As parents, we spend a great deal of time teaching our children important lessons such as compassion, empathy and to avoid cramming beans into any orifice. We encourage them to treat others with respect and an open heart, and to recognize that when somebody is hurt or sad, their first reaction should be, “I’m sorry you’re hurt. How can I help?” instead of, “NOT MY FAULT!!!” (In my experience, the truth of this statement is inversely proportionate to its volume.) We consistently make an effort to demonstrate support, respect and kindness toward our children, and we hope that the safety and stability that this affords them will condition them to both offer and expect those things in their adult relationships of any nature. We try to teach them to be content, peaceful and to apologize when they need to. In my family we have the parent-mandated apology down, but our ability to gracefully forgive leaves something to be desired: The inter-sibling response de rigueur is “THAT’S NOT O.K.!!!! BAH HUMBUG!!” (yes, seriously). Hey, we’re a work in progress.
Sometimes I think that we parents get so focused on teaching that we forget to follow our own advice. We also become easily frustrated when faced with a situation in which we must deal with fellow adults who clearly and unapologetically behave in exactly the ways that we are trying to teach our children not to.
If you read my recent post about the yoga principles that I try to incorporate into my parenting style, and into my own life, you know that I blabber on about treating every person, including oneself, with compassion and respect. This exercise can be particularly challenging when we are faced with difficult or destructive people and relationships, but these are the circumstances under which it is most important to treat all parties with compassion. After all, most people express outward anger because of inner torment or insecurity. We may not be able to begin to guess the source of these emotions, and we can – and must – try to sympathize with their victim, but out of compassion for ourselves we cannot knowingly stand in their line of fire.
Recently I’ve had cause to wonder: What if we took the time and energy that would otherwise be spent dwelling on, and therefore giving power to, negative influences, relationships and circumstances that are beyond our control, and instead refocused those valuable resources toward fostering and being grateful for the abundance of entities that enrich our lives and bring us joy? After all, there are infinitely more things in life that have the potential to bring us happiness than the power to bring us pain. Somebody who was far wiser than I am once said, “Joy is what happens when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”
In my limited and stumbling experience, it is a difficult but eventually habit-forming practice to recognize that it is, in fact, a waste of time to give power and voice to the negative. To quote another one of my favorite mantras, “There is no such thing as wasted time. There are only wasted people.” Wait a minute, I think I got that one wrong but I’m pretty sure I actually like it better this way.
I have many, many things to be grateful for. They are too numerous to count. My wonderful husband and my very loud, relentlessly awake children are constant reminders that my life is joyful, messy, chaotic and full of love. As we head into Mother’s Day weekend, I am also overwhelmed with gratitude for my own mother, the magnitude of which could never be expressed in this post. I mean the magnitude of the gratitude, not the magnitude of my mother. She has been my life-long personal cheerleader, sounding board and grammar police (I’m not kidding – that woman should have a siren). She is a phenomenal source of love, laughter, comfort and support but this is no surprise; she is her mother’s daughter. Their relationship of mutual respect, nurturing and admiration served as a model that I am tremendously lucky to have had. When my grandmother, with whom I was very close, passed away a few years ago, I clung to reminders of her physical presence; wearing her nightgowns every night for months, and her sweaters by day because they still carried a whisper of her floral scent. I was desperate to keep her with me, and I am just now beginning to realize how entirely she is. She is bound in the beating of my mother’s heart, in my own and in the hearts of my children. When others act with kindness and dignity, I am reminded of her own quiet but constant kindness and dignity, and I strive to follow her example (I usually fall short, especially with the quiet part, but it’s good to have a goal). When I am encouraged and strengthened by the words and actions of the many, many people whom I’m lucky enough to have in my corner -including another maternal figure: my mother-in-law, who is both constant and hyperactive with her praise for my writing projects- I remember that I never had a more vocal advocate than my grandmother (although my grandfather gave her a run for her money). As far as she was concerned, her children hung the moon and her grandchildren -and great-grandchildren- the stars. She sang our praises through a bullhorn, and what she lacked in accuracy when reporting our accomplishments (a lot), she made up for with her boundless enthusiasm and stubborn conviction. Out of her devotion to her family was born my mother’s and my own.
Today, when I am surprised or saddened by the occasional individual who acts out of anger and spite instead of out of love and generosity of spirit, I am comforted when I turn my attention away from that and instead remember and feel with renewed gratitude, my grandmother’s warm and constant embrace. When we turn our faces toward the sun, the shadows fall behind us. Grandma, I’m facing you now. Happy Mother’s Day.