Judgment

Daring Greatly: All We All Really Want

Hello, lovely villagers!

This blog has been oh-so-sporadic in recent months, but I couldn’t not share this. I’ve just finished what is perhaps one of my favourite books of all time (how often does a non-fiction make me tear up with joy??), and certainly my favourite book related to parenting.

Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly.

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I was gushing about it a few weeks ago…

I know, you might feel you don’t (as many parents feel they don’t) have time to read a book! I first found it on the Blinkist app, in case you want to sign up for a free trial and commit to the 15 minute summary version, before committing to the whole book – but if you do, I bet you’ll want to rush to the library just like I did.

Daring Greatly is a make-room-no-matter-what must-read in my mind because:

  1. It gets to the heart of a hot-topic matter – so many people are concerned about a seeming lack of resilience in young ones, and Brown explains the cause and solution for a most prevalent missing skill in this vein: shame resilience.
  2. Her research explores patterns of behaviour and emotional reaction that are relevant to all areas of life – partnerships, work place culture, self-love and parenting.
  3. She doesn’t shy away from telling us the uncomfortable truth – after years of research, she’s confidently yet compassionately blunt, letting us know that there is no magic parenting formula – instead, it’s about becoming the adults we want our children to be. Way more work? Yes. Scary to the point of terrifying sometimes? Yes. But, it finally clicks for me as a guidepost that will truly, flexibly, always work for me, my kiddos, and our family’s values.

I want to specifically share a passage of hers that resonated with me so much as the co-creator of Raise A Mother that I had goosebumps:

“When you listen to conversations, or read book and blogs, about controversial and/or divisive issues in parenting, like how and where women labor, circumcision, vaccinations, co-sleeping, feeding, etc., what you hear is shame and what you see is hurt. […] Here’s what I’ve come to believe about these behaviors: You can’t claim to care about the welfare of children if you’re shaming other parents for the choices they’re makingThose are mutually exclusive behaviors and they create a huge values gap. Yes, most of us (myself included) have strong options on every one of those topics, but if we really care about the broader welfare of children, our job is to make choices that are aligned with our values and support other parents who are doing the same. Our job is also to tend to our own worthiness. When we feel good about the choices we’re making and when we’re engaging with the world from a place of worthiness rather than scarcity, we feel no need to judge and attack.

It’s easy to put up a straw man in this argument and say, “So w’ere just supposed to ignore parents who are abusing their children?” Fact: That someone is making different choices from us doesn’t in itself constitute abuse. If there’s real abuse happening, by all means, call the police. If not, we shouldn’t call it abuse. As a social worker who spent a year interning at Child Protective Services, I have little tolerance for debates that casually use the terms abuse or neglect to scare or belittle parents who are simply doing things that we judge as wrong, different, or bad.

In fact, I’ve sworn off the good-bad parenting dichotomy simply because on any given day you could file me under both good parent and bad parent, depending on your perspective and how things are going for me. I just don’t see what value this judgmental frame adds to our lives or to the larger parenting conversation. In fact, it’s a shame storm waiting to happen. To me the question of parenting values is about engagement. Are we paying attention? Thinking through our choices? Open to learning and being wrong? Curious and willing to ask questions?

What I’ve learned from my work is that there are a million ways out in the world to be a wonderful, engaged parent, and some of them are going to bump up against what I personally think about parenting. […] Daring greatly means finding our own path, and respecting what that search looks like for other folks.”

– Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

I hope you find her thoughts as refreshing as I do.

Happy reading, learning, and growing, friends.

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When I Get Advice, Maybe It’s Worth – Ahem – Listening.

Sometimes, it feels like self-sufficiency is the name of today’s mom game. We’re supposed to know how to do it all, anticipate it all, and get it all right – nevermind that it’s our first time around the block. Trying to figure out how to navigate this is a catch-22, because it seems like there are lots of people around who’ve been down this path before – namely, women of the previous generation, our foremothers – but it also seems so obvious from the neverending slew of emails to our inboxes and posts in our social media groups, that the parenting game has so dramatically changed since their day that there’s no way they would still be valuable sources of information. They’ll probably let our babies taste sugar! and sit in a wheeled exersaucer! and drive the car!

Well, I had two experiences last week that were excellent reminders for me to not fall into that yucky little trap.

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my tiny lobbyist

I was in a place where I was at the complete end of my rope, friends – with toddler behaviour. (I can hear the sympathetic groans from those of you also in the trenches of your own threenager battle from here.) Oh, the neverending resistance! It seemed no matter what I said, the first words out of his mouth, before I’d even finished speaking, were “But Moooommmmy –” or “No, Iiiiiiiiii wanted…” or just a horrifying, whiny “Eeuuuuyynnnh!” that led straight into to a tantrum. Everything had to be his way, and I was FED. UP. I was tired of not having anything MY WAY and I was, frankly, starting to act like a three year old myself.

 

Thankfully, just at this juncture, I got to speak with two quite different, very lovely women, both of whom happened to have spent a great deal of time caring for me as a small child.

One afternoon, I had coffee with my bestie from childhood’s mom, with whom I hadn’t spent much time in the last several years, but at whose house I spent countless mornings before school, weekend sleepovers, family dinners, and game nights. Our chat inevitably turned to parenting, and I described my struggles with A: “I just don’t know what to do when he gets like that, when words, reason and logic aren’t his language,” I said.  She looked thoughtful and then said, “Have you tried sending him a picture?” I was confused, to say the least, and more than a little skeptical as she explained that he might have other languages I wasn’t using. She said I could form a picture in my mind before bed, of what I wanted to see in A’s morning the next day, and then ‘transmit’ it to him (no precise instructions on how), so that we’d be on the same wavelength. I would never, ever, have even thought of something like that.

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A couple of days later, my mom was over, and it was a particularly trying bedtime. A had been resisting and whining almost constantly since dinner ended, and R was crying through an uncharacteristic and seemingly endless battle over being alone in his crib. On one of my many, defeated slumps back down the stairs between checks on my small, wailing boy, my mom put her arm around my waist as I stood next to the armchair where she was seated. I sighed and asked, “Any tips?” She paused, the way good mothers do when asked for parenting advice. “Honestly?” she said, “At this stage it’s about picking your battles. I could tell earlier tonight wasn’t the time to tell you, but you seemed to want to die on a lot of hills, honey. I’m sure you had your reasons, but you’ll probably be happier with fewer. And so will he.” She squeezed me and said, “You’re a good mama.”

When we get advice on parenting, especially from women who’ve done this before, it can be easy to feel offended or questioned, to dismissively shake our heads the moment they’re out of sight and think, yeah, whatever. But in these particular instances, I didn’t feel offended, or dismiss their wise words. Instead, I followed their leads.

After my mom left that evening, I made a decision – I was going to say “yes” the whole next day to anything Arlo asked for – unless it was unsafe or impossible. I wasn’t going to engage in any battles unless absolutely necessary. It was quite difficult, and I slipped up a few times, saying “no” reflexively when my patience was worn thin or I momentarily forgot my goal. But it was better – decisively better. Whining was shorter lived and less frequent. And no, he didn’t spend the whole day watching television or drinking chocolate milk.

 

And yes, I even tried sending A pictures. I don’t have any claims to make about whether or not it “worked,” but I do know that some of the things I focused my energy on at night, creating those pictures, did seem to run more smoothly the next day. The bigger shift, though, was a newfound consideration that maybe A and R have some other languages  I can use to communicate with them, more important than “words, reason and logic.” I considered body language, eye contact, and touch. For the next few days, when A began to wail or whine, I tried not to reason with him or convince him with words that everything was actually fine. I got down on his level and relaxed the tension from my body. I waited quietly next to him, offering him my arms as a cozy place to hunker down until his feelings passed. I spent long pauses looking into his face with all the kindness and empathy I could muster, rather than straining the words, “I know you’re mad. I’m here.” And let me tell you, A absolutely responded; I feel we are regaining a closeness that I had felt starting to slip away, which I had assumed was just part of his growing independence.

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my sweet, funny, creative kiddo

Sometimes I think the momosphere would have me believe that if I have a community, it’s limited to the women of my own generation, my fellow travellers on this new and rocky terrain, who are the only ones who can really understand me and the only ones who really ‘get’ what this is all about these days. But it’s not true. Some things have changed – laws about car seats, or recommendations about screen time, for example. But what has not changed are some pretty important things, too – like connecting to and loving a tiny person who’s just figuring out the world, keeping your cool in a strenuous moment, or learning how to maintain your sense of self and to give unconditionally at the same time. How remiss we’d be to not realize that there is, for those of us lucky enough to have some foremothers in our village, a potentially vast wealth of knowledge, ideas, and seemingly-strange new things to try. What have we got to lose by listening?

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What’s a gem you’ve gotten from one of your foremothers?

 

 

Question into the Abyss: Can We Call A Parent Out Without Judgment?

This morning, one of my mom friends sent me a little internet story called, A Clown Shares What Face Painting Taught Her About Male Violence in an Alarming Twitter Thread. It’s super short, so click on it if you want the full story. The gist is that when the clown was face painting at a party, a mother stepped in to stop her four-year-old son from getting the adornment he requested on his cheek (a blue butterfly) and insisted the face painter instead decorate him with something “for boys” (he ended up with a skull and crossbones).

Yep.

I felt anger bubbling up as I read this story, and tears welling as I thought of this little boy, walking around with a symbol of violence and death on his cheek, confronted with the idea that this is what he should present to the world, rather than the beauty and transformation he hoped to present.

Shannon and I created this blog as a place of non-judgment, as a village where its members and visitors treat fellow mothers and parents with grace, giving the benefit of the doubt that we are all just doing our best, that we all want the same good things for our kids – love, acceptance, and for them to grow up being a decent human being.

But guys, I’m really struggling to maintain this sense toward this mother.

I want to step in and paint a hundred blue butterflies on that boy’s cheek, if that’s what he wants.

I can easily come up with the relativistic, supportive things I could say in reaction to this story: I’m hearing this second-hand from the face painter… who knows what else that mother was going through that day… maybe she wasn’t at her best self… maybe she regrets it and won’t ever do it again… we all make mistakes… maybe she really thinks she is protecting her son from being made fun of…

But honestly, I’m mad at this mother (or, at least, at the version of her presented to me). I wholeheartedly disagree with her decision to step in and control her son’s self-expression to keep him in line with stereotypical masculinity. If this incident is truly indicative of her behaviour with her son, then frankly I think she’s fucking up the possibilities for who he could be, and contributing to a terrible system that tries to limit every single person in a binary prison of bullshit.

This is hard for me to admit on this blog. I’m supposed to be leading the safe space for non-judgment. How do I reconcile these two things?

I want to trust that she’s doing her best, and at the same time, I want to shake her by the shoulders and say, “How could you?!”

I want to respect her way of doing things as a fellow parent, and at the same time, I want to step in and paint a hundred blue butterflies on that boy’s cheek, if that’s what he wants.

I want to give her the benefit of the doubt and reassure her that we all make mistakes, but I also feel so strongly this is not an innocent mistake, and that it’s one she can’t afford to make too many times without causing lasting damage.

Help! I need some insight from my village… 

Can I reconcile non-judgment and anger? Or are there, eventually, just lines in the sand that we have to choose or risk having no principles at all?

We Let Our Kids Grow… What About Each Other?

Recently, my partner and I got into a spat. It seemed to rise out of nowhere, was emotionally intense for about five minutes, and then ended up being almost laughably frustrating because, at the core, we struggled to identify what exactly was the sticking point of the argument. When we stepped back, it seemed we were perhaps mainly griping out of habit, based on particularly trivial triggers. (I take great comfort in the fact that the longer we are together – and it’s been a loooong time – the fewer, farther apart, and shorter our arguments seem to get for the most part.) This particular disagreement got me thinking about the stories I tell myself about my partner, the assumptions I make about him, and the way I treat him accordingly.

When partnerships last for a long time, we really get to know each other, and it’s easy for us to think we have our partner “figured out”: we know what they do, why they do it, and how it fits predictably into the well-worn pattern of our relationship (“I knew it!” “You always…” “You’re just saying that because…” Insert-your-own-key-phrase-here). I think this dynamic of assumptions is likely true of most long-term relationships, whether they involve friends, lovers, or family.

Parenting my two young children gives me a different experience of being in a relationship with another person. Instead of taking this same approach, I find myself allowing a great deal of breathing room to just watch them develop, and I’m more generous in my assumptions about why they may or may not be doing what they’re doing or not doing. I can be enormously patient (not all the time, but I can be) with my kids because I acknowledge that they are simply not ‘done’ yet. They are working so hard to master new skills, dealing with high emotional reactions, trying to communicate and not having the vocabulary to articulate all they would like, getting overstimulated by much of the world around them, and learning a bajillion new things every day. I accept that life is likely overwhelming to them, and I try to support them through this experience – to share in their joys, notice their efforts, and empathize with them when it’s hard. And it feels like a no-brainer that I do these things – after all, I love them fiercely.

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…Which begs the question – don’t I also love my partner fiercely?

When we’ve been with someone for so long, it can be easy to take for granted their familiarity, our own knowledge of them. The way I approach and interact with my children is, in one way, so much slower, requiring so much more patience and energy on my part. I have to pay attention. I have to read the cues and behaviour they display now, and hear the words and beliefs about the world they express now, not what they displayed or said six months or two years ago. I have to be constantly attuned to their development as people – their changing capabilities, stressors, desires, and viewpoints. That is what it means for me to connect with them as individuals.

Yet I don’t always extend this same attention to my partner, my beloved, the one I’m committed to loving through thick and thin. I don’t necessarily allow the same grace and breathing room for his development, though I certainly would like to have this from him, when I think about it. After all, I’ve changed a lot over the years, re-assessing my priorities, values, and understandings of the world, myself, and my relationships. I hope that my partner and others in my life can allow me the space to continue to develop as a person, instead of assuming I’m stuck in whatever ways they found me when we met.

Yet in those conflicts, quite often, it seems we don’t deal with each other as we are now – it’s far too easy to let our assumptions of what we think we know about this partner of ours dictate how we react to them. It’s easy to cast each other in the same roles we played in the early days of our relationship, though likely they don’t fit so well anymore. It’s easy to project the values, opinions, and behaviours of years gone by onto the tensions of today, but it doesn’t provide much opportunity to acknowledge growth.

Of all the things parenting tiny people has taught me about myself, a major lesson is that I don’t know it all. I don’t always know where the life path is leading, the best way to get to a goal, or the true desires of those closest to me. Yet despite this lesson, I still sometimes fall victim to the ignorance of thinking I have my partner completely figured out.

Perhaps we need to more often treat one another like we treat our children – with that kindness and that acceptance of being a “work in progress”. Because we most certainly are works in progress, every one of us. And if we can love each other as such, hopefully we can model the kind of love we want our children to find throughout their lives, too.

 

Like this post? Share it with someone you love. ❤

 

GUEST POST: Giving up the Ghost of Breastfeeding, Over Two Years Later

Welcome back to Kayla Borja Frost; we’re grateful to have her share more of her parenting journey. Kayla 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/ .

When I think back to the first few weeks of my son’s life, one word comes to mind: heartbreak. I feel immense guilt for even mentioning that word in the context of my now two-and-a-half year old son, who is healthy and intelligent and sweet and beautiful. There are so many moms out there (some of them known to me personally) longing for a healthy little baby to call their own. And I am so grateful to have my son.

But rather than browbeat myself too much (because I don’t think that’s helpful to me or to anyone else), I think it’s more important to be honest about my journey. And as I cared for my newborn son, my heart was most certainly breaking.

Because all was not going according to plan. In fact, nothing was going according to MY plan. I hadn’t planned to suffer a serious hemorrhage after my baby’s birth. I hadn’t planned on the sleeplessness and worry of life with a newborn plunging me deep into insomnia, depression, and anxiety. I hadn’t planned on the nagging thoughts of “I can’t do this” and “I’m a terrible mother” and “I’ve made a mistake.” But there they were.

Most of all, I hadn’t planned that the simple act of feeding my baby would have me feeling lost, helpless, devastated, and full of rage all at the same time. The problem: I wasn’t producing milk (no more than an ounce or so at a time). I tried to be patient with myself (perhaps the hemorrhage caused my body a set back) and with my baby (maybe he needed to learn to be a more effective eater). I saw several lactation consultants and followed their recommendations: pumping after every feeding, lots of skin to skin contact, eating specific foods and taking supplements to boost supply, and even using a torturous SNS device (basically a baby beer bong for formula). The one suggestion I didn’t take (which ironically probably would have helped the most) was to go to a breastfeeding support group. I felt far too ashamed and embarrassed to face a group of women and lay bare my nursing failures. Of course now, with some perspective, I realize that I likely would have met women with similar struggles and gained support and reassurance. Hindsight.

However, at six weeks postpartum, the situation felt hopeless. I could only pump the smallest drops of milk. My son would feed for 45 minutes or an hour, and then ravenously suck down a bottle of formula. Then I would pump. Then I would clean the bottle and pump parts. Then it would be time to start this whole process over again. And while I had imagined breastfeeding would be this great bonding experience with my baby, instead I felt a growing resentment.

I also felt a growing resentment toward my own body.  I had always been a strong believer in mind over matter. At my first spin class, my body said “Noooo!” But my mind said “if all these other people can do this, you can too.” I stuck with it and became an avid indoor cycler. But breastfeeding is not a spin class. You cannot force your body to make milk (believe me, I tried). And for all the “It will happen” statements I clung to from LC’s or well-meaning friends, I shut out my OB frankly saying “It might not work for you” and “No one will know on the first day of kindergarten whether he was breast or formula fed.” I shut out my mother and my husband gently saying “It’s okay to stop” because they could see how miserable I was. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t just QUIT. For a lifelong super over-achiever like me, that was the unthinkable.

I remember the morning I stopped nursing. My child was 6 weeks old. I had been awake all night with the feeding/pumping routine, and on top of that worrying, worrying, worrying about it all. I felt very close to breaking, mentally and physically. So finally, I felt able to tell myself that I wasn’t QUITTING. I just had to stop. For my sanity. For my wellbeing and that of my baby. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to be able to hold my baby without a boob or bottle involved. I needed to banish the nightmarish whir of the breast pump. Moreover, my baby needed ME. And he needed me to be sane more than he needed breast milk.

I would love to say that I made my decision about breastfeeding and stood firmly and proudly behind it thereafter. But that would be a lie. I have struggled (and still do) with so much guilt. More than two years later, I still find myself thinking, “If I had stuck with it for another week, would my milk have come in?” When I see another mother nursing her baby, I feel a hot rush of jealousy and inadequacy. When the topic of breastfeeding comes up, I’m tempted to lie or to over-explain my experience. I just haven’t been able to truly move on.

I experience a deep and profound sadness mixed with rage when I see “breast is best” advertisements. I fully recognize that this material is meant to inform and encourage mothers and the general public. And I am truly in awe of the superwomen who make breastfeeding work for their families, whether for a few months, a year, or longer. I now understand how difficult this is, even for a woman with adequate milk supply. There is no such thing as an “easy” road for any of us.

However, my problem with the current trend in breastfeeding education is that it frames breastfeeding as a choice. And if we feed our babies formula, we are not necessarily making a “bad” choice, but it’s not “best.” But what about those of us who did not have a choice? Adoptive parents. Parents with health problems that prevented breastfeeding. Parents that had to return immediately to work. Or moms like myself that just couldn’t make it work? It enrages me that I am thought to have made a poorer “choice” for my son, when what I feel is that my “choice” was taken away. It was out of my hands. I realize that just by writing this, I am opening myself up to criticism that I didn’t try hard enough. That I made the wrong “choice.” I’m sorry, but fuck that. I’m done feeling bad about this. Or at least I’m really, really trying to be.

So as my husband and I question if or when we might try for another baby, I find myself seriously concerned about attempting to breastfeed again and hoping that I can find a healthy, balanced approach. As I consider this, I am reminded of some good advice a mom friend gave that has stuck with me. As I complained to her about my breastfeeding woes, she said “There’s always going to be something in parenting that doesn’t work out at all the way you’d imagined.” For example, she had always imagined going for leisurely walks with her infant in his stroller. Unfortunately, her son had such terrible reflux that he couldn’t tolerate the stroller.  They never used it. Her stroller was my breastfeeding.

There’s something that just doesn’t work out for all parents. As hard as it is to accept that and move on. But we can move on. Because our children are fine. They’re better than fine. No one will know on the first day of kindergarten that her son couldn’t go for walks in a stroller. And no one will know my son was formula fed. Our children are fine. And we will be too.

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!

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. Continue reading

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!

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