Guest Blog by Sophie Young; Artist, Writer & Mother of two
Two winters ago, a fortuitous moment crossed my path whilst reading online. I saw a post for family camp called Grow the Grown Ups. Something enticed me and curiously I opened the link. Avidly reading through, the six days outlined and all they encompassed sounded incredible and I presumed it must be in the States. My experience until then finding face-to-face resources akin to how I parented had been quite narrow and, for years, I felt I had trodden a somewhat lonely road in choosing to parent in a more conscious and connected way. I was therefore almost in disbelief and completely overjoyed to learn that it was actually being held in the UK in late spring and, just in these few small paragraphs, I knew instantly the camp was for us.
So, for the last week in May that summer, my family and I, spent a rich, magical and hugely emotional six days learning how to grow more connected ~ to ourselves, to each other and to the incredible environment of both people and land, around us. Tears were shed, hearts were met, as my husband and I, with the kids embraced in the playful arms of the support team, were lead by the wise words, care and love of Joanna Watters. Eighteen families spent the week learning how to deeply listen to our own essential being as well as hold the listening space to allow others to listen to theirs. The safe, secure and non-judgemental space that Joanna held with her warmth and wisdom, enabled us, as individuals and collectively, to release the frustrations we meet daily as parents. We gave ourselves permission to scream and wail, tense and rage, to fall apart and, in doing so, establish a firmer, more solid ground beneath our feet. Through Listening Partnerships with each other, we learned how to really hear our own internal voices that tend to get stuck on repeat each day as we care for our children. And, with gentle hands, we were guided into courageously facing our own childhood pain and sadness of longing for recognition and acknowledgment and found nuggets of gold as we delved deep into our beings.
For the first time, the isolation I had experienced in parenting the way I had chosen, began to melt. For the first time, I began to hear others speak my thoughts. I heard and witnessed others express and totally connect to their frustrations and this privilege and resonance enabled me to truly feel I’m not alone in my conscious direction as a parent. We all share the same fears, perpetual worry and angst but sadly we seem to squash these down and never really give them the full space to be acknowledged. Grow the Grown-Ups has taught me how significantly this belly of anxiety deserves to be heard and released. Just as we wish and want for our kids to be fully recognised, loved and cared for, our ‘stuff’ ~ whether it’s anger that the kids won’t eat their supper or fretting that they don’t have any friends ~ calls to be listened to. To parent as well as we authentically can, we must learn to welcome, say yes to and love the part of ourselves that we so often try to quietly ignore and push away.
The greatest insight that was awakened within me within my short time at Embercombe, was my own self-neglect. I’ve known for a long while how my own needs have largely been un-met, particularly since our son was born. I have often blamed this on sleep-deprivation, lack of support, financial stresses or poor health, but the more I listened to myself throughout the week, the more I was able to remove the blame of circumstance, take responsibility and put myself in charge of the picture. Like many parents, time after time, I have chosen to put the needs of my children and husband first and, without realising, I had stepped into the cultural norm that historically has deemed mothers to be self-less. Regrettably, and unbeknown fully to myself, I had strived to do this this faultlessly; I had been playing out the role of the ‘perfect mother’ who sets her own needs aside to provide as best she possibly can for her family. And in having the space to really see and re-frame this, through a wide-angle lens, returning home, I feel greatly strengthened to put myself back in the centre.
Joanna invited all of us on the last day of working together to make a realistic pledge to ourselves before saying our goodbyes. I learned so much within the time how to better listen to my children, how to deeply cherish their hearts and of the power and significance of doing both. And there was enough weight and ground to these to choose this to be my pledge. But I realised now is the time to make a to pledge to myself; to listen more sensitively to myself and my needs than I ever have done before, to truly hold my own heart with love, wonder and joy and, most importantly, with grace. I had lost my ability to properly feed myself ~ my soul and spirit ~ because, for much of my lifetime, I have been intently trying to feed those around. My switch to take care of others before myself had long been turned on and I had been living in this mode, knowing its uncomfortable-ness and cause for exhaustion but not quite knowing where the key is to re-jig the motor. Grow the Grown-Ups has enabled me to re-discover my key, my missing jigsaw puzzle piece. It has enabled me to start re-claiming ‘me’, without guilt or shame but with instead tenderness, deep kindness, forgiveness of what I have believed to be my failings and acceptance. And without this, without reclaiming the need of my needs to be honoured and met, without learning how to genuinely mother myself, I can’t go forward and honestly give my children what they whole-heartedly deserve. I need to ‘put my oxygen mask on first’ before theirs and finally I thoroughly understand the full value of this.
My journey is not yet over. Shedding the patterns of learned self-neglect that stem from my childhood takes time as I unpick through the layers and learn to fully love and accept myself in all my shapes and colours of being. But the tools I discovered through Joanna and her work during our time at Grow the Grown Ups, continue to help equip me in parenting in a more sustainable and fulfilling way. And my days spent exploring and excavating inwardly and beyond at Embercombe, ‘unplugged’ and suspended in time, will forever be in my heart; with the land filled with tears of healing, with the earth nourished and renewed daily with love and care, with the air that caresses softly and gently beckons, without stress, to let go, as the whispers of previous generations guide ourselves and our children forth to a brighter, more integrated world. Where past and future greet each other in the present and we become vessels for change and transformation, healing the wounds of our forebearers and nurturing new horizons for our children and their children to come. My gratitude will long be immense.