Ear­li­er this week, Car­la Naum­burg wrote about mind­ful­ness, par­ent­ing, and her first book Par­ent­ing in the Present Moment. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

So, I’m Jew­ish. And I’ve got a Jew­ish grand­fa­ther who was a clas­si­cal­ly trained psy­cho­an­a­lyst who looked not unlike Freud. (Actu­al­ly, he was once ana­lyzed by some­one who was ana­lyzed by Freud. In cer­tain cir­cles, that’s a very big deal. Appar­ent­ly.) I’m also the child of a dif­fi­cult divorce who grew up to be a clin­i­cal social work­er, which means I’ve spent more than my fair share of time on both sides of the ther­a­py office. As an aca­d­e­m­ic, I’ve spent a lot of time think­ing and then writ­ing about what I was think­ing and then get­ting feed­back about my thoughts, which I then thought about some more.

What all of this means is that my cul­ture, my genet­ics, and every­thing I’ve learned over the years have instilled in me a deeply held belief that my thoughts are ter­ri­bly impor­tant, and that they mat­ter deeply. I have moved through most of my life believ­ing that the ideas bounc­ing around inside my head tru­ly define me, and that they tell me, and those around me, who I am, where I come from, where I’m head­ed, what I’m capa­ble of, and how I under­stand the world and my role in it. 

My thoughts are, appar­ent­ly, so impor­tant that they’re worth pay­ing large amounts of mon­ey to ther­a­pists so we can spend an hour dis­cussing and explor­ing and ana­lyz­ing every sin­gle one of them.

And so when I stand at my kitchen sink and look out the win­dow at the vines grow­ing over the chain-link fence and think that all I want to do is run away from the tantrums and the whin­ing and the din­ners left uneat­en on divid­ed plas­tic plates, it must mean that I am a ter­ri­ble moth­er. Good moth­ers don’t fan­ta­size about leav­ing their chil­dren, do they?

A cou­ple of years ago, in a des­per­ate attempt to become a good moth­er, I start­ed study­ing mind­ful­ness. One of the first ideas I learned in my mind­ful­ness-based stress reduc­tion course is that thoughts are just thoughts. That’s it. They’re not real­i­ty or any­thing even close to it. We’ve all got the­o­ries about where they come from, but no one real­ly knows. (If you look up thought” on Google, the first def­i­n­i­tion that pops up says, an idea or opin­ion pro­duced by think­ing or occur­ring sud­den­ly in the mind.” Um. Thanks. That clears up everything.)

Per­haps our thoughts are the result of the ran­dom fir­ings of neu­rons. Maybe they’re just the rep­e­ti­tion of phras­es our par­ents used to mut­ter under their breath when they thought we couldn’t hear, or they’re ideas that we’ve had over and over again through the years for no appar­ent rea­son. Every once in awhile, they might even be a stroke of divine inspi­ra­tion. Who knows?

The point is that despite what my grand­fa­ther and my edu­ca­tion have taught me, my thoughts aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly wor­thy of my atten­tion, and I can actu­al­ly choose how much time and ener­gy I want to spend on any giv­en one.

That thought (ahem) lit­er­al­ly changed my life.

Now, when I stand over my kitchen sink, shov­el­ing choco­late in my mouth and won­der­ing how I ever got myself into this mess (both lit­er­al and fig­u­ra­tive), I don’t imme­di­ate­ly assume that I should hand my kids over to DSS. I try, when­ev­er I can, to remem­ber that it’s just a thought, and I can choose to let it go so I can calm down and get a lit­tle perspective.

Let it go. It’s as sim­ple as that, but it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly easy. I have over three decades of expe­ri­ence get­ting all wrapped up in my thoughts as if they were God’s word insert­ed direct­ly into my mind. But I’m work­ing on it, because the bet­ter I get at notic­ing, and dis­miss­ing, my fre­quent­ly unhelp­ful thoughts, the more I can stay focused on what real­ly matters. 

The thing is, I can’t fig­ure out what that is until I let go of all the ram­blings in my brain that don’t matter.

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. Car­la’s writ­ing has been fea­tured inThe New York Times, The Huff­in­g­ton Post, and Par​ents​.com, among oth­er places. Her first book, Par­ent­ing in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Real­ly Mat­ters, is now avail­able. Car­la 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.