How To Reduce Stress In Kids

Lessons From The Road Part 2 

Your Kids Need You (but not in the way you think)

On the road there would be times when I’d feel stressed or anxious about things, and I would turn to my kids and see what they needed. I’d offer to make my daughter a sandwich and she’d let me know that she can make her own sandwich. Or I’d ask my younger daughter if she needed help with anything and she would be playing with her toys and say, “No, I’m good,” and I would still be looking for something to do with my anxiety and my stress.

And then I would grab my guitar, go and sit outside the trailer and I would practice guitar for a bit and get myself into a calmer state. Find myself in a good place.

Then you know what would happen like magic? The girls would come outside and they’d want to hang out. They’d maybe want to play guitar or just play and they’d want to be around me in a different way than when I was just trying to do things that I thought they needed. I learned through experiences like these that what my daughters need is not always what I think they need.

When I see Karuna hurting, she does not need me to talk to her. She needs me to be present, to be kind. I give space; to love her and not try to solve it. She does not need me to solve all of her challenges.

Your kids need you, but not in the way you may think. They need your presence and undivided attention. They need your clarity and peace of mind. They need you to make them feel part of the team. They need you to feel like they’re part of the family unit and that they belong and they’re wanted and that they matter. They need you to start letting go, way before you actually want to.

For instance, my 9-year-old daughter is going off to sleep away camp for two weeks, and I can already feel this letting go process begin. She’s her own person in this world. She needs me to trust her. She needs autonomy, not control. Boundaries and safety with a lot of freedom to roam.

So your kids also need basic sustenance, food, shelter, and all the basic needs that we as parents work to provide. But if you notice in that list there are certain things that they don’t necessarily need. They don’t need you to buy them everything that they ask for. They don’t need you to tell them things that aren’t true. They don’t need you to pretend to be something that you aren’t.

In fact, your kids need you to be happy. And they can’t make you happy. Your kids need you to not make them the source of your happiness. That is a heavy burden to put on your children.

When you are in your own state of happiness because of how you’re choosing to live your life, your kids benefit tremendously.

If you had to live in a home with three other people, would you enjoy it if they were all stressed out, overwhelmed, and anxious? Probably not. You would love your roommates to be happy, peaceful, fun to be around. Present. Enthusiastic about life.

I know it’s strange to say that parents and kids are like roommates, but in some ways, we are, right? We inhabit the same home, and it’s a good analogy to help us to see how our kids could be impacted by our own life choices, by our own state of consciousness, by our own vibration. So much of the work in the family is the parents’ work.

Because face it, kids just love being kids. Kids are not in a position to do all kinds of personal work, reflection work. Kids aren’t looking to go to meditation retreats. It’s the parents who are looking to do that because of our lifetime of struggles and sufferings; people being unkind to us; mistakes and being in and out of all kinds of difficult challenges, all in contrast to what we want to do in our lives.

So it’s our work to overcome the stress and the struggles, to come into equilibrium so that we can be there for our children in the ways that they need us most. All so that they can face a lifetime of triumphs and challenges with the patience and resolve that we were able to show them. Our kids need us, but not always in the ways that we think they do. How we show up for our children matters.

LESSONS FROM THE ROAD: PART ONE

Hitting the Road Through #EndlessCaravan

In the Spring of 2017, our family packed up our bags and we flew to Jackson Center, Ohio, and the headquarters of Airstream, who provided us with the trailer and the truck as part of their Endless Caravan Campaign. This beautiful endeavor allows families who have creative visions to move around the country and do their great work, while also getting to experience living in an Airstream trailer. I have so much gratitude to Airstream and their vision, because what unfolded over the next three months I believe radically changed all of us as a family.

From Ohio, we all headed out across the United States for a season-long journey in an Airstream trailer, 23 feet long (about 175 square feet), with two kids ages 8 and 4, my wife and myself. There was one queen bed and a kitchen table that transforms into a single bed. We had an ambitious route to cover 9,000 + miles covering 23 states.

Along our journey my wife planned family arts events through her business, The Art Pantry,and I spoke at schools through my work with Yale Universities’ Emotional Intelligence Lab. We had no previous experience towing a trailer and we booked almost no campsites in advance. In 3 months, we learned a lot about trailer life, this incredible country, our family, and how families are doing across the country.

Hope Lies in Our Families

Before the trip we were not sure what we would find as we traveled the country, but one thing we found was hope: hope in our collective, in one another, and hope that our children will have a bright future. We found this sense of hope in the amazing families we came across. There was not a single state across the Southeast, Southwest, Midwest and beyond that did not have amazing, inspiring families.

We encountered so many beautiful families who love their children, who love each other. We saw children who are happy, who appreciate their parents. We saw parents who are grateful for their children and for the opportunity to be a family.

This hope is what I want to share with you through this series of reflections: through the opportunity to focus on, heal, and love our families, and through supporting one another, we discover what this will make possible for us as communities, for us as a society, and ultimately for us as a world.

In this series of articles, I want to share what I learned from traveling with my own family as well as the lessons from interacting with hundreds of families through my work with Yale, speaking at schools to parents and administrators across the country, and through the events that my wife held, doing art with young children and being with families who had their own dreams that they shared with us.

Claim Your Family

The first big lesson of the trip was that we learned to claim our family. We live in a society that is constantly comparing one family to another; we’re comparing one lifestyle to another, one family’s choice to another. Something about going on this trip helped us to claim our family spirit. We recognized we have this special unit, the four of us, headed out across the country and it was our adventure to have. It was our journey to grow closer together.

The beauty of claiming your family is that it makes it yours. You don’t have to compare or try to be like anybody else. It’s family — it’s your family, and in reclaiming it, you can begin to push back against society’s inertia that often splits families apart, whether through struggles around technology, overworking, or peer groups that our kids become part of that we have little control over. Being together on this trip helped us to reclaim our family. I believe it is possible for all of us to go through the process of reclaiming our family by acknowledging that this is our beautiful gift that we have created with our partners and loved ones to do amazing things together.

So, as we traveled across the country, we started to understand for ourselves that we were living somewhat of a dream. We were outside society’s norms. We were free to be us. Our kids were not in school. My wife and I were not working 9-5 jobs. We were figuring it out on the road, while on the move. And we were doing it together.

Allan Watts describes life in our culture from going to kindergarten to first grade to second grade to third grade and they kind of lead you along in this ‘here, kitty, kitty,’ fashion until you get to high school, and then if you’re fortunate enough, to college. And then after college, you get this great job and you start a family. And somewhere in the course of this spectrum, you end up in your 40s and you have this wake-up moment, and you go, is this it? Is this what my life is all about?

I believe that there is something magical that can happen in a family when we wake up to who we are. We wake up to who our partner is telling us they are, and we wake up to who our children are showing us that they are. It’s in this awakened state that we have some freedom to live the life we want to live.

So many families are suffering right now because they often feel stuck, that they have to live life the way that they have always thought they had to live it, or the way they see it being lived by other people in their communities. And if there’s one thing that anyone takes away from this offering that I’m sharing, is that you are empowered to live your life the way you want. Especially in your families, because you created your family.

And yes, immediately you might ask me, ‘Well, how are we going to live the life we want with our finances? How are we going to live freely when we live where we live? How are we going to live differently with our kids’ educational needs?’ And I would say, let’s stop for a second, and let’s dream first. Before we put up all the obstacles and find all the blocks, let’s make sure we’re aligned on what you truly want. And if we can get a glimpse of what you truly want, and if you can claim your family, then I think we’re on a totally new journey.

What does it mean to you to claim your family as yours?

Tell me in the comments below!