Crushing the Mom Doubt

I’ve always felt pretty confident about the decisions I make as a parent — until recently as I try to navigate the hormones of two nearly ten-year old girls. In order to get through these trying days I’ve used a combination of the Serenity prayer, girl friend support, parenting books and Kendall Jackson chardonnay.

But deeper than my exhaustion from the fights, exasperated comments, and eye-rolls, is the constant shadow of self-doubt that is creeping into my world on a regular basis.

You see, when my kids were younger, the decisions my husband and I made were implemented in a dictator-type style.  My way or the highway right up to your room. But these decisions were about eating two stalks of broccoli, cleaning up the basement, or one more show on Nick Jr.  Obedience was the yardstick in which I measured my parenting prowess.

Now the decisions seem to be getting a bit harder, and my kids are turning out to be real people who have to make choices of their own based on the life skills I help them develop. In addition to the day-to-day battles about clothes and when to go to bed and chores, etc., I now worry about other things. Like when can my kids have cell phones, how do I talk to them about drugs, how to deal with mean girls, what do I tell them about guns in schools, do I need to make them aware about the dangers of taking selfies and how do I explain to them that just because their friend’s parents bought them a brand new iPhone 5S for their 10th birthday that does not mean they are getting one. Ever.

Sometimes I literally feel their tiny hands slipping out of my grasp. And when I desperately try to reach out and grab for them, I often think, wow. I am completely screwing this up.  We need to stop putting money into the college account, and increase the contribution for the therapist fund.

I know moms are always plagued with doubt. As new moms it’s “Do I really need to buy organic” or “Will the fact that I let them cry it out give them abandonment issues?” And I still hear doubt from my friends with older kids around dating, driving, school issues and career choices (but mainly about dating.) It never ends and can rock our psyche. Self-doubt can make good moms question their judgement or worse yet, forget who they are as parents.

I’ve been feeling this doubt. A lot. And it’s been getting the best of me. I can’t help but feel that I am making wrong decisions, saying the wrong thing, picking the wrong battles — all the time. This black cloud has been looming over me, making me feel exhausted, unmotivated and beaten down.  It has crept beyond the parenting realm and into my marriage, my writing, my life. Doubt has made me more sensitive, less confident and a bit of a mess.

So, it was a surprise when cleaning out my e-mails I found an article I saved from a writing coach I admire, Lauren Sapala. The topic: “Self-Doubt: The Writer’s Constant Companion.” No joke. In her post, she discusses the doubt every writer feels when going through the process, and how doubt can make you do dumb things. While writing is cathartic, it also makes you incredibly vulnerable. There is just no way every person will receive your message the way you intended it. And not everyone is polite on the Internet. Kind of like parenting a tween.

That’s why I feel like this article could also be entitled: Self-Doubt: Every Mom’s Constant Companion. Who among us does not wonder how much we’re messing our kids up? My self-doubt has been growing daily like the weeds in my flower beds.

In her article, Lauren discusses that if we do not face our doubt head on, we give our power to it. To quote: “We automatically assume that it knows what’s best for us.” Kinda like when we let our doubt change the decisions we would make as parents.

But it gets better. This is where Lauren went from smart to brilliant in my eyes:

“There is a Buddhist exercise that helps people handle their fears by asking them to invite the fear in for tea. We can do the same thing with self-doubt (which is a form of fear). Whenever your self-doubt about writing shows up, use your imagination and invite it in for tea. Give your self-doubt a comfy chair and the option of cream and sugar. Ask your self-doubt what’s been going on, what’s happening, what’s new?

Most importantly, ask your self-doubt why it’s choosing to show up now, and what can you learn about yourself from observing it?

The key is to treat your self-doubt like it’s about four years old. Yes, of course it has value and things to teach you, and a certain innocent way of looking at the world that is interesting, but the fact remains that a four-year-old does not get to run your life. For obvious reasons. Most four-year-olds may think they have really good ideas, but eating cake every day for breakfast just isn’t going to work in the long run.”

Didn’t I tell you it was brilliant?

As moms, we can learn so much from this. Self-doubt is just another child we have to lead, another kid we have to put in her place. We can listen to it, but we cannot think that it knows better than us — what is in our hearts, what’s in our souls, what we want for our children, what we believe is best for them.

Washing away the self doubt. Photo from _scartissue.

Washing away the self doubt. Photo from _scartissue.

I had a long cup of tea with my self-doubt this morning, and I listened to what it had to say. I listened to how it was scared I was starting to lose my kids, how it felt I was losing control, how it was unsure about the influence other people had on them. I considered what it had to say about my parenting style, my communications skills, and my approach. I heard (again) how it feared for the safety of my girls, their ability to “fit in”, and letting them make mistakes.

And then I politely asked it to leave.  I wrote down on a piece of paper five things that I was scared of for my girls, five things I wanted to teach them about my morals and values, and five things I did right as a parent. I thought long and hard about the way I wanted to communicate with them, and about the things I was doing wrong.

And for the first time in a while, I feel refreshed and ready to face my kids instead of dreading it. Because my kids are good, just like I know I’m a good mom. While I know I’ll keep making mistakes along the way, it won’t be because I made decisions based on doubt; it will be because I made a decision out of my beliefs of how to parent my girls and a whole lot of love.

So when that doubt creeps in this evening as I’m sure it will, I’ll kindly tell it to take a hike. I’m out of tea, and I’m sure as hell not sharing my wine.

Do you doubt yourself as a parent? How do you keep doubt from creeping in?

 

Are You Advocating or Annoying?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was when my kids were very little: “No one will advocate on behalf of your child like you can. But don’t be a jerk about it.”

Sage words of wisdom.

I kept this in mind a lot as I went through two different state’s special services programs for my daughter ensuring she received the therapies she needed both at home and at school. It was easy to justify my assertiveness, questions and at times, demands.

To really succeed, she needed the right teachers, the right classroom dynamics, and the right therapies. I stayed on top of everything like a hawk and was relentless in ensuring she received the services that were allocated to her. Yes, I was a little obsessive-crazy about it, but I always tried to do it with a smile.

Fortunately, I think most people are extremely understanding when you have extenuating circumstances that apply to your child. But sometimes you just want the best for your kid regardless of what the circumstances are.

Take teachers. We all know that in each grade there are the coveted teachers, and the ones that are just okay. Most schools have a policy against requesting a specific teacher, but you can fill out this little form that allows you to write about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, which is code for trying to match it up to the teacher you want. For example, “I need a teacher who will make my little Mary follow the rules but with a loving, encouraging hand.” This sort of statement would correlate with a teacher who is stern, yet warm and fuzzy.

A good friend of mine — who also happens to be a teacher — disagrees with me on this every year. Her perspective is that the system should work on behalf of your child, and it is good for kids to have all different sorts of teachers. I always say that’s a load of proverbial crap (we really are good friends!).

In this case, the squeaky wheel gets the oil and I have always been over the moon with our teachers. She has felt just so-so about most of them. We’re both comfortable with our choices, but I’m the one that has to walk into school each time wondering if I’m labeled as “that mom”. The annoying mom that is constantly in their faces asking for more with the hope that there is always another parent more annoying than I am.

And while I think you should always advocate for your child when it comes to their education, what happens when it rolls over to other things, such as sports teams, extracurricular activities, or even making friends? When do you step in and when do you let it ride?

We had an interesting experience recently when one of our daughters tried out for a team. We thought she did great, but obviously we know we are biased.  She initially was placed on the second team, which does not play as strong of competition as the first. Our daughter was fine with it, but we had doubts.

After discussing it, and because we are new to this area and organization, we sent an e-mail to the director asking if he could explain the difference between the two teams so we could have a better idea of what her experience would be like the coming year. Honestly, that was all we asked.

Within an hour, she was moved up to the first team (which had an open spot). Can you say awkward? I feel quite certain that most of the parents believed she earned her spot on that team, but I’m also pretty sure some of the parents felt like we got her moved because we cried sour grapes. We’ll probably never know what went on behind the scenes, and now we have to feel confident in the fact that advocating was in her best interest.

I think advocating is definitely in the eyes of the beholder. For example, a few years back the school district we were in was re-districting the elementary schools. A set of parents banned together and caused a ruckus at a few of the school board meetings to ensure that their neighborhood would not be affected. Because all of the elementary schools in our district were quite good, I could not quite understand the distress considering most of the students impacted would be going to school with their neighborhood friends, but the parents were adamant that they remain at their chosen school. And guess what? They won.

Unfortunately, I think too many times as parents we realize that by stepping in and speaking up, you do get the benefit of something better for your son or daughter. But at what cost?

At the end of the day, I do believe the following about advocating for your children:

+ The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Making your opinion and desires known will at the minimum ensure you have a leg to stand on if a situation goes awry, and sometimes you may even get what you asked for.

+ Sometimes even the best [teachers, coaches, therapists, parents] just need to know you’re paying attention. Since I just moved, I tried to give our new teachers some time to get to know my kids. The girls settled in great, but I was disappointed that some issues we had discussed up front weren’t addressed a few months into the burn. After setting up a few meetings and discussing it, I was thrilled to see the changes that were made and how great the teachers responded. I could have remained bitter and disappointed, but instead we’re ending the year extremely satisfied with their progress.

+ Respect is better than threats. I’ve found that when I’m unhappy with a situation, it’s always better to go into a discussion that first identifies where the other person is coming from. No one wants to be bullied, and normally everyone wants to work in the best interest of your child.

Photo by Jon Collier

Photo by Jon Collier

 

+ Be realistic. Advocating is doing what’s in the best interest of your child, not getting your child out of sticky situations. You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to get your child’s grade changed if they didn’t study for a test or turn in an assignment. And I don’t think it’s in their best interest if they don’t own up to mistakes they may have made.

+ Pick and choose your battles.  There are some things I am relentless about, such as the girls’ education; others, I try to ride it out and realize that maybe I should keep my big mouth shut, which is much more difficult for me than it sounds. When I get myself all riled up about something minor, that’s when I call up a good friend to get some perspective and try desperately to sleep on it.

That being said, in our house we live by the “will I regret this next year knowing I could have changed the outcome if I spoke up” rule. If we think something will truly bother us a year from now, we at least have a discussion about it.

Sometimes no means no.  In the case of my daughter and her try out, we had already decided that she would play on the second team regardless of the director’s response. And recently we decided not to “appeal” a placement decision on behalf of one of our daughter’s based on advice from her teacher, which was extremely disappointing to our kid. Learning to accept rejection is an important life lesson, and although I always want my kid to have the best, it’s also important for them to understand that they don’t always get what they want.

What kind of mom are you? Do you constantly advocate or sit back and see how it will turn out? Are you scared that you are “that annoying mom” or do you believe in speaking up without hesitation? Let me know in the comments below!

A Love Letter to My Mama

Dear Mom:

Thank you.

Thank you for taking the time to turn me into a bale of hay so I could win the costume contest for Halloween. For letting me have pool parties, roller skate parties and slumber parties. For letting me chase my brother on my very own BMX bike before taking me to dance lessons. For letting me read in my closet when I should have been sleeping, and punishing me when I got caught taking money out of the neighbor’s mail box. For buying me the Barbie Dream Stage, new skis, a Coca Cola rugby shirt and two different LeSport Sac purses (one in beige and one in navy). And for not buying me the red one just because I saw someone else had it.

Thanks for loving me when I was awful to you, like when at age 13 I wrote that you embarrassed me. For taking me shopping just so we could talk. For always telling me I was beautiful, smart and could do anything. And for throwing my shoes at me when I didn’t clean up my room — again.

Thank you for being one of the only parents to enforce a curfew, but letting me sit outside in our driveway till all hours of the night with my friends. For ensuring I earned good grades, paid for my own car insurance and always spent some time with my older relatives. For grounding me when I did something stupid and standing by me when I had to make tough choices. For going back to school just so you could get a better job to pay for my extra curricular activities, like cheerleading and sorority dues.

My mom, me and four of her six granddaughters.

My mom, me and four of her six granddaughters.

Thank you for giving me more — more love, more grace, more things — than you were offered as a child. For showing me how to handle insurmountable losses with dignity and strength. For telling me that life can be hard, but someone else always has it harder. For always giving: a meal, a place to stay, a dollar. For being strong during our family’s darkest times and the light in all our childhood memories. For taking care of Dad, without a single complaint, as he slowly disintegrated into a shadow of the man you married. For giving up your life to take care of me and my family when we needed you most.

Thank you for always doing the dishes, the laundry and the floors when you visit. For getting teary at the girls’ Christmas performance and laughing at their jokes. For talking to me on the phone nearly every day — or sometimes multiple times — just so I can tell you about something funny the kids said. And for buying my husband tidy whiteys for Christmas.

Thank you for never forgetting a birthday and still making me wonder about Santa. For cooking my favorites, no matter what my age. For spoiling all your grandkids and constantly bragging about them to anyone who will listen. For encouraging me to follow my dreams, and rooting me on every step of the way.

Thank you for telling me I’m a good mom, which is the best compliment I have ever received.

And thank you for being an extraordinary mother, while teaching me what you do is actually quite ordinary. Ordinary for any mom who loves their children.

You have made the ordinary, extraordinary. Thank you, Mom.

All my love,

Whitney

Happy Mother’s Day to any woman who takes care of others. It is the most important sisterhood on the planet. Let’s celebrate it by being kind — to ourselves and each other. Raising my glass to the Moms on Sunday!

Four Awesome Things I Learned From My Kids

Like any parent, I think my kids are pretty awesome. But sometimes their awesomeness just blows my mind. And it’s even more awesome when they don’t realize that they are being awesome.

I like to think that I work really hard to be a good person, but I’m still a work in progress even at the tender age of 41 (did I just say that out loud?) I still judge when I shouldn’t, say things I wish I could take back, and let my fears stymie me from reaching my dreams.

That’s why I love being around children so much. I am constantly amazed at what we can learn from kids. Kids who are not yet jaded at the world; kids who see things so clearly; kids who have a pure heart.

So, I thought I would share some life-lessons my kids have taught me the past few years. I would like to take credit for these, but let’s be honest, kids are just good….usually until we mess them up, so I’m pretty sure it’s just their innate awesomeness shining through:

They see people. Kids see people, and I’m not talking about the creepy way that Haley Joel Osment did in The Sixth Sense, but they just see people. My daughter’s teacher recently went out on an early maternity leave. When I asked her to tell me about her new teacher, she excitedly said: “I really like her! She is nice and smiles a lot. She has four kids and she used to teach them at home herself. And she’s pretty.” I couldn’t wait to meet her, so I was excited when her grade had an open house later that week. I was pleased to see that her teacher was all those things my daughter said, and very qualified, but I also was surprised when I learned my daughter’s teacher was African-American.

Now, her color doesn’t make a difference in the world to me, but I was thrilled to see that it didn’t cross my daughter’s mind to mention it, particularly because unfortunately I wouldn’t call her school diverse. I was ashamed to even think that she should have told me about her race in the first place. She sees people as nice or tall or pretty — who they are. And as she should.

One of my other daughters switched seats in her classroom awhile back. On the car ride home from school that day, she told me all about the new boy she sat next to in class. He was hilarious, loved Sponge Bob, wore glasses and played mine craft. A few weeks later she told me about a game she played with her friend and his Aide.  I didn’t want to make a big deal about the fact that her new friend had an Aide by asking questions, but that very day her teacher sent a note home telling me what a great job she was doing sitting next to this child who apparently had Autism. The mother of the boy had contacted the teacher about how her son actually was talking about school for the first time, and mainly about my daughter. She was wondering if my daughter could sit next to him for the remainder of the year, but she didn’t want to limit her socially or seem pushy.

My daughter in one swift move did what so many adults just can’t (or won’t) do. She RE-labeled a child. In her mind, it is her hilarious friend, not her Autistic friend. And yes, I said absolutely that she could continue to sit by this young boy, for what mom would want to separate their child from a friend.

No fear. For as long as I remember, I get embarrassed when I do something new. I hate looking stupid, and no matter how much I convince myself that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, I still let it get to me. And I know that I have missed opportunities because I felt like I didn’t know how to do something (and didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know.) That’s why when I recently signed my daughter up mid-season for a tumbling class, I tried to reassure her before she went. At eight, she still can’t do a cart-wheel, but so desperately wants to participate with her friends as they tumble across the playground. I tried to remind her that the other girls in her group had been taking tumbling since September so she wouldn’t feel bad that she was behind, but I’m not sure why I bothered saying a word.

“I just want to get my cart-wheel, Mom,” said the sage 8-year-old. And she went into the class where the other kids were flipping all around her and did just that. Well, she did just that after four classes and falling about 408 times. But she never once got embarrassed, and the whole class cheered when she finally did it right. She clearly did not get that from me.

Lesson learned: I really need to get a grip and let go of my inhibitions. I’ve made a resolution to try some new things this year, and I’m taking her along to make sure I see it through. And I will no longer try to save her from any embarrassment. She is completely comfortable with who she is, and I’m not going to try to protect her from learning anything new. That clearly is my issue, not hers.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Last year, for the first time, someone was picking on one of my children. A classmate gave my daughter an F minus in an indoor recess art competition, constantly bossed her around, and pointed out to the class when she did something wrong. I wouldn’t call it bullying per se, but she just wouldn’t leave her alone — so much so that the teacher recommended separating the girls into different classes the following year.

I for one was traumatized. How could someone be so mean to my baby?!? I wanted to call the other mom up and give her a piece of my mind (and I will not share the not-so-compassionate thoughts I had about the other child.) But when I talked to her teacher, she explained that my daughter was just avoiding her and seemed fine. And more importantly, when I talked to my little girl, she said: “Yeah, sometimes she’s mean to me, but sometimes I like her. I just play with her when she’s nice or I just ignore her.”

Huh. How about that. No drama, no crying to me about her being mean to her, just ignore her. Thankfully I didn’t let my rage get the best of me and make what was a small deal to my daughter an unnecessary big deal. And since that time, I have tried to heed my daughter’s advice. Someone not so nice at the PTA meeting, I don’t engage, I just ignore her. Someone posting negative comments on Facebook, I just hide them. But when they are nice to me, I return the niceness. Because I’m not going to let anyone mess with my Karma.

Every day is the “best day ever!” I love this about my kids. A trip to Costco where they get cheesecake samples can be the best day ever. Or, a random playdate with our neighbors can be.  Or a day at Disney World. Or a regular day when I make ice cream sundaes.

Seeing the good in any day is something I have been really working on the past few years. Gratitude as an attitude is my philosophy, but it’s my kids that remind me to appreciate the little as well as the great things in our lives. And when you wake up in the morning with the thought that this could be the best day ever, well, that’s just pretty darn awesome.

What have you learned from your awesome kids?

My Top Five Worst Moments as a Mom

One of the most inspiring blog posts I have ever read was My Rock-Bottom Mom Moment Caught on Camera by Erin Zammett Ruddy. She shared a photo of her six-year old on the iPad while bottle-feeding her 2 month old. Close by is her four-year old daughter sitting in the infant carrier with a sharp pencil in one hand and another iPad on her lap. Ruddy set the stage by explaining what so many of us moms had been facing this winter — kids constantly home from school and daycare due to extreme weather conditions and our real-time work commitments continuing to pile up.

If I was in a room with Ruddy, and I didn’t think I would get arrested, I would kiss her.

She had a couple of choices after taking this photo: a) she could have not shared the picture at all for fear of being judged; b) she could have done a “woe is me” pitch for sympathy for the working mom;  or c) she could have been snarky about the whole thing daring anyone to question her parenting. Instead, she did something beautiful that we don’t see enough of in today’s world of perfection parenting — she owned it.

Said Rudder:

Bottom line: I think it’s important for moms to share the “doing-whatever-it-takes” moments as well as the Pinterest-inspired, picture-perfect ones. Would I have posted this on Facebook? Um, no. Am I proud of it? Not really. But I’m taking one for the mom team and throwing myself under the bus here so that other moms can feel better about some of their own subpar parenting. You’re welcome.

Well, let me say a big fat thank you.

Like all of us, I work hard to be a good mom. I’m an active member of the PTA for God’s sake. But my mom career is marked with some blemishes. These are things I don’t normally share on Facebook, and I certainly didn’t plan on sharing them on my blog full of strangers.

But I’ve received some great e-mails from my readers. A few of you have shared some pretty hilarious stories about your own experiences with competitive moms. I received a few messages detailing some tough situations you’ve had with your own children. And I’ve had a couple of messages that just break my heart — the ones that say as a Mom, you just don’t ever feel good enough. These are the worst of all.

Because of this, I thought I would share some of my dark secrets. These are just a few of the “imperfect” moments I’ve had as a mom. The ones I would normally only share with my most trusted friends over a (few) glasses of wine. I hope it makes some of you feel better about any mistakes you’ve made, and for those of you feeling alone out there, know that you’re not.

09-506-mom-of-the-year-frame

So, here it goes….my top five worst Mom moments:

5. I was feeding my daughter a bottle while on a conference call with my client. My part was only 15 minutes, so I had my older two watching a video in the other room while I thought I could keep the baby quiet with the bottle (I’m an optimist.) I was answering a question in elaborate detail when I started to feel something wet. The top must not have been on tight and there was milk all over her and me. She seemed to think it was funny, but only for about 30 seconds before she started howling. I fibbed and said my nanny brought the baby into my office with a quick question and I had to hop off for a moment.  I never rejoined the call.

4.  My nanny called in sick one morning when I had a day of marathon conference calls and a new product launch I could not postpone. I set out a trough of goldfish and juice boxes, and taught one of the girls how to operate the DVD player. I think they watched six Disney movies in a row basically without a break. When they would come up to my office door (which was glass so they could see in), I bribed them to keep quiet with Hershey kisses.

3. When one of my twins was an infant, I was pushing her in a grocery cart through a parking lot after shopping. She was in her carrier in the front, which I thought was locked in. It was freezing, so I was trying to hurry. I hit a small pot hole and her car seat flew out of the cart, did a few flips in the air, and landed on the pavement. Thankfully the handle was up so she never physically hit the road. She was fine and didn’t even cry until I took her out of the car seat to check her; I am still traumatized 9 years later.

2. We were trying a modified cry-it-out method for our four-month old one evening who refused to go to sleep anywhere but laying on top of someone. The doctor had recommended she lay in her crib for 5-10 minutes each night with some soothing music in order to get her used to sleeping in it. We used one of those lighted LeapFrog music players shaped like Tag the frog in the corner of her crib, safely away from the baby. After about 10 minutes, her whimpers turned to full-scale freak out mode. When I went in to check on her, there was Tag, laying right on top of her. She had somehow pushed herself to the bottom of the crib and knocked it so they were nose-to-nose. She still doesn’t like frogs, and I think she slept on top of me for another two months.

1. When my third daughter was born, my twins were only 16 months old. My youngest was what the doctor called a “happy spitter” so burp cloths were a must. One day after feeding her, I realized I didn’t have anything to wipe the spit up. I put her all swaddled up in her bouncy seat — without buckling her in — for just a second to go to the other room to get a burp cloth. By the time I got back, one of her sisters was standing behind the bouncy, pushing it lower and lower, looking like she was going to launch the baby out of the seat like a stone in a catapult. Needless to say, for the next 9 months she stayed in the Baby Bjorn at all times. I’m not even sure how she learned how to walk.

So there it is. While I cringe just a bit while reading these, I also realize that these moments aren’t so bad after all. My kids are pretty happy, and obviously they survived my Momtastrophies. I make new mistakes all the time, and I’ll try to share those along with my successes. Because we’re all in this together.

If you want to share one of your worst Mom moments, please feel free to comment below (anonymous is fine). Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog via e-mail (just enter your address to the right) and like playdatesonfridays on Facebook.

It’s Friday peeps, so cheers!

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