The Marathon of Parenthood

The Marathon of Parenthood

“When my friends without kids tell me they’re ‘so busy,’ I have to laugh quietly to myself. Juggling two children, two mortgages, and two jobs, I have to run fast just to stand still. It all often seems like an incredible grind. I drop into bed exhausted, and then rev up the engines yet again when the alarm goes off in the morning. I feel a growing need for some sense of perspective. Otherwise, what’s the point? No doubt, I love my children SO MUCH. But what IS the point? Just a grind until they’re launched themselves? And then when my daughter becomes a mom herself, she just gets to go through it all over again?”

You ask some very powerful questions, and in response, we’d like to offer this advice.

Parenthood is a long journey, a marathon, not a sprint.

It begins before your first child is born: that incredible moment when you know a new being has been conceived, the long pregnancy, fixing up the baby’s room, finally the birth itself, and then the little breathing bundle, the life delivered into your arms. The details differ a bit if you’ve adopted a child, but the essentials are the same: anticipation, nervousness, and an extraordinary love.

Some parts are a blur and others a long slow grind. Feeding, diapers, long nights with the baby, the first steps, the first words, the first everything. Tantrums, story time, bouncing a ball, wiping a chin, high chairs, tiny chairs, wiping crayons off chairs. Day care, nursery school, the first day of first grade, watching that sturdy back trudge down the hall to class.

Camps, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, bullies, buddies, soccer games, Little League, balls caught, dropped, kicked, and lost. Chores, bedtimes, discipline, angry words and loving forgiveness.

The grades tick by, good teachers and bad, science fairs and spelling lists, too much homework or not enough, that great moment when your child knows the answer to a question and you don’t.

Somewhere in there your youngest turns eight or ten and you think, It’s half over, where has the time gone? Middle school, high school, pimples and makeup and dating and fingernails chewed after midnight until you hear a step at the door. Strange music and stranger friends, coltish and gawky, solemn and wise. All the while, the birthdays have ticked by, some with numbers that echo: one, two, six, ten, thirteen, sixteen. Then the eighteenth: what now?

The marathon doesn’t end there, though it becomes more meandering and less consuming. Loans that are really gifts, advice that is rejected loudly and followed quietly, graduations, postcards from Mexico or Maui, the bittersweet joy of watching your child walk down a wedding aisle, a down-payment with your name on it. If your children have kids, your journey takes on a second sort of parenting.

You age and your children don’t seem to. There comes that time when the trajectory of your life is clearly falling back to earth as your children’s ascends. You drift into old age and there is a subtle shift of care and power. And then the final moments come, your veined and aged hands in the strong ones of your children, squeezing, a kiss, a final blessing, a farewell, an ending to the path you walked as a parent, and the beginning of a mysterious new one.

It’s a long, long road. You have to pace yourself down it, not racing like it’s a hundred-yard dash. You have to set aside time to catch your breath – and admire the view! You need good companions, like a loving and supportive partner, and the company of other parents. You need to keep replenishing yourself with good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and enjoyable activities. You need realistic expectations for yourself. And faith and hope that the months and years ahead will give you more chances to get things right.

If you regarded parenthood as a long marathon, spanning twenty years or more, how might you shift the demands you place on yourself? How might you assert yourself to get more help from others? How might you take better care of your body? Or better nourish your inner being? Or simply be nicer to yourself?

When you start taking the long view about the incredible and profound matter of bearing and rearing children, it starts to make more sense, the daily hassles are less irritating, you’re likely to take better care of yourself – and the journey becomes less stressful, more meaningful, and more rewarding!

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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