(adapted from an article by Elisha Goldstein and Stefanie Goldstein, January 27, 2020)
Families have never been as disconnected as in recent times. This can be attributed to busy schedules, digital devices, and long commutes. South Africa has joined the rest of the world in a state of lockdown and even if you need to work from home, you will have time to work on your relationships, increase your well-begin and bring the family back together!
We have all needed this “down time” – our generation was sensing that it needed a strength of presences and that is why more and more people are exploring ways to become grounded through yoga, mindfulness, and diet. We are all looking for ways to slow down and bring more connection into our family life.
Here are 7 things you can try to do differently over the next weeks:
Accept the fact that you will never be a perfect parent – you will still overreact, get triggered, say and do things you wish you hadn’t. You are going to make mistakes, you are going to hurt your child’s feelings and you are not always going to be what you wanted to be for your child - So we simply have to accept our imperfections as parents. However, if we practice loving, radical self-compassion and self-acceptance we are shaping the minds of our children and teaching them to do the same for themselves and others. There is no greater gift!
Listen with curiosity:
We are all so busy juggling the balls in our lives that it is a rare experience to stop and truly listen to one another. There are so many distractions and we try to do so many things at once. This causes us to lose our cool with our kids and to create distance and misunderstandings with our partners. As we pause and listen to each other more, we can engage the experiences in our family with a growth mindset. We can see struggles and triumphs as opportunities for learning and growth. Instead of judging each other, we get a better understanding of where someone is coming from. If we don’t understand, we can lean in and say “tell me more?”. Listening attentively and with curiosity opens up more possibilities for fewer misunderstandings, more clarity, and greater connection!
We often avoid conversations with each other because it makes us feel vulnerable. Sometimes we leave somethings unspoken and unresolved, but this can be a slow poison. It builds resentments, distrust, harmful behaviour, and disconnection. We should rather be clear and honest about what we think and feel. This way we create a safe space where everyone is comfortable sharing how they feel and what they need. If you have something on your mind, take a few moments and explore why you have been avoiding the topic. Then approach the family member and state your feeling, your need, and how you would like to handle similar situations in the future. But also refer to paragraph 2 when engaging in conversation.
Practice appreciation and gratitude:
Being a parent is one of the most thankless jobs around and it is not uncommon to feel that you are being taken for granted. From endless diapers and feeding when they are infants to the never-ending meals, laundry, and taxi driving as they get older, a parent may feel lost and unloved. While words of affirmation may or may not be your primary love language, we all want to be acknowledged and appreciated. There is a surprisingly simple way of doing this that can have huge benefits: be intentional when practicing appreciation and expressing gratitude. Appreciate when the children help with the dishes or compliment your partner for being ready on time. It may seem silly or even annoying but this may just be the acknowledgment and encouragement someone needed to change his or her habits.
Forgive ourselves and each other:
Lily Tomlin once said: “Forgiveness means letting go of any hope for a better past”. Every family goes through tough times. We all experience times when we don’t feel listened to, appreciated, or seen and thee are times when people are cranky and say things they don’t mean or wish they could take back! The simple phrase of “forgive, investigate and invite” can be helpful in times like these.
If you have transgressed, forgive yourself, understanding that you cannot change the past, remembering that you aren’t perfect and realising that mistakes are often made out of ignorance and confusion. Then investigate where you went off track and what impact it made and how we would respond differently next time. Then invite yourself to make the repair!
Practice support and generosity:
One of the core values of mindfulness is generosity. The spirit of generosity means giving and sharing things of value that can be reflected in money, time, love or possessions. Our children look at our behaviour to see how to behave in the world – therefore our generosity not only has a positive impact in our immediate environment but also has a ripple effect for generations to come. How do you show generosity? It can be by donating money to a cause you support, bringing a meal to a sick person, or sharing a smile with someone who needs it. Our children model our behaviour and therefore we should include them in these acts as often as possible. You can perhaps reward your children’s good behaviour with money into a kindness jar, and then use that money to support a charitable organisation.
Don’t forget to play and have fun!
We get so stuck in the moment-to-moment grind and stressors that we actually forget to have fun! We easily forget each other and how to have fun! Raising children is probably the most important job you will ever get tasked with and the pressure of raising good humans can be weighty. So much so that we fall into a pattern of taking things too seriously and being overly focused on tasks like chores, homework, activities, etc.) – we lose the enjoyment of being together. With the exception of planned trips, we often don’t intentionally plan fun in our day – but why not? We plan everything else, so why not be more purposeful when planning out the week to make sure to include experiences of play?