My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it. — Mark Twain
Sometimes, you look up into the night sky and there seems to be an endless blanket of stars shining, more than ever before. Imagine how their light stretches across time and distance just to reach you. Then you suddenly see into your child’s face, where the light burns brighter and stronger and longer, and never seems to fade from sight. And you realize that your child too has traveled across time and space just to reach you, to be next to you and in your care.
In these quiet moments, being a parent feels like a miracle.
In these quiet moments, after the kids go to bed, and the dog snores softly through his cat chasing dreams, solutions to tough-feeling problems often appear, as if out of nowhere—insights magicked up perhaps by an intention to find a gentler way.
As was the case not too long ago that has led to a new way of being with my kids — a way that’s so simple, it’s almost embarrassing to admit that I didn’t see it for so long.
When it’s Not Much Fun
It started one evening when I was wondering how our perfectly peaceful home (that is when I’m home alone working with a hot cuppa and soothing music playing) sometimes turns into a hotbed of nails-on-the-chalkboard irritations and reactions when the kids pour through the door in the afternoons. It’s the “he said, she said,” and not without the occasional wrecking of an otherwise lovely dinner, or the fussy, I’m-a-teenager-why-don’t-we-have-a-maid, lack of cooperation.
I came to the realization that, well, it’s just not much fun to be together sometimes.
Principles like: dedication; structure; finding teachable moments coupled with clear expectations and instilling grit—so they can develop the tenacity to turn life’s hurdles into opportunities have been on my parenting radar forever. But fun?
It seems like maybe there’s something missing if parenting often feels more exhausting and overwhelming and less fun. And it looks like I’m not the only parent who can feel this way.
So I asked myself, What’s underneath ‘fun’ that’s so alluring?
Immediately the word ‘joy’ popped up—wanting to live a more enjoyable life, right here, right now—not someday in the far off future when they’re tidy adults with fully developed brains. I wanted joy to be our new norm. But how?
Falling into a Good Feeling
I went back to the beginning. It looks to me like everything we humans do is to have a beautiful experience of life. Or at the very least, more enjoyable. Or at very, very least, to avoid suffering. So why all the unhappiness in life when it seems that as a Human Collective resilience, connection, wisdom, wellbeing, and joy are our innate birthright?
I asked myself if this deep inner sense of the endless resource that lies under the surface within each of us could transform our daily life together? With this in mind, one evening after taking time to relax alone under the stars, I began to imagine. I imagined I was looking back on the most enjoyable year I’d ever had with my three kids.
I asked myself: What made the past year so wonderful?
I imagined I was looking back at a year overflowing with fun and growth. I fell into a felt experience of the joy of simply being together. It wasn’t hard to do. Each of the three kids is unique and highly lovable. I made mental lists about the things I adore about each one of them. I saw them smiling and cooperative, caring about themselves and each other. I saw friends and family around the table and campfire with us. I saw us sleeping under a sky full of sparkling diamonds at the beach, and biking in a summer sunshower—and enjoying it all. I felt the warmth of hugging them, knowing that by next year at this time the boys would probably be taller than me, as was their older sister. In my heart, I got lost in the magic of ordinary days.
I also imagined taking thoughtful care of myself, starting with making more time for myself. Beginning with taking ample space to be with other adults who fill up my heart. I saw myself planning ahead and making sure I was filling up my own cup first, so to speak, before filling up everyone else’s. As every parent knows, it’s a fine balance.
In no time, I found myself lying on the bed with tears of happiness rolling down my cheeks, my heart radiating with gratitude. The old yogi saying came to mind that the sun is always there, it’s just obscured by clouds at times.
Sometimes, I’d thought the clouds were the kids and their behavior, but the clouds were nothing more than the illusion of believing my own thinking—an innocent misunderstanding that my experience of life was coming from circumstances outside of myself. When I fell out of that thinking and into the present moment I didn’t have to change or fix anything. We already had everything needed to be happy together. In one insightful moment, everything became clear.
But what did that mean in our practical reality?
Falling into a Feeling of Connection
Psychology Today says, mindfulness “is a state of active, open attention on the present … Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
For me, it means taking time to be fully attentive when we’re together; slowing way down; accepting the kids as they are; interrupting habitual response patterns, and challenging the kids to do the same at times. And forgiving myself and them when we don’t.
In reality, it means giving each kid at least twenty minutes of undivided attention a day (that takes more discipline than I realized!). It looks like playing basketball; taking walks; cooking together; reading together; stopping what I’m doing to listen (and hear what’s not being said); having family meetings where everyone speaks, and taking care of myself.
It means so much more too, but mostly taking time to connect with each other seems to be the ounce of prevention that makes the pound of cure unnecessary. It’s amazing how the spirit of connection, based on love and understanding, brings about cooperation.
Our lives aren’t suddenly perfect now. I fall in and out of the present moment about fifty times a day. I fall in and out of realizing that my experience of life is coming from within me and not from outside of me. Yet something has fundamentally changed. It feels like the one small shift that changes everything.
See the world with the innocence of children. Approach the world with the daring of children. Love the world with the readiness of children. Heal the world with the purity of children. Change the world with the wisdom of children. – Neale Donald Walsch
What do you imagine your most enjoyable year yet to look and feel like? Have you had the experience of being aware of falling out of your thinking and back into the present moment? How are the children in your life teaching you in subtle, and not so subtle ways, that there is always another way? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.
Always exploring with you …
Dorothy Kolomeisky is the director of the Bet Lev Foundation and a member of Team UPLIFT. Through the Foundation she facilitates classes and coaching to support all kinds of people in having a better experience of life. She is passionate about raising global consciousness and playing in Mother Nature.