Reflections by torchlight: how my kids are helping me find my direction

Photo by Don O'Brien via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by Don O’Brien via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I have been doing a lot of reflection over the last couple of years. So. Much. Reflecting, reflecting, re-bleugh… I’ve grown up on self-improvement books and courses since I was a teenager and my mum, who was doing a lot of personal development herself at the time, would pass on her books and course notes. But lately, reflecting so much has got really old and really hard work.

In the last few months, I have been feeling pretty stuck again and on reflection (see there I go again!) I have probably been spending too much time thinking and not enough time doing. The result being that I haven’t managed to get much out of all this reflecting. Instead, I’m stuck in my head, unable to come up with anything new.

And then – BAM! Today, I hit on a doozy of a reflection.

You know, if you read my stuff, that I’m trying to find more direction in my life. I also want to help my kids to pick up on the signals of what theirs might be before they get swamped with all the grown-up B.S. of bills and commitments and obligations. Well, I’ve been consumed by this for the last few weeks in particular to, probably, an unhealthy degree. Why haven’t I found it yet? Why don’t I feel passionate about anything? Why do I have so many goddam obligations and commitments which cut into my precious time to find out what I want to do in life?!

Looking back, I can now see that this has been overwhelming me. I was feeling unbelievably stuck and like I was always doing things I HAD to do because other people needed or expected me to. And yes, that included my kids. Why did I have to tell them three times to get their socks on? Why were they always ignoring me and playing with their weird collection of open-skulled Playmobil characters who all seem to have lost their hair?

Why? Well what came to me in a flash of insightful (rather than regurgitated) reflection was that rather than getting bogged down in the boring details of life like me, my kids were choosing to instead do the things they love to do and show, in little ways, what their passions in life are – just like I’ve been trying to teach them. How confusing it must be for them to have me trying to each them one thing and rewarding them for doing another.

Just like other kids, they love role playing with their stuffed animals and dolls. Maybe we have a future actor or doctor or counsellor on our hands to help shape. They both love doing detailed drawings – maybe they’ll be artists or engineers or a hybrid of the two. But instead of supporting them to investigate these passions, my main role as must appear to them is to be the big, bad bearer of rules and obligations.

Now, I know that they can’t spend their life doing exactly what they want, when they want, but my job should be about tapping into their internal motivations (have a look at Dan Pink’s TED talk on this) for doing things – showing them that it’s really in all of our best interests that they learn to take care of themselves – rather than cajoling and pushing them to get on with “the boring, harassing parts of life” that if they did them would, basically, make my life easier.

I discovered this, not by sitting in a quiet room with my notebook and pen in hand, but when Jude came up to my study when he should have been in bed. I was trying to get some things done that I had been putting off so long that they were really bugging me when he climbed up on my lap to obscure my view of the PC screen. While I was huffing and puffing and giving him a lecture about him getting enough sleep, he gently ignored me and pointed up to the wall where he was shining his torch: “It’s dark in my room Mummy and when I put my torch on and keep hold of the button, the light does this weird thing – see?”

As I saw the engrossed, puzzled look on his face as he tried to work out how this was happening, that’s when I knew. What a pain-in-the-bum Mother I am, making my kids sweep floors and put away their shoes and put their socks on when there are many more interesting mysteries in the world to explore.  Like how a torch can do weird things when you want it to banish monsters from your bedroom.

And so, the trick to reflecting is to turn those revelations into action. And this is a tricky balance but I now need – scrap that – want to find a way to cultivate my kids and my own interests and internal motivations in a way that won’t crush our will to live by piling on the weight of everyday crap.

Any tips on how to do that, gratefully received.


2 thoughts on “Reflections by torchlight: how my kids are helping me find my direction

  1. Oh bless you that’s beautifully written. May I suggest a book? F**k It by John C Parkin. I have found it incredibly useful – it’s not a self help book and you can dip in and out of it. Children have wonderful ways of making us stop and look at the world from a different perspective. At the end of the day the crucial thing in life is the relationships that we have we others, not what they do for a living or the things that we own. Treasure those moments x

    • Thanks Niki 🙂 I think I’ve picked up that book before so will have another look. I have read “The F**k you up” by Oliver James which is about the affect of your parents on your own upbringing. A hard going, but really insightful read. I was right back to bossing the kids about this morning but I caught myself and adjusted my attitude a little. Small steps. x

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