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02 Oct, Sunday
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Montreal Families

How to be a happ(ier) mom

The word “mother” conjures up many images for me: Mother Earth, someone Amazonian, big-breasted, warm, nurturing and a giant creative force.

When I hear “mom”, on the other hand, I think of a 1950s-style American, dressed in an A-line cotton skirt matched with blue Keds tennis shoes. Red lipstick. Hairpin curls. Angry. Frustrated. Sad. Resentful. Drunk. Loving. Hopeful. Proud of her children. Kind to animals. Musically gifted and creative.

Somewhere in the middle of all that is where I find myself. Little by little, I’m defining my own version of “mama” (as my two wee ones call me), helping me dissociate from the mental images of “mother” and “mom.”

Just after my water broke, announcing the impending birth of my first child, I sent an email to my employer and, within 24 hours, was immersed in my new position as Stay-at-Home Mom. I’ve held this “job title” over the last five years, bringing child number two into the world two years ago.

I have strived to fulfill my vision of what a stay-at-home mom is supposed to be, and have failed again and again. It has been a hard pill to swallow. This job has been by far my hardest occupation. Every attempt to reach that idyllic vision sent me sprawling face first into the dirt. But I got up, dusted myself off, and tried again.

I made calendars of fun, educational activities, planned healthy ebb and flow rhythms throughout the day, constructed nourishing meal plans with lots of variety. But after a few weeks, we would be back to watching too much TV, eating cheese and crackers a little too often, and me, exhausted and wondering, “What happened?” My intentions were always good, and yet each time I ended up falling into the old habits.

So what did happen?

It took some time, but finally I came to this conclusion: I didn’t need fixing, the image I had in my head of a stay-at-home mother did. I tried to fit the image, instead of making the image fit me. So I threw the image out.

I stopped forcing myself to be the artsy mama, and settled for simple crayons and paper. I stopped trying to be Martha Stewart and allowed myself to feed my kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with carrot sticks on the side and smoothies. They love it and eat it without complaint. I stopped cleaning the house alone and let my husband share in those duties, or just let the place get messy. If need be, I’ll pick up after the kids go to bed because it feels good to have order and space to move around.

Then I added some “me” into the mix: adventurous mama. I love seeking new adventures, either travelling a great distance or simply walking around the neighbourhood. So I started taking my children to places that we had yet to discover, like the Ecomuseum and the beach at Cap St. Jacques, or to hear the Montreal tam-tams. I would see a fruit I didn’t know and we would buy it, research it on the web, and then taste it, sometimes resulting in a unanimous “icky” face. I would invent stories of a family of four trekking across the desert, climbing the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro where they meet Bigfoot or going down in a submarine to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean.

And perhaps most importantly, I stopped trying to do it all by myself. With no family close by, all the childcare responsibilities fell on me and my husband. So I put my youngest in a daycare where I feel she is safe and well cared for, and my oldest is starting school. It was the only way to give both my husband and myself some time to breathe.

I have slowly started coming back to “me”. This is the “mama” I want to share with my children. She is the person who shines and laughs, and loves life. They will not learn great housekeeping skills from me, nor how to iron a shirt, but they will learn adventure, in even the smallest things. And I hope they will learn the most fundamental lesson: to be comfortable with whom they are, and not try to be who others think they should be.

Margaux Murray is a journalist who enjoys finding the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. She is the founder of Mon Marché Local, a website dedicated to Montreal local markets and their talented artisans, producers and growers. Visit her website: www.monmarchelocal.ca/blog/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MonMarcheLocal

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