This article first appeared in Pickthebrain.com
It’s 8pm. I’ve just shoved my kids in their room. They continue to fight over whose turn it is to turn off the lights. I crawl into my own bed a little later, dejected and lost and feel the pangs of guilt building up. I know their constant bickering brings out the worst in me. And yet, I cannot help wishing that every night would end with warm motherly hugs and gentle whispers of sweet dreams.
I am startled out of bed at the streak of dawn with the distinct yelling that is all too recognizable.
“I got it FIRST!!!”
The shrieks get louder and louder accompanied by a couple of crashes. I lie in bed calming my racing heart. Biting my lip. Clenching my fist. Breathing deeply.
I can’t take it any more. I stomp out of bed in a crazied frenzy and fiercely unlock my door. It swings open as two squabbling kids, yelling strategically at my doorstep, literally fly into my arms.
My curbed anger has gotten the better of me and I drag each one by the arms and without a word, head straight to their room where I push them in and lock their door.
Half an hour of agonizing mental commentary at a million miles an hour that confirms their ingratitude and unreasonableness, and I feel dizzy and insane. The emotional fatigue weighs me down and the pace of narration slows down. In this calmer state, the guilt begins to set in. I wish desperately that the two of them would come out and hug me but that’s impossible. They’re locked. And the hushed silence within is killing me…
This was last week. The climax of the ultimate conundrum that I had found myself in for years. There was the universal maternal urge to provide them with unconditional love. But then there was the parental duty to discipline them for their own benefit. What alas of my own desire to maintain some semblance of grace through it all, the grace that I had always considered a part of my being and that all but vanished with the advent of motherhood. The ensuing incoherence in my being, my desires and my actions troubled me deeply.
I think we all have this inner yearning for grace. It is part of our human needs to elevate ourselves beyond our animalistic urges and rise to a higher level of existence. It is what makes us uniquely human. I am not talking about the grace of an eagle as it soars the skies or that of a swan as it glides atop the waters. I am talking of the grace of a ballerina, as she is hurled up in the air and yet manages to land lightly, smoothly back on her feet. I am talking of the grace that comes from handling whatever life throws at you with calm and poise. I am talking of the grace that shines through when you live your day to day in coherence with your values and your life story.
As I sat outside their door, exhausted and saddened, I slipped into a reverie. And from that place of semi-consciousness, a word danced before my eyes and beckoned me with kindness. Equanimity. It sounded like the place I wanted to be in. As I let myself swirl into its embrace, answers arose from the deep recesses of my mind, a place I seldom frequented.
Accept not being in control
I knew I was approaching discipline the wrong way. For me, the very concept required some level of control over those being disciplined. And yet it was perhaps this very illusion of control that was getting me in trouble. I could see it in the “ought”s and “should”s of my inner dialogue – the root of my escalating anger and ensuing guilt. Life, by its very nature is beyond our control. So are the actions and motivations of others. The only thing we do have control over is our own thoughts and behaviors – and that in itself is a liberating thought often lost on us in our obsession to control others.
Build the mud room
For those of us living in cold climates, we know how useful a mud room is to put on or take off dirty boots when the weather is bad outside. It keeps the rest of the house clean and undisrupted. I thought of the same within our minds – a space to handle the emotions that others toss at us so that we don’t lose our own balance. It is tempting to sometimes think of sailing through life without the burden of others – their opinions that haunt us, their behaviors that trigger, their reactions that instigate a downward spiral. Jean Paul Sartre was perhaps onto something when he said ‘Hell is Other People’. And yet, ‘no man is an island’ and we languish without others in our lives. By accepting the negativity from others as an essential and even beneficial part of existence and by providing ourselves with the space to work with it, we preserve our sanity and our true personality.
As I mulled over these insights, I understood that the peace I demanded of my kids had to come from within me. For it was from this place of equanimity that I would be able to provide the non-judgmental discipline and unconditional love I so desired. And it was in living with my true values that I would be able to sculpt their path in life without losing my own.