I squirmed impatiently in my seat as I waited for the parenting expert to finish his talk at my children's school. I was eager to ask my personal question: How could I get my two other children to stop bickering all the time? His answer surprised me at first, but upon reflection, it fit perfectly into what I had learned through my study of yoga. He suggested that I pay more attention to my own growth and self-awareness. He suggested that if I was clear and present with each child in each situation, the choices I would make would be the "right" ones. I was initially taken aback by the power of this answer. But I tried his advice by rededicating myself to the study and practice of yoga, meditation, and other self-awareness techniques. Not only did this eventually help the situation of the fighting kids, albeit indirectly, it also became the foundation which shaped most of my parenting decisions.
Yoga combines both abhyasa, disciplined action or strength, and vairagya, supreme detachment or going with the flow, and thus all poses require finding balance. Parenting, too, is a balancing act. And it is a balancing act done in the midst of water balloon fights in the backyard, birthday parties at the pizza parlor, soccer matches won and lost. It is a balancing act with lots of "firsts": first words, first steps, first dates, and first nights spent in a dorm.
Being a parent is primarily about the relationship I have with another human being—an amazing, at times difficult, and yet precious person, who happens to be my child. In order for that relationship to be what I want it to be, I have to continuously learn the importance of being clear within myself. I need to be aware of who I am, and of my choices, priorities, and values. I then need to live those choices in compassion and love. This does not mean that I don't occasionally feel angry, disappointed, or confused by what my children say and do, or even by how I act as a parent. It does mean that I need to take a simple truth to heart: My children and I are at the same time expressions of the Divine and totally fallible human beings.
I have found that it is impossible to let my children know too often how much I love them, or how important their safety is to me. My commitment as a parent has helped me through the fatigue of comforting a crying baby with an earache, as well as sharing the sadness of a teenager with heartache. I have relearned and appreciated the value of predictable schedules for young children and consistent limits for older ones. I have learned that discipline and anger do not have to go hand-in-hand, and that forgiveness and giving in are not the same thing. To practice yoga is to "get on the mat" every day and just do it, knowing that the consistency of practicing every day itself is the victory, no the accomplishment of any specific pose. It is the daily beginning once again to stretch and challenge the body that adds up, over the years, to an educated and healthy being. To parent requires this same consistent sharing of love and the consistent holding to clear and fair limits that over the long haul will shape the character of a child. I do not need to do "perfect" yoga poses to reap great rewards from my practice. And I do not need to be a "perfect" parent, either—just a committed one who's willing to learn, laugh, "get back on the parenting mat," and try again.
Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D. and physical therapist, is the mother of three children. She is also the author of two books, Relax and Renew (Rodmell Press, 1995) and the new Living Your Yoga (Rodmell Press, 2000). Contact Judith at www.judithlasater.com