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?

 

 

The Sex Talk

Being a parent has it’s challenges. One my husband and I have been trying to prepare ourselves for years for is “the sex talk.” This came front and center recently when my boys and I were visiting the zoo. We were at the tortoise exhibit when when my youngest son and I saw some movement. I made an innocent comment to my son when one tortoise nudged the other near her rear legs. “He’s saying, ‘hey, get a move on.'” I thought it was funny, and my son also recognized the silliness of my words. I walked away for a minute to check on my other son who was across the aisle looking at a snake enclosure. When I came back to my youngest son, he was laughing in full hysterics…”Look Mom, the tortoise is trying to climb over the other one.” Ah oh, I thought. Sounds like some mating might be taking place. Sure enough I looked into the dwelling and my suspicions were confirmed. What made it worse was the family that was standing next to my son. The husband who had a baby strapped onto his front was giggling nervously and saying, “um, (insert nervous giggle), I, um, don’t think he’s trying to climb over (insert another nervous giggle).” The wife couldn’t take her eyes off what the turtles were doing. My anxiety went from zero to very high very quickly. My mind started to race. Should I just tell my son the truth, that the tortoises are mating? What questions will that bring up? Is having this discussion appropriate to do in public? Thankfully my oldest son, who had no idea what was going on, rescued me by instructing his brother and I to come over and check out what he was looking at. While I continued to ask myself these questions, and fearing I might be missing a teaching moment, I kept quiet. Give yourself time to think about how to respond on this one, I told myself. My younger son never made another reference to what he’d seen.

This experience prompted my husband and I to revisit how we are educating our children on their bodies and sex. Our boys are six and eight and curiosity about their bodies is happening. While we’d like to think that we are comfortable having these discussions, the truth is they can make us a bit uncomfortable. How much do you share? When?

Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to see Dr. Laura Berman on an Oprah episode several years ago, when she helped parents and their children understand their body’s and the realities of sex. It went beyond the birds and the bees discussion. The two episodes I saw taught kids about how their body works, and talked to teens honestly about sex: covering the mechanics while important, is only the beginning, the heart of the discussion was to help teens understand the reality (emotional and relational) and the potential consequences (positive and negative). Both episodes made me cry. Not because I was disturbed at what was discussed, but because I wished so badly that my parents had had this same discussion with me. My parent’s generation for the most part, didn’t talk to their children in this level of detail, and my peers and I were left to figure most of “it” out on our own. I grateful that I managed to navigate it so well on my own, though sometimes it felt like luck played a bigger role in that than my personal knowledge.

I’m determined to help educate my kids, like I wish I was, on their bodies and sex, even though it won’t be easy. I picked up Dr. Laura Berman’s book “Talking to Your Kids about Sex” and “The Boys Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up You” by Kelli Dunham. Dr. Laura Berman’s book is to help my husband and I. The Boys Body Book is to provide my boys with a reference they can read through as needed.

What resources have helped you? How have you navigated the sex talk with your children? How did you work through any discomfort (your own, your partner’s, or your child’s)?

Breathe in Breathe out

Have you ever had a week where stressors seem to pile up? This week I did. It started with the normal stuff: school forms that needed to be sent in, and schoolwork my children needed to complete (of course, the homework required parental involvement, which was fine). Next throw in a stressful work situation or two that becomes escalated, find out that not one, but two family members have serious medical situations going on, and have a spouse who is away on a business trip. It can start to feel overwhelming.

How do you handle such weeks?

As the week unfolded, each day seemed to bring a new strain and I’d think to myself, “It’s got to get better,” only to have another stressor added the following day. “I’ll get through this,” I’d tell myself as I tried to cope on my own. I was sharing my situation with a trusted advisor, who in turn asked me a great question, “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” Now, several years ago, that question would have just made me mad. I probably would have responded, “Nothing. There’s no time!” But since I’ve learned so much around the importance of it since then, it was a good reminder. What am I doing to take care of myself? I thought. I realized that I wasn’t doing anything. I was running on auto-pilot trying to get through each day and not allowing myself time to feel anything too strongly or think too much about any one concern. Instead I was seeking out downtime and rest.  As I realized this, I was first disappointed. Why wasn’t I seeking out more self-care? Then I thought, Cut yourself some slack. You’ve had a heck of a week. 

We all have stressors in our life and some weeks are better than others. What I noticed most about this past week was how much I longed to be comforted and held by my husband (I needed someone to tell me everything is going to be okay), and I needed rest. I needed to listen to my body’s cues and give myself permission and time to process and work through all the things I’m dealing with. I also realized that I wasn’t being fully present with my children. I was trying to get through each day, not interact with them as authentically as I would if I didn’t have this stresses hanging over me.

This came to a head when I was trying to read a book while in the same room with my older son. He was watching a college football game. Something he and I both enjoy. He was very excited by what was going on in the game and kept trying to engage me in what was taking place. After realizing I was missing an opportunity to engage with my son (I could read the book later), I put the book down and took a deep breathe. I’m not sure what prompted me to do this, but it felt good. Breathe in, breathe out. It helped bring me back to the present. My son saw that my attention was now on him and the game and he came to my side with the widest smile. “I can’t help how much I love this, Mom,” he shared. And while I suspect that he was referring to his excitement in watching the game, he reminded me how much I love spending time with he and his brother too.  Just one breathe brought it all back into focus.

I was grateful when my husband arrived home a few hours later and grateful when the week that the week is behind me, but possibly most grateful for the gift of a simple deep breathe, and how it brought me back to life. What a simple tool: breathe in, breathe out.

How do you take care of yourself when you have stressful situations? What brings you back to being fully present?

Cup of Life

My oldest son raced through the door one day after school, threw his backpack on the floor, and turned to me and said, “Don’t forget to come watch me dance tomorrow at the assembly.” What dance? What assembly? What are you talking about? I thought. He hadn’t mentioned anything about learning a dance or about an assembly until that afternoon. I quickly emailed some of the classroom parents to see what they might know. Sure enough a note quickly came back confirming my son, along with his class, would be doing a dance during the afternoon assembly the following day.

Oh no, I thought, what am I going to do? I’ve got a job. I’ve got commitments. I’ve got meetings! I tried to let my son gently know that I would try my best to be at his assembly the next day, but I had commitments that I had made, and responsibilities I needed to keep. He looked at me as seriously as I’ve ever seen him look and say, “Mom, I know you’ll make it.” I knew the assembly meant a lot to him, and even though I wish I’d had more warning, I knew I’d have to give it my best shot. After a couple of deep breaths, I logged onto my computer and saw that I had a window of time that coincided with when the assembly would be and would be able to attend after all. What a relief!

I arrived at his school and watched as his class came in. He met my eyes and got the biggest smile on his face. He signaled a “thumbs up” and I gave him one in return. It turned out not only was his class performing, but all the classes in his school were performing, it was quite a treat. Each class danced to a different song and style of music. Their routines allowed members of each class to show their individual dance style. My son’s class danced to Ricky Martin’s “Cup of Life.” The song’s chorus concludes with Ale Ale Ale, a with music and cheering at sporting events, like ole. It’s a celebratory phrase commonly associated with music and sporting events. I thought the phrase was perfect for my son and his class’s performance.

It was rewarding to see these kids who danced without inhibition. They all wanted to do a good job, you could see the concentration on their faces, but you could also see the joy, and fun they were having. Each class cheered the other on. It was quite a display of support and encouragement.

As my son’s class danced so energetically to their song, I thought, this is what life is all about—working together, playing together, enjoying each other without worrying about being judged, or made fun of–it truly captured what life, or the cup of life, is and should be.

Ale ale ale

Much to be Grateful For

With the outcome of the election known, it has been much easier for me to resume my life.  No more anxiety around who is going to be in charge next, no more animosity from certain factions on the opposing side, and no more negativity, at least not at the levels it was.  I never enjoy an election when the country feels so divided. I’ve been on both sides—elated my candidate won and devastated when they didn’t. When Obama was re-elected it felt anti-climatic, and almost silly that I put so much energy worrying about the outcome (darn those pundits for getting me all worked up!), when people in our own country are just trying to get back to their lives in a more basic way.

I was able to reconnect with a friend who lives in the Northeast this week over the phone. We talked about Hurricane Sandy and the effects it has had on her own home and that of her neighbors. There was much devastation in her area, and while she and her family had fared the storm well enough, several neighbors weren’t as fortunate. Homes needed to be emptied and gutted because they had sustained so much damage. People were displaced and had to find temporary housing until they can get back into their homes. Gas shortages along with power lines that are still down make it difficult to get around and get basic needs met.  Sandy is an event that reminds us all about our priorities: family, friends, life, taking care of one another…all of things that really matter, not what we get caught up in everyday—work importance, politics, and individual needs.

HBO is currently airing a documentary series called Witness, which follows photographers who are capturing life in countries experiencing their own wars: Mexico, Libya, South Sudan, Uganda, and Brazil. The series highlights what life is like for people in the country today and everyday. One photographer mentions that he was drawn to this, because he felt the world needed to know what was really happening in these countries, not just what can be crammed into a 60 second piece on the nightly news.  In watching the episodes, while the countries and situations are different, my reaction was the same for its citizens—fear, anxiety, and an incomprehensive of how people can survive in such scary situations.

Can you imagine having to be concerned you could get caught in the crossfire of a gunfight at any time of day? Can you imagine not having access to electricity or water or not knowing where money or food would come from, and not because you don’t have the money, which is frightening enough, but because no one has electricity, water or food? People who can provide these services are too scared to go to work or it is simply too dangerous.  Can you imagine trying to raise children in such an environment?

We may disagree in this country on a lot of things, but I take great comfort in our democracy, our desire to live in relative peace with one another, and help our fellow citizens when we are able. We are not perfect and have many problems to solve, but I am thankful, so thankful that I live in a land where I don’t fear for my family and children’s safety on a daily, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour basis.  I am grateful that while we may disagree, it doesn’t result in us raising arms against one another.  I am thankful that when we experience destruction like Hurricane Sandy we come together to help each other.

I am thankful, I am thankful, I am thankful.

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?