The 24/7 Parent

Any of you following me from the beginning would know I was a nanny to two wonderful twins before becoming a mom. If there was one thing I can say with certainty, it’s that I was a pretty kick-ass nanny. I’ve always had this way of connecting with kids that made working with them just seem like a breeze.

When I became pregnant, all this experience with children gave me this illusion that I was prepared. I had been in the trenches, I had learned and perfected all the tricks. I was ready.

How wrong I was.

There is never anything that can prepare you for the complete lack of personal identity that sometimes goes along with being the ‘primary’ parent. Especially as the stay-at-home parent. It’s so constant and you lose yourself a bit in this role.

Add a global pandemic to the mix and it is enough to wear even the most mentally strong down.

Something they don’t tell you about becoming a parent is how isolating it can feel. In a way, it’s you and your child on this little island. You feel this overwhelming sense that no one else can care for your little as well as you can, no one can love them as fiercely, no one can give them as much as you can. Thinking this way can easily lead you down a path where you are a 24/7 parent and you slowly lose hold of yourself as an individual parent.

From the beginning, some of the choices I made set things in motion that would cause my daughter to be more dependant on me than my husband. This wasn’t the plan, but sometimes things just happen and you don’t realize what you’ve been doing until you’ve been doing it so long it’s hard to get back to a place to undo it all.

I solely breastfed.

Although I did pump, she didn’t take to bottles easier and it became easier for me to just constantly breastfeed. This eliminated some important bonding with my husband, and if I could go back and do it all over again, I would have buckled down and really tried to get them both into a routine of bottle feeding.

I co-slept.

This is a bit of a touchy subject for a lot of people. Doctors say it’s not ideal and not safe, but cribs are a modern invention and something mostly used in first world countries. Co-sleeping seemed like the best choice for me because I was hit with this brutal anxiety when my daughter came along and I would spend the whole night just staring at her, waiting for the tell-tale rise and fall of her chest to let me know she was okay. I couldn’t sleep without feeling her, without knowing without a single doubt she was okay. It also made night feeding so much easier.

These two things made my daughter completely dependant on me. It wasn’t long before I began to feel as though she was my whole life. I was with her through the whole of the day, and while a lot of parents got to turn off at night, she was my whole night too.

I had become a 24/7 parent.

She was my days, and she was nights.

This routine had become so cemented that I didn’t even realize my mental health slipping. What had started off as bouts of anxiety had turned into constant anxiety. I was exhausted and began having a lot of really low days. I would set aside times in the day to cry. I just felt so full to bursting with emotions I couldn’t sort through, I felt I needed to let it out and cry to purge myself and get on with the rest of the day.

The routine of getting ready and taking pride in what I looked like fell through the cracks and just basic maintenance was no longer a thing. I often showered with her because I couldn’t steal time away during the day to be alone. Which meant I often skipped on things and routines that made me feel good about myself for quick and convenience.

Looking in the mirror at the woman I was now almost hurt.

My pregnancy and anxiety had brought back the acne I thought I had battle and conquered in my early 20s. The dark skin under my eyes that had always been something I’d been self conscious about seemed darker and larger. My hair, once this full mass of happy curls, was now thin, brittle, and lack-lustre. Although I had never openly thought of myself as beautiful, suddenly the task of even looking representable seemed unattainable.

In an age of social media, it’s definitely more difficult to feel great about yourself as a parent who feels like they don’t have it all together. Instagram moms are an unattainable status. With these massive, clean houses, daily pictures where they looked flawless and children in coordinated outfits that just look so well behaved and happy.

Meanwhile I am wearing the same yoga outfit I have been wearing for days, my hair has been so neglected it’s somehow straight even though my hair is naturally curly, I am battling yet another breakout, and my child is lying in the middle of the living room in a pile of her toys while screaming at the top of her lungs. Where are these social media moms? Where are the ones that show the chaos, that show the unhappy daily moments, and make you feel less alone in your struggle?

Where are the moms who haven’t slept in their own beds in a week? Their nights spent curled up with their little because they just won’t stay asleep and it’s not worth trudging back and forth to your own room in the dark. Where are the moms who haven’t cleaned the house in weeks because any moment they are alone they marvel at just sitting by themselves, untouched? Where are the moms that cry while they’re making lunch because they know their toddler isn’t going to touch any of it?

Parenting is hard.

24/7 parenting is even harder.

I applaud any parent out there who spends the same amount of time I do with my daughter and hasn’t completely come unravelled. Although I love my daughter with every beat of my heart, I have never been so completely underwater in my life, just constantly drowning.

For any struggling 24/7 parents out there who, like me, are just struggling to keep their head above water, I SEE YOU.

I hope you find a way to navigate these treacherous waters.

Learning At Home With Your Toddler

Here in Toronto, Canada we are on the cusp of our second wave of the Covid 19 pandemic. Although I know a great number of people who were brave enough to send their children back to daycare and school, I knew after our personal brush with the virus we wouldn’t be one of those families. That meant I had to figure out how to provide my ever curious daughter with a learning environment at home where she could thrive until higher safety measures are in place or our city finds a new normal.

As a former nanny I can definitely see the benefit, even outside of a pandemic, of making a habit out of learning at home. With this “Play to Learn” education plan in place for a lot of Junior Kindergarten and Senior Kindergarten students in public schools, a lot of students don’t settle down into an actual curriculum until they are on to grade one, and at that point they are trying to play catch up.

I remember spending the summer before my kids (when I was a nanny) went to school teaching them both to write their names. It was a moment to be celebrated for the kids and myself. We worked really hard at it. I also remember a few months into school speaking to the teacher when I picked the kids up about one of them not knowing how to write their name and how we should be practicing that at home.

You can imagine my frustration.

Put simply, his new skill wasn’t being used enough during school for him to retain it, and I had gotten a little slack on our at home education because I felt they needed a break now that they were in school.

I think that experience definitely opened my eyes to some holes in our education system and how a lot of parents, regardless of your child’s age, are forced to take a more active role in your child’s education. I know a lot of this is about funding. Teachers are overworked and underpaid, and I definitely sympathize with that, but I don’t remember my mother ever having anything to do with our education when we were kids.

Outside of signing permission slips, my mother never had an active role in our education, thankfully so. I think if my mom got some of the notes my kids got when I was a nanny outlining all the things their teacher expected us to work with them at home, she would have done something overly dramatic like showing up at our school with a briefcase and asking out principal for her paycheque, since apparently she was a teacher now. (She would 100% do something like this.)

Being a nanny definitely opened my eyes. I live in the same neighbourhood I worked in, which means eventually my daughter will end up at the same schools. This is why I have always tried to do my best to get her comfortable with the idea of learning activities at home. I want her to be prepared going into school, and I want her to have those skills and not feel like she is drowning when she reaches grade one.

As soon as I could I introduced her to things like flash cards, learning songs, and cognitive play. A lot of my friends who are also parents often asked me how I get my daughter to sit for one to two hours every morning and do flash cards, puzzles, or scheduled activities. First, with everything and our children, it is mostly about routine. When you do something often enough, they get locked into that schedule and everything gets a little easier. Second, I find it’s so important to learn how to engage with your child in a way that entices them. Just like you, they are little people and they have interests. Play on those interests to achieve the desired learning result.

I recently have been reading up a lot about Love Languages, and how important it is to learn your partner and your child’s Love Language. If you’re familiar with that, you know everyone has different needs and everyone needs to be shown love in a specific way (if you don’t definitely read up on it to improve the important relationships in your life). Just as each person has their own Love Language, I feel every person also has a Learning Language.

How often has someone been teaching you something and you’ve pulled out a notebook and needed to write that down? Or how often have you not been able to grasp something when you read it but have someone show it to you and you get it down right away? Finding out your child’s Learning Language will definitely help you gear each and every activity to ensure your child’s success.

From a very young age, my husband and I both knew our daughter was musical. If it was singing George Costanza’s answering machine jingle to get her to stop crying in the car at four-months-old, or watching The Greatest Showman around the clock for around a year, it became abundantly clear our daughter’s whole mood could be changed with music. When she was about ten-months-old we learned that Music was her Learning Language. Whether it was singing what we wanted her to do, coming up with little songs for anatomy, or the alphabets, or even animals, she seemed to pick up anything extremely quickly if it was set to music. Luckily for us, in the age of Youtube, there is a kid’s song about everything under the sun which means, learning has come easily to our daughter.

When music isn’t working, games is a safe bet for pretty much every kid. Everything is always more fun when it’s a game, especially if your child has very limited interest in learning.

For one of my kids (nanny) Active Play was the best way to learn. He could pick up spelling if he was hopping from letter to letter better than he could reading a book or even singing out the spelling. Find out what your child is interested in and use that interest to make learning fun for them.

If you do this right, they will actively seek out activities where they are learning because they will relate your lessons to fun.

If I’m being completely honest, this will make it less painful for you as well. It’s getting hard out here for us parents. We have been quarantining with our kids, some of us have been doing remote learning and been thwarted back into a classroom we swore we would never go back into. Trying to force our kids to learn is just another thing right now that pulls at the thread of our mental health, and it’s okay to admit that. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to admit you had no intention of being your child’s teacher on top of everything else. We’re already chauffeurs, maids, assistants, nurses, chefs, friends, entertainment, and so many other things to our kids, a lot of us (especially those of us who made it through school by the skin of our teeth) had thought Thank f*ck our kids are in school and I don’t have to worry about all of that. Then of course 2020 came knocking, and by knocking I mean it kicked in our doors like we owed it money, and suddenly we are doing that too.

Once we created a learning space for our daughter in our living room, it made our mornings pass a little more quickly and just improved both our moods.

A lot of parents just don’t know where to start. As I said, we are not teachers. Just start with the basics. ABCs, counting up to ten, colours, and shapes are a great start for your and your toddler and flash cards for these are readily available and inexpensive.

Learning at home definitely benefits your toddlers, but it benefits you as parents just as much. You are teaching them basic understanding. Which means it will be easier to teach them outside of your little lessons, whether it’s teaching them to be a little more independent by being able to identify things and grab them themselves when asked, getting them to do tasks like brush their hair or teeth, or even just working on their listening in general. Any type of learning you do at home with your child is starting a solid foundation for their learning when outside the home.

Right now when everything, including your child’s education, is so unsure, put in the work to ensure your child is getting the exercise they need mentally as well as physically.

Tantrums and Terrible Twos

For those of you who have followed my blog since my Little Bean was in the oven, you’ll know she is 17 months now. One month shy of being a year and a half. So many of you are thinking, well, she has got about 6 months until she gets thrown onto the emotional rollercoaster of her toddler, feels completely overwhelmed, and becomes a patient at a facility to overcome everything that takes place during the Terrible Twos. 

Well,  buckle up people, have I got some terrifying news for you.

The Terrible Twos don’t always happen when they’re two!

Apparently, children don’t give two flying fluffy ducks about milestones and schedules. They do what they want when they want and you just have to deal with it as their parents. All those timelines and studies they’ve done to give you a rough idea of when things with happen? Just chuck those right on out the window, you’re in Crazy Town now and there are no maps. Up is down, and up, and sideways, and backwards, and down is anything is wants to be but always stops at a screaming toddler who bites when they are frustrated despite your best efforts.

I started to notice my daughter had a bit of an attitude to her as soon as she started walking which was around her 1st birthday. I remember sitting there thinking “This is way too much attitude for this tiny little person”. 

Every day she gets a little more and with that, takes a little bit more of my sanity away.

The word ‘No!’ is a bullet in my house, laced with hormones that explode and go all through her body every time I have the audacity to say it. Once those hormones have reached every corner of her body, she screams, turns red, throws herself on the floor and just goes haywire.

In the beginning, I found myself stepping in right away, trying to soothe her and talk her through it. After a bit of time I noticed the more I did this, the more often those tantrums happened. I found myself stepping back, letting the tantrums run their course and telling her I would talk to her again when she was done.

Some days, she just isn’t done.

*SIGH*

I think the most frustrating thing for a parent is trying to figure out if this is right? Am I doing the right thing? In the back of your mind and in the depths of your heart you tell yourself that if you were, it would be easier, and that thought alone plagues you with a pang of guilt that some days is crippling. There are days when the tantrums are constant and as a parent, especially if you are home with your little all by yourself, you just feel like a failure.

Then you go to bed, wake up, and for whatever reason, your child decides to skip the tantrums all together that day and you fond yourself wondering what went wrong the day before.

Children have very little logic. What is fun to them one day may drive them to hysterics the next. What they refuse to eat becomes a favourite food overnight and those moods are just as unpredictable. The lack of communication between you and your toddler never feels too obvious as when they are just flipping their noodle and you are sitting there begging them to give you some sign of what is wrong.

What does this mean for us logical adults trying to parent to the best of our abilities? It means sometimes we have to bend a little for our sanity. I think people try and make parents out to be martyrs. You’re either doing it exactly like all the studies say, to hell with your own health, or you’re a bad parent.

To those people, I have a very special finger on each hand.

Maybe step away from the 100% organic, homegrown, ethical treats and give them a goldfish cracker if it means it gives you the time you need to regroup and catch your breath. Ignore that article about how screen time is no good for our kids (even though every kid from like the 50s was raised in front of the TV and are completely functional), and put on a movie you know will keep them entertained enough for you to wash your face, brush your teeth, and do whatever you need to do. Even if it is just to sit in silence without a clingy baby clawing at you and screaming.

DO IT FOR YOU!

A happy parent, is a happy kid and it is going to take a lot of effort to remain even functional, let alone happy when the waves of tantrums start to roll in… trust me, I have a new patch of grey hairs that will attest to this.

Comparison is a one way street to depression. Please, please, please, don’t look at the woman at the park with the kid the same age who is playing happily, grinning ear-to-ear while yours lashes out and kicks you while you try and load them back into the stroller. They have been there, or they are going to be. Just because they are not going through it right now, in front of your eyes, doesn’t mean they are a better parent than you.

We are all great mothers (and fathers)!

When the junky snacks, mindless programming, and bargaining doesn’t work just remember, THIS IS ONLY TEMPORARY! 

However wrong they may have been by calling them Terrible Twos the one thing they did get right was that it isn’t going to last forever. Once your child is better able to communicate their needs with you and understand your responses to their requests (AHEM DEMANDS) it will get easier.

Hang in! Binge-watch shows while you are going to bed while cramming junk food in your mouth for your sanity, and maybe have a little cry every now and then. You just have to run out the clock…

YOU CAN DO THIS!

Toddler Mom Winter Blues

This is my second winter as a mommy, and I would have to say this winter has been tougher than the first.

Why?

My daughter was a September baby, which meant the first winter she wasn’t very mobile. I was still recovering from giving birth, so it’s not like I had any plans to do anything. Spending the whole winter in High Top Hanes Her Ways, with thick reading socks on and a shirt that was always either wet or stained from breastmilk while I binge-watched all the shows I had never gotten around to while working was the perfect way to pass the winter.

All her cries could be easily soothed with breastmilk or a diaper change. She was asleep more than she was awake and if I’m being honest, so was I.

This winter, she is big, she is mobile, and she is her own little person. The amount of attitude and sass is immeasurable and just like you or me, she gets bored on days when we are stuck inside. Typically, no matter how busy I keep her through the day, at around 3:00 pm, she is just over being inside and that is when her tantrums begin.

I have dealt with a lot of children in my time, and tantrums usually go hand-in-hand with children this age. That being said, the intensity of her tantrums still surprise me! (I will likely do a whole post just on tantrums later.)

She screams until she is beet red, pulls her hair, hits. This kind of tantrum was something I wasn’t expecting so soon and had thought would come more around the age of 2.

Lucky me, the Terrible Twos have come early and with an unrivalled intensity. YAY!

On a good day, 4:00 pm is her nap time. So typically, I let her ride the waves of her emotions and tantrums until she has tired herself out, sneak in with a bottle and she will pass out. However, sometimes this just doesn’t happen.

With staying indoors, it’s hard to really tire them out. There is so much unspent energy, sometimes she doesn’t go down for a nap at all.

One these days, the Winter Blues kick in super hard for me. My emotions are spent, my nerves are wound to the point of breaking, and that weight of parenting guilt so many of us feels becomes just too heavy to manage. I feel exhausted, worn down, and just so spent that each moment feels like an hour. My eyes are constantly glasses over, the threat of tears constantly there as I just try to make it through the day.

Parenting is HARD!

Parenting through the winter when you have a rowdy toddler who wants nothing more than to run around and play outside, is even harder.

My suggestion for any moms who are going through what I am going through is to reach out. Find moms in your area that can come over with their little for an hour or two and just lessen the weight for both of you. Go for a walk, even if the weather is awful and it’s just to the corner to get a coffee. Set play areas for you and your little that are inside, but close to the window on days when you can’t get out.

Making it through the winter in places with four seasons is tough. A lot of days the weather just doesn’t permit being outside with a child under 2. The past few days we have had winds so strong, they have blown her over when we ventured out to walk the dog. Nothing like a child turned into the wind, gasping for air as it blows into their face that ends up on their back to really improve both your moods. (Insert dramatic sigh here.)

Really, I am just trying to hold onto my sanity until Spring decides to make its appearance. With how the weather is here in Canada, Spring is almost never on time and we always have a teaser of Spring before we backslide back into Winter for another month or so.

*SIGH*

I got this. I can do it.

Helo!

Day 4 Of Weaning

The decision to start on the weaning process was not a difficult one to make for me. My daughter has gotten into the habit of feeding for every little thing and having my shirt constantly pulled down, whether at home or in public, was getting old really fast. I knew it would be difficult, my daughter has a big personality topped off with a whopping dose of drama, but I really didn’t think it would be this hard.

I did my research and came up with a game plan. I knew I wouldn’t go cold turkey because that seemed to have bad side effects for both mom and tot. The clogged breasts were enough for me to say I wasn’t going to try it, but knowing my daughter using feeding as a source of comfort, I didn’t want to completely rob her of that and leave her feeling as though she did something wrong.

My plan was to cut all feeding down to three times a day, which is substantially less than the dozen or so we were at before we started this process. There would be days where she would be in a mood and literally, all she would do is feed. Cutting it down to three was something I wasn’t sure if we could do the first day, but we made it through with a lot of screaming and tears (on both sides).

One feeding in the morning, one feeding before her midday nap, and then one at bedtime. Any other drinking outside of those three were going to be with cups and bottles and of course the solids.

At day 4, I have eliminated the morning feed. It’s easiest to keep her busy in the mornings and distract her from her need to feed with her solids and toys. Without them afternoon feed at this point, she won’t nap. I know a lot of moms reading this who have read somewhere that you shouldn’t nurse to sleep are probably thinking this is why. Sure, she needs to nurse to sleep at some points, but I also feel like as mother’s it’s our job to provide that level of comfort if our little ones need it, despite what some literature may tell us. I’m definitely not sorry I’ve been nursing her to sleep thus far, but it is a difficult habit to step back from.

However, with cutting back, it only takes a few short minutes of feeding for her to completely knock out, which is wonderful compared to the 30 or so minutes it took before that.

Her hate of bottles has really set us back a bit. Ever since she was a baby she just hated the nipples of a bottle and refused to take them. It’s definitely made my job a lot harder. Looking back, I probably should have pumped more and given my husband more of a role in the feeding process and it definitely would have made this weaning process that much easier. With co-sleeping and my lack of sleep, I was just doing was easiest and best for both of us at the time, and I regret not taking more of a bumpy road.

Live and learn, no going back now.

Of all the bottles we’ve bought, and we have bought quite a bit, I find she likes the Avent bottle the best.

I’ve heard great things about the Nuk ones as well, but we have a few of these and she just prefers the Avent ones. You can buy them from Amazon, Walmart, BabiesRus for our Canadian mamas. They’re sold pretty much everywhere as they are a popular brand, and this nipple is closest to my own, which is why she prefers it.

What I’ve learned when buying bottles is just stick with one. Buy a bottle, and just keep at it. Eventually, they will be okay with it. Switching out bottles constantly for preference (unless your baby has colic) only makes things more difficult and your baby fussier.

If you have a tot with as strong of a personality of mine, you are going to have to tough out some majorly bad behaviour. At this age, it’s hard to correct behaviour as their understanding is not really at a point where you can nip things in the bud. All you can do is stop them from doing what you don’t like and try and get them to do something else. My daughter is really bad for biting, although it seems to be something she just does with my husband and me when she loses her temper. I cover her mouth with my hand when she is going to bite me, gently push her face away while saying “No” and try and get her to do something else, like look at her book or play with her toys. It usually takes more than one attempt but takes fewer attempts than it did in the beginning.

When I first introduce the bottle, she likes to drop dramatically to the floor and “fake cry” (did I mention she was dramatic) eventually this fake cry will grow into a full-blown wail that eventually turns into an actual cry. In short, she works herself up. (YAY ME!)

In the beginning, I would pick her up and calm her and try again. I would do this over and over. It left me feeling like I had gone about ten rounds in the ring when I was done. Now, I let her finished her dramatics first and when she’s all but calmed herself, I step in to provide a little comfort. It’s extremely hard! I’ve never been the kind of parent that lets her cry it out for any reason, but stepping in too soon showed her tantrums got her what she wanted and lengthened the process.

It’s been rough both physically, mentally, and emotionally. All I can really do is pretend it’s a little easier than it is and tell myself the break of the storm is coming sooner rather than later.