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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

I’ve learned, after 10+ years of dealing with depression, that preventative measures can make a huge difference when it comes to mental health. This is generally called self-care, and I have certain self-care measures I start pulling out whenever I feel my mood is fragile, like now. Self-care can sometimes mean maintaining rather than declining, I’ve found. I want to go into detail on more of these in future posts, but here’s just one or two to start with.

Maintaining a routine. This one is so important for me, or I drift. I am more than capable of doing nothing for days on end while the chores pile up around me and I get nothing done. My mood can spiral because of the sheer nothingness of my days. With kids, maintaining a routine happens without a lot of effort from me – my days are defined by meals and naps anyway, so I put the effort in to keeping up regular activities like play dates, grocery shopping and outings. I try to keep active when the kids are sleeping and I’m not having a sleep myself.

Keep order in my environment. For me, this involves running the dishwasher once a day, trying to vacuum at least once a week, staying on top of the laundry. A cluttered environment clouds my mind, and it’s hard to stay positive and active when I’m feeling overwhelmed by mess. I’ve taken this a step further, and recently cleared the clutter out of our bedroom and set up a little dressing area for myself, with my jewellery and hair stuff organised next to the mirror. It’s a small space of calm that I focus on keeping tidy, so my bedroom feels like a positive space rather than just one more room that’s stressful for me to be in. No kids’ stuff allowed. 

My little corner of neatness.


Create small goals. Making small, attainable goals can be incredibly helpful for me. Rather than a big, looming five-year-plan type deal that seems both far away and unreachable, I like to create small tasks for myself, or break bigger projects down into smaller tasks. For example, I’ve been sewing a lined swaddling pouch for the baby – this is a project that doesn’t take forever, I enjoy and can work on in small bursts. Tidying all the clutter out of the bedroom was a goal I banged out in an evening, and part of our larger project of getting the house organised. I century organised all my sewing and craft gear, which I’ve been meaning to do forever. Small goals don’t overwhelm, and yet give a sense of pride and satisfaction when they’re completed, which is helpful to my mental health.

 

This isn’t prescriptive by any means, just some things I’ve found have worked to keep my mental health on an even keel. Sometimes depression happens no matter what, but sometimes I can hold it off by being careful, sticking to habits that I know keep me focused and calm. It’s when I start to drift into overwhelming stress and anxiety that my mood spirals very fast. Right now, because I’m aware that I’ve been feeling down and that can easily lead to depression, I’m pulling out all the self-care stops. 

What are your techniques for self-care?

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I have been finding it very hard to write as I am feeling very dark. I would not call it Post Natal Depression as yet… More that I have felt the edges of things I cannot control crowding into me. Maybe I can control them, and simply feel I cannot.

I feel immense responsibility towards my family – the end of my paid maternity leave looms and that means finding a replacement income. I don’t want to go into part time work just yet, it would mean childcare for two children, which is hardly feasible, and most likely the end of breastfeeding Morgan. I hate expressing milk, it’s time consuming and painful and anyway, what job would be flexible enough to allow me an hour or so each day to pump? I want to be home, with the kids. I need to consider my skills, the possibility of selling my writing and the likelihood I would regularly have the time to write.

I feel angry at a society that sets mothers up to fail – for some like me it is needing income yet finding returning to would come with too many financial penalties. For others it is the necessity of returning to work when they would rather stay home. There has been a lot of rhetoric lately about careers and choice, and I think choice in the workforce is a luxury. I am angry that I spent so many years sick, and thus my capacity to earn is greatly reduced because of interrupted employment and education. I am frustrated that the things I truly want to do don’t result in a paying career.

I am angry that society doesn’t value what I do as a mother, staying home with my two boys. Angry that I sit here, feeling both trapped and worried, doing mental sums in my head but mostly thinking about how I would love to work a day for two, probably, but realistically it needs to be all or nothing, full time work or staying home. For years, possibly.

I love em, but years? Years as a stay at home mother? Alex and I talk about our goal, which is f or both of us to work part time. But I don’t know how to make that happen. Isn’t that the dream, though? To do something you love, just enough so that it doesn’t bore you to tears?

Sometimes I feel like family is pressure, to do better, be better, succeed more, and I must have spent all that time leading up to children just faffing around and time wasting (which isn’t true), and not nearly enough time focusing on my writing (probably true), and now I feel a suffocating need to succeed at something, anything, to earn something for my words (or what else have I spent all these years working towards?) and then of course comes the crippling anxiety…

I look into my boys’ faces and feel I am failing them as a mother.

Which is normal, I guess. 

 

 

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Balancing act

Family


Of course, because I blogged last week about getting the hang of things, life had to tear me down. Last Wednesday I got very, very ill, and by Thursday I felt incapable of doing anything other than lying in bed and yearning for death. Conveniently it was a public holiday, so Alex was home and able to look after me/the kids. On Friday I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with tonsillitis and laryngitis and given some rather impressive antibiotics.

I was feeling better over the weekend when Morgan came down with a head cold. Sick newborn babies are the worst – you can’t explain anything, or give them pain relief, or tell them they’ll feel better soon if only they can deal with you spraying saline solution up their nose at uncomfortably regular intervals.

Sebastian went with his dad to see family on Sunday and got worn out, probably quite over-tired, and so for the last few days has been very cranky – not sick, although his nose has been runny, but just run-down and irritable, as though he was fighting off the sickness that Morgan and I had come down with. And today, while I am mostly better, Morgan remains sniffly and Alex came down with a head cold. Sebastian was cheerful all day, thankfully. 

I had energy for once, and so I cleaned – tidying away toys, doing mountains of laundry and putting even more away, vacuuming, doing dishes, cooking a casserole for dinner, sweeping the kitchen and doing groceries. I so rarely feel rested and energised to really get to much housework, so it was wonderful to get a lot done one hit. Of course, it was followed by the guilt for all the other things I wasn’t doing – not blogging, not crafting, not writing or researching. Not doing a hundred things in the limited timeframe on one day where I happen to have some energy.

I keep thinking about motherhood as a balancing act, but really it’s not me that’s balancing – it’s all the things in my life that I need to do or achieve to keep me, my little family and my aspirations running. It’s spinning plates – frantically running from one to another to give it another whirl, to keep it spinning in the air; all the while conscious that while I spin one, another is slowing down and starting to wobble. At any moment it feels like all my plates could crash to the ground.

Today I kept a few plates going a little longer by doing enough chores to keep me sane and to keep the house running smoothly. Right now I’m spinning another plate by writing this blog entry. But while I do this, I’m aware of others starting to slow down – plates about craft projects and gardening, researching and writing articles, photography or writing fiction. They’re starting to wobble because I only have so much time, energy and opportunity and I have to choose where I invest it.

The trick is not to let those plates fall completely. Keep spinning. Keep running from one to the other and hope for the best.

 

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The day we brought Morgan home from the hospital, our 2 year old, Sebastian, was over-tired and having a bit of a sugar crash. He slept in the car and woke when we pulled into the driveway – and immediately started crying and shouting ‘no no no no no’ when he realised the baby had come home with us. We’d tried to do our best to explain to him in advance that the baby was coming to live with us, but he didn’t really understand, I think, until that moment.

Since then, Sebastian has gotten better, although initially he was obviously resentful that I nursed the baby so often and wasn’t available for cuddles. He sometimes climbs into the bouncinette with a dummy he’s appropriated, playing baby. He lets the dummy fall out of his mouth and pretends to cry, mimicking Morgan, and I have to put the dummy back in his mouth and talk to him as though he’s a baby. I think this is a pretty healthy expression of the jealousy he feels over all the attention the baby gets – sometimes he needs to be the ‘baby’ again, to have my focus and attention in this way.

Sebastian’s grandparents have also been invaluable – Sebastian spends special solo time with both Alex’s mother and my parents, staying over night and having all of their attention. I’m lucky to have such help! 

Sometimes Sebastian is very affectionate with Morgan, to the point of being far too boisterous. I have to watch them together or Sebastian will try giving Morgan his dummy, or share his food with him, or touch the top of his still-soft head. Sometimes he’s still resentful, telling me to put the baby down or stop feeding him, because he wants my attention. But Sebastian is young enough that as time passes, he forgets the time before, when there was no baby and he was the centre of our universe. 

Sometimes I feel incredible guilt, for having a second child and taking away the special one-on-one, mother-son relationship we used to have. But then I think about the future, and how lovely it will be to have two boys so close in age, who will grow up together, play together and learn together. Morgan is just starting to smile, and I think Sebastian will start to find his brother a lot more interesting when they can interact.

Driving in the car yesterday, Sebastian pointed something out to Morgan, which made my heart warm. There’s a bond between siblings, and here I see the beginnings.

Sibling rivalry

My darling boys


 

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On the 86 tram in Northcote, I remember I used to live just near here. A few streets away in a little semi-detached unit with a friend. That supermarket was my supermarket. I worked on a theatre show right nearby. Used to go for drinks with friends at that pub. One time this whole street was closed for a festival and people wandered across the tram tracks, now where the cars are, and I was buffeted by the crowd and saw a friend, or a friend of a friend, some guy I used to play cards with.

Going farther back, I used to take the 86 tram to work. I lived a few suburbs back in a tiny one bedroom flat that I loved to pieces. In the hot weather I would sleep all day and stay up all night, chain smoking and writing and feeling so grown up (all of nineteen years old) and so cynical, like life had already rolled me over and pushed me aside. I was so very, very young then.

Now I take the 86 tram with my mother, toddler and infant son. The toddler has never been on a tram before and it’s a special treat, rather than the way I get places. How long since I have been in Northcote? How many years since that was my supermarket? In a way this is my life all the time now – walking streets and places I used to know, remembering how my life used to be and realising how quickly it changes. How different I feel now.

You don’t know how good you had it, I want to say to nineteen year old me, who stays up all night writing.

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Stay at home parents like me spend a lot of time doing things that are observed and judged by other people. I take my toddler and baby with me when I go shopping, the groceries I choose are visible in the basket or cart; the way I speak to my children and react and interact with them can be viewed and listened to when I’m out in public. Who they are, how they act and what they wear can be taken as a direct reflection of me – I’m the one they will spend the most time with at least until they start attending school. I choose their clothes, organise their haircuts, feed them and wipe their faces after. It’s with me that they will do a lot of their learning – my voice and words and behaviour they emulate. 

Being their mother is my job right now. Someone has to do it, and I want to, don’t get me wrong, but its a job. Unlike every other job, however, there’s no clear reimbursement for services rendered, no start and finish time, no set goals and achievable outcomes. But everybody, and I do mean everybody, thinks they get input into how I do my job. Everybody is my boss.

I found I got really defensive a few days ago when my partner innocently requested that I do something (to do with our grocery shopping) differently than I’ve been doing it. I got angry, because this is a task that I do 90% of the time and it makes sense for me to do. I have the time, the inclination, I know what needs to be bought and what foods the toddler is happy with fit now. Generally I have a fairly accurate idea of the contents of our fridge and pantry as I do a lot of the cooking too. 

A perceived criticism in the way I did this really got to me because its part of my job. I already feel ongoing Mama Guilt over the toddler not eating enough vegetables, or too much sugar, and that I don’t cook enough, or cook enough variety, and we don’t eat organically, and I buy snacks often without paying too much attention to the sodium or sugar levels, and none of this would be so bad if only we all watched a lot less telly which is probably evil.

I see articles online, and tweets and Facebook posts, that judge mothers, that make commentary on how they parent and how their children behave. Because society thinks it is my boss, that it gets to decide if I’m doing a good or bad job parenting, and those parameters change with who you’re speaking to. 

its hard because this is my job but my partner is parent too, he lives in this house too, and the things I do every day affect him. Where is the line for what is entirely my say and what we have equal input into? If I make most of the decisions because I’m the one that’s home, can he question them? How do you balance that, being fair to his personal investment and my need for autonomy? And sometimes I make so many of the decisions that I don’t want to make all of them, but they’re like cascading dominoes – I know what is in the pantry/fridge because I’m the one that did the shopping so I should decide what we eat for dinner even when it’s not my turn to cook. 

I think we don’t talk about this enough – that when one half of a couple stays at home, they become entirely responsible for the home, even when the other partner spends all their off time there. It’s then easy to become resentful over household and parenting responsibilities, because of lack of autonomy in some areas and far too much autonomy in others. This then affects the relationship, because that relationship exists within the context of the household and parenting, and its sometimes easy for us all to forget: this might be my home, but it’s also my job. One of us Goes out for work and comes home to relax, but I must somehow do both in the same space, when there is no 9-5 definition of start and finish for each.

A balancing act, and one I don’t know I’m particularly good at. 

Eagle_eyes.JPG

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My son is an incredibly cheerful, active and happy boy – he’s also a screaming mess when he doesn’t get his way. In many ways, toddlers are not like children at any other age, the same way you can’t compare a newborn to a ten-year-old. The cognitive processing is so different as to be alien.

I’ve recently had the joy of seeing my (almost) five-year-old nephew and niece several times, and because it was Christmas and there was food and presents and toys and territory involved, I saw a couple of meltdowns, or small instances where their parents enforced their rules and boundaries. In a way, I was envious – because as much as five-year-olds can shriek and tantrum as well as a two-year-old, at least they understand what you’re saying.

Enacting discipline with Sebastian is difficult on two fronts – firstly, because finding the language that he accepts and understands is like trying to find a door to Narnia, and secondly because he may not retain that information even if he does understand. But, of course, it has to be done.

Discipline, as I see it, is a matter of schooling your child on appropriate behaviour, and while this can shift depending on location and circumstance, it all has to be consistent. We have a few hard and fast rules (no biting, ever), some rules that come in to play circumstantially (if you’re screaming at me I won’t help you; if you keep screaming at me then it’s time out), and some rules that are effective according to location (what is appropriate for inside play is very different from outside play).

If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. We’re just muddling through, and trying new things, and seeing what works. There are a few things I don’t support, ever – physical punishment like smacking, scary yelling or abusive language (I differentiate scary yelling from yelling-across-the-backyard-to-be-heard by the fact that scary yelling involves anger or rage), acts of shaming or physical restraint.

The last one may not seem like much, but it’s important to me. I don’t like to be held down. It’s a horrible thing. I don’t want to be pinned to the floor, even if I’m yelling and screaming or trying to hit, so why would I do that to my toddler? If Sebastian is trying to hit/scratch/grab me, then I’ll deflect his hands, remove his hands, move away from him, but I would never physically pin him down to make him stop – I consider this a matter of body autonomy – and while different from the body autonomy that says ‘it’s okay not to kiss every adult who asks for it’, it’s still a matter of a child having a say and control over their own body. In relation to discipline, there’s a huge, huge difference between momentarily restraining a child because they’re in danger, or need to sit still for a doctor’s check/vaccination or they’re about to cause harm, and actively holding them down because you don’t like their behaviour.

Our current methods of discipline are probably a bit all over the place, because we’re discovering what works. Things that are working so far:

  • When Sebastian deliberately makes a mess (like yesterday drawing on the kitchen floor with chalk), he has to clean it up. I will help him, but I will also insist that he do it immediately. If he accidentally makes a mess I will usually do it, but more and more I’m noticing he wants to help.
  • He knows how to ask for help or something he wants politely, so when he demands and screams I tell him the way he’s speaking to me is not very nice, I don’t like it and I don’t want to help when he’s screaming at me. Amazingly, this works even when he’s bordering on a tantrum, and sometimes even calms him down because he has to focus on putting his words together in a calm manner and saying ‘please’.
  • When he hurts, even accidentally, he must say sorry. Adorably, he offers to kiss the hurt better, which to him means presenting his cheek to be kissed. Lately even when the hurt he’s caused was accidental he’ll offer up a kiss and a sorry spontaneously.
  • When he’s tired and cranky and getting frustrated with a toy and repeatedly screaming demands for help (to the point where the above technique of insisting on politeness isn’t working), he loses the toy. Today he lost his trains for his train set, and was told he could have them back after his nap. This was the first time I tried this, and it worked surprisingly well – he did cry and rage for a while, and even climbed into bed insisting he was going to nap immediately, he calmed down quickly and went to play with something else. I think having a clear time frame he could understand worked really well.
  • When he’s having a no-holds-barred tantrum, we have a two stage process. First I ask him if he needs to go to his room to calm down. Sometimes, and becoming more frequently, he actually runs off to his bedroom to have a bit of a rage in there, or to climb on his bed to self-soothe. Then he comes out when he’s ready. When that doesn’t work, he gets put in his room with the door closed and told he can come out when he’s calm. Currently we only do this for two minutes before sticking out heads in to check on him. But this does work for us – he comes out ready for a cuddle or wanting to play quietly.

These techniques are of course only what is working for us, right now, at this point in time. Things may change. There are some techniques we can’t do right now, such as a time out spot or chair – I’m too pregnant to chase after him if he leaves the chair and provide consistency. Thus putting him in his room and shutting the door is what works right now.

I try really hard to be consistent – to warn him of a punishment like room time or losing a toy before it happens, to explaining why I’m asking for certain behaviour, and praising him when he demonstrates appropriate behaviour on his own.

That’s the flip side to discipline I think – and just as important. I tell him when he’s behaved well, when he’s been good at listening or asking politely, and when he’s been patient while I complete errands and chores. I want him to know I appreciate when he’s making an effort at remembering what I ask. So it’s not all just doom and gloom when he does the wrong thing, but he gets signs of my pride and happiness when he’s doing the right thing. I love seeing the happy, proud look on his face when I praise him.

We muddle through.

We muddle through.

What are your tips for toddler discipline, or how did things change for you as your child got older?

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