A Thin Line
It's a thin line. Because parenting with mindfulness is about balance. Not balance as in an equal amount of hours devoted to work and life and family; but balance as a feeling of mental equilibrium from which one can navigate the day.
When life isn't in balance, when I've spent too many hours going and giving, I have one of "those days". You know the kind, right? Days when I might be overly concerned with a screen instead of being present with my child. Or I might convince myself it's okay if I sit my toddler in front of the ipad for twenty minutes while I get chores done instead of engaging him in the process of cleaning (which he loves, and it teaches him to play at work). I might be resentful or overly critical of my husband on one of "those days." I might lose my patience with my son's energy, or constant need to be held, or his acrobatic nursing sessions before bed. These days, these kind of moments are all indicators that I've been going and giving too much. All signs it's time to stop and refill my cup--with tea sipped in silence, with meditation or prayer, with yoga, with a bath.
Pema Chodron writes in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, "The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently." And as mothers, I believe, to harm ourselves is also to harm our families. Because of this, it's easy to get caught up in guilt over how we mother and how we live. But looking at ourselves through guilt-colored-glasses is neither honest nor gentle.
The moment I notice myself in the middle of one of "those days," I have a choice. I can loathe myself and allow myself to get caught up in the shame cycle, or I can take an honest, gentle, mindful look at my life.
The first choice will cause me to feel worse and also distract me from being present with my son and husband. The second choice will help me to make productive decisions with how I can change going forward. The second choice can help me to notice where I am empty, to refill those places, and from that fullness I can have the energy to be present with my family. Practicing self-awareness is much easier for me if I can carve out time for these things regularly:
* Time alone. Fifteen minutes to an hour every week is something I desperately need.
*Movement or yoga--to allow the less desirable emotions like guilt or impatience or fear or resentment to move through me.
*Time outside in nature. This time can be with my family or alone. For me, time spent in the mountains or at a river with my toddler splashing rocks at my side has an almost instant effect of pulling me into a peaceful place inside.
*Time for self-care. I think this is even more important for brand new moms in the first six months of parenting--and why having a village of mothers surrounding us is so important.
*Time to meditate or pray regularly. Even if those times are spent multi-tasking. I often meditate while nursing and pray in the shower or while cleaning. Because let's be real--as mothers, time alone to journal and pray and meditate and do yoga and work out is not easy to come by. So we can make excuses as to why we don't have time (I've definitely been there!), or we can get creative in how we approach life as a parent more mindfully (I'm working on this daily).
This quote from Thich Nhat Hanh brought me to tears a few months back--after one of "those days", and I have carried it in my mind since then: "When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?"
Mindfulness in motherhood is a thin line. Or maybe it's the needle with which I intend to tether my heart-stitching moment to moment, weaving beauty and love into the tapestry of my life. With every fiber of my being, I love my family. And the truth is, I'm not always present. But I can always be mindful--of when I am being impatient or touched out or distant. From that awareness, I can choose to refill my soul so that I can respond to my family with the love and attention they deserve. From that awareness, I can better teach my son how to respond to life.