Own the road you travel

OwntheRoadMediumPostAfter giving birth to my first son, I made choices and decisions based on my instincts and the purest love I’d ever known. I wasn’t following another’s footsteps. I wasn’t asking for advice. I wasn’t questioning my abilities or my commitment to this miraculous gift of life and love. I wasn’t afraid.

I experienced love in a way I’d never experienced before. I trusted that love to provide what I needed in order to raise this precious, tiny, human being. I became a mother.

Soon after becoming a mother, others expressed — either to my face or behind my back — what they believed I was doing wrong in terms of parenting and/or otherwise. I was often told I wasn’t doing things the “right way.” I was whispered about, talked about, and judged. Through that, I became stronger and more grounded on the path I chose and continue to choose, as a mother of 2 boys — in spite of the skeptics and the doubters.

I aim to stay connected to my higher purpose. I am always in search of what exactly that is, but being a mother is a big part of it. This I know, and I am doing my very best — with pure intentions, patience, acceptance, and love in my heart.

Many people thought I was crazy for not enrolling our boys in school and choosing the path of traveling. They didn’t understand. What wasn’t what they saw as “normal” made them uncomfortable. I see that now.

The world became their school and education is in front of and around them every day — with ancient history, new cultures, languages, art, architecture, nature, different ways of life, and so much more. I may not know what the future holds — who does? — but I will always do what is best for my children based on who they are and what they need at each juncture in their lives.

I believe traveling is one of the best ways to open the mind to curiosity: To expand beyond what we know to be possible. We will not learn everything about the world while traveling, but we will be exposed to new ways of life and things we never knew existed. I believe this is one of the most important decisions and choices we made in our decision to travel around the world: To expose our boys to the reality that the world we live in is not the only world there is.

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone believes they know best. Many can’t help expressing their doubts and fears. I learned to accept this and not to take their stuff on as my own and not to doubt myself. I continue persevering through and beyond it, and I am deeply grateful each day as I enjoy and witness the miracles of these precious human beings thriving before me.

My boys are strong, independent little souls. They have beautiful, uninhibited, expressive spirits. They are centered and free. They live on this solid foundation built upon the stability that comes from being loved, no matter where they are: An adaptability that expands from the excitement of a new place to play, explore, and sleep in after various modes of transportation to get there…the open-mindedness that develops when you witness all walks of life and truly understand and embrace that we are all different, yet the same.

My kids are not perfect, nor am I. I do not live a perfect life. We struggle and suffer and face challenges just like everyone else. I don’t claim to have everything figured out. I simply choose to have a positive outlook and a lot of gratitude for each day I am given. I choose love.

As I type this right now, I question whether I should just let all of this go and not express my feelings about this matter. Maybe I should do what Abraham Lincoln used to do — write this letter, let it sit on my desk for a day and file it away, never to be sent.

I decided to share this, because I want to encourage you to LIVE YOUR OWN LIFE. I want to encourage you not to let others put their self doubt, their unfulfilled dreams, their negative attitudes, fear, or insecurities on you. I want to encourage you to be strong and brave enough to recognize them as such and define and walk your own path and truly own it.

I am happy to know that home exists within myself and with the ones I love. I am happy to be away from the microscopes, the expected norms of society and the self-appointed, parental- and “life”-control officers. I am happy to be free in a world where togetherness and intimacy are not only accepted but encouraged. I am happy to raise my boys with the beliefs and values I choose, rather than the ones others impose upon them or society dictates. I am happy they love and respect nature and are participants in other cultures and societies beyond the comfortable bubble we popped.

I am happy to make mistakes and learn from them. I am happy we are all growing and enriching our lives each day. I am happy we are in this together, through the good and the bad.

My boys will be healthy, contributing parts of the society they choose to live in. This is what matters.

As for those of you who can relate to my feelings, my wish is for this to serve as a reminder that the life you are living is yours. You have been given what and who you see in the mirror, and your choices are yours. Ask yourself if you are running away from something or chasing your dreams? Choose based on what you feel and believe in the deepest part of your heart.

I am not here to justify why I believe this journey is amazing — or why I do anything for that matter — although this piece seems to be doing exactly that. I am sharing this with you, because I hope you don’t feel the need to justify or defend yourself against these types of people in your own lives: People who refuse to look in the mirror and would rather look out the window and tell others how to live.

Today is a gift. Today is yours.

Own the Road You Travel,

❤ Sandy

Letting go of what you “should” do

Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International (API) celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey.

alexis schraderThe greatest lesson I’ve learned from Attachment Parenting (AP) is to question all assumptions. I was parented fairly traditionally, and reading about AP when I was pregnant helped me let go of certain ideas about where and when a baby should sleep, how a baby should be fed, and how a child should be disciplined.

Redefining these ideas is wonderful — and familiar to most AP families. To me, though, following API’s Eight Principles of Parenting taught me to examine standard practices and ask, Does this really work best for my family?  Does my kid really need to share her sand toys with this stranger at the park? Will my preschooler starve if she doesn’t eat her dinner? Does my toddler actually need to wear pants right now? Is any of this really worth a power struggle and a tantrum, or will my child and I be just fine if I let her keep doing her thing right now?

I often hear friends who sleep-trained claim that parents who are against cry-it-out methods are simply blessed with good sleepers. If there’s follow-up to this comment, my husband and I are too busy laughing to hear it. We were blessed with a daughter who, at 2-1/2 years old, announced that she is nocturnal — and we didn’t doubt for a second that she knew exactly what she was talking about!

At 7 months, she figured out she could fight our efforts to put her to sleep and decided that sleeping from about 8 pm-midnight was sufficient. For days, she would wake around 12 am and would not go back down until 3 am. I nursed her, we walked her, we drove endlessly around the block…but nothing was putting her to sleep. Nothing worked.

Finally, we gave her what she wanted — playtime! About an hour later, she crawled in bed next to me and went to sleep. After a couple nights of this pattern, she was back to mostly sleeping through the night.

When I gave in to my child’s natural sleep pattern, we both ended up getting more sleep than we had been — and without a power struggle. For this to happen, though, I had to let go of some preconceived notions about parenting, such as that a baby needs to sleep in a crib and that babies must be pushed toward adult sleep patterns. AP explicitly told me I could question the assumption regarding baby sleep, and led me to a place where I could question another, regarding discipline — that I didn’t need to try to coerce my daughter to sleep.

Three and a half years into my parenting journey, I have certainly faced a lot of difficult moments, but I have learned to ask myself, Does this have to be hard, or do I just have to let go of something? It’s amazing how often it is the latter.

A lesson in button pushing

Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey.

Shoshana-150x150When my first son transitioned into toddlerhood, I discovered that I had a lot more to learn about raising children than I realized! The most compelling question I asked myself was how to preserve our warm and loving relationship when I also had to say, “No, you can’t have that,” or “No, you can’t do that.”

I still remember the day he was able to pull out the books from the lower shelf of a bookcase in our living room, crumpling and ripping the pages with his sweet, pudgy little hands. How could I stop him without hurting or alarming him? I thought about how challenging it was going to be to guide him without provoking his defenses against me.

The more he grew and became independent, the more insight I needed to navigate the daily incidents that cropped up and compelled me to steer him in the right direction. “We have to put the toys away before taking out more,” “Bedtime is now,” and “Homework comes before television,” were only some of the daily situations that I had to take charge of.

When our children are not inclined to follow our instructions, they push our buttons and we lose our patience. For the first time, it occurred to me that parents might be pressing their children’s buttons when we don’t understand what makes them react to us the way they do.

I have 6 children. As the years went by and I became more seasoned in my parenting, I saw how easily their buttons could be pushed — how easily they could become alarmed, frustrated, and insecure.

It was easy to get the right behavior out of children by scaring them, threatening them, warning them, or taking away things from them that they cared about. “I’m counting to 3, then I’m leaving without you!” has always brought forth the right behavior in young children, but at a very high price. When you push your child’s alarm button too often or too many times, the very system that alerts him to beware of a risky situation begins to work in a distorted way and new problems start showing up.

This is an even more startling revelation when it comes to adolescents, because this same alarm system in the brain continues to harden the defenses even more when their buttons are continually pushed. They become tear-less and fearless, as they lose their caring and other vulnerable feelings altogether. This is on a continuum and can potentially lead to addictions and other problem behaviors like cutting.

Hands TrustWhen my children grew past the years of breastfeeding and needing to be attached to me through physical closeness, I learned that I was only at the beginning of the attachment story. The work of attachment was my responsibility, so they could rest in the relationship and be free to discover their own selves.

It was not a given that the relationship would be preserved simply because it got off to a good start. The relationship was still fresh and tender, and still needed to be cultivated, secured and deepened throughout all the years ahead of us. This was to be the shield from hurtful people and environments outside of our relationship. A deeper attachment was the answer to ensuring a healthy alarm system and preserving my children’s ability to experience all of their vulnerable feelings, so they could develop meaningful and deep relationships as well as develop their individuality and the traits that characterize maturity.

I needed to keep my relationship with my children clean from wounding. Their buttons might have been pushed by their friends or even by their teachers, but I needed to be aware of not being the one to provoke their defenses. I wanted to be that safe place — a home base or haven — where they could feel rest and comfort, no matter at what age. This challenged me to find ways to stand by my rules and limitations, preserve order, and transmit values in a way that protected our relationship.

This was my greatest learning experience, so that I could do the most important work than any parent does — help my children grow up to be mature, responsible, caring, and considerate adults.

Unconditional love

Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey.

lisa fiertag 2My daughters are two of the most amazing teachers I have ever been around. Every day, I feel grateful to have them in my life and for the many ways they shower me with unconditional love.

My children have gifted me with the opportunity to open my heart, as I have learned that love can be felt and expressed without anything attached to it.

Before having children, I disliked change and I craved structure, schedules, and predictability. I never thought that motherhood would challenge all of these needs. Through the gift of unconditional love, I found myself willing to surrender to the present moment and to embrace change. I realized that the more I tried to control my children, the more we struggled, but when I was flexible, all the structure came down and each one of us could rest in the beauty of what we were doing.

Lisa Feiertag_Mothers DayAlong the way, I saw that there is a path that each of my daughters will take, and while I am a part of their journey, it is not mine to own nor is it static in any way, shape, or form. It is a fluid, ever-changing, and evolving road that is based on their individual needs, emotions, and wants. When I am in recognition of this, then there is a flow that allows each moment to unfold exactly as it is meant to, and I don’t have to hold the energy to make it happen, because no matter what I do it is going to happen.

I can relax. I can enjoy. I can breathe, and I can trust that what my children are experiencing is perfect and that they both know that I am available to guide, support, and witness all of it.

Both of my daughters have invited me into one of the most emotionally intimate relationships that exist between two people. What I have learned is that in order to be completely available to both of them, I have to be willing and open to look deeply inside myself — to welcome all of the good and not-so-great qualities that have made me who I am today. When I do this, then I am owning what has arisen for me on my path so that I am not projecting it onto theirs. I am examining all the hard emotions and sticky thoughts that I have held onto for one reason or another.

When I look into the eyes of my children I can see a reflection staring back at me that trusts that I will be available…that I will take care of them…that I will do the work that is needed to surrender into me, into the moment, into who they are so that I am present for each of them to blossom into the great teachers that they are and will continue to become.

Trusting that everything is happening exactly as it is going to and that I will know what to do in each moment is a lesson that I will take with me throughout the rest of my life. From the unconditional love my daughters offer me, I am at peace with who I am, and I offer this love back to both of them so that they may be held and supported in all that they do while they grow into the beautiful humans that they are.

Sometimes it is all about me

Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you are enjoying your Mother’s Day and find time to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey.

Jillian AmodioThis year’s theme for Mother’s Day at APtly Said is “Life Lessons.” We were asked to reflect on what we have learned since becoming a mother. Well, I think the easier question to answer would be what haven’t I learned since becoming a mother?

Motherhood changes you so deeply. Every aspect of your life is transformed to reflect your new role — no part of your old life or old self is left untouched. This is simultaneously wildly exciting and unimaginably overwhelming.

If I had to choose the most prominent life lesson, the one that has most profoundly affected my day to day living, it is this: Sometimes it is all about me.

What I mean is this: In order to adequately love my children and my family, I must first love myself. I cannot give from an empty tank. When my personal reserve is depleted, there is nothing left to give to those I love.

As mothers, it is our natural desire to serve, love, and protect our family. We tend to put our needs and our desires on hold in favor of tending to the needs of those in our care.

While this may seem admirable, noble, and selfless, it can also be self-destructive and disadvantageous to our well-being and consequently the well-being of our family. Our children’s need for us is undeniable. But they also need us at our best — they don’t need us stressed, broken, tired, and consumed…although those are sometimes unavoidable.

They simply need us.

We don’t need to be “the best” — we just need to be our best. In order to be our best, we need to take time for ourselves. This can seem like it is easier said than done, but once you commit to taking time for yourself, it becomes a part of your schedule and fits seamlessly with day-to-day living. More importantly, having been given time to re-fuel and compose our self physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are better prepared to provide for the needs of our children and partner. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, giving ourselves breathing space and time to decompress is one of the most selfless things we can do.

When parenting stops being enjoyable and starts to become a chore, that is a sure sign that you are burnt out and in need of a little “me time.” Whether it is a simple shower in solitude, 15 minutes of meditation, a fitness class, a contemplative walk, or a much-needed nap, taking time for “me” is essential to our personal well-being.

Personally, I love yoga. I love to teach yoga and I love to practice yoga. Several times a week, I make it a point to get this time to myself. Other times, I simply go to the grocery store alone, and while I am fulfilling a task for my family, I am also getting some much-deserved and much-treasured down time.

There is nothing I love more than being a wife and a mother, and there is no one I love more than my children and my husband. But sometimes, just sometimes, it is all about me. And that, my friends, is perfectly okay.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Trusting my intuition

Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons.” Effie Morchi, Attachment Parenting International‘s Assistant Editor, has put together a truly inspirational series, running May 7-11. We hope you enjoy your Mother’s Day and are able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey.

Stones HeartAt the age of 7 years old, I learned a lesson I truly understood and lived by when I became a mom: I learned that trusting my intuition is imperative — it can even be a matter of survival.

I narrowly escaped a dangerous situation I was in, with a man who lured me away from a bus stop to an abandoned building in a field off a main road. I vividly recall the immediate physical reaction and sickening sensation I felt when he approached me. I knew I was making the wrong choice, but I felt compelled to follow his lead as he was the adult — the authority figure — and I was the child, the subordinate. I didn’t listen to the natural feeling that signaled my body to avert the situation. Once I sensed real danger was imminent, I was determined to find a way out and I managed to run away.

Twenty-two years later, my first child was born. I didn’t have a vision in mind as to what type of parent I would like to be. Being career-oriented and driven, I surprised myself when I decided to quit my job and become a stay-at-home mom. I viewed it to be the only suitable choice for me to raise my child.

I didn’t delve into parenting books or seek much advice. I cared for my baby following what made sense to me. I was task-oriented, focusing on taking care of the precious miracle-of-life I carried in me for 9 months. I put my wants on hold to attend to my baby’s needs — every minute of every day.

I followed nature’s flow, and without resistance, I swam in the direction the waves took me. Stroke by stroke, I kept on swimming — unaware of the beautiful, enlightening destination the currents of the ocean would lead me to. I was practicing Attachment Parenting, though at the time, I didn’t have a name for it, nor did I need one. It simply felt right in my body, my heart and my soul.

I was confronted by some who suggested I redirect myself and swim in the opposite direction — after all, that was the direction most others were swimming in, struggling and fighting against the waves.

There were times I felt isolated and all alone in the vast ocean, but somehow I managed to see the shoreline. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was swimming in the right direction — my body told me so. As always, my intuition was on my side — this time, I listened.

As I was in tune with my baby’s needs, I was increasingly becoming more attuned to myself, developing deep personal insight and awareness. In recent years, along with other transforming events in my life, I reflect on how motherhood transformed me, and I recognize I have been guided by my instincts and intuition in the way I have been nurturing and raising my kids. My intuition has been a guiding light — shining the way for me, always leading me on the right path.

The role of a mom has been a pivotal one for me. The importance of trusting my intuition is a life lesson I mastered with this role. My children have been the inspiration — carrying me through the ocean to the intended destination of who I am and where I am today in my life’s journey. Being their mom has taught me that, above all, my intuition is the source of much of the love and light I have been blessed with.

Being a mother means…

Effie2 (2)Being a mother: It means…

…to hold and nurture you inside my body until the moment you arrive in this world.

…having unconditional devotion to another being till my last breath.

…to trust my instincts and teach you to trust yours.

…to care for you, embrace you and answer all your cries.

…to endure exhaustion and pain while always recognizing there is much to gain.

…to be elated with your first roll, crawl and step.

…to be there to ease all your fears and mishaps.

…to tell you “no,” even if it makes you upset.

…sometimes you will not like me.

…that, at times, you will be angry with me.

….you may shed many tears and exclaim how mean I am.

…listening to you patiently as you tell me that I simply don’t understand.

…to guide you and teach you right from wrong.

…always telling you the truth, even it hurts, so that you will become strong.

…letting you make mistakes, as you will learn and grow from them all.

…learning, growing and evolving — with you and from you.

…allowing you to be your own unique being, whichever path you choose.

…always reminding you that you are loved and I am here for you.

…letting you spread your wings and fly away, though I really want you to stay.

…taking a deep breath, shedding happy tears and marveling at the beautiful, wholesome person you became.

Being a mother. I’m in awe. How grateful and thankful I am.

Diaper nostalgia

Effie2 (2)I thought I kept my car clean and tidy…until my husband walked in the door, waved a diaper in the air and said, “Hey, look what I found in the trunk!” It was quite a surprise — with our kids being 10 and 7 years old, the diaper era is long gone for us.

I placed the diaper on the kitchen counter. I stared at it and felt a sense of relief and a hint of joy. Memories started to flood my mind, and I thought, Boy, how I don’t miss those diapers. How I don’t miss the sleepless nights. I used to joke around and say that my babies had a unique “no sleep” gene. It was a period of five years that my nights were occupied by breastfeeding, changing diapers, rocking babies, monitoring fever, cleaning vomit and such — basically, constant interrupted sleep.

I then felt a tug in my tummy and other memories started to stream into my mind: Aww…how I miss the warmth of their little bodies next to mine. How I miss opening my eyes in the morning to the sight of their beautiful, peaceful faces. How I miss their sweet baby scent, their glowing smiles and their innocence. How I miss the monumental milestones that engulf a parent’s heart with pride and joy.

A few days earlier, my husband and I went on a rare road trip with just the two of us. After about an hour of an unusual quiet drive, he looked at me and said with a tone of concern in his voice, “Wow, soon the kids will not want to spend the weekends with us. What are we going to do?” It was a startling realization. I replied that I didn’t know and added that we will figure it out and maybe we should just do what we used to do before we had kids.

A part of me felt a sense of liberation. My husband and I made countless memories traveling and exploring away in our pre-kids days. Recapturing those days sounded appealing.  Another part of me felt very sad and nostalgic: I couldn’t imagine our weekends not revolving around our kids. I could only imagine how much I will miss their constant presence.

A few days later, I found myself staring at the long lost diaper. It was a stark reminder that the only constant in life is change. It is the essence of life. Clearly, we witness our kids grow, develop and change right in front of our eyes. The challenges, the rewards and the joys of parenthood never cease to exist. They only change.

Today, with the exception of infrequent nights occupied with worry or our nocturnal pets keeping us up, our nights are quiet and restful. Gone are the sleepless nights, the separation anxiety and what at times felt like suffocating dependency. Nowadays, hovering around are challenges of a different kind: Discipline, sibling bickering and school. Today’s priceless rewards include: observing our kids become independent and confident beings, watching them foster their own unique personalities and forge strong friendships, and most of all, I marvel at their ability to face their own challenges, strive and overcome.

Every age and every stage bring a unique set of challenges and blessings. Much like a rose, with all its beauty and blossom, it has thorns. I am facing the challenges comforted by knowing that they too will pass. I am experiencing the blessings and rewards recognizing that they will likely be nostalgic in the future.

The one constant frame is the unconditional commitment and love that comes with the role of being a parent. And, possibly if I can embrace it all, I can endure and treasure the present as well as the future with all that it has to offer.