I started writing this blog post in July 2020 but never finished it. Here’s my attempt at finishing all the thoughts swirling around my head regarding this topic. And there’s so much to be said that I’m doing it in parts.
In case you’ve never read my writing before, I need to tell you some things. I’ve been on a beautiful and difficult self-love journey for the past six years. It all started with decluttering and recognizing that I don’t need to fill up my space, be it physical, social, emotional or spiritual. Filling up all the space was taking away MY space and I started to create boundaries in my life, as a result. Boy, was that hard for me for many reasons, but especially for someone who was a people pleaser! I’m a recovering people-pleaser now and I’ve found strength in knowing that the more I love myself, the less I seek external validation from others. But that is essentially why I have been a people-pleaser. I wanted to do and be enough for them. But it only filled me up short term. It was never enough. (Never, never…now you’re wishing you were watching The Greatest Showman, aren’t you?) I’ll write more about this at another time.
After my mom died unexpectedly in January 2018, my self-love journey was accelerated. I was dealt a hand that I did not expect nor want, but it was still my hand. So, I tried to give myself all the space I needed to feel, to remember the good and bad, to grieve and to heal. Some well- meaning people would try to tell me how to feel or how to ‘get over it’. But it’s not anyone else’s journey is it? No one grieves the same way, so why do we try and tell people to grieve like us? I can’t get over my grief, the gaping hole that was left in me when my mom died. I can’t get over it, but I can move forward with it. And I am. I feel I am honouring my beautiful mother by letting myself feel it all, give it space, deal with it and heal along the way.
I’ve come to realize that sometimes I don’t give my children space to feel all the things. Sometimes I don’t acknowledge their feelings as much as I should. I think as parents we all do it. We forget that our kids have big emotions and need help to process them. I had a session with my therapist (official title is a Child Life Specialist, but I unofficially declare her title as Healer.). Before this session, one of my kids was having big emotions because his sister was invited to go to a friend’s house, but he was not. I tried to console him. He wasn’t having it. I eventually tried to tell him he should be happy for his sister because she hasn’t had the opportunity to go to this friend’s house often. I was half tempted to arrange to have a playdate for him just so he wasn’t so sad and disappointed. I mentioned this incident to my therapist and she gave me some insights that really got me thinking. She said things like:
“It’s okay to let kids grieve the loss of not getting the toy or experience. As parents, it’s usually our first instinct to rescue our kids or logic/guilt them out of it.”
I had never considered that I was not letting my kids grieve over these (little to me) things. It’s big to them, and I should give them the space they need to feel those big emotions. No amount of reasoning, guilting or (gulp) even shaming them will change the fact that they need to process it. My therapist gave me prompts that I could use instead of what I was defaulting to. Prompts that would aid me in connecting with my children. I could approach conversations with my kids in a more validating and questioning way. For example:
“That is hard (or disappointing, sad etc.).”
“I wonder how you’ll manage that?”
“I wonder what would happen if…”
“I wonder why…”
Coming alongside our children helps them navigate the feelings of disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness, all the way to the feelings associated with deep tragedy. Sometimes I project my own values, experiences, or desired end goals onto my kids. It can become too convenient to just tell my kids how they should feel, respond and behave. Sometimes I lean towards more of a dictatorship when it comes to parenting. When that happens, we all lose out on the questioning and learning process. My kids lose out in coming to their own conclusions. They lose out on learning that they are capable problem solvers.
I was raised in a time where you were sent to your room when if you cried, pitched a fit, questioned authority and the list goes on. I’m sure most of us were. As a result, I learned to bottle my feelings up and didn’t really know how to effectively let them out. I’ve had to learn that as an adult. It’s hard to break those deep-rooted habits and tendencies. I am working on recognizing that my thoughts and feelings are not wrong and neither are other peoples’. It’s okay to cry, feel it all and question things.
In 2019, one our of favourite families had invited us to celebrate the baptism of their daughter. We were all gussied up and ready to go. Miraculously, we even arrived early. The church parking lot was empty when we arrived and I was baffled. As it turned out, we were extremely early-a whole week early! Lachlan, 3 at the time, was so disappointed. He cried and cried and couldn’t understand why we didn’t get to go to the baptism. I love that he was disappointed because it showed that he cared about that family and the baptism. Now, I don’t remember the outcome of his big emotions, but I just remember thinking he was too stinking cute with his broken heart and bowtie. I just had to take a photo. I hope I gave him the space he needed to grieve that disappointment.
I have another favourite family who is going through some unimaginable trials right now. Someone gifted them the book, “When Sadness Is At Your Door” by Eva Eland and they showed it to me. This book is beautiful and profound. It taught me some powerful insights in such a simple way. The illustrations are beautiful, too. I immediately bought a copy. If you are looking to add to your library, you won’t regret it.
There’s not a lot of text, so I’d like to share it with you. (The illustrations add SO much, but I know if I wait to take photos of the book, this post may never be published. Haha!)
“Sometimes Sadness arrives unexpectedly.
It follows you around…
…and sits so close to you, you can hardly breathe.
You can try to hide it,
But it feels like you’ve become Sadness yourself.
Try not to be afraid of Sadness. Give it a name.
Listen to it. Ask where it comes from and what it needs. If you don’t understand each other, just sit still together and be quiet for a while.
Find something that you both enjoy, like drawing…
Listening to music or drinking hot chocolate.
Maybe Sadness doesn’t like to stay inside. Try letting it out sometimes.
Go for a walk through the trees. You can listen to their sounds together.
Maybe all it wants to know is that it is welcome.
And to sleep, knowing it is not alone.
When you wake up, it might be gone.
Don’t worry-today is a new day.”
Did this book make you feel things? It gets me good every time. And it never gets old. (But this pandemic is getting old. And so am I. I have an abundance of silver hairs to prove it. And I refuse to dye my hair at this point. I feel like I’ve earned every silver strand and I am proud of it.)
I made this post on social media in January 2021 and feel that this further illustrates the power of “I wonder”:
“Recently, I was saying a family prayer and I asked for our hearts to become softer. And as I said that, the word ‘gentle’ came to mind. So, I prayed for that, too. Instantly, I pictured baby Max, my nephew who was born last year. (He is perfection and we are all obsessed. Instead of playing, my kids would rather take turns holding and reading to him. It’s the sweetest.)
As I pictured baby Max, I also pictured my kids holding him, loving on him and being so sweet, soft and gentle. And I had some questions come to mind. After the prayer, I asked my kids, “Would any of us raise our voice at Max? Would we ever be physically rough with him? Would we try to hurt him with our words or actions?” The answer was unanimous. NO!!! We wouldn’t. We couldn’t imagine being like that to him or any other baby!!!
My next question was, “I wonder what would happen if we were as gentle with each other as we are with Max?” It really made us all think about it. My mind didn’t stop there and another question came to me. “I wonder what would happen if we were more gentle with ourselves?”
Last year was the first time I felt impressed with a “word”. It was reset. And it was exactly what I needed. And for this year, I can’t even tell you how much I needed this specific divine guidance to have gentle as my word. It’s like God knows exactly what Jacquie Fleming needs. Weird how that works. I know being gentler will make a huge difference, especially coming from the year we just said goodbye to. I’m a lot of things, but I don’t think gentle is one of them. Here we goooooo!!!
P.S. Do you have words or themes for the year? If so, I’d love to hear yours.”
I have a lot of gratitude in my heart for all the nuggets I’ve been learning along the way. And I hope my life will continue to be filled with all kinds of wonder and expansion. I’m grateful for the ability to learn and grow and change. I am especially grateful for those people who I learn from and grow with. Sometimes I’m a bit of a slow learner, and I keep making the same mistakes repeatedly. I get frustrated with myself and I’m so grateful for a family that forgives me repeatedly. I’m grateful I’m getting better at forgiving and being gentler with myself and others. I’m grateful that I’m finally recognizing what I need and figuring out that I’m important too. I’m starting to take up all the space I need. I’m worth the investment. And so are you!!!! And I can’t leave off how eternally grateful I am for a God who gives me second, third, fourth, fifth and thousandth chances. He encourages us take all the space we need.