Note: An earlier version of this post appeared in my local column, Mothering Honestly, in Sarasota’s Mommy Magazine. I’ve published it here to share with my blog readers.
I have found that one of the most difficult aspects of becoming a parent is learning to trust your own knowing. This is one of the hardest parts about becoming a full person, actually.
I sometimes meet people who seem completely unable to be with themselves. And obviously, if you don’t know how to be with yourself, you are very unlikely to become acquainted with your own intuition. Believe me, I suffer from this condition as well, in some seasons more so than others. In my case, I can tell when I have not checked in with myself by my anxiety level. If my anxiety level is high and I feel ungrounded, a bit like a chicken running around with its head cut off, it is very likely due to the fact that I am frantically searching outside of myself for something that can only be found within: my own inner authority.
Many women are still learning how to access and trust our intuition, our instincts, our inner authority, our “Higher Self” (whatever you prefer to call it) when we become mothers. Perhaps we were taught that we could not trust ourselves, that we must always rely on experts. Maybe we learned that it is imperative to collect everyone else’s opinion before even considering our own. Or maybe we were never presented with any challenge that would force us to meet our own inner strength (many indigenous cultures had initiatory Rites of Passage for this very purpose). Having a child may indeed be the most trying experience we have encountered in life thus far, it may be the very thing that finally calls us to go deeper and make friends with our interiority.
Was it this difficult for people of the past to develop and rely on their instincts? Possibly. Although I am inclined to believe that people of earlier time periods had no choice but to develop a hearty intuition: ancient people lived the daily rhythms of human survival. The animal, instinctual part of their brains must have been very much alive because without it, they would not be. I know not to idealize this period of history and that’s not my intent. As mentioned frequently on this blog, I love my indoor plumbing. But I do think its safe to say that our ancestors had far bigger fish to fry than worrying about how many “likes” their latest post would get. And as a result, I can only assume that they were able to hone their intuition to a blade.
It’s no wonder that modern people are confused about what we truly know. First of all, it is quite easy to stay alive in the world we belong to, which means that we can allow our base instincts to get a bit flabby. Why flex our inner voice when Google can answer our question much quicker? If we are having relationship problems, there is sure to be a totally shareable blog post which addresses those very problems in small bites!
Secondly, we know a lot, don’t we? We are inundated with information at every moment. We have Full House re-runs stored in our brains, Drake songs stuck in our head, a million conflicting self-help books on our bed stand, a svelte screen in our pocket that can show us the headlines in Paris or Baghdad. We can hunt and gather information with the pads of our fingers! We can quite literally research any question and receive full information on that subject without any real exertion. Even if we forgo the smart phone and do without screens of any kind in our home, information still finds its way to us via the buzzing technology that surrounds and supports contemporary society.
Therefore, even if a person decided that they wanted to become better acquainted with their own deeper knowing (some folks may never decide to do this), they would have to wade through the rapids of information already charging through their minds. This would include not only our personal, lived history with all of our private memories but also everything we have been exposed over our lifetime. People living on the planet at this moment are being exposed to far more than what is historically normal for our species. The current of information that we moderns face is deadly strong. And then there is the task of not only fording that river of information, but of finding something deep in those rapids or on the riverside that is truly ours, a smooth and weighty stone of our own making. A stone that you tuck into your palm only to find that it fits exactly.
Parenthood makes this whole intuition-stone-hunting scenario even trickier. So here we are: struggling to know ourselves and to use our doughy intuition to make the best choices as adults, when we suddenly become parents! And now there is this baby, a dependent in every sense of the word, and we must make wise decisions on his or her behalf as well. So we are attempting to swim across the crushing rapids with this baby strapped to us when Bill Sears rows by and shouts something about attachment parenting. And then your neighbor shows up to spray you in the face with her jet ski and tells you to give the baby more rice cereal and before you know it, the rapids are completely populated by well-intentioned souls cruising by in their boats and canoes, on surfboards and water skis, throwing their favorite floatation devices at your face, offering you conflicting opinions on parenting. And as you are being pelted in the face by all this helpful information, you are still trying desperately to keep your own head (and the baby’s head) above the rushing water, the water which appears to contain everything you’ve ever experienced or researched in all of your life. Even the water is shouting at you, except that it doesn’t sound like water at all, it sounds like old school dial-up Internet access. And of course the baby is crying.
I have not been a mother for very long and there are not many things that I know for sure about parenting. But I do know you must go deep, you must go inward, you must learn to be with yourself and know your own heart before you can begin to feel secure in your choices as a parent. This may mean that you have to set aside the noise that is buzzing around you, or at least learn to turn the volume down. You don’t have to ask the Target checkout lady and everyone else on Earth their opinion anymore. When an opinion is given without your invitation, you can choose whether or not to receive it. In certain cases, you may in fact have to say a firm NO THANK YOU to the violent stream of information that is continuously coming at you.
But if you do this, if you set aside the exterior voices every now and again, you may actually be able to hear your own instincts.
This is easy enough for me to say. I know full well that it is much harder to do.
I fully believe that if you can be with yourself and come to identify your own voice, you can ultimately pull the plug on the river of bullshit threatening to drown you. And then you will see that the stream you were struggling in actually belonged entirely to you. You are the only guardian over it. You can easily climb out and drain it. Then maybe you can fill your heart with things you actually enjoy, like: trusted friendships, the quartz sand from Siesta beach, a musty-smelling book of poems, or memories of your great-grandmother, or the breakfast scramble empanadas you find at the Downtown Market. It’s not as if life’s hard decisions will ever miraculously vanish. But once you come to know yourself on a deeper level, those choices won’t feel so hard to make.
If you want to develop your intuition, start by learning the simplest yet most important things about yourself. It sounds too easy, but seriously, pay close attention to what you like and what you do not like. Thats the best place to begin! If even that sounds hard for you, you may need to begin by allowing yourself to have your own feelings. Write yourself a permission slip if necessary. From there, start to take notice of what feels good and what feels awful: in relationships, in conversations, in everyday moments. Take notes, keep a journal if you must. From there, you can try to understand the whys, the simple patterns that trigger comfort versus discomfort. Not all discomfort is inherently bad and not all comfort is inherently good, so you have to do some digging. This is the basic skill of attending to yourself.Sadly, not everyone has learned that it is a good thing to do. I’m here to tell you: it is good thing to listen to yourself. With practice, you will come to know exactly what your essential needs are. In time, you will know how to meet those needs on your own. To put it another way, you’ll know how to care for yourself. And when you feel cared for, you feel capable. Intuition is just knowing yourself well enough to know what to do.
Not to be a buzzkill, but you might as well hear it from me: finding your own knowing, your own intuition doesn’t necessarily mean that you will always know exactly what to do as a parent, or as a person for that matter. Sometimes you get lucky and it’s like that, but I’ve discovered that most of the time you find those precious stones, those raw feelings and instincts hidden inside of yourself and realize that you still have your work cut out for you. You still have to roll those stones around in your hands for quite some time.
But even if you are sitting with confusion or uncertainty, at least this time you can rest in the knowledge that it’s yours. Whatever feeling you may be struggling with completely belongs to you. At last you will know how to tell when a feeling is truly yours (and when it is someone else’s emotion or opinion being projected onto you).
Knowing that much is enough. Knowing that much is everything.