Dear Idealist: Life Can Be Messy and Good At The Same Time

To the idealist mother | Every idealist has a mental picture of what life is supposed to look like. Learn how to balance your hopes and real life without burn out or frustration. Click the picture for more.


Dear Idealist,

You see the world as a beautiful would-be, a dream to be fulfilled, an expectation to be lived up to. Sometimes, that's really great. You're a dreamer, a planner, a visionary, someone who hopes for the best and always pushes to achieve it. Without you, our world would quickly become stagnant, lost in the cares of today, or else drowned in negativity. We need you to keep asking what would happen if.

But...

Sometimes reality doesn't live up to the sight you beheld through your rose-colored glasses. Sometimes life turns unexpectedly in another direction. Sometimes the actual dream is too far out of reach, or even *gasp* not meant to be. What then? How do you keep up your idealistic optimism when you can't reach the goal? It's hard to be satisfied when the dream is unfinished.
I know. Because I'm also an idealist.
My idealism is a big part of why I deal with depression. I have this picture in my head of what life or marriage or motherhood is supposed to look like. I work and strive to make that picture a reality, but it rarely ends up looking just the way I wanted it to. Or it looks just like the picture for 4.7 seconds until the baby needs a nap and dinner needs cooking again even though I haven't done the dishes from last night yet. From one idealist to another, I have three things to say.


1. Life is a film, not a photo.
The problem with focusing on that picture in your head is that life never stands still like that. Just like a real, actual photoshoot, you might come away with a couple of perfect shots, but they don't capture the chaos that is smiling like a scary clown for an hour while waiting for the three kids to all look at the camera at the same exact moment, while your ragged photographer waves a diaper over her head to catch the babies attention because it's literally the only thing you had in the diaper bag. Like that photo session, life includes some really great moments, but it's 99% messy and loud and unpredictable.

Enjoy those perfect moments when they happen. But don't sit around waiting for them. Enjoy the craziness in between; the cheerios on the floor, husband and wife moments interrupted by a small cry from the next room, the bathroom sink that needs plunging because the kids tried to clean up the rice sensory bin on their own. Those are the real-life moments. No one strives to live up to these images because they're not exactly pretty. But that's life. Messy, inglorious, and beautiful.
2. There is no rewind on the film of life.
You don't get a second chance at this moment right now. There is no redo. This moment will be a memory before you know it. What kind of memory will you make it? I spent the first four years of motherhood in desperation; lonely, depressed, upset, and too-often frustrated. I wasted a lot of time, and a lot of it was stolen from me. Yet, despite all the hard times, I have some real gem-like memories from that season. I am who I am today because of that portion of the movie.

You won't get it right every time. You probably won't get it right most of the time. But you'll hit the goal sometimes. And in life, sometimes is pretty darn often. Enjoy it. You can't control everything, but you might miss it if you keep trying.
3. Know where you got the picture.
Who handed you the photo you've been trying to live up to? That's a difficult question to answer, but it's an incredibly important one. Even though life is a film, it is okay to have a standard you wish to achieve. Just make sure it's a standard you understand and truly value. If the images of perfect motherhood portrayed on social media are outlining your perfect image, toss it out the window on your way to Crazytown! You don't need that kind of unreachable pressure on your shoulders!

Know your 'why.' Why is it important to you that your family eats dinner at the table every night or that your kids get straight A's or that you stay-at-home or that you work full-time? Why does it matter that you head up the PTA or lead a bible study or bake the brownies for next week's sale from scratch with organic flour? I'm not saying any of those things are or are not worthwhile. It doesn't matter what the picture is. What matters is why it matters to you. Is it truly valuable to your family? Will this make you or your spouse or your children happier, better people? If the answer is yes, keep aiming for it. If it's not, well... toss it where you toss those dirty diapers.
Loosen up the reigns, just a bit.
Motherhood, marriage, and life, in general, are difficult enough pursuits apart from the added pressure of idealism. If you want to be content and enjoy the life you have right now, loosen up your expectations. That doesn't mean you have to let them go. Just let them become more flexible so you can enjoy all the awesome stuff before and after the perfect shot.

Sincerely,

Another Idealistic Mom

What did you think? Does this line up with your experience as an idealist and as a mom? What would you add for other idealists? Let us know in the comments.

 
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How To Respond To Mom Shaming

Mom shaming is the worst! Don't let someone else's opinion of you or your parenting ruin your day. Learn how to respond to that *helpful* stranger or family member now, so you're ready next time (cause, let's face it, there WILL be a next time!)

Mom Shaming Is The Worst
No one enjoys being the subject of mom shaming. And I think it's probably also true that most people don't intend to mom shame another mom. But it happens. We all have moments when we say something hurtful or opinionated without intending to inflict shame or pain on another person. It kind of comes with the territory of having a mouth. But being on the receiving end of mom shaming is awful, especially when it's done publically, either to your face or online.
It Happens To All Of Us Eventually
A few weeks back, while visiting the Japanese Gardens in Portland, Oregon, I was doing the responsible mom thing and applying sunscreen to my four- and five-year-old daughters prior to our ninety-degree walking tour. As I sprayed sunscreen on their arms, slightly away from the crowds (I'm not a monster), I heard a woman's voice. "Stand back, dear. Those spray sunscreens are filled with terrible chemicals. I don't want you breathing any of that." It wasn't even a badly masked whisper. Nope, full volume, baby. My husband was parking the car and my mother-in-law was chatting with another person in line. I might be the only one who really heard her, but I wouldn't really know either way. I didn't look up.

It was a careless comment from a complete stranger. One that wasn't even directed right at me. I tried not to let it get to me, but I still felt it. How could I not? She was complaining that I was dousing my kids in harmful chemicals. Read into that just a little bit and it becomes, "What kind of terrible mother poisons her children and all the innocent people around her?!" I wasn't about to let this woman ruin my day. I wasn't going to let that comment be the thing I obsessed about instead of enjoying the beauty of the gardens. So here's what I did.


What To Do When You're Being Mom Shamed
Don't React
The first thing you need to do, or rather not do, is react. Keep cool. Don't look up. Don't engage the person passing judgment on you. You can't please them all and you don't have to. If your shamer is someone you don't know, then ignore them completely. Who cares what they think? If you do know your shamer, don't respond immediately. Give yourself time to calm down, let your cheeks stop burning and your face unclench. Breathe.
Gain Some Perspective
While you're busy not reacting, try to put yourself in their shoes. Did they mean to belittle you with their comment or were they just talking? Were they trying to be helpful and just accidentally came off sounding like a jerk? Sometimes people speak out of fear or ignorance and you just have to let it slide. And girl, if it was a comment online, just shake it off. Trolls don't give a rat's nasty backside how their comments make you feel so why should you care about that bully's opinion?
Forgive
Whether they had good intentions or ill, you gain nothing by hanging onto the hurt. Let it go. Forgive them for their carelessness/tactlessness/stupidity/well-meaning-but-uninvited-advice/downright-cruelty. Whatever it was, it's not your problem. It's their heart issue and you can't change other people. You can only control you, girl.
Respond--ONLY IF It Benefits The Situation
Before you respond, ask yourself these three questions:

Is the shamer online or in person? If they're online, don't waste your time or energy. It will only leave you more frustrated and the chances of showing the troll the error of their ways are slim-to-none. Don't bother.

Is the shamer someone you know? If not, don't respond. Just walk away or continue with your day. You don't owe them anything.

Will a response encourage the shamer to do things differently next time? We don't respond in order to make sure they know how much their comments hurt us. We respond to address inaccuracies, encourage more gentleness in the future, or thank them for trying to help. Yeah, I said that. Sometimes, after we've had time to calm down and gain perspective, we realize they were right. It's okay to say "Thank you for pointing out how I could have done that differently/better. If you have the opportunity to share that info with another mom in the future, maybe you can try it this way instead."
Move Forward
Once you've done all this, it's time to move on. Remind yourself that you're doing your best, you're comfortable with your decisions as a mom, and no one knows your kids better than you. Brush off the whole experience. Talk to a good friend or your partner if you need to vent or get it all out of your head. Do something that makes you feel stronger, wiser, more grounded. That moment or that comment do not define you. You are a good mom. You are a great mom.
Remember Everything You're Doing Right
My kids were covered in sunscreen. I protected them from skin cancer that day. (And you know what? I've tried essential oil sunscreen and it made both my kids cry their eyes out because it smells so terrible. You do what you have to do.) I spent the day with them, touring gardens which emphasized another culture, talking about the differences and similarities. We laughed and played, we jumped over 'lava' rocks and sang and danced on the way, and we had a great time. Chemicals aside, I was a great mom that day. I gave my daughters a memorable, fun adventure. And I don't regret a thing.

You are a great mom. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Be you. Mom on.
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Treat-Free Special Family Activities

These kid-approved, memorable activities will keep your kids happy all year long without the dreaded sugar tantrums. Check them out!

8 Ways To Celebrate Without Sugar
Visit A Landmark
A river, lake, or mountain would be a great place to visit and spend an afternoon. And it's free which makes it twice as awesome! The world is incredible and while you might like to visit somewhere different, there are people out there who want nothing more than to visit the place where you live. So be a tourist for an afternoon and explore your city or county. Visit a local county or state park. Hike, swim, take pictures and enjoy the time together as a family. I guarantee your kids will love this even more than a trip to the ice cream shop. And they'll remember it infinitely longer.
Visit An Attraction
Maybe you live near a theme park, zoo, or another touristy place. In my hometown, we have a small railroad company that puts on themed 1- or 2-hour excursions. My daughters love getting on the train and, even though we don't even travel five miles from home, that ride becomes the highlight of the whole month.
Purchase A Lasting 'Treat'
Take a trip together to a shop you don't usually visit and purchase a new piece of clothing, shoes, a book, or a new toy. It doesn't have to be big or cost more than a few dollars. My kids love to visit a bookstore where my oldest will usually choose a new reader and my youngest will choose a new stuffed animal. (You know the ones, those new beanie baby animals with giant glittery eyes... Yeah, we have a small army of them.) My daughters also love to pick out their shoes or clothes so when they need new ones, we make it into a big thing. They get a 'special treat' and I get to spend only money I needed to spend anyway!
Take Advantage of Free-For-Kids Activites
Especially during the summer months! Our bowling alley offers free daily bowling for kids under 18, the movie theaters have weekly free matinees, and many restaurants offer free-for-kids days or evenings each week. These can be excellent ways to get out and have fun with your kiddos while also saving money, which I'm all about, you guys! The cost of an outing doesn't affect it's specialness one bit!
Make Something At Home
Make your own popsicles by filling molds with this smoothie recipe. Use bananas instead of honey and you've got a 5-minute sugar-free treat that your kids will definitely love! One ingredient sugar-free ice cream? Done. How about some fresh berries with lightly sweetened whipped cream? See the common thread here? Fruit! Let them enjoy the bounties of summer straight from the bush/tree/vine. I can almost hear you saying, "but Jessi, fruit has sugar too!" I know, I know. But it also has fiber and micronutrients that your kids' bodies need. Maybe they shouldn't eat only fruit, but 2 servings of fruit, especially when secretly mixed with spinach, is definitely good for them.
Let Them Organize A Party
I don't know about your kids, but mine love to be in charge! The idea of planning their own tea party or backyard pool party and inviting all their friends or cousins over would be the coolest thing since learning to butter their own toast! Let them do the invitations, the decorations, and the activity planning. And if you're a 'planning' mom, do your best not to take over ;) If they want to hang the Frozen decorations from 2 years ago with the Spiderman table cloth they found in the closet, let them! It's their party and half the fun is in making it happen.
Get A Little Messy
Water balloon fight anyone? How about these totally washable chalk bombs? (Honestly, I hate these things, but my kids... my kids LOVE them...) You can paint a window with shaving cream paint and spray it all off when you're done. There's something magical about kids and messes. And when you, the stop-that-I-don't-want-to-clean-it-up-again Mama join in on the fun, I guarantee they won't forget it easily.
The Next Time You Need A Reward or Treat
This list includes things you probably won't do every day, but that's okay! You wouldn't go out for ice cream every day (I hope!) But the next time you need a treat or a special reward or *ahem* a bribe, remember these ideas. You'll have one very happy kiddo on your hands and you'll still get them to bed on time without the sugar-high plummet tantrum. --You're welcome--

What would you add to this list? I'd love to add a few new ideas to my sugar-free arsenal! Let me know in the comments.

Blessings,
Jessi

 

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What To Do When Your Child Says Something Embarrassing

It happens to all of us. What do you do when your innocent kids says something horrifying to a stranger, friend, or family member? How do you recover with grace and kindness? Learn how to teach your child what they can say and what they should keep to themselves.

We All Know The Scenario
"Well hello, aren't you adorable! How old are you?"

"I'm three. Do you have a baby in your tummy?"

The 50-year-old man looks at you and chuckles uncomfortably. Meanwhile, you melt into a puddle on the floor.
Kids Say The Darndest Things
If you have kids, I guarantee this has happened or will happen to you at some point. Kids don't think about people's feelings before they speak. They just say what's on their mind. Their innocence is part of what makes them so adorable. So the next time you find yourself in this situation, remember these 3 steps.
How To Handle That Embarrassing Moment

Step 1: Smile and Take A Deep Breath
Didn't we just go over how every single parent ever has experienced this moment? That means even that overweight man your child just insulted has very likely been on your side of this situation. Smile at your child's victim in an apologetic sort of way and take a deep breath. Don't overreact. Heck, don't even react. Let the moment slide by and give your cheeks a few seconds to stop burning. Usually, the person your child's just slammed is every bit as embarrassed as you. No one wants to be called fat, even by a three-year-old.
Step 2: Say Something Nice
You can apologize briefly and quietly if you must, but don't make a big deal out of it and DON'T force your youngster to apologize. It will only embarrass her and make things more awkward. Instead, I like to change the course of the conversation by offering a genuine compliment or asking a question of the offended person. Something like, "I really like your hat. Is that your team?" This does three things: First, it takes the focus off that awkward, and usually true, thing your kid just said. Second, it provides that poor guy an opportunity to walk away from your encounter with something other than the embarrassment to remember you by. Third, it sets an example for your child about polite conversation starters. So they know. For future reference.
Step 3: Talk About It LATER
After you've left the grocery store/barbecue/funeral/etc. and you're in a place where you and your kid can have a comfortable and genuine face-to-face, bring up the comment. DO NOT attempt to have this conversation if you are still feeling at all embarrassed or upset. Using your I'm-not-mad-this-is-just-a-normal-conversation voice, you can gently explain to your child that we don't ask people if they have babies in their tummies or say they smell funny or ask if they just farted. Only use this conversation to go over your kid's current offense. There's no need to rehash old offenses unless they specifically ask you about them. This can be very simple: "Honey, it's not polite to ask if someone has a baby in their tummy. Maybe next time you can say/ask..." They'll have questions. Good Lord, will they have questions. Do your best to answer honestly and completely. "Why? Well, asking if they have a baby means you think their tummy is big and that can sometimes hurt people's feelings."


Remember, Your Child Will Grow Out Of It
Sometimes your kid will come up with more questions and that's great. Answer as they arise. My daughter went through a phase where she would whisper what she wanted to ask in my ear before saying it out loud (she's always been a total rule follower). I'd either nod or shake my head and she'd proceed accordingly. These scenarios are super common and don't have to be a big deal. Most of the time, the people your children talk to are going to be perfectly reasonable adults who've been where you're at and they'll give you loads of grace. If you run into someone whose feelings genuinely get hurt... well.... they're a grown-up. I'm not sure it's your job to help them work through that.
Things You Should NOT Do:

Don't make a scene by yelling at or hitting your child because of their comment and don't embarrass them in order to show them how it feels. That's just mean.
Don't force them to apologize for their innocent words
Don't try to explain away your child's actions to the other person. This only keeps the awkwardness going.
Don't run away. Stick around and show your child how grown-ups interact.
Don't discipline your child for their comment, at least not the first three times. If they keep saying rude things despite knowing very well that it's not okay, well then...
Don't try to deal with the situation while you're embarrassed. Wait until you get some separation and perspective to talk about it. I promise you will laugh it off eventually.

Forgive and Don't Forget
Kids are great because they're kids. Let them be little, for this time is so very short. Forgive them easily. I promise they don't mean to embarrass you or others, they're just genuinely curious about literally everything. The fact that your child feels comfortable enough to ask a stranger if they're pregnant is a sign that he's developing well. And don't you forget this moment (not that it's likely to happen) because someday the one gaining a few pounds or trying to quietly relieve some bloaty pressure may be you. And it will be up to you to laugh it off and smile knowingly at that young beet-red mama.

Care to share your stories? It's always great to know we're not alone in this Mama journey. Share with us in the comments!

Blessings,
Jessi
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