The bulk of this post comes from a post I wrote earlier on a community blog, but I’ve been musing more on the idea and I don’t think I made my point particularly well. Actually I think that might be because after considering the idea further my point has changed a bit.
This quote came through on Facebook (from the lovely Lindsay at Activity Village) and it is this that got me thinking.
“It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.”
It struck a chord with me as I’ve been feeling a bit burnt out and downhearted lately. I had an appallingly bad Mother’s Day that I won’t dwell on (although should mention I got a lovely card and plant from Sam that he’d done Beavers) and on top of Pete’s mouse war causing disruption, I haven’t been able to see the sun never mind reach for it.
But the mini heatwave this last week has bought the sun back into focus and I’ve spent lots of time outside reading and chatting with other parents while the kids play. As well as getting on with lots of practical jobs, such as spring cleaning behind cupboards (hardly surprising we have mice when someone posts biscuits behind bookshelves…grr!) and been revamping lots of old printables for Activity Village as well as making new stuff with some gorgeous new images. I take pleasure in feeling efficient and when I can see that I’m achieving stuff. Kids have been outdoors every chance. Everyone is getting on better, we’re laughing and having fun again. I’m feeling much more cheerful and content with life.
What do I mean by the ‘sun’ though? For me, the main thing I want for my children, ‘the sun’ shall we say, is that they are happy and content. I don’t care what they ‘achieve’ in life as long as they find what makes them happy (obviously I want them to do it legally and morally but that is a separate debate altogether).
Inner happiness and fulfillment is so personal that, as much as we might want to, we can’t ‘make’ our kids happy. We can do things with them/buy them things that give them pleasure in the moment, but for their future they need to find their own sense of inner peace and enjoyment of life. If we are constantly working to give them pleasure, or telling them that something will make them happy, they will never find out what makes themselves truly happy and content. However if they grow up with happy, relaxed, content adults they are more likely to see that life doesn’t need be perfect for people to be happy. To me happiness isn’t measured by possessions and achievements but by smiles, laughter and love. That doesn’t mean people walk around with permanent smiles because life is tough sometimes but if we make time for small pleasures no matter how bad things are we can usually find a smile or a laugh somewhere. If children growing up with parents who can find something to laugh and smile about even when times are tough must be more likely to find inner happiness themselves, rather than wasting time searching for a mythical idea of what it means to be happy.
As an adult I love just playing with kids (mine and others), I love reading and always smile inwardly when I see DS2 curled up reading as the skill and pleasure is so new to him, I love reading aloud to kids and seeing them hang off my words, I love the satisfaction of finishing off something I’ve made. All small things, my happiness comes from home and friends. I hope my children will have a similar outlook as it is much easier to cope with the knocks the world throws at you when you take most of your happiness from the love and company of those around us. However, I can’t force them too, all I can do is work on my happiness and hope that they grow to share it.
Time and again I see parents who put their children’s immediate wants before their own needs, and am no doubt guilty of it myself from time to time. Please note I am talking about wants here not needs,as parents it is quite right that we put our children’s needs before our own most of the time. Not all though, I was reminded earlier of the advice to airline passengers about putting on your own oxygen mask first because you couldn’t save anyone if you’d passed out. I’ll go it a step further though and argue that from time to time we must prioritise our needs over what makes our children happy.
Over the years I’ve learned that I need to send the boys to their beds earlier some evenings, as much as I love being mum I am also a wife and I enjoy spending time with just Pete chatting/doing a crossword/sitting in companionable silence reading. I also need time alone, I am not a social being, one of the hardest things about motherhood is the non-stop chatter (don’t get me wrong I love hearing them…most of the time) I need to embrace silence over a book or a piece of sewing. During the day I’ll sometimes banish them to play upstairs when the noise becomes too much. My volunteer work means that I have had to say no to them doing certain activities from time to time, but it is important to me and they do a lot. Do I feel guilty? Yes, I think the two emotions of motherhood are overwhelming love and underlying guilt (about everything!). I shouldn’t though.
So I suppose the message is if we put all our focus into our kids and neglect to work on our own happiness and fulfilment we are doing them a disservice. Our children need role models who are not over paid footballers or c-list celebs, not even talented individuals that reach the top of their profession or people who commit some wonderful self-sacrificing labour or act of bravery, but one of the millions of normal people who live normal happy and successful lives. If we lead full balanced lives, as mothers (and fathers), wives, sisters and daughters, friends, workers who take pride in what we do (I know I’m lucky that I love my work) and individuals that find time for hobbies and relaxation, then we ourselves, the people who are after all best placed, are providing the role models our children need.
We will also no doubt show them that by standing on tiptoe, reaching out, there will be times that we fall flat on our faces or get buried by all the rubbish that the universe drops on us. From which the only thing to do is dust ourselves down and reach out again. And if the dusting down involves a week lying in the sun with a Kindle in our hands there is nothing wrong with that.
And when it comes down to it how many of us are not nicer, calmer, funner and more patient parents when we are happy in ourselves.