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Parents' Time Out - The Absent (Minded) Parent

By Sally Collings - 9th August 2010

My mate Karen has a picture in her mind. She sees herself sitting on her best friend's back verandah, surrounded by good friends, drinking wine, listening to music, and talking the night away. Karen gets her energy from being with other people; she loves companionship and conversation, but with three kids under the age of six, she doesn't often get to just hang with her mates. 'I haven't done that for – ooh, must be five years, not since just after our first girl was born,' she tells me with more than a dash of regret and yearning. Her idea of a good time is being in that place, so when her day gets stressful, that's her escape fantasy. She may not be sitting on that verandah in real life, but that’s where her mind takes her.

Where do you go when things get tough in your day? Maybe you have a vision of a deserted beach, or a luxury spa resort. I occasionally wallow in a mental picture of me on a long-haul flight with a good book (no kids in tow, needless to say): on an aeroplane, no one can get to you, and all there is to do is read, sleep and eat. Even the thought of airline food can't ruin that fantasy for me.

It's good to have dreams and visions, but sometimes we need to fix on being right here, right now. As parents, our minds are always on the go: planning the next activities of the day, re-running yesterday's events, or thinking ahead to school holiday plans. 'Now' can get short shrift; and as a result, our children and partners may feel that we are not really with them. You don’t have to live in another house or city to be an absent parent – if your body is home but your mind is far away, your family may want you to come back to them. It’s a matter of balance: creative visualisation is a fabulous way to relax our tense minds and gain stress relief, but it’s possible to spend too much time in the vision and not enough in the reality of our lives.

Have you seen the latest Shrek movie? That cranky yet oddly charming ogre Shrek gives in completely to the popular parenting fantasy: how good it would be to return to life BC (before children), before reflux, repetition and responsibility ruled our days. In Shrek’s case, he yearns for the carefree days of basking in the mud and terrifying the nearby villagers. Maybe that’s your fantasy too – hey, it’s a personal thing. Shrek does a deal with Rumpelstiltskin to turn back the clock for one day; of course, as these things always go, the deal is skewed and his past is not at all as he remembered it.

It’s a great allegory about gratitude, the grace of ordinary things, and being truly present; as Shrek says, ‘I didn’t know what I had until it was gone.’

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