The Zen of Momming
Many years ago, I took a yoga class at the recommendation of a friend. The teacher encouraged everyone to be ok with their thoughts and feelings — typical yoga teacher stuff. But she took it a step further, continuing to say, “If you can’t be ok with your thoughts and feelings, be ok with not being ok with your thoughts and feelings.” This was well before children. And this idea of being ok with unpleasant feelings and looking at my own failings epitomized the path towards healing, towards building a better life. But what about with kids?
Motherhood (parenthood, yes) is insane. I think or type or speak those words almost everyday, and it still hasn’t normalized three years in. Every day is different, even if every day starts off with the same basic plan. You see, these small humans have a mind of their own. Toddlers do not care about your schedule.
Meanwhile, as your little one is out there growing and developing, science and society at large are at odds, spewing conflicting information about what to do, how to do it, and how to keep up. And someone in here pooped. Despite all the craziness around us, the day-to-day reality of infants, toddlers, and children keeps rolling along.
With this chaos of modern parenthood, how do you find even a minute of calm? A moment of peace may not seem accessible when your toddler is screaming to be held just a split second after telling you to go away after begging to do a thing you said no to. So how can we keep our wits and stay cool?
The real answer, sometimes I don’t know. But, I can offer you a summary of a sh*t ton of yoga and Buddhist philosophy digested into bite-sized chunks.
1. Take a breath
Seriously. Breathe deeply so you can feel it in the pit of your stomach. And follow your exhale all the way out to empty. When you take deep breaths, you help calm your nervous system. More than the physiological effect, you also give yourself time. If you’re in the thick of reacting to two urgent kid situations at once (say you’re changing a diaper and your bigger kiddo is melting down about the color of his spoon), take more breaths. It’ll slow you down so you can choose your response.
2. Not responding is valid
The struggle for survival in parenting is real. When your kid is yelling or screaming or crying, it raises your cortisol levels — we’re biologically designed to be stressed out by crying babies. This stress kicks us into doing mode (fight or flight); we feel we have to fix the problem and make it stop. Here’s the thing though: we don’t have to make them stop screaming or crying. If the aforementioned kid is having a fit about a spoon, we don’t need to solve that for him. Empathize all day. Consciously choose empathy or some other response. But allow yourself permission not to respond at all.
3. Remember, it’s a practice
Any habit you’re trying to build or change takes practice, whether it’s meditation or choosing a constructive response to your kid unrolling yet another toilet paper roll in its entirety. Some days you’ll probably still lose your cool. Not to worry, your kid is going to give you more opportunities to practice staying calm. Reminding yourself that parenting is a practice gives you permission to forgive yourself for not meeting your own expectations, for losing your sh*t, for having a hard moment.
When I absolutely want to lose it and start yelling, I remind myself over and over and over again that this isn’t forever. This moment isn’t forever. This phase isn’t forever. This behavior isn’t forever. Often most importantly, this feeling isn’t forever. Impermanence is truth. Someday these kids will move out and you will miss having these things to complain about. Impermanence is the master of perspective.
There are going to be days when you feel like the best parent. Celebrate those days. For all the rest, be ok with your thoughts and feelings. And if you can’t be ok with your thoughts and feelings, be ok with not being ok with them. Parenting is hard.
Contributed by Sandy Bartone
Sandy Kalik (Bartone) has been teaching yoga and meditation in the Boston area since 2009 (certified as an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance) and became a mom in 2015. Life with two kids, a career, a husband, and a side hustle necessitates balance, to find calm amid the storm, every single day. Find her teaching schedule online at http://sandykalik.com/yoga/teaching-schedule/