Smart Women Speak: On Drowning In The Tiny Years

May 3, 2017

This is Danielle. Danielle is a smart, funny mother of three who also happens to be my kid’s preschool teacher. The first time I met her, I was handing over my screaming firstborn while she patiently waited for me to excuse myself. If I had to describe her in three words they would be: Champion Of Women.

Q: What would you say to a mom of young kids who is drowning in the tiny years?

A: I would say to be clear on your parenting end game and to be yourself. In those early years, it’s so easy to lose ourselves as women. It’s easy to use all the examples of motherhood in the media, many of which are highly sanitized, and to feel pressured to “measure up.” We can be easily consumed by the expectation that we must be enjoying all of parenting and that our children must be eternally happy. That benchmark is both unrealistic and ambiguous to me. Instead, ask yourself what you hope for your child to learn from your example. What traits will they need to build their own meaningful, happy lives rather than expecting to find meaning and happiness extrinsically? Me? I want my children to see me as their mom but also a woman who is always learning, who has her own ideas, talents, relationships, and interests. I intentionally pursue a life beyond them to both nourish myself and to show them how to someday do the same for themselves. I hope my children to be kind, curious, balanced, brave, productive, and resilient. The people I know who possess these traits have all overcome obstacles in life. Every time my children are about to face disappointment or challenge, I remind myself that facing the pain of life also brings learning opportunities. I would also remind young moms that parenting isn’t hard because you’re doing it wrong. It’s just freaking hard. Those moms ahead of you that seemed to have survived the early years relatively unscathed? Look to them and trust you’ll be there too. They aren’t special or different; just further along on the path. They aren’t likely wholly unscathed either. Nor will you be. All meaningful things change us. But they’ve survived and grown. You will too. 

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This is Virginia. Virginia is a single mother to six and a second mother to many (including me). She is also the most generous person I know. Around her 50th birthday, she started what she calls a “metamorphosis,” which included a lot of self discovery and subsequently losing a lot of weight. Virginia is beautiful at any size, but her recent change made these pictures very fun to take. She hadn’t had her picture taken in over 30 years!

Q: What would you say to a mother of young children who is hitting rock bottom and struggling to care for both herself and her family?

A: After the divorce, I suddenly found myself in unfamiliar territory being a single mom to 6 children. It would be an understatement to say I felt overwhelmed, scared, inadequate and alone. Things to remember: You are not alone. Lean on family and friends. Find other moms in the same stage of life as well as moms who have been through it, and set up a support system for yourself. Also be a support system for someone else. Make meals, swap childcare, be a listening ear. Remind yourself that you’re human and doing the best you can. And make time for you. It may be small things like taking a hot bath after bedtime, reading a book you’ve been trying to finish, or just talking to a friend on the phone. Trust me, it’s not selfish–it’s necessary and life saving (for the kids too).

We only have our children in that dependent phase for a very short period of time, and I promise you will not regret one moment. Even the bad experiences are valuable life lessons. How we see ourselves is how our children will see us, so let them see the real you. Let them see you being kind, loving, giving, and accepting of others, but also as a person who gets frustrated, angry, sad and tired. It’s okay if they see a mom who doesn’t feel like making dinner or cleaning. That’s real.

There is no perfect way to be a mother. Remember every day is a clean slate, and when you know better–do better. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness are key. You are doing great!

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This is Kim. Kim is mother of three and one of my favorite people I’ve never actually met in real life. With this series I wanted to talk to moms with older children who have already been in the trenches, and whenever Kim gives practical parenting tips, I think: Yes, yes. Everything yes.

Q: What would you say to a mom of young kids who is drowning in the tiny years?

A: I can tell you when I started to enjoy it, but I think those ages vary with every kid and everyone’s (including mom and dad’s) temperament. Zoloft and now Wellbutrin helped me immensely. Perspective shows me that I worried a lot about things I didn’t need to. A three-year-old’s temper/attitude/aversion to tags/socks/anything not orange is not the end of the world in the bigger picture. One on one time with each kid is crucial (and a lot of fun). A couple years ago I started Mama Monday (date night with one kid at a time) and it’s my favorite night of the week. One on one time with your spouse is also important. Sometimes we need reminders as to why we married them, and our husbands are the only ones who REALLY get our kids like we do. You’ve got to stay on the same team, especially when the numbers are not in your favor. I know tough schedules can be a problem, so you may have to get creative. We used to have date night scheduled every Friday. We would put the kids to bed and then have dinner and a movie at home together. And of course, and most importantly, make one on one time with yourself. Missing your kids feels so good. Once a week we each have our own night to do what we please, no questions asked, no excuses.

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#smartwomenspeak on IG

 

Smart Women Speak: On Career & Motherhood

May 2, 2017

Photo by Chris Keels

This is my friend Candis. Candis is the founder, owner, and creator of The Jones MarketShe is also one of the warmest and kindest people I’ve ever known.

Q: What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to pursue both a fulfilling creative career and motherhood?

A: I would ask them to define what fulfilling means to them. I would tell them that there is nothing on this earth worth having that doesn’t come with sacrifice. Decide what fulfilling is and then decide what things you are willing to sacrifice to get there. If you know what those things are you will see your goals, you will be able to reassure yourself why you are giving up things. I was willing to sacrifice sleep, personal time, home cooked meals, a clean house and time with friends to pursue my creative career alongside motherhood. I was not willing to sacrifice being home with them in their formative years until their Dad could quit his job and be home with them. So I worked late late nights and weekends and every time my body felt frail and sick from the lack of sleep and self care, every time I felt like giving up I reminded myself of what fulfilling means to me and what I was willing to sacrifice. And I carried on.

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This is my friend Carrie. Carrie is a writer, director, and student at Studio 4 in NYC. Currently she is writing a film with James Franco. She is also one of my best friends. When I’m with her, I feel known and understood. I also probably feel a little sick, because she is constantly forcing me to do things I never would have done otherwise.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to be a full time mother while also pursuing a career in the arts?

A: You can do it! You don’t have time or energy to do the things you think you should anymore – so just do what brings you life, what burns in your gut, no matter what others think. And prioritize. Cut out anything and everything that you don’t need or really really want. Your family, your passion, your spiritual life – those come first – those are what you and the rest of the world need you to focus on. We don’t need more people out there just floating along trying to look like they have it together, we need people with drive, with hope, and honest pursuit. We need people who are a total hot mess of life. We need people to wake us up, stir us, show us a broken stereotype that we are also capable of. I have so many people shocked that I’m both a mother of a toddler (and pregnant) and pursuing my crazy dreams. Many people love it, others don’t get it. Stand up for yourself. You have a backbone! You know what you want, who you are, who you love, what’s important – so just go for it. I’m not saying risk everything all the time – but know when risk is okay and take it. Even if other people don’t understand why- they don’t need to! Also: help other women. Do kid swaps or give script feedback, tell everyone about their art show or text them with encouragement. And stay determined. Rest when you need to but don’t you dare let go when you find something that sets you on fire. We all need to see it!

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This is Bethany. Bethany is one of those people who does a little bit of everything with great joy. The first time I met her I thought: please calm down. Now she’s one of my closest friends. Our shared interests include not making dinner and ordering complicated appetizers.

Q: What is something you’d tell someone who just left their career to stay home with their children?

A: Our society places value on the work that we do; all of our different jobs have literal and cultural capital. Being a stay home mom doesn’t rank high on either front. Let’s face it, there’s very little that’s sexy about staying home to care for kids. When I made the choice to leave my full time teaching career to stay home, I was pretty worried about how others would perceive me. For example: What will I contribute to dinner party conversations? Will I become…boring?

Listen, your work isn’t what makes you an interesting or engaging person. I had to stop telling myself my life had become boring. It hadn’t. Every day I have an opportunity to pay attention to the world and to my kids. Engage in it all. Be curious. Listen to podcasts. Pick up side hustles (I’ve done everything from cleaning houses to working in food trucks to teaching evening classes) and begin to see them as ways to learn about people and other types of work.
Staying home with my children has been hard and trying yet ultimately meaningful. It is a privilege to have the choice to do so and I’m learning to see this all as an opportunity to love and to learn.

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#smartwomenspeak on IG

Babies + Sleep

April 27, 2017

Every single week someone emails me about getting their kid to sleep. Not because I am some sort of baby sleep wizard, but because for some reason my posts on sleep training pop up when you make frantic google searches at 2am while your baby is still trying to burn the house down. The emails all sound pretty much the same. It is either a sad, desperate mom who is ready to sleep train their baby or a sad, desperate mom who is not ready but just wants to say I’m not sleeping and this is the worst.

I have been both of these moms and I get it. The whole thing is hard and confusing and everyone just wants to do the right thing. My only real advice is this: give yourself grace along with an occasional babysitter so you can drive to the Panera parking lot and nap.

A few weeks ago I came up on the sixth anniversary of my blog launch, a fancy way of saying that six years ago I started sharing my very boring stories on pregnancy with my grandma and seven other readers while I waited for my first baby to be born. As the years have passed, much has changed. The Internet has gotten louder about parenting (blogs, Pinterest, Instagram). As for me, I have had two more kids and as a result, have become a lot quieter.

That said, I would love to have something to send to these dear, tired parents before my time as a mother to babies fades into nostalgia. As of today, in the year of our Lord 2017, I have gotten three very different babies to sleep and lived to tell the tale. For you moms who are doing that 2am Google, the rest of this post is for you.

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I am going to keep this simple because I am a simple person with a simple brain who does not like instructions with more than five bullet points. Once I tried to assemble a crib by myself and after 45 minutes of profanity, threw all the tools into a pile and told Austin if he didn’t do it, the baby could sleep in the laundry basket for all I cared.

So, you want your baby to sleep.

I am not going to tell you how to make that happen because you already know how. I know this because if you are desperate enough to read a blog post by a random mom about her kids sleeping, you’ve already read all the books and articles and forums on the correlations between college test scores and sleep trained babies. I am going to tell you what this ultimately comes down to which is: is it okay to let my baby cry? 

The short answer is yes.

The longer answer is yes, but isn’t it so terrible? No one tells you that someday you will have to let your precious, darling baby cry on purpose like an abandoned puppy left at the pound. But I guess that’s because if someone told you all the worst parts of parenting, you might need a Xanax-and-tonic to digest. The first time I did it, I waited until my son was 14 months old. The next time I waited six months because I knew waiting longer would make things much worse.

I have deleted most of my blog posts on parenting, but the sleep ones remain because I am still close enough to sleep training babies to remember how much it helped when another mom told me it’s okay to let them cry. So let me say it again: It’s okay when you’re ready and they’re ready and everyone is ready to have a Beyonce grade night of sleep. Just remember the old latin proverb that says if you sleep train a 5-month-old and potty train a 2-year-old in the same week you will die.

Lastly, I want to say that there is a difference between newborn sleeplessness and a six month old who wants to throw a 2am rager at the milk bar. If you are stuck in the former, may god bless you with coffee and an 1800s style night nurse who brings you a hot towel and then tucks you into bed for 12 hours (but probably just the first thing).    +

Happy sleeping, friend. Someday it will all be a memory.

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PS: Parenting manuals are the worst, but if you really do need a suggestion on methods, etc–this is my sleeping Bible. May the force be with you.

Weekend Links

April 7, 2017

 

1. Every few weeks someone emails me about baby led weaning. A great resource here.

2. Did anyone else watch Big Little Lies and wonder about those houses?? A look inside here.

3. One of my favorite authors just came out with a new book. Anyone else going to read?

4. How to breastfeed appropriately (made me laugh).

5. This pulled my heartstrings. Often on my mind!

6. My new favorite song from my friend Liz (Pink Feathers!). Volume UP and on repeat.

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Have a great weekend!

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Hope + Help For Syria

April 5, 2017

Yesterday morning, as many as 100 people were killed in a chemical attack in the Idlib province of Syria, southwest of Aleppo. Many of the dead are children.

Right now, Preemptive Love is responding to victims of the attack to provide things like medical care and help for families who were evacuated.

A wonderful and hope-filled chance to give here. Any donation, no matter how small, is helpful and needed. This organization is trusted and vetted non-profit making a huge difference across the globe.

There is no such thing as other people’s children.

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