The Two Minds of Parenting

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Recently, I found a few lines scribbled in a notebook, dated from when my baby was just two months old and my days were spent on the sofa, box of snacks to hand and baby (sleepy, feeding, or for a few minutes, alert and gazing at me) on lap.

Feeding my baby, at one and the same time I look down at him and feel overwhelmed by his presence and how adorable he is, that I could gaze at him forever; and a desperate urge to grab for my phone, to read my email, to check Twitter, to escape from this eternal moment. I want desperately to be able to stand up and leave this sofa on my own. By the end of the day I am counting the minutes until my partner walks through the door and I can put the baby into his arms and have my body to myself, just for a moment. Then I find myself feeding him again, and cuddling him close as his eyelids drift closed, and I want to hold him tight against me, snuggle him in and kiss him and stay here with him for ever.

The Two Minds of Parenting

Those moments of total absorption are a lesson in mindfulness.

Nine months, three whole seasons later, it still resonates. I still find myself with two parallel and simultaneous mental tracks. On the one hand, I sit on the floor and watch Leon taking corks out of a pot and putting them into a bottle, and I am fascinated by the frown of concentration on his little face, by his two hands carefully guiding the cork into the right orientation, by the dedication he brings to this moment. I feel privileged and happy to be here, to share this moment with him.

On the other hand, I am absolutely desperate to do something, to produce something, to run my brain, to reach for my phone and see what’s going on in the world outside, to write, to have just a few moments all to myself. I have spent my entire adult life, nearly a decade and a half, teaching myself to tackle a list of tasks, to think analytically, to achieve. To achieve the sort of thing that our society values. This work, this invisible work that I am engaged in when I sit next to my baby on the floor, waiting for him to turn to me to show me something or to climb into my lap for a moment, this is not socially valued.

I reread “What Mothers Do” on a regular basis, reminding myself that I am doing something here, I am. I am simply doing something not obvious to the eye, which is looking for tasks achieved and physical things done. Moment by moment, day by day, I am supporting a human being in their creation of self. This is valuable work. It is, even, fulfilling work; but it doesn’t fulfill all of me. And that too is okay. I can need something else as well without failing as a parent.

I practice mindfulness. I breathe slowly and stay in the moment. I watch my baby and revel in this short time that is now, before the short time that is next, and all the times after that. I remind myself of the very real work that I am doing, and I remind myself too that the lack of value ascribed by society to this “woman’s work” does not mean that it is not, in fact, valuable. There are, after all, a great many other ways in which I reject societally-provided values.

And then, slowly, I build in time and space to do the other things that support me, to allow my brain to stretch once again in the ways that I’ve taught it to over the years. I seek balance in this as in everything else, and I do my best to move towards being present in every moment, and allowing myself to be (as we all can be) my own many-faceted self.

Photo credit: Juliet Kemp

About The Author: Juliet Kemp

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Juliet Kemp lives in London, UK, and blogs at Twisting Vines. She is thoroughly enjoying her attachment parenting journey.

5 Responses to The Two Minds of Parenting

  1. Amy  

    Lovely, Juliet! 🙂 The stakes ARE high and real. You are committed for the long haul.

    You know, I’d like to stand the idea that “this is not socially valued” on its head.

    Who is this social system we are looking to provide or affirm this value? Is it the adults who have lost touch with their child selves? Is it the fathers who may have a sense of what mothering is, but not really? Is it the childless who may have a judgment, but not the experience? Is it other mothers who are finding their way?

    I am not sure our societies don’t value us just being with our children. I think it may be that we have bought into the bussle and hussle; the business of being adults.

    It is this distraction from simply being, which our little ones reintroduce us to, that points us either away from our back to the true value of being – being in this moment, being with our little ones, contributing to the creation of their little, growing selves.

    I think, really, our society does value present mothering, deeply connected mothering, gracious mothering. Because the results of those efforts reflect well on everyone…

    Maybe it’s just high time we value ourselves and our experiences and let it flow from here, now… 🙂

    Which is what I feel you communicated so well in this post. Thank you.

    • Juliet Kemp

      Mm, thank you for such a thoughtful comment!

      I think that society implicitly values the *effects* of present mothering/parenting, in, as you say, the effects of the efforts in supporting growing humans. But explicitly and overtly, we’re regularly told that it’s not “important”, in terms of “the business of being adults”. Even if we ourselves overtly choose to reject that, it’s hard sometimes to *do* it. In the same way that other sorts of societal messages can be hard to ignore/reject even if you know you want to do that.

      But yes, absolutely, it’s time for us to choose to value ourselves and our experiences 🙂

  2. Sarah Brumberg

    This resonated with me, and I am so glad that I read this. It was so important to me that I read it aloud to my partner. Wow. Sometimes I feel that I am the only mother struggling with this identity crisis. It is very refreshing to know that I am not alone. Thank you for making me feel normal, or at least, accepted.

    • Juliet Kemp

      Hi Sarah — I’m so glad that it resonated with you, and thank you for commenting! As you say, it’s good to know that I’m not alone 🙂

  3. Vanessa Betcher

    Thank you for saying this so well. I still feel this way and my son is 3 years old now. I am often sucked into Facbook land as I crave some adult interaction during the day while my husband is at work.