I took one last look at the ripped-up kitchen covered in dust, shut the door on the sounds of saws, hammers and boom box, and walked toward the car with baby and toddler in tow. It was the third day of a heat wave and with the humidity, the mosquitoes had morphed into biting monster. I opened the car door and to put the kids in and the mosquitoes rushed in as if on cue. We started the 2 hour drive to my sisters, with buzzing, biting insects and not enough juice or diapers.
Somewhere along the drive, perhaps it was the crying of my poor bitten, itchy baby, I lost it. It was as if my brain went into some kind of emergency mode and I lost my capacity to problem solve. I pulled the car over, off the road, and put my head in my hands and screamed, “I can’t do this anymore”. I scared myself and my children. Then the baby threw up. For some reason this snapped me out of it and I went back into caring mom mode and we all survived. But, it wasn’t pretty.
All mothers can relate to the stress/freak out response on occasion. Some of us are more prone to stress and scientists are beginning to understand the link between early experience and tolerance to stress in adulthood. Parents who had adverse life experiences as young children, seem less sensitive to their babies, especially under stress. We have elevated stress hormones which may account for the decreased maternal sensitivity.
There is hope for managing stress levels in parenting, whether we had good enough parenting or not. By calming our nervous system through deep breathing, mindful movement and comforting loving kindness meditations, we can actually rewire our brain and nervous sysem so that we can stay calmer under duress. As a result we can remain sensitive to the needs of our child and prevent the cycle of stress and inadequate parenting from repeating. We can also increase the hormones of love and connection, here’s how.
Each morning, take 5. Five minutes to calm the nervous system and set the stage for a day of loving kindness. I like to start in child’s pose, feel my breath slow and extend my exhale for at least five breaths. I think of a person (usually one of my children) that makes me feel loved and loving and then breath into my heart and say, “May we be safe, may we be strong, may we be happy”. You can pick words that feel right to you, words that open your heart and soothe. I like to repeat it three times feeling my heart soften and warm. Then I move into hands and knees and do five cat cow stretches, letting my breath guide my movement. Next, into downward facing dog to plank, lowering to belly, cobra, child’s pose and repeat or conclude with an intention to be kind and loving to myself and my child that day knowing there will be progress and set-backs because I am an imperfect human being doing my best.
Off The Mat
I like to notice when I find myself feeling calm and centered. Can I notice without judging? How is my breathing, thoughts, how fast am I moving? How are you feeling right now? How is your breath, your body, your thoughts. If you can be like a scientist and observe and notice your response to relaxation, it is easier to figure out what to do when you feel stressed. When you do feel stressed say with great gentleness, “this is hard, how can I make it easier for myself and my child?”
Find a friend that you can talk to and compare notes. Support each other in your explorations and efforts. If you find you are struggling much of the time, give yourself the gift of time with a counselor or therapist. You deserve it and so does your child.
Alison Rogers is Alison Rogers Ed.D is a therapist in Boulder, CO. She also teaches The Yoga of Parenting workshops and provides individual Yoga Of Parenting sessions for parents at all stages of of the path.