Like most mothers, the majority of my energy is used for my children. Physically caring for them, wiping bottoms and noses, feeding babies, looking after the home, preparing meals, cleaning up after them– this is the hard manual graft of family life. But it’s not only my physical energy that is completely devoted to them; I give over most of my mental energy to them as well. Sometimes it’s just thinking about what they need each day or what I need to do: “Ok, after I empty this potty and wash my hands, I need to stir that pot before it burns, and I need to check over the homework, brush her hair, get some clothes on the baby and… I wonder how she’s getting on in school with her teacher.” Some thoughts are simply making plans, but sometimes they are something rather different: sometimes they are worries.
We take it for granted that worrying about our children goes with the job. And maybe there is a biological reason for it. We see other mammals fussing over their babies: ewes bleat imploringly if they lose their little ones, primates groom and stroke one another, blue whales keep their little ones near them and beneath them for much of their early lives. We as mammals are designed to give an excellent quality of care to our young. Compared to other animals, human infants are less developed and more dependant when they are born. Many researchers believe that this is due to the size of the bipedal female pelvis: a one year old’s head wouldn’t fit through, but a newborn baby’s does. So a new baby has a lot of growing to do, and he needs to do it fast– hence the need for round-the-clock nurturing and protection from his mother. Caring for them is what we do.
We want our children to be happy, and we worry for their wellness and safety. Many times this worry comes in the form of bringing out the big stick and beating ourselves up over something we have done. We wonder whether we are ‘bad mothers’ and when I yelled at Johnny this morning will he turn into a bully later in life? But consider the old-fashioned meaning of worry: to worry a cloth or handkerchief involves stretching, stroking and rubbing the cloth until it begins to fall apart. Worry can be detrimental to you, but until now I never considered that it might just affect my children. Most of the time worry has no perceivable benefit. Sometimes we worry over nothing and the thing we were worrying about never actually comes to fruition. Sometimes we fret over the past, and clearly there is little we can do now to change anything but the moment in which we currently act.
Worry takes us out of the present moment: I might be mindlessly pushing my toddler on the swing while I worry about something that happened earlier. I might be walking my children to school, but my mind is still in yesterday as I think over a problem that hasn’t quite been resolved. My daughter wants to talk with me about her latest drawing, but all I can think about it is the events that are due to happen later in the day. Although I am ‘there’ for my children, am I really truly here? And do they instinctively know?
What would it be like to be free from worry? Perhaps you, like me, have experienced sleepless nights of worrying about your children. Perhaps full days have been spent mulling over a concern you have about one of your children, or you are dwelling on something that happened yesterday or something that is likely to happen tomorrow. We all know the unhappiness and unease that comes with a too-busy mind.
The question to ask yourself is, “Who is in charge here?” We make the mistake of assuming that we have no control over the mind. This is certainly what I believed when I first came to Yoga. I had no idea that I could separate myself from my thoughts. I had no idea that I did not need to recycle my thoughts over and over– that it is possible to put a STOP to worry.
If you find your mind hard to tame you are in good company. In the classic text the Bhagavad Gita, one of the bravest warriors in all of Indian history complains, “…the mind is inconstant: in its restlessness I cannot find rest. The mind is restless… impetuous, self-willed, hard to train: to master the mind seems as difficult as to master the mighty winds.”
Oh dear, if Arjuna can’t even train his mind, how on earth can we?
Krishna’s advice to Arjuna is this, “The mind is indeed restless, Arjuna: it is indeed hard to train. But by constant practice and by freedom from passions the mind in truth can be trained.” Such lovely words, but there are two problems here: parents rarely have time for sustained practice, and we are (rightly so) passionate about our children!
So we find ourselves back at the beginning: how do we do stop the useless cycle of worry? But the advice continues and here’s where is gets really good:
For concentration is better than mere practice, and meditation is better than concentration; but higher still than meditation is surrender in love of the fruit of one’s actions, for on surrender follows peace.
It’s worth repeating: surrendering in love our attachment to results is what brings peace. I have written here before about results-orientated parenting as opposed to process-orientated parenting. Naturally, a major thing that parents do is to guide and teach their children. I have no objection to this. But I think that focussing our minds too fixedly on what might be the outcome of our actions takes us away from experiencing this present moment with awareness and love.
Perhaps the key to freedom from parental worry is sitting before us in the form of this small child. Maybe fixing my mind on my child is my practice. Focussing my passion on her is the way to bring myself into this moment and away from worry. To parent for the now, with love, is to truly harness the moment.
Consider surrendering in love the fruits of your actions this day, this week, and notice whether this affects how much and what you worry about. Notice whether it brings you a greater sense of peace, as promised by the Bhagavad Gita. And be reassured that if our daily lives are our childrens’ greatest learning experience, then if all of your actions are grounded in love, they are learning life’s greatest lesson.
All Bhagavad Gita quotations taken from Mascaro, J, transl. (1962) Penguin, London.
Photo credit: Leena, Wikimedia Commons.