Sometimes, being a good mom means asking for help. It is so tempting to think we need to do everything ourselves. I am one of those people who wants to be in complete control of my life and family. I like figuring out routines and knowing what will happen at any given moment. When my mom watched my 10 month-old son for an overnight, I put together a detailed schedule that she could follow to make sure his routine didn’t vary much. I have repeated this for every overnight since – with an amended schedule as he got older. However, even I remember two distinct times while parenting my son that I really could have used some help from someone else.
This sleep regression hit my husband and me so hard! Our son had been sleeping so well! He would reliably sleep 7 hours for his first stretch for over a month. And then, right around Thanksgiving, that gradually grew shorter until he was up every hour. We tried everything!
Nothing seemed to work! We would have a good night and try to mimic exactly what we did the day before…and then we’d have a horrible night. I remember pushing my little guy in the stroller for hours to try to get him to have a nice long nap during the day – and then complaining to my grumpy baby in the middle of the night that he was supposed to be sleeping well after all that napping.
My husband and I were so. tired. We needed a break. We needed someone to come in and help us wrap our heads around this lack of sleep. What we did was read a bunch of opinions and buy a bunch of stuff that was supposed to help.
In the end, he eventually started sleeping better at some point. I also decided to just accept waking up three times a night. That acceptance made it much more manageable. But if I could have gotten some more sleep before then, I probably would have been a much happier person.
This was such a difficult phase in parenthood that I don’t even like thinking about it! I was so stubborn and unable to accept that my little one needed something different. I was used to a specific routine – one that had worked amazingly well for months. So when my baby started to resist his afternoon nap, I tried to power through. I would rock him for over an hour. Outwardly, I was calm and loving. But on the inside I was brimming with anger. Just go to sleep! I would think to myself, over and over. I even rocked a bit too fast and rubbed his back a little harder than was necessary. I was at my wits end, thinking about all the things I had planned to do during that nap that just wasn’t happening.
I could have reached out. I could have asked some other moms what they thought was going on or looked into parenting resources. But I figured it was my job to sort it out by myself. I was the mom, after all.
There will be times in parenting that a little help can go a long way. I wish I had surrendered some of the control at those points in parenting. I would still be “mom” but maybe just a calmer, better rested mom.
Are you struggling right now? If so, please take a moment to think about ways that you could let go or let someone else help out. Remember – your needs matter, too, and you deserve a break just like everyone else.
As birth doulas, Rainbow and I are frequently hailing the power of birth affirmations – positive mantras to repeat prior to and during labor to help a woman feel powerful and in control. I recently had someone mention that since her birth affirmations helped so much, she is going to start using them every day. But rather than mantras based around birth and how to feel positive in relation to that, these are everyday affirmations around parenting and being a good person.
This is an amazing idea! Parents, especially mothers, are under such scrutiny today and it’s easy to assume the worst about ourselves. We constantly hear contradictory messages on how to be a good parent and all the ways that we are subtly failing at the task. Shaming and focus on negativity does not work on helping people achieve. I saw it clearly in my days as a teacher and I can see it now when working with new parents. Let’s stay positive and the results could be amazing!
Some parenting affirmations to try out:
The upcoming election has me thinking about options. We are so fortunate in this society to have so many options surrounding where we live, what we eat, the clothes we buy, who we vote for, and even how we choose to watch our favorite television series. Having children will drastically change one’s life and we are so fortunate that individuals here are able to make that decision for themselves.
As a doula, I know a lot about birth and babies. I also know a lot about pregnancy and the amazing toll it can take on a woman’s body. Women have to sacrifice comfort, eating choices, and sometimes health to grow a baby. There is so much joy and wonder surrounding new life and everything involved in creating it. But for every positive, there is often something about the mom or her partner that needs to be forsaken or at least put on hold.
Each step of a child’s development has its own set of challenges. We need to function on very little sleep accompanied by nagging self-doubt with a newborn. Breastfeeding can bring pain and struggle, while formula may bring guilt. The toddler years turn the most patient people into screamers and preschoolers are the best negotiators in the world. Need I even write about tweens and teenagers?
But all the superficial struggles aside, likely the hardest part about parenting is what we end up losing. There is little flexibility in life once children enter the picture. Not only do we need to account for children’s schedules, but we also need to make sure that someone can be with them at all times. It is nearly impossible to fully commit oneself to work when having to make sure there is backup care in the event of running overtime. Doulas know this struggle well!
We also need to schedule in self-care as children suck up negativity and stress like sponges. Any disruption in our personal equilibriums can sabotage an entire day. If I don’t sleep well, I need to load up on caffeine and positive affirmations so I don’t get a tiny bit agitated, thus creating a downward spiral of behavior – his and mine.
I love my son more than anything and am so grateful that I was blessed with him. I also had to put a lot of what I love on hold. There are many things that used to strongly be a part of who I was that may be gone forever. I have chosen to raise my son in a way that puts him in the forefront of my life. I am fortunate that I was able to make that choice, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t mourn for my pre-child life from time to time.
Raising a child takes a lot of work. Everyone who has done it or is doing it knows that. It is a lot of work and there is rarely any acknowledgment that you are doing it “right.” None of us want to raise jerks and we’re all trying our darnedest to make sure we’re making as few mistakes as possible.
I love seeing the creation of a family at birth. New life is precious.
But it is not for everyone, and I firmly believe in giving people options.
There is a lot of talk about gender norms and identity lately. I love seeing women scientists fighting demons on the big screen and running for POTUS in real life. I am thrilled that we are openly talking about rights for transgendered individuals. And maybe someday we’ll fix the pay gap so that men and women will be compensated equally in the workplace. As a society, we are slowly but surely working on tearing down the gender divides that have become so deeply ingrained in who we are.
Unfortunately, it seems to be a lot easier to see women doing “guy stuff” than to see men doing “girl stuff.” Part of the problem is that to be female is often equated with being weak or soft. So we still have some work to do and that starts at the individual level.
Keeping judgment to a minimum.
Getting to know people before making assumptions.
Not telling kids that they can’t wear something because they’re a girl or a boy.
You know, just seeing everyone as an individual instead of a type.
Reserving judgment is a fundamental part of being a doula. Women and families hire us to support them through birth and postpartum no matter how they want those periods to go. It doesn’t matter how I personally feel about epidurals, circumcision, or breastfeeding. I greet the family as they are and help them achieve whatever goals they personally have.
My almost three year old son, W, is doing a fantastic job of testing my neutrality and challenging my notions of gender. Like many toddlers, he loves books, trucks, and blocks. His mind is an amazing machine that remembers details from over a year ago and makes new connections every day. He repeats my words back to me often, sometimes surprising me in his accuracy.
He also loves my pink toenails. The day I treated myself to a pedicure and came home with a beautiful coral polish on my toes, W insisted that he have his painted pink as well.
I panicked. What would people think if they see my toddler’s toes are pink? He’s a BOY! Will people tease him? What would I do? Would they wonder if I’m too lax in my parenting – giving in to every little whim and fancy? Would the pink toes be too stark a contrast to his polo shirts and cargo pants?
Then I took a deep breath. It wasn’t about me at all, but about him. He saw my pretty toes and wanted his like them. And that was all there was to it.
One of W’s favorite songs to hear at bedtime right now is Dar Williams' “When I Was a Boy.” The song is about a woman grappling with femininity when she spent her childhood doing all the things boys typically like. At the end, she has a conversation with a man who felt the same struggle with gender but from the other side.
And I tell the man I'm with about the other life I lived
And I say now you're top gun, I have lost and you have won.
And he says, "Oh no, no, can't you see?
When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked
And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked.
And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do.
And I have lost some kindness.
But I was a girl too.
And you were just like me, and I was just like you.
I couldn’t tell W that he can’t have pink toenails because that wouldn’t just be telling him that boys don’t wear pink or that boys shouldn’t have their toes painted. It would be ME, his biggest supporter and champion, telling him that there are things that he can’t be just because of his reproductive anatomy. I would be the one telling him to lose his kindness and be something else. There will be plenty of other people who will do that for him. But it won’t be me.
It is my job to let my clients make their own choices. And that objectivity starts at home.
It has been an unusually dry summer here in the North Country. Every couple days the weather channel forecasts rain, but most of the time it has just passed us by. I keep waiting for the rain to come and haven't been watering my garden because it's going to rain "soon."
But my lettuce is wilted and my tomato plants won't grow without water.
The same can be said about taking care of our needs as parents. It's easy to put off self-care because there are more urgent matters to attend to and it doesn't seem as important as laundry and preparing dinner. But if we don't take care of ourselves, we'll wilt just like my lettuce. It might be such a gradual process that we don't even notice it happening. Slowly, but surely, we're getting too consumed in the mundane and losing our love for life.
What message does this send to our kids? It's more important to constantly care for others than to make sure our own needs are met? Or that moms don't have needs of their own? Either way, it's not a healthy way to view the world.
When we don't take the time to care for ourselves, it's harder to be the patient, loving parents that we want to be. We have shorter fuses and are less likely to want to play blocks or color with our kiddos. We're in survival mode and aren't able to see the joy in life.
So let's take those few minutes to read a magazine or get a pedicure. Call in reinforcements. Take a mental health day. Enjoy the sunshine. Go out for a cappuccino with a friend. Or just catch an episode of Fixer Upper during nap time. Water your garden and everyone will feel better.
Now if only I can get someone to weed for me...
I love children. Before I moved to northern New York and became a doula, I taught middle and high school students in Vermont. I babysat when I was young and always knew I'd become a mom some day. There was no question about it -- I had spent a lot of time working with young people and wanted one of my own. I knew this from the very beginning.
I was so confident in my parenting abilities that I (a serious reader and researcher) read absolutely nothing about infant care. I read a book about breastfeeding, but that was the only way I prepared myself for the arrival of my new baby. I figured it would all come naturally. I knew how to relate to kids; how hard could a baby really be?
Well, as I wrote in my previous blog post, I was greatly surprised. Getting to know a new person who is also figuring out how to just LIVE is a pretty overwhelming experience. Add severe sleep deprivation into the mix and you have a recipe for a lot of uncertainty and self-doubt. While there were many good days, the hard moments stand out very strongly in my mind.
But even in the most difficult phases of learning how to be a parent, when each new day started, I felt a sense of relief. We had survived another night. Instead of stressing over getting the baby to sleep, we could just go for a stroller walk to get a croissant. Or lie on the couch and watch a How I Met Your Mother marathon on Netflix. It didn't really matter what we did, but the rising sun made me feel like it would all be okay.
When I decided to become a doula, I wanted to take that sense of confidence that each new day brought me and give that to other parents. It is so hard to know what "good parenting" looks like these days with the overflow of advice and opinions that the Internet brings. But if we take each day at a time, it is much easier. Each new day brings the possibility of a new milestone for your baby and a great cup of coffee for you. We just need to have faith that all things will pass and that life really is about the journey.
New Day Doula
Rainbow and Mary share thoughts on pregnancy, birth, and the parenting journey.