I wish I could write this whimsical look back on how the trials and tribulations of early parenthood got me to a place of absolute wisdom. I would love to tell you all the ways I figured out how to be the mom my kids need in a way that was absolute. However, the truth is I'm still learning. My three unique kids are still growing and changing on a daily basis. The moment I think I've got what one of them needs figured out, they go and flip the script. While changing it up on the dance floor frequently is great for a party, changing up the what-my-child-needs playlist as often as my children do makes me dizzy. In other words, it's hard to keep up.
While I don't have all the answers to what my kids need, I have figured out some ways to keep pace with the learn-as-you-go nature of parenting. In fact, I'd like to think I've even figured out some ways that make it more likely I'll be the mom my kids need in any given moment. But, again, this parenting thing is truly a moment-to-moment gig, I am the "best mama ever" five minutes before I hear my kid yell, "I hate you!" What I've learned in my nearly eight years as a parent is that both statements are equally true and false, and neither of them means I'm not the parent my kids need.
If you're anything like me, though, sometimes it helps to get really concrete about your parenting hacks so you know you're not just fooling yourself. Here are some of the many ways I continue to figure out how to be the mom my kids need.
I Breathe Before I Talk
When I take the time to actually breathe, I'm much less likely to yell at or confuse my children with stammering mom-mind-mumbles. I can only do this sometimes, to be honest, but when I do it it makes a world of difference in everyone's day.
I Get Down To Their Level
Not humor-wise (although sometimes that helps, too). I'm talking about literally squatting down to my children's level. When you look kids in the eyes as you're talking to them, they feel important and like you really care about what they're saying. Don't we all want to feel that way? And when we do, aren't we more likely to listen and be respectful in return?
I Ask For Help From Professionals
Asking for help from professionals is especially helpful when parenting my autistic daughter. Before her diagnosis, I knew she needed something but I didn't always know what she needed. If I'm honest, sometimes that's still the case. I can figure out what she needs, but I still don't know how to give it to her. That's why I am not afraid to ask for help from supportive professionals. The colorful mix of occupational therapist, case managers, child psychologists, speech therapists, and many more who have helped us over the years have been lifesavers.
I Give Myself A Break
Quite literally. Nobody can be a parent and be on all the time. My partner and I don't have any family nearby, and no one really ever wants to babysit for three kids, but we try to prioritize getting individual breaks in. If we don't, honestly, we're no good to anyone, whether it's to our kids or to ourselves.
Now if only someone would babysit for half a day so we could have some self-care time together as a couple. Our 15th anniversary is this week, after all. That'd be stellar. (Hint, hint.)
I Look My Kids In The Eyes
This is different than getting down on their level, although obviously it's related. No matter how busy I am or how angry I am, if I look into one of my little's eyes I am instantly grounded. Grounded in the therapeutic sense of the word, not in the you-can't-watch-television-until-the-end-of-time sense. When I'm grounded I can be present. When I'm present I can choose my actions and my responses instead of being reactionary. And if you're anything like me, you swore you'd never be a reactionary parent.
I Give Myself Permission To Be Bored
I'm not sure if I thought that children's play would be different than it actually is, or if my kids just don't like playing the way I did when I was a kid. Either way, my preferred way to spend a weekend afternoon is decidedly not crawling around on the floor driving toy cars around. Quite honestly, even if we were playing with baby dolls I'd be bored to tears.
Here's the important part, though: that's not the point.
I don't play with my kids to have fun at the game, I play with my kids to have fun with my kids. That's a different mindset, and a different kind of fun altogether.
I Use A Beginner's Mind
The truth is that I have absolutely no idea if I am or will ever be the parent that my kids need. I do know that I want to be. I do trust that there is a reason for each of my children to have me, specifically, as their mother. So I give myself permission to be gentle with myself when I don't know everything there is to know. I give myself permission to forgive myself for making parenting mistakes, including less than optimal voice raising.
There is a concept in Zen Buddhism called beginner's mind. This is the concept of approaching all things with openness and devoid of preconceptions, as though you are a beginner. In my parenthood journey I know that the best I can do is to approach all things with this beginner's mind, because I will never be an "expert" on parenting. How I become the parent my kids need is to allow for them to teach me in each moment while I hold the space of being open to learn.