My client, a woman from Seattle, related this story:
“I was chopping carrots. It sounds like such an unimportant task, when I say it now. But I was hurrying to get dinner on the table and had a bunch of other things that needed to be done. My son came into the kitchen to ask me something but, before he even got his first sentence out, I snapped at him and pushed past him to the sink. He left without me even knowing why he had come to me. And then I felt so awful.
My heart went out to her. She was trying so hard to do everything right, keep the household running smoothly and raise confident, capable citizens. But all her worrying and sternness was causing increasing tension and driving a wedge between them. It had come to the point that her kids didn’t want to do things with her. And it was very painful for her.
Let’s be clear, it wasn’t that my client didn’t love her children. She was trying hard to be a good mother. So hard. She had huge expectations of herself and was behaving like an Air Traffic Controller to keep the household running. She was giving orders, working by the clock and constantly focused on the radar screen.
She had become unapproachable.
Imagine walking into an airspace control tower with a math question or a boyfriend problem… well, you just wouldn’t.
As we progressed into her coaching program, my client recognized that Air Traffic Controller part of her. “I think I kind of fell into it when I became a mother. I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t know if I could do it. My partner wasn’t 100% on board. I felt the heavy responsibility of motherhood - individually, collectively and globally. I’ve become so rigid but it doesn’t even feel like the real me.”
Believe me, I could relate. I felt a big pressure to be a good mother when my kids were small. I felt such fierce love for them and wanted every kind of fulfillment for them. And I also got caught up in keeping everything orderly and running smoothly. Let’s just say, I did my fair share of putting chopped carrots ahead of my kids. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
My clients’ families and circumstances are all unique. And yet, I hear this phrase over and over:
If I keep doing this, I know I’m going to lose my connection with my kids.
The problem is that you set intention to do something differently but, when you’re in the moment, hurrying so as not to be late for school or tripping over the dirty towels on the bathroom floor again, you fall into auto-pilot. It’s like a well-worn groove, a memorized lyric and, before you know it, you’ve done it again, the thing you said you wouldn’t. You respond with what’s on your tongue and push them away again.
You feel frustrated, disappointed, confused, weary and downright hopeless.
So how do we stay present in the midst of the daily whirlwind of family life? How do we make ourselves approachable to our kids? How do we make space for our precious relationships and ensure that they will continue to grow and prosper?
We work on one small part of it. We watch for the Air Traffic Controller and are honest with ourselves when s/he is in the room and about to say that thing again. We devote 3 minutes every day to making one small new move. We are full of self-compassion as we learn and shift.
Interested in what one step would be? Let’s go back to the carrots…
Here’s a daily practice I gave to this client. If you’ve read this far, it’s likely that it would be helpful and enlightening for you too.
As you prepare dinner, stay present to the task you are doing, chopping the carrots or stirring a sauce. Go intentionally slightly slower than usual. As thoughts of the past or future arise, let them float by and return your attention to what you are doing right now. When a pot boils or the oven timer rings, shift your attention to that task. You may want to use a phrase like, “I’m turning off the stove.” It may seem silly but naming things is one of the easiest ways to cultivate presence.
Similarly, if one of the kids comes in with a question, shift your attention. Again, name it, at least under your breath. I’m looking at Jason. I’m listening to Katy. If it helps, add a small gesture like snapping your fingers or putting your hand on your heart for a moment to being you into the moment.
To deepen your learning, take some notes each day:
· What did you notice in your body while doing things more slowly? Be specific about what you felt and where e.g. tension in my belly, coldness up my spine, squinting eyes, racing heart.
· What Air Traffic thoughts pulled you away from your current task and how exactly did you return to the here and now?
· How did naming each task affect your presence?
· What did you notice about interaction with your kids?
· What are you learning about your approachability?
After two weeks, you will likely begin to notice some patterns. You will get to know what the Air Traffic Controller is truly worried about.
And when you practice one small new move, it will become more readily available to you in both the calm and heated moments. Trust me, it is the 3-minute chunks that add up to a new way of being in relationship with your child.
There’s no doubt about it: parenting happens in the moment. It is the tone of your voice when you answer a question that influences if another question will be asked or not. It is whether you face your child or slightly turn away when they are speaking that tells them if you are likely to be approachable next time.
These are the things that add up to your relationship with your child.
No matter your good intentions. No matter the books you’ve read or the way you can talk about conscious parenting.
It’s in how you respond in the real moments of life.
It is about showing your priority – relationships over carrots.
With you on the journey,