Confessions of a Recovering Judgaholic

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I am a recovering judgaholic.

Chances are, if ever we have crossed paths (me in my pre-parent days and you bearing kids) I have judged you.

I won’t lie, the road to recovery has been messy and bumpy. You see, I have been blessed with beautiful, healthy, intelligent children. Capable children. Children capable of bringing me to my knees and who have ruined any iota of pride I ever held with respect to my own ability to raise another human. I am proud of them for their diligence and tenacity, they have done well.

These children—children who have taught me the very depths of love—have challenged me each step of the way, and have also taught me the depths of karma’s love for parents. For every judgment I have ever made, I have been tested in kind. Not only did I earn it, I deserved it.

Karma may have been worried that I wouldn’t get the hint so chose to throw the book at me. Night terrors, fierce tempers, authority-opposition, decibel-shattering loudness and shrill whining for which there is still no cure, I have been challenged. Uncontrollable hyperactivity in public, the looks of bystanders judging me for the uncontrollable hyperactivity, I have been challenged. Poop murals on walls, hunger strikes, attention pees and children who prefer to take off than remain with their parents, I have been challenged. I know there is more to come. And I know I’m not the only one. Because we’re all in the doo doo of parenthood together. Because every day is a call to be the best mom I can be. Because sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I eat chocolate and hide.

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Once upon a time I was a judgaholic. I would witness a parent carrying a four year old and guffaw at the lack of independence. I would witness a parent being openly manipulated by their two year old and look down on them with shaming eyes. I used to think getting a kid to sleep was easy, and that getting a kid to cooperate was equivalent to training a dog to sit. I thought it was a given that the parent is the boss, rather than something that requires daily reminding. Obviously, I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about.

I have looked at moms and used the words “I will never…” And now that I am a mom, and that I am that mom to whom I previously referred, I can only use those words when followed by these: I will never look at another mom and quickly judge without knowing. Because I don’t know anyone’s story but mine. And none of our stories are the same. Except for this story: that we are each going day by day and doing our best. And that this requires kindness and respect.

For all whom I have judged, my deepest apologies. For all who have judged me—lest you forget, karma loves parents. I urge you, please, bite your tongue and carry on.

 

My Dirty Little Secret: What I’ve Never Said Before About Myself as a Mom

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I always knew I wanted to be a mom. It was an essential part of my story. In fact, I often feel as though my professional life was on hold while waiting for motherhood. I was that girl who liked to dream about the future, married with three kids and a house in the country (note, currently married with two kids and not living in the country). I never told anyone about it, but I quietly waited for that dream to become a reality.

I never understood it when people told me they didn’t want to have kids, and I never understood women who valued their careers as much as their kids. In the world I was raised it seemed that having kids took over your life, my goal was to allow that to happen. I planned to be with my kids as much as possible, to be home with them, to raise them. I wanted more than anything to be a stay-at-home mom and nothing made me more disappointed than, once I finally was a mom, having to return to work at the end of my first maternity leave. Placing my firstborn in daycare gave me many tiny deaths inside and the only thing that placated me was knowing that I was returning to work pregnant with my second child. I would soon have a chance to be home again. This was all that I thought about and all that I thought I wanted.

By my second maternity leave I was a different person. I kept my eldest in daycare and was happy to send her each day. She was home for only two months over the summer that year, by the end of which she was bored and I was ready for a break. Surprisingly, by the end of this second leave I was also ready to hand my second child over to daycare. There weren’t tears, there was willingness.

I was guilty over it. I didn’t want to admit it but I wanted my kids in daycare and I wanted to work. Deep down I was in need of something all my own, outside of my family. I wanted my own paycheck and to take my mind off the menial tasks I had become so obsessive over during my mat leaves (note, your dog will always shed, you can’t spend all your time following it with a vacuum cleaner). I wanted adult company and realized that I actually liked working and reminding myself that I was good at it.

Around my other mom friends who stayed home I lamented the fact that I actually needed to work, as though if I didn’t need to work things would have been different. I began working from home to allow some flexibility in my life but the kids were still in daycare. They were happy and I was happy. I got to do my work, I got to reconnect with my hobbies, I got to manage my home and I didn’t feel like my family was affected.

My time apart from my kids has allowed me to revisit and refocus my life. It has allowed me to come up with a plan. It has given me value as a person, woman and mom that I wasn’t experiencing before. That is not to say that being a mom full-time is not valuable– I know without doubt it’s value is immeasurable. It is to say that I did not feel valuable at the time and that I have since come to understand the measure of my worth, and it’s in time spent apart from my kids that this came to pass.

My daughter often tells me that she wants to be a mom when she grows up. I tell her she can be anything she chooses, and she always responds by saying that her choice is to be a mom like me. So I think I can’t be screwing up too much, and that it’s not such a bad thing to spend time developing my life outside of mom-hood. And that, if anything, demonstrating that I have interests in my life that don’t involve my kids is also valuable and a lesson worth considering.

This isn’t about being pro-working woman or pro-SAHM, it’s about figuring out what works best for you and doing that. Because I don’t think any family was ever well-served with an unhappy mother at the helm. I made a mistake way back when, in assuming I knew what kind of mom I would be. I cherish the time I spend with my kids, they are truly my heart… but my dirty little secret is that I love time spent apart from them too. I like not giving 100% of me to my kids because who I am has so much more to give. To them, to life, and to myself.

Will I regret not having spent more time at home with my kids? You know, I do have regrets from these years, but the regrets are mostly around wasting too much time wrestling with my guilt. Because really, my kids feel loved. And really, they are.

The Woman Behind the Mom: Finding Balance in Motherhood

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Back when I was in my early 20s, my neighbours, a young married couple, found out they were expecting their first child. The mom-to-be, Cathy, was working full-time and continued to do so until her baby was born when she became a full-time mom. A few years went by and they had a second child; a few more years went by and their firstborn started school. Cathy began to reinvent herself. While she was still at home with her youngest she took the required training to become a registered real estate agent, she developed her image, she readied herself to re-enter the world as a professional.

I’m reminded of Cathy now, some 15 years later, as my own firstborn will be heading off to school in the fall, and my own desire to reinvent myself has ignited.

Reinventing the self as a woman is not necessarily about going out and finding a new career. It’s about finding balance. So maybe you are a full-time mom and spend every day having little people take from the well of mom, and are not finding any opportunity or inspiration to fill yourself back up. Or maybe you work full-time outside of the home, and your remaining hours are a whirlwind of family and kid-related tasks, only getting an hour to yourself at the end of each day. Either way, as a woman and a mom, you feel stretched in many directions, live with the knowledge that many people count on you, love your family and yet crave something that is outside of them. This is how it’s been for me: out of balance.

The first key to finding balance is to make a decision for yourself and take action. I noticed this with other moms when I wasn’t yet in a place to make this decision for myself. One decided, for example, that even though she could have stayed home, she really wanted to go back to her previous career. Once this decision was made she stopped trying to do everything and be everything. At work she prioritized her career, at home she prioritized her family. Another friend as a full-time mom made a decision to get her body into shape. It became a priority, something she did that was just for her, to feel good in her body, to gain confidence and to feel pride in her own accomplishment.

While these women were making these decisions and taking action, I was hemming and hawing. I didn’t want to commit too much time to working away from my kids; I didn’t want to commit to exercise because I thought perhaps that I’d have more kids. My perception around my kids and their need of me kept me at a standstill. This was not balanced.

Balance is getting out of the home an evening per week, whether on your own or with friends. Balance is volunteering your time to a cause that means something to you. Balance is carving out an hour per day to do something that brings you personal joy (aside from your kids), whether it’s baking, exercise, painting or reading. Balance is taking on projects that are all your own, for you, by you, from you. Balance is organizing girls weekends away from homes, partners and kids. Balance is not letting your work or career be more important than your family, but not letting your family be an excuse that keeps you from expressing yourself or your vocation. Balance is being confidently, fearlessly, happily, a mom with a mission. Balance is having yourself as that mission.

Balance, ultimately, is a state of mind. It’s allowing yourself to count. Allowing your goals to matter. It’s not about saying the heck with everything else—that isn’t balance. But in a life where your employers may make demands, your spouse may make demands, and your children most definitely feel entitled to all parts of you, it’s important to know you are also entitled to your time. And to follow this knowledge with action, by actually taking the time you need.

Currently, it is a Saturday morning. I have carved out this time to write because writing is my happy place. My kids are naked, running around the room gathering blankets and pillows into forts. They have emptied clothes from my closet with the intention of putting on a fashion show. I have not planned any activities to occupy them with today so they are finding ways to occupy themselves. And my husband, noticing that I have no intention of emerging from my bubble until my writing is done, is washing dishes and doing laundry. Currently, this is my balance.

I had a mom blog for a while and it went something like this: The first year it was all about the oh’s and ah’s of life with a newborn. The second year was about validating my mom-worth. The third year with a baby and a toddler, I barely made it to post anything at all. And in it’s fourth and final year, I made the realization that that blog wasn’t about the kids at all, but rather about the mom behind the blog. That is to say, being a mom is integral to who I am, but it isn’t all of who I am. And this is kind of what I’ve come to think motherhood in general, that we should be defining ourselves not by our kids, but by the women behind the moms.

It’s not that I’m not pro-kid, because I am. But I’m also pro-woman, pro-mom, pro-caring for yourself and pro-women caring for women. Because, I think, that makes us better women. Because, I think, that makes us better moms. Because, I think, that’s how we achieve balance.

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How I Learned Not to be a Sanctimommy: Five Phases of Motherhood

I have been every kind of mom.

I’ve been the mom who didn’t want to make a big deal over a first birthday, and the mom who has stayed up until 3am making Pinterest-inspired cakes.

I’ve been the mom who stressed over every cough and rash, and I’ve been the meh-there’s-no-fever-you’ll-be-fine mom.

I’ve been the mom who gave my life to my kids, and the mom who gave myself a little of what I need too.

I’ve been the mom who cloth-diapered and the mom who was all disposable; the mom who only fed homemade baby food and the mom who gave up on feeding my toddlers altogether.

I’ve been the mom who wanted to be the mom who was patient and high-energy and on the parent committee. And I have been the mom who wasn’t any of these things.

Yep, I’ve been it all. And in being it all I’ve come to understand that motherhood has phases or stages that run parallel to the phases and stages of child development that you read about in books. And just as my children have progressed from newborn to toddler to child, as I have progressed—by times regressed—alongside them.

My own phases have looked something like this:

Phase One: The PreChild KnowItAll

Phase One began when I wasn’t even a mother at all. Over time I had built many perceptions on how children must be, how parents must be and how raising kids must be. I was very expressive in my opinions since I had oodles of non-parental experience to back me up. I honestly didn’t think kids were that difficult. In fact, I found them kind of boring and I was pretty convinced that raising a kid was on par with training a dog, and that if I could do one I could surely do the other.

I took a job nannying twins at one point, got the job without a hitch because of my oodles of experience. They were 12 months old when I started, total sweethearts, and everything was daisies and sunshine for a while. And then they turned two. And everything changed. What happened to the angels? How could they have become so demanding? What was with the tantrums? I mean seriously, who did these toddlers think they were? Their behaviour was unacceptable.

Around the same time my big sister got pregnant and had her first child, the first baby in our family. How awesome it was to have a baby around, how much I loved being an aunt, how connected I felt from the first moment I laid eyes on his crowning head in the delivery room.

And then he turned two. And… Well, see above.

If I ever had kids, it was gonna be different.

Phase Two: The First-Time-Expecting Expectation-List-Maker

Phase Two began the very moment I read a plus sign on the pee stick. This is where all my years of insight as a non-parent become hyper-analyzed in a calm and organized fashion.

On paper I made lists of purchases I absolutely needed to make. I obsessed over particular items as though the special co-sleeper bed would make or break my competence as a mother. I made lists of items to bring to the hospital, lists of gifts for my baby shower, lists of questions to ask my obstetrician and lists of phone numbers and reminders for my husband. I googled childbirth and birth plans as though planning actually made a difference.

What I didn’t write, but rather mentally listed, was are all the ways we were going to rock as parents and all the things I was going to do differently than my own parents. I knew just what kind of mom I was going to be. Other moms—older, already-been-there moms— offered me advice but I only listened with half an ear because, what did they know anyway? Because, for me it was gonna be different.

In essence, Phase Two is where I got my crazy on. It’s where I filled myself with hopes and dreams and aspirations and expectations; where I daydreamed about my children-to-be and about myself as their mother. I envisioned everything, from my birth story to lovingly breastfeeding to raising polite and well-balanced kids.

As I said, Phase Two is where I got my crazy on.

Phase Three: The Great Unraveling (a.k.a. The Great Holy-Crap-I-Don’t-Know-What-I’m-Doing-But-I’m-Going-To-Have-To-Fake-It)

Phase Three occurred from childbirth to around my 9th month as a new mother.

I remember telling a friend of the family that I had collected all seasons of Murder She Wrote to watch during night time feedings. She replied, You’ll be much too tired to watch TV! You’re just going to feed that baby and go right back to bed. I remember thinking, Well, who was she to know? (I mean, aside from a mom of three.) I had a whole vision set out in my mind of cuddling with my baby in the wee hours of the night, her softly feeding while I sat, quietly entertained by Angela Landsbury. Out of stubbornness I did watch for the first few weeks, just to live up to my word. But it wasn’t long before even the act of picking up a remote required more energy than I could muster. It wasn’t long before I was just bringing the baby into bed with me, even though I swore it was something I would never do.

Where in Phase Two the comments of others are annoying, in Phase Three they are crushing. When your baby develops colic or a rash from head to toe or doesn’t poop for ten days or will only ever sleep while being held, and when others make suggestions on your diet, when and when not to call a doctor, that maybe you should stop breastfeeding, or that you’re coddling your baby too much or that you should coddle more, and when you’re exhausted and covered in vomit and your breasts are leaking through your shirt, it’s kind of hard to maintain perspective. You’re all of a sudden responsible for the life of another being, decisions you make matter, and everything you thought would be easy actually turns out to be hard.

Phase Three is where I, an experienced and educated woman, become completely unglued. My confidence, my dignity, my ability to wear a clean outfit for more than two hours in a row, all were gone. This is where I began to get a hint, just a whiff, that perhaps I didn’t know as much about parenting as I’d assumed.

Phase Four: The Honeymoon 

From around nine months until somewhere between 18 months and 2.5 years, whenever the full wrath of the toddler began, there was a blissful lull when my firstborn was no longer so newborn-y that I worried about keeping her alive every second of the day. She’d gained weight, her head no longer wobbled, and she began interacting in fun and amusing ways. I started to feel like I knew my stuff as a mother. Each month she grew more and more, and along with it came more and more cuteness, and I posted photo after photo on Facebook because the love was so wild I just absolutely had to share.

The confidence came back.

This is also when I started to feel like a know-it-all again. I’d read all the books, I’d earned my badge of honour through my birth story, I’d survived the newborn days and now that my child was walking and talking I began to feel pretty good about this mothering thing.

My child was so adorably cute and generally amenable in Phase Four that whenever I looked at a mom with a kid who was acting out, the notion that my kid could ever act the same was incomprehensible. My kid had learned to say please, my kid liked to help tidy up, my kid didn’t fight me getting dressed. My kid my kid my kid…

Phase Five: The Fall-On-My-Knees Sweet-Mother-of-Mercy Awakening

So if Phase Four is like a bird sailing freely through blue skies, Phase Five is like that bird suddenly crashing head first into a patio door. One day my kid was a bubble of sunshine, the next a tantruming maniac. By then I also had a newborn in hand and between the two of them my brain would often explode.

My transformation in Phase Five began with a slow descent into oblivion, a space where I was more surviving than mothering. With each day of whining and tantrums and time-outs I descended a little further, then a little further, then a little further into the abyss, until the day finally came where all I could do was give in. My kids had done it, they had broken me down to the point where I was on my knees and at their mercy, humbled, completely, by tiny people.

What followed was a slow evolution upward. I was still the “hot mess” mom with the wild ‘n whiny kids, but my attitude had shifted. There was no space for judgment. I had learned the hard way— the hard way being the way I think most of us moms finally learn— that the only sane way to parent is to assume nothing and roll with the punches.

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Not long ago I was dropping my kids off at daycare and there was a mom trying to help her child out of winter gear and up to class. The child was doing the bacon on the floor, totally hysterical. The longer this went on the more upset the mom (very obviously having a Fall-On-My-Knees kind of morning) became, and the more upset the mom became the longer the child tantrummed. My daughter turned to me and asked me why So-and-so’s mom was being mean. I turned to my daughter, full of the spirit of maternal comradery, and explained, No sweetheart, So-and-so’s mom isn’t being mean. It’s So-and-so that isn’t being nice and helpful to her mother.

There are moments when my kids are doing their thing and I am in the presence of another mom. Sometimes that mom is a Phase Four mom, looking at me in such a way that insists I should be doing more to control my kid. In those circumstances I often don’t say anything since I know I’ve been there, but that doesn’t stop my mind from imagining epic tantrums in their future. Other times I am in the presence of a mom who knows, and who will give an assuring look, or a wink and a joke, and together we laugh at the flailing antics of kids. Because really, what else can you do?

There’s a lot of talk about how moms judge other moms and how the judging needs to stop and, believe me, I think it’s absolutely true. I also recognize that I have been on both sides of the road, on one side criticizing, on the other cheering. And I’ve been the one walking the centre line with a kid hanging off each leg. And I’m not sure if it’s necessary to go through all the stages before reaching this point where we hug each other rather than criticize, but I kind of think we do. People aren’t generally equipped with enough foresight to know what to expect in any given situation and moms are no exception. Perhaps it would be bad for the development of the human race if we did have the ability to foresee our lives with toddlers… Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the case.

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All I know for sure is that karma loves parents. I’ve said and thought some annoying and ridiculous things in my past and karma found me and put me in my place. Going forward, whenever someone says annoying and ridiculous things to me, I have faith that karma will do its thing and all will be right in the world. In the meantime I know that I am doing my absolute best to do right by my kids. I think that if we would all just wear this knowledge around us like a suit of armour, that the judgments of others or even our own judgments would simply bounce off and find nowhere to land.

As I move forward as a mother I know there are more phases and stages to come. One day I will no longer have a toddler, one day I will have teenagers, one day I will be a grandparent. My only concern as I move forth into the many unknowns of my future momhood is this: that I am kind. Because I deserve kindness. Because we all do.

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