a mother's manifesto

one mother's public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives and motives

I believe…

In my mothers’ writing group we’ve been writing stories lately.  I think often about the stories I tell myself and the stories I believe. Some are more strongly ingrained than others. I’m doubtful that there is really any objective truth to any of the stories and beliefs we have about reality. But belief itself goes a long way into making things real (reads and watches I’ve found influential). So I try and be mindful of what I tell myself and what I choose to believe, checking in to see if it serves me.

With regards to my mothering:

  • I believe that it is my role and responsibility as a mother to provide security, unconditional acceptance, guidance and space for my child to navigate through this life he’s been given (this belief can certainly serve me but can also place a lot of pressure on me if I go so far to believe that everything that happens to my son comes from my nurturing).
  • I believe that my son and I have chosen each other and are interconnected in our own journeys of learning and growth (along with the notion 0f “being given life” mentioned above, these are deep, untestable spiritual beliefs; these beliefs can certainly be helpful in balancing a sense of choice and power with surrender and trust).
  • I believe that in order to foster his sense of safety and security, I need to accept my son’s complete dependence on me and trust that his own independence will grow from that solid base and will progress with the trust of that security and growth of his own mastery (this belief helps me to trust that it’s not up to me to make my son grow, but rather that, like a gardener, it’s my job to tend and water and the seedling will grow on its own accord; this belief, however, is often at odds with my culture’s beliefs of the job of parents to cultivate independence in their children – encouraging them to self-soothe, “sleep-training” them so they can sleep on their own, etc., so that even my partner sometimes criticises me of coddling our toddler and shares his worries that he’ll never be able to do anything on his 0wn – although it’s clear to see how much he HAS learned to do on his own over these last 16 months!).
  • I believe that there is no one way to parent, just as there is no one way to live. We each have our own unique path, gifts, challenges and needs. Every parent and child pair is different and there is no one size fits all for everyone (this belief helps me to listen inward to what’s right for me and my family and to listen to different opinions and approaches to parenting while taking what resonates and leaving what doesn’t; it helps me make choices that may not be the norm for our society but that I know intuitively are the ones for us).
  • I believe that children need to be close to their parents – this need being highest at birth and slowly diminishing as the child’s capability and independence grows over years. I believe that especially young infants who are completely dependent need to sense their parent/caregiver’s closeness to know they’re safe (because of this belief, my son has been very close physically since birth – we bedshare and I babywear. Because this belief is so strong however, it also conflicts with my belief described above and I find I can be extremely judgemental of other parents’ practices.  I am ashamed to actually admit how much I actually judge – when my intention is to be as accepting and compassionate of others as I can be. But because my belief is so passionately held, I find myself constantly judging western culture’s common practices of the constant use of devices – strollers, cribs, seats, etc. and find I can be somewhat extreme and rigid about such things).
  • I believe that, deep down, we have all the wisdom and knowledge we need for our lives. I also believe many of us have lost the ability to listen to and trust this innate knowing. I believe this is part of the reason many childcaring practices are not necessarily in line with what’s best for us or our children but have become the prevailing, accepted approaches because we turn to the external expert to tell us what to do (because of this I believe my child is still connected and aware of his own wisdom but having spent the better part of my lifetime learning to not trust, I find myself not always trusting him. True it is challenging to trust he knows what he needs when he would gladly choose cheddar bunny crackers for every meal).
I love babywearing

Babywearing is right for us

 

As I write about my beliefs, I realise I could probably fill an encyclopedia set with them! I also know I would find a lot of contradictory beliefs as well as those that cause me grief, judgement, sadness, resistance and pain. I’ve found that changing a belief structure, however, is often not so easy to do. Experience and trust are often necessary factors in shaping and altering our beliefs. But even just having an intention of holding a belief structure that serves me rather than inhibits and hurts me (even in subtle ways) is helpful in slowly reshaping my worldview. Learning to accept the paradoxes in life also helps to slowly soften my more rigid beliefs (as I know, that despite my disdain towards fundamentalism of any sort, I can tend towards it myself – sometimes attracted to its appeal of clarity and direction but ultimately realising that nothing is so certain or written in stone).

One more belief I hold that is helpful for me to return to is that, as humans, we are all flawed and fallible. We all make mistakes and we are always learning. This reminds me that it doesn’t serve to judge others’ mistakes (and that it’s not even my place to determine what a mistake is for someone else). Cultivating acceptance and forgiveness – for myself above all – is really the key to a compassionate and loving life. I’m still often nowhere near there, especially when I see how triggered and incensed I can become about others’ parenting practices. But because I care so much about parenting and my own growth and evolution, these more blatant challenges can be used to spark a steeper learning curve. And maybe by airing out my own flaws publicly here, I can help that learning and growing even more!

Leave a comment »

Of all the reasons to dance with our children…

Why would we dance with our children?

Twelve reasons in no particular order:

dancing with sashabug1. Dancing is non-verbal. Dancing is physical. Which is where our children are and the way they communicate with the world in their pre-verbal stage. Dance and movement provide us with a language with which to communicate with our children and clarify for ourselves. Dancing is an amazing tool to express things we cannot express in words, and things our minds cannot even comprehend or rationalise.

2. Dancing brings us into our body, which is always in the present. Our bodies feel what is now. Bring us into the now. Being in the present helps us to better tune into and respond to what’s being asked of us in the moment, rather than relying on preconceived ideas or beliefs based on what used to be or what we expected to be.

3. Dancing is fun! If we can let go of notions of how we should move or fears about what others may think of our movements, it feels so amazingly good to just move the way our bodies want to right now. Although many of us have not found this space, I think most of us crave it (hence the popularity of “dance as if no one is watching”).

4. Dancing is a wonderful way to move through whatever is coming up in the moment. It provides us with an embodied way to release tensions, let any emotions rise, move us and then fall away. In each moment, something new, reminding us of the transient nature of absolutely everything in life. It can help us find perspective and space, which is especially helpful in challenging times.

5. Dancing is great stress relief. When we’re less stressed, we feel better and are better parents. When our children are less stressed, they feel better and are better to their parents.

6. Dancing can be done anywhere, at anytime and in any place. We don’t need any special time or special equipment or special knowledge. Anyone with a body can move and can dance. We can dance for 2 minutes or for an hour. We can dance to the radio, sing our favourite songs, or to the sound of the rain on the roof. We can dance in the grocery store, in the living room or in the park. We can dance wearing our small baby or dance for him as he watches. We can dance together or each find our own movements. We can dance our favourite ballet or hip hop moves or let ourselves be moved from somewhere deep within. There is no wrong way to dance.

7. Dancing allows to model for our children. Modelling healthy activity, healthy expression, freedom of movement and presence. When we can ground ourselves through movement, we model this grounding for our children. When we can find joy and ease in our dance, we model such approaches to life.

8. Dancing increases self-esteem, self-awareness, coordination and self-mastery. For ourselves as parents when we see how easily we can move with our children, listen in the moment and trust ourselves and our intuition. For our children as they explore the amazing range of motion gifted to them by their physical bodies and are given space to express themselves.

9. Dancing gives everyone a safe place to lead and a safe place to follow. By allowing our children to lead a dance, we help them find their own sense of power. By leading our children in a dance, we foster their trust in us. By dancing together, we ground this power and trust in communication.

10. Dancing with our children is a social activity, offering social benefits in addition to the obvious physical, emotional, and mental ones. When we dance our own dance with others, we learn how to listen to our own needs and honour them while still being present and responsive to others. We learn to find balance, not only physically, but socially as well.

11. Dancing helps us to explore and give ourselves whatever it is we need in any given moment. If we’re tired, we can have a sleepy dance. If we have a broken leg, we can have an arm dance. If our children are super energetic, they can be as wild and crazy as they want. If our children are anxious, movement can give them an outlet for their fears. No matter what is going on now, we can dance it.

more dancing together

12. Dancing helps us love and celebrate our bodies. Helping us, as adults, return to this state and our children to maintain it.

I think there are as many reasons to dance with our children as there are people.

Why do you dance with your children?

1 Comment »

Speaking of pooping…

tin can phonesEffective communication.

Something I am constantly striving for.

And meeting the daily challenges that such a striving brings.

Really being heard. And really hearing what someone else is saying. My guess is that it doesn’t happen nearly as often as we think it does. This is clear to me in my romantic partnership. My stories and his stories are constantly getting in the way of really hearing what the other is trying to say to us. We try and find words to convey what we’re thinking/feeling but the way those words get interpreted by the other is influenced by so many factors (even wikipedia’s entry on communication goes into detail about some of said barriers).

And then there’s the communication with our pre-verbal children. Where spoken language is of much less use. Likely they have a lot less of the stories and filters we as adults have but we have far less at our disposal to try and understand each other.

One of the ways I focus on really communicating with my toddler is physically. As a dancer, we have danced together since he was born, which I believe has enhanced our physical connection and understanding of one another. Moving together provides us with a form of language we both have access to and, at the very least, helps me feel more connected and responsive to my son. This practice of moving together has been so valuable to me that I actually began facilitating a movement class for parents and children a few months ago where we all have space to be more fully in our bodies and explore new ways of listening to and communicating with our children. As a drop-in class, it also requires me as a facilitator to be open and willing to listen to the needs of those in each class as it’s different every time.

But everything’s different every time, isn’t it?  Isn’t it the expectation of the same that tends to limit our perception of what is being communicated now (e.g. me hearing the words of my father when my partner gives me feedback)?

This belief of mine is what motivates me to find ways of being as present as possible, of being aware of stories and preconceived ideas as they come up, and of being willing to listen for what is being asked for now.

The importance I place on communication and the large role of the body within the expression and perception of communication is also part of what has motivated me to practice elimination communication (EC) with my son. This is not something that I tend to advertise in public, perhaps for fears of others’ misinterpretations, e.g. that I’m forcing toilet training on a small baby. Which is maybe what you would think if you had seen me put my 4 month old on the potty (since we associate potties with toilet training – an example of our stories colouring our interpretation).

As my son grows and our communication increases, I am now wanting to share more with others about our journey with EC. This practice of maintaining awareness of my son’s elimination comes from a desire to learn to listen to and meet the needs of my child, to demonstrate to him that I am committed to being aware and responsive of those needs, to help him keep the bodily awareness he was born with and to give him more tools with which to communicate.  As a first-time mom, I wasn’t always sure what I was doing, especially when I began EC when my son was only a few days old. But as I grow with my son, he has shown me that (contrary to current popular beliefs) he is aware of his own elimination and has control of it. I’ve spoken to others who are interested in the idea of EC but believe it’s too overwhelming to attend to with everything else going on with a young child.

chicky chicky on the potty

My experience?  There certainly are a lot of things that feel overwhelming as a new parent but EC has not been one of those things. Yes, the idea before his birth did, but so did the idea of breastfeeding and innumerable other new activities that come along with becoming a parent. Some people who EC never put their children in diapers. This certainly helps their awareness of  their babies’ elimination patterns but also requires a different type of clean-up. I explored going diaper-free with my son for a little while and when he was already mobile, this approach was too overwhelming for me (requiring more vigilance than I felt I had to be ready to clean up pee misses on the floor). EC is not an all-or-nothing or prescriptive approach. We use diapers. But we have also been listening to our son’s signs and timing and our diapers are dry more than not as our 14 month old pees more in the potty than anywhere else. He even signs to us now when he needs to use the potty, which is such a feeling of success for a mother so committed to the communication with her child!

Writing about where my communication with my family is effective is so helpful for me today, when my communication feels somewhat off. After being up much of the night with a toddler who wouldn’t sleep, I find myself with little patience and a child who is whinier than usual. Ever reminding myself that communication is an ongoing process with no end and where perfection is not even an aim. A process that asks for continual commitment. A commitment that ever so often gifts us with subtle rewards of really feeling heard and really hearing.

Isn’t that what true connection is really about?

Leave a comment »

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, the world is full of abundance

stuart smalleyThe SNL quote may not be familiar to those outside my generation, but Stuart Smalley‘s comedic character does have some wisdom for me today.

My son has been sick this past week (thankfully getting better now). Normally a pretty independent, easy-going little guy, he’s been needing a lot of attention from me. Some days last week I couldn’t even put him down or he’d start crying. He’s not feeling well and it’s understandable. The part that was concerning me wasn’t his behaviour but rather my reaction. When the poor little sweetheart was bawling and reaching up for mommy, rather than feel compassion and tenderness for the person I love most in the world, I felt myself getting angry. Sometimes I would even end up speaking harshly to him.  And I was feeling absolutely awful about it. It is so important for me to be there for my son, especially in hard times, and so I needed to look at where this anger was coming from.

It didn’t surprise me completely as I’ve felt negative emotions come up with my especially needy cat. When it was Inanna, the cat, I came to the conclusion that it was a disgust of her neediness reflecting my disgust of my own neediness. I am especially sensitive, prone to crying more than average while endeavouring to be as self-sufficient and in control as possible. But it wasn’t disgust I was feeling and this explanation just wasn’t resonating.

The realisation that hit me was that it was stemming from a sense of scarcity and injustice. Yes, I often find myself having a hard time, crying and craving love and support. The thing is, I don’t often feel like I receive it. So being the person to provide it to my young child had me feeling resentful of my own lack.

This perception of lack is not limited to the support and love I feel I receive but has been a pretty prevalent theme throughout my entire life, never feeling like I have enough of anything, like I am enough. I find myself constantly comparing, envying and fighting a gnawing sense of failure. I would wager that this isn’t such an uncommon feeling as it seems to give rise to much of the competition, endless striving and misery many of us experience.

This isn’t a way I want to continue living and certainly not a sense of the world I want my son to grow up with (even if both his parents currently tend to view things this way). So in order to let go of the anger and be able to provide the caring and love my son needs, I need to feel like I have enough to give.  Like I’m receiving enough to support my own self. I know there are concrete actions, like articulating my needs and asking for help that are useful here but I really think the shift that can affect the greatest positive change is a perceptual one.

And you know what? Just the conscious decision to view the world as abundant rather than scarce has already had a positive impact. Cultivating a trust that I actually am receiving all I need and have everything I need to give my son is working! It certainly takes effort as my ingrained thinking and habits do not reflect such an approach. SNL may have been making fun of affirmations but they really do go a long way.

I dare you to try it! How would you like to view yourself and the world? What beliefs would better serve you? If you continue to affirm them to yourself, you may find yourself believing them! I know I am and both my self and my family are benefiting.

affirmations are powerful tools

affirmations are powerful tools

Leave a comment »

A mother and her boobs

somewhere along the way
it seems i lost my head
i don’t recall a day in particular
that it fell off
it seems to have been
a gradual dissolution
of what once was
 
the edges blurring
until i’m left in the present
a gift
undoubtedly
complete with its own dual 24-hour crawl-through diner
 
i don’t have ambivalence
about nourishing my baby
about that there’s no question
 
doubt and questions continue to plague
however
is nursing-on-demand the best nourishment
for a 13-month-old?
 
what if he has a control pattern
and is using food to avoid his feelings?
 
what if he develops an eating disorder
because he uses food
for purposes other than nutritional ones?
 
if i put boundaries
on the availability of milk
will that cause a problematic relationship with food
from a feeling of deprivation
or not enough?
 
will his trust
his sense of security
suffer?
 
if he doesn’t have enough solids
because he’s constantly at the boob
will he be iron-deficient?
get rickets without enough vitamin d
(because i never seem to remember to give him the drops)?
 
if he doesn’t have enough milk
will he be underweight
or malnourished?
will his immune system suffer?
 
there’s me to consider too
when will i get more than a couple hours sleep at a time?
or be able to go out without pumping?
 
so many things to figure out
in this new motherland
and my intuition
has been pretty good at guiding me
i trust myself
i’m a good mother
i love my child and my choices come from a good place
 
how to decide
what’s right for us
somewhere between
la leche league
and crying-it-out-sleep-training
 
the space between feels vast
and pretty mystifying
without a head
 
headless nursing goddess

I am participating in this really great art-based mothers’ project, Greetings from Motherland. Our assignment this week was to photograph a self-portrait without ourselves in the picture.  I’m also part of a really cool local mothers’ writing group (a little aside here to express my gratitude at having such opportunities to connect with other mothers) and although I couldn’t meet them this morning, I still took some time to write while Sasha was sleeping and was inspired to write about a photograph I took yesterday.

I think this photograph does a great job of showing where I am right now. In the present, with a lot of blurry edges. Not sure where my head, my mental clarity has gone. The breasts in focus also point to an area of ambivalence: breastfeeding.

Many of my choices in motherhood may not be the norm (bed sharing, baby wearing, elimination communication and cloth diapers, baby-led weaning) but I have no doubt that they are the right choices for me and my family and I feel trusting and connected to my intuition. I also always knew I would breastfeed and have happily had no supply issues and even though nursing was exceptionally painful for the first month, I persisted because it was that important to me and my son has been very healthy. I also had no question that I would nurse on demand and that felt right and good for us.

For the first year.

Somehow, now that we’re approaching 13 months, I am questioning my approach to breastfeeding. I still want to breastfeed as, along with the World Health Organisation, I believe that it will continue to contribute to my son’s health over at least the next year.

What I didn’t expect was how often he’d still be nursing after 12 months. I’d believed that milk would be his primary food source until a year and we welcomed early explorations with solids without worrying about how much he was actually eating. I guess I’d expected a bigger shift as we approached and passed the year mark. A good time to question my expectations, for sure, and also consider the influences that could be causing me some confusion and inability to know what my intuition says about this one.

1. I wasn’t breastfed and I recall my mother expressing disgust with mothers breastfeeding into toddlerhood.

2. I read a book called Aware Parenting and, unlike many things that I read discerningly and discard what I don’t agree with, this one leaves me with extra fears and doubts. Aletha Solter, the author, claims that breastfeeding can be a “control pattern” for babies who are avoiding their feelings.

I don’t really believe that unhealthy avoidance behaviour could really develop so early but, as someone who has had her share of issues with addictions and eating disorders, I want to make sure my son has the support and tools he needs to be present with himself and emotions so he never feels the need to numb himself like I did.

So that’s probably the biggest source of my ambivalence. That and the sleep deprivation (he’s nursing more frequently at night now than he did when he was  few months old).

On one hand I want to trust my child to know what he needs better than I do but on the other hand it seems I don’t seem to always trust him. At least about this. This issue in particular is one that I’m worried about the potential damage to him of going either way (nursing as a control pattern and a sleep-deprived mother versus weaning/restricting his access to milk as damaging to his trust of me and himself and his relationship with food with either choice).

This seems to be an exploration in progress, one where I haven’t figured out what’s right for us yet. Every day I try and listen to what’s needed that day so trust that I will figure it out as we go.

Has anyone else faced this ambivalence? What did you do?

4 Comments »

a birthday present for my baby

do you ever feel like you’re just “waking up” to your life? like you’re seeing your self, your lover, your child for the first time and asking, with curiosity, “who am i?” “what am i doing here?”

this happened to me last night as i sat with my partner, looking into his eyes and began to laugh. it felt so good to just be here, present, without having to hold on to anything too tightly.

a year ago i was in labour, excitedly, apprehensively waiting to meet my child. this first year of my son’s life has been such a blur. the intensity. the love. the sleep deprivation. the questions. the doubt. the fear. the trust. the connection.

what a year.

people have been asking me what i’m getting my son for his birthday and i do not believe that my toddler needs “things” (he is overjoyed to be exploring doors, drawers, stairs and toilet paper rolls, going up, down, over and around, steadying his gait as his world continues to expand).

what i want to give my son is the most i can for his sense of security:unconditional acceptance and love, patience and presence. 

for your birthday, sasha, i pledge to be the best mother i can be as you enter the second year of your life.

i promise to continue to learn and grow myself and to model healthy actions and balance.

i promise to keep working on my communication with my partner, your father, showing you what a loving relationship looks like.

i promise to be here for you no matter what. i intend to enter each day anew, listening for what it is asking of me, what you are asking of me and to see my frustrations, impatience and anger as old patterns related to things i have yet to resolve within myself instead of taking out on you.

for your birthday, my son, my teacher, i will celebrate your arrival in my life, for the indescribable wonder, love and joy that you bring to it. i will also celebrate my self as a mother, and your daddy as a father, honouring us all in this amazing journey we’ve begun together.

celebrating

a cake made with love

Leave a comment »

Returning to balance

It’s been almost 2 months since I’ve taken time to write another blog post. Although I had had some topic ideas over the last while, the holiday busyness seemed to take over. Since it was my son’s first Christmas, I was keen to make it as special as I could. And special to me means doing it homemade.

Although it’s been a little while since I was really into Christmas – in part because the magic isn’t quite as strong as an adult and in part because my mother died 3 days after Christmas 13 years ago – I still fondly remember what made it so special for me as a girl. It was the time with family – doing so many unique, crafty things together – and receiving personalised homemade gifts from my mother. One trait I’ve definitely gotten from my mother is the enjoyment of giving things I’ve made myself that are as unique as possible – a desire to give something really meaningful and from my heart. This is often a lot of fun for me but can also be a source of stress when combined with my other qualities of perfectionism and idealism, which give rise to endeavours that are often overly ambitious.

some christmas crafting

some christmas crafting

This year’s homemade projects included stockings for the three of us, board books for my son, Christmas tree decorations, eye pillows, body lotion, healing salve, family tree artwork and 13 homemade napkins to accompany a gourmet Christmas eve dinner for 13. I did get it all done but slept very little on the days leading up to the 25th. My partner was somewhat exasperated with me (especially as he stayed up late with me on the 23rd to cut and iron fabric for the double-sided napkins) and although I loved having a clear focus and deadline (parameters that really help me get stuff done), I also wondered if it was a little much. When the 25th arrived (along with the return of my period after 20 months), I’d felt like I’d been hit by a sled (and maybe run over by some reindeer as well). I was exhausted, bloated, grumpy, gassy and my teeth began to fall out. Thankfully my partner was around for the holidays because it took me a while to recover. My body knew what it needed to regain its balance.

So as this new year begins, I’d love to stay more balanced but have long struggled with how exactly to do that (as I attempt to get 101 things done and contemplate new projects during my baby’s short naptime…). I grabbed some new books from the library today with the hope they could assist me with this but do I really need more meditation and exercise techniques (when I already have more than I could practice in a day in my repertoire)? I know increased balance for me would be less, not more, focusing on and cultivating what I already have and know. But I am always swayed by the prospect of something new, the excitement of the novel; as an idealist (mentioned above and corroborated in my Myers Briggs personality type), I love to plan, to dream, to create, to learn, to understand and I never seem to have nearly enough time for it all!

It seems to me, however, that regardless of personality type, most mothers (dare I suggest all?) struggle with balance. Balancing career with family, needs of self and others, the dinner plate… The most inspiring mothering book I’ve read so far (and even mentioned previously) is Buddhism for Mothers. By bringing more mindfulness into my everyday (without necessarily needing to find time for a formal sitting practice – which isn’t always so easy these days), I can broaden my perspective and be clearer in my priorities. My health, my baby’s well-being, my connection to others and the ability to function from a place of love and compassion are what it comes back to for me. So even if loving gifts are in line with these priorities, an underslept, overcaffeinated mother kinda negates their worth.

So with each day in motherhood, I learn to let go a little more. I remind myself to keep returning to my breath and finding my centre. I become a tiny bit more accepting of my imperfections and try to keep learning from my failures. Sometimes, like a good homeopathic, I need to be pushed a little further before I come back to balance. My core knows balance, even if I forget. Dancing helps. My baby helps. Mindfulness helps. Writing helps. All of it in balance of course.

copyright 2011 deviphotography.com

ever finding balance

Leave a comment »

I won’t fight for peace

I only recalled it was Remembrance Day today when my sister mentioned it.

I admit that I have an aversion to the notion of honouring fighting. For any reason. As justified or honourable those fighting believe their actions to be. So instead I decided to take some time today to reflect on my own wars, the many battles I have believed were justified and honourable. The battles that I’ve waged against others as well as against myself. And I fought with good motives (as most do) – I wanted peace, freedom, happiness.

But fighting is the antithesis of peace. There is always loss in war. We cannot fight for peace. Peace is begot with peace only.

I think of the precious life lost fighting deluded wars, both mine and others’. Over the course of this lifetime, I have spent so much energy fighting for things I believed were right, just, needed. Sometimes it has been overt with fists flailing and other times of a much more subtle nature. But regardless, I cannot think of a single time where the aim was truly achieved. I may have won the war with my body for that round and lost the weight I thought I needed to, I may have had the last word and proven someone wrong, I may have gotten my “way.” But at what price? At what loss of happiness, connection, and health? Such victories are bittersweet at best.

I’ve seen some ads around the city saying “Two hundred years of peace make it easy to forget a war” (advertising commemorations for the war of 1812). And I find myself thinking that we live in anything but a time of peace. There may not be a bloody battle waging at the global level, but there is fighting everywhere: war against cancer, war against terrorism, war against fat, war against gingivitis (as I begin to type “war against” in google, it comes up as an option). On individual, societal, national and international levels we are fighting innumerous wars. Because there is this notion that if something is other than the way we believe it should be, we have to fight against it. Even our western approach to health reflects this M.O.: allopathic medicine fights symptoms by using their opposites (e.g. antibiotics for bacteria, decongestants for congestion, etc.).

In a world where fighting is revered and glorified, I am thankful that there are still some wayshowers, such as Ganhi or Jesus, who knew fighting was not the answer (and would be greatly saddened by anyone claiming to fight in their name). The true changemakers know that peace is only achieved with compassion, love, and forgiveness.

I’ve had the song “One tin soldier” in my head all day, a song I first sang in elementary school. A song that echoes my sentiments and attempts to blatantly point out all that is lost even when a war is won. A message that is not readily heeded it seems.

Despite my high talk (and tattoos in ancient script), I can’t say I never engage in conflict to try and achieve something. Unfortunately there have been much more quarrels between my partner and I than I would like since our son was born. But every single time we both lose. Every single time. But as we continue to cultivate compassion and understanding, space and communication, the love grows and the fighting lessens.

Which is what I want to model for my son. Healthy communication. Compassion for others. Acceptance and patience. I want to demonstrate other, more peaceful responses to things, people and situations that we don’t like. That honour both ourselves and the others. Without making anyone wrong or anyone a loser. And it is my hope that my son will understand how peace and fighting are mutually exclusive and will choose the former over the latter.

Ahimsa is Sanskrit for non-violence

1 Comment »

Lines in the sand

 

where’s my line?

must i have one?

who’s it for anyway?

what’s its purpose?

to help me find clarity?

or to create a division between you and i?

keeping us separate.

me versus you.

you versus me.

trying to rally more into my camp.

to tell me i’m right.

i’m in the right.

doing the right thing.

but having to make you wrong makes me miserable.

would i float away if i let the tide wash away my continually reinforced line in the sand?

or could i maybe just let myself flow with the dance of life just a little bit more?

 

I go to a mothers’ writing group Friday mornings. Last Friday I began writing about the notion of where my “lines” are: of what I will accept from others, from myself, for my son. My reflection at the time was that having clear-cut lines could make life simpler: things on this side are okay, things on this side are not. People on this side are my allies, people on that side are not. But life doesn’t allow itself to be divided so easily. And as I reflect upon it, I realised I don’t want such rigidity in my life anyway.

Or do I?

Does putting my son in a box help him?

Once I began this exploration of lines, they began to show up everywhere (I realise, of course, that they were always there, it’s only my attention that has been whetted).

I just finished reading “Bringing up Bébé,” a light read by an American journalist living in Paris comparing American and French parenting styles. The author, Pamela Druckerman, writes a lot about French parents’ use of a cadre, or framework, to provide structure for their children while giving them freedom within the cadre. Theoretically this sounds reasonable to me, but how does it look in practice? Do I have boundaries, borders?

In my home, I do for sure. My partner and I are both virgos. We like to plan, we like to organise, we like things to be fair. So we do create a lot of lines. Sometimes they’re down the centre of score sheets of who’s done what. Sometimes they’re of how much time we each get for ourselves. Sometimes it’s where the division between his side of the bed and mine lies. Sometimes it’s how far west or east within the city either of us are willing to live. All of these things have been the topic of conversation over the past week and have me asking if we’re bringing order and efficiency into our home or if we’re both just too damn uptight.

Does it help me?

I brought a ruler with me to my dance practice Sunday, symbolising my multilayered reflection on lines, in order to elucidate the role and utility of lines in my life. Since dancing allows me to see my patterns and explore letting go of them, I found myself wanting to concretise a feeling of freedom by breaking the ruler. But my pragmatic side kept me from it – no matter how I feel about lines, I’ll have to measure something one day!

And measure I do! I recently had the measuring tape out to see how much my son’s grown since his last doctor’s visit. I measured 4cm and found myself thinking “that can’t be right.” How much does this measurement really matter to me?

I’ve now spent over a week reflecting on the meaning and use of lines and getting stuck between their possible rigidity and ability to clarify, their divisive nature and my desire for oneness and harmony, their aspiration of impermanence and my longing for flow.

The ah ha moment came when I was reading Buddhism for Mothers, by Sarah Napthali. My desire to have lines comes from a longing to have something clear and tangible to hold on to in a world of impermanence. But we are in a constant state of flux and so any line I create based on today’s reality will likely fail to meet what’s being asked for yesterday or tomorrow. I want to mother my son by providing him with safety, security, compassion, love and respect. What is safe for a nine month old looks very different from that for a two year old or a ten year old, so ensuring his safety the best I can requires me to be present and aware every day to determine what is safe in that moment.  As my son grows, the way in which I provide him with compassion, love and guidance will change as he shows me what he needs.

Or maybe we can look at the box together and decide what is needed today?

So does that mean no lines? If I can stay committed to continually asking what is needed in that moment, I don’t believe any lines are needed. “They” say children need structure. I think they need security in order to navigate an ever-changing reality, learning to accept its impermanence and adapt as necessary. And the best way to assist them is to model it myself.

And I think I’d be a much happier person anyway if I let go of my belief of who’s turn it is to do the dishes or how they should be washed. I can choose to have gratitude that they got washed. Or acceptance that they didn’t get washed. What’s needed in this moment anyway? To wash the dishes? Or something else? (As it happens, the dishes are next in line for what’s being asked for now that my son has been helped to sleep and I’ve finished my writing)

Leave a comment »

The gift of expectations

For the past week since I’ve had my blog up, I’ve been reflecting on what I should write about next. A lot of topics come up, but I continue to look for the “perfect” one (written “perfectly” of course). Which is completely in line with my ever-high expectations of myself.

Sigh. Expectations.

Part of the way the minds of us humans work. And a helpful way those minds work. It wouldn’t be very efficient if we went into every situation with no knowledge about it – we’d have to relearn every time and it would be exceedingly dangerous. If you subscribe to the survival-of-the-fittest theory, then humans who didn’t have expectations, drawn from their schemata, probably died off pretty quickly. So the rest of us who lived on are left with mental frameworks, preconceived ideas and expectations.

The unhelpful part (for me at least)? When reality fails to meet my expectations (not really the problem) and I have negative reactions – mental and emotional – to those schisms (this is the part that can get me). Or (even worse) when expectations of what should happen and expectations of what I actually believe will happen are at odds and create a defeatist mentality so that I give up before I have even begun. Or (equally bad) I fail to learn from an expectations/reality disagreement.

I could go into a whole analysis (drawn from years of introspection) of why my expectations of myself often tend to be so high and why a failure to meet said expectations (or rather fear of failure) is such a big deal to me, but regardless of the long and intricate history, this way of being doesn’t serve me.

I’ll happily share with you that I haven’t placed these high expectations on my son. I’m happy he’s so curious and quick to learn new skills, it’s exciting to see how fast he’s begun moving around, how strong he is…

So wait… I take that back. Given my observations of my baby over the past eight months, I do have expectations of him. Such as, that he will walk early (it’s looking pretty soon) and that he will be a strong and physically capable boy. Given his parents’ intelligence and his behaviour, I also expect him to be of above average intelligence. So as I wrote about earlier in my post (that was written oh-so-many hours ago, before food play and potties and water spilling and 80s babies dance classes…), it is the nature of our minds to have expectations. The difference I want to point out is the lack of attachment to my expectations for my son (if he doesn’t walk soon, I may be surprised but I will in no way be disappointed). Or extrapolations of those expectations (although he very well may be intelligent, it is not important to me how well he does in school, if he attends post-secondary education or what career path he chooses).

This is very core in my own philosophy on parenting: I trust there is a reason for my son to have the life he has and that it will be as it needs to be. I am with him on his journey to provide safety and love and guidance but never to force things on him.

Do you see where there is still an issue though? It’s the whole monkey-see-monkey-do truism (a saying I really don’t like that much but “monkey” does happen to be my son’s current pet name, because a busy little monkey is what he often is!). Even if I don’t get disappointed or have fears around any discrepancies between expectations and reality for my son, he will undoubtedly observe that I still have them for myself. Even if he doesn’t copy my model, it could still engender guilt or confusion in him, things I never want to be a source of for my son.

We are always learning…

Hmmm.. maybe that last sentence is a good example to work from to see where I can ameliorate things. I clearly don’t want to cause my son to experience guilt or confusion, among many other negative feelings, but the reality is that I, fallible human that I am, probably will someday, at least unintentionally. My tendency if said example were to transpire? To berate myself for being such an awful mother, to worry about my son’s scarring for life, to feel guilt and probably very little compassion or patience with myself. So add insult to injury, he’d have not only his guilt but mine to deal with as well!

Oh what little gifts our children are to help us work through our own shit! The answer that seems clear as day to me here is to offer myself the same compassion, forgiveness and understanding that I offer my son. I will not always meet my expectations of myself. It is still helpful to have goals and expectations, just to hold them more lightly. Disparities between expectations and reality are only yet another source of rich learning for me. If I did cause my son guilt or confusion, it would be an opportunity for me to look at where I could grow and ask if I need to change anything in our communication. Used in this way, expectations can be helpful not only in ensuring we meet our basic needs (such as safety) but our higher needs as well (of growth, mastery and self-actualisation).

So the reminder for myself? I’m imperfect. I have great goals and expectations of myself, including how I mother. Keeping them in mind helps me to be the best mother I can be and offers a good foundation for learning and growing. And one of the things I continue to learn is how to be compassionate, kind and loving to myself.

Even mothers need to be mothered: me, circa the late 70′s

Leave a comment »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.