Being a parent is, at times, a tough gig. Whether it is something completely planned or a surprise, parenting can be bewildering. We are given these tiny, helpless people, and with them comes the weight of not screwing them up totally. We are told so much conflicting advice: “Don’t miss a moment; it goes fast.” ” Take time for yourself.” “Protect and lead your child through this scary world.” “Let your child be brave, learn independence, and move through the world on their own.” I could go on. There are countless parenting books, trying to help. But the truth of the matter is, nobody really knows what they are doing. Each child is completely unique, down to their genetic code. Nobody has lived their life before, therefore, nobody knows how to help them live their life. It is frustrating that this greatest of responsibilities does not come with an instruction manual.
Lately, I’ve been looking to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as an instruction manual for how to live my life. And it suddenly struck me, why can’t the wisdom of the Sutras apply to parenting as well?
I found Sutra 30 from book 2 to be an easy place to start. It states:
The laws of life are five:
These five point are straight forward enough. And they are easy to remember, even in the chaos of a busy, child-filled day.
- Nonviolence: Think beyond the obvious, “don’t hit your kids.” Violence does not always have to be a physical act. Our words, energy, and attitude can be violent. Lead gently. Before reacting to your child’s behavior, breathe and find a kind way to guide them toward a safe, preferable behavior. Consider how you speak to, about, and around your child. Are your words hurtful to anyone? This can be hard, if we are venting about that pain-in-the-you-know-what from work to a friend. Can you take a moment, stop reacting, and choose words that express truthfully how you feel without hurting anyone, or teaching your children it is ok to hurt? Scream less. Breathe more.
- Truthfulness: On the surface, this can seem simple enough. Don’t lie to your kids. But it gets complicated when they ask tough questions, “if our eggs are on the inside, how do daddies fertilize them?” for example. I’m not going to tell you when to have “THE TALK” with your kids. But I do think we can stay truthful to the moment, or even our discomfort with the moment without either telling everything, or lying. “It’s complicated. I can explain it when we have more time and you are a bit older.” This is the truth. Teaching your kids about mythical figures, such as Santa, or fairies, doesn’t go against this, as long as you allow the truth to shine through the myth. “Santa” is the spirit of Christmas, for example. Take time to explain things to your kids. Try not to breeze through the confusing answers. Treat them with respect in your answers and explanations.
- Integrity: More than just speaking the truth, walk through the world with honesty. This is where we allow ourselves, as parents, to lead by example. When you say you are going to do something, do it, whether or not you think your kid remembers your promise. Live life the way you would want them to. If you don’t want your kids to blow all of their savings on stupid toys, try not wasting your money on unneeded trinkets. If you tell your kids to not lie, don’t lie. Be someone to look up to. And when you screw up, don’t try to hide it. We can have integrity and not be perfect. Own your mistakes, so that your kids can allow themselves to be comfortable with their own imperfections.
- Chastity: This has very little to do with sex, and more to do with energy. Notice where you are putting it. Do you waste your energy on projects, hobbies, people that are draining to you and your family? If you feel like you are cheating your kids to go and do something else? Decide whether or not that other thing is a necessity. Are you cheating your kids out of quality time by looking at a screen, answering emails, simply worrying or planning? You only have 18, or so, years with your kids. It does go fast. Stay faithful to your role as a parent when they need you. This does not mean give them absolutely all of yourself. Don’t waste your energy on your kids either. Stay solid in your connection to yourself, and find things that fuel you. Take care of yourself, so that you can continue to take care of your kids.
- Non-Attachment: This one makes my heart ache. Try not to be attached to any specific age. Parents often mourn the loss of the baby years, or fear the teen years. Being present as a parent, means not yearning for something different. It also means accepting your child as who they are in the present moment. Even before our kids are born we plan their lives for them, from gender stereotyping, to setting up a college fund. Having attachment to these plans can cause struggle between parents and kids. (This is something I tell myself over and over again.) Try not to be attached to your ideas of who or what your kids are. As a parent, we can do our kids the greatest service by being curious. Every day, allow yourself to rediscover who is this person you are raising. We like to think of people as solid. But if we look back at who we were 10, 20, 30 years ago, we have very clearly changed. Give your kids the space to grow and change without the restraints of expectations.
I’m no parenting-guru. The act of writing this list is as much a lesson and promise to myself, as it is a guide for you. But I cannot imagine a more beautiful world to live in than one that brings up our children, the future, with the compassion and strength of yoga.