You’d Think, Wouldn’t You?

You’d think that staying home with my kids would be enough.

Neglecting my own career, letting myself fall into complaisance and inaction on that front (Praxis exam in one month? Studying? Nope.)…

You’d think that would be enough, wouldn’t you?

You might even think that spending each weekday with my kindergartener, facilitating his distance learning, helping him out and participating in ways previously unplanned would be enough.

What about meal planning? Making sure the fridge is stocked and we know what we’re going to eat?

Managing doctors appointments, dentist visits, haircuts, new clothes as needed…?

Shouldn’t that be enough?

Apparently Not.

No, evidently I am somehow not doing enough.

How do I know?

Because when I want to take the time to blow dry my hair… Or sit down and read a book… Or study for my Praxis exam… Or get on my exercise bike…

Or even (for Pete’s sake!) go to the gynecologist!

What do I feel?

Guilt.

This morning, for instance, I had a follow-up appointment with the gynecologist. (I still don’t have my genetic test results yet, by the way.)

When I got home, the first words out of my mouth as I walked in the door were, “I’m home, I’m sorry!”

I’m sorry.

Why was I sorry? Sorry because the appointment had taken longer than expected. Because I was away from the house long enough for it to potentially be inconvenient for my husband and son.

At This Point I Should Say…

That this supposed inconvenience does not exist.

This is all in my head.

My husband was quietly getting work done in the next room, while listening in on our son’s class.

He was not in any way inconvenienced, and his first concern when I got home was to know what the doctor had said and how my appointment had gone. He hadn’t even noticed the time.

Even on Sunday evening, after a nice weekend, when I had a headache and just wanted to sit in my chair, drink water and read my book, I felt a stab of guilt when I asked my husband to make dinner.

He had already seen I wasn’t feeling well. He was already on it. I didn’t need to ask. Much less feel guilty.

So, Why?

Why does the thought of taking time for myself make me feel such guilt?

Back when I used to meet up with people, why did I feel the need to apologize for wanting to spend an evening away from my family?

Most of all: Why do I feel like all that I do, is not enough? That it’s nothing special? That it’s not worthy of praise or being valued?

And I’m Not The Only One

A girlfriend recently told me she felt guilty for planning a weekend away to visit a friend.

When she asked her husband which weekend would be best for him, he literally responded with, “Whenever you want to go. I don’t care.”

Such nonchalance! Such unconcern!

How can we get that? How do we kick this guilt?

It Needs To Be Kicked

I feel like it’s important for me to kick this guilty feeling. It eats away at my mental health. It makes me feel like no matter what I do, it’s not good enough.

How can I possibly live up to these impossible standards I’ve set for myself?

I can’t. Because they’re not standards. They’re demands.

Unreasonable ones, at that.

Slip Up

62. Slip Up: Write about making mistakes.

ThinkWritten.com

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately.

Mostly they’re from dear friends of mine–fellow mothers–who have questions about how I might handle a certain parenting situation.

While I’m flattered that they turn to me, I also kind of worry about why they feel they can ask me for advice.

But hey! If people think I have my s*** together, then great! I’ll take it.

(I do not really have my s*** together.)

A Recent Query

A friend recently asked me, “Jane, how would you handle it if your partner were putting your oldest kid to bed, but the kid wanted YOU to put her down, and ended up having a complete meltdown and begging for you to come.”

Essentially, the question was: do my partner and I look weak for caving into our daughter’s tantrum over who puts her to bed?

My short answer was: No. You do not look weak.

A Little Background

The back story to this was that there’s a baby sibling involved (jealousy), they are on vacation with family (meaning lots of activity and sleep deprivation), the kid has recently given up her pacifier, she’s dropping her afternoon nap…

In short, as any parent of a 3-year-old reading this can guess, the entire situation is a hot mess.

Such times are not times to dig your feet in and insist that your child do what you say BECAUSE YOU SAID SO.

It sounded to me like that kid needed to get to bed ASAP and the best thing was to get her to bed in the quickest and calmest way possible.

And so in response to my friend’s question, I said:

No. You are not weak or undisciplined for giving into your daughter’s demand for her mother to put her to bed.

It’s Not Admitting Defeat

Raising our kids is not raging war (no matter how much it might feel like it sometimes).

We, as parents, do not always have to win.

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first person to want my kids to snap to order when I say “go” (see my recent article about my overuse of the word No).

But when they don’t, when they fight back, protest, or throw tantrums, it does not mean that we the parents have lost.

In fact, I’ve learned that sometimes my kids throw fits or have meltdowns because I am being either unreasonable or terribly unsympathetic.

Admitting Weakness Gives Strength

One thing I’ve tried to work on, is being able to take a step back in the heat of the moment and look at a situation from my child’s perspective.

When you’re locked in a power struggle, it can be so difficult to get yourself out of that mindset, and to ask yourself, “Why is this happening?”

Another thing I’ve tried to do is to say, “Mama’s got it wrong. I’m sorry. Let’s try again.”

For our older son, it really works with him to get down to his eye level, and say, “We’re having some trouble here. Let’s figure this out together.”

Strange to say it, but he seems reassured when we admit that we’re wrong. It’s like he’s relieved to know that it’s not just he who thinks that a situation is coo-coo bananas.

Slip-Ups Happen

Sometimes the kids are being pig-headed.

Often times, I’m the pig-headed one.

Either way, we all make mistakes. Hopefully, our children will learn from our example that admitting to our mistakes does not make us weak.

Pick Your Battles

And “caving in” (or, as I like to call it, “picking your battles wisely”) does not make you a weak parent.

It makes you a smart parent.

In the Dark

58. Darkness: Write a poem or journal entry inspired by what you can’t see.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

I think about what my boys don’t see.

Or, more like, I wonder what they do see, but simply take for granted.

For example, the fact that their mother stays home. Or the fact that they are privileged.

The fact that their laundry gets done and put away. Their lunchboxes get filled, their dinners are made. Someone works his butt off to make money so they can enjoy a paddling pool and Disney+.

I Once Was Blind

I didn’t even think twice about any of that stuff as a kid. Any kid from a privileged background doesn’t need to.

It’s only as an adult that I understand how hard my parents worked to make things nice for us. And that I realize what hard work it actually is.

But Now I See

While acknowledging that I am extremely privileged, I can also recognize that being a parent is difficult. Marriage itself is hard work.

And so, I want my boys to see something else, and learn to also take it for granted:

Their parents take time to do things for themselves, and as a couple.

Whether it’s their father going for a run, their mother sitting down to the piano, or calling a babysitter (remember when we could do that?) to go out on a date night.

When They’re Older

None of this will register now, of course. They’re too little.

But when they’re older, I hope they’ll see the light.

They’ll look back at our family life and see each individual take time for themselves.

I hope they’ll learn that it’s not selfish to do this. By taking the time to do things we love, we’re keeping ourselves healthier and happier, and better able to do the hard work of marriage and parenting.

But man, we’re still tired.

4_great_reasons_to_take_kids_outside

A Quick Reminder

When our Bug was little, I wrote an article about not talking about your kids.

Not because it’s annoying to other people (alright, a little bit because of that). But mostly because our kids are people whose privacy should be respected.

Today, I was reminded why I wrote that article.

Old Habits

I still slip into the bad habit of talking about my kids. The other day, I even went so far as to talk about them in front of them.

It makes me cringe to think about it. Our oldest is smart and observant, and he listened as I compared and contrasted him with his brother.

How was he not going to notice? I’m ashamed of myself.

The Consequences

So today, I shouldn’t have been baffled when the Bug did his best to live up to the picture I had painted of him earlier in the week.

We were having a social-distanced get-together for ice cream with distant relatives, some of whom we’d never met.

Suddenly, our Bug was behaving totally uncharacteristically. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.

He Explains

When we got home, he was still behaving strangely. He looked up at me with his big beautiful eyes and said, “Mama, I’m shy.”

At first I was miffed. But then I remembered the conversation he had overheard earlier in the week.

That’s when I realized that his weird behavior was on me.

All he wanted to do was try and live up to the description he had overheard me give of him. He’s a sensitive and sweet boy; of course he wants to conform to what he thinks his mama wants from him.

So Zip Up, Mama.

It killed me to see my son try and fit himself into a mould I’d made for him. A mould that, though perhaps true in some ways and at some moments, was too simplistic to be accurate.

It’s the same lesson I keep thinking I’ve learned: Zip it, lady. Stop it. Just don’t talk about your kids.

But I can talk with my kids. And in the morning, I think the first thing I need to say to my son is, “I owe you an apology.”

Power Trippin’ No

50. Just Say No: Write about the power you felt when you told someone no.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

“No.”

Such a tiny little word, and yet! And yet how powerful!

I’ve come up with lots of different ways to say “no” these days. As a mom, I think it’s important to have a variety of ways to destroy your child’s happiness.

“Now’s not the time, love.”
“Not likely.”
“Never in a million years.”
“Heck no!”
“What, do you think I’m stupid or something?”
“Ix-nay.”
“Let’s all have a big tall glass of nope.”

It feels like I have a whole arsenal of “no” weapons, ready at a moment’s notice!

A Bit Carried Away

At one point, though, I realized that perhaps it was getting a bit excessive.

This dawned on me when my three-year-old threw himself on the floor and screamed when I told him, “No, you can’t play the piano.”

That’s normal, you think. Any three-year-old would throw a fit about something like that.

True, but hear me out.

I have fairly high noise tolerance. This piano has survived lessons from four kids: it’s not like it’s delicate. My kids aren’t that rough. We had just finished one activity and hadn’t yet moved on to another. He had washed his hands and everything.

Could It Be That…

Perhaps I was saying “no” too much??

But how can that be?! I must be FIRM with my children! They can’t have everything they want!

This is true. They cannot have everything they want. But not everything has to be a battle. After all, we got the piano for the kids to enjoy!

So after watching him scream for a minute, I thought to myself, “Do I really care enough about this situation to worry about seeming inconsistent if I change my mind?”

The answer was (you guessed it!), NO. No, I didn’t care that much.

“You know what, love? Why not? Of course you can play the piano. Go ahead.”

Picking Your Battles

His face immediately cleared, and he clambered up onto the piano stool and started plonking away. He didn’t last long, and soon became interested in his trains.

Noise gone. Happy child. Happy mother.

That was a battle that didn’t need to happen. Others definitely need to happen (like reasonable bedtime, brushing your teeth and OMG STOP EATING TOOTHPASTE HOW DID YOU FIND IT GAAAAAAH).

But when we’re all cooped up at home together, and things are tough enough as it is, picking your battles is an important skill to learn.

It’s also good to realize that sometimes…

“Yes” Is Powerful, Too

(Or, if “yes” feels too permissive, try, “What the heck? Knock yourself out, kid.”)

A Judicious Use of Silence

Today’s prompt got me thinking about how I’m trying to learn to BREAK silence, rather than keep it. But in an effort to lighten up a bit, here’s one about staying silent.

43. The Sound of Silence: Write about staying quiet when you feel like shouting.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

“Ma-MAAAAAH!! HE HIT ME!!!”

Before the pandemic, this cry would elicit an almost immediate response from me.

“Don’t hit your brother!” for minor infractions.

“Go to your room!” for slightly more serious crimes.

“THAT’S IT, I’M TAKING AWAY [insert favorite toy here]!” for the most grievous offenses.

But as the pandemic wore on…

I became inured to the call, impervious to their cries.

Don’t get me wrong, there are certain things I will not tolerate (just ask me how I dealt with a biting habit).

But when it comes to the whiny, peevish cries of, “He pushed me!” “He hit me!” “He took my toy!”… At this point, I am basically deaf to them.

A Newborn’s Cries

You know how parents learn to understand their newborn’s cries? One for hungry, one for sleepy, one for fussy, another for gassy…

It’s actually pretty easy to tell when your child is seriously upset or injured. Just by listening closely to their shouts, I can tell whether my 5- and 2-year-old are actually in pain, or if they’re just kvetching.

So now, when they kvetch, I say nothing.

Blissful Silence

After the initial outcry, when they realize no response is forthcoming, they usually simmer down.

They’ll move on, either play something else together or each move on to his own thing.

It’s only when the outbursts become more frequent and reach a fever pitch that I then intervene.

And then, it’s usually to throw them outside, down to the playroom, or to their respective rooms.

And enjoy a few more minutes of blessed silence.

And maybe a cup of tea…

Defining “Work”

15. Eavesdropper: Create a poem, short story, or journal entry about a conversation you’ve overheard.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

This morning, while my boys were having their breakfast, I overheard the following conversation:

“Papá went to work.”
“And mamá went to work.”
“What? Mamá doesn’t work!” (Laughter.)
“[Giggles] Mamá doesn’t work, yeah!”
“Mamá doesn’t do any work!”
“No, mama doesn’t do any work!”

Uproarious laughter. As if they had said something extremely witty.

I had been slicing an orange and I appeared (somewhat menacingly) next to them at the table, orange and knife in hand.

The dark, glowering look on my face (paired, perhaps, with the knife) must have been enough to tell them that Mamá was not happy, because they immediately fell silent.

“Let me make one thing very clear,” I said through clenched teeth. “Mamá does work. She may not get paid. She may not leave the house. But let me assure you that your mother does, in fact, work.”

Awed silence.

Then, a tentative question. “But Mamá… What work do you do?”

What work do I do? What work does any homemaker do? The list of the tedious, thankless jobs I do ran through my head. Scheduling, meal planning, shopping, cooking, tidying, cleaning, washing, folding, ironing (occasionally), wrangling, finding every lost item in the house, activity planning and coordinating, and so many, many more.

So in answer to my son’s infuriating question, I said, “I am CEO, operations director, head chef, chief medical officer, and various other positions, all in the home.”

Puzzlement. I added, “If anyone asks you what your mother does for work, you can tell them, ‘She works in the home.’”

Another little voice piped up. “Mamá, you’re not going to poke me?”

I looked at my younger son in confusion. Then I remembered the knife. I dropped my hand to my side.

“No, of course not my love.” Sweet smiles spread across their faces.

As I went back to slicing my orange, I couldn’t help but feel that I had inadequately addressed the situation. How does a homemaking mother teach her male children to value and appreciate what she does? How do I help them understand that what I do is not to be taken for granted?

How do I teach them not to assume that every mother does what I do? Not to assume that I work at home because I am a mother?

Heavy questions. I sighed. “Just another Thursday morning,” I thought to myself.

Let’s be Honest: Parenting is Tedious

Yeah, I said it!

PARENTING IS TEDIOUS!

C’mon, you all know it’s true. Yes, we adore our children. Yes, we share precious, unforgettable moments with them.

But let’s be real: those precious moments are balanced by an equal number of mind-numbingly dull interactions.

Most of our time as parents is taken up with negotiating somewhat healthy food into our children’s mouths, cleaning up after them and listening to them tell long, rambling stories that MAKE NO SENSE and HAVE NO POINT.

*Sigh*

Endless Needs

As a very wise (and honest) friend once said to me, the tedium of parenting comes from endless kids’ needs coming before our own.

As parents, we have to prioritize the survival of our children: clothing, feeding and getting them to school/daycare. Or just getting them through the day.

As a result, our needs come second (if at all).

I really admire those parents who can continue with their pre-kids activities with apparently as much dedication as ever. In my experience, while some things must continue (work, for instance), something always must give way in the face of our children’s needs.

I guess that is the sacrifice of parenthood.

Guilt Again…

In our family, we have each given up something in the face of parenthood. In my Chico’s case, it’s doing the sports he loves. For me, it’s been a career.

This is where the Mom-Guilt-Monster raises its ugly head.

I think: but if we don’t model self care and prioritizing of our interests to our children, how will they learn to take proper care of themselves?

I haven’t figured it out yet but I’m hoping we’ll all learn to strike a balance.

And in any case, even if we think we have everything right and we’re doing everything perfectly, I bet you our kids will grow up to complain to their therapists about us, anyway. Ha!

Picture Day Pitfalls

Last week we saw the poster up on the front door at school and got the flyers in our cubbies:

Picture day! Hooray!

The Bug and the Bear were pretty excited, and we went clothes shopping on Friday afternoon.

We picked some cute plaid shirts, some nice trousers, and the boys got to choose some fun items, too.

We have a rule in our house. The boys choose their clothes on a daily basis. I only require that they dress appropriately for the weather, but then they have full autonomy.

However, on special occasions, Mama gets to choose.

Since they usually get to pick, I rarely run into problems when it comes to special occasion dressing.

Normally, I give them a choice on those occasions. We’ll lay out some nice shirts and trousers for them to pick from.

For Picture Day, however, I was adamant. Bug was to wear his lederhosen.

Yes, lederhosen!

They’re beautiful, green leather, Bavarian lederhosen. They fit him perfectly, and come with a sweet coordinated plaid shirt embroidered with edelweiss.

For the Bear, we put him in a little Bavarian checked button-down shirt with a jaunty boiled-wool hat given to him by his aunt and uncle.

They look so handsome. Their shirts are pressed, their hair is combed… But then…

Remember, everyone:

NEVER EVER LET YOUR CHILDREN EAT THEIR BREAKFAST IN THEIR PICTURE DAY CLOTHES.

Or, if you do, don’t serve scones with strawberry jam.

lonely-in-the-playground

Lonely at the Playground

How often do you see parents reading at the playground anymore? Or chatting amongst themselves? Or even looking at their phones?

Not much, I’d guess.

I’ve spent a few months in the US, and the experience of going to the playground is entirely different here.

In Germany, parents would congregate in one area of the playground. Grownups would stand around chatting with each other, occasionally helping a child out, kissing a booboo or intervening when children’s interactions came to tears.

Otherwise, though, parents mainly talked amongst themselves, leaving the kids to do their thing.

Here, it’s completely different.

In the last few months of visiting various playgrounds in our new town, the only parents I have chatted with have been almost exclusively Germans. I’ve only had a nice conversation with one American Mom.

Most of the time I find myself sitting on a bench by myself, watching my kids play.

The other day, I realized what’s happening.

Parents aren’t interacting with each other because they’re too busy entertaining their kids.

Longing for playground socializing

As a newcomer to the area, I thought taking my kids to the playground would be a great way to meet other parents. Not so.

Small chats do happen, and people aren’t unfriendly. But most folks are so busy with their kids that they won’t stop long to talk.

At first it made me wonder if I was doing something wrong or somehow neglecting my children. Then I looked around and spotted my boys, one happily playing on the slides, another dangling upside-down from the monkey bars. They were fine.

They didn’t want or need me to entertain them. And frankly, I wasn’t much interested in the monkey bars.

So now I bring my book

Perhaps it makes me look antisocial, sitting there reading. I try to glance up regularly to look around and see if there are any other parents hankering for a good old-fashioned playground chat.

If you see me reading at the playground, don’t worry about interrupting. Chances are, I’d welcome the opportunity to meet someone new.