These days, my role as a mother consumes much of my thought life as well as my day-to-day activities. My fiery, tender, and wild-haired little girl is one week away from turning three. I’m currently pregnant with my second baby. While my due date is still a couple of weeks out, my obstetrician thinks he could come at any moment.
My body aches from the added weight and pressure of pregnancy. My eyes burn from lack of sleep. My thoughts are filled with anxiety.
Will my son be healthy if he is born early? Will we need to stay in the NICU? Will I be in the hospital for my daughter’s third birthday? Can I send her to preschool amidst COVID? Will school be safe for our family with a newborn at home? How will my daughter handle the transition of having our attention split between her and a little brother? Do I have what it takes to mother two children? Do I have the energy and stamina for night wake-ups and around the clock nursing?
I feel fragmented, worn down and weary most days but also aware of the beautiful moments this season holds.
As I talk to other parents, I realize I’m not alone. No one I know has parented their children in a global pandemic before. We are all fumbling and exhausted, no matter what stage of parenting we are in. We are making impossible decisions that don’t have a clear right or wrong answer. We are wading in a sea of loss and what-could-have-beens. What’s more, we are doing this all while we take care of our children’s physical and emotional needs.
Much of what I know about parenting I’ve learned from Dr.’s Dan Siegel and Tina Payne-Bryson. In their most recent book together, The Power of Showing Up, they outline what kids need from their parents most: presence.
Our children don’t need us to be perfect; they just need us to show up. There is room for mistakes and ruptures in the relationship. We don’t have to have the right answer for school this fall. We can’t protect them from every emotional burden or failure… but we can be present with them in the midst of it.
So, what does it mean to be present with our kids? Siegel and Payne-Bryson suggest that being present with our kids starts with an awareness of what’s happening inside ourselves. When I curiously tend to my own inner experience, I can then see what’s happening inside my child.
For example, as I shared above, I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately. Being pregnant in a pandemic while raising a toddler isn’t for the weak at heart. I could try stuffing the anxiety down and pretending it doesn’t exist, but it would probably leak out into my parenting. That could cause me to snap at my daughter or make decisions for her based out of fear. Instead, if I am able to look at that anxiety with curiosity and validate my emotions and understand where they are coming from, I have a better chance of showing up for my daughter. I simply can’t attune to her without tuning in to what is happening inside me first. I must regulate my own emotions before I can truly see her.
When I am experiencing emotions that block my parental presence, I ask myself five questions:
1. What am I feeling?
2. How can I validate that feeling?
3. What is at the root of the feeling?
4. What am I really longing for in this moment?
5. Am I ok?
This process can take as long as I want it to, but it can take as little time as 30 seconds if I need. For example:
What am I feeling? Over the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling really anxious that my son will be born early, and it will take me away from my daughter for an extended amount of time, which would cause her to have a rough transition into becoming a sister.
How can I validate that feeling? Of course, I feel this way!
What is at the root of the feeling? Giving birth at 36 weeks pregnant is not ideal and not in my son’s best interest. While he may be perfectly fine at 36 weeks, staying in the womb a little longer ensures a healthier baby.
What am I really longing for in this moment? I long for certainty in this wild, uncertain season of life. I wish I could control the timing of my son’s birth and help ease my daughter into the transition seamlessly.
Am I ok? Yes, even though I can’t control my circumstances, I will get through it no matter what happens.
Often, engaging in what’s happening inside me doesn’t take long, but the benefit is huge. I know what’s happening in me, and then I have better eyes to see what’s happening in my daughter.
In case you think I do this perfectly, I don’t. I make mistakes. I get dysregulated. Fortunately, like I mentioned above, our kids don’t need perfect parents; they just need us to show up. And when we don’t, repair is possible. We will try again. And again and again… and we will learn ourselves and our kids in the process.
Lindsay Buono is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Pinnacle Counseling Institute. You can learn more about her and schedule an appointment here.