Category Archives: Parenting

WAHM, SAHM, Thank You, Ma’am

In January I had this thought: “I’m so unhappy. Maybe I should get a full-time, out-of-the-house job again.”

I was feeling done with taking care of a baby. Probably because I had been done.

Mothers are supposed to have rainbows shooting out of their hearts when it comes to their babies.

Babies. MomsicleBlog

[Insert rainbows.]

We all know parenthood is hard, but we talk about it being hard in a stoic martyrdom sort of way. It can be hard in a stark and scary way. As I said back in January, “I feel like [the baby] took a vibrant, passionate woman and turned her into a listless baby Sherpa.” (More on babies being adorable and annoying here.)

Things that were becoming more and more within range as the boys grew—professional aspirations, success tied to discrete goals, creative paid work—these things were blown out of reach like a plastic bag on a gust of wind.

“You don’t have to do this baby the same way as the boys,” my therapist said. She was right, of course. But it’s hard to wrap my head around having been a great stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) for K-Pants and Boy Woww, and feeling dread about doing the same thing for the baby.

I remember reading parenting books when I was pregnant with K-Pants that gently warned that husbands may not really enjoy parenting until the baby turned five or so—when regular-people activities started to overtake the Savannah-to-the-Sea insanity of infancy and toddlerhood. What about moms? Apparently we love to play peek-a-boo and go to Gymboree and clean up crushed Cheerios—and we just wait for the dads to catch up.

Maternal instincts. Biological clocks. These paints do not produce the same colors on every canvas, and we’re not good at acknowledging that.

So here I was in January, thinking about getting a full-time, out-of-the-house job again.

It didn’t quite feel right for me, but I wasn’t sure why. So I made a list of things in my life that give me purpose and joy and make me feel like I’m living into my values: walking the boys to-and-from school, working with clients on writing and editing projects, writing my blog, meeting my grandma for lunch, planning my permaculture garden, tromping around in nature, volunteering for kindergarten reading, and seeing close friends.

After I made the list, I noticed something: the baby was a very peripheral figure in all of it. I love having a flexible schedule to absorb our family’s bumps and turns, but I’m suffocated by baby care.

I decided a full-time, out-of-the-house job wouldn’t be a good fit. Instead, I needed to maintain and build my freelance work in order to have the professional life I crave and the family time I love. And that means more babysitting time for the Fairy Pig, and less baby care for me. (Shout out here to our babysitter Sue: Thank you.)

I’ve been really excited lately when girlfriends make the choice to go back to full-time, outside-of-the-house work after taking time off. I also love seeing girlfriends who love being SAHMs in all its beauty and grit. There’s no right choice or easy path. Knowing what’s right for you and your family—and being able to act on it—is a gift.

So I’m transitioning from being a SAHM with a writing addiction to a WAHM with a sometime baby sidekick. It’s the right choice for us.

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The Mommy Wars Are Irrelevant

The mommy wars are irrelevant. Choose what's best for your mental health.

No mother is perfectly happy or perfectly balanced. Not the stay-at-home ones, not the full-time-office ones. We’re all crashing around in our bumper cars trying to pick the right path through traffic.

The mommy wars are irrelevant

A few years ago I shared that I was a full-time mom with a seatmate on an airplane. “There’s no substitute,” she said. “It’s the best thing you can do for your kids.” She had been a stay-at-home mom.

Last year a Harvard study showed us that kids of working moms are better off in almost every way. That either felt great or terrible.

Either way, we crave the validation that these studies and interactions bring. We need to feel like our path is the one in which the kids will be all right, and that all the challenges and difficulty are worth it.

But what path is the one in which we’re all right, above what’s “best” for the kids? We should feel confident to choose what serves us best, because stable, well-adjusted parents with robust mental health are the greatest gift.

Six years down the road, I’m proud to watch close friends choose paths that are different than mine. The rightness and defensiveness of new parenthood has—mostly—worn off. I filter the motherhood studies, advice, and recommendations through the lens of what’s best for me and my family. I’m grateful to know women who stay at home full-time, who work in an office full-time and have au pairs, who cobble together childcare for freelance work, whose kids go to part-time preschool or full-time day care, who homeschool, or who go back to office work after years away.

No mother has it figured out. Being in balance takes a thousand ongoing adjustments. I’m grateful to have the freedom to fall, and to watch as others create their lives different from my own.

Escapism

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

My husband went away for four days. It’s the longest he’s been gone since the baby was born, which is quite remarkable given that she’s seven months old.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

To escape from what would have been four days of Dragon Mom’s psychotic dictatorship, I packed up the kids and my grandma and we went to the beach.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

Remember not to tell my grandma you know she was there. She prefers to live a blog-free life. “What grandma?” Exactly.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

My husband travels somewhat frequently, but I don’t exercise my slow-twitch business-trip muscle fibers enough run the race with endurance. I’m the one spasming and gasping for air.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

So we left.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

What’s the merit in tackling a parenting challenge head on when you can avoid it? Especially these days—I’m too tired.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

The Oregon Coast in winter can be volatile and wild.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

But adventure gives us something to live for.

Escapism. MomsicleBlog

 

Children Revolt Over Organic Dinner, Seek Out New Caregivers

January 6, 2016

Portland, Oregon— After extensive crying and whining over a dinner of roast beast, broccoli with garlic-tahini sauce, sautéed leeks and mushrooms, and mashed potatoes, two young boys set out to find a loving “chicken-fingers-only” family. The boys, six and four, say they will settle for “cheeseburgers-only.”

Organic Meal in the Making. MomsicleBlog“Could I be more cliché?” upper-middle-class mom Evelyn Shoop said. “I’m a white mom with a Master’s and I have an organic food delivery service. But you know what? I don’t care! I’m not stopping. I love Organics to You.”

Relatives confirm that this exhausted parent cooks mostly organic vegetables and meats. “She also eats gluten-free, which is just a bunch of baloney. No one ever had a problem with gluten when I was growing up. Barak Obama is the worst president in our history,” said an honored citizen who asked not to be named for this article.

“She thinks sugar makes us sick,” said Shoop’s six-year-old son. “We’re not even supposed to ask about treats. We do anyway and she gives in. But not enough. When we want treats we want them now.”

“Eeeeeeeeeehhwheeeeeeeeigh,” said Shoop’s four-year-old. His whine was unintelligible, but his emotion was clear.

Initially the boys attempted to rent a tiny-house nearby, but with no income, it proved difficult. “We didn’t want it anyway,” the older boy said. “We want someone else to cook.”

They are confident a “chicken-fingers-and-fries” family exists and will take them in. “It’s just time for us to go,” the six-year-old said. “She’s making us do more chores and she keeps saying ‘it’s hard work to be in a family’ and ‘you get what you get and you don’t have a fit.’”

I Want to Give You Permission to Be Mad at Your Kids

There’s this form of mom bullying that’s impossible to be angry at. It’s the hug-your-kids-a-little-tighter-because-I-can’t one.

I’ve done an experiment over this past summer and fall. It’s less experiment and more postpartum hormones ripping my emotional armor off and then adding in sleep deprivation. I’ve been signing my way through hundreds of compassionate petitions and I’m on too many action-for-justice mailing lists. I’ve been reading the news, which is a terrible idea.

It’s bad out there.

School shootings, kids with cancer without access to experimental drugs, refugee families watching children die, boys being sexually abused.

I have boys. I look at them and think I would kill anyone who ripped their innocence away. I hug them a lot, praying that we can continue to give them the gift of a carefree childhood, that they will stay healthy, that they know how much we love them.

I’m constantly looking at my children and thinking about how grateful I am that they are simply here. I’m always asking them, “Do you know that I love you so, so much?” They say yes. Or more likely, K-Pants growls.

Living like this is breaking my heart.

There’s this pall of sadness that I’ve taken on from the world. And I need to untether myself from it for a bit. The sadness is always there, and I will always have access to it. Sometimes it will find us without us looking.

But I need permission to go on about living my daily life for a while. I need permission to get frustrated when my four-year-old whines all day. I need permission to feel overwhelmed and isolated spending my days with a baby. I need permission to acknowledge my blessings and then have a few bad days of parenting. The kind of days where other parents look at me and think that it all goes by too fast and is too precious and if only they could let that angry mom over there know what they know.

And if you need this permission, I want to give it to you, too.

Be mad. Get frustrated. Just do this day, in whatever way gets you through it. On balance, hopefully you’ll look back and feel like you were a good parent through the crap life threw at you. Hopefully your kids are here, and they are independent and kind. Hopefully you don’t stop moms in the grocery store and say, “That age was my favorite. I hope you’re savoring every moment, because it goes by so fast.”

But let’s be real, I’m totally going to stop parents in the grocery store. And I’m going to exhort them to enjoy every moment, and not let the little things bug them, because they just don’t matter. But for now, just do this day, be it terrible or wonderful. Don’t beat yourself up. I’d like to give you permission.

Let’s Talk About Postpartum Depression, Six Years Down the Road

Recently I told a friend that if I don’t write my mental health goes downhill and she said thoughtfully, “I didn’t know that about you—your mental health looks superb from the outside.”

I’m doing really well, and it’s because I’m six years in and my husband and I attack my mental health like it’s a full-contact sport. I’m guilty of posting adorable pictures on Facebook, showering every day, and wearing cute clothes I feel good about because I like to see myself as a happy, put-together person. But I struggled with anxiety during pregnancy and can smell the symptoms of a panic attack hours before it starts. I know the darkness, and I’ve written about it here before.

Postpartum depression is not a stigma in my circles—it’s something we talk about. But there’s this idea that you magically grow out of it. You go into a dark cave, you imagine terrible thoughts, you give up self-care, and then someone—your spouse, a parent, a support group—helps to drag you into the light. You’re exhausted and changed by the experience, but slowly you start to do cartwheels in a wildflower-filled meadow with your newly functional child.

That’s not true.

[Note: As I write, in this moment, the Fairy Pig wakes up and starts crying. I’ve finally moved away the clutter of my space and mind to sit and do my special thing, and she’s crying. It fills me with a sinking feeling and resentment.]

Maybe for some the darkness leaves just a faint scar. But for me it’s an open wound that needs to be carefully tended—always there, always trying to suck in more light. A friend whose wife died shared this metaphor with me and it fit perfectly into my soul place.

[Note: She’s still crying, but I’m going to write.]

I want to open up my first-aid kit and show you the tools I use to tend my wound.

I challenge you to change from thinking “How could she struggle when she gets so much support?” to “How can I care for myself better?” Our culture of parenting martyrdom encourages us to thrive on the least amount of support possible, and to see others with more tools as lucky and indulgent.

I see these tools as the spoils of a hard-fought battle, and the golden eggs that will hopefully take me deep into adulthood. They are long-term investments in myself and my marriage and my family.*

My Postpartum Depression First Aid Kit

1. Here’s my therapist. She was recommended by my midwife. Sometimes I go to her once a week. Sometimes I go to her every few months. I know where to find her when things get bad. That was the most brilliant idea I had: asking someone I trust for a recommendation.

2. Here are my friends who have intense kids and who don’t try to be perfect. They are funny and incredibly empathetic. They have no dignity. They are free some days after bedtime and they like ice cream. Sometimes we have play dates and our kids fight while we try to say full sentences. I can count on them to take my kids or help me out in an emergency.

3. Here are my friends who don’t have kids. They are free on evenings and weekends, and I can talk to them about things that are not children. They love me and they love my kids. They like to hike. When I’m out with them, they always hold the baby. They can’t get enough of her. It’s weird.

4. Here’s the doctor who did my physical a few years ago. He said, “Are you getting four to eight hours of time for yourself every week?”

5. Here’s my Saturday free time. I hung on to the idea that we should do meaningful family activities on Saturdays for a long time. After a few activities were crushed under the weight of my expectations, my husband shoved me out the door. I’m a much, much better mom during the week if I get away on the weekend.

6. Here’s my extended family. A big reason we moved to Oregon was to be closer to family. Someone is at my house or my kids are at their house or I’m talking to them every day. It’s really awesome to have a big family because three kids six-and-under is a lot to handle and they all help out in different ways.

7. Here’s my naturopath. She is dogged about helping me figure out solutions to ongoing health issues like bronchitis, fatigue, allergies—whatever I bring in.

8. Here’s my acupuncturist. I started going to her when I was mentally in a good place. Then when I had prenatal anxiety, I went to her once or twice a week. Now I go to her and she holds the Fairy Pig while I get my treatment. It really helps to build relationships with your practitioners.

9. Here’s my blog. And here’s my Facebook page. When I write and reach out, I get support back. And when I publish a post, I feel really happy. I look back over the last five years and I think, “I kept something meaningful to me going.” I’m proud of that.

10. Here’s the Montessori school where Boy Woww goes to preschool four full days per week. We changed schools so that he would be in school longer because we knew that having the baby and Boy Woww at home all the time–in theory–would be a magical kid wonderland, but in reality would be a lot of yelling and tons of TV.

11. Here’s the list of babysitters we use for date nights and daytime relief. We like the babysitters list to be at least three or four deep. Any less and I start shaking.

12. Here’s our housekeeper who comes every two weeks.

13. Here’s the income that we use to pay for the Montessori school and the babysitters and the housekeeper.

14. Here’s my husband. He’s collaborative and willing to make calls to insurance or set up babysitters. He doesn’t think I’m crazy. He handles logistics. He gets the kids ready in the mornings and puts them to bed at night. In exchange I feed people, fix stuff, coach soccer, handle homework, and all the other things.

15. Here’s Baby Blues Connection, a free support network that has a hotline, a Facebook group, and in-person support groups in the Portland metro area. Check them out for resources even if you’re not in Portland.

*I also know that for many of these tools, ample income and good healthcare create a privileged base to work from, and that in our country meaningful support for postpartum and mental health care is difficult to come by. I’ll be signing every change.org petition I can get my hands on regarding these issues. I may even call a congressperson. But I have a phone phobia. Letter-writing it is.

The Pink Shoes Stand Alone, At Home

Earlier this year I wrote about how I struggled to let K-Pants—then five—pick pink, bedazzled light-up shoes.

Pink Shoes. MomsicleBlog

I was worried about the world making fun of him for wearing girl shoes, but we decided that was not a good reason to say no. And those pink shoes have been worn everywhere.

K-Pants Six, Voodoo Doughnuts. MomsicleBlog

Pink Shoes on the Road. MomsicleBlog

The pink shoes post inspired my good friend Kelly to let her preschool son pick out a My Little Ponies sweatshirt he craved. This picture is of him and his sister blissed out with their new shirts.

MyLittlePonies. MomsicleBlog. Photo Credit: Kelly

I was so proud to see this—to know that we can walk these paths together.

But this past weekend I found myself back in the shoe aisle with K-Pants, looking for a pair of bright sparkly shoes that weren’t girl shoes. It only took one day at his new, big elementary school for K-Pants to be made fun of. I was heartbroken.

I watched him get on the bus for school wearing the most awesome rock-star shoes, and I picked him up embarrassed, having been pointed at by other kids, telling me he didn’t want to wear the pink shoes again. He wanted “bright, light-up shoes that they would think were boy shoes.” But he still wanted them to be pink. I was crushed. These shoes don’t exist.

I wanted to report back to Kelly that K-Pants was paving the way. That making the decision to wear the thing that’s not normal emboldened and armored him, and that her son, too, would be fine. I wanted K-Pants to say to those kids, “I’m a boy and I can wear pink shoes because I love pink things. And shiny things. And if mostly girls like pink things that’s fine, but I can like them, too. And I love football and baseball and Iron Man, and girls can like those things, too.” And then I wanted him to keep wearing his pink shoes, and to have tons of friends, and be the champion of all the other kids who don’t fit the mold.

I didn’t want him to give in.

I didn’t want to buy new shoes just so he could fit with everyone who teased him. They won, I thought. They’re shaming him and he’s changing who he is.

We talked to the teacher and kids at Boy Woww’s Montessori school, where they feel like kids can wear anything they want and there are no “girl” and “boy” colors. They have the power to enforce this in their magical, forested bubble.

We talked to our neighbor who taught K-Pants martial arts two summers ago. “Do you like your shoes?” he asked. “Yes,” K-Pants said. “That’s what matters. Now you have to decide if what other people say is important to you.”

We saw the elementary school principal the next day and told her what happened. “You should be able to wear whatever color of sparkly shoes you want!” she said; and she promised to talk to K-Pants’ teacher and the school counselor, who likes to talk to classes about inclusiveness.

We looked at pictures of boys wearing pink shoes that our friend Mana found. I’ve never been so grateful to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for getting athletes to wear pink.

Every day I casually bring up something related to the pink shoes. But they still sit at home.

And so I am reminded: nothing is simple. Allowing your son to choose bedazzled pink shoes does not magically arm him to deal with criticism and feeling singled out. Even the nicest kid might ask, “Are you wearing girl shoes?” They’re not trying to bully. K-Pants would say the same thing about something else to another kid. I thought the hard part was making the initial decision to let him get the pink shoes. But I wasn’t thinking about the bigger context: How do I raise this kid to be resilient and tenacious? How do I teach him to notice and be kind to others in similar situations? It’s an advanced emotional intelligence course, and the kid is six.

I don’t think he’ll ever wear the pink shoes to school again.

My friend Ali had this wonderful message for K-Pants when I asked about the pink shoe problem on the Momsicle Facebook page:

I’m sorry those boys laughed at you on the bus. The bus is hard. Maybe you will want to wear your awesome shoes to church or to the playground with your family. It’s okay to choose different things for certain situations. I’m traveling for work right now and wearing some shoes that I only wear for work things when I have to show a certain side of me. But at other times I choose to let it all out.

And my friend Anne gave me this advice:

He may be strong enough to just shrug and say “Whatever” if he gets teased, or he may decide to have different shoes for different moods. For sure his shoes are a twinkly sparkly announcement that he is his on his way to being his own man. This will not be the last time he will have to decide whether to run with the pack versus howl at the moon.

So the pink shoes may not be the fight he chooses to live and die by.

But he has still worn them to church. And he got off the bus a few days ago and said to me, “I saw a boy with a My Little Ponies backpack in another class.” “Did you tell him it was cool?” I asked. “No. He was older. But it was cool. It was shiny.” K-Pants is evolving, and beginning to put situations like this into a file in his mind. He may not have been paying attention if it weren’t for the pink shoes. If it weren’t for the pink shoes, he may have thought, “Why’s that kid wearing a girl backpack?” So even though the pink shoes are shelved for school, they still have some magic in them.