When I taught through the program Semester at Sea, I was asked a question by a college student as we stood in line for the dinner buffet.
He said, “Jenny, I just love your kids. They are so open and kind and so much fun to be around.” Then, he asked, “If you could tell me one thing to remember later about being a good parent, what would it be?”
I turned towards him, looked him in the eye, and said, “Do your own work. Don’t be afraid to look inside of yourself. Even if you are scared, do it anyway.”
As parents, we want what is best for our kids – a positive self-image, a wonder and desire for life, a solid foundation to stand on as they navigate life’s challenges, a kind heart, and so much more. But do we foster these qualities in ourselves as parents? Do you ever hear yourself saying, “I am too busy to spend time with myself,” or “that’s weird,” or all of the many ways in which we avoid ourselves.
Here it is, plain and simple: we can only lead our children as far as we have gone into our own interior lives and to the power that lives there. We cannot fake that teaching; we can live it if we commit to our own hearts. It is not about being perfect or raising children that are perfect. It is just the opposite. It is about teaching our children to be fully human and fully divine by living that way ourselves. We become the teaching when we engage in our own self discovery, and the only way I have been able to look myself in the eye and know my heart truly is by the grace of something much, much bigger than me.
When our children were little, they saw my husband and I committed to self-discovery – really doing our best to know ourselves, strengths and weaknesses, and everything in between. My husband would be standing in the front room with his arms outstretched in the practice of Qi Gong. My daughter would see me leave the house every day to be with my teachers and the practice of yoga. They see us light candles in the studio and sit in meditation with others.
We can only teach our children who they truly are by being who we truly are. This is much easier said than done. When we turn inward, there are monsters in that forest. This is often why we avoid it and, in doing so, teach our children to avoid it. The path that we commit to in that forest does not matter. It is the commitment to that path that they see, not necessarily the path itself.
I am confident that my children will have different ways of staying close to their own lives. They likely will not look anything like mine or my husband’s. They shouldn’t. They are different people. I do know they have been raised knowing that there is something bigger than all of us that includes us. They will relate with this in ways that are right for them now. I trust that now, more than I ever did (and there was a time where I didn’t trust this, I tried to control it, and it didn’t work.)
When I wonder what is best for my children, I take care of myself first. I am honest with myself and allow myself to receive a little Love from what breathes me everyday. It seems simple, but it’s not always easy. There are ways to take a step that brings you closer to you and to the life that breathes you. Find a teacher, start a practice that puts you in contact with what is uncomfortable within you, go on retreat, be silent for a day, be vulnerable, enjoy yourself, or cry. All of these things teach your children that it is safe to be who they are. They learn by living it, and you are their guide. So let’s do it, not only for our children, but because this is our one precious life to lead. What a gift! Let’s lead it as consciously as we can.