I’m actually not talking about whether or not you can touch your toes or do a good upward dog pose in yoga. I’m talking about how well you can (or can’t) go with the flow. Change plans. Adjust.
Oh, and not have a complete brain-melt or a stress, panic-induced sweat because The Plans Changed.
In many ways, that about sums up parenting.
(The constantly changing part, not the stress part – though there are definitely days when we get out fair share… or not so fair share, of stress.)
Actually, the first time I came across this idea was when I used to train Kung Fu. (Most people don’t know this, but polite, quiet, understanding me is also a black belt.) The first philosophy I was taught (and about the only one I remember) as a baby white belt was about being flexible, to be strong but bendable. To not be brittle and dead. Sure this relates to the actual physical function of kung fu and body movement and all that jazz, but I’ve continued to see the direct correlation throughout my life, especially in both my writing and parenting.
Certainly to parenting.
Honestly, I think flexibility should be labeled one of the Virtues of Parenting.
So much of my life revolves around being flexible and it’s the days where I can’t be flexible – crazy exhausted, no sleep, appointments that actually require me to be at a certain place AND on time – when I feel the stress.
Those are days when I end up calling my super-important support network and ask, “Is it to early for wine?”
Or chocolate. Or ice cream.
When I’m not flexible, I become more controlling. And the more I try to control my kids, especially Kate… well, let’s just say the crazier my life becomes… and just as important, the unhappier Kate is. And me, too.
Oh, man. That control aspect is huge and the longer I’m a parent, the more I’m around other parents, the more clear this becomes. From a friend who tried to control her baby’s nap and feeding schedule to the parents at the park. I mean, seriously. Kids climb up slides, Parents. Let them. That’s what kids do. Leave ’em be and let them figure it out. You’ll be surprised just how careful the ones going down actually are – and the kids going up? Yeah, they think it’s GREAT fun to have someone ‘crash’ into them.
They’re also laughing. And happy. Even this tall, 8-year-old boy who holds Kate carefully as they reach the bottom (and after he’s ‘crashed’ into her too).
It’s part of their play, of their world. Not mine.
And I’m sitting back and just observing. Enjoying. Watching. Seeing if I’m needed by Kate… or, not. I watch as one angry, older dad is clearly looking around for me to reprimand Kate for again ignoring his demands that she not climb up the slide and go around like she’s ‘supposed to.’ He finally gives up trying to find me, trying to control Kate, and stomps away.
Why was any of that needed? The need to control? The anger that came because he wasn’t listened to?
I’m going to leave this park whole and happy and full of joy, and he won’t.
I think it’s this idea, to live my life as a more flexible person, that’s making me a better parent. I’m not perfect (see the above list that could and often does require chocolate), but I’m trying. I’m learning. It’s something Kate actually taught me. I could either listen to her cues, her moods, or I could fight her. Every. Inch. Of. The. Way. That’s not to say she runs the show or we never do things she doesn’t like, but we usually find a middle ground. If I see how tired she is, and since I know her I also know the tired will turn into massive misbehaving, I’ll change the plans. We’ll go to a park instead of errand shopping.
I mean, let’s face it, we want our kids to be happy. Often times happy means reading our kids and their moods, assessing the situation, and then setting up a new situation that leads to happiness. (On the flipside though, if you wait for a ‘perfect’ situation, you may never get out of the house.)
But truly, nothing warms my heart more than my kids and their giant, whole-face smile. You know the kind. That smile. The all joy, all love, all happy smile. I naturally want to change and adjust circumstances and life to make that smile a bit easier to shine out.
And, no surprise, this same idea holds true for me and my writing.
Having rigid, difficult-to-meet goals, means stress. Telling myself to write, every day, at this point in my life will lead to massive failure. And unhappiness. And stress. Telling myself to write even one short story a month will do that as well.
Stress because I won’t/can’t hit the goals. That I’ll fail. That by choosing not to write at my special allocated, carved-out time means I’m not serious about being a professional writer.
It’s a real slippery slope. The more stress I feel, the more negativity I put on my writing, the more I’m ensuring I will fail.
But if I change that mindset, just shift it, even a little bit….
I can find success. Even if it’s small.
Just the other day, while crazy-tired and looking at my writing time, I knew I couldn’t write for an hour. Instead of giving up, tossing in the towel for that day, I stopped and asked myself, “Can you write for 15 minutes?”
The answer was yes.
I could do that.
And, I did.
By getting in that writing, that very small snippet which didn’t even reach 200 words, made all the difference. Instead of being cranky all day, I was recharged and happier. I was a wholer person (though still tired), and a better mother. I allowed myself to be flexible with what life was throwing me and because I did, I found success.
It was teensy, tiny success, but that’s how I finally finished a story I’d been writing for months. It was only the second one I’d written since Eric was born, but I did it. It was 30 minutes here and there, sometimes with a one or two week break in between sessions. But, I did it. It’s also no longer a short story either, coming in at 12,000 words.
But because I was flexible, mentally flexible, and allowed myself to say, “No today’s not a good day to write,” it took away all the extra stress. It allowed my writing to be my fun, enjoyable time.
It allowed me to finish one story, and like today, to start on another.
As parents, we definitely need to roll with life punches and surprises because our kids throw them at us daily (or, on a really bad day, by the minute – yeah, you know those days). I mean, just the other day I knew I couldn’t even squeeze in my 15 minutes because the kids wouldn’t let me. It was one of those ‘every time you sit down I’m going to cry or whine or need help’ and if I’d tried to write I’d end up frustrated and mad. So, I just said, “Not today.”
And that’s okay too.
If you stay rigid against all those surprises kids like to hand out, it’s just going to wear you down. It’s going to make you unhappy and frustrated and angry, and once you’re down that road it’s hard to pick yourself up and do an about-face (trust me, I’m very much speaking from experience here).
But you know, it’s also okay to have those days too.
No one’s perfect, especially us parents.
We need to forgive ourselves for the short-tempers or when our minds are on the never-ending lists and we forgot to take a moment to simply be with our kids. Just like, if I look back at my weekly writing logs and see dozens of blank pages.
That’s another part of being flexible. Just accepting and moving forward. Try to do better tomorrow. To do the best that you can in each moment. Little bit by little bit.
Which is actually true too about touching your toes and stretching. You need to practice pushing those muscles to stretch a little bit further, to get a little bit more flexible. The more you practice, the better you get. And the better you get, the happier you’ll find yourself.
And everyone likes a happier parent.
Especially our kids.