By Dana Gornall
I used to have this dream I was swimming in a pool.
It was a large, rectangular, Olympic-sized pool with black painted lines on the concrete floor, just like you would see at a YMCA or rec center. I was always under water, lungs filled with air, the cool water pressing my hair back. As I would ascend to the surface, my head would hit something hard and I would quickly realize there was some sort of glass covering the top. Frantic, I would search for an opening, as I began to panic and my lungs began to burn. Swimming forward, I’d keep pushing toward the surface; again and again I would hit hard glass.
At times the dream would vary. Sometimes I would be in an outdoor above-ground pool, and the cover would be plastic instead of glass, or I’d be in a pond or lake, the surface would be coated with ice. No matter how the dream went, I was always trying to get my head above water.
I’m sure this was a metaphor; a point my subconscious was trying to relay somehow to my mind that I was feeling overwhelmed. Lately, I feel like I am living out this dream and hitting glass, unable to come up for air.
The thing about parenting is, whatever stage we are in at the time, we always feel like it’s the “difficult” stage. Sure, there are many moments of joy as a parent. Holding our infants as they sleep, hearing the hilarious things they say and observe as curious preschoolers, getting the handmade Mother’s / Father’s Day cards or pictures, watching them to learn how to ride a bike, are all bright spots among many. However, when we are dealing with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night, or when we are trying repeatedly to get the concept across of using a toilet instead of a diaper, or when our children continually forget to do their homework, we think, this is the hard stage, it will get easier.
It doesn’t get easier. It gets different, but not easier.
I’ve often said that nothing else holds up a mirror as much as the task of parenting. Our children find us when we are tired, when we’ve spent the night throwing up all the contents of our stomachs from the flu, when we’ve have had a long day at work. They find us on the sunny days, too, when we are excited about a new promotion and when we are planning a vacation. They find us at all points in life, at all times and they learn to navigate our moods, which can swing up and down on any given day.
We aren’t always at our best, and we aren’t always at our worst.
The teenage years have put an ever greater task in front of me. Combining a still slightly immature brain with a desire to assert independence sets up the stage for some rebellion. Looking back to my own teenage years, I understand it. When we are young we feel like we pretty much know everything. Yet, as we grow older, we realize how little we actually know. Navigating this course is even trickier, and it occurred to me all the parenting I have done over the years was like training to prepare me for this exact time.
Driving to work the other day after a slight run-in with my son, I could feel the pressure mounting. My thoughts got out of control quickly, zinging this way and that, I began to feel all of the emotion bubbling up inside me. Tears spilled from my face as I tried to concentrate on the road, orange barrels separating the lanes on the highway. Story after story replayed in my mind and I thought, I am under so much stress. I don’t know if I can handle this. Maybe I should take a sick day. I deserve a sick day, don’t I?
As the thoughts continued to churn and boil over I suddenly realized how much I had allowed my mind to run wild. It’s times like these I am grateful for a mindfulness practice because as soon as it all started, I flipped the switch off and focused on my breath, on the road, on the way my hands felt on the steering wheel. Gradually, my heart was back to the steady beat and my shoulders relaxed.
It’s hard not to think of all the ways I mess up and all the ways I should be doing things differently. It’s hard not to replay the things I’ve said and the ways I have reacted long after the fact and wonder if I could have done better. But, I keep trying.
“…in particularly fraught moments of upset and conflict, we may find ourselves becoming emotionally reactive and saying things or acting in ways we will later regret. These ‘ruptures,’ moments of alienation and disconnection are an inevitable part of any relationship. Children need to experience this too, namely that their parents are human, that at times we can be insensitive, misattuned, even unempathetic—that we can get upset and angry. As Daniel Hughes points out in his book, Attachment Focused Family Therapy, the strength of the parent-child relationship is based as much on this tumultuous process of rupture followed by repair, as it is in feelings of closeness and safety.” ~ Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn
Sure, at times I feel like I am unable to find an open space to come up for air. But at the same time, I know deep in my heart, the glass top is only imagined. It’s the panic that precludes me from finding it. It’s the thoughts I let run rampant that stop me from being the present mother I am capable of being. And it’s the knowledge that the rupturing and repairing of our relationship is also a right of passage, and if done right, can make us stronger.
Somewhere in the midst of this chaos is the eye of the storm. Now I’ll take a few breaths and find it once again. And hopefully my slightly rebellious, independent thinking teenagers will find me there.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
When we are young we feel like we pretty much know everything. Yet, as we grow older, we realize how little we actually know. Navigating this course is even trickier, and it occurred to me all the parenting I have done over the… Click To Tweet
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