More about parenting

Usually, my reflections are about my interactions with people. I think that is one of the most fascinating aspects of life. For long (and still to some degree) I have been trying to figure out what is the ‘right’ way to relate to others until I started studying yoga and learned that in order to understand why I interact with others as I do, I first need to understand how my mind operates. So, I observe myself act and react, I observe my thoughts and emotions and I try to understand why they are as they are, all this in light of what I have been studying about the human mind according to Yoga.

During the lockdown, my social sphere has been reduced to my family: my husband and my kids. I do reflect often about my role in their lives and their role in my life, but these weeks, I have had the time to observe my behaviour more closely.

One thing that I have observed is how, in situations where I disagree with my kids’ behaviour or attitudes, I automatically change my tone and start scolding them. I have stopped myself a few times lately to ask myself why do I sound so annoyed? What is my purpose right now? How are they reacting to this situation?

When it comes to our youngest daughter she gets so frustrated that she starts crying and stops listening. For our teenage son, this just means that he gives up and accepts whatever I am saying so I stop scolding him ruining the opportunity to invite him to express his own opinions and have an interesting dialogue. For our middle daughter it means that she feels criticised hurting her self-esteem tremendously.

So why do I scold? In some cases, it can be out of frustration. Maybe I have repeated the same many times: “wash your hands when you come into the house after playing outside”, or “pick up your dirty socks”, or “take your used plate into the dishwasher”. There is nothing wrong with showing emotions to our kids, but I sometimes wonder if the emotion shown is proportional to the situation, or if the tone comes out of habit. How would I react if my kids talked like that to me? Isn’t it possible to be kind and ask them to help without the ‘attitude’?

In other cases, it is because of worry or even fear. When our son doesn’t make his homework and we get a note from his teacher or when our youngest acts selfishly in relation with her sister making her feel bad. The problem is, that I think the way I talk with them can have the opposite outcome than the desired one. It must be possible to show concern and be strict without having to make my kids feel guilty. I have actually stopped a couple of times during the lockdown while talking with my son and saying out loud “Wait, why am I using this tone right now? Lets start again.” To then explain that I worry, that I try to pass on what I believe is important values and attitudes, but that I might also be wrong.

It is powerful too. The other day, I asked my youngest daughter to come sit beside me, and asked her how she thought her sister felt when she excluded her from an online meeting with their schoolmates. I wasn’t angry, I was just expressing my concern. She responded much better than when I use ‘the tone’.

My point here is not to go into a guilt trip or to point fingers for ‘using the tone’, it is more a personal reflection about the hows and the whys of parenting. I really think it is important to stop from time to time and ask myself what is the intention behind my actions and consider whether the means of my parenting are the most appropriate for my kids.

I think the lockdown has done something wonderful for us as a family. It has given us time to slow down. To listen better to each other. I notice that I sometimes start getting annoyed by some of my kids’ comments or questions but I can stop myself from reacting in a hurtful way and rather show curiosity or disagree in a respectful way. I don’t want my kids to grow up doubting themselves or feeling constantly guilty for what they think and how they behave. I want them to grow up being reflective but well grounded in themselves. It is tiring to constantly wonder whether we are ‘right ‘ or ‘wrong’ according to other people’s standards.

On acceptance and its benefits

I was recently listening to one of my teacher’s lectures on his YouTube channel called 10 ways to live effortlessly through Yoga where the first point is acceptance.

Have you ever experienced investing effort and time into something with a feeling that you are pushing, fighting, getting exhausted and after a while realise that you are still standing at the same point? I have experienced it in many times and every time I try to remember one of my first experiences as a mum.

When our first child was born, I wanted to be ‘ready’, so I read books about pregnancy and birth. Then, when our son was born, I read books about the “normal” development of a baby and a toddler. When our son was maybe a year or a year and a half old, according to what I read and advice from others, it was time to start potty training. I bought a pot and tried different ways to get my son to sit on it and do his job. After some days of trial, we realised he wasn’t interested at all. Swallowing our frustration, we understood he wasn’t ready yet and that we would do things worse if we chose to push him. We waited despite what the books, parenting forums and some opinions from experts or experienced parents had. When he was a bit over two, we tried again, and in a week or so, he was nappy-free during daytime and some months later in the night also. I was so amazed over how easy this was! There weren’t any tears, and there were very few accidents. This taught me a big lesson that I have tried to apply throughout my children’s upbringing. There are some milestones they have to go through to develop, but there is no point on pushing them. I think acceptance is key here. I accepted that my son wasn’t ready, but I didn’t necessarily give up, I just needed to back off, and try a bit later.

Sometimes, we have a goal, an idea, but it is so big, so overwhelming that we don’t even know where to start. This applies also to challenges and problems. Acceptance can also be a good tool in this cases. We need to accept first the situation and then see which small steps we can take to achieve the goal or to improve the situation that eventually will help us solve the problem. We accept that we have to take small steps.

The example that comes to my mind is the challenge we face today with pollution. I have long had bad conscience because I wanted to do something big for the environment, but it felt overwhelming until I decided to take small steps. The first step was to observe my lifestyle and accept that I have some habits that aren’t healthy for the environment. I have made some changes that have demanded changes in attitudes and perceptions and still felt achievable, while other changes are so big that I have to wait a bit. This doesn’t mean that I will settle for doing the minimum but I have to take it step by step to not overwhelm myself or my family. This might not be the way for everyone, but for me, it is either small steps or no steps at all.

The other day, I was talking with a yoga teacher that works also as a life coach. She was telling me about how, for people that experience chronic pain, it can be helpful to learn to accept the pain. Pain is something that scares us, it is part of our survival instinct, but sometimes we need to accept it to tolerate it. I have done the experiment sometimes when I experience a sharp pain, to relax the rest of my body and focus my breath into the pain. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it does help me deal with it better. If I reject the pain, if I start to make a thousand stories in my mind about the pain, I just get more stressed and my experience of the pain is more intense.

It is almost needless to say that acceptance is also a very powerful took when it comes to relationships. All kind of relationships. Accepting others as they are is the obvious one, but also accepting that sometimes things between us and others get stuck, and remembering that nothing lasts forever. We benefit from giving us some space to let things cool down, and then try again. Accepting also that sometimes, there is no solution, things are as they are and we have to learn to live around them.

Lastly, I have already written about strong emotions and how acceptance can help deal with them. Often, we have a tendency of rejecting, hiding or pushing away emotions such as anger or sadness. We don’t want to feel angry or sad because we should constantly feel happy and satisfied. Unfortunately, the emotion doesn’t disappear just because we don’t want it, and we end up with a pile of emotions such as frustration and regret on top of the ‘original’ emotion. Accepting the emotion without feeding into it can take us a step further. When I am sad, I can accept that I am sad and even give myself the space to feel the sadness, slow down, be kind to myself without making a thousand stories in my mind on why I have the ‘right to be sad’. Let the emotion be what it is, and when the sensation is less strong, try to understand where it comes from and see if there is anything I can do to help myself.

Acceptance is not resignation, but it is a tool that can help us save energy that we can canalise in a more constructive way than when we use it to reject, run away from or fight blindly.