I am Just a Mom
While on a walk with my family this weekend I overheard two college-aged adults talking about someone they knew and how she had decided to "just be a stay at home mom". I have heard people use this phrasing for my whole life; in different forms of course but with the same message. "I am only a mom", "I am just a mom", "she is just a mom" and my very favorite "she doesn't work, she is just a stay at home mom". Now I have heard this over and over and before becoming a mother myself I used to think it was an unfair categorization but one that was simply part of how society views woman. Now, remember please that I am not an expert, I am a parent and I have my own opinions so here they are. After 5 years 8 months and 7 days of parenting I view every other job on this planet (with the possible exception of hard labor, plumbers and those who risk their lives on a daily basis) as a walk in the park that pays; as compared to motherhood.
There was no interview process, there was no list of "expertise needed". There are no coffee breaks, Labor Day vacations, lunches, bathroom breaks, paychecks, gratifications or awards. We as woman, we as mothers-and men/fathers for those of you who stay at home- didn't choose this path because it was a way out. We chose this path because the ability to raise the next generation and to impact the future of this planet by creating children who become the best human beings they can be is a fundamentally important and necessary career. If cars seize to be made the world would go on, if doctors seized to practice medicine the world would go on, if parents stopped creating children and being parents our entire civilization would stop. Everything else is secondary to the necessary job of brining human life, the next generation, into this world.
I tried to defend phrases about "just a mom" for so long, before and after having my daughter. I realized this past weekend that defending it is giving it power that it is something in need of defense. I say now to all of those woman - and men- out there that are "Just a Mom" - OWN IT! Wear it proud, say absolutely I am just a mom, would you like to try it out for a day? Would you like to see what #Justamom feels like for a short 24 hours because please do and let me know at the end of it if there is any other job on this planet which warrants a higher praise than being called "Just a Mom".
Goodnight to my child and goodbye to my patience
When I was a child I remember bedtime consisting of lights out and an exhausted “goodnight” from my parents. I was one of four children and can only imagine how long the days must have felt. Parents today are urged to practice a routine with bedtime. To have an order to the very tail end of the day and to ensure that the mindfulness we all strive for outlasts the sun shining in the sky. I was at a breakfast the other morning and a friend of mine commented that she hated bedtime, that she didn’t mind missing it at all. She had her mother (who lives with her) do it as often as possible. I have to admit that many mother’s I speak with feel a glimmer, or more, of this truth during the evening hours. That last push of bedtime can be compared to the last day of school before summer break. You feel checked out, over it and are ready for some freedom and downtime! I understand this from the deepest place of parenthood. I understand how sometimes those last 60 minutes of the day can feel like a battlefield filled with traps, unknown hurdles and surprise attacks. While I understand this and sympathize with this I ask of every parent out there to hear me out and to try to make bedtime a practice of patience, mindfulness and focus because our children need us in these precious final moments of each day.
Often times when I pick my daughter up from preschool and I inquire about her day I get something like “I don’t know” “I don’t remember” or “I don’t want to talk about it”. Because of both my professional and personal background I know what a terrible time post pickup is to question a child about their day. These moments of transition for children are harder than we as adults give them credit. Their minds are processing at the speed of light everything that just existed in their reality away from mom and dad and are easing into the idea of being back at home, the child, the sibling etc. Even though I know I am not likely to get an answer, I ask. I want her to know I care. It is not about the answer, it is about the effort I make to demonstrate my desire to understand all that she wants to share. Here is what I want you, parents to hear louder than anything else in this article; It is bedtime, the moments of chatting with my daughter after bath and brushing teeth, after getting in pajamas and picking out books that she begins to unravel the inner workings of her mind. I don’t have to ask, I don’t have to pry. I simply am there and I am holding her against me and the questions, comments, concerns and moments come spilling out.
I want to be clear that I have days when I would rather clean the entire house by hand than spend another routine driven evening asking over and over for my daughter to get in the bath, brush her teeth, brush her hair, hang up her towel, pick out clothes for the next day, come back please, stop doing that please, pick stories out or ask why are you sitting on the dog? It is these moments when mindfulness kicks in, when I remember all the nights I have spent with her snuggled up getting to share in her day and in her life at a time when she is ready to let me in. On those hard days (especially when my husband is out of town) when I am tired and burnt out and my patience is gone I try to remember the beauty that comes from pillow talk with my child. Moments when I can assist in the processing of her day and all the intricate elements that cause her to feel happy, scared, confused, alone, hurt, supported and influenced. I know that being a parent comes with hidden jobs which no-one talks about and exhaustion that is inconceivable before parenthood but I ask of you one more thing. Twenty minutes at the end of the day, to connect, to reflect and to support your child.
One day your child will no longer want or need you at the end of their day, they will push you away and need their own space. Children are supposed to grow away from us, when they are ready. As parents we can only do what we can do in the few short years they allow. I know the days are long, I know the minutes last forever but the years will pass us by at light speed and when you have just sent your child off for college and close your eyes in search of distant memories please know that the last 20 minutes of every day will build memories that will fill you will love and the peace of mind that you gave it your all, every day, every hour and every moment that you could. Last night while putting my daughter to bed she looked up at me and said “tonight can we talk instead of stories and songs?” Yes my child, tonight we can talk.
Pre-partum, the Silent Struggle
We talk about the loss of a child, of an un-born child that was barely given a chance at life. We talk about the children we have and the moments that go along with parenthood. We talk about postpartum and the journey of recovery that goes along with child birth or child receiving for every mother, no matter how joyous or painful. What we forget to mention is the prepartum period that so many woman and couples experience. The time between when a decision is made to have a child and the time it takes to bring that child into the world. Not through loss but through a lack of possibility.
The prepartum period is real, it is full of ups and downs, of false hope, tears, pain, loss, dozens of “not pregnant”, confusion, anger and perhaps worst of all a feeling of being betrayed by your own body. I spent a better part of my 20’s doing everything in my power to not get pregnant. Feeling as though if I made one small mechanical error my life would be thrust into motherhood before I was ready. Once I met my husband the same precautions were taken until we were “ready” at which point we thought “okay, this is happening NOW”. The irony of the entire situation was that my mind was ready for a child but my body had a different path.
Months passed where tears were shed, darkness rolled in and pain filled my body where a baby should have been. Just as with any phase of life that is difficult, people came to my aid to tell me to have hope, remain positive or stop thinking about it. I am not sure there is anything harder to overcome than someone (everyone) telling you to just stop focusing on the thing you want more than anything in this world. Imagine if I told an olympic athlete or a medical student to stop thinking about their goal, to just stop “trying” and see what happens. The prepartum period feels like this cruel joke of a reality where the mothers around you are telling you how stressed they are and how they miss their child free days, how every woman you see has the magic capability to be pregnant or already have a child and how every single activity you try to engage in feels empty, heartless and meaningless next to the expectation of having your own child.
One of my favorite lines was “you need to stop being so stressed out about this or it will never happen” which is turn cranks up the stress-o-meter to full blown panic mode. So I want to say to every expecting, prepartum mother and parent out there; you are validated in your pain, your anger, your frustration and your feeling of betrayal, whether you are trying for baby number one, two three or beyond. You are allowed to fixate on this because it is what you want and what you need with every cell in your body.
I am not sure that men can understand the craving that prepartum brings. That evolutionary need to have a child in your womb. The emptiness that is felt with each passing monthly cycle and the euphoria of peeing on hundreds of overpriced sticks (ladies, buy the test strips on amazon!). All I can say to the adoring husbands or partners who are desperately trying to support this prepartum period is; please be patient. Be patient beyond even your own capabilities. Remember that the woman you love is being controlled by tens of thousands of years of evolutionary need and while she is a strong, capable and amazing woman, she is powerless to this need. Allow her to cry, allow her to mourn the loss of a possible pregnancy every month. Allow the pain to flow out of her so that she can continue to push forward and prevail on your journey to be parents.
Prepartum can end in a successful pregnancy, it can end in medical assistance with pregnancy, it can end in adoption or it can end in a forfeiture of the dream for parenthood. Whatever end there is to your story remember that it is your story, it is real, it is full of you and your partners needs. Allow all of this to come in waves and process every step, make certain that regret will not be the ending to your prepartum story.
"Parenting begins the moment you may any conscious effort to care for your own health in preparation for enhancing your child's conception." —Carista Luminare-Rosen
To my child's preschool,
I know this child is new, I know that there will be times when this child brings you joy and times when this child brings you frustration. I know that you will teach them what they need to know in order to thrive, learn and grow. Please help my precious child make friends, navigate social endeavors, learn that failing is learning and understand that trying your best is all we can do. Please do not shelter my child from mistakes, anger, natural moments or fear. But please do protect my child from harm, from judgment and from ridicule. Please allow my child to be who they are and who they need to be. I know you have not met my child but I love them with every piece of me. I grew them, cared for them, raised them and am now trusting you. I trust you to be my partner, to help me with right and wrong, to accommodate my learning and my child’s learning so that we can all learn together. I am a parent; I too will make mistakes, will need room for error and will ask for your patience. I promise to believe in what you do. To my child’s preschool, please help me raise the best possible person we can.
The Balance of Life and Everything Else
Far too often as a mother and a wife I find the pressures of “the shoulds” overwhelming and impossible to conquer. The shoulds as I will refer to them through this article are those pressures that we hear from all around us. The pressures that are suggested to us, handed over to us or suggested upon us by both ourself and those around us.
I believe that the shoulds are one of the largest struggles to face as an adult, a parent, a partner and a person in our society. Sometimes I wonder if other countries or other cultures struggle with the pressures of what should be done as much as we do. I was recently speaking with an old friend of mine who has spent years living abroad. Her husbands line of work has allowed them to live in multiple countries and they actually began their family of four while living outside of the US. Recently they have come back to live here in the states and speaking with her highlighted the pressure that our culture of the shoulds places on us. What I took away from our conversation was that in other cultures there is a place for a mother and child, there is room to be a new mom and a new human being in this world. Mistakes are welcomed, lessons are admired and advice is given from the heart and not from a place of judgment or ridicule.
I sat for a moment after our conversation and imagined what it would have been like to raise our daughter in a culture that nurtured the newness of it all and supported both the mother and the child. I feel that here in the United States we nurture the mother of a new child as long as that child is still within the womb of the mother. Suddenly when that baby is born the mother is expected to live up to every expectation, every should and every image that society places upon her. She is supposed to loose the baby weight, look polished before walking out the door, regain her self esteem, remain emotionally stable, prepare meals, use disposable diapers, breastfeed, regain her sexual desires, maintain a clean home, host and care for visiting family members, go back to work and find the perfect preschool for her child. All while ensuring that her new born baby never cries, always sleeps and poses perfectly for photos.
Ladies, take a moment and read that again…
How? How can we do this, what mad-man or woman ever thought that any of these shoulds were maintainable, sustainable or supportive of a new mother? A woman who just became a new person, a new mother, a new self. A woman who is stepping into the largest life-changing moment she will ever go through. This country is lacking the support needed which would allow a woman to focus on the monumental task of becoming a mother let alone the support needed to take charge and respond to child birth the way we should.
I provide a message to every new mom out there fighting her shoulds; Let yourself fall, let those around you catch and support you. Cry when you need to cry and allow your body to heal, your mind to settle and your heart to absorb the amazing change of becoming a parent for the very first time, second time, third time and so on.
Many people give the advice of sleep when you need to sleep, forget the dishes, leave the laundry and just stay in bed. This sounds great doesn’t it? Let’s however have a reality check. First, sleep when you need to sleep? Okay so baby just went down, you have not showered or eaten or sat down for a moment of silence in what feels like an eternity. So rather I urge you to do what you need to do in order to help you feel nourished and calm in that moment. If putting a load of laundry in does this so be it, if it is a bath, a cup of coffee in the sun, a quick snooze. Do what you feel like you need to do in order to take care of yourself. It is all you can do, it is all you should do.
Forget the dishes? Okay is there a postpartum fairy that comes in to do this for me then? If you can afford the assistance of a doula or house help please allow yourself this gift. If you cannot, take a deep breath and allow yourself to eat straight out of the pan, order pizza, or do whatever else it takes to intake calories and minimize the mess. I remember when my daughter was six weeks old and my husband had to travel for work my dinner one night was peanut butter straight out of the jar and a glass of red wine. I had all my bases covered; calories and relaxation. Remember that priorities have to change, that having a baby in the culture we live in means giving yourself a lot of self support and a lot of allowances to do what you need when you can.
Unfortunately we do not have the support system that we should or could have and because of that woman are often thrown to the side when baby is born. While this thought saddens me beyond words I also know that every woman who goes through the process of becoming a mother has the strength to advocate for herself. It might be hard, uncomfortable and ugly at some points but that strength to listen to your body, to your heart and to your intuition is there and remember that you are valuable, needed, important, necessary and essential in this world and in your family. You should do nothing more than what you must to care for you and for your baby.
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” – Jill Churchill
I know the future I want but cannot even begin to imagine the past I will have
Parenting is not about being a good parent or a bad parent. It is about the moments we hold onto and the regrets we must live with.
The decisions we make each and every day shape who our young children are. We make decisions about what school they go to, what extracurricular activities they will belong to, what friends they are exposed to and what places they travel. It is all up to us; it is an extension of our own lives that shape our children.
I think we have all had a parent or grandparent say something like: “I have been a parent for 30 years, I know more/better”. But I do not believe that it is length of time we have been a parent, but rather it is the decisions we make. From the moment your baby enters this world you are shifted; you do not need 30 years or even 30 minutes to know that. It is immediate. You are changed, your life is changed, the world around you is changed.
I will one day know what it is like to look back over 30 years, over the short days and the “oh so long nights”. Over every lost temper, tear shed, kiss given and snuggle stolen. I will reflect on what it all meant, how it was done and what could have been different. I know the future I want but cannot even begin to imagine the past I will have. If all we have is our past, our memories and our choices made, then what is more important than living life with no regrets? Looking back, we will not remember the moments we didn’t regret but will dwell on those we did. I do not want to look back and regret the type of parent I was. I know I will regret decisions, single moments, choices I made and ideas I thought were so valid at the time. But the big things, the life moving, emotionally dependent decisions that we make should be made with purpose and mindfulness so that when we look back and reflect, we are able to be sure in our core that we made those decisions the only way we knew how. Regret is a funny thing. It is not the simple feeling of “I wish that had not happened”. To me that is remorse, the realization that what is, simply “is” and what we want is not always possible. Regret on the other hand, is the neglectful decision-making we all do that when reflected on, allows us to see how if only we had been more present in that moment or more honest with ourselves it could have been different. It could have been more. More honest, more real, more centered on who we are and what we are and the type of person and parent we want to be.
I do not believe that it takes 30 years to learn what you need to know about who your child will become as an adult. I believe that in the moment our children are born we know absolutely everything we need to know, and if we are able to allow ourselves the ability to tap into that and to follow our intuition and instinct, that we will not look back with regret. We will look back with reflection, remorse for lost time and sadness for moments that slipped away but we will not regret. Remember that parenting is an action for which there are reactions; nothing you do is lost in time. Rather the opposite; the things we do as parents become the inner workings of our children. Be kind, be honest, be deliberate and work harder than you have ever worked before. You are not raising your child; you are raising a human being and to anyone that says parenting knowledge takes time, I ask: What do you regret?
My boundaries are nobody's boundaries but mine, you have your own boundaries, let me have mine (thank you).
Often times as parents we are faced with raising our children differently than those around us, be it friends or other family members. The tension that can grow because of these differences is tangible and can often lead to awkward dynamics. Recently I have had multiple conversations with friends and colleagues about this very topic. What I am hearing is that there seem to be no boundaries around the idea of allowing people the space and respect to raise their children as they choose to. Some of these differences are around choices of religion, lifestyle, philosophy of parenting, diet, sleep patterns, media exposure and the list goes on.
Children need boundaries, they crave the ability to understand what is and is not okay in the world around them. This statement is where I believe many of the disagreements and misunderstandings stem from. Boundaries are not concrete, they do not exist in one space in time and fit every family, child or parent on the planet. Boundaries are as pliable as they need to be for every individual family designing them. One family may place boundaries around food, another around sleep and yet another around scheduling or media exposure. Each of these boundaries deserves respect and attention because everyone's boundaries are equally important. I believe that aside from the breastfeeding, sleepless nights, brain fog and pure exhaustion, the hardest thing about parenting is placing boundaries around you and your family in order to provide a sense of comfort and security.
It can feel uncomfortable to assert a difference of opinion or philosophical view around those we love and respect, especially our parents or grandparents. Friendships often struggle when they transition from a friendship in single-hood to that of a friendship in parent-hood. I believe this struggle is mostly due to an inability to state differences, be okay with those differences and respect others for their own ways of doing things. While the difficulty is something to be acknowledged and is something real I want to empower you to do it regardless of the discomfort. Not in an act of defiance or lack or respect but rather from a place of genuine need. If you believe in the boundaries you have placed within your family dynamics, especially for your children then it is okay to assert those needs.
Remember…..we are all human, we are all doing the best we can and we all deserve the space we need.
You are a parent; you created a life. Now go out there and let people know the values you choose to raise your children by and feel no shame is wearing them loud and proud.
New Year resolutions can be hard on some. The pressure to claim that you will change your life, your patterns, your way of thinking…whatever it may be, change can be hard and even scary for some. Many cultures celebrate the New Year at different times throughout the calendar year, spanning from January through September. The concept of a New Year is accepted throughout cultural divides but the meaning, purpose and time have slightly different variations depending on where you are and what you celebrate.
While the New Year can bring a time of reflection and refocusing it can also bring up feeling of loss or regret that we may have about the year past. As a parent the New Year brings something different than it used to. Since giving birth to our daughter I focus less on what I can do, or should do, and rather reflect on what I have been doing, how I have been doing and how I would like to continue doing. After all, this life is one long cycle, we are all on our own calendars and sometimes the New Year doesn’t come until February or March or even April. As parents the proverbial calendar or clock is almost a mockery of what should be. Yes, it is 2am on a Monday and I have an 8am meeting and yet here I am with a sick child, holding him/her and ensuring that they are alright.
When you are a parent you realize that children and life have an agenda of their own and while some years the holidays are spent laughing and carefree others might be spent with a house full of the flu and stomach bugs. So let it be what it must, allow life to exist as only it can and try not to get lost in the presumption of what a single day should mean. Look at the New Year as the potential beginning of a new start but remember also that each new day offers this new beginning, this reset button of time. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world, it is also the most rewarding. Take a deep breath, remember you are a rockstar no matter what the day simply because you are a parent, day-in and day-out.
Happy New Year to everyone out there and remember, if today doesn’t work for you to reset, renew or refresh; try again tomorrow. Never stop trying and never stop believing in you.
When you think of family what do you say…..
I am a mother, not a wizard. I share what is hard, what is scary and what is real. The rest I leave to you.