Monthly Archives: December 2015

Let the Light Glow, Mamas!

I’m a Christmas person. I get giddy as soon as Halloween is over, and if it were up to me, decorated trees and chime-filled music would be winter-long traditions, not just December ones. That’s because my favourite part of the winter holiday season has more to do with Winter Solstice than with Christmas, at the root. I just love that in the darkest part of the year, we focus on warmth, love, and light.

So that’s all I’m going to say today, is that this December 25th, I wish all the mamas I know a day without darkness – a day full of warmth, love, and light. For those with wee ones, a day of basking in the glow of their wonderment and unbridled joy. For those with older ones, a day where your heart is warmed by the bonds you’ve grown over the years together. And for those with babes just in the womb, a day where your light shines out from within, the light of all you hope for and look forward to with your little one.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Wonderful New Year to all. xoxo

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The Professional-Me and the Parent-Me

It can often seem like our professional-selves and our parent-selves are two separate things. When we think about how these two identities intersect, it’s usually in the context of “work-life balance” (that dreadful catchphrase of modern life!), laden with implied meanings about the incompatibility of these two constantly-battling halves, as inevitable as the push between ego and id.

But laying this usual dialogue aside, I’ve been thinking about a different angle on how work-me and mom-me interact: how does who I am and what I do professionally impact my parenting priorities and values?

For some professions, tangible connections are easy to see between work-and-parent identities. My dad, for example, an intensive-care pediatrician, could always be counted on for a valuable (if not always welcome) dose of perspective when one of us was losing our minds about a minor cut or scratch: “Are you bleeding? Do you need surgery? Then no, you don’t need a band-aid; it’ll be fine.” Pretty obvious correlation there.

For some of us, though, the connections might not seem so noticeable, so I’ve been thinking more big-picture, about how what I do in the environment where I spend 40 hours per week impacts my outlook on the world:

  • What beliefs do I have about how the ‘real world’ works?
  • What life skills seem to be most important for everyday success?
  • What principles/attributes are reinforced for me as normal and valuable?
  • What is reasonable/appropriate in interpersonal interactions?

 

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The answers to such questions will surely influence how each of us parents our kids as we try to raise them ‘right’ (whatever that means!). And I can’t imagine that the place in/tasks on which we spend so much of our waking hours don’t affect our perspective. So how do we know that we’re parenting thoughtfully and deliberately, rather than just being consumed by our own work ‘bubble’?

A few issues related to my field, university academic counselling, have been popping up in mainstream media lately (and they seem to be simply everywhere in the news streams and blogs I follow professionally): increasing mental-health crises, a lack of coping skills/resilience in young people today, and a rising collective sense of entitlement.

I realized, as I was ranting to my partner last night, that living in this particular work ‘bubble’ for the last three years, and working on some specific projects/problem-solving of late that’s directly related to these issues, has had a huge impact on my thoughts about parenting:

  • I’ve come to believe that in the ‘real world,’ young people are increasingly incapable of dealing with disappointment, frustration, anxiety, or stress of any kind, and that this rings all kinds of alarm bells for a future full of fragile, helpless adults who will not be up to the task of solving big-picture problems of the world if they can’t even deal with the run-of-the-mill stresses of everyday life.
  • Resilience, self-organization, and the ability to form realistic expectations for oneself seem to me to be the most important life skills for my kids to have in order to succeed.
  • Entitlement seems to have been normalized, so self-management, initiative and gratitude are heightened in value.
  • My daily interpersonal interactions consist mainly of people requesting and/or needing things from me, and involve mainly those who are struggling – which results in a bolstered belief that it’s most vital for me to model and encourage self-sufficiency and resourcefulness in my kids through our interactions.

It’s easy to get sucked into my own little bubble, which, when I articulate it in writing, presents a pretty bleak picture of what I expect of my kids and of my priorities as a parent. Thankfully, among the recent avalanche of alarm-ringing, there are a few making cool-headed counterpoints (such as this article here, if you’re interested in the topic).  Finding these alternate perspectives really helps me to emerge from the echo-chamber of my work environment.

And while doing this reflection doesn’t change the fact that I still think teaching resilience, self-management, and coping skills for everyday stressors are still highly important in my role as a parent, it at least helps me to remember not to lose sight of some of the other goals I have as a mother: things like teaching my kids passion, joy, and kindness, which, unfortunately, are not so consistently reinforced through my everyday work.

Now I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this, dear reader! How does your experience of work influence your parenting outlook?

 

Trying Not to Let Hormones Best My Good Judgement

Do you ever have one of those moments where you feel like your emotions control you and not the other way around? Well, in this pregnancy I’m having those moments more often than in my first, and today’s particular hormonal meltdown led me to one important lesson.

The specifics aren’t important, the time, location, or parties involved. What is important is that I let the hormonal meltdown dictate my behavior. I acted in a way that I would never normally act,  and sent information about my feelings  via text message, a mistake I thought I had learned long ago was never a good idea. I was immediately embarrassed about this, and tried to retract my behavior to the injured party, but the things I wrote had already been recorded, already received, already interpreted, already reacted to. In normal communication behavior, I know it’s vital for me to step back and reflect on what it is that I truly want to say, how I truly feel, and take the time to let the hormone wave pass to determine if it’s a good idea to articulate that particular sentiment out loud. And if it is, I know in person conversation is always better than a text message.

When I started writing this post, I didn’t think it had a lot to do with motherhood, other than the fact that my meltdown was spurred by pregnancy hormones. But maybe it was also just one of many small experiences that serve to remind me of one of the key skills of parenthood. There are a lot of stressors that come up as a parent – overlapping worries about your child, the demands of balancing work and home life, the strain that feeling like you have much less time than you used to can put on your relationship with your partner, etc. But one of the key skills, I think at least for me, is learning to not let the emotions that arise along with those stressors dictate my behavior. Learning to model for my kids that we are each capable of making conscious decisions about how we behave, even in times of duress. Of course, I’m going to slip up. We all do. And if we’re lucky, we have people in our lives who will embrace us even in those moments where we let the hormonal wave wash us away, against our better judgement; I know I am. And I know I will try to be that person for my kids, the person who will help them stand up again when they’ve been knocked down by the waves, but also show them how to stand stronger the next time.

With Love & Respect, “Get That Shit Out of My Way,” She Said

This morning a dear friend shared this article by Scary Mommy with me, called “Why I’m Done Asking My Husband To Help Me Out.” As I read it, internal bells ringing Yeah! and Exactly! went off more than a few times. This is something I’ve discussed with my mom, my sister, my husband and I’m pretty sure more than one girlfriend, but Scary Mommy sums it up well, with excellent reasons why specifically not to ask your partner to “help you out” or “do you a favour” when what you’re really looking is for some good-new-fashioned partnership participation. She explains that by taking the asking-a-favour route, a woman a) diminishes her partner’s value, b) puts undue responsibility on herself, c) sets an unwanted example for her kids, and d) diminishes the partnership itself. If you’re like me (female in a hetero relationship), I’d wager there’s a fairly good chance it might resonate with you, too – so give it a read!

equal housework
Should she have needed to ask for ‘help’ to make this happen? (Source: healthland.time.com)

(I should note first that there is a time when I think the asking for ‘help’ approach is apt – namely, when my partner and I have clearly determined that x job is mine or his, and we want help with that particular job. So in our house, if he asks for help with gathering garbage for collection day, or if I ask for help with folding laundry, for example.)

I’m always interested in the “why do we do this?” part of any social question, so naturally, my brain went to, “Why the hell am I still doing this?” I’ve thought about this for years. I often correct myself in the moment when speaking to my husband – “Can you do me a – actually, no, wait, not a favour, can you just do this?” Yet I still find myself phrasing requests for him to do his share as requests for ‘help,’ I think for two main reasons:

1. I’ve internalized the overwhelming fear of being a ‘nag.’ 

Among the things our culture encourages women to stress about in their domestic life, fear of being a ‘nag’ is pretty high on that list. So no wonder we ask for ‘help’ instead of reminding our partner that they didn’t clean up their own coat/socks/papers/plate again. Asking for ‘help’ lets me seem more sweet, feminine, and likable – definitely the opposite of a nag – and increases the likelihood of a positive response, because my partner gets to feel like he’s doing something great and gets a gold star for going above and beyond, so everybody’s happy… right? Except… not. Because I’m still left holding the bag of responsibility for all things domestic, and I never really get to respect myself as a feminist who asserts her desire for equality in household management. I end up catering to fear and shame instead of self-respect, when I really dig down to the heart of it. Which brings me to reason #2:

2. On some level, I’ve internalized the idea that domestic work really is my responsibility as the woman in the partnership.

As much as I try to deny it, I think this nugget is still there. Sure, I’ve attempted to justify and couch it in enlightened, post-feminism rhetoric about how my partner and I simply have different personalities, and I simply care more about cleanliness/organization, so it’s not a sexist thing, it makes sense that I’m inclined to do more, and yadda yadda yadda. And there may be some truth to that – some. But it’s also very likely that we’ve each been, at least to some extent, socialized to have these personalities and tendencies to care more or less about domestic tasks/management. So am I happy to just accept that the socialization has happened and live out my life that way? Not really. Do I want to contribute to socializing my kids according to this status quo? Not if I can help it. These are not glamorous labours, nor ones that society really places a lot of value on, and I think if I was a man, I certainly wouldn’t be motivated to learn to take more initiative on these things. But at the end of the day, clothes need picked up because we each eventually need clean clothes to wear, so whose job should it be to make sure each item of clothing ends up in the laundry bin? Probably the person who was wearing that item of clothing. At the end of the day, dinner needs cleaned up because eventually we’ll need clean dishes to use, and we want to avoid bug infestations or health hazards of rotting food all over house, so whose job should it be to make sure that dishes get picked up and leftover food goes in the garbage or back in the fridge? Probably anyone who ever needs dishes or dislikes bug infestations. Again, asking for ‘help’ with these tasks reinforces a socialization I don’t like, instead of presenting myself as an equal partner in my home.

I want to act out of love and respect for the equal partnership my beloved and I have been building for fourteen years. So if love and respect means creating an environment where it’s sometimes okay to say, to borrow Scary Mommy’s words, “Get your shit out of my way,” well then, I guess that’s what we’ll do.

 

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