Lessons Worth Passing On

Evanthia as a baby with her mother

When I was only eight, my entire family was in a horrible car accident that left some of us in the hospital for a month. It was a gruesome experience that I believe ultimately changed us all for the better. It taught us to try to appreciate each day and never wait to tell someone how much you love them.

In that spirit, I try to use special holidays like Mother’s Day to really reflect on and express what people mean to me. Since becoming a mother, this holiday holds even greater significance, since I’m not only grateful for the love my mother has shown me, but also the examples she has set about being a woman and a mom.

Perseverance

My mother was only twenty years old when I arrived and derailed her plans to finish college. She has told me that, at the time, she thought it would be a miracle if she could ever get her bachelor’s degree. But by the time I was in college, my mother had decided to re-enroll at the state university. Working full-time, raising my brother, caring for our home, and attending classes at night was extremely challenging for a perfectionist like her. But over the course of almost the last decade, my mother has slowly chipped away at classes toward both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in education, graduating summa cum laude. I’m so proud of the way she set what some might have seen as an unreachable goal, she stuck with it, and ultimately changed the course of her life.

Each time my daughter struggles to complete her wooden puzzle, I offer her words of encouragement: “Good job! Keep trying!” But I also know that the most powerful way to encourage her as she gets older is to demonstrate perseverance myself.

Positive Body Image

It’s so obvious to me that all women struggle with their bodies, my mother and myself included, but it is SO important for young girls to have women in their lives who demonstrate acceptance of the bodies they were born with. This is not to say that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves, but women who obsess over “love handles,” “bubble butts,” and saggy breasts aren’t doing their daughters any favors.

I didn’t really notice it as a child, but my mother struck a good balance between exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, and never demonstrating guilt over having a slice of cake. She would acknowledge that there were parts of her that weren’t her favorite features, but she never acted as if they bothered her enough to make her self-conscious. Instead, she would dress her body to accentuate what she liked and draw attention away from what she didn’t.

I realize now that I have to consider the way I talk about my own body, and what I put into it, to set the same positive example for my daughter, because she’ll be watching, even as a very young girl.

Kindness

One of the most striking features of my mother’s character is her kindness, toward family and friends, and even strangers. As a kid, I remember her pulling over to the side of the road to pick up elderly people who we’d see walking home from the grocery store carrying heavy bags. In the classroom, her students often accidentally call her “mom,” probably because she makes each of them feel so special (an elementary student’s Freudian slip!). And at home, we were luckiest of all to have a mother who was present, interested in the trivialities of our lives because they were important to us, and so giving.

Too often, people reserve expressing heartfelt thanks for eulogies. I’ll take this little spot on a blog about mothers, days before Mother’s Day, to express how very much I love my mom and what she means to me and the legacy of our family.

Enter the Two Year Old: Hello Independence

In a few months, my son will be two. And I can feel it; our relationship is changing.

It’s kind of cool. We can actually have conversations about things. Case in point. Today we had to make a quick stop at Kohl’s. (If you’ve been there, you know their carts are like strollers and for my son, can be compared to driving a car.) “You’ll love this,” I said to him as we walked through the parking lot. “It’s like driving a car. This cart is so cool.” A few months ago, I would’ve been able to place him in the cart, and he would’ve really enjoyed looking at the colorful merchandise as we strolled through the store. I was naively, expecting the same experience today.

No such luck. As soon as I lowered him into the stroller-cart, I heard his protests. “No, no,” he said.

“I know buddy, but we just have to look really quick at the dress up clothes for you.”

He looked back at me, as if to say, but I already told you, I don’t like this. “No, no,” he protested again. I moved the cart a little quicker.

He settled down for a few minutes, and then the quiet “no’s” turned into louder whines. I scanned the boys section, realized that all the dress up clothes had been sold for Easter and now they were only showing bathing suits…(what’s up with that???) and moved the cart away, hoping to get a glimpse at the women’s clothes. The whines started up again. No clothes for me today. I stopped the cart and carefully lifted him out of it. He walked with me, side by side, to the front door and then to the car, where he tried to climb into his car seat.

Yup, he’s almost two. No longer satisfied with the stroller, grocery cart or Kohl’s half cart/half stroller, he wants to walk. And while he is mostly good at staying with me, it does mean that I can’t slowly peruse the merchandise. We get in and we get out. The benefits are that I spend less money.

He is gaining a voice. He is learning how to disagree, protest, voice his frustrations and be independent. He is no longer thrilled with staying on the sidelines looking at the world. He wants to participate. He wants to stand in line at the post office, walk across the street holding my hand and help prepare his own grilled cheese sandwich.

He is still little, he is still a baby, but he knows he’s his own person. And sometimes, that little person is just not ready to put his shoes on right this minute, or change his diaper exactly now.

And my parenting has to change to accommodate this new independence. I have to respect this maturation, because it is appropriate growth and it is good for him. But I also have to use this precious time to set boundaries, or by the time he’s four, I’ll have a very difficult preschooler.

My baby is disappearing. In his place, I have an independent toddler who wants to experience the world his way.  It’s scary. It means that parenting is getting harder, more complicated. The stakes are getting higher. The world is getting bigger. I know he’s ready for it; I just hope I am too.

How do you handle a toddler’s new found sense of independence?

My Baby and I Are Attachment Parenting Failures

Merelymothers is proud to share the following guest post by fellow blogger Hadyn Kihm.

Back when I was pregnant, I stumbled upon a philosophy known as Attachment Parenting (AP), a childrearing style coined by Dr. William Sears that is supposedly “a return to the instinctual parenting methods of our ancestors.” It advocates natural childbirth, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, responsiveness to baby’s cries, and positive discipline.

At the time, I just knew it was perfect for me and my soon-to-be-born child. How could it not be? My husband and I already had a backyard garden complete with compost heap and used vinegar as a cleaning product. We took Bradley Method childbirth classes and had friends who were La Leche League instructors. Adopting the AP philosophy really was a no-brainer.

But during my baby’s first few months, I tried and discarded every principle of AP. By first following and then giving up the philosophy, I discovered the #1 lesson of parenting: do what works. I learned to be responsive to my child and his needs, even if that meant giving up on my previous ideas of what that entailed.

Almost from the beginning, we seemed to be destined for AP failure. Our first hurdle was breastfeeding. I had intended to breastfeed as long as my baby wanted. But S didn’t gain weight, and after three stressful months, under the direction of a Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington lactation consultant, I began supplementing with formula. And surprise! The world didn’t end.

The next issue was baby-wearing. S hated being worn. When he was in the carrier, he would arch his back and push against me, screaming to be let out. It turns out he just wanted his own space. We bought an aluminum frame carrier (the one pictured above) and took him all over Hong Kong in it. But there is carrying your baby in a pack, and there is Baby-wearing™. Our way didn’t make the cut.

Next went the co-sleeping. At first it worked great because I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night to get S and feed him. But as soon as he was mobile, my baby found the bed to be the ultimate jungle gym at all hours of the night. By moving him to his crib, we could all finally get some sleep.

By the way, I’m also guilty of (successfully) using Ferber’s cry-it-out sleep training method. Oh, the horror from the other AP devotees! When S started sleeping through the night, breastfeeding effectively ended; this was both sad and a relief after all our struggles. I’ll admit it felt fantastic to have the bed to ourselves again.

The final nail in the coffin was the positive discipline. Given my baby’s current limited grasp of language, “no” is an effective placeholder for “the oven is hot and you don’t want to burn your fingers.”

Hanna Rosin, a contributor on Slate.com, wrote a series of articles on AP, including one titled “Attachment parenting seems awfully joyless to me.” I was reminded of our own AP journey in her assertion that “there is something so forbidding about [Attachment Parenting], so joyless and yes, unnatural. We are so focused on a vision of a particular kind of perfect child that we fail to see the actual creature mucking about in his or her natural habitat.” 

I chose to follow AP because it seemed to fit with our lifestyle and beliefs. But when AP failed to nurture and comfort the “actual creature” I got, I didn’t force it. AP may be the consolidation of “the markers of perfect motherhood” in our society, but what felt even better than the promise of perfect motherhood was doing what was right for me and my baby.

So much of parenting has been about putting aside my assumptions about what motherhood should be, or what my baby should be doing, and focusing instead on what actually is in front of me. Choosing and then rejecting AP didn’t make me a failure. It was one of the first in a long line of battles resolved by doing what works.  

- Hadyn

Hadyn and her son

Hadyn Kihm lives in Alexandria, VA, with her husband and 15-month-old son. She studied Public Policy and Latin American Studies and currently works in the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation. She loves baking, baby sign language, and blogging at The Bread Maiden.

Top-Ten Tuesday: Most Provocative Stories about Breastfeeding in the News

Is it me or is breastfeeding a hot-button issue right now? I feel like every time I turn around, there’s some outlandish story about the perfectly natural act of a mother providing nourishment for her child. For instance, about a week ago, I received the following email from my mom:

Have you seen this Oreo ad? Thought it might provide some fodder for a blog post. Just saw it on CNN.

Love, Mom

I have to mention that my mother raised me to see breasts as an instrument for mothers to feed their children, not as part of an arsenal of sexual weapons. So it cracks me up when people get incensed over a bare breast or even a nipple in the context of breastfeeding, when so few people bat an eye if these same parts are exposed in a more sexual context. Personally, I think this Oreo ad is awesome, but the commentary surrounding it is just part of what I believe is a broader obsession with breastfeeding.

I scoured the Internet for news on breastfeeding to confirm my suspicion and came up with some fascinating results. Let’s consider the above advertisement Exhibit A (a.k.a. #1), followed by stories on celebrities, and then regular moms.

Celebrities Breastfeeding: The Good, the Bad, and the Judgmental

2. I feel I have to begin with the obligatory Salma-Hayek-breastfeeding-an-African-baby story. Then, just for good measure, there’s also a strange story about her being addicted to breastfeeding. Huh?

3.  And of course, I would be remiss not to mention Gisele Bundchen’s famous proposal that there be a law requiring mothers to breastfeed for six months. Yeah, that was a big hit.

4. Just in case you weren’t feeling like your old self, here’s a saucy commentary on Beyonce’s statement that she “lost most of [her baby] weight from breastfeeding.” Apparently, the author feels she “could breastfeed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Lord would not bless me with that pre-pregnancy body.” Love it!

5. Whoopi Goldberg offers a scathing criticism of New York City’s breastfeeding initiative that would encourage women to nurse by educating them in the hospital through visits by lactation consultants (among other things), who she refers to as “boneheads.” Just a little intense.

6. And finally, a photo gallery of celebrities who breastfeed in public or choose to be photographed doing so. 

“Normal” Women Breastfeeding (Also, Apparently, Controversial)

7. Can you believe a Utah woman found the Division of Child and Family Services at her door because she had not taken her pediatrician’s advice to give up breastfeeding when her daughter wasn’t gaining weight fast enough, according to the doctor, even though she was supplementing with a “prescription calorie enhancer”?

8. Here’s a story about a Michigan mother who was scolded for breastfeeding her sick five-month-old, fully covered, in a courtroom. You’ll also find a photo/video gallery of women who have been kicked out of a variety of other places for nursing. Not cool!

9. What about the drunken woman who broke into a home to try to breastfeed a two-month-old? Do you think she has “baby” on the brain??

10. And last but certainly not least, an Islamic fatwa has resurfaced that advocates women breastfeed their male colleagues in order to “establish maternal relations” and ensure that a strict law forbidding mixing of the sexes not be broken:

“The man should take the milk, but not directly from the breast of the woman. He should drink it and then becomes a relative of the family, a fact that allows him to come in contact with the women without breaking Islam’s rules about mixing.”

At least the men don’t have to drink directly from the breast. How awkward.

What do you think? Is there something to my suspicion that breastfeeding is a touchy topic right now?

P.S. Thanks, mom! XOXO

Make your Own Mother’s Day Gifts: Cute and quick, this one is a keeper!

When your kids are toddlers, you have to do everything for them. That includes making your own Mother’s Day Gifts! I treasure this time though; soon enough, our kids won’t be interested in hanging out with mom on a rainy morning, cutting paper and tracing hands. We found this awesome activity on Pinterest, originally pinned by Amie Woodson. One of the great parts about it was that both mom and toddler had important parts in the finished product. Of course, we took some pictures for you to enjoy.

First, choose three pieces of scrapbook paper. Luckily, I’ve always wanted to be a scrapbooker and so I have loads of unused paper in my house. (One of those hobbies that just never got off the ground!) 

Next, trace the toddler’s hand on one of the prints. Then, it’s your turn!

Cut out the traced hands and glue them on a third printed paper. 

         

All done! We framed ours in shadow boxes and gave them to the kids grandparents, (and of course, saved one for ourselves to hang in the kids rooms.) We each made two or three, and the whole thing took about an hour. Just another reason why we love Pinterest! (And you’ve just got to follow us on Pinterest for more super cute and quick activities!) 

PS: We have some BIG surprises coming up…can you guess what they might be???

Sarahlynne, Evanthia, and Dawn

Don’t You Dare Be Arrogant: Lessons from a Navy Wife

Deployments are notorious for changing people. In the military community, it’s ill advised to marry someone before they deploy at least once, because when they come back changed, the relationship may not work.

My husband has been on half a dozen deployments in his career, three of which involved our relationship. But this last one was different. This time, we’d just moved to a new state, and we had a little boy who was not yet one. And to make the deployment more complicated, my husband was leaving for eight months, not six, and he was going to be in Afghanistan instead of on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

But we were arrogant. We went into this deployment with no preparation, with a nonchalant, “it’s no big deal, we’ve done this before” attitude.

But we haven’t.

It all changes once you have a child.

In the eight months he was gone, the parenting fell to me. And mostly, I’m a confident parent. So I made the decisions and moved forward, analyzing every choice I made (as I tend to do). I was generally happy with the results. No child is perfect, but the challenges were minor.

While my husband was away,

our son learned to walk.

Then, he learned to run.

He started to talk.

For the first week after my husband returned, his usual calm demeanor was replaced with constant excitement. “He can do that? Wow!”

But about a week into his one-month vacation, things started to get difficult. We weren’t agreeing on much. I was confident with what I’d been doing, and truthfully, I think, as I reflect on it now, a bit resentful that he’d left us for such a long time. I had figured out a way to handle all these toddler challenges, and I didn’t need anything to change.

And then my husband started teaching him things, things I would’ve never thought of. For example, now my son knows how to climb in and out of his booster seat  (I don’t know if I thought I’d just put him in and take him out forever…). And now he knows how to stay with us in stores so we don’t always need the stroller. My husband plays cars and trains and kisses stuffed animals. It’s so cute; he’s very involved.

But we started to argue.  While I welcomed the help, I didn’t “need” it and my husband sensed that. We had so many conversations about how he felt left out, that our family had moved on without him, that he felt that time should’ve stopped for at least a few minutes to allow us to readjust as a family.

But we didn’t.

As I said, we were arrogant. We talked about what we “should” do for our family, but we didn’t do it. We visited extended family, my husband went back to work and we didn’t slow down for one minute. We thought we could skip over re-entry.

We thought our lives would seamlessly go back to normal.

Back to normal? Who were we kidding? We’ve never had a toddler together before; when my husband left, our son was still a baby. What normal were we hoping to get back to?

After a month or so, after fighting for most of an entire day, we pressed the reset button.  We realized we hadn’t given the deployment any respect. We took a breath. We started over.

Deployments are notorious for changing people. But the warning is, don’t marry a soldier until he’s gone through at least one. That’s the one when he’ll change the most.

What they don’t tell you is that the ones who are left behind change too. They should warn you that although the soldier comes back with emotional scars, (if they are lucky) those who stay home bear different ones. And both deserve respect. We should’ve stopped time for awhile; we should’ve respected what that absence did to our family.

The great thing about family is that you always get another chance.  We’ve learned from this experience and we won’t treat the next deployment so nonchalantly. It has too much power. We know that now.

Next time. Next time.

When the Decision to “Work” or Stay at Home Isn’t So Easy

Hadyn and her son

Merelymothers is proud to share the following guest post by fellow blogger Hadyn Kihm.

This past weekend, a friend of mine who is pregnant with her first child confided that she isn’t sure she will go back to her current job once she gives birth. 

She no longer finds the job fulfilling, and since she is planning on leaving anyway, it might as well be sooner rather than later. I don’t know her well enough to know what her and her husband’s financial situation is, but I found myself talking up the joys of being a stay-at-home mom. This was an interesting turn for me, since I had spent two years struggling to find gainful employment both before and after my son was born. 

I have always wanted to be a working-outside-the-home mom, but if I didn’t work at a job, it’s not like my child wouldn’t eat. When Hilary Rosen recently critiqued Ann Romney’s promotion of a lifestyle choice that is out of reach for most working- and middle-class mothers, the conversation entirely ignored those of us who can choose to either stay at home or have a job.

Since at least the 1960s and the Women’s Lib Movement, society has recognized that women don’t just want to work to make money, but also for personal fulfillment. Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique would never have been written if all mothers derived complete satisfaction from staying at home and raising children. That’s not to say there aren’t clearly women who do embrace staying at home and raising a family full-time. 

Luckily, the third wave of feminism in the 1990s and 2000s created a middle ground where a woman can choose whichever job path best suits her, her family, and her sense of personal fulfillment. Whereas my mother struggled to have it all thirty years ago in a world without maternity leave, full-day kindergarten, or female CEOs, today’s working world is much more accepting of mothers and families.

In theory, all these choices should mean I could easily move towards my perfect career and family balance.  If only I knew what that was. More choices don’t necessarily make the decision any easier. 

In a situation where finances are important but not necessarily a driving factor, how do I choose a work and life balance that is most fulfilling to me? How personally fulfilled will I be as a SAHM, and is that amount of personal fulfillment more or less than I would gain as a working mom?

Obviously, you can’t quantify personal fulfillment in any numeric way. But when I looked down at my twelve-week-old, right around the time when most women return to work after maternity leave, I couldn’t imagine leaving him to go to an office. Of course, 70% of mothers do it every day, but I was lucky enough to not have to. At the same time, when I was at home, I fantasized about substantive conversations and challenging assignments, being able to keep my clothes and house clean, and getting outside recognition for all the work I did.

What is the right answer for my pregnant friend? I have no idea. Sometimes I don’t know what the right answer is for myself. But describing the world of working and SAHMs as a bipolar contrast between the hyper-wealthy Ann Romneys and those mothers who are forced to support their families on two jobs ignores the wide spectrum of women who are just trying to make sense of the sometimes wonderful and sometimes overwhelming world of career options they inherited from the struggles of previous generations.

- Hadyn

Hadyn Kihm lives in Alexandria, VA, with her husband and 15-month-old son. She studied Public Policy and Latin American Studies and currently works in the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation. She loves baking, baby sign language, and blogging at The Bread Maiden.

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