Tag Archives: self-care

SPOTLIGHT ON: Sarah Kowalski – Motherhood Reimagined

Sarah Kowalski is a fertility doula, life coach, and author of the recently published memoir, Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming a Mother Doesn’t Go As Planned, which chronicles her journey to motherhood when she realized at almost-forty that she actually did want a child – but she still didn’t have the partner or the white-picket-fence life she’d always pictured. Now, Single Mom By Choice and raising her beloved son, Sarah’s making it her mission to reach out to other women looking down the same poorly-lit path she embarked upon – and hoping to shed some light based on her experience.

I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy of Sarah’s book, and to chat with her about her quest, life as a Single Mom By Choice, and the guilt and self-care struggles so many moms face, partnered or not. Sarah’s book is personal, fascinating, heart-wrenching, funny, and oh-so-relatable – even though I got knocked up the old fashioned way and am raising kids with a partner.

Sarah’s book ebbs and flows with intense dilemmas and calming realizations, so the first thing I have to bring up is one of the key themes in the book: letting go. It’s a steady undercurrent in the conversations I have with fellow moms, that motherhood is not as we expect. Sarah’s experience, though, goes beyond the usual laments, including the expectation of being biologically kin with her child.

“You don’t expect that having a child is going to be someone who’s not related to you,” she says. “The idea of not being able to see what a mixture of my genes and someone I was in love with’s genes would end up creating was a big letting go, and a huge reason I wrote the book.” When she first decided to try for pregnancy, she knew she would need a sperm donor, but it took fertility challenges and a lot of personal struggle for her to come to terms with using an egg donor as well. Once her son was born, though, she found all her fears had been, well, for nothing. “I see how it’d be really cool to see myself in him,” she says, “but it also seems completely irrelevant.” With her background in medical anthropology, Sarah cheerfully adds that “what we think of as genes is amorphous in a way – there’s no way for me to know that I don’t share any genes with him.”

This realization is partly why Sarah feels called to help other women considering the same path. I have to ask, since she’s mentioned it’s irrelevant, why she chose the many-layered approach of fertility treatments, insemination, and egg donation – instead of adopting. Her answer at first is simple: “I really wanted to be pregnant.” But as she speaks, I see her reasons are threefold: physical, emotional, and practical. “I stumbled upon the concept of epigenetics,” she explains of her university days, “which is the idea that the environment your child is in affects which genes turn on and off. These are hugely influenced by the in uterine experience. What your biochemistry is, and what you eat, and everything about gestating, have a lot to do with what epigenetics express.” (Yikes, I think, as I wonder which genes got switched on by me eating nothing but Kraft Dinner and Cinnabons for the first trimester… but Sarah mentions that life outside the womb also counts for some epigenetic happenings. Phew!) Sarah also wanted a metaphysical connection with her child, because having him “inside of me, hearing me, and experiencing everything I was experiencing, somehow bridged the gap for me on not having a genetic connection.” More practically, she notes that egg donation in Mexico was more affordable than adoption in the US – and she worried about negative bias against single women in the adoption system.

But whether women choose sperm/egg donation or adoption, one of Sarah’s biggest surprises has been that Single Motherhood By Choice is “not that unusual,” and is “actually very doable.” She reminds me of a mother I knew when I was a young teen, whose three sons I taught in theatre classes for years – two by sperm donation and one adopted, I think. I remember being in total awe of her, thinking wow, you’re just doing that. Sarah laughs when I relay this story, but I see a special quality in Sarah and this woman I recall.

Aside from moms who planned their families and pregnancies, I know women who became mothers by accident, and still other women (like me) who became mothers by a sort of game of chance, the old let’s-stop-using-protection-and-see-what-happens game, almost as a way to take the pressure off the whole endeavour, let fate decide. But Single Moms By Choice are each deliberate in their entry to motherhood. I’m curious to know if that strong choice might affect Sarah’s parenting style, and she agrees it probably does:

“I was very ready to step into the role,” she says. “I remember my mom said, ‘But you won’t be able to go to movies or concerts,’ and I couldn’t care less! Maybe that comes partly from being older, and partly from really having to think through what I was giving up to become a mother. It helped me settle into being a mom. I checked things off my bucket list, or was okay with setting aside things that were still on the bucket list in order to do this.”

This deliberate choice may also affect everyday interactions with her son. “I’m more present with him,” she muses, “I’m not pining over some other life I’m not living. I think that I was ready to shift my priorities and ready to be okay with that.”

Shifting priorities is, frankly, a bit of a shit show for many new moms. I wonder how many of us actually feel totally ready for this adjustment before we give birth? I always filed it away under Parts of Momming I Just Couldn’t Have Understood Before, so it’s new for me to hear someone so clear-headed about it. Part of this, Sarah says, might be a benefit of being a single mom. She acknowledges that it’s hard for women to split their priorities between their career, their partner, and their new child – a list that doesn’t even include the woman herself.

It’s not a secret that for many new moms, the ‘self’ is the piece that gets squeezed out pretty fast after baby arrives. We have full lives before having kids. We’re at 100% capacity – and then along comes a kid who needs 90-98% of our attention, at least for a little while, and there’s no manual to figure out how to piece this new life together.  

Sarah doesn’t seem to struggle with this shift, though – rather, her book includes this beautiful moment of clarity:

“I had gone through an impossibly powerful rite of passage, emerging into my nurturing, loving essence, the mother I had dreamed of being. In fact, the transformation had already happened. I could fight it, or I could surrender into being the best mother I could to this beloved baby. I chose the latter.”

I admit to Sarah that this revelation baffles me. The online momosphere seems to subscribe pretty strongly to the belief that after having kids, you simply have to find a way to hold onto the you you’ve always been; it’s implied that if we don’t try, by default we will lose ourselves.  Frankly, the thought of losing myself to motherhood has, at times, caused me quite the downward spiral. Hell, part of why we started Raise A Mother was to provide a space for women to be their multifaceted selves – mom and individual adult woman.

But as I listen to Sarah, her perspective is actually refreshing: “I don’t think we are the same people – we are different as moms. It doesn’t mean you have to lose everything you love and hold dear,” she says. “I’ve noticed moments in my life where I’m trying to push something, or trying to make it happen, and I had to step aside from what I wanted, and try to notice what was trying to open.” She recalls an anecdote from the book where her Qigong teacher didn’t ask her to cover his class, as he normally would. “I called him in a complete fit,” she says, insisting she could be both pregnant and the same aspiring Qigong master she knew herself to be. Sarah and I both laugh when she relays his response: “If you paid attention, you’d notice you’re preparing to be a mother right now,” he said.

The myth popular culture sells us is that we can have it all – the implied message is that if we can, we should, so if we don’t, it’s somehow a failing on our part. Sarah doesn’t believe you have to let go of all your old priorities, just that they will shift, as your “orientation shifts from being completely me-centered to being other-focused, or me-and-other, so clinging to the exact life you had before only causes pain and suffering.” Wow. Maybe this is another benefit to single motherdom – maybe it’s painful for some of us to shift and reorient because it doesn’t seem our partners are having to shift and reorient in the same way… Sarah agrees this might be true.

And that’s not the only benefit of being a Single Mom By Choice. For one thing, Sarah says post-birth, it felt very natural for her to have this “very intense bond” with her son, where she wasn’t “being pulled in more than one direction as far as someone else’s needs and wants and desires.” There was no partner to also figure out a new dynamic with. She gushes about how it feels “really great to not have to debate” things like parenting philosophy or style with anyone else – she calls all the shots. And even though that comes with all the responsibility, Sarah sees the silver lining here, too: “Knowing that it all falls to me – on the one hand it’s incredibly daunting some days that there is no relief and there is no help, but I also feel there’s no energy wasted hoping that someone’s going to help me or I’m going to get a break.”

So without that in-house help, I have to ask her – what does self-care look like? Again, her answer is not a standard mom-blog line about getting out to an aerobics class. She rarely gets such things, but she talks about “staying sane in the moments in between,” and gives a great example I fully relate to – after all, our sons are the same age. “I feel like waiting for my son to get into his carseat is part of my day where I’m going to lose my shit,” Sarah says, and I already know the scene: the slow climb, the distraction of something on the floor, the agonizing pace at which he does up the straps. “I always have this frantic feeling of Get in your goddamn carseat!” she says, and I feel relieved – this wise woman is just like me sometimes. But she uses a simple trick called “balancing on your skeleton,” which involves focusing on how her body supports her, her breath, and feeling her feet on the ground. “It feels like there’s a moment of zen,” she says, “rather than worrying about how long it’s going to take him to get in his carseat, taking a moment and breathing out.”

She feels like those “little moments” where she takes her attention away from her son (where it always is by default), “feel like an instant reset.” To reset yourself, Sarah recommends noticing the places you’re holding – like clenching your jaw or holding your breath – and softening those things. She also recommends walking meditation, since many of us are walking all the time with our kids anyway. (I tried this the other day when walking two cranky boys home before lunch, and it really did work.)

WebI love that her suggestions for self-care don’t require me to take an hour out of being a mom. I still want my wine nights with the neighbours, or time to do yoga, but I also want to be able to reset and be myself within the stressful parts of everyday life, and to model that ability for my kiddos.

I ask Sarah how she holds onto her pearls of wisdom – she seems to have so many – and she says her big moments of realization have stayed with her, but she also has to remind herself of them all the time. Writing her book was one great way to do that.

The particular pearl that struck me most while reading her book was this moment where she learns to peacefully hold two ideas that, to me, always seem in conflict: knowing she has done her best and accepting that there is more she could have done. Before this time, she believed deep down she wasn’t capable of doing her best, because “knowing there’s always more you could do, how could anyone ever feel they’d done their best?”

This really hits home for me. There is so much pressure on moms, all the time, to do more, to try harder. We love our kids, so we have to keep working or making things better for them. Sarah explains that “being able to hold paradoxes can be the hardest thing because we always want an answer.” It’s a value she’s learned from her Qigong practice. I really want to learn how to hold this particular paradox more consistently. Sometimes I really believe in #goodenough, but old perfectionist habits die hard. Sarah says trying to maintain these realizations in a physical way can be helpful – like writing them down.

As a Single Mother By Choice, there’s another paradox she holds, too: “I’m completely alone in raising my kid,” she says, “and I’m completely supported.” She trusts that she can find support, and knows that ultimately, everything falls on her. I know from reading her book that Sarah doesn’t have a lot of biological family support, but she does have a chosen family for her son. When I ask about them, Sarah glows: she talks about her son’s two chosen “grandmas,” whom she describes as her “wise women.” They are there for her in emergency situations, when, as she says, “I cannot deal, I need him away from me, I’m completely at capacity.” She also mentions her son’s daycare provider, who recently agreed to be her son’s legal guardian should the need arise. She says this seems like a “random” choice, but we agree that when it comes to choosing a guardian for your child, it’s not really about biological connection – it’s about who you want your child to live with and where, and who will teach your child about everything from sharing to academic pursuits to politics to loving relationships.

Whether it’s searching for a chosen family or finding out how to have the kid in the first place, Sarah stresses one skill required for Single Moms By Choice: being proactive. “I have to get over any sort of concern about asking,” she says:

“Humble is the word that keeps coming to me. You just have to ask and say, Hey, I need Sarah Kowalski photo2support. I’m looking for people who want to have a relationship with my child. I’m not shy about telling preschool families that I’m hoping my son’s going to have a friend and hopefully develop more of a relationship with someone’s dad for more of a male figure… Getting really good at making clear requests of what you need is important.”

It may be especially important for single moms, but I think it’s a lesson we can all appreciate. Sarah is now helping women in a myriad of ways to navigate some difficult paths, and to ask for the help they need. For more information on her services, or to see about getting a copy of her fascinating book, check out motherhoodreimagined.org.

Many thanks to Sarah for speaking with us at Raise A Mother!

 

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An Amendment to F**k-Off Time: How About Smoke Breaks… for Non-Smokers?

I wrote a few months ago about how my partner and I had designed a new plan for better life balance: daily Fuck Off Time gave us each regular periods almost an hour long completely free of responsibility in the late afternoon, and it was glorious. I knew even then, however, that this luxurious pattern would likely have to be altered when I returned to work at the end of mat leave, and indeed, it has. It just hasn’t been practical or sustainable now that neither of us is home during the day, and as soon as I get home at 5, it’s time to feed little R while my husband finishes making supper – c’est la vie, for now.

I’ve often thought enviously of colleagues of mine who smoke at various workplaces. From my grass-is-greener vantage point it seems like those extra breaks are quite the luxury. Taking five to ten minutes to remove oneself from all the tasks at hand, sit quietly, consume something pleasurable, and take in fresh air and sunlight? Delightful. (I know, I know, this is totally a non-smoker’s view of what a smoke break entails.)

I was thinking of this when last week, after the dishes were done and it was time for the boys’ baths, I said casually to my husband, “Is now a good time for me to have a smoke break?” No, I didn’t actually take up cigarettes to get this time. But I did go pour myself a glass of wine, put on my coat, and head out to the backyard. I spent a leisurely ten minutes loitering around my property while sipping a little Pinot Grigio – checking out the early spring growth of plants I hadn’t noticed returning in the garden, plucking a few dead heads that survived the winter off a flowering bush, siting on the step of the back porch and watching the early evening light through the semi-cover of the maple leaves overhead. The fresh air was rejuvenating. The quiet gave me a moment to appreciate the home I love. The wine felt luxuriously self-indulgent. It was an excellent ten minutes, and when I returned inside, I felt relaxed and ready to embrace the rest of the bath and bedtime routine with ease and joy.

I think more “smoke breaks” of this sort are in order, for me and likely, for parents everywhere. I wish there was something healthy that could be inhaled, as I find the physical action of smoking fairly relaxing. But as I don’t want to take it up, nor do I really want to get into the habit of taking a glass of wine outside with me every evening, I’m trying to think of what else might do the trick… perhaps a square of dark chocolate, slowly savoured? Perhaps some of the Kombucha my friends keep raving about, mixed with soda water to make it feel like a cocktail? I’m looking for more ideas here, so let me know what you would suggest!

I wish you all ten minutes of relaxing, self-indulgent, break time every day.

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.

Everyone Needs a Little F*** Off Time

We’re trying something new in our house: Fuck Off Time. (Granted, we have to avoid saying its name it front of our toddler, who has dropped a couple of proper-context F-bombs in the last week or so. Oops. Cue the judgment here, I guess).

I mentioned in a recent post that my partner and I both feel every day like we’re “on duty” from the minute we wake up until the minute the kids are in bed. Yes, he gets the ride to and from work by himself, plus his break at work, and I get the time when our baby is napping ‘to myself’. But we both know, as workers, that a commute doesn’t really count as “off” time, and we know as parents that neither does a child’s nap, since it can end at any moment and you’re still “on duty.” No, we were both craving some true off duty time. Time when we were not in charge of anyone and had no obligations. In short, time when we could Fuck Off and do what we wanted. Essentially, the kind of time we used to have in abundance (but which we never truly appreciated!) before we had kids.

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

We took a look at our daily routine and determined there was only one time where it would really even be possible for one of us to Fuck Off: dinner prep time. This would mean that one person would have to handle double-kid-duty and dinner prep each night so the other person could Fuck Off, and we would alternate. As parents who had fallen generally into a 1:1 parent-to-kid system of childcare since our second son was born, this seemed pretty ambitious. I should mention that of late, dinner prep time often coincides with a feeding for R and whining/tantrumming from A. We decided to try it for a week and see if it was possible, or if it was just too much.

The rules of Fuck Off Time are simple:

  • One person makes dinner and cares for both kids at the same time.
  • The other person Fucks Off and has zero obligation to get anything productive done, but they can if they want to (like actually want to – note the italicized, bolded bits there).
  • If someone (ie: me) has to feed R during her Fuck Off time, she can do so in the basement watching something on Netflix, and then return R to Dad.
  • If we eat somewhere else or if Fuck Off time is not possible on a given day, we simply pause the alternating and pick up the next day where we left off.

I’m happy to report it has been two weeks and so far it is the Best. Thing. We. Have. Done. At least in a while. Here are a few reasons why it is awesome:

1. It teaches our kids about daily life and getting things done.

With our usual 1:1 approach, there’s almost always a parent available to play. With Fuck Off Time, our kiddos have to entertain themselves a bit more. Our toddler, A, can choose to play by himself or help with dinner. I’ve been impressed with how helpful a two-year-old can be in the kitchen, and when he plays by himself, I love listening to his dramatically narrated stories about train crashes and “Who can help?!”, especially when he makes the trains say “Thank you” to each other (I’m hoping this unprompted politeness balances out those F-bombs?). 20170116_172726-1

9-month-old R is making friends with his pack ‘n play (I only recently discovered that parents of yore used this invention for, you know, PLAY, and not just sleeping away from home). He simultaneously learns to be okay with being alone for a short time, and also gets an opportunity to play with his toys without A taking them away when they look like too much fun.

I want my kids to learn that everyone – even mom and dad! – needs time to do what they like, and that sometimes, they have to be okay with not being the centre of attention because shit just needs to get done. I feel like Fuck Off Time gives them a little, manageable dose of that every day.

2. My on-duty time gets a fresh sense of purpose.

Dinner prep used to be one of my least favourite times of day. I’d procrastinate, avoid thinking about it, and way too often, I’d get to 5pm and go, “oh, crap! what’s for dinner?” It was rushed, haphazard, and just generally sucked. Now I know when “my day” is on, and I get kind of pumped about planning what we’ll have (with a picky eater, a toddler, a vegetarian, and allergies to nuts, dairy, and various fruits/veggies at our table, it’s sometimes a fair challenge to be varied enough for interest and make sure there’s something on the table everyone can/will eat). Sometimes I do some prep in the afternoon, and I try to think of a fun activity A hasn’t gotten out in awhile to suggest for him for while I’m cooking.

I get to feel a bit like super-mom every other day for successfully taking care of two kids and cooking at the same time (I know, I don’t have super high standards, but the kitchen isn’t my forte, okay?).

3. My partner and I each get to give each other a much-needed gift a few times a week.

The On Duty person gets to give their partner the gift of the ultimate luxury: saying,”I got this; you can go Fuck Off,” with a big smile. Fuck Off Time all to oneself… seriously, is there anything more romantic one parent can give the other? The lucky parent then gets to return from this blissful time to a thoughtfully-made meal (and some days, copious amounts of hummus, cheese, fresh veggies, and bread totally counts as a meal, by the way, at least in my house).

The Fucking Off partner gets to give the gift of true appreciation for what their co-parent is doing. It’s harder to see the work your partner’s doing when you both feel like it’s all-hands-on-deck and you’re both run down. The sincerely grateful “thanks for making dinner, honey; this looks great!” that now gets offered on a daily basis in our house is completely lovely.

4. I sometimes CHOOSE productivity, and am TRULY happy about it!

In the last two weeks, I finally bought clear plastic bins to put excess toys in, I reorganized our toy room and reduced the number of toys that are out at a time, decluttered our bathroom, stacked firewood in our backyard, and drove around delivering some things we’re done with to friends who want them next.

The biggest difference in how I felt during these tasks was that I didn’t feel rushed or tense through them: the time was actually MINE, and I didn’t have any of my usual mom-guilt about not being “on duty,” because I wasn’t supposed to be. Fuck Off Time = relaxing, even if I’m doing something productive.

5. I get to feel glamourous and/or lazy in the middle of the day!

Watching Netflix and browsing rugs on Pinterest while someone else makes my dinner? Reading my book and drinking hot chocolate while someone else handles that whining? Showering at my own pace AND drying my hair right afterward? Luxury, I tell you! There are all sorts of possibilities for this time… colouring, yoga, working out, writing… and when the weather gets nice again??? A short bike ride, a walk, napping in my backyard under the leafy maples, going to my friend’s house for a quick dip in her new pool (*wink wink, you know who you are, nudge nudge*)… My dreams are endless and the future is bright.

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6. Fucking Off makes us better parents when we come back.

Instead of being simply worn down by the time we get to bath/bed, at least one of us is always a little refreshed. We have a renewed patience, interest, and calm to share with our kids as we play, sing, read stories, and get ready for sleep, and I think they can sense the reduced stress in the air at this time, which makes everyone happier.

An important note on comparison: Don’t! I believe this is absolutely essential for Fuck Off Time. And it’s pretty easy to be tempted. Like on Friday, when I’d spent the day with little R and some fellow mom friends while my husband had a grinding day at work, but it was my turn to Fuck Off (yes, it was the BEST day). Or on Saturday when I’d been woken up by babes many times the night before, but my husband got to go for a relaxing RMT appointment in the afternoon, and it was still my night on duty. The Fuck Off time can’t be in any way conditional on “who got what” already today, or yesterday, or last week. It’s either a free gift to each other or it isn’t. If it comes with strings attached or any guilt at all, it’s no good.

I also have to make a huge disclaimer and acknowledgment here that I know I am supremely lucky. My partner and I are in a position right now where we’re both usually home before dinner prep time even starts; I know many parents don’t have this luxury. People work night shifts or irregular shifts or long hours. They have other commitments that keep them busy or away from the home. They have kids with unique needs or situations where independent play without adult assistance is much harder to achieve. And I know that my own luck won’t last forever. Pretty soon, I’ll be heading back to work and things will change in a big way. R might not tolerate being away from me for even a second when I get home from work at, the earliest, 5pm. I simply won’t be able to do any prep for dinner in the afternoons, and will have to think of things further in advance. There will certainly be a lot of house tasks that just haven’t gotten done during the day, which will be nagging for my attention and pushing my buttons. As our kids get older, there will be after-school lessons, carpooling, and homework to juggle, too.

But I hope knowing how good this has been, we’ll continue to find space somewhere in our lives for Fucking Off. Even if it’s only once a week, or a few times a month. Because it’s just too good to not try for.

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.

GUEST POST: Making it look easy

We’re happy to welcome back Laura Marquis ! You can check out her first guest post here. Laura 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 back, Laura!

I recently returned from a long weekend away with my husband.  We went to our favorite beach spot on the Florida Panhandle and tucked ourselves away.  I napped on a white couch, ate breakfast at 10am, and thought only of my own needs.

To say that this was a treat is an understatement.  There is nothing I know that is better for the soul of a mom (particularly one like myself who is at home with two toddlers every day) than time away.

Being a perfectionist, during my time away I imagined myself returning to my life after the trip ready to do it all better.  I would carve out 30 minutes to write every day, I would work out six mornings a week without exception, and I would squeeze in both more self care and more part-time work. Needless to say, by lunchtime my first day home I was reeling from the shock of re-entry, and becoming more painfully aware with every hour that my plan was likely not to be followed.

I was baffled by the fact that a fully rested version of myself couldn’t execute the plan on day one.  Then I realized: this is hard. Continue reading

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…

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