Trusting your own intuition – creating your own experience of Motherhood
By Paige Nolan
I am standing in my parents’ kitchen when my mom says, “Your children are such a joy, honey. You’re doing a great job.” I have just returned from a three-mile run outside in the early morning New Orleans heat. I am staying with my parents, in my childhood home, with my three children for a few weeks. It’s summer, and I am so hot. I can’t scoop the ice from the freezer into my cup fast enough. When you’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past 12 years, you forget what humidity really feels like. If I were less desperate for the cold water, I would pause with my mother’s statement – take it in. My mom doesn’t easily dish out compliments like this to me or to my sister. It happens a few times a year, like a lunar eclipse – an exciting moment in (human) nature that is worthy of beholding. “Thanks, mom,” I say as I lift the cup and gulp too fast, water runs down my chin and I don’t care. I am soaking wet all over.
“But there is something I’m concerned about….” Mom steps closer to me and I step back, place my cup on the counter and find a space by the table where I can fold over my legs and stretch my hamstrings. Here we go. She’s taken up her perch and look out. She’s found what’s wrong, what’s missing. This is one of her greatest skills.
“Okay,” I say with my nose to my knees. I don’t want her eye contact. I don’t want to look at the problem she sees.
“…I wish you took your children to church.” I stand up and lift my arms up, to heaven – and bend to the right. “I mean, what will they know of religion if you don’t get them into a routine – they need a foundation. They need a base understanding of God and the Bible. It can give them a place to go that doesn’t change.”
I stand up straighter, lift my arms higher, and bend to the left. Everything changes, I think. But I decide to keep this idea to myself.
“We go to church sometimes, Mom.”
She is quiet. I open to a wide stance and hang my head between my legs. It is still quiet. She needs to be right and there’s tension in the room. “Okay…” I come up and look at her directly, “we don’t go very often. It’s not part of our weekly life – to be honest, it hasn’t been a priority.”
“Exactly – that worries me. Children need a quiet place to go and they need community and a place to talk to God.”
My children have a quiet place to go. They have access to all sorts of reflective space, internal and external. They have community and they can talk to God anywhere at any time in any place. I have taught my children about God. I don’t reserve God for Sunday morning – faith and reflection and prayer – these are ideas I address Tuesday afternoon and sometimes Wednesday night or even Friday morning before school when in the midst of the flurry of frustration to get out of the door on time, I close my eyes and BREATHE in front of them to stay calm. That’s a prayer. I even say aloud – dear God, help me – and they hear it.
I have taught my children something about religion, a few things. I have taught my children MANY things about faith.
I know this for sure but all of the sudden, I am worried.
What if I have been doing it WRONG? My mom has a point. The Critic always has a point.
As a parent, these are the moments I find the most challenging: the self-questioning, the wavering, the uncertainty, the pressure we feel to do right by our children in the face of a person (or organization) who appears to be so SURE of what is right.
But what is right for me? What is right for my family, for my lifestyle? Can I even hear my own answer? Have I attached to the idea that there is a universal and unwavering RIGHT – because I don’t actually believe that – but at times, it feels difficult to stand by my own way of being a mother.
It takes a certain presence of mind to remember what we’ve learned from our personal parenting journey. It’s a presence that is required to respond, rather than react, when you are invited into another person’s opinion about your parenting. I get very present in that kitchen. And I remember: nobody has all of the answers. I have some answers, but I don’t have ALL of them. What I do have, and what we all have, is a lot of questions.
Questions need space – and sometimes they even require us to stretch.
And that’s what I do. “I hope you don’t worry too much,” I tell my mom. “I think everything’s going to be alright….” I refill my cup of water and leave the room.
When I am alone in my room I sit on the ground with my legs in front of me and reach for my toes. This is where I can feel the answer to my approach to instilling faith in my children. The church saved my mom’s life. She had a shitty childhood – one colored with neglect and alcoholism. She felt unsafe in her home. She felt safe in the church; she felt God in the church. I had a great childhood. I felt God everywhere. My sister and I often sneaked out of Sunday school and walked to Liz’s house to play with her cats. I felt God on that walk as much as I felt Him kneeling in a pew.
The church built my mom’s faith. In the church, she found her sanctuary.
I have built my own church – a place inside of myself where I can practice my faith. It is a personal sanctuary I constructed with the raw materials of my Life, starting with my mother’s example. I didn’t need a minister to tell me about compassion, kindness, or service the same way my mom did as a child – I was watching those values in action when I watched my mom.
Church is one thing to my mom. It is quite another thing to me. Neither one of us is right.
The closest feeling I’ve come to being “right” as a parent is being honest as a parent.
Just like my mom introduced me to her authentic belief in God and Christianity by taking me to church consistently, I have introduced my children to mine by not taking them to church consistently. I don’t know which way is better. I don’t know that one way creates more of a foundation than another way.
Is it possible that the best foundation we can offer to our children is less about what we do with our children and more about who we are with our children?
It’s easy to worry that we are not doing it right – it’s easy to go down that path of ‘wrongness.’ It’s much harder to get still, to grow quiet and stretch into the answers within ourselves that best represent who we are and what we believe. If you can do that, if you can fold over and look IN instead of OUT, there you will find yourself and that is what your child wants and needs more than anything else in the world. Your child needs you: the honest, questioning, answering, true YOU. When you act from that place, when you make decisions and offer explanations and guide from that place, about ANYTHING, that’s as right as you can ever be.
Paige Nolan, M.A. is a writer, speaker, and coach devoted to honoring the truth of women’s lives. As a former preschool teacher, college guidance counselor, and now life coach for women, Paige has devoted her career to supporting women and families. Her studies in Human Development at Vanderbilt University and Psychology at Columbia University, combined with her real-world experience managing her career and family life, establish the foundation for Paige’s coaching practice. Paige lives in Los Angeles with her husband, three young children, and two dogs. Visit www.paigenolan.com to find out more about Paige and her work.