One of my dear friends and I were recently having brunch on a Wednesday in Laguna Beach. It was an unplanned and wonderful moment. We both have full schedules, and yet we were able to meet and eat and drink coffee and stare at the ocean and talk about what was happening in our lives.
As both of us are moms, the conversation quickly turned to mothering. She spoke of her daughter, and her daughter’s struggle with feeling excluded by certain people at school. We talked about the words she wanted to help her daughter find, words to stand up for herself in a firm but kind way, words that protected but did not isolate.
I talked about our challenges at home with honesty…wanting to encourage our children to be honest and open with us no matter what was happening in their lives, and at the same time, not knowing how to then enforce consequences for bad behavior. If we punished, wouldn’t our children be less likely to be honest? If we didn’t punish, would we be encouraging honesty but enabling bad behavior?
Eventually the conversation veered back around to ourselves, and we realized how we struggled with these very issues growing up, and continue to struggle with them to this day. We feel lonely and left out when we see parties on Facebook that we were not a part of. We are not always completely honest in our words and actions, especially when we are afraid of negative consequences.
These issues, and all of the variations that play out between parents and children in homes around the world, are fundamental struggles that we all wrangle with to some degree. They may manifest a little differently on the surface, but we are all flawed, all imperfect. We try to be better, we try to help our children be better, and we are not always successful. We feel disappointed, like we are somehow failing, and we are fearful that our limitations and our children’s limitations will cause pain.
Despite my outward actions, when I think about it more deeply, I know I do not want to demand perfection of my children, or of myself. It is too great a burden to bear. It is too difficult to always wish that we were different than we are, even if that different is an improvement. Always trying to be better is like trying to live in a future that we don’t know, and yet assume will be so much greater than the moment in which we are living. I struggle with finding the balance, the grey area of unconditionally loving and accepting ourselves and others, while still changing in a positive direction.
I think the answer is subtle. Maybe growth best comes from a place of genuine inquiry and curiosity, rather than placing harsh demands on ourselves or our children. I am trying to learn how to ask myself the right questions, rather than assume I know the right answers. I am trying to trust the journey that is unfolding, to trust that the universe will provide the guidance and direction and experiences we need to learn what is most important for us to learn. I don’t actually know if that is true, but why not believe that? Believing that there is a greater wisdom that surrounds and supports us feels comforting to me, and is consistent with what I know of my life to date.
I don’t know what challenges lie ahead for me or my children. There is no way to be prepared or equipped for every possible scenario when we don’t know what is on the horizon. So I am shifting my focus inward instead of forward, and trying to help my children do the same. What do we know inside to be true for ourselves? How can we continue to ask questions that will guide us towards the answers that intuitively feel the best? How can we operate from a place of integrity, guided by our deepest wisdom? How can we stay present and live with compassion for ourselves and others? How can we learn from the lessons of the universe and mother nature?
This feels so much better than getting angry with my children when they are dishonest or sneaky, or trying to fill them with practical solutions to every potential life problem they might encounter. Instead, I am trying to help them turn in, and become intimate with what they discover in their inner world. How to befriend themselves so that they are never lonely, and how to find their own questions and answers.
It seems to be the only way forward from here.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in reflecting on how we request change of ourselves and our children? Is there a deeper form of guidance and movement that we can discover?
With gratitude, Monisha