This is the second in the Contented Feature Family series and I am really excited to introduce you to a personal inspiration of mine; Esther Nagle, author of Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga.
Being a Contented Parent is not about being the perfect parent, it is about being the best that we can be and acknowledging that the only way to really achieve this is through self-care.
We cannot look after other people without looking after ourselves first.
Every family is different though and so what provides us with contentment will differ also. This feature series aims to inspire others by showing that even when life is challenging; you just have to choose to smile.
Here is Esther’s story of alcohol, referendum’s and Yoga.
Please tell us about your family
Marcus is my 6-year-old, he lives with me and spends about two nights a week with his father. Liam is 19 and is in university, in UCL in London, studying physics. He was in the top 10% of his year at the end of his first year! Josh is 25, he is travelling around Europe. My parents live a few miles away in Tonypandy, my brother Tim lives in Cardiff with his wife and two children, Lily-Grace and Tobias, and my baby brother Joe lives in Shipton Moyne with his husband Michael.
What is the biggest challenge your family face?
Most of my challenges come from financial worries. I am a self-employed single mother, money is tight! I often have to explain to Marcus that we can’t afford something that he wants. While I do find the financial constraints on our life really difficult, and I do worry terribly sometimes, I think this is good for him to learn. He knows that he can’t expect to have things all the time, and he knows that he doesn’t need them. Liam grew up being told the same things, and he now is very good at managing his money, and would rather spend his money on having experiences, creating memories than buying things.
Can you tell us about a time when you struggled to stay positive?
Right now! The referendum result, and the instability we are now facing, and the repercussions that will carry on for an unknown time, the fears of the future I now find hard to push from my mind. I am really struggling with what is happening, I look at Marcus and my heart breaks for him, his future now seems so precarious. I have been very conscious of the irony of my writing and talking about resilience while feeling so utterly lost and terrified, but then I realised actually how resilient I am. A couple of years ago I would have spent a LOT of the last few days drinking, smoking, crying, not being present with Marcus and generally being a mess. I wrote this blog post when I realised, as a way to share my fears and celebrate the resilience I had just realised I possessed! I haven’t at any time contemplated drinking or smoking, I have cried only a little, and Marcus and I have had a wonderful time together – if anything it has made me more focused on him than I might otherwise have been.
Has there been a turning point or change in your perspective?
I had a breakdown in 2013 and began a course of Yoga teacher training. It changed my life in so many ways. I realised that Yoga is not an exercise class, but a way of life that can guide us through life. The Yamas and Niyamas, the first of the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’, teach us how to live a good life in harmony with the world. The last of the Niyamas is Ishwara Pranidhana. This means to surrender to the Divine. While I am not religious, I understand this to mean that we need to accept that we are not in control of the things that happen to us, we are only in control of our response. We must do the best we can in any situation, and let the outcome unfold as it will. So, I cannot change what is happening in the world, I cannot force the world to give my son a happy future. What I can do is give him the best childhood I can, make sure that he has the inner resources he needs to the best of my ability, make sure he knows he is well loved and completely supported, and teach him the values. I think are important. Learning correct breathing has transformed my life and my response to any stressful situation.
Taking a deep breath (or several deep breaths if necessary!) calms the nervous system and can change the way we react to any situation. When I find myself becoming agitated and stressed at all, I take a few deep breath and become calmer. It might not stop the situation upsetting me, but it does make it easier to cope with it.
What are your coping strategies?
Yoga forms the heart of all my coping strategies. I have a vast toolbox I can turn to when I need to release stress, and I use them all. I am also a big advocate of the benefits of walking, particularly in nature, as a stress reliever. I discovered walking for pleasure and therapy after the death of my brother in 2005. Walking became my grief therapy, I would go onto the hills and cry, talk to him, shout at God, or just enjoy the views, the burn in my muscles, the greenery. My love of walking has taken me to Peru where I did the Inca trail, I have done the West Highland Way in Scotland and last year I embarked on the 55 mile Taff trail, alone, over 3 days! I love walking and exploring and am glad that Marcus is starting to enjoy it too.
What would you like your child/children to know about happiness?
The older two already seem to have grasped this, so I want to make sure that Marcus knows that happiness is not something he can buy, it is something he carries around in him. I want to help him grow up with enough resilience that whatever the future might bring, he will be ok, he will be able to be strong in himself regardless of what the outside world might throw at him. I think that the most important lesson we as parents can give our children now is resilience. I think it is being watered out of them by society. They aren’t allowed to hurt themselves, aren’t allowed to think that they have failed, they are given vacuous role models that teach them nothing about being a good person, they are told they must have things, things things. We are facing a very uncertain future,our children need to learn how to deal with disappointment, with failure, with things not working out the way they hoped and so on, they need to learn to take all that and get up and keep living with joy and strength.
What does a contented family mean to you?
Enjoying each other’s company, still loving each other even when you might not be enjoying each other’s company, knowing that being angry doesn’t mean you have stopped loving, laughing together, crying together, supporting each other through the hard times, being able to turn to the family for help without fear of judgement, being able to talk about anything and everything, respecting each other, celebrating differences, enjoying the simple things in life together.
Please could you share one of your happiest family memories with us?
We do good weddings in our family! My youngest brother got married in 2014, it was a truly joyous occasion for us all. For me, it was the moment I realised that I had beaten my addiction to alcohol, and was able to enjoy being with my family and have lots of fun sober. While there were lots of people at the wedding that I didn’t know, of course, it felt like a really beautiful moment of togetherness for us as a family, with everyone happy, celebrating my baby brothers joy and love.
What have I learnt from Esther?
As Esther’s editor on her debut book, I feel honoured that I have had the opportunity to understand Esther’s story in great detail and it is truly an inspirational one. I am not an addict (unless you count sugar) but her story isn’t just about alcohol. It is a story of resilience and that is something that we could all do with more of.
What I found most interesting is that unlike others who have shared a similar relationship with alcohol, Esther no longer identifies herself as an alcoholic. She doesn’t drink anymore but she doesn’t because she chooses a better life, not because she is told she shouldn’t
It’s not an easy path to follow but Yoga gives her the strength to be the best that she can be, for herself and for her children. Esther has taught me that anything is possible if you look within. How we view the world really defines how we live in it.
Thank you Esther.
Contented Family Support
If you and your family are struggling to find contented moments get in touch to find out about the remote one-to-one Parent well-being program I provide where you will learn practical, personalised tools to enable you to find calm and happiness in the madness of parenting. I even have a special summer holiday program for those feeling especially anxious about the upcoming school break.