Finding My Level Of Busyness

There was once a time when I equated how much you cram into each day with how good of a stay at home mom you were. Being home with your kids is your job, so therefore to be good at your job, you must have lots to show for each day. I wanted our daughter to start swim class as early as they allowed her. I never wanted to miss a Story Time at the library. Every day had to have outings. Between the museum or classes or play dates or errands or playgrounds or pet stores or open gyms or splash parks or dog parks – we were busy. So I was a good stay at home mom.

Until I wasn’t.

When my sweet little sidekick turned eleven months old we found out she would be blessed with a younger sibling. The further into the pregnancy I got, the more exhausted I became. My back was giving out on me. My hips were giving out on me. And the frustration I felt from not being able to stay at my daughter’s daily pace slowly ate me alive. I felt like I was failing her but couldn’t do anything about it. I was forced to learn to slow down. I was forced to stay in some days. For the whole day. Frequently. I was forced to find new adventures in or close to our home and to reinvent toys that were already in her playroom.

We eventually moved from a pregnancy induced slow down to a “I have a newborn and a toddler” slow down. From there, it moved to a “it’s way too fricking cold out” slow down. Helloooo, Michigan winters. Then one day I read a normal weekly schedule of a fellow mom friend and was quickly reminded of the busier lifestyle we used to grind out once upon a time. Except this time, I no longer felt like I was a bad stay at home mom. When I really paused to reflect on these “slow downs” that used to annoy me to no end, I began to notice something…

We no longer rushed through breakfast. We would take time to make a good breakfast together, sit down, and enjoy it. No more, “You need to hurry and finish up, please!”.  

Getting myself ready in the morning wasn’t met with resentment.  It used to be I either woke up at 5:30 a.m. for a little alone time, or I would get easily irritated with Tayler as she was somehow always in my way.  Now instead of getting up at 5:30 I pull Harrison into bed with me and cuddle him till both kids wake up.  Now instead of fighting Tayler to let me get ready, I let her join me and she puts on my blush and lipstick.  

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I had time to actually play with the kids in the morning. It wasn’t rush to make breakfast, rush to make them eat it, rush to get diapers changed, snacks packed, bags organized, dogs let out, and car ready. If things weren’t rushed, we would never get out the door in time to do stuff before it was time to come back for nap time.  

I had more me time, which made me a better mom.  If we had more time at home where I was engaged with the kids, I felt less guilty letting them play independently and take some time to do things for myself. Maybe get in a workout as I watched them play.  Sit and write a few of thoughts that were playing on repeat in my head. Catching up a little on the previous day’s Ellen.  A little me time made me feel better about myself.  Happy and healthy mom, happy and healthy kids. 

I was more present. We started making a lot of fun activities and crafts together.  Playing with her farm animals could go on for hours and it was OK. If our play took us in a new direction, we were able to explore it. I had more time to be there, in the moment, and be her partner in crime. 

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We had a little down time and a little boredom. Kids don’t need to be stimulated 24/7. And like adults, they need some down time to recharge.  I didn’t feel guilty about watching a movie every now and then.  They were filled with playing with each other’s hair, snuggling tight, and enjoying being in each other’s arms. She is the BEST, most affectionate snuggler. Every now and then we’d get bored. There’s beauty in boredom, though.  It fuels creativity and her independent play broadened. 

Outings began to feel exciting again, and a lot less like a chore. That feeling of monotony was replaced by the lost feeling of fun spontaneity.  If we went out, it was because we really wanted to. Not because I felt like we had to.  It had been awhile since we’d been to our giant pet store, and it was like seeing the animals new again.  

I was more patient. I let her put on her own shoes. Even if it took 45 minutes.  I let her help pick out her clothes in the morning instead of me quickly grabbing something. I would willingly fulfill her “1,000 hugs before 9 a.m.” quota without getting frustrated. My words were more deliberate, my tone stayed more calm, and I said “yes” a hell of a lot more than I said “no, not right now”.

I started to become what I now know is a better mom. Every mom has different levels of “busyness” that works for her. Some are genuinely more content and happy with a full schedule.  Some thrive off daily engagements. Some thrive off some. And some thrive off none.  For the first time I had begun to realize that THIS was the level of busyness that made ME the best version of a mom I could be. Once I got over thinking we had to have a long list of extra curricular activities to learn and thrive, we began to really learn and thrive.  

Please don’t misunderstand; we aren’t hermits.  We still go the museum.  We still run errands. We still go to the library. We still have play dates.  And fingers crossed for a Story Time reappearance next week.  I just don’t let it all consume us. If we are having a bad morning, I no longer force us to leave anyway and then get frustrated when it ends in a public tantrum.  I’ll whip up a fort, play Frozen (again), and snuggle the bad moods out of all of us.

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Whatever level of busyness you operate best at, don’t be scared to live there. In no way, shape, or form does it have any equivalency to the quality of mother you are.  

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From Husband & Wife to Mother & Father

Once again, I’m sitting here all reflective over our first year as parents. I’ve been thinking a lot about how becoming new parents took us from the single roles as a husband or a wife, to the dual role of being a spouse and a parent. For most couples, it can be a big adjustment. Responsibilities change. Priorities change. The dynamics of your teamwork changes. The harmonious sync you were once in is suddenly disrupted (in a good way) by this beautiful creature you created together. Looking back at our first year as parents, I feel full of joy, accomplishment, and a deeper love than I could have possibly imagined. And no, it wasn’t always easy getting there. 🙂

While I think there are many keys to making this transition work, I wanted to figure out what I thought was the single most important. The one thing that if asked, I would give as advice to new or soon-to-be parents.

My first thought was communication. Seems like a no-brainer. Without a doubt becoming parents requires you to be vocal, honest, and open about what your new needs are and how they can be met. This is uncharted territory, and the changes it brings will demand those lines of communication be open. Things you were once a master at, you may need help with now. Roles that you might have been comfortable with could easily be turned upside down. The more I thought about it though, I kind of felt like this one should (hopefully!) already be established. You’ve gone through turbulent times of change already. You’ve had your share of arguments. While none of them have ever revolved around children, if you’ve got a solid foundation of communication, my hope is you’ll be able to continue that on in your new life as a family.

My next thought was honesty. This one only hung around for a second. I personally tie this one in closely with open communication above. Parenthood changes you, and being honest about those changes and new needs are vital. Not only being honest with your spouse, but being honest with yourself as well. When you’ve always “had it all together”, sometimes unraveling a little bit with your new demands can be tough. Be honest about it.

Next up: being on the same page about your parenting style. How do you want to raise your children? What values, principles, and structure do you feel is important in raising your children? These decisions can be as big as bringing up children with or without religion to as small as what you want to feed them for dinner. What past experiences have shaped your parenting style? Are you on the same page or can you at least find a middle ground you’ll both be happy with? Super important, right? Definitely a top contender. Once again, however, I’m hoping (fingers crossed) this has been talked about in depth before children are even in the picture.

My winner: agreeing to work hard every single day for the betterment of your new family, and not comparing “who works harder”. Now before I dive in to my reasoning and explanation, I feel the need to preface this with the fact that I am a stay at home mom, and my experiences are deeply rooted within this dynamic of a husband that works outside the home for his family and a wife that stays home to raise their children and maintain the home. I can’t speak from experience about the dynamics of two working parents, but after talking with my Momtourage, it became clear that this is a common theme no matter the situation. Every parenting team has its own unique challenges to face.

My husband and I have been together since I was 16 years old. For our entire relationship, our “jobs” have been on an even keel. Our jobs evolved from high school students, to working college students, to starting careers in the workforce. We both had places to be all day, things to do, and paychecks to bring home. After our days at work, we would come home and each pick up our share of (what now seems so small) the housework. We were a team, working in harmony.

Then came beautiful little Tayler. We were fortunate enough to have the option of me staying home to raise her, and it was a decision we both wanted for the future of our family. For us, it made sense. For the first time, our “jobs” were very, very different. He was working an incredibly demanding job that I couldn’t understand, and I was working an incredibly demanding job that he couldn’t understand.

The essence of my “don’t compare who works harder” advice is rooted in that last statement. As much as you think you might, you can’t possibly understand the demands, stresses, benefits, emotion, and small nuances of each others’ jobs. So before you even start in your new roles, make a very clear and verbal agreement that you will always assume to be true for each other. Make a promise that you will both work your hardest, every single day, for the betterment of your family and marriage. And mean it.

He gets weekends off, my job is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

She doesn’t even have to get dressed in the morning, and some days they cuddle on the couch watching a movie together!

He gets to eat his lunch in peace. Most days I’m scarfing down food with a whining child pulling on my leg!

She doesn’t have a boss to answer to, or the pressure of being the sole provider of our family!

He doesn’t know what its like to hope every decision you make during the day is the right one for our child!

She gets nap time to do whatever she wants. A few hours of break during the day must be nice as I work my butt off!

He doesn’t see how much I haul ass during naps! My days are on repeat of laundry, dishes, vacuuming, and picking up!

She gets to spend quality time all day with our child during the week. I only get a few hours!

He sleeps peacefully through the night. You have no idea how exhausting it is to get up every 2-3 hours! And he says HE is tired?!

Does she not know I just got home and just need a few minutes to wind down?

Does he not see me cleaning right now while he continues to sit comfortably on the couch?

Does she not know how hard it is to deal with difficult personalities all day?

Does he not know how lonely it can be to have very limited adult interaction every day?

This list could go on and on, I’m sure. And I would bet you can relate to several of those. But stop. Stop now. Its a incredibly easy trap to fall into, and one that only breeds feelings of resentment, misunderstanding, and guaranteed rocky times ahead. It’s not a game with a winner. You don’t get a gold star. Even if it was a game, is it really one you would want to be playing?

I think Matt and I are at our best when we recognize that we both work extremely hard, in very different ways. I know he is doing his absolute best to provide for our family. He knows I am doing my best to raise our daughter and keep our home running smoothly. Instead of comparing, try and make it a habit to fill those moments with praise (even if at times it takes everything inside you!). It is nothing short of amazing what a little recognition and gratitude for your efforts can do in your marriage. Think about what kind of work environment you work better in. Is in one that recognizes and acknowledges your efforts? Or one that continually tells you all that you’re doing wrong? It could be in the form of a note left on the bathroom mirror that says, “Your work ethic amazes me – I appreciate your long hours at work for us”. To a simple statement of, “I don’t know how you do what you do – thank you for getting up with our daughter all night. I’ll try and give you a break this weekend!”. Go out of your way to acknowledge those big and small things each other do. Not only does that habit make one another feel appreciated, but it gets you in the habit of continually recognizing those little ways your spouse contributes.

I would be lying if I said finding that new balance is easy. And I’d really be lying if I said it happens overnight. It will take time, and there will be some trial and error of what works for you both. It is a continual, never-ending work in progress.

But as you work through these new dual roles you’ve both taken on…

Communicate.

Be honest.

Be vocal.

Be a team.

Empathize.

Don’t compare.

Believe the best in each other.

Remember you’re both working hard.

Give frequent praise and recognition.

Look for the little things you both do.

Be proactive.

Put each other first.

Help when you can without being asked.

Ask for help when you need it.

Forgive quickly.

Be kind.

Love.

And enjoy watching your partner blossom into a parent.

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The Art of Balance: Your Needs & Baby’s Needs

Finding balance in our lives is no novel idea. We strive for balance every day in a million different ways. Whether its balancing time between your friends and family, finding a balance that helps you maintain a healthy lifestyle while still indulging in your favorites, or balancing finances to accommodate a healthy mix of wants and needs. When we are able to find that harmonious middle ground that keeps us steady and at an even keel, we set ourselves up for optimal mental, emotional, and physical health.

To no surprise, I’m finding that maintaining a healthy balance is a common theme in motherhood. In particular, a balance between my needs and the needs of my daughter. Like many women, when I was pregnant I used to frequently daydream about what life would be like with my daughter when she finally arrived. I got this idyllic sense of being a supermom, knowing I would go to any lengths to meet the needs of this precious life I was about to bring into the world. Her needs would always be placed above my own, for I am her mother and her ultimate protector (yes dad, you too 🙂 )

What I’ve been learning in these past 10.5 months, however, is that it is not always her needs above my own. Like all things in our lives, it is a careful art of finding the balance that works for you both. Now don’t take this the wrong way – I will always make sure my daughter has what she needs and is well provided for and loved. Always. But moms have needs too, and I’m realizing that those are many times just as important. Our children take their cues from us and can feel our emotions long before we can communicate them. When we are stressed, they are stressed. When we are anxious, they are anxious. Because of this, I’ve gotten better at appreciating what is necessary to keep me relaxed and happy, and not feeling guilty when my needs need to be met. When I’m at my best, she’s at her best – and isn’t that the goal?

I can still remember the guilt I felt for weeks when I was beginning to wean off breastfeeding. My goal was to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. Around 4.5 months, however, my supply had a hard time keeping up with her growing need. I tried it all – the pills, the water, the relaxation, and the 95 extra pumping sessions a day after she finished eating. The truth was I was getting worn out. Breastfeeding, which was once a very rewarding and happy time for us, had become a source of stress and anxiety. After weeks of guilt over the impending end of our breastfeeding journey, I changed my attitude. I had given my daughter 7 months of breast milk, and it was time for me to take care of my needs. After a very slow and gradual wean to formula, we were done. And wouldn’t you know it, I felt a sense of calm as a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. The best way I can describe the feeling was like having someone fully recharge your mom batteries (and of course this feeling also made me feel guilty – why was I so happy about it? That darn mom guilt!). I was back to my A-game, and so was Tayler. She was healthy and thriving, I was healthy and thriving, and finding that balance again was all we needed.

Over the holidays our family went and stayed at my parents’ house in our hometown for a few days. On one of those days we had some family down from northern Michigan that we don’t get to see that often. Due to a full house that night and an infant that doesn’t sleep well as it is when we travel, we had pre-planned to come home that evening. As we ate and laughed and played games with my family, I brought it up to my husband that maybe we should just stay the night. My mom had everything we needed for Tayler (her house is the best!), and we would just make-do with what we had for the night. After all, sometimes don’t you just have to enjoy time with family when you have it? Well, a few hours and a few glasses of wine later (which I’m sure didn’t help the matter), I had a little meltdown. I was so upset with myself for “putting my needs above Tayler’s” and I “couldn’t believe I chose my own selfishness over my daughter”. The truth was, Tayler would’ve been just fine. And thanks to my empathetic mother and husband, they talked me off a ledge and reminded me that nights like this are very far and few for me, and I simply needed some time to kick back with my family – not just be a mom. I needed to find my way back to that healthy balance of being a mom and being a part of the family that can let loose a little bit! If only I could go back and tell myself that when it happened.

It’s still an ongoing struggle for me, but I’m working hard at finding and keeping that balance. I need to keep working hard at not only making choices that have both of our best interests at heart, but also on maintaining the pieces of me that have nothing to do with being a mother so I can continue to be my whole and content self. If she’s at her best when I’m at my best, then my needs can’t continually be put in the bottom drawer.

As one of my wise Momtourage friends once said: there are a million ways to raise a healthy baby. Whether your choices are big or small – breastfeeding vs. formula, career vs. stay at home, cloth vs. disposable diapers, or a night out vs. a night in… do your best to find that healthy balance and don’t let any guilt linger for one single second. Spend your energy being your best so your child can be theirs.

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