Reading time: 2 minutes
The two most significant days in each of our lives are the day we are born and the day we die. These form the front and back cover of our unique and fascinating book of life. Everything on the pages in between is a story, bound together with glue at the seams, filled with a lifetime of experiences of love, joy, sadness and, above all, personal growth.
We grow from babies to children to young adults to adults. And when our bodies stop growing and slowly start contracting as we age or become ill, we then have the choice to continue growing on the inside. To enjoy the wisdom that comes with age, experience and mistakes we have made. To be thankful for those mistakes and what they have taught us. To learn from life’s challenges and inevitable curveballs.
I haven’t experienced many back covers closing in my lifetime, but 2017 was a year of one book after another being closed. And while it is easy to put books on a shelf and let them gather dust over the years, there is one very important book I want to celebrate today. A book whose beautiful cover was crafted 66 years ago on December 15, 1951 and whose back cover was prematurely closed on March 4, 2017. A book I would read over and over and over again, because there are so many stories of love, creativity, adventure and growth within it.
I love you more than ever Mom. You had worried that people would forget you as they move on with their lives. For me, the opposite could not be more true. While I am trying hard to find contentment in a life without your physical presence, to grow through this experience, I am realising that life without you isn’t possible. I will never forget you, or what your life meant and still means to me, and to those whose hearts you still live within. December 15 will always be your birthday, and your book will always be sitting warmly, prominently on a shelf in my heart.
Happy Birthday, Mom. I am forever grateful you were born.
Reading time: 3 minutes
Harmony is beautiful! Life balance is achievable!
Or so I always thought.
The ‘Wheel of Life” is a practical self assessment tool often used in coaching to help us determine which areas of our life are flourishing and which need more attention. The Wheel of Life suggests there are 8 common elements that need to be nurtured in order for us to feel content in life. There are many variations on the Wheel of Life, but most include health, family, personal growth, finances, career, relationships, social life and some combination of spiritual, mental and emotional well-being.
The significance and relative importance of each factor varies by individual, heavily influenced by how we have been nurtured as children. I used to think that finding the perfect balance of these elements was a journey with a final destination, a goal to be reached and maintained.
As if once I had that magic "life balance formula" figured out, I could just keep it going like a well-oiled machine of happiness.
Maybe if I really mastered the perfect mix, it would be a clear path to enlightenment, where unicorns slid down rainbows to wake me up to each blissful morning. I even had the idea to determine what this magic formula was for me, and then to write a book about how you too could calculate your ideal balance between the 10 elements.
Then I got distracted with moving my husband, 2 cats, 2 kids and a household of belongings halfway across the world from one continent to another. The time and motivation to develop formulas and write a book fell to the wayside. I felt frustrated that life felt so out of balance once again.
I couldn’t understand why some days everything seemed to flow beautifully and other days were such a struggle.
I became convinced it was my lack of ability to be consistent in nurturing each of these elements in life, and that I just needed to put more focus on it. Whenever I hit a streak of harmony where there was a really positive atmosphere at home, I felt like I'd finally "gotten it". And then I was inevitably frustrated and disappointed in myself when that harmony faded as quickly as it came, each and every time.
But in the midst of settling into my new home and guiding my kids and family through the transition, I realized something that felt pretty groundbreaking to me. I realized there was a pattern that not only I kept following, but also my friends and family near and far.
I became more open about sharing my own trials and tribulations, and this opened the doors for others to step away from their picture perfect social media lives and show me their vulnerable sides too.
Time and again, they failed to maintain any sort of consistency in balancing what was important to them, just like I did. We went through phases of feeling like life is beautiful and that perhaps we had finally figured out the key to health and happiness. We ate healthy, had fulfilling relationships, thriving careers, stable emotions.
Until things undoubtedly – every time – changed. And then we would suddenly find ourselves in phases of struggle and stress, feeling like everything was falling apart at once. “When it rains, it pours” had been a theme of many conversations.
And we all went through times where it wasn’t pouring, but we experienced ups and downs all in a day's work. So many of us failed to see that while life as a whole might have seemed out of balance, the whole didn't matter so much as the moments did. There were moments of happiness and harmony to cherish, moments of sadness or fear to feel and move past, and it was perfectly normal if they all happened on the same day.
What I learned from listening to others and observing my own experience from a detached perspective is that life is not about finding a constant static state of contentment. Or of harmony. Or of balance.
Life is constantly changing by nature.
The broader picture of life, of birth, growth, decline and death, is happening on a micro scale in our experiences every single day. When we are conscious of that change in motion and embrace it, we suffer less. We can feel less attached to the emotions of the moment, feeling them but not getting dragged down by fear or sadness, or hanging on to joy too tightly.
It is the attachment that creates the suffering, while detachment creates freedom and facilitates the ability to handle change without suffering. During difficult moments we can gain comfort that we will have joyful moments too. During joyful moments, we can allow ourselves to be fully present and enjoy it with gratitude, rather than hanging on to the false belief that this moment will last forever, only to feel disappointment and despair when it doesn’t.
All of those years I had been trying to change the balance of those 8 elements, to essentially change my external environment to find balance. When really what needed to change was my attitude towards life balance, my expectations about achieving a constant state of harmony.
Change is the only constant in life. And now I realise just how beautiful that is.
Reading time: 2 minutes
Have you ever felt listened to, I mean really felt you were heard? How often does it happen? Especially in my early parenting days, I often felt alone and overwhelmed. While I had good friends, they were all in the same boat as me. When we would meet, we were always with our babies and toddlers in tow, so our conversations were interrupted and disjointed. Occasionally we would meet for ladies nights, which were great fun and good stress relief, but they weren’t the right forum for getting deep into the issues I struggled with every day.
So I did what many of the moms I knew ended up doing. I focused on surviving each day, perhaps with the help of a glass of wine during the witching hour! At the same time, I scoured the internet and books for tips and tricks to get through each day with a little more grace. When I stumbled upon Hand in Hand Parenting, a lot of their articles and tools resonated with me. They weren’t quick behavioural fixes, but offered tactics for building deeper relationships with my kids and feeling more supported in my various roles as Mom, wife, daughter, etc.
I have tried so many tactics over the years, and Hand in Hand’s are the ones that I find my kids respond to best and that leave me feeling the most competent as a mother. What’s very different from other approaches is that Hand in Hand encourages parents to find another parent to partner up with and listen to each other, allowing each person time to vent before things build up inside and become overwhelming or unmanageable. Being truly listened to, in confidence with another parent, was such a novel and helpful life tool!
I am still in the process of learning to listen to my children and to communicate with my partner in a way that we listen to each other and resolve issues peacefully. As with most big changes, it takes times, but seeing progress is so encouraging. I am so encouraged by this approach that I want to share it with other parents. I want to not only feel supported myself, but to help other parents feel that way too.
I am grateful to have gotten to know Kate Orson, another expat in Switzerland who also happens to be a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor and author of the book “Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children”. Kate and I would like to build a parenting support community with regular meetups that are guided through a series of workshops. Each workshop will focus on a hot parenting topic. The first workshop will focus on how to deal with our children’s big emotions while at the same time taking care of our own needs. She will offer tools to use with your children and introduce you to listening partnerships.
If this speaks to you, see the event details and contact for me with any questions. If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading and I really hope to meet you in Jan!
Michelle Borner, a mom on 23 missions, blogs about her Deep Thoughts on a wide range of topics from parenting to conscious living to lessons from brain cancer.
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