Is there such thing as a perfect parent? In my mind, I can see the sort of mother I’d love to be– fun, patient and kind. A good listener, a problem-solver, a supportive navigator for my children on the path of life. Realistically, I am often short-tempered, stressed from juggling too many things and at some stage every day I feel pushed beyond my limits. Readers of this blog will know that if there is a perfect mother, I am not her.
Starting out on this path of motherhood, I saw my role as a guide and teacher for my children. Like most people in modern society, I believed that my job as a mother was to set a good example so that my children will learn social skills and good habits from me. Mothers are often told that children will do as we do, not as we say. I have heard so many mothers say, “I am such a bad mother” or “I wish I could be more patient” or “I was horrible to my child today and now I feel terrible.” The pressure is enormous. The logical proof goes like this: if you fail to live up to the culturally determined image of a ‘good mother’ you are somehow raising the world’s future bullies and ruffians.
If this hypothesis is true, how do we account for anomalies? Looking back at our own childhoods, how many of us can say that our parents were prefect: that they never yelled at us, never made us feel unheard, never a cross word passed their lips? How many intelligent, successful, happy people come from backgrounds that weren’t all roses? Could it be the case that in the nature/nurture argument we place too much emphasis on nurture, and not enough on nature?
Or perhaps parenting is about something else completely: perhaps it is about giving children the right growing conditions and they will thrive and bloom all on their own.
In Yoga, as in Hinduism, Buddism and Egyptology, the lotus flower is a symbol of purity, rebirth and enlightenment. From the muddy depths of the pond rises a single stem, a fresh new plant rising to the surface. Each morning the lotus sends up a flower bud that opens, fresh and clean, regardless of the murky state of the pond from which it develops. Although anchored in the depths, the beautiful, pure bud opens into the light where it basks in the sunlight and can be admired by all.
I started thinking about this because I have been working in my garden (hence no blog posts recently!). My soil is heavy clay: full of nutrients, but dense and hard to work. Sometimes it is full of roots, weeds and stones– these I have to clear away to make room for the frail little plants I am putting in. In time these plants will grow to produce beans or cucumbers or tomatoes.
Any gardener knows that success in gardening has a bit to do with care, but the best plants come from the best soils. This is why the majority of work a gardener (especially an organic gardener) puts in is in tending her soil: ridding it of weeds and stones, working in organic matter, turning over the soil, raking the top til it is a fine tilth, checking the ph, adding nutrients and mulching. Like the lotus flower, beauty rises from darkness; the soil of my garden gives birth to fruitfulness.
Perhaps parenting is less about what you do for the plant than about what you do for the soil. I am the growing medium for my children. When I pay careful attention to the litter within me: those stones and weeds; when I spend time attentively listening to and nurturing myself, I create the perfect growing conditions for my children. They do not need me to stand over them and watch them grow. Rather, they need me to live an authentic, happy life.
Maybe parenting is not so much about what you do than it is about who you are.
There is a moment in meditation when layers of personality and the myriad hats I wear each day (mother, wife, writer, teacher) fall away and I am free to simply be me. In this place of me-ness I experience a sense of peace and joy. It doesn’t happen every time I meditate, but when it does happen I find that my connection with that place inside me helps me to live in greater communion with the people around me. Instead of flowing in opposite directions, I see that the current of my own life is perfectly matched to my child’s.
Last night I read these words from the Bhagavad Gita to my students:
Little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the mind will become stilled in the Self. Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diffuse in its search for satisfaction without, lead it within; train it to rest in the Self. Abiding joy comes to those who still the mind.
These are remarkable words. To me they say that if we are patient and disciplined with ourselves and if we lead ourselves into our quiet, authentic, secret and inward place, joy will come. It leads me to wonder whether our modern dependence on parenting gurus and striving to be a ‘good mother’ are actually futile endeavours. I wonder whether beating ourselves up about not being patient enough or setting a good enough example for our children is misplaced effort. Putting our own houses in order is a more fruitful endeavour, and once we are in touch with the Self within, we see that being a ‘good mother’ is not what really matters. All we need to be doing is tending our own soils… and like the flower of the lotus plant, our children will rise to the surface and be more wonderful than we’d ever dreamed possible.
All Bhagavad Gita quotations from the translation by Eknath Easwaran, Nilgiri Press.
Photo credit: Shin, Wikimedia Commons.