Calm as Water


Tao Tuesdays: Thanks to Amy Putkonen of Tao Ta Ching Daily.

Chapter 78

Nothing in the world

is as soft and yielding as water.

Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,

nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;

the gentle overcomes the rigid.

Everyone knows this is true,

but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains

serene in the midst of sorrow.

Evil cannot enter his heart.

Because he has given up helping,

he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

Wow. If I could master this, I would be the calmest, strongest person I know. I guess it’s true of any of us. This is such a difficult concept for me. Shows of force are so impressive, but can also be terrifying. And someone who is in a leadership position doesn’t ever really want to terrify, but inspire or lead or direct passionately. Someone in a leadership position wants people doing the right thing, or the thing that corresponds to the mission because they have been lit from within to do so – not because they are terrified to not do so. Unless the Leader is a Dictator.

It is easier for me to see this from a business perspective than a mothering, because I feel a little like a whack job as a mother sometimes. When I managed an office staff, I could lead without losing my mind. My kids don’t listen to me. They have their own agendas, which include a lot of play and wrestling, and they don’t hear me, they don’t hear me, they ignore me, they do their own thing, until I lose it and raise my voice, and then it’s a bunch of drama and nothing really seems to improve this scenario playing over and over again. I know that I should take things away from them, give them significant consequences, but I haven’t been able to figure out how. What would I take away? Their toys? That seems monstrous and like I would be feeding into their future hoarder tendencies. Their time? Plopping them into a time-out for a designated amount of time to effectively leech moments out of their lives for not behaving, and that has been proven to accomplish little except children feeling like their lives are at the mercy of others and not their own. There are people organized enough to have set time limits on screen time that can be taken away, but I try to limit that to next to nothing anyway, so that doesn’t seem effective at all.

And then there’s this. The calm as water approach. The soft overcomes the hard. And I know it’s true, because when I’m being rigid, little Bean comes up with his soft face and his tiny voice and wants a hug, and I melt. I think the mass of motherhood attempts this, but it comes out as guilt and martyrdom – “Look at all I do for you, can’t you please just…” – which doesn’t work either.

There are all these books out about Calm Parenting, No Yell Parenting, Getting kids to Mind without Losing Yours, and there are great strategies in them, that have to do with reasoning with children instead of maneuvering them. I find it difficult to reason when I’m upset. My reasoning skills go out the window when I’m angry and I start wheedling or whining or sniveling. Good Lord, what made me think I could parent in the first place? But I am being hard on myself. I encourage their creativity in so many ways, and for that alone, I hang on hoping I can learn the rest before they hit teenager and we are all in trouble.

They are good boys. They are reckless and loud and thunderous in this small house. They are getting better at keeping their areas clean, because I’ve gotten better at keeping my areas clean. I have to lead by example. I have to be the Calm Water that doesn’t get freaked out by their energetic displays or knocked over furniture.

The last lines of the Chapter seem incredibly serene, and I would like to try them.

Because he has given up helping,

he is people’s greatest help.

If I could fully grasp in my innermost parts that my job as a mother is truly modeling the best behaviors I know, rather than trying so hard to teach things that are not my own qualities, but ones I want my kids to have – we would be so much better off. If I could do my very best to be my best person, and not worry so much about leading and directing them to be better than I am, more organized than I’ve ever managed to be, more in control of their emotions or outbursts than I can muster, more thoughtful, more polite, more able to control their displays of enthusiasm and wonder than it is possible for me to do.

Oh my word! Freaking AHA moment. I want my kids to be better than me, and in trying to arrange that, I am stressed beyond words and a tiny crazy person on my worst days. Instead, I could work at being my own best person, the characteristics I want in myself, and allow the overflow of the grace I want to show myself trickle into my parenting.

If I gave up trying so hard to mold them into Better Little Versions of Me, and just worked on being my own best, we would all be happier. It involves me being quieter, not thinking I know better, not directing with words as much, listening more, Saying Yes more, playing along more, being aware and alert to the games they are wanting to play in each scene and learning to adapt and develop along with them. Exactly what I was thinking the other day – about Improv Parenting. I love it when everything comes together like this.

photo of The Palace of Fine Arts and pond in San Franciscso from here

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