“Don’t fight the pain—breathe into it.”
When we’re pregnant, childbirth educators tell us to resist tensing up against the pain of contractions. When our muscles tighten, we create more resistance and less relaxation. When we instead face the discomfort and understand that each period of pain will begin, intensify and then recede like a wave, birth gets a little bit easier.
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During my second labor, I got it. There were periods of rest between each stabbing contraction—the pain wouldn’t last forever. I could do this—I was doing this.
As it turns out, this advice can serve us far beyond the intense but short-lived pain of labor.
I’m far from perfect. But sometimes I remember to just relax against the harder moments, to catch a glimpse of perspective.
On any given day of parenting, it’s a guarantee that I’ll experience tantrums, fights and general uncooperativeness. If I’m tired, or PMSing, or just in a grouchy mood, I’m more vulnerable to these periods of discomfort. My voice rises, my tone becomes snappy, and I argue back. Why can’t they just listen to me? I wonder. Why is everything so damned hard?
I tense up against the contractions of childrearing.
Lately, I’ve been reminding myself that each moment of conflict, just like those painful contractions of childbirth, will pass. When my son gets up from the dinner table from the 37th time? When my daughter refuses to brush her teeth because “I’m a puppy and puppies don’t brush their teeth”? These moments will pass. So I can continue to tense up against the hard moments, and yell, make threats and generally get caught in the drama of my own frustration.
Or I can see them for what they are: difficult but temporary moments.
Just like contractions, these challenging moments will be followed with some calm moments, or some hilarious moments, or some snuggly moments, and then probably another heaping of conflict. It can be hard to accept that this is the rhythm of parenting: the chaotic mealtimes, sibling rivalry and rude outbursts, along with the cuddles, the fierce, wild love and the constant surprise of having created humans who are a universe of their own opinions, personality and quirks.
Basically, child-rearing is just like the rest of life: an assortment of difficult, mundane, funny, outrageous moments—but compressed. With kids, we might throttle through all the moments several times in a 15-minute period. Like labor, it’s intense, dizzying and overwhelming.
I’m far from perfect. I often raise my voice, spew words I regret and expel dramatic, audible sighs. But sometimes I remember to just relax against the harder moments, to catch a glimpse of perspective, like when my daughter takes the pace of an injured slug when it’s time to get in her carseat, or when my son belches like a truck driver at the dinner table, or when they’re shrieking in each others’ faces like rabid wildebeests. Sometimes I remember to breathe through it, to relax, because it will pass—because it’s all just part of this messy, crazy, hard, gorgeous ride.