When I was a kid a teacher I barely knew was killed by lightning. Ever since then I’ve been terrified of being outside in storms. When my husband and I were hiking in Arches National Park recently, I saw an ominous storm cloud. Until I noticed it, everything was fine. I was having a good time, enjoying myself, and then uh oh! A storm cloud! Anxiety descends, and all I can do is look at that cloud. Is it moving toward us or away from us? Do I hear any thunder? Am I in danger? I became acutely aware of how much this storm cloud took all of my joy away.
This is how it is in difficult co-parenting too. The storm cloud can always be looming. Storm clouds like: Am I going to lose custody? Is my ex going to discredit me? Am I going to lose connection with my children? Is my ex going to turn my kids against me? Am I going to fall into financial ruin? Are my kids going to be affected negatively by all this.
These concerns, just like the possibility of lighting, are not out of the range of possibilities. The problem is that by focusing on them we lose our joy. And children need for us to have joy. If we are living under the threat of storm clouds, we are creating a dark and unhappy world for our children. We don’t intentionally do this, but when we get caught up in anxiety and fear, we are inadvertently hurting our children.
When I noticed that the storm cloud zapped my joy, I brought myself into mindfulness. (Learn more about mindfulness in my online class!) which just simply means bringing awareness to the feeling of anxiety, and the thoughts that come with it. When we are aware, we realize that anxiety is simply an experience that is coming into this moment, but it is not all of who we are. With practice, we can learn to let this anxiety exist without totally taking us over. We can learn to step back into our joy.
In the moment that I realized that I had lost my joy, I talked to the anxious part of myself. I said: “I know you’re anxious, but there is nothing that can be done right now. We’re on a hiking trail, and all we can do is hike until we get to the end. We can either enjoy the hike, or not. Which will it be?” I know I can’t totally push the anxiety away, but I don’t have to let it take over my life either. (Learn more about how to work with anxiety in my online class!)
All we have are these moments folks! Life is made up of moments! Even with storm clouds looming in the distance, we must embrace these moments and find joy. In this moment, nothing is wrong. Be with the goodness of it for the sake of your children! Notice your child’s smile, the blue sky, the deliciousness of food, the beauty of a hike, the joy of laughter and connection. These small shifts toward joy are one of the most powerful things we can give our children!