Spring has sprung and the blossom is out. It seems to be lasting longer this year and I have been appreciating it every single day on my walk to and from school.
Since the eighth century, Japanese people have celebrated the beauty and symbolic nature of the cherry blossom.
In Japan the appearance of the blossom, lasting only 2 weeks, marks the beginning of Spring, hope for the future, and serves as a reminder of the impermanence or our existence.
It’s also a time to celebrate, and have picnics under the flowers.
For a long time I’ve wanted to visit Japan to see the blossom, to participate in the celebration and the opportunity to reflect on what it has to teach us about our existence.
Since becoming a parent I have come to believe that the blossom also has something to say about the trials and tribulations of parenting.
Childhood is fleetingly short, blink twice ands it’s gone….
I know this and yet this doesn’t always translate into action. I know that one day I’ll go to sleep and my children will be grown. I’ll blink and they’ll be gone, children no longer.
Children are children for 18 years depending upon how you define childhood. This means that we get only 18 summer holidays, 18 birthdays, 18 Mother’s days, 18 Christmas’s.
And that is assuming that older teenagers participate in these events in the same way. I don’t know this yet because my children are still very young.
Even so, by my optimistic measure I’ve already had over one third of these events with my eldest child, and I’ll never get to experience them again.
We know this as parents. We sense deep sadness when we recognise time has passed and perhaps we weren’t really there to witness it, to fully participate in it.
We often recognise too late that a last experience has taken place. That moment we realise we are no longer needed to walk our child to school and say good bye at the gate, when we have breastfed or rocked our child to sleep for that one last time, when they no longer need us to put on their shoes, or fasten their coat.
Just like the blossom, which blooms and then disappears in a gust of wind or an overnight storm, the fleetingness of childhood arguable makes it all the more beautiful and precious.
The blossom is an annual reminder to us to pay attention, because all too soon it’ll be gone.
This is it’s message and it’s gift to us.
It’s also a reminder that another year has passed, that our children are another year older, an inch taller, requiring new shoes and longer trousers. That they are so much more capable, as they continue on their journeys to independence.
How can we translate this appreciation for the blossom into our everyday lives, to our children and the short time we have them?
When our lives are so full, we feel there is no time to pause and smell the blossom.
When we get caught up in day to day routine, when the day feels like a sprint towards bedtime, we forget to take a moment to appreciate the small things, the micro moments that make up our lives with our children.
Here’s some lessons I’ve taken from the blossom trees.
1. Appreciate the moment whilst it’s in bloom.
One way of appreciating the micro moments, is being fully present for them as we live them.
If you make a habit of drinking your morning coffee whilst reading this article, checking facebook, and doing an online shop, with the radio on. You will feel not only overwhelmed, but also unfulfilled and disconnected from your life, and your children.
So next time you drink your coffee, I invite you to just drink your coffee, experience it fully with all your senses. Be fully there when you smell the coffee, and lift the heavy mug. Appreciate your hand and arm for it’s ability to accomplish such a task. Appreciate the coffee for its ability to warm and comfort your body, and mind.
Do this once in a while with everything you do, a walk in the woods, a morning shower, chopping vegetables, or rocking your baby to sleep.
Parenting can be tough and despite the years being short the days are indeed long. It helps to have these mindful moments in our lives to nourish and sustain us for the journey.
2. Appreciate your child for who they are now.
It’s so hard to see our children as their whole selves, life demands so much of us and sometimes our children can feel like another job that requires our attention.
Maybe like a person who isn’t able to appreciate the blossom and only sees the mess of flowers they’ll need to clear up once it’s fallen.
And in the same way that it isn’t possible to stand under the blossom tree appreciating it’s flowers all day, it isn’t possible to do this with our children either.
What is possible though is the building in of deliberate moments or rituals that you share with your children. During these rituals or moments bring your whole self and appreciate their whole self. See the baby or the toddler in the shared moment you have with your child, see the child who loves to swing on the swings or collect superhero figures. See the them in you and the you in them.
3. Allow your child to guide you.
The blossom marks the beginning of Spring and so it brings a sense of new life, and a future full of possibilities.
Children too are bursting with possibilities. They aren’t yet preoccupied with stories of past and future, they see the playful possibility in every moment.
And they have a way of being able to extract every moment out of life, being fully present and engaged in what they are doing.
In this way children are great teachers. If we let them they can ground us in the present moment, in the miracle of whatever it is that has captured their attention (it’s usually at the most inconvenient of times to us).
But if you allow them, if you can take a micro moment, they can help you to tune into this moment and experience a minute of so of shared attention.
4. Learn to accept and adapt to change and loss.
Parenting is a game of acceptance and flexibility. It’s hard to accept that your child no longer needs you to do something for you. Or that a strategy that never failed you no longer works. Or that it is time to let go and allow your child to pursue their own thoughts and wishes.
There is an illusion of control, in many ways we have ultimate control and responsibility for a small impulsive, not yet fully developed being. And yet we have very little control, and of this they remind us every day as they assert their independence and their own personhood.
Just like the tree knowing when it is time to let go of the blossom and begin a new phase, we need to be mindful and sensitive to when old ways no longer serve us or our children. When to let go or be dragged.
5. Connect to gratitude.
In those two weeks of Spring the Japanese really do know how to celebrate and express gratitude for the cherry blossom.
I guess it’s easier to remain grateful for a short period of time during a time of festivities.
But how can we stay close to the sense of gratitude we feel for our children over the course of their childhoods?
And how can we do this when life gets tough and there doesn’t appear much to be grateful for?
Some say that connecting to a sense of gratitude in tough times is even more important than when all is going well. That we have the most to gain by finding gratitude when all seems hopeless.
During times of trouble gratitude can provide a slightly different perspective on our whole lives. It can help us to zoom out slightly and move our attention around.
Finding micro moments for which you can feel thankful, a warm drink, a friendly gesture, a soft blanket, a pet, the fresh air, a tune on the radio, can be helpful.
Parenting is tough, and the blossom can teach us much.
Parenting is hard and it’s true what they say, the days are long, and we wait for the evening when are children are safe in bed. But the years are short, and we find ourselves celebrating another birthday wondering where the little child has gone.
When you get ground down and caught up in these marathon days it’s easy to lose sight of the fleeting nature of childhood and life generally. And that is why the blossom will bloom again next year to remind us all, to pause and appreciate those micro moments.
I am Dr Rachel, I’m a mum of two, a clinical psychologist and a massive believer in the psychological benefits of a good vegan cake.
I struggled as a mum in the early days and because of this I now help fellow mums who are struggling to be the parents they hoped they’d be.
I help them to shout less, have more patience and enjoy their children more without using threats, bribes or punishments.
I do this through my free facebook group and my Peaceful Parenting Program (The Path of the Peaceful Parent).
If you are a mum wanting to parent in a peaceful, mindful way you'd be very welcome to join my free community of supportive like minded mums here:
My website: drracheldunn.co.uk