It used to be that Back2School was something I secretly counted down the days to, with the promise of structure, routine, predictability – and a quiet house. Today my son started the 7th grade and tomorrow my daughter starts 10th grade. When, at bedtime, I confided in Bill (my husband) that I was bummed about today being Back2School, he reacted as if I had announced I was going to start watching football. I explained that yes, I look forward to the peace and quiet, which is something my ADD-riddled brain hasn’t had enough of during this insanely active and adventurous summer. And I won’t miss the sibling fights, or the frustration I feel surging every time I see a kid on the couch, head bowed in prayer to the iGod. I will, however, miss my children and existing with them in a space that isn’t dominated by academic demands, athletic practices and games, quickie breakfasts, packed lunches, and late dinners for the sake of having a meal as a family. And, a big part of my lack of overwhelming enthusiasm is the fact that once again, my kids are entering the jungle. Especially my son, who is in middle school, which is innately an awkward stage no matter how cool you are or appear.
After the middle school bus left, I went for a run. As I navigated the local hills, I thought about my son, his classmates, and all the millions of kids who are entering the jungle today and along with their ridiculously heavy backpacks, are saddled with whatever else is going on in their lives. I started to pray for the children – may they move through their anxiety, feeling comforted by their faith, the love they get from home and from their teachers, the spark that lights up within them when they are learning something that interests them or become engrossed in a physical or creative activity that makes them laugh and feel alive. I started that prayer and then, before I could reach the top of the hill I was creeping- I mean, powering - up, my mind switched and I started thinking of the homes that release all these kids into the jungle.
Both of my kids have had situations through the years that have been excellent opportunities for me to practice extreme self-restraint and not go hunting down some kid and their parent and shake them and scream, “WTF do you think you are doing???!!! Don’t you know that my kid is kind and sensitive and nurturing? How DARE you do that to her/him???” And to the parent, “WTF do you think you are doing???!!!! Don’t you know your kid is an asshole and it’s probably because you are not modeling love, setting boundaries, limiting screen time and sugar???”
I thought about the most recent opportunities where I have practiced a level of self-restraint (at least, in public), that Gandhi would have been proud of, and my prayer took a turn. I thought of all us parents who really are, I believe, doing the best that we can, with the information that we have, at any given moment. Our kids are out in the jungle today, but we moms and dads, and other guardians, we are all in the jungle too. And the way that we raise our little cubs is in many ways a result of how we were raised, and now that we are adults, the choices that we make every day, in thought and deed. So, this became my prayer for you:
May you, dear guardian of the cub that is in the same jungle as my kid, feel loved. May you know that no matter who you are, what you do, what you have done, you are loved. May you have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change in yourself, your child and your life; the courage to change the things you can, especially in yourself, and to say no to an over-crowded schedule and to the voice in your head that says you are only worthy if you do XYZ and if your kid accomplishes XYZ; and the wisdom to know the difference between letting go and giving up.
One of the key lessons I have learned in yoga, is that when we resist, we suffer. When we push, the way we force a stretch, we end up uncomfortable or injured. Instead, what we need to do is soften into it. Back off the discomfort, take a deep breath, and then as we exhale, see if we can gently sink, or lean in to the pose. Life is the same way, and parenting is a great way to test this out. There are few things I believe everyone should do, but yoga is one of them. I started out with yoga as a way to stretch and strengthen and get some balance (physically) and focus. And then, at some point I realized that while I am far from being Bendy Wendy or looking like anything on Pinterest (except maybe #realpeopleposes), yoga has transformed my body in many ways but also my perspective. What happens on the mat doesn’t stay on the mat. Just like, what happens at home doesn’t stay in the home.
The Serenity Prayer I adjusted during this morning’s run, customizing it as I thought of all the baggage our little cubs haul into the jungle with Back2School, is really very much like what I have learned through yoga. The original Serenity Prayer goes like this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
- Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
In yoga, if I try to force my body into a pose it’s not ready or meant for, I can seriously injure myself. If I have the courage to test out new poses or go a little longer in a pose that challenges me, I get stronger, physically and mentally. If I don’t do this mindfully and instead am led by my ego, I will suffer.
Parenting is the same. I am or have been tempted to try to control the outcome, by making things easier for my kid, wanting for him/her to have or not have certain teachers, cluttering their schedules with tons of structured “opportunities,” wondering if I should get involved when another cub in the jungle is hurting my cub, wanting so badly for my kid to be a certain way and trying to mold them into that by convincing myself that I still have the power to change my child. I don’t know if it was the yoga or the fact that my kids are older and little adults-in-the-making, and I’m older and wiser (I hope), but at some point it hit me that a lot of what I thought of as Good Parenting is actually not as effective as Good Self-Care, or at the very least, there needs to be a combination of Good Parenting+Good Self-Care in the parenting approach. Gandhi said, Be the change. We tend to think of that saying as awesome in terms of changing the world, but I wonder how many of us think of that in the way that we can most effectively change the world – through our children?
So, going back to my prayer for you, the cub-raisers – may YOU move through your anxiety, feeling comforted by your faith, the love you get from home and from your teachers (mentors), the spark that lights up within you when you are learning something that interests you or become engrossed in a physical or creative activity that makes you laugh and feel alive.
This new school year is a fresh start for our kids, but it’s also a new chance for us, the cub-raisers, to create change by making self-care a top priority, saying NO to anything that feels burdened with guilt and doesn’t light a spark in us, saving some sacred space for our kids and families to just BE (not DO). We deserve it and our children need us to know that, and to live it.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.