Angie was a powerhouse on the job. As the editor of a small health and wellness magazine, she got things done efficiently, thoroughly, and on time. Although her staff sometimes felt micromanaged, she went out of her way to create an appealing work environment, offering generous perks such as flexible telecommuting options and a break room stocked with organic snacks. But Angie was committed to leading a life that wasn’t all about being productive. Every morning she listened to a guided meditation before getting ready for the day ahead, and before they had children, she and her husband, Eric, had made a point of going to yoga retreats whenever possible.
Eric had a small Internet marketing company based out of their home. He was known for his ability to think outside the box and enjoyed growing success based on his creativity and can-do, get-it-done-on-time reputation.
Angie and Eric were thrilled when their son, Charlie, was born. They were committed to establishing a family different
from the ones in which they had been raised. In Angie’s case, that meant providing a sense of cohesiveness and connection that had been lacking in her own family of origin; her mother was an alcoholic and painfully disengaged, leaving Angie and her sisters largely to fend for themselves. Eric’s parents were involved, but overly so, controlling Eric’s and his sister’s activities and as he put it, robbing them of their voice. Both Angie and Eric were determined to give their children the combination of freedom and attention they had missed out on during their own childhoods.
As Charlie grew, Angie and Eric delighted in his big personality. But he had a feisty temperament, making him easily frustrated and difficult to soothe; as a toddler he had full-blown tantrums when he couldn’t have his way. Because they wanted to be compassionate and caring, his parents tried to explain to little Charlie why he couldn’t have what he wanted, but it only made things worse. And despite being excited about going to “big boy school,” he did not do well with the restrictions imposed on him when he started preschool. It was nearly impossible to sit still at story time, and his poor impulse control meant that whenever a child had a toy he wanted, Charlie simply took it — grabbing or shoving as needed.
Soon after he was enrolled, Angie and Eric were called in to speak with the preschool director about an incident in which Charlie had forcefully pushed another child. This meeting turned out to be the first of many related to Charlie ’s difficulties in managing his behavior. The arrival of a baby sister when he was four only escalated his meltdowns.
His parents tried to be understanding, but they were clueless about how to handle their temperamental son — pleading, bargaining, threatening, and mostly caving in to his demands. Charlie ran the household with his tirades, and his parents could hardly remember their peaceful pre-parenting days. They were embarrassed to be the mother and father of one of “those” kids and on edge each morning about what might happen that day with their mercurial son.
Angie and Eric had believed that their commitment to personal growth would somehow translate into having a sweet and easy time raising kids. After all, weren’t children influenced by their surroundings? Surely having a calm, loving home with attentive parents would ensure harmony within the family. But such was not the case. Angie’s morning meditations became a thing of the past, and as hard as they tried not to, she and Eric often fell into blaming, saying to each other things like, “If you had only handled the incident with Charlie this way instead of that, today’s crisis could have been avoided.”
This couple was like many I have worked with over the past thirty years as a teacher, parent coach, and psychotherapist. Whether parents identify themselves as traveling a path of personal development, or they simply want to raise happy children without drama or power struggles, they often have a difficult time coming to terms with the realities of raising kids, particularly when their child’s needs or temperament prove challenging.
Even if we have children who are relatively easy to raise, we still have to adapt to putting another being’s wants ahead of our own, day in and day out. From sleepless nights to homework battles, we find ourselves having to develop new qualities as we go, such as tolerance, persistence, and the capacity to read the same picture book over and over…and over again. Those who consider themselves spiritually inclined sometimes confess to being morti- fied by how unspiritual they sometimes feel around their children.
Words they never thought they would utter seem to fly out of their mouths — loudly — words that sound anything but enlightened! But like Angie and Eric, we often discover that the child we have is the one who can teach us the most. And that is what Parenting with Presence is all about.
An excerpt from Parenting With Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition)