108 posts categorized "Family Dynamics"

Reorganizing your dreams through a divorce

March 16, 2014

I've been quiet here, because for the past six months I've been in the throes of divorce. I think I knew even in the months leading up to the decision what I would eventually do, so for a long time beforehand I was afraid to say anything because everyone who knows me knows I wear my heart on my sleeve and everything I write.

There has been a lot of hard in this process, and it's far from done. But I think one of the worst parts has been to reorganize my dreams; for myself, for my family unit, for my boys. I've done such expansive and heedless things as write a piece on how I don't plan for divorce with my finances (I still stand behind that post); I've written extensively about what some people call "radical domesticity" and been one of the subjects of a book about it. I know I've said a dozen or a thousand times that I've chosen in the past several years to let my husband take the primary breadwinner role -- his work was intense, too, serving in the Army in Kuwait for three years -- and lead a life that's low on luxuries so I could spend time with the kids, at home, with my writing. (Really, the ultimate luxury.) I've loved how much I could shape the environment for my kids, especially my oldest, who I've unschooled for much of the past three years to help find him a place he can truly belong.

Now I have to find a way to navigate the life I want with a distinctly different set of resources.

Continue reading "Reorganizing your dreams through a divorce" »

When we fight: Kids say the darndest things

February 04, 2014

This morning, my boy woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  He didn't want breakfast, he didn't want to get dressed, he didn't want to go to school.  He was sour, through and through.  He was wearing on his dad's patience with every "no" and refusal.  Negativity rose further to physical manifestations.  Our boy threw a dish rag at his dad.  And, to climax: "I don't want you to be my dad anymore!"

I wanted to give our boy & his dad some time to cool off.  I said to our boy, "That isn't loving or kind," which is sometimes my auto-response to negative comments or behavior.  

Kids say the darndest things, even things like "I hate you, Mama".  Many times, these statements are made in the heat of a moment; they are things they might not really mean.

Before long, and before we were heading to school, our boy went to his dad to apologize.  "I'm sorry, Dad".  And, his dad to him, "I'm sorry, too.  I was just frustrated."

No doubt these moments happen in your household, too.  How do you diffuse the situation and close the loop?  How do you make amends?

Screen Time and Family Screen Policy

January 30, 2014

I just watched a New York Times mini-documentary on China's Web Junkies, and it simply shocked me.

I don't spend much time fearing things, but internet addiction in kids/teens really scares me. Ever since I read a research-based article connecting the Thurston High School shooter to heavy usage of violent video games, I've made a commitment to never allowing violent games in our home. "Using" the internet has all the makings for a serious addiction: easy access, mindless pleasure and a way to fill the void inside. As the video clearly shows, loneliness is both the root and the outcome of craving connection through the internet. If we're honest, many of us parents are already addicted. I know I am on some level. Email and the worldwide web were emerging as I began my career, and I've never worked without the company of a computer. Now I can/need to view my three email accounts from my phone and research anything that pops into my mind. Facebook can be all too tempting, as it does serve as a social medium for staying connected with my friends in town and across the globe. There can be pure joy found in heartwarming messages that come at just the right moment. But, in my opinion, connecting socially online shouldn't happen while your kids are craving your attention.

As busy parents, I don't expect anyone to go offline, but its important to become aware of our usage in the presence of our kids. We are settling the cultural norm by demonstrating our values. If we don't give our kids the deep and genuine attention they crave now, it's all too likely that they will turn to the internet or other addictions when they grow up. If you're following my new blog, you'll know that my family recently drafted our first Family Screen Policy.

Despite his friends getting vastly more screen time, our does son seem very satisfied with earning a limited amount through reading. Our kids are still way more interested in sports, making art and getting outside, but at least now we both have some guidance about when it's allowed. I've also found that I'm walking my talk more now and fighting the impulse to check-in online when the kids are around. Does your family have a screen policy? Have you witnessed or felt addicted to the internet? How important (or challenging) is it for you to unplug?

This is guest post by Darcy Cronin, a mother of three, blogger, and small business adventurer. Darcy became certified as a Simplicity Parenting Coach to help busy families create paths toward meaningful values and more sustainable lifestyles. Follow her blog and sign up for workshops at Darcy's Utopia.

Does your family dine together? How often?

September 16, 2013

It's dinnertime!  We are a few weeks into the new school year, and the schedules are getting a bit hectic.  What I realize: we only have one evening during the Monday-to-Friday stretch when we can all sit down and have dinner as a family, a calm time when we can catch up over our days, check in on school, friends, new developments.  Only one evening?  I feel it is not enough.

It's said that sitting down to a family dinner eases family stress, makes for happier children, even results in teens who are less likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs.

I believe it.  I want to have it.  How many evenings during the week do you manage to sit down to a dinner with the kids?

Mamas: We are NOT supernatural

August 27, 2013

I have always had this tendency to overcommit.  Back in college, I recall getting involved in so many campus activities, in addition to taking a full academic load, plus working.  One day, I just crashed.  I went to bed, exhausted, at maybe 7pm one night, and I did not wake up until 9 or 10pm the following day.  I literally slept for over 24 hours.  I also had a moment in college when I was so overcommitted, I had to drop half of my courseload part-way into the semester.  I had gotten so far behind that I knew I couldn't pull myself back.

As a mama, I struggle with similar tendencies.  I watch fellow mamas struggle with the same.  What is the right balance, how much should I volunteer even if I am working a full-time out-of-the-house job?  As school is ramping up once again, I am already receiving requests to coordinate an event or lead another initiative and - "oh, by the way" - could I also pick up the donated pastries for the first-day-of-school coffee social?

I had to stop and remind myself: Mama, you are not supernatural.  I am starting this school year with a cold, disorganized from a late summer vacation, and overwhelmed returning to a full load at work.  There is no way I can take on much more than I had originally committed to at the end of the last school year.  So: my goal.  Say "no" to a commitment, but say "yes" to another one, one that serves a grounding or self-preserving function.  So: say "no" to picking up those pastries, but say "yes" to a yoga class this week.  Say "no" to heading another committee, but say "yes" to taking a 30 minute walk with a neighbor.

We have enough to manage with our kids' extracurriculars.  We should keep it simple for ourselves.  How *much* do you do?  Where do you draw the line?  How much is too much, and what is on your "no" list?

Marry a Family, Divorce a Family?

May 29, 2013

DSC_0650Somehow, through my extremely long and messy divorce, I have managed to stay somewhat close with my in-laws. My ex-husband's dad and step mom have been committed to my girls and me from the very beginning. This is not to say that they're not in a difficult position, but they are very diplomatic and still consider me family. We go on long weekend trips to the coast and they sweetly remind me that if I ever move on to a new relationship and decide to grow my family, those new additions will be welcomed into their open arms. This relationship has been so comforting and I'm incredibly grateful. I recognize how lucky I am and how unusual this probably is for most ex-daughters-in-laws.

So here we are, almost 3 years since the separation and I still adore my in-laws and they seem to find value in our relationship as well. Sometimes I think that my father-in-law tolerates me, my homemade life and my choice to homeschool my youngest daughter, but I know that I can quickly bring him back around when I cook or bake for him. My mother-in-law is the most comfortable of the two and probably one of my closest friends. In spite of the circumstances of the last few years, we have been able to talk with utter transparency which is sometimes really hard and other times it's really healing. I'm starting to think everything is going to change though.

My ex has a serious girlfriend. He's had many girlfriends in the last few years, but nothing so serious. This girlfriend has a child and seems to be on the prowl for a stable relationship. My ex is either serious about her or he is just playing along- I can't tell yet and we are not able to talk about much, let alone our relationships.

It's funny because I don't care that he's moved on (although I used to). I don't want to know too much and I don't really like hearing my kids prattle on about what they do when they're visiting their dad and his girlfriend. I get mad when they tell me that they spend so much time with her when really all they want is to be with their dad, but when it comes to my ex moving on to something more serious, I don't care... except that I really love my in-laws.

It's already getting complicated too. My mother-in-law feels torn between me, who she loves, and her stepson and his new interest. She knows that at some point she is going to have to meet this new girlfriend (sooner than later) and it will get even more complicated because she will probably like her. This will be the first thing that we won't be able to talk about. In the history of our 12 year relationship, this has never happened. She's not going to want to hurt my feelings and frankly, I'm not going to want to know too much. I expect that I'll feel jealous of their time together and of their new relationship and as childish as it might seem, I worry that I will be pushed out.

I have been lucky to count my mother-in-law as one of my best friends and it's devastating to be sensing this shift coming into our relationship and realizing that there's really nothing I can do about it. I just have to stand back and let it unfold. It really has become one of those situations that keeps me awake at night as I search my brain for ideas that would keep us close, and yet I continue to come up blank.

I'm really going to miss her, that I know for sure.

Advice for post-divorce co-parenting

January 08, 2013

One of our founding mamas went through a divorce early in the history of this site, and it was overwhelming; her experience took her, largely, off the blog. I've personally watched many of my friends go through divorce and it seems so, so hard -- I've even taken to exploring my thoughts about it in fiction. Co-parenting while divorced, for me, sounds even harder than co-parenting while in a difficult marriage. Another mother asks:

Does anyone have good resources or personal experience to share with a newly divorced mama? My ex and I are fairly amicable, but I find myself really struggling with how this new world order works for the kids as they split time between us. Everything I've found to read about divorce addresses the nightmare scenarios when parents say nasty things about each other to the kids or manipulate them to win affection. That's not us at all. Those stories make me very thankful for how our divorce has gone. And still, I wonder if it ever feels normal to live in 2 different houses, have 2 different dogs, 2 sets of neighborhood friends... having grown up with 2 parents and a super stable home life, I feel a little heartbroken when I think about it too long. I know my kids don't necessarily think about it the way I do, but it would help me to have exposure to success stories of growing up equally with 2 parents in two houses.

Do you have any advice or stories to share?

Thanksgiving in Portland: Gratitude and Guilt

November 22, 2012

I don't know if there is anything like Thanksgiving for bringing out Portlanders in all their Portland-ness. If the vivid argument in the comments in one of my recent posts is any indication, those of us who are not minorities, who are not lower-income, who are not struggling, feel a great deal of guilt about our relative status. We as a people (we Portlanders) are either pointing out our own wronged status, or we're identifying so much with other wronged peoples that we get in internet (or public) arguments in which we passionately assert the rights of minority groups to be angry about the wrongs inflicted upon them. And are we not all minorities, in some way? Surely all of us have some part of our experience that marks us, makes us different, would (if called out by someone else at, let's say, a Thanksgiving dinner table) give rise to judgments and widened eyes.

And Thanksgiving. With its focus on food and the fraught relationship between the caucasian immigrants and the dark-skinned natives. How some of our ancestors were grateful and others were slaughtered. How all this is caught up in religion and bigotry and intolerance. All of us come from people who were, at one point or another, viewed as The Other. All of us at some time in our lives have participated in the celebration of the corporate food-purveyor who, slowly and viciously, turned our regular commemoration of harvest into a week-long orgy of consumerism, from the branded stuffing mix to the branded turkey to the branded standing in line for Black Friday and all the black days after that. When we spend to show our gratitude, our patriotism, our love.

I asked my oldest son to research, to tell his brothers about the real story of Thanksgiving.

Continue reading "Thanksgiving in Portland: Gratitude and Guilt" »

When time is limited: Make every minute matter

November 05, 2012

The mama guilt and chest tightening is in full effect again today, as I ready the fridge and leave notes everywhere for work that requires me to be away for 24+hrs.  Yesterday, in preparation for another busy week wherein I must ask my kids to be independent and responsible (taking care of themselves, letting themselves into the home, staying alone for stretches), we all went to the museum and enjoyed a great interactive history exhibit.  And, yet, we squabbled almost all other times of the day.

Our time is so limited, and I desperately want to make every minute matter.  A few commenters on last week's thread suggest:

Maybe the more useful conversation is how to connect with your kids and build a good relationship when your hours are limited. There's a huge swath of the population that works inflexible, long hours out of necessity. And there are others who have made the choice to put in those hours. So then what?

A great question indeed.  How do you maintain a strong relationship with your kids when your time together is necessarily limited?

Mama & Me: staying relevant in my Tween's life

September 25, 2012

My daughter & her girlfriends were hanging out (at this age, they don't "play".  they "hang out".) upstairs when they rowdily came downstairs to the kitchen, where I was in the midst of a little craftiness (which came in a surprising spurt last weekend).  I was making shortbread cookies, frosting them with orange and decorating into basketballs, for my son's birthday celebration.

The girlfriends squealed: "See?  Your mom *is* cool!"  

I felt smug.  I felt affirmed.  I felt welcomed.

It was almost like I myself was back in middle school, wanting somehow to fit in, wanting to be wanted.  Wanting to fit in with my daughter and her friends, wanting to be wanted by my daughter and her friends.

I feel like my tweenagehood and teenagehood was so recent.  I remember it vividly.  I remember feeling increasingly estranged from my mom, from my parents.  I remember feeling the angst and wallowing in it, feeling lonely with only one or two people I would really regard as confidantes.  

This is new territory for me, parenting a tween daughter.  Have you been through it?  Do you remember feeling like you wanted to be wanted, feeling encouraged when labeled "cool" by her friends?

Sister to sister: "It's my birthday & I don't want you there"

September 17, 2012

Well, she didn't say it quite like that, but I am sure it sounded like that to her younger sister.  My older daughter turns 12 this weekend, and she has made plans with her girlfriends to hang out afterschool, have dinner (with us, her parents) at one of her favorite restaurants, then go play a round of mini golf, all with her friends (and us, her parents).  One thing she was explicit about: "can we find something else for *her* to do?"

This is a little different than the birthday party where we ponder whether to invite the friend & his little brother.  We're talking about the celebrant's own sister.

Her sister is deflated, 3 years her junior, wanting ever so much to be a part of the fun and celebration.  Granted, we will have more celebration reserved just for the family, so there will be an opportunity for Sister the Younger to celebrate with Sister the Elder.

On the one hand, I want to respect the Elder's wishes for space from her sister, wishes for a little autonomy, wishes for some fun with her own friends.  On the other hand, we like to exude inclusivity, especially among family.  Everyone is invited, all the time!

Well: WWYuMsD?  What would you urbanMamas do?

Garden work and the magic of friends

June 03, 2012

"I'm too lazy!" is the answer when I asked my oldest, almost 10, to help with yard work. Occasionally he'll be overcome by a project and lift and dig and plot with me for a while -- maybe a half hour or an hour if I'm crazy-lucky. He's certainly not lazy; his idea of after-school relaxation is to run around and around the house playfighting with his brothers. He once rollerskated seven miles in an afternoon. He can bike anywhere I can.

But, when it comes to repetitive, back-breaking, dirty drudgery, he's just not my guy.

Until, that is, we went over to a friend's house yesterday for a garden remaking. We missed out on the hardest part; slaughtering blackberry vines (though I got to stuff some in the chipper for an hour or so, ridiculously satisfying work), but immediately when he arrived he joined a band of several kids about his age whose task it was to help shovel, carry and distribute wood chips and lay the cardboard beneath it to cover the grass and weeds.

Not only did he work the whole afternoon -- nearly six hours -- he rallied the team uncomplainingly, vigorously leading the effort with an older girl. Oh, he did complain; when we left to take him to a birthday party. "I want to WORK moooorrrrre..." he whined as we biked away.

Continue reading "Garden work and the magic of friends" »

Grandparents as Caretakers: has it worked for you?

April 25, 2012

As I was heading to drop off one of the kids at school this morning, I passed a mom and child pulled into a driveway.  She was handing off her son, pre-kinder age, to her parents.  "Mom, don't worry about it," she said.  It seemed like a regular arrangement for grandma to be watching the tot, just about as regular as another family I pass often, where mom pulls over, many times double parked, to lug her infant-in-carseat up several front steps to her dad, always waiting for her atop the stairs.

Grandparents can play a crucial role in rearing our little ones.  I, myself, spent a lot of time with all of my living grandparents - my mom's parents and my dad's mom took turns taking care of me from the time I was born.  I was even sent back to my parents' native country, the Philippines, for a while when I was around a year old, so that my parents could work odd hours and study to pass licensing exams.

Rearing my own children, I didn't have the support network of nearby family where they could play a daily role in helping with childcare.  

Having loved growing up with my grandparents, and now watchiing how adoring my own kids are of their own grandparents, I love to hear stories of grandparents developing a routine with their grandkids, a special, regular relationship and intimacy with one another.  Have you had your children's grandparents involved, on a regular basis, with childcare?  How has that been?

I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance

January 30, 2012

This weekend, I had yet another experience with a family member in which my son's behavior was absolutely not tolerated... leading to the swift ending of our time together (yes, for the rest of my kids and me as well). I held back tears, just barely, in the moment while I got everyone ready to go as fast as humanly possible, feeling very much kicked out. OK: we were kicked out. There's no two ways about it. I kept wanting to cry for hours later, and would remember why only belatedly. This sticks with me.

I won't get into the details, but especially after passionately reading this article about how zero-tolerance policies have helped lead to our exploitative, cruel, racist and classist prison system -- and  after having suffered much painful familial isolation from a variety of in-laws and my own flesh and blood -- I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies. Even if behavior is intolerable, the people who deliver the behavior should be tolerated. Especially if we say we love them. (And why do people feel the need to say "I love you" while they're telling you they don't want be around you? Is that love? Isn't unconditional love... unconditional???)

I know many impartial observers might see this from a different light. But if a child -- or even an adult -- has a short outburst of socially unacceptable behavior following a period of sweetness, kindness and helpfulness, I feel that forgiveness and not "I will NOT allow that in my HOUSE get out now!" is in order. Honestly, I've seen a lot more patience to adult bad behavior than I have to my own child's; and this hurts deep, long and lasting. It's led me, at least, to evaluate my own responses to others' behavior, and to see the context and the intentions and the reasons first and put my foot down second (or never).

Is there anything you're zero tolerance about? Or have zero tolerance policies put your family and friends into black, hurting places? Do you think there is any place for zero tolerance in a loving social group?

More about relationships with teens: Sleepovers?

January 29, 2012

I clicked on the link to a post about whether or not you should let your teen child's boyfriend or girlfriend sleep over expecting a point of view that was very much permissive agnostic (think: the parents caricatured by the media when most of us were teens) vs. strict values-based (think: Rick Santorum). But what I got was a very reasonable post I couldn't agree with more -- basically, that sexual activity is not caused or curtailed by letting two young people of the opposite sex in a room together. And we should spend a heck of a lot more time on our relationship with our child than on putting our foot down over proprieties handed down from our parents and their parents before them. (Peggy Sue Got Married was very much top-of-mind as I read.)

I think a point of view that wasn't very much present in conversations of 20 years ago was this one: well, what about the same-gender teens? Why can they sleep over? They could be having sex, too! And while it certainly doesn't have me rubbing my hands together planning how I'll cook breakfast together with my boys' girlfriends in seven or eight or 10 years, it does have me rethinking previously-held views about such things.

For now, I'd love to hear your thoughts on something that came up in the comments on that post: the time-honored "no closing your door," or, depending on the house design, "no going into the bedroom together" with a member of the opposite sex. In general, commenters agreed that it made for bad situations; those who were having sex were doing so in cars or other semi-public places, those who weren't still didn't feel welcome to hang out in a house with "surveillance." Is this a rule you've considered imposing on your children once they hit a certain age? Or is it already in place? I've made a sort of rule like this about a neighbor kid who comes over sometimes -- I need him where I can see him. It all comes down to trust, and I trust my oldest to tell me the truth about what's going on; I don't trust the neighbor kid (a certain experience with certain Google searches performed on my computer when I was washing the dishes...).

As Rebecca said when she posted the link, the part of the relationship you develop long before sex is an issue is what will, hopefully, be a much better deterrent from bad choices made behind closed doors or up on Mt. Tabor after the sun goes down on a hot August night (not that I'd know where a good spot might be) (no way not me). And that's more of this kind of thing. I hope, anyway!

About arguments (this time, we're doing good!)

January 17, 2012

I know my oldest has years to go before he hits the teen years, but I've felt for a while now that his behavioral struggles give me a window into who he will be as a teen -- he's got all the talking-back chops and punky authority questioning that any self-respecting teen boy would. Lucky me: I get to practice conversing with a teenager years before my time!

Sometimes I agonize over this (mostly when someone else is overhearing me and Everett in a tense debate over privileges and responsibilities, speckled tightly with the occasional bit of bad language). But thanks to some new research from the University of Virginia, I could just go ahead and embrace it. These debates with me now and in his teens will help him resist peer pressure among his friends and stand up to problems on the job. In other words, our arguments are lessons. According to NPR:

"[In the] study, 157 13-year-olds were videotaped describing their biggest disagreement with their parents. The most common arguments were over grades, chores, money and friends. The tape was then played for both parent and teen...

"[The researcher, Joseph P.] Allen interviewed the teens again at ages 15 and 16. "The teens who learned to be calm and confident and persuasive with their parents acted the same way when they were with their peers," he says. They were able to confidently disagree, saying 'no' when offered alcohol or drugs. In fact, they were 40 percent more likely to say 'no' than kids who didn't argue with their parents.

"For other kids, it was an entirely different story. "They would back down right away," says Allen, saying they felt it pointless to argue with their parents. This kind of passivity was taken directly into peer groups, where these teens were more likely to acquiesce when offered drugs or alcohol."

How you argue is important. If you "reward" children who develop a persuasive argument, bargaining thoughtfully instead of using begging, whining, threats or insults, you will teach them how to not just get along with other teens (and to stay clear of dangerous problems like drugs and binge drinking), but how to successfully manage relationships as an adult -- even and eventually, marriage.

I was, for once, proud of my parenting skills -- something I tell the boys every (sometimes many times a) day is to use their problem solving abilities to come up with a solution that doesn't involve physical aggression or anger. Now, this doesn't work very well between the boys many days, but I often see the persuasive kid show up for a really great and -- often -- even courteous! -- debate with me or another adult. And that's something to be proud of.

Of the Great Santa Myth, and Faith

December 21, 2011

There surely was a real St. Nicholas, of course (who would have given very few of our children the things on their Christmas lists -- his assistance of the needy, the sick and the suffering probably wouldn't have included a Nerf Vortex Nitron or the Disney Fairies gift set), but what we have today is all myth. It's the myth that sits our children on his lap, telling him their deepest desires; it is the myth to whom they write letters and make lists; it's the myth that appears in 1,000 permutations on TV shows and movies this time of year. It's the myth that signs his name on packages under trees and fills the stockings (then turns with a jerk...). it's the myth that gives a darn whether or not your kids are "naughty."

I've always been non-committal about the myth of Santa. My parents, despite the religious background that would seem to conflict with the whole idea of an imaginary present-giver, still signed presents under the tree "from Santa" and perpetuated the idea of a guy sliding down the chimney with a big red bag. I remember, one year, writing a letter to Santa and burning it; the idea, that the ashes would float up to Santa in some sort of readable manner, sure didn't make any more sense to me at five than they do at 38. But, I believe it, willing to take a leap of faith if it meant good things like lacy dresses and baby dolls. By my third or fourth lost tooth, however, I was all skeptic; I asked my parents not to sneak in and leave money under my pillow, no matter what! When they acquiesced and, indeed, I woke up to a tooth still in its place, I remember a little disappointment but mostly relief that the world's logic was preserved. I don't remember it being cold or harsh or sad; just helpful. Now I know.

 With my kids, I offer the story like I do Zeus or Achilles or Noah: a story that no one can be 100% sure of. That some people believe, and others don't. The boys are welcome to believe if they like. Most of those guys dressed up on the street certainly aren't the real Santa. Might this one be? Perhaps. If they want to believe it.

Everett, who at eight renounced God, the tooth fairy, Santa and the Easter bunny as myths all (to my disappointment; I still believe in God), is a staunch non-believer, and not quiet about it. This does not affect his brothers' beliefs at all. On Peacock Lane, the boys confronted a Santa Claus together, and Everett informed the others this was a fake Santa. A little while later, with Everett's attention elsewhere, Monroe encountered another Santa. This? The real Santa, he decided, with no one to tell him incontrovertibly that it was not. Even later, as Monroe had not seen Everett evaluate the man (so as to gather evidence for his reality or lack thereof), he remained convinced the second Santa was the real one.

Tomorrow on Think Out Loud, a conversation about Santa and whether or not we tell our kids "the truth" will take place, and the intro to the post and an email about it had me shaking my head.  "Spoiler alert: If you're a Santa believer, you might want to stop reading right now." Really? If you're a Santa believer, even the presence of doubt in others has you disbelieving? This doesn't work for anything else -- take any religion, ever. Even climate change deniers find a way to discount all scientific evidence that works against their theory. Can a radio show shake a kid's faith?

Not in my opinion, especially if a beloved big brother can't even change your mind. The Santa secret is safe, and here's the thing: it was always safe in the minds and hearts of the true believers. Even, if for just a few more years.

Mama vs. Papa: How our standards differ on volunteerism

September 27, 2011

I had already decided what to do when I posted my (I hoped) thought-provoking piece on "neglecting" my children to coach cross country -- for free! I've been volunteer coaching for several years, and even though my husband has just left for his second tour overseas, I spend all of my waking and sleeping hours with the boys save about 10 a week for cross country and Thursday night writer's group. I am comfortable with my decision; though some commenters pointed out that, with only one parent on the ground, I was depriving my boys, I have to disagree. The boys enjoy time with their babysitters, who frankly have lots more focus to give than I do. I struggle with being on duty 24/7; I end up so, so tired by Sunday evening that I can rarely stay up long enough to finish packing school lunch; the time away from the boys is life-giving. After a few charged discussions about it and chatting with some of the officers with whom he deployed, my husband agreed that my cross country time and babysitting expense was something we could afford.

OK: so that's my personal story. Let's chat about the universal. Today, a commenter chimed in about her experiences feeling resentful when her husband volunteered for basketball coaching. Another commenter said she, too, had felt frustrated at other dads doing similar things -- those that benefited other people's kids. While no one said quite this, the message is very much that dads don't have the time to spare. Any free time, the sentiment seems to be (and I can think of times I've thought this, from an outsider's perspective and not in my own family): dads need to give all available free time to their own children. Why should moms get a break?

I wonder if this sentiment stems from those 80's-sitcom-style family makeup: dad working 60-hour weeks, mom doing lots of volunteering at school and keeping the home spic-and-span and oven full of casseroles. This dad should not be leaving work early to coach middle school sports across town when he has grade schoolers watching He-man, neglected, at home.

I know a bunch of dads who volunteer, but I know way more moms and childless uncles who keep the youth sports machine churning and staff the fundraisers and political phone banks and non-profit events. Do we not give dads a break to follow their volunteer passions because we see them -- collectively -- as already spending enough time away from home? Is this a classic Freudian issue; those of us whose own dads were absent are the quickest to judge? Or is this just "the truth": dads should not, no how no way, be spending precious hours coaching or coding websites or organizing conferences or building bikes unless their own kids are being directly benefited? What do you think? Are dads and moms judged alike in their use/abuse of me time? Should they be?

Benign 'Neglect' of Our Children?

September 19, 2011

For six years now, I've been volunteering as a high school coach at Cleveland High School. For the first two years, the head track coach coordinated some sort of honorarium for me -- a lot less than the salaried assistant coaches make (somewhere around $1,000 a month for roughly 20 hours a week of work, plus more for some weekend meets), but it was something! In the past few years, I've been coaching cross country, and the booster club hasn't seen it in their mission to bestow funds upon we running volunteers. I don't go every day -- last year it was only two or three days a week, because I was parenting my three boys solo and often didn't get home from school pickup until it was almost too late to catch the kids before they were off on their run.

My husband just left again last week for more overseas Army duty, and I have somehow wangled a great babysitter who can watch the boys for me -- I'll be able to go almost every day and meets too, and since the season only has six weeks left in it, I estimate it will cost me $500 or $600 in child care. Yes, to volunteer, for no pay whatsoever.

This has been a big point of contention for my husband. He has never been very supportive of my coaching; as an abstract thing, it seems great, but in reality he sees it as "ignoring my family" "for strangers." If I have to pay for the privilege? All the worse! We're locked in an unwinnable battle of wills. The way I see it: I'm giving back to the community that brought me into the running world (I ran track for Cleveland in the early 90s, and was nurtured by a wonderful woman, a mother herself, who even bought shoes for me when my cheerleading shoes gave me shin splints -- her son is a lead designer for Nike, so it was a bargain, but still!). I'm doing something I love -- working with high schoolers -- that I don't have the patience to do for a career (I would have gone into teaching if investment banking hadn't come along and stolen me; I have little patience, though, with school bureaucracy, and would likely have lasted this long as a public school teacher). I get to run four or five days a week; something I never do without the support of daily practice, and makes me happy, fit, and healthy. Most of all, I feel that I'm making a difference for these kids. Most of the coaches are men, and it's a co-ed sport; the girls tell me often that they appreciate my support and my conversation. It feels like the right thing to do and I always come home from practice and meets in a glow.

That glow does not extend to my husband's point of view on the matter: in his perspective, I'm leaving my children with a babysitter, spending family money unwisely, and neglecting my duty as their primary caregiver to do something that's benefiting other people's kids. Of course, I'm the parent on the ground, to use a militarism, and I get my way. But leaving aside the personal details of our argument, how do you negotiate this sort of balancing act? Is it ok (in your opinion and situation) to "neglect" your children if you're doing good work for the community -- volunteering for the neighborhood organization, the PTA, a blog that supports a needy community that perhaps doesn't directly help your children? How about support groups and church outreach? Political causes and extremely low-paid non-profit work? Co-operative projects and buying clubs and knitting circles? When you're doing something that doesn't directly, immediately benefit your own children, how do you suss out the justification for this benign "neglect"?

Sending them to grandmother's house... and beyond.

August 08, 2011

Now that my eldest is eight, my mother reminded me that next year he'll be old enough for his "9 year old Yaya trip." The idea being that my mother (yaya) and he would plan and take a trip together - a special place they agree on. It's a brilliant idea, really, that my mother gleaned from another friend of hers who is especially well versed in the art of grandparenting.

Granny_g But wait... nobody asked me if *I* was ready. And wouldn't he get home-sick? Or at least family-sick? He's not been apart from us for more than a single night. Even then, he wasn't very far away (a short drive at the most!) My mother is also not local (although she's an extremely frequent visitor). I'm not sure if she is ready to host a journey solo with my eldest. They spend some time together but there's the awkward situation she would be put in if this trip were to happen. The awkward situation of her being the parental figure, if necessary.

There are two thoughts that keep nagging at me. First, I really don't want to burden her with my child. I know that sounds silly. After all, she's had lots of parental experience (and success - I hope!). I just feel like as a grandparent, she'd want to be more liberal in their relationship than a parent and child would be. So would she just assume the parental figure if things come down to that? Second, they haven't spent all that much time together. In the past, their personalities have gone head to head a few times. I have to admit, my eldest can challenge the limits of even the most patient types!

So I think that maybe we will wait. Until he is 10, perhaps, or 11. That way the experience will be a better one for both of them. The experience that my mother envisions them having. A growing and bonding time together that they will remember for their whole lives. Have any of you sent your children off with grandparents for grand adventures? Have you had any great successes (or great disasters) in trusting both your parents and children to go off on their adventures? Any advice you may have about making trips like this work is welcome!

Parental Homecoming and the Precious Schedule

May 20, 2011

Ever since having my third child, I've discarded my woozy free spirit self when it comes to bedtimes and mealtimes. I've cultivated, with great struggle and with mostly fabulous success (when I get it right), a predictable day in which waking up, breakfast, lunch, dinner and bed time come at more or less the same time each day. If I get it wrong -- don't put the three-year-old to sleep within an hour of his regular time, let the eight-year-old skip breakfast in favor of a big brunch -- the melt downs are spectacular.

Last weekend, I went to a conference in Montana -- a fantastic opportunity for which I was making enough money to pay for a new bicycle I'd been dreaming of. I was only going to be gone for two nights and my childless sister-in-law generously offered to spend the weekend with my three balls of energy. They had a great time; but I neglected to remind her that my boys will not fall asleep as long as you let them have a screen in front of their faces. There was a prodigious amount of sugar and schedule-zonking shenanigans. Monday was not fun for me, at all; it wasn't until late Tuesday after a rigorous regimen of whole grains and early bedtimes that I felt I had my kids back.

So: we were surprised Wednesday to find out that my husband would be returning from his year's tour of duty in Kuwait after 364 days, on Thursday night -- very, very late Thursday night. After a little deliberation, I decided to let his friend pick him up from the airport, and keep the boys at home, letting the oldest stay up until Daddy got home.

Monroe, the youngest, had a hard day and fell asleep at 8:30; Truman tried to stay up but fell asleep around 11 (I gave him the day off kindergarten today). Everett was awake until at least 2 a.m. They were all up at their regular time, today: 7:30, or thereabouts. I'm bracing myself for the fallout.

Obviously my situation is a bit unusual; it's not everyday mama or papa comes home from a year in the Middle East. But, when you've had a parental homecoming after much time away, even a week or two, that could really destroy your schedule -- and make the inevitably stressful re-entry even more stressful and potentially cripple your family's integration in the coming days or weeks -- how do you manage it? Do you think ahead and schedule flights that will come home during waking hours (not a choice for Army Reservists)? Do you do a big homecoming in the airport (/train station/driveway), or do you get the absent parent home solo and re-unite calmly? Do you preserve the bits of your life you can control to get ready for the chaos, or do you embrace it wholeheartedly?

Sunday Meal Planning: Getting Kids Involved With 'The Whole Family Cookbook'

April 24, 2011

My friend Michelle Stern was still pitching The Whole Family Cookbook when I met her face-to-face a year ago during the IACP conference in Portland. Once she closed the deal and started creating recipes, I did a little testing and, as you'd expect, lots of photograph-making in the process. Because her book is focused on cooking together with children, I wanted to get Everett and Truman and Monroe involved; and I was immediately surprised to see how much benefit we get from having them join in the cooking fun. [Note: Enter a giveaway for the book by commenting; details at the end of the post.]


Even months before we got the book, then, we were discovering how much healthier kids might eat if they just take a hand -- not just in cooking the food -- but in planning that cooking. I'd ask Everett which of a couple possible recipes to try, and we'd discuss whether a recipe had ingredients he'd like together. I was a little thrilled when he said one of the recipes we tried was too sweet for him -- and we made another variation on it that had honey and a small amount of sugar and that we all loved, adding a great sherbet recipe to our family repertoire. (The recipe that made it into the book is a delightfully tart buttermilk lemon sherbet, a winner indeed.)

Handing kids a cookbook with lots of pretty photos of healthy food and asking them, "find something for dinner tomorrow" is the best way I can think of to get them involved in this hardest parental job (filling their stomachs with good "growing food") and to make sure the hard work you put in to choosing sources and shopping and lugging the stuff home and cooking it all on demand pays off. Until, that is, they're old enough to do all the shopping and preparing on their own (I was particularly freed by the image of Rebecca's teens from last week's post making turkey sandwiches and sweet potatoes). I did that one night, and the next night, we had taco salad straight from Michelle's book (my recipe adds red cabbage to the onions for a little extra nutritional zing).

Continue reading "Sunday Meal Planning: Getting Kids Involved With 'The Whole Family Cookbook'" »

Seeking Divorce Therapist & Support Recommendations

April 13, 2011

We have had a call previously for marriage therapists, but what about divorce therapists?  Would the specialists of the former be specialists of the latter?

An urbanMama recently emailed:

My partner and I are divorcing, and I would like to find a therapist who has experience with helping divorcing/divorced women through this tremendously painful time. Would it be possible for you to post a call for suggestions in NE or SE Portland?

Also, does anyone have suggestions about support groups for divorcing/divorced women in PDX?

Longing for another child, but I already have a few!

April 12, 2011

I know many mamas have struggled to conceive.  I have been so lucky in that regard.  Our first came a complete surprise.  I know there are many families who only have one child, for environmental reasons.  Our second was planned, conceived at what felt like a "good time" for us after we talked about our "thoughts on number two".  Before we could even talk about our "thoughts on number three", we conceived.  To be sure, each of our families are different.  We make our own choices and decisions.  We have the size of a family that is right for us.

So for me, right now, I am feeling like I am pining for another.  Number Three is now a year and a half, such a delight.  I never did feel that I had the time or opportunity to experience this longing, this deep sense of want, this intense draw to become a mother to a young child, yet again.   To be sure, this feeling is the result of my joy in mothering a toddler (I just LOVE this age) as well as knowing that he is probably my last.  Yes, "probably" my last.

Have you had that yearning for a baby feeling?  Did you put it to rest?  Did you conceive or decide to adopt to address the yearning?  Or maybe time helped ease the feeling?  Or perhaps that longing still percolates, to this day?

The Novelty Parent: It's not me

March 01, 2011

Many evenings, while I get dinner onto the table, my partner is relagated to toddler- and child-management.  I bustle around in that very stressful pre-dinner hour, and I often hear squealing and giggles coming from the other room, surely the result of my husband nuzzling his head into the toddler's tummy.  More squeals come from the other kids, playing around with their dad little brother.

Not every household has two parents, but - for those that do - each of the two parents often settle into roles.  For me, thanks to my efficiency and love for edible arts, it is my role to mange the kitchen.  My partner, then, has the role of managing things outside the kitchen - in this case - the kids.  In other cases, I often still take on the role of primary caretaker, tending to the basic needs of my family such as laundering, kitchen inventory, handling the calendar.  It wears on me, while many times I find my partner takes on the role of playmate, sports coach, tickle monster.  To be honest: I get jealous.  To be honest: I sometimes get bitter.

To be sure, I can challenge the roles, start a mission to lowly change them.  But, who has the time?  Right now, I do feel that efficiency trumps, and I am indeed the Mistress of Multitasking.  My skill set is better suited for the caretaking and nurturing tasks.  I just want to know I'm not alone.  Does it happen in your house too?  Is there a primary caretaker, and does the secondary caretaker get all the fun jobs?  And, dare I ask: have you managed to swap roles here and there?  Has it worked well?

In an emergency, contact... who?

January 31, 2011

Halfway through my memoir class this morning, I got a phone call from an unfamiliar number. Not school, at least, I thought, only to answer the phone to hear the 'hello' of my sister, Hannah. "Truman's school called," she said. "He's really sick and needs to be picked up." Luckily, I was relatively close to school -- only 2.5 miles away -- and headed out, making apologies to the other students and myself. Yet another sickness (strep throat, this time) has hit the kinders.

My two local sisters are the emergency contacts on just about every form I complete: they're nearby, they're usually easy to reach, I know they'd be there for me in an emergency. Of course, in a really non-emergency like this -- a coughing kid who has to be taken home -- it would be crazy to ask them to leave work, driving three times as far as I have to bike to pick up my children (and then what?). Hannah has two little girls, one an infant who recently underwent heart surgery; Abby is pregnant. Both are teachers and it would be a real hardship to leave class suddenly in the middle of the day, not to mention, I don't want to expose them to my kids' kindergarten germs.

Unless it is really an emergency, then, the emergency contacts are just there to help get in touch with me -- and sometimes I feel a bit panicked about how little backup there is. My closest friends have jobs and kids of their own; I'd hardly want to add their names to the form. Their own provide enough in the way of emergencies. And I'm relatively lucky: I have my sisters both within a 25-minute drive, my parents just an hour away. I have to wonder about the many mamas I know whose families are unavailable, either across the continent, or gone physically or emotionally from their lives.

Do you, too, ever roll your eyes at those emergency contact lines and think, --I'm all they've got if you want to be honest about it. --Good luck with that. --Let's just keep my cell phone batteries juiced and call it a day? Do you ever panic about it? Or have you found a creative solution, made your own community, or put a nanny or other paid caregiver on the form?

When other mamas are single... on Facebook

December 12, 2010

I was idly browsing my Facebook page in between dishwashing jags when I saw the familiar-but-ironic little heart next to one of my relative's status updates. "___ is single," it read. Though I've always considered her a favorite family member, we don't spend much time together outside of Facebook, and I only met her husband once or twice; I had no idea things were rocky between them, and now his absence at more recent family gatherings looms large.

Only the latest in a recent spate of relationship status changes, it seems to be the vogue among friends and family and people I barely know to "like" such declarations of independence. I've seen situations in which the singleness was quickly reversed (a regreted overly-public blowup after a bitter, alcohol-fueled argument perhaps?) and these make the "liking" even more piercing than it is, in the most straightforward of situations. I can't find myself to "like" anyone's singleness, even if the relationship was especially tortured and obviously a bad one from the start. It seems too much schadenfreude, even if the one on the other end of the sudden singleness was terribly unkind to someone you love.

My relative's status was liked by someone else I like and whose judgment I respect, and I think the generally-accepted Facebook subtext for this is, "the marriage was bad for you." But, as with so many Facebook singles recently, little children resulted from this star-crossed entanglement. I know a bit of what it's like to be a single parent (though all my single-ness is temporary); I know what it's like to have a marriage-with-kids that is rocky. As is often the case with my rawly-single Facebook friends, I want to reach out. I want to act in support of this fellow mama, when things are obviously hard.

But: I never know what to say. I don't want to "like" it, I don't know if public comment under the status update is a better or far worse option. (And what, then, if there's a reverse?) It's so easy to get Facebook grant you a permanent separation. It's a lot harder, slower and more tortuous to do so legally; if one wishes to celebrate singleness, I think to myself, the end of that process is the time to do it.

I know lots of mamas who read this blog have gone single on Facebook, and have gone through the months- or years-long legal process following that social media break. I know others who have watched friends go through it, or go through the up-and-down of argument, separation, reunion, separation, divorce. What is the best approach? Speak publicly now, email, phone, pray?  Or simply wait until... what? If you've liked, or been liked, in situations like this: what resulted? What advice do you have, now?

Away from our families of origin: What are your holiday traditions?

November 24, 2010

I grew up near a lot of extended family - aunts, uncles, dozens of cousins, grandparents, and more.  I loved it, it felt full always.  There were plenty of celebrations to choose from, and lots of opportunity for food and gift.

Many of us no longer live in the same vicinity as our families of origin.  What sorts of new traditions have you started with your own families?  An urbanMama recently emailed:

My husband and I both grew up celebrating the holidays with a large extended family, but we've both moved away from home and find ourselves with our little family of four.  We are both used to the loud, boisterous crowds, and it feels sort of weird with just our small crew.  We're looking for new traditions to start with our own family, but haven't found any that feel quite right.   Any thoughts?

It's a boy/girl: Does gender really matter?

November 01, 2010

When my mother pushed me out into this world, my father was immediately disappointed.  He wanted a boy.  He was so sad that he left the hospital even before my mother made it to her room from the labor and delivery ward.  He wouldn't come back for another day, leaving his own wife - and mother to his firstborn - alone in her first moments of motherhood.

When my first child was born, we didn't "find out" beforehand.  She was born a lovely girl.  All were thrilled.  When we had our mid-term ultrasound with our second child, we asked to find the gender. We were told, "it's a girl!" and the announcement was met with the question, "are you sure?" from my husband.  And, when our third child was born (and we opted again not to "find out" gender), the words from our moms (who were both in the delivery room for each of our births!) "it's a boy!" brought sheer joy and utter bliss to my husband.

A friend expecting her second child is having another boy.  She confessed to me, "I really wanted a girl."  Another mama with all boys has said, "I'd have another if I was sure it was a girl."  Or, when we recently found out good friends were carrying a baby boy after having had two older girls, we were thrilled.

To be sure, we git what we git and we don't have a fit.  We are happy our children are, for so many of us, born healthy without complications.  And, even with complications, we love our children dearly.

But, whether it's a boy or a girl: does it really matter?  How did you feel when you found out "it's a boy/girl!"?

Helping kids expect the unknown

October 21, 2010

As I type this, I'm waiting to hear if my husband's airplane is landing right now-this-minute, or if he's still hours or days away. We've been waiting for him to come home on leave from Kuwait -- where he's been the last five months with the Army Reserves -- since Sunday, when he left. I told my boys that it was all up in the air, but then he called Monday night with a flight number and time. So, we expect him Tuesday night...

A few hours before his flight was (I thought) arriving, he got on Facebook chat with me (internet was way cheaper than phones), from Germany. OK, so, not Tuesday night. Wednesday? No, he was on "lockdown" for 12 hours. Thursday? Probably?

Now I have to go pick the boys up in a few minutes, and maybe I'll have something to tell them (we're headed to the airport!), maybe I'll just have to say, "who knows?" Though this is an extreme situation, for sure, I know I'm not the only one who has to deal with a partner who's often making last-minute changes in availability -- work travel, sudden flight changes (voluntary or not so much), having to work late or entertain friends/clients/family unexpectedly. How do you help your kids expect the unknown? Is it fair to say, "we'll never know until he walks through the door?" Or is it better to let them in a little bit on your own emotional roller coaster (not to torture them, but so they'll at least be able to understand why you're on edge)?

Right now, my best coping mechanism could generously be called "comfort" and critically be called "junk": Kettle Chips, coffee shop treats, and Burgerville drivethrough. I've been saving that good dinner (flat iron steaks, roasted cauliflower, mashed potatoes) for three days now... I think it's time to start cooking. I think my heart is telling me I should stick to a schedule and let the schedule-afflicted partner join in if he or she can... but that's a hard thing for this mama to do. What do you think?

Laying on the Mother Guilt

October 04, 2010

I am going solo tonight, which is not an unusual occurrence.  What it means is that I get very short with the kids: mildly scolding, maybe yelling at them to finish their dinner, do homework, tidy lunch bags, brush their teeth, get into bed.  Without fail, there are special requests: can you lie down with me? can you get me my bag that I left outside? can you help me with this (when they full well can do it on their own)?  When I reach my point of saturation, I explode.

"Can you just do it on your own so I can go and have my dinner in peace?  I have been going nonstop since we stepped foot in the door, making your dinner, asking you to put away your clothes, helping you get your homework done, doing chores.  You need to go to bed now, so that I can eat dinner in quiet."

Continue reading "Laying on the Mother Guilt" »

Clothing Optional: even when friends are over?

September 24, 2010

Growing up, my parents, my religion, and my culture taught me to be ever-conscious about my body.  There were so many constraints to my dress, so many restrictions on what was appropriate, so many opportunities to feel bad for being exposed.  Our household is very liberal about the kids and whether they want to be fully clothed.  We, the adults, are no different here.  We're clothing-lite.  I often sleep unclothed.  I wake up and greet the kids "good morning" even before I get dressed.  The other week, a friend spent the night, and I tucked the kids in with no pants on.  I don't often walk around topless, but I very often walk around pant-less.  For some reason, it only recently occurred to me: Should I be more modest when other kids are over?  Should I have a top and bottom on?  Should I close the door when I potty (as this is another thing we are all very liberal about in this household)?

"perfect parents": what are their best features?

September 21, 2010

We all know that parents are not perfect.  I really do strive to parent to the best of my ability, but there are times I do yell and scream, and sometimes I do the grip and shake.  This weekend, there was another family visiting with us, and I admire them so much.  These two parents are each working full-time, each in their own separate careers in social justice and nonprofit work.  They are passionate about their work.  Add to that, they have three children, one of whom shares a home with his other parent.  Add to that still, they have an immense social network, and they are found almost any given night canvassing the community, facilitating community conversations, outreaching in parts of the city where information is least likely to touch, phone-banking.  It amazes me to track them each on Facebook and hear about the issues, groups, and causes they actively support.  I am so thankful for this couple - despite being parents with three children aged 2 to 10- they are able to support one another in their various endeavors to allow them to be such meaningful, vital members of our Portland community at large.

I know there are no "perfect parents", but there are parents out there that we admire, respect, and want to embody, all to the fullest.  We all have our own priorities and will admire, respect, and want to embody different qualities in other parents.  In the bath this morning, I thought to myself, what do I respect most in other parents?  What qualities would I love to embody as a parent?

The physicality of angst: Children and phantom ailments

August 09, 2010

Over a period of a few weeks this May, Everett kept insisting his legs were full of pain alternating between dull and shooting. It had started a day or two after the time on the playground in which he'd gotten into a conflict with some older kids. As far as I can figure out, he was the victim, and a righteous one, too; he'd been protecting another, littler child, and ended up with a nasty scrape and bruise on his knee. I expressed what I thought was appropriate solicitation and pride; for once, he seemed to have handled a really unfair situation without retaliating with fury.

But now, it was weeks later, and he'd run up and down stairs and then protest in screaming pain when I tried to get him to ride his bike, or walk somewhere with me. Even riding on the back of my bike, he said, was too much. Finally I made an appointment for the next afternoon at the doctor's office, worried that there was some real ailment -- a bone marrow problem, maybe? -- I wasn't giving its due.

The day of the appointment, he couldn't get going to school; if he was to stay home, I told him, he'd have to ride his own bike on a series of errands I'd planned. By appointment time, we were on mile #11 and he was fine. As I've gone through a lot with Everett, who's now eight, and his outsized reactions to the sort of things many children would find only mildly upsetting, I only added it to my mental portrait of his challenges and let it be.

Then, this weekend, we got a question from a mama we know. Her younger son struggled with a potentially fatal illness when he was a toddler, and recently gave his family another confidence-shaking scare, until test results came back, indicating that he was indeed fine. The whole family had talked about their fears together, but it was very stressful. Now, she's worried about her older child.

My nine-year-old son has recently started seriously overreacting when he gets hurt. I have taken him to the ER twice recently thinking if he's screaming so badly perhaps he does have broken fingers or dislocated shoulder (two separate incidents). Nothing is ever diagnosed. He's always fine and the trauma is completely over two hours later. These type of incidents have been increasing lately.

I am wondering if his overreacting might be a result from the stress at home over the last few weeks. I am also wondering if he's trying desperately to get more attention from me even though this summer we have been spending most days together and I am available, physically, emotionally. I am here for him.

My question for other mamas is, is this something I should seek professional advice for; should I look into a few sessions with a child therapist? Or, will he just grow out of this? Could it just be a phase?

Away from babe: when was the first time?

August 02, 2010

The email that came from the baby daddy read: "has no ever taken a ten-month old away from his/her mom for 48 hours?"  He was responding to my resistance to agreeing to let him take our babe away for the weekend when he goes solo to see his family.

Here's a secret: I don't think I can do it.  With the two that came before, it was 2.5 years before I had a night away from them.  And, the first night away coincided with the weaning effort both times.  This definitely will not be a weaning effort, only a time away from mama, one-on-one time with dad.  But, I don't know.  I don't want to.  Maybe I am clinging too much to my babe, not wanting to be apart for two days.  Not to mention: how am I supposed to make enough milk for the 48-hour separation?  They would leave at 10pm on Friday and I have just a few days to pump!

I would love to hear stories about your first nights away from your babes.  When?  How old?  How long?  How did you fare?

The Family Calendar: How do you keep it all straight?

March 31, 2010

One Saturday morning last summer, I hurried the family to get ready for a birthday party.  The celebrant was a friend / classmate of one of my girls.  My daughter was so excited: there would be a clown!  It was a 10am start time, I do recall.  So, I was diligent about getting my Saturday morning chores out of the way in quick order so she could be at the party on time.  We knocked on the door - my husband, my two daughters, and I - and waited.  It was a protracted pause.

The celebrant - along with her mother and her father - opened up the door.  They were in their pajamas.  The house smelled of pancakes.  The girl had those big stuffed animal slippers on.

"Oh no!" said the mother.  "The party is next week!"

They offered niceties and even welcomed us in.  The welcomed us into their home, into their Saturday morning private time in pajamas!  I mumbled apology after apology.  In the steps leaving the house, I fought to hold back tears.  I felt so dejected, so inept, so disorganized, and so discombobulated.  My husband and my girls couldn't understand how I could have messed up the day.

Well, they probably couldn't understand because they actually have little to do with keeping our family calendar up-to-date and accounted for.  In our two working-parent household with two children who have varied social needs, not to mention varied academic needs, it is so hard to keep it all straight.  When are lunch order forms due?  When are books due at the library?  When are parent-teacher conferences?  When are NO SCHOOL days and where will the kids be?  And HOW much will it cost?   And, why are kid 1's NO SCHOOL days never the same as kid 2's NO SCHOOL days?  And, when do we have time for the doctor or dentist?  And, who will be taking time off work to take him/her to the doctor/dentist?  And, which kid has a birthday party when?  And when/what/where will we get for a gift?  And who has a late meeting on what day?  And - wait a minute - we BOTH have a late meeting on THAT day?  Then, what happens to the kids?

For certain, our family schedule is complicated by the fact that each parent works outside the home, late hours, and has some element of travel.  However, I just heard from another mama friend - a stay at home mama - who lamented that her daughter missed two birthday parties recently because she botched up the calendar and completely forgot about them due to other activites.  I do believe that calendaring complications can straddle mamas in different situations.

We have a paper calendar on the fridge, we have a dry-erase calendar where we write in all the highlights of the week, and we (my husband and I) have our respective outlook calendars that include our work schedules.  Still, it is ever so complicated and there are things that slip through the cracks.

How do you keep it all straight?  What is your no-fail method?  How do you keep the scheduling organized and everyone appraised of what is happening when?

Self-directed play and siblings

March 09, 2010

I was alone for several hours yesterday at home with Monroe, who's two-and-a-half, and contemplating my plans for next year in the backdrop of a book I have been reading, the fascinating and inspiriting Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes. Truman was out on an errand with daddy and I was finding it impossible (as usual) to do any writing. Monroe, needing attention in the absence of his brotherly playmate, wanted to sit on my lap and punch keys on my keyboard. My choices: give him the iPod touch with its monkey games, put on a TV show, or do something with him.

I've made it my personal mission not to use screen time unless I'm truly desperate, and I wasn't, so we went outside and planted more peas and some lettuce and kohlrabi. He dug in the dirt and helped me sprinkle kelp meal until he got bored of it and decided it was time to go for a walk. As close to traffic as possible. Inside again then! I spent the rest of my "free" time making us a snack, wondering, how will I ever manage to entertain this child and get just a little bit of writing in each day, next year with Truman in kindergarten? And the next? Truman has always been the sort of child who can play by himself for hours, without heading for the street, and this littlest man in our family is demanding enormous levels of interaction.

Enter the radical homemakers, those who, according to Hayes, "are pursuing homemaking as a vocation for saving family, community, and the planet." I'd just been in the part in Chapter Five where Hayes describes the way these radical homemakers "redefine wealth and poverty," in her section beginning, "Child care is not a fixed cost." In other words, how can you redefine the way your home economy works so that you do not need to pay another person to care for your child? I was tracking -- this is exactly what I've tried to do with my own family, freelance writing from home when it became clear that, more than anything else, my kids needed me, a lot. One of her interviewees had her daughter in day care for a while and she says, "I noticed that in day care, what she learned was to be entertained. Out of day care, she had boredom. And when she had boredom, she got creative and she thought of things to do, and went outside and climbed the tree..." In contrast, all the activities and scheduling at day care had her wired on the expectation that someone else was supposed to give her that play structure she needed. "I don't think that's necessarily a good thing," the mother concludes.

This gives me hope: it occurred to me that the expectation of a sibling to play with could be a balm that, once it was less of a sure thing, Monroe could learn to work around. I'd love to hear stories from those of you who aspire to a simple and less structured life: once all the older siblings were in school, did your youngest adapt to life just with you -- and let you get a little bit of time to focus on whatever else you and your household needed?

Expecting Baby: A gift from big brother or sister?

March 02, 2010

When a child is to expect a new baby in the family, it can be a very transitional experience.  There are many ways that we, their parents, can help the older siblings welcome new baby into the world, perhaps by helping the elders to make a gift for baby?  An urbanMama recently emailed:

Wondering if any mama's out there came up with any creative genius ideas for gifts for a second or third baby from an older sibling.  Did any of your kids help you make/find/create a gift for the new baby as one more way to process and bond with the idea.   Could be a tactile crafty project, or any combination of smaller projects or any other for that matter.  We do a lot of talking about it, coloring in our "new baby coming" coloring book, other activities like this.  But I was thinking it would be nice if my son had some actual physical item (particularly if he feels some satisfaction from making it himself) to make for the baby, give the baby, and even wrap up for the baby while we are at the birth center.  I am due in late June so it could also be a seasonal related gift, but not necessary. 

Morning time: How long does getting ready take?

February 26, 2010

After a week of actually having to get all three boys together and out the door in the morning (Everett's been going to school via bus for the past two-and-a-half years, and I've been working, more or less, at home), I've finally grudgingly acknowledged the truth of the matter: for me, it's a whole hour between the moment I get out of bed and the moment we're on the bikes in the driveway (or sidewalk, if we're walking or taking Trimet). I thought back to the old days when I used to work in an office, and only had Everett to get ready, and sure enough: it was the exact same truth. Doesn't matter how bad the weather is, what sort of conveyance we're planning, what I make for breakfast (or if we decide to stop for a treat on the way), if I try to pack getting ready into anything less than an hour, I end up stressed, pushing boys past their limits, and inevitably, 10 or 15 minutes late.

So today, we were a few minutes early to school! What a pleasure. As I coasted down the hill toward home, feeling satisfied, I reminded myself how pushing my snooze button is only making my job as a mama way, way harder. So, I wondered, how about the rest of you? What's your morning truth? Is it an hour for you, more or less, or do you have some amazing skills (or extra needs) that make your mornings special-in-your-own-way? What throws you off? What gets you streamlined?

The oldest child: Too much responsibility?

February 06, 2010

My heart hurts, and my stomach: a few minutes ago, I yelled at Everett. He's seven-and-a-half, and as his dad has been away for the past two weeks doing Army duty -- he'll be away again later this month, and then, in May, he'll be mobilized to serve in Iraq for more than a year -- I'm asking the oldest boy to be far more responsible than I probably should. I know how this goes; I, too, am the oldest child of a large family, and distinctly remember feeling so infused with the responsibility of my first-born role, before I even started kindergarten I'd have nightmares in which I was the only one who could save my whole family from a house fire, an out-of-control car.

I'd been struggling with Monroe, who had dumped a quarter-cup of vanilla into the cookies, and was wailing when I wouldn't let him swipe enormous finger-fulls of butter, maple syrup, and oh, that vanilla. He was holding his arm and crying, "owe, owe, OWE!" -- I'd "hurt" him by holding his arm back from the bowl after five illicit tastes. Everett could help, I knew it: he's great with his little brother and I often look to him to fill in with patience when I've lost it.

But Everett was deep in a farm game on the iPod, and wasn't having any of this man-of-the-house baloney. I ordered him off, or else; he ran upstairs in tears. There I was: spreading my ill-patience around to the rest of the family instead of healing it. I took my breaths, set Monroe in front of the left-behind iPod, and went to apologize. But, honestly, my apology wasn't that great. I had to tell him, look, kid: when I am losing my temper and need your help, there's no one else. You have to be my go-to guy. For years.

While I work on controlling my temper, I also have this weighty question hanging heavy in the air like the scent of caramelizing vanilla: how do I temper the duty burden I'm sure to be yoking on Everett's shoulders for years to come? Where do I strike the balance between the trust and reliability I know he's earned, on one hand; and his very real needs for emotional development on the other? Have others here juggled this, whether because of being a single parent, or having a partner who frequently travels, or works very long hours? I'd love to hear your stories.

[And oh yes: the cookies turned out great. Way too much vanilla was just right.]

Co-sleeping: when the bed gets too snug

February 03, 2010

This email comes in at the very moment my husband is trolling craigslist and online furniture stores, considering upgrading our queen-sized bed to a king-sized one.  Many mornings, there are four bodies in the bed: myself, my husband, our six-year old, and our four-month old.  It is a super-cozy situation, but it just may be too snug.

An urbanMama recently emailed, thinking proactively, about how her bed may also soon be occupiedBoys_in_bed
by four bodies.  Both she & I would love to hear your thoughts:

I have a 3 1/2 year old that we recently transitioned (mostly) to her own bed.  She starts the night in her bed and comes into our bed at some point in the night - sometimes before midnight, other times not until it's nearly time to rise and shine.  We don't consider this a problem - we've never been fans of forced solo-sleeping.  The issue is I'm pregnant with #2.  We'd like to co-sleep with the second child, but are concerned about our daughter coming into the bed and it being too crowded or her rolling over onto the new baby.  I'd love to know how other co-sleeping families have dealt with this.  Do we have to make a choice between the two?  Are there other, more creative ways to continue to co-sleep as our family grows?

Talking to young children about a painfully estranged relative

January 20, 2010

Many of us have in-laws, step-parents or aunts and uncles with whom we never wish to speak again. A lot of this never needs to be discussed with our children until they are much older. But sometimes, the relationship is so close and seems that it should be such a normal part of your children's life story that it continues to surface -- even though your children are too young and the subject still too raw for you to address it evenly. What do you do? A. asks:

I have been estranged from my father for just over 10 years. He sexually abused me when I was a child, and needless to say I don't want to have him in my or my children's lives. What I really could use, is some advice on how to approach the subject of my father with my children. Tonight my daughter (who is 4 1/2) asked my who my daddy is.

That sent me into a panic. I stammered, he was a daddy, and promptly changed the subject. I don't want to say something like "he wasn't very nice to me so I don't talk to him anymore" because I worry that my daughter will make a connection that if she's ever not very nice to me than I may not talk to her anymore.

Any thoughts you wise mamas have would be very much appreciated, for both short term (what do I say now about my dad in my past/present, and why there's only grandma on Mommy's side and no grandpa) and long term ideas (like should I actually tell my kids the details one day? How old should they be? when they are young adults themselves??)

Mamas with only one child, but not by choice?

January 05, 2010

There are mamas and papas among us who have chosen to have just one child.  On the other hand, there are mamas and papas among us who have just one child, and not by choice.  Have you shared this experience?

I'm hoping you can help me connect with local mamas who are mamas to only children but not by choice.  I am very blessed & grateful to have a healthy son - but my husband does not want any more children. It took us awhile to conceive our son and I am so THANKFUL to have a healthy child - but I am in difficult place when it comes to not being able to even try to conceive another child. I don't want to be resentful - would like to connect with others who are or have experienced this.

Gifted toys from... uncles

December 29, 2009

Yesterday, a Twitter friend was kvetching about the Christmas gift given by her brother to her young boys: a Leapster video game "made and marketed by Satan's helpers." I could relate, as my brothers-in-law (both sides of the family) have made themselves famous in the house for their extremely loud, blinking-lights, electronic gifts, often given with the best of intentions: they're marketed as "educational" toys, after all. There was the Barney monstrosity with the alphabet buttons and the voice I couldn't even recognize, except that it was enough to drive me out of my head. There was the toy I like to think of as "baby's first TV," a little scrolling translucent screen with 80s-style plastic doodads that prompted different "soundtracks," targeted at one-year-olds (really, toy companies?).  There was the Transformers helmet found at the bins that changed everyone's voice into an Autobot's voice, loudly (not educational, but surely delightful for boys).

This year, it's the Nerf guns, everyone's favorite toy, right? I watch my two-year-old walk upstairs with a gun on his shoulder, looking for all the world like Matt Damon's character in a movie with lots and lots of shooting. Except littler, and barefoot.

I've slowly banished most of the loud toys from the house, but sometimes you just have to let a kid play with the dearly beloved terror. And there is no shortage of over-priced, enormous, loud toys, the manufacture of which must have the carbon footprint of a cross-country drive in an SUV, the marketing of which is surely delight at "spending time together" as you watch your child "learn" by pushing buttons and listening to the resulting cacaphony. Toy companies make a lot of money from aunts, uncles, and a goodly portion of parents who have bought the marketing pitch hook, line and C batteries. I think the best approach is education: not of our kids, but of other adults out there who are paying for the stuff in the first place. So tell me: how can we spread the word that the best education is a puzzle, a book, a crayon, a pebble, a ball, a stick (even if it's in the shape of a gun) and some quiet(ish) face time with your son, daughter, niece, nephew, granddaughter, godson? The sound of the toy companies' marketing is deafening.

Family holiday celebrations on Think Out Loud

December 24, 2009

It's not Norman Rockwell any more, says the blog post introducing today's local radio hour, Think Out Loud. "In 2008 half as many people got divorced as got married in Oregon — leaving many children switching from mom's house to dad's at some point during their celebration. It means some families welcome their ex's new partner to dinner. It means family, and family scheduling, gets more complicated," it goes on.

Today's show is particularly appropriate for many of us, and dovetails nicely with some of our recent discussions. Topics of conversation included balancing Judaism and Christianity; relationships between adoptive parents and a birth family; Christmas for separated parents and divorced parents; and forging new traditions in non-traditional families. Comments from regular urbanMama contributor nopomama were included in the discussion, and single mama Jennie 7 joined the conversation with some thoughts on negotiating the holidays after her recent divorce.

"When does something you do, become a tradition?" asked the host, and this is sort of obvious (when you do it more than once, probably) but it's a nice way to open the conversation about our own traditions, new and old. What conventional and unconventional customs are your family, Rockwellian or no, doing this year? What would you like to do?

[Think Out Loud's "Family Time" show repeats tonight at 9 p.m. on OPB, 91.5 FM]

Christmas for mamas and papas

December 23, 2009

With a super-tight budget and plenty of holiday stress, I often leave the decision about what to get for daddy until the very last minute, and I've thus far been terrible about insisting the kids come up with gifts for their parents. I realize that, last year, my husband and I really didn't get each other anything. Now it's two days before Christmas, and though I really want to buy him the gift I know he needs: a new (to him) commuter bike, I really don't have the room in my budget. As I troll craigslist, beg for help on Twitter, and wheel and deal, I wonder: have your gifts for the other parent in your life fallen by the wayside since you had children? Who do you spend more money (or time) on? How about you? Do your children and partner get you plenty of gifts for Christmas, or do you end up watching your kids open their presents with a bittersweet mix of happiness (for them) and nostalgia (for the time when you had more to expect on Christmas morning)?

Seeking Recommendations for Divorce Attorney

December 17, 2009

We have before talked about how to approach separation while still remaining engaged co-parents.  We have yet to seek your recommendations for a divorce attorney, however.  An urbanMama recently emails:

I am in need of finding a really good divorce attorney.  I tried to settle this nicely, but my ex is threatening me financially and emotionally, therefore I feel like I need solid representation.  I know this community is an invaluable resource and I'm hoping on finding information from others who have gone through this experience and if anything can recommend a helpful and strong attorney.

Meeting Mr. Right, who is not Dad

November 24, 2009

Introducing a new parent figure into a child's life is a big step that many of us has been through.  An urbanMama recently emailed, seeking your experience and perspective:

I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter.  I have been separated from her father since she was 15 months old. Since that time he has had NO interaction or contact with his daughter. We have no legal statements of custody (legally, I believe this means that we have joint custody. All of his parental rights are intact.) He has had NO visitation, pays NO child support. He and I do not even speak; not because we are uncivil but because when we separated we separated completely. 

I have recently met the man whom I believe I am going to marry. We have talked about him adopting my daughter.  Does anyone know anything about the adoption requirements in the state of Oregon? I am assuming that my daughter's father will have to sign adoption papers if we wish for my current boyfriend to legally adopt my daughter.

More importantly, has anyone had experience with integrating a father figure into a young child's life? My daughter has never known a father, although she has recently begun to ask things like "Where's my dad?" and "Why don't I have a dad?" as she has started to interact with friends who have both a mother and a father.  I'd love to hear anyone's story, advice, opinion, etc about introducing a father figure into her life at this age.  I have no intention of expecting her to call this new person "Dad".  He and I both feel that if that day comes, wonderful but that is something we will let her come to on her own terms. But how do you EXPLAIN the role of father if and when she asks if this person is her dad?  I believe in being honest and fair with her. I'd like to be able to answer her questions as honestly and as safely, in terms of her development, as I can. I know I don't have all the answers. So, I'd love any support or advice anyone has to share. Book recommendations are always appreciated! :-)

Temper, temper: Defusing the worst of the twos

August 11, 2009

It is a hard-fought title, but Monroe wins. At age two, he's clearly risen above the bar previously set quite high by his now-seven-year-old brother, Everett. Oh, I have seen bad temper tantrums. But never quite like this.

Twenty minutes ago, his dad and big brother drove off in great-great-uncle's car to help the in-laws move. He wanted to go with them, and the answer was a non-negotiable "no." In a few seconds he went from the happiest smiliest toddler in the back seat of a car (where he'd hopefully climbed to hang out with his most beloved big brother) to a screaming, kicking, destructive ball of mad. Before I could grab him, he tore up a couple of handfuls of clover (thankfully, easier to pull than the pumpkin and watermelon vines a few inches away). He screamed. He stomped on the strawberry plants. He looked at me. "NO, NO, NOOOOOO!" was all he could say.

I have a strategy now, which is mostly to talk calmly with him (not that he can hear anything I say over his screams) and, as gently as possible, hold his arms against his body so he can't hit me (he's hurt me plenty of times) or grab anything to throw in anger. It's hard to hold a screaming child for that long, and it's also hard to watch the stares of passers-by, so I brought him inside after five minutes. Distracting him doesn't work. Sometimes, I can get him to nurse away the mads: not this time. I brought him in and he wiggled away from me, to scream and kick for the next 15 minutes on the floor between the couch and the wall. I tried a favorite toy. I tried to offer him a pillow. No dice.

I went to my computer to wait it out, when the friend who helps with our yard came in. "I can't work with all this screaming!" he said. "Can I try?" "Good luck," I said resignedly. I'd tried everything I could imagine.

Monroe calmed down almost immediately, tearfully going outside to walk around the block with Matt. I guess it was just me to whom he was responding with such frantic anger. But... I won't always have another adult to intervene. Prevention is great, but today (and many times, I'm sure, in the future) I had no idea the temptation of a car would intersect with his big-brother-and-calming-influence leaving. When you're faced with unavoidable tantrum-stimulating situations, how do you disconnect the child from his anger? How do you cope? How do you get other children to stay out of the fray? (Truman always picks these times to decide he's "frustrated" with Monroe's proximity to the wall, or something.) And long-term strategies would be nice, too: how do you teach a two-year-old barely verbal child to calm himself when his anger carries him away?

What Would You Have Done? Child Rides in Mama's Lap

July 09, 2009

I don't think any of my kids were fond of the car seat in the early stages of life. One of our readers recently had a falling out with a family member over letting a her child ride on her lap.  She wants your advice and writes:

I know that many of us mamas have found ourselves in a situation where our child is inconsolably upset in the car seat, screaming, crying, kicking and even to the point of puking at times.  Just writing about it and remembering my first child’s sheer hatred of the car seat makes my skin crawl.  Despite those tortuous feelings, I never considered removing my son from his seat while the car was moving.  Recently I had relatives visiting and to my shock and horror, when their one year old son became upset, his Mom simply unbuckled him and seated him on her lap.  I found myself in a moral dilemma about whether to speak out about what I saw as an extremely unsafe choice, knowing it could have huge implications for our relationship, or just ignore it.  In the end I tried to gently inquire about my safety concern and it unleashed a fury of emotion, resulting in an abrupt end to the visit and a huge rift in our relationship.  After all that I’m not convinced that my speaking out will have any impact on their future car seat decisions and we’re no longer on speaking terms because of it.  Was it worth it?  I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure.  What would you have done?