Parenting with a PhD: Mommy Mindfulness

By Kristen Berthiaume:

Remember those quizzes we took as teenagers (“Are you a huge flirt?!”)? The ones in magazines geared towards grown women that we probably shouldn’t have been reading in the first place? Let’s take one now, shall we?

Are You a Great Mom?

If your kids ate breakfast today, give yourself 10 points
If breakfast was on a stick or consisted of last night’s leftovers, take away 5 points
If you remembered to put on pants this morning, give yourself 10 points.
If they’re not yoga pants, give yourself an additional 2 points
If you volunteer at your children’s school, give yourself 15 points
If you get out of the house to socialize with friends at least once a year, give yourself 15 points
If your child has ever announced to a full restaurant that she pooped in her pants/needs to throw up/thinks your breath stinks/has a vagina/hates your guts, give yourself 40 points
If you’ve ever accidentally left your child alone somewhere briefly (Whoops!), take away 5 points
If you said, “I love you” to your kid before school, give yourself 20 points
If your kid said something rude in response, give yourself an additional 5 points
If you ignored the rude response, give yourself 5 more points
If you constantly brag about your kids on Facebook, take away 5 points (Sorry, but your friends really don’t like this)
If none of your children is currently beating up any other of your children, give yourself 20 points
If you’re a Stay-at-Home Mom, give yourself 15 points
If you’re a Working Mom, give yourself 15 points
If you make a healthy, delicious, three-course dinner every night for your family, give yourself 30 points
If you feed your family any type of food on a daily basis, or supervise the feeding of your family in any way on a semi-regular basis, give yourself 30 points
If you’ve ever taken your kids to a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese, give yourself 50,000 points

OK, hopefully you came out of that with at least a few points intact. But, just like with those magazine quizzes, the above questions have very little to do with your actual skill at parenting. The point is, there are days where we all feel like we’re failing. Really, horribly failing. But, hopefully, most of us also have times we feel at least 85% sure we’re getting some things right. Like the days when we’re actually on time and no one has dirt under his nails and everyone is reasonably calm (or at least too distracted to be whining).

Parenting is a J-O-B. Hopefully you have a co-worker or two but for some it’s a one-person operation. Your boss is indecisive (“I said I HATE the purple socks!!”), poorly-kempt (what is that in her hair?), and slightly paranoid (“He’s LOOKING AT ME!”). The hours are grueling (Read: Never-ending) and the pay is awful (except for the hand-drawn pictures – those are nice). The performance evaluations are alternately baseless and overly harsh (“You forgot to give me a straw. I HATE you!!”) and flattering to the point of delusional (Case in point: My son thought it was me when he saw Jessica Chastain at the Golden Globes. The kid is cuckoo but I didn’t correct him).  Parenting is not supposed to be easy. If someone told you otherwise, that person was either A) Lying or B) Drunk.

Instead of keeping score, try accepting that every day is not going to be a slam- dunk. Practice Mommy Mindfulness by observing what’s going on around you – including the weird goo dripping down the bathroom mirror – and just accepting it. Yes, you should probably wipe that goo off at some point (seriously – is that what’s in her hair?) but you don’t have to take its very existence to be proof that you’re an unfit parent. What do you observe when you look around the house? Some things are in place – others are definitely not. What do you hear your kids saying or doing? Was that a giggle or a cry? Is that nail polish you smell and, if so, why? Where? WHERE??? (Deep breath).

Being a Mindful Mommy means you don’t have to make constant excuses for why you and your kids (and your house and your car) aren’t perfect – you just have to take note of it all, the good and the bad, and move on. Instead of berating yourself for screaming, you make a mental note: “I yelled at my daughter to get her to stop yelling” followed by a judgment-free, easy to remember mantra like, “Noted” or “So, that just happened.” Do you notice regular patterns that are causing problems for the family? Maybe it’s time to do something about those. But, involve everyone in making the changes – all of the issues aren’t reflective of you alone. At the same time, by being more mindful you’ll become more aware of how sweet your oldest is when her sister’s telling about a kid who teased her at school. You’ll start to realize that, at least 3 nights out of the week, your son lets you put his PJs on without elbowing you in the face. As these little successes start to add up, you will find that (a few) things are really going (fairly) well after all (some of the time). And, although you may not get points for everything you do, you may come to truly value the role you play in your family and how incalculable your contributions are to everyone else.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” because these are the words I think to when I feel overwhelmed by the discrepancy in what I’ve accomplished versus what I needed to accomplish:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

You’re doing a great job, Mom. Take note of that – then move on. (But, eventually, you probably should clean that mirror).

About this column: Send your parenting- and kid-related questions my way and I’ll tell you what I can: Please be aware that email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information so it’s best to keep your questions general. If your question is featured, your name and email will not be published. Submitting a question does not constitute a professional relationship in any way and this column is not meant to substitute for face-to-face therapy. If you feel you’re doing the best you can and still need help, it may be time to bring in a professional. Start by talking with your child’s pediatrician to get a referral.

Kristen Berthiaume, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with Grayson and Associates ( She obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Kentucky. She completed a predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a post- doctoral fellowship in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) Program at Duke University Medical Center. She specializes in providing assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families dealing with the following issues: ADHD, learning disorders, social skill deficits, organizational problems, behavioral difficulties, anxiety, and depression. She generally focuses on behavioral and cognitive- behavioral techniques, but maintains a flexible approach to therapy. Her other day job is as mom to her six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son, and as incubator to a third kiddo.

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