Often at the end of the year, I write a parent self-care article. This year I was completely enamored with the birth of my first grandbaby and forgot about my usual practices. It’s just as well, because what I learned, or remembered that I once knew, is important for all of us.
If you are like me, you move much more quickly through life than is entirely comfortable. You make lists and feel gratified when you check off completed tasks. You schedule more than can realistically be accomplished in a given period of time. You wonder where your creativity has gone and if it will ever come back.
During the past two months I spent much of my time observing both the new baby and a puppy. They sparked thinking and contemplation about the important things in life. They reminded me of how to live more fully.
This month I will give an overview of three lessons that will enrich your life. Over the next three months, I will cover each lesson in detail and give practical suggestions about how to effectively apply it in your parenting.
Keeping busy is part of our Puritan heritage. Hard work reaps societal rewards. Daydreaming or doing nothing can receive derogatory labels. As I watched our baby and the puppy during times they were not being entertained, I noticed how much of their environment they took in. The baby stared at the lights of the Christmas tree, mesmerized. He looked at the pattern on the quilt. He ran fingers through his thick, soft hair. The puppy laid on his blanket, chewing. He wandered around the yard, sniffing. He studied the birds chirping in the tree. Both Baby and Puppy were learning about their world without anyone assisting. They were content. They did not need more stimulation.
I remembered how much I like looking at clouds or staring at my garden. I recalled that only when I daydream do ideas for my writing or answers to problems come. I remembered the contentment of sitting and how much I learn through what appears to be doing nothing.
It is through quietness and observation that we learn the important lessons of life. Babies and puppies learn about their environment and how to be in the world. Adults who are willing to incorporate down time into their lives will gain insight from the contentment of quietness.
When a baby is hungry, tired or wanting attention, he cries. New parents quickly learn what different cry tones mean. When puppies have needs, they whimper, jump, and make a nuisance of themselves. Babies and puppies have no qualms about letting others know their needs.
Some grown-ups do not ask for what they want or need. Others are indirect, hoping someone will accurately guess what they want. Still others, like puppies, make nuisances of themselves until someone steps forth.
As I watched Baby and Puppy, I remembered how important it is to ask directly for what I want or need. If I expect others to guess what I want, I may be disappointed in what they offer. I may feel resentful that they don’t understand me. I may feel like a martyr if no one picks up my indirect message.
When I ask straightforwardly for nurturance or help or to have someone listen to me, I feel fulfilled because I usually receive what I need. When I am direct in a request and others respond, I can feel certain that they are doing so because they truly want to.
Babies and puppies are not socialized. They are innocent and free of societal restraints and mores. In Western culture, many of the grunts, groans, and bodily noises babies make are inappropriate when they come from children and adults. The abandon of puppies as they chew, jump, and sniff is endearing only for a short time. Nonetheless, the lesson babies and puppies teach at this early stage is the joy they experience in being themselves. Concern about how others perceive them is not part of their make up.
Awareness of age and situational appropriate behavior allows one to fit into society. It creates the opportunity to make friends, to be an effective student, and to have fulfilling work opportunities. If I am to feel complete, however, I must be aware of my own uniqueness and express it. How I think and feel, whether or not I am willing to share those thoughts and feelings, and what I choose as work and hobbies reveal who I am. No matter what I think, do, or say, I cannot please everyone. If I use as my guide the standard that I will not consciously or intentionally harm another or myself, I am on safe ground. If I am willing to say “no” to others when they ask something of me that I cannot do with an open and willing heart, they may be disappointed, but it will not hurt them. The relationship is kept in integrity because it is based on honesty.
I took great delight in watching, cuddling, and caring for Baby and Puppy. Their curiosity, openness, and their knowledge that they are accepted completely and just as they are filled me with hope. If each of us as parents models the importance of down time, directly asking for what we want, and expressing our unique selves, we give a gift to our children--the gift of being a more whole human being.