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A Kindred Spirit - Authentic Motherhood

Brittany is a bit of a rare flower, and the powerful connection that I immediately felt with her goes much deeper than a shared first name. To see a young woman with such a balanced and steady sense of herself, and with such a solid footing as she enters motherhood is a truly beautiful thing. Of course, none of this came by chance, she has been very intentionally navigating a journey to self-discovery over the past few years, and it is this intentional path that has allowed the new role of motherhood to find a comfortable place in the rhythm. Brittany has made conscious choices to let go of anxiety and to embrace only that which adds meaning to her life.

One of the most striking things I noticed in conversation with Brittany was the answer she gave to my usual question about the most important gift that she can give to her little guy. It is a subject that often goes unnoted in our “children above all else” culture, but one that I have been thinking of a lot myself over the past few months. Brittany and her husband Kyle have placed a great deal of importance on cultivating a strong foundation for their relationship. The gift that they will give this family is the comfort of knowing that their love is unshakable, and that home will always be a safe space.

I see it as a logical but often ignored subject in relation to the popular topic of attachment parenting, the gist of which is that the more securely bonded a child is to his parents, the more confidently he will be able to go forth into the world. I have never actually noticed mention of the connection between a safe and attached parent/child relationship and the safe and confident environment created by a well maintained relationship between parents.

I am not the only child familiar with the turmoil of an unstable parental relationship. While I would obviously argue that I turned out just fine, imagining a childhood without that constant fear seems like some sort of utopia. The truth is, I have seen the way my daughters’ eyes light up when they see my husband and I show each other affection. The way that we lavish our children with cuddles and kisses and tickles clearly shows them the love that we have for them, so how would they not notice a discrepancy in the way we treat our spouses? I do not believe that “broken” homes will break our children, but I do know that the pain of a continually “BREAKING” home can be positively heartbreaking.

The way that Brittany sees it, putting the effort in up front to build a solid marriage, and doing the maintenance work as they go, means that their son will never face that fear that it is all going to fall apart, or worse, feel the burden of keeping face to keep it all together. With this safe space to return to always, he will be free to be imaginative, to take chances, and to go boldly into his life.

There will always be love to welcome him home no matter the outcome of his adventures.

The myth of 'Balance'

The challenges of motherhood do not always come from the actual raising of the children. Kim was born to be a mother and has been blessed with fairly easy going children. For her, the role of momma is a natural fit, and the ebb and flow of parenting these two has fallen into place quite nicely. In all honesty, I had a hard time finding the words for this post. Kim is so laid back and simply takes things in stride. She didn't come into this journey with idealistic expectations only to be bowled over by reality. She has found her 'village' through strong connections to her church community. She has built a strong business that allows her to put her family first. Their family is alive with love, and connected in all they do. They make beautiful music together, share tea parties, story time, and bed jumping. Even so, she still hasn't found that magical 'balance' that we have been told to expect

The thing is, when we accept the calling of motherhood, the rest of the jobs still need to get done. There is bread to be won, laundry to be done, messes to be tidied, and so many opportunities to say "Yes" when perhaps we actually need to say "No".

Saying "Yes" naturally feels good... we do want to help everyone, and to be a part of everything. And so we start juggling to fit more and more into our days, and find ourselves frustrated when we can't do it all and make it look effortless. I know, because I have buried myself under piles of Yeses until I reached a breaking point. And you know what, breaking felt good. I mean, obviously it didn't feel good at the time, but it finally gave me the freedom to say "NO" without guilt. Once I knew what another "Yes" would mean for me, and for what I was able to give to my family, it became easy to realize that the needs of my children carried more weight, and that saying "No" to some things was really just saying "Yes" to my children, to my business, to my husband, and to myself.

And it isn't at all about finding 'balance' as though it were the scales of justice, it is about riding the waves, managing the ebb and flow without finding yourself under water. Thankfully for Kim, I have every confidence that she will navigate the myth of "balance" without reaching that breaking point. How do I know? Because she has the insight to know that it will take more patience. She is willing to reflect deeply and thoughtfully in prayer. She is learning to give herself more grace.

Thank you Kim for sharing these beautiful, real moments with me. I loved capturing The way Z holds that little monkey belly button and L's little mix of sweet and sass that reminds me so much of my Ottilia. I hope that the album will be something that you treasure always.

Finding the confidence to be the mother our children need

Motherhood the first time around is a whirlwind journey. When I asked Amber how her experience of motherhood relates to the expectations that she had for it, she emphatically said "Not at all!" In nearly every way, this journey has been harder, and also so much more fulfilling than she could have imagined. In the struggles and at the deepest bottoms, she has found a new sense of empowerment, of confidence in her own strength and instinctual wisdom.

From the outside of motherhood looking in it was easy to imagine the "right" way to parent. Easy to imagine sleepy and cooing babies. Easy to imagine that the arrival of this sweet babe would be a relief from the challenges of pregnancy. We don't really ever expect to be out of the frying pan and into the fire. From a rough pregnancy straight into a colicky and "spirited" baby, it hasn't been the easiest transition of their lives.

When they made the decision a year ago to make the move from the comfort of their humble abode to building their dream home, right as baby was due to arrive, it seemed terrifying. Moving a family of three into a holiday trailer in her mother's yard didn't appear ideal. In the end, it was the biggest blessing they could have hoped for. The challenge of sleepless months was tempered by the ready support of family.

They still don't sleep through the night, and car rides are still not easy, but Amber has found the strength to manage their expectations and obligations, to say no when she needs to, even if it isn't easy. She has given her spirited babe love wholeheartedly and deeply, rather than resenting the challenges she sometimes brings.

I find one of the most amazing but subtle gifts of motherhood to be the confidence we gain by standing strong in our instincts and values.

The experience of carrying, growing, and bringing a child into this world, (or of working so hard and waiting patiently as you ride the adoption roller-coaster) makes you more aware than ever of your innate strength, of the wisdom of your creation, and the power that you hold within you.

Even before a child ever arrives, we are inundated with "shoulds" and "rules" and the "wisdom" of the well meaning public. It is hard work to build strength to accept the loving intentions of others, while releasing our guilt of going against all the advice that just doesn't fit with our children or our homes.

Support is so vital to gaining that strength, and thankfully Amber has an amazing husband who provides balance to her anxieties and assurance of the wisdom of her instincts. She has a mother close at hand who has been in her shoes many times over, and uses that wisdom to build up rather than to dictate or critique.

Spending time with Amber and her little darling was such a reminder of how distant that time already feels. That time of being at home, way out here in the bush, alone with my first baby, at that age where she needed constant stimulation. That feeling of overwhelming boredom and love.

It was hard for me to feel like an adequate mother when I am just not that good at being entertaining. It is hard work for me to be ON all the time. I am a quiet listener, a soulful conversationalist, and a lover of peaceful time outdoors and contemplative creation.

I adore everything about toddlers, their sweet cuddles and precious giggles, their wispy hairs and dimpled fingers, their chubby legs and silly dances. In small doses, they are a breath of fresh air, of joy and possibility. Even so, toddlers are not my kindred spirits, and I am okay with that. Motherhood doesn't always come easy or naturally, every stage holds it's own blessings and challenges. That toddler that I so struggled to entertain, she ended up my exact replica, quietly colouring at all hours of the day, soulfully caring for her younger siblings, and imaginatively creating new worlds for them to enjoy.

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Sometimes we don't sleep, our hair gets pulled, and even our bodies are not our own. Sometimes we make concessions to our preconceived notions of ideal motherhood. Sometimes we realize that we were once the ones judging the way that we now feel judged.

Sometimes we move past that all. Sometimes we accept our own choices and embrace our own strength. Sometimes we take comfort in knowing that we are more equipped than ever to handle what this world will throw at us.

Sometimes we release our judgements of ourselves and of others, and the world is a better place for it.

 

I am proud to support and share the real stories of local mommas. Are you enjoying the 20 Mothers Project? Care to share your own story and have your everyday moments documented? The project is still accepting applications, just head on over and fill out the short form.

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.