I started this blog because I wanted to expose the truth about the challenges of parenting. I’ve talked about the importance of honesty in revealing the tough parts so that we don’t feel so alone. I’ve addressed postpartum depression, losing a pregnancy, and the (not so) magic of babies among other topics. But something that I haven’t tackled much is specifics for how we can make it better. Mostly this is because I felt unqualified to give parenting advice, since I have struggled with it quite a bit (spoiler alert: so do most people).
Recently I have been going through a period of major inspiration in my life. I’ve been more productive and more positive than I have been in years. The happiness and calm that has been coursing through me has been such a contrast to the ball of anxiety and gloom I was from mid 2016 to mid 2017 (aka “the dark period”). I have noticed that my parenting methods have improved pretty dramatically since I have become more peaceful and positive. I’ve long believed, and seen the proof, that yelling doesn’t actually help the situation, but my frayed nerves prevented me from effectively practicing that on a regular basis before.
I have been working recently on a self-help and self-care philosophy that I’ve dubbed P.E.A.C.E. (gotta love a good acryonym!). While I had originally built it as a method for helping myself and others with anxiety, I have discovered it has a number of other practical applications, including work issues like coping with stress, identifying priorities and managing people. But it is also super good for parenting.
P.E.A.C.E. is simple. It’s five steps that you run through during the course of a situation. However, you can also access each of the steps independently depending on what you need at the time.
Here’s an example of parenting with P.E.A.C.E. in action:
You are going out to a nice dinner with your husband and toddler and another family tonight. You’ve had mixed results taking her out; sometimes she behaves great, sometimes she is a disaster, so you’re a bit nervous/stressed about how it will go.
Prepare: This is your pre-game. What worked during those successful dinners and what didn’t at the rough ones? Based on that you can prepare for a better outcome: Let’s go at 6 instead of 7 so she will be less tired. We’ll bring a few toys and books. We’ll have cheerios to feed her before the food comes.
Examine: It’s game time. You’re in the restaurant. She starts to cry. You give her the books and she throws them. You offer her cheerios and she isn’t eating them. You begin to get impatient and stressed. What if the restaurant throws you out? What if you can never go out to eat with her until she is a teenager? What if your friends think your a bad mom because their kids are sitting so nicely.
This spiral and frustration is what usually leads to the impulsive behavior – the yelling, the anxiety, the obsessive thoughts. It’s time to examine what is really happening. Take a beat. Clear your mind of the worries and focus on reality. I suggest that you begin to keep what I call the “bank of proof”. This can be something that just lives in your head, or if you need it, something you physically write down, ideally on your phone so that you can access it anywhere. Your bank of proof is a reminder of your “wins”. Say to yourself: we’ve gone out to dinner 6 times in the last year and never been thrown out, no matter how she behaved. People are nice because they understand kids aren’t always perfect. You’ve had luck in the past calming her down by playing games with her – why don’t you try that?
Accept: You are now at the solution phase. It is what it is so let’s deal with it. She is crying. It’s not the end of the world. She will stop at some point. Try that game you remember working in the past. The one where you have to guess animals by the sound they make. Hey, that seems to be working. Now let’s get some bread and butter over here and fill her up. Maybe she’s hangry. If all else fails, you can always take her outside for a quick walk, or (last resort) let her play with your phone.
Calm: Do an emotional gut check. Now that you’re not zoomed in on your fears or anger, it’s a lot easier to process what is happening. You want to enjoy the rest of dinner, and not feel worried she will do it again (but if she does it again, just keep going through E and A), or make a rash decision to leave. You’ve got this, girl! You can choose to enjoy yourself tonight. There is this great quote from Mary Engelbreit that has always stuck with me “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you feel about it.” IT IS NOT EASY TO DO. But it is SO WORTH IT to work on this.
Embrace: You are in the car on the way home from dinner. You made it! The rest of the dinner turned out ok. Your toddler wasn’t always happy, but she did eat some of her pasta, and you and your husband had a much needed glass of wine, and no one in the restaurant gave you evil looks, and now she is sleeping in the car seat like a little angel and you survived. You can add this to your bank of proof. Build up your wins, and draw on them whenever you need. Be proud of yourself. You can embrace even the more shitty situations because there is always a redemption point in there somewhere.
I truly believe P.E.A.C.E. can provide a true path to changing your life as a parent. I just practiced it on a week-long vacation with the kids and my husband in the Dominican Republic and it was amazing. I focused before the trip on not being apprehensive and obsessive or worrying about bad outcomes, which is something I often do before traveling. I was able to go into the trip more calmly and parent with more enjoyment. I very rarely get to spend that amount of concentrated time with my kids because I am a working mom, and I thought I would feel exhausted but I came home feeling peaceful and refreshed. I am not saying the trip was all roses and sunshine because let’s be honest, we were dealing with a 3 and 6 year old here (I will write a post about vacation soon, because I highly recommend the resort!) But there was so much magic, so much fun, and so much happiness. Were the kids behaving any better or worse than usual? I don’t think so. But I did, and it made all the difference.
Think of this method like lifting weights. Day one you aren’t going to pick up the biggest barbells and hoist them over your head. But with continued practice, you can build your strength and accomplish bigger goals. I believe you can find a path to being a calmer and more rational parent and be able to enjoy your kids and your life more!
Note: I will be writing a lot more about P.E.A.C.E. in the future and working on it’s various applications. If you are interested in learning more about it, please reach out. I’m looking for beta testers to give feedback on how to distill the idea with the most simplicity and also what specific tactics lead to the best outcomes!
I was at a client meeting today and overheard a conversation between a mom that just returned from maternity leave and an expecting father.
“Oh, it’s just magical. You’re going to love it,” she raved.
Being the nosy nancy I am, I of course butted in. “Are you referring to having a newborn?” I asked her.
“Yes, it’s just so wonderful,” she gushed, smiling radiantly. Say what?
Listen, I had postpartum depression with Julia, and that’s not everyone’s experience so yeah, I am a bit jaded. Having Luca was a fabulous course correction, and I genuinely enjoyed a lot of my time with him, but let’s be real here.
Being a first time mom to a newborn is an experience that can be described as magical. But not without also caveating that it’s also many other things like terrifying and exhausting.
Moms (and dads): If you are selling the lie, you’re not just lying to yourself, you are setting our parenting culture up for failure. Dramatic of me to say? Maybe. But I literally can not count on two hands the number of women who told me that I was one of the ONLY people that warned them that those early weeks were going to at times, between gazes of love and wonder and unicorns prancing also be demoralizing, mournful, emotional, foggy, bloody (yes, bloody) and confusing.
People will make comments about how you won’t get sleep. They’ll make jokes about it. But they won’t tell you that the sleeplessness will often be accompanied by unending screams that simultaneously break your heart, hurt your ears, and feel like a condemnation of you and your failure to parent correctly. Because surely other moms can make their babies stop crying (spoiler alert: bag of nopes there).
You might hear in passing about colic. But you won’t be given the details about how colic is defined by multiple days of THREE PLUS HOURS IN A ROW of crying. That shit is hard. I did not have a colicky baby, but I remember even just average crying with my daughter and how hard it was.
Maybe, thanks to a few parenting memes going around FB, you have somehow heard about the hospital underpants. It is essentially an underwear sized maxi pad. Because if you have a vaginal birth you will BLEED. I was sent home from the hospital told not to be worried about clots unless they were LARGER THAN A TENNIS BALL. I’m not sure I’d even be able to worry at that point because I would have passed out from fright.
Let’s just take a moment to talk about breast pumps. Do you know I did it for three months before I found out about hands free pumping bras? I held those damn flange things against my boobs multiple times a day when I could have just been hanging out, still a cow but with hands free. And surely no one told you that you actually have to get the right sized flanges for your nipples. It’s not a one size fits all situation. And how weird it is to be LITERALLY milked. I never even made enough milk with Julia without supplementing with formula. For the first month, my doctor had me nurse Julia, then pump right after – including middle of the night feedings. Do you know how much it sucked to not only nurse, then pump, but then have to wash fucking pump parts in the middle of the night. I remember more than once crying in the bathroom at three in the morning as I washed and sanitized pumping supplies thinking that this will never end. Magical I tell you. Like prancing unicorns of joy.
I could make you a list more numerous than the number of pee and poop diapers you will change in those early months of other “magical” moments. Projectile poos, the fear of touching your baby’s umbilical cord before it falls off, the porn star rocks that your boobs will be when your milk comes in, reflux, baby acne, meconium. Trimming miniscule baby fingernails (without making them bleed) so they don’t scratch themselves up like Edward Scissorhands.
I named this blog Truth in Parenting for a reason ya’all. Only in sharing the truth with each other will we be able to know that parenting is two sides of a coin. In truth, we don’t have to feel shame or disappointment that our experience isn’t like others, because there’s a really good chance that it is – both good and bad.
“He needs a back-up alarm” my hair stylist told me, after complaining that the guy who was supposed to open the salon that morning had overslept. “You know, I always have my phone alarm, and then a back-up, like an alarm clock or my boyfriend’s phone” she said. “Especially in the winter, when it’s dark and you’re so snuggly, and you just can’t get yourself out of bed, you know?”
I did know, once upon a time. I remember those days. In fact, I probably slept more than most people. I spent my early twenties doing freelance jobs and working for myself, which meant a lot of flexibility in my sleep schedule. I could sleep some days until noon. When I was depressed, on my days off I’d sometimes sleep all day, waking up just to go to the bathroom and eat.
But when you have children, sleep is something you dream about… and get woken up from. I suspect I’m luckier than many because currently both my children sleep through the night in their own rooms. I don’t have enough hands to count the number of friends I have who either intentionally, accidentally, or by sheer exhaustion end up co-sleeping with their kids at least some of the time. Brian and I decided in our earliest parenting days that we were going to set boundaries on the co-sleeping, so other than when they slept in bassinets with us as babies we’ve never done it.
Neither Julia or Luca slept more than three to four hours at a time until they were about five months old, probably a product of them both being such skinny babies. But both became pretty good sleepers after some basic sleep training. We certainly had some rough times with Julia between ages 2-4, nothing unusual, just the basic stuff like nightmares. I suspect we’ll go through it again with Luca as he gets older. He’s still in a crib at two and a half, but based on his personality I suspect we’ll have trouble keeping him in his big boy bed once he gets one. So I’ve got that to look forward to.
Both our children’s optimal bedtimes are quite early, which I’ve mentioned before – 6:15 or so for Luca and 7pm for Julia. So we have whole evenings to ourselves to eat dinner, watch tv, catch up on work etc. But the trade off is that we got woken up EVERY SINGLE DAY at 6am. Now, as I’ve also mentioned before, this works for us 5 days a week, because that’s around when we wake up for work anyway. But getting up at 6 am on weekends is kind of brutal. At this point, it doesn’t make me too tired anymore, because my body has adjusted. In fact, it came in handy when Brian and I went to Universal studios by ourselves this fall because we had no trouble getting up for early admission. But our trip to the Dominican Republic last year where we fantasized about sleeping late – that one was a damn shame to wake up every day by seven.
The early wake up is a double edged sword. I’ve done more by 8:00 in the morning than many childless people do in a full weekend day. Even with lounging in bed with the kids for early morning TV watching, by about 8:30 on a Sunday we have usually cooked and eaten breakfast, emptied the dishwasher, tidied up the first floor, looked up something or other on the internet, broken up at least one fight, and changed a few diapers. The trade off is that there is so many more hours in the day during which we need to entertain the kids. Bored children are no fun. If I was a perfect Pinterest mom I’m sure I’d have long lists of craft projects and inventive games and would love every minute of every hour of the time I spent with them. But sometimes mom just wants a nap.
Brian and I have this fantasy for the future. Some of it revolves around sleeping later once they kids are able to take care of themselves when they get up. But our particular favorite one is for when the kids are teenagers who will inevitably sleep super late on the weekends. We’ve decided at least once we’re going to throw open their door as loudly as possible, run into their room, jump into their bed full force and immediately demand that they get us breakfast and put the tv on for us. There’s even been talk of banging pots and pans. But we’ll decide when we get there, since I suspect we’ve got miles to go before we sleep.
Last night we hung out with two families from our block, and between us there were six kids ranging in age from six (Julia) to eight months (our neighbor’s son Henry, who is so cute he almost makes me want to have another one…. for five minutes…. because this shop is CLOSED for business). The house was chaos, but the happy kind, with shrieks due to fun vs. fights and tantrums.
At one point the three oldest kids (ages 4-6) were playing hide and seek. Charlie, the ringer, (since he lived there and knew all the best spots) hid behind the drapes in the dining room where the adults were hanging out finishing our dinner. He was pretty well concealed, but at one point the kids were practically on top of him and yet couldn’t find him. We were trying to give them clues, directing them with “warmer” and “colder” but they just weren’t getting it even though at one point I swear they were looking straight at him behind the gauzy curtain. When he finally popped out, peals of laughter exploded not just from the kids but from all the adults in the room.
After we stopped laughing, I looked at everyone I said “Let’s put this one in the memory bank”. Whether you realize it or not, I believe every parent keeps a memory bank. Having small children is hard, like, next level hard. Like, “how does anyone do this?” hard. There are so many moments where you just want to scream, or rip your hair out, or hide in a bathroom or take five minutes to breathe or shower or take a catnap. So you open up a memory bank account and deposit every damn thing in it you can that is not the shitty stuff. This whole night for me goes in the memory bank. Hanging out with people we enjoy who have great kids, sharing kid book recommendations, eating pizza and homemade cookies and apple crumble and feeling relaxed (or at least I did, and I am not always relaxed at these things).
I’ve got lots of memories that I keep in my bank. The first time Julia said her name, and told us it was “Julcat”. Taking naps with sweaty baby Luca’s face pressed against my face. Watching Julia greet the princesses at Disney World with the expectation they’d know her to. Luca saying “You got this for me?” in his deep little baby voice, with a mixture of wonder and excitement, every time we give him something. A mom telling me that Julia waited for her son by the door at kindergarten every day for the first few weeks because she knew he was scared to go in.
I also have a category for posthumously added memories. Those are ones that felt really struggle bus while they were happening but have a sweetness to the memory that creates nostalgia. One is Julia insisting we “dance up” – she loved dancing so much at two that we would try to dance with her while sitting on the floor because we would get tired and she just wouldn’t have it so she’d insist we stand. We’d be exhausted, wearing pink cowboy hats and tutus and drag ourselves off the floor to try to jam out to our tenth Katy Perry song in a row to keep our tiny tyrant happy. Another one, as insane as it is for me to believe now, is that I am able to feel nostalgia for moments I spent nursing. I nursed Julia for six months, Luca for four, and I was very relieved to stop. I felt like a cow, it was weird to feel like my body didn’t belong to me, and I leaked all the time. It kind of sucked (no pun intended). But now I remember their teeny tiny selves curled up around me, their crying pacified, my satisfaction of knowing that I was doing something good to care for them. Then there were those sleepy little milk coma faces after they were done, and the knowledge that I’d probably get at least a few moments of rest before the next round of crying or needing to feed them. Just remembering that now makes me feel warm and fuzzy, although at the time I just wanted my body back.
I think even the shitty stuff is worth remembering – the sleepless nights, career compromises, exhaustion and endless pooping are good reminders that I don’t want a third child even after cuddling baby Henry tonight; nibbling his delicious baby face and having him grab my finger with his tiny hands was lovely but it doesn’t cancel out why I chose to stop after two kids.
Grandparents and parents of older children will see you with your little kids and also recommended that you pay attention as your children’s lives are unfolding because they go by too fast. Sometimes I want them to go by faster, to get through the tough parts. But tucked between the monotony and the frustration are the incredible moments of joy and love. It’s what keeps us going as parents. You can’t make a memory if you don’t remember it. That’s why I paused at the table tonight as we all laughed at our kids playing. Let’s remember this one, I was saying, and save it for a rainy day when we’ll need it.