Lunch Atop a Skyscraper

I’ve started going to restorative yoga classes once a week. These classes are basically like naptime, but stretchier. Our teacher’s primary instruction is to “get as comfortable as you can in each pose,” and she teaches us how to use cushions, yoga blocks, blankets, and straps to do just that.

We were in the middle of a gentle twist last night when she said, “If your knee isn’t touching the ground, put a block under it. When your body is supported, it can relax.” She went on to explain that when your shoulder, arm, knee, or anything other body part is just hanging out there, your muscles tighten in order to hold it in place. Sometimes that’s a good thing, like when you’re trying to build muscle. But when you’re trying to just chill out, well, not so much.

So there I was, laying on my mat on the floor of my local community center, my limbs resting on a variety of cushions, when I thought about the truth of what my teacher had said.

“When your body is supported, it can relax.”

One could say the same about almost anything, including parenthood. When parents are supported, they can relax.

When we know that someone has our back, we don’t feel quite as stressed. Whether it’s a pediatrician’s office with good urgent care hours, a school system that is responsive to our child’s individual needs, a babysitter or grandparent who can take the kids on teacher development days, or a friend who cracks up at our latest insane parenting story rather than judging it, the right kind of support makes parenting easier, more manageable, and a lot more fun.

I think about the issue of parental support often in my work with my clients. So many of them come to me feeling as though they’re failing at parenting because they can’t do it all on their own. They’re stressed out, maxed out, overwhelmed, and ashamed that they aren’t living up to their own unrealistic expectations. Sometimes it’s because the grind of daily life with young children has worn them down, and sometimes it’s because they’re dealing with truly challenging parenting situations, but in almost every case, they don’t have enough support.

They’re trying to do it alone, or with very little of the right kind of support. When things fall apart, they assume it’s their fault.

It’s not their fault, of course. Just like my body couldn’t relax without a cushion to rest on, parents can’t relax without the right safety nets. And when we can’t relax, we’re more likely to lose our keys or our tempers, and then stay up all night stressing about everything we did wrong or didn’t get done at all.

I was thinking about this phenomenon when I bought the poster that hangs on the wall of my office. It’s called “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper,” and it’s a well-known photograph of 11 Depression-era ironworkers eating their lunches while sitting on a giant beam that appears to be suspended high above New York City.

This is, of course, insane. NOBODY DOES THAT. These gritty looking guys didn’t even do that; the photographed was staged, and a finished floor was just a few feet below, ready to catch them if they happened to topple over while reaching for a ketchup sandwich (yes, that was a thing back then).

And yet somehow we parents have come to believe in the myth of the skyscraper lunch. We actually think that there are folks out there who are calmly and happily parenting their way through life without any meaningful support. We have forgotten that we weren’t meant to raise our children alone any more than construction workers were meant to eat lunch while dangling out in the middle of the sky. Instead we forge on day after day, barely juggling drop-offs and practices and meetings and meals and then when the shit hits the fan (as it will, because we’re parenting in reality, not in the middle of a staged photograph) we wonder what’s wrong with us and why we can’t handle it.

Repeat after me, people: YOU CANNOT DO THIS ALONE. NO ONE CAN.

Now that we’ve gotten that clear, let’s talk about your options. You can either get, and utilize, and the support you need*, or, if that’s not possible for some reason, you can cut yourself a break. A big, fat, endless break. You’re not failing and you’re not a bad parent. You’re doing the best you can with what you have, and if what you have isn’t enough, then you’re not going to be at your best, and that’s ok. It really is.

Oh, and if you have the opportunity to get to a restorative yoga class, you should do that too. It’s totally awesome. Like I said, naptime, but stretchier.

*More on this in a future post.

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