There are moments when I really impress myself. Times as a parent when I get a pride glow-on, where I feel like the million dollar mom and I can look at my mirror-image straight in the eye and shamelessly give myself kudos for a job well done, a tricky question maneuvered on the spot, a successful diversion from a tantrum, a progressive approach to parenting. There are moments when, if I do say so myself, I kick some serious ass as a mom.
And then there are others when I suck. Truly, at times, I’m a sh*tty sh*tstorm of a parent, showcasing episodes of irrational impatience with my stress hormones all fired up, that in retrospect will surely have me feeling mortified by the tantrum I have just thrown, when my 38 year old ego is dueling with one a fraction of its age, and any outside observer would insist that I am in need of a parental time-out.
In the absence of any professional referees, my kids have become quite proficient in calling me out. One night sitting with my daughter at bedtime, doing what we do and recapitulating the day, I acknowledged to her, pragmatically I thought, that I was sorry she and I had been disagreeing so much that day. Really, I was trying to gently remind her that maybe tomorrow she could be more intentional about turning her attitude around. She calmly smiled at me and said, “It’s ok mom – I know you just weren’t being yourself.”
Yes, my daughter, who was 5 years old at the time, had just volleyed back to me the gentle reprimand I had served to her. I smiled and swallowed my pride; and acknowledged that she was right. I wasn’t being my best self and tomorrow I’d pay more attention to that.
These little tête-à-têtes, and heart-to-hearts, they are typical. I am humbled, daily. This ‘conscious parenting’ thing, being mindfully aware of each action we are choosing as we engage and influence and co-create our lives with our kids, it’s intense. I used to be very much ashamed of losing my patience, of feeling irritable, of being short with my kids. But, what is it to screw up? My failure to meet some arbitrary measure of what it is to be ‘the perfect mom’? When I lose my patience, have I screwed up? When I raise my voice? When I’m distracted and not 100% tuned into my kids, is that screwing up? It’s true, these moments clearly don’t represent my best, but they still represent moments of me. And if I am to be authentic and real with my kids then they are going to know that sometimes their mom isn’t at her best. So rather than deny it or feel crappy about it I own it and I name it. I put the screws to the screwing up. I do for myself what I also am trying to teach my kids to do for themselves. When my toddler is crying and grumpy after a nap I name for him that he is still feeling tired and that maybe he needs a cuddle. When my daughter is throwing a fit and stomping her feet because she fell before reaching the last rung of the monkey bar, I name for her that she is feeling frustrated and impatient with her arms for losing their energy and with herself for not growing up as fast as she wishes. These are real moments with feelings that are as real as any others we experience throughout the day. We nurture our children’s emotional intelligence when we give them space to own these. We nurture our own and our kids’ emotional intelligence when we give them the opportunity to witness us naming our drama. Owning our sh*t is like a two-fer, big bang for our parenting buck: emotional intelligence quotients trending upwards all over the place.
In our home these days, we have a regular practice of calling each other out. Yes, at times the ego takes a beating. It’s not easy when you are in the midst of defending your point of view to have your child turn on the red light, remind you to take a deep breath, and reclaim your centre. This parenting thing, it is soul work. Sometimes we rock it, and sometimes we need to just roll – turning over a screwy moment a few times until we can see it for what it is: an opportunity. Indeed, “screwing up,” my little brother and parent of a precocious 4 year old has reminded me, “just means greater opportunity to approach any relationship with greater self-awareness.” A moment in the here and now to connect, an opportunity to get real with each other, a chance to remember, yet again, that we always have a choice, we can always choose differently – a different point of view, a different approach, a different definition, a different tone of voice, a different comeback, a different gesture. And, it begins with taking ownership.
Traditionally, as a new year is rung in, we do this – we take some ownership of where we are at and we make conscious choices, ‘resolutions’ if you will. We save it all up for January 1 and go hard for a few weeks, or maybe even a few months, and then, often, we fall off of whatever wagon we’ve been cruising. But being a conscious choice-maker, taking ownership of the moments in our lives, is so forgiving. Each moment can be its own soft landing, as we choose again and again to be present amidst all of our ‘stuff’. Each falling-off only creates more opportunity for correction, to reaffirm our choices, and maybe redefine them a bit to better suit whomever we now know ourselves to be. We can just go with it, fine-tuning at every turn, rockin’ and rollin’, welcoming the bumps along the way, knowing that all of it is getting us to where we are going. And in the meantime confident that here is the perfect place to be.