Let’s clean all the windows, so we can see the spring! Let’s spend lots of quality time with each other! Let’s exercise at home, so when we can go outside again, our beach body is ready! Let’s start a new hobby! Let’s cook new things! Our jobs no longer exist, so on we go, let’s re-invent ourselves! At last we have each other one around all day, let’s make love! Let’s read and write all the books that we’ve been putting off! If you’re a parent: let’s make our children move their bodies more! Let’s spend 10 times more quality time with them than we do with others / than we normally do, Let’s make them a daily routine! Let’s go to nature together all the time! Let’s pay attention and notice when they’re going through something hard, and help them immediately! Ease their fears! Let them rest (but don’t let them rest too much)! Motivate them creatively! Allow them to find their own activities (but don’t expect that they will)! – and others, a hundred a day at least..
In normal circumstances, there’s hardly any advice on this list that I would say is bad in itself. But this way, coming by the dozen, they put the bar so high that not only can we not clear it, but we can’t even try without giant waves of anxiety.
Advice turns easily into expectation, so chances are I will be thinking (or trying subconsciously to conform to) the following: a good mother spends at least 30 hours of quality time a day with her kids, she’s always their cutest playmate, always happy to read to them, always ready to help them study, and never expects them to find something to do on their own. Now that her man is around so much, the good woman, using this amazing opportunity, makes love to him twice a day, dresses each morning in fresh and pretty clothes, wears a subtle scent of perfume, because no way she will do home office in her tracksuit! At long last she cooks not only once, but twice a day, or at least makes sure that everyone can eat what they wish for, and what’s absolutely essential: she does all this with the utmost joy and positivity! The good employee works 6-8 hours a day, with even more dedication, discipline and loyalty, and figures out how to do everything from home. The good mother-employee, for example, makes her Skype calls from a corner of the apartment that is not reached by the roars and cries of her children wrestling each other or some virtual enemy in the other room. Plus, if If she’s a good woman, the soup is cooking in the background.
If I couldn’t filter all the clever advice, I’m sure I’d be cooking them into tons of shame and a bad conscience day after day. Come the end of the pandemic, I’d find my self-esteem side-by-side with the economy, hanging out on the floor.
As far as self-knowledge goes, the best advice is the one that irritates and hurts the most, makes me really angry or really sad, the one that produces the highest number and the greatest intensity of emotions in me.
As I wrote in yesterday’s post, “Just think of it as a summer holiday!” was one such advice for me. The other one came from an acquaintance, who thought it would do us great if we did what he does: while the children are reading or watching a movie, we should just go for a run! “Easy to say with two kids in their late teens!” – I heard the retort in my head.
What is this all about in my case? It’s about the fact that when it comes to some of my kids, I don’t leave alone, not even for 5 minutes. Could I do it? Maybe. It’s possible that if I sat them down in front of a marathon of cartoons, I would find them in the same position 30 minutes, or even half a day later. But I’m bound by my values, and I’m bound by my fears – how many of these “They only went out for 5 minutes..” stories make it into the news that end with the kids getting into some kind of accident, and being injured..
Indeed it is easy for my acquaintance to give this advice, but not only because he has older children that he can leave home alone for short stretches of time without worrying. It’s easy also because he has a different set of values. In other words: he has the internal freedom to do different things than the ones my internal freedom lets me do. This re-grouping of the terms leads to my next question: What is it that I could do that would help me have more freedom inside, even if this freedom would not necessarily take the same shape as the one my acquaintance has? Where is it that I could make some wiggle room things along a little bit? This is where I begin to transform the advice, and with the help of my self-knowledge, potentially turn it to my advantage.
A few weeks ago I was being interviewed about my book that was coming out in the UK. The reporter asked me what was my favourite advice to give to parents. I answered that instead of taking advice from others, they should turn to themselves, and listen to what goes on inside. I added that this was also just an advice, so if someone were to take it without reflection, without processing or assessing it, they will end up in the same pickle. The example I set with my behaviour is not one to follow either. The tools I use and the solutions I find, if adopted directly, can lead others astray just as much as any other advice. I showed you a tool today, and I will explore other ones as we move along. However, what’s much more important is what I’m showing you through them: the aspiration to grow our inner freedom.
for the translation thanks to my brother, Mate Herner