A Quiet Place

Things seem quieter now, right?

Having the out-of-the-house distractions go away at first was difficult. We are used to having noise around us. If you are like me, prior to the pandemic having the house be quiet — no sounds coming from from kids, my screens making noise, or the sounds of running, playing or arguing — felt good for a little bit, but inevitably the silence would turn to discomfort. I’d get a feeling I was wasting time and should be doing something. If I was doing something I would be making and/or hearing noise. Cue the tv or radio coming on (at a minimum). Hearing noise would calm me.

But now there is a lot less noise all the time — less traffic on the street, no groups of people gathering, no sounds of sports being played, or the kids running around outside with their friends — part of it makes me long for the past, but I’m hopeful for the future and know the noises will return eventually.

I’m trying to really embrace the quiet. When I talk to parenting groups it’s one of the tools I recommend — making quiet time for inward reflection. To inquire within yourself how are you doing and what do you need. It’s a great opportunity to just listen and see how your mind responds. When I do this I’m often surprised by what I hear — you need a hug, you need a break, you need to hear it’s going to be okay. I feel better once I can identify my need(s) and acknowledge getting them addressed (my husband and youngest son are always willing to give good hugs; my kids can help in the house and yard or cook a meal; my husband is always there to tell me it’s going to be okay). If something comes up they can’t address, I seek out others for what I need — talking to my girlfriends to keep those connections going, checking in on my parents to make sure they are okay, etc.

While it being more quiet may make you uncomfortable I’d encourage you to lean into it and see what ahas you have around how you are doing and what you need.

How are you caring for yourself, so you can better care for your family, during this time?

One New Day at a Time

How are you getting through each day with your family at home?

My husband and I went for a long walk in our neighborhood early in the morning over the weekend. Few people were up so it was easy to social distance from the handful of other neighbors we encountered. As we walked we talked about how different things were since the Coronavirus changed how we live. As we talked I reflected how I’d been experiencing a similar feeling I hadn’t felt in a while. It was a fear of the unknown tempered with a need to push through the fear — it was a feeling I experienced when I first became a parent.

I remember after my first son was born how I felt almost disconnected from my body — seeing my baby, adjusting to the baby’s needs, learning this ‘new’ normal, and trying to shake the discomfort I felt — adjusting to being a new parent. How was I going to do this? How was I going to be a good parent when I didn’t have any experience? I was learning as I went, and it felt scary. But I had to adjust, getting paralyzed with fear wouldn’t serve my son, or me well. I had to walk through the fear knowing eventually I’d get comfortable with how my life was changing.

We are adjusting. Each day seems a little easier than the last. Much like it did in those early days of parenting. I move forward with the knowledge that I did it before and I can do it again — one new day at a time.

How are you adjusting to how the virus is impacting your family’s life?

While the Kids are Away, the Parents Will…

Has your child ever spent the night at their grandparents, or a friend’s house? Or gone away to overnight camp? How did you spend your free time?

My boys go away a few times a year — to camp, a school trip, or visiting their grandparents. Every time they leave, my husband and I have to figure out what to do with ourselves. All our parenting duties temporarily go away and we have to adjust to it being just the two of us.

When my boys were young, I coveted date night. Just having some time away with my husband was priceless. I desperately needed a break from my parenting responsibilities. But as my boys have grown and become much more independent, date nights are something my husband and I need. It’s no longer about needing a break, but instead about being connected.

A date night now can include simple things like a walk around the neighborhood, eating dinner together, or talking, about anything other than work or the kids. This time together reminds us why we’re together. When our kids are gone (particularly when it’s for several nights) we miss them, but know that they are growing with the experiences they are having, while we are strengthening our relationship while they’re gone.

How do you and your significant other stay connected? How do you enjoy your (kid) free time when you have it?

‘Tis the Season

What time of year is most stressful for you?

For many, the holiday season brings stress with it, but my stress starts earlier in the year and peaks around this time — like a roller coaster with the biggest hill at the end.

January usually brings changes at work which require an adjustment — it’s common for me to have to tell myself at some point during the month, “calm down, you’re going to figure this out.” And I do. Just around the time I’m acclimated to the changed there are school activities, events, volunteers needed, vacations to plan, and again it culminates to what feels like a fever pitch, and then school is out, and the stress lowers. Then vacation comes, and the break is welcomed and rest is enjoyed. Recharging is the goal. Then school starts again, there is planning, figuring out logistics, getting used to a new schedule, new teachers, new activities, new places we have to be at new times. Then we adjust, and the stress lowers. Then it picks back up with all the things that come rapid fire starting in October and goes through the end of the year — Halloween, birthday parties, family visiting, getting the photo album together, getting the holiday card written and sent, scheduling holiday parties, making plans with friends, getting the house ready for Christmas, shopping, and the list goes on and on.

I knew I was overly stressed when I received a reminder call of an upcoming appointment. I was certain the person had the wrong date. “I was just there two or three weeks ago.” I rescheduled the appointment pushing it a month out. It was only when I paused to really think about it (the next day) that i realized it had been closer to six weeks since I had gone in, and I was in fact due for an appointment. Where did the time go? I thought.

No one is making me do any of these things. This is my doing. I want my children to have certain experiences (parties, holidays, vacations, etc.). I want to capture the memories and make sure I’m not getting behind (cause that would stress me out even more). But I realize I am close to burn out and desperately need a vacation. Time off is just around the corner so I’m just trying to power through until I get there. My guess is many of us are in the same boat.

How do you handle stress as a parent throughout the year? How do you navigate stress during this time of year?

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?