I started my journey as a mom with so much to learn, so much opening to do. It's exhausting and hard and even painful to be a mom, and it's also truly beautiful.
I'm feeling, as my children grow up, that they're leaving my heart completely transformed by this experience.
I know that I have changed deeply over these years, and I am grateful to celebrate another Mother's Day. I hope for myself, and wish for you, that this Mother's Day helps us to realize how strong and big our own hearts are. May we look at ourselves with kindness, generosity, and honestly. May we keep showing up for the hard times, allowing them to crack our hearts open, again and again. May we be guided by love, not fear. May we be brave enough to keep learning and growing and speaking our truth. And may we have a wonderful day, whether it's a Hallmark card kind of Mother's Day or a messy, imperfect one.
‘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
"Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn't want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through."
This quote from Parker Palmer's column, The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice published by On Being is really speaking about adult relationships, but it's not hard to see how it applies to parenting. When our kids are suffering, they don't want advice. They don't need us to fix or save them. They simply need to be seen and 'companioned.' It hurts to watch other people suffer and struggle and feel, but by doing it we provide a genuine, generous service.
When we are sit with an angry, scared, or sad child without reacting, just allowing them to feel what they feel, they can work through those feelings. This process is kind of like compost, though, it can be messy, unpleasant and time-consuming. Just as food scraps compost into rich, fertile soil, difficult emotions transform into presence. When a child moves fully through their feelings, something changes. They may just run off and play. They may fall asleep or find a quiet place to be by themselves. They may have a good cry in our arms (or out of our arms). Something in them is transformed.
To do this for a child:
I spend time on Facebook every day, and it's often a nurturing experience as the people I follow are pretty amazing teachers, healers, thinkers, and human beings. Today I read several things gave me a kind of mixed feelings. Sometimes political posts, news about people, and even comments about the weather carry opinions that I agree with but something about them doesn't sit right.
This morning what I felt (kind of judgmentally, I know) is that the posts weren't coming from love. Even when a comment is general or is directed at someone who will probably never see it, it kind of puts me off the opinion that I actually share.
I found myself asking, 'What would love say?" And because parenting is important to me, both as a central part of my own spiritual development and as something I talk and teach about every day, I quickly started to think about this in the context of parenting. What would love do? What would love say? Aren't these the only real questions I need to ask?
And it isn't as black and white as I initially thought. Because I need to also know, love of what? If I'm driven by love of my own child's comfort and he is hurt by a friend, love may want me to protect and defend him. But if I'm driven by capital-L Love, my response is not so simple. I may remember that I want to help him cultivate his own power and respond slowly. I may remember that all situations are complex and invite him to talk and share about his experience without doing anything. I may remember that loving him does not mean attacking someone else.
Similarly, if you have a small child and you're in the habit of indulging their wants, you may begin to realize that you're loving your own short-term comfort at the expense of your longer-term sanity and their longer-term health and emotional growth. How would it change if you were moved by Love? Would it be easier to handle the tantrums or sadness that come up when you say 'no' to a toy or treat? Would it help you to sustain the work involved in getting them into more sustainable sleep routines?
So I'm adding a step. When I start with wondering what love would do, I like to explore a little more deeply. Love of what? If 'love' wants to shoot off a snarky comment on Facebook, love of what? Love of being right or of standing up for an underdog? And would 'Love' agree? Or would it say nothing? Or say something privately? Or make a comment that speaks to the confusion within me? Or (and this is usually where Love takes me) explore my own being, wondering what this discomfort can teach me about myself and my own relationship to judgment or kindness or deep understanding? And maybe there's a loving or compassionate action associated with this exploration, or maybe there isn't.
This is what I'm wondering about today.
I've been remembering adopting my first cat at the SPCA. To take her home I had to sign a paper saying that I would not let her go outside. I was not comfortable with this, but, having already chosen a sweet little kitten who was not going to survive much longer at the shelter, was not about to leave without her! The shelter volunteer explained the rule to me, saying that cats who go outside don't live as long as indoor cats.
I guiltily signed the paper, knowing that my new cat would go outside. This was years before I had children, but I remember thinking the same thing was probably true about kids. If we never let them outside they might live longer, but who would want that kind of life for them?
As a mom, I've remembered this story, but it isn't as easy for me to let my kids take risks as it was with my cat! Part of me wants them to stay in, to be safe. and to be careful. I want to know where they are and what they're doing. That's attachment. Fear of losing them or having to see them be hurt. Love is allowing them to live, to go outside and brave the sometimes dangerous world of friendships, driving, parties, even homework and school performance.
I know people who monitor every assignment their kids are given, and who use their child's cell phone to trace their movements. I've never gone that far, but do recognize the attachment in me that is similar. The work of parenting is to love them enough to let them grow through real and even hard experience. To be available again and again, supporting them as they integrate their experiences. To trust the life energy/soul presence in them that leads them to experiences they need and want. To know that they will make mistakes, but those mistakes may be the very ones they need to make as they learn to be fully alive and awake.
Lately, I've been quieting the part of myself that tries to tell my kids to 'be safe' and 'be careful' each time they go out. Instead, I'm saying 'have fun,' and 'I love you.'
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.