Opinion piece by Susan Delacourt

Opinion piece by Susan Delacourt

Mental health: Using our precious time wisely

I was talking with a client recently, about the changes that accompany the birth of a couple’s first child. I recognized that he, like so many of us, would try to maintain all of what he was doing “before baby,” as well as adding the demands of being a good father. I could sense the huge responsibility he felt.

The general expectation in our culture seems to demand that one have a good job to which he or she is highly dedicated, to make a good income, and also be putting away money for the future. Of course, by the time we are in our thirty’s there should be the nice home and vehicles as well.

Current thinking now is often that our relationship is not to be taken for granted, so we must have quality time with each other. It is also never too early to be looking at activities for the little one. You can start them in swimming lessons as soon as they are born, you know. Just writing this makes me feel stressed, never mind living it! Is it any wonder that children and adults are more stressed than ever before?

As my client and I were discussing these very things, I said, “Well, there’s not an unlimited supply of life, you know.” His eyes widened as he allowed the impact of these words to sink in. We each have one life here. We do not know how long it will be. He then told me that he had an image of a container full of little stones. Each day of life, you take one stone out of the container. You cannot ever put it back. You do not know how many stones are in there. If you only had $1000 to your name, each dollar would have greater value to you than if you had millions. How would you live your life differently, if at twenty, you knew you only had twenty years more, instead of seventy? Why do we race through life, knowing what is at the finish line?

Last month students went back to school. This is a time when many families have signed up for activities. What seems to happen is that these activities take priority, and then life gets squeezed in around them. It might be a thought to first block out some regular time each week for relaxing and just being with each other: some time for hanging out and letting things evolve spontaneously. Some of my most special conversations with my children came when we were just sitting together, doing nothing.

My son, the oldest, never talks about the hockey practices, piano lessons or the other classes I so carefully planned. What he does remember are things like the time we sat on the deck talking until midnight on the longest day of the year. He remembers our silly times, and the occasions that we laughed so hard that our stomachs ached. He also remembers that whenever anyone was sad, they would become immediate recipients of the “group hug.” These are the things that stand out in his mind, forming a heartfelt blueprint for what he has now created with his own family. This makes me prouder than any trophies or certificates he received.

Yes, there is a place for lessons, skill development and accomplishments. However, that place should never be ahead of the loving connections that come from a life lived consciously. We must maintain a degree of reverence around those with whom we are sharing the miracle of life. After all, we do not know how many stones are left in their containers either.

Gwen Randall-Young is an Alberta author and award-winning psychologist.