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.