Our best parenting teachers are our children. We don’t teach them, they teach us.
Every day they hold up a mirror to us and reflect back what we give them. They are great masters of consciousness. Little Buddhas of enlightenment. Prophets of awareness. Gurus of mindfulness. Yes, even when they are inconsolable. Even when they scream. Or throw things on the floor. They are perfectly attuned to their “here and now”, at least in their early years.
To write about parenting is to invite conflict. It is a topic that automatically triggers people, including your aunt’s neighbour (even though she’s never had children). Everyone has an opinion. And everyone is right in their opinion. Our most judgmental self runs to the spotlight every time the parenting show is on – let’s get our inner critics out of the closet!!!
I’m going to write about my experience. There’s value in that because everyone has a different context, a different child, and a different conditioning. And by this I mean the complex tangle of emotional, mental, experiential and religious/philosophical factors that affect the way we see and live life. We cannot live someone else’s life, or someone else’s parenting life. Therefore we can only share in the hope and belief that connecting with other lives can enrich our own, or maybe open up doors that we didn’t know were there. Or for the heck of it!
My son is five and he has autism. “Aha!!” I hear you say. You’ve already put me in a different category – parenting children with additional support needs is different, you’ll say. It’s like being in a league of its own. Yes and no. I am still a mother. He is still my child. We have a very close relationship. We get mad at each other, we play together, I tickle him, he talks to me (slowly getting there). We communicate with and without words, same as every parent and child. So why broadcast that he has autism in the first place?
Well, to prove my point that our children are our greatest teachers. What is one of the greatest life challenges many of us willingly put ourselves through? To have children. It is one of the most infuriatingly stupid things to do to yourself. (This is my selfish ego talking, by the way). It is a challenge filled with up and downs, with joy and heartbreak, with perhaps the greatest opportunity for personal self-discovery and growth. I like to say that we get the children we need. I certainly did. My son is the greatest master of awareness I will ever meet.
You see, I am a very mental person. I breathe, live, love my mind. I AM MY MIND. Except I’m not because I’m more than that. I’m awareness embodied (call it energy, call it soul, call it consciousness). We are all more than our minds, but many people – like myself – have been kidnapped by their own mind. I used to spend most of my waking hours (I still do, who am I kidding?) thinking. Ok, there’s nothing wrong with thinking, right? Well, except when I am so busy thinking, worrying, planning, judging, analysing, categorising, reminiscing, or any other form of mental exercising, I do not fully take in the presence of another life embodied in its entire, miraculously joyful intensity. Or, in other words, when I am worrying about how many hours of sleep I’m gonna get tonight, I’m not fully appreciating that my son just winked at me, or said a word I'd never heard him use before.
My mind’s hyperactivity and my verbal profligacy (I talk. A lot. An awful lot) has finally met its perfect match: my son’s delayed and limited verbal communication. Perfect. Just perfect. Now not only do I have a bossy mind, but also a panicked one. Disaster, right? Well, yes, and a joyous stroke of fortune. If my son had been speaking in full sentences by the age of 2, my parenting (make that life!) would not have cracked open the way it did. He has provided me with a golden opportunity to really put awareness to practice in the most crucial aspect of my life, where the stakes (his and mine) are highest. Where love is always present. Where we can transcend.
“A heart that is broken is a heart that is open”
Whatever core challenges come with parenting (pick your favourites!), therein lies the greatest learning opportunity. Does your child’s anger tip you over the edge into the vast realms of your own anger (and the nasty aftertaste of guilt)? Go there. Look there. You were probably handed anger issues down the genealogical line. Your child is probably only mirroring what they’ve seen you do (that you may not always be aware of). Your child is teaching you, showing you where to look.
My son has helped me by giving me the motivation, the desire, and the belief that living in awareness, that being mindful, is the best way to communicate and be present for others. He does it every day. He looks at me, he laughs, or dances, or jumps up and down, or hugs me. And sometimes, without a single word, he conveys the joy of living, the happiness of BEING that my mind cannot grasp. And I don’t even have to sit cross-legged.