In parenting, there's no end to the room for improvement. So how can we find contentment?
Some things are elusive: a completely accurate memory, the scent of the night-blooming cereus (what was the name of that novel?), the perfect adjective for a sunset... and contentment. Especially in our parenting. We hear all that chatter out there about how we should be parenting - ideas, philosophies and suggestions that keep us feeling that we should be doing more. And then we watch our friends, siblings and colleagues who seem to be doing a better job of it... The thing is: in parenting, there's no end to the room for improvement. But when you spend too much time in the land of “not a good enough, have to do better”, then you cut yourself off from developing contentment. That's what I want to get into today. First, let's pause and define contentment: a state of satisfaction with who you are, where you are and what you have. And for our purposes, let's add "with how you're parenting and how your relationships with your kids are developing." Contentment isn't quite the same thing as happiness. Happiness is like a wave that has high crests and dissipates quickly. Contentment is the kind of wave that's gentler and lasts longer. So, contentment is more of a sustained state of satisfaction. I invite you to do a check in here: How satisfied are you with how you’re parenting? Do you speak, decide and behave in sync with who you truly are and what’s most important to you in your parenting role? Do you interact with your kids with levels of integrity and authenticity that please you? Do you feel a gentle, long-lasting wave of satisfaction in your heart about how parenting is going? ~ What I’ve learned in my own life and witnessed in others is that when you recognize and feel happiness in any given parenting moment, the moments accumulate and build the gentler, longer-lasting wave of contentment. Here are some practices that help: Practice gratitude. It is impossible to develop contentment without gratitude. We’ve known for centuries that gratitude opens our hearts to positivity, peace and joy. Now science concurs: gratitude activates dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, which induce pleasure, trust, generosity and social bonding. So, write a gratitude page every evening or say what you’re grateful for before breakfast. Make a point of thanking a family member with a handwritten note. Engage in a community effort and express gratitude for all the wonderful ways people are contributing. My friend and I send daily texts to each other about one thing we’re grateful for and, after hundreds of such messages, I can say that it has definitely deepened my contentment with my life. Curb conditional thinking. One of the barriers to developing contentment is “when and then” thinking. For example, "when my daughter passes her exams, then I will be content. When the kids stop arguing, then I’ll be satisfied that I’ve done a good job." If you believe something has to happen before you can be content, how does that affect your contentment right now? Take a moment to notice where you're defining prerequisites and ask yourself if that's really necessary. Get out of the comparison trap. Comparing your life with someone else’s leads to discontentment. Period. There will always be people who appear to be better off than you and parents who seem to have better relationships with their kids. (And there may well be people who think you’re the one who has it figured out.) What's true is that you and your child are unique and, together, you're in a unique relationship. Stay with that truth. That's what you're here for. Be here now. Wanting things to be different leads to suffering; accepting how things are leads to contentment. Of course, it’s natural to want to improve things (may we all be making the world a better place) but stewing about what didn't go according to plan in the past or what might not go how you want in the future is futile. What might be required of you to be ok with life just the way it is in this moment? And this moment? And this? Gather evidence. What does contentment mean to you? I’ve given you some of my ideas but you surely have your own. What memories surface about a time when you experienced contentment? What was it like? How did you know you were content? Think about what takes you into that state. Maybe it’s meditation, a cup of rooibos tea, a 5k run, sleeping under the stars or having the family all together for lasagna. What do you know works for you? And what else might recreate that feeling? Try some new things and see for yourself what brings you contentment. Look within. So many parents are looking outside for contentment – stainless steel kitchens, kids getting along, affirmation from others, etc. But, as you and I know, true happiness lies within and so does contentment. When you think of cultivating and supporting your inner contentment, what do you lean into? Is it a set of principles that guide your life, a spiritual practice, the flame of your life’s purpose or your connection with the Divine Oneness? How are you taking the inward journey on the path to contentment? ~
Contentment feels like the long game and, yet it is within our reach every day.
The momentary smile that creates more peace in you.
The positive vibe that facilitates your self-development.
The appreciation of joyful times that generate your ability to notice and appreciate more of them.
The acceptance of how things – and people - are that opens space for more trust, appreciation and acceptance in your relationships.
The moments of gratitude for any little thing that connect you with the real abundance in your life.
The ability to be with what Is that has you engaged in the flow of Life and the magic and mystery of parenting.
Wishing you ever-deepening contentment within.
Photo by Rob Wicks on Unsplash