A little while ago I asked my friends on Facebook the following question:
“What’s the best, most real and resonant, piece of parenting advice you have ever received? The kind that really sticks with you?”
I got some great responses, mostly having to do with making choices that work for you and your family and filtering out the advice of well-meaning family, friends, and “experts” who might not have a clear understanding (or any understanding at all) of your situation. There is no question that it is excellent advice, but I’ve often had a hard time implementing it. I’m an anxious person by nature, and I feel plagued by self-doubt and worry as I try to navigate the choppy waters of parenting. I have a hard time trusting myself.
That may be precisely why a different piece of advice really caught my attention. I’ve been ruminating on it for weeks now.
There comes a time when you just need to shut up and pray.
(For those of you who aren’t comfortable with praying, you can shut up and breathe instead.)
Folks in the mindfulness world like to point out that we are “human beings” not “human doings” and that we function at our best when we find time to just be. And yet everything in the parenting world seems to be pulling me away from just being. When my girls were infants, I felt compelled to talk or read to them almost constantly in order to build their verbal skills and literacy. I spent their naptimes or quiet playtime cleaning or cooking or researching Mommy and Me classes and preschool programs. When I wasn’t prepping or planning, I was reading the latest research and advice on whatever parenting problem I was struggling with, from breast-feeding and potty training to tantrums and picky eating.
I got caught up in the idea that being a good Mom meant constantly doing—doing things with my girls or for my girls or solving whatever problem they might face. How else would I demonstrate my love for them, assuage my anxiety, and prove to myself and everyone else that I actually am a good mother?
There’s certainly nothing wrong with taking care of my children, my family, and my home, and by doing so I am making a choice to spend time on the things that are most important to me. There is value in that. But it’s all too easy for me to get caught up in an exhausting cycle of constant-motion parenting, and each time I do that I lose sight of a fundamentally important truth of parenting.
I can’t control everything.
I can’t control how my children will experience the world, what will happen to them, or who they will become. I can’t control what they will want out of life, where they will find meaning, how they will spend their time, and who they will love. I can’t even control whether or not they, or I, will live to see any of this happen.
I can’t begin to tell you how painful it is for me to face this reality. I try to avoid it at all costs. Whenever it pops up, all I want to do is hide behind my to-do list or in the pages of the latest parenting book. To think that I can do everything to the absolute best of my parenting abilities and my children will still experience pain and heartache and loss is almost intolerable to me.
Every once in a while there is a break in my anxiety, and in that moment I can feel the peace and space that comes with loosening my grip just a little. Each time I am able to stop moving and stop doing and just shut up and pray, I am able to remember that I don’t have, and will never have, control over the future. And then I breathe and then I let go just a little bit more.
In the moments of stillness, I remember that the only thing I can control is my approach to the present moment. Will I dig my heels in even deeper, determined to do everything and fix everything (a path that inevitably leads to frustration) or will I slow down, breathe, notice, and accept what life throws my way? These days, it’s about 50/50, depending on how much sleep I had the night before, and whether or not I’ve been meditating. But it’s getting better.
When I shut up and pray, I remember that so much of what worries me is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. I remember to be grateful for the small moments and the major blessings. I am more likely to be open to whatever my children have to offer, from smiles to tantrums. And when I can do that, our connection grows a little deeper and a little stronger.
So there you have it. My favorite piece of parenting advice: sometimes you just have to shut up and pray.