Friday, April 29, 2011

After The Wedding Comes Marriage...

In light of today's historical wedding of William and Kate and the crazy "wedding fever" gripping the world, I thought it might be interesting to discuss the magnitude that such a day plays in the lives of so many women.  The fairytale wedding to a handsome prince charming is the dream of almost every little girl, and it's crazy to think it's all over in one single day.  Look at all of the shows on TV dedicated to this one day:  Say Yes To The Dress, Rich Bride Poor Bride, Wedding SOS, A Wedding Story, For Better Or For Worse, Who's Wedding Is It Anyway, Bridezillas, I Do Let's Eat, I Propose, Engaged And Underage... and on and on!

We already know about all of the excitement and joy a bride-to-be feels in preparation for her big day, but the planning of the wedding can also lead to all kinds of stress, anxiety and drama.  It is kind of crazy to think of all of the effort that goes into being a bride, especially compared to so little that's put in to becoming a wife.  And we all know, the wife part lasts a whole lot longer than the bride part! 

Now that Kate's big day is almost over, real life begins.  She's probably had a whole lot more training for what that entails given she will be leading a public life, but what about us common folk? The honeymoon comes to an end and the excitement wanes - for many women the transition from bride to wife can take some getting used to.  Marriage is wonderful, but it also takes a lot of work to keep it that way.  In the fairy tales we grew up on, "happily ever after" ends when the princess marries her prince.   

When I got married, I was 35 and pregnant (yes, it was planned).  Since we had already been living together, I had a pretty good handle on what the wife part was going to be.  Given our age and circumstances, our priorities for a wedding were not the traditional ones.  My husband had been married previously and had told me from day one that he didn't want to get married unless he knew for sure that he would be a dad (hence him knocking me up before us getting married).  He had also had the traditional big wedding. 

When it came down to it, I was more than happy to put whatever finances were earmarked for a wedding toward a down payment on a house.  I thought nesting at that point was a whole lot more important that one big celebration.  We eloped and got married on the beach with 4 witnesses and a Rabbi.  We didn't tell our families in advance but simply called them after the ceremony to let them know.  A week after we came back they threw as an intimate luncheon that was just perfect.

Although I had no issue giving up the fairytale wedding of my childhood dreams, I must say there were two things I did feel badly about missing... firstly, the whole dress experience and secondly, having my father walk me down the aisle.  I did wear a white dress that was perfect for our beach wedding (together with white flip flops), but it wasn't the same as having that whole princess dress shopping experience (and I do love to shop).  That said, I have absolutely no regrets over our wedding and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

So what makes a "good" wife in today's world?  I found a very funny article that told you what it meant back in 1955 - the contents are posted at the bottom of this post.  In my humble opinion (we're just approaching our 7th anniversary), what makes a good wife depends on the partnership you have.  Each relationship is different and what works for some, may not work for you.  On that list, however, there are some ingredients which are non-negotiable for a happy marriage: 
  • love
  • mutual respect, honesty, loyalty and acceptance
  • open communication
  • picking your battles and fighting fair (let's face it, you will fight)
  • being secure both as an individual and as a couple
  • having realistic expectations of each other
  • a healthy sex life
  • sharing in household and child-rearing responsibilities (hopefully on an equal basis if you both work full time)
  • being supportive of one another
  • giving each other space
  • treating each other as you would a best friend 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. 

I'm not sure why we're so fascinated with weddings and brides - but I have to say I loved watching the ceremony this morning.  Do we just love the romance part of it?  Do we want the things that traditionally followed... security, house, children?  Or does it just represent "happiness" - something we are all seeking?  Whatever it may be, I do hope that Kate gets here happily ever.  I hope that as husband and wife, Kate and Will have a successful marriage.  Now we will all wait with bated breath for the first new little royals!

The Good Wife's Guide

From Housekeeping Monthly, 13 May, 1955.
  • Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have be thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.
  • Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
  • Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
  • Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Run a dustcloth over the tables.
  • During the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
  • Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.
  • Be happy to see him.
  • Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
  • Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first - remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
  • Don't greet him with complaints and problems.
  • Don't complain if he's late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.
  • Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or lie him down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
  • Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.
  • Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
  • A good wife always knows her place.
*picture courtesy of

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The "Work" In My Avoiding Working Mom Burnout

Since starting my blog, I've discussed all kinds of topics relating to being a mom, being a woman and juggling a million priorities... but I've never actually talked about work.  That's half of the two words I use to describe myself "working mom".  Also, I thought as readers, you might actually like to know a little bit more about the products I market... if you're like me, then you're the target audience for it!  I promise this will not be an infomercial blog... hang with me for a bit!  As a crazy busy working mom, I'm always looking for shortcuts - not only to fit more into my day, but to also lead a healthier and happier life.  So I thought I would tell you a little bit about what I do... which in turn will lead me to share with you some great shortcut ideas for sneaking a little bit of exercise into your day.

For those of you who don't know me, I'm the Director of Marketing for a company called Mayfair Tech Inc.  Our initial product launch was ShaToBu - The Workout You Wear.  The name stands for "shape", "tone" and "burn".  I'm sure you might be wondering what the heck it is... first let me ask, do you know what shapewear is?  I assume the whole world knows about Spanx, but just in case, it's the modern day girdle you wear under your clothes to suck you in and smooth you out.  Many of us have tried this under a special occasion dress (or under anything post-baby LOL).  Our ShaToBu shapewear, however, doesn't just suck and smooth, it was scientifically proven to also tone your muscles and help you burn extra calories as you move about during the day.  I won't bore you with all of the science that's been done, but I can assure you it does work, and it is real.  If you're really interested, you can check out the proven technology page on our website. 

When I first interviewed for the job, it wasn't the shapewear part of things that caught my interest, but rather the workout component.  I wasn't a shapewear wearer, but I was and have always been into exercise.  When I first went back to work after both my maternity leaves, I was in fighting form.  All of the baby weight was gone and I was toned and fit.  And then real life happens.  The long walks with baby in the stroller and time to exercise disappear and the weight starts to creep back on (and body gets a bit "soft" - ugh).  If you're a working mom, I don't have to tell you how hard it is to fit exercise into your regular routine.  Even if you do manage, things come up... kids keep you up at night, travel, stress... etc. Basically, extra sleep can often win out over the early morning workout.

What I thought was so cool about ShaToBu was that it made you look better instantly (sucked in the dreaded muffin top and eliminated VPLs... visible panty lines) AND it also gave you an edge long term to help you get/stay in shape.  It's NOT a miracle product and doesn't replace going to the gym, but it does that little bit of extra that may just get/keep you on the right track.  Perhaps you may wonder how it can do this... well, there are built-in resistance bands in the back of the garment (just like the resistance bands we use in the gym) - wearing it makes your muscles work just a little bit harder than doing the same movement without, which in turn helps you burn the extra calories.  It was developed by a female chiropractor who was concerned for the health of her female patients.  I liked that part too.  We now have shapers, tights, leggings and coming soon, everyday wear.

Without turning this into a sales pitch for ShaToBu, let me get to the part that I found cool - squeezing in the light workout in my regular daily routine.  There is a lot of research out there that shows that doing small spurts of exercise are just as good, and maybe even better, than doing a longer workout.  Doing less is also easier on our muscles and joints (another problem if we are older working moms LOL).  Check out this study done in Scotland and another study done in UK.  Good news for us!  At the end of the day though, doing anything is always better than nothing.  Every little bit helps! 

So in addition to wearing ShaToBu, here are some of the other things I have done to sneak a little bit of exercise in my day, especially on those when I miss my workout!

  • take a 10-20 minute walk at lunch
  • get up from my desk and stretch for 10 minutes in the afternoon (or however many minutes I can manage)
  • do some exercise while sitting or standing at my desk when on the phone (see images below - I created these for ShaToBu) - you can also do these while watching TV
  • take the stairs when I can
  • in nicer weather, play ball or do something active with the kids before/after dinner (walking the dog together is good too... especially for the dog)
  • put on some music and dance with the kids - they LOVE it
  • take one of the farthest parking spots in the lot

At this stage of my life, I find all of the little things add up... whether they are the pluses or minuses.  Those extra bites off my kids' plates add up to pounds on my butt, so it goes without saying that whatever little extra I can do to stay active will hopefully have the opposite effect.  It certainly can't hurt.  If I include my kids in the activity, I get the bonus of spending time with them too.  And just as important as spending the time together, teaching them about an active lifestyle instead of one sitting in front of the TV, computer or video game, will hopefully create healthy habits to last them a lifetime. 

P.S. Does the silhouette look familiar?  It's me LOL!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Are You Guilty Of Judging Other Mothers, And Even Yourself?

In simpler times past, a woman's role was that of wife, mother and keeper of the home.  As we gained our independence and took on new roles, our choices grew tremendously.  And with so many choices, we can't help but question ourselves and the choices we make.  It's not surprising then, that we not only judge other mothers, but ourselves as well.  Why?  Because comparing ourselves to others tells us if we are performing in our chosen role - in other words, it helps us determine if we are a good or bad mother.  I think it's completely natural to judge ourselves and others as a result of being insecure about our choices, and we're insecure about our choices because it's impossible to do it all by today's standards. 

It's almost like we have a checklist in our heads of "good" mom and "bad" mom moments.  We look at another mother and see something she is doing and say "Crap, I don't do that, I must be failing in some way", or "Phew, I do that too so I must be on the right track".  I think we play a good game of pretending to do it all and be happy doing it.  I think it's taboo to talk about the truth and whether or not we are truly happy in our new roles and all of the choices we have to make in today's world.  I think there is so much guilt in whichever choice we make that we are basically set up to fail in our own minds.  I think it leads us to feeling as if others are judging all of our actions, as well as to us making choices based on those perceived judgments.  Those judgments can come from everywhere, family, friends, colleagues, as well as other mothers.  It's a virtual pressure cooker!  Whether you choose to be a stay-at-home mom, a working mom or a part-time working mom, we feel like people will have something to say based on the choices we make.  And the crazy part is, we're scared they'll look down on us for the choice, rather than praise us!

We judge other mothers for a variety of reasons... one in particular is when we don't know what to do ourselves.  I think the "safety in numbers" mentality comes in to play and we look around to see what others are doing so we can figure out the "right" thing to do.  But just because something may work for the majority, it does not necessarily mean it will work for you.  We have to dig deep to really question ourselves on whether a certain choice is the right choice for ourselves and for our family - having the confidence to do so can sometimes be daunting.  Why do you think it's so hard for us to trust our own judgment?  In other aspects of my life, I don't hesitate to make decisions, and I do so with authority. 

I also think that we tell ourselves that certain things make us happy, because they are supposed to make us happy (and because they are supposedly making other mothers happy).  I think we're scared to dig deep and be honest with ourselves about our thoughts and our lives.  I think when other moms ask us about our lives and choices, we often tell them what we think we should say (or what we think they want to hear), rather than the truth.  I think the truths is often too scary.  The truth is, I think we are all afraid of failing our kids in some way.  Or even worse, that the choices we have made which we presumed would make us happy, are not in actual fact making us happy.

I've really been digging deep lately and asking myself what would make me happiest?  I know that trying to compete with other mothers can only end up making me feel bad.  Although it's very difficult, I'm trying hard not to be influenced by what others are doing (or not doing), in addition to what I think everyone expects of me. I don't think we can truly find happiness in the roles we have chosen unless we are completely honest with our deepest thoughts and desires.  And once we figure these out, have the courage to make the changes despite our worries of what others may think.  It's a fine balance for sure... trying to be happy while still doing what we feel is right for our kids, our family and ourselves.  But in the end, if we don't try, isn't that the biggest failure of all?

I know I'm not alone in how I am feeling.  There are lots of other moms blogging on this topic.  Check out this post by The Mom Crowd - she gives some good tips on how to stop judging other moms.  I also recently read I Was A Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids:  Reinventing Modern Motherhood by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile.  A really thought provoking read.

Date Night Part 3!

It's a fun Monday for me... it's my first time as a guest blogger - check out my date night blog that was posted on Erica Diamond's site today - Women On The Fence!

Also, stay tuned for my next post... it will be an interesting one (now that I'm back and all refreshed from our family vacation).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Do You Know What Makes You Happy?

This is a good TGIF - last day in the office before we're off on the family vacation for a week.  That makes me REALLY happy.  It made me start thinking about what else made me happy.  And then I thought, what if I made a list of those things and then tried to do or experience more of them on a regular basis?  It's definitely a habit worth making.  Do you know what makes you happy?

Here is my list.  No particular order.  It includes big things, as well as small ones. Probably not all-inclusive... but a good start.
  • family vacations (right now this is top of the list)
  • the first sight of my kids' faces in the morning and at the end of the work day
  • date night with my husband
  • the moment when I finish the 5am workout
  • a good hair day
  • the sound of my kids laughter, especially when they are laughing together
  • indulging in a delicious ice cream (or any other dessert, but I love ice cream)
  • sunshine warming my face (well, warm & sunny weather in general)
  • a success at work or praise from my boss(es)
  • writing my blog
  • when someone comments on my blog (hint, hint)
  • hearing from an old friend
  • shabbat dinner with family at our house
  • a glass of wine at the end of the day
  • waking up on the weekend and not having to rush out of the house, especially because it includes cuddling with the kids - no better way to start my day
  • reading a great book
  • playing bejeweled
  • watching my kids do something they enjoy and their sense of accomplishment when they master something new
  • shopping, especially when I'm in another city (and I get to browse at leisure)
  • feeling fit and healthy
  • cooking with my husband (and/or kids)
  • a great chick flick
  • an income tax refund (it's that time of year)
  • 8 straight hours of sleep - a rarity
  • hiking or walking outdoors on a beautiful day with the family
  • cuddling with my husband and kids in bed
  • some good female bonding
  • the beach, the ocean and mountains (in other words, beautiful scenery)
  • receiving flowers for no reason... at the office
  • a great, stress-relieving massage
  • a great song that makes me want to dance (even though I'm a crappy dancer)
  • a pedicure (thinking about the beach here and that my toes are not yet done)
  • a good traffic day - it means extra precious minutes with my kids
  • stimulating conversation
So I think I'll stop there... I could probably keep going but I'm feeling that you probably not only get the point of this exercise, but also a good idea about what makes me happy!  It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day challenges of the hectic life of a working mom, it's a lot harder to slow yourself down to enjoy the moment and squeeze in a few extra things that put a smile on your face.  A reminder once in a while is not a bad thing.

Wishing you all a good weekend and a happy passover to my Jewish friends!  I'll be back in a week ;-)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Family Vacation - The Importance, Fantasy & Reality

We usually take a vacation with the kids twice a year... and one is coming up this weekend.  Firstly, I'd like to say YEAH, YEAH, YEAH!  We're heading down to Florida for a week to celebrate Passover with our families.  Secondly, I'd like to talk about why I think the family vacation is so important and how to make it a good one.

When I look back to when I was growing up, the one thing I always remember are the family trips we took with my parents.  For some reason, those memories stick more than any others.  I think the family vacation is even more important for my kids because as working parents, it's the only opportunity we get to spend any length of quality time together.  Even on weekends, there are errands to do, people to see or things to do, so vacation time is truly, truly special.  I cherish every second of it - there are no responsibilities, no schedules, nothing to do but concentrate on having fun together.  I can't wait to wake up each day and not have to rush the kids out of the house... to just be. 

You might remember that I wrote two posts about our weekend trip to Ottawa - the first was my anticipation of spending a fun weekend together as a family by taking a spur of the moment trip, and the second was post-trip detailing the actual reality of that trip.  I can't stress enough the importance of having a realistic view of what your family vacation is going to be, as well as knowing how to make the most of it.  Part of that is knowing what to expect when you get there, including the quality of the hotel or place where you are staying, what the activities will be, and what resources are available to you.  The weekend get-away to Ottawa was a first for us and we had never been to the specific hotel in question - this definitely led to some disappointment.  At Christmas time, we usually go to the same resort and know exactly what the vacation will be, and same goes for our trip to Florida... which means less chance for disappointment.

When we go on vacation, here's what I expect... and how I will plan in advance to make the most of it...
  • my kids will probably whine and give us some sort of challenge both in the airport and on the flights to and from.  In preparation, I usually go to the dollar store and get some crafts and new things for them to play with.  This is usually a distraction for part of the trip.  I also pack their favorite toys and the portable DVD player to help pass the time. 
  • one of them will most likely have some type of accident i.e. spill their juice on themselves, so in preparation, I always pack an extra outfit.  And it doesn't hurt to pack some band-aids, tempra, gravol... you just never know!
  • my kids will probably fight while we are away and I and/or my husband will be driven nuts and want to kill them.  In preparation... hmm... not much one can do except maybe have a glass of wine at lunch... it is vacation after all.
  • while at the beach/pool they will invariably need to pee or be hungry.  In preparation, I will bring snacks & juice boxes and locate the nearest restroom in advance (and when desperate, there is always the ocean).
  • 7:30pm bedtime will probably not happen every night so I will be prepared for some crankiness.  In preparation... another glass of wine at dinner?
  • should we enter a store of any kind, the kids will definitely "have to have" something.  In preparation... either leave them with their grandparents or tell them in advance that we are absolutely NOT buying anything for them (that doesn't seem to work but we still need to say it)
  • things just move slower when you have kids in tow... so I remind myself to just relax and have fun - no agendas required!
As the kids get older, it does seem to get easier.  We've done the family vacation enough over the last few years that I think we no longer have any false expectations.  The fantasy is pretty much the reality.  I love to get the kids excited in advance (we are now counting do do's - 3 more to go) so that they are prepared not only for the travel, but also for the fun.  And most importantly, when we are actually there, I will tell them several times how great it is to be with them and how special the time is... given that they are young, I want to make sure that they take a mental note of the time together and that it shouldn't be taken for granted.  These moments are to be cherished and remembered (and the 100+ pictures I'll take should help in that regard).  Hopefully they'll look back as fondly on their family vacations as I do on mine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How Do You Teach Your Kids About Charity?

I've noticed lately that my children are really in the "I want" stage and seem to be under the impression that things are always coming their way.  I know this is completely normal for young children but quite frankly, I really don't like it.  So when I heard about "Mitzva Day" this past Sunday as part of the YLC Outreach to help families who don't have enough for Passover, I thought what a great way to start teaching my kids the art of giving.  Not to mention something about their Jewish heritage!

I think what your parents do and the examples they set definitely impact how you are as an adult with respect to your involvement in the community and charitable organizations.  Growing up, my dad did volunteer work and was actually president of the Kidney Foundation of Canada, but that was when I was much younger.  This was pretty much the extent of my exposure and I never really got involved personally.  I have always made donations to certain causes, but never volunteered my time.  My husband's family is quite active and my father-in-law is currently the President of the YM-YWHA in Montreal.  One of my co-workers (the one who told me about Mitzva Day) is extremely active and involved, and devotes a significant amount of her time to charity, as does her family.  I find that very impressive and it motivates me to get more involved and to teach my children what charity is all about.  I have to say, I was truly surprised by how many young people were volunteering at the event this past weekend.  It was a really nice sight to see.

With my son starting kindergarten, we've already had several fundraising activities from the school.  I of course have spear-headed each campaign and raised the money on his behalf, figuring that he's too young to do it himself.  I think I made a mistake... although I discussed it with him and he knew about the fundraising event, I probably should have made him do the asking and had him more involved.  I'm definitely going to do so next time. 

So when is the appropriate time to start teaching your kids about charity?  And how do you do it?

I always talk to my kids about others who are less fortunate than us - for example, donating clothes that no longer fit or toys they no longer play with, or even when they don't care to eat their meal.  Yes, I swore I would never do the "starving kids in Africa" thing, but I do.  That said, I'm really not sure it worked for me as a kid, so I'm not convinced it will work for them either.  It just becomes another thing mom says.  I know conversations are important to help them understand about world affairs, whether it's the natural disasters like the Tsunami in Japan, global warming, clean drinking water, etc., but I think to really make an impact on what these things really mean and how they can affect them personally, I need to do more.

It goes without question that the first place I looked to figure out where to start was on the web.  I found several suggestions on how to help teach your kids to be more charitable.  Here are some tips from eHow:

  • Require that your child donate an old toy for every new toy he or she is given. Make a trip to a local charity that accepts toys part of your child's birthday activities.

  • Organize a clothing drive in your neighborhood and have your child donate clothes he or she has outgrown.

  • Take your child to the local library with an armload of books to donate. Later, you can visit the library to find these books on the shelf and, if you can, check inside the cover to see how many times the books have been borrowed.

  • Allow your child to choose a canned or boxed food item to donate to the food bank when you go to the grocery store. If there's a donation box at the store, let your child place the donation in the box. Or you can let your child bring the items into the food bank using his or her wagon.

  • Help your child and his or her friends perform a play or sing at a local nursing home.

  • Buy a large bag of dog or cat food and go with your child to the animal shelter to donate it. If the shelter allows, let your child place a dog biscuit or cat treat in each cage for the animals to enjoy.

  • Take your child along as you check in on elderly or sick neighbors and let him or her help you do errands for them such as raking leaves, cooking a meal or delivering flowers.

  • Encourage your child to set aside part of his or her allowance to give to charity. Help him or her choose the charity that will receive the money.

  • I think these tips are very helpful as a starting point and easy to incorporate into one's lifestyle.  However, what if we want to take things one step further and volunteer our time for a specific cause?  A bit daunting if you have never done this.  I know it's important to choose something that is going to be a fun learning experience while helping in some way.  I don't want it to be something I have to force them to do, I want them to WANT to help others.  My other concern is that given they are still very young, I'm not quite prepared to expose them to certain hard truths - I feel I need to still protect them from some of the harsher realities life has to offer.  For example... they love animals, so I thought about volunteering at a local shelter, but I'm not sure I want to explain that these animals have no homes and that if nobody adopts them, they may be put to sleep.  How would that affect them?  I see it already, they will want to take all the animals home! So choosing the right opportunity may not be as easy as it would first seem.

    I started looking on the web and found several websites listing local volunteer opportunities... there is even a Volunteer Bureau of Montreal that lists all of the current requests for volunteers by category.  I'm sure there is something similar in every major city.  When I just checked their site, there were 904 volunteer opportunities in Montreal.  There is also a very helpful section to give tips to those volunteering for the first time (like me) to help you get started.  Here is what they suggested to help you narrow down what type of volunteering you would like to do:
    • If you had all the human and financial resources in the world, what problem would you solve, what would you change or what would you create? Your answer will tell you what matters the most to you.
    • What kind of time commitment are you willing to make? Are you looking for regular, weekly volunteer work, or for a short-term or one-time commitment?
    • Would you prefer to volunteer with other people or by yourself?
    • Would you like to work from your own home, or would you prefer to volunteer at an organization?
    • If you would like to volunteer away from home, where is the best location for you? Near home? Close to work? Near your child's day-care centre?
    • Do you have specific skills or talents you would like to share with an organization?
    • Would you like to develop a specific skill?
    • What are your personal goals? Are you re-entering the workforce?
    • Do you want to meet new people?
    So far so good... then I started to search through the different categories and found one for those under 18 years - unfortunately, it appeared that there were no opportunities for children under 12.  Hmm... so then I started searching opportunities to volunteer as a family in the Montreal area - not as easy as it sounds.  I actually tried calling the Volunteer Bureau of Montreal but I was put on hold for way too long and hung up.  So now I'm at a bit of a loss as to what we can do.  I'm sure there is something out there for us to do, but I'm not quite sure how to find it! 

    So I'm turning this blog around... if any of you out there have volunteered with your kids and know how to proceed or of some actual opportunities, please do tell!  Please feel free to comment below, or since I have heard that some people have had a hard time adding comments to my blog, reach out to me on facebook or on twitter!  I really want to do this!

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    How I Learn From My Kids By What They Do Right - You'll Be Surprised!

    A good number of my blog posts have centered around the challenges I face in balancing work and family, in addition to those concerning motherhood.  You know, anything that helps me avoid burnout while trying to do it all???  It started me thinking that perhaps I'm giving my family a bit of a bad rap because I don't often talk about how great they are and what they actually do right.  Even as adults and parents, there is a lot to be learned from others, including our children.  I think one of the big joys in having kids is delighting in watching them experience childhood moments that we may have perhaps forgotten.

    My children are uniquely different (as are yours, I'm sure) and so the lessons learned from each are also different.  My son is a lot like me personality-wise, while my daughter is totally my husband.  That means I really "get" my son and his reactions because he acts in a way that I would expect, but even still, there is a lot I can learn from him.  As for my daughter, there are so many things that are not like me, that she can sometimes keep me guessing.  Here are some of the lessons they have taught me:

    Lessons from my son:
    • He has boundless curiosity and asks lots of questions, which makes me question things I would perhaps take for granted.  He is able to put things in a new light.
    • He has an incredible memory and reminds me of a lot of the little things I might otherwise forget.
    • He is extremely observant and points things out I wouldn't normally take note of.
    • He does things "his way" and for an A-type personality, it makes me see my way isn't always the "only" way.
    • He cannot end his day without "cuddle" time, which is a great way for all of us to end our day.
    • That there is joy in things, even if we don't do them well - he unfortunately has my sense of rhythm but when there's music on, he doesn't think twice about getting up to dance - and he does so with total delight.  I don't look forward to the day he develops self awareness and quits doing things because he's embarrassed that he doesn't do them well... despite the fact that he loves doing them.
    • That colouring and arts and crafts are really fun - I used to love that stuff and now I get to do it all again!
    Lessons from my daughter:
    • Her constant happiness and positive outlook just leave me in awe.  In this, I wish to emulate her.
    • Her ability to really live in the moment shows me I don't always have to think about what's coming next.
    • Her boundless energy in tackling anything she does with total abandonment makes me want to get up and go.
    • Her mischievousness and teasing reminds me to lighten up and have a little more fun.
    • Her sense of discovery makes me think outside the box.
    • Her fearlessness makes me want to try new things and be more adventurous.
    • Her unconditional love no matter what reminds me to accept people for who they are.
    • Sometimes it's OK to cry if you don't get your way.
    I think that due to all of the pressures we face with respect to our kids reaching certain childhood milestones, that we spend more time evaluating where our children may fall short, rather than focusing on all of the things they do right.  This is separate and apart from praising them and building their self-esteem - that focuses more on their "accomplishments" and less on who they are as people.  Although we love our children unconditionally and, if you are like me, in total awe that we created these little human beings, we don't always stop to appreciate the little human beings they actually are.    

    There isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel blessed to have been given the privilege of being a mom.  My kids may often drive me crazy, make me lose my patience or just plain make me want to tear my hair out, but I wouldn't want it any other way.  Some days are easier while others harder and totally exhausting, but one things is for sure, I won't EVER take this journey for granted.  As with every Friday afternoon, I wait with impatience for my weekend to begin so I can race home to spend it with my family - the best thing that has ever happened to me.  TGIF!

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    The "Others" Raising Our Children

    With the majority of moms going back to work after having a baby today, we have to rely on so many others to help raise our children.  My husband and I debated early on nanny vs. day care.  My mother-in-law always worked and so my husband grew up with nannies in his house.  My mom stayed at home full time and we never had help in the house.  I actually never had any kind of help, even to clean, until I met my husband (at age 34). 

    My husband advocated strongly for a nanny for our kids because it was what he knew, and I stayed strong on the day care option.  I had seen my brother go through several nannies and read too many nanny horror stories.  I felt that with day care, there would be licensed educators, other kids to play with, schedules and routines, etc.  I also felt they would learn a lot more.  Even if a teacher quit, the environment and other kids stayed the same so there would be lots of consistency too.  Although I knew that they would get sick a lot in the first year or two, I also knew that my nephew who stayed home with a nanny got sick all the time when he started kindergarten... because he didn't have his immune system built up from being around other kids.

    At the end of the day, I won out on the day care option.  If you ask my husband now, he will say it was absolutely the right option for our kids and that he has zero regrets.  I do feel we got really lucky with the teachers they have had (and that my daughter still has) - we never had any issues.  The kids were happy and always liked their teachers.

    Now that my kids are getting a little older, we do have help in the house.  I leave very early in the morning for work and can't make either pick up or drop off.   Our housekeeper picks up my son everyday from school (and often does the morning drop off when my husband is out of town).  My daughter's day care hours are longer and until she starts pre-K in the fall, I am at least able to dop her off and pick her up. 

    So here is the meat of the matter for me. Our housekeeper is the loveliest, biggest hearted lady and I feel blessed to have her as part of our family.  But... she's afraid to stand up to my son.  At pick up time, the kids are often in the computer lab and he doesn't want to leave.  He makes a big fuss.  She's embarrassed and doesn't want to make a scene as she feels others are judging her (I told her the only thing they are thinking when they are looking is Thank God It's Her Kid And Not Mine!).  When he's home with her on a PD day, he manipulates her into watching TV all day.  I tell her you have to take him outside!  She says he refuses to go.  I say he's 6! She says I know, I know.  But it remains unchanged.  It doesn't matter how many times I say she is allowed to discipline him (appropriately) if he doesn't listen, she just can't stand her ground with him.

    The problem is only starting to get bigger.  The more he can get away with, the more he tries to get away with.  He can sometimes be rude to her, or, he can simply ignore her.  If I'm around, I quickly interject, but when I'm not around, he senses her fear and takes full advantage.  I try to talk to her about it and encourage her to stand up to him, but I'm not sure it's helping.  It worries me that as he gets older, he will get even more difficult for her to handle if she doesn't start getting tougher with him.  Add to that my daughter who will also soon be part of her daily pick up.  She will watch what her brother does and emulate that behaviour.  I need our housekeeper to grow a back bone or else I'm scared that my kids will run rampant with her!  What happens when homework enters the equation?  Will she be able to make them sit down and do it?  I rely on her to not only take care of my kids, but to also discipline them when needed. 

    I don't for a second question the care that they are receiving from her, but I do want my children to be well-mannered and well-behaved.  In order for that to happen, she has to not only give them boundaries and limits, but also enforce them!  As a total A-type personality, I'm very frustrated that I am reliant on her and that I cannot make her do it. 

    I have obviously also sat down with my son to explain that he cannot behave this way.  Yesterday, I resorted to threats of removing his toys from his room should he continue to have tantrums when she picks him up. We'll see if that works. Otherwise, I'm at a loss on this one and would truly appreciate some additional insight!  Although this is not a do or die situation (the after-school window is not huge at the moment), I do want to resolve it.  As a very hands on mother, I must say it's very difficult that I can't fix this one on my own.  Help!

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    The Report Card-How & When Do You Encourage Kids To Get Better Grades?

    My son just received his second kindergarten report card and I was happy to see that he's made some progress.  I sat down with him and tried to explain the things his teacher thought he was doing really well with, and those he needed to still show some improvement.  I'm not quite sure if he fully grasped what I was saying and what the grades meant, but I felt it was important to at least have the conversation. 

    It started me thinking - at what point do you actually start "encouraging" them to get better grades?  I mean I do encourage him to try harder now, but I really mean when do I start setting expectations regarding grades?  I was always a straight A student but it was really my own drive that put me there and not pressure from my parents.  Although I think part of the drive came from wanting to please them and make them proud.  But it was a decision I made and an expectation I put on myself... what if my children don't do the same?

    Getting good grades is more important today than ever - getting into schools has never been tougher and you of course want your child to have every advantage, which includes getting the best education.  You've all heard about the Tiger Mom by now, right?  I can't imagine being that type of mom and putting that type of pressure on my children - don't they also have the right to just be children?  They'll hit the real world soon enough!  On the other hand, we also seem to try harder today at encouraging self-esteem and providing tons of positive feedback.  Unfortunately, that doesn't paint a realistic picture for our children of who they really are... which can't be good either.  Not every scribbled picture they make is a masterpiece, but we sure tell them it is.  So where does that leave us?  In this video, they examine the different parenting styles (including the Tiger Mom's style) and I found it quite interesting:

    For me, the question that first comes to mind is isn't there somewhere in between?  Do we have to be either super strict or totally laisser faire?  Can't we do a bit of both?  Isn't there a happy medium?

    I feel children crave boundaries and limits because it makes them feel safe.  I also feel that each child is an individual and that a certain parenting technique can work for some but not others.  I watched several videos on the topic and many of those videos interviewed children who had been raised by a tiger mom, but also others who had moms who were more lax, as well as some who had helicopter moms (the moms who hover over everything the child does).  In one video all three parenting styles resulted in children who were straight A students.  In others, children of tiger moms said that they would never choose to raise their own children that way and that it was a horrible way to grow up.

    I don't think it's possible to choose one style and say it's the right one.  I think the bigger part of the equation is knowing what motivates and what hurts your own child.  I already see that the reactions I get from my parenting style is different with my son vs. my daughter.  If I raise my voice with my son, he withdraws into himself and actually beats himself up (i.e. last night at dinner, he kept getting up from the table so I eventually raised my voice and he reacted by pouting and moving to a chair at the other end of the table).  My daughter on the other hand, reacts to a raised voice by bursting into tears and hiding behind the couch - she's a total drama queen.  All she wants me to do is come back over to her and pick her up and hug her... as if she's been the wronged party.  So how would it be possible to have the same style for each of them?

    But back to the good grades question.  I don't want my kids to be raised to think that school and grades are the end all and be all, despite their overriding importance.  For me there is more to life and I also want them to experience joy and fun.  I guess that's my motivation for making them happy, well-rounded individuals.  Which means I have to find a balance between pushing them to excel and letting them live.  I'm definitley keeping my fingers crossed that they will love school and learning as I did because that would certainly make my job easier, but if not, I am prepared to push them if that's what it takes.  My original question still remains... at what point do you start pushing?  I actually couldn't find anything helpful here on the internet (shocker!) so I'm going with... when it feels right.  I'll just have to trust myself on this one.  And when/if that time comes, I found some very helpful tips on essortment.  I leave you with those: 

    1. Talk about it. Don't expect your child to know what is expected or how you feel about the good or bad grades that come home at report time. Be clear in setting a reasonable standard. While you want to emphasize that careless neglect of studies will lead to loss of privileges (such as telephone, computer, or television), you should highlight the positives of earning good grades and what rewards may be expected.

    2. Write it down. Post a chart on the refrigerator for young children, or make a contract with high school kids that rewards high marks with driving or social privileges. Whatever your system is, make a written copy so students can check it anytime, especially if the guidelines are detailed or complex, such as awarding $5 per A, $4 per B, and nothing per C or lower. Ignoring children's school grades means they will likely not care either.

    3. Offer a reward. As indicated above, rewards may be tangible, such as dollar amounts, or they may be intangible, like privileges. Be reasonable in assessing the value of your student's academic performance, keeping in mind that some kids are natural scholars while others are clearly the opposite.

    4. Gear studies to your child's aptitude. If your son loves sports, order a software program that uses professional game clips or players' names to endorse a learning method. For kids who love the outdoors, suggest they ask for extra credit assignments connected to nature study. Look for ways to link personal interests to school progress.

    5. Get involved. Volunteer at school. Studies show that parents who help out at their child's school tend to see improved grades in their children's report cards. You also may want to suggest that the teacher adopt a rewards program (using books, ice cream, fast food, etc.) as an incentive to prompt high achievement levels.

    6. Give hugs. Recent research indicates that kids still like Mom and Dad to hug or embrace them, but not in front of their friends. Parents remain the most influential people in their kids' lives, so be a good role model in valuing education, reading for leisure, and praising academic success.

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Why It Particularly Sucks To Be Sick When You're A Mom

    In case any of you missed me over the last couple of days... I'm back.  I've been too sick over the last couple of days to raise my head from the pillow, never mind write a blog post.  You may recall that I recently wrote a post about how it sucks to take care of your kids when you're feeling crappy.  Well, I wanted to take another go on that topic... from a slightly different view point.

    I have been sick now for almost a month.  It started with strep throat.  The day after I completed the 10 day treatment with antibiotics, I started having a horrible case of the runs... for 10 straight days.  Then I got a cold and respiratory infection.  Went back to the doctor to find out I got c. difficile from the antibiotics I took for the strep (hence the runs, nausea, stomach cramps, etc.).  Who knew that taking something to help you get better could actually make you sick???!!!  This is what Health Canada states about c. difficile:

    The use of antibiotics increases the chances of developing C. difficile diarrhea because antibiotics alter the normal levels of good bacteria found in the intestines and colon. When there are fewer good bacteria, C. difficile can thrive and produce toxins that can cause an infection.
    OK, enough about that crappy stuff - no pun intended.  Because what I really want to write about is how when you're a mom, you truly never get a break.  You NEVER get a time out.  As the matriarch of the family you are expected to be there to make things run smoothly... or better yet, to make things run they way they always run.  And when they don't, everything gets thrown off.

    My husband simply has NO CLUE how to be around me when I'm sick.  Although he obviously wants me to get better, it's like he's angry at me for being unwell (and hence not happy and bubbly).  When he asks me how I'm feeling, it's like an accusation.  He wants me to say "all better" but if I'm not feeling better, I'm almost tempted to lie just to avoid his audible disappointment.  He has zero bedside manner and just has no idea on what to say to make me feel better.  And the longer this goes on, the less empathetic he gets.  It's almost like he doesn't believe me.  Thank goodness I had a diagnosis from the doctor this week - it was like phew, I have validation and proof that I am actually sick!  This morning he actually said that he thinks I'm depressed because I haven't "given" anything to him or showed him any affection while I've been sick.  WHAT??? 

    So to fill him in (and any other husband/father who might have the same issue) I have the following to say: 
    • Show lots of compassion and empathy - and stay positive.    
    • Let mom feel miserable - it's OK to feel bad when you're sick.  You don't have to pretend to be happy, nor do you have to feel guilty if you're not!
    • Give her a hall pass - have no expectations of her in any capacity.
    • Take charge!  Take over the tasks normally done by mom, even if the kids want mom to do it.
    • Don't lecture her over what she needs to do to get better.
    • Just be there - you don't have to play doctor and make her better.
    My husband is the kind of guy that doesn't know how to just listen  - he always has to solve the problem.  And this proves true when I'm sick.  This is not a problem to be solved and if I'm crabby and miserable, then you just have to buck up and deal with it.  And I bet I would be a lot less crabby and miserable if he said a few more nice things and genuinely tried to make me feel better instead of lecturing me and being annoyed over how my illness is impacting his life. OK, I'm done with that rant.  I love my husband and we all have our things.  Bedside manner is just not his.  But there is always hope!

    This is definitely the longest period in which I've been sick.  I hate how that makes me feel in terms of my kids.  Although you expect your spouse to understand, it's hard when your kids are little.  Although they know I'm not feeling well, I'm not sure they fully comprehend.  I feel tremendously guilty that I'm not able to do all that I normally do with/for them.  It's one thing if it's for a few days, but as I mentioned, this has been going on for nearly a month now.  Even I'm sick of me being sick.  When it keeps dragging on like this, you start taking short cuts.  I feel like I'm letting them watch way too much TV because I don't have the energy to do more with them (=guilt).  I feel torn because I want to see them and yet I can't wait for bedtime (=guilt).  And then there's the whole contagion part of things - they want to lie next to me but I don't want them to catch what I have (=guilt).  They don't really know how not to be around me (=guilt). 

    Basically, I feel like I'm letting everyone down right now.  All this because of something beyond my control and something I would obviously not choose had I a choice.  For the record, nobody wants me to feel better more than me myself and I. So I guess on all accounts, patience, patience, patience.  We all need some when mom gets sick.  But boy, I really hope I kick this virus as fast as possible!