I have a child who struggles with anxiety and a heightened sensory system, and we recently had a messy boat ride down the river of parenting. It was a looooong, drawn out ride that required me to dig deep, but was all worth it in the end. We made it through the rapids, and while there were a few moments of taking on water, we managed to keep the boat upright and afloat. Here’s the breakdown of our experience and the mindfulness that helped me stay focused on my parenting form along the way...
I haven’t always practiced proper parenting form - I may be a parent coach, but that doesn’t make me a perfect parent! I’ve had (and, still have!) my share of messy moments in parenting. We are human and there are always moving parts in any relationship, so no situation is ever the same or predictable - the same as any river. The best we can do is know the tools and strategies we have accessible and be mindful of our parenting form.
Has Parenting Brought You to Your Boiling Point?
Picture it — you’re cooking pasta when the pot starts to boil over. It’s quick to become a real mess if you don’t do something about it. So, how do you react? Do you stir the contents to slow the boil or put the lid on to cover the boil? Maybe you’ll do the ol’ wooden stick across the pot to keep the bubbles down (did you know that one??!!) You can try any of those, but you’ll quickly learn that they are just temporary fixes — that starchy water is sure to bubble up in no time and your pasta is going to become a mushy mess. But what if you made a change in the flame, what would happen then? Just by turning that flame down a notch, you would notice the water settling down which keeps the bubbles at bay and allows the pasta to cook gently.
This is something to keep in mind as parents. Not that we’re a pot of heated water about to boil over — although sometimes it feels that way! But more so, to make a difference in our parenting, we need to make changes in our own actions. Would you ever expect to toss some pasta and water together in a pot and have it cook perfectly without doing anything to it? Of course not! Your bowtie pasta doesn’t just know how to prepare itself! You, as the chef, would take the necessary steps to transform that crunchy dehydrated pasta to its wonderful ‘al dente’ potential by creating an ideal situation for the best outcome. The same goes for parenting. We shouldn’t expect our children to just know how to meet our expectations, sometimes we as parents have to initiate a change within ourselves to get things cooking.
When I was getting irritated by my daughter’s nitpicky and witty replies to pretty much anything that came out of my mouth, it took me a little while to see the big picture. I kept reprimanding her for her curtness which just made the situation even more tense — each episode of this brought the pot closer to boiling over. I decided to really take a look at what was going on. How could I make a change that would impact this situation for the better? One small change I decided to put into action was just listening more. I became more selective with which comments I would respond to. Turns out, I was adding my input and opinions to areas my daughter wasn’t even looking for advice, she was just trying to share or vent. The very act of me being more selective with my commenting, adding my two cents, or even stating, “I have some thoughts on this, would you like to hear them?” made a big difference in our relationship. Within a few days of making this small adjustment, the snarkiness was practically gone and my daughter was becoming even more conversational with me!
When there is an aspect of your family life that is a little messy or difficult, stirring or covering it up is not going to make the real change you’re looking for. You need to make an adjustment to break the cycle. Making an actual change to the heat is going to make the difference in the overall outcome. The change begins with YOU. It doesn’t have to be a big change - even the smallest adjustment can make a shift happen. I mean, if you think about that boiling pot again, if you made a big adjustment to the flame, the pasta wouldn’t even cook! The small changes are the ones that make a big difference by allowing you to slowly adjust to help make an outcome stick!
I know, I know. Change is not easy nor is it comfortable. But, if the year 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that even though change is hard, change is doable. And, we often find good on the other side of change. Small changes are intentional, small changes are manageable and small changes incite larger changes and put positive outcomes into motion.
So, let’s do this — what’s boiling over or about to boil over in your life? Do you feel like you’re a broken record with your kids? Does your bedtime routine need some revamping? Does your day feel like it’s in hyperdrive and you need to find a way to slow the pace? Whatever it may be, take a step back and look at the situation from a different angle. What’s one thing you can do to make a small change in the routine? How can you turn the heat down a few notches and allow your situation to simmer down?
I feel like people are generally in one of two self care camps — they either practice it or feel like there’s no way they could fit it into their current schedule. Which camp are you in?
I was totally in the ‘no way’ camp for a long time. I take that back...I was in a third camp titled, ‘no time for it in my schedule until I’m about to break.’ Anyone else in this camp? This one is tricky because since you indulge in an activity every now and then, you FEEL like you’re indulging in self care and giving yourself time — which you are, but that’s generally not the self care that will sustain you through your everyday tasks.
Self care is meant to help you feel energized during your every day stress. Ideally, it should be practiced daily — Hold up, Rebecca! Who the heck has time to do that?!?!? — You do! We all do, but first you have to consider it a priority! It’s ok!! Make it a priority!!
Self care doesn’t have to take a ton of time and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Self care is simply doing something you enjoy that brings you some energy and clarity. Now, of course, self care may look differently throughout the stages of your life — a parent of a newborn will probably not have the same level of self care as a parent of a teen.
Are you asking what your self care should look like? It could be something as simple as getting a cup of coffee from the drive thru while your baby is napping in the backseat. Perhaps it’s bundling your child up to get some time outside for a brisk walk. It could also simply be taking an activity off your calendar to free up some time. It’s those little moments you savor and appreciate that bring you joy.
I took this photo on my birthday hike - I like to call it the "Treat Yo'Selfie." The self care piece (aside from the actual hike) was to go without my kids so it was complaint free!
What small thing can you do for yourself today?
Rebecca Murphy, Certified PCI® Parent Coach.