Parenting in the Present Moment: A Review and Giveaway
First, a baby update: no baby yet! I’m past 38 weeks now and definitely getting excited for baby’s arrival. I still feel like I have a lot of things on my to-do list that I’d ideally like to get done before I go into labor, but I’ve also entered a stage of acceptance that, ready or not, when the baby arrives, we’ll carry on with life even if the fridge isn’t fully stocked and the floors haven’t been mopped. However, one thing on my to-do list is this post, because I wanted to share with you a new parenting book that came at just the right time for me, and I think you’ll find it particularly helpful in the midst of the holiday craziness.
The book is Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters by Dr. Carla Naumburg, published in October by Parallax Press. I received a free review copy of the book, but as always, I only review books that I love and can whole-heartedly recommend (more on my review policy here). I have loved this book so much that I’ve already purchased several more copies to pass on to friends.
The last month or so has been really busy with copy-editing my own book and finishing up the college teaching term. A 3-week-long cold hit my late pregnancy body like a freight train in the middle of that, and I felt like I was barely getting to the most urgent tasks each day while my to-do list piled up around me. But every night, I would read a few pages of Parenting in the Present Moment before crashing into sleep, and I would feel like I could accept how that day had gone and reset my intention for parenting and for caring for myself for the next day.
First of all, I absolutely love the cover of this book. It speaks perfectly to the content of the book and one of the greatest challenges of parenting: maintaining balance even while your agile offspring challenge it. As a side note, something similar seems to happen to me almost daily: I squat down to pick something up, in a graceful way that only a 38-week-pregnant woman can manage, and my daughter comes up behind me to give me a surprise “hug,” which sends me teetering off balance.
Just seeing that photo makes me smile and feel motherhood has always been this way, regardless of the species, and I’m doing okay.
This book is about parenting with mindfulness. What is mindfulness? Naumburg explains, “Mindfulness is about making a choice, over and over again, to pay attention to whatever is happening in the present moment without judging it or wishing it was different.” Really paying attention to what is happening with our kids and in our own minds can help us come back to the present moment and respond intentionally and effectively, with kindness and compassion for our children and ourselves.
You might think that mindfulness is a strange topic for a parenting blog that focuses on science, but there are decades of studies documenting the benefits of mindfulness for the health of our minds, bodies, and relationships. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, summarizes the benefits of mindfulness here, and Maria Konnikova wrote about them in a piece in the New Yorker earlier this year (with her links to studies included):
“We now know, for instance, that even brief mindfulness practice—typically, a kind of meditation that focuses on a particular aspect of the present moment, like your breath, your body, or a particular sensation—has a substantial positive effect on mental well-being and memory. It also appears to physically improve the brain, strengthening certain neural structures that are tied to heightened attention and focus, and bolstering connectivity in the brain’s default mode network, which is linked to self-monitoring and control.”
One of the first, and to me, most important, lessons of Parenting in the Present Moment is that parenting is a practice. Mindfulness isn’t something that you achieve and then carry with you for the rest of your life, like a badge of honor or a graduate degree. It takes work every day, but that also means that there is always room to try again or to try in another way. Over time, pieces of it get easier, and new challenges emerge, but we have to keep approaching it whole-heartedly, with as much attention and kindness as we can. Because we’re being mindful – paying attention – we can notice our mistakes. But because we are approaching parenting as a practice, we don’t need to beat ourselves up over our failures (which are inevitable). Rather, we can thoughtfully modify our approach in a way that suits our kids and us.
I can relate to this concept because I’ve practiced yoga for 15 years now, but I don’t consider myself an expert in yoga any more than I would ever call myself an expert in parenting. I’ve learned to always come to the yoga mat with humility and acceptance, with an intention to pay attention to my body and breath in each moment rather than to attaining some idealized form of a pose or unwavering balance or superior grace when compared with the person practicing next to me. (These lessons, by the way, are even more apparent when practicing yoga at 38 weeks pregnant.) Over the last few years, I’ve come to see writing as a practice as well – one that requires pages and pages of clumsy attempts and never anything approaching perfection. But it is my practice, mine to build, mine to learn from, and mine to share. So it is with parenting, too.
In Parenting in the Present Moment, Naumburg emphasizes that the practice of parenting is really hard work. “It’s about immersing ourselves neck-deep into the mud and mess, the tears and confusion, the anxiety and frustration, as well as intense joy and love,” she writes. As messy as it can be, that immersion is necessary if we are really going to understand our kids and figure out how to parent mindfully. But we also have to appreciate how difficult this work is and to give ourselves time to recover from it and reflect on how things are going:
“If we want to stay connected to our children in any given moment and over the long term, we need to learn to pay as much attention to ourselves as we do to them so we can know when we have maxed out our bodies and souls. It’s about having the insight, awareness, and discernment to know, and accept, that we need to step off the field and replenish ourselves on a regular basis so we don’t end up getting sick or injured, or inadvertently hurting ourselves or someone else.”
I’ve found so much wisdom in this book, but Naumburg does a wonderful job of imparting it not as some kind of guru or expert but as a humble parent. She holds a PhD in Clinical Social Work and is clearly well-studied and practiced in mindfulness, but she’s in the trenches raising two young kids with the rest of us. She tells us about her mistakes and assures us that she continues to make them. Parenting is a practice for her, too, and that makes her an authentic and friendly guide.
The core chapters in Parenting in the Present Moment focus on different components of parenting mindfully: staying connected, staying grounded, and staying present. Each includes specific examples, ranging from infancy to the teen years. Each also includes simple exercises or practices that can help us in the moments when we most need a little mindfulness. For staying grounded, for example, Naumburg recommends this sequence:
Stop what you are doing.
Take a breath (or a few, and deep ones!)
Observe (your thoughts, feelings, physiology, and needs, and then observe those around you for the same)
Proceed (thoughtfully, based on your observations, rather than reacting to the initial moment of crisis)
Nearly any difficult thing we do, parenting included, could benefit from that sequence. When we do it, we are also modeling how to stay grounded to our kids.
I’m learning that mindful parenting is all about acceptance, and that’s something that I know I’m going to have to practice in this coming transition of a new baby. I’m going to have to accept all of the ways that my life will change, acknowledging that many will be temporary (such as the lack of sleep) but also that nothing will ever be the same. I’m going to have to acknowledge and accept, with as little judgment as possible, when Cee inevitably struggles with this transition, as I’m sure she will in some way. I’m going to have to work on staying connected with her as I build connections with and care for this new member of our family. And I’m going to have to work on staying grounded and finding ways to care for myself even while my family responsibilities increase. I’m glad to have Parenting in the Present Moment as a guide during this time.
Parallax Press is offering a giveaway of three copies of Parenting in the Present Moment to Science of Mom readers. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below with one way – big or small – that you manage to stay connected, grounded, or present with your children or with yourself. I’d especially love to hear your experiences with this around the birth of a new baby! I’ll close the giveaway in a week, on December 24, 2014.
And in case I don’t get another chance to say it, warm wishes to you all this holiday season. Thanks for sticking with me through what has been a tough, rough, and beautiful year. Lots of love to you and your families.