Several weeks ago I embarked on a much-needed retreat to the beautiful Berkshire Mountains. A dear friend and I decided to take the plunge and, for the first time, leave our respective one-year-olds and partners behind, escaping to Kripalu Yoga Center for three days of restoration and flow with the incredible Elena Brower.
After we drove north, checked in and got settled I allowed myself to open up to the silence and sweetness that was being offered: luxurious hours of uninterrupted sleep, succulent yoga, carefully and deliciously prepared food, daily soaks in a hot tub...even an hour of energy work before bed one night as a treat. Not to mention an entire community of like-minded people making me feel welcome and safe and loved. This place is something out of a Disney movie. There were literally chipmunks and bunnies prancing about while birds chirped overhead. Heaven on earth-- for realz.
I returned home, as you can imagine, feeling refreshed, centered, spacious and, probably most of all, grateful. Since getting back I have been experimenting with how to preserve this inner-calm, particularly since I don’t see another retreat in my future any time soon. What I came up with are the 4 reminders below that have really helped me chill out and be more present with my child. Keep them in mind and I know you will feel more connected to yourself and to your family.
4 Secrets of Mommy C.A.L.M. (Curious Allowing Loving Mindful)
C. Get CURIOUS. When you find yourself in a bad mood, ask yourself: “Hmmm....interesting--where is this foul mood coming from?” When you get exasperated with your kid, could it be that you’re really mad at your partner? (Like when you are watching your mate snooze all morning after having been up since 5:30am?) Maybe you are just exhausted and need to ask your partner to go on an errand with your baby so you can take a much-needed nap. Or, perhaps you are unconsciously channeling your mother’s temper: are you reacting to your child the way your mom reacted to you? If so, take a moment to put your mood on hold and see how you would rather react to your child. Verify your choice with your heart. If you give yourself that moment to pause, chances are you will opt to respond more kindly. Curiosity helps slow down the velocity of your automatic response and gives you some time to strategize. If, when I start to feel like I’m hopping on a runaway train of anxiety or stress, I can take that millisecond to get curious, I find that I have more leverage to CHOOSE to shift. With a little practice you can literally just choose to drop your bad mood like a hot potato. This is really fun to try. Next time you’re in a crappy mood and you are able catch yourself in it, drop it like it’s hot and pretend to be in a good mood. You can fool your mind pretty quickly.
A. ALLOW yourself to feel your feelings. There is a fertile underbelly to the joy, light and gratitude that come with parenting. We tend to avoid contact with these “shadowy” feelings because they make us really anxious. One of my teachers, Jerilyn Brownstein, makes the radical suggestion that instead of trying to “fix” the uncomfortable feelings of parenthood, you should instead surrender to them; lean into them because there is a valuable message in the darkness and the overwhelm. Childbirth, sleep deprivation, and a baby screaming in your ear for hours are “an invitation for you to be ripped open, so that you might stretch and grow into a larger version of yourself. You are bigger now than you were before, like a snake shedding its skin.” I love that! So when you are brimming with raw emotion, find a safe place to allow your feelings to come up and out--whether that means talking to your partner, having a private moment alone to weep or scream into a pillow, speaking with a mommy friend who ‘gets’ it, or saving it for your therapy session. You will feel better and everyone around you will be positively impacted.
L. Be LOVING to yourself. Be very kind to yourself. Be ridiculously gentle with yourself. I’m talking about challenging that little voice in your head that critiques every ‘wrong’ move you make in your parenting. This needs to stop. You are doing an amazing job! You are someone’s mother. You are magical and divine--do you remember what your body did? You are a caring and conscious mama who is raising her child with a brand of love you probably didn’t experience yourself growing up. As you grow into this role of ‘mother’ it is your duty to learn to be loving to yourself. The next time you feel inclined to give yourself grief for not having fed your kid organic veggies or because you got frustrated with him when you were too tired to respond differently, just dismiss that critical voice and say to yourself, "I am doing a damned good job. I am growing and learning all the time as a mother. I know every misstep in my parenting is an opportunity to refine myself." Coach yourself. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. You will be teaching your child to do the same.
M. Be MINDFUL. That is, be aware and alert to your surroundings. Disengage from your thoughts and notice the sensations in your body. Slow down for a moment. Keep it super simple: Right now, inhale deeply once. Exhale deeply once. If that feels good, you can repeat. Your breath will deliver you into your experience. You will be more sensitized to your body and it's needs. You will notice that your bladder is full or that you are hungry. You will come back from spacing out while hanging with your kid and be able to make contact with her once again. This practice of coming out of your head will immediately dissolve the stress and fight-or-flight anxiety that comes with worrying about the past or future. Nothing really serious or extreme, just gently reminding yourself to feel your body or genuinely listen when your partner or child is talking. Allowing yourself to feel the breeze on your face when you are walking down the street, or enjoy the scent of your child's hair under your nose. This is yoga. It feels so, so good.
I would love to hear from you in the comments below! How do YOU keep yourself aligned with being the mother you want to be?