I Was An Emotional Mess. Mindfulness Helped Me Be A Better Mom.
Therapy taught me to be gentle with myself. So I applied it to my parenting, too.
We all eff up our kids one way or another. It’s a parental rite of passage. We nod to one another at the park in this solidarity, but the truth is, none of us wants to cause harm to our offspring. I want to be part of my kids’ health. I want to cultivate a parent-child relationship that is as positive as it can be. I’ve suffered from an anxiety disorder since I can remember, and have been on Prozac for 15 years. But, medicine was not enough for me to become the person I wanted to be, the mom I wanted to be. There was actual work to be done within the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotions and emotion regulation. I had come to the place where I knew my reaction to anxiety would have a direct effect on my children if I let it.
Luckily I am pretty aware of all the various forms of therapy within the field of psychology, and have a clinical psychologist for a best friend who so kindly directed me to dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT. DBT specifically looks at intense emotions and the ways in which an individual can notice them, feel safe feeling them and accept the discomfort or reality in a more healthy manner using mindfulness practices. It’s a specific form of treatment that the clinician must have training and certification in and not just a Google Search background in. About four sessions in and after intentional practice and completion of daily worksheets, my therapist looked at me and said, “Meg, you literally have all the tools within you. You’ve done so much past cognitive behavioral therapy and are highly introspective, my colleague and I don’t feel you’re the best fit for ongoing DBT.” I felt like I flunked out of the course or something, but in reality, it was empowering to hear someone just say, “Meg, you’ve got this. Go back out there and put to practice what you know.” She did continue to meet with me for regular talk therapy on an as-needed basis.
A golden nugget of wisdom she left with me was to make sure I was reading about mindfulness practices and being gentle with myself. Books about pausing. If there’s one ounce of wisdom I can lend to anyone with anxiety is to make sure you are always carving time to be in a book and outside of your mind. Books that really changed my life and provided companionship in my journey, and on my journey, because hello, anxiety doesn’t just go away, included Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love, a variety of writings from Mary Oliver and Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. I practiced vulnerability with friends in a way Brene Brown would be proud. From friends, I asked for honesty, a pair of listening ears. It all came down to making a decision to make a huge investment in my mind.
I found myself using mindfulness exercises and turning to the words from the books I read everywhere I went…and that included when I took a walk with my daughter to the bookstore, where, because it was full of shiny things, she went a little haywire.
If someone were to set me free in a bookstore and let me have whatever I’d want, I’d simply lock the front door and put a giant sign that read “MINE” on it. So when my daughter ran toward me with a stack of books and a new stuffie, immediately begging to keep it all, instead of becoming exasperated, I knelt down and reasoned with her. I told her they are lovely and that it’s so hard to not get to take them all home. We decided we should take one book home and take pictures of the remaining items to add to her birthday list. There was disappointment in her eyes, but there was understanding. It could have erupted into a showdown but instead there was grace and peace because I came from a mind of grace and peace. My mind was in a place of health.
Later that day, I dropped my daughter off at her friend’s house for a playdate while I grabbed lunch with a friend. I let it all out, and in doing so, offered her a safe space for her issues, too. It’s in those moments that I’m so thankful I practice self-care, even in small, seemingly inconsequential doses. It matters.
By the end of the day, when I was picking my daughter up, I was tired and drained. So when my daughter had a hard time leaving the playdate, I snapped. I yelled. I threatened.
No surprise: She cried harder. She kicked harder. She took on my energy.
I took a step back and observed what was happening. I sunk my face into my hands and let out an audible “ughhh.” I remembered the importance of the energy I was casting from that parenting book I had come to memorize. I turned my voice down. I apologized and said that I was just a bit tired but that didn’t warrant how I was acting. And she melted into me. She reminded me she didn’t want to go, and I reminded her that we’d come back another day next week. I told her I love her. I was so thankful that my mind was good to me at that moment.
Meg Raby is a mom, children's author of the My Brother Otto series, and Autistic residing in Salt Lake City where you can find her playing and working with neurodivergent children as a Speech Language Pathologist and friend, or writing and planning big things in the second booth at her local coffee shop that overlooks the Wasatch Mountains while sipping on her Americano. Meg believes the essence of life is to understand, love and welcome others (aka, to give a damn about humans).