Thursday, December 23, 2010

The gift we give our family

People are celebrating many different sacred days this time of year with diverse traditions.   Each family celebrating in their own way.  Through out the year we have different days that we hold sacred.  We create rituals that give those days special meaning and remind us of our blessings.  Birthdays, anniversaries of many different kinds, the passing of the seasons, and days that are holy or sacred give us times to reflect and remember, or rejoice and create new memories, with those we love.  In the end, a holiday is what you make of it, what meaning you give it, what traditions you choose to embrace and continue year after year.  Often the special days we celebrate involve giving and receiving gifts.

In my blog posts I often emphasize that everyone's needs are important and that the goal is to find ways to meet each person's needs.  Readers question if that is possible.  They ask if it's true that my own needs are met while I'm busy meeting the needs of everyone else.  There are two ways to answer the question, both feel equally true in my life.  The first answer is no, my needs are not always met.  I live with three children and a chronically ill husband who works a job he is good at, but a job that is exhausting and takes most of his functional energy.  It is a meaningful job, but not a high paying job, which means we have limited financial resources.  I live in a house populated with pets which are my responsibility.  There are times when my "what about me?!?" level starts to rise.  I begin to feel like all I do is meet the needs and expectations of my family.  From this perspective, no, my needs are not always met.  In fact, there are times when my needs don't even seem to matter.

The second answer is, meeting the needs of my family is meeting my needs.  I have chosen this life.  Every day I make the choice to get up and live a life of love with my family.  I can view meeting their needs as a gift, an expression of my love for them, a blessing to be shared with them, and a blessing that I am able to live this life with them each day.  I also know that while our needs are equally important, I have an ability to delay gratification, to know that my needs will get met eventually, that my children may still be developing.

Meeting the needs of my family can feel like a burden or a gift, it depends on my focus and perspective.  When The laundry and dishes and clutter start to pile up and feelings of resentment that I am the one responsible for doing everything start to build in my mind nothing has really changed but my mind state.  If I'm not paying attention, soon I am banging about in the kitchen, grumbling under my breath, snapping at whomever dares ask me for one more thing.  Then I feel angry with myself for being so hateful.  My emotional and mental state become increasingly volatile.  My family vanishes into various bedrooms and I am left alone to get myself back on track.  When I remember to pay attention I can catch myself before my mind state deteriorates.  When I'm paying attention, I have the ability to know when one of my needs cannot wait or when my mind is turning wants into needs.

As I wrote previously, "There's a kind of parental enlightenment that we can attain. It is easier for some people than for others, but for most of us it does take practice. When we reach this state of parental enlightenment our day to day life may be the same (though it will probably feel easier and may actually be easier) but our attitude changes. We still spend our days meeting our children's needs, making food, cleaning up messes. The difference is that we now do these same things from a place of joy, as a gift to our children, instead of from a place of resentment and frustration." (The Parental Practice)

Our family's life together is what we make of it, what meaning we give it, what traditions we choose to embrace and continue year after year.  We can built rituals and reminders into our days that help us stay focused on the gift we give our family when we meet their needs.  We can cultivate joy in the small gifts of love that we offer each day when we make our children a snack, read them a book or listen to them with our full attention.  We can remember that the years we have living together with our children are often a small portion of our lifetime, and in the future there will most likely by plenty of time for our own needs to be met.  We can remember that making our relationships with our children a priority is a gift we give them and ourselves; a gift that will affect our future, their future and generations not yet born.

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