Parenting as Practice

The chapter, Parenting as Practice, that I read from Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn this morning made me cry. It was far too beautiful and rang a reminder bell in my heart. And the concept does not only apply to parents, but grandparents, and even non-parents as well.

“You could look at each baby as a little Buddha or Zen master, your own private mindfulness teacher, parachuted into your life, whose presence and actions were guaranteed to push every button and challenge every belief and limit you had, giving you continual opportunities to see where you were attached to something and to let it go.”

If you have been a parent, you know this is true. If you’ve ever told our teenage or young adult children, “Just wait till you have kids!” you know it. Children are not burdens to bear, they are tiny teachers from the universe, if you allow them to be.

Not only children can be seen as a teacher, but everyone that comes into your life, albeit on a less constant stress inducing way. What if we treated people we met in the world as if they were sent to teach us something important? That talkative grocery store worker, the fast-food cashier that can’t get your order right, the slow driver on the freeway, the co-worker that won’t leave you alone to read on your breaks, are all there to impart some lesson.

Each interaction puts up a mirror to us. How would I want to be treated in this situation? What’s my part in creating a better world?

“The deep and constantly changing needs of children are all perfect opportunities for parents to be fully present rather than to operate in the automatic pilot mode, to relate consciously rather than mechanically, to sense the being in each child and let his or her vibrancy, vitality, and purity call forth their own.”

When they are babies, one thing soothes them quickly and then suddenly doesn’t. They happily eat one food then hate it. They are growing so fast, and their tastes, needs, and wants change with them. You have to stay aware if you want to keep up. No autopilot allowed, not even cruise-control for a bit of a stretch.

When my oldest son was very young, he did not appreciate loud, sudden noises. For some strange reason he didn’t mind his own noise, just the noise of others. I learned to warn him if were going to start the vacuum near by him. One day, when he was around eight or nine years old, I brought the vacuum into the living room while he was playing a video game.

“Hey, kiddo! I’m vacuuming.”

“Yeah, I know. I can see.”

“I didn’t want to startle you.”

“Mom, I’m not two anymore. Sheesh!”

I wanted to say, “And last week you were?!” but I held my tongue. Best to meet exasperation with kindness. Instead, I replied, “You’re growing up so fast, sometimes I miss it.” He smiled in return, “Don’t blink, Mom!”

I tried not to, but the next thing I knew they were all gone out of the house and didn’t need me anymore. It’s a fascinating (and terrifying) process, if you ask me. I wasn’t always on my toes, aware of the moment, making the kinder choice. I lost my shit many times. I’ve found the trick is expressing remorse and asking for a bit more love when I failed. They have returned the favor many times.

“Parenting is a mirror that forces you to look at yourself. If you can learn from what you observe, you just may have a chance to keep growing yourself.”

Parenting in any capacity, as a parent, stepparent, grandparent, etc., teaches you something about yourself that you cannot learn anywhere else. Children are miracles, little resource sucking miracles that bring smiles and tears, joy and pain, with every waking minute.

Seeing parenting as practice is something I believe I was doing, unconsciously back then, but now I see it everywhere. In every interaction, I wonder, “How can I meet this person in a better way?”

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