Just lately, I’ve been experiencing a sense of, well, full-on-ness. It’s my new word. Things have been pretty full-on now, for over two years, since Omi was born. Having two children, as my friend Kelly puts it; “back to back”, life has felt fast, non-stop and sometimes pretty manic. It’s all been building into a big squiggle of complication in my head. I have so many thoughts, so many questions and very little time to unravel all my internal conflicts into a workable shape. Most of all, there is just so much to do – and the cliché, so little time to do it. This can easily get overwhelming, as it often does. I can’t magic more hours in the day. I can’t make my baby sleep for longer stretches (though I have tried!) Jobs will always need doing. Life will always keep on rolling. There is no other remedy, other than to simply….simplify. It really is the only way for me to bring myself down, to cope I guess. Things just have to made simpler. So, here are my rules of thumb, to regaining perspective and keeping things simple.
SIMPLE PARENTING – A whole day (and night!) with young children can feel long sometimes. When I find myself worrying about how to entertain, educate and emotionally care for both of the boys in one day, I have to remind myself that what they need right now is also very simple. Jumping in puddles, a walk to the canal, playing in the garden, painting with watercolours – are all easy activities that they enjoy and can be organised pretty quickly. And if it’s been a hard day, the TV or a film on is also OK too. I have been thinking a lot about compassionate parenting lately. We can’t be all-achieving-super-parents all day long,as much as we’d like to be. Some days are just made for simple parenting. Whatever that means for you and your family.
SIMPLE FOOD & COOKING – As much as I love to cook, there often just isn’t the time. By the afternoon, it becomes a toss up between trying to get the children to entertain themselves so I can start preparing the meal, or playing with them and hastily rustling up a dinner that I am less than happy with at 5pm. I want to eat healthy, balanced meals that are home cooked. I want the boys to experience a range of foods, that are freshly made and ready to eat no later than 5.30pm, shared by the whole family as we sit and eat together. Some days, this is my most impossible task – and has become the thing that upsets me the most. I have had to accept that, for now, our meals will have to be simplified. Helped along by the new season (spring and summer dishes always seem easier to me), we have been enjoying lots of simple steamed vegetables (pre-cut packets are life savers), boiled new potatoes (no need to scrub or peel), grilled meats, baked salmon, roast chicken (covered in foil and left to slow cook in the oven all afternoon), rice noodles (dropped in boiling water to cook, then tossed in sesame oil and tamari sauce), boiled eggs, grilled haloumi cheese (just sliced out of the packet) and lots of sliced mango (while we can still get it). As it turns out, the simpler food has been the best and most healthy way to feed our family, as well as the easiest. The thought of making a lasagne is giving me palpitations right now. All those layers.
SIMPLE CHORES – A friend once advised me that in order to be living in the moment, you must be ever-present. And a good way to practice this is when you are washing up. She said that instead of hastily washing the dishes, thinking about the next chore or what else had to be done next, simply immerse yourself in the current task. Feel the warmth of the water as it runs from the tap, watch the bubbles grow in the bowl, feel the sponge under your fingers and carefully clean each plate and bowl, consciously doing each one, one at a time. Stand nice and straight, and breathe. For right now, washing up is what you are doing – what you are doing is washing up. I have extended this ‘chore meditation’ practice to other things such as folding the laundry, hoovering the floors, dusting the surfaces. Household chores can often feel rushed and stressful, because there are a million other things that need doing, or things we would rather be doing. I find that the best way to simplify chores is to ask myself, does this need doing right now? If the answer is yes, then do it, consciously. Even if it is the only thing you get done all day.
SIMPLE GOALS – I am a keen list writer. I have to-do lists in my diary, my note pad, on my phone, on my laptop, on my fridge. I have current to-do’s, near future plans and life long goals all written somewhere, and they are ever changing and expanding. The nature of to-do lists, is that although they seem defined and attainable, they are inevitably never ending. I’ve decided to view my list of to-do’s as being on a sliding scale, from ‘do none of it’ to ‘do all of it’. Anything occurring above ‘do none of it’ is viewed as an achievement. It can be frustrating, when there is so much to be done. I’m learning to separate what needs to be done, from what I’d like to get done – and concentrate on the former, for now at least.
SIMPLE LOOKS – When I’m short on time, the last thing on my mind is putting together a well curated wardrobe ensemble. Since having the boys, I have found my style becoming more simple and relaxed. I wear a lot of plain colours – and am drawn to functional jeans, jumpers, t-shirts and flat shoes. I am actually more comfortable with my style than ever before and I feel at ease with my simple look.
SIMPLE RELATIONSHIPS – I have an incredible group of beautiful friends, and I make a big effort to see them when I can. Like me, many of them have their own young families, as well as demanding jobs and we all realise how hard it can be to make time to much else. My best friends are loving, understanding, always available in some form (even if it is replying to a text message) – but above all they are flexible and aware of the unpredictive and spontaneous nature of parenting, even if they don’t have children themselves. We might go for weeks without seeing each other, but it always feels OK. I have learnt to let go of relationships that are demanding or draining. My life may have less people in it, but it feels all the better for it.
SIMPLE THOUGHTS – Nothing stays the same for long. Especially in the world of parenting. I try and concentrate on the non-permenanse of sadness and negativity, if I feel it. It always passes. If I’m worried, or anxious, I tell myself that everything will be OK and to try and relax. I teach a lot of self-compassion to my clients and I try and use it in my own life when I can. When life gets a bit much, I tell myself to switch off a bit, become a little less emotionally charged, find something nice to look at, or listen to, to get lost in. It simplifies my mind, if only for a short time, and it’s very helpful in the long run.
I found this little Buddha, that had broken away from it’s original statue, whilst staying in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I considered taking it with me as a keep sake. It was so pretty. But something told me to leave it where it was. I took a photo instead.
Helpful links – practising simplicity ‘yoga at the kitchen sink’ / pink ronnie ‘making over my life’ / buddhism for mothers / the happiness project / the one minute meditator / paul gilbert’s ‘mindful compassion’.