Parenting is stressful because our children need us to transform their emotional experience. They rely on the relationships with primary caregivers to regulate their emotional experience through the interaction. All day long, as caregivers, we are required to weather the emotional storms, coach them through the challenges, and celebrate the small victories that define childhood. Most likely, we have feelings and reactions to our children’s demands for attention and their need for connection. Our own temperamental tendencies and emotional resistances may interfere with our realizations of the “good enough” parent. Separating our needs from those of our children requires emotional maturity and tolerance for a certain level of frustration. Unprepared at times, we see that our responses are inadequate, hasty, and even hurtful. But we may not know how to respond with grace and skill.
Model peace, however, and others take refuge in the stillness and harmony you embody. As you practice meditation and calm the mind, you become a stable ground for yourself and your family. Ancient wisdom traditions such as Yoga teach us that with consistent practice and intelligent application, we can harness our vital energy and stop the fluctuations of the mind. As parents, our children automatically look to us to transform their emotional experience. Sometimes, we do this unconsciously. When the baby cries and stretches out her arms, without thinking, we pick her up and begin to sway back and forth with her in our arms using the gentle rhythm of our body to calm her cries.
As children grow, we employ more conscious strategies and guide them to use their words and actions to begin to self-soothe. When young siblings argue, they angrily demand that an adult attend to the battle and bear witness to the injustices of the situation. A skillful parent might use his or her body to create space between these two embroiled children, encouraging them to “take three deep breaths” and speak in calm voices. A final strategy might include hearing both sides before launching into negotiations to rectify the situation.
In playful moments of joy, children reach for our hands and wrap tiny bodies around adult legs as a request to meet them wholeheartedly and join in the celebration of the simple pleasure of the moment, of merely being alive together. Parents who establish rhythms in their daily lives know that these body-based rituals can be enlivened with soul. By using breath, body-based rituals, and relationships to others, we can prevent unnecessary disruption and emotional dysregulation for children and parents alike. In all these examples we are called both to anticipate our children’s needs and to use reciprocal interactions to transform their experience. As we orchestrate the complex and subtle dance of interpersonal exchange, the dance of intimacy, we recognize that our self-awareness may be the most essential guiding force.