It was on a flight from Cleveland, Ohio to Las Vegas when my twin sons were still babies that I had one of my first realizations of how people perceive so-called successful working mothers. I was traveling to a medical conference, and was accompanied by my nanny. Despite my best efforts, one of my sons was having difficulty dealing with the air pressure. When all else failed, I decided to walk him up and down the aisle while consoling him. He calmed down fairly quickly and we returned to our seat. As I sat down next to the nanny, she narrated an incident to me with a smile. Apparently, the lady across the aisle pointed to me as I walked my son, and said, “You have good help.” My nanny replied, “I am the help.” I found that both amusing and offensive. Clearly, the assumption was that if I could afford a nanny, I would not be doing the physical work of caring for my children myself, and that I would delegate the harder parts of motherhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had a nanny simply because I needed an extra set of hands. And when I went to work, there was no family to help. It was out of necessity that I employed a nanny. However, not once did my children have any doubt as to who their mother was.
I have always been a proponent of hands-on parenting. I did not allow myself to drown in the stress of diapers and dirty bottles to the point that I lost perspective of why I was there in the first place. The initial few months with twin babies are a mind- numbing time, and I had to remind myself to be present emotionally not just physically. I decided that I needed time with each of my sons that was devoted to just him. In fact, when I went back to work at about 8 weeks, I carved out about half an hour to just hold my sons before I would leave for my shift. I would sit there in my scrubs, with one baby at a time, and simply focus on being present in that moment. Whether my son was asleep or awake, there were no other distractions. There was no TV, music playlist or cell phone. Nothing except the son I had brought into the room with me. Those few minutes of mindful connection made all the difference in the world. As the writer S.C. Lourie said, “There are some souls you connect with so much, you can hear their song from inside them, even when they’re sleeping. Some souls connect with you so deep, they bring out songs inside you, you never knew you had.” I view parenting in much the same way.
As they grew older, I began taking them to Mommy and Me. That time of the week was sacrosanct. I would not work during that time, and refused to take on any obligations that would detract from our time together. I learned for the first time in my life that no is a complete sentence. At this point, I also began taking my children on excursions. We would go to the zoo. We would go to Amish country. I thought nothing of busting them out of preschool early to take them to the rodeo for another day of classic Texan fun. It did not matter what we did. We went on trips outside the home that led to discovery of some kind. Little minds needs stimulation and my sons never lacked for it.
I believed in having conversations with my children from the time they were exceptionally young. I never baby talked with them. It will amaze you what little minds are thinking about when you actually stop to ask. We cooked together from the time they could hold a small spatula and frost a cupcake. We baked cookies together even though all they did was make a mess with the flour. They thought they helped, and that is what mattered. There was a sense of accomplishment that came from that. It built a sense of companionship between us, of shared purpose, and we had fun!
I also strongly believe in the importance of travel. My children have never owned the latest gadgets but they have traveled the world. It has always been important to me that they see the world and the beauty in it. Looking back, my style of parenting is technically called Conscious Mothering. I never knew that there was such a thing. I was simply the Mama that I wanted to be. It turns out, much of what I have done, and continue to do, falls under that style of parenting. Conscious Mothering focuses more on your connection with your child and an intuitive parenting style rather than boxing yourself into more stereotypical ideas of what a parent-child relationship should be. While I have been a figure of authority, my children have always seen me as a friend first, and I take that as a compliment. There has to be compromise on both ends. Parenting cannot be dictatorial, and should not be. Children have to respect their parents and not be brats walking all over them. There is a happy medium, and I do believe that I have found it.
When my children were barely 8 years old I decided to take them on a road trip around Italy. Many people told me that I had lost my mind. Here I was, a single mother, embarking on a journey with two young children in a foreign land, and deciding to drive on top of it all. I did not want a tourist’s version of Italy. I wanted to experience Italy. I could not think of a better way of doing it than simply getting behind the wheel of a car and driving. My boys were allowed to have tablets but I told them that if they felt the need to be on their tablets the entire time, I would feel that I had somehow failed them. At one point we were driving through Tuscany and my son said to me, “Mama, I don’t even feel the need to use my tablet because it is just so beautiful when I look out the window.” I smiled as I drove.
I have also made a conscious effort to introduce my children to classical music. It plays in our home during dinner or as we clean. Well, it’s classical music or classic rock, both Mama approved, but usually classical music in the evenings. It has become part of both my boys. We attended a Vivaldi concert in Venice and when the orchestra breaked for the intermission, my son turned to me in horror, with his eyes big and round, and exclaimed, “They aren’t done are they?!!” Relief washed over him when he realized that they would be back. At that moment, I knew that I was doing something right. That trip was epic on every level. Clearly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but the idea remains the same. It is about time together as a family. It is about connecting on a deep and authentic level. It is about relationships that are real, about exposure to different things that hone our personality.
Again, we come back to the idea of mindfulness. I am present in my life in every way. I am a mother in every sense of the word. I am a friend and companion to my sons. I am also fully committed to my job as a physician, and the needs of my patients and colleagues. Mindfulness has to be across the board in every aspect of my life if it is to exist in any aspect of my life. I wrote about stress and its effects on our DNA last week. I believe that mindful mothering has reduced my stress level, improved my relationships, and started chiseling my boys into the men they will someday become. I don’t claim to have a perfect parenting style but it has worked for me, and worked well. People have asked me how my life will change as a result of COVID-19, and when I’ve told them that it really won’t, they think I am trying to be evasive. I did not need a pandemic to center me. I was already there. I do stop to take that picture. I do stop to smell the roses. I do stop to kiss my sons. Life is too short for anything else.
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