A mother uses a yoga retreat with her daughter to help in learning to let go of her parental guilt.
My four-year-old laughs—there’s no better sound—and splashes in the shallow water, so shallow she could wade out into the ocean for as far as the eye can see. But as we gaze at the sunset together, I’m holding her hand and keeping her close to shore.
Yes, I’m a worrier. Recently divorced, I never seem to have enough time or money. I worry not only about my daughter’s well-being, but that she doesn’t get enough of me. I should do more, be more, I think. Which is why, even though this weeklong yoga getaway to Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun in Mexico, is definitely a material hardship, I’ve chosen to come anyway—to breathe, unwind, retreat.
I’m committed to yoga because I know, intellectually, that breaks are good for me, and for my daughter, too: When I get back to parenting, I’m renewed, patient, attentive. But emotionally, it’s different. Guilt is always there. I find myself wondering whether I should be allowed to feel so good when I’m apart from my daughter.
So, at the urging of Janet, my friend and yoga mentor, I’ve brought my daughter, Story, with me to Mexico. But I worry about that, too: There will be friends from home along on the trip, but Story will be away from me twice a day in an unfamiliar environment. Should I be taking her on a trip with so many unknowns? I guess we’ll find out.
On our second day in Mexico, we take a boat to Isla Mujeres. The light from the sun warms us. I notice that Story’s shoulders are pink, but in the excitement of arriving at Na Balam, where the classes take place, I forget about putting more sunscreen on her. My daughter runs off to play with her familiar friends India and India’s father; I head to the tree house temple.
The next day, Ruth, the babysitter, arrives at 6 a.m. But Story is inconsolable over what’s now a raging sunburn and won’t let me leave her. I thank Ruth, apologize, pay her anyway, and return to the scarlet skin and wet tears of my daughter. Is this punishment? Another example of my failure as a caregiver? I curse myself for forgetting to reapply the sunscreen and am frustrated that I’ll have to miss a practice so early in the trip. I feel on the verge of joining Story in her tears.
Later, Ruth returns with her young daughter, Marisela, so I can attend the afternoon session. Story protests, pouts, clings, and stomps, expressing her displeasure at the impending separation. “I don’t understand their not-English,” she complains. Calmly and lovingly, I tell her I’ll see her soon. I relinquish the care of my girl. I trust Ruth, but she’s a stranger. Should I be doing this? Despite my misgivings, when I get to the class—and for the next few days—I go through the motions and try to get into the groove of vinyasa twice a day.
Midweek, things begin to shift: Story greets Marisela with a hug. Then she puts both hands above her head and hops. “Molly-Sarah has a bunny at her house,” she squeals. “I wanna go see it.” Knowing that Story is adapting allows me to be more fully present in the temple. She’s fine, I reassure myself. As I relax during the retreat, I notice my hold on her finally starting to loosen. I let Story wade into the ocean by herself while I watch from the beach.
During one practice, I offer myself bhakti, or love. I want my mind to be more generous…to me. The world is a tough place. I love my daughter unconditionally and I do my best. I want self-acceptance to replace my self-doubt.
At the end of our last two yoga sessions, Story joins our communion, treats the temple with reverence, and smiles at everyone. After the final Savasana, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” brings us back to the room. Story knows the words and sings along: “Don’t worry. About a thing. ‘Cause every little thing, gonna be aw’right.” She comes over to me and holds out two tightly closed fists. In one, she offers me a shell she’s found; in the other, a flower.
I look deep into her eyes, beneath the sparkly blue bindi that yoga teacher Rusty Wells has put on her forehead. “Thank you, honey,” I tell her. “De nada,” she whispers back.
Yes, I can feel it: Every little thing is gonna be all right.
See also Yoga for Moms: Going With the Flow
About our author
Diane Anderson is a Yoga Journal senior editor.