In those early weeks and months of parenthood, I felt a new, unfamiliar vulnerability in my bones that I didn’t have language for, and coped by reading endless parenting books. I tried to resist this new vulnerability by taking refuge in Dan Siegel books the way that many people in our diet culture cling to content by the latest “wellness” expert du jour.
One gem of a book I read in between the endless cycles of feeding, burping, napping and changing diapers was not a how-to book but one about the experience of parenthood called All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Jennifer Senior named something challenging about those early years that I found incredibly validating: the lack of flow, which is basically when you’re in the zone working on something and times just flies by. “The ego falls away” according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as you lose self-conscientiousness and become totally absorbed in what you’re doing. But when you’re taking care of young children, you’re constantly needing to shift your attention and emotional energy. Even Csikszentmihalyi admits that a flow state is very difficult to achieve in family life.
I flashed back to this tender postpartum period recently after listening to Adam Grant’s most recent TEDx talk where he proclaims, “In the early days of the pandemic, researchers found that the best predictor of well-being was not optimism. It was flow.”
No wonder the parents are not okay. Many have found themselves in the impossible position of needing to be in two or three places at once, working from home while managing virtual schooling or childcare, and feeling like they’re falling short at both.
And no wonder more folks seem to be engaging in “revenge bedtime procrastination” in an effort to reclaim some time, or feel some much needed pleasure, purpose or perhaps flow after an unsatisfying day. Which leads to waking up tired, then rinse and repeat.
I’m realizing now that writing this newsletter gives me a jolt of energy, inspiration and much needed flow. I also felt it recently having a couple of friends over for an outdoor dinner and playing a round of Esther Perel’s new game of stories. As I happily and energetically did dishes around midnight, I realized that magical combination of food, conversation and laughter was just what I needed. I don’t know if that counts as flow but it was certainly play, with a sense of time passing by joyfully. Grant later says in his talk, “I also realized that the antidote to languishing does not have to be something productive, it can be something joyful. Our peak moments of flow are having fun with the people we love, which is now a daily task on my to-do list.”
I also can’t help but wonder if prioritizing flow might indirectly bring more ease to our relationship with food. If we’re able to satisfy our mind’s hunger for flow, will that decrease our susceptibility to revenge bedtime procrastination and lack of sleep, which can make food feel more charged the next day in various ways? Just a theory.
Here’s what I’m more certain of: The metaphor that while we’re all in the same ocean but we’re not all in the same boat (author unknown) is so true. Some of us are barely keeping our head above water and others are drowning. Many are just trying to survive, in no small part due to the vast inequities in an unjust system. So maybe what I’m sharing is an idea you circle back to at another time – or not. You might have bigger fish to fry and I totally want to honor that.
Nearly seven years after becoming a parent, my obsessive consumption of parenting books, articles and podcasts has slowed way down and I’d like to think I’ve loosened up the story that there’s a “right” way to parent, just as many of my clients come to realize that there’s no one right way to eat. This means acknowledging that I’m a vulnerable being, just like everyone else.
A global pandemic has forced many of us to take a giant step back and ask some big questions. This is one of them for me: while I’m still lucky enough to be here, why not truly prioritize doing more things that bring me a sense of aliveness?
What about you? Does thinking about the benefits of flow (or joyful play) resonate? If so, what does that look like for you?
p.s. I teach yoga now! I’ll be teaching a free Gentle Yoga for Moms and Caregivers (45-min virtual class over Zoom) for a few Mondays at 9:15 am starting October 11. It’ll be a time to connect with ourselves, body and breath, and feel grounded and settled for the week ahead. All levels welcome and no yoga experience is needed. Reply back to let me know if you’re interested (in this class or trauma-informed yoga in general) or have any questions.
p.p.s. I enjoy sharing ideas related to our wellbeing, but I’m not a mental health therapist. I dream of a world where we think of mental health therapists similarly to dentists. (“I’m feeling some mental/emotional plaque building…better schedule my preventative checkup.”) There are therapists with openings. If you need any names, please don’t hesitate to reach out.