Parenting, marriage, teaching, jobs, you name it and it requires a period of adjustment to find the right rhythm to be effective. However, once you figure out the music and the dance that goes with it, the music inevitably changes. Suddenly, your groove doesn’t match the needs of the people or situation around you, and you have to figure it out again. Now imagine you are trying to dance to multiple songs at one time, and they still keep changing. (Anyone else have kids that require a different approach to parenting or teaching right now? I thought so.) And imagine if your dance partner is really good at swing dance, but you prefer the cha cha. (Anyone feeling like their style of parenting and teaching is different than their partners’ style? Or different than the style your child’s teacher and school have chosen for current schooling? I thought so.) So where does this leave us? I imagine words like stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, and irritable come to mind.
To parent, teach, or care for loved ones mindfully, we need to be aware of these feelings. We shouldn’t deny their presence or pretend we can do it all, as this will lead us to more suffering. Practice pausing to be aware of what you are experiencing- What is my body sensing right now? What feelings are present? What thoughts am I focused on? How is the situation around me impacting my state of being?
Move from awareness into acceptance by taking 30 seconds to regulate your body. This could include deep breaths, placing a warm or cold wet towel on your face or the back of your neck, drinking warm tea or cold water, or walking around the outside of your house a few times. You’ll notice the theme of physical/sensory regulation, as these are easy places to begin because your breath and senses are with you all the time.
Here’s a quick sequence to remember: A-A-B-B. Aware, Accept, Breath, Break. Be aware of your emotions, thoughts, and sensations. Accept that they are part of your experience and not something that requires judgment and shame. Take a breath (30-60 seconds, slow breath in through your nose, brief pause, controlled breath out your mouth). Take a break. Move away from the situation, even if for a minute to get a drink. Say you need to use the bathroom. It’s a place you can turn on the faucet to listen and feel water, there’s probably a window you could look out to refocus, or even open it to smell fresh air and listen to chirping birds.
Here are some other reminders if you find yourself stretched thin:
Seek support from others– both emotional and practical support. Don’t leave your fears or insecurities in the dark where they continue to fester. Bring them out into the open by voicing them to others, writing them down, shouting them to the treetops. By doing so you’ll be taking back some of the power they hold while hidden away. If you need a meal cooked for your family, someone to cut your grass, or someone to read to your kids at night via video call, give yourself permission to ask for those things specifically. This might feel vulnerable, and as such it requires courage, but that courage is much more valuable than the false pride we try to achieve by not having to ask for help.
Do things that give you a sense of competence and confidence. What do you feel skilled at? What makes you feel good? It doesn’t have to be something big. (Write an encouraging note to an elderly family member, draw or paint without grading yourself, do some yard work…)
Adjust expectations. I recently taught my daughter to ride her bike without training wheels, and since then I’ve said whatever else she learns this spring is icing on top. Yes, I’m exaggerating to some degree, however part of what I’m doing is telling myself to look at the big picture of her development. That development takes place in many forms, and it can’t all happen at one time. Modeling self-care and taking care of your child’s emotional health are critical to their development and learning. So if they used to get all the spelling words right by Tuesday and now it’s taking until Friday, or maybe they aren’t getting them all correct anymore, provide encouragement not judgment, and keep dancing. If they’ve regressed with toileting or sleeping, work to maintain healthy routines and opportunities for healthy emotion expression, and keep dancing. And if you feel unable to take care of the kids, your job, your parents, and whatever else is on your plate, remember A-A-B-B, take small steps forwards, and know that the resilience you’re cultivating is also valuable to who you are and what you do in the future. Keep dancing.
Call us. If you need someone to help you make some of these changes, to help lessen anxiety or self-judgment, or to help your family find more balance during these stressful days, we’re here to help you figure out the dance and get ready for the next music change.