In continuing our focus on mom mindfulness and wrapping up this month, we talk with Helene Shine Goetz, who has successfully raised two children, a 28-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old son. She discusses how she incorporated mindfulness in her parenting through the process of journaling and self-reflection.
Read on for her expert advice on how to combat the pressure to be a “perfect” mother, and how to make adjustments along your mothering journey that work for you and your family.
DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be all-encompassing and should not replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health.
HUM: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Helene: I am an African-American mom of two adult biracial children. My daughter will turn 29 this year and my son will turn 24! I’m a transplant to this area although I should stop saying that because I have lived here longer than I lived in my hometown. I came here for graduate school and stayed after meeting the love of my life.
HUM: Tell us about your motherhood journey.
Helene: I’m a reflective person, so the day I found I was pregnant I started journaling. My first journal entry was the scribble I put on the bathroom mirror for my husband which read “ 1+ 1=3” and my expression of happiness and elation. Throughout my pregnancy my journal included my fears and anxieties—I even journaled the day I went into labor, though it was a brief entry! I journaled about my frustrations of not being able to breastfeed or advice I was getting on how to be a “good mom.” Looking back my journal showed a scared first time mother and how she, through trial and error, realized she needed to listen to her own rhythm and that of her child. There is an expectation that there is a right way and a wrong way to raise children, but every child is unique and you have to learn as you go. For example, you’re conditioned to think that babies love lullabies and gentle rocking, but my first born loved “Route 66” and fast rocking to drift off to sleep. My first born was a very picky eater, and my second born would eat everything! So my journey was unlearning what I thought I was supposed to do and learning the unique needs of both of my children.
HUM: What is the most rewarding part of mothering for you?
Helene: What I find rewarding has changed over the years. When my kids were younger, it was seeing the world through their eyes. Now that my children are adults, the most rewarding thing is hearing them talk about the life lessons that learned from me or how they absorbed how I lived my life. Your children are paying attention even when you think they aren’t.
HUM: What is the most challenging part of mothering for you?
Helene: There are many challenges, but I think we also make it challenging for ourselves. We often want to be the “perfect” mom, and then fall short of the image we have in our heads. For me, a “perfect” mom breastfed her kids. I desperately wanted to do so and tried with both, and even worked with a lactation coach, but was unable to do so successfully. I was devastated and felt I was “less than” because of it. Did that make me a bad mom? Absolutely not, but the 20-something me felt that I was.
HUM: What do you suggest for incorporating mindfulness into parenting?
Helene: If you need time for yourself and your child wants attention, it’s OK to say that you can play, read, etc., but in x minutes, and have them look at a book or play quietly until the timer rings. A digital timer is great for this, because kids can see the countdown. (It’s also good for challenges like “I wonder how much of your room you can clean up in 10 minutes?”). Be true to your word so they know (and you know) that when the timer rings, then it’s their time. They also learn to respect mommy’s schedule and that mommy respects their time/needs. This is of course for older children; it’s harder for the very young. Enlisting a partner or older sibling when possible and letting them help is also a great option.
I also incorporate mindfulness by listening and reacting to what is said and not reacting/over-reacting based on assumptions/fears. When my children were little, I told them they could ask me anything and nothing was off limits. I was definitely put to the test over the years, but they also knew there were parameters. One thing you learn is to not read too much into their question or make assumptions. For example, one evening at the dinner table, my then middle-schooler nonchalantly asked when she would grow hair “there.” My husband almost choked. My elementary school-aged son looked confused. I asked, “Grow hair, where sweetie?” Never skipping a beat, she said “under my arms.” As casually as she asked, I responded in kind and gave her a rough idea based on how her body was developing. She was fine with the response and kept on eating. My husband and I were thinking about something other than what she was thinking, but if that was the question, then I would have answered it.
HUM: Tell us about a challenging parenting situation and how you used mindfulness to tackle it.
Helene: The most challenging situation I faced was balancing full-time motherhood with working outside of the home full-time. It was doable as long I was willing to give up the ideal of the perfect mom and the idea that I could do everything. One way it worked was that my husband and I alternated days for cooking dinner, based on the schedule and who would be home first. Later in the evening, we would alternate who did the bedtime ritual, and after the kids’ bedtime he and I would have our couple time.
There is an expectation that there is a right way and a wrong way to raise children, but every child is unique and you have to learn as you go.
HUM: What suggestions do you have for moms having trouble finding a "mindful moment" in their day?
Helene: To be mindful, you have to take care of yourself. I don’t like the word “selfish” because selfish is “lacking consideration for others, concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.” Taking the time to have a bath or shower uninterrupted, a coffee break, or just time to do nothing is not selfish. My suggestion is to set that expectation and to coordinate with your partner so you have some “me” time.
Also, being mindful doesn’t always mean focusing on doing what the child wants to do (e.g. playing). Mindfulness can be including the child in something you need to do. For younger children, it might be letting them help dust or vacuum, or having them stir something you are mixing for dinner (which may not actually need stirring). For older children it might be just saying “I have to do laundry, but let’s talk while I’m doing it and you can help me fold.”
HUM: Could you share with us some simple tools for incorporating mindfulness, especially when it comes to interactions with little ones?
Helene: When my children were little it was important to have time with each of them, especially in a household where both parents worked outside of the home. I would sometimes adjust my schedule so I could spend one-on-one time with each child, to do something as simple as getting a root beer float and talking along the way about whatever came to mind. Taking a walk or doing something together was a great time to mention something like “You seem a little sad today” or just talking about the day.
HUM: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Helene: Motherhood is hard work. It’s not easy and you will make mistakes, but you learn from those mistakes. My adult children still talk about the sand castles that were built together, making homemade ice cream, being a good helper in the kitchen, the Friday root beer float dates, and coloring together in a coloring book. Toys break and get discarded over the years, but memories last forever. Make memories and give up perfection.
We often suffer from wanting to be the “perfect” mom and when we feel we have fallen short of the ideal we have in our heads, we suffer mentally and so do our kids. We need to be the best mom we can for our children, but it doesn’t always look the same. Remember that you can do things with your children without sacrificing what you need to do, and "together time" can also be bringing them into what you're doing. Cuddle with them while you read or work on things together, and then take breaks to show each other what you've done. We also need to learn to allow our partners and our "villages" to help, and learn how to ask for help and share the load.
As author Jill Churchill put it...there's no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one.
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