Posted in mothering, search for meaning

Answers Before Questions

This delightful, if bittersweet, post from Miriam inspired my post this morning. I suspect this is something programmed into our reptilian brains from the bygone days, before the dawn of Homo sapiens. We fear the unknown. While we can think (with our fancy, modern prefrontal lobes! Yay!) that the unknown may be just as marvelous and exciting as it might be frightening and dangerous, our survival center still knows: danger may lurk around any and every corner, in the shadows, behind the rocks.

So what do we do? We make up the answers before we ask the questions! If we think we know what happens next in our story, we can push fear out of the way. I can put one foot in front of the other when I can see the path. Take away the path, or simply my ability to see it, and suddenly I have no idea where to put my foot. In reflecting on parenting and how very-much-not-like-I-thought-it-would-be it has been, I have often said we humans would be extinct if we knew what we were getting into in advance. (Hm, so perhaps this power of self-deception also contributes to the survival of the species… hmm…)

But peril awaits when we think we know more than we do. In scientific study, this is such a problem that it has a name: “confirmation bias.” In life, when we declare, This is The Way! when we don’t actually know, we may end up at a very different destination than we hoped for, and may lead others astray in the process… especially if we are prone to that type of loud and forceful persuading that sometimes is born from insecurity.

And there is another dilemma. Knowing all the answers leaves us with a preselected path, and has a very powerful door-closing (more like slamming) effect. We fear not knowing, but resting in the not-knowing allows space for magic to happen. The not-knowing is where the Universe flows, where spirit expands, where that which some call God resides. To allow miracles to occur, we can’t always know what happens next.

Today, may we find ourselves not knowing, and settle into it. I’ll meet you there 🙂

Posted in mothering

Project Simplify!

Project Simplify on Simple Mom
This is Tsh's annual cleaning-palooza (read her original post here), and I love how she has it set up this year and the fact that it's exactly where my brain is sticking as far as household messy crap is concerned. So I am DOING THIS THING!
If you want to join in, just do eet!! It starts next week, with your choice of "drawers and shelves." Post before and after pics somewhere if you like; link back if you like. Or, just clean it all up and revel in the absence of mess. I know I will!
Posted in armchair psychology, mothering


This is a rant.

I am fed up with feeling crazy. Fed up with feeling like something is wrong with me, like I’m doing something wrong, like I can’t talk AGAIN about how I’m still having a hard time.

I’m sick of having a hard time.

I’m sick of having negative things to say. Sick of being such a big baby. Sick of my own excuses. I don’t need to feel ecstatic, I just don’t want to feel anxious or panicky, and I’d prefer to feel kinda content and peaceful, not depressed.

I don’t think that’s asking too much.

I don’t think it’s asking too much to feel like my husband doesn’t mind listening to me. I don’t think it’s asking too much for my kids to not drive me batty and to occasionally give me some space. I don’t think it’s asking too much to get to exercise and do yoga every day. I don’t think it’s asking too much for me to write two blog posts a week. And get good sleep, and take my supplements, and eat nourishing food.

Yet somehow all of these things are things that don’t happen. In fact, I haven’t exercised in several weeks. My kids climb all over me all day every day and I never do any yoga. I don’t feel like I can talk about my anxiety because my husband freaks out about it and constantly wanders off when I’m talking to him. It’s infuriating and isolating and makes me feel worse.

I have anxiety. I don’t respond well to elevated stress. I am not resilient. I am stressed. On days like today, everything makes me anxious and short of breath. I worry that I’ll have to have a panic attack later tonight to release all this tension. I’d really rather not go through that.

I am in perimenopause. This will come to an end one day, but probably not for about ten years. Still, that gives me hope. My hormones go up and down and my mood goes with them. I am not enjoying being such a ball of hormones but at least it makes sense. I am so tired of being so high maintenance. I can’t find the time for taking care of myself like I apparently need to. What is it going to take for me to find time for me?

I am not writing this for sympathy; in fact, sympathy would most likely infuriate me. I am writing this to admit it. I am writing this to de-pathologize it. Not everyone has anxiety and panic, but lots of people do. And even without the anxiety most every human being out there has days that feel like my day today. I am writing this for every other mom out there who is struggling today, because I know we all do, perhaps in different ways, but we all struggle. And I’m not crazy or even unusual for struggling, and neither are you.

Posted in armchair psychology, mothering

Love Is What Your Parents Give You

Today I’ve been thinking about how we are biologically programmed to learn, for better or worse, to define acceptable partnerships by how our parents treat us. If our parents nurture and support us for who we are, we will seek that in a partner. But if our parents demonstrate conditional love, that is all we will accept. If, as daughters, we see our fathers exhibit uncontrolled rage, we will lose interest in the “nice guy” (or gal) and will instead seek an angrier, more controlling partner. If we witness violence regularly in our childhood home, our adult lives will feel incomplete without it. This is why our choices as parents matter so much. If we love our kids, as the vast majority of parents really do, we make decisions about how we care for them based on wanting what is best for them. Surely this includes wanting them to be capable of happiness as adults, to form healthy, lasting relationships, and to refuse abuse, to not fall victim to others who would treat them poorly. But if we do not control our own anger, if we destroy property or make threats to “teach them a lesson,” we are sending our children a very negative message. We are effectively saying, “Might is right.” We are telling them, “I don’t value your opinions, your feelings, or your possessions.” Our words are nothing compared to our actions. Our outbursts tell them, “I only accept you when you do as I say; any independent thought that disagrees with my views earns my contempt.” Do we want our children to choose friends and partners who talk to them this way?

Then we have to stop. We have to be the adults who act from loving kindness, instead of reacting in anger. If we need help, we must seek it. This Valentine’s Day, I’m taking action to end the violent outbursts in my own home, beginning with myself. I am disembarking from the angry train, and I invite you to join me.

Be the change. Begin now.

Posted in mothering, unschooling, writing

Lazy Is A Four Letter Word

I caught sight of this from Momversation on my Twitter feed this morning: Is a Lazy Summer Really So Bad? Contributor Shannon of talks about letting kids be kids on summer break and how, as she sees it, they have eighteen summers before the Grown-Up World gives them the ol’ smack-down and fun screeches to a halt forever. Now, she’s got a point, and if you’ve bought in to the whole school-work-retirement-death model then it’s a damn good one. But as soon as I see that four-letter word, l-a-z-y, my hackles stand up and the surface of my eyeballs starts peeling off.

I despise the lazy label.

What’s the problem? The problem here is, what Shannon describes isn’t a lazy summer at all. It’s a normal summer. And the profiteering of those entities that sell the condemnation of being lazy threatens to bankrupt half the middle class and destroy childhood forever. No time for watching clouds, roasting marshmallows (ack! the chemicals! NO YOU MAY NOT EAT MARSHMALLOWS DON’T YOU KNOW THAT CONTRIBUTES TO ADHD WHICH WILL IMPAIR YOUR ABILITY TO GET INTO AN IVY LEAGUE SCHOOL???), catching fireflies, or that dreaded most-lazy-of-all-pastimes: daydreaming. All this overscheduling engineers exactly what the Establishment needs to perpetuate itself: more drones who can’t think for themselves. Many of the great minds ironically most revered in schools were, if not completely unschooled, at least allowed space to cultivate thought and creativity as children. Certainly Edison, Einstein, Lincoln, and Curie (just to name a few) didn’t get carted from one formulaic organized groupthink activity to the next throughout their childhoods.

The condemnation of lazy isn’t limited to kids either. Adults push each other at work, at the gym, and on the subliminal message sourcebox implanted in almost every home in America (need a translation? that would be your TV). We are weekend warriors, we plan activities even on vacation, we cram it all in, but at what price to health and sanity? As William Sloane Coffin said, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” Chinese astrology aside, will winning the rat race be your greatest accomplishment as you reflect on your life at its end?

A wise friend, Tina Tinsley, once told me, “You’re not lazy when you’re doing what you want to do.” This key insight can be a powerful tool to guide planning and decision making. The next time I catch myself calling myself lazy I’m going to pull out this tool and ask, what is it I want to be doing right now? Feeding offspring and refereeing arguments notwithstanding, I’m going to begin a list of honest answers to that question. With three small kids, I may not be able to always attend to my “right now” desires in the now, but the simple act of naming and owning them feels like a wonderful (if subtle) rebellion against a culture that would prefer to busy me into an early grave. And I’m going to banish “l-a-z-y” to the four-letter-word list.

Will you join me?

Posted in mothering, this moment

{this moment}

Inspired by Amanda Soule at SouleMama, quoting:
“{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.”

G's drawing for me for Mother's Day
Posted in Buddhism, mothering

Possessed By Monsters

Yep. It’s true. I am.

Mothering is hard. No matter who, when, where, what. When a woman becomes a mother she disappears, her identity gone. Mothering is strapped onto her and she can’t get it off. No matter how she wrestles, wrangles, valiantly resists, it just snaps back onto her like a too-small swimming cap. POW!

Feeling this way does not in any way negate wanting and loving her children. No matter the mother, the she that existed before the firstborn entered the scene is permanently submerged, and her life is now lived from the backseat to the offspring front and center. This is how it is, and therefore how it should be. There is no changing it; no amount of arguing with reality will budge it.

But oh, those arguments with reality… that’s where the monsters show up. Monsters that throw tantrums even bigger than the three-year-old’s. Monsters that attack and blame the spouse or significant other. Monsters that punish children for being tired, hungry, cranky, perpetually needy. In other words, for being children.

Why resist children being children? Introspection and a lot of reading over the years has led me to the conclusion that we hate in others what we hate in ourselves (and I’m by no means the first to come to that conclusion). I have also observed that our individual “hot buttons” were wired in childhood by our primary caregivers. The adults who tended us, often in those most formative months and years before memory even begins, taught us what they could and could not accept by their responses to our behavior. Never mind that children experience rejection of behavior as rejection of self– that fact was unheard of until recent years and is still controversial in many circles. While the best method of teaching behavior is modeling, the primary method of teaching acceptable behaviors in a fear-based parenting model is reward/punishment. This builds an almost Pavlovian reaction a person may remain blissfully unaware of until it is triggered by the person’s own offspring. Then BAM! Out come the monsters!

Maybe I’m the only mother who struggles with this, but I am old enough to doubt that. The question I must ask is, how do I transform these reactions to my children that argue with reality and do not serve my or my children’s best interests?

I think the Buddhist tools of mindfulness and meditation are a mother’s best bets here. Mindfulness, in this case, requires simply bringing awareness to the feelings that emerge when triggered, without judgment. A regular meditation practice develops the ability to observe emotion in this way, without attachment. It is much easier to let negative feelings pass without getting stuck when judgment is eliminated from the equation. Judgment is energetically sticky, and implies a need to punish; without awareness, this impulse to punish can land anywhere, especially on unsuspecting children and spouses! Mindfulness creates space– a little breathing room, a pause to allow the waves of feeling to crash upon the beach of consciousness and then recede, without needing to do anything about it. It gives us the opportunity to choose our behavior, to act instead of react, to behave like adults allegedly are supposed to.

Of course, once a mother, it becomes phenomenally difficult to cultivate a regular meditation practice. Yet no one needs it more. I could scrape by without much meditation before children (oh how simple I didn’t know I had it!), but three kids down the line I daresay my survival depends on it. Some days I would say theirs probably does too 🙂 The trick, then, is to learn to meditate on the fly, to associate awareness and observation of the mind with mundane activities like walking, washing dishes, and doing laundry. Sitting meditation is great and wonderful, but when does a mother get to sit uninterrupted? Defining a successful meditation practice as sitting for X minutes X times a day or week is a prescription for failure for a mom. Mothers have to be more flexible than that– a good practice in itself, with its own fringe benefits.

So today I am writing myself a different prescription: daily meditation, no matter what. An elephant is eaten one bite at a time, so I’ll begin with a simple commitment to be aware and observing for five minutes each day, at some point. As a consistent pattern begins to emerge I’ll extend my time, or add a second five minute interval, depending on what reveals itself to be feasible. I can do this.

After all, I am possessed by monsters.