GUEST POST: Making it look easy

We’re happy to welcome back Laura Marquis ! You can check out her first guest post here. Laura lives in St. Augustine, Florida with her husband Jeremy, her son Will, her daughter Caroline, and her dog, Lucy.  She works part time and enjoys reading, painting, writing, swimming, and pilates. Welcome back, Laura!

I recently returned from a long weekend away with my husband.  We went to our favorite beach spot on the Florida Panhandle and tucked ourselves away.  I napped on a white couch, ate breakfast at 10am, and thought only of my own needs.

To say that this was a treat is an understatement.  There is nothing I know that is better for the soul of a mom (particularly one like myself who is at home with two toddlers every day) than time away.

Being a perfectionist, during my time away I imagined myself returning to my life after the trip ready to do it all better.  I would carve out 30 minutes to write every day, I would work out six mornings a week without exception, and I would squeeze in both more self care and more part-time work. Needless to say, by lunchtime my first day home I was reeling from the shock of re-entry, and becoming more painfully aware with every hour that my plan was likely not to be followed.

I was baffled by the fact that a fully rested version of myself couldn’t execute the plan on day one.  Then I realized: this is hard.

For years I have believed that someone else, or perhaps just a less addled version of me, could do my job so much better than I have been doing it.  Somewhere in my mind, I genuinely believed that there was another gear I just wasn’t accessing, and that was why I wasn’t able to fit it all in.  It is in so many ways a luxury to be at home caring for my children, and I had assumed that because that was true, it would be possible for me to at some point live an idyllic life.  Even if that only lasted a week.  Or a day.

But back in my kitchen, I was struck by the fact that I am already doing the best I can right now.  One day, my life may look more productive from the outside. One day, I may have more time to dedicate to work and side projects.  But for now, I am operating at my capacity.

I often feel envious of the capacity of others.  I know so many moms who do so much and care for so many.  And worse, I keep up with so many moms that I don’t know well or perhaps personally at all through the screen of my smartphone.  Next to a mother of four on the playground or an Instagram feed full of successful Etsy shops, newly completed international adoptions, or accomplished fitness goals, I often feel less than.  It is as if I am driving a car that can only reach 60 mph on a race track.  I am pressing the pedal to the floor, but still feel the sharp whoosh of a race car as it thunders past me towards the finish line.

And here’s the worst part.  These other moms make that race car life look so easy.  What’s one more child?  What about a podcast?  Major home renovation?  “Bring it on!” I imagine them saying as they give themselves a perfect home manicure, before cooking up a Sunday morning style breakfast for their kids on a Tuesday.

And I know that comparison is unwise.  But I cannot help wandering there, especially when my expectations for myself start to climb toward new and unreachable heights.  I think that the accomplishments and abilities of other moms don’t bother me as much, as the “making it look easy” part.

I think as women, we often feel so much pressure to make things look easy, natural, and effortless.  If you want to make a woman’s day, tell her she is either “a natural beauty” or “a natural mother.”  The highest achievement a woman can seem to reach (particularly in American culture) is to do it all and not break a sweat.

But, let me be the first if only to say:  I am at my capacity and it is really freaking hard.  That grocery store trip where no one cried?  I am proud of that, and no, it is not a given. The balanced dinner my kids just ate?  I sweated bullets while making it and silently cheered as they cleaned their plates.  My three-year-old son who just happily complied with my request that he climb in the stroller so we leave the park?  A gift from God, because he knew I needed a win.

My wins all come out of hard work, sweat, and a good amount of self doubt and internal waffling.  My losses involved the same.  I am proud of all I accomplish in a day, but it is far from effortless and doesn’t involve a lot of extras.

My son is pretty bright, and I always work to say that he is a “good learner,” rather than “smart.”  As my daughter, who is a bit under two years old, has started to stretch herself cognitively to keep pace with her older sibling, I find myself committing more and more to praising the effort rather than natural gifts or a particular outcome.  I want both my children, but particularly my daughter, to know that effort is the goal rather than perfection.  I want her to not be afraid to sweat, to stumble, and to admit she needs help.

I hope to absorb some of this myself.  I don’t want moms who know me to see only a façade of order, certainty, and confidence.  I want to both be proud of all I do and gracious with myself, but also honest about how hard I am working to do my job each day.  I am tired of adding “make it look easy” to the to-do list.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel Was REAL!

There’s something that I’ve assumed for a long time, but that I’ve been waiting to really claim as truth until I was a bit further in. But now that I’m 8 months into a mat leave, I can say it: the second half is WAY better.

With my first kidlet, I went back to work after six months, and my husband got to take paternity leave. I remember being very jealous of his experience, and assuming that the second half was the “good half” that I just didn’t get to take. I remember wishing we could have swapped halves, so he could take the first months of sleepless nights and never-ending breast feedings, and I could take the 6-12 month window with its boundless curiosity, increased mobility, and longer stretches of night sleep. So with the second one, it wasn’t even a question of sharing parental leave. I was taking the WHOLE. DAMN. THING.

I did wonder though, as I went through those first six months again with little R, whether I had bitten off more than I really wanted to chew. Through sleepless nights, struggles with naps, painful breastfeeding challenges, and anxieties over weight gain (not to mention hormones and postpartum recovery), I suspected that I might actually be happier going back to work rather than dealing with at-home mothering for the whole year. I worried that the second six months would be just as bad as the first. I worried that an ugly fear would be revealed as an ugly truth: that it wasn’t the halves of the year that made the difference, but the parent taking the leave – that maybe my husband was just more suited to full-time caregiving than I was. [Cue socialized mom-guilt over not instinctively loving every single second of motherhood here.]

Fortunately, I’m happy to report that, at least in my case, I was RIGHT! (Woo hoo, how many times do we really get to say that about something to do with parenting, mamas? Excuse me while I shout it from the rooftops.)

The 6-12 month window really IS the better half, I firmly believe. I started to see a shift right after R turned 6 months, and I thought maybe it was just a phase, but now that we’re going on 8 months, I’m sure of it. It is SO MUCH BETTER! My little guy wakes up for one feeding most nights, but sometimes sleeps all the way through. He belly laughs when I tickle him and flirts with his twinkly blue eyes when I fetch him after a nap. He can often play on his own with toys quite happily for twenty minutes at a time,  after which he crawls over to me with a big smile and pulls on my leg. I’m convinced he’s started using his own versions of two of the baby signs I’ve been showing him for weeks, and nothing makes my heart glow like receiving his communication. We’ve gotten into a good rhythm of breakfast, play, nap, and taking outings where he smiles and coos at strangers to brighten their day.

Now I know that this is not the case for every mama and every baby, and I count my lucky stars that this one sleeps fairly well and generally has a happy temperament. There are also things about life with R that still challenge me (I haven’t become a Stepford pod person!). There are days where he refuses to nap unless in the stroller, his continuing resistance to taking a bottle, his frequent clinginess as a “Mama’s boy” which means sometimes I can’t put him down or pass him to anyone else.

But I’m going to bask in this reassuring victory all the same. There WAS a light at the end of my tunnel; it wasn’t a mirage.  I’m going to be grateful each day that I live in a place where a year-long maternity leave is in line with workplace law, because it’s good for my baby, good for me, and good for my family. I’m going to ride the rest of R’s first year out doing my best to focus on the fact that this is a special time I’m fortunate to have with him.

Whatever your particular mom-tunnel is right now, I promise you there IS a light at the end of it. It might be really far away, it might be only a little brighter than the darkness, but it IS there. And I’m sending you speedy vibes to get out of that tunnel asap, because from a mama who just came out into the sun, I know the tunnel sucks, and it’s really, really nice out here.

Light on the end of railway tunnel.

Mom Stuff I Learned at Work #1: Celebrate the Small Victories

We’ve written here before about how our professional lives shape and impact our parenting lives. Usually, these reflections have been about the challenges we face as working parents, trying to find a balance for all the demands on our physical and emotional time and energy. I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to say on that theme in the future, but lately I’ve also been thinking about ways in which my work life has helped to prepare me for the marathon that is parenthood.

I am trained as a social worker, and my degree had a focus in social justice advocacy. For the better part of the past six years, I have worked in politics for a party that is known as a perpetual underdog. Let’s just say, I am familiar with an uphill battle.

And in both my professional training and work experiences, I have learned that the ability to do two things can be the difference between keeping motivated and dragging through your days: 1. the ability to re-define a “win”, and 2. the ability to recognize and celebrate the small victories.

At first glance, these skills might seem like another version of #GoodEnough, one of our favourite self-care reminders here at Raise a Mother. They’re related, but they’re also more than that.

Telling yourself something is #GoodEnough is about setting realistic expectations. It’s about not holding yourself to the standard of the “perfect Mom” who doesn’t exist. It is, to some extent, about letting yourself off the guilt-hook. It’s about allowing yourself to believe that you are doing a good job.

Redefining a win and celebrating small victories are a little different. These are about the big jobs, the ones that are going to take a while. They are about breaking down a seemingly impossible task into manageable chunks and giving yourself kudos when you deal with one of those chunks.

And while #GoodEnough is often about recognizing that a particular task is not actually important in the grand scheme of things, celebrating a small victory is about recognizing when a particular task is an important step on the road to achieving a larger important goal.

I’ve gotten fairly good at redefining a win and celebrating a small victory at work. When you’re trying to advocate for changes in public policy, things do not move quickly. There are many, many steps on the road to success. Sometimes your bigger goal is something that you know full well will be years, decades – or even generations – down the road. If you don’t take the time to claim some of the small accomplishments as wins, the challenging days start to take a much tougher toll.

Let’s be honest: parenting is no different. The ultimate goal is to raise a good human being. Talk about something that will be decades in the making. Even some of the shorter-term large tasks of parenting, (getting them potty trained/ getting them sleeping or eating well/ getting through toddler tantrums or puberty), can feel like endless hills to climb. And at the same time, you have the giant goal of becoming the parent you want to be – definitely a long-term project.

I’m not yet as good at celebrating a small victory at home as I am at work, but I’m working on it. This weekend, I watched calmly as my two-year-old coloured all over a Christmas list I was working on. For most people, this is probably nothing to note, but I was proud of myself. People who know me know that I have slightly anal-retentive tendencies when it comes to organizing and list-making. I get an abnormal amount of joy out of colour-coding. My little guy’s artistic expression rendered my list almost illegible and the colour-coding basically disappeared.

My pre-kid self (even my early Mom self) would have been annoyed and resigned myself to starting a new, clean list. But this weekend, I didn’t freak out; I didn’t get annoyed or make a new list. I just accepted that this year’s list is decorated by my budding artiste and I gave myself a mental high five. On the really, really long path to getting to the non-control freak Mom I want to be, I took a little step forward. On to the next…

Raising Boys When Trump Can Be President

Issues of sexism and patriarchy have never been the focus of this blog, but they’ve come up a few times. We wrote just over a year ago about Teaching Our Boys About Sex, Consent, and Respect in light of a seemingly endless train of sexual assaults prominent in the media. Well, now Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States, and women everywhere (and we don’t think we’re being hyperbolic when we say everywhere) are frankly, scared. We certainly are here in Canada. The day after the election, our experience of greeting other women was that we asked each other, with a sombre, knowing tone… “How are you?” None of us had to say why we were asking.

Simply put: the recent election showed us that a man can have double digit sexual assault accusers – and be shown on video, bragging about how he assaults women – and still be elected president. This is the part that’s hurting the most post-US-election, that a man can say terrible, terrible things about women and minorities, on tape, for years – he can even make that kind of divisive, hateful rhetoric the basis of his campaign – and that’s still apparently not a disqualifier for being elected president.

There are so many small, seemingly-innocent ways in which rape culture is perpetuated in our society – from the “boys will be boys” excuse we so often hear when male children engage in violent or aggressive behaviour that we would never accept from female children – to the many, many, MANY examples of pop culture ‘love’ stories where a woman resists a scoundrel-type hero who initially forces a kiss on her only to have her (of course!) fall in love with him in the end.

And while there is a big jump from watching a blockbuster to assaulting someone, there is no doubt that the message is sent, over and over again, that male aggression and dominance is not only acceptable but to be admired. No one starts out as a rapist or even remotely sexist, but these repeated messages, both subtle and not so subtle, are steps along that path.

Electing someone to his country’s highest office who has been open about his disrespect for women as objects worthy of either a) sexual assault, (if attractive enough, in his opinion), b) dismissal as a nuisance to employers (if pregnant/mothering), or c) dismissal as a “nasty woman” (if daring to disagree/state facts/aspire to a position for which she is actually qualified), is, yes, TERRIFYING.

It’s basically the cherry on top of a sundae for rapists, assaulters, abusers and garden variety misogynists to reassure them that, regardless of how they treat women, no pansy-ass-liberal-PC-police can stop them from achieving their ambitions in the world, because hey, it’s still a MAN’S WORLD. It says that, not only is this behaviour acceptable, it’s acceptable in a person with enormous influence as a leader and a role  model.

We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach our sons that women are equal to men as it is. We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach them that traits commonly associated with women (cooperation, openness, nurturing, and emotional intelligence) are just as valuable, and necessary for a vibrant life, as those commonly associated with men (independence, strength, assertiveness, and reason).

How are we going to explain this to them? How do we explain to them that the country where their grandfather and aunts live has a President who thinks Mommy shouldn’t have the right to make her own choices about her reproductive health, even though Daddy should? A President who thinks that  if one of their aunties gets pregnant, she should have to forego employment security, because she apparently ‘deserves’ what she gets for being knocked up, even though the father of that baby would not be similarly disadvantaged for becoming a parent? A President who, if he was in the same room with Mommy, or one of their aunties, or any woman they know, would feel entitled to size her up, decide if he felt like ‘grabbing her by the pussy,’ and believe that because he’s famous she would ‘like’ such treatment?

How do we explain that, while this man became President when people knew that these were his beliefs and voted for him anyway, that this standard is NOT OK for them?

We are feminists. Our husbands are feminists. We hope to raise feminist children, who will grow into feminist men, men who respect women – and all people – as equal human beings.

Donald Trump’s election has not, as we’re sure some of his supporters might hope, cowed us into some sort of bizarre acceptance that it’s a “man’s world” out there. All it has done is made us more sure in our principles, bolstered our confidence that the work of feminism is far from over, and made us even more determined that our sons will know, each and every day, by our words and actions, that misogyny is not okay. Even misogyny by quiet bystanding. Even misogyny in its subtler forms. Even misogyny masked as “locker room talk” or excused as “boys being boys.”

And yes, this might sometimes result in us being moms who are “no fun,” who can’t “take a joke” or “let it go.” But we’re okay with that. Because the alternative – quietly laughing along because we want to be liked by our boys, or just being quiet, or simply eye-rolling at the sexist behaviours they will encounter in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations – is too horrible. We’re seeing the results now of what happens when people turn a blind eye to sexist, racist, and homophobic behaviour.

We love our boys, and we want them to be free to be complex, multi-faceted human beings. We do not want them to feel defined by what is between their legs, as Donald Trump seems to define women by what’s between ours. We want them to care so much about other people of all backgrounds, and to empathize with them so strongly, that should someone espouse the values and opinions that Donald Trump has displayed, they will call them out. They will stand up to the injustice – not “like men,” but just like decent human beings.

 

Why Sleep is the Best F**king Thing on the Planet

When you’re sleep deprived as the parent of a baby or young toddler, it can seem like the world is, well, basically, Mordor:

mordor

 

…when it looks to everyone else like your life should be this scene from Marie Antoinette:

marie-antoinette

 

In my experience, people are usually pretty nice to you about this plight, pretty sympathetic. But eventually, even some of the nicest people, with the best intentions, seem to get a little… shall we say… sick of your tiredness? Continue reading

A Lovely Little Corner of the Oft-Infuriating Internet…

I have a resource to share that has really been a game-changer for me, fellow parents! Recently, I signed up for Lori Petro’s Chaos to Cooperation 10-Day Virtual Retreat via her Teach Through Love site . I’m not even sure now how I came across her stuff… I think it was during my 5am-feeding window, where I scroll through Pinterest and Facebook in order to keep myself awake while little R eats. I must have been surfing on the topic of dealing with toddler tantrums, and I ended up inputting my email – an action that is extremely rare for me, since I always think I’m getting too many emails as it is. So I must have been pretty desperate at that moment. (I want to say up front, too, that the course was FREE – completely free! And she has not emailed me once since the end of the course, either!) Continue reading

GUEST POST: Halloween Cookie Project For Kids

This month’s guest post comes from Kimberly Chapman, a competitive cake decorator who teaches beginner/kid friendly classes in the US and UK.  She is a multiple prize winner at various international shows, including first-place awards. She’s known for her dynamic and detailed figure work, as well as pushing the boundaries of standard techniques to the point that the Austin show created an Innovator Award, of which she was the first and only multiple winner.  She blogs her edible media experiments at Eat the Evidence. in between other crafts, authoring feminist romance novels, community volunteering, and being a mom to a preschooler and a preteen.  She had to tell her preschooler to “Stop that!” three times during the writing of this bio and expects to be fetching the first aid kit any minute now. We’re very excited to have such an accomplished kitchen whiz share her skills with us at Raise A Mother. For more fun ideas, check out her site!

Hi, I’m Kimberly from Eat the Evidence,and I specialize in coming up with wacky cake and cookie projects for kids and decorating beginners. One of my most popular tutorials is how to make your own fake, edible, chocolate-flavoured blood for Halloween treats, so for a collaboration with Raise A Mother, I’m very excited to my bring my 3D filled cookie techniques to a whole new audience.

On Eat the Evidence, I often use a special pan covered with semi-spheres to make dome-shaped cookies that can be filled with candy, the fake blood, or other fillings.  But I know not everyone has access to or interest in buying such a device.  So for this article, I’m going to show you how to use basic kitchen tools to still be able to create filled cookies, explaining everything at a beginner-friendly level with lots of options so you can create with confidence.

Let’s make some filled 3D tombstone cookies!
Continue reading

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