The piggy bank of patience is a thing that must be well tended. Usually, you see, it’s a rather sad and dejected little piggy bank that’s always nearly empty. In this section of my Summer Holiday Survival Guide I shall start to set the scene for a really joyful summer holiday – the kind that you and your kids will remember forever, for all of the right reasons – but first we need to pay some attention to the piggy bank. As the summer holiday wears on, your energy and enthusiasm for dealing with bickering and boredom may wane a little. The piggy bank, as I see it, reflects our inner resources; our inner well of wellbeing. As parents, friends, siblings, daughters and sons, we find ourselves trying to tend to other people’s piggy banks, but seldom our own. Tending to our own is like coming back to the centre of the court after every shot during a game of tennis. We’re ready for whatever life throws at us next.
Savour the moment. Mindfulness is all about bring a certain kind of attitude to the present moment, and savouring the moment really reflects the quality of the attitude that we aim to cultivate when learning to be more mindful. As you make a cup of tea, for example, use all of your senses to really inhabit the moment; notice the sounds that the kettle makes as it comes to the boil, the aroma that starts to reach your nostrils as the contents of the tea bag begin to infuse the hot water, the sensations of the mug in your hand as you lift it, the flavour of the liquid as it moves across your tongue. Bring appreciation, using your senses, to the little things. This is like adding what my littlest son calls, ‘flat money’ (his favourite kind) to the piggy bank.
Meditate. Even a few minutes a day will make a huge difference to your piggy bank – your inner resources of strength and patience to deal with whatever arises. Here’s a soothing practice to try. It’s one of the short mindfulness practices that accompany my book, ‘Awakening Child’.
Gratitude. Keep a gratitude diary. Before you go to sleep at night, perhaps bring to mind 3 small things that you’re grateful for, e.g. grateful to have a comfortable bed to sleep in, grateful to have bed covers to keep you warm at night, grateful for feeling sleepy. Studies show that those who take time to experience gratitude are much more likely to be happy, and that happiness increases when we express our gratitude. So take every opportunity to express gratitude. If you’re grateful to somebody for something they’ve done for you, thank them in person and let them know how much you appreciate what they did and why, or write them a letter.
Nurturing Activities. We can spend our day tending to others without remembering to intersperse the day with small things that can make a big difference to the piggy bank. For example, taking some time to read a good book (even if you only manage a few pages before you’re interrupted!), engaging in a small task that gives you a sense of mastery or control (e.g. clearing out a shelf of a cupboard that’s been accumulating ‘stuff’ for years).
Also, ask yourself whether you take time regularly to do what makes your heart sing (other than tending to your little one(s) of course) because you need some time for you – it might be something creative, maybe you love to write or draw or paint or make music; it might be something physical such as a sport you love, maybe running, yoga, netball, horse-riding, indoor-climbing, origami even. Maybe you used to love doing something but somehow it’s been squeezed out of your schedule over the years. Parenting will be so much more joyful when you build in a little time for yourself. Taking some time for you is not selfish, it’s skilful, because you will have so much more patience in the piggy bank for others when you top up your resources by tending to yourself regularly.
Use BE.LOVE. I write about this method in much more detail in ‘Awakening Child’ but in brief, you may find this method helpful when in the midst of a difficult moment with your child; for example, they’re tired and upset and don’t want to go to bed even though it’s bedtime, and you’ve had a long, tiring day, and you just want bedtime to go smoothly so that you can finally put your feet up. One parent who I shared this method with loved it so much that she had it tattooed on her arm so that she would always remember to bring mindfulness to a difficult moment. The steps are as follows:
- Breathe – yes, that old chestnut. Take your attention to your breath, which will tend to have the effect of deepening your breathing which activates your parasympathetic nervous system, thus helping you to stay calm and focused.
- Enquire – notice the thoughts that are floating around in your mind. Are you telling yourself a story about how things ‘should’ be going here. Shoulds and shouldn’ts are just stories we tell ourselves and ways that we create suffering for ourselves by resisting what is. Allow yourself to feel whatever feelings are here right now.
- . (pause) – literally just stop whatever you’re doing for a moment. Remind yourself that there is space here, if you remember to create it, and remind yourself that when you create space you will respond to the situation rather than simply react out of habit.
- Listen – take a moment to really listen with your whole body to what your child is telling you with their whole body, and try to suspend logical mind. Your child will most likely be in right-brain mode and simply expressing how they feel, which may not make logical sense. Connecting to the feelings will allow a right-brain connection to be made between you, which will help to diffuse the situation. Bringing in logic to an illogical situation will only further inflame the situation.
- Open – intend to open your heart to your child and let go of expectations and needing for things to be different from how they are in this moment. Your child needs you, more than ever, to be present in this moment and to really hear them.
- Validate – having listened deeply to your child, show them that you understand how they are feeling and that it’s ok for them to be feeling this way. There are no ‘wrong’ emotions to have; some are more difficult to experience than others.
- Empower – give your child choices, if you can, even a little choice (e.g. red pyjamas or yellow ones).
Although I’ve given you a bit of a whistle-stop tour of BE.LOVE, I hope you get the general gist of the steps and that this gives you some food for thought in terms of responding with presence to some of those difficult moments in family life. Many people have told me that they’ve found it helpful in their working lives too, although (clearly) giving a colleague a choice in colour of pyjamas would be a bit weird.
Next time. The final part of this Summer Holiday Survival Guide, which will be released in a couple of days, will look at really thriving this summer rather than simply surviving …