Parenting while calm

I have never believed that yelling at your kids is particularly effective or necessary, except in extreme circumstances, like danger. That being said, I haven’t exactly practiced said parenting philosophy regularly. The kind of parent I aspire to be and the kind of parent I’ve been most days the last six + years line up only about 50% or so. I imagine this is pretty common among parents and so I’m guessing there’s been yelling at your house too, at least the exasperated kind.

Lately, since I’ve been practicing parenting with P.E.A.C.E. I’ve noticed 2 things: The first is that I am not being as hard on myself for my perceived parenting flaws.  The second is that living with P.E.A.C.E. has made me a much calmer, happier person and as a bi-product, I am able to practice calmer parenting with much less yelling (we’re not talking a full state of zen parenting bliss, but I definitely feel we’re making progress over here).

I am very open on this blog about my challenges embracing parenting and my anxiety problems, which pre-dated having kids. It made for quite a cocktail when you mixed self-pity, generalized anxiety disorder, lack of autonomy, lack of sleep (at least in the early years) and parenting.

Self-pity was a deep driver of my anxiety before I had kids, and one of the ways I managed those things was trying to exert control over my environment.  There’s nothing like parenting small children to make you feel completely out of control.  You can not predict them, nor can you always manage their endless stream of needs and wants and interruptions and crazy ideas and dirty hands and spilled milk, and…. wait hold on, I just fell down a rabbit hole there for a second.

But for every time they get peanut butter on your shirt right before they leave for work there is a moment where your daughter calls a thermos a “thermostat” or announces she needs a family hug, or your son does a booty dance to Rihanna in his diaper or requests extra hugs at bedtime.  I want to make sure you know this, and know that I know it too, that a safe space to complain about parenting absolutely needs to have a place to also sing its praises. Being someone’s mom or dad is an awesome honor and privilege, and when we lose sight of that, like I have hundreds of times, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and to our kids.

This is why a big part of P.E.A.C.E. is the “bank of proof”. The bank is where you store your positive experiences – both parenting successes and moments of pure enjoyment with the kids.  It’s part of the Embrace stage, (the second E) where you embrace the outcomes, no matter how small the win.  And it’s crucial to continually working through the first E, Examine, where you are able to draw on the bank when you feel yourself getting worked up.  Both Es can save you a lot of yelling.

So, back to this new calmer parenting thing I am working on (modestly) mastering. How does it work? It’s something that honestly needs a lot of practice, patience and a good deal of self-control and doesn’t that just sound easy (ha).  I spoke in my last post about how practicing P.E.A.C.E. is like starting a weight lifting practice and I really mean it.  Not just because you start small and build (a literal analogy) but also because if you stop practicing it regularly you will have less strength to continue it.

My #1 tip for you to start with is to build up your flexibility. You have to challenge yourself to say yes more often, and to make sure when you say no you have a real reason, and give it to your kids. I tend to be a rigid parent, and once I say something, I have a tendency to refuse to back down. What I have been doing lately is questioning my rules, especially because some of them genuinely make no sense to anyone but me.

Here’s an example: I have stopped refusing to read certain books to Julia before bed time based on how close it was to 7pm. I discovered that my brain was so focused on having the reading end within a few minutes 7pm because that is her bed time. And I had secret anxiety I wasn’t even fully consciously aware of that Brian would be upset with me if I came down too much later than 7 because he was timing dinner with her bedtime.  Guess what happened recently when I stopped caring as much about nailing bedtime to the minute? Pretty much nothing bad.  Julia and I stopped arguing about books. I stopped feeling tense while I was reading them. Brian never seemed bothered I came down later and on the “latest” days I was still downstairs by 7:15.  Listen, I do believe routines are important for kids, and I’m a little OCD, so my flexibility isn’t going to mean Julia can just go to bed whenever, but giving a little has resulted in getting a lot.

It turns out there are a ton of these rolling around in my brain and I am trying to knock them down one at a time. I’m not always successful – today I managed not to yell when I was frustrated with Julia while we were out shopping, but I did say a few things that in retrospect I wish I hadn’t, even if I said them calmly.  On the bright side I didn’t beat myself up for it after, Julia seemed ok with what I said, and we had still had fun shopping, so that can all go in the bank.

Your yelling or impatience or frustration might (or likely does) come from a totally different place than mine. A fifteen minute adjustment to bedtime might be laughable to someone who doesn’t stress about routines.  But I am sure you aspire to be a calmer mom too.  So try it out.  Let me know how it goes!

Parenting with P.E.A.C.E.

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.

P: Prepare
E: Examine
A: Accept
C: Calm
E: Embrace

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! 

The (not so) magic of babies

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.

 

 

When life gets in the way

Here it is, the cliche blog post about how I’ve been too busy to write a blog post.  That’s not entirely true.  A person can always find time for anything that is a priority for them.  That’s why I have dramatically increased my time spent reading this year, and have gotten like three massages, yet I haven’t been able to “find time” for exercise since I was pregnant with Luca, ha.

One of the things I’ve been busy doing is parenting related, tangentially I suppose. I’ve written a children’s book.  It feels funny to write that down as it makes it seem more real.  But it’s pretty real at this point. I have written a kid’s book and am in the final process of editing it (I’m on draft 24 already) and am almost ready to start the query process to submit it to agents.

I wrote a kid’s book because I love to write, I love kid’s books, and I had something I really wanted to write about.  I have mentioned on this blog openly about having anxiety issues since I was a child.  As an adult, I’ve come to understand that my coping mechanisms for this anxiety were not tied enough to self-soothing, and relied a lot more on other people to fix things for me.  The intention with this book is to help little kids with anxiety think about ways they can help themselves.  The book is currently titled “Lulu Fox and the Fix-It Box” and I am really excited about its potential.

Imagine if Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes (I love all his books!) or The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn had a more kid driven solution than one supplied by a parent or adult. The first day of school can be scary, especially for an anxious kid who’s afraid of everything.  Thankfully Lulu Fox comes up with an idea – she can make a “Fix It” box to lock her fears away. Lulu wears the key to the box as a necklace to help remind her to be brave at school. The reader gets a front row seat as Lulu faces challenges that will test that bravery.

I have done a ton of research on the process of finding an agent, and it is supposed to be quite hard.  Even if you get an agent they then need to try and sell to a publisher.  So while I am hopeful that people will love Lulu as much as I do, it might take quite a bit of time before it sees the light of day as a book.  If I am unable to secure an agent I will go the self-publishing route, but that costs money vs. makes money (at least in the short to medium term) so fingers crossed that I find one!!

I am already working on my second book, this one about a little boy on the autism spectrum who loves music.  I’ve been having early versions read by those with experience with autism (either teachers or parents) to make sure I am capturing things accurately.

If you are interested in being a beta reader of either book, let me know.  Or if you are a fellow writer and looking to trade manuscripts, I’ve been having a lot of fun doing that with people all over the world, so let me know!  And please be patient, I have more mom stories in me to share with this blog, I am just on a slightly diverted path right now.

 

It’s Alright to Cry

The other day I saw this post on a local Mom’s Facebook group I belong to:

“Is crying in your car on the way to work totally normal on days you feel like your failing at mom life, housework life etc? Asking for a friend…….. “

The responses from the group were overwhelming and unilateral: Yes.  Yes, it is normal.  Yes we all have those days.  I am grateful that a site like Facebook gives this woman a safe space to be able to reach out for her “friend” (she later admitted it was for herself, no shocker) and hear from others in her shoes.  Because the thing is all moms have been in those shoes – maybe you’re wearing them right now, sobbing into a glass of wine on your couch or reading this while you’re up late nursing your baby or between screams of a toddler tantrum or…. you get the point.

While I’m glad this mom turned somewhere to ask the question, why didn’t she ask her friends? I am sure this woman has friends.  I took two seconds to check when writing this post and she has over 1,300 friends on Facebook, and I am assuming some of them are real friends, and real moms.  The post on the Facebook group isn’t anonymous and the group has 11,000 members, so she was exposing herself to more people than her friend group by asking it on that page vs. her own Facebook page.  But for many women, for many people, really, its harder to say your truth out loud to people you know vs. people you don’t.

I am an oversharer on my Facebook page about my parenting struggles, which is how this blog came about.   I’ve admitted weakness, anxiety, depression, resentment – all sorts of fun stuff.  I’ve asked questions I thought were fairly benign that based on the answers showed a stunning lack of awareness on my part (trying to force my daughter to brush her teeth with fluoridated toothpaste even though she hated it so much she gagged and ended up vomiting was definitely not my finest hour as a mom).  In other words, I’ve been real.  But a weird part of my defense mechanism as a person is to call out my shortcomings before someone else can. So I share my shame. But I think for a lot of moms the mom shame burns inside of them, and they don’t know who to turn to to confess.

What I want to encourage, what I hope this blog and my Facebook posts encourage, is the idea of being real with the moms in your life when you are having trouble.  I know it’s not in everyone’s nature to share, and it doesn’t need to be done so publicly, but you need to find your support system.  Whether it’s your mom, your sister, your best friend, a new friend, a stranger you meet in a store, you need to tell your stories, good and bad.  You need to ask for advice. You need to cry, and be ok that you cried.  You need to know that you are not alone, that your feelings are not just yours, and that we are always stronger if we do this together.

I used to be judgy before I was a mom, and even for a while after I became one.  I won’t say that I’ve gotten over it completely, but what I’ve learned from mom confessional sessions with friends and strangers alike is that we’re all just trying to make it through this.  You want to judge the mom who co-sleeps?  Maybe her child has terrible nightmares that wake her up ten times a night, and mom is a zombie at work if she has to jump up and go into her kid’s room every hour so for now it’s easier to be able to just roll over and hold her tight.  You want to judge the mom who is bringing special food to a birthday party for their kid instead of having them eat pizza and cake?  Maybe their kid have such severe food aversions that the doctor told them that the next step if they can’t put weight on him is a feeding tube, and so they are just trying to keep their kid fed with one of the three foods he likes.   What about the kid you see in the store screaming and hitting his mom? You want to judge her for not having control over her kid?  Well maybe he’s on the spectrum, and he is feel overstimulated by his environment and mom needs to just grab 2 more things on her grocery list before she takes him home otherwise there won’t be anything for dinner tonight.

In other words, we are all struggling, we all have our secrets and we are all just doing what we can to get by.  Even those of you who love being a parent and find the experience to be like riding a magical unicorn through a fairy forest must experience moments of doubt or anxiety or exhaustion.  So tell someone.  Tell me if you want, but tell someone.  There’s a good chance she’ll have advice, support, a similar tale, or a nice glass of wine to take the edge off.

 

Control, the story of Ice Cream

It started with a simple decision: cup or cone.  We were at Sesame Place this past weekend (boy, do I need to write a blog about that), in the water park area, and they had just announced a scheduled break of the splash zone we were in.  Perfect time for ice cream, right?  Julia and I headed over to the nearby ice cream stand where there was a blissfully short line.

Julia begged for a cone.  But these weren’t small servings, these were VERY VERY big servings on top of a pretty big cone.  Of soft serve. On a super hot day.  But it was vacation, and I knew it would make her happy and I am usually very strict and I want to be a cool mom and so I said ok.  I can be flexible right?  I ordered a vanilla cone with sprinkles for Julia, a chocolate cup for Brian and a swirl cup for me.  The woman fills the cups first, and then runs out of vanilla ice cream.  So, I am standing there, eating my ice cream before it melts, watching Brian’s ice cream melt (he’s back at at the splash pad with Luca) and watching Julia slowly start to melt down over waiting for the new vanilla to be mixed so she can get her cone.

Finally we get the glorious, giant cone and Julia is happy as a clam.  But it’s about that time that I basically lose my will to live.  I start to worry that the ice cream is going to melt too fast and fall off the cone.  At which point Julia will inevitably freak out, at which point Brian will probably say she can’t have another cone, at which point she’ll freak out more, and even if I can convince him to let her have another cone, we’ll have to go back to the ice cream stand, and the line might be longer, and I am not even sure I have enough cash because I only took a twenty with us to the water park part and the ice creams are over priced …. and…. and…. What was my point here?  That I’m crazy?  Oh yeah, I am crazy.  Did I ever mention that?  That my anxiety comes with a delicious strain of obsessive thought patterns that often focus on future scenarios, most of which are unlikely to happen, and which I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER ANYWAY?

So she’s eating and all I can do is fixate on the fucking cone.  Julia, lick around the bottom.  Julia, eat some off the top.  Faster Julia.  Brian, can you please eat some of her ice cream to help out?  Julia, hold it upright.  Don’t tilt it Julia.  Meanwhile I am eating my cup of ice cream as fast as I can with the plan to dump her cone into the cup when I am finished.  Except I get brain freeze in the middle of this rapid ice cream consumption.  My nose is actually tingling from eating it so fast.  And what’s the god damn point?  Before I know it, the ice cream is gone, likely hundreds of calories worth of deliciousness and I barely tasted it.  And now she won’t put her cone into my empty cup because there is chocolate residue on the bottom of my cup and she doesn’t want it to taint the vanilla.

And you know what happened?  Nothing.  Nothing happened.  She managed to eat the ice cream cone like a human, nobody died, and the world didn’t come to an end.  And then I felt stupid.  For criticizing her, for worrying so much, for not letting myself just let her enjoy the moment.  For not enjoying these moments myself.  I have a feeling it’s not just moms with anxiety or obsessive thoughts or control issues who struggle with moments of this.  The lack of ability to control situations with kids can bring out staggering emotions in parents.  It’s another one of those things that no one tells you about having kids.  That sometimes, there are these moments where you want to be able to have the power, and you don’t.  Not power over them even, but power over yourself.  To be ok.  To remember that they’re ok.  To take each moment as a moment and not as the moment.  To not freak out.  To let yourself freak out.  To be ok with the outcome, whatever it is.