I try to adopt the Monty Python approach to life and always look on the bright side. However, we all know that this is more easily said than done. Could mindfulness help out?
The other day my 16 year old announced that he wanted to move out of home. When we asked why, we were informed that we are apparently too restrictive. Among other things (this is the edited version). In response, I took a deeeeeeeep breath and… quietly burst into tears.
Now, I happen to think that I’m so flexible that I could teach yoga in Nepal. Then again, I’m frequently told that I’m entitled to my wrong opinion. I do take some comfort in knowing that this ‘wrong opinion’ is shared by others.
So, I took my tears outside and sat on a lotus leaf under my prayer flags (okay, okay – so it was a chair on the back verandah under the washing), and meditated. Eyes closed, I quietly took some time to contemplate life, the universe and everything. Admittedly, it was only the 10 minutes remaining before starting my youngest’s bedtime routine, but I bet the Buddha never had to put children to bed…
Suddenly, enlightenment came to me!
Clearly, mindfulness was the answer to all my worries, confusion and anxiety. It’s the buzzword for our generation, so it must be the answer. The beauty of this approach is that it can be done anywhere, at any time, there’s no Lycra required and it costs absolutely nothing.
As does sharing the enlightenment. Let me bestow a little of mine:
All good mental and physical exercise programs involve a decent warm up and stretch. It’s time to stretch your mind and believe in the impossible! It is possible. As the Queen said in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!” That way, when your children’s behaviour or choices stretch your credulity, you’ll be prepared.
2. Practise counting to ten.
Actually, forget that. Practise counting to 100. If you don’t think that will be long enough, try counting in a language you learned in primary school. That will keep your brain so busy that when faced with a crisis, your mind will be fully occupied and you will have some, ahem, breathing space!
3. Breathe deeply.
Withdraw to a world of inner calm through deep breathing – in through your nose, out through your mouth. In, out, in, out. Follow the lead of your children, and zone out. Transcend the troubles of this world by ignoring everything and everyone else around you and simply focus on your breathing.
4. Set boundaries.
Experts who actually know something and radio shock jocks who only think that they do all tell us that we MUST set boundaries. Our children need certainty. Home should a safe place for them, a haven. A place without boundaries isn’t safe. That’s why we put fences around pools, playgrounds, and, hmm, what else? Oh, the national Parliament! A sign of maturity is being able to set and maintain your own boundaries against the pushback of those who live within different boundaries. Something that is again, easier said than done, especially for those in vulnerable positions. So it’s our job to help set the boundaries and enforce them.
5. Extend your boundaries.
The little darlings. We know that children test the limits and push back against the boundaries we set. Think of it as land reclamation, rather than border skirmishes. Of course, you might need to redraw the boundaries from time to time, as they grow older and develop different capabilities – including the capacity to totally ignore any boundaries which are currently in place. Manage the fall-out with younger siblings to whom the previous boundaries still apply. Remember – the impossible is possible! With practise, it’s amazing what you’ll find yourself capable of justifying, in the name of domestic harmony and homeland security.
6. Now think, Melbourne’s growth corridor and expanding city boundaries.
The reason we don’t want to give the proverbial inch is because our kids will take the proverbial mile, and more, right? Ok, so your land-reclaiming child has pushed you to such extreme limits that you no longer recognise what you do as regular parenting practice. But you need to walk in the shoes that you’re given and do what it takes to manage day by day – and sometimes hour by hour. I’ve been there, and no doubt will be there again. See point number 1.
7. Weight bearing.
Emotional stress is a heavy load to bear, and much as we want to, it’s not always possible to take the time we need for self-care. So shrug those shoulders up and down several times a day and practise a bored-sounding “Whatever…” Soon your shoulders will be strong enough to carry with ease the ugly jumble of cares and anxieties that are weighing you down. Or you could always try the gym…
As in, putting up with waiting for an answer, an action, a sign of life. Tempting as it is for us to fill the space with our words, it can interrupt our child’s thought processes or add to the noise that they’re already managing inside their head. Avoid the temptation of asking too many questions. What we think is showing our interest can be misinterpreted as prying. Or it can just create verbal (or text) overload. And yet waiting in silence, or where there is “radio silence”, can be the hardest thing. Practise by not talking to the computer the next time it glitches and loses all your work, or by not muttering at the bad drivers on the road. (Good luck with that one.)
9. Bite your tongue.
This is a companion to points 2, 3 and 8. And you can still do your breathing while biting your tongue – I’ve tried. It makes you concentrate more, which probably helps. Having extra time to find the right words is also more helpful than a reactive response to whatever the crisis of the moment is. Unless your child is experimenting with a knife in the electricity socket. That requires an immediate physical response and quite probably, shouting.
10. Find whatever works for you.
Exercise? Chocolate? Apps? There’s a plethora of mindfulness apps out there. Smiling Mind is one that springs to mind – that seems to be getting a good rap.
Best of all, it might even save your sanity. And that’s surely worth something.
Good luck, take care, and until next time, Happy Wombatting!
Cartoon by Margaret Lawson, writer and artist, posting in theshticks.org.