We are human “beings,” but many of us rarely get to “be” in the run of a day. Simply being and feeling what is present in the moment is one of the greatest things we can do to find a sense of peace and joy and to be the best parent we can be. Just because we are raising children doesn't mean that we can’t also be on our personal growth path. Personally, my spiritual journey and self-work accelerated when I became a mother. I eventually realized that my children are my greatest teachers.
Our children are our mirrors: clear reflections of their external world, uncompromisingly in their “being-ness” because social conditioning has not altered their connection to source. They show us who we are whether we like it or not. They amplify the parts we know, the parts we don't, the parts we love, and the parts we don’t.
How we react is the key.
I’ll always remember looking into the eyes of my newborn and seeing a love I had never seen before. It was pure, boundless, and without reservation. I remember the feeling of my heart breaking open. At that moment, I caught a glimpse of who I truly was. I saw a love that lived in me, a part of myself I had forgotten, left behind, a part I knew well when I was a little girl. I sensed he would be my teacher: showing me the way to a sacred place within myself where all the love that is needed resides. He embodied a certain groundedness and sense of knowing. Could I find and preserve that quality within myself? Was I capable of honoring this great soul? It scared me.
One day, when my son was one and a half years old, he became upset and had a tantrum. Up until that age, Olivier was so content that I never had to deal with much beyond the usual toddler needs and wants: food, attention, and sleep. I was engrossed in my Ph.D. thesis, working toward a deadline, and very much "in my head." In fact, my attention was so accurately in my mind and abstract thoughts that I was, in some sense, disembodied. That information would have been of little use to a toddler; I was not giving him the attention he desired, and he was mad.
All of the tricks that used to distract him failed me. I felt completely overwhelmed as he became increasingly upset. I could feel the stress level rise in my body and felt myself wanting to scream: “Stop it! Give me a break!”
But I didn't scream, thankfully. I mentioned above that Olivier's birth inspired me to find a better way to live. My investigations had taught me about past conditioning, how we keep energy and information in our bodies, and how it can come to the surface when we are triggered. At that moment I was able to identify that my feelings were not because of his actions, they were because of my conditioning. My whole being was remembering a time when I wanted attention and did not receive it. My son was simply mirroring a deep discontent that lived in me, the part of me that wanted to kick and scream to get the attention I deeply desired. I took a deep breath as I directed my attention toward the pressure I felt in my body, and tears rolled down my face as I began to release this intensity in me.
I felt much better, he calmed down, and all was well. Now, this is easier said than done but in my book Be Feel Think Do I share stories and insights about this process, how incredibly freeing it can be, and how much we gain from this kind of healing.
When children reflect things we don't like about ourselves, it is important to own our "stuff," and not re-reflect it onto our child. To break these patterns we must own what is ours, and witness what is theirs. In fact, this goes for every relationship we have. It is a powerful paradigm shift in the way are with each other.
There are two elements to the story about my son.
Firstly, Olivier was feeling upset and wanted attention: that belonged to him. That had nothing to do with me, or who I was; to take it personally would link his reactions to my identity and that would be unhealthy for both of us. My job was to witness and validate his feelings at that moment. The situation simply needed to be seen and honored with openness and love. Nothing needed to be fixed. He needed permission to feel what he felt without judgment. What I have found since then is that the problems pass by much faster when we don't try to change one another's reaction. The child feels it all and moves on to the next adventure.
The second element of this story were my feelings and reactions. The intensity, the pressure, the anger, the sadness, all of what was happening inside of me was mine, none of it was his. What moved through me belonged to me. Even though his behavior triggered it, part of my job as a parent is to avoid projecting my reaction onto him. The situation was an invitation for me to witness myself, hold space for myself, simply “be” with what I felt. In that instant, I shed some baggage and evolved into a new and improved version of the parent that I wished to be.
When we catch ourselves projecting our emotions onto our child, we can stop, bring our attention within, and breathe deeply. It can be difficult because many of us have very ingrained limiting beliefs around tears and showing emotions, especially in front of our children. To move beyond that belief, we need to understand the difference between dwelling in our emotions and processing our emotions.
When we dwell in our emotions, we keep them stuck at the level of our thoughts. We repeat a story, and we stay in a closed loop of negative internal conversation. It feels heavy, and little to nothing gets resolved. Our relationships, with our children and others, will be affected.
On the other hand, when we process our emotions, meaning that we connect with the direct experience inside ourselves and fully feel the truth that moves through us, we not only free ourselves but we free our children from the tension. Children sense tension, even when we try to soothe and protect them. We don't help them when we do that. Instead, we teach them that there is an outer world and an inner world, one that is appropriate for the world to see and one that is hidden as a secret within. That is not a healthy belief.
When children reflect parts we love about ourselves, it is also important to acknowledge it and celebrate it. When my daughter was born, she came into this world screaming. I saw it as fearlessness and boldness. She came into this world with things to say and do, and the whole world needed to know, and she made sure of that. I knew that she was mirroring another suppressed aspect of my being. She was calling out the exuberant little girl I used to be, the one who spoke her mind and lived out loud. Her demands were simple: step out, speak up, and shine your light.