Saturday, March 26, 2005

the guilt loop

When I said I wanted to reflect a bit on parenting and loving-kindness (maitri), I was hesitant. There are moments when I really would like the option of running away or offering the kids to the first taker. We're inundated with messages about how to love our kids. To love them is to buy the Sunny-D juice, get the right car, the best medicine when they are sick and take them to Sylvain Learning Centre when their grades slip. Sometimes the weight of serving my kids, being there when they need me, and giving them space to grow, being firm yet soft, being loving yet consistent...immobilizes me. There isn't anything wrong with the messages we are inundated with. Healthy food, exercise, not too much TV are all good for kids. But I think an inherent result is guilt. Parenting involves much of it. Some might suggest that this is a normal consequence of becoming a parent. I have to wonder.

Take for instance Harry. He's 5. Yesterday my 8 year old neice and nephew informed me that he was peeing in the basement. When I went to investigate I discovered that he urinated down the basement floor drain. I was not all that concerned about this, since urine doesn't damage concrete floors. So, I filled a bucket with steaming water and poured it down the drain. Well...the stench that eminated from that drain nearly knocked me over. The foul stink of the piss of a thousand men hit me with enough force to cause me to wretch. Trust me - I have touched and been doused with every form of bodily fluid. I've been changing diapers for the past seven years, and mopped up my fair share of vomit, and we won't forget the blood, snot, tears, spit and puss I have encountered from time to time. I am pretty hardened to the biology of our humanness. So, don't assume I am a pansy about these things...when I say something smelled bad...I mean that is was an utter abomination to my olfactory system. As I was reeling in this state, I concluded that he had been pissing down this drain for some time. Washing the pipe with water was creating the problem (since I had not smelled this prior to adding the water). I brought Harry down to the drain and made him take a deep breath...twice. I was not sure how else I was going to insist that he should never do this again.

Now my point is to find Maitri in this situation. It's not a cute story you can scrapbook or share with your colleagues. I enjoyed finding the right words to describe the reek eminating from my basement drain. It has not diminished my irk towards Harry. I am not holding a drudge...but I feel what I feel. Disgust (at the smell), and alot of guilt...for not knowing this was happening for lord knows how long, guilt for his lack of supervsion, guilt because he thought this was okay, and therefore is my fault since I somewhere forgot to teach him that lesson, guilt for making him smell the drain, and guilt for not punishing him enough...the guilt loop.

enter Pema Chodron:

"But loving-kindness - maitri- towards ourselves doesnt mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means the we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. Its about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. Thats the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiousity and interest." (p. 4)

This comes to me with great deal of comfort. No matter how loudly I announce that I don't want to listen to the media and the parenting manuals - somewhere I have learned, and taught myself, that our cultural ideals about mothering are achievable perfections. Part of the story is the social moral "bad parenting means your kid will grow up to be a (criminal) (rapist) (spouce abuser) (addict)(serial killer)(genocidal tyrant)." We've answered the great problems of evil right back to lack of or bad parenting.

So, going back to Pema, I want to find a place where I can be honest with my responses and reactions, and say - "they are what they are". Maybe I can turn this guilt into a sign...I feel guilt and say "Hey...I am railing against a cultural ideal again". Read Pema's paragraph again, and replace "mediation" and "practice" with "parenting".


1 comment:

Robin said...

I have no experience whatsoever in this area aside from reflecting on the skills of my own parents, but based on (what little) I've read here about your children, it sounds like you're doing a fab job. (And per his peeing issue, I used to draw on the walls in can't anticipate your child's every move, I guess.)