Moms need to learn how to relax and have compassion for themselves before caring for kids
Reprinted from LA Alternative Press
The women descend steep wooden steps in the dark. White terry bathrobes loom and recede. Candles are lit. They reflect obscure bottles and waiting wine glasses. A wooden bowl appears, filled with strawberries and green grapes. The fruits glow unnaturally in the candles' light, pulsating red and green.
The Jacuzzi bubbles like a huge cauldron. The air is chill and fresh, and voices and steam rise off the water. Dark heads murmur, leaning close and then away, a slow dance. Disembodied legs and feet are a greenish white under the bubbles.
Three bodies rise, stark against the night sky, and plunge into the cold pool, smooth and slippery in the water. The women laugh and call to each other.
Later, upstairs, amidst empty wineglasses and the melted remains of birthday cake, the women talk about everything from God to table manners. Mostly, they talk about their children.
For Jackie Sloan, hostess of the party and mother of two young children, celebrating her birthday with a gathering of women has become a yearly ritual. "It's a recharging," she says, "It's a time to be completely free of any role." Of mothers and women, she says, "Our needs are informed by who we're with. It's hard to answer things without being in relation to others." Sloan sees time out exclusively with friends as crucial to her well-being.
Sloan is not unique. Research and common sense show that mothers who take time for themselves amidst the clamor of their children and their work lives, are not only saner, but better parents for it. The most patient and connected moms are those who are also in touch with themselves. But how to do it? Parents, ever ingenious, have evolved rituals, sometimes elaborate and sometimes simple, to regroup and recharge.
It's Saturday morning at a parenting class at the Center for Non-Violent Parenting in Echo Park. A group of about 20 parents stand in a circle.
They've been talking about what to do when your 3-year-old absolutely refuses to get into the bathtub, or your 2-year-old has just dumped his bowl of peas on his head.
"Take a step back, now breathe. Then, step forward and smile," says director, Ruth Beaglehole. The parents practice this simple technique several times, some sheepishly, some with intense concentration.
Beaglehole, believes that self-empathy is key to good parenting and that in order to raise children with love and compassion, parents must have compassion for themselves. According to her, parents have to give themselves permission to step back, both physically and metaphorically before they step forward to work with their kids.
Ariel Gore, editor and publisher of Hip Mama Magazine, and all-around "guerrilla mothering" goddess, agrees. She describes recharging in her book, "The Hip Mama Survival Guide," in which she devotes a chapter to Taking Leave. Her metaphor is the oxygen mask on an airplane. She'd always worried that she wouldn't be able to put her own mask on before assisting her child, but now sees that "sometimes we can't be any help to our children if we haven't taken care of ourselves." She observes: "When we start to feel like maybe we aren't quite strong enough within ourselves, we have to retreat. We have to step back, if not from the philosophical dilemmas of motherhood, then at least from the practical ones."
It seems that moms often use their bodies to adjust their minds. Maybe it's because mothering (especially when breastfeeding and working outside the home are thrown into the mix) is such a physically taxing job.
Emily Rice has two children. She and her husband have their own production company, and she also works full time as a post-production accountant for Lions Gate Films. Yoga is her salvation. "It's a total mind/body thing," she says. "For 90 minutes, there's no cell phone, nobody can get me. Afterwards, I just sit there. Sometimes I meditate."
Laetitia Daniel is an actress. In between taking her two sons to piano lessons and soccer games, she does voiceovers, works with a French theater group, studies film, and sells oriental rugs. For sanity, she dances. "When I can't take class, I turn on the music and dance in my house," she says. "If I'm in the kitchen cooking, I do my stuff. I finish my dance workout if I haven't finished it."
Juliette Kurth is co-owner and instructor at Silverlake Yoga. For her, relaxation is about being in tune with nature, among other things. She says, "I go to yoga class, I go hiking. I go walking. I read the paper when I can. I go out into nature - boy, that sounds so yoga-like."
However, being with her two children is sometimes more relaxing than being without them. "When I hike with my children, it recharges me," she says.
Doing childlike things is what works for some parents. Sherri Rogers, mom of two young children, took up skateboarding because, "I got tired of just sitting and watching my son do it."
Laurie Hasson, a bi-coastal clothing designers' rep, plays beach volleyball twice a week without fail. "I feel like a kid when I'm on the beach," she enthuses. "It's great after having to be an adult with my kids all week."
Maggie Baird, actress, music teacher, and home schooler, says that "seriously playing with my kids" is what relaxes her. "I surrender to being completely with my children. It's different than being with my kids and trying to do something else at the same time. When I can focus totally on them, playing with them, I get unstressed doing that."
For some moms, recharging means time away from children for some perspective. For others, it's simply being with one's child without distractions. When mothers can concentrate on themselves from time to time, it's rejuvenating in the real sense of the word.
LA Alternative Press: A Locally-Owned and Independent Voice in the City Volume 2 Number 6 / June 25 - July 8, 2003
©2003 by Los Angeles Alternative Press LLC.