No walk in the park
Published 21 June 2019
Last weekend, I took my son to New Farm Park to visit the playground. If you haven’t been there, picture a massive expanse of playground equipment carefully blended into a labyrinth of trees. It’s a child’s paradise. My partner and son wandered off to play a round of hide and seek in the tree trunks, leaving me to sit and watch the playground in action
I caught sight of a mother holding her son upside down, being silly and heading towards a spinning UFO with giant cups in it for children to sit in. I thought how great she was, getting into the fun with her boy. She placed her son into the UFO and around he spun, her face lighting up watching his joy. I continued to watch her and after a few minutes she began to disengage, fidgeting with her bag, looking around, while her son continued to be transfixed by going around and around in the UFO.
“Are you ready to get out?” she asked him after five minutes. “No” he said. I giggled to myself. As he continued to spin around, his mum looked more disengaged and ready to move on, her mind elsewhere, the world starting to creep in.
Parenting is, in my experience, a very tough gig. It is the ultimate mindfulness activity. Staying focused on the present moment with your children takes discipline, practice and a reasonable level of calm in your life generally. I considered how I struggle to stay focused and present with my children during the everyday, juggling their needs with work and elderly parents and all the many things that I am juggling at any one time. I thought about the families that we assist at 3rd Space and how difficult it must be for parents and carers struggling with big issues to stay mindful and present with their children.
I don’t talk about our families program very often; possibly because the work we do with families can be very sensitive and quite challenging. The program isn’t about homelessness but rather, about supporting and strengthening families in vulnerable situations.
Our families are single fathers who have found themselves sole parents, without much background and history of parenting. They are women who have fled countries of violence with their children, trying to establish themselves here and deal with the aftermath of atrocities committed against them. They are middle-class ordinary people who have children with challenging developmental and health-related issues and who are struggling to keep it all together. They are people who are isolated and have very little support from their wider family and friends, working out the parenting gig as they go and trying not to put a foot wrong. They are couples who grew up in households of abuse and neglect and are resolute not to repeat the cycle with their own children.
We become the support network for the families we connect with, connecting them to the multiple organisations and people who can help them support their own health and wellbeing. The work is intense and it takes time. We work alongside them for a long time, sometimes years. It is incredibly rewarding seeing how love and commitment to their children helps parents take steps they didn’t think they could take, and sometimes falter, take stock and then take a few more.
Thinking back to the lady in New Farm park, who struggled (as I would have) to keep her attention on her spinning son, I hope she has close friends and family to support her, a way to care for her own wellbeing and a little bit of time out. All the grandmothers of the world say to us “enjoy them, because in an instant they are grown”. Sometimes that takes a bit of practice and a helping hand.
3rd Space CEO