Natural Vitality Living sat down with Laura Berman Fortgang, author of Living Your Best Life (Putnam, 2002) to get advice on navigating the challenges of parenting for long-term wellness.
Parenting is a mixed bag. There’s the euphoria experienced while watching your child achieve a milestone or crawl up onto your lap for a cuddle. But there’s also the self-doubt, challenges to work and home-life balance, and loss of former self that come with the role. Natural Vitality Living turned to Laura Berman Fortgang, life coach, Oprah guest, and author of numerous books including Living Your Best Life (Putnam, 2002), for some advice on navigating the challenges that are part of parenting today.
Natural Vitality Living: Working mothers can sometimes feel mediocre at everything—that they can’t excel at their job because they can’t work the hours necessary, and they can’t excel at parenting because they have to be away at work.
Laura Berman Fortgang: We have to stop trying to be great at all things at all times. Instead, pick an area to excel at. So for work, maybe it’s networking or a special project that you’ll really focus on. It’s the same idea for parenting. Maybe it’s bedtime when you will really focus on being 100 percent present and giving it your all. Maybe it’s your kid with homework. Just ask yourself, “What areas in work and parenting can I focus on to be really good at?”
NVL: How can a mother who has left her job to raise children feel good about herself? She sees her partner advancing, other friends getting promoted, but her days end with peanut butter in her hair.
LBF: Yes, this mother can feel like the ship is sailing without her. Often the stay-at-home parent can have this knee-jerk reaction to complain to her partner and say, “You don’t know what it’s like to stay home with the kids all day,” and so on. To boot, they often feel like they can’t ask for anything for themselves that might cost money because they aren’t currently contributing financially. Hence they feel they can’t ask for a weekend away or maybe a membership to a gym close by. They under-ask. So they should work on asking for what they need to have good self-esteem.
This parent also needs to remind herself of long-term goals associated with her decision to stay home with her kids. Maybe the decision was made so that she wouldn’t miss the milestones or so that the child will always remember feeling that he or she had a parent who spent time with him or her. You have to keep your eyes on the prize.
NVL: Can you talk about the importance of presence for busy parents?
LBF:Multitasking is the great thief of being present; we are so good at doing many things at once that we aren’t good at any of them. Women seem to be wired for multitasking, and it means we are often thinking of the future, planning, or thinking about the past—how thin we used to be or, “If only I hadn’t said that.” We can actually enjoy life more if we can be more in the moment, more present. For example, when chopping an onion, feel the sting in your eyes; when your child is telling you a story about his day, just listen. We have to make these proactive decisions to be present. The payoff is that you can feel more satisfied. You can’t be with your kids every moment, but if you can really be with them sometimes, then both of you feel like you have had each other.
NVL: Why are transitions between activities so important?
LBF: We don’t give ourselves enough time to transition. We just get out of the car and go boom-boom-boom from one thing to the next. We don’t honor that there is a need for adjustment between activities; there’s this expectation of instant change. You used to get a week in the hospital after you had a baby. This was to let the change sink in. Now you’re out of there in a day or two. We’ve taken time for transition out of our culture. Kids now go from school to activity to activity with little time in between for transitioning. I remember when my son was in preschool and he had a difficult time with transitioning, so the teachers would gently tell him, “Okay, time to say goodbye to the blocks before we move on,” so that he didn’t have abrupt changes. I still try and give my kids time to adjust to a change. For parents, transition time can mean one more lap around the block in the car to listen to a favorite song before going home, or a special time after dinner to regroup before moving on to the next activity.
NVL: Many working mothers experience guilt that they aren’t home with their kids. How can a parent deal with those feelings?
LBF: I differentiate between “good guilt” and “bad guilt.” Bad guilt is about a standard that is not our own, like a “good” mom would cook every night of the week and always stay on top of the laundry, and so on. Good guilt nudges you on the shoulder about something, telling you that you might be forming a regret here. So you have to learn which guilt to pay attention to.
NVL: Anything else you’d like to tell busy parents?
LBF: The best gift we can give our work or our kids is our own peace of mind. When my daughter was little, I used to walk out the door to go to yoga and she’d be hanging on my leg crying, saying, “Mommy, please don’t leave.” I used to tell her that if I went I would come back a better mommy. Whatever makes a better you, in moderation of course, you should not feel guilty about doing. If we take care of ourselves then we can do everything else better.