mindful mothering

by vanessagobes

A story from my blog Everything Old is New Age Again published last year on May 9, 2012:

I read about a mindfulness exercise in a book called Making a Change for Good by Zen master Cheri Huber.  The idea is that you tie a string around your finger to remind you to be in the here and now.

Tying a string around my finger was too annoying, but I always wear my watch on my left wrist and decided switching it to my right would have a similar effect.  And it did.  (Holy awkward.)  As it turns out, its effect has been undeniable.  All day long I feel that out-of-place watch and all day long I remember to connect to breath.

Now, I’ve got to admit – I was already pretty mindful before this watch switching experiment.  I am very aware of my intimate connection with source and think about the power of my energy every day – honestly, almost all day long.  But nothing yanks me out of my awareness like my three young children…  children who inundate me with challenges in patience and self-control.

So I wanted this week of meditative practice to help me maintain balance with my family.  Beautifully, my watch has brought me back to breath during every single melt down (mine and the kids’).  I’ve consciously applied things I’ve read and learned this week specifically to motherhood.  and I realized something:  I need to spend more time teaching my children and less time feeling exasperated or burdened by them.

My affirmation this week is:  “MOMMY IS HERE FOR YOU.”

We have to teach them this and remind them of this every day.  There are so many things that we skip over because we assume that our children understand the way the world works.  We assume that they can connect the dots on their own.  So when our kids make mistakes or participate in mindless, seemingly crazy behavior, we admonish them.  We shame them.  We tell them they’ve disappointed us.  We make our own children feel like they are disappointments, like they’re stupid.  And then we continue to assume that they know we love them and are there for them.  [Note: I say “we” because I am guilty of this.  And I have seen other people do this to their children as well.  But I do not assume that ALL mothers do this.  And kudos to those of you who intuitively know better while others of us learn by active awakening.]

My personal example.  PG is coloring with Sharpie on a napkin on my new (white) granite countertop.  I see what she is doing and my first inclination is to scream frantically, “ARE YOU NUTS?  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!  YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN MY KITCHEN!  YOU ARE 7 YEARS OLD!  YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER!”  But guess what, mommy dearest?  she doesn’t know better.  She’s just being creative and is not thinking about the damage her creativity can cause.  She means no harm.  She is just not tuned in to the consequences of Sharpie meeting countertop.

So this time, instead of launching into my desperate victimized Joan Crawford routine, I feel my watch and take a breath.  I explain to her that Sharpie bleeds through the thin paper of a napkin and can stain the surface underneath.  I tell her that stains do not come out.  I tell her that when she’s 15, she’ll be sitting here at the counter, looking at that old stain and thinking, “I can’t believe I did that.”  Then I hide the Sharpie, give her a crayon and send her back to work on that napkin.

Instead of dehumanizing her and shaming her, something I have done to her before and have decided not to do ever again, I taught her about cause and effect and encouraged her to think next time she pulls the cap off of a marker.  I taught her that sometimes thought-less behaviors can leave ugly stains (in this case literally).  Through this teaching moment, my daughter knows that her Mommy RESPECTS HER LIFE and her Mommy is here for her.   And I taught myself that I am capable of mothering my children with mindfulness and patience.  (I’m bawling right now by the way.  This is a very difficult truth to overshare.)

We expect that our children can understand the complexity of life, the pressures of adulthood.  But they don’t.  Period.  They just aren’t ready for it.  They don’t have the capacity for it.  We parents think that because we drive them to soccer, because we buy them UGGS, because we kiss them goodnight, because we pack their lunches every day, that they should feel safe and loved and grateful.  But that’s not how it works.  The only way they know they are loved is by learning this lesson: “MOMMY IS HERE FOR YOU.”

I have a big chalkboard in my kitchen.  I typically use it to remind my kids to do things like brush their teeth, be kind to others, finish their homework.  But this week I am using it to remind myself of something…

Wait I’m not done yet!  That was last year and this is now:

Flash forward one year to May 2013.  Looking back at this post, I can see that mindfulness changes everything.  Actively practicing awareness and mindful breathing allows us to think more clearly and create better present moments.  And I learned an important lesson this year that change the way I think about mothering.  One of the teachers at my children’s Montessori school retired last year.  She came back in the fall to share some pearls of teaching wisdom at a parenting lecture.  One thing she said really stuck with me.  It went something like this:

“We teach skills deliberately, in a particular order.  Before a child engages in water pouring work, he must first learn how to clean up water.  Once he mastered the skill of cleaning up, he can learn to pour.  So that when an accident happens, and an accident will certainly happen, the child will know exactly what he needs to do to make it right.”

This teaching provided me with such a deep feeling of clarity.  It was like my skull broke open and rainbow poured into my head.  Such a simple idea, yet so profound.  This simply profound idea brought me back to the power of meditation.   Each of us experiences accidents in life – turmoil, trouble, frustration, anger, disappointment, hurt.  You name it.  These things are not preventable, they are our life’s work.  Before we engage in life’s work, we can help ourselves and those around us by mastering the skill of cleaning up our thoughts.  Meditation does that for us.  It provides us with clarity of mind, strength of spirit and acceptance of “what is”, so that when accidents happen, and they will certainly happen, we will know exactly what to do to make it right.  Talk about making a change for good.  🙂
From mine to yours,

Vanessa