People tell me how great kids turn out when they’ve had their moms at home with them before they start Grade 1. People also tell me how they want their kids to see them working as mothers so they can be female role models for their daughters. I don’t disagree with either points of view.
When I studied part-time last year, my three year old daughter, Chiara, didn’t like it. Obviously. I hadn’t done it the year before or the year before and now suddenly I was dashing off to lectures and leaving her at home with her nanny. I only went to lectures three times a week, but still, she was not impressed.
Without making a big deal of it, I try to make her aware of the fact that stay-at-home moms are not the norm. I also suggest that although I may not currently be working, I may wish to do so in the future. I say this not only because I do miss working and would like to be part of the workforce again. I say it also because I want her to aspire to great things as girl and I want her to feel and believe that little girls can become anything they want to.
Chiara just turned four and a few weeks ago, she and her three year old cousin decided to play “Mommy Baby”. While preparing for the game, she turned to her cousin and announced:
“I’ll be the mommy because mommies get to go to work.”
No sooner had these words come out of her mouth when she moderated them:
“No,” she declared, “I’ll be the mommy because mommies get to stay up late!”
Then, a couple of days ago, she and her classmate were discussing which mommies were going to be at a playdate that afternoon. I pointed out that one of the moms they were discussing wouldn’t be able to be there as she would be at work. At this, Chiara turned to her friend and said:
“But my mom doesn’t work.”
I cautiously suggested that this may not always be the case, to which she replied emphatically:
“Yes, because if you don’t work then you won’t learn!”
It seems as though, at the tender age of four, she somehow has a fairly positive view of women and work – even if staying up late at night is a more attractive prospect than a rocking career, at this stage! Of course, it is easy for her to be positive when her mom is always around and not actually, “getting to” go to work or “learning” at work… But I am nonetheless glad that she is aware that work can be enjoyable and rewarding for women and mothers.
Although I have been concerned about creating this awareness in my daughter, when I really think about the kind of role model I would like to be, I come to the following conclusion: I believe that the best mother in the world is the mom who is the most comfortable in her own skin – whether she’s a CEO or a full time mom. If she does whatever she does with conviction and zest, then she is a good role model for her children. And I guess that is actually the ultimate challenge for all us mothers.
On my Dad’s 70th birthday last year, my sister wrote a tribute to our parents on her blog & cited some of the mantras she remembered our mom repeating throughout our childhood. These are some of them as well as others I recall and admire:
1. “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders”
The older I get, the more I try to take in this truth. It is, however, by it’s very nature, impossible to completely appreciate until one is actually “old”. Mary Schmich puts it best in her 1997 column entitled “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young”, which was later made famous when Baz Luhrmann borrowed the words for his hit song “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)”.* Schmich writes:
Enjoy the power & beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power & beauty of your youth until they’ve faded, but trust me, in twenty years’ time, you will look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now, how much possibility lay before and how fabulous you really looked…
This quote, which I heard again for the first time last year, at the age of 35, is one I plan to have inscribed on a canvas that hangs in my home – as a daily reminder to myself to at least try to appreciate the power and beauty of my own relative youth, and, as something which will hopefully ring true in my children’s ears in time to come. This is exactly what my mother was trying to teach me when I was growing up, just in different words.
2. You’ll have nothing to look forward to
I loathed hearing these words when I was a child. From Sub B (Grade 2, age 7/8), my classmates started having parties that started at 4pm and ended at 8pm which my mother disparagingly referred to as “night parties”. Needless to say, I was not allowed to attend said “night parties”. The explanation given was that I was too young and that I would “have nothing to look forward to” later on in life. This was re-iterated when I was sixteen and everyone my age growing up in the entirety of the Garden Route was allowed to go to the Plett night club “The Cave”. Ditto for New Years Eve on Plett beach. Naturally, I felt very disgruntled by these rules and I found the explanation even more insufferable.
Now, with a daughter of my own (although she’s only four), I do want to protect her from having seen it all and experienced it all, before her time.
3. ‘Boring’ is a banned word/ there’s no such thing as bored
My mother literally banned my sister and I from uttering the words “boring” or “bored”. Naturally, this infuriated me but it definitely worked. Such a clever parenting tool. Because we were forbidden from whining that we were bored, when we felt the urge to moan that we had nothing to do, we were forced to find something to do.
Now, with young children, I instinctively avoid these words. I don’t want to introduce them into my children’s vocabulary, I want to delay their awareness of the concept of boredom. And I will definitely be borrowing the mantra from my mother!
4. Sunburnt little girls make wrinkled old ladies
As it turns out, my mom and Mary Schmich have a fair amount in common. Not only do they agree that youth is wasted on the young, but that sunscreen is critical. I think that truth has become self-evident in recent years and I am so grateful to my mother for making me so vigilant about sunburn from an early age.
*In a recent post, I quoted a different part of Mary Schmich’s most brilliant column, but attributed the words to Baz Luhrmann, not realising that they were originally written by the Chicago Tribune writer.
When I moved to Jozi as a grad in 2003, I wound up in sales (recruitment). My boyfriend (now husband) had many years of sales experiences under his belt and gave me a piece of advice he’d picked up on a training course: “Clients/ customers only buy goods or services when they feel pain.”
In the months following the departure of my first child’s night nurse, I realised that this was how I had come to view sleep training. It was something I knew I probably needed to buy into at some stage. Although I was in pain every time we had a bad night, the agony wasn’t consistent enough for me to attempt sleep training. The idea of sleep training was something I instinctively experienced as a kind of physical fear: the terrorised crying, the guilt of abandoning your helpless infant, the fear of inflicting permanent psychological damage, the self-doubt as to whether the child might be physically ill… it all just seemed too barbaric a concept for me to face. And, in a nutshell, too hard, really. It somehow felt easier to just suffer through four hours of rocking my child and begging her to sleep every three or four nights. Because in between those hellish nights, she’d mostly sleep through and I’d have a chance to recover – physically and emotionally.
But when my daughter, Chiara, was 15 months old, something cracked. We just had too many three or four hour stints where I could not, for love or money, get her back to sleep in the middle of the night. (To this day, I don’t know why she sometimes woke up, but I do know that she had no idea how to put herself back to sleep because she had never been given the opportunity to learn that skill). A few hours cradling a baby in an armchair in the middle of the night might not sound like the worst thing on earth – especially if you have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom in privileged South Africa. But there is something absolutely soul destroying about the experience when you are going through it. I repeat: soul destroying. Perhaps you have to have experienced it yourself to know what I mean…
I’m glad I finally reached rock bottom because I would not have had the determination to attempt sleep training otherwise.
A few months earlier, I’d had lunch with a friend who was regularly spending an hour and a half putting her one year old to bed. She wasn’t pushy or evangelical at all on the topic but merely stated that sleep training had “changed their lives”. She described how, after the training, her daughter would point to her cot after only a few minutes. It seemed almost too good to be true and I wasn’t ready to put her advice into practice, but I secretly fantasized about a child who pointed at her cot.
So, when I was ready (read absolutely desperate and in emotional pain), I emailed my friend and asked her for her “method” for Project Sleep Training. To date, at 15 months old, Chiara, had only ever been rocked to sleep, pushed to sleep or fallen asleep on her nanny’s back or in a moving car. My mother-in-law first mentioned “putting her down awake” when she was six months old. I’d never heard of such a crazy concept in my life and I though my mother-in-law was mad. It was only later that the information started to sink in…
My friend’s method was gleaned from a range of online sources and she explained it to me in simple terms:
1) Put baby in cot (yes, awake! Imagine?)
2) Leave room
3) Time three minutes on your phone
4) If s/he is still crying after three minutes, go in and lay your hand on him/her to reassure them for less than a minute. Don’t pick them up.
5) Leave the room and time four minutes on your phone
6) If the baby is still crying after four minutes, go in and lay your hand on him/her to reassure them for less than a minute. Don’t pick them up.
7) Leave the room and time five minutes on your phone…
The next day, you start by leaving the baby for four minutes, then five, then six etc. You’ll be surprised at how fast these kids catch on…
For me, sleep training was indeed life changing. It took about two or three days of applying the above method by the book before my daughter got the message. I never experienced another night of being up for two to four hours on the trot – which had previously happened about three times a week.
Of course if your baby isn’t completely well, sleep training is not a good idea. Rather wait till you feel confident that your child is healthy. As for teething, it can be hellish for some babies but teething goes on for two years so it’s worth fitting in sleep training somewhere along the line.
Going away did disrupt my child’s sleep somewhat, but not to the same extent as it had prior to sleep training. I did find that when we got home, it was helpful to re-start the training for a night or two.
When my second child came along, I cuddled and rocked him to my heart’s content, secure in the knowledge that I could train him to self soothe as soon as he – or rather, I – was ready.
This post first appeared on Parenting Hub
Whether or not you planned on becoming a parent – and whether you like it or not – YOU are the sponsor of “Project Parenting”. Sometimes the project participants (also known as children) may be of the opinion that they are the sponsors. This may be expressed in the form of statements such as “You are not the boss of me!” Whilst you may sometimes wish that this were the case, you are the boss of these participants and you may not resign as the project sponsor.
The scope of Project Parenting is vast and includes:
– meeting physical needs of the child(ren), i.e. food, shelter, clothing, education
Some project participants – particularly girls – may present you with out-of-scope clothing requirements. The only way that said participants will be persuaded of this is if you make reference to the project budget. You need to state unequivocally that a particular item(s) of clothing are not provided for in the budget. If the participant suspects that funds can be channeled from another budget (home maintenance, sibling clothing fund, education, groceries) they will stop at nothing until such funds have been re-allocated.
– meeting emotional needs of the child(ren)
Take solace in Philip Larkin’s poem with the lines “They f*ck you up, your Mum and Dad/ They don’t mean to but they do/ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you”.
Do your best to raise an emotionally well-balanced child, but when you fail, you can always resort to laying on the guilt and exclaiming that “It’s so hard to be a mother/ father! You will see one day when you have your own children.”
1. To raise a child who hopefully moves out of your house around the time they start having sex. Often times, the project budget will not allow for this since the scope of the project includes the provision of an education which may extend beyond schooling. However, tertiary education will hopefully assist you to achieve objective number 2 below:
2. To raise a child who becomes financially independent before you and your spouse are too old to enjoy your new-found financial freedom.
– Project Manager: you, the parent(s). This role can sometimes be outsourced to:
– nannies (as many as project budget allows)
– grannies (and progressive grandfathers)
– Project Participants: your children plus any of their friends who may be tagging along at any given time.
Sleep when you’re dead. (Lack of sleep is an opportunity cost of child-rearing often not quantified, nor included in the project budget.) Your approach to Project Parenting should be that the project is always “live”.
PROJECT LIFE CYCLE
The timelines for Project Parenting are indeterminable. However, take solace in the fact that once Objective Number 2 has been achieved, the intensity of the project may lessen for a period, until your project moves on to its next stage: Project Grandparenting. Project Grandparenting is not as time-consuming as Project Parenting and handovers to parents occur regularly and after short periods.
Project parenting includes governance structures such as: Mother-in-laws and Other Parents. Some mother-in-laws have a hands-on governance approach which may include feeding, bathing, nappy changing, school lifts and sleepovers. Others may take more of a steering approach where they dispense parenting advice and point out the flaws in your project management style. If your mother-in-law takes the latter approach, you may duly note this in the risk log but you may find it more effective to move countries.
Rest assured that your project will always be over budget. Period.
The risk log for Project Parenting is a large and ever-changing document. It should be up-dated regularly and then leather-bound and presented to the project participants on their 21st birthdays. Here are some more common risks and issues:
1. The iteration that “Everyone else’s parents allow them to… (insert potentially risky activity)”. This is an effective tool for participants to employ if they sense that you are concerned about appearing “uncool”. If not, you can employ the age old retort “If everyone else’s parents were to jump into the fire, should I do so too?” If, however, you are concerned about being branded Most Old-Fashioned Parent Ever (sadly, my parents never were), then you will need to put in a few calls to fellow parents to find out the lay of the land.
2. Tantrums. There are various ways of dealing with these risks which are totally unavoidable. All children come with equipped with an innate predisposition to totally freak out when their desires are not met. The modern methods of threats to deny access to expected sugary foods and/ or TV seem to have the most instantaneous effects. Sometimes, however, one actually has to deny, not only threaten, and this often leads to elevated freak outs. These must be endured by parents with the aid of loud music/ earphones, yoga/ meditation and/or wine.
Once upon a time, when man lived off the land and when manual labour was critical for procuring food for survival, the business case for procreation was clear: your children would hunt for you and thus provide for you in your old age. However, since the advent of the knowledge economy, project management experts have been trying to devise a return on investment formula for Project Parenting. Thus far, they have been unsuccessful. Project participants cost more to raise than ever before and will not necessarily be in a position to send you and your spouse on a Carribean cruise in your twilight years.
In light of this, human capital experts have put forward a less tangible business case for Project Parenting. These include the velvet feel of a baby’s skin, cradling a perfectly contented, sound asleep infant, having your toddler crawl into your bed and cuddle you… and other such parenting perks.
We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us. Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In
It took just over two years for me to experience validation in my role as a stay-at-home mom. One of the teachers who helped out at my daughter’s play school described her as “clever”. For the first time in two years I felt a sense of achievement, and, I suppose, validation. Of course, the praise was not directed at me, it was about my child. But somehow, in this particular instance, coming from an external party, it felt like I was being validated.
I have some theories about why it’s hard to feel validated as a stay-at-home mom.
1) They’re kids, not colleagues.
The first and most obvious reason is that in the eyes of our children, we exist as extensions of themselves. Of course we do. And of course this is natural. (There are times when I think I still see my own mother as an extension of myself). Children cannot empathise with our roles, our feelings, our challenges. And neither should they have to. But as stay-at-home moms they are our colleagues, our peers, our friends, our family. They are the people we spend our days with, talk to (even when they can’t talk back) and share moments with. And yet it is not their job to tell us that we’re doing a good job.
2) Modern moms compete
We seek validation from other moms through our children’s achievements. This too, I think is fine and natural. But, to refer to Sheryl Sandberg once again, we women are our own worst enemies: we compete with one another, rather than support each other. When your child first sat, walked, spoke, started counting in Spanish (thank you, Dora The Explorer), swam unaided: these become points of comparison. Partly I think this is a female problem that extends to so many areas of life besides parenting and partly I think it’s because we were raised in a competitive culture. It’s almost as though we are already competing on our children’s behalf when they are six months, a year, two, three, four or five because we somehow feel we’d be disadvantaging them if we weren’t. In any event, despite the fact that other moms might be our de facto colleagues, it is sadly not inherent in our culture to praise and support our female peers. (Much has been written on this topic of late, so hopefully we are heading towards a tipping point for change in this respect).
3) Partners may struggle to relate to full time parenting…
A while ago I read a brilliant article in the Huffington Post entitled “Please don’t ask me what I’m up to today“. The author described how her husband left the house when she and the kids were in pyjamas surrounded by a messy kitchen and eating area. When he arrived home in the evenings, the scene looked the same: pyjamas and post-meal mess. Sometimes, just feeding multiple kids several times a day feels like an achievement, but it’s not really one you can expect validation for. “Guess what, honey? I fed the kids three times today, did the school run twice, soothed six tantrums, got a quote for the leaking pool, went food shopping, picked up the dry-cleaning, built a Lego house, took the kids to swimming and went for a run. Can I get a whoop whoop?” This is hardly what you are going to say to your partner after their long day at the office. And the energy required to assuage a meltdown or negotiate putting on shoes with a toddler is immeasurably great – you actually have to experience it to believe it.
So much about parenting doesn’t produce fast, tangible results. And even when it does, isn’t it lame to expect validation from our spouse for something that our kids – not us – have achieved?
So, how then, do stay-at-home moms find validation? Some examples I have seen or experienced include party planning/ cake baking/ crafting, charity work, blogging, serving as “Class Mom”, sporting goals or part-time studies.
One of my personal quests for validation included signing up for the 94.7 cycle challenge when my son was 10 days old. He was not quite four months when I rode the race, never having ridden a bicycle with cleats in my life. I was so determined to finish the race in the cut off time of 6 hours that I refused to stop to apply sunscreen when my husband warned me that my legs were burning. These were the results:
How silly, in hindsight. But that’s how desperately I was seeking some sort of sense of achievement and validation…
To the stay-at-home moms out there, do you feel validated by those around you and if so, how do you achieve this? I would love to hear your comments…
You know those recurring nightmares where you dream that you go to school/ to town/ to a party without any pants on? Well, sometimes dreams do come true…
Yesterday we flew to Port Elizabeth for this Sunday’s Ironman South Africa. The kids were wearing their “When I Grow Up I Want to Be an Ironman” t-shirts, David met a Kona qualifier (Ironman World Champs) in the row behind us so we were all excited and in good spirits. Plus we were travelling “light” – ie our car & trailer had been driven down to PE the day before. It was a one hour 4o minute flight with one parent per child, so I thought, “how hard can this be?”
Despite the fact that a 12:25pm take-off is clearly “lunch time” no matter where in the world you are, SAA is evidently cutting costs and served a packet of Lays crisps for “lunch”. Not the kind of rubbish I like to give my kids but I find that crisps do have their travel advantages compared to sweets and chocolate: they contain no caffeine and hardly any sugar so they shouldn’t make kids hyper, they don’t make kids sticky and they are loaded with a whole lot of crap that makes them taste great so they can keep kids busy for ages. For peace on an aeroplane, I am willing to overlook the health hazards…
I confess that I ate a few myself and noticed that the particular “sour cream & chives” variant is kind of rich. Joe, my 20 month old, is not used to being handed a bag of chips to do with what he likes, so before I knew it, he’d polished off two thirds of the bag.
Other than that, the flight wasn’t too bad. Not too much fighting over the Ipad, no number two’s and no major tantrums. But then as we were coming in to land, I realised that Joe was about to vomit. I could see the air sick bag in the pouch in front of me, but somehow I froze, holding my wretching son and hoping that he was done. By the third projection, I had mobilised myself to get hold of the bag and managed to catch some of that batch. Most of it, however, had gone all over him, all over my lap and then spilled over onto my seat, which now contained large flecks of sour cream Lays and some poorly chewed Trailmix (also courtesy of SAA). In order to avoid sitting in the vomit, I squatted above the seat for some time, but after a while my quads couldn’t handle the strain anymore and I surrendered and planted my arse in the squelch. By this time, Chiara (4) had produced a small sympathy vomit which David had managed to catch in a bag. She was holding her nose and pronouncing that Joe and I STANK and David was handing me bum wipes to try and mop up the vomit.
Welcome to Port Elizabeth.
We’d had a similar experience about 6 months earlier and it had been unpleasant only until I was able to get a clean pair of jeans out of my luggage once it arrived on the carousel. So this time, I just told myself to be patient until we got our bags. Just before the bags arrived, however, it dawned on me that I’d sent all my clothes for the trip ahead of us in the trailer (now parked at our hotel) and that I had only toiletries and a few kids’ items in my check-in luggage. My jeans were literally soaked in vomit, replete with little flecks of thrown up food which David noticed while we stood at the carousel and which he tried to remove with bum wipes (thank god for those things).
Walking to the toilets to change Joe, I considered my options. Maybe I could buy a pair of shorts or ANY bottoms at the airport? I surveyed the shops but all I could see in the way of clothing was mohair scarves in a gift store and then a tourist shop selling nothing but T-shirts. Absolutely nothing for the lower half of the body.
I changed Joe and carried on thinking. I could use a muslin or a baby blanket as a skirt. But of course, on this particular occasion, I really had packed light and had neither of those items. I actually could not stomach wearing my vomit drenched jeans a second longer. I would simply wear my long jacket. Except that when I put it on without pants I found it actually wasn’t long or even longish at all. If I stood dead still, it barely covered my panty line. All I could find was a cardigan which I tied around my waist so that at least from the back it looked like I was wearing shorts or a mini skirt covered by a jersey. From the front it look like, er, well, it looked like I didn’t have any bottoms on.
I marched back through the airport with throngs of Ironman competitors and supporters trying to hide the fact that I was half naked, by staying close to Joe’s pram. Maybe David had some bottoms in his luggage I could borrow. But he had also sent all his clothing in the trailer – which was probably a good thing, in hindsight. If I had pulled on a pair of my Ironman husband’s pants and found they wouldn’t pass my thighs, I think my day would have gotten significantly worse. Instead, I climbed into the transfer vehicle and planted my handbag on my lap to cover my bare legs. When I got out, I tried to strategically position my bag in front of my things and then walked over to the front desk half hiding my lower body behind the pram.
The side view remained a bit of an issue…
I managed to survive the check-in procedure, the packed lobby and my fellow guests in the mirrored lifts…
Never in my life have I been so excited to see a hotel robe.
On the bright side, I don’t have to swim 3.8km, cycle 180km and run a marathon on Sunday like all these crazy Ironman athletes. I am walking around in workout gear though, just so that I don’t stick out too much. Feels great to be wearing pants again!