'We don’t get angry at the wind for blowing, and yet the blowing does affect us. Let the actions of your kid be the wind blowing'
> Here’s the thing: the boat is always empty. Whenever we interact with other people who might “do something to us” (be rude, ignore us, be too demanding, break our favorite coffee cup, etc.), we’re bumping into an empty boat. We just think there’s some fool in that boat who should have known better, but really it’s just a boat bumping into us, no harm intended by the boat. That’s a hard lesson to learn, because we tend to imbue the actions of others with a story of their intentions, and how they should have acted instead. We think they’re out to get us, or they should base their lives around being considerate to us and not offending us. But really they’re just doing their thing, without bad intent, and the boat just happens to bump into us. When we see things with this lens, they suddenly become emptied of anger and stress. Our boss was rude? Empty boat, just respond appropriately, don’t imbue with a story. Kid throws a tantrum? Empty boat,
just breathe and find the appropriate, non-angry response. This is detachment. It’s seeing the actions and words of others as just phenomena happening outside of us, like a leaf falling or the wind blowing. We don’t get angry at the wind for blowing, and yet the blowing does affect us. Let the actions of your kid be the wind blowing — you just need to find an appropriate response, rather than being stressed that this phenomenon is happening. So when your kid is doing something other than what you’d like, let go of that desired outcome that’s stressing you out, and let go of the story you’ve imbued into their actions. Just think, “Empty boat, wind blowing.” And then give them a hug. Let love guide your actions. Teach, don’t control. Set an example of how they should behave with your compassionate response. They’re watching you, not listening to your words, and that’s how they learn.
Making Things Easier The skills above take practice, and I’m still learning them myself. I don’t claim to be the best at them, but the learning itself is a good process to go through. With all of that said, there are some things you can do to make managing kids easier and less stressful: • Teach them to be selfsufficient. Each step along the way, teach them to take care of themselves according to their ability to learn new skills. If they learn to brush their teeth, shower, fix their breakfast, wash their dishes, and eventually cook and clean and wash their own clothes, life becomes much easier. • Set boundaries. There are certain lines they shouldn’t cross for safety reasons, and the earlier you can teach these lines, the better. Then there are softer lines that are inappropriate to cross — being disrespectful of others, damaging property, etc. — and for these lines, it’s good to teach them as early as possible why it’s bad to cross the lines. Repetition is key, and eventually they learn and things are easier for all concerned. • Give them responsibility. Older kids can watch younger kids. Kids can pitch in with family chores, like sweeping and washing dishes and wiping counters and cleaning bathrooms. This is good for them, as it teaches them to be a part of a team and take pride in their work, while it reduces the load for you. • Don’t schedule too much. Many parents overbook their kids, with practices and lessons and clubs and playdates and sports and recitals and much more. This gives the kids no time to play and invent on their own, and makes life much more stressful for the parent. Schedule as little as possible, and let them figure out how to use their time. • Relax your expectations. Parents tend to expect the world of their kids, from how successful they’ll be to how perfect they’ll be at skills to how little they’ll mess up with things around the house to how perfect they’ll behave. Of course, none of these expectations is realistic, nor fair to the kid. Let them go. Accept them for who they are, and just have a good time with them.
I say all these things like I’ve perfected them, but of course I haven’t. I have a wonderful set of kids, and I know I’m lucky. I’m also lucky to have an amazing wife, Eva, who bears the brunt of the stress and makes things so much easier for me. But when the things above work, they work great. Parenting can be stressful, but it can also be joyful. I choose joyful.
MORE INSPIRATION DISCOVER More of Leo’s writings at zenhabits.net READ Playful Parenting by L Cohen
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2015 www.thegreenparent.co.uk