Look closely at the image to the left... what do you see? Can you see the duck? Can you see the bunny? Can you see both the duck and the bunny at the same time?
What we actually see depends on where we focus our attention. You see a duck in this picture, when you focus your attention on seeing a duck. You see a bunny in this picture when you focus your attention on seeing a bunny. And did you notice how you can't see both the duck and the bunny at the same time? Isn't it interesting how our brains work?
I love this little experiment because it shows us 1) that one thing can be seen in many different ways, 2) what we intend on seeing is what we will see in reality, and 3) that we have the power to shift our attention and see something completely different simply by changing our perception.
As Mindful Mamas, this is powerful stuff, especially as it relates to how we see our children. The thoughts we think about our children will directly impact how we see them. How we see our children impacts how we interact with them and the expectations we set for them, ultimately shaping how they come to see themselves.
The Eyes of Fear Versus The Eyes of Love
"A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love-- from a belief in what is not real, to faith in that which is. This shift in perception changes everything" (Marianne Williamson).
Shifts in perception-- this is what Mindful Mothering is all about! Mindfulness is our practice of noticing; noticing when our thoughts have fallen into the grips of ego (aka- fear), letting those thoughts go without reacting to them, and then choosing to return to love. Just like you only see the duck or the bunny (not both at the same time), there are only two ways to see our children-- through the eyes of love or the eyes of fear. Marianne Williamson reminds us that "[l]ove is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here." This reminds us that love is the only thing that is real and fear is an illusion.
As Mindful Mamas, our practice is to routinely get back to our center point of love when we notice that our fearful thoughts have pulled us away. Our mindfulness practice is the daily dedication to noticing our fearful thoughts about our children and situations they are in and work to "unlearn fear" so that the divine, limitless love that emanates from our Truth is what guides our thoughts, actions, and words in our mothering.
There are countless moments in our everyday lives when our fears for our kids get triggered. And when our fears get triggered, our thoughts and actions seek to limit, confine, control, and constrict the full expression of our children. We don't do it on purpose and, many times, we don't even realize when we are doing it. This is how fear works; it likes to fly undetected...that's how it maintains its power. When our fears for our children take control, how we see them changes; and how we see makes all the difference in how our kids come to see themselves.
Seeing your kids as capable, smart, resilient, and trustworthy
Courageous mothering is choosing to see your children through the eyes of love even when you are tempted to see through the eyes of fear. It's choosing to see them (in even the most scary situations, like when your "baby" is leaving for college) as capable, intelligent, resilient, and trustworthy. It's choosing to return to love when fear has taken you away.
Remember that fear will trick you. Without your awareness, your fears will trick you into seeing your kids as unable, needing your constant care, attention, and protection. Think about why mothers overprotect their kids (I am raising my hand here-- I've totally done this!). They are afraid their children will get hurt (emotionally and/or physically)-- and they won't be able to handle it. They are afraid of what pain their kids will feel-- and they won't be able to handle it. More so, mothers are afraid of what they will feel when they see their child experiencing pain-- and are afraid that they won't be able to handle it!
In the end, our fears cause us to overprotect our kids (in other words, limit the full expression of themselves) because we are afraid that we are not strong enough, capable enough, or resilient enough to handle it! If we are not Mindful Mamas, its easy to project our perceptions about ourselves on our children. When we are not aware that we are seeing our children (and ourselves) through the eyes of fear, our words and actions towards our kids can reinforce the false belief that they are not capable, not strong enough, or not trustworthy.
Our Mindful Mama Practice
Courageous mothering requires a powerful shift in perspective (that's mindfulness)-- choosing to see our children through the eyes of love rather than fear. It's choosing to see our children:
*as 100% capable of anything they attempt to do, beginning at birth
*as possessing infinite intelligence. Our role is then to create opportunities for them to display it.
*as "born hardwired for struggle" (lovely quote by Brené Brown), strong, and resilient
These steps will give you the power to turn any fearful thought back to love. Sometimes it is easy, other times, not so much. Practice makes perfect. I've found it more challenging to "return to love" when my girls are doing something I see as dangerous (ahem-- scaling a climbing wall that looks 50 feet high), so I've started to practice these steps when I "fear" they are not able to do something for themselves.
Step 1) NOTICE when your brain starts to see through the eyes of fear. You may feel compelled to do something for your child they are completely able to do themselves (thinking they lack the ability, or fear that there isn't enough time, so you want to do it yourself) or you may feel the urge to stop certain behaviors to discourage them from doing something that scares you (fears for their safety).
Step 2) SHIFT to seeing through the eyes of love. See them as capable, smart, and "hardwired for struggle." Say, "I trust you." "I know you can do this." "You are more capable than you realize." "I believe in you.". Your words form their belief system about themselves.
Step 3) ACCEPT and ACKNOWLEDGE how they do things. Compliment them on a job well done, about how imaginative they are, and how well they approach the problem. Draw their attention to their uniqueness, ability, and intelligence.
How we see our children makes all difference in how they come to see themselves. Practice shifting your perspective from fear to love in those mothering moments that tend to trigger your deepest fears and notice how your hopes for your children start to outweigh your fears. Notice how your connection to your child deepens and strengthens because it's based on faith and not fear. Notice how they respond to your positive expectations. Notice how they shine and come into their true selves-- starting to see themselves exactly the way you see them...through the eyes of love.
I had to laugh out loud. I was in my car, on my way to a yoga class, in tears because of an unrelenting week of attending to the constant demands of my three small children. No Doubt’s, Don’t Speak was doing a fine job of causing a sense of temporary amnesia as I sang along. When the song came to an end, the DJ announced, “Here’s an interesting tidbit about the band; Gwen Stefani (lead singer) admits to shutting herself in her closet to get away from her kids every now and again.” That’s when I had to LOL.
I’m not sure why I was laughing. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t help but picture Gwen Stefani sitting in a fetal position in her totally amazing closet while her children beat relentlessly on the door, or because I was in the middle of a “get me the hell out of here” crisis of my own; and identifying with Gwen Stefani felt really good.
Either way, I concluded that the Universe was speaking directly to me: it’s okay to put a little space between myself, my kids, and my mothering. All moms (even super famous ones who probably have housekeepers, chefs, and nannies) need their space.
Wide Open Spaces
Gwen needs it, you need it, I need it, and most importantly, our kids need it, too: SPACE.
It's easy to underestimate the importance of space, I think, because it's not tangible; it isn't something we can see, touch, taste, or grab. But just because we can't quantify it doesn't mean it doesn't have tremendous value. For instance, consider the importance of the space between music notes, bites of food, sunrise and sunset, contractions during birth, or words on a page. Without the space between, none of these things would be the things that they are. Music would be one sound, food would have no taste, days would have no end or beginning, one big contraction would be…well, hell, and if all the words on this page ran together, they’d have no meaning.
Space is essential because it allows for physical things to be defined. Space allows for things (including you, me, and our kids) to be what they are.
Since this idea of space is rather illusive, it's importance in relationships can be looked over. After the DJ exposed Gwen’s "confession" of retreating to her closet for a little space from her kids, he went on to say that in a recent survey (of what, I have no idea), several working mothers openly admitted to looking forward to business trips and going to work. “Yeah, and….,” I thought. There was something about the way the DJ talked about these confessions, or guilty pleas, of mothers that perpetuated the myth that it is taboo for us to admit that we all need a little space away from the demands of motherhood, and yes, the sometimes slightly annoying behaviors of our kids.
As mindful mamas, we know our perceptions of things impact how we feel and how we mother. Thus we choose to perceive space in our mothering, not as something that’s “bad” or something to feel guilty about (I have in the past, I totally admit it), but as something that is essential for both the growth and development our children and ourselves!
Thus, as mindful mamas, we intentionally create space between ourselves and our kids because we know that when we create space for our children to be heard, express themselves, explore their emotions, do things on their own, struggle (the good kind), and create, we allow them to define themselves. Not only that, space in a relationship allows the other person to feel seen, heard, and understood because they are given the space to express themselves. It's strange paradox, but space in a relationship actually brings people closer together!
Mindful Mama Practice
Creating space takes practice, mindful moms! Test, tweak, and try out these tips that will help you create a little space to grow (that means both you and your kids!):
Create Space AWAY:
Finding physical space away from our kids is mutually beneficial. It was a bit of a hard pill to swallow, but I had to admit to myself that my kids were not only just fine without me being there all the time, but that they actually flourished in my absence.
Interacting and being with other loving individuals in their lives (like their dad, grandparents, teachers, and babysitters) allowed them to discover more about themselves. Interacting with different people in different situations helps us to grow into ourselves because we discover things about ourselves that only these people and circumstance are able to teach us. We act differently in different settings around different people.
Same holds true for you, too! You are still growing into yourself everyday. Get out there and meet new people and do new things. As you create the space for your children to be taken care of by someone else, seize the opportunity to get out and expose yourself to new situations that teach you more about who you are continually becoming.
Create Space to Just BE:
It’s important that as mothers we protect our children’s schedules so there is space for them to just be themselves with only themselves. This space looks different at different ages of our kids. When my girls were babies, I gave them space to self sooth and to entertain themselves even if that meant lying on their backs and watching the mobile spin around for 20 minutes. (Okay, quick confession-- about 90% of the time back then, I felt totally guilty about it.).
Today, with a new shift in perspective, I am so much better about just setting out craft material for my preschoolers and getting out of the way for them to create-- that means, I no longer hover over them, asking incessant questions about their choice of color combinations, suggesting they do X with Y, or overly praise every action they perform. Other times, I'll just say, "go play." That's it. "Go play," encourages them to create, imagine, be free, discover, have fun, and explore...just be. When you create the space for them, you create the space for yourself, too. As they are spending time with themselves, what are you going to do with your space?
At every age, our children (and us, too) need space to be alone, to just be with ourselves. So when your teenager comes home from school and slams the bedroom door behind himself, just give him some space (without the probing questions and unsolicited advice). He knows you are there even though you are not right there. When our children are given time to process their thougths and feelings on their own, not only do they learn incredible things about themselves, they become empowered to solve their own problems in (mostly likely) more creative and unique ways than we could have ever come up with.
Create Space in the PRESENCE of Your Kids:
We can also create space in the presence of our kids every single day. The biggest way I’ve been practicing this lately is by being a good listener.
Every time I am intentional about listening to my daughter when she speaks, that means not internally judging and analyzing and then externally advising, I create the space for her to be heard, validated, and empowered to solve her own problems. In this space of my seemingly “non-doing,” I am doing so very much.
I have this tendency to do too much or say too much because of my desire for my girls to feel noticed. Ironically, the more I do and say, the less space I create for their thoughts and ideas; the less I actually notice them.
Create a little space between your instant reaction to solve their problems, offer advice, do a specific task for them, or to discipline. It may sound counter-intuitive but try talking less, asking fewer questions, explaining less, and offering advice only when asked. You may notice, as I did, that your children naturally open up more, share more, inquire more, explore their emotions more, and do more for themselves. Crazy, I tell ya!
Create space, mama. That's really all you have to do! Gently release your grip on doing everything, being everything, controlling everything for your child (yes, I'm exaggerating to make a point). Create the space and notice how darn good it FEELS to be free-- free from the pressure you put on yourself to perfect every situation, interaction, and moment with your children. I bet you'll find when you intentionally create the some space in your relationship with your child, they feel this freedom, too; a freedom to discover, explore, and just be themselves in a loving, accepting, and safe space of your heart.
ON THE COUCH
I agree with Bréne Brown when she says, “You know who you are when you call your friends and say, ‘I think I need to see someone.’”
Let's just say, I know myself very well. So there I sat on my therapist’s couch, gaze down, fiddling with my scarf, confessing, “I feel foolish for even being here,” I said.“I really have nothing to complain about. I have my health, my husband has a job that allows me to stay home, and my girls are healthy and happy. I should be happy, right?”
She just sat in silence, not giving me what I secretly wanted-- any verbal or nonverbal validation of my line of reasoning.
“The worst part,” I rambled on, “is that I know all about mindfulness.” (Oh, yes. She was well aware of my passion project MMN!) “I study it. I read about it all the time. I watch my thinking, and I’m just seeing a bunch of unhappy, angry thoughts. I can’t think my way out of this.”
Like any really good therapist, she still didn’t say a word.
Two seconds later, wanting to fill the uncomfortable silence with something…anything… I said, “Ya know, I just have a hard time accepting that this is my life. I want so much to be different.”
That’s when she smiled. “You may know a lot about acceptance, but maybe you are not actually practicing it in your life," she said calmly.
Then I smiled. That’s the moment it clicked.
So there it was-- my AHA!! My anger, anxiety, and general discontent was a result of wanting things to be different than what they were.
"Now what," I thought? It was painfully obvious I needed to start practicing acceptance, like pronto, but I didn’t have the first clue how to do it. How do I accept things, people and situations that seem totally unacceptable? Isn’t acceptance just giving up? Won’t acceptance simply keep me stuck in the undesirable situations that I am trying so hard to get out of and avoid?
These were all questions I immediately sought to answer the second my session was over. So for the next 4 months, I made a commitment to truly do this acceptance thing; practicing it in as many moments as I could... every day. And this is what I learned….
1) ACCEPTANCE is not what we think it is:
Our egos trick us into thinking that acceptance means defeat, total resignation, and failure. When we unconsciously believe that acceptance is weakness, giving up, or condoning, we want to resist what is. Our egos want us to think that acceptance is the way of weak because the moment we truly accept a situation, person, or event, we no longer have a negative emotional reaction to it. Our egos are rooted in fear, doubt, anger, and resistance-- our negative emotional reactions. Cease reacting (as in unconscious, habitual reaction), cease ego's control.
Acceptance is the act of incredible, conscious, compassionate awareness.
2) RESISTANCE never leads to positive change:
I used to think that if I resisted (got mad and angry) about things that I found unacceptable, that would lead to positive change. But every time I have yelled at my daughter to stop crying, she just cried harder and longer. Never has punishing my body with intense workout regimens and restrictive diets ever brought about a healthy self-image and love for myself. Never has pressuring my husband to get a different job or be something other than he was motivated him to change. If anything, all the negativity, resistance, and anger I infused in each of these situations only created bigger problems.
We teach our children about the power of acceptance all the time! Every time our kids are fighting, you say to the one being taunted, “Just ignore your older brother. The minute you stop reacting to him, he’ll stop pestering you.” For you know the longer your little guy whines, “stop it, stop it,” to his older brother, the longer (and with increased gusto) the older brother keeps up the pestering.
We think that our resistance will create positive change, yet it never, ever does. In fact, when resistance doesn’t create that positive change in our lives, we tighten more and attempt to control harder! The more we tighten and control, the more we narrow our mental focus (as in, we obsess about what we don’t want) and the less we are able to get out of our heads and see other possibilities for positive change.
What we resist persists.
3) ACCEPTANCE is not emotionally reacting (which allows you freedom to choose your response):
When my child is throwing a tantrum, and I don’t react with anger and frustration, I practice acceptance. When I am calm, I see a whole host of other options for responding that I never saw when I got caught in my anger. In my calm response, I kneel down, look her in the eyes, and give her a hug. She stops the tantrum almost immediately.
When I see another mother living the life I dream about, and I don’t react with critical self-comparison and envy, I practice acceptance. In my calm response, I see how much I already have in life. I feel gratitude for the life I’ve created, and I’m inspired and motivated to evolve and grow.
Non-reaction is always the best action.
MINDFUL MAMA PRACTICE
Mindfulness and mindful mothering is all about expanding our perception of things because an expanded perception empowers us with options. When we expand our perception, people, situations, or events, no longer need to change for us to be happy because we have the power to change our thoughts about them. The most direct way to expanding and changing our perception is through acceptance-- non emotional reaction.
Resistance arises when we direct massive amounts of mental energy towards wanting things to be different than what they are. When we do this, we focus on lack; we focus on what's missing. The result is missing all the things (people, events...) that are really the most important because we get so caught up in negative emotions that always end up disconnecting us. You can harness the tremendous power of love and positive energy by practicing acceptance. I have a sneaky suspicion you will find that the moment you choose to not emotionally react to those seemingly "unacceptable" situations, they will change right before your very eyes.
LETTING GO OF CONTROL
It’s true. Sometimes not being in control is the most beautiful thing in the world. Why? Because fear fosters control. And every single time we release the power fear has over us, life becomes beautiful!
Think about those times you’ve tried to control situations in your life or in your child’s life. This impulse to control stems from the fear of not wanting something to occur or from wanting to protect yourself or your child from experiencing pain, hurt, or disappointment. Control and manipulation are not derivatives of love. They are derivatives of fear. Each moment we live our lives or mother from a place of fear, we unintentionally impede the flow of love from emanating from us out into our lives and towards our children.
LOVE is the opposite of fear. TRUST is the opposite of control. Every time you make the conscious decision to trust yourself in your mothering, trust your child to do something for herself, or trust this moment to be perfectly placed in your life, you become a shining beacon of love (kinda like a lighthouse that projects light out into the foggy night). This is the beauty that arises when you allow yourself to not be in total control of every single aspect of your life or your child’s life.
"A wise mother does not unnecessarily interfere with her child's life. Your children have their own process-- their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions-- which must be allowed to unfold. If you do not trust your children's process, your children will not trust anyone or anything. Your confidence in them builds their confidence in themselves."
(Vimala McClure, The Tao of Motherhood)
Being aware of our habit (and egoic desire) to control is important to mindful mothering. It’s only in this awareness that we grant ourselves the ability to make the choice to let go of just the right amount of control at just the right time. Trust yourself as a mama, and you’ll instinctively know when you should allow your child to rely on himself in certain situations.
When it comes to our kids, each time we make the choice to trust and not control, we allow our child’s confidence and self-pride to grow. Self-confidence is the bedrock of trust. When we believe in ourselves and our abilities, we trust ourselves. It’s only when we truly trust ourselves that we can then begin to trust other people and the moments of our lives. When you LET GO of control, you ALLOW for your child’s confidence to grow.
YOUR MINDFUL MOTHERING PRACTICE
Trust is an expression of divine love. This week in your mindful mothering practice, pay attention to your urge to control. When that urge strikes, draw your attention to the fearful thoughts that underlie it. Choose to think a different thought. Remember the beautiful tradeoff that occurs every time you choose trust over control. Trust instills confidence, love, and hope-- in your child, yourself, and the moments in your life. And just like your mindfulness practice is built by small actions over time, so is trust.
As a community of Mindful Mamas, we want to know:
How have you let go of control and trusted
your child recently?
How have you let go of control and trusted
How have you let go of control and trusted
a moment in your life recently?
Drop us a line in the comment section below and inspire us! You'll be entered in a drawing for a FREE copy of one of our all-time favorite mothering books, The Balanced Mom, by Bria Simpson. Gotta love a giveaway!!!