MY LIFE, transformed by four other little lives, brought into the world, now ages 11, 9, 7 and (almost) 1!
As a parent, what should I want most for my children, if not HAPPINESS?
And yet my Awesomely Aspergers boy, in particular, can have the BEST DAY [with a lot of effort, from others, to this end], and STILL his thoughts refill with broader, perceived challenges in his life 😬
So how do we equip ourselves, as a family, to be truly happy and fulfilled?
Certainly, it is not to say that life needs to be without challenge, effort, or even failure. I’m definitely NOT saying that. Finding purpose and stepping towards our dreams, through the challenges, surely makes good outcomes most special; ownership, a building block to self esteem. Action becomes committed and motivated. AND ‘the learns’ keep the door open to change and new possibilities!
IN A NUTSHELL, our family outlook has somehow developed three pursuits:
- COURAGE, in the face of the tough stuff
- to keep OPTIMISTIC about the future
- to be GRATEFUL in the day to day
Not that I find any of that easy myself, ha! I naturally focus on the bad moments, dwell on them, over analyse them. I usually search for a way I could have done things better. Feel guilt. Pointless stuff.
It’s not about pretending it’s all a breeze though, is it? Learning to mask reality with surface glossiness? Sometimes, life, work, health and relationships ARE tough. I’m blessed with a husband who is masterfully calming when my hysterical waterworks switch on! And he’s very good at caring deeply, and showing it.
Yet there’s a few practical things we have introduced, daily, to help MODEL AND BUILD these traits within family life, especially for Caleb, whose inner voice remains very challenge-focused.
For example, as the children go to sleep every night, we talk to each, in turn, about what they are going to dream about. There is a rule; it has to be forward thinking and positive. Whether that be a birthday party next week, or a future dream career, we encourage the children to end the bedtime conversation by naming a positive thing they are looking ahead to.
On the fridge we often use a visual countdown for bigger, exciting events, which everyone gets involved in updating. We sometimes add pictures, linked to the EXCITING THING, a talking point that keeps the positive anticipation at the forefront.
Equally, we enjoy looking back on photos of past adventures too.
En route in the car, day-to-day, we regularly list and reflect back upon the highlights of our weekend, week, month, year… We name the good times and get to know each other’s preferences while we’re at it. WE LAUGH TOGETHER! It reminds us that even if this week is tough, there have been plenty of happy times recently, and there will be more to come.
Similarly, at the end of the school day, we each share two positives, no matter how small, before we launch into any difficulties about our day.
For my son Caleb, I liken troubleshooting any perceived challenge, to feeling travel sick and being unable to get off a merry-go-round! No progress, no agreed solutions, and stubborn pessimism! But if there is a shift of focus, from extinguishing the negative, to looking instead to his character strengths, perceived skills and reflecting upon attractive end goals; this positivity counteracts the pessimistic thoughts, and helps us to move forwards!
When it comes to courage, we tell each other it’s NOT about being fearless. Nor is it about avoidance! Perhaps instead, the first step to courage is self awareness? Knowing what makes us each anxious or uncomfortable, and naming it! And then asking ourselves if it’s important? Is our fear restricting our happiness? If so, let’s find strategies and incentives to face into it, and cheerlead one another, instead of labelling each other negatively, or humiliating one another. Supporting one another is key. In our house we try to promote lovingness, above being right! A work in progress !!
You see, it may be our journey to seek out courage, optimism and thankfulness. BUT, what I want MOST OF ALL, even above these traits, is for the children to GROW TO BE KIND; In my mind, this is the heart of happiness. What’s life without kindness? Without relationship? If the pursuit of happiness is me-first motivated, with jealousy and bitter gossip snapping at its heel, and the pain of unresolved past hurts lurking under the surface, then fun-times or success surely cannot sooth, for long, a deeper brokenness.
Not that I’m in the unbroken camp! Far from it…But I CHOOSE gratitude, and loving deeply goes a long way to helping me feel very fulfilled. It also acts as a balm to the sometimes sharp slap of bad bits, hurtful things, outside of my control.
Yes, I’ll own up now, the Cinderella story ‘The Slipper and The Rose’ was my all time favourite movie as a child; and when the latest ‘Cinderella’ film came out, whilst others found the phrase “Have Courage, and be kind” utterly nauseating, I was (internally) shouting a massive, emotional, ‘AMEN!’ in the aisle…!
Which takes me to my final thought.
I talk to God. I believe in a relational God. I find just TALKING, out loud, to a greater power, liberating.
In all my efforts to be the best Mum I can be, I am reminded…