We’ve Forgotten to Take Care of the New Family

pexels-photo-225744.jpegTypically its 2 weeks after the birth of a child that the guests start to dwindle. With them goes the offers of help and food.
Somehow our society assumes we should snap back to normal after having a baby; both physically and emotionally. In general we are proud of this pressure if we are able to meet it but ashamed or embarrassed if we have not or are “faking it”.
I think this is a pretty crap attitude towards parents when half of us can barely get our shit together enough to do laundry, go to the gym or decide what to eat for dinner.
How many times have I been in attendance at “mom” groups and seen them talking to each other:
Mom 1: Well I’ve still got so many red stretch marks, but whatever, he’s only 4 months
Mom 2: Ohmygoodness me too, except mine is 8 months so there’s really no excuse. Oh well, we’re moms and we’ve earned these stripes. 
Both pretend they are fine, both of them judging themselves, comparing themselves to each other and others. Hoping no one notices, even when its obvious from the pain hiding in their eyes that they are not fine.
Parents of all sorts have so much healing, adjusting and bonding to do; with their new child, with each other, within themselves. I think it’s crazy to expect a family to recover from such a life change so quickly.
New moms and birthing people are struggling to overcome physical changes ranging from stitches and scars, to wider hips and stretch marks. Self confidence is at all all time low for many while they try to navigate their new (and very sleepless) life all while dealing with rampaging hormone levels. Its pretty hard to “snap back” when you have these stupid baby hairs sticking straight out of your head, you have a giant pad in your granny panties and you can’t decide whether to laugh or cry at any given moment (usually its both, at the same time).
Partners and dads are also in a huge adjustment period. Their other half has been through the ups and downs of pregnancy and birth; and usually were there trying to help them through it. Partners are trying to support and do what they can but are also left feeling helpless and maybe even useless. So these partners have a new baby that expects them to know what to do and spouse that is crying and laughing all while trying to go back to work and figure out how everyone is going to eat. Oh, and partners usually aren’t sleeping well either, so yay? To top that off, partners are often swept into the backseat as far as needs and attention go. They are left emotionally alone in some cases, like an island, expected to be self sufficient when they themselves are adjusting to their new role, all while trying to be a good partner and parent.
Finally, there are the kids. The new baby, of course,  is a complete mess. Everything is both overwhelming and amazing for them. The simple act of eating can be challenge for these littles, but feet are, like, so cool. Everything is louder, brighter, and generally harder for them. Meanwhile older siblings each have their own unique set of needs as well, and can’t just adjust to the new baby. This can lead to some behavior regression and even acting out in some cases. By that I mean, the older sibling is screaming MOM/DAD all while spilling fish crackers everywhere and trying to poke the baby in the eyes.
So in summary, we have a family that is all over the place, have emotional and physical scars, are overwhelmed and everyone’s needs are only being minimally met (i.e.: they are alive, that counts right?). All while the soothing sounds of Paw Patrol play in the background of course.
Is it any wonder that baby blues and postpartum depression is so prevalent? Is it any wonder many relationships struggle or even break up during this time period? How can someone come to terms with their birth story/parent story and process that when everything is chaos? How on earth can parents be romantic and remember the love they have for each other (outside of parenting) when all this is going on? How can they foster sibling bonding when everyone is exhausted and the only thing that stops the upset is a device? How can the family pet, even, get more than their basic needs met under these conditions? The answer is they can’t, most are not, and families are suffering.
So what can we do? For starters, we can stop assuming and expecting new parents and families to be fine after 2 weeks. We can stop believing it when someone says “I’m fine/we’re fine” when you can tell they are not. As friends and neighbors we can stop asking “How are you?” and start saying something like “What’s your favourite take out place?” or “I’m available on Wednesday for 2 hours, how about I come over for baby cuddles and you can nap.” How about pitching with other friends/family at a baby shower for a cleaning service, meal service or for a postpartum doula instead of buying another cute baby blanket (that a baby can’t even use because its a suffocation hazard, which doesn’t matter anyway because the toddler or even the parent will use it to wipe up questionable substances).

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Our society is starved for help, starved for appreciation, and starved for human contact.
Let’s fix that.
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Mothering a Teen Daughter-AKA Realizing you are Not Cool Anymore

I’m a young mom, only 30 years old with a 13 year old. I thought I’d be exempt from the usual fate of parenting and not have to worry about becoming lame. In my early mothering days, I was a kid myself, and wore all the clothes, hairstyles and jewelry that was considered “in style” at the time. I liked the popular music, went out with friends (thanks to babysitters) and used the slang that my parents thought was weird. As is the way with most people when young, only what my age group thought was cool, was actually cool. Old People were not cool, and younger people, Little Kids, were definitely not cool.
So imagine my surprise when one day it came into my realm of awareness that I had somehow crossed over into being one of the Old People. That me thinking what kids like is silly, only made me more so. Making fun of their slang and refusing to jump on fashion bandwagons suddenly meant I was out of the loop and getting rusty.
The big moment of realization was when I mentioned posting something on Instagram and her eyes snapped up to mine:

DD: You have Insta?

Me: Yes, I’ve had it for years

DD: You? Have. Insta?

Me: Girrrrl, you do realize it was my generation that invented this shit right??

This was followed by her saying she thought only kids used Instagram, and that Old People (i.e. ME) used Facebook. Yes, you read that right, Facebook is for Old People. I wonder if Mark Zuckerburg is aware that his seemingly un-toppable empire may be at risk of being irrelevant in coming years.
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My precocious teen

Nothing will make you feel aged more than a good cheese, than when you are faced with your teenager rolling their eyes at you because you don’t know what musical.ly is or who Lily Singh is (in my defense I did know her as ||Superwoman||). When you can’t understand half of what they and their friends are saying (and neither do they apparently. I asked them to explain what they mean when they say something is “Lit”–fyi its not what I thought it meant!). I usually have no idea what they are talking about or understand their jokes because I don’t know any of the references, celebrities or internet personalities that they do.
I was trying to figure out when it was exactly that I got old. Was it after I graduated from college? No I don’t think so, I was only 22. Was it after I got married at 24?  Maybe, being married changed things a bit, but I think I was still pretty cool then. I couldn’t really pinpoint it. Apparently it happened sometime between age 25 and 30 that something changed in my brain. This weird switch of  “little kids like dumb things” was now,  “no, what you like is outdated, pay attention Old Lady”. Throughout those five years, I started wearing more clothes that I liked and thought were comfortable, and less what I thought was popular. I wear my hair in a style that’s easy to maintain; and I read, watch and listen to things that I’m interested in and not necessarily what others are. I thought all these changes was me becoming a badass that didn’t care, was rebellious to “the man” and maybe a little woke<–ha!
My daughter however, delights to remind me that none of this is true, and that if I really want to be cool like her I need to sort myself out.
While I have no intention of giving up some of my favourite Old People hobbies and likes, I have been paying closer attention to what “the kids” are up to. And you know what, it helps my parenting to do so. Understanding my daughter’s worldview makes it easier to relate to her, and easier for her to talk to me. Open lines of communication with a teen child is key right? Its hard to expect a kid to come to you about the Big Stuff like bullying, drugs, and sex, when you can’t even talk to them about their favourite Youtuber.
I’ve also noticed that since I’ve been trying to be cooler, my daughter is more willing to try things that I say is cool, even if its Old. Now we can share music, tv shows and movies with each other, bond and expand our own narrow viewpoints to see each others as well. If the tradeoff for me sitting through 45 mins of “Try not to laugh videos” is to be able to introduce her to Nirvana and Alannis Morissette than I’m ok with that.
Oh, and also. I am a Cool Mom.
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This is our future people

Halloween: The Masks We Wear

With Halloween approaching (my favourite holiday!) all the spooky decorations, smiling pumpkins and fake cobwebs are popping up in neighborhoods everywhere. Of course in history Halloween was less commercial and was more about welcoming the beloved dead and warding against malevolent spirits. One of the ways to do this was to wear guises, masks and of course this is what lead to costumes.
Thinking about guising led me to thinking of how we move through life everyday. We all are a little different depending on the people we are near. Work self, grandchild self, parent self, partner self, alone self. The same person, many masks.
I think Shakespeare said it best:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts

There are few times in life you really see someone for who they truly are, stripped down, raw, vulnerable. I think birth is one of those times. Its a beautiful thing to be allowed to bear witness to a family in their most vulnerable moments. Its humbling to be a part of their fears, their pain, their love, their strength.
I think most people are really similar when you strip away all the differences. When politics and religion, gender identity, sexual orientations, skin colour and cultures are removed, you have a bunch of raw souls. All of them wanting very similar things at their core. To be safe and loved. To be treated kindly and with a level of respect. To be left in peace to work and play, to eat and sleep. 
I wonder what would happen if more people stripped off their masks and got real with each other.

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Postpartum Depression is a Sneaking A$$#@!&

The first thing I can pinpoint was when I was waiting outside a breastfeeding clinic. It was only a week or so since having my second child. I was nervous, it was my first time ‘out of the house’ since his birth. I felt awkward and self conscious in my new body, still very much healing. I wondered if my hair was ok or if my makeup had smeared. Then, another mom came and sat down beside me. We smiled shyly at each other. I don’t remember who spoke first, but one asked the other about their baby. We told each other their names and weight; their sleeping habits and their eating habits. It wasn’t until well after the clinic was over, and I was back home, that I realized I had never learned her name. I didn’t think she knew mine either. Sounds silly right? Lots of moms do this. But why did I devalue myself as an individual by not even giving myself a name? I let it go. I didn’t have time to worry about inconsequential things like that.
 
As is the case for most moms, my life was a blur of diaper changings, school homework, extracurriculars, laundry, cooking, cleaning, non stop feedings, more laundry, and sleepless nights. In this fog, I vaguely remember wondering when was the last time I had made any art, written anything more involved than a facebook status, or did anything that was just “mine”. I brushed it off. I was a busy mom. I’d find time for those things later.pexels-photo-156085.jpeg
Many months down the road; I couldn’t recall when I last wore a “nice” outfit, had cared about my hair (brushing it counts right?) or bothered with makeup. Maybe this seems like a normal thing. However, for me, my background was in esthetics and makeup application; I used to get so much joy from these things. Now…I could care less. I felt a bit out of control, wanting to be the way I used to be, but I just couldn’t summon up the energy to care quite enough. Instead, I fought internal battles in my head about it.

 

-Just get up and put the makeup on. You’ll feel better.
-But I’m so tired.
-C’mon, it takes only five mins for some mascara and a bit of lipstick.
-Ugh. …
-Fine, feel gross then.
-No, I want to be pretty.
-Get up then
-I can’t…

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These cyclical battles continued for over 2 years. Most of the time I could only summon the energy to actually try when other people were involved. I had to maintain appearances then. I was a good mom, I was fine, and everything was under control. Selfie time. See, we’re all good.
But my memory was getting so bad. I couldn’t remember people’s names, do daily tasks without the help of a list, or even remember details from tv shows I’d just watched. I was losing the ability to recall the random facts I was known for.  I’m getting so dumb, I’d think. Why won’t my brain just work?
I was losing myself, in bits and pieces. My job, my hobbies, my joys, interests, even my own name. How was this happening?
I couldn’t be depressed, I’d think. I’m so lucky. Look at my beautiful children. Look at my handsome husband who is so supportive. My awesome friends. So I’d shove the thoughts aside.
Inside, I was drowning.
I did slowly start to pull myself out of this fog, this thick and sticky murk of not caring. It was so hard. I had to really force myself and grab for energy I barely could scrape together.  For me, this started with introducing myself as well as my kids. Then I joined a trivia team (to work out those brain cells again), started up a new career, began drawing again, getting some new clothes and makeup and actually using them. I made more plans with friends and resumed reading books I enjoyed.
Looking back on it now, it’s still so fresh. It hasn’t been that long. I still think there are parts of it clinging to me with greedy fingers. I can’t help but wonder how many other moms out there experienced the same things as me, brushing it all off. Thinking, I’m ok,  because you don’t have any of the ‘red flagged’ symptoms of postpartum depression. I wonder how many other moms, like me, could have found their way back to themselves much more easily, and sooner, if they had sought help.
So here I am, writing to say, it’s ok to seek help if you “just” feel a bit lost. If you can’t “put your finger” on what’s wrong. If you have lost interest in you interests. There is an individual you out there my fellow moms. She is beautiful, talented and intelligent. She is more than a mom.
And she has a name.

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This blog post can also be seen on
renfrewcountrydoulas.ca

 

Me Too, Her Too, Him Too, Them Too: I’m fucking Exhausted

**Harsh Language Warning**

The hashtag #MeToo is all over social media. There have been news reports about it, countless opinions and blog posts about it. Well, I’m writing another one folks so strap in. 
People are such assholes. I’m gonna leave gender right out of it (loophole against some trolls). We know that all people who experience sexual abuse and harassment are from all walks of life. Thank you, we GET IT.
But holy shit can you take a seat. Can you shut it and listen to someone else just this once? Stop interrupting, interjecting, explaining or worse typing your”opinion”on another person’s soul bearing #metoo post? If you are one of the few who are lucky enough to have NOT been violated, can you just please listen and hear the stories? The resounding #metoo from nearly every person you know? If you must write something, if you really can’t help it, send them a heart emoji and move on. Stop forming opinions about it. There’s no opinions on something awful that already happened. Stop trying to fix it for them. You can’t fix abuse that already happened! 
If you want to help, go out into the real world and affect change there instead. Speak up when you hear gender slurs, call out sexism in all its forms (including forms against the opposite/other gender than your own!) Protect people that look like they are in a vulnerable position amd need help. Believe them when they admit they need help. Do not laugh at a person you perceived as “strong” that gets vulnerable with you. Ruin some fucking dinner parties when an inappropriate slur or joke is told. Stop judging amd questioning and nitpicking apart wounds that are already raw, wounds that are generations deep and fears that are real under every definition of truth.
I’m exhausted that people are arguing over even this. People and kids are being hurt….and apparently its easier to debate semantics than to DO THE WORK to create actual change. This isn’t a theory, this isn’t hypothetical. This is happening right now. It needs to fucking stop.

The Unpaid Labour of Being a Dinner Host

Canadian Thanksgiving just came and went and it brought to mind all the things hosts do, are pretty much expected to do. It also seems as though this role most often falls to the woman in the home, who has with little support or help unless it is given by other women. Let me tell you my experience;
My parents came up to visit for the long weekend of Thanksgiving. We hosted them, my sister and her family, and two of my husband’s coworkers for dinner. The torch has passed to me as the eldest daughter to do Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve done it a few years in a row now.
My mother’s role is now more of a sous chef than the head chef. The two of us shopped for, prepared, cooked, and served nearly everything for this big dinner. My sister (who just had a baby so is exempt from my ire) contributed rolls and a cake, another guest brought an hors d’oeuvre and another brought a lovely cheesecake and cornmeal muffins. While I appreciate these offerings, they do not make up for the scale of work involved in putting on a dinner like this.
In addition to the food; I also cleaned the house, rearranged the living room to better accommodate more people, and shopped for decor and then decorated for the season. This is many hours of work on its own, completely separate from anything food related.
After the meal is eaten, everyone brings their plates to the kitchen. My mom and I were left to the aftermath of piles of dishes, silverware, pots, pans and leftovers. I actually had to stop my mom from doing all the dishes so she could rejoin the family and visit with everyone else. I chose to leave most of the mess for the morning so I could spend time with everyone. Of course that means I wake up the next morning to a kitchen explosion. Now I am lucky enough to have a husband who did in fact end up helping with the dishes and a teenager who I can voluntell to help me. Not everyone has this and it leads me to my next thought:
How did we as a society get to a point where the host/ess is responsible for all the work involved in putting on a meal with minimal help from her guests? Are we, as the host/ess, resposible because we “allow” it to happen? Is it a throwback to the domestic housewife? Are people not raising their children to honour their hosts by being a guest that helps out?
I don’t know the answers to these questions (although I can hazard a guess). All I know is, in future I will not be hosting again without my guests being made aware that I will have higher expectations of their contributions.  I enjoy having people I love at my table, sharing food and conversation. I want to keep doing this in a sustainable way. Burning out and thereby not wanting to host meals anymore is not what I want.

Tell me your hosting stories (good and bad) in the comments!