Part 5 - How do we make it come alive?
Updated: Mar 20
Welcome to the last part of parenting series. After all the information here, here and here and some discussion on good enough parenting, I will end this series on a personal note, discuss how can we make things come alive in our home.
After much talk, it is only fair if you ask "How to make this happen - this good enough parenting thing? and are you walking the walk, Kumsal?"
My short answer is , yes I am doing my best. Every single day. and that's what counts.
Grounding the theories to real life is very important. We can talk until dawn but if we don’t talk the talk and walk the walk. That’s just total crap.
Here is what I think and what we do in our home.
1- You can't fill from an empty cup.
It is that simple. In my previous post, I briefly mentioned about self-care. It is VERY important so I am going to detail it here.
We all get tired once in a while. Parenting is a full time job, it requires a lot of energy. We are also dealing with other things; our job, career, families, daily hassle with life, government bureaucracy (if you are an immigrant...) , and many more.
Slowly, things can wear you down. As parents we need to be RESILIENT and resilience does mean endurance.
Resilience is defined as "the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties". The word itself implies rest and recovery.
If you are burned down, lost and bone marrow tired CONSTANTLY - I guarantee that you won't be at your best self and will want to throw things out the window, including your kid.
You need time to recover and get back. That's why the most important part of parenting is self care.
The heart of self-care
When I say self care I do not mean going for a mani-pedi or hair salon. or retail therapy.
They are all good and well. (I admit buying bath bombs lately!) But, I am talking about some serious psychological care here.
You need to be mentally healthy to help and be available for your child. In order to do that, you have to take care of your own mental health. (You can see my post for understanding mental health and how to improve it in general.)
If you are feeling down, depressed, lonely for a long period of time, maybe you might be suffering from postpartum depression or other mood disorders. I encourage you to ask for help if you are not feeling at your best, for prolonged time. There is always help available and you do not have suffer in silence.
You need to feel good & healthy so that you can show up for your family and yourself.
Becoming a mother is a huge identity shift and it takes time to integrate this role (2 years and still counting...)
and that sleep deprived 1st year after you become a parent, oh that doesn't help. I remember vividly around the 9 months mark, I was feeling like losing it, as a full-time working mother...functioning on 4 hour sleep continuously.
So, start easy : Be gentle to yourself.
Fact: Parenting is tough. It is demanding. It's never ending.
Parenting through a pandemic - hands down, you are a champ! Give yourself a break. You are doing your best every single day.
If you are having a bad day, that's okay. Give yourself a pat on the back and talk gently.
Here is an helpful infographic of mine, indicating the heart of self-care: Positive self-talk.
I encourage you to monitor your thoughts, feelings and the way you talk to yourself. Especially when you are feeling depressed, worried or anxious. Are you possibly telling yourself that you are a ... mother ( fill in the blank with some judgmental adjective), or that things will NEVER get better? Are these thoughts realistic and true?
Maybe you are getting stuck in vicious cycle of unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, then feeling anxious or depressed. (I do!)
Then, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy based skill building programs such as Living Life to the Full or Bounce Back can make wonders. I personally benefited from LLTTF a lot how to talk a bit gentler to myself.
Try to talk a bit gentler to your self. You don't need to be your worst critique. Tell yourself you are doing fine. Tell that you are worthy and you are good enough. Now, say this again, couple more times.
Do what you enjoy
Before you were a mother or a father, I suppose you had a life. All of us did.
Remember what you enjoyed doing. Did you used to go to gym before you had a child? or did you used to play a musical instrument?
Now, maybe can you try staying active at home, 15min-30min maybe or going back to gym by taking shifts? (once they open...) Maybe you can again play your piano or guitar in the evenings or weekends. You must create time for what you enjoy.
Personally, we believe evenings are your best friend as a parent. Once your kid goes down, spend that holy time to enjoy your hobby. (God bless, the bed time & sleep training!)
Seriously, this has been the holy grail of parenting for us as a couple. We may have given up a lot of things we used to enjoy as a couple, but we still carve time to do some of those things. I don't think I could have survived parenting life, if I had to spend my evenings as well with my daughter...
I absolutely do not feel guilty saying this and it is NOT selfish to ask for time for your self. It is necessary.
After 8 pm everyday, once Eleanor goes down, that's ME time.
Depending on the day, either we sit down in our home offices with Arda. I write and he studies his courses or plays his bass or sometimes we watching a show together. Sometimes I go window shopping. or do whatever I feel like...
We fill our cups well (until sadly it's time to go bed) so, when wake up the next day, we can do this all over again.
To sum up, you must fill your own cup as a parent to show up every single day for your kid.
Talk gently to yourself. If you fall into "the perfect parent" trap once in a while (or someone shames you as a less-than-perfect-parent), remind yourself, that creature does not exist.
Do things that you enjoy, even if it is for 15 minutes. Take care of yourself and your relationship with your partner, so that you can take care of your kid. And trust me, you will figure things out.
2- Exactly, you will figure it out.
Oh my therapist would be so proud, if she was here to read this.
She used to tell me – "Kumsal, it's okay, you will figure it out" while we were discussing gridlock problems.
And I will all go crazy and say - "What? What do you mean by that? Figure it out? What is that suppose to mean?"
I was kind of mad and partly lost in translation. She was American and as a native Turkish speaker, so I had no idea what she meant initially. There is no exact translation to the word "figuring out" in Turkish. It’s one those words, like challenge or resilience...
I was pretty confused with the idea of loose term of figuring it out. I mean how? and when?
Now I know. What she means by that.
One of my parenting motto is: We will figure this out. Together.
And we always do.
It means you don't know the answers.
and being okay with that.
It means you can not control life, your child or anything.
and again, being okay with that.
It means you have to look deeper and listen closer.
It means you have to continuously re-adjust and trust the process.
It means you do not know the way but you will find one. Create one with your child. Unique to your relationship. their needs.
It means you are eager to learn and have an open mind.
You are open to learning and growing in the journey with your child.
Trust your child and yourself. Trust your team.
I may not get my daughter sometimes. Some days most of the time… As frustrating as it is, that’s OK.
She is pre-verbal and it can be very hard for to express big emotions or needs.
Especially when we don’t get her at once, she gets frustrated easily. That's developmentally appropriate.
But eventually, we do figure things out. We understand what she needs, we look for cues:
Is it overstimulation? Is she sleepy? Hungry or wet? what does she need?
We stay tuned and connected, then we find it out.
There are bad moments. Absolutely. Lots of meltdowns, tantrums or losing my thing... Then we strive for many more good ones.
If I am the edge of a nervous breakdown, I take a break… pass her to Arda and leave for while, chill. Then I come back. I continue to be there for her, when I can and as much as I can
Physically, emotionally, psychological.
When reading this, I hope you realize that you can not do this alone. You need a team to parent and that is what leads us to our last point.
3- It takes two to tango. (and to raise a kid)
It takes a village to raise a child. That’s what they say. For generations, this was true as children were raised in multi-generational homes with grand and grand grand parents.
Nowadays, things are slightly different as we have more nuclear families and children bearing responsibility lays heavily on shoulders of mother and father (or the parenting team*) and maybe some additional support from grandparents. (if you are one of the lucky ones!)
As (usually) two adults are needed to generate a baby, therefore parenting is a responsibility and decision of two adults.
I believe, inside the household it is only fair that the responsibility is divided equally and the couple functions as a team to respond to child’s needs and also take care of the household.
In plain words: DO NOT PUT IT ALL ON MOTHER. And mothers, you don’t have to be a martyr. DELEGATE for god sake. (note to myself…)
In our increasingly egalitarian society, men and women are treated equal in the family and they both can have variety of roles. Hate to break the news for some maybe, but women are not born cooks! We do learn stuff. The society teaches us that role, it nurtures us that way. Men can learn, too!
In order to avoid gender stereotypes inside the household, I encourage you to challenge them actively and share the chores in a way that no one feels like a servant or janitor.
Anyone can learn anything. Trust your team. Men can cook, women can fix stuff, both can change diaper and feed a baby.
Have a collaborative environment inside the home and swap jobs for fun. It is also healthy for a child to observe that each and every role can be taking by either of their parent or caregiver, REGARLESS OF THEIR GENDER.
This protects the couple’s relationship also which can be so strained in the first three child-raising years for obvious reasons.
Here, I strongly encourage you to read Dr. Julie and John Gottman's work on relationships, here and here. Their findings are based on solid science and years long research with couples. We have been to their workshop on 2017, The Art and Science of Love and we both think it has been one of the most important investments we have done for our relationship.
Trust me, it is good investment, learning to build a healthy and trusting team and let your partner do their best as a parent, too.
Good enough parenting can only be achieved if we take good care of ourselves, tune in to our child and listen to them and work as a team inside the house.
Tell your child that you love her/him, that they matter. Tell your partner when you need help, and try to acknowledge each others feelings. Sometimes we just to give each other space to feel, not change or fix them.
We may not had the parents we wanted or the childhood, but we can give the best childhood we can to our child.
It is our choice.
You can’t go back and change the past but you can start today and create a better tomorrow. So, start now.
March 15. 2021
*I acknowledge in some circumstances mothers may choose or have to raise their child alone and that is a totally valid choice as well. In those cases, I encourage single mothers to ask for additional help from their village, whoever they choose their tribe will be. Parenting is a 24/7 task and everyone needs help.
*I am also aware that my opinions in this article are overwhelmingly based on my heterosexual household and I do acknowledge that parenting in same sex marriages or committed relationships are also valid choices and I fully support any parenting team who are striving to be good enough parents for their kid.
Having a baby is a joyous experience, but even the best relationships are strained during the transition from duo to trio. In And Baby Makes Three, Love Lab™ experts John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman teach couples the skills needed to maintain healthy marriages, so partners can avoid the pitfalls of parenthood by:
• Focusing on intimacy and romance
• Replacing an atmosphere of criticism and irritability with one of appreciation
• Preventing postpartum depression
• Creating a home environment that nurtures physical, emotional, and mental health, as well as cognitive and behavioral development for your baby
John Gottman has revolutionized the study of marriage by using rigorous scientific procedures to observe the habits of married couples in unprecedented detail over many years. Here is the culmination of his life's work: the seven principles that guide couples on the path toward a harmonious and long-lasting relationship. Packed with practical questionnaires and exercises, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is the definitive guide for anyone who wants their relationship to attain its highest potential.
The message of Hold Me Tight is simple: Forget about learning how to argue better, analyzing your early childhood, making grand romantic gestures, or experimenting with new sexual positions. Instead, get to the emotional underpinnings of your relationship by recognizing that you are emotionally attached to and dependent on your partner in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing, and protection. Dr. Johnson teaches that the way to enhance or save a relationship is to be open, attuned, and responsive to each other and to reestablish emotional connection. With this in mind, she focuses on key moments in a relationship from Recognizing the Demon Dialogues to Forgiving Injuries and uses them as touch points for seven healing conversations. These conversations give you insight into the defining moments in your relationship and guide you in reshaping these moments to create a secure and lasting bond.