When I was pregnant, I imagined what life might be like if I had a little girl. I envisioned teaching her to stand up for herself, buying her dresses with science symbols, letting her get dirty, and being an example of a strong woman for her. I wasn’t going to stereotype her or allow anyone else to, thank you very much. In short, I considered how to teach her to be a feminist.
But I turned out to have two sons.
Recovering from the chaos of the holidays, “improve mindfulness” or “be present” may be on the top of your New Years Resolutions list. I know it’s on mine! It’s especially hard to be present as a parent, when we’re pulled in so many directions – sometimes literally. As someone who gets stuck in her head a lot, I’ve worked on this quite a bit. Here are some approaches that have helped:
The overly cheerful Christmas letter is a relentlessly parodied cliche. Yet it and its cousin, the perfectly cultivated Facebook feed, call to us: “You want us, don’t you? Your life should be like this. Your kids should be like this.” And then we wonder – “Maybe I’m not trying hard enough. Maybe if I tried a little more, my kids would be like that.”
But for the sake of us and our kids, we need to resist the siren song. Not just of comparison – because that’s a shitty, dark hole to end up in as well – but of treating our children like our personal accomplishments. Believe me – I speak from experience.
“Did they have a home?” Sprout asked me. I had just finished telling him the Christmas story.
“Yes, they did have a home after that,” I said, skipping the whole “escaping into Egypt” bit.
While his question surprised me, it wasn’t totally out of nowhere. We’ve been talking about how not everyone has the same privileges we do, including homes. As both a Christian and someone who’s concerned about our society’s most vulnerable people, I want Christmas to be about a lot more than Santa and presents. In fact, I want to teach my kids how to serve others during the this time of year.
Here are some ways to turn away from consumerism and towards others at Christmas:
On the night before my son’s first day of preschool, I made a controversial parenting decision – I didn’t make him a “first day of school” sign.
As I said in a message on my personal Facebook page: “I was going to make a sign for [Sprout] to hold on his first day of preschool tomorrow. But I fell asleep in his room while trying to get him to sleep and woke up at 10:40. And now it’s 12:30 and it’s still not done. Maybe next year!”
Watching my three-year-old scale the “rock-climbing” wall at the playground, I bite my tongue. I don’t want him to fall, of course. But neither do I want to discourage him from trying this new piece of equipment. Instead, I want him to explore his world enthusiastically. I want him to feel safe enough to climb high, good enough at assessing risk to know what is too high, and gutsy enough to pick himself back up when he inevitably does fall.
But as all parents know, it’s a difficult balance. It’s especially true now, when American society wants to bubble-wrap our kids and control their every moment.
So how can you find this balance?
Embracing these ideas in our parenting I think have made my son more willing to try new things and appreciate a wide diversity of people and experiences than he would have otherwise.
People say that moms are much more go-with-the-flow when it comes to the second child compared with the first, such as in this commercial. Much to my surprise, I actually do fulfill this stereotype. And it’s not just my perception – both my parents and in-laws remarked how much more comfortable I seem. While the fact that Little Bird is a better sleeper than his older brother and a fast physical recovery helped, so did the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the nearly three years of Sprout’s life. Here are some of the things I’m doing after Little Bird was born that I didn’t do the first time:
Encouraging people to visit: While welcoming visitors is the opposite of what most advice recommends, it’s been essential for me. I get cabin fever very quickly; I was getting antsy after a few days of being snowed in this winter. Postpartum, I have to deal with the double-whammy of not being able to bring the baby to public places before he gets his immunizations and the fact that exclusively breastfeeding him means I can’t leave for more than 45 minutes or so. With Sprout, I’m fairly certain this combination significantly contributed to some postpartum anxiety. Luckily, this time around I’ve had three different sets of friends visit, bearing news of the outside world and nice things to say about the baby. My friends understood that normal “host” etiquette was out the window and I was grateful for the company.