Jun 182012
 

Recently, my husband and I went hiking with our boys. I ended up with a four-year-old on my back as I made my way up a pretty strenuous two mile trail. Not being one to waste an opportunity, I decided to turn this into a training exercise and kicked it into high gear. It was rough. My son was heavy, the path was steep and I was feeling pretty toasty. As I neared the summit I could feel my energy waning and my stamina failing me. “What do you think?” I huffed and puffed to my son. Don’t judge me, but what I wanted him to say was, “You are doing a good job, Mama!” And if he screamed it at the top of his lungs, that would have been all the better. I have to admit that I wanted him to praise me. I wanted encouragement; I wanted him to notice how hard I was working and pat me on the back and tell me how great I was doing. In this time when the use of praise in parenting is being thoughtfully considered, when even I have written about avoiding praise in general, I fully admit to wanting  a “good job, Mama” from him.

But he didn’t give it.

Instead he said, “I think that the uphill seems longer than the downhill.”

Huh. “Anything else? Do you notice anything else?” I REALLY wanted him to tell me I was doing great.

“Yep. I notice that you’re very sweaty and you need a shower.”

I couldn’t argue that, but it wasn’t exactly encouraging. He kept going. “I notice the hill is getting steeper.” “I’m pretty tired of riding; are we going to be there soon?” “I’m hungry for my sandwich, I think it’s past lunch time.” “This is taking a long time.” “Can I go back and get that stick?” “I wonder if Mr. Incredible would jump right off this cliff.” For the last 10 minutes of my workout, I got a steady stream of four-year-old consciousness. When we got to the top, he went about his business of scouring the area for bugs and sticks and bad guys while I tried to regain feeling in my legs and convince my lungs not to explode. After a few minutes I shamelessly tried one last time to get some praise.

“I didn’t think we would make it, did you?”

He looked at me blankly. “Why wouldn’t we have made it?”

I realized in that moment that he didn’t feel any need to praise or encourage me because he had no concept that I wouldn’t accomplish the task. He also had no idea what the task was or why I was doing it. For him, saying “good job” would have been meaningless. (I also realized that it shouldn’t be his job to praise me and the fact that I was hoping for it was a little bit silly, but that’s another story.)

But, in that moment, I also recognized that while we may be questioning the use of praise in general, maybe there is a time and place for cheerleading in parenting. There are many times when children struggle just as much with a task as I was struggling up the hill. Maybe they are laboring to complete a new skill, working hard to accomplish something that may be taking all their energy, concentration and effort. Maybe they are on the verge of giving up and what they really need is a cheerleader. Someone to get excited and urge them on and say, “Look at you! You’re doing it! Hooray! Keep working!” at the top of our lungs. I think that this type of praise is different from the “good job” we throw out 10 or 20 times a day for meaningless things. In fact, I think it is less about the words we use and more about being present in the moment. Sometimes the moment calls for reflecting, sometimes it calls for stepping out of the way and sometimes it calls for cheerleading.

And, maybe even more importantly, I realized that we as parents sometimes need the same thing. Parenting can be strenuous, difficult, trying, tricky, stressful and downright exhausting. Our backs creak and our hearts ache and our heads hurt. Sometimes it can feel like we will never make it up the hill with the kid on our back. And not only are we carrying the kids, but we are balancing work and home and partners and day-to-day responsibilities. And, on top of that, we are becoming more and more conscientious of how we parent and why we parent and how we say something and why we say something. We don’t just stop at being loving parents, we have incredible expectations. The mountain is high and sometimes we just need someone to yell at the top of their lungs that they think we are doing a great job.

So maybe we don’t always respond to our kids the right way. And maybe we gave praise when we could have reflected. And maybe we used “time out” as a way to take a breather. And maybe we zigged when we could have zagged or turned left when we could have gone right. Today, more than ever, parents seem to be driven to consider their parenting styles, work to improve their parenting skills and really think about themselves and their roles as parents. And for that I say: “GOOD JOB, MAMA and PAPA!”

I notice how hard you are working!

I appreciate how thoughtful you are about your parenting!

I love that you are struggling and succeeding in being a different kind of parent!

It’s hard and you are doing it!

Keep it up! It’s so worth it!

So, while we may never get it from our children, we should get it from each other. Praise, respect, encouragement, cheerleading, from one parent to another. Parenting can be a doozy of a hill. Together, we will make it to the summit. And, I hear, the view is spectacular at the top.

 Posted by at 3:03 pm
May 122012
 

My husband asks what I want for Mother’s Day. Breakfast in bed, time alone, chocolate, wine, dinner, flowers? Of course I want all these things, but none of them really captures what is in my heart this Mother’s Day.  Perhaps I am feeling a bit wistful because I just put away the winter clothes that my youngest has outgrown, or I am exhausted from another sleepless night or exhilarated from the growth spurt that seems to be measurable in inches before my eyes. Maybe I am basking in the kisses of two amazing boys, or drowning in the bathtub that won’t ever get clean, or lost in laundry or stunned by the newest phrase that came out of one of their mouths.

Maybe it is a combination of all these things, but when I think of Mother’s Day, I can’t seem to stay focused on myself. Rather, I find myself feeling a communal connection with women all over the world. Women who live down the street from me who I know, at this moment, are having the same silly discussion with their preschoolers about poop that I am having. Women who live in my town who I know will be up at 2:30 with me giving tender kisses to little ones. Women who live across the country or across the world who no doubt have the same tears and fears and smiles and joys that I do when it comes to this thing called motherhood.

For me, this year, motherhood is about the sisterhood. It is about all the women for hundreds of generations who have laughed and cried with their children and with each other. The women who have whispered sweet goodnights into the ears of little ones and screamed on behalf of their children and left blood and sweat and tears along the path to ensure that their children had it one step better than they did. For me, this year, motherhood is about all of you: The mamas who have come before me and those who are walking with me and those who will face the same path long after I am gone. Because whether I know you and cry with you or not, whether you are a close friend or a distant thought, the stream of motherhood consciousness holds us together.

There is a collective power that mothers seem to hold, embrace and create. And, although at times it can feel like I am trudging down the path of motherhood alone, with no one but a small child to talk to, I can always stop and draw on the millions of mothers around the world that are my sisters. I know that in their hearts they understand me, even if they don’t know me. In their hearts they have been where I am. No matter what I feel or think or experience, another mother is thinking or experiencing the same thing.

Sometimes I sit and watch my children and feel a surge in my heart so strong that I cannot imagine how I can live through it. I cannot dream of how I could ever express what I feel or explain to anyone else just how much I love these small people I am mothering. Sometimes I sit and hold my child against my skin and wonder if I could ever put into words the emotions that I feel for him. The joy, the fear, the dreams, the wonder. The immense ball of emotion that pulses through my heart and veins and out my pores. And then I realize, I don’t have to put it into words. I don’t have to try to explain it. Because mothers everywhere feel the same thing. We are united in this indescribable emotion, and, in that, we are forever sisters.

So here is to you, my sisters around the world, my sisters throughout time. Here is to all the mothers everywhere that share in my experience of this amazing journey.

So, do I want to sleep in? Eat chocolate? Go to brunch? Heck, yeah. Because I wouldn’t turn any of those down any day of the year. But in my heart, Mother’s Day this year is so much more. I am eternally grateful to my children on this Mother’s Day for allowing me to have such a connection with amazing women everywhere. Whether our children are newborn or grown, whether we have one child or ten children, we can find solace in each other and in the common path our hearts take. It is amazing and precious and scary and encompassing and passionate and vital and true. It is motherhood, and it is ours.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 Posted by at 10:42 pm
Sep 262011
 

The other day at the park I overheard two moms talking about another mom they both knew. They were talking about that mother’s decision to try the “cry-it-out method” to help her child sleep: “She’s crazy.” “I would never do that to my baby.” “It just seems too awful.” Even though the mother-on-trial wasn’t there, I felt a pang of empathy for her. Her friends’ judgments were anything but supportive. I imagined a mother at the end of her rope, exhausted from lack of sleep, maybe at odds with her partner due to the nighttime stress. She probably feels pretty alone and frazzled and scared she is making the wrong decision. She has probably fretted and worried and changed her mind about how to parent her little one and finally committed to a certain method. A method that at least two of her friends disagree with.

I wondered where that left her. Where does that leave any of us?

As parents we enter into a world that no one can really prepare us for. Even though millions have forged the road ahead of us, we still feel as if we are inventing the wheel, each step can feel new and awkward, scary and difficult. We constantly question ourselves. Are we doing it right? Are we messing everything up? We are our own worst critic. We judge ourselves constantly.

And who do we turn to for solace, refuge, support? Our friends. Other moms who share our common experience. Others who are where we are or who have been where we are now. Women. Mothers. Sisters. Friends. They should be our closest allies. We should be able to wrap ourselves in the warmth of our commonality and feel comforted knowing we are not alone. We should be able to tell our “sisters” all of our worries, all the things we fear we are doing wrong, all the things we judge ourselves so harshly for.

But, we don’t. Why? We fear judgment from them.

And, sadly, I wonder if our fears are often justified.

I know it’s an amazingly blatant generalization, but I have to say it anyway. Women seem to be almost as judgmental of other women as we are of ourselves. Maybe it makes us feel better, more competent in our own parenting to be able to judge others. Maybe it’s just habit. Maybe our judgments are really just reflections of our own worries.

Whatever it is, one thing is for sure. It keeps lots of us from really giving or receiving the support we need from our “sisters.” And during this amazing stage of life called mothering, we may need our sisters more than ever.

So what can we do about it? How can we change our Mama Circles from being a Jury of Our Peers to a Sisterhood of Support? I propose that a few new truths can make all the difference:

1)      There is no “Right Way” to parent. Parenting strategies have to work for the child, the parent and the family. If they don’t, the strategy just won’t be effective. We have to be true to our own dynamics first rather than blindly following a theory or advice.

2)      All kids are different, all parents are different, all families are different.

3)      Parents are the only ones who can be an expert on their family.

4)      As parents, we all have things we will do “right” and things we will do “wrong.” In that way, all sisters are equal.

5)      Parenting is like a Monet painting. It’s the accumulation of a million decision points parents make over the years that create the painting. One individual dot probably won’t make or break us. We agonize over the dots instead of working toward the bigger picture. Sisters can help bring us back to the bigger picture rather than adding critique to the dot.

6)      And maybe the most universal and important truth. If you’re a mother, no matter what pain, fear, anxiety or regret is being expressed by your “sister,” you have probably been there. If not, then you will be soon. Listen with empathy.

As women, let’s ban together. Let’s commit to loving each other, supporting each other and helping each other thrive as mothers. Let’s adopt the mantra “I’m with ya, Sister!” and really mean it. Let’s let go of the judgments and give each other what we really want in return: Pure, unadulterated support with no strings attached from the only people who can really understand how we feel. Our sisters.

Sep 122011
 

I love my mom. My mom is awesome. She was a stay-at-home mom until I was about 8 or 9 years old. She made clothes for my dolls, she hand-sewed pillows of the letters of my name, she even threw a sleepover St. Patrick’s Day party with green make-your-own pretzels just because we were moving and I would miss my friends.

She was a role model for keeping an orderly and clean house, she created nutritious family meals and always made our birthdays and holidays extra special and magical. I admired when she went back to school and established a career. I so valued the fairness she always aimed for between my brothers, my sister and me.

I learned so much from my mom that nourished my development and made me the person I am today—and yet, there was at least one important area that I had to learn on my own. This was highlighted for me when my son was first born and I was still nursing him. I was spending a week at the beach with my extended family. As many of you know, nursing along with sleep interruption can be very demanding physically. I was about 6-8 weeks into it, and let’s just say Jacob was not a great sleeper. One morning Jacob started to fuss and seemed to be hungry, so before getting “into position” to nurse him for what could be up to 30-45 minutes, I decided to first eat a quick breakfast. My mother didn’t control herself from chiming in with her vote on my decision. “Juuulie…,” said with that tone that conveys in an instant that I have done something that warrants disapproval. It became clear in that moment that I was not following my mother’s wisdom but instead my own. Just like on an airplane when the adult puts on her oxygen mask first and then assists the child—this was what I was doing with my son. I was grateful that my mom was able to hear my perspective and acknowledge that somehow both my sister and I were able to learn this valuable lesson on our own. I learned it the hard way. I learned it after a variety of “accumulated-stress/health crisis” type experiences where I realized that I must take care of myself (my heart, body and soul) because others won’t AND that I must do this to better serve my family.

This lesson is one that I think we all circle back to many times in our lives. It is frankly challenging to do and often requires a certain set of conditions to sustain. What works at 20 or 30 may not at 40. What was possible before kids may need to be revised after kids. Below are some specific aspects I have learned with regard to self-care:

  • Break the downward spiral. This can be the hardest part. When we find ourselves over-tired, anxious, craving sweets and it’s raining outside—what is it going to take to break the cycle enough to move us towards feeling better enough to want to keep doing what is best for our own care? Identify the support you need and get it.
  • Get the help you need. If you need to jump start out of a downward spiral, you might want to pay a professional (doctor, naturopath, therapist, acupuncturist, personal trainer, coach, etc.) to turn the tide. A little St. John’s Wort could go a long way.
  • Build a community of support. Once the momentum is headed in the right direction, your support could be your spouse, your friends, or relatives. How we eat and what we value is significantly influenced by those we are with daily. How often have we been drawn into having a chocolate éclair just because our sweetie bought it for us?
  • Find what works for you. For your body. (Do you need a run to get the serotonin going or is restorative yoga the type of relaxation your body craves?) Experiment, learn about physiology and nutrition and use your self-awareness to discern the right formula for you.

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Aug 232011
 

“It takes a village.” A war cry for decreasing juvenile delinquency and improving educational success. The saying has become almost cliché amidst the myriad talk show topics and political references. But what does it really mean? How can “the village” really improve the lives of struggling youth and how can it impact the average family?

To us “the village” is really an intentional community. It used to be that individuals and families gathered together in close proximity to share the responsibilities of daily life. From child care to collective meals to protection from predators, people found support and relied on each other to get their basic needs met. Today in our society, families live farther and farther from their loved ones. They can get their basic needs met through one trip to the local “Super Store” and spend a majority of their time in isolation. It seems that our reliance on others has shifted and that depending on others is not only inconvenient, it is frowned upon. A sign of weakness.

But what we gain in independence, we lose in connection. And while some of us are fortunate enough to be a part of a great network of friends or religious groups or parent groups, we often find that people are reluctant to ask these groups for help when it counts. While we will show up for playgroups or nights out on the town, we hold back from asking our networks to help with childcare when we are in a bind, or to help make a meal when we just can’t get it on the table. For these things, our individual families “tough it out” and “find a way to manage”. While we may be successful at managing, we may also be missing out on an amazing opportunity to be a part of a bigger community.

Intentional community building means that groups of families design ways for the collective group to help meet the needs of all the individuals. In doing this, existing groups go from “good” to “great”. From “friends” to “family”. From “managing” to “thriving.” How does this happen? The possibilities are endless. With our facilitation we will help existing groups to build out ideas, establish methods, and create the framework for things like babysitting co-ops, pot-luck dinners or rotating meal sharing systems, garden or house project teams, and more.

Parenting suddenly multiplies time and financial demands in ways that no one expects. Maybe families were not meant to negotiate these challenges in isolation. Supporting each other in more meaningful ways can elicit positive impact on our core basic needs; like sleep, nutrition and social connection. It can give us amazing opportunity to experience our connection to each other in a more profound way. It can help us to be better friends, better people and maybe most importantly, better parents.  Not to mention, some values are best taught through community: Shared responsibility, giving and receiving, unity.

If you have an existing group that would like to come together for intentional conversation contact us. Our professional facilitation will provide a process for full participation in building consensus on a clear vision and action plan. Let’s move toward making the village more than just a cliché.

 Posted by at 1:58 pm
Aug 022011
 

Motherhood Bliss. I heard about it, read about, talked about it and expected it. It is in part, why I was so excited to get pregnant. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to coo over tiny fingers and get lost in the first smile of a newborn? And then there is the other side. Post partum depression. As a psychologist I knew all about that too. I understood the diagnosis and was ready to look for symptoms. My midwife and pediatricians were great about checking in with me to make sure I wasn’t suffering from a serious depression that may interfere with my ability to care for my child, or myself. They would run down the list of symptoms.  Mood swings? Well, my hormones were pretty wacky, does that count? Anxiety? I was terrified of doing something wrong as a parent, worried about my baby’s every breath, does that count? Disrupted sleep? Come on, really? Is there a new mom who sleeps peacefully? Irritability?  I was sleep deprived and my boobs hurt. You could say I was irritable.  Uncontrolled crying? I find myself welling up from time to time, usually overcome with an overwhelming love and awe for the little person in front of me, does that count?  Sadness? Well, let’s talk about that one. Between you and me, there was something there, way in the back of my mind. I didn’t dare acknowledge it out loud, because that might have meant that I was not experiencing motherhood bliss.  And I must have been blissful, because I couldn’t say I was depressed and those were my only two options right? So I pushed it away. Never mind, no sadness here!

Somehow my midwife and I came to the conclusion that I was not experiencing post partum depression.  Excellent, I was in the midst of motherhood bliss.  Good to know.  My friends and family told me I looked great. I was glowing. Excellent. Good to know.

Most of the time I believed them. Most of the time it was true. Most of the time, I was in utter love and complete awe of the magic that was transforming my life into something that I never imagined was possible. Some of the time I even felt like the moms in movies and on the cover of magazines, vibrant and alive with a lusty obsession with my baby. For the most part I was content to stare at him sleeping, and when I was not staring at him, I was probably staring at pictures of him, afraid of missing one tiny miniscule moment of his life.

And then, the sadness would pop up. Just a glimmer of it. A nudge really, elbowing me in the inner recesses of my mind. A thought formed….”who am I now?” I was quick to answer, I am a mom. And mostly I loved the answer. And then another thought…”what did I use to do, what did I use to like?” I was not sure. How did I ever think any of those things were important? I wondered if I was previously just an incredibly shallow and unenlightened person or did the things I use to like to do really matter in another world, in another time, to another person. The old me. The childless me.

Where is that me? I would try to remember. I used to really love my career. I used to love to travel, to eat out in great restaurants with friends, a good bottle of wine, a good book. I used to love hot baths and long phone conversations and movies. Do I still like these things? Absolutely! And I would do any of them in a heartbeat….any chance I get. But they are secondary. They have ceased to be my first priority. Now, my career is a means to provide for my children. Travel consists of packing up to go the park or the zoo and eating out is limited to restaurants that have a train table. Last time I picked out a bottle of wine I grabbed the first one I saw with one hand as I reached for my toddler who was running down the aisle with the other.  I still read, but a book takes me months to finish and while I used to bask in the profoundly beautiful writing of Marquez and Hemmingway, I now am obsessed with Eric Carle, Richard Scary, and Dr. Seuss.  Hot baths? Well, I’m lucky to get a quick shower and that doesn’t happen without someone poking a head in or throwing a plastic dinosaur in with me. And as for long phone conversations, well, find someone who will tolerate talking for long when my part of the conversation is splattered with “please take the dinosaur out of your nose”  and “please don’t lick your brother’s head”.  When I do manage to squeeze in a conversation I am hard pressed to have something interesting to say that doesn’t concern poop.

I have become the person I always said I would never be.  I have become the typical mom. I am dying for a minivan and instead of surfing the internet to find  a great band to see with friends tonight I am surfing to find out what time story time at the library is. I am a parent to toddlers.  The things that used to define me are mere memories, whispers of a life that seems too far removed from my reality now to be obtainable. I am sure, that some day I will get back there. I will read something that has more than 10 words per page and have interesting thoughts about the state of the union.  I know this is true but somehow, right now I can’t imagine it.

And thus, the sadness. A bit of grieving for the person I was. Not an overwhelming sadness. Not an uncontrollable, diagnosable, depressed kind of sadness. It is a quiet feeling. An afterthought really. But it is real and true and undeniable.  And for some reason we don’t talk about it. At least I didn’t.

Maybe I am afraid of admitting that the “motherhood bliss” isn’t really all blissful all the time. Maybe I am afraid that admitting to a certain level of sadness may diminish my love for my children. Maybe I am afraid that people won’t think I am supermom.  Maybe I am afraid they will diagnosis me or label me with post partum depression and that will somehow make me less successful as a mother.

The reality is that both are true.  We can be in motherhood bliss. We can thrive on being with our kids and at any given moment we would probably rather be with them than doing anything else. We can be supermoms. We can breast feed and baby-wear and make homemade baby food from our organic garden and do art projects and trips to the Children’s Museum. We may love it all.

And we may just be  a little bit sad.

When ever I talk about this with other moms the same thing happens.  A collective sigh comes from all the supermoms in the room. The usual banter about diapers and nap routines is suddenly punctuated by a heartfelt commonality that we all seemed to understand but rarely speak about.  We were all in the midst of a drastic identity change and while we all embraced the profound meaning of motherhood, we were all a tiny bit sad about the profound loss of the things that use to be important to us.  Most importantly I think we all felt closer having taken the risk to admit to the sadness.

Just knowing that other supermoms feel the same way was an emotional elixir that soothed my worried soul. It seemed as if the worrying about the sadness was more troublesome than the sadness itself.  Like I said, the sadness itself was an afterthought. A fleeting feeling of loss that emerged from time to time.  The lingering result was the fear that experiencing this sadness somehow meant I loved parenthood less. That I was less than the supermom I wanted to be. Knowing that all the moms I look up to, all the moms that seem to have it all together, experience the same thing as me changed my outlook. Maybe the loss wouldn’t feel so lonely. Maybe the change wouldn’t  be so scary. I wish my friends who foraged the road to parenthood ahead of me had been able to talk about the downside a little bit more. I wish I had been in a place to listen to them if they had. I hope I can talk a little more honestly to my friends who will enter parenthood after me. Maybe together we can learn to celebrate the change, rather than ignore it.

 Posted by at 7:06 am