Parenting as a Process.

By: Jen Shoop

The past two weeks, I have been reflecting a lot on the balance between my needs and those of my children. It’s an uncomfortable topic. I know, intuitively, what I need, but I find I often overwrite or question those instincts–and that “overwriting” is not always a negative thing, which presents complications. Like, I’m all for self-care, but sometimes my children really do need me more than I need to, say, get sleep. You know? It’s an impossible calculus.

This is where process-oriented thinking can prove deeply helpful. I don’t necessarily reach for this frame of mind organically; I usually have to remind myself to exercise it. I’m highly process-driven in my approach to writing, and so I try to consciously apply similar waves of thought to parenting, both in terms of broad caregiving arrangements, and in the fine-tipped ways I approach the nurture of our children:

This is not the last stage, or the final draft, or the only way this particular phase of parenting can work.

I can change.

I can do something different tomorrow.

I can adjust the dials.

This arrangement feels good right now; let’s go with it.

What works now might not be sustainable, or might not work tomorrow.

The best thing I can do is show up with good intentions and try again.

Nothing is set in stone.

I had drafted this jot list of imperatives in my notebook last week while reflecting on what it meant to think of parenting “as a process, not a place or condition.” I then paused and drove down Massachusetts Avenue to attend an ekphrastic writing workshop at The Phillips Collection. Because I had stopped mid-thought-stream, I found myself particularly sponge-like, susceptible, and so as I was taking down notes on ekphrastic poetry, I found myself translating the conversation into parenting terms. One of the other workshop participants commented that, as an illustrator (there were artists representing a range of different mediums in attendance), he constantly faces “the problem of perfection.” He wondered whether there was a parallel in the realm of poetry-writing, which seemed to him much more forgiving and fungible than his chosen medium. He noted: “If I don’t make the line straight enough, it’s visibly obvious, and so I erase it, and draw it straighter. But does that even happen in writing?” I intuitively knew what he meant: there is bad poetry, but it is much more difficult to objectively say a word or a line break in a poem “works” or “does not work” without the invocation of subjectivity. In illustration, if a line looks bent or broken and the rest of the image is strongly representational, the “error” jumps out at you. But I think that nuance is what makes writing, and parenting, so richly complex, and peculiarly fraught. In them, we navigate murky areas with no bright line rules all the time. A lot of our writings and re-writings are intuition-driven: we have a sense that we did not choose the right word, or land on the right arrangement, and so we make changes. But there is no obvious error mark.

The instructor had something fascinating to say in response. He said: “Art isn’t perfection. It’s striking while the iron is hot.”

I would have put it differently, but I dock at a nearby pier: art is process. It is imperfect drafts, it is language in motion, it is sparks and fluidity, it is “middlework.” It is by nature unfinished and undulating.

I envision something similar when it comes to parenting. It is a lot of fiddling around with the dials. It is listening and stepping back and trying something different, and listening again, and trying again. I rarely feel I have the full picture. Sometimes, I find myself in a good groove, “shucking and jiving,” as Mr. Magpie calls it. Other times, I’m completely at a loss for where to go next, or I’m repainting the same corner over and over again, trying different things.

If the analogy feels heavy-handed, I apologize. But I think the provocation that parenthood can be a process is a powerful one. It affords us grace, and new opportunities, and a growth mindset–and I so badly need those as a mother.

What do you want your process to look like?


+On balancing friendships.

+On making my way through the pandemic in Manhattan. Wow. This essay still gives me all the deep and wild feelings.

+Do you consider yourself creative? (Trick question — you are.)

+If you’re staring down a big move/change: some words of wisdom from my dad.

Shopping Break.

+Two REALLY good dresses for under $100: this Zara (omgggg) and this H&M. The blue color is giving me great energy.

+These girls’ Target sneakers look like they’re by Love Shack Fancy!

+This swivel chair is so handsome.

+Thank you to Mackenzie for helping me find the cutest outdoor bolster pillows for our wicker sofa! (More details on our patio furniture here.)

+Just love this elegant, understated dress.

+Madewell makes the best denim overalls. Into this flared pair!

+Love these striped crib sheets. My son still sleeps in a toddler bed and I might have to snag him the blue and white!

+A chic white pleated trouser.

+One of my favorite fitness tops – I need it in that new stripe option!

+These striped lounge chairs would be so cute in a play room. (Under $200!)

+Inspired by Loewe — but $40. (See the original here.)

+This jump rope would be such a cute gift for a little one.

+Chic wine caddy. Also, one of my girlfriends had me over recently and kept the white wine in one of these bottle chillers and it really, really worked. She could just sort of leave it out for us to serve ourselves and it was crisp and cold for hours.

+These $20 rain boots come in GREAT colors. Mini has owned a few pairs!

+Drawn to this strappy tank. It’s giving Gwyneth?

+These Birkenstock-like raffia slides are only $20!

+Darling book caddy for a little one.

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12 thoughts on “Parenting as a Process.

  1. I find parenting the hardest and most fascinating task I’ve done. It changes quickly from days to years. It humbles me, it teaches me patience and grace, compassion to myself. What is constant is the change itself. I don’t think I feel I’m on top of it ever as the challenges are evolving. yet, I feel I have it under control because the strategy seems to work, and that is keep learning/adapting, ready to change mind/method as they get older.
    I love all your posts about motherhood, parenting, and they are real and I can relate so much.

  2. I appreciate the generosity of this approach. So much of parenting (for me) is about finding a little give. Someone wise once told me that parenting approaches must work for the parent’s personality as well as the child’s. Seeing it as a process or practice allows room for the humanity of it. I am going to hold on to the perspective shared below to see things as working or not working versus right or wrong.

    I’ve been turning this post and your earlier post about picking your son up from school over in my mind. Having gone from working full time in an inflexible job to staying home full time with my children last year, I’ve found that the balance between their needs and mine is almost never steady. I’m trying to surrender to the idea that balance isn’t some static normal so much as tipping back and forth a bit from week to week. It’s a process indeed!

    1. Hi Sarah – Yes, that’s exactly right. Viewing parenting as a practice/process “allows room for the humanity of it.” It gives us grace, acknowledges that we are fallible human beings.

      I love what you said about balance. It’s not going to be some static normal — like you’re just surfing down the middle, having gained your sea-legs. It’s going to be tucking and jiving and moving this way and that and it’s going to look different week to week and day to day. Some weeks, you’re going to have to sacrifice more. Other weeks, you might have more room/license to take more time for yourself. Thanks for this metaphor. Going to hold onto it, Sarah!


  3. I really enjoyed this post and the comments! I try to view parenting as a practice, as Joanna mentioned in her comment. It’s not about any end goal. It’s not a race to a finish line. It’s practice. But there is a paradox here too — because I also try to view my children’s lives as real, not as rehearsals for adulthood. Ah, so much truth seems to be paradox 🙂

    I agree with your note on self-care. Yes, my self-care matters enormously AND SOMETIMES I must sacrifice “me time” for my children’s well being. Parenting requires sacrifice.

    Then again, so does writing, another practice 🙂

    1. Hi Joyce! Yes, I noticed that tension, too — the notion of “practice” in terms of continuously working on things, testing things vs. the notion of “rehearsal.” Along the same lines you note, I’ve written elsewhere that life is NOT a dressing room / rehearsal / practice run, so as to remind myself to really dig in and soak it all up. Don’t just let days pass me by — don’t just tolerate things. But I do think in the realm of parenting (and many creative pursuits), where you are already trying so hard, putting in all the effort, it is helpful to remember that it’s about iterative, continuous effort, not, say, “getting it right every time.”

      With parenting, there are so many moments of “two things can be true…”!!!


  4. When I was new to motherhood and drowning in doubt I was given an incredible piece of wisdom by my godmother that has sustained me throughout this journey.
    She told me: There is not one way to be a perfect mother, but there are a million ways to be a great one.
    That phrase has held my head above water many times. It allows me the space to show my kiddos love by leaning into my strengths while leaving room for the other loving influences in their lives to add greatness in every shape, color, and flavor. It lends a sense of shared responsibility- and a reminder that I can not (and should not) do it all.

    1. I love this so much – thank you for sharing. I especially relate to “leaving room for the other loving influences in their lives.” Wow. Thank you for that! It is so true.


  5. Mark 14:8
    She did what she could.

    This Bible verse has allowed me to breathe. As a mother, as a wife, as a friend…it calms me in all situations where I feel I’m falling short. My stress and self-criticism melt away when I remember these words!

    1. I love this so much — thank you for sharing, Sandi. A reminder that I am a human, with limits, and just need to do what I can.


  6. I love this. I want my process to look like ease and flow. Or maybe feel like ease is a better way to say it. What I mean by that is the opposite of force. Forcing myself to be or act a certain way and forcing my child to be or act a certain way. When I allow that to be, I have so much more fuel for when the moments are challenging and I have to ground down and channel my energy. I want it to look like presence and reflection on the way, feeling my way through it. I love what you say about it as a process and am particularly drawn to the sentiment that you can do something different tomorrow. With so many things in life, parenting included, it feels like I’m just trying to get on the right people mover to get me where I want to go…just get on that one path and cruise to eternity. But, that doesn’t leave much wiggle room when new ideas or approaches or opportunities present themselves. I want it to look like trying it to see how it feels and how it goes.

    In the early days of my daughter’s life and friend said “it’s all practice.” I keep thinking that over and over. Practice taking naps. Practice with a new sleep sack. Practice eating. That’s for my daughter but I think it helps me too. Practice being near her and being mindful of her needs but attuned to my own at the same time. Practice being present with her. Practice a new feeding routine or feeding transition.

    I so desperately want to get it right, but a friend recently shared that a doctor said to her “you need to let go of right and wrong.” And when my friend “but what else is there? what would I replace it with?” The doctor said “working and not working.” I keep thinking about that. Working and not working. And it seems apt with parenting and the ever evolving nature of things.

    Thanks for the space to reflect on this and share this out loud.

    1. These are such gorgeous insights — wow. Thank you so, so much for sharing them. I am so moved by “it’s all practice” — yes! Doesn’t that make your shoulders relax a bit more? Like, we’re trying something; it may not be right the first or third or eighth time. This reminds me — when I was bringing my daughter home from the hospital and had no idea what I was doing, I kept thinking, “This is crazy! I just became a mom yesterday and I’m expected to know all the things?!” Like, we aren’t BORN mothers, you know? It’s something you become over a long, long period of time.


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