You Deserve a Medal, Mama

copy-of-good-jobthank-youkudosThe last few weeks have been really hard, everybody. Work has been a daily battle. I’m so far behind on chores and life admin at home. And growing this second human has been knocking me on my ass so much more than my first pregnancy.

I could write a lot more about this ongoing feeling of being overwhelmed, (and I’m sure I will in the future). But today, I’m going to re-focus my attention outwards – on my village – and give some well-deserved shout-outs. I firmly believe that there are times when a Mom, or any parent, deserves a medal just for showing up and managing to wear clean clothes. These ladies have way overshot that bar, and they deserve some kudos:

To my university roommate – who just pushed out her third baby like a boss, in what she described as a “quick and easy” labour and delivery…I know you are probably exhausted right now, and that there are many adjustments going on at home. But remember: You are a rockstar who has grown three humans. I’ll just repeat that: three humans. And they are all alive and well and thriving. You are doing a great job!

To my work bestie – whose eight-year old was so proud to make her own dinner one night…I know you felt bad that she made dinner instead of you. But remember: You are single-handedly raising a confident, self-sufficient, resourceful kid, who knows you are there when she needs you. That is exactly what you want to be doing. You are doing a great job!

To my friend who just recently had her first baby – and still managed to make it to our book club within the first week…I know it seems like your world has been completely turned upside-down, and in many ways it has. But remember: Your friends are still here and we love you. Self-care is important and you made time for it, right off the bat. You are doing a great job!

To my sister – who is deep in the weeds herself, with two little ones under three…I know you worry about a lot, and that it’s hard to find the time and energy to take care of yourself when you are working so hard to take care of your babes. But remember: You have so much love to give and your kids are showered in it. You can give yourself some love and you’ll have plenty left for them. You are doing a great job!

To the slightly frazzled-looking lady in the mirror – Who, in the past two years, has knit one fall hat for her son that was too small and one that is far too big…I know you feel sometimes like you can’t seem to get anything right. But remember: Be gentle and kind with yourself. Your child feels safe and loved. That’s what matters. You are doing a great job!

And to all of you out there, just Mom-ing up day in, and day out…I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but you all deserve a medal too. Remember: you are doing a great job!

Mom Things I Learn During Yoga #6: I’m Already DOING the Job.

After a particularly long and draining day of parenting two tiny people, I was listening to a podcast from A Quiet Mind while doing some yoga stretches. The podcaster, Robert Jackson, was describing the various ‘selves’ who are there during meditation. There is the one who wants to meditate, who is going to “do meditation,” and “get it right.” There is the one who wants to leave, the inner voice who says the exercise is stupid, it’s not going to work anyway, and why are you wasting your time? But then, he says, “in the midst of all this noise, there is a presence who is unaffected. Who is this?” he asks. This is the one who is already meditating. The one just sitting there, experiencing and being aware of all this conflict going on in the mind.

I definitely recognize these different versions of myself when I’m doing yoga. And I imagine other people feel these versions of themselves when they do their own favourite activity: physical exercise, movie-watching, reading, colouring, having a bath, taking a walk… whatever.

One one hand, Continue reading

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

Two Moms, One Question: Toddler “Lessons”?

Hey, villagers! We’re starting a new monthly segment here at Raise A Mother, where Shannon and Lindsay take on the same question and each give their own view in a joint post.

It’s back-to-school season, but even for kids who aren’t in school yet, there are many opportunities to sign them up for “extra-curricular” activities. Are they worth it?

SHANNON:

I think this question comes down to your kid and your specific situation. My two-year-old son really responds well to structure and repetition (ie. he loves to do the same thing, the same way, over and over and over). He also goes a bit stir crazy if we don’t go for some sort of outing during the day on the weekends. At the same time, we don’t have a lot of friends with kids with whom we can arrange regular activities or play dates. So, for us, we’ve found that signing up for a weekly “lesson” of some kind is a good way to get us all up and out of the house, burning that toddler energy – without being dependent on good weather in a city that has very hot and humid summers and very long and cold winters.

For me, there is also the added benefit of giving my son early and repeated exposure to hearing environments that may be more difficult for him (ie. loud places with lots of different sounds competing for his attention). It’s my hope that this will help him learn how to navigate these situations long before he’s expected to do so at school.

There are two important caveats worth noting: 1. My husband and I are fortunate to have the financial resources to allow for this in our budget right now. We are also fortunate to live in a city with lots of opportunities for free or close to free activities for families. Particularly as our family grows and our kids get older, I anticipate this will be a much bigger factor for us in our decisions about extra-curriculars.

2. I think toddler activities feel much more “worth it” the more strongly they correspond to your child’s interests. Last fall, we signed the kiddo up for swimming lessons – partly because I assumed he would enjoy them, but mainly because I like swimming and I think it’s an important survival skill for kids to learn. Well, that was a fail. My son hated the lessons. We ultimately stopped going after a few weeks because it wasn’t worth the screaming mess. Money lost, big fail. On the other hand, over the spring and summer, we took him to weekly toddler music class, which he loved. He points out the building every time we drive by it. Too bad I didn’t get my shit together to get him signed up for the fall session before it filled up. Big fail #2. But at least I feel like I’m starting to get better at picking these things out. Next up? Maybe a toddler gym class for our little climbing, jumping monkey.

LINDSAY:

I think so far, I’m perhaps more wary of extra-curriculars than the average parent. You hear and read about the over-scheduling of kids in our fast-paced society (and I see the effects of this in my job, counselling stressed undergrad students), so I really want my own kids to have the chance to just be kids. Lots of time to relax, get bored, and invent their own games. Lots of time to just be in nature and learn things with other kids, without an adult setting the agenda.

We took A for swimming lessons when he was six months old, and I think it was too early – we had fun with him in the pool, but it seemed like a huge waste of money, since the teacher didn’t show us how to do anything with him that we wouldn’t have done on our own. So the next year, when one friend asked if anyone wanted to sign up for “soccer” for 18-month+ kids for the summer, we instead just arranged for a bunch of our friends with little ones to meet at a public green space on alternate Saturday mornings, and we all brought soccer balls. Mostly the kids just chased each other and ate snacks, but it was free and fun, and I doubt they really could have learned that much “soccer” anyway.

Now that he’s 2, we’re going to sign A up for a music and movement class, but it’s only $25 for 10 weeks at our local community school. I probably wouldn’t pay for anything more expensive than that for him at this point. All that being said, I plan to sign A up for gymnastics when he’s 3 – I figure it will get out some of that toddler energy really well, especially in winter when we can’t be outside as much!

And then there were four…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

pregnancy-announcement

Two Moms, One Question: First Year Reflection

Hey, villagers! We’re starting a new segment here at Raise A Mother, where Shannon and Lindsay take on the same question and each give their own view in a joint post.

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

LINDSAY: 

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

 

SHANNON: 

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

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

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

 

GUEST POST: The Lifeboat

We are very excited to share our first guest post! Kayla Borja Frost is a licensed mental health counselor, mother, wife, dog-owner, and blogger living in the Boston area. You can check out her blog at https://whatwemeanwhenwesaymotherhood.wordpress.com/ .

Life boatWhen my son was 4 months old, I hit a low point triggered by one absolutely terrible night. My husband and I attended my son’s 4-month well baby appointment, and his pediatrician was quite adamant that we should give up swaddling.  She felt our son was too large and able to roll, and at this point the swaddle was more risk than reward. She suggested stopping cold turkey. So that night, we took her advice.

To say it did not go well would be an understatement. The baby was up every 1-2 hours (which was not unusual for him because he was quite a voracious eater). What was unusual was that it would then take hours for him to fall asleep after a feeding.  He would cry and flail and flail and cry. He clearly HATED not being swaddled. But we pressed on, determined to stick to the doctor’s advice. Around 4 AM, we finally gave in.  The little guy was practically passed out cold before I finished the last tuck of the swaddle blanket.

The next morning I was an exhausted, emotional wreck. In this state, I posted a completely embarrassing, word-vomit, cry for help on Facebook asking, (begging,really), for advice and support.  I did receive messages of encouragement from a few friends with children.  But I also got something else that was much, much more valuable.  A good friend from college reached out to me with an invitation to a private mom’s Facebook group. I eagerly scrambled aboard what I had yet to realize would be my lifeboat. I was adrift in a choppy sea of motherhood, and these women pulled me to safety.

I know this sounds corny. But it’s also very, very true. Having a private, judgement-free place to ask questions about pregnancy, birth, and life after baby (including topics as sensitive as physical and emotional difficulties after childbirth) has been invaluable.  These women have been the tiny pinpoint of light in the darkness, (sometimes quite literally, if I’m posting at 3am).  Perhaps more importantly, as I’ve grown in my confidence as a parent, it has been so important for me to be able to give advice and encouragement to other moms, becoming a crew member on that lifeboat.

This all goes back to my lack of confidence in myself as a mother.  Instead of trusting myself and my understanding of my child’s needs (for example, the swaddle), I deferred to a pediatrician, who I trust implicitly with my child’s medical needs, but who sees him for 10-15 minutes every few months.  I didn’t recognize that, as his mother, I probably knew better.

This recurring theme plagued me in the early days of parenting. I studied “tips and tricks” books and websites, trying my best to recreate the steps they said would get my baby to eat or sleep or calm down. And when these formulas didn’t work for me and my son, I blamed myself. “I must be doing this whole parenting thing wrong,” I thought. And off I would go to furiously Google more tips and tricks. But once I was in the lifeboat, I was able to let go of all that. Here’s why:

A successful mom’s support group, in my experience, is one where the members are encouraged to share their most private experiences and get supportive feedback. You will never feel judged. You will never feel you are doing it “wrong.”  And slowly but surely, you will start to internalize these beliefs. Moms will share some tips and tricks, but it will all be in the spirit of “Here’s what worked for me and my baby.”  You will be exposed to many ideas and beliefs about parenting with an invitation to take what you like and leave the rest.

As my baby grows into a toddler, I am less active in the Facebook group than I once was.  Sometimes, I think maybe I don’t need the lifeboat anymore.  And just as that thought enters my mind, my son breaks out in a weird rash, or has a massive tantrum, or challenges me in some new and uncharted way.  And I thank my lucky stars that I can consult these brilliant, beautiful women who keep me feeling strong, and hopeful, and help me believe in myself as a mother.

If you are treading water and lacking a lifeboat, I urge you to find or build one of your own.  This is both simple and difficult to accomplish:

Step one: Set up a private group filled with other parents that you trust (and who you trust to invite their own trusted friends to join).  Step two: Create group rules and norms around a culture of acceptance and love, with the goal of helping one another be the best mothers you can be (no matter what that may mean to each individual member).  Step three: Hold on for dear life.

I know I will.

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

Instagram Challenge: Not Of My Kids

I love Instagram, but looking at my collection of images on there, it appears I post almost nothing but pictures of my kids. And there are two slight issues I have with that:

For one thing, I read an article recently that made me wonder if maybe I should be a little more aware of my kids’ future privacy concerns when posting images of them online. Granted, their mother writes a blog about parenting, so maybe the pics I post won’t be their main issue… and, as my husband noted when I raised this concern, “Whatever – every generation hates their parents for something.” But still.

For another thing, seeing only pictures of my kids there sort of makes me wonder, where’s the rest of my life? Sometimes being a mom of two young kids makes me feel pretty insulated in my everyday, like I don’t do much other than the usual routine of wake, care, feed, play, care some more, feed some more, and sleep. When a visiting friend asks when it might be a good time to come back and see us again, my response is, “Anytime. We are literally always just doing this,” gesturing to the backyard or the living room or wherever we’re hanging out with the kiddos at that moment. I know I’m lucky that I actually have a great support system of friends and family, but I can’t help sometimes feeling I’m getting into a rut.

So with these two things in mind, I’m setting myself an Instagram Challenge: Not Of My Kids. Every day for 30 days, I’m going to post one image of… something else. Hopefully I don’t get lazy and just take (less than spectacular) pictures of my lunch, though I’m sure that will happen sometimes. I’ll probably also still post pics of my kidlets, because, hey, they’re ridiculously cute, in my completely unbiased opinion.

If anyone feels like also taking up the challenge, please do it with me! I’m going to use #NotOfMyKids for each one, and I’d love to follow along with your pictures, too.

Here’s day 1/30:

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Mom Things I Learn During Yoga #5: Don’t Jump.

Yogathon 2016I recently participated in Yogathon 2016 – it’s an annual, international event which raises money for a great cause (for more info, see here). Yogathon involves doing 108 sun salutations, and if, like me, you haven’t done much in the way of physical activity since your youngest was born, that is REALLY REALLY HARD. So there I was in the middle of Victoria Park here in downtown London, on the concrete area in front of the bandshell, with the hot sun beating down on my back while wearing all black, trying to follow only the second set of 20 sun salutations, which were being led at a pace well faster than I was hoping for. I found myself getting anxious: I shouldn’t have done this. What was I thinking? I’ll never be able to finish all of these. I shouldn’t have left my sunscreen in the car; I’m going to get sunburned. I should have put my mat in the shade off to the side – I’ll never make it in this heat.

And every thought that entered my head was not only a worry – it was also a conclusion that something bad was going to happen as a result of the thing I was worried about. I suppose that’s what worry is  – anticipatory regret. Expecting the worst and fixating on it, even though it hasn’t happened yet. And as I kept going through the movements of my sun salutations, my thoughts became clearer, as they often do during yoga. Here I was, in the middle of an activity I was doing just for me (and one of the only major activities I have done just for me in the last four months), and I was focusing all this energy on negative outcomes that might occur after it was over. I certainly wasn’t Continue reading

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