The Case for Joyful Parenting
The thing that scared me the most when I was pregnant was the well-intentioned comments about how much motherhood would change me. How much one’s identity shifts with the birth of a child. I liked me. I liked my friendships, and my marriage, and my life, and I wondered – who would this new me be? Would anyone like her? Would she get obsessed with jogging strollers and kale and baby Einstein videos? I think I already don’t like her.
So it was with great relief that (after weathering those first harrowing weeks of postpartum hormones), I realized “Hey! It’s still me! Just me with a baby!” Aside from a general softening of my heart, I still felt (and feel) very much like myself. This seemed like a manageable amount of change; not the seismic shift predicted.
One year later and I am beginning to observe how my identity actually is changing. And I love it. It’s not me that is different. It’s the lens through which I see myself. I now see myself through my child’s eyes. Those soft parts of my body which used to represent flaws that would need to be hidden come swim-suit-season? Those are now the part of me that created and protected my baby until he was ready to join us. My body is a place to snuggle into during the late afternoon post-nap grumpy fugue state. My arms reach back when his little arms reach up, and they are strong enough to swing him by his feet when we’re playing. My hands are far from manicured, yet they are the hands that dry tears, brush bangs out of eyes, and know the exact tickle spots to unleash the most delightful peals of baby giggles.
And this is where the shifting happens, the growth, and the intention: I get to be my child’s mama. So who is she?
It’s so easy to be stressed, to fall into a near-constant state of overwhelm, to be too busy to enjoy the little moments, to live in the anxious echo-chamber of my head. When this is our daily state, we communicate to our kids that parenting is not a joyful task. Let’s be honest here: it’s isn’t always joyful! Sometimes the salmon you planned to prepare for a healthy dinner went bad in the fridge, and you (somewhat gleefully) eat mac-and-cheese instead. Sometimes you over- schedule the day and realize halfway through that you’ve dramatically overestimated your child’s willingness to participate in said day without a constant (loud) whine emitting from the backseat. And yet you do need to get to the grocery store, and make those Target returns, and order the new checkbooks from the bank. We can’t just skip those parts of daily life and eat s’mores in a living room fort, a tableau of a Pinterest post. Or at least I can’t – not when I know the dishwasher is full and the laundry is starting to smell because I forgot to move it to the dryer (again).
Into this intersection of intention and reality enters: my mom. My mom died unexpectedly when I was 12 years old. As I get older, my perspective evolves, but she will always be seen through the lens of my childhood. As I craft this version of myself as a mom, I cling to what she taught me. She was vibrant, fun, and joyful. There is no doubt in my mind that she was challenged by her many roles as a mother, business owner, wife, friend, home-owner, sister, and neighbor. But there is also no doubt in my mind that not only did she love me, but she also loved being a mom. She brought joy to her role as a parent in a way that I cherish. It communicated to me that I was a source of joy and of happiness. What a tremendous gift!. Above all else, this is the gift I wish to give my child.
It is from this perspective that I work with parents. It is from this place that I find so much joy in comforting parents who not only struggle, but compound this struggle with self-judgement and shame. Parenting is possibly the most important thing any of us will ever do. And we all need support, dialogue, and tools to become the parents we want our children to have.In the following series, I will share tools from an evidence-based models (PCIT, DBT and CBT) with the hope that you can use them to reclaim the joy in your role as a parent.
I wish you joy.