A Thank You Letter to My Mom

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This Sunday marks my sixth Mother’s Day without my Mom. Last year, I made a conscious decision not to write a Mother’s Day post, I didn’t want to bum people out or seem too self-indulgent. This year, however, I find myself in a different position and feel compelled to express, publicly, the sincere gratitude I have for my mom as I start my own journey into parenthood.

For the past several years, Mother’s Day has been a pretty dark day. I try to keep myself occupied and distracted and not notice the seemingly incessant ads that run leading up to the day (although I’ve told my husband, I’d rather get nothing at all than one of those janky looking charm bracelets from Kay or Jared. I never want to hear our child say “We went to Jared.”) or the happy gaggles of mothers, children, and grandmothers milling about town that day.

Although I still miss my mom every day, this year Mother’s Day takes on a new meaning for me. On Sunday, I will not only remember and celebrate my own mom (and celebrate my mother-in-law), but I will also celebrate my 20th week of pregnancy and the fact that next year, I’ll will be a mother.

Despite the overwhelming joy I feel about becoming a mother (finally!), it has been marked by periods of profound sadness. You see, I underestimated the hardship of becoming a mother without a mother. And not just without any mother, but without my mom. I was always extremely grateful and understood how fortunate I was to have such an unbelievably kind, thoughtful, supportive, and unconditionally loving mom. Yet, now that I am on the precipice of becoming a mom myself, my perspective of my mom has changed and my gratitude has become more pronounced.

I always knew (or thought I knew) how much my mom loved me. Turns out, I hadn’t the slightest clue of the depths of her love and attachment. I didn’t fully understand her desire to protect me, provide the best for me, and defend me. Now, I am starting to comprehend the love of a mother. Although I have yet to meet our child, the love I feel for this tiny human is overwhelming, even scary at times. As my belly swells and the tap, tap, taps coming from within grow stronger, my love increases exponentially.

I cannot bear the thought of someone making my child sad or left out. I cannot imagine someone breaking my baby’s heart or causing extreme disappointment. But, it will happen because life happens. I cannot protect my child from every discomfort and heartache, and I can’t kill the people who inflict it. So, I guess I’ll have to learn to deal with it, somehow. It is this feeling that helps me understand my mom in a way I never could before. At the time, I could never fully comprehend how much I was loved. As I begin to assume the role of mom I am in awe and so thankful to have been loved so intensely.

I am also beginning to understand what a daunting task parenting is. For the past several months, and even years before, I often grappled with the question: “How will I be as good of a mom as she was to me?” I used to ask my mom that as well and she always said “You will.”

The relationship she cultivated between us is truly inspiring. I’m not just saying that because I was part of it, even outsiders would comment on our love, respect, and mutual admiration for one another. She was always a mom first, but somehow managed to be my best-friend, my confidant, and an opinion I sought out and respected. And, the fact that she managed to do this starting out as a 15-year-old is that much more awe-inspiring and intimidating.

For months now, I’ve thought about how she did this, how did she establish and maintain such an incredible relationship with me? Finally, a few days ago, the answer came to me: She did it by being herself.

She did it by being open and honest. By being funny and fierce. She did it by balancing selflessness and selfishness. Juggling work and family. She did by prioritizing her marriage. She did it by fostering independence. By not letting me get away with shit and by loving me in spite of the shit.

She did it by doing what she knew how to do best: be herself. She was one of the most authentic people I knew. She was unabashed about who she was, and she had every right to be because she was amazing.

By realizing this, I know that I have all I need inside of me to become a great mother because I am my mother’s daughter. She’s in my laughter, in the way I love (and dislike) fiercely, in the way I’d defend a loved one to the death, in the way I try to make a house a home, in the way I love others, in the way I am content with myself, and most importantly in the way I love this new life inside of me.

Although it breaks my heart that my child will never meet my mom, I am confident that my baby will know her because she is so tightly woven into the fabric of who I am. This is a gift so great that a simple “thank you” seems to undermine the depths of my appreciation, but I know no other way to express my gratitude for the gift of my mom’s unconditional love and how through that she prepared me so well to love my own child.

So, on this sixth Mother’s Day without you, Mom, I want to say thank you. Thank you for giving me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received—your love. I am humbled by your generosity and the good fortune I have of sharing your love, my love, our love with our newest family member.

We love you to the moon, back, and all around.

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: For several weeks, my wife had been distant. When I finally got her to admit what was wrong, she told me I needed to be more “romantic.” Even though I think I’m a thoughtful guy, it apparently isn’t enough. The next day I brought her flowers, which made her mad. She said I only did that because she told me to. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. How do I fulfill my wife’s needs without her thinking it’s a chore?

–Romantic Romeo

Dear Romeo: You’re wife put you in a double-bind. She asked you to be romantic, but then chastised you when you were. Although it’s frustrating, don’t let it deter you. In fact, use it as motivation to be romantic more frequently and in unexpected ways. If you mix it up a bit, she won’t feel that the behavior is forced and you’ll enjoy being romantic because you want to, not because you have to.

However, if you’re unsure about what your wife thinks is “romantic” find out how she defines romance. Does she want a spontaneous date planned or would she be content with you bringing her coffee in bed in the morning? If you don’t know what she wants, all of your efforts will be for naught.

If she gripes that you “should know what she wants” tell her that the belief that partners should read each other’s minds is one of the biggest (and most dangerous) relationship myths. Relationships are built on communication and we have to tell our partners what our needs are if we ever want them met. So, figure out what she wants and get going Casanova.

And don’t forget, romance doesn’t mean extravagance; love is built on the little things, not grand gestures. Often, little gestures, like holding her hand while watching a movie or saying you look beautiful, have the biggest impact.

Dear Sylvia: I’m six months pregnant with my first baby. Since I’ve told my best-friend about the baby she’s completely ditched me. I feel that she doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore because I can’t go to the bars and party with her. Anytime we do talk, she doesn’t even ask me about the baby. Should I cut my losses and focus my energy on my growing family instead of my dwindling friendship?

Forgotten Friend

Dear Forgotten: I’m sorry your friend is being a flake when you need her support and encouragement most. Friendships are like books filled with lots of pages and chapters. Sometimes you’re on the same page, while other times you’re in different chapters.  Maybe your friend is overwhelmed and freaked out about how your relationship is going to change as a result of your impending mommy-hood. Or, maybe your pregnancy makes her question whether or not she wants to become a mom. Or, maybe she feels that you don’t want to hang out with her in non-party situations.

The only way to really know what’s going on is to talk to her. Bring up your concerns in a non-accusatory way. Ask her if anything is bothering her because you’ve noticed she seems a bit distance since you’ve announced your pregnancy. If she’s a true friend, you’ll be able to have a conversation about what’s bothering both of you.

But, if you find out that she doesn’t want to deal with anything too deep and prefers partying to having a real friendship, drop the dead weight, you’ve got more important things on the horizon!

Dear Sylvia: My husband recently admitted to a one-night stand while on a business trip. We’ve been married for 8 years and I never once questioned our relationship. We have three children together and many memories. He says this is the only time this has happened. I’m deeply hurt and betrayed. Should I try to save our marriage or save myself and kids from future pain and call it quits?

Stunned Spouse

Dear Stunned: I am so sorry for the hurt and betrayal you’re experiencing. Trust is the basis of all relationships and being betrayed, especially through infidelity, not only rocks but ruins relationships. With that said, although it seems impossible now, you can come back from this if you both want to.

As you noted, you’ve been together for a long time and have invested a lot into this marriage. Throwing it all away for a one-time lapse in judgment may be a hasty decision. However, only you can decide if you stay or if you go. You know your husband best and only you know if this is something you and your relationship can overcome.

If you do decide to give your marriage a second chance, I believe that going to couples and individual counseling is a must. Both you and your husband are experiencing an array of emotions and a trained therapist will help you sift through them all and provide you with the skills needed to rebuild the trust in your relationship.

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The Baby Race: Becoming Parents

From the moment you find out a baby is on the way, whether through pregnancy, surrogacy, or adoption, you plan and prepare for your bundle of joy. You research all the latest gizmos and gadgets, read up on how to successfully keep your tiny human alive, and spend an exorbitant amount of time (and money) preparing the perfect nursery, and why wouldn’t you, becoming a parent is one of the most rewarding (and challenging) transitions you will experience.

However, in all that planning your relationship with your partner often gets lost in the shuffle. Although becoming parents is one of the most profound events you share will your partner, it can also be extremely challenging on your relationship. Suddenly you go from showering each other with love and attention to being solely focused on your small eating, pooping, and peeing machine.

Time to shower is scarce, let alone time (or desire, do you really want to leave that precious bundle?) to squeeze in a date night. So, your relationship probably needs a bit of retooling and that may not be something you planned for during your baby blitz. But, with some simple preparation and dedication you can make sure your relationship doesn’t experience the baby blues.

Although some people believe that having children reduces relationship satisfaction, this is not always the case. First, ALL marriages or partnerships experience a decrease in satisfaction. For marriages, satisfaction usually dips within the first three years of marriage, which happens to coincide with the introduction of the first child, for many couples. Therefore, a lot of people blame the baby, not the natural progression of the relationship for the dip in satisfaction.

However, research by Lawrence and colleagues suggests that compared to non-parents, parents do experience a more drastic decline in satisfaction. Yet, individuals who are highly satisfied going in to parenthood and who planned to be parents (versus unplanned pregnancies) continued to have high levels of relational satisfaction after birth. In other words, if you have a strong relationship it will stay strong. However, if you have a rocky relationship a baby won’t make things better; in fact, it will make things worse.

So, what can you do to make sure your transition to parenthood is successful?

Start with a good base.  Don’t add children to your family if you don’t have a strong relationship or if you or your partner are indifferent or do not particularly want children. Also, when possible, plan your addition. The transition will be less stressful if this it is something you and your partner mapped out, rather than it coming out of left field.

Talk about it. Talk to one another about how the addition of a baby will change your relationship, lifestyle, and your own life. Will one of you be a stay-at-home parent? If so, money matters may change as well as expectations regarding who does what around the house. Or, will you both be working? If so, balancing work and family may become a stressor for both parents.

Research shows that even in the most egalitarian households, women still end up doing more childrearing and household tasks. In fact, one study by Ted Huston and Anita Vangelisti found that of the 36.2 household and childrearing tasks that couples encounter each day, women complete 28 of them, even if they are employed full time.

Therefore, it’s important to have a conversation about how you will split childrearing and household tasks, whether one of you works in or out of the home.  Researcher Caryn Medved found that couples often employ multiple strategies for balancing their parenting responsibilities, somewhat equitably, such as alternating (one night you give the bath, the next night your partner does) or connecting with partners throughout the day to “check in” on the child and childcare responsibilities (for example, calling mid-day to see who is in the best position to pick up the children).

You won’t be able to plan for every change that parenthood brings, but acknowledging that things will change and having a tentative plan will help ease the transition.

Moms, let Dads parent. Mothers are often very protective of their children, even with their own fathers. In fact, research shows that mothers often act as “gatekeepers” and limit or interfere with interactions between baby and Dad. It’s important, however, for fathers to be able to parent and spend time alone with their children. And, when fathers feel that their wives have confidence in their parenting they tend to be more involved. So, keep quiet if the outfit the baby is wearing doesn’t match, or if that’s not the exact way you burp your little bundle.

Have realistic expectations. Both overly negative or overly positive and unrealistic expectations of parenthood can impact how successfully you cope with becoming a parent. Don’t expect that you will be out with friends one week after birth or that your sex life is going to be the same. Mentally preparing for these changes can help as you encounter them.

Ask friends to candidly tell you about their transition, what was difficult, what was unexpected, and how did they cope? Know that things are going to be different and, at times, a bit difficult. But, know that it is only temporary and soon enough you and your partner will settle into a comfortable rhythm.

Take time for yourself and each other. Babies take up A LOT of time. In those first few months you may feel like all you do is feed and change, feed and change. Therefore, it’s important to take time out for yourself and your partner. Take a shower, get your nails done, watch the game, or talk to a friend on the phone. Doing things that you did pre-baby may make you feel more human, even if you’re only running on two hours of sleep.

Also, take time as a couple, but do it in a way you’re comfortable with. Your first post-baby date doesn’t have to be some all-night extravaganza. If you’re like most parents the thought of being away from your bundle may be heartbreaking. So, take an hour and go for coffee or grab a quick lunch. Or, just watch a movie or play a game when the baby is asleep. The point is to make sure you’re focusing on each other for bit, so do that in whatever way makes sense for you.

Becoming parents is definitely challenging, but extremely worthwhile. If you and your partner work as a team, you’ll be highly satisfied parenting pros in no time!

Until next time,

Sylvia

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