so you guys remember when gina wrote this post just days after baby True was born (and while she was here helping john and i settle after the hospital stay). so many of you responded to her post that i asked her to write another one but this time on what she calls the spirituality of parenting. gina, more than anyone else in my life, has a special gift for bringing the concepts and ideas around spirituality down to earth. she uses her mdiv degree (master of divinity) paired with her lcsw (master of social work, licensed) to counsel people in her private practice. she is so, so wise and has been this way since met her at the age of 12 (no lie). i love the above photo of us at our wedding where she and her husband brian officiated the ceremony!
i cannot tell you how much i love this post from her. the wear the pants section changed my world and i will never ever hold baby true again without hearing her words in my heart. the last paragraph about spirituality and relatedness is so aligned with my beliefs that i was shouting yes, yes, yes as i read her words.
ps: really hoping you guys are enjoying these guest post. maternity leave continues for me and i’m so grateful. yesterday i had the most profound aha moment of my adult life. i am working on writing it all down to share here in this space soon:) baby true says hello!
(gina + her youngest)
Remember back when I wrote my last post and True was only five days old? Since then, I’ve been sitting back and reading the guest posts and Kelly’s posts on this experience of early motherhood. (And haven’t they all been wonderful?) During this time, I’ve been letting it all soak in while thinking about something that Kelly asked me to write about long ago. She wanted me to write about the spirituality of motherhood, of parenting. She knows (she insists) that I’ve been working on creating an e-course on spirituality and real life. And what feels more like “real life” than parenting? In my experience, few other things draw you so hard down to earth, force your presence and attention into this moment, and get so gritty and, well, real. We’re talking spirituality where the rubber meets the road, in action, face to face, in your face. So, in that spirit, I’m sharing with Kelly (and all of you) a few thoughts on the spirituality of real life parenting. It’s not the motherhood you imagined, were told about, or saw on TV, but the parenting you’re living right now.
Being a parent changes your spiritual life forever. And if you think spirituality is all meditation, quiet, and smoothness then you’ll watch that evaporate as fast as a drop of water on a hot skillet. Your development as a spiritual person is happening while you’re parenting, in every moment. I’ve always loved Thomas Merton’s response when asked how he spends his day as a Catholic monk- “What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe.” So, take that spiritual self off its high horse and get down on the floor with the baby. That’s where it’s happening! What I wear is t-shirts that can get spit up on them. What I do is nurture. How I pray is hold.
In a hard moment that first week with True, Kelly looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “It just feels so unrelenting.” I didn’t say it out loud then but in my head I thought, “And that is parenting in a nutshell.” It is the first shock of parenthood…that the baby is there ALL the time, that children need ALL the time, and that you are never at any moment not a parent. It is unrelenting. That is exactly why it is so critical to bring your spirituality into, rather than separate it from, your life as a mother. Because your spiritual needs are also unrelenting. They will not go away just because you are now more distracted than ever. In fact, those needs will make A LOT of noise if left unattended and spiritual needs left unattended leave an easier entryway for depression, apathy, anxiety.
Balance: not just a cheesy catch-word for modern parenting
Perhaps the hardest part of nurturing our spiritual lives while parenting is to find the balance between our external reality and our internal desire. We cannot depend on being away from our children in order to be or become spiritual people. That is why I stress the need to be spiritual in the total and complete midst of day to day mothering. But I do believe we need to be away from our children at somewhat regular intervals to gather back into ourselves and listen to the still small voice inside. Living with children, especially small ones, is not quiet. And it can be hard to remember who we are and what we need amidst the cacophony of their needs. So, take that walk, take that breath, take that retreat. Take the time, not just because of your own inner being but because the spiritual life of your child, so intimately connected to your own existence, depends on it. We can only give the fullness that we ourselves possess.
Finally, I want to express why I think spirituality is so important to parenting. People often ask, what is spirituality? There are definitions as diverse as spiritual paths but I agree with and am thankful to this book for it’s definition of spirituality as being primarily about relating…relating to the people in your life, your environment, your heritage and traditions, your body and, finally and maybe, something larger beyond yourself. It’s about paying attention to your experience of being a person in the world, developing your inner life, and connecting to wisdom in its many forms. But, more than any of this, I have always believed that you can tell a spiritual person by the way they relate to others. Relationship is where we find wholeness, but it is also where we are usually most challenged. And what relationship can matter more than our relationship with those we share our beds, houses, bodies with? That is why every small, daily moment of parenting matters and that is why we need spiritual resources within ourselves as deep as the ocean of love we have in our hearts for our children.
p.s. I want to shout out here to a great book called Finding Your Inner Mama edited by Eden Steinberg. I’ve never understood why it isn’t more popular. It’s a fabulous collection of essays on spirituality and mothering!