Often while listening to the radio, I hear interviews that offer nuggets that stick with me. One Saturday morning last July, I was listening to the Not My Job segment of the NPR quiz show Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. That particular day, the interviewee was Norman Lear, writer, producer and really, the crafter of the sitcom who was just shy of his 94th birthday. Growing up in Canada, we had access to all the American sitcoms and I loved watching One Day at a Time, All in the Family and the Jeffersons, so I was enjoying listening to his musings on his lengthy life and career. Mid-way through the interview, he was asked if he had any tips for getting to 94 as spry and as successful and happy as he is. His response is something that almost a year on still comes to mind every now and then. “[It} may be as simple as any two words in the English language – over and next. And we don’t pay enough attention to them. When something is over, it is over … and we are on to next. And if there was to be a hammock in the middle … between over and next, that would be what is meant by living in the moment.”As a parent educator this hit home! At the Parent Practice we often find ourselves telling our clients that it isn’t particularly useful to linger on the ‘bad’ things our children have done. We stew about slammed doors, muddy shoes in the hall, rolled eyes, toddler tantrums … and we find ourselves staying angry or resentful about things that have already happened. Those of you who have ever asked a teenager to un-slam a door – well, you know how that goes!Over and Next serve as a reminder that what happened, happened … it is now over and done with. It’s now, as Norman Lear says, ‘hammock time’, that split second between your child’s emotional outburst and your response – the magical moment that enables you to connect with your child without anger, judgement or blame. It is the time to be present — take a deep restorative breath and remember that what happened is now over – and you get to choose how you handle what comes next. When we can get into the habit of responding this way, we no longer have to lose it with our kids! We can now pause, and purposefully influence a more positive interaction. Next is all about supporting your child in a constructive and positive way to learn a more appropriate behavior; to make amends, if necessary; or simply to solve whatever problem they are facing that day. This way, your child can start to think about what he or she can do the next time they are feeling that same heightened emotion, so that they are empowered to deal with it in a more effective and positive way.‘Hammock time’ is time to build a deeper connection with your child. It is about practicing living in the space between over and next – the space where you can listen, encourage and love without being limited by the past – but rather guided by a more positive future.
Ann Magalhaes is a parent educator based in Rye, NY. She leads classes and workshops using the London-based The Parent Practice positive parenting methodologies. Her teenage daughter hasn’t slammed a door since 2008.