In Which I Find My Limits

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Community, Divorce, Feeling Overwhelmed, How Do The Moms Do It, Mommy Issues, Perspective, Single Parenting, WorkingTags , , 8 Comments

Army Wife to Single Mom

When my now ex-husband left me last March, there were plenty of things I worried about, but my capacity to be a single mom wasn’t one of them.

I’d been an Army wife during wartime during my entire career as a mother. Our soldier had deployed to Iraq when our daughters were 5 months old for a total of 15 months. He left for Korea for 12 months a year after he’d returned from Iraq. His subsequent tour to Afghanistan was a nice short 9 months. That didn’t even account for his stateside training-related absences, which could stretch to three months. We divorced when the girls were 6; Daddy had been living at home for under 3 years of their lives. While I would have loved to have had a meaningful co-parenting relationship despite the distances involved, we frequently went weeks or months without being able to communicate, so parenting decisions fell to me alone.

I was fully capable of managing our home and children without another parent around to help. I worried how our daughters would cope with the trauma of their parents divorcing, not living with Daddy even when we was stateside, Daddy’s remarriage and associated step-mom and step-sisters. I worried about how I would manage on a single income. I didn’t worry about whether I could parent my daughters “without help.”

I Have Help

“Do you have help?” people ask me, all the time. What they mean, of course, is do I have family members in the area who will watch my children or perform house maintenance or pick them up from school in a pinch. I don’t have family help, but I don’t consider myself to be lacking in help in raising my children and managing our lives. I usually answer, “We don’t have family nearby, but we have a great community network.”

My help comes in the form of daycare providers, camp counselors, and babysitters whom I trust as partners in raising my girls. Do I pay them in money (and sometimes theatre tickets)? Sure, but that doesn’t make their help any less meaningful. My help comes in the form of J and M’s friends’ parents, their teachers and counselors, and their Girl Scout leader. They give me the context of what is age appropriate and help my girls build their social skills and academic skills. My help comes in the form of supportive co-workers and managers, who make my kids welcome at work social events, who let me telecommute to give me an extra hour or two with my kids every week, who treat my kids like their own nieces. My help comes in the form of the company I pay to maintain my lawn. My help comes in the form of the neighbours who will trade a few hours with my kids one weekend for me taking theirs another. My help comes in the form of the HDYDI community.

I Have Limits

Photo Credit: elcamino73
Photo Credit: elcamino73

I started feeling overwhelmed over the last few months. My home, always messy, began to feel dirty too, something I usually do not stand for. My shoulders and hands began to ache without reason, an early warning sign I’ve learned to recognize as a bellwether of a resurgence of depression. I suddenly started fighting dandruff, despite having made no change to my shampoo or diet. I started dropping the ball on work assignments. I found myself avoiding picking up my telephone messages, a sure sign that  depression was looming. Last weekend, I was so clumsy in the kitchen that, after breaking two plates, I avoided any food preparation that might involve knives or fire.

On Monday last week, the weight of life felt too much to bear. I asked my boss whether I could take the rest of the day and all of Tuesday off. With the kids at summer camp, I spent those hours cleaning my house, going to the gym, getting my eyebrows waxed, napping and reading. I talked to a couple of close friends about how I was doing. When I returned to work on Wednesday, my shoulder pain was gone. The dandruff had cleared. I found myself humming on way to my office. When I received an email inviting me to perform in a local venue that would have been on my bucket list (if I had one), I was excited, not panicked at the thought of adding the rehearsals to my schedule.

The 15 Month Cycle

It didn’t take much to set things to rights. I just needed some “me” time. At first, I thought my losing my Zen was a result of the post-adrenalin slump following the completion of a multi-year project at work, but it wasn’t work that had been feeling overwhelming. It was Life that was bothering me, the weight of the entirety of M and J’s well-being falling on my shoulders.

I had an epiphany. This was the longest I’d ever gone being a single parent. While I worried about whether my ex would come home from combat alive, I always believed that after at most 15 months, my partner would be home. I wasn’t alone always going to alone in raising M and J.

Don’t get me wrong. The girls’ father has seen them since we got divorced, but it’s hard for him since we don’t live in the same state. He’s seen them 3 times since last August, when the girls and I moved back home to Central Texas, leaving Daddy behind in El Paso. (He’s since moved to North Carolina.) Much as I love my kids, I did enjoy the childless days and the opportunity to pick up around the house and to go out for dinners and game nights with friends. I didn’t quite feel like I was off the clock, though. Daddy brought the girls home ahead of schedule 2 out of the 3 times he had them, so I can’t completely turn off mommy mode when he has them, unlike when we were married and he’d take a few days off after deployments to be with the kids. Then, it was important that I did stop being Mom to avoid the temptation to try to teach him how to be Dad. Daddy and the girls needed space to get to know each other again. That just isn’t our dynamic any more.

I had hoped and worked for an ongoing co-parenting relationship with my ex, but it hasn’t panned out. He’s just not a phone and email guy and has a hard time making “theoretical” parenting decisions. He needs to be present in the moment to make child-rearing calls, and he’s just not around. J broke my heart a while back, observing, “Daddy spoils us. He’s more like a grandpa than a parent.”

The 15-month respites I could rely on as an Army wife are no longer available to me as a single mom. So now, I need to use my help, in this case summer camp and an understanding boss, to find my own respite.

I have my mojo back and a much better understanding of where my limits are.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Working Mom Nursing Twins

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Categories Breastfeeding, Co-parenting, Infants, Mommy Issues, NICU, Parenting Twins, Prematurity, Single Parenting, Theme Week, Working, World Breastfeeding Week Blog CarnivalTags , , , , , , , 10 Comments

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding CenterWelcome to the World Breastfeeding 2013 Blog Carnival cohosted by NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center!

This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.


My twin daughters had my breastmilk as part of their diet until they were 7 months old. They were preemies, born at 33 weeks gestation, and both spent time (16 and 21 days) in the NICU before they were stable enough to be released to us. I work full time and returned to my job when the girls were 11 weeks old and not quite 5 lbs each. My (now ex) husband is a soldier and deployed to Iraq when J and M were 5 months old for a 15-month tour. He was also gone for the first 3 weeks after the babies were home, thanks to pre-deployment training out of state.

b_134016When I describe my nursing situation like that, it seems like a victory that I was able to keep it up for 7 months. Don’t be fooled, though. Even now, 6 years after my daughters stopped nursing, I feel the dull ache of failure when I think of our breastfeeding experience. Objectively, I know that my 7-year-old daughters are healthy and smart and funny and sweet. It didn’t harm them in any way that I can see that I only breastfed for 7 months. I know I did everything I could. I know that, on balance, I’m a good mother. Still, my daughters’ 7 months of breastmilk and high-calorie formula feels like a personal failure. My goal had been 12 months of exclusive breastfeeding.

While pregnant, I had been under the impression that nursing, because it was a natural instinct, would be easy. In retrospect, “natural” and “easy” rarely go together. I should have known better. After all, what’s more natural that raising your child? And what’s harder? There are plenty of new moms for whom breastfeeding is easy. I wasn’t one of them.

It also wasn’t so hard for me that it wasn’t worth pursuing, as it was for some of my friends: the friend whose baby’s lactose intolerance meant that he couldn’t gain weight on breastmilk; the friend whose baby never once latched properly; the friend whose baby was so premature that her body didn’t even interpret it as a live birth and never produced milk at all. We all have our own stories and our own set of challenges.

Two Babies

Ah, the twin thing. I had enough breasts to go around, so that was a plus. My aunt-in-law’s successful breastfeeding of her triplet daughters 12 years before my girls were born was a huge inspiration for me. It also gave my husband a surprising degree of insight into what might work for us.

Let me say this loud and clear. Moms of multiples, if you want to breastfeed, it’s worth a shot. You may be a natural (pun intended), like Wiley. It may not work out. Either way, it’s the rare MoM (that’s Mothers of Multiples to those of you not in the know!) who regrets trying to breastfeed her multiple infants.

I tried tandem nursing, simultaneously breastfeeding both babies, but it didn’t really work for me. When the girls first came home, they didn’t have the muscle tone to hold their heads up, so I needed one hand to support a body and another to support the associated head. When my husband was home, I could sit in his lap and use his arms to support the second baby, but it wasn’t practical on my own. Instead, I’d let one baby feed in my arms while the other nestled in my lap.

b_202337Prematurity

My daughters’ early birth and subsequent NICU stay were the biggest challenges to establishing breastfeeding. My water broke–or rather “J’s water broke”; M’s amniotic sac had to be ruptured by the doctor–nearly 2 months before the girls’ due date. I had to have an emergency C-section, delivering 3 lb 9 oz and 3 lb 6 oz babies. They hadn’t yet put on the baby fat that allows full-term newborns to regulate their own body temperature and provides them the calories to carry through until mom’s milk came in.b_074835Instead of the newborn suckling I had anticipated, my babies were fitted with feeding tubes. Instead of their first meal being colostrum, it was high calorie formula. Those calories in the formula come from corn syrup.

I began to run a fever shortly after delivery, so I didn’t get to see my daughters until about 36 hours after their birth. Both my husband and I had been loud and obnoxious about our desire to get breastmilk to our babies. The hospital staff provided me with a breastpump and associated accessories. I began pumping when the babies were a few hours old and pumped every 3 hours for the time they were in the hospital. 16 days of round the clock pumping was the only thing I could really do to mother my babies. I was no medical professional and they required medical care, but pumping made me feel a little less helpless. I was still grieving the drug-free vaginal childbirth and chubby newborns I’d imagined I’d have.

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Photo Credit: Just Multiples

About a day after the babies were born, the pumping bore fruit. A tiny golden drop of colostrum clung to side of one miniscule bottle into which I was pumping. A maternity ward nurse delivered it to the NICU for me, where the nurses poured liquid formula into the bottle, washing every speck of colostrum into the girls’ next meal. They split the enriched formula between my babies. From that point on, any milk I could produce got magicked into my teeny ones by feeding tube.

Only once in the 16 days both my daughters were in the hospital did I have the opportunity to breastfeed. The lactation consultant was available during M’s feeding time, and she worked with me on a successful latch. M had already been exposed to the doll-sized NICU bottles and had been sucking impressively. We had just got the hang of it when a NICU nurse gently pried M from my arms. We couldn’t afford to let her use her energy on suckling. She needed to focus on the growing that she didn’t get to finish in utero.

I never got to even try to nurse J in the hospital. She had a hard time remembering to suck on her bottle, and had to have her feeding tube reinserted after it had been removed to make way for exclusive oral feeding. That’s why she ended up being hospitalized 5 days longer than her sister. She needed to be able to take 1 oz (31 mLs) of formula by mouth, 8 meals in a row, to be released from the NICU.b_152911Another challenge my preemies presented was their size. They were simply too small to reach from my breast to any pillow. I tried stacking three pillows, but they were wobbly. I used pillows to rest my arms, but I wasn’t going to trust them with my babies.b_235012J and M’s prematurity-related weakness was another challenge. Their sucks were incredibly weak. Once we got home, I discovered that it took them each about 45 minutes to get a full meal. By some miracle, the babies switched to the breast easily. Finally, a round peg for a round hole!

At the pediatrician’s recommendation, my daughters supplemented their diet with two meals daily of high calorie formula and infant vitamin supplements. I still pumped for the feedings while holding the babies’ bottles. I froze the milk.

Work

We settled into a routine. Nurse M for 45 minutes. Nurse J for 45 minutes. Do as much as I could in 90 minutes: change diapers, play with the babies, eat, do minimum necessary tasks around the house, go grocery shopping, shower, bathe the girls, sleep. Then nurse for another 90 minutes. I got a lot of reading done, let me tell you!

My 11 weeks of maternity leave came to an end, much to soon. I was grateful to get back to the world of adult challenges and conversation, but leaving the babies in the care of strangers was terrifying. Those strangers are now members of our family. My daughters attend the same school as their infant room teacher’s daughter. I bought my house to ensure that they’d be at the same school.

At work, I took three 15-minute breaks, morning, noon and afternoon, to pump. I didn’t produce anywhere near the quantity of milk that I did when I pumped on one side while nursing on the other. The girls’ formula intake went up.

I’d leave my expressed breast milk in the refrigerator at daycare, and the teacher would exhaust the breast milk before resorting to formula.

I was extraordinarily fortunate to have an understanding boss and supportive work environment. The guys at work rearranged our office assignments so I could share an office with a female coworker who was unbothered by breastfeeding. I could pump at my desk without having to pause my work.

It also helped that my boss was the mother of two. Her youngest was only 4 months older than my babies, so we were pumping simultaneously and both constantly eating ravenously. We both stored our milk in the office refrigerator. My boss turned out to be a font of parenting knowledge and gave me many a breastfeeding pointer.

I started taking fenugreek supplements. I looked at photos of my girls while I pumped. I watched videos of them. I brought the onesies they’d worn the day before to work with me in the hope that the smell would trigger my body to produce more milk. Nothing seemed to help a whole lot. I couldn’t get more than 4 oz in 15 minutes when I pumped exclusively. When I had a baby to one breast and the pump to the other, it was a different story. The milk  came gushing. I tried several floor model pumps at the local breastfeeding store. It wasn’t the machine. It was me.

War

My husband left for Iraq for the second time when our babies were 5 months old. My extra pair of arms for tandem feeding was gone. The extra person who could latch the babies on for midnight feedings without waking me was gone. We could no longer change diapers at the same time. He couldn’t fix me a sandwich while I bathed the babies. Plus, he was getting shot at. He would miss our daughters’ first words, first steps and first hugs. When he finally got to come home, our girls didn’t recognize him, unable to equate the strange big man in their house with the photo we said goodnight to.

b_153107At 5 months of age, J (actually in my lap in the photo above) was a Daddy’s girl. Daddy knew how to swaddle her. Daddy knew how to burp her. Daddy knew how to make her laugh.

Within a few weeks of Daddy’s departure, J went on nursing strike. I’d bring my breast to her lips and, instead of opening her mouth and latching, she’d angrily turn away. I am completely convinced that she was protesting Daddy’s absence.

One day, after I’d broken down in tears in her office, my boss suggested that I take a few days off to try to reestablish breastfeeding with J. “Spend a few days skin-to-skin with her,” she said, “and see what happens.” I’d exhausted my vacation time during maternity leave, but my boss assured me that I could make it up. I could just do my work in the middle of the night while I was nursing instead of going on leave without pay.

I took three days off, I think. I took M into daycare and kept J with me, separating the girls for the first time since the NICU. I spent my time alone with J shirtless, holding her every second that I didn’t have her on the changing table for a clean diaper.

I tried a nipple shield. I tried latching J on in her sleep. I tried starting her on a bottle and then quickly switching to the breast. I tried the football hold and the cradle and the cross-cradle and side-lying. I tried singing and silence and white noise. I tried rocking and reclining and lying down and standing and walking. I’d already been taking fenugreek for months and constantly smelled like brunch.

One thing worked. If I sat in the bathtub with J, the water slightly warm, she would breastfeed. As soon as her little bottom touched the water, her head turned toward me, her mouth open, and the magical latch would just happen. If I lifted her out of the water, even for a second to get myself to a more comfortable position, she would break the latch and turn away again.

I kept up my attempts to break J’s nursing strike for another month. I dutifully sat in the tub with her, her sister in a bouncer beside the tub, morning and night. I didn’t quite have the reach to hold J in the water and comfort M at the same time, so we never managed the whole 45 minutes in the water. Besides, the water cooled and the sound of the water refilling the tub made both babies unhappy.

After a long frustrating month, I quit trying. I’d already gotten into the habit of nursing M on one side and pumping for J on the other.

A month later, M started fussing when I offered her the breast. I’d already been through the wringer trying to fight J’s wish to move on from nursing. I didn’t have any fight left in me.

So, at 7 months old (5 months corrected), M, J and I ended our breastmilk journey.

b_163457

Life After Breastfeeding

Today, J and M are 7 years old. They’re smart and curious bookworms. They’re outgoing and popular. They’re healthy and happy. They’re loving and kind. They’re more than okay. They are the kind of people I want to get to know and be friends with when they’re adults and they absolutely adore each other.

wpid-Photo-Jul-20-2013-1137-AM.jpgI have no reason to believe that an additional 5 months of breastmilk would have improved their lives. There’s an irrational part of me, though, that just can’t let it go.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She co-parents at a distance with her soldier ex-husband and his teacher wife. She decided to retire her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy, and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.


Adventures of a Novice Mum
Featured on the Breastfeeding and I project linkup.
World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center Visit NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center for more breastfeeding resources and WBW Carnival details!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:

  • An Unexpected Formula-Fed Attachment — Kyle (of JEDI Momster and) writing at Natural Parents Network, exclusively breastfed three healthy babies. So when she was pregnant with her fourth, she assumed she would have no breastfeeding troubles she could not overcome. Turns out, her fourth baby had his own ideas. Kyle shares her heartfelt thoughts on how she came to terms with the conclusion of her breastfeeding journey.
  • It Take a Village: Cross Nursing — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares how cross-nursing helped her baby in their time of need, and how that experience inspired her to create a community of cross-nursing and milk-sharing women.
  • Random little influences and Large scale support communities lead to knowing better and doing better — amy at random mom shares how her ideas and successes involved with breastfeeding evolved with each of her children, how her first milk sharing experience completely floored her, and how small personal experiences combined with huge communities of online support were responsible for leading and educating her from point A to point D, and hopefully beyond.
  • Mikko’s weaning story — After five years of breastfeeding, Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how the nursing relationship with her firstborn came to a gentle end.
  • My Milk is Your Milk — Lola at What the Beep am I Doing? discusses her use of donor milk and hhow she paid the gift back to other families.
  • World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Celebrating Each Mother’s Journey — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy lists her experiences and journey as a breastfeeding mother.
  • Working Mom Nursing Twins — Sadia at How Do You Do It? breastfed her twin daughters for 7 months. They made it through premature birth and NICU stays, her return to full-time work, her husband’s deployment to Iraq, and Baby J’s nursing strike.
  • So, You Wanna Milkshare? — Milk banks, informed community sharing and friends, oh my! So many ways to share the milky love; That Mama Gretchen is sharing her experience with each.
  • Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)Amber, guest posting at Code Name: Mama, shares how her views on milk sharing were influenced by her daughter receiving donor milk from a bank during a NICU stay, and how that inspired her to give her stash to a friend.
  • Humans Feeding Humans — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares ideas on how we can celebrate all the different ways modern mommies feed their babies. While we are comfortable with the breastmilk-formula paradigm, she proposes that we expand our horizons and embrace all the different ways mamas feed their infants.
  • When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned — MandyE of Twin Trials and Triumphs shares the challenges she faced in feeding her premature twins. She’s still learning to cope with things not having gone exactly as she’d always hoped.
  • Taking Back My Life By Giving Away My Milk — When Amanda Rose Adams‘s first child was born, he was tube fed, airlifted, ventilated, and nearly died twice. In the chaos of her son’s survival, pumping breast milk was physically and mentally soothing for Amanda. Before long her freezer was literally overflowing with milk – then she started giving it away.
  • The Tortoise and the Hare — Nona’s Nipples at The Touch of Life discusses why we care about breast milk and formula with everything inbetween.
  • Finding My Tribe of Women Through Milk Sharing — Mj, guest posting at San Diego Breastfeeding Center shares her journey breastfeeding with low milk supply and supplementing with donor milk using an at the breast supplemental nursing system. She shares the impact milk sharing has had on her life, her family, and how it saved her breastfeeding relationship. Her article can also be found at her blog:
  • Human Milk for Human Babies — Sam at Nelson’s Nest shares her perspective on milk-sharing after an unexpected premature delivery left her pumping in the hopes of breastfeeding her son one day. Sam’s milk was an amazing gift to the other preemie who received it, but the connection was a blessing in the donor mom’s life too!
  • Sister, I Honor You — A mother feeding her baby is a triumph and should be honored, not criticized. Before you judge or propagate your own cause, go find your sister. A post by Racher: Mama, CSW, at The Touch of Life.
  • Every Breastfeeding Journey Is Different, Every One Is Special — No two stories are alike, evidenced by That Mama Gretchen’s collaboration of a few dear mama’s reflections on their breastfeeding highs, lows and in betweens.
  • Quitting Breastfeeding — Jen W at How Do You Do It? share a letter she wrote to her boys, three years ago exactly, the day she quit breastfeeding after 9 months.
  • A Pumping Mom’s Journey — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares about her journey pumping for her son, who was born at 29 weeks.
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Research-Based Parenting

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Categories Discipline, Diversity, Divorce, Education, Family, How Do The Moms Do It, Mommy Issues, Other people, Perspective5 Comments

“Trust your instincts” is an excellent parenting strategy … but it’s not for me.

I choose not to raise my children the way I was raised. I have a deep-seated worry that if I go with instinct, I’ll fall back on the parenting style I lived with in my own childhood, replete with yelling, threats, and inconsistency. I want better for my children.

Before we started trying to conceive, I spent over a year in therapy. Ironically enough, I originally went in because my husband didn’t understand my reluctance to become a mother. At my first appointment, I told the therapist, “I’m here so you can tell my husband that I’m just too crazy to make a good mother. We just can’t have kids.” A year of talk therapy later, I’d come to terms with my childhood and come to believe that my depression was manageable condition rather than a tragic curse. I felt that I’d slain my dragons and could be the parent I believe that children deserve to have. I read parenting book after parenting book, taking notes on the things that made sense and even larger notes on the things that didn’t. I came up with my parenting credo, making sure that my husband was on board: Our goal is to raise a happy, wholesome, healthy, productive adult.

There’s a reason I overthink.

My research didn’t end when I became pregnant. I peppered first my ob-gyn, then the girls’ pediatrician, with questions. I selected doctors who would partner with me to give my kids the best possible start they could have. I selected a daycare program that would partner with me to raise J and M, not just provide us with a daytime babysitting service. Their infant class teacher knew them so well that I bought my house based on her recommendation. I wanted to situate my daughters to go to the school that their former teacher’s daughter attends. She assured me that it would be a good fit for them, and she was right.

I continue to read. The book that’s had the biggest impact on my parenting is Nurtureshock, published in 2011. I’m currently reading Stepmonster to get some insights into what I can do to encourage the healthiest and most positive relationship I can between my daughters and their new stepmother and stepsisters. There are pieces of Raising Your Spirited Child that I find helpful, but I hate the author’s tone and her suggestion that we need to shape a child’s world to her intensity. Instead, I choose to teach my girls to direct and control their intense reponses, channeling their spiritedness into creativity and community service instead of explosions and hysteria.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the dance studio lobby while M and J were in their ballet/tap lesson, reading The Foster Parenting Toolbox. Another mom asked me whether I was taking classes. I told her that I wasn’t. I was just beefing up on my parenting. This mom and I have been casual friends for several years, but aren’t particularly close.

“You don’t need to read that stuff!” she said. “All a child needs is love and discipline, and you’ll be fine. You’re a good mom!”

I flailed around for a response. I tried to explain that I feared that being a good mom didn’t come naturally. I needed to read the research and hear other parents’ thoughts to inform my own parenting. I’ve honed my instincts over the years until I’m pretty sure they’re trustworthy, but I still think through every act of parenting. It’s exhausting, but the last place I’m going to let myself get lazy is when it comes to guiding my children, within the strengths and weaknesses that come naturally to them, to becoming happy, healthy, wholesome productive adults.

A lot of people don’t get it. That’s okay. If your instincts work for your kids, good for you. But please, let me overthink with mine.

What’s your parenting approach? Do you run on instinct? Do you research? Do you balance the two?

Sadia overthinks the raising of her identical twin almost-7-year-old daughters in the Austin, TX area. She is divorced and works full-time in higher education information technology. Her overthinking approach works quite well, although she’s now attempting to end the weekly Saturday morning meltdown. First stop, sugar elimination from weekend breakfast.

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Mothers' Day After Divorce

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Categories Co-parenting, Divorce, Holidays, Mothers' Day, Perspective, Relationships, Single ParentingTags , , , 4 Comments

I was divorced in June of last year after 8 years of marriage. I never saw it coming. Mothers’ Day in the US is 2 Sundays from now on May 12. It will be my first since our family was completely restructured and the ground ripped out from under me.

My mother-in-law was my best friend and confidante, and the best grandmother I could have ever desired for my children. She is loving, yet firm. She spoils the girls as only grandparents can, but has always respected my rules and boundaries. Sadly, my former in-laws have chosen to cut me out of their lives, despite my ex-husband’s very clear indication that he didn’t desire that and wanted the children’s well-being to come first. I won’t be sending my former mother-in-law a Mothers’ Day gift this year after 9 years of cards, flowers, and gifts. The running list I had of perfect gifts for her needs to be put away permanently. The reality that this surrogate mother is forever lost to me is really hitting home. Rejection hurts.

Things with my ex-husband were as polite as divorce can be. We didn’t involve lawyers, except to spend our tax refund to hire a single lawyer to draft a divorce decree incorporating the terms we agreed to on our own. I sent my ex a note a list of things that I’d taken care of for his family that he would now need to own on behalf of our daughters: thank you cards, Christmas and  birthday presents, summer visits and, yes, Mothers’ Day cards.

I’m pretty sure that Daddy’s going to forget about the girls’ Mothers’ Day cards for Auntie and Grammy, but I need to accept that it’s no longer my place to remind him. I can still teach my daughters about honouring those who love them. I can make sure that my ex’s new wife gets a card from our daughters. After all, this is her first Mothers’ Day as a stepmom. If picking up cards for her inspires the girls to ask to get cards from Grammy and Auntie, I won’t say no. It’s not my place to tell them to do so, though. This post-divorce co-parenting thing doesn’t come with demarcations of what duties are his and which ones mine… and that’s not even the hardest part.

Who do you honour on Mothers’ Day? Do your kids send cards to their grandmothers, aunts, and godmothers? Who in your family keeps track of card- and gift-giving occasions?

Sadia is mother of nearly 7-year-old identical twin daughters, M and J. After 8 years as an army wife, she made the surprisingly minor transition to single motherhood. In August 2013, she moved back to Central Texas from El Paso, where she had moved a year earlier on orders from Uncle Sam.

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Switcheroo

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Difference, Divorce, Parenting Twins, Relationships, School-Age, Single Parenting, SleepTags , , , , , , , , 4 Comments

My daughter J cried herself to sleep last night, as she had the night before.

The first night, it was because I made her go to bed without a bath after she earned a timeout. She earned the timeout for backtalk and kicking at me for asking her to take a bath. Yes, that’s exactly as circular as it sounds. Last night, the tears were because I didn’t let her finish her science homework because she remembered it (after I’d asked 2 hours earlier and she’d told me she was done) 1 minute before bedtime.

Over dinner tonight, I had to lay out our ground rules again. I’m willing to hear the girls’ opinions, but they are to listen/obey first, then talk.

We’d talked specifically about what had gone wrong last night earlier in the day, after we’d all had a chance to sleep on it. I reminded J that I’d made it very clear that both my 6-year-olds were to be in bed at 8:30, no matter what.

“You didn’t explain that properly,” she retorted. “‘No matter what’ isn’t even words!”

“I know what ‘no matter what’ means,” her twin, M, piped up helpfully from the other bed. “It means, ‘no exceptions!'”

My girls have a tendency to react to bad behaviour from Sissy by being extra-helpful and extra-cheerful. It’s actually a great arrangement from my perspective, since it means that I have only rarely had to deal with both girls crying or acting out at once. Most of the time, they’re both very good-natured and bouncy, so I’m glad they don’t get down in the dumps together.

When I go to the bottom of what was bugging J, it was concern about the next week. Spring break starts tomorrow, and the girls will be driving off with Daddy to spend the week with him in El Paso. They live with me, and this will be the longest they’ve spent with Daddy since he and I separated last April.

Tonight, it was M who cried at bedtime.

“When the overwhelmness fills my whole body,” M explained through her tears, “it makes tears come from my eyes. I’m going to miss you too much. I hate this divorce. Divorce is a ugly stupid word. I wish no parents ever fought ever and there was no word of ‘divorce.'”

J was the one to try to lighten the mood, reminding her sister of a movie they’d watched with their school counselor at ‘divorce club,’ the monthly meeting for 1st graders with divorced parents.

The nutty thing is that, until the last month or so, J has been the one completely in touch with her emotions. She’s been the one who explains to me clearly exactly how she feels about all the recent changes in her life, while M has acted out and needed a lot of help to get to the root of her worries.

This sort of role switcheroo happens all the time with my girls. One will be extremely mature and in touch with her feelings, while the other is a mess with no idea what’s bothering her. After a few days, or weeks, or months, they’ll suddenly switch roles. One will bury her nose in a book 24/7, while the other wants to play, and one day, the arguments will remain exactly the same, but with J and M reversing positions. When they were babies, M was the one who loved to be held and rocked and snuggled, while J would cry to be put down. Today, J’s the one who lists “snuggles” in the “need” column on school assignments on needs versus wants, while M tells me that my goodnight hug was “too much squishing.”

Of course, there are a lot of ways in which M and J are consistently distinct from each other. M can talk the hind leg off a donkey and just be getting started. J takes earnestness to a fine art. M is a picky, picky eater, while J is usually open to liking new things if I can convince her to try them. J has the ability to warm a stranger’s heart with one word or look, while M can leave people writhing with laughter with her wry humour.

I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing conscious about the way that J and M go about reversing roles and maintaining balance, but I can’t help thinking that the sensitivity that they’ve learned from adjusting to each others’ moods and needs will serve them well in personal and professional relationships throughout their lives.

Do your multiples switch roles?

Sadia lives and overthinks matters of parenting in the suburbs of Austin, TX. She is newly divorced and works in higher education IT. She will be at work, not at SXSW, this week. Her daughters, M and J, are identical 6-year-olds in 1st grade.

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I Know I Can't Be Objective

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Categories Attitude, Bureaucracy, Co-parenting, Development, Difference, Divorce, Education, Mommy Issues, Parenting Twins, School, School-Age, Unique needsTags , , , , , 3 Comments

My 6-year-old daughters are being evaluated for the Talented and Gifted program at their elementary school. If they qualify, they’ll get to participate in more in-depth study of certain subjects than their peers. The dual language program at their school, in which they participate, already incorporates components of the Talented and Gifted curriculum, and their teachers do a great job of giving them assignments that keep them challenged and engaged. Still, I really do think that they’d benefit from the additional small group environment of TAG.

Every parent knows that their child is special. I think there are very few parents out there who’d describe their children as average, even though the average child is, well, average. I’m not even going to pretend to be objective. In my eyes, J is the sweetest, most thoughtful child to ever grace the earth. M is the funniest, and it takes every iota of self control not to spend every second of every day kissing her most kissable nose. They are both brilliant. It’s a good thing that the people evaluating them for Talented and Gifted services aren’t their parents.

But, wait.

J and M both brought forms home from school yesterday. I’m supposed to fill out these “Scales for Identifying Gifted Students” comparing them each to their age peers. Under Language Arts, one criterion is, “Reads or speaks with expression to create meaning.” Under Creativity: “Is an excellent improviser.” Leadership: “Is sought out for peers for advice, companionship, and ideas,” and “Is viewed as fair or caring.”

I cannot be objective. I just hope that the teachers reviewing these forms know that no parent can be, and are looking more at the examples I provide than the rankings.

I also struggle not to compare my girls to one another. They’re incredibly evenly matched, but J is just a little more interested in current events than M. J was the one who cried every day of the Arab Spring uprising in Libya, while M merely listened to the news and commented. M is just a bit stronger in math. While J is content to work on multiplication and calculations of area, M has leapt ahead into volumes and higher exponents. I imagine that if I were the mother of just one of them, I wouldn’t pause to mark their abilities in those areas as “Exhibits the behavior much more in comparison to his or her age peers.” I’m not the mother of just one. I’m a mother of twins, and I can’t help but compare them to each other. I know I’m not alone in this; my friends who have several singletons frequently talk about how a younger child compares to how the older one was doing at the same age.

The girls’ dad gave me the pep talk I needed soon after I photographed each page of the forms and emailed them to him. “It is important,” he wrote to me, “not to compare our daughters with each other because is it not an accurate measuring stick. For this, I think we need to try to compare them to the other children we see and are familiar with.” He talked through with me some of the areas I was waffling on, and some of the areas that he was uncertain of, not having been around the girls very often this year. He was pleased to learn that J has developed an interest in World War II, and that M is started to want to read more about Native American life before European contact.

I was pleased to have his thoughts, his perspective, and his partnership in co-parenting our children.

Of course, my ex thinks our girls are even more brilliant than I think they are.

Do you aim for objectivity in parenting? How do you achieve it?

Sadia tries to stay half a step ahead of her genius 6-year-old identical twins in Austin, TX. She is assisted in her efforts not to spend all day kissing her daughters by escaping to her full time job in higher education technology in Austin, TX. Her ex-husband is currently stationed 900 miles away with the US Army in El Paso, TX.

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Self-Categorization

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Categories Co-parenting, Divorce, Family, Relationships, Single Parenting7 Comments

When I started writing for HDYDI, I knew where I fit among the other authors. I’m a mom of identical girl twins, school-age ones at that, which places them at the older end of the HDYDI spectrum. I parent in an excessively intellectual fashion, I know, and figured that I could share with you the neuroses that come from over-thinking matters of parenting. I felt that I was representative of multi-cultural families of multiples, and could bring the perspective of a military wife and working mother, as well as that of a foreigner in the US and one raising her children in a religion other than her own.

I now find myself in a new category, one I never imagined I would be: a newly single mom.

My divorce was a clean and quick one. My ex-husband and I continue to put the well-being of our children first. Learning to co-parent in light of the loss of all the other aspects of our relationship has been, I confess, rocky at times. Still, despite some moments where my pain gets the best of me, I know that my ex-husband wants the best for our children. I know it couldn’t have been easy for him to see me move them back to the Austin, TX area with me following the divorce; he remains a 9-hour drive away in El Paso. As I explained to my mother to give her an idea of distances involved, that’s twice the distance between London and Paris. Still, he has been nothing but supportive of my decision to return to the community J, M and I still consider home.

So, hello everyone. My name is Sadia and I’m a divorced mother of twins. I’ll be writing about co-parenting at a distance with a former spouse, and how it differs from long-distance co-parenting within a marriage.

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