When toddlers push parents buttons

On a scale from 0 to 10, how satisfied are you with yourself as a parent? What is your reaction when your children have bad tantrums or other crises? We, parents, like any other human beings, may have accumulated negativity and this can be a hindrance to constructive communication with children. Luckily, we can learn to go beyond negativity and help our children grow happy and loving adults, who in their turn can help others.   

“We would like to believe that only a disturbed parent responds in a way that is damaging to a child. Unfortunately, even parents who are loving and well meaning also blame, shame, accuse, ridicule, threaten, bribe, label, punish, preach and moralize.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child.

When my second child was born, the elder brother’s jealousy for mother’s attention was sparked. The new baby born is now an active 15-months-old toddler who cries when I hug his brother. The initially simple and crude jealousy manifests in more complex and violent ways. I find myself yelling more often and getting frustrated with the lack of improvement in the interaction between my boys.

“Parenthood is an endless series of small events, periodic conflict, and sudden crises that call for a response. The response is not without consequence: It affects personality and self-regard for better or worse.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child

Being a stay-at-home mother, I’ve experienced all too well how fast and how often I need to respond to conflicts between siblings. Inappropriate responses such as my emotionally stirred reaction to the boys’ argument set an undesirable example of how to solve dispute. Furthermore, shouting, threatening or punishing may lead to further frustration in children, and thus the conflicts can become more frequent.

We may want to help our kids understand that it’s perfectly fine to have negative feelings but it’s not fine to shout or hit others around just because we feel bad inside. In order for children to learn how to deal with their negative feelings, they need guidance from us.

The challenge for us parents is to overcome our own emotional unbalance so that we can communicate effectively with our children. The following 8 steps may help in getting in touch with the inner space inside us where there is peacefulness and from where we can connect and talk to our children:

Step 1

Have no expectations that kids will behave as adults (maybe it’s for the best they don’t behave like us). Kids are playful, creative, imaginative and without boundaries. They like eating while standing instead of sitting. They like to jump in pools of water even if they don’t wear the proper shoes. They express awe in a loud voice.

As soon as we become aware of any expectation, it’s best to ignore it, take a deep breath and think to ourselves, “Kids are kids”. This does not mean that we should allow kids any kind of behaviour such as, writing on the walls, jump from the top of the cupboard, or play with knives.

By ignoring the expectations on kids’ behaviour, we avoid moments of unnecessary fury. Instead, we become more creative in explaining what is acceptable and what not.

For example, when my eldest son used to drop water on the floor, I was very much tempted to shout at him “Don’t do that!”. Instead, I said, “There is water on the floor. The water can damage the floor. Let’s wipe it off together.”Did he keep on spilling water on the floor? Yes, many times and I reacted in the same way to him.

Nowadays, he stopped doing that. I don’t know if he understood my explanation. However, in the long run, I hope he understands that there are consequences to our actions and if we make a mess, then we are responsible to clean it up.

Step 2

Expect that anger is unavoidable. In such moments, we may shout something undesirable, such as “If you hit your sister one more time, I’ll pull your hair”. Such statements are threats, which if we don’t keep, then kids learn that we don’t really mean what we say. And if we do really mean what we say, threats become acts of physical violence which can traumatise the children and disturb the wellbeing of the whole family.

Bursting out in anger is unavoidable but anger should NOT be expressed in acts of physical violence. For other ways of expressing anger, such as blaming, labelling, ridiculing or accusing, we can apologise and openly talk about it with our children.

Each time when I become aware that I overreact, I apologise to the boys and explain what is happening. For example, “Mommy didn’t sleep well last night and is a bit tired today.” Apologising shows respect towards the child. At the same time, the child gets the message that shouting is not a constructive solution. Raising the voice does not give us what we want and furthermore, it can hurt the person we’re yelling at.

Step 3

Become aware of our emotional state when interacting with our children. For example, we can be emotionally unbalanced because we just had an argument with our partner. When we turn our attention to our children, we may overreact to what they do or say. We may take the negativity out onto our kids. Awareness can help us disconnect from the negative emotions and tune into our children inner lives. They will feel the connection and they’ll feel safe to be next to mommy or daddy.

Step 4

Increase awareness of the present moment. When we feel the anger is taking control, it’s time to start taking deep breaths. If the tension is still at its peak, verbalize what we feel about the particular crisis. For example, “I am so angry because you pushed your brother”. When the fury is fading away, I usually turn towards the toddler and ask him to forgive his brother.

A crisis is a good opportunity to teach important values to children. For example, I want to make sure that my boys will eventually understand that violence against another human being is not accepted. Since neither boy can talk articulately, I can’t expect them to explain in words what feeling drives them to resort to violence. The best guess is that it is the jealousy. But what if it isn’t that? What if there is something else that one of siblings did and the response comes under the form of hitting?

Instead of guessing and going on and lecturing based on what my guess is, I chose to state only that it is not allowed to hit each other.In addition to non-violent behaviour, there may be other values that we may want to share with our children and our behaviour and communication should reflect those values (i.e.,love, forgiveness, etc).

Step 5

Let empathy towards our children shine through the anger. If we want to understand something about our children, we’d better focus on questioning why they behave the way they do and not on what they do. When there is physical violence between siblings, being empathic can help us see the conflict from both kids’ perspective: from the perspective of the child who hits and from the perspective of the child who is hit. What is the reason for which a child hits his sibling? How does he feel hitting his sibling? How does a child feel when is hit by his sibling?

Step 6

Set up a strategy to follow in moments of crises. Even if we may not always be able to put it into practice, at least we can keep it in our minds to help us keep calm.

For now when my kids are at the toddler and pre-school age, the strategy for handling bad tantrums consists of three steps: 1. I explain why I can’t grant a particular wish, i.e., eat chocolate for breakfast. 2. When the heartbreaking cry starts, breathing helps to calm myself down. Words are unnecessary. The kid can’t listen because he wants one thing only – to have his wish granted. 3. Maintain eye contact once in a while and look compassionately at the child. When the storm is over, he asks for milk, which is always granted to him as a sign that we made peace.

 

With every new situation, we take stand based on what feels natural to us. But it also has to be an attitude from which our children can feel that they are understood. Think about how you feel when you tell to your partner that you’d like to buy a dress but it’s slightly expensive. How would you like your partner to react? Would you like him to say, “Honey, I think we have enough expenses already, forget about the dress.”, or, “I would also want to buy loud speakers, so let’s both buy whatever we want”, or “I wish I could buy that dress for you. I am sure you would look gorgeous! Maybe next month, you can buy it.”.

When feeling understood, children, like adults, feel loved. They become thus empowered to find acceptable solutions to manage their lives. They learn to be responsible for the choices they make.

Step 7

Spend short moments of daily relaxation. It is crucial to relax daily during short breaks and gain the much needed emotional balance and patience. It can be more efficient to relax 10 minutes every 2 hours than wait for that one evening in the week when we can go to a Pilates class or for a coffee with a friend.

I don’t know what can help you relax, but as far as I am concerned, meditation is a good way of creating inner space. The method of relaxation is less important, the effect matters – that of creating inner peacefulness. We can thus become more patient when bad tantrums come out of a blue.

For a few weeks already, I started doing a daily 10 minutes meditation focused on nature’s beauty. It is a project I plan to carry on for half of a year. I will share the details in the following blog post for anyone who may be interested in this type of meditation.

Step 8

Dedicate time and effort for the development of parental abilities so that we can keep up with the developmental stages of our children. For example, I find parental self-help books on how to communicate with kids to be sources of inspiration that provide new perspectives to parenting. Talking with other parents about how to become better parents, writing a diary of the most tensed moments with our kids, etc, may helps us expand our consciousness as parents and build bridges to our children hearts.

When the next moment of crises comes, let’s all do a small exercise. First, think how the situation may look through the eyes of our children. Second, how would we want to be treated if we were the child in that situation.

I wish to you a meaningful journey of parenthood!

Lessons of Motherhood

On my 37th birthday, I came to realize the importance of shifting from the “me and myself” thinking to “us” thinking for the wellbeing of the family. When small personal expectations are not met due to unexpected events of the present moment, inner conflict arises. Despite that, if we allow ourselves to express the love we feel for the family, before we know it, we are back to inner balance.

Daydreaming

I’ve recently turned 37 years. My husband rented a boat and we went off sailing around the archipelago of Helsinki till sunset. We enjoyed the serenity of the still dormant nature of March in Helsinki. We had some white wine and blue cheese while sharing whatever thoughts budded in our minds. We danced salsa and played board games.

As a matter of fact, the related events are but mere imagination.

The reality

Being a family with two small kids, we had a silent agreement that we would focus the energy on our boys. Our family of four spends most of the free time together. Yet somewhere deep inside, I was hoping that my birthday or my husband’s would be spent with a tiny bit of focus on ourselves also.

 

The morning of my 37th birthday followed after a bad night’s sleep. Yet, the joy of life surmounted the sleepiness when my hubby informed that he’s taking the day off to spend it together with me and the boys. The first half of the day was spent at an indoors playground, where we were switching between the two boys. On way back home, I was thinking which tasty dish we would have for dinner while our boys would be sleeping like angels.

 

Hardly did we arrive home when our youngest son started crying. With every scream of help, my soul was overcast by worry. The face of our baby was furrowed by pain and we were watching helplessly. Half an hour later, which felt like an eternity, we figured out what the problem was. One hour later, our baby felt better but I was in an emotional blockage.

 

I was doing my best though to fake an “Everything is fine” smile to the boys. My hubby gave me a heartfelt hug while whispering, “You must feel awful now!”

Lessons of a meaningful moment

My birthday may not have been a day of celebration and romance, yet it was a day that showed to me the power of love and living meaningfully. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world, but right there, in our flat, holding our baby in the arms during his moments of pain. I felt lost for not being able to find a rapid cure for his ailment. I felt guilty for ever thinking to put him earlier to bed so I can enjoy the birthday evening solely with his father. Most of all, I felt how my love was soothing him despite the pain. And this was a remarkable feeling!

 

As for our marriage, the love that we feel for each other has been expressed differently since we became parents. We passed the stage of salsa parties (where we met) or walking under the moonlight. We are at the stage of supporting each other in parenting the best we can. We certainly miss being just the two of us. However, we are aware we are at this stage when we have to wait for our turn to have a hug. The little ones are first in line.

 

It became clear to me that at this stage, living meaningfully means giving up on any other plans of enjoyment or must-do errands and be present with the whole being when our children need us the most.

 

Every new day may bring unexpected challenges for our family – i.e., the entire family waiting in the emergency room. Facing such challenges while finding new ways to express love strengthen the family bonds. The challenge remains a memory upon which we look back and say heartedly, “We did it together!”

 

How about you? What changed in your life after becoming a parent and how do you feel about it?

 

PS. On the 4th of March 2014, our second baby was born. I am still at home with both boys. Being a mom is the toughest job I ever got and the most meaningful at the same time. I feel lucky to be the mother of two wonderful boys who make me want to be a better person. Each day is a storm of emotions, such as love, empathy, joy, anger, irritation, frustration, etc. At the end of the day, there is the feeling of contentment for spending a full day together when I discover new faces of the boys’ personalities.

 

I will continue writing on my blog each time I get some time on my own. Considering how our life has been so far, the most realistic scenario is once a month. I hope you’ll enjoy the new posts! :)   

How to deal with the doubt of a healthy baby

You think you’re having a good life until the moment when you go to an ultrasound to see how your unborn baby is developing. You leave the doctor’s office stupefied, chocked, confused and with tears in your eyes. There is a 2% probability that your baby might have a chromosomal abnormality.  

You decide to do an amniocentesis test to find out with 100% probability if the baby is healthy.  In 1 to 4 weeks time, you’ll get the results. 

Meanwhile, going about your life as if everything is normal is out of question. How can you handle your fears and stress? 

If you are anything like me, you’d start talking to family and close friends. Not that it would change anything, but the affection and love that you feel from them gives you the strength to get off the bed in the morning.

In times like this, you feel even better how much your family loves you! You listen to your friends’ encouragements and you feel the positive energy and the strong believe that everything will be fine!

In times like this, you discover new sides of the relationships you have with all these wonderful people. You see how they use their personal believes to give you the best support that they are capable of.

You open up to them in your weakest moments and you discover more similarities with them than you would have thought you have before. One of these similarities is the belief that prayers can do wonders.

And praying many times a day, indeed does wonders. It makes you realise that your faith and your hope is much bigger than your fears. Come what may, but until the day when the truth is revealed, you have your hope to feed on.

Your hope can inspire you to visualise happy moments of the future and can diminish the stress of the present.

You are a human being thrown in the tumult of life, with its uncertainty and unawareness. This moment of waiting is a reminder that all you have is today. So how would you like to live today? How does it sound to spend the day dreaming about a happy tomorrow?

Well, yes, but what if tomorrow does not bring happy moments?“, some skeptic voice may argue.

It’s probably a matter of personal choice, but if you were to choose between hoping in the present and worrying in the present, what would you choose? Tomorrow’s reality will unveil itself when the time comes. Why not embracing it with the courage and peacefulness brought by the hope of today?

You may also like reading:

The art of helping through conversation

How Faithfully Do Words Reflect Our Emotions?

How can mothers relax

Some people have a talent at relaxing. Others need to learn to relax. Especially when becoming mothers, it may be wise to take time for ourselves ever since the kids are small. A relaxed mind is fit for coping with our kids’ needs as they grow.

It is important, yet so difficult to relax

Engrossed in the responsibilities of a mother, I’ve neglected one important aspect: to relax!

It took me almost two years to become aware of my mental fatigue. I now understand other friends who said that the first years of parenthood can be tiring.

Complaining about it may help to let some steam off, but it’s a temporary solution.

Ways to relax

It’s up to us to figure out tiny positive changes to our daily life. Here are eleven examples of how we can make time to relax during busy days with toddlers running and shouting around us:

  1. In the morning, despite that the baby decides that it’s time to wake up, we can still linger in bed for 3 minutes. It’s sufficient time to focus our attention on our mind, body and soul.
  2. We may smile. We can salute the new day, “A precious day of my life is about to start!”. We can take deep breaths that cleanse our organs.
  3. After the 3 minutes are gone, we are ready to hug and kiss our kids. Caresses, hugs and kisses from the partner warm the heart and remind us that there is love in the house. And as a symbol of that love, we’ll do the daily routines.
  4. During breakfast, we’d better avoid thinking about the need-to-do tasks of the day. Instead, we’d better take the time to chit-chat with our partner.
  5. The day starts rolling and we are on the road. If we are driving, we can take a slightly different route so that its novelty can take our mind away from whatever we might be tempted to sort out.
  6. If we travel by bus or tram, we can indulge ourselves into a fast but efficient meditation. We can detach ourselves from the surrounding and focus on breathing, thus connecting to our body. We can thank our body for enabling us to carry on with the day.
  7. When the kids are taking a nap, we can rest as well, by using a head massager, for example.
  8. Before putting our babies to sleep, we can spend together 30 minutes listening to soothing music. Or watching some photos – family photos, landscapes – that we discuss about with our toddlers.
  9. When all the members of the family are already in bed, we have the luxury to take a hot shower. Using our favourite shower gel with relaxing scent can help to calm down.
  10. When we put the head on the pillow, there’s another habit that we can take up – to think happy thoughts or say a prayer if the connection to God is important to us.
  11. Once a week, we can have the mommy pampering evening when we spend two hours on our own – going to a massage centre, meeting a close friend, doing some sports we like, reading a book in a cafe, etc.  Whatever makes us relax and forget about the responsibilities of being a mother.

Take away thought

To me, relaxing is similar to doing sports. Twenty minutes of exercise three times a week are more efficient than one hour of exercise, once a week.

Considering how chaotic the family life with kids can be, knowing how to relax daily is crucial for the wellbeing of mothers. Happy mother means happy kids and family.

Let’s choose to relax this moment. You’re on a beach, the breeze is gently caressing your face. The smell of the sea is spoiling your senses just before you can hear your little one’s laughter. He approaches and pinches you, “Mommy, play with me!”

Now, over to you! What are your tricks for relaxing?

 

What Does It Mean To Be a Parent?

Risking to enter the vegetative state?

Some people, like a former work colleague, do not even want to have children. This ex-colleague of mine believed that having children turns the parents into vegetative beings whose only role is to serve their offspring. I was quite taken aback when he stated his view.

For more than one year, I have experienced motherhood and continuous sleep deprivation. I must admit that there are days when I am in a vegetative state. But this mood is only the shell of my inner being. Deep inside, each day brings into light a new layer of the love I have for my little one. Furthermore, until now, I have figured out that parenthood is a mysterious journey, which can’t be anticipated.

What does love for our children mean?

It is easy to love my child when he smiles, when he is playful and funny. The challenge comes when he is cranky, whining, screaming and lying on the floor in protest – he has such behaviours even if he is only 15 months old. In those moments of “family crisis”, deep inside I love him equally and even more but at the surface, I am faced with negative emotions such as anger and irritation. And that’s when the challenge lies. Keeping the calm and finding ways out of these moments of crisis are must-to-develop skills for me and any other parent, most certainly.

We all want to bring up healthy, balanced and loving children, who have happy and meaningful lives. It is though so tempting to expect from our children to live the life we want them to live. And here, there is another challenge of parenthood: letting our children grow into adults and avoiding to burden them with our expectations.

My son’s uncle brings him toys and says, “He’ll be an engineer”. Sometimes I look at my son and I think, “He’ll be a dancer”. Few seconds after, I correct myself, “What are you thinking, woman? He’ll be whatever he wants to be.”

I don’t need to decide on his behalf what will make him happy. Instead, I need to make sure he is loved and we are present for him when he needs us.

Torn between love and setting limits

When he thinks he needs to climb on the kitchen cupboard, I say “No”, and he cries. It hurts so much more than I expected. But this is the journey of parenthood, rich in unexpected experiences and feelings.

A father’s confession

BTW. I stumbled upon a father’s confession about the inner changes that happened in him after his first baby was born. He realised that his individuality was turned into “duoviduality”: http://frankmartela.fi/2012/01/birth-of-a-child-or-when-you-expand-from-an-individual-into-a-duovidual/

It is revealing to hear some testimonials from the world of fathers in the Western societies as well.

So, Who Are You?

We are busy

Single people, people in relationships, people having a family – we buzz around all day long, in the pursuit of deeds that we perceive more or less meaningful.

Even the standard reply to the question “How are you?” has changed from “I am fine.” to “I am busy”. I wonder. Is it possible that we WANT to keep ourselves busy? Otherwise, how would we know what to do with ourselves? What thoughts and feelings would we have during half an hour of sitting in silence?

With whom to be better connected than with yourself?

When the evening comes and we put our head on the pillow, do we impersonate the wife, mother, student or subordinate that we were during daytime? Why not trying to find ourselves in the few minutes before sliding into the world of sleep?

What a treat at the end of the day, to reconnect to ourselves, to the joyous soul with which we came into this world! If we want to know why we came into this world, wouldn’t it be sensible to try to figure out who we were when we landed here? Who we were before we were damaged?

Maybe one night we get lucky and we feel our soul. We feel its core, its breath, and its wholeness. Who knows what else we would discover about who we truly are?

What if we don’t know how to reconnect to ourselves?

We need to look for help from the external environment so that we are put on the right track, which we would later follow on our own.

We need EXPOSURE. We need to start opening the channel that connects us to ourselves. For example, finding a group of people who are in a similar search and join them. Talk and discuss.

See the example of the Paphos Seminar, a one-week seminar on the psychology and philosophy of the good life, which has been organised twice a year for 18 years in Paphos, Cyprus by the philosopher Esa Saarinen (professor at Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland). The aim of the seminar is to help people “to construct their own ideas and to spread them internally”, “to open a broadband channel to people’ subjective sense of life orientation.” No ideas are imposed, simply a framework of philosophical ideas that offer food for thought. The participants are free to become emotional as they reflect upon different themes related to life, such as “present moment”, “love”, “choice” and “respect”. At the end of the seminar, each attendant discovers new insights into herself/himself.

The idea of this seminar can be replicated at a smaller case by you, me, by everyone. For example, how about gathering a group of friends with an interest in say, finding happiness, and discuss relevant books, every three months? (since we are busy people, maybe a more frequent interval for meetings is out of question.)

How about those ones of us who are too shy and too introvert for such sort of group activities? In this case, skipping the discussions and reading books on our own may equally help. Whatever works as long as we feel we have reached access the core of our souls.

Reflecting upon our life is enlightening the haze inside us. We don’t know why we are here but we should feel grateful for the life that was offered to us. Why not do the most with it and start by rescuing ourselves?

I Dream of Seeing More Compassion

What Do Religions Teach us?

Compassion, the feeling of concern for other person’s wellbeing, is one the main teachings of buddhism. In his book, Becoming Enlightened, His Holiness Dalai Lama talks about engendering great compassion on way to enlightenment. He describes seven steps to committing yourself to help others, which revolve around the idea of teaching your mind to find everyone dear and cultivate love for human beings, such as the poor and vulnerable.

Christianity talks also about the compassion in the parable of the good Samaritan, told by Jesus in the New Testament. The Samaritan helps a traveller which had been beaten and left almost dead on the side of the road, whereas the priest who had first passed by avoided the injured man.

My Experiences

My mother has always told me to help people who are in need. She repeated this message so many times throughout my childhood that it became one of my fundamental believes.

At my grandfather’s funeral, a friend of his told me a story about grandfather. One night, the two of them were walking home. They met a stranger who was going to walk all the way to the next village. It was a cold night and grandfather offered his jacket to the stranger. He was quite close to his home and the stranger needed the jacket more than he did. I was very close to my late grandfather but he had never mentioned this story to me. I would have never known it if it hadn’t been for his friend.

Ever since I’ve been a mother, I became more aware about how people behave towards my baby and I. For example, for one year, I have been walking around pushing the pram and carrying the baby bag in my back. When entering the stores, I keep the door open with one hand and with the other hand, I hold onto the pram. People come in and out as if I were hired to be the doorwoman or as if I were invisible. Rarely, someone notices me and keeps the door open so that I can enter as well.

Other times, it happens that I have to stand in line for buying a train ticket, for example. With a 11kg baby in the arms, fighting to escape, I decide to go in front and ask for permission to buy the ticket. Most of the times, people look at me as if I were a strange creature, talking a language they don’t understand. Their facial expression says, “Why don’t you stand in line like the rest of us?”. There is usually one person in the line who shouts, “Let her pass, she has a baby, can’t you see?”

What Do Scientists Tell Us?

I’ve been wondering why do I see so few reflections of compassion in my every day life? Do people feel compassion at all? Or is compassion but a virtue set as an example – never to be attained by humans – in spiritual and religious books? Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, thought of compassion as a “soft-heartedness and should not occur at all among human beings.” (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_compassionate_instinct)

However, recent studies done by psychologists and neuroscientists show that Kant was not right in his judgement. Both the body and the brain seem to be wired so that we respond to other people suffering. Yet, feeling compassion is different from acting as a result of feeling.

Social researcher David DeSteno did an experiment which showed that people have the tendency to help others if they perceive some commonality with the person they decide to help (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-compassion.html). He concludes that compassion can be cultivated by changing the way we perceive the people around us: in terms of similarities. DeSteno’s finding confirms the first step to practising compassion recommended by Buddhist teachings:

“I have difficulty seeing any person in the long past who has not been your father, mother, uncle, aunt, sister, master, abbot, guru or guiding figure.” (Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened, pp. 166)

My Conclusion

In conclusion, compassion lives in all of us. It is a matter of being aware that it is in us, and to be willing to practice it and cultivate it. Next time when I keep the door open so that people can come in and out of the store, I will be saying out loud, “You’re welcome!”

 

The Importance Of Teaching My Child About The Two Sides Of Comparing Yourself To Others

Comparing yourself to others is a pest. I’ve been fighting it for more than ten years. “Make the best out of who you are!”, I used to tell to myself. Yet, my mind kept on assessing the life of other women. Before I could be able to stop assessing, I found myself sad or even depressed that other women are much better in every single aspect of their lives or physically more appealing. In 2008, during one of my meditations, something miraculous happened to me. I started crying and my soul was overwhelmed with kindness as if I had been embraced by the divine grace. Happiness and self-content stepped into my life. After that moment, this automatic mental assessment still happened but I was able to stop it and replace it with the thought, “Each person is different.”

I was able to control my tendency to compare myself to others until the day I became a mother. My mind became more fragile than before. Comparing myself to other mothers became daily routine. I felt I did nothing right – my baby hardly touched the food, he did not sleep for an entire night. Other mothers seemed to have everything under control. I desperately started talking with my mother-in-law who very wisely pointed out to me that my baby has me as his mother and whatever I do, that is the best thing for him.

We are all wired to compare ourselves to others. Some of us enjoy measuring their results against other person’s results. And there are others whose benchmark is themselves one year ago or five years ago (http://tinybuddha.com/blog/stop-comparing-yourself-to-others/). Even for the latter group of individuals, comparison with others is a mental mechanism which has been built in us ever since the beginning of human kind and it springs from the competition between individuals.

Parents raise their children in the spirit of competition (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-creative-imperative/201108/killing-yourself-comparison). When you hear your parent bragging, “My kid is the best in class.”, you grow up fighting to stay on top. Or when you keep on hearing the disappointment of your parent, “Why can’t you get an A as Julie does?”, your self-esteem becomes flimsy.

Now when I am a mother myself, I have a double challenge: to stop comparing myself to other mothers and to raise my baby in the “find inspiration around you” spirit. Comparison may not be entirely erased since it’s so well printed in our genes. However, I do believe that it can be turned into the positive habit of getting inspired by the persons with whom we interact. This is what I want to teach my baby – to look for inspiration around him.

Staying on the negative side of comparing ourselves means living under the rule of jealousy, envy and anxiety. They can stifle all the creativity, like the creativity which comes from hearing stories of success. I am talking about stories which are not making headlines. They are stories of people very close to us – of our childhood friend, our room mate or why not, our grandmother. We have so many lessons of life to learn from one another, though we need to be careful to be authentic and not to imitate. For example, I find inspiring Michael Nobb’s story about how he stopped trying to follow in the footsteps of the artists he admired (http://www.sustainablycreative.com/dont-compare-yourself-to-others-just-get-on-with-your-important-work/).

Parents want the best for their children, they want their children to be happy and successful in life. If comparison has negative effects on our inner lives, why do parents raise their kids in a competitive/comparison state of mind in our modern society? Are the end results more important than the state of mind of our children?

The main culprit I could come up with is the educational system. I remember the feeling of victory when I used to get an A. There were only two or three other classmates who took the same grade. The rest were others who were not as good as us. The performance measured in grades resulted into an automatic comparison between myself and the others. Later on, when I competed for the study right at the university, it turned out that the grades from the previous years were one of the criteria for admittance. I can only conclude that the design of the educational system supports the negative side of comparison with others. How can I help my child not get brainwashed by this kind of performance measurement of pupils/students?

Focusing on your talents and desires is a possible mission in life. We come into this world endowed with one or more talents and it would be a shame not exploiting them. The subjective experience of cultivating your talents is more important than the objective measurement of the results. In addition, if we can learn the lesson of cooperation, we may reach amazing results – both subjective and objective. Cooperating on projects of similar interests is the best way to personal and professional development. Great ideas come from talking and working with people. If you find your true calling, you’ll find your place in the competitive society more naturally.

Last but not least, I’ll be talking to my child about the importance of being humble, which is the prerequisite for staying on the positive side of comparison with others. At the end of this life, we are all going to die. The least we can do is to make it our own way through life.

Do we know what to expect when we decide to be stay at home mothers?

“Mine, mine! I can’t manage to read anything … Aurora takes all my time… and there are moments when she does only what she wants! … she gets upset with me if I scold her and she would not talk to me anymore.” This is a fragment from the Skype message written by a friend who is the mother of a 2 years old baby girl. She took up studying for a new degree while being a stay at home mother.

Before becoming a mother myself, I used to think that mothers must have so much fun in the world of games and toys of their kids. I am now discovering the journey of motherhood – the reality of a stay at home mom. This is what I wanted to do for the first few years of my baby’s life. I had waited for such a long time to have a baby that I just didn’t want to miss anything that my little one is doing.

Leaving aside the expectation of having loads of fun, I had no other expectations about how my life would be. There are articles that build up the expectations of being a stay at home mother and that discuss whether it is healthier for the baby if the mother stays at home or gets back to work but in the end, it all boils down to what each mother wants to do (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/owning-pink/201111/do-working-moms-raise-healthier-kidshttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/adventures-in-old-age/201105/are-stay-home-moms-happierhttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/one-true-thing/201009/candy-band-stay-home-moms-who-rock). I didn’t live up to my boss’ expectations when I extended my maternity leave. The most important aspect for my decision was that I was fully convinced that I am ready to embrace the role of a mother.

It’s been one year now when I haven’t slept an entire night. If I am lucky, I sleep for four consecutive hours. The day that follows, I find the creative energy to invent games to play together with my baby, which makes me very happy. If I am less lucky, the little one wakes me up every half an hour. The following day, the toys spread on the floor are but an annoyance. The scarce energy that I possess is saved for feeding and changing diapers, and I feel I am not a good mother for not being able to offer him more.

And there are days when the little one gets sick. On those kind of days, he is glued to me and I wish I was a kangaroo so that I could carry him in my marsupium.The whining is omnipresent in our apartment, which feels smaller than its actual size. More than ever, he cries to get what he wants.

Had my friend communicated her frustration one year ago, I would have probably thought, “Why is she complaining that she dedicates all the time to her baby?”. But now, I feel for her. In addition to frustration, I usually get lost in the pitfall of impatience with the baby, irritation with my family and bitterness with the world.

Why didn’t anyone tell me about this aspect of motherhood? The day progresses slowly while I am having a constant inner fight between what I need to do in the house and what my baby wants me to do. How can I manage this inner tension, which nests in me every week?

Let the baby cry while I proceed with the housekeeping duties? Tempted, but no.

Change my goals for the day? Yes, yes, yes! I put on hold my housewife duties so that I can prioritise the baby’s needs. Still, I have to admit that it is easier to make this choice than to actually implement it. And that’s the challenge of a stay at home mother – the inner struggle to get out of the pitfall with negative emotions. What it usually works for me is to write a few words to a friend, another stay at home mother who can sympathise.

I sometimes laugh at my naiveté to ever think that when you become a mother, you step into the land of never ending happiness. On the contrary, according to my experience, motherhood amplifies the weakest aspects of yourself. Sad examples are the new mothers who can be affected by post natal depression or, a more severe type of illness, puerperal psychosis. Statistics say that 20% of new mothers are affected by post natal depression and 1 in 1000 mothers can be affected by puerperal psychosis (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-14011669).

I have not suffered of PND nor puerperal psychosis but I do feel that my mind is more unstable than what it used to be. Even in days which I think they are good, there are moments when I find myself experiencing panic attacks. The adorable smile of the baby is not enough to bring back the required energy to carry on with the day.

When the mind restores its balance, I become aware of the space that has opened up in me. I assume that it happened when I was fighting my negative emotions but after all, it does not matter when or how it happened. What counts is the discovery of a new territory in myself. In this new space, I feel in touch with myself, more than ever before. I feel strong and bathed in a peaceful energy which springs from the reservoir of pure and unconditional love.

My mind and soul are free of personal limitations – at least for a day. The journey of motherhood continues at another level now – the level where resides the acceptance of my imperfections. There are still many fights to be carried on at this level, fights between the newly acquired awareness and my personal weaknesses.

When the personal weaknesses wins, I’ll say to myself, “This too shall pass and all that counts is that my baby is healthy!”. Furthermore, it may help to write on a post it note, “It’s up to you, woman, to get back in balance, so find a way, be creative!”. I will stick it to the fridge or to the baby’s crib to read it when shit hits the fan.

Carpe Diem? Yes, please, but how?

The Latin poet, Horace must have known since he was the one who created this aphorism ‘Carpe Diem’, which in English is translated as ‘Seize the day’. I was 16 when I studied Latin and read for the first time about it. “I wanna do that too!” I thought.  The idea became a part of me: life is short, enjoy this minute without worry about the future. Still, years passed and to my disappointment, I realised how hard it’s been for me to ‘Carpe Diem’.

Before getting pregnant, I was meditating daily. Each meditation was a struggle to keep thoughts out of my mind! I used to sit there in my meditation position for half an hour in order to reach that state of ‘no thought, but peacefulness’ for few minutes only. Once in a while when my mind was too restless to meditate, I comforted myself with the thought that Elisabeth Gilbert had similar struggles, as she confesses in her novel, “Eat, Pray, Love“.

Now when I am a mother, I want to Carpe Diem with my baby. He is a very energetic and curious baby who sleeps for 2 hours maximum per day. Out of these 2 hours, he sleeps about 1,5 hours when I walk him around in his pram. One hour and half of walking provides the opportunity to have some time on my own. One day, I paid attention to my thoughts during this one hour and half. I passed by a playground where a mother was playing basketball with her kid. It was a joy to watch them. “I can’t wait for my little one to grow up.”, I thought.

I passed by a restaurant, where some people, smartly dressed were gathered in a circle and drinking wine from trendy design glasses. “Hm, the times when I used to be a social butterfly!” I was sinking into memories when I remembered how I used to think back then. When I used to see a mother and her baby, I used to think, “Lucky her! She must have the time of her life!”.

You must understand now the disappointment with myself. The life is here and now but my mind is all over, in the past and the future. The baby woke up at the sound of a machine drilling on the side walk. He started crying. “Huh! If he only slept ten more minutes to arrive home.” Faced with his louder and louder crying, all I could think was, “OK, what do I do now? Do I let him cry till we get home?”

His crying was breaking my heart. I took him in the arms. He calmed down and started pointing in the direction of the small park that we were just passing by. My mind started protesting, “You have to get home. Housekeeping tasks are waiting for you!” I was restless. In front of my eyes, the little one was shining with the joy of stepping on the green grass. He stopped at a tree trunk on which some mushrooms had grown (quite ugly, in my opinion). He looked at it carefully. I yielded to his desire. I followed him in his discovery of the vegetation in the park.

After this walk, I happened to find an article in Psychology Today, which talks about “Hiking with a Child“. The author of the article is Deborah L. Davis, a developmental psychologist who advises to consider two aspects when hiking with your child: 1. the temperament, interests and developmental stage of the child. 2. your goals as a parent. As a mother of a baby who is soon one year old, I found the article useful to put our short-term life into perspective.

What I found even more useful about the article was related to the goals of the parent, what is most important for the parent. My goal is to ‘Carpe Diem’ with my baby. The question is how to achieve that when having loads of practical issues that need to be done?