I recently came across a post titled “Motherhood: The Big Fat Fuck You.”
Of course I clicked on it, along with hundreds of thousands of other folks (over 91,000 of whom shared it on Facebook). And I read it, and nodded along. In it, the author talked about losing it when one of her seven (!) children disobeyed her. Again. It wasn’t just about her eight year old changing the channel on TV when she wasn’t supposed to, it was about the cumulation of so many things–tantrums, negotiations, a husband who travels a lot. It was about feeling exhausted, worn out, wrung out, and unappreciated.
I know what that feels like.
The author also said she feels ashamed about what had happened, and that she wishes she had dealt with the situation better.
I know what that feels like, too.
Now, you’re probably expecting me, the author of a blog on mindful parenting, to start talking about how if this mom would just learn to meditate or take deep breaths she never would have yelled at her kids. Maybe you’re expecting me to talk about all of the different methods for gentle discipline she could have used instead of yelling at her kid and chasing her to her room.
Yeah, I know. All of that sort of makes me want to kick myself in the teeth, too.
(There’s a reason why “expert” posts rarely go viral. When we’re in the middle of it, the last thing we want is for some know-it-all to tell us how we screwed up. We’re well aware of that, thankyouverymuch. What we want is to know we’re a) not alone and b) not nearly as bad of a parent as we have already made ourselves out to be.)
The reality is that we ALL lose it. We all get to the point of parenting where we just can’t take any more deep breaths or count to ten or give ourselves a time out. Some of us yell (myself included), some of us find other ways of losing it. I’m not here to tell anyone that good mothers don’t lose their shit sometimes. We do. AND IT’S OK.
The problem is that we care. We care about what our kids do and don’t do. The Mom who wrote this piece lost it because she was worn out from caring, from struggling with her kids about watching appropriate TV, eating their breakfast, and not getting into social media before they’re old enough. If she just didn’t care about all of that–Fine! Watch SVU at 8 AM! Sure, skip breakfast! Go ahead and sign up for Instagram before you are old enough to really understand the implications of putting yourself out into the online world!–parenting would probably be a whole lot easier.
Caring for and about our kids is hard work. It’s exhausting.
So where does mindful parenting come in? Is it relevant at all? There is no way I’m going to tell anyone that mindfulness makes parenting easy. If you want an easy life, don’t have kids. Or stop caring. I guess. The truth is that I don’t know anyone who has an easy life, so I’m not really sure what advice to give you on that front.
But two words in that post did catch my attention (other than Fuck You):
When I read that, I wanted to reach out and hug that Mama. I’ve felt that shame, and it’s terrible. Shame is about who we are, and guilt is about what we do. Shame is “I am a terrible mother.” Guilt is “I am a good mother who is having a crappy day.”
I don’t want that Mama, or any parent, to feel ashamed of who they are as parents, even when are behaving atrociously. I think it’s fine to feel guilty when we handle situations badly (as I do every single day), because guilt leaves space for change. Shame just leaves us feeling shitty and stuck.
This is where the mindful parenting piece comes in. It’s not just about paying attention, it’s about compassion and kindness. (It’s entirely possible to be completely focused and attentive as we hit our kids, but I don’t think anyone would confuse that with mindful parenting.) And as Brene Brown, one of my favorite researchers, likes to say, we can’t give our kids what we don’t have.
Mindful parenting starts with being kind to ourselves. If we can’t do that, then we can’t begin to think about changing our own behavior. If we can’t be kind to ourselves, then we can’t teach our children the difference between shame and guilt. We can’t teach them to think of themselves as good people who make bad choices (rather than bad people) if we aren’t able to do that for ourselves.
The last thing I want is to feel ashamed of who I am, and to pass that along to my children.
So, to the Mama who wrote that parenting can feel like a Big Fat Fuck You, I say Yes! Yes it can! And I totally get why you lost it with your kids, and I totally get how crappy you feel about it. I wish I was there to take you out for a cup of coffee and we could laugh about all the times we’ve turned into total psychos at the hands of our kids, and we could both be reminded that we’re not alone in the stress of parenting, and we could remind each other that it’s because we care so much.
And then we’d head home and dive back into the chaos, because that’s what parents do.
Mother watching fighting siblings image available from Shutterstock.