Project Parenting

As I mentioned in my last post, Cameron’s sleep habits aren’t great and we decided to hire a sleep consultant to help us. We met with her yesterday and tonight ‘Project Sleep’ begins, but the process has already got me thinking about a whole other topic – the expectations I have of myself as a mother.

It started when I was filling in the forms for the sleep consultant. There were pages of questions about every element of Cameron’s life – food, sleep, illness, birth, routine, environment, feeding. As I waded through it I had a growing sense of failure. I found myself trying to justify my answers because I knew there was a ‘better’ one. But another part of me was also asking why I felt like a failure? And my conclusion – too much information!

In this day and age, we are bombarded with information about how to raise a child. And frankly, I don’t think it helps. (Incidentally, I feel the same way about ante-natal classes.) I love the way Steve Wiens put it in his post ‘To parents of small children: Let me be the one who says it out loud’:

We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning. One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are oversaturated with information about the kind of parents we should be.

Before I became a stay-at-home mom with Cameron, I worked in project orientated fields. We had clear targets, deadlines and processes. I get a kick out of that sort of thing which is great because sometimes a systematic approach is needed. Take ‘Project Sleep’ as an example – the timeline is two weeks, there is a clear process for each eventuality (naps, bedtime and night wakings) and we have a chart to map our progress. (All this quite aside from the fact that ‘Sleep Consultant’ looks great on a business card and just screams ‘corporate culture’.) But for every day mothering I’m learning that this is not how to approach parenting. For me, all the information can make me feel like raising a child is some sort of project. All those handy month-by-month milestones just get me asking questions like ‘Am I meeting my deadlines? Is Cameron on target? Am I performing well enough as a mom?’ Talk about pressure I don’t need in my life!

In the same post, Steve Wiens goes on to say:

…maybe it’s time to stop reading the blogs that tell you how to raise the next President who knows how to read when she’s three and who cooks, not only eats, her vegetables. Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.

I think this is good advice so I’ve stopped reading the books. It’s nice to know they are there if I have questions, but mostly I ignore their existence. I only subscribe to blogs that inspire and encourage me. And I reject those failure feelings each time they raise their nasty heads.

The thing is, that as well as info overload, we also live in a culture where perfectionism is celebrated. To use ‘Project Sleep’ again, one of the reasons why I’d love Cameron to sleep better is because I suspect that if I could just get a bit more rest, I could be one of those cookie baking, home decorating, meal conjuring, craft creating super moms who make sandwiches look like dinosaurs. But again I question myself – ‘Why do I feel like I need to be?’ That stuff isn’t necessary. Yes, it’s nice to do if you like baking and creating and making sandwiches look like dinosaurs, but those activities should be added extras, not a source of more pressure. Those things can be fun creative outlets but there is a huge problem if I feel like I need to be doing all that stuff to succeed as a mom.

Writing posts like this makes me realise just how much motherhood is changing my perceptions and ideas. Maybe it’s got to do with having so little time – I need to make sure I use it well! So I’m prioritizing differently. I’m living at a slower pace. And most importantly, I’m redefining my expectations.

So what do you do all day?

As a stay-at-home mom, one of the questions I am often asked is, ‘So what do you do all day?’ Depending on my mood you might get the sarcastic, ‘Oh you know, lie around and read magazines’ response, or the vague ‘Eat, play, nap, repeat’ comeback. But the truth is that it’s a not a question I can answer in thirty seconds.

Raising a child is not a glamorous business. It’s made up of a lot of repetitive, messy, simple tasks. So if you want the literal answer, I spend my days changing nappies, feeding Cameron, putting him down for naps and then preparing to do it all again. And then of course we play. Babies do not like to amuse themselves. They crave interaction and have an attention span of about five minutes so I spend a lot of time stacking blocks, singing songs and trying to find that magic noise or game that will make my son laugh today. If I’ve had some decent sleep the night before I will attempt to get some admin done in between, maybe cook dinner and compile a list of all the little jobs around the house that I’m just not getting to. If the previous night was a bad one, I grab sleep wherever I can, tell Colin to pick something up for dinner and collapse into an unmade bed at 8 pm. Life with a little person shrinks down to a pretty small scale, the days become fairly uniform and somehow time slips by.

And herein lies my frustration with trying to answer this question. Because while this doesn’t sound like much, there is much more too it than can easily be explained. Firstly, it’s incredibly draining and time consuming. I have almost no time to do things that interest me, and when I have the time, I seldom have the energy. Secondly, and far more importantly, I strongly believe that the investment I’m making in Cameron now will have far reaching benefits.

When talking to my husband about this he summed it up by saying that there is no answer to this question which doesn’t require a major discussion about the foundational years in a child’s life. Granted these years aren’t filled with rocket science. They are filled with small, developmental tasks that can be boring for those of us over the age of five. But security, reassurance, attention and love are vital as a basis for this and I’m grateful to be able to give Cameron those things during ‘working hours’ too.

I can’t give you a ton of information supporting the cause of stay-at-home moms. All I know is that for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to do it. In many ways its harder to do than I thought it would be, but its also so much more rewarding than I imagined possible. It’s a special time in my life and I’m just trying to appreciate it – teething nappies and all!

So to answer your question, what do I do all day? I’m raising a child. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

Following in my mom’s footsteps

In my last post I dropped a bit of a bomb shell in that you might not be aware that I have decided not to go back to work after Speckle is born. What’s more, I’m finishing work at the end of this very month so will have at least two and half months before the little one arrives.

Being a stay-at-home mom for a few years has always been a dream of mine. Fortunately, it was a dream Col and I shared, and early on we started putting things in place to make it a feasible option when the time came.

Since maximising maternity leave is not something I have to consider, I’ve decided to stop working a few months before Speckle is due, and gave my notice for the end of June. Only after I’d done this did I discover that this would leave me with almost exactly the same amount of time off that my mom had when she was expecting me. (I was born in the middle of March, and she finished working in December.)

It seems that the adage, ‘Like mother, like daughter’ is indeed true in this case. But then, there is so much that I admire in my mom that this is something I claim with great pride!