Carla Naumburg, Ph.D., is a clinical social worker, writer, and mother. She is the mindful parenting blogger for PsychCentral.com and a contributing editor at Kveller.com. Her first book, Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters, is now available. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.
I’m getting ready to head out on my book tour, and I’m trying to decide what to wear. In addition to the clothes my sister will pick out for me, I’ll be wearing a thick cream-colored bangle bracelet with large black letters that read, “Because I said so.”
The bracelet might seem like an odd choice for someone who just wrote a parenting book, so I’ll start by explaining the necklace I’ll be wearing, a small silver pendant with just one word engraved on it: STAY.
I first heard that word—really heard it—during an eight week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course I took a couple of years ago. I was learning the basics of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and a few weeks in, our instructor read us the following quote by the Buddhist Nun Pema Chödrön:
The pith instruction is, Stay. . . stay. . . just stay. Learning to stay with ourselves in meditation is like training a dog. If we train a dog by beating it, we’ll end up with an obedient but very inflexible and rather terrified dog. The dog may obey when we say "Stay!" "Come!" "Roll over!" and "Sit up!" but he will also be neurotic and confused. By contrast, training with kindness results in someone who is flexible and confident, who doesn’t become upset when situations are unpredictable and insecure
Although Chödrön was talking about meditation, I immediately thought of parenting, and the ways in which I was “training” my daughters by yelling at them. My desire to stop yelling so often was the reason I had signed up for the mindfulness course in the first place; nothing else had worked. In that moment, when I heard those words, I got a little clarity on why I had developed such a temper (I was never much of a yeller before my daughters were born), and what I might do about it.
I realized that I had no ability to stay present in the difficult, irritating, boring, exhausting, situations that inevitably come up in the work of child rearing. When those hard moments happened, again and again, I just wanted to run away. When I couldn’t do that, I sought refuge in my smartphone or I lost my temper. I needed to learn to stay, and I needed to train myself to do so with kindness, which I had been sorely lacking. I started practicing mindfulness and meditation. It helped. A lot.
And so I wear the necklace, a small and subtle reminder to myself that the work of parenting calls on me to stay connected, stay grounded, and stay as present as possible and as calm as possible when I’m feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, confused, and off-track with my kids.
And I will also wear my bracelet, the bangle that says “Because I said so.” Just to be clear, these four words (which, yes, I have said to my children on more than one occasion, and which I am sure I will say again) are the verbal equivalent of shutting the door on them; pretty much the opposite of staying present.
A traditional Hasidic teaching tells us that we should keep a piece of paper in each of our pockets. One should read something along the lines of, “For my sake the world was created,” and the other should read, “I am but dust and ashes.” We are told to read the first note when we’re feeling hopeless or depressed, and the second when we’re feeling overly brazen or proud. The purpose behind these notes is to remind us not to take ourselves so damn seriously. That doesn’t mean that our ideas and attitudes aren’t important, it just means we don’t benefit from getting overly wrapped up in our own thoughts and feelings and wishes and disappointments. And I feel the exact same way about parenting.
Yes, I wrote a parenting book, and it’s all about learning to stay focused on what really matters. And when I head out to talk about it over the next few months, I’ll be wearing a necklace that reminds me of what’s most important in my relationship with my daughters, and I’ll also be wearing a bracelet that reminds me that sometimes the best I can offer them is “Because I said so.” And that’s OK too.
Carla's writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and Parents.com, among other places. She currently lives outside of Boston with her husband and two young daughters.