Saturday, 10 September 2016

Solving the Puzzle

Every time I read Dr. Seuss's All the Places You'll Go to my kids, I get this sneaking suspicion that it's actually written for the parents. Particularly when you get to the part: “So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act."

Except I think Dr. Seuss got it wrong. I don't think it's a balancing act at all - because there's no possible way you could balance everything you need to balance without dropping something or falling down. 

The way I see it, life is more like a crazy hard jigsaw puzzle. It has thousands and thousands of pieces in all sorts of shapes and colours, and the pieces are all different sizes. 

But what makes it really challenging is that, on any given day, one of the pieces is suddenly way bigger than the others. And you have to take the whole thing apart and start all over again so you can find a way to make all of the other pieces fit around that one.

I work at a job that, while interesting and motivating, can be quite demanding at times. I have some great opportunities for professional success - but only if I work hard and show my commitment. My husband's been travelling for work more than usual. I commute two hours a day. My two young kids go to two different schools. There are activities and dentist appointments and school lunches and homework, sibling fights and illnesses and day-to-day chores. And so on, and so on....

Sometimes the "kid" piece of the puzzle is bigger - if they're sick or struggling with something.
Often, the "work" piece is bigger these days.

Rarely is the "friend" piece bigger.

And the spouse piece? Truthfully, most of the time, it's like that corner piece of sky or put it into place and then pretty much forget about it. And I know that's not a good thing.

I don't mean to complain or to say my life is easier or harder than anyone else's. It's just LIFE. But it bothers me that I turned 40 this year, and I still haven't figured out how to put all of the pieces together properly.

And here's my secret worry. Sometimes I try to look past the pieces to see the overall picture I'm trying to create, and I wonder, "Is it the one I really want?"

I think I've discovered a new genre: "Kids' books as self help for adults". Although clearly, Dr. Seuss doesn't have the right answers for me. Maybe I'll give Robert Munsch a try.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Path Not Taken

This past June, I turned 40. I wasn't terribly fixated on the number itself - I know some forty-year-olds who act like like they're 80 and some seniors who'd give a twenty-five-year-old a run for her money - but of course I wanted to mark the occasion. 

So I went to France with two girlfriends. We flew into Paris and spent a couple of days - then we rented a car and drove into the countryside to visit some of the wine regions. For 10 days, we rammed around France, drinking wine, shopping, eating amazing food and seeing the sights. And did I mention drinking wine? It was an amazing trip, and I had a blast.

I don't know if I'm the only one who does this...but yeah, sometimes, I wonder what my life would be like if I were on my own. No kids, no husband; just the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. 

My somewhat romanticized vision has me adventurously travelling across the globe to all sorts of exotic locations (Brazil! New Zealand! Africa!) - which I am somehow funding without having to work for a living. So I'm willing to concede that, perhaps, the reality wouldn't exactly match what I'm imagining.

But whether you really want to or not, turning 40 is one of those times where you can't help but take stock of your life and think, Am I where I want to be? Have I done the things I set out to do by this point in my life? What's missing?

It's easy to fixate on the things you didn't do - the paths you didn't take. It took me a loooong time to decide I was really ready to settle down and have kids, and sometimes, I feel like I've taken the "safe and boring" track. I didn't do a placement abroad after I got my teaching English as a second language certification. I haven't been to Thailand or New Zealand. Instead, I moved back to the suburbs, where I grew up, and I schlep into Toronto to work every day.

So I went away on my girls' trip to France. For 10 days, I didn't have to worry about rushing home from work, or putting anyone to bed, or breaking up fights, or getting anyone a snack (actually, scratch that last part - even grownups need snacks). I had no responsibilities. And it was awesome. 

But then I came back home, and my little girls ran to meet me, jumping on me and crying, "Mommy! Mommy!" as though I was a celebrity, and I was unbelievably glad to see them. And I realized, whatever trade-offs I've made, they're totally worth it. Just for the sheer joy in their voices, the sound of their laughter, the feel of their little arms cuddled tight around my neck. 

Sometimes, you need a little distance to see more clearly.

Forget the path not taken...I'm still on a path. And if it's something I really want - one way or another - I'll get there. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Parenting on a Best-effort Basis

So I'm scrolling through my email the other day, and I see a parenting newsletter I subscribe to, with the headline, "Kids are addicted to devicesand it's our fault".

It probably says something about my parenting style that my first reaction wasn't, "Oh, I must immediately read this article to see what I need to do to remedy this terrible situation I've inadvertently created!" Instead, it was, "Greeeaaat...another crappy thing for which parents need to take the blame."

The story was about a study that has found kids model their parents' behaviour (well, duh), including how they behave with mobile devices. So when we're constantly checking our cell phones, we're teaching our kids bad habits about concentration and mindfulness. Ultimately, we're creating an environment that allows our children to become "addicted" to screen time.

I get it, I really do. But, as a mother, I'm getting a little tired of being blamed. It's our fault if we don't breastfeed our kids, because we're not giving them the "best start" in lifebut it's equally our fault if we "expose" ourselves by breastfeeding in public. It's our fault for not always buying organic produce (even if our kid is going through a blueberry phase and a single pint of organic blueberries will set you back $8!). For going back to work instead of staying home to raise the kids—or for staying home and not living up to our full potential by going back to work. For not spending enough time with our children. For spending enough time with them, but not enough quality time. And now, for handing over the iPad so the grownups can have a peaceful dinner out.

Like parents everywhere, I make mistakes, I'm not doing everything perfectly, and I'm not always the parent I want to be. But I'm doing my best. 

I remembered the $2 donation for a gift for the teacher who's going on mat leave, I remembered Crazy Hair Day at my younger daughter's daycare, I remembered to pack my older daughter's lunch - but I forgot to have her read her home reader tonight.

I'm doing my best.

I'm going to the daycare Mother's Day party tomorrow and hosting a Mother's Day brunch on Sundayeven though I hate Mother's Day because it only reminds me of the fact that I don't have one anymore.

I'm doing my best.

I have to check my phone in the evenings and answer work emails sometimes—because I commute two hours to work each day, and that's the trade-off for leaving at a reasonable hour. And yes: sometimes that's not the real reason I'm on my phone. Sometimes I just want to play Candy Crush.

What do we tell our kids when they have a recital or a hockey game? "Don't worry; just do your best." So let's give ourselves the same advice.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Three Wishes For My Girls

As a parent, it's natural to want more for your kids. You want them to have the best education and opportunities. You want them to be smart and capable and successful. You want them to do more, see more, be more than you are.

I've been looking at my girls lately, imagining the adults they'll grow up to be and wondering what sort of lives they'll lead. Here are three wishes on their behalf.

Wish No. 1: They'll be brave. When I was growing up, I was focused on doing well and not making mistakes. But I'm turning 40 this year, and I find myself looking back at my decisions so far and wondering, Why did I waste so much time and energy on worrying rather than doing? 

There are times I've held my tongue when I should have spoken up. There are risks I didn't take that I wish I'd taken. I want my kids to grow up feeling they can take those risks, as long as they understand the nature of the risks they're taking. I want them to know it's okay to make mistakes—even big ones—as long as you can learn from them and use that information moving forward.

Wish No. 2: They won't have to worry about work/life balance. I know a lot of smart, amazing women—and men—who still struggle to balance the competing demands of work and family. And there's been a ton of dialogue on the issue: how to find balance, how there is no work/life balance; how to have it all, how it's impossible to have it all....

By the time my girls enter the workforce, I hope we'll be done talking about it—because it won't even be an issue. They won't be concerned about leaving work early to pick up their kids from daycare or feel guilty about being at work instead of at home. Because, really, why should they?

Wish No. 3: They'll learn how to advocate—and negotiate—for themselves. In our current work environment, where there's still a gender pay gap and fewer female CEOs, these are important skills for women to have. But the fact is, everybody needs to learn how to do this. It's an important part of building a professional career.

I hope my girls will grow up with the intelligence and confidence to know and communicate their worth—and not settle for any less than they deserve.

What do you wish for your kids?

Thursday, 18 February 2016

I'm So Mad At You...And I Love You!

It's not been a fabulous week for me, parenting-wise.

I find myself commanding, lecturing and yelling a lot. There's been a lot of, "Take your boots off," "Sit down," and "Eat your dinner." 

And then there are the don'ts: "Don't bug your sister." "Don't play with Mommy's phone." "Don't play with your feet at the table." (Yes, I really have to say that.)

Of course, I do say "please" in front of all of those requests. (At least the first time—after that, all bets are off.) But sometimes, no matter what I say or don't say, my kids just don't listen.

I know I'm not the only one with this problem...there are reams of parenting blogs out there documenting and struggling with the same issue. But that doesn't make it any less annoying.

My kids have learned how to push all of my buttons, and it's exhausting. There are times when I just don't feel like trying to get my kids to understand the consequences of their actions, or doling out rewards or punishments. Sometimes, all I really want is for them to JUST DO WHAT I SAY FOR ONCE.

But what's always mystified me is this: How can I go so quickly from being totally frustrated with my kids to being utterly besotted with them?  

Here's what usually happens. I'll be standing in front of the kitchen counter, fuming about my kids' bad behaviour. And then the three-year-old comes in, dressed in her cozy footed pyjamas, her long hair falling messily about her shoulders and her mouth turned down at the corners, knowing that I'm angry. And she holds her warm little arms out for a hug, and says, in a quiet voice, "Sorry, Mommy." 

And that's it for me. How could I possibly stay mad?

It's a cycle that never ends. Today won't be the last day I tell my kids to pick up their socks—or get frustrated when they don't. 

But there's another thing that won't change: it doesn't take much for me to fall in love with them all over again.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Change Is the Only Constant

We had a landmark day in our household the other day: we said goodbye to diapers. As in, completely. Our three-year-old hadn't needed them during the day for a long time, but my husband and I were still putting her in pullups at night—probably more for our peace of mind than for hers. When we finally decided to pull the plug on the pullups, she was fine with it.

This is a big deal. A very big deal. Why? Because, if you think about it, we have been changing diapers, in some form or quantity, for more than five years. And now we're entering an entirely new stage of parenting.

When my kids were babies, I remember how frustrating it was when they did certain things. That period where they throw things on the floor all the time, for example. Or the terrible twos (and threes, and even fours), when they act like completely unreasonable little dictators most of the time. "Hang in there; it's a phase," other parents said. "It will pass."

And you know what? They were right. That was the best piece of parenting advice I ever got.

The days are long but the years are short...and nowhere is this truer than in the never-ending responsibility of parenting. While you're in the the thick of it, some of those annoying phases seem to last forever. But later, when you look back on them, it feels like it all happened in the blink of an eye.

When I look at my five-year-old, sometimes, I catch a glimpse of what she'll be like at fifteen. There will still be drama, but instead of playground cliques, it will be boy drama or girl drama. The choices will be harder; the stakes will be higher. Certainly, I will no longer be the centre of her universe. So why would I rush it?

Every age and stage of parenting is unique, with its own challenges and joys. As parents, we stay (more or less) the same, while our children grow up and build their own independent lives. That's as it should be. But how lucky we are: we get to come along for the ride.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

We're Doing Okay

I'm sure by now many people have read the article that's making its way over various social media, Are we the worst generation of parents ever? This very well written piece makes a convincing case for how fear of our children falling behindor even just being averagedrives us to obsess over their development, overschedule their activities and do too many things for them. All of this can lead to stressed-out, dependent children with an entitlement mentality and poor problem-solving skills.

"If our own parents tilted too much toward neglect, they gave us space, and the bruises and social gaffes of our off-line childhoods made us who we are," the author writes. "And we aren’t the worst generation of parents ever, just the most anxious. It takes courage to still the currents of fear and just let our children be. But to be better parents, we may have to do less."

It's a totally valid point. But does adding this additional layer of stress help? As noted, we're already an anxious generation of parents that worries constantly about whether our kids eat organic produce, play with intellectually stimulating BPA-free toys, participate in enough activities to make them well-rounded we now also have to worry about doing too much rather than too little?

We are the generation that drove home the phrase "mom guilt". Add this to the pile, and it becomes just one more thing we need to feel guilty about.

So I want to tell you something: you're doing okay.
  • Whether you're the parent who packs his child's lunch with healthy homemade snacks or prepackaged crackers and cheeseyou're doing okay.
  • Whether you have your kid participating in five extracurricular activities, one or noneyou're doing okay.
  • Whether your child is truly exceptional or just averageyou're doing okay.
There are many different paths to raising a healthy, happy, socially adjusted child, and we all need to choose our own. We'll make mistakes, of course—we all do—but the fact that we spend so much time reading articles like these shows we have what it takes to do it, and do it well. 

I agree, we could probably ease up a bit on the violin lessons and create more accountability for our kids. And no way am I doing their homework for them! But let's not let fear of overinvolvement become yet another thing to obsess overor, worse, cause us to swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.
Because you know what? We're not perfect; we don't have it all figured out. But we're doing okay.