It Takes a Village

I’ve been thinking a lot about the support we need to be on top of this whole parenting gig. I think we have swung a bit too far away from being there for each other and instead merely being there on the periphery. I think our need to feel independent, successful, competent, and strong baits us away from asking for help, being vulnerable, and reaching out to give support too.

Recently, a friend of mine told me that she had been in my daughter’s class when a fire drill happened. My friend shared with me that she was present and noticed that my daughter was reacting to the shrill sounds. I love that they found each other, and my friend (a seasoned mom of 3 herself, among other amazing skills and accomplishments) was able to provide my wee girl with the reassurance and safety net she needed.

This is the village i speak of: One where my daughter can look to another adult in the room and seek comfort. She knows this woman as a friend of mine, as an ally to her, and as another mom herself. I love that my daughter can go to someone for cuddles when she needs it.

I also need this support sometimes too. I’ve shared already about the nurturing acts of self-care i so rely on, and the activities that provide me comfort (like going outdoors, music, creative art expressions) but i also just need a break sometime so i can come back refreshed. I realized recently that the village i need is one that provides me with a break when i ask (and also when it’s intuitively offered), acknowledges the hard work it is to raise children, and allows me to be raw – honest, messy, vulnerable, authentic, and imperfect.

So, for me the village is not one that is trying to also parent my children. It is not one that is telling my kids to eat their dinner or to discipline them for me. It is not one where i feel even more judged and ostracized. It is not one where the villagers have such different family values and parenting styles. I would love a break from the anger i am starting to feel rise up, from the frustration of yet another argument. I’d love an offer of taking my kids out to play, or to have someone else take the lead when my energy is tapped out. I need a village with others who share similar values and styles. Or at least have empathy and a loving ear to listen to me complain.

I really appreciate the great groups that have formed that find solace in our struggles, and offer a chance to commiserate as well as empower. I really appreciate when someone can pick up on another person’s struggle and offer a cup of tea, an active ear, a playdate, wine in the front yard. Groups can be on-line, in-person, formal, drop-in, or just merely a chance meeting.

If you don’t yet have a village, start small. A village needs to start somewhere – Be it a deserted island, a party of one for dinner. Find ways to build your village, create a circle of support where you know where to turn to for what support. I love this tool and use it a lot in my work, when i’m learning more about the support someone else has, or doesn’t. Having never lived in a village, i admit i have a warped sense of it. I assume there’s a vulnerability in having your dirty laundry aired out (like when you yell and your neighbours hear, or when you dump your kids’ toys in the trash for all to see). But it is also a way to show solidarity, and to feel united, and to also feel human. It can be a village that you create, grow and nurture rather than one that you are stuck in and cannot leave. You can set the tone and create your own village with a clear intention of what you need.

Do you have a village? Want to join mine? New members are always welcome.

Happy Mother’s Day

As today closes, i wanted to take a moment to honour the day. I know there are some of us that today would have been hard – both for our own relationships with our mothers and also because we are not mothers as we wish we could be.

I work with women who are mothers but don’t have their children in their lives. I support women who are wanting to be mothers but haven’t yet be given this gift, i also am a mother who has experienced miscarriage as so many of us have. There are families who have had to go through IVF and advocate for their right to be parents. And there are more still of us who have lost our own mothers. Today may have been a ‘made up holiday’ as some are quick to mention. But it is a special day nonetheless, where classrooms, storefronts, and TV spots alike all highlighting the fact. It definitely makes it hard for those of us that are triggered by today.

I read about the history and significance of Mother’s Day. Did you know it has some roots in peace and anti-war work? While it has been celebrated for even longer, our more recent version was created by a mom in the late 1880s who was frustrated that she had to mourn the loss of her child. In fact, the first era of Mother’s Days was to acknowledge the loss mothers feel when their children die. It sure has changed since then.

This year, i made a point to request (demand?) what i wanted to do for today. I got to stay in bed and read. I got a delicious homemade brunch in the comfort of my own home, and we got to stroll around a neighbourhood i love. Yes there were sibling squabbles between the kids, yes there was a near-disaster when having dinner out, and yes i had to remind the kids it was my special day. But for all that, i did create that time for me. I am one of the lucky ones. And i got to hear that i was the best mommy from both my kids. My son’s tooth fell out, and i got to carry my 5 year old for a few blocks more than i should have. All in a day’s worth. And very fitting for today.

I bought this shirt recently. It was a gift to myself. I love the way it calls to me – both that it reminds me that i am strong and that being strong to me is a personal thing. I don’t want to be strong like anyone else, or to feel that being strong means to not cry, to be invincible. I also know that mothers can be strong for using an epidural, for not using any meds during birth, for adopting, for nursing for 3 years, for weaning when it was best for us, for yet another month without conceiving, for challenging someone’s oppressive view of who a parent should be. Strong means sometimes asking for help, and it can also mean just letting go of our own expectations and giving in to the tears. Strong mama does not mean being strong like a man. Whatever that means.

I wear this shirt to remind me to be strong when i don’t feel like it. And it remind you too, that we are in this today – we can be ‘strong like a mother’ in any way that works for us. It’s a good mantra. We may need that reminder at times, and that’s okay. Being strong is knowing what we need, and doing what we have to do remain strong. It doesn’t have to mean stubborn, but rather staying true to what’s important to you.

How can you be strong as a mother? I encourage you to find a way that fits for you. Happy Mother’s Day to all of us.

A Day to Recognize

Today marks World Maternal Mental Health Day. It’s part of Mental Health Week that is honoured here in Canada. I wanted to take a moment to honour and play tribute to the many women and parents who have experienced any form of hardship, pain and suffering in their identity as a parent. It can be ugly, isolating, and scary at times for sure.

Our society definitely still paints an unjust and judgmental lens on mental health issues in general. This makes it so hard for new parents to reach out for support. New mothers are told that they should be in love with their newborn at first site, that the pain is worth it, that they will get sleep when their kids are teens, and that we are to suck it up.

That is so far from the truth and the opposite of supportive. As a mother myself, i definitely had to learn as i went when my children were newborns. I feel like i was a lucky one when it came to my postpartum life, even with a somewhat traumatic birth of my first. That said, there are still things that i felt too scared to voice and ask for support with. Like i was supposed to love being alone with my baby all day long. Each and every day. Like we were supposed to nap all the time, and i never felt (internal or external) pressure to have it all and do it all.

I’m not sure if it’s because i am immersed in supporting new parents now, or if it’s really the case, but i appreciate seeing all the blog writers, the celebrities, the ads and documentaries on this topic that is do dear to me. Maybe it was there 8 years ago when i was pregnant with my first. But maybe not and we are doing better now.

In my work, one thing that i really love is helping the women i support to build a wellness toolkit for themselves. I know one of the hardest things is to feel like we have or deserve time for ourselves. But we do – we can’t give from an empty cup (oh how i love that quote!). So, my gift to you today, on World Maternal Mental Health Day is this tool: Building Your Wellness Toolkit. Feel free to download and print it. It’s a worksheet that helps you look at ways you can provide yourself with some good self-care. When you need it. When you deserve it. Each and every day. Fill your cup.