Parenting Mindfully But Not Always Enjoying It
by Abigail Somma
When my twins were one and a half years old, I decided to become a meditation teacher. The initial intent wasn’t wholly to be a meditation teacher, but rather spurred by an imperative question directed to myself: how can I get a much-needed break from my life? The way I explained it to my partner and co-parent was a little different. I told him this course would move my career in a direction that was more meaningful. It made sense for long-term planning. It was an investment in the future. The fact that it would also be a weekly sigh of relief didn’t seem worth mentioning.
Turned out he was an easy sell and once a week and for a few select Saturdays, I left the mania of toddler twin life behind and learned how to teach meditation, which as expected, often included a heavy dose of meditating. My plan was such a success that when my children were almost three, I convinced him that I need to take yet another meditation teacher training course. And so once again, off I went into the world of “ommm” and silence and peace and tranquility, a blessed escape from “Mama!” and “Mommy!” and “I need this” and “I don’t like that” and “WAAAAAAHHH.”
Teacher-training wasn’t a vacation at the beach, but it often felt that way.
Eventually the day came when I had two meditation teacher-training courses under my belt and the next logical step was…well… to teach meditation. Surely, I could lead people through the process of meditating. Meditation is a regular tool I’d been using to “reset” myself for well over a decade and I am an avid believer. So when a local business owner approached me about teaching a class at her center, I readily agreed. Ultimately, she convinced me to focus on Mindfulness for Parenting, as it was something she said she could use herself.
We went about spreading the word, advertised the class in a local bulletin, and sent emails around to friends and fellow parents, who I presumed were desperate for the same escape I had once needed. Yet a few weeks later, looking at my inbox, the results were dismally in: not one person had signed up for my class.
As the days passed, I found myself dealing with an all-too-familiar-feeling: imposter syndrome. Self-doubt began to creep in. Who was I to teach this class? Why did I think I knew any more about parenting than any of these other parents? Surely, they were all asking themselves the same question.
In a conversation with my sister, I told her I was feeling quite vulnerable about the whole thing, especially the email I sent to my personal contact list.
“Why should I be teaching this class?” I said to her. “I don’t even enjoy parenting.”
This was only partially true. Or rather, it used to be true. As my children turned the corner from three to four, and the epic tantrums died down, and the sleep deprivation hangover began to lift, and my kids began doing small things for themselves, like getting a glass of water, I noticed a shift taking place. Slowly, I began having genuine moments of fun, I sometimes found myself in spontaneous laughter and even touched by bliss.
But it hadn’t always been that way. Much of the preceding four years (and actually five, because my pregnancy had been very difficult), felt like a slog; a long, relentless struggle. Speaking honestly to friends, I told them, “I feel like I’m just trying to make it through the day. Every day.”
Author Jennifer Senior famously penned the phrase All Joy and No Fun. But where was the joy? Most days, I cried at least once out of sheer frustration or exhaustion. It was in part because of the various needs and demands that came up throughout the day (um, yep, you’re peeing in the middle of this café, but my diaper bag is outside and I’m alone with two of you). But it was also in part, because for one reason or another, one or both of my twins woke up multiple times during the night for years, not months. And I was just damn tired. On my very worst days, I would put my kids to bed, burst into tears, have a glass of wine and/or Google, “I hate parenting” just to see what would come up.
Thankfully, I have sisters and friends who understand the maddening madness of parenting toddler twins and reminded me that the hero’s journey isn’t always about enjoying the journey.
“Why should I be teaching this class? I don’t even enjoy parenting,” I told my sister.
“You’re exactly the person who should be teaching this class,” she replied. “You didn’t enjoy it, but you found the beauty in it anyway.”
And there it was. The paradox. The truth.
The journey with my twins had been arduous, often unpleasant, but it was indeed beautiful.
One day, a friend considering the plunge into parenting asked me if having children was worth it and I told her something to the effect of: “Oh, it’s awful, but totally worth it.”
In the same way that love breaks our hearts and life’s sorrows bring us to our knees, parenting takes the wind out of us, humbles us and strips us for years of the things we enjoy most: free-time, napping, leisure reading, watching movies, chatting with friends, self-care, etc, etc. (This, of course, being a generalization as not everyone’s parenting journey is the same or equally demanding.)
And yet, the larger question was still: would I skip out on the gorgeous and tumultuous, exhausting and heartbreaking journey of life because I don’t always enjoy it?
No, I wouldn’t.
“It’s hard in the same way life is hard,” I told her. “But I wouldn’t want to miss it either.”
When my children were two and a half years old, their father was taking them out on a boat ride with his parents, which happily meant a break for me. As we got them ready, I noticed how animated they were, excited for the adventure that lay ahead.
“Have fun,” I told them, giving them each a kiss goodbye, surely thankful for the free time.
They started to walk way, but suddenly, my son turned back to me.
““I always come back, mama.” he said.
Like a reflection of my own karma, my son offered me the same words of assurance I had given to them so many times before.
How many glasses of therapy wine would I endure for those precious words? Small words that took my breath away.
“I know, baby.”
I know you do.
More recently, in a moment of recognition that time does indeed pass, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mommy, are you going to miss me when I grow up?”
What? Just as I am moving past cleaning bottoms, and mega-tantrums where hoards of people stare aghast, and the aggravation of being asked for twenty different things before I’ve even had my morning pee…. we’re on to growing up and moving on?
“Of course, baby.”
“But I don’t want to be away from you ever.”
And I won’t just miss you when you grow up. I already miss you now. Just knowing that someday you will grow up, that you won’t be here right next to me, that holding you in my arms won’t feel like the most natural thing in the world for both of us.
I already miss you, baby, just thinking about it.
These tiny beautiful moments have been some of the most cherished of my life. What would I be willing to sacrifice for them? I don’t know. Maybe free-time, napping, leisure reading, watching movies, chatting with friends, self-care. At least for a few years.
“Why should I be teaching this class? I don’t even enjoy parenting,” I told my sister. And being the sage she is, she answered me:
“You’re exactly the person who should be teaching this class. You didn’t enjoy it, but you found the beauty in it anyway. Most people don’t even want to admit that they don’t enjoy parenting. And it’s something they need to hear: that it’s ok not to enjoy or like it, even a lot of the time.”
I have always struggled with the fact that I believe in gratitude and positivity, and their generative power, and yet I also believe in authenticity and revealing our true selves. But yet, there it is. The paradox. The truth.
We can honor the beauty of a glorious moment, hope for an easier tomorrow, but we still admit that today was hard, really freaking hard. And I cried. And I Googled, “I hate parenting.”
The day before my Mindful Parenting was scheduled to take place, I wrote to the local business owner who had suggested the class, telling her I regretted that we needed to cancel, but perhaps we could try again in a few months. She quickly called to tell me that at the very last minute one person signed up and would bring two friends. We had three students, and decided to go forth.
In our last cozy class of three, we talked about self-compassion and how, despite the fact that we may feel alone and isolated in our mixed and messy feelings, they’re actually part of the universal human experience. Googling, “I hate parenting” or sharing battle stories with a close confidant doesn’t make us horrible parents or mean we can’t create loving homes for our children. Rather than casting off mixed feelings as shameful or unacceptable, perhaps we can approach them with gentle self-compassion, realizing that they’re part of life’s complexity, its paradoxes and its truth. They’re ok for parents, and even ok for meditation teachers.