The Art of Mothering

posted in: Motherhood 54 comments

The art of mothering

A friend who is a new-ish mother (of an 8 month old boy) recently told me about the competitive nature of motherhood in Hong Kong, where she lives. Children from infanthood to toddlerhood to school-going age, are enrolled in classes and schools as soon as possible. From music to aquatic to language to yoga classes, there is no let-up in a child’s day. 

Understandably, she feels a push and pull of a) not wanting her son to be ‘left behind’, but b) wants him to have a normal, unstructured day-to-day life of a baby. Because, he’s a baby

How much is too much when it comes to structured play and lessons? How soon do we start our children on a path of institutional learning? How much of a role do we mothers play in their daily life? Is what we do (reading, singing, playing to and with them) not enough? How much do we ‘hover’, and how much do we let go (in my case, benign neglect)? 

I do not have any concrete answers. I only have my own instinct and mothering temperament, learning from my experiences with my children, to fall back on. 

The art of mothering is learning to balance what you know about yourself, and what you learn about your children, in order to formulate a learning and fun experience for your kids. All without driving yourself insane, and your kids barmy. 

I know that I don’t have the patience or talent as a crafty, DIY mom. I am much better at reading and singing to my boys than I am playing cars and basketball for an hour with them. I have know that my oldest son needs and thrives on more one-on-one attention than my independent, easygoing second child. I know that both my children are affectionate, loves cuddling and hugs, but have attention spans of…. well, kids. I know that both my children do better with a routine and both enjoy going to school. I know that their teachers love them. 

Our days are half-structured, with their mornings in school, 5 days a week. Their afternoons are made up of free play. Weekends are spent with their grandparents who spoil them. 

This is what works for us. Endless structured activities don’t. The idea of shuttling them to various lessons (music, art, gymnastics, etc.) when they’re only 4 and 2, simply don’t make sense to me. In my humble, mothering opinion, free play is learning, and right now, that is good enough for us. 


Speaking of mothering, Mother’s Day is less than 5 weeks away. It’s a day all of us look forward to.

Well, not all of us. Because for some mothers, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of loss and grief. A blogging friend of mine, Alexa of No Holding Back is one of those mothers, who is grieving the loss of her daughter. 

Alexa has been tirelessly working to bring something special to this world, born out of her own grief, in an effort to provide support, and a forum for grieving mothers. 

Last October, in time for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on October 15th, she and a group of bereaved parents published their book Sunshine After the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother. It is a beautiful anthology of stories, best advice and tips on surviving the loss of a pregnancy, infant, or older child. Fueled by the positive feedback and the positive impact it was having on other parents who have suffered the death of a child, they went one step further and created a nonprofit, Sunshine After the Storm, Inc, to raise funds to donate the books to hospitals, bereavement groups, and organizations that support bereaved parents.

In Alexa’s own words, “As Mother’s Day approaches, I wanted to do something special. So we decided to start a “Mother’s Day Campaign.” The goal is simple: raise money to donate as many books as we can to hospitals and bereavement groups for Mother’s Day, and use a portion of the funds to make a special Mother’s Day contribution to the organizations that support bereaved parents, infant death, pregnancy loss, and research for children’s health issues.”

Alexa has also reached out to some well-known authors on baby and child loss, such as Sherokee Ilke and Teske Drake, CarlyMarie, the creator of International Bereaved Mother’s Day (and who creates the most beautiful artwork for bereaved parents on her Shore of Remembrance) and many others. Through her efforts, she has managed to create a giveaway of 15 incredible items.

Mother's Day campaign prizes

The only criteria to enter is a very small donation of $5 (or more if you’d like!). It costs  $8 to donate each book. One donation will get you entered for a chance to win all of these amazing prizes. 

But more importantly, you will know that you have directly impacted the life of a mother who is hurting on Mother’s Day. On behalf Alexa, the authors of Sunshine After the Storm, the generous giveaway donors, and all grieving mothers, I thank you for your generosity. Please do spread the word of the giveaway now!

Enter the giveaway now!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you prefer to donate directly, click here. 

Alison Lee is a former PR and marketing professional turned work-at-home mother. After a 10-year career in various PR agencies, and of the worldโ€™s biggest sports brands, Alison traded in product launches and world travel, for sippy cups, diapers, and breastfeeding. Alison's writing has been featured on Mamalode, On Parenting at The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Everyday Family, Scary Mommy, and She is one of 35 essayists in the anthology, My Other Ex: Womenโ€™s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. In 2012, she founded Little Love Media, a social media consultancy specializing in blog book tours, and because she doesnโ€™t sleep, is an editor at BonBon Break, an online magazine. Alison lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with her husband and four children (two boys and boy/ girl twins).

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  • April 7, 2014 tracy

    You’re an amazing mom, my friend.
    tracy recently wrote…Ready For KindergartenMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      So are you. xoxo

  • April 7, 2014 Alexa

    Mothering is truly an art, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes we look at it and say “huh???” Thank you for sharing my story and campaign as well! I am so lucky to call you a bloggy friend!
    Alexa recently wrote…Why Wouldn’t We Want to #FightToxins Moms?My Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      I say “huh?” a lot! Thank YOU for your great and selfless campaign. I’m more than happy to share it.

  • April 7, 2014 Allie

    So true about just learning from your kids. If you pay attention, they will “tell” you what they can handle and what they’re capable of. Even at 5 my kids need semi-structure because if they aren’t allowed free play time, things get ugly. Fast.
    Allie recently wrote…The Rundown: Hill Repeats That Almost Killed MeMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      Yes, exactly! My kids have 4 hours at school, that’s more than enough.

  • April 7, 2014 Kim

    I agree that free play is so important! I always strive for a balance of the structured and the unstructured. I think down time – when there aren’t any outside obligations and expectations – is really valuable.
    Kim recently wrote…Space CadetMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      All of us need down time, especially kids. In my humble opinion.

  • April 7, 2014 Kerstin

    I think kids can learn a lot about a structured life even if they don’t participate in endless lessons/sports etc. Structure happens at home, with regular meal times, traditions and so on. My kids did not start any after-school classes until they were well into elementary school and even then I kept it at once a week. They need the time to be kids, that’s important stuff ๐Ÿ™‚
    Kerstin recently wrote…Valuable Information Will Be Supplied By A ChildMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      Yes, that exactly, they need time to be kids. That’s what my friend and I concluded in our discussion.

  • April 7, 2014 Ma Teresa Grech Racal

    Yey! for this blog post. Being a MOM, for me, is a never ending learning of being one. We learn from our “mistakes” as a mom to knowing what is “right” for each one of our kids. Raising kids, on my part 3 girls, are difficult, one rule could be good to one but will not be as effective to the next one. It is up to us parents on how to balance things out.
    Ma Teresa Grech Racal recently wrote…I am so BackMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      Yes, what works for one kid doesn’t always work for another, that’s true.

  • April 7, 2014 Tamara

    Pretty awesome parenting quote there – can I buy the t-shirt/bumper sticker yet?
    I personally think play-based learning is the most important learning. I don’t know for how long, but definitely for right now. And there was the time I was pregnant with Des and couldn’t even look at food or dirty diapers, and Scarlet was running around on her own a lot those days. Running around me on the couch, really.
    Tamara recently wrote…My Writing Process.My Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      Hah, sounds familiar! That was what happened with pregnancy #2, and that is what is happening right now.

  • April 7, 2014 Suzanne Tucker

    this mama of five baby angels THANKS you for the support you’re lending this campaign. SO much healing is possible when we build bridges of love and empathy between the hearts of mama’s who know loss and those who (blessedly) do not. xoxoxox
    Suzanne Tucker recently wrote…You Know You Are A Parent Whenโ€ฆMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      Suzanne, I’m more than happy to help. Thank you for your kind words.

  • April 8, 2014 Keely

    You’re great and everybody knows it. Benign neglect- er, free play works for our afternoons as well.
    Keely recently wrote…The LTYM Chicago Show, a.k.a. Wanna See Me Ugly Cry?My Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      I don’t know if I am but thank you. xo

  • April 8, 2014 The Bride

    I hopped over to your blog from Masala Chica’s and was pleasantly surprised to see the first para of your post was about Hong Kong where I also live. I feel a similar push and pull as your friend. On the one hand, I feel it’s ridiculous to schedule a child’s day so heavily, on the other, I wonder if I’m not doing enough as a parent and my kids will somehow ‘lose out’ because they haven’t begun ballet and piano at the age of 3.

    My son made the decision easier when he flat out hated going unaccompanied to art class at two-and-a-half. He’s the shyer, clingy type and right now he’s coping with kindergarten and I think that’s enough. We’ve decided to delay my daughter’s entry into kindergarten – instead of her being one of the younger ones in the class, she’ll be one of the older ones. At two, she attends a one-hour playgroup with our helper twice a week and that’s it. This is considered a scandal in Hong Kong where parents are busy assembling portfolios for their toddler’s kindergarten applications.

    Whenever I waver, my husband reality checks me.

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      Your second last sentence made me laugh, because I know how true that is in many parts of Asia! Isn’t it just ridiculous? Why can’t we just let kids be kids?

      It sounds to me like your kids have a great, balanced childhood.

  • April 8, 2014 Rebeccafaith

    I’m sad because my comment didn’t go through and I’m too lazy to rewrite it. I basically said something very clever and witty, then praised you for bringing attention to such a great cause that all us mothers can really rally for. In fact, since there’s no way to retrieve the comment, let’s just say I wrote the best comment ever!
    Rebeccafaith recently wrote…A List of 6 Badass Bloggers – Part IIMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      I believe you!

  • April 8, 2014 Bev

    Even though my little one is not yet 5 months, I have a feeling I will be like you with her as she gets older. I see the benefit of structured activities, but I want to be able to take her to museums, go for walks when the weather is nice, or just simply play (and there\’s a lot to be said, in my opinion, about children learning how to use unstructured time). But I agree, mothering is a crazy balancing act, and I will have to see what her temperament is like as she gets older!
    Bev recently wrote…Zinnia Designs: An Interview with Tanya ChinMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      I think you’re very wise, Bev. A child’s temperament is an important decider for how their activities pan out.

  • April 8, 2014 Rorybore

    We all have to decide what is right for our kids/family; and that is our right. If a mom wants to be busy all the hours and have her child(ren)involved in all the activities, that’s completely up to her. But the one truth we all do (or should at least) know is that all life needs balance. If you are stealing from one area – say sleep – to get more time for another – say after school activities: I rather think there will be an “account due” at some point. As long as you are aware and prepared; then go for it. But not me.
    I spoke with a friend about all this early learning stuff, and she said while it is a big discovery that children are actually capable of absorbing so much more at an earlier stage than previously thought; it does not necessarily mean that it is always wise to put it into use. Your child will not become a violin prodigy just because you put them in lessons at 2. The skill or natural talent had to already been there — that’s what determines the true “genius”. For most of us average sorts, you might get a leg up on violin for a few years — but really, anyone who starts later can still catch up to you. Getting an early jump has proven to not be beneficial in most cases. But I say – if your kids do enjoy it and are having fun and works in your family; than go for it.
    Rorybore recently wrote…Tuesday Cofffee Chat: I am Not..My Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      You’re absolutely right as always. Yes, I absolutely agree that families should do what works for them. It just makes me sad that some parents feel the need to play catch up or keeping up with the Joneses.

  • April 8, 2014 julie gardner


    I am a little bit okay with my kids being a little bit behind.
    There is SO MUCH STRESS in the front of the pack.

    Jack and Karly aren’t going to receive full-ride scholarships to Stanford, but damn they are happy and relaxed and know they’re loved. As TEENAGERS.

    To me, this is better than allllllllll the trophies.

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      Happy, relaxed and loved – YES!

  • April 9, 2014 Christine

    Oh I know that culture all too well. NYC is nutso sometimes and I remember feeling so much pressure to keep up with everyone else. But yes, instincts take over and I’ve figured out what my kids need (and what my family needs too). It’s hard not to get caught up in it all but I do want my kids to know the freedom of just playing. There will be plenty of time for structure in their lives.
    Christine recently wrote…Ask a Yogini: Why Practice Yoga Inversions?My Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      I agree, there IS plenty of time to be involved in structured activities. I’m happy to let my kids be kids.

  • April 9, 2014 Jessica

    What a wonderful cause! Thanks for sharing this, Alison!

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      I’m just doing what I can for this great cause. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • April 9, 2014 Elaine A.

    I had to look up the word “barmy”. ๐Ÿ™‚ I agree that free-play is better at this age. They have forever after to be “Scheduled”.

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      It’s the English girl in me! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • April 9, 2014 Kimberly

    Friends of ours (parents of one of our son’s classmates) and they are from the Philippines. I am in no way saying that people from different countries put more pressure on their kids, because us Canadians do too, but getting to know them more? Hot dayyum…let the kid be a kid. Everything is a competition. She is five. He tapes her throwing a ball and practices with her when she’s doing it…it never ends for her. They are fabulous parents but I think it’s too much. We were approached by hockey coaches asking us if we could put him our Chunky in the 7-8 age bracket teams. He is FIVE but he is that good. We asked him if he would like to but he said no because he likes his friends…we honoured that. But holy shit, when we told our friends, we got a tongue lashing.
    We have to let our children be children and we have to nurture them while teaching…in a way that isn’t forced.
    Kimberly recently wrote…The Computer Ate ItMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      You’re doing the right thing. It freaks me out when parents get SO freaking serious about their kids activities when they’re that young.

  • April 9, 2014 AwesomelyOZ

    It’s so fascinating how different cultures engage in parenting differently and set different expectations from their parents. We all just need to do what works for us – and definitely allow the children to be children, there will be plenty of time for education and learning. Have a great one Alison! -Iva
    AwesomelyOZ recently wrote…The Friendship ConundrumMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      I’m on the side of let children be children!

  • April 10, 2014 JennyRedfield

    I’m always wondering your ability to read my mind and to write a post on the exact topic that I’m thinking about right now)))
    My kids are 3 and 4 yo, and I’m thinking about register them for some classes, but I see that they are too young and usually coming home from daycare very tired (from 8 am to 5pm), so I decided to postpone it till next school year may be.

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      That is a wise choice, Jenny!

  • April 10, 2014 Janice

    My mom was pretty relaxed with the tutoring and extracurricular activities compared to other parents and I have to say, both my sister and I turned out great. Is that too self-congratulatory? ๐Ÿ™‚
    Janice recently wrote…Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor + GiveawayMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      Hah! No, not at all. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • April 10, 2014 My Inner Chick

    Gagaaaaaaaaaa! xxxxxxxxxxx

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      YOU rock, my friend. xo

  • April 10, 2014 Maureen

    You are amazing Alison! Seems like that’s the ‘new norm’ in Asia parenting…pushing the children to participate in as much educational extras as soon as they can. I chose to let my boy decide what after school activities he likes and it dwindling down lately but as long as he is happy that’s what counts ๐Ÿ™‚

    Oh and what a brilliant giveaway!
    Maureen recently wrote…Leaving The Comfort ZoneMy Profile

    • April 10, 2014 Alison

      Yes, as long as they’re happy and loved, that’s the most important part!

  • April 11, 2014 Natalie

    Love you and Alexa! And yes kids do need time to be kids. I was just looking at the cost of a private and expensive preschool with what the kids learn there. (Not that I can afford it ha!) And I was surprised to see that my little guy was on pace or ahead in all areas and that’s just with being home with me and the two days he goes to a Mother’s Day Out program. It’s amazing how they can learn…and that’s sometimes it’s not a structured environment they need.
    Natalie recently wrote…Smiles All AroundMy Profile

    • April 12, 2014 Alison

      Yes, exactly, Natalie. I’m glad your boys are doing well!

  • April 15, 2014 Andrea

    This post is a much-needed reminder that mothers and children are people, not robots who are required to perform tasks and check accomplishments off developmental lists as efficiently as possible. I am firmly against constant structure and scheduling, and my children and I are better off with a more flexible day-to-day existence. So are yours.
    Andrea recently wrote…The Fabulous World of WritingMy Profile

    • April 16, 2014 Alison

      Oh yes, they definitely are! I wish more mothers in Asia realize that.

  • April 15, 2014 Jennifer

    We’ve tried all different types of activities, either because my kids showed interest or because I never got to do those things growing up or because that’s what you are “supposed” to do. I’ve found, though, that my kids prefer to be at home. They enjoy their down time. School is a LOT, and with two working parents, they would just rather be with us than being shuttled to different activities. I’m not saying that is for everyone, but that is what works for us.
    Jennifer recently wrote…Why I Love Netflix – “Classic” TV ShowsMy Profile

    • April 16, 2014 Alison

      It sounds like you have found a good balance for your family!

  • April 16, 2014 Katie

    You are such a beautiful mom and such a good friend. Your heart is one of the biggest I have ever encountered. xxoo
    Katie recently wrote…A Letter to the DepressedMy Profile

    • April 17, 2014 Alison

      You’re so sweet. Thank you. xoxo

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