How to Successfully Bring Your Baby Along on a Work Trip

If you’re facing a trip away from your infant that you don’t feel good about, think about whether you might be able to bring her along.

A few months ago, I went on my first work trip since having my baby. As I packed my bags in preparation for heading to the airport, I ran through a mental checklist: computer, work clothes, presentation materials, onesies, diapers, and pacifiers. That’s right, my baby was coming along.
When I returned to work, my boy was 14 weeks old, and I was already dreading the trips I’d scheduled before his birth. While I knew that he would be perfectly fine if I left him at home and that he was too young to really miss me, the thought of not snuggling up next to him at night made me anxious.
I’m also a breastfeed mom, so being away from my little guy for 48 hours would mean somewhere around 20 sucky (pun intended) pumping sessions in a row.
After spending a few weeks stressing about being away from my baby, I decided to make the case for bringing him along. Luckily, my supervisor gave me the okay. Each night, as I cuddled up to his warmth, I knew I made the right decision.
If you’re facing a trip away from your infant that you don’t feel good about, think about whether you might be able to bring her along. Check out the tips below to find success when adding a tiny tag-along to your itinerary:

Know your schedule

It’s important to consider what your schedule will look like while you’re working from afar. Often, when employees travel, they maintain a regular eight-hour day. Sometimes, though, travel lends itself to sun-up to sundown scheduling. If you’re going to be engaged in all-day activities that don’t mesh well with having baby along, it might be easier to leave him at home. If, however, you’re going to be working a pretty regular schedule and any after working-hours events will be baby friendly, consider adding your tot to your ticket.

Think about child care

Just because you’re brining your baby along doesn’t mean they’ll be able to be with you the whole time. Just as someone else likely provides care for your child when you work local, you’ll need some assistance when you’re out of town as well. Most city’s have travel nanny agencies that guarantee a safe, reliable nanny for the times you’re engaged with your work.

Have a plan when you make your ask

At most organizations, it’s not standard to bring babies along on travel. If your request will be a first, make sure that you know exactly what you’ll need and how you’ll handle any challenges before you make your proposal to your supervisor. Generally, as long as you can ensure your boss that your baby’s presence won’t negatively impact your performance, they’ll be agreeable to your request.

Inform those who need to know

While it’s obviously a good idea to get the green light from your supervisor, you’re not obligated to tell anyone about your child’s presence who won’t be impacted. Neither your client nor your co-workers need to know if you worry that it might impact their perception of your professionalism.

Do the math

Before you bring your baby on your next trip, do the math to make sure their presence won’t cause a financial burden that you’re not prepared for. While babies under two can typically fly free as long as they’re in your lap, you’ll likely find yourself paying out-of-pocket for things like childcare or an upgraded ticket. Consider these costs honestly before making a decision.

Enjoy your cuddles

While work trips are often exhausting, for new parents they can sometimes serve as a break from middle-of-the-night diaper changes and early morning feedings. If you’re choosing to mix business and baby, you’re likely doing so with the knowledge that it will be harder, at least in some ways, than leaving them at home.
You’re also likely doing so because you know just how magical their cuddles are after a long day’s work. Enjoy those cuddles. You’ve earned them!

One of the Easiest Ways to Teach Forgiveness

Here is the thing I have learned about forgiveness. It isn’t a behavior, it is a feeling.

If you were to reflect back on your childhood, I bet you could think of someone you never gave yourself the chance to forgive. I can think of a few times someone hurt or scared the pants off of me, yet until this day, I am not sure if I really ever forgave them.
There is one moment, however, when I do remember talking about someone behind their back. I still feel bad about doing that. Could it be because I haven’t forgiven myself?
Recently, one of my daughters had a slew of social media posts (untruths) stated about her. It took months for her to tell her father and I. Just as we were gathering the evidence, the person spreading the rumors sent a text to my daughter apologizing for her actions.
“What do I do, Mom?” my daughter asked.
“You accept her apology, let her know this is never to happen again, wish her a good year, and forgive her,” I said.
And that is exactly what she did.
My daughter has seemed to move on unscathed. Could it be the forgiveness that set her free?
Me on the other hand – I still have my mother bear guard up, keeping a keen eye out for my daughter. Perhaps, I should take my own advice and give myself a little of this forgiveness medicine, not just for the other person, but as a way to free up any residue of guilt for not standing up for my girl in the first place.
Here is the thing I have learned about forgiveness. It isn’t a behavior, it is a feeling. Sure you could encourage your child to say I forgive you, but until they feel it, it may not make much of a difference. That said, forgiveness is a personal and powerful decision to surrender and let go. The question becomes how do you teach it?
One of the simplest ways to teach forgiveness is to tell stories. Stories about situations and feelings you have experienced. When you tell a story, you share a part of yourself that is vulnerable, real, and normal. You share moments when you, too, succumbed to peer pressure as a way to cope with the fear, rejection, or sadness.
My husband has a wonderful story about the day he hugged the woman who struck him with her car and nearly took his life. We laugh as he explains how he had to yell loudly to the woman because she is so hard of hearing. I am not sure if the actual words “I forgive you” came out of his mouth. But in many ways, letting someone know you are okay is no different than giving them permission to go about living their life.
It is through stories that we can illustrate what forgiveness looks like in motion. Forgiveness is a movement from your heart. While your head might say, you really hurt me, your heart says, I am okay, and so are you.

A Realistic Way Look at How Judging Moms Defeats Us

Consider for a moment how mom-shaming affects all of us, even if we aren’t the immediate perpetrators or victims of the shaming.

At my moms’ group last year, the topic of “unwanted” parenting advice came up in the discussion. I was shocked to hear that so many other moms had stories of mothers-in-law, aunts, or even strangers offering judgments on their parenting decisions. It might be the food they feed their kids, how long they breastfeed, or even the choice to cut or not cut their toddler’s hair. While many of the moms just sloughed off these comments with a laugh, many felt judged or even disrespected by this intrusion.

I am fortunate that the most judgment I’ve ever really faced is a few sideways glances at my misbehaving kids at Target or maybe a glare at a restaurant. Here are some things I learned from our discussion.

You’re not the only one

Turns out, I may be in the minority when it comes to receiving a minimal amount of unsolicited parenting “advice” from family members. Many moms, in fact, feel shamed by family members and others in regards to their parenting decisions.

In a recent study, two-thirds of moms of young children said that they’d felt criticized about parenting decisions. We see this all the time with celebrities – if it’s not Mila Kunis being shamed for breastfeeding in public, it’s Reese Witherspoon being criticized for her son’s meal choices.

Among moms who reported feeling criticized about parenting decisions, the most common shamers were their own parents (or in-laws) and the other parent of their child. (Of course, frequently that is their own spouse!)

The real effects of mom-shaming

What’s the real problem with mom-shaming? Didn’t our moms experience this from their moms too? Well, perhaps that is true. We don’t have good data on the amount of parenting criticism faced in past generations.

I think one key here is to understand the effects mom-shaming can have on a mother’s mental health. Raising young children is stressful enough. On a daily basis, you face a multitude of decisions about health, safety, nutrition, etc. As mothers, it undermines our confidence to have other people standing over our shoulders, questioning our decisions. If you’re like most mothers I know, you’ve already questioned those decisions about a thousand times in your head. The anxiety and uncertainty that mom-shaming provokes are real and unhealthy for a newly-developed parent-child relationship.

In what other jobs in the world are you criticized by your boss or co-workers everyday? How do you think your job performance would suffer if this was your situation? Although parenting is more than a job, I think the comparison is eye-opening.

A change in perspective

The real answer to ending mom-shaming is to develop a new perspective on the issue. Consider for a moment how mom-shaming affects all of us, even if we aren’t the immediate perpetrators or victims of the shaming. That mom that was criticized at a store or glared at during soccer practice might be:

  • the future mother-in-law of your son
  • the mom of your toddler’s best friend
  • your neighbor that you haven’t met yet
  • your child’s teacher

Put into this perspective, we can see how mom-shaming undermines the confidence and decision-making of women all around us. If we want the world to be a safer, happier, more meaningful place for our kids, then all moms deserve the opportunity to face parenting decisions with thoughtfulness and confidence, not shame or anxiety.

Moms are usually just trying to do the best they can in a given situation. When stress, sleep-deprivation, frazzled nerves, and screaming toddlers get the best of us, we are all prone to making mistakes. This does not make you a bad mom, it makes you human.

If we truly want to raise empathetic kids, the example has to start with us. Our kind words to a fellow mom speak volumes to our children. They see what empathy looks like in a real-life example. Those words might just make the difference between that mom blaming herself or having the strength to carry on with dignity.

So the next time you see a mom struggling through a tantrum at Target, let’s all try to offer a word of support (or at least a smile) instead of a judgmental stare. Who knows, it might just give her the strength to react in a calm way instead of losing her patience.

We are all in this motherhood thing together.

This was originally published here.

You Don't Have to Ask Permission to Care For Yourself

I noticed that the questions are everywhere, like a reflex. Can I take a shower now? Can I practice yoga tonight?

“I was thinking of buying an actual lunchbox,” I whispered to my husband as I packed my lunch into an old grocery bag. “And maybe sunscreen? I thought I would also get a box of tea…it’s so cold at work.”

“That sounds like a great idea. Do what you need to do,” he replied. And then, “Um, you know you don’t need to ask me, right?”

“Yeah, but I…” I trailed off, unsure of how to finish that thought.

We let it go as just a funny little interaction, but it wasn’t quite finished for me. After that conversation, I noticed that the questions are everywhere, like a reflex.

Can I take a shower now?

Can I practice yoga tonight?

Can I go check my email?

 Can I draw tonight?

The answer is always the same, “You don’t need to ask.”

So, what’s with all the questions?

It’s not a husband thing. He’s never once expected me to ask for permission for things like that. Overspending? Probably not. A lunchbox is hardly breaking the bank. Frivolous? That doesn’t seem right. These seemed like pretty practical purchases. Greedy? Self-centered? Those weren’t it, either. So why did I feel so undeserving, and whose permission was I really seeking?

I decided to get curious and observe, and when I did there was no mistaking what this was about. This was about me and me. This whole asking-for-permission business was about what I think I’m worth, what I allow myself to do, and how I show myself that I care about me. It’s a self-caring problem, and it isn’t new.

Becoming a mom was like bringing home a bundle of all kinds of things. A bundle of joy, sure, but also a bundle of needs, pressures, and expectations. Five years ago, when I sat in my hospital room holding the tiniest person I’d ever seen, I had no idea what this all meant. I didn’t know what this would actually look like in real life, and I sure didn’t know who I was as a mom.

What I did have was a lifetime of input on what motherhood was supposed to look like without instructions on making it work for me. So I did everything I could to give my kids a happy life going by what I thought I knew. They have everything they need, but I guess I overlooked one thing. In an effort to be a good mom, I haven’t always been so good to myself.

Maybe it’s a phase all moms go through: the mom years. You know, the years when you’re figuring out what it means to be called “Mom.”

These are the years you don’t know how to dress your new body. When your time belongs to the tiny human(s) you just brought and keep bringing home. These are the years where days disappear to who knows where and you secretly fantasize about five minutes alone. I thought, Maybe that’s what this is. It’s being a new mom.

Then again, I just dropped my daughter off at kindergarten and I have two more at home. I’m not exactly a new mom anymore, but it sure doesn’t feel like I’m “seasoned.” Am I supposed to have this all figured out now? When do I get the official permission to take care of me?

Maybe it’s time to start looking at this differently. Permission isn’t going to fall from the sky. There is no self-care permission fairy. There’s just me. Honestly, I’m still learning what it means to be a mother of three and how I want this all to look, but I do know that it’s time to include my self in that picture.

There’s always a list of things to do, and the guilt is really compelling when you take that time for yourself before you’ve checked off that whole list. However, your health and happiness don’t come from to-do lists (and neither do your family’s). Health and happiness are cultivated in the decisions you make and the way you care about yourself, so they need to be nurtured.

When I get so caught up in the stress and daily details, I forget about that. I forget about happiness and my gratitude for all of this, and I stop nurturing myself. It’s like I disappear, and in my place is the critic, the complainer, and the hurrier. I cringe when I hear myself in that place.

The truth is that the less care I give myself, the less present I become. Here’s the hardest part to admit: the less care I give myself, the less care I can give to others. Caring about you is an essential part of caring for your family. (Have you ever noticed how essential you are to your family?) We’re moms today and will be even after the kids have safely flown from the nest. Let’s make the conscious effort to take good care of ourselves the whole time. Life is short and childhood is even shorter, there’s no time to wait for permission.

If you feel like you need it, consider this your permission slip to start caring about you. No guilty reflexes. No wondering if you’re really worth it. You’re allowed to give your children everything and you’re allowed to care about you. You are allowed to rest. You are allowed to be nourished. You are allowed to support yourself.

I do not take this lightly. For some of us, this might be a husband-thing or an income-thing. Some of us have children with disabilities or really challenging life circumstances. Even when everything’s perfect, this isn’t exactly easy!

There are real life barriers to even the simplest acts of self-care, and that’s why I think it’s so important to start with the permission to be caring toward yourself. Permission to care about yourself might look a lot different from the top self-care tip lists you see floating around these days. It might not look like an hour-long workout or a bubble bath and cup of tea. Maybe it does. There’s no right or wrong answer here.

Self-caring can be more subtle than that. It happens in the intangibles, like how you speak to yourself all day, how you feel about the decisions you make, and how you honor your special blend of talents and strengths. You have permission to feel good about all that, you know. So let’s start to be self-caring. If and when you feel guilty, remember that by lifting yourself up, you lift up your family. Remember what you want to model to your children if it helps.

I truly believe that when we speak to ourselves from a place of care, we foster caring for our families. When we make decisions that serve and excite us, we teach our children how to live by their own values. When we honor what makes us unique, we start our children on the path of sharing their own special something with the world.

In short, you are allowed to care about yourself, too. Are you ready to try it? You (and your kids) are worth it.

If Recollection is Subject to Our Own Perspectives, I Hope My Kids Remember It This Way

When we look at any one of the photographs that depict a childhood, the unspoken story therein will be read differently by each of us.

I sit at the computer scanning photographs that cover 25 years, hoping to give my two young adult children a digital record that will be the insect in amber, preserving a bit of who they were and what we all did together in those years we thought would go on forever.
A pile of pictures slips from my lap to the floor, fanning out into a kaleidoscope of faces that stare back at me. If the mouths in those photos could move, I think they would speak two truths I already know.
One is that of course it would end, those chaotic years under one roof. And it would end sooner than anyone in the throes of homework (that no one in the house knew how to do), temper tantrums (the parents’), swim practice, stomach viruses, broken arms, broken hearts, driver’s ed, head lice, and shopping for prom dresses ever thinks it will.
The second is that, when we look at any one of those photographs, the unspoken story therein will be read differently by each of us.
How and why we remember things fascinates even the experts in the field of psychology. Ask any two siblings about their childhood and you’re likely to get two vastly different accounts of the same town, same house, same parents. It’s the Rashomon effect, whether it’s about witnessing a crime or sharing a family story.
Will my two kids recall how I pretended to love sleeping on the ground, cheering from the sidelines, and waking at 2 a.m. to go out in the bitter cold so they could experience camping, soccer, and shooting stars? (For that last one, I grumbled a lot about the ungodly hour and the freezing temperature, but I now concede that nothing compares with lying on your back in a dark field with your kids, watching for the Leonid meteor showers.)
They both possess literally volumes of reminders that I had to quit my bookstore job after Michael was born, not because a second child was time-consuming, but because I had bought so many children’s books, I always owed more than I earned. “The Little Engine That Could”, “The Snowy Day”, “Miss Rumphius”, “The Runaway Bunny”, “Curious George”, so many others. Even when we weren’t reading them, they were crammed into bookcases or piled like teetering cairns to silently beckon or simply reassure.
As for music, I wonder if in some future moment of sleeplessness, they will stumble upon the ballads of Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell and be taken back to the nights they nodded off while those exquisite old folk lyrics rose up from a CD player wedged in the narrow hallway space between their bedrooms.
Our rituals were few and uncomplicated, but I’ve got pictures that reveal their essence. How I treasure (do they?) the snapshots of the birthday girl, boy, mom, or dad, basking in that singular moment of attention while balancing the breakfast-in-bed tray on his or her lap, trying not to spill orange juice all over the bedspread.
The juice spilled many times, of course. There were yellow stains on the blankets to prove it. Even Goodwill didn’t want them. The wooden breakfast tray will never be tossed, wobbly though it is. It is a family icon.
Enshrined in their memory better be how I rarely required them to do dishes or rake leaves if such banal chores interfered with scholarly pursuits. This is set in stone. No matter what they say. How could they ever forget that instead of assigning mundane tasks, I took them apple picking or bike riding? Oh, wait…that was their dad. I was probably reading on the porch, modeling scholarly behavior.
They may not recall serving food in a soup kitchen in one particularly dicey city neighborhood. Marita was about four and Michael was still crawling (I remember this well because he would nosh on whatever fell from the trays of the hungry). I hope they have absorbed the spirit of those activities.
Seder meals shared with friends, a Mass celebrated by a radical woman priest, blissfully quiet Quaker Meetings, poetry readings, and political protests. I hope their memories of these are visceral but also intellectual. It is clear that these experiences have shaped their desire for peace and their love of justice.
I doubt they remember their very first museum visits, each child, in turn, swaddled in a sling across my chest, mother and baby one amorphous being, contemplating serene Hudson River School landscapes or provocative Andy Warhols.
Recently, I crossed paths with a young dad strolling his baby through a gallery. I warned him that if he made a habit of it, the kid just might grow up, as one of mine did, to become an art history major with meager job prospects.
One story that gets recounted with unassailable veracity and needs no embellishment is Michael’s early sex ed lesson, though he didn’t know it then. A late start and then a detour en route to a vacation spot landed us in a cheap motel for a night. As we settled in for the unexpected layover, telltale sounds from the next room became louder and louder.
What was unmistakable to us was at first mysterious, and then disconcerting, to a six-year-old. We turned up the volume on our television and tried to distract him with marathon games of Uno, accompanied by our own inordinately loud conversation. Soon we couldn’t contain our laughter.
When the headboard on the other side of the wall began to bang, Michael’s eyes grew wide and he said, “Daddy, I think someone’s being killed in there!” Finally, we convinced him that it was a very rowdy movie on the TV in the next room. “Oh, like Jurassic Park?” He seemed relieved. Yes, we agreed, must be something like Jurassic Park.
So what do I wish them to erase from the magic lantern of the mind? When I yelled too much or too long. Worse, when I made my displeasure known with silence and pursed lips. When I said “No, you can’t” instead of “Yes, go ahead.”
How I hope Marita and, more importantly, her friends have forgotten a certain long-ago Dave Matthews Concert. Surrounded by the gaggle of sixth grade girls, I fist-pumped in the dark auditorium and (cringe) swayed. Then I put us on the wrong return train back to the suburbs. Yep, I did that. At least I wasn’t wearing mom jeans. I’m sure I wasn’t wearing mom jeans.
Recalling a gaggle of a different sort – real geese this time – I hope Michael has no flashbacks of the slow moving birds I hit on a rural road one bright morning rife with sun glare. Who screamed loudest as blood, bone, and feathers flew across my windshield? Me, the doomed flock, or the boy in the back seat? Better to forget.
Let’s forget, too, all the times I fussed over baking a perfect cake for company instead of allowing two curious kids to make a happy mess of measuring and stirring and letting flour dust down on us like snow.
Here’s a tough one: Do I want them to remember, or forget, or at least understand the times I searched their backpacks, smelled their coats and their breath, and eavesdropped on a few of their conversations. All I can say is I breathed a huge parental sigh of relief every time my worried sleuthing turned out to be unwarranted.
My very first memory of my father is a vivid one. I am sitting on his shoulders holding a light bulb that he is about to exchange for the burned-out one in the ceiling lamp of our front entryway. (He was tall enough to forgo a step stool.) With one upstretched hand keeping me steady and the other deftly replacing the old bulb, he brought light to the darkness that moments earlier had threatened to engulf my three-year-old psyche in fear.
The scene made an indelible imprint on me, but my father has no recollection of it. I suppose for him it was one of a million times he had changed a light bulb, and I am one of 10 children he had held aloft, no doubt, for one reason or another. What parents dismiss as quotidian, children, for better or worse, often elevate to something momentous. Ask any therapist, or any poet.
In the years to come, when my children reminisce together for laughs – and I hope the laughs are abundant – I want them to agree on one thing only: that the parenting patchwork of bright silk and rough edges, missteps and triumphs, was sewn together with one unbreakable thread of love.

It Would Have Been Better If Kevin Hadn't Come

I think all parents worry that one of their kids is being shortchanged in some way. This fear increases exponentially when you have a special needs child.

I think all good parents worry that one of their children is being shortchanged in some way. This fear increases exponentially when you have a special needs child.
Some days it feels as though everything is about Kevin – keeping him calm, keeping him happy, or keeping him from harming himself and us. There’s not a day, not a single moment, that I don’t worry my girls are being cheated.
We just returned from Universal Studios in Orlando Florida, and what an amazing place, especially for families with disabled children. We were able to bypass all the lines and, not only did the staff allow Kevin to choose his seat on every ride, they weathered each of his outbursts as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.
I planned this trip over a year ago for Dana. It was all for her. Dana is a bonafide “Harry Potter” junky, and I couldn’t be more proud of my self-proclaimed “nerd.” She has sorted each of us into our prospective “houses.” Chris, Papa, Kevin, and I are Hufflepuffs, Godmommy and Dana are Ravenclaws, and Kayla and Grammy are Gryffindors.
I know it won’t last. Puberty is just around the corner and, before I blink, I know the robe, wand, Ravenclaw T-shirts, and Marauder’s Map will be replaced with lipstick, Teen Vogue, and God knows what else. They told me years ago to hang on to every precious moment but, like many parents, I didn’t listen until two years ago when I finally saw her childhood slipping through my fingers.
Two years ago (she was 10), I thought Dana still believed in Santa Claus. I figured it would be the last year, so I planned a vacation to Disney World on Christmas Day. When the kids woke up, the only things under the tree were suitcases and an agenda written by Santa to Dana detailing every moment of the trip. It was all for her – this last Christmas I thought she believed.
We had a great time, but when we got home, Dana sat me down and said, “Mommy, I know it was you. I wanted to believe, but deep down, I knew it was you. Thank you.”
It was one of those moments when you can actually hear your heart break. She knew I did it all for her, she knew I loved her, but my baby didn’t believe in magic anymore. I became cognizant of every moment I’d lost, because I was so busy with Kevin.
This time I wanted things to be different. “Okay,” I thought. “She doesn’t believe in Santa, but she still believes in wizards and witches, so the magic isn’t gone!” This time, I let her plan everything down to the last detail and spent way more money than I should have, but it would all be worth it because for once, everything would be about Dana and what she wanted. For once, my darling girl wouldn’t be in second or third place.
We got home yesterday and, all in all, it was a great trip. But there were moments that nearly crushed me. Everything with Kevin is hard. There were meltdowns in the park where he hit us, screamed at us, bit us, and pulled our hair. There was a tantrum in a restaurant that silenced the whole place. It seemed a thousand eyes were bearing down on us with either pity or disdain.
There was the day he didn’t make it to the toilet in time and pooped all over the bathroom floor, and Dana had to bar the entrance to the men’s room while I cleaned the mess and Chris found new clothes.
I’ve taught my daughters to be honest about what our life is like, but sometimes the truth hurts. For example, our first day in was rough. Kevin was confused, overstimulated, and extremely agitated. After dinner, he finished his desert and then demanded Kayla give him hers. When she refused, he started screaming and hitting her.
Dana’s godmother, who isn’t used to seeing him meltdown like that, politely suggested we bring him outside, and Dana responded with, “Oh you’re embarrassed? Seriously?! Welcome to my life. I deal with this every day.”
Ouch. I’d never heard her say anything like that before. But it was the cold, hard truth, and I understood exactly how she felt.
Our last day we spent swimming in the pool. Chris and I were holding Dana when Kayla swam over to us. (Kevin was with Grammy.) We each put a girl on our back, and Kayla said, half-jokingly, “It’s like we’re a perfect family!”
Translation: We’d be a perfect family if only we didn’t have Kevin.
Then there was the day I caught Dana’s Godmother and my mother talking about me. “I heard you two!” I said jokingly. “What are you saying behind my back?”
But my mother put her head down as if making a confession and said, “I was just saying how, sometimes, when Kevin explodes like this, I just have to walk away it’s so hurtful to watch. I hurt for you and for him, and I just have to get away.”
Ouch, ouch, double ouch.
As wonderful as the late night talks with Dana’s Godmother were, one night she confessed to me, “You have a very hard life. I wouldn’t want it for myself.”
I must have asked Dana a million times in four days, “Is it everything you dreamed it would be?” Every time she replied with something along the lines of, “It is, Mommy, it really is, and if Kevin wasn’t here it would be perfect.”
I can remember thinking, “You know, Dana, all the honesty I’ve heard this week didn’t hurt quite enough. How about we get some lemon juice or salt or something?”
Which begs the question: “Rachel, have you done the right thing encouraging the girls (and everyone else you love) to be honest about their feelings? Shouldn’t you be responding to all these comments with something along the lines of, “Don’t say that about Kevin!”
Maybe.
I’m sure there are those who would say I’ve made a mistake allowing my girls to speak so freely about their feelings and thoughts, but you know what? They don’t have to live the way we do. We’ve had to survive things most people can’t imagine. So yes, we live by our own set of rules over here, and part of that is admitting you’d rather not get slapped in the face in line for “The Hulk” because Kevin wants to go first or telling strangers they can’t go into the bathroom right now because Mommy is busy cleaning poop off the floor.
My girls speak some harsh truths, truths heavy with anger and resentment, but we’ve all learned something the hard way: When you speak those truths, it sets you free to love when loving seems impossible.
I can’t count how many times (after she said she hated him) the following conversation took place.
Kevin: “I hit you!”
Dana: With all the empathy and patience in the world, “Please don’t hurt me?”
Kevin: “I want to!”
Dana: “Okay, Kevin, if it will make you feel better, you can hit me.”
Kevin: “Sawney.”
Dana: “It’s okay, thank you for making the right choice. Let’s go on another ride, you can go first!”
And Kayla, who said we’d be the perfect family if only it weren’t for Kevin and took more physical abuse than any of us, returned every blow with a firm hug while softly whispering, “It’s okay, buddy, I’m here, I’m right here,” as she held him.
What is it she always says? Oh yes: “Bad thoughts and feelings are like weeds, Mommy. You can’t pretend they’re not there. Pull them out by the root and let them die, or they’ll kill everything you’ve worked so hard to make beautiful.”
So we’re home now. Kevin has been so peaceful and pleasant all day, obviously relieved to be where things are familiar. I ask Dana to sit in my lap, and she agrees, which is rare. She’s almost 13 now, and sitting in Mom’s lap is sooooooooooooooooo not cool.
Me: “Why did we go to Universal?”
Dana: “Because you love me, and I love Harry Potter.”
Me: “What was your favorite part?”
Dana: “Getting my Godmother all to myself in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.”
Me: “Was it just like you dreamed?”
Dana: “Better.”
Me: “Do you still wish Kevin hadn’t come?”
Dana: “No, I was just mad. Sometimes you have to let yourself be mad or you’ll never be happy, right?”
Me: “Right. I’m sorry he takes up so much of my attention.”
Dana: “It’s okay. He takes up a lot of everyone’s attention, even mine.”
Me: “I love you.”
Dana: “I love you more.”
Me: “Not possible.”
We’re home. Dana is in her Ravenclaw robe, wand in hand, re-reading “The Order of The Phoenix” while munching on a chocolate frog. Her friend just texted to ask how the vacation went, and she replies, “The best time I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

Those Thoughts Don't Make You a Bad Mom – They Make You Human

At one point or another, you’ll feel it. You will. You’ll feel trapped. You’ll get tired of being so completely depended upon. You’ll miss your freedom.

I wanted to run away from my kids yesterday.

Everything just came crashing down all at once. There were several factors at play: I just felt tired, alone, like everything was on me, and that I had no way out.

Motherhood has this way of consuming every atom capable of feeling love in your body, and then multiplying each and every one at an exponential rate. It can make you want to sacrifice everything and anything for another person, without having to think twice. It is exhilarating, beautiful, and fulfilling.

Motherhood also has another side, a side we feel guilty talking about. We shouldn’t really talk about it, right? I sound ungrateful. I’ve been blessed with the privilege of raising these amazing children. I shouldn’t complain. I could have it a lot worse. I should focus on the positives because the negatives will just bring me, and others, down.

The truth is that, at one point or another, you’ll feel it. You will. You’ll feel trapped. You’ll get tired of being so completely depended upon. You’ll miss your freedom. You’ll think back to when you were just you and only had to take care of yourself, and you’ll miss that. You’ll miss the luxury of thinking to yourself, “I think I’ll go to bed now,” and then waking up when you decide you’re ready to do so. You’ll miss sitting in a cafe reading a book for three hours. You’ll miss shopping alone, without any time restrictions and without having to do the mommy-jiggle-shake-bounce while you try and lull that ticking-time-bomb baby to sleep as you hurriedly examine ingredient lists and price tags.

You’ll miss how you were as a couple. You’ll miss your decadent two-person holidays and your lazy, late Sunday morning brunches. You’ll miss staying up to watch a movie on a Friday night without worrying about whether you just heard someone cry on the baby monitor, or frantically calculating how many hours of sleep you might get if you bite the bullet stay up another hour.

What’s my problem? Did I seriously just have these kids so that I could wish to be alone and unattached again? I need to get over myself.

I remember when my secondborn was about three weeks old, my husband and I decided to go for a walk and get some ice cream. I had her in the carrier, and my husband was pushing our older daughter in her stroller. I hadn’t slept for more than an hour at a time since the baby was born. My body was still recovering from a C-section. I was only comfortable in my maternity clothes because nothing else really fit, and the furthest journey we were willing to make as a brand-spanking-new family of four was 500 meters down the road. As we walked along the pavement, I had a terrible, horrible, selfish, unthinkable thought brewing in my head, and I was so nervous to say it out loud to my husband because I could just hear how awful it sounded. I gathered up the courage and just blurted it out.

“Do you ever miss life without kids?” I asked him.

“Yes.”

He answered so quickly and confidently that relief flooded my heart so fast I nearly cried. Heck, given my hormonally-volatile state, I probably did cry.

I read an article shared by a friend last week about how mourning the loss of our pre-motherhood selves has a big, fat, giant “taboo” sticker on it. The article struck such a huge chord with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then, because that’s exactly what I’m going through right now.

Motherhood demands the impossible from you sometimes. You have to constantly give more and more and more of yourself. Just when you think that you’re spent, you’re all out, you really have nothing left, you have to search every last corner of yourself and give more.

You start to desperately crave simple things, like leaving the house on your own to do whatever the hell you want with one small handbag and no promises as to when you’ll return.

You dream of spending an entire day on your own: reading, shopping, running, singing, writing, going to a spa, driving a car, eating a meal with a knife and fork at the same time, and drinking a hot coffee as soon as it arrives at the table.

You wonder what it was like when no one physically depended on you for all of their nutritional needs. Or when you could eat or drink whatever you pleased without having to worry about how it might affect someone else.

You want to look at your hair in the mirror and think, “I need a haircut,” and then book that haircut for tomorrow without having to plan and strategize and think about pumping, naps, and feeding schedules.

You want to spend hours – hours – at a grocery store or a mall, browsing to your heart’s content without checking your watch or your phone, or wondering if you should head back just in case, even in the absence of someone immediately needing you.

You want to feel like you aren’t asking for permission or a favor when you want to leave the kids with your husband or whoever else and have some me-time. It’s funny, because it’s only you that feels that way, but that limitation you set on yourself only adds to the feeling of being stuck, and only makes that motivation to do something for yourself, and only yourself, harder to find.

The truth is, we are forever changed because of our children. We can’t switch off. I know they’ll be 25, independent, and totally self-sufficient one day, and I’ll still be wondering if they’re okay.

So I’m going to book that haircut. I’m going to go on that shopping trip. I’m going to get that massage. I’m going to read my book at that cafe (but maybe only for an hour). I’m going to chase that dream that I put on the back-burner because I thought the timing just wasn’t right. I’m going to go for a run. I’m going to take care of me, because in order to properly take care of someone else, I need to be okay, too.

I’m going to reclaim as much of myself as I can while accepting that I am not the “me” I once was, and there is nothing wrong with that. We grow, we change, we evolve. Nothing is static and things rarely go back to exactly what they used to be.

We need to be okay with admitting the hard parts, though. That new mom who feels like her world is falling apart and that she’s doing it all wrong needs you to assure her that, yes, some of this really, really sucks. It’s hard, and you’re not a bad mom for feeling that. You’re not a bad mom for wistfully thinking back to when you didn’t have kids.

You’re not a bad mom for thinking, “I miss just being me.” You’d be surprised how many of us have thought that exact same thing.

This post was originally published here.

Spiraling Out of Control and Toward Infidelity

I want to tell him about how my marriage is broken and how numb and disconnected I feel. I wonder how I let it get so far.

5:05 a.m. My eyes open. A faint pearly blade of light squeezing past the blind. The distant metallic scrape of a moving tram.
I lie here in the dawn’s dimness, my dreams still lingering.
“I am a happily married man, and I am not looking for any other arrangement. I would ask that you please do not contact me again.”
I reach for my phone.
The last words of his last message haunt me. It seems impossible that it is “over,” even if our relationship was only ever a virtual one.
“What time is it?” my husband murmurs beside me.
“Early,” I say.
He reaches for my phone.
“I’m in the middle of an email!”
He reaches for me instead.
With a grunt of frustration, I fling his arm off me and get out of bed.
6:14 a.m. I am preparing lunch for my three-year-old daughter – marmalade sandwich, sliced banana – when I hear the soft ping of an incoming email. I pick up my phone. Feel the familiar sting when I see that it’s not from him.
I stand, staring out the kitchen window at the long shadow of the neighboring apartment stretching across the river’s waters. I wonder how I let it get so far. How it became all consuming. I think of the hours spent scrolling through his messages, especially the ones where he said he understood me.
“I get you,” he would say. “We’re on the same page.”
He was a marketing executive for an agency I write copy for, or at least I used to, and our contact, at first, was purely professional. But I quickly became drawn to him – and I thought we shared a connection.
“Mummy.”
My daughter is standing at the kitchen entrance. Tousled blonde hair, unicorn PJs, her stuffed monkey doll dangling from her hand. Swamped in my thoughts, I hadn’t heard her coming down the hallway.
7:04 a.m. My husband is running late. And he has to drop off our daughter at kindergarten on his way to work. I sit down to try and help put on her sandals.
“I’ll do it!” she says defiantly.
She fumbles with the sandal strap. I reach over and raise the prongless buckle. She realizes I am trying to help and squeals with rage, yanking her sandal off with both hands.
“For God’s sake!” my husband says impatiently. “Why didn’t you just let her do it?”
I flip him the bird behind her back.
7:10 a.m. My daughter’s pouting face is the last thing I see as the lift doors seal.
7:11 a.m. I turn on my laptop. Elsa from “Frozen” is my user icon – something I set up to make my daughter happy. What would it be like to have Elsa’s power? How long would it take before I turned my husband into ice?
I scan The New York Times, The Australian, The Guardian. My pulse begins to slow. I am breathing calmly again.
8:03 a.m. I get in the shower and stand there, feeling the cold needles of water hitting my breasts, causing my nipples to harden. I vaguely consider directing the nozzle between my legs, but the indeterminable time of concentration required, face grimacing, desperately trying to break through the barrier just feels like too much to bear.
8:21 a.m. After I get dressed, I check my emails again. There’s nothing. Apart from two that require follow-up: chasing up photos, editorial change requests.
I’m researching something on my laptop when I get distracted by a piece of clickbait in the right-hand column: “Toxic Liver – 30-second quiz”.
It takes six minutes.
8:53 a.m. I am finally ready to start on my article. As I go to open Word, my cursor hovers over the YouTube icon.
I used to watch the marketing executive on YouTube. The same clip. Over and over again. He was part of a discussion panel on the future of advertising. I’d watch with the volume down, admiring his profile, his jawline, the way he made slightly unshaven seem so neat and tidy.
I would touch the screen and watch the rise and fall of his chest. I would imagine I could feel his heartbeat beneath my fingertips.
I check my emails once more. Feel ground down by his absence.
11:15 a.m. I have a phone interview with a psychiatrist. It’s not the one I used to see. I need quotes for the article I am writing. It’s about how our modern addiction to smartphones and social media can be a social barrier for many.
“There’s no doubt that devices have been a wonderful aid to society,” the psychiatrist says to me. He is a professor. He specializes in obsessive behavior. I love the drift of his voice, the deep thoughtfulness in each pause. “But for some people, they have become an overly important part of their lives.”
Listening to him triggers a need inside me to unburden myself. While he talks, I want to tell him about how my marriage is broken and how numb and disconnected I feel.
“What would you say to someone who can’t get to sleep because they keep compulsively checking their phone?” I ask.
“It’s likely to have a cost in terms of your normal circadian rhythm,” the psychiatrist replies. “And it’s likely to have a cost the next day, because you’re going to be less efficient. When you look at those costs, the benefit of knowing you’ve got a message at eleven o’clock at night doesn’t really look very beneficial, does it?”
2:12 p.m. I finish another page of my first draft. I reward myself by checking the marketing executive’s LinkedIn profile. I pay for a premium membership so he won’t know each time I look at it.
It hasn’t changed from yesterday.
3:42 p.m. “You need glasses.”
I nod. It’s true. But I really came here to take my mind off the marketing executive.
“You can’t focus,” the optometrist says.
He points to a large poster on the wall. It’s a drawing of a detached eyeball, sliced-in-half. “The human lens continues to grow throughout your lifetime,” he says. He traces the eyeball with his finger. “As the lens gets bigger, the ciliary muscle, which wraps itself around the lens, has more difficulty changing the lens’s shape.”
“Is that why I’m finding it hard to read at night?” I say.
“Yes,” he says.
He puts a heavy, black trial lens frame on my face. He pops two lenses in and stands back, looking at me.
“Better?” he says.
4:07 p.m. I take the long way home. I walk past two souvenir shops, a pub, a real estate agent. There’s a tall model in the window of a new high-rise being built. I continue on past the supermarket, the bottle shop, past Condom Kingdom, Cold Rock.
I think about how, even during the strongest grips of my infatuation, I knew, deep down, how stupid I was being. It was like my mind had flipped back to my adolescence, swept up in a high school-like crush, as if the marketing executive was a movie star or rock idol or something.
I feel ashamed now as I remember the way I would pore over his press releases, searching for any secret messages he might have embedded in them for me. How I’d seize on code words like “open communication” and “rapport” as evidence that he was interested.
At the time, I thought he was just being discreet. Which was very gentlemanly of him. He had the interests of the company to think about after all. And I knew he’d need to break it gently to his wife, to let her down easy.
But when he put out a special release for a startup company called Firmest Bond, I knew that he was ready.
I dashed off an email to him. Aware only of my words, my quickened breath, the click of chewed nails on plastic keys. I gushed out my feelings. “I haven’t felt this way toward another human being,” I wrote.
“Ever,” I wrote.
The following morning he broke it off with me.
I hear the squeal and clank of an approaching tram. The low west sun searing brightly off the sloping window. The thick metal fender.
I have a sudden impulse to step out in front of it.
4:43 p.m. I am standing on the balcony, looking at my phone. As a breeze blows in from the river, I check Facebook again, even though I know he’s defriended me.
6:23 p.m. A sludge of mushed peas. A soggy crust, black with Vegemite. Corn kernels floating in the dregs of the milk cup.
I plunge the dishes into the suds. Scrub them vigorously with the blue brush with the flattened white bristles.
As my gloveless hands chaff in the almost scalding water, I glance over the kitchen half-wall at the blue Lawson-style sofa. The back of my husband’s thinning black hair. My daughter’s little blonde pigtails.
Sitting side by side. His arm around her shoulders. Watching “Ben and Holly”.
Happy.
Oblivious.
8:58 p.m. After cleaning up, bathing my daughter, dressing my daughter, and reading her bedtime story after bedtime story until my voice is hoarse and she has fallen asleep, I am feverish with a desperate compulsion to claw back my self-esteem. I am not revolting. There are other men who would have me.
I go into the bedroom.
My husband is lying there in his chequered boxers and faded T-shirt, reading an old copy of The New Yorker.
I slip off my underpants.
“Hey – ”
I start kissing him. Roughly.
I feel him between my legs. I reach down. I arch back.
He lasts 30 seconds.
“No!”
My hair is dangling into his eyes. I won’t let him get away with it.
I keep going. Furiously.
I’m almost there…almost…no…yes…no…
I imagine the marketing executive beneath me.
I’m there.
Merciful. Sweet. Oblivion.
When my breathing slows, I sense my husband waiting.
I can feel his heartbeat tremor against my breasts.

How to Banish Mom Guilt With Self-Compassion

It starts during pregnancy, and then the worry and self-recrimination gather steam. What can you do to tame the worry-monster? The key is self-compassion.

It starts during pregnancy; the worry and self-recrimination gather steam.

  • Am I eating enough, or too much?
  • Am I prepared?
  • Am I reading the right things?
  • Am I knowledgeable about all the latest parenting news?
  • Did I gain too much, or not enough weight?

Taking on one of the most meaningful and challenging roles of all – becoming a mom – can provoke endless questioning and insecurity. No matter how prepared you think you are, pregnancy raises doubts and fears.

After the baby is born, the worries and guilt may skyrocket with endless opportunities to compare yourself, your marriage, your parenting acumen, and even your child to those around you.

  • Why am I so exhausted when my friends seem to have boundless energy?
  • When will my belly look flat again?
  • Will I ever stop resenting my husband, who sleeps through the night and never seems to hear the baby crying?
  • Why do I feel so unsure of myself? I had confidence at work, but don’t know what the heck to do with this tiny little person.
  • Why isn’t my baby crawling yet? My friend’s daughter crawled a month sooner. I wonder if there’s something wrong.

Despite parenting groups, online forums, supportive friends, and family advice, many young parents feel isolated and inept. They hide their fears and feel guilty when they struggle with insecurity or have negative feelings about being a parent. Many feel torn about their changing roles and resent having to let go of their former selves.

  • Can I care about my career without worrying that it will detract from being a mom?
  • Is it okay to want to stay home with my child and give up work altogether?
  • What if I ignore the parenting advice from my family and in-laws? Will it cause conflict? Worse yet, what if they’re right and I’m wrong?
  • Is a mom allowed to feel sexy?
  • I feel so guilty when I am bored sometimes, even though I love being with my child.

Even as children get older and moms become more confident, the worries and guilt don’t necessarily disappear, they just morph into another form. As these little people get bigger, their needs, personalities, and vocabularies increase too. The demands of parenting a toddler and preschool-aged child are no picnic.

  • How do I control my rage when she drives me over the edge? I am so ashamed that this tiny person can make me so mad.
  • Why isn’t he talking as fluently as my friends’ children?  Maybe there’s something wrong.
  • Sometimes I wish my child didn’t have my nose/hair/legs. I worry that she won’t be attractive as an adult.
  • I feel guilty when I sometimes wish he were more like my friend’s child, who is quiet and easy-going. I get so tired of his high energy and wish he were different.
  • I miss my old job and workplace status. I resent that others see me “just” as a mom and don’t take my opinions seriously.

The comparisons, worries and guilt don’t disappear once your child enters school. Grades, test scores, talent shows, auditions, and sports try-outs are just a few of the hurdles that loom, along with behavioral challenges such as temper outbursts at home, trouble at school, and difficulty with their friends. Moms also compare themselves to other parents.

  • Her kids never seem to talk back to her. How does she do it?
  • Where does she get the energy to juggle a full-time job and keep her house clean?
  • She seems so confident, always jumping in with great opinions at school meetings. Why can’t I have those creative ideas or confidence?

What can you do to tame the worry-monster? The key is self-compassion.

Recognize that worry is a sign of your love and caring. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t worry. That doesn’t mean constant worrying, self-blame, and guilt is a parenting requirement. It makes your life miserable and can affect your children. They may sense your anxiety and can become fearful and hold themselves back in deference to your worries.

Self-compassion encompasses the capacity to be kind and accepting toward yourself, and willing to forgive your fumbles and imperfections. Self-compassion can reduce anxiety, shame, and worry, and create a greater feeling of connection with others. It can foster increased compassion for others as well.

You can be a loving, empathetic, attentive, caring parent without the worry and guilt if you try the following:

1 | Practice self-compassion and mindfulness

Some tools are available online, including information from self-compassion and mindfulness experts Kristin Neff and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Many additional websites and phone apps also are available that provide mindfulness techniques.

2 | Recognize when worries, guilt, or self-blame are based in reality

Sometimes these beliefs are fueled by unrealistic assumptions. For example, how likely is it that other parents are always calm, have children who never argue, and rarely struggle with self-doubt? Ask yourself if you would be as harshly judgmental toward a friend or loved one. Challenge your assumptions that other parents have it all figured out, that you don’t get it, or that you must be perfect as a parent.

3 |  Trace unrealistic expectations back to their origin

Are they based on your own parents’ beliefs, books or online advice, fictional depictions of parenting, or expectations from friends, your partner, or your family? Have you always doubted yourself or is there something unique to your role as a mother that makes it more difficult? Once you understand what contributes to your worry or guilt, it may be easier to challenge and eliminate it.

4 | Appreciate that self-compassion benefits your child as well

If he sees that you are capable of accepting your imperfections, and can forgive yourself and move forward, he will learn these skills as well. It also provides an example for developing greater acceptance of others.

If the above tools and suggestions are not sufficient, working with a licensed mental health professional may be the next step on the road to banishing mom guilt and developing self-compassion. While it is important to learn from our mistakes and take stock in what needs to change, unrealistic expectations, harsh self-blame, and obsessive worry can rob us of much of the joy of parenting. Don’t let mom guilt get in the way of enjoying life as a parent and time with your child.

Bram Stoker’s Back-to-School Shopping

I know in my heart I must help these teachers, yet this list is a behemoth. Nevertheless, I continue my quest.

August 24th

Dread. It’s a feeling that creeps into your soul, born from the thought that planted it there. Dread. The breeder of anxiety, the eater of dreams, the pestilence in your heart.
Curse you, woman! I said to myself, the thought having manifested from waiting until the last minute to buy back-to-school supplies for my children. I have two of them, and I live in the suburbs, so there’s a lot of competition for supplies.
There will be nothing left! Your latent financial anxiety has made it so this process will become the monstrous beast to end your summer. Curse you!
I am resolved to combat this inner dread by going to Target and finding all I need. Go find them, I say to myself, Go find them, and the creeping voice in your head with desist, and be utterly defeated.

August 25th

I looked at the school supply list posted on the school district website:

  • 47 packages of Crayola crayons
  • 35 glue sticks
  • 20 Play Doh packs (only from a certified play doh provider)
  • 15 Elmer’s school glue bottles (specifically school glue, from the teat of the Elmer cow herself)
  • composition notebooks
  • rulers
  • 100 sharpened pencils
  • 12 baby birds
  • 14 amethyst crystals from a certified witchdoctor
  • 75 phoenix feathers

These poor teachers! I thought. They’re not paid nearly enough for enriching little minds, and they need help with buying supplies!
I know in my heart I must help these teachers, yet this list is a behemoth. It will surely crush me both literally and figuratively, and I know it will cost more than I have budgeted. Nevertheless, I continue my quest.

August 26th

We drove into the parking lot of our local Target, an oppressively large structure, with giant, red, protective orbs near the front door.
We entered the store, children in tow, and encountered Bullseye, the dog-like gatekeeper of the establishment, perched atop a throne of “Back to School” signs and boxes. I dared not meet his stare. Those blood-red eyes see right into the core of your worst fears, made manifest throughout the store.
We walked past and met a cluster of Target-dwellers, creatures who move quicker than is humanly natural and possible, and I knew I must become one of them. I must transform into a shopper until my mission is fulfilled.
I maneuvered to the school supply section, and found many of the necessary items, yet some were what I had most feared: off brand.
My old familiar friend, Dread, came back to whisper in my ear. “You waited too long.”
Hush! I am doing my best!
“Not good enough.”
Curse you, curse youuuu!

August 27th

I must try to find the right brand of crayons and glue. I thought I would be okay with the off-brand items, but my Dread has become an obsessive voice in my head. It’s the day before school, so I went on my own to a craft store to give it one last shot.
As I arrived at the store, to my dismay, the employees were placing giant Halloween decorations on top of the shelves in the silk flower section.
A bit early for that, don’t you think? I will just take a peek at those later, though, I told myself as I searched for the elusive and much coveted Crayola products.
To my amazement, I found 10 24-packs of crayons and knew I would sleep that night. In a bin nearby were some lawn ornaments that you stick in the ground with a long, wooden stake. I felt compelled to take one.
As I walked through the aisle of newly installed decorations on my way out, a worker shouted “Look out! It’s gonna fall!”
Before I could blink, a giant, styrofoam Dracula descended upon me from above. Instinctively, I aimed the lawn ornament’s wooden stake directly at the creature’s heart, impaling it. I fell to the ground, but survived. Dracula did not.
Thankfully, the store did not charge me for the dead decoration, and I got to take my crayons home for free.