self-compassion

Modelling Grace

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Parenting consciously is just plain hard work!  The journey is as much about the children as the parent.  I have grown and learned so much about myself as I have ventured down this path of gentle parenting.  But as difficult as it is to look at the ways I could be more gentle with my children, it is even more challenging to find ways to be gentle with myself.

As I continue pushing my edges and expanding myself and trying to improve, I often feel like I’m failing.  Change is not easy.  And this path of mindful parenting is a long journey towards real and sustainable change.  Self-compassion is what is needed in the face of it all.  Just as I want my children to feel understood and held in their moments of regret, I also need to be gentle with myself when I mess up. There are ways to own our mistakes, realizing them for what they are, doing what we can to rectify them, and releasing them.

Modelling for my children what to do when I do mess up is showing them how to be in the world.  In reality, I’m providing my children with the best possible teaching about what to do when we mess up; we do our best to make it right and try for change again tomorrow.  What more could I hope to teach my children?  No one is perfect…let’s stop pretending it’s possible.

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How to Step Into the Darkness

We are blessed to live in Canada, with four seasons.  The season of autumn signals the beginning of turning inward.  A time for dreaming and planning while cozy indoors for the winter months.  But it doesn’t seem so enticing as the days are growing shorter and we are losing the time in daylight to wrap up the loose ends of summer.  Why is it that we are so afraid to head into the darkness?

It is out of the darkest times that the most growth happens.  it is in the darkness that we are at our edge.  People don’t like to be pushed to their edge.  That place within ourselves where we feel if we were to go any further we’d never find our way back.  But if we keep back from our edges, we would be missing out on those places from which the most growth happens.  For it is at the edge where two habitats intermingle and create something beautiful, abundant and new.  It is at the edge of ourselves where old meets new.  It is at this edge where the possibility of freedom exists.  Where the pressures of labels and expectations can be blurred.

Heading into the winter months, I feel resistance.  Although I am craving a slower time and rhythm, if it weren’t for the leaves falling and the looming frosts, I would not concede to more hours indoors, less light, and the abundant heap of clothing that adorns my entryway.  Although I know winter brings with it a beauty unique to the cold darkness, it doesn’t help me stop resisting its presence.  Likewise, it is difficult to make the choice to go into emotional darkness.  It feels unsafe and not to be trusted.  Why do we not trust ourselves enough to know we will come back out into the light?

We trust that spring will come again.  We trust that the sun will rise again tomorrow.  But we do not trust that we will again be happy if we choose to enter into periods of personal darkness.  But like the seasons and the days, it will pass.  Unlike natural cycles, our voyages into and out of darkness come without warning and recede without announcement.  They ease in and out slowly, as to confuse us as to where it came from and when it left.

Perhaps it is because we have not been well equipped with the skills to weather the storm.  We are not taught we can accept the deep and dark emotions.  We are taught instead to keep everything under control.  Our culture likes to pretend that everything is alright. We teach our children not to cry, saying ‘you’re alright’ to cherubim faces streaked with tears.  We have been taught to not trust ourselves by having our forms of personal expression muzzled.  We are schooled to believe that our interests aren’t as important as what the curriculum dictates.  Every time our inner desires were redirected, we were given a the message that what we valued was not worthy, and our inner voice was not to be trusted.  Think of the number of times we have received the message that what we feel doesn’t matter.

What can we do to regain the skills we need to trust ourselves?  How can we learn to trust those times when we need to head into the darkness and towards our edge?  Having had many experiences with sitting in darkness recently, I know that practice helps!  Watching myself fall in and out of dark periods has been building my courage and confidence to accept the darkness when it comes.  Framing my periods of darkness as storms that will blow over gives me the perspective I need sometimes.  It has also shown me that the more I can accept and perhaps even embrace my dark emotions and welcome them in with self-compassion, the easier the storm will be to weather.  When I am calm through the emotional turmoil, letting the waves of emotional burden crash upon a serene shoreline, the clouds blow over much quicker.

Knowing where to look for the light has also been something I use to come back from my edge.  For me, I find light in small things.  A smile on my child’s face, light dancing across the living room floor, the way the leaves flutter to the ground in the breeze, the sound and warmth of a crackling fire.  When I am able to notice moments of natural beauty, it brings me back to the present moment.  Presence brings me back.  Finding my moments of light allows the darkness to fade and the sun to come out again.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” — Haruki Murakami

Needing a Break ≠ Failure

We had a crazy hour around lunchtime yesterday.  Over the summer we have fallen out of the rhythm of tidying up before lunch and dinner, which has put us right back into power struggles over the issue as we try to reestablish our routine.  The children did not want to begin tidy-up time, despite several warnings it was coming.  They began running around getting out more things and generally getting into mischief.  I cleaned for what would usually be our tidy-time then shifted to make the children’s lunches in order to get the baby eating (and stop getting more toys out!).  I returned to tidying up, encouraging the older children to help, as it would take much less time to get to eating our lunches should we all work together.  This was generally not accepted, although they did help with a few things.  As we finished, the final task was for my three year old to put away the costume he had just taken off that was now on the floor.  The request threw him into complete melt-down that ended in a fight with is brother and a broken bowl.  When I got that cleaned up (I would normally have them clean their own messes, but in the case of broken dishes, I will do it for them) and people settled, my five year old asked for some crackers.  I decided to oblige for fear of creating another eruption…the children were clearly very hungry!  I put the crackers on his plate, which threw him into meltdown.  He didn’t want them to be wet by touching his pickle, and proceeded to throw them all over the kitchen.  My response was to leave, saying, “I need to leave because I feel like I’m going to yell at my children, and I don’t want to.”  I went into the next room, sat down and took some deep breaths.  What I heard from the kitchen was a return to happy conversation and the noises of children enjoying their lunches.  I could have chosen to address the behaviours right then and there, enforcing their need to clean up after themselves, but I didn’t. I chose to leave the situation rather than escalating it.  When I went back into the kitchen, everyone was fine again.  The food was being eaten, including the crackers that had since been picked up.  It is really hard to leave conflict in the heat of the moment.  For some reason the fight instinct is much stronger than the one for flight.  I ask my children to do this all the time – in the middle of conflict, I suggest they leave before they get into a fight.  This time I was able to model it, and more importantly experience what it feels like to leave in the heat of the moment.

The past couple of months have been very stressful for me for a number of reasons.  There has been a lot going on.  As a result, I have been stretched, pushed, and generally stressed out.  There was not time or space to properly process all that was happening due to the pace of life with three littles and the circumstances of the situation.  I am finally feeling like I’m recovering from what has been a very dark period in my life.

In the middle of it all, I didn’t know what to do to help myself.  I felt lost, and frustrated.  I was not parenting the way I wanted to be, or how I knew I was capable of.  But I had no way to be any different.  There was not space to make it so.  But what I didn’t think of in the throes of the chaos was to ask for help.  What I really needed was an opportunity to walk away, to have a break from the conflict.  In retrospect, I now realize that if I had asked for a day off, there are many people in my life who would have stepped up to provide the relief I so desperately needed.  I am so blessed with loving family and friends!  But what held me back was an inability to care for myself, rooted in my pride.  I didn’t want to admit that I was finding it all to be too much.  Our culture has such disdain for people who ask for what they need.  We suffer silently, afraid to ask for help.  But a break, even if it were just for a few hours would have helped me to return home to myself!

This past weekend I had a full day away from the family.  The yield from being apart for even just a day has been amazing. The past three days have been much more enjoyable for everyone in the family.  I have been able to restore my inner calm so I no longer feel the need to nag the children.  I now have more capacity for patience and compassion for myself and my children.  Although I hate to admit it, my children have benefited from the break as well.  Since we spend all of our time together, it is helpful to clear the air every once in a while.  The result of taking time apart has been that this week we have been much more respectful, more loving, more cuddly, and generally it has been more enjoyable to be around each other.  Now that I’m beginning to see the light at the other side of the darkness.  I can honestly say that I have learned an insurmountable lesson from this journey.  I know now that what is best for everyone is for me to have self-compassion.  Allowing myself to recognize that the journey can be difficult sometimes is alright.

I have been learning in many ways that sometimes the best conflict resolution is to walk away.  A break can bring such clarity.  Time away offers the space to stop reacting to it.  Asking for help does not speak of failure, but in fact the opposite.  When I ask for the support I need, I have in fact succeeded.  Having the courage to take time for myself allowed me to gain perspective about the ways in which I was trying to grasp at the illusion of control.  Without that oppressive old paradigm thinking, I have been able to reacquaint myself with what’s really important to me…my family.