The very first time my husband and I left the house with our oldest son, our journey was to the pediatrician’s office for his first infant check-up. We truly had no idea what we were doing. And we packed I-have-no-idea-how-many bags to make the roughly 1 mile trip by car to take him to the doctor. Upon our arrival, the nurse looked at us laden with all our stuff, laughed, and asked us, “Are you running away?”
At the time, we were merely inexperienced parents of newborns. We weren’t running away from anything. But there have been, of course, times in parenthood (indeed, in life), when we have felt like hiding from it all.
Cluster feeds. Scream fests. Tantrums. Work emergencies at inopportune family times. Challenges with relatives. Critical conversations. Weeks of 4:30am ready-for-the-day wake-ups. Mountains of dirty dishes.
Those Particularly High-Pressure Days
Just before the holiday break, I – like most of us, I suspect – was running full speed ahead. I was anxious about whether I’d “get it all done” at work and at home in time for the holiday break. And there was one particular day when I was planning to have a conversation that I knew was going to push me past the edge of my conflict-avoidant comfort zone.
My mind was spiraling, both with replaying ad nauseam memories of the past and also predicting all the bad “what if’s” that could happen in this particular conversation. And there were a million “what if’s” that my creative mind was dreaming up – none of them pleasant! In that moment, I wanted to run far, far away. From obligations. Work. Family. This conversation I was dreading. Everything.
The beautiful thing that happened that morning was that I recognized these spiraling thoughts and caught myself making up crazy scenarios. I was able to feel my clammy hands and racing heart. And instead of hiding, I made a decision not to live like that – just for one day.
“I can do anything for one day,” I said to myself, as I wrote in The 5 Minute Journal that morning. No, I didn’t have any grandiose delusions that I’d never again stew about the past or concoct future what-ifs. I simply made a one-day-long commitment to myself to stay in the present and to be kind to myself.
As I drove the car that day and started worrying, I forced myself to think, “Ah, there’s a blue and black Mini-Cooper in front of you. It has Maryland license plates. Look at those break lights up ahead.” As I prayed for my kids to put their shoes on more quickly, I made myself look down at my son’s fingers as he tied his laces and noticed how adept he was becoming at that skill. And after having the critical conversation, I willed myself not to replay it or to make up stories about it. But simply, rather, to stay in the present. Focus on what was in front of my nose. And bring in loads of self-compassion.
I slowed down a LOT over the holidays this year. I finally got to see, for the first time: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (the new Tom Hanks moving about Mr. Rogers), Parenthood (yes, long overdue), and Frozen (no, not the second one…I had never seen the first!). The soft, quiet, slow respite of our days at home was glorious.
I was most deeply moved, however, by what I learned from Hollywood about Fred Rogers. His ability to stay completely and deeply present changed the lives not only of the children he met on set but also of the “broken” grown-up journalist who was sent to profile him. I was struck by Rogers’ ability to fully embody the idea that whoever was in front of him was the most important person for him at that moment.
He focused not just on seeing who and what is here, in front of you, right now, but also on feeling whatever’s coming up for you right now. Delightfully, one of the Hollywood lessons I took away from the movie was that being willing to stay with our feelings in the present can actually lead a new dad to take paternity leave!
The Present Is a Great Place to “Hide”
I know it has become almost cliché to say “be in the present.” Mindfulness and “the present moment” are commercialized “things” these days. Yet, there’s truth behind the hype.
I’m certainly not saying to avoid reflecting on the past or planning for the future. Heck, I just finished a fabulous annual planning day with my husband where we mapped out our upcoming year. (More on how to engage your partner in planning on a weekly basis here.)
What I do hope you’ll remember, though, is that when things get tough in heading back to work after having a baby or in working parenthood, as they are want do, the present is a great place to hide.
The great thing about this little “hiding in the present” trick is: you’re not really hiding. You’re being here now with the people you love the most.
My wish for myself – and for you – in this New Year and new decade is to commit to coming back to the present and to being kind to ourselves. Over and over. One foot in front of the other. Day after day. Self-compassion is a choice, mama, and it’s one you are strong enough to make.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave