On parenting in the dark.

For the next four days I am alone. I am completely alone in my house for the next four days. 

Ok well, there is a dog and a cat here but for the next 96 hours there are no other beings in this household that require my attention.  I haven’t been alone in my house for this length of time in over four years. My son’s father came and picked him up this morning, headed to see family 400 miles away. For all my initial anxiety about the upcoming trip, by the time the moment arrived to see them off I was awash with a mixture of unexpected feelings. This week has been one of the darkest and most intense weeks of parenting that I can remember.

The world at large right now feels heavy, hurting and angry.

My heart is heavy, hurting and angry.

And my son, three and a half, seems to have tapped into the collective wellspring or is otherwise coming up against his own pain and rage over the current state of things on the micro-level of his family and immediate environment.

And I am his target for all of this, of course. And target in every sense of the word. I am bruised, battered and raw from the battles of this week. Where has my sweet little companion, full of smiles and affection gone? And what phenomenon is he currently processing to cause such a disturbance in our normal balance of daily life??

I know all the “things”: It will pass, it’s normal. It’s not about me. All I can do is give him a safe place to feel and process. Stay connected. Stay neutral. Stay present. Don’t take things personally. The caregiver he’s closest to gets the worst of it. Practice self-care. Model healthy boundaries. Model healthy ways to work through strong feelings. Give him words and tools to identify what he is feeling and what he needs. Remember the relationship comes first. 

But all of these truisms don’t help me right now. Because even with trying to do my best to remember all of these things, deep in the moment parenting just feels shitty and terrible and awful and unfair. And because I am just empty. That’s it. I’ve just got nothing left to give this kid right now.

And so suddenly this trip feels like grace for both of us.

He is ecstatic to see his papa. He runs screeching and laughing into his arms. He waves goodbye and doesn’t look back. And I am grateful. For their bond and the relationship they have cultivated, which is much closer and more loving than either of us had with our own fathers. Grateful he is not fearful about leaving me. And grateful because honestly – I just don’t think I could have stood another hour of being beat up, being bullied, and of battling it out.  Grateful because honestly – I don’t even like my child right now. And I don’t feel capable of being his mother.

And closing the door behind them, this truth makes me cry and cry.

Last night I heard him tossing around in his bed, calling out softly in sleep. It woke me and I lay there for a moment, waiting to see if the he would settle himself and drift off on his own. He probably would have after another moment or so but I got up anyway and opened the door to his room and crossed the carpet to kneel at his bed. He mumbled incoherently in a half-wakened state. Tentatively, I reached out to stroke his forehead and he allowed me to comfort him. Then slowly, inch by inch, I moved onto the bed next to him and curled my body around his. For the first time in weeks he didn’t resist but relaxed and nestled against me.  I held him close and rubbed his back. In the darkness he reached out his little hand to press it against my face and I saw his brief, small sleepy smile in the glow of the nightlight. I lay there for an hour or more relishing this rare moment of closeness, not daring to move a muscle lest the spell be broken and the feral animal awake. My arm fell asleep and my back started to ache but I couldn’t bear to move. For a short time I felt again our sweet bond. I needed to remember.

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I know it will pass. I know we each have to process in our own ways what it means to not be an intact family living under one roof anymore, and who we each are as we grow into the people we are becoming.  And as we test the limits of what we think we know and are capable of and explore our own spectrum of experience, we come to understand the safety and strength of the container of this relationship. We trust that it can hold our process, that it can honor both the darkness and the light. But it is only in the darkness where true resilience is revealed, when we find it is stronger and more spacious than we thought, that it can allow and recover, heal and adapt. That it can both nurture and even be strengthened in times when the light is scarce. That it is both steadfast and constant and that it is also ready to change as we change.

Tiptoeing back to my room and back to my own bed, I feel thankful for this tiny bit of reprieve. In the morning I ask him and he doesn’t remember anything. But I know it wasn’t for him. It was for me.

As I watch the car pull out of the driveway this morning it occurs to me that there may come a day when he wants to go and live with his dad full time. The thought hits me a little like a sock to the stomach. As I stand in the middle of the empty living room I am gutted by the realization that ultimately all of this effort, the intense marathon of parenthood, the unwavering commitment to every small teachable moment, the anguish over whether or not we are doing things right, whether we are giving them the right tools, laying the right foundation for healthy relationship with themselves, with others and the world — all of it — every single worry that keeps us up or on the phone for advice or nose deep in books, all of the ceaseless energy we put into giving our children the best possible start guarantees absolutely nothing.

We do all of this with the acceptance that all possibilities exist and one being that there could come a day when our child says goodbye and walks away without looking back. We have great hopes. We cultivate hope against odds at every turn that our kids will emerge from childhood undamaged, happy, vital and devoted to us. But in the end we are all forced to relinquish every expectation and investment in the outcome. We do this parenting thing in every moment out of some mysterious compelling place of unadulterated selflessness. Its the biggest most profound lifelong investment we ever make and yet there are no guarantees of anything. And still, as a species we have decided it worth doing over and over and over again.  It makes no sense.

They won’t remember all of the tiny moments you sweated and grasped for answers, fumbling for the right tools, the right words, the right thing to do. They will just be left with this broad, colorful landscape, full of feelings they felt. And they get to interpret it however they choose. The only certain thing is that we won’t see it the same way.

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I read somewhere that parenting is the a lifelong exercise in unfailing optimism. That sounds about right.

And I have the next four days to find my bootstraps.

 

Mantras for Real Parents

Today I am reposting an article from Shawn Fink of abundantmama.com. I have come across this a couple of times in the last two years and it is simply one of those posts that is worth coming back to again and again. Just…scroll… it’s so worth the read.  Oh and by the way – these totally apply whether you have kids or not.  (:

This good stuff, ya’ll.

Real Mantras for Real Parents

by Shawn Fink

I am by no means a parenting expert. I do, however, feel pretty sure that I understand the human condition fairly well.

And, well, humans have emotions.

Now, I have always been extremely passionate. But, never in my life until I had kids did I truly understand emotions. I was an only child until I was 17 years old. I never had any enemies {that I know of!}. I was just always balanced. Happy and balanced.

Then I became a mother. Of crying babies. Of two screaming, crying babies.

It was, to say the least, emotionally exhausting. {Oh, and it’s wonderful, amazing and life-changing and all that, too!}

But, in those early days, it was, at times, depressing.

And when those babies grew into toddlers …

Frustrating. Overwhelming.

And when those toddlers grew into big kids …

Easier. Much, much easier. And yet there are still many moments where I have to bite my tongue, breathe one of those deep, through-the-ribs-kinds of breaths …

and. walk. away.

Walk Away

I believe whole-heartedly in self-talk. Some might call them mantras. I call it nurturing myself. And, while, yes, this, too shall pass … there’s a whole lot more to say to ourselves when times are emotionally challenging. These sayings help me reframe a complicated situation so that I can react in a more balanced, calm way — all necessary when trying to live mindfully.

Whatever you call them — here are the phrases that I chant in my head when things are difficult in my life {and I am not just talking about raising children right now either. I use them at work ALL THE TIME.}

10 Real Mantras for Real Parents

{Trust} I used this a lot when things in our life were uncertain. I’m using it right now as I try and build this Awake community on this blog. I use it every single day when I send my girls off to school. We used it a lot when my husband took a great job pretty far away in order to get off unemployment. I Trust that this is all bigger than me. I trust the Universe is in charge here.

{Walk Away} Yeah, I’ve found myself knee-deep in an endless argument with a 5 year old. Uh-huh. Walk away. Really. Works like a charm.

{I choose peace} It’s really very simple. I choose peace. In everything that I do. Except when I’m on the phone with Verizon. I draw the line there.

{It is what it is} If I had to pick just one, this is it. I say it all day, throughout my day and rarely for anything related to raising children. This one is almost always used at work, in my role in our community and trying to make the world a better place. It’s also the most zen saying we can utter. It’s just … well, it is what it is.

{Just be kind} When the kids are having a rough day. When they’ve been less than. Just be kind. I say it to myself. I say it to them. Just be kind. It’s really that simple. And, remarkably, when I say it to them, it churns through my being as well. I am suddenly much more patient. So, just be kind.

{And this} When things are big — very big I say this to myself. And this. Another zen saying that just allows you to soak all of the feelings and emotions and chaos into one moment.

{What am I feeling?} I tend to gloss over my own emotions, walking around just doing, doing, doing and not feeling, feeling, feeling. Ever since I started doing these emotional check-ins, I have learned how my body responds to stress. So, if the kids are acting up and I do a check in, I know what I’m feeling and what I need to do for me BEFORE I respond to them. This is also great for recognizing when you know you just need to take a break from everything. It also tells me when I need to hole myself up and write a few thousand words — to get the crankies out.

{I got this} I’m not sure but lately this has been my mantra. Truly a mantra, too. I juggle a lot of things and yet … I’ve got this. Oddly enough, I just heard the Jennifer Hudson song with these same lyrics today on my Pandora station. It was hard not to crank it up at work.

{I am enough} By now this is pretty well known thanks to Tracey Clark. Still, it’s beautiful enough to repeat here because it’s so moving. So often we beat ourselves up for not doing enough, not being enough, not feeling enough, etc. This mantra is just organically soul-nourishing. Gosh, to think … I am enough. That is a wonderful state of mind for any person, any parent.

{Breathe} In. Out. One. Two. Three. Deeply. Often. Over and Over. All the time. When things are rough. When they are not. Just take deep breaths. This really make me pause and think — again, before I respond or act.

{I am thankful} Last but not least, in this past year, I am saying this more and more. I am thankful. I am thankful to have you in my life. I am thankful for this learning moment. I am thankful for this day, this breath, this sunrise.

There you have them — 10 real mantras for real parents. They are the hug you need at the moment when no one else is around. They are ways to heal in the moment when any other kind of stress release isn’t possible. We cannot always control our situations, but we most absolutely can control our thinking.”

For more, visit Shawn’s blog here.