Bad Words: a parenting strategy

I often think it’s funny that I write about parenting, because I am not a stellar parent. I make mistakes and my kids will tell you I am often inconsistent, sometimes unfair, I can err on the side of controlling (which is usually my response to anxiety) and there have probably been many times when they have wished they had a different mother, even if only for a day!

But there is one aspect of parenting that I think I got right; something happened this morning that reminded me of it… and it made me smile.

We live next door to a kindergarten. My son was a kindy kid there and I have always loved that I could watch him play through my kitchen window. Now that he is a big Year 5 kid, I still sometimes remember his little self as I see all those little kids during their playtime. They’re adorable. And sometimes, they are challenging little so-and-so’s… just like him.

Today, there is a spirited little girl next door. She charged out into the playground that borders our house and began her reign of terror among her playmates, running through the sandpit, kicking all the buckets, making merry mayhem.

“SHUTUP!” she bellowed at the first person who spoke to her. Immediately, a teacher approached, crouched down and said gently
“We don’t say that word here.”

I could see her sizing up her teacher as if to say, ‘good for you. But we is not me‘.  At her full tiny height that little girl retorted, right into her teacher’s face,
“SHUT!
UUUUP!”  
The teacher sighed and said more firmly, “that’s a bad word. We don’t use it here.”

Five more times the girl yelled the word, every time anyone said anything to her. Eventually the teacher said, tight-lipped and in a that’s the end of that, tone,
“You. cannot. use. that. word. at. our. kindy.”
The girl gulped. Turned and ran off to the corner of the playground, where she encountered another little person.

“THUCK!” she screamed in his face, and grinned. He registered that whatever that word was, it was pretty impressive. He gathered in all his breath and tried it out for himself,
“thUCK! thuck!  THUCK THUCK THUCK!”

My phone rang, so I left my window and answered it.  I don’t know how the ‘bad word episode’ finished. But I can imagine her poor Mum will get a call tonight.  Toddlers, just beginning to acquire language, love trying out new words. They love the sound of them, the power of them. And when particular words are used by adults with total conviction, they notice them immediately. They hear them on the TV, in their kitchen, when their parents are fighting, or from older friends and siblings. You cannot avoid little kids hearing swear words, it will happen.  And it is natural for them to want to try those potent suckers out.

Once, when my girl was a sweet little pigtailed toddler, one of her favourite toys broke. She took it to her Daddy, (a.k.a the-Fixer-Upper) and he asked,
“What is wrong with it?”
she replied confidently,
“-it’s fucked”.
We were floored. Ashamed, horrified.

When I had regained some composure I sat down with her and told her that she hadn’t done anything wrong, but I needed to tell her that there are some words that are only for grown ups. That word “fucked” is a word she can only choose to use when she’s as big as Mummy and Daddy, but until then, she could say “stuffed” or “munted” or simply “broken”.  She wanted to know why she could only choose that word when she is bigger and I told her that when she was bigger and her brain knew more stuff, she would know when it was okay to say that word. It’s a tricky word, because sometimes, when you say it, people get very upset.  I didn’t call it a “bad word” because I honestly believe there are no such things as bad words, just different words for expressing different things. The definition of the word may be negative, but the word itself is not.  In our house, we call swear words grown-up words.

Of course, every kid is different, so our approach with the little man was appropriate for him, but the message was the same. He was older, and when we had the discussion about those words with him, he wanted to know all the words that we considered to be grown up words. We told him. And very occasionally, in the car, I let them both have a go at saying one or two of those words. They say them at least ten times, they laugh them, they shout them, they whisper them. I explain what their chosen word means, which is usually accompanied with shock. And then, we agree that they won’t use that word in public until they are grown ups, and then, only if it is the best choice.  Let’s face it, sometimes it will be.

I’ll never forget the universal power of the expression “fuck off”. I used it when I was a young woman being harassed by a stranger in Germany. I said it to him with anger, with all the intimidation I could muster. I don’t even know if he spoke English, but he fucked off!  A win for choice language.

Being reasonable with the kids about swear words has taken away the mystique. Explaining why it’s not okay to use them, and letting them try them out in a controlled environment worked a treat for us. Occasionally, there are things that need further explaining, like why it’s offensive to use the name of a religion’s God as a term for exasperation. But so far, so good. It’s a parenting win I’m happy to lay claim to… (so far, here come the teenage years so we’ll see how that goes, haha)!

I just thought I would write about it in case there are any of you with little ones who are about to launch into word experimentation. It might work for you, too.
But right now, I’m going to walk around my house and quietly list all the things in my life that are thucked, all the things that are not, and feel grateful that I get to mother these funny creatures.  I hope when the mother of the little girl next door gets that phone call tonight about her daughter’s playground vernacular, she is able to put it all into perspective. I like a kid with a bit of chutzpah.  You can teach a kid many things, but you can’t teach a kid to have spirit. I predict a future in communications for that one, she’ll go far.

 

Constance Hall and the F Bombs

Being REAL in a world full of curated gorgeousness is so needed.  We are all so desperate for a breath of fresh air!

'A Queen is a woman who just wants to love other women and not do that bitchy thing that so many of us do,' says Constance Hall.
‘A Queen is a woman who just wants to love other women and not do that bitchy thing that so many of us do,’ says Constance Hall.  (photo source abc.net.au)

 

Constance Hall is refreshingly real. She’s the actual ‘Bad Mom’ (have you seen that movie?  I hated it, but I got what they were trying to say… it’s time to let go of the ridiculousness between women that exists in mama-land).  She’s a skate-in-sideways chick. An Australian sensation, mother of 4 and insanely popular mummy blogger. And she has just released a book. It’s about her, about mothering four kids. It’s a no-holds-barred look at relationships and life after babies.

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Today I went to her book release Q & A session hosted by The Women’s Collective and the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. I knew she would be irreverant, I knew there would be some shock-factor stuff, because that is her trade. I knew there would be challenging statements, because she is the Constance Hall of the recent social media cyclone over the ditch (a fellow mummy blogger let rip about Con’s manner of mothering and Con retaliated. It sparked a ‘mum war’ on the internet). I stayed well clear of it because I hate the nastier side of social media. It makes me so sad.  But I was curious about this raw kind of mother. The tell-all kind of mum. It bucks the trend alright, I wanted to see if she was just a sensationalist, or if there was something deeper driving her work.

Me and my fellow Queens this morning, Trudy and Pascale.
Me and my fellow Queens this morning, Trudy and Pascale.  Yep, I am a Big Bird, and no, I am no longer going to stoop to try to be more diminutive than I am!  #tallgirlsproblems

I was fascinated. Con (we’re at nickname status already cos that is how she rolls) blew onto the stage like a kind of mini tornado. Her hair was frizzy in a way I recognise from my own morning mirror, but on top of it she was wearing a crown of flowers and jewels. She’s tiny in stature and massive in presence. You could say she kind of exploded onto the podium like a freak weather bomb; blowing in out of nowhere and taking off the roof.  Within two minutes she had reassured us that she was wearing undies, unlike the other four days she’d been in New Zealand, because she’d be catching a plane later and she needed somewhere to hide her wee. Her humour is as raw as she is and the whole way through her talk, f-bombs exploded like colourful fireworks, punctating her florid discussion. She’s kind of like what would happen if you could cross Frida Kahlo with Reese Witherspoon and Whoopi Goldberg. Kapow!

I loved her. I think everyone in the room did. I loved that she said out loud some of my hidden, inner thoughts. I even loved all the f-bombs, because they made us laugh. I dated a comedian in my younger years, he always said that people laugh at what they relate to, especially when it is rude. And because every human being can relate to toileting, sex and death, regardless of their individual circumstances, most comedy covers these subjects. It’s just funny for us to see our not-talked-about experiences mirrored by others. It makes us feel more normal. Apart from wees and poos, Con’s Q & A covered: marital sexy time, break-ups, behaviour management (of kids and husbands), dealing with a history of abuse, death of children and grandparents, suicide, wine, why it’s best not to fight in front of kids, the age-old working mum vs. stay at home mum debate, the importance of support, multiple birth mothering, dyslexia, The Sisterhood, dealing with judgmental people and the importance of connection.

I can’t wait to read her book; Like a Queen. She’s just adorable. She makes the very hard job of mothering feel so much more achievable. She makes us feel like we’re doing a great job. Like everyone has days when it goes to custard. I think we forget that, in our intensity around getting it right.  We forget to cut ourselves some slack occasionally. We forget that having a loving mother is much more important than any other type of benefit we can achieve for our kids.  That having a loving mother is more than many kids have.

There were tears today from we women in that packed out auditorium. Tears of recognition and relief.  I’ve come a long way since the early days of parenthood and my babies are much older than most of the little ones at the venue today, but the message was as relevant to me as for the new mums there.
Take a deep breath. Do you love your kids? Do they know it? Love wins, every time. And you know what? Extending a bit of that love in your own direction is a brilliant idea too from time to time. Might just stop you from losing your mother-f#$%ing mind!

This afternoon, I’m going to assess the impact of Cyclone Con. I reckon she demolished a few of the ideas in my head that were damaging my peace of mind. I am grateful. Who needs perfectionism anyway? All it has ever done for me is give me reasons to feel like a failure.  Good to see that particular idea hitting the dirt. And what  purpose comparison? See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya. And that ol’ flower, success? It’s moved into a new neighbourhood. Into the love camp. Over there I am already a raging success and that matters more than anything else.  I’m going to make like Queen Con, and take heart that my heart is the most important part of mothering.

Open your windows, let the winds of change blow out some of your cobwebby corners, too. It’s liberating!

If you’re keen, you can buy Like a Queen, here: www.likeaqueen.com.au

Sitting Out Swimming Sports

I stood at the checkout with my son’s warm hand in mine. I could see, over at the next checkout, another mother from our school. Her son was with her, too. We didn’t talk, but there was a wry grin exhanged between us.  We both knew why our boys weren’t at school.

Today is the Swimming Sports Carnival.

I phoned in his absence this morning, mumbling something about his ears. I took him to the doctor soon after, she looked in each of his ears, hmmming and adjusting the ottoscope before confirming what I already know. His ears are fine.

I remember one of these days a few years ago. My mildly dyspraxic girl, still grappling with learning to swim, was standing terrified beside a six foot deep pool. It was competition day. She was crying and begging to be let off. The teachers responded with grim determination. The bank of stopwatch officials waited with barely disguised impatience. The whole swimming complex seemed to sigh with frustration. I was not allowed to go to her, poolside, to help calm her down. The whole school waited until she eventually got in the pool. An older girl was already in the water with a pool noodle, waiting to tow her the length of the lane. What is the purpose of this kind of showy display of ‘you WILL do it, even though you can’t do it?’ Who does it serve?  Near the finish line, myself and some of the sympathetic parents around, erupted into applause. And my beautiful daughter emerged from the water, dripping with shame.  She smiled a wobbly smile at me and slunk back to join her class on the bleachers. I went out behind the swimming pool complex and cried for her. It was an awful experience.

This picture is from last year, when she was delightfully astonished to place first in her heat.  One day, I might see a similar smile on my son’s face, when he swims well enough to enjoy competing. But this year, he and his perfectly fine ears are sitting out the indignity of race day.

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It has always baffled me why P.E teachers are so hot on participation. Why joining a competition even if you are not competitive is such a religion to them. My kids are both involved in sports, both are involved in their schools’ wider culture. I entirely endorse the idea of being there to support your classmates, your school house, your peers. And this is why it bothers me so much.  I have spent too much wasted time on the phone talking to the PE staff at school about this. Going around in circles. Banging my head against a brick wall.

The compulsory nature of Swimming and Athletic sports days (and the dreaded Cross Country) means that you are effectively forced to stay away if you are not going to participate. Or lie about an injury or illness that prevents you from swimming or running. It’s madness. To me, that is teaching kids something far worse than not racing. It’s saying that if you are not like those people who enjoy competition, you should hide, you should make excuses.  It’s saying that you should suffer for a day because you are not like them. Suffer in competition, or suffer in silence at home. It’s saying that your voice of encouragement and cheering from the sidelines is only valuable if you have also competed. It’s bollocks.

We are not all the same. I would never dream of asking my kids to compete in showjumping horses until they are competent in the saddle. I would never expect a dyslexic child to enter a spelling bee, or drop someone with agoraphobia in the middle of the desert. I think there is a cruelty to the one-size-fits-all environment of our Education System in relation to PE. And I think it needs to change.

So today, we are sitting out the Swimming Sports in silent protest.  I feel resolute. I know I am not the only mama out there feeling this way today. I sit here in solidarity with all of them. With you, if you have ever felt the frustration I feel.

Here’s to the others. The non-competitors, the slower starters, the ones who always bring up the rear, to the ones whose genius is not defined by physical test of speed; whose gentle souls are built for fairer things.  They are not failures for not being sporty, they should not feel ashamed. Sporting prowess is simply one kind of genius. Take it away Mister Einstein.

fishtree

 

 

 

Motherload

 

It’s equal parts love and loss, hope and fear, exasperation and care.

It’s heavy, this load mothers carry.

At first, it’s a gently moving tiny thing in your belly. A flutter of foetal fondness, the quiet beginnings of a whole new world. There might be a portent of things to come, as you grip the toilet bowl and heave into it. Maybe at some soul level it is a recognition, and the shock of it makes you suddenly sick. There might be an inkling that things are going to change in a big way as you find yourself asleep on the sofa before dinner, too tired to manage adult conversation. Your partner is suddenly solitary, watching their own shows, doing their own thing. Perhaps neither of you thought pregnancy would be like this.  Maybe at some emotional level it, too is a recognition. You are going on a journey that even they can’t take with you; the slow drip of anaesthetic starts early, numbing the sadness of all the ways becoming parents can change a relationship.

And the moment after the birth, when you gaze over the precipice into your baby’s eyes, there is a knowing made broad by the pain of labour, a realisation that something has begun, something unmappable, unfathomable. Something that will probably take all of you, more even than birthing this baby did.  In that moment it is clear that there is no pathway back to the land of before-motherhood. So you step back from the edge, sure that if there was such a thing as a life’s purpose, yours has been decided. You are a mother: you lift that feather-light load into your arms, and balance the responsibility on your shoulders, squaring them to the future.

I could bleat on about what they don’t tell you about motherhood, but it wouldn’t change anything. The truth of the matter is that motherhood, for me, and for millions of women like me, didn’t come naturally. I didn’t take to it like a duck to water. I couldn’t smile beatifically with baby on hip whilst I simultaneously slid a tray of buns out of the oven. The early years were jaw setting, teeth gritting, mind numbing tedium. I tried so hard to do it well. It mattered so much to me for it all to be just perfect. But I confess, I was a mess.

And all the while I’ve been mothering, trying hard to keep my ducks in a row; my career was stagnating, seeping into the nether. My body, altered for ever. That’s okay, you and your sisters-in-arms tell yourselves, because you recognise that mothering is an Important Thing. The type of humans you are unleashing on the world is an enormous responsibility. So you think deeply about what that means, and make detailed observations about character development, values, ethics… chore lists. You try, every dinner time, to incorporate conversations that go beyond the staples of mashed vs. smashed potatoes. Your greatest goals are for consistency and citizenship.  You are a serious mother. You heave another layer of significance onto your burden. You won’t let society down, no sir. Your kids will be a gift to their world.

Sometimes, after dinner, scraping the food you only just put onto the plates, off the plates; your inner self crouches at the clifftop, eyes drawn deep down into the abyss. And when you are applying the toilet brush again, to poo skids that aren’t your own, or scraping up vomit, or fielding a phone call from a teacher about behaviour issues, or discussing playground politics, or staring at a pile of washing that seems to be stuck on a universal glitch, repeating ad infinitum… in those times, there is a yawning emptiness that tears apart the space time continuum. Threatening to pull you in. You can see something on the other side of the abyss. It seems nicer than where you are. And you know you need to resist it, the same way you need to do everything else.

Because if you don’t, who will?

In those times, the leaden weight of what you have taken on threatens to topple you.  Your well meaning single friends will tell you to take a load off. Leave it to them! They say.  They’ll manage!  Take time for you! And you nod and tell them they are right, but your inner self is shaking her head and scoffing at you. Sure. Uh-huh.  And when you return after they’ve been left to do it for themselves, who cleans it all up? Who makes it possible for the routines that keep things functioning?  Who mops up the tears and has the conversations that need to be had? No, there is no respite from this choice you made. It isn’t a part time job. It’s equal parts love and loss, hope and fear, exasperation and care.

You carry it with you.  It is you. It’s not simply what you do, it is who you are. It’s the motherload.  Sometimes, the heaviness is not joyful and I do not feel grateful for it. I know I probably should. There are so many people I know who yearn for this. Or they think they do. I wonder if they would if they knew both sides of this blissful burden?

I write this in open honesty. I write it because I know there are other mummas out there dealing with this heaviness of heart. I don’t write it because I dislike my children, no, my love for them is fierce, my whole life is an example of what I would do for them, because I do it.  They know my heart, by heart. I write it because I need to acknowledge that it is hard. I guess I just want to say that.  In this world of carefully curated images of motherhood. My own is messy. I do my best. I hope it will be good enough, in the end. That my contribution to the world will be worth all the sacrifice, soul searching and sheer grit.  But it’s a heavy load alright.

What are your thoughts on this?

Anna Kennedy: Nowhere Land

Today’s guest post comes from Anna Kennedy. Anna is a psychologist who became sick with severe ME (sometimes referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and POTS.  Here, she thoughtfully discusses the mindset that has helped her navigate ‘Nowhere Land’.  I can really relate to the part where she talks about being able to do things that used to be impossible and how she thought she would never take that for granted again. Thank you Anna for sharing your experiences here.  I know that many will relate to your journey.

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He's a real nowhere mansitting in his

This is kind of how I feel these days. I have nothing much to show for the years since ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) and its sidekick POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) became my constant bedfellows.  During the first horror year, when I was bedbound and lost 25% of my body weight, I at least looked the part.  ME was written all over my face, not to mention the rest of me which couldn’t stand up long enough to make a quick cuppa.  But nowadays I look pretty normal.

I’ve improved to the point that I’m more moderately affected with the odd severe dip thrown in just to keep me on my toes. My symptoms are less severe, but still unpredictable and frustratingly limiting. I’m too sick to hold down a job, but can manage paced domestic tasks and the occasional social event, all accompanied by the predictably unpredictable multitude of symptoms and payback that ME dishes out just for living.  If I lived in a silent dimly lit bubble and did absolutely nothing except lie down for 6 months, I expect I may even begin to feel quite chipper; but unfortunately there’s that little thing called Life that gets in the way of that.

These days I feel a gnawing kind of improvement guilt. I guess it’s probably akin to a kind of survivor guilt, a knowing about just how traumatic this illness can be.  Though the memory of severe ME is still fresh, I am not completely confined to my bed.  But I carry with me an awareness (that I didn’t have before) of the many who count my very worst days among their very best; who’ve lived for decades in a 24-hour terror of suffering so ghastly that it’s unfathomable for those who do not live it. I feel guilty that I was completely ignorant about ME before I was diagnosed. Guilty that I didn’t use my pre-illness years working as a health professional to recognise and educate people about ME and help those who I did not even know existed because they socialised online and lived within the four walls of their bedroom.  I feel guilty for improving when my friends with ME have not or have worsened and I still can’t do anything to relieve their suffering.

I feel guilty for not being grateful enough for the improvements I’ve made.  I remember when I was severely ill thinking that if I could just manage to cook a meal for my family again, I’d be fine with that. I yearned to load the dishwasher or take out the garbage. That was enough quality of life for me I thought. But then when I got there, the gratefulness that I tried to hold onto so tightly, slipped through my fingers.  Disappointingly quickly those domestic tasks, that seemed oh-so-shiny when I was too ill to do them, became dull.  Because, when I was at my most ill, I held on to a fantasy that improvement in functioning would naturally come with feeling well. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I moved up a notch from hellish to chronically cruddy.  So, when it comes down to it, I’m still sick every day; I can just do a bit more while being sick.  And I can hide it better.

These days I inhabit Nowhere Land.  I straddle the worlds of the chronically sick and The Well.  I move in two circles, in neither of which I feel I have a firm place.  To the doctors, I’m “managing a chronic illness”; I’ve gone to see the specialists who I hear may help, I’ve diligently tried their treatments and followed their protocols (most of which made me worse).  So I’m not really interesting to them now, because I’m not a success story but I’m not knocking on heaven’s door.  They’ve run out of ideas and just sort of leave me to it. I’m in Nowhere Land.

Socially, I’m a bit of a Nowhere (wo)man.  My friends with ME, the ones I made online when I was too sick for a social life and was lonely and desperate for understanding, those beautiful and courageous souls that I’ve never seen in the flesh, they’re mostly still here.  But I let them down because I’m not online as much and I miss supporting them when they need it most. I feel like my news of doing is deeply insensitive to their continued suffering, and I’ve betrayed them in having left the hellish world they still inhabit. I wonder if they feel angry when I vent and whine in our online support group about my trials which must all seem like problems they’d give their left arm to have. Little do they know, they are the precious thread of red wool that I use to wind my way back to comfort when I get lost in Nowhere Land.

Nowadays, I can also move into the world of the well.  Carrying around my knowledge of the unseen world of the chronically ill, I spend time with my in-the-flesh people. But I’m like some kind of odd expat who randomly pops in for unexpected visits.  Of those I’ve told about my illness, some have stayed and others have backed slowly away. Some I’ve backed away from too because their disinterest has hurt too much.  Those who have stayed have been patient enough to listen to my botched attempts at explaining ME in 100 words or less, and tried their best to understand its weirdness.  They’ve borne witness to my life with ME with curiosity and empathy. They’ve been repeatedly let down by my unreliability but kept coming back for more.  And they have stood patiently still while I’ve moved between my worlds. For these precious people, I’m grateful beyond words. I don’t know that I’d have done the same in their shoes.  These special people have made room for the ME in my life and put up with me changing from a mostly spirited, reliable and supportive friend, into a friend who is present with ad hoc inconsistency at best.

To the uninitiated, I’m better, as in recovered.  Because that’s generally the well person’s understanding of illness: you get sick then you get better…or you die. There’s no in between. There’s none of this living-with-it-on-and-on-every-single-day sickness.  “Gee you’re looking well” they say, and “I’m so glad you’re back on track”.  In reality I’m still an 80-year-old wolf in 43-year-old sheep’s clothing. Look more closely and you may wonder why I’m never really seen until the clock reaches pm.  At afternoon school pickup, you will notice I’m often the mum with wet hair and no makeup who shuffles to the nearest bench while the other mums stand around chatting in groups. I half listen but I’ve got little to say; partly because my one achievement of the day has been showering and getting dressed; also because to join them would mean standing up and losing what little remaining power my body has; but mostly because my brain-o-mush means I only absorb bits and pieces: I make a tit of myself by forgetting things they’ve just told me or making vague comments that trail off mid-sentence because I’ve suddenly forgotten what I was saying.

I’m the odd mum in my village; the middle-aged lady driving the nanna cart, wearing sunglasses in winter, head bobbing wearily as I trundle towards the classroom door, pale and nauseated by the darting movements and fingernails-down-blackboard noises that delighted children make when the school bell sounds. And, when he sees me, my 5-year-old chucks his backpack down in the middle of the schoolyard because he’s excruciatingly ‘‘barrassed‘ that I’m on my scooter and furious at this very public display that I’m sick again.  He knows full well it means, once home, Mum will shove Sao biscuits and jar of Vegemite on the table and stumble back to bed where he’ll visit me with a thousand bits of paper he’s coloured in and school notices to sign and stories of the big hurt on his hand from the awesome tricks he did on the monkey bars. And all the time my brain is blank and nothing’s going in, nada, zilch. And, because my body can’t seem to produce energy for ANYTHING, I have to remind myself to move my face into a smile, and let out uh-huhs and oh dears and kiss his hurt and make futile attempts at focusing my eyes on his drawing of Batman fighting the alien dude.

Before he leaves my bed, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out another little thing he’s collected today. He’s been doing this since I first became ill, before he was old enough to speak the words of what was happening to his mother.

He places a little white stone on top of a mounting collection of feathers and rocks and shells on my bedside table, precious gifts from him to me. “Thereyar Mummy, to help you get better”. If only, if only, my darling.

Over the years, I’ve started to run out of words to explain ME.  My brain scrambles in my efforts to describe its convoluted-ness in simple terms.  Also, telling the story of ME and my experience with it makes me feel vulnerable. It’s like peeling a bandaid off a wound that hasn’t healed and waiting for peoples’ reactions: some recoil and quickly er-hum their way out of the conversation; others start to get that suspicious look of disbelief I’ve seen too many times and which never fails to hurt to the core; many show great caring which can either make me weep with embarrassed relief or go on to gush in a tidal wave of oversharing.   For those curious enough to ask more, there is, frustratingly, never a straight-forward answer to the questions that follow: What causes it? What’s the treatment? What’s your prognosis? Why haven’t I heard of ME, oh CFS yes I’ve heard of that, that’s that chronic fatigue thing? Do you know about XYZ [insert helpful suggestion of treatment or name of alternative health practitioner here]? You’re looking good, when can you go back to work/ use your spare time to paint/help out at the school fete/come jogging with me?

At times, I’ve wanted people to know about the parts of my life they don’t see. I’ve explained that when they don’t see me for long stretches it’s because I’m more ill and horizontally resting so that I can be well enough to do things again. Hoping not to sound like a whinger, I’ve provided a few details of the limited routine I follow to tread the fine line between semi-functional and not; how a “pretty good” week is still one with 2-3 days spent in bed; and how I live every day with pain and nausea and trouble being upright. They listen and nod and say kind things, but I can see they can’t really fathom how the person in front of them who looks alright has any kind of illness at all.  And I understand all this, really I do, because that would have been me a few years ago.  Listening and nodding, but inside going Huh?

So that’s where I am. Sitting (well, mostly lying) in Nowhere Land:  the world of moderate ME.  In and out of the world of the well and the sick.  Making all my nowhere plans; ideas that so often don’t come to fruition because ME has its own agenda.

But how does that song end again?

Nowhere Man, don’t worryTake your time,(1)

And, I’m reminded how very blessed I am.  I have my people, the souls behind the screen and in the flesh, the ones who buoy me, teach me, and love me.  And, even in my Nowhere Land, my people find me, and they meet me where I am.

If You’re App-y and You Know It

My mother guilt gets a good work out at this time of year… any time of year.  I feel bad that the kids might have had too much sugar indulgence (thanks Halloween), I’m less consistent in my parenting. And I notice with growing horror, just how much time they are really spending in front of screens.  It goes something like this:  The kids are bored/tired/arguing/wanting to do something that requires enormous amounts of mother-energy and glue.  It’s so very easy to send one off with the iPad and another to the TV. Sometimes screens can be such a seductive way to achieve peace in our house.  Is it like this in yours?  I feel like I must be a bad parent because the quiet message is out there, everywhere.  Too much screen time is bad for your kids.

Our nine year old has got her first laptop this year.  It was compulsory for school, but I have been surprised at how many issues it has created, already.  Until now we have shared the family iPad and I kinda liked it like that.  I could easily see what apps were being used because our small people never bother to close anything down, they just shut the cover.  Seeing their browsing history was also easy. And much to my own satisfaction, I am the Keeper-of-the-Password.  So I have lots of control of what apps are on our family device.  I have always had a fierce pride over the quality of apps my kids were using, the skills they were learning and the myriad of ways they could learn and consolidate their educational facts (and yes, all while simultaneously becoming quite possibly the fastest minion rushing subway surfing swipesters in the Southern Hemisphere)!

Yeesh, but the times they are a changing, aren’t they? The other night I took an online survey about media use.  I was asked how many screens we have in our family.  Er… twelve.  It shocked me!  That’s not counting those of our homestay students. That’s twelve between four of us.  That’s an awful lot of screen.  So I got curious about the issue of screentime.  Is it really bad for you? What are the official guidelines for screen time?  CSIRO to the rescue with the cold and uncomfortable facts. (‘Screen time’ includes all time in front of a digital device; a smart phone, tablet, laptop, computer or television).

“Where there is screen time, it is recommended that children have less than two hours recreational screen time per day. This includes watching TV, playing computer games and surfing the net for entertainment purposes. It does not include the computer time spent doing homework”.

Apparently the backlit nature of screens robs our brains of the natural daylight/nightime cues.  This can affect seratonin and melatonin production. Facts like this usually make me want to eye roll.  Except that seratonin is our happy hormone and melatonin is the one that helps us fall asleep.  Less happy kids who struggle to fall asleep?  Urk.  And just to horrify me further, studies show that kids who have more than 2 hours screen time in a day are more likely to indulge in other less positive behaviours; being less physically active, having less social interactions and snacking on more sugary, fatty and salty snacks.  Small wonder this group of kids is also more likely to be overweight. That is terrifying.

But  there is a little voice in  my head saying “What were those kids doing? Watching? Who is giving them these snacks? Did the research protocol encompass looking at the content of their screen time?”  Sorry.  It’s the teacher in me.  I taught a digital class for years, I am passionate about digital media and I like to make the distinction.  Just like not all reading material is great, not all apps, software, TV shows, games and browsing are great.  But some of it is truly great.  Some of it surpasses other modes.  Some of it increases our kids learning and multiplies their understanding, not to mention the opportunities to engage with activities and thinking challenges they love. The most comforting thing about being parents of our small ones, is that we are in a position to make informed choices about content, on their behalf.

I do feel sad when I see toddlers using a limited range of apps designed for slower learners than them (read: older humans).  Toddlers are uniquely positioned to learn really quickly, have you noticed how innately tech-savvy yours are?  What are they learning during their screen time?  It’s like making healthy choices about the snacks we offer our kids. Have you chosen carefully?  Popular apps are not necessarily the best apps to have and you can save yourself a whole lot of heartache once school starts if your kid has been engaging with important learning ahead of time.  Some apps are just like sweets, others are nutritious and thought provoking.  The same goes for TV.  Some of the shows available for pre-schoolers are really good for them, some are just like mental chewing gum.  So to my way of thinking, it is not just the time spent in front of screens that we need to be conscious of.  It’s what is happening (or not) in those brains while they are there.  

If you are interested in the research around the benefits of screen time, have a read of this article by Peter Gray, Psychology Research Professor at Boston College.  He says many interesting things and provides loads of research findings to suggest screen time is not, in fact, harmful to kids. But I particularly liked this comment.  It helped to assuage my anxieties (thank you Dr Gray!)  but also gave me some perspective for creating balance on the issue.

“I’ve never known a parent to limit their kids’ reading time. Why is it any better to limit TV or computer time than to limit book-reading time? Why do we worry about a kid’s spending maybe 4 or 5 hours a day at a computer screen… but don’t worry about the same kid sitting at school for 6 hours a day and then doing homework for another couple of hours?”. What assumptions are we making about the mental value of screen time? Shouldn’t we know exactly what they are doing on there, anyway? All this thinking about my parenting in relation to screens has led to these guidelines in our house.  I am hedging my bets.   Screentime is now subject to the following guidelines:

Screens are to always be visible to me. This is about safety and enables me to do a quick check that they are doing or seeing what we have agreed on.
Choices are made by the kids ahead of time about what they want to spend their recommended screen time on.  When it is TV, we look at the TV guide and record the shows they want to watch.  This has really helped them to decide on their favourites and not watch mindlessly as shows roll from one into another.

We are encouraging more physical activity and have pulled out of their cobwebby box the outdoor games; swing ball and frisbee, balls, water guns and scooters.  I have been surprised to see that if I get the games out, they will be played.
We are going out of our way to make friends with more people in our neighbourhood.  More playdates, more social interaction.  And the bonus of more physical activity for the kids.  There’s nothing like other kids to get your kids out and running around or jumping on the tramp.

I have audited the apps/ software/ games on all the various devices available to my kids.  They are allowed two ‘sometimes apps’ and the rest are ‘anytime apps’; good quality learning and consolidating stuff.

Do you limit screen time in your household?  Do you believe we should or are you more relaxed about the issue?  Do you have mother-guilt about screens or apps?  What do you think constitutes a ‘good’ TV show, app, game or piece of software?

screentime

No. 8 Wire

 

Michael-Jeans-6205
http://michaeljeans.co.nz (used with permission)

This fantastic image was donated by the wonderful Michael Jeans from the Waikato. You can find his original blog post about it here.

Down here in New Zealand, we prize the ability to ingeniously solve problems.  Being creative in our approach to problems is a matter of national pride.  So much so, that no.8 wire; basic farm fencing wire, has come to symbolise our fixer-upper mentality.  So it goes that there is nothing a self respecting kiwi can’t jimmy back together without a bit of wire.  There are t-shirts and songs all about it.  It’s what we do.  We make the best of situations with what we have to hand.  It might be because we are so geographically isolated from everywhere that the disposable consumerist culture has been slower to take hold here.  When things break, we tend to fix them before we’d consider replacing them.

Mums and Dads all over the world embody this No.8 wire mentality. We make things work or fix them up using rubber bands or cable ties, a bit of modelling clay or the swipe of a sharpie.  It’s what we do. We solve problems, we think creatively. It’s a parenting talent.  Because sometimes, that broken wagon, the scratch on the favourite chair leg, the tragically legless giraffe are vitally important things for our little ones (and our peace).  This is also why, when we do have to dispose of things we try to sneak them out under cover of darkness.  In our house, even broken pencils have to be smuggled away!

When a parent is ill, the ability to think flexibly and solve problems becomes even more crucial.  Maybe you can’t drive and it poses a significant problem for the family. Or being upright for more than a short time is impossible. Provided you have the financial ability, there are delivery services for things like groceries, you can shop online for the family’s clothing. But what can you do about things like playdates?  After school sports practise? Being involved at school?  It requires a bit of ingenious thinking.   Here are some of the things that we do to help ease the illness burden on our kids.

Swapsies (You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours)
Arrange for reciprocal help with neighbours and friends. I can’t easily take my kids to their swimming lessons, but my friend can.  So twice a week, her daughter comes to me for after school care (something I can provide, even if I am horizontal) and in return, they take my kids to swimming and bring them home again.  Building good relationships with people in the community is so necessary for the whole family. It will increase your support network and also provide good social connection. Always offer the help you can provide.  Sometimes, that help is just being a good friend, being a shoulder to cry on, or a good listener. Reciprocal arrangements make for better long term viability.  Swapsies work best when people truly understand what you are going through, so speak up, really help your community to understand. It’s worth the effort or possible embarassment. For me, awareness month is a fantastic platform to get the word out. I find that the more people know about our struggles, the happier they are to help. No one can help you if they don’t know what’s going on.  I hung on to that pride for far too long.  And for what? Don’t let pride rob your kids of things they could do if only you let people know how things are.

Team Lunch Prep
Each weekend, we prep the lunches for the week. Each kid has their own big pantry box and into it go all the non-perishable snacks they’ll need for the week.  Muesli Bars, snacks, dried fruit etc. Sandwiches are made ahead, wrapped and frozen and fruit is in the bowl.  Then each morning, the kids (or their Daddy, depending on their age) will fill their lunchbox with items to meet the ‘pick list’ requirements, and pack them into their school bag. We don’t have school cafeterias here, so school lunches are always packed lunches.  But this system could be useful to you if you have preschool children, if you homeschool or during weekends. Packing lunch boxes means the kids have access to their own snacks without requiring you to get it. Once the food is gone, it’s gone, so it teaches them pacing and self control too.  Bonus!

Not what you say, but HOW you say it…
In our house, we have a rule. If Mum whistles or calls, the response must be IMMEDIATE. Acknowledgment is not optional.  Using my voice is my most powerful parenting tool because I cannot always race to the scene.  Learning to project my voice without yelling was part of my teacher training, but I really think all parents need to learn how. Squeeze your voice out from deep in your belly. Keeping a calm tone will help to diffuse sibling spats, deliver important instructions and increase the careful listening from your children.  A well projected voice commands respect. Hollering doesn’t. Breaking down tasks into age-appropriate chunks is also really important.  For instance, If I tell my son to clean his room, he will sink to the floor under the weight of overwhelm. But if I break it down “how big are your arms?  Can you carry that whole pile of clothes down to the laundry?” and then follow that task with the next, the room is more likely to eventually, get tidied.

Systems/ Routines
Examining the necessary tasks and coming up with effective routines is an exercise in creative genius.  My husband is way better at this than me. He is the one who established the after-school-routine of bringing school bags into the kitchen to offload lunch boxes onto the bench and homework onto the dining table, school notices go straight onto the magnetic clip on the refrigerator. School shoes have a special place by the door.  The systems and routines in our house are designed to make it easier to find what we need when we need it.  I just can’t cope anymore with the physical bending and rushing it takes to locate things in the last minute. So we check things off the list the night before the following morning. Organisation saves us, every time!

Flexibility
Do you want to get involved at school but you can’t go in? Maybe you could offer your children’s teacher help with the things you can manage.  If it works for them and for you, it’s a wonderfully affirming thing to do. Examples are cutting, pasting, laminating, filing and organising paperwork.  Maybe you could be part of a phone tree initiative or provide admin for class emails.  If you’re artistic you could offer help with display items like headers or borders, or mounting children’s artwork for display.  Items can be transferred to and from the classroom via a wheely-bag manned by your child, provided the turnaround required is timely for you. Be flexible in your thinking about the sorts of assistance you can provide.

If you have a partner or spouse who is working, seeking flexible work arrangements can make an enormous difference to the family’s quality of life, too. My husband transferred from working as a permanent employee to being a self-employed contractor.  Now he is able to take our son for sports practise two evenings a week and work those missing hours later from home.  It also means he can attend medical appointments with me without the stress of dealing with his work about time off.

Regrettably, there are some problems we wish we could fix that no amount of ‘no.8 wire thinking’ will help.  But when it comes to managing daily life in the home, maybe all you need is a little twist of ingeniousness.
How do you do it?

Imagine

I wonder if you could take five minutes to try something.
It’s just a short imagination exercise.

Can you imagine.._(1)

Can you imagine what it might be like, to get a terrible flu?  And how it would be if that terrible flu never, ever went away? After one week, the patience of your partner wears thin.  After all, there are kids to look after and he is working, he’s not a naturally great nurse, guys are like that… you’re sure your girlfriends will have stories to share about their men, too, when you’re better.  You’ve a job to get back to yourself, you can’t keep on waking up, saying you can’t and shutting your eyes against the day.

Then imagine that being sick carried on for a whole year.

Fifty two of those flu weeks, end on end on end. The family needs you, so even though you still feel like you felt for that first week in bed, you get up and carry on. Every time you move the dizziness sweeps over your world as your body struggles to find some equilibrium.  You are bone weary. You adapt your usual tasks so you can do them.  Sometimes you crawl. You lean against any surface you can.  You avoid bending, or standing quickly, because that might make you faint.  It beggars belief how many household tasks require bending.

You take on less hours at work, but quite frankly, your boss has had enough. You, who have always been a perfectionist, have become an unreliable employee, your sick days are mounting. You talk to them about what is going on, but the doctors haven’t been able to give you any answers.  Your boss, your colleagues, your friends and even your partner start to look at you as if you might be making it all up.  Surely if something was really wrong they’d know what was up with you?  Maybe you are not trying to get better?  Maybe you are psychologically broken, somehow? I mean, it must all be in your head, you look perfectly normal. You doubt yourself. You quit your job.  Your relationship is under pressure. The kids are acting out because you are struggling to do your parenting job too. The years stretch out. One, two, three.

You’ve been in and out of hospital more times than you can count.  It is now clear you are not manufacturing the things that are going wrong with your body.  They put in a pacemaker to make sure your heart keeps beating. But there is an endless litany of other things wrong, too.  You are afraid of dying, because sometimes, it feels like you are. There are moments in the emergency department when everyone is buzzing around you and there is nothing you can do but shrink your self into a tiny observational dot on the wall. It is too scary. Your partner doesn’t even come with you to the emergency department anymore, it’s better for the kids. You taxi in to emergency, always with a bag.  You know you will be admitted.  You don’t know for how long. In your many visits to the hospital a picture is slowly beginning to emerge. You start to research the things that are happening to your body.  Something keeps coming up on Google.  The Autonomic Nervous System.  You ask about it next time you are in.  Chins are scratched, thoughtful silences. Referrals.  Specialists.  A diagnosis.

You’ve been sick now for four years.  208 of those flu weeks, end on end.

Can you imagine what it might feel like to get a diagnosis?  You are relieved, so thankful to have a way to explain what is wrong with you.  Even to yourself.  There is a thing that you have!  Now that they know, they’ll be able to fix it, right?

And can you just imagine your distress when you discover that the diagnosis isn’t the end of the struggle… just the beginning?  You’ve been lurching through a long distance marathon with the flu, you are exhausted, always waiting for the reprieve, the finish line, the bit where you get to stop and recover. They tell you that what you have is rare and it will be hard to find someone here who understands it, let alone who has ideas for treatment.  You research more.  You join online forums, patient groups, you read everything you can. You print out and highlight medical journals and read them, searching terms on the internet, desperate to find a way out of the maze.  You put forward medication suggestions, based on your research.  Every single treatment you are on that is working has been suggested by you. Even in hospital, you have to educate the registrars who come to see you.  It makes you feel vulnerable. What if you are missing something important?  You don’t have a medical degree, you are nervous when you know more than they do about it. You email research to your doctors. The nice ones might look at it, the others might ignore it. Much like what they’ll do with you.

Then you find a group, online.  They all have what you have. There is sharing, and laughter and illness related humour (yes, it exists!).  There is compassion and kindness and expertise.  Resources and empathy and support. You are not alone. The relief is enormous. You’ve been fighting for help for six years now. You feel a different kind of worse every day. Once upon a time you used to dance. Sometimes you struggle to walk down the street and back again with your cane. Your life is light years away from the way you were before.  You don’t know if you will ever get back to the fork in the road where everything went wrong, so you can step back onto the trajectory you were destined for. If you are honest, you fear you won’t.

You’ve been sick now for six years. 312 of those flu weeks, end on end.

There are worse things, it’s true.  Some people like to remind people like you, that you’re lucky you don’t have cancer. You’re not sure how comparing illnesses is helpful.  It doesn’t change your suffering. Your cardiologist once talked about how people with your heart problems are ‘functionally disabled’ and literature from the States talks about you having the quality of life of someone with congestive heart failure.  But that’s not helpful either. Your reality is you don’t have YOUR quality of life, the one you relied on, based your decisions on, built your plans on.  I’m sure you’re grateful you’ve got your marbles. Glad that you can still walk short distances.  Thankful that you can hug your family. Maybe you’d just like to enjoy those things without feeling like crap.  Maybe you miss the connection between wanting to do something and being able to, just because you can.

What if all the things about your identity, the things you knew to be true, aspects of your personality, the things you do, the way you get around, your career, your parenting, your partnering.  What if all of those things were compromised, because you got something like the flu and it never, ever went away?

Thank you for sharing my journey, for 5 out of the three million, one hundred and fifty three thousand and six hundred minutes I have been sick. If you can imagine how this is, please be kind to the people you know with chronic illness.  It is a hard, hard road and we need your kindness.

Can you imagine?

 

I See You

 

——————————–

I found the baby photo albums this morning.  Of course… any excuse to stop…

I settled in to the sofa to spend some time reminiscing.  I always look at pictures from this time with surprise.  Like a spectator trying to understand the family I am seeing.  At the time I was barely functioning; so sleep deprived and anxious that my memories are a hazy fuzz.  But in the photos; that mother.  She looks so happy, so …together.  She is holding her babies, smiling and laughing. There are baby bath shots, feeding shots, solids, walking, play time and coffee group shots.  Family time and baking and washing folding and all the hallmark Mummy Activities.

But Mummy was acting.  I remember how it really was, inside my head.  I just wanted to cry, with as much feeling as my babies did.  Sometimes, I was scarily detached even from my own distress. Sometimes I just felt empty and dead inside, at a time when I knew my babies needed me to feel connected and certain.

Looking back I can see how it all happened as it did.  There was big stuff going on.  My own mother was fighting her battle with Ovarian cancer in the two years after my first baby was born.  I fought with her, desperate for her to stay with me.  But she passed away. Then I was fighting my own battle with grief in the years after my second baby was born.

I feel a deep sadness for that Mummy.  The one pretending to have it all together.  I wish I could go back in time and reassure her, tell her to take a good look at me now, and see that it will get better.  Maybe I could do some loads of washing for her and cook some dinners for her freezer.  I remember one of my friends did just that one day, when things were very dark.  She knocked on the door and shyly handed over a quiche. “Just in case you could do with an easy dinner” she said.  I lost it.  Cried then.  Cried in that embarrassing, gasping fashion.   Sobbed my sore mummy heart out.  Somehow she had seen through my ‘keeping it all together’ facade.  She saw me as I really was; scared, struggling and in need of gentle kindness.

So I was looking at these photos this morning, and one in particular really struck me.  It’s the moment after my daughter first met her little brother.  We are in the maternity hospital and she has been without me for the first night of her life.  She is giddily happy to see me; nervous about seeing him.  Her face is the picture of apprehension. She knows he is her special little brother, but she is afraid.  What does it mean?  Will Mummy and Daddy have enough love to go around?  Will the baby love her back?  Why does everything have to change?

She is about to turn three.  Her whole world is shifting on it’s axis.  She smiles when she gingerly touches the little pulsating triangle on his downy head.  And erupts into the most heartbreakingly overwhelmed sobs.  There just aren’t words to explain how she is feeling.  The bittersweet love-fear that comes with big life stuff.  She is lost.  In that moment, I put my Mummy arms around her and shush quietly into her hair.

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I am sure that I am a broken and useless Mumma, but this stuff, I get.  She needs me to see her.  I put her tiny brother into the bassinet and settle him in.  She sighs and settles back into my arms, safe in the warmth of knowing that I know.  I sing to her and tell her the story of when she was born.  A tiny little bundle, even smaller than her baby brother.  I tell her how excited we were that she was coming, and all the things I noticed about her. I skip the bit about my own terrors.  I talk about how much she loved to hold my finger and sleep close to her Daddy.  She asks me if she was a good baby and I kiss her forehead.  “You were my baby, and that was better than good” I skip the facts.  I tell her how clever she is, how creative and how big.  I tell her that she is already everything she needs to be to be a big sister.  She’ll be great.  I tell her it is okay to wish she wasn’t a sister sometimes, because in the end, the love will be bigger than the upsets.  She nods and falls asleep.

We all need someone to see us when things are overwhelming. To talk to us that way. And sadly, sometimes, that someone has to be ourselves.  Somewhere between those early baby years and now, I have discovered how to mother myself.  When I am lost and need to be seen, I make a point of encouraging myself.  Giving myself the kindnesses my own mother would give if she were here.  I give myself the freedom to let go and give the kids eggs on toast for tea.  To treat myself to a pedicure.  To tell myself I am fantastic, right to my own face in the mirror.  When I am being irrational and emotional, I let myself cry and yell and be a big fat baby.  I talk to myself like a mother would.  I see myself through the eyes of love and then, all things can be handled.
Maybe you need to be seen too.

I see you.

I like you.

The other day, someone told me that the best advantage you can give kids is the ability to build good relationships with other people.  They learn this from watching the relationships in their world.
What does a good relationship look like when you are parents?
It’s probably a bit different to what it looked like before the kids arrived. Like, an interplanetary timewarp, different.  Same people, different planet.  Whole new meaning for the word ‘good’.

I like you...

Pre-kids, we measured our relationship success so differently.  Gifts, beautiful meals, the occasional romantic getaway.  There was lots of physical affection, winks, nudges, eye contact and fascinating, far-roaming conversations.  We’d gaze at each other in the candlelight and congratulate ourselves on how connected we were.  Passionately in love, deeply in lust, we had gigantic doozie fights, with door slamming and name calling.  And we were proud of the fact that we never walked away from an argument without resolving it. Ah, lurve.

These days I think love has smoodged over to make room for something pretty important.  Like.  Those two together are what I call a successful relationship when you are parents.  I love you, and dammit, I choose remember why I like you, too.

Remember when you were at school and someone nudged you and said “he likes you!” and being ‘liked’ seemed like the highest form of devotion possible?  We denigrate the word ‘like’ to a much lower than ‘love’ status.  But liking your partner, even when you are sleep deprived, your boobs hurt, you disagree on dummies, and you are certain that they really don’t ‘get’ it, whatever ‘it’ is that day….actually liking them on Planet Parent can be pretty tricky.  The increase in relationship break ups is testament to just how tricky it is.

It matters that you like your partner, because your kids are a product of your relationship.  If you don’t like your partner, the message to your kids is that you don’t actually like half of what makes them who they are.  It matters that you like your partner because it is easier to parent as a team than as two people who aren’t even friends.  It matters, because when you like someone, you are kinder to them.  Kindness in human relationships is exactly what kids need to see.  The future of our world literally does depend on it.  If there is something they are doing or not doing that you don’t like, remember that it is a behaviour, not who they are.  And tell them about it!  Most of us haven’t got a clue what pushes each other’s buttons.  Talk about it before it erodes you.

The kicker about this love+like combo, is that somehow, finding a way to have both in your heart for your fellow parent matters, even if you aren’t together.  I have taught so many children whose hearts are broken because their parents marriage is broken.  It happens; often it needed to.  But not to the kids! They watch with eyes, ears and self esteem wide open as the two people who made them rip each other to shreds.  They suffer your battles on a much more personal level than you do, because they are biologically attached to both sides.  There is no escaping who they are.  But it really sucks if you are hearing your parents point out the worst of both halves of you, ad nauseum.

Find the character strengths and positive personality traits your child inherited from your co-parent.  Focus on those things when you are discussing them in front of your child. The rest of it can wait for another time when the intended audience is the only one hearing you.  I am not a big celebrity fan, but I read this quote from an love-embattled star recently “We’re parenting, and working out if there is still a relationship to salvage”.  I think it is awesome that the parenting comes first.

What does a good relationship look like when you are parents?
You know those scenes in war movies, where everyone is leaving the smoky battle field?  They’re battered and worn out, maybe an eyeball or limb is missing, they are smeared with grime, matted and messy?  They slap each other on the back and say something wry and witty.  Satisfied glances are exchanged and the grins are contagious.  They’ve won.  They did it.  Together, somehow and against all odds.  That is what a good relationship looks like when you are parents.  It’s a look between two battlers.  It’s congratulations after a day hard fought and won.  It’s celebrating the beauty you’ve created by acknowledging the good bits in each other, in front of the kids you made together.  A good relationship between parents creates good self esteem in kids.  And it is a much friendlier way to take the journey of life.  Together, with someone you like.

I want my kids to be ambitious about love and find someone to be with that they actually like!  Someone whose company and conversation brings them comfort and calm.  The very best way I can show them how to find that, is by finding it with my man, every day. If they see the way good friends can resolve conflict without hurting each other and shoulder burdens without dropping the bundle; well I think there is a good chance they will know what a good relationship looks and feels like long before they have to choose one for themselves.