With the approach of Mothering Sunday, this blog is written with mothers of boys in mind, but I guess it will also be relevant for mothers and daughters. Come to think of it there is not much that wouldn’t apply to fathers as well. Enjoy.
Tim Jarvis with Megan de Beyer
I still remember my wife bursting into the Board Room, replete in lactation stained t-shirt, with my two young sons, one of whose face was covered in what I sincerely hoped was chocolate. The glances of my colleagues suggested they would have no problem with me leaving the meeting early, perhaps even welcome it, given the three tiered tableau of family chaos in front of them. Those years were chaotic. And fraught. And exhausting. ‘Wear your baby’, my wife was told by the slightly intimidating nurse who advocated demand feeding over the scheduled variety. Who even knew that such a debate existed in the carefree pre-natal days of our lives? A few months into parenthood though and we would have given anything to be concerned with such trivial issues. The new discussion was simply whether we should breastfeed at all. Cracked nipples and mastitis, or ‘mass tit us’ as I once jokingly referred to it (quite literally just once for reasons linked to the aforementioned nurse) made feeding (demand or scheduled) agony for the mother of my children. ‘Push on through the pain’, a friend encouraged her. She did. In a way she still does.
From labour pains to the gradual process of letting go, it seems to me that being a mother can be a painful experience. No one prepares you for being a parent, I think most of us feel we make it up as we go along. Mums as well as Dads.
I recently spoke with Megan De Beyer, a psychologist who runs the ‘Strong Mothers, Strong Sons’ course at our school. As well as having over 20 years’ experience in this field and writing articles for Parenting 24 and Fair Lady among other publications, she is also the mother of two boys.
Megan says the idea of mindful mothering shifts from a mum being in control (an illusion at the best of times) to rather being a parent that is with, alongside, and a part of her son’s life. It is the intentional and non-judgmental practice of being present as a parent as opposed to unintentional or mindless parenting. We discussed what the important factors for mindful mothering are, and came up with our top 5.
5 steps for Mindful Mothering
Step 1. Enjoy your sons
Good relationships have at their heart the ability to enjoy one another’s company. The mother/son relationship is no different. If you have been a parent for any length of time you will know that it is not always fun and games so take advantage of those moments that come along to enjoy time together. Drop your agenda (homework, room tidying, behaviour management) and be intentional in creating and savouring time just to have fun as a family. This quality of attention will lead your son to see you as being open and available.
Step 2. Don’t speak
Many of us have the idea that good parenting is about what we say to our children, that all our sons need is ongoing advice and guidance from someone who knows a thing or two. Sometimes it is, and sometimes they do. But more crucial is the opportunity for our children to be heard and understood. For many women in particular, talking and speech are a form of thinking out loud. Men take a little longer (days sometimes) to put their thoughts into words. Too much talking then can overwhelm a young man or boy and cause him to switch off (believe me it doesn’t take much). Without the need to talk you will have a greater ability to listen, deeply listen, to the subtlety of everything that is both said, and not said (felt and seen) since you are listening with full and open attention.
Step 3. Face the fear
Parenting boys can occasionally venture into the realm of the terrifying. This is particularly true for mums, for whom the male world can seem rather alien. This fear is understandable but when it gets to a level that swamps us it can be harmful. The one way we don’t want to parent is through fear as this breaks down relationship and leads to poor decisions. When you are interacting with your son be aware of your emotions and notice what you are feeling.
Emotional intelligence is a key part of raising children and the foundation is to be aware of how both you and your son are feeling.
You’re allowed to be scared but if you experience that fear factor, take a deep breath and move to Step 4.
Step 4. Don’t freak out
Mums, your sons are desperate to protect you, including emotionally. If you collapse into a sobbing mess when your son shares some of his difficulties or challenges with you he won’t do so again. It is simply too uncomfortable for him. He does not want to see you upset, worried or afraid, especially if he feels he’s the cause. Your son will go to great lengths, including lying to you if he believes you can’t cope with what he wants to tell you. When you self-regulate your emotion you are able to respond with intention because you will be able to identify and regulate your feelings and choose to calm yourself down. In turn, your calmness will be a mirror for your son and allow him to gain control over his emotions.
Step 5. Get over the guilt
You have made mistakes as a parent and you’re going to make some more. Feeling guilty about it is not going to change anything. Actually that’s not true, guilt will almost certainly make things worse. A mum racked by guilt finds parenting hard to do, especially when it comes to making tough decisions. As the Eagles said, ‘…ah freedom, that’s just somebody talking’. A strong mum knows that boundaries and consequences are important for her boy, they need and even expect them. Every Mum needs to accept herself and her failings. If you do it will allow you to make the right calls and accept your son, freeing him up to be himself.
It sometimes feels like parenting is no more than lurching from one psychoedufiscalsocial (made up word) crisis to the next. My own three boys have pretty much tag teamed their way through childhood. As soon as my wife and I dealt with a challenge involving one of them, the next bounces into the ring with a new set of problems. I used to worry about this, now I realise it’s just what parenting is. The mark of good parenting is not whether your children stuff up, under-perform, struggle in some way or let you down (they will do all of these things). It is rather how you respond to these challenges when they unfailingly arise. So take a deep breath and return to Step 1.
Don’t miss 5 top tips for working with teens by Tim Jarvis
You might also want to check out more on Megan De Beyer’s blog