by Elizabeth MN Gumbis
Some people suggest that how a person does one thing is how she does everything. I’m not sure that’s an absolute truth, but it is a fun thought to play with. In recent years, I’ve committed myself to living mindfully. Living mindfully shapes how I treat family, friends and strangers. Living mindfully shapes how I consume food, products and media. But have I brought it into my parenting?
In his fifth step to inner peace, Michael A. Singer suggests paying attention to and letting go of our preferences. Our preferences arise when reality does not match our mind’s version of what it should be. This causes disturbance, Singer says. This teaching struck me one morning during breakfast when I was with my three young children. Let me set the scene: it was a beautiful, blue-sky morning. The girls and I were all smiles throughout the morning routine—beds made, teeth brushed, pony tails swinging. Then breakfast happened. My four year old whined that she did not have the color bowl she wanted, that she never gets that bowl, while her older sister always gets the pink one! The older one snarled back that cereal tastes the same no matter which color bowl is holding it. Eyes were rolling. And to my surprise, my one year old started repeating “Green! Green!” as in, “Mom, please let me use the green bowl today because this orange one just isn’t doing it for me.”
In this moment of domestic disturbance, I saw the quality of our morning shift from tranquil to turbulent—resulting from preferences. My next thought was about my own “pink colored bowls.” What are the preferences I carry around all day result in discontent? I realized in that moment, coffee in hand, three curly heads watching me, that it is in situations precisely like these that I need to remain calm, in order to teach them to remain calm during a potentially rattling circumstance. Allow me to break this down: it is my preference that the morning remains harmonious, but when it doesn’t, I can accept that things haven’t gone the way I’d prefer. I can choose to let go of that frustration and mindfully shape the next moment. So not only am I hoping to smooth the waters in that moment, but I am also hoping to instill a way of life. The more peaceful I remain during these very irritating situations, the more I am living the way I want my children to live. They learn to accept reality as it is and remain strong in their center when the ocean gets wavy. Of course, we all know that in parenting we get what we give. Children do as we do, not necessarily as we say, however. So in order for them to care a little less what color bowl cradles their Cheerios, I need to care a little less about a lot of things.
Before the final Namaste, my yoga teacher always says, “May no one steal your peace today.” I would like to change that line to one that may be more helpful: “May you not give your peace away today.” Sure enough, in the kitchen that morning, I instructed the girls to take a deep breath. I did it with them. “Let it out,” I said, and I did too. There was a moment of quiet and then: “Let’s continue our morning being happy not snappy.” Our morning moved on and the girls ate from the bowls in front of them.
Since then, I’ve begun to notice all the pulls of preference that arise throughout my days. I’m surprised at how many there are, such as “Why isn’t that person letting me in her lane? Why did my yoga teacher pick that song?” But I’m learning to blow them off the palm of my hand, one by one. In a short time, I’ve noticed that fewer preferences create a smoother surface of the mind. And this, of course, helps me to cultivate a more peaceful home.
Elizabeth Gumbis is a mother of three and English teacher. Reading, writing, yoga and date nights with her husband help her create balance in life. Connect on Facebook and share your thoughts.