Why Be A Rough Housing Mom?

Melissa Atkins Wardy wrestling with Amelia. Photo by Benny

How do you play with your kids, especially daughters? Prompted by Joe Kelly’s article Michele Sinisgalli-Yulo posed this question on Princess-Free Zone yesterday and it really got me and lots of others thinking.

I’m definitely not a rough housing mom. That was Joe’s department. He did it naturally and totally enjoyed having the girls climb over him, ride on his back, wrestle with him, play catch and shoot baskets, bike, etc.

I did physical things with my daughters including dance, art, water play, swinging, garden and yard work. None of that really qualifies as rough housing, except maybe jumping in the leaf pile. Physically rough play didn’t come naturally to me and now I’m sorry that it didn’t.

Playing that way with my daughters would have been great for them and me. Now that I’m honorary grandma to two-year old Lucy I see how important physical play is to her. She loves to run and jump and throw balls and be picked up and tossed around. And she loves to do it with me.

When we play like this I’m completely free of any thoughts about how I look. I’m totally absorbed in what my body can do and how it can do more. How my body can help me accomplish things and reach my goals.

That feeling takes me right back to the time before puberty when I was an active climber, explorer, runner & hider in the woods behind our house. I felt at one with my body and didn’t spend any energy analyzing or trying to change its perceived flaws. Body Freedom!

I think rough physical play can give girls a huge dose of Body Freedom. Kind of like a vaccination against the unhealthy appearance preoccupation they get attacked by as tweens and teens. That’s why they need as much of it as we can give them – from mom, dad, grandparents, etc. They need lots and lots of experiences of their body in action and being valued for its action.

That’s why I wish I’d been a rough housing mom.  And why I’m going to reform and become even more of a rough housing grandma.

Do you rough house with your daughter(s)? Why or why not?  And I’m looking for photos of moms rough housing with daughters – couldn’t find a single one in a google search! If you have one you’re willing to share that would be great.

Big Thanks to Melissa Atkins Wardy of Pigtail Pals for the photo of her and her daughter, taken by her son.

A Mother’s Day Gift to Ourselves: Defining ‘Perfect’ On Our Own Terms

Beth, Becky & Katie - Susan Ryan Photography

This guest post by Becky Beaupre Gillespie, co-author of a wonderful new book, powerfully says  what I wish for every mom. Personally, fighting the demon of perfectionism helps me every day. Power to the Imperfect!

By Becky Beaupre Gillespie

My grandma wanted to be a lawyer. She was ambitious, creative, vivacious and smart — she had what it took.

Except this: She was a young woman in the late 1930s, and her father thought pursuing a law degree was unrealistic and, worse, inappropriate. So she never went to law school.

She did, however, insist upon earning a bachelor’s degree and working for a few years as a journalist; after all, she’d never been one to go down without a fight. But when she became a mom in 1947, Betty Luker Haverfield bowed to tradition — she gave up that career she’d wanted so badly and became a housewife.

Flash forward several decades, and here I am: part of the first generation to reap the full benefits of the women’s movement. I’m a mom and a journalist, and I have more choices than Betty could ever have imagined. I grew up hearing, “You can be anything.” And, like so many of my peers, I took it mean that I had to be, and do, everything.

Perfectionism is our generation’s greatest liability when it comes to balancing work and motherhood. That’s what Hollee Schwartz Temple and I learned when we surveyed 905 working moms for our new book, Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood (Harlequin Nonfiction, Spring 2011).  The “constant need to be the best at everything” outweighed all other factors, including financial pressures, inflexible bosses, and spouses who didn’t contribute enough at home.

But Hollee and I also discovered that the women who were willing to define success on their own terms — to let go of outside expectations and make choices that inspired their passions and fit their own families’ needs — were able to overcome this hurdle. These women, who told us that “being the best is not important” as long as they were “good enough and happy,” were more satisfied with their choices. They were less likely to feel they’d sacrificed too much and half as likely to describe their marriages as a “disaster” or “not very good.” And what’s more, they’d given up remarkably little ground at work to achieve this state of contentment.

These Good Enoughs weren’t settling or stopping short of the finish line. They were deliberately picking the finish line they wanted to cross. They’d given up (or perhaps never embraced) the Never Enough attitude that left some of their peers racing for an unattainable goal and feeling as though they’d failed to measure up. Instead, they focused on the things that mattered to them, and they channeled their energy in a way that brought them even greater success.

For me, this meant giving up my job as a newspaper reporter so I could spend more time with my daughters — and then gradually rebuilding my writing career in a way that fit my priorities and made me feel whole. For Hollee, it meant leaving a career as a litigator at a top-tier law firm so she could teach legal writing — and, eventually, pursue her dream of writing a book. For others, the changes were even simpler. Some found their New Perfect by giving themselves permission to let the house get messy, or refusing to sign up for every volunteer request at school, or simply accepting that there are many “right” ways to be a mom. The answer is different for each of us.

We have more choices than previous generations of women. And my wish for all moms this Mother’s Day is that we’ll have the courage to identify our unique talents, honor our own passions, and  reject the idea that there’s some “perfect” way to blend motherhood and career.

I want us to choose.

From Nancy: How do you choose to be a “Good Enough Mom?” Add a comment – when we share about this we help all moms.


Like Mother Like Daughters

Nancy with Mavis & Nia

Nancy, Mavis & Nia

Today would be my mother’s 82nd birthday (she died in 1988). My daughters are 30. A conversation with Nia last week reminded me of how much like my mom I am in certain ways.

I was telling Nia how I’m making big changes in the foods I eat to try to strengthen my immune system. This is on top of cutting out gluten 10 years ago when I learned gluten intolerance is linked to the cancer my mother died of.

As I described breakfast smoothies made from beets, kale and berries, she said, “You’re turning into Grandma Phyllis!”

Exactly my thought. My mom died of lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, just a couple of years older than I am now. Throughout the two years she battled the cancer, she focused mostly on alternative medicine and diet. There wasn’t any proven conventional treatment for her type of lymphoma at the time.

Then Nia went on, “That’s a relief–I thought I was the only one turning into my mother.”

I love that. She’s been telling me for at least 5 years about ways she finds herself turning into me. They’re mostly good ways, which I like to hear about.

I realize I haven’t really told her the ways I find myself being like my mom. Phyllis Brenckman Gruver was an entrepreneur at heart even though she only got to launch one business in her life. It was a kit for kids to decorate pillowcases with crayons and then iron the colors in and the wax out before washing and using them. The kit was called ‘A Case of Happiness.’

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the businesses I’ve started owe something to her example. My mom wasn’t timid about trying new things, even if she didn’t know how to do them. She taught me that I can learn by doing things, and making some mistakes, even with a business. I also inherited the trait of persistence from her, which can be a mixed blessing. I don’t always recognize the right time to let go. But overall it’s a huge advantage in my life.

And now Nia is an entrepreneur who started her own therapeutic massage practice last month. As proud mother of a small-business owner I hope you’ll check out her fledging website and give her healing hands a try next time you’re in San Francisco.

I love seeing how much like my daughters I am, and how much like my mother. And I get great joy from sharing these stories and realizations with them. The big spiral through time that connects us all keeps passing the similarities back and forth.

How are you like your mother, step-mother, daughter, sister?


Autism Ups and Downs with Girls

The huge variations between individuals on the autism spectrum are an especially baffling aspect of this disorder. Pam Halter shared the difficulties of being mom to a 19 year old who functions on the level of an 18 month old.

The same week I got Pam’s message, Bianca, a 13 year old member of New Moon Girls interviewed Temple Grandin for the website. Dr. Grandin is a hero for many members of NMG and she spoke honestly about the struggles of growing up autistic.

The disparity in daily life between Pam’s daughter Anna and Temple Grandin makes it hard to wrap my head around the fact that they have the same disorder.

When Pam wrote to us, she said, “Being the parent of a special needs child sucks the life clean out of you, but there are things to learn along the way that make it all worth it.”

My daughter, Anna, has Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified and suffers from a seizure disorder.

She is 19 years old, but still functions at the level of about 18 months. Being the parent of a special needs child sucks the life clean out of you, but there are things to learn along the way that make it all worth it.

I have learned unconditional love. Anna loves me no matter how grumpy or tired I am. I can snap at her for something she has no control over, and she’ll still smile and want a hug.

I’ve learned to slow down. Anna can’t move fast or engage in many activities. At first, I felt frustrated, but then I realized my hectic schedule was killing me. I had fooled myself into thinking I worked better under pressure. What a lie!

I’ve learned I am selfish. Anna requires a tremendous amount of care and is a constant source of concern. I am often annoyed when I have to stop doing something to take care of Anna’s needs. She can’t dress herself, brush her teeth or hair, tie her shoes, fix a meal or snack, or take herself to the bathroom. Autism does not allow for anyone else’s needs, wants, feelings, or desires. I know all this, yet I continue to struggle inside.

I have learned strength of will. During the first year of Anna’s seizures, I bawled my eyes out after every episode. Twelve years later, I hold her through each one and ask God for strength and mercy. When I don’t fall apart, I can be there for Anna.

I’ve learned one of Anna’s hugs is worth a million dollars and that hearing “I luh you” is wealth beyond measure. It’s not an easy task, but I am thankful for the lessons autism has taught me.

Pam is  working on a memoir about parenting a special needs child called,  “Shut Up, It’s Not A Blessing!”  in  hopes it’ll grab an editor’s attention.  “It won’t be a rant,” she says, “but a real, raw, honest look at how difficult the situation is, but also looking at all the good things that come out of it.”

We wish you lots of luck and writing time, Pam!

What resources help you in coping with your daughter’s special needs, whatever they are?

Girls and Autism – Unanswered Questions

The number of girls diagnosed with autism has increased dramatically in the past 20 years. We see that on New Moon Girls with much discussion by members who are autistic or have autistic family/friends.

It’s very different from when I was growing up and autism was nearly invisible. My only conscious awareness was that my girl scout troop volunteered to help the parents of an autistic boy do hours of daily physical “patterning” exercises that their doctor thought could help his development.

Because so many girls mention autism on NMG, we asked members of our Facebook page for the parent perspective on what they wish the world knew about having a daughter with this challenge. I loved hearing from all of you.

Aurora,  mother of a  five-year-old, thanked us for asking about autistic girls because “there aren’t a lot of them,” she said. It’s true that autism spectrum disorder is more common in boys. Sometimes described as the “extreme male brain” autism can be missed in girls. For every 3 to 4 boys diagnosed with autism there is one girl diagnosed.  Sometimes girls are mis-diagnosed with mental health disorders despite autistic symptoms. There hasn’t been enough research done with autistic girls to provide a good understanding of the ways–and if–autism differs by gender.

Some ways austism has a different effect on girls than boys are explored by The Independent in Why Autism is Different for Girls. Kandi said it right when she told us about her daughter,

Our little girl is unique and like everyone on the spectrum isn’t quite the same as another. That’s what makes them all special. What people really need to know is that there is no stereotype. The autism spectrum comes in many different forms and affects children in different ways. One thing is for sure, my little precious girl is a gift, and I will not think otherwise.

One piece of information that really caught my attention was from Janet Treasure, professor of psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London. She told The Times that around a fifth of girls diagnosed with anorexia have autistic spectrum features and 20 to 30% may have exhibited rigidity and perfectionism in childhood. Anorexia has been called the female Asperger’s (a milder version of autism).

The typical image of the autistic child is a boy who is lost in his own world and indifferent to other people. It is hard to generalize about autistic kids, boys or girls, but some clinicians who work with high-functioning autistic children say they often see girls who care a great deal about what their peers think. These girls want to connect with people outside their families, says Janet Lainhart, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Utah who treats Caitlyn and Marguerite. But often they can’t. Lainhart says that this thwarted desire may trigger severe anxiety and depression.

–Emily Bazelon in The New York Times, What Autistic Girls are Made Of

Helping their daughters connect and find friendship is a big concern among the parents who shared their experiences with us. Another strong theme is what a profound effect these girls have on their parents, like Carrie describes what she’s learned from Maggie who is now fourteen years old.

It’s hard to say exactly what Maggie’s diagnosis is. She’s been diagnosed differently by numerous doctors with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s, anxiety disorder, and most recently with mild cerebral palsy. The mountains we have scaled, moved and tunneled through are too numerous to count. Much more important than the mountains are the silver linings, the finish lines and the woman Maggie has created out of me!

The aggressive, intolerant woman that I was fourteen years ago has been transformed into a patient, loving, third and fourth chance granting believer that imperfection is totally acceptable as long as effort accompanies the attempt. I walk slower; hear birds chirp, know many insignificant facts about Barbie and thrive on the ‘little things’ like eating a new food, getting our clothes on right-side out or keeping our hair in a pony tail for more than an hour.

Each day is a book. Some days, the book is a mystery, other days it is a tragedy and still another day is a comedy. I believe the Good Lord blesses us in many ways that we cannot understand and often do not appreciate. I am so thankful that He gave me Maggie. I am a much better mother, wife, daughter, teacher, coach and person because Maggie is in my life. She is the piece of my puzzle that I could have never found on my own!

The consensus from parents of girls on the autism spectrum? They want the best for their girls. They want their girls to have friendship and understanding and they want the world to see their unique gifts. These are things every parent relates to.

Tomorrow I’ll share more of what parents and girls told us as living with autism. And also the interview a 13-year old member of New Moon Girls did with Dr. Temple Grandin who’s one of her heroes.

Please add your thoughts and experiences with how to help girls on the autism spectrum.  Get more resources on Autism Spectrum Disorder .

%d bloggers like this: