When contemplating the rights and responsibilities that go along with being a parent, very few rights come to mind. Instead, it is responsibilities which are in plenty. Yet, there is one right I believe we have as parents, and that is the right to raise our children in the manner we feel is truly best for them (as long as no harm comes to them, of course). We have the right to trust ourselves and follow our hearts as we parent our unique children, even if we feel called to go against the grain in the process. In fact, that is often the most important time to do so.
Yes, easier said than done. If you’re a parent, I’m sure most of the important people around you - and even many audacious strangers- have shared and impressed upon you myriad intense and unwelcomed opinions about how you choose to raise your kids. I’m sure it was the same for them when they were raising their kids too. It must be one of the most common experiences of parenthood. Yet, I do believe, with rare exceptions, that each one has the right to find their own way.
As for my parental responsibilities? Well, they have a lot to do with that initial right to follow my heart and do for my child what I truly feel is best for them. It isn’t easy, with all the outside judgment and pressure from family, friends - heck even from strangers - a lot of friction is created every time we try to go against the grain. I can still get confused, thinking, “am I wrong?” “how could I be so far off what everyone else is telling me?” To be a parent, I have to be brave and trust myself deeply. It takes an immense amount of courage to remain steady and follow-through on my convictions every time I have to firmly yet politely disagree with a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a friend, a culture.
To do this, I need to be deliberately introspective. I have to make time to reflect and become aware of who my children are and what they are going through. What are their strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, interests, desires, priorities, needs? What is going on in their brain at this developmental stage? In our tradition of Satyananda Yoga, we first learn to become aware of ourselves and then expand that awareness ever more outward, so naturally, once we become parents, we have to expand that circle of awareness to include our children’s qualities. Yet, I first have to be thoughtful about it in order to be reliable and available to provide the right support to my children at the right time, and to know when it is appropriate to go against the grain in my parenting journey. Ultimately, I hope to guide my children in such a way that they too eventually develop this quality of self-awareness which can later expand evermore outward to include others as well.
In addition to being introspective, I also have the responsibility to be strong. Strong enough to withstand the storms of the terrible 2’s, adolescence and beyond. I need to understand what my children are going through, in their stage of development, in their lives - even if their behaviour or what is going on in their lives is causing me emotional pain, I have to be strong enough to support them through it, instead of rescuing them from it or, heaven-forbid, punishing them for it. And, I have to find strength in my inner convictions when my parenting style and choices are challenged (I mean, some things parents did a few decades ago that were considered normal are illegal today, therefore, current popular opinions and practices cannot automatically be considered right and healthy).
As parents, we can sometimes take a lot of abuse not only from outside opinions on our parenting but also from our kids -- after all they are kids and still developing their ability to self-regulate -- yet, clearly, we cannot guide them through it by mirroring or matching it. Swami Sivananda has said, “Bear insult, bear injury, highest sadhana.” Now, I’m not saying I will just let my kids abuse me, because that is certainly not going to set them up for success in life. What I mean is, when my kids are not in control (in an age appropriate way, I mean) of themselves, their emotions, their thoughts, their impulses…I have to be. I have the responsibility to be a steady support for them, and to do that, I need to understand what is really going on inside their growing brains. So, aside from providing the obvious need for physical safety and sustenance, I am also responsible for providing consistent emotional safety and support for my children, which is perhaps one much less discussed and understood until recently, and has an incredible lifelong impact.
Yet another pertinent responsibility for this unique moment for humanity is the need to share with our children what our responsibilities are to this Earth. I want to educate my kids in an age-appropriate manner about the environmental challenges they will likely face in their time and teach them about their responsibility to become good stewards of the Earth.
Finally, as a karma sannyasin devoted to my Guru Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, the lineage and its teachings, I also have the added parental responsibility to embody the teachings of Yoga and Sannyasa that Swamiji has gifted me. Once that gift is given, I am responsible for maintaining that, developing that, and living that gift so it may be absorbed and embodied by my children to carry forward into the world with them, hopefully improving both their lives and the lives of all around them.
So, if I do my job right, I will raise kids who become aware of, and attend to, their own rights and responsibilities as both human and divine beings, and not be afraid to go against the grain of the current culture in the process.