With everything going on in the world today it can be hard to feel optimistic. I used to get overwhelmed by injustices, crises, and systems that seemed to be failing mankind. I still occassionally feel upset, but I no longer give these situations the power to derail my entire outlook. But what about our kids? How do we better equip them to handle life’s stressors?
If you truly want to change and heal the world you must first change and heal yourself. –unknown
My healing practice started in earnest when I had a child of my own. Children observe and mimic everything and I quickly saw how my view of the world was influencing my son’s own little experience. I could see this tiny baby starting to follow my lead in terms of reaction to circumstances. I was a self-professed worrier and I was raising a worrier. I was quick to frustration and so was my boy. As he became a toddler I could also see that yelling just created an environment where yelling was an accepted form of communication. I didn’t want that. For any of us. There were 4 things I did to create the safer environment and relaxed mindset I wanted so badly for him to experience. The result has also created a significant and noticeable a shift in my own life.
HOLD FAMILY MEETINGS
When my son turned 2 years old we instituted the ‘family meeting’. Anyone in our family of three can call a meeting which means we have the ability to press pause and ask for what we need. Meetings are held in a circle on the area rug in our living room. The goal of the family meeting is two-fold— To provide a safe space for us to share the things we are thinking and feeling. And, frankly, gives me and my husband a mechanism for backtracking when we need to make an adjustment to our parenting. As first-time parents we (often) make mistakes. The family meeting allows us to change the rules in a way that makes sense, not just seemingly out of the blue. To our surprise and delight, the family meeting has worked really well for us and we still use it today. I suspect we always will.
As our son has gotten older, we seek his input on solving a particular problem, which gives him power and choice. We use family meetings to help us correct our course, encourage sharing, and to give each of us a ‘seat at the table’. Kids have so little control when they are young. I wanted him to feel like he belonged in this family, had a voice in how we managed our lives, and that we were a team that cared deeply for one another’s needs. How can we send children out into the world believing their voice matters if we don’t value their voice at home? As humans, we all have the need to feel seen, heard and valued. We yearn to belong. Everyone in my family knows they belong and they are valued.
ADOPT AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Conceptually I knew it was good to start and end the day saying 2 or 3 things I was grateful for, but prior to having a child I hadn’t been able to commit to that routine. As a result, I often fell back into the bad habit of only seeing the negative side to most situations. When someone else is counting on you to shape their outlook on life, however, it’s amazing the lengths to which you’ll go.
My son and I started with short prayers at night, thanking God for a lovely day, our favorite babysitter, a beloved toy or a cherished relative. We thought of big and little things. We expanded to our time in the car during school drop-off and pick-up by naming one thing which went well that day. We also keep a chalk board by the back door for inspirational quotes. We stop there each morning and take one big, deep, cleansing breath before we head out the door. It helps us go out into our day with good intention and not in a rush.
One day I came across this poem by Rachel Macy Stafford. I love it because it challenges me to change my perspective from one of ‘lack’ to one of gratitude. It takes practice and dedication but if you have children you have the opportunity to show them now how powerful a growth mindset can be. I'm pleased to say I have a boy for whom gratitude comes a little more naturally. He even said to me the other day, “Give me any situation and I can find the silver lining”. Amazing!
Thank you for the early wake ups. Because of you, I will never sleep away my life.
Thank you for the bedtime troubles. Because of you, I will always know how it feels to be needed.
Thank you for the sweaty hand. Because of you, I will always know what it feels like to hold on to life.
Thank you for taking your sweet time. Because of you, I will never rush through all the best parts.
Thank you for making me laugh ‘til I cry. Because of you, I will always know how to feel young at heart.
Thank you for counting on me. Because of you, I will always know that giving up is not an option.
Because of you, I will always have Someone who thinks my arms comfort best. Someone who gives unlimited do-overs. Someone who never runs out of kisses. Someone who reminds me that the best days of life are not defined by grand occasions or money spent, but simply because we are in the company of someone who loves us.
When my son was a toddler in the car seat and we would see or hear an ambulance, I would say, “Oh no, I hope everyone is ok!”. Like other drivers, I'd pull way over to the side to make room for the emergency vehicles. He is 7 now and is usually the first one to send good wishes to people he’s never met, saying "Oh no, an ambulance! I hope everyone is OK!".
In recent years I believe there has been a shift in adults becoming concerned primarily (or only) for their nuclear family, with little regard for the greater society. Not only is it disappointing, I feel it is short shighted. We need each other. Perhaps not in the same way we literally needed community to survive, but we still need a healthy, thriving society. When we lose connection to, and empathy for, our neighbors, the fibers of society break down. Empathy has to be modeled. It has to be practiced. So I choose to cultivate it by making it a priority in our lives. In fact, at night before bed I often ask this question:
Was there anyone you encountered today who was having a difficult time?
On some occasions, I’m told about a boy who misbehaved or a girl who came to school with no lunch and was teased. We spend time talking about possible explanations, sometimes fantastical ones, that help underscore the concept that we never know what is going on for people outside of school so we need to suspend judgment. Perhaps the little boy didn’t get a good healthy breakfast that morning. Maybe the girl wasn’t packed a lunch because her daddy works very late and simply forgot. It also reminds B to be grateful for the times his dad does remember his lunch and to be forgiving when I forget. Lastly, we talk about things he could do to help someone who is having a rough day.
I can’t claim this one— I owe this saying to my mom. Growing up she always said, “Everyone is different and different is good. Imagine how boring life would be if we all looked and acted the same!”. Children catch us being critical of others FAR too often. Does this sound familiar, “Look at her– what does she think she is doing? No one in this town dresses like that! How strange! She won’t last 5 minutes….” You know the script. Our hyper-critical selves can’t help putting people who are different down sometimes. Regardless of your first impulse, remember there are people listening to you. The way you respond to a person who looks, acts, or sounds different from you leaves a lasting impression of what is valued. If we learn to embrace and celebrate difference our little ones will too.
I’ve said it so much in his young life that my boy completes the sentence before I do, letting me know he’s integrated it.