Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Facts That Guilt Forgot

Imagine the following scenario:

You and your 3 year old are taking a walk on a beautiful spring day. You’re both enjoying the warm weather, taking in everything as you walk past. You spy a bright yellow flower growing up from a crack in the sidewalk. You comment, “Look at that beautiful yellow flower! So lovely to see it growing here all alone, brightening up the sidewalk.” Your pre-schooler replies, “It’s not yellow, it’s blue!” A bit concerned by her response (doesn’t she know her colors by now?), you correct her. “The flower is definitely yellow, sweetheart. The SKY is blue.” “No. The flower is blue. The sky is red.” She says defiantly. She becomes quite upset that you don’t agree with her. “The flower is blue! I painted a flower at school yesterday that color and I told my teacher it was blue. It’s blue, it’s blue!!!! I’m a good artist and I said it was blue so it’s BLUE.”

Okay, maybe this is a ridiculous example, but this is how I feel when I read some discussions that fall into the category of the “Mommy Wars.” SO many things we all disagree on. Some have two sides supported by facts and opinions and risk/benefit analyses about what’s best for each family. . .like vaccinating or not, circumcising or not, infant ear-piercing or not. . .and the list goes on. But seriously, people, some of these topics/decisions, etc. have FACTS that are not debatable. . .and are not changed just because some moms disagree with them. . .or are threatened by them. . .or made choices based on a bigger picture and not just on the basic scientific facts. You can stick your fingers in your ears and yell, “Correct car seat use does NOT save lives!!!” over and over again until you’re blue in the face. It does not change the statistically proven FACT that car seats do indeed save lives when used properly. The laws of physics are not subject to change because of mommy-guilt because you moved your first child to a booster too early. Finding out later that it was not “best practices” does not mean you should ignore that information, once obtained, and do the same thing with your second and third child. . .and then tell all your friends that your kids were “fine” in a booster at 2 years old and you really don’t understand why anyone would wait to move them until they’re 4 because CLEARLY it’s safe at 2. That’s called anecdotal evidence. And it’s not truly evidence at all. If a doctor gave a patient the wrong medication and the patient did not suffer any ill effects, does that mean the standard of patient care should change and all patients should be given that medication incorrectly? No. Ridiculous right? Absolutely.

How about a real life example. We all know that breastmilk is the biologically normal food for an infant. It does not compare to formula except that both substances will help a baby grow and meet the caloric needs of a child through infancy. It is a living substance. Formula is a manufactured substance. In a perfect world, every baby would be given the opportunity to be nourished by mother’s milk for at least their first year. But we do not live in a perfect world.

What if a mother has a baby and has every intention of nursing that baby. She does all the things she’s told by family, friends, lactation consultants and nurses. . .but she just can’t get the baby to latch and nurse. Days pass. She has to start pumping to get a bit of milk to feed her little one. She’s overwhelmed. She takes the baby in for his 2 week checkup and he’s lost way too much weight. . .and he’s still not latching. She’s having difficulty pumping enough milk to meet his needs as well. In addition to all this stress, she is suffering from severe postpartum depression bordering on psychosis, barely managing to get out of bed. So after giving it her best shot, she and her husband decide that they will switch their son to formula once the milk she’s managed to pump is gone. They make this decision based on what they feel is best for their family, given all the circumstances.

Now, in that scenario, does that mean that mom’s milk is NOT the biologically normal food for her baby? Does that mean that formula is a better substance than breastmilk? NOPE. Breastmilk is still the best SUBSTANCE for baby. But did she and her husband make the best DECISION FOR THEIR FAMILY? I believe they did, but really THEY are the only ones who can own their choice. There are times when everything that’s within us wants to give our children the absolute best thing for them in every situation. And there are times when what’s best for our children is perhaps not the same as what’s best for someone else’s children in another family in another situation. There is no reason to feel guilty when you make a decision based on the risks and benefits in your own situation.

Which brings me to that ugly phenomenon known as MOMMY-GUILT. It’s a killer. It kills friendships, it mars our relationships with our spouses and our children (and sometimes other family members). It’s UGLY. But here is the piece of it that I really want to get across: NO ONE CAN “MAKE” YOU FEEL GUILTY. No one. And this is something I’ve had to learn the hard way. Someone can say something to you in an attempt to provoke you to guilt, true. But when another mom is talking about her own situations and decisions, and you start to feel the mommy-guilt rising inside of you, STOP AND THINK. Is it about you? Really? Or do you regret a decision you made that reflects something your friend is talking about? Is it something you can change? If it’s in your past, the answer is likely no. Is it something you can do differently going forward? Sometimes, yes. Focus your energy there. Guilt is one of the most useless and destructive emotions I can think of. Conviction over actual wrongdoing is different. I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to our consciences. But harboring guilt over something you can’t change can be debilitating. Apologize if applicable. Forgive yourself. Change what you can going forward. But don’t say, “You made me feel guilty about _____________.” It’s not possible. You rule yourself. Let your friends be themselves, too.

So the next time I feel threatened by someone who parents differently than I do, or makes different choices than I make, I’m going to stop and think. We’re all just trying to raise our kids to be the best they can be, really. The only bad mom is one who doesn’t love her children or maybe one who doesn’t show her children that she loves them. I personally don’t know any of those. Do you?

Something to Cry About

Jubilee came to me today sobbing and talking and whining all at the same time. . .to the point that I could not understand a word she was saying. I was frustrated because I was trying to pack for a week out of town, was running behind schedule, and really didn’t feel like taking the time to deal with a crisis. I felt my irritation begin to rise at the disruption as it often does when things don’t go according to plan. It’s a weakness I’m not proud of, but a part of the brokenness I’m working to function within.

And so, I silently acknowledged my inner frustration, took a deep breath and said, “Jubilee, I can’t understand you when you’re crying so hard.” I put my arm around her. “Can you take a deep breath and try to tell me what’s wrong without whining?” She took a swipe at her tear-soaked face and took a big deep breath. “I can’t find the picture I drew for Gramma,” she said sadly. I took her by the hand and told her we’d look for it together. We found it quickly on the kitchen counter and she cheerfully went on about her day and I went back to packing. But this and a few other instances like it this week have got me thinking about how I handle the emotional crises of my kiddos.

I’ve been guilty of telling my girls to stop crying when I feel like they’re overreacting. When something that seems so small results in an out of proportion amount of crying or whining or fear, I don’t always handle it the right way.

“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” was a phrase I grew up hearing now and then. I’ve been tempted to say it myself in a moment of frustration. And the weight of that saying is hanging in my head this week. It was actually the inspiration for this post. Because even when it feels to me like my children have nothing to be upset about, if they’re upset, it doesn’t really matter what I think.

It doesn’t change the magnitude of my own emotions when someone else doesn’t think what I’m upset about is worth my tears. When I’m stressing or crying about something, if my husband looked at me and said, “Oh good grief, calm down. It’s not that big of a deal!” I can guarantee you it would not make me suddenly snap out of it and realize the error of my ways. Frankly, it would make me very angry in addition to my sadness.

But in this grown up world of “important” things, it is sometimes easy to forget that to little people, things that seem so small and trifling to us can be so huge in their little hearts. Jubilee’s special picture she drew for Gramma was very important to her. Losing it was painful and she needed me to care that she was upset and to be with her in her sadness and frustration. . .not berate her for her silliness.

So I’m remembering to take a beat when my kids come to me with a crisis and to realize that if they’re upset, they HAVE something to cry about, even if it seems insignificant to me. THEY are not insignificant to me and so the little things that rock their worlds matter. As I try to see things from their perspective more often, it helps me to try and put myself in their shoes for a moment. I want them to know that I care about everything that happens in their world now, so that as pre-school problems become pre-teen problems become adolescent problems, they will continue to come to me for comfort and for help in finding the appropriate solutions to the situations that cause their angst. By acknowledging that they have something to cry about just because they’re crying is yet another way I’m getting to know the little people that call me mama. And I’m so grateful for those little glimpses into their heart of hearts. . .

From Deadlines to Diapers

In October of 2009, I gave birth to my second daughter.  While out on maternity leave, my husband and I decided to take the plunge and make the financial cuts necessary for me to be a stay-at-home mom.  And so my adventure began.  After the holidays, as life began to normalize, I realized that just like any major life transition, staying at home came with ups and downs.  While I LOVED staying at home with my kids, it was not always the bliss I had imagined.  It’s wonderful. . .and it’s HARD.  If I fail, or don’t do my best, it’s not the organization of my desk that suffers and I don’t just get behind.  It affects my children.  At the same time, I don’t have a supervisor looking over my shoulder keeping me on track.  I found out quickly that a lot of unstructured time mixed with a lot of unstructured things to do, for me was just. . .well, unstructured.

And so, these years later (wow, I’ve been home now for almost 3 and a half YEARS!), I’m still finding that not working a traditional job is very different than I thought it would when first I embarked on this adventure.  With every change in our family structure or schedule, there has been a major adjustment period. I homeschool Melody, but she goes to a school for homeschoolers (I know sounds strange. =)) 3 days per week. Romeo has been added to the mix, and my husband now has a job that requires him to travel out of town for a week, once per month. I am learning to view this family management thing as a dance. When one of our members changes their choreography, everyone else has to change theirs to adapt. But we persevere and the rewards far outweigh the angst.

I’ve had a few people ask me what I do all day. . .or some have asked me to do them “favors” during the week with the clear assumption that I sit on the couch and play on my computer or watch TV all day. I now find this comical. In the beginning when I was still stressed out of my mind because I EXPECTED life at home to be more like that, I didn’t react so kindly to those questions.The last time someone called me and began their query with, “So what are you doing today?” . .because they needed me to do something for them, I simply listed my schedule for the day. It was met with a stammering, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realize you were busy,” and a quick end to the conversation.

So. . .I completely love that I am not bored at home. And I completely respect other moms who have full time jobs and still manage households, too. But I have completely changed my perspective on what it means to be a “stay-at-home mom.” After more than 3 years of experience, I’d liken it more to being CEO of a small corporation, where all the employees may decide to revolt on the same day, some of them still poop their pants, and you can’t fire anyone. The hours are 24/7 and you don’t get sick days, but the dress code is flexible, the hugs are unlimited and tickle fights after breakfast are encouraged. <3

They Are My Heart

After writing about struggling with wanting to control my kids the other day, I read a comment on another site that speculated about the motivation for grasping for that control. A seasoned mother and grandmother wrote something along the lines of, “First you need to lose the us vs. them mentality. They are not the enemy. They are your heart.” At first, I felt defensive when reading that. I love my kids and I don’t feel that I am superior to them in some way. If anything, I feel like they deserve a better mom than I could ever be. For me personally, a big part of my struggle against the emotions that get stirred up in me when I feel powerless stem back to times long faded into my past when being powerless was a common and regular occurrence in situations that brought me a lot of fear, anger and sadness. I definitely don’t feel like my kids are the enemy. . .or do I?

Then, as typically happens to me when I sit on something for a while, the rational part of my brain kicked in and I began to ponder why I felt so defensive about a random comment written by a complete stranger. I realized that in this realm of “survival parenting” I often do feel like I’m just trying to survive the overwhelmingness of my kids just being . . .well. . .KIDS. And today the phrase, “They are your heart,” played over and over again in my mind. . . and began to cause a change inside me as I pondered exactly what that meant.

They are my heart. When they are broken, I hurt. In many ways, my emotions are tied to theirs. Not in a “give them everything they want so they won’t be sad” kind of way, but in a way that helps me stay in tune with the heart and motivation behind their words when they use them, and the words behind their actions when they don’t.

They are my heart. Sometimes I forget that they are little people that I need to get to know, not just part of the household I manage. When Melody was talking to me about her notebook pages, my mind immediately went to the fact that she was going to be asking for me to buy her another notebook soon. And maybe that was the case. But there would have been nothing wrong with me talking to her about why it concerned her that her pages were running low. Discussing what kind of notebook she’d want when she finally does draw through all the pages in all the notebooks we already have. Concerning myself with something that was clearly important to her, just because it’s important to her. Getting to know her more by doing so. And the more I get to know my heart, the more I learn about myself, too.

They are my heart. Jubilee asked me to read a book to her today. And when I finished, she asked me to read it again. . .and again. . .until we’d read that same book 15 times and I started making up silly voices to combat the boredom I felt at reading the same book so many times. But the realization I had is that it’s not about me. Part of learning to be the grown up in the room all the time is learning to build the emotional muscle to hold whatever emotions may be swirling inside of me while still meeting the needs of my little ones. And for a 3 year old, reading the same book over and over again is a need. And even if it’s not critical to her survival, it’s not ridiculous because it makes her happy. And when my heart is happy, I am fulfilled.

They are my heart. Romeo wasn’t feeling well today. He was fussy and he just wanted me to hold him. That means the dishes didn’t get done, dinner was pizza delivery, and I was a bit touched out by bedtime. But being held is what he needed. Being held made him feel secure and maybe a little less icky. And when my heart feels secure, I am whole.

So as I work through the brokenness that sometimes makes being a parent burdensome for me, I will continue to remind myself that these children are not just a part of my daily checklist, or another chore to be managed. These little people have been entrusted to my care, and it is my privilege to acquaint myself with their unique personalities, quirks and just the little things that make them each so different. I am not in a competition with them to see who will be in control. I am their primary ally. I am their biggest fan. I am their first therapist, their safe place in the storm and their soft landing place. And they are my heart. . .<3

Building More Muscle

This morning on the way to school, Melody and I had a conversation that showed me something about myself that I need to work on. She said her notebook (that she draws “fashion” in. . .she currently wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. =) only had 24 pages left. The kid has so many notebooks I can’t count them all. All over the house and the car. She’s addicted to notebooks and is always trying to get a new one.

Me: “That’s still half the notebook.”

Melody: “No it’s not.”

Me: “I’m sure it is. The notebook only had like 50 pages to start with.”

Melody: “I’m going to count the pages.”

Me: “Fine. But I don’t want to hear about it. You’re not getting a new notebook when you have that many pages left.”

*silence while she counts*

Melody: “I’ll just say that 30 is half the pages.”

I felt irritation starting to rise. Hadn’t I just TOLD her I didn’t want to hear about it? How dare she disregard what I said and tell me anyway. (No, I’m not joking folks. Just typing this here I see how immature that sounds. Yikes.) I opened my mouth to lecture her about disrespect and ignoring the fact that I’d told her to keep it to herself. . .then I closed it again. What was I doing? Was it really SO important that she not tell me about the pages in her notebook? Was the aggravation boiling around inside me really about a notebook, or was it something else. I decided to take a different path and just acknowledge that her notebook started with 60 pages and that it was a good thing she still had so many left to draw on. Then I reminded her that when that one was gone, she had several others in the house that she could replace it with. She smiled with that realization and went back to drawing.

I, on the other hand, starting to dig deeper behind the oddly strong feelings that had just surged about a silly notebook conversation. And I realized it wasn’t about her wanting yet another notebook. It was about control. I hate to feel powerless, and the fact that she creatively skirted my “orders” to keep quiet about the number of pages in her notebook triggered a feeling of powerlessness in me. . .and that feeling tends to push me toward anger. The good news is that today, I caught myself and acted like the adult. The bad news is, I don’t always. . .and when my coping skills are weaker than usual (due to exhaustion or a headache or some other unplanned issue), I tend to lash out in anger over minor things that make me feel powerless.

So I’m taking the time this morning for some introspection. How can I stop myself from reacting too strongly when my kids “disobey” an order I slung out that doesn’t even matter? How can I stop myself before I even make such unnecessary edicts? I want to learn to choose my battles for things that really matter. . .not just about things that might annoy me. I think I have my work cut out for me, but that’s no reason not to start today.

Building these emotional muscles causes as much pain and “soreness” as building physical ones. . .but I’m in this thing for the long haul. . and these little ones are worth the pain. =)

Little Hands in The Kitchen

My girls LOVE to help me in the kitchen. They beg to crack the eggs, stir the batter, wash the vegetables. . .you name it, they want to do it. I struggle with letting them help because, I’ll be honest. I HATE MESSES. Hate. And kids helping cook on any level will inevitably lead to a mess.

My aversion to messes borders on pathological. I usually manage not to actually cry over spilled milk, but I promise you I’ve come close. It takes me hours to work up the nerve to pull out finger paints, even if their use is limited to the table. . .and don’t even get me STARTED on the evil substance known as Play-Doh. EEK.

I’m also a bit of a control freak about the kitchen. One Thanksgiving I had a stomach virus and my husband did all the hands-on stuff in the kitchen for our contribution to a meal at a friends house the following day. I had to sit in a chair in the dining room and give instructions and several times he had to shoo me back out of the room because the kitchen is just my domain. I love to cook. I love to experiment. And I love to control allthethings that happen there.

So what does a mama on a journey to embracing imperfections as a part of changing her style of parenting do when the littles ask to help? Grit her teeth, take deep breaths and dive in. It takes everything within me to let go enough to allow it. But I’m hoping it gets easier with practice. Today, they helped me make protein bars, meatballs for dinner and gluten free muffins. And I’ll admit, Melody actually did a decent job of mixing all the ingredients together for the muffins. . .a part of the process I don’t really like doing myself. At 8, she’s likely getting old enough to learn to do a little more in the kitchen if she wants to.

So my one small change this week is going to be to find something, even if it’s small, that the girls can help me with each night at dinner. Building the emotional muscles to handle the messes of childhood will probably be a skill that will help me relax a lot more as they grow.

And honestly? The mess in the kitchen after our cooking time today really wasn’t so bad. I’ve already cleaned it up. And now I’m off to eat some delicious muffins. =)

One Small Change

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~Lau-tzu~

I am the first to admit that I am a very “all or nothing” thinker. This leads to a lot of. . .well. . .wheel spinning when it comes to change. If I can’t get ALL the laundry done today, I don’t start the laundry. If I can’t clean the whole bathroom, why clean the dirty mirror? If I don’t have 2 hours to spend playing with my kids right now, why give them the 30 minutes I do have? And the big one at times. . .if I have one unhealthy snack in a day, why bother trying to eat healthy the rest of the day? I’ve come to understand that children think that way, so in a way, it’s the immaturity in me that dwells in that all or nothing place. When Jubilee, my 3 year old, is asked to clean her room, she becomes paralyzed with the enormity of it. We’ve found that asking her to clean up one area, say . . .the toy kitchen. . .is a more manageable task for her. Sometimes even that is too big and we have to start with, “Okay, pick up those two pots and put them in the drawer.” Suddenly, she feels able to begin moving towards the goal when just moments before she was sitting in the floor declaring that there was NO WAY she could clean up the whole room.

That realization has helped me be a bit gentler to myself, recognizing it as human nature that we’re born with, but I know I still need to work towards maturing emotionally so that I don’t stay trapped in that mindset forever. This is where I’m challenging myself these days, and I have to tell you, over several months, the level of overall change in my life is pretty pronounced. I know I’m not the only mom who struggles with this, so here are some common sweeping statements I’ve made (or heard other moms make) coupled with the one small change I’ve made (or plan to make) to start.

-Too big: “I need to spend more time with my kids.”

Just right:”I have 10 minutes right now. Let’s read a book/play a short card game/dance around the living room.”

-Too big: “I need to clean the house.”

Just right: “I have 5 minutes right now. I will unload the dishwasher.”

-Too big: “I need to read my bible every day.”

Just right: “I will subscribe to a daily scripture e-mail. That way, every morning when I check my e-mail, I am reading one verse.”

-Too big: “I need to drink half my body weight in ounces of water daily.”

Just right: “I’ll drink one bottle of water before breakfast every morning, then keep the bottle filled with me the rest of the day.”

-Too big: “Our family needs to eat healthier/get more fruits and veggies/ eat less processed food.”

Just right: “I will introduce one new food this week/add a serving of veggies to dinner/try one new recipe this month.”

This may not be profound to anyone else, but this change in thinking has changed my life. Our family diet is healthier, my house is cleaner (not spotless ever, but “clean enough” more often than not), and I’m spending more time playing with my kids than I was 6 months ago.

I love to help other people troubleshoot all or nothing thinking, so if you’re struggling in an area that you feel needs a sweeping change, leave a comment and I’d be happy to help you come up with one small change that just may lead to a situational overhaul down the road.

Exercise is my next small change to conquer that still feels a bit too big. I know I need to start working out 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. . but the day is young and spring is springing. I think we may take a walk today. =)

Shades of Her

I lost my grandmother a few months ago. At the very advanced age of 92, she had certainly lived a long life, and had suffered from dementia for many years. . .and so on the surface, her passing was a blessing. But still it hurt. Because in spite of all her flaws, she was a wonderful influence for good in my young life. She loved me fiercely, unconditionally, and tangibly. And still this many months later, I miss her. Despite the fact that I rarely saw her in her later years and when I did visit, she usually didn’t know who I was, something about the finality of her death still tore my heart. . .

For me, a part of grieving is remembering. . .and there are many happy memories of her that I want to intentionally bring forward into the lives of my children. This morning was one such opportunity. It was nothing profound at all, just a simple breakfast recipe, but it filled my heart to talk to my oldest daughter about my Nana as I went about preparing cinnamon toast made in the oven. It was always my favorite breakfast at her house, delicious and buttery. She had a certain way of preparing it that got the butter all the way to the edges of the bread. . .and covered both sides. The ultimate comfort food. And as I melted the butter and brushed it on with a small basting brush, I could almost feel her smiling over my shoulder. The girls loved it and begged for more, declaring it the yummiest cinnamon toast they’d ever tasted. My big girl said she wants to pass the “recipe” on to her littles one day, which made me smile. She’s such a soft-hearted little girl.

So as I sit here blogging about cinnamon toast this morning, the warm scent of buttery cinnamon sugar hangs in the air and if I close my eyes, I can see my Nana’s wrinkled, smiling face and hear her humming in the kitchen. I’d call that a blessing. Knowing we can’t keep those that we love so much with us forever on this earth, it’s nice to know that they live on so vividly in our hearts. . .and lovely to bring shades of her forward into the hearts of my children.

Learning is painful. .

As I sit here watching my 8-month-old become mobile through trial and error, I’m struck by the pain he’s going through learning to move around. He sits up, loses his balance and falls over. Sometimes he cries, sometimes not. But even after a particularly painful topple, he gets back up and tries to crawl, driven by the need to explore his world.

I feel like I can learn a lesson from watching him. Anything worth learning involves a bit of pain. Risk is scary. But when we focus on the goal, we can push past the pain. My goal recently has been to spend more time playing with my kids. “What pain is involved with that?” you’re probably asking yourself. For me, the pain of pushing past the exhaustion and recently, the migraines, to give that one ounce of weak energy to my eldest daughter in a rousing game of Battleship. Or leaving the laundry until after bedtime to read my youngest daughter the book about Dora that I’ve already read 3 times today. Change can be messy, and even the smallest risk can feel huge. I personally fight the need for perfection, even while knowing it is unattainable. My utopia is a perfectly clean house, laundry all clean, folded and put away and children quietly playing in their room. That is unfortunate, because my reality is typically dirty dishes in the sink, loads of laundry at various stages of progress, and kids pulling at my shirt wanting me to “play with us, play with us, play with us!!”

So here I find myself, pressing through the pain of imperfection. Of letting something go in favor of something more important. And much like my little newly mobile man-child, learning the new skill of redefining success hurts now and then, but I know once mastered will make my rhythm as a mother much more satisfying and much less stressful. And so I press on. . .