One of my favourite teachings from my 3 years living in my Guru Swami Niranjan’s Ashram in India is the teaching of sanyam, or restraint. While sanyam is often used in reference to meditation, what happens inside usually expresses itself on the outside too.
Restraint is generally understood as control in a limiting or restricting sense, but Swami Nianjan-ji described it in another very beautiful and profound way that seems to pertain more to the concept of balance, of not going under or overboard.
He used the analogy of holding a bird in your hands. You need to hold it firm enough that it cannot fly away, yet gentle enough that you do not harm the bird.
I love this analogy, it made the concept so clear in such a simple way. I was so inspired by this teaching that, while pregnant, I painted a yantra (a geometrical light formation that emanates from sound vibration) of the Cosmic Mother for the nursery, and included the image of the cupped bird at its centre. As my husband and I raise our children, this painting continues to remind me that our children are not ours, but that they are entrusted to us for a time. They are born with free will, yet we hold them for a time until they are ready, and it is safe, for them to fly.
The image of the cupped bird also reminds me to be balanced in my parenting because sometimes the power of separation anxiety and the desire to protect is so strong. I want to keep my children safe. Safe from physical danger, but also safe from emotional danger. It is easy for me to go overboard in trying to control my son's movements, activities and social interactions throughout the day in the name of "safety," or "protection," and I find that sometimes what is really at the centre of that might be my own insecurity. I do think that children need the freedom to explore, learn and discover for themselves; at the same time, I do need to be close by to step in when needed. That's the sticky bit for me right there. "When needed."
This goes right down to the natural development of motor skills. My oldest son ended up going through months of physiotherapy at a young, young age because he was not hitting the usual milestones for rolling over, cruising and crawling. In hindsight now, I can see better how this might have happened. When he was just a wee one, and I would see him struggling on his back or tummy to reach a toy, it would break my heart and I would run to him right away and give it to him, "Awww here you go honey!" Big kiss on the top of the head. I thought I was helping him, but looking back, I might have delayed his development. I have read that one should, within reason, "not do anything for a child that they can do for themselves." My son needed to struggle and get frustrated a little bit, in order to build the appropriate muscles and brain pathways to eventually attain his goal. Not to mention develop the mental-emotional stamina and perseverance to pursue his goals later in life.
The cupped bird reminds me that, if I hold my children too close to me due to my own insecurities and fears, I may end up harming them by preventing them from developing the skills they need to thrive in this life, and the resiliency and confidence that one absolutely needs in order to bounce back from inevitable hurts and failures. I have found that it takes so much courage and strength on my part to allow my children the freedom that they need and are entitled to. To give them my love, versus my attachment.
On the flip side, what happens when we don't hold our children tight enough? My family is such a great example of this analogy. If left unchecked, I have the tendency to be controlling. My husband has the opposite tendency towards permissiveness. This is something I think we are seeing more these days in a very well-intentioned attempt at "democracy in the family." It's not bad in my eyes, as long as we strive to keep things in balance. I think we now know that, in order to feel safe and secure, children thrive with a certain amount of routine, boundaries and predictability. Otherwise, they may not feel held, but a bit lost instead as they move throughout their day and social interactions.
Lastly, the image of the cupped bird helps me reflect on my own self-care as a mother. Enter the tendency towards perfectionism as a mother, toward being the "perfect mother." Ahhh. When I had my first child, I allowed so little self-care for myself. We all know the mom-bun. I rocked that bun for weeks (maybe a month!) at a time without taking it down to comb, let alone wash it. When I would finally take my hair down, it ached from the root from being tied up for so long, and had actually dreaded in several places. I had thought that I was being a great mother, giving my all to my child and so little to myself, but in the end not being balanced in my self-care led to inevitable burn out, not allowing me to be my most healthy self for my son. This may seem obvious, but it was really difficult to distinguish when was a good time for me to engage in self-care. It always seemed equally important to be available to him, and then once he was asleep, I didn't have the energy to get up and do self-care.
The promise I made to myself before having our second son was to not hold myself so tight, to relax my ideas and to allow for a little more self-care, because I knew that I couldn't do it the same way twice. Now, I make sure to brush my hair (every few days), and my teeth (almost every day) and shower (well, more than before!).
AND I'm FINALLY writing this blog! It's not perfect... because I don't have time (or enough sleep) for that! Maybe, in some cases, good enough is perfect after all.
Om & Prem,
There is so much more to say on the topic, so here is just a little more food for thought in case anyone wants to go a bit deeper with it:
Some other areas that might be applicable to sanyam include:
- discipline and balancing firmness with kindness (in speech toward your child as well as action)
- giving kids positive power (so they don't seek negative power and attention, so they learn how to make independent decisions, and so they are able to accept no as an answer when they do hear it)
- kids' extracurricular activities and achievements (I read somewhere that teaching kids certain things before their brains are ready can create non-optimal paths of learning in their brains and that it is better to wait - when I find this article again I will link it here)
- instant vs delayed gratification of wants
- activity vs rest (mom, kids)
- partner parenting differences
- tandem nursing
- perfectionism (mom, partner, kids)
- partner possessiveness
- dedicated family time
- cleanliness (mom, kids, house)
- screen time
- kids' family contributions ("chores")
- shopping (for mom, for kids)
- personal hobbies/time
- social time (mom, partner, kids)
- etc ... your comments and experiences are welcome below this post! It might help a mama out!