A Mother’s Rights #12: You have the right to receive help.

Please God do not try and do everything yourself. There is not a single ounce of shame in having someone else drive your kids to school, deliver your groceries, do your taxes, carpool your kids to events, clean your house, organize your closets, move your furniture, do your Target run, return your library books or WHATEVER you need done.

 

receive help

 

 

We came from villages. It is an odd custom we have in this country to raise and parent and get everything done within our tiny family unit. Where is the time to breathe? If we feel pressed for time it’s because we are doing all the things that entire villages used to do for and with each other.

Imagine if you had a whole tribe full of people who could hold your bag and your coffee and watch your baby while you went to the bathroom. Or who could take your kids on a walk while you took a nap. Or if you had to only make dinner once a week because every other night of the week a grandparent or neighbor or someone else made dinner for you and your family. Or, as in some indigenous tribes, if a close family member was in charge of disciplining your kids so you could just enjoy being with your children.

Asking for or accepting help is a sacred concept. And yes, it’s tough to ask for things that in a perfect world should be offered: like at a family gathering, asking for someone to hold your fussy baby so you can eat your dinner while everyone else is already eating dessert.  The word “help” used to not have the intrinsic sense of self-lack we’ve ascribed to it. As in, if I need help I must be lacking in some way. I must not be as independent as I need to be. The truth is, you need help because you weren’t built to do it all. None of us were.

How many times do you imagine yourself as lazy for not wanting to devote every waking hour to other people? “Oh, I’m feeling lazy tonight so I didn’t make a healthy dinner and I let the kids watch TV.” You are not lazy. If you are a decent parent, as you likely are if you are reading blogs about parenting, you are working hard. Revising your emotional and mental and physical output to meet your own mothering stamina is smart. Replenishing your energy is good. Taking a break is not lazy, it’s wise. And so is asking for help.

How did we go from feeling fine as carefree childless people with non-stop free time…literally endless hours of doing whatever our single brains told us to do…. to judging ourselves for burning out from the non-stop hours of service we give to our children?  With children, free time became parenting time.

We must not make the mistake of thinking that tired=lazy or that worn-out=weak. As a mother, you are dealing with untethered toddler or teenage emotions. You are creating and dispensing milk from your own body. You are cleaning up vomit from sheets at 2am. You are literally attending to the feces of other human beings for YEARS. You are not lazy or weak for wanting someone to bring a cooked meal to your door or clean your bathroom for you.

To bring our village back, we need to be visible. To ourselves and to others. To say what we want and need out loud.

Tied into this, of course, for a lot of us is that we have a hard time receiving good things. Often we don’t even know what we’re supposed to be asking for. Or what it is that we’re not receiving because we don’t know how to recognize its absence.

This can be delicate territory for partners who are not used to contributing equally to household tasks. When you have children, suddenly it becomes glaringly offensive if your partner doesn’t do dishes or laundry and never has. It becomes necessary for both partners to contribute to chores and errands in order to prevent burnout. And ideally, recognition for and sharing the invisible workload that we often forget we are doing. In this case, asking for help feels a lot like asking for equality, which can be a seismic shift. But with love and compassion, it can be broached. Especially if you start by seeing the value in the invisible, emotional, and unseen work of mothering.

In my mom’s interview, she spoke about how the stay-at-home moms she interviewed in the 70’s didn’t recognize their own work as moms because they didn’t really know how valuable it was. To ask for appreciation and receive the good that can come from being seen, we must see ourselves as good and recognize our own work and worth.

Instead of imagining yourself as needing to do the hard work of parenting and running a household all by yourself and feeling like a fat failure for struggling and wanting help, think of your parenting work as the work of 5 people that you are trying to do all by yourself. In this case, it’s not a failure to receive support and help. Help is natural and a necessity. Receiving help actually brings forward the wisdom of having a supportive family, a tribe, a village. It brings the unseen work you do out into the open where it can be seen and acknowledged so hopefully, eventually help will be offered before you even need to ask.

 

A Mother’s Rights #11: You have the right to feel however you feel about parenting right now.

 

You love your kids. You are devoted, you work hard, you want them to have what you missed as a kid. You want them to have more, to know how loved and important they are.

Those things are true on days when you feel happy, loving it all. And it’s also true on days or weeks or months where you feel unfulfilled, lonely, stressed or boxed in.

 

 

you have the right to feel

 

Other feelings you might have about parenting but are afraid to admit it to yourself:

Regret
Jealousy
Resentment
Disappointment
Grief
Longing
Neglected
Overlooked
Unappreciated
Angry
Sad
Unseen
Impatient
Ignored
Powerless

This is some deep shit. Those aren’t fuzzy feelings. One of the greatest dangers we face as parents is denying how we feel about parenting. If we only allow ourselves one feeling: “I love being a parent,” we suppress  much of our daily experience. Squashing feelings down creates anxiety, depression, and physical imbalance.

Let’s just assume and know that the love is always there underneath whatever we are feeling day to day. If you are frustrated because your child just did something dangerous or reckless and you want to shout and swear at them but know that you can’t, where does that fear and frustration go? Your body holds onto it for you and is ready at any moment for you to acknowledge that it’s there, and find a way to release it through exercise, art, movement, breath, journaling, or whatever works for you to see yourself and acknowledge your experience.

When I interviewed my mom about her birthing and postpartum experience, she shared that she went through a low postpartum period where she remembers rocking her baby back and forth saying to herself, “I love being a mom, I love being a mom,” scared by the words because she couldn’t quite feel them and she wanted to convince herself of their truth.

She knew there was love there somewhere, but what she was feeling in that moment was scared and sad.

Whatever feelings we go through about parenting, the love is always underneath. But if we don’t allow ourselves to feel the frustrations, anger, sadness, disbelief, fear, and helplessness that often come with raising kids, those feelings will keep asking to be seen until they are seen, so they can be released.

There are things I love about being a mom and things that are hard. Really hard. I sometimes feel resentful or sick to death of getting up early or burnt out on caregiving. Honoring myself through these feelings can help me access the joy and love underneath. It doesn’t have to be either/or. I love my kids and I feel tired. I love my kids and I feel sick of the tantrums. I love my kids and I feel angry they won’t eat the dinner I cooked.

Parenting is a long road, a forever road. To be well on the journey, we can be who we are and we can feel how we feel.

A Mother’s Rights #10: You have the right to make eating easy.

 

My Irish great grandmother had 13 kids and spent some of her life working the family potato farm in Michigan. In the Midwest 1800’s, there weren’t refrigerators for home use, nor were there chicken nuggets or frozen pizza or oranges or boxed mac n’cheese. When I think of the labor that went into preparing a meal while also making sure that 13 CHILDREN didn’t somehow fall into the fire or die playing with farm equipment….let’s just say I’m thankful for Costco.

 

you have the right to make eating

 

As preparing food as gotten simpler, somehow expectations of grocery shopping and meal prep have skyrocketed into the extraordinary: organic, grass-fed, whole grain, non GMO, unprocessed, gluten-free, dairy-free, sustainably raised, locally harvested food. There’s some floating societal expectation that all of us have the money to buy high end, have the organizational prowess to meal prep for the week, and have the desire to spend time cooking meals that will magically delight every member of the family.

There’s also a message of what you should be doing to create health and wellness in your family. However, if trying to achieve these standards brings your wallet and stress level to the breaking point and you are the person suffering for it, then it’s not creating health at all.

I challenge you to discover how you can make buying and preparing food easier for yourself. Not healthier, but easier. Because, likely if you are reading this you are already working your ass off trying to keep everybody eating healthy.

When my oldest was 3, the savior of my world was some mom blogger who posted an article about monkey platters. These plates are a mini-buffet for kids who graze and can’t sit at a table for more than 20 seconds. The frustration that develops from trying to get a toddler to sit and eat will pretty much halt all of your own digestion, interrupt your meal 20 times, and end with nobody being happy.  Creating a monkey platter and allowing them to graze rather than sit at a table for a “meal” can relieve a vast amount of stress. It only took me 2 years to learn this.

So what works to create ease? Maybe stop fighting about whether your toddler needs to sit and eat and instead put out a monkey platter. Don’t stress over whether your 6 year old can have screen time with her cereal and just say yes to it if you need an extra 30 minutes to hit the snooze button. Your 10 year old is old enough to make his own toaster waffles- just think, my grandfather was likely plowing fields at 10 years old. So your child can operate a toaster for God’s sake and he will survive without homemade french toast every single day, unless making it truly brings you joy.

And dishes. This may get me in trouble, but I’m going to admit that when things are busy and time is short, I allow paper plates.  A couple dirty plates may not seem like a lot but there are five of us. Five plates times three meals and two snacks times three kids = 21 plates to wash every day. It’s not the 71 PLATES that my great grandmother would have had to wash using the same math, but she obviously was way tougher than me and likely did nothing but wash dishes for hours a day. Or more likely, every child had one plate and washed it themselves. Ok, I love that idea. To gain her strength and wisdom, I will give away all but 5 plates and start my potato diet tomorrow.

Meantime, on a day when there’s a diaper blowout or someone pees the bed or I have spilled my coffee all over the rug (seriously, how do you get coffee out of the rug) some recycled plates are forgivable.

Grocery delivery, printable meal plans, and meal-kits brought to your door are all wonderful, too. Any way that you can loosen your standards if they feel too tight, if they are creating stress for you, is good. Identify what’s not working for you and aim for what might work. Try something new and simple. If your 7 year old wants to eat under the table and it means he won’t argue about eating, great. Try it for a week. Give them granola bars and smoothies for lunch. Make things a little easier on yourself. Let the expectations go just a little. You can always make a change whenever you need or want to.

Food is even more nourishing when stress is removed from the equation.

 

 

 

A Mother’s Rights #9: You have the right to not always be your best self.

As the saying goes, only you can be you. I love that. Our problem often lies in thinking that we need to be the best version of ourselves every moment of every day. The standards that most of us try to live by as women are 100% ridiculous and will drive us right into feelings of inadequacy, anger, and self-doubt.

 

 

you have the right to not always be your best self

 

 

For most of us, our problem is not that we just don’t try hard enough to be good parents. It’s that we think we must be perfect or our kids will be forever messed up and it will be our fault.

Living up to impossible standards is what drives us into a panic attack trying to choose between organic or conventional blueberries. Expecting that you will never yell at your kids, wear dirty clothes, let your kids watch TV for 5 hours, serve Cheerios for dinner, have a messy house, wear the same underwear two days in a row, put in 50% at work, eat a whole pizza by yourself, have B.O., do some really half-assed parenting, not read the newsletters from school, leave the beds unmade, ignore your vacuum, blow off yoga, or WHATEVER you think is unacceptable and less than your best- expecting that you will never do those things is unrealistic.

You are a human person.

Anxiety often arrives when the expectations we have for ourselves become so limiting that we are squeezed into a tiny box of how we think we should be acting in order to be “good enough.” Your best is good enough. Your worst is probably also good enough too, if you have a conscience, a moral compass and you love your kids (and you’re not Cersei Lannister.)

Consider offering your best to your child for 30 minutes and letting yourself be at 60% awesome for the rest of the day. What would that feel like? Or redefining what “best self” actually means. Or loosening the grip on nighttime nursing your 18 month old so that YOU can get some sleep. Maybe it doesn’t mean picking organic blueberries at a farm with your children even though you were sick the day before with diarrhea. Maybe it means you call Grandma to watch the kids so you can lay in bed and treat yourself with the kindness you deserve.

Most likely, you are doing a great job. It’s fine. And fine is usually good enough. And there is nothing wrong with good enough. In fact, it might be healthy for your kids to see your humanity and your the beauty in imperfection. Every day does not have to be a gold medal day. Just enjoy your green participation ribbon and get this t-shirt.

 

A Mother’s Rights #8: You have the right to explore who you are now.

Whew.

This could be 18 posts, not just the one. But I’ll try to keep it short. If you need more about how important it is to honor yourself and your journey and to find a way to fucking own it, you can find more here and here. And go to Oprah.com.

Here it is in a nutshell. You are important. Motherhood is transformational. You have a right to know who you are.

 

you have the right to explore who you are

 

Motherhood is as much about self-discovery as it is about discovering your children and the world through new eyes. As the spiritual guru Rajneesh said:

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”

And that is you.

You may find yourself thinking new thoughts, feeling unsatisfied in relationships, wanting to leave a job behind, hoping to go to school, wanting more sex or not caring about things you used to think were essential: religion, fashion, status, whatever.

To mildly put it, keeping up with who you are improves your quality of life. You have every right to explore your feelings, thoughts, sensations, body, preferences, regrets, longings, nuances, hopes, and passions.

If self-exploration is new to you, future posts will include ways to help you get started. Or check out the services I offer to work with me.

A Mother’s Rights #7: You have the right to listen to your music.

My  husband and I are open to many different genres of music including: hip-hop, reggae, country, bluegrass, jazz, folk, rock, blues, musical theater, soul, world, funk…the list goes on.

My children, however, have managed to find genres that neither of us can stand to listen to for more than 20 seconds…a kind of mash of experimental electronica and video game music that makes your ears bleed.

Early childhood can be brutal for finding tolerable music. But if you are a music lover as I am, your soul needs your music from time to time to keep the inner fire that music lights burning. It heals the soul.

 

you have the right to listen to your music

 

When I was growing up, my dad was constantly wearing massive 80’s style bright yellow headphones like these tuned to a.m. radio for whatever sports game he could find. Constantly may be an understatement. In the car, at my sports meets and games, school events, family picnics, at home. If the headphones were less conspicuous I am 100% positive he would have worn them to church. He wore them not just to listen to what he wanted, but to block out the world.

I wasn’t a fan of those headphones. I swore I would never block my kids out while I was with them- the equivalent of being adjacent to them but not really with them at all. This with-you/not-with-you is rampant now that everyone has a GD computer in their hands all day.

However. There is value in taking time to build a little corner of the world for yourself, including listening to your music, throughout the day because so much of your time is spent in service to others. Taking a few minutes to listen to some tunes will not hurt your kids, especially if you tell them in what you are doing and why.

Sometimes you can find time away from them to listen, or they may want in on your tunes. That is so delicious when your kids love your music. But if they’re not there yet, give yourself permission to put some earbuds in and say this:

“Mommy’s taking a little break. I’m going to listen to my favorite song so I have a little more fuel in my tank.”

It’s ok to do this.

And for kids’ music that is so enjoyable it may become a fave of yours, check these out:

They Might Be Giants
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman
Okee Dokee Brothers
Roy Handy and the Moonshot
Any Putumayo Kids CD
Smithsonian Folkways Children’s Music Collection (if you like old-timey stuff)

 

 

A Mother’s Rights #6: You have the right to exercise every day.

 

There’s an author named Candace Pert who wrote a book called, “Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind.”  I love, love, love this concept. It makes so much sense! All things that happen in your life and the way you feel about the things that happen are stored in your body and mind. Our bodies have intelligence and preferences. They are not separate from our existence but integrally a part of how we interpret and process the world, including our inner world. To keep those energies and emotions and thoughts fluid and flowing, we must move our bodies if we can.

 

 

you have the right to exercise every day

 

 

 

Bodies love exercise. They need it.

But no two bodies are the same. I know my body is not the same as Charlize Theron’s body.  Pretty sure about that one. Not the same as my husband’s or my kids’. There are exercises that feel good to me that may not feel good to them. There are different kinds of movement that used to feel good before I had children that don’t feel as good now.

It’s ok to meet yourself wherever you’re at and find something that feels good to you now. This is all about asking the very important question:

What does your body want now?

And finding a way to get it.  Is walking around the block exercise? Yes. Yoga? Playing catch with your kid? Climbing up the playground slide? Dance party with your baby? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

We often sneak ourselves into a corner by thinking that exercise only counts if you’re at the gym or in cute workout clothes or it lasts for at least an hour and your kids aren’t there. If we set aside the mind for a moment and pay attention to the body, you may get some clues about what your cells really need. Maybe soft flowing dance, maybe wind sprints, maybe 50 squats before you sit to pee, maybe a little movement every day or maybe something big 2 times a week.

It may be a 10 minute postnatal core strengthening focus (this one has modifications for diastasis recti) so you feel like your insides aren’t that delicious pudding dessert your aunt makes. Or 15 minutes of tai chi during naptime to calm your emotions and re-center.  It could be an hourlong hike if your kids will sit in a stroller or wagon or be happy in a carrier. Like these guys occasionally would:

 

P1010405.jpg

 

 

Awwwwwwwww.  Those walks were crucial to my body’s health and well-being whether they lasted 5 minutes or 45 minutes. So bend over and try to touch your toes every now and then for God’s sake. Your body sooooo needs you to.