Friday, June 26, 2015

Peace Is A {Sometimes Hard} Choice

This post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life by Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.

Since becoming a Mama, I've striven to be a peaceful parent...choosing to parent without punishment and definitely without physical discipline.

But one thing that's been really, REALLY hard for me is to choose peace in the way I talk...and well, the volume of my voice. Yep, I'm a yeller. And I really hate that about me. That's why I need to keep reminding myself of my motto: "Keep Calm and Go Zen." But it's hard. One thing I have to remind myself in order to be kind to myself is that I don't yell all the time, only when I've been pushed to my limit multiple times (I have a lot of patience, but I also have a breaking point), when my kids do something super dangerous and I need to get their attention or if the kids are fighting and hitting each other. Most of it consists of me yelling "STOP IT!!!" but other times you can hear me yelling "AAAAHHHHH!!!" out of pure frustration.

I know all the reasons not to yell and I am really open with the kids and talk to them about how I know that's something I'm working on. But it wasn't until I started reading Dr. Laura Markham's book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings that I realized that I need to be doing more than working on stopping the "yells".

Chapter One of the book was 13 pages long and I had tears in my eyes and so many "duh!" moments within just those 13 pages. I'm not even a novice to this whole peaceful parenting approach. But it's just the way she writes and the way she presents ideas to actually BE a peaceful parent that hit home.
I was reminded (and I realized on a deeper level) just how much of a CHOICE it is to be a peaceful parent. Being super chill and not really feeling anger or frustration is not a trait we necessarily have (though I'm sure some people are--but most of use have to choose to consciously let go of those emotions). And of course, the way we were raised and taught to manage our emotions plays a major role in how we do these things now that we are parents. But in the end, I've really (finally!!) understood that I need to CHOOSE peace in the heat of the moment. And let me tell you, it is NOT easy sometimes...well most times.

Most times I want to yell and grab each child and pull them away from each other and yell some more about why it's so not cool to pinch, scratch or punch their sibling(s). But...that's not very peaceful.

So...I'd like to share with you some of the things I've learned about myself to make this choice easier and some of the very wise tips Dr. Laura shares to successfully become a more peaceful parent, more often.

1. I've become very aware of how I feel physically, mentally and emotionally during a moment when I'm being pushed above and beyond my limit(s). I feel a tightness and heat in my chest, I feel pent up energy suddenly needing to burst out and I get an overwhelming feeling of annoyance. Dr. Laura suggests in order to be a peaceful parent, we the parents, need to regulate our own emotions first. Very true. If we can't regulate our own, how can we expect to teach our kids to do it? Plus in regulating our own emotions we will learn ways to calm down and then when we are calm, we can more easily choose to deal with the situation with gentleness and peace. For me, this looks like this: kids are yelling, running around trying to hit each other or doing some other thing I've told them to stop--I feel and notice the emotions rising, so I close my eyes and take deep breaths. I know they are hitting each other, I hear them yelling and crying, but I can't go to them until I feel myself calming down. So I breathe, breathe and breathe...sometimes it feels like a few seconds, sometimes like an eternity...but I always eventually do calm down and then I find I have a much clearer head and can then proceed to help my children solve the situation in a way that will give the kids the space they need to calm down and to also result in a bonding experience and a lesson learned {Dr. Laura refers to this as"emotion-coaching" and it's what in the end will help kids learn to regulate their own emotions}. Obviously, if they were in danger I wouldn't wait it out. In times of imminent danger, I intervene immediately. If it's an outside danger, I don't get mad or frustrated anyway, so it's not a matter of needing to choose peace then. If it's a danger they are inflicting on themselves or others, I stop them immediately and hope for the best to come out of me in that situation. But 99% of the time, it IS something that can wait 10 seconds for me to take 5 deep breaths. But let me tell you...being able to allow myself and choose (there's that word again!) to take time to calm down did not come easy. Reacting with my ingrained knee-jerk tendencies was a habit I needed to break out of. But I feel so much more free now. It's still a constant choice. It's something I'm going to have to consciously choose forever I think...but it has gotten easier and I am thinking it will continue to get easier.

2. I realized and gave myself permission to see failure as a necessary step towards success. This may seem like a backward or unproductive way to think. But for me, it was a realization that no one, NO ONE, is perfect. We all make mistakes. It's how and what we learn from them that matters. So if I see my failures (the moments when I do yell or do not choose peace) as a lesson in what I can do differently next time, it helps me to not get discouraged or to feel like I won't ever be able to change. When I made that mental switch, a ton of pressure and expectations I had put on myself were released. I'm a constant work-in-progress, I'm constantly, consciously choosing to parent with deliberateness and peace. No one becomes an expert or professional overnight. You have to put in the time, practice and effort to become better, to improve. For me, it looks like this: prioritizing getting in mommy recharge battery time, practicing mindfulness during the day and night (oh the joys of waking children...), choosing joy, dancing alone or with the kids (so fun!), getting outside daily, taking my vitamins and supplements and working out. All these things help me feel good and I'm better able to be deliberate when it comes to my parenting. And I actually enjoy my kids and the daily tedious tasks more when I feel replenished.

3. I've decided I need to NOT care what others will think. Man oh man, tantrums or outbursts or public acts of disobedience are HARD! It's one thing when shit goes down in your own home. But when you're out in public you immediately feel like everyone is watching and JUDGING! And they probably are. Maybe some Mamas are saying to themselves "Poor woman." Or others, "What a terrible mother, why isn't she stopping them?" And you know what, who cares? All I want to care about is how my children see me. To me they are the only ones that I need to come clean with. I want to be a good role model for them. So if I need to just stand back and take the time to calm myself down before "doing something" about my child's public outburst, I am going to do that. It's not because I'm letting them "get away with it" or "ignoring them" it's because I know I will not deal with the situation well and in a positive, peaceful way if I jump in with knee-jerk reactions. I see parents at playgrounds, stores or events being tested and pushed to their limits. I choose not to judge. Instead I send them an invisible hug and hope they will do the same when I'm the one dealing with the toddler tantrum!

I'm delving into this book with gusto and I know I've got lots more to learn. I'll be back next week with my thoughts on Chapter Two.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Book That Helped Me Feel Happy About Parenting Again

For a couple weeks I've been reading and re-reading Susan Stiffelman's new book titled "Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids."

One day I read something that was a game changer for me. I took the information in, and let it sit, processing it mentally and emotionally before sharing with my hubby.

"I read something yesterday that blew my mind."

"What!? You've waited a whole day to tell me!?"

"Yep, I needed to process it."

It was something so seemingly simple and obvious, but I'd never thought about it the way Susan presented it.

And that is the core and beauty of her new book: It presents simple yet mind blowing stuff that if taken into practice is sure to change the way you view parenting, your children and life.

While reading her entire book, I felt like I was sitting on a comfy sofa in a sunny, warm room with her right in front of me, conversing and listening to me.

Her writing style and the wisdom and advice she shares is as if you were having a one-on-one session with her (well, at least it was for me...I'm a Pisces with a vivid imagination!). But the point I'm trying to make is that unlike some other parenting advice books that talk down to parents, telling them what they should do, Susan offers insights and opportunities to gain self awareness so that we can become better parents (and people) from the inside out.

This is the perfect time to confess that for the past few months I've been feeling burnt out. I've had enough of the battles that happen every day with the kids to do their schoolwork. I'm tired of having to clean up after the 3 year old's messes that she seems not to learn to stop doing. And I'm tired, oh so tired, of having to put my needs last.

After reading this book, me, the mother of 4 who seemingly should have the hang of it by now, got 2 huge (for me) things from this book that have made me feel happy about parenting again (and these are only two of the many insights and aha moments I had while reading):

1. (This is the thing that blew my mind and took me a day to process before telling my hubby).
I tell my kids I love them every day, several times a day. But I don't think I had been making a point to consciously show them. And this made me feel sad. I realized I'm so dependent on multitasking, and actually prefer to escape from certain moments by going on my phone or computer. Susan explains that when you take some time to be totally present with your children, it lets them know you like them, you like spending time with them, and you enjoy listening to what they have to say. She does a way better job at making the point. But what finally dawned on me is that if I express my acceptance and love with my actions and most importantly, my total presence, my kids will be more willing to comply to requests without battles. I've tried it out for the past few days and WOW, it really does work. I know it's hard for some parents to get down and play with the kids. But I'm sure we can all find a way to connect with them. It doesn't have to be the same for everyone, just find something you can do together for a while and give them your FULL presence (no phones, screens, facebook or taking pictures). Think of the last time you had that sort of interaction with someone. It feels good to have that full connection with someone, right? It doesn't happen as often as it should and it leaves us feeling frustrated when we are trying to tell someone something and you know they are distracted on their phone or doing some other task. I know I get bitchy with my hubby if I think he's not listening to me. So I can relate to how the kids feel if I'm seemingly playing with them but actually I'm writing a grocery list or checking my email on the side. Gosh, I even try to do something while breastfeeding my baby, even though he doesn't nurse for long. I finally realized the message this is sending my kids. Don't get me wrong, I know as parents we have things we need to get done. But I get it now: when you have those moments of time with your kids when you really don't need to be doing anything else, give the moment, yourself and them your full presence. It is one of those things that will pay in dividends.

2. Once again, another book has made it very clear that holding on to shame and guilt lead to nothing good (the last book I read to make this message very clear was Brene Brown's "The Gifts of Imperfection"). Guilt and shame will likely lead to us not feeling confident with our parenting choices, and this in turn will lead to us not being kind with ourselves. When it comes to setting and sticking to the limits, that our kids need to feel safe and to thrive, we may feel inadequate. Giving in to tantrums or arguing with our kids ends up sending the message that there's no captain manning the ship. Again, Susan does a great job at explaining this in a way to make you go "Ah wow, I never thought of it that way." And so, I have been noticing that I sometimes second guess myself and have doubts and then guilt when I set limits. And I've noticed that, at least for me but I think this would apply to many other parents too, the key to maintaining limits is making sure we stay calm. For example, one evening my son wanted a bedtime snack. He got bread and put it in the toaster all on his own. Then he got the ketchup and mustard out. I requested he use peanut butter instead as it was a healthier choice. He complained and complained and said I wasn't being fair. I stood compassionate but firmly planted. And eventually he relaxed and enjoyed his peanut butter sandwich. If I had not taken the time to stay calm and just be present during his complaining (mini tantrum) I would certainly have given in and relented. But instead, his reaction didn't push my buttons. And in the end I was able to stay at the helm of this sometimes crazy-rocking-boat. If the captain freaks out, all is lost. I'm being a bit dramatic, but kids need to know someone is in charge. As Susan puts it,
"Children don't want to be in charge, it's just that they know somebody has to be, because they understand that life is not safe unless someone competent is behind the wheel (Parenting With Presence, pg. 51)." 
I need to keep reminding myself to see things as: if it's not an emergency, don't freak out. And even in an emergency, freaking out wouldn't help. Things will be clearer and calmer if you just stay present.

Two other things you need to know about this book. The first is that it does have ideas and insights that have to do with mindfulness, ancient eastern know, the sort of stuff in "The Power of Now." For me this is fantastic because I love that's right up my alley! I'm only mentioning it so you aren't surprised. If you aren't into that stuff, I still think you should give it a chance because from cover to cover the book is amazing (and I'm seriously not even joking here). If you have ever felt like a bad parent, have a kid who has tantrums, have a kid who pushes your buttons and triggers you, have a kid who loves (or is addicted to) screen time, have a kid who is stressed...or actually, if you have kids period....this book will have at least one thing you can take home that will help you and your relationship with your kids.

The second is that while it's an amazingly well written book that you can read within a few days, it's not an easy read. What I mean here is that you can't just expect to read it and that's it...voila all will be great. No, if you want it to help, you're going to have to be willing to do some soul-searching of your own. But this isn't a negative thing. In fact, the more you know about yourself, the better you'll be able to get to know the kind of parent you are and that can only help in the end. At the end of each chapter there are reflections and questions to ask yourself as well as ways to implement the main points of that chapter into your daily life. I tell you, Susan does not leave you hanging. She's got your back the whole time. And that's why I felt I was in a one-on-one session with her.

Now, because I love this book so much, I'm going to gift one copy to a lucky reader! All you have to do is click on over to Susan's website (here) then come back here and tell me in the comments one thing you'd like to change in your parenting. I will draw a name at random on May 31, 2015. Please make sure you leave a valid email I can use to contact you if you're the winner :-)

And here is a short video in which Susan Stiffelman talks about the 3 takeaway messages from her book.

<3 Thanks for reading >3

P.S. Happy Mother's Day to all the Mamas out there!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Bloody Tooth

Once upon a time there was a tooth. A baby tooth. That was inside a 5 year old boy's mouth. One day the boy felt it was very wiggly. He couldn't eat his hotdog! So in his frustration, he smushed it all over his face. That was pretty silly. His Dad told him he could help get the tooth out. His mom told him he would be safe and sound even if his tooth fell out. So at bathtime, the boy decided to let his Dad pull it half out, and he would pull the other half out. Well, he got dental floss and toilet paper. The Dad tied the floss around the wiggly tooth. Then he pulled!!! It was a bit suprising! It got bloody. The boy was a little shocked. But then his Mommy told him to take deep breaths. And then he calmed down. And when he fell asleep and the tooth fairy left him some money.

The End.

{By: Sharky Boy}

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I stood someone up, oh the shame :-(

I experienced a mortifying experience this afternoon when I totally and unintentionally stood someone up for the first time in my life!

I am so embarrassed.

But she was so cool and understanding. She even told me to not let it ruin my day.

We rescheduled and seems like all is well in the end.

But I learned a few things.


#1. I got stood up a couple times in my life. One was with a potential client and the other with someone I was interviewing as a nanny. It wasn't great. I felt like they didn't respect me or my time. I didn't get mad, but it was annoying. Well, now I have been in those shoes. I have a first hand experience at how it can happen. It is true, the best way to learn another's experience is to walk a mile in their shoes.

#2. I should not (and will not) make plans weeks in advance. Even with my smart phone calendar, my brain did not act smart today. I am really a day-to-day kinda gal. Maybe I can handle a week in advance!? Haha! I need some life hacks to be able to make plans way ahead of time. I'm thinking detailed notes in my calendar and multiple reminders leading up to the commitment.

#3. Honesty is the best policy. I could have made up some sob story about why I didn't show up. But I didn't. In University I told a few fibs to profs just to get some sympathy for missed classes (even when my reason for being absent would have been totally valid, but for some reason I felt I needed something more dramatic). Anyways, I didn't lie today. I let myself be totally vulnerable and to feel the shame and embarrassment. I did share a bit of what had happened in my day that had led me to make such a blunder, but I didn't want to excuse it away. And I sincerely apologized. It felt right to sit with those emotions, but then I was able to get out of the rut. Maybe if I had lied, I would have continued to feel bad and the person I stood up would have felt the lie and felt even more annoyed and maybe even betrayed. It was an awesome learning opportunity for my kids too. They saw their Mama make a big mistake. I like when life gives me the chance to show my kids that even grownups make mistakes. But most importantly, for them to see how to own the mistake and problem solve after.

I hope when we meet up next week we can have a laugh about this and I'll be able to make it up by buying lunch :-)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Finding Our Voice And Peace When Giving Birth

Know you have options and a voice, always.
Photo courtesy of Tall Grass Photography
As a doula I witness women making decisions during pregnancy and childbirth. Many times, I am invited into this process by my clients asking me questions or sometimes for my advice.

But as a doula, it is not my job to make decisions for my clients.

As a doula, it is my job to support and encourage my clients to find their own truth, their own power and to gather the info they need to make a decision they will be at peace with.

As a mother, I know firsthand how hard that can be. I know what it's like to second guess and doubt yourself. I know what it's like to make a decision when you are afraid. I know what it's like for something unexpected and scary to happen where decisions need to be made quickly. I also know what it's like to be so involved in {or detached from} the process that you just wish someone else would make the decisions for you.

Sometimes, I wish I could help a client make a decision. But then I quickly realize I wouldn't be helping because it is not my process, it is not my birth, it is not my decision...the only thing I can do is fill the room with positive, peaceful, loving intention and support.

And you know what? This is an amazingly helpful thing to do. Why? Because when a person is in the midst of making a decision (sometimes a really difficult one, that may have been unexpected, or something they didn't want to have to be faced with), they don't need judgement, they don't need fear, "what ifs" or "should haves". All they need is someone that has got their back. Someone that is supporting them, NO MATTER WHAT. Someone that will remind them of their options and help them understand more about the situation they are in. Someone that will remind them what is important (to be true to yourself, to trust yourself, to stand in your power) and to bear witness to the process. It is a soothing feeling to experience what it's like to make a decision surrounded by support. Personally, I know that being unconditionally supported and surrounded by love gave me the strength to make the decisions that needed to me made. And I was able to know right down to my core that I was at peace with my decisions, despite things not turning out the way I thought they would. I know what the opposite scenario feels like too.

Being able to encourage and unconditionally support a labouring woman, to make decisions she can be at peace with, is one of the main reasons I became a doula.

Birth is an unpredictable, mysterious, beautiful thing. And sometimes unexpected things can happen which will require us to make decisions we didn't think we'd need to make. It definitely helps if we are prepared and ready to advocate...but even then, the decision making process is hard, often one where we rely on our deepest instincts and ultimately by weighing the pros and cons of what we can be at peace with.

Sometimes we don't make decisions from that place and we may look back and feel regret. It kinda sucks. I know I've been there. And what really helped me was to realize I did the best I could in that moment. After the birth of my 3rd baby, I had a lot of regrets and anger surrounding the decision to consent to a cesarean. For a long time I carried that around. It was a process to slowly peel away the layers and get down to the core of it all. I realized I had set expectations of myself. I realized I had made decisions based on fear and based on the belief that I wasn't capable. I also didn't really consider the point of view and wisdom of my baby who was also undergoing the process. It hurt to see the truth, but there was no turning back. I began to heal and I realized my strength in the process. I knew that if I was to ever have another baby, I was now a different woman. I now knew what it felt like to make decisions I was not at peace with. I decided that from that point on, I would decide things {life stuff too, not just birth} based on MY own terms, from a place of peace and strength.

It took me giving birth 4 times to finally believe that there is no perfect way to give birth, there is only the way that is right for each of us.

I had heard it, read it and been told it before...but it's so easy to get caught up in the this-vs-that mindset.

What matters most in birth is not if we give birth with medication or without, if we have a VBAC or a repeat cesarean, if we birth at home or in the hospital...the list goes on. {It's not a competition}

What does matter is that we understand the physiology of birth, that we understand our options, that we are true to ourselves and the intentions we have for us and our babies, that we advocate for informed choice and evidence based care, that we're encouraged to trust our intuition and that we're respected and listened to throughout.

The only way this can all unfold, is if we make it speaking up, asking questions and knowing that we have options and a voice, always.

However you and your baby chose/choose (cause babies have a say in birth too!) to give birth, know that there is at least one person in the world that will cheer you on and not judge!

I want women to know and experience the strength and power they can find within themselves when they give birth. I want women to remember the day their baby was born as an empowering one.

But most of all, I want women to know that all women are in this together. Birth is a catalyst that thrusts us into the circle of beginnings and ends, of life. We join all the women before us and all those that will come ahead. And that is a powerful thing to be a part of.

We each make our own personal decisions, because we each have individual situations, health considerations, and in the end we need to own our decisions. But we are united because we all know what it's like to be ready to do anything for that tiny little human we've grown and nurtured within love someone so much more than anything we'd ever have imagined. And being at peace with our decisions during birth is the foundation to having a great start in our relationship with that beautiful little human. And that is important <3

{Photo from Tall Grass Photography, used with permission}

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I'm No Fertile Myrtle...

Looking at our family, certain assumptions may be made.

The thing with assumptions is that they are almost always wrong.

Assuming I must get pregnant really easily is one of those cases.

Yes, we have four kids, but it was not because my husband can get me pregnant "by just looking at me."

I'm no fertile myrtle. It took a lot of patience, a lot of waiting, a lot of tears, a lot of appointments, medications, tests and procedures to finally get pregnant with our sweet Mermaid Girl.

I will never forget the day I got a positive pregnancy test: I was ecstatic and terrified all at once. I had waited for this day for a very long time and now that I had a little life growing inside me, I didn't want
anything to ever happen to make it stop growing.

Her pregnancy was wonderful, but always tainted with moments of panic, moments that I would lose it all.

Each pregnancy after that came after many months of trying. Each time using more natural and holistic ways to boost my fertility and to nurture and nourish my body and the new life growing within. Each time bringing more acceptance and peace and trusting that whatever needed to happen, would.

It's kind of sad to admit it, but as much as I absolutely LOVED being pregnant each time, in the back of my mind there was always a little tiny bit of knowing that all it would take would be a moment, and that sweet little baby growing inside me could be no more.

Having experienced infertility, two early pregnancy losses and all the emotions that come with that, made me humbled, made me really respect and be in awe of the miracle and fragility of life. I became beyond grateful because I know I am blessed to be able to hold each of my darling babies in my arms, warm and wiggling and to watch them grow.

Despite the painful and arduous journey of bringing my four beautiful babies Earthside, I would not change it for anything because it has made me the person I am today...and I like being me. I have gained so much more than I ever lost. I became more connected to my body and learned to trust its cues and signs. This in turn, helped me strengthen my intuition, which was amazing for childbirth and has served me well during motherhood. My journey made me realize that I wanted to be a very mindfully present parent (and person), to really connect with my babies and this in turn, made me the mother I am today...and I hope my kids think I'm a good one.

I'm sharing this because I know how isolating infertility and pregnancy loss can feel. I know the emotional roller coaster ride that you just wish you could get off of, but know that if you do, it means you're giving up. I know how it feels to give up. Sometimes...and for a while...and then get back
to trying again. I know the feelings of guilt, confusion and despair that come from simply seeing a family with their baby or children. Of feeling anguish (but not wanting to feel this way) when people in your life announce their happy news and not really having anyone to talk to about it. Or even worse, to know how to talk about it. I know the hope that builds up as you anticipate and wait, and then the crushing devastation that comes when you see those red streaks instead of those two pink lines. Of not being able to understand why it's all happening, or not happening and wanting so much to just find the right thing that's going to make it work. And, I also know I am so blessed to know the joy that fills every cell in your body when the dream finally comes true.

I know that it's necessary to feel everything we need to feel, it's essential to validate our feelings and emotions, but maybe we don't have to do it alone. Infertility doesn't need to be a sentence to lonelyville because there are many of us around who know what it's like, and maybe talking and just having someone to hold the space for us while we vent is all we need to help us get back to feeling hopeful.

If I could say just one thing to encourage someone going through something similar, it would be to be to find your Zen. This doesn't mean you are all calm and speak in hushed tones and have all the wise answers. No, it means that despite the difficulties, you feel loved and secure. Despite turmoil and a big unknown path ahead of you, you feel courageous to walk ahead. I'd say "don't give up," but sometimes that doesn't work. Sometimes we need to be totally vulnerable to find our strength. So it's OK to give up if that's what you need to do. There is no weakness in surrendering. Just remember that surrender doesn't mean the end. It means you are open to a new beginning. And sometimes that's how we find the answers we need to get back on our feet. It all may not turn out exactly how we had thought it would, but somehow dreams can and do come true.