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'Progress' in parenting isn't a straight line, mama

This beautiful journey is full of setbacks, regressions and frustrating stalls along the way.

'Progress' in parenting isn't a straight line, mama

My daughter Wren stomps to the car, angry tears falling from her cheeks. Her 9-year-old rage is barely contained, and I offer her the passenger's seat as her siblings file into their car seats and boosters.

What follows as we sit in the parking lot of the pediatrician's office is a near physical assault on the dashboard, guttural cries escaping her lips every few seconds.

"It's not fair!" she wails, finally letting the grief wipe away some of the fury.

"Nope, it's really not," I answer, having already decided that I won't brightside us through this process.

Though a gluten-free diet offers remission from most of the symptoms of the Celiac disease she's dealt with for seven years, her body is still offering side effects and problems seemingly just for sport. We now began an uncomfortable process to sort through them.

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"I follow the rules. I don't eat what other kids do. I take all the vitamins," she whimpers, her face in her hands and her siblings watching silently.

She inherited her belief that good behavior should produce discernable results from me, though it's a pattern most of us fall into regularly. Follow the rules, collect the prize. Avoid the threat, experience no harm. It feels like common sense, the expectation of a linear process that can be charted, a line drawn on a graph pointing up.

When Wren landed in the ER two years ago for the same issues, there were procedures, observation, outlines, recommendations, and (what I thought was) a clear path moving forward. We emerged victorious on the other side. I did an internal fist pump and marked this problem solved.

That's why when I see Wren ready to explode from the injustice, I get it. Only, I'm just now learning that we spend life in what looks more like a roundabout than on a straight road moving us to our desired destinations.

***

Recent conversations with my friends included the following pronouncements:

"I was off sugar until I was on it again."

"My kid was potty trained and now pees wherever he stands like it never happened."

"I was really doing okay two weeks ago, but something invisible happened and now I'm not."

I felt this when, after six months of relatively stable mental health, I fell into bed fully dressed one night and wept for hours before falling into a near catatonic sleep. The sun coming through the windows the next morning did nothing to alleviate my mood, a mood darkened by the question, Why is this happening again? I thought I was past this.

I wonder if we are ever truly past anything or if we're simply making slow progress that sometimes looks like circling back around to chronic issues for occasional visits.

These visits are never welcome, and they are what make regression in any childhood behavior near unbearable. We covered this ground, you mastered this skill, onward!

In adult lives, it's the same feeling we develop when dealing with career setbacks, flashbacks of trauma, or any sort of loss of endurance or dulling of a skill. Going backward in any way feels like defeat, and it doesn't mesh with the narrative we're sold that says real progress is steady and sure.

Practicing mindfulness helps me respond better to the now, whatever it is, but it also makes me aware of how often I spend life expecting to fully defeat or overcome every vice or obstacle in my path. All evidence points to my life working more like a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole. Problem solved? Nope. Problem reemerging.

I'm not sure linear exists, and I know I'm not alone. A recent text from a friend put into words what I have been struggling to accept for the last couple of years.

"…the older I get the more I learn that nothing is really linear for me. Grief, growth, spirituality…I just keep hoping it all sort of assimilates toward an upward trajectory…"

This seems to align with the idea that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had about the very long arc of the universe bending towards justice, but it's not hard to see how that trajectory is not a straight, upward moving line. Neither is parenting.

We hope at the end that we have healthy, well-adjusted kids who are secure and ready to lend their gifts to the world, but this beautiful journey is full of setbacks, regressions, and frustrating stalls along the way.

My friend added that it's scary to live through the dips, the low points, and that's true in the bigger story of our world and within the personal stories of our lives. What happens when we don't see that progress, that permanent, positive change?

Put simply, life.

**

Wren improved steadily over a matter of two weeks, but by week three, things took a turn. Her digestive issues returned, not full-force but in a way that changed the direction we were going from forward to somewhere between stalled and backward.

"But it was getting better," she said, shock written across her face.

"And it will again," I told her because I truly believe that statement. I gently added that it will also sometimes get worse, and explained that life is a seesaw. There are days when we're on top, and days when we're way down at the bottom—with most of our earthly existence found somewhere in the unsteady balance of the middle.

We can still live, taking in the now and hope that it adds up to progress and growth in the future. The setbacks certainly don't steal the beauty. They just force us to search harder to find it.

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My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

$35

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

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