Tag Archives: asking for help

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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Looking Forward to Mat Leave the Second Time Around

Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas! I hope you’re all enjoying a day filled with love from your little ones and maybe even a bit of grown-up love time.

In our house, we have officially reached the baby-could-come-anytime countdown. And like pretty much every Mom I know, I am simultaneously completely ready to be done with pregnancy and frantically trying to accomplish as much as possible before the little nugget arrives and I am newborn-bound. Given that this will be my second maternity leave, I also find myself reflecting on my hopes and expectations for what lies ahead.

I should start by saying that I am extremely fortunate. Living in Canada means that I am entitled to a full year off with the baby, and with my workplace benefits, I can afford to do that. This will allow me time and space to truly step away from work and focus my attention on my little one and my family. I know very well that this is not something everyone in North America enjoys, and I am grateful.

At the same time, I know from my experience with my last maternity leave that so much time away from the routine of work and adult time can be deeply isolating. And for someone like me – who thrives on checking off to-do lists – the need to feel like you’re getting things done can be hard to fulfill when your day is largely dictated by a tiny human who gives exactly zero fucks what’s on your list for that day.

Still, I’d like to think that the fact that this isn’t my first baby rodeo will help me have more reasonable expectations and provide perspective and comfort on those tougher days. With that in mind, I’ve got three goals for this upcoming year at home:

Accept that some things are just not going to get done, but recognize that lots of things are getting done: The last time I went on maternity leave, I had a big list of things I thought I would get done in my “year off” – things like mastering recipes for lemon meringue pie and hollandaise sauce, and finally painting a three-panel seascape for our living room. Seriously.

In retrospect, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. It will shock precisely no one who has ever met a baby that none of these things even got started, let alone finished. But there were lots of other things that did get done – organizing and cleaning projects that made our daily lives as new parents easier, a scrapbook of my son’s first year. And, of course, there was all the growing and developing that my son did over that time, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. In other words, the stuff that was more important to our family got done. 

So this time around, I’m going to try to be kinder to myself and to have faith that while sometimes it may seem as though nothing is getting checked off the list, in the grand scheme of things the important stuff will get accomplished. I may still have no clue how to make hollandaise sauce, but my kiddos will be fed and cared for, so we’ll call that a win.

Get out of the house and into the village: The last time I was on maternity leave, it took me months to feel confident enough to leave the house alone with the baby for any trip longer than the five-minute walk from my house to the local coffee shop and then promptly home. We went lots of places with my husband or other family, but when alone I was petrified that my son would have a meltdown in whatever public place and I wouldn’t be able to handle it by myself. Last time I was on maternity leave, I was also the only one of my friends with a small baby. Linds was home with little A, but she lives six hours away, so our commiserating was mainly over the phone. My not very big house started to feel teeny tiny, let me tell you.

Two days in particular helped me gain a bit of perspective. The first was five months in, when Linds came to visit for a week with A. We took the bus together to the mall to do some Christmas shopping…for most of the day. And you know what? Everyone was fine. The boys were mostly content, but when they got fussy, we knew how to deal. It was exactly the proof I needed that I could hack this mom thing, not just in the safety of my house but out in the world.

The second day was nine months in (yes, nine), the first day that I spent mostly away from my son. All that time focused on the needs of my beautiful little baby hadn’t included enough focus on taking care of myself and I was melting down. My husband saw me melting and, fortunately, took matters into his own hands. He called my mother-in-law, who was more than happy to take my son off my hands the next day while my husband was at work. I don’t even remember what I did with that day. I just remember realizing how very much I had needed that break and how important it is to embrace the village around you.

So, this time around, I want to remember the lessons from those two days. I want to get out of the house more from the start, confident in the knowledge that I am perfectly capable of navigating baby needs in public. And, at the same time, I want to remember that it is more than ok to ask for help. It is necessary. No one can do this parenting thing truly alone, and taking care of yourself is essential to being able to take care of your kids. This time around, I am also fortunate to have a few friends who are home with their little ones too, and I plan to take full advantage. After all, there’s no one who understands what you’re going through as a mom better than other mamas.

Enjoy: Initially, I was going to write “enjoy every moment”, but let’s be real. Some moments…they’re not going to be so great and I’m not going to enjoy them. Some moments are going to royally suck. That’s ok. There are lots of moments that will more than make up for those times that make me want to scream into a pillow.

And having done this before, I know full well that when this year comes to an end, I’m going to wish I had more time at home with my little nugget.

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!

Question Into the Abyss #1: What do you do when things actually do fall behind?

I’ve been trying to write this post for about a month now. Each time, I edit furiously, and move things around, and change the framing to get a clearer angle. And each time, I find myself in the same place: without an ending.

Because I don’t actually  have an answer for the question I’m asking myself. I just don’t know. And not having an answer, a conclusion to my post, has left me paralyzed. So I haven’t posted anything at all.

And then I thought to myself that I shouldn’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good. There are so many things in parenting (and in life) that challenge us, where an answer to a question might not be clear. So, why not Continue reading

A Surprising Remedy for Tiredness: Host a Playdate

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

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

The Thing I Sometimes Forget About Professional Advice

This past week, I struggled with feeding my son. He didn’t gain as much weight as they would have liked, so I was advised by the midwife who came to visit me that I needed to feed him every 2 hours.

I did so for two days, and described to another midwife who came next to re-weigh him how a 2-hours system allowed him very little sleep, since he took a long time to feed, and then didn’t have much time to sleep before I had to wake him up again and try to force him to eat once more. (Before I started forcing a feed every two hours, he was sleeping four-hour stretches each night, so I’ll admit, it also just felt in violation of every instinct to wake a sleeping baby in the middle of the night when I’d been handed such good fortune!) She said I could feed every 3 hours instead, and maybe allow a 4-hour stretch once per night.

Two days later, this seemed to be just as bad a situation as every 2 hours, and I called the midwife paging service, hoping for some additional advice since I felt stressed out. It felt like our day was just an endless cycle of me forcing him awake, trying to force him to eat even though my breasts didn’t feel full yet, him sleepily not eating a whole lot, him being more awake in between attempts to latch him but then mostly just falling back asleep on the boob every time we returned to it. Then we’d start the whole cycle again after about 40 minutes of sleep. I had no idea what my kid’s natural rhythm was so I wasn’t even sure where to start on getting us into something that felt better.

Midwife #3 listened, then had a completely different response: “Stop waking him up,” she said. She explained why, based on everything I’d told her about our experience and my son’s health thus far, it would be okay to try for a few days going with his schedule, letting him decide when he would eat. If that worked and he still gained weight at the next re-weigh, then we had our answer. If he didn’t gain as much as they’d like, then we’d address it then, and that would be fine, too, since the next visit was only two days away.

If Plan A doesn't work

When seeking expert advice, I’ve always personally felt going to a professional seemed the safest bet – after all, the profession would have equal training across its population and a set of ‘best practices,’ wouldn’t it? The thing I seem to forget sometimes is that professionals are, in fact, a group of individuals like any other group – which means each individual brings their own experiences, preferences, and beliefs to the table in the context of their professional training.

Oddly, I seem to continually forget this each time I seek professional advice, despite the fact that with everyone ranging from physiotherapists, doctors, midwives, teachers, and mortgage brokers, I’ve had personal experiences where one professional will confidently tell me is what needs to happen, only to have the next professional tell me to forget everything I’ve heard about x, because is what needs to happen. Yet when I first hear x, I obediently latch onto the instructions and follow them as closely as I can. Then when I hear y, I get stressed about why I’ve been doing x so far instead.

But this isn’t a flaw in the professionals, or a suggestion that they don’t know what they’re talking about, or an implication that some are right and some are wrong. It’s a reflection that when seeking advice, I really have to take everyone’s with a grain of salt – even from a professional – and allow that one person’s advice is based on a specific combination of training, case experience, personal values and individual conclusions they’ve reached as a result of all those things combined.

I also have to remember that any piece of advice isn’t guaranteed to work, even if it comes from a professional, because my kid (and me) are also individuals bringing other factors into the equation. It would be more comforting to have consistent advice from all professionals in the same field, to not have such things as ‘second opinions.’ But if the problems we brought to professionals were that simple, we wouldn’t need professionals at all – there would just be one standard instruction book for Renovate Your Kitchen or DIY Therapy or Raise Your Child and one size would fit all.

Remi sleeping

Turns out the third time was a charm for me and my kiddo. Following the final midwife’s advice did the trick – and after a day and a half of longer sleeps, my wee one started gravitating to 3 hours between feeds all on his own. I guess he just needed to reset and catch up on some of the sleep he hadn’t been getting first.

And, luckily, he still usually gives me one 4-hour stretch between nighttime feeds (phew!).

My Problem with Parenting Books

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

Parenting Books Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wikihow relationships

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

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

So what books do I think are useful?

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

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

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

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

 

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