5 things that parenting is NOT

Ah, parenting…the most exalted, most exhausting job ever. Bringing a child into this world is perhaps one goal we all seek to achieve at some point in our lives, but once we have this child our whole existence is changed. It’s very normal to feel frustrated, overwhelmed and even shocked at how parenting is nothing like what we had imagined it to be growing up. Who would have thought that dinner time, bath time and bed time would be so nerve-wracking at times? In our imagination we only pictured our little ones to be perfectly-behaved, obedient, sweet angels (not that they are not). Reality hits hard sometimes, doesn’t it? But wait, we’re NOT heading down desperation lane with this post. There’s hope, there’s always hope when it comes to how much we love our children. After all, when we are tired, wired and at our wit’s end, it’s only because we want things to go our way and they’re not. Those expectations of an ideal parent-child relationship are simply standing between us and our kids, keeping us from bonding with them the way we had hoped. 

What are we doing wrong? Why isn’t parenting as rewarding as the media portrays it? Why are some parents more fulfilled than others, you may think? Because we often conceive parenting as a set of rules and theories that apply to ALL children. We’ve been socially trained to follow the footsteps of our predecessors in raising our young disregarding the ever-changing environment we expose them to. As a mother of both a boy and a girl living in a modern city, under normal circumstances, I can’t help but observe those fast-paced changes and worry about my children’s future. Will I be able to raise healthy, kind, loving, well-rounded individuals? Just thinking about this grave responsibility makes me hyperventilate! But I know one thing I had to learn the hard way. Parenting doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a child, a unique child whom you’ll learn to understand as much as you’ve already loved. It takes time. And you’ll get there. In this post I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far in my 8-year-long motherhood journey. I’ve summarized all the irksome, worrisome, troublesome parts of my parenting experience, which you may pretty much relate to. So here are 5 things which are NOT parenting. 

1. Parenting is not a race or a competition: I know, it’s tempting to compare notes with other parents, gather experiences and share advice but once you feel that you’re really failing at this thing called parenting because you’re not doing what other parents are doing, you need to stop. We’re not competing. We’re in this together. And if you ever feel that you can’t handle any more braggers, just keep your distance, there’s no guilt or shame in choosing what’s best for your kids, AND your well-being. 

2. Parenting is a means not a goal: you know that cheesy proverb that says “happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of life.” Well that also applies to parenting. Instead of worrying about accomplishing milestones and checking off lists, just enjoy every moment you get to spend with your kids. Your presence and role-modeling is enough of an accomplishment. So if you don’t get them to stick to a routine within a week, that’s really OK. Be consistent, yet flexible. Firm yet understanding. The last thing your kids want is to feel their home is more of a military camp than a cozy atmosphere to learn, grow, and just be themselves. 

3. Parenting is not self-sacrifice: We’re always told that fully-dedicated moms are the best moms. Can you imagine how depressing this statement may be for working moms? Why is motherhood always portrayed in such an overly idealistic light? Please stop feeling constantly guilty for excluding your kids in some activities you pursue on your own or with your spouse. It’s perfectly acceptable to want some time for yourself to recharge. Your kids will thank you the most for being a happy, well-adjusted, and outrageously creative parent.  

4. Parenting challenges don’t get easier with time: you know what we parents don’t need along the way? Illusions. But negating the statement that things won’t be getting easier is not…”negative” (does that make sense?)  Actually, it’s not the parenting challenges that will get better, but you’ll be a more equipped parent to handle those ever-increasing challenges. Yes, sadly every phase of parenting has its glitches, but trust me, you’ll nail them. There will be tough days, tear-jerking incidents, and lots and lots of self-doubt along the way, but you’ll be ok. Really! Negativity, busted! 

5. Parenting is not all what you are: when they placed that bundle of cuteness in your arms, you instantly realized that nothing in your life will ever go back to the way it was before. But this doesn’t mean you’ll have to adopt a new personality as a protective, superheroic parent. Regardless of whether the kiddos believe mommy and daddy have superpowers or not, mommy and daddy are (Your name) and (Spouse’s name) first and foremost. Your interests, needs, likes and dislikes should never be affected by your responsibility as parents. In reference to point 3, keep those parts of you alive – for sanity’s sake at least. Avoid falling into the trap of begrudging the single life. 

So whether you think you’re doing this parenting thing all wrong and can’t help but feel lonely and isolated at times, you’re actually never alone in this. Loving someone who is totally dependent on you in their first few years can be quite scary. But have faith in this love and your strength as a caregiver, mentor and protector of this child. You were made for this, and this child is exactly the way he or she is supposed to be. If you can remember to parent the child you have, not the child you always wanted, you’ll succeed in every level of this parenting game, with a little help from them, believe it or not 🙂 

Happy parenting! 

~ Zeina

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On raising happy daughters

Every night when you tuck your daughters in, tell them how much you love them. Tell them they’re amazing. Tell them there’s nothing in the world they can’t do if they put their minds to it. Tell them they can count on your acceptance and trust you with their problems. If they come crying to you, listen to them, validate their emotions. Silly things don’t make people cry. If they think their noses are too big, their hips are too wide, their lips are too thin, they’re fat, they’re ugly…hug them tight and tell them everyone is beautiful in their own way and that what matters most is the beauty of their minds and the gratitude in their hearts. Never ever tell them that if they don’t like their features they can have plastic surgery when they’re older. A nose job never made anyone happy. There are many beautiful women out there with the most broken hearts. Mothers, your words are of great influence on your little girls. As role models, you need to put your own insecurities aside when you address your daughters’ insecurities. Let your strength reflect on their thoughts and behavior. Let your kindness embrace their sweet tender hearts. The hardest part about raising a daughter is convincing her to just be herself in a world that seeks to teach her otherwise; nurturing her self-esteem is challenging indeed in an age where the fashion brands you wear define how likable or cool or rich you are. There will be days when she’ll feel so alone, confused, and indecisive. Be that someone she runs to. Your daughter would never choose anyone else over you if she knows you’re the only one who will understand. So make every moment count. Enjoy those little talks, the endless questions, the laughs, giggles and yes, the power struggles that never seem to end. They will be merely memories in a few years. Be sure that she will be as happy as you ever liked her to be by just carrying the best of those memories, and upon recalling those encouraging words you once said. The best way to raise a daughter is not to tell her she can be just as good as any boy, nor that she needs one to grant her happiness. Raising a happy girl always, always starts with a happy mom.
#to_my_daughter 

#my_happiness_for_theirs

#bonding
Love, 

~ Zeina

“Back in the old days”…

With all due respect to the elderly in this society, but they all just need to chill! As a parent, albeit it a young thirty-something parent of two children under 10, I believe I have the knowledge and ability to run my life along a safe course. I don’t do drugs, I don’t commit crimes, I don’t feed my kids litter, I don’t keep them awake till after midnight, I dress them in clean clothes, etc… Basically, I count as a good candidate to parent, thank you very much. If that’s what’s considered “mothering”,  I surely can’t be doing it all wrong! Right? 

This short-sighted vision of parenting, however, does not work very well with today’s definition of the term. To be a good parent you have to be a lot of things, not just a housemaid who slaves away in the kitchen cooking, baking and scrubbing floors, or a hermit who severs social ties to raise a family. 

I’m so tired of hearing stories about how moms did nothing but handwash fabric diapers or those obnoxious braggeries about how they potty trained all their children by 12 months in that golden era. You can forget about stating facts and relaying scientific data related to the physical readiness to potty train which most children exhibit by age 2. If you decide to wait it out against your elders’ recommendations, you’ll be looked down upon as the lazy mother who’s too busy texting and tweeting to notice the signs (because, obviously, children at age one SHOULD already by ready to tell you “verbally” that they need to go.) Trust me, your great aunt is more experienced than your pediatrician. 

I’m really tired of all the well-intended yet unwelcome tips and endless guilt trips the nice old ladies take you on with their remarks. Why can’t they just let this generation of mothers be whatever they choose to be? Whose expectations should we be living up to, theirs or our own? Yes, their days are definitely different, perhaps they did have better days back then. Times have changed, and this stressful lifestyle demands a change in approach to parenting, caregiving and house management. The comparisons make no sense when it comes to multitasking, for example. Mothers in the olden days didn’t have the same tasks, interests or passtimes. In defense of moms like myself, I believe we’re all doing an outstanding job surviving this wretched heartless world while teaching our children all the necessary lifeskills to ensure a safer, brighter future for generations to come. More educated conscious moms means higher awareness (and earlier intervention) to issues that require special attention, like learning difficulties, delays and impairments, or physical disabilities. 

They say we should respect our elders, but how about  a little appreciation from our elders as well? How about the respect we deserve for trying to fix a world our predecessors have left broken? We are certainly not the only generation of parents responsible for the moral degredation we witness today. Instead of constantly grieving over the past, we’d be far better off with a little more help and a little less meddling. It’s our time to make mistakes, just like they did, and our chance to learn the lessons they obviously didn’t learn: To live responsibly and teach responsibility, to raise well-rounded personalities not puppets we boss around at will. We don’t want our children to be us, we want them to be better. As a parent, I want to make sure I’ve left no stone unturned, no study unresearched, no effort unexhausted to see my children blossom. I want to bask in the satisfaction that I’ve done all that had to be done so my kids won’t be disappointed that I’ve been a neglectful parent. If that’s not enough for the generation of mothers before me, I might as well blame my inadequate parenting on every war that has plagued this country, wars that were caused by our elders’ unwise elections and re-elections of corrupt figures of state, rather than statesmen. At least we’re trying to change something instead of whining incessantly.
I will always pay much respect to every mother on this planet who would blindly give up anything to secure every child’s need, no matter what her age is or where she is from or how mean she can be to younger inexperienced mothers. We’ll always need to learn vicariously from parents who have longer years of experience in this domain, but we, too, can learn a thing or two on our own. That’s called life, and no one can live it for us no matter how knowledgeable they think they are. 

~ Zeina
Image credit: adweek.com

Beyond the Body: The Media Spin on Motherhood

Today’s Modern Mom is so different from yesterday’s. She’s an exuberant multi-tasker who can keep up with this age’s extremely fast pace, satisfying both her family and herself. She’s a competent career woman, skilled chef, meticulous housekeeper, affectionate nurse, Supernanny, agile yogi and fashionista. Her perfect life is just too good to be true. At least that’s what our subconscious mind is led to believe. Although this ideal mom exists only in the imagination of the marketing heads of famous global brands, her image of excellence has been promoted as the archetype of motherhood by the advertisers for many years now. This mom arouses our envy for all the energy she has to dress well and look polished while working in and outside the home. We covet her glowing complexion as we question the effectiveness of our own branded age-defying creams that aren’t doing the trick. She must have a nanny, a chauffeur and a personal trainer – we think – because all that daily stress from rushing through mornings, doing house chores, to preparing a hot family meal should surely show on her slender high-school-girlish figure. It’s exasperating to wonder what we’re doing wrong with our lives that we always look so worn out and feel miserable by the end of the day. You see this mom hanging out with friends, attending parties, and getting promoted. “Where does she find all the time and why can’t I be her?” a riled mother may ponder.

The media, which overly fixates on beauty, youth, and sexiness, is spinning motherhood against nature. It is no wonder that feelings of grudge would gradually sneak into a mom’s heart to the point of emotionally rejecting the noble, albeit confining, role of child-rearing. 

The Modern Mom is being shamed by every global female-targeted brand for her post-pregnancy body, dark-circles and grown-out hair roots. Every single commercial she sees on TV indirectly (though not unintentionally) mocks her rather scruffy looks, slowly guiding her to a more whimsical domain which, sadly, exists only in movies, drama series and ads. Yet she speculates on the chances of becoming like this or that star, graceful and polished, even while knowing they’ve got a team of make-up artists and image manipulation experts working behind the scenes.

To counter-market motherhood in “Real Moms with Real Bodies” campaigns is to simply limit a lifetime of love, devotion, and selfless sacrifice to a mom’s physique. A mother is more than just a body, she’s a soul. A soul that gives life…her life to other souls.

I’m not saying a mother should be allowed to neglect herself if she chooses to but it would be unfair to turn the focus away from her real mission to just her body and appearance. It is far more beneficial to market motherhood for what it really is, a journey of a passionate individual through the winding roads of parenting. A mom is not always in control of situations, she doesn’t always make the wisest choices, and she barely has time to eat a balanced breakfast, let alone make effort to look fabulous, before scurrying out the door.

Watching all these celebrity moms smile, strut and strike poses on TV and social media, a Modern Mom becomes certain that she can only attain success by owning a booming fashion enterprise and would only be seen beautiful if she hides behind layers of foundation. Then again, any woman, married or not, childless or not, must feel extremely intimated by the immaculate picture of beauty and youth portrayed in the media.

We don’t need to see a mom’s stretchmarks as a proof for conception. We know it’s terrible to watch one’s body age but there’s far more to motherhood than a sagging body and thinning hair. A mother is an amazing strong spirit, wrapped up in a fragile shell. I hope that someday the media would  truly honor her human side instead of compounding her insecurities. If we don’t owe that much respect to the woman who endures the hardest pain to welcome a child into this world, then to whom should we?

 

Putting parenting into perspective

I try to remind myself each day that my kids won’t stay kids forever. The tantrums will finally subside, the power struggles will end, they’ll eventually understand that rules are rules and they might actually like structure in the house (or so I hope). The whining will cease, the crying fits and sibling fights will no longer be. I am being a little too optimistic  right now, but I really have no choice but to adopt a more positive attitude through all this. If I keep reminding myself of all the things I should be doing but fail to do, or keep beating myself up for not coming any close to the “ideal mother” image in my mind…I’ll just subject myself to more stress than my body and mind could handle. I’m trying. I’m always trying to make things better. I seek perfection sometimes which is a very bad thing to do. Well, I’m trying to recover from this perfectionism. I’m trying. [Say “trying”. One. More. Time!]

Well, it’s true. What is parenting but a long tedious trial and error process with a few sporadic fun breaks? Stress on “few” and “sporadic”. LOL. You try a few disciplining theories, a couple of sleep-training techniques, some tips to banish picky-eating, and you either fail or succeed. That’s it. But you’ll need a whole lot of patience and effort at remaining consistent while you apply any of the above. AND…If your heart is not it, you’ve already set yourself up for failure. Parenting shouldn’t be this hard and a lot more fun but the truth of the matter is if you want to raise happy, successful children there’s a dear price to pay. Your comfort and sanity. Maybe I’m exaggerating here, but I honestly don’t think I can have a clean, quiet home and happy, obedient kids ALL at the same time. It just won’t work. I would be asking for too much if I expect that they’ll choose to play quitely in a tidied up room over chasing one another around the house making silly loud noises. They will want to defy the house rules at some point.  It’s getting them to comply that’s the trick.  Getting them to like being neat and tidy is one way of teaching them how to become more organized, paving the way for a successful responsible adulthood. Which reminds me of how hard my mom has tried to teach me to become this organized, to the point of OCD. And yet, I have my flaws. Perhaps I try to make up for my absent-mindedness and attention-deficit by being a picky perfectionist. So how can I expect my journey through motherhood to be any less hardwork? I am really disciplining myself and my children at the same time. I’m learning to control my temper and tame my reactions as I teach them to control theirs. I structurize their day aiming to have many valuable lesson ingrained in their lives early on. 

When my mom reminds me of so many negative incidents that have happened in my childhood, she recalls them in so much detail while I remember only the highlights. I sense the pain of her memory. I think of how long that day that I vaguely remember must have be for her. I imagine how worried she might have felt, how disappointed or frustrated. “Will she turn out OK?” She must have thought. These are now my everyday thoughts, at least. “Will they turn out OK?” And while nothing can guarantee that except my deep faith in God guiding me through this whole parenting quest, I can be certain that these long long days will soon be just memories. No matter what feelings they’ll evoke, they’ll only take me briefly back to a time when my babies were young and needed me the most. I’ll miss that feeling of being called upon to zip up a jacket, tie a shoelace, or fetch an object out of reach. I’ll miss the tiniest of details which I probably won’t be able to recall vividly as I age. 

It won’t be long before our kids launch into life on their own. The years are indeed short once you put things in perspective. All I could pray for is remembering these seemingly long days in good light. 

A Real Parent

I am a real parent

And by real I don’t mean

I’m a perfect know-it-all

Whose got everything under control

I am a real parent 

Because I’m the parent 

Who doesn’t hide her shortcomings

And is not ashamed of her failures 

And, boy, are they many

Somedays I’m bulletproof 

Somedays I hit the roof

I always wonder where I’ve gone wrong

I question the little voice inside that tells me what to do

Sometimes I go through the day

Without even realizing 

That I barely prayed for my little ones

I am a real parent

And by real I mean 

That I’m human 

Not that model with her babies

On a magazine cover

Whose flat-tire belly has been photo-tucked 

Whose skin’s flawless

And brows neatly plucked

I’m none of those

Because I chose

To be a real parent

Dark-circles and all

I am a real parent

And by real I mean

I cry at night when no one sees

And wake up the next day stronger than I can be

I am a real parent 

And you’d better beware

I watch out for my children

Like a wolf watching for hers

I’m always weaving plans

To get better at this parenting game

And I know I can

The One Way To Be A Good Parent

The sound of silence. Ahhh, how I relish it! I love that time of night when I can sit down and think about what happened during the day, evaluate each incident, each accomplishment, each tick made on the To-Do List. Hurray….Me time! And then it strikes me, the guilt…that agonizing feeling deep in my stomach when I know something didn’t really turn out right. I tell myself over and over again that I definitely need to muffle the voice inside me that reminds me, mockingly “oh, look…you failed to do that, AGAIN.” As mothers, we’re constantly bombarded with pictures of perfectionism on social media. You will read blog posts spreading like wildfire on parenting pages “100 DIY Crafts for Toddlers and Little Kids” “70 Activities to Keep Your Kids Busy This Summer” “How I disciplined my child in 3 days straight” “Foolproof ways to potty-train your toddler in a day” Ummm…seriously? A day? My son is six years old and I still get nightmares about his potty-training days…make that months! Parenting is far more tedious than what we perceive in advertisements showing perfectly-polished faces of parents gleefully playing with their children.
Not that it is wrong or unacceptable to display such positive moments of parent-child bonding, but to show only the bright side would surely devastate parents who are struggling to have quality time with their kids amidst their busy schedules. I am a stay-at-home mom and I barely have time to sit with – really sit and not just tend to the needs of – my children, I can only imagine how hard it feels for a working mom who only has a few hours on weekdays and a weekend to make up for all the lost time.
Perhaps we should give ourselves credit for simply trying to be the best that we could, simply creating the time instead of just finding it. That guilt which burdens most moms I know, including myself, should really stop. Why does motherhood have to come with such a dearly price? And why should we even compare ourselves to some lady playing peek-a-boo with her baby on a billboard? You won’t see a diaper ad featuring a mom changing bedsheets with a look of dismay on her face, or a baby food ad starring a picky toddler throwing his broccoli and pasta dinner plate on a recently-mopped floor. Well, these things do happen A LOT – on a daily basis. This is the gist of every mom’s life. Those mishaps, messes, dirt, stains, drools, tantrums, head bumps, whining. They are to be cherished as much as every quiet peaceful smiley-giggly moment. I can’t help but remember here the quote that says, “there’s no way to be a perfect parent, but a thousand ways to be a good one” There’s no way we are ever going to be perfect parents, and there’s no way we’re going to raise our kids perfectly, we just need to raise them well enough to rise up the challenges of life. There’s no way we can guarantee they’ll be truly accepted, loved and well-treated by their peers, teachers and other caregivers, but we can at least assure them they’re loved by us and assure ourselves we’re doing a good job at that.
I appreciate every successful parent’s effort to educate others, whether by blogging or writing, about all the great things parents can do with and for their children. The mention of the fake titles above was simply to draw attention to some unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves and our kids that turn out to be more harmful than useful. Believe me, I know exactly what those expectations feel like, I’ve tormented myself with such high expectations of myself which, not surprisingly, negatively affected my son. I know for a fact that he can’t stand crafts, can’t sit still for 10 minutes without fidgeting, hates coloring and will not learn any lessons from sitting in time-outs. I know my child. I know my child better than anyone else. So do you. Know what to expect of them and what not. Parenting is hard enough already. I remind myself and you, as a parent, that some moments are not worth sweating upon, not worth the stress that high expectations impose. They’ll grow up someday and we will all realize that such moments could have been easily avoided and replaced with more joyful ones. I truly hope so, anyway.
If there’s one thing we should expect of our children it would be that they reciprocate, as adults, all the love we have offered them as children. But even that is only in God’s hands and I’m pretty much certain that no amount of love invested in good upbringing will go unrewarded.