What is Mindful Parenting?

When I was a newborn mother everything occurring in my life was a glaring example of how motherhood could be a spiritual practice. The focus, devotion, endurance, love, sleep deprivation, learning curve, uncertainty, intuition, and rapid development for both baby and mama all seemed to ignite this divine unfolding of my inner strength, wisdom and authenticity. Something radical was clearly going on, I was thrilled about it and so I made this site to muse on these happenings and to share the possibility that parenting and spiritual practice could be married with harmonious results.

Fast forward 20 months and the sense of newness has long since faded and I sit here in my life, a large part of which is being a mother. The act of parenting is so close to my center now it's very difficult to see the novelty in what I am cooking up in the realm of Mamacitta. Before I was joining two pieces of my life that had been disparate; my practice and then mothering. But now, those two are so integrated I struggle to see where one starts and the other joins in. This brings to mind something my teacher taught me: the third way. 

When you take two concepts and merge them they do not simply create a spectrum between those ideas, instead they birth a third way, which holds new meaning beyond the two original parts. So now that I am steeped in the startling, and sometimes tortuous, reality of parenting, "mindfulness" itself has taken on new meaning. In truth, for me, parenting mindfully looks like this: 

asking for help,

embracing routines and structure so that I have a sense of certainty and control amidst the chaos,

responding more than I react to situations arising in my world, 

going to counseling to confront and embrace the demons rising from the far reaches of my mind,

Making the time to take care of my personal needs (easier said than done!),

working deliberately to transform breakdowns into breakthroughs,

embracing the aspects of mothering I struggle with and making an explicit effort to work on (and even excel) in those areas,

staying present, especially in the beautiful moments,

and having gratitude for my son, my husband, and the lovely little life we do lead.

So really, it's become as simple as this to me. I am holding the clear intention to be an alchemist in my role as a mama, because I believe there is more latent potential in the act of parenting than has ever been acknowledged. Taking parenting as a mindfulness practice is my way to embrace the challenge and utilize the struggle in order to become the fullest expression of my richest potential, especially for my son's sake. In his honor.

 

 

Re-Envisioning Love

hen I founded this site and the concept of Mamacitta I was in the early days of parenting. It was a time that a new and enormous love swallowed me and I was intoxicated by our life as three, and my new found purpose as a mother. I felt like I had uncovered the long sought after essence of life and it was all wrapped up in love. I thought this kind of love would last and it would sustain everything that I did as I moved forward as a parent.

Stemming from my buddhist mentors and informed by my early experiences as a mother I defined Mamacitta as: (1.) an awakening of the heart-mind through the process of parenting (2.) a force of love that transforms your Life into an offering, a dedication, to your child (3.) derived from "bodhicitta"; the boundless wish to benefit all beings through compassion and love. 

I still believe in these definitions of Mamacitta and the mission they call us toward. However, over time my understanding of the emotion we call love has become more nuanced and, frankly, more anchored in reality. This is carving out new meaning for me around what it means to mother, and what it means to truly love.  I'm finding out that to fully dive into love is far more difficult and painful than I ever wanted to believe. To be cliché, it is the rose and the thorns. It's my son's laughter and cleaning smeared shit off the floor. To be in love is to release into the whole of our human experience.

I've come to think that love is a lot like air, it is essential and it sustains us, yet we usually forget to notice it until there is a lack of it. It turns out love is not ever-present in the warm and fulfilling way I used to see it. It's not love that arises when his breakfast ends up on the floor, it's not love when he throws stuff at me, it's not love when he bites. The qualities that actually carry me through these moments are commitment, perseverance, consistency, and patience. In other words, Wisdom is actually the fuel, it's perspective and a lot of self control. (And sometimes I just totally lose my cool...). 

For the longest while I was actually ashamed to acknowledge this truth about the practicality of love. I am not dripping in love in my role as a mama, it is not pervasive and ever-present like in the early days, like in the way I thought it could be (or I should be). But, I see now that it was my conception of love in practice that was flawed, not my feelings or perception. Because love is not just a warm tingly feeling, it's also like a flying-knife-kick sort of an energy. Fierce always comes to mind when I think of love now. To truly be in love is to take all of it, the laughter and the poop, and filter it through the lens of Wisdom. From my vantage point love is necessary and it does sustain, but it takes a lot of effort and often does not feel great or like much of anything at all. That's why wisdom prevails. It's my anchor when the storm brews and the warmth of love's rays are buried behind the clouds.

Mothering well is often not easy or joyful, but it is downright commendable. As a culture we are obsessed with feeling good and finding lasting happiness. But where do we account for the rewards of effort, struggle, and commitment? 

I'm feeling into the truth that nothing really grows in pervasive happiness, and finding that it is affliction and struggle that create the human process and a sense of progress. It is this shadow that I am folding into my understanding of love. Motherhood, as far as I can tell, is wrought with struggle and therefore is full of fodder for transformation. It is a moment by moment opportunity to sharpen my blade, to hone my spirit, and uncover my strength. This is what I have always believed to be possible in parenting. What I did not know in the beginning was how messy, difficult, and sometimes just downright painful this process could be. I did not know the extent that I would call into question so much of who I thought I was or what I am capable of. I did not know that a warm fuzzy love is not enough. Motherhood is no doubt a purification process. And things can't get clean and clear without some serious scrubbing.   

So now I see, parenting is not for the faint of heart. Motherhood is not really about love, it is about ferocity and determination. It is not about being on the sideline in my bliss bubble, it is about being on the frontline ushering life.  So I mother in the name of love, but wisdom is the sword that cuts down the obstacles inside and out, day in and day out.

Mothers (and fathers) are the unsung heroes of history. Perhaps also a lot like love and air; necessary but usually overlooked. 

My mantras right now: "Strength is not optional" and "parenting well is not for sissies".

At the Threshold

As I sit here in the freshness of the New Year I also find myself at an uncomfortable threshold in my effort as a mother. Rowen is 19 months old now and we are accelerating through this transition from "baby" to "big kid" at an alarming rate.

According to Erik Erikson's theory of human development, around 18 months is an important time of transition in the maturation of a child. It's the point where the child begins to explore their independence and autonomy.

From birth until recently, accommodating Rowen's needs and providing consistent care were key practices to aid him in founding a trusting and secure sense of self and an underlying belief that the world in general is safe. During this time I happily filled the role of the selfless servant, more or less, regularly putting aside my needs for sleep, comfort, connection, entertainment, or relaxation all as an offering to establish this fundamental sense of trust and security.

As the months passed I certainly felt more threadbare and worn, and I felt myself eager for a change in our dynamic around 15 months. I wanted a shift that was more centered on cooperation and collaboration between Rowen and I, while minimizing the accommodation of his needs.

In reality, this shift began long ago, when Rowen was 6 or 7 months old. Our evolving relationship since that time turned out to be a hugely clarifying process. It required me to create and embrace more structure, be more predictable, and to be certain and clear in my expectations. But still, the early days and much of the months that followed were more importantly an introduction to how big I could love. To love with abandon, a pure love with no pretext, storylines, or expectations. Through the nature of our evolving relationship latent parts of myself were brought back to life. The good bits like clarity, certainty, purpose, personal power, contentment, patience, and presence to name a few. Everything felt golden.

On the one hand I can see clearly how the early tending to Rowen has payed off in spades. He is a charming, thoughtful, helpful, kind, creative, intelligent, content, and a mature little fellow. Full hearted and secure. For that I am so grateful!

However, it's this grey zone now that I feel so stuck in. 'Tis the time on his path for claiming his independence and exploring his world. I am supposed to be holding the line with a loving firmness. This transition in his needs requires me to change my behavior in ways I did not foresee. I sense a boldness, assertiveness, self respect, and emotional intelligence within me all needing attention now in this new terrain. It's calling for further growth in my ability to communicate, be patient and to have certainty in my decisions.  Wow, does that take courage and a whole lot of energy! It's not even a pile of tantrums over here either, it's much more subversive and seemingly minor. But all of these moments add up to a mountain and I suddenly find the line I was supposed to be holding is blowing in the wind.

Right now I feel like this 'mindful parenting as a spiritual practice' is kicking my ass and I'm thinking to myself "damn, parenting is difficult!"

Part of me wants to crawl back into the warm, cozy nest of the early days when the breast, a fresh diaper, or a good nap could fix anything. But in reality it's time that I take flight, re-individuate and explore myself in the world right alongside Rowen. I feel pushed from the nest, my little wings flapping, but gravity feels like it's still winning.

In our best moments we lock our gazes and share a moment of stillness and I can hear from him a soul whisper that says: "you know this is all for play, right? I'm just being the toddler and you're just acting the mommy." I feel into the eternal storyline of all that it means to be a family and in that moment my heart becomes light and I know what to do next. 

 

P.S. If you are curious for further information on Erik Erikson's theory on human development click here.  

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