Safe Harbor Mama

A few weeks ago in my weekly women’s circle, our “homework” was to “try on” something we really wanted to be or do. To act as if. To practice a little fake-it-til-you-make-it. I decided to check out what it felt like to be a “safe harbor” mama.

To me, that’s the kind of mother who creates a welcoming, safe place for her children, no matter what’s going on. The kind of mom my kids will turn to, even when they’re older, even when they’ve really screwed something up. It’s the same basic idea as gentle, natural, or attachment parenting. Whatever you call it, I’ve been concerned that I’m not becoming that kind of mom—or one even remotely like it. I get grumpy too easily. I wear my “mad face” too often. Patience, when I need it most, is nowhere to be found. I fuss.

I’d like to do this mothering thing a little differently, a little better, more gently.

So I did my homework. I spent just one morning practicing being a safe harbor for my girls, being the person they could turn to no matter how they felt. I took a deep breath, softened my shoulders, and mindfully set my that-so-annoys-me meter to “off.” I was easy-going.

I met my children’s dozens of questions with grace.
I took a breath to erase my mad face before the lines settled in too deeply.
I redirected conversations and activities at the first threat of fussification.
There was really no need for typical discipline, because I was attentive to my daughters and to the tasks that had to be done to get us out the door that morning.

I noted the power of the practice in my journal that day:

I started out my day saying that for today, I would parent as if I were a ‘safe harbor’ kind of mama, gentle when being firm, loving, slow to anger, patient, offering a place of certain love. And that made for a calm household this morning, with my 2yo more focused than usual and my 4yo eager to be helpful as we prepared for our day. She chatted away happily & easily on the drive to school, and then reached for my hand as we walked in to her classroom. Of course, all of these things happen sometimes, but feeling them all at once, and effortless — mama magic ♥

Basically, I rocked at being a great mom! It truly was a magical morning.

My morning homework was so satisfying that I tried it again that afternoon. The experience wasn’t quite as stellar, but still–there was a lot of happiness and ease for my family. It felt great to be, well, nice.

I’d love to say that I parent this way all the time now, but it’s like any other big shift for me: True transformation takes time, and often, a lot of it. So I’m practicing again this weekend, because I’m solo parenting—something that always puts me into my most defensive, least mindful space as I brace myself to make sure everything. goes. just. right.

Admittedly, Saturday morning was tough. Slogging through the morning routine without the usual help from my husband proved too much for me to overcome with positive thinking. But once the girls and I got out the door and got rolling—craft time, farmer’s market, playground, lunch, quiet time (genius!), birthday party—I felt a sense of ease embracing me. Well, except during the fondue-style chocolate fountain at the kiddie party. Watching my daughter smear melted chocolate all over her face and then finding it all over her clothes–and mine–did push a button or three for me!

But by the time we got into the dinner and bedtime routine, I was finally, finally, feeling the flow of this mother-daughter version of a “girls’ weekend.” Simply said, I relaxed–and felt like a better mother and a better person.

Most importantly, I’m beginning to feel for a moment, and then two moments and then another moment still, the lasting sweetness of mothering with a safe-harbor heart: These dear daughters of mine, they’re blessings, not button-pushers. They’re here for my delight, and me for theirs. Yes, there’s much to be done with teaching and guiding and protecting. But also, there’s much to be done with singing and dancing, laughing and playing, and generally shining our light for each other as brightly and as often as we can.

Hallelujah for that!

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  1. Great post! My mom always said things get worse before they get better when directing change. I tend to think something’s not working when it doesn’t work immediately, and I needed this reminder of grace, breath and redirection. Now to practice… a lot!

  2. Loved this!

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