Becoming a parent made me want to be the best version of myself I can for my little one. Before giving birth, I felt like I was on the journey in some way, improving and growing as a human being on my journey to wisdom. I wasn’t perfect, but I had a modicum of self-knowledge, could see the best in life and in people and held my emotional equilibrium even during tough times.
But then I dug into the trenches of parenting, and it all fell apart. I got stuck in a dark fog of post-partum depression, and it brought out the worst in my nature: my ceaseless anxiety, my isolation, my self-hatred.
I’ve slowly emerged from that fog, but it hasn’t quite shaken my sense that I’m somehow ‘less’ than I was before giving birth. Now, I feel like I’m behind…or even regressing. Sometimes my emotions feel as hot, intense and unregulated as a toddler or adolescent’s. It was almost like my little bag of wisdom tricks — meditation, journaling, contemplative reading, yoga, riding horses — needed retooling. Either I didn’t have time or energy anymore for these, or they didn’t work because my life and my self had fundamentally reorganized itself. And since then, I’ve often felt at sea when it comes to the thorny yet substantial questions of how we grow and expand as people in the thick of a challenging yet beautiful human experience.
I still haven’t figured it out this new puzzle, though slowly some pieces are coming together. I suppose this blog is me writing my way through part of it (and having some fun as well, hence…clothes!)
But I have figured out some ‘mantras’ — sayings, secrets or bits of wisdom — that do help me in tough moments. I don’t always remember them, and I’m so not perfect when it comes to incorporating these into my life. But I do find myself saying these to myself at difficult moments, so that must count for something. Some are parenting-specific; others are, hopefully, applicable in other life situations. But in small, daily ways, they help — and I hope they help others, too, whether or not they’re parents.
Parenting isn’t just childcare
Let’s face it — a lot of childcare is drudgery, and sometimes just gross and messy and mind-numbingly repetitive. When the ceaseless diapering and floor-sweeping and grossness-wiping gets to me, I try to remind myself that it’s not what I’ll remember about raising my kid — or what my child will remember me for. Sometimes I think we fixate on the minutiae of childcare — the diapering, feeding, tummy time, la la la — and lose sight of the fact that parenting is ultimately guiding a tiny little human towards adulthood with love and (hopefully) wisdom. What I hope he will remember are those moments when the world was just a bit more magical, beautiful, warm, happy and enchanting because we were together. I hope he remembers that I taught him about imagination, empathy, kindness — and modeled it for him. I hope he can one day understand that I wanted to teach him skills like making magic out of boredom, managing difficult emotion and self-knowledge and awareness. That, to me, is much more important in the long-term than whether or not I’m feeding him too many pre-made meals or whether or not his sippy cup is truly BPA-free. This mantra is really about keeping your eye on the bigger picture — even when the details pile up and threaten to overtake it.
Slow down to go fast.
I admit, I picked this up from self-help bestselling author and ‘happiness bully’ Gretchen Rubin. But I swear that it works! Once I stopped rushing as much to get everything done with my kid — and started taking my time and being deliberate and systematic as possible — everything was just so much better. On the parenting tip, I think children gets stressed when they see their parents stressing and get that ‘what the hell happening’ feeling that makes them insecure and then act out — so slowing them works a bit more at their cognitive pace, even though they may be zoom-zoom-zoom physically. And in terms of the mindfulness angle, slowing down allows me to take in everything, and not forget tiny practical details that have a big impact later. It also prevents that weird overstuffed head feeling I sometimes get at the end of my day. And it all comes together to actually keep me from backtracking, covering my tracks, dealing with loose ends — and ultimately helps me go faster.
Patience is pleasure.
This is related to the point above, for sure, but it’s just a touch more spiritual. I am not a patient person by nature — I’m a New Yorker in my most tender of hearts! Yet being a parent requires sooooooo much patience. I knew this would be an issue of mine, though so many people told me ‘Oh, once your baby is born, you’ll find the patience.’ But I admit that I still struggle with this aspect of being a mama. There is always something else to do, to prepare, to tend to, and I hate waiting or slogging through ‘bullshit’ to get to where I need. And when I feel this way, I get that sense that life is just passing me by so quickly — and I barely have any bandwidth to absorb any of it, good or bad. But I try to remember that being forced to be patient is an opportunity to savor moments, details and the sheer experience of being alive. My life has so few moments now just to chill and take it all in, so I want to take advantage of these opportunities when I can.
Rarely do we value transitions in our culture — we’re very fixated on destinations, goals, outcomes, goalposts. And we’re always bouncing between activities, events, and action items. But I’m starting to realize that the little pauses between them are just as valuable. They give us a chance to reconnect — with our breath, our values, or just slow down and figure out where we are in our day and lives. They give us a chance to reassess, to evaluate and possibly adjust course. They They let us set up for the next block of action or activity if we need it. Or transitions just give our minds a tiny break when we need it. Now I’ve started to sit in my car either before going inside my home or going to work for a few minutes. Sometimes I map out my next few hours. Other times I just enjoy the silence. Either way, taking that moment to make the transition is really one of the keys to life feeling just a bit better than before.
Stop “shoulding” all over yourself.
Oh, man, this is one that I think applies to nearly everyone, not just parents. But in all honesty, becoming a parent somehow has given the world license to stick its collective nose in my business and basically shower me with direct and indirect commands on what I ‘should’ be doing as a woman, a parent and general human being. And I’m soooooo over it. I know eschewing ‘should’ is easier said than done, particularly if you are an overly conscientious perfectionist who tends to hold herself to ridiculous standards. Nailing down my own ‘real-life’ standards with my mini #goodenough project has helped me personally, as well as figuring out systems that ‘automate’ certain aspects of life so I don’t even have to think about what I should or shouldn’t be doing. But it’s still a work in progress. Ultimately I don’t have the answer to cultivating the amazing amount of self-sovereignty and self-confidence to be able to do away with undue societal pressure altogether. But once I do, I will let everyone know!