10 Foolproof Ways to Be an Awesome Parent

During my 4.5 years of being a mother, I have noticed myself go from, “I am rocking this mom thing” to “I am screwing my child up for life” in a matter of 60 seconds.

I strive (daily) to be a good mother but this is the most challenging job I have ever had and it will be the job I am assigned to for the rest of my life… There is no retirement from parenting.  It is very stressful at times and I lose my cool more often than I like to admit.

I grew up with a screaming parent.  I had decided at a very young age that I would NEVER be that mom.  I wanted my children to feel loved and supported and for their feelings to be validated instead of shunning them for not obeying or losing my temper over their simple curiosity and comedic impulses. I wanted to be that parent who understands that children just want acceptance and hugs.  I read many books about child development and how to be calm, cool and collected at all times in this ever-changing job position.

But this morning, as I was having a screaming war with my son over brushing his teeth before school, I saw his small body trembling with anger and exhausted from the battle and I realized that I have allowed myself to lose sight of who he is… I have allowed myself to fall into patterns of behavior instead of using the tools I have learned about child-parent dynamics… I have allowed myself to be that screaming parent… and I crumbled. My beautiful boy deserves better.

So, I went back to some insights I have accumulated throughout the years to center my thoughts.  I am amazed at the calm I feel just by reading them out loud to myself. I am even more amazed that I have lost sight of so many of these thoughts for one reason or another over time.  My reality of parenting has not been jiving with my intentions and it is time for a check-in:

1)   Good parenting means taking care of yourself first.

Think of it the same as you are taught on an airplane… you must put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can help anyone else.  If you neglect your own body and mind, you are really neglecting your child’s, as well. We cannot give a warm drink to someone with an empty carafe. Eat well, sleep well, exercise your body and take time to breathe and you can go into situations with enough understanding and awareness to make sure everyone wins. (This is something Ella certainly drives home in the Plant-Empowered Coaching Program.)

2)   Being imperfect is absolutely perfect.  

No one is perfect!  How beautiful and freeing that statement feels.  So many children are being taught that being wrong about something holds a bad connotation.  I remember being in school and being terrified to raise my hand because I was afraid of answering incorrectly and (possibly) being ridiculed by my teachers and peers over it.  

As an adult I realize that being wrong is important to learn anything. Do we ever truly learn from being right all the time? Our own focus on perfection trickles down to our children… whether it be about grades, appearance, weight or the like. Just as it is important for adults to know and practice this idea, it is even more vital for children to be comfortable with making mistakes and with being imperfect for their own mental health.  As adults, we can reason on a different level than children, whose brains are developing well into teen-hood. They are more susceptible to allowing negative thoughts about themselves and others to take over their lives.  Teach them that there is nothing wrong with a challenge and to welcome imperfection with a smile.

3)  Being mindful is more important than being in control.

The times when I am fighting for control are the times when I have lost control completely.  When I stop to take a breath to snap out of that space, my body is shaking from anger and my son is either screaming at me or crying because I hurt his feelings.  At that point, it feels like it is too late for this fight to come to a calm conclusion. If I had just opened my eyes to look at him and asked what he needed or wanted, it would have changed the course of the entire situation. Instead, I scoop him up and hold him in my arms and apologize over and over again, allowing the guilt to run so deeply that I ache in my fingertips.

Children’s feelings are often bigger than them and it is our job as the adult to help them to understand their emotions and focus their reactions appropriately.  Next time you feel that pit of anger welling up because your child is doing the exact opposite of what you think he should do… take a breath and walk away so that you can focus on his needs and to help him to work through his feelings.

4)   Take time to play and get in touch with your inner child.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.”  Embracing the nostalgia of what made childhood so great is all about freedom to just have fun, to be outside, to run wildly, to explore, to play a game, to sing, to dance and to, simply, take time to laugh heartily.

While our idea of fun has changed quite a bit as we have aged, I have never seen a person, at any age, with a frown on her face while doing something she loves.  Play with your kiddo as often as possible… remind yourself what it was like to be that young… embrace it and do it often. Show your mini that you are never too old to have fun.

5)   It’s okay to be late.  

Let’s face it, when you have children, being on-time for anything goes out the window.  IT’S OK! It is not the end of the world and people usually understand (and if they don’t, that’s OK, too).  I am not saying be an hour late and expect that others will let it go… but being ten minutes late is not a make-or-break situation.  Don’t stress yourself and your child out by pushing perfection here.

6)   My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.

My mother had this sign hanging on the kitchen wall for my entire childhood.  While we always had a clean home, my mother never worried if our toys were in the living room because that meant we were having fun and that was more important to her than having everything in its place at all times.

Before I had my son, I had a rigid cleaning schedule for my home. I even had a calendar to remind me what to clean and when.  I realized very quickly into parenthood that that way of being caused me more anxiety than anything else. I had to let go a bit and know that the “Cleaning Police” were not going to barge into my house and take me away if there was a little dust on the mantle. If there is a choice between spending time with your family or cleaning… choose family and enjoy every minute.

7)   My child loves me unconditionally.  

I am always amazed that, no matter how many times I “mess up” this parenting thing, my son always gives me a kiss and hug before bed. He never holds onto the anger or resents me for my reactions.  He only wants to know that I will always love him, back. He wants my approval, my guidance, my arms to hug him and for me to play with him as often as possible. Children tend to be more forgiving than adults… we should take a lesson from them.  

8)   It’s okay to give in.  

There are times when I ask myself, “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?”  Not everything has to be something. If it doesn’t matter that much, then don’t make it a bigger deal than it needs to be just to prove a point.  It’s ok to let something go and give in to your child sometimes… you will not ruin him or make him a menace to society if an argument ends with you saying, “You know what? I don’t want to fight anymore… just eat the cookie for dinner and enjoy it.”  Pick your battles.

9)   Children are always testing their wings, not you!  

More often than not, children are trying to see the extent of their own abilities.  They are not purposefully trying to piss you off… it’s not personal. They want to be strong, independent and reach their dreams whether that means wearing the same Superman shirt everyday or climbing to the highest point on the playground.  They don’t know how you feel about the situation and they usually don’t care (children are naturally egocentric… their world is the only world). It’s more about living moment to moment for them rather than whatever consequences will follow.

Take time to explain to them what can happen, or why you are angry, or how they can make better choices rather than yelling at them for not doing something the way you want them to.  They might not always agree or understand, but they will likely feel more loved and respected if you talk with them rather than at them.

10)    I am enough!

There will be plenty of times when you will doubt your abilities and feel like you can do better.  I am a firm believer that the Universe gives us what we need when we need it. Our children challenge us to be better than we’ve ever been before and the Universe would never have done that if it didn’t know that we are ready for it.  You are enough.. in fact, you are more than enough. You are an AWESOME parent!


The Journey Back to Me, Embracing My PTSD

I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in 2014 shortly after the birth of my son. His existence is nothing short of a miracle in the truest sense.   I still feel the sting in my heart and the tears welling up every time I remember the events of that day. It was the best and scariest day of my life.

It’s Time!

It was Memorial Day 2014 at 6:30 am when my fiancé (at the time) informed me that the mild discomfort I was feeling was indeed labor pains.  My mom was sleeping in the guest room in preparation for my due date, so I woke her up and told her it was time. We were all insanely excited that we were finally going to meet this mini-person growing inside of me.  

I was worried that, it being Memorial Day, traffic would be awful during the forty-minute commute to the hospital, but we managed to get there with no delays.  I was checked-in and getting transported to the birthing room by 7:30 am. I was already getting close to full dilation so there was no time for an epidural, which was fine by me since I seemed to be handling the pain easier than I had expected (though that threshold was quickly surpassed and soon I was yelling like every woman does when giving birth- I am not Wonder Woman).  

It was 8 am and the nurse had just told me that we were about ready to push when the alarms started going off on, what seemed like, every machine I was connected to. After that, everything went so fast and seemed like slow motion at the same time.  The doctor came into the room followed by three more nurses and they all worked together to detach machines and whatever else.

The bed began moving out the door and I asked (in a very loud voice), “What is happening? Where are you taking me? What’s going on?”. A nurse was walking next to my bed on the way to the OR attempting to put an IV in my arm while the other nurses spoke medical jargon back and forth.  I just kept repeating, “What is happening? Is my son ok?”. No one answered me for what seemed like an eternity.

We entered the operating room and the doctor looked straight into my eyes and said, “We are knocking you out now. The cord is wrapped around your baby’s neck and he needs to come out.”  After that, they must have knocked me out because my memory is blank.

Lucky to Be Alive?

When I woke up, my fiancé and mother were sitting to my left and the doctor was standing on my right. I felt so confused and everything looked so blurry. The doctor asked me how I felt, and I had no answer… my mouth just wouldn’t open, for some reason.  The doctor said, “Your son is alive in the NICU. As soon as he is stable, a nurse will bring him in. You are both very lucky to be alive.” Those words both relieved me and sunk into my chest like a stone.

He continued to explain that my son was born blue and it took a while to resuscitate him.  He said that, when I am ready, we can talk about the probable issues that my son will face due to the lack of oxygen to his brain for such a long period of time.  

He told me that there were two parts to my own near-morbidity: 1) I had grown a 3lb fibroid along with my son resulting in a twin-like birth and 2) I had suffered a placental adhesion (my placenta attached to my uterine wall and, when it birthed, it ripped the connective tissues).  The combination caused me to lose too much blood resulting in several blood transfusions. I stopped listening after that…the rest is a blur.

When my son was two and a half days old, I saw him for the first time.  He was still on machines, but I was not so the nurse walked me to the nursery to breastfeed him (I was very insistent). I remember the nurse brought me to his crib and he had tubes everywhere. I was afraid to hold him even though the nurse told me I could.

“I’m Not Enough” Sets In

I had heard that a mother feels an instant connection to her child when she breastfeeds for the first time… I did not feel it.  I couldn’t even breastfeed successfully… the nurse had to match my nipple with a tube to give him formula so that he would eat. I wasn’t enough to nourish my baby… I wasn’t enough to give him what he needed. I attributed my disconnection to the two and a half days that had passed before meeting him outside of my womb.

Two hours later, I went back to the nursery to try to feed him again.  I had read that a mother will recognize her baby in a room full of babies and I wished that would be me this time… that the connection would be stronger this time.  When I went to the wrong crib and picked up someone else’s child (the nurse stopped me the moment I picked the wrong baby up), I broke down and felt like a failure immediately… just two and a half days into motherhood.  

The guilt of not having given him a gentle birth and not knowing my only child even after housing him within my body for nine months was overwhelming. All I could think was that not only had my body almost failed me, but it attempted to kill my unborn child and now it feels no connection to him and it won’t let me breastfeed successfully. I hated my body in a fierce way. I hated myself.

The Diagnosis

We finally left the hospital on day five. The next three months were a mixture of intense fears, overwhelming emotions, dramatic reactions, severe nightmares, panic attacks and random, physical pain at extremely inconvenient times. I struggled to breastfeed, and I worried that my son was not gaining weight, so I was at the doctor often.  I was so sure that my child would die from SIDS or some other, unforeseen ailment that I needed to hold him every second to be able to build as many memories of him as possible.

I literally either had him attached to me using the baby pouch or I carried him. I was terrified to let him out of my sight. The one time I let his father stay with him while I went to the grocery store, I broke down crying while getting a grocery cart and I had to return home immediately to pick my son up and bring him with me.  I knew something was off the night I was suffering from the stomach flu and was holding him while vomiting. I was diagnosed three days later.

The Journey Out of Darkness

It has taken years for me to move through my symptoms of PTSD.  It has not been an easy journey and there have been times when my terror has incapacitated me.  It wasn’t until I learned simple tools like “the power of the pause” and “if that, then this” that Ella so insightfully spells out in her Plant-Empowered Coaching Program that I really got hold of my anxiety and irrational fears. I realized that, for my son to live a happy and care-free childhood, I get to channel that energy into positive experiences for both of us.  I am finally able to feel the freedom that comes with being able to rationalize my fears.

I remind myself (often) that I am grateful for my body.  Instead of resenting it for the challenges I faced, I embrace that it held onto my son and prepared him to be the strong boy that he is today.  My body is my ally in every way, always pushing me to overcome adversity. My body allows me to hug and kiss my son and to protect him and that is a gift. Every moment is a precious gift that could have been lost on that beautiful and awful day in May 2014.

Ready to Soar!

My son is now a happy and healthy 4-year-old.  He is within normal range for height and weight and he consistently scores above-average in every physical, emotional and logical test he enters. We try things together that I would never have thought possible… like standing at the seashore enjoying the water on our feet and taking a walk in the woods together.

I have learned that I am enough because I believe in my ability to care for him in every way and to teach him to live boldly. I am a proud mamma and my mini-me is thriving.  We will have adventures together, travel together, laugh together and remind each other how very amazing we truly are, together and apart. I will let him soar when his wings are ready because I know we will both be just fine.

*If you haven’t read Jamie’s first powerful blog post, Mindfully Ever After, check it out HERE!

Mindfully Ever After

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a fair maiden who longed for her prince to whisk her away from her circumstance and help her to live happily ever after.

OK, so “once upon a time” is really about four years ago, “a faraway land” is New jersey, “a fair maiden” is (yep, you guessed it, ME) and I never really longed for a prince to whisk me away, per se… but I did wish to live happily ever after.

I was in the depression of my life.

“Quarter-Life Crisis” hit me in the middle of getting used to being a single mom of a baby, moving across the country, having no job and living on government money, and being extremely overweight and unhealthy.  There is probably a few more details I am skipping, but you get the gist.  I was desolate, confused, hopeless and I felt like it would never change.

I tried my hardest to pick myself up.  I moved in with family, walked outside with my son as often as possible, I cleansed a lot, I did a bunch of yoga and running, I even found a fun job. Things were okay for a couple of months and then… I stopped. I don’t know why… I just stopped.  I felt the burden of the job that I was in, which took me away from my son for twelve and fourteen hours a day, I stopped making time to exercise because I was too tired, and I only found time to eat on the run so my body felt cruddy.

I wanted the change to stick but, like all the years of trying before during each of the, what I call “mini-depressions”, (all of the dieting and cleansing… all of the exercise routines…all of the feeling good) I just stopped every time I started getting the hang of the routine. I knew I had the brains to do it- I reminded myself that I am a college graduate and I worked hard to obtain that.  Yet, I could not get off the cycle.  I hated that piece of myself.  I hated the quitter in me that reared her ugly head every time I started to gain some ground and get my emotions under control.

I was 36 years old and had been doing the same things I had done all of my adult life ~ When life got in the way, I left ME behind.  I always did well at the job I was doing because that mattered more than anything else.  All the other stuff (like taking care of myself) just fell to the wayside.

It took me three more years of listing my grievances with myself until I sat in the emotion.

I stood still and listened instead of spewing out the venomous words of who I imagined myself to be.  I still hated myself for my patterns, but I was finally in a place to begin to accept my faults and move forward.  Instead of trying to control my emotions, I let them do their thing and I just… listened.

After a couple of months of this, I realized that I was ready to try again.  I didn’t know what to do, but I knew something needed to change now. I figured I would begin with food, since that would help me to feel good now. I had been eyeing an add that I kept seeing on my FB page called, “Sexy Fit Vegan” and I decided that it would teach me how to become a vegan, which was a life-goal of mine (living in an Italian family made it tough as resisting cheese was not my strong suit). So, I reached out to Ella Magers and we talked.

Oddly, the discussion about becoming a vegan lasted about eight minutes but the conversation lasted over thirty minutes.  Instead of talking about food, Ella asked me questions about me and who I believe myself to be.

She literally said, “If you want an eating plan, I can send you a book.  If you want a life change, that’s where I can really help.”  I wanted a life change.

After a day of deliberation, I called her back and (hesitantly) told her I wanted in.  Something felt different this time, but I was still so apprehensive considering I was a quitter and I knew that about myself.  I questioned spending more money just to be back in the same place I always wound up in.

I didn’t know what could come of the program, but I figured I would trust the process. After all, the Universe has my back, right?

From day one, I decided to go in it full-force and be “perfect” about it (same habit as always).  I exercised that day… woke up at before dawn and meditated, did yoga and ran.  Then I played with my son and went to work.  During lunch break, I was tired, but I listed to all the module one videos and printed out the materials to begin when I got home.  Can you guess what happened when I got home?  Yep- I had to make dinner, give my son a bath, get myself ready for bed, prepare lunches for the next day and then… I crashed.

The exact same cycle happened for five straight days.  Day six, I skipped the morning meditation, yoga and run to sleep in.  I had already felt like a failure just six days in.  However, I believe myself to be the Queen of Reinvention, so I put my big-girl panties on and tried again.

I decided to take a breath and do it differently this time; start small to get big results.  I began focusing on what mattered instead of trying to be perfect.  This change needed to happen for me this time… not because I wanted to look a certain way or focus on my future self. The change needed to happen to focus on my current self… to be a better me now.

In the next few months, I meticulously worked my way through the modules.  I drank in every bit of wisdom like it was the last water on earth.  I listened intently to the videos, I participated in the check-ins, I did my homework and I began to let go little by little.  Along the way, so much came up that I didn’t even realize was on my heart- and I still did the work.

Along the way, anger boiled within me and sadness took over- and I still did the work.  Along the way, regret and shame came up quite a bit- and I still did the work.  Along the way, I wanted to quit and I even wavered on my ability to handle more- and I still did the work.  Moving away from perfection has allowed me to become my true, authentic self.

Fast forward through six months of letting go, understanding, accepting, getting angry, celebrating, disappointment, and just breathing and I have come to the realization that I am pretty freaking awesome!

I like me… I never really liked me before. And that woman who was always a quitter… I understand her now.

I understand that the obsessive exercising and cleansing and crash diets were simply a band aid.  I understand that waking up at 4:30am to do what “should” be done was not sustainable because she didn’t know why it mattered to take care of herself.  I understand that she was so broken inside that a quick fix was never going to be the answer.  She and I are best friends now and we work together to pick up every little piece one-by-one to weave together our beautiful life quilt.

Sure, along the way, I also became a vegan… but that was not until six months into the program, when I was at a place where I truly let go of the emotions I was holding onto so tightly.

It is only now that I realize that counting calories and weighing food and constant dieting is NOT the way I want to live… it is simply too stressful.  I like eating in alignment with my beliefs and I like feeling good about what I am putting into my body and THAT is why I am a vegan. But I had to clear out a lot of who I thought I was to know who I really am.

And so, she lives… mindfully ever after.