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The Resilient Parent

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Most of us who have flown anywhere will recognize this -“If you have  a child or person next to you who requires assistance please ensure you place the oxygen mask on yourself first…..”.

As a parent this goes against instinct. It also goes against commonly held societal expectations in many families and cultures. We give up a lot for our kids and if it came to it – we would give up our lives.

Of course there is an essential need for the instructions above. If you pass out for lack of oxygen, you are no help to your child at all.

The quality of our parenting is directly connected to the quality of our well being. A tired, ill, stressed or gloomy parent is in danger of producing tired, ill, stressed or gloomy parenting decisions and attitudes. In contrast a parent who feels energetic, healthy, calm and happy is more likely to reflect this in their day to day relationship, attitude and decisions with their children.

Exhausted and at the end of your rope, you walk in at the end of an overloaded work day to discover your 10 year old has been stood down from school. Frazzled and frustrated from a day at home with 2 kids under 5, endless piles of washing and no adult company, the final straw is when you discover your 2 year old got into your make-up. Juggling bags of groceries you realise you forgot to collect your prescription at the chemist but only have 20 minutes to get the tea ready – you choose the tea over your prescription and get no sleep that night.

Life happens. The best we can do is, well…. the best we can do. A wise person once said to me (with regard to decisions I had made as a parent) “You can only do the best you can , with the information and knowledge you have at the time”. This is true. It is also true that at the times I believe I could have done better, there would have been something impacting on me. Something life threw at me – or something I threw at myself.

If we as parents take care of our own needs first, we are wisely parenting. We must take what we need in order to give what we would like. Eat well. Get some exercise. Feed your mind. Feed the part of you that isn’t a ‘parent’. Fill your emotional tank. Get some quiet, some fun and some interaction with peers. Choose commitments well. Paint. Dance. Take a drive. Fill up so you have something to give out. It’s not good enough to say “I’m too busy for me”. It’s not good enough because if your kids indeed come first, they deserve the best you can give.

We  ‘choose’  consciously and unconsciously in every moment of every day. We choose to stay in jobs, relationships, courses or clubs – or we choose to stay out of them. We choose to work through lunch or let friends slip to the bottom of our to do lists. What we don’t always realise is that a ‘selfish’  5 minutes in the garden or lunch with a friend may be just enough fuel to take us through the next parenting moment in our day more joyfully, calmly, gratefully or sanely than if we had never made those choices at all.

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This article was originally written for The Guardian Newspaper and Parentline.

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Glue for your relationship

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glue  /noun  /   
An adhesive substance used for sticking objects or materials together.
If I could manufacture relationship glue and sell it online, I’m sure I would be an overnight success story. I may even get to retire my imaginary magic wand!
And here’s the thing…….there is a glue for relationships. It’s not available in supermarkets or health food stores. Nor is it available in your favorite hardware outlet. But it is readily available wherever a human being exists.  And here are some examples of that glue in action:
Crossing the divide in a tense discussion and rubbing your partners neck (because he had complained about it earlier)
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Saying the cheese toast ‘just hit the spot’ even though it was soggy.
or
Stopping and listening to your partners complaints about the traffic and his boss – even though your day was pretty horrendous too.
Or
Getting up silently and loading the dishwasher, even though it’s not your turn (because she looks tired tonight)
or
Telling him you appreciate him putting the kids to bed (even though he didn’t do it quite the way you would have liked)
or
Saying she looks beautiful (even though she is running 20 minutes late for a night out)
Have you worked out what the glue is called yet?
Its called kindness.

 

It’s so underrated isn’t it? Being kind? But being kind can fix a host of ills. Being kind can build a bridge. Being kind can foster a connection that will weather irritations and ill matched values.

Being kind can turn tense discussions into resolutions just because you reached out – touched her hand/rubbed his neck/ told him he was appreciated/gave her a loving look etc

Kindness is communication. It says ‘I care’. I may not agree. But I care. And in the end. Isn’t that the thing we most want to hear?

When we are treated with kindness it fills us with warmth and gratitude and we feel blessed and we want to give some of that back……………and hey presto……..glue invisibly but with certainty pulls us closer together and tells us there is no other place we would rather be; we see the relationship as a soft place to fall.

Create some glue.

 

Good cop – Bad cop – Wanna swap?

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So the kids know right? They know it’s Dad they ask when they want to have a sleep out, in a mouldy tent, on the back lawn, with weather forecasts of 5 degrees and steady rain. And they know it’s Mum they ask at 6pm on Sunday night when they need help with their social studies assignment which is due on Monday morning.

The kids have got you sussed! Whether it’s through ‘personality analysis’ (!) or smart timing our kids are pretty on the ball when it comes to asking for things that they want.

Years back after visiting a friend my son spoke candidly about what he thought she should have done when her child mis-behaved! I remember sitting in silence the rest of the journey a little ‘freaked out’. If he so clearly saw the dynamics of my friends parenting skills – what did he think of mine!

Have you ever wondered how it is that your child ‘sees you’?

We all have a uniqueness that influences the roles we play. Dad might be ‘the emotive perfectionist’ while Mum is ‘the laid back stabilizer’. Mum might be ‘the  soft touch negotiator’ whilst Dad is ‘the firm layer down of the law‘. In all relationships we make space and find our niche. Generally, when this is respectfully done between parents, the push and pull, light and shade of their roles weaves the unique dynamic that makes up their family. Sometimes though we can find ourselves cornered into a role that we no longer want.

The expression ‘he was angry enough for both of us’ explains well how a partner might influence our behaviour. When one person is so proudly the organiser it might not leave anyone else (including their partner) room to be this. Feelings of frustration or inadequacy can step in. Even, as a single parent we have a certain ways we see ourselves – a certain ‘parental identity’ that can disallow us ways of being we might prefer.

How might it be to step away from ‘planned and organised’ and into ‘we’ll go where the breeze takes us’ – even just for an afternoon? Or how might it be for ‘the timekeeper’ to take a break sometimes and be able to hand her watch over to Dad? Likewise it might be good for Dad to come home and find that consequences have already been metered out and he is free to cuddle by the fire with the kids and be ‘just loving’ tonight.

Is there a part of your parenting role you would like to play more often?

Good cop -Bad cop….wanna swap?

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This article was originally written for The Guardian newspaper and Parentline.

Homeland

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A copper dust swirls like a wake from a boat as the 4×4 pulls in

The sun burns my skin as the breeze cools it
Dust rushes to the back of my throat and I close my eyes
I breathe in the smells, the sounds and the feel of Africa
My son rolls on the lawn with the Ridgeback
And points to a Kingfisher sitting on the electric wire
A swallow sweeps over the veranda diving up into her nest in the thatching
It is a long, lazy, African day on the farm
I hear guinea fowl in the distance and the Ridgeback runs off to chase them
My ginger cat scavengers some sadza from the dogs bowl
The strawberries glisten from the garden spray
I pop one in my mouth – warm from the sun
Damp from the spray – fresh from the plant
Big black African clouds gather on the horizon and
The hot earth begs for a cooling……..I close my eyes…….
…………It is cold and I’m in a rush – I cannot find my keys
The kids on traffic control are wearing bright orange raincoats
A boy drops his ball on the pavement and his Mother reprimands him
Frost sits upon the grass and the sky is dull
We rush into a heated classroom already frosting it’s windows
The children laugh at something said I am greeted with
“How are ya?”
I reply in kiwi talk “Good”
I walk back out into the cold, past the cherry blossoms fighting the wind
The tulips a cacophony of color – the mountains disguised by the mist
Suburbia chatters in voices of traffic, skateboards and dogs..
I stop a moment – gasp in cool crisp air and close my eyes…….
……………A hornbil sits on the telephone wire and a Kudu barks in the distance
A pikanin stands – dusty and barefoot clapping his hands together as I hand him a penny cool
The tractor pulling a trailer of women disappears in the dust leaving wisps of voice and beat
The sun beats down and bleaches the red earth 
As rain; like an invisible wall approaches through the maize
I can hear it before I see it
Heavy drops begin to fall and a clean, dusty, choking smell hits my nostrils
The fields rejoice………………..

Like a sound that wakes you; confused and startled in the night
Like the sense you get when you are being watched
Like the image of a bright light that remains imprinted as you blink
Like an echo that rings in your ears long after the sound is gone
We are there
On the grass a boy rolls….into the yard a truck pulls
The sun warms my skin and the breeze brings dust
Dust to the back of my throat
In the long lazy hours
For the rest of our days
We are there
          We are there
                         We are there

 

GBH       Boo 2005

 

Teach people how to treat you

It’s Tuesday morning and you wake. You remember that you have agreed to meet someone for coffee at 8.30 but cannot remember if it is Sally or Melissa. You kind of hope in that split second that it’s Sally. Good old Sally. Relaxed, laid back ‘don’t you stress about it’ Sally. Because here’s the thing… You have an urgent parcel to send off and the post office only opens at 8.30am and if you go to the post office first it will make you late for coffee. Possibly only 10 minutes late. But late. You could (at a stretch) post it at lunch time, but this might mean the parcel will miss its’ deadline.

Getting out of bed you traverse the stairs and imagine being late for Melissa.

You visualize her sitting pertly in the stainless steel and leather dining chairs in the center of the café her eyes darting around at the café counter, the chair beside her and that mark on the table cloth. You can almost hear her tummy rumbling for that un-ordered coffee. You don’t want to keep Melissa waiting….

You have arrived downstairs and your diary sits closed in front of you. Just to tease yourself you visualize Sally. She (conversely) is sinking back into the leather sofa in the corner of the café; a woman’s weekly in her hand; her eyes scanning the recipes section, then travel or perhaps the article on how to write a done list. Two steaming cups of coffee sit at the wait in front of her (one with the chocolate already scooped off) and a large caramel slice with two forks sits obediently in anticipation. Laid back Sally!

You open your diary.

8.30am – Melissa – Café Brie.

Meticulous Melissa. Driven, organised completely reliable one of a kind Melissa.

You smile. You love Melissa; have amazing conversations with Melissa. And she is the first one you would call in a crisis.

That parcel is going to be late!

You see – you love and respect both Sally and Melissa and they have both taught you how to treat them.

Melissa taught you she highly values punctuality. Sally taught you she doesn’t.  You like neither of these women more or less than one another. It’s just that you would have felt quite comfortable keeping Sally waiting but not so Melissa. Interestingly, you would not feel comfortable bringing shop bought Pavlova to Sally’s afternoon tea but wouldn’t blink an eye doing that to Melissa. (Melissa understands you may have priorities beyond a few hours in the kitchen. Sally would say nothing but you know she would feel hurt that you hadn’t put the effort in for her).

Acknowledgement of the day……………you teach people how to treat you….so give that a tweak if you like!

Case Study – Space to feel again

ryan-franco-263029As they walked in the room and hesitated; deciding where to sit, Jason and Sheila appeared awkward and disconnected. Sheila chose the single chair closest to the door. Jason waited for her to choose her seat before sitting himself alone on the double sofa. They created a picture that was to match their story.

Two months  prior, Sheila had asked Jason to move out of the home they had lived in for some 15 years. This had been a shock to him. Tears still welled in his eyes when he remembered  the afternoon of that conversation. As the tears welled Sheila sat unmoved as if she didn’t notice.

After some 15 years of marriage Sheila had had enough. Enough of Jasons refusal to get a better job, a better group of friends or better life goals. She was tired of being the breadwinner, the organiser and the dreamer.

Since he had moved out Jason had joined the gym and lost 6 kgs. He had applied for several new jobs and was short listed for two. He had started paying into the retirement fund at work and had sold the old car cluttering up their garage which had been waiting for some 5 years for him to ‘fix  it up’. It was clear Jason wanted Sheila back.

“I just can’t feel the way you want me to feel Jason”, said Sheila.

“I’m not asking you to. I’m just asking for a chance”, he woefully replied.

At the end of the first session I suggested they come separately to see me.

In our one on one session Sheila told me that she was not sure whether she wanted their marriage back or not and she was not sure what she needed in order to make the decision.

“He is pushing me away with all his want”, she exclaimed.

When I saw Jason he said he was confused by Sheila’s indifference. He wondered what that indifference really meant. He wasn’t sure he could hold out hope much longer. I could also see that Jason was sabotaging any chance of a relationship repair by incessantly texting Sheila and turning up unannounced with flowers or her favourite custard slice. He was growing desperate and frustrated and had started to get angry with her for ‘stringing him along’.

At the end of my session with Jason I asked him how he was showing Sheila his commitment.

“The flowers the calls, the lawn mowing, the changes I am making, the declarations I am making………..what more can she possibly want?”

“Have you asked ?” I replied.

I think that it is easy to show commitment when things are certain. When the ground beneath our feet is secure and when we know we are loved. It is so much more difficult to show it when we are not certain of the end result.

I was thinking that this was the perfect opportunity – a golden gift of an opportunity, for Jason to prove his commitment.

In the next session together Jason gathered his courage and asked Sheila what it was she really needed from him right now. And like magic – she told him.

In a session some 2 months later Sheila was able to tell Jason that she wanted their marriage back and that she missed him. It had been a long road for them both. Pure joy and relief radiated around the room. Jason had been able to deliver what she needed most; the space to feel again. 

Giving what feels almost impossible to give when your partner needs it is the most powerful statement of commitment we can give.

NB This is a fictional adaptation.

Of Kings and Happy Endings

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If you are into warm fuzzy reads in the parenting category…..you scanned the right page ….read on….

A few weeks ago, if you were in the area of Cloverlea, you may have received my heartfelt flier – about a lost cat. Kitcat had gone missing. Now Kitcat is no ordinary cat (as few are) and I was very distraught when this much treasured member of our family failed to come home. I set about on a campaign to find him ; posters, fliers, SPCA,, vets, internet – no effort too big , no stone un-turned.

Within a day I was called to the first ‘sighting’. A few neighborhood kids rode up my drive on their bikes and told me they had seen the wandering feline a few days earlier. The next day a parent phoned me to say his children had seen him a little farther afield and the day after that two young girls excitedly lead me to a neighbors cat (a feline look-alike).

After some 5 days of endless searching, calling, hoping and crying….I was woken at 3am by a faint meow. Holding hope at arms length, I crept downstairs to find a bedraggled, wet, famished pussy cat in my kitchen. “Meow”, he said “The king is back”.

As I sat in the dark on the carpet letting Kitcat head-butt, purr and relate his story, I was struck by the reaction of the children in my neighbourhood. They had risen to the challenge. They had become involved. They had wanted me to feel good (find my cat) so they could feel good and you know – I felt a warm gratitude for this upcoming generation.

Someone said that kids need an opportunity to be noble – to be a hero – to do good and, after this ‘lost cat’ experience, I know they are right. My neighbourhood kids were much more caring, concerned and empathetic about my plight, than most of the busy and life seasoned adults. For all their lack of life experience, these kids knew loss….and they knew hope…. and they were prepared to put the footwork into befriending the latter.

The morning after Kitcats return, I bundled him into my arms and walked out onto the street where I live. One small boy riding by on his bike, shrieked with delight when he saw us. It was evident I had given him joyous news (even though he knows neither me nor my feline very well) and he biked off in search of neighbourhood peers with which to rejoice.

My point is? Give kids a chance to be noble. Give kids a chance to do good.  Give them a chance to step up and give. Encourage them to befriend hope, sacrifice and hard work in ways that make their heart swell. Ignore your adult wisdom long enough sometimes to join in their pursuit of re-directing the injured, wayward duck, building the cardboard tree-house (because Jimmy doesn’t have one),walking with Sarah all the way round the block to find the end of the rainbow or join them on their mission – to find a missing cat. As adults we know that ducks die, cardboard gets wet, rainbows are elusive and that some cats never return. But ‘missions impossible’ breed Heroes and Heroines – whether the ending is happy or not.

My thanks to the Cloverlea kids for letting me know they cared, for putting some legwork into the caring and for taking a little hope and stretching it a lot.

Happy endings.

PS – This article was written for The Guardian and Parentline Manawatu some years ago. I am sad to report that in his never ending quest for freedom and experience – one day Kitcat left on an adventure and never returned. I am ever grateful for the joy he brought to my life and imagine he is somewhere out there…..happily chasing bunnies in the sky.

James, DNA and irrational positivity!

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James is a deceitful boy. When James disappoints his parents they are quick to remind him of it. In James’ home hard work, and honesty are valued – so are kindness and love. James knows this. When James’ parents tell him he is a liar, he  has no argument. His feet are glued to this position the same way deceit  is glued to his internal cells. At some point deceit and James became one.

Mathew sometimes lies. He lies when he feels cornered or trapped and sometimes he lies to get his own way. His parents are quick to point out when deceit may have hitched a ride on his shoulder.   In Mathews home   physical fitness, and honesty are valued – so are love and commitment.  Mathew knows this. When his parents open the ‘invisible lie box’ and exclaim “Whoops……looks like one may be missing….”  Mathew  may confirm or deny this. Mathew doesn’t stand in glue. Mostly he ends up saying something like “I lied – I’m sorry”. At some point Mathew realised that deceit was a little like a button you might push on  the play station control; it was something you could chose. It was  just one choice – out of many.

In my work I have met a few unfortunate James and a few lucky Mathews. It is quite difficult for the James’s’ to understand they have a choice. Mostly this is because of how others see them and hence, how they see themselves. James never hears “That doesn’t sound like something my James would want to do’ when his latest exploits are revealed.

If you think about the  last time you felt honourable, giving, generous or kind, chances are it made you inclined to give more, do more, or be more. A kind of warmth sat in your chest and you wanted more of it.

The experience of achieving and giving  is infectious. Sometimes even when we have done wrong (been rude to our spouse/ forgotten yet another lunch date) and we fix it (Cook him his favourite meal/ pick her daisies from our garden)we get that same warmth in our chest. We feel pride. It feels good to do good. And, it is no different for our children.

One of my favourite lines is -’Every child deserves to have at least one adult who is irrationally positive about them’. Now irrational positivity can sometimes be in short supply but when it is there in the flesh….when you hold it close and stand by your child’s side I doubt that any anger, deceit, sulks, sadness or mischief  can  truly compete.

If we can find a way to unglued (or un-label) our kids, even during the most repetitive and trying of times we offer them ‘choice’. When we understand that they may not always make the wisest decision about things in the first instance but we hold the hope that they will make better decisions  next time or in the future –  we create space. Deep breath space.  Looking heavenward space.

With a little hope and positivity we  can invite better choices and….warm chests.

**This article originally written for The Guardian and Parentline