All the Feelings – Part Two: Overwhelmed and Overworked

The kids are back to school, and now our routine is back to usual. It made me think of all the things i do as parent, both what i expect to do and what i put on myself. I also never knew just how busy my to-do lists would be. I think I’m going to add some new skills to my resume. Here is a good sample list, as a place to start:

Coordination of meetings – i.e. doctor, dentist, naturopath, osteopath, Fracture Clinic (just June-July alone)
Nurse and emergency response support, Health and Safety Committee
Mediation and Conflict Resolution
Budget allocation – enough said
Minutes/notetaker – for contact with teacher
Copy editing – of homework, budding reader practice
Art facilitation – craft supplies, doing crafts, organizing crafts and more
Curator – for all the above-mentioned art work
Anthropologist – finding all the things the kids lose (toy figure Light Saber, SMALL Lego pieces, lip balm?
Short-order cook – everyone wants eggs but different
Caterer
Party planner – ain’t no party like a kid’s birthday party these days
Librarian – book collector, reader, finder, fine payer, and more
Organizer – pack their school bags, put away all. the. things
Dry Cleaner – they leave their clothes out and it magically cleans itself, and then puts it away
Secretarial skills – book play dates, take messages, talk to teachers, talk to parents
Manage small groups – i.e. keep the kids alive when friends come visit
Life coach – helping kids be humans
Therapist – friendship support, frustrations at school, etc.
Teacher – music, dance, art, reading, math, gym, yoga, mediation, spelling
Tour guide – PA day fun, weekend plans, trips, summer vacay
Personal Buyer
Chauffeur

A local therapist and colleague, Olivia, shares about some great ‘buckets of work’ that parents have to do. I love this list – it unpacks the layers and also pinpoints all the areas of work that gets unnoticed but is so key to keeping things moving. Check it out for more on this never-ending list of things we do as parents.

What would you add?

It’s no wonder that more articles and press is being given to the concepts of ‘mama brain’ and ‘mental load.’ While i know my partner does a fair share of work in the house and for the family, it is me that wakes up at any sound. I have heard my kids fall out of bed, throwing up, calling for me. I have been the first call the school makes when my kids are hurt. It’s me that tracks down the things the kids lose (just recently that includes 2 library books, a purse, water bottle, hat, and another water bottle. It’s me that looks at sales for clothes and gets hand-me-downs to save money for things we really need.

And yet folks complain about the mama brain and assume we are tired from not sleeping enough, but actually it’s the opposite – just look at this list. It’s because we are thinking about all the things all the time. And yes, i still typically turn my bedside light off after my partner, and yes it takes me forever to fall asleep, while he’s snoring in 2 minutes flat. I’m not exaggerating. But gees, that’s the best time i’ve got for just me stuff. I close my day with stuff i actually like and do just for me. It helps me get to bed and ready for the next day. That’s a little tool i use to help me start the whole Groundhog Day of life all over again. Wanna read more about this, and have something else to do? Here’s a good article about why we stay up past our bedtime.

How to Hold Onto Summer

The summer break is about to end. While here in Toronto it was a bit of an anti-summer weather wise, i’m sad to see it go. We filled it with a lot of exciting and fun events, trips, and activities. It was also filled with sibling fights and mosquito bites. That said, i know it’s so easy to move into Fall and the usual routine and forget all to quickly about the lovely memories we built over the summer.

In my work as well as home life, i work on ways to hold on to the good stuff. I don’t know about you, but i so rarely print photographs, and my annual photo book is done in December. So, in a time where we don’t have the traditional way to hold onto memories (photographs), i wanted to share with you some simple but helpful ways to hold onto summer.

Draw a PostCard
As someone who uses expressive arts therapy in my work, i really love this first exercise. My daughter is the crafter in our house and she can go through pages and pages of papers with her drawing. I have a collection of postcard size canvases. You can get them at a local arts and craft store or even a Dollar store.

Think if a symbol or image that you especially loved or resonated with this summer. It could be a slice of watermelon, an umbrella, tent, ice cream cone, sunflower. Spend some time recalling a specific event or day that connects to this image. For instance, here are some of my examples: As a family, we spent a few Sunday afternoons last year creating this communal painting of our trip to New York. My daughter drew a scene of our week at the cottage (top right). Get out your crayons, pencil crayons, markers, pastels or paints. Pause so you can capture the feeling in your body and then draw to your heart’s content. The time we spend creating this image and using our hands to draw can help send a message back to our brain to really capture the memory. It’s like when we have to learn something new or study for a test – if we actually practice, we can really hold onto the info.

Remember this is not art class and no one will judge your work. After you feel happy with your work, find a place that you can notice it over the next few weeks or month. It will help you take pause in the day when you feel that life is moving on and away from that lovely day in summer.

Phone Selfie
I love how you can take a photo of your phone – if you have an iPhone like i do. I also love changing my wallpaper on my cell phone and computer. I update it it seasonaly, to find another way to hold onto something i especially loved. It’s a good way to sneak a peak of something that was a good and positive time in your life. I’ve done this with my donut donut – remember my last post where i spoke about it? You can do it with updating your social media photo too – not for anyone else but as a way to help you recall a memory that you want to hold onto. So, right now on my phone, i have my beloved donut donut and legs floating in the water.

This is a great way to take pause in the busy day-to-day. Most of us have our cell phones with us, or access a computer. Why not make it personal and add a photo or an inspirational quote that really speaks to you? When life seems to be overwhelming, this is a great tool where you can regroup how you are feeling and can help slow down life just enough to help take care of you. I love that this simple activity can be a tool to help you be in control of your emotions, as easy as clicking on your phone to see this helpful image!

Resource Anchor Work
In therapy work, there is some great information about how using these images as symbols to help us create a state of being that is our desired state. Here’s one example: Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). You can find out more about it here – it’s a great tool that talks about how to send a message to your brain by doing some repetitive touch and tapping work, and using a part of your body to help connect to it.

Message in a Bottle
I have collected sand, shells, and rocks for years now. For major trips, the kids and i make a scene in a pretty glass jar and keep it in our dining room. We have several jars now and a large bowl of rocks. I notice the kids sometimes sit by the nature table and look at the rocks. I can see them touch it, and connect to the place where they found it. It’s a great exercise to help recall a happy memory for sure, as the relationship of the sense of touch and sight can really help boost our mood.

These are just some of the ways we hold onto summer. What are some ways you do it?

My Camping Village

I grew up camping with my family when a kid myself. To be honest, i don’t remember a lot of memories, but i do recall the campgrounds, my beach hair, the white lotion that covered my mosquito bites, and everything covered in sand. I do remember that i loved it, and i want to share this experience with my own family now. So this week, we went camping for our annual vacation. It was our longest time camping. As usual, it was a full trip filled with some highs and lows. The weather was mainly on our side, minus the epic storm that we woke up to at 2AM one night. Our sturdy tent lived through it and so did we.

One thing that i noticed was how i struggled with finding the right balance with how to be with my family, and have time to myself. I have learned over the years that going away with kids is not truly a vacation but rather a trip away from home. It’s work nonetheless. Doing it camping style is that much more so. Given that, i know i need to steal moments of time to myself in order to gather my thoughts, stretch, eat the last marshmallow (shhh, don’t tell them), and also to regroup in general.

So, this week i noticed a new shift that may re-define how we travel. My kids are getting older and for the most part, they can play by themselves. This self-sufficiency comes in handy when us adults are needing to set up the tent, build a fire, put away wet swim gear – you get it. This week, their play was amplified by the sheer presence of other kids. So many other kids their age. We have learned that it’s beneficial to us all to have a camp site by the playground, and it looks like other families have caught on to this as well. We shared our week at the camp and beach with at least 4 other families that we saw every day. The kids played with them at the playground, at our sites, and for the hours we spent at the beach. We joined forces in the water and shared water toys like a massive, awesome inflatable swan, and my beloved donut donut. We shared stories of parenthood. We commiserated about the work of being a parent. We took turns watching the whole gaggle of kids.

This is the epiphany i experienced: I at first felt guilty for being ‘that mom’ who lets her kids wander and bother other families: i worried that i would be judged and scrutinized for my lack of good parenting skills. I even worried that my daughter is too peer-attached and that it’s a sign that she is not securely attached to me. I felt bad for other parents who had my kids to tend with. And then i took my turn being the resident adult while they played. And you know what? I wasn’t needed at all. I was active in their play and not as a parent, but as a person. I got to float on my donut donut (it’s a donut painted like a chocolate donut) and still have an eye on the kids. Win win.

I realized that it only hurts me if i am afraid of the judgment of others. My kids were happy, and i was able to read a whole novel while camping and that was glorious. I got to work through my own version of feeling worried that i was not as good as another mom. Looking back, the parents all had a role to play and we did it our own way. I know i won’t see these families again and so i remained the best parent i could be for my kids. That’s what matters. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when i realized this.

On the last day, we were all a bit sad to leave. Even though a storm was brewing, we lingered. I didn’t even learn the other moms’ names. I knew all 10 kids names though. One parent, when saying goodbye, reassured me that that boundaries don’t exist at campgrounds. I had thanked them for watching my kids and they reminded me that we literally are airing out our laundry for all to see, so why not also keep on eye out on our children too?

So, i left feeling like i was able to see both the benefit to attachment-based parenting as well as knowing that the village i cherish can also be rebuilt while away from home. It’s okay that my kids want to play with other kids. They also want to cuddle with me during a storm, play in the water together, and build our own memories.

We can be our worst critic sometimes, and fall prey to the comparison game. When we do that, it takes away from the joy of what counts most – our time with our family and being in the moment.

Expectation vs Reality: The Anniversary Edition

This weekend was a special anniversary for me. I’ve been with my partner for 17 years. Call me sentimental but i like to honour that. So, when our favourite summer music festival changed the dates on us, we (naively?) thought we could still all go and enjoy ourselves.

Typically, my partner and i go to the Hillside by ourselves for most of the weekend, and bring the kidlets on Sunday. It’s a win-win: we spend the day outdoors listening to music we love, and the kids stay at a pool with their cousins for the day. This year, as the festival dates fell right on our special day, we tried to have the best of both worlds – take the kids to the festival AND be all romantic like.

It almost worked.

We decided to take the kids camping at a nearby conservation park. One that was part of the early days of my dating life with my partner. We are by no means camping experts, but we go each year. This year, we jumped on a recent sale and bought a 6-person tent. One that my partner (all 6 feet of them) could stand in. We also treated ourselves to those fold-up chairs. So fancy. What we didn’t plan was the tantrum both kids threw when we told them there were no more caves to walk to and discover. That the first night away from home is always a shit show. That the Elora Quarry was too full at 2:00 to allow us to go swimming. That they couldn’t finish that world’s biggest lollipop on an empty stomach. All this was on the Saturday, which was my special day. MINE.

In the midst of all this, my son lost his newly bought souvenir. He’s been wanting ‘real gold’ for a while: why, i have no idea but it’s a thing. And so when we found this dig-your-own gold nugget toy, we treated him to one. In the span of an hour, he forgot where he left it. We were already back at the camp site when he wanted to dig for his gold. Our tensions were already high from the shit show i mentioned above. A part of me really just wanted him to Learn His Lesson for losing yet another belonging. But another part of me wanted to just turn the day around. I went with that decision. He and i ended up having a lovely scavenger hunt for it in town (kind of like pirates we are!) and no we didn’t find it. So what did this great and understanding parent do? I bought him a new one. Yes i did. We told the store clerk what happened and she said ‘you’re the world’s best mom.’ No, i’m not but i did tell her i did it for me too – it would make MY day better too: and he did learn a lesson – we agreed he was going to pay me back

Call me selfish i guess. I did get the best hug ever after from lil c, and he made sure that all his body was hugging mine. And, did he found gold? No. He lucked with a plain ole rock. Has he left it in his pocket and forgotten about it? Yes he has.

Ahoy matey!

But, we all had a good night’s sleep in this massive tent, with our cozy sleeping bags. And we went to Hillside recharged and refreshed. We selvedged the weekend and had a glorious time at our annual summer music festival.

One thing that i will especially treasure if my older kid (lil c) has recently discovered his own style of music. He appreciates music and performance and jumped right in there appreciating it all: This is what i hope to give him with our annual ritual of going here. My youngest (Miss M) was happy just to go around and around (and around) on the homemade Merry Go Round.

While it wasn’t exactly what i wanted, i did get to enjoy a favourite musician, eat great food, and see the night sky. I got to cuddle with my sweetie and remember why we are still going strong 17 years later. That counts for something and i’m so glad we honoured our tradition. I love this chocolate – the names were as much action as i got this weekend. But the chocolate was amazing.

All the Feelings- Part One: Mom Rage

I never thought I’d be this angry. Or this often.

Who knew that things like
– My daughter not wanting to wear underwear under her dress
– My son refusing to get dressed for school
– My children bickering with each other for the 100,000th time this week
– My daughter threatening to not eat dinner/lunch/breakfast unless she gets candy
– My son tripping over the Lego he didn’t put away
– My children bickering for the 200,000th time this week
– My daughter refusing to pee even thought it’s been hours since the last time
– My son refusing to poo even though his whole body is ready to explode
– My children bickering for the 300,000th time this week

Really, I had no idea that I would be this mad when I became a parent. It’s a bit of a regular thing these days. I am working on it: I have to, I know. If not for the fact that I help others with their feelings, but also so that my neighbours don’t wonder why my daughter is calling me a stupid butt face. Again.

I used to be so happy, relaxed, easy-going… Well, maybe not all three all the time. But each concept is definitely something I remember feeling pre-kids.

I love all the books out there. I especially love the idea of Peaceful Parenting ,Playful Parenting and Simplicity Parenting. See the trend? It sounds so easy! They all sound good and I know they work. I also know that my kids, especially my youngest, are just not developmentally at a place where they know how to regulate their emotions and problem-solve. I also know that Non-violent Communication works and it takes time. But kids’ attention spans aren’t so conducive to long chats about feelings and compromises.

I have learned over the years that my children’s bickering is a trigger for me. While in know i must have bickered with my own sister, i remember more clearly that i wasn’t allowed to be angry with my parents. I also know that the trigger i feel in my body in response to their defiance/stubbornness/automony is that i don’t recall having a right to those feelings when i was a kid.

So, it’s a bit of dance. These feelings of wanting them to not be afraid to speak up for themselves, and to be ok with feeling angry. I know that anger is not a bad feeling, and i’m trying to teach my kids to catch it in them before they explode. And i’m trying to do that for myself too.

I love the charts and posters and reminders i can find on Pinterest that give me pause to explain why Child A is upset. I also love all the suggestions on Pinterest that encourage me to walk away, hold my rock, breathe, and be Zen with my anger. But hello, have you met a quick tempered 5 year old who does. not. allow me to go to my room for a minute? I remind myself that she hasn’t learned to regulate her emotions yet, that her brain literally hasn’t developed that oh so important tool.

I am a bit of a brain geek right now and i love how it is keeping me present with what is going on right before my eyes. The book Whole Brained Child is a great tool for instance. There is a great summary of the book here, that highlights some good tools to use to help your kids with their own feelings.

As to my own journey, one thing i’ve learned is that i can forgive myself for being human, to repair my relationship with my kids after we bicker, and i can model both how to take care of myself and be in control of my anger. I’m not such a fan of the term ‘mom rage’ as it minimizes the anger, and it assumes that only moms can be angry over trivial things like all the times my kids hand me their garbage to put away. I’m not a garbage can. I guess that’s another story. But my point is that i have learned how to catch my anger rise, and to take care of myself. Its’ not so ugly or scary anymore. I just wish my kids could just hurry up and develop this tool as well.

What are some things you do to help you when you’re about to lose your shit? I could use some new tools.

My Birth Story: Birth of a Mama

My eldest child was born 8 years ago this week. Looking back on the birth, i credit the experience i had personally with what motivated me to do the work i do. It wasn’t the birth i wanted, and while i have moments of it that i treasure to this day, parts of it were really scary and it’s taking me time to heal from them. I know i’m one of the lucky ones and my birth trauma is my own story. I also know that i have more tools on hand to heal and delve into the trauma than most of us have. Please read on only if you want to.

I went into early labour on the Friday of Pride weekend. It was exactly my estimated due date so i was pretty excited about that. The labour slowed over the course of the Saturday, so i napped, watched Goonies (my all time favourite movie growing up so i thought i could get into it). Looking back on it, i can’t believe we didn’t name our baby Mickey or Andy or even Sloth. I remember the awesome Labour Mix my partner made (a former DJ and full-time lover of music). I remember the nice bath. I remember snacking on cold drinks and smoothies, walking at 10PM and 2AM. And then things started to turn in the wee hours of Sunday morning. By then our amazing Midwife Mary was with us. The pains of labour just seemed to intensify in a way that i knew wasn’t what i needed to feel. Next thing i knew we were rushing to the hospital at 4AM, after seeing what we thought was meconium. It turned out not to be, but it was a preamble to needing to be at the hospital i guess.

Between 5AM and 11AM my care had to be transferred over to an OB doc. This was devastation #1. I so admired my team of midwives and felt so connected to them, having to be transferred felt like a betrayal even though my Wise Mind knew it was necessary. The doc did not have the same bedside manner or a trauma-informed framework. Ironically, it was the anesthesiologist that helped me get through the discussion that i ‘needed’ to have an emergency C-section. I remember being told that my son’s head was stuck and i was too swollen to give birth vaginally. I remember thinking that in his excitement to meet me, my baby turned a bit too much and got stuck. I remember the pain before the epidural and thinking ‘there is no way that those of us that birth can do this.’ The pain was surreal.

Devastation #2 was to learn that i had to have a C-section. Just like my mother did with me. I had prepped my body to birth vaginally. I had convinced myself of this, so did not read enough of a birth plan for C-section. I had no idea that i would be strapped down, that the medical team would be too busy chatting about their weekend plans, that i couldn’t immediately hold my new baby, and that skin to skin was impossible until in the recovery room. Devastation #3 is learning that my arms had to be strapped down. #4 was learning that i couldn’t hold my newborn. #5 was knowing that my partner’s role in the room was even less active. And devastation #6 was realizing that my voice just didn’t matter in that room. I was not an equal or key planner in the birth of my baby. In the birth of me as a mama.

My baby was born that Sunday afternoon, just as the Pride parade was starting. We saw a rainbow out of our minuscule window. It overlooked the lake and i worked hard to rid the delivery/surgery room from my mind. My baby and i worked hard on our latch, our breastfeeding, our bonding. We worked on our rest and healing. We stayed at the hospital for 3 days. We stayed together in our small shared room. We saw other families come in and out. I worked on getting to the bathroom. Devastation #7 is learning the incredible feat of getting out of bed to walk across the room to pee. Devastation #8 is being told i had to work on a poo before leaving the hospital. Yikes, how was that supposed to happen. Devastation #9 is being told that my baby wasn’t latching so wasn’t getting what he needed – i have had my period and big boobs since the age of 9, if nothing else my body was born to breastfeed! He had one dose of formula to get us through that night shift with that 1 nurse. And then i worked my butt off to get him to latch.

What i loved – having friends visit on Day 2 and 3, bringing us homemade food and changes of clothes, seeing my parents hold their new grandson, not having to change the meconium diapers, being able to just nap, nurse, and snack for a week. I loved being able to reflect on my strength, and to ask for help. I love that i had a team of cheerleaders who were at my side through it all. Recreating the birth story i wanted as soon as we got home. Looking at and mesmerizing all the details on my new baby’s face. His feet – oh my goodness, newborn feet!

In my work as a therapist who supports others who have birthed, i bring my tools for triggers, negative thoughts, anxiety attacks. I carry with me the story of resilience, be it a birth tunnel, a birth house. I have visited the rooms that i needed, and i have come out of the tunnel to the other side, where there is light and strength. After my first-born’s birth, i did the work i needed to in order to reclaim the birth. I did the work so that i could birth again – and this time it was a planned home birth. Beside the birth pool, in the kitchen, under a full moon. That is another story for another time. But i did the work to get there. It can be done.

Now 8 years later, we have to go to the same hospital for the periodic emergency trip (hello parenthood) and the former birth ward is gone. I hear it’s better and the team is more aware. I hear that good changes have been made so that women are part of their birth even when it’s a more medical one. My birth story includes a chapter that was scary and made me feel silenced and irrelevant. I realized after that process of becoming a mother that i would work hard on not being silenced and pushed aside. I need to be an advocate for my children, for me, and for you. I want to be that support.

We are the authors of our stories and they are powerful – there is no right or wrong story. May yours bring you strength.

Don’t Put that Bead in Your Nose!

I wanted to share something that happened this week at chez moi. I’m not proud of everything that happened, but the outcome and learning moment make it all worth it for me to be vulnerable with you here.

So, as a preface to this, my youngest had a similar story where she put a (linden) seed up her nose on Labour Day weekend 2 years ago. It ended up at the emergency ward of our local hospital, right before we were to empark on our end-of-summer weekend excursion. Even the doctors there were baffled how to get the seed out of her nose, it was that much of an ordeal. So, you would think we all learned from that experience.

You would think…

So now, picture us this week, at 8:15 on a school morning, frantically running around getting ready for the day – 4 lunches, 4 snacks, 4 bags, morning layers for the cooler weather, slurping up a few sips of almost hot coffee, brushing teeth, getting vitamins, finding keys: You know the drill, mornings are not the friend of parents with wee kids.

My son happily declares he found a bead under the table. Why he was there i can’t tell you. I know it’s not his bead but it’s not common for him to be the finder so i congratulated him on the find, like it was a gold coin or something. I look at it and then promptly continue dashing around finishing my morning routine on speed. I then hear this –

“Uh mom, THE BEAD IS STUCK IN MY NOSE.” Yes, the capitals are there for the frantic sound in his voice.

My partner is in the same room as him but had his back turned as he was washing the dishes. I am down the hall. And i react to his plea. Ready for this: This is the part i am not proud of but i have learned from it, i promise. I say (i mean yell from the other room) –

“Are you kidding me?! Really!? Do you not remember your sister and how we had to take her to emerg! We don’t have time to take you there, we need to get to school and work today! You are the big brother, you should know better!” To be far, i don’t know if i actually said that last line but i said the rest almost verbatim.

I think sweep in and say “i got this” out loud. I know just what to do. My partner and daughter are getting a wee bit excitable too, and now we are all thinking of running to emerg. After i try to get him to blow his nose, unsuccessfully because he HATES blowing it and would rather snort boogers in, i then remember this gem of a video i watched recently. Thank goodness for social media because i voluntarily watched a video of a mom and her sweet baby happily clean her nose like a pro. I dash upstairs for my medicine syringe and neti pot. I dash downstairs and get my son to breathe with me first. He is clearly scared so I tell him it may be uncomfortable but “i’ve got this.” I then walk him through it and after 3 separate squirts of water in one nostril, out pops the bead out of the other side.

Brilliant.

We all hoop and holler and celebrate. I dance for my son and myself – i am not usually the one that is quick on my feet but i felt like Wonder Woman that day. My son comes up to me and says “thanks for helping me with that.” And i look him squarely in the eye and say “i will always be there for you, to help you with anything. And i’m sorry that i was not more supportive right away. I regret my first reaction and i know it wasn’t supportive. I over-reacted and was worried for you. Will you forgive me?” We hugged and he said of course. Later that day, i again apologized for my less-than-supportive initial response. He said “Mom, you already said that.” I just really wanted him to hear that i was sorry – i don’t want him to ever feel like he can’t come to me for stuff. That is not the parent i want to be.

I know it was a mistake, and i partly blame my flight or fight reaction to the crisis. I’m human too, even when i know better. But i’m sharing this with you as it was a great learning moment for me on how to really say sorry, and to show my kids that i have their back. And how to clean out a nose of course.

PS. We got to school on time too.

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.