What Should Mother’s Day Mean?

Mornings with the Kids
Real morning portrait.

Today is Mother’s Day, something which I remembered partially, and was very proud of myself for getting a small package into the mail for my own mother, although it likely won’t make it until tomorrow. However, my husband forgot. I didn’t really think to remind him a few days ago when I remembered long enough to head to the post office with the kiddos. After that I forgot again until this morning when I woke up sandwiched between my daughters, after a night of nursing my nine month old every twenty minutes, feeling groggy as if I hadn’t slept at all. I brought the girls out to the living room while my husband and son slept on, and I remembered.

Today is Mother’s Day! I should be in bed right now! He should have had the kids make messy but cute homemade cards! We should have plans for an idyllic family day, or I should have the day off! I didn’t really feel resentful at this point, but I was working up to it. “Haha,” I thought, “I’ll tell him it’s Mother’s Day knowing he forgot, and now he’ll feel guilty and let me go back to bed!” Then I remembered his usual statements about Hallmark holidays, “Everyday is Mother’s Day.” I used to think this was an excuse, a way to ignore a chance to make someone feel special, but today I finally get it.

Of course we should show our mothers that they are special on Mother’s Day, and I’m sure my husband will offer me some flowers or something today, but please, let’s not forget moms the rest of the time. As a homeschooling mom of three, I spend a lot of time thinking about parenting and motherhood, and as far as I can see, it is generally under-appreciated, overlooked, overwhelming, and pretty much impossible to feel like we are doing a good job in this society, at this time. Working moms are frustrated that they aren’t with their kids as much as they would like, at-home moms are frustrated that their work isn’t valued, everyone is frustrated with household tasks that there isn’t enough time to do, self-care we’re supposed to be taking time for that seems more like a burden than a luxury, a lack of maternity leave, vacation time, and support from dads who are working outside the home. And where do we find nurturing, non –competitive, deep social connections with other mothers? How do we create a fair, supportive relationship with our spouse that prioritizes our own personal time as well as our partner’s, as well as time to grow as a couple, as well as satisfying family time? How do we connect with our children deeply and authentically when they are in school for eight hours a day and have homework in the evenings and we are all exhausted?

These are not happy, friendly Mother’s Day sentiments, so I’m sorry if I’m reminding you of something negative on a day when we should be celebrating. I do want to celebrate mothers today, including myself, and I want to do it the way my husband suggests when he says, “Every day is Mother’s Day.” He may have forgotten that the calendar says to remember moms today, but yesterday he let me sleep in for three hours while he cared for and played with our three children, and managed to keep them quiet in the hallway so they didn’t disturb me. Then he took our two older kids to the park for two hours while I spent quiet one on one time with our baby. He does one or both of these things every Saturday. The day before he took the day off from work to spend the day hiking through a redwood forest in a nearby state park with our two older children. As a homeschooling mom this was a great break, even just for my mind not to have to keep track of all the kids. I appreciate the way he helps care for our family, by working outside the home, but also by genuinely witnessing and appreciating the work I do in the home, with our kids. To the best of his ability and time, he offers me time off to recharge, and listens to the details of my day, and my ideas and problems. If I need support, I know I can come to him, and that makes my life and work not just possible, but meaningful.

In the past few weeks I have had a conversation with a long time nanny who doesn’t have her own kids. Her husband passed away, then she went to culinary school to become a pastry chef, then she had breast cancer and after recovering, began to work as a nanny, and has been caring for others’ children as if they are her own for the past thirty years. I found her story moving and inspiring. I also spoke with a friend who is a mother of two who told me that she had an older child who passed away a few years ago, something I hadn’t known and almost couldn’t imagine, something that I have thought about every day since. When I think of her sunny demeanor and obvious love for her two younger children, I feel sadness but mostly a tremendous amount of hope. I had a long conversation about motherhood with a twenty-four year old mother of two who is struggling to make ends meet by working nights in a restaurant and caring for her little ones all day, giving a whole new meaning to working a double shift. These women inspired me to remember that we may see women with children today and have a sweet or sentimental thought or word for them, but we don’t know the depth of their stories, the complexity of their struggles, or the nature of what motherhood looks like for them. There are many people for whom this day is unbearably sad, whether they have lost their mothers or children, or long to be a mother. I would ask us all to be compassionate toward the daily struggles of every kind of mother, to work toward appreciating our own work and our partner’s, and to care for ourselves and each other with love.

Happy Mother’s Day.

At the beach with my Mom.
At the beach with my Mom.
Mo's forest selfie with the kids on Friday.
Mo’s forest selfie with the kids on Friday. I was busy staying in my pajamas all day. Every day is Mother’s Day folks!

Who Knows the Truth?

Why I am always seeking the truth, about myself, about the world, about people, about food, about happiness, about life, about love? What is the truth? Who has it? Who knows it? Maybe I should go back in time and take a philosophy course in college. Wait, I’m sure I did take one. It was during my semester at Brooklyn College, after I had moved from Williamsburg to New Jersey and was commuting three hours each way on the train. I may have only attended three of the classes, which explains why I don’t remember any of it. I still have dreams sometimes about missing so many classes that I don’t get credit for the semester. I always loved school and got good grades, but once I wasn’t stuck in the building all day it was an extreme challenge for me to make it to class on time, if at all. I had favorite teachers whose classes I tried my best to attend, and I did my best work for them. Other classes I just couldn’t get it together. This brings me to a major challenge that is up for me right now: organization.

This morning Mo and I had an argument about a familiar topic, one in a long string of such discussions stretching back to the beginning of our relationship. Why can’t I keep a closet or cabinet in order? Why do I put things in a different place each time? Why did I move his towel/umbrella/pen? I don’t know! Sometimes it’s the kids, but really it’s my brain. Any distraction can derail me from what I was on my way to do. I now know that I have ADD which explains many frustrations over the years, but I don’t really know what to do about it. I have certain techniques like trying to put my wallet, keys, and phone in the same place every time so I don’t lose them. This is helpful, unless I forget and put them down elsewhere. I have some vague idea that labeled bins would be useful, but I don’t know where to put them, or what to put in them. To anyone out there with similar struggles, have you found any techniques that really work?

I manage to get myself and my kids dressed and fed and out the door in time to drive Mo to school most days, so I must have some latent organizational skills. I was a great waitress, and I could always tell when people were ready for their check by their body language. I was, to quote a former manager, “unflappable” during a rush. I am a great cook in many ways, and I love being in the kitchen. I feel at the helm of my ship and I enjoy every chop, stir, and taste. I can plan three meals’ worth of ingredients and shop for them, then cook them in a few hours and clean up afterwards. I know I can because I did it for a client, however I have never done any such thing in my own home because it is exhausting and difficult for me. I am trying to accept these things about myself as part of who I am, and out of compassion, find ways to accommodate myself. I want to love myself and be kind to myself, and also not drive my partner crazy. Thankfully Mo and I truly love each other for who we are, and we don’t want to change that. In order to grow closer, we do sometimes ask each other to work on certain things that are difficult for us. Mo has never said no when I ask him to work on something, so I am trying to do the same. I feel like one of the greatest parts of our relationship is having someone to see me, and reflect back to me what he sees with love. Of course we get frustrated with each other, especially when we’re overworked and tired. Thankfully through therapy we have learned how to talk it through afterward.

I feel like for our family the past two years have been a process of stripping down all the stuff that gets in the way, and slowly making room for whatever we really need. This process started when we moved to Israel and found ourselves back in our cozy neighborhood, different in a familiar place. Everything about living there felt wrong, except for our relationships with new and old friends. We began to really see the cracks in our own relationship with honesty and love. I began to see the layers of self I had built around my core, and began to peel them away and look at them, thanks to deep friendships and group therapy with wonderful women friends.

Now we are here in Miami, the most “surface” focused place I have ever been, and we are delving deeper into our process of self discovery. We are learning how to communicate, how to love ourselves, how to love each other, and what we want to offer our children. We are learning how and what to eat, something I have been thinking about and working on for the past fifteen years. We are, more than anything, learning that we will always be a work in progress, and that it is okay to make mistakes. That really, there are no mistakes, just change, growth, and more and more love.

Happily on our way to a matinee to celebrate Mo's birthday last week. We haven't had a date in a while so we were extra giddy to be out alone finally!
Happily on our way to a matinee to celebrate Mo’s birthday last week. We haven’t had a date in a while so we were extra giddy to be out alone finally!

5 Ways Sensitive Parenting Goes Wrong

Being a sensitive, attentive parent takes a lot of work. When I focus so intently on my kids, other important things can fade into the background and other not so nice things come up as a side effect. Since I became a mom I have been through phases of experiencing each of these difficulties, sometimes all at once. I have avoided admitting these struggles to myself and certainly to others. Since I have been reading Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame resilience, I feel more than ever that it is incredibly important to share our struggles and how they make us feel. Through conversations with other moms, a therapist, and my husband, I have learned to be on the look out for these 5 ways sensitive parenting can go wrong.

1. Not taking care of myself  My friend and labor coach Judy said that one baby can take up the energy of an entire room full of people. I have absolutely found this to be true. Caring for my family is a never ending cycle of repetitive action and generosity, so if I wait for the work to be “finished” before I take care of myself, I never will. When I’m so busy physically, mentally, and emotionally taking care of my children’s needs and our home, I often forget to consider what I might need. The funny thing is that when I don’t acknowledge my own needs, I’m much less able to take care of others. My friend and midwife Leigh says, “When a woman takes care of herself, everything else gets taken care of.” I am still trying to understand that this is really true, and how to integrate it into my life.

2. Not giving attention to my marriage Did you notice in that last part how I said, “taking care of my children and our home”? I didn’t mention my marriage. When Mo and I are engaged in what I like to call sensitive, attentive parenting, we are on call around the clock. Days melt into nights and with a baby in the bed it is difficult to get any decent sleep, let alone intimate quiet time. When Ben was a baby I remember wishing for some advice or support about how to deal with the burnout, exhaustion, and lack of intimacy that came along with the sweetness of breastfeeding and co-sleeping. 

I have found that takes a totally separate effort to extricate ourselves from the pressures of day to day life and give full attention to each other. If we don’t make sure to do this it can feel like we are coworkers more than partners. The good news is that paying attention to our relationship happens in small moments interspersed with the rest of life. A simple hug and kiss every time one of us leaves or comes home, trading shoulder massages or back scratches while we watch a show, and actually facing each other and looking in each others’ eyes while we talk (when I pay attention I am surprised how little this happens!). I also try to give Mo alone time at moments when it means the most to him, not necessarily when it is easiest for me, and vice-versa. These are some of my favorite ways to connect and show each other that our relationship is a priority. When we are connected we feel like we are on the same team and that helps us weather the inevitable storms of parenthood and life. 

3. Feeling resentful When I am overwhelmed and I haven’t taken the time (I didn’t say found the time, because I will never find it, I have to take it!) to care for myself by 1. eating well (for me to feel my best I need to get a lot of protein and greens and not a lot of sugar), 2. sleeping as much as possible (so difficult) and 3. spending time doing and thinking about what I like, rather than what everyone else needs (also difficult), I start to feel resentful. Resentment is sneaky. I start to think, “Why are they so needy? Whey can’t they just go to sleep by themselves? Why do I have to make dinner every night? Why do I have to sweep the floor again?”….The list goes on. The thought that comes next is the worst part, “They don’t appreciate all I do for them.” This last part indicates that I am looking outside of myself for validation of the hard work that I do. Of course we all need to hear praise and encouragement to keep going when we are working hard! But when our tank is empty, no amount of appreciation will make us feel better.

The way I have found to stop resentment in its tracks is to reevaluate what I’m doing and change priorities for a little while. Sometimes Mo notices me going down the path of being overwhelmed and resentful and reminds me to remove anything that is stressing me out and isn’t absolutely necessary from my to-do list (no bread baking, no re-organizing, no deep cleaning, no errand running) and try to chill out a little. Even just taking the time to take a walk with a friend or sit down and eat a proper meal can be enough. No one can “do it all” and trying to is a recipe for resentment. Resentment is a fun sucker! When I take myself too seriously or start to feel bitter about how hard I’m working, how can I enjoy myself? I try to remind myself to tune in to the innate fun loving nature of kids and laugh more. When I’m laughing and being silly I’m too busy having fun to be resentful!

4. Feeling guilty For me, resentment often travels along with guilt. As soon as I run through the script of resentful thoughts, I feel awful for even thinking them. Here comes the guilt, “How could I be so selfish? They need me. I should just work harder.” As I mentioned above, this does nothing to help with resentment, because what I need to do in those moments is NOT work harder! I need to give myself a break, and remind myself that I am enough, It’s not about what I do, it’s about who I am. Trust me, I’m still working on this one!

The other way that guilt finds its way into sensitive parenting is a sense of all-or-nothing within a value system. If I value “attachment parenting” then I have to adhere to all of its tenets and every choice I make has to be selfless and giving and loving and ethical and ecological and…nope! Not possible. All I can do is consider my true values when I make decisions, and use common sense and self-kindness to decide what is actually possible in the moment.

Managing expectations also helps turn off the guilt. The work of motherhood does not follow a business model of input and output. I can work extremely hard, offering all my love, and my children will still push my buttons and my floors will still be covered in oatmeal (yup, they are right now). When my expectation is “If I work hard at this, my kids will be awesome and my house will be clean and I will have healthy homemade on the food ready all the time” I am setting myself up for disappointment. Then I feel guilty and tell myself if I could only work harder I would do “better.” This is not a true equation. No matter how they are acting, my kids ARE awesome, and I can find satisfaction in the five minutes when the floor is clean if that does it for me. I just have to look elsewhere for satisfaction for the other 1435 minutes of the day.

5. Feeling superior This is where “Mommy wars” come in. When I’m working so hard and doing my best for my kids, I have to think that what I’m doing IS the best for my kids. Otherwise why would I make such an effort? The problem comes when what is best for me and my kids becomes what is best for everyone and all kids. Sure, I think that some of the things I do should be universal standards of childcare. I have also met mothers with totally different parenting styles with beautiful, happy children, so what does that mean? It means we are all on our own trip with our own beliefs, baggage, and abilities. When I compare what I do to what anyone else does, I start sliding down a slippery slope of self-judgment, judgment of others, and feeling either bad about myself or superior, depending how things measure up. I choose to get off that ride, learn what I can from the people I meet, support those who want it, and focus on myself. I believe that is the way my work makes the most difference.

 

When I read this article “Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother” a while back I reacted quite strongly. Something about it didn’t sit well with me. I don’t disagree with anything she is saying, but I feel that the message is just not enough. I don’t want to feel better about my parenting because no one has done it like this before and I don’t have the support previous generations had. I want to feel better about my parenting because I feel better about myself. What I have explained above is part of my journey to feeling good in my life.

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Sometimes kids crawl all over us
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…and make us want to do this…
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…and sometimes parenting looks like this.

I’m learning to enjoy the ride.