Fuckup Nights for Parents

Fuckup Nights for Parents

There’s this global movement in the business world called Fuckup Nights that I think is brilliant. It’s a simple concept; a series of events where people get up and tell their stories of failure. Like TED, but with a twist. Businesses that crashed and burned. Deals gone wrong. Product recalls. That sort of thing.

Along with being generally hilarious, the stories tend to be quite inspiring. Largely because the people who have the humility to be able to get up in front of a crowd of people and say, “yep, I fucked up,” those people are the good ones. It shows real strength of character. These are professionals who are able to look failure in the face, move on, and ultimately to learn from it.

So, I’m thinking, we need Fuckup Nights for Parents. A time to get together and share the times we totally screwed it up. To support each other through it, and to bring failure out into the open. To take the shame out – because we all fuck up, sometime or another. It’s just a matter of how we frame it.

Of course, getting out of the house, on time, without the kids is probably easier said than done for parents of young kids, so I guess a virtual Fuckup Nights will have to suffice for now. Here’s one of my tales of failure to get the ball rolling:

It was about 7 months ago. Little A was a few weeks old, and GG was in the thick of coming to terms with the new addition to our family. About to turn 3 and just having a really hard time of it. He was acting out left and right, but usually the trigger was when he needed me and I was busy with the baby – generally nursing or holding her when he wanted to be held.

His kindergarten threw a holiday party one afternoon, and for some reason I thought nothing of turning up by myself with Little A in tow. She was fussy so I just brought her in my arms, no carrier, no stroller. I’m cringing now just thinking about it.

The party was a low-key affair, just a few little songs and dances and then food, but somehow for us it turned into a borderline catastrophe. GG wanted me to dance with him and Little A was screaming. I had nowhere to put her down even if I wanted to. He wanted me to pick him up and had a total meltdown. The baby needed to eat. I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask for help – or I hadn’t learned yet that sometimes the only way to survive with more than one kid is to get help.

Before long the poor little guy was a total mess. Screaming for me to pick him up, surrounded by kids who had all of their parents attention, and there I was, baby in my arms, failing him. I hadn’t even thought about it, about how much GG would need my attention in there. I’m so embarrassed to say that but it’s the truth.

I could have asked someone to come with me just to hold her, I could have thought to bring the stroller in, I could have asked for help. Now that I’m writing this, I could have even run outside right then to get the stroller from the car! But I didn’t. I was so busy fucking up that I couldn’t think straight.

Eventually we made it out. I let GG eat some gross unhealthy food because I felt so guilty and inadequate, and somehow I got both of them and an armload of bags and jackets into the car.

And that’s it, that’s my fuckup story. Sounds insignificant I guess, and maybe it was, but to me it was huge. Because I realized it, plain and simple. Failure.

So, why am I thinking about this right now?

Because yesterday I had my chance for a corrective experience – the end of year kindergarten party. And this time I got it. I understood what was expected of me, prepared accordingly and we all had a great time.

IMG_2431
I don’t have a photo of that day, but this was around then, and it seems symbolic. The two of them and me, all on top of each other, trying to work out what fits where. 

Accepting my own imperfections is a real challenge for me. My therapist is always reminding me that the aim is not perfection – but rather acceptance. Sometimes I feel like, umm hello, what am I paying you for if we’re not working on making me perfect here? But of course, she’s right. And I think owning our failures can help us move towards acceptance. Not to try to get to a point where we don’t fuck up – coz that’s not gonna happen – but rather to except that we’ll make mistakes, and to learn to see failure, nod and carry on.

So, who’s up next?

An Epic Toddler Meltdown That Made Total Sense

An Epic Toddler Meltdown That Made Total Sense

The trip from Tel Aviv to Sydney was long – 31 hours door-to-door. It’s full-on for an adult, let alone for a three-year-old and a five-month-old.

GG loved every minute of it. He’s obsessed with planes for starters, plus we had endless time to spend together, and I let him play games on the iPad for the first time – so he was totally in his element. We slept a decent amount on the first flight but only a little on the second, and were all totally exhausted by the time we got to my mother’s place.

Before take-off, flight #1.
Before take-off, flight #1.

So it wasn’t surprising that within an hour of us walking in the door, GG totally melted down. At first it was kind of comical – him and Little A both starting bawling at the same time, and my sister’s newborn (who we’d come all this way to meet) joined in, too. We each took a kid – my sister cuddled hers, mum put my baby down for a nap and I took GG into the lounge room to calm down.

It was clear that this was no ordinary tantrum. He was beyond exhausted, disoriented and completely overwhelmed. Within a few minutes of screaming and crying he started saying over and over that he wanted to go home, and Daddy, and I realized. Fuck. I’d spent so much time preparing him for the journey itself – maybe because that’s what I was nervous about – and totally neglected to explain the part where we were going to stay at his grandmother’s place in Sydney for two-and-a-half weeks. Without his dad. Fuck. What a colossal oversight.

While I was trying to hold him screaming and thrashing around I fumbled for a way to rectify my mistake. But how to explain it in three-year-old? He doesn’t understand the concept of weeks. He doesn’t know that trips end eventually. He can’t text his dad whenever he misses him a bit.

I took a punt.

“Remember when your friend Ella went to America?”

He paused, interested. He loves Ella, and the story was recent. He nodded.

“Remember how each day you went to kindergarten, and she wasn’t there? And your teacher told you she was in Los Angeles? And you really missed her?”

He nodded again. His breathing was starting to calm and the crazed, out-of-control look in his eyes was starting to soften. He was engaged.

“And then one day, after a couple of weeks, she was back! Do you remember?”

He smiled, “Yes! And I went to America once.” It’s true, we’d visited New York the previous year, too.

“So that’s what this trip is going to be like. We’re going to stay here at Nanna’s place for two-and-a-half weeks, for this many days [I showed him with my fingers]. Each night we’ll go to sleep here, and wake up here the next morning. And then when those days have passed, we’re going to head back home, to Daddy. We’ll take two planes to get home, with a night in a hotel in the middle.”

He got it.

“Mama I have an idea,” he said. “Let’s pretend that this is our home. Just for now.”

He totally nailed it. It was just so fucking sweet and perfect. I hugged him again. “That’s exactly it baby. That’s what a holiday is. This is our home for now, while we’re in Australia. And then we’ll go back to our real home.”

And that was it. He literally skipped into the kitchen for a snack.

It took another week until he completely settled. A week for the jetlag to pass, to feel at home in his new “pretend” home. But every time I said we were going home after an outing or a visit, GG had to check – “home to Nanna’s place?” – just to make sure he still understood the plan.

The conversation was a real eye-opener for me. I’d been so hung up on my anxieties about the trip – particularly 24 hours of flights, alone with two small children – that I’d forgotten to fill the kids in on the whole picture. It’s not that I hadn’t considered them of course – I’d gone over and over what sort of visit would be best for both of them, the balance between activities and chill out time, who we’d see when, where they would each sleep etc. To the point of distraction, really. But I hadn’t done the full circle that is so often the key. I hadn’t kept GG in the loop, of his own life.

In a more general sense, the conversation was a reminder for me that kids don’t just lose their shit for no reason. On top of the basic stuff that makes us all more sensitive – like hunger and tiredness – there’s also usually a misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up. Often with toddlers it seems completely illogical – like we didn’t ask them what color spoon they wanted or some crap – but this one made perfect sense. Just like adults, kids need – and deserve – to be informed about what’s going to happen to them. I certainly wouldn’t want to be dragged halfway around the world without at least being told the basic itinerary details. Why should it be any different for my kids?

So, to GG and Little A – this is my promise to you. I’ll do my best to keep you in the loop, with big things and little things alike. To help give you a sense of control and order over your world wherever I can. I’ll prepare you in language that you can understand, with points of reference that make sense to you. I’ll talk to you in advance, and remind you of the plan as necessary.

And if I’m ever not clear enough, if you still don’t get it, please feel free to cry. Even to flail around a bit. To let me know that I haven’t quite got it yet. I’ll try again and again, until you get it.

Promise.

Seriously, All I Had to Do Was Ask?

Seriously, All I Had to Do Was Ask?

This afternoon started out pretty much the same as yesterday afternoon – with whining and tears and ridiculously illogical arguments about whether or not we had bananas in the car. My heart sank. I’d hoped that bringing GG a special treat from the bakery when I picked him up from kindergarten might set the tone for a nice afternoon. No such luck. He didn’t like the way the bread stick crumbled onto his jeans, he screamed when it broke into two pieces, and when I refused to eat part of it according to his demands, five minutes of yelling and tears ensued.

And I’m okay with tears, really. He can cry on my shoulder, or on my chest wedged between my boobs as is his usual preference, as much as he wants. I’m good with emotional expression. But yesterday afternoon was just so tough, four hours of tantrum after tantrum with basically no breaks in between. I was terrified of a repeat performance. On top of the patience required to help a toddler through these onslaughts of feelings, when I need to feed 2-month-old Little A, GG’s full-blown tantrums escalate from peak level to … somehow even more extreme.

So we’d made it into the apartment. About a meter into the apartment. All three of us on the floor. Little A was in her baby car seat, crying to be taken out. GG was crying about a mark on his banana. I had tears in my eyes myself at the realization that today was going to be just like yesterday.

And then I remembered something GG’s kindergarten teacher had mentioned when I told her how hard the previous afternoon had been. She said that he was probably continuing the special circumstances from his week home sick with the flu. And this morning she warned my husband not to let it drag on. At the time we kind of didn’t know what to do with those statements. Like, how was I meant to “not let” him cry? It didn’t seem to fit with our parenting style at all.

But in this moment on the floor, I looked at my little boy on my lap, tears streaming down his cheeks, ranting about wanting something or not wanting something else, I don’t even remember anymore, and I thought, he looks so out of control, like it’s all too much. Like he has no idea what he’s meant to be doing. Like a week of rules being thrown out the window because he was just so miserable had totally confused him.

Like he really needed some boundaries.

And so I turned him around to face me, and I told him, “Sweetheart, you and me, we can figure anything out. If you need something just ask me and I’ll always do my best to help you.”

He was listening. I went on, “Let me tell you what I want. I want us to have a nice calm afternoon together. I don’t like it when we fight so much. Do you think you can find a way to ask me for things other than yelling?”

He agreed, and straight away something in his mood lifted. And yet 2 minutes later he started whining and yelling “no! no! no!” when I denied his request for a second banana. I calmly told him that this was the sort of yelling I’d mentioned before, and he took a deep breath, and asked me again calmly. And then even managed to accept my repeated “no” to his banana and move on.

The next time he started to yell he caught himself before I even said anything, and a look of realization seemed to pass over his face. He understood that this was the voice I’d been talking about, and he smiled. And that was it.

We had such a fun afternoon. We ate, we played, he helped his baby sister get to sleep for her nap. We read books. Three solid hours of good wholesome fun.

When my husband came home he couldn’t believe it, how I’d “fixed” him. The energy in the house felt completely different from the past couple of weeks. Bath and bed time were a breeze, and GG went to bed with smile on his face.

But I didn’t fix him, of course. There will be tantrums and crappy afternoons again. All I did was remind him what was expected of him, and ask for his cooperation. Clearly, calmly, and in a way he could understand.

And what a freaking champion is he, right?

img_2377
(Okay this was actually a couple of weeks ago but it fits nicely here)
How to Be a Mindful Working Mama

How to Be a Mindful Working Mama

Being a working mama is hard. I went back to work full-time after seven months on maternity leave, and the month that followed was one of the hardest of my life. I was nervous about leaving GG, getting my brain back into work mode was hell, I was racked with guilt, and exhausted to boot.

Now, one-and-a-half years later, I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on it. I’m sure in a few years time I’ll have loads more insight to share – it’s a skill after all, and this is all just practice – but this is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Choose Your Job Wisely

Being an awesome mama and having a thriving career aren’t mutually exclusive – but not every working situation is a good match for the gig. Especially not in the first few years. I had a high-pressure job that required insane hours and dedication a few years back and I loved it – but I recognize that right now is not the time for such a position.

Similarly, two of my close friends are currently in the process of getting themselves out of work situations that are negatively effecting their personal lives. Two part-time jobs instead of one full-time job sounded like a great idea in theory – lots of flexibility and variety – but it turns out there’s no such thing as a part-time job. Instead, these two awesome mamas are neither seeing their kids as much as they want nor paying the bills, so they’re realizing that it’s time to reel it in.

A full-time job can sound daunting right after maternity leave – especially if you’re off work for more than a few months, but if you choose a family friendly workplace and set some boundaries it’s actually a lot less work.

2. Choose Your Childcare Wisely, Too

This is crucial. If you have an uneasy feeling in your gut about how your baby is being treated, you’re gonna feel guilty about leaving them and going to work. If you feel 100% comfortable about the daycare situation, you’re more likely to feel like you’ve made the right choice. For me, it was even bigger than that. I went back to work when GG was seven months old, and he’s been in a small family daycare ever since. From the first month I realized that not only was this okay – it was great for him. While we all had to adjust to eight hours apart five days a week, the clear reality was that GG was blossoming. He gained so much from making friends, learning how to go to sleep by himself, eating in group and making close relationships with other adults that now I wouldn’t have it other way.

3. Be Where You Are

Once you know that you’ve got a job that fits the life you want to lead and childcare that works for your family, it’s all about being where you are. If you’re thinking about work when you’re at home and home when you’re at work, you’re not being the best of yourself. Your work will suffer and so will your parenting. This is where you need to switch on your mindful attention.

Here’s what works for me: as much as possible, I use the Pomodoro Technique to maximize my efficiency at work. I write detailed, prioritized to-do lists for the next day before I leave the office each day, and then I work in 25-minute time slots to get through the tasks. This is the kicker: I turn my phone onto airplane mode for 25 minutes at a pop, during which time I’m totally focused on the task at hand. I check texts, emails, Facebook etc. in short breaks in between.

When I leave the office – I leave the office. When necessary I get in a few more hours at night once GG’s asleep, but from when I pick him up in the afternoon until he’s asleep, I’m in mama mode. I don’t answer phone calls, I don’t play with my phone except to take photos of him doing ridiculously cute things and I don’t check my emails. I enjoy every moment we have together – and I’m sure I’m a better mother for it.

When you’re at work, be at work. When you’re at home, be at home. Leave the exceptions for real emergencies.

GG visiting me at work last summer. A bad example of boundaries but a very cute photo. 

4. Take a Mini Meditation Break

I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a lifesaver for me. I have an alarm set on my phone for 11:45am every day. If I’m not in a meeting or involved in an urgent task when it goes off, I shut my office door and meditate for 10 minutes. Ultimately I’d like to be meditating every morning/night too, but it’s not happening right now and these mini meditation breaks help me keep a base level of mindful attention throughout the day. Give it a go and see if it works for you.

5. Reconnect at the End of the Day

I find mindfulness really important to ease into the transition from work to mothering. I make a point of pausing before I knock on the door at daycare or walk in the door at home if GG is already home with his father or grandmother: I take a deep breath, and ground myself. I make sure I’m fully present for that moment when we reunite at the end of our days.

Up until recently nursing was our reconnection ritual – now it’s finding a new place. Sometimes I join him in whatever he’s doing, sometimes it’s a long hug, sometimes a conversation. Making that conscious effort to really be with him for those first moments flicks the switch, and I’m home.

When Natural Parenting Feels Anything But Natural

When Natural Parenting Feels Anything But Natural

Ostensibly, I’m all into doing things naturally. I read the books, follow the blogs, join the Facebook groups. I breastfeed and babywear. I’ve got the hippy pants. I tsk judgingly from time to time at people who do otherwise (oh come on, admit it – you do too). But sometimes I’ve gotta admit – it feels anything but natural. I feel like I’m stopping myself all the time, trying to find the “right” response, the healthy way to react, the RIE way. That I’m trying so hard to be chilled that my movements end up jerky, that I’m over-thinking and second-guessing every word I say to Gadi, every move. Every time I offer the breast as comfort, take the stroller instead of the carrier, let him taste a cookie out of my hand. Every time I let him fall asleep on me.

When he was younger it was easier. He stayed in one place, his needs were simpler. All my varied and conflicting sources agreed that there’s no such thing as spoiling a newborn. He just needed me to be there, to tend to his basic needs, to respect him, to love him. And all of that came naturally.

Now, he’s testing. Not in a behavioral, toddler sense – not yet, anyway – but rather he’s trying to understand sequences, cause and effect. If I do this, then this will happen. And that’s fine, it’s great – I just so badly want to do my bit right that it’s doing my head in. And all of my attempts to be natural and mindful and connected and tuned in are somehow colliding with each other. My mind and my heart and my maternal instincts, all pulling me in different ways.

There’s a problem with the word “natural,” or at least the concept. We mean so many different things when we say it – the way humans are “meant” to be, pre-industrial revolution, before medicine, without plastic and screens… But the truth is that natural doesn’t feel natural anymore, not in this day and age. What’s natural is what we’re used to, how we were brought up, what we see around us. Perhaps that’s why everything I do ends up feeling like it’s going against the grain.

I’ve felt it since the beginning of the pregnancy, in some way, shape or form – that I was doing something weird. I’d tell people I was planning a natural birth and they’d look at me like I said I’d decided to birth my (huge) baby out of my left nostril. Exclusively (“only?!”) breastfeeding is somehow seen as subversive behavior, especially past the age of six months, when babies should apparently be eating bucketloads of processed shit sold in tins. And don’t even get me started on Baby Led Weaning. And though these things do feel natural to me – certainly when I think about them and sometimes in practice, too – implementing them can be a bit of an uphill battle.

I was telling my boss a couple of months back about our efforts to get Gadi’s sleep on track, and our deliberations about whether or not to enlist the help of a sleep therapist. About painstaking lists of bed times and wake ups, books and articles, taking turns and careful routines. Her suggestion? “Maybe you just need to go with it.” I was so taken aback – that’s what I thought we were doing. How did I manage to turn laid back and relaxed parenting into something so anal?

I like to think – I hope – that these are just growing pains. That just like anything else, it feels a bit awkward at first and then eventually becomes second nature. And of course, it’s not always like this. When I’m really there, right in the moment connected with Gadi, there’s a perfect flow. When I’m responding rather than reacting – yes – but easily, quickly, naturally. Like Victor Frankl put it:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Deep down, I know the fact that I’m thinking about all of this means I’m being exactly the type of parent I want to be – a mindful, intentional parent. That I’m trying things out, seeing what fits. I also know that it’s when I’m living in the past or the future – going over and over things that happened or trying to plan out the future move by move – that this conflict exists. In the moment, when I’m really present, everything is great.

But in the meantime, it’s hurting my poor tired brain.