My daughters and I recently attended a family yoga class together. After a little downward dog and cat and cow, we transitioned into tree pose. I shifted my weight onto my right foot, lifted my left foot off the ground and rested it against the inside of my right calf. I was just focusing my gaze when I felt a small hand on my hip.
My 5-year-old was standing next to me. Actually, she was falling over next to me. Over and over again, she reached out to steady herself with my body before dropping her hand and attempting to regain her balance. It never occurred to her that she could just put her foot down and try again.
I was acutely aware of her every movement even as I was trying to stay balanced. And then, it hit me. I suddenly understood for the first time, the connection between yoga and the rest of my life.
Meanwhile, our children are reaching out to us for that same stability, stability we may barely have for ourselves.
This is it, folks. This is parenting. We’re all just trying to stay upright even as our lives are moving forward, sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not quickly enough. When we’re lucky, we move from pose to pose, from moment to moment, smoothly and easily, finding our grounding in places and positions we never thought possible. And sometimes we fall. Meanwhile, our children are reaching out to us for that same stability, stability we may barely have for ourselves.
As we finished our yoga class and headed home for lunch, I couldn’t stop thinking about that moment, that physical representation of a dynamic that plays out between us so often; she loses her temper or her lovey and comes to me to help her find her way back to solid ground. Sometimes I’m happy to help, grateful for the opportunity to soothe her overwhelming feelings. Other times, I’m irritable and impatient; I have no energy left for another tantrum.
But in that yoga class, I kept it together. I didn’t fall over, get annoyed, or ask my daughter to please keep her hands to herself, all of which I have done many times before, and will undoubtedly do again.
Here’s what helped:
1. On a most basic level, I was well fed, well-caffeinated, and reasonably well rested. I know some parents who can function with less than ideal self-care, but I am not one of them.
2. I was surrounded by other parents. This wasn’t just about not wanting to embarrass myself or shame my daughter by losing it in front of the entire class. I’m often calmer in my parenting when there is another adult around, even if they’re not explicitly helping me with my kids.
3. I was doing just one thing. Unlike so many other parenting moments, I wasn’t checking my phone or unloading the dishwasher while trying to interact with my kids. Multi-tasking maxes out my brain and increases my stress, and more often than not, I end up snapping, literally and figuratively. In this case, I was just trying to stand on one foot. That’s all.
I am at my best as a parent when I am calm and balanced.
4. I didn’t try to manage my daughter’s experience. Certainly there are times when I do need to be directly involved in telling the girls what to do (or not) and how to do it. But there are also times when I unnecessarily micro-manage them, the result being an unnecessary and unpleasant power struggle. In that moment, in that pose, I was focused on staying as calm and balanced as possible, and that allowed my daughter to do the same.
5. Most importantly, I was just practicing. I didn’t expect perfection. I knew it was OK if I lost my balance and had to set my foot down. This “just practicing” approach kept me from worrying about whether or not I was getting it right. This is a very different perspective than I usually have, when it feels like every moment is Real Life and Real Parenting and if I screw it up, I risk doing Permanent Damage to my daughters. That’s rarely true, of course, but it’s hard to remember that in the heat of a big parenting moment.
The most important lesson I learned is that I am at my best as a parent when I am calm and balanced. Sometimes I can fix my girls’ problems or answer their questions. But more often than not, and especially as they get older, they need the space to muddle through their own experience, knowing that I am close and they are safe, no matter what or where we are practicing.