Child rearing – What spiritual practice helps?

Children and grandchildren can provide your child rearing with wonderful moments. Their spontaneity and sense of fun can brighten your day. But almost out of the blue all hell can break loose and they can be a real pain testing your limits and boundaries. child rearingWhat they want can be different from what you want. They seem to be noisier, more untidy and more demanding than ever you expected. A spiritual practice is needed for difficult child rearing.

Responding as a good carer can be a real struggle, particularly when you feel stressed and tired. What psycho-spiritual ideas can help? The professionals talk about empathy, consistency, and unconditional love in child rearing. But how do you find these within yourself when you are feeling challenged?

Deeper aspects of child rearing

I would like to suggest the answer is that understanding and acceptance come from focusing the mind on deeper aspects of the interaction with the child; more than on just how you are feeling at the time and more than what you are immediately aware of that is going on.

This deeper watchfulness is a form of spiritual discipline: staying in the moment, and being alert to deeper issues, rather than mindlessly jumping to judgment or being attached to what you hope for. Experience shows illuminating insights can emerge as one stills the mind.

Some challenges of child rearing

When the baby is crying non-stop it might be caused by a wet nappy, or hunger, or perhaps due to an uncomfortable position, or teething pain or maybe it is a sign of illness.  If whatever you do doesn’t seem to work and the problem keeps recurring most days you might be feeling fraught and think something like ‘This is a wilful attempt to control me’ or ‘It’s an emotional cry for help’ or ‘This baby has too low a level of tolerance of discomfort’.

Whatever you happen to think colours your feelings and actions. The danger is you become unduly upset and this will affect the trust the infant has in you.

Jumping to conclusions during child rearing

It will probably take an effort to reserve judgment, to remember that the cause of the crying might be different on separate occasions. To become alert to such possibilities often means staying in the moment and focusing on the problem rather than jumping to conclusions.

Likewise how do we see it when a school age child is having a tantrum of shouting, hitting, and spitting at you? As a sign of a psychiatric condition? An evil disposition? A spoilt brat who requires harsh punishment? When caught up in the feelings of the situation it can be hard to see other possibilities.

Not rushing to judgment would mean you calmly dealing with the immediate crisis and only later trying to explore whatever had been going on. The child is not in thinking mode just yet. Filled up with anger he or she isn’t ready to be reasoned with. That can come later.

Reflection during child rearing

I hear you thinking ‘It’s all very well saying don’t jump to conclusions, but how do I do that?’ One suggestion is that you try to consciously reflect on what you are saying to yourself.  Question what it is you are assuming, what you are expecting to happen and what belief is being aroused by the situation?

Admittedly this requires some effort but once thoughtful consideration becomes something you are used to doing then it becomes easier to put one’s emotions on one side and instead gain some insights into what might be going on. This accords with the old idea of counting to ten and taking a step back before reacting. Like all spiritual practice this requires self-discipline.

Unfair expectations during child rearing

One common assumption is that the child will conform to one’s hopes and aspirations: for example be sensitive, hardworking, or athletic. Such beliefs are unfair as children come with their own characteristics and dispositions and cannot be molded against their will to fit in with adult expectations. By being attached to certain future outcomes there is a danger of mindlessly denying the child a sense of individual uniqueness.

Acceptance in child rearing

One thing that can enhance a relationship is when adults make room for children accepting each of them as they are, for example being prepared to negotiate and compromise.

Accepting a child’s warts and all as a person in his or her own right doesn’t mean encouraging any socially unacceptable behaviour but rather acknowledging that, like the rest of us, he or she has certain negative as well as positive tendencies. I would suggest it means looking for opportunities to encourage and support new behaviours.

Giving care to children is one of the most important and challenging of all jobs yet people often expect to be able to do it without any help. For those people, who have the time and resources, help can be gained from a mindfulness meditation retreat coupled with daily practice. Alternatively, no money is needed to set aside a little time by yourself each day to deeply reflect on the challenges of a child’s behaviour.

You may think that it is only natural to feel unconditional love and selfless concern for children but no one has limitless amounts of patience and self-restraint. We all need some rest to restore our inner resources and find the concentration and forbearance required to focus our attention on somebody else’s needs.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Love the enemy – But how to do this?

love the enemyI know who my enemy is: the individual who maliciously damages my property: tramps all over the flower-bed in the garden: scratches the car with a key: trashes the home during a burglary. I feel angered by anyone who threatens to harm my sense of well-being. These are the people I want to complain about and get my own back on. So how on earth does one stop hating such people. How do you ‘love’ your enemy? Here are some tips I find useful.

Tip 1 on how to love the enemy

Step back from a situation. Then you can start to observe your angry thoughts. Begin to reflect on where they are getting you. When you are feeling angry remember that bitterness will inwardly eat away at your sense of contentment. On the other hand a less negative attitude to the person who has offended you hinders this horrible emotion staying with you. You can’t be positive and negative at the same time. One attitude removes its opposite.

Tip 2 on how to love the enemy

Consider whether becoming calm about your enemy helps your loved ones and friends around you remain calm. They would be affected by your anger, having to listen to your moaning about the person you resent. However, unless you stop your enemy hurting you, your family will feel you are a pushover and feel frustrated with you for this reason.

Tip 3 on how to love the enemy

Understand the harm you could cause to the children in your life by voicing contempt for someone. Children copy the role models provided by the adults around them. A child can readily imitate the idea it is okay to adopt a hate-filled contemptuous attitude. And you will have harmed their sense of right and wrong.

Tip 4 on how to love the enemy

When reflecting on some injustice done to you, bear in mind that we get a more fractured and divided society the more people there are who are filled with feelings of hate; a society where conflict and social disorder are more likely to emerge. And the opposite is true — if we all can overcome enmity, and learn to forgive those whom have hurt us, then society is better off in so many ways. Reconciliation that involves compensation for injury can be extremely powerful and important.  Getting on better with an enemy would improve the lives of two people at the same time.

Tip 5 on how to love the enemy

Make a fair assessment of your enemy’s actions. Try to hate the wrong-doing rather than the wrong-doer, the action rather than the perpetrator. This will help you to focus on trying to prevent any repeat of the behaviour that made you so angry.

Tip 6 on how to love the enemy

See times of hate within yourself as a challenge to your growing maturity. Don’t take the Gospel phrase about turning the other cheek in a literal way. The message is not about masochism but rather about not automatically fighting back when injured. Do what you can to stop the enemy behaving badly towards you whilst remembering that a heavenly state of mind is to take no delight in any act of retaliation or revenge. Our spiritual challenge is to adopt a charitable attitude to everyone including those who behave badly towards us.

Tip 7 on how to love the enemy

Try to establish lines of communication with your enemy. Look for some common ground. Reach out to them. Instead of fighting what has happened and who this person is, and wanting them to be different, try to accept them for who they are — warts and all. You won’t be able to change them only hope to affect their actions. Resign yourself to what has happened as a part of life. Put up with the fact that things can’t be different, because they have already happened.

Tip 8 on how to love the enemy

Get to know their perspective. Are you jumping to any conclusions? What is he or she really like? Try to understand why someone might have got to where they are and why they did what they did. Perhaps they have some mitigating circumstances — school failure, broken home, drugged parent, unemployment, being easily led, having a sense of frustration at feeling undervalued. None of these factors of course excuses criminal behaviour but might help to explain it and make you feel better about the person. Of course no mitigating circumstances may be found although bear in mind that any may be possible until you get to know the person better. Give the enemy the benefit of any doubt.

Tip 9 on how to love the enemy

Look for something in the person that is likeable. Everyone has a good side somewhere if you look hard enough to find it.

Tip 10 on how to love the enemy

Show them how hurt you have been by what they have done, pointing out the consequences of their misdeeds in a non-condemning way. You will feel better about them if they show some degree of acknowledgement of what you are saying. It is less difficult to have a charitable attitude to those who acknowledge they were in the wrong. Don’t be too quick to forgive someone who has done you great harm if they show no remorse: at least  don’t try to forgive such a person in your own strength alone.

If these tips are not enough try attending an anger management class, professional therapy or ask for spiritual help. Many people say that prayer is an important component in their dealing with the difficult individuals in their lives.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems