Grateful parent giving thanks!

I sometimes catch myself still not believing that I have two children–how in the world did that happen?  And they are grow so quickly!

When I first became a parent grateful is not a word that came into my thoughts very often. Thoughts about how difficult raising a child was and all the things I had to learn did.  I knew that I should be overjoyed, celebrating and being thankful, but I wasn’t.  I felt selfish and wondered if there was something deficit in me.

As I started to get the hang of parenting and my parenting abilities, I noticed that the word grateful did start to come into my thoughts and became something I actually felt.  We recently celebrated our boys birthdays and I told my husband after the party “Raising the kids has been so hard, but so awesome.” Parenting is hard, but it has also been so rewarding raising them–watching them grown and learn, and becoming their own person.  I feel like my husband and I have only scratched the surface in all the things we want to teach them. I’m thankful for what we’ve been able to accomplish so far and am looking forward to what comes next.

I am so very grateful.  For the opportunity to have and raise children, for my family and friends who supported and encouraged us along the way, and for my children–for them allowing me to be on this journey with them.

As we enter the holiday season and begin to reflect, when asked “What are you most grateful for as a parent?” what would you say?

What do I want my parenting journey to look like?

When I was a new parent there were three sentences that were constantly running through my head:

  1. How am I going to do this?
  2. What comes next?
  3. Is there anything else I should be doing that I’m not?

While I wasn’t always 100% confident in my abilities initially, I knew I could figure out the answers to #1 and #2.  #3 felt like a question I’d never be able to correctly answer. With each question, it helped me to inspect each one a little more carefully and try to figure out what the anxiety was behind each.

How am I going to do this? This took me mustering up the courage and using common sense for the most part. The question tended to pop-up when I hadn’t done something before, like taking the baby to the store for the first time–how am I going to get them in and out of the car, how am I going to get through the store–will the baby be in the cart or stroller, etc.?  After attempting a task and starting to realize I could do each of these things, it made it much easier when I confronted a new task. The most anxiety I’ve had in recent years is taking my son to kindergarten–physically very easy to do, mentally very hard–letting him go be in a school with “big” kids, realizing I can no longer protect him like I was previously able to–scary!  But I did it, and I know I can do whatever new is coming next.

What should I do next? This question started when I first realized there were phases to parenting and that I had little to no control over them and never knew when one phase would be starting or stopping and when I was actually in the middle of transitioning to another. Examples included when will my child sleep through the night to when will they be able to feed themselves to will my child ever not have a cold for longer than 2 weeks, etc. What I figured out was while each phase it out of my control, they are all indeed temporary.  This really helps me when my children are going through a phase I’m not crazy about–the saying “no-to-everything” phase (which was accompanied by tantrums, hitting and throwing), because I know eventually grow out of it. Some of the temporary phases, I’m not looking forward to growing past–the cuddling, hugs in public and the “I love you’s”. I’m trying to treasure every second of every phase good or bad.

Is there anything else I should be doing that I’m not?  This was the question that made me most anxious. I want my children to have every opportunity to thrive which caused a constant list of thoughts to run through my mind–should I be reading to them more? are they getting enough time outside? are they enrolled in enough activities?  are they the right activities? are they signed up for to many activities? am I doing everything needed to make sure my child gets into Harvard (okay, any college!)? You can see why I might feel anxious, any parent would.

When my children were young, products that promoted helping raise a baby’s intelligence were very popular.  I struggled with whether or not I should be committing my money to purchase these products and spending time exposing them to my children.  One example that comes to mind was a set of DVDs that promoted the learning of the alphabet and numbers, which sounded like a good thing, but they were DVDs, and everything I’d read said to limit TV time.  Now, I’m not a parent who was or is gung-ho on no TV, but the fact that the products were being marketed to me and my parenting peers as educational–good for our small children–was puzzling.  Would my child be behind if they didn’t watch the videos? Would I be doing them harm by letting them watch the videos (everything I’d heard and read had mentioned minimal TV time for kids)? It was very confusing, until I reflected on my own upbringing.  We didn’t have DVD players–a show came on once a week at a certain time, and if you weren’t there to see it live, you weren’t going to see it period.  I started to relax when I realized that and the fact that I, along with pretty much everyone else who grew up prior to VCRs and DVD players, all turned out okay.

Questioning your parenting skills is common. I have yet to meet a parent that feels they have 100% confidence in their abililites or even in what they are doing–be it how they are teaching their children, what they are or aren’t exposing them to, how they are disciplining them, or what else they should be doing.

In regards to the question, “Is there anything I should be doing that I’m not?”, have you applied this to yourself in how you parent?  Have you ever stopped to think what you want your parenting journey to look or be like?  When you first became a parent did you know what you things you want to teach your child–morals, values and beliefs?  Anything you know you don’t want to pass on from your own upbringing?  Do you have time to sit and think about how things are going–what’s going well that you want to continue? Or what you think needs to be added, changed or stopped altogether (like to have your child watching those educational videos or not)?

Give yourself permission to take control of your parenting journey.  Your opportunity to make you parenting journey your own is finite–your kids will be leaving the house before you know it.  Make time to reflect, be proactive and in control–start to figure out what else you should  be doing that you’re not–and no longer fear it.

When and how do you make time to think about your parenting journey?  What changes will you make to get your parenting journey where you want it to be?

Energy Wanted

What fills your soul/gives you energy?

I love asking this question when I do speaking engagements, it’s normally a question my audiences haven’t heard or thought of before.  I can’t take credit for the saying as someone posed the question to me many years ago, but it was very thought provoking.  There are many things that we do in our life out of necessity or because we think it is the right thing to do.  Think about what you do in your daily life, your list might look something like this:

  • Take care of family –fix meals, get kids to/from school, get kids to/from activities, get kids up/put kids to bed
  • Make money – go to job(s)
  • Volunteer/Serve on committees–support and participate in activities for a school, your church, community, etc
  • Take care of the house—clean, pay bills, scheduled or perform maintenance duties (cleaning/replacing/fixing), yardwork
  • Down time—reading, watching TV, exercising
  • Sleep

Where on this list is something that gives you energy?  Or better yet what fills your soul?  A lot of these activities take energy from you, it doesn’t give it back. It’s up to each of us to figure out how to get the charge we need.  If you are always giving energy out and not taking it back in, you’re less likely to be your best self and less likely to give your full self, because your desperate for the recharge you may not realize you need.

We do a lot of things because we have to: work, for example, we have to have money coming in to pay the bills and keep food on the table. We
also do things that we think we should: serve on committees, for example, because it seems like the right thing to do.

I was guilty of giving my energy away pretty freely until it became obvious that I wasn’t doing myself any favors. I was miserable most of the time and craved down time—time where I could tune out.  I was encouraged to seek quiet time and not down time to really figure out what I was missing.  Do you know what the difference is between down time and quiet time?

Down time—tuning out. Reading, watching TV, surfing the Internet. Any activity that doesn’t require you to think.

Quite time-tuning in. Allowing yourself to listen to what is going on inside. Recommended in a quiet environment, when your child is sleeping and you have no other obligations to meet (spouse, work or otherwise).

I had mastered down time early in time, quiet time was a new concept for me. Some people make daily time for quiet time through meditation
or yoga. I found quiet time came more easily for me if I just went outside on my back porch by myself when my child was napping. During the quiet times I would ask myself, “what do you need?” and “what are you missing?” It wasn’t easy at first, sometimes my mind would wonder back to the duties at hand, but after practicing at focusing on the questions, it would come to me.  I started to better understand what I was lacking and what I needed. I was starting to figure out what “feeds my soul.”

I started to reflect on where I was spending my time and what I needed to remove from my plate. Committees were one area that begged, “why am I doing this?”  I served out my terms on the various committees and politely stated I wouldn’t be able to serve on any future ones (at least for the foreseeable future). I also started to realize what I craved: community with my girlfriends, something that had waned since having children; pursuing outside interests from my daily job; connecting and communicating with my husband—discussing anything other than the kids, work or house.  These activities fill my soul and give me energy.  This is a dynamic list for me, so I know it will grow and morph as I continue to ask myself these questions “what do I need?” and “what am I missing?”

During a recent speaking engagement I was asking my audience how they were taking care of themselves. A couple of folks had gotten some time away from the baby—all of their children were very young, so that made sense—in the form of doing something they enjoyed earlier, like playing a sport, having dinner, or watching a movie.  One man in the group shared that he had taken back up with the soccer league he had been in earlier.  He said while he really enjoyed it, he felt guilty.  You could see the look on his wife’s face—I had given my husband that face before, it was the look of “of course, I’m going to let you go play soccer, because I want to be supportive of you, but can’t you see I’m dying over here and desperately want you to give me a break?” I think many of us have been there. I encouraged the group to look at what was shared.  The husband enjoyed playing soccer, and there were probably a couple of reasons why: it provided an opportunity for him to exert physical energy, it provided an opportunity for him to have community (play with friends) and it may have provided him a break (be it from the baby, work, etc). Who can fault anyone for wanting to do any of those things, they all sound pretty healthy and needed to me.  In fact, it sounds like a lot of these things could and should give him energy.  On the flip side, the wife needs to listen to her own cues. Many women struggle with feeling they might appear selfish if they try to get their needs met. In my opinion, there is nothing selfish about it.  It might be hard to figure out what you need, but it ultimately ends up being good for everyone—you, partner and child.

Don’t underestimate the need for balance. Just because soccer, or whatever the activity may be, gives someone energy doesn’t mean that they need to play multiple times a week at the expense of their partner’s well being. Negotiation will be key. Find a balance that allows both of you to get the charge you need.

Find time to answer the questions: “what do I need?” and “what am I missing?” Share with your partner what you uncover.

Do you have any creative ways you’ve found quiet time? How are your reenergizing yourself?

Is proactive parenting possible?

When my first child was born I had a wide range of reactions–the main one being WHAT JUST HAPPENED? You prepare to have this little person join you for nine months and it doesn’t matter how much you read or mentally try to prepare yourself, once they arrive you still aren’t fully ready for the reality of it.

The next thing that happened to me, and I think happens to most, is what I like to call the vortex–you get sucked into a tornado of chaos that is parenting.  It creeps up on you without you even knowing it. You think your life hasn’t changed, except it has, at least a little right?  Your once spotless house looks like someone ranacked it. You’re wearing the same clothes you had on yesterday and don’t care. And you aren’t social anymore because you are in bed by 7 p.m.. Does any of this sound familiar?

The parenting clock went very, very, very slowly for me at the beginning. The first few months were a blur of sleepless nights, trying to figure what was going on, and trying to “keep it together”. I had to remind myself that what I was experiencing was, surely, temporary.  I found myself shifting from one temporary phase to the next. The What-Am-I-Doing phase to the I’m-Never-Going-to-Get-a-Full-Night’s-Sleep-Again phase to the If-I-Have-to-Carry-the-Car-Seat-One-More-Time-My-Arm-Is-Going-to-Break phase, and so on. It took my first child six months to sleep through the night and my second nearly a year. Within a week of each child sleeping through the night, I almost forgot what it was like to be awakened in the middle of the night multiple times. How is that possible when it seemed like forever when it was happening?

The parenting clock started to speed up as my children grew. It continues to go faster and faster as they age. When my first son turned one I reflected on the year that was.  My husband and I were drinking some Sparkling Apple Cider in celebration of our achievement–surviving the first year and it was one of the first times I felt I had an opportunity to reflect on what had just happened.  The reflection prompted me to want to look forward and more importantly, what do we–my husband and I–want to happen next for our child and our family?

I think it is common, or more common than we might want to believe, that parenting can often feel like it is happening to you than you making it happen. There is so much to adjust to and think about, prepare for, execute on. It’s amazing to me, there’s enough time left over for us to try keep ourselves sane. It is exhausting.  A lot of time it can feel like all you can do is react, because everything is new.

Have you celebrated your (and your spouse or partner) celebrated any parenting milestones? Successfully swaddling the baby to sleep, the baby sleeping through the night, or your child’s birthday?  These are great opportunities to not only celebrate you and your significant other, but also provides you with a chance to reflect on what has happened and what is next–what do you see happening next in your child’s development, what do you see if you and your partner’s role?

How are you taking control of your parenting journey?