Parental Leave

I Refuse to “Make the Most of It”

I’m almost at the end of my mat leave. It has really crept up on me fast here at the end. For so long, I felt like the months stretched far ahead of me and I had so much time to spend with my baby, not to mention my wonderful fellow mom friends.

First off, I’m going to do something moms don’t do a lot and toot my own horn: I think I did a good job this time. From the outset, I was really trying to take more of a paternity leave, ie. doing parental leave the way my husband did his with our older son. I also learned a lot from my first mat leave, especially the hard lesson that my child’s first year of life was not a project: it is merely the start of a lifelong relationship. These two personal epiphanies have made it possible for me to truly enjoy the past 11 months.

But old habits die hard, so when I suddenly, recently realized that my first day back to work was less than a month away, my brain immediately started racing. I was instinctually formulating a list, nervously scanning my surroundings and the corners of my mind for the things I might have wanted to accomplish, the activities I would miss the most once I returned to work or that I worried would fall by the wayside with no one in the house to do them all day. I had to make the most of it!

Thankfully, I stopped myself pretty quickly. I decided right then and there that I was specifically NOT going to “make the most” of this last month. For me, doing so is just too much pressure.

First, it stresses me out trying to figure out what the “most” would be – what’s the most important to me? What’s the most fun activity that I’m going to miss? What’s the most practical thing to get done? What’s the most efficient use of these last few weeks!?!???

Second, it inflates my return to work date as a gloomy cloud looming on the horizon, signalling THE END. In reality, the day I return to work is not the end. It is just the first day in a transition that’s going to last a very long time. It’s the first day I happen to go back into the office, but the negotiations between my work, home, spousal, parental, and personal selves have been going on for years and are just going to continue to grow and evolve. It’s the first day I’ve been going to work since R was born, but not the first since I’ve been a mom. I’ll be okay.

Third, it fills me with a kind of anticipatory ennui, dampening with melancholy these next weeks that I could be spending with as much comfort and joy as I’ve spent the last 40+. I want to stay in the moment, not spend each day subconsciously worrying about how I’ll remember it one day soon.

Nah, I got this. My life is not divided into discrete blocks of time – it ebbs and flows, and my circumstances change and evolve. I know I will evolve with them. Will I miss things about mat leave? Will I miss feeling so connected to little R that sometimes it feels like we are one person? Will I miss the ability to see my wonderful mom friends and their littles growing up on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis? Will I miss puttering around my home, spending so much cozy time? Will I probably cry about these things, more than once??? Abso-fucking-lutely. On all counts. But I’ve done so many big life changes already, and none of them have broken my life, or my self. The transition from couplehood to parenthood. From maternity leave to paternity leave. From one parent at home to two working parents. From one kid to two. This is just another transition coming down the pipes.

Looking Forward to Mat Leave the Second Time Around

Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas! I hope you’re all enjoying a day filled with love from your little ones and maybe even a bit of grown-up love time.

In our house, we have officially reached the baby-could-come-anytime countdown. And like pretty much every Mom I know, I am simultaneously completely ready to be done with pregnancy and frantically trying to accomplish as much as possible before the little nugget arrives and I am newborn-bound. Given that this will be my second maternity leave, I also find myself reflecting on my hopes and expectations for what lies ahead.

I should start by saying that I am extremely fortunate. Living in Canada means that I am entitled to a full year off with the baby, and with my workplace benefits, I can afford to do that. This will allow me time and space to truly step away from work and focus my attention on my little one and my family. I know very well that this is not something everyone in North America enjoys, and I am grateful.

At the same time, I know from my experience with my last maternity leave that so much time away from the routine of work and adult time can be deeply isolating. And for someone like me – who thrives on checking off to-do lists – the need to feel like you’re getting things done can be hard to fulfill when your day is largely dictated by a tiny human who gives exactly zero fucks what’s on your list for that day.

Still, I’d like to think that the fact that this isn’t my first baby rodeo will help me have more reasonable expectations and provide perspective and comfort on those tougher days. With that in mind, I’ve got three goals for this upcoming year at home:

Accept that some things are just not going to get done, but recognize that lots of things are getting done: The last time I went on maternity leave, I had a big list of things I thought I would get done in my “year off” – things like mastering recipes for lemon meringue pie and hollandaise sauce, and finally painting a three-panel seascape for our living room. Seriously.

In retrospect, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. It will shock precisely no one who has ever met a baby that none of these things even got started, let alone finished. But there were lots of other things that did get done – organizing and cleaning projects that made our daily lives as new parents easier, a scrapbook of my son’s first year. And, of course, there was all the growing and developing that my son did over that time, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. In other words, the stuff that was more important to our family got done. 

So this time around, I’m going to try to be kinder to myself and to have faith that while sometimes it may seem as though nothing is getting checked off the list, in the grand scheme of things the important stuff will get accomplished. I may still have no clue how to make hollandaise sauce, but my kiddos will be fed and cared for, so we’ll call that a win.

Get out of the house and into the village: The last time I was on maternity leave, it took me months to feel confident enough to leave the house alone with the baby for any trip longer than the five-minute walk from my house to the local coffee shop and then promptly home. We went lots of places with my husband or other family, but when alone I was petrified that my son would have a meltdown in whatever public place and I wouldn’t be able to handle it by myself. Last time I was on maternity leave, I was also the only one of my friends with a small baby. Linds was home with little A, but she lives six hours away, so our commiserating was mainly over the phone. My not very big house started to feel teeny tiny, let me tell you.

Two days in particular helped me gain a bit of perspective. The first was five months in, when Linds came to visit for a week with A. We took the bus together to the mall to do some Christmas shopping…for most of the day. And you know what? Everyone was fine. The boys were mostly content, but when they got fussy, we knew how to deal. It was exactly the proof I needed that I could hack this mom thing, not just in the safety of my house but out in the world.

The second day was nine months in (yes, nine), the first day that I spent mostly away from my son. All that time focused on the needs of my beautiful little baby hadn’t included enough focus on taking care of myself and I was melting down. My husband saw me melting and, fortunately, took matters into his own hands. He called my mother-in-law, who was more than happy to take my son off my hands the next day while my husband was at work. I don’t even remember what I did with that day. I just remember realizing how very much I had needed that break and how important it is to embrace the village around you.

So, this time around, I want to remember the lessons from those two days. I want to get out of the house more from the start, confident in the knowledge that I am perfectly capable of navigating baby needs in public. And, at the same time, I want to remember that it is more than ok to ask for help. It is necessary. No one can do this parenting thing truly alone, and taking care of yourself is essential to being able to take care of your kids. This time around, I am also fortunate to have a few friends who are home with their little ones too, and I plan to take full advantage. After all, there’s no one who understands what you’re going through as a mom better than other mamas.

Enjoy: Initially, I was going to write “enjoy every moment”, but let’s be real. Some moments…they’re not going to be so great and I’m not going to enjoy them. Some moments are going to royally suck. That’s ok. There are lots of moments that will more than make up for those times that make me want to scream into a pillow.

And having done this before, I know full well that when this year comes to an end, I’m going to wish I had more time at home with my little nugget.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel Was REAL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light on the end of railway tunnel.

Raising Boys When Trump Can Be President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GUEST POST: Transitioning to Stay-At-Home Motherhood

We’re happy to welcome Laura Marquis as a writer to the village! In her own words, Laura wants “to add to this space because I have found motherhood to often be a lonely role, where I have felt scrutinized and misunderstood while trying to find my identity as a mom.  I am hoping to add to a space where stories can be shared free of judgment, and where community can be found.” She 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, Laura!

I think there is no better way to get a mom (particularly an American one) to bristle quite like asking them if they are going to stay home with the baby when they are heavily pregnant.  I feel like I have watched multiple friends breathe fire at the mention of this topic.  In a country where maternity leaves are painfully short and often unpaid, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

I have two toddlers and am at home with them now.  I have had a few periods where I have worked part time for our business in the evenings, but for all intents and purposes, I have been at home with our kids since my son was born three years ago.  It has been beautiful and maddening, stifling and freeing, and has felt a bit like a daily risk.  I am able to see my children on their best and worst days, and I am able to experience and sometimes capture those incredible milestones.  But on other days I feel trapped, lonely, and bored, left wondering if the world of adults has forgotten me completely.

I am left to worry if my time spent with them will matter.  I am left to worry about the trajectory of my career, of my future earning potential.  I am forced to cultivate friendships and community to stay sane, rather than relying on coworkers and a stimulating office culture to do that for me.  I am forced to budget more intently and stare wistfully at a friend’s beautiful leather handbag, which would be fully impractical for me to carry.

I am a type-A person, and I have an absolute addiction to the approval of others.  I will pretty much spend myself for a back pat. And I will be honest, my kids can be stingy with those (as partially non-verbal humans are known to be).  It can be hard to forgo recognition and to do tasks that go unnoticed.  My husband is the managing partner of our business and he is always making things happen.  I am proud of him, but also a bit jealous of that feeling.  I miss feeling like I am making things happen.

And yet, I am making things happen.  I am reading to our children, planning crafts and playdates, and being fully available to them.  I am creating a home base for us, and loving them in the way that comes most naturally to me – through spending time with them.  I know that there are many ways to love our children, but I think that this fact – that I love best through time spent with another – is what crystallizes my decision.  In those moments when I read an old recommendation letter, or when I receive a job offer, or even when the day has just been too much (too much diapering, holding, crying), I always come back to how much time means to me.  And I realize in those moments why I chose this, but also why it is not everyone’s choice.

My best friend is a working mom.  She is pregnant with her second and has a daughter six weeks younger than my son.  I have watched, proud and stunned, as she has chosen a daycare, pumped endless amounts of breastmilk, navigated an ever changing workplace, and still maintains her relationship with her husband and child. For her and her husband, the gift of a two income household, that financial security, is the best gift they can give their daughter.  And I feel proud that we can both know ourselves, know our circumstances, and still root for each other so fully.  I know she is often jealous of my life, and those pangs go both ways.

I still find it awkward to introduce myself as a stay-at-home-mom at a party to a stranger.  I feel like I want to scream, “but, but, I’m a licensed CPA, a teacher, a writer! I was somebody!  I’m still her! And I don’t know what they next step for me looks like yet, but it will be ok! I’m the old me, just with kids… I wish you could meet the old me! She was so great, and so accomplished!”  Instead I’m working to silence that screamer, by telling her “don’t worry, I know all of that. And that is all that matters.”

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

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

The Mom Guilt Catch-22: Crazy If You Do, Lazy If You Don’t

Recently, I had an awesome day with my infant son. At 11 weeks into my mat leave, our day while my husband was at work included:

  1. Put the baby down for his first nap.
  2. Have a shower.
  3. Take care of some overdue mat-leave-related admin with my employer.
  4. Walk to the cafe for a caffeine fix.
  5. Host a date with other moms and their babes in the backyard, chatting and playing.
  6. Have lunch.
  7. Take a walk with another soon-to-be-mama friend, then sit on her porch sipping sparkling water with coconut.
  8. Stop to grab a few groceries on the way home.

Idyllic, no?

Of course, this day also included feedings and naps, diaper changes, songs and tummy time interaction, but these all turned out to be pretty convenient to what I wanted to do anyway – NOT always the case!

On the surface, I could take this as an achieved life goal – as you may know, I’ve been trying to take more of a paternity leave this time around. And this day seemed to fit the bill. I seem to recall that when my husband was on parental leave, the story he would often tell me about his day included a lot of playing and socializing, and not a lot of stress, chores, disappointment or guilt.

So on one hand, I feel I should be proud of myself. I’m successfully avoiding the isolated, lonely difficulty that befalls so many women on mat leave, right?

On the other hand, I felt guilty in the back of my mind for the entirety of that day. Continue reading

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