To the Mothers Who Came Before: Aimee Niebuhr on Let's Talk Modern Mothering

It's Modern Mothering Monday! Throughout the month of October, we'll be talking about what it's like to parent today here on the Made of Stories blog. Some fantastic writers have teamed up with me and I'm thrilled to be featuring their voices over the next weeks. My personal goal for this series to encourage other moms. We all faces challenges unique to us and unique to our generation, but at the end of the day, we’re all mothers doing our best. This series is all about cutting through the endless “Mommy Wars” and generational bashing to encourage other moms, validate our experiences, and remind each other that we’re all in this together. 


Today I'm tickled to be sharing the words of an incredible writer, encourager, and truth-teller, Aimee Niebuhr. This lady's words have spoken to me countless times and I'm at once covetous of and inspired by her bravery and honesty. She's a voice that brightens the social media spaces I've joined, so give her a follow and get in on the encouragement. 

Aimee is a freelance writer and homeschooling, stay-at-home mom living in Austin, Texas. Her days are filled with the sweet chaos of raising three children, nurturing their love for learning and literature, and finding stolen moments to chase after her dreams. When the hustle gets hectic, (and let's get real, it's always hectic!) she turns to strong coffee, good chocolate, and humor to make it through. You can find her inspiring women to stay centered in seeking their joy at www.mamacentric.com and join in the journey to self-love on her Instagram and Facebook pages. 


Recently, I came across a misplaced flash drive filled with photos of memories I had filed away somewhere in the collective conscious of my heart. My firstborn son’s first taste of homemade whipped cream, right from the beater, on his very first Thanksgiving. The cold January morning when I set out watercolors and watched him paint in his high chair for an hour uninterrupted. A self-portrait in black and white, the rings around my eyes accentuated by the contrast, taken one week in to my new journey with mothering two. 

On their own, each vignette appears inconsequential; yet, when woven together, they begin to tell the story of my life. 

There are a series of photos taken in my grandmother’s home; the home in which she no longer lives. “Remember how he used to lean in to smell each flower in every pot on her patio?” reminisced my husband. Zinnias and Mexican Heathers and Marigolds, his tiny, toddler nose scrunched in studious observation; I had almost forgotten. 

I wondered if the young family who purchased her home continued to take such pride in the garden, standing outside in the morning light watering and weeding, as my grandmother had done, without fail. One day, when their children are grown, will they take their grandsons by the hand to feed the blackbirds crusts of stale bread beneath the sprawling pecan tree? 

I know a home isn’t where our memories reside, but the longer I live the more I discover little pieces of my heart scattered amongst places I will never be able to return to. 

...


Two summers ago we stood in her kitchen for the last time, a baby on my hip and a little boy at my feet. Together, my grandmother and I packed her belongings for sale and for donation. I gently wrapped in paper the things I needed to claim for my own. China and teacups and the little pumpkins she would set out every year come fall. She lives with my aunt now, only two blocks away from the home that meant everything to me for so many years. 

Each time that we speak, worry whispers from within, as I wonder how many more conversations we will be able to share. She has been the voice of reason in my life for thirty years, and though the voice that answers now sometimes shakes and trembles, to me, there is no sound in the world steadier with certainty. I tuck all of her letters into a special box. I’ve saved all of her voicemails from the past year, because deleting them seems too ominous. She is the only one who leaves voicemails anymore, anyhow. The rest of the world rushes in and out in the form of texts and likes, and emailed messages. 

Communication buzzes wildly at every moment, and yet, there is no tangible proof of its existence to hold on to. 

We are one crash of hard drive or one global data meltdown away from losing it all, forever. Although, I suppose the room of photo albums in my great-aunt’s home could just as easily be lost to flame, tornado, or flood.  That tiny room lined floor to ceiling with signs of lives well lived might be one of my most favorite places. Each summer I would find myself in the room of photo albums, thinking of all the lives that came before mine. I thought of the great-grandmother I never met, who gave birth to my grandmother, and five other children, right in the front bedroom. Was motherhood to her then as motherhood is to me now? As unpredictable as a summer’s thunderstorm that comes swiftly crashing in with clouds so grey and heavy you forget the sun is still shining brightly in the sky? As magical as the fireflies that dance late into the evening, bringing just enough light to the darkness to convince even those most frightened that all will be alright?

Modern Mothering on emilyfisk.com

I need to know that the mothers who came before me once felt the lift and rush of motherhood’s mercurial emotions, too.

I need to imagine that, nearly a hundred years ago, my great-grandmother awoke to the same sunrise that breaks before me now, and stood in the quiet of her kitchen with a silent prayer and a hopeful heart that she would somehow make it through. 


When the world around me feels too broken and I am fearful for the future my children will make their lives in, I need to imagine my grandmother, babies bouncing in her lap, as she watched the evening news. Perhaps she hid the tears as she learned of heroes falling – JFK and MLK, Jr. – or maybe she wept openly and held my infant mother a bit more tightly to her chest. And on the evenings when my mind lies restless, unable to put the day away, I envision my own mother and believe that many nights she must have felt this way, too.

...

At times, it seems surreal to me that I am now the mother to three children of my own, when my spirit still feels much like that of the girl drifting to sleep in her grandmother’s home. Though I am thirty, and she eighty, I still call upon her when I feel lost and without the answers. I will for as long as I am able. 

And when the day comes when I am the one who has woven together all of the vignettes of a life well lived, perhaps I will be the one called upon to set the world right again. I will discover that the pieces of my heart that I scattered like seeds in the wind will have grown to span across a lifetime, to carry on with gentle nurturing, long after I have lived. 

Modern Mothering series on emilyfisk.com

Permission to be a Person: Abbie Ginther on Let's Talk Modern Motherhood

It's Modern Mothering Monday! Throughout the month of October, we'll be talking about what it's like to parent today here on the Made of Stories blog. Some fantastic writers have teamed up with me and I'm thrilled to be featuring their voices over the next weeks. My personal goal for this series to encourage other moms. We all faces challenges unique to us and unique to our generation, but at the end of the day, we’re all mothers doing our best. This series is all about cutting through the endless “Mommy Wars” and generational bashing to encourage other moms, validate our experiences, and remind each other that we’re all in this together. 


Today, one of my favorite writers is sharing some incredible thoughts about identity. Abbie Ginther blogs over at Grumbling Grace and shares her honest, humorous take on motherhood through her Instagram and Facebook (which you should follow). Abbie has lifted me up, made me laugh, and kept me grounded more than once, and her take on writing and life and mothering always refreshes me. I know you'll love her words as much as I do!

Abbie Ginther's a child of God and also a wife and the self-professed mombie of two littles.  She believes in grace, caffeine and the therapeutic benefits of locking herself in the bathroom to write on the Internet from behind her mom goggles in Winnipeg, Canada. Follow along (or offer professional help) on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


When Emily invited me to be a part of this series on modern mothering, I had the fleeting notion that I might just be included to make everyone else feel better about their parenting. Only this morning, my 14-month-old ate a cheese stick in the car for breakfast as I considered the merits of turning her stained sweater inside out to avoid judgment at my older daughter’s preschool drop-off. 

Don’t worry, friends. Deep in my mother heart, I know we’re a sisterhood raising up the next generation and my kid’s processed dairy coexists with your child’s homegrown kombucha… but there’s the rub. For me, the trickiest part of motherhood is a privileged millennial’s problem: so many choices.

From vegan baby purée and organic diapers to 24-hour babysitting services and Netflix, we’ve got options. Did previous generations of mothers obsess over small shop equitable baby sleepers and excessive screen-time?  While I recoil at dictatorial advice as much as the next free-thinking 30-something, if there’s no ‘wrong’ way to parent, it’s hard to know if I’m getting it right and I become my own critic. 

Often this tension stems from a conflict between my perceived (or actual) responsibilities as a parent and my own desires. COINCIDENTALLY, I’m currently preparing to take off on an 8-day hike with two friends, an adventure that’s been in the planning for the last three years. My husband’s cheering me on and everything’s arranged so of course I’m elated. 

Just kidding. I’m a complete basket case. I need to clean the whole house. I must finish all the laundry. I have to pack. I’ve got to jam four months’ worth of exercise and training into the next 48 hours. I’m basically terrified. 

Here’s what’s going through my head: 

It’s the first time I’ve left my baby for this long. 
Will she be okay? What if she IS okay? What does that mean? What if she’s not okay? What then?

This is selfish. 
It’s expensive. It’s eating into our family vacation time for me to be away. It’s inconveniencing other people. 

What if… 
What if I die and my girls find out that I chose an adventure over the rest of my life with them? 
What if my kids are emotionally scarred and all my parenting work is negated in one fell swoop?
What if I don’t even have any fun? 
What if I have to be grateful for this trip FOREVER? 
What if everyone has more fun at home without me?
What if they’re all fine?
What if they’re not all fine? 
What will _________ think of me?

Maybe I’m not the first mom to struggle with this internal dialogue or the feeling of needing permission to want something outside of her children or home (duh).   

Whether it’s a girls’ trip or working full time or going back to school, the question that plagues my parenting choices is:  How do I balance being a person with being a good mother? 

The answer is, I GET permission. I’m not talking from my husband; I don’t believe he has ever vetoed anything I’ve felt strongly about. I’m not talking about faith; I believe God created us to be creative adventurous souls. I’m talking about inner freedom to embrace a choice. 

Mamas, sometimes we can be so practical, gracious and kind to everyone in our lives EXCEPT ourselves. So now, I sit myself down and ask these questions:

  1. Do I need permission to make this choice? 
  2. Who has the right to participate in this decision? 
  3. Are the resources available to do this?  
  4. What is the cost of this choice to myself/to others?
  5. Get permission in writing. 

I‘m sure some people just do this naturally so it may seem tedious but this process is becoming a habit for me. Somewhere along the way, decisions become direction and my inner dialogue translates into outward convictions. Instead of floundering around fretting about what I should or shouldn’t do, I’m learning that getting my own permission quells the guilt over trying to please or measure up to everyone else.  It helps me stop second-guessing and to move forward in freedom. 

So I’m going on a trip with my girlfriends. I’m going to smash some goals, enjoy nature, be encouraged and come home to my family refreshed and full of gratitude because it turns out that growing into myself and choosing confidence in motherhood begin with giving myself permission to do both.  

Let's Talk Modern Mothering: You're the Expert

Let's Talk Modern Mothering: a series on emilyfisk.com

It's Modern Mothering Monday! Throughout the month of October, we'll be talking about what it's like to parent today here on the Made of Stories blog. Some fantastic writers have teamed up with me and I'm thrilled to be featuring their voices over the next weeks! My personal goal for this series to encourage other moms. We all faces challenges unique to us and unique to our generation, but at the end of the day, we’re all mothers doing our best. This series is all about cutting through the endless “Mommy Wars” and generational bashing to encourage other moms, validate our experiences, and remind each other that we’re all in this together. 

. . .

I had a red scanner in my hand and a handwritten list in my pocket. My eyes were wide and my abdomen announced the reason I was in the baby aisle, reading labels and comparing brands and asking my husband, "Do you think we'll need this?" over and over again. I was completely overwhelmed; how do you cut through the advertising and end-cap displays and figure out what you'll need to bring home a baby? I lost it when I reached sanitizing bags. "Wait, what do I need to sanitize? Will I need to sanitize everything? Like, everything?" 

A chuckle came from the diaper aisle. "Don't worry!" The voice was attached to a guy about my age, and he gave me a knowing smile. "You can sanitize by boiling things, easy. And your baby will live if you don't sanitize." It was such a thoughtful gesture—an apparently seasoned parent offering a newbie some comfort. I smiled and nodded. "Oh, thanks. That's helpful." 

But really, it wasn't. Because I still hadn't found my answer; I was still overwhelmed in the baby aisle. The thing is, all he gave me was yet another opinion, and since I'd been reading "baby registry must-have" posts on Pinterest and scouring Amazon reviews, I was already steeped in opinions. Maybe he was wrong. I didn't know him from Adam. What if I did need to sanitize everything and this stranger in Target was wrong?

I gave up and went home—and then did the smartest research I had yet. I called my sister. 

Parents the globe over are familiar with the overwhelm that comes with the multitude of opinions, oh the opinions. Grandma thinks you shouldn't hold the baby too much because newborns need to learn independence; a friend of yours thinks that if you don't cloth diaper you're an irresponsible parent. It's not a new phenomenon, and the result can be a frustrated, anxious, self-doubting new parent. 

But I wonder if modern parents don't get this treatment tenfold. The internet has connected us to more opinions than ever, and while we can be more equipped to connect, learn, and research than previous generations, we can also feel like bugs under a microscope. For every article claiming that modern parents are too easy on their kids, there's another claiming we're killing them with high expectations. For every op-ed declaring that Millennial parents are lazy and entitled, there's another claiming we're working too hard at this parenting gig and should lighten up a little. And the worst part? It's hard to sift through—it's hard to know who to let sway you and who to ignore. 

Everyone's an expert on the internet. And that's not a bad thing. We all have expertise we can share with the world—even if that expertise is just our own perspective. We're all experts on our own lives. But we are often unprepared when it comes to deciding whose words to let seep into our hearts and whose to let float by.

I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. As part of the Modern Mothering series, I was privileged to read the words of almost 50 mothers from multiple generations and varied backgrounds. Millennial, Gen X and Gen Y moms mentioned again and again that they felt added pressure from living in the internet and social media age. Just take a look at some of their words. 

"I think 'keeping up with the Jones' has been a cross-generation challenge and I think mothering comparisons are no different. But I think that our generation has the added challenge of in-your-face social media that highlights only a small snippet of your child, life, marriage, home, etc. That snippet is always filtered to be glowy, beautiful, happy, serene, and visually 'perfect.'" - Megan, a Millennial mom
...
"I feel there is a lot of mommy judgement that is placed on you for any parenting decision, however because there are so many opinions out there, there isn't one certain way [to parent] that I find is prevalent." - "Sue," a Gen Y mom
...
"Social media is killing parenthood. NOTHING I DO IS RIGHT AND EVERYTHING I DO IS GOING TO KILL MY CHILD." - Ali, a Gen X mom
 

We all know that the internet can be a toxic place that scares the parenting instincts right out of us on a daily basis. The "experts" of the internet leave us feeling inadequate, uninformed, and teetering on the edge of insanity. But we also know that social media and the internet are just tools that can be used to uplift or pull down—and we know where we should go when we need solid feedback. 

I asked survey respondents to share who or what they used as a resource for parenting advice. Here's what these moms said: 

The internet, Google, and Facebook all make a strong appearance, unsurprisingly. But beyond these resources and even friends, aunts, and sisters, one person came out as the expert on mothering: mom. We all ask our moms, and someday, your kids will ask you

You, mama—you're the expert on modern mothering. 

That's why I'm thrilled to be running the Modern Mothering series throughout October on the blog. I want to hear your voice and the voice of other incredible modern mothers. Let's turn the tide on the internet toward encouragement, honesty, transparency, and tolerance—let's use this volatile tool to make the "Mommy Wars" a thing of the past. 

Want in? Use the hashtag #letstalkmodernmothering on Instagram to share what modern mothering looks like from your lens! I'll be featuring photos here and on my Instagram account. 

Next week, I'll be sharing encouraging words from one of my favorite writers. Keep up with the whole series by signing up for my email updates or connecting with me on Facebook and Instagram

Pregnancy Update // Week 36

We're in the home stretch! If I felt huge ten weeks ago (which I did), now I feel whale-like. It's the reality of the final month. And boy, has this third trimester lived up to all the achy, uncomfortable expectations. 

Week 32

Week 32

That said, I feel moderately good most days and am still loving the baby kicks and rolls. Sweet Ada clearly has more room to move than sister did because she takes full advantage of the accommodations in there (especially when mama is trying to nap). 

Week 36 Pregnancy Update

Total weight gain: I think around 15-20 lbs, but I'm not lying when I say that I haven't weighed myself. And when my midwife weighs me I'm usually still trying to keep an eye on an escape artist—I mean a toddler—so I only have a vague idea of what I currently weigh. 

Maternity clothes: Well, it's official. I've graduated from maternity clothes to my husband's gym shorts and oversized t-shirts. When I have to look presentable, my loose fall dresses are my go-to. 

Stretch marks: No new ones so far. 

Sleep: Mmmm sleep... I miss sleep. When I sleep well, I sleep long and hard. Many nights, though, I'm in some kind of pain and lose out on a good night's rest. 

Best moment of this week: Special time snuggling and playing with Charlie, remembering these moments of having only one are almost over.

Miss anything: Moving easily, beer, wine, and not feeling so heavy. 

Movement: Ada kicks and rolls all day and night long and I love it! She feels so strong. 

Food cravings: Spicy foods, all the carbs. And beer. :) 

Anything making you queasy or sick: A little bit of the pregnancy nausea has revisited me this week, but I'm hoping it will pass again soon. 

Labor signs: If I'm on my feet too much these days, I end up with some painful Braxton Hicks that I have to let calm down with water and rest. Since I'm hoping to keep this little gal in utero up to her due date (more time to get this new home ready!) I take any signs of labor seriously and try to rest. 

Belly button in or out: It's a sad little flat pancake now!

Wedding rings on or off: Off

Happy or moody most of the time: Happy when I get to fold tiny baby onesies, moody when my nesting instincts are foiled by the slow march of construction. 

Looking forward to: Moving into our house within the next two weeks! 

Fall clothes making a debut at 35 weeks!

Fall clothes making a debut at 35 weeks!

In Which I Compare My Life to a Construction Site

I have an overflowing diaper bag hanging unnaturally from one arm, a 30-pound toddler perched on my 34-week pregnant belly, and a lunch bag on my opposite shoulder. I'm sweating just performing the simplest task: all I need is to find my wallet, swipe my credit card, and complete my purchase. But the toddler is squirming for the "yummies" in the check-out aisle and successfully brings down a display of those expensive granola bars made without any refined sugar, and now the woman behind the counter is looking away politely while I drop my bags, lose my credit card, and try to regain my grip on the toddler. 

I know how I look. I look frazzled, tired, overwrought, out of control. I let the humiliation wash over me and add it to my list of things to ignore or cry about later.

If I've ever been good at something, it's appearing to be in control. Even if I know inwardly that my sense of control is a facade, it's still a comforting facade. But this summer, even my facade has crumbled and I'm forced to be a little too vulnerable with my fellow shoppers in the Albertson's checkout line. 

At the beginning of this summer, my husband got laid off—right as we signed the papers and broke ground on a home addition. We were too far into the project to stop, so we pressed forward, praying for a job, thankful for a severance package. Now we're here: a month from having our second child, unable to live in our home yet, both unemployed as I go on maternity leave, cutting finances and time down to an ominously close due date.

Sometimes, I look at the pieces of our home and our lives and I feel brave and strong. We can do this together; we can pull this off. Other times, I feel like the house itself: a little beaten up and torn down to the studs or whatever it is that's beneath the flesh and muscles and layers I wear to look put together. 

We all work endlessly to hide these parts of ourselves; the crumbly, dirty, outdated underbelly of who we are. We paint over, put in some plush carpet, update the outsides every now and then to keep up with whatever trends they say we should spend our money on. 

But when it's time for real change—when things get shaken up and we're forced past the paint jobs and the new curtains—suddenly everyone gets to see a little more of our insides.

///

"Humble yourselves," Peter told the exiles, "...so that in the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because He cares for you." 

I've been casting anxieties by the fistful like so many dusty pebbles from the angry hand of a child. I'm good at that. I can cast anxieties all day long. But I'm jarred by the opening line: humble myself? I'm already humiliated; I'm already woefully out of control. Do I really need to be laid a little lower? 

But then, humility isn't humiliation. Humiliation is struggling with the expectations you've set for yourself and your life—it's chaffing against the rough edges of how reality divorces itself from your ideal. Humiliation says, "I'm supposed to be there, and instead I'm here."

Humility is the acceptance, even the welcoming of powerlessness. Humility says, "I'm here, and I'm not okay, but that's okay." 

///

I like to write about things in retrospect. That 20/20 hindsight, that "I can see clearly now" moment is refreshing, invigorating—and well within my control. But as I keep waiting for the moral of this story that started months ago, I'm starting to see that living in the now is an embrace of humility. I'd rather clench my jaw, muscle forward, and wait for the storm to pass—because pass it will, one way or the other. But I can't. 

There's another side to construction that's just beginning. The house is starting to look a little less weary, a little less torn down. We're starting to build up. It's still bare bones; there aren't any breezy curtains or plush carpets yet, and frankly, there may not be any for some time. But the bare bones of what we're building are good; they're strong and sturdy and ready to leave a legacy. We've had to endure plenty of demolition to get to this point, but soon we'll build up and put together and settle in. We couldn't have done any building up without first tearing down.

It's time to build. And the results—though humble—will be worth it.