Say Something

I have big feet. Like, size 8 big feet. I seldom paint my toenails bright colours because there is just SO MUCH surface area. On a normal woman, pink toenails look sweet and summery. On me, it looks like I spilled paint on my feet.

I call them Roadmaps. Because of the veins, you know?

I call them Roadmaps.
Because of the veins, you know?

This, however, is not my primary problem. My main defect is how often I put my large foot in my even larger mouth. I’ll say something I’m not supposed to, or blurt out what everyone is thinking but has the good sense to keep quiet. I’ve spent many a dinner party getting kicked under the table by my husband who is basically telling me to STOP TALKING. I’ll ask someone who is buyer for a major clothing range if they really get their clothes from sweatshops, or talk about how women get paid 28% less then men for doing the same job.
As you can imagine, these conversations are about as fun as the mall the week before Christmas.

Knowing what to say and when to say it is quite the art, I am learning.
I recently had a lesson in this life skill, but not the way you may think.

You know they're good when you have tell people that they're good.

You know they’re good when you have tell people that they’re good.

Last weekend, I went to a baby shower. I know. You already feel sorry for me, but this one wasn’t that bad. There were no eat-melted-chocolates-out-of-nappies games, and the glowing mama-to-be didn’t have to guess what was inside every gift.
I even made choc chip cookies for the special event.
With an oven.
And ingredients.
From scratch.

I know. Who even is this amazing woman?

Anyway, at one point I was chatting to one of the few women there who did not have children. This isn’t by choice, and she has had some heart-breaking miscarriages. Despite risking putting one of my Big Feet into my notoriously Big Mouth, I decided to go with my gut instinct and I asked her, “How are these things for you?”

She told me that she only went to baby showers of people she really loved, as they were hard mornings. She told me how she didn’t want to be excluded from something important in their lives. But then, she turned to me with big eyes, and said, “You know, Jess, you are the first person who has ever asked me how I feel at baby showers. Thank you!”

I was quite surprised that it meant so much to her, and she told me more. Like when she had her miscarriage there were people who deliberately avoided her. When they saw her coming, they walked the other way. When she lost a baby, there were people who knew about it but never, ever mentioned the experience.

A few days later, I had almost the exact conversation when I dropped my son off at school. His teacher’s son tragically died a few weeks ago, and she shared with me how her daughter’s closest friends have just shut her out. They don’t phone, they don’t message, and this young girl is hurting so much more than necessary.

As I looked at the hurt and disappointment in this teacher’s eyes, I remembered the same look from my friend. It just hit me.

Say Something.

When someone you know has lost a loved one, or faces an exceptionally overwhelming situation, say Something. Please don’t pretend like you don’t know. Please don’t ignore the most real thing that is happening to them.

Just say Something. Even if it’s, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t know what to else to say.”

Send a message, cook a meal, pop in for a visit.

They’ve already lost something, now they lose a friendship or a connection that brings joy and love into their lives? They’ve already had an experience that makes them feel different from you, now you’re adding distance in your relationship? Grief is a lonely experience, and if you don’t know what it feels like, don’t pretend like you do. But for goodness sake, don’t ignore them. They need you more than ever before.

I’ve heard Foot in Mouth Disease is highly contagious. And perhaps, like me, you won’t always get the timing right or the exact words when you open your mouth to say Something. You may even miss the mark completely and get a kick from someone under the table. But, honestly, I think that in most cases, Something is better than Nothing.

So say Something.

Counselling and Support
If you or someone you know needs support and counselling, please visit www.gracecounselling.org.za. This is an open-access resource to aid all forms of counselling from church based, volunteer driven counsellors to professionals in the private sector. From support groups for things such as addictions, grief or parenting to support courses aiding healing like Divorce Care, or GriefShare. 

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How To Be A Better Parent All The Time At Everything

Dear Parent,

You’re probably thirty-something. You probably have a child or two under the age of four. You never knew you could feel SO MUCH LOVE, but you also never knew it was going to be THIS HARD.

There are moments of sheer delight, but they’re often separated by long, mundane hours that range from busy to infuriating. You feel guilty that you miss your pre-parent life.

You wish you never lost your temper as often as you do.
You know your spouse is supposed to be on the same team as you but often they feel like The Enemy.
But most of all, there is this nagging suspicion that you are messing it up. mug

Parenthood, Your Child, Marriage, Life.

You used to feel like someone who could manage stress, who knew how to handle, who had a game plan. But between discipline and diet, health and safety, tantrums and tired, you’re just not sure anymore. Not sure you can do it. Not sure that you have what it takes. You’re not even sure what exactly you’re supposed to do when your 3 year old throws their cereal across the room and breaks the bowl and now there’s glass everywhere and you lose your temper and you’re already late for work and you’re not supposed to give hidings and you ARE supposed to be calm and now they’re going to be hungry at school and neither of you are going succeed in life.
The End.

If you’re not sure what the next right thing is, how can you be sure you’ll do it properly?

You are not alone. 

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard of two different couples with a small child whose marriages have unravelled. I’ve had two conversations with tearful parents of under-4’s who are at their wits end. I’ve had my own sit-on-the-kitchen-floor-and-clench-my-fists-and-hit-the-tiles moments. And I can’t help but wonder why it seems like so many of us are struggling?

So I asked my dad. I asked him about his childhood. I asked him about raising us. I asked him why he thought so many parents in our generation find parenting so difficult. Was it like this for you, Dad?

And what he said was profound…

He said he thinks our expectations are too high.
He said he thinks we’re not used to saying “no” to ourselves.

And so when we either don’t achieve the standards we think we should, or we don’t have the luxuries we used to have, we freak out. Whether it’s anger, or guilt, or desperation, we assume that because it’s so hard because we’re doing it wrong.

  This really hit home for me.

Our expectations are too high. 

He told me how when my folks had kids, they just knew they weren’t going to go out and socialise that much anymore. It was a given. It was normal. He observed that for myself and my peers, we generally tried to keep our lives as close to what they were pre-kids, while he seemed to think that for my folks – well, they basically just lowered their expectations of life.

Woah. Interesting theory.

I started to think about it. And I came up with some reasons why I think he may be right…

We like to think we ‘won’t let our kids change us’.
I know I was guilty of thinking this way. I saw couples with kids change, and ‘give in’, and ‘lose themselves’ to parenthood. And being the inherently selfish, usually otherwise and somewhat cynical person I am, I decided I wasn’t going to “let my children change who I am”. Come on…how many of you said something like that? So we set out on a mission not to let our post-baby life look different our pre-baby life and IT JUST DOESN’T WORK. We drive ourselves crazy trying to be the same people, have the same lifestyle, and do the same stuff.

We’ve been told we can have it all.
As a woman, I’ve experienced opportunities that were not as readily available to previous generations. Education, career, travel, domestic help, hands-on husbands. But along with those privileges comes the assumption that it’s a realistic possibility to Work Hard and Play Hard and Parent Well and Partner Well ALL AT THE SAME TIME AND EQUALLY BRILLIANTLY and that there are people out there getting this right and if you aren’t, well, what is wrong with you? The reality is for generations before us (and many women around the world still) if you worked hard, you didn’t spend a lot of time with your kids. If you had kids, you never socialised like you used to. If you weren’t working, you had less money. But we’re told we can have it all.

There is so much information. We can read any number of parenting books and blogs, and we’re exposed to so many models and theories and suggestions that we have A MILLION WAYS TO KNOW WE’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  I’m so grateful for the resources that have helped me, but in every article and on every page there is something I’m NOT doing right. And I know all about it. I know every time I do something wrong and how it will inevitably scar my child for life.

I certainly don’t want to diminish the effort, love and attention you give to your kids.

But seriously, dearest fellow human.

Lower your expectations. 

Or you could go Google how to be a better parent and do All The Things in all the blogs and chat about it at Wine Club and write a blog and start a Pintrest page on dealing with children’s sensory development and go on a parenting course and start another small business to earn more money so you can send them to a better school and also stop fighting with your husband.

Or you could lower your expectations.

Rookie Mom: How to Partner with Teachers

And he's off.

                             First days.

If you live in South Africa, this week your Facebook feed has been filled with pictures of kids on their first day of school. If you’re like me, you’ve been sending messages back and forth about kids who are fine, mothers who are not, hints of tears and declarations of wine.

When I imagine having twenty-eight little 3-4 year olds in classroom for the first time, I feel an overwhelming desire to lie down and curl up into the fetal position.  Once I spent thirty minutes at Will’s play school and afterwards I added “pre-school teacher” to my long list of Jobs I Never Want. (Other careers include chef, occupational therapist, accountant, person who keeps things organised and neat.)

Teachers are freaking awesome. I know there may be tired, jaded, cynical teachers who don’t care, or who forgot why they got into it, or who keep hip flasks of whiskey in their top drawer. But I think most teachers are freaking awesome.

I wondered about what advice teachers would give to rookie parents like me about the long road of schooling ahead, and so I asked on Facebook. There were 27 comments. TWENTY-SEVEN! Just from teachers. You guys, teachers want to partner with us parents. They want our kids to rock out at life, and growing, and learning. They basically want the same thing as we do – happy, loved, growing kids. How cool is that?

Here is some of what they had to say…

As most teachers go ALL in, they do have a plan and direction for where they wanna go. Trust that they know what they are doing, they are trained, have experience, and are so dedicated that they spend their own money to get extra resources! If you don’t understand or if the teacher has not communicated the goals, ASK! That way you can team up, and follow up SO much better at home (homework especially), which will be a tremendous strength in your child’s learning! – Monika

Teachers are human too, so we appreciate friendly, supportive parents who we can communicate with easily. – Jolene

Trust and support your child’s teacher! If you communicate openly and honestly you’ll do well! – Colin

Communication is the biggest thing! Also realizing that the “partnership” is actually three strand.. Parents, children, teachers. If there are clear lines of communication between all three, a blissful educational experience is a guarantee! X Also.. Making expectations clear from the start, from all sides! – Abi

I think respecting a teacher and giving her opinion credit is a huge thing. There are a lot of parents who assume they know more about teaching or about their child’s development. This is what we have dedicated our lives to, and we do know what we are talking about! We often see a parent not listen to a teacher early on, and then only 4 years and 4 teachers later eventually listen… after so much time has been lost!! – Kirstie

Trust that we know what we doing. Well at least most of the time… Also remember we make mistakes too. If theres something going in at home that the kids upset about let us know. I got a note about the death of a beloved pet snake! – Melissa

There were many more like this. Catching a general theme?

Communication. Trust.

We can do that, can’t we? It seems like it will go a long way.

There were some other real gems, too.

Communication is very important. Also, avoid the temptation to become a “snowplow parent” (one who snowplows all their kids problems away so they never have to learn to deal with healthy adversity). I see this a lot in high school and when things don’t go their way, they blame the teacher instead of trying to work with their kids to develop strategies to overcome obstacles and achieve success. – Christie

I always tell my parents I promise to not believe everything I hear about you as long as you promise to not believe everything you hear about me! The parents I’ve absolutely loved while teaching have been the ones I have felt have been on my side, given me grace and had faith in my ability ( even when they didn’t know I had any! ) The moms who were not apart of the car park gossip were generally the ones I knew were trustworthy. Appreciation is always so encouraging as a teacher. Before voicing a issue with other parents go straight to the teacher and try sort it out – this means so much! – Kimber

Gotta agree with communication and sending your kid to school with the basics covered so they can hit the ground running in the morning. BUT, on a personal note, from you to the teacher, it’s always nice when a parent acknowledges something I’m trying to do, that might go unnoticed. A quick note in the child’s agenda, or an email, a note of thanks goes a loooong way to feeling like we, as a teacher, are understood by the parent. Also…I take everything my students tell me about their parents (ie. “I didn’t get my homework done because my parents were yelling at each other all night”) with a grain of salt and ask that they do the same when the child comes home saying, “Ms. McClure wouldn’t help me with my math questions at all.” We can get it all sorted out through communication in the end. – Heather

Some good stuff there.

Appreciation. Avoiding car park gossip. And (I LOVE THIS!) take some things with a pinch of salt.

And finally, I saved the best for last. I really think this will go a long, long way to helping teachers to do all we hope they do with excellence and honour.

It pretty much comes down to the present at the end of the year for me. So maybe tell them what it’s going to be in advance? – Phil

I agree with Phil its entirely possible to buy a teacher’s love. Gifts and thoughtful gestures throughout the year (especially at concerts, open days, report time etc) be that parent, I won’t judge you – Tammy

A few months ago I was at a friend’s birthday dinner and I sat next to his mom, who has been a teacher for many years. I asked her what her advice would be to a new mom like me? And she basically summarised this blog for in two beautiful pieces of advice.

If you need to speak to a teacher, make an appointment. Don’t try to have important conversations just as all the kids are arriving, or when all the parents are coming through the door. Give her a chance to hear you without distractions, and you’ll have a much better outcome to the conversation.

And, don’t be a part of car park gossip. It just creates division and suspicion. – Corinne

I’m just a rookie mom. I haven’t had any tough experiences yet, and I know there are plenty of you out there who have travelled down this road and have a story to tell. But regardless of who the teachers are, and what our kids are going through, I think we can do these things. Communication. Trust. Appreciation. No gossip.

Let’s work together to make 2015 a great year for our teachers and our children! In the word’s of another teacher friend,

“We’re on the same team!”

Little Luke heading off into a big world

Little Luke heading off into a big world