Finding Presence As A Work-At-Home Mother

When I got pregnant over 6 years ago, I knew I wanted to try for the best of both worlds. I wanted to work, and I wanted to be the primary caregiver for my daughter. I figured I could do this by starting my own business and working from home. I was wrong.

While I may have been home, I was not always there. I had tea to mix and invoices to bill. I had marketing to do. I had a website to manage. I tried to run the business alongside raising my kids. Literally. Which meant I did neither at full speed and I always felt spent.

Possibly my greatest regret as a mother so far is that I have not always been present for my children.

But, there's a light and a shadow side to everything. I was able to breastfeed my daughter on demand through her toddler years. We spent copious amounts of time together. We still do. She received plenty of unstructured undirected play time. Now, she has a wild imagination and she can play "pretend" like no body's business.

I had high hopes for working at home. I thought my daughter could learn a strong work ethic by seeing me work. I planned to automate most of the business so I could make money and still be at home with her AND have time (and money) to write. I thought Timothy Ferris' book, "The Four Hour Work Week," offered the perfect blueprint. I just needed to fill in the blanks. Reality proved far more complex.

When my second daughter was born, my attention became divided once again. My older one came up against a brick wall of jealousy, and I struggled to carry her over it. I could not physically care for everything and everyone. Running the tea business became a burden that ceased to pull its weight. I learned the lesson we all learn sooner or later, sometimes more than once: I needed to do what I loved most. I couldn't divide my attention into so many pieces. I needed to edit and discard.

I continue to grapple with presence. I carry around books and notebooks, hungry to read and write at every opportunity. Though the books mostly remain unopened, I like to have them close by. They bring comfort. As I mentioned in my post about winning, you never know when a thought may strike or the children may become so absorbed in their play that I can read a few lines.

Modern humans have a billion different things to do and watch and read and be. Meanwhile, a bit of undivided attention goes a long way, whether it's applied to a child or a website or a novel or a movement. When faced with a gamut of opportunity, how do we prioritize? Ideally, we do it according to love. Not prestige. Not expired ideals. Not outside expectations. Not habits. Not other people's passion. But our love and our passion.

When my daughter erupts with emotion, what she needs is my full and honest presence, with a side of snuggles. In those tender moments, I see how motherhood can be simple. But this simplicity requires, without exception, presence.

This is day 11 of 30 consecutive days of blogging. I’m glad you’re along for the ride. If you liked this post, please share using the buttons below. If you have something to add, feel free to comment openly or anonymously.

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Tell me what life is about

Lately she's been saying things like, tell me what life is about. Her voice dreamy and her eyes wistful. She wants to know. She senses that oceans and galaxies lie beyond her grasp. After all, her world only recently turned itself upside down when we moved from our hometown of Seattle. She seems to recognize that life is fragile, that small moments can change everything, that big feelings are fleeting, that nothing lasts forever, and ultimately we will all die. Her daddy & I try to answer her questions.

I said, love. Life is about loving other people.

He said, but people forget a lot. They think it's about themselves.

She said, I think it's about peace. And harmony.

There have been other questions, too.

I told her that I'm not really sure what happens when we die. That nobody really knows. That it's the greatest mystery of life. Death.

She worries about us dying, about her grandparents dying.

I told her that we will never be separated because we live in one another, we are one another. We are not the same, but we are also not completely separate. We are oneness, embodied.

When I see her smile, I smile.

When I see her hurt, I hurt.

When I see her learn, I learn.

I told her, I think life is about doing what you love. Someday soon, I'll teach her what it means when something moves you. I want her to recognize what moves her, so she can know her purpose. I want her to know that the universe will guide her by speaking to her heart.

She knows how to ask. My next job is to teach her how to listen.

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On Failing As A Mother

I'm a failure as a mother. Lately, these words run through my head almost daily.

I try to write my way out of it. Around it. Through it.

Hence my essay published today on Mamalode.

"Chaos is part of our home ground. Instead of looking for something higher or purer, work with it just as it is." - Pema Chodron

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5 Most Important Things I've Learned in 5 Years of Motherhood

At 5 pm on my daughter's fifth birthday, I popped a bottle of champagne and poured a single glass. I'd survived my first five years of motherhood, maybe even thrived at times, and since motherhood is something we so often do alone with our kids, it felt appropriate to toast to my kids and drink alone. Many of us humans of the female persuasion know from a young age that we want to be mommies. I don't remember a lot about early childhood, but I do remember being five myself and persuading my best friend's two year-old sister to be my child. "Hug my legs," I would tell her.

Fast forward 24 years and it seems everywhere I go I have a child clutching onto my legs. The baby loves to pull herself up onto me, one hand on the back of each leg. It's as sweet as I knew it would be, and harder than I never knew it could be.

For all the mommies struggling today, for all the women struggling to become mommies, for all the women wanting to become mommies, not today but someday, this is for you.

1. Women are strong (and hire a doula). Society teaches us to fear birth, both the pain and the risk of it. But the World Health Organization estimates that only 5% of c-sections are true emergencies. 95% of the time, we can birth our babies without complications. That being said, interventions lead to more interventions. Drugs are great, empowering in their own way, and hospitals are helpful because they take pressure off of the mother. Even if we choose these gracious safety nets woven by the 21st century, we can still have faith in our natural ability to birth. Your beliefs can go a long way in helping and hindering your birth. My best advice? Hire a doula. A professional labor coach will help you in ways you cannot foresee or understand now. Contact me for Seattle-area recommendations.

2. You must fill your own cup. Your kids are going to demand a lot out of you. Everything, in fact. It's only natural. Don't try to do everything by yourself, don't get bitter, don't be a martyr. Ask your partner, parents, friends for support. Ask them to take care of your kids so you can fill your cup. You know what it is you need to do, now do it. You will be a better mother and you will have more to give and your kids will benefit from spending time with other caregivers. You might feel guilty at first. But when you see how much better you run when you aren't on empty, you will understand. Also, no one else can fill your cup for you. Not your husband or your mom or your best friend or your partner. That part is up to you.

3. Do what works for you. Nobody but you and your partner knows what's best for your kids. Many people will be quick to judge your methods or suggest alternatives. Take their advice with a grain of salt, even if you asked for it. (And they'll give it to you, whether or not you asked.) Parent the way you feel comfortable parenting. Birth the way you want to birth (fearful or fearless!). Let your kid cry it out or don't. Bed share or don't. Discipline the way you want to discipline. Figure out what works, and go with it. You have something called mother's intuition for a reason: survival.

4. Enjoy yourself. This started as "don't take everything so seriously," but that didn't feel right. There is nothing more serious than the love we feel for these brand new humans for whom we are solely responsible. I read a blog post recently that connected our exhaustion to the hyper vigilance we must practice every single second of every single day to keep our babies alive. Sleep deprivation aside, taking care of small children 24/7 is the most exhausting job in the world. You deserve to have a little bit of fun while on the job. Go get an ice cream cone. Turn up the music and dance, or make videos of your children dancing. Pop some popcorn and pop in a Disney movie. Invite your mom friends over for coffee and let the kids make a huge mess. Drink the coffee, dammit. Don't worry so much about what they're eating or how much TV they're watching. If you ever feel guilty, just go outside and chase your kids, and I promise their giggles and your endorphins will help you remember that everything is actually okay.

5. This won't last forever. They are so cute. You just want to inhale them, don't you? When they giggle, you feel so much joy that it hurts. And it hurts because it's all temporary. Children grow up. You can give them every thing and tell them nothing about life, but they will still grow up and they will still leave you. Someday you will miss them. Someday you will ache for little voices and little feet and little bodies that wake you up all hours of the night. You will miss the laundry and the messes and the hands always reaching for you. These bittersweet truths have helped me through the dark hours when I am lonely, bored, isolated, tired, under appreciated, overwhelmed. It is a tragic relief: you will not always be a mommy, but you will always be a mother.

To read more of my thoughts on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

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Finding Equinimity as Parents

A tough thing about this gig is the polarity of moods. From great to terrible and back again. I can hardly keep up. Yesterday I had a major mommy win in which I fulfilled my vision of coaxing both little girls to sleep in their carseats so I could watch the ocean crash against the shore.

While they slept I indulged in my guiltiest pleasure (Instagram). And I started listening to a new audio book: "Yes, Please" by Amy Poehler. Before I could get too settled in the baby woke up and then the big one woke up and the peace quickly morphed into loud tears.

The rest of the day followed suit. Skyla cried the whole way home. Messes ensued, forming faster than I could fix. The baby is becoming a munchkin. She rarely stops moving and she can climb onto our bed by herself. She has teeth and a mischievous giggle.

My children, they lasso my heart with ribbons of sweet baby's breath, and they squeeze out of me all the energy and patience and resources I have to give. They are relentless demanding little bosses and they kick my ass on a regular basis.

The joy and the misery are two sides of the same coin. I can't have a front without a back, an up without a down.

Buddhism teaches about equanimity: seeing good and bad as essentially the same. Not letting yourself be pulled too low or high. Practicing nonattachment. When I start feeling strong negative emotions (and when I remember) I pray for equanimity. Not indifference but evenness. So that my heart stops beating to the rhythm of anger. So that I don't slip and say something I regret. So that I can give my little loves a decent example to follow.

It's hard. A continuous practice. But when I write about it, it becomes that much easier.

By default we take our troubles with the utmost seriousness even when we know they will dissolve should we allow them.

Ultimately, we have control over very little, but we do have control over our moods.

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To read more of my thoughts on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

Little Animals

This weekend James looked at me over the top of 3 little heads and said, "this is like living in a zoo. These kids are little animals." And it is and they are. IMG_2599.JPG

Dirt on the carpet. Handprints on the windows. Crumbs on the couch. Candy wrappers in the bed. Halloween is my favorite holiday and a huge deal here in San Francisco. But the day after is a parenting nightmare. On Saturday we gathered our grown-up treats (coffee and fancy french pastries) and retreated to the playground where the little animals could run and climb and jump it off. The rubber ground was teeming with them, these fun crazy tiny people fueled by (sugar and) a zest for life that we tend to lose somewhere along the way.

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On Sunday we ventured to the edge of the west coast, the ocean pulling us in with her cavernous well of magnetism, intoxicating the children with negative ions and subtly salted air. Their smiles swelled with joy. The joy radiated from them, leaving a trail like cookie crumbs or pixie dust.

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They communed with the sand---crawling across it and burrowing under it and face planting into it. Now there's sand in my car and my shower and my laundry machine. Parenting guarantees a dizzying assortment of messes. And though the infinite work exhausts me, it also fills me up. Because all that laundry means we played today and all those dishes mean we ate and drank well today. We roasted in the sun and tasted the earth and dipped our toes into her generous bounty.

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Everything revolves around our kids these days. Parents are notorious for making extreme sacrifices, our lives no longer belonging to us alone. The needs of our children become the tippy top of our priorities at the expense of our other relationships and passions and commitments. The little animals need us to survive after all, but we need them for something, too. They remind us why we are here. To feel joy when we manage to find it.

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Where do you find joy? Was the day after Halloween as bad for you as it was for me? 

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The secret to patience (lessons from my children)

I was on the airplane last week with my daughters, and without my husband. It was a short flight from San Francisco to Seattle which felt easy after our recent journey across the country to Atlanta. When we stood to deplane, the mom sitting behind me expressed disbelief that I could travel without having any help (maybe she didn't see my glass of wine). Then she commented that I was very patient. I laughed but I accepted the compliment and knew it was one I will not soon forget because it means I must be growing.

I am not terribly patient by nature. I like speed. I like productivity.

My children slow me down. The truth is that they've slowed down everything from my career to my savings account. Everything except time.

They consume time like they consume me. Not just days, but years. My twenties are nearly gone and I'm positive my thirties will pass even quicker. Skyla was born yesterday yet she's nearly 7 months old. I could handle 6 months, but 7 months? She's trying to crawl. She gets in position but she's unsteady. She can only go backwards, but she can also turn 360 degrees. So really, she can get anywhere she wants.

Giovanna is four and a half and a little lady. She has purses filled with money, a sense of adventure, and a very precise sense of style. I can't remember the last time she actually wore the outfit I picked out for her. She goes to bed without fussing and she usually sleeps through the night. She's growing up a little more each day, understanding the world in new ways, possessing knowledge that blows me away. Yesterday she talked her auntie into feeding her junk food at the fair by explaining, "if you don't, my blood sugar will crash and my mama will be upset." (Actually it's Gigi who would be upset since she tends to have fits if she goes too long without eating.) She's a sponge; absorbing, processing, internalizing.

Humans are pristine when we arrive. Since we are soft, the world makes its impressions on us easily. As we grow older, we harden like clay. These impressions become us. I try not to dwell on the mistakes I've made, but I'm also not kidding myself. I have a limited time to set a good example for my children. Every moment counts.

These babies of mine will only be little for so long. Although this mommy stuff tests every limit I didn't know I had, it won't be this way for long. The impermanence of my children as children helps me to savor their present states, adorable and frustrating and sweet and demanding.

By staying mindful of time and knowing time always passes and change always comes, I find it easier to practice patience.

How do you stay patient? Tell me about it in the comments or email me lucymiller7 [at] gmail.com.

To read more of my musings on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

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