A life coach (LC) once told me it is important to be selfish sometimes. She had to explain what she meant because for as long as I could remember, the word ‘selfish’ was synonymous with not caring about anyone other than yourself. Well, LC was one of the sweetest people I have met, yet she did not strike me as one who would accept being pushed around, or would accept becoming a doormat. Usually, really sweet people are considered people on whom you can ‘get over’, right?
When I had this conversation with her I was already mother to by firstborn. However, I did not come to really contemplate the meaning of being selfish while being a mother, until after having my second child.
What LC was conveying to me is that although I am a mother, I am a person. Separate from all the titles I gather in life I have myself and I have to take care of self. You’ve probably heard it or read it somewhere…’If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else’. I have heard people reference it to when an aircraft loses oxygen and you are to put an oxygen mask on yourself before helping someone else, even your own child, put on her mask. Still, the word ‘selfish’ isn’t used here, even though it may be more concise and cost less to print. I do understand why: it just doesn’t sound good.
Nonetheless, being selfish (to an extent) is necessary for sanity, self-esteem, creativity, and a dynamic life.
I don’t know about other mothers, but I tend to analyze a lot. It used to be that before I left the house (children and husband in it), I would think of all I could do to make sure everything for the kids was where it was supposed to be so my husband could easily find it. It was as if the time I was going to be away had to be excused in my own mind, and that I was negatively selfish for not being there to care for them myself. I know this is absurd because we are both their parents and my husband hasn’t indicated, in any way, that he thinks or feels any of the things I am explaining here.
I realized I was hindering my own self from taking a break. From clocking out from my Stay At Home career. From taking care of me. From figuring out how to take care of me beyond taking a shower and maybe putting on some make up.
So about a month and a half ago my husband and I had a conversation. We acknowledged that we both feel the difference in our lives from how it was pre two small children and a teenager, to post two small children and a teenager. We agreed that we both need time to be ourselves individually and together. At the end of that conversation it was decided that I was going to begin taking scheduled ‘Me Time’.
The first time I had no clue what to do with myself. I was happy to leave the house and go do something. I didn’t want to waste my time. I didn’t want to do something as mundane as go window-shopping or take a nap in my car…like I have done a few times in the past. Then I realized I could do anything I wanted and I would be doing it by myself!
When I returned home I felt energized and didn’t feel like I needed to clock out again for a while. The second time I felt kind of guilty, leaving everyone again, so as it was already hard to schedule something with holiday travel, I just let that one go. Today was my third scheduled Me Time and I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to take my selfish self to the forest and hike! Yes, I was going to take a hike!
My hike was phenomenal. It was something I needed more than I thought. I wished for my husband and my children to be with me. I kept envisioning them there, but I knew I needed to be by myself. I needed to not worry about what they might need… if they are hungry, thirsty, or need a diaper change. Or if the 15-month old had eaten a crayon or is putting his finger in his mouth and maybe is now interested in sticking it in an electrical socket.
That’s the thing, you know? Being a Stay at Home Parent means that as long as your children are awake, you have to be aware while you’re cooking or cleaning, or doing whatever else you may need to do, Additionally, you have to be present for the myriad learning moments young humans have. I personally think that is tiring. I feel like I am wrong for feeling this way. That, as a parent, but more so as a mother, I should want to be with my children all the time and I should only get a tiny bit tired just as any human would from being awake and doing regular things.
To continue, my hike was what I needed. I focused on thinking of nothing. I took deep breaths as I walked briskly onward in the chilly air. Every time I thought to meditate I would first repeat a prayer I know, and then somehow ended up seeing Purnima Ramakrishnan’s face as if she was leading a meditation session. It was so strange and SO funny! Then I kept thinking about how I should have asked if there are wild animals to be concerned about on the trails. Black bears and cougars would have to just let me have my Me Time, you know?
After the hike I watched a R-rated movie (The Big Short) and ate a cookie.
I got home to two little babes wanting to be tickled and wanting to use me as an obstacle they had to demolish. It was a lot of fun and I knew I was better for them since I went and had some time with my own self.
Do you take time to do things on your own? Do you ever feel like you could be better for your children? When you do take time away, are there specific things you do that bring you back to center? What do you think about the word ‘selfish’?
I am a mom amongst some other titles life has fortunately given me. I love photography & the reward of someone being really happy about a photo I took of her/him. I work, I study, I try to pay attention to life. I like writing. I don't understand many things...especially why humans treat each other & other living & inanimate things so vilely sometimes. I like to be an idealist, but when most fails, I do my best to not be a pessimist: Life itself is entirely too beautiful, amazing & inspiring to forget that it is!
“Twelve years ago, as I rocked my baby through dark Chicago winter nights, I was beset with “new mom” anxieties about whether I could properly care for her. Post-partum chemistry and sleep deprivation fueled irrational worries about her health. With a new sense of motherhood comradery, I listened to a radio story about a 21-year-old widow in Kenya responsible for 13 children from her extended family. All of their parents had died of malaria or other diseases. I began to contemplate how horrible it is that mothers in extreme poverty often don’t survive, much less meet the needs of their children. How could I dwell on imaginary fears when others faced real dangers? And how could I possibly help?”
Jennifer Burden is the Founder and CEO of World Moms Network, an award winning website on global motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. World Moms Network writes from over 30 countries, has over 70 contributors and was listed by Forbes as one of the “Best 100 Websites for Women”, named a “must read” by The New York Times, and was recommended by The Times of India.
She was also invited to Uganda to view UNICEF’s family health programs with Shot@Life and was previously named a “Global Influencer Fellow” and “Social Media Fellow” by the UN Foundation. Jennifer was invited to the White House twice, including as a nominated "Changemaker" for the State of the World Women Summit. She also participated in the One Campaign’s first AYA Summit on the topic of women and girl empowerment and organized and spoke on an international panel at the World Bank in Washington, DC on the importance of a universal education for all girls. Her writing has been featured by Baby Center, Huffington Post, ONE.org, the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and The Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists.” She is currently a candidate in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the Executive Masters of Public Affairs program, where she hopes to further her study of global policies affecting women and girls.
Jennifer can be found on Twitter @JenniferBurden.
Right now I have a lot of parenting anxieties. One is over our transient lifestyle moving from one country to another every few years with our young children. Another is over my absence from my children as a full-time working and studying mom – when I’m not home, I’m at work; when I’m home, I’m studying.
Can anyone else relate?
My twin children are in 1st grade and about to finish up their second (and final) term. A new teacher has come into the picture…(thankfully) with very structured daily homework assignments and weekly quizzes…Quizzes?!…and a very clear goal of getting the children to 2nd grade level reading and spelling by the end of the term. All of this is wonderful, makes a lot of sense, what a blessing, terrific….and time to PANIC!!!
How am I going to spend enough time with my kids to go through their homework? Will I have enough reserve of patience to be encouraging? How am I going to impose the strict rule about no tablet time until afterhomework when they are with the housekeeper? How am I to maneuver between two very different personalities, learning styles, and confidence levels when the kids are constantly comparing themselves to one another’s abilities (one can spell and is excited about school work/one can’t and doesn’t want to; one still needs to do math with fingers/ the other is a natural whiz?)
Anyone else have similar issues with parenting anxiety when raising twins or between siblings?
Walking in the Shoes of the Basotho
Meanwhile, throughout Lesotho, where we live, there is a large migrant adult population who must leave their families behind to go work for long stretches of time in the mines or textile factories in another area of Lesotho, or even as far away as South Africa or other countries in the region. Sometimes, they move around with their families and are transient depending on job availability. Sometimes they go away on their own and are absent for months and years from their loved ones.
For the Basotho, they mostly leave their families behind in the care of other family members, mostly with the paternal side of the family given their patrilineal culture. As I imagine what life would be like in the Basotho culture, as a wife and mother I would be living with my in-laws under the authority of my father-in-law for all family decisions. I imagine that parenting anxiety exists, albeit, very different. Here’s how…
My concerns for my children would be challenged not only by the quality of their education, but also by their access to adequate healthcare; the family’s limited income to pay for daily necessities (until the next time my husband comes home with more money); the home garden suffering from drought; and the decision to send my daughter to school, but not my son because we need him to be a herdboy and tend to our livestock until we can sell them. Time to PANIC?
If I take this exercise further, I begin to imagine how can I convince my father-in-law to agree for my child to see a medical doctor instead of a traditional healer. And even if he agreed, how will I get my sick child to a medical facility when it’s a day’s walk away and there is no public transportation even if I had the money to pay?
If there is no work for me, should I trade sex for money or goods to provide for my family? What will we eat if the garden is dead? Will it rain soon? What will happen to my son if he doesn’t get the education he needs to become more than a herder or a laborer in the future?
Can anyone else relate?
Parenting anxieties are indiscriminate across the planet. We all have them at one time or another and for many different reasons. With each location my family and I live as expats, I learn to walk in many different shoes (or bare feet) of the people whom we share our community. With each day, I gain a greater understanding of the challenges that parents face around the world. And, these varying experiences are often on my mind.
Do you or others in your community relate to these two experiences living side by side? What are your current parenting anxieties?
One of Dee’s earliest memories was flying on a trans-Pacific flight from her birthplace in Bangkok, Thailand, to the United States when she was six years old. Ever since then, it has always felt natural for her to criss-cross the globe. So after growing up in the northeast of the US, her life, her work and her curiosity have taken her to over 32 countries. And it was in the 30th country while serving in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan that she met her husband. Together they embarked on a career in international humanitarian aid working in refugee camps in Darfur, Sudan, and the tsunami torn coast of Aceh, Indonesia.
Dee is now a full-time mother of three-year old twins and continues to criss-cross the globe every two years with her husband who is in the US Foreign Service. They currently live in Vientiane, Laos, and are loving it! You can read about their adventures at Wanderlustress.
About a week before Halloween last year, a teenage boy named Joshua committed suicide. He had graduated Grade 8 at my son’s school just four months previously, and in September he had started attending the local high school across the road. Everything was going well. He was adjusting to high school and making new friends, and he was happy.
Except he wasn’t.
About six weeks after the start of the new school year, Joshua’s younger brother Tommy needed help with his homework. He knocked on Joshua’s bedroom door and went in, expecting to see Joshua hard at work on his own homework. Instead, Tommy saw the body of his brother hanging from the curtain rail by a belt.
Nobody knows what drove Joshua to such a tragic extreme. He never spoke of any crises, there was no bullying that anyone was aware of, and he seemed to be fitting in well at his new school. In the absence of any other answers, Joshua’s family are slowly arriving at the conclusion that this was a case of teen depression that was never detected.
What makes teen depression so hard to identify is that so many of the symptoms and warning signs are seen as just a part of being an adolescent. As young people experience the firestorm of pubescent hormones, they start to speak and act differently. They become self-conscious about their bodies, they display the infamous “teenage attitude”, they fight all kinds of internal battles as they try to figure out who they are. Self-esteem takes a knock, they may become withdrawn, aggressive or both, and they start to guard their privacy more closely than before.
Yes, all of these things are typical teenage behaviours. But they are also typical behaviours of people experiencing depression.
It creates a minefield for parents, who have to balance respect for their child’s growing need for privacy with enough vigilance to know when something is wrong.
The Canadian statistics surrounding youth and mental illness are deeply troubling:
Up to 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness
Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world
Suicide accounts for 24% of teen deaths in Canada – the second leading cause of death in this age group
(Source: Centre for Addiction & Mental Health)
So what can we as parents do to keep our children safe from the ravages of mental illness? How do we tell if a teen is just being a teen or if there is something else going on? I did an informal survey of parents, teachers and mental health practitioners, and this is the advice they had to offer:
Create open lines of communication with your children from as early an age as possible. If they grow up knowing they can talk to you about anything, they will be more likely to approach you if something is wrong.
Make mental health a topic of conversation in your household, just as you talk about physical health. You encourage your kids to tell you if they are not feeling physically well – the same should happen if they are not feeling mentally well.
Allow your teen to have privacy, but establish an understanding that his or her privacy only goes so far. Social media accounts should be set up under your supervision, and you should know the passwords.
Ensure that your teen has access to a trusted adult apart from you. Every adolescent has things that they are not comfortable talking to their own parents about, but they still need guidance on those things. It could be an aunt or uncle, a teacher, or a family friend.
Watch out for changes in behaviour patterns. It is normal for teens to go through periods of being irritable or emotional. If it lasts for a longer time than usual, or if it is accompanied by changes to eating or sleeping patterns, there might be something going on.
If your teen starts to wear clothing that doesn’t make sense – such as long sleeves in summer – they may be hiding the marks of self-injury.
When in doubt, simply ask. Many teens struggle alone with depression or anxiety because they simply don’t know how to talk about it. All they need is for the conversation to be opened.
Teen depression – or any mental illness – is very frightening for the teenager, and for the loved ones. The bad news is that right now, mental health services are only being provided to one in five Canadian kids who need them – mostly because the need is not being identified. The good news is that in the vast majority of cases, getting help can make a huge positive difference in the lives of these kids.
How do you approach discussions of mental illness in your family? Have you ever had to seek treatment for a child or a teenager suffering from a mental illness?
Today, January 27th, is Bell Let’s Talk day in Canada. For every tweet using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag, and for every Facebook share of the image in this post, Bell Canada will donate five cents to mental health initiatives.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Kirsten Doyle. Image courtesy of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign for mental health awareness.
Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny).
Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels.
When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum.
Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world.
Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!
“When a mother receives the kit, she is happy. She feels that the kit will make her safe.” – Jun Ping, nurse, Tahoy District, Laos.
It’s true: the Clean Birth Kits my organization CleanBirth.org provides pregnant women in southern Laos do make birth safer when used correctly. Kits contain everything a mother needs to prevent infection in herself and her baby: gloves, soap, 2 clean absorbent pads, clean blade, 2 clean cord clamps, and picture instructions.
However, while the contents of this small pink bag can save lives, there is no guarantee they will.
In order to truly impact outcomes, the kits must be distributed by nurses who counsel mothers and families to use the supplies in a hygienic way, in the proper order, with a birth helper present.
The pivotal role of the local nurses is a lesson I have learned since we began supplying kits 3 years ago. Nurses speak the language, share the culture, and venture deep into jungle villages. They are the sole hope of villagers, who cannot travel to clinics due to distance, petrol expense, and washed out roads.
Well-trained nurses ensure that the promise of the small pink bags is realized in a healthy birth for baby and mother.
CleanBIrth.org works to give nurses the training they need by funding two trainings per year. This March, with our local partner and volunteer midwives from the Yale School of Nursing, we will again train nurses about Clean Birth Kits and the WHO’s Essentials of Newborn Care.
This year’s training will have a special focus on “Training the Trainer.” We want nurses to not only learn but to become teachers themselves.
To achieve our goal of training each and every one of the 62 nurses at the 31 clinics we serve, we need your help to raise $15,000 by February 13th.
You the readers and contributors of World Moms Blog have supported CleanBirth.org since it’s founding in 2012, and this year is no exception.
Kristyn brings her years of experience as an entrepreneur and serial volunteer to CleanBirth.org. She holds a MA, has run small businesses in Russia and the US, and has volunteered in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Uganda on projects related to women’s empowerment.
After having children, Kristyn became an advocate for mothers in the US, as a doula and Lamaze educator, and abroad, as the Founder of CleanBirth.org. She is honored to provide nurses in Laos with the supplies, funding and training they need to lower maternal and infant mortality rates in their villages.