Isn’t it a wonderful feeling when your mind expands and understands something new? Or when you gain a fresh perspective, or feel inspired by a different way of thinking? I’m starting to realise that this all-important stimulation of the intellect - and heart - is highly undervalued, but absolutely critical, for mothers of young children. It is so easy to become overtaken by practical duties and emotional reactions, and subtly, your identity is reduced to what you are doing or feeling in the moment. But we are so much more than that - and remembering the potential of life is, surely, essential to developing it.
I find it’s a bit like exercising when we are tired. Sometimes it’s the last thing we feel like doing, but actually it does enhance our sense of wellbeing and overall efficiency if we make that effort. My mind can become a little stuck in routines and habits, and suddenly I realise that I’m not feeling very ‘alive’ at all - just somehow getting through the day.
So although I’m not suggesting a formula or a ‘one size fits all’ approach to healthy, inspired parenting, I have identified a few things that have helped me tremendously in these early years of motherhood and I thought I’d share them:
1. Why is so much pre-birth preparation focused on the birth itself (and maybe breastfeeding too), and not the enormous task that begins after that? I only wish I’d read some of the books I’ve recently completed before the birth of my first child. These would be: anything by Maria Montessori (especially The Secret of Childhood and The Absorbent Mind that explore those early months too) and Her Life and Works by E. M. Standing, The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, Glen Doman’s books on teaching your baby encyclopaedic knowledge, maths and reading (don’t be scared by this idea as I was!), What Every Parent Needs to Know by Margot Sunderland, and The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. (These last two should be manuals that arrive in pregnancy!).
Sometimes, after reading a part of one of these cadre of books, I literally start to view my children differently. My eyes are opened to what is going on beyond the familiar appearance of their presence - and then I feel a rush of emotions, including guilt and excitement, about this role I find myself in. I am reminded that we must always look into things with a searching eye, and not become adjusted to the society we live in too readily. A child is a miracle, a wonder, and a trust put into our hands. We need all the inspiration we can get to remain ‘awake’ to this reality.
2. Whatever approach you take to parenting, whatever becomes a priority to you, find others with whom you can reflect regularly on these matters. Hopefully this would include your spouse, but it may be a friend or a parent or a group on Facebook. Some of my most enlightening moments during motherhood have come from consultations with others, as we share insights and discuss ways forward. I cannot thank my best friend enough who, while living in a different country to me, continually helps me to see beyond the mundane and encourages me in my efforts. My husband can always be relied upon to delve into the Baha’i Writings and remind me of the guidance and inspiration that are so important to me. I always assumed I would remember all the things I wanted to remember, especially when it comes to something as important as motherhood. But tiredness and intense days can get in the way, and it really feels indispensable to have support from those who share my beliefs and ideals. If, for example, I tell a friend that I am feeling very stressed and impatient with my daughter, it is not so helpful to hear ‘oh that’s normal, I feel like that all the time!’. What I really yearn for is reminders and encouragement, not endorsement.
3. Reading other things, unrelated to parenting, has been crucial for me. I say ‘unrelated’, but in reality everything is so connected that by reading on other subjects, my attitudes and thoughts as a parent are only enhanced. Ironically, during my three years of motherhood I have read more than in any other time of my life - and I did a degree in English Literature! Brilliant biographies, especially, have inspired my heart and given me strength. Novels from other cultures have truly expanded my day to day awareness, and even influenced my conversations and activities with my daughter. If we are not ‘teaching ourselves’, what are we teaching them?
4. In a similar vein to the last point, learning or studying something new with others has also been incredibly enriching and refreshing - which in turn lends impetus, indirectly, to parenting. I have found numerous spaces and courses offered by the Baha’i community to really fulfil this need. Here you can delve into important concepts, and discuss how to apply them in life, with other grown ups - and nourish your soul at the same time! A writing course and a nutrition workshop also gave me incredible levels of energy. There is something very essential about learning collectively, and we do not often have this opportunity after formal education finishes. And when the intellect is engaged, the nerves are calmed - much like a child in a Montessori classroom.
Finally, I now see that having an open mind is key. Motherhood seems to create a certain receptivity in women - to new beliefs, patterns, and ways. Whatever has gone before, you are now responsible in a day-to-day, tangible way for a very meaningful contribution to the world. Rigidity will not help the learning process. And so an open, investigative mind really becomes a mother’s best friend.