A Newborn Marriage Challenge

We attended a wedding last weekend and as I was listening to the pastor deliver his sermon, I was transported back to my own wedding day and the feelings of joy and elation I experienced in anticipation of something great. I remembered our priest saying that we had committed to being together, to finding strength in each other through times of abundance and happiness (and lots of wine), as well as through times of drought (and only water). As I took hold of my husband’s hand while we witnessed our friends committing to a life of happily-ever-after, I realised that our own fairy tale had recently started to fade, our marriage being characterised more by drought, than by abundance.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not broken, a piece of shattered glass which cannot be repaired. We love each other, our family and our life. But, having a child has put a strain on our bond, which, if not nurtured, will shatter. Having a child has meant that there is an extra person, a little blessing who needs constant love and attention, in our life and in our marriage. It has meant that we are always tired and it has meant that we have placed Bean first, letting our marriage fall into the background. Nobody functions well when they are tired and an exhausted person can easily become unreasonable, snappy and bitter. Combine this with a lack of fun, romantic activities and added financial pressures and it is all too easy to fall into a cycle of blame and fighting.

Because of this, I have put together a challenge, a few daily actions focused on strengthening our relationship, and as I am sure that most couples (whether married or not) experience this, that A and I are not the exception to the rule, I have decided to share this challenge. So here goes:

  1. Remember that your relationship comes first

Being a mom, it is so easy to place the needs of our children first. That is what being a mom is after all – it means that our children’s needs, their growth and their emotional development are of paramount importance. I am guilty of this a hundred times over. I have however realised, that there would be no child, there would be no family, if it were not for us, for our relationship, for our marriage. I would not be able to give my child the stable family home environment I believe is so important in his upbringing, if A and I are not in a stable, happy and strong relationship.

Do something for your partner every day: whether it is making a sandwich for work, or it is taking 5 minutes out of your day to hear how her day went, do something which is only for him/her.

  1. Tell your partner you love them

This should be done every day, at least once. And not in parting, out of habit, as you say good bye. Look your partner in the eye and say it. Mean it.

  1. Choose your partner

Being in a relationship with someone is a choice, a choice we make every day. Whether it’s an easy subconscious choice (as you wake up in your partner’s arms with a smile) or a more difficult conscious choice (after a fight), it is a choice. Be sure to always choose your partner, your relationship and your family.

  1. Give your partner a compliment

It is so easy to criticise and to harp on the negative as the pressures of daily life get too much. But instead of focusing on the negative: the fact that your partner is not helping with the dishes (again) or that he or she is late from work (again) leaving you with all the house hold chores and kids to take care of, for example, focus on the good. Tell him how much you appreciate him working late to provide for your family. Tell her how beautiful she looks today.

  1. Be grateful

Take a moment every day to say thanks. There is always something to be thankful for.

  1. Take care of yourself

My mom always reminds me of the oxygen masks and their rule of use in an aeroplane: the air hostesses always say that in an emergency, first place the oxygen mask over your own face before helping others to fit theirs. The reason: you will not be able to help them if you pass out due to a lack of oxygen. Similarly, you cannot take care of your family, if you are not taken care of. Every single person has needs and desires, dreams and aspirations and they are all equally important. Do not lose sight of yours simply because you have a family to take care of. Find a balance and be sure that you are happy – a happy parent leads to a happy family.

Do something every day that makes you happy (even if it is just a hot cup of coffee).

 

 

To Have a Child – or Not

My husband and I are both the eldest children in our respective families, our little Bean being the first grandchild. This means that we often end up in discussions with our younger siblings about whether they should start a family or not and if yes, when they should do this. I am so in love my little Bean that I am of course of the opinion that we should all have at least 4 children but my husband and sister tend to disagree. I have therefore decided to set up a pros and cons list so that we can settle this argument once and for all.

Children are hard work

Now, this is very true. Taking care of yourself and your family can be tiring and at the end of the day you fall down into the couch with a glass of red wine in your hand, and you think, ‘what a day’. It is hard work doing everything for a little person who cannot do anything himself. But it is so rewarding seeing him try (and succeed) to do these things independently, knowing that all your hard work is helping a person grow. It is so rewarding when your little Bean takes his first steps or when he stops playing to walk over to you, thumb in mouth, for a cuddle – just because he needs to refuel some ‘mom’.

Someone’s career will have to take a back seat

This is something I never really thought about too much before I had Bean. Of course I realised that I would have to be home in time for bath time and bed time but I was under the impression that I would simply carry on working, building on my career, as normal. I was, of course, wrong. Being home in time for bath time and bed time meant that I could not work the extra hours I used to. Having a sick baby at home meant that I would have to stay home with him and take a day’s leave. Dropping a baby off at crèche meant that I would sometimes go into the office late and having a husband who is a workaholic meant that there was a chance that there would be no one to take care of Bean if I had to travel for work. A baby takes up time and someone’s (whether it’s mom’s or dad’s) career simply has to take a step back. In our case, I decided to give up a traditional corporate career and become a work from home mom, freelancing, instead. This does not mean that I gave up my career – I simply adjusted it to start something new. Something which suits my lifestyle better.

Your marriage will suffer

Children add a lot of pressure to a relationship. The lack of sleep, the added financial pressures and the changed social life can be difficult to navigate and being tired and stressed generally brings out the worst in people. Being tired and stressed after a long day with a screaming, difficult child, can in fact easily tear a relationship apart. There are however days filled with moments when your child masters a new skill or does something cute and you and your spouse look at each other with such love and pride and you realise how deeply connected you are as a family.

The truth is that your relationship will change. It will strengthen and deepen and mould into something far greater than it was before. A child makes you a family, it creates a bond between husband and wife which, if cared for, is very difficult to break.

Having children will change your life and this means that you will need to adapt, you will need to adjust to this new role of mother and father and family of three or more. It does not however mean that you have to give up your life, it does not mean that you have to lose your sense of self, or your spark as a couple. I am still me, a more responsible mom version of me, yes, but I am still here. My husband and I are still here and although we have our ups and downs like everyone else, we are happy.

I cannot imagine how different our lives would be if we had decided not to have a child, how empty the world would seem without this new life. Bean is not just my son, he is my little companion.

Have a child, or two or three, it is the most beautiful and inexplicably wondrous thing.

Help! I need to Discipline my Child!

Picture the scene: we are at my son’s first birthday party and I am holding Bean on my hip while talking to my cousin and his girlfriend, T. T reaches out for a slice of pizza and my son literally launches himself at her trying to grab the pizza out of her hand. In an attempt not to drop him and calm him down, I tell her that he wants the piece, take it from her and give it to Bean. The result: my son is now happily eating ‘his’ slice and T is staring at us with a very quizzical look on her face. Later on in the day,  once the chaos of the party has subsided and I have time to reflect on the day, I realise, that I, in an unguarded moment, indulged my son’s ill-mannered behaviour instead of using that moment to teach him something. I am absolutely mortified and I realise that Bean is no longer a baby who just needs to be fed and loved, he is growing up into a little boy and I now need to start teaching him discipline and manners.

Because, let’s face it, nobody likes an unruly and ill-mannered child.

This realisation has me perplexed – when do I discipline and when do I teach? In the scene pictured above, he was not being naughty, he simply wanted to experiment, learn something new. He wanted to see what T was eating as he had never seen a slice of pizza before. He did however need to learn that it is not ok to simply snatch. So that night, after talking to my mom and husband, we decided to teach him how to ask for things he wants instead of simply snatching.

What if he continues to snatch? Then we would need to enforce discipline right? But it is here where it gets really complicated. There is so much literature available on this and so many different opinions on which are the best ways to discipline and enforce boundaries that it has all become like a white noise in my head. There are those people who believe in physical punishment, those who believe in ‘time-outs’ and then there are those who believe in gentle parenting. A granny I met in one of the classes I take Bean to, mentioned to me that I should simply ignore naughty behaviour.

After reading all these articles and speaking to various moms and grannies about this topic I realised that there are certain core ideas on how to create a stable and peaceful home environment in which the need to enforce discipline is minimised:

Every child needs love, attention and devotion

A lack of attention often leads to negative behaviour in a misguided attempt to get the parents’ attention.

Children are like sponges

They are continuously learning and taking in what is shown and taught to them. You can therefore talk to your child and show them what it is you are trying to teach.

Be an example

To our children, we are the world. We show them in our daily behaviour and interactions how one should act. In the scene described above, I inadvertently showed Bean that it was ok to snatch without first asking. I have also found myself simply taking something I do not want him to play with, out of his hand without asking him for it first. I cannot expect him to ask me for something if I (as his mentor) simply grab things from him.

Children need boundaries

This is something that I come across in parenting blogs and articles as well as books, a lot. Without boundaries children feel lost.

Be consistent

Parents need to set boundaries together and consistently enforce these, together.

Even in a stable home environment filled with love, children will still push their boundaries and they will be naughty, because, well, they are children.Some form of discipline is then needed because there isn’t a point to a boundary if it is not enforced.

I take Bean to Clamber Club classes and in his graduation class last week, the teacher said something which really hit home. Children under five cannot form their own opinions of themselves and they therefore internalise the parents’ opinions during these formative years. Once they turn five, they form their own opinions using what you, as the parent, have taught them as a reference framework. This reminded me of a story my sister once told me: they had gone to a flea market one Saturday morning and there was a family of four walking ahead of them. One of the children, a little boy, was pushing a trolley suitcase in front of him (instead of pulling it) and the suitcase kept getting stuck on the uneven bricks. The mother ignored this for a while and then suddenly smacked the child on the back of his head and shouted, “you need to pull it, stupid!” This, to me, is such a powerful example of what the teacher said, as by the time this child will be able to form an opinion of himself, he will automatically include the description ‘stupid’.

As parents we need to realise that we form these little beings, whether by example, through what we teach, or how we discipline – we give them a reference framework which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. They will use this framework, which we have instilled within them, to decide on important life choices (whether to go to university or not for example), or when they decide on how to act, which body language to use, how to express themselves when they are faced with a moral dilemma or when they meet new friends, a girlfriend, a boyfriend or even a prospective employer.

This to me is the crux when deciding on how to teach a lesson and on how to enforce discipline. How do I want my children to see themselves?

 

Photo credit:  www.canva.com

Life Lessons from War

My grandparents were both born in Germany before the second world war, in a time where everybody was taught to live a life of duty and sacrifice. By the time the war was over, my grandmother was 12 and my grandfather was 10. At such a tender age they had both seen and experienced atrocities and loss which a grown adult would struggle to comprehend and process, let alone a child. After the war, their country ravaged, everybody hungry, they had to help build again what once was, help source food for hungry siblings – there was no time for self pity or for psychologists. All they could do was survive and be strong enough to live another day.

Because of this childhood, duty, sacrifice and the pursuit of perfection was something so ingrained in their very beings that they often struggled to comprehend our current world of entitlement and feelings. Although this lead to a number of arguments, one generation not understanding the next, they did teach us the following life lessons – lessons which are the life-blood of our family, lessons which I will pass on to my children and which will hopefully be passed on for generations to come:

You are much prettier when you smile, than when you frown
(Viel schoener bist du wenn du lachst, als wenn du eine Schnute machst)

There is so much power in a simple smile, it helps to not only make yourself feel better, it also helps all those around you. Whether it is meant as a simple greeting, or as something deeper like ‘I love you’, a smile brings warmth and brightness into the world. Imagine how much happier this world would be if we all just smiled a little more and complained a little less. Instead of focusing on the negative, being grateful for the positive.

There is no such thing as ‘Impossible’

Through persistence, everything is possible. It might not be possible right this instance, but do not give up. If you really want something badly enough, persist and the seemingly impossible soon becomes possible.

My gran recently had a car accident and because of her age (82), the doctor insisted that her broken leg will take months, if not years, to heal properly. Yet, 2 months after the accident, she is at home, in a moon boot, carrying on with her life. She could have succumbed to feelings of self-pity and frustration and given up on ever getting better, but she wanted to go home and that meant being mobile. So, she became mobile.

Do not procrastinate – do what can be done today, today
(Was du heute kannst besorgen, das schiebe nicht auf morgen)

Every day brings with it its own set of priorities, tasks and duties, so make the time to do them. It does not help pushing things onto another day as that day will be filled with new things and if you keep on procrastinating, you will never get everything done.

Do not be lazy – a little work never hurt anyone

We are a family of busy bodies – not one of us is able to sit still for very long without finding something that needs to get done, because, there is always something that needs doing. Whether it is doing a load of washing or packing the dishes from the sink into the dishwasher or walking through the garden picking up dead leaves, if you do not do it, it will not get done.

We were taught that we cannot walk through life expecting ‘someone’ to do things for us. If we wanted something, we needed to work for it. This taught us independence and self-reliance – values I believe to be very important.

Be proud of yourself and your surroundings

Whatever you do, do it in such a way that you can be proud of it (and of yourself). Whether it is the way you look or your house and your surroundings, be proud of it. Own your life, own the way you live and own the work you do – be proud.

A love of art and all things beautiful

My grandmother has a love for beautiful things and a keen eye for art and her own creativity and passion has (in various forms) filtered through to her children and grandchildren.
What this has taught me is that we should go through life with an appreciation for the beautiful. Take the time to soak in the sunrise or sunset, turn up the radio and dance to that song you love, listen to your children – be sure to appreciate every beautiful moment this life has to offer. There is beauty in all things – all you need to do is look for it.

Love is shown through actions

I don’t think that I have ever heard the words ‘I love you’ being spoken by either one of my grandparents, but I have never not felt loved. We need to realise that love can be shown in numerous ways – not everybody thinks the same and not everybody shows affection in the same way. We need to accept and appreciate all the various ways in which love can be shown.

We have a family business and when we were children, the company driver would pick all the grandchildren up from school on a Friday and take us to work.Once at work,we would first greet our grandfather and every time, he would open his lunch box and give us his delicious sandwiches. When I eventually joined the company as an employee, my grandfather made me a sandwich every day. They were his token of love.

Now, that my grandfather has passed away, we still talk about those sandwiches when we as a family get together. They were the epitome of wholesome goodness and warmed all of our hearts.

Reflecting on my grandparents lives and their life circumstances, it makes me wonder whether we as a society have not become too soft. Although personal feelings are important, life can be so hard and so cruel. I do not want to raise my child in a way that he expects to always win because it might hurt his feelings when he loses –  one day, he will have to face life’s difficulties on his own. The simple truth is that I will not always be there to catch him when he falls – he must learn to get up and dust himself off, by himself. My task as a mother is to teach him to find his own inner strength so that he can stand tall and walk through life proud and strong, regardless of what life throws at him.

What values and life lessons are integral to your family?

My Wish for You {A Letter to my Child}

I have wanted to write a letter to my son for a while now because although we as parents often tell our children how much we love them, we do not really elaborate on this statement. I also feel that we are so pre-occupied by teaching our children how to behave and how to physically do things that we never get to the heart of what it means to live. We get so caught up in our daily tasks and routines that we forget to teach them about what is really important in life.

This therefore, is a letter to my child, reminding him of how much he is loved, reminding and teaching him (as well as myself) how beautiful life really can be, how important it is to seize every moment and to be grateful.

My Wish for You

My wish for you, my child, is that you wake up every morning realising that every day unfolding is a new beginning, a promise of a new adventure, a chance to learn something new.

My wish for you is that you realise that you carry your fate in your hands, that you have the power within you to make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven.

My wish for you is that you never lose the sense of wonder, intrigue and pure joy that now accompanies you everywhere you go.

My wish for you, my child, is that you will always have the inner strength to deal with life’s difficult situations with maturity, love and gratitude. Life can be hard, but there is nothing that you cannot handle and there is nothing you are not capable of. You will (and must) fall, but true strength of character lies in getting back up and trying over and over again.

My wish for you is that you never lose sight of the importance of family, friends and love. May you find the joy and comfort that comes with having good, lifelong friends. May you find happiness, confidence, strength and mutual respect in love and may you experience the absolute adventure of having your own loving, supportive and loud family one day.

My wish for you is that you stay blessed and that you realise how blessed you are. Every day brings with it something to be grateful for. Never forget to be thankful.

My wish for you is that you stay honest, that you are never afraid to tell the truth, no matter what the outcome. Stay true to yourself and trust your instincts.

My wish for you is that you never lose hope. May you always be a bright light, shining through the darkness and negativity of this world.

My wish you for is that you never stop smiling. So much power lies in a simple smile and you, my son, have the most beautiful smile. A smile that lights up and warms people’s hearts (and souls).

My wish for you, my heart, is that you never forget how much you are loved. Never feel that you cannot influence the world or that you are too insignificant to make a change – you have already changed my world. And it is so much better with you in it.

You, my perfect child, have proven to me that it is possible to live while a portion of my heart beats outside of my body. You filled and completed an empty space in my soul I never knew existed before you were born.

You are my bright light, my heart.

I love you,

Mama

 

Photo Credit: http://www.canva.com

What to say to Newborn Parents

When our little Bean was born, we were inundated with advice and offers of help. Some things that were said were very helpful and other less so. Seeing as the theme on the blog this week is advice, I have decided to make a list of all the wonderful things people said to me during my son’s first few weeks of life which helped me immensely and for which I am eternally grateful.

So, if you have a friend or a family member who is about to have a baby or just had a baby, here is a list of things which you can say, should you want to help out:

‘I will take care of the baby so that you can get some time to yourself’

Contrary to popular belief, a new parent does not have time to sleep when the baby sleeps. Well, I didn’t anyway. While Bean was sleeping, I was expressing milk, washing and sterilising the pump and bottles, feeding myself or having a shower. If I had 5 minutes left after all my chores were done and before Bean woke up again, I allowed myself the luxury of a warm cup of tea.

Being able to have my hair done and to focus on myself (even if it was only for 1 hour) really helped me recuperate some of the inner strength needed to take care of a little newborn.

‘I will do the chores while you get to spend some time with your baby’

Now, nobody really offered to do this for me. When family came to our house to help out, I invariably ended up doing chores while they looked after the baby. Although the rest of the family of course also need and want to spend time with the new addition to the family, I at times became quite resentful of having to run around while someone else got to spend the precious little time Bean was awake and happy during the day, with him.

I have to add here, that I am very proud and quite a busy body, so I also never asked anyone to help with the chores. I did not want to seem like a useless woman / wife who cannot manage her own household. I therefore only had myself to blame when I did become resentful.

So, if your friend / daughter / sister is like me, just go on over and do the chores. She will be eternally grateful!

And if you are a first time mom, do not be afraid to ask for help with things around the house! Being able to just spend time with your little bundle without having to worry about chores or what needs to be done next is really wonderful.

‘I have cooked some freezer meals for you’

I cannot begin to explain how much this helped. It was one less chore to worry about and it ensured that we got at least one decent home cooked meal a day.

‘I am going to the shops, can I get something for you’

Family would every now and then drop off supplies from the shops. Trying to go to the shops with a new baby is daunting enough as it is and nearly impossible during one of the many growth spurts which newborns go through so this was a huge help.

‘We will give you some space to just be – let us know when we can visit you’

Everybody allowed us some space so that we could find our feet with our little newborn. This was very important to me: my husband and I needed the time to get used to a little baby, to start to get to know his cues and to establish some sort of routine before we could face the world as a family of three.

‘We will bring the cake and some snacks when we visit’

Being a parent to a newborn is exhausting enough without having to worry about entertaining everybody who wants to meet the little baby. Whenever our family came to visit, they brought everything with them, i.e. food, and they would help to make the tea and coffee.

‘Keep calm, your baby feels what you feel’

This is so true. When I cried, Bean cried harder, yet when I managed to calm myself down, Bean calmed down to.

‘Sing ’

I never thought this would work, but whenever Bean was upset for whatever reason, I sang and it immediately calmed him down. It also made me happy as I started remembering all the nursery rhymes from my own childhood. I still sing. All the time.

 

Photo Credit: http://www.canva.com