Q: This morning I woke to a totally quiet house and the thought of 30 precious, nag free, scream free minutes, excited me. I trotted outside to throw hay at our horses, dragged a tricycle and GI Joe to the porch while visions of a hot shower all to myself danced in my head. In the middle of my big fat quietude, I suddenly had to pee - really bad – but before I reached the toilet, a voice yelled 'Mommy!' which somehow erased all logic from my brain. With my bladder bursting at its seams, I swung into our morning routine: bacon, eggs, oatmeal, tea, juice, run my little boy’s bath… without realizing it, I’d put my electric Cuisinart kettle on my stove coil – on high - instead of plugging it in, and set it on fire! With raw bacon, no tea, my plastic safety kettle in flames and our house suffocating in toxic smoke I wondered where in the hell my mind went. Any clues? Before I pull my hair out, please?
A: “Motherhood changes you because it literally alters a woman's brain-structurally, functionally, and in many ways, irreversibly,” says Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at UCSF and author of The Female Brain.
WTF?! I used to drive an automatic with overdrive and now I've got a no frills manual transmission and roll up windows? Okay, let’s suss this out. Motherhood does alter your brain, (take heart ladies, no - you’re not nuts) but how you use your mind is up to you, and this matters - as I read Cassandra Vieten’s insightful book, Mindful Motherhood, I gain a more helpful perspective on how to fine-tune the 'Mommy Mind.’
Cassi lets us know that this stuff is going to happen, the world will tilt now and again and encourages us by saying, “Rather than being a big project or a strenuous endeavor, mindful motherhood is about giving yourself permission to rest in this moment… and in this one… and in this one.”
Here's a little history: The female brain is a machine built for connection. Being a woman, according to Brizendine, is like having giant, invisible antennae that reach out into the world, constantly aware of the emotions and needs of those around you. It's a result of eons of evolution that allowed women to tell what their pre-verbal infants needed and predict what bigger, more aggressive males were going to do. Acknowledging that women are to some extent hard-wired to nurture is a positive, not a negative, both for the next generation and for the general well-being of society.
Now the incredible circuitry of your brain is geared to the urgency in little voices and so yes, the things that used to be on autopilot are now manual – you have to think about making coffee and think about getting dressed – you need to be mindful.Take a breath, a beat in time, realize the input is coming in at tweaked levels and give your brain and body the time to act instead of react.
Cassi advises we cultivate a practice of radical mindfulness—one that is deeply embodied, and infuses itself throughout your everyday life. She says, “Rest into whatever it is that is happening, and explore the adventure of motherhood with open eyes, an open mind, and an open heart... The bottom line is to be gentle with yourself.”
It’s now a matter of fine-tuning your upgraded system.