I was a mom to 2 boys for almost 4 years before the enormity of the role hit me. My older son Sam was just a few weeks away from his 4th birthday and I remember watching him as I approached the threshold of his room, arms full of laundry, when I suddenly felt frozen in place, shocked by a rush of intense emotion. There he was in the middle of his room, sitting back on his knees as he built with blocks, that little being, his sweet face, and those beautiful blue eyes looking up at me. Tremendous fear and the weight of the responsibility to raise him seemed to occur to me for the first time in that moment and it hit me hard. My stomach lurched, my heart rate quickened. What did I know about raising a human? The act of caring for his immediate needs seemed to have held my focus until this moment. And while I was responsible in caring for his physical needs, and LOVING him, telling him that and holding him close every day, that certainly did not describe the entirety of my role. Thinking of those moments by his door now brings tears to my eyes and a quiver and knot to my throat. This job of parenting, raising a human, my gosh, it takes my breath away – mostly because I don’t want to fail them.
Having been a teacher of young children for a dozen years before becoming a mother myself was a gift and a privilege for which I am so grateful. From inner city public school to independent private school, I had an average of 22 students per year in my classes, which would amount to the ability to observe and learn from 260+ families. From 23 to 35 years old, I had a front row seat to the inner workings of families with young children. In my role as a Kindergarten and Grade 1 teacher, I had the opportunity to spend my days with children, seeing the knowledge I had gleaned from my childhood development books come to life in the classroom. I was dedicated to the careful act of observation and learned through the years to remove my judgement and truly see my students for who they were. In doing so, I was able to tap into the teaching methods that best served them and allowed them to flourish and grow with support in my classroom. I also got to know their parents. I started teaching before emailing the teacher was a thing, so it happened through phone calls and notes, quick talks at the classroom door and lengthy conversations at parent teacher conferences. I learned about what parents wanted to know about their children and what they wanted to share. I learned how parents received feedback about their children and I listened to the questions they asked about who their children were when they were not at home. I watched them interact with their children with joy and also through difficult moments, such as the post school tantrum. I took mental note of their tone of voice, the way they managed challenges, each parent’s strengths and their areas of weakness as well. While I didn’t have children of my own, I had a deep respect for parents and an intuitive understanding of the impact of my own actions and words on these parents’ babies.
Through teaching I honed my skills for seeing each individual child. At the end of a school day my classroom was filled with yellow Post-It notes stuck on cabinets and table tops that described students’ triumphs and challenges. I spent hours each night sorting through these notes looking for patterns and laid out plans for opportunities and measures of support for each student. I tracked their progress, reflected on my methods and adjusted my approach accordingly. While I was keenly aware that I could not be all things to all children, I knew that I could tailor my words and actions to respond to each child’s individual needs if I was committed to doing the work. My heart was drawn to developing a deep connection with my students and if I didn’t possess the answer of how best to support them, then I would turn to my colleagues and to the books to learn. I can’t say for sure that I met success with each and every student, but I can say wholeheartedly how dedicated I was to try. This commitment to my students positively impacted my relationships with their parents, opening the doors for more honest and in-depth conversations that further allowed me access to the intricate relationship between parent and child. I continued to learn from listening and watching. I grew in my ability as a teacher – a reflection of my experiences with my students and their families.
Sometimes I think I came to my realization of the weight of my role as a parent at the perfect time. The priority of parenting infants and toddlers is centred around their physical needs. However, raising a child extends far beyond their physical care, and the sight of Sam in his bedroom that day, and the work ahead of me, scared me. If there was one thing that I felt I knew, it was that my job of parenting Sam, and his brother Max, was not meant to come from a place of loss in my own raised experience. Giving them what I felt I had missed out on in my own childhood did not honour them – it directed the focus of parenting towards me rather than on these two amazing little humans my husband Steve and I had brought into the world. I felt certain that my job was to truly recognize them as their own unique, individual selves and souls, just as I had done for each student in my classes. And yet still the questions poured over me - How could I be the mom each of them needed? How would I know what they needed? How would I manage to raise them successfully knowing I still had growing to do?
It is the last question that weighed me down and kept me up at night. At the time, I periodically wrote in a journal and my entries from those days reveal my concerns about my shortcomings and my fear of not being enough for my boys. While others may have thought the Kindergarten Teacher me was perfectly suited to take on Motherhood, I did not hold the same confidence. It’s not to say that I’m not proud of the woman I am, that I haven’t had success in my life, but I also live with a voice in my head that likes to remind me fairly regularly, of all the things I am not. I was determined to not fail them. I was determined to do things different from my own experience and despite feeling anxious and overwhelmed, I was committed to finding my way. It was at this time that several things came into my life to offer light, shifting my perspective and providing some ease to my worry of not being enough. A friend gave me a copy of Maya Tiwari’s book, The Path of Practice – A Woman’s Book of Healing with Food, Breath, and Sound, and through the urging of this same friend, I began to meet with an energy healer – the first form of “therapy” I was willing to explore. As a final stroke of luck, I was introduced to the legendary meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg.
From Maya I learned about Love. Self-love, our innate human nature to pull towards a state of love and our strength in self-healing to arrive in and of love. Maya introduced me to the Divine Mother, seeking out the lessons to be learned in our struggle and suffering in order to connect with love deep within ourselves. My experience through Maya wasn’t religious, but it certainly was spiritual. Her words guided me towards faith in my feminine power, and my intuitive consciousness. In seeing my truest nature of a loving state, understanding I had a responsibility to learn from and through suffering and awakening to the power of my inner guide, I gained the confidence to hold strong to my title of Mother. In July of 2014 Maya visited Toronto for an intimate workshop. That experience lives in a special place in my heart and still fills me with warmth when I think about it. It was a true gift to learn from her in person and feel the energy of her loving being. Steve was working weekends at the time, so I had no choice but to bring the boys with me. Max was 4 and Sam was 6. I packed a bag of books and colouring to keep them busy and quiet – it would be a long day. They hardly touched those things – they sat and listened to Maya. Sometimes on my lap, sometimes at Maya’s feet or laying across her lap. At a break midday, I took the boys home so they could run around the yard for an hour. As I settled into my seat and started the car, Sam said, “Mom, I know what my purpose is (he had been listening to Maya’s last words before the break). It’s to love.” Her message not only landed with me, but with them as well. Hearing them call up the memories they have of those two days with her brings tears to my eyes. On July 19, 2014 guided by Maya, I took the vow of Ahimsa – making inner peace my first priority. It is a vow that has guided me away from guilt and towards love and healing in my parenting.
I share my work with the energy healer with some trepidation, nervous about the judgement that might come with that disclosure. But healing comes in many ways and through many possible supports and this was the beginning of my healing journey. The aspect I most appreciated about it when I first started, was the quiet. Unlike talk therapy, there was little said between me and the healer. The goal was to connect with the body, an opportunity for me to hear what my body was feeling and had been trying to tell me. It was emotional, frightening, freeing, and life changing. Over time the struggle to talk about my wounds eased and with that came clarity to understand the importance of separating my past from my parenting. With this insight, I could approach parenting Sam and Max not from a place of lacking, but from a place of abundance.
Through Sharon Salzberg I developed a practice of meditation. In hearing her, I felt for the first time that I didn’t need to be a monk on a Himalayan mountain top to practice. Sharon’s message spoke to me in a way that made meditation and it’s benefits clear and accessible. Not only that, but she connected the act of meditating to real life with phrases such as, “We can always begin again.” And “It’s just one breath.” By building a practice of creating calm, loving kindness to myself and others, and developing my muscles of presence, I could parent from a place of withholding judgement, forgiveness, and focus on what was happening in the present moment. I also learned to breathe. It may sound funny, or maybe you know exactly what I mean, before meditation I spent a lot of time holding my breath. Conscious connection to my breath brings a peace to my being and brighter awareness to my surroundings. I could see my boys more clearly.
I am amazed by the power that certain experiences create and hold in our lives. Eight years later, I can still feel the echo of the impact of those three gifts in my life. I continue to grow uncovering more of myself. In doing so, I am a better human and a better parent. I take pride in setting an example to the boys that life is about learning and growing – that there is strength in confronting your challenges and that each day provides an opportunity to live fully as yourself. I have relied on the practices I used as a classroom teacher to understand my boys. While I don’t walk around with Post-Its, I do journal regularly, I listen to them carefully and I set aside my judgement and preconceived notions of who I think they are or should be. Of course, they’re mine, and the emotional connection to their outcome and its reflection on me is a weight I’m working to release. It’s a practice. Steve and I regularly reflect on our responses and actions and we seek help from a variety of resources when we find we don’t have the answers between us. We talk openly and honestly, we step back when it’s needed, and we course correct when things go wrong. We make mistakes, sometimes big ugly messy mistakes, but we take a breath and begin again, as Sharon Salzberg teaches. In seeing my boys for who they are, for parenting from their place of need and not my own, I am honouring them.
In the early years of teaching I came across a quote by Haim Ginott that touched me deeply and hung by my desk in every classroom I ever taught in,
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
They are 10 and 12 today. I remind myself daily that I am the weather. I often stand quietly at the doorways of their rooms watching them and thinking about our journey so far. I hold my heart knowing I may falter, but I won’t fail.