Tag Archives: stress

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.

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!

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

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

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

Mom, You Already Have Your “Shit” Together

I hear this phrase from moms a LOT.

“I’ll be there at 2, assuming I have my shit together.”

“Sorry we’re late – we just couldn’t get our shit together this morning.”

“I just need to get my shit together.”

“For once I’d love to have my shit together!”

“Why can’t I ever seem to get my shit together?!?”

etc…

I say this all the time – like, really all the time. I never feel like I have my shit together. There’s always laundry to do, toys all over the floor, dishes that need washed, random piles of crap that need to be put away or organized or moved to another floor of the house or otherwise dealt with but I never seem to have enough time to keep on top of them. Seriously, this is my house today (and more or less what it looks like every day):

dead flowersCopy of dead flowers

There are always two running to-do lists in my phone: one for big-ticket things I’ve been meaning to get done for awhile (submit receipts to my insurance provider, sell that damn dresser we’re not using on Kijiji) and one for more timely things (go to the hardware store, return those library books). I can usually only manage to shave one part of my body in a single shower (is it the armpits today or one half of my legs?), and even though I think about it every single time I’m at the washing machine, I keep forgetting to order a new laundry ball online by the time I get upstairs, because I get distracted pretty quickly. I’d love to be more regular in posting on this blog, but spurts of activity followed by long pauses seem to be more in line with my life. (I know, I know, these are all first world problems.)

But what if I actually already do have my “shit” together?

“Shit” implies something bad, right? Something that should ideally be eliminated (excuse the pun) – neatly, cleanly and regularly removed with the quick touch of a button. So when I think of my lateness, my mess, my schedule, my to-do items, my own daily hygiene, as “shit,” what am I really expecting out of my life? That I won’t ever be late for anything? That I won’t have things to do? That I won’t get tired by the end of the day? That my family and I won’t use dishes, get toys out, make messes… live? It’s unreasonable. Do I think I’m living at Downton Fucking Abbey and someone else will come upstairs and take care of it all? So maybe the first thing I need to do is to try not to think of all this stuff as “shit,” but just as, well, life.

But maybe it’s also time apply some #goodenough logic to the idea of having my shit “together.” Maybe having my shit together just means keeping all these things going to the point where I can make it out of the house to an event at all, even if I’m five (okay, forty-five) minutes late. Maybe it means just having the to-do lists in the first place; at least I know what I need to do. Maybe it means accepting a certain level of mess and clutter in my house that necessarily comes with actually living as a family; we’re nowhere close to being candidates for an episode of Hoarders. Maybe having my shit together means having 50% of what I needed packed in the diaper bag – having absolutely everything would be awesome, but just having my shit together? 50% sounds about right.

We’re all going to have “shit” in life – every day, all day, forever. That’s the nature of human life. We have to feed ourselves, house ourselves, clothe ourselves, and then everyone has their own shit that they add on top of that list. So maybe all I should expect is that I have my shit together – that I’m holding onto it and I know what it is. I’m never going to eliminate it, and really, if it means not living, I wouldn’t want to anyway.

What Happens When I DIY… Self-Sabotage Edition

Shannon wrote a few weeks back about how when she DIYs, it’s a form of self-care. More power to her! But as we know, each mama is different, and it got me thinking about what happens when DIY… and I’m coming to accept that for me, it’s apparently self-sabotage.

This past Christmas, I tried to make one of these for my kid:  Continue reading

What happens when I DIY

IMG_20160618_172816A few weeks ago, Linds and I were thrilled to be interviewed on our favourite podcast, One Bad Mother. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the episode, you can check it out here.

Talking to friends and family afterwards, one of the main take-aways from the interview was our overall emphasis on accepting things as #GoodEnough. (Many thanks to everyone who participated in the #GoodEnough challenge — feel free to keep ’em coming!) In particular, people related to Lindsay’s experience of comparing her preparation for her son’s birthday party to my DIY prep for my son’s party a month earlier.

Since this experience has struck such a chord, we wanted to explore it further. Because here is something that is true for me, that is not necessarily true in the same way for my sister — or for many others scanning Pinterest with a mixture of anticipation, inspiration and guilt: my DIY-ing gives me a creative outlet that I’m otherwise missing in my daily life. It’s actually about me.

I am, and have always been, a creative person. Throughout elementary and high school, I steadily took almost every English, art, theatre and music course available (though not dance — I am not a graceful or coordinated person, just ask…anyone). Lindsay and I both participated in extra-curricular theatre groups as well as school shows. My first jobs as a teen were performing as a children’s entertainer (read, clown — don’t judge), and helping to run a kids’ theatre camp. Even on vacation, I would sit on the beach and sketch set and costume designs for hypothetical productions.

And then I went to university and became an adult and I no longer had the time or resources to spend on creative pursuits that were really just for me. Sometimes, I have grand plans for a creative project that’s just for my own enjoyment, but I never seem to prioritize actually making it happen. Case in point: since we moved into our house, I have planned to paint something for a giant wall in our living room. I can see the picture in my mind. In reality, it’s four years later and I haven’t even bought the canvas, let alone picked up a brush. The wall is still sitting blank because I keep insisting that I’m going to paint one of these days.

Here’s the thing, though — when I’m planning a DIY project that is ostensibly “for someone else”, it gets prioritized and I get to do something creative.

I’ve been like this since well before my son was born. I took up knitting six years ago, and in that time I have knit gifts for each of my five sisters, for each of my six nieces and nephews, for my parents, for my husband, for my son. I have knit a total of two things for myself — one of which was a Christmas stocking to match the stockings I had already made for Randy and Lucas.

The thing with my son’s birthday parties is the same. Look, mamas, we all know full well that 1) they don’t give out prizes for children’s birthday parties, and 2) my child will be happy and feel loved on his birthday regardless of whether or not there are themed decorations. We also all know that there are plenty of things out there that just make us feel bad about ourselves, that are in no way real measures of how we’re doing as parents.

Geeking out on thinking up theme-y puns for the punch label and Pinning inspiration for a sea turtle cake doesn’t make me a good Mom. It’s not actually about my kid. In my case, doing these things makes me me.

What happens when I DIY is that I give myself permission to spend time doing something creative that makes me feel good. It’s sneaky self-care. It keeps me in touch with a part of myself that was there long before motherhood, and will be there long after my kids are grown and have kids of their own. For me, DIY-ing is not about trying to be something or someone that I’m not. It’s about getting in touch with who I am.

I think what makes any of us a good Mom is being ourselves, and showing that person to our kids.  So, you do you, mamas! The best Moms are the ones who do.

Lucas' Birthday 2016 2

Fingers Crossed! Little Things Seem Big

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

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

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6 Things My Husband Taught Me About Mat Leave

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 13.06.33.png

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

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

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

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Trying Not to Let Hormones Best My Good Judgement

Do you ever have one of those moments where you feel like your emotions control you and not the other way around? Well, in this pregnancy I’m having those moments more often than in my first, and today’s particular hormonal meltdown led me to one important lesson.

The specifics aren’t important, the time, location, or parties involved. What is important is that I let the hormonal meltdown dictate my behavior. I acted in a way that I would never normally act,  and sent information about my feelings  via text message, a mistake I thought I had learned long ago was never a good idea. I was immediately embarrassed about this, and tried to retract my behavior to the injured party, but the things I wrote had already been recorded, already received, already interpreted, already reacted to. In normal communication behavior, I know it’s vital for me to step back and reflect on what it is that I truly want to say, how I truly feel, and take the time to let the hormone wave pass to determine if it’s a good idea to articulate that particular sentiment out loud. And if it is, I know in person conversation is always better than a text message.

When I started writing this post, I didn’t think it had a lot to do with motherhood, other than the fact that my meltdown was spurred by pregnancy hormones. But maybe it was also just one of many small experiences that serve to remind me of one of the key skills of parenthood. There are a lot of stressors that come up as a parent – overlapping worries about your child, the demands of balancing work and home life, the strain that feeling like you have much less time than you used to can put on your relationship with your partner, etc. But one of the key skills, I think at least for me, is learning to not let the emotions that arise along with those stressors dictate my behavior. Learning to model for my kids that we are each capable of making conscious decisions about how we behave, even in times of duress. Of course, I’m going to slip up. We all do. And if we’re lucky, we have people in our lives who will embrace us even in those moments where we let the hormonal wave wash us away, against our better judgement; I know I am. And I know I will try to be that person for my kids, the person who will help them stand up again when they’ve been knocked down by the waves, but also show them how to stand stronger the next time.

With Love & Respect, “Get That Shit Out of My Way,” She Said

This morning a dear friend shared this article by Scary Mommy with me, called “Why I’m Done Asking My Husband To Help Me Out.” As I read it, internal bells ringing Yeah! and Exactly! went off more than a few times. This is something I’ve discussed with my mom, my sister, my husband and I’m pretty sure more than one girlfriend, but Scary Mommy sums it up well, with excellent reasons why specifically not to ask your partner to “help you out” or “do you a favour” when what you’re really looking is for some good-new-fashioned partnership participation. She explains that by taking the asking-a-favour route, a woman a) diminishes her partner’s value, b) puts undue responsibility on herself, c) sets an unwanted example for her kids, and d) diminishes the partnership itself. If you’re like me (female in a hetero relationship), I’d wager there’s a fairly good chance it might resonate with you, too – so give it a read!

equal housework
Should she have needed to ask for ‘help’ to make this happen? (Source: healthland.time.com)

(I should note first that there is a time when I think the asking for ‘help’ approach is apt – namely, when my partner and I have clearly determined that x job is mine or his, and we want help with that particular job. So in our house, if he asks for help with gathering garbage for collection day, or if I ask for help with folding laundry, for example.)

I’m always interested in the “why do we do this?” part of any social question, so naturally, my brain went to, “Why the hell am I still doing this?” I’ve thought about this for years. I often correct myself in the moment when speaking to my husband – “Can you do me a – actually, no, wait, not a favour, can you just do this?” Yet I still find myself phrasing requests for him to do his share as requests for ‘help,’ I think for two main reasons:

1. I’ve internalized the overwhelming fear of being a ‘nag.’ 

Among the things our culture encourages women to stress about in their domestic life, fear of being a ‘nag’ is pretty high on that list. So no wonder we ask for ‘help’ instead of reminding our partner that they didn’t clean up their own coat/socks/papers/plate again. Asking for ‘help’ lets me seem more sweet, feminine, and likable – definitely the opposite of a nag – and increases the likelihood of a positive response, because my partner gets to feel like he’s doing something great and gets a gold star for going above and beyond, so everybody’s happy… right? Except… not. Because I’m still left holding the bag of responsibility for all things domestic, and I never really get to respect myself as a feminist who asserts her desire for equality in household management. I end up catering to fear and shame instead of self-respect, when I really dig down to the heart of it. Which brings me to reason #2:

2. On some level, I’ve internalized the idea that domestic work really is my responsibility as the woman in the partnership.

As much as I try to deny it, I think this nugget is still there. Sure, I’ve attempted to justify and couch it in enlightened, post-feminism rhetoric about how my partner and I simply have different personalities, and I simply care more about cleanliness/organization, so it’s not a sexist thing, it makes sense that I’m inclined to do more, and yadda yadda yadda. And there may be some truth to that – some. But it’s also very likely that we’ve each been, at least to some extent, socialized to have these personalities and tendencies to care more or less about domestic tasks/management. So am I happy to just accept that the socialization has happened and live out my life that way? Not really. Do I want to contribute to socializing my kids according to this status quo? Not if I can help it. These are not glamorous labours, nor ones that society really places a lot of value on, and I think if I was a man, I certainly wouldn’t be motivated to learn to take more initiative on these things. But at the end of the day, clothes need picked up because we each eventually need clean clothes to wear, so whose job should it be to make sure each item of clothing ends up in the laundry bin? Probably the person who was wearing that item of clothing. At the end of the day, dinner needs cleaned up because eventually we’ll need clean dishes to use, and we want to avoid bug infestations or health hazards of rotting food all over house, so whose job should it be to make sure that dishes get picked up and leftover food goes in the garbage or back in the fridge? Probably anyone who ever needs dishes or dislikes bug infestations. Again, asking for ‘help’ with these tasks reinforces a socialization I don’t like, instead of presenting myself as an equal partner in my home.

I want to act out of love and respect for the equal partnership my beloved and I have been building for fourteen years. So if love and respect means creating an environment where it’s sometimes okay to say, to borrow Scary Mommy’s words, “Get your shit out of my way,” well then, I guess that’s what we’ll do.

 

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