Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Mayonnaise Jar Lesson

Have you seen the Mayonnaise Jar Lesson being passed around Facebook lately?  I had heard it before...I think at a conference for college students getting a degree in non-profit management, but I can't be sure (and really it isn't important).  It was a lesson that made sense when I heard it, but somewhere between then and yesterday, I had lost track of it.  In fact, lately, I have been trying to sort out my priorities and not really getting anywhere.  Then someone posted the lesson and a few things became clear to me.  Among them?  I need to say goodbye to this blog.  I have not felt a strong desire to write posts for a while.  I thought it was because I had too many other things to do, but really? If it was important to me, I would have made time for it. 

As mothers it seems like we have a very limited amount of free time.  In the free time, we should be doing something that brings us joy and happiness and rejuvenates us so that when we go back to our kids, we are more sane than when we left.  This blog did that for me many, many times. 

In fact, this blog started as a way for me to connect to other people, to share my story, to get advice, and to attempt to make sense of the changes I was going through.  While I still don't have most of the answers, what I do have is a wonderful set of friends that I see on a regular basis, that provide support and comfort unconditionally.  It wasn't until I read the Mayonnaise Jar Lesson that it occurred to me that maybe the reason I haven't wanted to write posts lately is because most of my needs are being met elsewhere.  This does not lessen what I have gotten from all of you.  Your advice and encouragement has meant the world to me.  It is merely an interesting ah ha moment.

So all of this made me ask myself, "What will bring me joy?" and the answer I found is that I want to learn more about photography.  I don't know what that is going to look like exactly, but I have been taking a class at the local community college and I have signed up for a couple workshops in the next couple months.  When I grab my camera and am able to create a picture exactly how I envisioned it, I am overjoyed!  When I am able to share those pictures with my friends and family, I feel proud.  This is what I need to be doing in my free time.

So for my final question to all of you, what brings you joy?  What are the things that you want to make time for because they give you what you need (on a regular basis) so that you can be a better mom?

NOTE: I am keeping my Facebook page and Twitter account open and will continue to post on them.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Needing a Parenting Reboot

I don't think I am "supposed to" admit this, but I have not been enjoying parenting my 2 year old lately.  Everything requires more talking, more energy, and more time than it has in the past.  If you have a toddler, you likely know what I mean. 

On particularly "special" days things to go this way:

He wants a snack?  First I have to decide WHAT he wants to eat.  I usually give 2-3 options. Then he decides WHERE we are going to have the snack (upstairs, downstairs, outside, inside, at the table, in a snack trap), then we have to decide if he is going to HELP or not, then we have to decide what CONTAINER to put it in, and finally there tends to be a particular way that he wants it prepared (banana in or out of the peel, cheese cubed or in strips, apple cut up or whole).

Take this same level of decision making and apply it to every.single.thing I do all.day.long. And you have a typical tough day in my home.  

Some of you are probably thinking that you would never give your child so much control.  You are probably thinking that you would pick a snack, hand it to your child, and that would be it.  Either you don't have a toddler or if you do, you are the luckiest person on the face of the earth.  Don't get me wrong.  Everyday isn't like this.  But there are days, man, are there days, when he is taking being a "terrible two" seriously, when it is way easier to give him a voice in the decision making than to deal with the tantrum afterward. 

I was really starting to get down on myself.  I wasn't looking forward to playing with him and especially not looking forward to playing trains or cars for the 50th time that day and I thought that made me a bad mom.  But then I realized something.  I don't actually have to like everything that he likes.  I know that sounds obvious when I say it, but it really hadn't occurred to me before.  Part of my job as a mom is to play with my kid and to love it, right?   Not exactly.  I think I should want to spend time with my kid.  I think that most of the time I can find activities that don't drive either one of us insane.  And the rest of the time?  Well I don't have a solution for the rest of the time.  Grin and bear it, I suppose.
So given my level of exhaustion with these particular type of days, there have been several moments lately where I have not been too proud of my parenting skills.  I have snapped at him when I was trying to finish something and he got in the way.  I have spent too much time on Facebook when I should have been playing with him.  I have told him "in a minute" too many times so that I could finish what I was doing, even if it wasn't that important or crucial that I finish it then.  Finally, I have had too many days where I am overly grateful for nap time and bedtime. 

I knew that the only way out of this rut was to look at the things in a new way...focusing on the things that were going well.  So I started writing down the things I am proud of, with regard to parenting  It was an amazing experience.  At first, I stated the easy ones.
  • I remember to tell him that I love him throughout the day (and not just when he has done something good).
  • I give him hugs and kisses every time the opportunity arises.
Then I started really thinking about the things we do on a fairly regular basis and that I view as good decisions as a parent.
  • I model playing creatively and I encourage him to play along.   
  • We go outside almost every chance we get.  
  • I include him in the things I do around the house. 
  • I don't forget to get really silly with him at least a couple of times a day.   
  • I give him jobs so that he feels useful and experiences the success in accomplishing a task.
  • I have nurtured his love for reading by having books accessible to him and we read books together several times a day.
  • I make him clean up his toys (most of the time).
  • I have begun to feed him real food as often as I can (95% of the time).  How can I let him grow up without goldfish crackers?
  •  Sometimes, even when we are in a rush, we stop everything and just cuddle.   My favorite time to do this is getting in and out of the car.  Why?  Because it makes a remarkable difference in reducing my crankiness in those rushed moments.

Then I started thinking about the tough things I do as a parent...
  • When he goes into tantrum mode, most of the time I remember to meet him where he is.  I give him hugs, use kid language to describe what I think he wants, get him to take a deep breath, and then we talk about what we need to do instead.  
  • When I sense a struggle coming on, I give him two-three choices so he feels like he has some control.  
  • When he starts to whine for something, I remind him to "try again" and ask me the correct way.   
  • I tell him "no", I tell him "yes", and I tell him "ABSOLUTELY".  However, I also tell him, "in a minute", "after I finish ___", and "maybe later" so he begins to learn about being patient.  
  • We have found a discipline system that works for us (right now) and is predictable for him.  
 Finally, I reflected on my actions specifically.  What am I doing to model being a quality human being?
  • I exercise regularly and he is part of that routine.
  • I model using "please" and "thank you" and remind him to use them as well.
  • I love my husband and we are appropriately affectionate in front of the kids.
  • I am not afraid to show him a full range of emotions, but I be sure to use words to describe how I am feeling so that he understands.  I use these opportunities to model how to recover from a bad mood or how to embrace the happy times. 
  • It took me a while, but I found hobbies that didn't involve him. I think it is important that he sees that I have interests outside of being mom. 
  • I admit when I have made a mistake.
If you compare the moments where I have been a less than stellar parent lately with this list, would you describe me as a good parent or a poor one?  Are we allowed to have moments as moms and dads where we don't have our A game on?  I suppose that is for each person to choose for themselves, but I have decided that I need to cut myself some slack.  I do very few things poorly, but a whole heck of a lot of things really well.  I AM a good mom and now?  I know it.