No Shame

 

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I think we all begin our motherhood journey with an idea of what will define our parenting. At least I did. Either that, or something snatches your attention and your heart along the way and you think to yourself, “yes! I like that!” This absolutely happened for me, and it happened though a beautiful book called Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. When I became a mother I knew that I wanted the kind of childhood for my babies that I had. Lots of outdoor time, family trips to the beach and to Eastern Oregon, siblings to play with, and slow easy summers. And Disneyland! Let us never forget Disneyland. But somewhere along the way I started to read about an old, intentional, slow kind of child-rearing. About not beginning formal education until a child is seven, starting every day with at least an hour of outdoor play time, singing and crafting your way through the day, and fairy tale magic. I got turned on to Waldorf education. And immediately I was mesmerized by the images of these woolen clad, rosy cheeked children playing peacefully with wooden toys and prancing with play silks through meadows. “That!” I thought. “That is how I want my children to grow up”. So I bought the play silks. And then when my daughter was old enough I bought white silks so we could dye them ourselves. And I bought her a wooden doll cradle and a little stuffed Waldorf doll and went for the wooden play kitchen instead of the plastic one. We read sweet, gentle stories and picked apples and made jam. And some of that…SOME of that…was absolutely wonderful. We still do a lot of those things. But time and time again I felt like a phony mom trying to live some lifestyle that wasn’t really me.  When I was pregnant with our son I started off the baby registry with only the most simply wooden toys, all organic clothing and linens, and none of the extra “stuff”. And then I started remembering back four years prior to having my daughter as an infant…and things like pacifiers and musical mobiles and a vibrating bouncy chair snuck their way in. And before I knew it, we were ready for baby boy with a lot of natural, organic, beautiful baby items in his nursery…and some really convenient plastic things too.  And this is how I have tried to parent, with each hand in a seemingly opposing stream of parenting not feeling like I was genuinely anything.

Fast forward to last week. The beginning of my four days long turmoil that ended in an epiphany about 2.5 seconds before I started writing this post. Thursday of last week I was 99% certain that we would be sending our daughter to a local kindergarten through 6th grade Waldorf School. The “day in the kindergarten” experience that we had attended was absolutely wonderful and my daughter had not stopped talking about how excited she was to go to that school. Despite the relatively long drive and private school tuition, the whole thing felt good. Not perfect, but good. And then I had our intake interview. I knew all the questions to expect. What was our daughter’s birth like? How is her temperament? Has she been exposed to media? Does she participate in any extracurricular activities? I can tell you that the last two questions are posed with a specific answer in mind. The Waldorf way is specific and intentional and doesn’t just involve the child’s life at school. This sweet kindergarten teacher wanted me to say “no, our daughter does not watch tv or movies”. But I didn’t say “no”. I answered honestly. Yes, we have parented our children with exposure to tv and movies and the occasional game on a tablet or laptop. We have all been to Disneyland as a family and we don’t think that Disney is the equivalent of The Devil. And yes, our 5 year old has taken swim lessons, dance, and gymnastics. She does not live the perfect Waldorf home life, and up until that very moment I had been very comfortable with that. But as I said “yes” to the media question, I watched the woman visibly cringe and I simultaneously felt myself shrink. Yep. You heard that right. I allowed her to shame me. The rest of the interview was rushed and blurred because a certain 1 year old had just about had it with not having Mama’s undivided attention, so we scheduled a time for me to come back with fill out paperwork with the admonition that “there is a media free policy at the school as long as she is in attendance”. I drove home stewing. I cleaned the house and did my workout and put my babies to bed and did all of my normal stuff….stewing. Here’s the thing. If I was convicted that watching a little tv here and there was seriously detrimental to my daughter I would have taken it away already. But that’s just not my conviction. It might be yours, and I embrace and applaud that. You might also think that cloth diapering is a complete waste of time, or that Popcicles are going to rot your kids’ teeth. (They might…we just brush really well after.) The point is, my husband and I have been very sure to parent based on education and conviction about what is best for our children as individuals. So if we had decided together that our daughter attending this school was absolutely worth some sacrifices, the one thing that I could not sacrifice was my dignity. Because I am a good mom. And nothing is worth me sending my little girl to a school that will be expecting our family to fit a perfect mold so that every time we walk through that gate I have to pretend to be something that I’m not. You and I are all products of our choices and our convictions, but chances are there are too many things that you care deeply enough about to make it all work the way you want it. I’m right there with you. There are a lot of things that I want for my kids that don’t get to happen because other priorities are greater. Like this school. I adore Waldorf pedagogy. I think it is beautiful and artistic and brilliantly aligned with childhood development. But I don’t agree with all of its other tenants. And more than I love the idea of my kids going to Waldorf school, I love the idea of them going to a fantastic public school where the message will be that everyone belongs and everyone is accepted.

God didn’t give my children to a mom who loves to bake. He didn’t send their beautiful souls to a seamstress, a mathematician, or to a morning person. He did send them to a woman who is learning to be brave but will fight tooth and nail to make sure that they feel honored and accepted. He sent them to a mom who loves toys more than they do, adores Disney, and despite being an otherwise horrible baker can actually produce a perfect chocolate chip cookie… and then run it off later with joy. When I texted my husband earlier that I had stumbled upon this “ah ha” moment, I simply said “If God wanted the kids to go to Waldorf school and be raised in the way that entails, then He would have sent them to a Waldorf family”. His response was absolutely perfect. “Yep, and we’re the best parents that we can be. And I’m damn proud of the parents that we are.” I am too, My Love.

The shame that I allowed that teacher to put on me is gone. I’m just a normal mom, doing the best I can with the greatest job I’ll ever do. So are you. And we’re doing a pretty damn good job.

 

Growing a Rocky Garden- The Freedom of Imperfection

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I am a classic perfectionist. Born of a family of “it’s the other guy’s fault” and “you’re the best one out there” I grew up expecting more of myself than I should have and did not experience failure well. I still don’t. I’m pouting tonight. I’m finally not too proud to admit that. I submitted a short writing piece- not my best work but still good- to a motherhood journal to be one of this quarter’s authors. I did not get selected. So much of me wants to sink into the words that my dad would say if I were to call him tonight and tell him. “It was rigged. You’re just as good as the ten people chosen. They must have been intimidated by you…” But the truth is, I read the pieces written by the women who were selected, and they are simply much better writers. The prose, the voice, the lyricism in each of their pieces was exquisite. What I had to offer wasn’t up to par, plain and simple. And that’s OK! Can I get better? Absolutely. Do I want to become a better writer? Yes. Does this relate to motherhood? It does. 😉

I want to be the perfect mom. It’s my “job”. I’ve been good at every job I’ve done. But all of those jobs came with training, with clear expectations and regular affirmation of work quality. Nothing prepares us adequately for the thrill, shock, and rollercoaster ride that is mothering a child. And yet we hold ourselves to a standard that suggests otherwise.  This morning my daughter screamed and got mad at something (a daily occurrence) but for some reason the way she yelled stunned and terrified my 5 month old son to the point of hiccuping sobs. His hiccuping sobs made my daughter feel so bad that she started bawling and I was left to rock, shush and calm both of them thinking to myself “who could have told me that I would be here, trying to calm both of my hysterical children all because of one angry little scream?” I had to laugh. They were both crying simply because the other was crying! I wanted to scream at the lunacy of it! The whole situation was ludicrous. And there are many many ludicrous scenarios that we will endure in our parenting journeys. Nothing prepared me for the night that my daughter would throw herself out of her crib in a desperate attempt to get to us. Nobody prepared me for my son being wheeled on a cart into the NICU just minutes after he was separated from my body and for the first time in 41 weeks not being able to wrap my arms around him. And most days I certainly don’t know what to do with my too smart, so fiery, always questioning little girl. I snap. I yell. I make mistakes and I hate it. I’m not perfect at being her mother. But do you know what my Heavenly Father reminds me in those moments of intense remorse when I have to hang my head at the way I fall short or am left powerless? My kids don’t need a perfect mother. Neither do yours. Because they are going to fail. They are going to make mistakes and fall down hard and come up short. And they don’t need a parent who tells them to place blame elsewhere. They don’t need a mother or father to make excuses for them or to tell them they need to be perfect at everything. Our children do need someone to show them their strengths and weaknesses and to see both with grace-filled clarity. They need someone to hold them when they fail and to explore both the ways in which they can do better and the ways in which they simply can’t. Sometimes even our best will not make the grade. That’s OK too. It can be shocking to have those first experiences of wingless leaps. We are not always going to take off and soar. Oh we want to. So badly we want to. Especially when we work so hard. Tally the bruises. Safeguard the scars. They make you human and ensure that your babes will be raised with the fearlessness that comes with pure love and acceptance. My garden is filled with rocks but it is yielding some beautiful growth. If that’s not a metaphor for motherhood then I don’t know one.

Grace to you, sweet hearts. There is freedom in grace

The Lie of Being Trapped- Freedom from our Babies

Last week I started a series about freedom. It’s a word that we don’t normally associate with motherhood but I want to show you how you can either recognize or reclaim some freedom into your world.

Tiny people are exhausting. If yours aren’t talking yet then you’re most likely still walking around half-awake in the kind of exhaustion that comes along with night-nursing, teething, and attaching baby locks to every cupboard and drawer. Or you may be the kind of worn out that only moms who have bodily removed a screaming, tantruming toddler from Target understand. Maybe you’re balancing your time between children that range from infancy and beyond and in the same day you’ve cleaned baby poop off of a wall and sent a mouthy child to her room. Whatever your degree of tired, it feels confining. I know that. I’m there. And it is so easy to feel completely overwhelmed when you look at your children first thing in the morning and can already tell that your plans aren’t happening. One is already yawning and cranky from poor sleep, another is making every little task an enormous challenge testing your already thread bare patience before you’ve even had your coffee. And then the voice pipes up. “My whole day is ruined because of my kids. I can’t do anything. I have no life. Why do I even try to make plans?” That voice, the whisperer of lies, is manipulative and powerful. But that voice only has as much control as you give it. It’s not our children that steal our freedom, it’s us.

Now before you start talking to your phone/tablet/computer screen and arguing with me, let me explain.  There are times when our kids are going to call the shots. Illness, injury, refusal to take a bottle are a few of those non-negotiables. But aside from those things, are you still letting life get the best of you when it comes to having time away from your children? This scenario might sound familiar. You get asked out for happy hour by a girlfriend who you would love to catch up with. You get excited and absolutely need the time away! The day comes and your toddler has a runny nose so is particularly cranky. Making it to the grocery store doesn’t happen like it should so you call your husband to make sure he’s home on time and picks up dinner as well because you just don’t have anything to make. Suddenly it’s 5:00, he’s not home because traffic is a mess, you’re still not out of sweats because of said toddler and the whole thing becomes too overwhelming to feel worth it. You cancel. And then you’re miffed about it for the rest of the evening and probably the entire next day. Moms, this was me for my daughter’s first two years of life. Was it fair that it always just felt so hard to make it happen?  No. But is that how life goes sometimes? Yes! And who else is going to advocate that you get some time to yourself if you don’t? Perhaps you feel guilty taking more time away because you are a working mom. That was me. Maybe you know that things just run more smoothly when you’re home and you would rather stay and run the show than come home to dishes and a baby still awake. That was me too. Until those reasons no longer worked- no longer justified feeling like I was a victim in my own choices. Thankfully my husband noticed it at the same time and started encouraging me to make plans and do fun things. He even went so far as to book me a flight and send me down to see one of my best girls in Cali shortly after our daughter turned two! But please, if you’re feeling trapped and you’re resenting it do not wait for someone to make plans for you and push you out the door. You deserve more from yourself. You deserve to nurture your friendships with fun and uninterrupted conversation. You deserve to nurture your big, beautiful brain with reading and enjoying culture and beauty. There is a lot that we can do with our kids by our sides but also a lot that we can’t. And that is OK. Getting out is OK.

Before I leave and that whiny, annoying little voice of negativity starts to whisper why you are the exception to this post let me give you a few ideas on how to make this doable. Because there is nothing I love more than proving a liar wrong 😉

  • Make a date, write it on the calendar, and then tell a lot of people how excited you are! This will get you more excited and more likely not to cancel for a “silly” reason, it will keep Daddy/Grandma/Babysitter on the ball and remembering that they are responsible for the babes during that time, and if you have people asking you all day “hey aren’t you doing ___ tonight?” you’re going to stay excited and be less likely to cancel.
  • Plan for meals while you are gone at least a day in advance. You will feel that much easier leaving and won’t be stressed the day of.
  • Tell your kids a couple days in advance and keep reminding them how great it is going to be that they get to have some special Daddy/Grandma/Babysitter time.
  • Be prepared to come home to things not being as you left them and remind yourself that there will always be messes to clean, kids to put back in bed, etc etc. What matters is that you got some time away and the kids were well cared for.
  • Build a network of people who are available to come be with your kiddos and who love to do it. Because time away without your significant other is fun but you guys need date nights too! Make sure that you’re building people into your network who let you get away together so you’re not always tag-teaming your fun.
  • Give your kids as many kisses and hugs as they need before leaving…but still leave. If you love and trust who you are leaving them with they will sense that and know it’s ok that you are gone. Moms are magic, but there is a lot of magic to be found in other incredible caregivers.

Enjoy today and while you’re at it, call a friend. Make a date. Go have FUN!

Cheers ~ Heather

The Home of the Free

In honor of Independence Day being this past weekend I want to do a series on freedom. I think as mothers, especially in the first year postpartum, we wind up feeling so tied down, even imprisoned at times by our babies schedules and needs. We can so easily become blind to the freedoms that we have. The next few posts will be about finding freedom in different areas of motherhood and womanhood and I pray they inspire and liberate you!

Today I want to focus on freedom in parenting. The biggest thing that I want us to toss out the window is parental labeling. A) It’s isolating, and B) It’s debilitating. When I was pregnant with my daughter I became incredibly attracted to the theory of Attachment Parenting. The concept of gentle, close, intimate mothering jived with both my personality and with what I knew from studying developmental psychology. I donned the cap of the Attachment Theory Parent and decided that I would go by the manual. Simple right? 😉 Not. I know that there are some parents that this has worked for. You decided early on how you were going to parent, how often you would let Dad give a bottle and how often you would breastfeed, whether you would breastfeed at all, cry-it-out verses the no cry sleep solution verses traditional sleep training verses modified sleep training, Ferber verses Gerber…etc etc etc. And it worked! Some of you out there have stuck to your guns, made a decision and found that miraculously that decision worked for your child and for your family. If that has been the case for you then that is awesome! For others of us, we got stuck somewhere between chapter three and “my baby won’t take a bottle” and the theories and decisions have been modified. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. When I decided that I wanted to jump on board the Attachment Parenting bandwagon I never considered that there would be things that wouldn’t work. After all, this highly researched and decades practiced method seemed foolproof. But I didn’t know at that time that I would give birth to a strong-willed, space-craving, bottle-loving daughter. Co-sleeping or bed-sharing  is common with Attachment Parenting families. This was not an option for my little lady who was far too wakeful when she was in bed with us. And when it came to breastfeeding she could have taken it or left it. The flow of the bottle was her bag baby. 😉 I pushed through and we nursed until a month past her first birthday at which point she weaned herself from the breast and never looked back. And those things bothered me. It bothered me that I had to let her do some crying at night at 15 and 18 months when she went through horrible sleep regressions and would not sleep any other way. It bothered me that she didn’t want to be my little nursling until she was 2 years old. And do you know why those things bothered me? Because they weren’t the “Attachment Parenting Way”. It sounds silly, but that was it. By nestling myself into the comfort of a theory I had essentially imprisoned myself self-imposed parameters and taken away my own freedom. I started down that same dangerous path when it came to her education. When she was 2, I started researching schools and education theory and stumbled on the Waldorf/Steiner Education method.  I started implementing Waldorf fundamentals into our home because Waldorf isn’t just about education, it’s a whole way of family life and child-rearing. Some of the things that I did brought beauty and balance and rhythm into our family life…and others just didn’t work. Waldorf early education is slow and earthy, whimsical and lovely. It urges parents to only bring natural elements into the home for play and art, to eliminate all forms of media, and to focus on movement and song . My daughter loved the idea of singing our way through the day and spending a lot of time outdoors. But she is not prone to play quietly and do anything slowly. She loves all things bright, plastic, shiny, and loud! Her first year of preschool was at a Waldorf school, and she loved it, but she will be entering her second year of preschool this fall at a Reggio Emilio school. Because I am learning to take what I like from a method or theory while tossing what doesn’t work guilt-free. There are naysayers out there who will scoff at this idea. There are those that will call that “flighty” or say it’s giving into the whims of the child. I simply think it’s realistic and kind. It is kind to consider how something is working for you and it is kind to think about how something is working for your child.

Now my son just might be your prototypical Attachment Parenting, Waldorf kid. He sleeps next to me in bed, nurses on demand, and thinks the sun rises and falls on my boobs.  (I took the last line from a friend because it’s hilarious and so so true! Thank you, Katie!) His temperament is pleasant and even and strikes me as a boy who will be happy to play with rocks and blocks for hours on end. If we “follow the manual” for him it will simply be because it works. I’m not going to force it. Life is too short to live or parent by what works for someone else, even if it is incredibly well researched. Because in the end, you and I are different people. And our children are their own unique tiny people. And in order to raise them up in joy and in love I think we need to remember to also raise them up in freedom.

Letting Dad “Dad”

A quick thought from my heart in honor of Father’s Day. 🙂

There are a few things that have softened my heart since becoming a mother of two, but this one doesn’t have anything to do with my son or his birth. This is just a piece of wisdom that I picked up right after he was born from a fellow mother’s Instagram post…and it hit me hard in the best way possible. I am learning to let my husband “Dad” while I “Mom”.

Practically speaking, this means that I have stopped expecting the house to be picked up if I come home from my husband being alone with the kids. They will both be happy, cared for and nourished but the house in the process will have probably gotten torn apart. This used to drive me crazy and simply put, it doesn’t anymore. This also means that dressed means dressed, not necessarily “outfitted” when it comes most specifically to our 4-year old daughter. Pajamas with a skirt might be completely acceptable. 😉 And on weekends if he has any say so, we will not be cramming our day full of errands or gatherings in order to please someone outside of our immediate family or check off something on the to-do list. Period. Our kiddos needs come first in my husband’s eyes, and he values their needs for space and down time very highly.

Emotionally speaking, what this creates in our family is balance. Ahhh, that word just makes me breathe more easily. And if you know me, you know that I am a people-pleasing perfectionist in recovery. When my husband gets home from work I expect the house to be relatively clean because that is a standard I set for myself. I expect that when we leave the house that our daughter will be in clothes that “kinda” match with her hair brushed because that’s a standard that I’ve set for myself. (Are you noticing a trend?) My husband doesn’t “father” the way I “mother”. When he’s solo with our kids he focuses his attention more directly on them instead of multitasking. And he would rather not try to cram too much into a weekend and overstimulate our already sensitive daughter where as I might be more prone to let that boundary slide.

Simply put, our kids need us both to parent through our instincts and gifts in order to receive a greater kind of love and in order to learn more about life than they would if one of us made all of the parenting rules. If we always had lazy weekends then they might not learn the lesson of sacrificing personal time for others. And if they grew up in a house that always had to be clean then they might not learn to give themselves grace.

What would it look like to let Dad “Dad” a little more in your house? Personally, it has given me more grace for my husband and much healthier expectations. It has also given me eyes to see his strengths more clearly than I did before.

I hope your Father’s Day was light, joyous, and meaningful. 🙂