Balance isn’t a goal; it’s a practice. We tend to think of balance as something we achieve but balance, by its very nature, is temporary. We are constantly shifting the weight of our attention to accommodate change.
Imagine you’re the woman on the tightrope in the illustration above (and we all are the woman on the tightrope), you’re stepping out carefully, your arms flung out as you teeter this way and that. You shift your weight to maintain equilibrium. Even if you choose to stand still you have to contend with air currents that may catch you off guard, sudden gusts of wind that upset your temporary stillness. You are not in a state of balance, a place to stay at rest; you are balancing.
When we can accept balance as a practice then it’s much easier to accept that there will be times when we have to shift our attention. Sometimes you’ll have a great exercise routine going and then you’ll have an injury or a schedule change or the gym will close. Or you’ll finally figure out how to get your family fed more or less happily and someone will develop an allergy or start soccer or you’ll just burn out on cooking the same things all the time.
There will be times when one part of your life will demand more attention and these attention-grabbing events (new babies, new jobs, new relationships) will create disequilibrium; that’s the nature of those big events. You may temporarily lose sight of the other things that are important to you. When this happens, you may suddenly realize you’re on a tightrope that’s 50 feet above the ground and you may feel afraid.
It’s ok. Take a deep breath. You know how to do this.
Remember, the trick to balancing on a tightrope is to hunker down and lower your center of gravity. You will need to fold in for a bit and concentrate on your core. You will need to let some things go for a little while.
But you will get your footing again. You will be able to stand tall and begin shuffling forward, tilting this way and that, figuring out how to walk this tightrope of life with the new weight of those changes.
This is life. This is the nature of balancing. Because balance is a verb.
I remember when I was in my early 30s and seeing a therapist to process my experience with infertility. At the beginning I had so much to say that I didn’t know how I would make it between sessions. Then after (I thought) I had said it all, I would worry before appointments that she’d be disappointed because I didn’t have an idea about what we should talk about.
I used to plan our topics. All week I would store up events or musings and I’d have them neatly prepared. I would continue to do this even after I realized that during most of our appointments we’d end up talking about something completely different. She’d ask about something we discussed the session before or in our casual opening we’d end up on a subject I hadn’t even considered. But I’d wrench us back around to the topic I had planned even if it fell flat because I thought I was supposed to.
I didn’t know then that it was more than OK to just show up. I didn’t have to have a topic prepared. I didn’t have to know what we were going to talk about. I could let the conversation happen organically and trust her to help me figure out what I wanted to say.
Therapy is a lot like writing. Sometimes you come to the page with a plan and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have it all outlined and mapped out and sometimes you’re free writing whatever comes into your head no matter how messy and disorganized and ungrammatical it might be.
You can’t have too much of one or too much of the other. Yes, you do need to have goals and you need to pay attention to your goals but you also need time when you’re sitting in the chair riffing on whatever comes up.
You and your therapist are working in collaboration. You don’t have to come up with every topic and she’s not going to always lead the way. The two of you will discover what it is you’re working on through the course of your conversations. If you do too much editing (especially if you’re not bringing things up because you are afraid she will be upset or bored) then she’ll be working with less material than she needs. If you try to plan your topics because you’re afraid that she will be annoyed if you sit there blankly saying nothing then you may lose the opportunity to see what the silence will bring to you.
(Sitting in silence with a person who is wholly tuned in to you can be very powerful. Try it sometime.)
Therapy is collaborative creation and growth. Trust the process and give yourself permission to allow the session to unfold however it will.
Because parenting classes are often mandated for parents who are having trouble, some people are turned off by the idea of them. So I wanted to talk about who could benefit from parenting classes because that person might be you.
- Anyone who feels like he or she is parenting at odds with his or her partner. If you’re parenting one way and your child’s other parent is parenting another way and you find yourself knocking heads or arguing about what to do next, going to a parenting class together can help you get on the same page. Parenting for Attunement encourages parents to sit down and map out exactly what their goals are for their kids. Sometimes co-parents are very surprised to find out that what they value is a little lower on their partner’s list. Understanding the other person’s goals and point of view can be a huge help in discussing parenting dilemmas.
- Anyone who feels like they’re having to reinvent this whole parenting thing as they go. Some of us stride forward into each new developmental territory with absolute confidence. And then there’s the rest of us who are periodically baffled by this or that child’s brand new stage. Parenting for Attunement gives parents an overview of the typical stages of development and looks at the different temperamental types, which helps parents get a handle on where their child is now, why she’s there and what she’s likely to do next.
- Anyone who is baffled by any particular child at any particular time. Because we discuss the unique needs of different kids, parents who come to these classes walk away with a better handle on each child in the family and how their interactions are influenced by individual styles and temperaments. We also talk about our own place in the family and how who we are influences our children’s reactions and our own expectations. In other words, sometimes we really are speaking a different language than our children are and that’s nobody’s fault.
- Anyone who is anxious about their child’s future. In the course of the workshop, we examine and challenge the fears that can limit our options in ways that aren’t helpful. We work to understand when we’re being appropriately responsible and when we’re unnecessarily constrained by our worries.
- Anyone who worries that they’re not a good enough parent. There are many, many ways to be a good parent. Parenting for Attunement is not a class that tells parents to put tab A in slot B to build a perfect child; this is a class that understands that every single family is unique and every single parent is unique and every single child is unique. People leave the class with greater confidence in their own abilities as a parent and the resources to learn more.
- Anyone who has ever been frustrated, annoyed or angry at their kid (i.e., all of us).
I hope to see you at the next class!
I know that for lots of people it’s scary to bring your child to a counselor. You’re already worried about your son or daughter and then you have to bring them to a stranger in the hopes they can help. It’s never fun coming to experts and saying, “Hey, I’m stuck and I’m scared and I need help.” But it’s even harder when we’re looking for support over something as emotionally fraught as parenting. Especially since most of us already get criticism from friends or family or teachers or some know-it-all magazine or Dr. Phil.
I want to reassure you that I don’t look at parents with an eye to catch them out doing something wrong (and none of the child therapists I run around with do this either). I mean, I’m a parent, too, and I know how judgment feels (lousy and unhelpful) so why would I want to visit that on my clients?
Besides even if I know exactly the right way (mostly) to raise my kids that doesn’t translate to knowing exactly the right way for you to raise yours. No, I meet with parents to better understand their goals, their hopes, their values and then I mix that all up in the things I’ve learned about kids in general and their kids in particular and what the research says and some practical tips I’ve learned along the way so that together — together, mind you — we can help you build something better.
There is no one-size-fits-all for parenting. What works great for one family would never fly in another because we’re totally different people raising totally different kids in totally different circumstances.
Does that mean I won’t have opinions? Of course not. I love to have opinions and I’ll share those opinions with you but I’ll do in the context of my understanding of your unique experiences. So if I think your discipline techniques are causing you problems, I’ll tell you that but I won’t try to get you to become a totally different kind of parent. I’ll try to help you figure out ways to do things differently to help you discover your best parenting self.
I won’t judge you. I won’t sit around trying to figure out how wrong you are. (In fact, one of the most important thing I do with parents is find out what they’re doing absolutely right so they can do more of it!) I certainly won’t blame you for all of your child’s problems even though you might be blaming yourself.
I know that parents aren’t always at their best. I know that they make mistakes. I know this because I’m a parent and I make mistakes (ask my kids, I’m sure they have a list running). But I don’t believe in perfect parenting anyway; I believe in pretty darn good parenting and I believe that is plenty. I believe in celebrating your strengths and forgiving yourself your weaknesses even as you work to shore them up. I believe that chasing down perfection makes it harder for us to be pretty darn good. I will not judge you. I will be honest and encouraging and I’ll give you lots of tips. And I’ll listen a lot because I know that you are the expert even if you’re not quite sure about that just yet. I’ll help you get there.
There’s this advice in all those lady mags, the ones that tell you how to get Thin Thighs in 30 Days and promise to tell you What He’s Really Thinking. The recommendation is to post a picture of yourself back in your thinnest days or pictures of women you wished you looked like up on your refrigerator so every time you go get something to eat you’ll be shamed away from the kitchen.
We act out versions of this all of the time. We berate ourselves for missing deadlines or for not getting chores done. We look at other people “for inspiration” but then play back their success to remind ourselves that we are failures.
But what if we decided to feel good about ourselves anyway? Even though it’s been more than 30 days and our thighs are not thin? Even though our carpets are not vacuumed and we turn in projects late? What do we have to lose if we liked ourselves anyway? What might we gain?
When I talk to clients about being kind to themselves they sometimes worry that if they take the heat off they will run roughshod over their own lives. They will eat M&Ms for every meal! They will stay in bed watching Jersey Shore reruns instead of going to work! They will leave the dishes in the sink FOREVER! Then sometimes they point to people who have done just that.
Well, I say, we’re not talking about those other people — we’re talking about you.
Most of us will get sick of M&Ms on our own. Most of us will also get sick of watching Jersey Shore episodes. And most of us will eventually do the dishes, even if we do them reluctantly. We will find our own best balance, which doesn’t necessarily need to look like anyone elses.
It’s easier to be good to ourselves when we feel good about who we are already. It’s easier to meet goals when we trust ourselves to meet them. Jettison the shame for the new year and you might be surprised at how far you can go.