A Taoist Approach to Parenting

June 25, 2008

Things get hard when I fight them.

I just want to get past them. I don’t want them to exist. I hate them.

All of these approaches turn tasks into boulders, thick and heavy and impossible, as I try to shove them out of the way.

While this post sat here, I read this:

Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, says that stress can be defined as wanting the present moment to be different than it is. Dr. Dr. David Simon, co-director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Southern California, agrees. He says that stress is caused by anything getting in the way of our desires.

It’s especially hard, I find, when the Things in the Way are human beings – and when these human beings happen to be my beloved children.

Nothing gets me more frustrated than trying to get my two -year-old to do something she doesn’t want to do, like put her shoes on, pick up trash, eat, follow me up a hill – oh, it could be anything. We can’t tell if she is by nature a contrarian, or if it’s just her age (both her father and I tend to be stubbornly contrary, so if in her nature, would not be surprising) – but it is SO annoying. And it’s annoying because I face the tasks of Cleaning Up, Getting From Point A to B, Leaving the House, etc., – transition tasks – boring tasks – as themselves Pains in the Ass.

(Of course, I can hear that freaking Spoonful of Sugar whirring in the background, and it d o e s  n o t  h e l p.)

Fighting a toddler is like shoving your shoulder against a giant rock. It doesn’t work. It gets harder the more you push. I get angrier the harder it gets. I don’t want to have to work with her. I don’t want to have to –

– wait, who is sounding like a toddler now!!???

So, if taking a Taoist/Buddhist approach to these tasks that I am currently fighting so much, I think the antidote is the following:

1) Stop trying, pushing, forcing. If I think about it, toddler tends to willingly join in when I am going about my business. It may be that I need to let her join in – and let her opt out, and not stress about whether or not she is ‘doing her duty’ and if I’m ‘tough enough.’ It may also be that the alternatives to her cooperating will have to involve me waiting – doing something on my own, perhaps, but waiting.

As in, “You need to pick up your trash. I am going to go write on the computer. When you have picked up your trash, we can eat cookies and play games together.” If she dawdles, instead of yelling/steaming/boiling/pickling with frustration, I will happily be writing – and maybe she’ll do it. I mean, it may take time, but… fighting her does nothing.

2) Slow down, breathe. In order to do this, I need, for right now, to throw schedules and being on time out the window. Not always practical, but it will have to do for now. Build in extra time for everything. Go slowly. Take my time.

3) Give up the expectation and desire for total control. This may sound an awful parenting strategy, but I don’t mean it like I’m going to stop discipline or expectations. I mean that, I am not living alone. I live with a partner and an animal and children, and I can’t control them all the time. I can’t do things at my own pace. I can’t do things at will. Neither can they. It’s like driving in traffic. Everyone has to compromise and follow some agreed-upon rules so that we don’t crash into each other while doing our own thing.

Actually, the Tao te Ching makes an interesting parenting manual. I must revisit…

Bearing without possessing,
Nurturing without taming,
Shaping without forcing,
This is harmony.