“It’s all about surrender,” I once told my friend and colleague when discussing how I was coping with my new role as a mother. “I can’t get anything done, ever. But on the days where I am so tired that I don’t even try, those are days that tend to be better.”
“You should write that down”, she said. So I did. SURRENDER, on a post-it note on my nightstand. It was a little bizarre; as if I was surrendering to a tiny newborn who was totally dependent on me. Or, rather, sometimes I was surrendering. Other times I was raging against the loss of my freedom, my energy, my mind. I was angry that I was stuck in my messy house while my husband was at work, having conversations and going to the bathroom whenever he wanted. I hated the fact that I was obsessed with SIDS and anxious and couldn’t sleep even when the baby was asleep. Those days when I raged, when I tallied the inequities and googled “does sleep deprivation cause brain damage?” (answer: maybe) were the worst days, the days that dragged on and on and I watched the clock and cried when my daughter only took a 20 minute nap. I sent a mass email to my friends who had kids: “How do you survive this?”
The reply: you just do, it sucks.
So, back to surrender.
The word surrender can bring to mind defeat, submission, resignation. But with defeat, there can be peace because we’ve laid down our sword and the battle is over. From a mindfulness perspective, surrender is necessary to see clearly. In his book “Going to Pieces without Falling Apart” psychiatrist and mindfulness teacher Mark Epstein writes about surrender and presents the metaphor of a child unafraid to be left alone, free to have a new experience. With surrender, or willingness, there can be self-discovery and the potential for something new to emerge.
For me, part of surrender is letting go of the stories I am telling myself about what is happening so that I can tune into what is actually happening, right now. Sometimes what is actually happening is my child is awake, again, at 4am. Sometimes what is actually happening is I am feeling very tired. Sometimes the house is, in fact, pretty dirty. But in the moments when I stop raging and battling against the reality of the here and now and instead surrender, I can breathe a little easier. This is already happening. Attend to what is here. When I stop paying so much attention to what is going on in my head I am more present for my children and myself. Being present is good, even if the day is still hard. It makes it more likely that I will notice and appreciate the good stuff. In the midst of the mess, there is the moment when my toddler daughter is patting my infant son on the head and calling him “sweet baby boy.” Do these moments make it worth it? Who knows? Who cares? These are the moments that I want to remember.