It’s Not All Mary Poppins

About Balance


We often struggle with balance. We struggle with it before we become parents; add a child or two or more into the mix, and the challenges rise. And rise. And rise some more. Are they insurmountable? Is it even possible to be ‘balanced’ with young children in the house?

As I was mulling this idea over, my first response was, “Depends on the age. Not with a newborn, it isn’t. Everything is out of whack with a newborn.” But then I thought some more. I chatted about it with a few smart friends. Let the ideas roll around in my head for a few days.

And my conclusion?

Yes, it is. Even with a newborn. (The newest newborn is up to 3 months old, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll extend that to six months. A newborn will be a child up to six months old.)

But don’t panic! I am not about to up the ante, to declare that you can be put-together and sexy and keep a tidy home and put meals on the table and care for your other children and have time for your friends and have sex with your husband and attend school meetings and be productive at work and supervise the basement reno … while tending to a six-week-old. I am not going to do that. Not even close.

First, how do you perceive balance? Is it a daily struggle, or can you step back a pace and see it in terms of weeks, months, years? I think you can.

When a parent of a toddler worries about their child’s nutrition, I generally advise them to consider not what the child eats in a day, but what they eat over the course of a week. They may have an all-fruit, or a no-meat/protein day, but what’s their intake over a week? Is their diet balanced over a week? (It very often is.)

That is how we need to perceive ‘balance’. When you have a newborn in the house, you have to step way, way back. Having a newborn is a season in your life, a six-month season out of decades. During that season, your primary focus will be almost exclusively on the baby. Yes, there are other things that must be attended to (your other children would top the list) … but, really? That list of true essentials is pretty short.

When you have a newborn, particularly one less than three months old, you are immersed in their needs, their never-ending needs. You feed, you change, you feed, you sleep, you feed, you soothe, you feed …

Laundry? May not get done in a timely fashion. Housework? May not get done at all. If you have to go back to a paying job in this time, you’re not going to be at your best. You’re just not. You’re going to be sleep-deprived and distracted.

For a season. For a season you will be distracted, disorganized, focussing almost exclusively on this one, tiny, demanding, precious, aggravating, beloved, supremely important little being. This will make you feel like you’re out of whack. It’ll make you feel like you’re losing control, losing effectiveness, falling short of some standard of competence. But you know what?

You’re not.

There will be other seasons in your life. You’ve had a few before this. You’ve been a child, you’ve been a self-absorbed teen. You’ve been dependent on your parents, you’ve gained independence, you’ve been a student, you’ve held down a job, you’ve been single, you’ve found a partner in your life.

Each of those seasons has its demands and its pleasures. Now you’re in the ‘immersed in baby’ season. There will be other seasons after this, seasons where your baby grows and develops and gains his/her own independence, just as you did. There will even — and this is astonishing to realize when your baby is so small and all-consuming — come the season when your child is only one of many relationships in your life. An important one of course, but when your child is an adult, moved out, perhaps with children of his/her own they will just not be in your thoughts every waking moment. (No more than your parents are for you, now. You care, but they don’t consume.)

So, for a season, your housework will likely go to hell in a handbasket. Laundry will probably pile up, rooms will certainly get cluttery, baby stuff will take over your living room. You will have trouble being patient with your other children. You will likely not feel like having sex with your husband a whole lot. You may be groggy a lot of the time, easily distracted, you may find it hard to concentrate. Your memory will probably vanish in the fog of sleep-deprivation.

And that’s OKAY.

It does NOT mean you are not ‘balanced’. At this moment, for this season, you are focussed almost exclusively on that baby, and that is exactly what you are supposed to be doing right now. You can’t do it all. You shouldn’t even be trying. That’s not your job just yet. Another season will arrive, in three months, in six months, and you will begin to pick up the things that you’ve dropped for now. Dropped because you are holding something far more important.

Which brings me to my second point. What are you going to pick up again?

Too often we define balance as doing it all. We think that somehow, if we could just find that perfect point of balance, we could magically keep it all going. All at once. But, seriously? Do it all? At the same time? Take a look at this picture. Is this “balanced”?

Things piled on top of things, demands and expectations and roles and responsibilities, one piled on another, an enormous mound of “I must” and “I should” and “I have to”, until you’re nothing more than a stressed-out bundle of reactivity? Is that balanced?

Looks more like ‘insane’ to me.

You want to live your life like the Cat in the Hat, scrabbling frantically to stay on that ball, keep everything in the air at once?

Or do you realize, as one of my smart friends pointed out, “Balance is not doing it all; balance is choosing what to put down.”

Do the beds really need to be made every day? Do you have to attend that meeting, take on that volunteer work, sign your older kid up for gymnastics (and then drive them there twice a week)? Do you have to? Really?

I doubt it. For three months, for six months, you can let a whole lotta stuff go. You can, and you should. You take the life-long view and ask yourself, “In thirty years, will it really matter that I didn’t make cupcakes for the kindergarten bake sale? Really?? Will it matter in thirty years?” And then, when the newborn season is ending and you actually have the strength to take things back on, do it slowly. Pace yourself. Decide what is truly essential and what is optional. And I mean truly essential. Use that 30-year screen to filter out the non-essentials. Bear in mind that your definition of ‘essential’ and ‘optional’ will not be the same as another person’s. An uncluttered living room matters to one person; family dinners together matter more to another. That’s fine. Just make sure that your ‘essential’ list isn’t five times as long as your ‘optional’ one.

Pare down your life to the stuff that’s essential and the stuff that brings you peace and satisfaction. You may not achieve this kind of balance (though it’s a good goal!) …

… but you’ll be a whole lot happier.

November 28, 2011 Posted by | parenting, peer pressure | , , , | 9 Comments

Why it’s called “home” daycare

“What is that baby doing in here?” Her middle-aged brows draw into a scowl of puzzled disapproval as she eyes the lone 16-month-old amongst the dozen 4-year-olds. She is an Inspector, and this is my first post-baby job. The baby is my daughter. My boss steps in adroitly.

“That’s the teacher’s daughter. Sometimes she comes in for a visit.”

Ooo, slick. In fact, she didn’t ‘visit’; she just stayed with me. (This only happened after my boss had assured herself of my ability to care for them appropriately. This was her policy with all staff with children; and no, not all staff were permitted to have their child with them.)

Fast-forward twenty years or so, to an interview in my home with prospective clients. The mom is a daycare-centre worker.

“How do you keep the toddlers and the babies separated?” she wants to know.

Short answer: I don’t.

Fast-forward to today. Composition of the household on this particular day: Emily, age 4; Tyler, 2.5; Noah, 2.75; Lily, 18 months, and New Baby Boy, 13 months.

“It’s okay,” Emily reassures a frustrated Noah. “Baby Lily can’t help it. She’s just a baaaaybee.” She pats Noah’s back, her voice rich and soothing. “She doesn’t know that hurts. I will kiss it better, okay?”

Noah beams. “Okay!”

“When you’re cleaning up the blocks, let the baby have one. That way he won’t take them out of the bin as soon as you put them away. When you are all done, then you take that last one away.”

Noah and Tyler carry the block bin together over the baby gate and into the kitchen.

“We are coming in here to play so baby Lily won’t keep smashing our building. But we left some blocks for her to play with.”

Emily carries the bin of playdough and playdough toys to the table. Baby Lily clutches one end and staggers with the bin. It looks a little awkward for poor Emily.

“Do you need help, Emily? Is Baby Lily being a problem?”

“No. She thinks she’s helping me.” She leans closer and stage-whispers to me. “She isn’t really helping, but I’m letting her think she is.” She nods wisely and smiles.

“I need that! Here, baby Lily, you can play with THIS!”

“Mary! Mary! Mary! Baby Lily said ‘DOWN!!!”” Noah’s small face radiates delight. “Did you hear? Her said ‘DOWN!!!’ ” He claps his hands. Baby Lily claps, too, and they laugh together.

Noah scoops a spoonful of stew into his spoon. New Baby Boy watches carefully, then picks up his discarded spoon and starts poking it around in his bowl. He doesn’t quite manage to capture anything on the spoon, but it’s clear what he’s trying to do… and equally clear what encouraged him to try.

“If you shout at the baby, you will frighten him. Tell him in a calm voice, ‘Those are my socks’, and then take them gently away from him… Good. Now you give him something else to play with… That’s it! Good for you! Now you are both happy!”

And THAT, Madame Inspector, is what that baby is doing in here…

May 11, 2010 Posted by | daycare, Developmental stuff, individuality, manners, peer pressure, socializing | , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

In which Mary and the Wonderful Husband contribute to the cause of Public Betterment

The Wonderful Husband returns from a few days away. He travels fairly regularly for his work, though usually he’s only gone a couple of nights.

As he does from time to time, he has a gift for me. (Told you he was a Wonderful Husband.) This gift, being a bouquet of flowers, is not packed in a suitcase as such trinkets generally are, but exits the taxi with him and is presented on the front porch.

It’s a mild day, and a few neighbours are chatting on the sidewalk across the street. Tall blond husband across the way notices the exchange and calls out,

“Hey, knock it off! You’re making the rest of us look bad!”

And me — I am NEVER, EVER this quick off the mark — I holler back,

“Pfft. The rest of you should be taking notes!”

And while I give Wonderful Husband a big, heartfelt (and astonishingly public) kiss, the wives across the way applaud.


March 2, 2010 Posted by | peer pressure | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

MIA, that’s me

Sorry I’ve been absent this week. I did, however, blog here, so if you’re missing your fix, hop over and have a read.

February 13, 2009 Posted by | Mid-Century Modern Moms, my kids, peer pressure | Leave a comment

One of the first parenting challenges

troubletagNaming the baby.

A reader is panicking because everyone hates the name they’ve chosen for their still-gestating baby. Perhaps because family and friends loathe it so, they don’t share it with us. The columnist weighs in with a measured — and entertaining — response, just full of quotable lines.

I rather liked this: “If five people tell you you’re drunk, maybe you should lie down.”

My friend Cindy was partial to this: “When it comes to parenting, opinions are like stinking, steaming, full diapers: There’s no shortage of them, and no one wants to change them.”

Go, read the article. Which line made you give an appreciative snort?

And what do you think about the wisdom of giving your baby “a challenging and unusual” name? Is your creativity empowering your child with a name that will never be forgotten, or dooming him/her to a lifetime of humiliation and inconvenience?

January 12, 2009 Posted by | controversy, individuality, parenting, peer pressure, pregnancy and delivery | , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

the good, the bad, and the embattled

hopeIf you’ve noticed I’m a bit distracted these days (and how could you possibly have missed my frequent whinging about how tiiiired I am??) it’s all because of this.

Update: Her big brother realized that what a beleaguered girl might welcome in the middle of a long day would be a break, so he popped down to the school at lunch today to take her out. (Isn’t he great?) Lunch went well, and, so he reports, did her morning. Relatively speaking, at any rate, but at this point, we’ll take what we can get.

It’s not perfect yet, but things seem to be looking up. Thank goodness. Because those prehistoric ostriches? They were seriously eerie.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | aggression, my kids, peer pressure, the dark side | , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Helping out

We have a new baby!

Baby Tyler joined the ranks last week, and did very, very well. He crawls almost as fast as Noah walks, and will, when he’s solidly upright, be very … solid. I foresee many collisions, with Noah on the bottom.

In the meantime, Baby Noah (on the right) is enjoying having another kid who likes to do the same things he does. Like throw things off high chair trays for the dog, and spin the wheels on the cars and trucks, and make really slurpy spit noises. Like watch the garbage truck.

And the BEST place to watch the garbage truck when you’re under three feet tall, as Noah has long since discovered, is here at the front door.

“See, little buddy? The garbage truck is RIGHT THERE!”

Some days it’s nice to be the “big kid”.


November 10, 2008 Posted by | daycare, peer pressure, socializing, the cuteness! | , , | 6 Comments

Judging Parents

Here we have a video clip. Title: Parenting FAIL. Which kind of says it all right there.

(The clip is from YouTube; the commenters I mention are on the Failblog site.)

Updated to add: The event in the video is sudden, unexpected, and, though inadvertant, shockingly violent. If you have a tender heart, you may opt to skip it.

Most of the commenters (who appear to have a mental age of 14 or 15 — with apologies to my very sensible and decently sensitive 15-year-old), are completely oblivious to the fact that this involved Real Human Beings, one of them a baby, and are either titillated (nasty children that they are) or just exchanging irrelevant nonsense amongst themselves (inane but harmless). A few of them, however, come out with the Judgements:

She should have been hanging on. (She probably was, dipshit; you’ve obviously never tried to hold the hand of a squirmy, sweaty two-year-old determined to be somewhere else.)

She should have been hanging on; I’m INSANE about hanging on to my child in public. (And she’s never, not once, slipped your grip? Come on, now.)

She should have the kid on a leash. (Oh, yes, so you could then slam her for treating her child like an animal; can’t win for losing on this one.)

If more parents and fewer 14-year-olds read that blog, you can be sure there’d have been more condemnation. Why do we parents do that?

Well, sometimes it’s appropriate to note where someone’s doing it ‘wrong’. That’s a politically incorrect thing to say these days, but nonetheless true. Some parenting actions you see can serve as useful object lessons in how not to do it. But let’s stop at thinking, “Hm. That doesn’t seem to be effective because of a, b, c; this other approach would be better.” We do not need to move from a thoughtful analysis to judgment, “And what a CRAP parent he/she is for doing that.”

Or, if you do go that extra step (and who among us doesn’t, at least once in a while?), keep it to yourself. Given what I do for a living, I find myself analysing parents all the time — and not always kindly. Just like a financial planner might take a look at the general public’s retirement “plans”, and shudder. Or a nutritionist watch how families eat and want to get in there and MAKE THEM EAT SOME VEGETABLES, DAMMIT! (Oh, wait. That’s me, too…)

Everyone knows the savage pleasure of a catty conversation. It’s not the most honourable of human impulses, but many of us have it, and I confess I am in this group at least once in a while. So enjoy your internal slice-and-dice, but keep it to yourself. You’re doing it for fun; this hardly makes you morally superior.

We can savage for personal entertainment; we can observe, analyse, and learn. We do not need to judge, but often we do. Why?

Mostly because it’s comforting, I think.

– Nothing like that could ever happen to MY child, because I would never make that mistake. No, I would never lose my grip (physically or mentally), never have that split-second of inattention, never make the wrong judgment call. Nuh-uh. So my baby will always and ever be 100% safe.

– Nothing like that ever HAS happened to my baby, so I must be a Good Parent. Phew.

– I may not be a perfect parent, but I’m better than THAT loser. Phew.

All those assume that it is reasonable to think that a child will always and ever be 100% safe. It just ain’t so. The sooner we give up that idea, the sooner we can lift a weight of unnecessary guilt off our shoulders.

My thoughts were:

Well, my first reaction wasn’t a thought, just a jolt of startlement — which, in some people might come out as a shout of laughter, but that doesn’t mean you found it funny.

Then concern for the child:
Oh, my GOD! Is she alive? Did she break her neck? Is she just bumped and bruised?

Followed by:
Oh, that poor woman.

Because, if you’ve ever held the sweaty hand of a struggling toddler, you know those little hands are hard to hold; you know they can slip out of your grip; you know they can make a sudden, unexpected dash. You know, because it’s happened, and most of the time, it doesn’t matter. Most of the time, you lurch forward and grab the little bugger darling by the scruff of her neck and haul her back, no harm done.

But once in a long while, once in ten thousand impulsive toddler dashes, something potentially tragic can happen. And it’s nobody’s fault. Nobody’s fault at all.

Just try telling the mother that, though.

That poor, poor woman.

November 7, 2008 Posted by | parenting, peer pressure | , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

The play’s the thing — especially when it does the dishes

Remember how I was saying that for small children, everything is play?

Some very clever people have come up with a way to extend that to older children. Called Chore Wars, the site is based on the notions that work can be fun, even drudgework like household chores, if it’s a game. Your family is a team, each with their own character, working to complete tasks for rewards and points. You might even have to battle the occasional troll or paper golem along the way. (I found a “tentacle” while cleaning the bathroom this morning! AND defeated it!)

Add a little competition within the team, and you might just have the key to getting those damned beds made without a fuss!

October 14, 2008 Posted by | parenting, peer pressure, socializing | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Method! Order!

Pitter patter go the raindrops on my windowpane.

BAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAM go the little feet in my home. (Little feet do not “pitter patter”. Whoever coined that phrase knew nothing — NOTHING — about children.)

“HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!” go the happy children.

My home gets very loud during days of rain. But, like the dog, if they don’t get their exercise, discipline tanks. Well-exercised puppies and toddlers are happy critters, cheerful and cooperative and surprisingly quiet. Puppies and toddlers with all that energy muted and denied chew books and bark in the house. Some of them have been known to pee on the floor. (And no, not the puppy.)

Though I discourage barking, laughter is a good sound.

“HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!”

Actually, it’s sort of weird laughter. A sort of machine-gun firing of hilarity. Mechanical, almost. And incessant. There is no ebb and flow of liquid giggling, no bursts of chortles with pauses between. Just a continuous, rapid-fire, “HA! HA! HA!”

“HA! HA! HA!” as they BAMBAMBAM.

All but Timmy, that is, who is concentrating his energy on the running. Which he does like the wind. Lordy, that boy is fast. You’d think with that kind of speed he wouldn’t be landing on his heels quite so hard, but you’d be wrong. He has the BAMBAMBAM down pat. Just no “HA! HA! HA!” to go with it. They’ve done two lengths of the house when Emily notices his defection from the ranks of hilarity.

“Timmy, why are you not laughing when you run?” Her tone of voice is gently enquiring, but the expectation is clear. It is not sufficient that Timmy is part of the game. It is not enough that he is smiling. Laughter! We must have laughter! Suitably chastised, his next lap is dutifully — and volubly — jovial.
“HA! HA! HA! HA!”

Because we are having much! more! fun! when we make the Happy Noises.

Some while later, they collapse into a panting heap. I suggest the time is ripe for some quiet play. Puzzles, perhaps, or crayons?

Emily nods sagely. “Yes. It is time to colour now, so we can rest from all that running around laughing.”

I foresee a bright future as an Events Coordinator for the girl.

October 1, 2008 Posted by | Emily, individuality, peer pressure, quirks and quirkiness, socializing | , , , | 5 Comments