Being The Mama

I’ve been reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Cohn in all my little available moments lately.

My head is a-swarm with thoughts, but one that really stuck out to me from his book was just a short paragraph where he talked about “being the parent,” as in not responding to your two year old’s behavior with two year old behavior. Remembering that we are the adults, and acting our age.

Of course this doesn’t mean not getting down on the floor and playing walruses. This means that when my Almost Three gnashes her teeth and screams at the top of her lungs for me to “Go away!!!” I have to do my best to resist the childish urge to say “Fine, have it your way. Goodbye. Nyah.” I have to be the grown up and quiet my heart and see that although she is screaming at me to go away, she is also clinging hard to my leg, and obviously needs me there. I have to look past the shrieking banshee to whatever fear and confusion is twisting her up. I have to swallow my hurt and my pride, and all my lifetime’s accumulation of my own fear baggage and be Big.

Ooof. Am I really up for this job? Being a mama is so much like birth. Just a drawn out, 18+ year birth. I don’t think I can do it. I had no idea it would be this hard. I had no idea anything could possibly be half this hard. I remember a line from the book Birthing From Within, something like, ‘It hurts like hell, it’s hard as hell, and you can do it.’ I always really liked that as a mantra. I like how it’s an ‘and,’ not a ‘but.’

No less useful for mama-ing, don’t need to change a single word. “It hurts like hell, it’s hard as hell, and I can do it.”

I’ve been really fixating on the idea that first we have to grow ourselves up. A friend has assured me that’s all we can do. Grow yourself up, kiddos will follow. Sounds sound.

Another thing Cohn has briefly touched on, which I think deserves much more attention is the fact that what you say matters, what you do matters even more, but what you truly feel trumps everything. Kids are intuitive little buggers. No lie is gonna get past their razor sharp sensors.

So, not only do you have to speak and demonstrate your unconditional love, compassion and affection for them, but you have to feel it. First.

You can’t make this shit up. You can’t say, “I love you and I know you’re having a hard time right now.” while secretely thinking, ‘You little toad, get off of my foot and stop that shrieking. What the hell’s the matter with you?”

Of course, you can’t just change how you feel, right? You can’t just say, ‘whoops, don’t feel that way, insert this more appropriate feeling.’ But here’s the thing I am reminding myself of, multiple times a day. We are all, not one thing or another, not the Bitch Mom or the Wholesome Mama, but everything all wound up together in a hopeless tangle of mama-ness. You don’t have to lie. You don’t have to obliviate anything.

Just turn towards your sweetness.

I am making a real effort in my days of late to Be The Parent, to take many, many breaths, to look past my own fear and hurt, to be Big and turn toward my sweetness.

11 thoughts on “Being The Mama

  1. I love the phrase “turn towards my sweetness.” Like the whole post too! I find, with my toddler, it’s easier when you remember how incredibly difficult it is to be a toddler. Parenting may be hard, but I wouldn’t trade places with being brand new to the world, constantly having others tell you what to do, all the while as you just start to discover you know what you want.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I totally needed this today and oddly enough, needed to be reminded that I am the adult. I have four children and feel like I’m constantly reminding the older ones (14 & 11) to act their age and not that of their 2 & 4 year old siblings, when in fact, I should probably grow up a bit too. They mimic and learn from what they see.

  3. Oh… this is wonderful! Thank you for sharing this! I practice Positive Parenting techniques, and sometimes I think that I am not a great mom because I don’t have it together 24/7. But that’s not true. The fact that I try so hard, and that most (read: part) of the time I do a good job… that really does mean something. And yes, you’re right, there’s always an underlying emotion that drives the feelings of any situation – and the Big person’s job is to take care of the emotion at the bottom of it, not to react to the behavior at the top of it.

  4. it truly is a brave and brilliant choice to be a conscious parent. and i so appreciated that quote from “birthing within” too! speaking of birthing…my sister’s wife is in labor as i type!!! send happy baby thoughts in the direction of oakland, ca – if you’d be so kind!
    i find deep breathing helps me immeasurably. i also like what jill said:
    “the Big person’s job is to take care of the emotion at the bottom of it, not to react to the behavior at the top of it.”
    that one book (helpful, i know) that i told you about on one of yer previous posts (can’t remember the name now – written by naomi aldort, i think?) gives some great practical advice on *how* to be the Big, slow down and be a present, positive parent (which i felt kohn’s book was lacking)
    have such a lovely day – enjoy that granola bread!

  5. You are such an inspiration Calamity! And really, your sentiments apply to much of life, not just parenting. Compassion, groundedness, is an amazing skill. Thank you, as always.

    1. (*an amazing skill that I will spend a lifetime trying to learn! Sometimes the tourist season really gives me a run for my money. Lol)

  6. Great post. I have just put my little one back to bed at 7am. Clearly a 6am wake up was far too early for his little heart. He was a grumpy gremlin. He went back to bed without a protest but I can hear him chattering away now so not sure he’ll actually get anymore shut eye. I really try to be conscious of acting like the adult with him. On the rare occasion where I have a momentary lapse and I feel guilty I very clearly and sincerely say to him “Sorry North, that wasn’t very nice of Mama. Mama is sorry” and I think he truly gets it and accepts. It’s important that I own up to my mistakes and behaviour the same way he does. xo m.

  7. You do need to grow up as a parent, and I think as time goes on I am slowly doing that. Sometimes it is sooo hard though, to stop yourself from stomping on the ground, slamming a door and sitting and sulking. That would be the easier option than dealing with a screaming 4 year old that has just gotten hysterical for the past hour because I have done something he doesn’t want me to do. My 4 yr old recently started telling me when something made him feel angry, sad, upset- that was a huge step to be able to identify that. So many adults can’t identify the emotion they are feeling, rather just reacting on it. Certainly made me sit up a little straighter.

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