Struggling with My Past to Empower My Son’s Future

Struggling with My Past to Empower My Son's Future (Photo: White boy throwing his head back in front of a plate of food.)

“I talked to the teacher today,” my husband said while he was making dinner. While his statement was neutral, his strangled tone of voice revealed something was wrong. “The teacher” is our four-year-old’s preschool teacher.

After we put the kids to bed, he said, “She said he’s having trouble makingfriends.”

Ah. That’s what it was.

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How Moms Can Reduce the Mental Load that Leaves Us Sick and Tired

How Moms Can Reduce the Mental Load and Emotional Labor that Leaves Us Sick and Tired. (Photo: White woman holding her head with one hand and a crying baby with the other.)

When I faced going back to work after my maternity leave, my husband and I faced a very real and common challenge – how to balance household management and the mental load between the two of us.

I’m a “doer” at heart while my husband, Chris, is much more laid-back. So taking everything over was a legitimate risk for me. The mental burden of being a mom is very real, whether you embrace the role of being a “keeper” of everything or find it smothering.

Our situation had an additional twist on it. That’s because Chris was going to be taking on a role that 29% of moms hold, but only 7% of dads do – stay-at-home parent. Because I would be working outside the home and he wouldn’t, I could not be the de facto household manager. It wouldn’t be fair or practical.

So we had to find a balance of duties, both in terms of physical chores and management. Since then, we’ve learned to reduce my emotional labor and mental load as a mom. (Unfortunately, most of these don’t apply if you’re a single parent.)

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What I Learned About Self Love From The Flu

What I Learned About Self-Love from the Flu. (Photo: White woman lying in bed on a pillow, sleeping.)

Lying in bed with my eyes closed, I wondered if I was the victim of a cosmic joke. A few days earlier, I had celebrated a few moments of silence, but four days of looking at nothing but the inside of my eyelids was starting to feel like a bit too much.

The Sunday before, our entire church was silent just before the sermon. Everyone was reading the white text on the black screen in front of us. Among other thoughts of discomfort, the text said, “It’s too quiet” and “For the love of God, this is anguish.”

After a few minutes, our pastor asked, “How did that feel to everyone? Did that feel like forever? Because it was just three minutes.”

While various murmurs reverberated through the congregation, my hand shot up. “It was nice not being asked for anything!” I volunteered. Chuckles ensued. Our fellow churchgoers are well-aware of my husband’s and my weekly Keystone Cops routine, chasing our young kids around to ensure they stay in the sanctuary.

But a few days later, I was starting to regret my enthusiasm for silence. I had a case of the flu so brutal that even visual sensory input overwhelmed me. But as awful as it was, I realized that my experience as a mom helped prepare me for it. While that sounds like a joke – the flu as a vacation! – what I’ve learned as a parent has actually made silence far more tolerable than I ever expected it to be.

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What I Learned About Perspective from a Bruise

What I Learned About Perspective from a Bruise. (Photo: Young white boy's head with a bruise in the middle of his forehead)

“What’s this? Is it a bruise?” my mother-in-law asked, looking at my eighteen-month-old’s forehead. She rubbed it with her hand, to get it off in case it was dirt. It wasn’t. It was in fact, a gray-yellow, very distinctive, bruise.

At first, it was hidden under his ragamuffin blond hair. But a haircut a few days later made it much more prominent. Like Ash Wednesday ashes that won’t wipe off.

“What will people think?” I worried. “Will they think we neglect him? Will they think I’m a bad mom? It’s right in the middle of his forehead!”

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Finding Peace in the “What’s Next?”

Finding Peace After Miscarriage in the "What's Next?" Photo: White family of man, woman and one baby standing in front of red cliffs (top); White family of man, woman, and two kids blocking the woman standing in front of red cliffs (bottom)

The last time we visited Red Rocks National Monument, we were in mourning.

Two and a half years ago, my husband and I were reeling from a doctor’s appointment the week before as we were visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Las Vegas. At that appointment, we found out that the child-to-be I thought I was pregnant with had stopped developing. I was supposed to be ten weeks pregnant; the child-to-be’s heart seemed to have stopped at seven weeks. Rather than delaying our vacation, I chose to wait to get the D&C.

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Learning to Love My Son Exactly Where He’s Standing

Learning to Love My Son Exactly Where He's Standing. What happens when your music loving kid doesn't want to go up front to a concert? (Photo: Kids standing on stage with a musician with the words "Mister G" in balloon letters above them.)

The crowd of kids in front of the concert stage were singing, jumping, and dancing, frenzied and joyful. At the edge of the crowd, next to the chairs for the parents, stood my four-year-old son. He watched and occasionally bounced his head a little, like a kid at homecoming who feels uncomfortable dancing. Other times he wandered to me in the back, seemingly missing the music altogether.

“Who is this kid?” I wondered.

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The Fleeting Memory of Childhood

The Fleeting Memory of Childhood. What happens when your child forgets a memory you shared? (Photos - Above, Christmas lights at the entrance to Sesame Place; bottom: Giant cookie monster
“You remember Sesame Place, right? Where we met Cookie Monster?” I said to my four-year-old casually. I was in the middle of contemplating going back sometime this fall.

“No,” he responded and shrugged.

“Really?” I said, tilting my head and squinting at him. His answer completely derailed my train of thought. Visiting Sesame Place had been his first long-term memory, or so I had thought. In fact, it was the one single event he had remembered before his brother had been born, when he was still an only child.

And just like that, it was gone.

That surprise struck me again a few weeks later. We were walking to a pedestrian bridge near our house to watch the trains pass under it. While we used to walk this route daily, Sprout has been more interested this summer in riding his bike or running around the playground than watching trains.

Walking past our neighbor’s house, we spotted their dogs, who are always outside if the weather is decent. Pointing them out to Sprout, I blanked on their names.

“Look, it’s – uh, what are their names again?” I asked.

“I don’t remember,” he said, looking confused himself. While me not remembering their names wasn’t surprising at all, him forgetting them left me with my mouth open. He and Chris walked this route every day for months. Every time, he’d stop and say hello to the dogs. He knew their names as if they were our pets.

After a few mental stumbles, I retrieved their names  – “Cupcake and Boo Boo, that’s it.”

“Oh, right,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was remembering them as well or just affirming me.

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Five Benefits of Having a Strong-Willed or Stubborn Kid

Five Benefits of Having a Strong-Willed or Stubborn Kid. Have a stubborn kid who won't do what you want? Here's some benefits you may not have considered! (Photo: Four-year-old white boy sitting on top of a rock structure.)“Which set of pajamas do you want? The space ones or the biking alligators?” I asked my three-year-old.

“Nope,” he answered. Nope is the casual middle finger of answers. So much for offering choices.

“How about these?” I said, holding up a pair with bears on them.

“Nope,” he said, lounging with his hands behind his head on his bed like it was a pool floatie in Malibu.

After a few more choices, he finally acquiesced to wearing a pair. We don’t go through this particular back-and-forth every night, but it’s just one in his bag of tricks to delay bedtime.

My son is one of those kids who doesn’t want to do anything that’s demanded of him. “Because I said so” is a foreign phase to him. He wants a good justification for every decision and preferably to feel like he came up with the idea himself.

Part of this is my fault, for better or worse. Our family practices positive parenting, which is largely focused on validating children’s feelings and perspectives while teaching them to do the same for others. And as a science writer and communicator, I love explaining our choices.

But some of it is just his personality. I’m pretty sure if we tried to be more authoritarian, he’d just dig his heels in harder. The times that I start to get bossy go downhill very quickly. Despite the fact that having a stubborn kid with a strong will is sometimes a pain in the butt, there are some definite advantages to it for our family.

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A Season of Smothering

A Season of Smothering. Some times of parenthood are harder than others - even if they're something you love too. (Photo: Monkey with baby climbing on its head.)

Lying on the couch, I have a one-year-old sitting on my lap and pinching my face while a four-year-old is almost sitting on my head as he tries to twist my hair in his hands. I look up to my husband and only half-jokingly cry out, “Help!”

Sometimes, I feel like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, when the Wild Things are yelling “We’ll eat you up, we love you so!” Except the Wild Things are my children whom I love very much. While they aren’t actually wild monsters, their love back to me can feel rather smothering at times.

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