Life's a beach: ten steps towards being a better parent
As a parent, I often feel overwhelmed. There's the practical stuff to take care of, like cooking, tidying, helping with homework, keeping them clean, keeping them safe. I like to think of this as dealing with the basics of being alive. And then there's the theoretical stuff that informs the way I manage their emotional needs. They're both important. They are the mothering equation.
The practical things make me busy. They make life tiring but also provide a rhythm and a pace. A beat that the the family works to. For me, the emotional stuff poses the biggest challenge. We have the full spectrum in this family - everything from tight hugs and never- ending kisses to tantrums and door slamming, on a daily basis. Yes, all of my children have strong personalilties, strong wills. And I'm always thinking about how to do things better. Staying calm and objective is usually the answer. Things work best when I can take a step back. That's when I can see the needs behind the emotion.
It always comes back to me and how balanced and contented I feel. This is something that I can't always have control over. I do try. Because recently, I've come to believe that the real key to being a successful parent lies in a kind of inner push and pull, where you are both in control and relaxed at the same time. It's a place where you stay a step ahead of your children, while being there, in the moment with them. Sound impossible?
Maybe. Because the truth is that just getting through the day as a parent takes a lot of energy. I was 28 when I became a mum for the first time. And the experience was a mix of euphoria - from the huge rush of love and constant wonder I now felt. And crazy busy-ness resulting from the chaos that babies bring into your life and the added necessity of returning to my busy demanding job - as a freelance journalist. Since then, life has felt a bit like running an obstacle race. One where I always forget to put the hat on and come in last. But with practice I'm getting better. And when I accept that there will always be a long to-do list and I can't be in control of everything. When I step outside of myself and truly listen to what my children are saying to me. Then, I let the ebb and flow of life take me where it will. Drifting in the waves with Oscar, playing on the sand with Iris, gazing at the clouds with Lila, I am being the mum I want to be. And learning how to be a better parent.
These are the ten steps towards being a better parent that I'm trying to live by in 2015.
The practical stuff
1) Don't allow yourself to get too busy. I don't mean the phases where you absolutely have to work long hours or do the housework. I mean the other stuff. Try not to get distracted: don't click on that video link, don't check emails on your phone too often, don't accept every invitation that comes your way.
2) Throw things away. This helps you feel more on top of things. It just does. Scribbles on bits of paper, bills that you've paid, old birthday cards. Be selective about what you keep. It makes for a calmer household and minimises work.
3) Connect with your body. Try not to get too tired. Do something physical where you focus on your breath every day. Whether it's running, yoga, or just sitting in a chair with your eyes closed, breathing deeply and allowing yourself to fully relax, for five minutes a day.
4) Talk to other adults. It sounds obvious but when looking after young children or working from home it can be easy to forget. For me, it's about skyping my mum, meeting up with friends for a coffee or sitting down to have a beer with my husband at the end of the day. It helps keep you sane. And makes you happier.
5) Plan your week - It is a pain and it can seem like there's no time but, believe me, it will help you feel like you're a step ahead. Like you're in control. And, oddly, it also enables you to cope when things don't quite work out as you'd hoped.
The theoretical stuff
1) Look at your children differently. It helps you to have more patience. When I'm challenged by my nine-year-old's lack of focus and constant doodling, I see her as an intense artist immersed in the creative process. My fearless five-year-old son becomes an intrepid explorer. My very busy two-year-old who's into everything right now, is as a mini scientist experimenting with cause and effect.
2) Give them your full attention. Not all the time - that's impossible. But whether you're playing with the play doh or chatting about their day at school, try to be in the moment with them. It does make a big difference.
3) Let them get bored. It's okay for them to not have anything to do. Or your full direction. Let them wander. Let them find things to do (I know it's hard and it does take practice). There might be a tantrum but persevere. It will foster creativity and initiative.
4) Be silly. This always works in our house. With all three children. Sometimes I just don't have the will or the energy. But it resolves all sorts of emotional upsets and the more I practice, the easier it becomes.
5) Be sentimental. Children grow quickly. They're always changing and every phase, no matter how challenging or enjoyable, is always just about to come to an end. Keep photos close by of them when they were smaller. It will help you to appreciate them and value your time together. As, in the wise words of my five-year-old, Oscar, 'Mummy, you'll miss the small me when when he's gone.'