Heart Healing

Today we’re featuring an amazing guest post (originally posted here) from mama Rachel, whose gorgeous baby girl happens to have been born with arthrogryposis (which you can read about here).

The littler Knights, the Princess and I (Rachel) just got back from an amazing week at the beach with my incredible family. We spent the week swimming in the ocean, jumping in the sand hole Auntie Laura graciously made each day, riding the waves, kayaking, breakfasts on the pouch and dinners in the gazebo. Really – it couldn’t have been any better (well maybe if Micah had been able to come– but probably not as he doesn’t like the beach at all).

We had a similar trip last year (although the weather was pretty horrible and we didn’t get to swim at all), and as I was sitting at dinner one night feeding my nine month old who loves (LOVES!) food but can’t actually feed herself due to her arthrogryposis, I was reflecting on where I was last year and what I thought life would be like this year. Last year I sat in the same spot, seven months pregnant, thinking and dreaming about what the next year would be like at the beach. I had visions of a nine month old crawler being chased as he or she explored all around, trying to keep sand out of his or her mouth, watching my sister’s little guy, three months older, fight for toys with my baby. I was excited and looked forward in anticipation about what our life would be like with three little ones.
(The littler Knights and I on our trip last year)

But then, life doesn’t always meet our expectations.

It makes sense really- how often does one dream of or expect heartache, pain, failures, and difficulties. I spent most of last summer taking my boys to parks, pools, beaches, and cookouts, excitedly envisioning what life was going be like once our third child joined our family– and then she came. Many of those visions and expectations had been wrong, and it was (is!) hard. It hurts.

Shortly after we had Jael, while we were still in the crazy time of meeting so many doctors and trying to get to know our sweet little girl and about her arthrogryposis, I was really struggling with the unknown of her future. I was (and am) working through the process of letting go of the dreams and expectations I had had for my life, her life, and my family’s life. It was during that time that Micah ordered the album by Aaron Shust called “Morning Rises.” Shust created the album after his third son  was born unexpectedly with Down syndrome. One of the things he wrote in the cover letter was this: “We were in shock, grieving the death of lost dreams in order to make room to dream up entirely new dreams for our son.” At the time, while I agreed with this, I didn’t really understand the process that would be. But now, this summer, I get it.
Each place I go this summer, each park, pool, beach, and cookout, I find myself remembering last year and  grieving what will not be the way I envisioned it. I am sort of reclaiming each of these places, taking the time to reflect where I was a year ago, grieving the unmet expectations and learning to thank God for what we will do instead. I’m learning that this heart healing is a process.
So our week at the beach this year was a mix of things I had expected and many more that I hadn’t. Instead of chasing crawling baby, I had an incredible experience at the University of Delaware setting Jael up to be part of a research program to help immobile children lift their arms. Instead of keeping sand out of her mouth, I was SO excited to see her play tug of war with my skirt because it required her to bend her arms a teeny tiny bit. She and her cousin did play together but with much less ‘fighting’ haha. And it was good. Better then good really. It was healing.

5 Things most couples do to ruin their marriage

I almost ruined my marriage. I take full responsibility for it. My wife would probably say the same thing, that she almost ruined our marriage. There wasn’t an affair or some huge break of trust. What we’re both realizing is that we each have complete control over the relationship.

That is, we both have ownership of the relationship.

We were doing five things that were guaranteed to ruin our marriage. Here they are:

1. They believe it is a team effort

“We have to meet halfway.”

“Just walk in their shoes for a day.”

“See the world through their eyes.”

These are all statements that us counselors have been saying for years and honestly it’s just not true!

Each of us has a responsibility to let the other know what we need and want. Also, we can each change the entire dynamic of a marriage by changing our mindset toward personal responsibility.

2. They divide chores

Dividing chores equally is a recipe for the ruinage (is that a word?) of a marriage. Each partner has unique qualities, likes, and dislikes. For example, my wife has a nose that can smell something a mile away. Therefore, when the trash develops an unpleasant odor, she hates it and would rather not take out the trash. For her, it means a lot if I take it out. If we equally divided the task, she would be miserable.

Further, there are times when one person works more or works less outside of the home. Also, we each have preferences. For example, I really like a clean kitchen and my wife really likes a clean bathroom. When chores are always divided, it builds a system that is more like a ledger.

3. They don’t have sex

Sex has a profound way of healing and hurting. Yet, it is not the act of having sex, but what each partner ascribes as meaning. Sex can mean any number of things to someone, here are just a few:

  • Am I loved?

  • Am I sexy?

  • Am I attractive?

  • Are we going to stay marriage?

  • Am I safe?

  • Do I have value?

  • Are they having an affair?

  • Does s/he care about me?

  • Is s/he creative?

  • Do they care about my needs?

  • I’m tired, does s/he even notice that?

Working through why a partner wants or doesn’t want sex, inevitably taps into deeper issues within the relationship.

4. They don’t find things to do together

I wasn’t into sailing when we first got marriage. In fact, I had several very negative experiences sailing prior to becoming an adult, including being capsized in the middle of the ocean.

However, my wife’s family had a sailboat. I’m not a strong swimmer and despite being raised on the water, I usually don’t like going for a dip. However, something remarkable happens when you join a spouse in an activity they love. You see a different side of them, create a situation where you can be vulnerable, and show that you are interested in something that drives them.

5. They stop dating

So many marriage researchers and counselors talk about “dating your mate.” It can be really hard to do, especially if you have little ones. However, here are a few things that happen when you start regularly dating your spouse again:

  • You are forced as a couple to talk

  • You have to find things to do that you can agree on

  • You create new experiences to talk about later

  • You start to remember why you first fell in love

  • You build a sense of adventure and exploration

What you are going to ruin

Every couple is on the brink. No matter how solid our relationships are, they can fall apart. The gravity of a divorce should give us pause to explore what we are doing to ruin a marriage. We each need to take ownership of our own needs and wants. We need to divide chores less equally and more functionally. We need to have sex more and work through the difficult conversations. We also need to find things to do together and date more often.

Marital satisfaction drops after the first child and usually does not recover until the last child leaves the home, if at all. In order to grow and flourish we need to stop ruining our marriages and start taking responsibility for the type of relationships we want.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a husband, father, author, and the owners of Mental Wellness Counseling a Traverse City, MI Counseling Practice. He is also a business and marketing blogger. He now loves sailing!

Apples, Oranges, and Bananas: Why the Mommy Wars Are Stupid

The latest in my series of blog posts with inflammatory titles.

Can we talk about the mommy wars? Just for a few minutes? Because I hate them with the burning passion of a thousand dying suns. I hate how they add stress (like we need more!) to parenting. I hate how they pit women against each other. I hate how they distract us from more important issues, like the fact that the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not provide paid maternity leave to its mothers. But, as infuriating as those things are, what I hate most of all is that they are based upon the entirely ridiculous notion that it ever makes sense to compare a mom to another mom.

You guys, can we just stop? Can we just stop comparing moms and stop comparing kids and stop simultaneously lionizing and demonizing every decision that anyone with a uterus ever makes? I say this not only because I am personally resistant to being categorized, but also because I just find the entire stinkin’ thing utterly exhausting. Do you, too? Wanna grab a drink or a water or an organic, probiotic, vegan smoothie or, really whatever you are into?

Look, I’ve been a working mom. I’ve done the full-time daycare shuffle, the parental negotiations over who stays home from work with the sick kid, the I’m-going-to-lose-it-if-anyone-else-schedules-a-5pm-meeting dance. I’ve worked part-time outside of the home, and figured out how to even find part-time daycare, how to handle health insurance, etc. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom trying not to blow my budget on kid craft supplies or lose my marbles due to sheer lack of adult interaction. And these days I’m a work-at-home mom, juggling deadlines and naptimes, doing housework during business calls. I’ve been all of these things, and I can’t even say, within my own personal experience, that one was better or worse or harder or easier than another. They are just different. The good parts are different, the stressors are different, and I’m not even sure I could pick a favorite. And if I can’t even compare across these different work situations within my own experience, how on earth does it make sense to compare between different women?
It doesn’t! And I can prove it…with a list! Here are 4 reasons why the Mommy Wars simply don’t make sense:

  1. Most women don’t get to pick what they do: Raise your hand if you’re working because your family can’t afford your mortgage if you don’t! Raise your hand if you are working because you are a single mom! Raise your hand if you are working because your partner is out of work! I see loads of hands! Now the flip side: Raise your hand if you stay home because you can’t afford daycare! Raise your hand if you’re staying home because you have a kid on the spectrum, or with a disability, or with a life-threatening allergy, and there isn’t adequate care in your area! Raise your hand if you’re home because you lost your job when you told your boss you were pregnant! Lots more hands! The Mommy Wars presume that everyone has the option of choosing whether, where, and for how long they work, and that simply is not an accurate reflection of the real world.
  2. Different women enjoy different things: News flash – loving your job doesn’t make you a bad mom. Having an appreciation for hanging out with little kids doesn’t undermine the notion that women can be strong, independent, professionals. If you are lucky enough to be in a position to choose, you should choose the thing that you love! We can all agree that a happy mama is better for the whole family, right?
  3. Kids are different, too: Let me tell you about my kids. My eldest daughter is very bright and also very anxious, and she does best if she has easy access to a trusted grownup to help her get out of her rapidly intensifying panic spirals. My younger daughter just wants the occasional high five and is otherwise good to go, playing on her own for good long spells. I parent them differently because their needs are different. Any suggestion that there is one perfect mom archetype does an enormous disservice to the diversity of children’s personalities.
  4. Pinterest is a lie: All of that picture perfect stuff on the internet? It’s misrepresenting reality. If you only shared your very best pictures and your happiest thoughts, you’d seem perfect, too. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on the positive – far from it! I am saying that, at least for me, any time that I post an extra-cool craft pic, it’s a safe bet that the bathrooms need cleaning or that there’s a sink full of dirty dishes.

There is some good news about the Mommy wars – we don’t have to fight! In fact, I’m going to suggest a treaty. Here are the terms: except in the case of abuse, I’m going to assume that you are doing the best you can, and if I see you in public during a time when your kids are being unruly, I’ll give you my best sympathetic eye contact. I’d appreciate it if you’d give me the same consideration!

Why You Should Consider Taking Fewer Pictures of Your Kids

In my daughter’s first year, I took something like 11,000 pictures. Just of her. I am not even exaggerating the number. And this was before every phone was a camera and so that meant I had an actual camera in my hands for what was probably too many hours out of every single one of our days together.

Why too many? Turns out that the thousands of pictures we’re snapping of our kids may be affecting how we remember their childhood – and how they remember us when they think back on it.

From NPR.org:

Maryanne Garry, a psychology professor at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, is trying to figure that out. For years, she’s studied the effects of photography on our childhood memories.

“I think that the problem is that people are giving away being in the moment,” she says.

Those parents at the park taking all those photos are actually paying less attention to the moment, she says, because they’re focused on the act of taking the photo.

“Then they’ve got a thousand photos, and then they just dump the photos somewhere and don’t really look at them very much, ’cause it’s too difficult to tag them and organize them,” she says. “That seems to me to be a kind of loss.”

Not just a loss for parents, but for their kids as well.

“If parents are giving away some of their role as the archivist of the child’s memory, then they’re giving away some of their role as one of the key people who helps children learn how to talk about their experiences,” she says.

The idea that we are experiencing less as we record more got thinking. Her father was a photographer, and she wanted to explore how photographs shape our memories.

Henkel, who researches human memory at Fairfield University in Connecticut, began an experiment by sending groups of students to the university’s art museum. The students observed some objects and photographed others. Then, back at the laboratory, they were given a memory test.

Henkel found what she called a “photo-taking impairment effect.”

“The objects that they had taken photos of — they actually remembered fewer of them, and remembered fewer details about those objects. Like, how was this statue’s hands positioned, or what was this statue wearing on its head. They remembered fewer of the details if they took photos of them, rather than if they had just looked at them,” she says.

Yikes, right?

Time and attention are other factors. Every minute you spend behind the lens (or your iPhone) is a minute that you weren’t experiencing that moment with your kids. A couple of photos here and there won’t eat up too much of that precious time but if you’re snapping away constantly like a documentarian it may be time to examine your priorities. Are you parenting through a lens? Could be, and that’s a scary thought. Will your kids remember you or remember your camera?

Nowadays I’ve learned my lesson and spend less time snapping pictures are more time engaging with my kids. On our recent trip to Florida, the camera battery ran out in just a few days and it was perfect. I didn’t need more identical photos of my kids at the beach – I needed to be there with them in the water not worrying about dropping a device. It’s hard to dig for clams with a camera in hand, after all.

A Letter to the Mom of the Screaming Baby on the Plane

Dear mama,

Yes, I can hear your baby. I can see you both, too, when I get up to go to the bathroom because you’re only a few rows back. You’re avoiding eye contact with everyone around you, tearing frantically through your bag while trying to engage your yowling little one in a game of peek-a-boo. And I feel for you.

I have been in your shoes, flying solo with a baby who decided to exercise his lungs all the way from Nashville to Boston. Literally from takeoff until touchdown.

I have sat hunched over in the middle seat blocking my baby in his Britax with my body from the view of the aisle seat occupant as if that would make us all invisible to one another. Knowing all the while that people rows ahead and rows behind were clucking their tongues in disgust at the caterwauling they couldn’t escape.

Not that I could escape it, either. I couldn’t even get up to go to the bathroom because it was just me and my screaming baby with no co-parent on the flight. Picking the baby up didn’t do anything to stem the tide of howls anyway (even if I did briefly consider taking my beautiful bundle of volume into the pantry sized potty just for a change of scene). And if picking him had been a viable option? That would have meant revealing ourselves to a plane full of people who probably hadn’t paid good money to listen uncontrollable sobbing for 943 miles. Keeping a low-profile seemed like the mannerly thing to do.

I know how it feels to want to don a parachute-Ergo hybrid, rip open an Airbus 320 door at 30,000 feet, and take the plunge to escape the judgmental stares of a sea of strangers. So I have something to say to you and all the other mamas flying solo with babies who for whatever reason can’t seem to relax and enjoy the trip.

Just stop.

Stop the endless shushing that we both know isn’t doing anything. Stop trying to read yet another board book through the noise. Stop offering a cycle of snacks and toys and pacis and juice and books and crayons at breakneck speed – loudly enough so the passengers around you can hear.

Remember, I’ve been there, which means I know that what you’re doing is not trying to comfort your baby who is now past the point of no return. Instead you’re trying to make sure that your fellow travelers – especially the ones who gave you the stink eye the moment you stepped onto the plane with a baby in your arms – know that you are doing something… anything to calm that sound machine in the car seat next to you. You’re not just letting your baby scream, you’re doing something about it. Trying to, anyway.

In other words, you have been making shushing noises for the last 45 minutes to make sure everyone knows you’re a good mom. Even if you’re the mom with the screaming baby.

But you know what? Those people who are silently or even not so silently judging you are going to judge you no matter what you do. They’re not going to see that your entire carry-on bag has been packed full of age-appropriate diversions from graham crackers to toy cars and your little one’s favorite lovey plus fifteen spare pacifiers. They will never know you came oh-so-prepared. The minute those folks saw a baby, they had you pegged.

And the moms like me who have been where you are right now aren’t going to judge you no matter what you do. Or don’t do. We know that sometimes babies are just gonna wail. Maybe it’s the air pressure popping little ears or a nap got skipped, but in any case there is nothing you can do.

So sit back. Press the call button and get yourself a tiny bottle of sub-standard wine. Or two! While you’re not going to relax and enjoy the trip if your baby refuses to do the same, that doesn’t mean you have to spend the next however many hours stressing out or, worse, beating yourself up. You know you’re a good mom. I know you’re a good mom. You shouldn’t have to playact to prove it to a plane full of strangers you’re never going to see again.

3 tools that couples can use every day to save their marriage that take less than 5 minutes

By: Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC

The 18 months after my daughter was born were terribly tough for us as a couple. My daughter was diagnosed with a heart condition and she needed open heart surgery right before her first birthday. She was on medication that caused her to wet her diaper frequently, but she could only drink a few ounces because she got so tired. She’s only sleep 1-2 hours at a time. Then after the heart surgery I was diagnosed with cancer.

Now that we’ve been in the clear of health issues for over a year, we look back at the habits that we fell into as a couple. As a counselor that works with couples, I too had to step back and reset my marriage to help it regain health. These three tools shifted our unhealthy habits into magnets for relationship intimacy.

It’s all about the ratio

Marriage researcher, John Gottman, has found an interesting ratio. Couples that have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative are less likely to divorce. This means that if I was to watch you interact with your spouse over the course of the week I could tally your positive and negative interactions. If we looked at that data, what would your ratio be? Quick changes of adding more positive interactions will change your direction.

It is not a partnership

In Hal Edward Runkel’s book, The Screamfree Marriage, he discusses being more self-centered. Each one of us needs to take responsibility for how we view the world. Changing our reaction to situations will change the dynamic of a relationship. Like a fire, when one element changes, the entire system changes. If we are unhappy, need something, or want change, articulating this and planning for action to meet our needs helps create honesty in the relationship.

Be a permission-giver

In retrospect, I was a jerk. In the first 18 months of my daughter’s life, I had the same expectations for our house as prior to having a baby. Giving permission to one another to let some things go, goes a long way. As well, giving yourself permission to not always “have it all together” helps reduce stress. Couples that reduce expectations for a period of time, often find that they are better able to connect to the bigger things in life.

When couples take 5 minutes to focus on the 5:1 ratio, respectfully articulate their needs and desires, and give themselves and one another permission to reduce expectations, a healthy marriage is a natural outcome.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is the owner and a counselor at the Traverse City counseling clinic, Mental Wellness Counseling. He is the author of Mental Wellness Parenting: A Remarkably Simple Approach to Making Parenting Easier. He has an infographic about what his stay-at-home wife is worth on his website. He is still cancer-free and his daughter is sleeping through the night!

Mommy Breakups Are Hard to Do

So, I don’t know if you knew this, but I’m a mom.

Yeah, I know, I’m kind of surprised, too.

Anyway, life gets different when you have kids, and sometimes those differences lead to pain – and I’m not talking about the C-section incision. That’s right, I’m talking about the rash of friend breakups that happen when you have kids, ranging from intentional, fast, and explicit to the slow but inevitable drifting apart.

I’m just recovering from the world’s Most Awkward Mom Breakup. Picture this: shortly after moving cross-country with an 18-month-old, I manage to meet a nice gal with a daughter just a few months older than mine. We bond over mutual hippie values and the girls rapidly become best friends. We average at least one playdate a week for two years. Then I have a baby and write a blog post and suddenly she tells me, in response to my question about whether she will bring her daughter to my kid’s 4th birthday party, “now that you have two kids, we just don’t have that much in common anymore.” Uh-huh. Fast forward three months of zero contact, and I get the mother of all mommy breakup emails. In true breakup email form, it even talks about how she will always love me, but she needs to move on with her life.

Yowch.

Anyway, this whole experience has led me to think about better and worse ways to handle mom breakups. Obviously YMMV, and you have to think about the personalities involved, but here’s what I came up with.

  • Scenario 1: a new friend turns out to have a parenting style that just completely freaks you out. Breakup style: quick, clean, and impersonal. “You seem nice, but I don’t feel like we see eye to eye.” You can do this one by text or email without guilt.

 

  • Scenario 2: you love the mom, but your kids fight like wild dogs. Breakup style: honest, create opportunities for alternative meetings. “I love hanging out with you, but the way our kids fight stresses me out. Maybe we should take an art class together, sans kids, instead?” Try to do this one in person. Oh, and a side note: with older kids, this breakup becomes unnecessary – have a coffee date with your mom friend before going to work while your kids are at school!

 

  • Scenario 3: you’ve just drifted apart. Breakup style: let it be – unless it’s one-sided. If you’ve both reduced the intensity and frequency of contact, there’s really no need to have a formal breakup. If, however, you’re not feeling as close, but your friend is still contacting you a lot, it’s worth requesting a break. I’d be gentle; “things have been crazy lately and I’m just trying to focus more on my family right now. It’s nothing personal, I just need a break.”

 

  • Scenario 4: the kids love each other, but you want to claw your eyes out whenever you spend time together. Breakup style: If your kids are too young for dropoff playdates, either switch to activity-based get-togethers where there is less need to interact, or just nuke the relationship from orbit and tell her, “it’s great that our kids get along, but it seems like we don’t have a lot of common ground.” If your kids are old enough to drop off, do it!

 

  • Scenario 5: things just get…weird. (My personal example: the time one of my mom friends asked if we could swap husbands for a night. Not my style, not even a little bit!) Breakup style: quick and clean…or just let it end. Depending on how much drama would ensue, you can either say, “um, hey, that thing that happened? Totally freaky.” Alternatively, just schedule playdates less and less frequently until you feel okay stopping altogether.

I want to close by saying: mom breakups happen. Over the course of your life, you’ll almost certainly be on both the giving and receiving end of these, and that’s okay. There’s no need to take it personally! Plus, you can always make new mom friends – with 35 million moms with kids aged 18 or younger just in the U.S., even if your former friend was one in a million, you can still find 34 more!

Do you have an awkward mom breakup story? Please share in the comments!

Advice for New Moms You’ll Never Read in a Magazine

Whoever first said don’t sweat the small stuff obviously didn’t spend a lot of time around new parents. New parents sweat ALL the stuff. They read a lot, too, buying magazines and books and bookmarking blogs to find out how their babies should be sleeping and eating and when they should be rolling over and how early is too early to apply to an ivy league preschool, anyway? But in the day to day when moms and dads are sweating that small stuff – the strained peas in the cracks of the high chair and the diaper that will simply not stay on – all those magazines, books, and blogs aren’t much comfort.

local moms - parenting adviceHere are seven things I think all new parents should know because they are a comfort when the going gets tough and they might just help moms and dads sweat the small stuff that much less.

It doesn’t matter that much how you feed your baby. While some babies (like preemies or babies with allergies) have special needs that make breast milk or formula or even certain kinds of specialty formulas the very best possible food, most babies most babies are going to do fine whether they nurse exclusively for six months, get bottles of formula from day one, or eat some combination of breast milk and formula. The benefits of breast milk and the dangers of formula have been exaggerated – and I’m saying this as someone who fought like hell to breast feed. Any neonatal nurse will tell you what’s most important is feeding the baby.

There will come a time where you will feel like the worst mom or dad on the entire planet but not for the reasons you might expect. You will get used to turning around to find your crawler eating what the cat puked up in some secret spot. That thud sound that clumsy toddlers make when they fall head first onto the hardwood will cease to even make you cringe. My own worst mama moment came when I got rid of a doll that my daughter had not played with – had not even seen – for six months. (It was bald and had no eyelashes and someone had drawn on its face and I had just plain never liked this doll.) Cut to me bawling in the bathroom at regular intervals when not a week later my daughter began a frantic search for that stinking doll.

Milestones don’t matter much. The big list of things babies and toddlers and kids should be doing by whatever age has become a kind of bible we all reach for when we want a little reassurance that our little ones are normal – or confirmation they’re ahead of the curve. But children do what they do on their own schedules not on ours, which is important to remember when yours is the only one not talking or walking or reading or riding a bike. And sometimes you have a child who you know will probably not meet the major milestones on time or at all, so you adjust your expectations and you learn to find joy in accomplishments that will never make it into the pages of a parenting magazine.

Kids are washable, and clothes can be thrown out. This should be obvious but I’ve watched too many parents try to maneuver a poop-soaked undershirt over a sobbing, squirming baby’s head, hoping to salvage the shirt without smearing the kid. It’s an undershirt (or a onesie or a dress or a pair of tiny overalls) – just grab a pair of scissors and cut it off and throw it out. Let your kids play in the dirt, don’t worry so much about the clothes which can be picked up cheap if you buy secondhand. Let them eat berries and ice cream in a cone and let them roll down grassy hills. Let them be kids and know that it helps to not get too attached to the clothes.

You’re going to lose your cool. You may use some colorful language of the kind you swore you’d never use in front of your children. You might even throw something. Chances are the first time you have an epic freak out because of something your kids did or didn’t do is not going to be during their teen years. It might not even be during their school years. I am horrified to admit that I yelled at my reluctant nurser after a particularly terrible 48 hours of trying and failing to breast feed. Luckily my small bundle of joy responded with great serenity to my 3 a.m. shouts of “Why won’t you just freaking EAT?” Luckier still, bigger bundles of joy are very forgiving.

The world is a big, confusing, and sometimes scary place for little people. You have twenty or thirty or forty years of experience to help you understand the whys of everyday life. Like why it’s important to be on time or why some sorts of things happen at certain times of day. Why it’s so important to always say please and thank you. Or even why it’s not a good idea to smear yogurt all over the living room rug. Societal conventions that make perfect sense to you can seem mind-bogglingly bizarre to a three year old. A three year old who is trying to make sense of a world where everything from kitchen tables to other people are absurdly huge. Be forgiving when children lack logic – they’re still learning.

You don’t have to feel guilty if you don’t want to. Like about anything. Everyone makes mistakes but if you’re not abusing your kids, you give them the necessities all the time and the extras when you can, and you love them plenty then you are already doing a damn fine job. Even if you raise your voice more than you think you ought to or go to McDonald’s a lot or are secretly bored out of your head at your kids’ sports games. Everything else you do above and beyond loving them and keeping them safe and healthy is icing on the cake. There are literally hundreds of millions of articles and blog posts about mother guilt and the assumption is we’re all parenting under the weight of it but guilty mothering doesn’t translate into good mothering.

Remember, moms and dads, that you are doing a good job. In fact you are probably doing a better job that you will ever give yourself credit for!

Local moms

14 Things You Should NEVER Say to a Pregnant Woman

Was it planned?

First, none of your beeswax. Second, seriously none of your beeswax. If you don’t know the mom well enough to know if she was trying for a baby or not then you don’t know her well enough to ask that kind of question.

Ooooh, you’re getting BIG.

Most women spend their lives trying to avoid gaining weight. During pregnancy it’s pretty much inevitable that it’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. The big in the above comment probably refers to the pregnant person’s belly but you never know how she is going to interpret such a pressure-laden word.

You must be having a BIG baby!

See above. Variations include: Is your husband tall? and Are you sure you’re not farther along?

Don’t worry, you’ll lose the baby weight if you breastfeed.

Since when it pointing out someone’s weight okay? Oh right, since never. Ditto for asking a pregnant mama how much weight she has gained or how she plans to lose it.

You’re really eating for two, huh?

Comments about what and how other people are eating are never mannerly. Just because the person in front of you is pregnant doesn’t suddenly make it socially acceptable.

During labor I ripped from here… to here!

We’re all tempted to tell pregnant friends our labor and delivery horror stories and we should share… when the time is right. Like after that pregnant friend has her own labor and delivery story to add to the convo.

Sleep/take a vacation/go to dinner/remodel/etc. while you still can.

Um, sleep is not something you can put away and earn interest on like money – and speaking of money, if a mom can go on a vacation (please don’t say babymoon ever again - that word is uuuugly) she probably has it under control with no prodding necessary.

Are you going to give birth naturally?

Holy loaded question, batman. And probably not one you should not be asking. Some moms-to-be just don’t know until they’re in the delivery room and that’s okay. Plus, none of your beeswax.

Make sure you’re getting enough rest!

Okay there, Dr. Notadoctor. I’m pretty sure that any mom who can rest is resting. The rest of us spend the nine months of pregnancy parenting our other children, working at our jobs, and generally taking care of business. Yes, we’re tired. No, putting up our feet is not always an option.

Can I touch your belly?

Pro tip: If you have to ask, the answer is probably going to be no.

You must be hoping for a girl/boy.

A good mom friend will already have told you if she’s hoping for a girl – and not just any girl but a future prima ballerina assoluta. If she hasn’t, you probably should refrain from making assumptions about what she is or isn’t hoping will be between her baby’s legs.

Are you planning for more?

Um, wayyyyy to jump the gun. Chances are if she’s older than 25 this mama has spent the past few years being asked when she was going to finally have this baby so just leave her alone for a few months, okay?

You’re definitely having a boy/girl because your butt/boobs/everything is getting so big!

Can we just make a rule that you never, ever use the word big in reference to a pregnant woman’s… anything?

Do you know who the father is?

WTF, people. WTF.

Easy Gifts You Can Give Yourself When It’s One of Those Days

Most of us wouldn’t trade the title Mom for anything, but you have to admit that motherhood sucks some days. Even the best kids can still be messy, mouthy, and a real pain in the ass some days. Working moms get to deal with messy, mouthy, pain-in-the-ass colleagues, too, but the end result is all moms are dealing with these things all the time. Weekdays and weekends, too, and no, you don’t get holidays off. No one is going to just stand up and say, “Mama, take a break.”

Except for me, that is.

Mama, when it is one of those days and you’re tearing your hair out and you just can’t take it anymore you need to GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. I know you cannot simply walk out of your house, get into your car, and keep driving, but there are things you can do right now, today, and on the cheap to make one of those days a little better.

Order a pizza: Unless you’re one of the lucky moms with a partner who handles meals you are probably responsible for putting dinner on the table. Tonight? Screw the braised steak tips with organic asparagus and call Dominoes. Or have leftover cake for dinner. Pancakes. Drive-thru fries. Whatever your go-to naughty alt, set it up and call it a day. Better yet, make it a party – fun for the little ones with the added benefit of helping them understand they can’t expect leftover cake for dinner again tomorrow.

Have a family time out: When your kids have been simply awful all day it might seem counter-intuitive to treat them to a movie but if the alternative if having to converse… well, sometimes the silence bought with a Netflix subscription is golden. You’re spending time together with almost zero chance of further bickering. Everyone gets a chance to calm down together.

Lock yourself in the bathroom: I am not kidding. Bring supplies (wine, a magazine, chocolate, your phone, etc.) and let the family know they’re not allowed in for an hour. If bubble baths aren’t your thing feel free to stand under a hot shower for as long as the water temperature holds. Paint your nails. Answer some work emails. Moms who only have one bathroom can lock themselves in bedrooms, the garage, whatever. Get in the car and sit in the driveway with some music blaring if your kids are old enough to look after themselves for a bit. Just get away from your children for as long as it takes to remember why you love them.

Take yourself out: Got a sitter or a willing partner? I’m one of the few people I know who really likes dining alone but most of the people I know who balk at the idea have never actually tried it. Leave the little ones with your partner and take yourself out on a date. Dress up, put on some lip gloss. Eat at the bar if you feel weird about getting a table for yourself. Bring a book at read The Atlantic on your phone. And enjoy a meal that doesn’t involve picking half-eaten bread up off the floor.

Take your kids out: Again, counter-intuitive, but if there’s a soft play gym nearby where they’ll require minimal supervision you can stare into space until you feel like a human being again. This is what you need to do when you don’t have anyone jumping up to take your kids off your hands for a few hours. You take them somewhere they can utterly exhaust themselves in a space where they are unlikely to injure themselves or anyone else. Everyone wins.

It’s like they say: When mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy. Your mental health is important because if you’re freaking out your kids are going to know it. Your partner is going to know it. So take a break, even if it’s nothing more than a pseudo break that just gets you through the next hour. And for goodness sake, don’t start feeling guilty about it. You work hard; you deserve it.