Who’s your momma? Is it Dr. Spock?

It’s 2 am in the morning and you’ve finally gotten the baby back to sleep after more than an hour of nursing, rocking, walking, and trying various baby holding positions. 

Or… it’s 2 am in the morning and your teenage son, who was supposed to be home by midnight, is just now sauntering through the door.

As badly as you just want to crawl back in bed, you also know you can’t go through another night like this one.  So you tiptoe downstairs to the computer, type in “Amazon” and “parenting books” and voila! 105,924 books on parenting show up.  Each one promising the solution to your problem.  So you order a dozen or so and hit “overnight shipping!”

The problem is, even if you somehow find the time to read the books, you will start to notice a curious thing–they contradict each other.  One says it’s okay to let a baby cry himself to sleep.  The other says always respond to the cry.  One says set strict rules and clear consequences and the other says talk to your child, find out what he’s feeling and needing.  Each parenting expert has his or her own tips, techniques, methods, routines, and philosophies that promise to solve your problems.

From the moment we bring the baby home, we are perpetually looking for that elusive instruction manual.  And if we could only find it, then everything would be alright, we’d get through it and we’d know what to do. 

 Well, guess what?  The manual doesn’t exist and still everything will be alright and we’ll get through it even if we don’t know the perfect thing to do. So much of parenting is going with your gut, trying something and if it doesn’t work, trying something else. 

In today’s world of information overload, we seemingly have all the “answers” at our fingertips and to be sure, there’s lots of very beneficial advice, techniques, philosophies and inspirations out there.  The downside though is that when we become overly reliant on information outside of ourselves, we can quickly lose our parenting intuition and inner guidance

 It’s easy to do and it’s tragic.  If you’ve fallen into this trap, here’s 5 ways you can reclaim your power as your child’s parenting expert.

 1.  Put the books back on the shelves (for a while anyway).  Just be present with your child.  Get to know her.  Notice what she likes and what she doesn’t like.  What interests her.  What makes her scared, or sad, or happy.  The best way to do this is to listen.  Listen way more than you talk.  In fact, you have the right to remain silent.  I dare you to try it just to see if you can do it!

2.  Whether it’s whining, temper tantrums, waking at night, picky eating, or sibling fighting…when you feel triggered by your child’s behavior, take a step back and get a bigger perspective.  Noticing what triggers you and what your habitual reaction to it is will help you decide if you want to parent on auto-pilot or if you want to have a more thoughtful response to the behavior.  What’s happening may look so important right now and you may want it to STOP.  But in the big picture, does it matter if your child lies on the floor in Kroger for awhile and kicks and screams while you are present with him and his big feelings, or if he refuses to eat anything with burnt edges?  Will it really kill his chances of being president some day?

 3.  Be flexible, creative and open to new ideas.  All children are different. Just when you’ve finally figured out this parenting thing with your first child, your second one comes along and unravels that tightly knit sweater of parenting confidence you were wearing.  Nothing you’ve painstakingly learned works with her. You have to figure out a whole new parenting paradigm for this kid. The same thing happens as your children mature and develop.  You better be ready to roll with the changes and adjust your parenting practice.  Parenting is not a static thing; it’s an ever evolving convoluted dynamic chaotic growth opportunity in perpetuity.  Which is to say it’s eternally fun!

4.  Not every problem has to be solved.  If you’re mindful, you will find that balance of what must be dealt with now and what can wait.  I can almost guarantee you that your child will not be crawling into your bed in the middle of the night when he is 13.  She will not be insisting that you cut the crust off the bread and don’t let the peas touch the carrots when she is 22.  Time will take care of a lot of things.  Don’t add a layer of suffering.  This too shall pass.  In the meantime, have some fun and enjoy your kids!

5.  Take care of yourself or find someone who will.  The best parents know that the secret to being able to actually implement all the wonderful things you discover and learn as you become a parenting expert is to take good care of yourself.  When you are rested and healthy and your cup is full of love and vitality, it’s much easier to give these things to your children and to parent in alignment with your parenting integrity.  If you don’t trust you’ll  take good care of yourself, then all you have to do is find and marry someone who is totally devoted 100% to your happiness and wellbeing.  (sigh….)

It’s okay to share your “expertise” with other parents and support each other in finding ways to make parenting as peaceful, easy and joyful as possible.  Some parenting “experts” have experience in working with lots of parents and they may have some insights that will be helpful.  By all means, seek them out, learn from them.  Try this, try that.  And run everything through your own parenting filter. Take what is helpful and leave the rest. 

When I work with parents, I consider myself a “facilitator” because my goal is to facilitate each parent’s uncovering of their own inner wisdom.  It’s there.  It’s never not been.  The only time I consider myself a parenting expert is with my own kids.   And you are the parenting expert with yours.  Take back your power and unleash your parenting “guru” within.

When the unthinkable happens

Early Saturday morning, my older teenage son climbed in bed with me and my husband.  He spread his long body between us and announced, “I’ve made breakfast for you.”   

 “Yeah, right,” I said.  He hasn’t done that since he was 7 or 8 and used to bring me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day–strawberries, oreo cookies, and milk.   

 “I’m not kidding,” he said. “I made eggs and french toast sticks.”

 “What’s up?,” I asked, mystified.

 “Something tragic happened last night and I’ve been thinking,” he said. He had my full attention now.  He had been hanging out with some friends the night before at one of their homes.  Did they do something stupid? Did someone get hurt?

“What happened?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

His lower lip started quivering as he said, “Zander’s mom died last night.”  One of his basketball buddies.  “I knew she had cancer but I didn’t know it was that bad.  I got a tweet from Zander last night that said, ‘Thanks for everyone’s support.  Rest in Peace Mom.’  It’s so tragic and I just got to thinking about if that happened to one of you.  I’d be so sad.”  I started crying and he put his arm around me. 

 I didn’t  know Zander’s mom.  I only saw his dad at the basketball games.  But I felt the grief of what she must have gone through knowing she was leaving her two sons behind.  And I was so sad thinking about Zander and his brother growing up without their mom.  I don’t know which would be worse…to lose a child or to leave a child behind. 

My heart was breaking and it was also so touched that my son was displaying vulnerability and deep caring, which I don’t see often–especially now that he’s a teenager.  It’s sweet to know there’s still a tender place in his heart.  Today, he told his Dad how much he appreciated him fixing up a car for him to drive.  He has given me more hugs this weekend than I’ve had in the last 6 months.  He’s even been nice to his little brother. 

Death can change you in that way. Shake you awake and open your eyes to the fleeting brilliance and vibrancy of life.  Death is a reminder to the living:  Savor now.  Love now.  Appreciate now.  Express it now.

It is heartwarming to see how his circle of friends is supporting each other…in their teenage boy way.  Tweeting messages to Zander to let him know they are thinking of him.  Planning to go over next weekend to be with him.  It’s the first death to touch their group and they are handling it with such care and concern.  It’s a flashback to an earlier time when they were little boys and innocent and more open to showing their soft side. 

So just know, if your kids are entering the murky waters of adolescence and starting to “act” like they don’t care or don’t want you around or are embarrassed of you in front of their friends–they do still have a tender heart beneath that brittle shell.  And I have faith they will come back to it once that protective layer is no longer needed.  

 I send a prayer to Zander and his family to keep their hearts open and to live their lives fully as their mom would want.

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 
— Mary Oliver, poet