Parenting in recovery - some tools I learned in AA & apply to every day parenting.

Someone told me when Cameron was born that I would forever have my heart walking around outside my body. It's days like today that I am reminded of how raw parenting is. How visceral your response to your child is. How hard this job is. On the other side of the equation, I feel privileged to be present to this small human being when he needs me: however distorted and cruel it may appear in the moment. 

I went into pre-school drop off knowing I would leave in tears, it was that kind of morning. I celebrate two years of parenting two children simultaneously this week as Kaitlin turns two and Cameron is a newly minted four year old. And yes, four year olds are tricky. Cam currently runs on all fours - as you would if you were a two headed dragon transformer. Or a tiger. Or (insert aggressive animal that snarls and sends your moms anxiety through the roof here). I catch myself cringing - sometimes secretly and sometimes quite publicly. Why can't my kid just stand in line? Why can't he keep his hands to himself? Will he always be a child so sensitive to his environment? 

But then I am reminded of the story that my neighbor tells of my five year old self. I sat under the pine trees that lined my driveway for a whole Saturday morning. I watched as many of my classmates drove up our hill to the end of the cul de sac. I watched as they attended a birthday party for a neighbor and classmate, my same age, that I wasn't invited to. My neighbor suggested to my father as she watched the tears stream down my cheeks: maybe Vanessa just needs to be taught to tone it down. I was twenty when my father passed away and Nancy sat with me by the water: a scene I liken to the illustrations from "The Trumpet of the Swan". She shared with me that my father never wanted to dampen my spirit. That he was adamant that no one tell me to be less or be more - that I was who I was meant to be. I was twenty one, a year later, when I got sober. It was hard, getting sober without my cheerleader. Dad always got me - he understood my quirks. I still don't know how my parents had the patience to let me be me while parenting four other children.

As I left drop off in tears, trying to stay present for the two year old who is all ears in the backseat, my dear mom friend reminded me that all four year old have their quirks. It all came together: I get to be present to honor my son's quirks. And suddenly there's a new spin on Cam and it's not such an attack on me. I remind myself frequently that I have a few more tools, as a gift of working Alcoholics Anonymous, than my parents had. If I stay present and practice self-care, I can honor my father's story and help Cam to show up for #allthefeelings.

Here's a few takeaways from my experience in recovery as it pertains to parenting: 

  • HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. When we feel uncomfortable we check in with these feelings. Have we eaten? Are we upset and we need to chat it out? Do we need to be among others? Do we need to rest our bodies? 
  • Soul Fever & Hooky Days: Sometimes our hearts just need to stay close to home. My friend Alice helped me to learn this term and I had an "Aha moment!" My father used to give us a "mental health day" and let us play hooky one day a semester. 
  • Use your resources:
    • We love our Occupational Therapist & implement her suggestions in C's steady environments (home & school) 
    • In San Francisco there is a phenomenal resource called Talk Line. Talk Line has a physical location in the Upper Haight where complimentary childcare is offered from 10am-2pm Mon-Thurs. You do not need a reason to use Talk Line childcare, but you do need to meet with a case worker & fill out some paperwork. You must stay on premise, but give yourself the moment that you need as a person to show up as the parent your child needs you to be. 
  • Find community in your tribe, and use it. I founded Main Street Mamas, which has been my saving grace, but find a parent group to call upon - and then call upon them. Maybe you need a suggestion, maybe a meal, or maybe you're in a position to be of service. 
  • Be of service. The best way to get out of your own head is to be of service. Find a way to give back in any way. Be an ear, make a meal, provide childcare to a mom in need. Today, after having a hard drop off, I enjoyed being of service by holding a 3 month old at Story Hour while his mom was present for her fifteen month old. It made me grateful for my independent two year old who allowed me to be our service to another mom. 
  • Move a muscle, change a thought. It has been scientifically proven that if you can calm the body to calm the mind. Yoga, stretching, breathing, dancing - all get our bodies moving and re-calibrating. If you are having a tough time try taking a walk around the block or playing tag - it's bound to help you all feel better.  

Now, back to my afternoon coffee while I count the minutes before Kaitlin wakes up from her nap...




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