Jewish teachings are rife with parenting advice. Not surprisingly, my favorite is also one of the most popular:
A father is obligated to do the following for his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him if he is a first born, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Others say: teaching him how to swim as well.
(I prefer to use words such as “parent,” “child,” and “partner,” but you get the point.)
What I like about this teaching is what I like about so much of Jewish wisdom: it’s clear, concrete, and pragmatic. Basically, we need to teach our children to stay alive, support themselves, develop healthy, enduring relationships, and live ethical, decent lives. In a culture where every other parent has another piece of advice about how to educate, feed, discipline, dress, and even talk to our children, I’m grateful for anyone who is able to boil it down to the basics.
In the first few months and years of parenthood, I myself got completely lost in a vortex of information, stuff, and advice from complete strangers on the internet. I stressed about everything from which music my girls should listen to, how long I needed to pump breast milk, and when I should start them in swim lessons and switch them to big girl beds to how many hours a week they could be in daycare and not be totally screwed up for life. Even as I was getting completely wrapped up in these details that are both important and not so important, I had a sense that it didn’t have to be so complicated.
My career as a social worker (and my life experience) had taught me time and again that our relationships–the connections we have with those who mean the most to us–are more important than any other choices we can make in life and parenting. The ways in which we understand, relate to, share with, and care for our children will influence who they become and how they move through life far more than what we feed them, where we send them to school, or whether we stay home or work during the day.
I knew this before I had children, but somehow in the fog of the fatigue, dirty laundry, and mashed prunes, I lost sight of it. I became hyper-focused on the possibility that if I could just get everything right, my kids might turn out OK. I forgot that the best shot I have at helping my kids become healthy, resilient, kind, and functional is by developing the strongest relationship I can with them. And, as my favorite social worker, Brene Brown, says, “we can’t give our children what we don’t have,” which means that I’d better figure out how to be as healthy, resilient, kind, and functional as possible.
This was the thought process that inspired my first book, “Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters.” It’s about my ongoing journey to stay connected to my daughters, stay grounded in myself, and stay as present as possible for much of this crazy parenting journey. Mindfulness (which is just a fancy word for paying attention to whatever is happening without getting all wrapped up in whatever crazy story our brain is spouting on about it) is at the heart of my book, as I really believe that the best shot any of us have at getting this parenting thing right is to show up for our kids and ourselves as often as we can, with as much kindness as we can muster.
Basically, our kids don’t need us to be perfect. They just need us to be present.
I like to think of this book as research and reality based, and my goal in writing it is to support parents in finding their own style of parenting that will allow them to stay connected, grounded, and present without ever feeling ashamed of who and how they are with their children. Rather, I want to support parents who, like me, are just looking for some clear, concrete ideas about how to stay focused on what really matters.
If you’d like to read more about mindful parenting, check out my PsychCentral blog. In addition, if my ideas resonate with you, I’d be most grateful if you would pre-order the book!