Who’s the Better Mom?

OK, I have been seeing this post, http://www.chicagonow.com/baby-sideburns/2013/10/new-rules-of-mommyhood/, shared all over Facebook by moms who are sick of having every one of their mommy-moves scrutinized, and criticized, by all of the other moms in their lives. Funny thing is, we all seem to agree with it, but it still keeps happening. And, truth is, many of the moms who stand up against this kind of judgment are constantly doing it themselves. If a mom believes in disciplining her child in way that differs from another of her mommy peers, it is usually judged. Just because it isn’t done out loud doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We can talk about how much we hate this judgey mommy culture of ours forever, and I believe we all truly mean it, but I doubt it will ever stop until we stop saying and start doing. You know, like with our kids…we can repeat something a thousand times, and it rarely leads to lasting change of behavior, but if we are consistent in modeling the kinds of actions we want to see from them, they imitate it. We adults are not different, our behaviors are contagious and our words just fill up space and time.

I know what I’m talking about—look at me go on and on about this. I can’t tell you how many times I have filled hours of conversation discussing how much it sucks that us mom can’t just support one another. I meant every word I have said in these conversations. I picked up on this need to show what an awesome parent one is by cutting down another 13 years ago, after my first child was born. I first recognized this disgusting practice when I caught myself thinking that one mom’s parenting choices were lesser-than when they didn’t match up with my own. After all, I made my choices because I felt they were the best ones—for me. Of course, that doesn’t mean they are the best practices for every parent.

It’s been 13, almost 14 years, of full on attachment parenting for me, and I hate non-acceptance in the mommy world just as much as any other preacher on this topic, but I still find myself criticizing other moms’ choices, even if I only do this in my head (most of the time). Let’s face it, even when we are discussing how much Ms. Perfect Mommy is always trying to make the rest of us feel like failures with all of her bragging about breastfeeding all day long in an immaculate house that smells of fresh baked cookies, we’re just cutting her ass down so we can feel better.

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Depression

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Ugh, Depression! It is undeniable that I have been hit with a bout of the sads these last few weeks. I call it depression when there isn’t anything in particular that is making me sad, but the tears, and the gloom, keep busting out of nowhere.

I recognized, no—began recognizing—I might have some depression issues when I became a mother. After my first babe was born, life became hard. I had a really rough start with him—from the c-section, to the sickness-from the infection I developed-, to his refusal to breastfeed, which led to my feeling like a failure and snowballed into more feelings of inadequacy when I insisted to go through hours of hell every feeding, for the first couple of months, because I would be completely useless as a mom if I couldn’t figure out how to feed my damn baby! Oh, and his dad had gone crazy about one week before his birth, so there’s that, too.

I don’t think my motherhood is what caused my depression. I think it was something that was waiting in me, and this was the life altering event that brought it out. If anything, I see motherhood as the only thing that was important enough to make me face the depression. As much as I hated being a mom those first few years—yes, hated it—It was also what was most important to me, and what I loved most in my life.

…I wrote those first 3 paragraphs 3 weeks ago. It’s amazing how much can happen in three weeks. We’re all back in school, and work is still there when school starts, and the family doesn’t need any less tending to when more obligations enter the scene. Things really are wonderful, and still so, so hard, and sad. That’s when you know you know it’s “depression”, when you just keep feeling sad, even though you’re so happy.

I take meds, I’ve been trying to work with a therapist, but they keep annoying me and not matching up to my expectations. I fired my third one yesterday. Problem is, I am skilled in coming up with my own revelations about my behaviors and where they stem from. I don’t need a skilled conversationalist to assist me with this. I need something different, but I can’t figure out what it is.

Before admitting I was going to dismiss this 3rd therapist, I talked a little about my parenting, and how I tend to avoid reprimanding my children because I hate the idea of making them feel bad. I’ve been really lucky to have children who just want to “behave”, because I wouldn’t do them any good if they didn’t. This therapist pointed out how I project my own negative feelings from childhood onto my boys, and that it interferes with my being able to point out when I’m disappointed in them. Yeah, I know this—it’s what makes parenting so damn hard. I do not want to fuck it all up for them.

 

Shared Parenting

In our house, the two oldest boys spend part of their time here, and part of their time at their Dad’s. lately, I have been allowing myself to recognize how incompetent their father really is. It isn’t that I’m blind to all of his fatherly fuck-ups, it’s more that I tend to be on the end of trying to understand where someone is coming from, and I take it a little too far. It’s part of my stress management; a piece of the apathy I turn to as a way of getting through difficulties in life.

Some moms complain about dead-beat dads. I have the opposite complaint. The boys’ father would never be able to live with himself if he wasn’t present in his children’s lives. Good, that’s how any parent should be. Problem is, he isn’t a stable enough of a person to deserve equal parenting time. The fact that he can’t admit this is not doing any service to his children. He has all of the knowledge, and our parenting ethics are in sync. His downfall is himself. He has mental health issues that do get in the way of his functioning to his full potential. He can hold down a job, pay his bills, and carry himself as though he is superior to all others, but his brain doesn’t shut off and this leads to never knowing where he’ll be coming from one moment to the next. This, in turn, leads to a lot of inconsistency in his house, in his parenting. In my opinion, consistency is one of the most important things in a parent’s tool belt. Children need to have consistency in order to feel secure, and to have any chance at succeeding in the world.

Last year was when I reached my limit of understanding. The boys were getting to school late 1/4 of the time their dad was responsible for getting them there. This continued after me talking to him, the school sending a letter about it, and him agreeing and promising he would be more on top of it. In addition, the boys would tell us about how they didn’t have clean clothes, they don’t have to brush they’re teeth in the morning, and sometimes they just stay home because their dad doesn’t feel like doing the day. I’ll admit, I’ve declared those “no responsibilities” days myself. But, the amount of times I’ve done this total to an amount that is less than the years either boy has been enrolled in school. These boys do not care about cleanliness–their rooms are disgusting!–, yet they are regularly commenting on how dirty their house is at their dad’s.

ian has told us, several times, about how his dad “slept until dinner time”. Their dad also has a 4 year old daughter from a short lived marriage to a woman who ended up running off and out of her daughter’s life when he ended their marriage. Who is watching the little girl when he is sleeping all day? Well, my oldest son, of course! Ian has also shared, in tears and with fear of getting his dad in trouble, that he sometimes hears his dad crying in his room. These are the kinds of responsibilities no child should have put on them. One day there are “no weapons” allowed in their house, and the next, their dad is buying Ian a pocket knife. And then there’s the ever-revolving girlfriend status in their dad’s life.

There have been so many issues that I have left unaddressed in my trying not to be judgmental or come across as a control freak. Then, I realized how my inaction is being a lazy parent myself. It has been easier to ignore these issues and keep them out of my full bucket of life stressors, and my children are suffering from it. Recently, C and I decided it would be best for the boys to be here Sunday eve through Friday after school to ensure their success during the school week. I have tried calling and texting their dad about this, and he is ignoring both my written and voice messages. I know he is dismissing me because he is insulted and is angry at my suggesting he is not capable of his job. Unfortunately, it is the truth and I need to buck up enough to lay it all out for him. I don’t like doing that to someone. This is a hurtful truth that needs to be confronted, and this is the father of my two oldest kiddos. They love their dad, and he loves them more than life, for sure. I wish this love was enough to carry them all through, but it isn’t. These boys need stability and consistency. They will suffer without it. I do not get pleasure out of telling their father, who feels his role as their dad is the most important one in his life, that he is not capable of parenting in a way that is best for our boys. I hate it, and I really, really, dread having to get real with him about this.

Last year, there was a very major event that led to outside involvement from child protective services. CPS came to my kids’ schools to talk to them about information that was reported by a woman who their dad had brought into their lives. This woman has her own issues, and one of them is thinking of herself as a mother to the boys’ 4 year old sister. In talking with the CPS worker, it became clear that this friend had been trying to find problems where there weren’t any, and nothing ever came of this report for that reason. But, this is the kind of thing that their father is bringing into their lives. He know this person was extreme and had the potential to bring extra chaos into their life. But, because she was so willing to help, and he needs the support, he allowed her to be a part of it.

It is easy for me to direct my frustrations into anger at the boys’ father. I am trying to keep myself in-check, and to re-direct myself back to focusing on what is best for the boys. I know that I am disappointed in myself for letting this go on for so long. I have always known their father isn’t capable of fathering on his own. I have known this, but have not wanted to interfere with their relationship. I can’t use that as an excuse to avoid what I need to be responsible for.

The Joys and Success Heal the Heartaches

Aside

Six years ago, I was the biological, full time, mother of all of my children. Today, I am part time mother to the boys who are biologically connected to me, and a full time mom to the son who doesn’t share any of my genes. It took until somewhere between 1-2 yrs ago for me to stop feeling a constant unease and anxiousness during the days the older boys were not home with me. I still sit for a moment every time I hear a siren, and listen to make sure my phone doesn’t ring, so I suppose that means a little bit of that anxiety still sits with me. And, there is no way for me to explain the guilt I feel over O’s being able to live here full time, and his brothers only being here part time. This last week, A saw a picture of his moms and his baby brother at the Goat Farm (what we call a local farm that happens to have goats you feed, and such). When he saw the picture, he asked what it was (though he knew), and when I told him, he shared his disappointment in not having been there. I hate that! Yes, they are at their dad’s house when they aren’t here, and having their dad remain a part of their life is not up for debate. Now that I’ve addressed that, it still fucking sucks that my children can not be with me all of the time, and that they have to feel excluded from this family in any way.

I do think it is strange that life has worked out to where the children I carried are the ones I am only responsible for part of the time, that the baby who I have zero biological ties to is the only one I planned with my partner to have. I have never been attached to biology and how it affects a parent’s connection to their child. I have never felt like less of a mom to O because I didn’t conceive him with my body. I have, however, felt less of a mom because of what I haven’t been able to offer him, due to not having carried him.

Anyone who kind of knows me is familiar with the difficulties I had with not being able to breast feed my child. Those individuals who do not have a personal attachment to the topic of breastfeeding have typically understood the complexity of struggles around this. Others, who have their own sensitivities around the issue, take longer to come around to understanding me, if they ever do–my wife included.

To truly express my emotions around this topic would require continued conversation at a level of openness that is difficult to come by. Breastfeeding, when you have a baby, is a huge part of the parental responsibility. Because I know my body is capable of doing this, because it is how I nurtured my two oldest boys, because the only parenting role I previously had experience in–and has been part of developing my identity as a mother–is the role of a mother in a heterosexual relationship, and because I would never choose–if it were only my wishes that mattered–to have the other person I’m parenting with carry my baby, not being able to breastfeed has been one big nasty mess in this gig of raising baby O.

I won’t go into each of those issues now, but they’re there, and they are big. When O turned a year old is when my wife and I were forced to look at the role of breastfeeding in our parenting O, and how it had been managed wrong, which led to a disconnect between O and me and was causing much animosity on both ends of our (C’s and my) relationship. I started to address the fact that I was being excluded from a very significant part of raising my child. O took a bottle for a minute, and that was the only time I was able to contribute to providing food for my babe that first year. I should point out that he did not start eating solids (despite our constant offering) until after he turned a year, so that was not an alternative option. One of the most significant factors in the first year is providing food and comfort. O used breastfeeding for both of these, so that left me completely out of the picture. He would actually cry if he had to go to me, because I couldn’t give him what he needed.

My wife was not willing to see my side in this, at first. One of the times I tried to address the issue she said she couldn’t help but think it would be different if we were in a hetero relationship. Um, of course it would be different–either I would have been the only mom, or she would have. There wouldn’t even be a discussion of who would carry the babe, or who would breastfeed, because there would only be one person in the relationship who might physiologically be capable of these things. Yes, there are many moms who struggle with not being able to breastfeed their babies, despite wanting to so badly be able to, for reasons that are different than mine, or dealing with this struggle in circumstances that are different than mine. I am not unaware of this, and I have great compassion for each one of those heartaches. No scenario should be any more valid than another–.

When it came out that my wife had been seeing the whole pregnancy, breastfeeding, and all that is attached to being the carrying parent, as “her turn” in this role, and therefore I should step aside and not interfere, is when we were forced to really address this issue. I never stepped into this decision with the idea that I was to have less of a parenting role because I had already experienced raising babies before. I would never choose to have a baby without intending on participating in all parts of their care, as equally as possible, with their other parent. The realization that that is what her take on all of this was…there is no way to describe how crushing that was.

We worked past it. My wife saw how I had been dismissed, and we both wish we could have a do-over, so badly. Because she was holding on to some kind of resentment at me wanting to have an equal role, when I’d already experienced what it was like to birth/carry/nourish my babe, we never figured out how to raise a breastfed baby in a way that allowed us to both participate in his care. As well, it was kind of understood that it was ok for me to be the “back-up” parent because I had already had my turn as the “main parent”. She feels terrible for this, and as much as I hate knowing these were the unspoken expectations of our parenting O, I am impressed that we have the kind of relationship that was able to recognize it.

The whole “turns” thing pops up in my head every once in a while, and makes me sad and a little angry. Even though we’re beyond it, it happened, and it dictated how my mothering O went that first year. I do not hold all of the blame with my wife. I didn’t take the initiative to prevent all of that from happening. I knew something needed to be done to learn a new way of fully mothering my baby when I was raising him with another mom. I knew that wasn’t happening, but I didn’t insist on fixing it, because it exhausted me trying to get my wife to understand. I was lazy, and I should have taken responsibility for insuring an equal mom-status with my youngest son.

Since our big parenting role revelation, my wife and I have developed a new intimacy. Our relationship is at a place of deeper understanding and full of more empathy. Things are not perfect. We are not flawless. Just last night we had a barrier in communication that led to some serious hurt feelings and frustrations before getting to the understanding part. Because of the bigger challenges in our relationship, I believe we break through the barriers faster.There is sadness that I have not figured out how to fully shake away, but the joy and content I feel in this partnership overrides this the majority of the time. I have never learned so much about myself as a mom, or a co-parent, than I have in these last few years of trying to conceive and raising a baby with my super awesome wife.

Quiet House

Right now, I should be snuggled up next to my wife in bed. Instead, I’m up trying to remember how to upload images to WordPress. I don’t know if has been such a challenge because I’ve been out of the blogging world for too long, or because I’m so overwhelmed I can’t think straight. Probably a little of both considering I was able to immediately figure it out when I came back to this after everyone was in bed. I would love to cozy up next to my wife, but I dread the possibility of the baby waking up, and screaming like he does, if I try to get into bed right now. Not to mention, it’s most likely he’s in the middle of the bed, which leaves me with baby ass in my face and no wife to cuddle up to.

So, I’m taking advantage of the silence–something that ‘s tough to find these days. The house is full of children, and my hours away are spent at work listening and talking to people. I love my family. I look forward to greeting them each morning. By the time “bed time” comes around, I am ready to pack our bags and run off with my wife. Then, I would definitely get a good spot in bed next to her.

These past 6 years of my mommy career have been eventful. The most so in the last 2 1/2 of them. I’m coming over to this blog from the one my wife and I started when we made the decision to bring a new baby into our family (http://theowlandtheoctopusblog.wordpress.com/). There have been a lot of challenges, and some emotionally scary moments, and more insight than I’d ever gained in all of my years before these last 2 1/2.

This life I’m working through is good. I’m grateful for my ability to see this through the moments of struggle. But, I don’t suspect this blog will be full of happiness and fuzzy feelings. I have come back to blogging because I have found myself missing the support system I gained while engaged in the blogging community. I have also recognized how therapeutic writing is, and I have not been able to find the kind of catharsis it brings in any other activity. I assume I will not be able to avoid unpleasant topics to truly achieve this.

For now, I’m bucking up and headed to bed with fingers crossed for a somewhat restful night and a little bit of cozy time with my wife.