Mommy’s Star Chart?

I’ve just finished breastfeeding for nearly an hour and a half in an attempt to get baby M to sleep (he was awoken twice during that time by his rowdy, “supposed to be sleeping” older brothers), and he is still awake crying in his crib – So, please forgive me if this post is a little bit grouchy.  You too would feel grouchy if your baby refused to sleep and your body just needed a break.  I’m entitled… But then again, am I?

Often, I feel extremely guilty for feeling like I just can’t handle it all, all the time.  I feel like I am constantly met with guilt, an emotion I never would’ve associated with parenthood.  Let me elaborate.  I’ll use an example that is literally occurring as I type.  Baby M is wailing in his crib because he can’t fall asleep on his own.  I know, he’s five months old and according to some literature and some doctors, his body is capable of going to sleep on its own without coddling and cuddling and breastfeeding.  But then again, La Leche League and breastfeeding advocacy groups denounce the cry-it-out method, citing that attachment parenting is beneficial to both baby and mother and that letting the baby cry when he obviously needs comfort, is detrimental.  So as he is crying in his crib now, I’m met with Guilt!  I’ve tried nursing him and cuddling him for over an hour – that’s not working.  So I’m trying the crying route for a bit — GUILT.

He’s also my third, which means that even though I am constantly talking to him, around him, playing with him, and holding him, he’s still getting less total attention overall than my first and second did.  Cue extra coddling and cuddling.  Thank you Guilt!

Add to that tons of other guilt and it’s a recipe for disaster.  These days, in the Social Media era, most people are glued to some sort of technology.  Lately, there are countless articles and videos circulating on social media sites reminding us to stay ever present in the moment, put down the phone, get off Facebook, stop instagram-ing photos while we’re out with friends.  I am definitely a believer in all of those ideas, in theory, if not fully in practice.  I do my best to schedule “family” dinners where we turn off the TV, but half the time my kids won’t eat without it, so we put it on for them and they eat (and I get to eat) – cue Guilt!  I find that when I am breastfeeding, I often browse Facebook or the paper on my Iphone – then I look down at the baby and feel like I am missing out on this beautiful moment between mother and child (even though I am still rubbing his head and kissing him while I do both) – cue Guilt!  And then I am stuck in a middle-zone somewhere between wanting to throw my cell phone in the garbage so I can completely immerse myself in reality and sometimes I feel like if I don’t take a quick Facebook or People Magazine break, I might just lose my sh#t!  And now I’m cursing – cue Guilt!

Every night, as I sit down to decompress after a long day with the kids, I find myself under a tremendous, suffocating blanket of, you guessed it, Guilt!  I feel awful that my littlest one isn’t on a great schedule like my first two – I wish he could nap better without my holding him or in his crib instead of on the go.  I feel sad that I can’t give him the undivided attention I gave to my other two when they were infants.  Then I feel Guilt when I look at my middle – I stole his baby-hood by having another baby when he was still so little.  He isn’t getting my undivided attention at his age like his older brother did.  I feel guilty that he doesn’t do as many classes as his brother did or have as many little friends because I didn’t forge tight bonds with moms with kids his age.  I feel badly that he cries every day when his dad or my mom drive his older brother to school and he grabs his shoes crying at the door to go too.  Thanks Guilt!  I feel Guilt that I used to be an extremely patient mother for years with my first, but now I am not.  I have less time to devote to him overall, and that makes me sad.  He needs my attention and love and affection even more now as he’s getting older, but I am spread thin and it’s nearly impossible to answer every question his inquisitive four-year old self rapid fires at me on an almost minute by minute basis.  Guilt!  I even feel guilty that I forgot to dress my son in blue today for Israeli Independence day at school, even though I had a reminder on my phone and in my calendar… But the morning got hectic and my husband lost his phone and it took all my strength to get everyone fed and ready for the day and the outfit slipped my mind… Guilt!

So basically, every night, I go to bed feeling like a failure at my job as a mother.  And that’s a pretty shitty way to live.

Tonight, as I finished yelling at my two older boys to go to bed for the umpteenth time after waking the baby, I got in the shower with the baby still crying in his crib, I got to thinking.  I asked myself, do I feel like a failure all throughout the day, or just at the end of the day?  When does the sense of doom set in?  Is there a way to make it all less overwhelming.  I can fully recognize that bath and bedtime is the worst part of my day.  It used to be the best because it was quiet and calming.  Bath play, cuddling, story time, goodnight songs.  Now it’s baby screaming, big boys fighting over bath toys, refusals to get dressed, baby still screaming, fighting over books, refusal to go to sleep.  It’s chaos.  Which got me thinking even more (yes my brain is starting to hurt from too much thinking).

Recently, I had a conversation with my cousin, a counselor, about my older son’s behavior at school.  He was coming home every day telling me he doesn’t like school because he had to miss gym or he got reprimanded or he doesn’t think his teachers like him.  At four, that is a truly disheartening thing to hear.  I love my oldest so much, but I know he’s a handful. I spoke with his teachers and they explained that at certain points during the day he’s having success, but there are also other times during the day where he struggles to follow the directions or participate the way that they want him to.  Often these situations occur at the end of the day, so when he leaves school, the “failure” is fresh in his mind.  My cousin suggested that the teachers “CHUNK” his day.  I’d never heard of “chunking” before, so she elaborated.  Basically, chunking is when a teacher or counselor (or even a parent) breaks up the day’s activities for the child and allows that child to be rewarded or praised after every or every few activities.  This way the child is getting instant gratification for the good behaviors and meeting multiple successful goals so that the whole day is not a failure because of one or two “bad” behaviors.  I loved the idea and so did his teachers.  So far, it’s been working out much better for him.

So in the shower, I thought to myself, why can’t I chunk my own day?  Why can’t I have my own “Mommy Star Chart,” so that I can feel success during the day and I don’t go to bed sad every night?  Give the kids their breakfast and everyone is eating -STAR.  Get the kids dressed for school/for the day – STAR.  Get myself dressed – STAR.   Feed the dog – STAR.  Take a moment to kiss my husband goodbye before work – STAR.  Everyone leaves the house with a coat and shoes – STAR.   School drop-off – STAR.  Food shopping – STAR.  Cook dinner – STAR.  You get the point.

I know I am not a bad mother.  I love and care for my kids above and beyond, but at the same time, it’s hard to reconcile that when everyone is screaming and crying at the same time.  So tomorrow, instead of breaking down in the tough moments, I’m going to remind myself (like I remind my oldest son), that I have an opportunity to earn a STAR for choosing to do the right thing or the wrong thing (the right thing in my case being take a deep breath and the wrong thing being screaming and losing my cool).  I can earn my STAR for getting my task done with “good behavior.”  I am hoping this will lead to a calmer household, smiling children, and a happier, more SUCCESSFUL feeling mommy.  Now, if I could just think of a few good “rewards” or mommy “privileges” for stars earned.  Have any ideas?  Feel free to share.

(PS – the baby stopped crying and fell asleep on his own — S-U-C-C-E-S-S!).