Motherhood

Self-Care, Blah Blah Blah… Oh, But Wait.

Self-care, me time, blah blah blah. The things people say to us moms (and women generally, let’s be honest) all the time about what we need. But where do we get it?! we frantically wonder as we move from task to task, the endless, managerial to-do list of our lives flowing through our heads. I have NOT been doing a good job of this lately, friends. I’ve not been eating well: I just snack endlessly to ‘tie myself over’ til this or that is done. I don’t drink enough water. I don’t get enough sleep, despite going to bed early and actually napping when my baby naps (I’m sadly one of those must-have-eight-consecutive-hours-nightly-or-I’m-a-zombie people). I don’t take people up on their offers to take my kids off my hands well enough: I usually send one out, but not both at the same time. I’ve not been taking my vitamins, and I’m losing more weight than I probably should be.

But I thought the only person I was hurting was me, and that this exhaustion was part-and-parcel of the “mom with two young kids” package I had signed up for. I figured I just had to get through the muck and come out the other side, and then it would all be fine later.

Then we had the sad doctor’s appointment where our family doc told me my six-month-old is not gaining enough weight. And her guess of why is that I’m not producing enough milk due to insufficient sleep and calories; yep, I’ve been “officially diagnosed” as spread too thin and being too fucking tired. 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.

Dear Mom of Two Tiny People At Home: I See You

As a mom of two little ones, I count myself incredibly fortunate to have a fantastic support system, which gives me the ability to be at home with just my younger son during the week, since my older one still goes, for the most part, to the child care arrangements we had for him when I was still working. On those few days where I have two tiny people at home, I am amazed at how much more the day takes out of me, and I am struck with admiration for the moms I know who do that every day. So this letter is to them, and to all the mamas out there who have more than one kiddo home with them all day, every day:

Dear Mom of Two Tiny People at Home: I See You

I see you in the middle of the night, hunched over this crib or that mattress. I see you shushing, gently patting and rubbing backs, breathing and comforting as quietly as you can so as to not wake up your other child.

I see you sneaking back to your own bed, fingers crossed for a lasting calm, unable to go back to sleep because you’re primed to respond to any further noises that might mean one disturbs the other.

I see you accepting 5am as the start of your day, and snuggling (with only a bit of a death glare) the little person whose incessant early wakings have transformed you into a zombie – because you can’t nap when this baby naps: the other child will be awake then, needing your attention.

I see you making the best of things and getting some laundry done before 7am to take advantage of the non-peak-time electricity rates, because with two kids, there is ALWAYS more laundry.

I see you greeting your second child to wake, acting as refreshed as you hope they feel so as to ‘start’ the day off cheerfully.

I see you preparing toddler breakfast with one hand and holding a squirming infant with the other.

I see you alternating between each child, tackling one mini-crisis after another, doing the never-ending dance between empathy, discipline, distraction and kissing it all better.

I see you basking in the in-between moments, where two giggling kiddos lay side-by-side on the floor as you alternate kissing their bellies or toes or noses. Continue reading

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!

And then there were four…

Well, mamas, I’ve got an announcement: I’m pregnant again!

My husband and I are officially expecting our second child, due on March 3rd. No news yet on the baby’s sex, but we should be able to find out during our ultrasound in October. Since I love a) spoilers and b) planning ahead as much as possible, you can bet that I am counting down the days!

I am so excited to be able to share this news with you. It has been incredibly hard over the past couple of months to not be able to write about the ups and downs of the first trimester – especially when I know how great a resource of support we have in this village.

Being pregnant this second time has been a lot harder than with my first. The exhaustion and the nausea have been much worse than I experienced with my son. At one point a few weeks ago, I asked a good friend of mine, “When was the last time you were nauseous every day for months?” It wasn’t until I said it out loud and saw his eyes widen that it hit me what a physical toll being pregnant can take a body, even from the very beginning. And I know that many, many women have it worse than me.

Here’s what they don’t tell you about being pregnant when you already have one or more small children, (though it should be pretty obvious): toddlers don’t care that you’re pregnant. My son doesn’t understand that I feel sick and need extra rest. He’s busy being two and experiencing all the intensity of his brain developing at an incredible rate. He needs me to be the best, most patient mom I can be, day in and day out – even when all I want to do is find a comfortable position to lie in while I figure out what I might be able to stomach for dinner.

For all you mamas out there with older children, I know this doesn’t stop at toddlerhood. I distinctly remember, as a teenager, chasing my poor pregnant mother around the house making waterfall noises when I knew she had to pee. (I am SO sorry, Mom. That was totally a dick move.)

But the thing is, even with all its challenges, it’s the joy I find in being a parent to my son that makes me even more excited to meet our new little babe. Last week at my midwife appointment, I got to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, and it was just as thrilling as when I heard my son’s tiny heart thumping away – long before I had any real sense of how much my life was about to change.

I’m so glad this cat’s finally out of the bag! I am looking forward to sharing these next few months with all of you mamas out there, and to hear about your experiences in this crazy world of second-time motherhood.

 

pregnancy-announcement

Two Moms, One Question: First Year Reflection

Hey, villagers! We’re starting a new 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.

How has the first year of Raise A Mother been for you?

LINDSAY: 

This first year of having the Raise A Mother village has been a game-changer for me in terms of parenthood. I’ve always used writing as a way to sort out my emotions and fears, and motherhood has proved to be a breeding ground for both! We started the blog when our kiddos had just turned one, and even though I had a surprise second baby in Year 2 of A’s life, I’ve found this year to be a million times more manageable than his first. While some people might think that’s just because I’ve gotten used to the parenting game, I fully believe that first year might have been a hell of a lot easier (or at least less dark and twisty) if Raise A Mother had been an outlet for me then. I’m so grateful to everyone who has read our posts, shared them, commented on them, and sent messages of support when things were going less-than-wonderfully. My hope is that we continue growing the village, especially with the introduction of guest posts this month! There are so many mamas out there with much to share.

 

SHANNON: 

For me, the first year of Raise a Mother has reinforced on two major truths about myself:

I need (and want) to get better at making time for myself. I’ve written often – at the beginning of almost every one of my posts, in fact – about how I want to write more often. And yet, I’ve struggled to do just that, even though this project is very important to me. As moms, I think this is a challenge a lot of us face: how to find the space, time and energy to connect with ourselves when our kids, families and other responsibilities require so much of these finite resources?

At the same time, the first year of this blog has demonstrated to me time and again the power of women coming together to support each other without judgment. I feel renewed and refreshed during our Raise a Mother brainstorm sessions and so excited about where we’re heading. I can’t wait to see this village grow and develop in the future!

 

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!

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

Sometimes I’m Mean-Mean Mommy… But That’s Actually Okay

My mother-in-law always described the dynamic in my husband’s house when he was growing up, as “mean-mean mommy and fun-fun Daddy.” I don’t think I have to do too much explaining about what she meant here. And it often seems true of my household, too. I think it might be common in many homes for Dad to be the “fun” one, and for Mom to be the one who enforces the rules, but I don’t want to make any generalizations, so I can only speak to my own experience. (If anyone else wants to share their own thoughts on this, thereby giving me something to generalize about, as well as making me feel like I’m not alone on this one, please share them!)

Usually, I try to avoid this dynamic, because it feels really sucky to be in. It’s not fun to be the mean role, obviously. But it often seems like it’s just what I’m destined to do: Continue reading

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