I had signed up for a vacation
A two week vacation in Lisbon was supposed to be the harmonious conclusion of my maternity leave. But every day I ended up feeling frustrated and disappointed with myself. I might have underestimated the challenges of a city trip with two children. No, I definitely did underestimate the challenges of traveling with two children with a different set of priorities (three and a half year old boy and four-months-old baby). Most days I ended up being impatient and irritable with my older child.
A city trip of course involves a lot of dirt. Not that beaches or mountains are always clean, but cities tend to come with their extra-layer of muck. Switzerland is such a clean country that my son is not aware that he can't touch everything with his hands. I'm usually not the type of mother who obsessively disinfects her children's hands. But it also happened that baby girl caught conjunctivitis. So here I was, constantly fretting about dirt and bacteria.
But let's face it, the dirt was not the real problem. I was generally stressed out due to the new environment. I missed the stability of home, knowing how things work and where to buy what and – hello! - speaking the language. My son is at that age when it's hard to sit still. He wants to take in the world. How can I blame him for wanting to watch fire trucks go by and slowing down whoever is walking behind him? But I often do.
It bugged me that I wasn't able to react in a more calm and grounded way. I'm not a naturally patient person. But thanks to my yoga practice, I manage. The occasions when I lose it are not that common. Especially with my children. But on said vacation I ended up scolding my son every day. And so every night, I felt disappointed with myself.
Using relationships for gratification
On the flight home, I came across this passage in Ethan Nichtern's The Road Home (which I highly recommend, by the way): “(...), our habit of materialism has also affected our interaction with other people. Without paying attention, we have objectified so many of our human relationships. Unknowingly, we use others as merely the vessel of our own gratification.”
That stopped me in my tracks. For two weeks my son's behavior had been inconveniencing me. It was not what I had signed up for. I had expected a relaxing time with my family. But then I found myself in a situation that required me to be patient, understanding and calm. It required me to give when I wanted to receive. Still I was stubborn in my need to consume. I wanted my child to afford me some quiet time. I wanted him to sit still and not touch the dirty metro seat. I wanted him to shut up and eat his foreign tasting sausage.
What can I give to this?
“When it comes to relationships, try to ask, what can I give to this, instead of, what can I get out of this?” This is something a yoga teacher of mine once said. I often think of myself as someone who gladly puts her children first. But like anyone else, I seek gratification. It's not only what society ingrained in us, it's the way our mind works. It's geared to ensure survival. So it craves what it needs or wants and rejects what is troublesome.
This is where motherhood (and fatherhood) is such good therapy. There is no way that you can put your own needs before those of your children. Most of the time they come first. These are the years for sacrifice, which sounds bleak, but it's not. When it can no longer be about me, myself and I, it's quite simply not about you any more. Your problems recede into the distance, and magically, they are no longer a problem. If you can see it that way, it's liberating.
A friend of mine once said: “With one child, we could still control the chaos. With two, we can only embrace it.” Wanting to have your own wishes granted, is an attempt to regain control. It happens to me on the daily, when I pull all the stops to ensure an early bed time for the kids, so I can squeeze in half an hour of writing or a few yin poses I go to sleep myself. I race to have dinner ready, to put them in their pjs and get the bed time story over with. But when I decide to surrender to the fact that they will have their way (and I will not), I am so much more relaxed. Everybody ends up so much happier.
How much easier would our life be if we put up less resistance to what is? If we could shift our perspective from thinking about what we can get to what we can give, we would be okay with not getting what we want. How gratifying would our relationships be if we could just surrender to what they are instead of trying to get something out of them?