A friend recently asked how Calm Connections came about. “Well,” I began, followed by an elaborate tale of families’ struggles in school, me feeling discontented as a teacher and the demands of being a parent. None of these tales were made up – they were very real and, at times, I had felt like I was drowning in the misery, disconnection and battles. It certainly wasn’t the fairy tale that I imagined before having children.
Did it have to be this way? I believed not but wasn’t sure how to get out. I had been caught up in the struggle of life. Everything seemed so hard; I was unhappy at work, I had no money and had to work harder, I didn’t see my friends because I was feeling so miserable and, to top it all, I had a teenage son who I couldn’t connect with.
Most of the time there were two teenagers in the house: him and me. It wasn’t pleasant, fun or pretty. Every time we argued or sulked, he disappeared into his room or out with his friends and I slammed doors in frustration, I felt alone and a failure as a parent.
Life continued to get harder, relationships became more strained and I was in a place of worry and fear. It wasn’t a good place and I became increasingly stressed and unhappy, as did my child. Did I want this for myself or my family? Definitely not. I decided to leap into the unknown or, in my case, the known.
With over 30 years of teaching and Early Years experience, I have supported children and families in many different ways. I had studied and practised the importance of communication, attachment, well-being, fun and connection, so where had it gone wrong for me? I took some time to stand back and reflect on what was important and how it had got so lost. I brought all the techniques that I have taught children around emotional well-being to the front of my brain and began to implement some mindfulness tools.
As a parent, the most important place for me to start was to listen to what my son was saying. Instead of using those familiar words, “I would never speak to my parents like that,” I began to explore why he was speaking and behaving in the way he was. There were so many incidences of him as a young person repeating behaviours I had seen in his earliest years of life when he was first becoming independent; he felt unheard and unable to communicate. I think he felt as lost as I did but was unable to tell me (to be fair I had been so busy, worried and unhappy that I probably wasn’t listening).
Our family got to the point where we had some intervention – from agencies who dropped into our lives every now and again, working with our strained family members separately and, while we were initially glad of the support, we found it unreliable and shared information was patchy. We were becoming more isolated as a family unit. This intervention glue helped us separately but wasn’t strong enough to hold us together.
So what changed? We had a traumatic event where I thought I was going to lose my son and, as I lay with him, comforting him, I remembered the time I held him as a baby and promised to look after him. That memory filled me with so much love and determination to turn things around. We began talking and I began to really listen. His behaviour had only ever been about wanting to belong, feel connected and be heard. It took a moment of despair to wake me up and that is when I began to listen, accept and talk. Today I have had the biggest hug from my 16 year old and he has talked my socks off about what is going on for him! There are still some times that I find myself worrying or getting cross but we now have a relationship in which we both talk openly, love and support each other.
Much of our happy ending (so far) has been about being present, compassionate and working on our communication skills. These are the skills that have always influenced my life as a teacher, parent and friend, with successful outcomes. They are some of the skills that I know saved my relationship with my eldest child and will do the same with my youngest. This is what Calm Connections is based on and why I believe that mindfulness is something that every person could benefit from. I wish I could have had Calm Connections around to support me and my family a few years ago – it would have saved so much heartache, frustration and worry.