Tag Archives: adjustment

Fingers Crossed! Little Things Seem Big

It continually amazes me how much parenting puts at stake, even in things that seem – objectively – very small.

Our two-month old has been sleeping pretty well, better than we could have expected, so of course we decided it was time to mess with that. We decided last night to try having him sleep in a different place – just eight feet away from his usual spot, and still in his same baby bed. We did the same bedtime routine, and put him down at the same time. So why did this seem like such a big deal? Well, because moving him eight feet meant putting him in his brother’s room. Yep: we’re trying to get 2 under 2 to share at night.

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When Non-Parents Talk About Parenting

When Non-Parents Talk About

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted about how, as a non-parent, her opinions on anything related to parenting or children are discounted by friends who are parents… when she disagrees with them. She got a fair number of comments on this post, and expanded her original thoughts, noting:

“I’m rapidly becoming the only person I know without kids and being told my opinion doesn’t count at all is weird to me, so it occurred to me that unless my opinion is still pointless when I’m agreeing with parents, they’re actually only saying “as long as your opinion is different than mine, you don’t get to have one” which seems a lot more child like than parent like to me.”

I see where she’s coming from. Countless parents did this to me before I had kids, and it’s been one of my goals since becoming a mom to not do this to other people. (If I’ve done this to any of my non-parent friends who are reading this, please accept my apology!)

But I also see why parents do it. So often, non-parents speak their opinions in a way that comes across as though they would do things so much better if they were in your shoes, with such confidence in their conclusions. (I know this because I was guilty of it for sure: my kids would never behave poorly in public. You just teach them not to, right?) And any parent knows when they sense this attitude that the person talking to them is being completely ridiculous.

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But even if non-parents express conflicting opinions to yours in the most diplomatic way, it can be hard not to want to dismiss them. Continue reading

6 Things My Husband Taught Me About Mat Leave

There’s a lot of bad stereotypes about men caring for children. The Bumbling Dad is its own pop culture trope, and a quick image search for “when dad is left alone with kids” finds:

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The caregiving bar is set pretty low for dads. They’re expected by society at large to be lazy, reckless, selfish, and to just generally not take the job seriously. With our first child, my husband and I shared parental leave. And on the surface, it might have looked like he fulfilled some of those stereotypes:

  • Frequently left lunch dishes on the table until they had to be cleared away to make room for our dinner? Check.
  • Enjoy whole days where nary a chore or task seemed to cross his mind? Check
  • Take more naps than I did when I was on leave? Check.
  • Feed our son more fries and Goldfish crackers than I would have been okay with? Check.
  • Take silly, sometimes scary photos/videos to show me at the end of a workday (like the time his friend captured a shot of my 10-month old being thrown so high in the air that Dad’s hands were entirely absent from the picture)? Check.

Yet, despite these things, I’m trying to take more of a ‘paternity’ leave myself with baby #2.  Because more important than any of those tangible differences are the bigger picture, truly invaluable things I learned from watching my husband on parental leave:

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Flow & Resistance

I’ve learned many valuable things about parenting from my own mother. She’s given me tips and tricks for dealing with things like whining/arguments (ie. the ones she used on Shannon and I as children), as well as bigger-picture principles and approaches to motherhood in general. One of the simplest and yet most influential things I’ve learned is the mantra that she says informed all of her parenting:

“Say yes when I can, and no when I have to.”

When she gave me a no, I rarely made a stink about it, because I knew she would have said yes if she felt she could. I fully intend on using this approach with my own kids.

This little mantra has got me thinking about something else, though – not my interactions with my kids, but with my partner, as well as my general approach to life inside our house. While I don’t find myself saying no a lot, I do find myself resisting things, or intervening when it’s not really necessary. This resistance or intervention seems to be my default setting, and it doesn’t feel good. Continue reading

A Little Re-Frame Changes the Whole Picture

Sometimes we get stuck in ruts that suck. There is a certain situation or environment that is constant or recurring in our lives, and it sucks… worse, sometimes, we know we suck in it. Those circumstances that bring out the worst version of ourselves, but we can’t avoid them because they are necessary to our lives. They could be at work, at home, with relatives, with friends, or with our kids. My own awful circumstance that I’ve been re-thrust into this week is the Dreaded Newborn Night Wakings. My son was born one week ago (hurray! I’m finally done being pregnant!), and nighttime feedings are once again part of my routine (ahhh! I’m a terrible person when I’m tired!!).

Night wakings with a baby are the circumstance that brings out the worst in me. So re-entering this space (my older kid has been sleeping through the night consistently for several months now and it’s been blissful) suddenly sparked an all-too-familiar, trigger-happy, irritable anxiety that only manifests between midnight and 5am. In this space, an uncooperative support pillow lights a match of rage in my throat, and a refusal by my days-old child to immediately go back to sleep after a feed ignites the urge to throw a toddler-esque tantrum and whisper, “Fine! We’ll just sit up all fucking night then!” Like I said, I’m a terrible person when I’m tired. I long ago accepted this about myself, and always try to get enough sleep to avoid the monster coming out. This tried-and-true strategy of consistent bedtimes and eight hours of sleep is just not an option for the near future, unfortunately.

I’m sure (or at least I hope, even just so I can feel less terrible about it) that most of us have these situations – certain circumstances that get under our skin and change our reactions and behaviour for the worse. Yesterday, however, I decided to try to do something about it, and I was amazed at how calm and peaceful last night was as a result! So I’m feeling pretty great about it today and thought I’d share.

The first thing I did was re-frame the purpose of the situation. Instead of thinking about The Impending Horrible (night wakings) as drudgery, as simply a necessary, sacrificial duty of my life, I decided to think of them as a opportunity for long-term gain. As I imagine all parents of newborns are, I’m very invested in helping my son learn to sleep well, calmly, and most importantly, through the night. And as a second-time parent, I’ve already noticed myself being much more calm and collected during the day in moments that distress him as a newborn, than I was with my first. So if my son experiences me as calm and reassuring during the day, but as anxious and on edge during the night, he might learn that night is a time for being on high alert, for worrying about things – that nighttime, in short, is bad… which probably won’t help him feel at ease about sleeping through it. Keeping this big-picture purpose in mind helped me last night to stay calm throughout our feeding and awake time, even though I was just as tired as the nights before, and could have easily reacted in my old patterns.

The second thing I did was re-frame my expectations. I realized I had been going into each night waking hoping for the best (ie. that he would eat quickly and go right back to sleep) but focusing on and anticipating the worst (my exhaustion and the possibility that he would stay awake all night). I took a look at my baby tracker app, and noticed that his average time awake per instance at night, is around an hour to an hour and ten minutes. So my expectation that we would feed for thirty and then both be back to sleep was simply unreasonable. I was setting myself up for failure and irritation every time. Looking at the clock when he woke up last night, and expecting that I would be awake for up to an hour and fifteen minutes more, helped me to not feel anxious the whole time about when the feed would end, if he was eating fast enough, etc. And when he did go back down faster than that, it was a pleasant surprise instead. By being realistic about the crappy situation that I normally approach with wildly idealistic expectations but a sour, pessimistic attitude, the whole thing got a lot better.

I’m going to try to remember these two approaches to other situations that I find grating, irritating, or generally rut-like in my life. Because being calm and moving with what felt like a little more grace through this rut last night was not just easier on those around me (my son, but also my husband, who gets up with me at this stage to pass the baby to me, change his diapers when needed, help soothe him back to sleep, etc.). More importantly, it made me feel more in control of myself, instead of like the sleep-deprived monster I never seemed able to keep at bay before.

What about you, lovely readers? What are your ruts or your recurring, inner-monster-inducing spaces? How do you help yourself move through them as best you can?

Hey, Dads-to-Be: Patriarchy Might be Causing Some Shit at Your House

If you’re a dad-to-be, I know you’re likely getting a lot of information right now on why your pregnant partner isn’t… well, herself. You might hear about incessant nausea, joint and muscle pain, bloating, extreme fatigue, trouble sleeping, swelling of limbs, constipation… and that’s just the physical side of things. From the emotional/psychological angle, your partner might show inexplicable weepiness, sudden bursts of anger, emotional confusion, frequent changes of mind, or overwhelming worries that she can’t seem to make you understand… thanks, hormones. Hopefully, it’s understandable why these things might make the person you thought you knew so well behave at times like someone you don’t even recognize. But there might just be another, sneakier, underlying contributor to your partner’s frustration, sadness, anger, or anxiety… especially if you happen to be in love with a feminist.

Chances are, if your partner is a feminist, patriarchy might well be fucking up her day (or week, or month) right now. Think about it: your partner’s likely proud of her ability to achieve things, happy in her self-sufficiency, and values her place in ‘the world.’ So if this sounds like her, consider these six new realities she may be facing:

#1. She simply can’t do things she’s used to being quite good at. 

“Girl power.” “Empowerment.” “Be the change.” These are catchphrases of modern approaches to raising girls into strong women. She grew up on these, perhaps internalized them, and is, hopefully, damn proud of the things she has achieved – athletically, professionally, creatively, organizationally, you name it. Now she might not be able to get out of the car without assistance, carry bags, reach things on high shelves, shovel snow, or, you know, walk at a normal pace. Nothing to make you feel like a child again like not being able to walk properly.

#2. Her own brain and body seem to be working against her. 

Patriarchy is bolstered by assumptions that female bodies and brains are simply inferior to male ones – that women’s brains are simply less “rational” than men’s, that their bodies aren’t as “strong,” etc. – and such beliefs have been used to justify women’s oppression for centuries. Now your partner’s dealing with “baby brain” (where she forgets things or has trouble articulating ideas), and she can’t lift heavy things. It might be frustrating her to feel that she’s perpetuating stereotypes that have been used to discredit women for eons, even if it’s only temporary, and even if the whole reason for her temporary lack of rationality/strength is that her body’s busy working on an incredible feat of strength: you know, growing a whole other damn human being, brain, muscles, organs, and all.

#3. She knows she’s about to be thrown into a shit-storm. 

Despite how far feminism has come, the label mom still comes with a lot of baggage. Check out Google Images’ top hits for “moms”:

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 Superhero. Handling everything. Blissful. Clean. Beautiful. (With one little tiny freakout in there, but it’s the ugly outlier.) Our culture still assumes motherhood is a ‘natural’ state your partner will just easily, gracefully fit into. (If this was true, we wouldn’t have postpartum depression, but we sure as hell do: about 10-15% of Canadian mothers are affected, with similar rates in the US.) It’s also culturally assumed that a woman will necessarily – and don’t forget, happily! – set aside large portions, if not all, of her adult identity to devote herself to being a mother… though she’s also expected to retain enough appeal (sexually, intellectually, socially) to maintain her relationship with you, and all other adults. Then there are the “mommy wars” and contradictory parenting philosophy camps on all sides to contend with, plus pressure to choose one of these camps so you start things off on the ‘right’ foot.

Even the strongest and freest woman might reasonably dread her inevitable entry into this fray, because even if she tries to avoid the whole thing, she doesn’t live in a bubble, and she’s smart enough to know this. She will, at some point, be thrown into the mix by others.

#4. Her world has shrunk to the bubble of your relationship. 

Reading stacks of literature on pregnancy and baby care. Being too fatigued to do anything after work other than get home, eat dinner with you, and then go to bed. Giving up physical activities she used to do regularly. Having to reduce hours at work or go off early entirely in order to be on bedrest. If your partner faces these sorts of limitations, it can feel like her world has become entirely enclosed in this pregnancy – which, since the baby isn’t here as a separate person yet, might really feel like her whole world has become enclosed in your relationship. And if she values interactions with the world outside of her partnership, this can be incredibly frustrating or lonely.

#5. She is sometimes literally barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. 

There will come a moment when your partner will be shoeless, with a uncomfortably large belly, and happen to be making herself a sandwich. The cultural relevance of this will hit her, and she will either react with exceptional good-humour defensive skills, or fall somewhere on the irritated/grumpy/sad/angry/outraged spectrum. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, see here; it’s a fairly upsetting history.

#6. She has to watch you continue to live with none of this. 

You won the biology and patriarchy lotteries. While your life might have changed since the positive pregnancy test, it’s no contest with the changes put upon your partner. You’re not responsible for prenatal vitamins; eating with the growth of another human in mind; doing 9-months worth (and probably longer) of designated-driver duty; getting up multiple times during the night to keep hydrated and use the bathroom; having an altered libido (and often, contrary to popular lore, not in an awesome way); preparing for a necessary and possibly lengthy absence from work; and learning how you’re going to push a baby out of your genitals. So from her viewpoint, you get to maintain all your physical abilities, keep staying up late if that’s what you choose, keep eating what you like, keep drinking with friends, and just generally carry on with life.

Of course, this isn’t patriarchy, it’s biology, but it’s so wrapped up in patriarchy and socialization that it can be a psychological gong-show for your partner. And it’s not your fault that this is the way it is – it’s the biology lottery. It’s not your fault that you won, but it’s not her fault that she lost either, so the least you can do is be a gracious winner, empathize with her over the inequality, and understand where she’s coming from.

There are good parts of pregnancy, too, no question. There are women who love being pregnant and have minimal discomforts. There are women whose chosen lifestyles already fit well with the demands of pregnancy. There are non-feminist women and women who don’t see their feminism as contradictory with the roles of wife and mother. But this isn’t for the partners of those women.

This is for the partners of women who might feel some patriarchally-fuelled upset about their pregnancy, motherhood, and the tangled interactions of biology and culture. If any of these things seem like they might resonate with your partner, being open to talking about them with her might help you get through what can be a conflicted, confusing, and stressful time. Who knows? Sometimes a simple, empathetic, “Fucking patriarchy, eh?” is all she might need.

 

 

Letter to My Postpartum Self

If you’ve read this blog before, you might have come across my account of the dark, twisty postpartum period I had the first time around that caused my current, second pregnancy to, well, basically scare the shit out of me. Fortunately, I’ve had time to reflect, talk this fear out, and hear some wise words from other mamas in my village. Still, I know it’s easier to keep hold of these calming thoughts while Mister Baby is still in my belly than it might be once he’s out here in the world and my postpartum hormones mix with sleep deprivation in a toxic brew of negativity. So this letter is not only for me, to come back and hold onto in any twisty moments I might find in the year ahead, but also for any mamas out there who are in the dark place now, or who are pregnant and worried about moving into the dark once their baby arrives. Much love to you.

Dear Mama,

I know things are difficult right now. That things may seem like they’re falling apart, or that all your preparation has been for nought, or that you don’t even recognize who you are anymore, or maybe even all three at the same time. You may be questioning core things about yourself, your abilities, your judgment, your life, your partner, and not believing there could ever be a time where this uncertainty ends. All I can tell you is that even though you can see no light at the end of the tunnel, there is a lightI promise. I’ve been down this road before, and so have mamas since time immemorial. But I know that right now this seems like cheap platitude, so here are some thoughts for while you wait for that little light to appear and grow larger:

Hormones

They are rampaging right now, and are extraordinarily powerful, so don’t discount them. Remember those horrible adolescent years where you didn’t know what to do, or who you were, or how you were ever going to get to where you wanted to be? Same thing in early motherhood. This is hormones mixed with being thrown into the deep end of new expectations and new experiences, while striving for independence and a sense of accomplishment within this new angle of what it means to be a woman. But remember those wonderful teenage years where it seemed like everything might turn out a moony fairy-tale after all, and you couldn’t wait for all the fantastic experiences that were certainly ahead of you? This is early motherhood, too. This is hormones mixed with the delight in your little one’s smiles, snuggles, and that unbelievably good baby-smell.   So it’s a roller coaster, but a roller coaster you’re riding with a blindfold on. To pretend you’re taking a train ride, or to feel as if you should have been able to predict that next rise or fall, is ridiculous. You can prepare a bit, but some days, a fall you didn’t expect will still knock the wind out of you. When this happens, you don’t need to justify why – you’re on the roller coaster, that’s why.

Feelings

Similar to hormones, these are only sometimes things you have any control over, and they come in waves. Sorting out whether this particular rage about some unfinished laundry is the result of today’s emotional tsunami or a legitimate, last-straw outburst you would have had in the pre-baby days will be difficult. So if you think something specific or tangible is causing your melancholy or exasperation, notice it, but wait until the wave passes to decide how to move forward. Never be afraid of identifying a feeling, or admitting that you don’t know where it’s coming from, or that it’s overwhelming you. This is not a failure of rational thought – this is rational thought, because you’re recognizing the reality of your situation. The incoming tide will eventually stop, and you’ll be back to the emotional levels you’re used to handling as a reasonable adult.

Your Body

After birth it will be yours again, but not yours. You will still be attached to your babe for most of the day. You will not look like your pre-pregnancy body, at least not for awhile. You will not have your libido back, perhaps not for a much longer while than you find acceptable. You will be exhausted, at first from the experience of birth and its initial recovery, and then from carrying your wee one in your arms instead of in your belly, from night-wakings and extended periods of crying (from you or your little one). This is okay. Motherhood and marriage/partnership are long games, and you have time to adjust. There is no need to freak out about where you are 6-weeks, 3-months, or 8-months down the road from the birth day, or worry that this is where you’ll be forever. It isn’t.

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Housework

Acknowledge your role as a new mother, and not, unless this is your long-term plan, a ‘stay-at-home parent’ (even if this is your plan, give yourself some time to just be a new mom first). Keeping your baby alive and yourself sane can be a full-time job in itself, with simply no room in that job description for ensuring a tidy living room, kept-up laundry, made beds, or washed dishes. Keep the division and expectations of household labour at pre-baby levels until you’ve had a chance to adjust; don’t take everything on yourself just because you’re ‘at home’ now. If you’re going back to work after a year, this adjustment could be the whole damn year. That’s okay. If it takes less than a year, bonus for you, but treat it as a bonus, not an expectation.

Family

Fuck the advice you’ve received about ‘managing’ family interactions in the postpartum period – you’ve probably been told to both accept all help that is offered, but also to guard time to bond with your wee one so you’re not overrun with well-meaning visitors. This conflicting advice, especially while riding the hormonal roller coaster, might have you torn in the same day between desperately needing someone to be there to hold your baby so you can have a shower, but feeling like a failure if you ask for help because you can’t even manage to get a shower without assistance. Or feeling incredibly lonely for another grown up to talk to but also so drained you don’t have the energy to contribute to an adult conversation. In those moments, identify your feelings – loneliness, or irritability, or  perhaps a desire to just be alone with your baby but only-after-that-shower-because-unless-that-happens-you’re-going-to-go-crazy. Look at the feeling for a minute, then let it drop beside you onto the floor. And then ask for that help from someone who loves you, and be honest with them about that feeling so they can help you in the way you need, which is really what they want to do. Trust me.

Bonding with Your Wee One

You are your baby’s only mama, and no one can replace you. Even if/when you don’t breastfeed, even if you go back to work early, even if your wee one loves spending time with other relatives and friends… none of these things change that you are momSo embrace those other relationships for your child, embrace the good things that come along with the absence/end of breastfeeding (inebriants, non-nursing clothes, and outings longer than 2 hours, anyone?), and embrace the return to the parts of your professional work that you enjoy. Cut yourself some major slack on the bad days (see all the thoughts above), and luxuriate on the good days, so that you live presently in the moment with this new tiny person who is constantly learning more about the world, and about you, his mama. Love every new discovery. Teach him to breathe deeply through pain even when you think you might fall apart instead. And remember that this moment in time, whether it’s going fantastically or horrendously, will end. Let that knowledge increase your appreciation of the moment or your comfort for the future – or perhaps both, if it’s that kind of day.

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Remember that you are working through a tremendous feat, walking on the rocky mountain that is the postpartum period. There is no finish line, no set path, no goal to get to the top, even though it may feel like you should have such a goal in sight. There is only your experience of each day on the mountain, how you feel there, and the memories you will keep later. Eventually you will leave this mountain, but you may not even notice when the ground evens out. So don’t worry about looking for the plateaus – just live in the place you are today, find a spring of fresh water and a soft place to lay yours and your baby’s head. Whenever the sun is out, take a pause to let it warm your face. If you do that each day, you’ll be just fine.

Love,

Lindsay

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