Parenthood – Cracking the Code

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?

A good friend recently had a baby and was asking for advice and my take on her baby’s progress. The baby, who had once been a good sleeper, was now sleeping in short stints which concerned her.  As we talked about the situation she shared how much she craves learning parenting tricks-of-the-trade, in hopes of shortening the length of time she continues to feel anxiety as a new parent, and fearing she is somehow unknowingly doing wrong by her child simply because she doesn’t know everything.

“No one knows everything,” I told her, “No matter how long you parent. Much like you’re child is learning, so are you. But let’s think about what insights I can share that might help.” I don’t know if I came up with anything profound. I think I shared what most parents do…what worked for them.  “The bouncy ball was a miracle worker for me and getting my son to sleep.” “Rubbing the baby’s back helped calm him down.” “Swaddling stopped him from startling himself.” It was frivolous insight. It was my experience and what had worked for me. I decided instead to turn the conversation back to what seemed more truthful and valuable. “Parenting is hard and scary, and what you are feeling is normal. I wish there were shortcuts, but everyone’s parenting experience is different. You will get through this phase with your child and their sleeping pattern, and then something new will come up and you’ll figure that out as well. If you make your decisions based on what you think is best for you and your family, you are probably doing just fine.” I knew she was hoping I was going to give her some silver bullets around how to get through parenting, but in my time as one, I’ve never seen two parenting experiences that were the same.

I admire my friend’s desire to be the best parent she can as fast as she can be, and look forward to watching her son grow, and her as a parent. As much as she thinks she may be learning from me (and others), I will be learning from her too. It’s reinvigorates me as a parent to see a new parent starting from scratch. I’m reminded of my own anxiety from way back then and how far I’ve come. I am grateful to those who helped share their advice and insights along the way that helped me be a better parent and look forward to continuing to gain knowledge from others who are further along in their journeys than I.

What advice has helped you as a parent? What advice have you shared with others that helped them?

 

 

Parenting is a Team Sport

Have you ever felt like parenting is a competition?

It’s a topic I often cover when speaking to parenting groups–being a parent can feel like many things including a rite of passage to see how we (as parents) can out do each other, or how our kids can. It starts when our child is very young — whose sleeping better through the night, eating better, rolling over first, standing up, walking, etc. We are proud of our child hitting a developmental milestone, and want to believe their success is largely due to our parenting skills, but in reality it is more a mixture of our child’s innate capabilities and disposition, which may or may not have been influenced by us.

While we may feel like competition is only between other parents, a topic that isn’t often spoken of is competition between the parents themselves. Competition between parents can be just as common, and is not limited to couples who are divorced. Competition between a couple can be more subtle in how it shows up: a child feels they can confide in one parent more than they can another and the parent who is left out feels sadness the child doesn’t have (or maybe want) to have the same relationship with them, or competition can arise when one parent connects/relates easily with their child, while the other struggles. There are many different ways the feeling of competition can arise, but parenting is not a competition; it’s about doing what’s right for our child, not us. This can be hard to keep front and center when we have our competitive juices flowing.

My husband took our oldest to his flag football game over the weekend. My younger son and I were going to meet them there closer to game time and were just about to head out the door when my husband called and said, “Don’t go anywhere, we’re coming home.” When they got home I asked what happened. I found out that our son was getting frustrated with what the coach was asking him to do. He was struggling to do the practice drill and was showing his frustration. Instead of being respectful to the coach and listening to what the coach was saying, he was getting more and more angry, and talking back. My husband told my son to calm down and be respectful, or we’re going home. My son jumped at the chance and said, “Fine, let’s go home.” I could tell by the look in my husband’s eyes when he told me that he hadn’t thought his threat would turn out the way it did. He had thought our son would calm down, and listen to the coach, because he wanted to play in the game. But he was stuck, like many of us when we may threats and are kids call us on it (anyone have to leave the restaurant or theatre — places you wanted to go, and then your child starts misbehaving or act up, and you threaten you’ll leave if they don’t calm down and they say basically indicate they never wanted to be there in the first place? Ugh!). I said, “Oh no, you are going to the game. That’s not fair to your team, but you’re not playing. You have to earn the right to play and you lost that right in the way you acted.  You are going to go there and support them — you are going to be their #1 cheerleader today, and you’re going to apologize to the coach for your behavior.” My son looked at me like he couldn’t believe this hadn’t happened earlier, and said, “Okay.” We got in the car and went to the field. He didn’t play, he did cheer and he apologized to the coach — not once, but twice. My hope was that he would understand you can never walk away when things get tough, you can’t let your actions let down a larger group (your team), and there are consequences, sometimes uncomfortable ones like apologizing to a coach, when you behave a certain way.

Later that night my husband and I were talking about what happened. Without discussing it, we easily could have been filed this incident in the competition file, where one parent did the “right” thing and the other did the “wrong” thing (one is a better parent than the other — see how easy situations can have that competitive feel?)…but that’s not the way we viewed it. Instead, one of us experienced, with the best intentions, a misstep and the other helped them recover. We are a team, and need each other’s help. Parenting is a team sport, not an individual one. We have certainly had scenarios where my husband helped bail me out of a misfired threat. We learn each time we experience this together, and allow ourselves the chance to discuss, reflect, and think about how we would handle the situation differently in the future. We get better together.

Have you ever felt like you were competing with another parent or your spouse? How do you parent as a team, versus as an individual?

Go Team!

The Advocate

Do you ever struggle to speak up for yourself? How about speaking up for your child?

If so, then we have something in common.

Speaking up for yourself is one thing. Whether it’s due to lack of confidence, the way you were brought up, or something else, you are the only one that suffers when you don’t speak up for yourself. But what about your child. They don’t have a voice, and need their parents or loved ones to advocate on their behalf.

I have to admit, I’ve often taken a backseat to voicing my opinion in regards to child development and education. My mother was an teacher for over 40 years and I have great respect for those in this profession. I’ve always been involved and stayed close enough to be  in-the-know of what is going on with my children in school, but also wanted to give the teacher a chance to successfully teach my child. I thought that might be negatively impacted if I was constantly asking for input or feedback on how my child was doing. I also thought I would be perceived as a “needy” parent. I wanted to empower my children to be independent and thrive, and thought by giving them some distance in school, it supported this desire.

My husband and I noticed our son was having some struggles in school and enlisted the help of others. We brought in someone from outside the school to observe him, and learned quickly that we needed to find and ‘raise’ our voices quickly. If we didn’t our son might  continue to struggle and develop some negative self-beliefs about his capabilities. My husband and I were going to do everything we could to ensure that didn’t happen.

We initiated a conversation with his school’s leadership (teacher, principal, counselors, etc.) and discussed our concerns. At the time, my husband and I wondered if we were wrong about our concerns and were overreacting to the situation (e.g. raising our voices too high too fast). After the discussion, one of the leaders pulled us aside and said, “You’re doing the right thing. It’s important we understand your concerns and work to help your child together.” It was a relief to hear.

I’ve gotten better at advocating for my boys ever since. No longer worried about being perceived as the “needy” parent who wants information, and to have influence in who teaches my child, etc., but instead seen as the advocate who will do whatever is needed (even if uncomfortable or scary) to ensure her sons gets needed resources, attention, etc. for the best chance of success. Finding my voice is a muscle that I continue to develop and make stronger.

For those of you who have always been vocal and will continue to be — you are an inspiration to me and others. For those of you working to find your voice…remember you need to be heard. You are the best advocate your child has.

How do you advocate for your child?

The News on Stay-at-Home Moms (and Dads)

It’s in the news again….this time the media is stating more women are staying at home to raise their children. If this really news? Sounds like someone is trying to start a debate, doesn’t it? Does it really matter if more women are staying home or going back to work? I think each woman’s (and man’s) decision is made for their own unique reasons and lumping parents into working or stay-at-home categories (and all the stereotypes that go with them) is a dangerous precedent. Aren’t we all trying to be the best parents we can be? My guess is, if we peeled back this observation, we’d find more parents are staying home — whether it’s the mom or the dad.

Every caring parent grapples with how to best raise their child, how to nuture them, and teach them. When it comes to deciding if a parent will stay at home or go back to work there is no easy decision, and in my experince, a whole lot of second guessing. When I speak to parenting groups, I talk about the phenomena of second guessing that occurs when you became a parent. It can feel like you’re getting your PhD whether you realize it or not. I was indoctrinated into second guessing just about everything within weeks of becoming a parent. Once I realized second guessing was becoming second nature, I started to push back against it. I found that when I was unsure, research, a discussion with my spouse, and sometimes others (when appropriate) helped me make decisions I felt good about. I also realized I had the opportunity to evaluate and course-correct when/if needed. It was liberating.

Only you know how to best raise your child. Staying at home versus going back to work is a personal decision. One isn’t better than the other.

If there is news in any of this, it’s that we, as parents, are constantly seeking to do what’s best for our child regardless of whether we stay home or not. That sounds like good news to me.

What do you parenting decisions have you struggled to make? How are combating second guessing?

All We Have to Fear

I’ve never gotten used to the fear I experience as a parent. I go to that worst-case scenario all too often when possible danger may exist.

To give you an idea, when my oldest was first born and go to sleep:

My first thoughts would be how precious, what a beautiful creature, I can’t believe I’m a mom. That’s right, I’m a new mom, I’m not an experienced mom, I have to keep my child alive and what if they stop breathing during the night? How would I know they stopped breathing? I’ve got the monitor on, but what if it doesn’t work for some reason or I don’t hear him? Should I not sleep and just watch them all night?

I experienced this when both my children were newborns. After no sleep for several days, my husband and I agreed sleeping in shifts would be one way to make sure we both got sleep and I didn’t worry incessantly that my child would pass away at any given moment. My extreme thinking wasn’t healthy, and didn’t allow me to fully experience the joy of being with my child. I was consumed with something bad happening at any moment.

Several months ago our family went to see The Wizard of Oz at our local children’s theatre. I was a little concerned that my children might not be old enough for the story. My husband and I were prepared to be asked questions about tornadoes, flying monkeys and wicked witches afterwards, and while they were curious about the monkeys and the wicked witch, they were particularly concerned about tornadoes. We talked about the tornadoes on the way home, and the boys wanted to know “do tornadoes really happen?” and “do they happen here?” You could hear the fear in their voice. We assured the kids that in the northwest tornadoes are very uncommon, and we have weatherman/woman who can warn us if one may happen.

We can’t protect our children from everything, and I pray we will never experience the wrath a tornado brings. I do want them to enjoy life and not be constantly worrying that something bad will happen. I don’t want them to go the worst-case scenario like I do. I want to teach them to lean into the joy they are experiencing, not fear that something bad is going to happen to them.  We plan to go camping again this year. You may recall we encountered thunder and lightning on our last camping trip. It was scary for my youngest son and me.  As we have talked about the upcoming trip, my youngest son has started to ask if a tornado could occur at the camp site. I can hear the slightest fear in his voice as he asks. I reassure him that there is little chance it will occur and if it does, mom and dad will do everything we can to keep everyone safe. I don’t want my son to fear the possibility of tornadoes, and take away from his enjoyment of our camping experience. Yes, bad things can happen, I remind myself, but mostly its out of our control, and much like fretting over a newborn as they sleep. All we can do is take precautions to make sure everyone is safe. It sounds so logical, reasonable and easy when I tell myself this. And so much harder to practice in reality.

There will always be some part of me that will worry about my boys, and likely always will, but I believe I’ve tempered my fears and am working to enjoy my time with them, and not consume my thoughts with the worst-case scenario. I can’t control what happens next, but can be there to participate and enjoy each moment as it happens now.

How do you handle your children’s fears? How do you handle yours?

The Scariest Thing of All – Part 2

My fear has changed since having kids.  Keeping my children and family safe is at the top of my list. This recently led to an epiphany for me on how I differ from others in how I deal with stress (or fear or anxiety).

When we went camping a few months ago, a lightning storm unexpectedly arrived. The thunder was loud and lightning was getting closer. As my husband was tending to the tent and campfire he was building with our oldest son my anxiety went through the roof.  I didn’t experience a gradual increase in anxiety.  The thunder boomed, my anxiety shot up and I immediately thought, we need to get inside. Our car was parked nearby and I felt this was much safer than being outside. Our youngest son was upset by the thunder and asked to go into the car. We went into the car and I tried to wait as patiently as I could for my husband and older son to arrive.  It took them several minutes and a lot of nonverbal communication between my husband and I (picture me giving him the “what are you doing?” and “get over here now” looks). My husband wasn’t pleased, but eventually complied and they got into the car.  While I thought it was obvious we needed to get in the car my husband didn’t feel the same. He didn’t appreciate my anxiety because he wasn’t experiencing the same thing I was.

I would love to tell you I came to this realization on my own, but I didn’t. Someone shared some very good insight with me.  People experience stress (which takes many forms including anxiety or fear) in different ways. Some confront stress, take it on and work to get through it. Others avoid it altogether. Simply put, some people handle stress by taking action, others by inaction.

When you and your spouse disagree about something, each of you thinks you’re right, and it’s common to try to coerce your spouse to your way of thinking. Except it doesn’t work and can lead to unwanted compromise and resentment.

I experience fear in real-time.  I trust my gut. I do not have an off button or a way to avoid feeling it. It is front-and-center when it occurs and can get very intense very quickly depending on how fearful I am.  My husband doesn’t experience stress the way I do, and we’re learning how to better communicate what’s really going on which each other when we experience stress, and what we can do to meet each other’s needs.

It’s not easy, but it’s needed. I realize I can no longer expect him to feel what I’m feeling, but need to make it clear to him that I’m experiencing stress (e.g. I am getting very uncomfortable being outside with this lightning and thunder).  If he is unwilling to share my stress, I need to be clear on how he can help me feel better (e.g. can we get in the car for the next 15 minutes until the storm passes?).  It’s little tweaks for us to better communicate and understand each other.  It’s about feelings (talk about scary!) and being confident enough to know when you are experiencing them and when they’re not.

How do you handle stress?  Do you take action or do you avoid dealing with the situation?

By not taking action, do your family members experience stress?

The Scariest Thing of All – Part 1

There is a lot about parenthood that scared me when I first became one.

  • How will I care for the baby – feed, diaper, dress, bathe, soothe?
  • How will I take care of my house – shopping, preparing, cleaning?
  • How will I take care of my husband – be attentive, connect, enjoy?
  • How will I take care of myself? [Notice there are no examples – I didn’t have any example when I first became one, I didn’t know what taking care of myself looked like]

In the beginning, my top priority was to keep my baby alive and healthy. The realization that my husband and I were now responsible for this precious being was terrifying. The fear and anxiety I had were a result of this being something new I didn’t have much practice in, and an understanding of what a massive responsibility I had in raising my child.

What used to give me anxiety before my child before, which quickly waned once my son arrived, was keeping up my house.  Spotless countertops and everything being in its place just didn’t happen. I experienced some discomfort over the situation, but had to modify what I got stressed out about or I would be a mess all the time.

My husband and I have been a good team, but it hasn’t always been the smoothest of sailings. When things aren’t smooth it can feel scary.  What’s going to happen to us?  What’s going to happen to our family if we don’t figure this out? Etc. Occasionally, we’ve needed to regroup, reevaluate and reconnect to get our relationship back on track.  Not always easy to do with busy schedules and little ones to raise, but we make working on our relationship one of our priorities and I’m comforted by our commitment to see things through.

I have blogged much about taking care of your self and spend a good deal of time on this in my book and when I’m speaking to parenting groups. Despite the popular belief that the more you sacrifice the better parent you are, the reality is the better you are at taking care of yourself the better parent and partner you will be. Yes, you may be scared of being seen as selfish, but there is nothing selfish about it and therefore nothing for you to fear.

The scariest thing of all for me now is not being in control. I understand that I can only control my own actions. As much as I want to influence the actions of others I can’t control what they say, how they behave or decisions they make, regardless of the impact on my family and I.  I love life and want my kids to enjoy it as well, so I try not to get myself too concerned with this. If I did, it could be paralyzing.  Instead I try to be more self-aware starting with my own words and deeds. How I speak to my children, spouse, friends, relatives, co-workers, other parents, and people I encounter everyday?  Am I treating them the way I want to be treated? Am I living my life in a way that is healthy for my family and I?  If not, what will I do to make the change that is needed.

Control is powerful, but something each of us own.  It’s nothing to be scared of when it’s ultimately in your hands to change.

To Be Continued…

The Replacements

The Twitter world lit up over the controversial final call of the Green Bay vs. Seattle game on Monday Night Football on September 24th.  The call (or missed call) was carried out by replacement refs who have been officiating NFL games since the referee lockout began prior to the start of the 2012 season.  Fans have not been happy about the situation and were so vocal about removing the replacement refs that the NFL and the NFL Referees reached an agreement two days after this game to end it. The substitutes, as fans would say, weren’t cutting it.

And how could they? It was known the replacement refs were substitutes whose job was to fill in while the labor dispute was ongoing. They didn’t have the experience the professional referees had, nor the vested interested to hone their skills (though I am quite certain they all wanted to do a good job). They did their job knowing it was temporary.

As a babysitter in my teen years I was grateful for the work and the money. I loved kids, prided myself on being responsible and wanted to do a good job. Yet, I was very aware that the job I was doing was temporary. If I did a good job, hopefully the parents would have me sit again. If I didn’t, not a big deal, finding another family to sit for wasn’t hard to do.

The permanence of parenting didn’t settle in for me until about a month or so after our first son was born. It reminded me of being a babysitter, except this wouldn’t be a temporary gig on a Saturday night, but a permanent one that I’d be doing 24x7x365 for the next 18 years.  The realization that I not only had this new job, but I would also need to be “on my game” all the time was a little overwhelming, but it was clear my presence was required and I needed to commit to be the best parent I could be. No temporary lockouts, checkouts or somebody-else-can-handles. There is no substitution for the real thing.

While there will never be the threat of an “official” lockout for parents, unofficial forms can occur—through divorce or strained partner relationships, demanding work schedules or commitments that keep you outside the home—any time your child experiences your absence physically or emotionally. To your child, there is no substitute for you. You may miss an occasional “call” in parenting, but have the opportunity to make it right.

The Twitter world might not light up over the news that you are a caring and committed parent, but your child’s will, and there’s no replacement for that.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I’ve been thinking about the word respect lately.

My concentration around this word began following recent statements made by my six-year-old son to my husband and I.

“How dare you speak to me that way?” He responded after not getting something that he wanted (e.g. TV or a sweet)

“What the heck?” He responded after we told him we couldn’t accommodate his request (e.g. TV, play a game, etc)

Besides being momentarily dumbfounded by what he said, I responded each time saying, “We don’t talk that way to each other. We treat each other with respect.” Defining respect for him has been a bit more challenging.

The dictionary defines respect as:

Respect (Noun): A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Respect (Verb): Admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

I was brought up to respect my parents, but I hadn’t put too much thought into why, until my son responded this way. My sisters and I were spanked by our parents. Most of my friends growing up were spanked by their parents. Spanking was an acceptable way to discipline for many families in the ’70s. I’m thankful that is no longer the case.

We do not spank our children. I have never been comfortable with the idea of mixing actions like love and hitting together. It was very confusing to me why loving parents would spank a child.  Instead, we talk to our son and explain the situation about why we have to take an action or inaction to reinforce a desired behavior. I thought it was working until his outbursts occurred.

I’ve always respected my parents, but had to think about why that was as a child.  Was it because I admired them for their parenting abilities or because I was scared that if I didn’t respect them I would get spanked? I’m certain it was a mixture of both. I knew my parents loved me. They showed me that in tangible ways—hugs, kisses, cheers and time. The spanking scared me. It hurt and the pain endured often felt disproportionate to what I was being punished for.  It kept me inline, but at an unquantifiable emotional and physical cost.

I don’t want my children to associate needing to experience physical harm to learn a positive lesson together. Spanking will not ever be part of my parent rearing equation. But how do you teach your child respect?

I talk to my boys about respect and treating each other with kindness. Listening to each other, responding with consideration and care. I will never embarrass them knowingly, shame them or lie to them. I will continue to explain things to them and help them make the connection between the action and the consequence (positive or negative). I have a saying I use with my boys: “If I ask you for something its for one of three reasons. I’m trying to teach you something. I’m trying to keep you safe, or I need your help.”

I’m not sure respect can be taught. I believe it’s earned, and I’m hopeful in time my boys will come to respect my husband and I for raising them the way we are and will.  In the interim, I’m working to stick to what I believe is key: being consistent and practicing patience. I’m hoping to be an expert in patience by the time they are teenagers. I hear we’ll be in for quite a ride by then.

How are you experiencing respect in your life?

Say What You Mean

I was speaking with a group of moms recently and we were discussing how to find your voice as a woman. We decided that the only real way to find your voice is to say what you mean. It sounds so simple, but I’ve discovered many of us struggle with doing just that.

The particular discussion began as they normally do with parenting groups, around the talk about how emotions like frustration and resentment can develop between partners after a new baby arrives. Things your spouse did before the baby came, like not picking up after him or herself didn’t bother you and well, now it really does. As an outside observer, it’s easy enough to think a new parent should just tell their partner how they feel and yet, many of us don’t. Instead our voice gets stuck, it freezes up and the words won’t come out. It can’t be that simple, we think. Can we really just ask for what we want? Or more importantly what we need?

I’ve met many women in particular who struggle with finding their voice and saying what they mean to their partner, parents, in-laws, siblings and friends (note: I think both men and women struggle with this but women talk to each other about it more frequently). I know I am still working on fully finding my voice. Asking others for what you want and need can be scary.  Will I appear selfish? You ask yourself. Incompetent? Too needy? We’ll modify what we really want to say: “I need a break” to something less direct “Any chance you want to take the baby with you while you run errands?”

But what I’ve learned in recent years is that when you ask for what you need you send a message that you respect yourself enough–even love yourself enough–to ask for what you need. Think about that statement for a moment. You love yourself enough. You respect yourself enough to ask for what you need. And when you respect yourself, others will too.

A woman in the group I was speaking to most recently really stood out to me. She was the first woman I encountered in a long time who had truly found her voice. She’d had it before her child arrived and I suspect had an even clearer, stronger voice since becoming a mom. She shared how she asked her husband for what she needed, when she needed it—telling him when she needed alone time, or asking him to take on some of the household chores because she needed help.  It was inspiring to listen to her speak.

I will continue to work to find my voice and to be more direct and clear about what I need and why.

Have you found your voice?