Posts Tagged ‘judgment’

Imperfect Parenting: Lies, Stealing, and Other Survival Methods

Posted on: May 27th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week, I wrote that I’m going to a mini-series on imperfect parenting. Remember when I told you that while toilet training Henry I told him pants were a privilege? This week I’m pretty stoked to share all the immoral things I do to survive mommyhood. Just kidding, I mean, it’s not that immoral.

Photo of woman smilingIn becoming a mama, I, like anyone else, had this grand idea of what it would look like and who I would be. I spent 6 months building the perfect nursery off my Pinterest ideas, deciding what outfits were Henry’s “style,” and buying things off my baby spreadsheet. That happened. All of it. It’s hysterical to write now.

When Declan was just about due (3 weeks to delivery) I had turned him from breach and was on rest. I sat around my home and realized I had bought nothing, I’m serious, nothing for him. You know why? Because I co-sleep my babies, breastfeed them, and use cloth diapers. He didn’t need anything. I tell you this because in my dreams of having a baby I thought it came with all this stuff. Once I had a baby I realized it wasn’t the stuff or the picture I created. Being a mom is just like that.

Creating Your Own Mom Values

In being a mom, I, of course, have a list of values, ideas, and dreams that I want for my children. On my best day I’m able to be present and implement small pieces of this. This can look like being super present, playing, reading, cooking, and talking to listen with my children. In my head, every day looks like this. In reality, moments of each day look like this–the rest is up for grabs.

I’m going to tell you some things I do to survive. Don’t judge, we all do them! The first and most important lesson I have learned as a mama is to lie hard. This little lesson came to me when I was teaching Henry to stay in his big boy bed. I would lay him down, he would cry for me to stay and I would gently whisper, “It’s okay mama needs to go potty she’ll be back in 5 minutes.” Henry would feel assured and fall asleep. I never came back, ever. Martin would sit on our stairs and shake his head. What’s worse is I’ve now taught Dametrius and his babysitters to simply tell Henry they are going potty when they lay him down. We are all lying and it’s working.

I also lie almost every morning to Henry. It looks like this; Henry watches a show while I get ready for work (go back and read my post about technology prior to COVID for other parenting fails). I set a timer for 30 minutes and when the TV goes off Henry needs to get dressed. He asks me “Mama can I watch Daniel Tiger downstairs?” I say, “Sure baby, let’s get dressed and brush our teeth.” Henry always pops up and does his routine. We get downstairs and he asks again. You know what I say, “Maybe later.” I also tell Dametrius to do this when he gets Henry ready.

Do you know why I lie to Henry? Because it’s easier, plain and simple. If I told him TV is all done he’s gonna scream and I don’t want to deal with this. Neither does anyone else in our home. I know it’s wrong, I know I should just take a deep breath and say, “No,” but I don’t want to. I want to get my little man dressed without feeling like I’m wrestling an alligator. I won’t lie about the important stuff, promise. But as long as my kids don’t have long term memories I’m using this one.

I suggest using the line “maybe later,” instead of, “No,” I swear it works wonders. “Can I have a popsicle, ice cream, pizza, watch TV, see Grandpa…” The list goes on and on. “Maybe” avoids tears in our home.

Surviving as a Mom

OK, so now you know I lie to survive. I also steal! I told you about a piece of this last week. That in toileting training Henry I would take his prizes every night and put them back in the prize bin. What I didn’t tell you is that in the middle of COVID I realized I was spending my entire day picking up toys.

One item on my pre-baby Pinterest board was wooden toys organized in bins. Almost 3 years later and we are overflowing with plastic toys. After a few glasses of wine one Friday night, I announced to my husband I was becoming a minimalist again. I was one before a husband and kids. Well, more of an imperfect minimalist. Our Amazon delivery driver disagrees but I digress.

On this particular Friday, I told my husband that we never wanted our kids to have so many toys because they don’t appreciate them. So why are we living this way? During naps on Saturday, just like the Grinch, I packed up their toys. Like 75% of them. I put them all in the basement and set a timer for a month. If no one noticed they were gone I was going to donate them. It’s been a month, no one noticed, so those toys are long gone!

There was one tiny T-Rex that I hated and kept putting in the garage donation box that Henry kept rescuing so I finally gave in and stopped stealing that. It actually felt so good to downsize. Now I have to remind myself not to downsize on a daily basis. We picked the toys they have and we now have a one in one out rule again. But man, getting rid of the stuff not only freed up my time it also helped me get realigned with my own values on materialism. On a side note, I’m also doing the 33 challenge and loving it.

A Few More Parenting Tips

I think lying and stealing are the biggies at our home to survive parenting. To give you some smaller ones that I think are helpful I’ll list a few. Bribing is always lovely. If you’d like your child to do something, like come inside without chasing them, I recommend it. We give a lot of chocolate for coming inside vs. chasing. Passing the problem to your partner is a good one. For example, Henry wants a toy to do something very specific, I can’t figure it out, and say “Daddy knows how!” I also recommend making it a pattern to have your partner doing things you don’t want to. Henry likes someone to lay with him after books, so I told him “only daddies do that.” It’s almost a year later and you know who Henry asks to put him to bed every night? Daddy. But hey, maybe that’s because I lied. Who knows?

Parenting is hard work and raising small humans means every day is going to be different. At some point, you just have to do you. If what you choose to do causes no lasting harm to your children sometimes you just have to do what works for you.

I hope reading this brings some joy to all the imperfect parents out there. I’m not perfect, but being naughty can also be a blast (even for parents).

Xoxo,
Jessie

PS

As I write this, Henry is sitting behind me with an empty flask. Don’t worry, we’ve never actually used it… we don’t have anywhere to go!

Ain’t No Shame

Posted on: February 25th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

As we continue to walk through some of my core parenting practices, I’d like to spend this week talking about shame and vulnerability.

Years ago, I was introduced to Brene Brown, a shame researcher, through her book, “The Gifts of Imperfections.” Since then, I frequently refer to Brene as my spirit animal and one of my soul sisters. I highly recommend her work!

photo with quote on itBrene, of course, can tell you more than I can about this shame and vulnerability, but I’d like to give my take on how it impacts how I parent (and impacts being a partner to my husband) every single day. Brene teaches how shame is our barrier to wholehearted living. Vulnerability, in turn, is the birthplace of joy. Now, I understand there is a lot in just those two sentences, but they mean the world to me and we’ll unpack them together.

Working with Shame

Let’s start with shame. Brene defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Wow.

How many of us struggle with this? I know first hand I struggle with this every single day. Just last night I was celebrating with my sister, making enough breast milk, down to the ounce, to feed Declan for a year because she had donated milk which (we’re now using to wean). She responded, “that’s great! You were a just-enougher.” I responded she had just defined my entire childhood!

I can’t remember a time that what I did was enough. So, of course, I struggled with love and belonging. I don’t fault my parents, they were doing their best at the time. I think we all experienced this to some extent because our parents didn’t know that their standards or their own judgments for us were creating shame.

In women, we usually associate shame in our body image with being, “good.” While men struggle with being a “man,” (whatever that is….) and beind “the great Oz, fixer of all.” Or so Brene tells me. I absolutely REFUSE to use shame in my home.

What this looks like for me with my children at their age is that I do not put them down for their mistakes, ever. A core family rule is no name-calling. We talk about the action, not the person when a mistake is made. For example, if Henry drops a dozen eggs I don’t say things like, “Look at what you’ve done!” instead I say, “Henry we need to be more careful, Mommy & Daddy paid for those eggs let’s clean it up.” The first sentence is a shame sentence. The second is a teaching sentence using guilt. Per Brene, guilt is a valuable way to teach us how our actions affect others while not telling us we’re bad or wrong. To build on this, if anyone is in a bad mood in our house (trust me this happens…) we excuse ourselves BEFORE we use shame language. On a daily basis, this is an active practice. I’m a human with three young boys, two dogs, and a husband. Sometimes I can lose my temper. But I’m not teaching anyone in my house that they are not enough. They know if I’ve lost my temper it’s on me, not them. That is a powerful lesson.

Working with Vulnerability

OK, so now that we understand shame a bit let’s talk about vulnerability. Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy and belonging. This is the peanut butter to the jelly of shame. About a month ago, I asked my husband (who as I’ve mentioned is Bulgarian) if he knew what vulnerability was. There was some laughing, confusion, and then agreement to watch Brene’s special on Netflix.

As a man, vulnerability was a new concept to my husband. I think men in Bulgaria hear the phrase “be a man,” at about 10x the rate men hear it in the US. This is unfortunate in both cases. I am well aware that I am raising little men and I do not want vulnerability to be a new concept to them as adults.

Vulnerability, per Brene, is, “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.” This is a big concept for an adult, let alone my little men (now eleven months, 2 ½ and our newest addition at 14). What vulnerability means for me and my littles is not using shame when my children show their emotions. I encourage them to fail versus doing everything for them. We applaud all attempts at courage.

With Declan, this is pretty non-existent right now (he’s too little). With Henry this looks like me sitting back as he tries new things (a lot of gross motor skills right now…) and when he fails I praise his effort. It also looks like me modeling his emotions and what he can do to calm down. If he’s pissed, if he’s been dumped by his dump truck stool (OK this happens like every day…) I say, “I’m mad!” then we practice breathing. I’ve done this since he was 18 months old. And you know what? This weekend Henry got mad and came running to me saying, “Let’s make sounds!” He then proceeded to do deep breaths on his own. How freakin’ cool!

For Dametrius, I’m sure the journey to unpeeling shame and living with an openness to vulnerability will be longer. It’s my hope he walks this path with my husband Martin. I’ve only started to lay the foundation Dametrius. When he moved in, we talked about failure. I told him I never want to see him pass on an opportunity because he’s afraid to fail. That so long as he tries he’s won.

Living with Shame and Vulnerability Every Day

Living with a house full of men, I do not want them to hide behind the label and expectations of “man.” I want my men to be loved fully for who they are; emotions, mistakes, failures, and triumphs. I know they love me the same way and together we belong to each other. Should I ever have a daughter, I will want the same for her. And in 20+ years, when my children succeed as adults, they won’t snicker to each other that they’re “good-enoughers.” They will know they always have been, and always will be, enough.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Mom Judgment and Letting Go

Posted on: February 3rd, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week, I wrote a lot about my journey into motherhood, which took me in and out of the throes of perfectionism. I like to tell people I’m a recovering perfectionist. I say this knowing that, in my mind, there is the best way to do anything, the absolute way not to do anything, and, of course, the middle ground. The rules I came up with are mine alone and therefore mine to release, but I believe they lead to the root of a much larger issue: mom judgment.

What is Mom Judgment?

Years ago, when I was deep into my spiritual journey to find my best self, I began to read a book called, “A Course in Miracles”, as one of my favorite author’s Gabby Bernstein cited it. Being a researcher by nature, I had to learn the source of Gabby’s teaching versus just following her interpretation. One lesson that hit home with me from the Course was “What we judge in others we first judge in ourselves.” Whoa.

Photo of parents with young child tying shoesMy first reaction to this was to challenge it. I started to run through things about myself that I judge and things I judge in others. Time after time I was able to find a root standard that I either hold myself accountable to be or not to be. At the time, my judgments were more related to body image, work ethic, and how I engaged with the world. If I did anything that was the opposite of my judgments I gave myself grief. If I saw someone doing something I wouldn’t do, I would judge them. In writing this I know I may come across as unkind. I promise you, however, that this is not my intention. I am human and I will fight to give myself the grace I would give to others. The teaching from A Course in Miracles was true.

Judging Yourself and Others

Last week in my blog I wrote briefly about the silent competition I was having with other seemingly perfect moms. To unpack this type of perfectionism (and yes, my own judgment) I had to go back to the teaching from A Course in Miracles. Remember the quote; “what we judge in others we first judge in ourselves.” What I found is that as a new mom I had a list of “good mom,” and “bad mom,” categories. While these categories started with me wanting to be a really good mom what happened was that every time a mom would give me a suggestion I would instantly compare that example to what I considered good or bad! And boom, there you have it, my mom judgment was born.

My mom judgment used to look something like this; I’d be out with a friend just chatting about Henry and we’d get on the topic of, say, screen time. That friend would share with me the amount of screen time they allowed their own child to have and I’d scan the response and decide how good of a mom I was because my answer was the same, better, or worse.

I could take that example and dice it a million ways across child-raising topics. Talk to me about formula, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, reading to your child, when to toilet train, sleeping at night, naps, food, school–you get the picture–and I will scan my own moral compass to sort them. Writing this, it’s almost embarrassing to type I did judging like this for a decent amount of time. It’s also incredibly honest and I believe true for all moms to some capacity.

Being Your Best Parent

We as moms are all so caught up in being the best parent that we exhaust ourselves deciding if we are, in fact, doing it correctly. As social beings, the only way we have to assess this is through comparison, so we get stuck in the trap of judging other moms. But really, whether it’s you or me judging any other parent, what we’re really doing is judging ourselves.

Let me say this to you loud and clear. You and I are raising our children to the absolute best of our ability. There is not a right or wrong answer about any given child raising topic outside of abuse and neglect. Even in those cases, we can all give a little compassion to the parent, whose behavior is completely out of line, but is clearly a person suffering in their own right.

I believe on any given day we are all doing our absolute best given the resources we have. That means if you choose to formula feed until your child can eat but I choose to breastfeed until my children are three, mama, we are both amazing. If you choose mac and cheese but I choose organic vegetables, rock on–our kids are fed. Want to allow unlimited screen time but I do like the French and limit mine? Totally cool. We probably have a different view on media as a whole. Also cool!

In the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of my favorite parenting practices. This doesn’t mean that they’re for all of you and that’s OK. But maybe, maybe, you’ll find something helpful that you’ve never thought about before. It does not matter what choices we make for our children so long as they are born from love.

What does matter, and I believe needs to change quickly, is the need we feel to so strictly judge ourselves and then take it out on other moms (silently or not). Beautiful mama, you are doing the absolute best you can and your only grade card is love!

Keep an Eye on Your Judgment of Others

I try to actively practice non-judgment. What this means is I try to notice when judgmental thoughts are coming up. If I notice a judgment thought popping into my brain, I give it a silent wave and send it on its way. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle to stop comparing, but it means I’m not willing to live with the judgement of others in my heart.

If I see a mom buying a toy for a screaming child at the check out (something I wouldn’t do), I smile and offer to help load her bags. If a mom shares an opinion I don’t agree with, I ask to learn more or just let it go. And when a mom starts to mom shame another mom, I change the topic fast. Join me in this! Help the struggling mama you see in public, send a little love to a friend who parents differently than you, and show compassion to your fellow beings who are showing up for parenthood the same as you and I. We can change the conversation we’re having with ourselves and the world by just letting judgment go.

Breathe easy beautiful ones, you’re doing the best you can. Me too.

Xoxo,
Jessie