With the year drawing to a close, now is a good time to spend a little time in quiet reflection before heading into the new year on auto pilot.
Because you are ever changing – your family dynamics shift too. This is good news. Because, no matter what is going on in your family right now, you can create unimaginable positive changes to your family life and the way you feel about yourself as a parent.
I would like to share 10 ideas with you that might inspire you to change your priorities, take better care of yourself, and deepen your relationship to each of your children.
- I will put my own needs on the family’s agenda
One of the reasons it can feel so difficult to meet our own needs as a parent, is because it is expected that our needs are met OUTSIDE of our family time; when the kids are at school, on playdates or otherwise occupied in order that they don’t feel the lack of our 100% presence.
Rarely do we question where these expectations come from. Do they serve us? Do they even serve our kids?
The answer is no.
Children benefit from the presence of parents who themselves feel regulated and stimulated. And when we aren’t, family life quickly feels suffocating and overwhelming. With nothing in the tank, and our own emotional cup full to the brim we so easily spill over the minute our child gets upset or feels difficult to handle. Our emotional system simply can’t handle it because there’s no more bandwidth.
And so the negative spiral is set in motion; We snap and lose our temper, and later feel guilty for having done so – only to then feel undeserving of meeting our own needs.
Yet, it is precisely the opposite we need. To get curious:
WHY am I so easily triggered lately?
HOW might I begin to offload in a more constructive way?
WHAT is available to me right now?
As parents, we absorb so many of our children’s emotions, soothe and go above and beyond. Yet, no human can continually absorb without discharging and offloading.
What might help you to discharge your feelings and reset your system?
– A good night’s sleep? (this if often the most underrated reason for our losing it often).
– Good and nourishing food?
– Saying yes to meeting with good friends?
– Taking up a hobby?
– Writing a diary?
2. I will listen more – and talk less
A dad I once spoke to said it beautifully:
“When my child has done something wrong, I don’t want him to hide it from me out of fear of getting into trouble. I want him to think; I need my dad”
When we focus on listening without judgement and instead try to listen to understand our child’s perspective, our relationship to our child changes. Teaching happens between the lines.
Rather than TELLING our children right from wrong and constantly judging their experiences or thoughts as right or wrong – begin to trust that your child absorbs morals, values and kindness from how YOU are in the world.
Therefore, it is far more nourishing for your child and your relationship if you let go of the need to actively teach – and hold back your own opinions as much as possible – as it gives your child an opportunity to get to know themselves better. The older the child the less they need our view on things, because they already know it. They need us to be the container for their own thoughts and perspectives.
Have you ever collected your child after school only to find that it is like pulling teeth to get any information about their day?
Yeah. Many children don’t satisfy our need for a blow-by-blow account of their school day upon pick up, but will want to talk and share with us if we are willing to be a little patient. The big things are often shared at bedtime and if we want a good connection, it is wise to listen when the moment is right for them.
Here are some ideas for setting the scene at times that suits you too:
A walk, a bike ride or hopping on the trampoline together is another way we calibrate and set the scene for our children to open up. The more we can listen without judgement and instead be open minded and curious – the more our children will feel safe to share themselves with us.
And when they can share the little things with us, they will know that they can share the big things with us too.
3. I will inject of a daily dose of ‘See Vitamin’ into each of my children
If sibling tension and jealousy is an issue in your family, adopting a daily practice of 10 minutes of special time with each of our children is a wonderful way of injecting a dose of ‘see vitamins’ into our child.
A lot of jealousy between siblings is borne out of a fear of not mattering the same to mum and dad. Rather than giving our children’s quarrels our constant negative attention, getting intentional about spending some positive time with each child in a way that is meaningful to you both, is a sure way to ensure that your child feels seen and loved.
There is a difference between hanging out in the same house – and being together. When we dedicate as little as ten minutes to our child and actively decide to leave aside chores and our phone, we might first realise how rarely we really do this. All too easily our child ends up being the one asking for our attention – but reversing this dynamic ensures that you will feel less harassed and instead be able to show up more generously.
- Make a cup of tea and sit on the floor with your child
- Pull up a chair and watch your child practice ball in the garden
- Colour and draw together
- Jump on the trampoline
What can you do? This need not be taxing – but a time when your attention is not divided and your phone is put away.
4. I will parent from my highest values by looking at the big picture
This one is inspired by my husband.
As a parent, we all have something that we know hits the spot for our child. Something that your child enjoys doing with you. And you in particular. This might be jumping on the trampoline, football, playing a game, scratching their back or doing acrobatics moves on the floor.
Whatever it is for you – there is real power in committing to nourishing that thing in your relationship with your child.
Tempting as it is to say no because – let’s face it, dinner doesn’t cook itself, it is worth taking a mindful moment to remember that we get 18 Christmases with our child. So begin to ask yourself; what will my future self have wanted from me? This is a powerful way to connecting with and living from our highest values.
When we do something with consistency we often lessen the guilt that we can feel as a result of consistently prioritising the laundry over time spent with those we love the most.
5. I will allow myself to change my mind
Consistency is key. And once you’ve said A you have got to say B. Right?!
This script is archaic and rests on the assumption that children won’t respect us if they see any change of heart. The fact is, children respect us more when they can tell that there is congruency between what we say and what’s going on in our minds.
If, after you’ve initially said no, you realise that you lean more towards a yes, your child can feel it in your wavering. Knowing that you are not losing authority and respect by changing your mind means that you can sidestep many unnecessary fights.
The key is to never say:
“Fine then. Have it”.
But instead remain in charge and admit that you’ve had a change of heart:
“Okay – I’ve had a think about it – and I’ve decided it’s fine by me”.
This way children not only learn that the crying and whinging is not what paid off (even if it is) but that there is no shame in a flexible mindset.
6. I will introduce a family meeting
Family life happens automatically whether we feel we are in charge or not. It’s like a train that is in constant motion. The forward motion does not depend on you actively DRIVING the train – but if you want to have a say in where your train is headed and HOW you get there – your parenting awareness and ability to cooperate as a family are key.
One of the greatest gifts of working with a parenting coach is that it offers a unique opportunity to become more aware of the unwanted patterns and behaviours that trip us up and prevent us from living the family life we yearn to live.
The good news is – as a family we can introduce a practice that helps all family members to feel valuable and able to shape the family’s agenda by setting up a family meeting.
In no way is this a formal meeting – but an opportunity for everyone to voice their concerns, longings or resolve conflict or issues that keep occurring.
The guiding principles of a family meeting is that each family member is allowed to talk (consider using an ‘I’m talking’ prop) and that we refrain from critiquing.
Anything can be put on the family meeting agenda. Here are a few ideas;
- Pocket money
- Upcoming holidays
- Meal planning
The key is to start small and allow everyone to see the positive benefits of coming together in this way. Sticking to safe subjects is a good idea in the beginning – and once your family gets the hang of it – you can begin to tackle some of the bigger issues.
7. I will open up to trusted people about the hard things
If we are to judge by the appearance on Instagram, it would seem as though everyone are leading magical and conflict free lives. The truth is, every family, every relationship and every parent experiences challenges, insecurities and ups and downs. And one of the most powerful ways to empower ourselves and deepen our relationships to others, is to share our struggles.
“When we share the difficult stuff it halves. When we share our joy – it doubles“
So goes an old proverb. And it is true.
Yet, not everyone is deserving of our inner most thoughts and feelings and not everyone is invested in our growth. For us to want to open up we need to feel psychologically safe – and able to trust that what we are saying is not going to be critiqued or used against us.
If you have got a couple of people or a professional in your life with whom you can confide, you are blessed. And when you lean into the support that is around you and can begin to trust that you are not alone in occasionally feeling less than a perfect mother – you come to see that being a ‘good enough mother or father’ is more than enough.
8. I allow myself to lower the bar
Before you head into the new year ready to tackle 2022 – take a moment to reflect, before automatically hitting the ‘play’ button:
- How did this past term feel for your family?
- Was the pace of your family life just right – or did you feel you were often on a train that was going too fast?
The past two years of Covid forced everyone of us to adopt a slower pace of life – one that, despite the many sorrow and hardships it brought along, also offered us a respite from the constant demands of life.
Our nervous systems were altered as a result. And when we all returned to life as we knew it in September of this year, you might have felt a sense of overwhelm. Blindly adopting the habits and values of life pre-covid might not be the best answer to yours or your family’s needs as life is right now.
Parenting is hard. There is no doubt about that. Yet, often the parenting challenges are made harder by the sky-high expectations and perfectionism that easily sneaks into motherhood.
When you really think about it;
- Fish fingers – while not advisable 7 days a week – is also food.
- The level of cleanliness in your house is not an indication of your intrinsic worth as a person.
- Managing other people’s expectations and saying no to events or people in your life that drain you does not make you a bad friend, daughter or mum. It makes you real and honest and able to love more wholly.
Where are you constantly striving to meet an expectation that is zapping you of joy and energy?
What might be possible if you lowered the bar a little.
Often, when we lower the bar a little we become capable of so much more.
9. I will put fun on my agenda
We are only here on borrowed time.
Some of us have experienced hardship, loss and pain these past two years and have perhaps been reminded of the fragility of life. Kids know better than anyone what life is all about;
Making the most of it – letting life flow through us and have fun.
Much of what we do as adults is trying to control life. This often means that we cut ourselves off from a source of joy that kids tap into on a daily basis.
Cooking, cleaning, working, chores and problems seem to always get in the way of fun. And the concept of fun can feel frivolous and even unnecessary – considering everything that’s going on.
But think of fun as the oil that you’d add to tired hinges on a door or a rusty chain – preventing your bicycle from driving faster. Fun is that lubricant that breaks up the monotony of the everyday grind and momentarily allows you to lose yourself and your to-do list.
But where do we start if fun is not exactly highest on your list of values at the moment;
Write a list and ask yourself:
- When did I last have fun?
- What is fun to me?
- What did I used to find fun before I became a mum?
- Who makes me laugh?
- Who do I need to be in order to easily have fun?
These are good questions to ponder -and nothing would benefit your family more than making a commitment to yourself to seeking out more fun moments and letting life flow through you.
Often, fun is not a scheduled activity or a costly outing, but what we find in what is already – when we allow ourselves to let go. When, instead of always reprimanding the kids when they are acting silly – allowing yourself to join in. Or seeing more of those of your friends who make you laugh.
10. I will forgive myself and practice more self-compassion
One of the hardest parts of parenthood is accepting that, despite our best intentions, not everything we do and say has the intended effect. In other words; we get it wrong, we make mistakes, we say and do things that we later wish we could take back.
We are human!
Contrary to what we might have learnt growing up, it is not the self-loathing and lack of self-forgiveness that makes us do better next time. It is when we adopt a more forgiving and self-compassionate stance towards ourselves that things change for us.
Self-compassion and acceptance of our own humanity is not the same as letting ourselves off the hook and seizing to strive. But when we soften the inner critic and show ourselves some grace, the way we relate to our children soften too and our relationships improve.
If there is an area of your life that continually feels difficult to change, consider letting 2022 be the year where you allow yourself to get to know that part of yourself better through the help of a parenting coach or a mental health professional.
Most people go into a new year with the intention to get physically fit and look better in jeans. Consider creating more space for your relationships to deepen and making the little changes that can transform your family life too.
I wish you a Happy New Year