In a recent meditation class a parent brought up how he was undergoing a great deal of external stress and finding it hard to do everything to support the busy and challenging level of activities of their teenage daughter. There was a collective sigh emanating from the other parents in the room. We had all experienced the same frustration, resentment, exhaustion and then guilt for not "successfully" jumping through all the hoops we had set for ourselves as parents. We want only the best for our children, but we all occasionally lose our way.
I am still learning how to be a better parent because I am still learning how to be a better person. It seems safe to say that neither journey will be completed in my lifetime. That's what a lifetime is for. We get to use all of it- right up to the end to learn our lessons. While I have not mastered everyday parenting, I have gathered a lot of experience and am always up for offering advice. Borrowing the principles and framework of the Four Fold Way as presented by Angeles Arrien I share some hard-earned advice below:
Show up. This directs us to set a clear intention of what we want and seek in our life and then act on it. Showing up for children might mean first showing up for ourselves, being clear and respecting who we are and what we believe. In other words,we need to be adults in order to raise children well. Make the time and effort spent in rearing children a priority.
Pay attention. Become mindfully aware and conscious of our own perceptions, needs, emotions and beliefs and what we are doing when we interact with our children in the present. We also really need to pay attention and listen to our children. Sure, what parent doesn't multi-task? But unless we are trying to raise expert multi-taskers as opposed to listeners, observers and those with an ability to focus, we should model giving our kids our full attention on a regular basis. Remember, as parents we are always modeling behavior. Pay attention, and make sure it's the behavior you want to see reflected back to you.
Tell the truth without judgment. Recognize our true feelings and behaviors and then accept them- without guilt, resentment, dismissiveness or blame. That includes the parts we don't like as well as the ones we deem more acceptable. When applying the same to our children or others, that means not withholding love and affection when behaviors miss the mark. Can we be totally neutral and objective as a parent? Probably not. Some behaviors are simply not in the child's best interest- under-age drinking, eating cookies and soda for lunch, for example. So we tell them and we talk about consequences. We speak from wisdom and integrity, but we don't shame, frighten, elicit guilt, or cajole. If we speak the truth consistently, they might even believe us.
Don't be attached to outcome. This one is tough. Isn't the very act of parenting a great leap of faith in a future outcome? And when things aren't going well, we especially cling to that expected reward of seeing our hard work "pay off". But think about the problems caused by too much attachment. This is particularly evident when the needs of parents get mixed up with those of their children in the achievement category. Your child does not make the team. Their college board scores aren't as good as you think they need to be. They forget to clean their room and you do it for them. Learn to face disappointment, the unexpected and adversity with equanimity and you'll be preparing your children for real life as responsible adults. You won't be tempted to fix it for them, taking away their own learning and struggles. Let go, even just a little and some of the "surprises" might be really wonderful.
Some years ago my children were in high school and I was just conscious enough to know that I was still in need of a lot more learning in the parenting department. The lessons seemed to arrive daily. I knew I could use all the help I could get. I wrote this prayer/poem to share with a younger friend who was just beginning to juggle the tasks of new motherhood and a challenging career. It may still be hanging on her refrigerator door. I'll leave it with you, too.
I know You
when I am still and listening
and even when I am not.
I trust You
when all is going well
going terribly wrong
and I have no choice.
I ask Your help now
for my children
for me too
so I can help them.
Let me teach courage
Let me guide
but not take over.
Let me offer love with an open hand.
May they always know who they are
and Who You are
So they can learn
what they have come to learn.
help me learn
what they have come to teach. Amen
Kay Goldstein, MA teaches meditation and writes poetry, fiction and articles addressing the challenges and joys of daily living and spiritual practice. www.kaygoldstein.com