Parenting is a multitasking sport! There is always so much going on, and it seems like there is never enough time. A poverty of time can make life feel squeezy and contribute towards the frustration parents feel. Would you like to create a sensation of more time? I have a formula that may help.
As a yoga instructor, there is a lovely quote that I frequently share : “Yoga doesn’t take time, it gives time” (Ganga White).
Practicing yoga is an invitation into mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way to slow life down, creating a sense of spaciousness that makes time feel more ‘roomy’, and less ‘squeezy’.
This formula for busy parents is very much like practicing yoga or becoming more mindful. GRACE is an acronym for the steps involved.
A: Attend & Attune
Imagine you are in the midst of a sticky parenting moment. It need not be the worst day ever, but something of the garden variety… maybe think about kids tussling in the back seat while you are driving, or a melt down in the grocery store, or even a ‘friend date gone rogue’ requiring you to intervene, yet again for the one thousandth time!!!!
Here is how GRACE can work for you:
G: The first step is to GROUND yourself.
I was reminded of the importance of this capacity to ground this summer when we got two puppies. I started watching Cesar Milan, and I know I’m not the first person to imagine how easily his ideas translate from pets to humans. Especially his notion of ‘calm, steady confidence’. Approaching our fur family with calm, steady confidence is so useful because it positions us as benevolent carers, and as leaders. It is our job to keep our fur family members safe. Likewise, one of our most important parenting jobs is to keep our children safe; safe from physical, emotional and spiritual threats. And each of us get to determine what those are.
The other element to this that I want to call forward is the importance of parents understanding that their leadership is as important as keeping their children safe. I hope to empower parents to understand that their benevolent leadership is a gift to their children, providing a safe container within which they can explore the world. I know it is an awesome responsibility, and it might feel easier to be their friends, but it is the work and practice of parenting requires us to be the family leaders. When you are able to ground yourself, you can both feel and exude calm, steady confidence. Just this step will help enormously, because it sets up a different energy for your children to respond to. They will take notice. And they will feel safe if you are grounded.
The quickest and most effective action you can take to ground yourself is to breathe. Breathe deeply, slowly and intentionally. Sense your weight. Feel the ground beneath you. Get outside for a moment if that is available to you. There is nothing like grounding on the ground.
R: The next step is to REFRAME:
This is a social work skill that I think every parent should know about. It is simply shifting our attitude and mindset by choice and necessity, because it makes life easier. Think about the stories that we develop about our children over time, and how they can become reduced to those stories, which also creates expectations. For example, our new puppies, Sherman and Oliver have personalities much like toddlers! Sherman is a regal dog, and while he has annoying puppy behaviours, like chewing every single blanket, towel or sock he can wrap his mouth around, he is so more than just a problem chewer. And Oliver is a smaller dog, so he has learned to be strategic about getting his needs met, and we can look at this as conniving or sneaky, or we can reframe his behaviour as strategic. He is physically smaller, and to ‘win’ at being a brother, he has to think about how to leverage his intelligence where his physicality is diminished as compared to his brother.
There are a million ways to reframe behaviour. And it is not about making excuses, but it may be about contextualizing our children’s behaviours. Our children may be acting out because they are tired, because they are underskilled, or under resourced in the moment. Reframing is compassionate. You can still hold your children accountable while reframing. If your little one has a melt down with a friend, you obviously will correct any behaviour that puts the other child at risk, but you can do this compassionately and with explanation. For example, you may say to your child “I know you are tired and feeling frustrated right now, but we use words with friends”. This helps your child to become skilled, and to begin to understand their own emotional tidal waves.
A: Attend and Attune
Just like you hear on every plane ride, you put the gas mask on yourself first, then you are strong and resourced enough to help those who need your help. Attend to yourself first. What do you need in this moment, that is reasonable, in order to be the best version of yourself with your child? Perhaps you may need a quick break… a little time in the bathroom or the back porch to air yourself out. Maybe you need to drink some water or eat something because you’ve neglected your own needs in caring for your littles.
Once you’ve attended to your own needs, it is easier to attune to the emotional needs of your child. And children have huge emotional needs because they are learning! They are developing their emotions and understanding the role they play in your family. How different might your day go if you were able to remember to sip some water, then to turn to your little and suggest a co-snack and chat about what just went down in a calm, steady and confident way. It is much easier to attune to the needs of others once you’ve met your own needs first.
Centering is mainly about staying close to yourself. We can lose ourselves during the course of a day when so much needs to be accomplished; we literally fracture ourselves in a million pieces with all that needs to be done. Centering is about taking a bit of time to be fully and completely with yourself so that you can be fully present to others.
I realize these are all variations on a theme, but I believe that is why this method is effective, because of the interrelatedness of the aspects of GRACE. Each of us will have different techniques to centre ourselves, such as the practice of mindfulness which keeps us rooted in the present moment. Some of us like to meditate, or go for hikes in the forest. Find ways to centre yourself that you can share more of your authentic self with your children. One of my favourite ways to centre myself with a child is to go beach combing. It is a win-win! I love collecting found objects for my craftivism, and children are natural scientist when let go on the ocean floor. They love to experience the many sensory pleasures, and are usually quite content for good lengths of time.
In this final step towards GRACE, I use experience as a way of knowing and trusting yourself. What I mean here is that I believe the greatest authority in life is experience, and that is what you should trust before any external authority. Trust yourself. And trust your experiences. They are informative specifically to you and your family. You know what is working, and you also know what is not. You may not know exactly what to do about it, but you know in the marrow of your bones if something is off and requires your attention. Especially if you are interested in GRACE and exploring life from a more grounded place with the relaxed nervous system to show for it.
Another way to view Experience as a metric of GRACE is to map and integrate your positive experiences through your senses. Take time to breathe in and enjoy the sensation of the sun on your face when you are at the beach. Take joy in dashing between rain drops with your little. Notice how water actually is thirst quenching when you slow down and feel it in your mouth. Slow down eating to be more mindful and let your little teach you, as they are notoriously slow eaters. They are mindful!
I hope this formula fits into your toolkit so that you may feel more resourced in approaching the awesome duty of parenting. Let yourself afford GRACE by investing in it every day. GRACE can feel really expensive if neglected. Put yourself on an installment plan! Pay a bit each day, and before you know it, GRACE will become your predominant experience in life. Yes, there will be snags, setbacks and even catastrophes now and again. But you will be better skilled, more experienced and coming from the sweet and divine place of strong, steady confidence.
Ah. That’s better.