Parenting Hacks

What happens when I DIY

IMG_20160618_172816A few weeks ago, Linds and I were thrilled to be interviewed on our favourite podcast, One Bad Mother. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the episode, you can check it out here.

Talking to friends and family afterwards, one of the main take-aways from the interview was our overall emphasis on accepting things as #GoodEnough. (Many thanks to everyone who participated in the #GoodEnough challenge — feel free to keep ’em coming!) In particular, people related to Lindsay’s experience of comparing her preparation for her son’s birthday party to my DIY prep for my son’s party a month earlier.

Since this experience has struck such a chord, we wanted to explore it further. Because here is something that is true for me, that is not necessarily true in the same way for my sister — or for many others scanning Pinterest with a mixture of anticipation, inspiration and guilt: my DIY-ing gives me a creative outlet that I’m otherwise missing in my daily life. It’s actually about me.

I am, and have always been, a creative person. Throughout elementary and high school, I steadily took almost every English, art, theatre and music course available (though not dance — I am not a graceful or coordinated person, just ask…anyone). Lindsay and I both participated in extra-curricular theatre groups as well as school shows. My first jobs as a teen were performing as a children’s entertainer (read, clown — don’t judge), and helping to run a kids’ theatre camp. Even on vacation, I would sit on the beach and sketch set and costume designs for hypothetical productions.

And then I went to university and became an adult and I no longer had the time or resources to spend on creative pursuits that were really just for me. Sometimes, I have grand plans for a creative project that’s just for my own enjoyment, but I never seem to prioritize actually making it happen. Case in point: since we moved into our house, I have planned to paint something for a giant wall in our living room. I can see the picture in my mind. In reality, it’s four years later and I haven’t even bought the canvas, let alone picked up a brush. The wall is still sitting blank because I keep insisting that I’m going to paint one of these days.

Here’s the thing, though — when I’m planning a DIY project that is ostensibly “for someone else”, it gets prioritized and I get to do something creative.

I’ve been like this since well before my son was born. I took up knitting six years ago, and in that time I have knit gifts for each of my five sisters, for each of my six nieces and nephews, for my parents, for my husband, for my son. I have knit a total of two things for myself — one of which was a Christmas stocking to match the stockings I had already made for Randy and Lucas.

The thing with my son’s birthday parties is the same. Look, mamas, we all know full well that 1) they don’t give out prizes for children’s birthday parties, and 2) my child will be happy and feel loved on his birthday regardless of whether or not there are themed decorations. We also all know that there are plenty of things out there that just make us feel bad about ourselves, that are in no way real measures of how we’re doing as parents.

Geeking out on thinking up theme-y puns for the punch label and Pinning inspiration for a sea turtle cake doesn’t make me a good Mom. It’s not actually about my kid. In my case, doing these things makes me me.

What happens when I DIY is that I give myself permission to spend time doing something creative that makes me feel good. It’s sneaky self-care. It keeps me in touch with a part of myself that was there long before motherhood, and will be there long after my kids are grown and have kids of their own. For me, DIY-ing is not about trying to be something or someone that I’m not. It’s about getting in touch with who I am.

I think what makes any of us a good Mom is being ourselves, and showing that person to our kids.  So, you do you, mamas! The best Moms are the ones who do.

Lucas' Birthday 2016 2

LISTEN: Check out our interview with the ladies at “One Bad Mother”!

onebadmotherlogoHey Mamas!

We are so excited to share this week’s episode of our fav podcast “One Bad Mother”, which includes an interview with….you guessed it – the two of us!

Listen to the podcast here

We had a great time chatting with the lovely OBM ladies, and both came away with our heads buzzing with more ideas for Raise a Mother. Stay tuned!

We’d love to know what you thought of the conversation – add a comment or send us an email to share your ideas!

 

Less is More: Baby Sleep

I’ve been avoiding writing anything about this for the past few weeks, in fear of mocking the baby sleep gods with my own hubris and being struck down with a plague of wakeful nights. But I’m going to risk it.

My. Baby. SLEEPS! He sleeps during the day, and he sleeps almost through the night. He started needing only one feed each night (meaning after went to bed) at about 3 weeks old. By six weeks he was consistently giving me 6-7 hour stretches of nighttime sleep when he went to bed at around 8 or 9pm. Today, he’s two months old, and last night he slept for a fabulous 9h 22m straight (thanks, tracking app!)

My first kiddo did not do this. The existence of a four-month sleep “regression” shocked me as I read about it in my Baby Center email. What did they mean, going back to night wakings??? We’d never left that party. By the time he was over a year old, little Arlo still woke up crying for bottles sometimes, and we went through long ‘stages’ where John would somehow end up sleeping with him in the basement guest bed halfway through most nights.

So I’m sure you can understand my elation at the good fortune I’ve had with Mr. Remi. Sometimes I’m sure it’s nothing but a stroke of luck, and I’m just riding the train out, waiting for that other shoe to drop. But sometimes, sometimes, I think I know why he sleeps better than my first – and I think it’s… my doing. I know, I know – I’m waiting for the lightning bolt from the angry gods above for even thinking such blasphemy, let alone writing it down. But here it is:

Continue reading

#goodenough – Because It REALLY Is

I think most parents of young toddlers know the frustration and chaos that is their kid’s toys. They get everywhere, they’re disorganized, and you don’t have time as every new toy is brought into the mix to go back through and carefully choose all of those no longer developmentally-appropriate for redistribution to the Goodwill. So what you may end up with is a giant crap heap of some stuff that your kid is really into, but a lot of things they have zero interest in. Either way, they can’t really find things because it’s all a crap heap that just keeps growing.

And if you Google things like, “how to organize your kids toys,” you’re greeted with beautiful, Pinterest-worthy ideas that will not only have your kid’s toys sensibly organized, but also in lovely containers that match your home decor!

Well, you can probably guess where all those images remained in my life – in the online desert-mirages from whence they came. Continue reading

A Surprising Remedy for Tiredness: Host a Playdate

I woke up this morning already drained, and just knew it was going to be one of those tired days. I hadn’t gotten much sleep, woke up at 5:45 to feed the newborn, and felt a real dilemma once that was done over whether to lay back down for 15 more minutes or have a shower while my partner was still home and could look after the boys (I chose the latter). I was preemptively cranky about how exhausting the day ahead was going to be. I also had a playdate planned for later in the morning; a couple of friends of mine and their kids were going to come over.

I contemplated cancelling, apologizing but saying I just needed to ‘lay low’ and get through the day. I knew they would understand. But I didn’t really want to do that, because I haven’t had that many daytime adult interactions since my son was born a month ago, and frankly, I was craving some company and conversation. Continue reading

My Problem with Parenting Books

My husband and I were saying over dinner last night that it would be interesting if people organized their bookshelves by the year each book was added to their collection. (Alphabetization-addicts, like Shannon here at Raise a Mother, don’t panic – I’m not actually doing it!) But it would be a neat way to see the progression of your reading habits – how topics, authors, or genres of interest have shifted over time. If we did this, our newest section would be dominated by Parenting Books.

Parenting Books Collection

My bookshelf happens to be ordered so all Parenting Books are in the same section as it is.

I’ve acquired some of these books as gifts, others as hand-me-downs, and a few I’ve bought. The main issue I have with parenting books as a category is that too often a parenting book reads as a ‘manual,’ and this is, frankly, bullshit.

One book on this shelf (I won’t name names), started out great – it was reassuring and soothing to me as an anxious parent who wasn’t getting any sleep, as it explained that all babies can smoothly be taught to sleep through the night, if only you take the correct steps. Hah hah! Hah! I can scoff in retrospect. Desperate as I was, though, I devoutly followed the instructions laid out for me so clearly and reassuringly by the serene-looking writer on the book’s cover. At first, it seemed like it might work, but within a few weeks, my son’s sleep and mine had both deteriorated significantly. We were worse off than we had been at square one. We gave up on the expert advice of the author, and upon returning to our previous situation, it suddenly didn’t seem so bad (so maybe this was a ‘win’ after all?).

Now of course, this book was a bestseller because its advice had clearly worked for many people – the person who gave it to me even swore by it from personal experience! But for some reason it didn’t work for my kid, and when I stop to think about it, it makes sense that it didn’t. Because the author doesn’t know my kid. How could I expect that she knows exactly what will make him fall asleep and stay asleep all night long?!

Our children aren’t products. They’re not manufactured. They’re not one-size-fits-all. If they were, wouldn’t somebody have already written the perfect manual for raising a “Child,” and wouldn’t we all just be given a copy from our doctor or midwife upon birth and sent on our merry way?

The problem is, manuals, tutorials, and clearly defined steps are the way of our world today. Need to know how to change the bulb in your car headlight? Speed read? Poach an egg? Do a complicated braid? Pose a selfie? There are video tutorials and listicles with step-by-step instructions on how to do all of these things, and everything in between. This can be great: you can save money on mechanic service, whip through required reading, make delicious breakfasts, satisfy a kid’s Frozen obsession, and avoid ever again publicly sharing a photo of the insides of your nostrils, all without too much risk, because probably, if you follow the instructions, these sorts of outcomes are fairly reliable (Pinterest fails aside, which are, incidentally, a delightful waste of Internet time).

Unfortunately, we’ve become so wired to expect the ability to just follow-the-instructions and get reliable outcomes, that this trend has spread to things that by nature just aren’t that reliable. So the web is also full of listicles and how-to-steps on things like personal relationships, finding self-worth, being happy, and yes, raising children. Wikihow, for example, whose tagline is “How to do anything” (really?) has a whole relationship section:

Wikihow relationships

I seriously question that a single article is going to be able to reliably “restore my faith in humanity” if it’s truly been lost. Life’s just not that easy.

Our kids are individual people, and working with them on complicated things like anxiety, adapting to change, or managing their emotions (which, quite possibly, are at the heart of some struggles like not being able to sleep through the night), is likely going to be a process of trial-and-error, just like it is working on these things with adults.  Assuming that a simple checklist of steps is going to ‘fix’ or ‘solve’ such complexities, or reduce the need for us to actually struggle through teaching a tiny separate person how to be in the world, just seems silly in this light.

So what books do I think are useful?

Well, some of the tangible advice ones are, sure. For example, I found great, clear ‘instructions’ and tips that fortunately worked out well for me and my kid in books like Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, or Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. But I firmly believe now that these just happened to work for our particular context, our family, and our child, and I wouldn’t presume to tell another parent, “Oh, you definitely have to try this because it’s magic!” Sadly, I’ve heard too many parents express just this sentiment in real life and seen even more parents do so in the online blogging world. There is no one-size-fits-all magic – don’t believe it for a second, as glorious and reassuring as it sounds. If a particular tip or book works for you, embrace it and cherish it – just remember that this is a happy coincidence, and maybe let yourself feel a bit smug that you found your match, you lucky duck!

The books I’ve found the most useful, it turns out, are the broader ones. The ones that don’t claim to have any specific “answers” for the difficulties I’m facing, but instead encourage me to rethink my whole perspective on parenting, to allow myself to look beyond the scope of the particular irritation of the moment, to consider my kid and my relationship with him not as a collection of ‘symptoms’ to be addressed but in a more holistic way, for the long-term.

Yes, this requires more time to get through. It requires more time to sit and let the ideas sink in. It requires me to do the connect-the-dots work of figuring out how the bigger ideas presented fit into my life and my parenting ideas. It certainly doesn’t allow me to do a quick reference and fix a crisis in the moment. But it also has been, at least for me, a hell of a lot more effective to actually making change that feels better in my house, my family, and my life.

Now I know you might be thinking, really, Lindsay, that’s the end? Thanks for nothing helpful today... so hopefully I can make that better. This is sort of a two-part blog, because my next post is going to describe the two books I have personally found most useful, and how I have found them to be great companion books for one another. So in case you’re looking for some interesting reads on parenting, but like me, you’re disillusioned with the ‘manual’ approach, stay tuned! I promise to give you more.

 

Re-Thinking “Counting to Three”

As you may remember from an earlier post on living in the moment while on mat leave, I love Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe (I told you it might come up again!). In her comparison of French- and American-style parenting, she mentions the old “count to three” tactic that I bet most of us are familiar with. She writes that a particular French caregiver she observes “counts to three” to get a child to cooperate, but describes a difference in the tone and attitude of this counting from what I was expecting: less a warning and more an allowance of time for the child to get on board with the program and make a sage (calm and reasonable) decision.

I remember using the “count to three” method on my brother, younger by thirteen years. When I said “I’m going to count,” or when I heard either of my parents say this phrase, there was a definitive warning tone, an escalation of the resistance and conflict between us, an implied threat of pulling out the ‘big guns.’ In essence, this phrase meant, “you are going to do what I have asked whether you like it or not, so you can either save face by doing it before I get to three or you can endure the humiliation of having me enforce it upon you.” It’s the parenting equivalent of checkmate.

Now I don’t think that either I or my parents did anything unusual or extreme in counting to three before enforcing the reality of whatever we had asked my brother to do (likely multiple times) before resorting to counting. Most parents I can remember growing up “counted,” and I bet most of us can remember somebody counting to get us in line at some point or other. It seems to be a very effective strategy overall.  My in-laws told me all they had to do was tell my husband, “I’m going to count…” for him to comply. They didn’t even have to get as far as “one.” The fear of “three” can be almighty.

But reading about this anecdote in Druckerman’s book made me think about a different counting memory, too:

Back in our early years of dating, when we were doing the Toronto-Montreal long-distance thing, my partner and I would do our own version of counting. Whenever we knew we had to do stop doing something  we wanted to do (usually snuggling under the covers in one of our freezing student apartments) in order to do something we didn’t want to (usually brave the Canadian winter so one of us could get back on a train home), we would count. We would count to ten, or twenty, taking turns saying alternating numbers. We were slow about it, breathing calmly and speaking softly. It was just a way to savour the last seconds  of doing what we wanted, of a nice moment, an experience, before resigning ourselves to the harsh, intrusive world of reality where we had to leave each other. And it really did help to make that transition easier.

So between this memory and Druckerman’s observation of the French caregiver, I’ve been trying to use counting in this light the past week with my toddler. And so far, it seems to work (though as with all new attempts at parenting strategies, I feel a need to cross my fingers as I write that!). When my twenty-month-old resists a necessary task, this is my script, said at his level, in a quiet, gentle tone that implies I have confidence he will understand the reason behind what we’re doing:

“Arlo, it’s time to cooperate now. So Mommy’s going to count to three, and then you need to [insert required action here]. One… two… three. Okay, [insert directive here].” Then I let him have this prepared chance to do it on his own.

So far, it’s worked to get him to lay back for a diaper change and stay still instead of wrestling. It’s worked to get him to let me clean his face after supper without a fuss (which normally is a drama). It’s even worked to get him to calmly place a toy in my friend’s bag that belonged to her son, and not, to Arlo’s despair, to him. I was most shocked at this last one!

When he complies, I’ve been acknowledging his cooperation with a  “Thank you,” or “You did it,” and offering him a high five, which he loves. When he still resists, I repeat gently that it’s time to do it, and talk him through the action as quickly and calmly as possible. Even in these instances, once the unpleasant is over (as happened with taking a shirt off yesterday), he hasn’t stayed mad about it or thrown a post-action tantrum the way he used to when my tone had been more forceful and demanding.

These interactions feel good on my part because I get to express empathy with my kid, instead of frustration or the sense that I’m ‘at the end of my rope.’ I’m hoping he somehow feels validation in his resistance, that he feels I ‘get’ why he doesn’t want to comply, and that I understand how much it sucks to not get your way. Because I do. We all do. And even though my job is to sometimes enforce the harsh intrusiveness of reality against whatever he might desire in a particular moment, it seems to be much less of an ordeal for both of us when I turn a moment of resistance into a moment where we’re on the same team, even if I can’t give in to his whim.

So I’m going to keep trying to “count” on this strategy with my little guy, and we’ll see how it goes. As I said, it seems to be working so far, but if parenthood has taught me anything, it’s that things can shift unpredictably and instantly, so I’ll keep you posted!

KEEP CALM and COUNT TO THREE img

When the going gets tough, the tough need go-to cookie recipes

The past couple of months have been busy times of transition for both of us mamas here at Raise A Mother. Earlier this week, Lindsay shared her challenges in trying to find a work-life balance when both parents work. Meanwhile, almost immediately after returning from maternity leave, I have found myself working in the longest election campaign in Canadian history.

Like many people (and furry blue Sesame Street characters) I know, I find that times of stress bring on cravings for sweet treats. And while this is definitely not the healthiest coping mechanism in the world, it is certainly not the worst. I have accepted the fact that a little bit of cookie goes a long way in improving my mood. There’s also something about baking that makes me feel connected to my home and family.

As a fun post today, I thought I’d share a few of my go-to cookie recipes — ones I’ve made over and over. They are all easy, relatively fast, and always yield delicious results!

I’d love to have you share your go-to cookies too. With everything so busy, I think a virtual cookie swap is exactly what we need!

— Shannon

Peanut Butter Banana CookiesGo-To Healthy CookieGluten-Free Vegan Banana Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies by Two Peas & Their Pod

First of all, if you haven’t yet discovered Two Peas & Their Pod, let me be the person to introduce you. I’ve yet to find one of their recipes that wasn’t just flat out delicious, and the instructions are always solid.

These are probably my most-often made cookies. They are a great option for every day baking in general, but especially if you’re dealing with family or friends with dietary restrictions. You can make these slightly less healthy by adding extra chocolate chips, but they are plenty good without them as well.

Honourable Mention: Chocolate Raspberry Cookies from “Veganomicon” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

Coconut oil chocolate cookieGo-To Chocolate Chip Cookie: Coconut Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies by Gimme Some Oven

My ideal chocolate chip cookie is soft and chewy, and that’s exactly what this recipe delivers. My husband is not a big sweets guy, but these disappear super quickly in our house. The recipe takes slightly longer than some because you have to chill the dough (the same is true of the Honourable Mention recipe), but it turns out that this makes all the difference. I haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect these would make fantastic ice cream sandwiches.

Honourable Mention: Chocolate Chip Cookies from “Cooking With Mickey, Vol. 2”

peanut butter cookieGo-To Peanut Butter Cookie: Old-Fashioned Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies by Une Gamine Dans La Cuisine

These are the peanut butter cookies that look and taste just like the ones you remember from childhood. I made them without espresso, and with milk instead of cream, and they were still delectable.

Caramel cookieGo-To Showstopper Cookie: Chocolate Caramel Cookies with Sea Salt by Two Peas & Their Pod

And we’re back to Maria and Josh at Two Peas. It may seem unfair to include two cookie recipes from the same source, but here’s the thing: these are just incredible. For the past five years, I have hosted a Christmas-time cookie swap with my girlfriends. I made these cookies the second year, and they are still the ones my family talks about. A quick note: the first time I made them, I couldn’t find caramels, so I used squares from a Caramilk bar instead, and they worked just as well.

Alternate Lullabies?

For a fun post today, thought I’d offer a list of some songs I like to sing to my wee guy; I wanted to expand our repertoire beyond rock-a-bye-baby and you-are-my-sunshine pretty quickly. Some of these I just love for the melody that lulls him to a drowsy state, and others because the words of certain love songs almost seem like they should  have been written about the love of a parent for their child, rather than romantic love.

(Please note songs are listed in no particular order with the source of the version I have in my head when I sing them, not necessarily by the original artist or songwriter.)

“At Last,” Etta James
“The Book of Love,” Magnetic Fields
“The Nearness of You,” Norah Jones
“To Meet You,” Teitur
“At Last I See the Light,” from the movie Tangled
“Asleep at Last,” the Wailin’ Jennys
“Absence of Fear,” Jewel
“Love,” from the movie Robin Hood (Disney)
“Feelin’ Good,” Michael Buble

I’d love more suggestions for tunes I could add to the mental library, so let me know what you sing to your wee one in the comments!

~ Lindsay

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