Not long ago, I was in a parking garage walking to my car, and I saw a young mom, struggling with her daughter who was wailing. “I miss Daddy!” Her mom was yelling back, “It’s not a daddy day, you’ll see him this weekend!” My heart hurt. I felt badly for both of them. I went back and forth as a kid, three nights at my mom’s, four at my dad’s, switching that fourth night every other week. When I was at my mom’s I’d miss my dad. When I was at my dad’s, I’d miss my mom. I wanted to go over to the mom and say, “Hey, it’s so normal. She loves you, you’re her mom, but she misses her dad. Maybe a phone call to him would do the trick?” But I have found most people are not very receptive to suggestions when they’re in a heightened emotional state. So, I sent them love, and felt grateful, for maybe the millionth time, that when I had my kids, I’d already been practicing yoga and seated meditation for fifteen years. It helps so much in those moments when you want to pull your hair out, are feeling vulnerable, tired, or tested, or just aren’t sure what you should do. Parenthood asks us to be our best selves in every moment, twenty-four hours a day, but of course, that isn’t going to happen! For me, my practice has given me the tools to show up with the best of myself for the greatest percentage of time I can manage. If I’d had my kids before I had a long-standing practice, I have no doubt I’d have been screaming at them in parking garages.
I think there are plenty of articles out there that are shaming and judgmental when it comes to parenting. This won’t be another one. Maybe you only let your kid play with organic wooden blocks, and maybe you let your kid watch tv, and maybe you eat only avocados and maybe you let your kid have sugar sometimes. You won’t hear any gasping from me. There’s no formula for perfect parenting, you just do the very best you can with the tools you have. If you love your kids to the moon and back, and they know it, you’re doing pretty well! Here are some tools I’m grateful to have as a result of yoga and meditation practice, and I hope they’ll be helpful to you and your littles, too.
1. The ABC’s of Non-Reactivity
Sometimes WE need a timeout, so we can tune in! One of the greatest parental superpowers you can work on on your yoga mat is the ability to breathe deeply and stay calm when you feel challenged. Maybe you’re exhausted and your kid just asked you his ten millionth “why” question of the day. Maybe your teenager just tried to walk out the door in shorts so short her butt is hanging out, and when you said no, she told you all the reasons you know nothing about life. Perhaps your infant will not settle no matter what you do. Whatever stage you’re at, parenting is no easy gig! When you learn how to hold a lunge for twelve deep breaths even though your quadriceps are on fire, that power will be there for you when you walk through the fire in other areas of your life. So much of the physical practice is about being aware of physical sensation, and exploring it with curiosity. Eventually, this shows up for you when you’re feeling intense sensation that is a result of intense emotion. That ability to breathe deeply and stay calm is the difference between lashing out and saying something you’ll regret, making threats you don’t intend to keep, or thinking about your kid’s point of view, or whether there’s been a misunderstanding, or not!
2. Starve your loud inner critic
You might say to your kids, “Do as I say, not as I do”, but the truth is, our children integrate and internalize what they see day in, and day out. If you’re very hard on yourself, they’re not going to miss that. And if you’re hard on yourself, you’re likely to be hard on them, too, and then they’ll be hard on themselves. Author and inspirational speaker Peggy O’Mara has a quote, “The way you speak to your children becomes their inner voice.” Quite the responsibility, right?! When we live with a harsh inner dialogue, it’s only natural that it slips out sometimes. Whatever we’re filled with is naturally what we spread. If you work on being more forgiving toward yourself, you’ll find that ability is strengthened when it comes to other people, too, especially your children. When you make a mistake and you have an inner cheerleader instead of an inner witch, that cheerleader will be there when your kids spill their smoothies down the front of their shirt, or come home with a “needs improvement” in some subject or another. When we feel safe to make mistakes, the foundation of trust is built, and the knowledge that we are loved for who we are, and not for what we accomplish, is driven home.
3. Being present is the best gift you can give
We are all crazy-busy, and trying to find that elusive work-life balance can be challenging. Personally, I am not sure that really exists, I think it might be an urban legend. What I think it comes down to is priorities. One of the things we work on during the physical yoga practice is focal points. Each pose has one, and when you train your mind to focus on one thing at a time, that’s the same skill you use when you decide to put down your device and focus on your child. It’s the same skill you use when you’re in a crowded restaurant, but really want to hear about your kid’s day, or whatever is on her mind. Our attention, affection, love and presence are really the things our kids long for and thrive upon. Having the skills to be there fully means you’re not going to miss the moments, and your kids are not going to miss the love you feel for them.
There are so many things we work on in the yoga practice that make us better people for ourselves, and all those we love, and the world at large. Ultimately, it’s a breathing and listening practice. We breathe and become present, we listen to the body and respond with compassion, acknowledgment, respect, acceptance, patience and understanding. If you strengthen your ability to do those things for yourself on your mat, if you fill your tank with love, that’s naturally the same stuff you’ll have to offer your children, and that is gorgeous!
Sending you, and your littles, so much love,