Gratitude (in thanks for a hard-working husband)

Quarter-end crunch

and you’re working round the clock

like a donkey round the threshing mill–

sacrifice in each step.

Working like your dad,

but long hours away instead of long weeks at camp.

At home,

we celebrate our eldest daughter’s 12th birthday–

a dozen years of parenthood–

building a life together bit by bit.

I think of the early days of motherhood,

pregnancy and giving birth for the first time,

and those inexpressibly precious baby snuggles.

Remembering I rejoice

and celebrate having made it thus far.

The day, says my classy and clever friend Laura,

calls for champagne.

And although it takes two,

often moms get all the credit

for building their children’s bodies,

knitting them together in their wombs.

But I think of you, honey

working away in the office each day

so I can order in groceries–

paying for each apple, cake and curry I prepare.

And I realize our children’s cells

are built upon your sacrifice.

They are nourished by your love,

strengthened by your resolve,

encouraged by your perseverance

to believe that anything is possible.

So thank you…for working so hard

so I can be with our little ones

and celebrate with them

all the mess and glory

of being alive.

Angel Dreams

A little while ago I promised to dig up some of my  old poems and let them escape the confines of my notebooks. Here, in honour of St. Valentine’s Day, is one recalling a date from over a decade ago, when my husband and I were just dating. Enjoy!

Angel Dreams

Sometimes I wonder if
my guardian angel gets tired…
Does she weary of my insistence
of consistently wearing myself out?
The fact that she, too,
gets dragged about by my passions–
late night bus rides and cabs–
holding my hand
and watching my day-weary face,
hours passing like years.

And what does she think
as she broods in her
milky moonlit hammock,
hanging by my window
like a spider
catching dreams.
Does she hear my cry–
torn about by sleepless dreams–
or do her angel thoughts
fade me out?

Does she spend the time I’m sleeping
sewing the names of people I love
into her gown with starlit thread?
That she may be held aloft
buoyant with their love
remembering me as fingers remember lips.

Was she there that time at Rossini’s?
With the live jazz
and James and I gazing at each other
and grinning–
bouncing around in our seats like kids–
so impressed by the wonderful, throaty
wailings and croons of the black singer
we couldn’t help but dance to her voice.

Did she sit, invisible,
at the table beside us
sipping at a mug
of dream-drowsy blueberry tea…
eyes glazed with candle glow…
Or did she hover near the ceiling above us
just watching
and no drinking on the job,
for when God’s your boss
there’s no sneaking,
although there must be
benevolence.

The Importance of Emotional Connection in Marriage

I started reading a fascinating new book called Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples, which explains the importance of authentic emotional connection in marriage. Maybe this sounds obvious, but what makes it interesting is the application of ideas from attachment parenting to attachment in marriage. Studies found that orphans and widows after World War Two both exemplified similar symptoms of trauma, and had similar needs. Things like emotional connection, stability, warmth, and affection. They needed a reliable, emotionally accessible person to attach to in order to feel safe and able to flourish. Come to think of it, don’t we all?

Absolutely, yes! We were indeed created for connection. We are social beings–made in, for, and to love. We aren’t solitary snow tigers who are happiest prowling the mountain tops alone, glorious in our defiant independence. While we all have a strong need to be ourselves, few of us are called to be ourselves, by ourselves alone…as hermits for example. So while we may value independence and self-reliance as signs of maturity or being “grown-up,” we should question whether they are the sole indicators of true maturity. Well-developed emotional intelligence should reflect our true nature as communal beings, and value connection, empathy and understanding as equally valid signs of maturity. In this view, “to turn to others for emotional support is a sign and source of strength.”

So how does this apply to marriage? The writers of the book, psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson and Emotionally Focussed Therapy trainer Kenneth Sanderfer, who both work as marriage counselors, say that their clients often get trapped in negative cycles of communication…attack and withdraw, verbal dumping and retreating into silence, etc. They call these negative speech patterns the “Demon Dialogues.” Conventional therapy tends to focus on clearing up communication issues and resolving conflict. Although valuable, this approach is actually dealing with the symptoms of marriage crisis (nagging, fighting, withdrawal into silence), rather than the source (lack of emotional connection and fear of abandonment). The authors found that the key to real progress in therapy was getting the spouses to stop accusing and attacking, and open up emotionally to explain how they really felt and what they needed. In short, letting their guard down and being vulnerable.

So instead of a woman accusing:

John always ignores me and goes to his office when he comes home! That’s why I have to nag him…or he won’t do anything to help. I have to do it all.

She could express her fragility:

I am lonely after a long day alone with the kids. What I really need when John comes home is a big hug. I want to feel we are a team and that I am not alone.

And instead of a man complaining:

It’s so stressful coming home. The second I get in the door I am barraged with demands. She does nothing but yell at me. No wonder I try to  escape.

He could admit:

I am tired after work and don’t want to lose my temper and get into a fight. I feel like I can’t do anything right, so I just try to get out of the way. I feel useless and unloved.

This vulnerability allows the other spouse to approach without fear of being pushed away. They are moved to mercy. Once they have the opportunity to comfort and reassure their spouse, they can begin reconnecting emotionally. Spouses who are able to be vulnerable with each other can start strengthening their marriages, and healing their wounds to work towards “emotional and spiritual wholeness.” They can work as friends and not as competitors in a contest of ‘who is the worst spouse.’

Even if you’re not in a marriage crisis, a greater awareness of emotional needs and insecurities underlying common marital tensions can help you draw closer to your spouse. How many times have we projected negative thoughts on our spouse when asking for a favour? How easy is it to not ask for help and then be resentful, or to be afraid to help out in case we do it ‘wrong’? How much drama do we live out in our heads, not realizing that so many negative interactions are the result of misunderstandings? Keeping silent is not always the best way to keep the peace…rather finding good moments to gently and honestly share how we feel or what we need can help us deepen our relationships and give our spouse a better chance to respond to those authentic needs.

I think it’s useful to use the tools from attachment parenting in marriage. When a child is acting up, you assess circumstances (tiredness, overstimulation, hunger, need for reassurance, etc) before responding. We can do the same for our spouse who is grumpy…look at the facts of the situation: “Are they tired or hungry? Are they stressed after a long day of meetings at the office? Or of caring for sick kids? Are they suffering from illness, or grieving a loss of a loved one?” Keeping these things in mind can hopefully help us respond in a way that will help us reassure and reconnect. Perhaps a snack, hug or friendly joke will do more to improve things than entering into their grumpiness or punishing them with silence.

When we feel supported and understood, we are better able to cope with difficult circumstances. Created For Connection mentions studies which find spouses who are well-connected emotionally can cope better with stress and even physical pain. Happy marriages also effect our health by lowering our blood pressure and making us more resilient in recovering from serious health crises like heart attacks. On the flip side, blood tests reveal that the stress of fighting with our spouse has been found to lower our immune system for up to a whole day! So it’s worth it to work on our marriages in little ways every day, and to offer our spouse the same grace and understanding we offer our kids. Instead of wanting our spouse to “grow up and get over it” when they are struggling, we can honour their need for connection and try to provide emotional closeness and affection. We will all be happier for it!

It’s all about attitude!

The more I think and read about happiness, the more apparent it seems that it’s all about attitude. The way we look at things affects the way we feel about things and therefore how we respond to different situations. For example, the other day I was chatting with my close friend Monique on the phone and mildly complaining about a few of my kids being particularly contrary lately. It was disobeying in silly little things like being told not to playing in the new pop up laundry baskets lest they break (instead she put them on her head) or not going out down the icy back steps (she went out the front but came in up the back…grinning!). Instead of commiserating, Monique looked beyond the behavior and simply pointed out a different view. “Well, she is just asserting her independence in little things. She listens about the big stuff, right?” True enough.

That got me thinking about finding some more legitimate ways for the kids to assert independence, make positive choices and take responsibility. After all, these are skills we want our kids to develop for their future. One of the things I want to work on this year is learning some new recipes, so I thought I would let the kids flip through cookbooks and choose a new recipe before we ordered groceries from Save-On (which is such a life saver!). Perhaps helping choose a recipe will help them take more ownership for the new food instead of being so suspicious of it. A girl can dream, right? 😉

Another thing I did was make sure to spend a few minutes consciously playing with them…lego with the big girls, listening to a story read slowly by my 6-year-old, snuggling with the little ones…because a little undivided attention goes a long way to strengthening bonds. I am certainly more prone to cheerfully listen to someone who is affectionate with me, rather than dismissive and bossy. “Catch more flies with honey,” as they say!

Trying to be calm and positive certainly helps my day go better. Crazy Land is still chaotic and loud with 6 kids, but focussing on being happy within it helps me cope better and be a little more peaceful. I saw the fruits of that today. Last night my accountant hubby got home late from his epic year-end workload and wanted to visit a little after a long day crunching numbers and making tough decisions. Sometimes love means saying yes to that goofy zombie romance movie at midnight (Yes, there is actually such a film!). So of course in the morning was a pretty convincing zombie myself. But I had a choice…walk like one all morning and speak in growls, or tell myself it was a brand new day and not think about the  (lack of) night before. I put some cheerful morning music on You Tube, brewed the coffee and sang happy songs while I cleaned up from breakfast. I manged to fool myself into feeling energetic (so gullible!) and had a good day.

If I hadn’t made the conscious choice to embrace the day and be happy, I would’ve wasted it being tired and miserable. But focussing only on the negative blurs our perceptions and limits our vision. Reality is both light and shadows, and the contrast can enhance its beauty, if we just take a deep breath, pray and choose to see it that way. Look for the good and you will find it. It’s all about attitude!

Happy New Year and hurrah for “The Happiness Project”!

Lovely readers! How I have missed you all! One New Year’s resolution….to write more often!! To not hesitate to post…to follow inspirations and forget perfectionism. Who knows what good can come from words conceived in joy or sorrow…they are better shared.

There was a gorgeous black and white card I saw when shopping for stocking-stuffers. It was of a little girl wearing fairy wings, standing at the edge of a small precipice. The card read: “But, Mother, what if I fall?” and on the inside, “Oh, my darling, what if you fly?” It almost moved me to tears.  The idea of this daring vulnerability, this willingness to take a creative leap and reach for one’s dreams, despite fear, is to me both brave and beautiful.

I am so excited for the new year–a fresh start and new projects. I have a new poetry book in the works, thanks to the warm encouragement of my mother and sister-in-law who asked me, “So, what’s next?” I realize it gives me great joy to have a project…something to ponder dream about while I am doing the dishes and housework–something to reflect on in quiet moments when I hear the Holy Spirit whispering.So I want to encourage you all to dream big and take lots of little steps each say this year to achieve your dreams…and may this process bring you much happiness!

I am thinking lots about habits and happiness because of a wonderful book my awesome husband got me for Christmas called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. She is a hilarious and warm-hearted New York writer, fiery red-head and mom, so of course I love her! She realized one day that while she was basically content, she could still be snappy, irritable and impatient at times, and didn’t always savour the beautiful moments as they came. How, she wondered, could she be more happy, not by making any dramatic life changes, because she already loved her family and career, but by reflecting on what brought her happiness, what brought her stress and grief, and then trying to build habits that were more conducive to joy. She does this by seeking to change her own habits and attitudes, rather than blaming or resenting others for things she finds hard.

She describes her journey of researching happiness, consulting everyone from psychologists to saints to friends in a café, and then testing out their theories by working on important areas of her life each month, like her home, marriage, parenting and career. This might sound intimidating, but it is quite the opposite. Her frank and funny descriptions of trying out her different monthly resolutions are as fun to read as a novel, and really helpful, too. For example, in February, the month she focussed on her marriage, she tried for a week of “Extreme Nice.” No snapping, dumping, nagging, etc. After describing how positively it affected things at home, she jokes about her relief when the week was up, as her tongue was sore from biting it so often!

She found that personal stories and examples do more for inspiring growth that vague stats and studies. Personally, even reading about her happiness project has made me more aware of savouring my own happiness, and seeking to make it grow. As Rubin reminds us, happier people make those around them happier, so being happy is really the best gift we can give to those around us, because joy is infectious. I so recommend this book to help inspire you to seek happiness this year by building habits of happiness and changing your heart so you can find it more easily. Her blog has tonnes of helpful resources, too. Here is the link: Gretchen Rubin

Happy reading! And have fun with your resolutions…I will write more about that another day!

Exactly As You Are: Loving Your Spouse Unconditionally 

Yesterday I wrote a guest post for my friend Bonnie Way on her blog The Koala Mom called “Exactly as you are: Loving your spouse unconditionally.”

Here is her intro and the link in case you’d like to check it out!

Today, contributing writer Anna Eastland is sharing what she learned in a late-night chat with her husband about loving your spouse unconditionally.

No matter how well you know your spouse, every now and then you learn something new, like a new skylight opened and illumined a corner of their soul you hadn’t seen before. You have one of those unexpected midnight conversations where you are allowed to enter an unexplored recess of their heart. How do you respond to this intimate revelation? With love.

Loving Your Spouse Unconditionally
  

A Father’s Gentle Strength

Being a father is being strong enough

to sacrifice everything for those you love…

constantly giving your all for your family,

bearing your little ones up with the gentleness

of someone powerful enough

to put others before himself.

Having a father is knowing you are never alone—

that there is always someone to hold your hand

and walk with you through the paths of this life

and into eternity.

How blessed are my children to have a father like this!

Thank you God for creating men who know how to love like you.

Help me always remember why I fell in love with the man

who is the father of my children,

whose love for me has become flesh

and walks among us.

Do we treat our husbands as well as our friends?

Sometimes we wives and moms can be having a hard day, and are perhaps very tired or stressed, but when a friend calls we perk up and feel much better. And when a friend is in need emotionally, we find the time and strength to be present to them, offering a listening ear, encouraging words, and understanding heart…We are able to give the best of ourselves to friends, even when we are drained.

We wouldn’t imagine saying, “I’ve had a rough day, so I’m going to blast a heap of bitterness into the first available ear, even if it’s my dear friend.” Or “I think I’ll sting my friend with repeated sarcasm if she attempts to make me feel better. What does she know?”

Why then, do we women often do exactly that with our husband, as if our every struggle was his personal fault? As if he should cower under our mood, and be culpable if he doesn’t read our mind and fan us with palm branches before we mention being hot…

We’ve been taught to be very self-righteous as women, and very suspicious of men, but I ask you, is this prickly attitude making us happy? Does it not foster division in our marriages, and dissatisfaction in ourselves?

I grew up with three brothers, whom I love a lot, so I have a hard time buying the “evil men” stereotype. Personally I think we human beings are all fairly imperfect, but still kind of wonderful.

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Ultimately we are the ones who have to make ourselves happy, who with the help of grace have to choose happiness despite life’s challenges. Blaming someone else for all our troubles only traps us in the cage of our own weakness. We wouldn’t blame all our challenges on our friends, so why would we choose (even subconsciously) to blame them on our husbands, who are supposed to be our best friends?

The role of a best friend is to love us no matter what and to walk with us through life, always by our side. It isn’t to carry us so we don’t even have to use our legs. It’s to support us in happy and sad times, but not to provide a godlike dose of happiness and protection from all sadness. You can be vulnerable and honest with your husband without expecting him to be able to fix everything. Don’t deify your spouse. Accept and love him as a human being who is worthy of your respect and tenderness, even if he’s not a superhero. Remember inside there is still a little boy who needs your love.

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Perhaps you and I are never grumpy or sarcastic with our spouses (ahem!), but for those mortals who are, I think this is good advice: try to treat your husband with the same kindness and understanding you do your friends. And of course all this advice applies to men as well, in how lovingly they should treat their wives.

This year let’s take responsibility for our happiness by trying to be our best selves, not just with our friends, but with our spouse. In doing so we will become better people, and give him a chance to do the same. And it is in this striving to become the best version of ourselves that we will find peace and happiness.

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The Perfect Parent Lives in Timbuktu (and is likely a Sasquatch!)

I haven’t met the perfect parent. It’s not me. It’s likely not you either.
But that’s ok. Children are born of love, not perfection.

Still, sometimes we wonder if there is a scientific formula for being the perfect parent, a special combination of elements that will help us get it just right.

Our society encourages this; we are told we must have the right economic, educational, medical, emotional, and intellectual circumstances to responsibly have a child. It seems a very dangerous and risky business, and one must be perfectly prepared.

Sometimes people wait their whole lives to be perfectly ready. Baby room painted just so. Millions in the bank. 800 parenting books read. Relationship so stable it makes mountains look wispy and wobbly. Health just so, taking the right 60 vitamins, and doing yoga 10 hours a day.

What happened to something that used to be so natural? A creative overflow of love? Isn’t the sincere love between parents already giving your child a lot, especially in today’s world?

But our fear of being imperfect parents in an imperfect world really paralyzes us so much as a society. We fear traumatizing our kids and are haunted of visions of their future therapist’s couch before they even leave their cradle.

We are told we better consult the experts constantly, because we as “mere parents” (just rabbits really) know nothing. I don’t think all this fear is actually making us better parents, just less confident and optimistic ones.

If we risk having one, we think we shouldn’t have another, because we’re not perfect yet. The funny thing is though, that having another child helps us to grow better, more mature, relaxed and confident, and therefore helps our first child, too. Experience is a good teacher.

So please don’t let fear of your imperfection stop you from loving; that would be a terrible tragedy. None of us had perfect parents, but we’re still glad to be here, in this messy, imperfect, absurdly beautiful world.

While I haven’t met perfect parents, I have met perfect babies.
Actually many of them.
More specifically, ALL of them.
Each baby is perfect.
A perfect gift, a perfect miracle, a perfect parcel of love.
Each one makes the world more beautiful. That means you, too.

Siblings help each other to grow as well, precisely through their imperfection, their foibles and stubborn streaks; experiencing all this children learn, in a context of love, how to get along with, embrace and accept others.

If we are teaching our kids to love, to care for others and help them when they are down, we are doing a lot toward making the world a better place.

My kids can squabble as much as the next ones, but I was happy to see my older girls stepping up and caring for the younger ones this week when they weren’t feeling well. Here’s a picture of my 5 year old reading bedtime stories to her little sister. Without being asked. That made me really happy.

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So stop worrying about being perfect, unless you want to go live with the Sasquatch, who can maybe give you some pointers.

Personally, I think what you need as a parent is love, commitment, and a willingness to adapt and grow, because as much as parenting will make your children grow, it’ll make you grow more.

Happy trails! And may you be abundantly blessed in love.

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