Recently I had the pleasure of being in a yoga class in a friend’s home. Because it is summer, her 8 year old son was in the room next door (separated by a soji screen) playing with his friend, whose mom was also in the class. At first there was a fair amount of chaos, two boys and a dog running helter-skelter around yelping gleefully.
The mothers of the two boys were understandably concerned about the children’s impact on the yoga class. But what better practice than this! How do we stay self-connected in such a deep way that we can include all the beings and beasts around us? A perfect reflection of the challenge of parenting.
Boundaries were set, expectations stated, and the boys quieted into building a fort as we quieted into guided meditation and centering. As the 1.5 hour class unfolded there were several moving moments that were truly the deepest places of practice for me.
On several occasions the boys were drawn to come in and watch. Naturally, the first time it happened the mom’s gave them the sideways glance and the quick “out you go” flick of the hand and they did. And this is so often our “first response” to children, a kind of built in control mechanism that defaults to the assumption “you will be disruptive, you don’t belong here.” A kind of bracing for what might happen and a quickness to nip it in the bud.
The next time deeper into the class, one of the 8 year old boys came in quietly, clearly curious. He stood on the landing above us and did his own version of yoga-arms outspread, standing tall and leaning forward into and over the bannister –almost as if he was an eagle riding the currents of our yogic energy emanating from below. Now that the mom’s were deeper in their own practice, more centered perhaps, they simply kept going in their practice.
This to me is the crown jewel of parenting wisdom. There is so much room for everyone to be included and participate when we all take care to be relaxed and self-connected. Suddenly, there is no hypothetical potential “fire to put out” or “imminent disaster” because we are present, only in the present, and this present moment includes all of us each as we are, generously and gently.
Later still, I am in a balancing pose, standing on one leg, pitched forward, arms out-stretched airplane style, back leg extending strongly. In come the two boys, tiptoeing, on a mission to retrieve more pillows and they duck under my back extended leg heading towards the coach. The perfect challenge! Stay steady.
On the way out, one boy stubs his toe badly. I watch as he tries to fight off the tears, scrunching his face, holding his breath. “Breathe,” I say, “that must have hurt.” Now the tears come and mom comes and the most beautiful thing happens, his little eight year old friend compassionately sits down next to him and starts to gently hold his friend’s injured foot. There is this enormous feeling of love in the room. At this point, the mom of the caring boy notices them and clearly in a contraction of “I am responsible and must control the situation” strides over and grabs the boy who was helping by the arm in a tight grip, and walks him up and out of the room.
The contrast of the gentleness of the boys gesture with the mom’s reaction is stunning. I feel love for both of them. But mostly I feel this overwhelming sadness that the gentleness of the moment has been lost on the mom. Not only did she not witness it, but she also did not receive it, and it is apparent in this moment, that she could use some kindness, towards herself that would then translate into kindness towards her son.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been there. I know this feeling well. There is no judgement. Simply a hope, that somehow we can melt our harsh edges with love as we raise our children. It is the perfect practice, for we see our hardness in our parenting. We feel the moments of frustration, impatience, anger and we want to do better. But how?
I remember when my children were young, I would feel so bad when I was harsh, or even worse, sometimes I didn’t! But when I returned to a softer place in myself there was always this sadness or regret, how can I be kinder?
Slowly, I started to notice the moments of harshness. They became more visible. Then I actually started to notice what proceeded the “outbreak” of harshness. This noticing led me to know what I needed to do to avoid those situations. More and more the kindness muscle got exercised and stronger over time. Then it became a primary and exciting practice in my parenting-when and where would I bump up against my harshness? What could I learn about my conditioned ideas/judgements? What feelings could I embrace with more compassion in myself or in my child?
Parenting is a process of softening, like water running over rocks, streaming love over the edges, rounding them, softening them.
Perhaps you know these moments of harshness? If so, I invite you to practice gentleness, kindness. Here is how to start:
- Notice when harshness arises.
- Notice how you are feeling.
- How self-nourished are you?
- What could you do to care for yourself more deeply?
- What proceeded the “outbreak of harshness?”
- Can you “catch” the escalation a little sooner the next time?
- What beliefs are you having unconsciously? Some common ones are:
“I have to control the situation, I have to control my kids”
“I feel ashamed if my kids are out of control”
“my child is bothering other adults and they are going to get angry”
- Ask: What is the kindest thing I can do for myself or my child right now?
It can be hard to turn towards this practice.
WE ARE OFTEN VERY HARSH ABOUT OUR HARSHNESS!
But I promise you, the hidden gentleness that lives at the base of every present moment is so reliable, so entirely forgiving, so indescribably beautiful, that it’s worth leaning into it and seeing if it catches you and your children, again and again, in its warm embrace.