One Couch at a Time: On Crisis and Cognitive Distortions

 

There’s this episode of Friends that most older millennials or younger generation x-ers will be familiar with. If you’re not, here’s a clip (the part I’m talking about starts around a minute in). Ross has bought a new couch but refuses to pay the exorbitant delivery fee. Then this:

Ross picks up one end of the couch, then stands there watching Rachel expectantly.

Rachel: Hehehe…are ya kiddin’?

Ross: Come on! It’s only three blocks. It’s not very heavy. Try it! Come on, come on!

Rachael: *lifts the couch* Oh! Oh, I can do it.

~~~~~

Living through a crisis and then trying to reintegrate back into the world is like having this moment 600 hundred times a day. It’s disorienting.

Somebody’s hungry? Oh! Oh I can do it…

Somebody needs to have their pills organized? Oh! Oh I can do it…

Somebody wants to come over and hang out? Oh! Oh I can do it…

~~~~~

A crucial skill I’ve needed during this time (as I type this we are 6 weeks out from a hospital stay and angioplasty for my 35 year old husband) has been to figure out which couch I actually need to lift in a given moment. I’m writing about it because I think maybe it applies to other times too…during times when we are prone to the cognitive distortions that come with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, it becomes very hard to sort out what we actually need to spend our emotional energy on, and what can wait or even be disregarded completely.

It’s like standing in a store full of couches but not being able to figure out which one I’m supposed to be picking up.

~~~~~

What if my kids get heart disease someday like my husband? High Lp(a) is genetic and they have a 50% chance of having it. Not that couch.

Did this happen because I saved the bacon grease to fry eggs in sometimes? Just do the best you can with the information you have now. Not that couch.

I’m afraid I talked about myself too much to the people who cared enough to keep asking questions and maybe instead I should have…I don’t know…Not that couch.

I can’t really be there for a family I care about who’s going through a hard moment. I’m going through a hard moment too. Not that couch.

No one will like my food ever again. I love sharing food with people. Not that couch.

I spoke to a prominent physician and researcher on the phone and now I feel like he thinks I don’t care about my family’s health and maybe he’s right. He was in a movie, after all. Not that couch.

I spoke to another prominent physician and she thinks the first one is a quack and now I don’t know what to eat for the rest of our lives. Not that couch. Just eat some taquitos right now.

J’s not here. Wherever he is, there’s a 1% chance that something is going wrong with my husband’s stents. There’s a 99% chance something isn’t going wrong. Not that couch.

We are vegan now. Or something. How will we explain that to the people who thought we were vegan before because they don’t know what that word means? Not that couch.

What if he dies, and I have to support my family and homeschooling doesn’t pay very much and NOT THAT COUCH.

S has three cavities. None of us have ever had any cavities before. Why did this happen? Did I give my family heart disease AND poor dental hygiene? Not that couch.

S has three cavities. I should call the dentist to see about getting them filled. Yes. This couch. Do this thing.

~~~~~

If you’re struggling, I really hope you find the resources you need to pick out your couch from the sea of couches in the crowded store. I know it’s so hard. But if I can do it, that gives me some amount of hope that you can too.

S at age 4

After spending time with us, people sometimes say things like, “You’re writing these things down somewhere, right? He’s HILARIOUS.” (Lest you think I would portray my children as perfect, I also feel compelled to share that after spending time with us, other people sometimes say things like, “We’re waiting a LONG TIME to have kids.” Nobody is just one thing.)

S is lots of things. He’s funny. He’s crazy. He’s serious and thoughtful. He’s wild and doesn’t think things through. He doesn’t like large groups (until he really, really does).  He still doesn’t really like to wear pants. He’s strong and shy and little and big and I love him. Here are a few examples of why.

 

8:30 p.m.

K: You just stay here and calm your body. I’m going to go check on something and I’ll be right back.

S: You’ll be right back?

K: Yes, I’ll be right back. You stay in bed.

S: What are you going to do?

K: I’m just going to check on some boring mama things.

****

5:30 a.m.

K: zzzzzzzzzz

S: MAMA?

K: Ahh…huh?

S: You stay right here.

K: Ahh…huh?

S: I’m going to go check on some boring kiddo things.

****

Dinner time

K: Thank you for this food. Please use it to nourish our bodies so we can do your words. Amen.

****

Dinner time, a few moments later

S: Thank you for this food. Thank you for this day. Thank you for Mama’s body, so we can do Jesus’ amen.

****

S: When we die we see God. Do we go to heaven? Where is it? Like the one in ‘…and heaven and nature sing?’ That one?

****

S: When I’m in the bathroom, and someone knocks on the door, I say “octopi!” Because they will think that I said “occupied!” Isn’t that funny?

****

S: Can you make me a hot cocoa, but make it with coconut oil? Because I can’t have dairy.

****

S: Look at all the beautiful butterflies! They are so, so beautiful!

K: Yes, they sure are! I see them.

S: Let’s see more! Over this big dam river!

K: What river?

S: This one! This big dam river! Let’s cross the big dam river and we can see all the butterflies over there!

****

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Míliath: on Kindness and the People Nearest to Us

I’m tired of reading children’s books that endorse that idea that brothers and sisters being awful to each other all the time is just a fact of life.

I’m realistic enough to be clear that they need to learn to work things out with one another, and that the friction between siblings is a useful and important part of the process. But within that reality, I think I can help my children to learn to disagree (discuss, argue, and yes, fight…) well. It’s tricky, but I think it’s possible. In fact, I think the skill of working out differences graciously is one of the most important relational tools I can give them.

Family relationships ought to be a safe space for children and grown-ups to be other than their best, to have their big feelings, and to feel accepted for who they are. However, I think this is often conflated with a somewhat lazy approach to relationships “I can be a jerk to them, they have to love me anway.” There is some basis for this belief. That doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do things. I also don’t like the implied, “so I don’t even have to try to be kind,” that too naturally follows on that train of thinking.

What if our daily family life together can be the very setting for us to practice all the virtues we read about or hear about? Peace, love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control….keeping these abstracted away as ideas reserved for “out in the world” makes them much more likely to be practiced only occasionally. But what if our close relationships are the exact places we should be using as a safe space to practice being good to other people? What if my children are, in fact, capable of receiving and growing kindness within them, if I can just sow it carefully?

We are not perfect people. Weeds like selfishness, angry shouting, and other unkindnesses are a fact of life. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored. That’s how you end up with a garden choked with weeds.

With that in view, we are studying kindness this week. We’re making trips to the library to learn about it. We’re studying what wise people have said about it. We’re defining what it means to us personally, and how we can recognize and practice it in our lives. As an attempt to highlight kind actions when we recognize them, we are exclaiming “míliath!” whenever we witness a kind action. Míliath means “kindnesses” (in Sindarin, because why not?).

What has worked to help you to promote kindness within your home or important relationships?

GM courtesy brown

To the Parents of the Screaming Baby In the Restaurant

I recently took E out for sushi at a local restaurant. It was a Wednesday afternoon and we were seated near the bar. As we ordered her favorites and mine, shared some chamomile tea, and chatted like Big Girls, our conversation was occasionally punctuated with loud screams of delight from across the room. In the corner across the restaurant there was a couple with a yearling in a high chair who was clearly delighted about something and felt no need to control her volume as she shared her happiness. We watched them for a little bit, and noticed with each scream more people turned around to give them an angry stare. These people were not mollified in the least by the fact that the parents were, in fact, not pinching the baby in order to make her emit such screams, or even by the fact that they were really trying to shush her the best they could as they scrambled to finish their meal quickly.

After a brief talk with our server (who also had children and specifically also remembered what it was like to have young children) we sent them a secret cookie. She dropped it off at their table and said, “One of your fellow customers remembers what it was like to have a child this age and wanted to say ‘good job being out in the world.'” The angry restaurant patrons nearest them heard and quietly turned back to their own meals, and hopefully found that it didn’t actually prevent them from eating delicious Japanese food for someone else to have a baby in a restaurant. The couple was surprised and said thank you (I think-we were far away and trying hard not to give ourselves away) and then thanked her again on their way out the door five minutes later.

You know what? Parents whose children are behaving perfectly aren’t the ones who *need* to hear that they’re doing well. Don’t get me wrong…I love it when people like my kids. It makes my mama heart swell with pride and contentment. I work very hard with my children to set the culture of our family. We have expectations and try to set examples of kindness, politeness, generosity, honesty, and many other ways of being with each other. It’s an astonishing amount of work, and I don’t mind when people notice that.

You know what else is an astonishing amount of work?

Parenting a toddler who’s throwing a fit because the seam of their sock isn’t hitting their toe just right (not that they can articulate that that’s the problem). When they throw themselves on the ground and start kicking and screaming in the grocery store aisle, there’s some tiny part of me that just wants to do it too as if that would make them stop. In the movie Riding in Cars With Boys, Drew Barrymore has this scene where the baby’s been screaming for hours and she just falls apart. She sobs, “WHY WON’T YOU STOP CRYING?” If you’ve never considered your child with this air of desperation, you’re a better parent than me. Or, at least, this post isn’t about you.

If you have ever felt that way, particularly in public, I just want to say…hang in there and keep doing your best. Parenting littles is no joke and sometimes when it’s the hardest, people judge you the most harshly.

There are ways in which I try to absorb most of the impact of my kids’ public tantrums…I will not go home immediately from the library if my kids are losing it, but I also won’t make the librarians talk to them. I will be the one to deal with my children climbing all over the motorcycle chairs in the kids’ room at the hair salon, but I won’t make a stylist the big bad or insist that she risk her fingers trying to cut my child’s hair as he tries to climb the walls or shriek and run away (having stylishly coiffed children is really not that important to me; especially factoring in considerations of courtesy, safety, and fairness to the people who work in that industry, but that’s just me).

All that aside, those are decisions we didn’t make on the fly. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s nearly impossible to think clearly. It’s hard to come up with a plan that makes everyone happy when someone is screaming in your face, spittle and boogers flying every which way. It’s even harder when you can feel the angry stares from all around; unless you are a very secure person it may be tempting, just for a split second, to want to just run home and stay there. Maybe you should give up restaurants and libraries and really anywhere where people are until the kids are “ready”. When will that be? When they are five? Ten? Surely by college…?

We were one of those brazen couples that took our babies (and later, toddlers) to restaurants with us. And sometimes they even cried there! And we didn’t leave immediately! We learned early that there was a certain percentage of the population which is offended by the audacity shown by those who dare to have children in public. But we have this idea children can best learn how to be in public by, y’know, actually being in public.

So you…yes, you with the twelve month old screaming happy screams into her miso bowl at the sushi place at 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday…good job. I remember how hard it was to get out with a kid that age, and I think you’re doing just fine. ❤

The Understandable and Unfathomable Weirdness of Grief

When our family arrived home Saturday from saying a goodbye I will not share about here, both of us parents were dealing with a toddler tantrum and E wandered in the back yard, thinking. She met up with her friend A (our back yard neighbor, who goes to Fairfax Elementary and just graduated kindergarten with Rebecca Meyer). This is approximately how their conversation was recounted to me later:

E: I’m feeling sad.

A: Why?

E: Because I just saw Becca, and said bye to her. Because she’s dying.

A: What? No. That’s not true. I think you’re lying.

E: I think I can’t be your friend any more until you’re like a grown-up or something. I can clearly imagine her spreading her fingers in the air as she said this.

~~~~~~

We went down the street for a little while. When we got back, the neighbor girls were out in their back yard playing in the sprinkler. E went back to say hi, and came running in to tell me she’d been invited to go run in the sprinkler and that A’s mom wanted to talk to me. N told me over the fence what the girls had said to each other, and that afterward A ran in and said, “MOM! E says we’re not friends anymore, and that Becca is dying, and WHAT?”

So they had to have that conversation. I don’t blame N for not telling her daughter, and I really admire how she handled being thrown into the deep end. There is just no palatable way to tell your 6 year old that the friend they have seen every day at school or known since they were born is dying. That is an awful conversation I don’t wish on anyone, and the only honest way to make it remotely less awful for a child is to not pretend it isn’t horrific; that, and to let them know that you as their grown-up are there for them and with them. Sometimes it’s ok to cry in front of your kids.

I asked E about the conversation between the girls and said, “I feel like what you meant might have been that you couldn’t talk to A about Becca, because she wasn’t understanding what you were saying. Does that sound right?”

“Yes. That is what I meant.”

“Ok, you might just want to let her know that, because I think that whole conversation was pretty upsetting for your friend. I don’t think you did anything wrong, but it might be good to just be clear about what you meant.”

So she did.

I know many grown-ups who are not always so clear about what they mean, or so able to verbalize what they need. Sometimes I am one of them.

~~~~~~

She doesn’t bring Becca up all the time. Several times a day for the past week, since we found out this was imminent, but I know she is thinking about it almost all the time. Dropping a piece of food on the floor is enough to make her throw herself onto the couch in tears. Wearing the wrong shoes by mistake will turn her into a sidewalk-squatting, limping mess (unless I am not looking and she is walking behind me). She whined and did not want to get ready for ballet class today. The last class of the year. I almost let her ditch it, because the truth is I didn’t really want to go either. Becca happened to be signed up for the class too. Before she got sick. Before any of this happened, today was supposed to be their last ballet class together, except that because of everything that happened, Becca never attended a single class. And instead of going next door to celebrate at Sasa after it was over tonight, we will talk about her at bedtime and cry and prepare for her funeral on Thursday. I really didn’t want to go to ballet today. But we went. We showed up. I didn’t chat very convincingly with the other moms there, but I decided to be ok with that (even on my best days I’m not that great at small talk anyway). I am cutting E a lot of extra slack these days, and trying to keep some left over for myself.

Her feelings are her own and she is allowed them. All of them. Even if she does end up wiping her tears and her nose on my skirt sometimes.

~~~~~~

Attention Cranky Hippie Ladies: you are promoting the wrong kind of feminism.

We attended a beautiful hippie festival this weekend. The Hessler Street Fair has been happening in Cleveland since the 60s and it’s always a great experience to see so much hand-made and lovingly shared craftsmanship from artists of all ages. I bought a clay tea light holder from my friend’s ten year old daughter.
The main attraction for us, these days, is Harmony Park. It’s a smallish, enclosed area where kids can run relatively free and enjoy drumming, dancing, balloon creatures, face-painting, community toys, and lots of other things.
My daughter recently turned six. For her birthday, my mom hand-made her an Elsa Dress. We did insist that she take it off for bed, but when we told her she could wear it to Hessler her entire face lit up. The bottom got a little dirty while we were walking around outside at Hessler, but I haven’t gotten it off of her long enough to wash it (I know, I know…it’s on my list to do later today).
So when I say that she loves Elsa without me telling her to, please believe me.
As my newly minted six year old waited in line to get her face painted, the lady who was taking the money looked her up and down, then said in a somewhat confrontational tone, ” That’ll be twelve dollars. Because the mask she chose takes a long time. Where’s your crown? Aren’t you supposed to be a princess or something??”
E. said nothing in reply, then leaned over to me and whispered, “Mama, I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
“I don’t know either, honey…don’t worry about it.”
Then the lady who was doing the face painting looked over scornfully and said, “Um, NO. If she was really a princess at Hessler, she would be wearing tie dye. Not….THAT.”
I considered leaning into the moment and saying snarkily, “Well, I did have to put her on a diet to get her to fit into the dress, but it was totally worth it because STANDARDS OF BEAUTY.”

I decided against it. I do have some thoughts though.

1. She was accused of being the wrong kind of princess for Hessler. I disagree, as did ostensibly the little boy who followed her around all afternoon calling her “princess” and asking her to send him on quests for her, then bringing her little tributary gifts. I think the general consensus was that she was dressed as a princess. Just because something is culturally recognizable as girly doesn’t mean it has no place at Hessler.

2. She’s six. Can we just let her like what she likes? If little boys (and girls) are allowed to get their faces painted like Captain America, then why can’t little girls (and boys) also like princesses and fairies?

3. If the hand-painted portrait of King Triton we passed on our way out is any indication, there is no official Hessler ban on Disney or their princesses, or conventional fairy tales in general. I feel quite sure those ladies didn’t speak for Hessler as a whole. Just for the record.

4. It is entirely possible for someone to hold ridiculous ideas about what other people’s children Ought To Do or Ought To Like and yet be capable of beautiful, beautiful face painting. I highly recommend the face painting, if not the commentary. Also for the record.

5. This is one main reason why my blog is called Sustainable Princess. Because you know what? Forcing girls to hate princesses (or anything culturally recognizable as girly, as I mentioned above) is not better (or even more possible, really) than forcing girls to like them. And as for the word “princess”, I think it suffers from a bad case of “You keep using that word….” Princess does not have to mean spoiled, selfish, materialistic, man-dependent, etc. Liking Disney does not automatically come with an eating disorder in the teen years. Unless, of course, I refuse to engage the issue in any constructive way and leave it up to culture by default to define for my children what Princess means. Because I think we can all agree that the prevailing groupthink on this issue is kind of broken and inconsistent at best. I’m just not sure that forming a new and similarly inconsistent groupthink is the answer.

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Elizabeth of Kikel Gables

~~

“Anne came running in presently, her face sparkling with the delight of her orchard rovings; but, abashed at finding herself in the unexpected presence of a stranger, she halted confusedly inside the door….
‘Well, they certainly didn’t pick you for your looks, that’s sure and certain,’ was Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s emphatic comment. Mrs. Rachel was one of those delightful and popular people who pride themselves on speaking their mind without fear or favour. ‘She’s terrible skinny and homely, Marilla. Come here, child, and let me have a look at you. Lawful heart, did anyone ever see such freckles? And hair as red as carrots! Come here, child, I say.’
Anne ‘came there,’ but not exactly as Mrs. Rachel expected. With one bound she crossed the kitchen floor and stood before Mrs. Rachel, her face scarlet with anger, her lips quivering, and her whole slender form trembling from head to foot.
‘I hate you,’ she cried in a choked voice, stamping her foot on the floor. ‘I hate you–I hate you–I hate you–‘ a louder stamp with each assertion of hatred. ‘How dare you call me skinny and ugly? How dare you say I’m freckled and redheaded? You are a rude, impolite, unfeeling woman!”
‘Anne!’ exclaimed Marilla in consternation.
But Anne continued to face Mrs. Rachel undauntedly, head up, eyes blazing, hands clenched, passionate indignation exhaling from her like an atmosphere.”

-Anne of Green Gables
by L.M. Montgomery

~~

We are reading aloud after dinner and before bed most nights at this point. We just finished the Hobbit (for the second time), and I decided I wanted to introduce E to Anne Shirley, even though I wasn’t sure she could stack up against the beloved Bilbo and dwarves and dragons. We read the above last night, and as usual chatted for a few minutes after the chapter concluded about what happened. In Educationese they call this “building reading comprehension”. Doesn’t that sound fancy?

K: Wow! There were some people being really rude to each other just then!
E: Yeah, I guess so.
K: What do you think of Anne?
E: I don’t know.
K: Do you find her relatable? I have been that mad before. That lady was being so mean! But she definitely screamed in her face. Oh, dear.
E: I guess so.
K: Ok, well, I like her.
E: ……*Raises eyebrows*

Later on, as I was checking on her in her dark bedroom, she spoke up cautiously, with her eyes sounding wide.
“Mama? I think I like Anne. I think I like her because she’s…well….she’s, um, kind of like me! ”
I smiled. “Yes! I could see that.”
“You know, because she talks a lot, and I talk a lot, and she has a great scope for imagination and I do too. And, well, you know……” She trailed off. I recognize that trail-off. This is who I am. Is it ok?
“I think that’s true. That must be why I like her so much.”

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The Difference between Zero and Not Zero

When I was a new mom, I went around amazed quite a bit. I don’t mean ‘dazed and confused’, although there was quite a bit of that, too (tired as I was). I was one of those moms who was floored by the most mundane accomplishments of my baby. To be fair to my former self, it wasn’t just my kid I was fascinated by. All babies were able to learn new skills, and I was in a near continual state of wonder about the whole thing whenever I thought about it. Conversations with other parents sometimes went like this:

K: Holy cow! I can’t believe it! E got her fingers in her mouth! Yesterday she didn’t even seem to know she had hands! She’s so amazing!

Other Parent: Yeah, my kid’s been doing that for a while.

K: Oh my gosh! I thought I saw that last week. Your kid’s so amazing!

Other Parent: ………………..

I have to admit that after 6 years and 2 babies, some of the shine has worn off.

I recently read in Some Internet Article (if you know which one, please speak up and I’ll quote it directly…I like to give credit where it’s due) that one of the things that’s hard for me is that I spend a lot of time getting things “back to zero”. This is kind of true. According to the article, my work includes things like making zero dishes in the sink, zero toys on the floor, zero loads of laundry left to put away (hah!), etc. This is often true.

What is NOT true, and I have to keep reminding myself of this, is that the ‘back to zero’ thing does not apply to my children. If I slip into thinking that it does which is very, very easy (because zero diapers to change, zero naps to conquer, zero snacks to give, zero boogers to wipe), then I will miss the incremental progress that they are making. You know, the stuff that used to allow me to hold on through another screaming fit about having the wrong diaper on (even though the right diaper is dirty).

If I stand in my back yard in April and look, I’ll notice the beautiful fence we put in last year, the swingset, and the beginnings of E’s fruit garden. A little closer and I’ll see mud puddles, toys strewn about the yard, and the weeds around the strawberry patch. But a little closer still, and it gets fun again. I can look close enough to see a ladybug walking on a stick. Or the new growth in my herb garden.

I think, parenting-wise, I’m kind of looking at the mud puddles right now. It’s time to focus a little more on the prodigiously ordinary things.

Today E easily sounded out a word that she couldn’t read at all last week.

Today S only had to be told to climb down off the couch 5 times instead of 50 like yesterday.

Today we went on a bear hunt. We were going to catch a Big Bear. Who us? We’re not scared.

Today E got her own snack out of the fridge and I didn’t have to do it.

Today S was SUPER ANGRY that I didn’t give him an apple. He was so upset that he composed a song about it. We sat at the piano and played with our fingers and sang a Very Sad Song (well, as sad as you can be in C Major–I’m not good at improvising).

All that’s to say, these are not the sorts of things that will get them into college someday. But they are things that happened, that would not have happened yesterday. While they may seem small by some estimations, to me they are the difference between Zero and Not Zero.

On babies sleeping through the night, the perceived cruelty of cry-it-out, and breastfeeding a college freshman

There is this idea that I hear every so often that still catches me off guard every time I hear it.

The idea is that babies are supposed to sleep through the night, and that if they don’t it’s because of some choice the parent has made. As though we checked some sort of box at the hospital to choose sleepless nights. I didn’t, by the way.

Babies are biologically designed to be light sleepers. This is so that their immature respiratory systems don’t shut down, causing them to stop breathing and die. This is a good thing.

What this means is that no baby, ever, actually sleeps with a consistent depth of sleep through the whole night.

Some babies are innately able to get themselves back into the deep part of their sleep cycle without any outside help. This is a good thing.

Some babies are confused when they wake up and need help to figure out how to get back to sleep. This presents parents with a choice.

In my family, we (my husband and I, together) have chosen to respond to our babies’ cries each and every time. I don’t have the kind of infants who fuss for a minute and then go back to sleep. Sensitive and loving cry-it-out moms that I know and respect tell me that there are different types of baby crying. There is a little fussing kind of cry that lasts for a minute or less, and then baby is back asleep. I have been at a friend’s house when she has done this, and it was shocking to me how quickly the baby just went back to sleep. It wasn’t shocking that she was “neglecting” or “ignoring” her baby (she wasn’t doing either of those things at all, in fact–contrary to what some of the more hardcore and judgy “attachment parenting” websites might imply), but it was shocking to me that the baby worked it out. Why? Because my babies don’t do that. The longer I let them cry, the worse it is by the time I get to them. We’re talking about 30 seconds from waking up to “someone-is-pulling-out-my-toenails-dear-God-please-help-me” full on screaming. So I am not a cry-it-out mom. And it’s ok that I know that about myself.

I think that any parenting philosophy, taken to its extreme, is not a good thing. I also think that finding out someone is interested in certain aspects of a particular parenting philosophy does not give me license to assume that he or she will take it to its ridiculous extreme.

So to my dear cry-it-out mama friends, I promise not to assume that you put in earplugs and drink wine on the couch every night, enforcing 3-4 hours between feeds and causing failure to thrive. If you want to, you may promise not to assume that I will follow my son to college and breastfeed him in his dorm room.

Deal?

I've posted this before, but seriously...this is how she fell asleep for the first three months of her life. Every. Time.

I’ve posted this before, but seriously…this is how she fell asleep for the first three months of her life. Every. Time.

Priorities and Competition in Parenting

There is only so much energy a person can have in a day. We can only do so many things, care about so many things, fix so many things, etc. As a parent I find this stressful because I feel this internal pressure to GET IT RIGHT for my kids’ sake. The problem is, we don’t live in a perfect world and I am only one (very flawed) person and I spend my days raising a couple of adorable-yet-also-flawed children.

So I prioritize.

Whether we realize it or not, we all do it. As a chronic thinker I organize and reorganize my priorities constantly as I move through my day. This has recently been made even more necessary on a pragmatic level by the fact that my hands hurt (my doctor said I should “use them less” and then shook his head because he is really smart and knows how ridiculous that sounds). I physically can’t carry the laundry upstairs and put away the cast iron cookware and scrub the bathroom tub and carry the kids around. I have to pick.

This physical limitation has me thinking about other limitations. We have a certain amount of parenting capital, so to speak. That thing that allows us to (necessarily) stress our relationship with our children with phrases like, “please sit down” or “not yet, finish your food” or “please stop peeing on that”. It’s comprised of a delicate balance of the amount of feedback our kids can truly process, the amount of kindness we can muster to say things to them well, and the amount of energy we can spend helping them to really understand what we expect of them. I don’t know exactly how much I have, but I know it’s not enough to make my child perfect.

After I spend enough time and energy trying to fit into someone else’s idea of good parenting (luckily for my family I have a pretty low tolerance for pretending to be somebody else so it doesn’t usually take me more than a few days), I eventually get tired of feeling like my house is a mess, my kids are a mess, and I’m not a good enough parent. I don’t know anyone who would actually say this to me, but there are moments when I take things the wrong way because I have in mind what my friends’ priorities are, and I want my friends to be happy. The problem with trying to live someone else’s priorities over my life is that they don’t fit. It’s like trying to wear clothes that no longer suit me. They make me feel undesirable and like I am the wrong size.

The easiest way to avoid this would be to seek out only people who prioritize the same parenting items I do. But that would be sad. You see, there are a lot of people I love very much and who make my life better and make me better, and yet care about different things than me. And I really, really need that because, again, I can’t care about ALL THE THINGS. I need my children to see other people caring about different things because that’s how they’ll figure out what they should care about. In Christianese we call this “finding your calling” in case that language is helpful to you.

But.

If I am going to continue to be friends with people who have different priorities than me, I’m going to need to learn to let other people have their things back.

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My fellow parents,

I see how hard you work to live your priorities and I think it’s amazing. I want you to be great at what you care about most. It frees me up to be great at what I care about most. And to be clear, just because I care about something else most doesn’t mean I don’t care about your thing. One of the things I care about most is raising kids who are good at being with people. So I will teach them to care about your things, because I will teach them to care about you. I need to be able to talk about your things to my children and say, “Look! Aren’t they great at caring about that? They are making the world a better place.” But they’re little, and the first things I need to make sure they get down are my things. I’m sorry about that.

I’d like to propose a clause on our friendship. A non-compete clause. 

I don’t mean that we should not be friends with a competing party for six years after being friends. I understand that the legal definition is something like that.

I like it because it sounds contractual and binding and if we are going to do something as life-changing as not judge and compete with one another in this current parenting culture, it’s going to take one heck of a commitment to changing our thinking. Something that requires so much intentionality should sound legally binding. 

What I mean is that I am no longer willing to bond over how ridiculous some random parent is because they do x, y, or z. I am no longer willing to spend all or even any of my time with you thinking about how my children stack up against your priorities. It puts me in direct competition with you and we both lose. What we lose is the chance to actually learn from one another, because if I’m always worried about what my kids aren’t getting right, I will miss the things they are getting right. If I spend all my parenting capital trying to get my kids to be more like what I think you want them to be I will probably fail (it turns out I’m pretty bad at being you). And even if I succeed at that (which seems unlikely), I will have raised someone else’s children. And these kids, for God knows what reason, were given to me. To raise with all my Things and all my passions and all my quirks.

I need you to keep being who you are so I can learn to be who I am. Thank you for parenting in front of me. I have learned so much from you; probably more than you know, and I hope that continues because parenting is so hard and I think we need allies more than we need judges.

Your ally,

Kate