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hard

I Still Love Being a Mom, But…

I still love being a mom…

…but lately I feel like I’m losing my mind a little bit. It feels like the baby fusses All. The. Time. and no amount of scheduling or cuddling or feeding or sleeping or playing seems to do the trick. And the constant fussing is wearing on me like sandpaper.

I still love being a mom…

…but lately I feel like I’m failing all three of my kids. The baby fusses. The toddler refuses to eat anything but crackers and her new favorite word is “NO”. The oldest was watching me play with the baby the other day and burst into tears because she wished SHE could be the baby. (Translation: mom is spending too much time trying to get the baby to smile and the toddler to cooperate and the oldest is getting the pathetic attention leftovers.) Sigh.

I still love being a mom…

…but I feel ashamed that this feels so hard. Ashamed that I can’t give them all the love and attention they deserve. Ashamed to think I’ve failed them in some way, big or small. Ashamed that I didn’t get the laundry put away again today. Ashamed that I forgot to have my oldest practice her spelling words before her test today. Ashamed that I have to lean on my husband so much for help with kids and housework when I stay home all day to be able to do those things. Ashamed that I feel ashamed.

I still love being a mom…

…but I wonder what I will do next. Once they need me a little less. When the next phase of parenting looks more like role modeling. Then who will I be? And how will this time spent at home have changed that path?

I still love being a mom…

…but being a mom isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s very rarely easy. Every day is a struggle with patience, with balancing structure and flexibility, with balancing routine and creativity, with balancing their needs and my own. Every day is a struggle to know what the “right” thing to do is.

Every day is a struggle to cook a healthy meals the toddler will actually eat while the baby is fussing to be held.

Every day is a struggle to load two little people into carseats and navigate school pickup.

Every day is a struggle to explain to a toddler why she can’t watch Frozen for the fourth time in a row or eat candy all morning.

Every day is a struggle with loneliness, with finding time to read or write so I don’t become a ghost.

Every day is a struggle in its own way.

But I still love being a mom.

I love that when the baby fusses, I’m there to pick her up. I love that even though the toddler is a handful sometimes, I get to be there to watch her wear her Elsa dress all day and sing over and over again until she gets it just right. I love that I get to be the one to greet my oldest after school each day, to ask how her day went and help with her homework. I love these little people So. Much. it hurts. I love these days at home with them So. Much.

In some ways, that makes the fact that it is hard even harder. Like, if I love them this much, if I love this stay-at-home gig so much, it shouldn’t be this hard.

But the truth is, I know that no matter what I do with my days, stay home with littles or go to work, there will be good days and bad days. Yet for some reason it feels more acceptable to have bad days at work. Expected even. But bad days as a parent feel like shame. Like failure. Like it shouldn’t be this hard. If I loved this enough.

It’s a lot of pressure.

Probably it’s because I care so much, so deeply.  I am more invested in this “job” than any other. The stakes are higher.

Or maybe it’s just because my children know how to make me crazy.

Either way, the hard days are real. The days where I want need to sit down and write a blog post because I haven’t for so long, and yet the only thing in my exhausted brain to write about is how hard it is sometimes.

So I pray the baby sleeps a little longer and I bribe the toddler with a tube of crackers and I tell the truth.

That I still love being a mom, even when it feels like it shouldn’t be this hard.

Careless

  
The hard parenting days have been accumulating like dust. One after the other until I feel like I’m in a haze. Until I feel like I am muddling through instead of being intentional.

It was a long day. I know it was. We drove to Lincoln and back, we went to the zoo, we picked up our new minivan and dropped off our old car. Things that you forget are a lot for a four year old. 

We got home and were rushing about getting ready to go on to the next step of the day. She was playing with her sister and making her laugh. I reminded her probably three times, each time I passed through the room on the way to the next thing, to “be careful” “be gentle” “be kind” with her baby sister. The next time I walked into the room, I found her trying to pick up baby sister with one hand.

I lost it. 

The day, all the days before, it all came to a head and I lost it. I hauled her to her room and yelled. I yelled that I couldn’t believe she would do that. What was she thinking. Had she not heard me a hundred times telling her to be careful. She knew better. How could she. 

I told her I was so mad I couldn’t think straight. And that she was not to come out of her room. I paced. I fumed. Every time I closed my eyes or tried to regain my composure, I saw her being careless with our sweet baby and I lost it all over again. I went back in and yelled more. When she didn’t respond the way I wanted, I stormed out again. Then back in to yell more. Then out again. And every time I went back in it got worse. 

And then I burst into tears. Because I feel helpless. I googled “what to do when sibling doesn’t seem to care they are hurting baby” and nothing helped. I called and texted my go-to friend until she answered.

And thank God she answered. 

She listened to my tears. She encouraged me. She reminded me this is normal. She reminded me that my child was just that… A child. She was my cheerleader. Thank God she answered. 

And so I wept and wept and then I took a breath. I went back inside and I fed my child and bathed her. And sat her down on her bed and I said,

“Today has been hard. This evening was hard. I know you’re feeling a lot and so we will talk more about this tomorrow. But I would like it a lot if you could listen to me. Really listen with all your heart. And hear just a few things. And let them be in your brain and your heart while you sleep tonight. And we will talk more tomorrow. 

The first thing I would like you to hear is that I love you. I love you with all my heart and soul and strength. You are my world and I am your mama and I will do everything I can to take care of you and keep you safe in this big world. And I will always love you. Always. 

She gets uncomfortable in serious talks, bless her heart, so she wanted to talk about mama fighting bad guys with swords. And I said yes, I would do whatever it takes, and we could talk more about that tomorrow, but right now I just needed her to hear my love. 

And then I told her the second thing I needed her to hear: that she was good. She was good good good. Amazing and smart and beautiful. That even on the days where it felt like she was in trouble all day, even on the days where she did bad things, that no part of her was bad. I could see how beautiful and sweet and kind her heart was and I was so proud to be her mama. 

And third, I could see how hard today was for her. I could see that she missed dad, that changing cars was a big deal, and that it was a long and tiring day. And I knew that sometimes on hard days we feel overwhelmed and we don’t know what to do. And that now, on bad days, she has to share mama with sister and that feels hard. I told her I was trying. That being a mama was like learning how to swim. It took a long time and a lot of practice and you just had to keep getting better slowly and that I was always trying to get better. And that sister was still new, and that it wouldn’t feel this hard forever. 

And then I told her the fourth and final thing, and that it was important. That I thanked God every night for making me her mama. Because that meant God trusted me to help her find the good and pure and beautiful and special things that were in her heart that weren’t in anyone else’s heart. That she was amazing because there wasn’t another heart like hers in the whole world. And that I was so lucky to get to learn about her special heart. 

And that baby sister, even though she just seems like a baby, that she had a special heart too. A heart different from anyone else’s heart. And that God thought we were the perfect family to help unwrap this beautiful gift of a heart. And because there was no other heart on earth like hers or baby sister’s, that we had to be careful and take care of each other and those special hearts. 

And I cried and told her I was sorry that I had been so frustrated with her and so impatient. I told her that even though I got mad at her for her big energy, that I knew she would use that energy to change the world and make it a better place. And she looked and me and said,

“Mama, I already have changed the world.”

And so I bawled and I drank wine. And I said out loud to my husband, but mostly to myself, that I was ashamed of how I had treated her today. Because she was a child. Yes, she was smart and maybe she knew better. But she is still a child, with big feelings that she doesn’t know what to do with yet and big thoughts that she doesn’t understand yet and that she isn’t bad. She isn’t bad. She isn’t the bad guy here, and I’ve treated her like one. I coo and awe over her baby sister and then I yell at her to slow down, be better, stop. And she just needed her mama to slow down and see her. 

I have yelled and yelled at her to stop being careless with her baby sister. But I have been careless with her. I can see it in her sweet little eyes when she looks at me. She is learning who she is, but until she had the skills to figure it out for herself, she will believe whatever I believe about her. Whatever story it is I tell about her, she will believe. And she will tell that same story about herself. 

And for the past few weeks, my tone of voice, my lack of patience, my anger and frustration, have told her that she is bad and wrong. That she is too much. 

Realizing this breaks my heart. 

And makes me feel relieved, that I realized it now. That I can wake up tomorrow and do my best to start fresh. With a different story. A better story. I can teach her what she needs to learn, about self awareness and self control, without making her believe that she is bad or broken. 

Because she isn’t. She is perfect. And I am so unbelievably blessed to be her mama. I hope someday she knows how much she has taught me. About being careless or care-full. About love and hard days. About how easy it really is to change someone’s world. 

Because you have, baby girl. You’ve changed my world for the better. More than you’ll ever know. 

April 16, 2015

  

My grandpa passed away peacefully this morning, after his children made the decision to honor his wishes not to be kept alive by machines if there was not hope for recovery. 

I can’t wrap my head around this. 

What I Can

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Today didn’t go according to plan. For me or anyone around me. More than one person in my life today had a hard day that, in one way or another, impacted my day.

It’s hard to know how to help, how to support people sometimes. It takes courage to reach out to someone when you know they are hurting. Why is that? It seems like reaching out to someone when they need to be reached for should be the easiest thing in the world. But for some reason, it’s not.  Perhaps I assume I’m not qualified to provide what someone needs in a time of need. Who knows.

Of the things that affected my day, some of these also affected my oldest daughter. Some of them will continue to affect her in the days to come. She is four, so she doesn’t always have the ability to make sense of her feelings. But she feels big. When people around her feel, she feels too. So tonight she was a tired ball of confused feelings.

“I want you to rock me,” she wept at bedtime. We used to snuggle in the rocking chair at bedtime every night, until her growth and my growing pregnant belly made it impossible. But tonight she climbed up into my lap and I cradled her and rocked. I marveled at how big she felt in my arms and I cried because I want to make it easier for her and I can’t.

She finally relaxed and drifted off to sleep. I kept holding her. Because there are so many people that I want to help. So many people I want to make things easier for. And I don’t know how to.

But when it comes to opening my arms and holding this little girl for as long as she will let me…when something as simple as space on my lap can make everything better, even if it’s just for a moment… That I can do.

The Beautiful Ugly Truth

 

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A sink full of glitter residue is a hard thing for a photo to capture.

Why is my sink full of glitter, you ask? Because the truth is, even as much as you want to believe change is easy, it just isn’t.

I just wrote in a post about how well my four year old has handled the transition out of only childhood. And she has. She adores her baby sister and I hear her say daily how she is “exactly the baby she wanted.” It’s adorable.

And it’s not entirely true. Because by the fourth week, the novelty is wearing off and sh*t is getting real. Don’t get me wrong, she still loves having a baby around. But after so many times of being told to “quiet down” or having to be patient while mommy pumps or when evening routine gets changed up because baby is crying from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. then it starts to get old. And her four year old self demands a rebalancing of the attention the only way she knows how: by being naughty.

Now, I’m not an unreasonable person. Nothing we have encountered has been unmanageable. A little mouthiness here and there, a lot of bouncing off the walls and not following instructions, and the more creative ones like hiding food and wrappers under all the furniture in the living room. No major pieces of the household have been ruined, no major expenses incurred, no one injured or even truly put in danger. When this stage passes, the few incidences we even remember will be remembered with humor.

But I’m tired. Going on three to five hours of sleep per night for four weeks now, in addition to adjusting our entire lives, juggling visitors, and having my needs come last every day takes its toll, no matter how much I wish I could be super mom. So today when I came out from putting the littlest down for a nap and found a living room full of toys covered in glitter glue (as well as carpet, pajamas, and hands), I lost it.

I yelled. I stomped. I ranted. I confiscated toys and not-so-quietly deposited them in the sink to be washed. And I kept ranting, my anger growing, as I washed the glittery preschooler in the tub and then stood over her as she cleaned up her room and then went to time out. For a while. Like an hour, moving rooms with me wherever I went, jumping from one time out spot to the next because, as I explained to her, I could no longer trust her to be alone.

I washed the toys and finally sat down in the living room to supervise her still ongoing timeout. She sassed. She cried. She went through the whole lineup. And try as I might, I couldn’t stop being mad.

I know it is a cry for attention. I know it is. And it was a mess, but it was cleaned up. No permanent damage was done. But I just couldn’t stop being mad. This isn’t a two year old learning right and wrong: she knows we only do glitter glue at the table and not to put food or wrappers anywhere but the trash, etc. These are all established rules that she normally follows. How could I not be mad? As I sat there, trying to reason my way back to reason, I wondered for the millionth time what the right thing to do is.

Somehow in my life I have come to the belief that if a consequence isn’t severe enough, the lesson won’t stick. I can see the reason behind the theory. But human behavior rarely follows predictable equations. So I find myself wondering if it is true. Isn’t the very nature of a negative consequence to inflict discomfort, thereby dissuading the same behavior in the future? If it’s not uncomfortable, there’s no reason not the repeat the behavior.

I don’t know the answer. Theorizing aside, having to enforce consequences sucks.

But I believe it’s necessary. When you do something that impacts other people or their things in a negative way, you should experience discomfort. I hate being the parent that’s constantly nagging my kid to be polite, respect people’s space, and so on and so on. But I also know that I don’t want her to grow up thinking it is ok to be disrespectful and rude to others. Because then people will never see the amazing human she is, they will only see the bad behavior. And I would hate that even more. She is incredible and she deserves to be seen.

So I sit and I wonder: how long, how severe, how uncomfortable do I have to make this for her to remember? How can I make this an effective learning experience and not just a crappy afternoon?

She crawls in my lap and I look into her big brown eyes and ask, “What should I do? How do I teach you that this isn’t ok so that you will remember?”

She looks back at me and says simply, “You could always just use hugs.”

And my heart breaks and melts and I love what a beautiful little human she is and I hate that this is so hard. Because I would love to just use hugs. But it doesn’t always work like that.

And then her dad comes to get her. It hurts to let her go on the good days. It hurts worse to let her go in the distracted days. It hurts the most to let her go on the mad days. I spent the afternoon being mad at her and now I have to send her away.

Everything. About. This. Sucks.

But I help her put her shoes on. And I fake it so she doesn’t know how much I hate this. And I hug her and tell her for the millionth time that I love her even when I’m mad. Always. No matter what. And she brushes me off because she already knows that and she’s excited to go.

And when she walks out the door, the sleeping baby wakes up and is ready to eat. Life doesn’t slow down long enough for you to wonder if you should have done it all differently.

And maybe next time I will. Or maybe I won’t. The truth is, raising a human is one of the most beautiful things you will ever do, but sometimes things can get ugly and hard and uncomfortable. No matter what you do, there will be hard parts and consequences and anger and frustration.

But there will also be hugs. And even though it can’t always be only hugs, there will still be hugs.

Let the Consequence Do the Teaching

 

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It was purely by chance that I happened to look at the calendar Friday morning on my way to get my daughter ready for school. Imagine my surprise to find “No Preschool” in bold lettering that I had somehow managed to overlook in the whole month that the calendar had been hanging on my fridge.

With a whole day now open, my brain began to swirl with possibilities. There is a children’s museum we haven’t visited yet in a town about an hour away. Conveniently, it is in the same town as the nearest Target.  And so the plan was made. Make the hour drive, stop at Target, eat lunch at the park, and then visit the museum.

Fast forward through the drive, the store and the picnic to the scene at the park. There had been impending signs of a certain version of “attitude” that has been appearing more and more often. Example: She wanted to climb the observation tower, so we did. At the top, she pouted the entire time that I had misled her into believing she would get to “climb” the tower, not just walk up the stairs. (See photo.) On the way back to the car, the big meltdown finally happened.

We walked through the park’s little amphitheater with a concrete stage. I stopped and did the overly-excited-parent thing, thinking she would love the chance to be up on a stage all to herself. Instead, she pouted, which quickly turned into a full-blown, irrational temper tantrum.

I’ve been sporadically reading the “Love and Logic” book lately, mostly as a “motivational refresher”. I’ve found myself at a loss (for lack of better term) on several parenting challenges lately and turned to my books for help. There’s more to that story, for a later post.

Anyway, in the midst of the meltdown came the clear opportunity to practice what I had been reading. Rather than getting pulled into the emotional storm or launching into a lecture, I calmly reminded her that if she was throwing fits and having a bad attitude we wouldn’t be able to go the children’s museum, we’d have to go home. As I imagine is true of most parents, I had fallen into the bad habit lately of threatening consequences and then not following through with them, but instead riding out the battle until I got the outcome I wanted.

But today, I wasn’t going to battle. And today, she was calling my bluff. Despite the clearly stated expectation and consequence, she spiraled further into chaos, finally resulting in me carrying her kicking and screaming the last one hundred feet to the car. I almost lost my patience. I may have closed the car door a little harder than necessary. The impulse to launch into a lecture was overwhelming. To lecture her until she caved and gave up the battle so we could go on with our day.

But I didn’t. I took a few deep breaths and sat for a few extra moments before starting the car. And then I did my best to adopt the firm, empathetic patience I had read about. She cried when I explained that we were driving home because she had thrown a fit. I told her that I was sad, too. That I had been excited about our trip, too, and that it was too bad we had driven that far and not gotten to go to the museum. Rather than try to fit the lesson into a lecture, I simply carried out the consequence.

I can tell you this: it’s more fun to lecture. But lately, I’m tired of going to bed feeling like I spent the whole day lecturing this little human that I would rather be discovering. Letting the consequence do the teaching is hard. Holding the boundary is hard. But there’s one thing that makes it all worth it:

When there’s no battle, I get to be on her team.

We drove home. She went through sadness and then anger and frustration and back to sadness. She blamed me for most of the trip, but before we arrived home I heard a shaky, tearful voice from the back seat say “If I hadn’t done this we could have gone to the museum.” The sweet sorrow in her voice broke my heart into a million pieces. But she had made the connection between her behavior and the consequence. She had taken responsibility for her actions.

We went home and cuddled and took a “break”, because that was what she needed. When she was sad, we were sad together. When it was time to move on and make the best of the rest of our day, we did it together. And doesn’t that seem like the way it should be? Parenting is so much more fun when I’m standing beside her and not behind the podium.