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Today is the birthday of the second of my three children. Thomas is twelve today and on every one of my children's birthdays I like to take some time to contemplate the changes over the year that has passed, and, more generally, on my own journey as a mother.
Mothering is HARD!! Well it's easier in a lot of ways from the very early days when it was all sleepless nights, diapers, and tantrums but it's just so much responsibility. There are so, so many ways to screw up these small people. Let's face it, It's pretty unnerving!
I have a dear sister who's a child psychiatrist. This is useful, and, at times, kind of unnerving. Useful because I can ask her how badly I'm screwing up and she can tell me, in great detail. Unnerving...for exactly the same reason!
I remember when she came to visit me one time with her husband, whose also a child psychiatrist, when mine were very small. Kids were naturally a topic of conversation over dinner that evening and my brother-in-law just mentioned, in passing, that most of the damage we do to our kids is in the first 18 months of their lives. I'm nodding politely like,
Well, I've been awesome as a mom so nothing to worry about there
while inside I'm going;
What the Hell?! I was only just learning what this whole gig was about for the first 18 months. Of course I screwed up. This is sooo not fair! I thought I could sort that all out over the following years. How can I fix it??? Oh sh-i-t!
The beginning is exciting though, isn't it? It's all cute maternity clothes shopping and going to that department in the store where they sell all the baby stuff, where you've never been before, and evaluating all the different models of prams and strollers. I swear I spent more time deciding on the pram than I have ever spent on a car-buying decision.
Then there's the baby seats and the travel cots that come with like a 3 step guide to erecting and collapsing them, but that is just an absolute lie! They are designed to frustrate and even injure you and definitely to make you feel inadequate. I mean, there's only 3 steps in the instructions and they have pictures! What moron couldn't work that out? Well....me! I'm blaming it on the sleep deprivation though.
My kids have survived me, so far, and the baby years are far behind us. They are 15, 12, and 10. Two boys and a 10 year-old daughter. The boys were both born while we lived in England, my daughter was born while we lived in Ireland, and they have moved a lot! My eldest son has attended five schools in three countries. The moving has been a challenge in itself. It's not easy telling your kids that they have to say goodbye to their friends, again, and that we're off on another adventure.
Throughout it all though I've grown and learnt as a mother. So on this day which is a birthday of one of my children and as we approach Mother's Day, here are my 5 Wisdoms Learnt on The Parenting Journey.1. Apologize to your kids
I put this first because it's the most important thing that I've learnt. I'm a recovering perfectionist so this one is BIG for me. I've lost my temper with my children over the years. I've shouted and I've been a pretty shitty version of myself in front of them on occasion. There are too many moments to recount of me being less than the vision I had of myself as the type of parent I aspired to be.
The worst thing I could have done though would have been to not address that behavior, or worse, to defend it. I spend a lot and I mean a lot, of time apologizing to my children now. If I'm just even a bit cranky because I'm over tired and I don't take the time to look at something that they've called me over to see, I take the time to apologize. I look them straight in the eye and say I'm sorry. I tell they that they are very important and that I was distracted by something that has nothing to do with them. I tell they that they are loved. I tell them that I'm very imperfect but that I'm working hard to be the best version of myself for them. I ask them to be patient with me. I ask them to forgive me.
It's a very humbling thing but it builds a deep and trusting relationship. And, most of the time, they forgive me!
I've also explained to them that many adults don't want to be "wrong" in front of a child. That can mean that the adult will behave very poorly towards them. The adult might even try to shame them as a defense mechanism to being challenged, because the adult feels vulnerable and exposed. I've explained that there are a lot of toddlers walking around in adult bodies and that an adult who can't admit when they are wrong is a far too common phenomenon.
I remember very vividly, as I'm sure the individual involved does too, when a teacher shamed my eldest son in front of his class. He was still in elementary school. It was nasty, unnecessary (as all cruel acts are), and below her as an adult and educator. It wasn't his job to confront her. It was mine. I did. She apologized to him. My respect for her was restored. We moved on.
Sometimes it isn't enough to model the behavior yourself, especially when your child is in the care of other adults for the majority of their waking hours. You'll need to audit their educational and social environments to ensure that they are not being recklessly, or inadvertently, emotionally injured by another adult. A child's sense of self-worth is precious and too easily eroded.2. Play!
Put down your bloody phone!
Not to be morbid but really, you simply have no idea how long you get to be with these amazing human beings. Stop! Listen to them. Be silly with them. Dance in the kitchen. Let them make a big mess and it be OK. Let them 'help' when you just want to get it done (very hard for all of my fellow recovering perfectionists I know).
Don't put this stuff off. Don't say "I'll try to do more fun stuff when.."
As Yoda says,
There is no try.
Jump on the trampoline with them. Listen to them tell you about whatever it is they want to tell you about. Ask them questions about their stuff, even if it's Pokemon GO or some crazy kid stuff that you find absolutely bloody brain-numbing!
My eldest son is really interested in Manga (some kid of Japanese style comic books - I think!) and Anime (something similar) and all sorts of story styles that I find utterly, and excruciatingly, boring. Yet, he wants to tell me about them. He wants to share his fascination and love for these subjects with me. I don't know how long that will be the case. It's a gift.
Also, what I've found to be true is this - As I've invested in, attentively, listening to him on topics that don't really interest me but are important to him, I've built trust. So, he can now come to me and talk about the difficult, adolescent, growing pains themed subjects, that I absolutely do want to hear about. I think I only earned that through all that Manga/Anime chat-time I put in over the months and years.
I've learned that when you accept that play invitation, or initiate play with them and make that your habit, your child will be more open to talking with you about the stuff that troubles them and your relationship will be stronger for it. It's also fun! Well, the Manga stuff is still not quite my thing but I know a LOT about it now!3. Limit Screen Time
The research that's coming out isn't good. But do we really need to be told all the statistics to see the harm that excessive screen time can do to our kids?
I got lucky on this one. Because of the moving around that I've done over the past 5 plus years, I've had to look at lots to different types of schools regularly. Through that I found the Waldorf education system.
Waldorf education focuses not just on pushing facts and information into kids' heads, so they can pass a standardized test. It puts the child at the center of the educational experience and educates not just the head, but the heart, and the hands. All Waldorf kids do music, including learning to play a string instrument, art, handwork including woodwork or metalwork. They do movement and drama classes. These are not electives but part of the core educational experience. They spend a lot of time outdoors particularly in the younger grades. Play is important as is the celebration of seasonal festivals. It is a truly beautiful, enriching, educational experience.
What you won't find in a Waldorf school is much tech. No child will be sitting at lunch staring at their phone instead of speaking to their peers. There are black boards not smart boards. There are no laptops or ipads until High School. And here's the really great part - no student is allowed to go on a screen at home either. Yep, that's right. Parents agree to ditch the screens at home too! Now, some people are total purists and others just don't allow any screen on a school night (which includes a Friday). For us it's a school night ban and it's amazing! Kids talk to each other. They play with all the toys they own. They draw, play outside, read and they are less stressed - as am I!
You don't need to go to a Waldorf School to adopt the No Screen At Home approach, you just make that your own house rule. After the first week they just stop asking and then books get picked up, the outdoors gets re-discovered, peace returns. Parental stress levels reduce. There’s no more negotiating for “just 5 more minutes”. It’s the rule. It doesn’t change. It works. It’s great for them.4. Go Out And Have Fun!
Don’t neglect your friends. Being a mother is rewarding and challenging and exhausting at times and we all need our support networks. We also need fun though. Fun that has absolutely nothing to do with kids. We need to go out and yep, have good old-fashioned, childless, guilt-free fun!
I remember after my first child was born and I was just about getting my head above water. I lived in a small village outside of Cambridge in England. My neighbor, a lovely Dutch lady who I was just beginning to get to know, was leaving the country. I was bummed. Great neighbors are a blessing. Anyways I asked if she was having a “leaving do”? Nothing was planned so, I got a list of people and their phone numbers from her and organized a leaving dinner for her at our lovely village pub. I was thrilled to be getting out with grown-ups for an evening. No babies. No listening for the baby monitor. And my husband was going to be “on duty” as far as baby care for that whole night and the following morning. I was ready for some FUN!
So, we arrive at the pub. We have a nice long table booked as there’s about 12 of us in total. I knew some of the people - it’s a small village - and others I was meeting for the first time. As everyone was arriving and getting settled in, the conversations started after the introductions and usual pleasantries. Obviously these ladies were all parents so there was talk about kids. I was eager not to spend the whole evening talking about kids and parenting though. I could do that at all the coffee mornings I went to, and hosted. I was dressed nice. I’d done my hair and make-up. I was O-U-T with adults…
Holy crap! It’s 45 minutes in and everyone is still whittering on about their kids and I am seriously losing the will to live. So, I freshen up my drink and address the table of ladies;
Hey guys, it’s so great that we’re all here to send Helena off in style. Obviously you all met each other through becoming moms and it’s lovely to talk about our kids…. but, hey, why not leave the kid talk at home for a night, with the kids, and talk about all the other stuff we’re interested in and have in common?
Absolute bloody silence.
Slightly confused faces.
I imagined them thinking, “Who is she again?”
I concede a little;
Well, let’s say we’ll just give the kid theme another 10 minutes and then move on to other non-mom stuff? OK?
I - drink - up!
I saw a few comrades in the group who were on my wavelength. They were slightly amused at my directness. I don’t think my English company were quite used to this more direct, Irish approach. Anyway the evening continued and, bless them, most of these women struggled to find much to say beyond their mother-themed conversation. At my end of the table it only managed to move on to gardening and cooking. We were still in their houses. Granted, their children weren’t the focus but it was all a little too domestic for me.
My point is you need to have some fun. You need to hold on to yourself as an individual. For me that meant hanging out with people who were happy to leave their kids at home (with a sitter or partner of course - I wasn’t hanging out with crazy folk!) and go out for an evening to a movie, to a bar, for dinner, wherever and NOT talk about kids. I am a better parent because I started doing this early on in my parenting journey and did it consistently. I also, once we found a great sitter, made sure to go out on regular date nights with my husband. Then too we made a conscious decision to ditch the kid talk after an initial download and move on to being just us. Bliss!
5. Remember and Honor YOUR Mother
I’m lucky at age 48 to still have my mother. I am one of seven (yes, you read that right) kids and my mom worked hard to raise us. She, obviously, did a great job, right?! When I became a mother it really hit me - She had seven!!! What on earth was she thinking?! Well, I grew up in Catholic Ireland in the 70s so, large families were more a product of a conservative society than any woman’s choice. I remember as a fifteen year-old going on an exchange trip to France. When I went for my 3 week stay with my host family in Marseilles that summer I remember being asked by her family if there was a mistake on my student information form. It said I had 3 brothers AND 3 sisters. My French student host had just the one brother. The perfect, birth-control facilitated, French family.
Nope, that was correct.
Seven of you?
Did your parents not have a TV?
Hmm...actually probably not. Well not for the first few births anyway.
How you treat your own mother, how you speak about her in front of your kids, or how you remember her if she’s no longer with you, make a big impact on your own kids. You’re basically showing them how to treat you when you’re older. So, even if you have a troubled relationship with your mother, if she doesn’t quite treat you as an equal adult, or whatever little behaviors she might have that irk you, you need to work out a way to maintain a respectful and positive relationship where possible. As long as she isn’t certifiable, you need to build and nurture that relationship.
When I had my daughter one of my closest friends, and one of my daughter’s godmothers, had a word with me and basically said;
You’re going to find this much different and harder than with your boys. You know that right? This is you as a mother to a daughter…
She was right too. I knew she was right when she said it just after my daughter was born and she’s been right ever since. The mother-daughter relationship is a whole other playing field, and I’m only 10 years in. The tougher moments are ahead I’m sure. I am showing her how to be a woman in the world. That’s a huge responsibility! It was in fact one of the reasons for founding PEBBLE + ROSE. I couldn’t bear not to do my best, not to make my contribution to ending gender inequality. How could I pass this world to her and not have taken a stand for girls and women, all girls and women?
Wherever you are on the parenting journey, I hope you are enjoying all the messiness and joy. I wish you many happy celebrations on your children’s birthdays and on every Mother’s Day. We’re all in this together, raising the next generation of awesome human-beings. If we can practice kindness, compassion, love, and understanding towards ourselves, our children, and others on this journey, I think we’ll do just fine!
Looking for a gift for your mother ,or one of your girlfriends? Check out our range of tees, jewelry, scarves and colorful tote bags here.
Eimear Zone is an entrepreneur and founder of feminist brand and social enterprise, PEBBLE + ROSE. She writes on feminism, entrepreneurship, and mindset management. She can be contacted at email@example.com and IG @emtczone
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