Pre-dawn birds’ chorus
Pleasant and enjoyable
Nature’s alarm clock
So far, we have discussed becoming a parent and some the challenges that this entails. We have deliberately ignored the daily experience of parenting in favour of some of the more controversial aspects. This is deliberate. There are plenty of books about parenting. However, if you really want a word of advice, in one or two sentences, it has to be:-
Love and respect your children and treat then as you want them to treat you. After all, one day, you might need their support!
Before we move on to becoming grandparents, let’s look at how mindfulness can help us as parents.
Before discussing mindful parenting, we want to clarify something. This series is about grandparents parenting their grandchildren under Special Guardianship arrangements. So why have we spent so long talking about parenting?
It should not need to be said, but there is a huge difference between being a parent and being a grandparent. As a grandparent, you usually have the opportunity to “borrow” your grandchildren, have lots of fun, and then give them back after a few hours or days. When you give them back, they are likely to be exhausted, as will you be, or they will be hyper-excited. Either way, you can now relax until the next time. As parents, you do not have that option. The children are yours, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks per year for at least eighteen years.
But the difference is more than just in the access. There are massive cultural differences caused by modernizing policies and procedures. We have already spoken about the changes made in the way we think about discipline. Also, your son and daughter-in-law come from different backgrounds. They will have their own view on what counts as good parenting, regardless of the way they were raised. And you may not fully agree with their ideas. I hope that this review is helping you to think about your views and beliefs as parents.
Now, how does mindful meditation help as a parent?
Mindfulness comes in many guises, as does meditation. My personal view of this is that meditation is deep thinking on a specific topic, during which we review past decisions and their consequences, followed by analysing the potential outcomes of various scenarios as we apply the lessons learned. I do not subscribe to the idea of emptying the mind. The human mind was designed with a thirst for knowledge. Trying to empty our minds denies us that right. It can also encourage us to think unhealthy thoughts. The best meditation involves healthy thoughts and is positive. I appreciate that there will be those who take issue with this view, but if they truly practice mindful meditation according to their own views, they will accept this concept without judgement, rather than taking issue with it.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, involves what is described as “being fully present in the moment.” Personally, I find that definition fairly nebulous. What do we mean by “being fully present in the moment?”
Imagine that you are looking at a painting of a meadow with poppies. Artists know that, as complimentary colours, red and green are ideal for drawing the eye. Therefore, they may use a row of poppies in a particular pattern to draw our eyes to some feature in the distance. For now, however, let’s imagine that the painting only involves a green field and a few poppies. Standing in front of the painting we have a choice. We can see “the whole picture,” for example. We look at it and think, “That would look nice in my lounge.” Or we could focus on details; we take note of the poppies because they stand out against the green background.
Yet, what if you were an art collector? You would want to ensure that you are buying an authentic painting. Therefore, you might look beyond the patterns formed by the paint. You may want to analyse the brush strokes which defined the master artist. You may know that the artist always laid down the paint according to a certain format. Now you are being mindful of more than just the overall picture.
As a parent, you need such mindfulness. You need “eyes in the back of your head,” as the saying goes. When your child is playing in the garden, you want to know that they are safe. So you look at the overall picture and see that they are playing happily. But you may also want to look at the details. If they are having fun with the secateurs, then you are likely to choose to take more notice!
As a parent, we will come across all manner of situations that test our ability to cope. Children can appear to be very frustrating, at times. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, are they really setting out to frustrate us? I once heard of an eighteen-month-old boy being described as “knowing how to push his father’s buttons.” Really? Are we saying that this child who was barely able to think could plot his way into aggravating his father? Is it not more accurate to say that the father allowed himself to be aggravated by the son’s actions?
This is an important concept. It highlights the matter of choice. We choose all of our actions. No one forces us to behave in a certain manner. It is our choice.
For example, imagine that your six-year-old daughter is helping with drying the dishes after dinner. She drops a plate and it smashes. Whose fault is that? It would be easy to scream and shout that she should have been more careful. Yet we know that six-year-olds are clumsy. Let’s look at some of the choices involved here.
We chose to allow, or even ask her to help. We chose to allow her to try to dry the plate, despite it being breakable. We also choose how to respond; whether to shout, or to comfort. It’s our choice. But our daughter does not force us to make that choice.
Whether we become angry or not is a matter of choice. Mindfulness will make us aware of the details, which include our feelings and emotions. Knowing that our breathing is increasing in speed, and that our muscles are tensing, and that we are frowning will alert us to the developing anger; and we will be able to choose accordingly.
Mindfulness also helps us to deal with what is going on around us. We have to remember that the angry exchange that we had at work may be affecting how we treat our children. The size of the utility bill may affect our tolerance levels. A disappointment, or a bereavement, or any other life event may affect how we respond to our child’s behaviour.
Remember, too, that our children assimilate our feelings, even if we do not make them obvious. They will reflect those feelings, no matter how hard we try to hide them. This is no excuse for giving up. It means that we have to be careful of the choices we make. Do we accept that we used the electricity and, therefore, the bill is larger than normal? If we do, then we will not allow it to affect our relationship with our children.
Therefore, mindful meditation is a valuable tool when raising young children. We need to be comfortable in our lives and mindful meditation will help us to achieve that. We can become content so that our children absorb our inner peace and reflect it back to us. Thi
s will also lead to reduced stress levels in both children and parents.
Let’s go back to our six-year-old daughter breaking a plate. Mindful meditation would have led us to think of this as a potential consequence from allowing her to help. It will also lead us to consider appropriate responses.
What about teenage children? They will be developing their own thought patterns and will want some level of independence. If we have developed mindful meditation it is likely that our children will also have developed this approach and they are more likely to act in a way that we approve of. Yet even if they do not follow our ways, our mindfulness will let us accept that with equanimity and we will be more able to reason with our teenagers, rather than yelling at them.
And when our children are grown, perhaps with their own families, we will be more able to accept their choices, even if we do not approve of them.
All of this leads us on to our next subject – becoming grandparents. As we develop this subject we will keep coming back to the need for mindfulness. Being able to meet the challenges with equanimity will help us to keep the peace. Hopefully, this review of the challenges of parenting will help grandparents to meditate mindfully on the differences between their parenting style and that of their children, because an appreciation of these differences will help us to make wise decisions as we meet the challenges that we will discuss in the rest of this book.
The previous article in this series looked at keeping the peace with your children when they leave home. This can be particularly difficult when problems arise in their marriage. As a parent, however, it is your responsibility to keep the peace whilst granting your children the dignity of dealing with their own issues. Let’s look at this, next.
When your children leave home, it will often be to get married. And that means choosing a partner, hopefully, for life. Here’s another dose of reality. Your child’s partner will seldom be good enough for your child. At least, that is how many parents will see it. However, your child is not asking you to live with this person. (This assumes that they are not going to share your home, of course.) All your child is asking is for you to accept and respect their use of the judgement skills that you taught them. (This assumes that they used the judgement skills you taught them!)
Even so, it does not mean turning a blind eye to your children’s mistakes. If you have serious concerns about a prospective partner, you should raise these concerns. How many abused women could have been saved a lot of harm if their parents had spoken up. It does not mean that your child will listen to you. But if you have raised your concerns, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried your best to protect your child.
One word of caution, though: If your daughter goes ahead and marries “the obnoxious moron,” despite your best advice, don’t say, “I told you so,” when she comes home battered and bruised. That’s not what she wants at that time. Her pride and the thought that you might react self-righteously may be the reason why it has taken her so long to come and tell you. Right now, she will need comfort and support. And, if she subsequently decides to go back to the abuser, at least you will have strengthened your relationship with your daughter and you will be able to be supportive during future incidents. We will look at the matter of abusive partners, later.
Raising concerns may even involve suggesting that the prospective partner have specific blood tests. Some countries have prescribed tests that are legal requirements in order to try to avoid mismatched blood types causing unnecessary harm to babies. This may seem like a good idea, but, realistically, the test is only mandatory if you are planning to get married. If you intend to live with each other, the test doesn’t become an issue, which makes a mockery of the concept, regardless of the fine intentions.
However, let’s say that you discover that the love of your son’s life use to do drugs, possibly including injecting various substances. Or maybe your daughter’s latest flame had a reputation for sleeping with anyone and everyone. Might you want to suggest an AIDS test? Would that not be an appropriate level of concern? After all, your child could be putting his or her life at risk. Also, what would be the risk to any future grandchildren? Maybe it’s something to consider.
This leads to a serious question. Let’s look at a serious situation that creates an emotional dilemma for parents.
Suppose you discover that your son-in-law is abusing your daughter. What can you do? How far do you intrude into their lives?
I cannot tell you what to do. What I can say is that you still need to be careful. Your child’s pride is involved and so is their dignity. Grant them as much dignity as you would want them to grant you, even in the circumstances. Your daughter is being hurt; she is going to need your support. Let’s look at some questions that you can ask yourself to help you to mindfully consider your options.
Before proceeding, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I am not, in any way, suggesting that any abused woman is lying, or that she is “asking for it,” as some have suggested. If ever someone alleges that they are being abused, the allegation must be taken seriously and it must be investigated. Here, I want to consider all possibilities. As we all know, whilst there is only one truth, our perspective can give us a warped sense of reality. We do not want that perspective to lead us into errors of judgement.
You see bruises on your daughter’s arms and you ask her how they happened. She becomes defensive and you suspect that your son-in-law is harming her. What can you do? Let’s look at the possibilities and how you might be able to get a more complete view of the situation.
The most obvious alternative explanation, of course, is that your daughter had an accident of some sort. You may be surprised that she didn’t mention it, but accidents are, by nature, embarrassing. So for your daughter to fail to mention it is not unusual.
Is it possible that your daughter is self-harming? This has to be considered. There may be other signs, such as cuts or scars. Maybe she has cut her beloved hair into a self-deprecating style. Or maybe she is not taking care of her hygiene as well as she used to. The style and colour of her clothes may have become dowdy and dishevelled. She will need help and you can and should be there for her. It may be that your son-in-law is at a loss as to how to deal with your daughter’s issues, and he may need your support, too. Intrusive questioning is only going to alienate your daughter and son-in-law.
Is this an illness? Bruising can be a symptom of serious illnesses. Maybe your daughter is embarrassed to talk about it. Maybe she has been diagnosed and she doesn’t want you to know, yet. Maybe your son-in-law is struggling to deal with the possibility of losing his young wife. Again, they will need your support.
Finally, there is the possibility that your son-in-law is abusing your daughter. If this is the case, then there may be other signs. Maybe you have noticed a tendency to violent words or actions. Maybe his behaviour or attitude has always been a cause for concern. Maybe their children always seem to be grizzly. The possibilities are endless. However, bear in mind that your daughter may, for reasons best known to herself, be willing to live with this situation and not want you to get involved. After all, have you not heard of abused women leaving their abusive husbands, only to go back to them at some later point in time? And you ask yourself, “How can they keep going back, over and over again?” This is their decision, and you do not want to alienate your daughter by adding to her worries.
Remember, this does not in any way condone or excuse abusive marriage mates. These people must be stopped. But the feelings of the abused person must be considered. Your daughter’s dignity must be respected, and that will mean allowing her to make any final decisions about any action to be taken.
This does not mean that you must ignore the issue, but that you need be gentle in your enquiries. Comment, by all means, but in a non-accusatory manner. You may want to mention the bruises, demonstrating that you have seen them and showing that you are concerned for her welfare. You may want to ask if she is okay. But do not suggest that you suspect anything untoward. That can lead to allegations of slander.
If your daughter is reluctant to talk about it, don’t force her. At least you have demonstrated your concern, and this will make it easier for her to confide in you in the future. If she finally decides that she wants to talk about it, she will know that you are there for her.
Should you call the police? If necessary. Yet, what are you going to tell them? Do you have conclusive evidence? Or is this, in police terms, a domestic matter? Of course, if you were to observe your son-in-law hitting your daughter, you may want to find a peaceful way to defend her. Peaceful? Yes. After all, the last thing she needs, right now, is for you to be prosecuted for assaulting her husband. If anything, that could actually cause a rift between you and your daughter. Still, if you are unable to stop him harming her, then threatening to call the police, or actually calling them, may be what is needed to bring him to his senses.
Once again, though, be sure that you really are helping. Have you ever noted that when two children quarrel, and their parents get involved, the children are back on good terms with each other within hours, or even minutes; the rift between the parents takes weeks to resolve. Getting too involved in your daughter’s marriage situation too early could result in driving your daughter and son-in-law closer together, even in an abusive relationship, while they join in turning on you for what they see as interfering. It’s the, “I’m a big girl, now, and I can sort out my own problems,” mentality. She has her pride and she is entitled to it. If you have warned her of your concerns, then you have done your best, and she is big enough to choose her own consequences, as sad as they may be.
This may not be an ideal situation; but you may have to learn to live with it for the time being. Mindfulness can help you to come to terms with your own feelings in this regard.
The important thing to remember is that your child’s interests are best served by your keeping the peace between you and your child, and, potentially, between you and your child’s mate. You have to be the stabilising influence. Although you may have strong feelings about how your child is being treated, remember that your child has made his or her own decisions and is old enough to deal with the consequences.
This may sound harsh. However, you will see why this stance is essential when we come on to the subject of protecting your grandchildren. Remember, this series is not, primarily, about caring for your children; it is about caring for your grandchildren when your children fail to do so. That means you may have to make some very hard decisions. Getting the relationship right when your child leaves home, and before your child leaves home, will help you to deal with this very difficult dilemma in a calm, peaceful manner; which will help your grandchildren to cope, should the need ever arise.
Before we move on to your grandchildren, though, let’s look at how mindful meditation can help you to deal with your own children and the issues that their actions might raise. This will be the subject of the next article.
Watching o’er the weathered landscape,
Waving in the breeze,
Monitoring shifting winds;
Observing ragged mountain tops.
Like gentle waters softly flowing
Over polished rocks
In upland streams,
Washing cares and worries
Down cascading waterfalls.
Clouds come, clouds go;
Blue skies, white skies, some of reddish hue;
Changing by the moment;
Suspended oceans float on by,
With subtle, moody shadows.
Paints sparkling veils
On moorland landscapes;
Gently folding thoughts and feelings
Into origami animals
To be tamed and nurtured.
With their thousand yellow eyes
Twinkling in the darkness,
Warning frightened children
To stay away from heath and heather
While clinging to Daddy’s hand.
Silent sentinels, all;
Guiding ways to safe environs;
Leading gently homeward;
Watching o’er the land;
Protecting weary souls
And here we are,
Holding on to love’s bright flame;
Which guides our way through cares and darkness;
Shields our love from harm and worry;
Standing brave, despite our fears.
Troubles come, troubles go;
Blue skies, white skies, some of reddish hue;
Changing by the moment;
Suspended worries float on by,
Altering our landscapes
With subtle, moody terrors.
Protecting names and faces
Of family and friends;
Though wrong motives be imputed
By those who do not know,
Or do not really care.
Accepting life as is,
With all its ups and downs;
Maintaining dignity, keeping integrity;
Despite the winds of change
Passing swiftly through our lives.
Yes, here we stand;
No wrangling; no complaining;
No seeking of sympathy
From those who do not really care;
Bonded by love.
This is a tribute to all those couples who maintain their dignity and integrity in the face of sometimes cruel slander; who protect their family’s and friends’ reputations, despite the cost to themselves. Faced with what many would view as impossible positions, they find, buy, or even create seemingly impossible solutions. And still, through all of this, they know that someone, somewhere, is casting doubt on their integrity, trying to rob them of their dignity; qualities that allow them to face the realities of life with quiet fortitude and magnanimity.
They deserve our support.
Look back if you can.
Learn from all your past mistakes;
Then change your future.
Many people live in the past. They wallow in the misery of past mistakes. Yet, we cannot change the past. It’s gone. Would you aim to empty your trash bin, to recover the contents for sentimentality’s sake? Of course not. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Still, let’s say that you threw a favourite china cup in the trash because it was broken. Now you can do something: You can learn from the mistake that broke that treasured possession and try to ensure that it doesn’t happen, again, with the replacement.
In the same way, leave past mistakes in the past; but learn the lesson, and change the future.
Pouring through meditation,
Clamouring for acknowledgment,
Savouring this opportunity
To impose themselves on mindful thoughts.
Remembering the lake;
A vast expanse
Of clear, blue water
Reflecting a cloudless sky
With ages past.
Remembering the trees;
Clinging to life
In barren, rocky land
Where legends grew
And mysteries spawned
To prey upon unwary minds.
Over moor and hill
Past crofts and villages
Shrouded in mists
That hid their beauty
Behind its translucency.
When we were young
By life’s pains and troubles;
When all roads
Rose to meet us.
Mysterious, yet familiar,
That taught us patience,
Peace, and solitude’s pleasures;
And showed us how
What difference is there
‘Tween youth and age?
Only time. Yes, time;
And memories of life
That now impose themselves
On mindful meditation.
That come flooding back
Despite our best endeavours
In trying to clear
Our cluttered minds
That seem so useless
When trying to forget;
And yet so precious
In guiding lives that have lost their way;
If only we would listen.
Caed mile failte;
The ancient blessings cry.
One hundred thousand welcomes
To all the weary travellers
Who search so far
Along the road within.