I’ve had enough of the self-help movement. And I say this with full acknowledgement of my role in it. This movement is not there to help you. It is there to make money. It is an industry and a very fast growing one at that. Why? Why is it one of the fastest growing industries worldwide? Because we all think we’re messed up. We all think we’re not good enough. We all think we need to improve, get better, do more, sort ourselves out. Enough!
It is a fundamentally human thing to desire. We all have things that we want. Maybe we want to be healthier, or happier, or we’d like another job or a new car or a break for a week, or a chance to pee in peace, or something delicious for dinner, or for our train to run on time, or our boss to give us a Christmas bonus, or our partner to pack the dishwasher without being asked. It is also fundamentally human to feel intense disappointment, anger and resentment when our desires go unfulfilled; as most of them will.
Our children are human (I think we forget this sometimes) and so have both desires and the ensuing frustration when the things they want are not readily forthcoming.
“The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.” – Carlos Castaneda
Life is terrifying. There are so many things that can go wrong with us and our kids... and often do. It's a small wonder we aren't all on drugs. Oh wait, maybe we are! The explosion of anti-depressants and tranquilisers didn't come out of nowhere. If we have any measure of intelligence we'll see how fragile we are and that ultimately we have to die. And our children have to die. Maybe the only people seeing things clearly are the ones with what we call ‘mental health problems’. We all have a mental health problem called ‘extreme denial to cope with the truth’.
We're all going to die.
The questions we ask ourselves are very important in terms of what we focus on in our lives, which in turn determines the quality of the life we end up living. In parenting, however, we often ask the wrong questions, questions that lead us down the rabbit hole of guilt, fear, inadequacy, and overwhelm. We tend to ask what we can do to be a better parent (implying that we’re not good enough). We ponder over what discipline practices we need to change or improve or which routines to implement or abandon (creating doubt in our minds about what we’re doing that our children inevitably pick up on). We may want to know which parenting approach to follow (suggesting that there is, in fact, one way that is better than all the others).
There is no right or wrong way. In fact, in this case, the whole question needs to be thrown out...
We take it for granted that although we often feel like hitting someone else (or biting scratching or throwing a tantrum) that we are able to override this primitive drive and behave like an at least semi-civilized human being (well, most of the time anyway). We assume that this is a normal ability that everyone of all ages shares, and we therefore expect everyone else to make good use of it. Including our kids. But the physiological truth of the matter runs a little bit deeper…
Imagine that one day you wake up and get dressed and your partner takes you by the hand pops you in the car and, instead of dropping you at work, the car takes off and flies to Mars. You're already confused, right, as you were expecting to go somewhere familiar.
When you get there he helps you out if the car leads you to a group of Martians and other women and turns around and leaves. You look around and everyone seems to know everyone else and they're all busying themselves about. You don't know why you're there, where to go if you need the toilet, how long you'll be there, what there is to eat, what behaviour is appropriate or not.
How do you think you would feel? Scared? Angry? Confused? Tearful? Panicked? All of the above?
“I hate you I hate you I hate you” We’ve all heard that one and most of us can simply laugh it off and know that within an hour it will be all love again. We know that part of parenting involves bearing the brunt of our kids’ bad moods and lack of emotional maturity. And children need to know that it is safe to express these strong emotions without you or the world falling apart.
But what about when you do something or make a difficult decision and your child turns around and says “You don’t love me”. That’s a slightly more difficult pill to swallow. Particularly when all we’ve done since the day they were born is pour every inch of love possible in our beings into them.
We ask our kids a lot of questions in the course of a regular week. How was school? What did you do? Have you brushed your teeth? How was your outing? Have you done your homework? Who did you play with? What are you eating? Why aren’t you eating? How was the party?
I’m not really a fan of asking kids lots of questions at all. Asking questions can show that we don’t trust our children. It doesn’t respect their right to tell only what they feel like telling or not to elaborate until they’ve processed something themselves. It can feel like interrogation. It can seem intrusive. It directs conversations in ways that often miss the depth and essence of what a child has to tell us.
Then again, our kids tend to ask us a lot of questions as well. We’ve already talked about why we shouldn’t necessarily answer them. Maybe I’ll put out a memo to kids not to answer their parents’ questions too!
So I realize I won’t get you to stop asking questions completely, but there is one question that you absolutely need to banish from your list. And that question is…
Meditation can be a life saving tool for parents (usually it’s the child’s life that it saves!), but what parent on the planet has time to sit down on a mountaintop and ohm for hours every day? Ok, I’m a freak, I’ll admit – I did actually meditate for 40 minutes twice a day when my kids were little. It helped. A lot. But I’m not crazy enough to suggest that you all do that too.
No, since then I’ve learned a lot about meditation and how you can get the benefits of this in a lot less time and in a much more manageable way. You already have more than enough to squeeze into the limited hours of life.
So I’m going to go in two directions here – I’m going to give you some tips on the typical shut-eye sit-and-do-nothing type of meditation for those of you who do find 20 or even 5 minutes in your day to do this; and then I’m going to show you how you don’t need to do that and you can still get all the benefits.
Mostly, when we think about the meaning of life, we are thinking in broad terms of overarching material success or fame. We think of the great literary achievements of Herman Charles Bosman or JK Rowling. We think of the political and humanitarian strides of Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr. We think of the scientific advancements of Albert Einstein or Marie Curie. Or the sporting breakthroughs of Steffi Graf and Roger Bannister.
But for the vast majority of us, this will not be the case. It is easy, then, to assume the meaninglessness of existence; Depression being a natural response to feeling like you are just not making it in this life.