toddlers

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?

 

 

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Sometimes I Pretend My Kids Aren’t Mine…

We’re on the way home from the store. R, at seventeen months, is adamant that he can pull a wagon full of groceries by himself, and stubbornly asserts his independence with loud growls whenever we try to assist him, even though he simply doesn’t have the strength for this task to be smooth or anywhere close to efficient. A, at three, is getting cranky just ahead of lunch time, and is behaving as such – there’s a good deal of whining and impatience when our full attention is not his, and he can’t seem to decide whether he wants to race us down the sidewalk or be carried. I can hear the strain in my husband’s voice as he cajoles R to stay on the sidewalk with his heavy load, and the sharpness rising in my own as I tell A to stop cutting me off and nearly tripping me as an effort to win the newest race he hasn’t told me we’re having.

I feel so defeated in moments like these. It seems we can be going along, having a great time as a family, gathering produce in the store, talking to fellow passerby on the street, laughing and talking about things we see, my partner and I marvelling at our lovely kiddos, and then, suddenly, it’s like a switch is flipped. We’re abrupt, impatient, and short. Where once we saw charm and adorableness, we now feel irritation and helplessness to just fucking get a move on already.

Well, I came across a new trick this particular morning, and it’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. I picked Arlo up out of frustration, but as soon as I started carrying him, I started thinking of him as someone else’s kid. Not a stranger, but a tiny person I know and love who just isn’t… well, mine. I imagined how differently I would react to his whining, his incessant attention-seeking, and his fatigue if he were my little nephew, or my friend’s daughter, or any of the other littles I’ve welcomed into my home on numerous playdates, and whom I love interacting with.

Suddenly, I had more patience for my own sons, when I realized I would treat my friends’ children differently in the same situation. I kept trying to view my boys in this light for the rest of that day, whenever I felt myself getting irked with them. And it WORKED. I didn’t capitulate to whining, or change my decisions, but I was somehow more patient, a little softer, and more resourceful in seeing things from their perspective and offering distraction, instead of just feeling like I had to put my foot DOWN because it’s time to do WHAT I SAID, DAMMIT!

In some ways, the fact that this trick works really bothers me. Shouldn’t I be MORE patient, kind, and loving with my own children than with anyone else?? I love them more than I thought possible, so shouldn’t my behaviour reflect that?? There’s a little twinge of mom-guilt there, that presumes I have to pretend my kids are someone else’s in order for me to be on my ‘good behaviour’ with them… and that feels rather shitty.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just a normal sign that we are really becoming solidified as a family – kids included. It seems pretty common for human beings to ‘let themselves go’ with those they are closest to, to allow only their very inner circle to witness their moments of weakness, their cracks and flaws, and rely on their goodwill and unconditional love to help fill those cracks in again when they’ve broken. I’m not saying this is a good dynamic to be in with my kids, but maybe my ‘lesser’ behaviour, my moments of weakness and crankiness and sharpness, stem from feeling close to them, rather than not loving them enough.

Wherever it comes from, though, I’m just happy I’ve found something that can help jump-start me out of a grump with my kiddos, ’cause those funks can be really tough to get out of. I want to be a good mom to them more than I want most things in life, so even if it takes pretending from time to time that they’re not mine, I’ll do it. I just won’t let them know that’s the reason 😉

My One Parenting Resolution for 2017

As I’ve written before, I’m not generally a person who does New Year’s Resolutions. But I am a fan of using the new year to reflect upon what I want my future to look like. My New Year’s List tends to be a vague collection of activities I enjoy that I’d like to choose more often, or intentions I’d like to follow as guiding principles in my everyday life. One of the intentions I have this year is definitely applicable to my broader life, but especially relevant to my parenting.

When I look back on my last twelve months of mothering, one thing stands out to me that I believe has made the difference between moments of stress and moments of calm. Between horribly frustrating battles with my two year old and problems we solve together, often with a sniffly, weepy snuggle. Between sobbing my eyes out during a night full of infant wakings and not sobbing my eyes out through those nights. Between feeling like a parenting failure and feeling like I got this. And at its core, it can be summed up in one word: Continue reading

Two Moms, One Question: What About Santa?

With both moms here at Raise A Mother having young toddlers, this holiday season begs the questions: to Santa or not to Santa? How much to Santa? And what about when it’s time to stop Santa-ing?

LINDSAY:

I may be the more cynical of the two of us, but I’m struggling with the whole concept of Santa. I recently went out with a group of mom friends whose eldest kiddos are 2-year-olds, like A, and when we talked about it, it seemed to me that almost everyone in the group had some reservations about this aspect of Christmas. Asking other moms I know since then has revealed the same issues. Whether it’s a major or hardly-there concern, and whether it’s about putting too much focus on getting presents, feeling pressure to buy more presents than you otherwise would, being creeped out by the Big Brother he-sees-you-when-you’re-sleeping connotations, or worries about ‘lying’ to your kids and how you’ll address that when they inevitably find out – almost every mom I’ve talked to acknowledges some weirdness about it. However, the overwhelming conclusion seems to be that as uncomfortable as those issues are, most of us plan to do Santa in some shape or form, since we don’t want our kids to be left out.

So my first question this Christmas is: are the majority of new parents out there today initiating Santa with their kids not because they really really want to, but because it’s just what we do collectively

This is where I’m struggling, because I can’t think of other areas of life where I’m trying to create the illusion for my kids that a fantasy is real. And don’t get me wrong, I really like many aspects of Santa, like his qualities of generosity, jollity, and cheer. I love putting out the cookies the night before and hanging stockings. Not to mention that the general ability to believe in magic that most of us lose with growing up seems so precious in kids. But I’m still challenged by the idea of deliberately engaging my kid with a fantasy story as if it’s realWhen we read a book about talking engines or dragons, I don’t feel a need to stop and say, “Just so you know, this isn’t real.” But I’m also not going out of my way to create dragon-sightings or doing ventriloquism with his toy trains to try to migrate those stories into his real life. It’s a puzzle to me, so I’d love to hear from some other moms in the village on how you resolve this!

 

SHANNON:

I guess I’ll start by answering the question Lindsay posed in her response: No, I’m not just planning on doing Santa with my kids because I don’t want them to feel left out. I’m planning on Santa-ing because I have very fond memories of believing in Santa as a young child, and because I like the sense of excitement, joy and magic that he brings to the season for kids.

I guess I don’t struggle as much with the idea of Santa. My childhood self wasn’t scarred or even hurt when I found out that Santa wasn’t real. I didn’t feel betrayed. I understood that my parents and the adults around me had created a fun, pretend time for us. To me, it didn’t feel very different than when my Mom would commit to some other form of imaginative play and then the game would eventually end. My Mom never felt the need to point out that we couldn’t really turn into mermaids. On some level, even as a very young child, I already knew that. But that didn’t stop me from wishing ardently on countless stars that I would someday sprout a fish tail. That’s what kids do. They believe in magic – whether it’s magic presented to them by others or magic fostered in their own imaginations. 

I remember feeling disappointed that Santa wasn’t real, but also that I already kind of knew. Because kids generally do figure this out on their own. And with Santa, as with many things in parenting, I want to meet my kids where they are, to let them take the lead. Once they start expressing their own doubts, I like to think I’ll take that cue as a sign that they’re ready to learn the truth without feeling shocked or blindsided.

It is absolutely important to me to teach my children that giving is more important than getting, and to set reasonable limits on spending. These things are true every day of the year, not just around Christmas. I think when you are modelling and talking about these kinds of lessons throughout the year, children expect them at the holidays too. Like virtually everything else in parenting, I think you make the holidays work in the way that works best for your family – not the other way around. So, Mamas, how do you make them work for you?

 

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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!

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