Parenting as a Spiritual Practice: Identity Crisis
The new school year starts in two weeks. My oldest daughter is starting middle school and my youngest daughter has suddenly become more independent. I realize that I haven’t had a “job” in thirteen years.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t been working. I have been writing, cooking, teaching, cleaning, fundraising, doing homework, attending tournaments and recitals, refereeing etc… No, what I mean is that while my children are transitioning happily and seamlessly into the next phase of their young lives, I’ve been feeling a little lost. They are young and there is still a lot of parenting to be done yet, but I can see the college years looming, the empty nest emerging like the inevitable dawn, and I think, “What am I going to do?” “Maybe I should start thinking about going back to school?” “I should publish something, quick!”
The thoughts about what to do are really thoughts about who to be, that is “Who am I going to become now that my identity as parent of small children has changed?” The anxiety I experienced around the question of “job” tells me that my self worth and my identity have been wrapped up in being the primary care-giver of children. I know this because parenting (and marriage) is my spiritual practice.
Parenting as spiritual practice simply means paying very close attention to what is happening inside of me and around me. When my home life becomes imbalanced, I know that the imbalance is internal. A few weeks ago my daughters had been arguing for hours. We were in the car running errands when this thought came, “I should just pull over and make them get out,” and if it were socially acceptable to drop off an eleven year old and a nine year old on the street I would have done it. Instead, I threatened never to take with them anywhere again, buy them anything ever again, and cancel our upcoming vacation. Then I did my practice.
First, I asked myself what I wanted. Cooperation. Then I envisioned what this cooperation looked like. I imagined us all sitting around the table laughing. I imagined my daughters being friends. I let my desire regarding this flow through me and I knew that it was good. When I shared this vision with my husband, Stu, he nodded in agreement. We were both on the same page (and two loving parents who share the same vision are an unstoppable spiritual force). Then he suggested that we have an intervention with them. Stu and I had a private talk with each of the girls. We addressed what we felt were the major issues; the older one deeply resents the younger one and the younger one is envious of the older one’s many successes and so finds pleasure in tormenting her. For the older girl we painted a picture of what being friends with the younger one would look like when they were older. My husband said, “One day you are going to be Auntie to her kids.” I said, “How can you have a relationship with nieces and nephews if you and your sister aren’t friends?” Since my sister and I have a great relationship, my daughter had a point of reference, and I saw a light of understanding literally light-up her face. We couldn’t have that level of conversation with the younger one, so basically the conversation went like this, “If you hit your sister again, you’ll get an immediate time out.” Not as enlightening but it has been very effective.
Parenting my children as spiritual practice requires that I look deeper into the nature of my being so that I CAN DEMONSTRATE to them balance and well being. Parenting as spiritual practice takes the practitioner beyond “Do as I say,” rather the spiritual practitioner’s mantra is, “I know that you do as I do, so I must do better.”
Although I love my family I know that it is unwise and unhealthful to loose myself in my role as Mommy (or to lose myself in any role). My role as parent will change as my children age and I cause myself deep pain when I am unwilling to let go. In parenting as spiritual practice, I must look for the “I AM,” within myself and within my children. I have found that when I approach life from the perspective of spirit, that is, working on the internal first, my external reality is much happier.