You are probably laughing as you read this. Slowing down, YOU Sara? I know, it sounds ludicrous! But the truth of the matter is I have indeed been slowing down for a long time. I have been thinking of what I should less, I have been seeking perfection less, I have been making my path about growth rather than getting somewhere, more about abundance than scarcity.
Where does this come from?
I have started my peaceful parenting course with Dr. Laura Markham. This is an online course I have been wanting to enroll on for a year, and decided September was going to be it. Even though I am 5 weeks behind (September was less than ideal), I have now more fully embraced it. I figured out the tech issues I was having to get the lectures and daily inspirations into my phone in offline mode, I have read more than half the book using delayed planes and no technology availability.
And most of all, I have decided to prioritize it. Not because I have been yelling more or because Little Girl C is giving me more trouble. Only because no matter how much better things are, I still can’t help but judge myself as a parent and think that I can be doing a better job. And yes, I judge Hubby B too, so we are both doing the course (me more voluntarily than him). No matter how much more regulated Little Girl C has become (on the back of my own self-regulation), I still know she struggles quite a lot with strong emotions, and now that I have seen some absolutely new avenues of communication open up, I know I want more. Yes, here I go wanting more.
And where does slowing down come in?
The first chapter of the book is all about regulating your emotions. Yes, this is not your typical parenting approach “here is how to make your kid follow instructions in 30 days“, or “how to make your child follow a sleep routine“. And I am not judging, as I did get both my children on a sleep routine relatively early. But at this time and place, that is not what I am aiming at. This book is all about YOU. Yes, you the parent trying to get your children not to act up and to just do a little less screaming around bedtime or when trying to leave the house in the morning.
What does this have to do with me, you may ask?
Well, parenting has everything to do with you. You are the parent, someone else is the child. And you aren’t really meant to be the child. The person that can self-regulate and make a better choice is the grown-up. I know, tough. Just when you thought you were going to sort your kid out by buying this course.
I will give you an example. 2 weeks ago, Hubby B had the brilliant idea to open Baby S cot bed. Yes, I blame him, because we tried it in the Summer and could not cope so postponed it indefinitely until I got home one day to find it gone. Got to give him some independence so I played along. Baby S has a blast coming out of bed after lights are out. He just can’t cope with the independence (or maybe we are the ones that can’t cope).
No matter how hard I try, I can’t remember when we did this with Little Girl C, lack of sleep kills my memory I know. But I know this never happened. So we were overwhelmed in the first couple of nights. We went into fight mode and tried to push the rules on him. We played nicely, then raised our voices, then started the threats and even punishments of removing one of his four dummies away (yes, FOUR, long story). And you know what, he was winning. He really enjoyed all this attention.
For the first couple of nights he kept this game for 1 hour, showing up at the bottom of the stairs only to run back to bed the moment he would see me, but never really giving up until we all ended up in fights or tears.
A change in perspective
Luckily (I think), I had just started to read the Peaceful Parenting book, and so decided to drop my agenda. My agenda that I need to have that time post 8 o’clock to do what I want. My agenda that he needs to stay in bed because I say so. My agenda that his sister needs to sleep and it’s all his fault. My agenda that he needs to stay in bed on his own because that is what good children do. So I stayed with him, connected, talked to him in peace and made no big deal. I reduced the number of exits in half. Did he win? No, not yet. The process is still going. But I won that I didn’t get to 9 pm exhausted and thinking that I was the worst mother in the world. So we all win.
But I digress.
Back to slowing down
I have started slowing down almost 5 years ago. That is when I realized I was not doing things right, at least not for myself. I was cramming different things into my life that were not what I really wanted to do, and I was always leaving myself for last. I was acting on the judgement I had of me, of what I should be, of how mothers are, how wives should be, how career women should act, how a charity is run. All in the same week. I obviously did not cope well.
So how did I slow down? Here are my 5 things.
I accepted I was a grown up. Yes, I know, it’s tough. But it was not immediate to accept that when I had a small child I just did not feel like partying all the time, being out for dinner all the time, working as a mad person all the time. Especially if I was running a charity in the evenings! Even though I still like to attend a good party sometimes, I have to admit that more often than I want to admit, I am counting the hours of sleep I will not get. And thinking of how grumpy I will be with my children in the morning, in the one morning in the week that we get to be in peace.
The other thing is all the weekend plans that are so common to have in London. The outings, picnics, brunches, teas, drinks and what else. Oh, and by the way all the birthday parties you have to attend. So now I look at weekends as an overall block of time with the children and I carefully chose which parts I am willing to interrupt to see friends or do double playdates (parents and children). I no longer look at it with the perspective of “what should I fill my calendar with this weekend“. If I am out to brunch one day I am unlikely to do so the day after. Same for dinner. And Sunday nights became sacred for me to recover from the weekend (yes, that takes recovery too)
I accepted being with my family in a way that I could be truly mindful was my priority and what I valued the most. So as I set my goals for 2019, being a peaceful parent was my #1 goal, and I know that has been key to continue to model my prioritization of family time.
Agenda and Social Events
I have accepted that while my kids are little and everything is going on at the same time, I am not where I was in my 20s in terms of social events. So I again look at my week in aggregate, and at most I chose to be out 1 night a week, on top of our usual Friday night. Friday nights we are out and the kids are used to it, accepting it sometimes better than I do. But the extra night, for work, or an extra event with our friends that may not have kids and are happy to wonder off during the week, or just that drink with another mother who needs a break. That, I take in controlled dosages. I am careful about my scheduling to ensure I can do each of these events in a mindful manner. I definitely do not do it very week.
I also am less and less keen to do large social events. I feel like my ability to connect is so diminished that they are not worth my time. No, I have not gone completely old. I still enjoy a good party. However, I am not a person that thrives in a party setting, unless there is music and I can dance and absorb to the sound of it. I dread networking. But if I am somewhere to connect with friends, then I want to be able to connect. Slowing down from a party to a dinner greatly helps. Slowing down from 20 to 4 (or 2) friends at a time also does.
As I have spoken (or written) at length, my pink book goes with me everywhere. So far it is pink, I will let you know if the color changes. Since I have started journaling, not only the all of the above became much clearer, but I also had a good chance to stop myself. In fact, I gave myself time to slow down.
I slowed down my brain by having a place to brain dump. When I started with my bullet journal, all I wanted was a method to be organized with my time and not to have to be second guessing myself all the time. Or beating myself up for what I forgot to do. I later found out I just wanted to be more intentional with my free time, and the bullet journal method was perfect to get me to do this. This is how I completely shifted gears and accelerated all areas of my life while slowing down. It was quite an impressive outcome, at least for me.
Another area of my life I have seriously stepped up was my self-care. I don’t do nearly as much as I should (here I go using should again), but I have done a fair amount.
First and foremost, my daily gratitude practice, even when I don’t do it every day, has become a grounding experience which also focus me on the good things I achieve every day. I spend much less time than ever before being anxious about what I don’t do. And if I am in the middle of a busy period and a few days go by, I still diligently go back on my week and ensure I find those 3 things (or more) that I am grateful for every day and force myself to thinking through the last few days and slowing down. I never stop, true, but I slow down. If an end of month approaches, I mix the bullet journal with my self-care practice and I always put my best foot forward into the next month!
I also added my daily yoga practice, which I am conscious needs some re-invigoration. I still do it and it has been a fantastic new habit, but as the GP in last week’s assessment said, “make sure you use it with intention“. It has become a habit for me, one that I don’t want to break mentally or physically, and it is a key part of my morning routine, but I have been so tired the last 6 weeks that I believe I have just gone into automatic pilot.
I have told Hubby B that I am looking for a trigger, as I had a year ago on October 1st when I first started my yoga. Maybe as I write this my soul will find it.
This has been my last improvement. I knew I was lacking it but my assumption during my 20s was that sleeping just took too much time. In fact, I always said that I was the type of person that did not need much sleep. As my 30s are well advanced, I know that this is not quite the case. I just never prioritized it. And my body did not complain. Everyone else around me was sleep deprived, so we probably could not tell each other apart anyway. As slowing down becomes ever more important for me (so I can speed up where it matters), I find that sleep is the key piece of the puzzle that I have been missing.
Since I started prioritizing it by tracking it (in writing), creating sleep routines, morning routines and just in general ensuring I really do chose a decent bedtime in a more consistent manner, I have seen major differences. My sleep average has increased from c. 6-6h15 minutes from early in the year to 6h30-6h45 on average lately. It is not where it needs to be in terms of hours (my goal is 7 hours) or consistency (can’t resist to get an extra hour in the weekend, even if I know that is not the best). But the change has really created change in my physical form but more importantly my mental form. It changes the way I feel in the morning, how I get out of bed and, more importantly, how I act with my children. My ability to snap less, to stop and breathe is severely impacted by a bad night of sleep.
Why is slowing down so important for parenting?
There are 3 rules Dr. Laura Markham is teaching me (or at least trying). Slowing down impacts 2 out of the 3 (or who knows 3, but I have not made it to the end of the book).
Regulating Your Emotions
The first rule is about regulating your own emotions. All of the 5 steps above have helped me become more connected with my emotions, more reflective, less reactive. Yes, a better (perhaps more boring) person, a proper grown up. Many days, I can tell that I have had a bad day in the office and I will tell Little Girl C – “don’t push too much today, as I am on the edge“. Does she get it? Not entirely, but by expressing it I can show to her that it’s not her fault, that I need a break too and, more importantly, verbalizing it helps me proactively recharge just enough to get me through bed time.
Some days I am really hungry when I get home and I don’t think I can make it do dinner scenes, so I head to the kitchen and sneak in a piece of break before I even sit down at the table. I use my commute effectively to help me transition and unwind (in whichever direction I need it).
The second rule is about connecting. According to her, connecting will be 90% of the solution. Deep inside, I know she is right and it makes sense, especially for Little Girl C and her strong willed personality. Deep inside I know it is also what I want, but I don’t always have the strength to do it. Too many times I give her (and Baby S) what is left of me rather than the whole of me. So slowing down is indeed what will help me change the paradigm in that. Yes, I may need more time with them, but more importantly, I need that time to continue to be better (and hopefully move very slowly)