Parenting is Hard Work
Those readers that are parents can probably skip this page. It is written for any non-parent meditation teachers interested in presenting this approach.
Parenting is hard. Bloody hard. It can hit you like a sledgehammer. Gradually, your freedoms and abilities seep away as you (or your partner) become less able physically. Then, at a time when the mother’s body is exhausted by pregnancy, she gives birth, and is now responsible for the life of another being, with no prior training. This being requires constant attention, initially 24×7, meaning exhaustion is common. These tensions can test even the strongest adult relationships.
If we teach meditation to adults, let’s say we had a participant with some mental health issues. It is quite possible that it could take months for this to become apparent. Until then, they seem much the same as everyone else. This is often not the case when teaching meditation to parents. When a parent sits to meditate with their child, it can seem like all of their parenting struggles will be visible, right there in front of you.
This can at first be daunting, and overwhelming. Remember that you aren’t there to fix it, and that to the parent, this is their normality so it won’t necessarily be as big a deal to them as it seems to you. So your task will be simply to allow the whole of the parent to be there, with their struggles, with their disruptive child who just wants to climb on her parent, pull mum’s hair, run around the room at high speed. So long as no-one is in danger, perhaps this is okay, for now? Simply modelling to the parent that their child’s behaviour is acceptable to you can in itself be a huge gift.
However, the fact that a parent’s struggles can be so visible has an amazing side too. When we sit and lead a guided meditation, we have to make a leap of faith. We have to guess what might be going on for our audience, typically extrapolating from what is going on inside our own meditation, and hope that it has some relevance to our audience. With parents, this isn’t always necessary. Sometimes we have a parent or two in the room where their struggles are blindingly obvious. We can speak to those: “if your child is agitated, providing them with physical reassurance, ” or “perhaps try holding your child in a hug”. You can guide a parent who is really struggling with their child (which typically means they are actually really struggling with their own emotions, otherwise they likely wouldn’t be struggling, at least not so much).
I have found that these ways of guiding can be immensely valuable. I have already mentioned the occasion where a mother brought her two boys who at the start were bashing each other with meditation cushions. Through guiding her through handling her emotional responses, which were completely apparent on her face, in 20 minutes both kids were asleep. The simple practice was getting her to feel what she was feeling, and allowing her to question whether she needed to act? Are they in immediate danger? If not, can I hold off any reaction or response for just two seconds, and breathe? Then, I can ask whether the response is actually needed, or whether just a little, calm reassurance can be enough – let them know I’m here, I love them, they are safe, but without buying into their high energy games.
By guiding parents through this approach to their emotional life, not only are we helping them learn to meditate with their kids, we can actually find ourselves providing some profound parenting skills that could significantly impact future generations.