I am an eternal optimist; ask my children, they find it really quite irritating. I am always telling them to focus on what the difficulty or challenge is teaching them, and what can be learnt from it. This is not to say I diminish their feelings in any way; absolutely not. Children need to feel heard, and their worries acknowledged. What they then need is for us to challenge them to problem solve, to find workable solutions, and this is where I think we get it wrong as parents. We all too quickly jump in with our years of experience to try and help fix things; telling them they need to do this and that, and chastising them for not having dealt with it sooner. It absolutely comes from a place of love, we only want the best for our children; why see them in pain when the solutions are at our finger tips? Yet instead of teaching our children self-reliance and resilience, we leave them feeling incapable of acting independently, creating a sense of helplessness, if we repeat this pattern over time.
So in this time of uncertainty, and as we adjust to our new normal, what are the lessons to be learnt?
What if this time is in fact a huge opportunity for us to take a cold hard look at how we parent, the nature of our relationships with our children, our partner, and how we go about living our daily lives? What is working, what isn’t, and why? Then, rather than looking to see what changes we need to make now to survive this crisis, we ask ourselves “How can the changes we make today help us thrive as a family in the future; how can we become the family we have always wanted to be”. The answers to those questions are going to be different for each family and the truth might be painful. Yet growth can only truly come when we are brave enough to tackle issues head on. Isn’t that what we are so desperately trying to teach our children?
I, for one, have faced the cold hard reality I have prioritised my work over time with my children, and that’s been a bitter pill to swallow.
So I am inviting you to try some or all of the following, to see whether these might be changes you want to make permanently in your lives.
- Weekly family connection meetings; to talk through the week ahead. What has each person learnt about themselves from the week before, what might they do differently now, and what are their goals for the week ahead? Take turns to talk about your plans and your challenges, how can the family help.
- Daily practice of gratitude; write down three things you are grateful for each day. These should be simple pleasures, like the sunshine on a dog walk, the sharing of a joke with a sibling, eating your favourite lunch, or the kindness of a friend. You can do this individually or as a family. What is important is you write it down.
- Distribution of chores; as a family you collectively use your home, and therefore everyone should contribute in some way to keeping it tidy and organised. Even really young children can help by tidying away their toys, and laying cutlery on the table, if they’re not steady enough to manage crockery!
- Schedule ‘date-days’ with your children; these might be once every two-weeks or once a month. Having a day dedicated to each child helps with family connection. You can either do this just one to one or each child takes it in turn to lead an entire family activity. For now, you could simply have a child decide which film you watch on a Friday or the game you will all play together as a family.
- Make self-care a daily habit; we are the emotional barometer of the family. if we are stressed, over-worked, feeling resentful and exhausted then this will seep into the way we react and interact with the whole family. Scheduling and blocking out 30 minutes each day to do something just for you as their parent is the greatest gift you can give your family; as the saying goes “put your own oxygen mask on first”
I am a big believer in community. The old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” has never been more apt. In this spirit, for those of you willing to try my suggestions, I would love for you to share your experiences, and any modifications you make as a family. We can learn so much from each others experiences.