expectations

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…

You Deserve a Medal, Mama

copy-of-good-jobthank-youkudosThe last few weeks have been really hard, everybody. Work has been a daily battle. I’m so far behind on chores and life admin at home. And growing this second human has been knocking me on my ass so much more than my first pregnancy.

I could write a lot more about this ongoing feeling of being overwhelmed, (and I’m sure I will in the future). But today, I’m going to re-focus my attention outwards – on my village – and give some well-deserved shout-outs. I firmly believe that there are times when a Mom, or any parent, deserves a medal just for showing up and managing to wear clean clothes. These ladies have way overshot that bar, and they deserve some kudos:

To my university roommate – who just pushed out her third baby like a boss, in what she described as a “quick and easy” labour and delivery…I know you are probably exhausted right now, and that there are many adjustments going on at home. But remember: You are a rockstar who has grown three humans. I’ll just repeat that: three humans. And they are all alive and well and thriving. You are doing a great job!

To my work bestie – whose eight-year old was so proud to make her own dinner one night…I know you felt bad that she made dinner instead of you. But remember: You are single-handedly raising a confident, self-sufficient, resourceful kid, who knows you are there when she needs you. That is exactly what you want to be doing. You are doing a great job!

To my friend who just recently had her first baby – and still managed to make it to our book club within the first week…I know it seems like your world has been completely turned upside-down, and in many ways it has. But remember: Your friends are still here and we love you. Self-care is important and you made time for it, right off the bat. You are doing a great job!

To my sister – who is deep in the weeds herself, with two little ones under three…I know you worry about a lot, and that it’s hard to find the time and energy to take care of yourself when you are working so hard to take care of your babes. But remember: You have so much love to give and your kids are showered in it. You can give yourself some love and you’ll have plenty left for them. You are doing a great job!

To the slightly frazzled-looking lady in the mirror – Who, in the past two years, has knit one fall hat for her son that was too small and one that is far too big…I know you feel sometimes like you can’t seem to get anything right. But remember: Be gentle and kind with yourself. Your child feels safe and loved. That’s what matters. You are doing a great job!

And to all of you out there, just Mom-ing up day in, and day out…I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but you all deserve a medal too. Remember: you are doing a great job!

Re-Thinking “Counting to Three”: Six Months Later

So I wrote awhile back about how I was re-thinking the old “count to three” parenting strategy we’re all familiar with. I tried to re-frame in tone and body language with my toddler that when counting to three, I’m offering a slow, calm chance to cooperate willingly, with empathy for the disappointment and resistance he feels; I’m not threatening with force (even though, when push comes to shove, I will be forcing him to do whatever I’ve said needs done). It was a new strategy at the time, and I said I’d let you all know how it went longer term, so I am!

Basically Continue reading

When mental worlds collide

moms-to-do-list-no-do-listMamas, over the past while, I’ve really been in the weeds. At work, things have been busy and stressful. At home, we have been fighting colds while trying to keep up with our household tasks and our active toddler. And then, of course, I’m currently growing a human.

This week, after a particularly rough day at the office, I told my husband: “If I was served on your toast at a restaurant, you would complain that they stiffed you on the butter.” I am spread pretty thin at the moment, guys.

Of course, this feeling won’t come as news to my fellow working moms – or, frankly, to any mom out there. No matter what our circumstances, every mom I know has many, many balls in the air at any given time.

As a full-time working mom, most of my week is spent in the office. My mental energy has to be focused on the dynamics, challenges and giant, never-ending task list of my professional life. The nature of my job is such that I am the lead on, and need to be on top of, a large variety of projects on a continuous basis. I am the president of a lot of stuff.

Then I come home, and I want and need to be completely present and focused on my family life. There’s a giant, never-ending task list here too. To me, it’s even more important, and I want to give it the attention and energy it deserves. And because I only have a few hours each day with my son and husband, I want to make them count. I want to be the best possible mom and partner I can be. I’m just so tired.

Recently, it’s gotten me thinking about the work-life balance and personal/professional boundaries. In times like these, when I’m in the weeds, I feel like my worlds are colliding. They’re not balanced at all.

Try as I might, I’m not always able to leave my professional to-do list at the office. It still runs through my head, joined by the tasks from my home to-do list, until my brain becomes so full of worry about all the things I still need to do that I just want to take a nap. I feel as though I’m standing between two tall towers of paper, the weight causing them to lean perilously towards each other, ready to collapse and bury me at any moment.

I want my kids to remember me as a loving, joyful, playful, positive person in their lives – a person who made those few hours each day count – not as a person running around like a chicken with her head cut off.

As working moms, we’ve heard a lot about finding the work-life balance that works for us. But most of that discussion focuses on the number of hours in a day, on where and how we are physically spending our time.

What about our mental time? Even when we’re physically at home, how do we keep the stresses and pressures of the work day from infiltrating the emotional energy we are giving to our families?

I know this is not a question with an easy or fast answer. And like so many things in parenting, it has more to do with working on myself. But this is where I’m at this week, mamas. It’s real and it’s hard and I know it’s where many of you are too.

Two Moms, One Question: Toddler “Lessons”?

Hey, villagers! We’re starting a new monthly segment here at Raise A Mother, where Shannon and Lindsay take on the same question and each give their own view in a joint post.

It’s back-to-school season, but even for kids who aren’t in school yet, there are many opportunities to sign them up for “extra-curricular” activities. Are they worth it?

SHANNON:

I think this question comes down to your kid and your specific situation. My two-year-old son really responds well to structure and repetition (ie. he loves to do the same thing, the same way, over and over and over). He also goes a bit stir crazy if we don’t go for some sort of outing during the day on the weekends. At the same time, we don’t have a lot of friends with kids with whom we can arrange regular activities or play dates. So, for us, we’ve found that signing up for a weekly “lesson” of some kind is a good way to get us all up and out of the house, burning that toddler energy – without being dependent on good weather in a city that has very hot and humid summers and very long and cold winters.

For me, there is also the added benefit of giving my son early and repeated exposure to hearing environments that may be more difficult for him (ie. loud places with lots of different sounds competing for his attention). It’s my hope that this will help him learn how to navigate these situations long before he’s expected to do so at school.

There are two important caveats worth noting: 1. My husband and I are fortunate to have the financial resources to allow for this in our budget right now. We are also fortunate to live in a city with lots of opportunities for free or close to free activities for families. Particularly as our family grows and our kids get older, I anticipate this will be a much bigger factor for us in our decisions about extra-curriculars.

2. I think toddler activities feel much more “worth it” the more strongly they correspond to your child’s interests. Last fall, we signed the kiddo up for swimming lessons – partly because I assumed he would enjoy them, but mainly because I like swimming and I think it’s an important survival skill for kids to learn. Well, that was a fail. My son hated the lessons. We ultimately stopped going after a few weeks because it wasn’t worth the screaming mess. Money lost, big fail. On the other hand, over the spring and summer, we took him to weekly toddler music class, which he loved. He points out the building every time we drive by it. Too bad I didn’t get my shit together to get him signed up for the fall session before it filled up. Big fail #2. But at least I feel like I’m starting to get better at picking these things out. Next up? Maybe a toddler gym class for our little climbing, jumping monkey.

LINDSAY:

I think so far, I’m perhaps more wary of extra-curriculars than the average parent. You hear and read about the over-scheduling of kids in our fast-paced society (and I see the effects of this in my job, counselling stressed undergrad students), so I really want my own kids to have the chance to just be kids. Lots of time to relax, get bored, and invent their own games. Lots of time to just be in nature and learn things with other kids, without an adult setting the agenda.

We took A for swimming lessons when he was six months old, and I think it was too early – we had fun with him in the pool, but it seemed like a huge waste of money, since the teacher didn’t show us how to do anything with him that we wouldn’t have done on our own. So the next year, when one friend asked if anyone wanted to sign up for “soccer” for 18-month+ kids for the summer, we instead just arranged for a bunch of our friends with little ones to meet at a public green space on alternate Saturday mornings, and we all brought soccer balls. Mostly the kids just chased each other and ate snacks, but it was free and fun, and I doubt they really could have learned that much “soccer” anyway.

Now that he’s 2, we’re going to sign A up for a music and movement class, but it’s only $25 for 10 weeks at our local community school. I probably wouldn’t pay for anything more expensive than that for him at this point. All that being said, I plan to sign A up for gymnastics when he’s 3 – I figure it will get out some of that toddler energy really well, especially in winter when we can’t be outside as much!

GUEST POST: The Lifeboat

We are very excited to share our first guest post! Kayla Borja Frost is a licensed mental health counselor, mother, wife, dog-owner, and blogger living in the Boston area. You can check out her blog at https://whatwemeanwhenwesaymotherhood.wordpress.com/ .

Life boatWhen my son was 4 months old, I hit a low point triggered by one absolutely terrible night. My husband and I attended my son’s 4-month well baby appointment, and his pediatrician was quite adamant that we should give up swaddling.  She felt our son was too large and able to roll, and at this point the swaddle was more risk than reward. She suggested stopping cold turkey. So that night, we took her advice.

To say it did not go well would be an understatement. The baby was up every 1-2 hours (which was not unusual for him because he was quite a voracious eater). What was unusual was that it would then take hours for him to fall asleep after a feeding.  He would cry and flail and flail and cry. He clearly HATED not being swaddled. But we pressed on, determined to stick to the doctor’s advice. Around 4 AM, we finally gave in.  The little guy was practically passed out cold before I finished the last tuck of the swaddle blanket.

The next morning I was an exhausted, emotional wreck. In this state, I posted a completely embarrassing, word-vomit, cry for help on Facebook asking, (begging,really), for advice and support.  I did receive messages of encouragement from a few friends with children.  But I also got something else that was much, much more valuable.  A good friend from college reached out to me with an invitation to a private mom’s Facebook group. I eagerly scrambled aboard what I had yet to realize would be my lifeboat. I was adrift in a choppy sea of motherhood, and these women pulled me to safety.

I know this sounds corny. But it’s also very, very true. Having a private, judgement-free place to ask questions about pregnancy, birth, and life after baby (including topics as sensitive as physical and emotional difficulties after childbirth) has been invaluable.  These women have been the tiny pinpoint of light in the darkness, (sometimes quite literally, if I’m posting at 3am).  Perhaps more importantly, as I’ve grown in my confidence as a parent, it has been so important for me to be able to give advice and encouragement to other moms, becoming a crew member on that lifeboat.

This all goes back to my lack of confidence in myself as a mother.  Instead of trusting myself and my understanding of my child’s needs (for example, the swaddle), I deferred to a pediatrician, who I trust implicitly with my child’s medical needs, but who sees him for 10-15 minutes every few months.  I didn’t recognize that, as his mother, I probably knew better.

This recurring theme plagued me in the early days of parenting. I studied “tips and tricks” books and websites, trying my best to recreate the steps they said would get my baby to eat or sleep or calm down. And when these formulas didn’t work for me and my son, I blamed myself. “I must be doing this whole parenting thing wrong,” I thought. And off I would go to furiously Google more tips and tricks. But once I was in the lifeboat, I was able to let go of all that. Here’s why:

A successful mom’s support group, in my experience, is one where the members are encouraged to share their most private experiences and get supportive feedback. You will never feel judged. You will never feel you are doing it “wrong.”  And slowly but surely, you will start to internalize these beliefs. Moms will share some tips and tricks, but it will all be in the spirit of “Here’s what worked for me and my baby.”  You will be exposed to many ideas and beliefs about parenting with an invitation to take what you like and leave the rest.

As my baby grows into a toddler, I am less active in the Facebook group than I once was.  Sometimes, I think maybe I don’t need the lifeboat anymore.  And just as that thought enters my mind, my son breaks out in a weird rash, or has a massive tantrum, or challenges me in some new and uncharted way.  And I thank my lucky stars that I can consult these brilliant, beautiful women who keep me feeling strong, and hopeful, and help me believe in myself as a mother.

If you are treading water and lacking a lifeboat, I urge you to find or build one of your own.  This is both simple and difficult to accomplish:

Step one: Set up a private group filled with other parents that you trust (and who you trust to invite their own trusted friends to join).  Step two: Create group rules and norms around a culture of acceptance and love, with the goal of helping one another be the best mothers you can be (no matter what that may mean to each individual member).  Step three: Hold on for dear life.

I know I will.

Want to share your ideas with the village in a guest post? Write to us at raiseamother@gmail.com for more information. We’d love to hear from you!

Mom Things I Learn During Yoga #5: Don’t Jump.

Yogathon 2016I recently participated in Yogathon 2016 – it’s an annual, international event which raises money for a great cause (for more info, see here). Yogathon involves doing 108 sun salutations, and if, like me, you haven’t done much in the way of physical activity since your youngest was born, that is REALLY REALLY HARD. So there I was in the middle of Victoria Park here in downtown London, on the concrete area in front of the bandshell, with the hot sun beating down on my back while wearing all black, trying to follow only the second set of 20 sun salutations, which were being led at a pace well faster than I was hoping for. I found myself getting anxious: I shouldn’t have done this. What was I thinking? I’ll never be able to finish all of these. I shouldn’t have left my sunscreen in the car; I’m going to get sunburned. I should have put my mat in the shade off to the side – I’ll never make it in this heat.

And every thought that entered my head was not only a worry – it was also a conclusion that something bad was going to happen as a result of the thing I was worried about. I suppose that’s what worry is  – anticipatory regret. Expecting the worst and fixating on it, even though it hasn’t happened yet. And as I kept going through the movements of my sun salutations, my thoughts became clearer, as they often do during yoga. Here I was, in the middle of an activity I was doing just for me (and one of the only major activities I have done just for me in the last four months), and I was focusing all this energy on negative outcomes that might occur after it was over. I certainly wasn’t Continue reading

Mom, You Already Have Your “Shit” Together

I hear this phrase from moms a LOT.

“I’ll be there at 2, assuming I have my shit together.”

“Sorry we’re late – we just couldn’t get our shit together this morning.”

“I just need to get my shit together.”

“For once I’d love to have my shit together!”

“Why can’t I ever seem to get my shit together?!?”

etc…

I say this all the time – like, really all the time. I never feel like I have my shit together. There’s always laundry to do, toys all over the floor, dishes that need washed, random piles of crap that need to be put away or organized or moved to another floor of the house or otherwise dealt with but I never seem to have enough time to keep on top of them. Seriously, this is my house today (and more or less what it looks like every day):

dead flowersCopy of dead flowers

There are always two running to-do lists in my phone: one for big-ticket things I’ve been meaning to get done for awhile (submit receipts to my insurance provider, sell that damn dresser we’re not using on Kijiji) and one for more timely things (go to the hardware store, return those library books). I can usually only manage to shave one part of my body in a single shower (is it the armpits today or one half of my legs?), and even though I think about it every single time I’m at the washing machine, I keep forgetting to order a new laundry ball online by the time I get upstairs, because I get distracted pretty quickly. I’d love to be more regular in posting on this blog, but spurts of activity followed by long pauses seem to be more in line with my life. (I know, I know, these are all first world problems.)

But what if I actually already do have my “shit” together?

“Shit” implies something bad, right? Something that should ideally be eliminated (excuse the pun) – neatly, cleanly and regularly removed with the quick touch of a button. So when I think of my lateness, my mess, my schedule, my to-do items, my own daily hygiene, as “shit,” what am I really expecting out of my life? That I won’t ever be late for anything? That I won’t have things to do? That I won’t get tired by the end of the day? That my family and I won’t use dishes, get toys out, make messes… live? It’s unreasonable. Do I think I’m living at Downton Fucking Abbey and someone else will come upstairs and take care of it all? So maybe the first thing I need to do is to try not to think of all this stuff as “shit,” but just as, well, life.

But maybe it’s also time apply some #goodenough logic to the idea of having my shit “together.” Maybe having my shit together just means keeping all these things going to the point where I can make it out of the house to an event at all, even if I’m five (okay, forty-five) minutes late. Maybe it means just having the to-do lists in the first place; at least I know what I need to do. Maybe it means accepting a certain level of mess and clutter in my house that necessarily comes with actually living as a family; we’re nowhere close to being candidates for an episode of Hoarders. Maybe having my shit together means having 50% of what I needed packed in the diaper bag – having absolutely everything would be awesome, but just having my shit together? 50% sounds about right.

We’re all going to have “shit” in life – every day, all day, forever. That’s the nature of human life. We have to feed ourselves, house ourselves, clothe ourselves, and then everyone has their own shit that they add on top of that list. So maybe all I should expect is that I have my shit together – that I’m holding onto it and I know what it is. I’m never going to eliminate it, and really, if it means not living, I wouldn’t want to anyway.

Question into the Abyss: “Somebody’s Mom” vs. Just Me

One of my main uncertainties going into motherhood was how I would retain my pre-parent identity once I was a mom, and I know from talking to lots of other moms that I was not alone in this wondering. This dilemma was also one of the reasons Shannon and I started Raise A Mother about a year after our kids were born: we craved a space where we could hold onto and explore our identities as individual adults alongside the role of ‘mom’ that seemed at times to tidal wave over everything else we were.

Well, if being literally attached to another human for all their feeding, conforming to that person’s sleep demands, cutting out large portions of your old social life, leaving work, and falling out of touch with some of your pre-parent friends wasn’t enough, then comes the day, which I had yesterday, where for the first time, someone will address you not by your name, but by the title of “[Your kid’s name]’s Mom.” Continue reading

What Happens When I DIY… Self-Sabotage Edition

Shannon wrote a few weeks back about how when she DIYs, it’s a form of self-care. More power to her! But as we know, each mama is different, and it got me thinking about what happens when DIY… and I’m coming to accept that for me, it’s apparently self-sabotage.

This past Christmas, I tried to make one of these for my kid:  Continue reading

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