One Is The Loneliest Number…

one-is-lonely

Being a mom is lonely…why is making mom friends so hard? I swear it’s worse then dating. Pretty sure I’m just going to throw in the towel on having a social life until I’m old and retired and can play wheelchair races with other loner stinkies down the nursing home hallways. Raise your hand if wine is your best mom friend these days.

This was the post I read the other day on an online Facebook page that I lurk on. By “lurking,” I mean that I’m a member, but rarely do I post anything. The group is supposed to exist as a means of support for today’s super-connected new Mommas. But when I read some of the responses to posts members have written, they feel anything but supportive.

I’m not bashing the Admins for the FB page. I believe they work hard to police any comments that are out of line with the quote prominently displayed on their banner: “Whatever you do, do with kindness. Whatever you say, say with kindness. Wherever you go, radiate kindness.” (Jonathan Lockwood Huie) But when you have 15K+ members, it’s hard to keep up.

I believe that being a new Momma today is much, much harder than it was when I had my first baby 17 1/2 years ago. And the number one reason, in my opinion, is: Social Media.

Now, before you think that I’m going to tear into how “social media is the devil” and that we would all be “better off without our faces glued to a screen” – I’m not. I’m not much of a ranter, in general, but if I went on a rant about social media, it would make me a hypocrite.

I share rich and robust connections with people all over the globe… that I only know online. There are a few whom I feel incredibly close to – even though we’ve never met, or even talked on the phone! So, no… social media is not some sort of demon that we all need to try and exorcise from our lives.

Motherhood on its own is one of the toughest gigs around. But add a little social media to mothering and you’ve just made it that much harder. Here are a few reasons why I think this is so:

  • It’s too easy to sit at your dining room table and “connect” with other people online instead of getting out of the house as a new Momma to interact with people face-to-face. (Important to note that this can lead to all sorts of issues: increased feelings of isolation, increased risk of PMADs, a lack of conversational skills with someone other than your non-verbal infant, or your partner) 
  • A lack of conversational skills can make any attempts to connect with people in the real world seem super weird and awkward. (“Hi – do you want to be my new Momma friend?”) 
  • Interaction with others online only, means miscommunication is bound to happen! (“Did she just say that to me? I can’t believe she just said that to me!”) 
  • Engaging in interactions with others that are not face-to-face can be socially dangerous. (Not being able to read body language and facial expressions, means you might not understand the meaning behind the comment: they meant to convey humor or sarcasm, you interpreted it as mean and hurtful.) 
  • It’s also too easy to feel defensive about a parenting choice you’ve made and then go into attack mode if you feel your decision has been challenged by someone else – especially if they’re just a name and a profile picture on a screen. (Making parenting decisions almost always leaves you feeling a little bit uncertain and defensive. And we often will “say” things online that we would never say to a person standing in front of us.) 
  • People don’t usually share their parenting fails – or any other fails, really – online. (The virtual world is where most of us present only our very best selves, leaving out the not-so-glamorous details of our everyday life. This can lead others who might be struggling to believe that they’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough… to be able to do this Momma thing “right.”) 
  • While we all know that perfection is just an ideal, and not something that exists in reality, it’s hard to be okay with your imperfections when others are not willing to reveal any of their own. (This is what I like to call “The Curse of the Pinterest Parent.”) 
  • Despite all of this, we continue to persist in trying to make these online only “connections” with others – but we also continue to be surprised by the result. (Relationships that don’t feel very deep or authentic; relationships that end up being not very satisfying and leave us wanting something more…) 
  • It’s no wonder then that the current generation is one with the most connected group of people in history reporting the highest levels of loneliness and isolation.

Wow. How’d we get here? But more importantly, how can we get out of here?

The feelings of vulnerability that get stirred up during pregnancy are intense and very unsettling. Everything seems to be changing: our bodies, our relationships, our feelings about the world, our identities as individuals and as a couple – and there doesn’t seem to be anyplace where we can find sure footing.

It’s one thing to make decisions for ourselves, but now we’re making decisions for our baby – and we really don’t want to screw this up! We’ve either had:  A) the greatest mother in the world, which is fantastic – but an incredibly tough act to follow! or B) the crappiest mother in the world, which is awful – and we’re desperate to not repeat her sins. Either way, there’s an awful lot of pressure to be the best parent EVER!

I’ve talked often about the need to find your parenting tribe . It’s not necessarily easy, but it is easily one of the most important tasks of pregnancy and parenting preparation. And even if you’ve already had your baby, but still don’t have your tribe, then I encourage you to get out there and find them – in person!

This might sound challenging – but it’s completely worth it, I promise. Go to where other new parents hang out. There are usually New Parent groups in most communities – check them out! Usually the first couple of visits are either free, or super cheap to attend, so there’s no real investment, other than your time.

These groups are usually run by a facilitator who can help the group learn one another’s names and provide some ice breakers or discussion topics for people to weigh in on. It might take a month or more of weekly hanging out for you to make a connection, and it may only be with one or two others, but it’s a start. And even if it does feel eerily similar to dating  (Noooooooooooo!), hang in there. Going out for coffee after or meeting up early to take a walk before the group starts can give you a little bit of time to get to know one another better and see if you’re a good “fit.”

Sign up for some sort of “baby and me” class – music, messy art, reading at the library – or just go hang out at the park. Parks exist for one reason only: so parents can gather, commiserate and let their kiddos run wild and so as to not destroy the house! (I realize there are lots of other reasons… This is just the one that saved my sanity when my kiddos were small.)

But here’s the part that might be hard for some of the Mommas in this generation to hear… While you’re hanging out, trying to meet other new Mommas – Put the damn phone DOWN! Interact with your baby and the world that surrounds you. Be present. Look up and smile at another new Momma – she’s probably feeling exactly the same way you are. Strike up a conversation – about how cute her baby is, or where she got the killer stroller, or how crappy the weather’s been lately…

But after the small talk, get real.

Real connection does not occur when we hide who we really are. Real connection with another human being only happens if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You don’t have to dump on your new potential BFF, but it’s also okay to reveal a little bit about yourself that shows her you’re human, you’re not perfect. This can disarm her and her natural tendency toward defensiveness as a new Momma.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might get shot down… And if you do? That’s okay, you’re just not a good fit. But what if she responds with,“I feel the same way!” Well, then my friends you’ve got the start of something beautiful – a new friendship that is based upon shared circumstances, similar parenting styles, and cute babies that you really hope will like one another as they grow up. The potential to make life-long friends is there for the taking as a new parent – it’s just going to require a little bit of effort.

But please, please don’t give up…

The Momma who wrote that FB post did something that others might have thought a little crazy – but I thought it was beautiful and brave. She opened herself up and expressed her vulnerability about not having many new Momma friends – and she did it online, which is very taboo. And do you know what happened? As of this writing, she’s received 73 really positive and encouraging comments from other Mommas who are looking to make real, face-to-face connections. She started an online thread for all of these other women to share their own feelings of loneliness as new Mommas and it looks as if there will be meet-ups happening all over the city!

My hope is that these women make connections with one another and begin building their LIVE tribe of new parent friends – those who will be honest with one another about the challenges of parenting, and willing to share their epic parenting fails. When we realize we’re not alone on this new parenting journey, it can be so helpful!  Because trying to do this parenting thing without your tribe is hard and one can be the loneliest number.

How are you feeling in this age of “connection?” Hooked-up and well engaged? Or lonely and in need of a friend? Where did you/will you find your tribe?

For an added bonus check out this video from Three Dog Night from 1969… It’s so good in all the bad ways.

Snow Dazed and Confused

snowflakes

My kids were home from school two days last week because of snow.

In Portland, Oregon.

It’s kind of a big deal when that happens around here.

I remember when I first moved to Portland from Indiana a long, long time ago. My first winter, I called home laughing about the fact that the Mayor(!) had come on TV to ask that all “non-essential” employees stay home because of “hazardous weather conditions.” I think there was maybe four inches of snow on the ground! People were abandoning their cars on the highway!

(Granted, it rarely snows here, so people really don’t have a lot of experience or knowledge about driving in it, and teaching folks to turn INTO a skid is super counter-intuitive… Plus, I think PDX only has two snowplows. I might be exaggerating here, but we don’t have nearly enough to dig out an entire city!)

In contrast, when I was a kid, I’d gone to a Catholic High School in Indianapolis, one where the Jesuit Priests lived on campus. The joke was that if they could walk down the halls, there was going to be school that day. My friend Bridget and I had to dig her huge van out of more than one snowbank on the way to school – and we’d still get a tardy slip and a snarky, “Should have left home earlier!” from the school secretary once we finally made it in.

Even though it’s hilarious that the whole family gets a snow day when the PPS School District closes (sometimes based on only a potential forecast of snow) – I’m not complaining! I love snow now even more than I did when I was a kid!  Probably because I only get to play in it a couple of days each winter…

So it was that I spent over two hours sledding on the hill at the park down our street this past Thursday – even though you could still clearly see the grass beneath the inch of white stuff on the ground. And, as usual, my kids were ready to call it quits and head home long before I was!

Kids: “Mom, we want to go home and have some hot chocolate!”

Me: “One more run down the hill!”

Kids: “Mo-om, you said that five runs ago…”

Sometimes I wonder what they’ll remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Do you remember how Mom would go flying down that sledding hill? Even when she was six months pregnant with Felix? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

Day two of our unexpected school break wasn’t quite as much fun. Snow has a way of turning into ice pretty quickly around here. If the temperature rises by just a few degrees during the day, it starts to rain. Then overnight, the temperature drops below freezing and that’s when you end up with an entire city encased in ice.

The result is something reminiscent of the castle of the White Witch from Narnia – beautiful, but oh-so-cold and dangerous. Our lights flickered on and off throughout the day and we lost all electricity (and heat!) for a few hours at a time. 

Being stuck inside the house and unable to go anywhere only occurs every once in a long while (years can go by before this will happen again – or it might happen again tomorrow. We’ll see…) But every time it does, I think to myself: “I’ve got to order a pair of Yaktrax!” Because I have GOT to be able to leave my house!

You see, the rest of my family (and really, most other people) enjoy a little at-home hangout time. My husband, for instance, loves nothing more than to stay in his PJs for weeks at a time. But I’m not him. I find it really, really hard to not be able to leave my house for even one day. I need to get out in order to feed the beast within that craves social interaction with others.

There are many people today who might feel as though they’re getting a lot of their social interaction needs met through the mighty inter webs.

I’m not one of them.

The irony that many of my readers will find this post through a social media site is not lost on me. And I have to acknowledge that I’m currently traveling with this incredible online community of creatives looking to do business as unusual by taking part in Quest 2017.(there’s still time to join us, if you’re interested.) I also have to admit that I’ve made some incredible friendships through and because of my online presence.

But I’m still so grateful for my local, real-world “tribe” – work colleagues, the NACEF Board, friends and framily (typo intended), especially my Momma-tribe: those co-parents (who are not Roberto!) that I can get together with on a semi-regular basis to see and be seen, to listen to and be heard, to share in something different that’s not captured in an email or text. What I mean by “something different” is that we engage one another in real-time conversations that are often messy, give and take, back and forth, meandering, untamed, free-for-all discussions about whatever comes up as a natural (and sometimes unnatural) extension of the topic at hand.

For an extrovert like me, this is where I do my best work. It’s where I get my free therapy. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s where I find the intimacy, honesty and authenticity that I believe is so important in our ever-increasingly techno-obsessed world.

I had lunch with a small group of co-workers the other day, and we were discussing the idea that people might be losing the ability to speak face-to-face or rather, heart-to-heart, with one another. Then I came home from that gathering and read this amazing piece of writing that talked about that craving for real-world connection from one of my friends, Brenna Layne. (An aside: Brenna and I met on-line a couple of years ago and have never met in person. But, as it turns out… we’re twins! No, not really. But it feels like we are when she somehow writes All The Words tucked away deep inside my brain and my heart without me even knowing they were there in the first place. She is lovely and a shining example of my conflicted feelings about online connection vs real-life connection.)

Through these two experiences, I felt inspired to write about something that concerns me very much: We are losing the art of conversation.

The members of my tribe are still wanting to meet face-to-face. They are willing to set aside all other distractions and just be together, sharing time and space. In fact, we talk about how much we all need to do this more often than we already are!

And even though I work hard to make sure my children are able to look people in the eye and engage in a conversation with others that lasts longer than a few minutes, I wonder will they have friends who are able to do the same? Will they find their own tribe not just willing, but wanting to share in that same level of real-time face-to-face intimacy and interaction?

So, here’s another thing (maybe a much more important thing) that I hope my kids will remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Remember how Mom would take us on “dates” spending one-on-one time with each one of us? And then, how she would always ask us about the Big Things – like what we thought about God, who we were crushing on, or what happens after you die? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

The art of conversation is just that: art. It needs to be protected and cherished like all great masterpieces. And I think we should be encouraging our children to engage in it from birth. They need to get their hands messy with it, create it and shape it in real-time, unaware and unhindered by the self-consciousness that can sometimes be so paralyzing. If we don’t do this, I’m concerned that this art will be lost forever. And being our children’s first teacher, I think it’s up to parents to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Because our world needs this honesty and authenticity, it craves this intimate interaction and engagement now, more than ever before.

How do you engage your own children, even your baby, in the art of conversation? Do you think this is a topic worthy of discussion, or am I too “old-school?” I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Please share them with me in the comments section below.

Quest 2016 Begins in Earnest

Quest2016

I’ve signed up for another virtual quest accompanied by a group of wonderful creatives from around the globe with Jeffrey Davis at the front of the pack leading us along a path where we pause every couple of days to ponder how we might want to do things differently this year. He’s brought together 12 visionaries from all walks of life and work to create prompts for us along the way. Questions that might nudge us to dig a little deeper, think a little differently, and create with more authenticity. Today marks the beginning of Quest 2016. There’s still time to join if you are intrigued!

Today’s prompt comes from Susan Piver:

“What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…” 

My answer is both simple and straightforward – as well as complicated and unclear. I am wrestling with what seems to be my life’s constant companion: impatience.

I began questing for real over 3 years ago when I met Jeffrey Davis​ via Karen Brody​ and a webinar that she offered for those of us in the “birth world” who were interested in writing a book. A book? Me? It was only a passing thought, a fanciful idea that I might have something to say about my work with families in that most beautiful place where vulnerability crashes through whatever walls they’ve built to transform them – body and soul.

I listened to what Jeffrey had to say, albeit with a bit of skepticism. I kept wondering if he was authentic – a quality that I place the highest value on. Jeffrey is, in fact, as authentic as they come. As are all of the people he runs with. I jumped in with both feet and began my quest of writing a book having no idea where it would take me.

But three years later, I’m still writing the damn book!

Most writers reading this are probably shaking their heads right now and laughing! The gift of coming into the world of writing (relatively) late, is that I have no real idea what I’m doing. I make it all up as I go along and this affords me a level of naiveté that those steeped in the writing profession are already wise to: writing a book takes a really long time. Writing a good book, even longer. And a great book? The only one worth writing, in my opinion.

So, in the grand scheme of things, three+ years is nothing. And I’ve written 70,000 words already while working part-time and raising four children. I’ve started this blog and have maintained it for a little over a year (admittedly, some months better than others). I’ve submitted an essay that’s been accepted internationally (Canada, eh?), and I have one in the middle of the editing process right now. Most importantly, I’m more clear than ever what the real theme of my book is as a result of spending a week with the YBNS crew at Mohonk this past October having nothing else to distract me from The Story. Not too shabby, when I see it all written out, and yet…

I want this book to be completed already!

I’m actually enjoying the direction that my life has taken as I began this quest so long ago. I love the people that I’ve met because of this and my life (and social media) have both greatly improved as a result. It’s just that I keep wanting to get my message out there – into the hands and hearts of my people.

My message is not for everyone, but for the right people, I know it will have an impact on how they view themselves as individuals, parents and as a family. (Such audacity! Another gift of being new to this writing gig!) My message is clearer for the time it’s been percolating – getting knocked around, battered and bruised for all the rewriting that’s had to happen. My writing is so much stronger for all of it – for the blogging, the teaching, but most of all, the learning.

Impatience is both a curse and a blessing. Impatience spurs me on and keeps me going especially when the daily demands of being pulled in so many different directions threaten to unravel everything.

But impatience can also be paralyzing.

What if someone else writes my book before I do? Which, even though I don’t think is really possible, I scan the bookshelves at Powell’s just to make sure. I wonder if I’ll know when I’m done. I’m worried about what the next best step is to getting this project off the ground.

I have dreams of being farther along, or better yet, finished and that then maybe this restless feeling I have will finally settle. But maybe that’s just it – maybe once I said “Yes!” to this quest, I actually said yes to traveling on a journey that never really ends.

Maybe that’s what I most need to tell myself about 2016 – that this is just the beginning of my lifelong Quest. Make peace with your impatience, girl, because it will never go away – not completely. Once this quest is done – the book gets written, dare I say published? – don’t I secretly, or maybe not so secretly, hope for another quest to begin? See, my answer is simple and confounding at the same time. As all quests must be, I guess.

The irony of this revelation is not lost on me – it’s what I encourage my families to do as they prepare for their babies birth: Be open, flexible, vulnerable, expect the unexpected and – be patient.

Good advice that I might want to start taking.

If you’re at all interested in following what happens with this particular quest as I dare to write this book, please subscribe or follow this blog. You’ll be my traveling companions. I couldn’t imagine making this journey without you!

I’m Ready for My Close Up!

Capture10:3

As new parents you might be tempted to try and capture every moment with your new baby. This is true of almost every parent – even those of us who had babies before smart phones were ever invented! (I know, I know… I’m old.)

I’m putting this in writing for the sake of my two younger children – it’s not that I care any less for them. But if you were to look around my house, it would  appear that I only have two children. And really, it would look like I adore #1, and I kinda like #2 based solely on the number of actual photos that are in frames. And then I just stopped having children. In reality, I went on to have two more. It’s not that I don’t capture any moments of #3 or #4, it’s just that they’re all stuck on the computer,or my phone. Rarely do they ever get posted anywhere! Am I bad Momma? No, I’m a just busy one.

I’m happen to be #4 of six children in my own family. My oldest brother’s baby book was completed from cover to cover – snips of light brown curls from his first haircut, his first lost tooth, all of the major milestones written out in detail. And my baby book? Well – at least it has my name written in it.

Now, when I was young, I was a little resentful of that, I’m not going to lie to you. But today? Not a chance – because I recognize just how full my life is and trying to capture every single damn minute of our amazing fun and exciting adventures would be impossible! (Just a hint of sarcasm here.) I’m also not someone who’s very good at the selfie (I just got on Instagram six months ago and I think I’ve posted five times). Clearly, photography is not one of my strengths.

I’d like to provide a word of caution to all of you new parents about trying to capture all of those countless moments of your baby as a newborn. Take some, for sure, because in looking back you won’t be able to remember they were ever that tiny when they were fresh and new to this world. But sometimes, when the urge to snap a quick photo and post to social media hits you, stop yourself and just try to take it all in. This moment, now. What made it so important that you wanted everyone to see it? Reflect on that and maybe capture that image, that moment, in your heart instead.

So much of our lives are lived online these days that it’s precious relief to find stolen moments when no one else needs to see this or experience it except for you and your new little family. Breathe in the scent of your delicious new little baby, smile at the sweetness with which your partner gives them a bath, take a selfie of the three of you – that no one else will ever see.

Some of this transition to parenting is so very hard and real and messy – but we rarely ever see a post or a picture about that anywhere. We’ve yet to find an outlet that allows or approves of the reality of new parenting. And so instead, the only things we ever see are how wonderful life is with a newborn. A lot of it is, but let’s be real – a lot of it isn’t. Don’t get sucked into the myth that your worth as new parents needs to live up to the “magical moments” you capture for consumption on social media.

I’m not saying to stop being a part of the social media landscape, I’m in it, too! But recognize, as well, that every single second of every single day your baby is changing and growing – and so are you. All of you moving through this “new normal” that feels so abnormal while you’re stuck in the middle of it. But the only images that ever make it onto your computer screen or phone, are the great ones. We don’t post the not-so-great ones, do we? Maybe it’s because when we look back, we only want to remember that it was a positive time, our transition to parenthood. But that’s not based on reality and I think it robs you and your partner from acknowledging the incredibly hard work that went into this life-changing transformation.

So, maybe you capture a few of the not-so-great images, too. Don’t worry, you don’t need to post them anywhere, they can be just for you. Images that record your early parenting “fails” to help you realize that this is how it’s always been: a series of ups and downs as you learn and grow into this new role that has been thrust upon you. When you think about it, nine months is really not enough time to be truly prepared for the enormity of parenting. But you can do this. You are doing this. It’s not necessary to capture every moment of it for posterity. There are things about this time that make permanent impressions that will never be forgotten.

Because they’ve been captured in your heart.

As new parents are you finding it challenging to keep up with the task of capturing all the milestones of your new baby’s life? Would it make your transition easier to lighten up on this a little bit? What are your thoughts about capturing the not-so-great moments of new parenting?