The pilot program of my Empathic Parenting Support and Learning Group ended last week. It was such an amazing experience to be in a room with a group of mothers, being authentic about parenting (sidenote–dads were invited too, but none joined us this time around). I am yet to be a mother, so I would sit and listen in awe and fascination as these women shared their experiences, realizations, frustrations and moments of pride.
I came to understand something that I somewhat knew, but now truly believe: parenting is hard work. It calls upon you to dig into the deepest trenches of yourself–which are sometimes painful places to visit–if you intend to show up for your child in an authentic and compassionate manner. It is guaranteed to trigger those parts of you that you may have thought had gone away–but here they are, in their fullest reflected by the little person who is the most important part of your world.
You may have thought you never get angry. You may have thought you have endless patience. You may have believed that you would be a perfect mom. You may have seen yourself doing it all–career, family, social life, staying active–without ever feeling drained or exhausted. And here is your child, challenging that identity that you were so dearly clinging to… Here she is letting you know that you are human, complete with flaws and imperfections. And what a gift! Because those parts of you are there. They need to be given space, love, nurturing and acceptance in the same way that your son or daughter need those things from you. Those parts of you need a voice and it is up to you now to let them be heard. And you can. By taking care of yourself. By being true to yourself. By talking to others, your friends, your partner, your children about what’s real. “Mommy feels herself getting really mad right now and it has nothing to do with you, honey. So I’m going to take a deep breath so I don’t take it out on you.” “Daddy feels sad right now and needs a little time for himself right now. So I’m just going to take a few minutes so that I can come back and play with you the way I want to.”
It’s that hard and that easy. What do you need to cultivate in your life to stay truer to yourself than you have ever been before? Below is a reading you can use as a meditation on being a mother and honoring yourself–I believe that you will actually find this practice a service to your children and to your relationships. Here goes…
“In a society preoccupied with how best to raise a child I’m finding a need to mesh what’s best for my children with what’s necessary for a well-balanced mother. I’m recognizing that ceaseless giving translates into giving yourself away. And when you give yourself away, you’re not a healthy mother and you’re not a healthy self.
So, now I’m learning to be a woman and a mother. I’m learning how to just experience my own emotions without robbing my children of their individual dignity by feeling their emotions too. I’m learning that a healthy child will have his own set of emotions and characteristics that are his alone. And, very different from mine. I’m learning the importance of honest exchanges of feelings because pretenses don’t fool children, they know their mother better than she knows herself.
I’m learning that no one overcomes her past unless she confronts it. Otherwise, her children will absorb exactly what she’s trying to overcome. I’m learning that words of wisdom fall on deaf ears if my actions contradict my deeds. Children tend to be better impersonators than listeners.
I’m learning that life is meant to be filled with as much pain as happiness and pleasure. And allowing ourselves to feel everything life has to offer is an indicator of fulfillment. I’m learning that fulfillment can’t be attained through giving myself away-but through giving to myself and sharing with others.
I’m learning that the best way to teach my children to live a fulfilling life is not by sacrificing my life. It’s through living a fulfilling life myself. I’m trying to teach my children that I have a lot to learn because I’m learning that letting go of them is the best way of holding on.”
-Nancy McBrine Sheehan