One thing that mothering certainly has done for me is to make me more flexible. Normally my youngest likes to have a nap around lunch time. He’ll ask to put on a nappy and ask to feed; we sit and have some quiet time together and eventually he’ll drop off to sleep. Then I can put him on his bed and get around 45 minutes to race around the house and do all of the jobs I’ve been saving til this very moment. Anything that can be done with him around (hanging out washing, making a cake, going to the shop) we do together when he’s awake, all the things that can’t be done with him around (write this blog, chop onions, make a phone call, do business paperwork, plan lessons, etc.) I do when he’s asleep.
Oh it’s so hard when he decides not to have a nap! My to-do list flies out the window without a backward glance, and I am left knowing that I am not going to achieve the things I’d hoped to today. And on top of that I’m going to have a grumpy toddler to deal with.
When I only had only one child, I would get so upset if something like this happened. I felt angry with her for being grumpy but not going to sleep (“If you’re tired, go to sleep!”), I felt under pressure to get all of my jobs done, and at some level I felt cheated that I didn’t have a baby who followed the same rules that other peoples’ babies seemed to heed. Now with more practice, I am a lot more flexible, and can (mostly) say “Oh well, he’ll nap sometime,” and if he doesn’t, whatever I needed to do will have to wait til tomorrow or I’ll have to adjust. If it’s an essential task like getting the dinner on, he’ll go in the mei tai sling and stay there while I quickly whip together the ingredients. I no longer feel angry with him. The pressure is still there, but the supposed rules are gone and I can let go of my expectations and go with the flow.
Flexibility is necessary when we are constantly in the presence of other people. Alone we have a relative amount of autonomy, where we can do what we like. But with other people present, even if that person is less than 2 feet high, we find that we have to compromise and be willing to let go of what we want sometimes, in favour of what the other person wants or needs.
Many popular babycare books don’t allow mothers to develop the flexibility they need to enjoy each day with their babies. Sticking to prescribed routines means that when a baby doesn’t ‘play ball’ the mother may be left feeling like a failure or angry with her baby for not complying. These books feed on our fear of letting go of our old way of being, our old life. We want to have control, as though we are alone, but since we share our day with another human being (our baby), to some extent we must relinquish that control.
Many people think of Yoga as a great way of developing flexibility. But we don’t become flexible of body only, but also of mind. One aspect of Yoga is noticing our attachments and learning to let go of them– these are the things that our mind is convinced we need. Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutra, explains that holding on to attachment is a major cause of suffering. For example, I convince myself that I need that 45 minutes while my baby is asleep, and if I don’t get it I feel upset, angry, etc. What if my mind let go of that conviction? What if I said to myself, “I don’t need this 45 minutes. Things will work out whatever happens.” Anyone who has experienced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will see a similarity here. Under these circumstances I am able to significantly change my reaction to the situation. One is a reaction of stress, the other is of calm acceptance and curiosity about how things will pan out.
I’ve always said that I can’t stand being told what to do, this being the reason I never followed a particular method described in a parenting book. However, what I’ve actually identified in myself is that I don’t like having to hold on to a particular outcome. I want to be flexible enough to allow my child to be just that, a child: an unpredictable, beautiful, exuberant being who brings joy and a fresh approach to what would otherwise be a ‘normal’ and dreary day.