Dec 072017
 

NurturedMama_Workshop_V4

 

 

What happens when a small group of women get together for a lovely weekend of nurturing indulgence? Magic. That’s what.

Join Darci Walker and Dianna Contreras in a gorgeous setting for a weekend of heart hugging, soul soothing, thought provoking practices aimed at taking care of mama. You will get to:

  • Go deeper into your relationship with your child and your identity as a mom and as a woman. Explore issues related to parenting with a small group of lovely women in a safe a beautifully nurturing environment.
  • Nurture your body and soul with Yoga and movement.
  • Learn about or go deeper into meditation practices that can enrich and support your parenting relationship with your child and sooth yourself from the inside out.
  • Pamper yourself with indulgent and healthy food, organic, vegetarian. Meal sharing becomes part of the indulgent experience and we will use meal times to go deeper into our own family cultures around food and parenting.

NurturedMama_Workshop_V4

 

Secure your spot now! Space is limited

April 20-22

Stevenson Washington, in the Gorge

Cost is all inclusive for Shared Room: 900$, Private Room 1200$

Contact Darci at nurturedmamaworkshop@gmail.com

 Posted by at 2:57 pm
Aug 272013
 

You know those moments in parenting when your body and mouth take over and move through the motions of parenting without your more thoughtful, intentional self being involved? Moments when you suddenly realize, “hey, who is driving this car anyway?”

Sometimes these moments are life-saving. Like when you have to get up for the tenth time in the middle of the night and your conscious self refuses to come to the party. Somehow, your body gets up, walks down the hallway, feeds and comforts a child and gets back into bed.

Or when a child is about to run into the street, and you somehow move faster than an Olympic sprinter to catch a kiddo with one hand, while kicking the ball back into the yard with a move that should only be seen on a soccer field? I once moved across a room and stopped a dresser from falling on top of my child. It wasn’t until after it was over that I realized that (1) I wasn’t capable of moving that fast and (2) I wasn’t strong enough to stop the dresser by myself. Yet somehow I had done both.

Yes,  these autopilot moments can be amazing and life-saving.

Except when they aren’t.

Sometimes they are embarrassing.

Last month, while camping, my fear of snakes kicked in while hiking with my family. Yep. I have a huge fear of snakes, which I had thought I was mostly over. But there, curled up against a tree by the trail was a tiny, insignificant garter snake. Auto-pilot took over and I literally pushed my children out of the way to get away from the snake. It was wasn’t until I was 50 yards up the path that I quit running and realized I had left them to fend for themselves. (Of course my husband was there and the snake wasn’t deadly, it was more of an oversized worm… but still.I Left My Children.) Auto-pilot had disengaged my brain and my body reacted on its own.  When my brain caught up, I was fully aware of all the other choices I had in the moment, but the truth is, it took my brain a while to catch up.

So sometimes auto-pilot is helpful, sometimes it’s embarrassing and sometimes it really gets in the way.

Sometimes, auto-pilot kicks in when we are tired, stressed, overwhelmed or triggered in some other way. Sometimes auto-pilot looks like running away from a snake and sometimes it looks like yelling, screaming or worse.

It’s those moments when we are interacting with our children and somewhere along the line our brain says “stop,” and we just keep going. Do you know those moments? Where you can feel your body and mouth moving through space and time, but your mind is elsewhere?

Maybe we suddenly realize we are screaming at our kids to quit screaming. Or we are in “lecture” mode and, even though our brain is telling us that our kids have checked out minutes ago, our mouths just keep moving and words keep pouring out. Or maybe we feel so angry and out of control that our bodies are frantic and tense and moving with aggression and force.

Each of these moments has something in common. For some reason, the situation creates a kind of flight or fight response. Our emergency response system kicks into gear and our body just reacts with one goal. Get Control Now. We are not interacting with the moment, or with the people around us. We are simply reacting as if the situation is an emergency.  And at some point, our brain catches up, our body slows and we can make some judgments and decisions about what to do next.

So this works when it really is an emergency (the dresser falling), but not so much when it really isn’t (almost all other parenting moments).

The truth is, very few moments in parenting are emergencies. And while we tend to go on auto-pilot pretty frequently, it usually isn’t helpful. Most of the time, our thoughtful, conscious, aware selves would make some pretty different decisions if we just invited them to the moment.

The question is how. How do we (1) recognize that we are in auto-pilot and (2) learn to listen to that voice inside our head telling us to stop when we are in the moment.  And, even better, (3) how do we recover when we do pull ourselves out of it and (4) learn to turn off auto-pilot all together?

Try this:

1)   Recognition is half the battle. In order to recognize that we are in auto-pilot, it is helpful to learn our own tell-tale signs. Physical cues are sometimes easier to become aware of. Start collecting data. When you are stressed or yelling or in a parenting moment you want to change, notice how your body feels. Are your teeth clenched or your arms heavy? Is your voice loud, does your head hurt or are you moving fast? Once you become aware of these cues, you can use them to trigger awareness. It is often easier to recognize body states than it is to recognize emotional processes.

2)   Learn to listen and stop auto-pilot midstream. This is probably the most difficult part. Most of us have the experience of knowing we are doing something we don’t want to do, but we just keep doing it. Our bodies are physiologically tense and engaged in “fight or flight,” a train moving full-steam ahead, while our brain is trying its best to get control of the situation. We can help our brains out by essentially letting the steam out of the engine. If we change the physical state of our body, it is easier for our brains to take over. Think about it, if a boxer goes into a ring to fight, they don’t want to be relaxed, they want to be as tense and hyped up as possible. If we relax our jaw, release the tension in our fists, expand our chest, drop our shoulders, breathe deep into our diaphragm, it will be almost impossible to fight the good fight. Our body immediately feels different and our brain has a chance to catch up and take over the decision-making process. In the moment of auto-pilot, rather than trying to force ourselves to feel differently, we simply change the structure of our body and give ourselves a minute. Breathing. It really is the cure all.

3)   When we do catch ourselves, and we change the moment, it is an amazing opportunity to model coping skills. We can narrate and process with our children. Saying something like, “Wow, I just realized how loudly I am yelling. It feels really bad to me and I bet it feels really bad to you. I am going to take some breaths and try interacting differently.” We can show our kids that it is possible to change directions when we feel out of control, be accountable for the impact we are having on the moment and people around us, use coping skills to change the way we feel, problem solve with others, get support, etc. What an opportunity!

4)   Learning to turn it off all together means taking pre-emptive measures. It’s about knowing what our triggers are. It’s about knowing when we are operating on fewer resources. Are we tired, stressed at work, particularly triggered by the new high-pitched squeal our child is trying out, feeling disrespected,… afraid of snakes? What we do with this information BEFORE the parenting moment arises makes all the difference. Self-care, support, practicing awareness and breathing are just a few steps we can take on an ongoing basis. Aware and gentle parenting requires us to recognize that we are human, with human reactions and auto-pilot responses, AND be accountable for these patterns in our parenting.

We will practice steps one through three over and over and over again. Some of us will get better at step four, but even then, auto-pilot is destined to pop up from time to time. Remember, there are times when it is actually helpful. Most of the time though, turning off the auto-pilot will let us find a little balance in the rocky path of parenting.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 10:04 am
Feb 052013
 

Why don’t we ask for help?

Raise your hand if you are good at asking for help when you need it. Through our virtual connection, I envision a room full of crickets chirping as the vast majority of us sit on our hands and look around to catch a glimpse of the parents who have perfected the art of accepting help. A few hands go up in the air, but most of us can’t claim to be good at this vital skill.

Of course, we tell our children to ask for help when they need it.

And, we tell our friends to ask us for help when they need it.

We philosophically believe that it takes a village to raise a child. We extol the virtues of said village and work hard (or at least wish hard) to have a village around us.

We definitely need help.

We definitely want help.

But, many of us are definitely are not good at asking for help. Oh sure, we can pay for help. We can hire a babysitter from time to time. We can schedule an hour here or there in a preplanned, everything is arranged and pulled together, dinner-is-ready-in-the-crock-pot kind of help. But I am talking about the middle of the night, emergency, take-my-kids-right-now-because-I’m-gonna-lose-it kind of help. The kind of asking for help that finds us at our worst and leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed. That’s the kind of help we just don’t like to ask for. It’s the hardest kind of help to admit to needing. But think about it, this is exactly the kind of help that we want our kids to be able to embrace.

A three-year-old runs around the house, his nerves are raw and he laughs wildly, on the brink of a meltdown. He crashes into a wall and dissolves into a puddle of tears, howls and throws a toy across the room. A mom says, “You were really feeling out of control. I wonder if you could have asked for help?”

A teenage boy stomps through the house. He is failing math and his girlfriend broke up with him and his blood is boiling and his emotions are raging. He slams his bedroom door and blares the music. His father says, “Why won’t you just ask us for help? We are here!”

A mother is at the end of her rope. Her three-year-old is sick and she hasn’t had a full night of sleep in what seems like years and her teenager is slamming doors and the house is a mess and the bills need to be paid and her head hurts and dinner needs to be fixed. Her nerves are frayed and the sound of her child’s voice fills her with fear. Her friend says, “Let me know if I can help.”

Photo by Tumbleweed Infant and Preschool House

Life, from childhood on, is wrought with big emotions that leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed. Last week I wrote about modeling traits you want your child to learn, rather than just preaching them. And this week I have been thinking a lot about how this applies to the concept of asking for help. If we want our children to be capable of seeking out help and support, then we have to be able to do the same. For most of us, for some reason, this is really hard. But, why?

I think it is time to explore and challenge some of the myths about asking for help:

 

1)      It admits defeat: If I am a good mother, I will always have it under control. If I ask for help, people will know I am not a good mother.

The truth: That’s just silly. Everyone needs help. Asking for it makes us better parents. And that isn’t just a cliché. It’s real. We can all parent better when we have deep resources (both internally and externally.) Sleep deprived, stressed out, emotionally raw parents have more difficulty making good parenting decisions. It just is. So asking for help is actually part of being a good parent.

2)      We will inconvenience others: My friends and family are busy. They don’t have time to help. I don’t want to bother them.

The truth: Being there for each other is what relationships are about. Relationships that are only based on convenience aren’t very deep. Most people feel good about helping others. It makes us feel good when our loved ones ask us for help. We feel connected and useful and engaged. It helps build trust and intimacy. It actually helps relationships flourish.

3)      My friends will know I struggle: Show no weakness. I’m fine! Really….

The truth: Yep. They will know we struggle. And they will like us more for it. Why? Because they need help, too, and we all want to know that everyone is in the same boat as us. If we ask for help, they can ask for help, and then we are truly all in it together.

4)      I will be indebted: Self-sufficiency is key. Don’t depend on anyone. Pay for everything. Quid Pro Quo.

The truth: If we are all in this together, then it will all come out in the wash. I will help you when you need it, you will help me when I need it. Having these types of relationships allows flexibility and trust that both partners can ask for what they need, when they need it. If we give and take support from our relationships, then the concept of accruing debt does not apply.

5)      They will say no: And that would be horrible.

The truth: Maybe. But that’s okay. Sometimes they will say no. It’s not so scary or horrible. It’s just no.

There are more, of course. Deep-seated beliefs that stop us from picking up the phone and asking someone for help. But the truth is, in order to show our kids that asking for help is an important part of life, we have to be willing to challenge our own beliefs and practice what we preach. When we do, we show them that asking for help not only gets us through the big emotions with integrity, but also allows us to celebrate the joys more fully through deeper connection with our loved ones. We have to ask for help, when we need it, from the very people that we tell to ask US for help when THEY need it!

So this week, I give you a challenge: Ask for help.

Ask your child for help. Ask a friend for help. Ask your partner for help. Push through the resistance and ask for help. See what happens. It might just change your day. It might just change your life.

 Posted by at 8:25 am
Oct 112012
 

We talk so much about how to help a child through their emotions. We want them to have awareness, understanding, and language to process emotions. We want them to feel, express, process and recover from emotions in ways that are healthy and productive. But what about when parents have emotions? And  more specifically, what about when parents have emotions that interfere with our ability to be calm and present and balanced and thoughtful parents? What about our emotions?

Over the past weekend I was blessed with many opportunities to feel lots of uncomfortable emotions, practice mindfulness, use self calming techniques, and notice when I was reacting to situations rather than interacting with my children. The weekend, in all its kindness, offered me a never ending flow of moments in which I could practice re-centering after I found myself off balance and lost. The weekend was ripe with data collection and information and opportunity for growth.

I should, theoretically, be grateful.

In theory.

In reality, I was frustrated, exhausted, weary, angry and confused.

Prior to the start of the weekend I had set an intention to bring my awareness to a deeper level of parenting. I wanted to challenge myself to be more introspective, to become involved in some of the subtle ways that I may be giving unintended messages to my children. If thinking about your thoughts is referred to as meta-cognition, I wanted to intentionally practice meta-parenting. I was excited and invigorated and had grand expectations of revelations and really deepening my parenting practice and connection with my children.

But that didn’t happen.

Not by a long shot. At least not in the way I had envisioned.

Instead, all weekend I struggled to hold on to the bare essentials of what I value in parenting. I held on to calm with clenched fists and bit back harsh words and heard my voice get louder and saw my actions get sharper and moved through the hours of the days counting the minutes until nap time, and then bed time so that I could breathe again. Rather than looking at how I could become a great parent, I was challenged at every juncture of the day to just be good enough. And it was tough.

So what happened? It wasn’t that my children were exceptionally challenging or difficulty this weekend. They were, as they always are, kids. Kids with needs. And it wasn’t that I was exceptionally bad at parenting this weekend. I was, as I always am, a parent. A parent with needs.  And a parent who for maybe for no reason at all, was having a bad day. The kind of day that, if I was single, I most certainly would have filled with shopping or crying or watching chick-flick movies or eating chocolate chip cookies. Which of course, is just not possible when you’re a mom.

And for some reason, those needs all collided this weekend. And the more they collided that more I judged myself. And the more I judged myself, the more I felt like I just needed a break. And the more I felt like I needed a break, the more I felt overwhelmed by my kids needs. And the more I felt overwhelmed by their needs, the more difficult it became to meet their needs. And the more I missed the boat in meeting their needs the more needy they became. And so on and so on. Sometimes we parents can do it all and feel great we can pull the so-called load with a smile, and sometimes the load just feels too heavy and the road looks too long.

I pulled out every trick of the trade. I tried connecting with my kids fully. I quieted down our space. I changed our agenda to eliminate the “back-ground noise” (no, we really did not need to run those errands today). My husband and I divided up the kids for quality alone time. I took some time to self-care. You name it, we did it. And still, after a few moments with the kids, the feelings welled up in me again and again. Their needs smashed into my needs and my hopes of “meta-parenting” and I would again feel frustrated and the cycle would repeat itself.

By the end of the night I just wanted to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head.

In formal meditation practice we can often find ourselves surprised by the feelings that come up. We can often struggle to force our thoughts a certain direction or try to create an experience that we think we are suppose to have. And in doing so we miss the point.

It seems to me that parenting is the same thing. And that day, I missed the point.  I set an intention, which turned into an expectation to take a deeper look at the messages I may inadvertently give my children. And then, wonder of all wonders, I spent the whole day actually doing many of the things that I most fear doing. And rather than noticing and being gentle with myself, I fought against the process, blamed my children for being needy and got into a cycle that repeated itself over and over again.

The fact is that parents, all parents, are human. Some days, we are just going to be off. Some days, things just won’t feel right. Some days, we just won’t be the parents we aspire to be.  And somehow we have to be gentle enough with ourselves to not get locked into a pattern. When we feel like bad parents, we are more likely to act accordingly. Likewise, when we are gentle and forgiving and nurturing to ourselves we are more likely to be able to do this with our children.

Having bad days is part of life. Having our kids see us having a bad day is inevitable. Sometimes we are having a bad day because of life circumstances, sometimes, we just feel out of sorts for no particular reason. It is important for us as parents to own that rather than reacting to our children in a way that places blame on them. Whether we are having a good day or a bad day, our kids are just kids. Kids with needs.

And when bad days happen, rather than trying to hide it from our kids, what would happen if we engaged with them in an authentic way? What if we tried doing these things instead?

  • Communicate how we are feeling with our children. “I’m having a sad kind of day. I don’t really know why.” Or “Today, I feel really frustrated.”  – We so often encourage our children to identify, label and understand their own emotions, but for some reason, we can feel reluctant to share our own emotions (unless they are happy, proud, joyous, relaxed.) But not talking about our emotions may make it more likely that kids will assume our negative energy is about them! When we are short tempered, and reacting to them, and not talking about our feelings, it only makes sense that kids would believe that they are the cause. This is not the message we want kids to internalize.
  • Allow your kids to be part of the discussion. “I was thinking of trying to take a bath by myself for a few minutes and see if that helps me calm down. Do you have any other ideas? What works for you?” – We often encourage sibling to help each other problem solve emotionally complicated situations. Doing so can give siblings or friends a chance to connect to each other, feel good about helping each other and also teach them about emotional processing. Why not do it when it is the parent who is feeling something? This can give the child the message that mama may be feeling grumpy, and it’s not about them and they can support mama in finding something that works! What a great feeling for everyone.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you said or did something wrong. “I know I yelled earlier. That wasn’t fair and I don’t want to communicate like that. Is there anything I can do for you now?” If we want kids to really understand what it means to apologize and check in and connect with someone they hurt, (rather than just saying “sorry”) then what a better opportunity for modeling this than when we lose our parenting  cool.
  • Don’t be afraid to change the routine.  Being aware that we are struggling through a moment is a great first step. We also have to be willing to make a plan that is more likely to work for everyone. Let’s face it. Taking one or more children to run errands can be a daunting task and often takes all our resources. Realizing that you just aren’t up for it at the moment can divert a disaster. When we are having a down day, some things just have to slide. Knowing what can give can make a huge difference.  Eventually, we have to go to the grocery store. But does it have to be this moment?

Remember that if we can be gentle with ourselves, breathe deep and accept emotion as it comes, no emotional experience will last forever. Waves of emotions come in and go out. Our own emotional awareness and our ability to be gentle and accepting of ourselves and our own emotions will set the stage for how we will teach our children to handle their own emotions. We are all in this together, kids and parents alike. Emotions are just part of the journey, even the uncomfortable ones.

 Posted by at 1:00 pm
Sep 252012
 

Beyond exhaustion, there is parenthood.

Time and time again, I hear from parents, other writers, friends, and my own heart about the depths of exhaustion that we feel as parents. Mothers-to-be talk about their well-intentioned plans for working right after giving birth, only to utter, “What was I thinking?” as they change timelines and work schedules.  Couples who previously enjoyed a rich and connected social life now trade in concert tickets and reservations at fancy restaurants for a few hours of sleep.  Peaceful and rejuvenating sleep becomes a foreign concept, a distant memory as blurry and vague as a fading dream.

Exhaustion becomes a constant companion to our emotional state. It easily becomes the backdrop to our days and nights, as consistent and predictable as the tides.  It becomes a state of being that defines us, bonds us to other parents, challenges our resolve and pushes us to the limits of what we thought we were capable of.

And somehow, even in the midst of blurry-eyed, body-aching, mind-numbing exhaustion, we pull through. Because we are parents. Because there is no other option. Because it is just what we do. And because that feeling we get when our child giggles softly, or hugs us tightly, or takes her first step, or tells a silly joke, or just exists in the world for that matter fills us with an emotion that is even bigger than exhaustion. That emotion doesn’t really have a name. That emotion is Love. Pride. Joy. Fear. Awe. Wonder. Glee. Vulnerability. Anxiety. Agony. Delight. All mixed into one. The Feeling of Parenthood.

That emotion feeds us, fills up our empty tanks and rejuvenates our weary souls so that sleep almost becomes optional. Something we can get back to later, tomorrow, next week, next year. But even as so many of us thrive on the wonders of parenthood, it is important to be aware of how exhaustion can impact our relationships with others, including our children.  It isn’t just the lack of sleep that can deplete our bodies, hearts and souls. Even parents with “good sleepers” complain of feeling exhausted.  So much is happening that can deplete us:

  • We suffer from poor sleep quality. Even if we get enough hours of sleep, the sleep we do get may be less solid. How many of us sleep with one ear open, listening for any small sound? Sometimes I am amazed (and dismayed) by how easily I wake up every time a child in my home talks in his sleep, rolls over or shuffles around in the night!
  • Children don’t have a pause button. Parenting is a never-ending marathon. Often, when we are engaging in a strenuous or exhausting task, we find motivation in the fact that it will soon come to an end. Not so with parenting. There is no end in sight. Our children’s need for us is never ending, our to-do list is ever growing, and the demands on our heart and soul are infinitely present. Until one has children, there is no way to understand or prepare for the feeling of constantly being needed. For most of us, it can be draining and for some of us it can be downright overwhelming. Adjusting to this is not always blissful.
  • When we have children, we routinely give up the other things that rejuvenate us. Time with friends, meditation, exercise, massages, books (other than children’s books). We all have things that fulfill us and bring a sense of peace or joy to our lives. When kids enter the picture, these things take a back seat. We don’t have the time, money, space, energy, or motivation to incorporate them into our lives anymore.
  • As we support our children through their own emotional processes, parenting brings up a never-ending flood of our own emotions, triggers, memories and issues. Our own stuff. This emotional roller coaster can be exhausting in and of itself.
  • While our kids may take precedence on our priority list, our other responsibilities don’t have pause buttons, either. Our partners need our attention. Our bills need to be paid. Our refrigerators need to be filled. Our laundry baskets need to be tended to.  Needs. Needs. Needs. Our world is full of them.  Everything wants a piece of us. All while our kids say, “Be here with me now.”

 

For most of us, it isn’t just the lack of sleep. Rather, it is a combination of all of these things that weigh on our hearts and bodies and minds and leave us dragging or snapping or reacting from a place of exhaustion rather than a place of present and peaceful parenting. If we become aware of the impact of these aspects of parenting on our emotional selves, maybe we can give ourselves a little space and support to do what we need to do to restore a bit of balance. We aren’t likely to achieve complete balance, not for a few years at least. But maybe we can tip the scales back just enough so that the Feeling of Parenthood can be enough fuel for a while.  How? Here are a few tips to try.

 

  • Become aware of your own issues. Being in tune with our own heart is crucial for avoiding “reactive” parenting and making space for peaceful and supportive interactions with our children.
  • Find one thing that is uniquely yours and brings you peace and joy. Reading, running, writing, it doesn’t matter what it is. Now find a way to make it happen on a regular basis. It may be for five minutes a day or once a month. Own it. Honor it. Enjoy it.
  • Focus on working toward being truly present with your children. Recognizing that our minds are usually pulled in a million directions at once and practicing being present in the moment can have an immediate and lasting impact on our state of mind.
  • Connect with your partner. Make space and time for your relationship. It’s difficult, but necessary.
  • Decrease screen time.  Realize how much impact the television, internet, phone, etc. has on your life. These thing take us away from the moment, create background noise and clutter in our world, and may be depleting us in ways we don’t even realize.
  • Connect with that Feeling of Parenthood.  Let it fill you. Breathe it in. Revel in it.  It is, after all, the source of the fire that fuels the flame. It is what lies beyond exhaustion.
So, the next time weariness strikes,  when you feel like you have had enough and your cup is almost empty, pause, breathe, and wait. In the space of the moment, sort through the various things that may be pulling on your thoughts and let them go. We can’t stop parenting when we are tired, but we can stop the emotional roller coaster and focus on what matters most in the moment: the Feeling of Parenthood.

 

 Posted by at 11:29 am
Jul 092012
 

We all have issues. No matter how wonderful our parenting skills, no matter how peaceful and loving and gentle we strive to be in our interactions with our children, at the end of the day we all have issues.  Often, our issues are clear. We know about them and work on them on a daily basis to try to keep them in check. Other issues may be more subtle or buried deep in the depths of our psyche. Or maybe we feel like we have conquered them. So when our children, our sweet-faced, big-hearted, little bundles of love bust out with something like, “Mama! Your butt looks like a million monsters stuck together!” we may be surprised at our own reaction.

True story. I will give you the full picture.

There I was, getting out of the shower, my children running in and out of the bathroom (I am sure all of you can relate) when my preschooler says, “Mama, you have a very big butt!” Now, he didn’t say it in his maniacal, I-need-attention-so-I-am-going-to-squeal-at-the-top-of-my-lungs kind of voice. Nope, he said it in the way one would notice a lovely tree or flower or maybe an overripe tomato on the vine. A sing-songy, quiet and sweet voice. A just-noticing kind of voice.  I swallowed and held back all of the societal beliefs and pressures and unrealistic notions that were welling up inside me. “Really?” I tried to respond as neutrally as possible. “Oh yeah, it’s like a million monsters all stuck together.” And though I tried to hold onto my self esteem, I could feel it going down the drain with the water.

We can laugh. I laughed at the moment and I laugh now. But I am also aware of how it impacted me. I was acutely aware that he had, quite innocently, triggered an issue for me.  I am also well aware of the fact that he is four, has no idea about body image or ideals or the struggles women in general deal with in our culture surrounding their body. He has no idea that big butts are considered differently from small butts any more than he would think big rocks are different from small rocks. They are just that, different. There was no judgment in his voice, no motive, no devious plot to bring me down. It was just his observation, mashed together with what he was thinking about moments prior. My butt is bigger than his butt. Fact. He was thinking about monsters. Fact. They merged together. He spoke it out loud and went on his merry way. The drama happened inside of me.

So, back to the beginning. We all have issues. We have body issues and food issues and anger issues and love issues and relationship issues. We have guilt issues and mother issues and control issues.  We have deep issues and shallow issues, big issues and small issues. And the unavoidable truth is that our children will trigger these issues.  When our issues get triggered, the drama inside us unfolds. And when the drama unfolds, it tends to come out in ways that we don’t intend. When we react to our children based on our inner drama, a couple of things happen,

1)      We react to situations with misplaced anger, shame, guilt or control. We lose sight of what is actually going on with our children and steal the show, so to speak.

2)      When we let our inner drama lead the way, we have difficulty following through with our parenting intentions and find ourselves saying or doing things we don’t want to say or do.

3)      Maybe most importantly, when we let our inner drama lead the way, we make our children responsible for our issues. When we make them responsible for our issues, they lose their right to learn and explore the world in a safe and genuine way. They now have to learn to manage us as well as themselves.

So what do we do? Or, as a friend expressed it more eloquently,

“What to do when your preschooler rips out your soul, throws it on the ground, and goes number two on it?”

(the true and rightful title of this blog).

1)      Become aware of your issues. Use whatever method works. Journal, meditate, seek therapy, think, have wine with friends, whatever. Just be willing to take inventory and become aware of what your issues are. If you know that one of your buttons is being late, and you know that you become irritated and anxious and irate when people are late, it may explain why you hear your voice rising every time you have to get your family in the car. Dawdling children may trigger something in you that interferes with your ability to respond gently. But children are dawdlers. They just are. Feeling like they are doing it to spite you is your drama, not theirs. Can you identify your patterns and triggers? Can you notice how your responses to your children may be drama-led rather than child-focused?

2)      Once you have a grasp of your bigger-picture issues, practice becoming more aware in the moment.  Breathing and becoming aware of the thoughts and emotions that guide us can have a wondrous impact on our ability to respond gently in the moment. I strongly believe that the number-one, most under-appreciated parenting tool is simply breathing.  When we take a moment to become aware and connected with our breath, we have a chance to also become aware of the thoughts and triggers and emotions that are coloring our vision. This gives us an opportunity to assess the situation. I like to use the acronym CORE. I have written about it in other blog posts, but basically it is:

C- Connect and center. Breathe, take a moment, notice yourself, notice your child.

O- Observe the opportunity. What is actually happening? What do you need? What does your child need?

R- Realize the moment. What path do you want to take?

E- Engage. Sometimes this means doing something, sometimes this means doing nothing. But often, it means doing something different from your first impulse.

The whole process takes the space of a breath and can change a moment drastically.

3)      When you feel yourself triggered in the moment, take note of it and mentally file it away. Then respond to your child in the way that your child needs. Later (and this is the important part), process the issue in some way, shape or fashion. How is up to you. Use whatever you know works. You might try laughing about it with friends, journaling, getting help from a mentor, therapist, or coach, or just thinking it over.

So what’s the bottom line? The issues are our issues. Not their issues. And unless we want our issues to become their issues, we better make sure that we are fully aware of moments when the drama inside us is leading the way.  Because when we feel like our children are “ripping out our soul and throwing it on the ground and going number two on it,” they probably aren’t. They are probably just being kids.  And it’s our job to make sure our issues don’t get in the way of that.

 Posted by at 7:10 am
Sep 262011
 

The other day at the park I overheard two moms talking about another mom they both knew. They were talking about that mother’s decision to try the “cry-it-out method” to help her child sleep: “She’s crazy.” “I would never do that to my baby.” “It just seems too awful.” Even though the mother-on-trial wasn’t there, I felt a pang of empathy for her. Her friends’ judgments were anything but supportive. I imagined a mother at the end of her rope, exhausted from lack of sleep, maybe at odds with her partner due to the nighttime stress. She probably feels pretty alone and frazzled and scared she is making the wrong decision. She has probably fretted and worried and changed her mind about how to parent her little one and finally committed to a certain method. A method that at least two of her friends disagree with.

I wondered where that left her. Where does that leave any of us?

As parents we enter into a world that no one can really prepare us for. Even though millions have forged the road ahead of us, we still feel as if we are inventing the wheel, each step can feel new and awkward, scary and difficult. We constantly question ourselves. Are we doing it right? Are we messing everything up? We are our own worst critic. We judge ourselves constantly.

And who do we turn to for solace, refuge, support? Our friends. Other moms who share our common experience. Others who are where we are or who have been where we are now. Women. Mothers. Sisters. Friends. They should be our closest allies. We should be able to wrap ourselves in the warmth of our commonality and feel comforted knowing we are not alone. We should be able to tell our “sisters” all of our worries, all the things we fear we are doing wrong, all the things we judge ourselves so harshly for.

But, we don’t. Why? We fear judgment from them.

And, sadly, I wonder if our fears are often justified.

I know it’s an amazingly blatant generalization, but I have to say it anyway. Women seem to be almost as judgmental of other women as we are of ourselves. Maybe it makes us feel better, more competent in our own parenting to be able to judge others. Maybe it’s just habit. Maybe our judgments are really just reflections of our own worries.

Whatever it is, one thing is for sure. It keeps lots of us from really giving or receiving the support we need from our “sisters.” And during this amazing stage of life called mothering, we may need our sisters more than ever.

So what can we do about it? How can we change our Mama Circles from being a Jury of Our Peers to a Sisterhood of Support? I propose that a few new truths can make all the difference:

1)      There is no “Right Way” to parent. Parenting strategies have to work for the child, the parent and the family. If they don’t, the strategy just won’t be effective. We have to be true to our own dynamics first rather than blindly following a theory or advice.

2)      All kids are different, all parents are different, all families are different.

3)      Parents are the only ones who can be an expert on their family.

4)      As parents, we all have things we will do “right” and things we will do “wrong.” In that way, all sisters are equal.

5)      Parenting is like a Monet painting. It’s the accumulation of a million decision points parents make over the years that create the painting. One individual dot probably won’t make or break us. We agonize over the dots instead of working toward the bigger picture. Sisters can help bring us back to the bigger picture rather than adding critique to the dot.

6)      And maybe the most universal and important truth. If you’re a mother, no matter what pain, fear, anxiety or regret is being expressed by your “sister,” you have probably been there. If not, then you will be soon. Listen with empathy.

As women, let’s ban together. Let’s commit to loving each other, supporting each other and helping each other thrive as mothers. Let’s adopt the mantra “I’m with ya, Sister!” and really mean it. Let’s let go of the judgments and give each other what we really want in return: Pure, unadulterated support with no strings attached from the only people who can really understand how we feel. Our sisters.

Sep 122011
 

I love my mom. My mom is awesome. She was a stay-at-home mom until I was about 8 or 9 years old. She made clothes for my dolls, she hand-sewed pillows of the letters of my name, she even threw a sleepover St. Patrick’s Day party with green make-your-own pretzels just because we were moving and I would miss my friends.

She was a role model for keeping an orderly and clean house, she created nutritious family meals and always made our birthdays and holidays extra special and magical. I admired when she went back to school and established a career. I so valued the fairness she always aimed for between my brothers, my sister and me.

I learned so much from my mom that nourished my development and made me the person I am today—and yet, there was at least one important area that I had to learn on my own. This was highlighted for me when my son was first born and I was still nursing him. I was spending a week at the beach with my extended family. As many of you know, nursing along with sleep interruption can be very demanding physically. I was about 6-8 weeks into it, and let’s just say Jacob was not a great sleeper. One morning Jacob started to fuss and seemed to be hungry, so before getting “into position” to nurse him for what could be up to 30-45 minutes, I decided to first eat a quick breakfast. My mother didn’t control herself from chiming in with her vote on my decision. “Juuulie…,” said with that tone that conveys in an instant that I have done something that warrants disapproval. It became clear in that moment that I was not following my mother’s wisdom but instead my own. Just like on an airplane when the adult puts on her oxygen mask first and then assists the child—this was what I was doing with my son. I was grateful that my mom was able to hear my perspective and acknowledge that somehow both my sister and I were able to learn this valuable lesson on our own. I learned it the hard way. I learned it after a variety of “accumulated-stress/health crisis” type experiences where I realized that I must take care of myself (my heart, body and soul) because others won’t AND that I must do this to better serve my family.

This lesson is one that I think we all circle back to many times in our lives. It is frankly challenging to do and often requires a certain set of conditions to sustain. What works at 20 or 30 may not at 40. What was possible before kids may need to be revised after kids. Below are some specific aspects I have learned with regard to self-care:

  • Break the downward spiral. This can be the hardest part. When we find ourselves over-tired, anxious, craving sweets and it’s raining outside—what is it going to take to break the cycle enough to move us towards feeling better enough to want to keep doing what is best for our own care? Identify the support you need and get it.
  • Get the help you need. If you need to jump start out of a downward spiral, you might want to pay a professional (doctor, naturopath, therapist, acupuncturist, personal trainer, coach, etc.) to turn the tide. A little St. John’s Wort could go a long way.
  • Build a community of support. Once the momentum is headed in the right direction, your support could be your spouse, your friends, or relatives. How we eat and what we value is significantly influenced by those we are with daily. How often have we been drawn into having a chocolate éclair just because our sweetie bought it for us?
  • Find what works for you. For your body. (Do you need a run to get the serotonin going or is restorative yoga the type of relaxation your body craves?) Experiment, learn about physiology and nutrition and use your self-awareness to discern the right formula for you.

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Aug 022011
 

Motherhood Bliss. I heard about it, read about, talked about it and expected it. It is in part, why I was so excited to get pregnant. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to coo over tiny fingers and get lost in the first smile of a newborn? And then there is the other side. Post partum depression. As a psychologist I knew all about that too. I understood the diagnosis and was ready to look for symptoms. My midwife and pediatricians were great about checking in with me to make sure I wasn’t suffering from a serious depression that may interfere with my ability to care for my child, or myself. They would run down the list of symptoms.  Mood swings? Well, my hormones were pretty wacky, does that count? Anxiety? I was terrified of doing something wrong as a parent, worried about my baby’s every breath, does that count? Disrupted sleep? Come on, really? Is there a new mom who sleeps peacefully? Irritability?  I was sleep deprived and my boobs hurt. You could say I was irritable.  Uncontrolled crying? I find myself welling up from time to time, usually overcome with an overwhelming love and awe for the little person in front of me, does that count?  Sadness? Well, let’s talk about that one. Between you and me, there was something there, way in the back of my mind. I didn’t dare acknowledge it out loud, because that might have meant that I was not experiencing motherhood bliss.  And I must have been blissful, because I couldn’t say I was depressed and those were my only two options right? So I pushed it away. Never mind, no sadness here!

Somehow my midwife and I came to the conclusion that I was not experiencing post partum depression.  Excellent, I was in the midst of motherhood bliss.  Good to know.  My friends and family told me I looked great. I was glowing. Excellent. Good to know.

Most of the time I believed them. Most of the time it was true. Most of the time, I was in utter love and complete awe of the magic that was transforming my life into something that I never imagined was possible. Some of the time I even felt like the moms in movies and on the cover of magazines, vibrant and alive with a lusty obsession with my baby. For the most part I was content to stare at him sleeping, and when I was not staring at him, I was probably staring at pictures of him, afraid of missing one tiny miniscule moment of his life.

And then, the sadness would pop up. Just a glimmer of it. A nudge really, elbowing me in the inner recesses of my mind. A thought formed….”who am I now?” I was quick to answer, I am a mom. And mostly I loved the answer. And then another thought…”what did I use to do, what did I use to like?” I was not sure. How did I ever think any of those things were important? I wondered if I was previously just an incredibly shallow and unenlightened person or did the things I use to like to do really matter in another world, in another time, to another person. The old me. The childless me.

Where is that me? I would try to remember. I used to really love my career. I used to love to travel, to eat out in great restaurants with friends, a good bottle of wine, a good book. I used to love hot baths and long phone conversations and movies. Do I still like these things? Absolutely! And I would do any of them in a heartbeat….any chance I get. But they are secondary. They have ceased to be my first priority. Now, my career is a means to provide for my children. Travel consists of packing up to go the park or the zoo and eating out is limited to restaurants that have a train table. Last time I picked out a bottle of wine I grabbed the first one I saw with one hand as I reached for my toddler who was running down the aisle with the other.  I still read, but a book takes me months to finish and while I used to bask in the profoundly beautiful writing of Marquez and Hemmingway, I now am obsessed with Eric Carle, Richard Scary, and Dr. Seuss.  Hot baths? Well, I’m lucky to get a quick shower and that doesn’t happen without someone poking a head in or throwing a plastic dinosaur in with me. And as for long phone conversations, well, find someone who will tolerate talking for long when my part of the conversation is splattered with “please take the dinosaur out of your nose”  and “please don’t lick your brother’s head”.  When I do manage to squeeze in a conversation I am hard pressed to have something interesting to say that doesn’t concern poop.

I have become the person I always said I would never be.  I have become the typical mom. I am dying for a minivan and instead of surfing the internet to find  a great band to see with friends tonight I am surfing to find out what time story time at the library is. I am a parent to toddlers.  The things that used to define me are mere memories, whispers of a life that seems too far removed from my reality now to be obtainable. I am sure, that some day I will get back there. I will read something that has more than 10 words per page and have interesting thoughts about the state of the union.  I know this is true but somehow, right now I can’t imagine it.

And thus, the sadness. A bit of grieving for the person I was. Not an overwhelming sadness. Not an uncontrollable, diagnosable, depressed kind of sadness. It is a quiet feeling. An afterthought really. But it is real and true and undeniable.  And for some reason we don’t talk about it. At least I didn’t.

Maybe I am afraid of admitting that the “motherhood bliss” isn’t really all blissful all the time. Maybe I am afraid that admitting to a certain level of sadness may diminish my love for my children. Maybe I am afraid that people won’t think I am supermom.  Maybe I am afraid they will diagnosis me or label me with post partum depression and that will somehow make me less successful as a mother.

The reality is that both are true.  We can be in motherhood bliss. We can thrive on being with our kids and at any given moment we would probably rather be with them than doing anything else. We can be supermoms. We can breast feed and baby-wear and make homemade baby food from our organic garden and do art projects and trips to the Children’s Museum. We may love it all.

And we may just be  a little bit sad.

When ever I talk about this with other moms the same thing happens.  A collective sigh comes from all the supermoms in the room. The usual banter about diapers and nap routines is suddenly punctuated by a heartfelt commonality that we all seemed to understand but rarely speak about.  We were all in the midst of a drastic identity change and while we all embraced the profound meaning of motherhood, we were all a tiny bit sad about the profound loss of the things that use to be important to us.  Most importantly I think we all felt closer having taken the risk to admit to the sadness.

Just knowing that other supermoms feel the same way was an emotional elixir that soothed my worried soul. It seemed as if the worrying about the sadness was more troublesome than the sadness itself.  Like I said, the sadness itself was an afterthought. A fleeting feeling of loss that emerged from time to time.  The lingering result was the fear that experiencing this sadness somehow meant I loved parenthood less. That I was less than the supermom I wanted to be. Knowing that all the moms I look up to, all the moms that seem to have it all together, experience the same thing as me changed my outlook. Maybe the loss wouldn’t feel so lonely. Maybe the change wouldn’t  be so scary. I wish my friends who foraged the road to parenthood ahead of me had been able to talk about the downside a little bit more. I wish I had been in a place to listen to them if they had. I hope I can talk a little more honestly to my friends who will enter parenthood after me. Maybe together we can learn to celebrate the change, rather than ignore it.

 Posted by at 7:06 am