I believe that parenting is a giant self-improvement project in disguise. If you are paying attention at all and are even a little bit mindful of what you’re saying or doing, you can’t help but notice how our stuff shows up in all of our interactions with our children. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s often uncomfortable. It’s so much easier to notice the areas of growth rather than the wins.
My daughter attends a project-based elementary school. She’s in second grade. Distance learning has been a huge learning curve as it has been for every parent I know. Her class has continued its on-going project on the body. She’s been studying the skeletal system and has been working towards preparing a presentation she’ll be doing today.
Personally, I’ve been focusing on all of the things the amazing Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, an incredible pediatrician and California’s first Surgeon General suggests for those who have experienced or are experiencing toxic stress: sleep, exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, mental health, and healthy relationships. We are all under a great deal of toxic stress right now. The beginning of the week went so well. The best we’ve had yet. I know, in large part, to plenty of the above. I put myself on the list of people to take care of so I could give everything I have to her.
But all of this day-to-day self-care doesn’t remove our triggers or our core fears which are so often activated in parenting. Not because of anything our children say or do, it is not their fault or responsibility, but because these buttons and old ideas were installed and existed long before I became a parent. I noticed myself getting quite strident about this presentation she was preparing to give. I kept taking deep breaths. I noticed I was getting a little too intense about a 90-second presentation on the femur. I took a break. I called a friend and talked it through. As I told the story, I was able to recognize what it was about. Guess what? It was not about the presentation. It was not even about my daughter. It was about me. My fear. My anxiety. My stress. My own insecurities. My worries about what her teacher might think and how her presentation would be a reflection on me.
I had a good laugh with my friend as I said, “Dude. This is a less than two-minute talk about one bone and I am acting like it is a freaking TED talk.” I meditated, confident in my self-awareness and ability to CTFD, and went back to helping her prepare. For about 45 minutes, I was able to be calm and measured.
Then, that self-awareness and calm evaporated. I ramped myself up again and did the opposite of what I suggest to parents every day—I created chaos instead of calm. My daughter told me she was feeling really pressured. My husband gave me *that* look, the one that says you are being insane. I made a repair and she went to bed.
I took another break and went for a long walk at dusk. I talked to a friend. I cried about my behavior. I laughed at my behavior. I walked for a long time bringing my mind and my body back into a space of equilibrium and perspective. I stopped and smelled the neighbor’s glorious purple roses.
By the time I made it back home, she was asleep and I was exhausted. Feelings can wear you out. I told my husband about what was going through my head today, all the fear and anxiety, the desire for my daughter to have the best presentation—the worry that her teacher would think less of me, a professional public speaker and if my daughter’s 90-second speech on the femur wouldn’t measure up to the level of professional paid speaking engagement. We laughed a lot because when you’re not in it, these old ideas and triggers are pretty damn ridiculous. He gave me loads of empathy and grace. Then I gave myself loads of empathy and grace and went to bed. Today is a new day. Today is her 90-second talk on the femur. It is not about me. That is my mantra for the day.