It's 2 a.m. and the baby is crying. It's 2 a.m. and the little boy has a fever. It's 2 a.m. and the student starts the essay over. It's 2 a.m. and the teenager is not home.
It's 2 a.m. and the mother breathes deep as she brings babe to breast. It's 2 a.m. and the father carries a cool washcloth down the hallway. It's 2 a.m. and the auntie yawns and encourages, "you'll get it this time." It's 2 a.m. and the friend says, "Dude! Your house lights are on."
Raising children offers many opportunities to find one's Center in spite of the Circumstances.
As a young mother, I certainly did take deep breaths before 2 a.m. feedings, but sometimes that wasn't enough. I remember a moment when the veil of exhaustion lifted and I realized that I didn't like the way I was talking to my child, which eerily channeled precisely the lowest common denominator of inter-generational parental angst that I'd occasionally heard when I was small and the adults around me had hit their limits. Having limits is natural; learning to anticipate and manage those limits takes effort. I determined that to create deep change, I was going to have to do deep work.
Across twenty years of parenting, I have learned that my ability moment-to-moment and year-by-year to access a place of perspective about my role in the care of others is directly related to how well I care for myself. Attending to my continued development has been and remains a critical component to staying whole during the parenting journey. Though I've found psychoanalysis to be immensely valuable, carving out little windows of self-care and pleasure give a lot to get on with, too: simple food, breaks to run or dance, soaks in a hot bath, and leading with an attitude of gratitude… Even when the self-care tank is dangerously low and I blow it with my kids, if I show my vulnerability and authentically clean up my mess, my children are remarkably quick to reestablish connection and move on, and own their stuff when it's their turn to do so, too.
Feminist scholar Marge Frantz wrote that, "children need interesting mothers." I've adapted Hip Mama Ariel Gore's interpretation of this to mean interested… Interested in the world beyond them and the rich but limited role of their mother. Combined in my own mind with pediatrician Donald Winnicott's terribly useful framework of the "good enough mother;" I've had guideposts to drop any pretentions or aspirations of being perfect, going for sufficiency and authenticity instead. I believe that if I continue to model and share my journey as a conscientious, fallible, evolving human being, my children will have enough. If I do it through the sincere pursuit of community engagement and social justice that mean so much to me, perhaps they will be inspired to build their own vivid, meaningful lives.
Lock step with my boys, I've grown my career in breastfeeding advocacy. Blessed to have worked from home throughout the duration of their growing years, they have witnessed and internalized the changes in me and the collective impact of advocates like me. We often joke that they know more about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding than many women of childbearing age; but as valuable, I think, they both seem freer of political cynicism than many in our country. They were ages 7 and 10 when they stood beside then Governor Kulongoski as he signed Oregon's law mandating workplace accommodations for nursing mothers, and they know that law, which arose from grassroots advocates at Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon, has influenced systems across the country so that the lived experiences of families are changed for the better.
They understand that the advocacy work we do at the United States Breastfeeding Committee and across the field has an impact in the real world. I have the impression they've long understood my work and think it's cool, and moreover, that work which is personally and socially meaningful is an aim to strive for in their own lives. And, I truly believe that they don't begrudge all the hours across all the years that they had to do a little more for themselves from time to time, because their mama was doing a little more in the service of others.
A few months ago, I read instructions for a two-minute mindfulness exercise: one minute of deep breathing, 30 seconds of giving love to the world, followed by 30 seconds of setting an intention for the day. When I realize I'm awake, I start breathing more deeply and intentionally. I begin, "I love and accept myself," and then consider my boys, my partner and his children and relations, my family near and far, my neighbors, colleagues and friends, the people I don't know and (bonus round) those with whom I disagree politically. What started as a two-minute practice now expands as inspiration flows. The daily intentions that follow are BIG, y'all. Clear. Inspired. The stuff to grow on, with joy!
However you mentally frame it for yourself or fold it into your life, finding the practices that keep you breathing, growing, interested, and whole, give you what you need; which is all your children need of you. In this, we are already enough!
Photo Credit: Janna Marit, 1999