Parenting as a spiritual practice: giving

buddhaThere is nothing more humbling than raising children. Up until this point, I had it in my mind that I was a fairly evolved person. I did yoga and meditated, I was a compassionate friend and a dedicated volunteer, and there was no shortage of spiritual texts on my bookshelf. But the daily practice of raising my 4 and 1.5 year old has shown me the truth: I am selfish, I like being in control and no, I have not yet submerged my ego in a vat of Beingness and now radiate a gentle and calming glow. I didn’t realize that while on the surface I thought I was a giving person, how little I did that actually involved, you know, giving up something. Most adult relationships are predicated on a mostly tacit reciprocal agreement: I will assist you with something and one day you will do the same. We take turns as adults and while we are not keeping any kind of exact score, we do know when the balance has tipped too much one way. Being with children is more like being in indefinite servitude to a benign dictator that you are alternately maddened by and besotted with. Your needs are not perceived (though for some odd reason I find myself attempting to articulate them anyway) and there is not the brain development for them to actually matter. So the giving you are asked to do is not in any way reciprocal. There is no way for a child to understand sacrifice. This can be beautiful when you give freely to a child, when you give without expecting anything in return, particularly appreciation or understanding, which is what we seek in our adult relationships. But it can also bring out a kind of frustration that is deep and almost primal: the frustration that comes from not being seen, not being considered. In it you can tap into the wellspring that comes out in their temper tantrums. Parent and child can act here are a mirror to each other of an essential human desire. This is where the parental desire to be patient should spring from, this recognition that all of us wish to be seen and understood and loved. Sometimes, that is worth waiting for.