Dr. Zoe Shaw, A Year of Self-Care

This Is What Justin Timberlake Taught Me About Motherhood


Anyone else have the same albums saved on their iTunes account from the (dinosaur) days before streaming services? I must have downloaded Spotify around 2013 because when I’m not paying attention and plug my phone into my car, I’m listening to the likes of Nora Jones, Rascal Flatts, some old school Beyoncé, and Justin Timberlake. One of the songs that came on this morning was Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors,” a beautiful love ballad created for his wife. Today, however, I found myself sitting in the Target parking lot thinking on the lyrics to this song, not from the perspective of a love song, but from the perspective of a mother. His words struck me: “It’s like you’re my mirror, my mirror staring back at me.”

That very morning, I had experienced the humbling truth that my kids are, in fact, mirrors reflecting the energy, behaviors, and emotions I show them. I was feeling agitated by something that had nothing to do with my kids, and to top it off, my daughter just could not sleep the night before. The perfect storm, right? While I was making breakfast, my kids were playing peacefully together as I was anxiously zooming around as if we were all late for something, providing very short responses to their bids for my attention. It wasn’t long before my kids were also wired. They were exhibiting all the same behaviors, and it was clear to me in that moment they became my mirrors. They felt my anxiety, observed my actions, and were very obviously reflecting that.

That day, I remember being particularly “in my head.” I was dealing with some major life transitions and had a personal experience that week which triggered some old, familiar thought patterns I recognized but didn’t give much space to explore. As thoughts do when left ignored, mine grew and began to bubble up into my everyday actions and reactions. My guess is, you can probably relate to this. We all regularly have experiences that create thoughts or beliefs in ourselves that interrupt and distract us from being present. Those thoughts may even skew our perceptions of the present.

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My experiences as a woman and a professional counselor have cemented the fact that our thoughts impact our actions and reactions more than we can even fathom. Of course, the way we think and the things that trigger unhealthy thoughts are deeply complex. Because of that, we all have a responsibility and great need to take care of our minds and stay in awareness of our thoughts. Here is the hard truth. As moms, we have an even greater responsibility to do so because our kids are on the receiving end.

You see, this “mirroring” thing I mention is actually based on a lot of data given to us by great researchers of the brain. And here is where, if you will bear with me, I am going to geek out for a minute.

When our babies are born, they are born with neurons in their brain that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. As they gain new experiences, new neurons will form. Neurons are the building blocks of which messages are sent to our body and stored in our memory. Based on our experiences, our brain starts to connect these neurons together, creating maps for how to perceive, think, and behave. This mapping encourages brain growth and, specifically with children, promotes growth in regions of their brain that aren’t fully developed yet.

And get this: there are actually types of neurons called “mirror neurons.” These neurons fire when they recognize an emotion in someone else. So using our mothering example, when your child recognizes your emotions, the same neurons that are firing in your brain also fire in your child’s brain. These interactions create a map for how to identify and react to the emotions they are feeling. Mirroring helps them make sense of their worlds. These shared interactions also create deep bonds and trust within your relationship, things we as moms all strive for. Neuroscience indicates we are wired for connection and attachment, which is good news for moms. Our relationship with them provides tremendous opportunities to help their brains thrive!

So how do we become a mirror for our kids that reflects opportunities for healthy brain development? Dr. Dan Siegel is a child psychiatrist who has spent much of his work studying and writing about interpersonal neurobiology, where he looks at how relationships change the structure of the brain. If you’re interested in exploring that more, I truly recommend any of his parenting books, they are both insightful and practical! He coined the term “connect before you redirect” to serve as a reminder to connect with your children’s emotions before you redirect or attempt to teach them the appropriate reaction or behavior. Just like us, they can’t possibly move to logic when they are flooded with feelings they have yet to identify. When we skip over the connection piece by reacting too quickly or even overreacting, we sometimes miss the opportunity to encourage their brains to independently make sense of what they are feeling so they can then learn to regulate their emotions and problem solve. Asking myself how I can connect before I redirect has truly been such a good tool when having to make quick parenting decisions. But what the sweet sound of JT reminded me of today in that Target parking lot is you have to connect with yourself first.

As moms, we have to continually and regularly “know ourselves.” Please hear that this is not a call to perfection. I know being present takes a lot of work, especially as a mom. We have so many distractions—healthy and unhealthy—fighting for our time and a peaceful mind. We are bound to mess up and that’s okay; sometimes it’s even helpful. It is a powerful parenting tool to make a mistake in front of our kids and apologize for it. Instead, my hope in writing this is to encourage you to do the hard work of being aware of what is going on inside of you so you can take care of what is going on inside of your children.

I find it interesting that the Bible actually talks about this very concept and encourages us to “take every thought captive” so that we can live into the fullness of our identity. This is a good reminder that living in the fullness of our identity requires us to recognize and even combat our thoughts. We must take the time to notice the patterns of our thoughts, daily. Notice, what thoughts are harmful? Where are those thoughts coming from, and how are they affecting how I relate to others, especially my children?

This is not easy work, but it is essential for our well-being and necessary if we want to reflect our most true versions of ourselves to others. So let’s encourage each other to do the work as moms to keep looking inward. You are made for your children, and they think your reflection is beautiful. Let them see it!

For more on building a strong relationship with your children, check out:

Sending Your Kid to College Is Very Much Like Kindergarten
A Simple Phrase That Will Encourage Every Mom
5 Ways to Make Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child Easier
To the Working Mom Struggling With Guilt
Mamas, You Need to Maintain Your Identity While Momming

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