In my practice, I often work with parents who have some issues with their kids. These parents are loving, engaged, and dedicated, but sometimes the work of parenting gets in the way of the pleasure of having kids. As the summer winds down and my oldest starts his senior year of high school, I have been wanting to savor my time with my kids. Here are four reminders that I hope can help us stay grounded in the miracle and blessing of being parents.
- Detach: Our kids are a reflection of us… but then again, they are individuals. When our kids misbehave, parents so often get upset because we understand on some level that their behavior is a reflection of our parenting—so their misbehavior must be a reflection of our mis-parenting. Right? Umm, not so fast. Our kids are their own unique selves, coming into this lifetime with their own set of assets and liabilities, their own karmic path to overcome, benefit from, and work out. A parent’s empathy and understanding will go a long way toward mitigating the occasional blow-up or tantrum; our over-identification with our children breeds tension, anxiety, and even undermines the child’s autonomy. Remember you are separate beings, and you are the mentor. Breathe.
- Boundaries, part 1: We need to set good boundaries and uphold them. It’s important to know what our limits are. When we don’t know how we feel about something our kids are presenting to us (such is life!) and we’re not sure what to do, it helps to take some time to reflect: What is the source of our hesitation? How does this fit into our overall belief system? Often we must make a quick decision, and at those times it’s best to stay confident that whatever we decide will ultimately be OK. “Right” or “wrong”, we and our kids will learn from everything that happens. Some of the best lessons are those that provide the chance to reflect on what we could have done better.
- Boundaries, part 2: Boundaries are not just about what we allow and don’t allow our kids to do. Boundaries also go back to the first point, which is that our kids are their own unique selves. They will have struggles and failures in their lives, just like we did, and just like everyone does. If we did not have struggles and failures, we would not be here, because we’d have already learned all those lessons! Part of effective parenting comes from allowing our kids to fall, and pick themselves back up. We can’t, and should not even try, to protect them from those lessons. That is not only futile; it denies our kids their humanity. But when we are strong, loving parents, we can help them to pick themselves up, reflect on what went wrong, and set a course correction.
- Open your heart: Being heart-centered gives us a greater sense empathy, compassion, and unconditional positive regard. In order to open our hearts, we need to know what it feels like to be heart-centered, and honor that feeling; look for it, seek it out, and cultivate it. Right now you can connect to your heart-centeredness by deliberately relaxing, taking a few deep breaths and feeling gratitude for all that you have, all that you are, and all that you are becoming; by flowing gratitude to your children, family, and community. To enhance your ability to be heart-centered, try cultivating a practice of mindfulness. Or meditation. Or yoga asana. Or prayer. Or all of the above. But make it a practice, a habit.
In our day—in this amazing time of transformation—we are called to do our spiritual practice right alongside of our work and family life. In this light, everything we do is a spiritual practice. Parenting is a spiritual practice. Appreciating the time we spend with our kids, sharing our love, teaching them through (intended) right action, are part of this practice. And practice does not mean perfect. Yet as we practice, as we dedicate ourselves to this path, imagine how work and family life will flourish!