Along with my adolescent daughter’s growing independence, countless selfies, and flatiron, the expression attitude adjustmenthas been making a recent appearance in our household. When a hint of teenage insolence creeps into the conversational tone, my husband and I provide a cautionary reminder of respect. Although essentially unacceptable, I expect a bit of defiance, and am at times secretly amused (when not utterly frustrated) by the dramatic and cynical quality.
How humbling to remember that my attitude is occasionally in need of an adjustment as well.
A reader of the New York Times’s Motherlode column recently asked why it seems today’s parents complain so much about parenting, wondering, “do any of you ever enjoy the daily lives you have chosen? Because it sure doesn’t sound like it.”
Reading this, I sat up straight and proceeded to take a bit of personal inventory. Is writing about Mindful parenting perceived as “whiny and complaining?” Am I careful to balance attention to the unpleasant with the essential savoring of the pleasant? And how does this negative bent play out in my own family life?
A provocative question of parenting perspective, it brought to mind a simple practice I have found helpful when my own perception has begun veering toward the negative:
Begin a thought with I get to rather than I have to.
When my reserves are down and patience is in short supply, I find myself silently keeping score with my husband. We all know how helpful this score-keeping game is – that is to say not at all. In reality, my husband is a wonderful husband and father, a willing co-parent not at all married to stereotypical gender roles.
Any sense of objectivity goes right out the window, however, when I am in this unhelpful state of mind. My toddler calls out in the middle of the night. I pry my eyes open, look over at my husband, who remains blissfully asleep and grumble, “Really? Not. My. Turn.”
When I find myself pulled into this pessimistic place, I try to remember to adjust my approach from, I have to to I get to. Rather than I have to get up at 2a.m., I get to cuddle the little guy for a few minutes, savoring the lingering scent of baby shampoo on his head of soft, curly hair.
Regardless of what is occurring in our lives, we have a choice to live in an I get tomindset or one of I have to. It is a gentle practice, not to be forced and not meant to induce guilt when I have to remains resolute. It is not artificial and, as a therapist, I would never recommend we ignore or deny important emotions or realizations that may need to be addressed.
But in that moment of resistance, am I willing to nudge myself in the direction of I get to, thereby subtly shifting my attitude, and naturally reconnecting with gratitude – gratitude for the countless blessings in my life – our children, my husband, our health?
I may never enjoy being awakened at 2a.m., but with a Mindful I get to, my attitude may soften into one of reconnecting to the privilege of being Mom to this beautiful (any time of the day or night) little boy.