When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember looking out the window of the plane commuting back from work one day, thinking, “my life is going to change and I have no idea how.” I wished I had some way of thinking about what it was I wanted about this next phase of my life. I wished I could go on some kind of retreat and think about designing a life where I was a parent. More to come on retreats, but I know I’m not the only one who thinks about parenthood this way. One of the most common questions I get asked is how to make this shift, how to manage work with parenthood, and why I seem to have so much energy. Today, I’ll share some personal stories on what I’ve learned in hopes that it will inspire you – as a new or current parent – to come up with how you want to live and parent.
I never really thought much about being a parent before I was a parent. Like marriage, I just somehow assumed that this would be the case. I’d be married, I’d have kids and that I’d be a great mom. I don’t know why I never wondered that much about parenting, I just knew that I didn’t. What I didn’t know was how big of a life change it would actually be when it happened. I remember feeling like my life was already full prior to having kids. I was traveling weekly for work and spent a lot of time and energy with work, and traveling to far flung locales with Jay in my time off. If it was a pie, it would be complete. When you added a child to the picture it was as if someone tried to take another piece of pie – one that was ⅓ or the size of the pie – and squish it in. Something had to come oozing out. I felt distracted, not completely present if friends or family came over – because I was so focused on this little human that needed so much care and attention. I held so desperately to this sense of the me before I had kids that I sometimes felt like I didn’t even know who I was anymore if I wasn’t going to yoga, exercising or meditating every day.
Lesson 1 on the art of parenthood was that about creating a new identity. Instead of clinging to what was and how I used to do things, I realized that I had to move forward with what was currently in my present moment. In my present moment, I had a few naps during the day when the baby was sleeping and I could get a short workout in. In my present moment, I sometimes had help and I could step out and do a few things. In my present moment, I was at work and the baby was at home with a caregiver. In my present moment, I now had 2 kids and they were both asleep. It was actually easier once I had two children to really step into the role of a parent then when we had one and there were still some remnants of the old me. Why is that? With one child, I was still one foot in and one foot out with who I was now with the role of a parent. With two children, there was no denying that being a mom was one of my biggest roles in my life. It was time to recognize what was in this situation. We often spend so much time in our past, holding onto how our life used to be and all the amazing things we did child-free that we don’t appreciate that our life has changed – and could it be possible that it changed for the better?
Lesson 2 on the art of parenthood is to actually like your kids. There’s a sense that we sometimes feel as parents that complaining about how crazy the kids are making us feel or how terrible things are is the norm. We can’t actually say that we love these strange little humans to other people, can we? We can’t actually say that no matter how crazy life is, we’d rather have it that way, can we? I’d like to change that for you if you’re feeling that way now. Can we instead lean into the feeling that it gets better and better? I’m not saying that we deny if we’ve had a troubling night or week or month because of sleep deprivation or teething or tantrums or wake-ups in the middle of the night. I’m not saying to pretend that you’re feeling stress-free as a new parent when you’re really not. All I am saying is that if you feel good right now, it’s ok to share that part of your story as well. Let’s not focus only on what’s wrong – let’s focus on what’s right and good as well. When we live into these beliefs that being a parent is a drain on our existence, then that’s what happens. When we live into the beliefs that being a parent takes away from our ability to achieve our goals, we stop dreaming. Let’s turn this ship around and say instead that you never would have done it this way, if you didn’t have a child. You won’t have met these wonderful people or made this change in your lifestyle – this was all a choice that came about because of your kids. If you blame them for the bad in your life, we might as well blame them for all the good that exists as well.
Lesson 3 on the art of parenthood is that we can let go of who we think we have to be and just be who we want to be. Being a parent forces us to step up in new and different ways. Suddenly, we’re chef, teacher, chauffeur, singer, song-writer, artist, writer and anything else that comes up in our child’s imagination or as you live a life with a small human who believes anything is possible. Why are we stuck in these old ways of being when we have every excuse to rewrite the story of the life we get to live and who we want to be as a parent? I remember thinking that this entrepreneurial thing would have gone better and faster if I wasn’t a parent. I’d look around at all these women who were just crushing it and see that they didn’t have kids or that their spouse stayed at home with the kids and think, “it seems like kids make you go slower”. While that is true – because they literally force you to walk slower, talk slower, and not leave them behind – it is also false. If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t have been as connected to the struggles of the many parents who are managing full careers and home lives. I wouldn’t have been as committed to healing burnout and overworking. I wouldn’t have been as connected to my emotions and inner child. I wouldn’t have been so clear about why I’m here, what I stand for and who I am.
Lesson 4 on the art of parenthood is to live fluidly, without intense control. Having kids forces us to admit to ourselves that we don’t have it figured out. It forces us to disconnect from the external structures of our lives and create moment to moment new ways of living that fit for this next hour, day, week or month. As parents, the schedules and needs of our children are not only ever-changing, but they are also somewhat unpredictable. We have to create a lot more plan Bs and plan Cs for getting in all the things that help us feel whole and recharge. We have to create homes and think about the long-term as well as what is needed of us in this moment. Like money, having kids magnifies who we are. Whatever we haven’t healed, worked through or managed suddenly comes out in the open. Being a parent is another relationship that can be one of our greatest spiritual teachers. This relationship constantly shows us our edges and it also shows us how much our external world defines us instead of us defining our external world. I remember thinking, “how am I going to find time to meditate” as a new mom when really all I needed was to apply mindfulness principles to the reality of my life. I could notice my breath and my steps as I simply walked with the baby or nursed her. If the baby or kids woke up early in the morning or a nap, I could hold onto the resentment that they took my time away from me, or just move forward with either putting them back to bed or having a shorter workout that day/morning.
Lesson 5 is on vulnerability. When we open our hearts to loving as parents, we are opening ourselves up to a lot more than love. We are allowing ourselves to feel hurt, pain, loss or grief. We are opening ourselves up to disruption and an unrelenting role as a parent. We spend a lot of our lives in the doing and creation of our legacies or our plans for the next few months or years. In all our planning and working – we sometimes forget that at the end of the day – we’re doing it so that we can have time with our family and loved ones. What if this was what was one of the most important things? What if we could enjoy this time? What if we took the armor off of the busy doing mode long enough to say, it’s time to hang out and be? We’d be here, fully present with the other humans in our lives – the ones who have enough pull on our heartstrings to have us feel a sense of deep suffering as well as love. Sometimes, that’s too much and we might not admit it but that kind of vulnerability and openness is too raw and exposed. It’s admitting that we love. A lot. We care. A lot. What happens if we had the courage to slow down long enough to stay with that feeling of love, vulnerability and possible suffering? What happens is that we begin to build a strong and loving heart. We build courage. We become the parents we’ve always wanted. We start to heal ourselves through this kind of love.
Whether you’re a parent or you’re about to be one, or you’re parenting yourself – know that there’s no love lost. The energy of willingness, determination, courage and love shows us not only what we desire to have in our lives, but what we wish for others as well. Use your time in this role to focus on letting those we love, live their own lives – fully supported yet as sovereign beings. Those who have to explore their own lives for themselves, but with you as a guide from the side.
I love you my friends and thanks for joining me this week. If you’re wondering how to start shaping your life to be more fully present, engaged and creatively – go to https://mayempson.com/yourbestyear to learn more about creating a virtual planning retreat using Your Best Year, the 2021 visioning retreat.