authentic motherhood

Motherhood When Your World is Crumbling Around You

Sometimes life throws us on a wild ride. When Melissa and her husband decided to have children, they felt like they had themselves and their lives pretty well figured out… they had done plenty of travelling and enjoyed their share of evenings out cultivating truly great friendships. They had a solid foundation on which to build their family.

Yet looking back, Melissa has a feeling that most of us can relate to: that she wouldn’t recognize her former self if she was staring her in the face. It isn’t that any of us were less of a person before we had children, but the ways in which this role changes us are completely undeniable.

As much as we can plan the perfect timing for our big life decisions, the timing of our lives is not really within our control. As Melissa and her husband began to grow their family, they were hit hard with two terminal diagnoses in the family. During their first pregnancy, her aunt was diagnosed with leukemia. Shortly following their daughter's birth, her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The ordinary adjustments of sleeplessness, being constantly needed, and adjusting from career to motherhood were compounded with questions of how long, with rearranging lives and relocating, all while continuing to live life and anticipating a second child. While they were blessed to enjoy many more months together, they eventually lost both her aunt and her dad during her second pregnancy. The typical moments of joy and anticipation were swirled in a world of more complicated emotions.

It seems that facing the impending loss of your dad would be the worst time to adjust to a growing family, and it obviously wasn’t ideal, but both Melissa and her mother recognize that these children have been their saving grace in this time of struggle. A welcome distraction and ultimately the motivating force to strive to be an even better version of yourself (when the easier route would be to sink into an entirely justified depressive rut). With little eyes and ears absorbing everything, the choice to burden ourselves with anger at the tragedies we cannot control is much less attractive.

Not only have her children provided a source of joy through the tough times and the motivation to keep getting out of bed on the days that it feels nearly impossible; they have also been a reminder of the memories that matter.

When it comes to embracing traditions, Melissa worried that her children would be missing so much of her story in not having a chance to get to know her dad. When she and her husband moved back to their hometown, they ended up missing the window of time that they had left with her dad.

Now, despite not having his presence, she has found that she can enjoy the history of this place in a new way through the eyes of her children. Even memories that she had long since forgotten are reignited as she takes the parental role where her children represent her childhood self.

Driving past the same great big Christmas tree in the town centre that she had once craned her little head to stare at in awe there is a glimmer of a memory...

The memory of her father turning from the front seat back to enjoy her state of wonder. Now it is Melissa watching the same scene from her front seat.

The vintage rocking horse in the living room is the same one that Melissa herself grew up playing with. Their lives are a beautiful blend of appreciation for the past and engagement in the present moment.

These children have given Melissa access to her strongest self and her best self.

In turn, she is giving them a pretty amazing mother, and a childhood overflowing with love and patience and grace. She is embracing the messes and soaking up the crafting. She is loving these children in every moment and giving them the safe space to grow into their own best selves.

The thought of participating in these stories was altogether terrifying at first for Melissa. We are not generally very comfortable letting a stranger into our homes and into the truths of our joys and struggles… Not to mention the world of strangers who will have the opportunity to share in these secrets online.

So what would possess her to open up and share her story? It was the same thing that motivates so much of what we do as parents; to build a story that evidences for our children that they are loved entirely unconditionally and beyond the reaches of their imaginations. It is critical that they know that they are her greatest teachers and certainly her salvation over this past couple of years.

 

Want to read more of these stories, or have your story documented?

I would love to know...

How has motherhood changed you?

What do you need your children to remember?

Reflecting on Self-Reflection

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It should be obvious that people don’t fit neatly into predefined boxes, but we seem to find it so convenient to stick ourselves and everyone else into such boxes nonetheless. I mean, a test on the internet told me that I am an INFP (I for introvert), and the details the test revealed couldn’t have sounded more truthful. After all, I am shy and quiet and can feel completely drained in large crowds. I have read and loved Susan Cain’s “Quiet” and felt proud to be a part of the introvert revolution.

And then something strange happened... I started reaching out and felt so incredibly energized. I started taking chances, asking strangers out to coffee and made some of the most powerful friendships of my life. I stood up in crowds of people, completely vulnerable, revealing the imperfect images that contain a piece of my soul, and shared the deepest motivations in my heart. And no one laughed at me, (though a few may have cried with me.)

I have felt more alive and filled with purpose than ever.

In my continuing quest for self-knowledge (and having forgotten my result,) I re-took that test and surprisingly came out ENFP... E for Extroverted. Aren't these traits supposed to be definitive and permanent? Aren't Shy and Extrovert mutually exclusive?

I thought perhaps I had subconsciously lied in my answers... and then it became clear:

The difference between an introvert and an extrovert lies not in their confidence or outward personality, but in the source of their energy.

Introverts gain energy from their time alone, while extroverts gain their energy from the time spent with others. I have always straddled this line, drawn to books and baths and quiet spaces of self-reflection… but truthfully drawing so much of my energy from the people I surround myself with (for better or worse). While my circle is often small, it is that circle that fuels me.

Self-knowledge shouldn’t be used as an excuse… it should be a tool for empowerment. That introvert label looked like it fit, and so I slapped it on and ‘accepted’ that I just wasn't meant to reach out and connect. The problem with this was that I needed those connections to fuel me.

So this is the place that has given me the space to step out and take those risks. With age and all that self-reflection, I know that I can go beyond being shy.

Bravery and confidence are muscles that can only grow by bearing the weight of vulnerability.

The Motherhood in the Raw (20 Mothers) Project was fueled by the desire to create a village and foster authentic connection in the modern world of physical separation and superficial connections, celebrating motherhood in its raw and messy beauty. I am so excited to open up a few more of these sessions early this year. You can get more information and apply to share your story HERE.

The truth is, this connection is what fuels every session that I capture, be it a couple learning to love wholeheartedly, an indie-preneur boldly pursuing the business at the heart of her passion, or a woman growing and embracing the worthiness of her body, mind, and soul just as she is.

For both me and my business, the theme of 2017 is CONNECTION. This is not a resolution, it is a guidepost.

 

Less than perfect is a gift

I look and I see a clean, stylish home, an adorably happy toddler, a thriving creative business, and a put together momma and I could easily try to imagine that her life must be somehow perfect and unattainable. The truth of the matter is that no human's life is perfect or simple, and that those who are living the most authentically are honestly not striving for perfection.

Robin has built this life deliberately, with wholehearted love. The career that she has chosen was built around the family life that she knew she wanted to create. She chooses to savour and embrace these fleeting moments in little Charlie's life. Even as a first time mom, she seems to have an innate sense that this time will be gone so quickly, and so she schedules her work deliberately, she doesn't overextend her obligations, and she is committed to separating work time from mom time. She is confident and comfortable enjoying being so completely needed. She does not allow herself to be weighed down or guilted by expectations, developmental milestone races, or pressures imposed by unsolicited family planners (you know, the wise folks that tell me how many babies I ought to have and when).

When I casually made a joke about wanting to be sure we hadn’t ‘ruined’ our first child before we had a second, Robin said something that truly resonated with what this life has taught me as well.

If you have already come through a less than perfect childhood, and are standing here in one piece, functioning and thriving, there is no longer any reason to fear that you are going to ruin your own children.

I don’t think that it will hurt our children to watch us struggle, for they will see what it looks like to overcome our challenges.

I don’t think that it will hurt our children to watch us work hard in our marriages, for they will know that love does not mean that things are easy or effortless. That real love means working harder.

I don’t think that it will hurt our children to see us weak, for they will know that having weakness is human.

I don’t think that it will hurt our children to see overgrown lawns, for they will know that setting priorities means that we can’t always do everything.

I don’t think that it will hurt our children to do without every want, for they will learn that consumerism comes at a cost.

I don’t think that it will hurt our children to be coddled, for they will have the confidence to take bold chances, with us standing by to kiss the boo boos.

Our children don’t need perfect role models, for they will never live to be perfect. What they need are real people who love enough to keep trying. That is who we want them to become.

A head start handling the "Terrible Twos"

Kristin and I met about two years ago, back when she was excitedly awaiting the big change that was about to enter her life. She was on the first step of the journey into motherhood, and also entering a journey of artistic discovery. We continue to inspire each other in our journeys, as she shares many of the inspirational parenting lessons that guide her, and we come together to further her photographic pursuits.

When I arrived for our 20 mothers coffee date I was greeted by the aroma of fresh oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and a well spoken little darling who, at 21 months, is somehow only two months older than my little boy, yet a world of vocabulary apart. I am so amazed by the different ways that children grow and develop, and the range of "normal" for these tiny humans. It seems no wonder that parents find themselves under so much stress of comparison when we get caught up in milestones and measurements. I know that my son is exactly where he needs to be, even if it means a lot of "this" and "that" and tug-and-point; and that his same-age cousin, who prefers to crawl, is perfectly well developed as well. Oddly, it seems to take a lot of self-love to embrace our children where they are, rather than stressing over what we 'should' be doing better to get them 'on-track'. 

With a second babe on the way in only three or so short weeks, Kristin's family is set for another stage of growth and change on their journey. The toddler stage is in full swing in their house, with the discovery of 'no', 'I do it', climbing, and the need for a whole new set of limits. Kristin finds much of her parenting wisdom through Janet Lansbury's Elevating Child Care (http://www.janetlansbury.com/). I was impressed as she smoothly navigated both a diaper-change-refusal and a nap-time-refusal, countering her little one's 'NO' with a small this-or-that choice that respects her autonomy but does not leave room for the option to not get her diaper changed, or to not take a nap. If the little one says no to a diaper change, she can choose to walk over to the change table herself or to be carried. If she refuses her bed, she can have covers on or off, sleep with bear or bunny (or invariably both). I have been using this strategy for a few days with my 3 1/2 year old who still often refuses to use the potty, and it has been so much less of a battle. Kristen, I could nearly kiss you for sharing this!! Read more about it here.

Amazingly, Kristin had just finished confiding to me only a week before that 'NO' was her biggest struggle at the moment. I think it is important to reflect on the fact that feeling challenged does not mean that we are somehow inadequate. Knowing where we struggle, and seeking out the resources and strategies we need are signs of strength and self-awareness that we ought to celebrate!

We chatted about the isolation of rural life as a mother at home with little ones, about artistic growth, and so much more. I value these experiences immensely, and I cannot wait to connect with more mothers through the project. Thanks so much for hanging out Kristin, opening your home to us, and strengthening our little village of mothers.

 

Hey mommas, want to share a coffee & chat about your journey? The 20 Mothers Project is accepting applications, and your story could be documented and shared with our lovely community. My thank you to you is a complimentary fine art print of your favourite image, and there is no charge to participate. Let's grow in honesty, vulnerability, and wholehearted parenting, and support this amazing village of ours.