What going vegetarian reminded me about parenting

I watched the Netflix documentary Game Changers last year and, in the hope of a speedier recovery from Achilles surgery, removed meat from my diet and turned to the green side – vegetarianism. 

The first few weeks were spent trawling the online supermarket aisles trying to find substitutes for meat, and to be fair, there are some good ones. The texture, taste, and temptability of meat alternatives have definitely changed from the late 80s when I last reduced my meat consumption.

Yet after a few weeks, I felt I was missing something quite important – vegetables. I’d started out by wanting to improve my recovery but I also wanted to feel different and become healthier. I’d assumed I would be eating more vegetables, but my new found vegetarianism wasn’t doing what it said on the tin – I was living on a beige diet of carbs with the occasional Quality Street thrown in for colour and interest. 

This needed a rethink. Vegetarianism (for me) is about taking things away, yet I’d spent my time trying to add things in. I’d removed meat, but sought out meat substitutes. It didn’t compute to me.

How often do we seek to change something by adding something in? Looking for the silver bullet to make the difference, we can add in complexity and move further away from the outcome we started out with.

When we have a headache, we can find ourselves taking pills before considering if we’re hydrated enough, or have had a break from our screens.

When our children’s mental health declines, our general response is to add things in and find the one ‘thing’ that will fix it. Sadly, there isn’t one thing and we can’t fix it. (Sorry about that.) We can also find ourselves adding our frustration, anger, and fear into the mix and that too doesn’t help.

But we have the choice to take things away. Removing emotion, judgement, expectation, and assumptions from our interactions can feel like we’re giving up control, when in reality, it puts up squarely in the driving seat and makes more impact than any of the fear based responses our mind monkeys kick out.

I believe that one of the biggest gifts we can give our children is to manage our own emotions. Our responses to them and the situations they face, emotionally and physically, influence how they respond. They give them the sense of security, safety, and ‘I’m ok-ness’ that we all need to feel mentally balanced.

And that’s really bleeping hard! Keeping your immediate, visceral reactions to self harm or suicide attempts to yourself is something we have to learn and maintain. Being calm when your child can’t go to school and you’d expected to get back to work to placate your boss is definitely an acquired skill. Not exploding when the kitchen that was cleaned yesterday now looks like the Tasmanian Devil has auditioned for GBBO requires the strength of a thousand very strong, very patient people. 

Each time you do, you reduce the intensity of the situation on your child. You diminish the hold that those circumstances have over them and their mental health. And you create a bond that will last a lifetime.

How do you begin?

You sit down and have a chat with yourself. You let yourself feel all the fear and worry and concern and horror of what you’re facing. And then you commit to 3 things:

  1. Yourself – to taking care of yourself – yes, Self Care! Yes, therapy if you need it! Yes, to trips away if finance and support allows! Yes, to saying no! Taking care of yourself so you can manage the impact of your child’s illness allows you to let go of expectation, emotion, judgement, and assumptions and will allow you to remain resolute in your commitment to them, without taking a toll on your mental wellbeing.
  2. Your child – their wellbeing, their mental health, their bright, brilliant, future. Even if it feels like it will never happen, even if they appear to be on self destruct. You commit to them and the path you’re walking, and whatever comes your way.
  3. Your power. You’ve got this. You can give up control, but still be in charge. You are strong enough to manage your emotions and your child’s. You have got this.

How does that feel? Can you consciously commit to those things today?

And despite this post being all about taking things out, there is one thing I’d like you to add to your life, and that is Gratitude.

Gratitude for me has been a transformative practice. It has allowed me to feel in control on days when I’ve clearly not been. It’s allowed me to put down the judgements I’d held. It’s challenged me to find the positives and then allowed me to make peace with alternatives. It’s allowed me to take out the things in my life that don’t serve me – self criticism, self judgement, negative self talk. All from 5 minutes a day to find and feel the things that are good in my life.

Share your 3 Gratitudes in the comments, or more if you want but make sure they’re really conscious and you really feel that warm sense of thanks as you think of them. More isn’t always better when it comes to Gratitude.

Look forward to reading yours in the comments.

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