I embarked on my motherhood journey with a lot of trepidation. With a medical history that includes episodes of extreme depression and anxiety, I was very concerned how motherhood would affect my ability to keep these conditions in remission. What I found was that, by forging my own path and looking at common parenting resources with a critical eye, I was able to build a philosophy for parenting that has worked very well to keep my mental health in good stead. In turn, that has allowed me to use my resources to nurture, engage, and find joy in family life through the typical challenges like post-partum recovery, sleep regression, tantrums, etc.
My philosophy of parenting comes from a skeptical perspective – no one way is right for every child or every family. Both science and anecdotal reports should be taken with a grain of salt. Parenting is such an individual situation that I do not believe science can completely account for variants, although I do believe it can track generals. I also don’t believe that anecdotal reports and traditions are necessary or relevant to modern life.
I do have a few rules of thumb:
- No Judgment: Just because I would do something one way doesn’t mean you are wrong for doing it another way. Non-judgment, however, does NOT mean I cannot turn a critical eye to an idea or product.
- No Guilt: Parents, and mothers in particular, are subjected to way to much guilt for their decisions. Guilt is an ineffective emotion in parenting – it tends to paralyze us and keep us from evaluating our true needs, emotions, values, and triggers.
- No Bubbles: I don’t believe children should be raised in bubbles. I think they should be encouraged to engage with the real world around them. This includes benign things like trips to adult restaurants and banks, or more difficult things like scary emotions and some moderately-unsafe situations. I believe that children need to learn to navigate these things well before they are adults in order to have the confidence of well-formed judgment and emotional ownership.
Along with these rules of thumb, I also have a few tools that I use to maintain a sense of equilibrium when faced with challenges to my rules.
- Values Evaluation: I try and keep in mind a rough idea of what my true priorities are in life. Is a clean house at the same priority as self-care? Is my career at the same priority as my extended family or friend obligations? I regularly check in with where a duty fits on that priority list, and budget my time and energy accordingly.
- Emotional Ownership: My emotions, my anxieties belong to me, are tended to by me, and are my responsibility. That means I can ask for support in handling them, but no one is expected to kowtow to them. By the same token, no one can devalue my emotions because I don’t expect them to be responsible for them. I hold other people to this standard, and I plan to teach it to my children. It allows room for compassion and empathy without abuse.
- Self-Care: Everyone, every day needs to do something, no matter how tiny, to care for themselves. Mothers in particular – though fathers too – are encouraged to abandon their needs in favour of their children’s. I believe this is a huge root of parental anxiety and reluctance. Whether it’s a quick face wash, a reward of a fancy coffee or a new book, or 5 minutes of uninterrupted time when you come home from work, I believe holding onto these rewards are crucial for parental happiness. And happy parents are more likely to raise happy children.
- Mindfulness: All of the above skills are rooted in the idea of mindfulness – slowing down and being aware of your self in the world around you at this precise moment in time. Through focusing on the moment at hand (not the plan, not the ideal, not the past), we are more likely to enjoy our time with our children, which is the main reason we embarked on this journey in the first place!