Acting on good news! When someone you know is having a baby – or is sharing good news…what comes up for you?
My hairdresser is having a baby! Fantastic news! Genuinely, I felt such a surge of warmth and joy when he told me. I feel really invested in his happiness and so hopeful for him and his partner in their new journey…So much so, that I instantly ordered him my all-time favourite recommended parenting book and took time out of what has been an INSANE work/moving house schedule to write a message and deliver it personally. And the reason I am sharing this reflection with you now – is that so often – from our youngest years, our parents have told us to be grateful for what we have. And to be frank, it can feel like such an easy credo. Be grateful. Be thankful. And to be fair, life coach and wellbeing speaker or no…I have not been exuding those vibes of abundance too much. Now the science is behind the wisdom of these home truths – but we can quite easily feel resistant with the pace and pressure of life crowing in… Granted, life in the UK at least seems to be going large on the ‘business as usual’ front. But frankly everyone seems a bit frazzled and – if you scratch the surface – feeling the burn after the general shitshow the pandemic still manages to encore… So I want you to know that I am not talking about a tokenistic ‘gratitude tree’ virtue-signalling…I am talking about the massive kick I got – with some surprise – that I want to share with you – after forcing myself out of my narcissistic ‘work-cloud’ to make the effort to say thank you and good luck to someone I barely know – but wish all the best for….
Back to my hairdresser: It makes me wonder… here’s someone I have met 4 times in the 14 months since we arrived. Why the tears of joy, the strength of reaction which I feel as strongly for this relative stranger as I would for a family member? Though to some extent, I barely know this person, on the other hand, there is without doubt, connection. The sense of generosity, overflowing abundance, that his news spurred in me cannot be denied. So where from and why so resonant?
Paying it forward… Free 30 minute coaching session for 5 new parents in the new year (first come, first served). See end – or forward subscription link… http://eepurl.com/gORacn
We both moved from London to Hereford at about the same time – with the aim of putting down roots in this loveliest of Rural counties (no bias there!)…We met shortly after the extended lockdown restrictions on hairdressing businesses were lifted – so I was super-grateful for two things: his skill as a listener and his consummate skill as a hairdresser to tame my mane and gave me exactly the cut I wanted – as good as my hairdresser of 10 years back in London. And on Monday, I had the privilege of observing him guiding trainees – in between having highlights done, hearing his news and congratulating him. There he was, giving them his full focus, his observation, and attentive listening. Supremely confident and calm, he allowed them to work, and timed his interventions delicately and supportively encouraged them to collaborate with their client. To ask open questions, use their own observations to balance openness and direct choices… And in this work he was doing, was a showcase of skill. Because the greatest gift someone can bring to the table is not only their technical skill and confidence, it’s also the ability to really listen and dance in the moment of a conversation that is truly collaborative. How many times have I been to the hairdressers, had my fine flat hair cut, and then blowdried at scalp searing length to fluff up like Nancy Reagan? The whole experience wrecked with an outcome that I’d immediately try to flatten and mess up. And the point of this reflection is that this is symbolic of how we can have missed steps in the dance of interactions we have with people. When we are generous with our attention, listen well, we tune in, respond with curiosity, increasing nuance and connection. When we can’t or don’t – we mess it up.
Four hair appointment, four excellent conversations that gracefully segued from the business of the day how to cut the hair etc… into meaningful conversations about our lives, reactions, and values. The other resonance is the notion that someone I know who is genuinely good and nice, is embarking on the journey of parenthood. Something that for me was the beginning of a very beautiful as well as a very challenging segment of my life’s path. Bringing a child into the world is one of the most intense, gorgeous, exhausting, rewarding, thankless, gruelling, intimate, terrifying things a human can do. It is a path of drudgery, joy, frustration, completion…You have to surrender to having little and sometimes no control of something that is one of the most precious things you’ll ever hold: your child. A friend who is a Head Teacher posted a photo of her newborn online the other day and said now she know why parents fight tooth and nail for their child in school life. And truth be known, like so many, I was a superb parent BEFORE I had our child… I mean…bloody hell! What is it that gets people through that?
I remember not only all those things I’ve mentioned flooding in all at once…I also remember the kindness and generosity of others around me in my initiation to parenthood. It was at that point, that my better half’s female friends from way back truly became my friends too. From books and thoughtful gifts, to being included in the circulation of boxes of carefully curated hand-me-downs for new-borns, 3 month-olds, 6 month olds…It was an initiation into the community of parents. The tribe of newly imported friends from the NCT group who would be a significant source of venting and solace. We became a tight brigade sleeplessly navigating the ‘No Mum left behind’ Motherland politics of Baby Yoga groups and dire singalong sessions led by someone so cheerful they had to have snorted a line prior to the endless marathon of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’… I remember the appreciative messages and thoughtful gifts from colleagues and families I had supported through their teens struggles at school. The bear given to our child before she was born, who 12 years later she still cuddles through the night. The touching words or encouragement and reassurance that I would make a good Mum. I needed all of that. And more. The words of advice from my lovely PA who knew I would struggle to part from my Blackberry (as was then) and transition from being school leader to nappy-changer and sleep-soother in chief. Your identity as a worker is changed and you have to make space – a lot of space for the tiny taskmaster… Becoming a parent changes everything. You are not only a daughter / son, you are a Mum / father. Your identity in your parents’ eyes is transformed. Can they allow you to both be their child and stand in your own autonomy as a parent? I wish I were able to include gratitude to my own parents in this list of support around that transitional time…but they had demons of their own to contend with meaning they tended to need more support that they could ever give at that point. This deficit then supercharged the meaning in the support I had from friends old and new – as well as other kind, wise people who life randomly strewed in my path when I needed them.
You are a partner / husband / wife AND a parent. Suddenly there are three of you in that partnership. How well can you juggle that transition to being attentive both to the baby and each other? How to find space among the urgent imperative to nurture to care for your own needs in order to also be attentive to the needs of your partner. The roles and rules around the intimacy of your relationship are changed…and it’s a new path to navigate… So hearing about my hairdresser’s baby reminded me of all these things, of the help and support, and affirmation I found through the kindness of others at that important and vulnerable and beautiful transitional time. And you know, it felt so good, popping in to deliver the book and the message, and to say good luck and if you need me I’ll be there for you and your partner. I am facing massive life transitions of my own. This next week sees me move house. 2022 will see me turn 50, fingers crossed, benefit from menopause respite via HRT. Come September we will graduate into becoming parents of a teenager…Despite all the countless frustrating little jobs and admin burdens that our move is imposing, I am supremely glad I took the time to do show my appreciation, support and give thanks… Remembering, and really savouring the memories of those key figures who helped you through life’s path is a really wonderful marinade to help boost your feelings of positivity and connection. Dialling that up by taking some time to really reflect and formulate what it is you are grateful / appreciative to them for ramps that up. And expressing that to them directly is a potent way to boost your connection with them, and give both of you a longlasting boost of authentic happiness (Prof Martin Seligman’s gratitude challenge). I floated away from that interaction feeling good. You know. In that awesome, Nina Simone deep richness of warmth and abundance… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHRNrgDIJfo It truly does uplift to give pay-back, recognition, and appreciation. Connect to those who have been a force for good in your life. It also uplifts to pay it forward. To recognise the small and large generosity of others you have received in your own life and to offer it up to others.
Who do you feel grateful for? How can you make and take opportunities to show it? If you’re interested in the science and psychology of it all – look at Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness. Gratitude and appreciation are all part of the practice of savouring…and they fall within the first ‘Positive Emotions’ of his 5 point PERMAH plan for resilience: Positive Emotions (Have’em, enrich’em…seek and share positive emotions from sources of authentic happiness) Engagement (Do things you’re passionate about – or that put you in ‘flow’ – absorption) Relationships (Cherish them, nurture them, don’t take them for granted. Showing appreciation and gratitude helps massively with P and A…a double whammy!) Meaning (Know your purpose and values. Whether religious or not – nurture your own human spirit) Accomplishment (Yes I know – success is only 20% of the happiness equation! Pushy parents and perfectionists take note! Make progress, feel what you do has traction) Health. (Sleep well, eat well, move well, and look after your stress levels) And what was the book I gave him? Philippa Perry’s ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents had Read…and your children will be glad that you did… Having a child is one of the most complicated challenges a person can take on. And there’s no manual. Perry’s is written with tender kindness and humanity. It’s more than worth it for the chapter on how to communicate with your newborn. Which is not instinctive. She writes about it beautifully. Her book goes right through to adolescence. It’s not a one and done read – but a book that’s lovely to revisit along the journey.
Paying it forward. If you have a colleague or friend who is having a baby or has had a baby recently, on maternity / paternity leave, wanting to think and feel through their life re-alignment….and you think they might use a coaching session, I am offering 5 free 30 minute sessions in the New Year on a first-come, first-served basis… Please forward this link on for them to sign up and get this edition, think whether it might be for them or not…and get in touch… http://eepurl.com/gORacn
Last week’s anti bullying campaign was ‘one kind word’… How can we show up with abundance, kindness, generosity? In a world of polarisation, cancel culture, where difference can be dangerous, how can we radiate safety, compassion and seek to understand rather than seek to win? How can we make the world a better place for ourselves and others – one interaction at a time? With love, and gratitude, as always. Emma.
Martin Seligman – Authentic HappinessPhilippa Perry – The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read…(and your children will be glad that you did)