Car­la Naum­burg, Ph.D., is a clin­i­cal social work­er, writer, and moth­er. She is the mind­ful par­ent­ing blog­ger for Psy​ch​Cen​tral​.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 Par​ents​.com, among oth­er places. She cur­rent­ly lives out­side of Boston with her hus­band and two young daughters.

Relat­ed Content:

Car­la Naum­burg, PhD, is a clin­i­cal social work­er and the author of three par­ent­ing books, includ­ing the best­selling How to Stop Los­ing Your Sh*t With Your Kids (Work­man, 2019). Her writ­ing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton Post, The Huff­in­g­ton Post, CNN, and Mind­ful Mag­a­zine, among oth­er places. Car­la lives out­side of Boston with her hus­band, daugh­ters, and two total­ly insane cats.