October 28, 2009
Yesterday I was waiting in line at the flu shot clinic, to get my oldest son the H1N1 Flu Mist. Before you jump to any conclusions about me and my less-than-fully holistic/alternative mom-self, I will tell you that this was not a choice I made with any real clarity. I listened for weeks to both camps- what I would call the “you must get your kids this vaccine or they might die” versus the “this vaccine is untested and if you give it to your kids, who knows, they might die“. So, I was sitting in the waiting room, when another mom sat down next to me, her 3 year old daughter in her lap. We struck up a conversation, and both of us admitted to not knowing whether or not we were making the right choice. She went so far as to say that she had actually come to a flu shot clinic earlier in the week, and had left before her daughter’s name was called, she was so uncertain. But then the nurse called my son’s name, and doubts pushed aside, we went in and got the vaccine.
The truth is, motherhood, and fatherhood, involve countless decisions like these, decisions where we have to make a choice but don’t necessarily feel like we have enough information. Or rather, maybe we have too much information, but none of it seems unbiased. We can research all day long with the internet now. While your concerns may not be health-related, they may be based on what school to send your child to, or how on target his/her development is, or what to do about discipline. There are opinions galore out there, but who should we trust?
When I said my parenting philosophy was to trust yourself, I meant it. And I mean it even in times when you really truly do not know the answer. Somehow, we have to come to terms with the uncertainty of being alive in this world. We just don’t know more than we know. We really are responsible for guiding and nurturing our vulnerable children despite our not being in control of almost all the factors in their lives. This is a spiritual challenge, not just a pratical one. It is one thing to live with uncertainty when you are single and living in a monastery, practicing meditation to live more fully in the unknown. It is a very different thing to be able to accept and embrace the unknown for our children.
So we make the choice, and move on to the next one. Will I get my baby the flu shot too? I still don’t know. But I do know that I want to waste less energy on debating pros and cons, and more energy on believing that I am always doing the best I can. It has to be enough. And I hope it can be enough for you too.
October 19, 2009
This past weekend my husband and I decided to take the kids to the beach for a “family vacation”. I put these words in quotes because sometimes I think the two words don’t belong anywhere near each other in a phrase. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of wonderful things about traveling with children. My heart swelled watching my 15 month old learn to walk along the sand, carrying a pail over his shoulder. I laughed aloud seeing my 3.5 year old chasing the seagulls and jumping the waves in the ocean. Experiencing new things with children is truly amazing– it is like we get to experience them for the first time too.
But, vacation? No, vacation it was not. When I think vacation, I think vacation mind, the wandering, lazy mind I used to get when lying on the sand for hours, eating late and long seafood dinners with key lime pie, sleeping in as late as I wanted in the morning. These experiences are tabled, for the time being (at least until someone volunteers to watch the kids for the weekend!) But the real challenge, as I see it, is not that I can not enjoy a relaxing child-free vacation. The challenge is how can I access that vacation mind within the life I currently live?
This question may sound trite to some, but I find it essential to ask. I need breaks from my everyday ways of thinking, planning, organizing, detailing. I crave that spaciousness that often allows for my most creative ideas.
And so the real work is of a more spiritual, mental, and emotional nature. It means finding ways to take mental breaks in the day. A few minutes ago, I sat outside in the sunshine for 10 minutes instead of coming right in to the computer as soon as the baby went down for his nap. I let my mind wander aimlessly in the breeze once the kids are settled (for 3-5 minutes) at the playground. I luxuriate on those days that I get to stay in bed until 7am, and learn to see that time as a late hour. These mini-vacations are not a luxury, but an absolute necessity towards my overall well-being.
As my son said many times over our family trip when trying something new, “I like it, but I have never done it before.” Family vacations? I say we try to like them for what they are, instead of disliking them for what they are not. And vacation mind? I think we must find ways to really vacate our everyday busy minds, and do so daily.
October 6, 2009
In Austin there is a lovely hike and bike trail that provides a 3 mile loop with a stroller-friendly trail. I have been strolling my babies on this trail on and off for the past 3.5 years, and every single time, without fail, a man is sitting up on top of a little hill playing his guitar. And every time I pass him, he yells out, “Good job, Mom!” It doesn’t matter the time of day or season of the year, it doesn’t matter that we have never had a true conversation, still he sends off these well wishes to every mom he sees.
Now, yes, he is a little kooky, and he can’t tell my good days from my bad, but I have to say, every time I hear these words, I feel my spirits lift just a little. Random, unconditional compliments tend to make people smile. And how often do we hear those three words, anyway? So what if today you did kind of a crappy job. Overall, you are essential to the growth and development of another human being, and that is something truly grand.
Good job, Mom.
October 5, 2009
Sometimes being a good mother seems akin to being some sort of robot Buddha-mom. We are told to remain compassionate and centered while we calmly offer reasonable choices, set age appropriate limits, engage in enriching edutainment, allow free creative play, model loving and respectful relationship skills, and prepare healthy, organic, allergy-free meals. We are meant to do this all with an attitude of joy, since childhood is “over before you know it”.
What pressure! Are there any human beings out there? You know, ones that leave their TV’s on, lose their cool with their children and spouses, feel grumpy at 6am, order take-out 2 nights in a row because they are too tired to cook? Of course there are, but somehow it seems like we are always falling short when we do these things. When I let my 3-year-old play on the computer for 2 hours straight, the guilt weighs heavily. But really, if we are all human anyway, why are we trying to be anything but human?
I am not advocating for losing idealism and dropping the goals that help us strive to be the best we can be. But what about a goal of letting go of this harsh grip on perfectionism? Wouldn’t it be just fantastic to create a culture of motherhood where being real was being a great mother? One of my coaching practices is to ask moms to email me daily with a confession and a congratulation. A confession, to let go of the guilt and self-flagellation that comes with never living up to our expectations. And a congratulation, to remember daily all the amazing work we do. It’s just a beginning, a small step towards a larger goal of creating a community of mothers that value themselves. If we can find meaning in the process of motherhood, rather than feeling like we are failing at the product of a perfect mother, we might just have some more fun on the job.
Let’s not imagine the future therapy of our children, the one where they will be complaining of how they have been done wrong by us. That’s just in our imagination anyway. Instead, let’s congratulate ourselves for our creativity in making things easier.
September 20, 2009
Do you co-sleep? Schedule feedings? Baby wear? Ferberize? Home school? Spank? Send your kids to public school? Unschool? The questions go on and on. Whatever the age and stage, mothers are often asked to take a philosophical stance on child-rearing– and debate issues so seemingly serious that they sometimes even damage friendships between women. I have been asked where I stand on these issues, and all I can say is, I don’t subscribe.
I don’t subscribe to any one particular parenting philosophy, though of course I make choices like anyone else. If I had to create my own parenting philosophy, it would be: trust yourself, and do what makes sense for your own family. I just want to be myself as a mother. I want to respond to my children and all the sticky family situations the best I can, and really feel that is good enough. When I try to fit into some other mold, I just end up failing.
I remember when my first child was a newborn, hearing the adage “sleep when the baby sleeps”. But I couldn’t. I am an adult, and somewhat of an insomniac at that, and I just can not sleep in 30 minute increments on and off all day, and also squeeze in a shower and a granola bar. Add in an older toddler with my second newborn, and the advice seemed laughable. Why then, I wondered, did people keep repeating this mantra to me? It felt like a set-up.
One of the best changes I made when I became pregnant with my second child was to stop reading pregnancy and parenting books. If I didn’t know what I was “supposed” to do, I would just have to figure it out.
Everyone is different, and some moms really benefit from the advice of parenting experts. I just wish we could all give as much credit to our own internal wisdom. I am not talking just about “motherly instincts”, which also get over-rated, in my book. A new mom doesn’t always feel her instincts about caring for a sick child when the fear of doing something wrong overwhelms her completely. But I do think that when we give ourselves a little mental break, we see that no one else can really live our lives for us, so no one can really tell us how to handle each particular situation that arises with our children. And as lonely and scary as that may be sometimes, it is also liberating, and allows us to shoot from the hip a little more. Not such a bad thing.