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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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.

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