It’s been a long time since my two now college-aged sons physically needed “their mommy,” but the memory of the challenges of when they did is still fresh in my mind.  It’s kind of like that reoccurring dream where you miss your final exam.   I remember vividly the schedule juggling, the carpools, the leaving work early, the tension with my husband over whose meeting was more important, the groveling to other moms for favors.  Of course, there was love, laughter, giggles and hugs but looking back, I took those beautiful things for granted while focusing on other things that did not serve me.    

Today, I am happy to report from the other side that while advancing our careers, we succeeded in raising two productive, kind, only slightly stressed, conscientious, independent kids.  My younger son told me at his recent high school graduation “You were always around, Mom.”   My heart leapt at those words and in that moment the guilt, shame and disappointment in myself vanished. 

Since becoming an empty nester, I have focused on developing a loving kindness and mindful meditation practice that I wish I had started when my kids were younger. Looking back, I could have saved myself and my family so much unnecessary drama.   It is no secret that they fed off my behavior. That is still true today however, my behavior is more positive and my family is happier because I am.  Here are some of the useful tidbits that I have picked up along the way which helped make me a happier person:

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  1. We are all beginners. I had never been a working wife and mother before.  I never had children and did not know what to expect of them or myself.  I never had to follow a school calendar.  I didn’t know that I should go on the school website and read the “Parent Connect” letters.  You catch my drift.  We don’t know what to do until we fall and someone reaches up and helps us on our way.  Sometimes that person is you.
  2. Forgive yourself.  See above.  Talk to yourself as you would your best friend, with words of kindness and encouragement.  Don’t beat yourself up when you fail.  Acknowledge it with compassion and forgiveness and begin again.  And again.  And again. 
  3. Surrender is a sign of strength.   When we “surrender”, it’s an acknowledgement that we have tried to figure out a situation and we just cannot do it.  We then must hand it over to a higher power. There is nothing weak about surrendering. 
  4. Everything changes.  There are so many variables that go into a situation. The chances of it happening the exact same way more than once is very low.  What tends to happen, though, is that we prepare ourselves for a predictable outcome and then we are flustered when things don’t go as planned.  To illustrate this point, I think of the time when I confronted my son about some not so admirable behaviors.  I had prepared for “battle” – the argument to combat his typical defensiveness.  When I called him out on the behavior, he broke down and said he knew it was wrong but had gotten so deep in the weeds he didn’t know how to get out.  I was stopped in my tracks! We then had a real conversation about what was causing these behavior problems and worked together to find a solution.  This incident taught me not to make assumptions and more importantly to keep the lines of communication open.  Letting go of expectations and remembering we can begin again are valuable lessons (in meditation and in life).
  5. Listen to your body.  Our body is so smart.  I wish I paid more attention to physical signs and had the tools to label physical feelings without judgment.  At times, my knee-jerk reactions made me label anger when it was actually fear, or frustration.  If I had just paused, took a moment to listen to what my body was telling me, I could have avoided a lot of misunderstanding.
  6. Keep a gratitude journal. Each night, take 5 minutes and write down in your smartphone 3 things you are grateful for.   As you do this, you will begin looking for things in your day to write down and your perspective will begin to shift towards gratitude.  It works, I promise.

As a not-so-young mother, I am struck by the power of “kindfulness” – paying attention with compassion and kindness towards yourself and others.  It will make me a better grandmother when the time comes – and not too soon I hope!  

Tracy Fink is the Director of the Executive Women’s Forum at CohnReznick, LLP.  She lives in East Brunswick in a very clean house 9 months of the year.