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Back to School: Mom Edition

Back to School: Mom Edition

As parents of school aged children everywhere face another back to school season, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences parenting my son who is entering his senior year of high school this fall. Since he was 5, I’ve sent him off to a new year of school anticipating what it would bring- the new friendships, the struggles, the frenzied pace, and-of course, the growth and learning. 

And each year, as his mother, I’ve felt myself growing right along with him. I’ve had to learn how to manage the pace, set limits, and say no when needed. I’ve sat by his side, trying not to nod off as he worked painfully slowly sounding out his first little readers. I’ve tutored him through long division, made sure all of the dang science fair projects got done, and sat in the principal’s office with him. Multiple times.

Expectations, Expectations, Expectations

Mark Twain once said, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it”. As the mother of a close-to-grown son, I relate to that quote now more than ever!

Because the relationship I have with my children matters so much to me, over the years, I’ve placed a lot of pressure on myself to be a good mom. Additionally, we face messages of cultural idealism around the idea of motherhood–idealism that stressed me out before I could even put my finger on it or had a name for it! I was bombarded with messages in entertainment, at church, and now- in social media- that idealized motherhood, and, as a result- turned up the heat on the pressure I felt. The unrealistic expectations that I allowed myself to build into my life added unnecessary hardship.

 

Dr. Julie’s Wisdom

Recently, Dr. Julie Hanks gave a talk at the TedX event held in Ogden, Utah. She spoke about the religious, cultural, and historic messages we take in as women, and the damage it can do when we hold  motherhood up on a pedestal. She describes the difference between idealizing and valuing motherhood- valuing is to consider something important or significant, and idealizing is to regard something as perfect, or better than reality. Dr. Hanks explains, “When we accept messages from external sources about something that millions of women experience in millions of ways across the globe, it reinforces the idea that there is one right way to be a mother.” She challenges us to think about motherhood as a relationship, and not a role. Roles are rigid- prescribed, scripted, with set expectations and rights and wrongs. Viewing motherhood as a relationship, she shares, allow us to be our authentic selves. It allows us to value the connection between mother and child, and not discount it because it’s in any way different from the idealized standard.

Some of the most valued learning I’ve gained over the last 12 years is accepting and honoring the mom I am to my kids. I’ve kicked mom guilt to the curb and try hard not to let it cross the threshold back into our home– but like every bad ex-boyfriend, it tries to come back around again and again! I’ve learned new patterns and set realistic expectations. I’ve made peace with reality- our lives are not Pinterest boards, my kids get in trouble, and growth is hard. And that’s ok. I’ve learned to honor and value the ways I uniquely mother: with creativity, with humor, and with a little occasional snooping in Instagram DM’s. I’ve realized I’m a good mom because I value the connection I have with my children above all other indicators of success.

I love the freedom offered to us in Dr. Hank’s message- that there is no one right way to be a mother to my children. By focusing on connection in our relationships with our children, it frees us up to parent in the way that works best for our families- conventional or not.

Let Go

This back to school season, give yourself permission to let go of idealized standards of parenting.  You and your children will benefit when you honor the unique ways that you show up as a parent. Neither us nor our children are perfect- we all need space to grow and learn!

Lastly, if the growth and learning your child encounters this year lands you in the chair in the principal’s office, take a deep breath and know you are in good company. Many a good mom have sat in that chair in the past, and many a good mom will sit in it in the future. Consider this your across-the-internet fist bump.

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References:

Hanks, J. (2019, July 22). The Costs of Idealizing Motherhood, Julie de Azevedo-Hanks,    TEDxOgden. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlC8XqTSLUE

Twain, Mark. “A quote by Mark Twain.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7595047-my-mother-had-a-great-deal-of-trouble-with-me

Embracing the “And”

Embracing the “And”

As humans, we like to keep things simple. Our brains are designed to put things into nice, neat, and uncomplicated categories. This sorting and categorizing serves an important purpose: it’s a lot easier for us to interact with our world this way. Everything seems to settle into a nice category. Happiness and sadness. Good people and bad people. Healthy food and unhealthy food. True and false. Jean Piaget, a prolific child development researcher and psychologist suggests that when new information comes into our brains, we have two options: fit it nicely into an existing category or schema (assimilation) or do a complete overhaul of the categories to fit the new information (accommodation). At some point each of us realizes that our world is not so simple and our categories do not seem to fully encapsulate our experiences with life.

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Scrambling through Life

Scrambling through Life

Scrambling Through Life

Do you ever feel like you are scrambling through life? That no matter what obstacle you complete or finish line you cross, you are never really settled? I know I am, and to quote Winston Churchill, “Life is one damn thing after another.” (more…)

The Power of Your Pack

The Power of Your Pack

In today’s busy world, it can seem nearly impossible to cultivate meaningful adult friendships. I mean, we have homes and careers to keep up with, family, marriage, and parenting responsibilities, bills to pay, groceries to buy, and we are all trying to get enough sleep and exercise- the thought of maintaining friendships beyond a simple “like” on Instagram can feel overwhelming!

I want to share with you that in the midst of juggling all of the balls you keep in the air, devoting time to your own grown up friendships is one of the most significant ways you can care for yourself.

Friendships provide the social support network needed to effectively ride the waves of the ups and downs each of us will experience in life. “Women are each other’s emotional support system. From giving advice, being a shoulder to cry on, keeping secrets, lending a listening ear and boosting self-esteem—developing strong and healthy female friendships is something all women can benefit from” (Fuller, 2018).

Neuroscience confirms the benefits we receive from our friends! Oxytocin is our love and bonding neurochemical. It’s what floods a woman’s system immediately after childbirth, enabling maternal attachment with her new child. It contributes to the bonding between romantic partners. Oxytocin is also released in the brain when we are interacting socially. “At our most elemental level, humans are social animals. Our brains evolved to ensure our survival, and they operate best when we interact and connect with others. Science has proven that social exchanges change (oxytocin) and circuit activity in your brain which decreases stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms and ups those calm and happy feelings” (Hampton, 2015).
Women specifically reap benefits of social interaction with friends. “Women…are genetically hard-wired for friendship in large part due to the oxytocin released into their bloodstream, combined with the female reproductive hormones. When life becomes challenging, women seek out friendships with other women as a means of regulating stress levels. A common female stress response is to “tend and befriend.” That is, when women become stressed, their inclination is to nurture those around them and reach out to others” (Kamen, 2013).

Have you ever felt the need to reach out for support and a listening ear when you are feeling depressed or are facing a crisis? That’s your biology doing it’s best to urge you towards what will help you! Several years ago, I hit a critical time in my life when it felt like everything was falling apart. As I leaned heavily on my girlfriends during this time, I felt buoyed up by their strength and support. Their love made me feel worthy of care again. Their belief in me helped me re-learn to believe in myself. Reaching out for others while I was in distress created a pack of powerful, wise women around me. It turns out- my biology really did know what I needed to survive the crisis at hand!

Developing and nurturing positive female friendships will not just boost your emotional health, researchers have shown friendships impact women’s physical health as well. “The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School showed that the more friends women have, the less likely they are to develop physical impairments as they age, and the more likely they are to lead a contented life.The study also showed that not having friends or confidants is as detrimental to your health as being overweight or smoking cigarettes” (Kamen, 2013).
My grown up girlfriends have been one of the biggest factors to my happiness and success navigating life. We’ve cheered each other on, been shoulders to cry on, and have celebrated the innumerable milestones of each other’s children. This pack of women let me know that I’m not alone in the world, that my parenting experiences are mostly normal, and that my thoughts and feelings are valid. They encourage me to live my best life and I cheer them on as they do the same.

We tend and befriend.

When women support each other, the results are incredible.

 

References

Fuller, K. (2018). The Importance of Female Friendships Among Women. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201808/the-importance-female-friendships-among-women

Hampton, D. (2015, June 21). Why Spending Time With Friends Boosts Your Oxytocin. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-20069/why-spending-time-with-friends-boosts-your-oxytocin.html

Kamen, R. (2013, January 29). Why Friendship Is Good for Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/female-friendship_b_2193062?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAKRqwsqXN2ISO0cd4MZpmvcOtHedW2ancajDKUQIZPz02lS9cbK8dWHy8oKqr9vI0BTvdwQq6fNU-i4J-KDeAMajvfr1Gaj1xyqX2K6_3r0FdVb3cwdY66csfmeCMQxK7rPO5ZtfRnkBhO_44qeuUbTWa1MEnKgEsABDcKxvCFz5 (more…)

What I Learned From Trekking

What I Learned From Trekking

I just got back from trek. Trek is a church activity that spans a couple of days. Teenagers along with their adult leaders dress up in pioneer clothes, put their very few items that they can bring in a 5-gallon bucket, toss the buckets in a two-wheeled handcart that they then pull for miles each day to hopefully help them understand just a tiny bit of what the early pioneers felt as they walked across the plains to get to Utah in the 1800s.

As you can imagine, most teenagers are not excited to throw on their bloomers or khaki pants to pull a wagon for several days in the summer heat, and I was feeling that same way. I realized the night before that I cannot have a bad attitude going into this because that will not help the 200 teenagers that are going to be dragging their feet. I thought to myself that I am going to smile and learn something!

I am glad I changed my attitude. I learned a few lessons from trek that I thought I’d share.

Make unexpected happenings into an Adventure

By the second day of the trek everyone was pretty worn-out. We had walked 15 miles in 2 days and we all just wanted to sit and relax at our campsite. We had just trekked into camp when we see the darkest clouds making their way over to us. Seagulls were flying all around in a frenzy which made all of us begin to panic, and just like a switch that gets flipped on and off, the rain was flipped on, and it was turned on HIGH.

Huge raindrops, loud thunder, and intense lightning came for us. We had 3 easy-ups that had been set up around our food area and it was a race to attach the side panels to create a more rain resistant shelter. One of the amazing youth leaders was running from side to side attaching the Velcro with the biggest smile on her face. She came back under the easy-up with her hair stuck to her wet face and her arms raised up in the air shouting “this is an adventure!”

If I was her, I’d have slumped back under the easy-ups with nothing but negativity. I would be focused on how wet I was and how dinner preparation was not going as planned, but this amazing leader took a completely different approach. Instead of being down-trodden she was excited to figure out how to prepare dinner in a different way than was planned.

Dinner was made and it was delicious.

I know it is so hard to have a good attitude when plans don’t go as we expected, but there is so much good that comes when we see “Plan B” as an “adventure” rather than a “back up.”

Wearing the right shoes is imperative for support

We had a sweet girl that decided to wear boots instead of her trusty tennis shoes and it showed by the end of the first 8-mile day. Her feet were covered in blisters. A member of the medical team we had there even said that she may not be able to trek the next day. Needless to say, she had a whole lot of duct tape and moleskin on her poor feet.

Yes, the combat boots went better with her floral skirt, but the tennis shoes would have been able to give her the support that her feet needed. While I was trekking along I was thinking about support systems as I was thinking of this poor girl’s feet. If we surround ourselves with the support system, we can avoid a lot of hurt.

My mind instantly went to the movie MEAN GIRLS. When Lindsey Lohan, the main character, hangs around the mean girls she just ends up getting burned over and over again. She finally learns her lesson and surrounds herself with her family and people that care about her. Now, life will not be easy, but we can definitely lessen the amount of blisters we get on our feet depending on the support of our shoes.

In short…

make the unexpected into an adventure! No more sitting around and ruminating over the changes – embrace it. Also, make sure to surround yourself with a support system that will prevent the blisters, rather than cause them.

Too Much Technology?

Too Much Technology?

I recently watched a new Ted Talk called “The Future of Happiness: Getting Unstuck in the Digital Era” delivered by Amy Blankson just a few weeks ago on May 4th. While acknowledging how technology could be a distraction in our lives, Blankson also spoke of its benefits. (more…)

Embodying Desire

Embodying Desire

Are there specific labels you deeply fear could be applied to you? Labels that are so aversive to you that you might spend a lot of time or energy engaging in your life in ways to avoid being perceived as those things? Maybe “lazy” or “incompetent” or “stuck up,” for examples? That label, for me, is “selfish.” I don’t know exactly where this came from but I have an incredibly strong aversion to being, or being perceived as selfish. Maybe it’s from the culture I grew up in. Maybe it’s from my family of origin. Maybe it was simply in the Kool-aid I drank. But I don’t think I’m alone in this experience.  (more…)