Balancing Parenting, Marriage and Me-Time

I am not sure about you, but sometimes just seeing the word “balance” and how you are supposed to have it in your life makes me want to run for the hills. I don’t even know how to drink a steaming cup of coffee anymore, so balancing anything other than being mom to my 14-month old, my suffering career and keeping sane is about as much as I can tick off on my daily “balance list.”

Celeste Rushby, a, qualified Occupational Therapist and one of the parenting coaches at Munchkins took some time out of her own mad schedule to answer a couple of questions pertaining to her roles as a loving wife, mother to three toddlers and her career.

She gives some wonderfully practical advice on topics ranging from raising premmies, to “me and us time” and on finding that elusive balance between it all!

Celeste, you are a mother of three. One singleton girl and twins (1 girl and 1 boy) – all born prematurely. Tell us a bit more about them.

“Siana was born at 32 weeks, weighing just 1.5kg. Her early arrival was a very big shock and the first year was extremely challenging – so much so, that I had to go for counseling to work through my fear of having another premmie before I could agree to try for number 2. Rather ironically, it turned out that number 2 was actually twins. (twins are almost always premature, and with my medical history…well, there wasn’t much hope for me to carry to full-term).

This time around, it was an extremely challenging and painful pregnancy which was predicted to end early, so we were a little more prepared for what might be. Ethan and Nikita were born at 30 weeks, weighing 1.6 and 1.4kg respectively. We battled so many more daily challenges with them than we did the first round – like being unable to keep a single drop of milk down, grade 2 brain bleeds, 2 heart conditions, 8 – 10 severe apnea attacks a day, silent reflux (Ethan), severe reflux (Nikita), candida – we had it all!

Siana recently turned 5 years old. She is excellent at her school work, and is amazingly talented and passionate in both art and gymnastics. She’s my confident introvert. Ethan and Nikita just turned 2. Ethan is my curly haired, blue eyed, charmer boy. He’s so friendly and cuddly, but definitely the cautious one of the 3 – he observes his adrenalin-junky sisters attempting crazy stunts, watches them fall and try again over and over. Then he learns how NOT to do it, and eventually gives it a go once it seems a safe method has been found. He is more sensitive, and just cannot recover from a bump or scratch without mommy’s magic kiss. Nikita, however, is my wild child. She’s my little “Sandy Crood”. She just wants higher-faster-louder-more! She is quite sensory seeking and an absolute dare devil. She is extremely determined, and I believe that played a very big part in her survival during those very difficult early weeks of her life. You would never say she still has 2 heart conditions. She has more strength and endurance than most 5-year olds I know! Interestingly, at home, Nikita is the confident independent one, while Ethan wants to be held and cuddled a lot. But with strangers, Ethan runs up to them with his arms wide open saying “Hi! Up!” with his gorgeous charming smile. But Nikita is the one that holds onto me and susses out the person first before letting them into her space”.

What were your biggest fears with having premmies?

“Before Siana I didn’t know much about premmies at all. But after she was born I made a point of learning a whole lot about these precious tiny humans. I even focused my Occupational Therapy practice to work with premature baby outpatients and did specialised training in the care of premmies during the NICU phase. But because of my training, my own personal experience, my professional experience, and my social experience (friends that I made in NICU that had premmies), I knew all the things that could go wrong. And that scared me SO much.

Having a premmie means that you never get the birth plan you dreamed of; you don’t get to hold your baby at birth; they don’t look ANYTHING like the plump little Anne Gedes baby you pictured, but rather alien-like instead; they have to spend time in NICU after you go home to an empty cot; and you have to express every 3-4 hours – day and night – without your babies in your arms. It’s heartbreaking. Then when they get home, premmies are often a lot more colicky than full-term babies because of the their immature guts and sensory systems. Their immune systems are often compromised as well. And all these factors can lead to isolation from friends, from your husband, and life in general. I was also petrified of the effect it would have on my first born – all the time, blood, sweat and tears that goes into taking care of 2 premmies, didn’t leave much time, energy or patience for their sweet big sister.

Because of these fears, I spent every day of my first trimester crying. Until my sister gave me wonderful advice – she told me to write down every single one of my fears on a piece of paper. I sobbed as I did so, but I got them all on paper, and that simple little task made it all seem “tangible” somehow. It doesn’t make logical sense, but it really worked! I stopped crying, and started moving forward.”

In what ways are premmies different to full-term babies and what encouragement can you offer to other moms with premmies?

“Developmentally, premmies tend to be delayed at first. It’s best to monitor their milestones according to their “corrected age” (that is, counting from their due date, rather than their birth date), but they will catch up over time. Those born 34 weeks + tend to catch up very quickly. Those born under 32 weeks, tend to need a bit of help to catch up. They also take longer to catch up in weight and can only start suckling properly at about 36 – 38 weeks gestation (which means they have to be fed through a nasal gastric tube until then). But thank goodness for modern medicine so that they can still be fed!

But even with all the complications, I feel privileged to have premmies, because during the first 18 months, nothing is taken for granted and there is so much more to celebrate! During the NICU phase, you celebrate everything from a 40 gram weight gain, to being taken off of breathing apparatus, to beginning to suckle for the very first time and being able to take your very first full face photos without any tubes or plasters covering your beautiful baby’s little face. Each time they go up a nappy size, it’s never brushed off as yet another expense, but rather celebrated because your precious miracle is growing! I clearly remember taking a photo of each of Ethan’s fat rolls when he was 4 months old – purely because he finally had them!”

What is your family dynamic like, with three active toddlers running around (all of whom surely want mom’s attention 24/7)?

“Best described as “organised chaos”. I have adjusted my home to be one where my children feel free to climb, jump, build forts and just be kids. They are young for such a short time, I don’t see why I should stump their creativity with “no feet on the couch” or “no taking couch cushions and mattresses to turn my lounge into a fort”. We have rules that matter, and they clearly understand and respect them as non-negotiable. But fun is an essential part of a child’s happiness.”

What type of parenting style do you maintain?

“I like to do a bit of what I call “Bi-Polar parenting”. When there aren’t any issues at hand, I make life fun and magical – bright face, playfulness, and eager to hear what my kids have to say (because it may be just a bug they found in the sandpit to us, but it’s a major life event to them!). When boundaries are tested, however, I change to a firm demeanour, don’t repeat my commands, and follow through with a calm and age-appropriate consequence. Once this is sorted out, I immediately flip back to the light-hearted side again. No grudge held.”

Does your spouse’s parenting style differ to yours? If so, how do you “make it work”?

“My hubby melts at the sight of his princesses flapping their eye-lashes. He’s definitely the softy, and this can be quite frustrating for me at times. But then I am reminded that he has so many other Super Dad qualities that completely outweigh this, and I am sure I significantly lack in some of the areas that he is brilliant at. So I try to focus on that. Also, it is important not to interrupt when the other parent is disciplining (or not disciplining) a child – even if you don’t agree. Because you love your kids so much, they need to see the two of you as a strong united pillar. So you have to keep your mouth shut and talk about it afterwards without little ears flapping. I do struggle with this but I’m trying. The most I will interject now is to say something like “you need to listen to your daddy”, or “you need to speak to your dad with respect”. Rather than directing a “don’t let her get away with that” to my husband.”

How does your background in Occupational Therapy impact on your parenting style and work as Parenting Coach at Munchkins?

“Being an Occupational Therapist has definitely helped me as a Parenting Coach. I have a lot of knowledge and experience in conditions such as ADD, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, etc. so that I can help parents whose children struggle in these areas, to create tailor made plans for their family’s needs. It has also enabled me to identify when the issue at hand is not clearly a behavioural issue, but one that requires intervention of some sort – such as OT, Physio, Psychology, etc.

As a parent, being an OT has helped me to realise that bruises heal in a few days, developmental delays can take years and a whole lot of money! What I mean by that is that it is important for children to be given opportunities to climb under, over, and through; jump, roll, and balance; bump heads, graze knees, and stub their toes. These are experiences that help them develop beautifully in their motor skills, scholastic skills and self-confidence. It’s hard sometimes to stand back, hold your breath and hope for the best, but the results are worth it.”

How has your knowledge as Occupational Therapist helped you in dealing with premmies?

“As previously mentioned, I have completed specialised training in premmies. So this, together with my own experience, has helped me a great deal in helping parents with premmies understand their vital role in their baby’s recovery and development. I also use my knowledge in Sensory Integration to help parents understand their baby’s sensory world and communication cues.”

What is your schedule like, between work, household chores, your children and your spouse?

“It’s hectic, and I’m always running around like a headless chicken. But each day I try to get in 10-15 minutes of focused attention time with each of my children to fill their “love tanks” and keep a strong bond. It’s a little more challenging to get this right with 2 -year old twins, so to make sure they each get their fill, I alternate each week (on a day that the nanny is home) taking ONE to a mom and toddler group. Then I come home, swap twins, and take the second one out alone with me to the park or something. I know of some moms of multiples that don’t have a nanny, but have a granny who is happy to oblige each week instead.”

How do you manage to fit everything into this jam-packed schedule and keep your sanity intact?

“My “happy place” is when I’m creating something arty. I really enjoy making beautiful things as gifts for family and friends – like photo frames, jewelry boxes, name signs, etc. And I can quite easily do this once the kids are asleep, in my own dining room. So whenever I feel a bit stressed, I whip out my art box, and the stress melts away.”

How important do you think it is for parents to take “time out” (individually and together, like a set date night)?

“Having 3 kids within just under 3 years can really take a toll on your marriage. So my hubby and I had to make a plan to make sure we survived the madness. It’s so easy to get into the habit of flopping in front of the TV each night and being too tired to, well, keep things sexy. So, we have Tuesday nights as our “indoor date night”. No babysitter required. Kids go to bed and we do something together. This can be anything like playing a board game, going through photos on the computer to decide which to print, building a giant puzzle together, a massage in front of the fireplace, lying on a mattress outside to watch the stars. Anything that’s just the two of you. Then every second weekend, we get a baby sitter and have a date night – just the two of us. Going out with friends is not a date night! That’s a night out. Date nights are essential for a lasting marriage!

Me-time is incredibly important too! I can clearly see in my home visits when it’s a mom who doesn’t get any me-time. When her child says “mom”, she glares at him with irritation and says “WHAT?!” She needs a break and she needs it NOW! Mothers often don’t realise that taking some “me-time” actually makes them better mothers and that it is nothing to feel guilty about! But sometimes mothers “lose themselves”, forget who they are and neglect themselves. It’s important to find out what it is that makes you feel relaxed and happy and schedule it into your calendar to make it happen – even if it’s a bubble bath, going for coffee with a friend, or a walk on the beach. You need to make sure your cup is full so that it can overflow to your family.”

What are the downfalls when everything in a household revolves around the kids?

“A household that revolves around the kids creates children with entitled attitudes that grow up to be adults with entitled attitudes. Children need to learn delayed gratification, empathy and humility. They need to have their love tanks fuller than their cupboards and toy boxes. There needs to be a clear balance in the scale with love and affection on the one side, and clear, firm boundaries on the other. “

What additional advice or tips do you have for other mommies who are struggling to find that elusive balance?

“Use your calendar! If it doesn’t seem to be falling into place naturally, then schedule it so it does. If you have to write in your diary “16:00 – 16:15: Focussed attention time with Sarah”, “20:00 – 20:45: Soak in a bubble bath”, then do it! Write it out and make it happen.”

What is it you offer to parents in terms of your coaching role at Munchkins?

I do 3-hour home visits to create a tailor made plan to change family dynamics for the better – to create peace in the home, lasting relationships and happy, confident, obedient children. I help parents with issues such as routines, sleeping, feeding, not listening, bad attitudes and sibling rivalry – from babies to primary school age. I also offer 1 hour long “coffee consultations” and workshops/talks at schools, moms groups, etc. I love my job because I am passionate about empowering parents and uniting families.”

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So there you have it! If this super busy mom could take the time out for an interview, I am sure all of us can, with a little bit of thought and planning, manage to schedule “balance” into our lives (somehow).

“So be sure when you step,
Step with care and great tact.
And remember that life’s
A great BALANCING act!”
– Dr. Seuss –

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