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Let’s have Sisterhood take over the world – boys, girls, and all.

Let’s talk about Sisterhood. It’s a much bigger concept than simply having female siblings. I believe that Sisterhood, big S, encompassing millions of diverse humans, is what today has been about.

I’m aware that there was a big, braggadocious, depressing, basically unthinkable event going on yesterday. It was my day off. I studiously avoided all exposure to it. Instead, I’ve been ruminating on more worthy things.

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Image via The Master Shift

In November, I weighed in about the political situation and how it must be combatted with courtesy and civilized conversation  and critical thinking and especially LOVE. I felt the need yesterday to focus on that. Love is what we use to fend off and neutralize hate. Love is what we’re here for. But what does that look like on a grievously upsetting day?

Sisterhood popped up as a theme as early as breakfast. One of my wonderful, gifted American cousins – who happens to be an only child – had written a beautiful Facebook post that included these wise words:

Sisterhood shines brilliantly when we lift each other up, giving tough love when our sisters aren’t reaching their full potential… and celebrating each other’s successes from a place of abundance and admiration instead of envy. 

Sisterhood is about collectively raising and empowering the young girls in our lives. 

Sisterhood is sharing in the flawed, exhausting, pressure-filled, body-centric, mysterious, perfectly imperfect experience of being a woman. Sometimes we are violated, silenced, overlooked, or underestimated. Too often, we are our own worst enemies. 

Sisterhood is turning into our mothers, taking care of our mothers, and becoming mothers. 

Sisterhood is coming together in the hundreds of thousands, all over the world, to be heard.

This prompted me to re-read one of my favourite Momastery posts, in which the carpentry term “sistering” is explained. It’s kinda perfect. It’s all about getting close, locking in, being there and supporting where support is most needed.

It occurred to me that Sisterhood, in its greatest sense, is not just for women. It can embrace the people of all genders who sister each other.

Yes, I know that brotherhood is a thing, and a good thing in many ways. I firmly believe boys need more bonding experiences. Brotherhood connotes standing united together, leaving no one behind, knowing who’s got your back, and no doubt much more. It also connotes frat parties, army platoons, and street gangs.

Sisterhood, on the other hand, has gentleness. It is strong and fierce, and gentle. It can get angry and still be kind. It is brimful of compassion. Sisterhood is open; it confides; it listens; it feels deeply. It is not afraid to be vulnerable, nor to give tough love, nor to speak its heart.

It has been my privilege in life to know many men who understand and participate in this kind of Sisterhood – including several who are related to me. One of them had his 30th birthday yesterday, which made all of us who know and love him feel comforted on that date.

{Thank you for being amazing, Sistermen – the world needs you more than ever.}

And today is another birthday, that of a faraway sister-of-my-heart whom I rarely see, but with whom I can always fall into step when we meet.

I have many Sisters, Canadian and American, who have been marching today in various places, including Washington. It has made me really happy to check in with them and see Sisterhood governing. Wise words spoken – incisive wit – reverent listening – peaceful gathering – pink pussy hats – acknowledgement of privilege – generosity – joyful solidarity. Humans supporting humans in our imperfectly human way.

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Image via cbc.ca, Julia Pagel

Last night, I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Guelph Lecture On Being Canadian, presented by Jeannette Armstrong, Okanagan knowledge-keeper, professor, researcher, writer, protector. She spoke of the importance of listening to and understanding the exact opposite of your own perspective, in order to achieve balance. She spoke of coming together to heal the world. The unity in the room was palpable. Sisterhood.

It seems to me that in these past two days, that balance of opposites is exactly what the world has seen.

To all Sisters: we know there are tough times ahead. We know that to provide the balance for what is coming, we will have to use extra measures of patience, warmth, empathy, and understanding – for each other just as much as for those on the other side of the scales. We need to think hard, check ourselves, and use the most love that we can muster.

We are meant for this challenge. We’ve got this.

 

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Big Magic – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear

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Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Other works: Eat, Pray, Love, The Signature of All Things, etc.

Recommended by: Glennon at Momastery (again). I’ll pretty much try anything she says. Also, I’d already read Eat, Pray, Love, and although it wasn’t dramatically life-changing for me, it was fascinating and memorable and contained a few moments that really moved me.

Genre: Self-Actualization/Art/Philosophy/Nonfiction/Psychology

Main Characters: Mostly you, the reader. And Liz. And a few other creative people with profound things to say.

Opinions: It was a pretty quick and relatively light read. It could incite soul-searching, but also it could just be read as a go-get-’em pick-me-up. I found it comforting on many levels, and funny too.

A quotation I liked: “Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

What sticks with me: 1) All people possess creativity; 2) Ideas are active and animate and will go about knocking on people’s doors until they get someone to bring them to life; 3) The suffering artist thing does not have to be a thing – if it makes you suffer that much, it’s really not what you should be doing; 4) folks need to give themselves permission to feel entitled to the time it takes to make their art – yes, it is worth doing. (Even if you’re a blogger with a very small audience, or a composer who only composes something every 5 years. 😉 )

Recommended to: People who have ideas stewing but never feel validated enough to make them happen; people who think they’re not creative; people who know they ARE creative.

To sum up: I liked it a lot! And I’ve already lent it to someone, but you can borrow it if you want, when I get it back.

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The Gifts of Imperfection – Two-Minute Book Review

Sakes alive, it’s been ages since I officially reviewed a book! More than three years, actually.

Pourquoi? I started to explain, but I’ve decided it doesn’t matter! I do want to write about books, but I don’t have time to wax philosophical, and you may well not have time to read such blither-blather either.

Hence — The Two-Minute Book Review. I’m excited about this concept.

(I actually have no idea if this will take two minutes to read. We all read at different speeds, after all. And with widely varying levels of mental imagery – more on that later.)

First book that came to mind that I’ve read in the past three years is actually NOT from Book Club, but no matter.

AND GO.

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Title: The Gifts of Imperfection – Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Author: Brené Brown

Other works: Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and I Thought It Was Just Me, etc., as well as several TED Talks (my first exposure was this wonderful talk, which I looked up after reading about Brené on Momastery.

Genre: Self-improvement… Spirituality… Life journeys…

Recommended by: My hairdresser, who had just come to a place in her life where she was feeling truly happy with herself in her life. She glowed with it.

Main characters: Brené, her many unnamed research subjects, her family, and especially you, the reader.

Opinions: My hairdresser found it really helped her to be happy with herself and thus to move forward with her goals. She was hoping to convince her husband to read it, because he was feeling stuck in a place of insecurity on many fronts. (I’ll need to get a haircut for an update.) Personally, I found it to be an interesting, comforting, thought-provoking read. Not a difficult or jargon-y book whatsoever. Brené is a professional researcher, and she’s also a very human human.

A quotation I liked: “The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” I really, really relate to this statement.

What sticks with me: The concept of living “whole-heartedly,” with all the things you and your heart are together, including the painful parts and the vulnerability to let them be seen. Also the statistics that indicate that one of the factors associated with happiness and contentment is belief in something greater/larger than ourselves, whether it be God or love or global connectedness or something else altogether.

Recommended to: Anyone struggling with self-acceptance, anyone wishing to be forgiven, anyone beating themselves up about stuff too often.

To sum up: I liked The Gifts of Imperfection a lot. It didn’t change my life drastically, but I can see how it would for some. And I’d like to read ALL of Brené.

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Barely Managing + Constant Guilt = Modern Parenting??

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When you’re a parent, discussing parenting is what you do: the easiest way to find out what you have in common – and also to gauge how you’re doing at the parenting gig, and whether you/your kids are normal.

I can’t help but notice a trend among the parents I talk to with young kids – one that contradicts most of social media. If you’re to believe Facebook and Instagram, parenting is about going to the beach, making kick-ass birthday cakes, watching your kids frolic happily, dressing them up all cute, witnessing their endearingly messy faces, and recording their most hilarious soundbites.

In reality, for many of us, parenting is about the little things that are never done and seem to take up ALL THE TIME. Wakeup routines and bedtime routines, endless meals and snacks, potty breaks and body breaks and tantrum-soothing and squabble-mediating and dropping off and picking up and tidying up and laundering and reminding and re-reminding and outright nagging. Somehow, most of the time, Barely Keeping Up feels like all there is.

I don’t believe our social media masks are necessarily disingenuous. If you were to look at my Facebook profile, you’d think my life is all dancing and ukuleles and cute children and animals. Because who really wants to post about their ordinary-but-hectic schedule? More to the point, who makes time for that? We’d all rather look at cakes.

Sometimes I feel like we get that empty jar every day, and for some reason we can only fill it with pebbles, even though we know what the big rocks are, and we want them – and we’re sure everyone else must be fitting in their big rocks, like you’re supposed to.

Now, I’m wondering how many of us are getting any big rocks on a daily basis. There are parents I see as life experts who’ve got it all together… and often, they actually don’t. They are just as frazzled as I am. We all signed up for this parenting gig, and we knew the baby days would be hard, but we sorta thought it would get easier sooner.  As in, it’ll be easier when they’re sleeping better… when I go back to work and there’s more routine… when they’re out of diapers… when they get to school… And you’re waiting for the moment when things fall into place. And you’re still waiting… and waiting.

I know there must exist families who are fine, who don’t feel like they’re struggling to keep their heads above water all the time… but I don’t know how this phenomenon is achieved.

Sean and I were talking about this recently, asking ourselves, Does everyone feel this way? Why are so many of us struggling to manage life? Shouldn’t we be able to handle this better? Is it really as hard as it feels?

Banal as it sounds, I think it’s partly “the times.” As a society, we’re in this moment where women having jobs outside the family is normal – which really has not been true for very long. Also, it did not happen that the patriarchs stepped in and switched places to take over the household-running – at least, not in many cases.

Also, in the space of one generation, the cost of housing in Canada has gone from reasonable to… frankly unreasonable. Back when my parents were originally in the housing market, a home was a big expense, but it could be paid off in the foreseeable future, like five to ten years, especially if you had the luxury of two incomes for any of that time. Nowadays, it’s common to be paying off your house for two to three decades – possibly more, if you want to do other things like, for example, send your kids to university. (Which is another expense that has skyrocketed, by the way.)

Of course this means that, for many families, a mortgage is simply not affordable on one salary – especially when so many jobs are unstable, temporary, or just under-compensated. But households still need just as much running as before.

And expectations of parenting are out-of-whack with this scenario. Right now, it’s de rigueur to actually play with your kids (wha??), read to them, snuggle them, do crafts with them, run around with them… unlike the days when you had a gaggle of offspring, let the big ones take care of the little ones, and put them to work as soon as they could carry a hay bale.

Child-rearing in the era of mommy-blogs and Pinterest is now a hobby, an occupation, a science, and an art form. For families with a stay-at-home parent, it’s all the more intense: society seems to accept, and even expect, that the parent will give her whole life to the kids, the household, and the community.

I’m all for playing, snuggling, and reading with your children. I love the kind of direct engagement that lets me get to know my kids as people. But other than family dinners and bedtime stories (which are sacred), these things don’t happen as much as I’d like. (You’ve probably noticed I don’t blog about my beautiful kid-crafts very much. Since I don’t do them.) That’s because the expectations of running a household – making good meals for your family, paying the bills, getting everybody where they need to go on time with the stuff they need, and making sure the house isn’t a constant fracking mess – still apply. And I always feel bad when I fail to keep up with those.

This is another problematic factor. The guilt.

If my kids ask me to play with them and I say no for the sake of housework, I feel guilty. When I do play with them, I feel guilty for “shirking” all the other things that need doing. When I come home from school right away to get some housework done, I feel guilty for not being more on top of my marking at school. When I am doing schoolwork, I feel guilty for the household slack that falls to my husband. When I spend time on email, I feel guilty because it’s such a time-suck – but if I neglect it, I feel guilty because I invariably let someone down. And when I go to the gym, ALL the guilt applies – except for the guilt I feel about wasted money when I don’t go to the gym.

Other things I tend to feel guilty about: letting my kids eat sugar, eating sugar myself, spending money on non-necessities, not taking good enough care of my plants, neglecting my cats, not seeing my friends often enough, forgetting things people I care about have told me… etc. You see how it is.

It’s true for many of us, with kids or not, that “catching up” with life is this mythical thing we never achieve, like getting to Solla Sollew. The tangled cycle of obligations and unease seems neverending.

Now, I’m pretty sure my personal sense of guilt is more finely-honed than many – for myriad reasons. I’m also aware that it’s unhelpful and borderline ridiculous. I certainly hope most people’s brains are less apologetic than mine. Intellectually, I know I shouldn’t reproach myself, because I’m doing my best. (But… am I?? my inner guilt-monitor pipes up.) Unfortunately, guilt is like mosquitoes. You can’t just ask it to go away, and if you swat it, there’s always more where that came from.

I have found that I can fend it off somewhat, as long as I’m doing one of the top three things (parenting, housework, schoolwork) needing immediate attention. But really, I know that neglecting the rest of life isn’t a good idea. Especially when my wishes for 2016 include being more fit and doing more writing. I simply can’t do those things… if I’m not doing them.

So! This month, I devised an approach that I think will motivate me (because I love lists and check boxes and points systems) to make the life I imagine but haven’t managed to prioritize. Sean hammered out a beautiful spreadsheet for each of us that will assign points for things like getting to bed on time, taking vitamins, walking, working out, etc. We can also get points for checking a small job off the to-do list – those annoying little jobs that would only take 10-15 minutes but never get done because they’re never quite urgent enough. And we’ve also assigned points to Writing (in 20-minute slots) and Making Music (in 20-minute slots).

Voilà! INSTANT LEGITIMACY, baby. It’s the key, I know it.

The only trouble is, so far we haven’t managed to get “checking off points chart” on the daily to-do list. But I’m sure it’ll be awesome once we get to it.

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A Message to the Daddies on Mother’s Day, or “How (Not) to Incur Mama’s Wrath”

This post is dedicated to all the fathers and fathers-to-be out there, with love – especially if this is your first Mother’s Day. I hope some of these words can be useful to you, or to someone you know.

(If you are an equal-time, full-time, or single dad, then you can stop reading now… Welcome to the Mama Club.)

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I know some truly great fathers. My own father, my husband, and many of my friends are modern, enlightened dads, thoroughly invested in their children’s lives, who demonstrate their love and care in all kinds of ways. They’re “father figures” in the best sense of the word.

It’s not easy, taking on the Daddy role. Becoming a father is huge; it changes everything. Life becomes a balancing act, a dichotomy, with societal expectations for fathers having done an about-face in half a century. It’s beautiful, too – I’ve seen guys morph from macho to mushball, and there’s nothing more wonderful. When they’re with their children, they are better people, opened up in new ways. But it’s still tough: how do you be your old self as well as your new father-self?

That is a question only the fathers can answer. But I do have some insight into another, perhaps even more tricky, question… How do you keep your relationship with your Baby Mama healthy?

It’s tough, watching her go through wicked hormones, sleep deprivation, pain in various lady parts, shrinkage of social life, etc., and not knowing how to help. Especially in the beginning, she might even seem like a different person, and you’re not sure how to react.

Did anybody warn you about how hard that would be, for both of you? For lots of couples, it’s quite a curve ball.

I remember, when I was pregnant with my first child, a friend warned me: “No matter how good your marriage is now, having a baby will strain it.”

Another friend said, “Just be prepared – if you disagree about parenting, you will always feel that you’re right, because you’re the mom. And you pretty much always will be right.”

Since then, I’ve been in many more conversations with mothers about their parenting partners, and certain themes are unmistakable. The issues that make a mom say, “I freaked out on my husband the other day…” or “Last night I finally snapped when he…” are the same ones, over and over, across all kinds of families – even the ones you have always assumed are perfect.

Our family is no different. My husband and I have had our share of issues, and our combined wisdom on this topic is hard-won – genuine communication is often painful, but absolutely worthwhile. It took a lot of frank talking, and even more listening.

Let me be clear: my husband is a fantastic life-mate, and I love him to pieces. I got one of the very best ones. He was a brick through my three labours and deliveries; he has changed his share of diapers, and dealt stoically with countless other icky messes. He does all the best Daddy things with his living son and daughter, and keeps his stillborn son close to his heart. He is thoughtful and loving and firm and really fun.

It’s just that these great qualities – especially at the beginning – couldn’t exempt him from the basic truth, the one I hear repeated constantly by moms: it’s extremely hard for Dads to really get it, to understand what we go through.

This may sound cry-me-a-river-ish. After all, most of us get into the procreation gig because we want to, right? And women are the ones biologically designed to gestate babies, give birth, breastfeed, and fiercely invest, mama-bear-style, in the welfare of their children.

So where’s the issue?

If motherhood is such a joy, why do I know so many healthy, well-adjusted moms who have become enraged (some on a regular basis) at their baby daddies, whom they have previously loved with ease? Why are dads flabbergasted to find themselves abruptly on the receiving end of moms’ wrath, when they know they’re doing a good job?

I think it happens when fathers have not yet recognized this fundamental truth:

Motherhood is indeed awesome – AND, it’s really tough. A lot tougher than either of you first thought.

Birth and baby-bonding can be beautiful, transformative experiences. I know I’m not the only mama who has completely lost track of time, just staring at her newborn’s face. Breastfeeding, once mama and baby have mastered it, can be just as dazzling as they say. Where I live in Canada, maternity leaves are lengthy enough for new mothers to immerse themselves in their roles, and most moms I talk to wouldn’t have it any other way: they want to spend all that time with their babies, they want to be their child’s food source, and they want to be there for every tiny moment, every change and milestone. The rewards of new motherhood can be grand.

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How can we possibly complain?

Here are some of the reasons why it’s so tough, and why the frustration can build up into Wrath:

1. Transmogrification.

We’ve acknowledged that becoming a father is an enormous change – at least, it is if you’re doing it right. But for most mothers, having a child is beyond huge. It alters us from our foundations. Our lives as we know them completely unhinge, and re-attach to revolve around our babies. NOTHING stays the same for us. Not the shapes of our bodies, not our hormones, not our instincts, not our priorities, not our careers, not the functioning of our brains, and especially not our day-to-day activities. Intellectually, we know this is how it will be – but it’s still a giant, often overwhelming adjustment when it happens. (N.B.: For moms with postpartum depression/anxiety, PTSD, and/or colicky, high-needs, or non-sleeper babies, it is a different and exponentially harder story.)

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Be sensitive about whether you are both able to do things like take a shower whenever you want, eat hot meals with both hands free, have conversations with adults about grown-up topics, etc… or whether only one of you currently enjoys those luxuries.
  • Consider whether your golf/hockey/gaming/running/gym schedule is still intact. If you’ve just become a parent, your timetable should reflect that. What about her hobbies? Do they still exist?
  • Don’t be the guy who says, “You’re no fun anymore!” Outlandish as it sounds, I am NOT making this one up – it’s a direct quote. Dads who say this are putting themselves in the league of Fathers Who Become Ex-Husbands. (Not kidding.)
  • Also, if you have the urge to remark on the changes in her body, even as a joke… QUASH IT. I guarantee she will not find it funny. (Unless you want to tell her she’s gorgeous. Then go ahead.) So many moms torture themselves about their postpartum bodies – even if they’ve never mentioned it to you.
  • Along similar lines, please be patient when it comes to sex. If you are feeling any boob jealousy because Mama is breastfeeding… best to keep it to yourself. If you like breasts, just remember why they were put on earth (motorboating not being a biological imperative). If you are feeling sexually neglected, remember: between hormonal changes and physical pain (because no matter how well the birth went, there will be some), not to mention lack of sleep and postpartum body-image issues, it takes a while. It’s a rare couple who really gets it on within the first month… and depending on what happened to her girl parts, it’s often more like two or three… or six… (I know, sounds unimaginable. Welcome to parenthood.) But she’ll get there.

2. De-Expertization.

Committed parenting is an ocean of doubts and questions to which there are no single right answers.

Basically all moms, with all their hearts, want to do what is best for their children. A new mom spends all day every day with the baby, attempting to do just that, even though it’s a job that is impossible to do “perfectly.” When they encounter problems, or even uncertainties, they discuss them with other moms; they research on internet baby forums; they read baby books. It’s like a whole new career. (And for stay-at-home moms, it IS a whole new career. In the U.S. especially, where maternity leaves are brutally short, many moms choose to leave the workforce entirely – and motherhood is their new life’s work.)

For moms who, before motherhood, spent most of their time doing something they were good at, it is really challenging to suddenly be doing something so unmasterable, so uncontrollable, so guaranteed to maximize your insecurities.

When mothers run into parenting troubles, fathers often offer advice about how to solve baby problems, and they do so with the best of intentions. You want to help, to ease frustration, to be really involved. That, in itself, is great… you just need to tread carefully.

You may be passionately committed to fatherhood, but if you’re working full-time outside the home, it’s just different. You don’t have the same number of hours to get hands-on experience and bonding time with the baby, and it’s unlikely you have the same gut-level motivation to research whatever feeding or sleeping or other issues have cropped up.

Just imagine how you would feel if you were investing your whole self in a new calling, spending all your time and energy trying to get it right, and someone with far less experience blithely piped up, “Hey, have you tried this?”

You see what I mean.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • If you can find the time, read some parenting books and/or articles. There are lots written especially for dads, if you’re into that.
  • In particular, if mama and baby are trying to resolve a specific issue (that she is bearing the brunt of), do the reading necessary to be on the same page with what they’re trying.
  • If you don’t have time to do this… then don’t offer advice (as mentioned above). Give her credit for the nonstop on-the-job training she’s been doing. Be the one to listen, and ask what you can do to help.

3. Underestimation.

Ask any stay-at-home mom: people constantly trivialize the work you do when you’re “just” parenting. In fact, there’s a widespread fallacy that it’s not actually work. As in, “Oh, so you’re not working right now?”

Well. Is it something you would pay someone else to do? THEN IT’S WORK. (One could also mention things it has in common with jobs like teaching, waiting tables, mediating, housecleaning, coaching, and lifeguarding.) Babies can’t wait patiently for their needs to be met. Toddlers don’t understand the importance of a to-do list. Full-time parenting is exhausting. Hearing comments about how easy you must have it gets old real fast.

Yes, most of the moms who stay home with their kids – for any length of time – have chosen it, and love it overall. That doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk – mentally, physically, or emotionally. It’s like many of the most rewarding jobs: the more you care about it, the harder it is.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Try not to say this: “Wow, the house is a mess! What did you do all day?” It can be very tempting. Oftentimes the house IS a mess – but I highly recommend you refrain on this one. If the dishes didn’t get done, trust that there are reasons. Chances are, she would have liked to get more done – it’s hard for lots of moms, especially in the beginning, seeing their “productivity” take a nosedive – but baby needs come first.
  • Even if all the baby does is sleep and eat, those things can be a lot less straightforward than it seems like they should be. Especially now that Google is there to make us second-guess everything we do.

4. Default Parenting.

No matter how much each parent loves his or her children, there’s always a default parent. With new babies, it’s natural for that to be Mama, for reasons both biological and societal. However, in my experience, Mama remains the default for much longer and in more situations than necessary, because the precedent has been set. Even if she has gone back to work and has as demanding a schedule as Daddy, in many cases she is still automatically taking care of most meals, day care drop-offs and pick-ups, school communications, hand-me-downs, doctor’s appointments, etc.

In large gatherings, she is the one whose parental radar never turns off, even if both parents are there. It happens all the time: kids are playing, dads are socializing, moms are partly socializing, and partly checking if the kids need to pee or need snacks or band-aids or are getting up to mischief or going too close to the stairs/breakable things/sharp things. I don’t know why this dynamic is so common, in this day and age… but it is.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Avoid saying, “Oh man, I am SO TIRED.” I’m sure you are. Being a parent AND a person is tiring. But unless you are doing exactly as much nighttime baby-feeding, midnight potty trips, nightmare-soothing etc. as Mama, she is the wrong person to complain to about your fatigue. She is the one at whose expense you get your sleep (and keep in mind that if her body is a full-time milk factory, this actually uses even more energy than pregnancy). If you’re tired, she’s exhausted. Reserve the complaints for your guy friends.
  • Be present. When you are in the same building with your children, even if Mama is there, you’re automatically on duty too – unless you’ve specifically made other arrangements with your co-parent.
  • If you are one of the countless Dads who like to take leisurely bathroom breaks with their favourite book/magazine/handheld device, remember you’re on the clock. Those fifteen-minute intermissions are very noticeable to the mama who doesn’t even get to pee alone, never mind take more than ninety seconds at a time on the john.
  • If you wish you could reverse the roles (she probably does too, sometimes), please don’t assume that it would be the proverbial stroller-ride in the park if you did.

5. Bad Cop Syndrome

This follows on the heels of Default Parenting. There’s usually one parent who’s more strict than the other, and that’s normal too. But it’s funny: even though the phrase goes “Wait till your father gets home,” as if Daddy’s the one who draws the hard line, nowadays I’ve seen much more often that Daddy is the permissive one. He says yes more frequently to sugar and extra video game time and fun new toys. Daddies bend the rules way more often.

And it’s not that those things are awful. They’re fun. But if Mommy’s the one who sticks to the boundaries and Daddy’s the fun one, well… that makes Mommy the bad cop. Especially because now she’s now monitoring the kid(s) AND you. She did not sign up for that. It sucks to be the killjoy, even if you know it’s your job. The point is, it should be both of your job.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Don’t give credence to that harebrained dad from dumb commercials, the one who always screws up. People joke about how moms end up with one extra kid because dads are like big children; in reality, this is not funny at all. Perpetuating the perception of fathers as bumbling fools who can’t parent properly is insulting to you and your family, and it only takes society backwards.
  • Make sure you’ve talked about the limits the two of you, AS A TEAM, are setting for your children. Stick to them, unless you have a very good reason not to. (For the record, your child simply asking is not a very good reason.)
  • Attractive as it is sometimes to say things like “No dinner if you can’t cooperate!”, try not to make threats you can’t keep. Kids only take you seriously if you mean what you say – and you will soon pay for your wavering.

6. Interminability. This is probably the hardest thing about New Motherhood – and Motherhood in general: it is relentless. Even for mothers with dream babies who feed well and sleep lots, it’s still hard being the be-all and end-all of your child’s existence. Beautiful and rewarding, of course, but sometimes… damn hard.

Is there any other job where you are working or on-call literally 24/7, for months (or even years) in a row? Especially for a breastfeeding mama whose baby doesn’t bottle-feed, or one whose children are very mama-centric, or one whose baby daddy is mostly (or always) not home… Sometimes it feels like we just might not make it through with our sanity. (And remember, grasp on sanity weakens in proportion to the amount of time spent listening to crying/screaming.)

As I see it, the key thing is Me Time, or rather the lack thereof. I know “Me Time” is kind of an annoying, new-agey phrase that sounds like it belongs in a spa ad. But trust me, it’s a critical issue that goes unaddressed shockingly often. For a mother with a newborn, depending on the baby’s needs and personality, the simple ability to take a break can basically cease to exist. I remember, in the first few weeks of E’s life, fantasizing about folding a whole load of laundry uninterrupted or going grocery shopping alone – and those don’t even count as Me Time. Taking ten-minute Sitz-baths for my postpartum stitches felt like over-the-top luxury.

Please note also that mom-dates, although they are fun and rejuvenating and do wonders for moms’ mental health, don’t count as Me Time either. Mom is still on-duty the whole time. Real, legitimate Me Time must remove her from the duties of motherhood, and remind her of who she is, as herself, in addition to being a mother.

If you still spend the majority of your time being yourself, doing things you used to do before becoming a father, then it’s hard to relate.

If it’s not possible for Mama to take breaks at the moment (which can happen, especially early on), examine the extent of your own Me Time, and how much of it is in her presence. The discrepancy between your Me Time and hers will likely be proportional to her level of aggravation.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Notice and appreciate when you have time to yourself – and this goes double for when you have the house to yourself. I have heard described SO MANY scenarios in which Mom has literally not had a moment of Me Time all day, and Dad comes home (or is already home) and puts his feet up, or takes a bike ride, or goes to putter in the garage, or picks up his iPad, without thinking about it. Trust me, this habit incurs the Wrath.
  • Enable her Me Time, if you can. Even a few minutes can make a big difference to a tired mama’s mental state.
  • Ask yourself this test question: How many times have I been on a real trip – out of town – without the kids? How many times has she? (If she goes on trips with the kids, it’s not the same at all.)
  • Remember that motherhood today is burdened with impossible standards. Between the contradictory wisdom of the Interwebs and the generations-old pressure to Take Care Of Everything, not to mention new expectations of scheduling kids to death and making life Pinterest-worthy… There’s just no way to ace it.
  • Don’t let her be a martyr to the work; take some of it off her plate. Don’t give her the chance to identify with that perfect-but-drudgey 1950s housewife who barely got to be a person. (That effing model housewife, whether she ever existed or not, looms in the maternal subconscious, judging us when we haven’t vacuumed.)

And there you have it! Those are the big Wrath-Incurring Issues. If my advice seems self-evident and way too easy, that’s great. You are ADVANCED. If it seems condescending, I apologize – I only wrote what the complaints called for. If it was overwhelming… feel free to re-read. 🙂

So. Are you all ready to celebrate Mother’s Day?

I know some say that it’s the kids who should be appreciating their mothers on Mother’s Day, and yes, they should, if they’re developmentally able. But if you are grateful to have progeny, your appreciation is just as important. And don’t forget to call your own mom, if you can.

All the information above might have given you ideas about how to show Mama you’re glad that you have kids with her. Just in case you’d like a recap:

1. Recognition. Be observant enough to see what she does, and what she gives up, on a daily basis.

2. Appreciation. I have seen these situations improve dramatically with a simple acknowledgement from Dad: I know you work hard, and even though we are a team, I know that when it comes to the kids, YOU DO MORE, and I appreciate it. Nobody wants to work thanklessly, especially when it’s work they pour their passion into.

3. Facilitation. Help her get those breaks that remind her who she is, and what she’s good at (besides being the best baby mama in the world).

4. Recalibration. As your child(ren)’s age permits, especially if Mom goes back to work, swing the balance back. Take honest stock of who’s doing the non-negotiable child-care things that have to happen each day, and try to even things out. You will reap the rewards; if you ever felt the pang of your child rejecting you in favour of Mommy, this is the time when the tables can turn.

5. Libation. Just a couple of wee bonus tips: if you have a newborn and you’re around when Mama is breastfeeding the baby, get her something to drink. It’s a small gesture that makes a big difference to a mother possessed by the nursing thirst. On similar lines, if you ever have chances to pay her back for the alcohol-free time she’s done by being the DD, take them.

And if you want to do more for Mother’s Day… you might ask her what would make her happiest.

Thanks for reading, Daddies (and Daddies-to-be). I hope it has been worthwhile, and that if you make a loving effort to understand her experience, she will be able to do the same for you.

Happy parenting, and good luck.

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Belated Not-So-Lofty “Resolutions”

Shoot_for_the_moon_by_livinganlie
Nope.

One thing I’m learning to accept in recent months is that sometimes, I need to shoot lower.

It’s not something they’re ever going to engrave on an decorative tile to hang in your kitchen: “Don’t try quite so hard – just lower your expectations so they’re easier to meet. S’okay.”

But that’s the verdict I’m coming to. I’ve always been pretty ambitious with my self-expectations. My M.O. is to have too much on my plate and just finish what I can, as if somehow having more goals means I’m likely to accomplish more of them. Like buying more lottery tickets to increase my odds. I’m not sure it’s logically sound.

It’s just that I hate quitting things or giving things up. Sticking with things and seeing things through to the end are very important to me. I feel sad about things I neglect (examples: my flute, my figure skates). But then I keep adding stuff. Without wanting to let anything go, I get new hobbies, new friends… and KIDS of course, who could potentially use every waking moment of my life if I allowed it. So with the same number of hours to work with, the math is all out of whack. (wack?)

Since phasing into this life as a mother with two living children and a job (and a blog), I have realized that achieving my goals is no longer really up to me. I can say, “I’m going to clean out my closet today, for sure.” Then, almost without fail, I will come to a crossroads where I need to choose between doing that thing I said I was gonna do, and doing my job as a parent. Parenting always wins. Finding the bottom of my closet, the top of my dresser, or the edges of my basement loses EVERY TIME. Similarly, I can say I’m going to make a minimal time commitment to do something (e.g. exercise) every day… and then the same damn thing happens.

I don’t like falling off the wagon and being disappointed in myself. And it bothers me a lot when I know I’m doing a mediocre job at something (like my job, for instance) because I simply haven’t put the required time and energy in.

La la la. All this blabbing to announce that I’m not making proper new year’s resolutions. I’m not declaring that I will get super-fit or cut out sugar or walk a certain amount every day or write a novel or finish my symphony or revolutionize my teaching. My main resolution is AIM LOW, DILOVELY. For the win.

Then, I will do my best to be my own enabler in positive ways. To dispose myself to self-improvement in tiny increments. NOT to decree that I will be perfect at these things, NOT to beat myself up when I miss something, but just to do as well I can.

(I am not used to this.)

Here’s what I’ve thought of so far.

  • Take my probiotics, whenever I can remember to. They say that gut health is linked to many aspects of overall health, including mental health. I eat pretty well, but I could always do better. This seems like an easy way to assist my system.
  • Do three simple things when I feel draggy (instead of complaining and/or caffeining): 1) take a few complete breaths, 2) get some blood to my brain with a stretch or a few jumping jacks, and 3) drink a full glass of water. Then see how I’m doing.
  • Take Candy Crush Saga off my phone. (Already done, just before New Year’s.) I started to play it while nursing, when it’s hard to do anything else, but now that Baby AB nurses less frequently and fast-food style, it’s just enough time to start on a level – and then… your addiction makes you finish it. And implores you to start the next one. I hate seeing myself distracted from life like that. Let it never be said that I missed my son belly laughing or my daughter saying a new word because I was trying to get myself a stripey one.
  • Don’t make everything into an opportunity to multitask. I think smart phones and the internet (much as I love them) are actually designed perfectly to degrade the attention span, what with the infinite tangents you can go on… and sadly, it’s working on me. Especially since I already lean toward multitasking. Nursing can just be nursing. Waiting in line can just be waiting.
  • Try to notice what I’m doing, and do that. It goes with the attention-span thing. If I’m doing email, I don’t have to go look up that movie that guy was in just because it pops into my head. If I’m doing dishes, I don’t have to get my kid a snack just because he’s hungry… wait, yes I do. Ahem. Anyway.
  • Pay attention to my own sleep window. I concern myself so much with my kids’ sleep windows and trying to get them sleeping at the opportune times, but I have come to know that I need that too. If I want good sleep (and I do. Blimey. I really really do), I need to make a better effort to avoid the second wind.
  • Don’t take up a new TV show. We have no channels at our house, only Netflix. If you have Netflix, you know how easy it is to binge-watch a show you like. And as much as I’d like to believe that quality TV truly enriches my life, it does not make me more likely to blog, do the dishes, fold the laundry, play my ukulele, or pay attention to things like sleep windows. So now that I’m done all five seasons of Chuck*, I am going to resist the temptation to begin one of the other shows that I’m sure I’d love (Dr. Who, Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, etc.). I can’t complain about the things I don’t have time to do if I’m actually watching sneaky Netflix on a regular basis.
  • Get a massage. Preferably more than once. I have a very kinky neck-and-shoulder area; my insurance covers massage. I even have a friend who happens to be an excellent massage therapist with whom I also love to chat. Why on earth has it been almost two years since I got a massage?? I don’t know. Something lame, like inertia.
  • Embrace the living-room dance parties. Both my kids love music and dancing. Me too. There is no excuse for not shaking our tailfeathers as often as possible.
  • Don’t worry if this list is not finished. Sometimes you just gotta post the dang post already.

Et voilà. No jocular New Year meme for me this year, just a decidedly unambitious list.

Secretly, I’m hoping that these little things will add up to me figuring out how to WIN AT LIFE.

***

*So yeah, Chuck. Silly spy show with nerd factor. Got a wee bit obsessed and now it ranks up there with Buffy and Scrubs and HIMYM and Firefly: Shows That Have Touched My Heart And Make Me Wish The Characters Were Real So I Could Somehow Find Them And Become Their Pal. I’m ready for my Nerd Herder, please.

Lots of reasons I shouldn’t have liked it (in particular: lots of violence, hints of jingoism, and the girl always wearing 4-inch heels at highly impractical moments) but SUCH loveable characters. I’m not much of a LOL-er at TV, but this show made me giggle all the time. And choke up numerous times. Plus… Zachary Levi, for whom I’ve had to modify my laminated list.

Mr. A, I’m confident I could now handle any Chuck reference you could dish out, in T-shirt form or otherwise. Just so you know.

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Wishful Thinking for the New Year

Happy New Year, lovely Di-hards. I’m making wishes today.

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Image credit

This one is for you:  I wish for your baby to be born so sweet and healthy that the whole world smiles.

And you: I wish for that project you’re working on to grow wings and take off (with you in the pilot seat, of course).

And you: I wish for you to kick that disease in the ass and leave it in the dust. Super-spy-ninja-maverick-style.

And you: I wish for you to get that job. The good one.

And you: I wish for your question to be answered, and for the answer to make you happy.

And you: I wish for you to find your stride and discover how it feels to be fit in this wonderful body you have right now.

And you: I wish for your creativity to flow like golden syrup, astonishing even yourself.

And you: I wish for your dear one to get better, sooner than you expect.

And you: I wish for you to find a new pocket of time for doing what you love most.

And you: I wish for those ends to get closer together, so they meet more easily.

And you: I wish for you to uncover a whole new level of communication with those closest to you.

And you: I wish for you to find your own surefire way to reject crap.

And you: I wish for you to take unprecedented care of yourself, and to feel the effects right away.

And you: I wish for the confusion to lift from your brain, leaving a clear blue certainty.

And you: I wish for your pain to become, slowly but perceptibly, easier to bear.

And you: I wish for you to find that person- the one who makes the person in your dreams seem like a paper doll, and who instinctively knows the best way to love Amazing You.

And you: I wish for the happiness you found last year to take root, blossom, and bear fruit.

Sending you my love, and these – my best wishes,

*Di*

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