What Matters When It Comes to Parenting

The importance of staying present for yourself and your kids

At its best, parenting is about showing up for ourselves and our children as often as we can, with as much kindness as we can muster. When we do that, over and over again, we are getting parenting right, even when it feels like we are doing everything wrong.

We are showing our children, in the most powerful and meaningful way possible, that we love them, that we are committed to them, and that they are worthy of our time, attention, and energy.

And each time we make the choice to focus on our own needs, we're telling ourselves that we matter deeply as well, and we are modeling the importance of self-awareness and self-care.

Our commitment to staying grounded is what allows us to show up for the unpredictability, boredom, and confusion of parenting again and again. Each time we do this, we are showing ourselves that we are good parents, capable of loving another person more than we ever thought possible, and able to endure the hardest work we may have ever done.

Practicing something – anything – isn't always fun, and we can feel frustrated and defeated at times. Fortunately, the power of practice is that we get better at it. And I believe everyone can get better at parenting.

I am not saying that we need to work harder or pick the right parenting philosophy – attachment parenting or benign neglect or whatever. I'm not going to tell you which sports to sign your kid up for, or how many hours of screen time they should get each day, or what to do when you find your daughter's pot stash. Even if I did have the answers, my opinions would only knock your internal compass off center and pull your attention away from the reality of what is in front of you.

Rather, if you take the time to really figure out what is going on for you and your kid, if you can learn to trust your experience, you'll figure out what you need to do, which may range from hanging out in the emotional mud with your kid until the storm clears, to consulting an expert for advice on how to handle tricky situations or ongoing challenges. As long as you stick around –  physically, mentally, and emotionally – as much as you can, whatever you do will be good enough. Really.

Whatever challenges we may face, from addiction to developmental challenges to ailing parents, the best shot any of us have at getting this parenting gig right is to learn to focus our energy and attention on the factors that will keep us as connected as possible to our children – and as grounded as possible in the process.

The reality is that most of us spend a great deal of our mental energy stressing about the details we think we can control and whether or not we got them right. Are we the only parents who sent our kid to school with store-bought Valentines? How do we deal with the blue Mohawk and nose jewelry that our teenager is now proudly sporting? The reality is that store-bought Valentines are sparkly and awesome (I know from experience), the hair will grow out, and the nose will heal.

If we're not wrapped up in our own sorry stories about all the ways we're not perfect parents, we're dissecting the past ("I shouldn't have let my son know how much I don't like his new girlfriend! What was I thinking?"), obsessing about the future ("How am I going to pay for cheerleading this year? The gear is so expensive. But what if my daughter is the only one who isn't on the squad? I remember what that was like . . . and it was horrible."), or comparing ourselves to other parents. ("How the hell do they make it look so easy?")

There is no question that we need to spend time reflecting, planning, and learning from others, but more often than not, our time and energy are best spent acknowledging and accepting what is actually happening so we can move forward, rather than getting lost in temporary details, the perceptions (or misperceptions) of others, the past, the future, or things that we have very little control over. The trick is to notice that we've gotten ourselves lost, and then bring ourselves back, again and again, to the stuff that matters.

Excerpted from Parenting in the Present Moment by Carla Naumburg, PhD © 2014 Parallax Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.