Intentional Parenting

Intentional parenting means letting everything else go.

Earlier today I was sneaking in a few minutes of Instagram and realized I was struggling with that feeling that so often occurs with too much social media. That feeling of jealousy or inappropriate admiration for someone’s home, family, garden, life. That feeling that starts off as just being impressed by something and quickly spirals into “how can I do that too” which evolves into “why aren’t we like that” and ends up somewhere in feeling just not good enough. Instagram often tells us that “comparison is the thief of joy” (credit to TDR) as we scroll through perfectly curated content of “keeping it real”.

I am quick to feel jealousy or insecurity which tends to make social media (and Pinterest) a bad idea. And yet each day I go over my allotted time, ignoring my phone’s optimistic 30 minute limit warning. Good intentions…

I find a lot of value and information in the content I follow but I also find it comes with a cost. This is particularly the case when it comes to parenting. Children doing cool things? I swoon and feel failure. So I unfollowed most every parenting ‘grammer.

I realized the common threads in the accounts that I still follow is their intention. There is something that they focus on for their children, something that’s important to them. Perhaps it’s teaching them about food and cooking. Perhaps it’s sensory exploration and playing independently. Maybe it’s just prioritizing being outside.

And they let the other stuff go.

Children are not good at everything. Parents are not good at everything. We cannot have it all. So pick what’s important and let the rest go.

It was a bit of an epiphany this morning when I realized Tyler and I are already doing this. We have a few things that are important to us and we have mostly let the rest of go. These things that we focus on in parenting don’t necessarily look or feel they way we imagined pre-children, but what does?

What we focus on:

  • Saying yes more than we say no. There’s not a lot of rules at our house but we say no when it comes to safety, causing physical harm or material harm (no holes in the wall, etc.) and things that might just make us lose our minds. Parental sanity matters.
  • Getting outside. Every weekend morning we go for an adventure whether it be off to the beach, on a nature walk or just to the playground. If it’s not raining, we get outside.
  • Bedtime. See parental sanity matters.
  • Parents decide what food goes on the plate and kid decides what they eat and how much. This sounds minor but food is a battlefield in any house with children. We do not battle the kids on what they eat but I pick what goes on the plate with little input from the kids. It doesn’t make dinner easy but at least everyone knows what to expect.
  • Being kind. The kids know we value learning and treating people with kindness over anything else. That doesn’t mean they’re totally on board but they do know what the expectations are.

We haven’t enrolled our kids in sports (at least not yet) or focus on learning letters, reading, art, etc. That stuff will come to whatever degree they are inclined to. This is not to say we do not want the boys to be athletic (Tyler’s dream) or avid readers/creatives (mine), but it’s not our priority and for the most part we let it go. Sometimes the kids are disasters. They tear apart the house. They’re not particularly good with strangers. Arts and crafts is over before it starts. We haven’t signed up for swim lessons because it will likely be a battle. You win some, you lose some.

Just like everything else in life, you choose what’s important and you let the rest go.

Why Did I Stop Writing

I last wrote a blog post for my birthday last year, a little over a year ago. I had already slowed down my posting but then it suddenly stopped. I gave myself a million reasons. All of them were accurate. 

I didn’t want to write about the pandemic. Writing about the pandemic was everywhere and I had nothing to add to that story, especially as a family who was relatively unaffected. But it also felt insensitive to avoid it. 

I didn’t want to write about the racial reckoning of our country. My day job is in diversity, equity and inclusion and all day long I was writing, talking, arguing about what was going on so I didn’t want to say anything more about it. However as a DEI person I felt I should be talking about it on all the platforms I had access to, but as a white person, I also had no desire to take up space with my voice. 

Blogging has become a thing of the past. Blogs aren’t really what they once were so I thought maybe it was time to let it go. But what to do with the energy I normally invested in this? 

This evening though it hit me, these were all part of why I had stopped blogging but it wasn’t really the cause. At first when we started working from home, I was really enjoying it. Like most, I thought it was a vacation of kinds. No getting dressed, a little working from the couch and I even got to set myself up a nice at home office space. Fun. 

But after months of no social plans, after long days with no work breaks (because who is there to talk to?) after telling everyone I was never going back to the office, I have recently realized that perhaps this is not working well for me. 

My office building will be opening for the first time since COVID in July, for those who are comfortable returning. I didn’t think I wanted to go back, but I have come to realize that the more I am away from others, the more I withdraw from everything. I knew this about myself in theory, but the pandemic and working from home made it abundantly clear. And withdrawing from the world can mean not reaching out to people to make plans, not wanting to go back to the office, not having the motivation to go for a run/go outside or not making the effort to write. Not wanting to put words out in the world.

And so while I’m tempted to wait for something beautiful to write, for inspiration to hit me, I know that the first step is always the hardest. So the moment I realized why I wasn’t writing, I started typing. Got to start somewhere. 

Another Year Older

Y’all I got older! I am delighted each year to wake up on my birthday and find that I have made it another year. At some point I expect I may feel old, but it hasn’t happened so far. 34 seems ridiculously young. Am I old enough to be own a home, be married, have children? I’m not too sure yet here I am.

My body is the only thing that seems to show signs of wear. Some from age, some from use. I am still surprised to see how my body has changed from carrying babies. Such a strange thing I never understood growing up, how your body keeps morphing and changing as an adult. But another human lived and grew inside me- two in fact! How could I possibly be the same?

When I reflect on the last year, it reminds me of 2016. A year where everyone seemed to be saying, “politically a terrible year, though personally it was a good one.” Similarly, over the past year the world has seemed like a chaotic windstorm of events outside our home, many of which were hard to comprehend. But inside my home, within my family, we have grown stronger. I have grown stronger. My commitment to myself continues to waver but never falls away the way it has in the past. For once I can recognize the progress instead of focusing on where I am not, where I would like to be, how far I have yet to go. 

This past 9 or so weeks have brought to light just how incredibly lucky we are. While Tyler’s job was affected, we have not struggled and he’s back working this month. I will likely work from home for many more months and although I have not yet learned how to take regular breaks, I am getting used to this “work from home” thing. The slower pace of life has taken away my desire to always be productive. I threw the sourdough starter away. I put my embroidery back in its box. I’ll get to it again one day, but when I simply just want to. Not because I feel I have to be doing something.

Whether it’s due to the pandemic or my new super-healthy attitude, I find myself more in the present than ever. Not being able to plan trips or see friends does really help, but I’d like to give some credit to the work I’ve done to get here. I am still improving. I am still short tempered with my children and my spouse. I am still reminding myself to exercise and that m&ms and cheese is not a well-rounded snack  (but shouldn’t it be?). I’m okay with that.

I’m looking forward to celebrating another year with some takeout food, my sweet family and a little back porch time.

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Remembering Dance

Today I was listening to a friend’s podcast that he recently launched (because if you’re not going to bake sourdough, then you’re going to start a podcast during a pandemic). At first I was pretty skeptical as I knew the focus would be on dance and despite a love of dance, the topic makes me feel uncultured, uneducated. There is something about the topic of dance that feels unattainable, like I cannot belong.

But dance is not unattainable and this podcast reminds me of that each episode. We don’t all dance the same way, but we all experience its impacts.

Garth, podcaster extraordinaire, and I danced together at my wedding reception. Although my dance with my dad and my first dance with Tyler were wonderful, this is the dance that stands out to me during the night. In fairness, Garth is a trained dancer and one thousand times more talented than either of them, but that alone is not what made it special. As we were flying around the dance floor, I remember saying something along the lines of, “We’ve never danced like this before.” Garth clearly thought I was insane (just a little drunk) as we had danced together in college all the time. But what I couldn’t articulate in the moment was I had never felt whole, felt connected, felt strong, felt confident when dancing before, the way I felt then. I had never not cared with others thought. I had never danced with a dancer I admired and felt sure of myself.

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Photo credit: Chris Torres

I enrolled in tap class in elementary school. I was the only student who didn’t take ballet or jazz on top of tap. Ballet and jazz were too quiet, too subtle. I wanted to hear all the taps in unison, feel the shake of the stage with everyone dancing together. For me, dancing wasn’t about subtlety and grace, I didn’t have that. It was about living out loud. But I quit dancing in middle school after an obnoxious kid made fun of me for wearing a leotard. It didn’t seem cool anymore and to be honest, I wasn’t that good.

In high school and college, dancing was everything. It was being front and center at all of our friends’ shows, dancing even when no one else was. It was weekly house parties with crowded, loud living rooms. My senior year my roommates and I went dancing every week. My memory of this time is a blur of dark bars of slick bodies and cheap drinks. The problem was, by this time, my self-confidence was at an all time low. I loved to dance but I could never shake being self-conscious. I could never dance without comparing myself to those around me.

When I moved to Texas, dancing meant two-stepping. It meant dancing with a partner. This was foreign territory for me, but it was the social highlight of my new community so I jumped in. While I never lost the stiffness that comes from caring too much what others think, I learned to love sharing a dance with someone else.

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This past week I had one of my parenting dreams come true. Haines asked me if we could have a dance party. I put on some music (okay, it was Daniel Tiger songs on Pandora) and we danced around the living room. He danced his strange 3-year old dance moves (he holds one armpit at a time) to every song with intense joy and enthusiasm. Austin, in true toddler fashion, bounces his big diapered bottom around to the music and claps at the end of every song.

My first memory of dancing is swing dancing in the living room with my dad. I was ecstatic to be picked up and swung around. My dad is not a great dancer but he is an eager and enthusiastic partner, ready to accept my every dance invitation and as long as I wanted to listen to the “golden oldies” he kept the music coming. 

That little dance party has encouraged me to bring more dancing back to my life. To take more impromptu moments to turn up the music and dance around the living room. Is my family always on board? No, but I no longer care what anyone thinks.

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Stay Present

I have spent most of my life thinking about what’s next.

What will we have for dinner? Will the boys actually eat it? 

What do I want to try to get done tonight? Check the budget or take a bath? 

Do we have any plans this weekend? What can I plan? Who should I call?

When can we take a vacation? Where will we go?

I hang signs all of my cubicle and write in my journal, “slow down”, “one thing at a time”, or “be present.” I am never present. This has always been the case for me. I have always dreamed of a life just out of reach. My high school self believed that happiness was waiting for me in college. My college self sought my life’s true purpose backpacking through Australia and then by putting down roots in Austin. As a parent of young children, I often think how much easier things will be when the kids are older, despite that everyone with older kids tells me this is not true.

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23 year old waiting for an epiphany in Australia

If not now, when?

The pandemic, for all its havoc on the world, is teaching me to be more present. Most of my questions these days are pointless or cannot be answered any time soon.

When we will go on a vacation? Hard to say.

Do we have any plans? Absolutely not.

Will the pandemic end? When will it be considered safe to do all the activities we did before? No one knows. Stop asking.

At first, I spent my initial pandemic days planning what I would do when this was all over. What adventures would I take? My mind still wanders there from time to time, but now I stick with today. Today’s project. Today’s fun. The little ins and outs of the day.

The boys help with their demands for right now. They struggle to think about tomorrow, let alone any time farther in the future. Anything they want is only in this very moment. It’s frustrating and freeing to live with people who have no concept of time, who believe they are being patient by waiting 20 seconds before shouting their desire again.

We spend as much time outside as we can stand. Each weekend we wake up to decide what adventure we might take next. Which nature trail will we go to? Should we take a bike ride? Go to the beach? We don’t know where we’ll go until that morning and then we pack up the snacks and hit the road.

Teaching the boys the joys of being outside is one of the things I dreamed of from the moment we decided to have kids, but it is typically far from idyllic.

Austin hates riding in the bike trailer, spending most of his time taking off his helmet and throwing things onto the road, but loves when we go on nature walks. At 18 months old though, he is constantly trying to wander off trail to grab everything and frequently cannot be persuaded to leave a mud puddle behind. We let him walk every so often but mostly carry him on my shoulders or in a carrier.

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Haines could ride all day in the bike trailer but refuses to walk any trails. We leave him on a bench thinking he will get up and follow us eventually, but have to go back and get him. So we take a stroller everywhere now, which drives me insane. Tyler, more tolerant, pushes him over tree rots and carefully navigates down hills. When I have to push him for even a few minutes I am instantly angry and annoyed.

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But when you are out 3 miles from home on a bike ride or mid-trail walk, you just have to deal. You pick the pacifier up out of the road and put it in your pocket for the 5th time in 15 minutes. You shove the stroller through the soft sandy trail and look up. At gorgeous green trees, at yellow butterflies, at birds. When Austin hears a bird, he will grab his ear to indicate he is listening or shout “caw caw”. He bounces up and down on my shoulders with delight. Haines wants to see every flower, wants to know about every animal that might live out where we are. What do birds eat? Why?

These bouncing boys, our beautiful surroundings, the world seemingly on pause, are constantly reminding me to just be present. And for once I am listening.