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.
Did you feel it-- feel the world stop on Friday? We all did. I believe that Mother Nature and the entire Universe felt it, too because the events of that day went against every law of nature; another human being doing such unimaginable harm to another, especially our children…our future…our visible reminders of what it means to be blissful, perfectly present, and filled with divine energy and pure love.
The news of the horrific tragedy in Connecticut delivered a punch so hard, that collectively, we all lost our breath. And whenever we lose our breath, we lose our mental balance, and fear instantly takes root in our minds. We become confused, dumbfounded, and paralyzed. This is how I, and I am sure many of us, couldn't help but feel upon hearing the horrific news. But as human beings, especially as mindful mothers, in tragic times like these, we must rise above our fears and ground ourselves in the profound love we have for our children. For our divine connection to our kids reminds us of the power of our love to create miracles. Love begets love. Love is contagious-- but only if our hearts remain open to let it flow freely.
Feel It to Free It
I was awestruck by how quickly reading about the details of that day shut me down. I wept deeply, almost uncontrollably at times. The depth of my emotions were a clear indicator of rampant thoughts of fear running through my head. As frightening as it was, I allowed myself to feel everything; not that I really had a choice. These emotions were no match against my feable attempt to suppress and avoid them. The moment I truly let go and lost myself in the intensity of what I was feeling, I heard a voice. It was crystal clear, and it hovered somewhere above the chaos and the confusion. It was my true voice; the voice of my heart. “Jen….what’s going on? Why is this hitting you so hard?”
This was my mindfulness practice paying off during a pivotal point in the game of life. This simple act of self compassion and present moment awareness enabled me to see past my fear. The moment I noticed and labeled it, I instantly gained clarity. I realized my emotions were so severe because I felt deep grief for the immeasurable loss of precious life, as well as a profound sadness for the parents of the souls lost and children who survived but lost their innocence. But that was not all. The thought that was wreaking the most havoc in my head was, "What if that were my child?" As a parent, anytime this fear flashes through your head, you react as if that were the grave reality. Our bodily response doesn't discern the difference between what's real and fantasy in our minds. Fear feels real, so our bodies react. It was that powerful, primordial, parental fear for the safety of my three young daughters that brought on a flood of uncontrollable emotions.
As I stood frozen, staring out of my bedroom window with a tattered Kleenex in hand, the destructive cycle of fear kept taunting me with heart wrenching questions, “What have you done bringing children into this world?, Do you have the courage to let your girls grow and go?, Would you have the strength to endure the most unimaginable event in a parent’s life if it happened to you?” Fear has this way of shaking you to your core...that is until you recognize exactly what it's gettin' away with.
Vimala McClure, in the Tao of Motherhood says it best, “When you have your first child, suddenly life become precious. So precious you can strangle it with the tension of holding on. What mother hasn’t had fearful fantasies of losing her child? This is the hardest time to accept letting go as a part of holding on.” When our minds are consumed by fear, it's not only hard to accept that we have to let go of our children, it's unfathomable. But this is exactly fear's ultimate plan-- to trap you in your head, so your heart will not be your guide. Fear wants us to grasp our children with claws of steel because then it has succeeded. Fear is contagious, too! As mothers we need to remember that our fears can be caught by our children. Fear strangles life, hope, love, wisdom, and dreams because it halts the flow of energy. It stops movement forward. Forward motion is life, and it's what's necessary in the face of pain and suffering. We have to move forward to move out of it.
MINDFUL MAMA PRACTICE ~ Choosing love
The practice always starts with allowing ourselves the space to feel all our emotions as they arise. When we allow them to flow, we are better able to witness them as they pass-- and they will pass, for nothing is permanent. Mindfulness enables us to "name it to tame it." Can you recognize your fear? What does fear look like in your body? Get good at identifying the emotions or bodily sensations that indicate that fear has sabotaged your mind. For me-- it’s weeping, feeling out of control, and a general sense of sadness. The INSTANT you see your fear, you’ve regained control of your mind, and it no longer has the power to control you.
The next step is to intentionally CHOOSE to refocus your attention on Love. Fear may be a natural human “reaction” to pain and suffering, but it’s our divine nature to “respond” with peace, love, and presence (Hamrick). The only place we can respond with peace, love, and presence is in the present moment. We must breathe, pause, and become present of all the love that currently surrounds us. It is always there in abundance, we just have to shift our attention. Where our attention goes, our energy goes.
After learning of the tragic news, the moment I noticed my fear, and felt my body and mind spinning out of control, I paused. I reconnected with my breath. That pause gave me the space to shift my thoughts to love-- immense gratitude for the miracle of the birth of my children, the profound blessing of being able to tuck them into their warm beds, kissing their lips goodnight, and for my ability to see these blessings in my life. My LOVE for my children grounds me every.single.time. Being grounded, I hug my children tighter, I linger in their presence, and I listen more than I speak.
When the world stopped on Friday, it provided us with an incredible opportunity to pause, catch our breath, and refocus our attention on what matters most-- the love we have for each other. As mothers, you and I have incredible powers to transform the world with our love, and we do it by loving our kids. Focusing on this love calms and clears our minds. The most selfless gift we can ever give another human being, especially our children when they are suffering, is our peaceful, calm presence. When we are calm and present, our hearts are wide open, and we can literally (through energetic means) transfer love and compassion into the depths of their soul. The love that emanates from an open heart is the greatest antidote to pain and suffering. At times like these, as we draw our kids close, linger in their presence, and show them respect and compassion, may our love multiply not only in their hearts, but ours as well. The love we generate from loving our kids can heal the world.
Our love is contagious.
Before I became a mom, I was successful, conventionally speaking. I went to college, got a good job, made good money, got my Master’s degree, went on vacations, wore pretty clothes, drove a new car, yada, yada, yada. In terms of our society’s standards for making it, I was. Then I gave birth. Instantaneously, my life changed. I left my teaching job, gave up my salary, no longer went on vacations, ditched the dry-clean only attire for 100% cotton and 100% washable frocks, and traded in my fancy two door coupe for a minivan. In terms of society’s standards for making it, as a SAHM (stay at home mom), I wasn’t. But I was still happy. I think? Wait….I really can’t remember. My oldest was 17 months old when I gave birth to twins, so I’m serious when I say, for the first 3 years of my new life as a mother, I really had no energy or time to think deep thoughts of who I was or whether or not I was still “successful.” In my new world, success was potty training a toddler while tandem nursing two babies at the same time. But as my girls grew, so did my unoccupied time. And I know you know what happens when you have unoccupied time. You think. So I thought….and…oh yeah, spent more time on Facebook.
My relationship with Facebook is, how shall I put it… complicated... classic love/hate. (Of course, this does not include our Mindful Moms Network page or other positive, inspirational pages and Facebook communities!) What I love about Facebook is how connected I feel; connected to friends that I haven’t seen in the flesh for over a decade just by checking out the newest pics in their photo album, or by being able affirm their funny stories or show my support during their hard times with the click of a “like” button. But it’s the weirdest thing. For as much as I Iove how Facebook allows me to feel connected to my friends, I "hate" how it sometimes makes me feel disconnected from myself. The longer I peruse image after image of exotic trips taken to Bali or Bora Bora, the most recent Coach purse purchase, the new 45 ft boat used for sensuous sunbathing, or the wild girls’ weekend in Vegas, it's easy to begin to feel a little depressed. (Gosh, maybe this is why I like to drink a glass of wine as I surf Facebook... numbs the pain a bit.) Everyone's lives look so flashly, so exciting with all their stuff that only moolah can buy. Last time I checked, I am not actually getting paid the $112,962 that the most recent issue of RealSimple says that as a SAHM, I would earn. So I can't help but go there, (perhaps you know where there is) feeling not good enough or that I don't have enough; feeling that they are making it. They are a success. And, I’m not.
DELIBERATLY FOCUSING ON THE GOOD
My misadventures on Facebook have been a profound teacher, it turns out. The last time I was on Facebook (sans wine ‘cause I wanted to feel all the pain), I did something crazy. I watched my thoughts of envy, fear, doubt, and failure flow through my brain without attaching to them. I just noticed them. I didn’t judge them. I didn’t push them away. I didn’t react to them by feeling bad. In this mode of acceptance, I saw with a clear mind and a clear heart something amazing. My unhappy feelings weren’t a result from wanting what others had. No, my unhappiness came from using an deeply flawed measurement tool to assess my “success” in life, especially in my new life as a mom. The moment I got this was the moment I realized I wasn't flawed. The assessment tool I was using was. The longer I (unconsciously, of course) continued to use external measures to quantify my worth, the longer I would feel lack, unhappiness, and a general discontentment with my life. This was the moment the shift to focusing on the good happened. It was the moment I realized that in order to be happy-- truly happy-- I had to redefine success for myself.
(gotta love Dr. Robert Holden)
This shift in perspective changed my life. Instead of unconsciously using a measuring device, one that focused on lack and fear, I would consciously use a device that focused on abundance and love to measure my success. I made the decision to measure success not on what I acquired on the outside, but rather, from what I obtained on the inside-- how present to love I am in my life.
In the book, What Happy People Know, the very first of the “12 Qualities of Happiness” is love. “We often think that being loved is the best feeling in world, but it’s the second best. The best is loving someone else.” It takes presence to love someone else. When we are not unconsciously caught by wanting to do more, be more, get more, we can be present with ourselves and the ones we love. Based on my new definition of success, how present I am in my life to love, I’m rock’n it. I love my girls wildly, unconditionally, and contagiously. When my daughter asks me to dance with her while I am in the middle of preparing dinner (while also texting, emailing, or talking on the phone), and I seize the moment to sweep her up in my arms and twirl her around the kitchen, I am present to love. When she’s having a bad day, and her emotions have gotten the best of her (and I, myself, just want to scream), and I seize the moment to kneel down and give her a big hug, I am present to love. Every time I am about leave the house (I am running really, really late), and I seize the moment to respond to my girls’ calls for yet another hug and kiss, I am present to love. And just the other day, when I was present enough to hear my three daughters playing house upstairs, and my oldest said to her younger sister, “No, Izzy. You don’t have to change out of that dress. You look beautiful just the way you are,” I am present to feel such amazing love and appreciation for the awesome opportunity of motherhood I’ve been blessed with.
Every moment I am truly present, hence not stuck in my head with thoughts of what's missing, worry, stress, anxiety, or fear, my capacity to love is increased exponentially. The more I love, the more I focus on the good in my life. The more I focus on the good and all the abunance (of love) that surrounds me, I experience deep happiness. As a mom who wants her greatest legacy to her children to be happiness and health, I define success as how present I am to love. It may not be flashy, and it's definitely not something I can take a picture of and post on Facebook.
If you were to take a peek inside my life during the day, you'd probably find me scurrying. Scurrying to make meals, clean the kitchen, change diapers, disable the temper tantrums, take phone calls, do the laundry, run errands... sound familiar? And amidst all the scurrying, there is something deep inside me that desires (no, yearns!) for peace, quiet, and calm.
I've waited patiently for calmness to settle down softly onto my surroundings for years. That's a long time to wait patiently. Too long! As if I'm going to wake up one day and serenity has simply arrived like a package at my doorstep. I unwrap it and there it is: my children (ages 4 and 13 months) playing happily and quietly together on the rug; a clean, orderly, well-decorated, home; plenty of extra time during the day to paint my toenails and read several chapters out of the hottest new "nail-biter;" and me... looking and feeling fabulous, sane, healthy, fit and fashionable. Hahhhh...
Eventually, out of pure weariness, I came to the abrupt realization that this fantasy life is not going to simply occur spontaneously, no matter how patiently I wait. And as I pondered this, I began to brainstorm some options for bringing more peace, quiet and calm into my life: wake up at 6am (more ME time), focus my attention on helping my pre-schooler learn how to better listen to me (more sanity), get my 13 month old out of the house more so he doesn't simply run circles in "destruction mode" (a more orderly home), and go to bed every night at 9pm (more "nail-biter" time). However, as I put my options into practice, I found that, although these were all "logical" solutions, they were not at all realistic when bundled together. Shocker!
What I realized is that not only do I have to let go of this perfect fantasy life, I have to intentionally CREATE this peaceful vision for myself; I have to bring this creation into reality within each and every moment of my day. Every day. And that, dear Mamas, begins with ACCEPTANCE. As I accept all of every moment, the beauty, the mess, the smile, the tantrum, the butterfly kisses, the time wasted, the sweet baby cheeks, the embarrassment, the LOVE; and as I feel all of every moment, I find I am able to create a little bit of peace, quiet and calm within me...even if only for a moment. Here's how I do it:
Look Within, Not Without
The calmness is within me, not without. And it is also within you. And by that I mean if we look outside ourselves for objects, people and situations to bring us peace and happiness, then we are looking in the wrong place altogether. If we wait for our lives to magically become peaceful, quiet, or (...fill in your own favorite adjective here), then we will be waiting forever. However, peace is something we can cultivate within our hearts. More than 2500 years ago the Buddha said, "Peace comes from within, not without." And we can practice peace by applying acceptance to all of our moments each and every day. Very naturally, the outcomes of acceptance are: true enjoyment of and gratitude for all that is beautiful within a moment, an ever-increasing ability to let go of all that is undesirable in a moment, and a more clear cut path toward infinite, loving possibilites in terms of how we respond to a moment.
For me, this translates into a deep gratitude for the value and worth of my life and the lives of all those around me, the courage to let go of undesireable moments WAY more easily, the invaluable ability to have fun and be silly in the moment with my kids and husband, and the understanding that life will never be perfect. I'm okay with that now, and it is actually comforting in a way, you know?
I can remember a time not so long ago when I would sit by the fire in the early evening reading a book with a glass of wine, blissfully unaware of the peace and beauty of that moment... unaware of the many details about that moment to be grateful for, and possibly not even intentionally enjoying that moment at all. As I practice acceptance every day, I know I'll let fewer and fewer of these moments simply slip by me. After all, life can be enjoyment and calmness can be within.
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 IS NOT EASY
Our kids are gonna leave us.
Ugh. Just this thought rips my heart to pieces. Yet, I know that letting go of my girls, baby-step by baby-step, is the deal. It’s what I signed up for, but it’s so hard to do! As a mom, it doesn’t matter if your child is taking her first big girl step into those pre-school doors, or your grown “little man” is hopping into his overstuffed car heading off to college. In moments like these, every mother experiences a range of emotions anywhere from fear and worry to excitement, pride, and hope.
Letting go is an essential part of mothering, and we Mindful Mamas continually refine the art of doing it gracefully (if not for our sake and sanity, for our child’s well being). We have to love our children enough to let them go. They are not ours. They never were. They are their own entities, and our job is to protect and guide them as they become strong, independent, and capable. Clinging to their youth or to our identity as their mother only brings us pain and suffering. So not mindful, am I right?! Anytime we experience pain, fear, worry, anxiety, or a desire to control when it comes to letting go of our kids, we are reminded of the work we need to do on ourselves.
IT’S ALWAYS BEEN A MATTER OF TRUST
Letting go is a crucial part of mindful mothering. Negative emotions like worry and fear always take us out of the present moment-- almost instantaneously. It’s impossible to “be in the moment,” exuding peace and acceptance when your head is projecting into the future events that scare the sh*% out of you! You are never capable of handling future events that aren’t real, and worry and fear are always about the future.
Worry. Worrisome and fearful thoughts always paralyze us because when we project into the future, we feel a tremendous sense of loss of control. And no mama enjoys feeling a loss of control when it comes to her kids.
The secret is that you are always, always, always capable of handling any situation that occurs in the present moment. Always. The way you get yourself out of the mental trap that fear and worry has propelled you into is to rationalize with yourself that if that disastrous moment were to really occur (and we all know that the chances of it happening are highly unlikely), you’d be able to handle it. For you always have, haven’t you? I venture to guess that as a mother, you have a proven track record of handling many worst-case-scenarios in the moments they arise. Remind yourself of that. Trust yourself.
Yet, it’s so easy to forget. Letting go is easier said than done. I know. But we have to do it. We have to let go-- gracefully. Otherwise our minds rage like a toddler who is starving and sleep deprived. And every time this happens, we disconnect from the moment. And every time we disconnect from the moment, we disconnect from our lives, our kids, and ourselves. Since we recognize the power of mothering in the moment, letting of control, worry, and fear as we let go of our kids is what we have to do.
So what’s the worst that could happen if you intentionally let go of control, fear, and worry? My Ego tells me that if I don’t control enough, or worry enough, that bad stuff will surely happen. (If only that were the magic formula-- just worry and then bad stuff won’t happen.) In reality, the worst that could happen is the best thing that could happen… you’d stop letting fear and worry control you and how you mother.
Consider this little secret: when you let go of control and fear, you don’t actually lose anything (not anything worth having, anyway). Rather, you gain something in return-- trust. When we don’t unnecessarily interfere with our kids’ lives, we trust them. Trust is love. It’s a felt emotion. When your child feels trusted, they gain self-confidence and learn to trust others. When you trust yourself and your ability to handle any situation in the present moment, you gain self-confidence and trust life. When you trust the moments of your life, your ability to mother from a place of serenity and love is greatly enlarged.
YOUR MINDFUL MAMA PRACTICE
“Fear is love inverted, or your own mental power turned against you.”
~ Marianne Williamson, A Course in Weight Loss
Give it 5 minutes, and you’ll be faced with a situation concerning your child where fear will strike your heart, and you’ll need to let go gracefully. Instead of turning your power against yourself by entertaining thoughts of fear and worry, choose hope. Choose trust. Hope and trust ground you in the present moment. Choose to trust your child, their strength, their wisdom, their spunky attitude they inherited from you. Let your hopes for your child outweigh your fears. Let go gracefully. For in letting go gracefully we remind our hearts that when it comes to letting our kids go, nothing is really lost and everything is gained.
THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
Motherhood is a sacrifice... but you already knew that. Have you ever noticed how the sacrificing starts out rather small and insignificant-- alcohol, caffeine (okay, this is significant), your skinny jeans. Then, as your belly swells and that baby arrives, the sacrifices ramp up a bit. Hello baby, good-bye-- body, sleep, mojo, social life, rationality, a tidy home, silence, and for some moms, careers, financial independence, 401K contributions…(whew~I'm outta breath).
Feels like a lot, doesn’t it? It is a lot. However, if you think about it, all these things are only temporary sacrifices. Okay, my boobs are forever gone, but no worries! Thank you Victoria's Secret Bombshell Bra. Seriously though, I bet if 100 moms made a list of all the sacrifices they've made for motherhood, most would agree that what they’ve given up for what they’ve gotten is totally worth it. Hear, hear.
But there is one thing on my list that I am intentionally working to remove, and perhaps it's on your list, too. It's something that shouldn’t be there. One thing that isn’t designed to be (even temporarily) sacrificed.
"When you give to others to the degree you sacrifice yourself, you make others a thief. They are stealing from you what you need, and they don’t even know it."
~ Iyanla Vanzant
Okay, I'll come out with it. I'm totally guilty of this! But, I can explain. I never meant for this to happen. Seriously. I love being a mom. Love it. But without my awareness, this love for my girls morphed into an unhealthy, unrealistic expectation that I could and should be everything to them all the time. I created this unrealistic expectation in my mind. Thus, I always put off “me time” for when everyone else was good. Yes, I know...you can laugh out loud. That moment has never come.
The challenge as I see it is that motherhood is a 24/7 job, with no built-in breaks (coffee, bathroom, or otherwise), vaca's, or boundaries. This means that our job is infinite. Our kids always need something. Thus, it's so easy to fall into the mental trap of thinking we'll take care of ourselves later. Alas, "later" never comes. Every time we miss an opportunity to meet our own needs, we forget how good it feels to reconnect with ourselves. We forget how good it feels to mother from a rejuvenated heart. When we forget, we easily fall into the habit of completely neglecting ourselves-- making the ultimate sacrifice-- day after day.
MORE THAN A FEELING
Feeling good is essential to mothering. Not only because our kids are so intuitive that we simply can’t hide our inner-emotional states from them, but because the way we feel directly impacts how we mother.
I’ve noticed that I can sacrifice all the things I’ve listed in that first paragraph and not feel bad about losing any of them. Perhaps it's because I know these things are not me. My boobs, my career, my body don't define me. They don’t make me, me.
But the minute, no, the instant, I feel like I am sacrificing myself, I feel awful. Anger, resentment, and bitterness paralyze my emotional state and undermine all the giving and doing I do for my girls. Feeling this way tells me that sacrificing myself isn’t supposed to happen.
The thing is mama, it would be easier (and you’d free up more time) if you could actually sacrifice yourself entirely for the next 15-18 years while you raise your kids. But moms are not designed to function this way. Why? Because YOU are the power source of the greatest power in the Universe: LOVE. Your passions, your dreams, your purposes, your desires, your talents are “you”-- YOUR LOVE. This “you” is not sacrificial because if you lose this passion, this you-ness, you lose the love. And this love, your love, is the greatest power in the Universe.
“Love is the positive force of life! Love is the cause of everything positive and good. Without love, there is no life.”
~ Rhonda Byrne, The Power
Because of the power of your love, sacrificing your you-ness, your passions, your desires, your dreams, isn’t an option in motherhood. Every time you neglect yourself, your needs, your wants, your loves, you diminish the vibrancy and magic of your love. The only way your love gets recharged and replenished is by the love you generate for yourself and turn inward.
Meeting your needs, showing self-compassion, taking a break from the work of motherhood, taking time for yourself, forgiving yourself for whatever guilts you, and engaging in your passions are all examples of ways to shine your love inward so that it can radiate outward more brilliantly. It’s your love that allows you to mother from your heart. It’s your love that allows you to give joyfully to your children. It’s your love that inspires your children to love themselves. YOUR love does all of this. YOUR love.
YOUR MINDFUL MOTHERING PRACTICE
You've simply got to cultivate the love in your heart to be able to give to your children freely and joyfully.
Start with paying attention to how you feel. When you feel that desire to do something for yourself, or you feel yucky emotions like stress, anxiety, anger and frustration, it’s a sign you need to direct your love inward. The more you practice paying attention to yourself, the better you’ll get at meeting your needs before you become completely depleted. Mindful mamas strive for steady, balanced emotional states, instead of extreme highs and extreme lows.
Get into the habit of asking yourself, “What do I need," then take ACTION. Ask yourself this question every hour if you must. The smallest acts of love directed inward multiply and make a profound impact. If you need a cup of tea, make one. If you need to hit the gym after work, just do it. If you need to choose a happier thought, choose it. If you need to plop the kids in front of the t.v. so you can put on your make-up and do your hair, plop away. If you need to order pizza for dinner tonight to give yourself a break, make the call. If you need to ask for help, for everyone's sake, ask.
Create "WIN/WIN" scenarios in your life. It's not selfish to meet your needs ALONG with meeting the needs of your family. This is how everybody wins. Remember, your needs are important, too. In fact, you are glue that holds the whole family together (my husband's exact words to me one day). If you come unglued....well, you know what happens. Being a mindful mama, pay attention to when you begin putting your needs off for a later date. I've found it helpful to operate under the, "one for you, one for me," principle. Meet their needs, then yours, then theirs, then yours.
BALANCE the needs, mama. Keep your balance, and you'll allow the the greatest power in the Universe to flow freely from your heart and into the hearts of those you love.
YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY
I remember how shocked I was when I found out Whitney Houston passed away. Upon reading the tragic news, I quickly Googled her to find out what happened. I mean, it was Whitney Houston! As a preteen, I was captivated by her beauty, her voice, and her totally awesome 80’s hair and outfits in the video, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Oh, how I wanted to have that body, that permed hair, those clothes!
As I skimmed the featured MSN article that explained the sad details of her death, I stopped reading when I came across something she said in an interview in 2002:
“The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy.”
~ Whitney Houston
As I sat back in my chair, I exhaled audibly. “I sooooo get that I,” thought. I am no stranger to being my own worst enemy.
For instance, despite my best intentions, I become my own worst enemy every time I take on too much in order to please the people I love, which inevitably leaves me depleted and overwhelmed. I become my own worst enemy every time I indulge feelings of doubt, fear, and worry and allow them to dictate my life. I become my own worst enemy every time I make a situation more difficult than it really needs to be (I swear it’s almost as if I have something to prove to myself). I do this all... to myself.
Suffering is part of the human condition. Perhaps it's safe to say we all do this to ourselves at some point in time-- inflict suffering upon ourselves, intentionally or unintentionally. I am not 100% sure why, but I think it might have to do with the misguided belief that if we punish ourselves, we’ll be motivated to do better, be better. But this never works. It never works because inflicting pain and suffering upon ourselves seldom brings about positive change because it doesn’t come from a positive place. The most effective way to do better, be better is come from a place of love-- a place of self-compassion.
Love begets love.
ON YOUR OWN SIDE
When was the last time you considered your needs? No, no. Don’t read on. Answer the question, missy. When was the last time you considered your needs? Wait…wait. What’s that I hear? Are those crickets chirping in the dead silence? Sorry, I’m totally projecting. That’s what I myself heard. Isn’t it ironic how the silence speaks volumes?
Self-compassion is being on your own side. Self-compassion is being your own friend. It’s having a real desire to notice and alleviate your own suffering. I know, a bit of a foreign concept for a lot of us. At least it is for me (I'm working on it, though). I have been creating my own drama and suffering for so long that like a fish that is oblivious to the water that surrounds it, I am often oblivious to the times when I create pain in my life. Mindful Mothering is so not about being oblivious. It’s about being aware. But now that I’m a mom, I have to do better, be better. Three sets of eyes are watching my every move. Three little ladies are learning how to treat themselves by watching how I treat myself.
NOTICE your suffering. Sometimes I get so caught up in worrying and creating painful movies in my mind that I don’t even have the wherewithal to get out of my head! Noticing when you are beating yourself up or creating a stressful situation in your life (or your head) changes the dynamic of your relationship with yourself. With this awareness, you immediately transform from being your worst enemy to becoming your own friend.
RESPOND to your needs. Self-compassion is empathy (noticing your suffering) + action. Get into the practice of asking yourself daily, “What do I need?” It’s a simple question, and 9 times out of 10, there is a simple answer. Ask the question, become aware, and then respond to your needs just like you respond to a friend in need.
YOUR MINDFUL MOTHERING PRACTICE
Mindful Mamas understand the power of intentionally practicing self-compassion in their daily lives. When we make it a priority to take care of our needs, alleviate our pain, and essentially treat ourselves as well as we treat our kids, our hearts open. Our hearts soften. Our hearts swell. Every act of self-compassion changes our heart. And as we know, our hearts are the best places to mother mindfully from.
Self-compassion is how a Mindful Mama meets her needs, and taking care of her needs is how she keeps her heart full and over-flowing. A Mindful Mama knows that her child draws his energy from her heart. If her heart is calm, happy, loving, open and soft, she becomes a generator of positive energy for her child to tap into.
Whitney was right. “The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” Self-compassion is the divine expression of this love!
As a community of Mindful Mamas,
we want to know...
"What is one thing you will do today (or this week) to meet your needs and show yourself some compassion?"
Drop us a line in the comment section below and help inspire our community of mindful mamas!
(I'll start.... I asked my neighbor to come over and watch my girls this morning so I could go for a run and then spend a couple blissful hours writing this post in peace and quiet. This is the first time I have done this! I know myself, and I need just a little time each day to focus my attention on my passions. It brings me to life. Not to mention, I've just saved myself so much stress and guilt from trying to "work" while my girls ran circles around my desk. Now that I've had my time, I happily turn my full attention to them for the rest of the day!)