Has anybody else been following the beautiful series over at the Parenting Passageway of women’s stories of growing into motherhood? They are just filling me up with encouragement and appreciation–sustenance for this incredible journey of raising small children, and being transformed in the process.
I’ve been a mother for a scant three and a half years. My journey has taken me though a harrowing birth and a healing birth, the blissful times of tending an infant with my heart and arms and breasts, and the confusion and anger and lack of understanding I felt when my sweet baby started having tantrums! biting other kids! shrieking at strangers in the grocery store! It was then that my real growth started happening, when I actually began to grow into a parent, and not just a mother. The birth pangs of that still-emerging parent continue, but I have learned to welcome them, to dive into them with the same gratitude I learned to feel for the contractions that brought my daughter into the world.
In the spirit of this journey, I thought I’d share a little story.
The other day I read this sweet interview about mindful parenting. At the end were 12 really wonderful exercises for mindful parenting. Great! I printed them out, put them up on the fridge, consulted them often, and proceeded to have the worst day of mothering in recent memory. I was yelling and irritable, impatient, and totally out of my center. Or maybe that should be totally self-centered. I knew it and still felt powerless in the face of it. Though I laugh ironically when telling friends the story of my attempt at mindful parenting, I really don’t think of it as a failure. Sometimes we grow the most from the hardest moments, from seeing the worst in ourselves.
My friend Adrie, whose beautiful story of growing into motherhood is at Carrie’s today taught me to think of mothering as practice. “Practice, and all is coming,” she learned as a student of yoga. My job is not to be a perfectly mindful mother, or any of the other ideal standards I might hold myself up to on a given day. It is simply to practice. Practice being mindful, practice speaking gently and holding my center in the midst of a three year old storm, practice keeping my home orderly in a genuinely cheerful way, practice being kind to my husband instead of always right, practice keeping my heart open and present to the small and large tasks of raising two small children. Practice love.
As I practice, I develop self-discipline. With luck, that practice turns into a striving for self-awareness, then greater empathy, then emotional presence. And on and on as new skills are integrated and adapted as needed.
In the Steiner inspired book Natural Childhood by John Thomson there is a wonderful breakdown of the parent’s journey as we learn to relate to our children. Imagine it as a stairstep, in which we go through these different levels:
Unconsciously unskilled–you don’t know you don’t know.
Consciously unskilled–you know you don’t know. (This is the most frustrating step!)
Consciously skilled–you know you know.
Unconsciously skilled--you don’t know you know.
As you practice these skills, you move up the stairs. But it’s not always linear; on a given day I might be on any of these steps. Sometimes it’s two forward, one back. Ultimately the hard days are the best practice. They ask us to put all of our will and determination and prayer into our mothering. Into our lives. But as we strive, we grow. And that is the gift our children give us.
Practice, friends. All is coming.
What have you learned from your time practicing motherhood?
ps, no infants were harmed in the above photographs!