Stillness seems impossible when you’re a busy parent. Parents often yearn for it, and even when they get it after children are in bed, their minds are over-active but their bodies are exhausted, and stillness cannot be easily found. Apart from the non-stop juggling and energy required to be a parent, there is a need to be as fast and as active as your child in order to keep up. Parents of toddlers are always up and down out of their seats, moving, praising, reprimanding, laughing, running. There is the school playground, the park, the family outings – all are potentially lovely or potentially fraught, and none of them seem to involve stillness.
Stillness is embraced in the old extended family image of the granny sitting in her chair, quietly knitting, whilst all around her the family carries on in varying degrees of chaos. This image is now almost a thing of the past, and thinking of it brings about a mixture of feelings – families are so busy with generally two parents juggling work
that a granny would be expected to do more than sit knitting in the corner, and there might be impatience for this image, yet it also brings about a sense of safety and solidity.
How can we create this sense of safety and solidity when we are busy and active? Stillness can be thought about as a state of mind as well as a physical stillness. Someone who manages to be still inside can retain that stillness whilst being very active. We can all achieve this at times, so we know it is possible. Often we can achieve it during the first week or two after a holiday period, when things slow down. We find we can take the routine of the day in family life in our strides more, yet there is no difference to the routine. What is different is the perspective we bring to it. Often at these times we are able to see the little things we might usually get stressed about as not worth worrying about. We can choose our battles with more discernment. We also tend to be less anxious after a holiday period. We see behaviour in the context of a phase or just a bad day, and we remain calmer. This creates a virtual cycle, where a child having a bad day has his own anxieties contained by calm parents, and can move out of the bad day he is having. If a child has a tendency to be over-active, the presence of a parent who is able to be still in the midst of the child’s chaos can help to quieten the child. If parents are pulled in to match the child’s behaviour by running around too, the child might have a feeling that his behaviour is unmanageable by the adults, that he is too much for them.
So, perhaps the way to achieve stillness is to try to hang on to those easier times. The reality, though, can feel different. Things come along that make us feel stressed, then another thing comes along, and before we know it we are back in the chaos and exhaustion. I like to think of taking an hour for you, to do something just for you, that is focused and still, as being like a mini-break. If you do that regularly, the hours build up and get you through the harder moments. I had a colleague who told me that the way she got through our very stressful job was to book in her next leave each time she had just taken one, and to make sure that she left no more than a six week gap between them. She might take just a couple of days but that was enough. She recharged her batteries, which enabled her to stay calm in the face of trauma at work.
Stillness is a state of mind. Over-activeness is also a state of mind. With a calm presence, you can manage the juggling and the tantrums, the school runs and the rushing off to work. You won’t always have it – that is impossible. There will be times when it seems far away, but wanting that calm presence keeps you mindful of it, and makes you more likely to achieve it. The bonus is that it is contagious. Your children will be likely to be calmer too.
Dr Angela Evans
Child & Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists