It’s that time of year when the kids are going back to school after the summer break.
When your in-laws, friends or parents ask: “So, how are the kids?”
You want to be able to say “They’re fine” but maybe there’s a few hiccups. Perhaps they’re finding it challenging settling back into a new routine, new school, surroundings, friendship issues, new Teacher etc…
None of us like feeling helpless or unsure of how to help our kids when presented with these uncertainties. Sometimes the discomfort of our own vulnerability and our need to protect our children can present itself in our own behaviour as being defensive, spikey or covering up. We might fly off the handle, being overly quick to complain and blame without having all the facts in light of the bigger picture.
These behaviours are usually a resistance to the feelings of vulnerability which are always so uncomfortable to bear. In these circumstances mindfulness offers us the opportunity to feel reassured that feeling like this is ‘okay’, understandable and usually inevitable at some point and whilst unpleasant, we can navigate our way through our own feelings to help our children more effectively by just being honest with ourselves first and allowing the feelings within us to be acknowledged.
So, if you’re finding that things aren’t all hunky dory for your children as they return to school, begin firstly by acknowledging the discomfort in you that arises from this. You might feel anxiety, fearfulness or anger, often a guilt or shame for not being available enough and not being able to protect them from these challenges. It may present like a tension in your gut, chest or head and the invitation is to just try and notice the sensations imagining you could breathe your breath into them and be with them a little. You might place a hand on your chest and let yourself know “it’s okay” even if you believe it’s not. Offer yourself a comfort – like you’d offer a friend.
When you receive comments from your children that signal all isn’t as you’d hope, try to be aware of the automatic need in you to take it all away for them, make it all okay and notice how easy it can be to want to brush over what’s been said by them, make light of it or offer some sort of distraction.
Being recently inspired by Brene Brown in one of her interviews on vulnerability (which is her thing) and my own ongoing mindfulness practice, I’ve been attentive to this subject in a way that has helped me considerably.
I’ve been pausing in situations like these, biting my tongue, sensing the feelings, reassuring myself, taking a breath, committing to the moment, and offering a more honest response to my boys…
“You know what? That sounds tough, I can imagine how that must feel for you.”
This immediately provided the opportunity to get alongside my children in their discomfort. As I said before, too often we’re resisting this option because it feels too painful for us.
This response has afforded me more conversation from my son and a moment to remember I’m not meant to fix everything there and then all the time. Instead, I can demonstrate that life is messy and difficult at times, but we can get through it together if we’re honest, we talk and we make time to listen.
To know that it’s not wrong to feel bad and helpless sometimes can be a relief - in fact the more we cling to the idea that things shouldn’t go wrong, we increase our suffering. Life is ten thousand sorrows and ten thousand joys, that is how it is.
Mindfulness isn’t about changing what is, it’s about being with ourselves in our moments of discomfort and being kinder with ourselves which ultimately helps us get alongside our children and be a better loving, understanding presence.
That isn’t however to say, that if there are problems to solve or things within our capacity to sort out in school we don’t. Of course, we do, we must do it, we wouldn’t not, but we can do it from a place of calmer perspective and less reactivity if we’ve been more attentive to our needs and our children’s needs first.
I hope the kids are okay and, in the meantime, savour the joys when they’re around and be gentle with yourself as a parent.