"Everybody's got a hungry heart." - Bruce Springsteen
It's a truism to say that it takes a village to raise a child. But in our modern culture, parents do the heavy lifting for society of raising the next generation of human beings, and they do it with very little social support. Even before the pandemic, individual families had to work overtime to cobble together resources and try to stay sane raising their children in the absence of a village.
As Jennifer, one of my clients, said in an email:
"We don't talk enough about how not having a tribe affects us as parents.... I have the fervent hope that we start talking about the exhaustion, need for community and help that we parents need."
So while I hope you're having lots of lovely connection time with your child, we all need warm relationships with other adults. Someone who will listen and commiserate, or simply talk with us about politics or parenting theory instead of legos and lollipops.
When we don't get that connection, we may end up looking to our kids, and of course it isn’t appropriate for children to take care of parents emotionally. I know you feel a fountain of love for your child, but you can’t keep all that love flowing if you don’t get some love yourself. Without warm contact with other adults, we end up with hungry hearts.
That's not good for you. It's not what you want to model for your child. And you having a hungry heart just makes you resentful or needy toward your child. (Guess if that makes him behave better.)
While it’s true that meeting the needs of our children can take all of our time, there are ways to create the sustenance of adult connection in our daily lives. Yes, even during a pandemic. In fact, during this socially impoverished pandemic, the deepest healing comes from reconnection -- with our values, with nature, with spirit -- and with other people. Here's how.
1. Get your kids out of the house every day.
I know it's a pandemic, but the job description of young children is to explore and take things apart to see how they work. If you stay home with them, they'll tear your house apart. Be sure to get out daily. Bring bubbles, balls, chalk, shovels -- whatever you can use at a nearby park to keep kids moving and breathing in the fresh air. The connection part? Call a friend! Or listen to an inspiring podcast or book while supervising your kids.
2. Take a daily "distanced" walk with a friend or your partner,
carrying little ones in a sling, pushing strollers, or letting kids kick a ball along the way. Agree in advance to make this quality time by setting aside ten minutes for each of you to really listen to each other without taking anything that's said personally, or trying to solve anything. Just keep breathing deeply to "be" with your loved one, whatever he or she is saying, and say "I hear you."
3. Start a pod.
Do you have friends nearby who you love, and all the kids mostly get along? Have some preliminary meetings on zoom to confirm that your families are in sync about health and safety practices, how to handle discipline issues, etc. Then, trade child-minding time with each other so each of you gets time off each week. Don't fritter away all the time you gain on work; use it to connect with your partner or do something that nourishes your soul. Or -- here's a radical idea -- take a nap! Finally, share some meals. Cooking and clean up are much more fun with other adults, and you'll get some lovely connection time with each other while the children play.
4. Let more love in.
Life is too short for you to be stressing over a bad relationship. If the pandemic has put a strain on your relationship with your partner, or exposed some fault lines, make working things out a priority. While it's true that some relationships are entrenched in patterns of negativity that are hard to break, it's also true that we take our baggage with us to the next partner, so it is always worth working on a relationship. Schedule an appointment for couples counseling on Zoom, or get your hands on my audio series Happily Ever After: Conscious Co-Parenting.
5. Find a "listening partner."
This idea, pioneered by the folks at HandinHand Parenting.org, is that you make a standing date to connect, usually by phone, with another parent. This gives you a safe place and a nonjudgmental, non-problem-solving partner so you can take turns exploring your issues with your child and releasing your own emotions. It's fine to "vent" but make sure to pause and welcome the tears and fears that are lurking behind the anger. Once you feel those more vulnerable emotions, they evaporate -- and so does the anger.
6. Join an online forum
like the one that's part of my Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Online Course. Getting support from other parents who aspire to conscious parenting can make all the difference in the world in how connected and supported you feel.
7. Get some time by yourself.
If you have a partner, trade off time so each of you has some time without being "on" for the kids. If you don't have a partner, find a friend or relative with whom you can trade times. Don't fritter away that time on social media; do something that replenishes you. Go for a run. Listen to a guided meditation. Water your garden. Play your guitar. You aren't connecting with other adults who support you, but you are reducing the incoming demands, and you're connecting with the greatest support there is -- the limitless support that you can only access through your own heart.
8. Prioritize love.
Every day, make sure that you have a juicy connection with another adult. Call a friend or sibling while you're doing housework. Set up a quarantini with an old friend. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who mentored you. Be sure your romantic partner knows how much love and appreciation you feel for them.
Anything that nurtures you and keeps your heart open gives you more love to share. As four wise men once said, "The love you take is equal to the love you make ... All you (really) need is love."
This is post #6 in our series on self care: The Secret of the Full Cup.
The full series: