Marriage or Baby? Which comes first?

imgresGuiliana Ranic, television personality, made headlines recently, not for her red-carpet interviews but for this quote that appeared in US Weekly:

“We’re husband and wife, but we’re also best friends, and it’s funny because a lot of people, when they have kids, they put the baby first, and the marriage second,” says the 37-year-old breast-cancer survivor. “That works for some people. For us, I find, we put our marriage first and our child second, because the best thing we can do for him is have a strong marriage.”

No sooner had the words been uttered, the Internet exploded with bloggers, writers, celebrities and members of the glitterati weighing in with their opinion on the matter.  Critics blasted Rancic calling the new mom everything from selfish to egotistical, but she did garner her fair share of supporters.

The conversation prompted Rancic to release this statement a few days following the controversy acknowledging the ensuing discussion as a “good thing”.

4Mothers welcomes Kelly Quinn, guest blogger and mother of two, to join the discussion of marriage and baby.  Which comes first?  Is it partner versus baby or just another example of being pulled in all directions?

As always, we welcome you to join in and let us know your opinion on this one.  We look forward to hearing from you!

image: http://www.etsy.com

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Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

You made it look so easy – mothering young children. Between balancing the needs of two small kids, the operations involved in running a household, being an attentive wife and excelling at your career; you made it seem as though there were never any sacrifices or heartache, loneliness or times of unease.  Like a director behind the camera, you orchestrated our lives without ever taking the spotlight.

Six years ago I learned one of the guarded secrets of motherhood, one that won’t be found in any book or on any blog, but revealed itself the instant my newborn was placed in my arms. With motherhood came a realization that I will never again think just of myself. Every thought from the most mundane to the dreamiest fantasies that occupy my mind will always carry with it the needs of three little people.

I thought you did this mothering job effortlessly. But I was wrong. You worked. You worked tirelessly, selflessly and endlessly to give us a solid foundation of values upon which to build our independence. You did this while reading stories, walking us to school, building forts, snuggling in on movie nights and never ceasing to cheer us on.  You gave us a childhood that storybook tales are based on.

I know now that you silently struggled too. You were not a deity that immaculately bore her children, but just a regular girl who had babies. You struggled to find your self, your voice and balance, just like me.  Just like most moms.

The bar is set high. There are days when I feel so selfish for wanting more, wanting it all and yet I am humbled by what you did for us without ever acknowledging that some of the choices you made mustn’t have been easy.  But that’s what a good mother does.  A good mother doesn’t push the weight of their world onto their children.  Like an illusionist, she allows her children to see only what she wants them to.

I wish that I had your patience, your calm and your perspective. I admit that I often feel as though I am losing my way and not only myself but the kind of mother I strive to be. Still when I feel like I am faltering I turn to you for support, guidance, and reassurance. Instead of looking up at you for answers and love like I once did, I look to you. And you have yet to let me down.

Once I became a mother you told me that the hardest part about mothering was learning how to not be a mother.  It took me years to understand what you meant by that and although my boys still cling to my skirt, I am terrified for the day when I will have to loosen my grip and eventually let go.

It is true, mom, that I do not need you anymore. You have given me direction, your strength and a ground on which to stand.  You have nourished my mind, body and soul for years and given me the fundamentals to raise my boys with the same unconditional love and immeasurable encouragement that you gave me.

You’re right, mom.  I do not need you anymore.  But I will always want you.

The Pursuit of Happiness?

I seem to find advice on how to be happy everywhere I turn.  Magazines have entire monthly columns dedicated to attaining it and numerous blogs tout the pursuit of it.

For me, the pressure to be happy can be crushing and there are times, more than I would care to admit, that “be happy” is just one more line item for supermom to check off.  There it looms on the list: above “nutritious short order cook” and below “sultry sexpot”.

Being a mother has proved to be my life riddle.  One that I am struggling to figure out.

How is it that I feel so utterly lonely but at the same time crave solitude?

Why do I want time apart from my kids but once I am alone, I count the hours to when they return?

At the end of the day, I beat myself up and wonder what is that I accomplished today?  What use did I make of my two university degrees?

At the end of the day, I am amazed by the magnitude of what I have contributed to our society: three small boys, who are learning to be thoughtful, compassionate members of the community.

There are days when I am deliriously happy and days that I feel as though I am clawing my way out of a black hole.

Today I didn’t feel happiness.  I felt claustrophobic, torn apart, pushed beyond the limit of exhaustion.  As I write this, the boys are tucked into bed and not a minute too soon.  My patience now sags like a hyper extended elastic band.

Hard days come with the mothering territory and when I feel less than sure, it’s not to the experts that I turn.  I seek solace from those elbow to elbow with me in the trenches and Glennon Melton’s Don’t Carpe Diem tops my list.

Am I happy every day?  No.  Am I happy most days?  Yes, and that’s good enough for me.

Life’s not a glossy magazine, folks.  If it were, I’d have better hair.

 

photo credit: http://www.symbolset.org

“I deaded you!”

“Oooh, you died.  I deaded you!”  My three year old squeals.

“No, I am not died.  I am going to kill you!” My four year old responds.

This banter has been going on for a few minutes and I cringe  listening to such violent play.

“Boys!  Enough!  We don’t kill people.  We are kind to people.  We don’t use guns or play with guns!  They are dangerous and hurt people.”  I make a final plea.

I have got to hand it to my boys.  They are definitely creative.  There are no toy guns in our house.  There are no photos of guns.  None of their toy characters have guns.   No one we know owns a gun. My husband and I don’t own guns and I am fairly certain that neither of us has never shot a gun.

Yet my boys can craft a gun out of anything.  Toilet paper rolls.  Broom handles.  Pencils.  Their fingers.  The latter is difficult to take away from them.

I am not sure where this “kill ‘em” business came from but if I were to guess, school would be my bet and of course, pretty much most entertainment that is marketed towards boys has some sort of violent component to it.

It amazes me to see how much the boys have learned during the short school year.  Jack, who is four, is using words like liquid to describe melting ice and explaining to me the root system of our tomato plants.  Sam, who is three, clicks puzzles together faster than I can turn over the pieces and he counts aloud to twenty while staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to come without skipping a beat of flubbing the sequence.

But they learn other things at school, things about guns, war, weapons and death.  They are fascinated by the death of things – ants, flowers, batteries and yes, people too.  Together with their friends they play light-sabers, soldiers, police and bad guys and even, thanks to our recent trip to the movies, cars.

I respect and appreciate their curiosity and imagination.  But I also hate it.  It’s absolutely impossible to shield them from everything.

To me, it’s more important to expose them to things and then explain to them how their father and I feel about it.

This is what I tell myself to quiet my desire to lock them in their rooms with a few stuffed animals and a plethora of mommy-approved books.

My mother-in-law who has raised many boys insists to me that it’s futile.  As cliché and perhaps as offensive to some (click here and here) as it may seem: boys will be boys.

In an effort to understand this play, I turned to Leonard Sax’s book, Why Gender Matters, for some insight as to why my boys are so obsessed with rough play.  Here is what Dr. Sax has to say:

According to the section, Lessons From The Playground (pages 58-65):

  • Boys fight more often than girls to, including being physically aggressive towards each other.  He insists, and cite studies to back this up, that boys although they fight more frequently than girls often become better friends with their mates.
  • It’s normal for boys to show a preference for violent fairy tales and games.  It does NOT mean that they have a psychiatric disorder.  (Phew!)

The section in the book that most rang true for me is Grand Theft Auto.  Sax describes on page 71:

“. . . Don’t buy any video game that employs what I call a “moral inversion”- where good is bad and bad is good.  Playing those games for hours on end can warp your mind.  If your son absolutely has to play violent video games, choose something like SpyHunter instead.  In SpyHunter you’re a James Bond sort of character, assigned missions such as escorting diplomats to embassies while various enemies try to shoot you and the diplomat you’re escorting . . . You lose points if you kill or injure a civilian.  You can’t just fire your weapon blindly.  You have to avoid the civilians (who become more numerous as you advance in the game) and make sure you’re right on top of the bad guy before you can fire.”

If I am to be truthful, and it’s hard to be, I would admit that I am also embarrassed by their boisterous play.  My own ego and insecurities whisper to me other mothers are watching and judging, deeming my boys the “bad ones”.

But when I look around at other boys in the playground, I see the same play and hear the same words that fill-up my home coming from other little bodies.

“Boys, let’s just say “get ‘em”, okay?” I try again with my little warriors.

“Mommy, don’t worry. It’s not a gun, see?”  My son holds his tiny hand out to me and opens his palm.  He looks up at me with the sweetest eyes, and smiles his toothy grin and says, “It’s a sword.”

photo credit: http://www.openmarket.org

Freak-out-meltdowns (and other fun stuff you get to deal with as a parent)

Deep breath.  Inhale, exhale.  Try not to lose it.  Try not to cry.  You are the parent.  You are in control here.  1, 2, 3, 4 . . .

How is that someone who has been on the planet for less than three years and has a limited vocabulary can well up such a storm of emotions within me in a matter of seconds?  Like a rapidly swinging pendulum I go from feeling overwhelming love and affection to having to talk myself down from losing my shit like a crazy person.

According to Alyson Shafer’s new book, Ain’t Misbehavin, toddlers are among the most violent people on earth demonstrating an act of violence every three minutes.  If this statistic is true than certainly I have an overachiever on my hands.

With my eldest son, tantrums were fairly uncommon and when they did occur it was relatively easy to distract him and offer a consoling hug.  When he turned three, I was pretty proud of myself.  We escaped the “terrible twos”, unscathed save for a few epic meltdowns and one early departure from Nana’s house.  I had thought that I figured it all out.  Now, I could sit back and enjoy my middle child’s second year, because I had the secret weapon to diffusing explosive situations.  Stay calm, distract and offer a hug. 

Somewhere in the universe someone was having a chuckle at my expense because the day my middle son turned eighteen months, the world, as I knew it came crashing down on me.  He is that child – the one where everything is a battle.  It starts in the morning: what to wear, what to eat, getting in the car, getting out of the car, leaving school, eating lunch, having a bath, going to bed . . . which car is his, what colour the plate is, what colour the cup is, etc., etc.

Sometimes the days stretched on and on.  The tantrums bleeding together into what seemed like a never-ending fit.

Literally at a breaking point, I consulted experts (three to be exact) and read numerous parenting books (twelve to be exact).

He’s a spirited child.  He’s determined.  He’s smart.  He’s driven.  He’s alpha male. 

We tried it all.  Every strategy.  We picked clothes the night before, we limited all the choices to two, and we had a schedule printed on the whiteboard in the kitchen and timers to announce warnings for transitions.  We tried EVERYTHING!

Our boys attend a pre-school that is based on Adlerian principles that is in-line with Alyson Shafer’s approach.  The main points are as follows:

–       Everyone must feel connected

–       Everyone must feel that they are an integral part of the team

–       Everyone must feel that they matter

–       Everyone must feel that they are supported

I have had the opportunity to attend Alyson’s lectures on numerous occasions and have read her two previous books, Breaking the Good Mom Mythand Honey, I Wrecked The Kids, and so I was familiar with the foundation of this teaching.

I have implemented several of her strategies and found this approach to “work”.  Let me clarify:  The tantrums don’t magically stop but changing how I deal with them decreases their frequency, makes them more tolerable and greatly reduces the stress level in the house (most of the time).

Let me explain.  Ain’t Misbehavin’, is not simply a parenting book but an actual parenting tool.  It is designed to be a consultant of sorts.  Having trouble breaking bad habits?  Turn to chapter 9 and read over the scripts.  Having trouble catching some zzz’s?  Turn to chapter 3 for a sleep solution.  Since I am having trouble with tantrums, I turned to “the classics” chapter – conveniently located at the very front of the book.  (If I were to be completely honest, I need to turn to every chapter!).

After suggesting the root cause of the behaviour, Alyson encourages parents to be supportive and re-route.    Chapter two provides caregivers with scripts to use when children are “about to blow”.

It is suggested that the adult recognize the cause of the behaviour and verbally validate it:  “I see you are upset that we are out of chocolate milk.  I like chocolate milk too and it’s disappointing/sad that we finished it.  Wasn’t it yummy?  We will have to add it our grocery list for next time.  Come on, let’s add it together.”

If that doesn’t diffuse the situation and the tantrum develops into a full on flail and wail fest that won’t let up, Alyson suggests moving YOU not the child.  Once the tantrum has run its course, it’s best to carry-on as normal but make the child accountable for their actions.

It may have taken a few (hundred) tries but we’re seeing results!

–       Flailing/hitting/biting“I don’t feel safe around you.  May you please calm your body or do you need to leave?”  (Keeps flailing/hitting/biting)  “Okay, I see you need some help leaving the room.”  (Pick up child without emotion and move him/her to a safe place away from others).  “You can join us when you are calm.”

–       Leaving the “safe place” and not being calm:  “I am still not feeling safe, so I am going to move myself.”  (Go into washroom, bedroom, etc. and lock self in or go with other children to another room).  When they follow (which they usually do), “I would like for you to join us and be calm.  But I need to feel safe.  Am I safe with you?” (Usually this is met with a nod and a gulp – a nice hug helps to diffuse the situation).

–       Throwing things in a fit of anger:  As difficult as it is, I try not to react and follow the first script.  Once they are calm, I tell them:  “It looks like you have a job to do”.  They are much less likely to trash a room when they are responsible for the clean up.  If this persists, follow Alyson’s advice and give their toys a “time-out”.  Follow the logic:  when you throw your toys it tells me that you don’t respect them and no longer want them.  I have only had to donate one toy in two years.

I would be remiss if I did not point out some of the challenges that I experienced:

  • It’s difficult to be diplomatic when you’re completely exhausted and at your wits end.  On four hours sleep, I find most parenting strategies a challenge to implement but keeping neutral after the third screaming, meltdown of the day can test even the most patient of folks.
  • Removing all emotion from your tone and body language is a challenge but when I do this, I am often amazed by the reaction from my kids.  When I am calm and not engaging them in a battle and my attention is not focused on them and so the battle is no “fun”.  That old adage, what you feed grows and what you neglect dies couldn’t be more true.
  • Adlerian philosophy is a mind-shift, and it can seem stilted and awkward until you become comfortable with the principles.
  • It is difficult for parents to relinquish some of the control and the power.

What makes the investment in this framework so rewarding for me is seeing my children be capable, valued, and supported members of our family who demonstrate more independence, problem solving skills and emotional “maturity” than I feel they would if we did not subscribe to the Adlerian philosophy.   It works for us – maybe not everyone.

As a side note, Sam has grown-up.  He got tubes put in his ears and experienced instant relief from painful pressure.  His vocabulary has blossomed and the temper tantrums, while not eradicated, are much less frequent and in addition to what the experts had to say he is loving, extremely funny, charismatic and actually quite sensitive.  Who knew when he was whipping plates across the room?

If you would like the chance to win a copy of the book, please leave us a comment any day this week letting us know.  The competition ends at midnight on Friday, April 22.  We will draw for and announce the winner on Saturday, April 23, and Mom Central will mail out a copy of the book to the winner after April 30th.

Disclosure – We are participating in the Ain’t Misbehavin’ program by Mom Central on behalf of Wiley Publishing.  We received a copy of the book to review and gift card as a thank you for our participation.  The opinions on this blog are our own.

photo credit: http://www.anoagibson.blogspot.com

A Guide For The Childless When Interacting With Friends Who Are Parents

  1. Never pop by.  Ever.
  2. Never suggest a quick visit when your friend’s child/children are napping.  Naps are sacred minutes.  Especially if said child is an infant.
  3. Never expect to have a meaningful conversation with eye contact and no interruptions when your friend’s children are around.  Most likely the conversation will be fragmented, disjointed and riddled with incessant requests for attention.  Your friend does care about you what you have to say but will have greater empathy discussing your problems over a childless dinner and a glass of wine.  Or two.
  4. Never suggest a dinner past 8 p.m.  People with children don’t eat that late and when they do they are usually yawning while scanning the room for the waiter to bring the bill -before dessert is served.
  5. Never suggest playing it by ear.  People with children need to plan everything.  Everything revolves around nap schedules, hockey practice and babysitter availability.
  6. Always suggest playing things by ear.  Inevitably, all the best-laid plans turn to puke.  Literally.
  7. Never comment on the messy state of the mini-van.  Yes, your friend knows that there is a Sahara of Cheerio crumbs under your feet and that the armrests have a sticky film, and no, they don’t have time to clean it up.  What’s the point?
  8. Expect to be utterly embarrassed at some point around your friend’s children.  Children lack social filters and will innocently ask you why you are not yet married in front of your girlfriend/boyfriend or some equally cringe-worthy question.
  9. Never call your friend* after 9 p.m. There’s a good chance that you will wake up: a) the children b) your friend or c) both

* there’s a good chance that you won’t be friends anymore.

10. Never ask your friend which movie will win the Best Picture at this year’s Oscars.  Chances are they are still watching                        movies that were nominated three years before.  Except of course, this year since Toy Story 3 was in the running.

I could go on (and on) but we try to limit our posts to a reasonable word count.  What would you add to the list?

We’ll Always Have Paris

Before I had children, I had a vague notion that my life would change but really nothing can prepare someone for the complete transformation that occurs once baby makes his arrival.

Gone was my self-centeredness.  It wasn’t a conscience shift.  I didn’t have some sort of epiphany.  It was much simpler than that: I just didn’t have the time to focus on myself anymore.

I was quite blinded when it came to my marriage.  I was naïve to think that my relationship would somehow escape the trials of parenthood unscathed.

Somewhere between diaper changes and car shuttles to skating lessons, I opened my eyes to the fact that my husband and I were becoming a cliché: ships passing in the night.  Each of us charting our own course: me, on a quest to be the perfect mother and him the perfect provider.

Both of us were unintentionally neglecting the very glue that holds our precious family together.

It happened in a natural flurry, the shift between coupledom and insta-family.  Our relationship comfortably grew and evolved but in the mess and mire that is parenthood, such a connection between partners can easily fray.

We try to maintain balance with regular “date-nights” but the idea of spending a week away from the kids, our home and all of our responsibilities was exactly what we needed to recharge our selves and our relationship.

Paris gave us a chance to slip off our mother/father identities and try on our former selves.  Our time away was reminiscent of when we were dating.  Amazingly, we fell back into our familiar ways.  No longer was I the bossy, exhausted mother – always pressed for time.   I laughed.  A lot.  We blew off the museums in favour of champagne cocktails and afternoon naps.  We ate late.  Really late.  When normally I would be sleeping.

Without the constraints of time we aimlessly wandered the cobblestone streets and found ourselves.

On the plane heading home, I was as giddy a newlywed; full of promise and renewal, the balance restored.  I watched my husband sitting across the aisle casually sop up the mess from a spilled drink and the little girl beside him fidgeting on her wet seat.  I was overwhelmed with emotion.

In the quiet of that moment, I saw him as the easy-going young man that I had married, the compassionate father he had become and the husband that I have always loved.