Tag Archives: parenthood

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: How community helped during the hardest time of our lives

This month, we are pleased to welcome Kristi Sterry to the Raise a Mother village. Kristi is the mom of two little boys.  She works in cancer research, and enjoys travel, hiking, and trail running. You can find her blog at lovelearnrunblog.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @krististerry. Welcome, Kristi!

bio-picOur youngest son, James, was born with a serious medical issue.  Hours after his birth, we discovered that his esophagus was not connected to his stomach, his trachea was underdeveloped, and had a fistula.  This condition is called esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula, or EA/TEF.

Our world changed overnight. Instead of the sleepless nights, baby cuddles, and diapers we expected, we found ourselves navigating major surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and an uncertain future.

Our friends and family shared our heartache and our hope for this sweet new baby. Everyone we knew offered to help.  And honestly, they made all the difference in the world.  Here’s how:

Help with the older kids

My water broke at 5:45am, and we left for the hospital by 7am.  My older son, Thomas, awoke to the news that he had a new baby brother.  Before Thomas even met his brother, James had to be life-flighted to a larger hospital 2.5 hours away.  I followed as soon as I was discharged from the hospital.

I was terrified for my new baby, but my heart broke for my firstborn.  I knew he was confused and sad and missed his family.

During this time, our friends and family took care of Thomas, helped him FaceTime with us, took him on play dates, and brought him over the mountain pass to visit us.  Knowing that he was being loved and cared for brought this mama tremendous peace of mind.

Meals

After we got home, friends showed up with meals every day for 2 months.  It was such a tremendous help to have that off our plate so we could just focus on our family.  And many of my friends don’t cook (like me!), so they chipped in on gift cards.

Reach Out

Those long days at the hospital were really lonely, especially since we were hours away from home.  My best friends texted constantly.  My sister and mom e-mailed me encouraging quotes and verses late every night, since they knew I would be up pumping.  One sweet friend sent her friend who lived locally to deliver a care package.  It was so nice to connect with another mom.  Honestly, the love and support we received during that time still brings tears to my eyes.  Not everyone knew what to say, but just knowing they were thinking of us meant the world.

Keep offering to help

This is the big one. Once the baby comes home from the hospital, it seems like the medical crisis is over. But for many families, it is harder, lonelier, and scarier once they leave the support of the hospital. Our friends and family keep checking in with us.  They pray alongside us when James is sick.  And they celebrate every milestone as he continues to grow and thrive.

Watching your child suffer through a major medical issue is not something I would wish upon anyone.  But I wouldn’t trade our journey with James for the world.  He has taught us many things, not least of which is what a wonderful community surrounds our family.

January is EA/TEF Awareness Month.  Each year, 1 out of every 4,500 babies is born with EA/TEF.  Even after their repair, many of these children battle a long list of chronic issues.  On this official awareness month, we spread the word about this unknown condition and celebrate modern medicine gifting our children with life.

Mom Stuff I Learned at Work #1: Celebrate the Small Victories

We’ve written here before about how our professional lives shape and impact our parenting lives. Usually, these reflections have been about the challenges we face as working parents, trying to find a balance for all the demands on our physical and emotional time and energy. I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to say on that theme in the future, but lately I’ve also been thinking about ways in which my work life has helped to prepare me for the marathon that is parenthood.

I am trained as a social worker, and my degree had a focus in social justice advocacy. For the better part of the past six years, I have worked in politics for a party that is known as a perpetual underdog. Let’s just say, I am familiar with an uphill battle.

And in both my professional training and work experiences, I have learned that the ability to do two things can be the difference between keeping motivated and dragging through your days: 1. the ability to re-define a “win”, and 2. the ability to recognize and celebrate the small victories.

At first glance, these skills might seem like another version of #GoodEnough, one of our favourite self-care reminders here at Raise a Mother. They’re related, but they’re also more than that.

Telling yourself something is #GoodEnough is about setting realistic expectations. It’s about not holding yourself to the standard of the “perfect Mom” who doesn’t exist. It is, to some extent, about letting yourself off the guilt-hook. It’s about allowing yourself to believe that you are doing a good job.

Redefining a win and celebrating small victories are a little different. These are about the big jobs, the ones that are going to take a while. They are about breaking down a seemingly impossible task into manageable chunks and giving yourself kudos when you deal with one of those chunks.

And while #GoodEnough is often about recognizing that a particular task is not actually important in the grand scheme of things, celebrating a small victory is about recognizing when a particular task is an important step on the road to achieving a larger important goal.

I’ve gotten fairly good at redefining a win and celebrating a small victory at work. When you’re trying to advocate for changes in public policy, things do not move quickly. There are many, many steps on the road to success. Sometimes your bigger goal is something that you know full well will be years, decades – or even generations – down the road. If you don’t take the time to claim some of the small accomplishments as wins, the challenging days start to take a much tougher toll.

Let’s be honest: parenting is no different. The ultimate goal is to raise a good human being. Talk about something that will be decades in the making. Even some of the shorter-term large tasks of parenting, (getting them potty trained/ getting them sleeping or eating well/ getting through toddler tantrums or puberty), can feel like endless hills to climb. And at the same time, you have the giant goal of becoming the parent you want to be – definitely a long-term project.

I’m not yet as good at celebrating a small victory at home as I am at work, but I’m working on it. This weekend, I watched calmly as my two-year-old coloured all over a Christmas list I was working on. For most people, this is probably nothing to note, but I was proud of myself. People who know me know that I have slightly anal-retentive tendencies when it comes to organizing and list-making. I get an abnormal amount of joy out of colour-coding. My little guy’s artistic expression rendered my list almost illegible and the colour-coding basically disappeared.

My pre-kid self (even my early Mom self) would have been annoyed and resigned myself to starting a new, clean list. But this weekend, I didn’t freak out; I didn’t get annoyed or make a new list. I just accepted that this year’s list is decorated by my budding artiste and I gave myself a mental high five. On the really, really long path to getting to the non-control freak Mom I want to be, I took a little step forward. On to the next…

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!

When mental worlds collide

moms-to-do-list-no-do-listMamas, over the past while, I’ve really been in the weeds. At work, things have been busy and stressful. At home, we have been fighting colds while trying to keep up with our household tasks and our active toddler. And then, of course, I’m currently growing a human.

This week, after a particularly rough day at the office, I told my husband: “If I was served on your toast at a restaurant, you would complain that they stiffed you on the butter.” I am spread pretty thin at the moment, guys.

Of course, this feeling won’t come as news to my fellow working moms – or, frankly, to any mom out there. No matter what our circumstances, every mom I know has many, many balls in the air at any given time.

As a full-time working mom, most of my week is spent in the office. My mental energy has to be focused on the dynamics, challenges and giant, never-ending task list of my professional life. The nature of my job is such that I am the lead on, and need to be on top of, a large variety of projects on a continuous basis. I am the president of a lot of stuff.

Then I come home, and I want and need to be completely present and focused on my family life. There’s a giant, never-ending task list here too. To me, it’s even more important, and I want to give it the attention and energy it deserves. And because I only have a few hours each day with my son and husband, I want to make them count. I want to be the best possible mom and partner I can be. I’m just so tired.

Recently, it’s gotten me thinking about the work-life balance and personal/professional boundaries. In times like these, when I’m in the weeds, I feel like my worlds are colliding. They’re not balanced at all.

Try as I might, I’m not always able to leave my professional to-do list at the office. It still runs through my head, joined by the tasks from my home to-do list, until my brain becomes so full of worry about all the things I still need to do that I just want to take a nap. I feel as though I’m standing between two tall towers of paper, the weight causing them to lean perilously towards each other, ready to collapse and bury me at any moment.

I want my kids to remember me as a loving, joyful, playful, positive person in their lives – a person who made those few hours each day count – not as a person running around like a chicken with her head cut off.

As working moms, we’ve heard a lot about finding the work-life balance that works for us. But most of that discussion focuses on the number of hours in a day, on where and how we are physically spending our time.

What about our mental time? Even when we’re physically at home, how do we keep the stresses and pressures of the work day from infiltrating the emotional energy we are giving to our families?

I know this is not a question with an easy or fast answer. And like so many things in parenting, it has more to do with working on myself. But this is where I’m at this week, mamas. It’s real and it’s hard and I know it’s where many of you are too.

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.

 

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