Parenting

We're always told to give kids choices—but here's where it can backfire

Decision fatigue can make us irritable and exhausted—and thanks to their immature front lobes, it affects kids even worse than grown ups.

“Shall we read Curious George?” I ask my toddler. We’re in the middle of lunch, but reading has become a necessary distraction for her active and loitering mind during mealtimes.

“No,” she replies, without a second thought.

Love You Forever?”

“Not that one.”

The Wonderful Things You Will Be?”

“Noooo,” she wails in exasperation.

And the cycle continues until we reach the end of the basket of books that I’ve placed strategically next to her chair at the table.

She may only be 18 months old, but my daughter is an avid reader. She loves spending time with me flipping through pages and naming pictures together. When I discovered that she would finish her meal with (relative) ease with a good book in front of her, I welcomed this as a happy alternative to screen time. So, when she began rejecting books with her food, even her usual favourites, I couldn’t understand it. I was even letting her choose the book!

Therein, I realized, lay the problem: She had too many to choose from.

It was a moment of epiphany for me—although it should not have come as a surprise given my parallel experience in my adult life. Like most of us, I’ve spent many a night endlessly scrolling through Netflix, only to realize that it’s now too late and I’m too tired to watch an entire show or movie. I’ve succumbed to the habit of keeping open several carts when online shopping, filling each cart meticulously after hours of careful scrutiny, but not quite ready to make a purchase, because there just may be a better product being sold at a slightly better deal at the next store. The consumerist world that we live in simply provides too many choices for our minds to digest, and this is becoming a problem, for adults and children alike.

The research on decision-making and cognition has been providing insight on this for years. Studies show that when consumers are provided with 20 to 30 varieties of a product to choose from, they’re less likely to buy it, and feel more regret for their choice, compared to when they are provided with only six options.

It may seem counter-intuitive at first. After all, we all demand choice in different domains of life because we think that the freedom to choose and compare between alternatives will empower us to make a choice that is perfect for us, which would naturally lead to greater levels of happiness and satisfaction. But the research shows that with more choice, people actually become more frustrated with the decision-making process, less inclined to follow through with a decision, and less satisfied with the choice that they finally do opt for. This has been shown not only with our shopping habits, but also when making choices about the kind of healthcare we want to receive, the way we manage our finances, and how motivated we are in school. We are a society that is haunted by thoughts of making the “wrong” choice or losing out on the potential to make a “better” one.

As humans, we have a limited amount of mental resources and energy to expend. Decision-making takes up a large part of our cognitive reserve. When we are forced to make too many (often trivial) choices throughout the day, we are actually using up our limited resources, which can make us feel overwhelmed and irritable. This is known as decision fatigue.

If making choices can be so hard for us as adults, imagine the impact it can have on our kids, whose frontal lobes are still immature and developing. Decision fatigue can actually lead us, and our kids, to making poorer, more impulsive decisions when we are burdened with too many choices to make in a day. And in kids as young as 18 months old, giving them too many options in the playroom can actually have a negative effect on their attention and creativity.

As parents, we are often tempted to buy new toys to stimulate our kids and keep them engaged for longer. But studies show that we may actually be setting them up for the exact opposite. Having more toys in a room leads toddlers to spend less time engaging with any one toy in a meaningful way. This is because they are just too distracted by all of the toys available to them, and are left constantly deciding which toy they should pay attention to and play with.

Making choices is an important skill and habit for children to explore and cultivate when provided with age-appropriate choices. The goal is to help children learn to feel confident in the process of making decisions for themselves, a skill that they will need to use independently as they grow and find themselves at crossroads that shape their journeys. A toddler may be asked to choose between eating cucumbers or cookies as a snack, or between wearing old sneakers or cute floral sandals that match perfectly with her floral dress (of course, my daughter chose the former, but hey, it’s her choice!). A school-aged child may find herself choosing which extracurricular activities she wants to participate in her spare time. A teenager may be limited to choosing from several high school elective courses that he is interested in.

Giving kids the freedom of choice allows them to feel involved in their own well-being, have an important role in their family, gain a sense of independence and build their self-esteem. The challenge as a parent is to find a comfortable balance between building their confidence in the decision-making process and protecting them from getting bogged down by the trivial decisions that can negatively impact their mental well-being. Sometimes, this can mean protecting ourselves from the plethora of choices being marketed to us as parents—choices that only add to our mounting pressures.

So at one-and-a-half years old, perhaps presenting my daughter with a basket full of books at mealtime was the wrong way to go. A more age-appropriate approach would be to give her the choice between two of her favourite books instead. This way, she can feel happy to have made her own choice without feeling overwhelmed in the process.

As an adult, I’ve experienced how relieving it can feel to take a step back from subjecting myself to endless options and decisions in my vast world. I can turn off the TV, take social media breaks, and disconnect to preserve myself. As my daughter is at the cusp of learning how expansive her world is, I’m learning that I have an important role to play in helping her step back when she needs it. And in the process of exercising her freedom of choice, my hope is that she will learn to choose how much is “enough” for her.

 

Parenting

Here’s my challenge to white parents this school year

I’m tired. Tired of fighting for the education system to be more equitable. But white parents, you can help me.

Last school year, my seven-year-old son’s childhood ended. He was in grade two, and we had to explain to him the intricacies of being a Black boy in the school system.

My son had a great grade two teacher. But he did have a challenging year as the only Black child in his class—he was beginning to question his identity. He wasn’t always happy going to school, and his teacher, as lovely as she seemed, was consistently calling me to report on what I considered trivial concerns. She said he didn’t express excitement enough, and the next time she called it was to tell me he was expressing his emotions too much. We tried a collaborative approach: talking to her, talking to him each time, but the calls continued.

Finally, we sat him down and had “the talk.” We had to tell him that his behaviour had to be twice as good as his classmates’. That he had to stand extra still when it was time to line up to go out for recess and to be sure not to get too excited in class. When other kids bothered him, he should always just ignore them and never engage. Essentially, to never defend himself or raise his voice, because his teacher may misinterpret his behaviour as threatening. We had to teach him to police his behaviour first, before others had the opportunity to do so. We had to teach him the realities of being Black.

The very next day, after we asked our seven-year-old son to dim his light, we received a glowing report from his teacher.

Prior to this, in an attempt to address my son feeling uncomfortable in the classroom, and an overarching issue around equity in the school system, I tried to have a conversation with the school principal. I tried to talk to her about the fact that for Black children, punishments are often harsher and their behaviour is watched much more closely than that of white children. We wanted to ensure that we disrupted any narrative being formed about our son—he’s a sweet, sensitive child who stops to give money to every homeless person he sees, who asks the big questions about the universe, who philosophizes about the existence of God, Santa and an alternate universe where we are all superheroes in the same breath. The principal shifted in her seat, looked at her watch over and over, alluding to the fact that she had another meeting to get to.

She denied our experience by saying that “things are better now,” and then, in what I consider typical of the heavy-handed approach applied to Black kids and parents, she decided to escalate the conversation to the superintendent without our consent or (at the very least) a courtesy call telling us what she intended to do.

When I share these experiences with white friends, they respond with shock, sympathy and sometimes anger on our behalf. There’s also guilt. Guilt that they do not have these experiences, that they love their child’s school, that their kids get to be naughty and grow freely with few consequences. Sometimes there is silence. But these are not the reactions I’m looking for. Instead of sympathy or guilt, I want action.

Here’s the truth of the matter. A white voice advocating carries more weight than a Black one. My Black voice is heard as bitter. It’s seen as stirring up trouble, as scary and threatening. It’s why people get panicked when groups of Black people hold meetings.

So please, use your voice this school year to speak up for my kids and all the kids who look like mine, because, frankly, I’m tired.

If you want to be an ally, here are seven practical things you can do to help:

1. Educate yourself on equity vs. equality

Equality means treating everyone the same, but anti-Black racism means that kids are not all on an even playing field at school. Equity is realizing that factors like race, gender and income put people in unique situations, and that we need to give them different things to make them successful. And you can help. Do some research to find out why Black experiences are different from those of other racialized groups. The world has set expectations of my son that are hugely problematic and often result in Black children disengaging from school. Lobby your school board to hire more Black teachers, which research shows will benefit your child just as much as mine. Don’t accept trite responses like “there are no qualified Black candidates.” This is simply not true and is a lazy and unacceptable response to questions of equity in 2018.

2. Order books with Black characters for your classroom

There’s no question that all kids deserve representation, and the reality is that Black kids see very little of themselves reflected in the books, shows and movies they’re surrounded by. We affirm our son and daughter constantly at home, but they spend more time at school than they do at home with us. I am tired of my daughter drawing herself as white with blond hair. So, when you are ordering from Scholastic and you see a book with Black characters, order it and donate it to your child’s library or class.

3. Ask the tough questions

I’ve already faced off with my child’s principal, who didn’t have time to discuss equity and most likely thinks I have a chip on my shoulder because I spoke the truth about outcomes for Black children and what that means for my son. I need help. I need you to go into the principal’s office and ask him or her if the teachers receive equity training, if they are trained on systemic and anti-Black racism and what that looks like in a school. Ask her if they have any Black teachers, and if they don’t, why not? Do they have a plan in place to address this?

4. Push for more than just Black History Month

While you are in that meeting with the principal, ask about Black History Month. Push to have Black history incorporated throughout the curriculum year-round. Tell them you want your kids to know about the history of people of African descent—not just those who were enslaved, but the sculptors and artists who lived thousands of years before slavery. And when it is Black History Month, advocate for it to be about more than drummers coming in for a gym assembly and a few lessons on Martin Luther King.

 5. Make art class more diverse

Visit the art teacher or your child’s teacher and ask them to incorporate artists, art styles and crafts from countries other than Western ones. There are enough classes throughout the year to feature African-influenced arts and crafts at some point.

6. Teach your kids that colour does matter

You can’t tell your kids to be colour-blind because then you are telling them to ignore difference. You want them to celebrate difference. So teach them that Black is beautiful. Buy them Black dolls to play with. Most of all, show them Black excellence beyond sports and music. Talk to them about Black inventors, and while you’re at it, maybe mention that to your child’s teacher as well. Why not make a traffic light craft and spend a little time talking about the man who invented it? His name was Garrett Augustus Morgan and he was African-American.  A classroom of kidsNo, kids are not “colourblind”

7. Stay vigilant for us

Pay attention to the Black children in your child’s class and how they are being treated. Our kids are often isolated, literally boxed with tape, as happened in one Peel classroom, made to sit on separate mats or treated more harshly than other students. If you are on a school trip and you see it, let us know. If you don’t know the parents, speak to the principal and tell her you want the parents to know. Our children often can’t speak up for themselves when things happen at school. They may feel something is wrong, but they may not have the words to articulate what is happening to them. If you are there and you see something, speak up for them.

Kearie Daniel is a mom of two. You can follow her blog at wokemommychatter or on Twitter at @wokemommy

This article was originally published online in August 2018.

 

Parenting

Can 15 minutes a day fix your kid's behaviour?

Some experts say giving your kid a small amount of undivided attention everyday can do wonders for their behaviour. Here's what happened when we tried it in our family.

I dreaded bedtime with my seven- and five-year-old daughters. Specifically, nagging to get them in the bath. Followed by breaking up naked dance parties and begging them to put on their pajamas. Then, haggling over which books to read and how many. More negotiating over who got a turn to sit on my lap and how long our cuddle sessions would be. And finally, many (many!) last calls for cups of water, missing stuffies and hugs till they fell asleep like innocent little angels.

I didn’t understand why getting them to listen to me was so hard. Worse, that struggle was turning me into a scolding mom version of myself I wasn’t proud of. So when I heard about a parenting technique that promised to completely strengthen and transform my relationship with my kids in just 15 minutes a day, I was intrigued. 

I first heard about this tantalizing idea from Sarah Rosensweet, a parenting coach in Toronto. She recommends scheduled short bursts of “special time” for all families with kids from toddler age to teens, because it deepens our connection with our kids, helps us empathize with them and can even improve our kids’ behaviour, which (I’m not gonna lie) was my biggest motivator.

“Our children really need to feel that we see them, that we understand them, and that they matter,” says Rosensweet. “When they feel connected to us they want to be more cooperative. Our strong relationship with them is ultimately the most powerful way we can influence them.” 

What’s so special about “special time”?

Coined by parenting educator Patty Wipfler, and further popularized by Rosensweet’s peaceful parenting mentor, psychologist Laura Markham, “special time” is basically one-on-one time with your kid that’s unstructured (think imaginative play or roughhousing) and that’s entirely focused on them. So even if you’re home all day with your kids (as many of us have been during the pandemic), this is not the same. With “special time” you give up control as the parent and lose yourself in their world of play, whether it’s having a tea party with dolls, building a Lego mansion or wrestling on the bed. The activities should be creative, active and open-ended—for example, reading to them or playing board games don’t give the same result. The amount of time can be anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, but Rosensweet says it’s best to aim for 10 to 20 minutes per day, per child. If you have two parents and two kids you can swap at the 15-minute mark and go another round, which would take 30 minutes in all. Or just swap kids every other day to keep it shorter. With three kids (or more), even 15 minutes can be overwhelming, so you might have to shorten it to 10 minutes so everyone gets a turn. If you’re solo parenting, you might have to send one of the kids to their room with an iPad—a last resort—while you’re having “special time” with their sibling. (Distracting a child with screen time isn’t generally a great idea, says Rosensweet, but getting interrupted defeats the purpose so you win some, you lose some.) 

“A lot of people think of ‘special time’ as spending the whole day with their child, and taking them places and spending money, but that’s not it at all,” says Rosensweet. “It’s immersing yourself in your child’s world, in their room, or in the playroom or whatever and saying, ‘I’m all yours. What do you want to play?’”

How does “special time” work?

Our new ritual goes something like this: Before my husband and I start making dinner, we set a 15-minute timer on our phones and play with our daughters, Alice and Edith, one-on-one. He’ll take the seven-year-old in one room, I’ll take the five-year-old in another and we’ll alternate the next day. Scheduling “Alice and Edie time” might sound like overkill but when we’re juggling jobs, housework, childcare and a million distractions, sometimes it’s the only way we manage to squeeze in any time just to be fun with our kids. Apart from the time limit, the only rule for this routine is that we’re doing something imaginative or physical; there are no screens, and the kids call the shots. My little one likes to show me how to build dollhouses out of shoeboxes and knick knacks, or play “baby time”—where I fill up her water bottle and feed it to her like she’s an infant while she coos and gurgles in my lap. My eldest likes to balance on my feet like an airplane or ride me like a horse. 

“Special time” tips and ideas

Once you’re willing to commit to “special time,” start by adding it to your to-do list every day. It can be any time of day that works for your family, but tell your kid when it’s going to be, especially if it’s not consistent. Setting a timer also helps to manage expectations, but be prepared for big feelings when it’s over, says Rosensweet. You can treat them like scheduled meltdowns, she says—think of it as an opportunity for them to let out their big feelings that have been building up. Respond with empathy, like, “I know! I love ‘special time’ too. It’s so hard when it’s over. We’ll do it again tomorrow.”

You might wonder how you’ll think of new things to do every day but here’s the best part: it’s better if you leave it up to your kids to come up with ideas. My younger child, Edie, is a natural at inventing magical worlds or random competitions, like a pretend sleeping contest where the silliest snorer wins. (Hot tip: the kid should always win.) But Alice, my firstborn, likes structure. Rosensweet doesn’t recommend activities in which the kid is coming into the adult’s world, such as baking cookies, but Alice really loves to cook, so sometimes I’ll let her put me to work in the kitchen, inventing creative desserts like pretzel chips topped with vanilla ice cream and PB&J, which we serve to Edie and her dad when “special time” is over. 

Roughhousing is also a supercharged way to bond over physical play and laughter, says Rosensweet. As long as it’s not tickling, she warns. Many parenting experts believe tickling can be harmful because it triggers an involuntary response, and even if your kid is laughing, they still feel powerless. (My youngest still asks to be tickled, so I’m on the fence about that one.) Instead, Rosensweet recommends “tickling them one inch away from their body and saying something like ‘I’m tickling you, I’m tickling you,” and they still will laugh like crazy, because it’s funny.” Laughter is a great tool for connecting because when we laugh with somebody, our bodies make the hormone oxytocin, which plays an important role in bonding, she explains. It’s also a great way to offload tension and stress.

Roughhousing was never my thing but now I start pillow fights or chase my daughters around the house for hugs and kisses. We’ve also adopted one of Rosensweet’s go-to games, when you make your kid into a “pizza” — while they’re lying down, rolling out the “dough” like their body is a giant rolling pin, spreading the “sauce” out with a big rubdown, sprinkling handfuls of “toppings” on them, “baking” them in the oven (under pillows), “slicing” them with karate chops and then nibbling them all over.

Does “special time” live up to its promise?

My family has been doing “special time” four or five days a week for the past couple months now. My goal was to do it every day—it’s only 15 minutes, right?—but it’s challenging to fit it in around any plans, whether it’s a playdate with the neighbours or a visit from family. (Never mind after-school activities that we hope will resume.) When we do pull it off, I always feel like it was worth more than just a few laughs. I’ve never been a so-called “fun mom”—preferring to cuddle with my girls or to watch them play while I’m comfortably seated on the couch or a park bench. But this has pushed me to lighten up, while letting them see another, goofier side of me. I’m also getting to know them more deeply through the eyes of a kid, which is a little trippy but wonderful. My husband—who’s always been better at being the fun dad, damn him—is noticing his relationship with the girls start to shift, too. They love having his undivided attention without the distractions of the phone and work. He’s noticed that they’re happier and that everyday conflicts (a.k.a. meltdowns) are less extreme than they once were.

It’s helped with our sibling rivalry issues, too. My guess is that my girls are more secure in my love for them. My five-year-old doesn’t want to be babied as much during the day since she gets that kind of attention during “special time” and they are both more agreeable about going to bed after a couple books and songs, as opposed to always begging for more. Some days it also seems like they’re listening better all around, which has been further helped by implementing other strategies such as giving choices and making chore charts. I’m also working on being more patient (counting to 10 before responding helps) and nagging less. “When kids feel connected, they want to be more cooperative, but connection can’t be the only tool in the toolbox,” says Rosensweet.

Rosensweet says the intentionality of the quality time is the key. Even if you’re a stay-at-home parent with a toddler and you feel like you’re with your kid 24/7 as it is, “special time,” can still be a treat for them. She likens it to date night with your partner. You may just end up watching TV together with a glass of wine, but naming it and framing it as something “romantic” can help you to connect. “It’s that phrase of ‘I’m all yours for the next 15 minutes’ or ‘we’re going to spend time together.’ Even a small child can understand that.”

Parenting

Kristen Bell's philosophy on bathing kids? ‘Wait for the stink’

The 'Frozen' star is the latest celeb to admit that she only throws her kids in the tub when they absolutely need it.

When Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher joined Dax Shepard on his Armchair Expert podcast last week, the couple caused a stink after admitting to not bathing their kids, Wyatt, 6, and Dimitri, 4, all that often—and now Kristen Bell has gotten in on the convo.

During an appearance with her husband, Dax, on The View, Kristen said that they pretty much wait for their kids to smell before tossing them in the bath. This is definitely in line with Mila and Ashton’s belief that, “If you can see the dirt on them, clean them. Otherwise, there’s no point.”

Dax explained that it wasn’t always this way. “We bathed our children every single night prior to bed as their routine, and then somehow they just started going to sleep on their own without the routine and we had to start saying like, ‘Hey, when was the last time you bathed them?'” Kristen confirmed that they’d forget when eight-year-old Lincoln and six-year-old Delta hit the tub last.

Isn’t that a parenting dream, though? Their kids are in that self-sufficient stage where you don’t have to actively put them to bed anymore. Enjoy that freedom, Kristen and Dax!

Now that bathing isn’t part of their bedtime routine, Kristen has a very simple way to decide when it’s bath time. “I’m a big fan of waiting for the stink,” the Frozen star explained. “Once you catch a whiff, that’s biology’s way of letting you know you need to clean it up. There’s a red flag. Honestly, it’s just bacteria; once you get bacteria you gotta be like, ‘Get in the tub or the shower.’ So I don’t hate what [Mila and Ashton] are doing. I wait for the stink.”

We’re so here for it. In fact, most parents probably lather up their kids—and themselves—far too often. “I wash my armpits and my crotch daily, and nothing else ever,” Ashton said during the podcast. “I got a bar of Lever 2000 that delivers every time. Nothing else.” That being said, Mila and her husband do believe in regularly washing their faces, which the actress does twice a day.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, kids ages 6 to 11 should bathe once or twice a week unless they’re visibly dirty or smelly or were swimming in a body of water like a pool or lake. So it seems like the two couples are right on track. And don’t worry, if your little kids enjoy having a warm bath before bed and it’s a firm part of your bedtime routine, just remember that you don’t have to use soap every night.

So next time you can’t remember if it’s bath night, give your kids a good whiff and go from there.

Parenting

Can I be a great mom and not lose myself in the process?

I'm learning that balancing my mom identity against my other selves takes time, intention and compromise.

My mom doted on me and my sisters endlessly when we were kids. Her life revolved around us. I have very little sense of who she was as a person outside of being my mom. I’m immeasurably grateful for how singularly devoted she was, but her dedication has created an unexpected tension in my own motherhood experience. I, too, want to be a great mom—but still be my own person.

It’s easier said than done. When I became a mom, I was wholly unprepared for how my entire identity would suddenly become defined by my relationship with my little human. The other parts of me were relegated to second (or third or fourth) fiddle as motherhood usurped all. I saw no other option than focussing on my newborn and nothing else.

As my kids became schoolagers, I was able to bring back some of my other selves. I started working more, going to social events sans kids, and attending fitness classes, and it was amazing. It made me enjoy motherhood more.

Then COVID hit. Stuck at home 24/7 with my children, I found myself back to being all mom, all the time. And although there’s been some light in the COVID tunnel, it’s fair to say I’m tired of mothering.

I love my kids and I’m proud to be their mom. But ten years and two kids in, it still doesn’t sit well with me to be thought of by others solely as “Annabel and Levi’s mom.” I was always a bit ambivalent about becoming a mom; I’ve been much more intentional with my career. But since motherhood happened, it seems a lot of what I worked for beforehand matters little. Especially when my kids were very young, I had to put them first all the time, even when a dream project came knocking. I missed out on opportunities to hone my skills and advance my career. Even now that my kids are seven and 10, my mom self, which is often unscheduled, messy-bunned and flying by the seat of my pants, rarely jibes with my deadline-driven, professional and put-together work self.

Despite my mom and work selves being two sides of the same coin, I find them very hard to reconcile, especially when you throw in my other selves like wife, friend and daughter. Before motherhood, I could juggle various roles with ease. But since becoming a mom, motherhood dominates, both internally and in how others view me.

Worlds colliding

Melissa Hogenboom can relate. “When I returned to work, I felt I had to leave my motherhood self at home,” says the mom of two and author of the new book The Motherhood Complex. “I knew the two selves wouldn’t align.”

My experience with this lack of alignment left me feeling rather lost. In hindsight, I realize motherhood is not only a monumental shift where a beautiful little human fills your life, but there’s also loss involved. When you become a mom, you gain a new identity, but you also lose parts of yourself.

“This loss of self is really prominent but not often talked about,” says Kate Borsato, a registered clinical counsellor in Sydney, BC, and founder of the Perinatal Mental Health Collective. “Becoming a mom is the biggest transition that a person could ever go through. We’re told we should fully embrace it and let go of our pre-mom self and be grateful. This makes it really hard for moms to discuss the painful parts of motherhood and the parts they miss about their pre-mom selves.”

What’s more, of all the roles I fill—writer, wife, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, board member—the mom role came with the least amount of preparation and time to adjust, but also the most scrutiny.

“As soon as you’re pregnant, you’re no longer you,” says Hogenboom, who is based in London, England. “People feel like they have a say.” You suddenly become subject to a whack of public opinions. In no other realm do even complete strangers feel more entitled to offer their viewpoints (and judgment) than on mothering. In The Motherhood Complex, Hogenboom examines how these experiences influence mothers’ sense of self, both personally and in the way society treats us. Motherhood forcibly shapes the way we see ourselves and how others see us, thereby affecting the choices we make.

“With motherhood, there’s an imposed self that is so challenging,” she says. “But we don’t have time to process these emotions because we’re so busy being mothers.”

That’s just it. Motherhood is never exactly what you think it will be. There’s so little opportunity to stop and reflect on the biggest thing to ever happen to you because it’s so hectic just trying to keep your kids alive and well, amid a never-ending influx of advice and criticism from, well, everyone.

What’s more, we hold so many expectations of ourselves as mothers, and they are often shaped by things we have no control over, like our upbringing and societal pressures. “There’s the bombardment of expectations of perfectionism, the feelings of guilt, the assumptions about how mothers behave and judgment about how much we work, or whether we should work at all,” Hogenboom says. “All these ideas and ideals about what motherhood is—it’s enough to give you a complex. These competing pressures are why we have this constant clash of selves.”

The complexities have been further amplified by the pandemic. When schools shut down and we all stayed home, moms found themselves having to mom more than ever—and for many, while simultaneously working. Moms were left to figure out how to manage with little support, and shoulder much of the additional home and childcare responsibilities.

Pre-pandemic, I felt comfortable balancing my mom identity against my other ones. But the pandemic forced me to dial mom up to one hundred again. My husband’s job is considered an essential service, so he continued to work outside the home, leaving me to parent, teach and carry on whatever work came in. It brought back all of my early motherhood frustrations at having to forgo everything else and put momming first. So what’s a mom to do?

Feel all the feels

Like most everything, motherhood has its highs and lows, and we shouldn’t feel bad about not loving every minute because it really does suck sometimes. Especially during a pandemic. “Our society paints this picture of motherhood that’s pure bliss,” says Borsato. “But you can be grateful for your kids, and at the same time recognize there are things you don’t love about being a mom. One does not cancel out the other. There’s nothing wrong with moms who feel like motherhood isn’t totally fulfilling.”

It’s actually beneficial to admit there are things you miss since becoming a mom. “There’s an overwhelming feeling of loss that isn’t spoken about enough, whether it’s loss of self, ease, career, social connection or fun,” she adds. “With any loss, there will be sadness. We need to feel it and heal it by naming it, talking about it and moving forward. When we don’t give ourselves permission to feel it, it doesn’t go away.”

When I let myself grieve the losses—and this is an ongoing process—it helps me feel okay, even good, about wanting to pursue things separate from motherhood. We need to accept that sometimes we just miss our former selves, and we need to make space for these feelings.

We don’t have to abandon our other identities in order to be moms or always put our mom self before all others. “When you bring your ‘self’ into mothering, it helps to heal and get through,” explains Borsato. “But recognize that your ‘self’ is going to look different. This isn’t about going back to what you used to be like. It’s about a new iteration of you. Reclaim pieces of yourself.” Borsato suggests starting small. Instead of listening to Kids Bop in the car with your kids, listen to your own music. When making healthy, beautifully arranged snack platters for your kids, make yourself one too instead of just picking at the leftovers. “Start by taking little moments and making them about you, then progress to bigger moments that express your creativity and who you are.”

Moms often feel like we don’t have enough time to satisfy any of our identities and if we prioritize one, the others suffer. But, it’s important to make room for all of them, because not doing so is potentially damaging to both us and our kids. As Hogenboom writes in her book, “Our identity as a mother is tugged at, pushed, pulled in many directions, from our own critiques to outside pressures. Protecting ourselves, our well-being and therefore our true self … is of utmost importance for the long run. …Our children will thank us later for putting ourselves first at least some of the time. If we are happier, they are bound to be too.”

Take time to be true to you

Being a good mother doesn’t mean giving all of ourselves to our kids. It means incorporating who we are into how we mom. I love to read so I do that with my kids. I also love music and movies so I expose them to my favourite artists and films. I have them try foods I grew up with, and take them to places that I enjoy.

It also means taking time away from my kids, even if it’s just a few minutes each day, so I can hear my own voice—even just to remind myself that I have one! For me, that can be as simple as taking an uninterrupted shower, reading a chapter of a book or just having a cup of tea, while it’s still hot, alone with my thoughts. For a longer escape, I look to yoga for some real peace and to focus on myself. I can’t wait for in-studio yoga to start up again. It’s just not zen with my kids and dog constantly barging in.

Taking time for ourselves gets easier as our kids become more independent and don’t need help with everything. It’s a gradual transition where you’re both growing—they’re learning new things and you’re relearning old things you used to do. In the early years, taking that time can feel impossible when you’re in the thick of caring for your baby. But it does get easier. Consider it a pause versus a full stop on pursuing former aspects of yourself. “Know that this is temporary,” affirms Borsato. “You will feel like yourself again. It’s a progression.”

It’s important to continue to be a fully formed human when you’re a mom. Motherhood does involve sacrifice, but it shouldn’t mean sacrifice of self. It’s critical for our kids to see that their moms are people too—full of our own needs, wants and dreams. We encourage our children to be self-aware, to listen and believe in themselves, yet we rarely do this for ourselves.

I can rest easier now knowing that I can embrace my mama bear without compromising the other parts of me. And reminding myself that when my mom-self does have to take precedence, it’s not forever. At other times, my writer-self takes priority. Or my daughter-self does. It is a continual state of flux. After all, it is my many selves that collectively define who I am.

Parenting

Why dads in Canada are more involved in raising their kids than those in the U.S.

Canadian dads outperformed Americans on almost every measure.

Thirty-five years ago, Canadian and American dads were doing a similar amount of child rearing, relative to mothers. Surveys from the mid 1980s showed that Canadian men spent 38% of the time that Canadian women spent on child care, and American men spent 35% of the time that American women spent on child care.

Today, there are significant gaps in fathering between Canadians and Americans. Canadian dads spend significantly more time taking care of their children than their American counterparts. For example, Canadian fathers spend an average of 14 hours on child care each week, while American fathers average about 8 hours a week.

As a sociologist and Canadian studies scholar, I am interested in how social policies affect fatherhood in different countries. I collected data on more than 5,000 men in the two nations from 2016 to 2018 for my upcoming book on the similarities and differences between American and Canadian dads. This data looked at how dads interacted with their children – whether they acted warmly and affectionately, if they provided emotional support and how they disciplined their children.

My data shows Canadian dads were much more likely to show warmth, provide emotional support, engage in caregiving and use positive discipline. In fact, American dads outperformed their Canadian counterparts on only one of the survey measures – the use of spanking and other harsh disciplinary tactics.

Why have Canadian fathers pulled ahead of American fathers in caring for and showing affection toward their children? I believe the answer lies, in part, with four types of social policies in Canada that help fathers be more engaged at home.

1. Family leave

When it comes to family policy, there are major differences between the U.S. and Canada.

Canada has guaranteed paid family leave for mothers and fathers. As part of their employment insurance program, Canadian parents get 35 weeks of shared paid benefits, paid at 55% of regular pay. On top of that, fathers get five exclusive weeks of leave.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is the only rich nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee maternity leave, and one of three rich countries – along with Oman and the United Arab Emirates – without a paternity leave option.

Studies from across the world consistently show that men who take paternity leave tend to be more involved in their children’s lives, have better relationships with family members and help their partners recover from childbirth more quickly.

2. Social inequality

Stagnant incomes, high levels of economic inequality and financial instability have led many American men to work long hours. In my survey, a third of the American respondents work 50 hours or more a week, compared to just one-tenth of Canadian participants.

Financial anxieties permeate parenting in the U.S. The increase in intensive parenting – parents who try to build impeccable resumes for their kids, filled with extracurricular activities, advanced courses and awards – is an effort by middle-income families to keep up with the parenting practices of the well-off.

Such parenting patterns are less common in Canada, a country with more accessible elite educational institutions and less income inequality.

The Canada Child Benefit further alleviates financial anxiety for parents. Unlike child tax credits in the U.S., which were traditionally paid with tax returns, Canada delivers its tax credit in monthly payments to low- and middle-income families with children. The program has cut child poverty by 40% since its introduction in 2017. The U.S. just rolled out a similar temporary program in July 2021.

3. Gender inequality

Fathers tend to be more involved parents in nations with higher levels of gender equality. When women are engaged in the political and economic spheres, fathers provide more physical care to children, are warmer and more emotionally supportive parents, and use less harsh discipline. This is likely caused by more explicit and enforceable expectations about equal partnership between co-parents.

Canada is a more gender-equal country than the U.S. In 2019, the United Nations listed Canada as the 19th most egalitarian nation in the world. The U.S. was 46th. Canada outpaced the U.S. on measures of female health, political power, education and economic empowerment. Solidifying the expectation that dads be highly involved co-parents, these greater levels of gender equality may be a significant reason Canadian fathers outperform their American counterparts.

4. Health care

Even policies that seemingly have little to do with parenting have, in reality, a major impact on how men interact with their children. This includes Canada’s single-payer, provincially administered, universal health care system.

Analyses in my forthcoming book, for example, show that poor physical health has much weaker negative effects on men’s parenting in Canada than in the U.S. This suggests that the U.S. health care system’s high medical costs, coupled with bureaucratic and systemic inefficiencies, drain individuals’ time, energy and resources – making fathering more difficult. The problem is compounded when children have health issues as well.

As society emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, data suggests that a more comprehensive family policy would benefit American fathers, mothers and children. Doing so can ease the especially difficult burdens mothers face and help remove structural barriers that make it hard for fathers to be highly involved and engaged parents. Canada may provide the United States with a useful example on how to implement supportive family policies.

Kevin Shafer is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Canadian Studies at Brigham Young University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Parenting

My kid called me ‘Mad Mommy’ again—and she was right

It took months of reflection, therapy, and re-parenting her inner child for this mom to become the mother she always wanted to be.

The following is excerpted from The Mom Babes: A Motherhood Anthology.

My daughter called me Mad Mommy. Again. I was filled with rage. I had the same dragon fire eyes that I had seen before, in my childhood. I learned at a young age that noise was unwelcomed. Crying, complaining, or high-pitched laughter was enough to get a flash of dragon eyes, and I was perpetuating this cycle.

I was a mad mommy. All of it made me mad. Cooking for the children and cleaning up after them. I was mad that I had to put on jackets and even more mad that I had to zip them up. My life felt so uncomfortable. Like those oversized–deli sausages at the supermarket, I was about to burst. I didn’t have control over my anger. I thought if I only had a few more hours in the week or a bit more money, I could make my life and my schedule a bit more comfortable, and I would stop exploding so easily.

The routine had become mundane. Playing, chasing, feeding, cleaning, organizing activities, and preparing backpacks and snacks, but after all of that was done I found myself drowning. I was working evenings from my home office to make up for the items I didn’t tick off the days or weeks before. I was frustrated that I couldn’t do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted. I was emotionally exhausted; my performance at work was slipping, and I started having digestion issues.

I thrived on the organized chaos. When someone would tell me, “I don’t know how you do it all,” it would fuel me. Because it meant they could see how much I was doing and if I showed any signs of overwhelm or fatigue then I was weak, there was a crack in the system.

My fear and anxiety drove me to be more controlling. Controlling everything in my environment so I could anticipate what emotions I would have to deal with next. These were the coping tactics I was using to overshadow the internal shame I had been living with since my childhood.

I thought a midlife crisis meant driving a car that couldn’t fit baby seats, wearing bejewelled jeans, and travelling the world while my kids were off on their own. But my kids were still in elementary school, I hadn’t had my fortieth birthday bash in Vegas yet, and I was coming apart at the seams.

This was no longer a bad month, or a phase, like in my twenties when hair crimping and elastic belts made a short reappearance. I was being confronted from within and the uncertainty of my well–being was here to stay.

That summer we took a week-long road trip. Finally, a break. An extra set of hands to help as my husband is great at keeping the kids smiling and blanketing us with a sense of calm. I was a spectator when Daddy was around. I sat quietly on the beach while he got the kids ready for the water and I would be on standby when one of them needed comfort. If I could sense the day unstitching, it was permission to day-drink. I mean, it was vacation, the rule of five o’clock somewhere was in full effect. The unfortunate thing about numbing fear and shame, is that I was also numbing happiness and joy.

My husband had a front row seat to the destruction, he had seen me frantically picking up the pieces in the months leading up to this trip. My birthday was coming up and one night around the campfire he asked, “Is next year going to look different?” He was done watching me spiral out of control. We have a beautiful partnership and I knew what he meant. He had the courage to say it to me. He had the courage to be kind to me and it was time for me to be kind to myself.

Ashley Hallinan smiling at the camera

Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Hallinan

It took thirty-six trips around the sun for me to realize what I feared more than being a shitty mom was the fear of losing the closest people in my life. I took a booze break and I got started.

I called in the big dogs. The professionals. We all know what that means. There is no shame in talking to someone and having support outside your marriage, outside your family, or friendship circle. My therapist became another lifeline for me and like a scene from a divine film, I opened my arms, my chest, tilted my head back, eyes closed, heart open and said, “Just take me.” I nourished myself from the inside out.

I dug into the dirty work. I reflected hard. I discovered that the burnout with work and life had awakened a cycle of shame that was deeply rooted in my parenting tactics. I revisited my childhood, reconnected with my inner child, and re-parented her. It was tough to remember “Little me,” being unduly disciplined or receiving excessive punishment at a young age. The same age as my daughter. “Little me” needed more love, validation and safety. By re-parenting my inner child, I was immediately able to dial in my reactive parenting style. I started mothering like I wanted to.

I replayed all the major and minor events in my life that were taking up valuable real estate in my subconscious. I learned about connection, empathy and patience. I realized that fear and shame provided me with little time to open my schedule or my heart. I was told some harsh truths about reality. I was pretending I was fine. I was over-promising and under-delivering. I was meeting my children’s struggles with impatience rather than empathy. I understood that over-responsibility is a trauma response. I empathized, knowing that people hurt you because they are trying to heal themselves. After a few months of bi-weekly therapy visits, I felt like I had just got off a carnival ride called The Salad Spinner.

I had figured out the parenting piece but my work was still a big trigger for me. I evaluated my worth based on the amount I was accomplishing, and this was easily fed because work always wanted more. One night I was sitting at the kitchen counter with my laptop and I dropped my head into my hands and cried. I knew I wasn’t going to get anything done. I wiped my face, lifted my head, and told my husband I was releasing all of my clients, and we would figure it out along the way. It was that simple. I was done.

With my newfound freedom, I joined a book club. I got together with women on a weekly basis and found other ways to connect. I started answering my phone. I found less demanding clients and spoke positively, becoming fun to work with again. I answered the call that would be the solution to my immediate need for a new opportunity. I gained the confidence to reach for a business partnership. I started saying yes to invitations, claiming my free time in the mountains.

It turns out, a new car or twenty-something jeans doesn’t even begin to measure up to the gift of claiming a more authentic version of yourself.

My life of adversity had provided courage for this inevitable awakening, and for the first time I am proud of myself. Initially it felt uncomfortable and I would blush when no one was looking. But now I am in love with the character I have built, the resilience I have stacked, and the mother I am transforming myself into.

There are always things to work on but my head and my heart are in tune and they have become more forgiving by embracing a bit of self-compassion. I am pleased to have my daughter talk back to me and roll her eyes. She isn’t afraid of my reactions and no longer calls me Mad Mommy.

Parenting

An age-by-age guide to dealing with “I hate you”

What to do—and what not to do—when your kid drops the dreaded “H-word.”

Little girl screaming

Photo: Roberto Caruso, Illustrations: Stephanie Han Kim

It came out of the blue, but it hung there like heavy, humid air: “I hate you.” I’d been shivering in the cold among fellow parents, waiting for my kids to emerge from a weekend class they’d recently joined. Out they spilled, buzzing with new friends, heading for the jungle gym, and I signalled benignly to my nine-year-old daughter that we were leaving. She announced it calmly and quietly, but within earshot of the lot, before taking off for the monkey bars. She seemed jubilant. I was destroyed.

How many of us have heard those three little words and wanted to cry? The H-word is so loaded and so mortifying for its recipient that we’re loath to admit the expression ever gets said. It’s far more common, though, than we’ll ever cop to. And I’d wager that if a kid hasn’t said it aloud, he’s at least thought it. I mean, I sure did. Between the ages of 10 and 16, it was practically my mantra. But “hate” was not hate. It was love on a bad day.

It’s important to remember that when coming from a child, “hate” doesn’t translate to the passionate dislike we understand as adults. It’s an impulse word signifying frustration or loss of control. “What they mean,” says Jeanne L. Williams, an Edmonton-based psychologist, “is, ‘I can’t handle this situation, and I don’t have the skills to respond in a more mature way.’” Plus, it doesn’t take much for kids to feel the effect words can have—and they can get heady with the power they can wield.

The dreaded phrase does have slightly different implications depending on whether it comes from a toddler or a tween—and the art of the response should vary accordingly.

The toddler

You’ve spent the afternoon at a playdate. The kids are sharing nicely, but yours has become attached to her pal’s favourite doll. When it’s time to leave, your gentle coaxing fails, and you resort to prying the doll away and strapping your daughter into her stroller. Soon the scene is like WrestleMania, with your daughter using fightin’ words.

Saying “no” in any form can set off a toddler. And if your kid has heard “I hate you” tossed around, this is the time she’d deploy it. “Toddlers are picking up the language they hear around them—they’re parroting back what they’ve heard, like when they use swear words,” says Judy Arnall, a family life educator in Calgary and author of Parenting with Patience. In the same way you should ignore the F-word from an experimental toddler in an effort to diffuse it with silence, you should disregard the H-word. Case closed. “Don’t engage. You don’t want to draw attention to it,” she says. When kids see it’s a surefire way to grab your attention, they’ll try it again and again.

The little kid

It’s bedtime and you’ve asked your son, who’s watching TV, to go change into his pyjamas. After the third request, he has still not “heard” you, so you flick off the screen—possibly at a climactic moment. Does the pivotal plot point matter to you more than getting him into bed? Nope. An argument breaks out, and he lays it on you.

Little kid wearing bright red beanie and a grey shirts stands in front of a wall crying 10 ways to defuse a power struggle “When little kids say ‘I hate you,’ the goal is to hurt you,” says Natasha Daniels, a clinical social worker at Hill Child Counseling in Arizona. After all, you’ve just ruined all their fun. Daniels’ response? Kill it with kindness. “It sounds counterintuitive, but the best way to counteract ‘I hate you’ is to say, ‘Well, I love you,’” she says. A negative reaction will only reinforce the outburst. “If they don’t get a reaction at age six, they may say it again, but they won’t still be saying it at 10. It’s a work in progress.”

As children’s language skills improve as they get older, you can start to talk about and validate those intense feelings. But you shouldn’t dwell on it too much—otherwise they’ll realize they have a winning strategy of getting your attention. Williams remembers one particular argument about video games when her son was in grade one. “I wanted him to brush his teeth. In anger, he said he hated me.” They both went to bed angry, but the next day, Williams debriefed with him. “He stood by those words because he was really mad at me, and they were the only words he had. But it came out that he hadn’t wanted to stop playing because he’d lose all his points. I listened and took him seriously. And we worked out a system of warnings to make sure he could stop between levels without losing his points and still get to bed on time.”

The tween

Your 11-year-old daughter is invited to a sleepover and “absolutely everyone” is attending. But she’s been falling behind on her homework, and a recent spate of late nights has left her in a perpetual foul mood. You say no to the sleepover, hoping she’ll rest up and have a clear head for homework in the morning. After running through the five stages of grief, she flees to her room, slamming the door—but not before sticking it to you with three choice words.

Tweens do grasp the meaning of “I hate you” and they’ll deploy it for maximum impact. But the advantage of having an increasingly articulate child is that sometimes she can’t help blurting out what’s really bothering her. “Sometimes what she says right after ‘I hate you’ is important,” says Daniels. Whether it’s “You never let me do anything fun” or “Why do you hate my friends so much?” at least you have a clue to go on. “It gives you some sort of context, so you know it’s not random hate.”

“I look at this as a ‘downstream problem,’” says Williams. “Think of a flowing river. The event that precipitated it is upstream. If you dwell on what happens downstream, like taking away privileges, the issue upstream will just keep flowing.”

You need to focus on what really is making your child upset. But first, give her some time to calm down. And once you’ve figured out what’s bothering her, says Williams, “you can really listen to her concerns and share your own. Then figure out some way to meet in the middle.”

About to lose it?

“Less is more,” says Terry Carson, a Toronto-based parenting coach. “If you can respond to a child calmly in five words or less, you’ll be far more effective than if you get into a long response.” Prime no-nos? Avoid “Don’t you speak to me like that” or “You’re grounded.” Punishments don’t suit this particular crime. “Sending back hurtful messages only exacerbates the situation. You can say something like, ‘That hurt my feelings,’ and give yourself time to de-escalate the situation. Don’t try to resolve it in the moment.” If you do lose your temper, don’t despair. “There’s nothing wrong with damage control,” she says. “For a parent to apologize is a big deal for kids.” If you respect them, after all, they may respect you back. “Ask if they’re ready to talk. They may not be ready, but that’s a respectful approach, even to a nine-year-old.”

Read more:
7 ways to deal with a defiant kid
29 toddler discipline tactics that work

 

Parenting

Why your toddler’s “no!” phase is so important (and how to survive it)

If your toddler responds to seemingly mundane requests with the word "no," you can rest assured: your child is very, very normal. Here's how to deal.

My toddler will be a wonderfully strong adult. My toddler will be a wonderfully strong adult. My toddler will be a wonderfully strong adult.

I say this to myself approximately 328 times a day, silently and emphatically. It generally coincides with the 328 times a day that my daughter not-so-silently but very emphatically says “No!” to my every request.

No, she will not wear gloves in 20-degree weather.

No, she will not eat the strawberry waffles that she begged me to make.

No, she will not wear the gorgeous holiday dress that Grandma bought for her because it doesn’t have pockets or a dog motif. (The nerve!)

Of course I want my daughter to be strong and independent and to stand up for herself. That’s important for all kids, and especially for our girls. Still, is it too much to ask for her to be a teensy bit more easygoing and reasonable with me?

Apparently, the answer is yes, it is too much to ask, because she’s two. But even as I lament these Terrible Twos (and the upcoming “threenager” year), I know how important this “no” stage is for all children. We just have to figure out how to get through it with our sanity semi-intact.

Why you should say “yes” to the “no” phase

Toddlerhood is a developmental powder keg for children. As Kathryn Smerling, a New York City–based family psychologist, explains, “They’re experiencing the most rapid brain development of their lives throughout this period—a whopping 700 new neural connections every second.”

Part of that developmental burst leads to the “no” phase. Our children are becoming their own little people—with their own thoughts and opinions. They are just figuring out that they’re not literal extensions of us, and that separation is essential for them to become functional individuals. That’s why Smerling thinks of this stage the Tremendous Twos instead of the Terrible Twos.

But make no mistake about it: A “no” is also meant to test you. Will you give in? Will you put your foot down? It’s a mystery to your toddler! “The way parents respond to limit-setting behaviors is how young children learn,” explains Cindy Huang, Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. “They learn rules about their own behaviors and how to navigate the complex social world around them.”

And that newfound voice of theirs? It also helps them set their own limits so that they forge healthy relationships and even protect themselves from sexual assault. “If a child doesn’t want to be hugged or kissed by another child or adult, their ‘no’ should be respected and listened to,” says Huang. “It’s crucial that we understand the context for the ‘no.’”

There’s a lot wrapped up in that little two-letter word—and it’s all really important.

How to outwit a willful toddler

If you’re a toddler parent, you’re probably thinking, Yeah, yeah, I’ll appreciate the wonders of this stage later. Right now I need to leave the house sometime this century without having an all-out war.

How can you achieve that seemingly impossible goal? For starters, don’t argue with your toddler. You will not win, and it will end in tears—for both of you. Also, remember that employing smart strategies now will lay the groundwork for a strong, positive relationship between you and your child later. These six techniques can help.

Put your toddler in charge

This isn’t as terrifying as it sounds. Give your child two options—and only two options so she’s not overwhelmed—both of which you’re okay with. For example: “Would you like eggs or oatmeal for breakfast?” or “Would you like to brush your teeth or put on your pajamas first?” This strategy can help you avoid a “no” from the get-go.

Don’t react right away

It’s hard not to lose your cool when your kid asks for a cracker, gets said cracker and then suddenly throws it on the floor and has an epic tantrum about it now being on the floor. But you’ll only add fuel to the fire if you yell or demand a rational explanation for that irrational action. Instead, suggests Smerling, “Acknowledge that they don’t want the cracker and leave them alone. Don’t try to bargain with them or make them stop the tantrum. Just pause. You might find that just a few minutes later they’re through with the crackers now.” That simple little pause can defuse the situation. Then you can move on to another activity and put the cracker trauma behind you.

Let them help you

Toddlers want to be grown up—and to be just like you. To that end, make them feel essential to a task’s success. Ask them to gather their stuffed animals for a car trip or have them retrieve an item from the grocery-store shelf. Whenever my toddler hears the phrase, “I really need your help,” I’m always rewarded with the biggest smile—and actual help! It may only last for 10 seconds, but it’s enough to make everyone happy and proud.

Try “strategic ignoring”

While this may not help you during a public tantrum, it can help over the long haul. According to Huang, it entails praising your child’s desired behaviors—and not only ignoring the undesired ones but also redirecting your attention elsewhere. “You are actually doing a ton of parenting when you’re strategically ignoring,” she says. “You’re watching and waiting for the very moment when your child starts doing the desired behavior so you can immediately follow up with praise.”

Employ the ancient art of distraction

When all else fails, try playing peek-a-boo or breaking out into song. Laughter will usually follow because Mommy or Daddy is so silly, and wait—what was I saying no to in the first place?

Say “yes” sometimes!

When it comes to the big things (and, of course, the dangerous things), be consistent with your “no.” It should always mean no—today and tomorrow, regardless of the magnitude of the hissy fit. Otherwise tantrums seem like the path to success, and bad behavior can escalate. But sometimes parents get stuck in a “no” rut. Your toddler says “no,” and you say it right back, almost without thinking. But is your child’s differing opinion really that big of a deal? If not—like if she doesn’t want to wear the outfit you’ve chosen for her—say “yes” to her “no” and let her make her own choice. She’ll feel like she has a little bit of the power she so desperately wants and her frustration will disappear.

Parenting

7 ways pandemic parenting felt like postpartum all over again

Once my kids were out of diapers, I had no interest in revisiting the roller coaster that is the first few months of parenthood. But that’s exactly what the pandemic was like.

Though my postpartum years were certainly filled with milk-drunk smiles and adorable baby snuggles, they’re not a time I wanted to revisit once my kids were out of diapers. But that’s exactly what happened to me—and not because I had another baby. It’s because I’ve realized that parenting through pandemic times was like going through the roller coaster of postpartum all over again.  Here’s how I think pandemic parenting was like an 18-month-long experience of déjà vu for me, and for so many of the other parents I know.

1. It felt both all-consuming and sudden.

For me, pandemic parenting was a jarring reorientation to the realities of 24/7 caregiving—kind of like how pre-kids, I had all the physical and emotional autonomy in the world, and then the next day I brought my first baby home, I realized how much I had come to rely on and value the schoolteachers and friends and babysitters who bore some of the caregiving load so that I could go to the bathroom by myself every so often, or do what I needed to do to bring in a paycheque.

2. I had to slow waaaay down.

Just like in the early days of parenting a newborn, I had to reckon with the fact that I simply couldn’t accomplish as much as I usually did, and find a way to be OK with it.  I had to start lowering my standards and saying no a lot more in order to stay sane. Honestly, it’s probably something I should have done long before “The Rona” was a household term.

3. I got laser-clear on my priorities.

Homeschooling and working full-time meant that I had to carefully consider what was most important to me—often on an hour-by-hour basis—because I couldn’t do it all and be OK.  Some days, that meant I cancelled everything and took my kids for a hike instead. Other days, it meant sneaking away to work from my “oceanfront writing studio” for a few hours (that is, the Goldfish-encrusted backseat of my minivan, parked by the beach near my house because the café I normally escaped to was closed because of the pandemic). Every day felt like it brought opportunities to better understand my values, make choices about safety, and decide what works best for my family, and that’s exactly what happened to me when I first had my kids. Every decision—cloth diapers or disposable; breastmilk or formula; co-sleep or sleep train—felt like it asked me to examine what mattered most to me, and choose it, again and again.

4. I learned so much about my kids.

In the early days postpartum, I remember learning everything I could about my babies, like how they liked to be held or which silly faces they responded to most. Similarly, spending so much time with my kids over the last 18 months, I learned about them—their strengths and their challenges—in a way I never would have otherwise. I realized, for example, in classic mom-of-a-second-child fashion, that my kindergartener had never really been taught to hold a pencil properly. It was something, I’ll admit, I probably subconsciously assumed he would learn in school. Once I got over the guilt of never having noticed a lot of these things before in the hustle of everyday life, I was able to understand my kids and support them so much better.

5. It brought up all my shit.

Just like those confronting times we all face when we first have our children, being at home with my kids awakened me to some pretty gnarly truths about myself. The most poignant, for me, were moments when my daughter was clearly showing signs of being totally done with school for the day. Ruthless thoughts would immediately spring up inside my head: I’m not raising quitters! How will I teach her grit and resolve if I just let her give up?  These thoughts quickly revealed themselves to be more telling about me and my fraught relationship with achievement, rest and self-compassion than they were ever about my daughter.

6. I had to work hard to remember self-care.

Physical and emotional healing in the postpartum period is all-consuming and necessary, despite all the steep learning curves and sleepless nights.  The same was true for pandemic parenting life: I needed to recognize and advocate for my needs more than ever if I was going to survive this time. Sometimes, I managed it. Often, I didn’t. I went unshowered more than I’d like to admit, but I slowly became a devotee of what I call “micro self-care,” like remembering to drink water and brush my teeth. Eventually I found a way, at least for the time being, to let that be enough.

7. I was enchanted often.

I still remember when my daughter first found her hands, marvelling at them as she clasped them in front of her. As the pandemic stretched from weeks into months, on the days that I decided we’d play hooky, build a blanket fort or go for a walk in the woods, I got to feel that same sense of enchantment that kids give us access to, if only we’ll slow down long enough to see it. It’s one of the little gifts of living alongside a tiny human that I had often missed when we were deep in the throes of “normal life.”

Starting to see the parallels between pandemic life and postpartum life allowed me to reflect on 2020 and 2021 with just a little more self-compassion. Just like new parenthood, it’s all been so very both/and. I know, like I did in those early months with my babies, that I have some processing to do, and some healing to do, too.

But what I didn’t know back then—that I can see clearly now—is this: Things will never be the same again, and that might actually be a good thing.

Jessie Harrold is a doula and motherhood coach in Nova Scotia. She is the author of the upcoming book, Mothershift: Reclaiming Motherhood as a Rite of Passage.