I squirmed impatiently in my seat as I waited for the parenting expert to finish his talk at my children’s school. I was eager to go up to the lectern to ask my personal question: How could I get my two older children to stop bickering all the time? His answer surprised me at first, but upon reflection, it fit perfectly into what I had learned through my study of yoga.
He suggested that I pay more attention to my own growth and self-awareness. He suggested that if I was clear and present with each child and each situation, the choices I would make would be the “right” ones. I was initially taken aback by the power of this answer, but tried his advice by re-dedicating myself to the study and practice of yoga, meditation, and other self-awareness techniques as a priority in my life. Not only did this eventually help the situation of the fighting kids, albeit indirectly, it also became the foundation which shaped most of my parenting decisions.
Being a parent is primarily just being in relationship with another human being, an amazing, at times difficult, and yet precious person, who happens to be my child. In order for that relationship to be what I want it to be, I have continued to learn that the most important thing I can choose is to be clear within myself. I need to be clear about who I am, about what my choices and priorities and values are, and then I try to live those choices in compassion and love. This does not mean that occasionally I do not feel angry, disappointed or confused in response to what my children say or do, or by what I say or do as a parent. It does mean that I try to remember that my children and I are at the same time expressions of the Divine and yet totally fallible human beings.
Of course I have spent lots of time listening to my children express their feelings about something. But I have also found that I have never been disappointed when I have shared my own genuine feelings with my children in age appropriate ways, even if those feelings are about my own fears and perceived shortcomings. That sharing has allowed them the chance to see me as I am, as well as model for them the importance of sharing feelings with those we love, the importance of being seen and understood, no matter what our age.
I have found that it is impossible to let my children know too often how much I love them and how important their welfare and safety is to me. I am absolutely clear that parenting is what I want to do. I know this and they know this. This commitment to parent has helped me through the fatigue of comforting a crying baby with an earache as well as sharing the sadness of a teen-ager with a heartache. I have re-learned and appreciated the value of predictable schedules for young children and consistent limits for older ones. I have learned that discipline and anger do not have to go together and that forgiveness and giving in are not the same thing.
Yoga poses combine both abhyasa, disciplined action or strength, as well as vairagyam, supreme detachment or going with the flow, and thus all poses require finding balance. Parenting, too, is a balancing act. And it is a balancing act done in the midst of water balloon fights in the backyard, birthday parties at the pizza parlor, soccer matches won and lost. It is a balancing act with lots of “firsts”: first words, first steps, first dates, and first nights spent in a dorm, thousand of miles from home.
To practice yoga is to “get on the mat” everyday and just do it, knowing that the consistency of practicing everyday itself is the victory, not the accomplishment of any specific poses. It is the daily beginning once again to stretch and challenge the body which adds up to years and even decades of an educated and healthy body. To parent is to know that it is this same consistent sharing of love and the consistent holding to clear and fair limits which over the long haul will shape the character of my child. I do not need to do “perfect” yoga poses to reap great rewards from my practice. And I do not need to be a “perfect” parent, either, just a committed one who is willing to learn, laugh and “get back on the parenting mat” and try again.
Judith Lasater, Ph.D., PT has taught yoga since 1971, is the author of 8 books including Yogabody: Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Asana (2009), and is the mother of three grown children.