Mom Things I Learn During Yoga #1

This morning was not a good morning. I woke up with worries about parenting, and was overtired from the moment I opened my eyes, which never helps. I started to express these worries to my husband in the early morning light, and he said gently, “Lindsay, we’re trying our best, and he’s healthy.” I found myself saying quietly, “Yes, when he was a newborn that seemed like that was all that mattered, but at what point is that no longer enough?”

I had the good sense to not continue the discussion at 6:20am, and instead decided to leave my son with his morning bottle snuggled up with his dad while I got out my yoga mat in another room, dim and quiet. Usually when I sit silent, eyes closed, some of the things my yoga teacher often says run through my mind: There is nowhere else you need to be right now, nothing you need to be doing… Calming things. This particular morning, what came back was a mantra I repeated to myself a lot in the early months of my son’s life: Sometimes it is necessary to let things go, simply for the reason that they are heavy. Thinking about this, I felt my shoulders relax, my lungs expand, and the tension melt out of my hips and back.

Sometimes it is necessary to let things go, simply for the reason that they are heavy.

I have many pressures and worries that have arisen through the learning curve of mothering. The tide of overlapping possible concerns doesn’t really seem to ever go away. But a few cheesy, poster-worthy thoughts ring true when I stop to reflect on an anxious moment: Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no chaos, but in the midst of chaos, to still be calm in your heart. Or my my counterintuitive favourite: Relax… Nothing is under control. It’s a struggle each time another wave of worry comes along, but remembering these little nuggets allows me to sit there in my living room and let the waves wash over me so I can move on with my day, instead of getting the wind knocked out of me by each crash.

So if there’s a worry or sadness that’s weighing on me in the days to come, I’m going to try my best to remember to just let it go, even if for no other reason than that it’s heavy. It might not go away, and I might still need to pick it up later to deal with it or it might sneak back up onto my shoulders all on its own, but if it feels unbearable, it’s okay to just leave it there on the carpet for awhile instead.

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A Gratitude Journal

piglet_gratitude_winnie_the_poohYears ago, Oprah Winfrey began a recurring segment on her talk show about keeping a gratitude journal. The concept is simple: each day, you take a moment to write down a few things in your life for which you are grateful.

As a young pre-teen, I started keeping a gratitude journal alongside Oprah, and kept it up for a few months. At the time, I found it to be a great way to take a mental “re-set” and re-gain some perspective after a rollercoaster-y day of adolescence.

With everything that’s been going on for me professionally — and with American Thanksgiving just around the corner — now seems like the perfect time to start keeping a gratitude journal again. So, here are a few of the things I’m thankful for today:

  • My husband – who is kind and supportive, and who I love watching with our son.
  • My son – who brings light to each day with his smiles, kisses and ever-expanding gibberish vocabulary.
  • The comfort of warm blankets on cold nights.
  • Friends who send you messages “just because”.
  • Chocolate – especially mint chocolate.

Have any of you kept a gratitude journal? What are you thankful for this week?

The (Un)Working Mom

UnWorking MomHey Mamas – I’m back! Lindsay has been doing a great job of holding down the fort here at Raise a Mother, but I’ve still missed touching base with our village.

The truth is, I’ve been a bit dumbfounded as to what I should write. I lost my job on October 19th, a consequence of the Canadian election results. The fact that it happened was unexpected and the fact that it happened in a very public way — I literally watched my job (and those of many of my friends and colleagues) slowly slip away on national television — have made it particularly difficult. Almost a month later, I am only beginning to stumble out of a sort of fog that has surrounded me.

The reality that I no longer have a job that I loved is hard to take. The other day I told Lindsay, “I’m supposed to be at my office right now, doing my job”. Because that’s how it feels to me – like it’s my office and my job, and that fact that I’m not there doing it is what’s wrong with the picture.

Of course, what’s really wrong with the picture is that it isn’t my job at all. Despite all my best efforts — the long and tiring hours, the weekends away from my family — I lost my job. Someone else is sitting in what is now their office, doing what is now their job. I am sitting in my house, trying to figure out where to go from here. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.

I am definitely results-oriented. I like planning, organizing and checking off lists. I am the person who will add something I have already done to a to-do list, just so that I can have the satisfaction of crossing it off. And like many people I know with this type of personality, I place great value on these aspects of my character. They are intrinsically connected to my self-worth.

This has probably been the biggest personal challenge that I’ve faced in becoming a mother. During maternity leave I had an ongoing to-do list, to keep my mind busy and give me some structure. But I also had to learn to accept that the list was not going to get completed as quickly or efficiently as I might like. Some items might not happen at all. Because no matter how well you prepare or organize, life with children does not always go as planned. In fact, it very often takes you in a completely different direction.

Now I need to learn that same lesson in my professional life. I planned to still have my job and worked hard to keep it, but I can’t cross that goal off my list. I am actively reaching out to my network and applying for jobs, but until I land a new one, I can’t count that as a task completed. I need to find new ways to feel like I’m contributing, and I need new ideas.

One place I know I’ll be spending more time is here with you mamas at Raise a Mother. Have any of you gone through losing a job? How did you cope with the challenge of being unemployed, especially with kids? 

We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section, or in a guest post! 

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… Again

Finding out you’re pregnant with your second child is different than the first time around. At least, it was for me – and not the way I expected it to be (surprise, surprise, like everything else about motherhood). I’d seen things like this Coke commercial and thought Good News Round 2 would be simply an ecstatic air-punch, because yes, although my partner and I were both tired beyond belief and being parents was in some ways the hardest thing we’d ever done, we’d know what we were getting into this time, and all the true wonders of a new child would overshadow any trivial worries we might have had as parenting-virgins.

Instead, I saw the little blue cross in the window, did the 2nd test in the box just to be sure, then went upstairs to where my husband was still sleeping and said, “Uh, John, it’s positive.” I was stunned. I’m not even sure if I was happy at that moment. I was instantly overwhelmed, and I wasn’t sure exactly why. Sure, Arlo was only just a year old, and it was earlier than we were planning to have our second. But we already have all the needed stuff for a baby – the toys, the furniture, the gear, the clothes. We’ve experienced recurring thrush infections, sleepless nights, sleep training, traveling with an infant, introducing food, and teething. We have family nearby who are always ready to help out and a fantastic support system of friends. I thought I should feel ready to tackle this next phase of life – after all, we were going to get the ‘baby years’ and all their ensuing difficulties out of the way much faster than anticipated, which should be a good thing, right?

After several hours, I felt some moments of happiness about my pregnancy – I did, of course, remember all the bliss that went along with having a newborn, after all – but I still had this underlying, nagging worry. I couldn’t pin it down to any one specific thing: I thought about how to get two kids to share a room, how and when to wean Arlo off breastfeeding before needing to nurse another tiny person, and how we’d ever get some rest if our kids just took turns not sleeping through the night. For every one of these worries, though, I knew we’d find solutions, and if we didn’t, the worst would only be temporary. So what was this overarching anxiety I felt?

The reason I couldn’t identify my fear is because I assumed it had something to do with the babies. Really, what I was afraid of was myself. There were some dark days – some very dark and twisty days – when Arlo was in the 4-6 month window. I remember feeling helpless, out of control, and like I could no longer see the adult person it took years to become but whom I love very much and of whom I’m quite protective.  Instead, I saw a sleep-deprived, crazed, insecure ghost of a woman, who cried without explanation and lost her temper at the drop of a soother, who was unpredictable and went from loving life to wondering why everything was so fucking horrible in two seconds flat, who was unreasonable and couldn’t seem to rise above the chaos to just love her sweet, entirely perfect little baby. Those moments were, undoubtedly, the worst I’ve ever felt about myself, which is saying a lot, considering the self-esteem issues and anxiety I faced in adolescence.

I haven’t been worried about the logistics, the day-in-and-day-out details. I haven’t been worried about how John and I will cope, because we can get through anything. I’ve been worried about myself.  Nervous that having gone through this once won’t stop me from having a meltdown when I’ve almost got baby #2 asleep and the cat pushes open the creaky bedroom door, ruining my efforts. Afraid that when this new little one demands so much of my attention, I’ll have less patience for my sweet son, who will still be really, just a baby, but in comparison will seem like such a big boy that I’ll expect too much of him. Terrified I won’t have learned anything from the first go-round of motherhood and that, all over again, I’ll drag so many could-have-been-lovely days and moments through the mud with my hormones and emotional baggage.

This particular wave of nerves and fear has, thankfully, passed. I’m now over the morning sickness and unbearable fatigue of the first trimester (which helps everything seem more manageable), and as I’ve talked with more people about the second foray into motherhood, I’m starting to really believe that just as this new little one won’t be the same baby as my first, I won’t be the exact same mother I was my first time through. I will have learned some things, and I’ll hopefully be able to maintain some perspective and grace even through the tough moments with baby #2.  Will I have some dark and twisty moments? Probably. Is that still terrifying? A little bit. But being honest about my fears, even if they’re difficult to admit, has been a big first step in making them a whole lot less scary.

What about you, Mamas? Anyone scared about the next time around? Anyone had an unexpected reaction to a pregnancy? Tell us your story in the comments, or, if you have more to share, let me know – we’d welcome your guest post here at Raise a Mother!

Happy (Stressless) Halloween, Mamas!

Hope everyone is having a happy Halloween today, but mostly, hoping that your evening with your kiddos is a fun, relaxing time. I hope you spend the day enjoying the love your kids have of dressing up and playing pretend, the excitement they feel at the prospect of showing off their costumes to friends and neighbours, and indulging with them in some yummy treats without worrying too much about their sugar intake levels. If it takes longer than you anticipated to get them into their costumes, so what? If you don’t get to all the houses you planned to trick-or-treating, no big deal. If your kids are up later than you had hoped, well… It’s Daylight Savings tomorrow anyway, so hopefully that’ll just get them some extra snoozing in the morning!

Lastly, about costumes: it doesn’t matter whether you made, bought, borrowed, or scrounged for your kid’s (or your own!). There’s a lot of pressure out there in the online world to feel a little sheepish about how much effort and skill we mothers do or do not put into our kids’ costumes. But as I’m paraphrasing from a colleague who reassured me about Arlos’ birthday party last year: “They don’t give prizes for kids’ Halloween costumes.” (Well, maybe some people do, but not ‘they’ in the sense of the world at large.) Whatever you have the time/inclination for is just fine. And what you have the time/inclination for may well change from year to year. Last year, this was my family:

With John as C3PO

With John as C3PO

Arlo and I as an Ewok and Endor-Moon-Leia

Arlo and I as an Ewok and Endor-Moon-Leia

There was weeks of planning involved – the transformation of a crash-test-dummies suit into a C3PO costume, the gathering of sticks and buttons for the decorations on Arlo’s Ewok headdress, and trips to various fabric, thrift, and costume stores for bits and pieces we’d need.

This year, John and I aren’t dressing up, and Arlo is wearing a one-piece, fuzzy Winnie-the-Pooh suit my mom’s had in her basement pantry since 1999 when my brother wore it. I haven’t put one bit of thought or effort into this Halloween. And you know what? Arlo’s going to have just as much fun as he did last year, and so am I.

So I hope you enjoy this Halloween holiday – because it’s certainly a time for being silly, but not for being stressed about silly things.

Teaching Our Boys About Sex, Consent, and Respect

I seem to see a LOT in the media these days about sex and consent – specifically, about teaching boys about consent as a way to reduce/prevent instances of sexual assault and rape. I work in a university, and there’s a LOT of news in our field about various institutions constantly upgrading and re-visioning their approaches to sexual assault – everything from peer education programs and helplines to better processes for reporting assaults and supporting survivors.

More attention to sexual assault and efforts to prevent it are GOOD. There’s no doubt about it. And as a mom with a son (even though he doesn’t understand such topics yet), I’m grateful that this push is happening.

At the same time, I can’t ever escape the feeling that no matter how many articles are published about the importance of teaching boys consent, no matter how many clever cartoons or YouTube videos go viral for explaining why the issue of consent should be a no-brainer, no matter how many universities, school boards, and public health organizations ramp up their efforts to address this issue… we still have a rampant rate of sexual assault and rape in our society. And that’s just CANADA. NORTH AMERICA. Places that are (supposedly) ‘advanced’ and ‘civilized,’ with ‘equal rights’ for men and women, where the work of feminism has already brought us to ‘the good life.’

Unfortunately, I don’t think all of these efforts are tackling the real root of the problem. Because the real root of the problem is not that many men think they are entitled to women’s bodies. The real root of the problem is not that women have been shamed for centuries anytime we express sexuality outside of a very narrow (yet precarious and shifting) set of boundaries that we are always in danger of transgressing. The real root of the problem is that our culture as a whole has never really been willing to address or challenge the core belief that ‘men are better than women‘. That masculinity is superior to femininity. That the traits commonly associated with men – rationality, physical strength, self-assertion, and self-preservation – are somehow inherently more valuable than those assumed to be their opposites (and therefore associated with women) – emotionality, physical nurturing, cooperation, and vulnerability. And worst of all, that this value system actually does mean, even to people who don’t want to admit it, that those who possess the former have more ‘right’ than those who possess the latter. (Sure, there’s a lot of talk around increasing the value of typically feminine traits, but I feel this is usually framed with an attitude that feminine traits are a nice, politically-correct side dish to the main course of masculinity, which just needs a little tweaking, rather than a full overhaul.)

So we need to address this problem, at its root. As a mother, this means teaching my son that cooperation is just as valuable as self-assertion – and that a balance is the best route to leadership. Teaching him that emotional understanding is just as valuable as rational thought – and that a balance will allow him to make sense of his experiences in a fulfilling way. Teaching him that vulnerability is just as valuable as self-preservation – and that a balance is necessary for successful relationships.

In a more tangible sense, it means never reinforcing for him (even indirectly) that it’s reasonable to write women’s feelings or perspectives off as ‘crazy.’ Never modeling for him that it’s ‘funny’ (even by remaining silent) to demean a male by calling him a female. Always encouraging him to see the value in other people’s perspectives – especially those that tend toward the feminine (after all, he’s going to get reinforcement of the value of masculinity from everywhere else). I will also have to talk to him about consent, sexual assault, and feminism. But those talks will make a lot more sense to him if he doesn’t have the subconscious belief that really, he is better than his female peers (for all the reasons above).

Only when we actually don’t believe in this binary hierarchy of values anymore – deep down in our collective, human, subconscious, most secret don’t-want-to-admit-it heart-of-hearts – will we be able to make a meaningful impact on issues like sexual violence, consent, and respect.

“A New Normal”: At Once Scary and Comforting

In the midst of a painful transition, an overwhelming change, or a period of limbo – all situations where what has been “normal” either has suddenly vanished or seems to be slipping from our grasp – loved ones will often try to ease the difficulty by telling us we’ll find a “new normal.”

I’ve heard this more than once in the past few weeks, as I confided to close friends, family, and finally, the general populace of the internet through this blog, that I’ve been going through an overwhelming transition of my own. So I’ve been thinking about this idea of a “new normal” a lot lately. Sometimes the notion is a comforting one: eventually I won’t feel like this anymore, and things will be familiar again. At other times, though, this same thought can be terrifying: this painful period IS the new normal, and eventually I’ll just become resigned to this discomfort/sorrow/stress/fatigue/insert-your-own-unpleasantness-here.

My sister recently told me about a friend of hers, who was going through a particularly agonizing professional schedule and complete absence of “work-life balance.” What helped was someone gently suggesting that perhaps this person had forgotten that this period of heightened stress wasn’t, in fact, “her normal,” reassuring her that it was simply temporary.

This simple wisdom brings to mind one of my favourite thoughts from Jeanette Winterson (and as I’ve loved several of her novels, this is saying something):

JW Quote better

It’s easy to forget, especially when we’re in the depths of our uncertainty, anxiety, or just complete weariness, that “this too shall pass,” that the difficult moment itself isn’t the new normal that we’ll find. Time, and life, march on, and if we can see our discomfort for what it is – a natural symptom of change – then maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so scary.

Now, parenthood may not be precisely like some other common hurdles, in that it appears (at least in my limited experience so far) to stretch out as a never-ending parade of transitions. Once we wrap our heads around toddler-tantrums, it’ll be time for starting school. The awkward transition of pre-adolescence will be closely followed by the quest for independence.

In this way it’s more on the scary side: how will I ever find that new normal if the parenting game just changes all the time? But I still have hope, too, hope that with each transition, I’ll become better at this process of change: my perspective to see it for what it is will quicken, my resilience to laugh through it will strengthen, and my ability to be kind to myself as I face it will grow.

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