My kids are 5 1/2 years apart. When I was pregnant with Eleanor the most common question I pondered and was asked, "Do you think they'll play together?" weighed on me. When our lives merged together the age gap wasn't an issue because they had separate lives: Oliver was in school and Eleanor was at home; they had different friends; they had different interests. But COVID changed their time apart, they are constantly together now. I grew tired of keeping their activities separate and desired more of a bonding learning experience. We started a morning learning lesson together and it quickly became our favorite time of the day. Here are the kid-approved activities that have cultivated more learning and connection between my kids, and I hope they'll serve yours in the same way.
A-is for Airplane
Tot-Let’s build an airplane. The kids have built 967 forts so they had the blanket and chair construction down pat. We use chairs and blankets to construct then talked about trips we had gone on and what could be found on an airplane.
2nd grader- Where would you fly? As my daughter continued to play, my son and I talked about places he’d like to visit. We looked on the globe and came up with 3 destinations. I asked: How long do you think it would take us to fly to those places? He made a few predictions then he looked up the times and charted them later that day.
B-is for Baking
Tot and 2nd grader- Baking an elaborate dessert can be very tricky with two kids in the kitchen. I recommend an easy-to-make muffin mix to add eggs and applesauce. Oliver preheated, broke eggs, and combined ingredients; Eleanor added applesauce, input muffin cups, and stirred. They quarreled to eventually take turns spooning the mix into the cups. Oliver controlled the baking timer and we all enjoyed the fruits of our labor afterward.
C-is for Colorful Cards and Carrots
Tot and 2nd grader- A schoolmate's mom is an ICU nurse here in San Diego. She requested that we make flyers and cards to encourage her team and patients. She set out a box in her front yard for drop off. I brought out our craft supplies: stickers, watercolors, markers, and crayons and a little carrot snack. Oliver was asked to write 4-5 inspirational shout-outs for the patients and healthcare staff while Elle was required to use lots of colors and discuss.
D-is for Dog
Tot- We are a dog-loving family, and I know from my rusty child development courses that life skills is a major topic to be shared with budding learners. We talked about all the things we do to take care of our dog; food, water, shelter, exercise. She then spent some time taking care of all her stuffed animals.
2nd grader- We have an awesome flap book (link) of every breed of dog. Oliver was asked to look through all of them and write a paragraph answering: “What kind of dog should we have next and why?” Prior to his writing we discussed temperament, compared our current dog, and size. He took those into account in his writing assignment.
E-is for Elephant
Tot- We have a subscription to Zoo News, a monthly magazine by San Diego Zoo, so we scoured it for pictures of elephants. Elle pointed them out and I cut them to be collaboratively taped onto a piece of paper- collage style. I wrote the word “Elephant” in the middle and discussed big E and little e.
2nd grader- Oliver was asked to look up the word elephant in our Children’s Dictionary and write the definition to be written underneath his free-hand drawing of an elephant. With the definition we were able to point out its tusks, environment, and size; these learned characteristics carried into his drawing.
F-is for Fish
Tot- I cut out a fish shape from an old paper plate and 1x1 inch squares of tissue paper. We all talked about scales together, and I help her glue each one on until she lost interest and just wants to throw the tissue paper and run around with the fish.
2nd grader-Ollie was asked to cut out his own fish shape and glue his on in more of an over lapped, scale fashion. We then predict and research why fish need scales. He also initiated a list of fish breeds he knows, which was very impressive.
G-is for Gummies in the Grass
Tot and 2nd grader-Nothing fancy here. Both the little and big kid agree that Amy’s bunny gummies are the best snack in the world. We talked about the letter G, other things that start with G, multiplication facts using the number of bunnies in the bag, but mostly sat in our backyard and enjoyed this coveted snack together. Not surprisingly, my daughter was able to spit out G is for Gummy for all family members when asked over the next several weeks- the other letters, not so much.
H- is for Horrifying Hat
Tot and 2nd grader- We save all of our Halloween costumes, mainly because I’m hoping that they’ll be recycled and the $50 swamp monster will be more than a single-use attire. Today they all came in handy. The kids scoured through the overflowing box and put together awesome combo costumes. I then asked them to tell me a story about their characters. It ended up turning into an impromptu role play that lasted for hours. My son drew and wrote a comic book with his character afterward. Bonus reading and writing time!
I-is for Ice cream
Tot and 2nd grader- Ice cream is novelty in our house. My dad, Paw Bear to the kids, has ice cream every night and is a steward of ice cream consumption. The kids were super excited about this one. You can make your own ice cream if you are ambitious; we decided to watch this episode of How Stuff is Made including Ben and Jerry's creation process, and I set up a mid-day ice cream buffet. It was magical.
J-is for Jumping
I remember going on of my son’s well check appointments and the doctor asked if he could jump. Great questions, doc! I watched his first jump right there in the doctor’s office. For my second, I have been jump-focused since she could walk, and we have the trampoline to prove it.
Tot and 2nd grader- Jump the Creek, Jumping Obstacle Course, Jump Rope Contest, Who Can Jump the Highest?
K-is for King
Tot and 2nd grader-My daughter is really into royalty, everyone is a king or princess; I built off that interest and used the letter K to make crowns and learn about a real royal family together. We used paper, glue, and writing utensils to create the crowns. Eleanor glued on sequence pieces for decoration. For my son, we used measurement (how many inches, cm is your head and your sisters, compare). Oliver had recently learned about King Tut stepping into his role at an early age so we read a bit about young royalty-very interesting. This research led to the inevitable question: What would you do if you were a king? Always fun to discuss together.
L-is for Lots of L Words
Tot and 2nd grade- When we sat down to chat about the letter L, my son poured out L words; they’re just so many! I set out some play dough and we crafted some of the L words we could think of: lips, lollipop, and lizard. The kids loved guessing mine, Ollie made a few, and Eleanor guessed then made play dough soup.
M- is for Music
Ok, this was hands down my favorite day. First off-I put on some drum circle tunes to set the mood. I pulled out a few toilet paper and paper towel roles, dried beans and rice, and tape. Oliver was assigned to measure the circles at the bottom and top of the rolls and Elle poured the rice and beans. We danced and played our instruments for quite a while. It was a perfect activity for a rainy day.
N- is for Nest
Our daily walks have naturally turned into a nature collection. Most days my pockets are filled with twigs, flowers, rocks, and pine needles. It gave me the idea to construct a nest together. We used all our findings with glue to shape into nests. While constructing we talked about how birds use nests and the bird life cycle.
O- is for Otter
Oliver has had an affinity for otters for years and the kids have really been into building forts. We piled our blankets, pillows, and even a yoga bolster to form an otter den. While snuggling in the den we read River Otter at Autumn Lane and discussed otters living in lakes and rivers and often take over old beaver dams to make into their own homes.
P-Pictures, Family Picture Album
We’ve done this activity several times since the quarantine. My husband and I moved to California from North Carolina so our family is far away and it’s been one of the most difficult parts of the pandemic. Printing pictures and organizing them into a photo album, led by the kids, has prompted many memories and smiles together. Eleanor will dictate the pictured event and Oliver will write down the caption in the album.
Q-Quiet Time, Spa Day
Homemade masks made with avocado and banana, painting nails, outdoor reading, and cucumber on the eyes while listening to nature sounds. All this after a good episode of Cosmic Kids.
R- is for Rain Collection
One of Oliver’s last projects for school featured a Venus flytrap and the instructions stated that it would thrive if given rainwater. We checked the weather and set up cups and marked measurements, later filled with rain and given to Snappy. Eleanor filled and poured water and counted along with us to be shared with the rest of our yard vegetation.
S- is for Store
Money has been a hot topic for Oliver, in both math practice and life. Eleanor’s favorite toy has been Lakeshore’s cash register and has moved all her tea party supplies to be store products ready to scan and price. It seemed natural to set up a store for them. I taped price tags on some pantry items and set them out, Oliver brought toys he was willing to sell to his sister. I gave him a pencil and paper to act as cashier. Eleanor loved choosing and adding her items to her shopping bag. A repeat activity for sure!
T- is for Talk
Two cans. One string. We did it. Oliver was tasked with embedding the hole with a nail (his favorite part) and Eleanor tested out how loud one might yell in the cans (her favorite part). After construction, the kids positioned themselves behind corners and talked. Afterward, we had a discussion about listening and the process of vibrations making it to and from our ears.
U- Under the Sea
Aquariums are one of our favorite spots. We decided to make our own aquarium equipped with octopus, fish, star fish, sea horse, and more. I placed mini sea creatures in kinetic sand so Eleanor could find them then Oliver created an aquarium map and glued each one in their spot.
2nd grade-Oliver loves cars and building. We worked together to construct and paint a wooden model car. He loved it and it was easy enough for him to do it mostly on his own.
Tot-Eleanor loves her Melissa & Doug, block building train set. She sat with Ollie and painted her train and discussed the parts that make it go while big brother built his car.
W- Who, What, Where, Why?
Eleanor has started to say, “I gotta ask you a question” and she respond with, “I want some milk.” It infuriates Oliver that her announcement doesn’t follow the promised question. Oliver set up a mini lesson for Eleanor to explain the difference between a comment and a question. Writing questions is a big part of the second-grade curriculum so it was a nice recap for Ollie too.
“I have something back here!” Eleanor said touching her back. “Yep, that’s your spine,” I responded. This led to our discussion about bones. We have a beautifully illustrated and interactive book about the human body a neighbor gave us, but you can also print out a picture of a skeleton that will work, too. For Eleanor we discussed the bones that she could feel in her body; what body parts they support; and connectivity in the skeletal system. For Ollie, he researched not only the bones but the muscular system and digestion.
Y- Young Inventors
Inventions are a daily discussion in our house; time machines, border line dangerous roller coasters, and robots to feed the dog. I found this great collection of young inventors article, printed it out and cut the words and pictures. Ollie read and matched the title and picture to the young inventor descriptions. Eleanor enjoyed learning about various machines in the pictures while Oliver did most of the matching.
Z- Zig Zag
Lines are a key foundation in art. We talked about Picasso and his famous pieces of thought-provoking bodies made with a single line. For Eleanor I used a chalk board to show straight, wavy, curly, and zig zag lines. For Oliver, I asked him to come up with his own drawing using various types of lines. (Lesson inspired by artattack.com).
The quarantine has made me reevaluate a lot of my relationships and crave deeper connections. We've stepped away from situations that produce casual conversation, like school drop-off and grocery store greetings; for the past months, if I am in a conversation with someone it has required a significant amount of forethought and planning-so the conversation better be good. They have been good. I have intentionally placed more effort in making my conversation more fulfilling for me and my conversation partner. I have been expanding conversation topics and digging into pieces that are revealing and inspiring. I am coveting the conversations with my girlfriends now more than ever.
An ingredient that I have added to my conversations with girlfriends is premeditated questions. It started with my first ever quarantine Zoom call with some dear high school friends. I was worried we’d get into a conversation lull and left staring at each other thinking “This is a total waste of a good wine buzz.” That didn’t happen, nor would it ever with this crew, but the fleeting concern prompted me to jot down some questions like: "Would you rather make out with a well-known English teacher or gym teacher?" (names will not be included in this article to protect the privacy of all involved) and "Whatever happened to that girl who brought sushi for lunch before it was cool, she was super quiet and sat behind Katie in 11th grade English?" The questions pulled us back and we reconnected to the seedlings of our friendship that have continued to grow past bad dates, college parties, failed tests, cross-country moves, jobs, and babies. I've decided the question experiment is a keeper.
The questions below are beneficial in two ways-they build a connection between two mamas and cause a "dreamer connection" where both moms can safely discuss their dreams and goals with comfort. This is a friendship gift worth millions. Once a conversation like this is initiated, it doesn't stop, you can continue to come back to it and check it with each other. The dreamer connection will strengthen and grow over time. And when a dream or the goal has been fulfilled you have a person to celebrate with who has been with you since it was first uttered.
The second benefit: the birth of your idea and goal is now solidified. You have shared in a safe place so now the two mama-genius minds will water and shed light on it until it has grown. I don't have a specific stat, but I'm confident that after sharing your goals or ideas with a friend they are 97.3% more likely to flourish. Back to the water and light-giving piece; if your mama friend knows of a way to support your goal, she will put it at the top of her priority list. Your mama friend is going to get so excited about supporting you- just like that time she researched the seat belt law for 3 hours and text you her conclusive findings after it was briefly mentioned or when she arrived at the beach with two wagons full of beach supplies so that you could hang with your newborn and not have to worry about the mounds of beach stuff (she even bought baby sunblock on the way...it WAS organic) or those times she watched your little one and brought dinner when your hubby was away for work; she will show up for you and do work so that you can fulfill your goal. She will pour her time, effort, and connections into your dream cup because all mamas just want to hang with each other by the pool sipping on large glasses of LIFE JOY.
Here are some questions to start your mama friend quest toward professional fulfillment together:
What fills your cup? AKA what do you sneak away to do when the baby is napping and you want to return your best self?
How are you different at home vs. at work? What strengths do you see in both sides of you?
What have you learned about yourself during quarantine?
What do you like most about your job?
If you could create your own job what would it be?
What's an important goal you want to accomplish this year?
What's been the most meaningful project you've ever worked on? Why?
What magazine subscription would you sign up to receive? Why?
If you went back to school, what would you study? Why?
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
What's an invention you've thought of recently?
If your kids could watch you at work, what would you want them to see?
What are you most proud of professionally thus far?
Tell me about a memorable/fulfilling workday.
How can I help you accomplish your next professional goal?
Do you have more questions that have brought about a supportive partnership for you and a friend, please share!
Strategize 20 Minute Attention Pockets to Prevent Tearful Blow-ups and Build More Connection with your Kids
You can give a child the entire toy aisle of Target and they will still want your attention. Attention seeking is one of the top motivators for negative behaviors. Right now, parents worldwide are preoccupied with pandemic-stricken news and an oversaturated struggle to tackle work and life balance leaving children frustrated and longing for attention.
When I started brainstorming ways to tackle negative attention-seeking behaviors, I sought out Nicole, founder of Meetings and Motherhood. We come equipped with years of experience balancing work and child-rearing at home backed with degrees in Child Development and on-the-job counseling with emotionally struggling children. We’ve come up with 5 opportunities to build in 20-minute attention pockets throughout the day to proactively address negative attention-seeking behaviors in your home. Let’s dive in!
Breakfast is Ready
With morning transit time cut-out for most, we have more time to sit down and give our kids attention that will fulfill their emotional needs making the upcoming tasks ahead more pleasant. Nicole mentions planning the day is a way she and her daughter bond, and we’ve done the same. Using breakfast time to hash out goals for the day, ask about their dreams, and share funny stories will put your best foot forward. Dr. Munson echoes the importance of this by clarifying, “Giving attention doesn’t mean meeting all of your child’s demands at every turn. Rather, it means engaging with them consistently and lovingly each day.”
Breath of Fresh Air
After weeks of confined quarantine, we are able to get out of the house with less fear than in the months prior. Starting out our days with a quick dose of nature has brought about a serious mood shift for my kids and me. The Child Mind Institute finds that exposure to the outdoors boosts confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, teaches responsibility, and reduces stress, amongst a myriad of other perks. In my house, the 20-minute walk has provided an opportunity for us to connect first thing then focus on work and school when we return. Nicole has found that an after lunch outdoor wiggle session works best in her house, either way, we intentionally connect with the kids and nature together.
Teach Each other
The response to “How was your day?” was the high-level understanding of our kids’ school days, now we know every minute of it. But with our pull to match pre-covid work accomplishments, often times we aren’t able to capture learning together. My second grader gets the brunt of his work done while my toddler naps. In the beginning I would set up our computers side-by-side and expect him to figure it out. His productivity was low, and my frustration was high. I have now dedicated the first quarter of our time to learn something with him. We do his work together. I ask him questions about what he thinks and prompt him to think about pieces of his work a little deeper. He still needs direction to stay focused and accomplish his list of coursework but showing him from the beginning that I’m invested has helped us to build a connection through his schoolwork.
Lunch Business Makes Way for Dinner Prep Bonding
Nicole and I talked about lunchtime being a theoretical attention time, but it rarely works out that way. By circumstance, it’s a time that we know the kids are sitting and occupied which frees up a chance to throw in laundry and send a quick email. Dinner prep has been a new activity we do together. Nicole tasks her older daughter to feed the baby, Oliver is tasked with cutting up veggies or making drinks, and my two-year-old, Eleanor, throws silverware on the table. It’s chaotic and fun and we are together.
Post-Dinner Family Activity
You work the whole day to get to dinner and after it’s done there’s still a chunk of time before bedtime starts. Some days this time can be daunting but Nicole and I have agreed that it can be a time to fill your child’s attention cup. Nicole shared, “Kennedy has come up with a game where she puts colors in a cup then you find that color in the house and hide behind it.” We’ve played hide and seek, built a fire and told stories, and dusted off some board games. No matter what works for your family, intentionally using this time to put your phone down and connect with your kids while making for a smoother bedtime routine.
As we round out our list of opportunities, we must acknowledge that building in more connection time is mutually beneficial in that it helps us to feel like better moms allowing us to feel better about that aspect of our lives and perpetuating more positive interactions with our children.
Thanks so much, Nicole Poff for your help and invaluable insights for this article. Please visit her at meetings&motherhood on Instagram.
What attention pockets have been working for your family? Please share!
How to Build a Long-lasting Working Mom/SAHM Blended Mom Tribe: Guidelines found through new and decade-old mom tribe interviews
In the mama world, there’s a debate going on. I’m here to squash it. It’s about mom tribes. The most essential component of mothering success and sanity. Many moms theorize that it’s impossible to have a blended working/SAHM mom tribe. Nope, not true. Here are 6 guidelines to build your tribe and sustain it for decades, yep-decades, I interviewed mom tribes that have been together for a WHILE.
The more you surround yourself with the same people, the more likely you are to become friends. I interviewed a friend group and the sociologist in the tribe let us ramble on for nearly 30 minutes about this theory to then mutter “oh yea, that’s propinquity.” Propinquity is critical in building your mom tribe. Whether your working or staying at home, you can still find consistency in activities with your child. Some of the top locations which fostered mom friends that have worked for me, and the women I’ve interviewed, are: parks, toddler or kid classes, YMCA, swimming pools, preschools/schools, and kid-friendly restaurants. You may read this list and think that you are literally living in these places, but the key is to find consistency in the days and times you frequent a location and connect with other people there. Let’s focus on that last piece, connecting with other moms may sound incredible intimidating especially if you are a new mom or have just moved to an area or have social anxiety. Connecting doesn’t have to be a huge display of communication, you can just say hi and see where it goes.
Mom Tribe Motives
One topic which threads through my conversations with mom tribes was “we all like to do the same thing.” When this was said, I immediately envisioned the various types of moms and what they might do together, the athletic mom, Pinterest mom, career mom, etc. there is probably some meme out there with a better visual but you get the point. After some investigation, I found that mom group activities are not category contingent; rather, they were all content bringing their kids together and hanging at a park or back yard. With working and SAHMs there is an invisible barrier regarding activities and times which precludes blended mom tribes from happening, but in reality, we are all doing the same activity. If you are working 40 hours a week in a fancy office or wearing sweatpants and cleaning up homemade baby food messes all day, you both want to sit down and watch your children play together while you have a relaxing conversation about mom stuff. Weekends are a good time for mom tribe hangs regardless of working or SAHM, we all want a connection with other moms.
Share the Social Chair
So mom tribe hangs don’t have to be fancy; just the babies, the mamas, toys, nature, snacks- easy. One guideline to sustain a long-lasting mom tribe is alternating social initiations. If one mom is the social chair holding the responsibility of hosting and organizing playdates it may become overwhelming and disenchanting for said mom and those in the group. When each mom is a social stakeholder then everyone is engaged and feels valued, and these qualities are vital for any long-lasting relationship. This topic bubbled up in my interviews and I found in some cases, a mom would show insecurities about their house or work hours or the long list of insecurities we all embody, and when these insecurities debilitated her from initiating a gathering it caused friction. In your mom tribe, you must supportively encourage every mom to be involved because playdates are the lifeline of a long-lasting mom tribe.
“People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.” Brene Brown, 2016. I’ll be the first to admit that I try really hard to seem put-together but those actions haven't opened me up to new, meaningful connections. I think this is the start of the complexities when blending working and SAHM mom tribes, we don’t think we share the same hardships and mom stories-but we really do. Opening up and telling a vulnerable story turns an acquaintance into a friend and a casual group into a mom tribe. A couple of quick ideas-birth stories and mother-in-law rants, but keep it condensed and always ask for others to share their stories too.
When your child(ren) is young you are the most vulnerable and in need of a community. It’s not just you. All moms are seeking out a tribe to cling to for healthcare advice or parenting tips or restaurants that serve free kid food on Tuesdays. There are so many questions in the first few years which makes it a perfect time to spawn friendships with other moms. Don’t wait until your child is in elementary school or is able to conduct their own conversations. Whether you’re working or not, take the initiative to start conversations with other parents, these will form long-lasting friendships for you and your children.
Smaller is Better
No mom wants an actual village of friends. Too many group texts. Too many names and allergies to remember, and there’s difficulty in making true connections when there are so many stories and voices. In my opinion, keeping your mom tribe to 2-4 is best. It usually works best when you have a close connection with a friend then you can add another as the situation presents itself.
All moms need someone to call during potty training immersion and preschool search support. We are all looking for connection, your next friend may be reading this at the YMCA snack bar two tables from you. Look around and say hi, mama.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Monday morning drop-offs. There's no amount of caffeine, uplifting kids tunes or Pinterest-worthy lunch menu items that can stave away the case of the drop-off blues. You get into the weekend flow with slow mornings and leisurely activities then BAM! back to Monday.
I've just reintroduced the drop-off routine with my second and it is tough. I know that nearly 10 minutes after I'm gone her tears have dried and she is dancing around and eating berries (proof in text pictures), but the drop-off is HARD. To wrap myself in comfort on the car ride away, I have come up with a few mama mantras to conjure a positive spin on my day. Here they are:
Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash
1. "We've got to share our love. We share so much love together, now it's time to love others too. Baby, love makes the world a better place so let's spread it around."
I believe in this so much. The love between a mother and child is so sacred. Allowing your child to love others and for you to do the same can deepen your appreciation for one another. My son started pre-school at three and found his soulmate, aside from me, a blonde-haired, glasses-clad boy named Samuel. They have been best friend for four years now. Though they've been in seperate school for most of their friendship, we stay connected via mom texts, postcards, play dates and a deep internal appreciation for one another and imaginative stories that no one else understands. We have visited Samuel in Switzerland and driven hours to celebrate his birthday in the desert. I love seeing my son light up in this friendship. My admiration for him has grown by witnessing the love he has for others.
2. "What will we learn? The most beautiful part of life is learning and growing, we can do that together by learning more while we are apart. Let's learn together, my love."
I know how to take turns; I know how to pass the milk; I know the ABCs. But my daughter is learning those things. What will she learn in grasping early childhood concepts? Experiential learning through relationships is incredibly important for children. Melborne Child Psyschology states, "Experiential learning is collaborative and enables children to work out their own unique strategy (with some support), rather than following a set formula to arrive at an answer. They will be more likely to think creatively in the future..." Allowing your child to have the opportunity to learn with others is a beautiful gift.
Not to mention, mamas, we need to learn too. "It [learning] is a core need for psychological well being. Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy. It can also be a way of connecting with others too." say Vanessa King, positive psychology expert (Psychologies, 2015). Giving yourself the space and capacity to learn and connect with others, whether it is 5 or 40 hours a week, is a gift to yourself and your child.
3. "I want to show you my strength and give you the opportunity to build yours."
Working in the home or outside of the home is empowering. The confidence gained by contributing to your household and community in a meaningful way is sure to reflect into your children's views of work and life, thus influencing their future life decisions. The New York Times (2015) sites a study finding daughters of working mothers are more likely to achieve higher education and supervisory roles and sons more likely to take on more childcare and housework responsibilities. I talk to my kids about going to work a few days a week and making the sacrifice of working until midnight (or later) most nights. I tell them about the people I influence and support; they can hear my pride and I know it shapes the way they view work. My husband works a lot but thoroughly enjoys what he does, his company and work family. Opening the door to work and allowing our children to see it as a positive contribution to our lives, outside of its financial benefits, will help shape the workforce of our future.
Drop off will continue to be tear-filled, drenched in guilt but when we shake that off a bit, I hope these mantras will help you to feel good about the rest of your day, leaving you happier when you return to your kids. Do good work, mama.
In the back of a rental car whizzing through France, I wrote the passage below. We were on a trip with my mother-in- law and after days of awkward interactions and hiding behind a self-made wall of negativity I had blamed on her, I realized I had built this wall and it was ugly. Ugly for me and my kids to see. It hit me like a ton of bricks: I had a control issue and it had tarnished my relationship with my husband’s parents and my parents. Writing how I saw control and how I wanted to abolish it was incredibly cathartic.
I have never been a control freak but when I had my first baby the need for control was palpable. I had to know everything and make every decision. Control hardened me. Now that I’ve seen it all I can do it try to combat it, try to be more open and see the hardships that have grown from it. Control does not make me a good mom.
The need for control, like a growing Opuntia, manifested when I became pregnant now it has settled.
I see it strike and sting.
I justify it with my catalyzed parenting ideology. I let it course through my thoughts, isolating me.
Control closes me off, control breeds resentment, control cultivates insecurity.
After days of sitting in its muck, sprinkled with salty interactions and forceful pushes away,
I see it. I’m the mother octopus with heavy tentacles; I let them wrap around their pudgy wastes.
I see my venomous eyes searing- my way, my way, my way.
Control has made me ugly.
Stop. See. Melt.
Pour it all out, mama.
Control is an illusion.
There’s more than one way to put the babe back to bed.
There’s more than one way to feed the babe.
There’s more than one way to dress, bathe, love, cuddle, play, talk, share, seeeeeeee the babe.
Empty yourself of the need for the darkness of control.
Let love, light, flexibility and acceptance fill me.
Recharge me, I pray, the fight is too hard with too much sadness and anger. I can’t push anymore.
Come in, show me your way. Let me see. Let me accept.
Time is cyclical. It will return to me and be only mine.
Let’s share, give and receive.
Have you struggled with mama control? How has it impacted your life? I’d love to hear your experience and how you’ve combated it.
I want to be a good mom. After I had my son, Oliver, I aspired to fit an unattainable mold of a good mom; I wanted to be as caring as Mother Theresa, with the grace of Princess Diana, the body of Jessica Alba, and the wisdom of Oprah–everyday, all the time. I read parenting books, hand-made countless cognitive inspiring baby activities, prepared the most wholesome baby food; I worked my ass off to show my husband, my family, on looking strangers and my son that I was created to be the most incredible mother to ever live.
I was one dimensional.
I was exhausted.
I was losing myself.
After having my second, Eleanor, I realized that I was trying to do everything and be everything for my children, and now with two I couldn’t keep up. I still try to be everything for them, but I have taken a step back and thought of a way to feel more successful as a mother EVERY DAY.
I realized all my exhaustive efforts were fueled by an abstract motivation-Good Mom. But what is that? When I began to question my motives I yearned for a definition, something tangible, maybe even a check-list to anchor me down when I began to spin out of control grabbing for the vision of mother idol that had been built in my mind by my husband, my family, books, friends, tv shows, social media, child development courses, and comparisons with other mothers. I was creating a vision based off all my external influences and had neglected my own voice of mother’s intuition, so I stopped spinning, sat quietly and asked: What is important to you? What will validate you as a good mother? I lived in this question, wrote, pondered and only discussed with myself. I derived a short list. I found three things that I committed to do every day that will fulfill my definition as a good mom.
But first, I made rules for my short list.
Rule #1: The action must be attainable every day.
I wrote down, “Uphold a clean room and household” and quickly erased it. I actually marked it out with a bold red marker. I decided that I couldn’t do that every day and cleanliness is not an action that contributes to my definition as a good mom. I also envisioned myself trying to live up to this self-imposed expectation and immediately became cranky and stressed. This definition should free you from these feelings as its motive is to keep you connected to your true mama essence, Ommmmm.
Rule #2: The action must connect with your own personal values.
The reason for building your own personal definition of a good mom is to make you happy. I decided my definition had to align with my values as a person; otherwise, I’d just feed into the external vision of motherhood that drove me crazy. I question: What are your values? How can your definition grow from that? What do you want to look like as a mother, everyday?
Rule #3: The action must be simple and take 5 minutes or less.
Life is busy for everyone. Not just for moms, but especially for mom. I decided the actions which make up my definition must be simple and take five minutes or less. This way I can commit to doing them at least once a day, possibly more than once.
Ok-so here’s the definition I prescribed myself to be a good mom.
1. I will look my kids in the eyes every day.
2. I will read to (or with) my kids every day.
3. I will feed my kids at least one green thing every day.
Check, check, check. Done. Voila- I’m a good mom. I have committed to fulfilling these three things every day. Of course, I will continue to pack a healthy lunch, dive into hour long Pinterest searches for enrichment activities, have heart to heart conversations, give them embarrassing hugs after soccer practice, and wash behind their ears AND if I have an off day and my work is overwhelming and my husband is on a business trip and our dog has shit all over the house and I haven’t washed my hair in a couple days, I CAN commit to accomplishing my short list thereby going to bed every night (after an easy day or hard day) satisfied because I have fulfilled my own definition of a good mom.
I want to add a brief caveat: my short list is NOT set in stone. It is flexible and open to be revisited. But a prerequisite is to go through the laws and abide by those prior to redefining.
I’m writing this because I may not be the only mama in the world needing a code to settle into a heart-centered vision of motherhood. Maybe creating a short list will help another mama? Either way, this article has been beautifully cathartic for me. I appreciate a platform to share.
You’re exhausted, your body is in a unique state of transition (to put it nicely) and you have a perfect, tiny human needing your care and attention 24/7. Husband? What husband?
In the busyness of the first six weeks home, medical professionals do mothers a favor by banning intercourse. Upon the postpartum run down, my doctor explicitly pointed this out to my husband with the tone and eye gaze of a high school principal. After my first son was born my husband and I walked around like zombies cycling through anxiety, sleep deprivation, baby joy and back to anxiety. We lost touch with our relationship because we had renamed our relationship, converting our label from “married” to “parents”; thereby, replacing all the marriage romance with the overwhelming responsibility of parents. This Thursday will be the six week postpartum anniversary for our second child and we have exercised a completely different balance in marriage and parenting this go-around, allowing ourselves to juggle these labels with much more grace. Here are 7 things we did differently.
1. Nest Cam Debauchery
I'm writing this first because it is the most fun. Of course, the Nest Cam is not completely necessary, you can use any baby camera devise, but the Nest Cam is especially lust-friendly because your husband can sneak a peek at work or wherever he is. Some examples include: G- rated strip tease (while baby is sleeping) or intercom stating “great job, sexy mama!”
2. Everything But...
Yes, 6 weeks, or longer if prescribed, is a long time to wait to have intercourse again but there are lots of other fun things to do with your spouse in the bedroom, and if your co-sleeping, on the couch, and if your in-laws are staying for a month, the car or bathroom. Now is the time to reflect on your high school days! Start with good ‘ol fashion make out sesh and see where it leads.
3. Nap Time is You Time
Don't you dare fold the laundry while your baby is sleeping! Nap time is the most sacred time for you and your husband. Take this time to nap together, snuggle, have a non-baby related conversation, or cook together (which I've read is an aphrodisiac possibly leading to ideas discussed in #2). Whatever you do, do it together. You'll be happier, more connected parents when the baby wakes.
4. Sexy Sitting
Between feeding, facilitating optimal sleep positioning, and skin-to-skin time, get your ass ready-Girl, you're gonna be sitting A LOT. Why not make some of your sitting time a little sexier? You can watch a sexy show, we became addicted to Californication- good grief David Duchovony is delicious, and looks like my husband a bit, Ha-back to #2 :) You could also read a love scene abundant book or Cosmo magazine always has spicy articles. The point here is to remind yourself that you can still be beautiful, strong and sexy as a new mom.
5.Hot Dad Alert!
Bringing your adorable baby home is one of the most incredible times in a woman's life. It is also the most terrifying time in a man's life. It's hard for guys. They don't know what to do and they have moved down a rung, or two, on the priorities poll. If you see your partner trying to making an effort to help out, PRAISE him with "thanks, babe", "you're a great dad" or "you look so hot wearing the baby carrier". This is mutually beneficial; he feels good, you feel good, and it is likely to happen again. In my opinion, positive praise is vital to a high-functioning parenting partnership. And when you are both happy working together to take care of the new babe it contributes to your marriage.
Good luck out there new mamas! Take care of yourself, your baby and don't forget about your marriage.
He listened to Jock Jams Volume 3 through his headphones while the nurse inserted the speculum in my vagina. I peered over to see the start of a smile spread across his lips and his head gently bobbing. Outside the jovial noise in his earphones:
“Can we ask a doctor to check?”
“CAN YOU CHECK AGAIN?!?”
Rage began to build. I wanted to scream at her face dabbled with pity and kick the monitor with my socked foot, but I had to keep it together; I didn’t want to interrupt his favorite part, Dick Vitale shouting “Oh! America, are you serious!”
I laid and felt tone deaf as she explained my options. Something about a blood test and potential bleeding seemed to float out of her mouth and evaporate among the sterile white walls. My hand, which was resting on my chest, the place where it lands when I’m feeling worried, found the golden necklace I had bought at a boutique shop a few days before. My fingers skimmed the ridges of the three elephants, one mama followed by two babies. One for my son, who contently sat in a chair beside the head of the bed, and one for the babe, growing. I was so excited to wear the necklace and had saved it for the doctor's visit and planned to covet it in a drawer waiting to be added to the hospital bag. I just couldn’t wait to put it on. That morning as a I clasped the ends, dreams of two children filled me with Christmas morning excitement and I felt it warming the charms of the necklace. Laying on the cold, paper covered bed, the necklace chilled.
We packed up, checked out, and made our way to the elevator. As the elevator descended to the parking garage, one tear grew to thousands; I tried to keep them sealed within the folds of my eyelids but one escaped and the rest followed. He looked up at me and asked, “What’s wrong, mama?” I collapsed to my knees and held him around the waist, allowing my weight to be held up by his 39 pound frame. I murmured, “I just love you so much.” I cried as we walked to the car, tears pouring as I snapped his car seat, closed his door, dropped into the drivers seat... STOP. We have a play date and a birthday party. You have to get your shit together.
“Nearly one million miscarriages occur in the U.S. a year” (2015, Time). This number doesn’t make the occurrence any easier. As I carried myself through a sea of numb melancholy the following days, I was approached with waves of deep sadness and anger. Haunting whispers came from the dark places of my mind, “You are carrying around a dead baby.” I began to bleed, we went in for the procedure, and I asked the doctor to check one more time. A visualized a perfect movie scene in my mind’s eye:
A heart beat!
There wasn’t a prenatal knight in shining armor….I fearfully stared at the white, surgical masked faces and counted back from one hundred.
I returned to work, packing lunches, washing dishes; I cycled through emotions, spinning around in a washing machine of various colors of depression. Friends and family showered me with stories of hope and gratitude, but I couldn’t take on these stories; I was consumed with my own. Few, who had been through this themselves simply said, “I’m so sorry.” I’ve decided this was the most perfect response. Those three words seem to feel light and send a temporary buoy for my sinking ship. I lived and tried each day to modify my story of sadness into something more hopeful.
The haunting questions: ‘What did I do wrong?’
‘Why didn’t she want to stay with me?’
‘What will I do now?’
‘Why didn’t God support my plan?’
Time moved me. Time moved me. Time moved me.
It has been over a year. The questions faded and I grew brave enough to try again.
I’m holding a baby girl that is the most precious piece of love pie. Her poutty lips and sleepy breath rest on my chest now as I type. It is the most glorious feeling. I had saved the elephant necklace and strung it around my neck the first day I arrived home from the hospital. I wore it for days, refusing to take it off. Then, one day after getting out of the shower, the elephant necklace broke. I realized I had been carrying the fear and worry with it. Despite having a healthy baby girl, the fear still stayed with me. Insecure questions intruded my blissful gratitude interrupting the sacred time with my dear baby girl. With the separation of the chain, I decided to depart from my loss. The experience of losing a baby would always stay with me but I had to allow the goodness of the present moment to override my buried sorrow. I think about the power of the broken necklace and the realization that came of it, I remember the one million women sinking in the same sea of sorrow I found myself in. Let us all see the beauty in the present and allow ourselves to let go of the sadness to allow goodness and joy to find us.
Some days the washing machine of cycling thoughts can be suffocating. Schedules, chores, clothes, playdates, sleeping, eating; ending just to start over again. It’s hard to find time to tap into your heart song. We are all creative people, and getting in touch with your creative medium is soul satisfying for you and beneficial for your children. Creative projects give you ambition, pride and allow your mind and heart to spin together. A creative mama gives her children inspiration and genuine joy. If you are reading this and thinking you’re not a creative person, I call bullshit. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and she writes that everyone has a gift hidden within them and our purpose is to find it. She writes: “Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” Could we search for this hidden creativity amidst the piles of laundry and dirty diapers? I believe if we refuse to unearth our creativity it could waste away. What a scary thought. Here are some ways we can integrate more creativity whilst serving our motherly duties.
1. Empty Mind Time
We live in a world of information gluttony. In most conversations we can’t help but to reach for our phone to answer a hypothetical question, and for many, our phone’s information is the first thing we see when we wake and the last thing before we close our eyes. With the influx of information, it’s impossible to allow your mind’s creativity to churn. I propose to find a block of time where you do something semi-monotonous and let your mind run wild. Since being at home with my second child, I go for a jog most days after I take my first to school. She takes a nap in the stroller and I run up and down the same street every day. I allow myself to ask questions, think of ideas and play with their possibilities. It is sacred. I achieve more creativity in 30 minutes than the rest of my entire day. You may find that activities such as folding laundry, gardening, washing dishes or cooking serve as your “empty mind time.” Reflect on your day and question if there is any activity that you do every day which requires little conscious effort to enable your subconscious to thrive.
2. Creative Accountability Partner
My junior year in high school I joined weight watchers. I was about 15 pounds over my ideal weight and overheard my mom talking about it so I decided to join a meeting at a local community center. I was by far the youngest and thinnest person there. As I sat through the meeting, when my initial embarrassment and insecurities melted away, I noticed the community and accountability surrounding me. Each person hopped on the scale and was greeted with applause at the descent of the scale. I believe accountability is essential in success; cultivating more creativity is no exception. Ask a friend to join you and hold you accountable for your creativity. You don’t necessarily have to embark on an identical creative journey, just connect and talk about it. For example, you might share with a friend that you want to do one creative project per month, then make a date to have coffee and talk about the project. If you’re not feeling ready to embark on a project you could just ask a friend to accompany you to an art museum, craft fair, book signing or yoga class. The most essential part is to add another person to you journey.
3. Write Down your Ideas and Act on Them
To piggy back on my first idea I shall add a caveat. Another theme within Big Magic is movement of ideas. Basically, if we don’t do anything with our creative ideas, they will leave us and find another person who will act on it. This may be an abstract idea and I’m not suggesting that you must buy in to this theory in order to become a creative mama; what I am saying is that you should write down your ideas. I believe once an idea is on paper, tablet, phone or diaper it becomes tangible with potential to grow.
4. Look out for Inspiration
As a mother you are surrounded by the most beautiful creatures, your children; however, it is helpful to widen your scope. It is easy to get wrapped up in the distribution of snacks and the order of a household, but it can totally shift your perspective to stop and absorb your surroundings. Don’t do this in the middle of your play room while shit has hit the fan–that is not inspiration! I mean when you’re at the park and your child is playing take a deep breath and notice the movement of the trees and the scent of the sand. These inspirations may lead you to painting, drawing, music or fashion design. Inspiration speaks to the creativity resting inside and can empower it to rise to your consciousness.
5. Sit With your Kids
Anyone who has ever worked with kids in some capacity knows that you are not the teacher, children teach you. Kids are creative geniuses. They think about things through a raw lens. Asking your children questions, laughing at their antics and soaking up there energy will make you a more creative person. You may allow your children to influence your chosen creative medium. If you find that you feel alive while coloring, ask your kids to color with you outside, maybe even throw down several different kinds of paper, pastels and color pencils allow your creativity to roll together. Or if you find yourself connecting with acro yoga, move around with your children, lift them up and notice how they move and move together. Your creativity can be amplified by opening up to your children and receiving their influence.