When Becoming a Parent Changes Everything (Especially You)
If you were to ask how I’ve changed since having my two daughters, the answer is: I don’t totally know. I don’t feel like I “lost” myself. But I also don’t feel all that clear on where I stand and how I’d say how I’m doing.
Which is what Childproof, the new podcast from Ten Percent Happier, is all about. It’s about the ways—large and small—that we change once we become parents. It’s about getting perspective on how to deal with those changes, and on how to recognize that they’re happening in the first place. That's the insight I need… which maybe is why I’m hosting the show.
To help me think through some of these questions, I turned to Yael Shy, a mindfulness and meditation teacher. She’s also a relatable person who’s easy to talk to, and a mom who struggled with that transition to parenthood. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation – check out the Childproof podcast for the whole thing. – Yasmeen Khan
YAEL: The level of the transformations, and the velocity of them, was so intense that only now am I getting a little bit of distance to be able to analyze what just happened.
YASMEEN: Did you notice these moments happening at the time?
YAEL: There were little snippets and little moments in the early years when my kids were very young, pockets of like, oh, this is so delicious, this is so nice, like kissing and loving the baby. And then so much suffering.
YASMEEN: There was one moment you’ve talked about, when your youngest was a newborn and your older son—also a baby—was sick with a high fever. You wrote on Facebook, asking, Does this get easier? Because I’m drowning.
YAEL: I remember one person wrote something that was like, “It is so hard right now, but you can dig deep inside and find the strength to keep going. And that's what will get you through.” I took that like medicine and just was like, Dig deep. There is strength inside. You can get through this. I remember imagining that there was a well underneath that I didn't have access to in the feeling of overwhelm. And I imagined just dropping down, releasing the tension, softening my body and pulling water up where I thought it was dry. And I realized, all right, that strength is there. I'm not saying it was fun at all or pleasurable or pleasant, but I did find that.
YASMEEN: So, how do we start to identify these changes within ourselves… and just kinda take stock of what’s going on with us?
YAEL: There is a meditation practice that was developed by a woman named Michelle McDonald and then developed further by a meditation teacher named Tara Brach. It’s a practice called RAIN. RAIN is an acronym, so there are 4 steps:
R stands for Recognize. Like, how do we begin to recognize this is happening within us? And I think just noticing, like, oh my God, this sucks, or I'm in such a bad way, or I'm like extra-addicted to my phone today, or I just dropped off the kids and that was hard. It’s pausing to be like this is happening.
And then the A in RAIN stands for allow, which is just that exhale. It's just that's softening, the pause like, OK, this is hard. Like, let’s just take that breath.
The I is for inquire or investigate and It’s a very gentle noticing, like, OK, where in the body do I feel this sadness? What might be underneath it? It's kind of asking that question of, what is this really about? Not with the sense of ugh, why do I feel this way? But a more of like a hmm, what could this be about? A curiosity of what's going on.
And then the N is for nourish. It just asks the question, what can I do for myself when I feel this way? That's it. What can I do in this moment? Sometimes, the nourishment can be talking to someone, or going for a walk, or getting a cup of tea, just bringing a level of kindness to your experience.
YASMEEN: It is surprisingly hard to do the nourish part, even something as simple as tea or a walk. It sounds so obvious, but it for some reason feels surprisingly difficult for me.
YAEL: What do you think gets in the way there?
YASMEEN: Maybe it's work. Maybe I'm not stopping to think about what might help me – so maybe it's just about the lack of recognition in it. But I think it's this reflex to keep plowing through the day to get to the thing that I hadn't started yet or something. I don’t know…
YAEL: Sometimes I like to say to myself that there's more than one baby in the room at all times. The other baby that's struggling is you, or the part of you that's overwhelmed or dysregulated or just having a hard time. And so it’s about bringing enough compassion for that part in those moments and just being like, yeah, this is hard. I'm not going to struggle against the feeling of it. I'm just going to let the feeling be there.
YASMEEN: You know, that's so interesting to think about. Like when you're raising kids, you also have to think about raising yourself, because you are changing so much with them.
Yasmeen Khan is the host and managing editor of Childproof, Ten Percent Happier’s podcast focused on parenting. She was a public radio journalist for nearly 15 years, at WNYC Radio in New York and before that at North Carolina Public Radio. While at WNYC, her award-winning work included coverage of the New York City schools; youth and family life; and policing. She produced in-depth stories on the city’s segregated school system, and dove into the municipal archives to tell the story of a massive 1964 school boycott. Yasmeen’s 2019 investigation into New York City’s child welfare system showed how the city increasingly used its authority to remove children from their parents without a court order.