My friend Becky lives in Virginia. She has three grown children—two sons and a daughter—and three grandchildren with a fourth on the way. I have known her for most of my adult life and have always been impressed by her consistent imperturbable patience in the face of parental challenges. Becky, like most moms, had a few theories of parenting that went out the window when she had her children—she was willing to learn how to be a mother, be flexible, and re-consider her expectations as the children grew. She knew how to listen, how to be present, and how to respect. She expressed sincere delight as each child revealed their uniqueness, wanting them to feel spontaneous self-esteem and safety in expressing themselves.
In an expanded arena of mothering, I have a deep respect for Becky’s willingness and ability to ‘mother’ everyone else around her when they need it—she’s taken into her home and cared for her elderly mother-in-law, her mother, and now her father. She’s housed and fed friends who were temporarily finding life rough, whether because of illness, divorce, or temporary homelessness. I myself moved in for a few weeks with Becky and her fiancé (now her husband) in my early twenties and ended up staying with them in their one bedroom apartment for many months. For cheerfully abiding my long stint as a “houseguest” in her long succession of guests, I personally nominate her for an international prize for effective compassion.
There’s usually a quiet smile that plays around Becky’s lips; her eyes are kind and maybe slightly amused. When she wants to advise, she does it in a measured way, without attachment to your compliance. When you’re happy, she’s genuinely happy for you. She’s always busy doing something for someone—I caught up with her by phone in North Carolina where she was helping out her pregnant daughter-in-law. We talked while she shopped at a Home Depot for pvc tubes to make a marble run for her grandson’s upcoming third birthday. All very Becky.
Janet: What is the best thing about being a mom?
Becky: One of my earliest memories of motherhood was having a clear impression, when our first child Sarah was born, that I was being honored as a guardian of this being but in no way was she ‘mine’. With this in mind I would say that parenting is a two way street—we love and cherish and protect those whose well-being has been placed in our hands… and they raise us. What we want as human beings is to be more of who we truly are: open minded and understanding, patient, empathetic, and intelligent. And this is cultured and developed when we love somebody so much that we’re willing to throw our temporary needs and desires aside for their happiness.
Janet: And what is the hardest thing about being a mom?
Becky: Same answer! Also, not assuming that what was best for yourself is necessarily best for your child.
Janet: Clearly there are specific needs that differ between caring for kids and caring for adults. But are the basics the same?
Becky: Yes. Caring for the elderly continues the growth of oneself in unexpected ways. Learning patience and empathy came more easily with my children than with my parents. I was amazed while caring for my own parents how residual feelings pop up that were hidden in the psych. For example, I found myself feeling a slight sense of retribution when I could say to my mother who had alzheimer’s that it was time to quit what she was doing and come eat dinner. It resonated with long past memories of having to put down my book in the middle of a chapter when she called me—I hadn’t realized these feelings of resentment were in me! With the practice of the TM technique and the perspective from adulthood, such resentments dissolve quickly to everyone’s benefit.
Janet: Where do you get the reserves to deal with the hard days?
Becky: All these challenges dissipate with Transcendental Meditation, which has been invaluable. I have absolutely no concept of how any parent can be the parent they want to be without the benefit of the practice of TM. Even before she turned three, my daughter recognized TM’s value: one day I was trying to build a wooden play kitchen for her birthday. I had no previous experience in building anything and the screws kept popping out the sides of the plywood. I was getting rather frustrated when she said, “Mommy, you should go meditate.” She was right.
Some of my children’s friends, when playing at our home around 5 or 6PM (which in many homes is “melt-down-time”) would comment that their mothers should learn to meditate too. Having meditated just before the kids arrived home from school, I felt fresh and patient and able to deal with chaos. As the children aged and their needs and personalities became more complex, there were times that I would stop a late afternoon conversation when some conflict wasn’t getting resolved and feelings were escalating, saying that I needed to go meditate before continuing; I’d do my afternoon meditation and be totally refreshed. I was grateful for the understanding and inner ease that I then had to rely upon while working through the conflict that seemed less resolvable before. TM increased my energy, resilience, and creativity, and the inner calm experienced during meditation stayed with me during the rest of the day.
Janet: some say it’s not what you do for your children but what you teach them to do that is most important. What did you teach your children to best prepare them for the world?
Becky: As parents, I believe my husband and I set good examples about fulfilling ones goals with an awareness of ones responsibilities to the world. We both have very strong work ethics and have enjoyed much success, but with our regular practice of Transcendental Meditation we’ve demonstrated that inner development is equally important to the enjoyment of their full potential as caring productive human beings.
Janet: Did you feel bereft when your children had “left the nest?”
Becky: ‘Leaving the nest’ can be descriptive physically and emotionally. Children seek their independence at varying stages of their lives and, as with all of us, find things that ‘fit’ with new interests or perceived needs in which parents may have no part. When a child distances him/herself from the parents, physically or emotionally, it can be a startling experience for the parent, especially if the bond has been very close previously. It can feel as though this new distance will always remain. While I felt sad about these gulfs when they existed, I find transcending to be miraculous. With the experience of inner peace and fulfillment from my meditation, I could feel grateful for the wondrous times we had shared as well as accepting and able to see why each felt it necessary to move away. Fortunately the emotional distances weren’t permanent and now, with grandchildren to share the relationships, have taken on new, wonderful dimensions.
About the Author
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals in the USA.