Being Kind to Ourselves
written by Jennifer McCormack, Copyright June 2011.
For most parents, on first learning of their pregnancy, the first reaction they have is to read and talk to as many people as possible to learn about all the things that they can do to understand pregnancy and to become wonderful parents. Armed with our research into gentle birthing, nutrition, breastfeeding, sleep and behaviour, we think we are ready. Ah … little did we realise that all we have learned, and many of the values we held prized, will constantly be re-assessed, even dropped completely as time goes by.
Parenting is not a set of skills that can be learned and ticked off a list. It is not something you can become accomplished at by reading a book. Parenting is a living process of constant learning and re-learning. It is something you can be wonderful at one moment, and then be really bad at the next. Becoming a parent means we have to learn a LOT more about ourselves (and our partners) than we would otherwise have explored.
I don’t think that parenting has ever been an easy thing for anyone. If we listen to the stories of our generations of parents before us, parenting certainly appears to have been simpler than it is today, but I believe that it challenges each and every one of us regardless of what circumstances we are in when we become parents.
When I first became a parent I had read a lot, and as an early childhood teacher I had already begun to form a pretty clear philosophy of my own about how this parenting caper was to be approached and managed. I had enjoyed a wonderful career as a teacher of young children, and had proven myself as someone who could work intuitive with little people. When I became pregnant it was expected by many that parenting would be a breeze for me!
Tired … but still smiling
I guess to some extent I had that expectation too, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road all the time. I just never knew how often I would end up dropping my parenting ideals, and everything else, because I just didn’t have the time, the energy or the opportunity to make them work. I never knew how often I would kneel at the altar of motherhood and beg for some inspiration or at the very least some energy to continue the task.
I would be really very surprised (and delighted) to meet a parent who hasn’t, at some point, been in the depths of parenting where dinner every night has been baked beans on toast (or just straight out of the tin), where arguments, shouting and sarcasm has replaced laughter, conversation and storytelling. When you’ve all been so tired and worn out that simple solutions to even the simplest of problems just don’t present themselves immediately and the only solution you can think of is to pray for a moment’s peace. I knew there would be some rough bits to navigate as a parent, but I had no idea how often they would come up, how rough they’d be, or how just how helpless those experiences can leave you feeling.
Early in my parenting, one of my friends introduced me to the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Principle. This principle is an observation of nature, and notes that, basically, life is not fair. We cannot expect 100% perfection when we are more likely to achieve 80% of our goals only 20% of the time (as an example). Please try an internet search on this term – it is very interesting! The Pareto Principle has often come back to me in the years since as a comforting little thought, that none of us are meant, nor are statistically ABLE, to be the people we want to be ALL of the time. What a relief it is to have something like this to explain that we cannot live up to our ideals of perfection – that we are meant to be imperfect and must give ourselves permission to drop things from time to time.
It is what we do, isn’t it? We know what we WANT to achieve in our parenting – but actually achieving it is something else. I would honestly have never guessed at just how many obstacles could arise in one day to prevent me from achieving one simple thing, such as mailing a letter, or getting the clothes off the line (or even INTO the washing machine!).
- we don’t talk to our children in sweet voices all the time (Get over here NOW!),
- we don’t always model such wonderful problem solving skills of our own (who taught my child THAT word?? Oh .. it was me),
- we aren’t as organised as we’d like to be (Six trips between the car and the house and I still haven’t found my keys and I’m 20 minutes late ..)
So you aren’t perfect? Are you happy at least 80% of the time? Then you are doing well. Remember that it is our imperfections that give us the opportunity to learn and (eventually) laugh. If nature was 100% perfect then it would be pretty boring. That random imperfection makes our world a pretty interesting place to be.
Be kind to yourself.
Two years ago I dedicated myself to the task of transformation – the journey of my own becoming. To be aware of the learning opportunities that come my way, however painful, mundane or joyful they may be, and to use these experiences to walk a step further along my journey home to Self.
This weekend the Goddess Association of Australia hosts their annual conference, with the theme of transformation. I am so very sorry that I am unable to attend this year – however instead I will be stepping forward on my journey of transformation as I co-host our Effective Parenting Weekend at Silkwood with my friend and colleague Melissa Joss. Transformation is our work now 🙂
To the women and men who are attending the Goddess Conference this year, I offer you my blessings for an amazing weekend together, and I would like to share with you my dedication to self that I made two years ago :
Serpentine Sister Initiation, June 19 2010
I have been lifted with wings on my feet. I have been dissolved into the ether of the Muse’s finest imaginings, where I have received the gift of words.
I have descended into the womb-tomb of Bone Mother, where I have been picked clean and laid bare, only to emerge once more, dressed in The Empress’s robe of simplicity, wisdom, joy, maturity and majesty, and clutching within my palm the seeds of the Reaping Queen – seeds for me to nurture, to take responsibility for and make something of.
I have embodied the Weaver as I enjoyed fits of giggles and long heart-wrenching sobs. I have learned to weave moments of stillness within the moments of madness and to constantly review my boundaries and revise my intentions.
I carry a sword by my side, together with my pen.
Both I use to clear my path, that I may see in front of me clearly with the eyes of the Lady of Prophecy.
I have merged into the body of the natural world and heard the voices of Shamanka Woman and my Ancestral Mothers – my roots – in my blood, and in my body. Always a part of me, and always present as my Blood Keepers.
I know the Sorceress’s power of alchemical transformation in form and soul and spirit and I dedicate myself to this – to the study of Goddess Alchemy – that I may continue to weave my way, to learn new skills and find the courage to stand in the face of the Unknown of my past, present and future.
I’m really enjoying the idea of living slow – this last week I have had plenty to do but because I have had the 59th Street Bridge Song by Simon and Garfunkel running almost constantly through my head (and now it is on high rotation in my car because I found the cd that song is on!) I have been moving through my week with a different attitude, made a few decisions and tried a few different skills.
During our last Sacred Essence Circle we talked about the idea of our lives overtaking us – our actions overwhelming our emotions and draining our energy. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling … and it’s clear from the reactions I have had to my previous post that I am not the only one who has been feeling a little out of control.
I will try to talk a bit more about our discussion about the lemniscate over at our Sacred Essence blog – and how it relates to the way we recognize and create our own sense of balance and equanimity in our lives … but for now I will say that since this discussion at our Circle I have been able to better practice mindfulness in my daily living – and although my week did not ‘slow down’ at all in terms of what I needed to achieve, the way I moved through my week did. I feel tired in a satisfied way rather than an exhausted way.
Here is what I tried to do:
DRIVING – Can’t avoid it, have to accept it, might as well enjoy it. Unfortunately it is a necessary part of living where I live. So drive time is a time to relax. I am lucky that I can choose a route that avoids the busy roads and traffic lights. I can drive past farms, bushland, rivers and cows. I choose this route frequently. Drive time is a lovely time to share stories with my children (the little ones go with me everywhere!) and to share songs and our favourite music. If I don’t feel like telling a story, or if I need to concentrate on a busy road then I play one that I have recorded on my phone from the previous evening’s storytime (just sit with your phone on lap and record while you read!). I watch other drivers go past in a hurry and I look at their knotted eyebrows and grimacing faces and it reminds me to relax my face and smile. Enjoy the journey, don’t rush.
I’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE – You recognize it, don’t you, when you are in a situation that you don’t like? There is a little voice in the back of your consciousness that whispers to you – “don’t go there, make a different choice!” Most of our days we relive the same experiences over again – in our rhythms and routines and relationships. We often make the same choices over and over again even though they do not serve us. I’ve been listening to my little self-speaker this week and when she helps me remember that the last time I was in this situation I made a choice that ended badly then I listened. It is so powerful to be able to stop, breathe, and think before you speak or act. Ok – well I’ll be honest and say there were a few times I didn’t listen. There were times I deliberately chose to ignore my sweet-talking self speaker (I’ll show you where to put your conscience!) and of course those situations ended horribly and I had to brood about it for a while, then go and apologise/forgive/rethink/redo … it just makes more work for me when I ignore it, and then I get stuck in a cycle of negative reactions. So after all, that lets say I was aware of this ‘recognition’ and mostly responded positively, and that is a great beginning 🙂
MOVE SLOWLY – actually walk slower. Talk slower. Take time to breathe and chew and look and listen. Just doing this seems to stretch time even though initially it may feel like you are wasting it. What’s the rush – does it really make a difference to be in a hurry? Moving slower allows you more time to consider what you need to do and make a plan for how things can unfold for you. Somehow it seems to work for me, when I remember to do it. Habits are hard to change, but new skills and new attitudes can help us change our habits.
Well that is a pretty good start – my week also ended in a MAJOR declutter. Oh. My. Goodness. What a difference it makes to EVERYTHING when you clear out the crap. Our home is a representation of our body, and we in our homes are a representation of our souls in our bodies. While attending many Anthroposophical conferences in past we would sometimes ask each other “How are you in your home?” Well .. I will tell you more about that it the next post. Let’s say I found Buddha again. I have found my heart-space, I can breathe and move and stretch and think clearly (because I can find what I am looking for!).
So I think this month I am going to dedicate to living slowly – I’d love to hear about your experiences living slowly too.
I’m being very conscious of slowing down my life at the moment. There are a lot of things in my life that dictate how busy my day is – many of these are choices, and some are things I have to put up with until a new choice can be acted on … just at the moment it has become a little overwhelming.
I live on the Gold Coast in Queensland and part of living here means that you have to accept that you will be driving almost everywhere you need to go, and anywhere you need to go is between 20 – 45 minutes away. You have to actually double that time for your return trip. Some days, between the school runs and a few odd jobs in town I can spend up to four or five hours in transit, with my little girls in the back of the car with me.
Then there’s the things that you have to sort out – the stuff that goes on your “list of things to do today” as urgent, but often get carried over to the next day or the next week, despite their urgency because they simply cannot be attended to today (because I’ve spent four hours in the car!)
Then of course there are meals to be planned, shopped for, made, eaten, washed up. There are bathrooms to be cleaned, sheets to be changed, floors to be swept and mopped (after you have put away the general household debris that is strewn about) and laundry to be found, washed, hung out, folded and put away.
And then there is my work – which is varied – and the things that I want to do so that I feel fulfilled.
And children and my husband who need more nourishment than food provides – love and cuddles and sanity from someone who can be present to their needs because their days have become as busy as mine.
I re-read this and it makes me sound like I do everything around here – I don’t. My husband and kids pull their weight. But I do a lot of it merely because I am the one who is here to do it. I don’t resent the things that must be done in my life, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have a lot to do.
The problem isn’t that I am busy. I like being busy. I have many projects on the go that I know will not be finished in my life time (but it is about the process, isn’t it‽) I will always be a busy person. My problem is when my days appear to be mapped out for me before I even leave my bed – in fact often my days are mapped out the night before as I lie in bed making my list for the next day. I feel chained to THE LIST and chained to car.
When I wrote to my friend about my spinning mind and the feeling that my life is living me and not the other way round, she wrote back with some of the lyrics to one of my favourite songs: The 59th Street Bridge Song by Simon and Garfunkel. And so this has become my anthem when I feel busy – it cheers me up and makes me giggle. It helps me remember that I have a choice to move fast or to make things last …. like Dunbar from Catch 22 who spent his time serving in the 2nd World War finding ways to stretch time so that he could live longer, or at least have the illusion of living longer (which I think is the same thing) So it is time to slow down, to remember that like my craft projects, my life is a process for something that will never be completed because it keeps evolving into something new! Living slowly allows you the time to enjoy the process.
Time to ask – am I enjoying this moment? What is important here? Does this need to be on the list? How can I arrange my time more efficiently or solve this problem differently? How do I support my needs here? Do feel rushed or do I feel groovy?
I prefer to feel groovy 🙂 I just have to take the time to live it. I can’t feel groovy when I am rushing about like a headless chook. I can feel groovy when I breathe deep and walk slower and enjoy the moment.
The Serenity Prayer also comes to mind. Here is the full version – when I read it to myself I understand the reference to God as the divinity and the sovereignty within me – my own sense of power and peace, my intuition, my strength, my wisdom and life experience – all that makes me aware that magic things happen when I live with conviction about what is right for me.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
And here’s The 59th Street Bridge Song, performed by two guys who know how to feel groovy.