Let Them Go- A Pep Talk for Parents

It’s the first day of the first week of September. Which, in many places, means kids have gone back to school for the first time this fall. For others, this is their first day of school ever.  Or their first day of high school, first day of college, first day of university or tech school.

In our house, this is the FIRST time in 17 years I have only one kid in secondary school. We are now  a household of 3 graduated kids. That really did come faster than I imagined it 20 years ago. The days are so so SO long when the kids are in school but the years start to fly by when they all hit junior high.

We are also rookie parents of a college kid.  Our 3rd born, the one who just graduated in June, is starting school in BC today. We are so excited for her and her journey. EXCITED, not nervous, not stressed, not sad, not lamenting the years that have flown by….just excited.

Listen moms(and dads), I get it. These precious ones are your babies. You nurtured them and held them when they were sick. But the day they were born you KNEW you’d have to let them go at some point.  You knew it because you’ve lived it yourself. No one wants to be their mama’s baby forever.  No one wants to be coddled and hovered over for life.  Our babies were born to live. And living means they HAVE to grow.

None of us are really living if we’re not growing.

So ya, I get it, your little muffin let go of your fingers today and ran straight through the doors of that brick and concrete building today and a part of you thinks you’re not ready. But you were BORN READY.  You can do this.

We had a couple of weeks to say goodbye to our daughter who we knew was going to drive herself through 3 provinces to a new city, new surroundings and new school.  But I wasn’t really prepared for the shock, sometimes horror that people shared with us when we told them our 18 year old daughter was going to drive by herself in her little car.  People couldn’t wrap their heads around how we could ” let her” do that.

Pardon me if I’m a little confused but didn’t we just invest 18 years of teaching, molding, encouraging and preparing her to do just that? We have always taught our kids to be self-confident; able to trouble shoot and make wise decisions. I’m so happy each of our 4 kids have oodles of confidence. We have done a lot of things wrong but we have managed to get that right. It didn’t occur to us that she couldn’t. It didn’t occur to her that she couldn’t. Was she nervous? A little. But she was mostly excited. On Friday, a few hours before I knew she needed to get to sleep so she was fresh on Saturday morning, I quietly asked her if she was scared to drive that whole way (1600km) by herself? She said she wasn’t. She said she just really wanted to get going. So I didn’t press the issue. If I would have- If I would have said ” it’s going to be scary”  or “you’ve never driven in the mountains- I don’t know if you can handle it” ….I would have been planting within her the seed of doubt. And we all know that one tiny seed of doubt will triple in size before you get your feet off the ground.

 

She drove herself. The first day was hard- she said mostly because it was so boring. The second day, the one we were all a little worried about, was easier because it was all new. All new, all beautiful, all exciting. She had to stay focused. She stopped when she needed to and let us know where she was. She paid attention to signs, didn’t fall  into the trap of speeding like so many others were. She let them pass her, drove what was comfortable for her and got to her destination before sunset. That was the goal. Yes, she did admit the last 3 hours were hard as the highway was difficult. But you know what? She did it!  My dad said that was the best thing for her. It’s the true pioneer spirit of our forefathers. You go, you do what you have to do and you don’t worry about the details.

Speaking of my dad, he was 15 when he left home. Took a bus and then a train to the far north to work hard, hard long days.  Very little to eat. He was FIFTEEN. No cell phones. No phone to call home. He wrote letters to his mom. He was homesick. He was so young. And it made him into a self-reliant, self-confident, trouble-shooting, capable, reliable adult.

I feel often that we as parents are holding our kids back from their natural, God-given abilities. They are meant to grow and thrive. When a baby begins to walk, they don’t worry about falling down…they keep going. When they are pre-schoolers who want to read they inquire and pretend until they begin to learn and develop a life-long skill of reading language. How marvelous and miraculous is that? It’s really amazing!

When we walk our little ones to the gate of the school on the first day, we willingly let them go into a classroom FULL OF STRANGERS for hours and hours every day and week! Guys! Think about this! We have been doing hard things as parents for all the years since that first pregnancy test came back positive! WE have been letting go.

We as parents are hard-wired to let go. It may not always be easy.  The first drive with a rookie driver is a little bit of white-knuckling, hold your tongue, try not to scream tension.But then, 3 weeks later we are sitting there on our phone scrolling through FB memes because our kid has this and we’re just a passenger.

Moms….let go. Have a coffee with a friend, go to the bookstore, go to the fabric store. Clean out that closet you don’t want the kids to see so they won’t know all the stuff of theirs you’re throwing out. Just go do something. Your kids are okay. They’re doing what they were born to do.  They’re living.

Mama birds don’t mess around- the baby birds get pushed right out of the nest and they’ll fall or they’ll fly. But they were born to fly so they will fly.

Your kids were born to run, to grow, to learn to live.  You’ve done your part. Now let them go.

Happy first day of school everyone.  I just blogged for the first time in 18 months. So basically….I’m winning on this first Tuesday of September.

 

 

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How Moms Do Christmas

Love is in the details.  At least, this is what most moms believe.  We are the ones who will stay up until 3 a.m. Christmas morning baking fresh buns just so that our family has something homemade for Christmas Day. No one asked us. And no one would likely miss it if we didn’t do it. But we love our families and want them to have the best so we forfeit sleep…often.

At Christmas, I often reminisce about my childhood Christmases in Grandma’s house or at home with my mom and sisters. We didn’t have a lot and the focus was never on the gifts. My mom and grandma and aunts were all good hostesses who believed in presentation and homemade happiness.

The trays of goodies were constantly being refilled with shortbread cookies, mincemeat tarts, fruit cake, fudge, butter tarts and bowls of nuts were everywhere.  Mom made homemade eggnog with a pinch of nutmeg on top and we would drink them out of the fancy glasses .  Grandma had the carols of Christmas loudly playing in the living room as she whistled along in the kitchen making Christmas pudding, pies by the dozens, stuffing that stuck to your ribs and tons of baked goods.  She always had an apron on and the laughter, chatter, togetherness was what we all came to expect upon entering her domain. tables.jpg

When I was in my teens, my mom had very little money and we didn’t ever expect to get a lot for gifts. Mom was always practical but sought to make each gift special and individual to each of us.  One year I got a fuzzy zip up house coat. Looking back, it wasn’t anything special or extravagant but it was something I wouldn’t have asked for, but needed and loved anyway.  There was a digital alarm clock another year and a new purse later on. Mom always stuffed our stockings with essentials like razors, new toothbrushes, Christmas socks, maybe  some cheap jewelry or hair clips and always a Christmas orange .

There have been years when we have over-given to our kids. Probably not the smartest thing. In the financially good years we have given snowboards, a violin ,guitar and electronics.  On the meager years everyone got a new toque or scarf and a $20 gift card to their favourite store. Sometimes it’s feast or famine around here and we just roll with it. But at the heart of every gift, I want my kids to know I think of them, love them and care about the things they care about. I want Christmas to be restful, fun, joyful and peaceful. We buy a puzzle or two every December to work on through the holidays. I bake everyone’s favourite cookies and the years I’ve missed doing that— well, let’s just say, they don’t let me forget it.

Most of us don’t remember every gift we’ve ever received from our parents. That usually means we’ve been blessed over the years with more than we have needed. But we always remember how Christmas makes us feel- loved, cared for and part of a bigger family unit. This is always my goal- I want my kids to look forward to Christmas as a reprieve from the stress of life and an oasis of joy.  So I choose gifts with meaning or thought and I listen to the requests of what they want to eat, the games they hope to play, the people they love to see, the gatherings they hope they’ll be able to attend- this is the heart of a family Christmas.

In 10 years or 20 years, I don’t care if my kids still have the guitar or the snowboard or the toque.  What I hope is that they have a memory of the time Mom made their favourite cookies and played Just Dance 4 with them.

 

Every Mom Has Back To School Memories

A few days ago I was in our local Dollarama and noticed two pretty girls and their mom in the school supplies aisle. The girls were giggling and excited as they picked out colourful notebooks and pretty pencils. The mom had a look of peace and joy.  Probably because summer is nearly over and the kids will be back into a routine! But I suspect she’s also enjoying her children’s delight at the small things.

Even if you hated school or detested homework, you likely are a mom who has some fond memories of the first days of school.  Did you sharpen all your pencils the night before the first day and place them in your new pencil case? Maybe your mom was like mine and she would painstakingly whittle a spot at the end of each pencil and pencil crayon to reveal bare wood and then carefully print your name. What year was it when Laurentian finally got the hint and put a white blank space for names on their pencils? I think it was the 90s~ this generation of kids probably doesn’t understand the special-ness of having your mom’s printing on every pencil…carved in by her own hand.

The smell of fresh sharpened pencils.

The feel of a new scribbler~that’s what we called our notebooks. And who doesn’t still love the 4-pack of colourful Hilroy notebooks? Every year I wonder what I could use them for….I just can’t resist buying a set.

And glue. Oh how I loved the smell of paste glue. Long before glue sticks were a thing and white school glue was only what teachers had, we had paste glue with its own unique odour.  I can almost smell it now.

And then there was LePage’s Brown Liquid glue with the rubber tipped applicator…what a mess! But oh how fun….I loved gluing everything.

The first day of school is magical, isn’t it? New clothes, new shoes, new books, new pencils and erasers. You don’t have any baggage from the year before; it got left behind in the summer heat, pool parties and backyard fires.

The first day is full of new faces, familiar friends, happy teachers(if you were lucky, they stayed that way till June) and the promise of learning something new.

For me, the first day was scary and stressful as a shy, introverted child. But my love of books, especially math pages and spelling tests , was enough to get me over that hurdle and push me out the door.

Bus rides and singalongs, playground games and swinging high, construction paper and creative collages~ school was a special, expressive, and growing time.

So every year, the week before school starts, I still get butterflies, I still walk the back to school supply aisles of the local department stores even though we rarely have to buy most of what is there( 2 of my 4 kids are graduated and the other 2 are in high school).  I love to see the sheer delight on the faces of 6 and 7 year olds as they walk proudly down the street with their new backpacks and lunch bags……

ooooo! Lunch kit! My most special one was a red plaid metal box!

*sigh*  Good memories.  Now tell me yours. What do you remember? What were the special moments , sights and smells that made you love this magical time of year? Do you live vicariously through your own kids when picking out new notebooks and running shoes? I want to hear from you and then I will post some of my favourite stories for the first week of school in September!

All The {GOOD} Moms Are Doing It

I am a product of the seventies. In fact, I’m so proud of the fact that I was born in the seventies when the devil-may-care attitude of parenting was triumphed above all others. Why? Because we were free. Freedom reigned in the seventies. Freedom to be, to live, to dwell, to drink, to eat, to act in whatever way we wanted. Without judgment or shame.

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Mommy shaming is so 2013, don’t ya think?  Social media has brought all of our mothering faults screaming to the forefront–to the point where we could all say we are *THE* worst mother ever. Don’t you feel that way?

When I grew up a birthday party consisted of the four food groups: Kool Aid(usually purple so that our face was stained for days), hot dogs(of no known meat origin), angel food cake(out of a box) with pink fluffy frosting and pop rocks. THAT was the epitome of birthday party success! No party bags for guests, no carefully crafted decorations or reserved party spaces. No, we ran and giggled and maybe played PintheTailontheDONKEY with REAL tacks!

*sigh*……the seventies were awesome.

No car seats. No seat belts. No helicopter parenting. No rules. Just a lot of love and joy.

I’ve done a lot of things in my parenting career that would likely have me jailed and my kids taken away. I’m not using hyperbole here. I’m dead serious. And I love my kids. I actually think I’m a GOOD mother. I have four kids who range from 14 to 20 and they’re all healthy and happy(well, as happy as teenagers can be at any given moment). But I did some stuff that, at the time, was what I felt was right in the moment but it would have been held to scrutiny and judgment. And I didn’t feel reckless or careless with my kids’ lives.

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But here we are in an age when it seems quite appropriate and expected to shame other parents into being as awesome as we are. Because clearly, *WE* are perfect and *THEY* are not so therefore *WE* must enlighten them to the error of their ways……or something like that.

Recently in our news there was a story of a mom in Winnipeg who was being charged with child abandonment for leaving her 6 year old home alone for 90 minutes. We can debate the appropriate age where children can be left alone for days but in every single case, the ONLY person who will be the best judge is the mom. Yes, there are moms who use poor judgment. Yes, there are bad moms. But you know what? The bad moms of the world likely measure up to less than 1% of all of the mothers who are just trying their best. They’re good moms.

I was babysitting at the age of 11. According to new laws that would be illegal. I was IN THE CARE OF SMALL CHILDREN at eleven years of age. Let that sink in.

My mom was a single mom. She would get someone to stay with us if she was going to be out for several hours the first year we moved into the city. She really didn’t need to. We were all quite capable and self sufficient. But in 1980, in **SCARY** Regina, SK she felt it necessary. We were 7, 9 and 10 years old. And for an hour or two we would have been fine. And we were.

My mom had to retrain herself and went to school in 1982.  She would take the bus everyday and we would walk to school. We would walk home at lunch and after school. ALONE. We cooked, cleaned, did our homework. ALONE. And we lived. Imagine that?! We lived. And we’re fine.

My mom would have been put in jail now.

The car seats we had when my babies were born were pretty basic. Two positions- up and down. Not much for adjusting the seat belts and no 3 point installation system. You didn’t need a book. Or a degree. Or a stop off at the local car seat inspection clinic. You put your baby in, and drove away.  If you post a pic on FB or Twitter now, of your baby in a car seat, there is more than a 78% chance that at least one  of your *mommy friends* will comment on how the harness is secured. It will be too tight, too loose, incorrect all together or they will be inboxing you suggesting you remove the photo in case social services is called. You know I’m right – remember the cute baby singing in her car seat and HALF THE COMMENTS were about her car seat being incorrectly installed???!!!

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I’m thankful for raising my babies in the FB free world where I actually nursed my babies IN A MOVING VEHICLE! *GASP*!

Don’t worry moms, your secrets are safe with me.

I know you leave your sleeping baby in the car while you go to the ATM.  I know you lock the doors and are well aware of the temperature inside and out.

I know you’re walking down the street to collect your wayward dog while your toddler plays in the living room. Unsupervised. I know.

I know you just spent 45 minutes weeding the garden while your preschoolers played with playdough, inside, in the kitchen, where there are knives and scary things. I know.

I know you’re having a bath while you’re reading this. And the door is closed. While your 3 preschoolers are watching a movie. I know.

I know that you’ve left a 3 year old unattended in the bath while you ran to make sure supper wasn’t burning. I know.

I know you’re considering leaving your 10 year old home with the 6 and 4 year old so you can run to the store. I know.

I know you’ve let too many kids jump on the trampoline while you watched one more episode of Downton Abbey before supper. I know.

I know that you’ve fed your kids Cheese Whiz and Cheetos and COKE all in the same day.  I know.

I know you’ve put ginger ale in your baby’s bottle because the puking all night is more than you can take and you just needed a break. I know.

I know you gave your baby Motrin last night even though she didn’t have a fever because you don’t know what else to do. I know.

I know you’re a good mom and you cry every day because you’re trying to do the right thing but someone always seems to be showing you up.

Stop.  Look at your kids. Do you love them? Do they love you? Do you make their favourite meal whenever you can just to see them smile? Do you sacrifice sleep and health and cleanliness just to keep the family ball rolling? You’re a good mom. And you’re in good company. Because *ALL* the good moms are doing it too.

How to Help Families with Little Kids and a Newborn or Multiples

Yesterday morning I awoke to one of my favourite pieces of good news: new babies.  Yes, more than one. My friend Lise had twins on the weekend and somehow she managed to keep it a secret from most of the free world.  Twins is sort of a big deal. I’ve been privileged to watch family members embark on this crazy adventure more than once. This week, I wrote a little bit about my time last summer with a family who welcomed twins in addition to their three other children, six and under.

Over the past several months, I’ve talked to a lot of moms and dads about the complete exhaustion, exhilaration and chaos that happens when a baby is brought into a home where there are already a few small kids. But there is a level of crazy that you can’t quite quantify when you add twins(or more) to a household where diapers, tantrums, preschoolers, playtime, naptimes and playdates are already in full swing.

This post is about helping the parents of newborns who already have little kids at home. I’ve been the mom with 3 preschoolers at home bringing home a baby. This is about my experiences. This is also in reaction to things I’ve seen and heard with other parents. There are ways to help and there are ways NOT to help.

1. NEVER assume that parents of newborns have everything figured out. They don’t. Even if they have other kids, every newborn situation is different. And as much as parents want to be prepared, most of the time, they’re not. So be available.

2. Do not offer what you cannot give. I can’t begin to tell you how many people told me “just call- whatever you need, I’m available”  and then when I called, they actually couldn’t help. Maybe about 10% of the time I had people follow through on their promise to “call whenever you need anything.” So don’t do that. Instead, be specific.  If you can bring a meal over, say that. If you can bring a meal over on Tuesday of next week- say EXACTLY that. Leaving it up to new parents to figure out what you mean and when you mean it is too much work for them- honestly. They’re barely coherent and functioning- they need you to be specific.

3. DO NOT CALL or text or message continuously.  I’m so glad there were no cell phones or Facebook or Twitter or even much for email when I had my kids. I could barely keep up with contacting immediate family when my babies were born let alone manage everyone else. Especially when a mom to be goes into the hospital, be very conscious of the fact that she has much more important things to do than message you back. The day that the twins were being born last September, I was awakened at 5 a.m.  I saw Mommy and Daddy off to the hospital and dealt with morning routine, school, playtime and lunch before I heard a peep. People were messaging me non-stop. They wanted to know news. They wanted updates. I had none. Did I want to send a quick text to Daddy? Yes. Did I? Nope.  He was well aware where I was and what was going on. I didn’t hear from him until early afternoon and the babies were already a couple hours old at that point. As much as you may want to know what the latest news is, be respectful and be patient. It’s hard! But do it anyway. Same goes for after the parents come home. If you have been clear about your availability to help, leave it at that for a few days. Sleep is scarce the first couple weeks and visitors, constant calls and texts only add to the exhaustion.

4. Do not just drop in. The excitement of new babies is contagious. It is so hard to stay away when your friends or family have had a baby (or babies!) but you need to give them time to adjust to home. If you MUST drop off a gift or a meal or even groceries, then you need to let them know you’re on your way and that you will not be staying. Drop off the items, give a hug and leave. Do not presume to stay. Do not take off your shoes or coat. Do not expect to be served or entertained. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen people drop in, decide to stay indefinitely, have no regard for how tired the parents are, stay through feedings(which are cumbersome, awkward and often lengthy the first while) and stay through naptime. Hint: if the baby(babies) are sleeping, then mommy and daddy should be sleeping too. 

5. If you visit, plan to help.  So let’s say you’ve been invited, you’ve made plans, it’s all good and you’re dropping in on the family.  Do not come to be entertained. Your job is to help. Do the dishes, do some laundry, play with the other kids, help with bathtime/bedtime, make a meal, clean up a meal, take out the trash, take out the recycling, clean out the fridge, sweep, vacuum, wash counters, …..these are ALL things that new parents are often too tired to do, won’t have done for a while or just don’t have time for.

6. Do NOT drop off your used clothing.  This is a big no-no. Once upon a time, we lived in a time when clothes were not as accessible or economical as they are now. Most parents have an abundance of clothes from their previous children. It is rare for parents of newborns to need or even want your leftovers. You may have adorable, well cared for clothes, but if they’re not needed then they become work. Imagine bringing home your two precious babes to a house where you have 2 or 3 other children and someone drops off 2 or 3 or 4 GARBAGE BAGS full of clothes. You would cry. Yes you would. Well, I did. I cried a lot. Not in front of the givers, but afterwards. Bags full of clothes are great if needed and asked for. They are just painfully unwanted when you’re exhausted and have no time or space to deal with them. Ask first and don’t feel offended if the answer is “thanks, but no thanks”. Most parents simply cannot deal with sorting through more clothes than they need.

7. There’s such a thing as a bad gift. If you are going to donate clothes, make sure they’re clean, in good repair and sorted into sizes. There was a time, when we were poor, and we had our first baby where we had maybe 4 sleepers total. And someone in our family gave us a bag of baby clothes and receiving blankets which should have been a blessing. But it was a curse. You can say a lot in what you give. If it really is ‘the thought that counts’ then make sure you’re thinking about how your gift will be received. The bag of clothes we were given was 95% formula stained, ripped,  stretched, too old to be anything but rags. I cried. I needed clothes. But I didn’t need that. It was horrible. And I will tell you that *gifts* like this will actually put a wall up between the giver and the recipient. I was gracious but the relationship was awkward and distant. Make sure you give in such a way to bless and be of help. In the same vein, giving food gifts that require a lot of preparation or fussy care are not helpful. If you make a meal, make it simple, tasty, able to be frozen, placed into disposable containers(or containers that can be kept.). Anytime a family has to chase down the owners of dishes, it makes the gift of food more work.  One more note about food gifts: they are THE BEST but be careful not to put your dietary likes above the recipients’. If you are a vegetarian but the new family is not, consider their tastes.  If you like quinoa and lentils but the new family never eats them, that could make for a bad food gift. Consideration is key.

Someone dropped these off the day before the twins came home from the hospital. Talk about a practical THOUGHTFUL gift!
Someone dropped these off the day before the twins came home from the hospital. Talk about a practical THOUGHTFUL gift!

8. Baby holders aren’t as needed as you might think.  I know a lot of people get excited(me included) when a new baby comes into the world because we all just want to hold it. I’m one of those people who will take the baby and not return it. I will not share. I’m a baby hoarder. I love their smell and their soft little squishy bodies perched in my arms. Give me babies!!   Okay, wait. What was I saying? Right….ummmm…..I was the mom who wanted to hold her own baby. All the time. I loved my babies and they grew too fast. Yes, I was proud to show them off..for like 5 minutes. But really, I wanted to hold my babies more than anyone else. Moms get exhausted. And sometimes they need a break…but just little breaks. If a mom has other kids and she wants to spend time with them, maybe a baby holder is necessary. With twins or multiples, there may be more times needed in soothing one while the other is fed but early on, that is not as likely to happen. Be very aware that some moms like their babies in a crib during naptime to get them into a routine. Holding a baby for an hour or two between feedings is rarely helpful to a new mom. Sorry baby huggers! I feel your pain! Just short holding sessions, mmm ‘k? 🙂

9. Do NOT bring your sick or wild or hyper or needy children for a visit.  This is a tough one. If you’re a mom and a friend of the new mom, it is very natural to want to bring your kids over to see the new baby(ies). But sometimes more kids is just too much. Germs, tantrums, unexpected attitudes can all make for a louder, frustrating visit.  Usually, siblings of a new baby are wanting more attention and will be struggling without the addition of extra kids wanting to play with their toys. Be sensitive to the situation. And under no circumstance should sick, snotty, feverish, kids or adults come into a home where there is a new baby. Ever.

10. Helping with older kids should be done as needed in their own home. The upheaval of having mommy gone for a few days or weeks and seeing people come and go can be very difficult on little kids. If you want to help care for the siblings of newborns, as much as possible do it in their own home. Consistency is so important for little kids. Do not offer to take the kids to your home if you cannot pick them up and drop them off. Asking new parents to arrange to drop off their kids at your house is not very convenient. Of course there are exceptions but anytime you can make life easier on the new exhausted, overwhelmed parents is the preferred method.

11. Twins(multiples) and Bedrest: Sometimes moving in is the best way to help. I have fibromyalgia, I’m in my forties and I am NOT a morning person. I told all these things to our family members before coming to live with them for 5 weeks. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t help. I promised the kids would be fed and cared for. I didn’t promise a spotless house or gourmet meals. We managed and everyone survived! I will say that it helped that my family was not in the same city. I could dedicate all of my time to the little ones and the care of the home without distraction. It ended up being MORE relaxing than being home with my four teenagers. Go figure!  The key is this: stuff happens and if mama or daddy need help NOW, you’re there. Also, this definitely works best when you have a good relationship with both parents. Their rules, their house, their routine…be flexible and roll with it.

12. Do not place an expiry on your availability.  It’s often easy to assume that parents of newborns only need help the first month. But in reality, it gets harder over the course of the first couple years. When newborns sleep mostly and only wake for feedings, new parents need help watching their other kids so they can sleep. As soon as the baby(ies) are waking more, the need for help falls over into managing and watching all of the kids. If babies are born prematurely, their newborn phase lasts longer. This can be cute to those of us on the outside looking in, but for a new mom who’s nursing or waking multiple times in the night, this is just prolonging her exhausted phase. By the time babies reach 3 or 4 months, there may be even more need for help to come in daily to do routine household chores and care for older children as well as the babies. Rotating with friends and neighbours is a great way to cover a family over the course of a week. Once babies are nearing a year……walking, talking, solid foods plus school and schedules for older siblings can render a mom almost zombie-like. Swoop in and give her a break whenever you can. It may be only a short season of life but for her in that moment it feels never ending.

13. Be the friend who knows just what Mom needs.  Sometimes we have to be creative and spontaneous. We also need to put ourselves into the shoes of an overwhelmed, overtired mom of multiple small children. If you are out and buying coffee for yourself, grab a 2nd cup…drive to her house, knock(gently), hand her the java, give her a  hug and drive away. You don’t need to stay long or do a lot to let her know that you’re thinking of her and have her back. Remember what I said about not overstaying your welcome? Ya well, don’t, but dropping in with a saving cup of caffeine, lunch for the kiddos or a 30 minute stop so she can shower is worth its weight in gold. Trust me.

14. Ask. When all else fails, ask what is needed. Do they need someone to pick up kids from the bus stop? Do they need a sitter for an evening? Do they need someone to drive to and from the hospital while babies are in the NICU? Do they need gas cards or money for hospital parking passes? It’s amazing how all of these things add up. If the new parents are too overwhelmed to know what is needed in that moment, tell them to text or call if they think of something and then let them know you’ll check back in a couple of days. And then do.

The point in all of this is to be thoughtful, empathetic and available.  It’s very easy to go buy cutsie little outfits when a baby is born but what parents of newborns really need is physical, tangible, practical help. 

What are some of your good and bad experiences when you had your babies? Were there some gifts/givers who nailed it? Were there some people who tried to help but maybe made things worse? I’m guilty of calling too often, holding the babies too long, and dropping off bag fulls of unwanted clothes. I’m preaching to myself in all of this too!

What Every Mother Needs to Know and Hear~I Struggle Too.

I didn’t live in the land of Facebook or e-mail when my kids were little. We didn’t even have a computer or internet for many of those early years. Motherhood was a solitary journey and I lived for the days a friend would call me up to ask how I was doing.

I also thrived on Mom’s Morning out at church or when one of us had an energetic boost and could invite the others over for playtime and coffee. These were the sanity breaks that my mind and soul craved. Not because I was so lonely(maybe I was a little) but more so for the comradeship of knowing that I was not alone in my struggles.   I loved walking into my friend’s house and seeing the crumbs on her floor , the laundry piled high, bedroom doors closed so the mess behind them wasn’t initially visible.  I wanted to see that her fridge was a mess and her beds weren’t made. I needed to know that I wasn’t the only one.  It gave me a chance to catch my breath and say, “Hey, it’s okay~you’re not the only one.”

For many years having people over was a painful process. I felt like everything needed to be in it’s place and perfectly clean. I would wash mirrors, toilets, windows, floors, clean out the fridge, rearrange the furniture, hide away mounds of laundry under blankets and in closets and pretend to look pulled together. It was exhausting. And rarely did that happen without some yelling and crying. Mostly from me. The pressure to have it all together is immense. Especially from the generation before us.  Let’s face it, our mothers and fathers came from a time when “cleanliness is next to Godliness”( which incidentally is NOT in the Bible).  Any sign that you are a messy person was the equivalent of being spiritually undisciplined and unacceptable.  I succumbed to this pressure for many years and tortured my family in the process.

That was then.

I have learned after 21 years of marriage that the people with the perfectly clean houses fall into a couple of categories:

– either both parents work all week and the kids are at school/daycare all week so no one is there to LIVE IN the house.

-At least one parent is completely anal about cleanliness and is a perfectionist beyond my realm of knowledge

or – they don’t have half the junk we do and they live in a house where everything has a home so it’s very easy to keep clean.

 

I am none of these. We have moved a lot, we have rented in places where closets and cupboards were minimal at best.  I am not a disciplined housekeeper and perhaps that’s due to my overall physical strength and well-being most of the time.  And we tend to have the cheaper variety of department store furniture, shelving, storage which is barely sufficient to corral and organize everyone’s stuff.

It doesn’t really matter why, it just matters that it is.  I’m not the crazy, clean housewife. I would rather sit down with my husband after supper than do dishes.  I would rather sleep in on Saturday occasionally than jump on the laundry.  I would rather go visit a friend than wash floors.  There’s always something else I’d rather be doing.

But it is still a struggle and I do wish that I was THAT woman over there who always has the perfectly clean house,  with the perfectly organized kitchen and the perfectly perfect kids.   Scratch that.  I don’t want that.  I don’t want to be squeaky clean. I want to be real.

We’re not all cut out to be perfectly perfect housewives with high heels on , a pressed apron on our hips and dinner on the table at 5:35 pm exactly.  Some of us are the ones with no apron on, flour on our hips, splatters on our shirt, and cookies in the oven at 5:45 pm just starting to think about what we can scrounge together for supper.

Yesterday I tackled a mountain of laundry. Laundry is the bane of my existence. It always has been. When the kids were little my mom would come to visit and do laundry for 4 days straight. She rocks the laundry room. I just can’t. I get overwhelmed on load 3.  Yes my kids do their own laundry but there’s always seasonal, household and SOCKS that fall through the cracks and accumulate. Yesterday’s pile had a ridiculous amount of mismatched socks of every size and colour. There was also mitts and scarves in abundance from our all-too-long winter. And then blankets and sheets from sleepovers and towels from 3 bathrooms and 6 people. We just suck at getting it done all the time.  And so, here I was , faced with a room where the floor had not been seen in several months. It was brutal.   But I did it. I started in the morning, sorted, folded, moved out, sorted, washed, dried, folded, sorted….it’s a lot of work when kids are growing out of stuff faster than you can wash a load.

I’m terrible at laundry. And if I lied to you and told you that my kids are all well trained and have this craft down to a science you might think I’m a great teacher. But I’m not.  Half of them are really good and half of them are like me. 🙂  It’s okay, you know.  It’s okay that we’re not perfect.  Because I suspect that someone reading this right now struggles with laundry too. Or maybe dishes. Or maybe your floors get washed once a season or once a year. Or maybe you only vacuum when company comes.  It’s totally okay. I’m kind of over the shame and guilt that some throw on us because we’re not all Susie-Homemaker baking bread, cleaning out dust bunnies and polishing floors on a daily basis.  Shame and guilt have no place in conversations with other moms.  I only have solidarity and support.  If I can tackle 15 loads of laundry in one day, anyone can.  But if you can only do one load, sister, I am SO there with you.

The more we admit that we struggle, the more comfortable we make it for someone else to admit they’re not perfect either.  The lady who gets all her laundry done every day might be terrible at baking. Her poor , poor children never get a home made cookie~ Ever.  See?  No one is perfect at it all.

 

This is after I cleaned out the 10 loads that needed to be folded~not even kidding.
This is after I cleaned out the 10 loads that needed to be folded~not even kidding.
A portion of the pile before me to fold. *sigh*
A portion of the pile before me to fold. *sigh*

 

 

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Progress!

 

Oh and one more tip: if your mother, or mother-in-law or friend, or aunt, or nosy neighbour, or stranger on the sidewalk offers to come and do your laundry for you…..TAKE THE DEAL!!! 🙂

We Don’t Live in Walnut Grove Anymore {The Social Media Generation}

If I talk to you about social media, what do you instantly think of? Facebook? Twitter?

I’m guessing most of you think of Facebook exclusively when it comes to your kids. But you would be wrong. In fact, a lot of kids are leaving Facebook and checking out SnapChat and in rapidly increasing numbers, Instagram.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I would like you to read this article from Hollee Actman Becker. She has absolutely nailed it when it comes to Instagram and our kids- especially tweens and teens.  Do You Think You’re Smarter than Your Fifth Grader? 

 

Did you read it?? Go. Now. Read it. The rest of this isn’t going to make sense unless you read it and I’m not dictating it for you. Go. 

 

Okay, so, now that you’re panic-stricken and mortified, let’s talk about this.

 

Unless you plan on moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee or the back woods of the Boreal Forest in Northern Saskatchewan, social media is not going away and it’s now a part of your life, like it or not.  Sure, you can ban your kids from ever touching a computer or cell phone. You can take away their iTouch and their iPads.  You can turn off the wi-fi in your house at 8 pm  and you can hold their hand through life.  OR you could talk to them and teach them about the proper use of social media.

Last week I got an iPhone after much prodding and peer pressure from my 18 year old son. Oh , he’s quite the salesman I tell ya. What got me convinced is the inter-connectivity between my two oldest who have iPhones, my husband and his iPad(he has since upgraded to an iPhone too) and my two younger daughters who each have an iTouch. If you’re not familiar, an iTouch is a glorified iPod which you might think is just for listening to music and watching videos but it actually has all the capabilities of an iPhone without being a phone. So anywhere there is a wifi connection, the holder of an iTouch is able to be on the internet, add apps like any iPhone user would and it also has a camera/video camera.  Very cool but for kids, definitely needs monitoring.   Now, I know my girls have been using Instagram for the past few months. Many of my friends also share  their instagram photos on Facebook and Twitter and I have to admit, I was a little sad when I learned that you have to have an Apple product to use that particular app. I have looked at my girls’ photos and I realized a couple of months ago that there is a lot more going on on Instagram than what I had previously thought. I too, thought it was simply a photo sharing application but with the ability to follow and comment, I realized it really is just another social media outlet.

Our rules on Facebook are as follows:

  • If you’re going to be on Facebook, you must have your parents as friends or you can’t have an account. (They have all figured out that they can customize statuses and posts to exclude us because we were “so annoying” commenting on things.)
  • At any time I can look at their friend list and suggest/demand deletion. We have had to do this a few times particularly with some “friends” who they don’t know well or who have potty-mouths and regularly post offensive comments, statuses or links.
  • At any time I can go into their inbox to see who they’re chatting with and what they’re chatting about.  I did this a lot in the early days and the threat of it now has kept everyone behaving(I think).  I do believe our teens need a certain level of anonymity and privacy. I had diaries and there were some things I wanted to vent about that I would never want my mom to hear or read. Growing up is a working through of emotions and thoughts and it’s okay for our kids to have someplace to do that. But I caution my girls that everything they type can be cut, pasted, shared, taken out of context for all the world to see so tread carefully.
  • Absolutely no bashing friends, acquaintances, family or teachers on Facebook or any other social media. I will not put up with cyber-bullying  or openly slandering another person.
  • Facebook is a privilege, not a right. At any moment it can be gone. And we have suspended accounts for several months at a time. Parents, be parents. Consequences for inappropriate behaviour must be followed through.
  • Anyone who you “friend” on Facebook must be someone you know personally, have an in-person relationship with and who is someone that you would not hesitate to have over in our home for dinner or sitting in our living room with the whole family.  If any one of these criteria does not line up then you cannot be friends on Facebook.  Facebook is an extension of our home and your life. It is a virtual living room. Therefore, we regularly check friend lists and purge as necessary. If someone is a FB stalker(they’re on but you never hear from them) then they’re gone.  If someone takes things you post and shares them with others not on your friend list or not on FB, they’re gone.  If someone makes any one of your friends feel uncomfortable or is chatting privately with you about what someone else said or posted, they’re gone.

This is not an exclusive rule list and it’s always changing. Social media has changed a ton in the six years that I have been on. An open dialogue is essential with your kids. Use it as a teaching tool. Someday your kids will be on their own and they need to have a good foundation for what is acceptable on the internet and what is not.  If you don’t teach them, they’ll learn on their own or from someone else. This is why, for the life of me, I cannot understand some parents who are NOT on Facebook but allow their children to be. You cannot monitor that which you do not see. And you cannot see that which you do not understand or where you are not present. Be present in your child’s life~everywhere.

 

So, back to Instagram. We had an episode a month ago. Potentially a scary episode. My youngest(who will be 13 next week) was having problems and I knew that but she wasn’t sharing much. I will not give all the details but I received a phone call from her friend’s mom on a Saturday morning. She was worried about my daughter because she read an inbox message from her, to her daughter. The word suicide came up. I was alarmed but I was more curious. I took my daughter out on a shopping trip and lunch. We talked about school and friends and all kinds of things. She didn’t give me any indication of a problem and her marks have been good. I had to tell her about the call and she immediately burst into tears. Instagram. Instagram had made her feel awkward and uncomfortable and vulnerable. Even though she didn’t say those words, that’s what it was.  A boy at youth group had liked a photo of her on instagram and her friends had blown it up into a big deal. Why? Because when you “like” something on Instagram it pops up as a heart. So here was her picture with a heart and this boy’s name.  It’s one of those moments in grade 7 when you are SO EMBARRASSED you just want to die.  You know what I mean , moms? You want to die. And that’s what this innocent little  inbox message had said.

When I was in grade 7 and I liked a boy, I didn’t tell anyone. It was my secret with myself. I told my daughter that as much as she loves her friends and they love her, teasing will always happen to the extent where you want to crawl into a hole and never come out. That’s why diaries are great. And that’s why, when I was in grade 7, I could run home, close the bedroom door, cry into my pillow and stress for a day and a night and by the next morning the girls were teasing someone else at school and the boys were just being boys.

Here’s the thing parents, we don’t live in Walnut Grove anymore(did you have to Google that to figure out what I meant?).  Nelly is still on the playground, but she’s carrying an iPhone and she’s using everything your little Laura says and does against her. She’s video taping and photographing and texting.  Albert and Willie have phones now too.  And they don’t mean any harm but they get caught up in the moment.  So what are you going to tell your Laura, your Mary, your Carrie?  What do you do? Do you pack them up in the wagon? Do you tell Pa to get his shotgun and show those kids who’s boss?

Nellie Olson still exists ~she just has an iPhone now.

No.  We live in 2013 and computers and cell phones and social media are a part of our lives. We have to teach our kids to protect themselves. We have to show them how to be friends but how to still keep their private life private. We need to be their safe place and their fountain of knowledge. But we can’t do that if we don’t know what they’re talking about. We can’t help them if we don’t even understand what “tbh” and “lms” mean. It’s time to get with the program.  Be a parent and be there for our kids.

Needless to say, we ‘ve adjusted privacy settings on Instagram for the girls. And now that I’m on, I can see what’s being posted and what’s being said. 95% of it is innocent. But the conversation is an open and evolving one. I’m not going to be the mom who says, “I didn’t know” .