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Settle Down

by The Next Family February 18, 2010

By: Tanya Ward Goodman


A couple of days ago, I was in a yoga class led by a woman so flexible, she may have pipe cleaners in place of bones.  The subject was “fear,” and because it was yoga, we were all leaning into it and leaning into it hard.

“What did we fear,” the bendy goddess asked.  She asked us again and again to conjure up the thing that really freaked us out and then, go there.  Go there and go there and go there.  And then, just as I was breaking into sweat and tears, she asked us to give ourselves a break.

“Pull back,” she said.  “Let yourself settle.”

The verb “to settle” always gets kind of a bum rap.  It’s often used to describe a relationship or a job or the end of a court battle.  It’s what you do when what you really want is out of reach.

But here, in this class, “to settle” seemed to mean something like coming home.

As we pulled back and let our bodies relax away from fear, the most remarkable thing started to happen: it was suddenly easier to do the thing that really freaked us out.  In my case this happened to be a backbend.  It is not the best idea to throw yourself into a backbend, but it is possible to settle into one.

My yoga teacher admitted that for a long time, she felt that if she didn’t go the whole Cirque du Soleil right off that bat, she was failing.  Her fear was not of going too far, but of not going far enough.

And this is where, for me, the lines of yoga and parenting started to blur.  My greatest fear as a parent is that I am not doing enough.  As parenting fears go, it’s hardly unique, but it’s what I’ve got.

I worry that the kids aren’t eating enough greens, that we haven’t volunteered enough, that we don’t write letters to the troops, that we don’t watch enough educational television.  I worry that we don’t camp or take enough family hikes.  My kids would rather go to Chuck E. Cheese’s than MOCA and that worries me.

Because at five and seven, they seem stranded in a darn-near constant state of eye-rolling, sarcastic derision, I worry that they don’t respect me.  I worry that I’ve lost control.

My greatest fear is that I am being a bad parent and this fear pushes me to drag my kids to museums when they’d rather not go, this fear turns to anger when my kids act out in the grocery store and this fear makes it impossible for me to focus on where we are because I am always looking ahead to where I think we ought to be.

As an experiment, I’ve been trying to settle when I’m with the kids.  I’m trying to listen more and talk less.  I try to say yes instead of no sometimes.  What’s one Gatorade?  Why can’t we have pancakes for dinner?  Why am I so darned invested in matching socks?

Though it’s only been a couple of days, it’s calmer around here.  I think settling is different than “lowering the bar.”  My kids are still doing chores and saying please and thank you, but they seem to be doing it because they want to and not because I’ve asked one hundred times.  My son ate half a head of cauliflower tonight and as I write, he sits with a book in the chair behind me.  Technically, he’s supposed to read in bed, but he’s quiet and happy and it’s nice to have the company.


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