Q&A: Carla Naumburg
An Interview with Carla Naumburg, author of Parenting in the Present Moment.
Much has been said about mindful parenting and “staying in the moment” – tell us how your book approaches this subject.
Mindfulness is definitely a hot topic these days, and I find that much of the writing related to it falls in one of three categories: Either it’s very scientific and full of jargon (“the results of this study found…”), or somewhat nebulous and emotional (“open your heart to your child…), or it’s fairly prescriptive (“mindful parents are always attuned to their child’s needs”). I took a different approach in Parenting in the Present Moment. I wanted to offer parents some research- and reality- based ideas about what really matters in parenting, as well as some concrete, do-able tips for how to stay connected, grounded, and present amidst all the chaos. Most importantly, though, I chose to couch these ideas in the context of my own parenting story, which I wrote with humor and honesty, because I’m certainly not perfect at any of this. I wanted readers to come away from the book feeling supported and empowered, not defeated or ashamed.
What was your inspiration for writing Parenting in the Present Moment?
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I was inundated with information about how to be a good mother. I was overwhelmed with advice about every aspect of child-rearing, from how to manage my pregnancy to how to feed my baby, put her to sleep, teach her, discipline her… the list goes and on and on. Even though part of me knew that I didn’t have to follow every piece of advice I was reading, I was so desperate to get this parenting thing right (whatever that means), that I found myself getting swept up in a sea of “shoulds” far more often than I cared to admit. I became obsessed with parenting books and advice columns, many of which offered contradictory or even problematic advice. I was overwhelmed and stressed out.
Even as this was happening, some part of me knew it didn’t have to be this way. I started thinking about writing a book that would help parents get focused on what really matters in parenting. My background in clinical social work, as well as my own lived experience, had taught me the importance of healthy, loving, and responsive relationships in growth and healing. As much as I believed this to be true, I still hadn’t figured out for myself just what made a healthy relationship between a parent and child. I knew I was getting it right from time to time, but not necessarily in a consistent, intentional way.
The thing is, I was yelling. I found myself easily getting frustrated by my daughters’ developmentally appropriate, albeit often annoying behavior. Even though I knew that my yelling was likely within the range of normal, I wasn’t comfortable with it. I didn’t like how it made my daughters feel, I didn’t like how it made me feel, and I certainly didn’t like how it was impacting our relationship. I started doing a little research on how to get control of my temper, and it all led me back to mindfulness. Once I started practicing mindfulness, I felt calmer, less reactive, more grounded, and more connected to my daughters. I had found the missing piece for my book, and I was ready to write it.
What message would you like the reader to take away after reading your book?
You don’t have to be perfect in parenting. You don’t have to make all the best choices. You just have to show up for yourself and your kids (in that order) with as much kindness as you have, as often as you can.
What was the toughest part of the writing process?
Actually, I think it came after the book was published. I have written many long documents (thesis, dissertation, etc.), but I never expected anyone other than my professor to read them. Once this book came out, I found myself suffering from a massive vulnerability hangover (to quote Brene Brown). I kept focusing on all of the ways the book could have been better. Fortunately, I have many kind and supportive friends who are helping me remember why I wrote this book and how much the ideas in it mean to me, and I’m enjoying the process a lot more now!
What books have had the greatest influence on you?
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne
Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg
How do you balance motherhood and writing?
Support. I have lots and lots of support from my fabulous husband, my family and friends, and the teachers and staff at my daughters’ schools. I just don’t know how any mother with young children could write a book (or even a sentence) on her own!
What “advice” would you give other mother writers?
Write your own story. Be true to your own belief and opinions and ideas and values and voice and style. To be honest, I’m still struggling with this one, as I can so easily fall into comparing myself to other writers and wishing I could be more like them. Yet my most successful writing happens only when I am able to come back to myself: my own experience and my particular way of stringing words together.