Monday, February 25, 2013

Bring back the "mommy guilt"

A. A. Milne - Disobedience

 James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he;
"You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."

James James
Morrison's Mother
Put on a golden gown.
James James Morrison's Mother
Drove to the end of the town.
James James Morrison's Mother
Said to herself, said she:
"I can get right down
to the end of the town
and be back in time for tea."

King John
Put up a notice,

  James James
Morrison Morrison
(Commonly known as Jim)
Told his
Other relations
Not to go blaming him.
James James
Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he:
"You must never go down to the end of the town
without consulting me."

James James
Morrison's mother
Hasn't been heard of since.
King John said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.
King John
(Somebody told me)
Said to a man he knew:
If people go down to the end of the town, well,
what can anyone do?"

 There has been a new rash of disobedience in my house lately. I am ashamed to say it has not all been the children...a good amount of it has! But not all...

Funny how we can often link our kids' behavior to our own. When I am in a general life slump, my kids become whiny, disobedient and defiant. Then, because they are acting up, I get frustrated and start yelling and then my husband gets mad because the kids are being disrespectful to mom (and being whiny, disobedient and defiant  and he sends kids to their room and it feels like life becomes a battle on all counts. I will admit, there are times I envy James' mom! Not that I want to 'never be heard from again' but a trip to the other side of town all alone would not come amiss! 

I am going to warn you all right now. I may step on a few toes with this post. There have been some ideas floating around in my head for some time now and I need to get them out. I assure you, as I write this that no one close to me has sparked these ideas. It has mostly come from reading books, articles and paying general attention as I go to about my day. Remember, writing is how I process, so even as I state an opinion it does not mean that it will not change by the time I get to the end of my post, nor does it mean I look down on those that believe otherwise. It is my own opinion at this moment, nothing more. I am always open to learning and growing, this is just part of the process.

 A fellow mom friend and I were talking the other day. As we discussed our children, their joys and challenges - I mentioned a new fad that has seemed to come up regularly in my interaction with strangers. I have touched on it before, but lately it has come up several times and it has me thinking on it again. 

One example, as we were leaving gymnastics last weekend: 

Lady at desk: "Are all these girls yours?"
Me: "Yup, three girls"
Lady: That is a lot of estrogen in one house!
Me: "Yes,(laughing) luckily dad has a garage so he can take a break from all these girls every once in a while if he needs to.
Lady: Yeah! That is terrible! You are going to be miserable when they are all teenagers, I feel so bad for you! I would NOT want to live in your house in a few years.
Me: (hands on kids that are standing right there, and listening to these terrible words being said about them. Did she not see them standing right there?) We are going to have fun when they are teenagers. Just like we have fun now. I like my kids, we like being together. That will not change as they get bigger.

Then we hastily left before she could add any argument to my statement. I'm not sure if she was joking and I was just missing it - perhaps she was. But it sure didn't sound like it, and my kids were right there!

As I talked this over with my friend she mentioned that so often these days, kids are treated as accessories and parents act so surprised when their lives change when they have them. This leads to them passing on "The doom is coming!" attitude that far to many parents have when talking to newer/soon to be parents that have not yet reached a stage in parenting that they have already been through. "You think those kids make your life hard now? Just wait until such-and-such stage! They will inconvenience you EVEN MORE!" Or even worse "This is your first child? Enjoy being free now because you will be miserable from here on out!" It drives me crazy. 

Are kids inconvenient? Yes. Is it hard to have "my own life" while raising kids? Yes. Do I complain, whine, yell, struggle, feel completely overwhelmed, want to stop and just take a break every so often? Yes. I have even been known to fall into the category that I now admonish, probably more times then I can count - so know that I speak of myself here as well...I am not saying we should not feel these things. But I am saying we need a serious change of attitude as parents. 

I have read countless articles in the past few years about "banishing the mommy guilt." Mommy guilt has become an entity in and of itself - and for good reason. It starts the moment you get that positive pregnancy test and realize with terror that you just drank not one, but TWO glasses of wine last night. "I was pregnant then! What if I have RUINED my child!!?" And from there it just gets worse. The worry, the shame, the  countless studies, books, articles about what is best. What we should/should not be feeding our kids and when and how they should learn to fall asleep and in what position (because if you put your child down to sleep on their stomach it means you do not love your kid...right? And heaven forbid you switch them foreword facing in a carseat before they are 4!) The stress about whether to stay home or return to work, the guilt that follows you either way. The pressure to use cloth diapers, buy the right shoes, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate (or insert: Breastfeed, circumcise, spank, home school and/or co-sleep into that field and it is just as controversial) and god forbid you allow your toddler to watch TV!?! Not to mention attempting to have consistent effective discipline - but not too firm, and not too soft - makes you feel like Goldie-Locks trapped in a make-believe world full of toddlers in bear suites eating organic porridge and discussing the benefits of the cry-it-out method vs. attachment parenting.  

There is no winning. But that doesn't make us all losers. You see, we have taken it to the other extreme now. We have thrown out the "mommy guilt  so completely that we no longer feel accountable for our out of control kids. We have decided it is ok to mope as parents. Whine to or about our kids, yell when we get angry and argue with them and throw mini temper tantrums of our own because things are not turning out to be as nice and peachy as we thought it was all going to be.  

And for some reason it is ok, because we have "ditched the mommy guilt" And if anyone DARES tell us that perhaps there is another way all hell WILL break lose. Because 'I'm the mommy so I'm the boss!' And so we disconnect from one another. We don't judge, we don't make eye contact, we don't offer a helping hand or any advice because it is not our place, let them be miserable all alone. I was, they can be too!  

I've been there. I've done that. I have yelled at my kids, I have given in when I know I shouldn't have. I have been inconsistent. I have taken my frustration at a completely unrelated situation out on them. I have been quick to anger, whiny, self absorbed and defensive. I have forgotten to give hugs, I have not asked for forgiveness. I have done things as a parent for which I feel loads of guilt. 

And you know what? What I did/said/thought was not ok. I was wrong. Very wrong. The guilt was well deserved. 

 Mommy-guilt is there for a reason. It is through guilt and shame that we learn. We learn that what we are doing is not effective, and needs to be changed. It is in that place of humbleness that we can accept the fact that we will never be perfect parents, that we will never have perfect kids. That we are all learning together to be God's children. 

Now I am not saying you should be torn with guilt because you chose disposables over cloth or because your baby doesn't get the recommended '10 minutes, three times a day" of "tummy-time." You have to find your "appropriate guilt lines.  Mine look something like this:

Inappropriate Guilt| Kinda Appropriate  guilt ||  Appropriate Guilt |||
potty trained@2|organic food||screaming at my kids|||hitting in anger|||good manners||sleeping||matching socks |

Does that make sense? Everyone's lines will be different. Define yours, stick to it and that way if something falls outside of your lines, you know there is no reason to stress or feel guilty over it. However, if something happens that falls within your lines and you feel guilt? Good! That means your bothersome six legged friend is  doing his job and causing you to feel pain as a result of committing a crime against your morals. That is what he is there for after all, well that and wishing on stars.

We have all met that parent. You know the one I am talking about. The one that knows all the answers before they ever even get pregnant? Or they don't even bother preparing because they are planning on just learning as they go, it seems easy enough. 'After all, I feel like I could do so much better of a job then my friends have done with their kids. How hard can it  be? I am sure we will be just fine! I babysat a lot as a teenager. I KNOW what it is like to take care of a baby. Piece of cake!' And then when reality hits they think that they obviously must have an unusually "spirited" child and THAT is why everything is not going according to their plans.

This parent is the one that has an unusually hard delivery (at least according to them). When asked how they are feeling their response is usually proceeded by a sigh or a groan and slow blinking of eyes as they shake their head and say, "O....k." as if they are a martyr that has just come out of the pit.  The baby never sleeps, and they are quick to complain, but if you offer any "I have been there!" consolance they shake their heads in a "You just don't understand," movement, close up the conversation and move on.  They don't want anyone to understand. They want you to say "Oh I am so sorry! Poor poor you! That is TERRIBLE! How have you survived thus far? You poor poor creature." 

Then the baby grows and is constantly getting into things - yet the parent refuses to baby proof? Then it becomes a toddler and is constantly throwing fits and disobeying and the mother acts as if there is nothing they can do and no light at the end of the tunnel. That they will be in misery FOR EVER and why are all these other parents not gasping in despair with me as I relate my tale of woe!?! Those other parents act as if it is something they have heard before, like it is no big deal, like it is funny?! 

No, I promise, it was not funny at the time, other moms understand that. But it will be someday. Trust me! And it ends, oh it ends. And no, your 2 year old is not worse then any other 2 year old. They are simply a 2 year old! We have all dealt with screaming in the grocery store, we have all had to clean poop out of unspeakable places and listened to hours of tantruming. It will be ok. Please, feel free to vent. But DO something about it in the process. Do you feel your baby is unusually fussy? Find out why, ask the questions. Not sleeping? There are LOTS of things you can try to make that better. Is your toddler out of control? Read the books that have tools in there to help, designed specifically for out-of-control toddlers (I highly recommend the book 1-2-3 magic. I personally think it is one of the best parenting books on the market. And it is a super easy read, very short. Very simple. VERY helpful!) Talk to other parents, especially ones who have been in your situation and listen to their advice instead of telling them all the reasons their suggestions wont work. Sure, not all of the advice will be helpful, in fact a good amount of it wont be. But every so often you will hear something that REALLY works, and you will never know unless you try. And at the very least, know that you are not alone. You know the parents that laugh when they hear your stories? It is because they have been there, and they came out the other end ok. Their kid is ok, and everyone survived!

For those of you that don't know me, I am going to be very clear here. I am not a naturally empathetic person. I have had to learn. So some of this is just my own issues that I need to work on, I can accept that. And because of this, I work very hard not to judge people personally.  But something I hate, and I mean hate is someone who identifies a problem in their life, and refuses to do something about it - instead constantly complains. I hate it in me (yes, I have been that person before, and hated it) and I hate seeing it in others. It is one of the reasons I stopped teaching highschool, because it is rampant among high-schoolers, and while I could let some of that go because they are young and they are still growing - I saw it just as often in the parents and that made me so angry I would feel physically ill. 

A speaker I heard recently said it well. She said that if a friend of hers is going through a hard patch, be that because of their marriage, money, kids, weight-loss/gain, a friend, ANYTHING at all that is causing stress and the desire to "vent" then she will listen. Once. She said "I will give them my amazon account number and buy them as many books as they need to get the tools to fix it. I will cry with them, brainstorm with them. Listen as they talk through the steps of their struggle as they work their way out." But if they are not doing something to make the situation better, then she will not listen, because that is not helping, that is enabling. And that is not healthy, so you may not vent over and over again without actively taking steps to make it better. She will not allow herself to be an emotional punching bag. And neither will I.     

I miss the village mentality. Parents have become such loners in their parenting. We were not meant to do this alone. If my child steps out of line and I am not there to see it? PLEASE tell them that is not acceptable behavior. Kids are smart, they know how to get away with things. But how much more would they watch their behavior if they knew every adult was in league with one another? Every adult is working with each other to make sure all the kids are taken care of, kept accountable and have every need met. The mommy-guilt has reached so far into our lives that we feel guilty asking for help. We feel like we should have this all-together. After all, from our angle it looks like everyone else does. What makes me so different?!?!

I cannot tell you how many times I have thought that. Why do they seem to have it under control and I feel like I am drowning? Only to REALLY talk with the other mom to find out that they thought the same thing about me. We feel so guilty that we hide in our own boxes, letting the behavior get worse and worse, become more and more consumed, and then when we are told to "ditch the mommy-guilt" we feel guilty that we feel so guilty and ashamed of ourselves that we break and we stop trying. Because the only way to ditch the guilt is to just stop trying.

But what if we used the guilt to our advantage? Use it to fuel change? Use it to connect with other moms. Share ideas, war stories, successes, things we are afraid of, things that have us stumped. Instead of congratulating one another on "ditching the mommy guilt"

Mom 1: Little Tommy watched 3 Elmo's and 2 Thomas shows yesterday, I know that is terrible for him, but I just needed a moment of quiet!
Mom 2: Don't worry, I do that all the time! I am ashamed to admit how much TV my kids actually watch! Mom 1: Oh that makes me feel so much better!

But it isn't better. Now it is just two moms putting a band-aid on a bigger problem and justifying it because misery loves company.

What if that could become:

Mom 1:  Little Tommy watched 3 Elmo's and 2 Thomas shows yesterday, I know that is terrible for him, but I just needed a moment of quiet!
Mom 2: Is everything ok? What has been so overwhelming lately? Is there anything I can do to help? I know sometimes lots of TV can make attitudes even worse in my house. Not saying I have not done it! But rarely does it help. Would you like to brainstorm some ideas with me? We have been in a slump in our house lately too and I would love your input on some kid entertainment ideas that could help give us some motivation to get away from activities that just make bad behavior worse.

 We need to do life together. We need to be a village. We need to support one another, call one another out when we need too - ask for help when we need it, admit to ourselves and to our kids when we have been doing it wrong and seek out the wisdom of those that have done it right and are now basking in the glow of grandkids and a full nights sleep.

I am the first to admit that I do not do this well. I am proud. I am arrogant. I do not like to admit I am struggling. But I do, oh I struggle. And I am so thankful for those in my life that have not allowed me to struggle alone - whether I liked them at the time or not!

So let us make a vow together. We bring back the mommy-guilt, and in so doing - we will do life together. I am not right all the time, but occasionally I am - and you are rarely wrong, but it does happen. And if we know that when we fall there is someone there to help us get up again, then the fall wont sting quite so much. And we can laugh with one another knowing that you may have fallen this time, but my turn will be next and then you will help me up again.

I will never be a perfect parent, my kids will never be perfect kids. We are all learning together to be God's children. We are all learning, always learning... 

There are lots and lots of people who are always asking things,
Like Dates and Pounds-and-ounces and the names of funny Kings,
And the answer's always Sixpence or a Hundred Inches Long.
And I know they'll think me silly if I get the answer wrong.
So Pooh and I go whispering, and Pooh looks very bright,
And says, "Well, I say sixpence, but I don't suppose I'm right."
And then it doesn't matter what the answer ought to be,
'Cos if he's right, I'm Right, and if he's wrong, it isn't Me. 
- A.A.Milne

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ayla is 5

These kids just keep growing!!

Remember when you were a kid and every adult you saw made some comment on "How much you had grown" or "Last time I saw you you were knee-high to a grasshopper!" or something of the like. I remember thinking that grown-ups had this weird obsession with kids growing that made very little sense. They were so amazed every time, as if they had forgotten it existed and were shocked to discover that it happened every single day. I swore I would never say silly things like that to or about kids when I was a grown-up.

I was wrong.

In a way, my scoffing at grown-up thoughts were not too far off. You see, we adults don't change a whole lot. Little by little yes, but these kids often seem to grow overnight and it feels like magic! So, annoyed as I remember being as a kid when adults would make comments about me growing, I find myself doing it now! I stand completely amazed every day as these kids make leaps and bounds before my very eyes, a very real kind of wild magic, truly breathtaking.

As most of you know, we started a tradition a  few years back. I interview my kids every year around their birthdays so we can see how they have grown in the last year. I am always amazed at their answers. Sometimes so very wise for their years, sometimes so very silly. But always fun! Here is last years' interview if anyone is feeling nostalgic:

And for your reading pleasure, my Ayla at 5 years old:

What is your name? Ayla

How old are you? fou...I mean five!

What grade are you in? Umm....I don't know.

What does your mommy do all day? Clean! (I asked for clarification - like what do I clean, what is the name of my job, what else do I do, etc and she was adamant  According to Ayla, I clean all day, everyday. I wish I could say she was entirely wrong...)

What does daddy do all day? Work (Again I attempted to get details and all she would say is "Work to get some money" She seems to have not a clue what kind of work Daddy actually does...I will admit I am sketchy myself on those details at times)

'What do you like to play with mommy? I like to play....Hide and seek!

What do you like to play with daddy? I like to work with Daddy. I like to help him do his work like sweeping outside.

What advice would you give your parents? NICE! (sounds reasonable)

What do you do all day? I go to school. Does that word spell school? (pointing to word) Wow! That is a long word!

What is your favorite part of school? Going outside! (Taylor: [in her bossiest voice] Ayla I think that is called recess.) Going outside! But sometimes I get kind of cold outside. 

What is your favorite color? Green, Blue, Every color! But green, blue and pink are my favorite color. 

Why do you like being a kid? Because I go to school and I am trying to read. 

What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to be a Mama Doctor (Do you want to be a doctor for Mama's or a Dr. and a Mama?) A Doctor AND a Mama. I want to be both. 

Where do you want to live when you grow up? I want to live in a hotel and work at the hotel! I want to be a Mama, a Doctor and work at a hotel!

What is your favorite food? Peanut Butter and Jelly and Lunchables!

What is your least favorite food? Is NOTHING!

What do you like to play with your sisters? Hide and Seek. But sometimes Kaylee doesn't want to play with me. But sometimes she does want to play. I like Hide and Seek. 

What are your friends names? Sammy is my friend. And Michael and Alexis and Sophie and Jack and Ayla! I am my friend too. Mama that one says "Ayla!" You know I am my friend too mama? Ayla is my friend. Is that silly!?!

What is your favorite thing to wear? Dresses. Because I love summer to get HOT. (So says the child in the middle of February). 

What is your favorite book? I don't know, I am going to go look! I like the storybook Bible (we had just read it, so it was easy to spot!) Because I like God!

What is the grossest thing you can think of? Goo. (T: I would say Rat Brains) And rat brains! I don't like rat brains. Here! Have some rat brains Mama! (hands me imaginary rat brains)

What is your favorite toy? Baby dolls. And squeaky, my whistling toy I got at the zoo!

What is your favorite thing to help Mommy do? Sweep the Kitchen floor (gotta get this kid her own broom I guess!)

What is your favorite thing to do outside? Climb the Elephant. Wow Mama "Climb" is a long word! (when I write fast I guess I don't put large spaces between my words!)

Where do babies come from? From tummies.

Where do you like to go in the car? I like to go to the beach

Where do you live? I live here! In the United States of America with everybody! (spoken like a true american?)

What do you like about being 5? I like to be 5 and not pick my nose anymore. (T: Ayla you could have done that when you were 4) Nope. I just pick my nose with tissues and sometimes I still put my hands on my nose like this. See? (puts hands on her nose, but to her credit, does not pick it!)

What new things can you do now that you are 5? Oh I can get clothes that don't fit me. 5T clothes, because they are too small. I can get new underwear and I DON'T LIKE RAT BRAINS! 

Ah me - these girls keeps me entertained!  

Ayla is getting so mature. She has very little interest in things, she likes people the most. She is very generous with her toys, she loves to share. Someone playing pretend with Ayla means she is in absolute heaven. She is getting very good at gymnastics  she has the strong frame for it. School is hard for her, but she loves learning so she keeps at it. She is making good choices with her attitude and trying not to use whining voices, something we have been working HARD on. She doesn't like it when she doesn't get her way, but she is learning. She is getting better at cleaning her room and has gotten so good at drawing pictures. She loves her sisters so very much, gives wonderful hugs, makes a ferocious pirate, loves climbing EVERYTHING and collecting rocks and bugs. She is so sweet and loving to her family and I can say without a doubt that she is my very favorite 5 year old in this whole entire world. 

I love you so very much my Ayla. I am so glad you are you!

Love forever, your Mom