Before having kids, I read the following quote by Nora Ephron: “Having a baby is like throwing a hand grenade into a marriage.” At the time I laughed and thought—in my naive, pregnant state—that it would NEVER be like that for my husband and me. Well, fast forward to seven-and-a-half years of parenthood, and my husband and I have spent a fair bit of time picking up shrapnel.
When it comes to love and parenting together, here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned, that I keep learning, and that I will likely continue to relearn for the rest of our married life:
Give without expecting anything in return. When we expect something, anything back, we put conditions and limits on our love—this creates a prime breeding ground for future disappointments, failed expectations, and misunderstandings.
When emotions run high, don’t run in. Step back and breathe. My first instinct is to run in, to solve the issue right now in this very moment, when what is usually needed is space and time to let things settle. I have to constantly remind myself that there is rarely an issue that can’t be resolved with a clear head and a calm(er) heart.
Love isn’t all about romance. It’s about small gestures. One of my favourite gifts from my husband was a hairbrush and elastics. The fact that he noticed I needed them, he knew exactly which type of elastics I used, and had spent time thinking about the little things that make my day easier, touched me more than anything.
Find the humour. In the throes of a difficult time, it’s hard to imagine laughing. But if there’s a facial gesture, a phrase, or an inside joke that you can use to break the ice, laughter can sometimes be the best release. Until, at least, you can take some time and space to resolve the real problem.
Love yourself. This is likely one of the most overused (yet often dismissed) statements. But IT IS TRUE. If we don’t learn to love ourselves, all the nasty little things we haven’t accepted end up being thrust into our relationships and can cause damage. When we are content within, and have an open heart, we also need and expect less from others.
Listen. Listen to what your partner says, and not just with your ears. Listen with your body language, your eyes, without a cell phone in hand. It’s so easy to be distracted by the minutiae of daily life, but true listening works wonders.
Make Time for each other. It’s no coincidence that the more quality time we spend together, the more connected and happy we are. And it doesn’t have to mean going out on dates or spending money—we put a priority on our at-home date nights, and look forward to wine, good food, and uninterrupted conversations after the kids are in bed.
Choose love. Another hokey one, I know. And sometimes very hard when times are rough. But it is a choice. I always come back to why we chose to be together in the first place. There can never be enough hugs, enough "I love yous," or stolen kisses, and we will never regret that one last clasp of each other’s hand before we go to sleep at night.
This morning at breakfast, our four-year old son, TJ, announced that it was his favourite stuffie Curious George’s birthday today. “How old is he turning?” I asked. “Five,” said TJ. Since George holds a special place in this family — having been with us since TJ was tiny, and having traveled internationally with us — this seemed like cause for celebration. “What should we do for him?” I said. TJ, who is turning five next month and has birthday parties on the mind, said, “We should have a party!”
My seven-year-old daughter was fully on board. “And we can invite our other stuffies to come, and we can make presents for him,” Lizzie said. “I’m in!” I said. I don’t know how much they thought about it after I dropped them off at school, and the idea could just have easily ended there, but I decided it would be really fun to throw George a party tonight.
When I picked the kids up from school, I told them we had a birthday party to prepare for. Their eyes lit up. We went to get all the fixings to make cupcakes and raced home to cook up a batch. The kids knew they had to put away their lunchboxes and do their homework before cupcake-making commenced and — amazingly! — there were no arguments. (Oh, the power of cupcakes…) Once we’d mixed the batter and put the cupcakes in the oven, the kids chose toys from their rooms to wrap as presents for George, and they each decided which three stuffies they would invite to the party. While I cooked dinner, Lizzie and TJ set the table with assigned seating for George and the VIP stuffies.
I had alerted my husband about the big event earlier in the day, so he made sure he was home for the celebratory dinner. The dinner music was the soundtrack from Frozen because, as TJ reminded me, “George loves it.” Dinner was followed by a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to George and we presented the cupcakes to the birthday monkey. The candles were “magically” blown out, the cupcakes devoured, and then it was time for presents. George certainly wasn’t disappointed.
It was a really fun night for all of us, the kids were beyond happy, and I am left with this: such a simple idea made an ordinary weeknight extraordinary.
P.S. At bedtime, Lizzie informed me that Ollie the Octopus has a birthday on January 31st, so there may be more parties in our future. Um, and cupcakes.
Do you start your mornings feeling stiff and sluggish? Do you always feel sleep-deprived? Do you need a coffee (or three) before you can think clearly? Here are a few simple yoga tips that — in 10 minutes or less — can change the way you start your day. The following exercises will awaken the body and the mind, but are also a gentle way to ease into the morning rush. They’re quick, simple, and you can include the kids to get them energized and ready to tackle their own days.
Stand with the feet hip-distance apart, arms at your sides. Inhale, and sweep the arms out to the side of the body, bringing them together above the head. Exhale and bring the hands down in front of the body (keeping the palms together). Allow your eye gaze to follow the movement of the hands. Imagine filling the entire torso with the breath as you inhale, and imagine growing taller as you exhale. Repeat 10-20 times.
Deep breathing helps energizes the body, and wake up the brain. Combined with this gentle movement of the arms, the upper body is in a much better position to start the day. (And hey, at least you’re upright!)
The sun salutation is a series of postures that warms up all of the major muscles groups, increases blood flow to the muscles, and connects the mind to the body and the breath. (There are many different variations of sun salutations, so this may be different than one you’ve practiced before). Aim to do a couple at first, and then work up to 5-10 rounds of sun salutations.
1. Standing upright, with feet together. Hands are together in front of the chest in prayer position.
2. Inhale, stretch the arms up and over the head. Arch the back slightly and bring the hips gently forward.
3. Exhale and hinge forward from the hips. Place hands on either side of the feet, the fingertips in line with the toes (bending knees if necessary). Bring the forehead towards the legs.
4. Inhale, step the right foot back as far as possible and place the right knee on the floor. Hands are on either side of the left foot. (Make sure the left knee does not go forward past the left ankle)
5. Retain the breath, and step both feet back so the entire body is in a plank or push-up position.
6. Exhale, drop the knees to the floor, and lower chest down to the ground between the hands. Place chin or forehead on the floor.
7. Inhale, and slide the body forwards, bringing the chest up into Cobra position (or Upward Dog if comfortable). Keep elbows tucked in, shoulders down.
8. Exhale, tuck the toes under, and lift the hips up and back into downward dog. Press the heels gently towards the floor. (bend knees if you have tight hamstrings or sensitivity in the low back)
9. Inhale and step the right foot forward between the hands into a low lunge. Drop the left knee to the floor and look forwards.
10. Exhale into standing forward bend, with the feet together and fingertips on either side of the feet. Draw the forehead towards the legs.
11. Inhale, and hinge upwards from the hips, lengthening the spine. Bring arms straight up over the head and arch back slightly.
12. Exhale to stand upright, with hands in front of the chest in prayer position.
(Repeat on left side to complete one round of the sun salutation.)
An intention can be as simple as “I will slow down today,” “I will be more patient,” or “I will make healthy food choices.” By creating an intention, you have a solid idea to connect with throughout your day. This is a good way to focus our energies, and keep our minds on track.
So the next time you’re tempted to press snooze or pull the covers up a little tighter, why not try a little breathing, moving and intention-setting to get your day started in a positive way?
Do you have any morning tips that work for you?