Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

From her solo swims my nana was able to regain the perspective that allowed her to parent with more patience for herself and her kids.

Swimming Between Buoys: A Mother’s Day Message

Nobody is nailing this parenting gig

Swimming between bouys: May we

Sarah Bergman Lewis

First, let me introduce myself. I am a mom to two kids—ages 13 and 11—plus a dog and a cat. I am also a pediatrician and the oldest daughter of Seattle’s Child founder and publisher Ann Bergman. 

Second, let’s get the bad news (for you and for me) out of the way right up front: Being a pediatrician doesn’t give me instant access to answers to the endless questions of parenting. 

That means that in this column, I will often write to you what I need to hear. It also means that while I look forward to sharing reflections on muddling through life as a parent and kid doctor, I really hope you will share your insights as well. 

Here’s a snapshot of my mothering life: 

I was so pleased to finally have a moment to start writing this piece from the car at my daughter’s Ultimate Frisbee tournament. I was soon interrupted by a request to fetch lunch.  While dutifully driving to buy food (I have accepted that we are not a “pack ahead family”),  I spotted a mama duck escorting her four ducklings across our six-lane expressway. I stopped, motioning and yelling out the window to other drivers, and held my breath as I watched her march on.  I recognized the fortitude of that mama and when they made it across the highway, I even shed a few fatigued tears of relief and camaraderie.

We are all that mama duck doing our darndest to guide our families to safety. The challenges look different at different ages and life chapters, but the desire and determination to make it to that other side are always there. Of course, that doesn’t mean it comes easy or doesn’t take great effort. When I reflected to my middle school teacher husband on how weary I felt that week, he responded: “Yes. We are like spawning salmon just trying to get our kids upstream.” 

It’s a depressing if not apt metaphor, given that, thank you Google, less than 5% of our local salmon survive their annual migration. 

So how do we keep our heads high like that mama duck? How do we make it across the parenting road intact and maybe even raise the bar a little higher than simple survival? 

I think a good start comes in accepting that we are pioneers in this frontier of parenting where the pace and volume of what comes at us in daily life objectively outmatch the capacity of a human nervous system. Owning that, we allow our children, with all their needs, to continually bring us back to the present moment—the one right in front of us—and savor the milestones and the firsts that allow our hearts to swell and ache with the bittersweet flow of parenting. 

I notice that sometimes we mothers rob ourselves of the full feeling of those big moments by tempering our joy—or our achy nostalgia—with comparison.  “How can I feel this joy while children are living in a war zone?” Or, on the flip side, “Why do I find this difficult when so many families have it ‘so much harder?” 

Behind this inner dialogue are confidence-destroying questions: What is wrong with me? Why can’t my family do this better? 

As a pediatrician, I have the advantage of seeing many families. Through these honest and often vulnerable interactions, I am learning to trust myself more as a mother; that is, to understand that “it’s not me.” Just as it isn’t you.

Hear it again here: None of us is perfect. Nobody is nailing this parenting gig. We, like our kids, are always, as writer Anne Lamott says, comparing our insides to others’ outsides. The key is to stay in our own lane and offer ourselves more grace.  

My truest beacon of parenting wisdom is my own mom, a woman who gave birth to five kids, parented seven and mentored countless others. Often transmitting the advice of her mom, my Nana, my mom directs me back to what is important in the day-to-day and invites me to take credit when credit is due. “You made a good meal for your family today and you all sat together. Let that be enough for today,” she’ll tell me.  

My Nana, who parented four children in an era with its own advantages and challenges, would remind me of the importance of “having a life outside your kids.”  One of the ways my nana created this space was through regular solo swims in Puget Sound. I believe it was during these times– swimming between buoys– that she was able to regain the perspective that allowed her to parent on land with more patience for herself and her kids.

While it surely would improve parenting for all of us if our society were better structured to support families, most parents don’t have direct control over that. But we do have at least some control over our inner voice, which, with practice, can be less judgmental and more encouraging.

Here, on the occasion of Mother’s Day, I want to offer the whisperings of the inner voice I am working hard to listen to:

May we accept that time is not magical nor elastic and know that what we did today was plenty.

May we give ourselves credit for all we are holding. 

May we aim lower. 

May we be seen in our trying, our ambivalence, our exhaustion and our joy and know that these feelings can all co-exist. 

May we not have to decide what is for dinner again. 

May we respect our bodies for all they are doing. 

May we be the type of person that we needed as a child. 

May we seek and accept help not just for our children but for ourselves.

May we be patient with our own evolution as, like our kids, we are always a work in progress. 

May we accept that things will get easier— and then harder and then easier again.

May we work to find ways to self-soothe and feel our feelings beyond reaching for our phones.

May we accept that we are doing our best (and so are our kids). 

May we stay in our lane and know that our experience is valid.

May we know that even when we feel alone, we are in good company. 

May we find our way back to our center and begin again (and again) amidst the whack-a-mole nature of parenting. 

May we remember that it’s not us. This feels hard because it is hard. 

May we have the fortitude of the salmon and the bravery of the mother duck. 

May we take comfort in the fact that mothers throughout generations and around the world are performing the same hard and holy tasks. 

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

Read more from Dr. Sarah Bergman Lewis:

Unmasking anxiety: Resources for families

Caring for your sick child: free online expert Q & A

 

About the Author

Dr. Sarah Bergman Lewis

Reach Dr. Sarah Bergman Lewis at sarah.bergmanlewis@seattleschild.com