What Are We Celebrating on Mother’s Day?

“The heartfelt connection we all yearn for is locked away within our everyday routine as parents, teachers, and friends.” Lawrence J.Cohen, Playful Parenting

On the second Sunday of May, Finland is one of the European countries that celebrates Mother’s Day.

“Mother’s Day Coffee Morning, Friday 10th of May, 8-10am. All mums, grandmothers, welcome for breakfast, circle and activity.”

This message was pinned at the entrance door of the daycare where my 5 year old is enrolled. Consequently, I cleared the morning work schedule. I also cleared the usual clutter of the mind and instead chose to focus on my kid. And what a lovely morning we had!

Stepping inside the daycare together, instead of giving an automatic goodbye hug at the locker room and rushing to work. Holding him in my lap during the morning circle. Letting him lead me to his favourite play areas. Engaging in different role plays with him. Eating from the same plate at the small table where he is having the snacks twice a day.

“It’s so nice to see the bond between the two of you!” one of the teachers commented as she passed by the table where we were eating.

We did have a moment of deep connection, which gave such a boost to the remaining part of the morning.

These mornings of connection can happen each day. If only I allow them by creating that space of mindfulness. It can be short and sweet. But those small minutes of synchronisation help maintain the mother-child bond.

In my world, starting with today, the Mothers’ Day is a reminder that the connection between mother and child should not be taken for granted.

 

When you can’t see through another’s eyes, when you can’t listen with the ears of another, when you can’t feel with the heart of another – Ask Mr Froggy

On the occasion of the World StoryTelling Day, at the event organised by the Nordic Culture Point on March 21st, I wrote and told an empathy story for an audience of 8th grade children in Helsinki. Here I share it. In case you like it, you are welcome to read it to your kids. 

mrfroggy

When the other is a boy named Alam

Once upon a time, there was a place in West Asia, a land called Iran. Somewhere over there, in Tehran to be more precise, Alam was born. One year ago, his family moved to Helsinki. Alam is 7. Today is his first day of school.

He’s so nervous that he wouldn’t have any breakfast. He’s clumsy talking the language of Finns. Other than his baby sister and Mr Froggy, he doesn’t have any other friends. Who is going to want to be his friend?

As if his mother read his thoughts, she suggested. “Would you like to take Mr Froggy in your backpack?”

His face brightened up. He dashed to his bedroom where Mr Froggy was lying under his pajamas. It was the gift on Alam’s 5th anniversary from his grandmother and uncle. What for others was just another soft toy, for Alam, Mr Froggy was a reminder of the affection his grandmother would put into preparing his favourite sour-berry tea.

Whenever Alam would ask his father why they moved to Finland, his father would reply, “We are here so you can have a better life.”

“Here, your sister can live a life of freedom.” the mother would add.

“But it’s just the four of us here.” Alam would think to himself.

Back in Iran, the whole family used to get together almost every week, sometimes twice a week and every time there was a gathering, there was music, dance and poetry. And there are 30 or 40 people and lots of food and children running around. Alam missed running around those people.

Mostly, he missed playing the seven stones game. He would be more in the losing than winning team but he didn’t mind that. He liked the excitement of the game when he was chased with a ball by his uncle, the most playful family member.

Meeting Minttu and Emilia

This day of August, Alam and his mother were approaching school, when they heard a cry. They looked in the direction of the sound to see a girl and her father standing next to a tree, looking upwards. He gazed up with curiosity to see a cat sitting on a branch.

“If you can help someone in need, just do it.” was the morale of the stories that his uncle used to tell him.

Alam let go off his mom’s hand and ran next to the girl. “What’s the cat’s name?” he asked.

“Minttu.” The girl answered sobbingly.

Without further ado, Alam started climbing up the tree. The girl stopped crying. The father looked puzzled.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” his mom asked.

Alam couldn’t even hear her. He was getting closer to the cat and all he could think of was that this was his moment to put in practice all the training on calling cats that he’d done with his uncle.

When he was 5, Alam was fond of feeding animals. His uncle taught him how to call the neighbor’s cat to their yard to feed it treats. Alam was curious, “How fat a cat can become?”

This cat was not as fat as the neighbor’s cat. “Obviously, they don’t feed you well.” Alam said. Raising his voice, he called the cat to him, “Minttu!”

Minttu pricked its ears.

“Onko nälkä?” he asked while realising he actually talked in Finnish. “I’m good at cat Finnish.” and he felt proud of himself.

He gently took his rucksack off his back and fumbled for the pencil box, gently pushing Mr. Froggy out of his way. He took out one pen and tapped it against the plastic cover of the box. The tapping made a clicking noise which draw Minttu’s curiosity. The cat walked close enough towards him that he could grab it in his arms. He started singing in a high pitch voice – which he thought was similar to Minttu’s voice – some of the food he used to give to the neighbors’ cat: ham, minced meat, eggs.

When they got off the tree, the girl gave a strong hug to both Alam and Minttu.

“I’ll take this adventurous cat from you.” the girl’s father said.

“Emilia.” said the girl, stretching her hand. “Thank you.”

Getting introduced to the new school environment

They waited for Emilia’s father to bring Minttu back into their flat and they walked together the short remaining distance to the school yard.

The teacher was waiting for all the kids and parents to gather around her. She shook hands with everyone, including Alam and his mom. The group of 1st graders would get a walk-through the school.

Alam waved goodbye, “See you in 3 hours, mom.” while finding it hard to hold his tears.

The school walls seemed empty compared to the walls of the daycare he used to attend back in his home-country. His daycare teacher used to adorn the classroom walls with the kids’ drawings. Alam liked to see his drawings on the wall. It made him feel at home. “Maybe the new teacher will do the same as soon as we make some drawings.” he thought.

In the first recess, while in the school yard, one of the bigger kids kicked Alam from behind. Emilia saw that. She approached Alam, took his hand and said, “Violence is not allowed here. You can let the teacher know about it.”

“Would you want to meet my best friend, Mr Froggy?” Alam asked. “He’s wise, let’s hear from him, what to do when someone hits you out of a blue?”

What would Mr. Froggy advice?

 

 

 

Why Entrepreneurial Parents Need Frequent Breaks from Their Work

In Helsinki, Summer days are numbered. I can’t help it but sharing some of the insights I collected during the Summer holidays. This reading is mostly useful for parents of preschoolers who want to dedicate time to their kids and at the same time, have a passion and commitment to their work.  

Introduction

When the Summer vacation started, I felt anxious and overwhelmed. I was obsessed with all the ideas about how to move on forward with my projects. For each project, plenty of research to do, social media presence, etc. Countless reasons and scenarios of why and how to continue the entrepreneurial work.

Meanwhile, my kids had started their vacation. Husband and grandparents busy. To whom could I shift the responsibility of taking care of them, throughout July?  

We packed and travelled to my hometown where we spent the entire month of July. After the first week of tormenting and conflicting feelings between the identity of the work-self and that of the mother-self, I made up my mind:

  • I’ll focus my attention on my kids for four weeks.  
  • I’ll not touch my laptop.

The vacation broken down in weeks

In the first week, I kept staring at my laptop. “Should I open it? Maybe it is a bad idea to focus on my kids entirely.” At some point, I made a compromise with myself. “Fine. I’ll open the laptop to read articles for pure pleasure and personal interest. Nothing related to the professional pursuits.”  

By the end of the second week, play ideas were popping into my head. Occasionally, I would feel the fear of missing out on the latest news and ideas conjured up by peers who were still working hard and long days.

By the end of the third week, I could observe the worlds of family members and close friends. Learning to be compassionate with their thoughts and emotions. Offering emotional support.

Now and then, the fear about the uncertainty of my entrepreneurial work would bother me like the noise of a mosquito in the silence of the bedroom, at night. The fear would distract me from what was going on around.  

By the end of the fourth week, I was relaxed! I stopped feeling guilty for admiring the nature, in my parents’ garden, many times a day.

What I found out

  • Switching off the work related thoughts can’t be done completely but it’s worth to try.
  • Your kids will be happy to see you present, both physically and emotionally.
  • At the end of the four weeks vacation, I laughed at myself and at the work ideas I had in the beginning of the month.
  • The higher quality work-ideas need time to breathe and work themselves out in the subconscious mind.
  • The more you get fixated with an idea and push it towards implementation when you are highly anxious, the more likely you’ll get to a poor outcome.
  • When you have conflicting personal and professional values, just take a break. You’ll understand better what’s important to you and how to act accordingly, in a given circumstance.     

Conclusions

When you hear yourself thinking, “I can’t afford to take a vacation now.”, that is the moment to look for a travel companion, pack up and leave town. Maybe you don’t need to go away for one month, the way I did. One weekend might be good enough, as long as you turn the attention towards the people around you and put on hold your desires and ideas.  

 

When toddlers push parents buttons

On a scale from 0 to 10, how satisfied are you with yourself as a parent? What is your reaction when your children have bad tantrums or other crises? We, parents, like any other human beings, may have accumulated negativity and this can be a hindrance to constructive communication with children. Luckily, we can learn to go beyond negativity and help our children grow happy and loving adults, who in their turn can help others.   

“We would like to believe that only a disturbed parent responds in a way that is damaging to a child. Unfortunately, even parents who are loving and well meaning also blame, shame, accuse, ridicule, threaten, bribe, label, punish, preach and moralize.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child.

When my second child was born, the elder brother’s jealousy for mother’s attention was sparked. The new baby born is now an active 15-months-old toddler who cries when I hug his brother. The initially simple and crude jealousy manifests in more complex and violent ways. I find myself yelling more often and getting frustrated with the lack of improvement in the interaction between my boys.

“Parenthood is an endless series of small events, periodic conflict, and sudden crises that call for a response. The response is not without consequence: It affects personality and self-regard for better or worse.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child

Being a stay-at-home mother, I’ve experienced all too well how fast and how often I need to respond to conflicts between siblings. Inappropriate responses such as my emotionally stirred reaction to the boys’ argument set an undesirable example of how to solve dispute. Furthermore, shouting, threatening or punishing may lead to further frustration in children, and thus the conflicts can become more frequent.

We may want to help our kids understand that it’s perfectly fine to have negative feelings but it’s not fine to shout or hit others around just because we feel bad inside. In order for children to learn how to deal with their negative feelings, they need guidance from us.

The challenge for us parents is to overcome our own emotional unbalance so that we can communicate effectively with our children. The following 8 steps may help in getting in touch with the inner space inside us where there is peacefulness and from where we can connect and talk to our children:

Step 1

Have no expectations that kids will behave as adults (maybe it’s for the best they don’t behave like us). Kids are playful, creative, imaginative and without boundaries. They like eating while standing instead of sitting. They like to jump in pools of water even if they don’t wear the proper shoes. They express awe in a loud voice.

As soon as we become aware of any expectation, it’s best to ignore it, take a deep breath and think to ourselves, “Kids are kids”. This does not mean that we should allow kids any kind of behaviour such as, writing on the walls, jump from the top of the cupboard, or play with knives.

By ignoring the expectations on kids’ behaviour, we avoid moments of unnecessary fury. Instead, we become more creative in explaining what is acceptable and what not.

For example, when my eldest son used to drop water on the floor, I was very much tempted to shout at him “Don’t do that!”. Instead, I said, “There is water on the floor. The water can damage the floor. Let’s wipe it off together.”Did he keep on spilling water on the floor? Yes, many times and I reacted in the same way to him.

Nowadays, he stopped doing that. I don’t know if he understood my explanation. However, in the long run, I hope he understands that there are consequences to our actions and if we make a mess, then we are responsible to clean it up.

Step 2

Expect that anger is unavoidable. In such moments, we may shout something undesirable, such as “If you hit your sister one more time, I’ll pull your hair”. Such statements are threats, which if we don’t keep, then kids learn that we don’t really mean what we say. And if we do really mean what we say, threats become acts of physical violence which can traumatise the children and disturb the wellbeing of the whole family.

Bursting out in anger is unavoidable but anger should NOT be expressed in acts of physical violence. For other ways of expressing anger, such as blaming, labelling, ridiculing or accusing, we can apologise and openly talk about it with our children.

Each time when I become aware that I overreact, I apologise to the boys and explain what is happening. For example, “Mommy didn’t sleep well last night and is a bit tired today.” Apologising shows respect towards the child. At the same time, the child gets the message that shouting is not a constructive solution. Raising the voice does not give us what we want and furthermore, it can hurt the person we’re yelling at.

Step 3

Become aware of our emotional state when interacting with our children. For example, we can be emotionally unbalanced because we just had an argument with our partner. When we turn our attention to our children, we may overreact to what they do or say. We may take the negativity out onto our kids. Awareness can help us disconnect from the negative emotions and tune into our children inner lives. They will feel the connection and they’ll feel safe to be next to mommy or daddy.

Step 4

Increase awareness of the present moment. When we feel the anger is taking control, it’s time to start taking deep breaths. If the tension is still at its peak, verbalize what we feel about the particular crisis. For example, “I am so angry because you pushed your brother”. When the fury is fading away, I usually turn towards the toddler and ask him to forgive his brother.

A crisis is a good opportunity to teach important values to children. For example, I want to make sure that my boys will eventually understand that violence against another human being is not accepted. Since neither boy can talk articulately, I can’t expect them to explain in words what feeling drives them to resort to violence. The best guess is that it is the jealousy. But what if it isn’t that? What if there is something else that one of siblings did and the response comes under the form of hitting?

Instead of guessing and going on and lecturing based on what my guess is, I chose to state only that it is not allowed to hit each other.In addition to non-violent behaviour, there may be other values that we may want to share with our children and our behaviour and communication should reflect those values (i.e.,love, forgiveness, etc).

Step 5

Let empathy towards our children shine through the anger. If we want to understand something about our children, we’d better focus on questioning why they behave the way they do and not on what they do. When there is physical violence between siblings, being empathic can help us see the conflict from both kids’ perspective: from the perspective of the child who hits and from the perspective of the child who is hit. What is the reason for which a child hits his sibling? How does he feel hitting his sibling? How does a child feel when is hit by his sibling?

Step 6

Set up a strategy to follow in moments of crises. Even if we may not always be able to put it into practice, at least we can keep it in our minds to help us keep calm.

For now when my kids are at the toddler and pre-school age, the strategy for handling bad tantrums consists of three steps: 1. I explain why I can’t grant a particular wish, i.e., eat chocolate for breakfast. 2. When the heartbreaking cry starts, breathing helps to calm myself down. Words are unnecessary. The kid can’t listen because he wants one thing only – to have his wish granted. 3. Maintain eye contact once in a while and look compassionately at the child. When the storm is over, he asks for milk, which is always granted to him as a sign that we made peace.

 

With every new situation, we take stand based on what feels natural to us. But it also has to be an attitude from which our children can feel that they are understood. Think about how you feel when you tell to your partner that you’d like to buy a dress but it’s slightly expensive. How would you like your partner to react? Would you like him to say, “Honey, I think we have enough expenses already, forget about the dress.”, or, “I would also want to buy loud speakers, so let’s both buy whatever we want”, or “I wish I could buy that dress for you. I am sure you would look gorgeous! Maybe next month, you can buy it.”.

When feeling understood, children, like adults, feel loved. They become thus empowered to find acceptable solutions to manage their lives. They learn to be responsible for the choices they make.

Step 7

Spend short moments of daily relaxation. It is crucial to relax daily during short breaks and gain the much needed emotional balance and patience. It can be more efficient to relax 10 minutes every 2 hours than wait for that one evening in the week when we can go to a Pilates class or for a coffee with a friend.

I don’t know what can help you relax, but as far as I am concerned, meditation is a good way of creating inner space. The method of relaxation is less important, the effect matters – that of creating inner peacefulness. We can thus become more patient when bad tantrums come out of a blue.

For a few weeks already, I started doing a daily 10 minutes meditation focused on nature’s beauty. It is a project I plan to carry on for half of a year. I will share the details in the following blog post for anyone who may be interested in this type of meditation.

Step 8

Dedicate time and effort for the development of parental abilities so that we can keep up with the developmental stages of our children. For example, I find parental self-help books on how to communicate with kids to be sources of inspiration that provide new perspectives to parenting. Talking with other parents about how to become better parents, writing a diary of the most tensed moments with our kids, etc, may helps us expand our consciousness as parents and build bridges to our children hearts.

When the next moment of crises comes, let’s all do a small exercise. First, think how the situation may look through the eyes of our children. Second, how would we want to be treated if we were the child in that situation.

I wish to you a meaningful journey of parenthood!

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! :)   

How to deal with the doubt of a healthy baby

You think you’re having a good life until the moment when you go to an ultrasound to see how your unborn baby is developing. You leave the doctor’s office stupefied, chocked, confused and with tears in your eyes. There is a 2% probability that your baby might have a chromosomal abnormality.  

You decide to do an amniocentesis test to find out with 100% probability if the baby is healthy.  In 1 to 4 weeks time, you’ll get the results. 

Meanwhile, going about your life as if everything is normal is out of question. How can you handle your fears and stress? 

If you are anything like me, you’d start talking to family and close friends. Not that it would change anything, but the affection and love that you feel from them gives you the strength to get off the bed in the morning.

In times like this, you feel even better how much your family loves you! You listen to your friends’ encouragements and you feel the positive energy and the strong believe that everything will be fine!

In times like this, you discover new sides of the relationships you have with all these wonderful people. You see how they use their personal believes to give you the best support that they are capable of.

You open up to them in your weakest moments and you discover more similarities with them than you would have thought you have before. One of these similarities is the belief that prayers can do wonders.

And praying many times a day, indeed does wonders. It makes you realise that your faith and your hope is much bigger than your fears. Come what may, but until the day when the truth is revealed, you have your hope to feed on.

Your hope can inspire you to visualise happy moments of the future and can diminish the stress of the present.

You are a human being thrown in the tumult of life, with its uncertainty and unawareness. This moment of waiting is a reminder that all you have is today. So how would you like to live today? How does it sound to spend the day dreaming about a happy tomorrow?

Well, yes, but what if tomorrow does not bring happy moments?“, some skeptic voice may argue.

It’s probably a matter of personal choice, but if you were to choose between hoping in the present and worrying in the present, what would you choose? Tomorrow’s reality will unveil itself when the time comes. Why not embracing it with the courage and peacefulness brought by the hope of today?

You may also like reading:

The art of helping through conversation

How Faithfully Do Words Reflect Our Emotions?

How can mothers relax

Some people have a talent at relaxing. Others need to learn to relax. Especially when becoming mothers, it may be wise to take time for ourselves ever since the kids are small. A relaxed mind is fit for coping with our kids’ needs as they grow.

It is important, yet so difficult to relax

Engrossed in the responsibilities of a mother, I’ve neglected one important aspect: to relax!

It took me almost two years to become aware of my mental fatigue. I now understand other friends who said that the first years of parenthood can be tiring.

Complaining about it may help to let some steam off, but it’s a temporary solution.

Ways to relax

It’s up to us to figure out tiny positive changes to our daily life. Here are eleven examples of how we can make time to relax during busy days with toddlers running and shouting around us:

  1. In the morning, despite that the baby decides that it’s time to wake up, we can still linger in bed for 3 minutes. It’s sufficient time to focus our attention on our mind, body and soul.
  2. We may smile. We can salute the new day, “A precious day of my life is about to start!”. We can take deep breaths that cleanse our organs.
  3. After the 3 minutes are gone, we are ready to hug and kiss our kids. Caresses, hugs and kisses from the partner warm the heart and remind us that there is love in the house. And as a symbol of that love, we’ll do the daily routines.
  4. During breakfast, we’d better avoid thinking about the need-to-do tasks of the day. Instead, we’d better take the time to chit-chat with our partner.
  5. The day starts rolling and we are on the road. If we are driving, we can take a slightly different route so that its novelty can take our mind away from whatever we might be tempted to sort out.
  6. If we travel by bus or tram, we can indulge ourselves into a fast but efficient meditation. We can detach ourselves from the surrounding and focus on breathing, thus connecting to our body. We can thank our body for enabling us to carry on with the day.
  7. When the kids are taking a nap, we can rest as well, by using a head massager, for example.
  8. Before putting our babies to sleep, we can spend together 30 minutes listening to soothing music. Or watching some photos – family photos, landscapes – that we discuss about with our toddlers.
  9. When all the members of the family are already in bed, we have the luxury to take a hot shower. Using our favourite shower gel with relaxing scent can help to calm down.
  10. When we put the head on the pillow, there’s another habit that we can take up – to think happy thoughts or say a prayer if the connection to God is important to us.
  11. Once a week, we can have the mommy pampering evening when we spend two hours on our own – going to a massage centre, meeting a close friend, doing some sports we like, reading a book in a cafe, etc.  Whatever makes us relax and forget about the responsibilities of being a mother.

Take away thought

To me, relaxing is similar to doing sports. Twenty minutes of exercise three times a week are more efficient than one hour of exercise, once a week.

Considering how chaotic the family life with kids can be, knowing how to relax daily is crucial for the wellbeing of mothers. Happy mother means happy kids and family.

Let’s choose to relax this moment. You’re on a beach, the breeze is gently caressing your face. The smell of the sea is spoiling your senses just before you can hear your little one’s laughter. He approaches and pinches you, “Mommy, play with me!”

Now, over to you! What are your tricks for relaxing?

 

What Does It Mean To Be a Parent?

Risking to enter the vegetative state?

Some people, like a former work colleague, do not even want to have children. This ex-colleague of mine believed that having children turns the parents into vegetative beings whose only role is to serve their offspring. I was quite taken aback when he stated his view.

For more than one year, I have experienced motherhood and continuous sleep deprivation. I must admit that there are days when I am in a vegetative state. But this mood is only the shell of my inner being. Deep inside, each day brings into light a new layer of the love I have for my little one. Furthermore, until now, I have figured out that parenthood is a mysterious journey, which can’t be anticipated.

What does love for our children mean?

It is easy to love my child when he smiles, when he is playful and funny. The challenge comes when he is cranky, whining, screaming and lying on the floor in protest – he has such behaviours even if he is only 15 months old. In those moments of “family crisis”, deep inside I love him equally and even more but at the surface, I am faced with negative emotions such as anger and irritation. And that’s when the challenge lies. Keeping the calm and finding ways out of these moments of crisis are must-to-develop skills for me and any other parent, most certainly.

We all want to bring up healthy, balanced and loving children, who have happy and meaningful lives. It is though so tempting to expect from our children to live the life we want them to live. And here, there is another challenge of parenthood: letting our children grow into adults and avoiding to burden them with our expectations.

My son’s uncle brings him toys and says, “He’ll be an engineer”. Sometimes I look at my son and I think, “He’ll be a dancer”. Few seconds after, I correct myself, “What are you thinking, woman? He’ll be whatever he wants to be.”

I don’t need to decide on his behalf what will make him happy. Instead, I need to make sure he is loved and we are present for him when he needs us.

Torn between love and setting limits

When he thinks he needs to climb on the kitchen cupboard, I say “No”, and he cries. It hurts so much more than I expected. But this is the journey of parenthood, rich in unexpected experiences and feelings.

A father’s confession

BTW. I stumbled upon a father’s confession about the inner changes that happened in him after his first baby was born. He realised that his individuality was turned into “duoviduality”: http://frankmartela.fi/2012/01/birth-of-a-child-or-when-you-expand-from-an-individual-into-a-duovidual/

It is revealing to hear some testimonials from the world of fathers in the Western societies as well.

So, Who Are You?

We are busy

Single people, people in relationships, people having a family – we buzz around all day long, in the pursuit of deeds that we perceive more or less meaningful.

Even the standard reply to the question “How are you?” has changed from “I am fine.” to “I am busy”. I wonder. Is it possible that we WANT to keep ourselves busy? Otherwise, how would we know what to do with ourselves? What thoughts and feelings would we have during half an hour of sitting in silence?

With whom to be better connected than with yourself?

When the evening comes and we put our head on the pillow, do we impersonate the wife, mother, student or subordinate that we were during daytime? Why not trying to find ourselves in the few minutes before sliding into the world of sleep?

What a treat at the end of the day, to reconnect to ourselves, to the joyous soul with which we came into this world! If we want to know why we came into this world, wouldn’t it be sensible to try to figure out who we were when we landed here? Who we were before we were damaged?

Maybe one night we get lucky and we feel our soul. We feel its core, its breath, and its wholeness. Who knows what else we would discover about who we truly are?

What if we don’t know how to reconnect to ourselves?

We need to look for help from the external environment so that we are put on the right track, which we would later follow on our own.

We need EXPOSURE. We need to start opening the channel that connects us to ourselves. For example, finding a group of people who are in a similar search and join them. Talk and discuss.

See the example of the Paphos Seminar, a one-week seminar on the psychology and philosophy of the good life, which has been organised twice a year for 18 years in Paphos, Cyprus by the philosopher Esa Saarinen (professor at Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland). The aim of the seminar is to help people “to construct their own ideas and to spread them internally”, “to open a broadband channel to people’ subjective sense of life orientation.” No ideas are imposed, simply a framework of philosophical ideas that offer food for thought. The participants are free to become emotional as they reflect upon different themes related to life, such as “present moment”, “love”, “choice” and “respect”. At the end of the seminar, each attendant discovers new insights into herself/himself.

The idea of this seminar can be replicated at a smaller case by you, me, by everyone. For example, how about gathering a group of friends with an interest in say, finding happiness, and discuss relevant books, every three months? (since we are busy people, maybe a more frequent interval for meetings is out of question.)

How about those ones of us who are too shy and too introvert for such sort of group activities? In this case, skipping the discussions and reading books on our own may equally help. Whatever works as long as we feel we have reached access the core of our souls.

Reflecting upon our life is enlightening the haze inside us. We don’t know why we are here but we should feel grateful for the life that was offered to us. Why not do the most with it and start by rescuing ourselves?

I Dream of Seeing More Compassion

What Do Religions Teach us?

Compassion, the feeling of concern for other person’s wellbeing, is one the main teachings of buddhism. In his book, Becoming Enlightened, His Holiness Dalai Lama talks about engendering great compassion on way to enlightenment. He describes seven steps to committing yourself to help others, which revolve around the idea of teaching your mind to find everyone dear and cultivate love for human beings, such as the poor and vulnerable.

Christianity talks also about the compassion in the parable of the good Samaritan, told by Jesus in the New Testament. The Samaritan helps a traveller which had been beaten and left almost dead on the side of the road, whereas the priest who had first passed by avoided the injured man.

My Experiences

My mother has always told me to help people who are in need. She repeated this message so many times throughout my childhood that it became one of my fundamental believes.

At my grandfather’s funeral, a friend of his told me a story about grandfather. One night, the two of them were walking home. They met a stranger who was going to walk all the way to the next village. It was a cold night and grandfather offered his jacket to the stranger. He was quite close to his home and the stranger needed the jacket more than he did. I was very close to my late grandfather but he had never mentioned this story to me. I would have never known it if it hadn’t been for his friend.

Ever since I’ve been a mother, I became more aware about how people behave towards my baby and I. For example, for one year, I have been walking around pushing the pram and carrying the baby bag in my back. When entering the stores, I keep the door open with one hand and with the other hand, I hold onto the pram. People come in and out as if I were hired to be the doorwoman or as if I were invisible. Rarely, someone notices me and keeps the door open so that I can enter as well.

Other times, it happens that I have to stand in line for buying a train ticket, for example. With a 11kg baby in the arms, fighting to escape, I decide to go in front and ask for permission to buy the ticket. Most of the times, people look at me as if I were a strange creature, talking a language they don’t understand. Their facial expression says, “Why don’t you stand in line like the rest of us?”. There is usually one person in the line who shouts, “Let her pass, she has a baby, can’t you see?”

What Do Scientists Tell Us?

I’ve been wondering why do I see so few reflections of compassion in my every day life? Do people feel compassion at all? Or is compassion but a virtue set as an example – never to be attained by humans – in spiritual and religious books? Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, thought of compassion as a “soft-heartedness and should not occur at all among human beings.” (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_compassionate_instinct)

However, recent studies done by psychologists and neuroscientists show that Kant was not right in his judgement. Both the body and the brain seem to be wired so that we respond to other people suffering. Yet, feeling compassion is different from acting as a result of feeling.

Social researcher David DeSteno did an experiment which showed that people have the tendency to help others if they perceive some commonality with the person they decide to help (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-compassion.html). He concludes that compassion can be cultivated by changing the way we perceive the people around us: in terms of similarities. DeSteno’s finding confirms the first step to practising compassion recommended by Buddhist teachings:

“I have difficulty seeing any person in the long past who has not been your father, mother, uncle, aunt, sister, master, abbot, guru or guiding figure.” (Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened, pp. 166)

My Conclusion

In conclusion, compassion lives in all of us. It is a matter of being aware that it is in us, and to be willing to practice it and cultivate it. Next time when I keep the door open so that people can come in and out of the store, I will be saying out loud, “You’re welcome!”