Parenthood Way: The End of the Rope

Dear Friends, I'll be writing a series of posts here I am calling "Parenthood Way," for the next few months. These posts will be based exclusively in and on family life and parenting. My theme is that I, for one, am not perfect as a mom, wife, household manager, dog owner, chief cook or bottle washer ... I imagine very few of us are. As we realize that we are all "in this boat together," we can begin to take our focus off our personal mistakes and look at the boat as a whole, with a gentle but intent curiosity.

I have had clients whose childhoods and parenting experiences have been much, much more challenging than mine--and continue to be. I recently told one such client: "Look. Everything is already broken. People hurt each other every day, and you know all the stories. You have lived them. We must find peace now--in the midst of this brokenness. In ourselves. If we can do so, we become a part of the hope, of the solution, for all children."

I wrote this recent article on "The End of Our Rope" for my kids' elementary school newsletter. I dedicate it, and this new series to all parents and child care givers and caretakers, everywhere. Peace exists here and now. Let's find it. It's contagious!

Parenthood Way: “The End of the Rope”

With two, still young daughters, (one growing up fast), a job, a dog, a busy husband, a house to maintain, finances to organize (worry about, forget about, worry about), I, like most parents and caregivers, am busy!

I find parenting to be a series of moments in which 1) we feel we have come to the absolute end of our rope, and then 2) miraculously, more rope appears! Suddenly, there is a moment to breathe, to enjoy our children and our lives. How does it happen that sometimes we are terribly stressed, and at other times, we remember (and experience) the reasons we became parents? We experience the present moment. We experience humor, love and gratitude.

The truth is that we are most often not actually experiencing our children, our spouses, our current realities—we are experiencing our thoughts about them. And while negative thoughts can be triggered by many “external” situations, parental stress comes from hanging onto negative thoughts (worries, concerns) that cycle around without solution. Then, in a quiet moment (and this can be in the midst of chaos, too), the mind clears and we are back in the present—noticing the turning leaves, the holiday lights, the beautiful sunset … And, interestingly, solutions to “problems” with our kids percolate up to help guide us through this endless mystery and challenge called “parenthood.”

I call these changes in thinking (busy thinking, then clear mindedness), states of mind. The other day, a “Walking School Bus” day for us—which means getting all of us out the door 20 minutes early—my husband was tired and slept in, I was singly trying to make breakfast, lunches; blaming my husband, blaming myself, the kids, the dog, whoever; and I finally got the kids out the door, but without me! … I had to finish dressing and run to catch up with the “school bus.”

Then, as we were crossing a neighborhood street, my youngest daughter dropped our dog’s leash and Coco went free in the street. I stopped to gently lecture my daughter and took the leash. I was heading on down the road with most of the school bus group way ahead, when my daughter began to cry. She was standing still, crying, upset that I took the leash, and she didn’t want to go to school. She wanted to go home. She wanted her daddy. Here it was again: the end of my rope.

The end of the rope can be a very good place, a fertile place. It means we have run out of ideas and (hopefully) are about to give up on our current way of thinking. In that moment, I just stopped. I had no idea what to do. I sent the rest of the school bus on its way. I tried to apologize, but that did not work. I tried to explain that we really needed to go, but that did not work. And so I just stopped, and looked up at the sky and the clouds, waiting in the unknown. I realized my frustrated thinking was not going to get me anywhere. Perhaps it had caused this mess. And, after a few moments of waiting, my daughter hugged me. I dried her tears and we got ready, slowly, to move on.

“End of the rope” feelings include hopelessness, frustration, anger and fear. To be able to recognize these feelings and understand that another state of mind is possible is one of the most profound lessons of parenthood I have learned. It is actually one of the most profound lessons of life I have learned. When we learn to embrace the unknown, “the end of our mental rope,” we have created space for insight, wisdom and good feelings to re-emerge.

 

Taking a moment, an hour, a day, to just stop, or as one parent I worked with once said, understanding the "Power of the Pause" can be powerful. 
Ami Chen Mills-Naim is a member of the Westlake Elementary School Site Council, Education Director at the Center for Sustainable Change, a personal and family coach, and author of The Spark Inside: A Special Book for Youth, and State of Mind in the Classroom. Send your comments or questions to her at ami@amichen.com