Ever seen a parent dealing unskillfully with a child in public? It’s so easy to judge them and think “I would ….” We think we’d do better, until we have children of our own and see that it’s not so easy. That parent is not facing this problem behavior for the first time, and probably not for the 10th time. More like for the 1000th time. And they may have been more skillful the first 999 times.
I once explained to a Young Woman what being a parent was like for me. I put it this way:
Me: “What’s your favorite food?”
Me: “OK. Imagine that you wake up one morning, and you ask your boyfriend ‘what’s for breakfast?’ and he says, ‘Pizza.’ You shrug and say, ‘OK, I love pizza. Why not?’ Then when lunch rolls around, he says, ‘Hey, I made you lunch. Your favorite: pizza!’ You look at him oddly and say, ‘um, alright, I love pizza. Why not.’ Then when dinner rolls around, he says, ‘Let’s go out for dinner. I know a great place.’ You, hungry for salad or perhaps grilled fish, say, ‘Great! What kind of food?’ He says, ‘Pizza!’ The next day, it starts all over again. It’s pizza from now on.”
YW: ‘I think I’ll be talking to my doctor about birth control.”
We love our children and they give us joy. But truthfully, as a parent of 2 preschoolers (well, one just started kindergarten), I can say that a good bit of the time it’s not a lot of fun. It’s repetitive as all heck, and often mind-bendingly boring for me. Not infrequently, it’s irritating beyond belief. It’s like one of those movies about parenting and kids in which the kids are acting so crazily and stereotypically that you say (as a non-parent), “kids aren’t really like that.” Except you’re wrong. They are exactly like that.
You are trying to eat, say, a bowl of cereal. One child is asking you for some so you feed her. She eats it while spilling your milk on the rug (she is holding the brim of your cereal bowl, which you are eating from in the living room because your son is making monsters out of Mega-Bloks <tm> ). Meanwhile your son is narrating the plot of his monster battle, and NEEDS for you to repeat everything he says back to him so he knows you’re listening. He yells at you when you don’t. You are distracted by him and now your daughter has tilted your cereal bowl until its contents spill on your lap. Then your son pushes his sister down because she stepped into his monster-fighting-zone. And so forth. And the day has just started, the kids don’t go to school today because it’s a random holiday, you have 2 more hours of parenting to do, THEN you have to get ready to go to work. For a full day. When you get home, it’s more of the same until they go to sleep.
So it seems, sometimes: An endless parade of mild suffering mixed with mild joy.
A friend of mine compared parenting his preschool daughter to “being pecked to death by a duck.”
A duck that you love to pieces.
Mindfulness is perfectly designed for situations in which you are constantly frustrated, in which your desires are constantly being subordinated to someone else’s needs.
The breath is always there for you. The breath cannot fail you. Your attention, your capacity to notice the breath, to notice the physical body, cannot fail you.
No, you will not always be “calm” when you practice with the breath.
No, you will not always be as skillful with your kids as your mind says you “should,” “ought,” or “must,” no matter how much you practice mindfulness.
But if you keep part of your attention on your breath as much as possible, you may find you are more skillful and patient than you are otherwise. You may find that, while you may not be calm on the inside, you can do the right things on the outside, no matter how you feel.
You might also find that you are better prepared to take care of yourself effectively with the little time you have to do so. You may not spend as much time dreading what’s to come and regretting what’s past; you may find yourself appreciating what’s happening right now.
This breath. This sunrise. This cup of coffee. This child, whose eyes can see the world as it should be seen, as an endless source of fascination. And whose tantrums show you what YOU really are, underneath all that adult control. We are all preschoolers, but we have learned to cover it over.
When we learn to parent ourselves effectively, we can parent our children effectively.
When we learn to parent our children effectively, we can parent ourselves effectively.
There is no book that can really help you do this very much.
It is the breath, it is mindfulness, that will teach you what you need to know, if you practice with an open mind and an attitude of willingness.