Being a new mum was just like going to my first yoga class – I didn’t have a clue what to do and everyone else around me seemed to know what they were doing. Unlike yoga class, though, I couldn’t just do my best for 90 minutes then roll up my mat and leave – the baby was always there! Reflecting on those new mum days recently made me think about how similar parenting and a yoga class are. There is no doubt that I have more internal flexibility, strength and balance as a result of being a parent. So this post is perhaps a little self-indulgent, reflecting on how, like a good yoga class, parenting has developed me.
With any challenge that we face in life, we have two choices – to resist & refuse or to allow & adapt to it. I began motherhood as a brittle, resisting refuser. With my first son, I resisted the sleep deprivation of new parenthood, determined that there was something I could do to make my baby get to sleep more quickly and to sleep for longer. Coming from the world of work where I had to achieve certain things to fulfill the expectations of my role, I felt it was up to me to find a “solution” to the sleep situation. Of course, that’s a very difficult way to live, especially with babies and young children who have no clue of what their parents’ plans are. Fortunately, by the time my second son arrived, I had realised this and parenthood had softened me enough that I was much more able to accept his newborn sleep patterns and adapt my day to fit in with them rather than trying to adapt him to fit in with me.
Parenthood has made me a lot more flexible. I no longer hold tightly to beliefs, expectations & plans (of which mine tend to be very idealistic), instead meeting the reality of what is. As a parent, I have let go of so many ideas I once had in order to embrace my boys just as they are and to follow their lead. But this newly developed flexibility doesn’t extend only to them, it has reached into every corner of my life. I’m much more able to take other people as they are and to work with situations rather than fretting about how they don’t match up to what I expected. Parenthood has opened me up like a good hip flexor asana.
When my second son, Thomas, was born, he wasn’t feeding well. For his first 3 weeks, the only way to get milk into him was through a grueling routine of syringe feeding him, expressing for the next feed then cleaning & sterilising the equipment. The routine took 1 ½ hours and I had to do it every 3 hours. I was lucky to get 1 hour of sleep between each cycle and also had a toddler needing my attention. Initially, I was doing this at the hospital, having to walk down the corridor back and forth to the equipment room, which was painfully slowly after having had a caesarean. Thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I don’t think anything has challenged me as much in my life – worrying for my baby’s health and being so utterly exhausted. I was physically and spiritually drained. But, of course, I kept going – this is what was necessary for Thomas to thrive. I still remember the evening when he finally feed from me normally for the first time and I knew my efforts had paid off. And now I know I have the strength for anything, which helps me to live with less worry and fear.
Previously the type not to rock the boat, I found my voice to advocate for my son when he was being bullied. I have taken up challenges I would have avoided, such as facilitating my first ever workshops this week. And I have gone down the most terrifying water slide ever (virtually upright!) with my son.
Balance, I have learned, is an internal thing, not an external thing. I don’t attend to every area of my life as I would like to, there are definitely parts that get neglected (especially the unfolded laundry). But I do feel I have balance.
As a student school teacher, I once led a class of 7 year-olds for a short yoga session. I tried to teach them the Eagle, an awkward balancing-on-one-leg-with-limbs-wrapped-around-each-other position. The only hope of achieving it is by having focus. To be balanced, we need to concentrate – on the important things.
Balance is feeling that our lives are organised by our priorities. As a parent, we are constantly fielding demands on our time and efforts – come to the school fundraiser, vacuum under the dinner table, “play with me”… The people-pleaser in me tried to keep up at first but I couldn’t and I eventually had to let go. Now, I occasionally wag fundraising events and I build forts with my son under the table amongst all the crumbs. As much as I would love not to have baskets of unfolded clothes around the house, they are there because I, instead, choose to play superheroes with Thomas, write my next blog post and give my parents a call.
I’m not familiar with all of the elements of yoga. I understand that it is a lifestyle, it’s about what happens off the mat as much as on the mat. While I’m not currently making it to the mat as much as I would like, there’s plenty going on for me off the mat. For me, parenting is an exercise for the soul. Through it, I am learning how to give and receive peace, joy and love in new ways. I have no doubt that other experiences in life can do the same for us but, for me, it took becoming a parent to discover all that I am.
I wonder how many times a day my sons ask me this. Actually, Thomas (3 years-old) just commands, “Play with me!” And why shouldn’t he? That’s what mums (and dads) are meant to do. But we’re also meant to provide nutritious meals & clean clothes to wear, get everyone where they need to go and earn a living…(I won’t continue in case I overwhelm you!)
Before I became a parent, I imagined playing carefree with my children for long stretches of time each day. I didn’t realise that I would feel anxious as I built Duplo towers with my son because I needed to get dinner in the oven. Or struggle to engage fully in re-enactments of emergency/superhero scenarios because I had a couple of phone calls to make before heading out for school pick-up. Before I became a parent, I also didn’t realise that I would refuse my children’s requests to play with them several times on any given day because I had other things to do.
So, I have a love-hate relationship with this question, Mummy, will you play with me? It fills me with both tenderness and guilt. When he asks, my son is inviting me into his world and wants to spend time with me – which I love. But sometimes I feel almost angry at him for asking me to play when I can’t say “yes” – can’t you see I’m busy making school lunches? Don’t you know how much I have to do?! – which I hate. It is a constant jostle for my attention that I haven’t yet got right. And perhaps I won’t.
REMEMBERING THE VALUE OF PLAY
When we play with our children, we affirm them. We show them that they are important to us and that the things they care about matter. Having fun together is also a natural way for people (of any age) to connect. When we don’t take time to play, our interactions with our children can be reduced to organising and instructing them – “go and put your shoes on”, “where is your reading book?”. We find out lots about our children when we play with them too. We discover new vocabulary they have picked up, get insights into their world view and become privy to their dreams. When I commit to our play, my son and I are both present, in a state of spiritual alignment which feels nourishing for us both.
There have been times when I’ve noticed my boys’ behaviour has gradually become more difficult for no obvious reason. Then, thinking about it further, I’ve realised that I’ve been preoccupied and, among other things, haven’t played much with them recently. When I go back to prioritising play time together, their behaviour often becomes easier. They needed us to connect.
Here are some of the steps I’m taking to help me fit some quality play time into each day –
5 WAYS FOR BUSY PARENTS TO PLAY MORE WITH THEIR CHILDREN
Remember that every little bit counts A short time spent playing together is better than none. When one of my sons asks me to play, I’m trying to say “yes” if I possibly can, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
Play something you & your child both enjoy Our children can sense when we don’t really want to be playing with them and are doing so out of a sense of should. It’s likely they take it personally at times. The other morning, I was meant to be playing Star Wars with Jake but struggled to get enthused and I wasn’t really doing much. He looked at me as if to say, “Well go on – play!” On the other hand, he and I bond over Lego, I even wrote a blog post called 6 Life Lessons Lego Taught Me. I know I can be present and good company when we play Lego.
Build playtime into the daily routine When something is built into our routine, we don’t question it or have to make time for it – it’s just what we do. In our family, we have a few parts of the day dedicated to playing together so that, if the day does get away on us, we have had some play time to connect. When it’s my turn to get up with our boys at 6am, we play for nearly an hour until it’s time to make breakfast. After dinner every night, we have “5 minutes play time” for the whole family to play together, no matter how late it is.
Plan an extended play time togetheroccasionally For me, this works best in the weekends. I mentally put aside a specific stretch of time for playing with my boys at least once each weekend and commit to an hour or more of playing and hanging out with my them.
Initiate play on your own terms If I have ten minutes to wait until the washing machine has finished it’s cycle, instead of doing another job or checking my phone, I try to join in with whatever my boys are playing while it suits me. If they’re not engrossed in something, I suggest an activity I think we’ll all enjoy to do together. So far, they’ve never declined my invitation to play.
IN SUMMARY – TIME WELL SPENT
Playing with our children is obviously not unique to soulful parenting styles. But it is a great way to practise some of our spiritual parenting values and beliefs, such as demonstrating our child’s worth to them, being present and building loving relationships. I don’t think parents should be their children’s main playmates – playing with friends, siblings and on their own is really important – but it is a special part of our role and worth making time for. I’ll be honest, there are times when playing feels like another thing I should do, but often I end up having fun. And I never regret spending time with my boys, it always feels like time well spent.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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At the end of my last post, Discipline 101, I promised I’d share my best discipline technique with you so I’ll jump right in.
Here it is –
Maybe you were hoping for something a bit more “practical”- 3 steps to take when your child’s behaviour goes askew, perhaps. We all want a magical, quick-fix strategy to manage our children’s difficult behaviour and the discomfort it can cause. But, when they require guidance, it’s our presence, not strategies that is needed.
By “presence” I mean having our attention focussed fully on our child and the moment we are experiencing with them (not on the phone call we just finished or where we have to be in ten minutes’ time). Our total presence with our children enables us to tune into them and to see what is really going on. Without presence, our ego gets loud – “he’s blatantly disrespecting me!” it shouts in our heads. “He’s not getting away with it!” With presence, our Love asks, “what is he needing from me right now?”
Two very different responses will come from these different kinds of thoughts. The ego will likely make a declaration of our authority and perhaps an arbitrary removal of a ‘privilege’. Love might acknowledge how our child is feeling, offer a comforting cuddle and, when they’re ready, an appropriate follow-up. (See my post, No Such Thing as a Naughty Child)
I’m not a fan of using strategies thoughtlessly, but some good ones have come to me in moments of presence that I’ve been able to reuse selectively in the future. One such technique is my “try that again” strategy for when my boys speak disrespectfully to myself or someone else. Jake went through a phase of putting up big resistance when it came time to set the table for dinner. I started feeling a sense of dread when I needed to ask him to do it because of the roaring, stomping and whining that would ensue. One evening, my simple request for Jake to set the table had evoked a shout of “No!” and an exaggerated stamp of the foot. He had struck me in a moment of presence and I realised it was upto me how things would go – whether I escalated the situation by arguing with him both about the way he had addressed me and the setting of the table or whether he accepted his job and did it, albeit grudgingly. I recognised that all he was needing was a bit of understanding that he didn’t want to set the table – he knew the expectation wouldn’t change. So I said to him, “try that again”. He looked at me, puzzled. “Tell me what you have to say respectfully”, I said. He hesitated for a moment then mumbled, “I don’t want to set the table”. “I know it can be annoying to be interrupted from your play to set the table”, I commiserated then continued, “ it still needs to be done so we can eat our dinner”. He went ahead and set the table. Through presence, I had reminded him to speak respectfully to others, given him a chance to say what he had to say and got him to set the table. Now, I just say, “try that again” when he speaks disrespectfully and usually the situation is diffused because he’s being polite and I’m listening to how he’s feeling. So simple, yet I don’t think I would’ve thought of it had I been trying to “figure out” what I should do when he refused to set the table.
I regard presence as an essential personal and parenting skill (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness). It helps us to discipline effectively and with Love. In any moment, disciplinary or otherwise, it allows us to really see our children and recognise what is required of us.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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