Finding risk

Photographic proof of the fall.

On the day my niece was born, I was responsible for babysitting my then two year old nephew while his parents were in the hospital. He and I had a great day playing together until the moment that he tripped in his living room, bumped his face on some furniture and got a little scrape on his nose. I was only steps away from him but it happened quickly and I couldn’t catch him from falling. Though the tears that followed the bump were fleeting (and the rest of the day continued to be fun), the memory of the bump will live on forever, thanks to the nice scab easily noticeable in every photo of him meeting his sister later that afternoon (not to mention the relentless teasing from my family).

I asserted then, and continue to assert now, that kids get hurt. They get scrapes and bumps as they explore the world around them. It’s a natural part of childhood. However, no amount of defending myself from the “scrape heard round the world” prepared me for this morning, my first Monday as a stay at home mom, when my 7 month old daughter fell and, yes, bumped her nose and got a little scrape. Call it karma, call it a coincidence, call it what you will… I call it a quick way to stir up a mother’s guilt. Though I was only a couple steps away, she fell fast and missed hitting her head by only a few inches. Being a stay at home mom is off to a whopping success…

I do everything I can to protect my kids and shelter them from harm, sometimes to an anxiety-ridden fault. But the truth is, they have to fall. Because if they don’t fall, they can’t pick themselves back up and see that they’re okay. They can’t experience the pride in trying again and succeeding. They can’t feel the comfort of my hug and reassurance afterward.

Just as my kids have to go through this natural part of childhood, I have to go through the parallel part of motherhood. I have to know when to let them take a risk. When to let them push outside their (and my) comfort zone. When to rush to their aid and when to hang back to see how they’ll respond. It’s not just about letting my kids fall down and pick themselves back up; it’s also about calculating the risk and adding a buffer zone for safe exploration, even when minor risk is involved. It’s not easy, and honestly, I’m not always very good at it, but I understand the value of it, too.

Proof of today’s bump.

Luckily, so far most of my kids’ scrapes and bumps have been minor and easily treated with ice, a bandaid and a big hug. For the record, the baby was fine for the rest of today. And I managed to help my oldest with a Lego project and make a pretty nice dinner. But, if ever I need a reminder of the calculated risks kids need to have, I captured a picture as evidence of today’s bump, though something tells me I won’t forget about it anytime soon.

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Finding a thick skin

When I first started writing my blog, the only people reading it were my close friends and family. As I gained traction in writing, I also slowly gained followers – more friends, friends of friends and absolute strangers. I love writing about my adventures in parenting and sharing my insights and vulnerabilities through my posts. And I love hearing people’s reactions – positive and negative – to what I write about. My blog is a wonderful outlet, and a great way for me to capture today’s moments that will become tomorrow’s memories.
mama and girls
So, each time Kveller picks up one of my pieces and publishes it on a national platform, I feel giddy with excitement that something I wrote is getting shared with a much broader audience. They’ve published pieces I’ve written ranging from kugel to missing my oldest’s dance recital. It’s a very empowering feeling.

Then, last week Kveller published a piece I was particularly proud of – a diatribe on our family’s rules which stemmed from an argument with my 4 year old about having to wear socks. The piece is playful and ends with a lists of 16 family rules – some of which are serious and others that make me giggle from the broken record I’ve become saying them. And this piece, more than any other that I’ve written, elicited a lot of commentary from a broad audience on Kveller’s website and Facebook page.

Two rules, in particular, struck a chord with the Kveller readership – leave a house that has a gun in it and kiss your grandparents hello and goodbye. Who knew that these would cause such a stir? That by writing that my kids should leave a home with a gun in it, I wasn’t properly educating them about gun safety? And that by telling my children to kiss their elder relatives as a sign of respect, I was exposing them to a future of abuse and body confusion?

I understand the arguments the readers were making and I appreciate that people took the time to read my post and share their opinions. I welcome feedback and comments – it’s fun to see how my writing impacts and influences others. But some of the comments on my last post made broad judgements about my parenting and ventured to say that I was wrong for having some of the rules that we do. While one reader said that each family’s rules are unique to them, other readers said things like I’ll make my kids a doormat by encouraging them to be nice to everyone or that I should never ever tell my kids to kiss a relative. By making such strong statements in response to the rules in our family, I can’t help but think about the litany of arguments, judgements and lines in the sand we draw in these ever present mommy wars.

mama and babeBreastfeeding. Bottle feeding. Formula. Breast milk. Pacifier. Thumb sucking. Attachment parenting. Cry it out. Organic food. Non gmo food. Regular ol’ food. Extracurricular activities to provide structure. No extracurricular activities to provide freedom. Stay at home mom. Professional mom. The list goes on and on. We all have such strong ideas, ideals, and approaches to parenting. We can read books about it. We can quote studies. We can wing it. We can do our absolute best and still feel like it’s not enough. And, although we are our own harshest critics, the commentary on my latest post reminds me that we can be each other’s harshest critics too. Instead of drawing a line in the sand of what we believe to be the right thing, why not open a dialogue in which we each speak out own truths while accepting those may not be the same truths for somebody else? I’m not upset or offended by the comments readers made, but am more so inspired by what the readers could have said.

We all know that raising kids takes a village, and in my experience that’s absolutely true. But the definition of village is loose and long, extending from our inner circle to the adult who attempts to discipline our kids on the playground. We need to find a way to lift each other up and support each other as we forge our own path, whether or not it’s the one we would take ourselves.

Finding affirmation of a mother’s instinct

Day after day, I read article after article about how to be a good mom, how to raise ______ children (that’s a fill in the blank because it could be happy, resilient, well adjusted, vegetable eating… just to name a few), how to parent with confidence or with intention or with patience or with any number of other things, all without royally screwing up my kids. I own a shelf full of parenting books about sleep, discipline, nutrition, and so on. My husband and I discuss, analyze and sometimes agonize over the choices we’re making, the actions we’re taking, and the ins and outs of our kids’ choices and actions. I talk with friends about the battles we are (or aren’t) picking with our kids. I’m on multiple listserves for moms – from finding great deals on Zulily to area mothers’ group functions. I read the Huffington Post Parents Facebook feed religiously. I attend lectures about hot parenting topics. At one time I thought this might all be a bit obsessive. And while all of this is truly informative, it’s even more exhausting! But the harsh reality is that this is parenting today.

Great Job gold starWe’ve all heard about, talked about, even joked about helicopter parents. Have we ever stopped, though, to ask why this generation of parents is hovering so closely to their kids? The truth is that helicopter parenting is a result of helicopter media telling us how to parent, why to parent, when to parent, what to parent. There’s a study and an answer for everything. Access to information has never been so easy. And, there’s plenty of mommy bloggers (myself included!) spouting their own opinions about everything from…well…everything.

But at the heart of it all – the literature, the studies, the scientific findings, the opinions and the judgments – isn’t there still a mother’s instinct? Where has trust in our own instincts gone? We have so diluted this instinct that we are now dependent on others to tell us what’s right. Sure, there’s always learning to be done. And yes, we should absolutely share with one another – it definitely does take a village. But where are the affirmations that we’re doing just fine? The confirmations that our instincts hold some weight? The declarations to moms everywhere of a job well done?

If I could write a letter for moms everywhere to see, it would go something like this:

Dear mothers everywhere,

You’re doing great. Yes, the sleepless nights (whether from a crying baby or newly driving teenager out past curfew) are rough. Yes, you haven’t slept in weeks/months/years. Yes, your patience is tested daily and your perseverance hourly. And yes, life is different than you imagined it would be. But the biggest yes, the biggest affirmation of all, is this: you are a great mom. You are doing a great job.

The dishes piled in the sink from dinner last night or the baskets of laundry yet to be folded acting as your family’s communal dresser are more affirmation of a job well done. You are busy. You are tired. You are juggling a million balls in the air, and you’re doing it well. At the end of the day, a parent’s job is never done, and to this you are no exception. Because whether you tackle the dishes or the laundry, or you take a break, you are doing a great job.

Raising children is no easy feat. From cooing/crying babies to terrific/terrible toddlers to children going on teens to teens going on thirty, you’re doing great. So next time you want to pull your hair out, or you question your abilities, your instincts, or your knowledge of whatever is making your three year old (or thirteen year old) throw a tantrum, remember this: The days are long, but the years are short and moments (and frustrations) are fleeting. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. Enjoy every moment you can (and those that you can’t will be over before you know it). You’ve got this and you’re doing great.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.