I am a mum of three. Needless to say, all three are quite different, so part of my job as a parent is to figure out ways to guide them through life respecting their personality at the same time as I try to teach them the values and attitudes I believe are important in life. That is partly tricky, isn’t it? I get to choose the values and attitudes that I think are important for them. That is why, in this role, I feel that I have to be constantly observing and reflecting and adjusting , at the same time as I have to believe in my instincts, otherwise, both my children and I would be lost in space.
Some days after the summer break had started, I had to take one of those pauses to reflect as I started noticing that I was constantly ending up in quarrels with my youngest daughter about almost anything and everything and nothing at all. My youngest is the one that challenges me the most, and it is most probably because she is so herself. She is pickier than the other two with food, she can often be quite dissatisfied with what I perceive as trivialities, situations with her friends, siblings and us parents turn often into drama, and what challenges me the most is that it is not very easy to have what I perceive as a ‘reasonable’ conversation about all these issues with her. Situations often start with me being very patient, trying to explain, she getting more and more frustrated and either start crying or answer back, to me then loosing my cool and getting all stern and teacherly.
Obviously, my way of approaching challenging situations with her is not working . I do think that my job as her mum is to point out the attitudes that won’t help her in life and encourage her to change them, but the way I do it is not working. If you have been reading my blog, you know by now that I am a student of yoga, so I use what I learn in all possible situations. Reflecting on my daughter and our challenging interactions, here are some points:
I don’t always agree with my daughter’s attitude and/or actions, but judging her won’t help me guide her appropriately. Labelling her, even if it is only in my head, as immature, picky, drama queen, or other is a waste of energy and time. She behaves in ways that don’t always help her or that sometimes create unpleasant moments at school and at home, but it is part of her learning process. When I bring my judgement to the situation, I just add negative emotion to it.
In my studies of the Bhagavad Gita, I have been trying to understand two concepts: swa-dharma and swa-bhava (2:31, 3:35, 18:47). From what I understand, swa-bhava could be translated as each person’s inner nature composed by aptitudes and attitudes, and swa-dharma is each person’s personal duty or purpose in life and it is directly connected to swa-bhava. It is taking for me some time to fully understand these two concepts, but I think that they mean that according to our attitudes and aptitudes, we bring a specific “flavour” to the roles we play in life.
I believe this concepts are taught in the Karma yoga tradition for self-reflection of our role in life, but I think that reflecting in swa-bhava as a mum can be useful too. If I stop and observe my daughter, I can see that she is active, she is social, she is caring and somewhat insecure. She needs a lot of love and attention and can be quite impulsive. I am trying now to keep these and other of her character traits in mind when challenging situations arise, and avoid trying to push her to think like I do and get all frustrated when she doesn’t. I have an example. I want all my three kids to get into the habit of reading. They sometimes read, but it is definitely not an activity they choose above others. We take regular trips to the library, and they always read there, but they don’t always want to bring a book home. The other day, we went into a book store, and I agreed to buy between one and two books to each one of them (they were on sale). She picked four, and I reminded her of my “rule” but she wasn’t satisfied with this rule (of course not). I looked at the books she had chosen and asked if she thought we could find some of them at the public library to borrow. She agreed to leave one, but still wanted three. Since her sister had only found one that she really wanted to read, I agreed to buy the three of them as I know they all end up sharing books. Until then, everything was ok but then, the weirdest (or what I think is the weirdest) thing happened. As I was standing in line to pay for the books, she looked more and more unsatisfied. After I had payed, I asked her, what what was going on? Was it because of the fourth book? I suggested we walk to the library and borrow it, but for my big surprise, she was thinking about something else. She was sulking because her sister had gotten a new bike this summer and not her, and because she wanted a new lock for her bike and she didn’t get one. In addition, her sister keeps borrowing her toys forgetting to return them to her room… To be honest, the first label that came to my mind is “ungrateful”, but I know that spitting out this word, would only make it worse. So, what is my role here? Well, in the old yogic thinking, I think that my role was just to point out how we can, at any situation, focus on what is wrong or choose to focus on what is good. I didn’t get angry, but I just said that I could see how the joy of getting three new books was overshadowed by the thought of not having a new bicycle. She had made that choice, and I could understand her frustration of wanting something new, but I would like her to consider whether she needed it or not. Sometimes we want something that we really don’t need. I told her that I love her, and that I wasn’t angry, and I stopped talking. I don’t know if this made any impact on her, but at least I didn’t get all worked up because of her “ungratefulness”. I just pointed out what I observed can be a bad pattern for herself, and let it marinate in her head. That is my role, I believe.
I must confess that I don’t always know how to react to certain behaviours from my kids but I believe my role in their life is to empower them as they are and maybe help them see the attitudes and behaviours that stand in the way for their thriving, but not to try to make them fit into my box of ideas. It is actually fun to try to be more observant of their different personalities and find ways to harmonise with them instead of keep hitting the wall with my old patterns of behaviour towards them.
I know for example that my son is easily scared when it comes to illnesses and injuries. The other day, we went to this trampoline park and my son was trying a new trick. I was playing with the other two when he suddenly came running towards us with his eyes wide open and fell on the floor beside me. It looked like he couldn’t breathe and I could see he was scared, but we wasn’t pale or blue (as if he wasn’t really breathing). I have to say that the floor disappeared for a moment under my feet and I felt a bit dizzy, but I very fast realised that it wouldn’t help him if I panicked. So I took a deep breath, and asked him to do the same. I asked him to look at me and tell me what he was feeling, but he was unable to respond. So I just continued talking to him as calmly as I could. It turns out, it wasn’t anything serious, but he had fallen hard on his back and experienced a sharp pain in his chest and was afraid he had broken his neck . My role in that moment was to stay calm for him, to try to calm him down. I think my role was to balance the situation by not to making him feel bad because of his reaction but not to scaring him more by over reacting. After a little while, his sisters went back to jumping around and having fun while my son and I sat and chat. When we finally were on our way back home, I did bring up what I observed and said that he has a tendency to let fear take over. I said that it is ok, and I am happy I was there to help him through it, but that he needs to gradually work with it, so fear doesn’t take over when he needs to stay calm. I did say that I was maybe as scared as he was, but I knew I had to stay calm to help him calm down, and that it has required a lot of practice and effort from me manage to do so.
It is curious to think how different we all at the same time as how alike we all are. We go around with different attitudes and aptitudes, different perceptions, different patterns of behaviour, but in the end, we all want the same. We want to be seen, we want to be appreciated and we want to feel safe and free. I think, some of us need more of one or another, but we all need all of them.
I think that we do ourselves and the people around us a favour by acknowledging that we all have different personalities and try to work around them instead of getting all frustrated because we don’t act and react the same way. I think that the idea of learning about swa-bhava is merely to encourage us to get to know ourselves well so we know how we act and react at all times, but also to help us decide where we need to make some adjustments to live a more skilful and peaceful life. We all know that we cannot change others but we can try to understand others better, and when it comes to our kids, we do have the opportunity to at least help them see which aspects of their personality aren’t helping them, but at the end of the day, it will be their choice to change them or not.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), there is no perfect parent, but we can at least be conscious parents by being clear about what our role in the life of our kids is (and this clarity is different from parent to parent) and try to act accordingly. I have many fears related to this huge role, probably the most important role I have in life, but I can’t let my fears dominate me, right? So I learn as I go, and in the meantime, I hope I don’t make too much damage.
Every year, I set myself as a goal, to let the overflow of energy during the summer break help me correct some of the useless patterns of attitudes and behaviours I have towards my kids. It does help, but I need to keep reminding myself, and when I’m tired, it is very easy to fall back to the old again. So another lesson to learn? Make sure to rest enough and have enough energy everyday to be a good version of myself when I am with them.