In July, I attended an international summer school for Adlerian training in Lithuania. What a remarkable experience. I meet Adlerians from 26 different countries and places as diverse as Malta, Bahamas, India, Iraq, Israel, Switzerland, Romania, Bulgaria and more. I had never been to Lithuania before, or to any other former Soviet state for that matter. So many things made an impression on me, but I would like to just mention a few that are related to parenting.
To begin, I was seated on the plane next to a Lithuanian mother travelling with an 11 month old and a 5 year old. I will admit, as much as I do love children, I thought it was going to be one long hellish trip. To my surprise, the children were amazingly well behaved. The 11 month old only fussed when he was hungry and wanted to nurse. The rest of the time he sat contented on his mother’s lap. Interestingly, the mother did not have the typical “emergency bag” of toys, games, story books, snacks, juice boxes. In fact, she didn’t “entertain” him at all. No peek-a-boo, no rattles shaken, no patty cake. They just sat together, smiled a lot and talked amongst themselves. They were relaxed and happy and you could feel their closeness. The 5 year old ate what everyone else on the plane ate. Every bite. No kiddie food was packed in case he didn’t like the meal served by the airline. It was amazingly civil, sweet and peaceful. If you sit with a North American family on a transatlantic flight, you probably wouldn’t use these adjectives to describe the experience.
Once in Lithuania, I stayed in a little resort town called Druskaninikai (try saying that 5 times fast – or just once correctly would be impressive too). Outside the conference centre where our classes were held, was a lovely park. Families strolled through the grounds, but the only entertainment or activity available was to rent bikes, peddle cars or tricycles. Slim pickin’s by our standards, but these kids were content to simply peddle around a water fountain that made an interesting spouting display every half hour.
It was remarkable. It was refreshing. It made me realize just how much we wind our children up! If that town was in North America, you can bet there would be animated characters, rides that go 100 miles an hour, and kiosks every few feet selling slurpy drinks and fried pogos. There would be loud music too, and it would all make for dizzying overstimulation.
Against the calm of Lithuania, I realized how fast I talk, how fast I walk, and how many things fight for my attention. Everything at home is loud, busy, fast and digital, but we don’t notice because its our culture and we’re embedded in it. In Lithuania, however, they are still recovering from oppressive Soviet rule. It’s like stepping back in time. The parents are not snapping pictures of their kids to post on Facebook, they don’t have their heads down texting as they walk, they are not talking on cell phones, or working on laptops. Frankly, its all too expensive still. Even corporations don’t have money for advertising. The fast food chains have not yet infiltrated this little country town. In Druskininkai, its just families hanging out and talking. You forget what that life looks like. I liked it! A lot. Civil, sweet and peaceful.
I wish I could say that I slowed down permanently. I haven’t. And I can already feel the siren call of technology luring me back. I can sense the frenetic pace of the city and feel I have to match my cadence – or else… Or else what? I remind myself.
So, thank you Lithuania. I came home a better parent. I am working to be calmer; to be more mindful and present in the moment; to turn off the background noise of life; to visit with my kids when they are around instead of filling a short void by checking my iphone. I am feeling way more relaxed. My teenagers are more relaxed, and I can only imagine how relaxing it would be for a 5 year old and an 11 month old. So relaxing that I bet they could feel content just sitting on a plane with their mom for hours. Ahhhh….