Lessons of Motherhood

On my 37th birthday, I came to realize the importance of shifting from the “me and myself” thinking to “us” thinking for the wellbeing of the family. When small personal expectations are not met due to unexpected events of the present moment, inner conflict arises. Despite that, if we allow ourselves to express the love we feel for the family, before we know it, we are back to inner balance.

Daydreaming

I’ve recently turned 37 years. My husband rented a boat and we went off sailing around the archipelago of Helsinki till sunset. We enjoyed the serenity of the still dormant nature of March in Helsinki. We had some white wine and blue cheese while sharing whatever thoughts budded in our minds. We danced salsa and played board games.

As a matter of fact, the related events are but mere imagination.

The reality

Being a family with two small kids, we had a silent agreement that we would focus the energy on our boys. Our family of four spends most of the free time together. Yet somewhere deep inside, I was hoping that my birthday or my husband’s would be spent with a tiny bit of focus on ourselves also.

 

The morning of my 37th birthday followed after a bad night’s sleep. Yet, the joy of life surmounted the sleepiness when my hubby informed that he’s taking the day off to spend it together with me and the boys. The first half of the day was spent at an indoors playground, where we were switching between the two boys. On way back home, I was thinking which tasty dish we would have for dinner while our boys would be sleeping like angels.

 

Hardly did we arrive home when our youngest son started crying. With every scream of help, my soul was overcast by worry. The face of our baby was furrowed by pain and we were watching helplessly. Half an hour later, which felt like an eternity, we figured out what the problem was. One hour later, our baby felt better but I was in an emotional blockage.

 

I was doing my best though to fake an “Everything is fine” smile to the boys. My hubby gave me a heartfelt hug while whispering, “You must feel awful now!”

Lessons of a meaningful moment

My birthday may not have been a day of celebration and romance, yet it was a day that showed to me the power of love and living meaningfully. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world, but right there, in our flat, holding our baby in the arms during his moments of pain. I felt lost for not being able to find a rapid cure for his ailment. I felt guilty for ever thinking to put him earlier to bed so I can enjoy the birthday evening solely with his father. Most of all, I felt how my love was soothing him despite the pain. And this was a remarkable feeling!

 

As for our marriage, the love that we feel for each other has been expressed differently since we became parents. We passed the stage of salsa parties (where we met) or walking under the moonlight. We are at the stage of supporting each other in parenting the best we can. We certainly miss being just the two of us. However, we are aware we are at this stage when we have to wait for our turn to have a hug. The little ones are first in line.

 

It became clear to me that at this stage, living meaningfully means giving up on any other plans of enjoyment or must-do errands and be present with the whole being when our children need us the most.

 

Every new day may bring unexpected challenges for our family – i.e., the entire family waiting in the emergency room. Facing such challenges while finding new ways to express love strengthen the family bonds. The challenge remains a memory upon which we look back and say heartedly, “We did it together!”

 

How about you? What changed in your life after becoming a parent and how do you feel about it?

 

PS. On the 4th of March 2014, our second baby was born. I am still at home with both boys. Being a mom is the toughest job I ever got and the most meaningful at the same time. I feel lucky to be the mother of two wonderful boys who make me want to be a better person. Each day is a storm of emotions, such as love, empathy, joy, anger, irritation, frustration, etc. At the end of the day, there is the feeling of contentment for spending a full day together when I discover new faces of the boys’ personalities.

 

I will continue writing on my blog each time I get some time on my own. Considering how our life has been so far, the most realistic scenario is once a month. I hope you’ll enjoy the new posts! :)   

Time to take, time to give

As our parents are getting old, there are some sides of their personality which worsen. The love for them gives us the energy to stand by their side. And we need lots of energy! Maintaining our inner balance can be a challenge and an opportunity for personal growth.

You too must have a special person whom you call first when you have a joy or sorrow to share. It comes a time when it’s your turn to be by her side.

You tap into the most empathic and compassionate side of yourself and you listen. You’ve learned from previous experiences that it’s better to be silent.

Previously, you may have tried to be helpful with positive arguments and solutions.

Alas, every single time, the unawareness kept her as hostage in a world of gloom and fears.

This time you’ll take a different approach – you’ll absorb the negative thoughts.

Her soul is tormented and you can’t do anything about it. You can only love her because she’s your mother!

On verge of falling in the abyss of desolation, you realise that the ultimate help is for you to stay present and keep the joy alive.

The joy and hope she’ll have more constructive thoughts too.

In your heart, there is the memory of her – an energetic fighter, kind to you. Today, she’s been ageing.

Today, your relationship has changed. You are her shoulder to cry on from now.

You look at your child and you see your mother in you – when she was young.

Time is irreversibly changing you and her. You can only hold onto the gratefulness that she’s in your life.

It is painful to watch your mother ageing. Each one of us identifies partly with their parents and when they decline, a part of us goes with them.

A new phase starts when the roles have changed – you’re the parent and she’s the child.

Now, about you – how do you cope seeing your parents ageing? How has your relationship with them changed?

Why we should stay cool in front of others’ envy

I thought I am a person who is comfortable to have around all sorts of characters. A conversation with a woman who emanated envy towards me proved how wrong I was. In fact, after the respective encounter, I remembered about previous situations when I had been uncomfortable around envious people. I started reflecting more on this side in human beings and I identified few reasons for ignoring others’ envy.

The decision to stay away

Not along ago, I was having a smooth flow of discussion with another person. Since my toddler is the main conversation partner, I was excited to discuss with a grown-up, for a change.

When I started rambling about the joy of having my blog, I saw a grimace on her face and envy floating in her eyes. I tried to carry on with the trail of thoughts but the excitement was replaced by the feeling to take distance.

I felt naked, vulnerable and inhibited when my eyes met the envious eyes. Our discussion ended abruptly with an embarrassing silence.

After the incident, I wished I had continued talking, to get to know her better.

Why do we feel envy?

Envy is a negative feeling which occurs when someone lacks another’s quality, achievement or possession and wishes that the other lacked it. This is how researchers Parrott and Smith define envy in their paper, “Distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy“.

Another aspect of envy is reflected in a popular Romanian saying, “If my goat died, I wish my neighbour’s goat would die too!”. This saying shows that when people are miserable, they want the whole world to suffer just the same.

The feeling of joy when others go through hard times is expressed in English by the term “schadenfreude”, which has been borrowed from German.

Most likely, linguists can provide similar sayings in other languages which reflect the same dark side in human beings – the envy.

Charles Darwin’s social evolutionary theory explains that envy is rooted in our genes for survival and procreation.

So, every human being experiences envy under different circumstances, whether towards friends who are happily in love, colleagues who have been recently promoted or random strangers who seem to have something we don’t have.

Coping with our own envy is not enough

When I was a child, my mother would tell me, “Don’t be happy about others’ failures!” So, I got the feeling that I have to cope with any seeds of envy that are growing in my soul.

Later on, I read the ten commandments in the Bible and found that envy is one of the sins that God is urging us to avoid.

What my mother didn’t tell me was how to react when I feel spitefulness in people with whom I talk. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. I did feel the envy like a slap on my face. And I walked away.

Getting inspired by the good

The Bible teaches that we should not be hasty to throw the stone at those in whom we see bad sides, i.e., lying, vengeful, unfaithful, etc.

Instead, we should remember about the benefits of cultivating compassion towards others. There must be something good in each one of us based on which relationships can be built.

If others are envious towards us, most likely they see something in us that they lack. We should only hope that for their sake, they’ll find a way to work on it and find their peace of mind.

Let us be happy, flattered and pleasantly surprised that others want something that we have. This something must be damn good and appealing!

Let us be humble and remember not to make the same mistake as the envious person – avoid comparing ourselves with others. My personal approach is to be aware of the envy resulting from the comparison.

Maybe others are more beautiful. That’s a fact of life. Another fact of life is that others can be more creative, more generous, funnier, smarter, wealthier and so forth.

We are unique in our own way, a blend of virtues and imperfections. Somebody has to be the best at something and it’s absolutely fine if that person is not us.

We can be the best at changing our way of thinking into a more constructive one, by focusing our energy on being a better person than we were yesterday.

I remember writing something similar in a previous post: what if we start looking at others as sources of inspiration for a better self?

I didn’t give a chance to get inspired by the good sides in the person I was talking about in the beginning of the post. Instinctively, I locked her away on grounds of the spitefulness I saw in her.

What should we strive for?

According to Buddhism, the opposite of envy is sympathetic joy, or taking joy in the good fortune of others. I’d like to add another side to the opposite of envy – accepting others’ envy.

Some of us choose to share others’ happiness. In any case, we should not be judgemental on those who are unaware of their envy or unable to do anything about it.

We can only hope that one day, they’ll have the opportunity to get out of the grip of envy and choose the love for others.

How about you? How do you react when you are surrounded by resentful individuals?

Negative feedback – an opportunity for personal growth

In professional relationships, the purpose of negative feedback is to help the person receiving it to improve specific skills. For example, part of a language teacher’s job is to test the students’ proficiency in spoken and written language. Most of the people I know are uncomfortable with being criticised, so how can we manage our emotions resulting from negative feedback and focus on the information content of the criticism?

Working towards a common goal

Both the person giving the feedback and the person receiving the feedback play an important role for the effective communication of the content of the feedback. In an ideal world, the person who criticises should be aware of giving the feedback in such a way that the other person does not lose the motivation to improve.

Assessing someone’s work is not strictly about the technical mistakes but also about the non-verbal communication, which if it was to be translated into words should sound like, “It is not the end of the world to make mistakes. I am here to help you work on them.”

It feels good to be the expert

One must be acknowledged as an expert or as a superior in order to be in the position to assess someone else’s work. Being in a power position, one may think that there is no time to consider the impact that the feedback might have on the emotional state of the person receiving it.

And if the emotions are reflected on the face of the person being criticised, some people may even enjoy giving the negative feedback in a harsh way.

Remember to believe in yourself

Receiving negative feedback can have a detrimental effect on self-confidence and motivation.

For example, when the teacher says, “Your essay contains major grammar mistakes.”, the information content of the feedback can be overshadowed by the pair of eyes looking daggers at you.

In that instant, say to yourself, “I am allowed to make mistakes!”

Negative feedback could be given with style

By paying attention to the tone of voice and the choice of words, it can be possible to give negative feedback in a neutral or even friendly manner. If you are the CEO who assesses the performance of the marketing manager, or a language teacher assessing the essay of a 12 years old boy, a friendly behaviour can make it easier to receive the feedback.

If the words convey a feeling of support, it is easier for the person being criticised to commit to improving. The giver of feedback will know that the feedback is well received when questions are asked and further steps for improvement are discussed.

The positive side of the negative feedback

In the end, receiving negative feedback can be the source of more creative ideas about the work we do. It helps us come up with something new and better in our work.

Criticism is a reminder that we are doing a good job and we can do it even better!

How do you deal with negative feedback? You are welcome to share with us in the field for comments.

 

When expecting from others, remember the joy of not expecting

Expectations on others can put lots of pressure both on ourselves and the ones we expect from. Even the expectations backed up by good intentions, such as “I am sure you’ll pass the exam.”, can cause more stress than calm to the person we want to support. Have you ever wondered how the lack of any expectations – implicit or explicit – can influence our relationships?

Expectations since early childhood

I don’t remember having any expectations as a child but my parents do. My aunt was one of the persons from whom, I was told, I expected gifts.

They fondly relate that I used to fumble in her bag for bars of chocolate. I don’t have any such recollection but what I do remember is the anticipation of the 18-year old girl who was about to start her student life.

Sixteen years later, I became aware of how much anguish, stress and frustrations originated from expectations on family members, friends, acquaintances and even strangers!

After turning 30, epiphany stroke – something must be done about expectations on others

It was high time to let people be as they want to be. For example, have you felt how enriching it is to pay attention to the true nature of those who are present in our lives? Setting them free from our expectations is an invitation to harmony in the relationships with our husbands, wives, parents, siblings etc.

It was high time for changing the way of communicating with others. Being in touch with our own emotions, clearing our head and speaking with the heart brings more authenticity in the relationships.

It’s true that for most of us, interacting with others without expecting anything from them is a goal which is hard, if not impossible to reach. Yet, even those of us who are overly stubborn and addicted to micromanagement can develop the habit of becoming aware of our expectations and ignore them.

Cultivate the joy of interacting with others

We can replace expectations with joy. The joy of communicating freely with another person without any constraints of the mind. For example, greeting our new neighbour cheerfully and ignoring the expectation that he/she invites us to their home warming party.

Joyous attitude brings along wonderful changes in our inner lives. Joy can transform us from being a fortress of expectations into an explorer of people, with their good and bad sides.

How about you? What’s your take on expectations on others? Feel free to express your point of view in the comments below the post.

Life as an Immigrant

Some of us are like the trees. They are born in a country where they grow roots. Others are like the river, flowing into foreign countries of great expectations.

We get enchanted by the idea of breaking free from whatever makes us feel imprisoned back home. We get lured by higher levels of income and more exciting careers paths. Yet, we may forget one aspect: living in another country shakes up the core of our being, identity and believes.

We have two alternatives: either live in continual rejection of the new environment or accept it. Accepting the new culture means finding ways of adopting some of the values that resonate in us and being aware of the differences. After living as a foreigner for more than ten years, I am still struggling to understand the way of interaction between people in the new country, as I write in the Expat View of the Helsinki Times.

Living in another country offers the opportunity to embrace spiritual growth. There are so many cultures around this globe, yet there is a common beginning and end for each life. As for myself, I never left from my home country, but then again, I never stayed either. I guess I am like a bird, migrating back and forth.

Friends Will Be Friends – Is It Really So?

Some friends are there to stay. Others pay only a short visit in our lives. Even if some friendships are not meant to last in time, they teach us some lessons about ourselves.

Forever friends

The celebration of Valentine’s Day, which in countries like Finland, is called “Friends’ Day”, makes me think of the value of friendships. Each one of us has all sorts of friendships, with their particular dynamics and based on different foundations. We can befriend someone because he/she is considerate or funny or strong or sexy or knowledgeable or rich, etc. Most likely, there is one aspect about our friend which we like, attracts us and to a certain extent, makes us addicted.

I used to consider friendships as a publicly declared brotherhood, in which we pledge loyalty and sincerity.

Life has proved me that only a few friendships are forever. When a new chapter in life is approaching the end, some friends go as well. There is sadness and disillusionment, but before we have time to figure out what happened, new friends inaugurate another chapter.

What do we learn from the cycle of friendships?

To be humble. Our importance in the friends’ lives is minimal and temporal. We can pour all our affection onto our friends but at the same time, we need to understand that one day, they may very well leave without saying good-bye or slamming the door with an insult.

To celebrate each stage of our lives. In each friendship, there is something we have in common. For example, when I was single, I used to spend more time with friends who were single. Now, when I am a mother, I seek the company of friends who are mothers.

To apprehend our personal growth. Some friends are mirrors of ourselves. They possess strengths which are missing in us. In a way, these friendships are like a yin yang. This means that we also posses strengths, which our friends lacked at a particular point in the relationship.

To manage our vulnerability. We uncover a side of ourselves in each friendship. When the friendship ends, that shared side of ourselves feels like a wound for a while. Yet, sharing a part of ourselves is the most precious gift that we can give to someone else. For example, I like to imagine that I donated a painting of my emotional mood to a friend who is not part of my life any longer.

Not to take things personally. When we fail to understand our friends’ perspective, it’s a good time to remember that the way friends behave has nothing to do with what we did. On the contrary, it tells something about them, something that we didn’t see in them before.

How trustworthy are friendships?

Friends can betray us. They can reveal ugly sides. Yet, having friends is a main component of life. We laugh together, we cry together and we go separate ways.

Friendships may not be forever, hell, none of us is forever! But what would our inner lives be without the touch of friendship? As for me, what can I say? I am a lucky girl to have all the friends that I have had.

 

How Selfish Do You Think You Need to Be in a Marriage?

And they lived happily ever after. What a wonderful ending for childhood stories. I used to close the book with a smile full of anticipation and naiveté. After many years of taking the face value of these stories, I finally understood their deeper meaning.

Why did the princess and not the daughter of the witch win the heart of the prince?

Well, yes, everybody, especially children need to hear about happy endings. But if we take a closer look at the true nature of the character of the princess, she is the embodiment of kindness, altruism, and compassion. In exchange, the daughter of the witch is mean and selfish.

Passion and the initial love may change over time. As Mark Twain said in his Notebook 1894, “No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century …”. Interests, needs, beliefs and physical appearance change. One aspect stays constant: the true nature of each one of us.

What helps to mitigate marital conflicts?

Research on Americans and Europeans shows that married people perceive themselves to be happier than single, divorced or separated people (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living).

“I think that if one is seeking to build a truly satisfying relationship, the best way of bringing this about is to get to know the deeper nature of the person and relate to her or him at that level, instead of merely on the basis of superficial characteristics.” (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living)

 

Maintaing a healthy and happy marriage is a journey of spiritual growth. As much as it is about discovering the deeper nature of our spouse, as Dalai Lama wisely pinpoints, it is about fighting the demons inside us. And the biggest demon is the selfishness which characterises each human being.

Being open to improve ourselves

A happy marriage is built on the willingness to destroy the selfishness, which is the cause of most of the conflicts. Instead of wasting the time on being angry and pointing our finger at the faults in our spouse, a constructive attitude is to remember that both we and our spouses want to be happy and don’t want to suffer.

The perfect love after a quarter of a century of marriage does not come by the grace of God. On the contrary, it requires patience and team work to discover the “deeper nature” of our partners. I am not an expert in happy marriages, but one thing I’ve learned so far is that living happily ever after means knowing how to turn the selfishness into altruism towards our spouses.

 

When Is the Last Time You Did Something for a Stranger?

In some situations, helping others is not a question of having fun. It is a question of moral duty, which we have as human beings. There are two ways to look upon this moral duty: must-to-do or want-to-do thing. It may be beneficial to our happiness and personal growth if we embrace the latter attitude.

I don’t have time for myself, so much less for others

New York Times reported on a study done by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist and four psychologists that finds that women perceive the time with their parents being similar to work. Tasks such as helping with the housekeeping or planning family gatherings with their parents are found to be less pleasant for women. Other studies find that modern women experience a sink in their personal happiness due to the increase of tasks they need to manage. (link to the article in the New York Times)

Some of us find time to go to the gym. Others invest time in finding out how to cook healthy food or where should they go in the next holiday. How about investing a tiny bit of time into cleansing our inner lives? Imagine how our lives would be with hardly any consuming thoughts.

As paradoxical as it may sound, it may help a great deal to get more involved in the community of humankind where we signed up when we were born. Being present for others around us means observing life as it happens. At first, it may be challenging because we are too engaged with our daily problems. Even when we don’t have a problem, our mind creates one.

The great news is that learning how to be aware of the people around us can be turned into a habit, just like any other habit. Starting with baby steps may be a wise decision. For example, we can start by learning to become aware of the people we pass by in the street.

A few days ago, something wonderful happened when I was travelling with my baby by bus. A middle-aged woman stopped right in front of us, gave an energising smile and said, “Hello”, to my baby.

He is usually looking at the other passengers with the curiosity of a child. The others do their best at avoiding eye contact, God knows where their thoughts are taking them. This woman not only noticed my baby’s eyes but greeted him with a spontaneous joy. For a few seconds, we stood there smiling at one another, forming a triangle of sunshine.

What happened after this short connection with a stranger? The numbness I felt was replaced by aliveness. My inner world turned into a space of joy and peace.

Our empathy, warmth and affection need training, just like our muscles

Make a baby smile.

Listen to an elderly person in the street.

Make room for spontaneous meetings with friends.

Keep company to your ageing parent when seeing a doctor.

Actions like these are maintaining the aliveness and spaciousness in us. Yes, it is very important to focus on our lives and to achieve our dreams. Yet, the meaningful and happy life is within our reach when we develop the habit of giving and receiving empathy, human warmth and affection.

There is potential for happiness in each one of us with so much creativity and positive energy. If we take some distance from our everyday problems and focus, for a change, on what happens around us, then we’ll find ways of releasing this potential!

 

Inspired how to Connect with Others

According to Dalai Lama, connecting with others is a source of happiness (The Art of Happiness). However, practising how to connect with others in an unfriendly environment may turn out to be very difficult, sometimes we may be tempted to give up. When we become parents, it is very important how we behave with others. Our children are there watching and they’ll remember when they become adults.

Connecting with others in a foreign culture

For me, the need to connect with others is like the need to breathe air. Maybe I wouldn’t have realised this, if I hadn’t moved to another country. After years of introducing myself to others as a foreigner, I have understood the importance of connecting with others to my lasting happiness. The problem is that the local culture is not encouraging the small talk. I have felt like a Don Quijote of modern times when communicating with others. Day by day, my small world was built on the foundations laid by the interaction with the few work colleagues and the few friends.

I sank into emotional distance. I was weeping in my loneliness as a foreigner surrounded by locals who are fond of silence and personal independence. I became faithful participant to the gym with the hope that I would stumble upon some friendly others. In vain! Years passed by, and I felt emotionally handicapped. The friends that I saw once a months were not enough to satisfy the thirst of human intimacy and closeness.

Connecting with other mothers is important but equally hard as with the rest

Having a family in the new country gave meaning to life. It saved my emotional life. For a while, I was so in love that nothing mattered. Alas, one day when I was walking with my baby, I realised that the family does not replace the basic human need to be able to connect with others. Becoming a stay-at-home mother makes things worse.The social interactions are limited. The emotional distance that I felt before becomes even bigger.

Visiting the playground became the daily challenge to reach out to the other mothers. Unlike me, they seem to be self-sufficient in their small world. No eye to eye contact, not a polite smile.

My baby smiles and comes closer to other babies. He is puzzled by the lack of response and he looks back at me. I shrug my shoulders, “What can I tell him?”. After few seconds, he approaches again other babies. Again and again, until he finds one baby that reciprocates and they start playing.

When the inspiration stroke

One day, I decided to imitate my baby’s behaviour. I initiated the small talk. I started talking to other mothers at the playground. I pretended I don’t see their reluctance to talk and smiled back. Deep inside, I was infuriated. I considered buying plane tickets and fly us far away from the country. In that moment of fury, Dalai Lama’s wisdom seemed but an utopia.

Why bother to reach out when you seem to be  the only one doing it?

Connecting with others means tapping into our compassion and building the strong foundation which makes us human:

“And once you encourage the thought of compassion in your mind, once that thought becomes active, then your attitude towards others changes automatically. If you approach others with the thought of compassion, that will automatically reduce fear and allow an openness with other people. It creates a positive, friendly atmosphere…And with that attitude, even if other person is unfriendly or doesn’t respond to you in a positive way, then at least you’ve approached the person with a feeling of openness that gives you a certain flexibility and the freedom to change your approach as needed.” (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness)

To my mind, connecting with others is not only about being open or any other fear. It is also about knowing how to deal when you offer a part of you to someone who does not appreciate it. Here it is the point where we need to learn how to cultivate compassion and stay calm when confronted with unfriendly behaviours.

It’s worth to keep on fighting for connecting with others, despite their coldness and indifference. There are days that bring wonderful surprises. Some of the others reciprocate with friendliness and they share stories from their lives. I smile and I feel warmth. I feel human and energised.

A simple but friendly interaction can increase the daily happiness. My baby feels the positive vibes in the air as well. He continues playing happily.

Conclusion

When we become parents, we embrace the responsibility to be a role model for our children. Those of us who live in multicultural contexts, we want to show to our children that despite the multiculturalism where we may not always understand others, we can choose to relate to others as human beings, and not as national identities.

We want to expose our children to multicultural interactions. If others turn their back on us, we can explain to our children that it is OK to be sad.

It is not OK to become the centre of our sadness. Instead, we can try to relate to the unfriendly others at a human level, thinking that “She must have a bad day!”. Maybe tomorrow will bless us with a positive interaction.

The important lesson is to keep on practising our attitude to others on both occasions: when treated with friendliness and when treated with unfriendliness. It is a painful work, but it is one of the tickets to our lasting happiness! And an excellent example to our children!