Leaving the grocery store this morning, I noticed a mom holding the hands of her two young children as she waited to cross the parking lot to get to her car. With the amount of information one can glean from a very short observation of another, it appeared that the mom seemed relaxed and peaceful, as did her two children.
As I reflected on this woman’s demeanor, it got me to thinking about how I used to feel as mom of very young ones, and I believe that more often than not, I looked anything like this mom today; for I remember very often feeling stressed and unhappy, with a furrowed brow and all. I am certain that people who saw me must have wondered why I looked so tortured and miserable. This was unsettling to me, especially as a mom who had suffered the death of her first-born daughter. How can parenting be so difficult and stressful? Why is it so hard? And I felt guilty for not enjoying it more than I did, especially given my life experience.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary teaches us that as conscious parents, we must accept the As-Is of a given situation, but what exactly does that mean? Just in the past week alone, I have had conversations with at least four or five parents talking about this very topic. During these conversations, each of these parents with whom I spoke struggled to understand just exactly what that means, so I thought it might be valuable to explore that teaching here today.
When we talk of accepting the As-Is of a situation, does that mean we should condone what our child is doing? Not at all. Does it mean we have to allow them to continue doing whatever it is they are doing? Maybe yes or maybe no. What I realized this week is that accepting the As-Is of a situation has nothing to do with how we respond externally to the situation, but instead it is about how we respond internally – how we greet what is in front of us. The decision to accept the As-Is occurs before we have taken any action to respond to the situation.
Let me give you an example: Mom and Dad go out with two-year-old Johnny to a restaurant. It is 10 minutes before the waiter takes their order, and fifteen minutes later, the food still has not arrived. By now, they have been sitting at the table for 25 minutes and little Johnny is getting antsy, and starting to “misbehave.” I put that in quotes because he is not really misbehaving – rather, he is simply responding to the As-Is of the situation and as a two year old, he is resisting the As-Is of what is in front of him – sitting still and waiting to eat.
At this point, mom is getting more uncomfortable with how little Johnny is beginning to act. She can feel the stares of the other diners, judging her as her little boy struggles to sit still and remain quiet. If she resists the As-Is of the situation, she will likely not see the reality of what her situation is – that her son has been waiting a very long time to eat, his attention span is still very short, he is tired of waiting and probably hungry. Resisting the As-Is (on the internal level), this mom might very well become upset with her son – trying harder to control his behavior, speaking more harshly to him, getting impatient with him, and maybe even reprimanding him for how he is behaving.
If this mom accepts the As-Is of the situation, she can see it much more clearly for what it is. This little boy is being asked to do something monumentally difficult for a two year old (sit still and quiet for 25 minutes). At that point, she might ask her little boy if he would like to take a walk while they are waiting for their dinner. Maybe she takes him outside and they watch the people coming and going from the restaurant. Maybe she takes him to change his diaper in the bathroom. Maybe she walks with him to the car to get a different one of his toys to play with. How the mom responds to her son here is determined by whether or not she has accepted the As-Is of the situation. But notice in none of these scenarios is she just sitting back and doing nothing, accepting the fact that her son is acting up and disturbing everyone else. Her acceptance is not about condoning what he is doing.
When we accept the As-Is it brings a measure of peace to us, as well as clarity of thought and creativity. We are able to see things for what they are and to think creatively about how best to respond instead of simply react.
When I was a mother to very young children, I did not accept the As-Is in the big picture which is that parenting toddlers and babies and particularly three at one time is very hard, very demanding, and requires a huge amount of patience and peace in your heart. And on a smaller scale, there were many times I did not accept the As-Is; the cup that spilled all over the floor, the toddler who wouldn’t sit still through the older one’s cub scout meetings, the one who kept getting up for one more drink, story, trip to the bathroom. Now with time, experience and many, many hours of practice at conscious parenting I am much better at accepting the As-Is of a situation and as a result, I know that I have much more peace in my heart, in my life, and it is written all over my face – just like the young mother I encountered today.
Where have you practiced accepting the As-Is of a situation?