Our family just returned from 10 days in the wilderness. With our 9 and 11 year olds, my husband and I hiked over 40 miles, shared one small tent, told stories, sang songs, and pressed the reset button for our family. Musings on Resilience-Informed-Parenting through the lens of a summer vacation.
“What in your life gives you the space you need to reflect on the abundance around you? In what ways can you allow yourself to be nourished by what you have rather than focus on what is missing?”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Passing through the Gauntlet
The most challenging time of our family summer vacation was the day we were set to leave. We had it all planned (or so we thought). My husband would take an early morning bike ride (which he did), I would catch one last yoga class (which I did), we would pack up the car and head out on the road by 11:00 am. Simple, right? Not so simple. The camping gear was piled in the living room, my husband was taking care of last minute details, there were emails and return calls to attend to, that article I was writing needed a final edit, and I had to get the house cleaned up sufficiently for our absence. The to-do list was taking over. My husband and I were arguing, the kids were fighting, and my daughter ended up crying in her room. I didn’t have time for this!
I went into my daughter’s room and tried to explain how I was doing all of this so that we could spend time together and then I had the “a-ha” moment. I realized that our frantic attempt to get out the door removed us from the very goal we were aiming towards, time to be together and really connect. I stopped, slowed myself down (that was the point of the morning yoga, wasn’t it?). I took my daughter onto my lap and listened to her experience. We connected and laughed over how painfully silly it was to have us be so “busy” just so we could have some family time. In the end the house was clean enough, the to-do list was done enough, and while we didn’t get on the road until 4:00 pm we had achieved connection.
The Lesson on the Path
The next morning we began the first of our hiking expeditions. Sometimes my son was so tired, he couldn’t walk another step. Then it was my daughter. At first we pushed them onward. The more we pushed the greater resistance. The insight from the day before could be applied on the trail. “No-goal” hiking became our approach to pressing the reset button on the goal oriented, fast paced, future-focused life we tend to get caught up in. When anyone of us needed a break we found a shady spot and sat down. We snacked, told stories, played games. When we were ready to move again we moved. We still arrived at phenomenal destinations…majestic mountain valleys, spectacular waterfalls, we still covered over 40 miles of trails, and we stayed connected throughout the journey.
We did a lot of storytelling on our hikes. One of the stories, quite serendipitously, was told by my son about a foolish pig that passes by opportunities for friendship and wealth on his quest to meet the wisest of all animals so that he can learn how to have friendship and wealth. Poor pig gets eaten by the wolf in the end. Isn’t that the challenge? To pause, reflect on the abundance around us, and to allow ourselves to be nourished by what we have rather than focus on what is lacking, or to be eaten alive by our own hunger for more.
Finding the “Happy Place”
Mid-way through the trip we stopped at some roadside hot-springs. As I was soaking in the hot-springs next to the roaring river “it” happened. I felt as if my whole body relaxed. There was absolutely nothing I needed to change in that moment. My daughter snuggled into me, nuzzling close. I told her I had found my “happy place.” She said she knew. She could feel that I was fully available, and I was. Throughout the rest of the trip that was our phrase to identify when anyone of us was “there”, fully receiving the beauty of the world around us and equally able to extend that peace outwards.
Taking the Lesson Home
Parenting is not easy, especially amidst the challenges of balancing the demands of work, maintaining a household, and staying connected to your partner. Add to the mix the compulsive draw to screens (ipads, phones, computers, T.V.). In my experience, staying connected, available, and nourished amidst the stress of daily life requires conscious intention each day. Here are some of the tools I have found helpful as a way to take resilience into your parenting and family life:
- Find your reset button. What helps you reconnect as a family? Is it the outdoors, a snuggle on the couch, or game night? Take a moment to reflect on what activities bring your family together in a meaningful, nourishing way.
- Eat together as often as you can. Gathering during meal time provides one of the most valuable opportunities to connect each day. Put the screens away for this precious time (this is for parents, too). Give each person a chance to share their plans for the day in the morning and how their day went in the evening. Really listen.
- Notice your nourishment barrier. Slowing down and receiving the abundance around us can be surprisingly challenging. Like the foolish pig, we can take for granted the gifts we already have. Take the time to reflect the abundance in your life. You can keep a family gratitude journal in which each member of the family shares one moment of each day that they are grateful for and the scribe keeps this on record. Notice how it feels to read this back to each other a week or a month later.
- Focus on the positive. So often I hear myself saying, “I have to…(do the dishes, clean the bathroom, check my email).” Try instead saying “Today I get to…” and notice if this simple rephrasing shifts you into a more positive mindset. When I remember to engage this practice I realize how many people in the world may not have the luxuries of clean water to wash their dishes in, indoor plumbing, or access to technology. I soften and turn towards my undesirable tasks renewed.
- Stay real and get inspired. There needs to be a balance between keeping it real as a parent and challenging ourselves to develop, learn, and grow. Several times in the last few weeks I had the opportunity to download with good friends a difficult moment I had with my preteen daughter or the challenges of raising a son with dyslexia. As parents it is important to know we are not alone in the thorny moments of our parenting. However, what keeps these conversations from falling into the pit of complaint sessions is the gentle uplifting nature of inspiration. What I aspire towards as a parent is to learn from the rocky moments and to stay committed to repair mistakes with my children no matter how long it takes. However, if aspiration is too strong I can judge myself too harshly or get caught in the trap of perfectionism. In short, this practice is the art of balancing acceptance with change.
If this post has inspired you I would love to hear from you. How do you reset your connection with your child or family? How do you find acceptance for your difficult parenting moments. What do you aspire towards and who has modeled these traits?
- Raising Resilient Children
- Trans-generational Healing and Resilience
- Resilience-Informed Psychotherapy and Healing from Grief
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.