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.
As you know, the name of my blog is Nurturing Little Souls. An important part of nurturing our “little souls” is nurturing their natural spirituality. Helping them to recognise and develop their spiritual connection is a gift we can give our children that will enable them to live fully, with authenticity and peace. The idea of being able to give this to my boys is exciting but, I used to feel very unsure how to go about it – so I started writing my blog to figure out the “hows”. A few months into writing, I realised that it’s not as complicated or mysterious as I first thought and I actually wrote a post called Relax, It’s Simple.
Deeper into my spiritual parenting journey now, I’ve realised how important it is to nurture my own soul in order to nurture my children’s. During the recent school holidays, I struggled to find quiet time for myself to connect. I usually spend time alone each day either before my family wakes in the mornings or during Thomas’ afternoon naps. But I was tired, needing to sleep in a little longer, and I didn’t have Thomas’ nap time to myself because Jake was home off school. My parenting suffered in various ways from not taking time for my spirit. I don’t say this to judge myself, I accept that my usual routines can’t all stay in place during the holidays, but it has helped me to understand more fully that nurturing my own soul is essential to my parenting. Here are 3 reasons why –
1. TO BE AN EXAMPLE TO MY CHILDREN
I know I sound like a broken record when I say that our example is our most powerful tool as parents – but, it’s the truth.
“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach”. – W.E.B. DuBois
When I have spent time attending to my own spirituality, I am a much better example of Love for my boys. Having connected with Love/The Universe/God, I invite its power into my days and find myself recognising and taking more opportunities to be compassionate, trusting and grateful, for example.
I am also giving my children an example of a spiritually-led way of life. Jake, the next to rise in the mornings after me, comes downstairs to where I am in the lounge and he knows I’ve spent time praying and writing – two of my main spiritual practices. During the day, I sometimes share a spontaneous moment of gratitude with my boys or invite them to say a short prayer with me when we hear bad news. It’s not that I want them to live my way, they must find their own, but to know that they can include Spirit in the way they live their lives.
2. TO HAVE PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCE TO SHARE
Life is full of big questions and children are great at asking the tricky ones! Having had a recent death in the family, Jake has had a lot of interesting questions for me. Over the past few years, we’ve also had great conversations about the nature of God/Love/Source and intuition, for example. If I had not had some experience of these things myself, I wouldn’t have anything meaningful to offer Jake.
I’m interested in introducing my boys to meditation as I know it can be a great tool for letting go, relaxing and tuning into Spirit. The thing is, I don’t do much of it myself. I know I don’t need to be an expert to be able to offer it to my boys, but I’m fumbling to explain it or to suggest practices that are accessable for their ages because I don’t know it well enough myself. So, first step, commit to regular mediation myself.
Having said this, I think it is absolutely okay to reply “I don’t know” to some of our children’s questions or to frame our answer as a hypothesis. We can’t possibly know it all. With older children, we could even write down our questions and endeavour to find some enlightenment together.
3. TO FILL OURSELVES UP SO WE HAVE SOMETHING TO GIVE OUR CHILDREN
It’s the old “you can’t give what you don’t have” scenario. Nurturing my spirit fills me up and my capacity to be patient, non-judgemental, present and creative with my boys expands. I also find I get more information intuitively about what they need from me when I’ve taken time to connect. Another benefit of taking time to journey inwards is that it helps me to be more aware of my pain points, fears etc so I don’t take them out my boys.
IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW WE NURTURE OUR SOULS
How we fill ourselves up really doesn’t matter, as long as it works for us. Praying and writing are my first choices and, as I’ve said, I am going to meditate more often. I also sing to my favourite songs as I cook, do my nails or sort the plastics cupboard in the kitchen – sometimes, I just need to do something fun and frivilous which takes me out of my head and brings me to the present. I do lots of different things and my style is to follow what I feel I need, rather than have a set-in-stone routine.
From my experience, it seems that consistently taking time alone is more important than how long we actually spend. So I’m learning, also, to take the short moments available to me in a busy day to quiet my mind and sense Spirit within and around me. When a spare minute arises, I’ve stopped reaching for my phone and instead take the opportunity to just be. When I’m taking my morning shower, I use the time to chat to God, instead of to plan the day ahead. When I’m stuck in traffic, I notice my surroundings and what it feels like just to be where I am in that moment. When I haven’t been able to begin my day connecting in the ways that I like to, I can at least find small moments to remember my Spirit.
IN SUMMARY – YOU’RE WORTH IT!
I think it’s fair to say that our lives are often not well set up for taking quiet time and it is really something we have to intentionally carve out for ourselves or, at least, grab for ourselves when an opportunity arises. Taking care of ourselves is really taking care of our families. I think many of us can be resistant to taking Spirit time because it feels luxurious and, sometimes, selfish when there’s a family to look after. Let’s do it anyway. I’m finding that the more I do it and the more I see the benefits, the less guilty I feel. Also, we’re worth it.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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One night last weekend, I had to get up to Thomas (3-years-old) so many times I lost count. I just couldn’t figure out what he needed and he didn’t seem to know either. When I heard him call out again at 3:34am, it was almost physically impossible for me to open my eyes, which only wanted to sleep. Once I’d managed to rouse myself, I decided I was going to cover all possibilities to secure Thomas and I both at least a couple of hours of unbroken sleep before it was time to get up. So, I fetched him a drink and a snack, added another blanket to his bed, gave him another cuddle and even measured out a dose of paracetamol thinking “this is so unlike him, he must be sick”. It worked for him but all that activity had woken me up and I took another hour to get back to sleep. The next day, I was hopeless.
I cried over a disagreement between my husband and I – we weren’t even arguing, we just had different points of view. I couldn’t muster up any energy or enthusiasm to play with my boys. My patience was paper-thin and I became that shouty parent I wrote about in my post “WHY AM I SHOUTING AT MY CHILDREN?!” All my respectful parenting strategies went out the window and I resorted to the path of least resistance to get my boys’ co-operation – bribery. My brain felt mushy and my body felt like a heavy bag of bones. My inner resources had leaked away along with my sleep.
A BRIEF LESSON ON THE PURPOSE OF SLEEP
We often think of sleep as largely a physical need but it is a lot more than that. Sleep is for the renewal of all parts of ourselves – body, mind and spirit. When sleeping, our bodies don’t have to move beyond their survival functions and natural rhythms. When sleeping, our minds don’t have to perform conscious actions. When we’re awake, the physical needs of our bodies and noise of our thoughts can interfere with our connection to Spirit because they are more obvious and hard to ignore. But, when we are asleep, they are quieter so our souls can more easily connect with and receive spiritual energy and, therefore, be regenerated too.
This is why “sleeping on” a problem can be so helpful. Through sleeping, our soul gets a chance to be heard and offer its intuitive solution. We are often also more creative after sleep. I write these blog posts first thing in the morning because that’s when ideas and words come most easily to me. It is also why there is a healing quality to sleep. When I was depressed, I would take to my bed. Not just to escape from the world but because the break from having to function gave my spirit some refreshment.
“The process of truly becoming yourself takes a lot of energy and this energy can be replenished during naps”. – SARK, Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed
GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP FOR ALL THE FAMILY
Generally, I fall apart if I don’t get at least 7 hours of good sleep. As a result, I have always been very protective of my boys’ sleep, not wanting them to suffer from lack of it. As babies, it was straight to bed as soon as I saw their tired signs (once I figured out which of all my baby’s peculiar little movements were actually “tired signs”). I wasn’t willing to go out for a day and make do with letting them doze in their capsule or buggy because it compromised the quality of their sleep. I have always tried to prioritise and optimise their day naps and night sleeps because it’s so essential to their well-being. (And mine – every parent knows the suffering an overtired child can inflict!) Experiencing true sleep deprivation for the first time as a parent, I also realised I need to prioritise my own sleep.
Fortunately, my long night of getting up with Thomas was during the weekend and my husband was home. So, in the afternoon, when I could barely haul myself out of my chair, I plodded up the stairs to my bed and I had a nap. In her book, Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed, SARK includes permission slips to take naps. I was so grateful when I first saw these. I always feel guilty about deserting my family for nap-land but I do it when I need to because it is essential. When I got up after an hour of dozing that afternoon, I made a lemon pudding for desert and played Lego with Jake. I was restored.
I doubt there is a parent out there who can’t relate to that overwhelmed, can’t-function feeling of sleep deprivation, at least from the newborn days. But, if your exhaustion doesn’t come so much from lack of sleep as it does from being busy and over-committed, I implore you, too, to sleep-in or take a nap when you need it. Sometimes we wear our busyness like badges of honour – we must be important if people are relying on us to do all these things – but we’re miserable and we make those around us miserable too when we’re under-slept.
IN SUMMARY – A PRESCRIPTION OF SLEEP-INS & AFTERNOON NAPS
The title of this post may have seemed tongue-in-cheek at first but it’s not. When we’re tired, any energy we have (physical, mental and spiritual) is used up on simply surviving and there is none left to be our best selves. We want to be patient and kind and wise and all those sorts of things as parents – and just as people – but these can be near-on impossible when we’re sleep deprived. Our bodies, minds and spirits are all beautifully connected and they all need plenty of sleep.
Let’s teach our children to take care of themselves by having sleep-ins and naps through example. We could even nap with our children on Saturday afternoons.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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