Parenting can be feel so high-pressure--like we're supposed to understand our children, their needs, and how to support them proactively and effectively. It can feel like we should be professionals, experts in parenting. But we're amateurs. We're beginners. We don't know what we're doing until we do it. Every stage/year/day/moment brings a new set of opportunities and challenges, and even when we're doing the same thing we've already stumbled our way through, we may not recognize that it's the same until we've done it (or maybe that's just me?)!
The thing is--and this is something I literally remind myself of every few days--connection heals everything.
Every mistake we make, every one of their signals that we miss, every snarky thing we say is just a fleeting thing compared to the power of true connection. We can't help making mistakes because we are human, our conditioning is imperfect.
Our kids, my kids & yours, don't need perfection. They don't need expert parents. They need to feel seen and loved and connected to us. If we use each of our mistakes as an opportunity to reconnect, to try again, and to learn, things will work out fine.
Sitting in my house, noticing the obvious physical messes--crumbs on the table, a sink full of dishes, piles of papers--I know that they are just the tip of the iceberg. There are emotional and mental messes, too, hidden under the surface. All that I've done wrong, the Christmas traditions I didn't start that I wish I had, the many times I lost my temper instead of being present with my family, the countless things we aren't that I'm kind of afraid we should be.
And still, sitting here, my candle and frankincense incense lit, noticing the chaos in my mind, heart, body, house, family, world, I recognize that this is a sacred moment. Moments aren't sacred because they're perfect, they're sacred because they are. Because we are here. Because although we can't undo the old mistakes or change what has led to this moment, we can be here. We can breathe. We can see. We can choose.
I am remembering to love this moment, to surrender to the 'good' and 'bad' parts of it. To love my imperfect self and family and home and holiday and world, sitting in this moment rather than wishing for a better one. I am looking at the mess and recognizing that it is part of the sacred reality that is my life, and that each bit of the mess is also part of the holy (whole-y) truth of my life.
Will you join me? Let's honor the sacred that is already here and live this moment as though it is the very most special moment we will ever have, mess and all.
I used to jump into the middle of issues with my kids, reacting impulsively before I even thought about how best to proceed!
For me, that might have looked like:
Over the years, practicing mindfulness and taking care of my emotions has changed me. The reactive habits are still with me, but they aren't as strong. I appreciate this shift, and at the same time it makes me realize how uncomfortable it is not to know what to do. Because I often don't know what to do.
I do know that it helps me to sit and feel my feelings, but it's still not easy for me to do it. I usually avoid them first. I get busy with work, run mostly errands, spend time on Facebook, eat, think about how I wish things were. Sometimes I even clean, go for a walk, or balance my checkbook.
Eventually I realize that I have to direct my attention inward and sit with my feelings. Because knowing how I feel isn't the same as feeling it! Once I turn inward, feeling the discomfort of not knowing, my irritation or worry about my child, or my helplessness about something going on in the world, then I start to create inner space. I notice how my body feels, to feel my emotions, to watch my thoughts. I breathe into the feelings, allowing them to be here.
Sometimes there's a dramatic shift--I relax or cry or soften. Other times it feels like nothing much happens. But doing this creates the space for my wisdom to show up.
When you really know your child (see yesterday's post Knowing Your Child) you'll see things that seem beautiful, wonderful, and inspiring, and other things that feel worrying or hard.
Some of what we see worries us because it won't make our child's path easy. The child who is noticeably different--physically, emotionally, or mentally--may be excluded, teased, or just ignored by 'normal' kids. A very sensitive child may come to us sad or angry about incidents that would roll right off their siblings. A child who doesn't read social cues easily may be uncomfortable at birthday parties or play dates.
Other things will make life hard for us. Kids who are emotionally volatile may fight every transition or chore, making it exhausting (for us!) to get things done. Those who are loud, impulsive, or unfocused may be hard to be around at home and out. Kids who are not very compliant or flexible may make for some really difficult parent-teacher conferences.
But no matter what our kids are like, they need to feel embraced, loved, and cherished exactly as they are. We all need this! As parents, when we reject or dislike certain aspects of qualities, our kids know. Sometimes parents say it directly, "I just wish you weren't so sensitive about everything," or "Wouldn't it be great if he was more like his sister?" Other times it's clear to children when we frown as they tell a story or look away when they miss a goal.
Instead, let's be interested and curious about them, suspending judgment. When we are mindful of the body, we name sensations in a neutral way (naming 'warm' or 'tingly' sensations rather than 'good' or 'bad'). What if we observed a child the same way, noticing that they have dirt on their hands rather than that they're 'a mess'? Or noticing that they are showing another child a bug rather than identifying them as 'acting strange.'
When we observe rather than judge, we enjoy a child more. We invite them to feel more comfortable and peaceful with themselves. They need to feel loved just as they are much more than they could ever need to be what we think they should be. So if you've been struggling with something about your child, consider looking from a new and more open perspective. Watch their interactions and choices with curiosity. Suspend judgments. See what happens!
‘When we look deeply at a flower, we can see that it is made entirely of non-flower elements, like sunshine, rain, soil, compost, air, and time. If we continue to look deeply, we will also notice that the flower is on her way to becoming compost. If we don’t notice this, we will be shocked when the flower begins to decompose. When we look deeply at the compost, we see that it is also on its way to becoming flowers, and we see that flowers and compost ‘inter-are.’ They need each other. A good organic gardener does not discriminate against compost, because he knows how to transform it into marigolds, roses, and many other kinds of flowers.
When we look deeply into ourselves,we see both flowers and garbage. Each of us has anger, hatred, depression, racial discrimination, and many other kinds of garbage in us, but there is no need for us to be afraid. In the way that a gardener knows how to transform compost into flowers, we can learn the art of transforming anger, depression, and racial discrimination into love and understanding. This is the work of meditation.’
-Thich Nhat Hanh, from Touching Peace
True connection and intimacy are essential for human beings. They develop when we slow down and listen deeply to each other.
This week's posts have clustered around the issue of dealing with our kids when they're emotional. Today, we're considering some 'don'ts' because that can help make all of the 'do's' clearer.
Don't teach, explain and help. Maybe you've heard or said things like these:
Don't hurry them:
Don't shut them out:
Children are beautiful, right?! They are perfect exactly as they are. Until they make us uncomfortable. Until we are in a restaurant with a child with special needs who is making noises that make us feel awkward. Or until there's a 'bad kid' in our child's class, a kid who is angry, who fights, or who is oppositional with the teacher. Or until our child makes friends with a whiner, then it's not so great! Or until we hear about a child who is having sex and doing drugs in middle school. Or until our own child does one of these things, one of these things that makes us feel deeply awkward and uncomfortable.
Beautiful ideals of childhood are harder to sustain in these challenging circumstances. A part of what makes children so special is that they are not fully indoctrinated into our world. They say beautiful and surprising things because they still see the world through clear eyes. For some children, probably for all children some of the time, we experience this as beauty, as connection to the Divine.
But for some children, maybe for all children some of the time, we experience this as scary, bad, and wrong. There are times that young people respond to the world in ways we think they 'shouldn't.' Our belief about what 'should' be collides with our experience of what is, and something in us has to change.
Lots of the time that a child isn't what we think they 'should' be, we stick firmly with our should. "Why do her parents even bring her here? It's disruptive." we may think. Or "He doesn't belong at this school, he's having a bad influence on other children." With our own children, we may put pressure on them to cover up the awkward behavior, "You don't need to act that way."
Instead, I invite us all, myself included, to bring curiosity and interest into our interactions with fellow human beings. Rather than judging, condemning, or turning away from people, what if we start by witnessing, by showing up and seeing people as they are. We can work with the feelings it brings up in us rather than escape them. If our own child is relating in ways that make us uncomfortable, can we investigate our feelings deeply, with support from clear and brave friends and family and/or counselors as needed? With our own and all children, can we get beyond wanting the surface to be nicer and be curious about why they are acting as they are? Why are they whining, making noises, having sex, doing drugs, talking back? As we investigate, we may find a deeper connection with our children, with any child or person, that helps us to get them, to love and accept them, and to offer deep support.
My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting matters profoundly, and that simple practices can support each of us.