#Lovin’ It

With abundant heart decorations in stores, my kids have expressed an interest in why we celebrate Valentine’s Day, and who their valentine should be (thankfully, it appears the only ideas coming to mind are Mom and Dad–phew!). It’s forced me to come to terms with my own experience with this well-intended holiday.

I have to admit, Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite holiday. While there was a lot of people in love, I wasn’t exactly loving it. I stressed out about who would be my Valentine as a teen and young adult, when I was dating I stressed about what to get my Valentine. How serious is this relationship anyway? What does my gift say about the relationship–it’s too serious or not serious enough? Hard to find the romance amongst all the stress. After getting married and had kids, I’ve stressed about trying to remember the holiday and take action on it. While I like the idea of romantic gestures, I don’t think they should be stress inducing or be limited to Valentine’s Day. My idea of what a romantic gesture has changed over time too. I used to crave flowers, jewelry or a fancy dinner. Now I treasure connection, conversation, handholding, foot rubs, or a simple card. They are gifts that require nothing more than thought, and time. They are stress free,  and I love them. It helps to think I can share this knowledge with my kids…hopefully they’ll avoid much of the unnecessary stress I experienced.

How have you explained Valentine’s Day to your child? What is the best stress-free gift you have given or received?

Alone Time

Do you ever crave having alone time: when you don’t have any distractions and allow yourself some peace and quiet?

I never realized how much I craved, actually needed, alone time until I had my kids. We’re conditioned to have noise around us. I know I used to like having the TV or radio on in the background when I was single and lived in an apartment. It made me feel less alone. Now, there are people around me that require my attention all hours of the day: co-workers, spouse and kids. And while I crave alone time, true peace and quiet, it is uncomfortable for me when I have no sound around. When things are silent, instead of relaxing and recharging, I let my head fill up with all the “to-dos” I still need to get done. I may not turn the TV or radio on, but I’m letting noise in.

My husband and I were able to have a weekend getaway with the help of my parents. It was a great time for us both to work on find alone time together–just being with each other in silence and enjoying it. And it was great for the kids…they loved having an adventure with their grandparents. It worked wonders for us all, and reminds me that I need to make space for ‘peace and quiet’ (even if they are brief) everyday.

Where do you experience peace and quiet? How have you (and your family) benefitted from alone time?

Hidden Messages

My husband is a self-proclaimed non-romantic. A bummer, I know. I have often dreamt of him having a romantic-switch buried deep down inside just waiting to be turned on. Of course, I’ve tried everyway I know from hints to outright asking him to try to be more romantic, attempting to will the switch on, and unfortunately the magical switch has remained dormant.

I used to think that him not being romantic had everything to do with me, as if there was a hidden message I should be reading into about me (e.g. perhaps I’m not worth being romantic for), instead of it having anything to do with him. I have learned over time and from some very wise sources that my husband is who he is and while romantic notions may be how I envision love being shown to me, he shows me his love in many others.

I started to think about hidden messages and how we can easily misconstrue what peoples actions or inactions, words or lack of words mean. This can occur not only between spouse or partners, but also between friends, and with our children. Specific to our children, meaning can be derived in the tone of voice we use, in the words we say or exclude. Do your children understand what you are communicating to them and why? Or are they reading into what you are saying without verbalizing it, much like I was reading into my husband’s non-cues?

While coming to the terms that having many romantic experiences in my life may not be in my future, I’ve recently learned that I may be wrong and that there is hope. Before my husband left for a business trip, we discussed how to stay connected while he was away. I told him how much I valued his observations or acknowledgements he makes about me or our relationship. He shared how much being able to see me and our boys meant to him. We connected via video chat each day after his departure, and he unveiled a hidden surprise. He left me notes hidden around the house. One for everyday that he was gone. How romantic! These hidden messages mean more to me than he will ever know. They not only helped carry me through the time while he was away, but have created a wonderful memory for me that I will treasure. The message was received loud and clear — I am worth being romantic for, and I still have a lot to learn about my husband.

Are there hidden messages in your relationship with your spouse or child? How do you ensure they are receiving your intended message?

Marriage IS Work

In SNL’s season finale, host Ben Affleck talked about hosting for his fifth time, and also poked fun at his acceptance speech at the Oscar with her wife, Jennifer Garner. She joined him on stage to discuss the famous comment from his speech that “marriage is work”.

While he worked to explain himself and what he meant by his comment to the audience and his wife, the unspoken message came through loud and clear—anyone who is honest about marriage will agree with what he said: marriage is work. Any relationship worth holding onto takes work. Think of the work we put into connecting with our parents, our children, our friends and each other. In some relationships the work seems effortless, in others it can be exhausting.

When I met my husband, I instantly liked him. We shared a lot in common. It was easy to make a connection with him because he was easy to relate to. After being married for several years, we learned that while we could relate to one another, we weren’t connecting as deeply as we wanted to, or stated more accurately, how I wanted to.

We have worked on connecting more deeply in recent years. Making ourselves more vulnerable to each other, and freeing ourselves to speak more honestly. While uncomfortable at first, it has become easier for both of us with time. Being accepted as I am, truly as I am, is really freeing. I am able to love my husband more deeply and we are able to enjoy each other more fully. That’s not to say we don’t occasionally hit a bump in the road. We know that’s not possible, we may have disagreements, and we just work through them.

Marriage is work, in the best sense. Parenting is work. Life is work. Sometimes the work seems effortless, sometimes it can seem exhausting, but it always feels worth it.

Which Way are you Leaning?

What’s a mother to do? We give birth, we take our child home, we start to care for it, and then we are faced with the decision—to go back to work or not.  Of course, some of us will have decided prior to having our child that we won’t return to the workforce because we don’t want to, or financially it doesn’t make sense.  Some of us know we will return to work and it becomes an issue of how soon, and then there are the rest who are on the fence.

And here our quandary begins. Perhaps we’ve invested time in our careers and are making our way up the corporate ladder and want to continue our climb. Perhaps we have a profession we’re passionate about. Or perhaps we need the money, want continued contact with adults, or know that work gives a sense of purpose you haven’t found anywhere else.  You weigh the pros and cons of staying home with your child and not working (maybe temporarily, maybe permanently), and you weigh it and you weigh it and you weigh it. And while ultimately you go with the decision you feel is best you can’t quite shake that nagging voice in the back of your head. Am I taking something away from myself if I stay home? Am I taking something away from my child if I work?

And now the dialogue is no longer being kept to ourselves, or amongst our working mother friends. It’s being discussed out in the open. Oh goodness! Why Women Still Can’t Have it All by Anne-Marie Slaughter was published in the July/August 2012 edition of The Atlantic. Her article encouraged a dialogue between working women, to understand the obstacles women still face to reach the highest professional levels while raising children, and encouraged men, who are expressing a desire to be more involved in the raising of their children, to join in the situation.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, encourages women to be “at the table” professionally, take risks, and pursue your desired career. She also mentions men playing more of a role in the rearing of the child and household responsibilities.

I can understand why reactions to both the article and the book have been strong.  Each gave me pause. What do you mean women can’t have it all? And Lean In—I didn’t realize I was leaning out.  Do I really have to do more than what I’m already doing?

What really bothered me wasn’t the article, book or their content. It was the emotions they were triggering in me—guilt, anger, relief and hope.  Quite a range of emotions, don’t you think?  I still have guilt about putting both boys in daycare when they were young. I know I am a better mom than I would have been a stay home mom (I think stay-at-home moms are amazing), but it didn’t take the guilt away. I was angry because I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at in my career while fighting hard to maintain boundaries specific to the hours that I work and the time I spend away from the family because of it.  I felt relief because someone was finally talking about this—I’ve often felt alone in my daily struggle to do what’s best for my children, spouse and myself. Lastly, I felt hope. Hope that we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg and more conversations will take place between spouses, partners, companies and communities. That we will reach equality in the home and in the workforce, and as a country we’ll figure out how to better support families so that we not only can survive but also thrive together.

The question, “can women have it all?” makes me think should we want to have it all? and what does having it all mean? I think our kids should have it all—involved parents working for supportive companies and communities that value our future generation more than sustaining a culture of workaholics.

We’ve got some work to do, and I’m leaning towards whatever will get us there.

Which way are you leaning?

Who’s Feeling Lucky?

March 17th. A day filled with thoughts of the Irish, the color green, shamrocks, rainbows ending in pots of gold, and luck.  While many will celebrate the day eating Irish-inspired fare, and participating in numerous St. Patrick’s Days events, I’ll be taking inventory of my own “pots of gold”.

For most of my life, I’ve given LUCK more credit than maybe I should of. I attributed luck to receiving an unexpected accolade, or being selected for a position I really wanted, or meeting my future husband during a philanthropy event.

Because of this, I’ve often dismissed or diminished my capabilities, achievements and contributions. Accepting a simple public “thank you” would almost drive me to the point of embarrassment. I’d think to myself doesn’t everyone know I’m not perfect and luck played a large part in being able to achieve this?  There was always another part of my brain fighting with this internal voice. It reminded me that I had worked hard, was qualified, and deserved happiness (everyone does!).  As I get older, I am more willing to accept this, and while there may be an element of luck in what’s gotten me to where I am, a larger part is due to opportunities I was given and what I did with them.

Instead of thinking about luck today, I’m reminded of my “pots of gold”—where I feel grateful for what’s going on in my life. Some of the things included in my list this year:

  • Raising my children—watching them and being responsible for helping shape them into the adults they will become continues to be humbling, challenging, and fun! What treasures!
  • Friendship—I am grateful to have friends I can connect with on an authentic level. Relationships where each of us can be “real” with one another is very fulfilling. They are my diamonds.
  • Love—It’s one of the most valuable gifts to give and receive. 
  • Other parents and you—connecting with and having a conversation about how we can be better parents to our children gives me energy.  Invaluable.

Are you feeling lucky? What are your pots of gold?

Reaching Your Full Potential

My boys are big fans of Cartoon Network’s Ninjago. The story follows four ninja as they train, taught by their master Sensei Wu, in order to defeat the great Lord Garmadon. The Lego minifigures—Cole, Kai, Jay and Zane—was what first drew my sons in.  My husband and I have found there are actually some pretty good lessons Sensei Wu teaches his young apprentices in the series—to appreciate differences, appreciate what you have, and to work hard to reach your full potential.

As a parent, I certainly want my children to appreciate differences, appreciate what they have, and reach their full potential, but often think how do my husband and I do that?  For me, it starts with having a plan that captures what you want to teach your child (e.g., values, morals, beliefs, experiences, etc.). While my husband and I had similar upbringings (two parents, small town upbringing, etc.) we didn’t have identical ones. When I was pregnant we both thought about things we wanted to incorporate from our own upbringings and things we didn’t (I think this is common for many new parents or parents-to-be to do). We took it a step further and wrote down things we wanted to teach our children and things we didn’t independent of each other and then compared notes. That’s how we started our plan.

The plan is dynamic and will change as our children grow and as we grow as parents. It requires inspection—are our children learning appreciation, for example.  If so, how?  If not, what do we need to change?  Our busy lives can leave us a bit drained at the end of each day, and weekends can feel like “catch up” time for all the things we weren’t able to get to during the week.  I find that I have to carve out time to ensure I am able to evaluate, with my husband, how we are doing in our parenting journey. Most nights we find some time after the kids have gone down. It takes work, it takes thought and it takes commitment.

While I want my children to reach their full potential and appreciate their talents whether they come to them naturally or they work hard to gain them. I want to reach my full potential as an individual, and as their parent. It’s hard to conceive that achieving that goal is possible, but I’m not going to stop trying. Thankfully I don’t have to master my skills to defeat an evil dark lord, but I do need to master my skills gain confidence in myself, and in my parenting journey.

How are you helping your child reach their full potential?  How are you reaching yours?

What Makes Your Heart Sing?

Did you ever have the fantasy, as a child or young adult, that a secret admirer knew how incredible you were, somehow knew your favorite flowers and would pronounce their love for you bearing gifts on Valentine’s Day to the world?  Bear with me if you didn’t, because I had this Cinderella-type dream as a kid. I could visualize how it would happen, though couldn’t quite make out who my prince was. Regardless, the idea of some mystery boy being into me really made my heart sing, or, at least that’s what I thought back then.

As I grew older, I discovered Valentine’s Day might not be all it was made out to be. I stressed as a younger woman about having a valentine—not good for my self-esteem, the mystery prince was nowhere to be found, and as a mature adult the holiday seemed more confusing than satisfying.  Do people actually need to wait until Valentine’s Day to show or receive love from each other? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?

My children love Valentine’s Day, not because they understand what all the fuss is about, but because they know there’s a good chance they’ll get some Valentine’s Day-themed goodies from Mom and Dad. Chocolates that come in a heart shaped box—cool!  We make a point to tell our children we love them everyday, and often multiple times a day. And when they get older we’ll talk to them about the holiday and ways to really show someone you care as you experience it, not saving it for February 14th.

I love getting flowers from my husband, but love connecting with him even more. Talking about things other than work or the kids, getting a foot rub, or him taking my hand unexpectedly makes me feel close to him and really loved. To think that my husband and I have the opportunity to teach our boys how to express their feelings for someone they care about when they feel it makes me smile.

In fact, it makes my heart sing.

What makes your heart sing?

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…