Archives for March 2011

Appointments with my Husband

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! I invite you to join in the fun. If you would like to share a story from your own journey, please drop me a line.

One of the topics that we cover in the Crafting my Life class is money. It’s not exactly the easiest and most fun week in the class, but it is one of the most important. Money, and our relationship to it, shapes a lot of our behaviours and actions. It can make us stay in a job that we hate, it can keep us from having the things we want, and it can change our status in society. Money is tied to value in our culture. Just consider the phrase “net worth“, and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve heard that money is the leading cause of divorce. As someone who’s been married for 10 years, I can see how that would be true. Sharing finances can be stressful, and it can trigger a lot of our issues surrounding security and happiness. If we’re not on the same financial page with our partner, it can be even more difficult. But getting on the same page isn’t always so easy.

As part of the class content on money, I interviewed Sierra Black. In addition to her fabulous parenting blog, she also writes at the financial blog Get Rich Slowly. I wanted her thoughts on how to share finances with someone without turning it into a battle. And she came through for me, with a suggestion to have regularly scheduled money meetings.

My husband Jon and I are usually on the same financial page, more or less. We’re both reasonably frugal people who don’t spend a lot on ourselves. But even so, we’ve had our fair share of disagreements when it comes to spending and saving, like any couple married for 10 years. We can’t be the only ones who’ve started a discussion about something seemingly innocuous, like what the vegetable garden will look like this year, and had it turn into an all-out argument about family finances. It takes up a lot of space and energy, and it’s not exactly my idea of a good time.

So we decided to take Sierra’s suggestion. Once a week, now, we sit down and talk about our money. If something comes up between meetings, we put it on the agenda. It sounds kind of ridiculous and formal to have weekly appointments with my husband to discuss finances, but it really works. It frees up time and mental space during the week, and it gives us the opportunity to both be heard and be sure that we’re on the same page. It’s actually been a very freeing experience, which isn’t what you’d probably expect from a money meeting, but I’m taking it.

While the money meetings are great, our relationship with money remains a constantly-evolving work in progress. That’s the way that life is. And so I’d love to hear how you and your partner have gotten on the same financial page. How do you share money and share a life without creating too much stress? Did you marry someone with the same financial views as you, or are you total opposites? Please tell me!

Kids Make Noise

Last year I spoke about mom blogging at Northern Voice, Vancouver’s blogging and social media conference. I was excited to be part of it. And you know what? I really enjoyed myself. I’m glad I attended, and I’m happy to say that I will be returning this year to speak about parents and blogging again.

I didn’t bring my kids to Northern Voice last year, and I won’t be bringing them this year, either. I’m pretty sure my kids wouldn’t enjoy the conference, and I don’t want my attention to be divided. That’s my decision. However, the conference provides a “quiet room” for children, so you can bring them along. Parents are free to set up some kind of childcare arrangement, or retreat to the room as needed. Children are welcomed, so some people naturally choose to bring their kids along.

My day at Northern Voice last year opened with the Keynote, in a large and echo-y atrium filled with chairs. I sat at the back, on a bench along the wall. During the talk, two parents walked back and forth with their baby in a carrier, directly in front of my seat. I remember being pretty impressed with their bravery. I was also impressed with how happy their baby was, and how quiet. Granted, this is coming from a mother of two little kids, so my idea of “quiet” may be relative. But I honestly didn’t really notice any noise, and neither did my (mom) friend who sat beside me.

Off they go
My kids running at the park, which is much more fun for them than a conference

Apparently, though, the father and baby were asked to leave the Keynote because of noise. There was no warning given in advance, and no one complained directly to them. I was quite surprised, because I was in the direct line of fire, and my impression was that this was one well-behaved little guy. Someone who isn’t accustomed to kid noise may have felt differently, though, and I understand that.

Following Northern Voice last year, there was something of an online fracas. I think the conference organizers are trying to head off a similar occurrence this year, and make expectations clear. As I was looking at their site in preparation for speaking again, I came across a blog post declaring the conference family and kid-friendly. In the post they re-iterate their position children are welcome but parents need to be mindful of others. They’re anti-noise, not anti-baby. Children are welcome, as long as they’re quiet.

I understand that there are spaces where children frankly don’t belong. I also understand that it’s not fair to allow your child to be unduly disruptive, which is why I’ve spent my fair share of time walking my toddlers in hallways outside of rooms where events were taking place. But I’ve also learned, during six years in the parenting trenches, that if you have kids, you have noise. So I’m not sure you can say that you’re kid and family friendly, while in the same breath saying that you won’t tolerate children’s behaviour. It’s kind of like saying that dogs are welcome, but not if they sniff everything.

Out for a walk
These people? Super noisy.

As a comparison point, I recently attended Momcafé, which is actually kid-friendly. Momcafé is a breakfast networking event geared towards moms who are doing their Thing. Babes in arms are welcome, and they provide on-site childcare, toys and activities for older children. I sat at a table with two moms who breastfed their babies during the speaker sessions, and it was a non-issue. I didn’t bring my own kids to that event, either, but if I didn’t have alternative childcare, I’d do it without a second thought.

Northern Voice isn’t specifically targeting moms with young children, so their accommodations and expectations are different. By extension, though, they’re not as welcoming to children. Kids have specific needs and behaviours, it’s what they do. If you really don’t want to deal with that, and you’re not willing to allow parents (with their own views of what “noisy” means) to use their judgment, you probably don’t want kids of a certain age around. That’s your call to make. But be clear about that. Then, as parents, we can make better decisions about whether or not to attend, and whether or not to bring our kids along.

What do you think? Do you think that you can be child-friendly while being anti-noise? Do you think that happy baby sounds are inappropriate at a large event? And have you ever been asked to leave because of your kids? I’d love to hear all about it!

PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running my March review on Saturday, April 2. If you want to play along, there will be a link-up, so write a post on or before the link-up date and come back here to include it.

On Failing at Imaginative Play

I love it when my kids engage in imaginative play. I know all about the benefits of imaginative play. I encourage imaginative play. But I am here to confess something to you: I kind of hate imaginative play for myself.

I am not a kid. And while I firmly believe that adults could benefit from taking a page out of our kids’ books and living more playfully and joyfully, I understand that we are not going to approach life in the same way. We’ve already been four or six or eight years old. We’ve done that, we’ve learned what we needed to know, and we’ve moved on. I don’t think we can be expected to engage in the same activities in the same way as our children.

I think most parents have games or types of play that they find mind-numbingly boring. In fact, even kids feel this way, sometimes. I remember my own childhood well enough to know that my sister and I didn’t always want to play the same thing at the same time. So it’s no surprise that many parents struggle to play with their children on their level.

I like to think that I’m pretty good at playing with my kids. I dress up and hide and seek and sing silly songs and push little people on swings and chase and run and make lots of ridiculous faces. But I really struggle with the elaborate games of pretend that my 6-year-old Hannah so loves. She creates detailed and imaginative worlds in her mind, and she assigns me characters. And then I am supposed to have long, drawn-out conversations while remaining in character.

It’s not hard, but I’m not good at it. I drop character frequently, because I either forget or I need to actually address my daughter for one reason or another. I always say the wrong thing. I don’t enforce the rules of Hannah’s pretend world with her brother, Jacob. I insist on basic rules of safety and cleanliness, and put my foot down when she decides her character needs to serve juice in the play room. When I was a kid I was a lot more fun, but somewhere along the way I lost that.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses in parenting. Just as we all have our strengths and weaknesses in anything we undertake. I think that’s OK. In fact, I think it may even be healthy. Perfectionism serves no one, and I have long given up on being supermom. And so I am mostly cool when I don’t exactly knock my assigned role of Ariel to Hannah’s Melody out of the park. I’m there and I’m trying, and that’s the part that counts.

We may not always find it as effortless to play with our kids as we would hope. I’m pretty sure that our parents felt the same way, come to think of it. I remember being urged to play with other kids, to go outside, or to do a puzzle by myself. And you know what? I was not scarred by that experience, and I don’t think my kids will be, either. I can give them what they need, even if I’m not always to play with them exactly the way they want. And when I simply am not up to more playing pretend, I’m teaching them how to entertain themselves, which is a valuable life skill.

I’m going to cut myself some slack on the pretend play. I don’t have to be good at everything, and this is one area where I’m cool with not getting an A+. I think my parental GPA can take the hit.

What about you? Do you find it easy, or difficult, to play with your kids? What games are fun for you, and what games are excruciating? And do you think parents need to get down and play with their kids? I’d love to hear!

The Week of Jacob

Last week my 6-year-old Hannah attended Spring Break day camp at a local arts centre. And while she did musical theatre, molded clay, painted and danced, I had five full days with my 2-year-old, Jacob. From the time I dropped Hannah off in the morning until I picked her up in the late afternoon, it was just me and my boy.

Hannah normally goes to kindergarten five days a week, but that’s just two and a half hours. By the time I get home, eat my own lunch and fold some laundry, it’s time to head back and pick her up again. Day camp, on the other hand, was seven hours of non-stop art-making. It was much more one-on-one time with my toddler than I’ve had pretty much ever. I decided that I needed to make the most of it, so I launched The Week of Toddler Fun.

Getting in some train time at the library
Playing on the library train table

We played on the train table at the library. We rode the miniature train in Stanley Park. We visited Dad’s work, and went out to lunch, and had playdates. We ate lots of cheese and crackers, and listened to “Life is a Highway” (the Tom Cochrane version, of course) 8000 times on repeat. And I actually had a really good time.

Jacob on the train
Riding the miniature train

What was most interesting to me was the way that immersing myself in my toddler’s world forced me to shift my perspective on convenience. For example, normally I would say that driving an hour and a half round trip for a 12-minute train ride isn’t worth it. And normally I would say that taking my toddler out to lunch is more trouble than it’s worth. But when I let go of my own desire for convenience in favour of having fun with my kid, things changed for the better. I was able to enjoy myself without worrying about what might go wrong.

Jacob loves Dad's many work computers
Dad has many computers at his work

My kids will go a long way for fun. Normally, I won’t. I’m much more likely to cite all the reasons that something is a tremendous hassle and an all-round horrible idea. But maybe my kids have something to teach me here. Maybe if I dive in and try stuff, instead of holding back and holding out, I can find a whole lot more joy in life. Instead of constantly asking, “Why?” maybe I should try asking, “Why not?”

Jacob gets his train on
Playing with trains at playgroup

Or maybe I’ll just go back to life as usual. But it was a fun week, either way.

What do you think? How far are you willing to go for fun? How do you decide what is and isn’t worth doing? And do you think that your children have taught you anything about embracing fun? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Chatting with Jason Powell of Coco & Tini

I have two kids. I love them very much. And so I want to make sure that I make safe choices for them. One of the things that I’ve become more aware of and concerned about since they were born was the safety of their personal care products. I know that a lot of shampoos, body lotions and cosmetics contain toxins, including known and potential carcinogens. I find this alarming.

Vancouver dad and entrepreneur Jason Powell is also concerned about the stuff that ends up on his son’s skin. It was one of the things that led him to found Coco & Tini, a line of hair and body products geared towards kids. His goal was to make products that were fun, safe and effective. And I had a chance to talk to him about how he set about doing that, and what his thoughts are on the stuff that we put on our kids’ skin.

Jason really believes that work needs to done to ensure that a product’s ingredients are fully-disclosed, which I agree with. He also argues for better oversight, and more work to educate consumers. I agree. I try to inform myself about what is and isn’t safe. And in Canada, there are laws that require manufacturers to disclose their ingredients. Even so, when I’m holding a shampoo bottle and I have two rambunctious kids holding on to my leg, I often feel at a loss. In spite of my best efforts, I don’t feel confident that I can recognize what is safe and what isn’t safe when I’m making a purchasing decision.

It was interesting to hear Jason’s thoughts, and to hear about some of the things he’s working on to make his packaging and products better. Listen to him here:

I’d like to thank Jason for speaking with me. You can find out more about what he’s up to at Coco & Tini.

Now, I’d like to ask you about your kids’ bath time. How do you decide what’s safe, and what isn’t? Do you feel up to the task of interpreting ingredient lists? Or do you just buy what’s on sale and hope for the best? Please share!

Hope and Despair

There’s a lot of bad-ness on my TV right now. It’s one of the big reasons I don’t turn it on much. Before I had children, I could watch footage of disasters and shrug it off. But the moment that I pushed my first baby out all of that changed. Now that I’m a parent I have a greater stake in the world, and I feel a sort of kinship with other parents. If I spend too much time thinking about the reality that somewhere, right now, babies are dying and their parents are mourning … well, I wouldn’t get any sleep at all.

And don’t even get me started about fictional programs that use dying children in their storylines. Not cool.

It isn’t only political upheaval and natural disasters that can leave me crying into my pillow. Yesterday I got an email in my inbox letting me know that it was David Suzuki‘s birthday, and asking me to sign the Declaration of Interdependence. I clicked over, and I saw this video:

It’s not particularly depressing, but it underscores a very hard truth, and that is that we cannot continue to pillage our natural environment. The earth has finite resources, and when we take them all for ourselves, without regard for others, we are stealing from our children. Pollution and climate change and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are not the legacy I want to leave. Just as I don’t want to hear about children dying, I don’t want to contemplate what the world will look like if we don’t clean up our act.

I want my children, and everyone’s children, to have a bright future. Don’t we all?

Dropping off Hannah for art camp
My babies

It’s easy to feel despondent in the face of big problems. After all, I am just one person, and I certainly don’t hold all of the solutions. But being despondent doesn’t hold any answers, either. In fact, it holds additional dangers. When we don’t feel that we can make a difference, we lose our incentive to act. The problems our world faces may be unimaginably huge. But if we all take little steps, slowly increasing our actions, we’re far better off than if we trash the joint because we decide we might as well enjoy ourselves while everything falls apart around us.

And so I choose hope. Deliberately, methodically, and sometimes with great effort. I seek out things that remind me of the good-ness in the world. I consider what actions I can take to make things better, and I take them.

Hannah holding up our huge sunflower
A little bit of good-ness in a sunflower from my garden

I have to believe that I can do some good in the world. I have to. My mental health hinges on the idea that I matter, if only in some small way. I cling to that idea, and I believe in its truth. I matter. And so do you. We all do. We can choose how we act. Those choices make a difference, good or bad, in the world around us. They can tear down, or build up. They can inspire others to change, or fill them with despair. It’s in our hands, and we can choose.

I have chosen. I have chosen to avoid the news when I know that it’s going to leave me feeling discouraged. I have chosen to believe that I can make a difference. And I have chosen to make my impact as positive as I can.

What about you? How do you deal with discouragement in the face of big problems? And what do you do to find hope in the face of despair? I’d love to hear.

This post was inspired by the Green Moms Carnival, which is all about hope and despair this month. Diane over at Big Green Purse is hosting the carnival, so stop by her blog and read Is your environmental “glass” half empty, or half full? for more thought-provoking posts.

Mumpreneur

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! I’m hard at work on the second run of the Crafting my Life course, so today I am welcoming guest blogger Melanie Martin, who shares her thoughts on running a business and being a mother. If you would like to chime in and contribute a guest post about your own journey, please drop me a line – I’d love to have you!

I’ve always wanted to have my own business. Ever since I can remember I pictured working for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I had wonderful jobs that I enjoyed but, simply, I wanted more. Then I became a mother and I was more determined than ever to carve out a business for myself.

I would like to say that when I started my photography business I was full of excitement and anticipation, and yes, those feelings were there but there was also a lot of self-doubt and anxiety, the whole “am I good enough?” spiel that women often like to play…I am no exception. Still, I started and was building a website, while waiting for the laundry to finish – taking phone calls while cooking dinner. It was hard work and it still is hard work. It is also a lot of fun I may add.

My business is just over a year old. And I would like to say that I have seen and done it all. And in many ways I have seen and done a lot. I have taken photos, put myself out there, took some more photos, put myself out there more, keeping a business attitude, because this is a business. My business. I am not doing this as a hobby that I happen to get paid for. No, I want this to succeed. I want “me” to succeed.

Yet, lots of people I know and love don’t take my business seriously. It’s not that they are not supportive. No, they like or even love the photos. But you know, to them I am my daughter’s mother first. And as annoying as I sometimes find this lack of belief in my business acumen (and how often I even lack self-belief) I put this down to the fact that this is the role they know me best in and it’s hard to accept someone has now another also very important role. And yes indeed, I am Dharma’s Mummy but when I am in my business I am Melanie Martin first.

In the past year, I also have on more than one occasion experienced the reaction of strangers to the fact that I am a photographer and a mother. The initial reaction to me being a photographer is always: Oh wow, what a great profession. And next when I mention that I have a child: Oh yes, I guess it fits nicely around caring for a child. The most recent encounter was with a fellow photographer who happens to be male and was a total slap to the face when he stated what I feared that some people may think: “You are a mother who takes pictures.” There were some other remarks but this statement was the one that stung the most. There is no denying it is true, but the words did hurt…I felt that he was saying that because I am a mother I cannot be successful in this business…really?!

The truth is I have come to loathe the word “mumpreneur”. For me this is just another label that is put on us right there with the “Yummy Mummy”, “Slummy Mummy” and all the other ones. It is in my opinion not a label that makes us stronger, it is a label that puts us in a box. And you know: once you are in a box it’s hard to come out of it. And this label doesn’t say “Watch this space here I come with my business”, but instead is a label that shouts “I am a mother.”

And yes, I am a mother. I know I am a mother, as while I am typing this, the wonderful reason for my motherhood is sleeping upstairs. I am super proud to be the mother of this energetic and busy 4 year old. My business is certainly influenced by being a mother. My ability to work hard has increased since having a child. I am better at just grabbing 5 minutes to get something done because I know that another 5 minutes may not happen again soon. I relate to people better which helps in my business and I can definitely relate a lot to parents of young children who want family pictures.

And still I don’t need to carry my motherhood on a badge around with me at all times. Men don’t call themselves dadpreneurs because it sounds silly. Why would they? Even if their business was inspired by their offspring. And to me mumpreneur sounds silly in just the same way. A desperate attempt to blend the different roles women play every day. Mother, wife, business owner, friend, daughter, caretaker, housewife. Blend them if you wish. Be a mumpreneur if you want to be one. But for me, I am a woman in business. Meaning business. And I am a good mother. A proud mother Sometimes I am all at the same time. But I am never and will never be a mumpreneur.

Melanie is a lifestyle photographer based in Birmingham, England who I first met (and was inspired by) when I took the Mondo Beyondo class. She founded her photography business in early 2010 following a passion held for a long time in secret. She now balances motherhood, photography and many other roles she has to fill. Catch up with her at Melanie Martin Photography.

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