When the inspiration struck me to write about the lessons my children have taught me, it was the middle of the night. I scrambled around for a piece of paper and at least a dozen ideas, one sentence each, came tumbling out.
One of them was “how to take responsibility for my own experience,” and that is why I tend to think of “lessons my children have taught me” more as what I am learning as a parent.
It seems at this point in my life, particularly since I met Rom and became a mother, that I am learning more than ever. I was surprised that there was so much more to learn about being human, but I am profoundly grateful that I am learning at all, and that there remains ever more to discover.
Here are just a few of those things from that long list I scribbled in the night…
I knew from very early on that I didn’t want to focus on my child as the problem. I wasn’t looking for “behavior modification techniques” that were designed to get a child to stop doing or start doing something while ignoring issues of development and/or relationship.
I couldn’t quite articulate it at first, but it made sense to me that much of whatever was happening with my child had to do with what was happening with me, and I was more interested in trying to reframe the issue, finding what I could let go of, clarifying my expectations, supporting my child, and establishing ways of connecting with one another.
But lately, I’ve gotten a much clearer picture of this whole symbiotic phenomenon. I’ve been experiencing, really deep-down in my bones feeling-it, how my energy — whether rushed or calm, open or insistent, distracted or grounded — sets the tone for the entire house. Indeed, our entire lives.
I am the weather.
This phrase popped into my head, and with it came a deep realization of my responsibility (Again/Always) — to my children and to myself.
My responsibility to understand the weather patterns, to exert what influence I can over what comes, to prepare us for what’s in store, to do the best with what I’ve got when we’re caught unaware, and to live our days — sunny, somber, stormy or serene — to their fullest.
Another metaphor, which I read in the book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts:
“Children swim in their parents’ unconscious like fish swim in the sea.”
Which is why I also knew, somehow, very early on, that the water could be clearer, that I wanted it to be clearer, that it could feel better that way.
Which why I am learning how…
When we had housemates for a short time (a mother and daughter, who was not quite one year older than four-year-old Orlando), bedtime and teeth-brushing were wild! Frenetic, ineffectual, and exhausting. Filled with desperation — the parents for an iota of normalcy, and the children for an eternity of playing, of being together, to never stop!
I felt powerless and clingy. I watched two naked children racing around the house. “You can’t catch us! You can’t catch us!” I listened to their cries to one another, “I’ll save you, Orlando! I’ll save you from your Mama!”
These were the thoughts that were racing through my mind and body:
I am the mom! This is MY house!
I can’t do this. Bedtime can’t be this way! What am I going to? I can’t do this!!
I’m so tired. I just want to go to bed!
I don’t want this conflict. I don’t want this peer identification.
Negative panic galore!! Etc. Etc.
And then finally, I stood there in front of two naked kids hiding between the bookshelf and the wall, and I closed my eyes and breathed in and out a few times, and I saw the situation from a little farther out.
Two kids, excited, naked, laughing.
The energy was intense — downright maniacal! — but rather than being swept up into it or trying to clamp it down, for just that split second, I simply saw it.
Then I said, “Orlando, I’m going upstairs to bed. I expect you to come with me.” My voice was soft. My intention was clear. I realized he might not have followed me, but I wasn’t worried about that right then. I turned, gently, and walked away.
Orlando turned to his friend and told her excitedly, “I’m going to bed now! Goodnight.”
I was surprised, and really relieved, that whatever had just happened “worked.”
But — and this is the tricky part — I don’t share this story to show that I’ve found the key to “get” children to listen. I’ve realized I’m not interested in finding that key. I share this story because there is a certain magic and connection that can happen sometimes. And who knows why, really?
- I sometimes think of it as Right Action. I had stopped focusing on the goal (my child must have normalcy! my child must sleep, now!) and trusted that solutions would arise in due time.
- I sometimes think of it as non-coercion. I was not trying to control another person’s body, grasping for control by exerting my will over another person.
- I sometimes think of it as being in the present moment. I had stopped writhing around in my feelings of fear about the future and decided to focus on the simple fact at hand: I was going upstairs.
- I sometimes think of it as being authentic. I was doing what I needed to do to take care of my tiredness.
- I sometimes think of it as being a parent, inviting my son to follow.
But I always think of it as being clear on the inside. With that clarity, I see myself taking actions that are uncomplicated, whose motivations are pure, and whose energy is soft. If I am centered in my action, there is space for my child to make their own choice. (We are not caught up in the counterwill dynamic.)
When I am not clear inside — when I am trying to enact a boundary for the sake of appearances; whenever I fall out of the present moment and become fearful about what my child’s behavior means for the future; whenever I am attached to a certain outcome in a certain timeframe — I can sense my actions becoming coercive. (And I don’t like the way coercion feels.)
Or, to turn it around: Whenever I am struggling as a parent and hear myself resorting to coercion, it is a signal for me that I have not yet attained this inner clarity.
Oh, of all the times I’ve acted in ways I wish I hadn’t, I can see how this clarity is what has been missing. I am learning how to listen for it, to wait for it, to share it. I’ve written about finding it, here, here, and here.
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself? — Tao Te Ching
And sometimes the right action is no action, which is why…
Yesterday I was standing at the stove, tilting the tea kettle so a stream of water sizzled into my mug. I heard Mica’s unmistakable shuffle down the stairs, and he headed straight for me, “Mama, I’m hungry.” He wanted mochi, and that sounded good to me.
I started cutting the rice into squares and placing the pieces on the tray.
“No, no! No! Not that way! I don’t want them mmmm dhhhhh mmammdhh dkdkdk! Waaaaahhh!!” I could barely understand what he was saying he was crying so hard, the tears spilling. His face the shape of a wail.
I was comforting him, talking to him, getting a new tray, rearranging things when Rom came downstairs. Trying to distract Mica, he offered to read him books, but I asked him to leave us be. My heart wasn’t wide open (yet) but something told me to stay — to just stay. I had already rearranged the pieces on the tray as Mica had wanted but that was hardly what mattered now, to either of us.
I came down in front of Mica as he stood facing outward, his back arched toward the cupboard, still crying. I softened my energy, and then reached out to touch him.
“No, Mama! No, I don’t want you!!”
I steadied myself in my squat, keeping my body as soft as I could, and thought, “Okay. I’m here if you need me.”
He cried and I murmured a few things.
I looked at him, softly taking him in — the curls around his ears, his earnestness, his tiny hand grasping at his pant leg.
And then maybe I reached out again, or he did, and then he was in my lap, and crying just a bit harder for a few minutes until the crying was done, and he settled in my lap — we fit together like one hand in another — before he lifted himself up, and away.
It has always been my intention to be there for my children during their “big” feelings, but to my very shameful surprise, years ago I found myself telling three-year-old Orlando to stop crying. Demanding it of him.
In my own personal motherhood mythology, things were profound and heart-opening with my first child… it may have been hard but it was beautiful, expansive. Then I had a three-year-old and a newborn, and the hard was no longer just hard, it was ugly-hard, overwhelming, too much, devastating.
But that hard, hard time was also the beginning of my becoming more present.
It’s been four years… four years!… since then, and I’ve gone from complete unconscious reactivity (telling my child what I was told as a child) to the niggling of consciousness about it (realizing what I’m saying and that I don’t want to say it) to caring for and transforming those old beliefs (thank you, Hakomi) to being able to take care of myself when another person is having an intense (and I mean intense!) emotional reaction, to actually feeling deep, wide-open love in the midst of it all.
I am sad to say there are many other times when I have not been fully present, which is why I am glad I can say that…
Years ago, during that particular hard time I was having, someone told me about the competence circle. It goes something like this:
- We are unconsciously incompetent (in the dark).
- We are consciously incompetent (aware of the difference between where we are and our full potential).
- We can move into conscious competence (practicing new ways of being, allowing our full potential).
- We experience moments of unconscious competence (our full presence comes alive without our effort).
It was like a drink of cool water.
I mean, really, has anyone ever told you something like this?
Finally, something to explain the excruciating experience of wanting to be different than I was but not yet capable of doing it! Finally, something to explain those magical, effortless moments of full connection.
And finally, a circle instead of a line, something that explained how I could be in more than one place at once, of how I am in a continual process of growth but not in a race to the “end.”
An ever-expanding spiral, for which I am grateful.
Visit and read other voices of lessons learned:
- Affection — Alicia at I Found My Feet has finally become a hugger and kisser, now she has someone sweet and small to snuggle with. (@aliciafagan)
- Learning from Daniel — Amy at Anktangle hopes that she and her husband will always be open to learning from their son. (@anktangle)
- Kids Cultivate Awareness of Universal Truths — From forgiveness to joy, Amy Phoenix at Innate Wholeness has become aware of deep truths that come naturally to children. (@InnateWholeness)
- What the Apple Teaches the Tree — Becky at Future Legacy has learned about imagination, forgiveness, and strength.
- A Lesson in Slowing Time — Bethy at Bounce Me To the Moon revels in the chance to just be with her baby.
- Learning From My Children: I Am So Honored — WAHM Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey is learning to choose tea parties over work. (@MyMotheringPath)
- P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E — Now that she’s a mother, Danielle at born.in.japan is finally learning about a personality trait she lacked. (@borninjp)
- Top 5 Homeschool Lessons My Children Taught Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares what she learned from homeschooling her (now grown) children. (@DebChitwood)
- Learning to Live in the Present By Looking to the Future — Dionna at Code Name: Mama finds the patience to be a gentle parent, because she knows how fleeting childhood really is. (@CodeNameMama)
- The watchful Buddha boy — At Dreaming Aloud, they are learning to cherish their thoughtful, sensitive child in a action-driven, noisy world. (@DreamingAloudNt)
- What My Children Taught Me — Dulce de Leche‘s children have taught her to value herself for the wonderful person and mother she is.
- Lessons from the First Year — Having a child made Emily at Crunchy(ish) Mama realize that her decisions affect more than just herself. (@CrunchyishMama)
- Lessons from Loss — Erica at ChildOrganics learned so much from the love — and loss — of her sweet Bella, five years ago. (@ChildOrganics)
- The Socratic Baby — Erin at Multiple Musings has so-called “identical” twins to serve as a daily lesson in nature vs. nurture. (@ErinLittle)
- Learning to be a Mother — Farmer’s Daughter learned the type of patience that enabled her to calmly eat one-handed for months and change clothes seven times a day, before noon. (@FarmDaughter)
- A Few Things Being a Mom Has Taught Me — Heather at Musing Mommy shares the curious, hilarious, and sometimes Murphy’s Law-like tidbits we learn from our children. (@xakana)
- I Feel You — Motherhood has taught Jamey from At the Bee Hive empathy, and it extends beyond just her child. (@JameyBly)
- Lessons From My Child… — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy shares the inspiring ways she’s learned to expect the unexpected — and have a camera ready! (@imaftmummy)
- My child is my mirror — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama has seen herself in her children – and it’s not bad. (@crunchychewy)
- There is enough to go around… — Kellie at Our Mindful Life learned that love doesn’t diminish when it’s shared.
- Learning From Our Children, Every Day — Kimberly at Homeschooling in Nova Scotia, Canada is continually inspired by her children. (@UsborneBooksCB)
- Life Lessons From My Children — Kristen at Adventures in Mommyhood has learned that every slug is fascinating, doing the dishes is fun, and sharing a banana is a delight. (@crunchymamato2)
- Things I’ve Learned From My Children — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings uses pictures to share what she has learned from her children. (@sunfrog)
- Beyond the questions lies the answer — Lauren at Hobo Mama stopped wondering and started knowing — loving and liking our children comes naturally. (@Hobo_Mama)
- Learning from Children — Lily, aka Witch Mom, finds out just how enchanting balloons can be. (@LilyShahar)
- Lifelong Learning — Lindsay at Living in Harmony has learned that what works for one kid might not work for another. (@AttachedMama)
- Walking alongside my daughter — Lindsey at Mama Cum Laude is learning to give the clock less power over her family’s life.
- Things my baby taught me about me — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is proud of how she has grown as a mother. (@lvano)
- From my children, I have learned — Mama Mo at Attached at the Nip has a litany of beautiful lessons, from selflessness to sleeplessness.
- The Little Things in Life — In a simple and lovely prose poem, Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children shows how adults worry about the wrong things and forget the little, important ones: watching ladybugs, jumping in leaves, cherishing each moment as it comes.
- The Virtues of Motherhood — Melissa at The New Mommy Files has had opportunities to learn from children as both a teacher and a mother. (@NewMommyFiles)
- My Kids Have Taught Me That It’s Time To Stop Blogging — Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! has learned that childhoods fly by too fast to blog. We’ll miss your wonderful online presence, Melodie, and we wish you much peace and happiness. (@bfmom)
- Having Kids Has Taught me a Thing or Two — Michelle at The Parent Vortex learns all day long — from fun facts about hedgehogs to tying a complicated wrap with a screaming child and an audience. (@TheParentVortex)
- We Could All Learn from the Children — Momma Jorje takes time to get on the floor and play so that she can see the world through her child’s eyes.
- Teaching Forgiveness — Mrs Green at Little Green Blog has a daughter who’s taught her unconditional love — even when she feels like she does’t deserve it. (@littlegreenblog)
- Parenting as a joint venture — Olivia at Write About Birth appreciates watching the astonishing way her children learn. (@writeaboutbirth)
- Beginner’s Mind — Rachael at The Variegated Life learns from a child who builds bridges to nowhere, calls letter magnets his numbers, and insists dinnertime is truck time. (@RachaelNevins)
- A baby’s present — RS at A Haircut and a Shave presents a short poem on the differences between a baby’s mindfulness and ours.
- Self-Confidence Was Born With My Daughter — Sara at Halfway Crunchy learned to trust her instincts by responding to her child’s needs — and saw her self-confidence bloom.
- The Importance of Being Less Earnest — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante has one list of earnest and one list of silly things she has learned as a parent. (@seonaid_lee)
- Lessons my children have taught me — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes learned that attachment parenting was the best way to meet the needs of her child and herself. (@Sheryljesin)
- Till the water is clear — Stacy at Mama-Om learns that being present is the best present. (@mama_om)
- I Hold It — Stefanie at Very, Very Fine has learned that the ability to communicate is much more important than the number of words a child knows.
- What My Children Taught Me About Letting Go — Summer at Finding Summer is learning from her kids to laugh in the face of heartache. (@summerminor)
- Finding My Tools — The Artsymama has applied some of what she’s learned as a mama in the classroom, with great results!