In this episode, Dr. Mary Wilde discusses the importance of maintaining primary connection to the things you uniquely love, even during the busy season of parenting. As parents we often approach growth in one of 3 ways:
-Giving up on the idea (thinking there’s no time for it or that it’s some kind of indulgence)
-Pursuing growth in a balanced way (or)
-Pursuing growth in an unbalanced way
Except for periods of crisis or transition, we can usually find time to pursue growth by using "edge" time, protected time, or by involving our kids in the process. As we find ways to continue to grow, we will be more fulfilled and effective parents.
As any mom, I give up multiple personal opportunities to create opportunities for my children--a truth to which they, at least for now, are quite oblivious. (And to some degree, rightly so; it’s the way of childhood). I have books to write, songs to practice, medical journals to read--I’m practically bursting to do these things--but instead spend mornings in my bathrobe insisting one son does his homework and the other practices and another picks up his toys. It’s my fair trade to make--a willing investment for the future of those I love. Yet, to never pursue anything (or to have nothing to pursue) seems an unhealthy and untrue lesson. (Faithful Nurturing, p. 157)
Motherhood can feel like one very long season, but our kids’ childhood, like an ongoing summer for them, doesn’t have to be our endless winter, with gifts lying dormant for years.
As parents, we spend significant time trying to get our kids to do the worthwhile things we wish we still had time to do. We focus so much on their growth that sometimes we forget our own. We forget that example may be the best teacher anyway.
Ongoing personal growth & creative pursuits not only bring satisfaction, but also increase our endurance and effectiveness in parenting. I’ll begin by asking a question:
What do you love? What gives you energy and makes you feel alive?
So many moms say that they don’t know anymore.
There’s something beautiful about being so dedicated to your family that their wishes and interests become your own. I remember driving in rush hour traffic in Minneapolis (a city they say has only 2 seasons: winter and road construction) and getting genuinely excited to see tractors. I was in the car by myself, and though I don’t have any personal interest in construction vehicles, because my little boys like them, my natural inward reaction was, “Hey look! Tractors!!”
I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences where the only reason you’re investing attention, time, or effort in something is because it’s valued by someone you love, but somehow we need to maintain a primary connection to the things we ourselves love--not only to grow and thrive, but to model healthy adulthood.
In his book “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience,” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi makes the case that in a state of “flow” we have the greatest enjoyment and do our best work. I believe this applies to parenting as well as anything else. Whether or not we feel “in flow” while parenting specifically OR experience flow states intermittently in other pursuits, it can powerfully sustain us and buffer us against burnout.
So I’ll ask again, what do you love? What naturally brings you into a state of “FLOW”? When you find or discover these things, hold onto them. They’re important keys to your wellbeing, your sense of purpose, and your energy and motivation in every area, including parenting.
I’ll pause here to say that if you go to compassionparenting.com/flow-survey
, you can do a quick “flow” assessment and get your copy of the free ebook, “Parenting with FLOW: Reconnecting to Natural Delight, Focus and Productivity.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
Now back to our discussion on growth. As parents (and this includes me), we often take one of 3 positions when it comes to personal growth (or perhaps cycle through them):
-[First,] sort of giving up on the idea of growth (thinking there’s no time for it or that it’s some kind of indulgence)
-[Second] pursuing growth in a balanced way (or)
-[Third] pursuing growth in an unbalanced way
Let’s talk about each of these.
You might say, for example, “There’s just no time for me to do anything beyond meeting the daily demands of parenting and running a household. I’m completely spent.” I get that. There are certain times of transition or crisis when this may be true. But, in normal circumstances, time usually can be found. There’s what I call “edge time” at the beginning, end, or in little pockets of the day. There’s protected time, when you arrange for a support person to help out while you step away. There’s the opportunity to bring kids along and allow them to participate in some way.
Why would you want to make the effort? Because making some time to do what you love may be your path to feeling alive again. It may be your path to finding your “FLOW.” Paradoxically, this kind of growth actually generates a net energy rather than depleting it. Rather than being a guilty indulgence that robs your children in some way, it enriches them because of what it does for you.
Over the years, I’ve used a mix of strategies to enable my creative pursuits: edge time, protected time, and perhaps most often just involving my kids. I love singing, and when I’ve wanted to practice, I’ve often done so with a little baby or toddler on my lap who was plunking the keys periodically. Not necessarily the most productive context, but definitely doable. Even as I created this podcast, my little 5-year-old was with me when I tested the sound equipment. In many ways, his company had a healing influence. I was overwhelmed in my state of not knowing what I was doing, but with him along we were just playing and being curious together. I captured a little test track when he took a turn. Here it is:
So that was my son’s debut. Maybe he’ll grow up to be a famous announcer someday!
Writer Brenda Ueland says, “If you want your children to become musicians, then work at music yourself, seriously and with all your intelligence. If you want them to be scholars, study hard yourself. If you want them to be honest, be honest yourself. And so it goes.” In her book entitled If You Want to Write, Ueland also talks about how we need to be more like our “child” selves as we pursue our gifts--bold, playful, & curious. She says, “This joyful, imaginative, impassioned energy dies out of us very young. Why?. . . Because we let dry obligation take its place. Because we don’t respect it in ourselves and keep it alive by using it.” Instead, she says, “Remember these things. Work [at your gifts] with all your intelligence and love.” (p. 5-6, 8)
Now, the subject of balance. Can you think of a time in your life where you were growing & progressing in a paced and balanced way? I’ll give you a minute to think. Even connect with how that felt in your body . . .
Maybe now, recall a time when you overdid it and how that felt . . . What made it different?
Take a breath in as you glean insight from that reflection. And as you breathe out, let go of any leftover tension and let it dissolve away.
As I’m recording this, I’m inwardly acknowledging that I’ve spent more time than necessary in a state of “overstriving”--I feel some loss connected to that. But welling up just after the first feeling, is an overall sense of joy and fulfillment. I’m wondering what feelings are coming up for you and invite you to share about it on my feed @compassionparenting on the post connected with this episode.
There have been times that I’ve gotten the balance right and have found that sweet spot--almost by necessity. One such experience was writing my first parenting book, Faithful Nurturing. With that project, I was determined not to let writing about parenting disrupt my actual parenting. I used the edges of my day (early mornings and late evenings) and showed up as consistently as life would allow. There were also those sudden flashes of inspiration that I scrawled on whatever scrap of paper I could quickly get my hands on. I had to be patient with the process because whenever I’d try to rush it or allow my writing to interfere with my functioning as a parent, it was as if the Muses immediately left me. But once I realigned myself, they’d come back. After about 10 years of paced effort, I finished the book.
We’ll have more episodes on gifts, and balance, and the creative process, but for now I’ll end with an invitation. What am I inviting you to do? Only you can know exactly. But what I am saying is “grow, grow.”
© Mary Illions Wilde, MD
Faithful Nurturing: Mothering from the Heart to the Heart by Mary Illions Wilde
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
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