I’m reading a book called Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I may post more on it later, but one chapter really struck me, and I couldn’t wait to discuss it.
The book opens with three main points early on: sovereignty, empathy, and acceptance. They say that children yearn for all three of these things, even when they’re acting their most unreasonable. My husband and I don’t have children yet, but we both have taught in public schools, and we’re in the thinking-about-it stage of trying to conceive. The quality that has stuck with me is acceptance. One of the things that concerns me is whether or not I have the ability to accept my children as who they are, especially when I’m unhappy with their choices.
I feel that in so many ways, I have let my family down by not being who they wanted me to be. My mother wanted me to be popular and pretty and her best friend. I was a dismal failure at being popular in high school, I was pretty enough, but it didn’t really get me anywhere, and I am so different from my mother we struggle to even hold a conversation without hurt feelings. My grandmother, on the other hand, cannot seem to accept that I’m a very different person than I was at ten years old. To her, I was a sweet, timid kid, who tried very hard to please. She’s not sure what to do with the woman I grew into: strong, smart, and opinionated. I’m not at all sad that I didn’t grow up into a sweet, timid woman–had I done so, I’m sure I’d currently be a doormat. But she’ll sniff and talk about what a wonderful child I was, and how she knows that inside, I’m still the same good girl. I know that she doesn’t see me, can’t really understand me, and it hurts.
So how do I, as a parent, break this cycle? How do I make my children feel heard and appreciated for who they are, even if who they are is not who I dreamed they would be? I do not mean to imply that I would condone anything my children do–of course I would voice concern over illegal activity or reckless behavior. But I wouldn’t stop loving my children, and I would want them to know that no matter how much of the world turns against them, they still have a mother who loves them and sees them. I know the moments when it matters most–when a child is tired and frustrated and lashing out at the world–are the moments where it is hardest to keep perspective. Those moments can make or break relationships, and I worry about my ability to navigate them, to not try to impose my judgement. I know myself well enough to know that I can be critical and overbearing–exactly the qualities that drive me crazy in my mother and grandmother. Is this something I can change? The Kabat-Zinn’s recommend a formal meditation practice, and I think perhaps I should try to learn more about the process of meditating, and what kind of practice would work for me.