I have been thinking about ‘the long haul’, it has certainly felt like this in a negative way after seven weeks of confinement. But the ‘long haul’ also has a positive spin. My sense of losing the plot this week, feeling low and tearful has reminded me of my core values. I value my freedom and my heart aches watching my daughter’s freedom being curtailed.
Core values are the link in the Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) that I use working with young people and families (ACT). I outlined the basic skills of Discoverer, Noticer and Advisor last week and touched on how these can help children and adults to lead more fulfilled lives – but the real fulfilment comes from staying true to our values and having a willingness to accept the uninvited emotions, thoughts or feelings.
Parenting is perhaps the most important role we will ever face; choosing our partners, we are usually; but not always; adult to adult and have a sense of ‘trying it out’ first – but our child comes along and that’s it – we are in for the long haul. It’s both a miracle and a huge responsibility all in one – almost two sides of the same coin and throughout our lives this coin will flip, some moments or days will feel amazing, others will feel overwhelmingly challenging.
ACT encourages us to take a step back and look at the long haul. Many of us use short term measures to diffuse a difficult moment. For example in the extraordinary circumstances of our strict lockdown many parents will have no doubt offered ‘bribes’ for better behaviour. “If you stop moaning you can have an extra 30 minutes on your computer game”; “please stop crying, would you like some chocolate?”. These short term fixes are not a problem in themselves and in fact can be useful if they calm a difficult situation under lockdown – but if we step back and view the long haul, healthier choices for crafting our own and children’s behaviour may be nearer to our core values. So even though we get a bit of respite it is usually very short term, because sooner or later we realise that this isn’t really the parent we want to be.
When we get that feeling that we are not congruent with “the parent we want to be”, we have our own invitation to reflect on our values. It is a great opportunity to turn things around and say, even though I feel really awful and have beaten myself up for not being a great parent in this moment, the good news is that it shows that I really value family life and being as good a parent as I can be. We have used our ‘noticer’ skill to check in and acknowledge feeling guilty or sad or angry, and we have used our advisor skills to give us some options to listen to. In discoverer mode we test out a few different behaviours to see if this feels more like the long haul parenting that brings us closer to ourselves.
One aspect of thinking (advisor) that can get us into trouble, is that of the constant comparative method. We often adopt our own values by comparing to others – that can be really helpful in certain situations and if it is, then great. But if it starts to shift us from our own core values to someone elses’, then this can lead to increased frequency of feelings of jealousy, unfairness, general disappointment and eventually unhappiness. I read Fb posts this week, where people are comparing the Spanish lockdown response to other countries, and then within that, the phased return, which saw the seemingly unfair act of allowing children out with one parent for one hour, one kilometre from their home. Reading people writing based on comparisons, it was easy to get caught up in the ‘it’s not fair’ way of thinking and then feeling. The uncomfortable feelings actually reveal something of our core values. E-motion, we are moved literally towards or away. These posts reveal that freedom is one of those core values. In the lockdown, we are being bombarded with ‘vision bites’ of comparison, lots of ‘shoulds’ or ‘musts’. Are we doing the lockdown “properly” ? – the ACT response to this question is almost always “it depends”. We would explore “is this strategy working for you – for the long haul?”. That is; moving your towards ‘the parent you want to be’ or away?
We may have taken our freedom for granted, and the last seven weeks have taken their toll on all our families, but the thing that struct me this week, that even though I am not allowed out for an hour, was that I can vicariously enjoy the family celebrations. I can also reflect that eight weeks ago if you had asked families would they celebrate just one hour of their day, outside, just one kilometre away from their home, and with only one parent, they would have laughed at me, spoken of human rights etc had quite the debate! But now, this last, Sunday I was able to throw open the windows and hear the sound of laughter, children’s giggles, and to look out and see parenting with real connection and presence, enjoying that hour. I noticed that this made me feel good too, energy rising and a sign of hope amidst my despair. So a big thank you this week – parents who are responsibly following the guidelines are giving us all vicarious joy and paving the way for us all to enjoy an hour outside soon and with a long haul approach, we know that these small steps will guide us back to living our core value of freedom and appreciating it in quite a different way than before!