13th Feb 2016: Spiritual delay tactics

5392759137_3d9bb1309f_zIn my quest to raise a spiritual child I decided to introduce gratitude to Jocelyn tonight at bedtime. After giving thanks for the important things, the not so important things and then getting to things like the couches, door and washing basket, I realised that all I have actually done is introduce to her an amazing new delaying tactic to add to her already impressive bag of tricks – which includes the usual “I am still hungry”, as well as “look what I can do with my legs” (various contortions including headstands against the wall) and how many different ways she can give me a kiss (this bedtime she added the new ‘pinkie finger kiss’)!

I recently made the decision to increase Jocelyn’s spiritual awareness after a funny incident that happened. She told me they were saying grace at school before they ate their lunch. I was interested to hear this and asked her who she was praying to when she said grace. She looked at me with pity for being so silly and told me “Hawk and Odette” (the teacher and teacher’s assistant)!

However, I have been very unsure how to go about this spiritual quest. I know I want my children to be spiritual but I myself am no longer religious. Yet I think that to create an awareness of spirituality one needs to be introduced to religion. I don’t believe I would be as spiritually aware without the foundation of my Catholic upbringing. I thus recently started taking Jocelyn to Sunday School which means that I once again find myself in a church where I don’t necessarily believe I need to be in order to fully appreciate spirituality. I experience spirituality through mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation; being outdoors; my work with the incredible strength, honesty and vulnerability of my clients; the miracle of witnessing my children developing daily; and acts of kindness and care from pure strangers.

I have therefore realised that a lot of what my children will learn from spirituality will hopefully be gained through modelling me and hearing what I say (and don’t say). Jocelyn already attends yoga classes because she has seen that I go to yoga (and attended yoga with me in utero and as a tiny babe!) and thus has an affinity for it. There she is already learning about mindfulness in simple ways. She hears me talking about gratitude and responsibility for others and our planet. We share many moments in nature being amazed by creation and listening to the wind in the leaves, feeling the sun warm our skin and smelling the sweet scent of flowers. Jocelyn sees me doing reiki and BodyTalk which involves working with energy and the principle that we are all connected energetically and essentially are all one.

So, perhaps I am getting too caught up in intellectualising spirituality and need to be assured that my life encompasses spirituality and that my children will learn from this and take it on, should they wish to.

That said, little children are innately spiritual and very curious and I know that those big questions about “who made this?” and”how did that happen?”are all going to start very soon. All I know is that when I answer those big questions I would like to share the concept of there being something bigger than ourselves and that we are all connected by that thing that is bigger than us. In addition, I believe that that something that is bigger than us and which connects us is also within each of us. Now, how the heck am I going to explain that?!

So, for now, I am going to stick with Sunday School and religion to provide some of those answers and hope that my children will not be limited by that as they learn to generalise their spirituality from there and include what I model and share and believe – perhaps owning it for themselves or perhaps tossing it aside if it doesn’t fit quite right. I also suspect, and hope, they will search in their own ways too and, one day, hopefully find a version of spirituality that works for them but something that they can hold on to in times of difficulty and confusion and something that can help them to have a sense of who they are in this world we live in.

Right now I am happy to share my daughter’s version of spirituality that includes gratitude for washing baskets, couches, and pinkie finger kisses, and the joy that children have in each day that makes them never want to go to sleep.

 

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31st January 2016: How to have fun

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Last year I wrote a post on living small and how I have become so aware of that little child within me who by default wants to live small and hide away quite a lot. Only fairly recently (isn’t this sad yet so awesome?!) I have learned two things – firstly, how to have fun and secondly, how to be spontaneous! And yes, they do go hand in hand.  I always ran around busy, busy busy, wondering how people managed to find the time to have fun. I then had the realisation that the time does not come at some point – it is right now and that I just have to stop what I am doing right now, whether complete or not and grab the opportunity when it comes up. I didn’t even know the word for this. I was trying to explain it to someone and she provided the label – ‘spontaneous’. I had to try it out like a foreign word -spon-tain-i-ous- and hear how it sounded and feel how it fits me, but, yip, it’s definitely the right word!

This all came about one very hot evening while I was once again in my home office aka kitchen preparing school lunches for the following day and getting supper ready while my children were jumping on the trampoline and being sprayed by my husband as he watered the garden (the ever-present good girl part of me wants me to point out that this was during allocated watering times!). I was thinking how amazing it looked and then realised that I could be there too. The dinner could wait. The school lunch could wait. I ran outside, in my clothes and jumped on the trampoline – jumping with kids while I got soaking wet. I found myself looking at me and saying, “Yes, this is me… having fun! Feeling silly! And loving it!”

My children have rescued me from myself. I learned from an early age that to be safe I needed to be in control, be a good girl and generally take life seriously as life could really pull my legs out from under me at any minute if I did not. This belief has hung onto me like a locust – sticky, spiky legs and all. No matter how hard I try to shrug it off it just sticks. Then my kids came along. I have been forced to watch myself watching them playing and avoiding playing with them as I continue to find a million things that ‘need’ to be done. Why have I done this? Because that little girl who lives so small inside of me is terrified to have to feel again. If she puts herself out there she may have to remember what all those little girl feelings were like and that’s very scary.

This all came home in a big way when I spent a holiday in the Transkei at a place I have been spending Christmas holidays at since I was only just starting to figure out that when my Mom said Kerry she was actually talking to me! We were there when my daughter was 18 months old and this time she was 3 and a half years old and Tyler was one. I couldn’t remember 18 months but I can remember bits and pieces of 3.5 years (incidentally it was when my sister joined our crew). So when I saw Joss, rolling around on the beach, with sand in her ears, hair and inside her costume yet loving every minute of it (remember those days when we didn’t mind where the sand went?!) I was instantly transported back to being that age. It was powerful. I had really forgotten that part of me. And there she was making 3.5 years look like such a blast!

I used to be that little girl too and so I started to try it out for size. I made fairy castles and sand castles and got sandy all over! I did a lot of processing during the holiday and have been paying more attention to that little girl inside. I have continued the focus on living out there and living true, no matter if I have to feel some stuff that is difficult. I have tried this before… working through many layers and many hours of therapy… but somehow this is a whole new level. It’s more difficult when I am home and back in the swing of things but I am continuing to force myself to just stop whatever I am doing and have a little fun. Spontaneous is still a little foreign for me but it’s starting to feel like I language I really want to be fluent in……Thank goodness I have the little people to help me do that!

September 2015: There is no “ME” in “MOM”

3881036510_bc5f772dd4_mWell I am not a MEOM. How about you? Maybe that is because there is so often no “ME” in “MOM”. I can’t eat my own food without having to stop to feed my children or satisfy the grabbing hands of my constantly ravenous 10 month old; I can’t go to the toilet without having long conversations with my daughter or rescuing the toilet paper from my son. Right now as I try to write this post my daughter is wanting to show me her Stickeez collection for the umpteenth time while singing “Willa, Willa, Willa (?!)” over and over again in my ear. OK, shoo…she’s been distracted…. but now I just feel guilty. And right there is the point of this post!

I have been VERY tired  this week as we have had the teething week from hell with Tyler waking every 1 to 2 hours most nights (This is when I wish human children could be born like animals – with a mouth full of teeth and largely self-reliant!!) Being tired means I have been very intolerant and can’t help but feel resentful of my children’s never-ending needs. I know it is not their fault. They didn’t ask to be born (well, some would say that they do actually choose us before they come – in which case I have no idea why my children chose such a grumpy, over-tired mum!!) I know that I wanted my children and wanted to be a mom yet I still can’t help feeling resentful at times.

It all came to a head when I decided I REALLY needed to exercise and wanted to do a little session on the trampoline after having found a download of a rebounder fitness routine (for the record it is WAY harder doing this on a full-sized trampoline versus a little rebounder!) However, fully kitted out, with Tyler fast asleep, and ready to go, Jocelyn began to complain of a sore ear. I spent the next hour  nursing her ear and holding her on my lap while the Calpol kicked in. When I finally got around to the trampoline Jocelyn threw a fit about not wanting me to jump on HER trampoline. WELL….that was it. I regressed into a completely overtired, angry child. I threw down my Ipod (on the grass thank goodness) and yelled “What about me?!!” “It’s always about everyone else….” I even stamped my foot (ashamed (!)) Fortunately, Dad stepped in to look after all the children he saw having meltdowns and we sorted it out. So I got to do a little bit of exercise and IT FELT SO GOOD! It was the first time in 10 months that I have really got around to doing exercise that is a little more hardcore than the postnatal yoga classes I attend once a week. If I can get there.

The next day I was exhausted after another night of stolen sleep and left Jocelyn helping my husband with DIY work around the house so I could sleep when Tyler slept. Of course I then felt guilty as weekends are supposed to be when I spend more quality time with the children while I am not working. Once again, the big dilemma was – do I look after my needs (to sleep) or my children’s needs?

However, here’s the thing…. there is an “OM” in “MOM” and I am not necessarily talking about reciting a mantra while holding an impossible yoga pose, but rather the general concept of mindfulness. In this case I am referring to being mindful of ME and looking after your needs while it is so very easy to shelve them when there are so many other needs from children, partners and others. “MOM” and “ME” battle to co-exist so rather focus on the “OM” while being Mom. Here is the most important reason why….if you don’t look after yourself you will be no good for anyone else. As it was, after being able to sleep, my sense of humour was restored, I had more energy and was able to be more present for my children. Jocelyn had been fine doing DIY with Dad and did not have to have full-on, one-on-one time with mom. Sometimes we can let go a little and let our children play alone or alongside what we or others do. Later I did give her some of that one-on-one time and it was great because I felt so much better and able to enjoy it.

Secondly, if you can take some time for ME then you are showing others that you respect yourself and this gives them the message that you and your needs are worthy of respect. If you keep on putting your needs aside for others then others will keep expecting that – your children included. Finally, if you can take some time for ME then you demonstrate for your children that it is important to do things that are nourishing and nurturing for themselves. What an important lesson to share with your children. You are teaching self-care and, ultimately, as they learn to be self-sufficient we you can have a bit more time for yourself! Further, they will be well-prepared to become self-sufficient adults who take good care of themselves and their own needs.

I know it is not always practical to take ME-time but I also know that if you want it badly enough and make an effort you can find a way to get some ME-time. If you have too much guilt around this – take a look at where that comes from or ask someone to help you explore it with you. Does it perhaps come from your own childhood and your experience with your own caregivers? Well, you are not that child anymore and neither are your children. Theirs is a different experience. Try to find balance if you can. Try, as much as is possible to put some “OM” back in “MOM” so you can find “ME” again. You will be doing your children and yourself a big favour….!

NOTE: this post of course applies to Dads too but my witty wordplay ended with “Mom” and I don’t have the brain capacity right now to extend it to “Dad”!

May 2015: What a shift

 

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image credit: Rock Flow via free images (license)

With Tyler now being six months old it suddenly feels as if the sea has parted and a path has made itself clear through the murkier depths of parenting! This also makes it possible for me to look back and have the amazing ability of hindsight to see, from my vantage point of the murky depths, the way to get out of them! Isn’t that view always so much better?!

I believe that through this journey with Tyler my big shift came at a point at which I chose to just be with each moment as it was and to try not to judge myself or the situation. That was easy to say of course and the actual manifestation of that happened and then stopped happening and then happened again but those little incremental shifts in my way of being resulted in an overall shift. I stopped using my app that recorded when and how much he slept. I then stopped recording anything related to his sleeping and did not look at my watch at night (well, not always!). I allowed days where he slept for only 1 hour without freaking out that the night would be terrible as a result. I stopped trying to understand why he slept well on some days and not on others. I stopped trying to repeat and recreate the circumstances that I believed had helped him to sleep better when he did. The result…. so much EASIER.

In essence I stopped resisting what I felt were bad circumstances and because I was not fighting the circumstances I had some more energy for just being. Also, because I stopped all the monitoring, analaysing, wondering, and worrying I had more energy. Finally because I stopped judging myself and the situation and just allowed it to play itself out I had more energy. I believe that finding the correct homeopathic remedy helped me to let go but I also believe the time was ripe for me to find that remedy at a time when my conciousness of my way of being had shifted. I was tired of being tired and making my life so damn hard. Of course it didn’t all happen over night and there are still those nights when I wake up for what feels like the umpteenth tortuous time to resettle Tyler but as I have shifted it has (OF COURSE!) positively impacted him too. With Tyler now having slept really well three out of the last four nights I think I may just be allowing some ease in my life!

 

Let’s be honest…

I initially wrote this in May after a couple of rough months with Tyler due to his reflux and general digestive discomfort making it difficult for him to sleep. A few days ago, I heard a mother at school say that she had told her daughter to shut up after she just would not stop whining and she felt really ashamed to share this. I then remembered this post…..

Recently I have been blessed to come into contact with a few mothers whose babies are the same age as Tyler. As we have gently opened up to each other the truth has unfolded about how each of us is struggling in our own ways. I am not scared to be  honest as I believe it allows others to be honest. While I have to be honest with myself that it is difficult to face possible judgement I also know that when I am honest as a mother it is usually for my own benefit and seems to help those I am sharing with too. For the most part other mothers like to know that they are not alone and they are normal. I noticed this during pregnancy as well. I was very nauseous through a great deal of the pregnancy and the constant feeling of being ill often caused me to feel down. It is very difficult when people exclaim how excited you must be and you actually just feel so yuck that the excitement is overshadowed. I was definitely a little depressed in the first trimester of both my pregnancies and lost lots of weight as I couldn’t eat a thing. I just felt miserable.  I opened up about this to other pregnant moms and I was told by one in particular how grateful she was to know she was not abnormal to feel that way.

Another aspect of this is that I have recently met three mothers who are just not ready, and don’t know if they will ever be ready, for baby number two due to the what most of them refer to as the ‘trauma’ of the first time experience. It’s damn hard and it can be very traumatic if your expectations are different because people have painted this beautiful picture and your baby never seems to be happy and always niggles and never sleeps, and you, the child’s mother who ‘should’ be able to comfort that child, can’t do it.

So here goes – to all those mothers who are expecting, who have babies, and who are too scared to go through it all over again:

If you have shouted at your baby to JUST GO TO SLEEP or to SHUT UP you are not alone;
If your gradual, gentle rocking has become rough and angry you are not alone;
If you have thought about throwing your baby you are not alone;
If you actually have dropped/thrown your baby down onto the bed you are not alone
If you have looked at your baby with tears streaming down your face feeling absolutely powerless and overwhelmed you are not alone
If you have felt numb and battled to find that joy that you had felt when your baby first came into your life you are not alone
If you have left your baby crying in the cot/on the bed and walked away for fear of hurting him/her, you are not alone
If you have felt like you must be the worst mother in the world because ‘how could you feel this way?’ you are not alone
If you wish you didn’t have a baby again just for a little while you are not alone
If you feel like you are going to be stuck in this overwhelming helplessness forever you are not alone
If you have simply just sat and stared at your crying baby and felt like giving up completely you are not alone
If you have been thrilled about the opportunity to leave your baby with someone else for a while you are not alone

If you have felt any of these things please know that you are not alone and there are MANY mothers out there who have felt the same. Most mothers go through a stage or stages when it is really, really hard.

While I am saying you are not alone that does not mean that you, and the many like you who feel like this, should have to continue feeling this way for months on end. If you feel like this all the time why not consider seeking counselling and/or medication. And, please trust me on this, you are really not alone in reaching out for this kind of support. If you feel suicidal definitely seek help. If you feel numb, irritable, overwhelmed constantly; and very rarely or never find any joy then seek help. If you really feel like this experience is not shifting and you are battling to find any joy in being a mother it does not have to be that way and can be shifted by trying medication – even homeopathy (this worked wonders for me with my second baby but does depend on severity e.g. not if suicidal) and please remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE and there are countless other mothers who also have sought help and treatment.

We used to parent in communities – all the women would assist each other and you didn’t have to be the only one feeding, comforting and waking up countless times a night. It was possible to leave your child with someone else and find time for you. it was possible for all the other women to know how you were feeling and what you were going through and to step in when necessary. This doesn’t happen now. We feel bad asking others to help as they too are busy – especially our partners who are often still needing to work while we may not be (particularly in the first months). It’s really not that surprising that mothers feel they tip over the edge every now and then, or even more often than that,  given the circumstances in which we now rear children.

But please trust me on this –

You WILL find the light at the end of the tunnel
You WILL get to the point when you can sit with your child’s head resting on your shoulder fast asleep and feel the greatest joy and peace, and this will happen more and more often
You WILL be able to hold your crying/screaming child with compassion and love without feeling overwhelming helplessness
You WILL want to sit and stare at this little person and breathe in their loveliness and wonder how it could have been so damn hard
You WILL get through the darker times. It always does pass and will pass far faster if you can be vulnerable and honest and seek help and talk to others.

We owe that to ourselves as parents and we owe it to other parents to help them to know they are completely normal in feeling these things, and not alone.

16 November: The Art of knowing when to let go.

When I was a chid we were told we couldn’t leave the table until we were finished. If I tell Jocelyn to eat her supper and she won’t leave the table until she is done we will be there until midnight and beyond. Lately, as my three year old is determining her autonomy and power in the world I have been very aware of how much I fight and when to just let go. It is also something that has been discussed by so many other mothers I know and not only those with feisty, know-it-all three-year olds. Basically, it has been about realising that how we think we should parent is not necessarily what our children need or is best for our children.

How we think we should parent is based upon our own experiences of being children, the beliefs we have formed while growing up and of course, at the heart of it we parent in a way that best matches our personalities. It would be pointless for me to have a completely laissez faire parenting style – really laid back and chilled. That is just not me… It would be inauthentic and cause me to be completely at odds with myself, probably making me anxious and affecting my children. However, if I had to allow my oft-present perfectionism and need to control to determine my parenting style I would really battle with my daughter and I would strip her of self-efficacy and self-esteem.

I have learned that if Jocelyn does not want to wash her hands for dinner RIGHT NOW as she is finishing a puzzle that it is actually not the end of the world to let her just finish  her puzzle and then wash her hands. That way when I say it’s time to wash hands she happily skips off to do that and then finishes her food without fuss. If I force  her to wash her hands NOW she gets upset, I get upset, she doesn’t eat her food, I get upset etc (I’m sure most parents will recognise this spiral of misery!) I have had to learn that If Jocelyn doesn’t want to eat all her vegetables she can have some fruit instead. If eating meat balls makes her gag then there really is no point forcing her to eat them and she can have some bread and peanut butter instead (in fact peanut butter is a primary source of protein in our household!).

When I was pregnant I had very set ideas about what my children would eat and how they would eat. I have really had to let that go. I now give Jocelyn a choice for dinner and the only rule is she has to at least try it once before leaving it. The result….the other night Jocelyn thanked me for giving her broccolli. Yes, she THANKED me (well actually said ‘sank you’) for giving her broccolli. This giving of choices and negotiation is really how I parent her most of the time in most situations.

I know my child well and when I force her she will say no on principle. She has a (very) healthy willpower and I don’t want to break her willpower and give her the message that her opinion doesn’t count. I know this will trigger fear for many and still causes little flare ups of fear for me too around beliefs like “it will just set a precedent” and “then my child knows that she can get away with anything”. In fact fear is another huge component of our parenting style and this tends to be fear that we will lose control.

I do agree that boundaries are important. In fact, I will never forget a client whose parents were extremely lax with him being the ‘laat lammetjie’ in the family. He told me he used to have repetitive dreams of being in space and just drifting further and further with nothing to stop him. Boundaries provide a vital sense of security for children and provide something to push up against to know where they stand.

So it’s really quite an art learning to find  the balance between when to enforce control and boundaries and when to let go. The no-brainer is around safety. Jocelyn knows that if it involves safety and I lose my temper and tell who what to do and how to do it that I am being serious and she must listen to me. It’s a bit more tricky with the smaller things like when to leave a play date, washing hands before dinner, getting into the bath, getting out the car…you know… all those things that feel like a fight each and every day! (which is often complicated by the fact we don’t have all day available to us to allow our little pride and joy to rule the world!) Yet, when I respect Jocelyn and allow her to have her say, to do it her way and to try things out, then she respects when I say no. This goes even further in terms of activities like potty training and a friend recently shared with me how she was battling so much with potty training until she just let it go and let her daughter get on it with in her own time. After three difficult days of continued accidents her daughter just ‘got it’ and started to tell her mother when she wanted to go to the toilet! We need to trust our little people…..

The truth is that I am human and that when I am tired, in a hurry, and frustrated I then start trying to control Jocelyn and set limits with even the small things. Unfortunately, we usually both end up angry and resentful and nowhere. When I negotiate with her, give her choices and step back a little she is actually often very compliant and easy…..and even thanks me for brocolli! We both end up happy and she feels validated and respected yet will also listen to me when I do set boundaries (well for the most part anyway… we still have to have some fights so she can help me to grow!)

02 April: You’re Good enough Mom!

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Jocelyn told me the other day that I make her happy. This happened after she had mentioned that cake makes her happy. So I asked her what else makes her happy and was pleased to hear that I am up there with cake! I then decided to ask her what makes her angry (because I can’t help my psychologist-self coming out!). The very first reply was ‘You’. So I replied “Good, I now know I am playing my role as mommy very well” I make her happy but I also make her angry. That is how it should be. I am not perfect. I let her down, disappoint her and even cause her to be angry but she loves me greatly and I make her happy. Jocelyn has learned that mommy is not all good or all bad. She is a little bit of both and that’s OK.

I don’t always remember this as I am a perfectionist by nature and I still try to be the perfect mom with dismal results on many occasions. I read recently that perfection is an illusion because in a perfect world the goalie stops all the balls and the shooter kicks them all in! Lately as I try to hold the needs of both of my children I am bound to ‘fail’ one of them. I live with a lot of guilt that as I tend to Tyler’s needs I am letting Jocelyn down or as I tend to Jocelyn’s needs Tyler needs me. I cannot possibly be perfect for both of them (or for me for that matter!)

I then remember Donald Winnicott and thank heavens that I learned about him during my psych studies (and even better, actually remember what I learned!) Donald Winnicott was a pediatrician who went on to study psychoanalysis. His theory of early development and resultant personality formation was very closely aligned to attachment theory. Attachment theory focuses on the importance of the bond between baby/child and caregiver in developing the personality of the child. The type of early attachment will determine the type of personality that is shaped and how the child relates as an adult. So naturally the more predictable and secure an early attachment the more likely it is that a child will grow up to have healthy self-esteem, resilience and the ability to relate in a healthy manner with others, as well as choose relationships with others who are generally psychologically healthy as well. While the more negligent or inconsistent or even traumatic the child’s early attachment experience is the more likely it is that the child will develop low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and a difficulty trusting and relating to others. (This is the simplified version and how much I still remember!)

However, Winnicott took it further – he spoke about the ability of mothers (or the primary caregiver) to create a holding environment for children so they are able to be themselves, learn and grow, express themselves and make mistakes in a secure space. The importance of the mother’s role is thus to enable the child to feel good enough while being real (rather than developing a modified false self in order to gain acceptance). The best way a mother can do this is to simply be ‘good enough’ herself – not perfect but normal and real.

“The foundations of health are laid down by the ordinary mother in her ordinary loving care of her own baby” Donald Winnicott.

So often what we hear from ‘authorities’ on child development makes us as parents feel like we are failing miserably. I love Winnicott’s theory because a) it makes sense to me and b) it’s something I can aspire to and feel capable of doing. I love the fact I am allowed to make mistakes, possibly let my children down, get angry with them unnecessarily at times and it’s not the end of the world. I don’t have to feel like the world’s worst mother!

In my other blog I recently added a post on the fact that stress is only truly bad for us if we believe it is bad. This was prompted by a book by Kelly McGonigal called the “Upside of Stress” and soon after saw an interview with her posted on Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog. In this article I read something I know and something I tell clients often -yet I seldom remind myself – and this is the fact that (moderate) stress is beneficial for our children. In fact, when I read this after a particularly stressful week and lots of experiences of cutting my daughter’s bread the wrong way and generally feeling incapable of meeting her needs at all (partly because they seem to change daily!), resulting in me losing my patience; and I have to admit I became a little tearful as I remembered with relief that IT IS OK. I am OK and she is OK. When I can’t be there for Jocelyn because I have to be there for Tyler or be there for myself or be there for my clients I am preparing Jocelyn for a world that will not always understand and meet her needs. Yet, I am preparing her for it in a gentle way where I can acknowledge her dislike of the situation and remind her she is still loved.

I really wanted to share that with all of you moms and caregivers – please let go of the guilt. You are good enough and you are perfect in your imperfection as you give your child permission to be imperfect yet good enough and loved. What an amazing gift you are to your child/children!