Why Am I Doing So Much For My Kids?

“I cannot help you; you’re too independent.”

My Mom said these words to me a few months back. I think she was complaining but I’ll take it as a compliment. After all, I’m the middle child. The older one got all the first son status. The younger one got all the youngest child attention. So I was always determined to chart my own course. Consequently, I firmly believe that happiness and success are my own choice. I alone am responsible for the decisions I make and their outcomes. I create my own destiny.

So why the heck am I doing so much now for my kids? I do their laundry, I clean up after them (I use the word “clean” quite loosely), I remind them (when I remember) to take their swimsuits/library books/signed forms to school, I arrange their playdates, I (sometimes) check their homework. I organize their clothes, get new ones when they outgrow current ones. We buy groceries, new shoes, toys. My husband folds their clothes, packs their lunch every day. We plan and cook their dinners, recycle their trash. We ferry them here, there and everywhere.

Is this not part of the definition and commitment of parenthood?

Yes, they do have some basic chores but inconsistency is ubiquitous (our fault, largely.) Take your plate/glass/cutlery over to the sink when you have finished your meal. Put your shoes/coat/hat/mittens away when you come in the house. Hang your towels up after you use them. Make sure dirty clothes find their way to the hamper, at some point. To me, these are all part of respectfully co-existing in the same household.

But I have decided it’s time for the grown-ups to back-off and for these kids start stepping it up. There is much much more that they can – and should – be doing to be active contributors to our home and hearth, otherwise known as this working Mom’s domestic crisis.

Starting today – albeit gradually and with best intentions – I’m doing less and they are doing more. They are nine and almost seven years-old and I believe it’s time. Maybe even beyond time. It’s going to start with bringing their full hamper down and then folding and putting away their own laundry. We’ll move on to making their own school lunches. Stacking and emptying the dishwasher. Sweeping the kitchen floor. On the weekends, they can make their own breakfasts and lunches. They can call their friends and arrange their own social schedules (checking with parents, of course, who still have to do the ferrying.) I’m sure my husband would appreciate help putting the trash out.

The whining will certainly be loud. Eyeballs will roll. They will be plenty of “fine” and “whatever” and pushback. There will be days when the particular pair of pants he wants to wear are not clean because he won’t have realized that the hamper was full.  They will inevitably say “I’m hungry” and get all stroppy when food does not instantly appear. They will learn. I know other parents who have successfully drilled these duties into their kids’ and I feel ashamed that I am still doing it all for them.

Over time, I’m hoping, these chores will become natural, second nature and hopefully, this household will hum with organization, goodwill and less mayhem. But this isn’t just about making my life easier (though that’s a huge incentive, I’ll admit.)

It’s about getting them to think, anticipate and understand the ingredients of an independent life so that, as they get older and obstacles (emotional, physical and academic) plant themselves in their path, they’ll have the muscle memory to face them. Be responsible for their actions. Take failures and inequity in their stride and ultimately, create their own success – whatever that will be.

Emptying the dishwasher, putting away clean socks and remembering their library books are just stepping stones in this journey. Independence is the goal, but happiness is always a choice.

The Facebook Post That Made Me a Terrible Mother

by Kristin Parran

I can’t keep it in any longer. I must be the worst mother ever. It doesn’t matter that my not-yet-3-year old son adores me. Or that he climbs in bed with my husband and I and tells us we make the best team (then asks for high-fives). Or tells me he loves me more than cars. CARS! None of that matters.

Two things I have read today make me believe that despite all of these things, I must be a terrible mother. First, I read a blog post about breastfeeding. Or, rather about not breastfeeding. The author shared her honest feelings around the disappointment – and subsequent judgment – around not being able to breastfeed. The point was that mothers should leave other mothers alone – breastfeeding or not. Funny, though, all of the comments from women who felt judged about not breastfeeding came from a place of not being able to breastfeed. I didn’t see one from a woman who CHOSE not to breastfeed, like I did. It’s hard as a new mother to not feel at least a little judgment with every decision you make – even if it’s self-inflicted judgment. But, I am increasingly finding that mothers like me – those who choose to bottle feed for one reason or another – don’t exist in public forums. They sit back, try to stay unnoticed and feed their babies the best way they know how. Some choose the expensive organic formula. Some pay for soy-based. Some do extensive research to understand which product is best for their babies. But the thing that connects all of these women is that they love their babies just as much as breastfeeding women do. I love my son no less than the next woman. I firmly believe – and would argue til I died – that in the way I know how, I have given my son the best chances for a life full of love, happiness and health. But it’s hard to find people like me out there. At least those who admit it.

The second thing I saw was on Facebook. This kind of thing usually doesn’t affect me the way it did today. Maybe it’s because I’m more sensitive, or because my stepdaughter is visiting and that always has my emotions doing somersaults. Either way, it hit me. An old acquaintance just went back to work and posted that she’s missing her babies more than ever. But that’s not it – it’s what she said next that hit me: “I know every working mom would rather be at home with their babies all the time.” I dropped everything and started this post. I couldn’t help it. My brain is screaming. You ARE a good mom. You ARE a good mom. But, am I? Really? My response to that post was not: “Sister…you are so right! I would so much rather be at home with a screaming toddler, playing with cars and arguing about naptime Every. SINGLE. DAY.” Rather, instead my response: “That’s BS! While I LOVE my baby, I also LOVE my job. And the people I work with. And the opportunity to be ME. And the socialization. And that I contribute something financially to my family. I love having both. I NEED to have both.”

I get the sense that a lot of mothers will read my response and gasp. GASP. HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT!?! How could you say you love your job AND your baby? How could you not want to spend every single waking moment with your child? The answer for me is simple. Being me – the me who loves my job and my husband and my son and my friends and my time alone – makes me the very best mother I can be. Whether or not that mother meets standards set by others is something I can no longer judge myself against. I wish I could say that feeling follows me everywhere, every day. But, it obviously doesn’t. Rather than reading that post and saying: “There are mothers of every color, and I happen to a bright pink” I took it as a jab. A knife turning in the heart that is still trying to heal from post-partum. So, I’m not perfect. I do let some things get to me. But after the initial crazy self-judgment and guilt wear off, I once again see that I’m not such a bad mom. My son is an incredible human being. And, at the end of each day, I have to believe that I have something to do with that.

Kristin Parran is a mother of one (nearly 3-year old) boy and wife to a husband who anchors her in peace. Wise enough to know life can (and should) have balance, brave enough to listen to her gut – but not always smart or Zen enough to stop sweating the small stuff – she recently moved her family 1,100 miles to give everyone the best shot at equilibrium. She spends her days working from home for a tech PR firm and shedding tears of gratitude for newfound peace – which is soon interrupted by the impatience of reality. Each time she leaves her house, she secretly hopes to be discovered by Keith Urban, Brad Paisley or Dierks Bentley as a (silent, yet energetic) back-up singer. Or, to someday see her name on the cover of a book.

KP

A Love Letter to Mom Friends

One of the very best and unanticipated outcomes of motherhood – other than, you know, having kids – has been my Mom friends. So, on this Valentine’s Day, this is my salute to you from me, with love.

You get it.

You’ve got my back and I’ve got yours.

You don’t judge; you help.

You are the best sounding board – source of advice, recipes, spousal frustrations and snark.

Insanity is forgiven, as are tardiness, sticky floors and yoga pants.

Oh how we laugh together!

You’re my emergency contact on school and camp forms (and I don’t have to ask.)

Whether you work or stay home – really, who cares: you are still a Mom and a friend.

You are my muse.

(p.s. Dad friends, you are pretty awesome too.)

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Entering the 3DS Zone

After much indecision and comparing notes with other families, we finally caved and bought our son a 3DS for his 9th birthday. I had been against this for a long time. Mostly because both my husband and I really don’t like computer/video games: we don’t play them and didn’t want to encourage our kids to spend even more time in front of screens. After all, when they go to friend’s houses, they get ample opportunity to play. Also the sheer cost: even the 3DS was a lot more money than we usually spend on any one kid’s item.

But he wanted one really, really badly. He wanted something electronic he could call his own. Also he’s very cute and persuasive. However, I also saw this gift as a huge opportunity to reinforce a few rules and for added oomph on the bribery and punishment front. After all, I can give but I can also take away (or at least threaten it.) Does this make me a mean Mom? Probably but too bad.

So the following rules have been drawn up and drilled in. In fact, he’s even signed them. It’s a contract now. We’ll see how it goes!

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On This Bed

I’m 46 years old and, tonight, I sleep again in this bed at my parents’ house. This bed where I slept most nights during the puberty years, the teenage years and my young 20s, and here and there during my 30s and 40s as I’ve visited. And when you think about it, this bed has always supported and comforted me. On this bed:

I daydreamed over pop stars and heartthrob actors
I’d play with my sister
I’d sit anxiously waiting for a boy to call
I’d giggle with girlfriends, plotting parties, dates, outfits, makeup
I’d do my homework and revise for exams
I’d layout clothes and more than often cries tears of frustration over how I looked – or thought I looked
I’d read and read and read
I’d dream romantic dreams
I’d cry over broken hearts, altered friendships
I’d write letters and pore over photos
I’d talk on the phone for hours with friends
I’d fill out university and job applications
I’d sleep with boyfriends
I’d make love to my husband
I’d feel the kicks and hiccups of infants in utero
I’d snuggle with my babies, then toddlers, then little kids

Tonight, as I prepare to go to sleep once again here, I’m thankful for this bed.

Sweet dreams.

The Two Words That Moms Love Most

(Other than “love you,” of course.)

Picture this. A crowded shopping mall, two and a half week’s before Christmas. I’m taking my son to Build-A-Bear for a pre-school class mate’s birthday party. I’m fully prepared to hang out for the hour or so, watching a gaggle of five year-olds stuff and clothe some furry creature. I know a few of the parents, I’m ready to chit-chat. But then, the parents of the party girl offer the following wonderful utterances: “This to totally drop off. Just come back in an hour or so.”

The angels wept. A free hour. In a mall. Christmas shopping. Without a child. Hallelujah!

Off I scampered, barely even glancing back at my son who, I knew, was far more interested in the impending stuffing (of bear and of cake) than whether his Mom was hanging around watchfully.

This was just the beginning of what I realized was a major paradigm shift – and I don’t use those words lightly – in my parenting journey. All of a sudden, every party was a drop off party. Every play date was a drop off play date (unless the Moms want a play date too! I mean, haven’t you read The Three Martini Play Date?)

Moving from having to negotiate the universe with an infant/toddler/pre-schooler constantly attached to your side (or at least within a meter’s arm grab) to a few sacred hours without them was an eye-opener. What to do with this free time? Most often, it was the gloriousness of solo grocery shopping which is so much more efficient ‘sans enfant.’ Or other such errands. Very occasionally, I treat myself to a mani or head to Starbucks and join the cool folks, sipping their lattes, comfortably ensconced in an armchair with the sunday papers or a good novel.

Let it also be known, being a fan of paying it forward and good karma and all that, that I also happily host the drop off play date and let my fellow parents experience the joy of a few solo hours. I can always see the relief on their faces.

So, to all the parents that have said to other parents those two delicious words, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Summer Swan Song & Back to School Angst

Well, that went fast! Here we are, just three days of summer camp left and back to school in a week’s time. It’s a time to pause and marvel at summer’s imprint on my kids – before I, true to form, start stressing about the imminent change to our schedules, logistics and my inevitable working Mom guilt.

Summer has a habit of showering my kids with one heck of a growth spurt: both mentally and physically. Mentally, they become more self-assured, strutting off to camp every day, confident in their character, willing to learn, practice and hone new skills, navigate complex social situations, make new friends – both peers and counselors.

Summer mostly leaves her mark on their bodies. Long days of constant motion and outdoor action convert their little bodies into long, lean, muscular, bronzed creatures. They grew at least two feet taller each summer – I’m not kidding. The sun bleaches the soft down on their foreheads and rains golden streaks into their hair. Their bums are shocking white in contrast with the rest of the lanky, ripped bodies! Summer renders them ever more beautiful.

Best of all, they return home from camp each night filthy, hungry and tired. They eat their body weight in dinner, chug several pints of milk, shower off the day’s dust, grime, sun screen and bug spray, and fall, clean and exhausted, into their beds and into deep, sweet dreams.

This evening, we talked about what they’d miss most about camp. Their friends and swimming every day were their answers. Then we talked about what they were looking forward about going back to school. Their friends and learning new things, they responded.

It amazes me how seamlessly and confidently they slide from one season to the next, without angst, without regret, with anticipation.

And so we go back to school. However, for me as a working Mom, the transition isn’t quite as carefree as the kids.

Back to school, for me, brings a change of schedule with school starting an hour later, meaning I get to the office later, compressing my already busy work day. It brings regret that I don’t have the time in my schedule to walk my kids to school. It foists guilt that I can’t be as present in the classroom as maybe I could or should be. lt slams me with frustration that I’m not able to pick them up before 6pm every day, meaning our evenings together are all-too-short.

Surely, they deserve more of me?

This is a state-of-mind and heart that I face at this time of year every year. I struggle with it. And then accept it, for my choice to work is my choice. And, luckily for me, my kids weather this time of year  better than I do – so I guess I must be doing something right.

Learning from the Mean Kids

My outie is better than your innie.

You’re not my friend any more.

Little makes me sadder – and madder – than when one of my kids tells me someone was to mean to him or her  and it hurt their feelings. My first instinct is to locate the brat and his parents and give them a good punch talking to. My second instinct is to envelop my kids’ heart in bubble wrap so that no wretched child can ever make them feel that way again.

We usually have these discussions around bathtime and bedtime. With their eyes wide open and teary, or sometimes with their shoulders caved in and chins dropped, we discuss who said what to whom and how it made them feel. And I have come to realize, through these end-of-day discussions, that my kids are counting on us grown-ups to help set things right again in their little but ever-so-large universes so that, tomorrow, when they get back on the school bus, it all will be OK.

But I’ve also realized that, Mama Bear rage and retribution urges aside, my job is to actually help them (figuratively) fight their own battles. These are life skills that will help them from the playground to the sports field to college and into the workplace – or wherever their journeys take them. Because there will always be meanies.

And, because, I like to group things into neat buckets, lists and bullets, I figure there are four key ways to tackle the meanies:

  1. Respect: It’s tough then the mean kid is actually a friend, and all the more so, if he or she is  from a family you know. In our family, we talk a lot about how important it is to treat other people the same way you want to be treated (and my kids’ karate lessons do a great job reinforcing this.) So maybe this meanie needs a gentle reminder that respect is the foundation of friendship. I urge my kids to say: “That’s not a nice thing to say to a friend,” and to go find someone else to play with until that kid is ready to resume being a real friend.
  2. Empathy: The meanie might be unhappy or lonely or shy. This kid might be from a household that is dealing with stuff, or maybe he’s a little insecure. I encourage my kids to think about what might be going on behind the mean words. Perhaps they should consider this an opportunity to be empathetic and extend the hand of friendship?
  3. Forgiveness: People say hurtful things when they’ve been hurt themselves. I’ve seen this first hand when my son had a fight with a close friend. It doesn’t matter who said what first. If you really value your friendship, put injustices aside and say you are sorry. In our case, we talked it over, the boys shook hands and, within seconds, were BFFs all over again and in full Pokemon mode.
  4. Laugh it off: Comparing belly buttons, seriously?! Giggling together about whatever ridiculous nonsense is being thrown out can change the dynamic of the whole encounter. Maybe all the meanie was looking for was a way to make a connection? Turn the whole thing into a hoot and maybe you’ll find a new friend? (This often goes hand in hand with #2.)

These are not lessons that can be learned and applied overnight. Heck, I know many an adult who could learn them too and I’m including myself in that mix. But, you know me, I like to look on the bright side and I’m hoping that, with a little dose of respect, empathy, self-awareness –and let’s not forget, silliness – we can all get along a little better.

Guest Post: My Sister’s Secret

by Gabriel McGarry

My sister has a secret! And I will tell you!

My sister is awesome.

She is awesome because…  She plays with me and follows me.

So I will tell you how to be awesome.

Be nice help your  friends

And kids you don`t know. And make new friends.

If  a kid was lonely go to him and talk to him.  And you made a new friend!

Gabriel McGarry is 8 years old. He likes cats, nature and Transformers.

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The Incompetent Chef & the Legendary Hippo Cake

Last night, I cooked meat and I didn’t kill anyone.

The truth is that every time I cook with meat of any kind, I’m convinced that I am endangering someone’s life. When it comes to cooking, I am insecure, unconfident and a generally a klutz. It’s as if my hands turn into giant lumps, unable to coordinate, cut or stir with precision. Timing several items to be ready simultaneously causes me to break out in hives.

The fact that I am married to a professionally trained chef just makes matters worse. “Just make a roux,” he’ll suggest. Like I know how to make a roux and what you do with one? “That’s the wrong knife!” is a common complaint. Scuse me, it’s metal, it’s sharp, it cuts – so what is wrong with that? Also, I need to improve my stirring technique, apparently.

Unlike my husband who is very patient with me and who can whip up a gourmet meal in a jiffy without breaking a sweat, I need the following conditions in place to even attempt cuisine success:

  • A recipe to follow, preferably with 4 or less ingredients and steps
  • A timer – and plenty of time for mistakes and do-overs
  • No husband within 10 metres
  • Plenty of space for things to spill, get dropped, messed up
  • No children within 5 metres
  • Alcohol
  • Clorox wipes

Many of my cooking miss-haps are now the stuff of legends among family and friends. This one, for example, has become fondly known as the Hippo cake. (It was supposed to be a honey cake.)

The Hippo Cake

I guess only practice can make perfect, right? As long as I don’t kill anyone in the process.

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