks we need to have planned themes, talks, lessons or family meetings. Knowing us, she doesn’t think we would stick to that plan, so thinks the idea of talking during long outings in nature, during which “real” subjects can come up easily and naturally, is more “us.”
Julianne asks whether the kids bring up deeper subjects if given the time and space? Generally speaking, we are a joking, teasing sort of family when we’re all together. But I tell her that the deeper conversations happen during one-on-one time. Charlotte does like to bring up themes at the dinner table though, akin to the Conversation Starter cards. Julianne relates because she loves this too! But at the end of the day, Juls says it would be great to be sure to have a safe space for the kids to talk about their feelings because she wonders where else they put their feelings at this age. Knowing the teen boys, they definitely won’t call up their friends to share with them and we both think it’s important for them to emote. I’m glad she said this because my husband and I together tend to be more of the logical, black and white types of thinkers, assuming our kids are just fine, whereas Julianne is more emotional and may sense her niece and nephews’ needs in this department.
- Have a meeting to discuss quality family time with my husband
- Make an easily attainable schedule
- Pick screen hours that they have to check them in, maybe just starting with a couple days a week to see if it works for us too.
- Plan on family dinners and weekend outings with longer stretches in nature.
(3) SELF (min 21:00 & 30:00)
As I start to get excited and list off the myriad of things I am going to implement, Julianne politely pulls me back down to earth and reminds me that I tend to bite off more than I can chew. She and I are both creatives, so we always have a lot of ideas. But with my new role as more of a hands-off mom, I’m really letting loose with my plans! Julianne has been down this road before herself, with all of the movie and music projects she has been a part of in the past. Over time, she has learned how to focus on one project at a time and make attainable goals, so recommends I do the same! She tells me to break a project into small chunks and prioritize.
Julianne then has me recall my latest exclamations about projects and plans. In the past week that she was here, she contends that I burst out each morning with a new massive plan around podcasting, broadcasting, networking, writing, and more creative branding ideas. I also just attended the Podfest Conference so am infused with enthusiasm for the future. Maybe my current early morning manic brain explosions have built up over the many years I’ve been busy with babies while Julianne has been busy in the film industry. Now we are finally at a time and place where we can both work on a dream project, so I’m trying to pitch new exciting arms of the same basic idea to see if she’ll jump on board.
Lots of talk but no action drives Julianne crazy because she’s been burned by this before in the film and music industry. It’s great to have ideas, but what are the tangible steps in the plan, she asks. Julianne uses the success of her friend and author Scott Baron (mentioned on our ‘Haiku Wieners’ episode) as an example. Scott wrote two series of sci-fi novels and he is reaping the benefits. How? He put many hours into market research, put strict timelines on disciplined writing, and financially invested in experts to help him illustrate and edit the books. He now has a steady income that pays the bills, which is quite the dream for a creative. Please check out his Clockwork Chimera series, and his Dragon Mage series on Amazon. Major congratulations and kudos to Scott!
- It’s wonderful to dream, but make a list of projects
- Pick one project, be strict, and follow through
- Have steps that are concrete
SELF-CARE (min 49:30)
My little sister asks me what I think I could do to take better care of myself. I’d like to put more time into my lagging exercise and beauty routine. To feel better about yourself physically will probably translate to the mental. Julianne also points out that when it comes to self-care, I don’t meditate or self-reflect. Really it’s because I don’t know how, but I do try to have gratitude moments right when I wake up and mindful moments at night before I fall asleep. This is difficult for me though with my ping-ponging monkey brain. Plus I like to read right before bed, albeit on my phone. I also get middle-of-the-night panicked insomnia, woken up from anxiety dreams worried that I’m failing my children. I will beat myself up that I didn’t check in with them more throughout the day. I am concerned I’m not more present with them and that my side projects are taking me away from being the undivided mom that I used to be. This imbalance leads to me feeling guilty. Julianne guesses that a lot of this stems from control issues and perfectionism, which I agree is probably the case.
- Give up some problems to a higher power or something outside of myself,
whatever that may be (universe, god, nature), to help alleviate some of the anxiety.
- Do a nightly routine of writing down 3 things I am pleased with, and 1 thing that I could improve.
- For accountability email those lists to someone
- Check in to connect daily with each of my kids individually with at least 5 minutes of undivided quality attention.
(4) HOUSEHOLD (27:00)
This should be a straightforward subject, but it’s a toughie! We both agree that the kids should be doing more chores of their fair share of the housework, such as their normal putting away of the dishes and picking up dog poop! But unless I stay on top of them and police them, turning to threats, anger and raised voices, the chores won’t get accomplished. Julianne noticed that sometimes I’m accountable in a controlled way, going upstairs to talk to set the boundaries and the consequences. But most times I’m busy or just plain lazy! This is definitely something I can work on.
Now when it comes to me doing chores, we both agree that I work in a distracted way, in a big circle around the house doing a little here and a little there. Julianne diplomatically explains that maybe this is a genetic thing and she relates. She has learned and says I should prioritize and knock out one thing at a time on the to-do list. She also believes in minimization. For example, she has a small set of silverware and dishes. It keeps life simple and distractions few.
Julianne tells me to make my house more environmentally-friendly. Our car, a Suburban whose size I love for our big road-trip, gear-hauling, dog-having family, has always been a hot topic between me and my sister. I understand that it’s a gas-guzzler and I don’t like that part of it, so I would happily get an electric car. But my dear husband has a Tesla so likes the idea of having one traditional car that we can count on for long trips without having to stop and charge. My sister also gives a speech about gas-powered leaf-blowers, air pollution, noise pollution and how I should demand our gardeners to go back to raking and sweeping. I don’t know about this one! Maybe we can cut them back to every other week.
- Set boundaries, set consequences, and follow through with the kids and their chores.
- Prioritize house projects with a to-do list and complete them one at a time.
- Pare down on my ‘stuff’.
- Campaign to switch our next family car to be at least a hybrid.
- Cut back on our gardeners and their time on leaf-blowers!
(5) RELATIONSHIP (min 42:00)
How do things look in our marriage? Does my sister think we need a counselor? Julianne is a big advocate of therapy in general, so she might be leaning that way. Diplomatically, she tells me that it’s up to us whether we think we need counseling. Weens wonders what we’re really like when she’s not here - whether we’d be fighting more and whether we’d be spending more one-on-one connected time together without her around. The answer is ‘no’ on the fighting because we are a pretty mellow couple. As for connected time, as many other couples may relate to, I told her we go off to work on our own things after dinner, and sometimes we plop down to watch something together. It’s probably 50/50 together vs solo time. I do wonder if we’re modeling the best relationship for our kids, but Julianne points out that we do show affection with each other in front of the kids. We talk about how we are a ‘teasing’ family and our sense of humor can be misconstrued as putting each other down. Also kids, especially the older boys, will pick up on this, model it, and it can turn into a lack of respect.
There is also my observation that when the kids were younger, we were much more synchronized and committed to being a united front as parents. Dave and I would discuss issues behind closed doors to be sure we were on the same page, and then present them to the kids together. Now being older, the kids have gotten savvy about separating us to ask for things knowing that we have different parenting ways. Our life is also much more busy and fragmented with sports and work schedules, so there are fewer chances to have parenting discussions.
A lot of our relationship moments can be dictated by moods as well. Julianne has finally seen me go through a whole month and noticed that I do in fact get PMS; short-tempered and snippy right before my period. I haven’t really checked in with myself all of these years to notice! And regarding my husband, he overreacts to things when he is hangry - hungry and angry - and we both have little patience when we don’t get good sleep.
One more pet peeve is my husband’s light case of road rage when he is driving. He does things and says things behind the wheel that make me cringe as the boys are nearing driving age. But Julianne can’t say a whole lot in this department because she is the same way (throwback to our ‘Driving Miss Weenie’ episode). She points out that I drive too slow and don’t speed up through lights, to which I counter that yellow lights are for slowing down! Audience? You be the judge! Speed or slow through yellows?!
- Decide for ourselves if we need counseling.
- Be more aware of how we talk to each other in front of the kids. They are going to model our behavior.
- Create more one-on-one time.
Be sure to listen to this live discussion on episode 91 of Mouse and Weens podcast, "Fix My Life Sis!"