My family has been at a leisure park recently. My husband had been wanting to go there for quite a while and finally I had given in. The weather was fine and the children had a lot of fun, being mesmerized by all the colours, sounds and offers. They were keeping up pretty well, walking through the park all day long, energized by ice-cream and fries and the prospect of getting a stuffed animal and a balloon in the end.
For me the trip felt like a never-ending bombardment of noise, impressions and ordering my children about. It was so exhausting to take care of them, to not lose them in the mass of people, to not give in to every beg for "just this one". It felt like a ride on a rollercoaster, from one tense situation to the next. My mood got worse and worse and my tone of voice did not soften one inch.
Living with a filter of "not right"
There are so many situations in everyday life when we see the world as if through a filtered glass. We do not see reality but only what we want to see. Do you know the expression "to see things through rose-coloured glasses"? When our mind is attached to a fix idea of how things or people are supposed to be, we put on coloured glasses and by this limit our view. This happens unconsciously and it is very hard to realize that what we see is not exactly reality. Sometimes we meet people and get them to know a certain way, forming our opinion from the very first glimpse of their way of talking, laughing, dressing. This is how our minds work, categorizing and judging people and situations. Literally "putting down" theses ready-made opinions (i.e. the filtered glasses) and allowing ourselves to be open and curious can be very difficult but also liberating and exciting.
In the evening of the first day in the park, when everybody except me was sleeping, I realized that the day had not been so bad after all. The kids never ran away further than the next corner, they did not throw themselves on the floor at a "no" (they actually never do), they were always quite patiently waiting in the queue and they were really very happy and enjoying this family time together. I realized that it was me who had put this filter in front of my eyes, the filter of "it/they should be different". The orchestra of sounds, the huge number of people, the unhealthy food, the very pushy commerce in the park and not least my initial rejection to go there in the first place had all contributed to letting myself lose the bigger picture out of focus.
This trip was meant to be all about family time, doing something different, having fun, creating memories. This was all done, except there are certainly dozens other – cheaper and more creative – ways to accomplish this. But this time we had gone for this option, and my mistake was that I had put on my filtered glasses the very moment we had entered the park. This had clouded all my doing and all my being, especially as a parent. I was pushy, directing, threatening, sharp, irritated, nagging, and on top of this felt exhausted, guilty and ashamed at the end of the day. This was not a highlight in my mindful parenting approach. This was completely reactive thinking and acting.
It is never too late to start again
Do you know these moments or times of complete tension, where the simple fear of something could happen drives you to direct, order, nag the children, although in fact everything is alright at the moment and they are just that: children? Maybe there are these family meetings, restaurant invitations, birthday parties... Especially family trips or holidays are prone to too high expectations up front and tension in the execution. The good thing is that it is never too late to start again. Each moment is the right moment to realize what had happened and the reasons for all this. Reflecting back on triggers and thought patterns can help a lot in acknowledging reality and bringing self-compassion into the process. At one point I was able to acknowledge that I simply cannot thrive on fast food, endless music via loudspeaker, constantly chattering children and my own high expectations of doing everything right.
Especially when being together with the family, it can be immensely useful to become aware of thoughts and emotions. What is my expectation of this event? How would I like my children to behave? What can I do to prepare for some possible challenges? How can I stay open and curious of whatever arises? In my case I could have brought some energising snacks and allowed myself regular breathing spaces to tune into my body and my internal landscape. This would certainly have helped me to come out of the reactive mode again and again – because I am sure I will have been fallen into it again and again as well. But then I would have avoided this slow but steady accumulation of tension, overwhelm and irritability.
We can learn to be together as a family and come back to being over and over. There are so many ways of spending time together with mindful activities, games and especially mindful communication.