Surviving the Abyss of Motherhood

Dear Mama,

These days are the longest you’ve ever experienced, but you can’t get a thing done.  You nurse until your nipples bleed and lie on your bed in a moment of comatose to the new reality, and the baby cries again.  You look at the calendar and have a guilty moment of thinking about going back to work–a physical representation of your old life.  You think “maybe I was made without a maternal instinct like all the other moms.”  Your body will be fragile from the birth, the exhaustion of a newborn, the insanity of taking care of an entirely new human life.  And you will be permanently different.  

But look around for signs of normalcy.  The way your creamer billows in your cup of coffee to the most beautiful swirl the world has ever made.  How the warm water drip drops off your finger tips after you clean the bottles for the third time in the day.  The forever hum of the lights as you numbly embrace your freedom to go to the grocery store anytime of the day.  And in those moments, you can find a peaceful magic no one teaches you about in birthing classes or doctors appointments.  An alchemy of awareness.  A clarity of your tired senses, a calmness to your thoughts that are about the most basic of needs, and ok-ness to the new normal.

Be gentle to yourself. The only thing your tiny human needs is you–fully, authentically, essentially you.

Let go of the imaginary stories you tell yourself about how this should be, it will be what it will be.

Let go of your need to control how this will unfold, it will blossom at exactly the right moment.  

Let go for your desire to capture this perfect moment on camera, succumb to the perfection of the present.  

Let go of your attachment to the story of who you were–or should be, you are new again in every moment of this journey.  

Let go of the schedule that tells you that your new human is already doing it wrong, make up your own version of right.

No one will tell on you.

And in this dissolution of the self you once knew, you get back to how you started: perfect.  Exactly what the universe needs you to be and exactly who your baby came to for guidance on this planet.  Embrace the chaos because in this stimulus you can chose how you will respond.  Live your wisdom–it is infinite, it is powerful, and it is forever present waiting for you to trust.

With light and love,
You

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3 Foundational Parenting Principles

The Parenting Philosophy of Rochester Parenting Coach can be summed up in 3 basic foundational parenting principles: KISS, set yourself up for success, and there is hope.  Essential to these principles is my mission is to empower parents with reflection, intention, and improved communication.  While my hope that your family dynamic improves, my intention is that is comes from the parents trying new approaches as a result of our work together not the kids simply learning new behaviors.  This will create confidence in parents and lasting change in their family.

The first principle is KISS–keep it simple, stupid!

So much of modern-day parenting is a bunch of stuff that gives parents anxiety that they aren’t (insert verb here) for their children.  While kids can be confusing for adults, they aren’t really too complex if you understand their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development.  All kids (really, all people!) want attention, love, and to be cherished.  Yes, obviously you need some ‘stuff’ to raise a child but don’t be confused by what you want to give your child and what they actually need.  Needs are: a place to sleep, healthy food to eat, toys to keep them stimulated, a safe environment, a good sleep schedule, medical attention when necessary.  Wants are: lots of toys, vacations, added sugar, new almost-anything.

Behaviorally, your kids–no matter their age–need boundaries and love.  They need to know what is allowed of them and what is not tolerated (like violence of any sort, for example).  Boundaries give them comfort because it lets them know your expectations and what they need to do to fulfill those expectations.  Love is a nonnegotiable need for all people.  Different kids accept love in different ways.  Some may want quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch (See 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman).   Give your kids lots of positive reinforcement when they do something you want them to do and give them love unconditionally–no matter what they do.

A simple environment will more likely translate in to a home of more emotional calmness.  When your child is quietly engaged in an activity allow them the peace and quiet to focus on what has captured their attention, no matter how trivial it may seem to you.  Too many toys in a playroom usually results in the kids playing with none of them.  Little children (5 and under) don’t care about expensive experiences–they care about attention from their parents.  If you do take them on an expensive experience (ex. far-away vacation, live theatre, fancy dinner) be honest with yourself that it is more about fulfilling your needs than theirs.   Overstimulation–in activities or environment–will cause anxiety for you and/or your young children–so try hard to keep it simple and have developmentally appropriate expectations!  And remember: the best things in life aren’t things.

It is important to understand your childs cognitive development so that your keep your expectations relative to their abilities.  Cognitive development refers to how they think, problem solve, and learn.  You want to push them just enough so they are interested to learn but not too much that they are overwhelmed and give up.  You want to clarify and simplify your expectations relative to your child’s development and try hard not to compare them to other kids.  Carol Dweck, well celebrated researcher on mindset, reminds us to celebrate the process of learning (which includes mistakes), not just focus on the outcome.  Being labeled “good” or “bad” (fixed mindset) can have detrimental effects on your child’s self-efficacy but being positively reinforced for their growth, hard work, and effort (growth mindset) will give them the encouragement and knowledge that continually learning is the optimal outcome whether they are 2 or 22.

The second principle is: Set yourself up for success.  Parenting is already a hard job–don’t make it harder by bringing your child into a situation that you know will not work out well for them (or you) and expect a miracle.  By adjusting your expectations–making them more realistic and honest with what their needs are–you will make your child and yourself happier, saner, and more relaxed.  Now, obviously there are times when we know we are bringing them into a situation that will be tough for them.  If this is the case, allow them to feel those feelings and recognize your needs versus their needs.  Are they/you upset because they/you are tired/bored/hungry? Are they/you upset because your plans changed? Are they/you angry because you are missing out on a fun time? Are they/you sad that you didn’t get to do what you wanted?  Do you have unreasonably high expectations for yourself?  When I had my first child, my only goal for the first 6 weeks of his life was to keep him alive and to shower everyday.  Seriously those were my life’s goals and some days, that was really hard.  As kids get older, you grow with them and learn to anticipate their needs.  Listen to that voice inside of you–it is the cultivation of a parental instinct and is gets better with the more experience you have as a parent.    

There is hope is the final foundational parenting principle of the Rochester Parenting Coach.  It simply refers to the fact that no matter how poorly behaved your kids are, how challenging they may be, how stressful parenting is, it can get better.  Ask for help early and often.  Don’t wait for little problems (my cute little 2-year-old won’t listen, ha ha!) turn into big problems (why won’t my teenager listen?!!?!).  I started this business after finding that my son was remarkably responsive to a well planned behavioral intervention and thought that everyone deserves to have some experienced eyes on their children and thus their parenting.  Be honest with yourself if you need help–this is a journey and even a slight adjustment can have wide-reaching positive or negative consequences.  You decide.  

Parenting, Plasticity, and Neural Connections

“Where ATTENTION goes

neuro-firing flows

and neuro-firing GROWS” 

-Dr. Dan Siegel

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As a school counselor, it was amazing to see kids cumulative folder.  The cumulative folder is the one that follows them from elementary through high school.  Parents never see it, but they do know everything inside.  It holds their report cards, list of schools attended and transcripts, and sometimes their school picture from each year ( it is seriously fun to see a grumpy teenagers elementary pictures).  In my experience, what I have seen is that the kindergarten teachers remarks are so frequently very parallel to the high school teacher’s remarks about the child.  Certainly they are usually (hopefully) different to reflect maturity and development, but usually a child’s personality is relatively static.  For example, if a kid was so frequently disorganized that the kindergarten teacher had to note it on their report card, typically that kid still struggles with organization in some way at the high school level.

The sooner you become a more intentional, positive, proactive, and learned parent the easier the child rearing process will be.  Early childhood brain development sets the foundation for later development and you can reap the most benefits by learning how to parent while your child is very, very young (or even before birth).  All people develop something called neural connections.  Neural connections are the framework for learning.  Neurons are information transmitters and the better they are connected the better the child learns.  Building connections takes learning experiences like teaching your child: how to be soothed and how to self soothe, how to fall asleep, basic routines, how we behave at the table, how we communicate when we are upset, how we show someone we are listening, etc.  The brain is most plastic (malleable) while kids are very young (3 years old or younger) so the sooner you lay the foundation for those concepts the easier it will be to build on those connections and on to more relatively sophisticated skills.  It would be extremely difficult to teach your teenager listening skills, for example, if they never were taught and expected to use them before.

Do yourself and your children a favor by learning how to parent early on, addressing issues head on, and being honest with yourself.  It is dreadfully hard to admit our weaknesses–especially relative to our children because we want the best for them, always, but sometimes we just aren’t the best.  Don’t give up–keep your chin up and ask for help.  I can work with your family to give you the skills to feel confident and empowered to lay the foundation for well-adjusted children.

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance