Crafting your sense of self

The myth covers only one perspective – maybe Narcissus wasn’t admiring himself in the pool: maybe he was trying to get a sense of himself in the eyes of Other People. Yes – he fell in love with himself – where else was he getting a reflection of self? Who else was offering him a deeper idea of who he is? How else is he going to figure out himself?

In that same way, kiddos receive feedback about who they are based on the reflection from adults in their lives. It’s part of raising kids – and many times it happens under the surface and we don’t even realize how we’re doing it. They pick up on the slight frown, or the sharp exhalation when they say something, or the brightness in our eyes when we see them in the morning, and the open smile. They get a sense of their value and importance in our lives and their own from what they see in us.

As they get older, these non-verbal cues are still important to the developing sense of their adult self. Important information is also gleaned through the words we use and the topics we discuss with them: whether we entrust them with more mature concepts and ‘heavier’ issues. We may feel that they’re not yet ready to tackle these higher level issues, but they do. It can be construed as criticisms and negativity when we don’t include them.

Sensitivity to those slights and criticisms increase, and they hear it louder and more boldly than we may intend. As their map of this adult world expands, they become aware of how their words and actions impact those around them in a more mature way – hence part of the typical self-centered-ness we often see in teens.

A benefit to having two adults in the house is that the adults can help each other see the positives in the kiddos, and gently point out if there have been too many critical comments (haha, or maybe not so gently). When it’s a single parent household with few external adult relationships, all the roles fall into the purview of the present parent.

When drama is unfurling its flag and my view of trio is hazy, it’s helpful for me to take a step back and create some space. It’s easy to lose sight of the bouncing ball that keeps me on track of being the Parent and Modelling. So – to create space between stimulus and reaction where I can check in with myself, breathe, and find out what’s really going on inside. I don’t want trio to create a vision of themselves that is skewed to my reactions and what’s going on inside of me: whatever triggers or thoughts or stresses that I’m working through doesn’t even involve them and I don’t want them to think it’s because of them. But since they have a tendency to think it’s all about them, it can be tough to adequately express that it’s my issue, not theirs (and then they have to realize that I have issues too! That’s a lot for kiddos to absorb).

A wonderful piece of advice was given to me when trio were small: they’re going to be screwed up. I’m going to screw them up. That’s part of being human. We are all imperfect and will all have areas for growth. And it’s wonderful and beautiful and very normal. Humans who know they are imperfect have great potential for growth. Maybe helping trio see that will help them be open to growth and development now and later in life.

xo
Mto3

 

Advertisements

Embracing the chaos…

My house is perpetually messy. There are always too many pairs of shoes in the closet (or on the floor outside the closet). Coats are hung on the backs on chairs or the slung onto doors. My walls are filled with framed art from trio’s school years. There are photos tacked onto a big section of the wall of kids with marker on their faces, drips on their shirts, and smile-less mouths. The sink often has baking utensils ‘soaking’ until I get around to washing them.

But! We also have a calendar on the fridge with the week mapped out – lunches, after school activities, my work schedule, dinner responsibilities, and due dates. I will forget things if I don’t write them down. There’s another full month calendar tacked to the wall with a different set of information for the month – birthdays, sleepovers, who fed the dog that day, chore lists, and weekend plans. I have a personal agenda for my items that don’t involve trio. And finally, a white board for daily lists, notes, and reminders to communicate among all of us.

It is a tough thing, developmentally speaking, to hold onto two opposing sensations: it’s typically an either-or mindset. I am both organized and woefully chaotic at any given time. Many of us have experienced being happy and sad at the same time, or feeling anxious during peaceful moments. We seek to tip the scales into one ‘bucket’ to help us make better sense of our environment – and ourselves. How can I define myself if I’m two opposite things? What category can I fit into if I’m two (or more) of the options?

A recent learning for me has been to recognize those dichotomous feelings – just naming it helps bring it into the light – and letting them both be. Be true in that moment. Be true at the same time. Be not true at the same time.  There is a reluctance to allow space for contrast, as though one of them must be “bad” and therefore undesirable. But remove that label on these feelings and let them be just even for a moment to recognize them.

I walked doggo around the neighbourhood tonight. It was cool outside, and breezy and he was staying by my side so nicely. And I had an unexpected knot of anxiety suddenly roil in my belly. Huh?
I thought I felt relaxed.

This was a moment to practice that it’s fiiiiine to feel both anxious and calm, without judging or nitpicking the feelings. Just “yep, this is what I feel right now.” Just embracing it and then letting it go.

Eldest made a funny comment the other day and referenced Schrodinger’s cat – so many layers on why it was funny – but I really appreciated that he seems to ‘get’ that it’s possible to gently hold onto opposition.
Coming up our front porch after walking the dog and just before the front door opens, our house is both organized and chaotic at the same time, we just allow that truth to be, until we take a step in and see it for what it is:
A house full of family and all the contrast that means.

xo
Mto3

Curiosity skunked the dog

There’s something so adorable about a dog who has found something interesting – cute perky ears, flagpole tail, the jumpy body, the nose down, the wide eyes.

Typically, our dog is quite reluctant to try new things. He has a tight event-reaction connection: a loud noise leads to continued wariness, seemingly into perpetuity. When a door clanged behind him, scaring him, it took no less than 3 years and countless patient reinforcement until he was able to come through that door on his own without encouragement.

Most of the time, his curiosity leads him in a direction without any negative reaction: the wee grey mouse running alongside our house just slips under the deck, chasing the squirrels scampering on our fence hop into the neighbour’s yard, our toes disappearing under a blanket are still actually attached to our feet.

But sometimes…

skunk-1392814

…curiosity yields an unexpected reaction. Approaching a skunk does not make it run under the fence, sniffing a lawn chair can make it fall over, and stepping off a dock makes for a very wet dog. It can be hard for me not to create an even bigger reaction. And it can be frustrating for me when more care in future, similar, situations isn’t taken and it appears no learning has occurred.

How was curiosity handled when you were a kid? How curious are you now? Do you seek novelty as an adult? Are your friends curious?

The way in which adults respond to dogs, kids, and each other sends a message which will help shape our ideas of curiosity and risk and resilience. How we feel about ourselves after seeking the unexpected will influence whether we seek it out again.

Trio are away with their dad right now, and I genuinely hope their curiosity is being stoked up – they are in a different province, with new experiences, and are with adults they don’t often spend time with: there is so much possibility for New Things!

With each exposure to a new thing they learn more about themselves and their world. Even if it’s an unexpected outcome, the learning is rich – although it can be hard to define what that learning has been. It doesn’t necessarily translate into something I recognize. But an easy one to see is that even if it’s uncomfortable for a while, they learn they can handle what comes.

This is a lifelong learning: one I’m still working on… 🙂

xo
Mto3

Un-scheduling

It’s possible in the summer to become less scheduled – there is way more time to do and be and find your own pace. No school. Less work (for me). More friends with free time. Pools. Beaches. Parks. Visiting. Vacationing.

Vacations. This is the second year that trio have gone to their Dad’s for a portion of the summer. Last year it was 2 weeks. This year it is three. Three weeks. They have a ton of fun things planned to do, as well as some free time to do yoga, berry pick, and play in the backyard with their step-dog. Being somewhere else for them definitely means vacation and fun.

But what does it mean for me? I’m at home with our same mess and our same clothes and our same space. It’s the same grocery stores and parks and the same weather.

The fridge doesn’t need to be stocked with snacks. Laundry will be done in small batches and it’s solely my socks to match up. My shoes are the only ones at the front door. Bedtime is whenever and so is wake up. I can have tuna from the can for dinner.

And what else does it mean? My sense of time is all mixed up without having people to care for: to feed and tuck in at night and wake up in the morning. That also means no one to redirect and hug and encourage and clean. No one here to giggle with or feel frustrated with or hang out with. No arguments to mediate. No achievements to celebrate. No one to help with cleaning or feeding the pets or mowing the lawn. No one to tell what to do.

But amid all the lack, clarity emerges.  I have uncovered that, within myself, I am a Mother first and foremost. A mum and then me as a person, as a woman, as a sister or friend. Without the label of “mum” to help shape my days and hours, I’m not sure what to do with my time or what I even *want* to do with my time. I didn’t realize that my mix of my own-self and my mother-self wasn’t as balanced as I thought. During their absence of the last week, and knowing I have another 2 more weeks, I feel at odds: I have to acknowledge I’m not as in-touch with me-as-a-person.

Good to know.

For the next two weeks, I’m giving myself permission to choose my own adventure and to unschedule myself. Maybe I do want to declutter the basement, but if I don’t, that’s ok. Maybe I want to go kayaking for an afternoon. Maybe sit around Indigo and browse books. Maybe do work. Maybe clean the house. But I will find my own pace.

Allow me to encourage you to do the same this summer. Find opportunities to tune into yourself, for yourself. Maybe you have only one afternoon, but take it for only you.

Summer means freer days and less scheduling. Make this summer extra for you as well as others in your care.

xo
Mto3

A riot of colour into adulthood

There comes a moment when parents notice the children they knew are turning into the adults they will become.

I’ve seen glimpses of that in my children, and once I noticed a threshold had been crossed, I began watching for other signposts that will let me peek into my children’s future selves.

It can be very obvious that kids grow up. Like when I was trying to scold my teenager who *literally* loomed over me – alas, frowning “up” doesn’t seem to be as impactful when I’m trying to compel him to remember to put his dishes in the dishwasher. Or when I get his old sweatshirts that no longer fit him. Or when they take the initiative to have a shower (without prompting!! Whaaaat!)

The stunning beauty is when they make connections in the world that you haven’t, about topics you don’t really know.
Or when they’re interested in books that you haven’t been able to get through (Catch-22. A doozy).
When they show startling empathy and understanding for a classmate, and explore their perceptions with you at the end of the day.
Those first few times they ride their bike to an out-of-neighbourhood friend’s house.
When they see a need in the house/community, and they figure out how to make it better.

Part of the balance that is required in parenting is recognizing where they’re at and where they seem to want to go, and somehow offering them a chance to see more and imagine greater possibilities. A subtle shift in a kaleidoscope creates a new pattern with the same set of colours and shapes – helping kiddos see that shifts are possible leads to growth and development. Even if they don’t do the shift you were expecting, your help in creating awareness allows space for (re)imagination and future change.

I’m raising trio in a way that lines up for me as a parent, but also in a direction where I hope they can land as adults. As a solo parent without a co-parent, I am missing the benefit of hearing another perspective and not having another person’s ideas directing trio’s adult selves. There is a risk. It is super valuable when I talk with friends and hear their approaches, and when they are comfortable enough to challenge/question/explore my values and ideas. They are helping me tilt the kaleidoscope so I can continue to tilt for trio.

In what ways have you seen glimpses of adult in the kids in your lives? If you’re a single parent, how do you find being the navigator in your child’s development?

xo
Mto3

Sunday … Funday?

 

I have no patience on Sundays.
I can’t remember who first noticed that I am quicker to temper and feel more pressure to get things done. But it is definitely true: I am practically a mom-ster on Sundays.
Kids suddenly never listen.
There is always a mess left for me to deal with.
No one knows who’s turn it is to feed the dog.
I have to do everything.

Last Sunday, my taller-than-me 14 year old attempted to mollify my Sunday irritation by saying, “Okay. Calm down,” in response to my slightly raised voice.
So, as adults reading this, I’m sure you know how well that works when it comes from a partner or other adult. Let me assure you – it didn’t work coming from my teenager.

I’m sure I’ve had better parenting moments. I could feel my brain going offline. I knew I was shifting away from my prefrontal cortex and into my limbic system… away from my reasoning self and into my reactive self. It just felt so important and *necessary* to tell him in a loud voice that FIRST – ‘calm down’ isn’t something to *ever* say to his mum, and that SECOND – it never works on anyone. Once I left the room, once I had some space, I could see that he had been trying to help. That my reaction was rooted somewhere else.

There is a line in parenting that allows for humour and lightness instead of big reactions: I’ve seen in mostly in fictional parenting, but oh, how I want that easy-ness and bigger picture perspective when parenting gets tough. It harbours just below my surface, out of reach but visible. There have been a few times that I managed it – to the utter surprise of trio! – and I’m sure that it can be more helpful than my lecturing.

Part of attachment parenting is in the repairing that comes after a break. Instead of ignoring that I lost my cool, or they said something hurtful, or that I said something mean, the point is to reconnect and grow back together. Egos have to be acknowledged and left behind to have these conversations. That’s tough to do for me – especially when I felt undermined by his Calm Down comment. I haven’t explored it very deeply: maybe because he’s male? Maybe because I’m a single mum? Maybe because I’m outnumbered? Maybe because I have control issues? That’s for me for another day.

After our conversation about why I had such a big reaction, there has been a LOT of teasing using the phrase ‘Calm Dooown’ anytime one of us shows even a little irritation at an innocent comment. Thank heavens for humour.

This Sunday had a few “Calm Down” comments – especially when we tried to navigate a completely jampacked Costco, only to find they sold out of their already cooked chickens; and when Sobey’s had the same issue (although more were coming out in “15 minutes” … but really meant 30 minutes); and when we were finishing our weekend chores. The best part was the acknowledgment that these were things that are frustrating, that we were all sharing the same annoyance, that we could use humour to lighten things up. Oh, and I’m sure they loved teasing me.

Our Sunday turned out fine. There were a few stumbles, but we can all point to the fact that it’s Sunday and that usually lifts me out of my grump enough to see some positives.

Our “funday” is usually Saturday, Sunday just is too jammed getting ready for the week. But, I think I’ll try to find time for at least an hour of free play for the 4 of us to stay connected.

We’ll try to create a partial Funday afternoon.

xo
Mto3

I’m like, *so* busy…

It turns out, when I’ve got a fast paced day, week, or month, I’m more able to tackle projects and finish activities than when my pace is looser and slower.

Case in point: this blog. I’ve been …like… busy – volunteering at school, working at my job(s), parenting, keeping house, and being with family and friends. But at any given point, I  have time at the end of the day to do whatever – laundry, playing Candy Crush (oh man.), watching Dexter, cleaning house, finishing up on last tasks, prepping for the next day… but I inevitably choose to spend time ‘relaxing.’ So I write a list for tomorrow to write in this blog, or finally wash the sheets in the hamper, or scoop the fur from the bottom of the stairs, or develop my 5 year plan. And then I can feel accomplished that it’s on a list, and also justified in ‘relaxing’ tonight.

Each January for the past few years I’ve been lucky to take on a full time contract for 3 months (so helpful for post-Christmas bills!) and I’m lucky that my boss is flexible, and I’m lucky that I enjoy the work. Switching into a full time position after being self-employed and self-directed is a shift for the whole family and requires all of us to be hands on.

So now (and I’m sure many of you are already familiar with this pace) I am working outside the home all day, and still fitting in my other job(s), parenting my children, keeping house, volunteering with the school, and having time for family and friends. And yet… I’m not overwhelmed. I feel capable and accomplished, and pleased when I remember to pick up milk on the way home and remember to stop at the post office on my lunch to send a package. Suddenly carving space to write this blog feels easy. Playing the shell game or ‘which hand’ with the dog is a no-brainer. Meditating for 10 minutes takes no time.

Huh? Why is this?

What happens in my brain and heart that makes it possible to do *more* things when my day is even more planned than ever?

Kiddos absolutely help. It’s amazing that they are older and are able to take on greater responsibility around the house. We’ve started the rotation that trio is responsible for a dinner night (Lil miss chose perogies, and my oldest will make burgers), and we rearranged our chores so that the bulk of it happens at the weekend.

I wonder if, in the fast pace, I realize I only have a certain amount of time to do any one thing so I’d better-do-it-NOW or else it literally won’t get done. Or I feel more efficient so the likelihood of me sticking with an activity through to completion increases. Maybe it’s something to do with procrastination (no time for THAT), or maybe it has to do with favouring sleep over Dexter (sorry man, you’re less than second place now).

I’m sure this feeling will ebb away and there will be days when I feel scattered and overwhelmed.
But right now, I’ll luxuriate in this amazing and strange experience of not feeling …like… *so* busy but feeling able to greet the road as it rises to meet me.

xo Mto3