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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Parenting By Design

Parenting By Design

When you first learn you’re about to become a mother, time stops. It’s just a split second, but it’s a very clear, unforgettable quiet out of body experience. In that single moment, you realize you are no longer just you, you are carrying a life, another. It’s a bit dizzying. The feeling that you are different than you were before that moment is ever present, until one day you realize you can’t remember exactly who you were before the baby. I don’t think there is any single event in the human experience as life changing as becoming a parent.

B.C. (before children), I thought of myself as the quintessential twenty something, living a very happy, exciting life. I loved to dance, and travel, and eat dinner at 10, and felt absolutely no guilt whatsoever about lounging in my pajamas for an entire weekend, reading, and watching movies. I would eat cake for dinner, and pizza for breakfast, and fly off to Paris on a whim. I loved fashion, and would wear super sexy, low cut dresses at times, ridiculously high heels, and loved every minute of it. I drove a fast little sports car, and I would crank up the music and sing to the top of my lungs, especially on hot summer nights. My self-concept was one of a fun loving girl, figuring it out, and enjoying life to the fullest.

Then came the moment. The little pink plus sign on the stick. And time stopped.

I don’t remember exactly how long the moment lasted, but I do remember the shadow from the sun moved from one end of the bathroom to the other as I sat there on the floor, considering all that the little pink cross could mean.

Now, admittedly, I was less prepared to becoming a mommy than most. I wasn’t married. I wasn’t financially secure. I was “between opportunities” in my career. I had just moved cities and into a new apartment. I was so free, and the thought of a baby inside of my body, in that moment, was a bigger concept than my brain could handle. As I sat on that floor considering all of my options, I went to a very deep place within myself. The world became very quiet and very still. When I stood up, I still didn’t know what I was going to do, but I did fully understand that a change had come and I was different than I was before I entered that room.

The next few days were surreal. I didn’t stop praying, or considering or evaluating. I asked for and received signs. I spoke at length with my boyfriend. I soul searched in a way that I cannot explain. I wanted to do the right thing, but I just wasn’t clear on what that was. And, then one day, the answer, for me, became crystal clear. I was going to become a mommy. It was a brave decision, an act of faith. And, without giving too much away, let me say, it’s a decision I have never regretted for a single second.

So many miracles and gifts fell from that decision. My beautiful boyfriend became my beloved husband, and my bouncing baby boy was in attendance for the wedding. We started a company, where together, we did work we were proud of, and put goodness into the world. We had another baby. We’ve traveled, laughed so much along the way, created, and had a beautiful symphony that has been our life for over 15 years. The choice to become a mommy put me on a road I could not have possibly predicted. So many experiences, rich and beautiful were waiting for me as I walked along.

When you become a parent, you cannot help but go back to your own childhood. It happens to all of us. In some ways, I think its God’s little gift and opportunity to make things right that were wrong, for the next generation. It’s also a time to celebrate and forgive and give thanks to the enormous love and sacrifice of those who came before, knowing for the first time, how different the world looks from the perspective of mommy. It’s a time traveling mind trip.

I know you have 9 months to prepare for the baby, but honestly, that’s just not enough. The rate of change is immediate and never ending. Almost from the moment of inception, changes begin. You get cranky, tired, bloated, nauseous, and emotional. And, when that begins to subside, other changes roll in to take over, keeping you constantly confused. Your body grows in the weirdest ways, (my feet got bigger!), your boobs itch, your sex drive goes bizerk (again, not all change is bad), and everything leaks. Then, stage 3, nearing the end. O.K., you nest like some crazed Canadian goose, buying furniture, folding t-shirts, painting, preparing. You are sore and you can’t sleep. You hair and nails and skin become someone else’s. Your stomach explodes and suddenly those pictures of fully pregnant octomom make sense, sort of.

And, then, the baby arrives. And, again, time stops. Everything forever changed. Quiet. Nothing else matters. Tiny, pink life. Smell of heaven. Tears, joy, love indescribable. The rest of the world melts away. Beautiful miracle in your arms.

The high you get from seeing your baby for the first time, never completely leaves you. You’re transported back with a memory, a photograph, a sound or smell. But, life does normalize and you find yourself on a road, with no sign posts, and it’s all a little scary. You have to redefine everything. So many mommies don’t consciously think about the life they want to lead, they don’t make a plan with rules; they simply walk along aimlessly, making it up as they go. I can tell you, having a plan and a goal has made all the difference in the world for me and my family. I think the old saying is true, when you fail to make a plan, you plan to fail. Planning the life you want your family to lead is a great gift. Now, most of us plan some things. We plan the tangibles, school, day care, finances, etc. But, those are just the frameworks of the life, not the life. It’s the life you need to plan and consider, because if not, the tidal wave of parenthood will rush over you and sweep you away, and you could find yourself asking, “How did I get here?”

The moment I first realized I needed a plan was when my baby was about 6 months old. My husband and I decided to have a small Christmas party, to celebrate the season the baby, and life. Now, obviously, I didn’t drink at all during my pregnancy, or up until that moment, because I was breast-feeding. So, I told myself I’d have a glass of wine or two at the party, and really enjoy myself. Well, without all the gory details, let me say I had more than my system could handle, which was so much less than I could handle BC. And, then as the alcohol wore off, the guilt and shame came over me like nothing I had ever experienced. I just kept thinking, “I’m a mother, how can I behave like this?” It was a long, long night. I didn’t sleep at all. I sat up on the couch really thinking about just how much had changed and how unprepared I was for so much of it. I thought about the lack of security I so often felt as a child, because the adults around were so lost in so many ways, and I knew I wanted to do better. I thought about the general air of survival I lived in, not really thriving, just surviving. And, then I thought about my parents’ marriage, which was a true train wreck. Mommy was an Indian and daddy was a cowboy, and the fighting didn’t end until daddy left when I was 7. I knew I wanted to do things really differently for my son. And, I didn’t simply want to fake it, or settle, or compromise on our marriage. I wanted to remain madly in love with my husband, and be truly happy. I wanted my kids to see that and know it was possible. I realized I needed to find out who I was now, and what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I looked far down the road I was on, and imagined what my life would be like in 5 years, 10, and 15 and beyond, and I made a plan to get there.

Here’s the outline for my family life plan:
1. I wanted to be truly happily married, in love with and in like with my husband. I want to respect him as the years wear on, and have our love deepen, just like in the fairy tales. Although, I had never seen a love like that, I made a decision that would be my reality.
2. I wanted to be present and available for my kids, as they needed me to be. They were the most important things to me, and I didn’t want to forget that as life happened.
3. I wanted to laugh a lot, everyday; with the ones I loved most.
4. I wanted to stay fit, sexy, healthy, and interesting.
5. I wanted to give my children a safe, secure, loving home life.
6. I wanted to have a beautiful home.
7. I wanted kids of faith, with loving, compassionate hearts.
8. I wanted all of us to be close and able to talk about anything.
9. I wanted our family life to be full of the things I valued: God, nature, homemade dinners, art, music, books, healthy living, travel, balance, endless possibilities.
10. I wanted to know how beautiful my life was every day.

I’m sure that most people want most of the things on the list for themselves, but if you don’t take measures to ensure it, the likelihood of having it, decreases. It’s the awareness of the desire that brings about purpose and follow through. Think about the goal, and keep it present in your awareness, and it will dictate so much of your life, your decisions, your speech, your actions. It’s a truly lofty life, and it’s not easy to achieve, it requires so much sacrifice, maturity, humility, strength, and deep layers of unending love. But, you can have the family life you want; you just need to design it. Think, plan, prepare and execute.

As soon as you make a plan, life comes along to sabotage you and challenge your resolve. You must stay the course, and remember the reward is worth all the work. Every single goal that I set has been in serious threat of peril on many occasions, and I had to grow each time to achieve the goal in every situation. And, if you have a bad day, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. Remember, it’s a life is a journey. At the end of a very long, tiring day, when every single thing went wrong, and your husband was less than helpful, and your baby cried all through the night before, and you seem to actually be gaining weight instead of loosing it, believe me, it’s almost impossible to feel grateful, and loving to your husband and good about yourself. But, if you go deep within, deeper than the annoyances of the day, you will find a place where the sacred is and you will know that you are a blessed woman and that life is so perfect. Get beyond the dirty dishes and the unpaid bills. Get to the bliss. Know that you are full, beautiful and complete, and that your life is dripping with love from every corner. You are a mother and knowing the richness that is your life, will allow it to come forth and stand right in front of you. You will lead your whole family into joy. The true love and beauty of life is beyond our circumstances, it is deep within our souls, and we can get there in any given moment.

Design your family life. What do you want?


  1. One should see life from the end picture and surround one’s self with those who love you. I agree, having a plan is paramount, especially when being a mommy. While my marriage wasn’t successful so much more was, and it far out weighs what failed. I’ve written a book which tells of my particular journey in life and it’s called, “Mommy’s Writings: Mommy, would you like a sandwich?” It will be in the Marketplace by year-end 2010. Prayerfully, it inspires the love of God. But it also gives one a different perspective in life, as it’s also a story in forgiveness. My greatest blessing and God’s gift to me, like yourself, is my beloved son who is now thirty-one years old. Everyday I love him even more and tell him: “I love you bunches, Chad.” Those who know me will also often hear me say aloud, “God, I love you.” For without his presence such blessings wouldn’t exist. Yes, it’s important to keep one’s plan foremost in your mind, after God, because then your plan will only grow more joyous.

    Suzanne McMillen-Fallon, Published Author, would you like a sandwich?

  2. Thank you so much Mary for sharing your personal insights. There are days when things do not go as planned and I have to dig deep. I always remind myself of my 2 beautiful children. I loved your comment: "Know that you are full, beautiful and complete, and that your life is dripping with love from every corner." How true! Motherhood is so rewarding.